Despite the infinite width and depth of space, there is no single quantity found within it that simultaneously has more capacity for insidiousness and nobility than the soul of an intelligent being. Just as the histories of thousands upon thousands of individual planets are full of treachery, betrayal, war, and suffering, so too is the galaxy’s history full of truly wretched, unthinkable acts of cruelty that are easily the equal of any harmonious event celebrated throughout the known universe.
The characters serve aboard a capital ship as members of the crew. They might work among the rank-and-file, carrying out the basic duties of comm operators, sensor trackers, shield technicians, gunners, security officers, engineers, or even mess hall cooks in the face of hostilities against an enemy fleet. For a more high-powered campaign, make the characters key members with various command duties aboard the vessel: chief engineer, bridge officer, gunnery coordinator, political liaison, tactical advisor, executive officer — even captain!
Adversaries and Allies
This campaign requires an enemy and an allied military force. Although the heroes serve aboard one capital ship, they may receive assistance from other fleet vessels accompanying it in different missions as a task force or vast battle armada. Give the enemy fleet enough resources and capital warships to provide a demanding challenge. Create a reason behind the conflict: misunderstanding with alien diplomats, political or ideological disagreements, or sheer conquest. Although the characters’ success and failure should influence the overall course of the war, actions elsewhere in which they do not take part may affect their theater of operations.
Choose a capital ship that best suits the planned campaign and the characters. The “Advanced Ship Design” chapter offers sample characteristics for carriers and patrol frigates. Smaller vessels like frigates and destroyers need require huge crews and thus require personnel to undertake more duties to ensure smooth operation. Larger craft like carriers, cruisers, and battleships demand such immense crews that the vessel often seems like a floating city.
After deciding which ship to use, develop enough details about it to make the craft seem like a complete setting: game characteristics, deck plans, Game Master’s characters, standard regulations, typical crew characteristics, sample layouts for quarters, mess hall, wardroom, and facilities the heroes to use while on duty and off. Determine basic procedures for standard operation, general quarters, damage and hull breach, evacuation, and other emergencies.
The ship on which the heroes serve functions as the central location for the campaign. Here they live, work, and interact with other crew members. They don’t always face the enemy, and when they do, it usually involves viewing them at long ranges from bridge viewports, control displays, and gunnery control consoles.
Nobody spends all their time in space. Other locations may help the campaign along and provide a change of pace from shipboard duties. The characters might take shore leave at a military depot, fleet base, deep space station, or stardock repair facility between operations. They might supervise drop-ship operations for ground assaults. Should enemy fire destroy their vessel, the heroes might have to evacuate, using escape pods to reach a habitable planet where they must survive despite enemy attempts to hunt them down.
Secret Weapon: The heroes’ ship attacks a smaller enemy vessel in the course of its patrols, only to find that their adver- saries have concealed some new, more destructive weapon technology aboard. Although the characters beat a hasty retreat, they must gather intelligence on this new enemy weapon and find some way to defeat it before the ship (near their patrol sector) decides to go on the attack.
The Prisoners: After a devastating raid against an enemy supply convoy, the characters capture several escape pods of personnel. They must manage their imprisonment and interrogation to determine their captives’ identities, the final destination for the convoy, and whether they know of overall strategies for invading in this region. Several prisoners attempt to persuade the heroes to join their side and liberate them, especially before anyone finds out that the captives include several high-ranking military officers.
Cat and Mouse: After a particularly desperate confrontation with a superior enemy vessel, the heroes’ ship seeks to hide within some astrographical feature that interferes with sensors and communications: a nebula, cosmic storm, or asteroid field. The characters must maintain watch for the enemy ship hunting them, carefully navigate through their astrographical cover, and effect repairs so they can either ambush or flee their pursuers.
Saboteur: During a seemingly routine skirmish repelling the enemy, the character’s vessel sustains damage, malfunctions, or other failures attributed to sabotage. While the ship travels back to base for resupply and repairs, the heroes must uncover a secret agent working among them, reveal his plans, prevent him from relaying classified intelligence to the enemy, and stop his scheme to disable the ship at a crucial moment during an upcoming battle.
Into the Trap: One of the heroes intercepts and deciphers enemy intelligence claiming that they’re aware of an impending allied invasion of a border world and plan to ensnare the task force with a hidden fleet of power vessels operated by elite crews. The character and her comrades must convince the commanders of their ship and the fleet to cancel the attack, or at least alter their plans to prepare for increased opposition, despite high-ranking officers who have utmost faith in their strategy and refuse to believe their plans have been compromised.
The heroes serve as fighter pilots in a squadron on the front lines of a hostile conflict: an open war against another interstellar government or powerful alien species, a prolonged police action against pirates, a civil war between factions in a divided empire, or a fight to bring renegade systems in line.
Adversaries and Allies
Game Masters should establish two different military forces and ally the characters with one of them. As a unit within a larger fleet, the squadron receives some degree of support during its operations, but it primarily functions on its own along the fringes of the war. The enemy fields an equally formidable force: fighter squads of its own, capital warships, landing craft, elite commando units, heavy ground assault forces, spy ships, and supply freighters. Provide some motivation for the conflict: One side might prosecute an invasion of the other’s territory. The two factions might violently disagree about politics or moral issues. The enemy might simply be bent on efficient annihilation of the heroes’ side.
Squadron campaigns center around fighter craft. Commanders assign each hero their own snub fighter, light bomber, or other small vessel suitable to the mission at hand. Sometimes characters stick with the same craft the entire storyline; other times their equipment varies.
Design suitable fighters to help the heroes achieve victory in combat and survive unfortunate incidents. Make sure they possess enough armor, shields, and weapons to hold their own in a dogfight, and allow for modifications for different mission profiles against larger capital ships and ground targets. Devise escape systems so heroes can eject and survive if enemy fire destroys their craft. Pack some survival equipment in a rucksack behind the cockpit so they can carry on if they crash land on a planet. Since everyone’s in the same squadron, each character pilots the same kind of ship.
Game Masters can also use the light defender or strike fighter characteristics from “Ship Entries” or the in-system defender characteristics.
The characters require a base from which to sortie against the enemy. Most squadrons are stationed aboard capital-sized carriers, orbital facilities, planetside bases, or some combination of the three if command transfers the squadron between different hot zones. Each provides living and recreation quarters, docking hangars, repair facilities, and set defenses. Customizing a base with maps, military and civilian Game Master’s characters, and detailed facilities can offer more opportunities for roleplaying and provide heroes with a “home” they can fiercely protect. Personnel aboard capital ships might also engage in adventures outlined for “Fleet Service” campaigns.
Preemptive Strike: Acting on time-sensitive intelligence, headquarters assigns the squadron to engage an enemy force entirely unprepared for a strike. The target craft occupy a repair staging area and resupply depot with minimum defenses behind enemy lines. At first the raid goes successfully, with the characters inflicting incredible damage against target ships. Then fully operational fighters and cruisers move out from amidst the vessels under repair; the facility was intentionally stocked with derelict ships to lure the heroes into a trap! The characters must fight their way out of stardocks, debris fields, and advancing enemy craft.
Ground Cover: During an assault of an enemy-held planet, the commander orders the squadron to provide ground cover to infantry and mechanized artillery forces advancing on a dirtside objective that must be captured relatively unharmed (the capital city, vast supply depot, ore processing facility, communications array, power station, etc.). The heroes must fend off intercepting fighters, identify and destroy threats ahead of the ground units, and disable defensive emplacements near the target. Anyone who goes down crashes behind enemy lines and must hold out until allies arrive.
Hold the Line: The squadron must hold its base, planet, or patrol area against an overwhelming onslaught of enemy fighters and light bombers intent on invasion. They must overcome this assault through desperate flying, carefully allocating their resources, and defeating key craft and aces. Encounters include head-on dogfights with enemy craft; defense sorties to protect crucial sensors, communications, and depot installations; and running escort for incoming freighters with supplies vital to the squadron’s continued successful operation.
Guard the Retreat: The squadron’s planetside base receives orders for all military and civilian personnel to retreat to a rearward rendezvous point in the face of devastating enemy advances. The characters must delay an advance force sent to capture the base ahead of the main enemy fleet to give base personnel time to destroy sensitive data and technology, scuttle the facilities, and flee in cumbersome, lightly armed transports. Should any raiders get through, the squadron must chase them down before they capture any vital intelligence or personnel. The heroes must make sure their fighters do not sustain such damage as to prevent them from jumping to the rendezvous system and trapping them behind enemy lines.
Agility 2D+1, blaster 3D
Mechanical 3D, comm 3D+1, gunnery 4D, navigation 4D, piloting 5D, shields 4D, sensors 3D+1
Knowledge 1D+2, astrography 2D+1
Perception 2D, hide 2D+2, investigation 2D+2, search 3D
Technical 2D, flight systems repair 3D+2, gunnery repair 3D
Strength Damage: 1D
Fate Points: 0
Character Points: 2
Body Points: 11/Wound levels: 2
Equipment: blaster pistol (damage 5D); helmet (Armor Value +1D to head only).
Criminal Enterprises and Law Enforcement
Numerous films and works of fiction have established the charming scoundrel as a staple of the space genre of science fiction. The notion of playing surly yet noble rogues, plying their trade amidst the galaxy’s seedy underbelly, can be quite appealing to many players interested in a space-based campaign. Fortunately for Game Masters, the genre is full of encounter material to cater to the needs of such players. It can be a simple matter to construct a campaign built on such ideas, or to introduce such elements into a campaign of another sort.
In addition to the relatively common instances of criminal- based campaigns, it’s also fairly normal to base campaigns on the exact opposite premise: that of law enforcement. Bounty hunters, sector rangers, galactic intelligence agents, and dozens of other permutations on the same basic concept have their place in the genre. The combination of authority, independence, and the constant challenge of ruthless, violent opponents can be highly enticing despite the lack of material rewards that playing the opposite side of the coin typically offers.
Regardless of which option a crime-based encounter or campaign focuses on, it’s possible to create an atmosphere more befitting an inner-city police drama than a fantastic tale of aliens, black holes, and the wondrous sites of the universe. Using space as a backdrop, a campaign such as this can tell almost any tale the Game Master and players can envision, with the genre being added for group appeal or scenic benefit.
System Patrol Craft
Planetary governments are stereotypically paranoid agencies typically staffed by individuals who are constantly fearful of threats to their personal power. In a typical star system containing anywhere from 10 to 24 planets, it’s virtually impossible to monitor even a fraction of the vectors from which a potential threat could approach. Even vast fleets of starships could not possibly expect to monitor all traffic into and out of a system.
The best a government can hope for is to place patrols and space stations along the most frequently traveled routes and to distribute a reasonable number of independent system patrol craft throughout less frequently traveled regions. System patrol craft are not particularly powerful, but they are sufficient to deal with most privately owned starships and small pirate cruisers. They normally operate outbound, or out of dock, for weeks or months at a time, making it more difficult for anyone attempting to follow their movement to track them. At any given point, individuals entering important systems for illicit purposes can expect there to be two to three dozen system patrol craft circulating through the near-star region, hunting for those will ill intent behind their visit. (Less critical systems may get only a few patrol craft.)
An entire campaign could be developed wherein the characters take on the roles of a system patrol craft’s crew. The position would allow characters to enjoy liberal amounts of autonomy and authority, not to mention a larger starship with more powerful defenses, weaponry, and power system than most commercially available craft. Given the lengthy tour of duty such vessels normally enjoy, the patrol craft could become much more of a focus in the campaign than a starship might normally enjoy. A detailed floor plan of the ship would be of great benefit for such a campaign, as it would play an integral role in each encounter.
System Patrol Officer
Agility 3D+2, dodge 4D, firearms 4D, melee combat 4D
Mechanical 2D+2, exoskeleton operation 3D, gunnery 3D, navigation 3D, piloting 5D
Knowledge 3D, bureaucracy 3D+1, security regulations 4D
Perception 3D, investigation 4D, search 3D+1
Technical 2D+2, flight system repair 3D+2, security 3D+2
Strength Damage: 2D
Fate Points: 0
Character Points: 2
Body Points: 11/Wound levels: 2
Equipment: blaster pistol (damage 5D); body armor (Armor Value +1D).
No criminal career has been so glorified in the space genre than that of the smuggler, due in no small part to the inclusion of smugglers in numerous popular films that are considered icons in the genre. Almost everything that can be appealing to play in a space-based character can be found in some degree in the archetypal smuggler. They can be suave, daring, bold, independent, and cocky, or at least they have been presented as such in many popular works of fiction.
Heroic smuggler encounters can revolve around the use of a greater evil that places the acts of such a crew in perspective. What harm comes of a little larceny or smuggling when faced with the horrors of war or slavery? Characters who are not involved in smuggling may come into contact with such individuals and receive an entirely different point of view based on what transpires with them. Encounters with heroic smugglers can present a theme of “lesser evils,” in which smuggling essential items such as food or medicine behind the lines of war-torn or trade blockaded planets can provide not only considerable profit but also substantial relief to those who suffer from events beyond their control.
Those with a more sinister sense of the galaxy may wish to design encounters that highlight the more damaging side of smuggling. Those crews who regard it as a noble profession, perhaps influenced by encounters with heroic goals, may find that the universe is far less pleasant than previously imagined. Smugglers do not only traffic in harmless but illegal substances but also in many substances that have an impact well beyond the small criminal circles in which they travel: weapons of mass destruction, highly addictive narcotics, intelligent beings sold into slavery, or priceless religious artifacts stolen from primitive peoples whose culture spirals into chaos without them.
Agility 2D+2, dodge 4D, firearms 4D, sleight of hand 3D+1
Mechanical 4D, gunnery 4D+2, navigation 4D+1, piloting 4D+2
Knowledge 2D+1, astrography 3D, business 3D, streetwise 3D+2
Perception 3D+1, bargain 4D
Technical 3D+2, flight systems repair 4D+2, security 4D
Strength damage: 1D
Fate Points: 0
Character Points: 2
Body Points: 11/Wound levels: 2
Equipment: starship with hidden cargo holds; blaster pistol (damage 5D); encrypted personal computer with astrogation coordinates and contact names.
Pirates are the quintessential threat of space travel, a ruthless danger created by the greed and violence of mortal beings that lust after wealth and power at the expense of other beings. Space is so unimaginably vast that at any given time only a tiny fraction of it’s filled with starships or space stations. The rest goes unseen and unknown by the citizens of the civilized galaxy. It’s there, in the void between life and emptiness, that pirates make their living. The threat they pose can range wildly from small private craft equipped with improvised equipment to entire fleets of cruisers that can attack even the largest and most well-protected trade groups without fear of defeat.
The most obvious use is the pursuit of the characters’ ship by pirates intent on taking their cargo. Any such encounter should contain a sense of dread and helplessness as the pirates seize what they want and leave the rest, with varying stages of violence involved in the process depending on the pirates in question. Independent starship crews are a cut above the rest, however, and they may not be so inclined to let the matter rest. This is understandable, and can lead to further encounters wherein they seek vengeance upon those who have wronged them. Alternatively, they could encounter them again somewhere along the line, granting them a chance to take back what is theirs when the pirates least expect it.
Many great campaigns have been conducted with players’ characters taking on the roles of pirates. The starship crew may take the form of privateers in some galactic conflict, or they may simply be another flavor of the same dashing rogue that many imagine as the archetypal smuggler. Whatever the back- ground, merchant trade groups, planetary militias, law enforcement agencies, and even other pirate groups can be potential adversaries for a pirate crew. A truly creative encounter could pit them against some greater foe in a temporary alliance with one of the same groups, which always proves to be interesting and complicated.
Seeking a campaign more suited for outlaw characters? Adapt the “Fleet Service” setting and adventure hooks to a pirate vessel or fleet, with the galactic navy, rival privateers, and the customs service as enemies; merchant vessels as targets; and friendly pirate bands and criminal organizations as allies. Incorporate a starfighter squadron for scout and interception duties. Develop a haven where pirate characters can recuperate from encounters with the law, repair their craft, and store or sell their loot.
Agility 3D+2, brawling 4D, dodge 4D, firearms 5D
Knowledge 2D+2, streetwise 3D+2
Perception 3D, con 3D+2, search 3D+1
Technical 2D+2, computer interface/repair 3D, security 3D+2
Strength Damage: 2D
Fate Points: 0
Character Points: 2
Body Points: 14/Wound levels: 2
Equipment: blaster pistol (damage 5D); grenades (damage 6D; 2 units); protective vest (Armor Value +2).
Slaving is among the most despicable acts that can be committed against intelligent beings. Depriving another being of the most basic freedoms and choices is a cruel, heinous crime that only the most heartless individuals would even contemplate. Unfortunately, the galaxy seems to have individuals of such a nature in more than adequate supply. While slaving is against the law in almost every advanced civilization, there are more brutal worlds where such practices are perfectly acceptable, and there are always groups or individuals who are eager to embrace the inexpensive labor that slaves can provide, increasing their profit margins in any number of legitimate or illicit enterprises.
Slavers frequent the galactic frontier, where law enforcement is sparse and potential slaves are more available. Primitive alien species are among the most common victims of slavers, as there are few specific galactic statutes against a particular race (although there are still many against slavery in general), meaning the potential penalties are marginally less severe. In addition, the primitive state of such beings, many of whom are plucked from tribal civilizations, makes it easy for a handful of slavers to dominate vast numbers of them with relatively little difficulty. There might be instances of entire planets falling under the heel of a single crew of slavers manning a lone starship with factory standard weaponry. A starship crew’s first encounter with a primitive people could be severely colored by that race’s previous experience with slavers, making them either extremely hostile to all off-worlders or merely fearful in the extreme. A series of encounters could be constructed around the premise of the crew discovering a new world and slowly coming to realize the involvement slavery has had in the development of their new friends’ culture.
Presumably, an encounter for a space campaign would involve the characters acting in opposition to slavers, as there are few players who are comfortable participating in such an insidious practice, even in a role-playing exercise. In the event of such an encounter, the characters could face any number of different opponents. The slavers themselves, of course, will likely not be a great deal different from the characters: entrepreneurs who own their ship and use it to make a profitable living (though, in the case of slavers, at the expense of other intelligent creatures). An encounter such as this can provide a rather sinister reflection of the characters — a look into the potential for evil that the party has (hopefully) managed to avoid thus far in their careers. Law enforcement characters will have a clear and obvious mandate to put a stop to any slaving activity immediately, though there may be an element of undercover work involved. This could make for an interesting encounter or series of encounters as the characters experience the darkest side of the galactic criminal underworld.
Another recurrent theme involving slavery is that of a party of criminals contracted to pick up an unknown cargo, which turns out to be slaves. This can serve as a turning point in a campaign, when the characters finally confront a line they will not cross despite the potential for profit or prestige among their criminal cohorts.
It’s possible to construct scenarios or campaigns wherein the characters take the role of slavers, although this is discouraged for use by all but the most experienced and mature roleplayers. Such encounters would have a very different feel indeed and could perhaps best be used as an ongoing background enterprise for the characters that rarely takes center stage. When it finally does come into the spotlight, an encounter could be constructed so that it serves as a turning point, where the characters finally realize the horror of their actions. Of course, if the players are comfortable with the notion of exploring the more sinister elements of roleplaying, then they could continue in their efforts to whatever extent the Game Master feels comfortable involving them.
Agility 3D+1, firearms 4D, melee combat 4D+1
Mechanical 3D, navigation 4D
Knowledge 2D+2, aliens 3D, streetwise 3D+2
Perception 3D, command 3D+1, con 4D
Strength damage: 2D
Fate Points: 0
Character Points: 2
Body Points: 14/Wound levels: 2
Equipment: starship with cargo hold modified to support life; knife (damage +1D); blaster pistol (damage 5D); stun baton (damage 4D stun).
Unfortunately, it seems that conflict is a universal truth. There is no culture known to exist that does not have some instance of war or violence liberally appearing in its history, and there are perhaps a handful of planets throughout the galaxy where violence has been eliminated from their culture.
There are an almost infinite number of reasons that planets and governments go to war, ranging from legitimate and irreconcilable differences in philosophy to the greed of a handful of powerful, petty individuals. Regardless of its cause, technology can further war such that a conflict between two advanced cultures can lay waste to entire solar systems, and the term “weapons of mass destruction” has taken a new meaning. When a lone star cruiser can fire weap- ons that can destroy an entire planet’s ecosystem or unleash torpedoes that can accelerate the fusion reaction within a star until it prematurely reaches supernova millions of years prior to its normal development would dictate, the horrors of war are beyond all reckoning.
Despite the inevitable death and destruction that war brings, it can nevertheless have a stimulating economic effect that can spread across entire systems as planets scramble to produce or purchase the materials they need to maintain their war efforts. Traders and smugglers can find a healthy business moving a variety of cargos through restricted space. If a war goes on long enough and becomes costly enough, some governments may be unable to replace lost ships, and they may instead hire freelance starships to take a variety of roles within their navy. Although many privately owned starships are inappropriate for direct combat duty without significant modifications, exploration, transport, and even medical ships may be required as ships previously assigned to those functions are pressed into combat duty. Even if only serving the war effort for a single encounter, a large-scale battle can present a starship’s crew with a sense of the bigger picture in galactic events.
Less conventional encounters using war as a backdrop could involve characters working in opposition to the war effort, perhaps as agents of some third party. Criminal organizations may find that a protracted war effort begins to negatively impact their profits, philanthropic organizations may be opposed to the conflict on philosophical grounds, or intergalactic corporations with holdings in the domain of both feuding parties may wish to protect their assets from potential destruction.
Privateers and Press Gangs
Privateers and press gangs (euphemistically described as conscript training vessels) have their place in galactic affairs. Times of war often cause shortages on both sides, particularly if the conflict is a lengthy one of attrition. In such cases, it’s not uncommon for one or both sides to hire on privateers to supplement their supply lines with materials seized from a list of legitimate targets. These target lists are typically restricted to the enemy, their allies, and any corporate entities supporting the opposition more substantially than the privateers’ sponsors. Depending upon the alignment of the sponsor, however, the privateers may be unleashed on any ship that contains resources that could be beneficial to the war effort.
Privateer encounters typically fall under one of two categories. Legitimate privateers can serve as a reminder to the crew of starships that war is a vast unpleasantness that impacts even those with no involvement with either side. A privateer encounter can be used as a gateway tool to alter the course of a campaign, involving the players’ characters and their ship in the conflict in whatever capacity the campaign demands. While this experience can be as noble as required, it can also be a terrible and scarring experience, as some privateers are little more than pirates with a polite name attached to describe their activities. In these instances, the reality of war is again reinforced to those who exist beyond it.
In ancient times, press gangs were groups of pirates or other nefarious sailors who kidnapped innocent bystanders and forced them to serve alongside them aboard their ships. This premise lives on in the space age, although it’s far less common due to the simple impracticality of the entire affair. While unwilling captives aboard a starship cannot hope to escape their containment, there are thousands of ways for such individuals to seek revenge against those who hold them, through sabotage, working slow, being obnoxious, or otherwise resisting the conscription. Although such an act would likewise complicate the life of the captive as well, the risk of unruly captives is enough to discourage most ship captains, particularly when there are any number of beings willing to serve a tour of duty on board a starship for little else than the opportunity to escape their home world and explore the galaxy at large.
Despite the impractical nature, there are mercenary bands, pirate groups, and even planetary governments who are so desperate for new soldiers or crew members that the practice of conscripting the unwilling into their service is not unheard of. It’s necessary for training to be an expedient affair for something of this nature, obviously, or else it would prove more timely to simply clone or engineer new soldiers and crew. In the interests of speed and convenience, many large agencies that require conscripts employ vessels for just this task, known as conscript training vessels. These ships are usually retrofitted bulk freighters or other ships that cannot be used for a more military function, thus preventing further loss of resources on the front line. The ships are equipped with extensive training equipment and often a significant amount of subliminal conditioning devices.
Conscripts are sent through an exhausting training regimen at threat of terrible punishment if they fail to comply. Those who do as they are ordered are rewarded and reassured that after a brief tour of duty, they will be returned home along with considerable compensation for their time. This is rarely the case, but it’s sufficient to motivate a surprising number of conscripts into compliance. There is a significant percentage of washouts or people who die during training, of course, but the success rate is sufficient to warrant continuing the process. The staff of such vessels are usually comprised of castoffs from the regular military (or whatever other agency is maintaining the vessel) and those individuals who are too cruel, too injured, or otherwise inappropriate for regular duty. These frustrated individuals find trainees the perfect outlet for their anger.
Players’ characters conscripted into service will have considerable amount of work ahead of them. Surviving the process is merely the first step, followed by escaping from the vessel and then reacquiring their own vessel (assuming it still exists) or obtaining a new one. From that point, there are any number of directions that the campaign could take, changing the scope and direction of the game thus far completely. A fugitive campaign, for instance, would require an ongoing current of desperation and paranoia, wherein the characters could rely on nothing except for their skills and equipment, fleeing across the galaxy from angry forces that wish to bring them to some twisted form of “justice.”
Galactic Customs Official
Agility 3D+2, firearms 4D+2, dodge 4D+1, melee combat 4D
Knowledge 3D, bureaucracy 4D, security regulations 4D+1
Perception 3D, investigation 3D+2, search 3D+1
Technical 2D+2, security 3D
Strength Damage: 2D
Fate Points: 0
Character Points: 2
Body Points: 13/Wound levels: 2
Equipment: blaster pistol (damage 5D); body armor (Armor Value +1D).
Commerce and Recreation
Starships are expensive to purchase, expensive to maintain, and extremely expensive to repair. Choosing a spacer’s lifestyle requires a constant source of incoming cash flow, a feat that can prove difficult given the ever changing political and economic landscape of the galaxy. Fortunately for spacers, there is a seemingly endless variety of jobs to be done, required by an infinite array of individuals, groups, and entities throughout the known universe. The “Criminal Enterprises” section earlier in this chapter details several such tasks that are somewhat less than legal, but there are an equal number, if not more, of perfectly legal and legitimate enterprises that can be used to fuel the adventures of any starship crew.
The bane of entrepreneurs both legitimate and illicit, the customs official is a fixture in starports throughout the known galaxy. Theirs is the thankless, endless, profitless duty of ensuring that the thousands of cargo manifests that pass through their assigned sector each week are accurate descriptions of the cargoes that are being transported, and that no illegal or restricted substances are brought into or out of their designated areas. It’s a monotonous job, one without any particular reward other than the fleeting sense of a job well done or, for those who crave excitement, the constant threat of angering dangerous individuals who may attempt to kill them for merely doing their job.
Custom officials most often appear in an encounter as a foil for the characters. Regardless of whether or not the characters are transporting illicit goods, an encounter with an overzealous customs official can allow even the most straight-laced characters to experience persecution as if they were dastardly criminals. Of course, if the characters are dastardly criminals, it makes such an encounter all the more appropriate. Even more entangling, the characters could encounter a customs official who is looking for a bribe, or one who seems completely disinterested in his job. While the first has obvious potential for encounters, the second could at first seem a tremendous relief to traders, only to become a mixed blessing when the official’s superiors reprimand or dismiss him outright and begin to review his most recent inspection logs. Despite the possibility of not having committed a crime, the characters’ ship could suddenly become the center of a complex power struggle within the planetary customs department, a situation that cannot possibly work in their favor.
For variation, one might consider the possibility of an encounter wherein, as a favor to a friend in the office or for another reason, the characters taken on the roles of custom officials. For questionable characters, this is an excellent opportunity to see the other side of how the law operates. For legitimate traders, it may simple by an opportunity to experience the enormity of the task that officials face. Given that they will almost certainly have a negative opinion of custom officials, as the vast majority of traders do, this can be a chance to steer the party in a direction they may never have attempted.
The vast majority of all planets, star systems, and space stations closely supervise or tax cargoes that are traded or purchased while using their starport facilities. On larger cargoes, these taxes are usually not enough to substantially impact the profit margin for either party involved. A certain subset of traders, however, prefer to carry large amounts of cargo broken into much smaller lots, and conduct multiple deals in a single location. Fortunately for such traders, most systems and governments make allowances for this manner of business in their tax and tariff laws, protecting what basically amounts to small entrepreneurs from fees designed to regulate much larger corporations. Some systems, however, do not have laws that recognize the difference in such matters, and they tax each individual transaction. Legal entanglements of this nature cripple small traders, completely eliminating their profit margin to the point where it actually costs them money to conduct business in certain systems and closing entire markets to their goods and services. To counteract this unfortunate legality, certain trade confederations and merchant guilds maintain intergalactic bazaars in open space near to but technically outside of systems that practice such draconian trade restrictions.
Intergalactic bazaars, sometimes referred to by critics as “intergalactic bizarres,” are truly a sight to behold. The agency or individuals sponsoring the event tend to bring in a handful of large, bulk cargo freighters with most (if not all) of their holds completely empty but pressurized and supplied with life support. Ships arriving in the area pay a reasonable fee to bring their cargo (or at least a manifest) on board to conduct trade with other similarly minded merchants. Starship crews who prefer more privacy in their business dealings may dock with one another as they see fit, or travel from ship to ship via environmental suits. Those who do not come aboard the bulk freighters may still pay the fee to have their cargo manifest and prices broadcast by the sponsor to all nearby ships on a secure channel, notifying any potential customers of what they have to offer for sale.
These large scale gatherings are typically frowned upon by most planetary or system governments, but those who organize them are careful to remain outside the jurisdiction of such agencies, and the problem is far too insignificant to draw the attention of any galactic authority. Pirates are a concern, of course, but between the security forces the hosts usually have on hand and the tendency of small, independent starships to flee in all directions at the sight of a pirate cruiser discourage most pirate groups. As a result, an intergalactic bazaar can be a surprisingly calm and enjoyable environment, and those who disrupt it quickly find that everyone will turn on them in an instant. Somewhat understandably, no one likes the economic downturn that crime and violence brings to such locations.
An encounter with an intergalactic bazaar could just as easily serve as a bit of comic relief as for serious trading business. A vast star field with ships arrayed in a passable grid is a powerful visual image that can entice players with a simple description. Such bazaars are full of quirky personalities that are only interested in the next sale and how to convince their customer that their merchandise is the finest. Free-wheeling hucksters with dank, cramped ships filled to the brim with all manner of curiosities are the order of the day for such an encounter. Creating an atmosphere of exotic, questionable goods is a simple affair. Add to that the possibility of a unique chase scene, one involving the characters pursuing or being pursued while outside their starship in traditional environmental suits, and the scene takes on the feel of a frantic Old World marketplace, complete with a lengthy vehicle chase.
Free Trade Zones
Intergalactic trade laws can be an extremely complicated affair, what with tariffs, taxes, and tracking systems that can involve multiple planets and dozens of governments. Inexperienced starship crews may discover that without proper planning, their profit margins are consumed entirely by the fees and penalties they incur in transporting cargoes across systems. This economic phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by entrepreneurs and has given rise to the notion of free trade zones. These zones tend to be highly discouraged by most governments, but enterprising systems with an eye for bringing in tourism and business persist in the practice. The premise is that entire systems can be designated a tax-free, tariff-free zone wherein any two parties can conduct private transactions without any interference from government personnel. This type of arrangement is attractive to all manner of individuals, both legitimate and illegitimate. Criminals can make exchanges without concern for customs officials interfering in their business, and corporations can make deals without allowing governments to cut into their profit margins. With the new cargo secured and possession clearly indicated through the proper documents (which free zone personnel are all too happy to provide for a small fee), the transaction is completed and everyone leaves content — at least most of the time.
Surprisingly, free trade zones are relatively crime-free environments. There are a vast number of criminals, to be sure, but few wish to risk losing the privileges they enjoy in such a place by turning their craft against their hosts. Considering the amount of money such systems tend to make on inflated prices for food, lodging, and starport fees, money that they turn and reinvest in security, the prospect simply is not worth the risk.
The concept of a free trade zone is one that has enormous potential for encounters. The most obvious use would be as an attractive and recurrent destination of a starship crew that plies a frequent trade as smugglers, couriers, or independent traders. For such a group, the zone can be used to capture any number of different atmospheres, from the hectic trading atmosphere of New York’s Wall Street to the frantic, free-wheeling chaos of an open air market in the innermost regions of Singapore. It can be a bewildering environment for characters, and one a Game Master can use to introduce new contacts, employers, or crew members without great difficulty. Properly utilized, these zones can become an enjoyable fixture in a campaign, and one that players look forward to revisiting as the encounters staged there can be quite a departure from the normal emptiness of space and the harassment by custom officials, law enforcement, and government official of all types.
On the other hand, a free trade zone can serve an entirely different purpose for other types of characters. Law enforcement personnel traveling the galaxy in search of their prey can find the zones extremely frustrating and challenging, given a free system’s tendency to avoid entanglements or dealings with outside law enforcement whenever possible. Free systems allow known criminals to walk openly in berths directly adjacent to those occupied by the sector rangers who so frequently hunt them. This is accomplished by an arrangement of system laws commonly known as “active morality laws.” These laws are the subject of an ongoing, seemingly endless galactic debate regarding their legality, but the essence of their content is that no one can be arrested for nonviolent crimes in a free trade zone unless they are in the act of committing them at the time of their arrest. So long as criminals are careful not to commit any larcenous acts during their visit to the zones, they cannot be arrested by off-world law enforcement agencies.
One of the heroes has acquired her own ship and decides to go into business for herself as a free trader, roaming the galaxy, seeking new and exotic cargoes to sell at grossly inflated prices. The rest of the characters sign aboard as crew or fellow entrepreneurs. They travel to distant worlds — some settled, others only recently discovered — to find cheap commodities that might fetch hefty prices in more civilized systems. Although everyone hopes to make a huge fortune off one cargo run, they inevitably spend their time chasing down worthless deals, repairing old machinery on their ship, avoiding competition from large trade organizations, explaining strange merchandise to suspicious customs officials, and scrambling to make ends meet. Some free traders eventually turn from honest transport jobs to more lucrative (and riskier) smuggling assignments.
Adversaries and Allies
Free traders have many enemies. Game Masters can choose one or several from this list, developing each with resources of their own (ships, mercenaries, bases) and a primary reason to harass the heroes:
> competing shipping corporations seek to shut down small operators, but not before they cash in on their remote commodities sources and other markets
> customs officials constantly suspect free traders of dealing in stolen or illegal goods, and when they don’t find any, manufacture excuses to fine them or tax their legitimate cargo
> some pirate bands prey on free traders assuming they’re cashing in on some newfound goods from an exotic world
> crime syndicates seek to collect on loans made from credit-hungry free traders, either in cash or illicit favors, and often send bounty hunters after those who fail to cooperate
> rival free traders and smugglers seek to drive off other small-time competition, sometimes resorting to dire and underhanded measures
Most free traders must depend on themselves for survival, but some groups occasionally offer aid:
> petty nobles who depend on the heroes to provide valu- able goods and services
> entrepreneurs who sell commodities free traders import
> oppressed natives who depend on trade with more civilized worlds to improve their standard of living
> starship mechanics who rely on the heroes as regular customers
> scouts who chart previously unexplored regions of space with potential for new commodities and markets
A free trader campaign centers on the freighter the heroes use to transport cargoes. Develop some background to explain how the captain acquired his freighter (the “Your Own Ship” section in this chapter offers several ideas). Decide with the players what kind of ship best fits their characters’ needs. Make sure it has adequate cargo space, shields and weapons to defend itself, and accommodations for all the heroes. The light freighter described in the “Advanced Starship Design” chapter provides a basic cargo vessel well-suited to free traders. More ambitious characters might wish to fly a larger freighter on a capital ship scale. Although such bulk transports have superior cargo capacity, they also require a larger crew, more armament, and more expensive costs for overhead. Game Masters should spend some time with players before beginning a free trader campaign to design a ship that’s right for everyone.
While the heroes’ freighter serves as the campaign’s primary location, it’s flexible enough to take them to innumerable worlds to carry out trade. Game Masters should still develop several stock settings on which the characters can rely. Create at least one safe haven where the characters can flee to resupply, recover, and repair their ship. Remote or secret locations work best. The haven might consist of a friendly docking bay in a vast starport whose proprietor owes them a favor. Their wealthy patron might offer one of her remote estates for their use in emergencies. The characters might have prestocked a bolt-hole on some isolated, uncharted world unknown to the authorities. Game Masters should use this location as a story element beyond providing refuge from enemies; keeping its existence a secret and otherwise protecting it for future use could serve as the goal of an adventure.
The heroes visit numerous ports in the course of their entrepreneurial activities. Game Masters shouldn’t feel they must detail every one, but they should have some consistent notes about the most-frequented starports. What planetary authorities administers security and customs? What are some key businesses and contacts the characters can use in port? What can they profitably buy and sell there? Where do they stay overnight, take their meals, and find recreation? Each starport should have its own character. Some might strain under the iron fist of the local tyrannical government, while others could have the atmosphere of a huge, chaotic party.
Adventure Hooks: Free Traders
Special Order: A wealthy aristocrat hires the heroes to acquire a laundry list of diverse items found on several different worlds. They might be medicinal, technical, or artistic in nature. As they begin collecting the goods, the characters realize another group of traders, bounty hunters, or commandos also seeks to collect the same items. In some cases, the heroes must directly confront one or more of these factions for possession of the sole item on a world. They might also try deducing why their patron wishes to collect this odd assortment of materials — are his intentions purely innocent, or is he pursuing some sinister agenda that might affect the course of politics and trade in this sector?
Blockade Running: A merchant promises the heroes an extravagant commission (probably enough to pay for their ship or some other debt) to deliver a perfectly legal commodity to a world currently under blockade by invading forces or military vessels enforcing some punishment against the planet. They heroes must avoid heavily armed and aggressive blockade craft, plus ground units occupying the starport. What should they do when they find out occupational troops have imprisoned their buyer — who has their commission — and impounded his warehouse?
The Red Box: A mysterious client pays the characters an advance, and promises them a vast sum later, to deliver a large red crate intact and unopened to a distant world. They forfeit the sum if they open the crate or allow it to sustain any damage. The challenge comes when they discover several groups desperately want the box: crime syndicates, pirates, bounty hunters, government agents, or religious fanatics. The heroes must deliver the crate to their client’s vaults before these factions take drastic measures to grab the box for themselves.
Sporting events in one form or another are wildly popular on almost every planet in the galaxy. Competition is a favored pastime of many alien races as well as Humankind, and the gradual merging of cultures can create dozens of new sports as existing sports are combined or adapted to new environmental conditions and alien physiques. One type of sporting event that remains consistently popular throughout countless systems is that of recreational starship piloting.
The first and most popular starship sport is that of racing. There are dozens of circuits that have races in every condition imaginable scattered throughout the galaxy. Asteroid belts are a popular location for such races, as are the tumultuous atmospheric condition of large, storm-covered planets. Obviously, races of this nature can be exceptionally dangerous, but most reputable circuits maintain a large number of small, fast ships that serve as rescue craft for the inevitable accidents. Even so, there are a substantial number of deaths, and there is always a movement by activists to have the races outlawed. Ironically, the illegal racing circuits that might go unnoticed by the same activists have a dramatically higher mortality rate, but they have far fewer protesters and generally seem to be less objectionable to most fans and observers. This is most likely because the individuals who sponsor such races have a markedly lower tolerance for disturbances — those who disrupt them tend to disappear. Regardless of whether a race is legal or illegal, there is rarely a shortage of potential participants. The prizes for such races are simply too great for daring pilots to ignore.
More dangerous starship sporting events range from live-fire targeting exercises (wherein daring crews defend themselves against drones firing powerful but non-lethal energy blasts in an attempt to disable the crew) and literal death matches (where crews are pitted against one another).
The targeting exercises take two forms: (1) multiple ships are attacked simultaneously, and (2) single ships are assaulted separately and timed. In each event, small drones are sent in ever increasing waves against the participating starships until they are finally successful in disabling them. The vessel that endures the assault the longest is considered the victor. Although there have been instances of disastrous system failures resulting in contestants’ or even spectators’ deaths, this is a relatively benign sport with little risk. This is far from the case with the (generally) illegal death matches. There is a subset of any society that craves entertainment at any cost, with more and more exciting events required to stimulate their jaded sensibilities. For individuals such as these, there are many criminal entrepreneurs eager to capitalize on this desire.
Whether in the deepest regions of space or the most turbulent atmospheres of uninhabited planets, various underground producers hold a number of exceptionally destructive competitions each year. Each crew pays a small fee to enter and has their ship carefully examined by circuit personnel. The results of these examinations are kept private, but the gambling odds are often quite telling in that regard. The crews are then given coordinates somewhere in the area, usually referred to as the arena, and told to wait for the signal to begin. Once the signal is broadcast, the crews’ intent is to destroy as many other competitors as possible. Each kill earns a fixed reward, and these rewards are passed on to any ship that kills another. Any ship that flees the arena is disqualified, and a kill is credited to the last ship to attack that ship. The surviving ship, or the last ship to remain within the arena, is also awarded a percentage of the house’s take on all gambling. Obviously, this can lead to tremendous profit for skilled ships. There are more repeat competitors than might be expected, as canny competitors will flee the arena when their survival becomes untenable, allowing them to enact repairs after the event and enter again once they have corrected whatever weaknesses brought about defeat in the first place. Other ships may only be disabled during the conflict, and circuit organizers frequently conduct debris examinations following the event’s conclusion. Granted, the primary purpose for these examinations is for salvage, but there have been many occasions during which the salvage crew has pulled survivors from such ships, some of whom have gone on to repair their disabled vessels and compete again.
Starship recreation can be used as single encounters or entire campaigns. These events can provide additional income for starship crews who have the skill, opportunity, and need for such things. Such encounters can be an opportunity for a crew to exercise skills that may only normally be called upon in times of duress, and they can allow players to showcase their characters’ favorite skills and specialties. Campaigns can be constructed around similar premises, should the players desire an opportunity to create characters a bit outside the normal templates. Professional athletes as space-based characters is not a niche that has been explored a great deal in fiction or film, and can be a chance for a role-playing group to explore a wildly different element of their favorite campaign setting.
Space Sport Pilot
Agility 3D, dodge 3D+2, firearms 3D+1
Mechanical 3D+2, gunnery 4D, navigation 4D+2, piloting 5D+1
Knowledge 2D+2, scholar: racing circuits 3D, streetwise 3D+2
Technical 3D+2, flight systems repair 4D+1
Strength damage: 1D
Fate Points: 0
Character Points: 3
Body Points: 13/Wound levels: 2
Equipment: heavy enviro-suit; small modified starship; laser pistol (damage 4D).