01-01 Trouble on the Surface

PF: 50
DATE: 288.815 M41
LOCATION: Tanstar 88
OBJECTIVE: Await the return of Commodore Menakos
REASON: She left you in charge so she could engage the Orks
PC’s: Anna, Hob, Janus, Lazarus, Thurman
SYNOPSIS: The explorers are informed that some crewmen were murdered in the wilderness. They follow the evidence and discover…

Previous Session’s Recap:

The explorers inform Commodore Katherine Menakos of the ork vessels in the nearby system. The navy departs to take care of the threat, leaving the pc’s in charge of the system’s defense. They made a deal with the planet’s officials to setup an outpost for the crew’s much needed shore leave.

Everyone is blessed with a peaceful and relaxing week with much more leisure time than is typical. Most of the command crew choose to enjoy their time on Tanstar 88 while the void-born Janus wanders the near empty decks of the Emperor’s Hymn. The ship is operating on only 25% of a full compliment, but there’s really not that much to be doing while in orbit. Some repairs have commenced and the crew’s morale is steadily rising.

The explorers oversee the completion of the outpost construction and are kept in the loop of supply usage and crew infractions. Nothing requires their personal involvement until a report that five crew members went out into the wilderness but never returned. Some crew deserting isn’t unexpected, so this information doesn’t really come as a surprise. Then another group of the Hymn’s crew are out hunting, and stumble upon four of the missing men stabbed to death in a clearing.

Still, even that isn’t a big deal. Typically when underdeck crewmen are found dead, there’s a one line entry in some report: “4 crewmen found dead” – no names, and the matter is forgotten. However, Lord Captain Shilwulf orders the explorers to investigate the murders discreetly in order to avoid morale issues with the rest of the crew. If they were to discover the natives or imperial citizens are responsible, that knowledge could spark a riot of 5,000 angry souls looking for revenge. For now, only a few lower crew members know and are being kept isolated from the rest of the crew.

After asking a few questions, the explores take the hunters as guides back to the site where the bodies were found. (At this point, we were still on the wave and only Thurman, Anna, and Hob went to investigate.) When they arrive at the scene, a blue-skinned native is pulling the shoes off of one of the dead crewmen. The native is dressed in an Imperial Guard recruitment t-shirt and jeans.

The explorers demand to know what he’s doing and he seems confused. The native stands and speaks in halting low Gothic.

“These men dead,” he explains with a smile. “I take things.”

The men talk with one another while Anna investigates the bodies with some Medicae rolls.

She determines that the crewmen hadn’t actually been stabbed to death but killed by lasgun fire. The corpses were then drug to the clearing and stabbed in an effort to hide the evidence of how they were killed. Thurman learns that Thomas (the native) loves the Imperium and just happened to stumble stumble across this scene. Having visited with a local village earlier, Anna voices to the group she doesn’t think they are responsible for the murders. Since it is the native’s belief that the dead can no longer use worldly possessions, she reasons that the tribesmen would have taken any useful belongings and certainly wouldn’t have left their blades behind.

Hob tracks a partially concealed trail north, back to the site of an apparent firefight. The tree trunks are marred by small scorch marks along with several boot tracks in the soft soil. They continue to follow the tracks until they hit one of the only roads on the planet, connecting Tanstar Prime with one of the farming villages. The tracks end where it seems a vehicle departed.

Shortly after the explorers return to their riverside outpost, Thurman heads into town to do some more investigation. Using his seneschal ways, he gets his hands on logistics records and finds out who was driving the supply vehicle along the route where the boot tracks ceased. Interestingly, although the supply runs to the other villages regularly rotate out vehicle crews, the one on this road is always the same group of eight PDF.

GM Note:

At this point, we switched over to gaming in person. I had a nice murder mystery session planned out with hints scattered all over the place, detailed locations, some npc’s fleshed out, some false leads, and I was pretty darn pleased with myself in general. Then Janus goes and spends his XP on Mind Probe and now has the ability to casually rifle through people’s memories.

I read the description of the power in wide-eyed horror as I visualized my carefully planned out session being reduced to 20 minutes of material. At the time, I had been reading several articles about GM Advice, winging-it, and sandbox games. One in particular stood out in my mind at the time. The general theme was “say Yes more often”. And so, I did.

Here’s a similar article if you’re interested GM Advice: Letting go of ‘No’

At this point the explorers are fairly certain the local PDF (Planetary Defense Force) is involved, but aren’t sure why. So they visit several native tribes where Janus reads their simple, simple minds. The tribespeople are gullible and trusting, so they don’t lie, but the astropath makes extra sure.

In most of the villages the natives have a small amount of imperial technology like hot plates, standard issue cutlery – which is technically illegal, but not a super big deal. At one village in particular, however, the tribesmen have a small power generator and a few are even walking around with las-rifles.

Meeting with the chieftain, he openly admits to trading “worthless trinkets” for useful items with Lieutenant Drake. These trinkets are pulled from the holy site during rites of passage and, though sentimental in value to the tribesman, a las rifle is FAR more useful.

The chief shows the explorers some of the trinkets in case they are interested in making a trade and the party quickly realizes they are looking at heretical Xenos technology. They trade some ration bars for something that resembles a pistol with the intention of having Enginseer Ethan Libram examine the device. Though the chieftan refuses to take the explorers to the holy site, Janus plucks the location from his mind with ease.

With the schedule of the next truck in hand, the players plan to fight it out with the PDF crew in a “fair” ambush. Then one of them suggests, “Don’t we have like 5,000 guys on the ground? Let’s take 50 and ambush them.” So, Hob selects some of his Mortressan friends along with some armed crewmen, and Anna brings her Combat Servitors. When the Shilwulf retinue and their backup step out of hiding, the NPC’s surrender without a shot fired. Very nice. :)

The explorers force the truck crew to get down on their knees with their hands on their head. One of the PDF, a rather rough looking female, overhears the mention of the word ‘Inquisition’ and curses her squadmates.

“I ain’t dyin’ like a little bitch!” she yells before making a break for it, only to be cut down seconds later by gunfire from the Shilwulf troops.

There’s a polite way to use Mind Probe (-20 to your roll) and a more forceful way (no modifier WP roll). Up to this point Janus has been going the gentle route, but here he chooses to unleash the fury of his mind in order to learn everything he can. Drake rolls the worst possible roll on his defense so the astropath learns absolutely EVERYTHING, including the time the Lieutenant stole money from his mama for Lho sticks.

Apparently these guys pull some crates of Imperial items off the truck which they trade to the natives for their Xenos artifacts, and then return to the warehouse. They put the crate of artifacts in a pre-determined spot and from there it’s taken care of by Planetary Quartermaster Charles Peskin.

The explorers head off to rip Charles Peskin out of his office at the top of the Administratum building in Tanstar Prime. They don’t feel like waiting in line for a week, so they cut to the front and start demanding to see the Quartermaster. The clerk begins to explain that, “You can’t just come in here-” when Janus hits her with a forceful mind probe forcing her into a catatonic state (“Ooops, put a little too much English on that one.”). In full combat gear the explorers proceed to the top of the building, garnering more than a few surprised looks from the clerks watching them go by.

Once they reach the top, the party busts down the door, finding the Quartermaster with a few Xenos artifacts on his desk. At gunpoint, he answers questions and implicates the involvement of Planetary Governor Tolvos Dunkirk. Finally, the explorers take Mr. Peskin into custody without too much trouble.

In hindsight, I messed up this encounter by playing Peskin too haughty and not fearful enough. Mentally, I was in the PC’s vs. the Governor scene.

Normally, I just assume a certain level of professionalism from the group and what they do. For example, in scary, unknown situations I assume they’re being cautious and have weapons drawn. Personally I’m not a fan of players having to nit-pick everything and get down to the banal details. In this case, I expected they would frisk the prisoner before putting him in the vehicle as a precaution. I actually made a point to describe the Quartermaster’s long, flowing white dress robes indicative of his station, and a player specifically said, “So he could be hiding anything under there.” This brought it to everyone’s attention, but nobody said anything more about it. At this point I think Janus felt he was hogging the spotlight, so he didn’t bother mind probing him either. Charles Peskin winds up being put into a vehicle to be taken back to the Shilwulf outpost.

Before making it out of town, the jeep carrying the Quartermaster turns to liquid at about 40 mph. The driver and guard tumble to the ground while the Quartermaster flies up and away… Apparently having figured out a few pieces of Xenos tech himself.

The session closes with the Planetary Quartermaster at large. The explorers alert the PDF to bring in the heretic for questioning. Unless the Navy is involved in this, there’s only one major supply ship that works this trade route, so the explorers plan to investigate when he arrives in port. The fifth crew member is still missing but, to be honest, I think the PC’s completely forgot about his insignificant ass.

The Current Plan:

  1. Invite the Planetary Governor to a dinner aboard the Emperor’s Hymn
  2. Get him to agree to make Charles Peskin the fall guy.
  3. Out the the captain who was shuttling off the Xenos artefacts
  4. Impound his ship, and claim the trade route for yourself
  5. Don’t enter the Cold Trade yourself… BOOOOO

Post Mortem:

This session’s purpose was to focus on the scale of power the pc’s wield, and I think we accomplished that. At one point during the murder investigation, someone said “We should alert the proper authorities.” I replied, “You ARE the proper authrorities.” :) They’re currently the naval defense force for this planet and nobody else is above them.

For the most part in a Rogue Trader game, you are the masters of your own destiny. That’s HUGE in a Warhammer 40k game. The teaming masses of humanity are so oppressed that they couldn’t even fathom the level of freedom, wealth, and power you use.

I was extremely happy with this session. I absolutely LOVE that they came up with a plan to squeeze some profit factor out of this brief stop on this backwater world. I want the npc Rogue Trader Octavius Shilwulf to retire so a player can be the Rogue Trader and this can be a fully sandbox style of game driven by the players’ desires and goals. And this is the exact sort of thing they’re supposed to be doing.

Next Session: 01-02 Dinner with the Governor

01-01 Trouble on the Surface

The Shilwulf Dynasty Eck Eck