This scenario is designed to slot into any existing campaign. It should be set on a world with a breathable atmosphere, a liquid hydrosphere, and a relatively low population (perhaps only a few thousand inhabitants). The starport should be basic (ideally a class D or E port). At the time of the scenario there are very few ships within the system.
Most of the worlds’ population lives in a settlement that forms part of the surface port facilities. The starport is located within a broad valley in the foothills of an ancient mountain range.
While the PCs are in town (perhaps while negotiating with a cargo broker or enjoying the local cuisine) a powerful seismic tremor strikes the region.
For a few moments everything becomes unnaturally still and silent, then a deep rumbling and shuddering begins. The din builds to a crescendo and continues for long terrifying seconds. The ground sways and shakes, cracks appear in walls, masonry falls from above, and all around is a bewildering din of heavy crashes and crunches and stifled cries. A cloud of blinding, choking dust engulfs everything.
Diving under hard cover (such as a table) or getting into the open will help reduce the chances of injury, as will personal armour. Tests against strength or dexterity or even brawling skill (to represent dodging) might be required to achieve such a feat. Even plain luck might be needed. The violent shaking and falling debris prevent anything else being done.
And then the quake fades away.
The dust settles to reveal a disaster zone. Ruined buildings jut skyward, smoke hangs in the air, collapsed walls block streets, and rubble and debris covers destroyed vehicles. The injured and dead lie where they fell. Ragged and dust-caked individuals shamble around while others crouch and stare and cry.
Communicators crackle into life. Government authorities are broadcasting on every channel, appealing to anyone who can assist in disaster relief. Local law enforcement, emergency services, and capable individuals are doing what they can to get things under control.
In addition to the characters, there are brave and selfless citizens who step up to help. They come from every walk of life, they seek no reward or accolades for their actions, they are simply decent sophonts who are doing what is right and proper. The referee should feel free to name and develop these everyday heroes.
The starport has suffered extensive damage. The roof of the main terminal building has collapsed, and smoke hangs over workshops and hangers. Fires blaze in various structures and there is some danger of explosions from fuel and chemical storage facilities. The staff and personnel are working hard to get things under control.
The only starship currently on the surface (a Type A Free Trader, or the characters’ ship) is trapped by debris: the walls of the blast pit where it is berthed have collapsed, burying the vessels landing struts, and a commo gantry has fallen across the bows. The rubble and tangled metal must be cleared to release the ship, a task that will require many hours of hard physical effort.
Rescue: there are people trapped in voids and hollows within collapsed structures. Some individuals can shout or make noise to draw attention. Others have personal commo devices: these can be traced and their owners located. Many victims are unable to communicate but sensors, camera drones, trained animals or even listening for sounds may help to find them.
This is dirty and dangerous work, and the delicacy of extracting casualties may require digging with simple tools or even bare hands. Excavations will have to be shored and debris cleared away. A grim reality is that sometimes bodies will be pulled from the rubble. Dangers include structural collapses, flooding, chemical or gas leaks, and live power lines. Vermin (the local equivalent of rats and roaches) swarm within the ruins.
Medicine: the earthquake has caused casualties. There are individuals with major trauma, broken bones, crushes and lacerations, and all kinds of other injuries. There are those with psychological damage too; people are scared and traumatized. The helpless and orphaned must be cared for, and efforts to reunite families and friends should be undertaken. Precautions must also be taken against infections and disease. Maybe, amid the turmoil, a heavily pregnant young woman goes into labour.
Individuals skilled at medicine can offer a great deal of help, though there are few supplies and conditions are primitive.
Disaster Relief: there are many situations that must be dealt with. These include damaged power transmission grids or chemical spills, and blocked transit routes that must be opened. It is also important to make sure that there is shelter available for the survivors, as well as fresh water and adequate food. Supplies of all kinds should be stockpiled and properly distributed. Essential items may have to be recovered from difficult locations.
Rioting/Looting: a few troublemakers are using the chaos to loot and steal. This isn’t organised so much as it is opportunistic. While such situations could end in violence it is also possible to stop the looters with threatened action (such as displaying firearms and acting tough) or with negotiation. The characters could join in the looting (but shame upon any players who would consider such a thing). Ultimately, armed police and a posse of citizens will impose order by any means necessary.
Just when it seems like things are getting back under control…
At some point, at the referee’s discretion, a second major earthquake will strike the region. This aftershock is less powerful than the first tremor, though anyone caught up in it won’t notice.
The second quake begins with a stomach knotting “atmosphere”, then follow long breathless seconds of unnatural silence. Very suddenly a deep rumbling and violent shaking begins. The din builds to an awful peak and all around are heavy crashes and terrified shrieks and cries. A miasma of fine, choking dust engulfs everything.
Then everything is silent and still.
The referee should refer to Earthquake! in Players Information, above, to determine whether the characters are injured.
The earthquake has caused a lot of additional damage. Any of the ‘Difficult Situations’ detailed in Part One, above, may recur. However, the efforts that the rescuers have already made will have helped prevent many further casualties.
There are many lakes and rivers in the region. The original colonists, who relied on a lower level of technology, drew their power from hydroelectric dams. Although all power is now gotten from fusion generators the dams remain as huge monuments to the world’s earliest settlers.
When the quake ends emergency communications networks start broadcasting. Government authorities are appealing for immediate assistance. The Big Dam, the largest of the historical dams, has taken damage and is going to burst. Anyone who can help should make their way there.
The dam is a vast plasticrete and crystaliron construction holding back a lake; it faces towards the settlement. There is a security office and a small maintenance depot, but the rest of the facility has been mothballed for a very long time. The few staff are doing whatever they can but they need assistance.
The Big Dam is now a museum. The elderly curator knows its internal structure and is also familiar with the local geography. He is an expert but he is too frail to do much except give advice. He indicates a number of courses of action that could be followed.
Opening the Gates:
The earthquakes have damaged water management equipment within the Big Dam; specifically, sluice gates are jammed shut. Getting to the gates involves traversing many internal passageways and chambers: obstacles such as loosened stairs and collapsed gantries, fallen beams, sheer drops and rockfalls must be overcome. There are streams of water, rockfalls, and occasional deep rumbles. Everything is pitch black and there is a dense haze of dust in the air.
Clearing obstacles may be necessary, though explosions and structural damage should be avoided. There will be much climbing and scrambling about, and skills such as Mechanical (as well as appropriate tools) can be used to release the stuck doors. With success the huge gates grind open and a torrent of water surges and roars through the channels.
Dams and Baffles:
The Big Dam sits at the head of a canyon: when it breaks, the water will gain incredible force and power as it thunders down the rift. It may be possible to modify the terrain in an effort to create additional dams and obstacles. This will involve emplacing boulders, collapsing cliffsides into the canyon, or similar. Explosives, starship weaponry, or heavy excavation equipment (if any can be found) will be necessary. Explosions, rockfalls and the like may actually weaken the dam. A starship could be used to lift and carry big rocks.
The hastily constructed dams and baffles will not stop the water but they may be able to strip it of some of its energy. Success indicates that by the time the flow reaches the populated regions it will be far slower and less powerful. Failure might mean that the work does little other than fill the raging waters with dangerous debris.
Drainage and Damage Control:
There is more than one dam on the lake. These have taken very little damage, and opening the sluices on them may lower the lake enough to relieve some of the pressure on the Big Dam. Another possibility is to open up a dry channel in the canyon ahead of the dam. This will divert some of the water when the dam bursts.
Makeshift repairs may also be possible. The maintenance depot contains struts and braces, many tons of fast-setting plasticrete, and many useful tools and supplies. Filling obvious cracks or breaks and reinforcing key points within the structure may help to reduce the effects of the dam breaking. The curator can direct efforts.
Evacuating the population to higher ground is a sensible option; there are hills and highlands near the settlement that can provide sanctuary. Such an evacuation will need to be accomplished quickly and efficiently. Those who are capable of doing so will begin making their own way to safety, but the injured and the infirm will need to be moved in vehicles. Adequate shelter and supplies must be provided.
SHE’S GONNA BLOW!
At some point the Big Dam is going to break. In the worst case, a section of wall collapses and a raging torrent of water and debris thunders down the canyon. It tears into the settlement, demolishing structures and sweeping all before it. It leaves behind thick mud, wreckage and deep flooding. However, any efforts that the characters have made will reduce the degree of the catastrophe. The least possible effect of the Big Dam breaking is gradual flooding.
Sometime after the dam has broken a military starship massing thousands of dTons will arrive in the system. This is a routine patrol but the timing is fortuitous: the crew can provide skilled manpower and resources and can take over rescue efforts. Their arrival can release the characters from any obligation that they may feel to remain and assist.
The characters will receive no real material rewards and no cash dividend for their efforts. But they will win the lasting respect and admiration of the world’s population and will be feted as heroes. In bars they may receive complimentary drinks and snacks, people will want to get holosnaps and shake hands, or they may be asked to appear at public events.
Over a few months the settlement will be largely rebuilt, and within a year the dam will have been repaired and few traces of the earthquake will remain. The citizens will erect a commemorative monument in fine imported stone, with the names of the characters and all of the other heroes engraved on it.