Ashen Stars and Space Psychopaths

Late last year I bought a physical copy of Ashen Stars, the space opera investigative game by Robin Laws, published by Pelgrane Press.
I had a surplus of money, and it’s a good game.
Brent.

This obviously resulted in me running a short game.

My group statted some characters, and I knocked up a quick mission brief.
The three PCs that ended up playing were:

Hamash, a Durugh Mapper and Wrench
KLC-CHK, a Kch-Thk Blood-redeemer, Chopper and StratCo
Dax Lego, a Human Techo and Gunnar

My briefing idea was fairly simple – stop an illegal gun running ring, and confiscate the contraband.
Here follows my session plans and notes.

Ashen Stars contract #1 – The Weapons Stash
The Contract: You’ve been hired Direct from the Combine, not up for open tender.
Criminal gangs across The Bleed have gained access to restricted Combine military weapons, possibly from The War. Find out who is selling these weapons, and stop them. Find the source of the weapons and return them directly to the Combine on Ossa One.

The Twist: The weapons have been salvaged from a war era crash site, where a Combine freighter and Mohilar warship collided.
The salvagers have raided the Combine wreckage, but have not been able to comprehend, much less approach, the Mohilar wreckage.

Backstory:

Wreckage located in the Scylla Outzone – both ships collided with a small moon (surrounded by other smaller moons. A moon cluster, or localised asteroid field. Moon orbits an Ashen Star. Interferes with long range scanners, communications and navigation, making the moon cluster difficult to spot, and difficult to navigate to.

Weapons are advanced Disruption Rifles and Grenades, same stats as normal, but can be overcharged to do +2 damage for d6 shots (rifles only, grenades at just badass).
An overcharged rifle has a chance of overheating and blowing up after each charged shot. If the damage rolled on the dice is a 6, the weapon explodes for +2 damage.

The Combine (or Lasers employed by the Combine) have tracked a group of Militants who used the illegal weapons during an insurrection on a mining community in the Quirinal Cluster.

They have directed the investigation to a grey market trading port on the Messina

Encounter 1: In Media Res – subduing the Militants

The lasers have the drop on the Militants, and gave them the sporting chance to surrender. The Militants went for their Disruptors.
Pew pew.

Leader = Bred Nougat.

Militants x3
Abilities: Athletics 6, Health 6, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 2,
Shooting 8
Scuffling Weapons/Damage: Fritz-Baton +1
Shooting Weapons/Damage: Disruption Pistol +1, Disruption
Grenades (3), Crick-Cracker, Distractor Beam.
Hit Threshold: 3
Typical Tech: Disguiser, Tether, Rosetta Chip; (Cybernetics) none; (Viroware) none
Alertness Modifier: -1
Stealth Modifier: +1
Savvy Modifier: -1


Interrogation of Militants

  • Interrogation – Gets the location of the Arms Dealers – Messina Station, near the edge of the Quirinal Cluster. They didn’t ask names, though. Smart, see. Needle in a haystack, innit.
  • Forensic Accounting – Trace the payment transaction through to a cash and loan terminal on Messina Station.
  • Respect – By feigning sympathy and respect for the Militants cause (something about water rights and marrying cousins, you’re not sure), the Militants get a bit more chatty and give you the name of a bar on Messina Station.

Encounter 2: Messina Station
The Lasers must find the weapons traders that the militants bought their weapons from.

Messina station is a crowded port, with minimal taxes, minimal security and maximum free trade. It considers itself a ‘grey port’, in that it doesn’t have any truck with super immoral trade. It reckons.

In the bustling port and market place, there are a number of people to speak to: Patrol Cops, Traders, Officials, Consumers, Drunks, Criminals, and the Homeless

  • Downside – Finding some ne’er do wells will give you a lead on non-combine approved arms trader – Go to The Jagger’s Arms Bar and ask for Scarewolf
  • Cop Talk – Lasers can find out that the local patrol walks past the Star Side port with their eyes closed, if you know what I mean. 1 Point Spend – The Patrol are on the take (obvs) and have been paid off by the Landlord of The Jagger’s Arms (A Balla called Omwi BarleyMalt). The main drive here is ‘this is our revenue stream, so don’t get involved, yeah’
  • Bullshit Detector – That is not a genuine [whatever the trader is selling], but that [other item] is, although it definitely did not have one previous owner. Will get a one time offer of a 25% discount if you do one.
  • Cybe Culture – Can be used to track down Scarewolf, and find out about his implants

Encounter 3: The Jagger’s Arms

The players may have been expecting a Mos Eisley-esque hive of scum and villainy. The Jagger’s Arms is a pleasant, if pretentious wine bar. Light piano plays in the corner. There is a mix of authentic wooden beams and neon. The drinks are all eye-wateringly expensive.

The barstaff on duty are:

Togud – a Tavak. Togud invites all new patrons to tell him a story of their travels or homeworld, and will surreptitiously knock a few credits off their first drink if they do. She is friendly, and dreams of one day travelling the stars, seeing the sights of the Bleed, and dispensing frontier justice, like her mother.
Togud is open to Flattery and Inspiration, and will happily share the stories of everyone else in the bar if so engaged.

Prch-Shk – a Kch-Thk. Prch-Shk takes food orders, and recommends everything “I know what you’re thinking… it sounds amazing. And it is!! I had three yesterday.” Also gives overly technical descriptions “It’s reptile ovulations, boiled, and then mixed with plant oil and tree resin. Mmmmm”.
Prch-Shk buys supplies in for The Jagger’s Arms, and often trades with the patrons that pass through. He can point out who trades in what, and how reasonable they are. He can be accessed with Downside and Negotiation and Reassurance.

Omwi Barleymalt – Omwi resides in the back office, and will only come out if specifically requested. He glides when he moves, and has an absolute absence of odour. He speaks circuitously, and will dodge any question that doesn’t pertain to the immediate services offered by his establishment. If anyone can use Forensic Accountancy on him, though, he’ll sing like a canary.

Scarewolf – An imposing, military build Cybe, sat in a booth at the back by himself. He is sipping a soda water with a slice of lemon. His eyes are constantly moving, tracking every patron as they move around the bar.

As the Lasers try to engage him, he’ll ask them who gave them his name. If they say ‘Bred Nougat’, then he’ll entertain them. Otherwise [Han Solo shooting Greedo.gif] pew pew….

Abilities: Athletics 8, Ground Craft 6, Health 6, Medic 6, Preparedness 6, Scuffling 6, Shooting 10, [Shipboard A] 10, [Shipboard B] 4
Scuffling Weapons/Damage: Claws +2 (Insureshield)
Shooting Weapons/Damage: Disruption Pistol +1, Arc Zapper, Aversionizer, Crick-Cracker, Beaconator, Distractor Beam, Stockholmer

Hit Threshold: 4 (5 with Deflector)
Typical Tech: (Comms) Personal Bluffer, Transmit Modder, Tether, Rosetta Chip; (Cybernetics) Autonomic Avenger, Amper, Berserker, Handgun, Internal Headset, Popclaws; (hand held) Espresser, Deflector, Holomask, Popper (2), (Viroware) Aggravator, Chameleon, Mr. Grey, Regenerate, Snakehisser, Scrambleface Ultra, Thirdeye
Alertness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +1
Savvy Modifier: +1

If the Lasers talk to Scarewolf, he’ll respond to Flattery, Negotiation and/or Respect.

If they have to fight him, then they need to use Interrogation, Intimidation and/or Law.

But what info does Scarewolf have? He’s a middle man. He deals on behalf of some dumb f*** scavengers who lucked into a big score. They have no idea what to do with the payload they got, so he stepped in, for a slice of the pie.

He picks the gear up from a dead drop site in an asteroid field in the Scylla OutZone – the Phorcus Field.

Scarewolf can provide to coordinates of the drop site, and contact the scavengers to arrange another load.

Anyone with Astronomy or History (Combine) will know that the Phorcus Field housed a profitable mining operation prior to The War, but was sripped bare by the opposing forces. Occasionally prospectors and scavengers will venture out there in the hopes of finding an untapped vein of ore, or usable mining equipment.

Encounter 4: The Trade on North Port

The party have negotiated an arms trade with Scarewolf. He has agreed to meet them in the North Port in three days.
Hamash followed him back to his ship, a Hauler called The Carmalita III. As Scarewolf prepped it for launch, Hamash planted Snails on the bridge, and phased out of the ship to escape.

The party are now waiting.
Scarewolf returns to the port a few hours ahead of their agreed rendezvous.

If the Lasers want to retrieve the Snails, they can either Infiltrate The Carmalita III, or they can defeat Scarewolf.

Scarewolf has the agreed goods – 20 prototype Combine Military Disruptor Rifles, stored in secured crates. He’ll pass the access codes over when he gets the other 2/3rds of his payment (13 BigCreds).

Info from the Snails – The data is clear all the time that Scarewolf is not on the bridge. Whenever he is present, the image becomes pixelated and the audio corrupts.

Astronomy will allow the Lasers to interpret the partial data from the Snails and map Scarewolf’s journey to the moon cluster in the Scylla OutZone. The finer detail is lost. The Lasers could attempt to use Bio Signatures and Energy Signatures to locate the Scavengers that Scarewolf mentioned.

If the Lasers gain access to The Carmalita III, they can use Data Retrieval to hack the navigation computer and extract the ships precise course.

If the Lasers fight and defeat Scarewolf, he will turn over the location of the Scavengers and the name of their leader (Jab Novak), under Interrogation

Encounter 5: The Scylla Outzone / Moon Cluster

The Lasers travel to an unnamed moon cluster in the Scylla OutZone. The moons orbit a visibly Ashen Star.

History – Combine will tell the Lasers that this area once held a series of profitable mining colonies, until the planets themselves where physically obliterated at the height of the Mohilar War. There are tales of Meson Shrapnel effects in the area, as well as the Ashen Stars phenomenon.

Energy Signatures will show that there are a number of baffling interferences in the energy signature readouts. There’s an ebb and flow to them. Some readings are dampened or entirely blocked, whereas others are returning 200% clarity.

If the Lasers have the precise coordinates of the Scavengers base, then they can fly straight there.

If they need to rely on Energy and Bio Signatures to find the base, a 1-point spend from either Energy Signatures or Bio Signatures, plus a Difficulty 6 Helm Control roll is required to successfully pilot the ship between the moons and scan the area for signs of life / activity.

When the Lasers find the Scavenger base, the Scavengers are not expecting them.

The Scavengers will challenge the Lasers as they disembark / become aware of them.

A relevant Interpersonal spend of 1+ will prevent immediate bloodshed.

They will suspiciously discuss trade with the Lasers, but will not allow them to enter the ruins in which they found the weapons cache.

They twitch a bit when they talk about the ruins.

If the Lasers try to get past them, or coerce them, then it will deteriorate into a fight.

The Scavenger Leader is a human called Jab Novak

There are at least 10 Scavengers.

Scavengers
Abilities: Athletics 10, Ground Craft 6, Health 3, Medic 4, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 8, Shooting 4, Systems Repair 4
Scuffling Weapons/Damage: Hand-held mining tech +1
Shooting Weapons/Damage: Disruption Pistol +1
Hit Threshold: 4
Typical Tech: Headset, Tether, Rosetta Chip; (Cybernetics) none; Espresser, Spacesuit; (Viroware) none
Alertness Modifier: +0
Stealth Modifier: +0
Savvy Modifier: +1


I didn’t write up a plan for the final session – I assumed that the players would resolve the scavenger issue with cunning and ingenuity.
Here’s what they did…

They landed, spoke to the scavengers and convinced them that they were interested in buying some illicit Disruption Rifles, and that Scarewolf had sent them.
They waited patiently for the scavengers to get back, and discussed what they were going to do next.
They realised that they didn’t actually have a plan. They couldn’t afford to buy the weapons, so things would go South as soon as the scavengers returned with the goods.
What to do, what to do…

So they decided to sneak around the camp and plant explosives on vital infrastructure.
Then they took off in their own ship and strafed the camp with fire from its onboard weapons. They also detonated the hidden explosive charges, effectively slaughtering the scavengers still in base camp.

The rest of the scavengers had gone down an old mine network to get the guns, so they followed them.
Inside they found the wreckage of a Combine warship from the Mohilar war, and something else.
Their brains hurt when they looked at it, and they had blackouts whenever they thought about it too hard – time would progress without their knowledge.
They were stood over the bodies of the last remaining scavengers (who were wearing blindfolds for some reason) then they’re back on their ship, then they’re in orbit, then they’re on their way to Ossa One.

What stands out the most to me about this short arc, is that the players went out of their way to avoid conflict, extending the length of each session so that they could explore every possible solution, and not just dispense the two fisted justice of frontier law.
Then in the last encounter, they visibly said ‘Fuck it’ and just killed everything.
Indiscriminately.

I mean, it worked…

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