A freighter mystery

Chief Engineer’s Personal Log
Stardate 887.8

Why?

Of all the questions that remain unanswered around the recent events, that is the one I keep coming back to. Why blow up an unarmed freighter? The Dubozians say they were chasing pirates, but if they were, why attack a freighter? Even if they thought that the crew were in cahoots with pirates, there’s no justification for blowing up an unarmed ship without warning.

There is something we are missing, and I suspect that whatever it is will be important in the days to come.

The potential influence of ion storms on the Ego extinctions

Balducci, R(a1), T’Laan(a2)

Received: stardate 845.2
Published: Pending

Abstract

A recent ion storm on Ego(1) interacted with previously unexamined rock substrata to produce a form of radiation detrimental to living creatures. The radiation resulted in a variety of rapid-onset mutations, ranging from apparent devolution of advanced life forms to simpler point-mutations in more primitive life forms. In this paper, we will examine the the rock structure and composition, storm conditions and both observed and projected effects upon living creatures, and present an argument on how the radiation may have contributed to the extinction of the Ego civilisation.

Greetings from Thuln

Chief Engineer’s Personal Log
Stardate 837.7

I should not have fired. It has deprived us of crucial information and destroyed any chance we have of understanding how that item came to be aboard the Onik.

But in that moment, all I could think of the face of that Earth First terrorist, of what I did to him, and whether it could happen again.

“Greetings from Thuln”, it had engraved upon it. That much I do remember. Wood and glass, filled with vegetation and the slug oscillating through rainbow colours, and a presence in my head trying to take over.

Did the crewman we found outside the bridge die from fighting against the slug’s control? Or did he succumb and die unaware? Did the one who turned off all the internal systems do it of his own accord?

We will go to Thuln, perhaps not immediately but we will go. The mystery and the potential threat to the Federation demands it.

But I would rather cross the Fire Plains alone at midsummer than venture within 5 light years of that planet.

The River

I heard it first. The deep, distant roar, low and powerful. At first just on the edge of hearing, but louder minute by minute, hour by hour. I knew what it was, what it had to be. The River.

It has no other name, it needs no other name. The myriad streams, creeks, brooks and springs that crisscross our land are but poor imitations of the River, tamed, harnessed and serene.

What could you call a torrent of water, moving faster than a horse could gallop, faster even than a rythan could fly, wide enough that the other side can be but dimly seen even by the sharpest-eyed scout and cutting the land apart as sharply as a knife cuts through cheese?

From the first I heard the roar, it was still three days travel to reach the edge of the River. I had been here once before, as a boy. It’s a rite of passage, to travel to the River and spend three nights on the edge. It hasn’t changed much since then, but I hadn’t expected it to. The River is eternal.

Imagine it, if you can. The woodland thins out, you can smell the water in the air, see the haze, see the moisture on the leaves, hear the deep, visceral roar which blends into a vibration from the ground itself. As you get closer to the River, so the vegetation thins further until the ground is bare rock. Bare rock which suddenly drops away revealing a sheer-sided chasm through which the River flows, its surface easily a spear-throw below the edge. An expanse of water too wide to see across, roaring past, white-flecked and violent carrying debris from lands afar.

And I have to get to the other side.

What can be found in the bookshop

I pushed the bookshop door open, slowly. Not by choice, it was one of those heavy doors that require effort to open. It creaked, as old doors tend to do, and a bell rang deep within the shop.

This was one of those old shops, wood shelves, creaky floors, narrow aisles with books piled everywhere. Knickknacks filled the few empty spaces, an old-style globe of the world here, two candlesticks with melted candles there.  At the end of the aisle, a small alcove held a table and two armchairs, the table covered in still more books. A black cat slept on one of the chairs, oblivious to my presence.

I’ve always loved bookshops with character and this one had character in spades. I almost expected to find a working crystal ball, or a real spell book filed under , that tired plot-point from so many recent stories and movies. But there were no actual spell books, no swirling visions of the past or future, just the best collection of old books and first editions I’d ever seen. By the time I’d finished browsing I had probably half a month’s income worth of books in my pile, and the sun was low in the sky.

It was then I realised I hadn’t seen the owner once since I’d walked in.

I walked towards the back of the shop. “Hello? Is anyone there?” No answer. The counter which held the till, and several precarious piles of books, had no one near it. There was a small door behind it, a door that stood open with a cool blue light coming from it.

I probably should have stayed out, probably should have waited patiently, however it was late and the pile of books was making my arms ache, so I pushed the door open and stepped inside. What I saw there, well, I can’t actually tell you. It would violate the oath I swore, the oath I was forced to swear. Not that I mind to be honest, my new job is a lot more fun than being a legal assistant, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to travel on business and…

Let’s just say that the sky is not the limit. Not for me. Not any longer.

The law of conservation of NPCs

I can’t remember where I first ran across this idea, but I used it way back when I was running a D20 Modern campaign.

The basic idea is, before introducing a new NPC into the game, consider whether an existing NPC which the party has already met will serve. There are a number of advantages to this.

One of the main ones, in my opinion, is that it keeps the cast list for the game small. The fewer important NPCs there are, the easier time the players should have in remembering at least something about each of them. Hopefully.

Another advantage is that it keeps the players wondering. If each adventure has its own NPCs who never reappear, the player are likely to not care much about them or their motives outside of the obvious. When the NPCs start showing up in later adventures, especially if there’s no obvious link between the two adventures, at least some of the players are likely to be curious as to why this NPC has shown up again. It’s worth noting that you, as the DM, don’t actually need to have an explanation as to why the NPC is showing up again, if the players get curious they’ll start theorising. Just take the theory which you like the best and pretend that was what you planned all along. There’s a good chance they’ll be ecstatic that they figured out your plans and outwitted you. Just don’t tell them the truth 🙂

One last advantage, one I quite favour at this point in time: It reduces the amount of work the DM has to do. That’s always a good thing.

The art and science of having the villain get away

In many forms of table-top role-playing games there’s an unspoken contract between the DM and players. The player-characters will defeat (or sometimes fail to defeat) or overcome (or sometimes fail to overcome) a nemesis. Even when the players are playing evil characters, there are nemeses to defeat, whether those nemeses also be evil characters or whether they be the do-gooder paladin types.

When it comes down to a battle, players are not well-known for showing mercy to their opponents, especially if they have reason to dislike the opponents, perhaps because he’s beaten the players before, perhaps because he’s taunted and mocked them, perhaps because of something in the back story. Whatever it is, it’s unlikely (well, at least for the players that I know and have roleplayed with) that when their nemesis is at their mercy, they’ll let him go.

What then, when the nemesis needs to get away, so that he can do the ‘So, we meet again, Mr Bond’ type encounter?

Well first, what not to do:

DM: As you start to draw your knife across his throat, the mage reaches into a pocket, pulls out a wand, mutters a complex spell and vanishes.

The players are likely to feel cheated, and rightly so. Especially if it happens more than once.

If the nemesis needs to get away, plan the encounter around that fact. Plan an exit route into the encounter from the start. Maybe the fight is on top of a sky scraper and a helicopter snatches the bad guy away. Maybe the encounter is next to a fast-flowing river that the ‘defeated’ nemesis can fall into. Maybe there’s a zip line, an elevator down to a getaway car., a contingency spell in place, etc

Whatever route is chosen, the players should feel like they had a chance of victory, if *that one roll* had gone better, it they’d realised the implications of the signal lights, if they’d had someone downstream, etc, etc. Not cheated that the victory was taken from them with nothing that they could do about it.

And if the players do manage a complete victory despite all the preparations. Well then maybe it’s an opportunity for a different scene:

You killed my Master! Prepare to die!

The icy wasteland

Kealan gazed down across the ice-covered plain. The sun, hanging just low on the horizon cast exaggerated shadows across the land leaving the plain mottled bright and dark. The wind had died hours earlier and the silence was so profound that it almost sang. To Kealan, it sang with the voices of his friends, his colleagues, his son.

How many had died that day? How many had been driven out to die in the icy wastes to the north? How many had survived only to live each day in fear of been found, of been betrayed, sold out to an enemy that would stop at nothing to ensure that the Seers were no more.

He could remember that day as if it were just yesterday. There had been no warning, no clues, no hints, no indications of any attack, planned or otherwise. It was that the was the hardest to swallow. For a group of people who dedicated their lives to reading the shape of the future to have seen no signs of an attack against them was a travesty, a betrayal of what they were. Had She abandoned them?

Three months ago it would have been blasphemy to have thought that, but today, Kealan was past caring. When he closed his eyes he could still see the dragons swooping down upon the stronghold, riders dressed in a uniform he didn’t recognise. He could still smell the stench of burning flesh; he could still hear the screams of those caught in the dragonfire.

They should have seen it coming, but they had believed that they were above the petty warring of two nations. “She shows us what will be,” the elders had said, again and again, “If they were planning an attack against us, we would know. They will not dare to move against Her chosen.” That certainty had not saved them. The elders had been the first to die.

Kealan pulled his hood up and set out slowly across the ice sheet. Somewhere there was a place of safety. Somewhere.