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A Jolly (Roger) Good Time

This was the featured article from the July 2012 issue.

This scenario should be set in a backwater system that sees little traffic, situated two to three parsecs off the Spinward Main or one of its branches. There should be a research station in the system, though it may be affiliated with the subsector capital university rather than be sponsored by the Imperium. The PCs need not have their own ship; in fact, it may be better if they don’t. If such is the case then at least one PC should have established friendships among the crew sufficient to permit him to be on the bridge when the ship emerges from Jump.

What’s Going On?

Pirates have been using a minor planet in the system, the one the research station orbits, as a ‘cooling off’ spot for their booty. They regularly bring stolen cargoes here to fall off the authorities’ radar before retrieving them for later sale elsewhere. The pirates are just returning from a raid when the PCs’ ship detects them, though only momentarily; the pirates use the ‘terrain’ to mask their movement to the planet.

Personnel working at the research station detect the pirate corsair’s energy emissions and, recognizing it as anomalous, decide to investigate. The professor, one of his students, and a tech head planetside to investigate. When the researchers stumble upon the pirates they are taken hostage. The pirates then use the research station ship’s boat as a Trojan Horse to gain access to the research station and take the rest of the personnel hostage before they can notify anyone of the pirates’ presence. The captive research personnel are thrown into cold sleep berths onboard the corsair for later sale into slavery. No longer considering their position secure, the pirates are in the middle of loading the most valuable of their prizes when the PCs arrive.

Complicating things for the pirates, they are taking advantage of the visit to overhaul their J-Drive. It is currently scattered over the lower engineering deck and will take some time to reassemble. This may provide the PCs the chance to recover their own ship and have another go at capturing the pirates if the GM so desires.


When the PCs’ ship emerges from J-Space the person at the sensors notices a phantom contact; phantom, because almost as soon as it registers it disappears. If a PC is not at the sensors, then the NPC stationed there will comment sufficiently to catch the nearest PC’s attention. The reading was short and uncertain enough to have been a ‘ghost’, a false reading. However, based upon its position, it could be another ship using the stellar system’s configuration and makeup to mask its presence—an unusual (and therefore unlikely) move given the lack of traffic within the system. Time is money, though, and if the ship is to make a profit it can’t spend time chasing down ghost sensor returns. The PCs proceed to the local Starport.

Request for Help

At the Starport the PCs are approached by a representative of the SPA. Communications have been lost with an installation housing a team conducting research in orbit about one of the smaller planets in the system and, being short of staffing, the SPA would like the PCs to check and make sure the researchers are OK. The SPA will loan the PCs the use of a pinnace (Mongoose Traveller Core Rules p. 133) and a pilot if necessary. If the PCs have their own ship, point out that it needs to refuel and reprovision, and again offer the use of the SPA pinnace. If needed, the SPA will also offer the PCs the use of TL 8 vacc-suits and EVA gear.

The SPA provides brief dossiers on the station personnel. There are three techs to operate the station and a research team consisting of a professor from the subsector capitol university, a graduate student assistant, and three undergrads. If asked, the SPA official shrugs and denies all knowledge of the nature of the research, saying that he never inquired. He doesn’t believe it to be classified or secret, though. The official also provides the coordinates of the station. It is in orbit above a small, barren, airless rockball of a planet.

Any of the PCs who are aware of the earlier phantom sensor reading and who make an INT 8+ roll will realize that the research station is in the vicinity of the mystery contact. If they inquire, they will also learn that the last communication with the station occurred shortly after the time of the phantom contact.

Anybody Home?

Approaching the station, sensor scans with anything other than a NAS, which the SPA pinnace does not have, will reveal nothing unexpected. Visual inspection will not show any damage or external activity, though if someone thinks to check, they’ll notice that the ship’s boat assigned to the station is not at its docking port, or anywhere to be seen. Attempting to communicate with the station, even from the closest safe range, will go unanswered.

The PCs will have no problem gaining access to the station. They may dock the pinnace at the empty ship’s boat dock, or stand off and enter it via EVA. Alternatively, the PCs may enter the cargo bay hatch via EVA. Whatever method they choose, once on board the PCs will find the station’s environmental systems operating normally. What they will not find is any sign of current human activity.

They will also find signs of a firefight. Some of the equipment has been damaged, though it appears to be collateral damage rather than intentional. Judging by the marks on the walls there was a mixture of slug and laser fire. Any of the PCs who make an INT 6+ roll, +1 DM for those with prior combat careers, will notice that the battle damage is unidirectional; all of the fire seems to have originated at the ship’s boat dock and proceed through the station from there. There does not appear to have been any return fire. If any of the PCs bother to check, there is nothing in the station personnel files indicating they were armed, and no sign of personal weapons—other than the signs of the firefight—will be found. A call back to the Starport will be inconclusive; all they will be able to tell the PCs is that nobody said anything either way, and there was no reason for the SPA to ask.

Checking the station computer log, Computer EDU 8+, reveals the ship’s boat returned from the planet’s surface about the time communications were lost. For each additional point by which the roll is made, or each subsequent attempt, learn one of the following items, in order:

  1. Two hours prior to its return, the ship’s boat was dispatched to the planet’s surface with one of the techs as pilot, the professor, and one of the undergrad students;
  2. Before the ship’s boat was dispatched, anomalous energy readings were detected on the planet’s surface. On an INT 8+ roll, +2 DM for Pilot or Astrogation skill, any character aware of the phantom sensor reading will realize that the time of this discovery coincides with the time it would take a ship with a thrust 3 M-drive to reach the planet from the phantom contact point;
  3. Coordinates of the anomalous readings on the planet’s surface. They are near one of the volcanoes venting gases that, due to the planet’s low gravity, escape into space.

Delving Deeper

If the PCs choose to investigate the situation on the planet below, they have two options: They may fly directly to the location of the anomalous readings, or they may land on the opposite side of the volcano, using it to mask their approach, and travel to the site overland. They may also try to contact the planetary surface via radio, receiving no answer.

If the PCs choose the direct approach (if the pilot is a NPC SPA employee he will not agree to this option) then they are detected by the pirates.

If the PCs opt to use the volcano and its outgassing as a mask for their approach then the pilot must make a Pilot INT 8+ roll. Failure means the pirates are alerted. The PCs land approximately one-hour’s travel by foot from the site.

If the PCs choose the direct approach, attempt to contact the surface, or fail in their attempt to ‘hide’ behind the volcano, the pirates will be alerted; see “Alerting the Pirates” below.

Due to the fact that there is no atmosphere off which to bounce signals, all communications are limited to line-of-sight. The volcano will soon block communications between the pinnace and anyone going to investigate the site. Additionally, the vacc-suit radios do not have sufficient power to transmit a signal off planet. Anyone remaining on the pinnace may attempt to bounce a signal off the gases being vented by the volcano by succeeding at the task chain: Engineering (Electronic) INT 8+ or Physical Science (Physics) EDU 8+, followed by Communications INT 8+. This will take 1D6×10 minutes and if successful, they will be able to communicate with those on the other side of the volcano. They will also hear the pirate transmissions as described below.

X Marks the Spot

As the PCs travelling overland approach the site of the energy anomaly, they will hear radio transmissions. There are multiple people talking as though coordinating some kind of work. The PCs hear snippets of conversation such as, “Not that one, leave that one for next time.” “Aghayt, Tune, everything quiet out there?” “Marco, how’re the repairs coming?” as well as joking and kidding around. This should alert the PCs to several things:

  1. If they can hear other people’s radio transmissions then other people will be able to hear theirs. (Non-radio communications are possible by touching helmets together while talking.)
  2. Whoever is talking doesn’t seem to know the PCs are there.
  3. There is at least one set of sentries on duty.
  4. Some piece of equipment is currently non-operational.

If the PCs continue they crest a rise and see before them a valley. One hundred meters into the valley a pirate corsair (Mongoose Traveller Core Rules pp 129 - 130, but mounting one beam laser and one sandcaster in each turret rather than two beam lasers) is grounded. Alongside it is parked what must be the research station ship’s boat. There is a structure that looks to be a warehouse sitting ahead of the corsair and people in vacc-suits are moving cargo containers between the warehouse and the ship. One figure appears to be directing the action (the pirate captain, Dallaat Mor). He is wearing a TL 12 vacc-suit and is armed with a laser pistol (TL 9). Another figure, armed with an accelerator rifle, seems to be standing guard. Those moving the cargo containers are armed with snub pistols.

If the PCs chose to approach stealthily and succeed, Stealth DEX 6+, then they also see two figures directly before them. One is armed with an accelerator rifle with underslung grenade launcher. The other has a rocket launcher. These sentries are not initially aware of the PCs. If the PCs can take out the sentries in one combat round then no alarm is raised.

If the PCs succeed in taking out the sentries without raising an alarm they may attempt to sneak up on the pirates using the limited cover available. Each PC must roll Stealth DEX 8+. If successful the PC gets within 50 m of the pirates. If a PC fails, he is (6×effect) meters further back. Failure by any of the PCs also alerts the pirates and immediately sends the action into combat rounds, though the pirates will be surprised for the first round. If none of the PCs fails the Stealth roll, roll again with a target of 10+ to make it within 14m of the pirates, and with the same penalties for failure. This will bring the PCs up to the ship’s boat. If they check, the PCs will find the ship’s boat empty of personnel, powered down, and its drive, communications, and controls disabled. If the pirates still have not been alerted to the PCs presence, go into combat rounds anyway at this point. In addition to the pirates outside, there is at least one (the pirate lieutenant, Crag Jorgenson) in the open cargo bay, two (Tan Marco and Kalinda Bjell) on the lower engineering deck, and another on the bridge.

Once alerted to the PCs’ presence, Jorgenson will activate the cargo bay doors (they will take 1D6 combat rounds to close), order the ship powered up (taking 1D6×10 seconds) and head to the bridge. Any gunners onboard will make their way to the turrets. However, the weapons will not be functional until the ship is powered up. (See the “Notes on Combat” below for using the ship’s weapons against close-in personnel.)

Alerting the Pirates

This section pertains to alerting the pirates before the PCs arrive on site; either by transmitting an inquiry or heading for a landing at their camp. For the consequences of alerting the pirates once the PCs are present at the pirates’ location see “X Marks the Spot” above.

If the PCs broadcast a message to the planetary surface the pirates will not respond, nor will they abandon their treasure. Instead, they will power up the ship and have one of the turrets manned and ready by the time the PCs arrive. In addition, any stealth rolls required in “X Marks the Spot” automatically have a target of 12+ and the pirates do not suffer surprise.

Should the PCs steer directly for the pirate camp, by the time they arrive the corsair is fully powered, manned, and ready to lift planet. Use the space combat rules with the ships starting at Adjacent range.

Playing the Pirates

There are between ten and twenty pirates, assuming a mix of single and double occupancy onboard the corsair. Tailor the number to fit the size and ability of your PC party. Other than specified above, all pirates will be involved in transferring cargo between the warehouse and the corsair’s cargo bay. Designate three of the cargo handling pirates as the gunners, giving them Gunner (Turret) 1 in addition to the normal pirate skills.

With the exception of Tan Marco and Kalinda Bjell, who are lovers, there is no cohesion or sense of loyalty among the pirates and they have no problem abandoning their fellows if it will mean their own escape. In fact, Dallaat Mor and Crag Jorgenson are in direct competition and would welcome the opportunity to sacrifice the other. If the fight seems to be going against them, pirates guaranteed amnesty will surrender. As loss appears more certain, individuals may well surrender in exchange for offers of leniency. If either Tan Marco or Kalinda Bjell take damage to the point of serious injury or unconsciousness the other will initiate surrender negotiations. Conversely, if either is killed, the other will never surrender. Likewise, Dor and Jorgenson will fight to the death unless guaranteed full amnesty.

Should the PCs need help taking the corsair, you can incorporate Dr. Arisa Gaanirrii, who is being forced to serve the pirates as ship’s doctor against her will. While she will not take any offensive combat action, Dr. Gaanirrii will sedate any injured pirates that come to her for help and will work to grant the PCs access to various parts of the corsair.

Once aware of the PCs’ presence, the pirates’ primary motivation will be to escape. Their secondary goal will be to strand the PCs on the planet, preferably to suffer a slow death as their oxygen supply runs out. Toward that end the pirates will seek to disable or destroy the SPA pinnace if aware of it. They have already rendered the research station ship’s boat inoperative.

Pirate NPCs

Note: Those pirates shown as having Cutlass will not have it in their possession; it is stored aboard the ship.

Dallaat Mor: Human male, 34. 97A886
Pirate Captain
Athletics(Coordination) 1, Leadership 2, Recon 1, Gun Combat(Energy Pistol) 2, Melee(Unarmed) 1, Comms 1, Zero-G 1, Astrogation 1, Pilot 0, Vacc Suit 1
Vacc-Suit (TL 12), Laser Pistol (TL 9), Cutlass

Dallaat is egotistical, sadistic, pragmatic, and amoral. He likes to control people through fear and hates his lieutenant, Crag Jorgenson.

Crag Jorgenson: Human male, 30. 576B96
Pirate Lieutenant.
Gun Combat(Slug Pistol) 1, Comms 1, Zero-G 0, Pilot(Spacecraft) 1, Astrogation 0, Computer 1, Sensors 1, Vacc-Suit 1, Leadership 0
Vacc-Suit (TL 8), Gauss Pistol, Cutlass

Completely self-serving, Crag is looking for a way to supplant Dallaat Mor as leader.

Tan Marco: Human male, 43. 888CA5
Pirate Chief Engineer.
Gun Combat(Slug Pistol) 1, Vacc-Suit 1, Melee(Unarmed) 2, Engineer(Power Plant) 2, Zero-G 2, Carouse 1
Vacc-Suit (TL 8), Snub Pistol, Cutlass

Tan prefers dealing with machines over people, except for Kalinda Bjell (with whom he is involved romantically). He will not abandon Kalinda, placing her welfare above everything else.

Kalinda Bjell: Human female, 27. 8679A5
Pirate Engineer.
Gun Combat 0, Melee(Unarmed) 1, Engineer(Maneuver Drive) 2, Mechanic 1, Physical Science(Electronics) 1, Physical Science(Physics) 1 Vacc-Suit 0, Zero-G 1
Vacc-Suit (TL 8), Snub Pistol, Cutlass

A wizard with machines and science, Kalinda is socially inept. She is romantically involved with Tan Marco and will not abandon him, placing his welfare above everything else.

Pirate Crewman. 697665
Gun Combat(Slug Pistol) 1, Gun Combat(Slug Rifle) 1, Melee(Blade) 1, Streetwise 0, Carouse 1, Vacc-Suit 1, Zero-G 1, Gunner(Turret) 1 for the three gunners, Heavy Weapons 0 for the two sentries.
Vacc-Suit (TL 8), Snub Pistol and/or Accelerator Rifle (with underslung Grenade Launcher for one sentry), Rocket Launcher for one sentry, Cutlass

“Every man for himself” is their motto.

Dr. Arisa Gaanirrii: Human female, 37. 576CC9
Pirate Medic (reluctant)
Admin 0, Medic 3, Life Science(Biology) 1, Sensors 1
Vacc-Suit (TL 8), Med Kit

Dr. Gaanirrii is a pirate captive and serving as ship’s medic against her will. She will not actively cause injury, but will otherwise help the PCs.

Notes on Combat

The corsair’s lasers are not meant for use against personnel sized targets at virtually point-blank range, being unable to track the targets fast enough. However, they can be used to target static locations, such as rock formations being used for cover. All such targets are at Adjacent range (Space Combat Rules) and because of the extreme proximity suffer an additional -1 DM to hit. If successful, roll on the “Normal Damage” column of the Crew Damage table in Mongoose Traveller Core Rules p. 151. Treat Sandcasters as having eight dice for autofire, each hit doing 2D6 damage.

Vacc-Suits are, to a limited extent self-sealing. A vacc-suit may be penetrated a number of times equal to its TL and remain sealed. The next penetration after that requires immediate action (roll Vacc-Suit EDU 8+) to seal the breach manually. To keep the breach sealed does not require additional rolls, but does require a minor action each combat round. Additional breaches cannot be sealed. Damage from explosions or sandcasters cannot be sealed, either manually or through the suit’s self-sealing function.

Because of the planet’s low gravity, any action more vigorous than a walk (spending more than one minor action/round on movement), firing a weapon with recoil, making a melee attack, dodging or parrying, requires a Zero-G DEX 8+ roll to remain in control. For rolls resulting from firing a weapon, apply a negative DM equal to the recoil. Firing a weapon with a negative recoil still requires a control roll, but without the negative DM. For rolls resulting from a melee attack or parry, apply the heft of the weapon as a negative DM. Even if the weapon has a negative heft or none at all a control roll is required, but without the negative DM. This is a free action. Failure means the character can perform no other actions until they regain control (another Zero-G DEX 8+ roll with a cumulative +1 DM for each successive round). Attempting to regain control is a significant action counted against the character’s allotment for the round.

The Joy of Victory

There are a number of potential, not necessarily exclusive outcomes for the PCs.

If the PCs succeed in rescuing the research team the professor becomes a contact and the SPA waives their berthing fees. It is up to the GM to determine the professor’s field of study that will prove most useful to the PCs while being consistent with his involvement at a research station circling the planet.

If the GM brings Dr. Arisa Gaanirrii into play and the PCs rescue her, she will become an ally. She may also end up a romantic interest for one of the PCs.

Capturing the corsair is worth Cr 50,000 for taking it out of circulation. Should your players prove as mercenary as the ones I’m familiar with and want to keep the ship for themselves, remind them that taking a ship by force is called piracy, not salvage. The same holds true for any of the recovered cargo, though the insurers may pay a reward for its recovery; figure Cr (1D6×10,000) with it taking (6 + 1D6) months for the paperwork to go through and the cash to show up.

There is a Cr 1000 bounty for every pirate returned to stand trial and Cr 250 for every dead pirate that can be proven to have been one. Remember any deals the PCs may have cut with the pirates regarding amnesty or leniency. Any pirates turned over to the authorities may well come seeking revenge should they ever escape or be set free.

If the PCs end up stranded at the pirate camp, they can find sufficient materials among the left behind booty to create a temporary habitat to keep them alive (task chain: Engineering (Life Support) INT 8+ then Survival EDU 6+) and to build a radio (Engineering (Electronic) EDU 6+) to call for help.

If the PCs fail to rescue the hostages or capture any live pirates, they will be held on suspicion of piracy. It will take (1D6×4) weeks before they are eventually exonerated.