This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine website in 2003 and was reprinted in the November/December 2020 issue.
Free Trader Captain Jens Hoon “misjumped” and ended up in a Red Zone world. His Jump Drives were damaged and he was forced to sell the cargo he was carrying in order to buy repair parts (that’s his story, anyway). He never looked closely at the “reason” behind the interdiction: Plague, or totalitarian govt., etc. The Merchant’s Guild, Bank holding the loan on the ship or relatives of the Captain authorizes a Ticket for a small Merc Team to ‘retrieve’ the crew and ship. What cover story will the PCs give the IN patrol when they arrive?
Option I: Typical PC group (4-8):
- All is as reported: the Captain and his ship ran afoul of the local legal system and need help. In this case, a substantial fine/penalty must be paid (make it hurt; perhaps the value of the Captain’s ship’s vehicle plus the PC’s air raft/gig and many other high value portable items). Pay the fine, complete the Ticket and collect the payoff (remember to include the cost of replacing whatever it took to free the crew and ship).
- The local ruling class is less than happy with an Imperial interdiction. As a result anyone not willing to smuggle goods past the Imp. Patrol ships will be lucky to leave with the clothes on their back. Depending on TL, the PCs may have to negotiate the freedom of the Captain and crew and call it a day. The next job would be to return to retrieve the ship.
- The local ruling class is similar to other backwater worlds. The price of freedom (Captain, crew and ship) will be whatever they can squeeze out of travelers. Make those PCs with ‘people skills’ feel needed.
- The Captain is a smuggler, and was nearly caught by the Imp. Patrol in this system. He must now claim the landing was due to events beyond his control. The PCs have no indication of this unless they research the vessel’s operations (manifests/vessel logs/expenses etc.) Local government is very interested in gaining new trade partners (the PCs).
- The Captain and crew sympathize with the local doctrine of the world and actively support the regime. This will be apparent to the PCs when they meet with the Captain on the surface.
- As #5 above; this will be an offer the PCs can not refuse. Dead men tell no tales.
Option II: Real Merc Band (smash & grab time).
- Red Zone world is TL 7, xenophobic and ready for more alien invaders.
- As #1 above, however the TL is higher, equal to what the group can assemble. Depending on your group’s abilities really make it a struggle.
- As #2 above, however the group is vastly outgunned. Negotiations (throw in intrigue for extra zest) will be the best course of action. Perhaps the group starts a shooting war, retreats and sues for negotiated release of the Captain, crew and ship.
- The world is TL 6. The Captain and crew are set up well and will actively resist being rescued. The captain will use his ship, guile and cunning to stay on this planet.
- The locals are holding the Captain and crew all in hopes of receiving official Imperial attention. The PCs can try to bluff or tell the ugly truth. “We’re not the IN! That ship you impounded belongs to the Bank of ______. We are being paid to retrieve the vessel (and crew if possible).”
- The world is a balkanized mess. Currently, there are shooting wars on two fronts and hot spots on every landmass. No one has central control and information is never free. “You look like a tough Merc Team, I could use your services in exchange for the location of the ship in question.” “Good job on that decapitation raid, my forces now control the entire eastern seaboard. What’s that, the crew? Oh, Southeast Minor Bloc security forces captured them right after that ship touched down. Bunch of criminals running that territory! Perhaps I could lend some of my army to help you extract those crewmen. Need to run it the same as that last mission I am afraid.” How long can you string this one along?