Entropy’s Demise, 1.3

There are some things Modiphius has done really well with Star Trek Adventures and other things they’ve done really badly. The Index in the Rulebook is one of the most annoying wastes of time in any Rulebook ever. It feels like a giant backwards leap to mid-80s British roleplaying game where enthusiasm for getting the game out overcame other things like… hiring an editor or proper layout designer. I’ve been pretty gushing about their tone and I think we’re coming to understand and like the game system, so I won’t go on and on about how great it is.

The difference between Entropy’s Demise and Border Dispute is amazing though – not in terms of tone; that’s excellently done throughout the game products I’ve read so far. Border Dispute is a complicated scenario presented well, with supporting documentation and lots of good, thorough work by the writer (Obtain Information momentum spends fleshed out, for example or threat spending upgrades for the GM and his villainous NPCs).

Entropy’s Demise is lacking either of these “extra chips in the poke” when both would be useful and fitting, but also lacks maps when maps would be super useful, yet provides maps when they aren’t and doesn’t explain how certain key events go down. The Away Team in their first session took down a Romulan and took him prisoner. It’s good that they do that, that event advances the plot – but how they do could do that isn’t even outlined in the scenario. It’s neither a set up vignette, nor something for which you are given guidelines (oh boy, have I been spoiled by the elasticity of Monte Cook Games scenarios). Stats are given for the dude and also what happens if he is overcome and captured… and that’s about it.

Those kind of missing links between scenes or missing relationships between events are maybe the fault of the writer, but seem far more the responsibility of the editor. It really seems like a lot of content might have been cut out of this scenario with nothing done to fix the incisions. We’ll see which model the scenarios in the rest of the book follows.

Self criticism time, now that I’ve doled it out some: After this scenario it became obvious that we’re not leveraging the player values enough, which is something I should actively do and players should be keeping an eye on. Interaction with the values is how players grow or change and we just haven’t done that – the problem with being hyper-competent, I guess. So when it came time to do milestones at the end, no-one qualified.

Players are encouraged to get in the hang of technobabbling their crazy ideas because that is way more likely to work. I.e. “Can we use our tricorders to set up some sort of perimeter alarm?” isn’t likely to get the go-ahead because I have no idea how you would do that, whereas “Can we set up a narrow beam resonance field between two tricorders with alerts to our combadge if either tricorder stops receiving information from the other device?” is likely to get the go-ahead because I also don’t know how to do that, but in the right way. That isn’t (okay, it’s a little bit of) me just being a dick GM, that’s something the game encourages and with good reason.

I’ve also got to get used to spending threat more. I should finish the game with an empty pot of threat and a bunch of players with tightly clenched anal columns. I was – for at least the last two sessions of this adventure – running on only a few hours of sleep and an awful lot of espresso. Hopefully a break for a week and then right back into it should help.

Act 1

The USS Chiron was cruising towards the Carina system. A space station that captured gasses from the nearby gas giants in the outer edge of the system had started disintegrating, to everyone’s surprise. An evacuation was underway with which the crew of the Chiron would be assisting the station was past saving at this point, but still held enough to mean that they weren’t under the gun too much. The ships engineers would be assigned to keep everything where it should be while everyone else would simply provide guidance for the civilian ships arriving to ferry away the refugees.

That wasn’t the only thing going on in the Carina system, however, and the other problem seemed smaller, yet trickier. Colonists on the inner world of Carina VII – a fertile, warm idyll – had noticed rapid aging of both their crop (grapes), their structures and their population. They had no idea why and… would like to know what was going on.

Commander Troka was tasked with assembling an Away Team and so informed the usual suspects that they’d be taking the shuttle to the system’s sole inhabitable planet to do some exciting stuff while everyone else wrangled with a failing structure in space and its panicked former inhabitants.

Carina VII had one large-ish settlement: Morgan’s Hope. The colony had been established by the usual blend of fiercely independent Federation citizens who wanted to leave the comfort of the core worlds and set off and do their own thing. In doing so, they were helping revivify the almost-lost art of winemaking. Humans have, at this point, been making wine for 7000 years, but the whole tradition was nearly lost in the catastrophic nuclear winter following World War III. Anyway, conditions on Carina VII’s temperate zone were IDEAL for growing wine grapes. Governor Sebastian had requested help, however, because of this rapid aging deal. This is of interest to the UFoP because Carina VII wine is a trade good underpinning several trade deals in the area, not least of which with the far trading Ferengi. The planet isn’t crazy far from the Romulan Neutral Zone either, so a strong – but not necessarily naval – presence is preferred in the area.

No-one in particular was a wine connoisseur, but still, nice to get off the ship and into the climate and geographical equivalent of the Côtes du Rhône or the Napa Valley for a wander around. Absent a holodeck, where else are they going to stretch their legs?

Lot of arm twisting to get them to go on this one..

The Acheron was taken into the planet’s pleasant atmosphere and landed outside Morgan’s Hope, in a grove of cork oak trees. Governor Syreeta Sebastian met them, and while she couldn’t really give them any more information that they already had, she could point them in the direction of the Mackley house and would be happy to show them further evidence of the unusually fast deterioration on Carina VII.

The chiefs unloaded the Acheron’s mission payload of advanced sensor equipment and set them up not to far from the shuttle while the officers went off to meet the Mackleys.

Efren Mackley was a six-month old six-year old – an infant in a rapidly matured child’s body. Lt V’rona scanned him with her medical tricorder but ruled out Progeria as a possibile cause of Efren’s rapid aging. His parents seemed relieved that Starfleet had shown up, but were relatively helpless. With some quick mental mathematics, Troka figured out that with a steady rate of aging, Efren had about 100 months left to live. Not a death sentence, exactly, but not as long as he should. The officers questioned the Mackleys, but there was little else they could do.

Next, Governor Sebastian took them to sample the local wine (now vinegar) take in the local architecture (crumbling) and witness several other signs of rapid aging – barrel iron rusted before its time, wall-to-wall Matlock re-runs, every second store selling bifocals etc.

The chiefs wandered around to take a look at the grapevines and found the grapes withered, unpicked on the vine. A local explained that they’d ripen to perfection overnight and be spoiled by the morning. The inhabitants couldn’t predict when the ripening would occur and had lost entire harvests, putting the economic viability of the colony… well, it didn’t look good and awkward teenagers trying to speed their way through puberty isn’t, it turns out, a reliable tourist market.

About this time, cranky firebrand Zane Kroll assailed the chiefs, wondering how long they’d waste time waving their tricorders in the wind when obviously the problem was those dang Romulans lurking around, fiddling with his crop and cutting his vines. The what now’s? Yes, lurking Romulans. He’d seen them! And he could show them where!

At the edge of Kroll’s vineyard, they found signs of not-particularly subtle clippings and soil sampling around the withered fruit vines. Beyond the vineyard, a small, shady wood and the arid high ground that surrounded Morgan’s Hope. Kroll reported that the Romulans sneaking around had been seen disappearing back into the wood and sure enough they found tracks heading back up towards the sandstone cliffs.

They found half a footprint, which was pretty suspicious and wondering how a person could leave only half of their footprint in such an unusual way, they discovered the cloaking field that enveloped the area. Walking through, they could see plenty of not-at-all-hidden tracks leading up to the cliffside into which was set a large doorway. The decision to storm a Romulan installment was a bit above their pay grade, so they tapped their comm-badges and called in the pipped-collars for some executive decision making.

Act 2

With the away team assembled and the Chiron informed of the strong possibility of Romulan activity planetside, they entered the hidden post. Inside they found the smouldering and smashed remains of a large observation facility. Banks of Romulan computers lined the various walls, but they were inert and, in some cases, smoking. Evidently, the whole place had been recently and deliberately trashed.

In fact, they were disturbing someone who was trying to finish off sabotaging everything, a portly Romulan who they had surprised. A brief exchange of stuns followed and they zapped him good. Zip-tying him… they uh, pretty much ignored him completely. Eventually he became important as a bargaining chip, but evidently nobody felt up to questioning him. I don’t know what kind of -Mancy involves figuring out everything By the way your enemies corpses fall… xenonecromancy? /shrug

Cmdr Soral took a crack at restoring the computers and while that was eventually possible, he found that they’d been wiped, then wrecked. The kind of forensic recovery of files was far beyond their capabilities. But he could kind of figure out that that kind of double-layer of fucking things up indicated a planned, deliberate sabotage. As he saw to the computer banks, the distant sound of disruptor grenades further into the facility alerted them that this sabotage might still be going on.

There were three exits from this room, although you’d never know that from the scenario which has no map and no description of how areas link up with each other.

They chose to move quickly towards the source of the detonations, straight ahead. There, further into the rocky outcropping, they found two Romulan uhlans attaching a bomb to the cloaking device set beside the power generator for the facility. Chief ch’Hezney, NO FAN of Romulans, burst in, spraying phaser fire above the uhlan’s heads, hoping to bring some of the ceiling down on them. It did not work and the two Romulans were unfazed, one returning fire, the other snapping the bomb into place before they both beamed out. The technically minded rushed forward and Ensign Rands successfully cut the red wire (or whatever) just before the bomb was due to go off and kill the lot of them. Phew.

The room was snaked through with power cables to the power source they’d found, with the exception of one doorway that had no power going to it at all. Interest piqued, they found an airlock-like hallway that led to a Clean Room. It was spotless, unharmed by the sabotage going on in the rest of the facility and constructed of a white ceramic material unlike anything else that had seen in here. Further, it had its own small fusion generator which powered a shut down computer and evidently something that had once sat on the room’s only table. Whatever that object was, it was gone now, the power leads laying unused on the floor.

Getting the computer back online, Cmdr Soral deduced that the room was a sensor and the walls blocked out all subspace communication (accidentally discovered when XO Troka tried to make contact with outside) EXCEPT tachyons. The device must have been a tachyon sensor and had been collecting data for quite a while. Such a technology must have been advanced indeed; beyond that of the Federation, for sure.

Ensign Rands, in a an ill-advised burst of youthful exuberance went exploring part of the rest of the Romulan compound. He found the quarters of Subcommander Taleria and being the eager young officer that he was, he had actually read the intelligence briefings for the operational theatre: Taleria was a scientist who had been elevated to second in command of the Warbird Belorex. Neat-o! He found crew quarters for RSE uhlans and scientists, neatly evacuated. But not, sadly, completely evacuated and two blasts of a disruptor from the hiding Romulan scientists put the young officer on his butt before he could do much about it.

Lt V’rona appeared as the Romulan scientists decided what to do with the Starfleet youngster. She was itching to get her hand around their trapezius neck bundle, but with the drop on her and disruptor drawn, even these inexpert combatants weren’t about to get hoodwinked. They demanded that Subcommander D’Tok be returned to them – they had tried contacting him, but he didn’t answer and couldn’t be traced, so they surmised that he had been captured and his comm removed. V’rona had no idea who D’Tok was but they HAD removed the com-badge of the portly scientist they’d stunned on entering the facility. That guy? The Romulans bargained Ensign Rands for their D’Tok and then beamed out; if they’d been military rather than lab bowfins, they might not have been so conciliatory with the Vulcan Medic.

The evidence they had gathered so far led them to believe that the colony was in considerable danger, with an undetected warbird facilitating the evacuation of a covert Romulan installation and research relating to an effect that seemed to doom Morgan’s Hope and probably that big profitable gas mining station.

They got back to the Runabout as soon as they could and hit orbit not too long after the Chiron appeared. Docking, they high-tailed it to the gas giants while debriefing Captain Vasquez. Meanwhile, ch’Hezney and the groggy Rands took the helm and ops and their targeted scans saw a blindingly dense concentration of tachyons. Filtering out that noise, their visual scanners revealed a Constitution-class starship hanging lifeless in the ring of one of the gas giants. Even from long range and with impeded scans, they could see that the hull had deteriorated but was identifiable as the USS Hamilton. Questioning the computer, the Hamilton had been decommissioned 40 years ago, stripped and recycled. Yet, here it drifted.

The USS Hamilton, named after… no, not that guy…

Vasquez didn’t like this. She briefly considered asking someone to hack the Starfleet database or asking Admiral T’lara what was going on. But her XO convinced her that there may be something else going on here – tachyons WERE always observed in instances of time travel, so she decided to send the Acheron Away team over in EV suits for a better look see. The tachyon interference was so strong here that transporting was out of the question and sensors were largely useless. Rands was still frazzled so he was sidelined and Specialist Rolland returned to his post.

The runabout was launched in its antique/salvaged launcher and shot towards the dilapidated hulk. As they made their way to the shuttle bay, they were only a little surprised to see that someone had already docked there: a Romulan shuttlecraft had beaten them to the Hamilton.

…yeah, that guy.

Act 3

They toyed with the idea of landing somewhere else, they flirted with the idea of torpedoing the Romulan shuttle where it sat and they hopefully handed out their phone number to landing beside the Romulan craft but swerving it into a wall as they did so. Fortunately they did none of these things, as there was very probably a cloaked Warbird keeping a close eye on the situation. and they pack a lot more in the way of torpedoing and swerving.

From the safety of the shuttle they got a slightly better sensor read on the Hamilton: it was aged far beyond even 100 years hanging in a gas giant’s rocky ring. Amazingly, it did seem to have a power source aboard: atmosphere and gravity were patchy and intermittent, but some parts of the ship held together well. The tsunami of tachyons continued to muddle sensors, however, so they couldn’t be too sure of what else was aboard with them. They kitted up in EV suits and phaser rifles and left the shuttle.

Messing with the Romulan shuttle was going to be a bit trickier than shoving bananas in their tail-pipe and no-one felt like taking on the task of hacking the Romulan security. No-one liked leaving their avenue of retreat with potentially a dozen Romulans blocking it, but they figured they had probably gone further into the ship. The tachyons after all, appeared to be emanating from more or less straight ahead – Main Engineering.

Entering the retro-corridor they kept their magnetic heels engaged – the hallway didn’t have a breathable atmo and gravity – from the look of the state of the hall – was a temporary arrangement at best. Crates and structural beams cluttered the way to Engineering. Not far down the hallway, they were surprised by a Romulan ambush and returned fire as Cmdr Troka charged, knocking one attacker off his feet pretty much just as gravity failed. A brief and violent and surprisingly spinning struggle ensued, but the Starfleet crew were successful in subduing the ambushers.

Further down the hall, they could feel the familiar thrum of a warp core, albeit a fitful and unhealthy sounding one. They passed the turbolift that went to the bridge and proceeded to Main Engineering, where they went slowly from area to area, cautiously expecting another ambush.

Instead, Chief ch’Hezney found a treasure trove of information regarding the tachyon weapons test by legendary engineer Spruell. Yes, Daymond Spruell! Wow. Such treasure, much lore. As the others progressed, the Andorian grease monkey (or whatever the equivalent might be on Andor, ice spider or whatever) read up on how the experimental weapon design went wrong, the tachyon pulses losing regulation and becoming increasingly more frequent until they caused their current constant, exponential barrage. This is… proof of some pretty big news. The Federation was responsible for its own colonists problems.

Speaking of problems, they others found the tachyon device, mounted on the Antimatter intake/outtake valve, siphoning off energy from the failing warp core. The core itself had… not long left to go. So good news: this problem would sort itself out soon; bad news, none of them would be around to see that. That said it was going to be possible, Soral thought, if tricky to uncouple the tachyon pulse generator weapon thingy from the warp core. So they got to work after securing the doors to Main Engineering as much as they could without having a sensible security officer there.

Pew pew! No-one expects the… oh, you locked the door, I guess you did expect us.

So they were not taken by surprise when the doors did open, because they didn’t slide open suddenly – a trio of Romulans appeared, armed for bear. However, some quick Presence-ing and Commanding by Cmdr Troka helped establish a dialogue. The Romulan Subcommander laid things out for the Starfleet away team – they didn’t care about the weapon. The weapon sucked and was accidentally killing colonists in a horrible way and oh boy when that hit the newspapers Starfleet were going to have a lot of splaining to do. The idea had promise though. She would not interfere with Starfleet’s attempts to stop the device if they would not interfere with her Commander’s attempt to secure the blueprints from the bridge. Blueprints which could be taken back to Romulus for some serious grown up scientists to look at and take out all the ridiculous bugs and flaws.

A compromise was reached and each away team would carry on with their own thing. The Romulans would get something nice out of it and Starfleet could correctly claim to have stopped the damage that they started which would at least wipe some of the egg off their face.

But first, actually detaching this tachyon generating weapon. It was tricky but they managed to get it done and by the warp core a little more time… except, they didn’t really want to give it that much time. The Hamilton exploding was kind of a win-win for them – they’d stopped the danger and there was no sense in giving the Romulans all the time in the world to plunder even 100 year old Federation computers (although the Subcommander teased that they’d recently come into possession of an awful lot of Federation intelligence).

With the Hamilton deteriorating and about to deteriorate a whole lot faster, they raced unimpeded to their runabout and eagerly looking for a way to dick over the Romulans, used their tractor beam to partially grind the hangar doors closed, (manual attempts to do the same having resulted in a destroyed mechanism). The Romulan shuttle wasn’t trapped but it would make for a hairy escape for the frenemies.

Speaking of which, well within the radius of the blast, the Acheron‘s engines cut out as they’d left their shuttle unattended beside a bored Romulan pilot also looking for a way to dick over his frenemies. A brief panicked engine fix transpired and both shuttles left the site of the Hamilton at roughly the same time. Two starships, both alike in dignity, now retreated to safer space. Sensors showed the tachyon flow dropping off at a very fast rate, with typical levels expected within months or maybe weeks. The little Mackley boy would eventually catch up to his unnaturally old body, the grape harvest would recover and the buildings got to look weathered and historic a little before their time: should be amazing for tourism.

For the crew of the Chiron, all they had left to do was how to handle the figurative fallout – cover it up (the Romulans had certainly given them the ability to do that, rather than expose them) or confess to the Carinian colonists. They decided on the honourable route, without airing Starfleet’s dirty bomb laundry and admitting that the problems plaguing Morgan’s Hope were the result of a Starfleet science experiment gone wrong.

For the crew of the Belorex… they maybe got the blueprints to a tachyon weapon and are maybe whizzing back to Romulus to have the crude and flawed Starfleet technology replaced by superior Romulan tech. Aaaand they’ve learned a little more about the crew of the USS Chiron.

via Gfycat

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