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Planet of Storms

This article appeared in the August 2014 issue.

The PCs face the secrets of a mysterious structure on a planet with a violent atmosphere.

“Planet of Storms” is designed for 4-6 Classic Traveller characters of varied career backgrounds. The group may or may not have worked together before the adventure. The adventure may start on any Imperial world, but the main action takes place on a world size 5+ with atmosphere 6+, referred to in the text as “Nimbus.” The planet may be interdicted. The referee may of course replace this world with a similar one of his or her choice. Pilot skill is essential for the adventure, as is Vacc Suit if the referee decides the atmosphere is unbreathable. The PCs will need access to a starship.

I: The Calm Before

Ievaru Scientific Horizons is a prestigious scientific research foundation based on the subsector capital. An ISH representative asks to meet with the PCs while they are in port; they need a team with a specialized skillset for possible rescue work. Several months ago, an ISH-funded expedition set out for Nimbus, a world in the subsector known for its turbulent atmosphere and mega-scale storms. Their mission was to study the dynamics of the planet’s atmosphere, getting as close as they dared in order to get the most accurate readings. ISH has since lost contact with the scientific party. They offer to pay the PCs Cr300,000 in order to determine the party’s fate and rescue any survivors.

The foundation turns over what information it has on the planet to the adventurers. The Scouts conducted a cursory examination of the planet long ago, but deemed it of little value due to its hyperactive weather and lack of mineral resources. No serious attempts have been made to settle or mine the planet since. Even research missions to the world have been sporadic and conducted by unmanned probes.

II: Lightnings Flash From Pole To Pole

From orbit, Nimbus appears to deserve its dangerous reputation. The ship’s sensors detect extremely high atmospheric turbulence; wild temperature variances; hurricane-force winds in both northern and southern hemispheres; funnel clouds as common as forests; deadly and unpredictable wind-shear; particularly-dangerous lightning; torrential rains with raindrops in areas that hit with the force of a body pistol bullet; and a faint radio signal on an Imperial frequency. Densitometers detect a mass of metal suggestive of a spacegoing craft.

As the PCs descend to investigate the source of the radio signal, a massive lightning bolt strikes their ship, knocking the power offline. While the power plant itself may not be damaged beyond repair (use the Starship Damage rules in Book 2: Starships to determine this), the huge electrical surge has overloaded power connections all over the ship. Of immediate concern, however, is that without power, the flight control surfaces can’t operate, and the ship plummets like a rock!

The adventurers have a chance to avoid being dashed all over the surface of the planet. The referee should find the altitude at which the lightning struck the ship: 3D300 meters. Divide by 240; this gives the number of combat rounds until they crash. While falling, they can try to restore power:

To bring the ship’s power back online:
DIFFICULT; Electronics, Engineering, Mechanical, EDU; 1 second

Meanwhile, the pilot is assumed to be taking whatever steps necessary to avoid a crash:

To successfully pilot the ship without power:
DIFFICULT; *, EDU; 1 second
*REFEREE: Use the higher of Ship’s Boat or Pilot. Success keeps the ship flying for 1D more seconds.

Restoring the power restores the vessel’s control surfaces. It can then make a rough but survivable landing. Impose 1D-2 throws on the starship Hit Locations table in Book 2; this is in addition to any damage to the ship’s Power Plant. If repairs are made with five or fewer seconds until the crash, the landing is even rougher; impose 1D+1 throws on the table instead. In both cases, if a Critical Hit is called for, ignore results of Explode.

III: The Crystal Urns Of Heaven

Upon landing and taking stock of their situation, the team notes two items of interest through their stormy surroundings: the first is that the ISH craft – a Type A Free Trader – is a half-kilometer away. A kilometer beyond that, however, is what gets their attention: a spire, about 5 kilometers high. The structure, which sports a smooth, pearlescent surface and is studded with short spikes, looks to have been grown rather than built, and curiously, seems not to exist to any of the ship’s sensors.

Anytime the PCs are outside, the referee should throw 2D-2; the result represents several factors:

The group may decide to wait in the ship until a break in the storms; in this case, 1D hours must pass for this to happen and subtract 1D from the previous Intensity for the intensity of the break. 8D minutes later, the next storm front moves in. Each new storm front requires a new Intensity throw.

Hurricane-force winds (7+ on the intensity throw) require the team to throw vs. DEX at a cumulative -2 DM per point above 7. Failure imposes 1D falling damage, mitigated by armor.

As the adventurers approach the ISH ship, one glance tells them that it is in bad shape. Its landing was apparently far harder than the PCs’. Anyone with Engineering skill can immediately tell that the vessel will never fly again. However, it may be cannibalized for parts.

The ship is unoccupied, but the power plant is intact and the craft has power. Both the maneuver and jump drives have been completely destroyed. The hull has been breached, and one-quarter of the items in the hold (mostly provisions and scientific equipment) have been destroyed. The computer is intact and functioning; the team may be able to pull a copy of the ship’s log from it:

To retrieve the ship's log from the computer:
ROUTINE; Computer, EDU; 15 seconds

The log confirms the PCs’ observations. The crash resulted in several injuries among the crew of fourteen. Since the hull was breached, the scientists sent a scouting party to the spire in hopes of finding shelter from the storms, leaving the distress beacon operating. There is no sign whether or not they were successful. If the PCs try to raise the ISH team on the radio, there will be no response on any channel.

The obvious next move is to make it to the structure. They face the same dangers doing so as they did getting to the ISH vessel. Once there, they run into trouble: an opening is not immediately apparent. They can look for one, taking as long as they like, but nothing in the way of ingress can be found. Unknown to the group, the doorway is psionically attuned. To the average person, the wall simply appears featureless, but a psi can “see” the outline of the doorway in his or her mind. Opening it is another matter; the operating mechanism is activated by the emotion of anger. Sufficient anger may be generated by the frustration of their circumstances; anyone failing an INT throw will lose it sufficiently to make the door open as a section of wall physically dilates to admit the heroes.

Inside, a long corridor greets the crew. The walls and ceiling are all curves, composed of the same material as the exterior of the spire. The walls also seem to produce their own uniform lighting by some method not immediately obvious to the adventurers. Telepathic PCs will discover that the lights are controlled psionically; they can manipulate the light levels from a soft glow to blinding intensity. The lights cannot be turned off, however.

The entry corridor proceeds in a straight line for 227 meters, then makes an abrupt right turn. The referee should refer to the map of the spire interior: (click on the image to the right to see it full-size)

  1. The spire’s entry/exit point.
  2. This room shows the party is on the right track, as there are objects and equipment of Human manufacture scattered around.
  3. The remaining ISH scientists have made this room their redoubt. In addition to the room abilities described below under The Spire, foodstuffs are also available, delivered through a dilating cubbyhole in the far wall.
  4. Standing in the center of this room activates a fully immersive holographic interface. The data (in an unfamiliar language, of course) swirls about the user; experimentation shows that the holograms can be manipulated like any other controls. The referee should determine the effects of playing with them.
  5. The major feature of this room is a large holographic representation of Nimbus, with weather systems and data displayed in real time. The location of the spire is also marked as a pulsating red dot. A nearby permanently-extruded pedestal controls various features of the globe such as rotational speed, historical weather patterns, future projected weather patterns, and a zoom function with resolution down to 50:1. Informational graphics can also be switched on or off. As with the room above, experimentation reveals the functions of the globe. Even without manipulation, the team should be able to make accurate weather predictions using the observed information. The group’s pilot can also use information from the globe to plot a relatively safe course through the storms (+2 to Pilot skill).
  6. The objects this room extrudes are much different than the others, consisting of simple geometric forms with handles, large rings, etc. The gravity in this room is also variable, controllable from weightlessness up to 2g.
  7. The opening to this room does not automatically dilate as the others. A telepath may enter if he or she has a Psi Strength of 6+ and spends one minute in concentration on the door. The room’s computer may still refuse admittance on a subsequent throw of 8+. Inside, the room has an overpowering odor designed to affect the limbic system of sapient beings and impart a feeling of great danger. The walls and ceiling are covered with short spikes, all of which point toward the center of the room. Depending on when the group enters during a two-hour cycle (see below), the room may be empty, might house a steadily-growing ball of protoplasm, or cause them to throw for surprise as they are immediately attacked upon entry.
  8. This room is similar to the others except for a holographic viewer at one end of the room.
  9. A small area with shelves and cabinets permanently extruded from the walls and floor; obviously a storage area. The referee should determine if any useful items are within.
  10. Permanently extruded shelves hold hundreds of small (2.5 centimeter diameter) crystal spheres. Any PC with Telepathy who concentrates on a sphere can access recorded information. Of course, the language is unintelligible, even with Telepathy. The spheres will not function outside of the room.
  11. Concentrating on a section of wall causes a small alcove to form. Stepping inside creates a mist that engulfs the hero with a tingling sensation. 1D minutes later, any dirt, stains, or other superficial defects have been removed. A further mental command extrudes a raised cylindrical seat with a soft pulsating glow in the bottom. Anything contacting the glowing area is disintegrated with a puff of vaporized matter.
  12. Hovering in the middle of this room is a mass of plant material. The vegetation is alive, although in a strange state of static equilibrium – it does not grow unless at least 10% of its material is harvested, then it grows at a rate of 1 cm per combat round until it reaches its former size. The plants are edible (if strangely-flavored) and quite nutritious.
  13. This room is empty and apparently non-functional. 12 piles of grayish ash are scattered about the room.
  14. This room cannot extrude objects. Patches of what appear to be fog hover in the air at a height of one meter above the floor. Each patch roughly measures 1 by 1.5 meters. The fog feels solid to the touch. The patches can be moved (with one combat round’s worth of concentration) anywhere in the room as desired, although they cannot be taken out of the room. The walls can form small cubbyholes measuring 30 centimeters square, although such spaces only form near an existing fog-patch.
  15. This area is actually a large shaft with power flowing through it. The edge of the shaft appears to lack a barrier, but as the heroes approach, a bar of light appears around the hole, glowing dull red at first, and growing brighter the nearer the adventurers come to it. The light is harmless and solid to the touch. The shaft disappears into darkness both above and below the heroes to an indeterminate distance. Narrow ledges can be seen at regular intervals on the walls of the shaft, but no ladders or other climbing aids are in evidence. It is possible for someone wearing a grav belt to easily fly to one of the ledges, but they would have to stay close to the walls; the power beam deals 18D damage to anyone attempting to cross it.

While the adventurers are exploring the complex, the referee should throw every half hour of game time for 10+. If successful, the group is attacked by the “guardian” of the place, a biological construct designed to stalk and kill intruders. Resembling a large cat, the creature has the psionic ability to disrupt the brain’s visual cortex, making it appear to observers to be displaced from its true location. The result is a -3 DM on any attempt to hit it in combat. The creature attacks until it or its opponents are killed, although its death triggers the complex’s computer to begin construction of another beast. Only one “cat” can exist at a time. Upon death, the animal dissolves into a puddle of putrid goo that slowly evaporates. The “cats” are built in Room 7 above, taking two hours for building and programming, and are then released. The team will have to destroy the room in order to stop the manufacture of the beasts. Otherwise, they will be built and sent after the party for the entire time they are within the base. The creature (or one like it) has already accounted for five of the ISH party.

IV: Flesh Endures the Storms

During their exploration of the complex, the group may stumble upon the room responsible for manufacturing the “cats” that have cost the ISH scientists several members and which are now trying to destroy them.

Given the computer’s ability to build an infinite number of animals, the team will have to destroy it to stop the “cats” once and for all. Explosives will suffice, but the team will need to totally obliterate the room to ensure the manufacturing process is stopped. Any explosion must deal 120 points of damage all at once to succeed. Adventurers with Demolition skill may be able to determine the proper amount of explosive:

To determine the proper explosive charge:
ROUTINE; Demolitions, EDU; 1 minute.
REFEREE: When the explosion occurs, throw for Mishap on a failed attempt as usual. The result is the percentage of the adjacent rooms that the explosion damages as well. If the team is in one of those rooms, they take the stated damage.

Alternately, the computer controlling the “cats'” construction can be shut down psionically if a Telepathic PC wins a duel against the machine (per Book 3; treat the computer as having Psi Strength 10 for this purpose).

In addition to exploring the complex and the danger posed by the “cats”, the group still has to repair one of the ships sufficiently to get off-planet:

To make repairs to the starship:
FORMIDABLE: Engineering, Mechanical, EDU; 24 hours
REFEREE: The task assumes that all damaged components are being worked on equally. The heroes may make one task throw per component if they wish.

V: These Trees Are Now Silent

If the team can successfully repair the ship while fending off the “cats”, they can once again brave the storms and leave Nimbus. Upon their return to civilized space, there is the question of what to do about the spire. One option is to duly report it to Imperial authorities; the empire pays handsomely for news of new precursor sites. Some groups, however, might decide to keep the secret of the spire, even earmarking it for plunder. Of course, returning to Nimbus can be a dangerous, even deadly proposition.

Subsequent events are up to the referee.

NPCs

Ievaru Scientific Horizons Personnel

There are six of the original fourteen expedition members left; three of the group died from injuries sustained in the crash. The others were attacked and killed by an alien creature. The animal hasn't attacked them in their holdout, but anyone leaving the room is subject to attack. The expedition’s leader and medic are detailed below; the referee may create the others using whatever manner (s)he sees fit.

Humberto al-Qair, ISH Team Leader
Scientist; 38588A; Age 42; 6 Terms Cr40,000
Computer-1, Admin-1, Leader-2, Electronics-1

Dajeong Harper, Medic
Doctor; 645656; Age 26; 2 terms Cr20,000
Medic-3

The “Cat”

    Mass Hits Armor Wounds & Weapons Action
1 Killer 100kg 20/12 none claws +1 and teeth +1 A5F7S1
Psionic Ability: Special (Displacement, see text)

The Spire

Constructed of some material that absorbs electromagnetic radiation, the gigantic spire rises as a free-standing structure some 5 kilometers into the sky of Nimbus with a diameter at its base of nearly 500 meters, not counting several flying buttresses. Originally intended as a weather-monitoring station, at some point the decision was made to terraform the planet and the weather station was converted into a weather-conversion role. With the disappearance of its builders, the artifact has uncontrollably ramped up Nimbus’ weather over thousands of years into a series of ever more powerful storms.

Inside, most of the rooms respond to the users’ thoughts; they have the capability to create objects by extrusion, or “growing” them in place. Once extruded, items cannot be moved, but can be deconstructed and extruded in another part of the room. The time it takes to extrude an object is one combat round. A user doesn’t have to be psionic to control this feature. In addition to the ability to extrude objects, the rooms can also create spaces of varying sizes by simply voiding areas.

For maximum flexibility, it is not detailed here who built the spire. The default assumption is the inscrutable Ancients (Droyne), but as always, the referee can substitute any precursor race desired.