This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2006, and reprinted in the April 2014 issue.
While otherwise engaged in startown, the players find themselves caught in an outbreak of civil disturbance. Putting it bluntly, the local mobs have decided to riot and the players must scramble for the safety of the starport and its extrality line.
Your group is on foot and on an errand. Perhaps you’ve just met with a potential patron, perhaps you’ve just had lunch, perhaps you've only been window shopping. It doesn’t matter. You’re in the depths of startown, several blocks from the port entrance, and trouble has found you.
Standing on the sidewalk you’ll notice several things in quick succession. Doors will begin slamming shut up and down the block. Grates and barriers will swing down to cover store fronts and windows. Your fellow pedestrians will start running. The usual swarm of jitneys and pedi-cabs will speed by without picking up any passengers.
Before anyone can act, a harried passer-by will bump into a member of your party. He’ll speak before any question is asked.
“Offworlders? If you value your skins get to the port pronto! One mob’s burned Gemler’s two blocks over, smashed up the whole place. There’s other mobs are moving too, get to the port. Hurry!”
After passing along his warning, the man will run off before any in your party can stop him. Any thoughts of chasing after him or stopping someone else for more information will be cut short by a low roar. A block away a mob will spill out of a side street into the main avenue. In quick succession, a jitney will be overturned and set alight, windows smashed, and people struck down by clubs and fists. A pillar of smoke will begin to rise over the area.
Fortunately, the entrance to the port is ten blocks away in the opposite direction of the mob. You better start moving!
The intent of this adventure is catch the players up in a rapid series of events. A riot is akin to a flash flood. The players will not be able to stop, consult each other, and plan their responses. They must act now or else risk a severe beating or worse at the hands of the mobs. The session should move rapidly. From set-up to resolution, including the events listed and any combat that occurs, the session should not last longer than 20 - 30 minutes. Please see the notes on time keeping below.
The players are ten city blocks from the starport entrance and safety. You should goad them into moving towards the port immediately. If they dawdle long enough, do not hesitate to have the mob fall upon them. Use the mandatory mob event described later in this adventure and have all the players suffer a knockdown along with major injuries.
No transportation will be available. No trolleys are running. Cabs and jitneys have fled the area, as have any private vechicles. Any parked or grounded vehicles are worthless at best and death traps at worse. The players should have no time to break into any vehicles. If they do manage to enter one, there will be no time to start it. The mob will be on them, the vehicle will then be overturned and burned.
No shelter is available either. All shops, restaurants, and bars will be closed. Doors will be locked and windows barred. In many cases, gratings and gates will cover doorways and display windows. All attempts to force entry into a closed building will be met by gunfire from the people inside.
When describing the scenes, stress the chaotic nature of the streets. Do not stop to give precise numbers of the people involved unless required by an event. Play up the hurried nature of it all, the players will form impressions as they run and not draw maps. Describe people running every which way, waste receptacles already on fire, random gunfire, screams, sirens, beatings, vehicles abandoned mid-street, windows shattering, and the like.
As the players move through each of the ten blocks towards the starport, there is a possibility of a random event occuring. Once during the session a mandatory event should occur. The details of these events are listed in the two Events sections below.
After the players travel the ten blocks they will have reached the starport. Events at that time are covered in the Resolution section below.
As the players move from one block to another, a small mob erupts out of the side street they’re crossing and engulfs them.
Each of the players should immediately roll against their strength and agility to remain on their feet. Players within arm’s reach of each other can help each other stay upright. Combine their rolls in that situation. Players may also use lamp posts, vehicles, and other objects to help them stay on their feet.
Players that are knocked down should roll against their agility to determine how many hits they take. Players that remember to curl into a ball and take other precautions should receive fewer hits.
The mob will move off rapidly leaving both the players who stayed upright and the who were knocked down behind. The players will find themselves within a half block of the avenue they must follow to reach the starport. The presence of a larger, more dangerous mob nearby means they will have to begin moving immediately. Badly injured players will have to be assisted.
Roll 1D6 whenever the players enter a new block. Apply the result found on the table below.
- A rioter attempts to grab one player as they move down the block. Have the player roll against their agility, dexterity, HTH combat, or brawling skills to avoid being caught. If the rioter does manage to slow or stop the player, he will attempt to beat the player with an eye towards robbery. The rioter will be armed with a club or knife. The rioter’s physical statistics and skills should be chosen with the player’s stats and skills in mind. Other players can assist the player who has been caught. The referee should keep track of the time spent in the effort.
- The players witness two or more rioters beating and robbing an individual. The players can stop and assist the victim if they wish. The rioters will run away if attacked. The victim is badly hurt and cannot walk unaided. The referee should keep track of the time spent in the effort.
- The players will witness three rioters armed with clubs or cudgels attacking a single man armed with a knife. The rioters have the man backed into the entrance of an apartment building where he is protecting two children. One of the man’s arms hangs limp and his head is bloody. The children are pounding on the building’s door and screaming. The players can stop and assist the man and children. If attacked, the rioters will attempt to escape as quickly as possible. Immediately after the rioters are driven off, the apartment building’s door will open and several armed people will allow the children and wounded man only to enter. The armed people will not answer any questions. If the players try to force an entry they will be shot at. The referee should keep track of the time spent in the effort.
- As in #1 but two or more players will be assaulted as they move down the block. The referee should keep track of the time spent in the effort.
- The players will witness several rioters using a bench as a battering ram attempting to break into a store front. Gunfire from within the store will drive the rioters back. That gunfire will spark more gunfire from the surrounding buildings. The players should take precautions to avoid being hit like using cover and moving in evasive patterns. Attempting to suppress the gunfire with gunfire of their own will be impossible as the shots are coming from dozens of locations along the block. Players that are hit will require assistance from the party. The referee should keep track of the time spent in the effort.
- A partial barricade has been built across the street by a group of thugs. They have overturned pushcarts, pedi-cabs, and jitneys and piled kiosks, fencing, and furniture to block both sidewalks. A 10 meter gap has been left in the street. The thugs had been trying to channel the flow of people running from the riot so that they could beat and rob them. Before they could finish the barricade however another group arrived and tried to take over the barricade. A wild melee broke out and has been joined by others trying to cross the barricade. The players can either try to climb the barricade or force the gap. If they climb the barricade, they run a chance of being attacked by a rioter with a cudgel. If they force the gap, they run a chance of being caught up in the fighting there. The referee should keep track of the time spent in the effort.
Military weapons and long arms such as rifles and shotguns should not be available to the players. First, whatever the planetary law level, walking around armed with ACRs is frowned upon by merchants and the police alike. Second, nothing short of several machineguns is going to put much of a dent in the mobs. A player emptying his ACR’s magazine into a mob will committing suicide. He may kill a dozen or so but the hundreds left will stomp him into a thin red smear. Players unaware of this fact should be tipped off in some manner by other, wiser players or the referee.
Handguns, knives, and makeshift clubs should be all the weapons the players risk using. The referee is encouraged to make indiscriminate gunfire, even from handguns, carry a penalty. People in the barricaded buildings lining the avenue will not hesitate to use their own firearms if they hear enough gunshots outside. When shooting back, they will not be very interested in separating the 'good' guys from the ‘bad’ guys either.
The referee should keep the pace of the adventure brisk, if not frantic. The players should be moving constantly and have little opportunity to consult with each other or plan. Travelling each of the city blocks towards the port should take 30 - 45 seconds. Events that occur in each block will add to that time as will assisting injured players and other characters. The players should encouraged not to dawdle or look for shelter. Keep a mob and its danger on their heels, perhaps within a block’s distance.
Marking time by tapping a hand on the table or using an egg timer are two of many ways to keep the pressure on your players.
As noted earlier, the referee should keep track of time spent in each of the random events. Any time the players spend more than 2 - 3 minutes acting in any random event the riot or a portion of it should catch up with them. Apply the mob rules from the mandatory event above when this occurs.
Keeping in mind both the limited weapons and the limited time available, the players should be satisfied with simply knocking opponents down or driving them off. Taking the extra time needed to kill a fallen opponent is time that may allow the riot to catch you. Again, as with weapon use above, any of the more bloodthirsty players should somehow be tipped off to this by their fellow players or the referee. Just as the players should, NPCs the referee controls should try to flee from combat after a few hits, roll away after a knock down, and ignore fallen players too.
The Starport Authority are old hands when it comes to dealing with startown rioting outside the extrality line. All entrance points have been closed and the boundary fencing is being patrolled by contragravity. The extrality crossing the players are running towards is set back 30 meters from the actual extrality line and the boundary fencing forms a funnel angled towards the entrance building.
Within that area are a few hundred people who all ran for the starport when the rioting began. Most are on their knees with their hands clasped atop their head. Speakers on the building are repeating orders for everyone entering the area to kneel and place their hands on their heads.
A few individuals have not complied. They have been tranqed by rifles fired from within the entrance building.
The public address system also repeats instructions for anyone who need medical assistance. They or others are to signal by raising their hands. Medics and armed guards will arrive by grav-belt to check anyone who signals. First aid will be given and bad cases will be removed by g-carrier but no healthy individuals will be removed.
The players are now safe as long as they behave themselves. All they need do now is wait and spend a few uncomfortable hours on their knees in front of armed men.
The referee can ‘spice up’ this scenario very easily. Tainted or thin atmospheres will require masks and compressors, both of which can be damaged or lost in a riot. A riot on a vacuum world will be very nasty also. ‘Up-gunning’ the scenario is difficult. Adding weapons to the adventure could result in a bloodbath for both bystanders and the players. The situation is chaotic and a heavily armed group of players shooting to clear their path will draw fire from many sources. A heavily armed group running towards the starport entrance will not be welcomed either.