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The Night Visitors

This adventure was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2005, and reprinted in the January/February 2014 issue.


While standing overnight ‘cold’ watch on a grounded freighter, the PCs must deal with a group of intruders hell-bent on searching the ship.


Squatting dejectedly on a remote pad at the local starport, a grounded merchantman awaits repairs. The actual reason for the delay, whether parts required are not yet on hand, payment hasn't been made, or a repair vessel is in route, doesn't matter. All the players need to know is that there is a job available, namely standing ‘watch’ in the grounded vessel before it is moved to the Yard and her extensive repairs begin.

The local spacer hiring hall is looking for two watchstanders per overnight shift: a bridge watchstander and a ‘rover’. (Referees can either simply presume two 6-hour, overnight shifts per 24 hour day or come up with a shift schedule built around the actual local day. However, having two overnight shifts to fill will allow more PCs to be involved.)

Watchstanders are only needed at night; during the day there are various Port and Yard workers aboard, all involved in simple repairs and planned maintenance. The bridge watch should have either computer, engineering, or pilot skills. The ‘rover’ needs no specific skills. Because the hiring is being done through the local spacers hall, all applicants should have some shipboard experience. (The various crew certifications listed in GURPS Traveller can guide a GM here.)

The Ship

Any ship for which the Referee has deckplans can be used. However, a scout/courier or seeker would definitely be too small for all but the tiniest player parties. A Beowulf or Empress Marava, thanks to having two decks, can be used. A Type-R may be ideal, multiple decks and plenty of compartments. (I have used both the Type R and other, larger ships when running this.)

The ship has no internal power and no way of generating any internal power; i.e. the power plant is ‘cold’ and the batteries ‘flat’. Power comes aboard either via a shore power connection or is supplied by a off-hull generator. The ship’s computer is inoperable and no anti-hijacking program can be run. Some basic internal indicators and sensors are operable. These are primarily hatch and door indications plus various electrical distribution displays. Due to the work being performed during the day, the number and kind of indicators and read-outs will change from day to day.

Lighting aboard is also limited. While the bridge is fully lit, all other spaces will not normally be so. Cargo holds, staterooms, passageways, engineering spaces and the like will either be lighted normally, with temporary fixtures, or not at all. As with the indicators and sensors above, the lighting plan will change from day to day.

The ship’s hold is mostly empty. There are a few (1d6) standard cargo containers scattered about. Some are empty and some contain the tool cribs and parts the day workers use. There will also be equipment, tools, and parts in the other areas of the ship where work is taking place. The numbers. types, and locations of these will change from day to day.

Watchstanding itself will be boring. The bridge watch will monitor and log what little information is displayed by the electrical distribution system. The ‘rover’ will do just that, rove around the ship looking out for fires, egregious safety violations, spills of various liquids, and so forth. The rover is also supposed to prevent and/or report intrusions aboard by unauthorized personnel.

Communication between the two watchstanders either uses the ship’s internal comm system or handheld comm-links. Like every other system aboard, some comm stations will be out of order and those will change from day to day. The handheld units are usually good backups; their operation may be spotty in certain compartments however.

The Plot

Certain crewmembers aboard the vessel were engaged in the ‘small package’ trade; i.e. smuggling. They were killed or injured when the incident that grounded the freighter occurred. The local parties who had contracted for the ‘delivery’ are now quite concerned about claiming their property. While they know that the parcel is aboard, they don’t know exactly where aboard it is and they feel quite certain that the parcel will be found when the freighter is in the Yards.

Just where the parcel is and what it contains is of little matter. Aside from the bridge, the Referee can place it anywhere onboard and have it contain any kind of item(s) at all; gems, drugs, political tracts, blackmail materials, anything. The parcel is small; perhaps 15cm 20 cm 1cm, and is artfully hidden.

The Action

The first night on watch will be relatively peaceful. There will be a few, seemingly spurious indications of hatch and door operation. The rover may catch fleeting glimpses of intruders or just hear undetermined noises. After their first night(s) aboard, the players should only be aware that something odd is going on.

That feeling should become a certainty when the players are approached by someone who wishes to gain access to the freighter that night. This individual, or group, should at first ask, then attempt to bribe, and finally threaten the players. Just what happens next is up to the PCs, naturally.

Some will take the bribe allowing the search and retrieval to occur. Those PCs should run afoul of both the local hiring hall and the local police in the next few days. The hiring hall will learn of the players’ ‘blind eye’ and move to void their various spacer certifications. The police will wish to question and possibly charge the players with a crime.

If the PCs refuse to allow access to the searchers, even in the face of threats, the following night (or nights!) on watch should be quiet. The locals are using this time to decide on and plan their next moves. This lull in NPC activity will have two effects. First, it will leave the players jittery.

Second, the lull will undercut the story the players tell local authorities. Some players will report the bribe offer and threats to local authorities, such as the police or port security. How well their story is received should depend on how well the players tell it. The players could be simply ignored, more frequent check-ins arranged, or extra patrols set up. Any of the added security arrangements will not last long when nothing occurs, however.

Some players will search for the smuggled parcel themselves. Skills like streetwise, intrusion, holdout, and others can help the player’s search for the parcel once they know it is aboard and once they know which compartment it is in. The latter is the most important.

Searching the entire ship is obviously impossible. The Referee should place the parcel with the job held by the smuggler in mind; gunner in a turret, drive lackey behind a maintenance panel, steward in the kitchen, human forklift in the hold, etc. If they wish to search for the parcel themselves, the players will first have to determine its general location before beginning. There any many methods of doing this.

One would be to interrogate or bribe one of the NPCs involved. Another would consist of examining the last crew roster and comparing it with the list of dead and injured. Still another has the players offering to search the ship for the local smugglers. While the method the players use to narrow their search doesn’t matter, the search itself should be very time consuming and take days, not hours.

After the lull and if the players haven’t decided to work with the smugglers, two acts of direct violence by the locals will occur in the same day. First, an attempt to beat a player or players will happen. The locals are hoping that the beating will scare off the players and allow a more pliant group to take over the ‘cold’ watches. If the beatings do not work, the locals will make an armed assault on the ship that night.

The number of assailants and the type of their arms should be tailored to the players’ group. At one extreme, only body pistols and knuckle dusters will be used, while at the other ACRs and grenades may be more appropriate. In all cases, local laws levels should be strictly observed for both the players and their opponents. If the players show up for work with FGMPs or the smugglers drive up in a Trepida, People Will Notice and Questions Will Be Asked. Despite their clumsy acts thus far, the local smugglers still believe in stealth and discretion.

The local smugglers plan on taking the players captive first and searching the ship second. While they will settle on keeping the players from interfering with the search, the smugglers do not want any ‘stray’ players running off to summon port security or arranging Die Hard style problems for them. They will prefer to intimidate rather than kill. After all, smuggling is one thing while murder is something entirely different. (This may prove difficult to control in an ACR/grenade situations.)

The smugglers’ plan is to first cut off both electrical power to the ship and communications with the outside. Immediately after that, the rover(s) are to be rounded up with the capture of the bridge to follow. The smugglers will be counting on speed above all else; they want to gain control of the vessel quickly to leave enough time for their serach. Again, depending on the tone of play, the smugglers may either overawe the rover(s) with a show of force and give the bridge watch a chance to surrender or shoot down the rover(s) and assault the bridge quickly after.

The smugglers’ search will take little time. They have previously worked with the crewman involved and know something of his methods. The search will be split between two locations aboard. The Referee should select a stateroom and a work location to be searched. The time required for each location will be between 35 minutes to an hour (30 minutes + 1D6 5 minutes). Whether the smugglers find the parcel in the first location searched or whether they can search both locations at the same time is up the Referee. (When I ran this scenario, I decided that two smugglers were required for each search party. Whether there were two search parties then depended on the size of the smuggler group, casualties, the number of guards needed, etc. In one case, because a player was still loose, a search party required two searchers and guard.)

Of course, the resolution of the smugglers’ assault will depend on the actions of the players. They can be captured and they can surrender. They can escape and evade. They can even fight off the smugglers or hold on and summon help. In the latter case, just how fast the police or port security arrive is up to the Referee, as is how many cops arrive. Remember that the players have cried wolf before, so unless presented with extraordinary ‘evidence’—like a comm call from the bridge in which gunfire can be heard—the police or port security should just send a patrol at first, two men in a patrol vehicle. Their reports; ship’s power cut, comm links down, bodies, someone shooting at us, etc., will then bring down a veritable Avalanche Of Law Enforcement.

As always, the Referee should determine the course of further events.

Mixing It Up

Here are a few ideas with which to complicate this scenario: