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In Loco Parentis

This article was originally posted to the website in 2017 and appeared in the January/February 2018 and July/August 2022 issues.

A short adventure for Cepheus Engine for 3 or 4 characters.

The PCs are travelling across some plains on a journey that will take two or three days. They may be students touring and sightseeing, they might be scouts exploring, scientists doing research, barbarians for whom this is home, or they could be merchants picking up or dropping off a cargo.

Scene 1: Evening

Setting the scene begins with the PCs making camp for the night. This could be literal camping under canvas, or perhaps they’re travelling in a vehicle that has bunk room – a recreational vehicle or a large ATV for example. Barbarians or student types are more likely to be in back-to-basics conditions but the Referee and players can make as much or as little of this as desired. Water and firewood may need to be fetched, a meal cooked, and prime sleeping spots haggled over. Conversation could revolve around the beautiful country they’re passing through, the flora and fauna they’ve seen, or the insects that are occasional pests. Amongst the many types birds they’ll have seen, chitta-tweeps may have been noted on an Average Recon task. As the sun sets, very small flying pouncers (“hastybugs”) appear and buzz round the camp. They hover in one spot and then zip a metre or two to another spot where they hover again. As they move, they pulse with bioluminescent light used to attract even smaller prey which they stun by flying into them at speed. Harmless to humans, their sound and light displays can be mesmerising.

If the PCs are very quiet, they may spot chippers cautiously emerging from dens just at the edge of any light cast by fires or lanterns.

Scene 2: Morning

Come first light, the PCs are likely to be woken by some odd noises. Gathered around their campfire or their vehicle are several juvenile drarfs. There are no signs of the parents. It is a Routine Animals task to know they’re hungry or an Average Education characteristic check. It is a Difficult Education check to know that they eat chitta-tweeps. Attempts to feed them plants or grasses will be met with a slightly bemused indifference. Anyone who’s been on the world for more than a few days would know that they’re not overly common creatures. If the PCs simply ignore them and move off, the drarfs will follow. Although they look rather ungainly, once they’re moving they can keep up quite a speed for long periods – although the young will tire sooner than adults would. They begin to emit a rather plaintive keening as the day draws on. This reduces if the PCs allow them to stay close to them.

Scene 3: The Water-Sourcerer

A few miles further down the road the PCs will encounter:

Bharat Brown (Male Human) 45A9C8 Age 50
Scientist (5 terms), Rogue (2 terms)
Physical Sciences-2, Social Sciences-2, Admin-1, Comms-1, Computer-1, Heavy Weapons-1, Jack o’ Trades-1, Life Sciences-1, Medicine-1, Space Sciences-1, Advocate-0, Bribery-0, Electronics-0, Engineering-0

Brown is a local and a grizzled ‘water-sourcerer’, as he describes himself, looking for potable liquids for a group of hunters – or a hunter and his entourage – who are camped out a short distance away. He has a tame lamanda sitting on his shoulder. He will flag down the PCs and assuming they stop, the drarfs will catch up with them and once again cluster around their vehicle. Brown has stopped them to pass the time of day and to find out what they know in terms of local water supplies and the like. However, he’ll be particularly intrigued by the drarfs attached to the PCs.

“Fine looking herd of critters, you’ve got there.” Brown will offer. He’ll engage the PCs in conversation about the animals and ask where the parents are. Drarf juveniles would never travel without their adults. He’ll be of the opinion, particularly if the PCs have done anything along the lines of providing food or water for the animals, that they’ve ‘adopted’ the PCs as surrogate parents.

If the PCs quiz him, he’ll tell them he’s a local guide and looking for water sources for the group he’s with. A Difficult Social Standing check will alert the PCs to the fact that he’s something of a rogue and although he does know the local area and wildlife he’s also playing up his abilities to the hunters and is only a little better at finding water than anyone else. But he’s being paid well and milking the visitors to the area for all he can manage.

A thought comes to him. “Would you sell them? I reckon my employer,” nodding back down the trail he was walking, “would pay good money for them.”

This might be a good moment for the ‘employer’ to turn up and it will obvious that they’re big game hunters looking for a kill. They probably would pay the PCs for the drarfs so that they can use them as food or as bait for other creatures. Alternatively, they may already be drawing their weapons and about to shoot the beasts. But they’ll be complaining that they’re too small and not what Brown promised them as hard to shoot.

The PCs may or may not choose to go along with this as they see fit. Scientists may value the animals more for research, merchants might know they can get more for the creatures from a city zoo if they can get them there, scouts may value the animals lives more than the money, students or tourists might be more or less interested in the money depending on how hard up they are or how environmentally friendly they are.

If the PCs choose to press on with their journey, go to Scene 4a. If they choose to sell the drarfs, go to Scene 4b. If the PCs choose to start hunting for the parental drarfs, go to Scene 4c.

Scene 4a

Continuing on their way, with the juveniles still in tow, the PCs will eventually come across the drarf parents. At first, the PCs will be in some danger as the parents see them as a threat. However, by not acting aggressively and allowing the juveniles free reign to rejoin the herd, they should be able to avoid any actual attacks. There will, of course, be a touching reunion of herd and family before they move off across the plains.

Scene 4b

If the PCs have sold the juveniles to the water-sourcerer and hunters, they can continue on their way. In a few miles they will meet the drarf parents. They are clearly distressed and looking for their young. In the distance their herd appears to be moving towards them. There are a dozen or more of them. The parents will be able to smell the presence of the juveniles on the PCs or their vehicle and this will get their interest. Some signal to the rest of the herd will have them blocking the road (more by numbers than design) and they’ll start getting uncomfortably close to the PCs and smelling them curiously. If the PCs respond aggressively the drarfs will attack – using their Psionic Assault and their hornlike protrusions. The Assault will be perceived by the PCs a numbing sensation in their heads, followed by a throbbing pain until the moment they fall unconscious. If the PCs respond submissively to the drarfs or try to back track down the road from the direction in which they came, the drarfs will follow them.

If they return as far as the hunting group, subsequent events will depend on what the hunters have done with the juveniles and how they respond to the arrival of the adults. If the young are still simply tied up for example, then it should be possible to return them to the parents without too much difficulty. If the hunters attack, however, or if there’s evidence that the young have been killed, the drarfs will attack the hunters in a frenzy – double their normal damage.

Scene 4c

The PCs can pick up the trail of a herd of drarfs crossing the road a few miles further on. Their vehicle may or may not be able to handle the cross-country terrain and they may have to follow on foot. Depending on the skill sets of the PCs and the interests of the players, this can be made as much of or as little of as desired. But it should be possible for all but the most inept to eventually track down the main herd. If, depending on their previous encounter, the water-sourcerer happens to have joined them, this will be made a degree easier. Assuming the drarfs are eventually found, see Scene 4a for an edgy reunion of parents and juveniles.


There are many opportunities for characters of all types to be used in this adventure. A selection of pre-generated characters follows, but see the Author’s Notes at the end.

Possible Scout characters

Chintan Shimada (Male Human) 9689A8 Age 30
Drifter(2), Scout(1) Cr-5000
Jack o’ Trades-2, Bribery-1, Liaison-1, Piloting-1, Recon-1, Tactics-1, Admin-0, Bludgeon’g Weapons-0, Life Sciences-0, Linguistics-0, Mechanics-0, Slug Pistol-0, Streetwise-0, Tracked Vehicle-0
Low Passage(2), Shotgun

Ratanni Chun (Female Human) 949779 Age 48
Drifter(1), Scientist(1), Mercenary(1), Scout(2) Cr12500
Gambling-2, Jack o’ Trades-2, Bribery-1, Engineer’g-1, Piloting-1, Shotgun-1, Social Sciences-1, Advocate-0, Carousing-0, Energy Rifle-0, Mechanics-0, Mole-0, Recon-0, Slashing Weapons-0, Space Sciences-0, Streetwise-0

Kagutu Sanders (Male Human) B6A865 Age 34
Scout(3), Mercenary(1) Cr5000 (Rank: Captain)
Demolitions-2, Engineering-1, Piloting-1, Recon-1, Screens-1, Slug Pistol-1, Turret Weapons-1, Zero-G-1, Archery-0, Bay Weapons-0, Comms-0, Electronics-0, Mechanics-0, Physical Sciences-0
Assault Rifle

Possible Scientist characters

Manoj Ehae (Male Human) C87569 Age 22
Scientist(1) Cr10000 (Rank: Instructor)
Physical Sciences-1, Admin-0, Bribery-0, Computer-0, Electronics-0, Linguistics-0, Mechanics-0, Medicine-0

Udso Dsamo (Male Human) 5567A3 Age 48
Scientist(6) Cr0 (Rank: Associate Professor)
Admin-2, Computer-1, Medicine-1, Navigation-1, Physical Sciences-1, Riding-1, Slug Pistol-1, Jack o’ Trades-1, Space Sciences-1, Bribery-0, Electronics-0, Energy Pistol-0, Life Sciences-0, Social Sciences-0

Catherine Patel (Female Human) 9985E7 Age 34
Scientist(4) Cr5000 (Rank: Research Professor)
Life Sciences-1 Linguistics-1 Rotor Aircraft-1 Space Sciences-1 Veterinary Medicine-1 Admin-0 Archery-0 Bribery-0 Computer-0 Electronics-0 Mechanics-0 Medicine-0 Physical Sciences-0
High Passage, Low Passage

Possible Merchant characters

Radhika Faison (Female Human) 85DA85 Age 46
Merchant(7) Cr72500 (Rank: Third Officer)
Broker-2 Carousing-2 Medicine-1 Piloting-1 Screens-1 Steward-1 Zero-G-1 Bludgeoning Weapons-0 Comms-0 Energy Rifle-0 Engineering-0 Farming-0 Riding-0 Social Sciences-0 Wheeled Vehicle-0
Ship Shares, High Passage, Annual Pension (Merchants): Cr14000

Pankaj Ramirez (Male Human) AB6365 Age 30
Merchant(1), Maritime Defense(1), Drifter(1) Cr50000
Engineering-1 Jack-o-Trades-1 Mechanics-1 Recon-1 Rotor Aircraft-1 Sailing Ships-1 Steward-1 Survival-1 Archery-0 Broker-0 Carousing-0 Comms-0 Computer-0 Piercing Weapons-0 Submarine-0
Dagger, Mid Passage

Baron Hemal Nagda (Male Human) 64544C Age 20
Merchant(0) Cr-10000 (Merchant Rank: Crewman)
Steward-1 Advocate-0 Broker-0 Comms-0 Energy Pistol-0 Engineering-0 Piercing Weapons-0 Riding-0 Wheeled Vehicle-0

Author’s Notes

Referees may wish to refer to the article “Plain Mental” in Freelance Traveller, September/October 2017, for the relevant animal descriptions and statistics of drarfs, chitta-tweeps, lamanda, and chippers.

In addition to the possible characters provided above, suitable characters can be generated at Cepheus Engine - 1,000,001 Characters and either select from random lists or use the Chosen Career sliders to create scouts, merchants, or others as appropriate.

Quick and easy maps that might be used for inspiration or as regional overviews can be found on the @unchartedatlas Twitter feed. Otherwise, any standard Traveller world map with suitable terrain types could be used to place the adventure.