Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mustering Out On Mephistopheles (spoilers)

Map by Steve Crompton

Agents of Rebellion (1983) is a module written by Space Opera co-author Phil McGregor.  Technically, Agents of Rebellion presents itself as a “CSA Sector Adventure Scenario Pack.”  'CSA' is a reference to the Confederate Systems Alliance, subject of Star Sector Atlas 11, also written by McGregor.

The module is evidently intended for new characters given that the first sentence reads, “Your group of adventurers has mustered out on Mephistopheles hoping that, on such a large and (relatively) well off world, that they will be able to find suitable employment.”  It may not be the wisest option to muster out on (or even visit) planets named after infernal entities.  However, page 6 suggests that the player characters are originally from Mephistopheles:  “Since you have been away from home for an extended period...”

Regarding the player characters, we also learn that, “after several weeks of fruitless job hunting, their financial reserves are becoming quite strained and they realize that they must find work soon.”  Also, “For personal reasons, the party members do not wish to split up and they have so far resisted the individual temptations that have come their way.”  It would seem that – for purposes of the adventure – player character agency has been compromised; they find themselves on Mephistopheles and their “financial reserves” evaporate.  Actually, in the Introduction, McGregor claims, “Though it may seem that the adventures are unnecessarily prescriptive as to the course of action the PCs involved should take...there is absolutely no reason why [the StarMaster] cannot change details of the adventure to suit the needs of his campaign and his PCs.”  In any event, job interviews represent an important plot point in the early part of the adventure.

The subtitle of the module is C.S.A. Espionage Missions.  You see, Mephistopheles and other CSA worlds were conquered by the Korellian Empire over a century prior to the adventure.  (The Korellian Empire of the subject of Star Sector Atlas 12, also by McGregor.)  The player characters become part of the Underground Alliance (“a resistance movement”) and engage upon missions that act as a prelude to open rebellion against the Korellians.

First, at the suggestion of “One of the party (an NPC, presumably),” the player characters have lunch at “an English style pub.”  Just after lunch, before the party leaves the pub, explosions afflict the Korellian munitions factory across the street.  Suspecting sabotage, authorities seal off the area and the player characters learn that “a house-to-house sweep” is imminent and many people will be arrested.  Only those with “a justifiable reason to be in the area...may be let go eventually.”  Additionally, “even the innocent often disappear forever.”  Since a mid-day meal does not qualify as a justifiable reason, “This should make your PCs realize that they are obviously in a bad position.”  There is more than one way the player characters can attempt to avoid the sweep; one way is to travel through the sewers.  The map of the sewer system is presented above; the area represented is 800 meters wide.

According to an announcement the following day, the numerous suspects detained will be sacrificed on the occasion of the Kne'shin'wa festival the following week (a Korellian custom).  Meanwhile, the player characters continue with their job interviews.  Upon returning to their hotel rooms, they can attempt Intuition Characteristic Rolls to “get the feeling that something is wrong.”  If, as a result, they search their rooms, “they will realize that their belongings have been professionally looked through.”  We are then treated to this peculiar statement:  “Though nothing has been taken, there has been an obvious attempt to conceal the fact that any search has been made!”  How does that work?

The player characters collectively interview to become a group of troubleshooters for Alliance Starlines.  The company is a front for the Underground Alliance, although the player characters do not yet know this.  It is a bold decision for an organization to name a front organization after itself.  That evening, Alliance Starlines informs the player characters that they have been hired and a complementary bottle of champagne is delivered.  Get this:  “Of course, though the SM should give no hint of this, the champagne is not drugged, though the gas in the bubbles is narcotic!”  Seriously?  The gas formed by the champagne is narcotic but the champagne isn't drugged?  Just say the champagne is drugged and be done with it.  What if a player character does not drink the champagne (thus avoiding being exposed to the narcotic bubbles)?  In that case, “a waiter will...use a mini-dartgun with the same narcotic tipping the darts on him!”

The player characters wake up in an Underground Alliance hideout and are offered a mission.  Would you want to work for people who kidnapped you?  On the other hand, would you want to hire operatives who could so easily be neutralized?  Anyway, an Alliance member – a professor – was in the area of the munitions factory at the time of the explosions and was thus arrested.  Apparently, the authorities do not realize that the professor is affiliated with the Underground.  The mission of the player characters is to rescue the professor.  They can either (1) arrange for a mass breakout of the detainees while they are held at a colonial police facility or (2) rescue just the professor after the detainees have been transferred to St. Gervase Island, “the HQ of the Imperial Ground Forces on Mephistopheles,” where the sacrifices are to take place.  Regardless of the option they choose, the player characters have extensive leeway in planning the operation and they can call upon the resources of the Underground Alliance.  Actually, the mass breakout option turns out to be fruitless since the adventure requires that the professor be sent to the island.  The Alliance doesn't want the imperial forces to realize that the professor “is of any importance.”  As such, they can't be made aware that the professor has escaped.  How do they hope to accomplish this?  The Alliance has “a specially programmed clone which has been altered to resemble the Professor and will thus make the escape less likely to be detected.”  This sentence is the only information the module provides regarding the clone.  What, exactly, is supposed to happen?  Does the clone work with the player characters to infiltrate the island, take the place of the professor, and then die on his behalf?  Groups of detainees “are quartered in prefab hutments.”  What are the player characters supposed to do with the other detainees quartered with the professor, especially given that “the UA wants no discoverable traces” of the escape?

After the mission, “things are getting too hot” on Mephistopheles for the player characters; so the Alliance sends them to the planet Marduk for a mission.  The player characters are “being paid regularly by Alliance Starlines now,” meaning (I suppose) that the relationship between the PCs and the Alliance has been altered somehow.  The mission on Marduk is to infiltrate the Korellian Imperial StarBase and surreptitiously secure “important items of information from their data banks.”  Again, the player characters devise their own plans to accomplish this.  Evidently, regardless of the player characters' plans, the mission concludes with a “spectacular escape from the StarBase.”  (The Imperial security services “have no idea what [the PCs] did inside the base or even that [they] successfully penetrated it, but they are after” the player characters.)

The next mission involves the player characters taking the Imperial data off-planet.  The PCs must first travel 1200 km inland to a secret UA landing port.  In essence:
The UA will provide transport, but, unbeknownst to either the UA or the PCs, the driver (or one of the other bus crew) has had his cover blown to Imperial Security.  If (when) their vehicle is stopped by Imperial security forces, he will be recognized. This will mean that the PCs will be implicated as well, though there should be just enough bungling on the part of the Imperials to give smart PCs a chance to escape with the Imperials in hot pursuit.  If the roadblock was relatively near their destination or the PCs have been identified (they will be sooner or later), then a planetwide APB will be put out by them.  This will make it effectively impossible for them to carry on with overt operations using their own IDs.  They will, in future, have to confine themselves to covert operations, a much more dangerous way of life.
When the player characters leave Marduk, “a unit of Korellian naval vessels are close enough to attempt interception.”  We are told that the StarMaster “should ensure that whatever the damage the CSA ship takes it still manages to make it into hyperspace and that at least one of the [Korellian vessels] manage to follow.”  The player characters' ship crash lands on the rendezvous planet (although it is called a moon on page 25) and they use a gravsled to travel to “the secret transfer point.”  However, the gravsled has a fuel leak “which the PCs will not discover in time.”  The scenario then becomes an exercise in survival.
In any case, for some time before their fuel runs out, the PCs will have been picking up weak radio signals from elsewhere... They should figure out that this is their only realistic hope of survival.  Subtly encourage them to investigate if they don't show overt eagerness to investigate.
The radio signals emanate from the wreckage of a ForeRunner craft (although the PCs do not recognize it as ForeRunner technology).  They might find an artifact that “will be vital in later adventures in this series.”  Among the wreckage is a ForeRunner vehicle – the equivalent of a gravsled – which the player characters can use to reach the transfer point “near [an] abandoned mining camp.”  Apparently, at no time when the mining camp was active did anyone bother to investigate the radio signals.

A “cutter load of Korellian Marines” has also crash landed and they make “a forced march on to the mining camp.”  It is advised that the player characters do not encounter all of the marines at once.  Instead, “They should start off with a scouting unit of a few men who will proceed to call in reinforcements.”  If necessary, CSA troops can show up to save the characters.  (I guess the player characters were supposed to meet somebody at the transfer point; that somebody might as well be CSA troops.)

Agents of Rebellion has a number of plot holes, but at least there is plot to have holes in (as opposed to Martigan Belt).  At times, McGregor accommodates a broad range of player character behavior, yet at other times particular events are forced upon the PCs.  Yes, “unnecessarily prescriptive” dictates can be obviated by the StarMaster, but the usefulness of the module is inversely proportionate to the effort the StarMaster must put forth.

No comments:

Post a Comment