The situation was ready and waiting, the adjustments from Fria Ligan’s subsequently published Hamurabi supplement made. So how did my players manage to make the story their own?
Well, the first disruption had actually happened weeks ago, when I had to run an extra adventure at short note for just two of the players. To fit that in, I fast-forwarded to the crew’s next portal jump, but they hadn’t actually been given their next job yet, so some retroactive continuity was needed. The first adventure had left Salem on the ship, waiting for the other two. So I had him receive a message from their next patron, leave a message for the others and go off to his meeting, with Sister Almas of the Samaritans. She offered him b14,000 to locate and retrieve Hamza Arinites from Paradise, Hamura. He didn’t ask that many questions, much to his fellow player’s frustration, but not to mine, because some aspects of the story would be revealed later, and that’s always more fun. I did get Sister Almas to volunteer two important facts though: that she valued his status as a Zalosian exile; and that for the price she was offering she expected “discretion”.
The problem came when Yaphet and Salah decided to go shopping.
I’m not going to say no, but I know how in game shopping turns out – browsing the equipment lists in the book, then trying to haggle in game. Shopping is fun for players looking to “power” up, but less fun for the GM, playing storekeepers waiting to get fleeced on the roll of the die and, in case case, the other player, watching as less interesting scene than the one they watched him play out. But they had sat through that scene restraining themselves when they wanted to offer him advice. So I let them play out a bit of shopping and roll for a discount. I wanted to keep the scene short though, so after I while, I chipped in a darkness point, and told them they were being watched. The watchers were two of Merez Alcan’s goons, a subtle reminder that they had planned at the end of the last session, to escape Coriolis and avoid the attentions of this gangland boss.
But they didn’t take the hint, instead they forced a confrontation with the goons. One of whom escaped, but they caught up with the other. I remembered reading that the Coriolis Guard stayed clear of the Ozone plaza, but I mis-remembered who kept the peace there instead, so I had a squad of Legion turn up. There was some … discussion, a rifle butt may have been used, but in the end the players reluctantly convinced the Legion to claim the bounty on the goon. All the time, Andy was watching and wondering when the adventure would actually start. At least it was hopefully more fun to watch than shopping.
Finally where were off. The little ship Mukafa’a lined up with a convoy of military ships to take the portal to Hamura. To get them quickly into the story, I had the control centre of the Hamurabi portal station direct them to dock immediately for inspection. The Akbar told them that the ship would be requisitioned to take as many refugees from Paradise as they could back to Coriolis. The bounty hunters though this would be as good a cover as any for smuggling their client’s target back to Coriolis, and so readily agreed.
Of course one of their stasis pods had been damaged in their last adventure, and so they negotiated hard for the spares to repair it. In fact they managed to cleverly requisition enough to build a second secret stasis crate!
Their cover story had been that they were trying for the bounty on Samira, the notorious corsair. But I’d ruled that with trade disrupted by the Taoan Emergency, and fleets from the two mightiest militaries in the Horizon in the system, Samira was keeping her head down. All they discovered were people saying “Many come looking for Samira, but few find her.” (In fact I think that system with just two planets and one inhabited moon, would be poor pickings at the best of times. I think Samira may seek a new system to ply her trade in. I did give the players a chance to meet her alter-ego though, so if they can put two and two together, they may have a clue to catching her wherever she sets up.) That gave them more time to meet the Colonial Agent who I had pegged for the villain of the piece. But they seemed to accept the Zenithian landgrab as normal Zenithian behaviour, so she didn’t get a chance to be villainous.
Planetside, they quickly pegged that their target, Hamza Arinites, may have joined the Firstcome insurrection, rather than being kidnapped by it. Especially when they saw how well armed the Weeping Matriarchy guards around the refugee compound were. They were still unsure quite why Sister Almas wanted her returned to Coriolis. Was this to punish her for some heresy? I thought it best to allow Salem a retroactive observation roll, and with a partial success I disclosed that, to his naive, vat-born three year old, eyes Sister Almas’s face might have betrayed that feeling called love. Salem was unconvinced though, his own experience of love being non-existent.
Dave invoked the Friend in Every Port group talent to create a great GMPC, Alina Niazi, an ex-colleague of Salah’s from Dabaran. Dave suggested she worked for Black Sun, a mercenary company paid to disrupt the nascent insurrection. I built on the Daberan connection to tell Yaphet, that a major shareholder in Black Sun was Salah’s lover, who had put a contract on Yaphet’s head (as we had discovered in the previous adventure). At this point I was very interested to see that all the main GMPCs had turned out to be female. I hadn’t planned it to be so – until the publication of Hamurabi, the local Colonial Agent was going to be a small weasely (more obviously corrupt) male. I took a moment to enjoy that fact.
They made contact with the insurrectionists, called the Kajak’s (the j pronouced z, for some reason that made sense to me at the time), in a hamam. Not Samar’s, this was smaller and mixed. The encounter proved to me what a great meeting place hamam’s can be. They felt vulnerable, unprotected, and when the heavy Kajak leader came in, again naked, a sensed a real fear from them about how it might go. There was none of the pride and arrogance they displayed with the thug and the Legion on Coriolis. They agreed that they would return to the bathhouse the next day to be taken, hooded and unarmed to Hamza Arinites’ location.
Worried that they might be walking into trap, they carefully planned an escape, enlisting the help of Alina Niazi (after making sure that therapy were not observed visiting her). Yaphet invoked the gearhead talent to make some subdermal location beacons which Salem inserted in Salah and Yaphet. They could turn them on and off, in case they might be scanned. They asked Alina to follow them in a ship, and make an appearance an agreed time after they located Arinites, dropping them their weapons and a squad of carefully chosen, loyal Black Sun operatives, and then effecting an escape. Plans agreed, they went back to hamam, where after their bath, they discovered their clothes had been replaced with local kemeezes. They climbed two similarly dressed, but heavily armed Weeping Matriachs and the Kajak they had met earlier, led them to a crawler, hooded them and then drove them some 200km. In a sparsely populated village square, they met Hamza Arinites. Salah observed a certain whistful look in her eyes when they mentioned Sister Almas, so Yaphet risked coming clean, and pleading with her to return with them to her lover. I asked for a contested manipulation roll.
Dave rolled three successes for Yaphet, if I recall correctly. I rolled none for Hamza, despite many more dice. She agreed to return. Should I have spent darkness points to make her reconsider? I don’t think so, the players were totally wrongfooted by her agreement. They also knew that a strike team was on its way to wreak havoc upon the Kajak insurrectionists. The sound of approaching spaceship engines grew, and they and the Matriarchs bundled Hamza into the crawler. One of the Matriarchs took the wheel. Maybe I should have dropped a DP to have the engine misfire, but to be honest, the players were already demonstrating the tension of escaping an attack they they had brought upon the village. They drove like the wind, while behind them Black Sun attacked the village.
Hamza turned to Salah, asking if the team knew anything about the attack. Salah lied, magnificently. The Matriarchs drove the long journey back to the spaceport at Trajan, changing crawlers on the way. Hamza agreed to be hidden in the extra Stasis crate. And once she was secreted the crew paid another visit to Alina, who gave them their weapons back and thanked them for helping her track down an insurrectionist cell.
With a cargo of refugees in all their spare Stasis pods, they jumped back to Kua, and Coriolis. With the money from the job, and their precious secret cargo, they chose to use Neoptra spaceport rather than the Net. Salem was still not sure about handing Hamza over to Sister Almas, and he felt, the Zalosian Inquisition. So they tested the Sister’s motives before introducing her lover. They were reassured the live between these two ran deep, and that Almas had asked for their discretion because she didn’t want the Order of the Martyrs to find out.
They’d done the job. They got paid.
And then it all went wrong.
I’d timed the session expecting a combat and a tense space chase, neither if which happened, because of the players’ good planning and lucky dice rolls. Yes, I could have spent a few more DP to force a combat or some other challenge, but my impression was that they had were emotionally engaged with the story already. And indeed they seemed satisfied, even though they hadn’t fought anyone and we still had an hour to kill.
Which is the wrong phase as it turns out, because Dave said, “let’s not finish here – let’s do something to wind up Merez Alcan.” He was still sore about the Legion getting in the way of his fight with the two goons when they were out shopping. Yaphet looked for bounties among the known associates of Merez Alcan. I’d just rolled a name randomly, when that of Cyrus Izza caught my eye. He operated on Spice Plaza, right next door to the Neoptra spaceport. So I said they found a Dabaran warrent for fraud.
They cased the joint (I used the layout of one of the Grande Magazini from the Portus archeological dig), worked as a team to surprise the watchman, and convince him to … seek an alternative place to be, then kicker the door down, guns at the ready. A fight ensued.
I normally roll crits etc. in plain view. In fact in many games I don’t even use a GM screen, but the Coriolis one is so damn pretty, and more useful than most. And something about the set up that day meant I couldn’t see around it, so I’d fallen into the habit for this session of making every roll behind the screen. I wasn’t using two different colours for d66 rolls either, just reading the dice left to right wherever they fell. Not that that would have made any difference anyway, when one of the mooks shot Yaphet.
They rolled sixty six, head shot, insta-kill.
I lifted the screen so everyone could see the dice. Dave went very red. It was his birthday too.
Now normally, I’m a fan of letting the dice tell the story. But here there were so many mitigating factors. I hadn’t rolled openly, I hadn’t used a different colour “tens” die, it was Dave’s birthday. We rolled again, with a different coloured die and openly, stunning Yaphet instead with a crotch shot. They forced a surrender and handed the crooks over to the Coriolis Guard. But the fudge left an unpleasant taste in everyone,s mouth, and spoiled what was until that final unscripted scene and very successful scenario. Dave even considered after the game accepting the first roll and creating a new character.
Later he realised that Yaphet had the Dancer’s talent and hadn’t used that. So we thought a miraculous and perspective survival a la Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction was the most satisfying ret-con. And that’s what we’ve gone with.
The Moral of the story: Roll in the open.