Scum & Villainy Warstory #6: Death Race 2600

It occurs to me that I should probably learn how to use the scheduling features of this site before I make promises to have content auto-publish on a set schedule, otherwise I’m absolutely going to look like a fool when it inevitably fails to post when I say it will. That’s kind of the problem with having never done this kind of thing before. My wife was kind enough to set up the website and give me a platform to post this stuff, but I’m still very much learning as I go along.

Secret projects are in the offing, the first free adventure is almost ready for primetime, Low-Fantasy Campaign Pitches will be done this week, I’ve got a write-up about Blades in the Dark on the way, the next volume of the Company of the Chain is nearing completion, and overall it’s looking like the blog is on the grow. We’ve been setting site records for the past week. You wild-folks gave the site 800 views last week. Now I may be new at this, but that’s insane! Who’s been telling their friends? You guys are awesome.

Enough small talk?

You’re here to read about how the Scum & Villainy went, and I’ve got good news. There was scum, there was villainy, and we had a ripping high-stakes pirate-sponsored demolition derby through the Rin sector with a piece of unstable and dangerous Precursor tech as the grand prize.

When Last We Left Our Heroes (?)

The crew of the Qurious Quark just did a good turn for their pals in the Wreckers and got their ship fitted with some shiny new tech and a flashy new paintjob in return for saving the Wreckers’ ur-bot pal, R4T-CH3T, from a derelict hulk that had been commandeered by those arms-dealing black-marketeers, the Janus Syndicate. They’d picked up a time-lost Hegemonic Marine who’d been frozen in stasis for eighty years from the wreck as well, and they added Corporal Hix as a crew-contact. If they ever need to know anything about the way the sector was back during the Syndicate Wars, or a solid gunhand, they know a guy, and he owes them one.

We roleplayed a quick scene where Hix left ship at a Wrecker station out in Brekk. He told them that he needed some time to get his feet under him and collect his backpay, maybe look up any family that he had left. Mink was a little peeved that he was leaving, as she had to monitor him for lingering effects of stasis sickness as he was still technically her patient. I think she was really just a little miffed that she didn’t have a shiny new gun minion to order around. But comm-codes and goodbye-for-now’s are exchanged and the crew gets back on the newly painted Qurious Quark.

The Comm is blinking. It’s the Vorex, the notorious information broker that our crew has history with. The Vorex, appearing as a modulated sinewave form on the Comm rather than a full-motion hologram like all of their other contacts, tells the crew about a high-profile theft from the Starless Veil–think interstellar Ian Fleming-style MI6 complete with double-0 agents. The Veil was apparently testing a piece of bleeding edge technology, and someone snatched it before testing was complete. It’s been donated from an anonymous source as a prize in an upcoming Echo Wave Rider race scheduled to take place in the Rin System. The crew’s mission, should they choose to accept it, is to proceed to The Cove, a notorious pirate haven, make contact with LaHeal the race coordinator, enter, and win the piece of technology so that the Vorex can smooth over the incident without the Starless Veil increasing their presence in the Procyon Sector. The Vorex will owe them a favor, and that kind of favor is really mighty. As a single individual, The Vorex is a Tier IV organization. They outmass the 51st Legion, the cops of the Sector.

The crew chooses to accept it. They make best speed to the Cove, Kronico has a bad feeling about this, and Mink starts practicing her best pirate accent.

To the Cove

The Cove is situated in a whorl of dangerous asteroids in the middle of a nebula that plays merry hell with sensors. It’s a dangerous area, even if you’re expected. It would be, anyway, if you didn’t have an ace-pilot at the wheel. Kronico has been here before on previous jobs, and he manages to get through a story of deals gone wrong as he threads between asteroids. He warns that the Cove is probably a lot different than the rest of his crew is expecting. Gunships appear from the depths of the nebula before he can explain exactly how. The Vorex, luckily, has smoothed the way, and the Cove interrogates their transponder rather than greeting them with a hail of particle cannon fire.

“Yar, who be ye to dare entry to the Cove, domain of the Dread Queen Banshee Ryle?” comes the crackling hail from across the twisting maelstrom.

Tycho deadpans a look at Kronico. “Did he just ‘Yar’ us?”

“They have to make sure we’re illegitimate!” says Mink, and we fall into about four unbroken minutes of laughter.

The Crew answers the gunship sentries’ questions to their satisfaction and are given clearance to dock. They’re on the Vorex’s business, their entry fee has already been paid, they just need a place to do some last minute preparation before the race. They’re guided through the Maelstrom and to the giant hollowed meteor that the pirates of the sector call The Cove. The Qurious Quark settles into the docking bay on plumes of thruster exhaust, looking out over the Sector’s most dangerous theme park.

A titanic holographic Captain Hook, complete with frock coat, hook hand, bucket boots, and plumed hat is directing crews of mechanics, armorers, and techs about the docking bay. All of these crews are also dressed like Disney pirates. They are singing jaunty songs, they are wearing cutlasses and cutoff pants, and they are noticeably drunk.

I made a choice here. See, the Scum & Villainy book has a much grimmer and grittier take on the Ashtari Cloud and the Cove that’s situated therein. But we just came out of a long-running Blades in the Dark ghostpunk grit-fest, so this campaign is more rollicking adventure and theme-of-the-week shenanigans. I asked at the outset how gritty we wanted to take the campaign in our session zero, and I got leave to lean into the silly from time to time. That’s a good lesson to take away. Not everyone would enjoy taking the Maelstrom pirates and turning them into the Pirates of Penzance. My players loved it.

They slipped into the gathering information phase pretty seamlessly, talking to anyone they could corner. Apparently, Captain Hook, the Dockmaster came with the place. The place was once a mining station and the controlling AI was a gruff and burly 19th century miner when they took over the asteroid. Over the past ten years he’s decided that the place needs to be pirate-ier. If the dock-working pirates aren’t in character, he’ll alternately bawl them out, shut off the lights, or vent the atmosphere. It’s just easier to appease the Dockmaster, and Banshee Ryle, the Pirate Queen, thinks it’s hilarious.

The crew splits up to seek out some useful information rather than local color. Kronico goes to scope out the competition, Tycho goes to figure out what the prize actually is, and Mink goes to find the local Echo Wave Riders to see what the event is all about. A race doesn’t sound pirate-y enough to her. But unfortunately, they get only the barest information necessary to prepare themselves.

Kronico notes a couple of non-Maelstrom ships that might be their primary competition, but aside from hull-types and names, he doesn’t get anything that’s overly useful. But they look like they’ve got flashier paint, and a couple are obviously armed. The Quark is a flat, matte green with black racing stripes. It has a grappling hook launcher. Kronico assures the crew that she’s got it where it counts, though. No problem.

Tycho gets himself embroiled in a nice pirate-y game of Liar’s Dice and manages to shift the conversation to the prize at the end of the rainbow for our heroes. The pirates that he’s tossing the bones with don’t know exactly what the thing is–propulsion drive, sensor suite, something like that– but they know that it’s Precursor tech and it’s been handed over to the Mishar. Not a Mishar. The Mishar.

This requires a little explanation. Mishar are a species of Xeno that inhabit the Procyon sector with the humans, like the Sc’Ree, the Mem, the Kobarians, and the Tuanwei. These guys, though, are universally talented psychics who believe themselves to be either an evolution of the Precursors, or genetically engineered and life-seeded by the Precursors. They think that they are destined to inherit the legacy of this fallen civilization. Who better to figure out what the thing is and what it can do, right?

The Mishar has a small Precursor-worshipping Cult on the Cove, and that starts pinging alarm bells with Tycho, so he gracefully exits the game and tries to find the rest of the crew.

Mink, meanwhile has found an Echo Wave Rider gambling den. They’re watching a scrimmage race on big wall-mounted monitors, eating nachos, and shotgunning beers. She gets a crashcourse in Echo Wave Riding. There are apparently three different kinds of events and tomorrow’s is what’s called a “Bust-Up.” It was supposed to be a “Whip,” a straight point to point sprint, but the Fist of Lor-Mah a Tuanwei corvette and late entry, demanded that they change the event. As a previous champion, it was within their rights to change the parameters of the race, and no one’s terribly happy about it.

Tycho finds Mink, talking to the people who remembered the pink-haired unconvincing humanoid medical bot, and pounds on the door with a blessed lack of guile. A forest of guns threatening from over an overturned couch greets him as the Wave Riders trigger the door remotely. Mink pops up over the couch and introduces Tycho to her new “homies.”

2 Quark 2 Qurious

We regroup, swap info, and go looking for the Mishar. We find his apprentice, a human demagogue who assures the crew that the Mishar is very busy. As Tycho gets to grifting, it becomes clear that the Mishar is out finding what exactly “the device” does. It also becomes clear that the purpose of tomorrow’s race is testing the aforementioned device. The plot, sufficiently thickened, the crew elects to make their engagement role and get to the demolition derby.

The race is not a friendly one. Our crew through a lot of canny maneuvering, golden-tongued deals in the middle of space-racing, and quick maneuvering with systems that totally shouldn’t be used as they were, the Qurious Quark, renamed the Queen Mink’s Revenge in honor of the pirate race, all but manages to secure the first-place finish. The Deep Queen, a Memish freighter with an aftermarket missile launcher tried to blow them out of the sky. Pursuit Overtake, a Sc’Ree blockade runner tried to outmaneuver them, but our pilot was gutsy enough to win a game of chicken with the hypercapitalist Shrew creatures, and they were last seen floating toward Warren without engine power. The Sig F=MA, (pronounced Sig Feema), an experimental Kobarian sloop with a cloaking device nearly ended the Queen Mink’s Revenge’s run but with a jamming roll, the crew managed to divert weapons fire from the Fist of Lor-Mah toward the Kobarian ship and destroy it.

All was looking fantastic. They were so far ahead of the competition that there was no way the Tuanwei battlebarge could catch them, and the gap was opening. That is until the Fist of Lor-Mah started charging a coherence cannon. This capital class weapon threatened to swat them out of the air. The cannon’s only got one shot, but that’s more than enough to turn the Queen Mink’s Revenge to atoms. It seems like a no-win. They’re unarmed, too far away to get out of firing position, and in a wide swath of empty space without cover. It looks like the end.

But this is Scum & Villainy. Kronico floats the idea of a flashback, but doesn’t have the stress to pull it off. Tycho asks what he needs. It all comes down not letting that ship fire, and Kronico knows that Coherence Cannons are specifically cited in the rulebook as being, and here I quote page 120 of the Scum & Villainy hardcopy, “Super not legal.” Tycho flashes back to an anonymous tip to the 51st Legion, the sector’s lawdogs. It’s a two-stress flashback and it requires a roll that Tycho passes with flying colors.

As if on cue, a 51st frigate slides out of slipspace and flashes the metaphorical lights on the Fist of Lor-Mah. Queen Mink’s Revenge punches it and leaves the whole scene eating wake. There’s a lot of high-fiving and unpeeling fingers from the control yoke.

Kronico sets them down in the hanger and Mink’s homies come rushing up like they just won the World Series. Racing jargon is exchanged and more high-fives go around. Kronico gets an Echo Wave Riders victory pin to display on his flight jacket for being such a stone-cold stick-jock. Mink collects on the hefty bet she placed on the Queen Mink’s Revenge. Tycho asks about their grand prize, and Banshee Ryle herself appears behind them and answers that the Mishar vanished half-way through the race. Not cloaked. No jump. Vanished.

The winner’s purse plus the hefty cred-take from the betting makes for a fat payday, and all of the telemetry and information that the Mishar was sending back is turned over to the crew along with an apology for the Vorex. The crew can start a long-term clock to track down the Mishar, if they want to pursue that lead. In fact, the Vorex promises to smooth over the crew’s problems with the Counter’s Guild, a Tier IV banking monopoly if they track down the ship and the strange xeno psychic.

The crew considers this, but looking at their warchest and how close they just came to dying right then, they demur. They’ll get onto it whenever they can. For right now? They want shields. They almost got turned into space-dust. Also, a weapon that can return fire when the going gets tough. This race has showed the crew of the Mink’s Revenge that they might have a fast ship, but it’s got some big deficiencies if running away alone isn’t going to cut it.

But, how they go about finding the “Watermelon Banana Hammock,” the iconic weapon system that makes the Alleged Ship a power in the verse is a story for next week.

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