Communication, or lack thereof, is a very important element of this adventure. There will likely be times when the players are divided into multiple groups which will be out of communication with each other. It is strongly recommended that groups of players who are out of contact be physically separated from the other players until communications can be reestablished. Obviously, this requires a certain amount of care on the part of the GM, since while he is spending time with one group of players, there will be other groups sitting off by themselves doing nothing. Ideally, each group should be left in a situation where they may want to take some time to discuss options or tactics and cycle back to each group every 20–30 minutes. While this approach may seem unwieldy at first, confusion and uncertainty are a major part of what makes this adventure work. This tendency to devolve into smaller groups working semi-independently makes this scenario work particularly well for large player groups, since they will rarely spend long enough together to make the game unwieldy.
One important finding of these missions has been a wealth of alien ruins dating from approximately 20,000 years ago. The ruins have been in the form of planetary installations created by a technology somewhat in advance of that currently possessed by Humanity, all seemingly abandoned without violence. In some cases, functioning power and/or control systems have been found. Written records and a few functional computer systems have allowed a partial translation of the aliens' language (allowing a few Humans to learn it to a maximum of rank 3), although little has been learned about their history, culture, or the reason for their eventual disappearance. The structure of their furnishings and equipment indicates that they were at least vaguely humanoid, but no bodies or physiological data have been recovered.
The operating area of the Horizon has coincided with the largest incidence of these ruins and its crew have been at the forefront of these discoveries. Like it or not, they have as much or more field experience with alien artifacts as any Humans. Indeed, events have reached the point where jaded crew members look at their sensor data and groan, "Oh, great. More ancient alien ruins." Archaeological finds have become routine, even boring—until now....
This adventure fits right in to any exploration campaign. The GM can lead up to it by running several adventures where the players survey systems with the alien ruins described above. Then, when they start to really get sick of that, throw this at them. Because of the potentially sensitive nature of alien technology, a similar strategy can be employed with a military group. A mercenary group with their own ship could be hired to escort a group of scientists on an archeological survey, while a merc party without a ship could be hired to provide security. An intelligence group could be assigned to infiltrate somebody else's survey, adding yet another twist to the adventure. Merchant players could be chartered by the same scientists, perhaps with the lure of usable alien technology dangled in front of them. Even rebels or pirates might be enticed to undertake a survey mission by the possibility of that sort of technological payoff.
Geographically, the scenario can be set in any convenient frontier area. The key points are the potential for alien ruins and the fact that nobody knows who or what is further out in that direction. If the campaign has already featured alien ruins, use them as the ones discussed in the introduction. The scenario can also be easily tailored to involve technological levels or crew sizes other than the ones assumed here. Notes will be provided for those areas where modifications may be necessary. The war mentioned in the first paragraph is completely irrelevant except in as much as it may serve to make the players more paranoid, so feel free to ignore it (or substitute any race you like for the Drakarans, who also don't figure into this adventure).
The primary purpose of the mission is to locate and survey habitable worlds for Human colonization. Unfortunately, such worlds tend to be fairly rare. Of equal importance, the UN would like to locate and make friendly contact with any alien races which can be found (so far only one alien race is known and it is hostile to Humanity). Secondarily, the survey mission is to locate and study remains of past civilizations in the target system. The UN is particularly interested in archaeological studies of advanced civilizations, with an eye toward advancing Human technology. Finally, the ship should be on the lookout for exploitable mineral resources of sufficient quantity or quality to justify the expense of colonizing the system (a tall order in the case of a system with no habitable planets or other useful resources). And, of course, the ship is to study any unusual scientific phenomena it encounters in the course of its mission.
The Horizon carries an operating crew of 20, a science staff of 20, and a 10-person detachment of UN Space Marines.
The crew is composed of UNSF naval personnel (with one exception, see below) and is divided into an astronautic section, an engineering section, and a medical section. The astronautic section consists of three pilots and three astrogators, all of whom are officers. The three pilots are also the captain, first officer, and second officer. Rather than being a regular naval officer, the first officer is a member of UN Intelligence, although he (for the sake of my sanity, I will refer to the Horizon's crew by the genders of the characters in the campaign where I originally ran this adventure; obviously, you may alter them as appropriate for your group) is a trained pilot, as well. He is present on the mission to evaluate any finds or encounters and report on any potential threat or benefit to Terran security. This is not covert; the rest of the crew is aware of this, although it may not be advertised to any aliens encountered. He is of the Explorer character class; the other five are of the Pilot class. All six of the astronauts can double as shuttle pilots. The engineering section consists of three engineers, one of whom is the chief engineer; three electrical techs assigned to the bridge to operate the sensors, communications, and computer systems; and six systems techs who work in engineering and conduct maintenance. The medical section consists of a physician and a medic.
The science staff is composed of 20 researchers who are nominally UNSF naval personnel, but are actually more like academics in uniform. They are divided into a cultural contact section, a stellar survey section, and a planetary survey section. The cultural contact section consists of a UN special representative, who is also the chief scientist, a linguist, a xenologist, a xeno-psychologist, and a xeno-physician, who assists the ship's doctor under normal circumstances. The stellar survey section consists of two astronomers, two planetologists, and a chemist. The planetary survey section consists of three biologists, a biochemist, three botanists, two zoologists, and an ecologist. The UN ambassador is of the Administrator class, the xeno-physician is a Physician, and the others are Researchers or Planetologists, as appropriate to their specialties.
The marines are a single squad, commanded by a major and with a sergeant as their NCO. Four of them are trained to operate the Horizon's guns, and the marines also serve as helicopter pilots and crawler drivers. Their primary job is protecting the scientists from potentially dangerous native fauna, but they are capable of defending the ship, if necessary. They are all trained in zero-g operations and vac-suited combat. All are Armsmen.
The captain, first officer, chief engineer, doctor, and marine major are 10th level. The UN special rep is 15th level. The rest of the crew is 5th level. For skills and hits for NPC crewmen, see the chart on page 25 of the SpaceMaster GM Book. Player characters can generate their own characters. For all NPCs, their primary attack OB will be for their sidearm (see below). Secondary attack for the marines will be either the ship's guns (for four of them), grenade launcher, or support weapons. Tertiary attack will be grenade launcher for anybody who does not have it as their secondary weapon or support weapons for the others. Scientists with stunner as their primary attack will have tangler as their secondary weapon. At least the linguist should have the language of the vanished aliens at rank 3 and other members of the crew may have it, as well. Other skills are at the gamemaster's or players' discretion.
The Horizon operates under a somewhat convoluted chain of command. The captain is normally in command, of course. Second in command is the first officer. However, he is primarily trained as an intelligence analyst and, while his training is adequate for his job, he is not a naval officer and some of the naval personnel (the captain not least among them, if she is an NPC) question the ability of this "desk jockey" to perform adequately if forced to make command decisions in an emergency situation. Additionally, in a first-contact situation (with a living race, not ruins), the cultural contact officer assumes command of the mission, with full authority to represent the UN government and negotiate on behalf of Earth. He is, if necessary, fully empowered to take any action from a treaty of alliance to a declaration of interstellar war. Under these circumstances, he can overrule the decisions of the captain or, indeed, anyone other than the Security Council (which is safely several light-years away). Of course, if anything goes wrong, he will be the political sacrifice. The science staff as a whole is the lowest rung on the ship's chain of command. However, the Horizon's mission is primarily a scientific mission, and it would not be unreasonable to say that the rest of the crew is there as support for them. Thus, although they nave no actual authority, their work is the heart of the mission and the naval crew is expected to defer to them in regards to and aid them in their scientific investigations. The formal chain of command is: captain, first officer, second officer, the three astrogators in order of seniority, the three engineers in order of seniority, the marine major, the UN rep, the three electronics techs in order of seniority, the chief medical officer, the marine NCO, the six systems techs in order of seniority, the medic, the other marines in order of seniority, the contact team in order of seniority, and the other scientists in order of seniority—except, of course, in a first-contact situation, in which case the UN rep is the first and final authority.
All members of the crew and science staff have environmental suits (AT 2). There are also 12 "hard suits" (AT 9) available for work in potentially hostile environments. The marines are equipped with both light (AT 12) and heavy (AT 20) combat environmental suits. The marines are armed with laser rifles with attached mini (Mk 1) grenade launchers (this is the standard UNMC combat rifle). The zoologists may carry stun or tangle rifles (both are available from the ship's stores). The biologists may choose from stun or tangle pistols (again, both are carried on the ship). Other crew members have laser pistols (the standard UNSF sidearm), except the medical personnel, who go unarmed (again, according to UN policy). The UN rep may carry any weapon one-handed weapon or no weapon at all, as he desires. Two tripod-mounted heavy lasers and a heavy stunner are also available to the marines, intended primarily for use against large animals. Ship's stores also carry a wide variety of scientific, survival, and medical equipment.
Prior to the game, the players should have the mission explained to them and should have an opportunity to look over the descriptions of the ship, crew, and supplies and should be allowed to select any additional equipment they desire, subject to the GM's discretion (for some reason, my original player group was really into grenades...). They should be given fairly wide latitude in their options, considering that the UN considers this to be a very important mission. Even allowing for the need to preserve space in the hold for sample return, they have a couple hundred cumets of cargo space and a nearly unlimited government budget to play with. No reasonable request should be refused; although it is, of course, up to the GM to determine what qualifies as reasonable (changes to crew composition or refits to the ship probably should not be, although I might allow the players to alter the mix of ground vehicles, for example). If the players go overboard on the armaments, the GM may want to gently remind them that this is primarily a scientific mission, not a combat one. If it comes to heavy combat, there's a limit to what 10 marines and a scoutship can do, no matter how many anti-tank missiles they're packing....
It is also important to note that Human technology in this period is not quite up to the standards that Tech Law assumes. All armor of AT 8 or greater suffers a –5 from poor quality. Likewise, all needlers, stunners, and lasers have a –5 penalty. In addition, anything (weapon or otherwise) that has a range associated with it, other than projectile weapons, has that range reduced by 20%. Some equipment is totally beyond the means of current Human technology and should be unavailable. This includes rocketguns, MLA weapons, blasters, disruptors, energy melee weapons, plasmatic repeaters, plasma grenades, power armor, force fields and deflector shields, anything related to psionics, microfusion power plants, faster than light (TBD) communications, anti-gravity devices (grav belts and the like), and anything else that the GM deems fits in with this list. These restrictions do most definitely apply to the standard issue weapons, armor, and other equipment mentioned above.
If the players have a ship of their own, ignore the Horizon and use theirs instead. The number and resources of their adversaries can be tailored (see below) to whatever the players have available. It is suggested, however, that someone on the mission, PC or NPC, know a little of the alien language mentioned in the mission background. The group is expecting to find these ruins, after all; it would seem only reasonable that someone have the ability to interpret what they find. Weapons and other equipment can be whatever the players normally have available, although the GM may want to suggest that they pick up some survival, recording, and analysis equipment, if they don't already have it.
The one thing that I do suggest is that the players not be allowed to land their ship on the planet, if possible. If the players' ship is capable of landing, they should be encouraged to leave the ship in orbit, even if only with a single crewmember aboard, and send a team or teams down in shuttles. Bad weather, lack of a suitable landing site, or even potential microbial infection are all possibilities for discouraging landing of the ship itself. Of course, if the players are stubborn or if their ship lacks shuttles entirely, they may end up landing anyway. This leads to a scenario that will be somewhat somewhat different than the one envisioned here, but which still has the potential for an enjoyable afternoon's gaming.
In fact, the Luyten system contains four planets, shown below:
|Planet 1||Planet 2||Planet 3||Planet 4|
|Orbit||0.38 AU||0.64 AU||1.26 AU||2.35 AU|
|Circumference||3.80×104 km||4.30×104 km||2.35×104 km||1.250×106 km|
|Gravity||0.825 G||1.600 G||0.800 G||3.220 G|
|Atmosphere||O2/N2/CO2||Trace CO2||Trace N2/CH4||H2/He|
|Day Length||29 hr||18 hr||15 hr||11 hr|
|Year Length||115 d||187 d||516 d||3.6 y|
The inner planet has a highly eccentric orbit, taking it from near the middle of the stellar ecosphere during the northern summer to well inside it during the southern summer. Thus, the northern hemisphere never really experiences winter; it enjoys a near-Terran summer and a mild autumn-like winter. The southern hemisphere and equatorial regions, on the other hand, are baked by a blistering summer and then face a fairly typical Terran winter. Note that the relatively short orbital period exacerbates climactic extremes. At the time of the campaign, it is late in the northern summer and the planet is approaching the inner edge of the ecosphere, but is still experiencing relatively normal weather.
The Horizon's crew will thus find something for which they were looking but not really expecting: A (relatively) habitable planet. The planet's atmosphere is breathable and there are no harmful microorganisms present (of course, the players will have to determine this for themselves!), so the crew can land and move about the surface without environmental suits, if they so desire. The entire world is currently covered with lush vegetation (although much of that in the equatorial and southern regions will go dormant when summer hits) and is home to many species of fish, insects, birds, and reptiles. It's not a focus of the adventure, but the GM is welcome to introduce a few dangerous lifeforms to make life interesting for the party, if he so desires. If the party really went overboard on the military hardware, the GM may want to try to convince them that a few large animals are all they're going to have to fight. More importantly, even a cursory survey of the planet will reveal three powerful energy sources spaced equidistantly around the planet's equator. Closer examination (i.e., from orbit) will reveal the energy sources to be three large pyramids of unknown construction.
Two of the pyramids are located in the midst of dense jungles on the planet's single large continent. The third is in a swamp on the coast of a smaller, Australia-sized continent. None of these areas are well-suited to landing a shuttle, but there is a large clearing about 15 km from one of the jungle pyramids that would make a suitable landing site. A water landing off the coast of the swamp would also be possible and suitable spots can be found to set down on land at greater distances from any of the pyramids. A shuttle could also set down on top of any of the pyramids, although the players will probably not want to do this (and the scientists will protest if they do). None of this terrain is particularly hospitable for the crawlers, but the atmosphere is thick enough for the helicopters to operate normally. Landing zones would still be limited, but landing a helicopter atop one of the pyramids won't arouse the protests that landing a rocket-powered shuttle would. The helicopters also sport rope ladders and equipment harnesses for lowering people and supplies into the jungle or onto a pyramid directly.
The pyramids are all nearly perfectly smooth except for one face which has steps carved into it, roughly suitable for climbing by human-sized creatures. No vegetation of any sort will grow anywhere on the pyramids. They are made of a dark grey material of unknown composition which is completely resistant to scanning or any method of sampling. This material is in no way similar to anything ever encountered by Humans, nor is it similar to anything they have found in any other alien ruins. It cannot be cut, chipped, dented, or otherwise damaged by any conventional means. The only way in which it can be penetrated is by exposure to antimatter, which will annihilate it in a 1:1 mass ratio. That is, exposure to 1 kg of antimatter would destroy 1 kg of the pyramid's structure. Of course, it would also create an explosion equivalent to a that of 12.5 megaton nuclear bomb.... The energies involved would destroy the planet well before the pyramid.
Sensor examination of the surrounding area will reveal an underground complex that extends some distance from the pyramid in all directions. The complex is armored with the same material as the pyramid. Very close examination of the pyramid will reveal fine wires set into shallow channels in the pyramid's surface. It will not be obvious to the players, but these wires are sensor and communications antennae for the complex below. These wires can be cut and sampled. They extend into the interior of the pyramid, of course, but they do so in a series of channels, less than a millimeter wide, that twist back and forth inside the armor in a series of switchbacks, making it impossible to use them to scan inside the pyramid. Nor can the players tap into the wires and use them as antennae for their own devices (security systems will shut down any antenna this is tried with). If the antenna material is subjected to dating tests, it will be shown to be 40,000 to 50,000 years old, more than twice the age of any alien ruins previously discovered. A detailed search of the surrounding area will reveal similar antennae radiating out from the pyramid though the surrounding land. Many of these will have been damaged or destroyed by millennia of wear, but a few remain intact. Although the pyramid itself is effectively invulnerable, a large conventional or nuclear explosion (firing a pyramid's orbital defense weapon at a nearby airborne target, for example) could destroy these antennae, destroying that pyramid's sensor and communications capability.
The top of the pyramid is also perfectly flat, with the exception of a 2×2×3-meter-high rectangular chamber protruding from the exact center of the pyramid. The chamber has three walls of the same material as the rest of the period and is open on the side facing the steps. There is a single button on the rear wall. Pressing the button will cause the open wall to close (a "door" rises up out of surface of the pyramid) and the chamber to descend into the pyramid. There is no obvious way to recall the chamber to the surface and it will be impossible to communicate with anybody inside.
Anyone inside the pyramid will immediately notice more differences between it and the other ruins they've found. The other ruins were lit with a dim red light and were kept very cold. Here, the lighting is brighter and whiter, although the temperature is curiously similar (in it's natural state, it would actually be about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but the previous explorers reset the environmental controls to something they found more comfortable, although they weren't able to do anything about the lights). Materials and color schemes are different, the doors are a different shape, etc. Any artifacts found will seem to be of a higher tech level than those discovered at other sites.
The pyramid isn't dangerous unless the players do something foolish like reactivate the security system or go into the aqua gym without an environmental suit, but they have no way of knowing that. If they're like most gamers, the players will be paranoid and the GM should play to that. Emphasize the fact that the separated characters can't communicate, throw in a few mysterious alien artifacts, have some of them hear strange noises and see fleeting shadows in the distance (the complex has a number of completely harmless maintenance and cleaning robots to keep the place running; for aesthetic reasons, they're programmed to avoid any living being, but after all these millennia, they're not as fast or as quiet as they once were), play with the holodecks and security stations, etc. Meanwhile, if there are player characters left on the surface, throw in a couple of animal encounters to keep them interested. The players inside should have time to get deeply involved in exploring the complex and, if they so desire, have an opportunity to learn something about the operation of the interface computer.
And then someone back on the ship (they did leave someone back on the ship, right?) detects a vessel of unknown design... closing fast.
The pirate is a 2500-ton ship (see stats and deck plan) similar in size to the Horizon, but built using a more advanced technology. The pirates subsist primarily by raiding lightly armed and unescorted merchant and exploration vessels. Their typical tactic is to use their ship's weapons to intimidate (preferably) or damage (if necessary) the target into submitting to grappling, then sending over the boarders to secure the crew and liberate the cargo and any other valuables on the ship. Once the ship has been looted, its communications systems is smashed and the crew is freed and allowed to continue on their way while the pirates disappear into hyperspace. The pirates are quite prepared to kill and will ruthlessly suppress any resistance, but they are just as happy to avoid getting shot at altogether if the target is cooperative. They didn't come to the Luyten system looking for trouble, though. Instead, they were scouting out a quiet place to use as a base. The presence of the Horizon was simply a stroke of really good luck.
The ship has a crew of 40, including six required to actually fly the ship, one doctor, and 33 combat personnel. Use the pirates on page 85 of Star Strike. The four officers use the Pirate Leader stats; the others are Pirate B. The officers wear AT 16 armored environmental suits; the others wear AT 12 environmental suits. Officers have blast rifles; crew have assault blasters. A couple of pirates have assault stunners instead for those instances when live hostages are desired. Note also that, because of their avian roots, all Evanthans gain +25 to their zero-g maneuvering skill.
The Pirates were not expecting to find the Horizon, but their eyes lit up with credit signs the second it appeared on their scanners. Although they were disappointed to discover that it appeared lower tech then their own ship, they realize that an intact vessel from a previously unknown alien species is worth a medium-sized fortune—especially if its databanks are intact and a few prisoners are available for interrogation and research purposes. The pirates don't really have the ability take advantage of this themselves, but they can sell the Horizon to those who do. Their initial plan is to take the Horizon, grab a few prisoners—officers, if possible—but not too many to easily control, then maroon the rest of the crew on the first Luyten planet and head home to sell their prize.
Once they realize that there are alien ruins on the planet, things get more complicated. Artifacts, especially from an obviously advanced technology, could be as valuable as the Horizon. Again, the pirates don't have the skills to properly loot the ruins, but they'll quickly figure out that the Horizon's crew does. If possible, they'd like to convince (or force) the Humans to help them loot the pyramids before making off with their ship and a few prisoners.
The pirates will close with the Horizon as rapidly as possible, hoping to get into weapons range before the Horizon figures out that anything is wrong. They will be happy to establish communications ("heave to and prepare to be boarded" in a language nobody on the Horizon can understand), but effective communication is unlikely. They will try to maintain a peaceful image as long as possible, but if the Horizon makes a run for it, takes an offensive posture, tries to send a message out of the system, or even engages in heavy comm traffic with the people on the surface, the pirates will go to a combat posture, arming weapons and jamming the Horizon's communications. Once they get close to the Horizon, they will try to dock and board. If the Horizon evades or locks weapons, the pirates will go into their combat posture. If the Horizon lets them dock, they will send over an armed boarding party to take the crew prisoner and secure the ship. If the Horizon refuses to allow them to dock, the pirates will fire a shot across the bow to try to convince the characters. If the Horizon still resists, they will open fire on it, although their goal is to force the Horizon to surrender without damaging it too severely.
The pirates have conducted numerous successful boarding actions—both opposed and otherwise—in the past and know their business. However, these battles have been against merchants and the occasional private security service. They are not necessarily prepared for combat against a trained military unit, even one operating with inferior equipment, and the players may be able to use this to their advantage. They will be prepared for combat in vacuum, high or low gravity, and the use of intruder-control gas, but not heavy weapons or explosives (which only a fool would use aboard ship). Although used to fighting together, they lack the discipline of a trained military unit. They are also experienced only in ship-to-ship and boarding combat and will be at a distinct tactical disadvantage if forced to fight on the planet's surface.
The gamemaster should also keep in mind that the pirates are motivated by greed, rather than bloodthirstiness. They are prepared to fight and take a few casualties, but live by the ethos that loot isn't any good if you aren't around to spend it. Likewise, it will quickly be obvious to them that, as much as it might be worth to them monetarily, the Horizon is no substitute for their own ship as a pirate vessel, and they won't sacrifice the one to get the other. If things start to go too badly for them, they'll cut their losses, take whatever they've managed to get so far, and run. The Evanthan captain will do what he can to keep any of his crew from getting left behind, but not if it looks like it will cost him his life or his ship. He really wants to take the Horizon with him when he goes but, again, it's not worth dying for.
If the pirates do manage to capture the Horizon, it will take them some time to learn how to operate it. They have skilled pilots, but no linguists and, obviously, no knowledge of English. If they can "convince" some of the Horizon's crew to cooperate, this may speed things up, but only if communications can be established somehow.
If they do manage to establish communications, the pirates aren't above some intimidation and bluffing. The players won't know what they are and the pirates will be happy to pretend to be a Evanthan military expedition or the like. They're not interested in any sort of bribe or future considerations (they know that, since they're wanted criminals in their own space, any favorable trade relations or the like wouldn't survive official contact; even if the Humans gave them amnesty, their own government wouldn't), but they'll gladly take any situational advantage they can use their superior technology to bully the Humans into giving them.
This is really where the GM balances the adventure to take into account the resources available to the players. The pirate ship should be similar in size and capabilities to that of the players, but should be slightly more advanced technologically. It should be faster and more maneuverable than the players' ship; it should have a similar number of guns, but those guns should be more powerful and have longer ranges; and, most importantly, it should be capable of jamming the players' communications. The GM should remember that the ship will be outfitted for piracy, and only carrying equipment that a pirate is likely to be able to obtain, albeit that this equipment is of a more advanced technology than that available to the players. Specialized scientific or military equipment will not be available. Even so, the players' ship is unlikely to be able to stand up to the pirate in a fair fight and running is unlikely to be an option, either.
The crew of the pirate ship should be slightly fewer and of slightly lower level than that of the players' ship. Again, equipment will not be military issue, but their primary means of attack is via boarding action they will have the equipment necessary to conduct this type of assault. Scientific and specialized ground combat equipment will be totally lacking. Regardless of the players' resources, the general comments on the pirates' training, experience, and tactics should apply.
The pirates provide an opportunity to introduce a new alien species into any campaign. GM's should feel free to replace the Evanthans with whatever species or group of species that they wish to introduce (in actual fact, I didn't use the Evanthans when I originally ran this adventure, myself). From a campaign perspective, an important part of this scenario is that the species in question is potentially friendly towards Humanity; however, the players have the bad luck to make first contact with a bunch of criminals, a fact of which they will probably not be aware. Meanwhile, the alien government will probably have no record of the contact at all. The potential implications for second contact, particularly if the players are again involved, should be obvious.
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