A Star for Queen Zoe – II

Chapter 2 – Stalled in Steinbach

The survey ship stood in the courtyard of the castle, almost filling it. De Meister nodded appreciatively.

“It’s bigger than I thought. That took some skill to land. Maybe this guy is a good pilot”.

The ship was long, with rounded curves designed for atmospheric operations. The forward section, presumably the bridge, was linked by a wasp-waist to the main body. Surprisingly, there were no windows. In the lower forward part was an opening, with a ramp leading up and in. Two guards stood at the foot of the ramp, armed with halberds.

“First, we breakfast”, said the Duke. “The Count is very strict on routine. We will meet him and the others in the Great Hall.”

“A question,” De Meister stopped the Duke. “Should you not rig up something over the ship to hide it from above?”

The Duke looked up, puzzled. “From above?  Cumberland has a few balloons; but our sentries are on watch for them and have fire arrows.”

“Oh I see. Then the humans from the Bright Empire also use balloons to keep watch over their new territory. That is a comforting thought.” The Duke went pale. “You are right. Camouflage will be arranged immediately.”

In the Great Hall, servants were dishing food out to three people seated at the High Table. As they entered, a herald blew a fanfare and announced “The delegation from Her Majesty the Queen for Andrei Shvedov, Count of the County of the Stein and Herald of the Queen of Richmond”.

“Approach the table, bow and kneel”, advised the Duke. “The Count is your leader and commander of this expedition. He commands respect.”

Dr Ferring started forward; Treggs gave his huge grin and stayed put; Lady Lissia was nowhere to be seen and de Meister and Leila glanced at each other; then both drew their weapons; but held them blade-down.”

The herald blew again. “Andrei Shvedov, Count of the County of the Stein and Herald of the Queen of Richmond, states that he is in command of this expedition and will be accorded the respect that his position demands.”

De Meister stepped forward. “Listen, Count Shvedov. We are under no illusions as to the importance of this mission to Queen Zoe and the kingdom of Richmond; and we are all committed to it. Nothing will be gained though this pomp and ceremony. If you are the captain; then so be it. However, I do not know you. If I think you are making a tactical error, then I will challenge it. I am here as a warrior and fighter under the command of the Queen herself.”

Leila stepped forward, staring at the Count. “I am here for the Queen. I will obey you, but I will not serve you.”

Count Shvedov looked unhappy; but then his face cleared. “I too serve the Queen. To gain our interstellar colony almost certainly will require diplomacy. That is my area; I am empowered to make deals under the authority of the Queen.”

The Duke of Kincaid stepped forward. “Let me introduce your other crewmembers. This is Professor Albert Murphy; ex-chair of mechanics at Perth University. “The balding man nodded; said “I can’t wait to show you around her; she is beautiful”, then went back to his food.

“This is Gita Chandrakala.” The young Asian woman wore the uniform of the Richmond navy. “She is the ship’s pilot.

De Meister started forward. “How did you get to be trained as a pilot? We all know what starships are. But there has not been one here for five hundred years. Why are you so special?”

Chandrakala looked at him. “I am an officer in the Navy; I fought in the battle of Deep Lagoon. Also; I read some books obtained from the Sistema. I can fly this ship; if you have any doubts then there are coldsleep pods in one of the holds.”

The Count rose and declared that they would convene again at sundown to discuss strategy.

“Sundown? I was under the impression that this mission was urgent.”

The Count dabbed delicately at his mouth with a napkin and waved his hand. “You need to learn about the ship and I have an important hunting expedition organised with the Duke of Parun.”

“One more thing, then. Does the ship have a name?” The Count thought for a moment. “It shall be called ‘To the Eternal Glory of her Majesty Queen Zoe of Richmond’.

Leila hissed at this. “It should have a name that will strike fear into our enemies. The ‘Star Huntress’ “.

“How about ‘The Shuddering of Forgotten Enemies?” said de Meister.

“It already has a name – SV2305”, said Lieutenant Chandrakala.

“Why don’t we just call it ‘Glory’?” suggested Treggs.

“You cannot leave until King John holds the Great Feast. This is scheduled in five days. You have been assigned rooms in the castle. You will find everything you need there. Get yourself settled in and we will meet again in an hour, in the courtyard by …” he smiled, “’Glory’”

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GM:

The personalities of the crew are beginning to show in more detail now.

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A Star for Queen Zoe

 

Chapter One – A Most Unusual Quest

It was the third day of the New Year and still the celebrations were going on across the city of Newport; not just for the dawning of the New Year, but for the dawning of a new Golden Age for Essex, following the arrival of the starship from the Bright Empire. However, in a closed room deep inside the palace; three strangers looked at each other; each wondering why they had been summoned here to the Royal Palace.

“It would seem that we are all here for a single purpose”. The speaker was a powerful man, wearing liveried leather armour and carrying a sheathed sword and a revolver pistol. “De Meister is the name, Bernardo, from the Duchy of Minas”.

“I’ve heard of Minas”, said a small, wiry man. He had dark skin and had the look of a seafarer about him. “Across the sea, isn’t it? You’re a long way from home.” He grinned suddenly. “Treggs is the name.”

“You have a Perthian accent”, said the final man. “You too are some way from home. I, on the other hand, am a Richmond, born and bred. I received an invite from the palace, delivered by personal messenger. The letter bore the Queen’s seal. I am Dr Ferring, a skilled medician and local businessman.”

“So,” said de Meister slowly,” we have a skilled swordsman, a medical doctor and a …, pardon me, you did not say what you did.”

“No,” grinned Treggs, “I didn’t; did I? I can do lots of things at the appropriate time for them.

At this point, a soft gong sounded from somewhere and a previously-unseen door swung open in the wall. A small, balding man wearing a black frock coat entered. He introduced himself as the Duke of Kincaid; as he led the way through into the next room, he cautioned them that they were sworn to secrecy.

In the next room came a surprise; seated there was Queen Zoe herself; accompanied by the famed explorer Captain Graham.

The Duke continued with the briefing. Basically, through his network of spies in Rivington; he has learnt that the Bright Empire intends to make Essex a vassal state, under the stewardship of Great King John, who would be a vassal of the Bright Emperor. However, he has also found out that the Empire, under its own regulations, would be forced to recognise Richmond as an interstellar state if it had its own off-world colonies. Any dealings with Richmond would have to be of a diplomatic nature.

The queen will quietly state that, in light of this, it is imperative that Richmond becomes an interstellar state within the next two years. She will not surrender her sovereignty to either Great King John or to the Bright Emperor.

Captain Graham related the story of his discovery of the scout ship buried beneath the Antarctic ice and how they managed to restore it to working order and discover how to fly it. They took it on a test flight to one of the Essexian moons; they had not long returned when news broke of the Bright Empire ship landing outside Winchester.

The queen addressed the characters. They are to take the ship out into space and find a suitable world to claim as a colony for Richmond. This has to be done within the next two years; the deadline for Essex becoming part of the Bright Empire. They have all been selected for their abilities. She gesture to the Duke of Kincaid to continue. The Duke stepped forward.

“Bernardo de Meister. You are a skilled swordsman and warrior and you will act as security for the mission. Also, many cultures keep secrets from the opposite sex and therefore a male warrior is imperative.

“Dr Ferring. You are a skilled doctor and an entrepreneur. There may be instances where you need to trade and do business.

“Joran Treggs. Every culture has its low-lives and dregs of society; something that you are used to dealing with.”

De Meister and Dr Ferring glanced at Treggs, who simply gave his huge beaming grin and shrugged.

“My Lord Kincaid. Did you not say something about it being necessary to have a male warrior? Is not the reverse true?” queried de Meister. The Duke gestured to the door. Two guards entered, escorting a female clad in the leather skins of a steppe warrior. Before he could stop himself, de Meister leapt to his feet; his hand going to his sword and instinctively putting himself between the queen and the savage.

“Relax, de Meister. There is no danger here. Leila will be your female counterpart; a skilled warrior and able to interact with the more primitive peoples you may meet.

“Counterpart! My father and his troops have spent years fighting off raids by these savages.”

Leila’s eyes flashed an angry blue and she stepped forward.

“I am no savage! I am a skilled fighter and hunter, trained in tracking and survival. When the Ravening Cold comes, my people do not huddle inside stone walls with roaring fires, we survive in the open. And I can fight; there are creatures out beyond your borders that you have never dreamed of. Do not call me savage; I am Leila of the tribe of the Sevatim.”

The queen watched all of this interplay and nodded.

“Lady Lissia – exactly as you foretold. Come forward.” A young girl came forwards into the light; aged no more that nineteen. She wore the grey and silver of the Order of “The Queen’s Own Augers”, with the prominent psi-emblem on the left shoulder.

“Lady Lissia will accompany you to anticipate any problems you may encounter.”

The Duke cleared his throat.

“Come, we leave tonight for Castle Steinbach. That is where the ship is; you will meet the pilot and engineer and the final member of the expedition.”

Dr Ferring spoke up for the first time. “Castle Steinbach? Isn’t that a little close to the border with Cumberland?” The Duke nodded. “Yes; a calculated risk. The Bright Empire will not want to see this mission succeed; so secrecy is a must. The ship is being loaded with supplies; taken to the castle under the pretext of stockpiling against an outbreak of hostilities with Cumberland. The departure must be timed carefully so as to avoid detection when you leave. In a few days, King John is hosting a great feast for the Imperials; this is probably the best time to leave.

The queen rose to leave.

“Ladies and gentlemen. You go with my blessing. Bring me back a colony world, to preserve my, our kingdom against those who would destroy it forever.”

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The journey to Castle Steinbach took around four hours by carriage; they arrived as dawn was breaking. During the journey, a few questions were raised; the Duke of Kincaid had most of the answers.

Leila queried about weapons; the Duke assured her that the best guns the kingdom could provide were being loaded aboard. Leila snorted at this and asked for a couple of bows, plus plenty of arrows.

Treggs didn’t really want anything, but asked how good everyone was at playing cards.

“You mean to fleece us”

“No, although it would be good practice. We might have to settle a dispute over a card game though.”

Both de Meister and Dr Ferring were concerned about the ship itself.

“Okay, we’re not ignorant. We all know what starships are; but none of us has ever seen one or been in one. By the Cold, there hasn’t been a starship here for over five hundred years. We can’t operate it. You say there is a pilot – what happens if he gets killed?”

“You will have some time at Castle Steinbach for a crash course in starship operation. The rest you can learn en-route to your first destination.”

“Speaking of which – who of us is the captain? Who calls the shots?”

The Duke looked out of the carriage window.

“You’ll meet him at the castle.”

 

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GM:

This is the opening to a solo/ FtF Game of Stars Without Number; using the brilliant plot seed “A Star for Queen Zoe”, written by Jed McClure; with exploration handled by “Interstellar Overthruster”, also by Jed McClure.

The solo part is handled mainly using Mythic GME, plus some home-grown elements. Much of this will be designed as I need it. Planets (in particular) will be a derivative of ‘Star Smuggler’ for layouts and encounters.

I have to say that the world of Essex (Tech 2 / 18th C / Balkanised) is absolutely perfect for the SWN Faction rules.

* There are a few Easter eggs in here already; kudos to anyone who spots them and posts it.

Achernar – solo hero

Ok, now let’s create Achernar. I’ve already decided that currently he’s an Exchange enforcer based on Pavonis. I’m going to leave some unanswered questions to act as leads / Threads

ACHERNAR

Class: Warrior    Level 1 / XP: 0 HP 8 Fray d8

STR         12/+0                    AB         +1

INT         15/+1                    PE           12

WIS        5/-1                        ME         15

DEX        14/+1                    ES           14

CON       9/+0                       TS           16

CHA       14/+1                    LS            13

Increased Dex to 14 to fit Class.

As per Stellar Heroes, Achernar gets maximum HP and a Fray die of d8

 

Background: Let’s try a random roll – Con Artist. This could fit well. He grew on the streets, running with local gangs and gaining valuable contacts and skills.

Questions

Did he do anything significant during this time?

How did he end up working for the Exchange?

Training: Exchange Enforcer

He was recruited into the Exchange as a trouble shooter / freelance operative. The Exchange keeps its ear to the ground in regards to any shady deals; not all are intercepted or stopped, but the Exchange does like to know everything about what’s going on. That’s where Achernar steps in.

Questions

What is his cover?

                He runs a small charter firm, operating one helicopter out of Medina City. The firm caters to the tourism industry, flying sightseeing tours and undertaking charter work. It goes by the name “Inguria Airtours”. This gives him the perfect cover to fly around anywhere

Achernar doesn’t start with a vehicle skill so I’ll state that the Exchange trained him enough to cover the role.

 

Has anything significant happened to him?

 

Skills

Culture/Criminal, Culture/World (Pavonis), Persuasion 1, Stealth, Business, Combat/Projectile, Culture/Traveller, Security, Tactics, Vehicle/Air

Credits: 200

Gear:

SA pistol (Hit +2, 1d6+1, 30/100, #12, T3)

Ammo #20

2 x Lazarus patch

Metatool

Survival Kit

Knife (Hit +2, 1d4, 6/9)

Several sets of clothes, casual, street and smart.

Inguria Airtours pilots coveralls

Helicopter

The Currents of Space – Pavonis

Achernar is going to start off on Pavonis, working as a agent for the Exchange. These are the stats for the Pavonis system; I’ve added in more details from my own stuff.

PAVONIS (0406)

Political: Trade Consulate

Links to: Neu Regari (0405), Hellas Worlds (0308), Proxyon (0506)

A yellow star with one gas giant and two significant planets.

Pavonis I: Orbit 4 (Habitable zone). Size 12800 km diameter, 10 Environs Prime culture: Italian / Mediterranean

Atmosphere Breathable Temp Temperate Bio Miscible Pop 1,000,000 Tech 4+ Port B
Hydro Moderate Rings None Moons 6: 3 x Tiny, 3 x Small

Tags: Exchange Consulate, Trade Hub

Enemies: Corrupt Exchange Official, Thieving Dockworker, Cheating Merchant

Friends: Hardscrabble Free Trader (Bellatrix), Exchange Diplomat, Consul in need of off-world help

Compl.    A powerful debtor refuses to pay; Saboteurs seek to blow up a rival’s warehouses, An outworlder faction schemes to seize the Trade Hub

Things:   Wealth hidden to conceal it from a bankruptcy judgement, Exchange Vault codes, Insider trading information

Places:    Elegant restaurant, Spaceport teeming with activity, Orbital station

ENVIRONS Northern Hemisphere

  1. LV-FL 1 x 500,000 (Spaceport), 1X 100,000
  2. WD-HL
  3. LV-FL 1X 50,000
  4. LV-FL
  5. FO-HL

Southern Hemisphere

  1. WD-HL 1X 100,000, 1X 100,000
  2. LV-FL
  3. BA-FL
  4. LV-FL 1x 100,000, 1X 50,000
  5. LV-FL

Locations: The “Double Helix” bar, run by Ryk Storm (blinded by flesh-eating bugs on Khefir) ====================================================

Gas Giant: Orbit 7 (Outer Habitable) Rings: Yes Moons: 8 ====================================================

Pavonis II: Orbit 9 (Far Outer zone). Size 11200 km diameter, 8 Environs Research outpost administered from Pavonis I

Atmosphere Thin Temp Cold Bio Immiscible Pop Outpost Tech 3* Port E
Hydro Moderate Rings None Moons 1: 1xTiny

Tags:      Alien Ruins

Enemies: Customs inspector

Friends: Interstellar smuggler, Henders Neale the avaricious local resident

Compl. Paranoid customs officials   

Things:   Untranslated alien texts, Remains of previous expedition, Energy beam into Gas Giant

Places:    Perfectly preserved alien building

ENVIRONS Northern Hemisphere

  1. WD-FL
  2. JU-HL Outpost (8000)
  3. LV-FL
  4. DE-FL Alien ruins. 3x Research Bases (200)

Southern Hemisphere

  1. LV-FL
  2. LV-FL
  3. LV-FL
  4. MA-FL

Notes: Transit time from Pavonis I to Pavonis II is 60 hours (3 days Terran Mandate Calendar)

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GM: Notes: The Environ types are taken from SPI’s Universe rpg; I don’t usually bother with drawing a map; just use a random roll to see where a given site is and record it for the future. I’ll assign names to places when it becomes relevant.

The Currents of Space

PEMZANN SECTOR GAZETTEER

The sector is named for the Pemzann Nebula; lit by several proto stars it is visible throughout the sector.

Before the Scream, all traffic came in via the Jump Gate at Proxyon. For reasons now long forgotten the sector was seen as the place where the misfits and malcontents came to; blown by the currents of space from the all-embracing Terran Mandate. Surviving records do not detail exactly when the various cultures came into being.

The Scream perhaps had a lesser effect on the sector. Yes, it is true that many psychics died and that the Gate was closed, but the major polities had retained their spike drive ships and technology.

NOW

The major polities are:-

HELLAS WORLDS

Settled by the Koln Institute; devoted to physical perfection in the human body. The Hellas Worlds comprise three worlds; Thrace, a hot inner biosphere world, Corinth, a temperate world and seat of government and Sparta, a cold outer biosphere world. The Hellas Worlds are ruled via a caste system based on the fittest; all of the population are trained from birth to survive the Triple Tests. The Testing begins at puberty and involves a series of trials on all three planets. Those who pass the Testing become full citizens. Those who fail become the Low, the lowest caste of indentured workers and servants, with no rights. A citizen may then progress to the Primarch tests; to become one of the elite, perhaps to become one of the Triarch rulers. As in all of the Tests, there is no compromise; even to a favoured candidate, failure usually results in death or disablement. As disablement makes someone a Low; this promotes a degree of fanaticism amongst the Hellas; especially in the ranks of the military.

TRADE CONSULATE

Based around the Exchange Consulate on Pavonis, the Trade Consulate is a mutual trade agreement between the systems of Pavonis, Proxyon and Neu Regari. The Consulate is a series of trading rules; allowing traders from all systems free access to the spaceport. Beyond the spaceport, local laws apply.

THE BRIGHT EMPIRE

The Empire states that it has lasted for two thousand years; this may be true if it was founded by a sleeper ship from Earth. The Empire controls five systems; ruled by the Omnipresent Jade Emperor from the Palace of a Thousand Windows on Wu Xiulan.

SYROS

A totalitarian state characterised by its extreme paranoia. Controlled by a Political Council, Syros has a very efficient espionage network. It is a good (if somewhat dangerous) place to source information.

Hex        Name                                    Polity                     Notes

0205       Khefin                                   Ind.                        Jungle/swamp, Bolgan Corporation

0207       Naxos                                   Ind.                        Under military occupation from Corinth

0304       Jamison’s World                   Ind.                        Water world, domed cities, severe weather

0308       Hellas Worlds                     Hellas                    Corinth, Sparta, Thrace

0405       Neu Regari                          Consulate            Thick atmosphere, Aerostats

0406       Pavonis                               Consulate

0504       Syros                                     Syros                     Totalitarian state, espionage network

0506       Proxyon                               Consulate            Remains of Jump Gate (Gateway Station)

0606-0607                                            Pemzann Nebula

0705       Qipeng                                 Empire

0707       Xian                                      Empire                  Garden worlds

0708       Seranis Seranon                  Ind.                        Sectarian differences between Blessed Ser and Divine Ser

0803       Luzhou                                 Empire                  Industrial, Imperial work camps

0805       Wu Xiulan                            Empire                  Imperial capital

0806       Tan Gansu                           Empire

Ok – so the map didn’t post. Grab a Traveller subsector and map it yourself until I’ve figured it out!

This is the initial set-up so far. I’ve deliberately limited it to 14 systems; in the past I’ve drawn up a hex sheet of 25+ systems and then decided I didn’t really need them. I’ve left plenty of room for expansion and exploration; already I’ve got an idea for what’s off the map to… no, stop dammit!

Nebula / Gas Clouds prevent reliable spike drive operation, at present there is no foreseeable way of drilling from the Trade Consulate directly to Xian or Seranis Seranon.

There are several areas of interest; the Trade Consulate is a trading federation like the Mediterranean cities around the 14th Century under Lex Mercatoria.

The Hellas Worlds are expansionist and aggressive; the annexation of Naxos was done under an orchestrated plot and counter-plot, with the Corinthian forces there as peacekeepers by ‘invitation’ of the lawful government.

Syros is a totalitarian state exhibiting extreme paranoia. Its espionage network and methods are second to none and the state generates income through information brokerage. Caveat Emptor! There is always a price to be paid.

The Bright Empire simply seeks to expand; to bring enlightenment to all other known systems. They are slow and subtle; however those who refuse to be enlightened are re-educated until they see the light.

I’ve got some ideas for characters; the solo Game will be run using a mish-mash of Mythic GME, Story Cubes and my own stuff.

ACHERNAR – An agent for the Exchange of Light based on Pavonis. His role is to protect the interests of the Consulate; Pavonis in particular.

BELLATRIX – Pilot, ex-Nakamura Lines of Proxyon. She has her own ship and is currently a blockade runner, running supplies to the Sodality Freedom Fighters on Naxos. Her ship is a modified freighter called “Capellan Winds”.

CAPELLA 701 – The AI of Bellatrix’s ship “Capellan Winds”.

The first episodes will probably be scene-setting and introducing the SPC’s.

The Stars Like Dust

I’ve been busy setting up a Stars Without Number Game to run with the Monday Gamers. I’m also intending to run some solo Games, using a combination of Mythic GME,9Q’s, Rory’s Story Cubes and some home grown stuff.

The main Game will be an open sandbox, I’m going to generate a few leads to get them started, but then its up to them. I have carried forward a Thread which was developing in the Diaspora game involving the military occupation of Naxos by Corinth. Matt’s character is from Naxos and his family was important politically before the Sodality uprising and subsequent occupation by the Corinthian forces.

The solo Game gives me more options. I could run it as a straight Game using Mythic GME, or I could run an espionage Game using Darkness Falls, or a Liberty Black Game. Arrgh! So many possibilities!