Being the second adventure of last weekend’s unexpected session. Spoilers again, this time for the free One-Sheet "The Dangers of Iphus IV" from Triple Ace Games, which I reskinned for the game. Not so many as last time, though, because they went a long way off piste, as you will see…
SS Collateral Damage, Simba, 08-11 March 3201…
Leaving Mizah on the 2nd of March, the crew spend most of the voyage convinced that the cargo containers of "mining supplies" they are carrying to Simba must surely be something else. The more evidence they find proving that the mining supplies are just that, the less they believe it. However, they decide against opening the tamper-proof seals and content themselves with gambling and drinking to excess, Captain Roscoe losing most of his remaining money to Big Ted. Dyson, meanwhile, is keeping the ship flying, which is harder than it sounds – he explains he only joined the crew because he felt sorry for the ship.
During the voyage, Maryam finds the hidden assault rifle and threatens Roscoe with it, but he intimidates her into dropping the gun. He deduces from the fur in the mechanism who left it there, but when he confronts Big Ted, the urseminite manages to convince him it was left behind accidentally during the firefight in Roscoe’s stateroom some weeks ago.
The I-9 Handybot proves surprisingly adept at handling the ship in Simba’s hundred kilometre per hour gusting katabatic winds, never rolling less than a raise throughout the adventure and brushing aside quibbling questions about how it operates the rudder pedals with only a single ball foot. The ship flies into the mountain aerie that is Peponi spaceport, and after waiting couple of hours for the hull to warm up to the point where they can touch it without losing skin, they unload. After running the Material Handling Equipment into a wall they allow the port staff (who are insulting them in Swahili) to deal with the unloading, and make their way to the local Balkan Group factor, who confirms they have brought mining supplies, and explains that Balkan makes its money here selling tools, provisions and so forth to small independent miners. However, this business has dried up of late as Tigris Corporation – one of the minor members of the Mizah Combine – has been buying them out or forcing them out. The I-9 Handybot, well versed in the latest news (successful Common Knowledge roll), knows that Tigris has been concentrating its operations here over the last year or so, moving funding away from the other worlds where it operates.
Not wanting to go back with an empty hold, the heroes task the factor with finding them a cargo to take back to Mizah, which he says will take a couple of days. The crew decide to spend that time drinking to excess in the spaceport bar, and quickly befriend local miners who confirm the factor’s story. Everyone agrees that Tigris must have found something valuable, but nobody knows what it is.
At length, one of the miners is emboldened to ask the party whose side they are on? "The side of the working man," says Dyson, and after sealing their bond with large mugs of what Dyson is pretty sure is recycled brake fluid, the miner introduces himself as Spencer, and explains that he has three tons of thermite and a burning desire for revenge on Tigris, which is about to force him off the claim he has worked for forty years. The party agree to help him, but insist on travelling to the isolated Tigris facility by ship rather than overland, and are concerned about having that much unstable thermite on board, so explain they will start with a reconnaissance mission and fly him back to his claim first.
Dyson takes advantage of the calm before the storm to modify one of the gravsleds they liberated from Kov by adding an improvised turret, consisting of a rotating frame loaded with half a dozen assault rifles rigged to fire from one set of controls. Mindful that Big Ted is the logical operator, he installs a remote safety cut-out.
By now, the players have decided that I must have recycled the plot from Aliens and are peppering their in-character conversations with quotes from that movie. Acquiring motion trackers from the ship’s locker they land the ship just outside the facility’s vehicle bay and run over, loaded for bear. Instructed to "run a bypass", the I-9 handybot admits it has no suitable skills, but Big Ted is up to the challenge and they open the doors, entering a dark and industrial building, which they rapidly decide is some kind of secret research laboratory. Searching the place, they find a single inhabitant, Harold the accountant, who is oblivious to their entry thanks to his headphones – until the I-9 Handybot lifts them and lets them snap back over his ears. Having checked his taste in music to see whether he deserves to live, the party explain that they are a merchant freighter crew (true) investigating a distress call that came from this building (false), and get Harold off-balance by accusing him of abandoning his comrades.
Harold denies both this charge and the existence of the distress call, but is terrified by the presence of an Urseminite and agrees to give them suitable co-ordinates and frequencies to locate his colleagues, who are exploring a new find in the facility’s snowcat, and lend them some cold weather gear so they can continue their search. While he is helping them get that, the I-9 Handybot uses Harold’s terminal to download anything of interest and upload the Dulchich Virus. The virus displays a sigil, which winks at him, and applies red lighting effects to the building (everyone ignores this in the heat of the moment). "Anything of interest" turns out to be seismic maps of an underground base, lost under the ice for who knows how long and probably alien in origin, and a set of powerpoint slides for a presentation attempting to persuade Tigris management that although times are hard, if they can just fund the team a little longer they will get the promised return on their investment. The Handybot is able to advise that the ruins look alien, but are not like any other alien ruins known in the sector.
Setting up the base radio to forward any calls from the ground team to them, they bundle Harold and their new gear aboard ship and head off to the snowcat, pausing only to visit Spencer and pick up both him and his thermite. A game of wolf, goat and cabbage ensues as they try to keep Spencer, Harold and Maryam separated from each other – Spencer will kill Harold, and keeping Maryam as a slave is illegal.
They find the snowcat wrecked under a drift of snow, which they blow off with the ship’s thrusters, and note that it has holes punched through it from the outside and life signs within. After a lengthy debate about who should go in first, and whether they should be allowed back aboard afterwards, the I-9 Handybot, Harold and Big Ted investigate the wreckage, recovering two of the four crew (Dave and Maurice) – the others have been pulverised beyond recognition. The Handybot’s extensive healing knowledge allows it to revive the comatose survivors (prompting comments of "Just what is in those health packs, anyway?"), who explain that they were searching for a way in to the underground complex and found a kind of big egg thing – they were taking this back to the base when it hatched and killed two of them. The party deduce that a larger creature tore open the snowcat so that its progeny could escape, and realising that it is still outside, where they are, they retreat back to the ship and take off.
Using the survivors’ testimony and the maps purloined from the Tigris facility, they heroes notice what seems to be a lift shaft linking a nearby mountain to the underground base, and head for the mouth of the shaft to investigate. Here they find a cave, with a rock fissure at the rear; they get the gravsled into the cave, but it won’t fit in the shaft, and they don’t have enough rope to descend – the seismic images show two hundred metres of shaft, then sixty metres of some sort of blockage, then another three hundred metres of shaft before the base. So, Dyson removes one of the antigrav modules from the gravsled and jury-rigs a field expedient skyhook; tying themselves to the grav module, the party descends, ordering the ship to take off and orbit at a safe distance to prevent alien life-forms from sneaking into the cargo bay.
Descending to the blockage, they find a side cave containing another half-dozen eggs. They decide to burn these with thermite and begin their ascent; only to be warned as they emerge back into radio coverage that the large creature is approaching the cave at speed. Piling out into a hasty defensive position, they panic fire all their assault rifles at it, hoping to drive it out of the cave where the ship’s turret laser can finish it off. However, we have underestimated the firepower of eight assault rifles on full auto, and despite my using up all GM bennies for the session trying to keep it alive, it falls in a hail of lead, cut down by excessive acing on damage rolls – I don’t think anyone rolled less than 20 damage, I have seldom seen such carnage unleashed by a party.
Ignoring the twitching corpse, the heroes sit down and plan how to loot the alien base of its supposed treasure. At length, they hit upon the idea of melting their way around the collapsed section using their stock of thermite. Spencer is the only one who knows anything about demolitions, but he has neither wild die nor bennies, and has been spending the last few hours getting to know Cap’n Crunch’s stock of fine liquor and cigars, so is not in the best shape imaginable.
Drawing a veil over subsequent events, let it suffice to say that by the time they get past the rock plug, they’re out of thermite, out of bennies, Spencer has incinerated himself to ash, and the rock plug itself, jarred free of its confines by thermite and gravity, has plunged three hundred metres into the alien base and is thoroughly blocking the entrance.
Undeterred by such footling trifles, the party comes up with a new plan; they will hover their ship over the base and use the laser cannon to melt their way in. Despite intrusive calls from the Balkan factor back at Peponi, who has now found them a cargo, they stick to it until they burn through.
If you’re familiar with the adventure, you’ll know they are now so far off piste it’s hard to tell where the piste was to start with. Fortunately I have a solution, as I packed Death Frost Doom in case the players preferred to use their fantasy characters this weekend, and I’m confident I can reskin it on the fly for an SF game, so when the party descends the fissure it finds itself in that adventure.
After three rooms, the I-9 Handybot becomes convinced that this is the home of an evil death cult (true), that said cult is led by Dulchich the Defiler (who’s to say?), and that a place this creepy must be populated by Things Man Was Not Meant To Know (true). Partly because they don’t fancy their chances without being properly equipped for exploration, and partly because we’re running out of time now, the party decide to cut their losses; they seal up the base again, warn the settlers at Peponi about previously unknown ice predators, and depart bound for Mizah to tell the Great Archive about the base they have found.
It will be March 18th game time before the party is back on Mizah; who knows what awaits them then?
One Sheets (or Ace Tales in this case and the last) are very easy to reskin and drop into an existing setting. I had forgotten that. Since I have quite a few of them, I might just stop writing adventures until I have used them up.