GM Note: The thief is referred to as “John Schillios” in this adventure.
The game begins with a bit of a current events recap for the players: after their previous mission which ended with the arrest of lead researchers and executives of their former client, a trial date has been set for Kennedy vs. Divine Spark Inc. and is already rapidly gaining prominence in the media due to its highly unusual nature; even in a world filled with magic, “mind theft” is something that will tend to draw quite a bit of attention.
While the other players are arguing over how to best upgrade the Escalade they acquired in the second adventure, John, in a rare show of piety, begins the session by visiting a temple of Correlon, patron deity of the elven people. He kneels before the alter for only a moment before standing and making a small donation to the temple, the same donation he makes on this day every year. Then, departing the temple, he goes to a payphone and makes a single phone call. The call rings through to voicemail and he leaves a simple message:
John: “It’s me. Ask for John this week if you need to find me.”
Hanging up, he heaves a heavy sigh and goes about his business for the day.
In an unusual start to events, the players aren’t summoned via their company “buzzers” (for lack of a better term) but rather each receive a call from Punwick, asking them to come into the office for a meeting. When they all arrive, there is no client accompanying Punwick to explain their job to them: indeed, they don’t technically have a job at all. Instead, he informs them of an upcoming event: the 12th annual SecureExpo, a major trade show for the private security industry held every year for the purposes of showing off new technologies, services, and general networking. Punwick, being a barbarian, tries to avoid these events whenever possible but recognizes their benefits. As such, he has selected the party to attend on Gillespie and Haggard’s behalf, in light of their recent successes.
GM Note: the reason I decided to establish the players as a team of employed mercenaries in this game as opposed to free-floating adventurers is that it’s significantly easier to get players involved in an adventure when they operate through some kind of command structure, be it military or (as in this case) corporate. Sometimes you’ll come up with an adventure hook that the players simply don’t want to undertake, then all your plans for the session fly out the window and you either have to railroad, improvise everything, or throw in the towel and play Left 4 Dead all night. The “because you have orders” route allows you to bypass some of these troubles by enforcing a more rigid mission structure on your games. Whether you consider this any better than blatant railroading or not is largely a matter of personal opinion but it makes the job of a GM marginally easier and lets them deliver adventures in a more natural way than “go left to fight the dragon or go right to traverse miles of empty graph paper”. Nonetheless, all the typical jokes about massive hook-like structures labeled “plot” crashing through walls are made before everyone stops leaning on the fourth wall and gets on with it.
Upon accepting the “mission”, the players are presented with their industry passes for the event, along with a brochure outlining the history and current attractions of SecureExpo ’75. Every year, a different security company hosts the event, chosen by a planning committee at the conclusion of the previous year’s expo. While traditional expo centers were used during the first few years, recent events have been hosted in more exotic, themed locales. Previous notable years have seen the expo held in a massive aircraft hanger and a sprawling underground nuclear bunker complex. This year’s expo, hosted by the Gatehouse Security Corporation, is being held onboard the Akagi, a decommissioned Kraken-Class space cruiser purchased and retrofitted by Gatehouse to serve as a mobile convention center, but still equipped with at least some of its original armament.
GM Note: we haven’t really covered spaceships or space travel in this setting yet, but as you can probably surmise at this point it does indeed exist. Space travel is still rather uncommon and for the general public is only attainable via expensive cruise-style vacation packages, available either as orbital trips or as longer inter-planetary ventures between Earth and Toril. For more expeditious travel between the two planets, a large artificially constructed portal known as the Tannhauser Gate has two connecting structures in orbit around each planet, allowing for almost instantaneous orbit-to-orbit travel, albeit at a hefty usage fee to ensure the upkeep of the ring structure and to continue to pay off the large company of wizards that constructed the actual portal portion of the Gate. The Akagi will use this method to traverse the distance between the two planets quickly, and end its journey and the expo upon entering into Toril’s orbit.
While the Akagi is a military-style cruiser with all the armament and designations thereof, actual space combat is exceedingly rare due to the sheer impracticality of it all. No dedicated space navy exists, and all armed vessels are constructed by major companies (the Akagi herself was built by Lockheed-Martin in 2059) and then subsequently purchased by private security firms or pseudo-military guard forces such as Baldur’s Gate’s Flaming Fist, who oversee much of the planetary defense around Toril. Most of these ships are maintained in response to small-scale piracy operations that operate between planets, but there is also a precautionary logic behind their continued use: contact with Earth and previous clashes with the Illithid world of Penumbra as well as others have taught the citizens of the multiverse to be cautious of potential new contacts that could come from any direction and with any intention.
With their invitations in hand, the players take a portal to Sydney, Australia, the home city of the Gatehouse Corporation, where they board a small shuttle that will transport them up to the Akagi. For most of the players, though they have all left their home planes, this is their first venture into space, almost a kind of plane in itself.
Upon attaining orbit and docking with the Akagi the players are ushered through an airlock and into a moderate-sized receiving area which is checking all guests for weapons and identification before allowing them access to the ship and the convention beyond. Hoping to avoid the screening process, Strauss attempts to sneak his way past the security checkpoint, but doesn’t get so much as one leg over the cordon before he’s spotted and ordered to get back in line. Not wanting to initiate a major incident as his first act onboard, he agrees. When the party actually reaches the screening area, they find that at least some of their concerns were unfounded; Norm and Gorak will be allowed to keep their swords and the rest will be allowed to maintain one sidearm, though larger firearms are not allowed. In an event catering to some of the biggest names in security, disarming them all would be all but impossible and so the expo instead opts for regulation of personal weaponry in contrast to an all-out ban. In any event, they reason that anyone who tries anything will be promptly gunned down by the rest.
GM Note: Don’t give me any of that “but bullets on a spaceship could depressurize the entire vessel!” crap. In a world where firearms are common, any military-style ship worth its salt wouldn’t be compromised by one round fired into its hull. If it’s built to withstand rocket attacks, then I’m pretty sure small arms fire wouldn’t doom everyone onboard to a horrible, inevitable death.
Strauss grudgingly hands over his G3 SG1, while John more willingly parts with his Tavor as he’s never relied on it too heavily anyway and the FN Five-seveN he acquired at the end of the previous adventure is more than sufficient for his combat needs. Gorak relinquishes his Saiga-12k but only after John supplies him with his old S&W 629 as a replacement. John also offers the Colt Python to Norm, but he refuses, confident that his katanas will be all the weaponry he needs. And so the party’s long guns along with the leftover revolver are gathered up and taken away to a “secure location” on the lower decks. After that, the party is allowed through the checkpoint into the expo beyond.
Proceeding through a series of corridors marked with directing signage, they make their way to the main auditorium, formerly the crew mess. This area is the single largest room on the ship save for the cargo bay; just under a football field in length and half that in width with a ceiling 20 feet overhead, the auditorium can fit virtually all the guests in a single central location. The outward facing sides of the room are fitted with three large windows each that wrap overhead, giving a 180 degree view of the black expanse of space (the party is assured that these “windows” are more than durable enough to weather any foreseeable impact). A large stage has been set up towards the front of the room with a massive cloth backdrop and several projection screens, concealing the front of the room that leads to access points for both the bridge and gunnery control directly below it. Long rows of seats have been put in place in front of the stage to seat the attendees, but the back half of the room has an open-floor setup to accommodate conversation and several elaborate buffet tables. Gorak, predictably, makes a beeline directly for these tables and sets up what appears to be permanent residence there, waving his invitation at anyone who attempts to get between him and his free meal.
The rest of the party, however, goes about mingling with some of the guests, making contacts and handing out business cards like good representatives of their company. After a number of introductions, they come across the owner of Gatehouse Security, Daniel Ridgeway. A native Australian, Daniel is a dusty-haired man in his late 30s, immaculate in an expensive business suit and quick at hand with a smile or a laugh, every inch the perfect host. Or at least he would be, were it not for the illithid following in his wake.
Daniel: “Gentlemen, welcome to the expo. I trust you’re finding everything to your liking?”
John: “Uh, yeah. Hey, you know you have an illithid following you around?”
Daniel: “Oh yes, that’s my manservant, Roland. Don’t worry about him.”
Norm: “Okay, but… illithid.”
Daniel: (Chuckling) “Roland, show our guests your jewelry.”
Roland obligingly leans forward and slightly pulls down the fabric of his collar. Affixed to the back of his next is some kind of electronic device, complete with important-looking blinking lights.
Daniel: “Picked him and that little number on his neck there up in the City of Brass a few years ago. Can’t remember for the life of me what its real name is, but most folks around there just call it the Brain Fart. Not sure how they got it on him but it makes old Roland here about as dangerous as housecat. No brains for this one.”
Strauss: “But how does it-”
Daniel: “Don’t know, really. All I know is I still got my grey bits so I guess it works well enough.”
Norm: “That’s pretty ballsy, keeping an illithid on as a servant. Sends quite the message.”
Daniel: “That’s the idea. So, who are you boys with?”
John: (Removing a business card from his jacket and handing it to Daniel) “We’re here on behalf of Gillespie and Haggard Active Consulting Agency in Sigil.”
Daniel: “Ah right, I’ve heard about you. Made quite a stir recently with that android business. Nasty stuff, that.”
Strauss: “You have no idea.”
Daniel: “Well, it’s a pleasure to have you here. If you need anything then please don’t hesitate to ask. In the meantime, I’m afraid I must be going, lots more people to see, you understand.”
John: “Of course.”
Daniel: “Enjoy the show, gentlemen.”
With that, Daniel turns and threads his way through the crowd, off in search of the next guest to see to, Roland dutifully following in his wake.
Norm: “Well. I don’t like anything about that.”
John: “Keep an eye on him, just in case.”
The party continues to mingle with the other guests for a while longer before one of the security personnel assigned to watch over the auditorium approaches them.
Guard: “So let me guess: you guys got suckered into coming here because your boss didn’t want to come, right?”
Strauss: “That’s about right, yeah. How’d you guess?”
Guard: “You’re easy to spot. The way you guys watch the crowd, the way you carry your weapons close at hand, and the lack of over-priced suits are pretty good indicators. Plus…”
(He casts a meaningful glance over at the buffet table, where Gorak is tearing into a plate of shrimp cocktail like a Hyena.)
Strauss: “Right. Sorry about that.”
Guard: “Don’t worry about it. Every year we have a few guys show up here who are more at home in the field than they are in a place like this.” (He extends a hand.) “The name’s Kirk, Gatehouse Security.”
Strauss: “John Strauss, Gillespie and Haggard. This is Norm and, uh… John Schillios. The dwarf leading the assault on the food is Gorak.”
Kirk: “Nice to meet you. Listen, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m willing to bet that you guys don’t wanna hang around with this crowd the whole time you’re here, right?”
Norm: “Not if I can help it.”
Kirk: “Well, like I said there’s always a few like you around every year. We’ve already had a few others show up that you’d probably have more in common with. Down on Deck 2 we’ve got a place called Bulkhead 40, kind of an informal bar/lounge area. There’ll be media coverage of the keynote if you’re really interested so you can tune in while you’re down there.”
John: “Sounds good to me.”
Norm: “Same here.”
Strauss: “I think I’m gonna stay up here. Somebody needs to make sure Gorak doesn’t start eating the silverware.”
Kirk: “It might be easier if you just take him down to the ba-”
Strauss: “Trust me, for the sake of your alcohol stores, this is much safer.”
Kirk: “Suit yourself. Bulkhead 40 is one deck below at the front of the ship. It’ll be marked, so it’s tough to miss.”
Kirk: “No problem. I have to stay up here, but you guys can try to have some fun, or at least avoid the worst of the tedium. Now, I gotta get back to work.”
Kirk continues patrolling the crowd, keeping an eye out for anyone that looks like they might cause trouble. Strauss continues the routine of making connections for G&H while keeping watch on Gorak, and Norm and John head out the back doors to the auditorium and descend to Deck 2 in search of Bulkhead 40. They find it at the absolute fore end of the ship, a well-stocked bar occupying one wall is attended to by a bored-looking dwarf and forward-facing windows similar to those found in the auditorium look out into space. Several tables occupy the rest of the room, and a human, an elf, and a tiefling occupy one of them, deep into a card game.
Taking up residence at the bar, John and Norm order up drinks and look up to the screen hanging behind the counter which is broadcasting live coverage of the event going on upstairs. Sipping their drinks idly, they watch as an expo representative briefly approaches the microphone onstage to announce that the ship will be passing through the Tannhauser Gate in a few minutes, at which point the keynote address will begin.
Turning to look out the large, front-facing windows they are able to see the massive gate structure looming in front of them, spinning slowly in Earth’s orbit. Over 200 meters in diameter, the Tannhauser Gate is the perfect embodiment of the post-contact multiverse: a marvel of aerospace engineering blended seamlessly with ancient magic, literally and metaphorically linking two worlds together. As they approach the gate, a series of green lights around the exterior of the ring blink to life, indicating that a successful connection to the partner gate above Toril has been established. As the fore end of the ship begins to pass through the portal, the space beyond seems to stretch as though it were printed on an elastic fabric, stars and satellites elongating unnaturally as the players’ perception of reality tries to cope with their traversing such a tremendous distance almost instantaneously. The artificial gravity provided by the rotation of the ship overrides most of the physical discomfort of the jump, but there is still a slight sensation of opposing forces pulling at their bodies as they pass through the portal. Yet in the time it takes to realize that all of this is happening the journey is already done, and they are in orbit above Toril. The Akagi will make several full rotations around the planet before the expo concludes and attendees can take shuttles down to the planet’s surface, where transportation back home can be secured in the city of Baldur’s Gate.
Upstairs in the auditorium, Gorak straightens up from his hunched position over a tray of mini-sandwiches, pondering the strange sensation he just experienced. After a moment, he lets out a belch and goes back to eating. Shaking his head, Strauss turns toward the main stage where they keynote address is about to begin. The speaker, Dr. Irving Lewis, is the creator of a device known as Chameleon Skin, a remarkable invention that finally achieves with marginal success the light-bending camouflage technology that had previously been confined within the pages of science fiction. Now nearly a decade old, the technology has been adapted to fit a number of specialty military vehicles and has even been offered as a cybernetic dermal upgrade for those willing to undergo the augmentation process. An active researcher in cybernetics himself, Dr. Lewis is a respected figure in the private security sector due to his past support in helping a number of companies attain the rights to use his inventions in their work.
Dr. Lewis approaches the stage amidst enthusiastic applause, his name and a small list of his achievements appearing on the projector screens flanking the main stage. He makes a few last-minute adjustments to his lapel microphone, nodding to the sound technician before smiling out at the crowd.
Dr. Lewis: “Well, quite the turnout this year. With so many return attendees I can only assume you’ve all been doing your jobs well, so give yourselves a hand for another successful year.”
The prompted applause goes on for several seconds as Dr. Lewis beams out at the audience.
Dr. Lewis: “Yes, yes, don’t be too complacent in your success though, gentlemen. There have also been plenty of scandals and setbacks, as Arcane Technologies’ absence from this year’s show can attest. And Viktor, don’t think any of us have forgotten about that business in Budapest in October.”
There is a ripple of laughter and a half-elf towards the back of the crowd raises his champagne glass in acknowledgement, bearing the light-hearted jab at his expense with a smile.
Dr. Lewis: (Chuckling) “I kid, of course. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of challenges coming our way throughout this next year. I see a lot of familiar faces out there as well as a few new ones, but whatever your experience in our sector may be we all face the same obstacles. So let’s begin by looking at the next year in private security.”
As Dr. Lewis turns slightly to advance to the next slide in his presentation, the rear doors to the auditorium suddenly burst open, one of the Gatehouse security guards flying into the room and landing at an odd angle with an unhealthy-sounding crunch. Following behind him in a much more controlled manner are a number of drow, all armed with submachine guns save for one; an older-looking female carrying a shield emblazoned with the emblem of a large spider, a similarly decorated mace dangling from her waist. She approaches the stage as the other drow spread out around the edges of the crowd, keeping their guns leveled at the audience lest anyone make a move.
Pushing Dr. Lewis aside, the female drow lifts one of the stage microphones from its stand and shoots a glare at the sound technician, who obligingly activates the mic with a frantic swipe at the sliders on his soundboard.
Drow: “I would ask for everyone’s attention but it is plain that I already have it. My comrades and I have taken over the ship.”
There is a murmur of apprehension amongst the crowd, most of whom consist of company executives and are wholly unprepared to fight back, instead used to relying on guards in their employ; guards who have apparently failed to prevent this hijacking. Strauss exchanges a look with Gorak, who has finally found a reason to stop eating.
Drow: “I would ask that you stay calm. Provided you cooperate, everything will be fine and no harm will come to you. If you attempt to resist, then you will be killed. Continue to cause trouble, and we will blow up the ship.”
To emphasize her point, she holds a small detonator aloft for everyone to see. The apprehension rises to more than just a murmur this time as the gravity of the situation sets in. Towards the back of the crowd, Daniel Ridgeway raises his voice.
Daniel: “What is it you want?”
Drow: “Several months ago your organization captured T’riss Arra, a prominent drow figure.”
Daniel: “A terrorist. T’riss Arra was trying to wipe out an entire town in Germany when we caught her.”
Drow: “Believe whatever propaganda you will, Mr. Ridgeway. We want her released.”
Daniel: “Not possible.”
Drow: “Then you had best make peace with whatever meager gods you choose.”
She lets her finger drift closer to the detonator button to drive her point home.
Daniel: “Wait! I can’t just release her right now, but I can try to get in contact with some people that could.”
The female drow nods to one of her soldiers, who grabs Daniel by the arm and drags him up on stage. A small laptop computer is placed before him.
Drow: “Do it.”
Hesitantly, Daniel begins typing into the computer, trying to get in touch with his contacts.
Down in Bulkhead 40, John and Norm, along with the other occupants of the lounge, were watching the broadcast as the drow burst into the main auditorium and corralled the audience into the center of the room, the camera feed going dark shortly after that. Springing into action, John and Norm decide that they have to go help Strauss and Gorak, who are trapped in the auditorium with everyone else. They get up to leave when two drow poke their heads inside the lounge. Those heads are met with a sudden lethal barrage of fire from the sidearms of those inside. The three other mercenaries and the dwarven bartender decide to hold their position in Bulkhead 40, but wish the players luck. Stepping over the bodies of the two drow, John and Norm enter the hallway and head of towards the auditorium.
As they round a corner in the tight corridor, they run head-on into a group of three more drow hijackers. There is a momentary pause as both sides size each other up, then the shooting starts. John raises his pistol and shoots one of the drow through the chest, who falls backward into the one behind him. Shoving the falling corpse aside, the second drow lets loose a burst from his submachine gun targeting both players. John manages to dodge the haphazard burst, but Norm is not so lucky, taking several bullet wounds. The third drow engages them as well, but his bullets ricochet off the wall behind them. Norm, bleeding heavily, steps forward and nonetheless manages to seriously injure one of the remaining drow with a cut across the chest.
The fight is now two on two, but Norm is heavily wounded and more drow could be coming to help. Not liking his odds of drawing out a stand-up fight, John decides to cut and run. Tossing a smoke grenade in the midst of their fight, he shouts at Norm to disengage and follow him. He shoves past the drow in front of him and takes off down the hallway, leaving the drow behind him obscured and blinded in an expanding smoke cloud. As Norm follows, he makes one more attack in passing at the drow he wounded earlier, killing him as he retreats and leaving only one drow alone and disoriented in the corridor.
John and Norm sprint down the hallway before eventually ducking into a side room to catch their breath and try to formulate a plan of attack. Using their personal radios, he tries to raise Strauss and Gorak.
John: “Strauss, Gorak, you guys there?”
Strauss: (Speaking quietly) “Yeah, we’re here.”
John: “What’s going on up there?”
Strauss: “Drow took everybody hostage. They’ve got us sitting in the middle of the auditorium and they’ve got us covered from multiple angles. Six guards, all armed, plus one mean-looking lady with a spider fixation.”
John: “Wonderful. Looks like they’re crawling all over the place down here, too. We managed to get away, but I don’t know for how long. Any chance of you guys getting out of there so we can meet up and coordinate?”
Strauss: “They’re threatening to blow up the ship if anybody fights back, but we’re working on it. Stand by.”
Taking a chance, Strauss gets the attention of one of the drow guards and calls him over.
Drow: “What do you want?”
Strauss: “Hey, how long are you planning on keeping us here?”
Drow: “As long as we need to. Ridgeway cooperates and maybe that won’t be so long.”
Strauss: “Well, if it’s gonna be a while you’re gonna need to ensure certain… hygienic standards.”
Strauss: “Look, I’ll make it simple. You get this many people in one place and they’re gonna need access to bathroom facilities. And my friend here…”
Gorak: “I ate a lotof food before you guys showed up.”
Strauss: “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen, or God forbid, smelled a dwarf in a compromising situation like that but…”
Drow: “Alright, alright, I get the idea.”
He appears to ponder the situation for a moment, then calls over two guards covering the rear door.
Drow: “You two, take these two to the head down the hall, but keep a close eye on them. If they try anything funny, shoot ‘em.”
The drow nod and then haul Strauss and Gorak to their feet, ushering them out the double doors at the back of the auditorium. They lead them down the hall and into the first bathroom they find.
Drow: “Make it quick.”
Heading into the stalls, Strauss and Gorak wait for a moment, long enough for the drow to turn their backs, and then they burst out and attack simultaneously. While Gorak’s saber was taken away from him when the drow secured the guests in the auditorium, he was able to keep his revolver hidden from view, and Strauss was able to do the same with his Desert Eagle.
GM Note: Normally that shouldn’t work. Luckily for the players my d20 wasn’t cooperating with me when I rolled spot checks for the drow.
Both of them open up with some of the most powerful handguns available. The fight (if it can be called that) doesn’t last long. Dragging the bodies into the bathroom stalls, Strauss and Gorak retreat to Deck 2 to meet up with John and Norm, knowing that their gunshots were probably heard.
Finally coming together in a bunk room on Deck 2, the players establish a plan of attack. First step: they want their weapons back. Consulting a rudimentary map of the ship, they determine that storage, maintenance, and security are located on Deck 3, immediately below them. They cautiously make their way through the corridors and descend a staircase into the maintenance level. As they proceed towards the stern, where security is located, the lights suddenly blink out.
Switching their marching order, Gorak leads the group with his low-light vision until they come to the entrance to an electrical room. Inside they can hear voices. Peeking carefully inside, Gorak spots two drow standing at a control panel, one of them confirming that he’s successfully cut secondary power to all non-vital systems.
With the lights out and their backs to the party, the players silently enter the room and attack from behind. The two drow dropping dead from the surprise attack. Searching their bodies, they find a healing potion, which they promptly give to Norm, as well as a radio which they hope to use to monitor the drow’s communications.
Advancing through the maintenance area, they finally come to the security offices. To the left is a sealed armory, which the players assume their weapons to be held. Bypassing the electronic lock, John opens the door and the players retrieve their longarms, Strauss apologizing to his rifle for leaving her alone for so long. As they prepare to leave, Strauss has an idea: they can set a trap in their wake to see if they can thin out the drow’s numbers indirectly. Working together, Strauss and John rig up one of the shotguns in the armory to the door panel, of the previous maintenance room, ensuring that when someone opens the door from the other side the shotgun, mounted appropriately at head height, will fire on them. With the trap finished, all they need is a lure.
Approaching the control panel the two drow were standing at earlier, John examines it for a moment and then re-engages the ship’s lights. Sure enough, after a moment the radio they stole off the drow’s bodies squawks to life.
Drow on radio: “Team 4, what happened? I thought you had the lights taken care of?”
John: “Uh, yeah, we did, but they don’t seem to want to take. I can’t quite figure out the electronics for this thing. Think you can send down some help?”
Drow on radio: (Pause.) “Affirmative, Team 4. We’ll have somebody down there in a minute. If all else fails, just break the damn thing, it’s not like we’re gonna leave this hulk in good shape anyway.”
John: “Copy that.”
The party exchanges looks.
Norm: “That sounded ominous.”
Gorak: “So they’re planning on blowing up the ship anyway?”
John: “That’s certainly what it seems like.”
Gorak: “I thought they weren’t gonna do that so long as they got what’s-her-face out of prison?”
Norm: “What now?”
Strauss: “They said they took over the ship to get some terrorist leader released.”
Norm: “Right, and then they’re just gonna leave us all in peace, I’m sure. Terrorists don’t really work like that.”
John: “Then we’d better not give them the option. Strauss, if you were gonna blow this ship, where would you put the charges?”
Strauss: (Pause) “I’d say most of the power is probably gonna go through engineering. You blow the engines and you’ve got a good chance of blowing this whole thing right out of the sky.”
John: “That’s where we’re headed, then.”
Working their way back up to Deck 2, the players debate the best way to get into engineering. If it is where the explosives are set, then it’s possible that they still have people inside guarding them and going in through the doors would blow the whole operation, possibly literally. Searching the corridor for another possible means of access, Gorak spots a removable panel in the wall. When he pries it open, he finds a small crawlspace-sized tunnel, likely used for electrical maintenance.
Filing into the tube one by one (save for Gorak, who waits by the door), the party works their way forward and around towards the rear of engineering. Along the way they find several more points of entry leading into engineering at differing levels. One is located on the ground floor on the left side of the room and another is located at the rear of the room. Another is directly above the one to the rear, leading to a catwalk structure. Looking through small grated openings in these access panels, they can see a partially obstructed view of the engineering area: The two access panels to the rear open up directly behind a large, tubular tower structure which seems to be the focal point of the room and is likely funneling power directly to the ship’s engines. A catwalk ten feet above the ground runs in a circle around the tube and is accessed by a pair of ladders facing the rest of the engineering room. The rest of the room in question is a more or less open space lined with various computer consoles and with an island-style diagnostic console directly in the middle. Four drow are scattered about this area, leaning against various consoles.
GM Note: For the purposes of visualizing the area, I quite literally used a map reference document of the engineering deck of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Very quietly, Strauss removes the access panel for the ground-floor access point directly behind the tower and crawls out onto the landing surrounding it. With his vision unobstructed, he gives closer scrutiny to the tower and sure enough, it is wired with three SEMTEX charges, one directly in front of him and two more on either side. Approaching the closest charge, he carefully attempts to disarm it. His first check comes up just short, and he crosses a few wires that really shouldn’t be crossed. While the charge doesn’t detonate immediately, the radio receiver affixed to it suddenly starts blinking rapidly: it could be a countdown, or it could mean that the device is somehow alerting the female drow holding the detonator. Either way, it can’t mean anything good. Frantically, Strauss speeds up his efforts and manages to deactivate the receiver, then gingerly removing the blasting cap and effectively rendering the device inert.
Sighing in relief, Strauss cautiously peeks around the corner to take a look at the drow. They don’t appear to have noticed him yet, the tower obstructing him from their view. However, the two remaining charges are provided with no such cover and he will need to expose himself to view in order to disarm them. Instead of immediately stepping out into the open, Strauss calls on the rest of the party to offer a distraction while he sees to the remaining charges. More than happy to oblige, Gorak slaps the access panel outside the engineering doors, the drow looking up in surprise to see a dwarf with a shotgun looking in at them.
Before any of the drow have a chance to react, Gorak squeezes the trigger on the shotgun, the buckshot just narrowly missing one of the drow leaning against the center console as he rolls out of the way, the electronics behind him sparking violently in response. The shotgun blast serving as a signal, John clambers out of the second level access point and taking up a firing position on the catwalks above while Norm rolls out of his ground-level maintenance tube and charges the nearest drow with katanas drawn. The drow, frantically responding to the sudden attack, raise their submachine guns while the one closest to Norm draws a rapier and dances out of the way of his savage attack.
While Strauss goes to work on the second charge, Norm swings at the drow with the rapier once more, this time catching her across the abdomen with a long but shallow cut. She stabs at him with the long, thin blade before rolling to the side and out of his reach once more. One of the other drow fires on Norm, who ducks behind the center console for protection while the other two open up on Gorak, who gives their bullets all the attention he would a mosquito. John, from his position atop the catwalk, braces his gun hand against the railing and fires down on the drow below. His firing angle is somewhat obstructed and he can only line up a shot on one of them, but that one takes a bullet in the back, quickly followed by a peppering of buckshot from Gorak.
As Strauss successfully completes disarming the second charge and moves on to the third, the fight in front of him continues, the drow with the rapier lunging at the party with her long, thin blade while the other three attempt to keep them suppressed with sustained gunfire. One falls to Norm’s katanas while the others take wounds from Gorak and John. When Strauss completes disarming the last SEMTEX charge, he joins in the fight with precision rifle fire.
As the remaining drow finally take notice of the sniper behind them, they turn to engage him as well, running beneath the protective cover of the catwalk and obscuring them from John’s view, one even taking a shot at him that ricochets off the metal catwalk. Foregoing the ladder, John vaults over the railing and drops to the ground below, rolling and coming up in a firing position while firing after the drow, catching one in the back of the leg. As Norm and Gorak pursue as well, the fight moves closer to the central power conduit, bullets narrowly missing the large tower.
Concentrating on the drow as opposed to the possibility of instantaneous death if a spare round punctures that power conduit, Strauss continues to squeeze the trigger on his rifle, sending bullets into the approaching drow gunmen and dropping one with a double-tap to the chest. Gorak and Norm deliver a one-two punch of blade and buckshot to the remaining submachine gunner, sending him spinning to the ground, leaving only the rapier-wielding female left. Her eyes darting between the four party members, only lightly wounded, she seems to resign herself to death and charges at John amidst a hail of gunfire, a final shot from John’s pistol embedding itself between her eyes.
In the silence following the end of combat, the radio the party acquired from one of the drow in maintenance once again squawks to life. A voice, decidedly deeper than that of the rest of the drow comes over the channel.
Voice: “Mother, it’s Jarle. We’ve found the professor in the cargo bay. Give us a few minutes and we’ll have what we came for.”
Female Drow: “Good. The sooner we get off this ship, the better. We’ve got at least two former captives loose in the ship wreaking havoc. They’ve killed at least seven of us and it looks like they’re setting up traps; a rigged shotgun killed one of our men down in maintenance.”
The players smile at that, smug in the knowledge that their trap was successful.
Female Drow: “Get the data from the professor and report back to the auditorium.”
Jarle: “Yes mother. What should we do with the professor?”
Female Drow: “Whatever you want. It won’t matter once we get off this ship and destroy it, anyway.”
Jarle: “As you say, mother.”
The radio goes silent, as does the party.
Gorak: “Okay. So they’re definitelygonna blow us all up.”
Strauss: “Yeah, only they said they were looking to get some terrorist leader released. What does some professor have to do with that?”
John: “I don’t know. But I’m all for heading to the cargo bay to find out.”
Norm: “Whatever they’re up to won’t matter much if we kill ‘em all. I’m in.”
Strauss: “Alright, but one more thing: they’re gonna find out soon enough that their charges aren’t working, and when they do they’re gonna send people to investigate.”
John: “What’s your point?”
Strauss: “My point is that we happen to have three only slightly used SEMTEX charges in our possession. It’d be rude not to leave at least one behind as a gift, wouldn’t it?”
Norm: “I like the way you think.”
Strauss goes about rigging up one of the SEMTEX charges to the door, ensuring that the blast won’t destroy the power conduit that they just secured. Meanwhile, John approaches one of the undamaged computer panels and hacks into the ship’s life support and gravity controls. Hoping to disorient their opponents, he disables gravity in the ship’s cargo bay.
John: “Alright, that should throw them for a loop. I set my name as the password in case I need to get back in easily.”
Strauss: “Shouldn’t you set it for something you can remember more easily?”
John: “Hilarious. Let’s go.”
Before they head to the cargo bay, they decide to seek out any medical help they can find to ensure that they’ll be in peak shape for the next battle. Consulting the ship’s maps once again, they find a medical bay on Deck 2 and head towards it. Inside, they find a single attending physician who identifies herself as Dr. Rose.
Strauss: “Dr., have you seen any drow come past here?”
Dr. Rose: “Drow? No, why?”
John: “A group of drow terrorists have taken over the ship. We’re trying to stop them.”
Dr. Rose: “Are you sure? I haven’t heard anything like that.”
Norm: “We’re pretty sure.”
Gorak: “Do you have anything that could help us? We’re probably gonna be doing a lot of fighting.”
Dr. Rose: “Uh, I’ve got a few healing potions in the cabinet over there.”
Strauss: “You mind if we take some with us?”
Dr. Rose: “Sure, go ahead.”
The party collects the potions and stores them in their bags, preparing to head off to engineering. Before they go, they turn to address Dr. Rose again, telling her to keep her eyes out for any drow, and not to leave the medical bay. She agrees, but seems somewhat dubious.
Crawling back into the maintenance shafts, the party slowly navigates down to the lower decks and towards the forward cargo bay. The maintenance panels open onto a catwalk structure that rings the cargo bay, approximately 20 feet off the ground. As they open the access panel and climb out onto the catwalk, the weightlessness of the zero-gravity environment takes effect immediately. Various cargo containers of various sizes occupy the cargo bay, some secured to the floor and walls by cargo netting while others float freely. Hovering slightly above the ground are four drow and a monstrous-looking dark-skinned creature. Through vague remembrances of planar anthropology, the party identifies the creature as a draegloth, the unholy offspring of a union between a Priestess of Lolth and a Glabrezu, spawning a monstrous half-drow, half-demon creature. All five individuals surround a terrified-looking gnome.
Not wasting any time, Strauss steadies his rifle and fires into the exposed back of the Draegloth. It roars in pain and turns to face its attackers, drawing a longsword from his back that emits an ominous hum, the blade seeming to blur slightly. The other drow raise their weapons and fire at the party bunched on the catwalk, bullets glancing off the metal railing punching into the wall behind them. While John takes cover back within the maintenance tunnel and Strauss braces his rifle against the catwalk railing, Norm and Gorak swing over the side and then, bracing their feet against the railing and taking full advantage of the zero-gravity environment, rocket themselves down toward the group of enemies.
GM Note: While the D20 Future source book actually contains rules for zero-gravity combat, they’re awkward to use and don’t make a whole lot of sense. So instead, we used our own rules. Due to the disorienting nature of fighting in a gravity-free environment, everyone loses their dexterity bonus to defense. Furthermore, instead of simply moving up to their speed, all characters need to begin movement adjacent to a solid surface. By making a strength check, they determine the force with which they push off which in turn determines their movement speed: A check of 10-15 lets you move 6 squares, 16-20 is 7, 21 and up is 8, and anything less than 10 is 5. The characters continue at their initial velocity until they make contact with another solid surface, at which point they can attempt another jump. All attacks are handled normally. This made for a simple system that allowed us to quickly and easily determine movement speed and heading in a three-dimensional, zero-gravity environment.
The Draegloth raises his blade to defend against Norm’s charge and the clash of steel-on-steel rings throughout the cargo bay as Norm flies past the creature. Gorak flies toward the other drow, firing his shotgun as he goes. The four drow push off from the floor to escape the rain of buckshot, dispersing through the cargo bay in all directions, firing their weapons as they go. The entire area descends into a chaotic tangle of flying bullets and flying bodies. The gnome, unable to do much of anything, curls up in a ball and floats above the floor, spinning slightly.
John, firing his Tavor from within the maintenance tunnel, engages the drow, as does Strauss from outside on the catwalk, where the lack of solid footing greatly emphasizes the rifle’s recoil. Fighting against it, Strauss manages to land several solid hits, as does John from his more secure firing position. One of the drow goes limp, his weapon floating out of his grasp.
As Norm ducks underneath an attack from the draegloth, the large creature kicks off from the ground and flies into the air where he can get a better view of the fight. Before he can reach the ceiling, however, Gorak intercepts him. Pushing off from a nearby floating cargo crate, he turns himself into a self-described “Dwarfpedo”, rocketing towards the draegloth as he rises into the air, forcibly crashing into him and sending them both tumbling towards the far wall. Norm follows closely behind, leading his airborne charge with an extended katana. He flies past the draegloth and cuts a deep gash into its arm.
The drow fire at Norm as he flies upwards, scoring a few grazing hits. The rest fire on Strauss, several rounds finding their mark. Relocating, Strauss launches himself laterally across the open space between the catwalks, firing as he goes. His shot strikes another drow in the head, sending him spinning through the cargo bay.
Attempting to disentangle himself from Gorak, the draegloth viciously brings his sword down in an overhead chop, cutting into Gorak and forcing him backward and allowing himself room to push off the wall away from the dwarf, who fires his shotgun after him, scoring a solid hit. Norm once again pursues the draegloth and cuts into him again with another swipe from his sword.
As the drow fire along Strauss’ flight path, he lands on the opposing catwalk and switches targets, sending a round from his rifle into the draegloth’s exposed back, nearly causing it to drop its sword. John continues to fire on the two remaining drow, killing one with an autofire burst that expends the ammo in his magazine. Setting aside the rifle, he draws his pistol and half-steps, half-floats out into the cargo bay.
As Gorak kills the last remaining drow with a shotgun blast, Norm swats aside an attack from the draegloth with one katana, and with the other slashes across the creature’s throat. With a gurgling sound, the draegloth drops his sword and falls backward, the lack of gravity keeping him aloft just above the floor as blood from his fatal wound floats in droplets above him. Norm wastes no time in relieving him of his sword, a high frequency sword with an enchantment that releases electricity on a critical hit. The draegloth was also wearing a pair of enchanted sunglasses (as drow and their offshoot races tend to be very light-sensitive) that bestow a respectable spot bonus on the wearer. John eagerly snatches these up.
With the enemies neutralized, the party floats down to the gnome, who is only now cautiously peeking through his fingers to ascertain whether or not he’s died yet.
Strauss: “Are you alright?”
Gnome: “I-I think so. The drow: are they dead?”
Gnome: “Oh, thank heavens.” (Pause) “I’m sorry, that’s a terrible thing to say, but considering the circumstances…”
Norm: “Yeah, we get it.”
John: “What did they want, anyway?”
Gnome: “It seems they were after my research.”
Gnome: “Ah, forgive me: I’m Dr. Podrun.”
The party responds with blank stares.
Dr. Podrun: “Dr. Elias Podrun? I was meant to give a presentation on cybernetics in the main auditorium this evening?”
Strauss: “We’re kinda new around here.”
Dr. Podrun: “I see. Well, I was meant to reveal some new research that would allow cybernetic enhancements to be more resistant to rejection by the body.”
John: “And they were after that? Why?”
Dr. Podrun: “Drow, like most elven species, tend to have greater difficulty than other races accepting cybernetics. Their bodies are less resilient than that of humans are dwarves and they don’t respond well to the forced integration of a foreign object into their nervous system. My research could help assuage that problem. And you know how drow are: they think they’re superior to everyone. Extensive use of cybernetics would help them advance that idea.”
John: “Wonderful. And did you give it to them?”
Dr. Podrun: “It seems that you killed them before I was able to deliver any of my research into their possession.”
Norm: “And if we hadn’t shown up?”
Dr. Podrun: “Let’s… not focus on hypotheticals, shall we?”
Strauss: “Dr., will you be okay on your own?”
Dr. Podrun: “I imagine so. I just need to find a better hiding place.”
John: “There’s a medical bay on Deck 2, we left a doctor there and the drow don’t seem to have checked it out yet. You should be alright there.”
Dr. Podrun: “Where will you be?”
Norm: “Killing that thing’s mom.”
Dr. Podrun: “I see. Well, do let me know when you’ve completed that.”
John: “You got it, Dr.”
Departing the cargo bay, the players proceed back up to Deck 1, towards the auditorium, but on the way Norm has a thought. If they swing by Bulkhead 40 on their way up, they can check in on the other adventurers that were there when everything started. If they’re still alive, then they could use their help in the coming fight.
Approaching the entrance to Bulkhead 40, they are nearly shot by the dwarf before they make it clear that they’re on the same team. Piled around the entrance are a number of drow corpses, relieved of their weapons, which the adventurers inside have turned against their attackers. It’s a fairly simple matter to convince them to join forces, especially since between the two groups they’ve already managed to eliminate most of the boarding party.
Now consisting of eight people, the group proceeds back down to the weapons storage area, gingerly stepping over the headless body of a drow that was unlucky enough to get caught in their earlier trap. The tiefling removes the rigged shotgun in question from its position behind the door and looks quizzically at Strauss, who simply shrugs. The rest of the group retrieves their own weapons, the dwarven bartender opting to simply stick with his acquired MP7. Finally, in an attempt to make their re-taking of the ship that much easier, John enters back into the ship’s life support systems and lowers the oxygen levels in the auditorium to a level that will (hopefully) knock out everyone inside.
Reaching the doors to the auditorium, they wait a few more minutes to ensure that the low oxygen levels have taken effect before raising them back to normal levels and then burst in, weapons drawn. In the center of the room in a large pile are the unconscious figures of the expo attendees. The six remaining drow and their leader, however, have all donned oxygen masks and are still very much conscious.
Female Drow: “Who are you?”
Norm: “We’re G&H, demon f*cker!”
And with that bit of eloquent dialogue combat initiates.
The fighting is frenzied, and incredibly precarious given the huge mass of innocents directly between the two sides. The drow guards spray the entryway with a series of autofire bursts, the group of eight adventurers firing back, the drow dropping one by one. From the stage, the leader draws her mace and closes in, casting inflict spells on anyone that gets in her way. As the drow guards continue to fall, everyone begins to concentrate on the leader. As she casts another inflict spell on the human adventurer, Strauss calls out to divert her attention.
Strauss: “Hey, cave whore!”
She turns to look in Strauss’ direction, raising her shield to block a counterattack from the human.
Strauss: “We killed your son!”
The leader scowls, then notices the sword sheathed on Norm’s back. Realizing the truth in Strauss’ words her eyes fill with fire. Apart from the obvious rage that comes with having one’s offspring murdered, draegloth are also incredibly rare and valued in the normally female-dominated drow society, making this case all the more offensive. With a cry of incoherent rage, she rushes straight at Norm, disregarding the three other characters that stand in her way. As she approaches, Norm drops his two katanas, draws the high frequency sword from his back and planting his feet, meets the rushing drow with the tip of the blade, impaling her on her own son’s sword.
With the drow leader dead, the only thing to do is wrest back control of the ship. Several drow still occupy the bridge, but parading the leader’s dead body before one of the security cameras outside the door seems to convince them to surrender rather quickly. Having regained control of the vessel, Strauss approaches the communication console and opens up a general distress channel.
Strauss: “This is the ship Akagi. We have fended off an attempted drow terrorist takeover of the vessel and have secured several prisoners. There are a number of civilians onboard possibly in need of medical attention. Anyone available to offer assistance, please respond.”
There are several long seconds of radio silence before a response is returned.
Radio: “Akagi, this is the Flaming Fist vessel Gossamer. We’ve received your distress call and are en route to provide assistance. Standby for boarding, over.”
Looking out the forward viewscreen, the party sees another ship, decidedly smaller than the Akagibut far sleeker in design and with more obvious armament, appear from around the opposite side of Toril. As it speeds toward them the emblem of the Flaming Fist military force comes clearly into view.
In preparation for their arrival, the party scans through the ship’s security cameras, looking for the one remaining drow that survived the encounter with John and Norm early in the drow boarding. They find him wandering around Deck 2, wounded and confused. They trap him in a section of hallway by sealing the security doors remotely, nearly crushing him in one instance, ready to be picked up by the approaching military forces.
In surveying the mass of temporarily unconscious attendees, the party spots Daniel and Roland, both dreaming with the rest of them. They give brief but serious consideration to killing Roland while he’s helpless, believing that no matter what kind of supposed mind-limiting technology is affixed to it, an illithid is still an illithid, and is thusly evil and very dangerous. However, they ultimately decide to let him live, not wanting to suffer the repercussions of murdering a prominent businessman’s personal attendant.
Shortly after the group settles on not being the kind of people who kill people in their sleep, Dr. Rose and Dr. Podrun arrive on the bridge. Rose looks somewhat shocked.
Dr. Rose: “Oh, thank God.”
Dr. Rose: “There actually were drow.”
Dr. Podrun: “I told you there were.”
Dr. Rose: “Yes, but I never saw any of them. I thought you were the ones taking over the ship and were just making up some story to keep me cooperative.”
John: “No, there was definitely a terrorist attack.”
Dr. Rose: “Yes, I see now.” (Beat) “I’m not actually sure if that makes me feel better or worse.”
John: “Dr., if we had intended to take over this ship, then I assure you: you’d know it.”
Strauss: “Uh, just see what you can do for the people on the floor here. Help’s on the way as we speak.”
As Dr. Rose begins moving amongst the slowly-rousing crowd, Gorak examines the drow leader’s mace: two and a half feet in length and topped with a purple orb affixed with multiple spiked “legs” in the appearance of a spider, the mace is a handsome prize, and slightly magical at that. Gorak decides that he’s earned a reward and relieves the corpse of its weapon.
Soon after, the Flaming Fist arrives and begins assisting Dr. Rose with medical treatment for those who need it and leading away the few surviving drow prisoners in chains. The hijackers were apparently part of a drow supremacist group that went beyond the general idea of drow superiority and pursued it via militaristic means. This venture was undertaken as a means to acquire sole ownership of Dr. Podrun’s research, as the Dr. himself had previously corroborated. The drow lay in wait on the ring structure of the Tannhauser Gate, using a scroll of teleportation to transport aboard just as the ship was entering the portal, the massive magical force disrupting its wards long enough to allow them to slip through. Knowing that the event was attended almost solely by corporate executives and researchers, they anticipated little resistance, though obviously they did not anticipate the party. Their leader, Chalafay Do’sek, was a wanted figure throughout Faerûn, and her demise is sure to make many people happy.
As the ship is once again helmed by her pilots, Daniel approaches the party with Roland, as ever, in tow.
Daniel: “So I’m to understand that you took my ship back for me?”
Strauss: “That’s right.”
Daniel: “Well, it seems I owe you a debt, then.”
Strauss: “Gillespie and Haggard aims to please. Think nothing of it.”
John: “Well, you could think something of it.”
Daniel: “Gatehouse is a well-respected name these days, this incident notwithstanding, of course. If you or your company ever need anything, then you have only to ask. And we may have jobs for you personally in the future, as well.”
Strauss: “We’ll be sure to remember that.”
Daniel: “Thank you again, gentlemen.”
With that, he shakes each of their hands in turn and heads off to the bridge, likely to try and assure stockholders that panic is uncalled for, despite recent events. Roland lingers for not more than half a second behind him, his eyes scanning the party almost as if he suspects they thought of murdering him not ten minutes earlier. But the moment passes and Roland turns around to follow his master, the device affixed to his neck serving as a kind of fading taillight as he walks away.
The party then speaks briefly with the other adventurers (and the bartender) and swap contact information. The human, the tiefling, the elf, and the dwarf (Sean, Mortimer, Eliandra, and Al) say that they’re going into business for themselves, hoping to avoid bigger corporate fiascos like this. They tell the party that they can get in touch with them if they ever need help for a job.
Shortly thereafter, as the players are preparing to board a shuttle down to Baldur’s Gate, they get a call from Punwick. Apparently the story has broken in the news by now and he wants to know just what the hell happened. The players fill him in, placing heavy emphasis on their G&H networking and how saving an entire convention from a terrorist attack will make them look good. Punwick actually sounds impressed. Knowing that this can only mean good press for his company he decides to give the players a rare reward: a week-long vacation, paid for by G&H in the country of Faerûn.
A ship saved, a corporate image created, and now some well-earned rest and relaxation. Nothing could go wrong.