AMBER ZONE: Cold Snap Happy

Introduction:

This scenario is designed to slot into an existing campaign. The referee should choose a habitable world with a breathable atmosphere, a moderate climate, and a few million inhabitants at most. Vast areas of the surface are unpopulated wilderness.

Players’ information:

An advertisement has been placed on reputable networks: the services of a reliable group are sought. Technical expertise is preferred, the position includes travel, and the final pay is to be negotiated. The contract will last for a number of weeks. Contact details are provided.

The patron is Artur Ishurgi, an earnest and rather obsessive young man who works as a bureaucrat. Artur only has one real passion in life: maglev trains. He talks about them, he studies images and schematics, he reads books and watches documentaries, and he endlessly plays on simulators. Artur is rather out of his depth in anything other than a comfortable urban environment.

Artur, however, is a dreamer. He has received an inheritance and has decided to spend it on documenting the decaying maglev networks of an abandoned settlement. He needs experienced companions to travel with him to assist with the technical challenges and to act as guides and security.

The exact costs will have to be negotiated and may involve chartering a vessel or hiring vehicles. Artur is shrewd and careful with money but will pay reasonable expenses and costs. The characters, however, will need to provide their own personal equipment, and they should be properly prepared for cold weather: the area to which Artur wishes to travel is currently experiencing its winter season.

Artur has detailed maps of the world and has marked out the locations that he wishes to visit. These are clearly noted as being within a vast wildlife reserve. He has florid permissory paperwork from the nobleman whose fiefdom the world is, as well as official-looking governmental permits and passes.

He has already made substantial preparations and is pretty much ready to go. He has all kinds of cameras, sensors, holorecorders, diffusers, lamps, hand computers, memory crystals, cabling, power sources, and the like. They are packed into sturdy containers and loaded onto a grav pallet. He also has a portable shelter, camping gear, food supplies, medical kits, and all of the other sundries needed to survive in the wild.

Drek
The Drek – © Ade Stewart

Referee’s information:

A few centuries ago a network of cities, complete with suburbs and infrastructure, were built in the uninhabited southern regions of the world. When it was near to completion the project ran out of finances. Investigations uncovered massive mismanagement and all kinds of irregularities: the legal wrangling continued for decades. Construction never restarted.

Since then the region has been declared a wildlife preserve, specifically to protect a native species called the Perfumed Drek (see Library Data, below). Now, deep amid the vast tubeleaf forests, the overgrown cities decay slowly away. The maglev system that was to serve these abandoned metropolises is what Artur wants to document. He would like everything to be left pristine.

The southern hemisphere is currently deep in its planetary winter. Temperatures are frigid, snow is lying on the ground, and standing water is frozen solid. Artur is well aware of this but considers it “evocative” and “atmospheric”. He is naïve about the risks that winter can present.

Effects of Cold:

Freezing conditions bring risks of slips and falls, with resulting bruises, sprains and similar minor injuries. Frostbite is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures or touching cold surfaces. Hypothermia causes worsening shivering and numbness, difficulty moving, spasms, confusion, unconsciousness, and ultimately death through cardiac and respiratory failure. Equipment can suffer too: batteries can drain and components may malfunction or fail in the low temperatures.

Cold-based damage can be represented by reducing physical characteristics. Typical rates of loss might be a point every few minutes when battling through a blizzard, or a point every few seconds if immersed in icy water. This characteristic loss should reflect the condition: for example, reducing dexterity to represent shivering. Medical attention and shelter will halt damage and assist healing. Full recovery is unlikely without modern medical facilities.

Travel:

Events involving getting to the world are left the discretion of the referee. Starships are forbidden from landing anywhere beyond the starport. Patrol craft will escort errant vessels to appropriate flight zones, and may demand an inspection to check for illegal cargo.

The ruinous cities lie thousands of kilometers from the starport; travelling to them is best done in grav vehicles, which can easily be hired. The freezing temperatures demand enclosed vehicles, and a g-carrier or similar will be required to transport all the equipment. Events during the journey are again left to the referee.

Each city is centered on spires hundreds of stories high and is surrounded by decaying, overgrown districts and suburbs. Artur has chosen a passenger terminal, a suburban station, a bridge, a switching yard, and track with corroding rolling stock as his photoshoot locations: at least three should be visited. Travel between each location will take a few hours at most.

The Photoshoots:

Each location must be secured and precise spots for taking images must be identified. Regular patrols should be mounted. Shelters, a power supply and all other equipment must be set up, and sustenance must be provided. Time-lapse imaging begins early. Over many hours all of the camerawork will be completed, including holographic filming, drone footage, and snapping still images. All data and film must be properly stored and backed up. At the end of the shoot everything must be packed away.

Artur is expert at taking images and using the equipment. The players are encouraged to get involved and undertake tasks such as driving, patrolling, maintenance, medical checks, stewarding, running the computers, filming, or anything else necessary. The cold is likely to cause negative modifiers on skill checks. Survival skill could be used as a positive modifier.

Encounters:

The referee should impose encounters during the photoshoots.

Recurring Encounters:

· Dead Drek. They have recently (within a few hours) been shot. The bodies are not yet fully frozen and small scaly scavengers are feeding on the remains. Examination will reveal that the eyestalk bulges and the tissues below them have been removed: this is the grisly work of poachers harvesting Drek glands. Other Drek in the area are drawn by the odour of the bodies.

· Prey animals. Dozens of small herbivores appear out of the frozen undergrowth. They are little more than balls of grey fur with two long legs and protruding eyestalks. They emit a high-pitched trilling and bound and spring about, knocking things over and snagging leads and cables: chasing them away is probably wisest. After causing havoc they vanish back into the icy vegetation.

· Trespassers. Sensors pick up signatures from three distant vehicles: analysis reveals them to be commercially available gcarriers. None have a transponder signal and attempts to communicate will be met with silence. Shortly after they are spotted they will vanish, most likely to a prepared safe spot which can mask their signatures. If the characters are able to find them they will attempt to flee. Their occupants are heavily armed and will not hesitate to use their firepower.

· Hunting Drek. The creatures are attracted to heat and to scents that indicate sources of food. They may attempt to attack equipment as these items are likely to be warmest. Drek are a protected species and should NOT be harmed. If possible, the characters should leave the area or try to scare the Drek away. Flashes, bangs, fire, or similar distractions will drive them off, though they will eventually recover their courage and return. Note that the ruinous cities form an ideal habitat and there are above average numbers of Drek roaming about.

· Patrol. Game Wardens patrol in enclosed air/rafts, typically without transponders, tracking Drek and other large animals and searching for trespassers. They will need to check permits, which should all be in order. They will attempt to arrest anyone in possession of illegal salvage or animal parts. Wardens are armed and will call for backup before taking any physical action. Showing them evidence of trespassers (such as images of dead Drek or sensor scans of vehicles) will help win their confidence.

Unique Encounters:

· A cluster of massive windowless buildings, swathed with dead vegetation and crusted with frost. At the base of a blocky structure is a sealed but apparently recently used set of blast doors (scrapes along the surface show bright metal). The doors are extremely thick and heavy and it is unclear how they open – there are no obvious controls or panels. Should the characters somehow get past the doors they will find a maze of corridors and large chambers. It is up to the referee to decide if there is anything else within.

· Winter Storm. Bad weather sweeps in. There is some warning of this: local media networks transmit reliable forecasts. As the weather worsens the wind speeds increase and temperatures drop fast. Heavy cloud darkens the sky, the wind screams and howls through the tubeleaf trees and rips at clothing and kit, frigid snow drives past near vertically, and the cold becomes intense and penetrating. Characters may have to venture into the blizzard to secure equipment: this is dangerous and difficult, and it is easy to get isolated or lost. The storm passes the following morning: trees have fallen and snowdrifts have buried vehicles and equipment.

Conclusion:

If the PCs are greedy they will end up arrested or worse: if things get really out of hand the Game Wardens can call on the planetary government, in the form of a couple of platoons of Army troops in military gcarriers. Such situations rarely end well.

If the characters can complete the assignment and get Artur and his equipment back home they will of course be paid in full. Over the following few months Artur will produce a very professional holotour of the abandoned maglev system. He will win some accolades for his work, and will give a great deal of credit to the colleagues who escorted him during the expedition.

Perfumed Drek:

A large omnivore eater native to southern tubeleaf forests on its homeworld. ‘Drek’ derives from the Terran Arabic word for fiend.

Physiology:

Drek display a strong bilateral symmetry, with a solid body, short rear legs, long grasping forearms, a long neck and a counterbalancing tail. Males mass roughly 1000kg and stand at around 1.5m in their normal hunched stance. When they rear up they can reach over 3m in height. They are powerfully muscled, have thick fatty layers and tough hides, and are covered in dense wiry fur. The primary senses are smell and vision: the eyes and nose are mounted on flexible retractable stalks atop the head.

The animal consumes torn chunks of material and can dislocate the jaw to swallow larger items of food. Digestion relies on gastroliths (swallowed pebbles) held within a muscular gizzard to grind food. They can eat nearly anything organic but will seek out higher energy nutrition such as roots, fruits, and fresh meat.

Behaviour:

Drek are generally solitary and aggressive, though groups of males may form temporary associations to bring down large or difficult prey. They are shrewd and stealthy and capable of bursts of great speed. Females are very rarely seen. There is evidence to suggest that they are attended by groups of submissive “husband” males, who defend them and tend to their needs. Drek make their lairs in sheltered hollows or deep scrapes and will patrol a large territory searching for food.

Notes:

Perfumed Drek gain their name from a musky odour emitted by scent glands within their heads. Humans find the smell pleasant and the glands are reputed to have aphrodisiac (or psionic or anagathic) properties. Drek glands command extremely high prices: trading in them is highly illegal. Most Drek are subdermally tagged – if the animals’ vital signs cease the tag transmits a signal alerting Game Wardens.

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