Extending the Line

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by Tom Verreault

This article is about working new ideas into Layne Saltern’s “A Thin Sharp Line” and developing a whole adventure campaign from it. The Star Frontiers community is indebted to Layne for being a torch bearer who maintained an amazing directory of Star Frontiers information from the 1990’s into the 2000’s. We located snapshots of his site through an internet archive and decided to preserve his adventure seed from being lost. The following is simply suggestions for using Layne’s material.

Interestingly there is a new television series about to debut called, “Black List,” about a criminal mastermind in the custody of the FBI who is feeding information on ultra-secret criminals and terrorist to the authorities. The plot is very similar to this and timely as well since this show could be a wealth of ideas.

Motivations

The sathar defector has a motivation and it’s not all that altruistic. He is an upper caste sathar that failed spectacularly and is facing lobotomization and demotion to the ranks of the lower caste. He’s fleeing his clan to save his own skin and has turned to the United Planetary Federation for asylum. Upper caste sathar being what they are, inveterate byzantine political in-fighters, he believes that he can still win. His plan is to use the UPF to weaken the sathar and create an opportunity for him to return to power.

Assets

He has committed to memory lists of agents, locations of secret outposts, and long term plots by the sathar against the UPF. He will use them sparingly to secure his position. As long as he remains a valuable resource he knows he can’t be dispensed with.

He also is a wealth of information on sathar technology, tactics, and society. He will be an invaluable advisor on all things sathar.

Finally, he still has a cadre of middle and lower caste sathar. These sathar are bonded to him and serve him as servants and slaves. At birth they were processed to fit the caste they are in which means the lower caste cadre members are little better then dumb grunt labor and the middle caste are technicians and aids. As part of their processing they were injected with agents to prevent the emergence of their own unique marking pattern and later had the marking pattern of their cadre leader tattooed on them. The number of segments of their body that is tattooed reveals their relative position within the cadre.

Since the defector escaped on a small scout ship he was only able to bring along a small number of his cadre members. There should be about 3 middle caste sathar and 6-8 lower caste sathar. The lower caste sathar are generally kept in a mass stasis module to minimize life support usage. They can be revived and armed but generally travel in this module. It can be transferred to another ship if need be as the defector will not wish to leave them behind. His choice to not abandon them is not about valuing their lives as he will freely sacrifice them for tactical gain, he just wishes to maintain as much of a power base as possible. Each of the middle caste sathar should have a different technically specialty. The classic Alpha Dawn PSAs would work well for these specialties.  [Ed. Note:  Having this many sathar along precludes all of them coming on-board the Assault Scout from “A Thin Sharp Line”.  Thus the PC’s will have to figure a way to get both the Assault Scout and the Sathar Scout ship away safely and who will be on each ship as they get away.]

Liabilities and Secrets

He does not know everything. There are agents he’s unaware of as well as plots and secret outposts. When these blind spots surface, it could lead to the UPF distrusting him so he must tread carefully.

Sathar reproduce fast. Any sathar born in the UPF and allowed to mature normally will effectively become upper caste sathar. The defector cannot allow this to happen. He will need to use his bio-social specialist to sterilize all of the lower caste members of his cadre since they are too stupid for his orders to override their biological imperative to reproduce.  Any reproduction will only occur between him and the middle caste sathar but he will need to acquire the right compounds and equipment to process these new sathar properly and add them to his cadre. Uncontrolled reproduction leading to myriads of upper caste sathar would result in a new colony of S’sessu (Dragon magazine 96), the amoral race of all upper caste sathar individuals. This possibility is feared by all sathar. The defector is still a product of his culture and will fear this almost irrationally. He will have his medical specialist working on recreating the compounds for caste processing but this project will take time. He will look to use the UPF to recover equipment and materials to aid in this endeavor.

He is well aware of the S’sessu and where they can be located. He will avoid revealing them to the UPF, even lying about evidence of them. His gut reaction would be to try to use the UPF to destroy a S’sessu colony if necessary.  This would be an option of last resort because the S’sessu are potentially a cat’s paw to use against the sathar in an attempt to return to power.

He knows about the Clikk’s, who are an ancient enemy that the sathar fear. He would not want clikk technology to fall into the UPF’s hands lest it have the potential to wipe out the sathar. He still believes he can return to power and there is not much point to that if his species is wiped out.

He would know about the outpost at Starmist.  If the module “Sundown at Starmist” has not been played it could be an episode in the campaign to confirm the defector’s information and neutralize any sathar threats. Since the sathar are doing advanced bio-experiments there, it would be a good opportunity for him to try to get his tentacles on certain compounds and equipment for the caste processing mentioned above.

Gambits

The UPF might allow him to detail a squad of lower caste and middle caste to aid a regular team on a dangerous mission. For example infiltrating a sathar detention center would be easier with such a team. Naturally, the UPF would be loath to let the defector leave the holding facility where he is housed. Without a doubt he would give the middle caste leaders special orders and objectives during any such away mission.

Making clandestine contacts with agents and turning them to his use would also be of major importance to the defector. For example a high level official working with the team might be a sathar agent that the defector knows about. The defector will not out him but instead use him as a double agent against the sathar and the UPF. He will also seek to protect this double agent from UPF detection, ordering a lower caste member of the cadre to kill an agent that could identify the double agent then commit suicide. One the lower caste assassin has suicide he’ll blame the killing on it being defective and snapping and press for obtaining the equipment and compounds for caste processing as a means for screening the lower caste slaves to screen for other defectives so they can be euthanized to prevent any other incidents of them snapping. That is of course a lie but the PCs are dealing with an upper caste sathar so they should be already be on notice to not trust him.

All cadre members look alike since they are tattooed to match the cadre leader’s markings. At some point a lower or middle caste member could be made to stand in for the defector by using a holo screen or actually adding all of the leader’s tattoos. This gambit would only be used once and likely for an escape attempt or some important meeting somewhere away from observation by Star Law.

The Player Characters

Star Law Troubleshooters by ILJackson

It’s Star Law’s job to interdict sathar agents. Thus this operation will fall under their authority. The details for creating a Star Law agent player character are covered both in Dragon magazine #91 “Careers In Star Law” as well as in Frontier Explorer #5 “Albatross Down”.

It’s quite possible that the special action team that will deploy to investigate the intel supplied by the defector will have members of other agencies like Spacefleet, Landfleet , the Medical Services Organization, or an exploration service. Create these characters with the same level of skill as specified for the Star Law agents with some adjustment to fit the background of the character.  Note that these will be characters with high level skills so don’t expect combat encounters to be much of a challenge, instead use role play and investigation encounters to flesh out the campaign.

Anatomy of a Defection

The defecting sathar will be very cautious about how he approaches the UPF and not unduly risk his life. The best method will be via an intermediary and the sathar are renowned for using intermediaries with the UPF in the form of agents from the native species making up the UPF. The defector will have hypnotically programed a UPF citizen previously held in sathar detention to walk into Star Law headquarters on Gran Quivera and announce he is a sathar agent. When the duty officer or clerk treats him as a nut and tells him to leave he will fire a weapon into the air. This will obviously get him detained and brought into an interrogation room where he can deliver the message, “I am a sathar agent and my master wishes to defect to the UPF.”

This incident of the agent firing a weapon into the air at Star Law headquarters could be the basis for a solo to 2-3 player encounter held immediately after character creation. The set up would be that the character(s) are reporting to headquarters for something (possibly fresh out of the academy) and as they walk through the lobby this agent fires his shots. They might not even know each other at this point. If they use lethal force and actually kill the agent a medic will revive him and they will receive 0 to 1 EXP. If they detain him with non-lethal force award a bonus EXP as the agent is not actually trying to hurt anyone but rather draw attention to himself.

The player characters may be invited to witness the interrogation by another marshal or, if they are already experienced officers, they might be given the lead in the interrogation. In the agent’s possession is a holo-video of the sathar defector explaining his wish to defect, information he has to offer, and details of a proposed meeting site and time. Naturally Star Law’s leadership is suspicious of this but the chance to have a living breathing sathar leader talking to them and aiding them in detaining sathar agents, locating sathar outposts, and advising them on sathar society, technology, and strategies is invaluable. A team will have to investigate and, if this is not some sort of trap, the defector will need to be brought in.

Anatomy of First Contact

The defector will have travelled to a sathar listening outpost and taken it over to use as a base of operations.  The proposed meeting is in the same star system but it is not at the outpost so that the defector can observe the arrival of the UPF team. He will exercise caution and use his unarmed sathar scout ship to fly to the meeting location after the UPF Assault Scout sets down. (The outpost and scout ship are well shielded against detection and attempts to scan for them could be interpreted as violating the terms of the deal for the meeting. He will insist that his cadre comes with him and remain with him since they are bound to him. He will also agree to kill the quickdeath he has control of immediately (explosive implant in the creatures brain) but will not surrender his personal weapons until leaving this system due to some fear on his part.

The defector will deal shrewdly with the UPF not fully trusting the UPF team but as a sign of good faith will reveal the location of the listening outpost he took over. The motive is that he desires for the UPF to be blamed for the loss of the listening outpost by the sathar high command.

The above is essentially a role play encounter designed to bring the defector over to the UPF side. However, there has not been much excitement yet. To raise the stakes a sathar patrol group of two destroyers should arrive just after the PCs have toured the outpost. Both the scout ship and the assault scout will be in the shielded location near the listening post. There is an imbalance of fire power between the assault scout and the destroyers and this should prevent the PCs from opting for a straight up fight. The defector strongly advises against allowing the sathar to realize that he is defecting. It would be his desire for the UPF team to go to ground and wait out the destroyers or to call in a Spacefleet strike force.

The player characters may opt to run but the defector will not agree to this course of action until the destroyers are in orbit. At this point any bid to blast off and run would be very risky as two destroyers could do enough damage to the assault scout in two turns before its speed could put some distance between them. The UPF team knows they have about 20 hours before a patrol group of a frigate and two assault scouts show up to “scout” the system. They may opt to wait for the arrival of this patrol to distract the sathar before running.  They should not join in the battle with the sathar destroyers with the defector on board. The commander of the Space Fleet patrol group is briefed on the need to allow the stealth assault scout being used by Star Law to escape with its ultra-secret cargo but will not fight to the death with the destroyers if the team with the defector managed to escape. The sathar scout ship can be brought along or destroyed by the PCs. Saving sathar equipment is of less importance then getting the defector safely to the Frontier. The players can play the UPF side of this Knight Hawk encounter. Note the stasis module for the lower caste sathar will need to be brought on board the stealthed assault scout to house them and even then the ship will be crowded with 4 extra sathar on board. The defector will be willing to do this but if possible will want to bring his scout ship along.

New Equipment

The Stealth Scout

The stealth scout is a modified assault scout. It loses the assault rockets and 1 ADF. The hull is made with special radar absorbing material reducing its radar signature and the engines have special baffles and heat shielding to protect against detection from energy sensors.  The stealth coating is not compatible with reflective hull defense so the ship is shot at as if it has no defenses on the Knight Hawks Advanced Combat Table.

Normally radar can detect a ship at a range of 300,000 km (30 hexes). The stealth scout can be detected at 10 hexes or less and each turn the attacking ship must roll for radar lock on the following table:

Range (hexes)

Chance of Detection

10

10%

9

20%

8

30%

7

40%

6

50%

5

60%

4

70%

3

80%

2

90%

There is a 5% bonus for each turn of continuous radar lock. Beyond 10 hexes the ship becomes undetectable.  Energy sensors can detect a ship with atomic engines at a range of 500,000 km (50 hexes). The engine baffles of this ship reduce that range to 40 hexes if the ship is using more than 1 ADF per turn and a range of 20 hexes if it is only using 1 ADF. If the engines are on standby but not under thrust then energy sensors will only detect them at a range of 3 hexes. 

The ship has a special system of compressed air thrusters that will impart 1 ADF worth of thrust over 3 Knight Hawks turns while the engines are completely shut down and undetectable or on standby. This system is usually used to sneak by an enemy or change trajectory before an enemy can create a plot on their course.

Com Probe

The com probe fits the standard atmoprobe launcher and thus an assault scout can hold 3 com probes in its atmoprobe launcher. Com probes have a low radar signature and are detectable with radar at only 10,000 km (1 hex). The thruster on the probe is not enough to move it on the Knight Hawks scale of movement (its built on the atmoprobe body which was only intended to be fired into the atmosphere of a planet from orbit). The com probe is very short legged and is usually dropped in a hex where the dropping player wants it, placed in orbit or sent to land on a planet surface (parachute landing).

The com probe can be programmed to delay activation, broadcast a pre-recorded message, record broadcast data, and various other communication functions. One use for it is to place it in geo -synchronous orbit to relay chronocom signals for explorers on the ground (chronocoms have a 3000 km range). The com probe was also designed to broadcast pre-recorded com chatter to distract an enemy and allow a stealth scout to slip away. Stealth scouts come equipped with an atmoprobe launcher and has 3 com probes.

The Campaign

The campaign should run in episodes with each chapter involving the running down sathar agents, scouting out post locations, or preventing a sathar plot. The published modules involving sathar can be worked into this campaign. However, the campaign should build toward some climax as the defector has no intention of going quietly into the night. He plans to rise again and is working toward using the UPF and the team of player characters as his pawns.

His first act will be to secure his own double agent within Star Law. He is aware of a sathar agent within the organization but will seek to eliminate the handlers that protect this agent as well as turning this agent to his agenda. He will seek to cause the apprehending team to accidently trigger a suicide engram in the handler.

The game master should drop clues pointing toward a long term agenda on the part of the defector but since he’s cooperating with Star Law he’s shielded. As the plot to return to power progresses, the defector will begin to reveal targets that take the team deeper into sathar space and create opportunities for members of his cadre to accompany them to assist with infiltration. These deeper missions are about destabilizing the political structure of sathar clans and preparing the ground for his return. Ultimately he will seek to replace one of his cadre members on such a mission and affect his escape.