Sunday, August 26, 2018

Join The Galactic Task Force...Or The Galactic Legions

With Dungeons & Dragons, TSR started and fomented the fantasy role-playing game phenomenon and during the early years of the hobby, it was the pre-eminent RPG publisher.  It was only natural that TSR would leverage its status to promote a science fiction / space adventure role-playing game.  TSR released its effort, Star Frontiers, in the summer of 1982.  After 1985, TSR published no more Star Frontiers supplements.  Granted, the game still has its fans, but its published lifespan was only 3½ years.  This is not a long-term success considering the amount of support TSR could employ (if only in terms of marketing and distribution).

William A. Barton (who would – among other accomplishments – co-author GURPS Space) wrote a review in The Space Gamer #60 wherein we learn the original name of Star Frontiers was to be Alien Worlds.  A hint of this is captured in the game's subtitle, “Exciting Adventure on Alien Worlds.”

Lawrence Schick in his Heroic Worlds states, “In 1982 TSR waded into the pool with Star Frontiers, a game that had unfortunately been crippled in development by too much committee design.”  Schick was one of the original designers (along with David “Zeb” Cook), so his insight is cogent.  Schick continues, “The systems were originally designed for players aged 14 and up, then heavily redesigned (without play-testing) for younger players, resulting in some very muddled rules.”  (Star Frontiers was marketed as a game for “ages 10 and up.”)  Schick does not list Star Frontiers among Heroic Worlds' Top Five Science Fiction: Space Adventure Systems recommendations.

Dragon #65 includes an article (“Blastoff!”) that offers a first look at Star Frontiers :
The STAR FRONTIERS™ game project was ambitious from the start. The problems that appear when designing three complete and detailed alien cultures, a huge frontier area, futuristic equipment and weapons, and the game rules that make all these elements work together, were impossible to predict and not easy to overcome. But the difficulties were resolved, and the result is a game that lets players enter a truly wide-open space society and explore, wander, fight, trade, or adventure through it in the best science-fiction tradition.
Article author Steve Winter was also credited as the editor of Star Frontiers and he provides more detail about the game's development:
          Design work on the game started in the summer of 1979.  Dave Cook and Lawrence Schick, full-time designers for TSR Hobbies, were assigned to the project.  Their goal was to create a wide-open science fiction role-playing game with a solid scientific base.  TSR wanted a game that would satisfy fans of hardcore science fiction, and still be easy to play.  Dave and Lawrence started by designing a character-generation system and simple rules for movement and combat.  Then they started playtesting, adding and revising.
          The game grew and changed for two years, until it was finally submitted for review in the summer of 1981.  During those two years, TSR Hobbies grew tremendously.  The company had discovered that its games appealed to a much broader audience than wargamers and fantasy fans alone.  D&D® and AD&D™ games, for instance, were selling to people who had never played a wargame or a role-playing game before.  In order to tap this huge market, TSR decided to restructure the STAR FRONTIERS game so it would appeal to people who had never seen this type of game.
          This decision meant most of the game needed to be rewritten and reorganized so persons with no gaming experience could buy it, take it home and play it without learning a lot of rules.  The number and types of dice in the game were changed, the maps and counters were added, and many realistic but complex rules were sacrificed for playability.  In general, there was an overall softening of the game’s “hard core.”
          In order to meet the game’s scheduled release date, this revision work was split up among different members of TSR’s product development staff.   The project was completed in time for its scheduled release at the GEN CON® XV game convention.
Making Star Frontiers an introductory game and crafting it for a younger audience was a sensible if not necessary choice; splitting up revision development and foregoing playtesting, less so.

Winter claims, “The rule book includes detailed guidelines for creating adventures, alien planets and the plants, animals, and intelligent creatures that live on them.”  However, this is not entirely true; no rules for creating alien planets were included.  Zeb Cook would eventually provide planet creation rules in the final issue of Arēs (Spring 1984).  Also missing from the initial set are “rules for spaceship design [and] combat.”  Winter admits that these things are a “very important aspect of science fiction.”  However, according to Winter, “We didn’t want to insert a weak set of starship rules, or raise the price of the first set by increasing the size of the rule book.”  This is eminently reasonable.  An in-game rationale is that “most starships in the Frontier are owned by large corporations, planetary governments or starship travel companies.”  Therefore, player characters will not own starships.  (A separate set of starship rules, Knight Hawks, was published in 1983.)

The setting of Star Frontiers is “a region of space called the Frontier Sector.”  (Perhaps the game should have been titled Star Frontier.)  According to the basic game rules, this sector is...“Near the center of a great spiral galaxy, where suns are much closer together than Earth's sun and its neighbors.”  According to Winter, the volume of the frontier is “1,500 cubic light-years [and] contains 38 star systems.”  Although Winter says “cubic,” the map of the frontier is 34 light years × 44 light years, which is 1,496 square light years.  The distances among the various populated systems (i.e., the “established travel routes”) suggest they are all on the same plane.  Therefore, the setting is effectively outer space in two dimensions.  Did TSR think that three dimensional space would be too difficult to represent for their target demographic?  This 'simplicity' of space is one of the problems I had with the setting.

Players could choose among four races for their characters, including “a Human race...not identical to the Humans of Earth, but they were not very different, either.”  Basic D&D allowed for four player character races, so a variety of four races for Star Frontiers is tenable.  Fortunately, the non-human races are neither anthropomorphic animals nor humans with merely cosmetic differences.  They are alien, but sufficiently compatible with one another.  Separate from the player races, the Sathar are “an evil race of worm-like aliens” about which very little is known.  We are told they “should be NPCs only.”  Yet, on the Racial Reaction Modifiers table, Sathar are listed as a player character race.

Given that the player races have fought a war against the Sathar in the Frontier, it seems unlikely that the United Planetary Federation would have left any systems in the sector unexplored.  However, Winter says, “Only 17 of [the 38] systems have been explored and colonized when the game starts.”  This is another of the problems I had with the setting.

It is unclear if the home systems of the player races are represented on the Frontier map.  I assumed as much because (1) each race exclusively controls at least one system near the edge of the map and (2) no “established travel routes”  are indicated that would lead to systems off of the map.  Assuming that the home systems are along the edges of the map, why would the races engage in exploration only toward one another and not in an omni-directional fashion?  This is yet another of my concerns.

“With the frontier as its background,” Winter tells us, “the action in a STAR FRONTIERS game focuses on exploring new worlds, discovering alien secrets or unearthing ancient cultures.”  Contrary to Winter's notion of “a truly wide-open space society,” the setting of Star Frontiers is constrained compared to the vast environments to be found in competing products like Traveller and Space Opera.  This is another deficiency of the game.

Instead of having an abbreviated frontier, perhaps interstellar travel could have been accomplished via star-gates linking systems to one another.  In this way, the physical position and proximity of star systems would be irrelevant, only relative positions within the star-gate 'network' would matter.  No star maps would be required and the extent of 'known space' could be limited or expanded as needed for any given campaign.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dragons of Underearth

Art by Denis Loubet

The Fantasy Trip Kickstarter is in its final days.  For those of you who don't know, The Fantasy Trip is...well, let's let designer Steve Jackson (US) explain (from Heroic Worlds):
          The Fantasy Trip, or TFT for short, came into being in 1977, when I designed Melee for Metagaming.  Melee was intended to be a (relatively) realistic, but super-quick game, useable either as a combat system for fantasy RPGs or as a stand-alone game.  It used only two statistics: Strength and Dexterity.  Combats were quick and bloody, until you got about a dozen on each side; then they became slow and bloody.  But it was a simple and very playable system.
          While Melee was being designed, I toyed with a few spells, but did not include them in the final version.  However, by popular demand, they grew into a companion game, WizardWizard was actually the same game with one more stat (IQ) thrown in and magic rules instead of weapon combat.  Therefore, the two packages were totally compatible; a wizard could fight with, or against, a warrior.  These were the game's two “character classes.”
          Melee/Wizard became quite popular, due both to simplicity and to the very low cost (originally $2.95 for Melee, $3.95 for Wizard).  There was a great deal of demand for the “complete” role-playing system.  And, in 1979, after entirely too much time and work, The Fantasy Trip was released.
After TFT was published, Steve Jackson separated from Metagaming.  Jackson went on to establish his own game company.  Metagaming retained the rights to TFT, but Jackson further developed the concepts of TFT in forming the basis for GURPS.  Metagaming went out of business and TFT went out-of-print.  Now, however, Jackson has obtained the rights and is running the aforementioned Kickstarter campaign.

Metagaming published Dragons of Underearth before it closed its doors.  Dragons of Underearth is...well, let's let designer Keith Gross explain (from Interplay #8):
...DRAGONS OF UNDEREARTH has basically the same content as THE FANTASY TRIP in its full ITL [In the Labyrinth], ADVANCED MELEE & ADVANCED WIZARD form; the rules cover essentially all of the same subjects.  However, DRAGONS OF UNDEREARTH is much shorter (about 20 small pages) and much easier to learn and faster-playing.  It is slightly less realistic and leaves out some of the more esoteric weapons, spells, etc.  It does not have all the colorful descriptions and background information that ITL, ADVANCED MELEE, and ADVANCED WIZARD do, but many gamers do not need this.
The front of the box makes the declaration, “Compact Rules For Fantasy Role-Playing.”  The back of the box indicates:
DRAGONS OF UNDEREARTH gives you danger and glory in a complete, fantasy role-playing game where you are the hero.  UNDEREARTH simplifies play, giving you more time for action and surprise.  Included are character creation, magic, monsters and combat (introductory, intermediate & advanced versions for easy learning).  And, you don't need a game master or special dice.
Please note the claim of being “a complete, fantasy role-playing game.”  (The game also refers to itself as “a complete character role-playing system.”)  Yet, neither did Lawrence Schick include it in his Heroic Worlds, nor was it listed in The Adventurer's Handbook.  Perhaps Dragons of Underearth was considered too derivative of The Fantasy Trip.  However, the notion of publishing basic and advanced versions of the same game is hardly novel.

Keith Gross planned something called Conquerors of Underearth as a TFT adventure that would have “Adventurers entering a Goblin fortress and encountering organized military units, and as such often involves 10-20 or more fighters in a battle.” Given the number of participants, a battle in Conquerors could be “very slow and complicated.”  Gross fashioned a simpler version of TFT to make Conquerors more playable.  This simpler version became Dragons of Underearth, a distinct product.  Ironically, Conquerors of Underearth was never published.

Like TFT, players create characters in Dragons of Underearth by allocating points among three attributes:  Strength, Dexterity, and IQ.  Like TFT, IQ establishes how many talents a character may have and the variety of talents from which to choose.  Like TFT, talents such as Animal Handler, Physicker, and Theologian are listed.  Unlike TFT, only combat related talents are explained in Dragons of Underearth.  According to section 6.2, “Other talents are fully explained in the Magic Item Creation section of this module or in CONQUERORS OF UNDEREARTH.”  Also, per section 5.2, “Non-Combat spells are described in CONQUERORS OF UNDEREARTH™.”

If your product lists talents and spells, acknowledges that the talents and spells need description, and refers the reader to a separate product for those descriptions, your product fails to be “complete.”  If that separate product won't ever exist, insult is added to injury.  Ultimately, Dragons of Underearth only incorporates rules that relate to combat.

So, when can we consider a role-playing game to be complete?  Is The Future King complete?  That game does not allow for creation of original characters and there is only one adventure.  While Heroic Worlds does not mention Dragons of Underearth, it does list The Future King as a role-playing game.  Of course,  Heroic Worlds includes solo gamebooks as RPGs.

The rules for Dragons of Underearth are divided into two modules:  Character Generation (©1981) and Combat (©1982).  In addition to the obvious, the Character Generation module includes tables for armor, weapons, and monsters/beasts; rules for experience; and rules for creating original (combat) scenarios.  The Combat module has three tiers of rules:  introductory, intermediate, and advanced.  The introductory sections cover the basics (appropriately enough).  The intermediate sections bring into play ranged combat and (optionally) poison, creatures, and bare-handed attacks.  The advanced sections discuss spells and magic items.  Each tier has three scenarios incorporating the rules from their respective tiers (to facilitate learning).

The third advanced scenario is called 'Battle of the Chasm' in which two forces are positioned on either side of “a two-megahex wide pit.”  Only a narrow bridge crosses the chasm.  The 'Dark Power' force consists of six orc “swordsmen,” four orc archers, two trolls, and a greater demon.  Included among the 'Fellowship' force are two human fighters, a dwarf fighter, an elven archer, a wizard, and four halflings (one of which has a “Ring of Invisibility”).  This makes for an interesting situation; someone should write a book where this is a pivotal scene.  For dramatic tension, maybe the dwarf – no, one of the humans – wants the ring for himself.  Maybe the other human is really a prince or something.  Of course, no one wants to read about a Fellowship; that's too hokey.  They should be called the League of Murderhoboes or the Brotherhood of Death Dealers.

Why 'Dragons' of Underearth?  One dragon is featured in an intermediate scenario.  Perhaps someone at Metagaming hoped that the word 'Dragons' in the title would imply a likeness with Dungeons & Dragons.  Perhaps Metagaming had sitting around some Loubet art featuring a dragon.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

High Times on Hathor III (spoilers)

Art by Steve Crompton

In 1983, Fantasy Games Unlimited published Casino Galactica for use with Space Opera.  It is credited to “STEVEN B. TODD of Gnome Mountain Workshops.”  The title page explains that “Todd is in the process of forming a new publishing company called Gnome Mountain Workshops for the purpose of publishing Space Opera support material under license.”  Originally, Casino Galactica was supposed to be a Gnome Mountain Workshops publication; however, with regard to Todd, “the idea of having [FGU] publish one of his adventures to make the public aware of his style prompted Steve to change the nature of this submission to allow [FGU] to publish it.”  The reader is told to “Watch for other products by Steve from his own Gnome Mountain Workshops in the future.”  Alas, Casino Galactica is Todd's only RPG credit and no output from Gnome Mountain Workshops was forthcoming.

The Introduction refers to Casino Galactica as a “campaign pack” and “an adventure background” as opposed to “an adventure per se.”  The cover makes the claim:  “Adventure Setting & Scenarios.”  However it wants to refer to itself, Casino Galatica has twenty pages.  The Introduction is on page two and only one-quarter of a page of text appears on the last page.  Considering this – and given the amount of white space present on the other pages – Casino Galactica provides eighteen pages of material.  About six of pages consist of maps and the keys thereto.

'Casino Galactica' is the collective name for a posh resort situated in “the mountainous outback of Arcturus [IV].”  It was established “only a half-dozen years ago by an off-worlder named Cosmo Filroy, who had a lot of money and off-world financial backing.”  Filroy's “background is sketchy” and “he is involved in all sorts of legal and semi-legal activities.”

Approximately five pages – a significant portion of the book – are devoted to describing non-player characters associated with the casino.  Some are detailed fulsomely with an illustration, characteristics, skill ratings, and one or more paragraphs of information.  Some personalities are only supplied with characteristics and skill ratings.  Some entities are merely named; for instance, the security personnel encounter table lists eighteen people whose distinguishing features are left to the StarMaster.
Remember that all duties are by weekly rotation.  Do not put Mary Pale on garage beat one day and at Detention check the next, and someplace else the day after.  Be logical.
An 'act list for the lounge' is provided, indicating such worthies as Johnny Asteroid (comedian) and Tara McClendon (stripper).  Also described – in detail – are notable guests, such as Professor Fielding Price (depicted below), “the leading researcher in the field of temporal physics.”

Naturally, the casino offers gambling opportunities, including sports betting.  Grav-Ball, a game published by FASA the previous year, “is all the rage.”  Casino Galactica encourages the reader to purchase a copy of the game noting, “Besides being useful in this packet, it's a fun game, and simple.”  The local franchise, the Arcturus Blue Scourge, is party owned by Cosmo Filroy.  The team's schedule for the season (with the odds for each game) is listed on page 14.  The StarMaster is advised:
To give the season more flavor, throw in some sports flashes about the other teams, and how well they are doing.  Give the players something to think about, but don't try to steal them blind. Be very careful not to mislead them too much. Remember, they would, in reality, have stats and past histories on hand to check.  They would not be as much in the dark as they're going to be in the game.
Also at the casino is an experimental machine called the Subliminal Imagery Device that “introduces fantasy-oriented images into the mind of the sleeping subject, and makes he or she believe that they are experiencing some fantastic adventure or quest, in a pre-created world, but one which is influenced by the subject's own subconscious images.”  The cost of using the device is one thousand credits per day, “though a one month package is available for CR 25,000.”  How the subjects receive sustenance is not explained.  While the machine “is 99% safe...there have been no fatalities, but one person refused to come back to this world, the other was so real.”  The experimental nature of the S.I.D. is not disclosed to the public.  We read that:
The device has several pre-programmed adventure worlds, all fantasy oriented.  For playing out these 'adventures' use of any of several of the excellent FRP's available on the market is recommended.
So, you can role-play a character who is role-playing in turn – using a different game's rules.

The resort offers various other recreational pursuits, including skiing, shopping, hunting (local as well as imported animals), and two golf courses:  “a traditional Terran golf course and another more 'alien' built on the edge of a deep chasm.”  The alien course “is the utmost in challenges, and utilizes robotic caddies and air-sled carts.”  We are assured that, “So far the only casualties have been balls.”

The section of the book dedicated to scenarios is about 1⅓ pages, including illustrations.  However, the scenario descriptions build upon the background provided in the NPC details, especially with regard to how the NPCs relate to one another.  There are five scenarios presented and six Other Ideas.  (“Just expand on them a little, and presto! Adventures.”)

Birkett H. Crandall, the casino manager, “is a typical gangland hoodlum type.”  His illicit activities extend to “gunrunning, drug manufacture and marketing, corporate spying - even slavery.”  Crandall is involved with “drug growing and smuggling activities” on the planet Hathor III.  In one scenario, Paul LaClerc, assistant manager of the club and undercover IPA detective, hires the player characters “to bring back photographic evidence” of Crandall's felonious deeds on that planet.  Another scenario has Crandall blackmailing the United Federation of Planets with evidence that it was responsible for a political assassination.  The Bureau of State Security hires the PCs to retrieve the disk with this evidence.  In yet another scenario, the player characters work for Crandall to obtain “some experimental drugs that were confiscated by the authorities.” 

Jeff space!
Art by Steve Crompton

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.