This time, rather than run a straight Bulldogs! adventure, I picked a planet from the supplement Ports of Call and made that the destination for their current cargo run…
Arriving at the Node 43 Starport on the planet Mariboa to deliver its cargo of munitions, the Collateral Damage finds itself in a small piece of neutral territory surrounded by factions in a five-way civil war between local clans. Having checked the tech level and forces available to the factions, Dyson and Big Ted decide it’s too dangerous to go out there, and contact their customer by radio to arrange pickup. With suspicious enthusiasm, the Blue 41 clan spokesman agrees, explaining that this gives them a good reason to give the Red 38 clan what for. They’ll be there in a couple of days.
Unfortunately, the Red 38 utterly demolish this attack, and when they make contact a second time to see why their client hasn’t arrived yet, the viewscreen shows a different Mariboan with a gruesome trophy.
“Head of clan yesterday,” the speaker explains, “Head on stake today.”
At this point Dyson makes a tactical error and uses broadcast radio to advertise his cargo of munitions to the highest bidder. By the end of the call, the five-way civil war has become a nine-way civil war, and all of those factions are marching on the starport, controlled by the Yellow 55, who throw the Collateral Damage out. The ship moves into orbit, out of range of local surface-to-air missiles, and observes over the next few days as the Mariboans whale the tar out of each other. The more the Yellow 55 protest that they don’t have the munitions, the more convinced the other clans become that they do, and have made a secret deal with the offworlders. Hilarity ensues.
(By this time I am making up clan names completely at random and not bothering to write them down for reuse, adding to the impression that the planet is totally balkanised and unstable as they never hear the same clan name twice.)
The crew manage to make contact with the Green 38, who control the distant Node 7 starport, and arrange to barter their munitions for a cargo of metal ingots. They land in Green 38 territory and complete the exchange without incident, but are then approached by a pacifist Mariboan from the Green 17 who asks if they will take her to Node 43 where she plans to negotiate a ceasefire. Big Ted notes thoughtfully that he has never had a Mariboan (considering they are sheep-faced humanoids with four eyes and rarely seen off their homeworld, this is not surprising). Dyson decides not to take her on as a passenger, on the grounds that if they do take her to the starport, she will be killed, and if Big Ted gets hold of her, she may wish she had been.
While they are debating this, a previously-unseen Mariboan kills the sentries and steals one of the trucks now carrying munitions. An Indiana Jones-style car chase develops, with Mariboans on motorcycles and Our Heroes in a gravsled chasing the fleeing truck – this occupies most of the session, actually. At length Big Ted injures the escaping assassin badly enough to force the truck off road and into a small ravine (she ran out of bennies); the assassin escapes, though wounded, and the jubilant Green 38 recover their goods.
Dyson is all for leaving as soon as possible, so they do.
“These people are completely insane,” he says. Coming from someone who is sharing a ship with an urseminite, several pirates and a schizophrenic library droid, this is a high praise indeed.
Dropping the PCs into a situation and letting them run with it met both their desire for a sandbox and my need for low-prep GMing. The beauty of it is that when the ship lifts, all of the complications are left behind, and the campaign effectively resets. We discussed that point, and came to the conclusion that it only works because the PCs have no control over where they go for the next delivery.
We have also dropped all pretense of tracking money for these characters. Yes, they made a ton of money on this trip because they got paid twice by two different clans. However, Dyson spent it all on upgrading the ship. What upgrades were needed, they asked. I pointed out that they were a crew of eight in a ship with life support for five, and consequently either someone was sharing a stateroom with Big Ted or about three of them were in sleeping bags on the cargo bay floor, so it was agreed they were putting in a couple of new cabins.
Finally, a lot of rules didn’t get used. While the players were aware of – and used – bennies, I didn’t give any out (I forgot) and it didn’t seem to cause any problems. I also forgot about the chase rules (it’s been a while) and narrated the chase, with pauses for Shooting rolls from Big Ted.
This is about tailoring the session to the audience. The group does have players with a healthy acquisitiveness, and it does have players who are interested in the detail of the setting; but none of them attended the session, so I focussed on the problem-solving, NPC interaction and violence this particular pair crave.
The lesson there is as always, cater for the players you have, and this session brought into sharp focus for me that if you have a subset of your usual players, you need to cater for the subset you have, not the group as a whole.