by David P. Summers
"The Sword Worlds . . .
Art by andi jones
You've never liked the Sword Worlds ever since you fought against their forces in the last war. The one time you were there, you found Hrunting itself to be a tiresome, self-important, place where you always got hassled, maybe because you are an "Impie" (Imperial citizen). Well, money is money and nobody says you have to live there. At least it gets you out of the Margesi system before the allergens there make you feel like garbage."
SetupThe party is on the Margesi Orbital Starport, in the Vilis subsector of the Spinward Marches. The "upport" isn't much, but it is the place to be since the taint in the Margesi atmosphere leaves you feeling like you have the flu. There the party is approached by a man who calls himself Archibald Inamann. He is a likable, but balding, man who insists that the party call him "Archie." Archie is a businessman who is in the need of some discreet shipping to his associates on Hrunting in the Sword Worlds. The size of the cargo is about what the group is looking for, and Archie is willing to pay double normal shipping rates, more if the party bargains well, if the adventurers meet his requirements. The cargo is needed ASAP, so the PCs are to go to the jump point, wait for the ship bringing the cargo in, pick up the cargo, and jump right for Hrunting. When they arrive in the Hrunting system they will go to the downport, make sure they get a specific customs official by the name of Tomas Kjold, and then deliver the cargo to a specific spot a few hundred miles northeast of the port. Nobody is to look at the cargo before delivery. Payment is half up front and half when the cargo is delivered. The location of the delivery on Hrunting will be provided when they arrive. Zero-G transfer of cargo will be handled by the arriving ship (the party will just need to evacuate the hold and open the cargo doors).
What Is Really Going OnShocking as this may be, there are a number of crucial details that "Archie" hasn't told the party. He is really a Zhodani agent. His "real" name is "Vienzhprie," though he hasn't been called that in a long time. (His cover is made to stand up to professional scrutiny and research by the PCs will just find him to be a slightly shady merchant). The ship bringing the cargo is, in fact, just coming in from the the Sword Worlds (a Zhodani ally). The ship belongs, through a series of false holding companies, to the Zhodani secret service (see GURPS Traveller: Alien Races 1, pp.31-32), and the cargo contains triggers for nuclear weapons. Why does Archie want to hire the party to send nuclear triggers right back from whence they came? So officials on the Sword Worlds can "uncover" a dastardly Imperial plot to smuggle nuclear weapons to terrorists by "catching" them in the act!
The Zhodani Consulate and the Sword Worlds want to create an apparent incident of Imperial subversion for propaganda purposes. The plan is for "Imperial agents" (the party) to get caught, in a very public way, supplying "terrorists" in the Sword Worlds with crucial components for nuclear weapons. At the least, this should rally anti-Imperial feeling in the Border worlds.
However, Archie is being watched by real Imperial agents, from Imperial Naval Intelligence (INI). They don't know who he works for or what he is planning. They do know it has something to do with Hrunting and will, when they see Archie contact the adventurers, arrange to have a ship jump to Hrunting just ahead of the party to warn agents there.
On The WayThe ship arrives 6 hours after the party gets to the meeting point. The ship is a typical 400 hull class (200,000 cf) merchant (see the Subsidized Merchant in GURPS Traveller). It will establish both that the party knows Archibald Inamann's name and that he likes to be called Archie. The ship will contact Archibald by radio to double check and then pull along side. Some of the crew will put on vaccsuits and move the cargo over. It will then pull away so the PCs' ship can jump.
The cargo has a manifest which appears to be genuine. It represents the cargo as "milling equipment". As Archie mentioned, the size of the cargo is about 90% of the available cargo capacity of the ship (an exact match might be too suspicious). However, the triggers, and their packaging, only take up 1,500 cf. The extra cargo is used to hide the triggers by burying them among legitimate cargo. If the triggers are buried among 5,000 cf, or less, of other cargo, roll 1d6, divide by two (round down) and subtract one to determine how many boxes the party would need to open before they come across one with triggers in it. If it is buried among 5,000-12,500 cf of other cargo, roll 1d6-1. If it is buried among more than 12,500 cf of other cargo, roll 2d6-1.
When the PCs have had a chance to look over the cargo, they will notice that it has seals designed to show if it has been tampered with. If the adventurers wish to open them without regard to the seals, a character needs to make a roll against the lesser of Lockpicking +2 and Electronics, Security Systems +2. It will take 1 hour to open the box without damaging the contents and it will be obvious they were opened. A failure means the locks will jam and the boxes will need to be broken open to get inside. If the character wishes to open the cargo, and then close it with the seals intact, he will need to make the same roll at a -5 instead of a +2. If he fails, but makes base skill, he opens the box but mars the seals. If he fails base skill, the locks jam. This attempt will take 1d6 hours for each box. If the characters open a box with a nuclear trigger, they need to roll against a Mechanic skill to spot that it is not milling equipment. A roll against Armory, Nuclear Weapons, at a +2, will allow him/her to realize what they really are.
ArrivalWhen they party arrives in the Hrunting system, they will encounter INI agents in an armed scout ship. Posing as pirates (the crew is all Vargr to use human prejudice to support their cover) they will will demand that the party allows their ship to be boarded. They will attack if the PCs refuse, but will not go so far as to destroy the ship. Instead, they will restrict themselves to attempting to disable the party's ship and board it. (See below for the stats of the agents). If the boarding action fails, they will retreat and let agents on Hrunting handle things.
If the party escapes the "pirates," things will start going according to the plan given them by Archie. After all, the local authorities are in on the scheme to set the group up. Hrunting orbits a dim red star and has a standard atmosphere, a gravity of 0.5 G, fairly normal temperatures, and oceans that cover 30% of the planet. There is a Class B starport and a Sword Worlds military base there, and it is home to about 30 million people (mostly human). The system is named after the sword (said to be the best of all swords) that was used by Beowulf to fight Grendel's mother. (See GURPS Traveller: Behind the Claw for more info on Hrunting, Margesi, and the Spinward Marches.)
The party needs to go to the downport to go through customs. Tomas Kjold usually works 9 to 5. Normally the PCs would have come up with a plausible way to get Tomas as their inspector without being suspicious about it. The players should be presented with the problem that there is more than one custom inspector. However, any plan they come up with will succeed. In fact, if they just go up to customs, they will "just happen" to get Tomas. If he is not on duty, the office will be closed until the next morning.
Tomas will clear the party through customs. They will find a map to the delivery location mixed in with the papers he hands them. All landings must be made at the port. The party will need to rent a surface vehicle, or use one from the ship if it has one, to get to their destination. During this time they will be shadowed by both Imperial and Sword World agents. Characters need to win a quick contest of shadowing rolls, against a skill of 18, to spot them. If they do, they will lose sight of whoever is shadowing them and, shortly afterward, gun fire will be heard. If they go back they will notice that the former shadower is now trading gunfire with a target that can't be seen. He will exchange a few shots, break off, and slip away. If the characters don't win a shadowing roll, they will simply notice that a firefight breaks out nearby for unexplained reasons.
If the PCs realize what is going on, or try to leave Hrunting for any reason, anytime after they arrive in system, the backup plan is to "expose their crime" right away and arrest them where they are. In that case the situation is similar to the one that occurs after the Sword World and local agents spring the planned trap. The party needs to find a way to get off system. The local Imperial agents will help if they can. They will approach the group if they have not been captured. If the party is captured, the Imperial agents will do what they can to free them (probably sometime when they are being moved). However, this will be difficult.
DeliveryThe delivery point is a clearing just off a dirt road in an unsettled mountainous area about 2-3 days travel from the starport. On they way there, the PCs may, or may not, notice they are being shadowed (the NPCs have a skill of 18, roll once per day). The party finds the clearing where the map said it was. It is about 100 yds by 200 yds across. If the adventurers spy on the clearing before entering, they will notice two or three people waiting with a truck. As they enter the clearing, however, 50 Hruntingian soldiers with weapons and two armored personnel carriers will emerge from the cover of the woods (see below for stats). A bullhorn will announce that they are under arrest for "crimes against the people of the Sword Words Confederation" and demand their surrender. The party is heavily outgunned and this might be a good idea.
The party is arrested as film crews cover the apprehension of "Imperial agents trying to destroy the security and way of life of the Sword Worlds". They are about to be loaded into one of the APCs, with their stuff, when two air rafts carrying the film crew start to leave. As the air rafts fly out, ground to air missiles from behind a hill destroy them. The troops then begin taking fire from the woods. The Imperial agents have been busy.
It is probable that the PCs will want to use this opportunity to escape. There will be two people covering them with weapons, but they are paying more attention to the fact that they are being shot at. The party should be able to get the drop on them. When the PCs try to overpower the guards, the fact that they are distracted is handled as the party having won partial surprise (p. 123 of GURPS Basic Set). If they act promptly, they can also sneak in on the gunner of the APC who is concentrating on returning fire to the woods. This requires a Stealth+4 roll. The gunner cannot fire at people on the APC's ramp, but he does have a sidearm. If the party takes one APC and uses it to attack the other one (which has already taken a few light hits from the woods), the Sword Worlders will pull out, abandoning the PCs, vehicle and the nuclear triggers. If the PCs decide to just leave, the woods are just on the other side of the APC, so once they have taken it, or snuck around it, they should be able to slip away. If the party captures the APC but just uses it to escape, the Sword Worlders will manage to fight off the ambushers (there are 12 of them at this point) and they will keep the triggers.
EscapeFree of the ambush, the party now "just" has to find a way to get off Hrunting and out of the Sword Worlds. After the fight they will be approached by the Imperial agents (real ones) who attacked the Hruntingian troops (see below for stats). Their help will be useful and it will be good for the group to convince the agents they are dupes and aren't smuggling components for nuclear weapons. Of course, smugglers who don't ask what their cargo is aren't really any less guilty than ones who do, so the agents will still be keen to get them back to the Imperium, if only so they can be arrested. Extenuating circumstances (such as helping the Imperial agents in the clearing, helping recover the triggers if the Hruntingians still have them, and otherwise cooperating with them fully) may be of help here.
Whether the agents tell the PCs who they are, or give some cover story, depends what they know and how they react to the group. If the party has the triggers, the Imperial agents will insist on taking possession of them and they will not be seen again. Possession of the triggers will also help to verify the PCs' story. If the triggers have not been recovered, the agents will express, in no uncertain terms, the need to recover them. However, there are still 30 men left and there are only 12 Imperial agents so this may be difficult. They do have 2 missiles left (see below) and, if they act promptly, can get ahead to set up an ambush. At that point recovery of the triggers will depend on a good plan by the PCs.
Getting Off HruntingFortunately for the adventurers, the agents have previously placed charges in the spaceport's dispatch and defense systems. They can set them off using a remote control in their possession. When the party's ship takes off, the sabotage of the port systems will allow the ship to depart without incident. They will not give the remote control to the PCs, and 2-6 agents will insist on going along to get back to Imperial Space and report in (though they are primarily interested in making sure the PCs get into Imperial hands). Getting an APC to the port is unlikely. It will be spotted and attacked if it tries to get near the port and surrounding town.
The agent's sabotage can be used as a distraction and will prevent the player's ship from being shot down or pursued. The ship has been left locked and has not been moved (the authorities are counting on port security and the fact that the ship would be shot down by the port defense system if it tried to take off). The players need to get by the starport guards and set off the charges to take off. See below for a typical starport guard. The map shows the location of the area around the ship. Outside the perimeter fence near the ship two guards are on patrol. They are not making much effort to vary the regularity of their patrols. There are also two guards walking around the warehouses near the ship. There are two other guards patrolling the hangers nearby who can assist if called for by the other guards. They are all in radio communications. They can call for up to 12 guards to respond in 10-20 minutes.
The perimeter is monitored by visual and infrared cameras and pressure plates. It is not possible to sneak all the way up to a camera, but there are more cameras than the port has personnel to monitor them. On a stealth roll a character can get almost all the way without being seen. A roll of 6 or less means that camera was being monitored when the character was in sight. (Otherwise, the event was recorded but will not be watched until the next day. The cameras aren't motion triggered because of legitimate non-port related activity occurring outside the fence) Once a character is at a camera, there is a small blind spot to crouch in. It takes an Electronics, Security Systems roll to make the camera appear to malfunction. If they have a recorder and some cabling, they can record some camera output and make a loop to make the camera appear to be functioning (security will notice this on a 5 or less). Shooting the cameras, or giving them a good whack, will destroy them. The pressure plates are arrayed along the base of the fence. It takes a Traps roll, or an Electronics, Security Systems -4 roll, to spot a pressure plate. An Electronics, Security Systems roll at +2 will disable it without setting it off and a DX -2 roll will allow a character to step over it. A disabled camera will attract two guards to investigate in 10-20 min. A destroyed camera will attract a guard in five minutes and three other guards to check out the area. Being spotted on a monitor or activating a pressure plate will attract a dozen or so guards in three minutes.
The agents will agree to any reasonable plan on when to set off the explosives. This will cause confusion for about an hour, and then security will finally get organized enough to respond. For the first hour, the odds of a camera being monitored drop to a 5 or less. A broken/disabled camera, or a tripped pressure pad, is only responded to on a 10 or less (and then only with one guard). After an hour the security forces will get their act together. This will have the effect of increasing the guards at any location by 50%. Cameras will be monitored on a 8 or less, and response times drop by 25%. The port defense system will be back up in seven hours (though there's no way for the party to know that), and the ship will be blasted out of the sky if it attempts to leave after that time.
Alternatively, instead of sneaking in, the players may wish to come up with a plan to disguise their identities and and walk in. Descriptions, finger prints, etc. of the "terrorists" have been passed around. A decent plan to get by security screening at the port entrance will be needed to get them inside. People are being screened by visual identification and an X-ray machine. Characters that are close to the description the guards have been given have their fingerprints and DNA checked. Once in the port, the PCs will be likely to get near their ship without trouble (roll a 5 or less to get checked by a guard as the walk through the port) if they don't do anything dumb. Once they get near the ship they will have to evade the patrolling guards, who do know that nobody is suppose to be messing with that ship.
If they have not secured the cooperation of the INI agents, the players will have to come up with some other plan. Generally, getting away with their ship will not be possible. They may be able to disguise themselves and buy commercial passage or stow away on a ship. Once they get into the port, as outlined above, make an IQ roll for anyone they are dealing with to realize they are the wanted "terrorists" (if they are disguised, make it a quick contest between IQ and Disguise). If any NPC realizes he is dealing with wanted people, he will alert the authorities rather than deal with the terrorists on a reaction roll of neutral or worse. On a very good reaction roll or better, they will deal with them for a "price". On a good reaction roll it is up the players to convince the NPC to let them skate.
AftermathIf the PCs get back to Imperial space, they will be debriefed to within an inch of their lives. However, in the end they will be cleared of any wrongdoing. "Archie" will be nowhere to be found. If the triggers were recovered, the Sword Worlds and the Zhodani don't have much evidence of an "Imperial plot". Some of their forces were attacked, and a ship left port illegally, but they have no real evidence of Imperial involvement or of any vile plot. If the triggers are not recovered, they will have enough to make the Imperium unhappy, but not enough to make the kind of splash they hopped for. Neither side cares about the milling equipment that the triggers were buried in (the cargo beyond the 1,500 cf for the triggers) and it is forgotten about. If the PCs still have it, they can sell it for $1-5/cf . If, for some reason, the party left their ship on Hrunting, neither side will really care about that either, and it is up to the GM to see if the party can get it repatriated.
NPCs And Equipment
Imperial Agents Posing As Vargr PiratesThese are Vargr that have been raised and trained in the Imperium. They have been indoctrinated in human standards of loyalty (more due to human prejudices than any real need), which means the main effect of their Vargr heritage is a tendency to always want transfers to more prestigious assignments. They are well disciplined and task orientated, though they have a tendency to take initiative more than some operatives. The group is well equipped, but not with anything that a pirate wouldn't have.
Advantages: Combat Reflexes.
Skills: Beam Weapons (Lasers) - 15; Guns (Gauss weapons) - 13; Knife - 15; Judo - 15; Karate - 15.
Equipment: Heavy Monocrys and Reflec armor, Laser Rifle-10, Gauss Pistol, 4mm, Large Knife.
The leader has 3 levels of Charisma and the second in command has 1.
Typical Hruntingian TrooperThese are not top-of-the-line troops. The authorities planed for a simple apprehension of a half-dozen or so lightly armed civilians with the element of surprise. Fifty men (of any quality) supported by APCs seemed to be, if anything, overkill. All the men know is that the mission is to arrest some smugglers, though why 50 men, 2 APCs and a film crew have been assigned is the subject of some speculation. Their attitude varies from "this beats more training" to "Darn! I was suppose to be on leave this week."
Advantages: Combat Reflexes.
Skills: Guns (Rifle) - 12; Guns (Pistol) - 11; Knife - 11; Brawling 11.
Equipment: Heavy Monocrys, ACR, 9mm (however, they have not bothered to bring any grenades for the grenade launcher unless the PCs are known to have an armored vehicle), Auto Pistol, 9mm, Large Knife.
Imperial Agents Who Rescue the PCsThese are top of the line agents, but they are equipped more for mobility and infiltration than heavy firepower. They are a tight, well disciplined group that prefers to go by the book. Their mission is to find out what the PCs are doing, stop anything that runs counter to Imperial interests, and then see if they can't get the party back to Imperial space for questioning. The plan was to watch until they found out what was going on, but once the group reaches the clearing and is publicly arrested, it becomes clear the time to act is now or never (and the appearance is that, whatever is going on, it isn't good for the Imperium).
Advantages: Combat Reflexes.
Skills: Knife - 15; Judo - 15; Karate - 15; Beam Weapons (Lasers) - 15; Guns (Gauss weapons) - 15; Laser Rifle-10.
Equipment: Heavy Monocrys, Gauss Pistol, 4mm, Large Knife. Half of them also have a Gauss Rifle, 4mm, and 6 RAM Grenades. The group is also carrying 4 SAMs.
Typical Starport GuardAn ordinary guard, adequately trained. He is normally not very motivated, though this has been give a modest boost by the news that national security issues are on the line.
Skills: Gun (Rifle) - 12.
Equipment: Medium Monocrys, Assault Rifle, 7.5 mm.
Armored Personnel CarriersThe Beowulf C-7b is a TL 9 vehicle. It has PD 6, DR 350 on the front and PD 5, DR 195 on the back and sides and PD 4, DR 195 on the top and bottom. It has a minigun and an autocannon in the turret. It has four tubes for missiles, but they did not bring missiles for this mission. Each APC has only 300 rounds for the autocannon and 3,000 for the minigun. They both have radio (broadband and tight beam, 1,000 mile), inertial navigation, sensors facing all direction with a 10 mile range and 10x magnification (radar, ladar, targeting, IR, low light TV, etc.), a HUD display and pupil scanner (giving the gunner a +2 to hit), a complexity 5 computer (each crew station and the passenger area each have a terminal), and radical emission cloaking and stealth. It has room for an airlock and life support but they are not installed on this model (it is currently cargo space). It has room for three crew (one in the turret), 12 men, and 460 cf of cargo (all seats have crash webs). The body has 3,602 hit points, the turret has 288, and the open mounts have 19 each. Its empty Weight is 34,657 lbs (loaded weight 46,915 lbs), its volume is 2,612 cf, and it has a size modifier of +5. It has a top speed of 159 mph. It can accelerate at 2 mph/s and decelerate at 12 mph/s. Access is by a cargo ramp in the back.
30 mm heavy automatic canon using caseless APDS ammunition:
Malf. Type. Dam. SS Acc 1/2 dam. Max RoF Ver.(Crit) Cr 5dx9(2) 13 15 1500 6200 10
7 mm minigun using caseless APS ammunition:
Malf. Type. Dam. SS Acc 1/2 dam. Max RoF Ver.(Crit) Cr 8d(2) 10 13 740 4000 100
SAMs: These are light surface to air missiles designed for flexiblilty and reasonable weight. These ones are designed to take down light air craft and will not lock onto surface vehicles. They can be aimed manually at such targets, but they don't have much in the way of sights (Acc 6). 63 mm missile with a large warhead (HEPF) and Active Radar Homing, Weight with disposable launch tube = 20.5 Lbs, Speed = 1600 yds/sec, Endurance = 4 seconds, Guidance (ARH) Skill = 20, Min Range = 50 yds, Max = 6400 yds, Damage (direct hit) = 6Dx28, Damage (proximity fuse, explosive only) = 6Dx23.
NotesI have chosen to make the cargo "nuclear triggers". It really doesn't matter what they are, as long as they meet the conditions of the Zhodani agents; a) the cargo is a hard-to-obtain part that is needed to make nuclear weapons, b) the patsies themselves won't be able to make a nuke with just what was given to them, c) no actual radioactive components are present.
It was assumed that the party has a ship that is unarmed, or is an armed Scout ship. If the party doesn't have a ship, then Archie can approach Rilvall Keoutop (a Vilani independent trader) who has a ship, but whose crew has just quit. He will then offer attractive salaries to the PCs. The Vilani will also turn out to be only marginally competent, the reason the old crew quit, and will not be much use beyond piloting the ship.
If the GM feels the need, the ship bringing in the cargo to the players may be armed enough to discourage the party from trying to change the deal or force new terms at the point of a gun (if his players are inclined to this sort of action). The "pirates" in the Hrunting system should be armed enough to make the fight interesting, but the odds of the players losing both the space battle with the "pirates" and the subsequent boarding action should be low. If the Imperial agents succeed in boarding the ship and in discovering the triggers, they will seize the triggers and PCs. This could go any number of directions. The PCs can try and escape with the triggers and complete the delivery. They can spend the rest of the adventure trying to convince Imperial interrogators that they aren't in league with Archibald and the Zhodani. Or maybe they can convince the INI agents that they are dupes, and not Zhodani agents, and can cooperate in going forward with the delivery to uncover the perfidious Zhodani plan.
When they get to Hrunting, it might seem impossible for the party to screw up before they get to their destination. This is not so. One group of players managed to get themselves arrested. This presented the local officials with a dilemma. Simply dropping the charges might tip the players off to the fact that there is more going on than meets the eye. However, if the PCs are left in jail, they can't make delivery. The local officials arranged for the charges to be dropped on some pretext and hoped for the best. If similar problems arise, local officials will try and not obviously help the group, but if necessary will do what they have to and hope for the best.
Article publication date: September 24, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to email@example.com.