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Harvest Index

This adventure originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue.

Synopsis: The PCs uncover dark secrets and mysterious foes behind a planetwide grain blight.

Harvest Index is designed for 4-6 Classic Traveller characters of varied career backgrounds, who should’ve worked together before the adventure and be well acquainted with one another. No particular skills are required for the adventure, but one of the PCs must be an ex-Scout. The adventure begins at a Scout base on any world within 2 parsecs of the setting below.

Pre-Adventure Prep

The referee should select or create the following :

The IISS agent mentioned below is only marginally important to the adventure. The referee can make this individual more or less important as necessary, but no stats are presented. In addition, some NPCs have no gender specified, for maximum customization by the referee; these persons are referred to with the gender-neutral pronouns xe and xir.

Background

Ashnan, a agricultural backwater world nevertheless considered a breadbasket of the subsector, has been all over the news lately. A fast-moving grain blight appeared in a particularly important growing area, and spread quickly to all corners of the planet. While not all crops have been affected, the main one—izin, a staple cereal that forms the backbone of the planet’s economy—has been rendered all but extinct in many areas. The subsequent famine has resulted in global social turmoil; fighting over surviving stocks; a run on other staples; and mass migrations as farmers give up on farmsteads and move to other areas, where they’re not necessarily met with open arms. Worse, the black market has caused prices to skyrocket. Economic collapse is predicted for the world’s near future.

The planetary government has asked for—and received—Imperial aid. Relief convoys arrive daily, along with emergency funding, agricultural advisers, and scientists. One of those scientists made a shocking discovery: the blight was not due to a naturally-occurring organism, but a swarm of nanomachines!

This news was quickly hushed up, as it would push Ashnani society—already approaching violent instability—past the point of no return, although the information was passed along to the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service, which formulated a plan.

One

While the adventurers are conducting business onworld, their ex-Scout is reactivated for duty and summoned to the local Scout base for immediate assignment (if there are multiple Scouts in the party, all are summoned.) Quickly describing the above situation, the administrators inform them that an IISS agent is waiting with a cargo of counter-nanites obtained from the military. Once on Ashnan, they are to deploy the nanites in areas specially designated by the agent for optimal dispersal. As a secondary assignment, the crew is to determine who released the nanoblight and why. As reimbursement, the Scouts offer Cr100,000 and full servicing of their ship if they have one. If they don’t, they are loaned a Type S Scout/Courier. The required equipment takes up 3 tons and takes several hours to load and calibrate.

Upon arrival at Ashnan, the agent indicates six sites around the globe where the PCs are to release the nanites. They must do this from the air, although optimum dispersal requires they be no farther than 500 meters from the surface, and xe insists that all sensors be running in order to monitor the dispersal patterns and make directional adjustments as necessary. This requires that the ship remain stationary for the period of time in which it deploys the nanites. To deploy successfully takes 10D minutes.

The first deployment proceeds without incident; but throw 8+ on each subsequent deployment for the ship to be suddenly attacked by two air/rafts and a laser-armed Ship’s Boat. The boat is intent on disabling the adventurers’ vessel; the air/rafts—each with a pilot and three heavily-armed enemies—look for opportunities to board the heroes’ ship in midair. If they succeed, a boarding trio will split up toward Engineering, the bridge, and the nearest access point to admit the second strike team. Their aim is to take the ship quickly and force it down. If the air/rafts cannot insert a boarding party, then the Ship’s Boat (crewed by six more gunmen, including the pilot) will simply try to shoot down the PCs’ ship. Once down, all the enemies converge on the vessel and kill anyone left on board. At the very least, the enemies settle for destroying the cargo of counter-nanites. (If the referee is using the Starship Combat rules from Book 2: Starships, a hit result of “Hold” destroys the nanites.)

If the adventurers win and interrogate the survivors, they discover that their attackers were members of a local Renegade cell, determined to keep the PCs from stopping the blight. They won’t divulge their associates’ identities or where their base is, even under duress.

Two

The heroes, upon learning their attackers were members of the Renegades, are no doubt itching for a little payback; especially if any of their number were hurt or killed. Finding them isn’t easy, but the adventurers succeed on a throw of 11+ (DMs: Streetwise skill; using violence, -2), made once per day. Success means contact with “Walker” (see NPCs below), a representative of the local cell who tries to find out the heroes’ intentions. She informs them that the Renegades aren’t responsible for the attack on them, and are willing to talk, but she naturally can’t lead the visitors with guns blazing to her companions. If the PCs promise to simply talk, she sets up a meet with several cell leaders for the next night. If the adventurers refuse, and/or offer violence, Walker—and any hope of finding the local Renegades—disappears.

At the meeting place, the adventurers are introduced to 1D+2 nondescript individuals who use only code names or nicknames. The insurgents relate several things to the heroes: The nanites are from a corporate lab several jumps away, originally developed under a military contract. Renegade agents stole them, intending to use them against an Imperial supply depot as a political statement. Instead, the nanites were in turn stolen from the Renegades. The rebels traced them to Ashnan, although they were too late to prevent their release. As to the authors of the plot, the Renegades are as much in the dark as the PCs, although ex-military Renegades detect military tactics behind the attacks. Apparently the mysterious opponents sought to frame the Renegades for the attack.

The cell leaders propose a temporary alliance to find out who was actually behind the blight and destroy them. Besides sullying the Renegades’ name, they’re attacking innocents, something they (this cell, anyway) don’t condone.

If the PCs agree, Walker is assigned as their liaison and extra muscle. The cell also promises to share any information they uncover.

Three

Just as the meeting breaks up, everyone in the area suddenly comes under attack (check for surprise per Book 1: Characters and Combat.) The number of assailants is 1.5 times the combined number of Renegades and adventurers. They’re armed with assault rifles, but lightly armored, depending on speed and surprise; and wear facial concealment, such as masks or balaclavas. Any heroes with Tactics skill can tell that the assailants are very well coordinated, and have even had military training. They fight to the death and try to inflict as many casualties on the PCs and their allies as they can.

The defeat or withdrawal of the mysterious attackers doesn’t mean the end of the PCs’ troubles. Almost immediately after the fight, local law enforcement arrives in a blare of sirens and lights. Heroes and Renegades who try to escape do so on a throw of 9+ (DM: Streetwise skill.) Anyone who doesn’t is immediately arrested and charged with terrorism.

What happens to the group next depends on whether or not anyone escaped:

If they’re arrested: PCs are jailed for 3D x (Law Level) hours (treat Law Level 0 as 1 for this purpose.) They are offered bail of 1D x Cr10,000 on a Reaction throw from the courts of Good or better (DM: −(Law Level/3), rounded down); being ordered not to leave the planet in this case. Their court case comes up at the end of the above time; no-shows forfeit all bail money and are subject to immediate re-arrest.

If they escape: The heroes are assumed terrorists. Planetary law enforcement is ordered to detain them for questioning. Pursuit is relentless; each day, in addition to the encounter chances below, they come across police attempting to arrest them on 8+. If they’re re-arrested, they’re jailed as above except that of course no bail is offered.

Escapees are free to find out who set them up, their motives, and their larger game. Walker is in the dark. She knows of no rival cells onworld, and the Renegades haven’t had trouble from other groups, such as the syndicates. The group does have a lead, however slim: Dropped weapons and clothing of attackers are subject to analysis, and even images of dead assailants could be useful in a canvass.

The effort to find the responsible parties succeeds on a throw of 15+, made once per day (they really don’t want to be found). DMs to this throw:

Throwing a natural “2” alerts the enemies that the adventurers are after them, and brings on another attack the following night. Use the same number of attackers as above, armed in the same manner. Note that a PC victory may give them an opportunity to interrogate a prisoner, giving them a +4 DM in a further search.

Success on the above throw puts the PCs on the trail of Lin Zendarrey (see below), a wiry person with shifty eyes who’s trying xir best to stay inconspicuous. Unfortunately, xe has tastes for grog and members of the opposite sex with flexible morals; so xe’s unwittingly left a trail. The group can confront xir in one of these places, or observe xir for a while to see if xe leads them to bigger fish:

Four

The hotel is surrounded at all hours by all manner of street denizens who pester strangers for intoxicating substances, spare change, sexual favors, or anything else they think they can get. They also serve as a dandy ersatz warning system for the adversaries. Disturbances outside the hotel are observed (via remote video) and assessed for threat potential. The heroes will need to be especially discreet to avoid detection.

Within the room are four members of a team of espionage agents assigned to spread the nanoblight, observe its effects, and report to their superiors. Thus, the Ashnan nanoblight is actually a field test. The referee must decide where the intelligence agents are from, who they’re working for, and whether the Imperium itself is their ultimate target, but they’re all very well trained and completely devoted to their mission. The files that they haven’t yet sent offworld are a wealth of information, and more than enough for Ashnani authorities to destroy the ring. There are 2D teams of agents scattered all over the planet; each team has 1D+1 members (not counting those eliminated by the heroes). The cohort the PCs have tracked down gathers and coordinates the other teams’ reports. One of them then manually takes the compiled reports to the x-boat station at the starport once per week for transmission offworld and brings back new orders from the administrators. Zendarrey didn’t lie about xir role; one of the spies did indeed hire xir as a local liaison and guide.

If the enemies have been alerted by the PCs, they’ll immediately put a contingency plan in play: the courier goes to ground with all the compiled information while the other three—who are armed to the teeth—fight a delaying action to the death. The courier also lets the other teams know that their operation has been compromised and coordinates the extraction; the operative teams immediately disperse and make their way offplanet.

If the heroes defeat the agents and prevent the courier from fleeing, they’ll have possession of top-of-the-line computer and communications equipment (depending on the spies’ home Tech Level) and a makeshift armory with assault weapons, armor, and even explosives. The computer holds information on every enemy agent operating on Ashnan, down to their cover identities and their background; details of the mission and its authors; gathered intel on Ashnan; and the agents’ operating funds, totaling MCr2. Unfortunately, the computer is protected by a passcode and heavy encryption. Failure to enter the proper code on the third try wipes and corrupts the drive. (15+ to bypass the lock and a like throw to break the encryption. DM: Computer skill.)

Five

With the exposure and/or defeat of the spy ring, the crisis has been halted. Deployment of counter-nanites (using a new shipment, if necessary; see Chapter One) begins to reverse the damage done by the nanoblight. It will take time to replace the crops—especially the izin, which was hit particularly hard—and for the social turmoil to settle down, but at least the immediate problem has been sorted.

The information in the spies’ computer (assuming it’s safely recovered) allows the Ashnani authorities to round up the moles. Captured operatives will quickly find themselves facing a raft of local and Imperial espionage charges. The party may be able to negotiate financial concessions or other considerations for their aid in capturing them; at the very least all terrorism charges are dropped.

The local Renegades are grateful for the party’s assistance in clearing its name, and while they have little in the way of money, they represent a valuable resource for the heroes. In addition, if the team finds itself shorthanded after the adventure, Walker is more than willing to travel with them.

NPCs

“Walker” (Ilzebet Rozin) 98B774 Age 31 Cr9,999
3 terms Ex-Army Captain
Air/Raft-1; Brawling-1; Mechanical-1; Rifle-2; SMG-3
SMG

Lin Zendarrey 665744 Age 27 Cr30,000
2 terms Other
Dagger-2, Streetwise-1
Dagger

Enemy Espionage Agents

There are up to 84 enemy agents stationed around Ashnan, organized as mentioned above, with widely varying skills and capabilities. The referee may choose the best method of generating them, but at a minimum they should have STR, DEX, or END of 9, INT of A or better, and at least one level of Gun Combat skill. They should be dangerous as individuals and deadly as a group, but able to blend in easily with the locals. They are equipped up to their home Tech Level, with the equipment either miniaturized for optimum concealment, or disguised as local tech.

Encounters

Each day, throw 8+ for the PCs to have a major encounter with one or more members of Ashnani society. If there is an encounter, throw 2D, DM -1 if in an urban area; DM -2 on all Reactions, except as noted in the table:
 

2-3   Authority Figures—Throw 1D
  1-4 1D Police, additional DM –1 on reactions
  5 Noble/Leader, accompanied by 3D entourage.
  6 4D Soldiers
4-8   Civilians—Throw 2D
  1-2 1D Beggars
  3-8 2D Farmers
  9-10 2D Workers
  11-12 1D Traders
9-10   Event—Throw 1D; do not throw for weapons, transportation, or reactions.
  1-2 Riot—Throw 1D; this is the penalty to movement and the number of hits taken by each PC per combat round unless a throw vs. DEX succeeds. If the number of rioters matters, throw (1D+3)10
  3-4 Weather—adverse weather causes 1D movement and visibility penalties. The referee can simply declare the type of weather based on the throw (e.g., 1=gentle rain, 6=tornadic conditions) or use the rules from “Hazard: Storm!”, Freelance Traveller, April/May 2015.
  5-6 Migration—12D displaced farmers, their families, and belongings
11-12   Offworlders—Throw 2D; equipped up to Imperial TL, not planetary
  2 Imperial Noble’s Representative (as Noble/Leader above)
  3-5 2D Traders: DM +1 on Reactions
  6-8 4D Soldiers
  9 3D Tourists, DM +2 on Reactions
  10-12 3D Researchers

For each encounter, throw for a modifier. Note that it’s possible for all three modifiers to apply to an encounter:
 

10+ Crime: The encounter is somehow linked to criminal activity. For example, a police encounter that comes up Crime either means that the encounters occur as the officers deal with suspects, or that the officers themselves are “dirty”.
8+ Weapons: The people encountered are armed up to the planetary law level. On an additional throw of 6+ (DM: Planetary Law Level 2), the weapons are concealed. Police and soldiers are automatically armed.
6+ Transport: The people encountered have transport appropriate to the local tech level.