Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other
An Adventure in the Gateway Domain
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2017 issue.
This adventure takes place in the Tottori System in the Alpha quadrant of the Crucis Margin Sector well away from the borders of the Imperium. The current date is 993 Imperial and the Solomani Rim war is in progress, although this is of no significance to the people of Tottori.
0818 Tottori E573224-7 Ni 803 X A4 V G8 V
In the small Koslin cluster, Tottori is the least significant of the three systems that make up the jump-2 stepping stone between the interstellar states of the Raidmarch and the Kafoe Dominate. The Koslin cluster is also a step in the jump-2 route between the Old Worlds and the Raidmarch, but since the March has reverted to its old ways the traffic on this route has dwindled.
An independent world, Tottori is cold and dusty. The polar winds gust fast enough that they constantly cause dust to be swept into the atmosphere. This is the cause of the atmosphere-tainted rating. The winds die down around the Equatorial Sea that splits the planet in the middle and thus causes there to be two continents, north and south. The equatorial regions of the planet are warm enough to sustain a human population although the living is a hard one. As the winds die down around the sea so the dust falls from the air, and for the majority of the time in these regions it is possible to breathe the atmosphere unaided. Dust storms are still frequent however, and during one it is necessary to use some type of cloth or filter mask to prevent choking and possible lung damage.
The Starport, Tottori Down, is in a large horseshoe shaped valley in the Turliita mountain range sixty kilometres north of the Equatorial Sea. The valley is large enough to accommodate a 2km landing strip with a good approach from the west. The main compound is at the east end of the landing strip and can take three starships up to 1,000 tons in parkbays. Ships of sizes larger than 1,000 tons can be accommodated outside the compound perimeter fence on some levelled bedrock. There are two huge warehouses that are capable of acting as hangers for starships up to 500 tons. One of the warehouses has numerous empty cargo containers and boxes that have been left by ships coming in and are used to carry cargos leaving the planet. There is also a control tower and administrative buildings. There is no fuel available at Tottori Down so while it is of excellent quality it is classified as an E class installation. A mining firm who found large deposits of platinum at Richvain originally built the starport but when the platinum paid out the mining firm left.
Richvain is the nearest settlement, 20km south in the next valley around the range. The only exit from the horseshoe leads to Richvain. The road between Tottori Down and Richvain is of very good quality and was originally designed to handle heavy ore trucks, but now only sees the odd truck or ground car. The citizens of Richvain send someone every week to clean the control tower and administrative buildings, and landing fees charged by the town go into the upkeep of the starport and road, as well as Richvain itself.
Richvain operates as a participating democracy on matters relating to the settlement and thus generally the whole planet, and its seven hundred population gather ever so often to discuss, and then vote, on matters of importance.
It is sometimes possible for a merchant captain to purchase excess livestock that the ranchers may have if the previous year has been good. These animals can either be slaughtered at the local abattoir, or can be shipped live with any necessary feed if the merchant captain so wishes.
The only other settlement of note is Shoreham, a small hamlet situated on the Equatorial Sea next to one of the best natural harbours to be found on the planet. The hundred or so population of Shoreham are natural sailors bred from generations of fishing the difficult waters of the Equatorial Sea. They sell their catch to the people of Richvain generally in exchange for goods and services as opposed to actual cash. They are always invited to cast votes in the matters arising on the planet, and while they do participate sometimes they are just too busy to attend.
Shoreham maintains a class E starport, Shoreham Down, which is little more than a patch of cleared bedrock next to the sea. There is one small building that acts as the control tower and starport office. The starport has easy access to the harbour to enable ships to stretch their hoses to the water to refuel. While the residents of Shoreham charge a nominal fee for the use of the port, the sum is sufficiently small (Cr10) that most trader captains choose to use it as opposed to battling against the waves, produced by the high winds, outside the harbour.
On the odd occasion when the fishing has been so good that the sailors have managed to catch more than they planned some of the fish is frozen or freeze dried. When food is plentiful this can some times be available to merchant captains who are looking for cargo; however, if they are prepared to wait a day or so it is possible to arrange a special fishing trip for the sole purpose of export. Up to 1d6 tons of fresh fish can be obtained this way.
There are some trappers who live off the fauna from the mountain ranges and sell the furs of the local Hurrtii to the peoples of Richvain and Shoreham, but apart from these there are no known other settlements or peoples on the planet.
While quite a lot is known about the coastal areas around the Equatorial Sea little else of the planet has been explored, and while it is assumed that the mining firm who built Tottori Down did a detailed planetary survey and found nothing, it is unknown if there are any further mineral deposits worth troubling about on the planet.
Having just exited Jump space in the Tottori system sensors on the PCs ship shows some very unusual activity in the planet’s atmosphere. The PCs are unable to determine exactly what has happened due to jump flash interference.
Once the PCs have picked up Tottori Down’s landing beacon they proceed to the starport and then deliver their cargo or passengers or do whatever it was that brought them to Tottori in the first place. On their way down the ships sensors pick up what can only be the after effects from a starship engagement. From the slowly expanding debris field it looks like a ship in the region of 500 tons displacement very recently received a hit that caused it to be blown completely apart. Clouds of hydrogen are floating throughout the area while ships bulkheads and hull fragments are causing a hazard to navigation as the PCs try to manoeuvre in order to land. The pilot should do a routine piloting test to avoid hitting one of the larger pieces.
Once the players have landed they are faced with what seems to have been a relatively large skirmish in and around the park bays and warehouses of the starport. What is immediately apparent is there seem to be three groups of antagonists.
Three humans (two male and one female) and one vargr (male) lay dead around a Type A2 Far Trader and the park bay entrance closest to one of the warehouses. The humans are armed with one advanced combat rifle, a laser rifle and the female has an RPG and a 9mm pistol. The vargr has a laser carbine. The humans are all in soft vac suits with a ships patch on the arm that says Donald’s Nose. The vargr is in a clashing red and green soft vac suit with no ship’s patch.
One human (male) and four vargr (two male and two female) lay dead between the next park bay and the entrance to the closest warehouse. The vargr are armed with three laser carbines, an advanced combat rifle and the human has a rifle. There is evidence that an RPG explosion, just inside the park bay, caused the death of two vargr. The vargr are wearing soft vac-suits, none of which has a ships patch. The human is wearing a soft vac-suit with no ships patch (he is however lying on top of a baseball cap that has the logo for Donald’s Nose on it).
There are five vargr lying dead (all male) by the corner of the nearest warehouse, three are armed with laser carbines, one has an assault rifle, and they are all wearing soft vac-suits with no ship’s patch with what appears to be some sort of harness over the top. An RPG explosion looks like it resulted in the death of two of these vargr.
Laser score marks and bullet ricochets and holes are around the whole area in various directions and angles. While it is possible to work out what happened it would need a detailed investigation and a ballistics computer and expert to tell the true story.
While investigating and before they have much time to find out what has happened, loud and aggressive gnashing, growls and barking can be heard through the open door of the nearest warehouse. If the PCs investigate they will walk into a teeth and claw fight between two vargr. While the empty cargo containers and boxes get in the way a little it seems that the two vargr, now almost completely naked as their soft vac suits lay in shreds across the floor, are engaged in a death struggle. A male vargr seems to be slowly gaining the advantage and is pressing his attack home on a desperately struggling female. The female vargr while fighting for her life sees the PCs and calls to them for help.
If the PCs do not break up the fight the male vargr will kill the female by ripping out her throat in five combat rounds.
If the PCs break up the fight and the female vargr is still alive she will say her name is Sharrkga and then thank them with the gratitude of someone who knew they have just been saved from death by unbelievable luck. Sharrkga will sit quietly and explain that she was a crewmember of a merchantman (Hurrkur) that encountered a pirate attacking another merchant (Donald’s Nose). They closed, and to help the Donald’s Nose they attacked the pirate causing an explosion of its power plant that ripped the ship to shreds, but not without cost. The pirate managed to damage their manoeuvre drive and they had to abandon ship and do individual atmosphere re-entry. She knew that the Donald’s Nose got away before her ship was lost. She goes on to explain that her crew landed safely by parachute about half a click to the east and they came to the starport to find the battle had moved to the ground. She thinks that the human merchant crew mistook their arrival as reinforcements to the pirate and thus attacked them as well as the pirates. Sharrkga says that she and the pirate (she points to the other vargr) were the only ones left alive and he made it to the warehouse. She says that she followed him into the warehouse to kill him, as she knew he would come after her if she did not. They fought with their respective laser carbines until they both ran out of power. When she made a run for it he jumped her, and if it weren’t for the PCs she would now be dead.
The male vargr, if the female vargr is still alive, will continually and aggressively call her a liar. If able to, if he is not restrained by the PCs, he will try to attack her again in order to kill her. If he is restrained he will continually call her a name that sounds like kaggkggark but is extremely guttural. A constant flow of expletives will come with pure hatred from his snout. If the PCs think to ask he will translate this for them. “Kafoe, she’s a ******* kafoe.” If he can be calmed down (or if he is the only one alive) he will explain that he is a crewmember of a merchantman (the Drraggrthar) that was attacked by the Donald’s Nose and then came under attack by a kafoe patrol vessel. Donald’s Nose got away after a concerted response by the Drraggrthar, but then the Drraggrthar was destroyed when it took a hit in the power plant from the kafoe patrol vessel. The crew were able to escape in their launch and land at the starport where the crew of Donald’s Nose attacked them and to add to their trouble they where then attacked by the kafoe when they arrived. He made it into the warehouse where he tried to defend himself against the female kafoe (he spits as he says ‘kafoe’), before his carbine ran out of power. He tried to run for it but she jumped him. He would have killed her except the PCs stopped him. He will go on to say that they should kill her now before she can cause any more trouble. The vargr will introduce himself as Darrurz if he is given the chance or is asked.
Donald’s Nose, a merchantman was in-system having just refuelled at Ori, Tottori’s innermost gas giant, while it was on its way from Cheju (0920 Crucis Margin) to Mayagi (0617 Crucis Margin) in order to deliver some refined lithium.
Drraggrthar, an up-specced subbie known to be a pirate by the captain of Donald’s Nose, approached as they were coming close to their jump point. Attempting to keep the pirate at bay they fired a warning shot across the pirate’s bows. At the same time, or just seconds after, they took a hit to the fuel tanks that caused a loss of 60% of their fuel load. Unable to jump out system due to insufficient fuel Donald’s Nose headed for Tottori Down. Unable to outrun the Drraggrthar, Donald’s Nose returned fire and managed to hit the pirate’s jump drive, following which a third ship, a kafoe patrol vessel, exited Jump and after a sensor sweep engaged both the pirate and the merchantman.
A three-way running space battle then ensued between Ori and Tottori that caused Donald’s Nose’s laser turret to be disabled before it could break off and make a safe landing at Tottori Down.
The kafoe patrol vessel then achieved a hit on the pirate’s power plant that caused it to explode, but only after the crew were able to abandon ship in their launch and fire a last salvo of missiles. The pirate’s crew affected a safe landing of the launch in the park bay next to Donald’s Nose and immediately attempted to board that vessel.
The missiles from the pirate hit and destroyed the manoeuvre drive of the kafoe patrol vessel. With the ship about to re-enter the atmosphere uncontrollably, the kafoe abandoned ship by using personal atmosphere re-entry kits. Of the crew of twelve, only six survived re-entry and landed approximately half a kilometre away from Tottori Down.
The crew of Donald’s Nose managed to beat off the attack from the pirates and were pursuing the vargr into the warehouse when the kafoe arrived on the scene and engaged both sides. The three-way firefight ended with one kafoe and one vargr alive with no ammunition left to them. They are thus battling it out teeth and claw as the players turn up. Both the vargr and the kafoe crews were attempting to take Donald’s Nose to enable them to use it to escape and get back to their home systems.
When the players stop the fight one-way or another (they might kill either the vargr or the kafoe if they are a little gung-ho) they will have to piece together the story as best they can. Both the supposed vargr are lying to them.
Darrurz and Sharrkga will stick to their respective stories and there is little to disprove them. They will continually call each other liars and try to persuade the PCs that they are telling the truth.
Sharrkga will portray herself as frightened and a little submissive, to endear the PCs towards her. She will back away from Darrurz’s aggressiveness. This might be a little give away as she is really highly aggressive, as most kafoe are. Her frightened portrayal goes against her story a little, as why would she follow a pirate into a warehouse if she were that frightened? She will also not mention that there were twelve members of her crew. She will stick to just the six, as this crew size is more in keeping with a merchant.
Darrurz will be aggressive and agitated that Sharrkga is still alive and will badger the PCs to kill her. In his efforts to portray a convincing story he will admit that his vessel may have been a little ethically challenged when it came to passing customs inspections, but then who isn’t in this region of space, but it was in no way a pirate.
The clues that the PCs can put together really depend on the previous experiences they have had. If the PCs are ex-scouts who are used to doing planetary surveys then the signs from the ocean are a give away, while if they are generally merc types or merchants they won’t have a clue what they mean.
It is up to the Referee as to how they would play these clues and how easy it is for the PCs to know the full story. It is possible that the PCs never really know the complete picture and that their prejudices may cause them to jump to the wrong conclusions.
Both Darrurz and Sharrkga will try to take advantage of the PCs’ thoughts and prejudices to help them stay alive and enable them to get rid of the other one and then get off planet and back to their relative homes.
The real give away for Sharrkga will be the post-mortem or any internal examination. She will try to prevent the PCs from doing this as far as she can, even to the extent of doctoring the results if possible.
From what the players see the kafoe and the vargr look like the same species (the kafoe for this mission were picked for just this effect). A post-mortem examination will reveal that they are in fact different species, and blood typing of both Darrurz and Sharrkga will show that difference. Any players with medical experience of vargr will be able to identify Darrurz as one.
Donald’s Nose is a merchantman registered out of Kalradin from the Raidmarch. The really unusual thing about this ship and crew is that even thought they are from the March they are not ethically challenged in any way. Most other merchant crews from the March think they are just plain mad, while merchants from other systems can never quite believe that they are totally aboveboard and honest.
Some of the story can be pieced together from the sensor logs of the Donald’s Nose. The logs show that after refueling, a 400 ton subbie (the Drraggrthar) fired on them while they were on the way to Jump point; however, it isn’t clear from the logs whether the subbie fired first or the Donald’s Nose did. A ship of unknown type then engaged the subbie and in the ensuing fight what looked like a passing shot from the unknown ship disabled the Donald’s Nose’s laser turret. The bridge log records a well-practiced and competent crew trying to evade the Drraggrthar and an unknown ship that may just have targeted them. There are gaps in the bridge log that were caused by power disruptions during the fighting, and these can be portrayed as deliberate outages as the players assumptions might lead them to believe. The sensors also show that the subbie exploded after a hit from the unknown ship and the unknown took a hit from a missile salvo from the subbie that was fired just before it blew up. Twelve vapour trails can be seen entering the atmosphere and the logs show six of them burning up while the other six disappear. The unknown ship is then shown as re-entering the atmosphere and disappearing over the horizon and thus out of sensor coverage. A while later the PCs ship turns up and lands at the starport.
A very thorough search (a formidable task) of the vargr launch’s data logs will show that it was originally from the starship Half a Credit. A search on Half a Credit will show that it is a 400 ton subbie that is listed as missing presumed lost (with all hands) dated fourteen months ago. An easy search of the sensor logs (simple task) of the shuttle will reveal that they start when the launch was prepped for release from the Drraggrthar. They also show a salvo of missiles being fired from the port turret of the Drraggrthar and that these missiles hit a ship of unknown type that caused it to re-enter the atmosphere. Twelve vapour trails can be seen entering the atmosphere and the logs show six of them burning up while the other six disappear. There is no bridge recording on the launch.
The personal re-entry kits that were used by the kafoe were discarded when the kafoe went into freefall before parachute activation. There are six parachutes 0.4 km east of the starport, and what remains of six other re-entry kits are scattered over a fifty-square-kilometre area that is centred along the mountain ridges 80km away. The re-entry kits should be hard to recover in the mountainous environment. The use of the vargr’s launch will help if the PCs don’t have an air/raft or any small craft of their own. If the re-entry kits are recovered they are of a very unusual and unknown design.
The use of personal re-entry kits as a means of escape from a failing starship is extremely unusual to say the least. While it is not totally unknown for merchants to do this as a hobby, if they are the extreme sports type, it is definitely memorable to meet one, and incredibly unusual, in fact probably unique, for a whole crew to do so.
If the PCs do a low-level orbital survey of Tottori to try and find the unknown vessel they may not have any luck. The kafoe patrol vessel splash-landed in Tottori’s equatorial sea. The effects of this are still visible if the players know to look for them. If the PCs don’t know to look for them they could just be normal sea activity for all they know.
There will be starship debris all over the planet, but the majority of it will be from the Drraggrthar and not from the kafoe patrol ship. There will be a small amount of debris from the kafoe ship around the nearest shore to the splash down site. If this concentration of debris is noticed by the PCs it will be obvious that it is from the unknown ship.
The kafoe patrol vessel is lying on the seabed 60m below the surface and is 90% covered by sand with only its aft area exposed. The trench dug by the ship as it hit the bottom looks quite natural to those who don’t have experience of such things. The surrounding seabed for hundreds of square kilometres is disturbed and sand mixing in the water only helps to cover the patrol vessel. This can again be put down to local conditions for all the PCs know.
After 1d4 hours the residents of Richvain will come to investigate. It is unusual, although not unheard of, for four starships to be in system at one time, and explosions due to the RPG at the starport will cause them to come armed.
Being so close to the March, the residents are well-equipped when it comes to small arms. They will be carrying some powerful weaponry, some of it support weaponry. All of the weaponry will be able to be maintained by TL 7 equipment even if the weaponry itself is of a higher tech level.
If the PCs are ethically challenged in any way or on any bounty lists the residents will just assume the worst and open fire on the PCs and their ship. If the PCs are gung-ho and open up, the people of Richvain will respond in kind.
If, however, the PCs are sensible and welcome the Richvainian’s questions and help, they will be able to get access to the planetary satellite sensor data that, while only TL 7, will shed more light on the story. They will also have access to the hospital in Richvain for any medical investigations they might want to undertake.
Locals will also be able to identify that the activity of the equatorial sea is not normal and that the place where the seabed is disturbed is a good place to start looking for the unknown vessel.
Sharrkga will try to protect her identity at all costs, although not for selfish reasons. She was Chief Engineer of her patrol ship and has a skill set to match. Her initial motivation will be to get Darrurz killed or incapacitated so he can’t reveal her for what she is. Her motivation will then be to find and destroy as much evidence of the kafoe as is possible. She will try and get the PCs, using all their assumptions and prejudices, to look for her ship so that she might engineer its destruction. She will want to gather the re-entry kits to destroy them and dispose of her fellow crewmembers by cremation; she will say that it is their custom to be burned after death (this should not be unusual). She will want the laser-carbines destroyed, as well as any equipment left on or around her crewmembers’ bodies.
She will also be looking to get rid of any traces that might lend information to the kafoe’s enemies such as the sensor logs of the Donald’s Nose, the sensor logs of the launch, and the planetary satellite network. Eventually she will move on to the removal of the players and the disappearance of their ship. She will strand herself if necessary but is more likely to try and get them to take her to where she can be rescued by her own kind.
Sharrkga was picked for this mission because, like the rest of her crew, she is intelligent and cunning. She is a practiced liar and speaks fluently and without an accent. She should not make stupid mistakes and it should be difficult for the PCs to see through her story if they believe her in the first instance.
Darrurz will try to protect his identity, and is willing to sacrifice almost anything to do so. His intentions are purely selfish and his main aim is to make it to the Raidmarch so he can continue his career. Darrurz is a career corsair and has many contacts. He made a good lieutenant on the Drraggrthar and if he could make some money he would easily be able to set up on his own as Captain. He will initially try to have Sharrkga killed, but as he calms down he will see a possible reward in turning her over to the Raidmarch government, along with as much equipment as possible. He will have no qualms about killing her or anyone else if they prove to be trouble.
Darrurz will be looking to make as much profit from this encounter as he can. He values his life highly and while he is greedy he is also intelligent and cunning. It is unlikely that he will let his greed put him in a situation that may give him away, but this is a possibility if the pay off is massive.
With a ship for the taking, he will try to engineer the position where he is crewing the Donald’s Nose on the way to the Raidmarch where he will be able to use his contacts to remove the players and claim the ship and cargo for himself. If he can’t engineer this situation he will look to recover the launch to the Raidmarch and try to sell it.
The Citizens of Richvain
The Richvainians will, as representatives of their world, use this as an opportunity to better it. They are not ruthless in this pursuit but will not be hoodwinked by the PCs. If the kafoe’s ship is uncovered they will claim it as theirs and then seek to profit from it by selling it and the info it contains to the Old Worlds Government, or negotiate for a mutual defensive arrangement etc. They are likely to claim any heavy weapons for planetary defence and also keep the launch as a planetary ship. They will have no use for the Donald’s Nose or its cargo, apart from perhaps its weaponry, so would be willing to let the PCs have this for their efforts.
The players can profit from this encounter in many ways. There is of course an almost-working type A2 far trader and its cargo, a ship’s launch, various weaponry, but the real pay off is finding and selling information about, equipment of, or the kafoe themselves to the governments of either the Raidmarch or the Old Worlds (the Old Worlds will pay more). The Referee should of course change the rewards to best suit his or her campaign.