The Cumulus Course
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue.
When a frontier starport beacon goes offline the PCs, hired to escort incoming ships, also inadvertently bring danger to the world.
- Any world with a Type D or E starport, or a Type H spaceport. Can be a backwater.
- A starship; Pilot skill.
The world the PCs have put down on, while habitable, is completely shrouded by thick layers of clouds. While this normally isn’t a problem for starship sensors, the planet in addition has a particularly strong ionosphere. The combination of charged particles and abundant water vapor effectively scrambles sensor probes. It’s also why the empire hasn’t invested much time or money in the world.
Almost every starport has a navigational beacon, which broadcasts a continuous signal to aid incoming ships. The beacon at this port is essentially the only way to get through the clouds and land safely. Within the past few days, however, the beacon malfunctioned and shut down. The specialized part required to fix it must come from offworld, and thus won’t arrive for at least two weeks. Closing down the starport meanwhile is out of the question, as the world is heavily dependent on what little trade and news does come through.
On landing at the starport (which turns out to be a very harrowing experience), the group is approached by the Port Warden. Explaining the above situation, she offers the PCs a short-term contract to help guide arriving ships to the port through the cloud layer, since they’ve done it successfully themselves. All it would involve is meeting incoming ships in orbit, and guiding them through the clouds using the navigational data the team compiled during their own descent. In return, the Warden offers to waive all port fees and priority on any speculative cargo that comes through port while the team is there.
A map of the port may be necessary. The referee can use one from published sources, or prepare a simple sketch map showing the placement of the port’s important structures.
Everything is as the Warden represented. In fact, the PCs’ job will be quite easy; the port sees only 1D ships each week, which the PCs can guide in however they see fit. They need not guide the ships out again once they depart. Obviously, starships intending to stay in orbit won’t need to be guided.
The part to fix the beacon arrives in 1D+1 weeks. If it takes more than 2 weeks, an x-boat message arrives at the end of the second week stating how much longer it will take.
One particular run (referee’s choice) starts as normal, but there’s a difference: the ship is a disguised corsair whose crew has chosen the planet as a good hideout until the heat’s off. The pirates total at least twice the number of PCs, and are armored and armed with automatic weapons. If the heroes are particularly capable, one or two of the enemies may be equipped with heavy military weapons.
As soon as they land, the brigands make their move, producing weapons and taking over the port using as much surprise and as many hostages as they can. Any armed adversaries the villains find are captured and disarmed; any that resist are simply shot. 25% of the pirates herd as many hostages as they can get into one area where they can be guarded and controlled. The rest go looking for plunder and stragglers.
The PCs must free the port—first freeing themselves and any hostages if necessary—and deal with the pirates. How they accomplish this is up to them, but if they’re successful, they may find that the corsairs have large prices on their heads. They may also have valuables from previous raids aboard their ship. Finally, the heroes might negotiate further rewards from the Imperium, since the port is Imperial property.
The referee should determine the flow of subsequent events.