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Dismal Luck

or “If it sounds too good to be true it probably is”.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Freelance Travellers June 2011 issue.

Location: Dismal, Terra subsector, Solomani Rim
Patron: Rich Merchant
Remuneration: Standard crew rates plus as much swag as the party can salvage
Required equipment: A good scout / survey ship(s) with at least jump 2

What does every Traveller group want?

A simple question to which the answer is usually, “The Millennium Falcon”. Yes, deep down no matter what career path they chose, they want to be Han Solo. They want a ship capable of outrunning not just the Local Bulk Cruisers but also the Big Correllian Ships. Basically, a Free Trader or Type-S just doesn’t really light their collective lemons. What we have here is a big carrot to dangle: the hope of a ship that will be faster than anything that it can’t outfight and more powerful than anything that can catch it.

The Job

Julius Rhodan, an executive of Ling Standard Products, requires a crew to hunt down his missing tanker, the Bedazzled Apple which has not returned from a mission to Dismal.

The Apple was lifting a load of unrefined petrochemicals from a mining base in the equatorial desert belt but it hasn’t been heard from in over four months and he fears that it may have crashed somewhere in the desert.

Go forth and find it and he’ll make you reasonably rich men.

Background search and Rumours

A basic library search on Dismal will reveal that it is an arid world, mostly desert with small temperate regions near the poles with tropical savannah giving way to a large equatorial desert belt. The official population is less than 1000 and is mainly made up of oil workers, engineers and geo-survey working for the various companies who share the exploitation rights.

A search on the history of Dismal won’t reveal much of note. The planet isn’t really settled. Has no real infrastructure or economy. The petrochemical reserves are large but not profitable enough for a large corporation to bother exploiting. During the Solomani Rim war, Dismal was a backwater world and was ignored by both sides, with the exception of one small skirmish between an imperial cruiser attempting to refuel at the local gas giant and what was described as a small fleet of Solomani pirates. The Solomani officially denied having any ships in the system and hailed the imperial report as nothing but propaganda. Should the Characters dig deeper, the cruiser’s log is available as a historical document which can be checked.

The Twist

Actually, what Rhodan will do is arrange to steal their ship while the characters flounder around in the desert—either whole if they are dumb enough to leave their ship access codes with the starport “administrator” or as a collection of spare parts if they don’t. Rhodan is not affiliated in any way with Ling Standard Products and, although the Bedazzled Apple does exist and is operated by Ling Standard, she has never visited the Terra Subsector. Rhodan himself will not touch the characters or their ship but his agents on Dismal do everything short of murder to get hold of the character’s ship. Should the characters ever get back home, they will find Rhodan has disappeared and that Ling Standard have never heard of him. Of course anyone who makes a habit of nicking people’s ships will leave some sort of trail and determined characters will probably try to pick it up but such investigations are outside the scope of this scenario.

Having got fed up of floundering around the desert looking for the Apple, the characters will find their ship gone. If questioned, Bretodeaux, the starport administrator, will say that the ship left three days earlier in the middle of the night and, since there isn’t 24 hour cover on site, he didn’t see who took it. He just assumed the characters had returned and left. He will be quite convincing—after all, Rhodan is paying him to be convincing!

The Location: Scotlane Station

Dismal doesn’t have a starport as such. Scotlane station is as close as it gets. The cracked concrete apron is surrounded by a few prefabricated buildings, tents and endless sand. The only permanent building is the one containing the homing beacon and sensor mast—a solidly built lump of concrete with a reinforced steel door—which also holds the planet’s only reliable power source, a small fusion reactor leased from the Terran company who also hold the oil exploitation rights. They also provide a small (four person) team to service and monitor the facility. Oil storage tanks and associated pumping systems are located a few kilometers from the station and they are linked to remote oil wells by pipelines. There are a few employees of the oil company who maintain the wells, pumps and pipelines and they have a company run bar and basic leisure facility in a large hangar like building close to the oil storage tanks. A battered old Type A Free Trader serves as a fuel shuttle making runs to the local gas giant. It currently sits forlornly on the apron, dripping fuel and oil. The owner/operator is a former merchant who got stranded here six years previously when his jump drive failed. He had to sell the drive for parts to keep body and soul together and he now makes a meager living supplying fuel to ships that can’t skim their own or refine their own. He wants to leave but doesn’t want to leave his ship.

Local Conditions

An orbital sweep will reveal few things of interest besides the oil wells and refineries around Scotlane.

The local weather in the wide, equatorial desert belt varies from burning sun to abrasive sandstorms- usually on the same day. Flying an air-raft in such conditions is risky in the extreme and anyone who has spent time on Dismal will advise strongly against trying to do so.

The narrow northern and southern temperate zones are easy to cross being similar to earth conditions in northern Europe: mostly gently rolling hills and plains. There are no true trees or grass on Dismal but there are horsetails and fern forests teaming with small animals.

What is not apparent

In a pleasant valley, overlooking what is probably the largest body of open water anywhere on Dismal there is a hidden Solomani base. It was created as part of the Phoenix Project to house a small ship capable of running any imperial blockade around a rebelling Solomani world.

Elements at the old base

Two cargo robots, as outlined in the Robots supplement

Four auto-sentry units. These have been sitting out in the dust for over 40 years. They will probably not work (roll 12 on two differently-colored dice for full function, 11 for partial function: black 6 gun fires, blue 6 gun moves) but they are controlled from the central computer of the Slipstream via cable power and data links. Each has a laser rifle capable of firing at 400 pulses per minute (+2 to hit, auto fire - two bursts per turn at two separate targets if desired. If two bursts are fired a pause of one turn is required for the system’s capacitors to recharge).

The Slipstream

In the base is the abandoned Solomani Blockade runner Slipstream. She’s a TL13, 300 ton Air-frame configured vessel designed for slipping small shipments of valuable cargos onto worlds that are moderately policed with Imperial patrol cruisers, close escorts and similar. She can outrun a patrol cruiser and outfight any small craft that might pop up. System defence boats will make mincemeat of her but they cannot follow her in an atmosphere since the airframe configuration makes her far too fast and agile.

Unfortunately, since she has been sitting in a cave for the thick end of 120 years she is not in particularly good shape. Her wheeled undercarriage has partially collapsed and all ten tyres are flat and perished beyond saving. Her fusion power plant has multiple faults including leaks in the coolant system, magnetic bottle coils that are corroded and inoperative, seized fuel pumps (which if repaired will just show up the fact that the fuel transfer pipework is leaking like a sieve), jump drive piles that have collapsed and a computer that is dead. If, by a miracle it’s repaired, then it will become apparent that the flight control software is corrupted. In other words, no matter how hard the players work to repair her there should always seem to be something still to do. She is a Big Carrot and the players must work hard to get her. The problems will be great since the players will be Imperial Citizens trained and familiar with Imperial technology trying to put together a Solomani ship built using technology that may, or may not, be compatible with what they’re familiar with. They may need to get expert help to re-write computer software or to replace Solomani drives or computers with ones of Imperial manufacture. Keeping her existence a secret when you have to hire strangers with the required skills might prove difficult (although most of my players wouldn’t have any qualms about ‘offing’ any mechanic, software expert or engineer that they had no more use for . . .).

Of course they may get fed up with the whole thing and either break her up for spares or try to sell her as a complete ship on the open market. It may be that she’s worth more to a private collector or a museum—possibly on the other side of the Imperial / Solomani border.

Ecology

Dismal is populated by many different species of animal. Most are similar to earth reptiles, being scaled and cold-blooded.

The desert is home to some nasty critters. Sand Snipers are a burrowing, multi-armed ambush predator quite capable of taking an adult human though they prefer the Dismal antelope analogues.

The arid steppe areas are home to herds of grazers similar to bison but reptilian. They are fairly docile but prone to panic and stampede if startled but they do make good eating. They are preyed upon by pack hunters (chasers) and these are best avoided when hungry.

Temperate and tropical zones teem with life though very little is significant enough to trouble humans. Use any encounter you like—nothing will attack but many are quite tasty. Flyers are rare and none are larger than the average thrush.

Plant life is quite primitive compared to earth. There is no grass or flowering plants though many species of fern take their place. Plants similar to horsetails and tree ferns are the tallest plants and they form vast forests in the temperate and tropical areas.

Scotlane Personalities

Administrator Bretodeaux, 654764 age 54
Former imperial bureaucrat (sacked for embezzlement - served five years of a nine year sentence)
Admin 2, bribery 2, forgery 1, liaison 1, streetwise 0, revolver 0
Demeanour: Oily

Ex-Merchant Geraint McIntyre, 565987 age 67
Pilot and sole owner of the Amber Star a semi-crippled Type-A now used as a fuel shuttle.
Pilot 2, Admin 1, Broker 3, Navigation 2, Engineering 1, Steward 1, Body Pistol 1.
Demeanour: Depressed, drunk

Starport “security”

Eight thugs—two dishonourable discharge from the Marines, one Rogue, one ex army, four Other, and one Scout. All wear flak jackets if they are expecting trouble.

Ex-Marine 876555
Revolver 1, Cutlass 3
Demeanour: Thuggish

Ex-Marine 899466
Revolver 2, SMG 1
Demeanour: Yes-man to the other ex-Marine

Ex-Army 767883
Rifle 1, SMG 1, dagger 2
Demeanour: Surly

Ex-Other 98A367
Revolver 0
Demeanour: Stupid—tends to do whatever the first ex-Marine does

Ex-Other 854844
Shotgun 0, Bribery 1
Demeanour: Cowardly

Ex-Other 3 865661
Shotgun 1
Demeanour: Sly

Ex-Other 775933
Assault rifle 0, Bayonet 1
Demeanour: Thuggish

Ex-Scout 895789
Laser Carbine 2 (this weapon has only four shots - and no way to recharge the power-pack except the power-plant of the fuel shuttle - and McIntyre hates this former scout and will not allow him to do so!)
Demeanour: Cautious

Ex-Rogue 5A7973
SMG 1, Streetwise 2, Forgery 1,
The Rogue is a special case. He wants off the planet and will gladly turn against his former colleagues and employer if it’ll get him off planet. He also runs the outfitters and leases out ATV's to prospectors and adventurers