The PCs arrive at a regional airport or train station on a balkanized world of roughly TL 6 through 8 famous for its tourist amenities, scenery, and flora and fauna. Crowds are dense; the people tense. War broke out this morning between the planet’s two largest states. If lesser states take sides, which appears increasingly likely, the war will spread, possibly involving the entire planet.
At the airport (or train station), off-planet tourists are scrambling to get on a plane (or train) to the starport (several thousand kilometers away) before war spreads to this region and/or closes the starport. Local people, who also vacation here, just want to get home. The PC’s ship, if they have one, is at the planet’s orbital starport, requiring them first to get to the planet’s downport and then take a shuttle to orbit.
In all the hubbub, the PC with the highest Streetwise skill notices something unusual. A middle-aged, slightly balding man in a local, rumpled business suit is seated at a bench. Beside him is a medium sized, hard-sided suitcase of off-planet manufacture. Passing people momentarily block the PC’s line of sight. After they move away, the PC sees a young, professional-looking woman wearing expensive off-world business attire walking away quickly with an identical suitcase. The seated man, though, still has his suitcase. Was there a switch? A theft?
The woman quickly disappears in the crowd. While the PC’s attention is focused on her, the man gets up, grabs his suitcase, and walks in the opposite direction, where he is also quickly engulfed by dense crowds of people, some of them angry about being stranded at an “out-of-the-way spot on a primitive planet.” Argument spreads through the crowd with lots of shouting, shoving, and perhaps fisticuffs, making pursuit of either suitcase carrier impossible.
The referee will need to choose a planet for this adventure, a balkanized world of tech level 6-8, population of 6 or 7, and at least a moderate law level. The planet, home to several million people divided among about two-dozen political entities, is famous for both the scenic beauty of its seaside resorts and a number of botanicals fabled for their euphoric effects. These botanicals, odd native species neither wholly plant nor animal, spoil quickly and do not travel well. So, they are best experienced on planet at one of the resorts near where they are cultivated.
Law levels vary across the planet, but all nations prohibit the shipment of these botanicals across their borders without a license and prohibit their export off-world entirely. Local law levels are at the referee’s discretion, but should limit the PCs to sidearms and hunting weapons. (The PCs would have left heavier weapons and armor aboard their ship or in starport lockers.)
People trying to purchase tickets on the few available flights have encountered two problems:
1) there are not enough tickets for everyone; and
2) the local government is confiscating all weapons, military equipment (defined at GM’s discretion), and off-world cash in excess of 1000 credits for its war effort, justifying the seizures as essential for national security.
Some people in line claim they have heard they are also confiscating any portable computers and communications equipment of higher than local TL. Members of the National Guard are assisting local police and security forces. Armed appropriately for the planet’s TL, they issue passengers IOUs backed by the local currency in exchange for confiscated items.
Because people regularly try to smuggle local botanicals off-world, security at all airports and train stations is tight and may employ screening equipment slightly above the local tech level.
The PCs’ Immediate Problem
As the PCs push forward in line, the Guardsmen announce that tickets for all of today’s flights have sold out. Ticket sales will resume in the morning on a first-come, first-sold basis. After the announcement, they hustle people out of the terminal area and lock its gates. The Guardsmen refuse to offer any explanation, simply repeating “come back tomorrow” and “do I look like I’m in charge of this mess?”
The war has disrupted air travel, forcing flight cancellations, so no one actually knows how many flights will be available the next day. If the PCs check, they find that no small aircraft, let alone high-tech transport such as air/rafts, are available at any price. All available ground vehicles have been rented or commandeered by the National Guard and are long gone. Local farmers (10-20km from the airport) do have some tractors and other farm machinery, but these hardly seem suited for a cross-planet trip.
The Next Day
Early the next morning, the woman with the suitcase approaches the PCs (at their hotel room, camped at the airport, or wherever they wound up) and makes them an offer. She has heard of them by reputation or perhaps she’s been watching them and has eavesdropped on their conversations. Whatever the reason, she considers them capable individuals and is cut off, due to the war, from her usual resources. She wants them to smuggle the suitcase past security, transport it to the starport, and give it to her contact within the next 48 hours. The payment she offers is at the referee’s discretion, but should be enough to entice the PCs, even at the risk of losing some of their weapons and equipment due to confiscation by airport authorities.
The suitcase is closed with a sophisticated time lock of unusual design, making it difficult to crack even with the appropriate tools and skills. If cracked, the case contains a smaller case that must also be picked or forced open. Airport security will be very intrigued by any high-tech tools the PCs might use to crack the suitcase lock, and will confiscate them for the war effort, issuing the appropriate IOU.
What’s in the case? That, too, is at the referee’s discretion. While the PCs will likely suspect drugs, this is not true, and the woman will assure them there are no drugs in the case and nothing for drug-sniffing dogs or chemical sensors to detect. In fact, if the airport guards weren’t hand-searching everyone’s luggage and confiscating items, she claims she would have boarded the plane with it or sent it with a regular courier. Instead, the war has forced her to smuggle it. The case might contain military secrets, off-world currency, gems, important legal documents, stock certificates, scientific data on local botanicals, or something more mysterious.
While inventive PCs may be able to find other ways to begin their journey, they will be able to procure tickets for the next available plane or train that morning. Unfortunately, about five hundred kilometers into their flight, the plane is forced to land at a remote military airbase. War has spread to this region and all flights are grounded for safety. If the PCs take a train, the train is forced to stop because enemy saboteurs have destroyed large sections of track. The passengers are loaded aboard military trucks and transported to a nearby army base.
At the base, domestic and off-world passengers are separated and confined to barracks. Security of the off-worlders is low, making escape easy. The base is in the middle of nowhere, though, so the PCs will need to steal one of a selection of available tracked and wheeled military vehicles. (Airplanes, if present, are much more heavily guarded and the only one capable of carrying more than a pilot and one passenger is the civilian plane the PCs just arrived in. The military aircraft also lack the fuel capacity to reach the starport, though PCs may not realize this.)?
On the Run
You can only get so far in a stolen army ATV, and the PCs will likely decide to change vehicles. A major road leads to the nearest town which is only 20km away. Alternatively, 50km in the opposite direction, mostly cross-country through light forest, will bring them to a small mining town at which a train heading to the starport stops at once per day shortly after noon.
The PCs’ initial vehicle thefts should just be the beginning of escalating complications that hinder travel to the starport, forcing the PCs to repeatedly change vehicles and direction to smuggle themselves and the suitcase past military and security forces and across national borders as the war increases in intensity and their 48-hour time limit counts down.
The referee should interrupt the PCs’ travels, forcing changes as often as seems fun. Each national border they cross offers new opportunities for difficulties, and police will likely set up roadblocks along the PCs’ route; not necessarily looking for the PCs, in particular, but because of the war.
Soldiers and police officers who encounter the PCs do not know what’s in the suitcase, only that the PCs are running (and stealing vehicles and committing other mayhem) and therefore must be hiding something.
Each confrontation with the authorities will increase the attention they focus on the PCs, eventually leading them to conclude that the PCs are spies and/or in possession of information vital to national security, and they will add increasing resources to their pursuit. Killing police officers or members of the National Guard will, of course, accelerate this.
If this all seems too easy, perhaps there are other people seeking the suitcase. Depending on its contents, it could be criminal organizations, local or off-planet spies, their patron’s business rivals, or even her jilted lover. Whatever their motivation, they will stop at nothing to get what’s in the suitcase and will pursue the PCs all the way to and into the starport, and perhaps into orbit afterward, even if the PCs have successfully handed off the suitcase. Unlike regional police and military forces, they will not be limited by jurisdiction or national borders.
There is also, of course, still the unknown man from the airport with the identical case. Was there a switch? Was he a party to it, or was he robbed? If the latter, then certainly he wants the case back. He may track it to the PCs and pursue them himself, or hire others to do the job or to accompany him on his pursuit.
None of these is exclusive. There may, in fact, be several parties interested in the suitcase who pursue the PCs; the more the merrier. The referee should, of course, adjust the distance, number of borders to be crossed, and nature and size of pursuers to suit the particular party and campaign.