The Rubinian Honour Gambit
This was the featured article in the May/June 2022 issue.
Synopsis: A distress call from an Aslan envoy ship turns into a complex matter of honour, and the PCs find themselves drawn into a duel.
Recommended skills: Vacc suit, Zero-gee, Medic, Diplomacy and Advocate — and Brawling or Blade when all else fails.
Setting: The Rubin star system, home to a feudally ruled, sparsely populated, mid- to high-technology world. This adventure assumes that Rubin is part of the Third Imperium, but it could be affiliated with any other polity or pocket empire instead.
Preparation: Deckplans for an Aslan embassy ship (you could use a Hkiyrerao lab ship from the Mongoose Aslan sourcebook and convert the laboratories to offices and space for entertaining guests, or use any kind of yacht and just add an ancestor shrine). The ship is armed, which is customary for Aslan, but the weapons have been code-locked for diplomatic reasons while the vessel is in foreign space. A detailed map of the cargo hold and guest areas will come in handy, along with several movable counters depicting cargo crates, containers and plants.
I. Distress Call
The PCs arrive at the jump point or are en route to the system’s gas giant for refueling when they receive a signal transmission. While not Imperial standard and in an unfamiliar language (Trokh), it is obviously an automated emergency beacon, indicating a ship in trouble. If Rubin is within the Imperium, the PCs are obliged by Imperial law to render assistance.
The ship in distress turns out to be an Aslan courier yacht which seems to have had a collision with an Imperial-built seeker/scout vessel. The seeker simply disintegrated against the yacht’s hull and is currently an expanding cone of wreckage slowly tumbling away from the yacht. The yacht’s nose has been smashed in by the impact, and extensive secondary damage can be seen along the hull, but an Engineering check will confirm that the ship could be made spaceworthy again with a few jury-rigged repairs and an emergency bridge.
Two ships colliding in deep space is a rather bizarre incident. The chances of a collision happening by chance are so infinitesimal as to be non-existent. There have been cases of ships ignoring flight control orders and colliding close to a docking port, but none in deep space, to the characters’ knowledge.
Searching the wreckage
The following tasks may be undertaken:
- To initially scan the wreckage:
routine; Sensors; int; uncertain; safe:
The seeker was a standard converted scout, a rather old model way past its prime.
- To retrieve the seeker’s transponder (requires EVA):
difficult; Zero-G; dex
- To check the seeker’s registry:
routine; Admin; edu; safe:
The transponder was registered on Rubin. The seeker is privately owned by a clanless Aslan identified as Khareolya’is.
- To recover the body aboard the seeker (requires EVA):
difficult; Zero-G; dex; dangerous:
The seeker’s lone occupant was a rather mangy and malnourished Aslan in a modified human-made vacc suit.
- To determine the cause of death of the recovered body:
routine; Medicine; edu; uncertain; safe:
The Aslan died of asphyxiation due to a breached suit. He has several heavy fractures and bruises from the impact.
Entering the yacht
The forward hatch is bent out of shape by the impact and unusable. The pinnace has been completely shorn off and is floating somewhere in the vicinity with a broken spine. The best way of entry will be through the pinnace’s dock, which is connected to the cargo bays and the visitor’s area.
The following tasks may be undertaken:
- To scan the pinnace for life signs:
easy; Sensors; int; uncertain; safe:
The pinnace is completely depressurised. No signs of life aboard.
- To check for cold-berth occupants:
difficult; Sensors; int; uncertain; safe:
The cold berths onboard the pinnace are unoccupied and inoperable. A failed roll may result in a lot of wasted time boarding the pinnace’s wreck and checking the berths by eye.
- To check the courier/yacht for life signs:
routine; Sensors; int; uncertain; safe:
The ship is occupied by several life forms, and the aft section seems to still be pressurised, though leaking in several places.
- To close and dock with the wreckage:
average; Pilot; dex; dangerous:
“Docking” means extending a flexible docking tube to the wreck.
- To attach the docking tube to the wreckage (requires EVA):
average; Zero-G; dex; dangerous:
The emergency attachment fittings aren’t quite Imperial standard. If this task is failed, it may be repeated once at difficult; if that fails, the PCs must attach a cable instead.
- To keep floating wreckage clear of the docking tube:
difficult; Gunnery; dex; dangerous:
This task assumes that crew members from the PCs’ ship are involved in EVA to connect the docking tube. If there are no personnel involved in EVA when this check occurs, reduce the difficulty to average. This task might need to be repeated a few times at dramatically appropriate moments during the operation:
Keeping pieces of the wreckage from colliding with and tearing holes in the docking tube while it is connected, using low-energy pulses from the ship’s lasers.
- To manually keep floating wreckage clear of the docking tube
difficult; Zero-G; dex; dangerous:
Keeping pieces of the wreckage from colliding with the tube by going EVA with a grav belt and pushing them away manually.
- To attach a cable instead of using the docking tube (requires EVA):
routine; Zero-G; dex; dangerous:
Getting across in a spacesuit and attaching a cable while dodging the wreckage.
The following tasks will allow entry to the ship:
- To cross between the ships via cable (requires EVA):
easy; Zero-G or Climbing; dex; dangerous:
Getting across in a spacesuit along a cable attached by a more skilled comrade.
- To enter via the hatch without breaching:
difficult; Computer; edu; safe:
If the PCs think of it, this can be done remotely if their onboard computer is connected via a cable to the lock. In that case, the ship’s computer’s help will reduce the difficulty to routine. If the lock is opened electronically, the airlock will seal the inner hatch and depressurise automatically, avoiding the risk of decompression (see below).
- To breach the hatch:
routine; Mechanic or Engineering; str:
Breaching the hatch using welders or a laser rifle. A laser rifle used in this way will not be able to shed heat due to being in vacuum, and care should be taken not to burn out or crack the laser crystal with this kind of continuous use. The action will empty out the rifle’s pack a few times, needing either spare energy packs or a power line plugging the rifle directly into the PCs’ ship’s power supply.
If the hatch is breached without a sealed emergency hatch or docking tube in place, there will be a continuous rush of air from inside, threatening to blow the rescuers into space and quickly draining the ship of breathable atmosphere within 30 min.
In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle
The cargo bays contain several crates, mostly luxuries and food, a few data drums, and a box of valuable Fteirle antiques. Their doors open into a pocket paradise — the Hkiyrerao’s lab area has been stripped of all internal bulkheads, filled with soil and planted with a labyrinth of aesthetically pleasing exotic plants, obscuring vision and giving off an aromatic scent. Some are actually exuding a pink-tinted fragrant mist that titillates the senses but restricts visibility to a few metres. This is where guests were entertained by the ambassador.
Once several of the PCs are inside, they encounter an Aslan battle robot, a spherical gold-chased body floating on a grav field, equipped with two arms, one tipped with a manipulator hand, the other with a TL9 laser carbine. It serves as a bodyguard and embassy security. The collision and the characters’ intrusion convinced it that its charges are under attack, and it will attempt to engage the PCs. Its abilities, armour and armament should be tailored to give the characters a good run for their money. Its optical sensors are badly scratched, and it will only notice a person that is moving or within five meters. It will automatically try to engage the nearest person it notices. Unfortunately, its first move brings it between the PCs and the airlock (or other entry point), leaving them with no easy route of retreat.
Both the cargo crates in the hold and the plants in the garden present an obstacle course filled with lots of cover, which should enable quick-thinking PCs to outmaneuver the robot. The cargo crates can be moved around with a loading waldo or gravlift (and a bit of ingenuity) to trap the robot or block its way. The lift’s remote is clipped to a wall bracket, and still works, with minor grav field stuttering — unless familiar with Aslan equipment, roll the following task to figure out how to operate it.
- To figure out the lift’s remote control:
routine; Mechanic/Engineering; edu; uncertain; safe
While the robot is chasing them around, it blares warnings in Trokh for them to leave the embassy grounds. If any of the PCs actually speaks the Aslan language, assume the robot’s voder has been badly smashed, turning the words into gibberish.
If the Referee is feeling nasty, xe may employ a second robot, this one heavily damaged and without sensors; its discovery will probably scare the PCs until they notice with relief that it is inactive. If the active robot gets within five meters and line-of-sight, though, the second robot can use the first one’s sensor data via an infrared link, and will suddenly spring into action (with DM -4 to all actions) only to fall silent again when the other robot gets out of range or sight. The damaged robot will spin around on its grav field, moving in erratic spirals due to a smashed gyroscope.
Once the PCs defeat the robot(s), either by blocking them with crates, dropping a container on them, luring them into the airlock, or by just shooting them to bits, they are free to investigate the ship. Engaging the robots in combat, though, has changed the legal situation thoroughly, although the characters may not be aware of this at the time.
By Aslan custom, they have conquered the ship by defeating the defenders, making them its new masters. By Imperial law, they might now be considered guilty of an act of piracy, boarding a spaceship by force against the occupants’ resistance. This legal argument is rather ambiguous, as they were answering a distress call, but carries enough force to at least rate a token prosecution and trial.
Back to the Business of Rescuing
At several locations throughout the ship, the PCs find Aslan ship’s crew and embassy staff, either dead or injured and in need of rescue. Originally, there were a pilot (male), a navigator, two stewards, a gardener, and two engineers (all female) on the ship’s crew, with the diplomatic team being an ambassador named Raoyel (male), his four wives, and two male embassy aides. (Refer to the deck plans at the end of this article for the various locations. Note that these are the standard Hkiyrerao plans and do not reflect modifications actually made to this ship, and the locations give are the nearest equivalent locations in an unmodified ship.)
Ambassador Raoyel’s head wife Tlaereay’ha, noted for her cool head, donned a vacc suit, dragged her injured husband from the wreckage of the cockpit, and got him to safety in a pressurised stateroom. On her way to check on the rest of the crew, she inadvertently stepped into an area of reversed gravity, and fell to the ceiling, where her suit and abdomen were pierced by a torn length of pipe. She is barely conscious and tries weakly to wave the characters away. Rescuing her, the PCs may enter the zone unwittingly — at first glance, it looks as if she is held there by her suit snagged on the pipe; the reversed grav is not immediately obvious.
Rescuing her is at first more a matter of engineering than of medicine. If the grav is reversed too quickly, the pipe will tear up her belly and she will drop to the deck hard, sustaining more injuries in the process. The best way will probably be to slowly ease back the gravity until it is at zero, swimming up and prising her free, then shifting to proper polarity at 0.1g or less to let her float gently to the deck.
After her recovery, Tlaereay’ha turns out to speak good Standard Anglic. She moves and speaks with quiet conviction, is personable towards the PCs but strict with her staff and family — both of which she runs to smooth efficiency in the name of her husband. The two of them have that rare bond, explicit trust and mutual understanding. Both share the same strong sense of honour and duty.
Aslan female diplomat
Body pistol-1, Vacc suit-0, Computer-1, Security-0, Leadership-2, Diplomacy-1, Admin-2, Advocate (Aslan law)-1, Tolerance-1
Khaoaralasa, an embassy aide, has two broken arms and a hairline jaw fracture. He helped Tlaereay’ha push Raoyel through the cockpit hatch and then sealed it from the inside, which was the only way of keeping the atmosphere in the ship’s main section from venting into space through the smashed remains of the bridge. Now he is in the airless cockpit with his vacc suit’s oxygen supply running critically low, and currently busy composing his death poem. He is very proud of being able to die a warrior’s death while protecting his liege, despite his calling as an embassy clerk (which is as close as a male Aslan of good standing can come to a desk job). When found, he is more concerned about having his death poem recorded and his deed remembered than about actually being rescued. If he survives, he may feel properly grateful (especially after prodding from Tlaereay’ha or Raoyel), but also somewhat cheated out of his glorious sacrifice.
He is a somewhat boisterous young male, with his impetuousness tempered by his sense of duty towards the Ambassador (and a respect bordering on fear of Tlaereay’ha, who is able to curb him with a single glance when he is in danger of overstepping himself). He speaks strongly-accented basic Anglic.
Aslan male diplomat
Vacc suit-0, Security-0, Diplomacy-1, Brawling-1, Advocate-0, Carouse-2, Pilot-0, Tolerance-0, Medic (Aslan)-0
The ambassador’s fourth wife, Aykhearlo, is little more than a girl. Raoyel saved her life by taking her into his family when her clan was wiped out, and she is very grateful and desperate to please the older wives in the pride. Tlaereay’ha has barked at her to watch over their injured husband, and now she is alone and out of her depth, at a loss of what to do, trying to tend to his wounds with only rudimentary knowledge of medicine and struggling to keep the panic in check that is rising up in her.
When the PCs enter the stateroom, the girl is spooked enough to grab Raoyel’s small ornate pistol and point it at the strangers. Any wrong move or word may cause her to pull the trigger, but to her chagrin, nothing happens — the safety is still on. If the characters are quick, they can take the gun from her before she figures out how to snap off the safety and shoot again. Aykhearlo is no fighter, but she has dewclaws and thinks only of protecting her husband, so overpowering her may not be easy. She only speaks trokh and won’t understand the PCs, but may be soothed if they make no sudden moves and speak in a reassuring tone.
Aykhearlo is young, curious and impressionable. Once calmed down she turns out to be a nice enough person and will be very embarrassed of her actions.
Aslan female noble
Diplomacy-0, Carouse-1, Jack-of-all-trades-1, Tolerance-2
Ambassador Raoyel has been badly injured. Currently, he is lying in a stateroom’s bunk and looked after by his youngest wife, Aykhearlo. She has tried to dress his wounds and actually not done such a bad job about it, but he has internal injuries and will need a real medic soon to stabilise him. An old and venerable Aslan noble and former famous strategist, Raoyel still exudes an air of brusque etiquette, despite currently being powerless to get up and clad only in the remnants of a shift that has been cut open to get at his wounds. Once awake, he speaks rather good Standard Anglic with only a trace of an accent, and even a few formal phrases in bilanidin.
Aslan male retired naval officer
Auto pistol-1, Vacc suit-1, Zero-gee 1, Pilot-1, Fleet tactics-2, Leadership-3, Diplomacy-1, Brawling (dewclaw)-1, Investigate-0, Tolerance-0
A main corridor sports ugly rents in the wall panels, and the grav plates in this area are either switched off or fluctuating wildly. Live cables and fiberglass-like conduits are expose and striking sparks off each other. The fiberglass optics emit rays of focussed light, which can temporarily blind or disorient someone for 2D minutes if one of the beams hits an unprotected eye. Coming into contact with the cables will cause 3D damage by electric shock unless wearing an insulating suit or floating free (not touching any part of the ship).
- To negotiate the damaged area:
very difficult; Zero-G; dex; dangerous:
Failure results in 3D damage by electrical shock unless character is wearing an insulating suit or floating free (not touching any part of the ship).
- To avoid being blinded by the fiber-optic beams:
average; Athletics (dexterity); int; safe
Failure results in temporary blindness or disorientation (2D minutes)
- To negotiate the damaged area:
- The engineering area and surrounding corridors are filled with steam, which is the result of a leak: part of the ship’s hydrogen supply is reacting with the atmosphere’s oxygen to produce hot water. Unfortunately, the upper part of the room is filled with gaseous hydrogen; while it is possible to breathe while crouching, standing up will get the character’s respiratory organs into the pooled gas. Unless the hydrogen is completely exhaled, after a few rounds it might get into the bloodstream through the lungs and lead to diver’s paralysis, depending on the amount inhaled. (The character will also speak with a squeaky high-pitched voice due to the hydrogen’s low density.) Weapon discharges or other sources of fire in this area will trigger a short but violent explosion. Inadvertently being engulfed by a jet of hot steam may also cause 1D damage.
- (This area is not on the deck plans.) The sick bay, located in the ship’s dorsal “hump”, holds medical supplies for the Aslan metabolism (labelled in trokh, of course), tissue knitters, scanners, a surgical table with an expert-2 system, and even an ample supply of blood for transfusions. Unfortunately, to get there the PCs need to cross area 6, and without xenomedical expertise, selecting the correct one of the six Aslan blood types and administering suitable medication may prove risky.
Several other members of the crew and the embassy may also be alive; it is up to the referee to think up stats and personalities for them. None is in a position to challenge the PCs or take control of the ship.
II. Ships Passing in the Void
Tlaereay’ha or Raoyel will fill in the PCs as to what happened. Raoyel’s mission to Rubin has been a controversy within his clan, the Ftakhay. His clan’s own world, Ftakhayeraowalaiha, has a high hydrographic and consequently little territory, and population pressure will soon force the clan’s youth to seek new worlds to conquer. Since Ftakhayeraowalaiha lies wedged uncomfortably between Imperially-affiliated planets and the Aslan merchant clan Hlaye, expansion will either get the Ftakhay into conflict with the Imperial March Duke and Border Fleet, or aggravate the Hlaye who provide them with much needed trade goods.
To avoid this kind of conflict, which can only hurt the Ftakhay in the long run, Raoyel has undertaken to speak to the human rulers of Rubin, whose feudal structure and martial code of honour appealed to him, whether they would consider granting land leases to surplus young Ftakhay warriors in return for military service. Essentially, those ihatei would serve a double feudal obligation — as landed squires to their human lieges on Rubin, and as family sons to their mother clan. Ideally, Raoyel’s wives would also negotiate a trade agreement at the same time, tying Rubin and Ftakhayeraowalaiha together by mutual commercial interest (or so his head wife informed him).
Not everyone in the clan agreed with the idea; the more traditional elements balked at the idea of Aslan subservient to human nobles. Raoyel had to stake his considerable reputation on the venture to swing the vote in his favour. If he fails, he explains, there will be war as the clan’s young males swarm across the subsector and are defeated one by one, but the majority of the family heads are either too proud to change their ways or too convinced of their own greatness to realise their danger.
On arrival in the Rubin system, the ship was accosted by a battered old belter vessel. The Aslan prospector, Khareolya’is, hails from a clan long inimical to the Ftakhay. When his clan was defeated and disbanded, he became rukta (outcast) and, like many of his former clan-brothers, left to seek employment in Imperial space. He became brooding and morose, shunned even by other belters, increasingly absorbed with his own shame and ignominious fate.
When the Aslan vessel entered the Rubin system, Khareolya’is saw his chance to get even. He challenged Raoyel’s ship to a kind of duel by holding to a collision course — a game of coward. Whoever veered off first, it was implied, would lose the duel. Actually, during such games among Aslan, the lower ranking participant is expected to break off at the very last moment (challenges of this kind are more a symbolic gesture of defiance than a true duel), but Khareolya’is was suffering from clinical depression and completely lost to honour. The two ships collided.
III. The Law is Nine Tenths of Possession
At this point the PCs may start noticing subtle signs that the valiant old Aslan seems to feel that he is already defeated and trying to resign himself to his fate with dignity. He will refuse to have his wounds treated (“this body is no use for me now, youngling, just let me lie and tend to my wife’s wounds, if you please”) and ask the PCs to grant him the wish to be taken to the ship’s shrine so he can apologise to his ancestors before dying. Bit by bit, they should be able to put together the hints. To Raoyel, the situation is clear: his ship has been conquered by the PCs who defeated his robots, and is now their possession; he and his wives are prisoners and cannot honourably conclude their mission (the ship contains the necessary data and diplomatic transponder codes in computer storage, as well as Raoyel’s gifts to the foreign ambassadors).
Offering to give the ship back to him will not work; Tlaereay’ha, aghast, will shamefully admit to a female PC that they have no way of immediately giving something of similar value in return, which they would be required to or lose tremendous face (unless the gift came from one’s liege or vassal). Everything on board belongs to the PCs now, so there is no easy way out of the dilemma.
Possible solutions the players might come up with include becoming Raoyel’s vassal, which opens up its own set of problems (of which citizenship issues are only the beginning), but would allow the character in question to give the ship as tribute to xir new lord. Alternatively, a male character may fight a mock duel against the ambassador and lose on purpose — letting himself be scratched with the dewclaw while holding a bladed weapon will suffice in a pinch — which will put Raoyel in possession of the ship again.
He will be profoundly grateful, and while not being able to show his gratitude directly if he just “defeated” the PCs, will go out of his way in the future to support them and nudge opportunities their way, becoming an useful Ally.
If the PCs insist on keeping the vessel, they will in effect have declared war on the Ftakhay and gained the entire clan as an Enemy. In this case, if he is not treated forcibly or sedated, Raoyel will refuse medical treatment, dying after a few days of silent suffering which he is too proud to show. Either way, the trouble is far from over. Raoyel’s wives are now somewhere between prisoners of war and possessions. By Aslan custom, the PCs are now responsible for their well-being, and one of Raoyel’s dying wishes will be for the PCs to find suitable new husbands for them. Meanwhile the Ftakhay will send a team of assassins to free them and bring them back into the clan’s care.
In the following, It is assumed that Raoyel survives and gains his ship back; otherwise play out the rest of the scenario suitably modified.
IV. A Law By Any Other Name
Finally, a patrol corvette will arrive at the scene, with a contingent of marines, two paramedics and a surgeon. They will routinely question everyone about the accident. Raoyel (or if he is dead, Khaoaralasa) will be full of praise (if they returned the ship) or grudging respect (if they didn’t) for the PCs’ actions, and will especially mention their prowess in engaging and defeating his robots. At which point the interrogating naval officer (Lieutenant Liat Quaidh) will take on an icy expression, and subsequently order her Marines to put the PCs under arrest. She detests pirates, and will extend them only the minimum courtesy she is obliged to by her officer’s code of conduct. (Piracy plagued her homeworld Tourmalin; she won her first battle awards and a citation for conspicuous valour against a pirate fleet.)
The PCs may overhear a few heated but polite discussions of the different legal concepts between her and Raoyel. The Aslan finally dismisses her arguments with a shrug because, “of course, you are a female and cannot be expected to know the principles of honour in combat and conquest as a male would”, which has the Lieutenant quietly fuming for the rest of the trip. Tlaereay’ha trying to intercede and talk to her “woman to woman” doesn’t help a bit.
Gambling-0, Brawling-1, Cutlass-1, Vacc suit-1, Zero-gee-1, Accelerator rifle-2, Recon-1, Survival-0, either small craft pilot-0 or gunner-0
Lt. Liat Quaidh
Laser pistol-1, Cutlass-1, Vacc suit-1, Zero-gee-1, Pilot-1, Leadership-2, Computer-0, Admin-1, Naval tactics-1, Advocate-0
V. Legal Ground Battles
Once the PCs are dirtside, they will be placed in detention at the small Navy base. If they returned the ship, Raoyel will speak to the planet’s nobles and try to convince them to have the charges dropped. Unfortunately, the act occurred in space and is technically under Imperial jurisdiction, so the nobility cannot interfere without overstepping themselves. Tlaereay’ha will arrange for a good Naval lawyer for the PCs, paid out of the embassy’s purse, and may provide bail for them so they can move freely until the trial. This is an opportunity to accompany Raoyel and meet some of the nobles socially; the PCs may even help smoothing over some difficulties (such as Raoyel insisting on Tlaereay’ha settling the trade part of the agreement with the nobles’ bewildered trophy wives).
Just as it looks as if the trial is going to be only a formality, a fast Ftakhay courier lands at the starport, arrogantly ignoring safety regulations. The occupants are Fiyakhoar, an overbearing and very vain clan noble, wearing his silver-dyed mane in carefully sculpted locks, his head wife Rea’if (who insists on being addressed only as “first wife of Fiyakhoar” in the traditional way), and a team of three Aslan “security consultants” (read: thugs). All are from the faction violently opposed to Raoyel’s plan.
Aslan male dilettante
Auto pistol-1, Carouse-2, Streetwise-1, Gambling-2, Persuade-1, Diplomacy-1, Brawling (dewclaw)-3, Melee (blade)-1
Fiyakhoar will storm into the Navy office and place charges on behalf of his clan. He will deliberately insist that Imperial law be applied and the PCs be tried as pirates and kidnappers of Raoyel’s wives. His true objective is not to have the PCs convicted (which, he will admit with whatever passes for a smirk with an Aslan, isn’t all that likely to happen) but to paint Raoyel publicly as a coward and weakling who first lost a challenge to a pathetic rukta and then could not stop feeble human merchants from taking over his ship and wives. It is up to the characters to parry his insults in the trial and paint a better picture of the ambassador. They may be helped by an unlikely ally — Lieutenant Quaidh has been appointed the prosecutor’s aide, and within seconds of meeting the insufferable Fiyakhoar she decided that Raoyel’s case had some merit after all.
If he cannot reach his goal of publicly slandering the ambassador, Fiyakhoar will take offense at some minor point (ideally something the PCs or Raoyel said that may be construed as a slight) and request solving the issue with a duel. Raoyel is still recovering and can hardly stand, and Fiyakhoar is reputed to be a very competent duelist despite his foppish appearance. Imperial law says the challenged party may decline the duel, but Aslan pride and honour compels Raoyel to accept — unless one of the PCs steps in and offers to take his place.
Aslan female rogue
Streetwise-1, Persuade-2, Stealth-2, Recon-1, Investigate-0, Science (biochemistry)-1, Admin-1, Brawling (dewclaw)-0, Tolerance-2
The morning before the duel, Rea’if, Fiyakhoar’s wife, will try to administer a mild poison to her husband’s opponent, which will cause slight cramping of the muscles and tachycardia — symptoms which at first may be dismissed as simple apprehension before the fight. The poison is detectable in blood or urine only with great difficulty (see task below). (This is the way in which Fiyakhoar won all his famous duels and built up his reputation.) Rea’if is quite resourceful: she might tamper with the water supply in the detention compound, dose the characters’ sealed food trays with a thin syringe, switch the character’s drink during the preliminary hearing, or use any other method the Referee can come up with.
- To detect the poison Rea’if uses:
formidable; Medicine; edu; uncertain; safe:
Only possible within three hour of ingestion; if later than that or this task fails, DM –2 for all actions for the next day.
VI. Feat of Arms
Fiyakhoar will appear on the duelling spot (the Naval outpost’s sports field) looking his best, with his mane carefully coiffed and wearing a dashing gold-encrusted duelling suit, instantly becoming the audience’s darling. The news travelled quickly, and has drawn a huge crowd of civilian spectators that the dress-uniformed Marine cordon has difficulties keeping in check. Obviously, Rubin’s nobles practise public duelling, and several of the spectators appear knowledgeable about the finer points of this “sport”, but of course seeing an alien sophont in a duel is a novelty and has sparked much curiosity. People start to place wagers with someone who claims to be an official bookmaker, but a stern-faced Marine sergeant puts a stop to such undignified activity by threatening to expel everyone from the grounds.
Camera teams from the local news network will try to get past the cordon to snatch an interview with the duelists. Fiyakhoar is only too happy to oblige them and will gladly use the opportunity to publicly denounce Raoyel as a coward once again. To avoid that, the PCs will need to head the journalists off, possibly with the promise of an exclusive interview or a place with a good camera angle. Alternatively, they will need to counter Fiyakhoar’s allegations in an interview of their own or risk having the incident grossly misrepresented in the media.
The duellists will be provided with a medic and a retired Naval lieutenant commander as a referee, and Lt. Quaidh will volunteer as the PC’s second if necessary. As the challenged party, the PC may choose weapons (which Fiyakhoar will petulantly oppose since he expects his opponent to use hi’asoi (fake dewclaws), and will try to paint insistance on other weapons as a sign of cowardice). If cutlass is selected, the Navy and Marines will beam at the honour done to their traditions, and several officers will offer the use of their own ceremonial cutlasses to the PCs for the duel.
The traditional noble dueling weapon on Rubin is a downward-curved foil (devkris) not unlike a short rapier, sometimes paired with a concave shield (blas) the size of a dinner plate. If the PC selects devkris, this gesture of respect to local custom may win the group points with the nobles and will definitely endear them to the crowd. Devkris are difficult to master (the objective is to strike the rim of the shield with the blade’s flank, then push forward as the flexible foil curves around the shield). To someone unused to them, the weapon combo imposes an additional DM -1 — but of course, the weapon is equally unfamiliar to Fiyakhoar as well.
The challenged party may also choose the conditions of victory, although the Naval officers will frown upon a duel to the death and suggest first blood or three strikes instead.
Both contestants are subjected to a superficial examination and questioning by the medic to declare them fit for duelling and in full possession of their senses. (There is an awkward pause as the medic has to confess he does not know what a healthy Aslan’s resting pulse should be, but Fiyakhoar impatiently waves him away and declares himself fit.)
Fighting an Aslan in a duel is a frightening experience. The cultivated air of affability drops from Fiyakhoar with startling suddenness, and the effete snob becomes a single-minded predator intent on the kill. His feral crouch, fixed gaze, taut muscles and the hunt-pheromones exuding from his fur all make his opponent’s flight instinct kick in.
- To avoid instinctual fright/flight reaction:
difficult; Melee(any) or Hunting; int; safe:
Failure incurs DM -1 to all rolls, unless the character has previous experience fighting Aslan.
When Fiyakhoar moves, it is with the blinding bursts of speed that his ancestors used to bring down Au’a bulls on Kusyu’s plains. Almost without thought, he will sheathe and unsheathe the dewclaw in his off-hand threateningly, although even while on the adrenaline rush he retains enough sense not to strike with it and be disqualified.
The Aslan thugs will be an additional distraction unless the PC is exceptionally focussed; excited by the duel, they are in the same hunting state of mind as their leader, with their faces intent, teeth bared and tails twitching, looking ready to pounce on the field at every moment. Fiyakhoar will try to drive his opponent close to their side of the pitch so the miserable human has them breathing down xir neck. They won’t interfere directly, but the character doesn’t know that, and their threatening presence should be enough to spook xir a bit.
If Fiyakhoar loses, his wife will immediately rush to him and secretly pour some of the drug into his maw — and then stand and howl in feigned outrage that the honourless foreigners poisoned her husband because they couldn’t otherwise hope to stand up to a true Aslan warrior.
While the Navy medic tends to Fiyakhoar (and takes a blood sample), the three Aslan thugs will threaten and berate the characters, finally drawing their pistols — at which point the crowd will panic and run. The Marines will have their hands full with crowd control, and anyway won’t know whom to shoot first. Several tense rounds of combat will ensue, with the Aslan doing their darnedest to kill the PCs, stray rounds hitting spectators, and cutlass-armed Marines running around shouting at everyone to put their weapons down, or else.
Whenever a shot misses, roll 2D. A bystander or Marine will be hit on a 6+ if shooting towards the main body of the crowd and on a 9+ if shooting away from or parallel to them. Add DM +2 if firing on automatic or using a shotgun. The Aslan thugs will try to put themselves deliberately between the PCs and the crowd, forcing them to hold their fire or risk hitting innocents.
When the crisis is finally resolved and the gunmen put down, there are bound to be quite a few people hurt (an opportunity to score more points with the public by acting to tend to the injured Rubinians), and a lot of explanations expected from everyone. Fiyakhoar and his wife will duly apologise for the righteous ire of their overzealous bodyguards and try to put the blame for the incident on the dishonourable, cheating, poison-mongering PC scum. Whoever gets to the media first (and can pull them off filming wounded persons on stretchers) has a head start in swaying the public opinion. If the PCs don’t realise this quickly enough, Rea’if certainly will, screaming for press coverage even as she is dragged forcibly away from her husband.
Aslan male rogues
Gambling-0, Brawling (dewclaw)-1, Recon-1, Auto pistol-1, Streetwise-0, Athletics-1
Gambling-0, Brawling-1, Cutlass-1, Vacc suit-1, Zero-gee-1, Accelerator rifle-2, Recon-1, Survival-0, either small craft pilot-0 or gunner-0
The marines on the field are armed only with their ceremonial cutlasses and wearing dress uniform for the occasion. More marines will be rushed to the scene as soon as the bullets start flying, arriving within 1D+2 rounds and equipped with light armour and accelerator rifles.
LtCdr. (retired) Sir Idris Ashugali
Former Naval officer
Cutlass-1, Laser pistol-1, Recon-1, Leadership-1, Vacc suit-1, Zero-gee-0, Astrogation-2, Fleet tactics-3, Admin-2, Carouse-1
The referee is armed with a laser pistol sidearm and a cutlass. One of his duties is to shoot a contestant if that person acts dishonourably. Dishonourable actions include striking out of order with a weapon, using a non-sanctioned weapon, getting outside help, fleeing the duel or failing to stop when the signal “cease” is given.
VI. Further Adventures
(with possible patrons mentioned in brackets):
- Depending on whether Rea’if was caught administering the poison to her husband or not, the PCs might find themselves on trial again. It should be easy to point out that Rea’if could not have known her husband was poisoned if she didn’t give him the poison herself.
- If he survived, Raoyel will conclude his mission successfully. Being short of crew, he may hire the PCs to accompany his limping ship back to Ftakhay space. There, he hopes, they may be willing to give testimony on Fiyakhoar’s treachery and in this way strengthen Raoyel’s position in the clan. They will be grilled by a panel of suspicious Aslan nobles prepared to disbelieve any claim made by a human. The alleged poisoning of Fiyakhoar may also crop up, with several of the more traditionally minded nobles only too willing to believe that a puny human would have to resort to underhanded tricks to best an Aslan in combat. (Raoyel, Tlaereay’ha)
- If Raoyel didn´t survive, there is the little matter of having a Ftakhay assassin team on the PCs’ trail, intent on rescuing Raoyel’s wives and bringing their captors to justice. At the same time, the PCs may feel obligated to honour the ambassador’s final wish to find good husbands for his wives, which would require them to travel to Aslan space or at least send a message to meet with a clan representative — and at the meeting, the assassins strike.
Shipping a lot of ructious young male Aslan and a few unmarried female financial experts to Rubin in a cargo hold full of stacked improvised bunks, resolving a continuous string of quarrels, raucous parties, romantic entanglements and harrassment of the females while travelling. Also, general pub-trashing will ensue at every port on the way from Ftakhayeraowalaiha to Rubin. (Raoyel, Tlaereay’ha, Rubinian noble, Lt. Quaidh)
An added complication may be traditionalist Ftakhay sabotaging the ship or taking hostages and demanding the PCs abort the mission.
- Educating said hot-headed young males in the ways of humans and the social niceties to avoid friction when they are integrated into Rubin’s society. At first it is a frustrating experience instilling some sense into the Aslan youths’ thick skulls. But then, the proud moment when the PCs’ charges receive their grants of squireship in a lavish ceremony! Not to mention the opportunity to rub shoulders with Rubinian and Imperial nobility, and maybe gain some contacts and patrons. (Raoyel, Tlaereay’ha, Rubinian noble)
- Dealing with a traditionalist Ftakhay insurgent group that has been clandestinely landed in the untamed forests near the newly granted lands and starts making trouble, alternately raiding the Aslan squires’ and their human neighbour barons’ lands, killing cattle and leaving “evidence” that puts the blame on the other party respectively. The PCs need to find the insurgent Aslan, all the while trying to keep rising tensions in check. (Raoyel, Tlaereay’ha, Rubinian noble)
- Evading Fiyakhoar’s three brothers who follow the PCs — or, as a twist of 5., who entered the Rubinian squireship programme just to get at them. The three are bent on revenge for their brother’s humiliation, and if Rea’if was arrested, will try to get her out of prison forcibly. They may also hire human agents and ally with the PCs’ Rivals to dig up or fabricate incriminating evidence against the group.
- Convincing the Rubinian media to publish the true story, instead of Fiyakhoar’s lies; he still manages to charm reporters like a magnet even as he is recuperating from his wounds in a public hospital’s VIP wing. For the next half month or so, no newscast is complete without a trideo clip of him lying in a hospital bed, suffering with feigned dignity, showing off his bandages and painting himself as a victim. The hospital staff looks ready to space him, but he is the darling of the media, and the publicity nets the hospital’s management some additional funding. (Raoyel, Tlaereay’ha)
- Escorting a noble young Aslan female who detests the strictures of Aslan society. She throws herself wholeheartedly into the Rubinian nobility’s balls and parties, where she is styled an “alien princess” and becomes an object of fascination for the nobles. Several Aslan squires (the PCs’ protégés?) undertake to woo her and stir up trouble. Meanwhile, her parents have noticed their daughter is turning into an empty-headed, flirtatious socialite and put pressure on the PCs to convince her to return to the military staff career they have in mind for her. (Raoyel, Tlaereay’ha, some other Ftakhay noble)
The arrival of the squires triggers a wave of enthusiasm on the world of Rubin not unlike the advent of Orientalism in Europe. Suddenly the fad is all for Aslan wall hangings, garb, poetry, trokh language tutorials, jewelry, spices, exotic meat recipes and even toiletries: a huge market opens for all things Fteirle. The PCs can hop on the train and make a small fortune shipping trade goods from the Aslan worlds to Rubin as long as the hype lasts. (Tlaereay’ha, Hlaye merchant princess, Rubinian broker, Rubinian noble collector, Sir Idris Ashugali)
As a side note, the new trend towards Aslan-style meat-based meals will also lead to a rising demand for imported livestock, and the Aslan squires themselves also appear to be eager to sample all the exotic Imperial meat specialties the subsector has to offer.
As 10., but unscrupulous traders also flood the Rubinian markets with cheap knockoffs of Aslan art. The Rubinians don’t know the difference. Raoyel is horrified that fake “genuine heroic ancestor poems” of his clan are now recited in theatres all over Rubin (which amounts to ancestor slander, a serious crime in Aslan space!) and wants the characters to find the culprits.
Again, cultural differences may get in the way: selling cheap forgeries of artworks rates a mild prison sentence at best by human terms, while ancestor slander is an insult punishable by death or at least a bloody duel for the Aslan. Raoyel has an outraged clan to pacify who won’t be content with anything less than summary punishment.
Once apprehended, the traders turn out to be harmless small-time crooks down on their luck, driven by crippling ship mortgages, the need to pay for an ailing crewmember’s medical treatment, or some other situation the travellers can readily empathise with, and they simply didn’t realise what an enormous insult they did to a powerful Aslan noble house. Now they are horrified at the prospect of an entire clan demanding their heads — and even a non-guilty verdict in an Imperial court just means the clan will send assassins and ihatei to exact vengeance! (Raoyel)
As 10., but a wealthy Rubinian collector hires the PCs to ship certain very valuable pieces made by a famous Ftakhay artisan from Aslan space to Rubin. They have to contend with a band of Ftakhay nobles who are angry at “the wholesale plundering of our cultural heritage by greedy humans” and put pressure on the artist to renege on the deal.
Meanwhile, pirates (or some of the characters’ Rivals) have gotten wind of the valuable cargo and follow them, trying to switch cargo lots at the spaceport, or even picketing jump points to intercept them in deep space with several ships and force them to surrender the objects. A dangerous chase in the asteroid belt or the rings of a gas giant ensues, possibly with Naval ships in pursuit and Aslan agents in scoutships pitching in. (Rubinian noble, Rubinian broker, Tlaereay’ha, Sir Idris Ashugali)
- The prospect of Aslan settling on Rubin enrages the population of the nearby world Amethyst (either a human colony that just shook off the yoke of Aslan slavery in the last century, or simply a bunch of paranoid xenophobes). They demand the instant cessation of the squireship programme and threaten war. Several Rubinian tourists, among them a few important nobles, are being detained by Amethyst security forces in a trade port or mothballed research station, and used as hostages to put pressure on Rubin’s oligarchy. A team with an independently-registered ship is needed to infiltrate the station and free the hostages. (Raoyel, Rubinian noble, Aslan squire, Imperial mediator or embassy staff, Sir Idris Ashugali, Lt. Quaidh)
Aslan Diplomatic Courier/Yacht
|400-ton Tye’su’ikh, TL13 (Modified Hkiyrerao lab ship)
|400-tons, Streamlining (Hull 8, Structure 6*)
|(B) Thrust 1G
|(F) Jump 3
|4 weeks operation, 1 Jump 3
|Computer/4 (Rating 20)
|Very Advanced (DM +2)
|Hardpoint 1, DblTurr, Beam/Sand, DM –1
Hardpoint 2, DblTurr, Beam/Sand, DM –1
Garden, Lounge×3, SickBay,Office×2, Extensive kitchen
Integral Fuel Scoops
Fuel Processor (20 dt/day)
Intellect (Rating 10)
Jump Control-3 (Rating 15)
Translator-3 (Imperial Galanglic)
|Standard×11, Suite×2 (=12 dt ea.)
|(per month, includes Cr2,300/month Gardening Supplies)
|* Structure reduced to 6 from 8 due to addition
** DM –1 on each turret due to awkward under-wing placement
Ambassador Raoyel’s Tye’su’ikh (“Starshield”) is a custom variant of the standard 400-dton Hkiyrerao lab ship. The most extensive modifications are the conversion of the lab area to an artificial garden complete with a labyrinth of exotic plants, and the addition of several lounges with large windows that provide breathtaking views of either the garden or star-festooned space. The ship is intended to be a mobile embassy, sporting the means to entertain a number of diplomatic guests and provide a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere for negotiations.
Two twin turrets were mounted below the wings for a modicum of defense; this is a standard modification often encountered in the original Hkiyrerao model as well. Currently, the turrets are fitted with a beam laser and a sandcaster each, which are code-locked for the time the Tye’su’ikh spends in Imperial space.
Pinnace deck (level 1): The pinnace docks to a small area with a large hatch for the transferral of cargo. (The two iris valves in the ceiling are standard for the Hkiyrerao class; if the DM prefers, they may be replaced by lifts which would make the transferral of cargo from the pinnace to the hold on level 2 much easier.) The two forward elevator shafts can be extended to the ground when the ship is at berth, in order to provide easy embarkation for guests.
Once the ship has landed, the pinnace can still detach and taxi down the runway on auxiliary gravs, but only while the elevator shafts are withdrawn into the hull.
Lower deck (level 2): The main feature on this deck is the huge garden area, where guests can be entertained. Three sound-proofed and electronically screened lounges provide privacy for one-on-one negotiations, and their windows can be polarised to be opaque if necessary. The staterooms on this level are rather spacious and will usually be reserved for guests. The ship’s “neck” contains ten low berths for emergencies. Two turrets have been added, almost as an afterthought; they are somewhat awkwardly mounted below the wings (giving DM -1 to acquire a mobile target) and must be entered through the garden. The craft’s regular crew is used to the tangled labyrinth due to frequent drills and will be able to find their stations even in a hectic emergency; new hands might get lost and waste valuable minutes negotiating the garden. (The plans reflect the original Hkiyrerao design; in the Tye’su’ikh, all of the rooms marked “lab” and the adjacent corridors are merged into the garden, with two lounges and four staterooms around the perimeter. The probe drone storage/launch bay has been converted into the third lounge.)
Main deck (level 3): A large common area and an excellent kitchen make life onboard bearable for the ambassadorial crew. In two places, three staterooms each have been joined into suites, of which one is occupied by the ambassador and his head wife, and the other by his other wives. Both suites feature large windows for a beautiful view of space.
Two bulging office rooms have been added to the ship’s neck; this is where the ambassador can access the computer banks and his wives see to the day-to-day running of the mobile embassy. The main airlock is situated just behind the bridge. (Again, these plans reflect the original Hkiyrerao layout. The six forwardmost staterooms are the ones that have been merged into the two suites for the ambassador and his wives. The power plant has been relocated to the top deck; this area and the remaining staterooms have been merged into the common area and kitchen, plus three staterooms. The “small cargo bins” have been expanded into the offices. The circled numbers refer to the corresponding locations in the section Back to the Business of Rescuing, above.)
Top deck (level 4): (This deck is not present in the standard Hkiyrerao, and does not appear here.) The bubble on the ship’s back holds the power plant, four auxiliary staterooms and the sick bay. In the event of an overload, the back half containing the plant can be dumped into space by firing explosive bolts, leaving the ship on 2D hours of emergency power (considerably longer if life support is curtailed).