Collateral Damage Episode 3: Hot Hydrogen

Posted: 26 August 2015 in Collateral Damage
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SS Collateral Damage, Mainday Shift, 11 February 3201…

We begin this session with the party wanted on Mizah for murder, weapons violations, grand theft auto, assault with a deadly weapon, cybercrimes, and theft of government property, namely the database of restricted Mandate stasis pod access codes.

If this is what happens when you send them to pick up a library book, goodness only knows what will happen when they’re sent to break things and hurt people.

This is why the science fiction party’s home base should be their ship. It allows them to move on, learn from experience, and start with a clean slate in the next system.

-o0o-

Thanks to the new identities provided by their patron, the party leaves Mizah without being arrested, and with a general feeling that it might be better if they stayed away for a while. The Collateral Damage spends a week in hyperspace en route to Kov; Fromar spends most of his time trying to befriend the ship’s AI, while Captain Roscoe and Big Ted play poker in the cargo hold. Roscoe loses steadily (the Poverty hindrance in action), and blows off steam by trying out his new blunderbuss on the wall of the cargo hold, disturbing the rest of the crew who have opened the purloined crates of assault rifles and are arming themselves in anticipation of stiffer opposition next time.

Emerging from hyperspace, they descend into the atmosphere of Kov, a Saturn-like gas giant, and make their way to Karabulut Station, a former Mandate mining platform best imagined as Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back, but under the control of one of the road gangs from Mad Max. The Balkan Group has chosen this rig as they have grav engine spares, and it has broken grav engines – this becomes obvious on final approach, when they discover the station hanging from a collection of improvised hot hydrogen balloons.

Dyson negotiates with the local nihilist warlord, one Erk Karabulut, and rapidly comes to the desired deal: The crew of the Collateral Damage will repair the station’s grav engines, and in return Karabulut Station will provide safe haven and warehousing facilities for the Balkan Group’s factor, who will arrive later.

Meanwhile, one of the warlord’s slave girls, Hurriyet Gundogan, sneaks up to Lisa Andrews and begs for help – she is an Adept of the Great Archive, formerly part of one of the Archive’s surveyor crews, kidnapped during a raid by Karabulut on a neighbouring mining rig, since when she has been Erk’s unwilling concubine. She would very much like to be on the party’s ship when it departs.

Andrews is noncommittal, but then Fromar starts frying bacon on his portable stove, and Captain Roscoe challenges the warlord’s bodyguards to a game of cards. The stakes: Assault rifles and bacon from the party’s side, slave girls and the location of the rumoured Lost City on the guards’. To everyone’s surprise, Roscoe wins two slave girls and the map coordinates for the Lost City. Fromar, apparently just for the hell of it, throws some bacon at the guards – since they have been without decent food for 600 years, this provokes a brawl, to everyone’s great amusement.

Hurriyet is initially buoyant as she thinks this must be part of the group’s plan to free her, but her hopes are dashed – no-one has told Roscoe what’s going on, so he retires to his cabin with the two girls. Best we draw a veil over subsequent events.

The next day, the party borrows a couple of gravsleds and a couple of thugs from Erk, bundles up in parkas and breather masks, and sets off for the Lost City, driven by the I-9 Handybot and Fromar (who levelled up last session and used his advance to buy Piloting d4). Seating is limited, so they leave the slave girls behind aboard the Collateral Damage. As you will see later, this is a tactical error.

After a series of misadventures in piloting rolls which consume a goodly number of bennies, they enter one of the planet’s larger and more permanent storms and discover the Lost City easily enough. Most of the cargo bay floor is missing, so they enter easily,  leave their rent-a-thugs guarding the gravsleds, and thanks to Fromar’s knowledge of how Mandate installations are laid out, they quickly locate the med bay – Dyson and Fromar have decided that the stations would provide a ready market for vitamin supplements, which is certainly true. During the course of Fromar’s meddling with the computer network, they awaken the long-dormant AI, which announces it is the Orbital Defence Grid Node No More Mr. Nice Guy, and politely enquires who they might be.

The party attempts to bluff their way to control of the platform, with Roscoe claiming to be the new commanding officer, Fromar trying to hack into it, and the I-9 Handybot trying to upload a virus disguised as a history file covering the half millenium and more during which the platform has been dormant. The platform is a cutting-edge military-grade Mandate AI, and is having none of that. It instructs them to proceed to a secure holding cell where it will detain them for their own safety while it awaits orders from an authorised Mandate officer. When they continue to ransack the med bay, it despatches half a dozen security bots to encourage them; naturally, a firefight ensures, and unsurprisingly, the PCs are victorious. During the combat, they hear an explosion off towards the platform roof, followed by gunfire; leaving Fromar to loot the bodies and the med lab, they march to the sound of the guns.

They discover a group of badly-trained thugs from a rival station has also found the city and broken in; there’s a hole in the roof, with ropes dangling down from it and a dozen thugs milling around, looking to their wounded and looting the security bots they have overpowered. The party opens fire, literally in Andrews’ case (she still has the McGyvered flamethrower, and is not afraid to use it despite my explanations of the local gas mix), and promptly halves their number. Andrews then casts Fear on the rest, and they flee, pursued by Dyson, Andrews and the I-9 Handybot.  Big Ted pauses to scalp one of the thugs and put on his Mohican as a hat. Captain Roscoe (who is inordinately strong) hoists Big Ted onto his shoulders, and climbs one of the ropes, despite his wooden leg. Big Ted’s borrowed Mohican emerges into the air, followed by his furry muzzle and the somewhat less furry muzzle of his new assault rifle; the gravsled pilots left outside by their opponents have been somewhat disturbed by the napalm, gunfire, and screaming from downstairs, and are waiting for things to calm down a bit before going in to investigate. One is in the pilot’s seat of a gravsled, the other leaning against the side of another. Aiming at the seated thug, Big Ted blows his head clean off.

It is at this point, as the gravsled drifts away, that they realise it’s the one their rope is attached to. The thug-hunting party has failed to locate their quarry and returns in time for Dyson to McGyver a quick pulley hoist and heave the I-9 Handybot outside, where despite its ball foot it manages to claw its way aboard a gravsled. Between them, Fromar and the Handybot manage to take control of the group of gravsleds, slaving them to follow the Handybot, which flies them neatly into the cargo bay; the lone surviving thug has made a bad call, namely grabbing one of the other ropes, so they travel with Roscoe, Big Ted and the thug swinging wildly on ropes below – Big Ted and Roscoe somewhat more wildly as Big Ted is shooting at the thug, eventually killing him. Fromar arrives in the cargo bay too, with a gurney full of looted medical supplies, and the party decamp with the sense of a job well done and rapidly dwindling oxygen supplies. As they leave, they notice the station beginning to rise out of the storm, bound who knows where.

When they get back to where they left the ship, almost the first thing they notice is that it is no longer there. A quick radio call reveals that Hurriyet – who you will recall is part of a Great Archive surveyor crew – has escaped her bonds, seized control of the ship, and made off with it. Unfortunately for the fugitives, Fromar has taken the precaution of setting up remote override codes for the ship, and brings it to a halt. The party catch up to it after a while, and board, cautiously, to discover the girls have looted the crates of assault rifles and are nowhere to be seen.

After a protracted search, Captain Roscoe finds them in his cabin, readies his blunderbuss, and leaps into action – and also into a hail of bullets. Wounded, he manages to close with Hurriyet and knock her unconscious with the blunderbuss. The other fugitive, Maryam, whose training with the weapon is limited to "point this end at them and pull this bit", opens up on full auto, wounding Roscoe again and incapacitating Hurriyet. The rest of the party are running to assist, and Lisa Andrews arrives first, closely followed by the I-9 Handybot – they attempt to resuscitate Hurriyet while Roscoe leaps onto the bed intending to clobber Maryam with his blunderbuss. She lets off another burst, missing all the PCs but hitting Hurriyet again. This happens again almost to the die roll on the following turn, then Roscoe manages to clock her with the blunderbuss and she falls. Big Ted arrives, and just for the fun of it bashes Roscoe from behind with a billy club, knocking him out (he is on three wounds and out of bennies at this point). Thanks to liberal use of bennies and the Healing power, the Handybot and Andrews manage to keep Hurriyet alive.

Immobilising the girls in sick bay, the party decide to return to the defence grid node and loot it further, rightly thinking it must be out of security bots. However, the No More Mr. Nice Guy is making for orbit, and it takes them some hours to catch up. During this time, Dyson gently interrogates Maryam and corroborates Hurriyet’s story, which Andrews has belatedly shared. Eventually Hurriyet wakes up, and Dyson explains they are not on the best of terms with the Great Archive – if they take her home, will she put in a good word on their behalf? Hurriyet has few options but to agree, although whether she will keep her word is unclear.

Careful analysis of the platform’s remaining active systems allows the team to board despite its evasive manoeuvres, and they make their way back to the med lab to negotiate with the AI. The I-9 Handybot manages to persuade it to upload a file; fortunately it has the presence of mind to sandbox it, and thus remains uninfected. The platform AI notes that what it has observed so far is consistent with their argument that the Mandate has fallen. An extended session of dice-free, roleplaying debate follows, at the end of which the party and the AI reach the following agreement:

  • The AI is ambiguous about the human population of the mining platforms, which were largely crewed by involuntary labour. It agrees that their descendants are innocent of the original crimes and would inherit Mandate citizenship from their ancestors, but if the Mandate has fallen, there is no Mandate for them to be citizens of. However, it agrees that its primary mission of defending the mining platforms is not well served by letting them fall out of the sky as their drives fail.
  • The AI will allow the party to load up with food and medical supplies from stasis, ostensibly to distribute to the mining rigs, as regardless of their citizenship status the inhabitants can help with repairs.
  • They will leave it a couple of gravsleds, which it will use to ferry its repair swarms around the surviving platforms and repair them.
  • They will communicate its presence to the Great Archive, which is a former Mandate institution and thus the closest thing left to an authority it would recognise. (A bit like the Battlestar Galactica reboot this, their argument is by analogy to the US government being wiped out until only the undersecretary for education is left to claim the presidency.)

At this point Dyson comes up with the bright idea that they have an Archive Adept with them, admittedly a bit the worse for wear. Unwillingly to trust her with a Mandate-era defence grid node while they and Karabulut Station are both in laser range, they sedate her, take her to the platform’s med bay, and put her into stasis. They spend a couple of days fixing Karabulut’s grav engines with their spares, and depart in high spirits for Mizah, where they plan to trade the remains of Kov’s defence grid for a pardon.

Meanwhile, shortly after they depart, the No More Mr. Nice Guy wakes Hurriyet up and tentatively accepts her as the closest to a Mandate official it’s going to get. We close with a shot of Hurriyet sitting in the node’s fire control centre, looking at Karabulut Station with her finger hovering over a big red button.

REFLECTIONS

I was quite pleased with this session, as were the party. The game definitely works better on a relatively low-tech world with little in the way of law enforcement.

They achieved their goal, which was essentially to establish a Base of Influence for the Combine on Mizah, and as luck would have it they also established a Base of Influence for the Great Archive as well. I’m not sure how well their plan of trading the defence grid for amnesty is going to work, and we still don’t know who tried to obliterate them on Mizah, other than it wasn’t the person they asked to fake their deaths.

Fromar’s player is getting quite cross about not being able to control Mandate AIs. Looking at the character sheet, it’s clear his PC is designed for that one purpose, so I have to think of a way to give him an AI to play with – but not the Great Archive’s central core or a Mandate defence grid. The obvious candidate is the AI on the party’s ship, which is already unbraked due to damage, but is concealing that fact from the party.

Possibly because some of them have been playing Traveller with me for several decades now, the party has ignored the ship description I’ve given them and believes they are tooling around in a Type A Free Trader. So I will probably rework the Collateral Damage at some point and see how close to that I can get in the Sci Fi Companion’s rules.

As I grow older, and better-read, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me as GM to suspend my own disbelief in the party getting away with the sort of shenanigans it got up to on Mizah. There are two main options I think; switch over to fantasy, or play the game for laughs – which is what Bulldogs! does.

This group is breaking up now as they return to University and to work for a few months, so I have a breathing space now to figure out the next few potential adventures. Nick is planning to use the same setting for his group at Uni, so I will keep expanding it for him (and myself), and let you know how that goes.

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Comments
  1. Brass Jester says:

    Another good read – I really enjoy these stories.
    Brings to mind a Game of ‘Space Opera’ back in the 80’s where a wounded PC got left behind as a power plant was about to explode. One thermonuclear BANG later (think ‘Aliens’) the player suddenly says “I was carrying two hand grenades, did they explode?”
    “Yes, they probably did, but I don’t think anyone noticed.”
    Mind you, this was the same group of players who would think nothing of diverting a river into a dungeon entrance “to clean it out a bit”.

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