This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue.
The travelers are called upon to help a business owner root out the traitor within his company.
“Nostrum” is a Classic Traveller adventure for a group of 3-5 characters with varied backgrounds. It is assumed that the group has been working together for some time prior to the adventure, but the adventure can be easily modified to serve as a way to assemble them. The setting can be any world with a Trade Classification of Industrial (In). No particular skills or equipment are necessary for the scenario, although it is lighter on combat than most Traveller adventures and focuses more on roleplaying and character interaction. Thus, the heroes will be called upon to primarily use their observational and information-gathering skills.
While traveling through the planetary capital, the PCs come upon an angry mob clustered around an overturned vehicle with smoke billowing from it. As they survey the scene, a bruised and battered woman runs toward them, screaming hysterically for help and claiming her husband is being killed. Barely visible in the midst of the crowd a man is being beaten. The police are not yet in sight; the man’s fate rests solely with the team. Fast action on the heroes’ part will save the victim.
To rescue the man from the violent mob:
DIFFICULT; Brawling, DEX; 15 seconds.
REFEREE: Failure means the crowd inflicts 1D-3 hits on the heroes per combat round, and the unfortunate man takes 1/2 of the hits the crowd inflicts on the team.
Firing warning shots may help disperse the crowd; any team member firing a weapon should throw for the damage as usual; the result, divided by 5, acts as a positive DM to throws to see if the crowd backs off.
When the adventurers try to escape, the mob will pursue them, but for no more than a few blocks, and might be persuaded not to do so at all.
To escape the pursuing mob:
ROUTINE; DEX, INT; 30 seconds
REFEREE: Failure indicates that the crowd has caught them; use the procedure above to determine the resulting injury.
Warning shots again might make the mob think twice, but if the group tried that tactic already, the new reaction DM is 1/10 of the damage thrown.
The grateful couple is Eldin van Morrow and his wife Ilse. The group will have heard of him on a throw of INT or less; Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals was instrumental in helping stop a plague on a nearby world years ago. Recently, the company was again called upon. A previously nonlethal virus suddenly mutated into a deadly strain. The planetary health authorities feared the outbreak would become a pandemic. Quarantine protocols were hastily instituted but all it takes to defeat such things is one infected person getting on a global transport…
Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals contracted to produce effective antiviral drugs, which it did in record time. The treatment was put on a production fast track with the first doses given a few weeks ago. A few days later, the first deaths occurred from complications blamed on the medicine. Since then, more people died and a halt was called to the program; meanwhile the virus began its march through the population. World opinion has been savage in its blame of Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals in general and van Morrow personally. Despite the danger, however, van Morrow insisted on leading the production facility on this world himself.
Van Morrow is adamant that his drugs had nothing to do with the deaths. His quality control program is excellent, and his manufacturing plants are generally guarded against intrusion. Nevertheless, he fears the drug manufacturing process has been sabotaged. Worse, there seems to be a coordinated effort to further damage the company’s reputation.
He has need of a group of investigators not affiliated with the company to find out what’s going on. He offers the team Cr25,000 to investigate and expose the culprit, double that if their efforts lead to an arrest. He pledges to notify his company—what’s left of it—to place any resources they require at the adventurers’ disposal. He and Ilse plan to disappear for a while for their continued safety, so the group will be largely on their own.
The main Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals facility is just outside of the second-largest city on the planet. It is composed of a manicured administrative campus adjacent to a sprawling industrial plant.
The adventurers don’t have to infiltrate the company overtly. They can use such means as posing as new hires or slip in with buyers or delivery people. The risk is that if caught they’ll be treated as any other intruder; van Morrow’s orders assumed that the band would be working out in the open. And his decision to disappear makes it harder for the heroes to contact him for help or advice. Although he leaves them a way to do so (his personal commcode), it means that the team will only be able to contact him sporadically.
To contact van Morrow:
DIFFICULT; INT; 2.5 hours
Van Morrow can help them with advice or answers to questions. He cannot do more—including taking direct action—without revealing his hiding place, but any information he gives them grants DM+2 on any subsequent actions they take based on the subject matter.
If the team investigates openly, their contact is Liam Wolczak, a hard-charging, humorless man who is the regional Vice-President in charge of facilities on-world. Wolczak confirms van Morrow’s orders regarding access, with one caveat: only Wolczak personally lets them into sensitive areas such as the R&D labs, the company computer networks and the hardcopy files in the main office.
The team’s investigative efforts should drive this part of the adventure. Each day, they have an opportunity to gather clues that allow them to assemble a picture of what happened. The evidence won’t simply fall into their pockets, however; some of the clues can be found through active investigation; others through simply keeping their eyes and ears open.
Once data is obtained, it is added to the party’s information pool. The referee may also override the task procedure and simply dole out the clues, perhaps as a reward for good roleplaying. The items are grouped below based on the areas where they are most likely to be learned—with the areas themselves listed in alphabetical order—although most clues can be gleaned from several sources. The highlighted items have further repercussions for the PCs; see Placebo below:
- Wolczak is caught on a municipal surveillance camera meeting with a rough-looking individual in a Startown diner.
- Records from Vortai Delivery Service, a popular delivery company, show that a package arrived at Wolczak’s home soon after his meeting with the individual at the diner.
- News reports are abuzz with accounts of the progress of the virus and the establishment of quarantine zones to slow its spread.
- Media video footage shows a brief image of Wu among a group of patients being checked into a QZ. The date is several days after he called in sick.
- Amateur video shows the attack on the van Morrows where the PCs first met them.
- A small sample of the virus the researchers were using to create the vaccine went missing, but turned up after a brief search. None of the contents seemed to be missing, but the scientists can confirm that it only takes several drops of the medium to make someone sick.
The company computer has excellent software defenses. If the heroes try to access the computer without Wolczak, they must bypass the protections:
To access the computer files without the proper access
DIFFICULT; Computer, EDU; 1 minute
REFEREE: Multiple attempts may be made, with a cumulative DM of -2 after the first. Any throw of a natural 2 activates a security lockout and encrypts the files. The task level then becomes IMPOSSIBLE.
- The computer history reveals a previous search through employee records using Wolczak’s access code. Several candidates were flagged for further review. Wu’s name is among them.
- Examination of the flagged employee results shows all of the flagged candidates had past scrapes with the law.
- Programs are set up to monitor news reports of pharmaceutical company stock prices and the ongoing public anger at VMP
- Several messages between Wolczak and Husaam Hamed, a SuSAG representative, discussing purchase options and stock prices. In the messages, Wolczak is passing himself off as a higher level employee than he actually is.
- The outer covering from the package brought in by Wolczak is in the trash. The material contains traces of the industrial chemical.
- Based on security camera footage and time sheet records, Wu could have introduced the chemical into the drug mixture at four specific points in the manufacturing process: Blending, Granulation, Compacting, or Coating. In the weeks leading up to the adulteration of the drugs, he manned all but the Coating station at one time or another. His employee records show he was not fully trained for the Compacting station, so he rarely manned it. His usual assignments were either the Blending or the Granulation stations; analysis shows the poison was introduced into the latter station. If the group pins down the time it occurred, they find that Wu was on duty at that station at that time.
- Wu Zhiqiang, one of the factory floor workers, called in sick the day after (as it turns out) meeting with Wolczak in a corridor near his station.
The security officers only allow access to the surveillance footage on van Morrow’s direct order. The team may of course try to break in; such attempts are detected on a throw of 7+; a DM of -3 applies after business hours. If they are caught breaking in, they will be detained and turned over to the local police.
The footage shows the following:
- Wolczak coming in with a package the day before the drugs were tampered with, (although this isn’t unusual. As a company representative, he is often sent samples of drugs for evaluation and possible addition to Van Morrow products.)
- Wolczak in the company lab, speaking with a technician. He slips something into his pocket when the technician isn’t looking.
- Wolczak and Wu talking animatedly in a corridor outside the plant the day before Wu called in sick (see above). Wolczak can be seen touching Wu several times.
The most damning information is in here. Unless they are adept at manipulating him into divulging information, the heroes must first wait until Wolczak leaves his office (he is a workaholic who only leaves his office for the day if he fails an hourly throw against his END), get past the electronic door lock, and then conduct a search, bypassing any other locks and uncovering hiding places in the process:
To break into Wolczak’s office:
DIFFICULT; Computer, Electronics; 1 minute
To thoroughly search Wolczak’s office:
ROUTINE; INT; 5 minutes
REFEREE: the group will be caught by Security on a throw of 3-, made once an hour.
The search of Wolczak’s office finds the following items (one per adventurer per search):
- Comm call logs showing a code to an apartment in Startown.
- Copies of a dossier prepared by a private detective agency, Vatiga Investigations, a well-known agency based in the capital, concerning Wu. The report was annotated by Wolczak. Apparently Wu was once charged with several offenses on a world on the other side of the subsector.
- A bill from Vatiga, and a report from Vatiga operative Piera Duumiir.
- A name, Fen Hullakav, scrawled on a pad. She is a noted professor of memetics at the local university.
- A scrap of paper with a string of code on it, corresponding to a hidden bank account. The account holds Cr500,000, deposited within the past few days. The heroes can try to trace the origin of the money with the following task:
To trace the source of the money:
IMPOSSIBLE; Computer, Electronics, SOC: 1 hr.
REFEREE: a failed throw alerts the authorities, who begin a trace of their own. If successful, officers will arrive at Wolczak’s office in 9D min.
If the heroes succeed, they find the money came from a local SuSAG account.
The referee is free to create other clues and locations for the adventurers.
Liam Wolczak is used to having his way. When Eldin van Morrow chose another executive as a junior partner over him—something Wolczak had set his sights on almost from his first day on the job—he became quietly unhinged and secretly vowed revenge. If he couldn’t be junior partner at Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals after all his hard work, then there would be no Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals!
The first thing Wolczak did was to damage the firm’s credibility and reputation by tampering with the quality of the drugs during the viral pandemic. Calling in a favor from Dugesh Nakhi, a street contact; he received a shipment of a toxic chemical—a common industrial compound that decays quickly in the body, leaving little trace of its presence. To get the compound into the manufacturing process while maintaining an alibi, he needed a patsy. Searching company records, he found several candidates with sketchy pasts and employed Vatiga Investigations to evaluate them further, using the story of considering them for a promotion as cover. Through Vatiga’s efforts, he soon found what he was looking for: Wu Zhiqiang, one of the factory floor workers, was once charged with several offenses on another world, but skipped the planet before trial. Wolczak threatened to expose Wu unless he followed instructions and doctored the drugs with the chemical. Wu did as he was told. Afterward, Wolczak had to dispose of Wu, so he exposed him to a sample of the virus he stole from the company lab, forcing Wu into quarantine.
Wolczak then executed the second phase of his plan. Contacting a scientist skilled in memetics, he sparked a smear campaign against Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals. The campaign succeeded in turning the public violently against the company. With civic ire stoked, Wolczak could begin the final phase of his revenge: softening the company up for a hostile takeover. As the corporation’s stock price fell, he quietly contacted SuSAG representatives and, citing Van Morrow’s problems, proposed that SuSAG buy the company out, unsurprisingly keeping Wolczak on as executive. Wolczak has almost won; the van Morrows are in hiding, their company is on the ropes, and talks with SuSAG are getting serious.
Several results from the clues above require the referee to run follow-up encounters:
Comm call logs: The comm call logs in Wolczak’s office lead the group to the Startown apartment of Dugesh Nakhi, a notorious street operator who owed Wolczak a favor. When the heroes arrive, Nakhi mistakes them for the police and bolts. If he can’t escape the group, he calls for help from some of his street friends:
For Nakhi to get his friends to help:
REFEREE: 1D+1 friends armed with improvised weapons will help cover Nakhi’s getaway. If they delay the team for 3 combat rounds, Nakhi escapes.
If they corner Nakhi, he produces a concealed body pistol and tries to fight. If questioned, he tells the group that Wolczak called him to get a quantity of the chemical. He sent it in a package through Vortai Parcel Delivery to allay suspicion. For his trouble, Wolczak paid Nakhi Cr500.
If Nakhi gets away, the team will have to find him again. This will be harder, as he now knows people are looking for him, and he’ll be in hiding:
To find Nakhi after he escapes:
FORMIDABLE; Streetwise, INT; 2.5 hours
REFEREE: A throw of a natural “2” means that Nakhi is tipped off that the adventurers are coming for him, and he'll go even further underground. The task then becomes IMPOSSIBLE.
Piera Duumiir’s report: Vatiga Investigations operative Piera Duumiir examined the candidates flagged in Wolczak’s personnel records search. Her report is quite thorough and even includes the candidates’ likely reactions to extortion attempts. If the group interrogates Duumiir, she cites client confidentiality unless confronted by a copy of the report. Even then, she’ll only speak off the record. Wolczak assured her and Vatiga that he wanted the candidates vetted because he was thinking of promoting them. If the heroes present evidence that Wolczak lied, Vatiga will launch its own investigation, intending to sue Wolczak for breach of contract.
Fen Hullakav’s name on a pad: Hullakav is a Professor of Memetics at the university. Her work and its social applications is very advanced. If interviewed, she discreetly tells the group that Wolczak hired her to craft an effective publicity campaign for Van Morrow Pharmaceuticals. She watched in horror as her work was turned to malicious purposes, but Wolczak was wily enough to have her sign a non-disclosure agreement, tying her hands.
Media footage of Wu at a quarantine zone: if the team needed Wu to shed light on his part in the plot, they will now be able to find him if they can determine which zone he’s in:
To find Wu’s quarantine zone:
DIFFICULT; SOC, Liaison; 1 hour
The adventurers must then gain admittance from the medical professionals running the zone, on a good Reaction throw. If they succeed, they are given protective clothing and allowed in. Wu is dying, but he can give the heroes the salient points of Quack Remedy above.
Armed with proof of his machinations, the heroes can confront Wolczak. He first tries to lie, but in the face of evidence, he panics, produces a gun and tries to escape. The referee can decide how he manages this; but it should be remembered that by this time, Wolczak feels he has nothing left to lose. He avoids killing the group (not wanting a murder charge on top of everything else) but short of that, anything goes. The adventurers should likewise avoid killing Wolczak to allow van Morrow to press charges and bring his former employee to justice.
Upon Wolczak’s capture and arrest, van Morrow pays the adventurers as promised. The referee should determine the flow of subsequent events.
Liam Wolczak 5AB998 Age 40 Cr100,000
5 terms Navy (retired)
Admin-3; Computer-1; Electronic-1; Mechanical-1
Wu Zhiqiang 855763 Age 40 Cr7,000
3 terms Other
Electronic-1, Jack-O-T-1, Mechanical-2
Dugesh Nakhi 797883 Age 30 Cr3,000
3 terms Other
Streetwise-2; Body Pistol-1