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After-Action Report: Terran Combine

This article originally appeared in Issue 005 of the downloadable magazine.

I thought I’d share an AAR from a one-shot I ran last night; it is the second one-shot I have run for gaming friends using CT. Like the first, it was set in my homebrew setting called the Terran Combine. I ran it using only the 3 LBBs plus deckplans from Traders & Gunboats.

The Terran Combine is an interstellar polity comprised of nearly 3 dozen systems in a Jump main centered around Terra. The present year is 2268; the Combine was established in 2243 as the result of a long and bitter civil war that saw the end of the Solar Republic by military uprising. Many had become increasingly appalled at the actions of the libertine Republic, and the entire confederacy of human worlds became inflamed in a war that started as cultural and ended as total. The subsequent political creation, the Terran Combine, is administered by a combined civil and military council and the single allowed political entity, the Combine Party, dominates civil life. It is broadly syndicalist and traditionalist in character.

There is extra-terrestrial life, but nothing more advanced than a terrestrial tiger or wolf.

This adventure concerned a group of adventurers with their own Scout vessel, the CAV Juan Fernandez, a ship retired from active service and placed on permanent reserve (inactive) with her captain, a retired member of the Combine Scout Service. The group had been contacted by an aging ex-Navy man who had been a comm operator on the CSS Robert Maynard, an Ernest E. Evans-class corvette, during the Civil War. A commerce raider, Robert Maynard was tasked with running down a Loyalist smuggler, the SRS Mustang, which had (you may have heard this one) made off with some supplies of pharmaceuticals and most importantly, an unassembled Autodoc field surgical unit.

Robert Maynard overtook Mustang near the asteroid belt in the Europa system and crippled her engines. When the crew abandoned ship, Robert Maynard vaporized her skiff (oops! little war crime there). However, the “Sollies” had begun a push elsewhere in the system, so Robert Maynard was called away. She never returned to that spot.

After he retired, the comm operator, one Ian “Wilkie” Wilkinson, checked with a buddy in Naval Administration and found no salvage record for SRS Mustang! Reasoning that she might still be adrift in the rather docile Europa Belt, he began saving up to hire an expedition (but there’s a twist...). Enter the player characters.

The action began as the little scout precipitated from Jump Space (I use Mass Precipitation for Jump physics) into the Europa system. On board were Wilkie (sacked out in the rec room), and our intrepid crew of pregenerated characters:

“Captain” Niles Kelley - retired Scout and Party member, awarded Combine Party knife for distinguished service, discovered animal life on KA743 IV, skipper of CAV Juan Fernandez.

“Tallon” - a very intellectually gifted woman, but with a hard luck life. Served as a 2nd officer on a tramp freighter and picked up a variety of skills.

Terry Bessimer - an ex-Navy lieutenant who found himself in enormous gambling debt. He left his old life, assumed a new identity and is now laying low, hoping for a big score to get him out of trouble. A gifted engineer.

Russ Fraser, CMC - Ooorah! A former Marine. Also, a minor celebrity. After distinguishing himself in anti-Piracy activity at the Nevsky Belt, was selected for the Marine Color Battalion wherein he fenced competitively representing the Corps. Notable attributes: Strength C and Cutlass-4!

Upon precipitating into the Europa system, the group was contacted by Naval Traffic Control, CSS Budapest (a Moscow-class Destroyer). It seems that there was actually quite a bit of Naval activity in this system, contrary to Wilkie’s prediction. They were ordered to rendezvous with the CSS John Paul Jones (Ernest E. Evans-class corvette) for a routine customs inspection since they were an unregistered entry into the system. Many hours later, they were met by a ship’s boat from John Paul Jones carrying the hulking Sgt. Makarios Ngumbane and his Marine squad, as well as the diminutive but fiery Lt. Pedro Caballero y Barkmann, Naval Customs Inspector. However, since the group hadn’t done anything yet, there was no cause to detain them. Lt. Caballero y Barkmann was quite unamused at the fact that they entered the system without any cargo to sell, and expressed his suspicions.

In order to allay these suspicions, the group decided to proceed to the main world of the Europa system in order to at least look like they were there on legitimate business. They found Europa III to be a bureaucratic nightmare, not to mention overly bright from the glaring white sun, and excessively dusty. The local cuisine of salty tubers and pungent vodka did little to endear them to the impoverished planet. Appropriate reference to the film “Brazil” was made.

Eventually they made their way to the Europa Belt, and Wilkie guided them based on notable asteroids (he was loathe to tell too much information ahead of time) to the wreck of the Mustang. It was still there in the stillness of vacuum, somewhat the worse for wear. A 200-ton trader, the whole forward section including the bridge was smashed by a collision. The hull was open to vacuum and there appeared to be engine damage. They took up station two klicks out and flew over aboard their skiff (Tallon was the skiff pilot and consistently made high rolls). Wilkie had initially planned on skipping EVA and remaining aboard Juan Fernandez, but no one would back his play.

Wilkie in tow, they boarded SRS Mustang. Engineer Bessimer decided to begin dismantling the port laser turret for spare weapons. The rest began checking out the cargo hold. Most of the pharma was damaged but the Autodoc was in good shape, still in the original packing materials. They began checking out the engines to see what shape they were in. Maneuver and Jump were gone but the Power Plant was still good.

While on EVA removing laser barrels, Bessimer happened to notice the telltale flare of a maneuver drive in the rock field several klicks away. He correctly surmised it to be an ambush! It was asked by Tallon at this point “Wilkie, how many people did you tell about this?” At which point Wilkie revealed, in his trademark outrageous British accent, that he did shop around the contract a bit (in actual fact, this rival crew had gotten much more information out of Wilkie than the PCs; they had learned of the probable location, and decided not only to get the salvage but to score a “two-fer” by overthrowing whoever Wilkie actually ended up bringing to the site).

They sprung into action admirably. Tallon began to reassemble the port laser turret. Kelley and Bessimer began trying to bring the Power Plant online. This would take Engineering, Electronics and Mechanical tasks. At least 2 elevens were rolled, and the third roll was high. Power was restored in half the time I had estimated. As the unknown vessel, evidently a 100-ton mining Seeker, came to a stop and launched a miner’s buggy, the group managed to restore the fire control computers.

Manning the guns, the long-silent Mustang opened fire on the miner’s buggy, but all shots went wide. The mining Seeker, Fortunate Son, opened fire on Mustang but the wild maneuvers of her own mining buggy spoiled the aim.

The buggy ducked to the forward plane, essentially out of arc of the motionless Mustang. It closed to board. Mustang’s batteries opened up again, and crippled Fortunate Son by taking out her Maneuver and Jump drives. Fortunate Son did not return fire, hoping that the boarding party would take the ship. Also, pirate captain Jack “the Ripper” Gammon was unwilling to continue exchanging fire in what was clearly a losing proposition.

The buggy sped up to the opened forward hull section to disgorge its boarding party. Russ Fraser had positioned himself near there at a key point, his service revolver in one hand and his fancy Marine commemorative cutlass in the other. The side doors of the buggy were flung open, and the boarding party emerged with a leap: “Snake”, with a shotgun; “Curly” with a cutlass; and “Cutter” with his trademark blade.

Russ discharged his magnum, hitting Snake in the chest and sending him floating off course with a cloud of blood. Russ simply let go of the pistol and it floated backwards; he readied his cutlass as his foes were upon him in a flash. I ruled that he would have to split his defensive malus against the attackers as there were two of them; however, that was still plenty. Russ blocked an overhead stroke and then came down and deflected a low blade thrust with his pommel. His backswing took Curly across the chest, discharging a cloud of gore from his ruined suit. Cutter thrust in but Russ dodged deftly; Lt. Fraser’s response was a cutlass to the neck, right below the joint of the faceplate (newbies go for the faceplate, but Russ knew better as it is well-armored). The resulting spray of blood filled Cutter’s helmet and ended the fool.

Meanwhile, not knowing how the combat would turn out, Bessimer chose to overload SRS Mustang’s power plant. As it turned out, this was not particularly necessary. The group decided to send a text communication back to Fortunate Son from the buggy. Fraser’s initial communication was not especially convincing, but Jack Gammon thought that it was the blockheaded Curly Trejo at the comm, so bought the explanation that Snake, the nominal leader of the away team, was injured.

Bessimer and Tallon decided to push the Autodoc crates out the open hull into space, and then abandon ship in the skiff and collect the crates later. Meanwhile, Captain Kelley and Russ Fraser flew the mining buggy (the bubble tint turned all the way to max reflectivity) over to the Fortunate Son. They landed inside, but Jack Gammon was suspicious. Failing to allay his suspicions, Russ had to open the buggy’s hatch with a suspicious pirate at the ready. Fortunately for Russ, the fire from Gammon’s auto-pistol went wide, ricocheting off the interior roof of the buggy. Russ returned fire with the shotgun he had liberated from Snake, and did not miss. Jack “the Ripper” Gammon’s mesh armor was inadequate to preserve him from a close range blast of the 18mm shell, and he fell back upon the bulkhead before expiring, leaving a bloody streak. No medical attention was attempted.

The group was quite alarmed when they realized that the Combine Navy was closing in on their position, and even though the closest corvette was nearly 2.5 hours out, there was little prospect of outrunning the Navy. As they began to panic, Captain Kelley’s level head prevailed. Taking stock of their actions to this point, he realized that as long as they were not in possession of the Autodoc, they really hadn’t committed any serious crime.

In the end, the Navy awarded them a salvage fee for Fortunate Son (but not for Mustang, which was now a burned out shell from the Power Plant overload... which they deceptively explained as being due to fire from the pirate ship) and bounties for the four miscreants they killed. Issued a stern warning against future shenanigans, they were eventually let go somewhat richer for the exchange. They stopped and picked up the still undiscovered Autodoc on their way out of the system. Mission accomplished!