This article originally appeared in Issue #014, February 2011, of the downloadable PDF magazine.
An industrial accident at the starport puts a community of natives at risk from a toxic cloud.
Equipment required: a starship, preferably a merchant class.
Setting: a backwater world with atmosphere 6 or 8, population 2-4, and a Type C or D starport without a Scout base.
The team has just taken off en route to their next destination. While still making the transition to orbit, the starport will summon the team’s ship on an emergency frequency. Moments after their departure, a storage building exploded, starting a fire that is now engulfing several other storage areas. Starport emergency personnel can handle the fire, but need help on another matter. Apparently, the storage areas held a number of toxic compounds destined for a nearby industrial world. The fire breached their containment and vaporized the chemicals, which have combined to create a large poisonous cloud. The cloud is moving away from the starport on the prevailing winds without dispersing. The port authorities are all tied up fighting the fire and cannot warn any settlements in the cloud’s path. As the only ship in orbit in a position to do so, the port authorities would like the adventurers to use their ship’s sensors to detect any settlements in danger of the cloud and either warn or evacuate them. As an incentive to help, the port can issue a voucher good for a free refueling at their next port call.
The closest concentration of inhabitants to the starport is a village about 120 km (75 miles) away. A scan shows the village consists of a collection of prefab buildings set around a clear space, perhaps a town square, and about 150 Human biosignatures.
The cloud is being pushed along by a strong storm front at a speed of over 48 kph (30 mph) making its arrival in the village in 2 1/2 hours. Given travel time, locating a suitable landing area and travel overland, the team will have no more than two hours to make contact with the villagers and inform them of the danger.
The village appears to have been present for some time, as there have been wells, gardens, and shops established. The locals seem to be going about their daily business when the heroes approach, apparently oblivious to the approaching danger. The adventurers will have to try and convince the inhabitants that they are in danger and need to evacuate if they want to live.
The cloud is horribly toxic and shows no signs of dispersing anytime soon. Anyone caught in the mist should be treated as though they were in atmosphere B for 15 minutes; of course, they will be dead long before that. Anything the PCs try to delay or disperse the storm will be useless.
There is little time for the villagers to make an orderly departure; they will have to leave with whatever they can grab in a few minutes. The adventurers can evacuate the natives in their cargo hold. It will be a tight fit for 150 people, but it is preferable to the alternative. Another solution is to simply hold the residents in the cargo hold for the duration of the storm (the starship can provide excellent protection against the poison) but the mist will damage the dwellings, possibly beyond repair, and leave behind precipitates that will remain lethal for weeks afterward. And of course, there is the possibility that some of the natives may be claustrophobic.
Although not necessary, a quick sketch map of the settlement may be useful. The village is a number of small buildings clustered around an open area (forming a sort of town square) and surrounded by woods and rolling hills. The houses are not sealed in any way.
Since the PCs are working under a time limit, the GM should keep
careful track of elapsed time and allow for such actions as getting the
ship ready to lift off or travel time to and from the village (the town
square is too small to contain a starship.)
Of course, there may be more to the settlement than meets the eye. The GM should choose (or roll 1D for) an appropriate scenario below:
- The villagers will heed the warning but insist on trying to cart as much of their worldly valuables (GM’s call as to what constitutes “valuables” to the natives) with them as they can. The resulting loss of time should be a concern to the visitors. The visitors will probably have to dust off their best diplomatic skills to persuade the people to concentrate on saving themselves instead.
- The villagers are descendants of colonists from the planet’s early days. They are a hardy, fiercely independent lot who insist upon rugged self-reliance and will refuse all offers of aid. Should the adventurers resort to force, make a new reaction roll for the locals with DM-4. If they attack, the visitors will face 10D able-bodied village men. Captured heroes will be locked in one of the village’s storage sheds, to be dealt with later.
- The villagers are a band of religious separatists that segregated themselves to embrace a more natural way of life, free of what they consider arbitrary government restrictions and the moral decay brought on by higher technology. They will view the team’s arrival and offer of aid as some sort of governmental ploy, and refuse to fall for it. Attempts at force result in a situation as in 2, above.
- The villagers are willing to accompany the PCs, but just as they are doing so, someone notices that several children are missing. A frantic search ensues, with hastily formed search parties scattering in every direction. The children will be found unharmed playing in an area outside the settlement on a throw of 8+, rolled every fifteen minutes; DM+2 if the group is employing handheld electronic sensors; DM+4 if they think to employ the starship’s sensors. Regardless of how the children are found, they will be thirty minutes’ walking distance from the ship.
- The villagers are a group of plague victims that left the major city and settled this area of the wilderness years ago. The virus they carried has mutated over time; it is now harmless to the settlers, but they are still carriers. Taking them back to civilization will almost certainly infect others; the natives know they are still infectious and will refuse to accompany the heroes. Resolve attempts at force as in 2, above. Of course, the adventurers themselves will be infected on a throw of 10+ unless they have some form of immunity. The GM should create or select a suitable disease.
- The villagers will act strangely upon the team’s arrival, smiling broadly, treating the visitors with profound politeness and insisting that everything is okay; they don’t require help, thanks anyway. PCs with a military, law enforcement or psychological background will see that the locals are under some sort of duress. Unknown to the heroes, a gang of desperate criminals has taken over the settlement. They have already killed several people to demonstrate their resolve and have threatened to kill more if anyone alerts outside aid. The GM should generate a number of thugs up to twice the number of team members (adjust for PC strength), and possessing various firearms. The leader and two lieutenants will be holding several people hostage in one of the larger buildings, while the rest of the gang circulates unobtrusively among the settlers keeping an eye on things. If at any time the team appears to be a threat, the gang will try to kill them.
As always, the referee should determine the flow of subsequent