Collateral Damage 9-11: The Teraci Extraction

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

The annual gamesfest with my old university friends rolled round again recently. It has reduced in both size and duration of late; it’s now three of us over two days rather than 5-8 over four days, partly due to our kids growing up and leaving home, partly because it’s getting harder to schedule, and also (frankly) because we’re getting older; but we ain’t givin’ up yet. Over two days we played for about 16 hours while consuming large quantities of beer and whiskey, for that too is part of the ritual.

The players’ Shadows of Keron characters are currently in Caldeia, plotting regime change, and I need to do some serious prep work before that storyline can proceed; so this year, the crew of the Collateral Damage came out to play, and I started them on the Heart of the Fury campaign for Bulldogs!

Now, that was only published in 2016, and my self-imposed rule is no spoilers in the first five years; so, let’s just say that they worked their way through three episodes: The Teraci Extraction, The Pickup Job, and The Informant, enough to embroil them in the overall story arc and give them both a powerful friend and some clue what’s going on. I only expected them to complete the first of those scenarios, but I had forgotten how quickly a small group of experienced players chews through plot under Savage Worlds.

There are numerous possible routes through the campaign, but since we only play a couple of times per year, I’ll stick to the ‘express route’ – just the plot point scenarios, and in the order listed in the book. That will last us something like three years at our current pace, longer if we take time out to progress the Caldeian storyline or to deal with the dragon turtle currently menacing our adopted city of Shadipuur in the OD&D campaign.

Shouldn’t have let that whacko cult summon it in the first place, I suppose. But I digress.

The mapless approach has allowed me to change setting twice on these players, adding and removing worlds (indeed, entire interstellar empires) without that causing any problems. In fact, I don’t think they have actually noticed. This reinforces my beliefs:

  • Settings are for the GM.
  • The less you tell the players about the setting, the better.
  • While the characters spend hours haggling with cargo brokers and plotting courses, the players don’t have to and shouldn’t.

However, the characters’ base of operations needs some level of detail so that it feels like home; this group’s base is the Collateral Damage itself, so I printed and laminated the Moon Toad Type A Free Trader deck plans for them – it’s the one location we know will appear in every session. On the miniatures front, I have used OkumArts Retro-Space card figures for the last few games, as they are cheap and portable, with some Litko figure bases doing double duty as bennies.

Meanwhile, between a massive increase in workload, my son’s graduation, and an impending grandchild (this will be number four), gaming has to take a back seat for a while, so blog posts are going to be spotty for the next few months. Keep playing, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Quick Ship Combat

For Savage Worlds…

Ship combat is a major feature of many SF RPGs, and when I convert those to Savage Worlds, it’s one feature that doesn’t convert well. It’s also not a major part of my games, because my groups don’t enjoy it any more than they enjoy interstellar trade.

Historically I’ve addressed this by either not having space combat in my games, or by writing clunky, complex rules interfaces. But now there is a better way; the Savage Worlds Quick Combat rules.

All you need to know about the two opposing ships to use them is this: Is one side outclassed, or even massively outclassed? Follow the link and read the rules, you’ll see.

The only tweak I’d make is that the PC’s ship takes a Wound every time one of the PCs does, meaning that the ship ablates away faster than the characters, as is proper for a pulp story.

If there are more than one or two ships per side, you should really be using the Mass Battle rules anyway.

Have I missed anything, or is it really that simple?

Collateral Damage, Episode 8: Stormy Weather

Another Bulldogs! freebie adventure…

-o0o-

It’s just another day in Bugtown for the crew of the Collateral Damage; the Ion Mining Corporation, rulers of the waterworld Yentsin, need supplies even in the middle of a workers’ revolt, and who better to deliver them than Our Heroes?

When traffic control goes off the air, only to return with different voices and a change of coordinates, the crew is suspicious, but decides they don’t care as long as they get paid.

They land on a floating platform rather than the expected small island, and swap their cargo for a load of metal ingots. While they are taking tea with the alleged harbourmaster (who is sizing them up as potential recruits to the miners’ cause), an explosion outside denotes that a miner-saboteur has blown himself up while installing an insurance policy on the ship. Meanwhile, a group of gravsleds crewed by Ion’s security forces is approaching.

Dyson and Big Ted emerge and discover the main coolant pipe for the FTL drive is ruptured. Dyson can of course fix the damage (high Repair skill, Weird Science, McGyver, Mr Fix-It, Gadgeteer) but doesn’t have enough spare coolant. He makes contact with the incoming security forces and allies the crew with them.

The miners attempt to flee through the cargo lift into undersea tunnels connecting the platform to the nearby archipelago, but most of them are gunned down by Big Ted, who is in hot pursuit.

The security forces land and take over the now-abandoned platform, and the crew enter negotiations, the outcome of which is as follows:

First, the crew again gets paid twice. Dyson’s position is that while the miners did pay him for the cargo of supplies, it doesn’t count, because it wasn’t paid by the Ion Mining Corporation. The head of security needs the ship for her plan of suckering the miners into an ambush, so she reluctantly agrees to this, planning to use the payment as cover for her own skimming off company stores. It’s amazing how many metal ingots will be lost in combat during this insurrection.

Second, rather than Security’s planned ambush, Dyson proposes that they simply flood the mines with seawater, drowning all the miners. This sounds a lot less risky than engaging the miners in a Close Quarters Battle, so Security agrees.

They see to the flooding, repair the ship, and take off into the Big Dark.

REFLECTIONS

This session went very quickly due to a complete lack of empathy for the struggling miners both from Big Ted (he is an urseminite, after all) and Dyson (I was surprised by that, but as the player pointed out, they had hurt his ship). Lacking the time to start another session, we consoled ourselves with a quantity of single malt.

I’m running Beasts & Barbarians for my other group towards the end of the month, but for now, we return to the Arioniad and some reviews.

Collateral Damage, Episode 7: Node 43

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…

-o0o-

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.

REFLECTIONS

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.

Collateral Damage, Episode 6: Getting There is Half the Fun

Solitaire play goes on hold for a while as I have an unexpected opportunity to run a few face to face sessions with the alterday shift of the Collateral Damage, specifically the I-9 Handybot, the pilot; Ed Dyson, the engineer; and Big Ted, the, well, whatever he is. I have a bunch of Bulldogs! adventures lying around so pick a few of those out…

-o0o-

In a starport somewhere, Ed Dyson and Big Ted are delegated to go pick up the next cargo they are to deliver from a warehouse in one of the starport city’s low-rent districts; a consignment of heavy weapons munitions.

Why does every adventure involve weapons, Dyson and Big Ted want to know. I remind them that their patron, Torun Balkan, is by trade an arms dealer and just dabbling in the whole heavily-insured-leaky-freighter business.

What are the local weapons restrictions? they ask. Sidearms and blades only, I say. Having digested this information, they feel it appropriate to take the gravsled with the improvised octuple assault rifle turret, Dyson’s Horripilator (basically a Fear ray), and Big Ted’s collection of personal automatic weapons, which is now large enough to give him encumbrance penalties. Fortunately Dyson has the presence of mind to leave the turret deactivated, so the rest of the traffic is merely subjected to harsh language and machine gun noises from Big Ted.

Arriving at the warehouse, they are told by the despatcher that they already picked up the cargo an hour ago. They deny this; he produces paperwork showing that they did, including a not-very-convincing forgery of Dyson’s signature, and declines to help further, turning to go back inside. Dyson tells Big Ted he wants to ask the despatcher some questions and allows him to proceed as he sees fit. Big Ted promptly leaps from the gravsled and twats the despatcher with a billy club, killing him outright thanks to a multiple aces on the damage roll.

“I wanted to ask him some questions,” Dyson says.

“You still can,” says Big Ted, enthusiastically beating the corpse with his truncheon. “He might not answer, though.”

“Couldn’t you attack to do stun damage only?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

Leaving the urseminite to it, Dyson wanders into the now-deserted warehouse office and makes use of his Jack of All Trades Edge and some flukey dice rolls to hack the security system; he gets an image of the imposter who took the cargo (and his truck) and links in the ship’s AI to edit the footage, making it look as if the imposter has just returned and killed the despatcher, rather than Big Ted.

By similar means he gets into the city’s traffic surveillance system and traces the truck to Hal’s Garage, about 15 minutes’ flight away. Landing, Dyson knocks on the closed doors and shouts that he wants to get some work done on his gravsled.

“Go away,” comes the reply. “We’re closed.” Indeed, now that Dyson looks, this is what the sign on the door says.

After circling the compound for reconnaissance purposes, the pair determine that the optimum approach is to ram the garage door, which they do, burtsing in to discover half a dozen people who are exchanging funds having clearly just transferred the missing crates to another truck.

Big Ted guns them down with his multiple assault rifles. Two survive for interrogation, but unfortunately neither is more than hired muscle and so have no answers. Dyson again reverts to Jack of All Trades and inordinately lucky dice rolls and determines that the would-be purchaser of the munitions is one Droogie Snaps. Dyson sends an email asking if he would be interested in the three tons of assault rifles they purloined several adventures ago, which the crew has reluctantly admitted is more than they require for personal use. Droogie replies that he is, and when and where should they meet?

Dyson contacts Mr Balkan, explains what has happened, and requests permission to use the munitions to remove Droogie from play permanently. (Dyson’s motivation is that he wants to McGuyver a delivery system, while Big Ted just wants to break things and hurt people.)

Balkan points out that he has a contract to deliver those munitions. He is content with developments – someone tried to rob him and was shown this is a bad idea – and would prefer them to make good on his contract.

Reluctantly, they return to the starport, load the cargo, and take off.

REFLECTIONS

This was a slow-moving session dominated by in-character banter between the two main PCs, and detailed explanations of how the I-9 Handybot (which is constrained by Asimov’s Laws except when the Death Cult Virus takes control) would be persuaded to help them; and no less fun for that.

I have experimentally abandoned starmaps and setting detail to see how far I can stretch that, so I took careful note of what the players asked about the planet; the only two questions were about local weapons restrictions and whether it was Balkan’s homeworld. It didn’t even get a name. A campaign with no map and no setting looks entirely possible.

Collateral Damage Episode 5: The Dangers of Simba

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?

REFLECTIONS

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.

Collateral Damage Episode 4: Everyone Comes to Mizah

I had an unexpected opportunity to run a couple of games last weekend, and with nothing beyond vague ideas for the next adventure prepared, I grabbed a couple of the free one-sheets for Daring Tales of the Space Lanes and filed off the serial numbers… The first one was “Everyone Comes to Trix”, free to download at the Triple Ace Games website. Here there be spoilers!

SS Collateral Damage, Alterday Shift, 01 March 3201…

Arriving back at Mizah with the intention of getting their version of events at Kov published first, the players discover that their "terrorist attack" on the Great Archive has resulted in a substantial tightening of weapons regulations. Dissatisfied with what he is now allowed to carry, Big Ted tells the I-9 Handybot that the group are fastening the components of their weapons to its back, and they will reassemble them outside. When stopped by the customs officials, the I-9 Handybot points this out and is taken away to be searched and field-stripped. Big Ted takes advantage of the distraction to Stealth his way past security with a sawn-off shotgun concealed inside Little Ted, his cuddly toy which he deludedly considers (a) real and (b) his best friend.

(If he is prepared to eviscerate his best friend, and insert a concealed weapon in his friend’s guts which if fired will blow off said friend’s head, one has to wonder how safe the rest of the part are with him. Since he has by this point concealed a loaded assault rifle in Roscoe’s cabin in the hopes that Roscoe’s slave girl Maryam finds it and shoots him with it, one has to assume "not very".)

Captain Roscoe’s cutlass, while attracting unwanted attention, is not actually illegal, and neither Dyson’s Horripilator nor the I-9’s taser are lethal weapons, so they are allowed out without problems. While they are re-assembling the I-9 Handybot – Mizah customs are much better at taking things to pieces and searching inside them than they are at putting them back together again – Torun Balkan, their employer, approaches them and says he has a plan for dealing with the various criminal charges against them. It is in three parts; first, he endorses their plan to give the Mandate orbital defence grid node at Kov to the Great Archive, which will surely improve the Archive’s perceptions of them. Second, they were due a large bonus for that completely successful mission, which he has diverted into bribes and other payments to encourage law enforcement not to pursue the case. Third, he has an old friend who needs some discrete help; she is married to an influential political figure, and if they help her, she will influence him to influence the government in their favour. Between the three factors, he thinks he can get the charges dropped.

The party briefly discuss with Balkan who might have dropped an orbital artillery strike on them last time they were here, and how anyone could do that at such short notice; they consider briefly infiltrating the orbital defence grid nodes and looking for clues, but discard that idea in favour of accepting the mission, and head off to rendezvous with the patron in a spaceport coffee house. Here, they meet Lady Hellien Galavar, who explains that she used to be an actress and once starred in a porn holovid, long thought destroyed. However, someone is now threatening to release the recording to the press if she doesn’t pay them a large sum. Not wanting to see her marriage or her husband’s career destroyed, and not wanting to face the blackmailer, she will bring her influence to bear on the heroes’ behalf if they handle the exchange. Her primary interest is that all copies of the recording be recovered and handed to her for destruction.

(Big Ted, in line with his hindrances, is now knocking back 20 oz mugs of espresso as if they were water, and Roscoe is matching him mug for mug – it’s a macho thing. We agree that this will give him penalties on rolls to resist going berserk later.)

The party agree to the commission and Lady Galavar leaves. They immediately fall to planning how they can complete the mission while keeping the money and at least one copy of the recording for future leverage and personal entertainment. At this point they are interrupted by a plucky cub reporter, badgering them for information about Lady Galavar and their involvement with her. Dyson tries to persuade her she is in over her head and should go somewhere quiet with him to talk it over, but Roscoe has no truck with such wimpy approaches and uses his d12 in Intimidation to get rid of her.

Leaving the coffee shop and making their way to the swanky nightclub where the exchange is set up, they encounter four armed thugs who tell them to walk away before they get hurt. Predictably, the party declines this kind offer; Big Ted kills one outright with his concealed shotgun, Dyson’s Horripilator (a Weird Science fear device) scares off two, and the I-9’s taser incapacitates the fourth. Roscoe moves to interrogate the survivor, and the I-9 turns up the voltage in the hope of tasing Roscoe as well, but this fails. Roscoe explains that he is going to cut off one of the thug’s fingers with his cutlass every second until he gets some answers; the thug decides he is not being paid enough for that, and tells all he knows, namely that he was hired by a rival politician who desperately wants something that will be traded in the nightclub that evening, something that could end his rival’s career.

Pausing only to loot the bodies, they let their captive go and move on to the nightclub, where they pick up an impressionable girl in a hooded cloak from the back of the line and bully their way past the bouncers. Once inside, the party splits in two; Dyson goes to the assigned table for the rendezvous carrying the payment, while the rest of them commandeer a nearby table, pretending the girl is Lady Galavar and they are negotiating with her.

Dyson discovers that he is dealing with Drakkar Ferr, newly released from prison and a former actor in the same holovid, who found a copy of it and just wants some money for a new start. At this point, a dozen thugs come barreling into the nightclub and make for the decoy table, having incorrectly decided that’s where the swap is going down. Big Ted uses his concealed sawn-off to kill Drakkar, allowing Dyson to grab both the holovid and the money and scuttle into cover. Meanwhile, Roscoe piles into the dozen thugs and lays about him with his cutlass. One of them manages to land a punch, triggering Roscoe’s berserk edge, and the fight becomes lethal.

It is at this point that Dyson notices the cub reporter has somehow got inside and is filming everything on a handheld camera, and he and the I-9 Handybot scoop her up and make good their escape. Mission accomplished, Roscoe and Big Ted follow, getting out under cover of the panicked guests fleeing the club.

With no prearranged rendezvous to fall back on, Big Ted and Roscoe make their way back to the spaceport, reasoning that they will probably have to leave the planet again soon, so their spacecraft is the de facto rally point. Meanwhile, the I-9, Dyson and the cub reporter have holed up in a cheap hotel to review their findings. By watching her video, Dyson discovers that Lady Galavar was in the club, watching them in the mirror behind the bar – this explains why the cub reporter, who works on a gossip column for the local news, appeared; she followed Galavar there. The reporter quickly fills them in on local politics, explaining that Galavar is aligned to the Free Trade Party and thus the Mizah Combine, while his less-powerful rival is aligned to the Phoenix Party and thus the Great Archive. She herself supports the FTP fervently, and hesitates as she realises that she faces a moral dilemma: Publish and advance her own career at the cost of her party, or cover up the truth.

Dyson cunningly offers her a third alternative: He will give her another story if she drops this one and hands over the evidence – an interview with an Urseminite, something he argues has never been done before and will lift her out of the celebrity gossip circuit into real investigative journalism.

She agrees, and to everyone’s surprise Big Ted honours the deal – Big Ted is a former children’s entertainer who harbours a grudge against the networks for cancelling his show after the unfortunate demise of his co-star Louby Lou. Big Ted puts forward his case for racial discrimination and the dramatic necessity of Louby Lou’s death to advance the storyline, painting himself and his species as oppressed and downtrodden. The reporter is unconvinced, and the eventual interview makes her career but paints Urseminites in a poor light.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party are trying to crack the encryption on the credit chip containing the blackmail money, having determined that it requires a one-time passcode to access the cash. (Drakkar had received the code previously, but being dead is spitefully refusing to pass it on.) The I-9 Handybot succeeds in cracking the code, but doesn’t tell anyone; instead of sharing out the booty, the I-9 wires it to Dulchich the Defiler, leader of an insane death cult which may or may not exist outside of the I-9’s delusion hindrance.

Business concluded, the party takes a few days R&R and goes shopping before reporting back to the Collateral Damage, now loading mining supplies for Simba, which is their next port of call.

REFLECTIONS

We couldn’t find anything to use for bennies, so improvised – everyone had an extra die, turned so that the number of spots showed how many bennies they had left. That ought to work really well, but in practice I kept forgetting to award bennies – I do that anyway, but scaling poker chips across the table is fun, which means I remember to do it more often.

The work I’ve been doing on the "series bible" paid off in this session as I was able to answer player questions about local politics and fashion fluently and off the cuff.

Nobody cared that the names didn’t fit in to the local culture. I suspect nobody noticed – to be fair, they have only spent a few hours in the setting and may not know what does or does not match the pattern. Clearly though, my original intention of renaming everything with culturally-appropriate names was unnecessary effort, so it’s as well I didn’t do it.

The party leave behind on Mizah new allies in the form of a rising press star and an influential politician’s wife – and new enemies, one the politician’s rival, and another a burned-out psycho cop who won’t stop until he gets justice for his friends killed in the line of duty. They don’t know about him yet, but I feel he should be there. He probably won’t last long against Big Ted and Roscoe.

Finally, I have now worked out who did call in the artillery strike on them, which may at some point lead to a story of intrigue and conspiracy at the highest levels of the government.