Thursday, November 30, 2023

Campaign Report: the CHV Natani

 Recently, the Silver Gull team has had a lot of missed sessions. A lot of life is happening. We all still want to play, but we are in a critical part of that campaign that really requires all hands on deck. In the interest of keeping us gaming I proposed a few months of hiatus and a different game where the PCs can easily come and go as they please, and that would be played in a far more disjointed, episodic fashion.

I proposed a White Star campaign where the PCs are a group of space bums who come into a light ship, and cruise the galaxy trying to make a buck. This has the bonus of letting us play a game based on Swords & Wizardry, so we aren't even making a radical shift in game system. Characters not involved in the current adventure are "In Cryo", "Doing business at the local station", or simply "staying on the ship" for the current away mission.

I plan on documenting it as I have done for the Silver Gull.

Oct. 30th: Setting Up

My players here are old friends, we don't need much of a "Session 0" they include my brother, my best friend, my brother's best friend, and a cousin. Most of us have been playing together since the early 90s, or if not, for at least 5 years. This session was spent doing two things: rolling characters, and establishing the basics of the setting.

The PCs and Henchmen

Kuna (class: pilot) is a green-skinned alien with an easy-going personality. He talks like a Californian beach bum. Recently he won a light freighter, the Natani in a game of poker. A gifted starship pilot, but not much of a leader, Kuna find himself fully capable of flying a ship, but with only a vague idea of how to captain it and run it like a business.

Ciara (class: cypher) is a rebellious princess from a large cosmopolitan world. She spent her youth rebelling against her family and the Antarean Hegemony that they rule. She has been involved with anarchists, subversive groups, and hacker collectives that share embarassing secrets, meme warfare, and counter-propaganda. Eventually, she became such a political threat that her own family decided she needed to be disappeared. Having a heads up, Ciara fled with two loyal retainers, and has been on the rin ever since.

Ciara has two henchmen: Tazik is a hulking alien brute of a reptilian species who are second-class citizens in the Antarean Hegemony, and sees Ciara's ascendance to the throne as a way for his people to have better lives. Pavo is an engineering and mechanical robot that Ciara rebuilt some years before.

Iria (class: rock star) is a musician who almost made it to the top before her band broke up. Now she is trying to get another shot at rock stardom, but finds herself stuck in space station dive bars and being stalked by aliens who traffic in human adrenochrome.

Iria has a henchman as well: Roth is an incredibly handsome alien brute of the Allurian species - minor telepaths with limited abilities to manipulate others' emotions. Roth is Iria's bodyguard, roadie, and biggest fan.

Leedo (class: bounty hunter) is a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter and assassin who has his best weapons in hock and only a few creds left. He needs a big score fast.


This setting is meant to be a lightweight and silly space opera borrowing tropes from shows like Space Rangers, The Arena, Andromeda, Futurama and the Space Quest video games. It's most influential source, however, is the black comedy space opera podcast We Fix Space Junk, which I gushed about at length in my review of the story game based on it, Automnijobs.

One of the big players in the setting that the PCs know about is Friend Co., an interstellar corporation that offers a range of services related to space travel, including mortgages on starships, loans, lease-to-own deals on starship parts, human resources, emergency rescue and supply services, fuel, and connecting available ships with contract jobs.

All of which comes, as you can imagine, with absolutely usurious interest at about 10% per month. This puts small crews deep in debt and under the thumb of Friend Co. for years. 

Meanwhile big businesses can buy policies that insure these small crews are constantly available for rescue, resupply, escort, etc. for incredibly low prices. Big starliners win. Friend Co. wins. Space port authorities win. The little guy loses, but hey, at least he has his ship, right?

Friend Co. has a business partner called Crushco, that handles bounties, small-team mercenary work,  security, and investigation work using the most direct and brutal tactics available. In some stations it is the only game in town for bounty hunting. In the worst systems, it is the only law there is.

November 6th: Desperation

This session was spent getting the band together. It starts on course to Veles sation, a rundown space station that serves as the trading hub for a handful of small colonies and mining operations. It is crowded, filthy, and lawless.

Friendly Trails

Kuna wakes from cryo-sleep after his first jump in his newly-won vessel, The Natani, after getting the hell out of Tarkani system before the previous owner changed his mind and killed Kuna to keep his ship. As there was no food on board to speak of, Kuna chose to take the jump in sleep to stave off hunger. He might have a ship, but he also only has a few credits to his name.

Trying to get a handle on what his prospects are he talks to the ship's intelligence, A.N.O.D.E., and discovers that with the ship, he had also won a substantial account with Friend Co. The Natani had been heavily outfitted with equipment on a rent-to-own basis from Friend Co. The cryo chambers, secondary turret, automatic targeting computer, advanced shield generator, mining drone bays, high-end mining drones, air scrubbers, and refrigerator were all rentals from Friend Co., and the previous captain had been doing the bare minimum to keep the wolves at bay. The Natani was 17 months in arrears and the debt for parts rental and interest was approaching 9,000 credits.

Of course, Kuna could just rip all the parts out and return them to Friend Co., and get much of that debt paid off, but then he would have a ship with no drones, no shields, bad air, and no fridge. So, Kuna decided he was going to have to play the game for now, and logged on to the Friend Co. terminal to buy fuel, rations, and find work. At least there is a discount for Friend Co membership...

Family Matters

Ciara is looking for an easy mark: someone she can hack a few more credits from as she watches the busy docking bay... it looks like a flea market with many of the smaller ships offloading wares and sellign them right off the cargo bay. The promenade overlooking it is cluttered with kiosks, stalls, even tents. The Veles festival of trade should have made finding marks easily.

Pavo, her robot, suddenly speaks up. "Boss, I think there is something you ought to know about the latest docking call."

"What that piece of junk hauler that just landed?"

"No, not the Natani, there. Right after it an exterior dock was reserved for a small cruiser. An Antarean small cruiser."

"Crap. Is it my family?"

"Doesn't say boss... but it is listed as 'diplomatic envoy'."

"Crap. I gotta get out of here. Is there any ship hiring?"

"Not yet, but I am only detecting one life-form on board that hauler that just arrived. It will probably be picking up crew. Only... it's Friend Co. Which means..."

"Which means it is going to be shitty jobs for shitty pay." Ciara sighed. It is better than being vaporized by a trigger-happy cousin.

"And you will need a Friend Co. contract to make this easy for the captain."

Ciara wanders up to Kuna, and begins shuffling around him to make sure the airlock that the cruiser is docking on is not in site. Then taps him on the shoulder.

"Hey, are you the captain of that ship over there."

"Don't worry, I'll be done with the terminal in a minute..."

"No, it's not that. It's that I need a job for me and my friends here. You need a crew."

Kuna looks blankly at Tazik, Pavo and Ciara, then comms his ship.

"Anode, do we need a crew?"

"Preferably, sir. I can do a lot of work automatically, but a living being with intuition is always better."

Kuna squints at Ciara "How much are you looking for pay?"

"Oh not much... just a standard, uh, Friend Co. contract. You know?"

"So you've got a Friend Co. account?"

"Sure, let me at the terminal and I will call it up." Ciara plugs her hot boc into the terminal and hacks her way aggressively into the Friend Co. system, creating a fake ID for herself and Tazik, including a randomly generated work history, and phony recommendation. Pavo starts asking Kuna lots of questiosn to distract him. For his part, Kuna is so out of his depth he wouldn't know what Ciara was doing in the first place.

"There! My profile, contracts, everything!"

A Big Break

Iria finishes he last number to a vague smattering of applause from the patrons of Beer and A'van'it. No tips flowed in. The only serious applause came from the bartender, and of course, ever-faithful Roth. Sighing, she packed away her guitar and slouched onto the bar as the bartender transmits her earnings. A lousy 14 credits. Enough for another night in a coffin eating synthetic protein... She was pleasantly pleased when the bartender at least tapped her a beer on the house.

The news featured another story on local pirates and the illegal trade in human neurotransmitters.Yeah... she needed out of Veles station bad. And was considering writing another piece on her sense of existential dread, when her comm called. She didn't recognize the voice.

"Iria Ocano?"

"That's me!"

"Boy, am I glad I got the number right. Iria, I am going to make your day. My name is Brax. I am a talent scout for Monolith Music. I was real sad when the Bottle Rockets broke up,"

Iria winced at the name of her old band but listened.

"Everyone knows you were the real powerhouse of the band anyway. Now listen, I caught a stream of you playing the other night, and I expect that with the right people, you can really shine. And I just got an opportunity. Where are you?"

"I'm in Veles System right now."

"Veles? Jesus! you need a better gig than Veles. Lucky for you I have a spot to put some fresh talent on Deathmatch of the Bands. I got a backup band lined up, some new songs for you to play. Can you make it to Cascadia in two weeks?"

Iria does a quick calculation. Cascadia is 8 jumps away. Doable, but very tight.

"I can make it, but I'm broke."

"I can help you with transport after you get here if you can make the show."

"I will make it."

"Beautiful. I am transmitting you some songs to learn. See you in Cascadia."

Iria explains her good luck to Roth as she slams down the beer and heads out to the nearest terminal after thanking the bartender. Overlooking the crowded docking bay she starts scanning manifests and flight plans. Cascadia, Cascadia, Cascadia.... Nothing. But there is one ship that still doesn't seem to know where it is going. She might be able to scam a ride... Seemed iffy.

Roth suddenly nudges her and points out two big aliens carrying some nasty hardware and what might be pirate colours sizing her up. She and Roth pick up the pace, heading as fast as they can for the Natani.

A skinny woman in punked out clothes is loading a robot on board the Natani as she approaches.

"Are you the captain?" The woman thumbs a confused looking alien doing work at the local Friend Co. terminal.

Plucking up her best charming smile she approaches the confused-looking alien.

"Excuse me..."

"Don't worry, I will be done with the terminal in a minute..."

"No, I'm not interested in the terminal, but are you the captain of that ship?"

Kuna looks up, bewildered.

"I want to charter your ship. I need to get to Cascadia. Are you going that way?"

Blinking Kuna comms his ship.

"Hey, A.N.O.D.E., are there any jobs on the Friend Co. terminal heading for Cascadia?"

"One. Shipping 72dT of frozen alien crustaceans to there."

"Like, shrimp?"

"Closer to triops, really. Very big triops. But they are food items."

"Can I take that much?"

"The Natani has a cargo hold that can contain 100dT and the cryo bay was originally another 33dT bay before my previous owner converted it."

"Woah. Cool. Sign me up for the shrimp then."

Kuna smiles ate Iria.

"I am now going to Cascadia."

"Wow, thank you so much captain. I, uh, don't suppose Roth and I can cut down on the bill a bit by working? Do you need crew."

"Uhh, sure... welcome aboard. I just need you both to sign up for Friend Co. contracts so I can hire you the easy way." Kuna smiles to himself and comms A.N.O.D.E. "I think I might figure this out yet."

"Very good captain."

A Lovely Lady

Leedo is nearly knocked over by a pair of felinioids who were trying to trail a human and an Allurian. Looks like trouble... probably pirate trouble. But, without a verifiable bounty, it is more trouble than it is probably worth. He needs a payout. Fast. There is a lovely lady in need of rescue.

His lovely lady. Ruby. A Swift ZA-17 Laser Rifle with a custom stock and a custom amplifier. A memento from a better time in his life. She'd saved him more times than he could count. It hurt his soul when he had to take her to the pawn broker. But he is nearly there. Just two more jobs and she'll be his again.

He turns his attention to the medical scanner in his hand. He was tracking the pheromone trail of a couple of shape-shifting con-men. They represent most of the cost of getting her back.

There, the tall Tarelian female examining weapons at a cut-rate arms booth. He saunters over and stands beside her, examining 3-D printed ion sticks, and takes in the scent: faint perfume their species can't hide. He resists the temptation to strike her right away; he needs the partner, too, if he's going to get the payout he needs.

He startes asking obtuse technical questions about the products to the merchant, until the mark leaves. Then haggles unreasonably over the ion stick for several moments before walking away as the Tarelian sits down at a cafe table across from a Br'xik, (a tiny beaked semi-humanoid amphibian...) or what looks like a Br'xik... It takes very little time to confirm it is the partner that he was looking for.

Leedo waited patients at another stall, continuing his routine of obnoxiously cheap market patron until a table near theirs clears, its patron ducking off to a washroom. He takes a seat, pretending to steal a sip of the hapless patron's Av'an'it as he slips a sedative pill from his medical pouch. He waits for the next big kerfuffle at the marketplace -- you never had to wait long -- then deftly flickS the pill into the faux-Tarelian's open coffee cup.

In this business, Patience is everything.

After a moment the faux-Tarelian's face begins to droop and deform as the shape-shifter began to lose focus. Her partner whispers urgently at her, but it was no use, she slumps over -- unconscious. Before the faux-Br'xik can respond, Leedo twists in his seat and the tungsten claws concealed in his left bracer pop out and pivot to present their blunt side. He slams them down hard on the frightened shape-shifter's head, and it too slumps over. He quickly quells shouts of alarm from the other patrons by flashing his Crushco ID.

Soon hired robots are dragging them into the Crusho office holding pen, and he is watching the credits roll into his account as the docent of the office praises his choice not to shoot up the market.

" have some common sense. We need more bounty hunters with that. The station authority has been climbing up my cloaca for weeks about trigger-happy idiots. I'm gonna pretend you are representative of us adjusting to their demands."

So close. He is so close to springing Ruby now. One more job.

"Hey, have you got anything else for me?"

The docent snapps her nictating membranes thoughtfully for a moment, then transmits a file to him.

"This guy has been hard to get. We had intel that he's inbound on the Yzwa, But the Yzwa is currently stranded on the outer edge of the system. Even money if the pirates or Friend Co. gets to them first. Got the brains to figure this one out?"

Doctor K'twik... smuggling, misappropriation of cultural artifacts, academic fraud, sale of stolen goods, claim-jumpting... pretty mild. Leedo thinks for a moment then allowed a broad grin to stretch across his noseless blue face.

"Friend Co. you say?"

"Sure, the freighter has a Friend Co. plan. They will send a ship out with fuel and a repair man as soon as they can bully some debtor into doing so. Although finding anyone working with Friend Co. who has the morale to do anything quickly..." the docent wrinkled her reptilian snout and made a gesture that Leedo was pretty sure meant "Fuck it."

"I might have developed an interest in humanitarian space operations."

"Well if you are a Cruscho bounty hunter, you already have a Friend Co. account." The docent grins showing way, way too many teeth.

Kuna's head is spinning, five crew contracts, a frieght deal... he needs a tutorial on this stuff. Only Friend Co. tutorials were behind a paywall.Naturally. Then are the jobs to take... The shrimp to Cascadia was long term... but he needs some in-system work to get things started. Hmm... mapping the outer belt is a few hour's o easy work for the station authority. He ticks those off. But the Friend Co. jobs? There iss an urgent rescue mission that could pay off almost his whole debt in one go... probably too dangerous... Some freighter in need of refuelling, might be worthwhile... a tansatmospheric run... he needs to know the ship better, first... sigh.

"Excuse me, Captain."

"Just a minute. I'm nearly done with the terminal."

"No, no, Captain. I am not interested in the terminal. I am interested in you."

Kuna turns to see at Leedo standing behind him and clutching a medical kit to his chest.

"Okay... what can I do for you?"

"I am a doctor of the Holy Order, and I travel the galaxy trying to find ways of... helping... people."

"Oh, I'm fine. Just a little tired."

"No Captain, you don't understand. I am looking for a chance to serve as a ship's medic on the short term. I saw that you were registered as a Friend Co. emergency relief vessel. I am sure that you have all kinds of chances to meet and help interesting  new people. I was wondering if you might take me on, so I can continue the Good Work."

"Well, I am going to Cascadia. Do they need doctors there?"

"Probably. But, Captain, you have so many opportunities to help people today, and still jump to Cascadia. I mean, look here..."

"That rescue job? Looks like pirate bait to me."

"No, no, Captain. I agree, but this refuelling job.. those people could be in terrible danger with so many outlaws around. Maybe we can help them out, and earn some points from the Great Power." And 500 credits for it is a good material reward, too."

Kuna lookw this alien up and down. He's terrible at reading aliens. He shrugs and signs up for the job.

"I'll probably need a medic. Welcome aboard. Do you have a Friend Co. account?"

"Right here, Captain."

Kuna nods and files another contract. Then comms A.N.O.D.E. again. "Hey A.N.O.D.E.?"

"Yes Captain?"

"One more crew coming aboard. Can you flag that we are not hiring?"


"Finally" he sighs, turning back to the terminal. This is going to be a strange business...

Next Time...

I will continue my play summary next time with the Nov. 13th and 20th sessions, with slightly less fictionalization. Stay tuned for giant space squid, psychic archaeologists, pirate radio, and painful ewok bites...

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