Thursday, 3 January 2013

Secrets in Sulphur

Or Five Old Guys Go Looking for Their Salad Days Part 2

Last Friday night I ran a Classic Traveller game, Secrets in Sulphur, for four of my old gaming group. Dylan and Chris decided to use pregenerated Book 1 Marine characters, while Jonathan and John decided to refamiliarise themselves with the character generation system by generating a couple of Book 4 Army and Marine characters.

When writing the scenario for the session, I knew that my players had a preference for an action adventure – John had mentioned “bug hunt” in a pre-game email. Also, as we haven’t played for a while, I figured that any puzzle or mystery would need to relatively uncomplicated to solve (ie few moving parts) as there’s nothing more frustrating for a player than a puzzle that just won’t come out if you can’t think like Inspector Poirot.

So, our cast of characters consisted of:
John – Boris Clapshaw, ex Army Infantry Sergeant
Jonathan – Riishaa Daanel, ex Marine
Dylan – Count Asenault “Chivers” Washington-Pipps, retired Marine Colonel
Chris – “Bunty” Staffburger, ex Marine Force Commander

Now, I had already decided that Chivers and Bunty knew each other from their service days, so to have both characters end up as ex Marine Officers and both have Gambling skill was a writer’s gift – theirs was obviously a relationship forged over the green cloth of the Officers’ Club. Jonathan decided that Riishaa Daanel had been Chivers’ batman while they were in the service, while John’s character, Boris Clapshaw, was an acquaintance of Daanel’s.

I decided that I wanted to set the scenario on the planet Por’via in the Lymethius Subsector.

Library Data:
Harrimol IV - Por’via/Lymethius D9B4566-8. Imperial World.
Harrimol VIII is a gas giant and Por’via has no moons. Scout Base has no facilities. No Highport. Downport has a tug and three tenders. Por’via is directly governed from Julnar/Gamelea and the lack of local representation is a source of friction for the local population of 793,000.

This was primarily because I wanted a hostile environment as a complicator. I had been tossing up between Por’via and a world or moon with a methane atmosphere but, in the end, went for the sulphur-contaminated atmosphere of Por’via. Looking at Por’via’s statistics, I think I actually underplayed the atmosphere as Corrosive implies a higher degree of toxicity than Contaminated.

After leaving the service, Bunty Staffburger bummed around Gamelea Subsector before settling on Por’via a couple of years ago. Working in the service industry driving cabs and hauling freight, he was just scratching by, and then he hooked up with Selia Vuir.

Selia Vuir works as a sulphur miner for Ossourous Processing – a Julnarian mineral extraction concern that is well connected with both the Julnarian Government and with the Julnar Mandate Authority which governs Por’via – on the Sylvian Flats, 100 km north of Por’via Down, the main town and starport on the planet. A member of a five-person crew operating a massive surface Mining Unit – a 20 metre wide surface cutter, very much like a highway resurfacing machine but designed to cut and process the top 15cm layer of soil – Selia works week on/week off shifts out on the flats.

Just recently, Selia discovered a cache of sunstones – valuable opal-like gems occasionally found in geodes – near the end of the cut zone her crew had been working. Ossourous Processing technically owns any valuables found on its claim, but Selia and Bunty have hit upon a plan to scam this cache. Jorgan Kiorpanos, the local agent for VenGems Holdings, has expressed unofficial interest in the cache and its Selia’s intent to retrieve the cache during her current duty shift for him to evaluate.

A Vargr freighter is currently at Por’via Down. Several people have remarked that while this ship, the Akhska, is similar to the Ueill out of Tonivar/Cabria that often calls at Por’via, the crew of the Akhska do not speak much Imperial Basic. A party from the Akhska has headed up towards the Green Mountains, north of the Sylvian Plain, in an ATV to hunt Crarachan – a goat-like grazer able to survive the sulphur-laden atmosphere.

Bunty Staffburger is sitting in the Por’via Downport bar, waiting for a fare and keeping an anxious eye on his handcomp. His girlfriend, Selia Vuir, a sulphur miner, is overdue from her current week-on shift, and storm warnings have been posted for the Green Mountains and Northern Sylvian Plain area. He is also concerned that Selia is supposed to be bringing back a geode of sunstones she has found out on the Plain. Failing to declare a geode is viewed as a serious offence by Ossourous Processing, and as the company carries a lot of weight with the Julnar Mandate Authority, a prosecution is pretty much a career ender.

While mulling over his worries, Staffburger hears a familiar voice boom behind him. “Bunty!” Glancing around, Staffburger sees a vaguely familiar figure from his past, “Chivers?” Indeed, it is his old wardroom drinking and card buddy, Marine Colonel Count Asenault “Chivers” Washington-Pipps. Chivers quickly introduces his two companions, “Sergeant Daanel, my batman, and Sergeant Clapshaw. Clapshaw’s Army, but he’s a good sort.”

Chivers tells Staffburger that after coming out of the service there hadn’t been a lot of work for security consultants in Gamelea Subsector. Eventually, Daanel had got wind that the Murkhida Kargesu, the Geithurian Republic’s Alien Legion, was busily recruiting for operations to Spinward of the Republic. This presented a dilemma for Chivers as the Imperium frowns on its past service personnel serving non-Imperial states, and particularly non-Imperial states that have been actively hostile to the Imperium, as the Geithurian Republic has been.

Daanel was able to discover the existence of the Crimson Road – a semi-coordinated series of interconnecting short haul passenger-carrying freighters that enables certain people to drop off the Imperial radar as they move around Imperial Space. It was while travelling this circuitous route that Chivers, Daanel and Clapshaw found themselves on Por’via, and about to take the final section over the Imperial Border and into Geithurian space.

While Daanel and Clapshaw secure their luggage, Bunty Staffburger tells Chivers about his girlfriend:

“I’m dating a miner.”
“A minor? Gad, and I thought I was a rake.”
“No. A miner. She mines.”

And how she was overdue from her current shift, and how a storm system was moving south, down out of the Green Mountains and onto the Sylvian Plain.

As the rest of the groups’s equipment arrives, Staffburger rings the Ossourous Processing Dispatch office to check up on Selia’s Mining Unit. He learns that it is standard procedure for the crew to stay buttoned up during a storm if the Unit has broken down. As the incoming storm has grounded all grav search vehicles, it is highly likely that Selia and her crew are preparing to wait it out at the end of track as plotted by the Dispatch office. As Staffburger downloads the Unit’s track, he sees through the window of the Concourse, Jorgan Kiorpanos, the VenGems agent, talking to two unsavoury-looking men in an ATV. After a brief conversation, Jorgan’s companions drive off, heading out of town.

Once the party get themselves organised and hire an ATV, they set off towards the Ossourous Processing Restricted Access Zone north of Por’via Down. After a two-hour drive up Route 41, Chivers turns off the main road and onto an access road that leads to a transfer site. This is where the Mining Units unload their ore onto stock piles, and dump their tailings.

Passing through the transfer site, they pick up the last cut Selia’s Mining Unit made – a 20 metre-wide track that zig-zags across a ten kilometre wide cut zone that stretches across the north of the Sylvian Plain to the foothills of the Green Mountains. As the party follows the cut, they realise that there is not one, but two ATVs ahead of them, both apparently following the Mining Unit.

On Clapshaw’s suggestion, Chivers pilots the party’s ATV up over the edge of the cut. Crossing the rough ground between the east-bound and west-bound cuts, the party manage to get ahead of the second of the two ATVs they are following. With their ATV concealed, Clapshaw wriggles forward into the shelter of a boulder where he can watch the cut. Soon, he spies the second ATV heading towards him on the west-bound cut and, by the skilful use of his Recon skill, he manages to see that there are at least five individuals inside the ATV, and at least two of them are Vargr.

After the vehicle passes, Clapshaw returns to the party and relates his intelligence. Giving chase up the west-bound cut, and with the weather closing in, the party suddenly realise that they are closer to the turn back then they thought as they catch a glimpse of the other ATV heading back past them on the next east-bound cut.

As they come round the turn back and clear the steam of the fumaroles that define the western end of the cut zone, the party find their way ahead blocked by the second ATV. Three Vargr have alighted and open fire on the party’s vehicle. Chivers throws the ATV into reverse, even as the front windshield is shot out.

“Darn! There goes the deposit,” Staffburger observes sourly.

Fortunately, the party have been wearing environment suits since they set out so it takes them but moments to button up as the insidious planetary atmosphere floods the interior of their vehicle. As clouds of noxious fumes roll across the countryside, hiding the two groups, Chivers hits the brakes. Clapshaw, Daanel and Staffburger leap down from the ATV and take up firing positions as the Vargr come dashing through the clouds of steam and gas. All three Vargr go down in a hail of gauss rifle fire.

As Daanel and Clapshaw advance cautiously, the second ATV drives off at high speed, eastward along the east bound cut. Seeing their quary in flight, Daanel and Clapshaw sprint back to the party’s ATV. Chivers again takes the ATV up and over the edge of the cut and over the rough ground between the east and west-bound cutways. Closing on the next west-bound cut, he halts a little way short of it. Clapshaw wriggles forward in time to see the Vargrs’ ATV approaching him from the east. After a moment’s deliberation, Clapshaw decides to knock the other vehicle out with a well-place RAM-grenade in the engine bay. Unfortunately, his RAM-grenade is not so well-placed and the Vargrs’ ATV is not as armoured as he first thought. With a bang and a flash, the Vargrs’ ATV explodes in a massive fireball.

“That didn’t work out so well,” Clapshaw says ruefully as he rejoins the rest of the party.

Pressing on, and with the weather closing in, the party find themselves nearly at the northern end of the cut zone. Ahead, they can see where the Mining Unit’s cut ends and the Unit crosses a small gully via a causeway before commencing a return cut towards the transfer station. As they get closer, they can see that the gulley is narrow and steep, and that the Mining Unit has come off the narrow causeway and is nose-down in the gulley.

Debussing from the ATV, Clapshaw covers Staffburger as he climbs down to inspect the Mining Unit. Daanel walks up the road a little way and investigates the gulley above the causeway. Staffburger quickly discovers that while two of the Mining Unit crew are still aboard, both are dead and neither are Selia. Damage in the Unit’s cutter bay indicates that some sort of explosive charge or mine was left in front of the vehicle and that this was taken inside, along with the normal ore, before exploding and disabling the Unit. Someone has then shot up the Mining Unit’s wheelhouse and removed or destroyed all computer gear aboard, including handcomps. Meanwhile, Daanel has found tracks indicating that two people on foot and a vehicle have headed up the narrow gulley, upstream of the causeway.

After some deliberation, the party decide to follow on foot as their large ATV will not fit up the narrow gulley. At this stage both Chivers and Staffburger are wearing environment suits and are armed with handguns while Daanel and Clapshaw are wearing Combat Armour and are armed with gauss rifles.

They follow the narrow trail that winds up through gulley before debouching onto a more open upland area. Visibility is now down to about twenty metres and the wind is rising, driving swirling clouds of fog and gas before it. As they pass between pools of bubbling water and boiling mud, Chivers spots something in one of the mud pools. It turns out to be the body of one of the miners.

Retrieving the body, Staffburger discovers a hand drawn map that shows a location not too far from them with an ‘X’. Beyond the ‘X’ is a crudely drawn twin-peaked mountain and the word ‘jackpot’ written in Selia’s handwriting.

As the first heavy drops of rain start falling, the party finds the ATV they have been pursuing parked by the side of the trail.

As they investigate the vehicle, they hear a scream of terror from further ahead. Advancing cautiously between twisted piles of stone, they hear more shouts, and then gun shots. Running forward, they see a body on the ground and three people in environment suits standing back to back with handguns drawn. Around them, leaping and hissing, are half a dozen irrijari – particularly fast, nasty and vicious predators. As the party watch, an irrijar leaps forward and literally bites one of the three survivors’ head off.

Daanel and Clapshaw manage to fell several of the irrijari with their gauss rifles as the two survivors run towards the party. One of the two is killed by another irrijar and then Daanel’s gauss rifle jams. An irrijar springs at Daanel but can’t hurt him through his combat armour. Clapshaw lines up a shot, and then his gauss rifle jams, too – obviously the insidious atmosphere is taking its toll on the gauss rifles. Staffburger chases after the fleeing survivor and manages to tranq her with his snub pistol. Again, it isn’t Selia so he ties her up and leaves her in the ATV.

Clapshaw throws his heavy autopistol to Chivers, who hasn’t managed to hit any of the irrijari with his snub pistol. This was becoming rather alarming for Chivers as he was very conscious that he was only wearing an environment suit and that there were still several very dangerous irrijari darting in and out of the swirling gas clouds. Snatching up Clapshaw’s pistol, Chivers turns and fires, downing an irrijari with a single shot. Clapshaw clears his jam and shoots the last irrijari that has been wrestling with Daanel, and suddenly the upland is silent, except for the moaning of the wind. A rattling noise, drawing nearer, announces the leading edge of a downpour.

To Be Continued ...