This adventure was originally written for a Zhodani Base contest in 2015, and was reprinted in the July/August 2019 issue.
Many centuries ago, Jafa’raltay’yar was a bustling Solomani colony world. It was divided between two religious groups that prayed to the same god, albeit under different names. Unfortunately, one of these groups took their religion much more seriously than the other, leading to an all-out war. Chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons were all used in the initial phase of hostilities, and over half the population was killed outright. Those who survived continued the conflict, fighting initially with planes and tanks, then with guns, and finally with sticks and stones. When the fighting ended, less than 1% of the planet’s pre-war population remained. Those who hadn’t died in direct combat fell victim to radiation, starvation, disease, and various hazards of the alien biosphere. Needless to say, the world was quarantined.
The PCs are passing through the system, simply hoping to refuel at a nearby gas giant, however, the refueling operation is a little bumpy, and although they manage to acquire enough hydrogen to jump on to their next destination, there’s now a new problem. Their ship’s lanthanum grid is damaged. It can be repaired, but they need lanthanum, and the only conceivable place there would be any would be in the nuked ruins of the old starport. In short, they have to break the quarantine.
When the PCs recon the starport from orbit, they’ll notice that several pyramidal structures have been built within the starport grounds, many of them built on top of former landing pads. If their sensors have enough magnification to see people, they’ll also notice that the whole place is fairly crowded, and that there are roads leading from the starport that are likewise crowded.
It turns out that the two faiths (both splinters of the same religion) have recombined, and while they have retained some aspects of their former selves, there are also some major differences. Central to the current Jafan belief system is the idea that their world was once a paradise, but then powerful beings came, fought amongst themselves, killing almost everyone in the process, before finally returning to the sky. Hence, anyone who comes from the sky is to be feared.
What remains of the old spaceport has become a sacred temple. Every male Jafan must visit it at least once during their lifetime in order to witness the ruins firsthand. Hence, it is always crowded with pilgrims both day and night.
Since the war, the Jafans have progressed back to iron age technology. They are excellent swordsmen, and disputes are often settled by duel. Women, however, have almost no rights and are treated essentially as property by their polygamous husbands.
Although the radiation levels are no longer poisonous, the Jafans still have a lot of residual DNA damage, and in the many generations since the cataclysm, they have diverged somewhat from what is considered physically normal for human beings (most notably, they have pointy heads and big ears). Because of their latent genetic damage, mutations are still common, and those who are considered too deformed to be completely human are branded, neutered, and raised as a slave caste. Needless to say, the society is as brutal as nature itself.
There is lanthanum in the spaceport, but getting to it is obviously going to be difficult. The Jafans speak a somewhat devolved version of Galanglic, so communication is certainly possible, but if the PCs simply show up as ‘sky people’, the Jafans will regard them with fear, suspicion, and even animosity. Due to cultural customs, they will remain excessively polite, but their main goal will be to simply get the PCs to leave, fearful that they will only bring further destruction. Despite their politeness, however, the priests will absolutely try to prevent the PCs from even entering the starport, much less desecrating it by pilfering the required lanthanum.
Blending in will be a problem also because of the physical differences, although the PCs may be able to pose as members of the slave caste, but how this can help get them into the starport is somewhat difficult to imagine.
One obvious way the PCs might accomplish their mission is to threaten the natives with another cataclysm. Once suitably threatened, the Jafans will likely be as manipulable as children, as the last thing they want is a second doomsday. But given their overwhelming numbers, this strategy may require a substantial show of force (i.e., lots of dead Jafans).
Another course of action might be to abduct the high priest, explain the real history to him (that there were never any gods or demons, that the war was started by the Jafans’ own ancestors, and that it happened because of religious differences). Of course, even if he comes to believe the truth, he may decide to betray the PCs rather than explain everything to his people, as he has a lot of power being the high priest, and he probably doesn’t want to rock the boat by telling everyone the true history.
The PCs may also come up with a completely different solution. As always, subsequent events are to be determined by the Referee.