This adventure was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2007 and reprinted in the September/October 2017 issue.
The PCs investigate a series of sniper attacks. The first victims were striking workers walking a picket line, but the latest victims have been targeted elsewhere. Adding to the problem being faced are increased labor strife among the locals, a rise in anti-Imperial feelings, wrangling between local and regional officials over how the attacks should investigated, the fact that the weapon used in the attacks is from off-world, general political unrest, and pressure from large corporations to get their shipments moving.
The PCs must put an end to the attacks while walking a very fine line indeed.
Any backwater system in the Imperium. Population should be sufficient to allow for a medium sized city around the starport and other, larger, cities elsewhere. The planet’s tech level should be at least industrial but also non-stellar. The government code should allow for local and regional officials with real powers, not just appointed lackeys. The planetary law level should allow the ownership of weapons and, generally, unrestricted travel.
Three planetary days ago (Day 1), someone opened fire on a small informational picket line set up by the local stevedores’ union. Three members of the union and a street vendor were killed. The weapon used was a gauss rifle, an item well beyond the capacity of the locals to manufacture.
The picket line had been set up at customs transshipping point, an area where freight and cargo leave the starport’s extrality zone and enter local jurisdiction. The union had formed the picket line in solidarity with a strike taking place elsewhere on the planet. In that strike, a local union has been fighting an off-world corporation for over a year on a number of issues and has the sympathies of most of the planetary populace.
The morning after the killings (Day 2), an emergency council of union presidents announced a planetary general strike set for five local days (Day 7) hence. The general strike will last three local days (until Day 10) and will be renewed if the unions feel that no progress is being made on solving the crimes. The local stevedores’ union begins a targeted strike immediately, refusing to handle shipments in and out of the starport until “off-world criminals” are dealt with.
The local police held a news conference the day of the killings (Day 1) promising a crackdown on “off-world” elements in the Startown surrounding the port. The fact that a gauss rifle was used in the killings points to off-world involvement in the minds of the police and most of the city’s populace.
The evening of the day (Day 2) after the first sniper attack, another person is killed by a gauss rifle in the streets of Startown. That news quickly spreads and riots break out when mobs of vigilantes stream into Startown from the surrounding city. Many injuries and quite a few deaths are reported.
The next morning (Day 3), representatives of regional law enforcement arrive to “assist” the local police in their investigation. A turf squabble immediately breaks out between the two law enforcement agencies when the head of the regional force questions the locals’ abilities during an impromptu news conference. Each police force is backed by their layer of government.
During the news conference, word arrives that yet another person has been killed by the Gauss Sniper. Both police agencies are forced to deal with additional riots for the rest of the day. A dusk-to-dawn curfew is announced by the local government, but the police have little luck in enforcing it.
That evening (Day 3), the local representative of the off-world corporation involved in the lengthy strike is quoted as saying that the locals cannot govern themselves and should be placed under Imperial stewardship. The corporation’s PR department quickly disowns the quote, but the damage has already been done. Attacks on corporation property and personnel occur throughout the night and following day (Days 3 and 4), forcing the planetary government to begin posting army troops around the affected installations.
After his troops are jeered by the populace, the uniformed head of the planetary army publicly questions the ability of the current government (Day 4). He is quoted in saying that the army should stand with the people and not with off-world interests. Members of the government immediately call for his resignation.
The next morning (Day 5) brings word that two more people were killed by the Gauss Sniper the night before.
The Gauss Sniper death toll now stands at seven.
Two groups of police are trying to track down the sniper while fighting both rioters and amongst themselves.
The army has been called out to defend off-world people and property, a task most of the troops and their officers loathe.
The local and regional governments are arguing over who should take charge while secretly lambasting each other to the planetary government.
The planetary government has a potentially rebellious general on its hands, pressure from the off-world interests to defend their assets, an angry populace, a general strike due to begin in two days, local and regional officials squabbling too much to do their jobs, two police forces stretched to the breaking point between rioters and the sniper investigations, someone running around killing people with a gauss rifle, and all hell about to break loose.
They turn to the Starport Authority for some very surreptitious help.
Enter the PCs.
The PCs can either work for the planet’s starport or be troubleshooters simply passing through. Having the PCs work as starport cops would be ideal, that way they would be familiar with the both the planet and Startown. They might even have contacts in the local police who could be used.
The PCs need to either track down the Gauss Sniper themselves or collect enough strong leads to allow someone else to identify him*. Any leads they develop will passed along to the planetary authorities by the Starport Authority in a completely deniable manner.
The planetary government will pass any forensic information it already has or later receives to the PCs via the Starport Authority. This will include witness reports, area canvassing, lists of the victims friends and families, autopsies, and the like.
Working the case will be difficult for the PCs. The increasing xenophobia of the local populace will make conducting interviews ticklish at best. The Startown curfew and riots will make travel within the area difficult. Aside from the few friends they may have on the local police force, any cops the PCs come across during the investigation will be of no help. The police may even try to obstruct or delay the PCs’ activities.
Most importantly, time will not be on the PCs’ side. Each day the investigation lasts, there will be a 33% percent chance that the Gauss Sniper will strike again. Particularily fiendish GMs may have the PCs witness a killing, at a suitable distance, or barely miss stumbling across the sniper, e.g., he fires from an area they had just checked or passed through. GMs wishing to make things difficult for the PCs may even have the Sniper shoot at them!
Just who the Sniper is should be left up to the GM, but here are some options:
Sniper as Wacko: Just your typical psychopath on a killing spree. His mother has just died, or his girlfriend has just left him for a mechanical device, or ‘Leave it to Beaver 1105’ was recently cancelled, it makes no difference. He’s doing this for reasons no sane person can understand.
He either smuggled the rifle on-planet or bought it in Startown. Either way should leave a trail for the PCs to work. His skill with the gauss weapon may be the result of Imperial military training (a low probability) and practice somewhere and somehow. If he’s practiced, there’s another trail for the PCs to ferret out.
The Wacko Sniper will not be taken alive. Someone is going to die with him, or so he thinks.
Sniper as Murderer: The killing spree is just a cover for the one murder the Sniper wanted to commit. He’s burying his trail, and any chance at catching him, under a pile of extraneous corpses. This Sniper will kill up to a predetermined limit, then stop, making sure to lose the gauss rifle in the process.
The Murderer Sniper will have got his weapon the same way the Wacko Sniper has. His skills with it will be obtained the same way, except this time with a higher chance of Imperial service.
The Murderer Sniper may surrender if given the chance.
Sniper as Political Animal: This Sniper, or Snipers(!), is in it for political reasons. Not the sort of one-man political reasons the Wacko Sniper may have, this Sniper is part of a plot by a small group (small necessarily so the plot can be kept secret). Members of an off-world corporation may want to destabilize the planet. Members of a union may want to drive off-world corporations from the planet. The Planetary Army may be flexing its political muscles. Certain portions of the civil government may be attempting to make other portions look bad. The list of plotters available to the GM is vast and cannot be too weird.
The Political Sniper is either hired or part of the plot. This Sniper will kill until the desired result his achieved or the plotters order him to cease.
Access to the weapon is easier in this case, the plot simply provided it.
His skills with the weapon are obtained in the same way. Once again, the chances of the Sniper being ex-Imperial service, or even active service in the Planetary Army(!), are higher than with the Wacko Sniper.
The Political Sniper may surrender if given the chance. He will have information that may make his punishment less severe.
* The Sniper does not need to be male, although as Damon Runyon put it, "The fight does not always go to the strongest or the race to the swiftest, but that's the way to bet!"