Sunday, March 15, 2020

You Reap What You Sow - Consequences in Stars Without Number

Image by Scottr5680

Well, it finally happened.

My Stars Without Number game has turned out very differently than I expected, not unusual with a RPG mind you, when you put players into a scenario it rarely pans out the way you expect.

Still, I had expected that they would spend the first 10 sessions or so doing exploration of alien worlds. However, I couldn’t foresee that one of the PCs would throw in with one of the NPCs who had done something bad (killed another NPC to smuggle an alien life form back to earth). Once he did that (the NPC was the engineering tech, the PC was the engineer), they concocted a plan to deceive the rest of the PCs into believing that they had engine problems and had to return to the Sol system.

At that point I had planned for them to be exploring planets for the foreseeable future, instead we returned to the populated Sol system. So the game immediately shifted from exploration and alien environments / creatures to intrigue and politics. Not what I was expecting, but such is the life of a sandbox DM.

So they had been interrogated by the military when they got back, as some of the alien creatures the engineer and engineering tech had smuggled home managed to escape containment and destroyed a space station, killing hundreds of people. 

Of course, the PC engineer hadn’t seen that coming, he sold off the aliens to an unknown buyer and forgot about it, collecting his credits and walking away. However, he hadn’t bothered telling the buyers that the aliens could replicate. I’m not exactly sure why he didn’t share that piece of information, perhaps he forgot (unlikely) or perhaps he figured it wouldn’t matter. 

At the end of the day, it gave me a GREAT hook to continue the game.

Thanks to some favorable rolls the military did not initially discover that the PC had done this, so they were let go and accepted an invitation on a private spaceship (the Gold Star) to be the guests of a wealthy industrialist who wanted his special passengers to get to meet the second crew to have successfully returned from an intergalactic mission.

As a DM I prefer to let the player decisions drive the game. So when the buyer of those alien creatures didn’t get his delivery, he sent out an android bounty hunter named Rinnix Phol  to find the PCs and collect, either get the credits back from them or get more alien creatures from them.

The bounty hunter attacked one of the PCs on the Gold Star, unfortunately for him she was a teleporter and escaped his grasp. The android bolted and hid on the engineering deck. The PCs went to the captain of the Gold Star and told him that there was an assassin on board, and they offered to track him down and subdue him. At this point the PC engineer had made a deal with one of the wealthy passengers to give him all of the remaining aliens he had hidden away on his secret asteroid base, as he was starting to realize that they were going to cause him no end of trouble. He wanted to neutralize this android before more of his plans were revealed and he was prevented from fulfilling his deal with the wealthy passenger.

So the PCs armed up along with a few of the guards from the Gold Star (the Captain insisted on sending out a few of his guards without the PCs, he was suspicious), and there was some blaster fire heard on the lower decks. The PCs arrived to a hallway with blaster fire burns on the walls and two Gold Star guards with their necks snapped, dead on the floor.

They searched room by room until they arrived in the cargo bay where the two shuttles were stored. Then Rinnix Phol, who was waiting on top of one of the shuttles, leapt down and tackled one of the PCs, doing a good amount of damage. Then he hit the PC pretty hard, knocking him down to 0hp. 

One thing I have come to realize with this game is that, even more so than D&D, combat is fast and deadly. You enter it at your peril. The players, however, aren’t picking up on this quite as quickly. So when this android bounty hunter was tackling their fellow PC they ALL TOOK OUT LASER PISTOLS TO SHOOT HIM.

Ay caramba.

So they shot, and of course a few of them missed. And when you are all standing around a pair of people fighting each other and you shoot and miss… Things got real fast. There were some friendly fire hits, which didn’t kill anyone but sure as hell got their attention.

Then, the PC engineer, who has “talk” as a skill, decided to step in. He shouted out to the android to stop and asked him what he wanted. I made this a difficulty 10 check, as Rinnix Phol had a specific mission, bring in at least one of the PCs to his employer so they could either find out where the aliens were being kept and the employer could get his cargo, or she could blackmail the rest of the PCs to come in to retrieve the kidnapped PC.

The check was successful (the game has a “roll again” mechanic that helps out here), and the android stopped and talked.

The android told the party he represented his employer who wanted his cargo delivered.

At that point the rest of the party was unaware of what the PC engineer had done. For the last 5 sessions he had kept his subterfuge secret, and had made millions of credits in the process. But the chickens had finally come home to roost.

It was one of those pure gold role play moments that you live for as a DM. 

So he told the rest of the party what he had done, and why this android was after them, and why the military was after them. They had assumed the NPC engineering tech had done all of this as he had taken off right after they returned to the Sol system. Now they knew it was both the PC engineer and the NPC tech who had done this.

They had a group discussion and decided to go with the android and meet the buyer to sort this out, as they were very soon going to be wanted by the military as well (as they would eventually track down the NPC engineering tech and their psi’s would find out what had happened).

So they left with the bounty hunter, he had a ship nearby paralleling the Gold Star. They went to their ship which was also nearby and followed the bounty hunter to Jupiter. The bounty hunter’s employer, Jia Rees, was a wealthy star drive manufacturer who lived in a biodome city on Lysithea, one of Jupiter’s moons. These biodome cities are filled with plants to create oxygen, and get water from ice deep within the moons and from passing comets. 

They went to Rees’ home, a fortress like building bristling with armed and armored guards, and they were brought before her and seated at a large table.

She got right to the point, she had paid for 100 alien creatures to be delivered, they were not delivered, she wanted her cargo, or alternately her credits returned, plus costs for the lost ship and lost employees who were killed when the alien creatures destroyed their ship.

There was some fun RP and conversation around this, the PC engineer tried his best to convince her to change her mind, but rolls couldn’t save him and she wasn’t going to go easy on him, she had taken a huge loss. I played her as a no nonsense business person, she wasn’t going to get snowed by this guy, she was ruthless and greedy, and wanted some of these creatures for herself so she could militarize them and sell them for a profit.

So they agreed to go to the PCs secret asteroid base where he was keeping his one alien creature, duplicate a hundred of them for her, and bring them back. The rest of the PCs had no idea that the PC engineer had a secret asteroid base, so they were gobsmacked by this as well. She insisted that Phol accompany them to ensure there were no shenanigans, and sent them off.

So they all returned to their ship, the TLS Tartarus, and they made their way back to the asteroid belt to retrieve the alien creature and put this to an end.

I decided that Rees wasn’t the only wealthy industrialist that was in the know on this. There were corporate spies that kept an eye on her operations, and they had discovered that she was after the PCs to get access to these alien creatures. So one of them sent a ship after them to try and muscle in on the action.

So when they were arriving at the asteroid base, their comm officer discovered that there was a ship closing in on them. The Tartarus is a former prison ship, converted for deep space exploration, it is heavily armored but slow. The ship pursuing them was fast, and it came up on them guns blazing. 

So we started ship to ship combat. I ADORE ship to ship combat in Stars Without Number, it is collaborative and dangerous, a perfect combination.

The Tartarus is heavily armored, so they took the first shot but their armor absorbed all the damage. They returned fire but missed. The ship came around and took a second shot, the Tartarus absorbed that one as well (I wasn’t rolling particularly well either), and returned fire and missed
That’s where we broke for the session.

One thing that came out of all of this was that the PC engineer who managed to do all this underneath their noses got HUGE PROPS from the other players for pulling this off. Yes, his actions meant they were essentially wanted men, yes, both a wealthy industrialist and the military was after them, and yes, they were fleeing for their lives.

But he pulled this all off without anyone knowing what was going on, and that made him a rock star. 

This game continues to impress me greatly, high adventure, exploration, politics, intrigue, space battles, deadly combat, it’s the whole package, a perfect fit for a sandbox game, and utterly unique (nothing like Star Trek or Star Wars). 

Good times.

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