Thursday, October 17, 2019

Seven Worlds #3 - Divided We Fall

The Magpie tries to stop the opposing fleets from coming to blow
Campaign Diary

"Good news, everyone - " Hassel-Hoffa exclaimed as he walked into the hangar with Nick, Kumra, and AJ, "our old friend Amahrius is here!"

Sure enough, before the crew was Amahrius, his security chief Colben, and assistant Lindsay. Amahrius greeted his old comrades, and explained that he was on a stopover on his way to Mathus, the Tazanian capital, in a last ditch effort to prevent the war; although war had been formally declared, it would be weeks before both sides could mobilise fully - but that window is closing.

After the brief meeting, Nick, Kumra, and AJ boarded the Magpie and began their journey to Caeora, where they would rendezvous with the hab-ship (habitat-ship). Jet would remain at the headquarters to continue his search for Lamar.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Three days afterwards, the crew arrived at Caeora, an industrial planet, where the crew met with the crew of the Kobold, a mining hab-ship: the hab-ship would travel to its destination, whereupon it would "transform" into the miner's workplace and living quarters, and the crew would return on the Magpie.

The Kobold was owned by Capstone Mining, a name which was unfamiliar to AJ. A search online revealed that is was a newly incorporated company, formed just four weeks ago, and jointly owned by a few conglomerates, some of which were based in the United Confederation. Its destination was the Keelan asteroid belt, a region which AJ knew was previously surveyed and found to be not cost-efficient for mining - perhaps Capstone was betting that the coming war would raise the price of whatever resource they were planning to mine and make operations profitable?

Our crew took over the cockpit of the Kobold and docked the Magpie with the larger ship. The first two days of the journey was uneventful, although AJ found his attempts to inspect the operational part of the Kobold or to learn more about the nature of the miners' operations rebuffed, on account of "corporate secrets".

Then, on the third day, just a few hours before the ship would exit hyperspace, Wilson, the chief of the miners, entered the bridge of the Kobold, and pulled his blaster on Nick and ordered him to drop out of hyperspace. Nick attempted to resist, but was knocked out by the blaster. Minutes later, Kumra and AJ, woken up by the jolt of the ship exiting hyperspace, found themselves held at gun-point by four of the miners.

The crew were locked inside a storeroom with no view. Not long afterwards, the ship entered hyperspace again. For three days our heroes planned their escape, and when the ship exited hyperspace once more, Nick decided to feign illness so he could leave the storeroom.

The wary guards opened the door, and the crew now saw that they were dressed in UC military uniforms. The soldiers entered the storeroom warily, with their guns drawn (but still set to stun), and escorted Nick to the infirmary. As he passed by the windows along the way, Nick saw that the Kobold was heading towards a gas giant orbiting a red dwarf; and orbiting the gas giants were dozens of UC warships.

After a quick examination, the medic at the infirmary declared that Nick was in fact fit as an ox, and should be sent back to the storeroom. Nick's attempt to palm a scalpel ended only in him cutting himself, to the amusement of the soldiers. When they opened the door of the storeroom once more, however, AJ and Kumra were ready; the crew rushed the soldiers, knocked them out, and took their blasters.

The crew decided to try to enter the operational area of the Kobold to learn the true nature of the hab-ship, but instead triggered the alarm. With little option left, they stormed the cargo bay to reach the docking port to the Magpie, and entered the freighter... to find its communications module disabled, and its fuel tanks almost empty.

Nick turned on the astronavigation module and learned that they were in the Folken system, right on the border of Tazanian space, and that the only inhabited system they could reach with their limited fuel was Tabari, a border system that linked two more densely colonised parts of the empire. As Kumra and AJ repaired the communication system, Nick took the Magpie away from the Kobold, and headed towards the edge of the gravity well.

They soon found themselves being pursued by a UC frigate, but Nick's skillful piloting allowed them to outdistance their pursuers, and enter into hyperspace.

Two hours later, they emerged at Tabari, where they found a dozen Tazanian warships in orbit. They were soon intercepted by a Tazanian frigate and boarded. The Tazanians at first accused the crew to be spies, but when their identities were made known, they were put in communication with the leader of the Tazanian task force: it was Irkalla, sister of the murdered ambassador and niece of the Tazanian Emperor.

When Irkalla learned of the UC fleet massed at the border, she gave orders for the remaining civilians on Tabari to be evacuated, the task force to prepare for battle, and for the Magpie to be refueled.

Irkalla bade the crew to leave while they still could, for this was not their war, but they refused, believing still that they could stop the war. Not long afterwards, dozens of blips appeared on the starmap screen: the UC had invaded Tazanian space.

As the UC fleet headed towards Tabari the crew was hailed by one of the UC cruisers: it was Wilson, who was in fact a major with the combat engineers - he berated the crew for their actions, which put in jeopardy the UC's plan to end the war swiftly, which would prevent the unnecessary loss of lives.

The crew took the Mapgie between the two fleets, and tried to convince both sides that the whole war had been a set-up. Irkalla replied that regardless of that, the insult to the Imperial house meant war was the only available course of action, while Commodore Holden, commander of the UC fleet, believed that war between the two sides was inevitable anyway, and did not plan to deviate from his orders.

Then, just when the UC fleet was closing into range of the Tazanian fleet, a dozen blips appeared on the starmap, well within the gravity well of the Tabari system. The crew felt the hair on the back of their necks rise. Moments later, the Telenet communications system shut down.

The ships switched over to short-range communications and the crew told Commodore Holden and Irkalla that what they were facing was similar to what the Beowulf had encountered. The new blips began to accelerating at a rate beyond that which was tolerable to human or Tazanian physiology towards Tabari. The UC and Tazanian fleets paused, and then both despatched a few ships to intercept the newcomers. As these ships reached visual range of the newcomers, they relayed the images back to the parent fleets: a dozen... vessels? each the size of a battlecruiser but with an organic appearance, and having no visible means of propulsion, were heading towards them.

Attempts to communicate with these bio-ships were met with missiles that issued from what looked like pores or portholes on their sides. The missiles quickly depleted the shields on the UC and Tazanian ships, and in less than a minute, they were destroyed.

As the bio-ships continued to head towards Tabari, Irkalla ordered the Tazanian fleet to intercept them so the civilian ships could evacuate safely. Commodore Holden issued the same order to the UC fleet, and at Nick's request, ordered Major Wilson's ship to get to the nearby Telenet satellite to attempt to restore its operations.

As the Magpie and Major Wilson's ship headed for the satellite, they could see the bio-ships tear through the fleets, seemingly impervious to their return fire. Despite the best efforts of the small Tazanian force, a couple of the bio-ships broke through their lines, shot down a few civilian transports, and began bombarding Tabari.

More blips appeared on the starmap - it was the second wave of the UC fleet. With Telenet down, there was no way to warn them of the threat.

Wilson's ship was the first to reach the satellite, but before his crew could even dock with the satellite, a bio-ship came within shooting range, and quickly destroyed it and then the satellite.

Nick steered for the edge of the gravity well - with no means to defeat these bio-ships, the best thing they could do now was to warn the rest of the galaxy. He sent another message to Commodore Holden, requesting all the data his fleet gathered on the bio-ships to be sent to the Magpie.

The bio-ship that destroyed the satellite now turned its attention to the Magpie. As Nick pushed the Magpie to its limits, Kumra turned its stern guns on their pursuer. Where the laser struck the body of the bio-ship, the sheen upon it would fade, and then quickly reappear. Kumra kept up the fire, until at last the laser seemed to pierce through the skin of the bio-ship, and ichor spilled into space.

The bio-ship slowed down.

The UC flagship transmitted the scan of the bio-ships to the Magpie, and moments later, beset by three bio-ships, went silent. By now most of the warships were crippled and adrift in space. The bio-ships now spat out larger missiles, which attached themselves to the hulls of these ships: boarding pods.

Nick took the Magpie into hyperspace.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session is based on the second module in the Seven Worlds campaign. The original plot featured a ruse involving a secret jump point, but as my setting did not utilise jump points, I altered it to a secret and technically illegal concentration area within the Neutral Zone.

This session was more rail-roady than the first two, and I committed the GM sins of capturing the PCs, and of not allowing their actions to alter the course of event. Again, my players were cool with it.

In the first half of the session they were proactive in trying to figure out the real purpose of the Kobold and its crew, and while they learned enough to feel that there was something fishy going on, they did not put their suspicions into action.

In the second half of the session the players did some good roleplaying as they tried to convince both sides that the whole war was a set-up and that it was a mistake to come to blows before the mastermind behind the assassination was found; I felt kind of bad that despite their efforts the events would unfold the same way.

The remaining modules are all rail-roady to different extents, which is unavoidable for a seven-episode campaign - I will have to work at ameliorating this.

The climax of the session was the face-off between the two fleets. I think here the use of the map and the starship models helped a lot in setting the scene and making it look more epic.

We will be taking a break from gaming next week, and the week afterwards we will be playing a Halloween game instead, so we will return to this campaign in the month of November. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Seven Worlds #2 - Rumours of War II

AJ blows a hole in the wall to create an escape route for the crew
Campaign Diary

"Split up!," Nick said, and he quickly stepped away from the lockers. One of the four men headed towards the crew peeled off to followed Nick.

Jet headed towards a side exit, and another man veered to follow him. AJ started to move towards the turnstiles, but just then the crowd leaving a train that had just arrived at the station headed towards them, blocking his way.

As the remaining two men pushed through the crowd to head towards them, Kumra noticed that they each had a hand under their jacket, and started to tear off the door of the locker they had just opened to use as a weapon.

(click here for PC profiles)

But before he could do so, one of them men reached him and, flashing a blaster under his jacket, demanded Kumra hand over what he had found inside the locker. Kumra made a grab for the gun, and after some struggle wrested it from the man. But the fracas has drawn the attention of the other commuters, and soon the station security arrived.

In the meantime, Jet had given his pursuer the slip and reached the car. Driving around the block, he soon spotted AJ, who had also eluded his pursuer. When the duo saw police cars arriving on the scene, they decided to drive off.

Inside the station, the station security had disarmed Kumra, and detained him and Nick, as well as their pursuers. When the police arrived, the men revealed themselves to be Telenet corporate security agents, who had followed the crew after learning that the crew had broken into the home of one of their employees.

All four were brought back to the station, where they were interrogated. Fortunately for the crew, AJ had kept the memory card, and the police did not find anything incriminating on Nick and Kumra. Kumra was released soon afterwards and told that Telenet had decided not to press any charges, but Nick was detained for further investigation into his United Confederation ID tag, which he had illegally removed when he fled the UC years ago.

Kumra reunited with AJ and Jet. AJ called on his contact in the black market to try to identify the memory card, and was told that it could be a military or a proprietary system, which was not accessible by other systems. When Jet's attempt to jury-rig a reader for the card failed, the crew decided to return to Galactic Core Point.

Back at the GTC HQ, the crew reported their findings to Hassel-Hoffa, who informed them that Lamar had mentioned that Telenet had its own hardware and software system, with a proprietary source code that rendered it immune to hacking from other systems. The crew decided that to read the contents of the memory card, they would need to access a Telenet facility... but the security at the Telenet HQ was too advanced to risk a break-in.

Then Kumra had an idea: break into a Telenet satellite!

Now the Telenet satellites were unmanned, but they required a regular supply of fuel, which was what Beowulf was delivering when contact with it was lost. Beowulf had a one-time access code key to the satellite at HP-3 - if the crew could locate Beowulf, and if the key was still on the ship, they might just be able to access the satellite.

The crew prepared for their mission: AJ packed a small supply of explosives, and Kumra obtained three decoy drones, which he set to Beowulf's transponder signal. When they were in hyperspace, Kumra turned off the Magpie's transponder code.

A few days later, the Magpie was at Beowulf's last known location. After several hours of scanning, their sensors located the vessel, adrift in the asteroid field near HP-3. When they reached visual range of Beowulf, they found a two-yard wide hole in the side of its hull - normal docking between the two ships was not going to be possible.

Kumra launched grappling hooks from the Magpie through the hull in Beowulf, set the ship on autopilot to match Beowulf's drift, and the crew donned their vacuum suit and entered the derelict vessel.

The hole opened into the cargo hold, which was empty. The sides of the hole did not appear like it had been made by blaster fire, but that it had been melted or corroded by some form of strong acid. The crew moved to the bow of the ship, and Kumra entered the code to the cockpit - as a safety measure, the doors to a ship are powered by batteries that are separate from the power system of the ship. At that moment, the door to the engineering section in the aft opened, and blaster fire issued from there - pirates!

Jet rolled to one side of the cargo hold and returned fire. Kumra and AJ entered the cockpit to find two more pirates waiting inside with their blasters drawn; but in the confines of the small freighter blasters were of little use - the crew put their fists and feet to work, and soon there were three dead pirates and one begging for his life.

The pirate told the crew that his crew had come upon Beowulf's wreckage several weeks earlier. Boarding the ship, they found signs of violence, but no trace of the crew. They looted the fuel, stripped the ship of its computers, and then decided to use it as bait and attack any salvagers that came after them. Returning with the pirate to the Magpie, Kumra made him contact his ship, which was hiding behind an asteroid.

When the pirate captain learned that his men had inadvertently ambushed Kumra Ka'an, he offered his apology, and agreed to Kumra's proposal to trade the code key he had looted off Beowulf for his men.

The crew waited for the pirate ship to exit the system, and then made their way to the Telenet satellite. The satellite was the size of a small building; while it was designed to operate unmanned, its interior was built to accommodate maintenance and repair crew. Kumra turned one of the decoy drones on, and initiated docking procedures. To the crew's relief, the access code was accepted, and the Magpie docked with the cargo area of the satellite.

Once they were inside, Jet quickly hacked into the door separating the cargo area with the secured area of the station. Using a fire-escape plan they found on the wall, they located the control area.

Entering the control room, they found a computer terminal with a card reader slot that matched the memory card they found. Kumra slid the card into the slot. The screen lit up.

"Please enter your user id and password."

The crew entered Lamar's full name... and then his brother name for the password.

"Password error. Access denied."

On a hunch, Kumra entered the license plate number on Lamar's Mini Cooper.

"Login successful."

The crew let out a small cheer, and Jet began to access the contents of the memory card. It soon became clear that it contained Lamar's personnel file, including his CV, application to Telenet, his interview notes and security check...

As Jet pored over the notes, Kumra and AJ noticed a clanking sound coming from the corridor outside. They popped their heads out of the doorway to find two Mark IV security droids headed towards the room - they must have triggered a silent alarm!

The crew traded fire with the droids, but were soon forced to retreat as two more droids joined the firefight. Kumra shut the sliding door and jammed it with his knife, and yelled for Jet to "find something!" on the file and prepare to leave.

But with four security droids waiting for them outside the only door out of the room, the crew had to find another way out.

AJ set some explosives against the far wall, and the remainder against the door.

Jet got to the last file on the card, which was a memo that read, rather ominously:

Subject is aware of K-code; initiate termination protocol.

"Got it!" he yelled, as he pulled out the memory card.

AJ hit the detonator trigger, and two explosions went off simultaneously. A door-size hole was made in the far wall - the force of the explosion was so great it took out the door in the opposite wall; but the explosion against the door was not sufficient to take out the security droids.

The crew rushed through the hole in the wall. The droids pursued them, shooting blasters from their arms as they did so. Jet was hit several times and wounded. Kumra picked up the loose door from the ground and used it as a shield to cover their retreat. AJ picked up the wounded Jet, and the three fled towards the cargo area and into the safety of the Magpie.

Kumra undocked the ship from the satellite, pulled away, and then decided that for good measure, they should turn around and destroy the area of the station that held the servers and wipe out any camera footage of their break-in.

Then, as the Magpie cleared the gravity well of HP-3, he launched two decoy drones in different directions, and took the Magpie into hyperspace, towards GCP.

When they returned once more to GTC Headquarters, they found Nick already there.

By now the news of the "terrorist attack" on the Telenet satellite dominated the airwaves, with the United Confederation and the Tazanian Empire both accusing the other side of being responsible for it. Curiously, despite Kumra's not-so-elaborate ruse, the name Beowulf was not mentioned in any of the reports. The Tazanian embassy staff had arrived at Mathus, bearing the body of the dead ambassador, and war seemed inevitable now.

Hassel-Hoffa was disappointed that the contents of the memory card did not reveal Lamar's whereabouts, but now the imminent war was the greater worry on everyone's mind. Clearly this was was engineered by someone; but who would want to start a galactic war?

"My mama always said: if you want to know who did it, just follow the money," Jet mused.

His remark gave Hassel-Hoffa a sudden realisation; he left the room, and returned with a thick sheaf of paper. The company, he explained, had received a surge in orders recently, which he had assumed was due to people hoarding before the coming war. Perhaps they could find some pattern that would indicate that some faction had something to gain from a war?

The crew started to look through the orders. Many were from companies that were from the United Confederation, or were partially owned by companies from the UC, but this in it self was not unusual. After a few hours, they decided that the orders seemed rather random, and did not seem to implicate any single organisation, or point to goods being shipped to any particular system.

Then Kumra had a thought: what if the reason why the orders looked so random was because someone had deliberately made them look random?

"Well then perhaps the best way to find out if there is something fishy about these orders, is to deliver one of these orders yourself!" Hassel-Hoffa suggested.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was a continuation of the first module in the Seven Worlds series, with some amendments. The original module required the PCs to enter a VR fantasy game to find some clues, and then break into Telenet's VR office to decipher those clues. As I have decided to abandon the whole VR things for my campaign, I needed to come up with something else.

I figured that for something as important as the galactic network, Telenet would not be using off-the-shelf technology, so I decided that they had a whole unique software and hardware system that was physically incompatible with other systems, which would make it hard to hack.

Once that was decided, there were two clear sites where the PCs could access the software: a Telenet office, or a Telenet satellite. I guessed correctly that the players would go for a satellite instead of the office, although I was prepared to run with it if they had chosen the office instead.

The session ran pretty much as expected; for the password to Lamar's account I had in mind "minicooper", but when the player suggested the car's license plate number, I thought it made more sense and just went with it.

For the final part of the session I was very glad that Jet's player made the "follow the money" remark, which allowed me to segue into the plotline about the increase in freight orders.

We are taking a break coming Monday, and the session the week after will reveal a major plot point, before we break for a couple of weeks as I go on a short vacation. Stay tuned.