Dark Nebula: Pilot and Season Outlines

To recap, since I have some players who like a story arc and some who like a sandbox, I’m building an arc in a sandbox. I’m also imagining this campaign as a space opera TV show, so mentally I have split it into a pilot episode and three seasons.

In line with the TV show theme, each adventure (or episode) will have:

  • A plotline which will be resolved during the session. This enables any player to take part in a story whether or not they attended the previous session. (Initially I can generate those randomly, using the adventure seed table and other GM resources in Stars Without Number, but as the series continuity becomes more established adventure ideas will emerge from the activities of the PCs and the Factions.)
  • A season arc which runs the length of the season and embroiders on its key conflict. Some individual sessions are entirely devoted to season arc elements; the authors of Savage Worlds call those “plot points”. Those players who like that sort of thing can put the clues together and work out whodunnit and why.
  • An overall campaign arc. This doesn’t need much development yet, but occasional episodes should foreshadow the coming war with the Hierate and the greater conflict to come with the Sealed Menace.

Since this is an RPG rather than an actual TV show, we can let the experience rules take care of character development, and let the players get attached to NPCs as the mood takes them, rather than trying to force it. Since I want to be able to write up sessions without infringing copyright or posting spoilers, all adventures will be specifically created for this campaign.

PILOT

The pilot episode introduces the players to the setting and some key NPCs, and allows the PCs to settle into their roles in the team. I find it useful to imagine which actors or actresses would play the NPCs in a movie of the adventure, and those are shown in parentheses below, after the NPCs’ names.

Enter Torun Balkan (played by a young Alan Rickman), merchant prince in need of catspaws, who has acquired a Mandate stasis pod and needs the codes to open it. He has reason to believe that the codes are held by the Archive of Mizah, in a section of the Archive controlled by Adept Aytuna Durak (Rachel Weisz). He is also looking for a crew for one of his ships, and thinks that this would be a good test of their abilities (which he would prefer to be high) and their morals (which he would prefer to be flexible). What’s in the pod? That is not the PCs’ concern, Torun will inform them. What is their concern is that he will pay them 500 credits each to acquire the codes for him, and the less he knows about how they do that, the happier he will be.

The PCs also need to be introduced to the other major factions in play, represented by Sertac Bayram (Peter Firth), assistant cultural attache at the Embassy of Maadin and not any kind of spy at all, oh dear me no; and Lord Mareecha (which actor plays him doesn’t matter, he’s in a lion suit), a rakashan noble of the Aslanic Hierate.

That’s all I need for now, other than a list of names for any NPCs who might be encountered unexpectedly. I can get those here.

Should the group succeed, Torun will pay them, enlist them in his entourage and use them for suicide missions in a heavily-insured tramp freighter, to be considered in a later post. If they succeed in these missions he will be paid handsomely, and if they fail, he can console himself with the insurance money; during periods when he has nothing specific for them to do, Torun expects them to trade on their own initiative and make lots of money for him. Most of the time, I expect those players who prefer sandboxes to drive the PCs’ actions, but if the players’ inspiration fails, in steps Torun Balkan with another suicide mission for them, so I always need at least one of those in my back pocket.

SEASON ONE OUTLINE

I could be into season one as early as two sessions from now, so I need at least a rough idea of how it will go. What, then, is the key conflict to resolve in season one? I think it’s the question of who controls Mizah by the end of the season.

  • The Preceptor Archive and the Phoenix Party are the incumbents. They are liberal humanitarians, with a vision of the peace and prosperity that could be, but this is unlikely to survive the wars with the Hierate in season two and with the dark menace in season three. If they win, Mizah will remain independent, at least for the time being, and continue its journey towards becoming the utopian planet of crystal spires and togas.
  • The Combine and the Free Trade Party want unfettered access to military technology securely stored in the Archive, to sell it offworld – arms for the sake of the profit. If the Archive has hidden maltech secrets as well, they’ll want to sell those too, regardless of the consequences; it’s tempting to make that the case, with the maltech somehow related to the hidden menace. If they win, Mizah will begin a slide towards cyberpunk dystopia.
  • The Hierate wants to gain control of Mizah and use it as a forward base in the inevitable war with the Confederation. Its transport fleet and mercenary troops would also be handy. The Hierate holds the Archive in contempt as they are weaklings, and the Combine as it is without honour; but they may be of some temporary use. If they win, Mizah will be conquered and enslaved by the Hierate at some later point.
  • The Confederation wants to deny the Hierate control of Mizah, and boost its fleets and armies with Mizah’s ships and troops; it would prefer to do this by making Mizah a Confed member state. If they win, Mizah will become a client state, inexorably trading more and more of its independence for security.

Hopefully, the PCs will look back from the end of season three and see what impact their decisions had. I think that would be cool, and very satisfying.

SEASON TWO OUTLINE

Season two will deal with the PCs’ induction into a deniable covert ops unit known as Deep Black (a name shamelessly stolen from SWN), their missions, and their gradual realisation that the Sealed Menace exists and must be dealt with. This is at least two years’ gaming away, so I don’t need any more detail yet.

SEASON THREE OUTLINE

Season three is about dealing with the Sealed Menace, and is at least three years away in real time, so it’s not a good use of time or effort to flesh it out yet.

WHAT NEXT?

I know the group will start on Mizah, and after that it could decide to stay put or go to any one of five neighbouring worlds, so my next activities should be to detail those five worlds (with an adventure for each, plus a spare one for Mizah, plus one for Torun to hand them if they can’t think of anything), and the PCs’ ship.

Whether those are the inspirations that strike me next remains to be seen.

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