Scum & Villainy War Story #3: Ren Faire and New Frenemies.
Stuff got weird in our Scum & Villainy game last night, guys. Now, it might’ve been because I spent the entire day uncaffeinated and was working on nothing in my system but a quart of Cranberry kombucha from the Farmer’s Market. It might’ve also been because I’ve been brewing up stuff for Dungeons and Dragons and so the fantasy pastiche is still very much on my mind. Whatever the case may be, there was a little more fantasy in our science fantasy last night than I think my players were really expecting.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let’s do this right.
When last we left the crew of the Alleged Ship, they were on Warren, having dropped off the revolutionary firebrand and sometimes arsonist, Reggie Shu, at Cobalt Syndicate headquarters. There was a little bit of downtime as everyone blew off a little steam in the ecumenopolis and bright shining center of Procyon civilization. But no sooner had the opening credits finished their crawl and the theme music died away than we’re in a tight spot. See, we’d earned a crew advancement on that last run, so we had a discussion about what kind of upgrades we wanted to take.
They still don’t have a bounty-hunting license, guys. Instead, they decided to spring for a galley for the fresh-food and morale on long journeys into the depths of the Procyon sector. Cool. Makes sense. Turning the Alleged Ship into a home is a worthy goal. The other one, though.
The crew decides on obtaining a recon drone. Having a mobile drone that they can use to surveil targets or scope out locations, provide overwatch and all, is never a bad idea. But I ask the question of where they get this doohickey and Tycho gives me a smile. He’s a Warren native, so I ask if he’s got a guy. He says he does, but to hear him out.
Turns out, his enemy among his contacts is a money-lender named Nyx. He pitches a scene where we’re carting groceries back to the ship and we notice that we’ve got a tail. I ask Bastien, our mechanic, what kind of drone this is. He describes something like a vectored-thrust SR-71 styled, slick black autonomous spyplane. It’s got a little sensor ball on a gimbal with a variety of recording devices…all told, I’ve got a picture of a stealth-jet that shagged BB-8. According to Bastien, “Like a spyplane, but y’know, kinda endearing.” And it’s following our crew, keeping to alleys and the high ground.
Kronico, our pilot, shoots first in true Han Solo fashion and downs this thing. Tycho scampers over the make sure it’s not still phoning home and finds out that this little thing was sending data back to Nyx. Tycho racked up an impressive debt to the moneylender, and it stands to reason that he’s looking to collect. He plays dumb, keeping his cards close to his chest. The crew knows they’ve got someone interested in keeping tabs on them, but they aren’t yet sure who…but hey, free drone!
Mink is posted up by the comm console, watching cute puppy videos while the excitement happens, as she’s been known to do. She’s in the midst of a good one with a Corgi who’s just discovered his reflection when the comm beeps. They’ve got a voice message. As she patches through the vid, Kronico walks in with an armload of groceries. Just in time to witness some weirdness.
It’s a weird galaxy and you’ve seen a goodly bit of its weirdness. You weren’t ready for this. The gentleman who left the message looks like a relic from another time. He’s dressed in a shined chrome body-shell, angled to deflect blows and blaster-bolts. His hair is long and braided, a match for his pointed beard and waxed mustache. He wears a crimson cloak, and you can see the hilt of a sword at his side. Now, that’s all strange, but when he opens his mouth…
“Good morrow, good gentles. I wouldst offer my thanks for viewing this message. I was given thy contact codes by a mutual friend, and wouldst have discourse at Quayside 9, Warren when sun hath reached its zenith. It mayst be so that thou art just the band of heroes that I need.”
This guy is a Concordiat Knight, one of about a dozen questing knights given investiture by the Hegemonic Church to go and find the Space Holy Grail…the Light of the Universe. Basically, they’re Arthurian Knights who gather adventuring parties to go and seek a crazy powerful Precursor Artifact. But he’s got a job, and the crew of the Alleged Ship need some quick cred, so they’re willing to deal with a Space LARPer.
The meeting goes down, and the details are exchanged. Sir Cyril the Just has just had his squire, a former Martian Marine named Annabelle, formerly Angela, run off with a map which leads to the next clue to the Light of the Universe. Sir Cyril wants the crew to track her down, and bring both her and the map back to him. She has not yet won her spurs and is not an anointed Concordiat Knight…she has no business going ahead without her master. Tycho and Bastien aren’t really enthused about bringing this woman back to what we find out has been 12 years of apprenticeship and servitude. But 6 credits are on the line, and they negotiate 2 creds in advance.
They get a bunch of aliases and biographical data to help them in their search, but at its heart they really only know that Annabelle is heading from Warren to Vos, since that was where Cyril says the map is leading. They figure it’d be good to gather some information before we smash-cut to action.
Tycho goes and hits up his information broker, Ora. She sets up the meet in one of the urban green spaces in the middle habs of Warren. She’s playing both sides of a game of chess and invites Tycho to take over the winning side. The conversation is brief, because Ora is a busy woman, constantly reaching down to silence her comm throughout the conversation. Tycho gets two big pieces of information: Annabelle is going to be interceptible at two locations along her route, the Rin->Holt Hypergate and the Vos docking station…no non-guild vessels are allowed to descend to the planet’s surface. Also, as the game plays out, Ora scans the dossier on Annabelle and begins reading between the line. The woman was a Martian Marine, and has been held as a squire to Cyril the stuffshirt for 12 years. She’s looking to earn her spurs and jump the line rather than wait for Cyril to decide that she’s ready. She’s hoping to humiliate her employer.
Meanwhile, Bastien is doing some hacking. He pulls up geotags and purchase histories on the Warren darkweb and finds out that Annabelle has been making a lot of purchases…a lot of dangerous purchases. Military grade weapons, survival gear, personal vehicles. It’s more than a single person on a hare-brained expedition would need. She’s outfitting a crew of her own. He also keeps seeing another name pop up alongside hers. Rosencrantz.
Kronico bets that its a ship, and so he puts in a vid-call with one of his mechanic buddies. On the down-low he has this buddy scan the hyperspace register for the name Rosencrantz.
“This is weird, man,” he says pecking at his console with a frown. “I’ve got the drive sig, and it’s collated with the name Rosencrantz, but it’s not squawking to any station right now. I don’t have location, I don’t have filed flightplan, I don’t have last port, I don’t have docking permissions at any…this is black flag, Kronico. You hunting pirates?”
The plot thickens.
We decide that is a good place to start thinking about how we want to handle the job. Some thought is spared for a peaceable solution: “Hey, so your boss hired us to come and nab you, but he’s a ponce. Wanna split the treasure?” We decide that it isn’t the way to go, trying to get a pirate knight to cut us in on the treasure. That leaves stealth or assault, really. We can sneak along and wait for an opportune time to nab her, or we can set an ambush.
Mink really wants to do the frontal assault in space, in true Errol Flynn swinging across on a grappling tether with a dagger in the teeth style. Everyone else isn’t so sanguine. Turns out the Rosencrantz is a frigate, and they’ve got a glorified freighter. The Alleged Ship is technically a patrol craft, lightly armed and lightly armored. Kronico even asked if they had a chance of finding a blindspot in the ships defenses, but his gather info basically told him that the battle-plan for that was basically “fly fast and hope they miss a lot.” They decide to make contact when Annabelle and company hit Vos.
We determine that the crew is packing pretty heavy for the trip, since the planet is really a giant crystal world that isn’t terribly amenable to human life. When we roll engagement, we start in a risky position, and we smash to the action.
We’re treated to a shot of this massive pirate frigate docking with the ring station as our team hastily makes up an excuse as to why their little patrol craft has business on this crystalline planet awash in Guild controlled mining operators and private prospectors. Some transmitted falsified documents and some implied connections to Hegemony military exercises has our crew only about an hour behind the fleeing squire.
On the dropship ride down to the surface, the team assays the other folks riding down to the surface. They ask if there is anyone that sticks out half as much as our crew of scoundrels and their battle-rattle. Unsurprisingly, there are. Four guys who carry themselves like prior or active military, and toting a couple of dufflebags full of…well, we don’t know. But Tycho implies that there might be a puppy in there, so Mink scrutinizes. This draws the attention of the maybe-mercs. Some banter ensues and it ends with the bombshell. “Did the Concordiat set you guys up on this job, too?”
Damn. We’re not the only ones after the target.
Our heroes play it off. Nah, just rockhounds. Particularly lumpy rockhounds, packing enough hardware to be suspicious. The mercs aren’t convinced, but if they don’t have to split the money then so much the better.
Bastien notices that they’re all rigged with comm-beads and immediately wants to hack them. He gets a mixed success and decides between the following options:
- The link is going to be tenuous, and the signal might break up if you get too far away from them. But they won’t know you’ve done it.
- The link is going to result in some annoying feedback for these mercs, and when they finally investigate, they’ll discover the source of the intrusion.
- You’ll need someone to plant a transmitter on these guys, or on something that will always be within three feet of them.
Bastien opts to let Tycho try his hand with some fancy skulking. It is touch and go, turning into a conversation at the chartering desk for ground transportation. He gets the comm-patch on one of the shave-heads, but it’s tenuous and won’t last for long.
Good news is that it’s not a problem. Because we get a quick cut-away to a sniper taking aim at the shuffle that’s going on at the ticket counter across the landing apron. “I have five hunters in the open, advise when able.” A female voice replies, “Damn. I thought we had more time. Take the shot.”
Tycho spends some stress to extricate himself from the situation before bullets start flying. Our heroes find some cover, but the shave-heads aren’t so lucky. One of them gets gutshot and goes down. The mercs produce weapons and begin returning fire. Kronico starts to charge across the apron, dodging from cover to cover, narrowly avoiding being perforated. Bastien gets his drone in the air to provide eyes in the sky, and maybe some distraction.
Mink surprises me. These guys don’t have a puppy, sure, but there’s still a medical emergency, and under the synth-skin, she’s a surgical drone. Over she comes, cool as you please, and drops to a knee. “I’ve got this. Provide cover.” The shavehead spots her Hegemonic Med-Corps pin and goes weapons free, trusting in the puppy-obsessed synth to save his buddy.
Bastien makes a discovery as his drone buzzes the sniper nest. It’s un-occupied. The sniper left the big gun on a hydraulic tripod with a proximity sensor. Bastien’s thoughts of using his drone to take out a sniper quickly become a hacking roll. With a critical success, he manages not only to shut down the drone-sniper cannon, but also to get it to phone home to its operator. He’s got their network at his disposal, and gets to ask a question to represent the knowledge that he gets before the cannon goes off-line. He asks the obvious: Where are they going? He gets coordinates outside of the major settlement and off the grid, out in the crystal wasteland of Vos.
Then he does something I wasn’t expecting. He transmits to not only his team, but also the shave-heads. “Cannon’s offline, I’ve got a fix on our target. Let’s talk.”
There’s some conversation about throwing in together. The shaveheads were indeed contracted by the Concordiat Knights, but not by Sir Cyril. Their patron is Sir Torquewell the Bloodyminded. The job is still the same, find the girl, bring her back, and bring the map that she stole as well. Torquewell wants to subvert his rival’s apprentice and use the map to get one step ahead. The pay looks better, though, and other bounty hunters, licensed through the guild are willing to cut our heroes in on the profit. Otherwise, they’re just as happy to have the fight over who brings in the quarry once they’ve got her firmly in hand.
Needless to say, the four-by-four dune-buggy ride through the crystal wasteland is rather tense.
The coordinates lead deep into the wastes, and night falls as we approach our target. The crystals, carbonaceous outcroppings of diamond and other gems thrusting out of the alien landscape, begin to glow with a soft phosphorescence. The ziggurat of black glass in the distance, however, does not.
This is a Precursor ruin, our first glimpse of weird stuff in this space opera. There’s a little ripple of excitement that goes through the group. Finally, some aliens and space magic.
See, Bastien did me a favor. He took an advance at character creation called “Visions.” While the advance gives him the ability to remote view things ala force ghost-esque astral projection, we’ve had conversations about it, and I kind of love the beginning of mystery moves in Monster of the Week. I kind of like to snatch cool stuff from systems like that. So I ask him, “Hey Bastien, what do the Precursors in your head show you when you look at this ruin.”
I get a little bit of stunned silence, so I rephrase. “Hey, Bastien, what was this place? Give me a little prompt and we’ll flesh it out.”
He takes a second to deliberate, then decides that this was a crystal refinery. Vos is a mining world, valuable largely for the giant crystal formations and rich mineral resources. It only stands to reason that the Precursors valued it for much the same thing. I turn to Kronico, “What were the crystals used for?” He says that they were power sources. I ask Tycho, “What made them dangerous?” Tycho decides that the crystals gave off a radiation that was mutagenic for anything biological. Then I asked Mink, “What happened here? Why did the Precursors abandon the facility?” She thought for a moment before deciding on homegrown terrorism. Someone decided that the benefits of weird crystal power wasn’t worth the crazy mutations and deadly radiation. So, going around the table, we built a crystalline energy source refinery probably awash in mutagenic radiation that was destroyed by an eco-terrorist uprising. We can work with that.
Bastien, as you first lay eyes on the Precursor ruin, you find yourself drifting out of your body. Instead, as the tunnel vision recedes, you are walking through a corridor of black glass. You reach out with a three-fingered hand and a scanning port that you did not see glows a phosphorescent blue. The wall slides back, revealing an orrery of crystals which float in the middle of a cavernous room. The light in here is blinding. You see a strange creature, all radiating limbs and waving cilia working at a console. When he notices you, it seems as though he releases a cloud of color. You’re not sure how you understand it, but the meaning comes through clearly. “It must be stopped.” With a definitive movement, it rolls its hands across the console and the background hum of the vibrating crystals reaches a crescendo. You know that you should be terrified, but you are only fascinated as spaghetti-thin microns of your body stretch toward the orbiting crystals, drawn in by the gravity of their dread radiance.
Then you are in the same room, though much later. A fine layer of silica dust covers everything, the ancient consoles no longer flickering with multicolored radiance. Instead, a woman in carapace armor sweeps a gloved hand over the dust, clearing a space. She unrolls a parchment map and traces runes with an armored finger. “This place is made of secrets. We’ll find them.”
Next week, we’ll have to see what kind of secrets our quarry is looking to uncover. We know that she’s working with some bad hombres and that ruin is looking powerfully dangerous in its own right. Stress is mounting, an uneasy alliance with professional bounty hunters has been brokered, and we’ve miles to go before we collect our payday. Tune in next time, and we’ll find out if the crew of the Alleged Ship manages to get a little less poor, or if they uncover some fresh hell to deal with.