Science Fiction


The PCs stand in a wrecked apartment, surrounded by the bodies of dead corsairs. They have raided the nest of assassins sent by Samina’s Corsairs to kill them, and today’s session finds them standing in the blood and gore of their victory. As they scoured the apartment for loot, Siladan dug into the communication logs between the hit squad and their masters, looking for useful information. Today’s cast:

  • Pilot Saqr (Pilot)
  • Gunner Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Deckhand Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Gunner Adam (Soldier)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)
  • Captain Al Hamra (Mystic)

The gathered together weapons, armour and money, dividing it up between them and piling the loot they did not need for resale. As this task was nearing completion Siladan emerged from the media room with bad news: one of the hit squad had sent off an alert when the battle began, and now a contingency plan had been enacted.

The corsairs’ plan

Digging through the records, Siladan had learnt the corsair’s plan. Once the hit squad had killed the PCs they would send a message to an ally on the inner planet of Lubau, where two ships lay waiting. These ships, the attack ship Seven Sisters and the disguised freighter Icons Grace 7132, would depart for Rockhome 3. The Icons Grace 7132 was carrying a crew of 24 marines, whom it would land on the asteroid outpost under the cover of a trading mission. These marines would pacify the asteroid, kill its leaders and force the asteroid colony into submission under threat of complete destruction. The Seven Sisters would lurk nearby, jamming emergency signals and attacking any ships that attempted to flee. After Rockhome 3 was pacified, the squad left on Coriolis would travel to the Dabaran system, where the corsairs had a friendly agent called Livam who would be able to launder documents to transfer ownership of the Beast of Burden to the corsairs. They would then take the ship to Samina’s corsairs, where it would become compensation for the trouble the PCs had put the corsairs through.

Once the hit squad raised the alert that they had been found and attacked, the corsairs activated the whole plan. The two ships would soon depart for Rockhome 3, with the intention of taking by force what they had previously attempted to take by guile.

The defense of Rockhome 3

The PCs jumped into action. They already had a small class II fighter stored on Rockhome 3, the Gunmetal Logic, and they guessed they could mount a robust defense of the station using this ship and the Beast of Burden. They decided they would fly there, warn the people of Rockhome 3, and set up a simultaneous ground and space defense of the colony. They would allow the corsair marines to unload and then trap them in an ambush, while at the same time their spaceships attacked the Seven Sisters. If the defense went well they would capture one spaceship and salvage a second. However, they did not think that the colony had enough defenders to take on 24 marines, so they turned to their new contact on Coriolis, the street urchin Mifiln. Mifiln took some of their money to the Court of the Slummer Queen and, as a boon granted in exchange for saving the lives of some slummers, she provided them with 10 thugs and two nekatra, who would help in the defense of the colony. They set off for Rockhome 3.

To spring their surprise they would need to travel to Rockhome 3 with their transponder turned off, but two days into their journey they found themselves passing near a Legion Battleship, the Momentary Lapse of Reason. Being discovered by this battleship with their transponder off would no doubt trigger all manner of unpleasant questions, and they were forced to scramble into an emergency stealth mode. Reiko Ando shut down the reactor while Bana Delecta engaged their ship’s stealth feature, and they drifted past the giant battleship in the dark, hoping that they were far enough away and dark enough with the reactors shutdown that the ship would not notice them. After a tense hour drifting in the dark the ship passed them by without noticing, and they continued on their journey. Perhaps the crew of the Momentary Lapse of Reason were making the same assumption as the residents of Rockhome 3, that the Kua system was free of pirates and bandits, and they did not need to search especially hard for signs of trouble.

The PCs were not so sanguine. They could track the Icons Grace 7132 from its transponder, and they could tell that it was traveling alone. The Seven Sisters had turned off its transponder and was somewhere out there. Most likely it was traveling near the Icons Grace 7132, but the could not be sure. In case they were ambushed as they approached, they sent a warning to the station, and arrived a few days later, unmolested, still traveling stealthy. At Rockhome 3 they disgorged their soldiers, split into two squads, and took the Gunmetal Logic and the Beast of Burden to hide at a nearby asteroid, named the Shoulder of Orion by the residents of Rockhome 3.

The enemy ships arrived together, behaving as expected. The leader of Rockhome 3, Abraham, played his part and allowed the Icons Grace 7132 to dock, while the PCs tracked the Seven Sisters to a location near Rockhome 3. Once the disguised freighter was docked they sprung their ambush on the attack ship. The space battle was short and brutal. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Seven Sisters had little chance against her larger and more heavily armed opponents. At the last, however, as her systems were shutting down and her weapons disabled, she manoeuvred straight towards the Beast of Burden on some kind of collision course. The PCs opened fire on her with everything they had, collapsing the hull and killing the crew just in time to prevent the smaller ship’s captain from triggering a reactor explosion that would have been catastrophic for the Beast of Burden.

Barely scratched in the space battle, the PCs docked with Rockhome 3 and moved in to attack the marines. As they disembarked from their ships they were warned that the marines had established a bridgehead in the corridors between the docking bays and the residence section, and were slowly pressing forward. They were well armed, well armoured and ferocious. The PCs hit them from behind, forcing the marines into a vicious battle to escape the crossfire. This battle did not last long before it descended into close combat, with both Adam (in his defense droid form) and Reiko Ando getting caught in melee with the enemy leaders while Saqr, Adam, Oliver and Delecta fired into the support groups.

As the battle unfolded though they began to think that the captain of the Icons Grace 7132 might do the same as the captain of the Seven Sisters – and a reactor explosion in the confines of the Rockhome 3 docks would be catastrophic! Adam and Dr. Delecta broke off from the battle and rushed into the hangar, to storm the ship and stop the pilot from destroying everything. Here they found the two Nekatra, lying horribly dead on the deck, and a squad of four more marines rushing down the gangplank to engage them. Adam cut them down with rapid fire, and the survivors scattered to take cover while Delecta bravely sprinted across the hangar to the gangplank behind which they hid. Under the cover of Adam’s fire she managed to get into the ship and sprint down its hallways to the rear reactor. Here one of the crew tried to shoot her, and she was forced into gun combat while Adam finished the battle with the remaining marines outside. He rushed up to support her, as the ship announced that reactor criticality was imminent. They shot down the sole crewmember and rushed to disengage the reactor. With just seconds to go Dr. Delecta canceled the explosion orders, and the battle was finished.

Aftermath

They had killed another 24 corsairs, disabled another corsair ship and captured another. They would be able to salvage the wreck of the Seven Sisters, and although some of the Rockhome 3’s residents and the Slummer Court thugs had been killed, they had survived the battle relatively unhurt. They calculated that by now they had destroyed three corsair ships, captured two, and killed probably 40 corsairs, including several ship’s pilots. They guessed that no matter how powerful the corsairs might be, as a mere pirate gang they could not possibly sustain those losses. For at least a short time, while they were recovering, the PCs guessed they would have a pause in hostilities. In the meantime, they would be able to decrypt the stolen corsair data core, find the location of the corsair’s base, and travel to Dabaran to force the corsair’s contact there to register their stolen ships as their own possessions – as well as tell them what he knew about the corsairs. Perhaps then – once they had a small fleet of ships, and had learnt all they could about the corsairs – they would be ready to put an end to this annoying and increasingly frustrating nemesis. Perhaps once it was all done they could even turn the corsair base to their own use … but for now they would rest, and loot the growing pile of enemy bodies they were leaving in their wake.

Oh! We weren’t expecting you …

Our characters were attacked by a hit squad from Samina’s corsairs, who they defeated at the cost of their captain’s life. The corsairs are tracking them down to make them pay for what they did at Rockhome 3, and they now realize they will not be able to live in peace until they have dealt the corsairs a serious blow. Having tracked them to their lair they decided to attack the remainder of the hit squad, and begin preparations to raid the corsairs themselves. The roster for this session:

  • Adam, gunner and soldier
  • Al Hamra, captain (dead, but his soul uploaded into the ship’s computer, and capable of operating through a defense drone)
  • Siladan Hatshepsut, archaeologist
  • Oliver Greenstar, colonist
  • Dr. Delecta, doctor

Mifiln and Kenji

The PCs were helped in their mission by an unexpected pair of new hands. Oliver Greenstar had sent a teenage street urchin to follow the hit squad and find their lair, which they did; and now this urchin returned to their ship accompanied by a big, gruff friend. The urchin, called Mifiln, introduced their friend as Kenji, a thug, and revealed that neither of them had anywhere to live after a small accident in their apartment. Mifiln had noticed that they needed eyes and ears – and contacts – on the deck in Coriolis, who could attend to their interests when they weren’t there, and Mifiln and Kenji were willing to take on this task for a mere 500 birr per month each. They would keep an eye on matters in the station, attend to details the PCs wanted dealt with, and help them navigate the vicissitudes of life on the station. Mifiln also accidentally revealed a talent for telekinesis, which immediately endeared them to the party, and also offered to show them a sure way to get to the corsairs’ lair undetected as a token of good faith.

The path they recommended was simple but a little dangerous. Mifiln knew of a docking bay in the cellars that was used by smugglers and would open, no questions asked, for a small fee. From that bay they could move up the central spine of Coriolis station to an entrance to the lower decks of the Coriolis core, where the corsairs had established their base in an old luxury apartment. There were no cameras on the way up, and the back paths to the area where the corsairs lived were also likely unmonitored. The corsairs did not know they were coming but were certainly not expecting any trouble from below, and had few connections in the cellars that could be relied on to help them. Mifiln, however, had an in to the Court of the Slummer Queen if they needed it, and could give them general directions on moving through the cellar.

They agreed, hired Mifiln and Kenji, and set to work.

Death in the Cellars

They took the Beast of Burden‘s shuttle to the docking bay in the mid cellars, and as Mifiln had told them found they could enter without documentation for just a small fee. From there they moved up the spine, which was a long series of staircases, galleys, empty halls and half-functional elevators that circled around a huge, open shaft. This shaft plunged from the Coriolis core all the way to the very bottom of the station, a vertiginous 5km deep shaft into which protruded various platforms, ruined spars, walkways, sensor spires and random junk. They trudged wearily up the core, walking for hours and stopping regularly. It was cold, tiring and dispiriting work.

After a few hours of climbing they stumbled on a large platform, and as they climbed the stairs to the platform they heard a gunshot, yelling and screams. Reiko crept ahead to investigate, and saw a terrible sight. Two soldiers were standing over a line of ragged-looking cellar denizens, all sitting slumped on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs. One lay dead on the ground, and the remaining five were crouched in terror, scared into silence by the death of their friend. The PCs had been warned about these police: purge patrol, heavily armed and armoured guards sent down from the core to do raids on the people who lived illegally in the cellars. They had free rein to do as they wished down here, and acted essentially as death squads terrorizing the people who lived in the cellar. Particularly for people pushed out from the lower levels to the upper cellar, they were a constant threat[1]. These six had obviously failed to patrol their area closely enough, and had been caught. Reiko explained what she had seen and everyone moved carefully up to the steps to wait and see what would happen.

It was worse than they expected. One guard dragged the woman from the end of the line over to the edge of the platform, where a narrow gangplank stretched out over the shaft. He pushed her, gesturing with the gun, and when she refused he fired the gun once at her feet, forcing her onto the plank. They watched in horror as she backed slowly along the gangplank, remonstrating with the guard and begging for her life, until finally she slipped and fell with a long, fading scream into the darkness. The guard turned away, exchanged a joke with the other guard, and grabbed the next of the ragged crew. This person realized that it was the end of the line for all of them and began struggling to escape the guard’s grip. As the guard raised his weapon Al Hamra lost his patience, and opened fire with his defense robot laser. Without time to make a plan or make any decisions, the party attacked the purge patrol. They killed the two guards quickly but as they were finishing them off were ambushed by two more coming from a covered section they had not seen. One of these guards managed to score a minor injury on one of them before they were able to respond and kill them too. They looted the bodies, freed the prisoners, dismissed their thanks, and continued on their path, hurrying now before their deed might be discovered by any other guards.

Near the ambush site they found an elevator that would take them up to the core, and after some debate decided that it might be wise to activate it, just in case they needed to bring injured PCs down, and in order to escape the zone of the ambush quickly. After a few minutes of work Siladan got it working, and they rose in clanking glory up to the lower levels of the core.

4 Bedroom Luxury Apartment Floor Plans – Floor Plans and Flooring Ideas

The raid

They found the safehouse easily enough, and from outside Siladan attempted to hack the apartment’s systems, to no effect. They were forced to open the entrance and enter blind. From the entrance hall some of the group turned right, moving down a narrow corridor to a large open area with a pool, deckchairs and a bbq area. Its two outer walls were reinforced glass looking out over the beauty of space, and the whole area was aglow in the reflected green light of Kua. At this pool area they found a group of corsairs lounging around, along with their leader. They opened fire on the group but were too late – the men had been warned and were already running into the residence rooms.

Meanwhile the remainder of the group pushed straight into the main residence rooms, heading directly inward from the entrance hall. They immediately ran into an armed and armoured guard who had been watching them on CCTV and was ready, opening fire on them as they opened the door to the inner rooms. Battle was joined!

The battle was short and brutal, with the corsairs taking cover in the hallways in the inner residence and fighting with vulcan pistols while one corsair ran to a weapons room to get heavier weapons, and the sniper emerged from another room with a shotgun. The battle turned to bloody close shooting and hand-to-hand combat in the hallways, and in the fray Oliver was mortally injured, only saved by Dr. Delecta’s hasty work. Finally, though, they pacified the whole building, killing six corsair grunts, the sniper who had killed Al Hamra, and the leader. Al Hamra used the tentacles of his defense drone to kill the sniper personally, squeezing her eyes into her skull and finally killing her by digging the tentacles into her brain. The rest were dealt with in a more orthodox way.

The luxury apartment was now theirs. All its outer rooms had floor-length windows with a full view of the planet Kua as it rotated beneath them, or the distant star depending on the time of Coriolis’s rotation. In the far side of the apartment from the swimming pool they found a media room, which had been used to communicate with the corsair base in Hamura system. Here they were able to uncover the corsairs’ plans for them, and for Rockhome 3. They were ready to launch a counter-strike, a strike heavy enough to bloody the nose of the corsairs and convince them not to push their luck in the Kua system. But first they needed to rest, and heal, and prepare.

They were ready to go to war with Samina’s Corsairs.


fn1: To be honest, I’m not convinced this is a good addition to the Coriolis station part of this universe. It makes Coriolis very cyberpunk or like a failed capitalist dystopia, like a latin American city in the 1980s (or I guess Manila or Brazil now?) and it doesn’t quite work with the image of Coriolis as the stable centre of the Third Horizon. Also this whole space station is only 8 km long and teeming with life, so how can it be that there is a whole underbelly that is completely beyond the control of the authorities and plagued by death squads? It seems a bit out of whack with the whole image of the station. But I’m running with it, for consistency with things that are likely to happen later.

Our heroes have returned to Coriolis loaded with Firstcome loot that they stole from a drifting cargo ship beyond the Eye of Anuba. They plan to relax in Coriolis station for a week or two, selling off their loot, repurposing some Firstcome artifacts, and looking for new work. The cast for this session:

  • Pilot Saqr (Pilot)
  • Gunner Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Deckhand Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Sensor Operator Siladan Hatshepsut (Archaeologist)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)
  • Captain Al Hamra (Mystic)

Their first act upon arrival at Coriolis was to sell off the torpedoes they had scavenged from the ruined freighter. Once they had done that they settled in to count the money, while Dr Delecta set to work on the strange medical device they had recovered from the ship, and Siladan Hatshepsut tried to reconfigure the defence drone they had salvaged. They learned that the medical device had the power to cure any critical injury just by being placed on the wound, though they weren’t sure how it worked[1]. They managed to not only repair the defence drone, but also to give it a voice-activated command setting, and build an app that they installed on everyone’s tabula so that they could activate it remotely.

The crime

The PCs were relaxing on the third observation deck of their ship (the deck with the sumptuous cushions and the arabesque wood panels) when they were alerted to a visitor requesting access. His calling card introduced him as a policeman, detective Alef, and he seemed quite intent on being admitted. They roused themselves from their mid-afternoon caffeine revelry and assembled in a greeting room, and waved him up.

Detective Alef was a stern middle-aged man, trim but not excessively macho, wearing regulation khameez in a suave dark grey, hair at a business-like buzz cut with streaks of grey running through it. He introduced himself and took a seat, obviously impatient to begin business, and flicked them all a picture of a dead woman. In the picture she lay on a steel floor, swollen face streaked with dried blood and eyes hideously misfigured. They did not recognize her.

“This is Lydia,” he told them. “She arrived on your ship from Rockhome 3 on the 37th of the Merchant, and she was found dead two days ago. I’m here to ask about her.”

With the name and the date came recognition, and they realized this was the sole surviving corsair from the raid on Rockhome 3. Her mother had been with her, and her mother had agreed to tell them everything about the raid in exchange for Lydia’s freedom. They had then brought her to Coriolis and dumped her on the station with a small amount of birr, and the promise that she would not return to the corsairs.

“We found her dead in an old airlock down near the cellars. Conveniently the security cameras and activation alerts were long since dead, probably used by smugglers. You can see she didn’t have a chance. So I’m here to ask you about her.”

They looked nervously at each other, because they could see where this was going. Detective Alef then proceeded to lay out his theory: that they had brought her here from Rockhome 3 to do some criminal work for the people of Rockhome 3, but she had betrayed them and the PCs had killed her in the secluded airlock. He had joined the dots well: he had evidence of Rockhome 3 suddenly paying off a debt that had been festering for years, and the PCs suddenly disappearing on a long journey into the Dark Between the Stars. Was it smuggling? Artifact dealing? Slavery? Organ harvesting? Had she failed them or betrayed them? Which one of them pressed the button that depressurized the air lock and killed her?

They denied everything of course, with all the shifty contempt of people who know they are falsely accused. They could hardly tell him the truth – that they had spaced her mother and left her colleagues to be beaten and tortured by the Rockhome 3 survivors, then brought her here and dumped her on the express condition that she never tell her pirate bosses about who did all that to her. All they could do was deny any knowledge of her purpose and her origins, and assure Alef that they had done nothing wrong and were not involved in crime. Eventually, with no admission and no contradictory evidence, Alef was forced to give up and leave – but not before giving them all his number and telling them that whoever cracked first would be treated leniently by the adjudicators. “Call me,” he grunted as he walked out of the cargo bay entryway.

They shrugged it off. There was no evidence they had done anything. Presumably Lydia had returned to a life of petty crime when her small birr supply ran out and, not knowing the station, had crossed the wrong people. Their promise to her mother had only delayed her spacing for a few cycles. Truly, crime does not pay. They returned to the observation deck, and prepared for the week of job hunting.

The sniper

Al Hamra was returning from a day spent looking for possible work when he noticed a group of stevedores working at a cargo lifter near the entryway to the cargo hold of the Beast of Burden. As he passed them by he realized that their coveralls were a little bulky, and they were watching him a little too attentively; a second glance confirmed for him that their coveralls were hiding body armour, and that these were not stevedores at all. He reached for his tabula to send a warning to his crew, when he was suddenly struck by a huge force in his shoulder and thrown to the ground. A moment later he heard the crack of a sniper’s rifle and realized he had been shot – and terribly wounded. He rolled onto his face, trying to cover his tabula, and played dead. The last thing he saw as he fell was the stevedores reaching into the cargo lifter and pulling out vulcan carbines. Moments later they walked past him, briefly talking about whether to finish him off but deciding against wasting the ammunition. The threat passed as they walked inside, and left Al Hamra dying on the cold floor of the dock.

Al Hamra waited until they were heading up the ramp and sent a message to Saqr, in the cockpit, warning him of the incoming thugs. Then he gritted his teeth and hauled himself up the ramp towards the entry, beating the sniper to the shot and ducking under the cover of the ship’s hull.

The raid

Saqr sent the alarm across the bridge, and they sprung into action. Siladan opened the app and activated the defense drone, which was in the cargo hold that the thugs entered by. As it came to life they noticed it and three of them opened fire on it, while three more ran to the elevator out of the cargo hold. Saqr, sitting in the bridge, sealed the doors to the living quarters and the bridge so that they would be trapped in the elevator access hall when they arrived. Dr. Delecta ran to the rear elevators to descend to the cargo hold, while Siladan and Reiko Ando grabbed weapons and ran forward to engage the incoming raiders. Downstairs the defence drone engaged the three thugs remaining in the cargo hold, and Al Hamra hauled himself up the entryway and into the cargo hold. His wound was very bad, and every action was a struggle, but he had to defend his ship.

The battle that followed was short but brutal. Upstairs, one of the pirates managed to hack the doors and enter the living space before the team could properly gather, and a vicious battle broke out in the main lounge, with Reiko Ando and Siladan in close combat against two of the thugs while Oliver and Saqr fired on them and a third took cover behind the doors. Downstairs Delecta sprinted the length of the hangars and into the cargo hold, reaching it just in time to see the defence drone under heavy fire and Al Hamra knocked down by gunfire. She opened fire from her surprise position at the door, and her intervention was enough to turn the tide: between her and the defence drone two of the three raiders went down, and the third sprinted out the door. Upstairs, with four PCs attacking the thugs from two directions, they cleaned up quickly, although it was a close fight.

The death

With the raiders defeated Delecta was able to run over to Al Hamra and assess his condition. He was dying of his wound, and they would need the new Firstcome medical device immediately. She called to Siladan, who ran to the medibay and trashed it looking for the device. Finally he found it and sprinted down to the cargo bay, but the huge distances in the ship prevented him getting there quickly. As he arrived Al Hamra’s condition had worsened, and he appeared to be breathing his last ragged breaths. They slapped the machine onto the dying mystic’s chest and activated it.

Al Hamra breathed his last, his eyes opened and he died without even the grace of a few last words. Delecta had failed.

Moments later the machine beeped and a robot voice said, “Download completed. Please transfer to stable storage within one minute.”

They looked around in confusion. What had they done? But the machine was insistent – its battery was low and it needed to transfer the data before shutdown. They hadn’t even charged the damn thing! Yelling recriminations at each other, Siladan and Dr. Delecta connected the machine to a data outlet for the ship’s computer and, not really knowing what else to do, yelled at it. “Commence download!”

Moments later the ship spoke to them in Al Hamra’s smooth Zenithian drawl. “You people really can’t do anything right can you?”

Their mystic captain had become the ship’s intelligence.

The nest

As this battle unfolded Oliver Greenstar was returning from a mission to make a deal with a hacker. He saw the remaining raider and a heavily-armed sniper hustling away from the docking bay, and guessed that his ne’er-do-well companions had got themselves into more trouble. He called a nearby street urchin who had been lounging around the docks for the last few days looking for work, and gave him 50 birr to follow the fleeing thugs. The urchin took the job eagerly and disappeared after them. Greenstar returned to the hangar and boarded their ship just as the rest of the group were cleaning up. The PCs had found one of the thugs still alive and were interrogating him in the blood-soaked cargo hold when Greenstar returned.

The thug had little to say, but they learned what they needed to. He and his friends were agents of Samina’s corsairs. They had learnt that it was the PCs who had foiled their mission on Rockhome 3, and they had come to get the ship’s data core of the Algebraic Escalation back from the PCs. They had killed Lydia in the process, and intended to kill the PCs too once they had the information they needed about the ship’s data core.

Well that hadn’t really worked out, had it? They killed the remaining thug and dumped him in the trash disposal with the rest. It was then that the doorbell rang, and detective Alef returned, responding to Al Hamra’s call.

What to do now? They spun a fast story and delayed the detective until they could clean the cargo hold and hide the bodies in the smuggler’s stash. They told him that Al Hamra had called him because they had been under attack by some local thugs, but that the thugs had gone. Somehow they convinced him to leave, and disposed of the bodies in the spaceship’s recycling unit. They were not in trouble with the law – yet – but they still had work to do, because Oliver Greenstar had received a message from his street urchin. The two thugs had returned to a base near the cellars, and they were not alone.

It was time to finish these corsairs. They prepared themselves for battle.


fn1: Actually it’s a recorder, that downloads the soul of a dying person, but they rolled a botch on their skill check and didn’t know this, a fact that will become relevant later …

You came in that?

Our PCs have had their first battle on board their ship, and I have been forced to think in detail about how large it is and how it is laid out. This is difficult, because many RPGs give guidelines on what to put in your ship and how much it costs, but very few talk about how it should all be laid out, how big it is and what it all looks like in the end. Some early games like Traveler provided deckplans but the ships they provided were very closely modeled on nautical ships and had a lot of flaws in their design (including that the final deckplans didn’t much match the design). So I did some thinking about how ship sizes and scales work in the Third Horizon, and came up with some guidelines, as well as some house rules for ship design. This post summarizes them.

The motivation: The Beast of Burden

The PCs’ ship is the Beast of Burden, a Class IV converted luxury yacht that they use for exploration and – as little as possible – combat. I have described the Beast of Burden elsewhere but its key modules of interest for ship design are:

  • 4 Luxury suites and 16 standard cabins
  • Two hangars, each capable of holding one class II or two class I ships
  • A single cargo hold, which in the original rules should hold 250 tons of cargo
  • A salvage unit
  • An arboretum

I ruled at the start of the game that the arboretum is a module, not a feature. The Beast of Burden is also armed and has various other modules, but for the purposes of ship design I think the ones listed above are crucial. So I need to figure out how all this is laid out and what it all looks like.

Ship size: The surprising scale of Coriolis ships

To figure out ship size I thought about hangars. These are the largest components of a ship, and are available from Class III up. A Class III ship should be able to hold a single Class I in its hangar, and a Class V should be able to hold one Class III. We can make some judgments from this. First of all, how big is a class I ship? It has 3 modules, so let us assume that each module is either a hangar capable of holding some small air raft or similar sub-orbital vehicle; or that each module is a 5x2x1 m cargo hold [for more on cargo holds see below] then we could imagine that if we laid these modules end to end the longest they would reach to would be perhaps 15-20 m long and 5 m wide. Add on a 5x5m floor plan for the bridge, and then a general padding for the external shell of the ship, engines etc, we can imagine that the longest a Class I ship would be is about 30m. Perhaps its total dimensions would be a maximum of 30m x 20m x10m.

This tells us that a Class III ship hangar would have to be about 50m x 30m x20m to comfortably fit such a ship. Realistically a Class III ship couldn’t have more than 4 modules for hangars, and we could imagine laying them in a 2×2 pattern (or in a ring of 4). So a Class III ship’s hangars alone could be 100m x 60m x 20m, or a cylinder 50m long and 60m in diameter. Add in some extra space on each end for cargo, service, engines etc and we can imagine the maximum size for a Class III ship would be about 150m x 80m x 30m. A Class IV ship needs to be able to hold 2 Class I ships in a single hangar, so that hangar must be about 100m x 50m x 30m. A Class IV ship could have 8 or maybe even 12 hangars, so its maximum size (with padding for crew space etc) would be 350m x 150m x 80m. Based on this we can present the following table for ships in the Coriolis system.

Ship class Max length Max width Approx weight Equivalent vessel (Earth)
I 30m 20m 600 tons Fast patrol vessel
II 75 m 40m 9000 tons Naval patrol vessel
III 150m 80m 60000 tons Container ship
IV 350m 150m 420000 tons Largest ships on earth
V 600m 300m 3600000 tons None
VI 1.2 km 1km An enormous amount None
VII 2.5 km 2 km None
VIII 5km 4km None
IX 10km 8km Coriolis station

The Beast of Burden herself is approximately 240m long, which makes her about the length of a Panamax cargo ship – some of the biggest ships used on earth[1]. Most of this is on the service deck, which holds two hangars, the salvage unit and the cargo. Without these modules she would be much, much smaller, but a Class VI ship with a hangar needs to have a hangar large enough to fit her, so its hangars need to be at least 300m long – in fact they need to be large enough to hold a much bigger Class IV ship than the Beast of Burden, which is why a Class VI ship can be 1.2km long.

Astute readers might notice that the weights given here are huge. I found some guidelines for calculating the weight of an ocean-going ship which suggest its weight is its volume divided by 5, and I have calculated the spaceship weights on the assumption that they would be half the weight of an equivalent-volume ocean-going ship. The reason for these enormous weights is that a terrestrial ship is long and slim, but no such restrictions apply to a spaceship. The Knock Nevis was 70m wide and maybe 80m in height, while a Class IV ship is twice as wide and higher as well. These larger volumes lead to much greater weights. In any case, in space weight is unimportant, so the main concern is volume, not weight.

For comparison purposes, I estimate the Coriolis space station is about 4.8 km wide and 7km long, making it a Class IX ship.

Dimensions of some components

It’s worth noting that ships of the same class can be remarkably different in size. A Class I ship with three weapons modules might be only 10m long, and a class IV ship that was devoted to carrying pilgrims in coffins might be only 100m long. Without hangars and cargo we can expect they are much more compact, but the ship class is decided by the total quantity of its components, not its size. Let us consider the size of some of these components.

For living space, I assume that a luxury suite is a 10mx10m floorplan, while standard suites are 5mx5m. I assigned 1m3 of space to the service station per 10m3 of volume of the ship. I decided not to measure cargo by weight, but instead by volume – 1 ton of cargo can be tiny if it is iron ore, or large if it is raw cotton. So instead I assign 10^class m3 of volume to cargo per module (so a class IV ship cargo module is 10,000 m3). The salvage station should be half the size of a hangar on a ship of that class. For class 1 and class II ships I assume a hangar (for sub-orbital small vehicles) might be about 10mx5m. Everything else I consider to be malleable in size and allocation, and I assume extra space for luxury suites or shared living space is natural. Docking stations, etc. scale up with the ship.

I assume the height of a deck for living space is 2m, or 3m if the ship is spacious, plus 1m per class of the ship. The Beast of Burden has two levels on top of its service deck, so as a class IV luxury yacht each of these levels would be assumed to be about 7m in height, with 3m of actual space experienced by the people in the ship. Obviously service decks don’t follow this plan.

Finally, I multiply the total volume by a small amount (perhaps 10%) for super structure, and then by a percentage equal to the cost inflation of the ship’s features. So if a ship’s features make it cost 30% more, then it also takes up about 30% more volume.

House rules for ship design

I made a few house rules for ship design, which I list here.

  • Cargo by volume: As mentioned above, I think cargo should be measured by volume. I assume 10^class m3. On a class IV ship this means one module takes up 10,000 m3, which is a 100mx10mx10m cube. On the Beast of Burden this is two sections, each 25mx20mx30m, forward of the hangars. A Class IV ship with 12 modules devoted to cargo could have 200mx60mx10m of space, 100mx60mx20m, and so on. By way of comparison I think the largest super-tankers can hold about 500,000 m3 of oil, about 4 times as much as a Class IV bulk hauler.
  • Divisible modules: If modules scale with class, I have decided ship designs can swap a single module for multiple smaller class modules. So for example a single class IV module could be composed of two Class III modules, four Class II modules, or eight Class I modules. So instead of having 64 stasis pods, a Class IV ship could opt for 32 stasis pods and an extra 8 escape pods (both class III modules). This will cost more because module price doesn’t scale with class, but it makes the ship design more versatile
  • Extra class I modules: For ships of class III and above, a couple of free class I modules can be chucked in to represent the vast space in these designs. These ships get 2^(class-2) extra class 1 modules, so a class IV ship gets 4 extra Class 1 modules. For example, an extra tiny hangar for sub-orbital vehicles, one more coffin, an extra escape pod, etc. This is just flavour.
  • Prison modules: The cabins module can be exchanged for a prison that holds as many people as the coffins option. Put it next to the medlab for added torture chamber options.
  • Hangar expansion: The rules suggest that the number of ships should increase as 4^class (so a class V ship can hold 16 class I ships) but this is madness: I have chosen to make it 2^class. On my calculations this means that Coriolis station can hold up to 192 class I ships at any time. I think that’s okay!

With these rules it’s easier to design flexible ships that suit their purpose.

Ships beyond Class V

I have included ships up to Class IX in my table of sizes to allow for the Coriolis to be described by the rules. I have not considered how modules, hps etc. scale up with these sizes, but a basic progression from the rules would suggest a Class IX ship has 640 modules, 24hp and 11 EP, and 17 armour. I would guess that some of these values (particularly armour and hp) would scale further, and modules might plateau, so you might expect 400 modules, 40 hp and 30 armour or something similar. That’s basically indestructible. Good thing there’s only one, and it’s not mobile!

Conclusion

The Coriolis ship rules lead to staggeringly large and very cool ships, with a lot of variation in size and structure within a class, and a lot of flexibility to describe different ship designs. Coriolis station is outside the core rules, but probably the way the rules work they could be scaled up to describe Coriolis station accurately. It’s likely that your PCs will encounter ships up to 1 km long, and they’re probably flying in some rusting hulk that is bigger than most ships on earth. I think there is a problem with Class 0 ships – we need some designs for in-system fighters but the current rules don’t support that – but otherwise the rules scale well and it works nicely. By adding dimensions to some components and changing the size of cargo, it’s possible to come up with some guidelines for how to lay out deckplans and design ships that are awesome in scale and lots of fun to fly in.

I want my spaceships big and exciting. I’m looking forward to the moment my PCs encounter a 1km long spaceship, and have to negotiate …

Edit to add:

I have house-ruled the hangar module to allow the hangar to carry more ships of lower class at a rate of 2^(class step). So a class 4 ship hangar can hold 1 class 2 ship or 2 class I ships. But the official rules say this should happen at a rate of 2^(2*class step). So a class IV ship hangar holds 1 class II ship or 4 class I ships. This leads to a really rapid rate of increase of ship sizes, even if we make generous assumptions about how small a class I ship is. For example, suppose we say the biggest a class I ship can be is 15m long and 10m wide, and a hangar should allow 5m on all sides of this ship. So a class I ship needs 25m x 20m of space in a hangar. Then a class III ship hangar would need to be 25mx20m in size, and the largest a class III ship would be would be perhaps 70m x 50m, if it had four hangars. However after this hangars scale up rapidly! A class IV ship hangar would need to hold four class I ships so needs to be 100mx20m, and a class IV ship could potentially have 8 of these, which in a realistic cylinder shape would make its hangars 200m long and 50m across – so the whole ship is about 250m long. After this things scale fast. A class V ship hangar holds 16 class I ships and needs to be 100m x 80m or 200m x 50m, so a class V carrier could be 1km long and definitely more than 600m. Then a class VI ship hangar would hold 64 class I ships and need to be 400m x 100m, and so on. By this reckoning I think the largest ships in each class would be about 1km (class V), about 2km (class VI), 4 km (class VII), 10 km (class VIII) and 20km (class IX). These are huge! And that’s assuming that class I ships are half the size of my starting assumption. In this variant there is much more diversity of size within ship classes, and the PCs will likely never encounter a ship bigger than class IV, but it does raise the possibility that the Order of the Pariah are sitting on some ginormous battleship (let’s call it the Yamato) that is going to appear in the Kua system some time in the future and be bigger than the Coriolis …


fn1: The largest ship on earth was the Knock Nevis, which was 460 m long. Panamax ships are routinely 250m long.

Broken the barred gate, rime on the plaster,
walls gape, torn up, destroyed, consumed by age

Earth-grip holds the proud builders, departed, long lost,
and the hard grasp of the grave, until a hundred generations
of people have passed.

Our characters have escaped from a djinn-possessed ship, and returned triumphant to Coriolis station where they reported word of the Syndicate’s smuggling ring to the Coriolis Guard. But it was not their intention to run an aborted rescue mission on a doomed ice hauler: they had been out at the Eye of Anuba on the trail of an ancient Firstcome spaceship, which an ancient book told them was lying silent and untouched beyond the Eye. They decided then, after the distraction of the ruin of the Orun II, to try and reach that Firstcome ruin again. They spent a few days in Coriolis station recovering their good humour and resupplying the Beast of Burden, and then set off again for the Dark Between the Stars.

The crew for this mission:

  • Pilot Saqr (Pilot)
  • Gunner Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Gunner Adam (Soldier)
  • Sensor Operator Siladan Hatshepsut (Archaeologist)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)
  • Pilot Al Hamra (Mystic)

Syndicate Salvage

The journey to the asteroid belt was uneventful, as it had been before, but as they approached the Eye of Anuba, following the same course as their last journey, the PCs were hailed by a passing ship. Captain Arrak of the Amoeba was pleasant enough in his greetings, but soon began asking pointed questions about their route, and whether they had encountered any abandoned ships on their journey. He told them that the Amoeba was a salvage ship, simply looking for wrecks to scour out here in the Dark, but their sixth sense told them there was something more involved than that. Siladan scanned the Amoeba and noticed that she was heavily armed, much more dangerous than is necessary for a salvage ship working the asteroid belt in the Kua system, and likely on the prowl for some illegal purpose. They guessed that this was the Syndicate, looking for evidence of the Gunmetal Logic, the ship they had sent out 10 days before to intercept the Orun II, and which the PCs had captured and hidden away on Rockhome 3.

They played dumb, a simple luxury yacht taking a bunch of rich tourists on a joy ride past the Eye of Anuba and out into the Dark. They had seen nothing but if they stumbled on anything they would let captain Arrak know immediately. He thanked them and the ships parted ways, although not before the Amoeba slyly dropped a drone in pursuit of their ship. Whether or not their story had worked, captain Arrak was keeping tabs on them.

Once the Amoeba was out of sensor range Saqr jumped into their fighter, the No Satisfaction, and dropped into the edge of the Eye of Anuba, flying through the storm of asteroids into a position behind the drone and out of its passive sensor range. Oliver and Adam took gunnery positions in the Beast of Burden, and Saqr opened fire on the drone. Saqr’s shot hit, but the drone had ablative armour: The drone disappeared in a storm of melted plastic and crystal dust and then emerged fully intact, its sensors going onto full broadcast mode. Before it could send a warning to its parent ship Adam fired their accelerator cannon and blew the newly-vulnerable drone to fragments.

Safe from prying eyes, they skipped over the Eye of Anuba and began their search for the shipwreck.

Firstcome Ruin

They found the ship after a day of searching, lying on the line of travel their ancient book had recommended. It was not as large as the book suggested, perhaps 600m long and a narrow 100m wide. It lay there in the vast emptiness, completely silent, powered down, motionless in the vast Dark. Under its belly there was a cloud of wreckage, and as they approached they could see that it had been in some kind of intense battle. The huge engines at the back of the ship had been torn apart by various heavy weapons, and the ship had been torn apart all along its belly.

They flew under its belly and into the shadows of Kua’s sun, looking for entry points. The belly of the ship had been blown out along a 300m long line, with pieces of the  hull lying in a rough sphere near its belly, perhaps having melted off after an intense fire. It appeared to have been a cargo ship, but the superstructure and all the contents of its cargo bays had been ruined by fire and brutal missile strikes. There it lay, nameless and ruined and unclaimed for 500 years. The PCs drifted in, looking for a way to loot this graveyard.

It was then that the Muzhadjar struck, unfurling themselves from the ancient wreck and swooping down to feast on the Beast of Burden. Fortunately Siladan detected them before they could come too close and the gunners were able to open fire on them, while Saqr threw their ship into a rapid spiral to try and avoid the beasts. They destroyed the first one as they sped towards the ship, but Oliver’s shot on the second one did not kill it, and Saqr had to throw the Beast of Burden into more complex evasive manoeuvres to stop the beast catching onto their hull. Were even one of these beasts to latch onto their ship they would be unable to kill it with their ship’s weapons, and would have to do a space walk to take it on with their personal weapons. Saqr thew their ship into a desperate loop and Adam released a torpedo, which hit the second beast as it swooped in, blowing it apart into a cloud of shadows and wrecked flesh.

They flew back towards the ship, scanning carefully for more of the Muzhadjar and finding none. So far away from the Rimward Reach and the main crowd of Firstcome shipwrecks, perhaps this remnant vessel had only been able to draw a few loners rather than the vast flocks that they had heard populated the Reach, and could tear a ship to ruins in just a couple of hours. As they drew close to the ravaged ship nothing more emerged to attack them, so they drew the Beast of Burden to a halt, suited up, and prepared for an EVA.

Among the Ruins

Saqr flew across first, using a hand-held rocket to move from the ship to the roof of the devastated cargo bay underneath the ship. Here he tied a guideline to one of the cargo crane gantries stretching across the roof of the cargo bay, and waited for the rest of the crew to join him. They left Reiko Ando behind to manage the ship, and traveled across the guideline one by one. Oliver Greenstar lost control of his ascent and flew into a crazed spiral, hitting a piece of floating hull and hurting himself before he finally reached the cargo bay. Trapped in his wake, Al Hamra was nearly hit by a piece of flying debris but managed to pull out of its way just in time. Finally they all gathered in the cargo bay. From there they took another careful space walk to the engineering section at the stern of the bay, Siladan almost kicking himself away into the Dark before Saqr and Dr. Delecta caught him. They reached the engineering section without further incident, and settled into the relative safety of its blackened and wrecked consoles.

Now they were in amongst the wreckage they could see that this ship had been horribly damaged in some ancient battle. A huge hole had been blasted through the middle of the ship by some enormous ancient weapon, leaving a perfect tunnel some 10m in diameter that traveled from the very top of the ship to the very bottom, emerging midships in the cargo bay. At the rear of the ship, in the engineering section, the floor and walls were riddled with holes from some powerful projectile weapon, as if perhaps the ship had been repeatedly strafed at close quarters, leaving raking sweeps of holes that pierced the walls and structure of the ship and let in pale shafts of light from distant Kua. The walls and floors had been blackened by fire, and the engines had obviously been massively damaged by missile fire, cannon and super-heated energy. They could find no human remains, probably because anything that was not secured to the walls and floors had been sucked out by the massive, explosive decompression when the base of the ship was blown out by whatever rail gun had punched the hole ‘midships. Throughout the engineering area and the cargo bay there was a faint cloud of dust, the scattered remnants of ash and melted plastic floating in the space of the hold. Where beams of Kua’s pale light shone through the blast holes in the ship’s hull they were caught by this cloud, filtered into faint rays of light streaking the empty space of the hold and the engineering section as if it were an abandoned cathedral to some primal god.

The cargo bay was perhaps 300m long and 100m wide. The engineering section was 80m wide and 20m long at its widest, a huge sweeping room of control panels, strange ruined machinery, and wreckage. It had once been separated from the cargo bay by a huge sweeping wall of plexiglass, but that wall had been blown out by the force of decompression, or by the implosion of the ship’s reactors, and now only shattered fragments protruded from the floor, leaving it open to space and the desolate emptiness of the hold. There was an elevator shaft, but the elevator was jammed and wrecked inside it and riddled with holes. Next to it a narrow staircase led upward to the ship’s main deck.

Before they headed up Siladan and Oliver found a control panel that held switches for emergency power batteries, and flipping the switches managed to engage enough power to turn on emergency gravity generators. Everyone gently drifted to the floor of the engineering bay, finally able to walk in vaguely natural gravity. Oliver through a piece of broken steel out of the shattered window into the cargo bay and watched it slowly accelerate toward where the floor had once been – and then pass beyond it, outside where the hull had been, and off into the emptiness of the Dark Between the Stars.

There would be no jumping out, then.

With the reserve batteries some emergency lights flicked on, casting a grim red glow over the wrecked panels. They marched up the stairs.

The drones

The stairs took them up to another engineering section, abandoned and empty like the last but not as badly damaged. Two more huge engines loomed over the stern wall of this section, wrecked and full of holes but not as badly burned as those downstairs. Here the plexiglass was mostly intact, and looked out on another huge cargo bay, perhaps 100m wide and 30m high, stretching 200m to a distant wall. The starboard side of the hangar had been blasted open by multiple missile strikes and all its contents torn outside by decompression. Across the blasted wasteland of the cargo bay itself the walls on the far side were riddled with holes from secondary blasts and perhaps also the same cannon fire that had hit the engines. Kua’s light streamed in through the holes in the starboard walls, casting a diffuse golden glow over the slowly settling plastic dust.

As they advanced across the open space Dr. Delecta checked her motion sensor and warned everyone that there were two incoming targets. Moments later something opened fire on them from the far side of the bay. Energy weapons streaked across the open space, and they rushed to cover – finding none. Instead they dropped prone and returned fire, shooting at vague shapes in the distant gloom around the far wall of the cargo hold. Energy weapons fired at them, and two strange floating drones emerged from the shadows of the far wall. They had cylindrical bodies with wiry tentacles hanging down to the ground, a blue glowing exhaust of some kind beneath the cylinder and an energy weapon on the top. As they moved forward firing, the tentacles writhed and twitched, looking for someone to grip and drag into the air. The party fired into them as fast as they could, Oliver and Adam using full burst autofire. One of the drones struck Oliver in the leg, but they managed to shoot them down before they could reach melee combat and grab anyone with their tentacles. The drones fell broken to the floor of the hold, and the PCs advanced to investigate them.

Siladan was able to confirm that one robot could be recovered, and perhaps reengineered to serve as a drone defender on their ship. They moved on, into the bow of the ancient ship.

Loot

Dr Delecta’s motion sensor warned them of more movement above, but at this level now they were safe, so they searched the bow of the ship for loot. They found a docking bay filled with high quality firstcome exo suits, and called in the Beast of Burden to dock with the air lock. They also found some torpedos, which they moved into the Beast of Burden – though they dropped one and activated its nuclear warhead, and had to throw it out of the hole in the middle of the ship before it detonated, leaving it drifting off at gravitational speeds into space to detonate 11 minutes’ travel away. They changed into the Firstcome exo suits, dragged the dead drone defender back to their ship, and moved upstairs to the top deck of the ancient ship.

They had to climb up the elevator to do this, and as soon as they emerged they were attacked by a strange, animated suit of armour that looked like it had been cast from mercury. It fired on them with a vicious thermal weapon of some kind, knocking Oliver unconscious almost immediately and almost killing Adam before their return fire could cut it down. Even as they destroyed it a second one entered the room they had entered, and they were forced to fight it too. Siladan charged in with his mercurium sword but the beast caught his strike, tore the weapon from his hand and hurled it out of the ship’s hull and into space. As the team poured gunfire into the strange suit of armour Siladan lost his cool and headbutted it with his new Firstcome exo suit. Somehow he found the beast’s only weakness, caved in its skull and killed it with one hit. The strange mercurium armour fell dead at his feet.

They looted these ancient Kinetic Intelligences, and searched through the ruins of the upper decks diligently until they found the ship’s data cores. They removed these carefully, finding also the captain’s personal tabula, and dragged it all back to the Beast of Burden. Satisfied they had found enough to profit handsomely, they cut loose from the ship and headed back towards Coriolis. Once they were a good distance from the ship Al Hamra contacted captain Arrak of the Amoeba and told him of the find. For 25,000 birr they sold its location and agreed never to speak of it to anyone.

Behind them the grave of the Firstcome floated in the empty Dark, the story of its destruction untold, its crew forgotten. It had been a good day, and its secrets would make them rich.

We talk about it all night long
We define our moral ground
But when I crawl into your arms
Everything comes tumbling down
Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down

 

Our heroes find themselves in the engine rooms of the Orun II, an ice hauler that has been overrun by an ancient Djinn. They have rescued the engineer and a deckhand, but the master Stevedore is trapped midships, and they need to make a decision about whether to risk their lives to save the ship itself, which is plunging out of control towards the Eye of Anuba, a cluster of highly active asteroids that will almost certainly tear the ship apart when it reaches them. They have just hours to act.

The roster for this session:

  • Pilot Saqr (pilot)
  • Gunner Oliver Greenstar (Colonist)
  • Engineer Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Sensor Operator Siladan Hatshepsut (Archaeologist)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)

The gunner Adam, their main soldier, had been badly injured in a battle with one of the Djinn’s ancient bodyguards, so he retreated to the Beast of Burden along with Al Hamra, the captain, who had been traumatized in the battle and was on the edge of breaking. The rest of the group retreated with their leader to their ship, where they upgraded their armour and weapons now that they knew the kind of enemy they faced. The engineer turned off the ship’s graviton projectors, so that the ship would no longer be accelerating towards the Eye of Anuba, buying them perhaps an hour of time, and retreated with them to their ship.

They decided to travel to the workshop in the centre of the ship, rescue the stevedore, then abandon the ship and leave it and its crazed Djinn pilot to die in the Dark Between the Stars. Armed and ready, they set out for the centre of the ship. This could only be reached by an old service elevator that ran down the centre of the ship, so they climbed in and set it running. The elevator was huge, large enough for service vehicles to fit in, but old and rickety, and it almost did not start when they first stepped in. After a moment though it sprung to life with a shudder and began to track through the centre of the ship. The Orgun II is really just three control centres connected by a huge spine of external cargo attachments, so as they traveled along this spine they could look out of the elevator windows and see the huge chunks of ice hanging from the outside of the spine. The distant light of Kua’s sun shone through them, refracting into pale rainbow patterns on the wall so that as the elevator passed along the ship’s cargo it filled alternatively with the faint honeyed glow of the sun itself, and then a rich pattern of dancing rainbows as the sun’s rays were blocked by the ship’s icy cargo. Occasionally the elevator juddered and rocked, and at one point an asteroid struck one of the icebergs as they passed, spraying chunks of ice all over the outside of the elevator. Finally the elevator docked with the central control section of the ship and they were able to enter the workshop area.

They passed through an outer chamber and through a large door into the workshop itself, a huge domed space full of gear, disassembled service vehicles, spare parts and random pieces of shipware. As they entered the room a shot rang out, nearly hitting Reiko Ando and forcing them all into cover. They called out and after a moment were able to convince the shooter that they meant no harm. After a few tense minutes spent confirming they were not possessed or here to kill him, the master stevedore Kolb Zir emerged from his hiding place behind a workbench and agreed to talk to them.

The Syndicate

They were just beginning to talk to Kolb Zir when Siladan received a message from Al Hamra, telling him there were strange signals on the ship’s scanners. Could he patch into the ship’s sensor system and check them? Siladan opened his tabula and patched into the ship’s sensors to check the scans – and saw to his horror the remains of a space battle glittering in the dark a short distance behind their ship. Whatever ship had won that battle was heading towards them, inbound at high speed and running without a transponder. Someone else had been coming to their ship, and someone else had intercepted them, destroyed them, and was now approaching as fast as they could.

The time for negotiation with Kolb Zir was over. They handed him back his gun, jumped into the service elevator, and began the slow, rickety ride back to the engineering section. By the time the elevator had reached its destination the crew of the other vessel had docked, and as the PCs emerged from the engineering section they met the interlopers in the docking area. This new crew were immediately identifiable from the symbols on their combat armour – Syndicate mercenaries, hired killers for the crime gangs on Coriolis. What had they done to deserve this?!

Battle was joined, but it was quick and brutal and in the first moments of the fight they were able to take down the gang’s leader. After a short firefight the team were cut down, and only one man was left alive after he surrendered. He called down the pilot of their small ship, and told them that they had been sent to the Orun II to recover some drugs that were onboard. The Syndicate had been running a smuggling operation using ice haulers and scrap ships from the asteroid belt: they would ship in drugs and other contraband from across the Horizon, hide it in shipments from the asteroid belt and then smuggle it into Coriolis in the freight, with the help of corrupt stevedores on Coriolis. They had been told that on this occasion the Orun II was carrying a quantity of a highly dangerous drug called Black Lotus, that had been strapped to some stasis pods and buried in the ice. When the Orun II went dark and disappeared they had been sent out on a mission to find the drugs. As they approached the Orun II they had seen another ship, a small vessel sent by the Melem Gesurra shipping company that owns the Orun II. Assuming it had been sent to take back control of the ship they had destroyed it and docked to take control of the vessel. They had come ready to deal with raiders or pirates, and had not realized they would meet such stiff opposition.

The party laughed at that, and came up on an idea. They handed the pilot the armour of one of his dead colleagues and told both of them to head forward, get the drugs, and come back with them, and they would let them live. If they did not come back, or did not bring the drugs, they would be abandoned on the ship to die. The Syndicate thugs, having little choice and knowing nothing of the djinn, agreed to this ugly bargain, and set off on the elevator.

As this interrogation happened Saqr had taken the Syndicate ship and docked it within the Beast of Burden’s second hangar. They prepared themselves for the return of the Syndicate thugs: Oliver Greenstar took up a position in the upper gun turret of the Beast of Burden, autocannon aimed at the central elevator shaft; Reiko Ando and Siladan placed themselves at the airlock connecting the Beast of Burden to the Orun II, ready to meet the thugs if they returned; and Bana Delecta waited in the airlock of the Beast of Burden in case anyone needed medical care. They waited.

A Grand Bargain

They had set up both thugs to have an open comms link to the Beast of Burden, but they did not plan for Oliver Greenstar’s personal problem. Oliver had told no-one, but he had been possessed for many years by a creature from the Dark Between the Stars. As he sat at his gunnery station it took control of him and made contact with the Djinn where it sat in the darkened bridge of the Orun II. Alerted to the character’s plans, the Djinn sent its warriors to the entry of the elevator shaft. They killed one of the Syndicate thugs while the Djinn took control of the other, as Oliver Greenstar ran a monologue over the comms system to distract from any small noises the others might have heard[1]. They waited, not realizing what was coming, as the elevator moved smoothly down the shaft, Oliver Greenstar’s possessing spirit ensuring he did not shoot it. After a long, tense wait the thug emerged in the engineering section, but instead of going straight to their ship, he accessed the engineering panels and restored power to the bridge of the Orun II, restarted the engines and gave the Djinn full control of the ice hauler.

The PCs knew none of this was happening, of course, and only realized something was amiss when the lights on the bridge came on and the engines fired up. Moments later one of the Djinn’s palace guards came charging around a corner and attacked Reiko and Siladan with its mercurium sword. They had been betrayed! Confused, they fought back, but as the battle entered full swing a massive asteroid from the outer edge of the Eye of Anuba smashed into the engineering section, breaking it open and causing massive decompression in the whole section[2]. Somehow Reiko Ando was able to struggle against the explosive decompression and haul herself into the docking tunnel, but Siladan was torn away from the door and dragged towards the tear in the hull, the Djinn’s palace guard stalking after him. Meanwhile the Beast of Burden, connected to the decompression zone by the docking tunnel, began to decompress as well, and Reiko was forced to seal the airlock shut, trapping Siladan on the Orun II.

It was then that the Djinn made contact with Oliver Greenstar and offered him a deal: let the ship go free and his palace guard would not kill Siladan. Oliver, still ridden by his own possessive spirit, agreed, and the palace guard retreated, leaving Siladan to the dubious mercy of the Dark Between the Stars. Moments later Siladan was sucked out of the hull and tossed into space, in a suit of armour that had no exo suit functions. The Beast of Burden detached hurriedly and rushed to collect him, somehow managing to line him up with an airlock and drag him inside before the cold of space took his last breath[3].

As Oliver Greenstar’s possessive spirit faded away the Djinn contacted the entire party. It introduced itself to them as Kh’Oudour, told them that it was indebted to them for saving it from 300 years of sleep, and promised them they would meet again. As the Beast of Burden tumbled off into space and the Orun II accelerated away from its previously fatal flight path, Kh’Oudour also gave its thanks to the Green Knight, the beast in possession of Oliver Greenstar. The ships separated, and the Orun II was lost to human reckoning.

For now.


fn1: I made a big GM-ing mistake here, to be fair. I should have run a conversation rich with tension, where the two thugs were attacked and one seemed to survive and flee, and the PCs had to guess whether he was possessed or acting, while Greenstar tried to confuse them, but I completely forgot the thugs were wired up and the players didn’t remind me, so when things went south I didn’t give them any chance to figure out what was going on or to enjoy the rich tension of their two press-ganged servants getting whacked. This was a big GM-ing mistake!

fn2: I had 4 darkness points left and I figured I should use them! Since the campaign started the PCs have become leery about praying to the icons, because they have seen the horrible ways darkness points can be used, and now they would rather fail skill checks than give me free rein top lay with all the environmental hazards that darkness points give me.

fn3: The group has a group talent called “Survivor” which enables them to somehow survive situations exactly like this, and they called on it now. During character creation there had been discussion of which group talent to take, but as soon as they discovered the survivor talent every player who has previously been in my campaigns insisted that the group take that talent. They promised the new members of the group that they would not regret it. Siladan’s player is one of the new members, and he does not regret that choice!

My appetite’s unchanged
Sink into dream; these enchanted depths
The realm of muted wisdom
Slowly descend; trust ignites the darkness
And bliss is this drowning moment
Believe me I am sorry
To charm with bitter eyes; mesmerizing
Careless magic turns upon itself, washed down in ritual

Our heroes return, their souls blackened, from explorations of ancient ruins on the surface of Kua. Dissent has riven their group, as Siladan knows that Adam and Al Hamra found something important but will not share their information with the rest of the group. They sell the sugar globes they found, but money is becoming pressing; in three weeks their next payment on the Beast of Burden comes due, and although they have the funds to cover it they know that a single bad experience in space will force them into debt. They need to rest, and they need to make money.

Siladan wanted to return to Kua and examine the cadaver clock. He confronted Al Hamra about it, but Al Hamra made the reasonable point that the clock had lain undisturbed for 200 years and probably was not going to be discovered again any time soon; before they examined it in more detail they needed to know more about how these things work, and find out what risks they might be taking. In any case, they needed money; so Siladan returned to the libraries on Coriolis to research a book they had found, Philonimus Guide to the Reach, which puported to hold the secret to treasures in the Rimward Reach.

The Rimward Reach is a thin and widely dispersed asteroid belt in the outer reaches of the Kua system, which is distinguished as a graveyard for Firstcome ships. No one knows how they were destroyed or how they ended up there, but it is well understood that these ships are haunted by creatures from the Dark Between the Stars. Brave explorers occasionally attempt to loot these ships, but the effort is dangerous: many evil creatures hide in the wrecks of the ships, and the salvage work is grim and deadly. Philonimus’ Guide supposedly contained clues to the location of wrecks that could be looted, and to this end Siladan bent his research skills to attempting to find a safe site for exploration.

He soon discovered that Philonimus had compiled his guide by visiting asylums for the insane in various systems, and interviewing old pilots who had been committed after the pressures of the dark became too much. Mostly his stories were fever dreams, hallucinations or out-and-out lies by people who had never been pilots, and Siladan slowly lost patience with the book until he was on the verge of quitting, sure that it was just a collection of mad dreams. But in a chapter entitled the Tower he found reference to a dead ship, floating in space between the asteroid belt and the Reach, unhaunted, that could be found by careful explorers who were willing to “thread” an asteroid cluster whose particular description made it identifiable. The chapter referenced the Eye of Anuba, a collection of asteroids in a strange orbit just beyond the asteroid belt, which were constantly clashing and highly mobile, in some kind of weird gravitational distortion. This dead ship apparently lay somewhere beyond the Eye of Anuba, and if one flew a direct course from Kua to the Eye, threaded it carefully and returned to a direct line from Kua, with good sensor work one could find the ship.

The Eye of Anuba would take a week to reach on the Beast of Burden. They decided to try it.

Running Dark

They left as soon as Siladan had confirmed the details, heading on a straight line from Kua to the asteroid belt. They passed the asteroid belt uneventfully after 6 days and headed into the open space towards the Eye of Anuba, intending to cut as close as was safe to the small and deadly cluster, loop over it, and then return strictly to the line of their travel. Everyone knows that entering the Eye of Anuba is fatal, but it is relatively safe with modern ship’s computers to pass nearby, though no sane captain would ever have reason to – it was possible that a ship could float in the dark just beyond the Eye and be undetected for a thousand years. Thinking of the loot, they cut their course near the Eye, diverging slowly from a straight line through its meteoric heart and intending to bounce near it and over the other side.

It was then that Siladan detected the ship: a large vessel running dark, transponder off, heading straight towards the Eye of Anuba.

He alerted the captain. A full sensor scan revealed all the details of the ship: it was the Orun II, an ice-hauler out of Coriolis, owned by a legitimate company called Melem Gessura. The ship has a well-documented log of missions to and from the asteroid belt stretching back many years, no serious legal disputes, and all the evidence suggests it is a serious and well-respected old ice-hauler with no secrets. Yet here it was, running dark in the space beyond the asteroid belt, heading straight for the Eye of Anuba and certain destruction.

The captain hailed it, but received no response. He hailed it twice more and received no response. Strictly speaking – legally speaking – they had received no distress call and could proceed on their mission without being in the wrong. Who were they to judge if a ship’s crew had decided to ignore outsiders and head to certain death? But something about this was wrong. They decided to investigate. They changed course and headed for the ship.

As they neared the rear of the ship Al Hamra again attempted to hail it, and again received no response. However, for the briefest of moments they all saw a flash of light from the stern, a brief sequence of brilliant flashes that was obviously intended to be a distress signal. Someone without comms was trying to get their attention. They decided to dock.

Saqr took the Beast of Burden in to the stern, and they extended their docking bay to one of the stern airlocks. While they docked Reiko Ando took the fighter out of their aft hangar and ran a single circuit around the ship. She confirmed by visual inspection that the ship was undamaged, but the airlocks near the bow had been disabled and the bridge appeared to be powered down. Obviously something was going on inside, and they needed to investigate. They docked, and some of the team moved into the ship:

  • Gunner Adam (Soldier)
  • Captain Al Hamra (Mystic)
  • Engineer Reiko Ando (Deckhand)
  • Sensor Operator Siladan Hatshepsut (Archaeologist)
  • Doctor Bana Delecta (Medicurg)

Saqr and Oliver Greenstar stayed on board to monitor the situation and protect the ship, and the rest of the team entered the ship.

Ancient Warriors

They emerged into a large chamber, clearly an access hall, with large doors sealing it off from the engineering section. Adam set up an overwatch point at the airlock while Dr. Delecta tried to get her motion sensor working. It worked briefly, points of light indicating that there was movement in the room beyond the door and somewhere above them and to their right; and also movement to their left, heading rapidly towards them. Before she could give a proper warning a beast emerged from the shadows and attacked them, striking at Adam with a mercurium sword. It was fast, large and very very dangerous, and before they could act properly it had torn deep cuts in Adam’s chest and struck Al Hamra with its claws, a strange and otherworldly cold sinking through his chest and draining his will to live. Stunned, he fell back in terror and it was left to the rest of the group to bludgeon and shoot it to death. Finally the strange creature was dead, but not before it had nearly killed both Adam and Al Hamra. It was some kind of semi-human guardian, armed with a mercurium sword and wearing strange ritual body armour that Siladan dated to at least 300 years old. Its face had been expressionless all through the battle, like they were fighting an animated doll. But it was flesh and blood – so much blood! – and its armour obviously significant. What was it?

Adam stripped its armour as Reiko Ando struggled with the motion detector and got it working, revealing again that someone was moving around in bulkheads above them. Adam sprang up into the bulkhead and managed to grab a girl hiding in the shadows, dragging her down into the light to talk.

She was happy to talk, and begged them for help. Her name was Ayda Leon and she was the deckhand on this ship. They had been on a standard mission transporting ice from the asteroid belt to Kua, but one of their crew had noticed on routine inspection that one of the ice blocks held four stasis chambers inside it. They dug out the stasis chambers and put them in the forward observatory, but their captain had opened one, and been possessed by a djinn. After the possession it freed the creatures in the other chambers, possessed them, and started killing the crew. She had fled into the maintenance ducts, and the engineer Atallah Ard had fled to the engineering rooms. Before he fled, though, he took control of the ship, turned it to the Eye of Anubar, and set it to full power. Now he had locked himself in the machine halls, shut off power to the bridge, and was waiting to die. Another member of their crew, Kolb Zir, had locked himself in the workshop ‘midships, and had jammed the elevator to the bow. She could not convince Atallah to turn off the engines and without access to the bridge they could not turn the ship around or change its course, so they were doomed unless they could kill the djinn.

She rolled up her sleeves, revealing arms covered in tattoos made to look like henna patterns, and asked the characters, “Are you gonna help me? Or am I gonna die out here in the Dark?”

They had no choice but to help. They banged on the door of the machine hall and eventually convinced the engineer Atallah to let them in. As Aydah had said, there was no way for him to turn the ship around, and even if he turned off the engines they would still fly into the Eye of Anuba eventually. Atallah did not care: he was willing to die to take the djinn to hell with him. But they were not, and they were not willing to let Kolb Zir die either.

Adam stood up, blood smeared on his stolen ancient armour, and Al Hamra, shivering and cold and terrified by his near death, stepped forward, steadying himself on a piece of warm machinery as he faced his crew. They would rescue Kolb, and find a way to turn this ship around. Here they could do good deeds, and get good rewards. It was a good day.

All they had to do was kill a djinn and its ancient bodyguards.

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