Wednesday, June 12, 2013

USS Carter 5

5: Writ in Tooth and Claw

Sensors detect a potential terran settlement orbiting a variable star, but the planet's EM fields blocks transport. Their shuttle damaged, the away team explores terran and native ruins to learn the field is artificial, has expanded to cover the Carter and causes emotional instability in terran life! Dr. Knox's team must deal with transplanted terran predators and the Carter must fight a Klingon scout, all while on the edge of sanity. Some signaling is needed to the players to let them know what this this is a physiological test adventure, not a combat or ambush, to keep the right feel.


Hook

Constancy I is a decidedly odd planet, with multiple levels of apparent terraforming. From north to south, there are ice caps, an ocean, the landmass (North coast, north lake and river region, north plains, Northern Mountain region; this feeds to an equatorial equivalent, girded by mountains, followed by a southern mountain, plain, lake/river and coast) the southern ocean and finally ice caps. The whole of the equatorial region is covered with greenery, but the rest of the world shows limited life outside of ocean plants. How the heck did it get like this?

There are ruins on the planet, but nothing that can be easily seen from space. A full planetary scan will reveal the existence of two distinct types of buildings. The first is a construction highly reminiscent of the building techniques of India, Earth. The second are alien buildings, nearly identical in style to those found on Osiris IV - the ones that destroyed the Carnarvon! Both exist in several spots, though the Indian buildings are only in the equatorial zone. The remains of a slowboat are also detectable, and form a certain locus, where both the largest Indian construction and an alien ruin are relatively close together.

Finally, the planet itself exhibits an intense EM field -- one so strong and so strange that it would effectively block the use of transporters into or out of it. It's also inhibiting the use of sensors for detecting life forms, and will hinder communication, though communications can cut through that if he modifies the com and sensor arrays, and it will also reduce phaser power. There may still be humans or animals alive down there, however, but exploring that is not without risk.
During the course of this engineering will need to take the warp drives off line for a few minutes to replace the Dekyon Conversion Coil.

Life Science will reveal the nature of the floral bands - how they apparently only exist within a certain equatorial range, and that that range confirms to the area of area of Earth where India resides. A greater than normal success reveals that as massive as the plant growth appears, it could easily all be within 100 years, provided it was seeded equally. That would explain why no new plant life outside the preferred environment: not enough time.

Planetary Sciences will make it perfectly clear that this is not a natural formation. Someone engineered this, and someone with a lot of power and a far better understanding of geology and planetary formation than we have.

Physical Sciences reveals that the EM field blocks non-visual scanning and transport. A complete success (or further questioning) reveals that it would also likely reduce the range & power of phased energy - phasers would have to be used on stronger levels to get the same effect.

Social Science definitely confirms the Terran origin of the Indian-esque buildings, as well as the tendencies of some of the slowboat groups to bring with them the elements of the environment or culture they wanted to emulate.

Know History or Social Science (Xenology) will reveal the similarities to the ruins on Osiris IV.

Plot Turn 1 (Planet)

I'm operating under a big assumption here - that the dangers posed by the ruins will keep them from bringing the Carter into the atmosphere, and instead that they'll use a shuttle. Whether they use the big one (for more security crew) or one of the little ones, I don't know.

Trip through the atmosphere is a little rough, and there's a disconcerting moment when the sensors short out and they have to go to visual (they may notice at that point that the energy field just effortlessly penetrated their shields, but has no discernible effect). Regardless of how much surveying they do, they're still hindered by the 'no sensors' effect, and will have to land and do some surveying somewhere. Once they do, they'll learn many interesting things about the local plant life, and one will develop a friend in the form of a small monkey, who will chitter and climb and act absolutely fearless before he steals his communicator and makes a run into the woods. The PC will be able to recover the thing, but he'll come back out smeared in deep green and bright orange tint from the plants.

We'll cut scene here and go back to the ship, then return for the rest of this set piece - the group will see the local birdlife fly off and the local animals go silent, then feel a rumbling. Earthquake? Nope - Elephants! Which will stampede through the clearing and make a concerted effort to destroy the shuttle. With their enormous brains and highly evolved senses, the great trunked ones are the first to feel the effects of the EM field increase, and the first to go a little buggy.

If the PCs try to face the elephants remember how phasers are limited in power on the planet.

Plot Turn 1 (Ship)

Back on the ship any PCs left behind have likely just finished making changes to the comm and sensor arrays, using that *don't* work in the atmosphere as boosters to make the com system work. Hence they’re now on line with the away team, as long as they stay in a relatively close orbit (Sigfried will argue for pulling in more of the sesnor arrays to get further away, coward that he is…). This is when science sensors will pick up the instability of the star, and the fact that it's going through a sudden, rather intense solar flare period. No, this isn't a direct threat to the Carter, or to the away team. At least, not yet.

This is a chance to some character interaction between the PCs on the ship, who I figure are at this point mostly on the bridge. Anyone in the lower levels of the ship are now in range of the planet’s weird EM field, which means things in engineering are going to get squirrely, but not yet.

Pinch 1 (Planet)

OK, and now the away team has no shuttle. Depending on how the elephant conflict went they might all be together or might be separated, might all be fine or might have wounded.

The PCs on the planet all have to make some sort of willpower test to avoid being under the influence of the ‘feeling grooovy’ field, which makes them act in a much less inhibited fashion than normal. That complication is the main issue. I'd rather they have no wounded , be a little separated and decide they have to make for the slowboat or the human occupation. They won't run into any more immediate threats, but there will be a convenient nearby lake, as well as several other shadowy areas. Plus the green body paint for pretending to be Orion dancing girls, or whatever. If they have red-shirts, have the two of them getting into a phaser targeting duel with thrown melons. Waste those charges, you know…

After a little bit of this the laughs end- a pair of tigers show up and, if the security guards are with them, kill one of the security guards and panics the other, who drops his gun and flees into the woods. If there aren't security guards, the Tigers menace whoever is handy with a very high degree of aggressiveness. If there are no guards wound someone severely before killing one tiger (they may only ever see one) to show how real the threat is. In any case, someone is getting killed or seriously hurt in this, because phasers are of limited effectiveness.

Second round of willpower tests is now required to see if anyone under the influence of the field slips further into uninhibited behavior, or if those who have resisted it so far start to slip.

Pinch 2: Ship

Not quite as dire as the planet, but in ship’s engineering any PCs are likely under the effect of the uninhibited behavior. I had an NPC chief engineer in my game who decided to disassemble the engines to get rid of an annoying whine – it’s that sort of thing. For someone not on the ship have a comely engineering tech come up to the higher levels and plant a big smooch on the most inappropriate PC present. If engineering is messing with the power levels the bridge crew will also detect that.

Midpoint

The away team makes it to whatever their destination was - either the Mahal or the Slowboat - and finds that the only evidence of human habitation are skeletal. Whatever happened to these people, it happened a hundred years ago, and the animals have since gone to town. Some medical research will show that some of the deaths are self-inflicted, some are murder, and some are animal related.

Some research in either area will find evidence of carved writing on the walls, detailing the history of these people. They were coming here to reconstruct the glory of India, with all of the proper native fauna, and all was fine until after the first century when the spurts of madness began. They would occur and then fade, and then reoccur once everyone thought they were gone. The animals turned on them, the people list the ability to plan, to restrain themselves, and ultimately to cope. The colony collapsed after a few years of madness. Much of the away team is probably now more than a little loopy, with their emotions on a hair trigger. More willpower tests are required

On the ship it will be clear that engineering is more or less offline – the exact nature of the problem is still unclear but the engineering staff has been deeply effected and has taken many systems off line.

Pinch 2

This is primarily a psychological pinch – the crew on the ship have to find some way to regain control in engineering and get systems back on line. How they do this is up to them, but the EM effect from the planet is moving further up the ship. \

On the planet we should be ready for a command and control mutiny of some sort. The willpower tests should be calibrated so that the most willful (or alien) members of the away team are unaffected, and trying to maintain some sort of order would be necessary via threats, command, cajoling, deception or whatever the PCs various traits recommend.

Plot Turn 2

Continued investigation of either site on the planet (or perhaps clever work in orbit) will provide clues that the effect is caused by the EM field and the EM field is being generated as a response to the flare activity. There is a solution if their medical or science officers are present – if they link the bad behavior to the EM field they can protect themselves from it, at least temporarily, with Ryolin, a standard anti-radiation drug. This can be released as an aerosol in the ship and be injected into some of the away team.

Once control is restored to engineering the Carter can try to get systems on line and move out of the em field, but they will learn that the field is expanding from the planet to ‘hold’ them in place! Likewise the people on the planet are still being threatened by the field and the animals, for all that they’re likely dosed up.

Resolution

Quite simply someone has to get to the alien ruins command center (conveniently nearby) and find a way to either shut the field down or indicate that the Carter is not in need of assistance. The EM field is carrying a communication aspect to it telepathically, so someone with psi powers might tap into that  and give the order to release the Carter. Players can hole up in the shielded command center for the duration of the solar flares if a shuttle can’t be brought down to them.


The back hald and denouement of this episode is a little weak because so much depends on the PCs – this is a chance for them to show off their inner selves, so the tests would be easy of they weren’t experiencing, er, Naked Time.