A quick setup for a one-session adventure for a sci-fi setting
It’s getting late. Your regular GM needed the week off, and you said you’d take over for a one-shot – but you were just too busy to find something. You need an adventure, fast. Or at least, fast enough. Everyone said they wanted some sci-fi….so here we go.
Let’s generate an adventure, ASAP.
Cypher System Rulebook
The Stars are Fire
Stars Without Number
If you’re not familiar with Stars Without Number, it’s a great OSR-style sci-fi RPG. The most interesting thing about it is how it can randomly generate….pretty much everything you need. Galaxy Sectors. NPCs. Factions. Plots. Aliens. Everything. So we’re going to use that to get ourselves going here.
Step 1 – Create a Problem
Without a problem, we don’t have anything for the characters to do – so let’s find a problem.
Using SWN p181, we roll up Ideology, Terrorists with Widespread Support, Territory under Hostile Rule. OK, looks like the PCs are going to find themselves somewhere that’s a powder keg waiting to go off – revolution is in the air! That’s exciting! What kind of planet is this? Let’s roll that up too… Great Work. The locals are obsessed with building some sort of massive project. The easy path here would be a faith-based conflict, but that feels too simple. Let’s lean into the sci-fi aspect here…SWN suggests a complicating factor, that the work is totally hopeless, different factions disagree on what the work even is. An outside power is determined to thwart the work. Let’s get more info on this planet…. Breathable atmosphere, temperate climates, human-miscible biosphere, fewer than a million inhabitants. OK – nothing too out of the ordinary there, it just means we should focus on this ideological conflict instead of some environmental complication. The dice have spoken! Let’s recap our setup:
Planet – earth-like
Conflict – ideological clash, locals under hostile rule, popular local terrorism, obsessed with creating a Great Work
Step 2 – The Cast
Who are the PCs going to interact with? It’s time to come up with some NPCs. The obvious first two we need are a rebel leader or contact, and a government leader or contact. I won’t label either of them an antagonist – your players should decide that!
– Motivation: Avenging a grievous wrong to them or a loved one
– Their Want: Intimidate a rival into ceasing their course of action
– Their Power: They’re a good friend of an important local leader
– Their Hook: Tic-like overuse of a word or phrase
– Initial Manner: Sweaty palmed need or desperation
– Default Deal Outcome: Offer a bonus for an additional favor
OK we have a good idea of who the rebel contact is now. They’re not the leader of the revolution, but they know the leader. They’re nervous and shifty, and need help from the PCs to avenge a wrong to them. They’ll offer more rewards for additional conditions. Let’s check in with the government NPC…
– Motivation: Establishing or promoting a cultural Institution
– Their Want: Locate a Missing NPC
– Their Power: They have considerable liquid funds
– Their Hook: Constant fiddling with a particular item
– Initial Manner: Grim suspicion of the PCs or their backers
– Default Deal Outcome: They’ll want a further small favor to pay up
Yes, that sounds like some minor noble or second-tier official in the government. They’re rich, a little eccentric, looking for someone and their overall goal is to crush ideological opposition and install their own ideology. A True Believer. And they don’t really trust the PCs.
Now that we have the pieces in place – why hasn’t the powder keg exploded yet?
Step 3 – The Moment
We will now roll up what situation the PCs find themselves in at this very moment.
– The Restraint: Foreign participants are keeping things tamped
– The Twist: There’s a profitable chance for the PCs to turn traitor
Step 4 – The Place
Lastly, let’s find out where the climax of this adventure takes place, and what we’re looking for.
– The Ongoings: Local thugs swaggering around
– The Reward: Vital data on the party’s goal
Putting it all Together
That should be all we need for one session! The crew of the Photuris enters in system, looking for supplies and trade. Ahead of them is a frontier planet, earth-like but not heavily inhabited. It’s recently been annexed by the Sector Imperium, who are enforcing harsh rule on the settler population. The locals have long believed that this planet was previously inhabited by an advanced alien species – but there’s no solid proof. Construction workers often find strange artifacts in work sites, but nothing of any use. There are rumors, however, of a vast alien cache of technology, hidden deep inside a nearby mountain. Prior to the Sector Imperium rule, the locals were obsessed with digging into that mountain – a project since halted. That has not gone over well with the locals, and there’s been violent acts against the government. Rebellion is brewing.
As the PCs land, they’re greeted by a government official – a chief lieutenant in the Sector Imperial army. They’re dismissive of the problems, labeling the locals as “superstitious” and feels they should focus on building Sector Imperial schools and training centers. That will fix the “problems” the locals cause in their misguided obsession. As they escort the PCs through customs and pathogen screening, they mention that their niece/nephew has become enamored by the local rebel cause, and has run off. Perhaps the PCs could find her, or information about where the nephew/niece is, for a significant fee? All the while, they constantly check the time on their watch, their data communicator, the wall, over and over.
As the PCs explore the city/town, they’re approached by a desperate person. This member of the rebels has a problem – and would love it if some “outsiders” solved it. See, they’re hopelessly in love with someone who is being hunted by the Sector Imperial guard. You guessed it – it’s the chief lieutenant’s nephew/niece. This rebel needs someone to tell the chief lieutenant to back off – and they’ll pay what they can. Also, if the chief lieutenant were to disappear….the rebel leader may be able to reward them with more cash, goods or services…
As the PCs are deciding what to do, going about their business – a disturbance happens. Local rebel thugs start shaking down local businesses – collecting protection fees, or showing what happens when the fee isn’t paid. The Sector Imperial guard is scrambled to get things under control, with the chief lieutenant commanding. There’s moments of chaos where its hard to tell who has the upper hand, and the chief lieutenant has minimal guards around them…
This chaos is a cover – one of the shops is holding information about the alien warehouse in the mountain. It’s real, and they have the seismic data to prove it. The locals mining operation is very close to the chamber – with this data, they could get there in a matter of days, if mining operations were restarted. The PCs could discover this as they see their rebel contact in the shop, keeping a lookout.
What will the PCs do?
Cypher System Stats
Time to put some meat on the bones, come up with some scene intrusions, etc.
Scene 1- Meeting the Chief Lieutenant
I’d probably assign the Secret Agent (CSR p375) NPC to the Chief here. I don’t see any obvious intrusions, unless the PCs really blow the interaction. In that case, I might have the situation sour and the Chief demands they find the niece/nephew – or else. No in-game reward, and a threat of violence or ship impoundment.
Scene 2 – Meeting the Rebel Contact
We’ll call them a Thug (CSR p376). This NPC exists mostly to wrap the PCs up in the dangerous situation. If the PCs don’t handle the interaction well, a possible intrusion would be for the rebel contact to loudly proclaim these off-worlders are not to be trusted. The PCs will encounter suspicion wherever they go after that.
Scene 3 – The Shakedown
Once the shakedown starts, there will be lots of Thugs on the street. On the government side, most of them would be Guards (CSR p374), sometimes led by a Soldier (CSR p372). A great GM Intrusion here would be to trigger a riot. Things get ugly fast, and the Chief will be looking to the PCs to help “pacify” the rebels, as they fight dirty – have Molotov cocktails flying around. On the other hand, the Rebel Contact will be expecting the PCs to help them escape with the seismic data, either by creating a distraction or smuggling it out themselves. The Government troops will eventually be supported by Mechanical Soldiers (can be reskinned as peacekeeping droids) (CSR p341), Wardroids if things get real bad (CSR p365) or even a CRAZR (CSR p 318) if you want to give chase to the rebels with the plans. Deploy these advanced mechanical troops as GM Intrusions when the PCs get too comfortable.
This is enough to get going for sure – but we recognize that it is not a “complete” adventure. It’s a skeleton, an outline, of an adventure. In order for this to be useful, the GM has to be at least somewhat comfortable with basic mechanics of the system as well as not fearing some real GM improv. If improv doesn’t scare you – great! You’re ready to go! But what if improv does trigger your GM anxiety? We’ll cover that…..next time.