This adventure originally appeared in the October 2015 issue.
- While sheltering from a solar storm, the PCs fight for their lives against a mysterious enemy.
- Any Imperial system, but there is more plot tension if the mainworld is high-tech, high-population (Trade Classification Hi or Ri).
- Materials Needed:
- A set of deckplans for a Broadsword-class Mercenary Cruiser, found in Adventure 7: Broadsword, or Journal of the Travellers Aid Society #8, noting the modifications indicated in the text below. Available from DriveThruRPG.com or FarFuture.net.
This adventure originally appeared in the October 2015 issue.
After jumping insystem, the crew’s long-range sensors warn them of an incoming front from a massive solar storm so intense that even the ship’s armored hull offers little protection. They are still at least a day from the system’s mainworld or any other body with a magnetosphere; the storm will hit long before that. It is assumed the ship has insufficient fuel to jump again.
Fortunately, the sensors also detect an asteroid of sufficient mass to provide some shielding, if the group lands on its leeward side. The pilot must hit the proper approach vector, which takes enough time that upon arrival, there is not much time before the storm hits. As they draw near enough, they detect another starship—a Broadsword-class Mercenary Cruiser—already down on the surface. It looks like her captain had much the same idea as the PCs. The asteroid is large enough to accommodate both ships.
The other craft is unresponsive to communications hails. A detailed sensor scan reveals that it appears to have suffered a somewhat rough landing; the four landing legs are firmly grounded but slightly damaged. Still, whoever was piloting the vessel managed to put it down more or less intact. As the heroes move even closer, PCs with a Naval or Scout service background can tell that the ship is long past its prime; old and battered; still spaceworthy but almost certainly decommissioned.
The referee should keep careful track of time; the storm hits the asteroid 12D minutes from the moment the PCs land and will last 1D-3 (minimum 1) days. While the combination of the asteroid’s mass and the starship’s hull can shield the party from the worst of the radiation, enough passes around and through that being caught outside means a fatal dose. Anyone caught outside during the storm takes 2D hits radiation damage immediately and an additional 1D hits per week for 2D weeks until they die or get medical treatment of Tech Level A+, which must include a course of anti-radiation drugs. The referee may impose more detailed damage (cancer, blindness, etc.) if needed.
Certainly, the heroes could simply hunker down in their own ship and wait out the storm, but they will probably want to explore the cruiser to find out why it does not respond to hails.
The cruiser’s landing spot is quite uneven. The nearest clearing for the PCs’ own ship is 800 meters away. Traveling overland to the derelict will cause movement penalties for rough terrain and the asteroid’s microgravity. Of course, an auxiliary vehicle ignores such penalties.
One of the landing leg airlocks and lift is damaged and inoperable. The other is secured with a keypad which requires an entry code. The code can be hacked (throw 12+, DM: Electronics; takes 1D minutes), or they can force their way inside with tools, or blast their way in with weapons or explosives. Other entry options include locating a maintenance access port, or accessing the airlock at the top of the ship. This hatch is also keypad-protected, but allows access to the ship from A Deck. It is assumed the heroes enter the landing leg.
As the airlock opens, the unprotected body of a male human falls out. He is dressed in a uniform indicating he was a crew member aboard the ship, the Stella Polare. Any character will assume that he was ‘spaced’, but a cursory inspection by a PC with Medical skill will reveal that he was strangled first.
Upon leaving the lift, the team will be on the cruiser’s H Deck; refer to the key below.
Most of the ship’s systems are powered down, much of the lighting is either low-level or off entirely, and the computer is running in standby mode. Anyone wishing to wake it up from any terminal other than the main one on the bridge will be asked for an entry code. This code can be also be hacked (as above, DM: Computer; takes 3D minutes.)
Once the PCs enter the ship, the referee no longer has to track the storm, but will need the Broadsword deckplans to run the rest of the adventure.
As the team explores, the descriptions below determine any subsequent encounters. One encounter is an exception: Jeric Shaardashu (see NPCs) is the only human survivor. He moves freely about the ship, and may encounter the heroes early on. Each time the party enters a deck, throw 6 on 1D for him to also be on that deck and determine the chance of him to detect the PCs. He will then shadow them until he is discovered or catches one of them alone. Then, he viciously attacks with a large spanner (treat as cudgel). Remember to check for surprise—he will be trying to achieve it. If he does not win surprise, he simply attacks the nearest PC. See below for details of his behavior.
If Shaardashu is not initially on the deck, throw 6 on 1D once per hour for him to enter the deck.
Anyone making physical contact with Shaardashu is endangered by the vessel’s real menace: a dangerous alien bacterium, harbored deep within his brain. Its particulars and its effects are outlined below. The brain damage it has caused is treatable, but not by the resources onboard.
Simple survival means success for the PCs and the end of the adventure. When the solar storm ends, it will be safe for them to depart the asteroid.
Rewards for the group could be substantial. They will have an intact (if old) Broadsword-class starship with over a million credits in its safe, cargo in its hold, and personal valuables of various crew members. But there could be problems from the authorities concerning the final disposition of the ship and her former crew. Shaardashu, if he also survived, will need intensive medical attention. Spooky (see below) would make a great new mascot.
Medical professionals would be eager to get its hands on samples of the bug, and will take custody of Shaardashu and anyone else infected. Diseased PCs can expect to become lab rats for at least several months as their new patrons seek an effective treatment or cure.
Further adventures could involve tracking the Stella Polare’s previous course to discover the source of the illness, tracking down the possibly infected cutter pilot before he can cause a pandemic, or fending off attempts by unscrupulous individuals who want to obtain a sample of the bacterium for weaponization.
As always, the referee should determine the flow of subsequent events.
The Stella Polare’s full backstory is not important to the adventure. If the PCs salvage her, and it thus becomes part of an ongoing campaign, the referee may want to create one.
Despite appearances, the vessel is not a typical Broadsword. Long decommissioned, she has been refitted as a merchant ship. Decks E-H, which would normally accommodate mercenary troops, are now cargo bays, linked by an elevator. The alterations allow her to carry 144 tons of cargo, but only 16 crew. She retains the two Modular Cutters, but one is missing at the beginning of the adventure; the other cannot launch while the ship is grounded. Modifications unique to the Stella Polare are noted in the key below. If a room or deck is not specifically noted here, the referee should use the original Broadsword description. The numbers and the deck designations correspond to the original Adventure 7: Broadsword deckplans:
There are strange events occurring throughout the ship that may appear to the adventurers as paranormal activity. All of them have rational explanations, given in parentheses after the description.
A Deck (Avionics)
No expense was spared to turn this entire deck into an opulent meeting area and dining room.
2. Several well-dressed people are seated around the formal dining table enjoying a very rich banquet. They suddenly take notice of the newcomers; then as one, come at them with knives or forks, transforming into monsters as they close. The instant any PC strikes or shoots any of the opponents, the monsters all disappear. Remember to check for ricochets and equipment damage. (The presentation holography equipment is on the fritz; it is overlaying scenes from a 3-D movie onto the actual room).
3. In the fresher lies a man’s body, riddled with bullets. Scrawled on the wall in blood is a message: “IT’S HERE”.
B Deck (Gunnery)
6-9. Only one double turret is installed, with a single pulse laser and a sandcaster. The other turrets are sealed off.
10. This room is immaculate but unoccupied. As the group opens the door they see a figure standing on the other side of the room. It is just their reflection in a mirror next to a wardrobe of very stylish clothing (worth perhaps Cr5,000 total). Anyone looking into the mirror for more than a combat round sees one of the following, (throw 1D):
- 1-2: the PC sees himself aging rapidly (perhaps ten years per second), finally becoming a rotted, worm-eaten cadaver.
- 3-4: the PC melts, as though made of wax subjected to very high heat, becoming a skeleton in seconds.
- 5-6: the PC sees a demonic version of him- or herself, complete with twisted, inhuman features.
(The obviously-malfunctioning mirror is designed to aid in clothing selection through holography).
12. The bodies of a married couple are in this stateroom’s bed, locked in an eternal embrace, victims of shotgun wounds. Any PC who stoops to grave-robbing finds their wedding rings, worth Cr500 each.
15. This room is a total wreck, its contents flung violently around. A search (taking 3D minutes) will find nothing of value or interest, but every five minutes throw 2D; on 8+, the room suddenly goes haywire, with everything in the room flying through the air. Everyone within must throw DEX or less (DM: +Zero-G Combat) or take 1D hits from flying objects. The bedlam lasts 1D-3 (min, 1) combat rounds. (The grav plates are badly malfunctioning in this room. Shutting them off stops the poltergeist-like activity.)
C Deck (Bridge)
19. The bridge appears uninhabited except for someone sitting in the command chair, facing the viewscreen, who does not respond when addressed. Upon inspection, they find that she is dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Status reports are available from the displays: the ship suffered slight damage from a rough landing. One of the ship’s modular cutters is missing; it launched a few days prior and never returned. No one responds to hails, but the internal sensors show that someone is active (this lets the PCs know they are not alone if they have not already encountered Shaardashu.)
21. The captain/owner’s executive office is very tastefully appointed and currently a horrific scene: a woman’s brutalized corpse is lying sprawled across the desk with a crushed skull; a bloody cryssteel trophy lies on the floor beneath. The office also contains the ship’s papers, logs, crew information, and the ship’s vault, containing money and valuables totaling a little over MCr1. To break into the vault, the group must throw 2D for 15+ (DM: electronics skill) to bypass the keypad or do 1000 hits to the door itself. The crew roster (below) lets the party identify the bodies scattered about the ship. It indicates the person’s role, their gender, and (for the referee) the location of their body on the deckplans. The referee may make up names as needed. The exceptions are Jeric Shaardashu (the sole human survivor), and a cutter pilot, who previously left the ship in one of the modular cutters.
|Crew Member||Sex||Where Found|
|Owner/captain||F||C Deck, area 21|
|Pilot||F||C Deck, area 19|
|Navigator||M||H Deck, area 73-74 (airlock)|
|Sensors/Communications Operator||F||B Deck, area 12|
|Chief Medic||M||D Deck, area 31|
|Medic||M||H Deck, area 73-74 (lift)|
|Chief Engineer||F||J Deck, area 85|
|2nd Engineer||F||J Deck, area 85|
|3rd Engineer||M||I Deck, area 81|
|Clerk/Purser||M||D Deck, area 27|
|Cutter Pilot||M||A Deck, area 3|
|Cargo Handler||M||B Deck, area 12|
|Cargo Handler||F||G deck, area 70|
|Cargo Handler||M||Jeric Shaardashu|
|Cargo Handler||F||G deck, area 70|
23. The ship’s computer is intact, but is in standby mode. Only here can the group bring it online without inputting a code. It requires 15 minutes to reboot, run a systems check and go fully active. Once it has, a code is no longer necessary to access the other terminals.
D Deck (Quarters)
27. A man is dead here of multiple stab wounds. He went down swinging; the room has been completely wrecked.
30. Originally a double stateroom, this room is now the purser’s office. Ship’s cargo manifests and backup financial records take up a great deal of space. Scrawled all over many of the scattered papers are quotes and passages from various literary works which, taken together, indicate a descent into madness. Once the group organizes the records (taking most of a day), they can determine that whatever happened to the ship began with the purser, after a speculative venture on a frontier world 2 parsecs distant.
31. The ship’s doctor died in this room, originally a stateroom but now the ship’s sickbay. He lies sprawled across an examination table; empty hypos scattered all over the floor point to a massive drug overdose. The sickbay is well-stocked to Tech Level B and capable of providing excellent care, although not up to the task of repairing brain damage. The computer files contain notes on the doctor’s frantic efforts to find a cure for a mysterious sickness on board. The standard-issue broad-spectrum antibiotic kit is also open, its contents exhausted (a clue to the nature of the infection).
34. Nothing is amiss here in the ship’s galley, but the group finds a feeding bowl on the floor with “Spooky” stenciled on it; obviously a pet’s name.
E Deck (Quarters)
Troop quarters for a typical Broadsword have been converted into a cargo hold. The air/raft entry area and the Ship’s Locker were retained. While the group is exploring this deck, the communicator in the area keeps signaling, as though someone were trying to call in. If answered, the adventurer hears only static interspersed with the mysterious whispering first encountered on H Deck. (This is merely a fault in the damaged communications system)
50. The ship’s locker has been broken into; most of the equipment and weapons are gone. There may be some usable items left, at the referee’s discretion.
53. The air/raft is still present, but has been badly—and deliberately—damaged.
F Deck (Quarters)
Troop quarters for a typical Broadsword have been converted into a cargo hold.
G Deck (Quarters)
Troop quarters for a typical Broadsword have been converted into a cargo hold.
70. At the area marked on the original deckplans, the group finds the grisly sight of two dead women; one crushed against the bulkhead by a cargo handling unit, the driver of same dead of a gunshot wound to the head.
H Deck (Marshalling Deck)
73-74. The PCs find in the non-functional lift shaft (the opposite of the one the party used) the hanged body of a young woman, dressed in medical scrubs. Her eyes still hold a look of absolute terror.
77-80. The adventurers sense something in the hold with them, and an intermittent whispering just at the edge of their hearing. Whatever is in there is small and quiet, but every now and then makes a telltale sound behind the crates. As soon as one of the party investigates, something suddenly leaps, hissing and spitting, at them! The shocked group then catches a glimpse of a large white housecat darting behind other crates. This is Spooky, the ship’s mascot (see below). The whispering seems to come from all around, and is hard to pinpoint. (The communications system is damaged. The computer’s attempts to repair it has caused a cross-interface with recording devices, so the whispering is actually normal crew conversations looped back at very low volume. Manually resetting the system from the bridge stops the strange whispers.)
I Deck (Drive Deck)
81. A low inhuman moaning, accompanied by the sound of rattling chains, breaks the stillness of this deck. Tracking the sound reveals equipment still cycling in an isolated area, but it is the body of a middle-aged man that captures the party’s attention. A securing chain has been wrapped around his neck and taken up by the equipment. The drag on the mechanism is producing the moaning sound. Doctors among the party can confirm that he indeed died from strangling, but not before a struggle.
J Deck (Lower Drive Deck)
85. The ship’s jump drives are located here. There has been an explosion; the maneuver drive components have not been badly damaged (so the ship can take off once repairs have been made), but repairing the jump drive will require several weeks in port. Two women were victims of the explosion. Various mechanical and engineering tools are scattered about, some buried in the victims’ bodies, suggesting they were trying—but failed—to fix a problem with the drive.
Spooky, the ship’s cat
When first encountered, Spooky is very agitated but will respond to kindness. He can detect when someone has been infected (and behaves strangely when they are near) and can serve as a warning that something is wrong.
- Jeric Shaardashu
- A49964 Age 26 Cr12,500
2 terms Merchant
Shaardashu has been a crew member aboard the Stella Polare for six years, but was never really accepted by the crew due to his upbringing on a rough-and-tumble planet. A bulky fellow with an aptitude for mechanical work, he is the sole human survivor of the crew, having watched his shipmates fall one by one to the malady. The disease has made him angry and violent, almost brutish; his effective INT is 2, rather than his normal 9 (and the referee should administer the progress of the disease as outlined below). He will not respond to reason and is driven by a compulsion to kill.
The Alien Disease
The ailment, a bacterial infection, was picked up on a frontier planet (in the sense of not being highly developed or populated) by the (now-dead) purser and spread quickly through the ship. An infected person is asymptomatic (but contagious—the disease can be spread by touch or other close contact) for the first 1D-3 days, except for being a bit more tired and irritable than normal, but after that, the patient experiences severe electrochemical and hormonal imbalances, expressing as pain, anxiety, rage, and a progressive dulling of higher brain function. If left untreated it will eventually cause dementia, coma, and death. Treatment takes a week, after which the victim begins healing per the rules for recovery.
- Game effects:
- Upon opportunity for infection, throw 7+, modifying the roll as follows: -1 if ex-Scout or inoculated; -1 if END 6-; +12 if END 4-. If the character becomes infected, throw 1D for the length of the asymptomatic period. At the end of that period, throw presentation period of 1D hours (this represents the onset of the severe symptoms, not the time since initial infection). At the end of the presentation period, throw 3D and evenly distribute the result among the victim’s STR, DEX, END, and INT, applying any remainder to INT. Once per day, throw the current END or less to avoid losing another point of INT. The subject will meanwhile suffer the symptoms outlined above, and will display great, even murderous, rage. The person is, of course, highly contagious. If INT falls to 2, the victim must throw END or be incapacitated with seizures, a number of them per day per original point of END. If INT falls to 0, the person lapses into a coma.
- Animals can sense infected persons and react strangely when they are near. This could be a clue to astute heroes that something is wrong.
- For all the organism’s speed and deadliness, it is relatively easy to kill with a specific type of antibiotic. That particular type is not carried in shipboard medkits, but is commonly found in planetside medical centers of TL A+. A full, effective course of such drugs takes a week. The players may figure out that a course of antibiotics and hormonal therapy can cure Shaardashu, but such a regimen is not available until they can get him to a hospital.