I ran The Expanse RPG for the first time last night. It was a solo session with Irfan playing the ex-soldier Kazuo Khan, based on the pregenerated PC Casey Khatri. Let’s get right down to it…
The asteroid was once known as 643 Sheherezade discovered in by August Kopff in 1907 at the Heidelberg Observatory. Its diameter was nearly 36 kilometres and it orbited with an orbital inclination of about 13 degrees. It was part of the Cybele family of asteroids out in the Belt and was closer to Jupiter than it was to Mars.
Now – centuries later – the solar system knew it as Sheherezade, or “Zadie” to its inhabitants. It had three settlements – Aberdeen Baharu, Gamelan Sakti and Gertak Lembu, built into it. Almost a century ago, engineers spun Sheherezade so that the settlements would experience 0.4g spin gravity. The Zadie Dockyards and the Industrial Cluster were built at each axis least affected by the spin.
Kazuo Khan was a 29-year old former Martian soldier with the Martian Congressional Republic. He now lived and worked as a security executive on Zadie for the Scheherezade Security and Safety Concern (S3C) – a police officer.
Kazuo was at Five Star Noodles in the settlement of Gamelan Sakti. He was meeting with his good friend Captain Furaha Ding, the 50-year old Martian woman who commanded the S3C’s only patrol corvette, the Keris Gangsa. It was over 50 years old, but with torpedo launchers and point defence cannons (PDCs) it was an effective pirate deterrent.
Captain Ding ordered Kazuo the kuetiau kari and teh 0 ais. The kuetiau, as with all their noodles were mushroom based and the tea tasted good as Zadie had its own tea plantation within the asteroid.
She told Kazuo, “So, I’m headed out for a mission. I’ll be back in five weeks. But, here’s the thing. I heard that by the time I get back, you will have been promoted where I would be able to requisition you as a crew member of the Keris Gangsa.”
Kazuo was elated. He had always wanted to serve aboard the Keris Gangsa. He thanked Captain Ding profusely.
She told him, “For now, do your job well. Protect the people here and try not to get killed before I get back.”
Then she left for the dockyards to depart from the asteroid. Kazuo took a bit longer to finish before leaving Five Star Noodles. That was when it happened. Gamelan Sakti’s streets were filled with dozens Zadians making up of Earthers, Martians and Belters moving from here to there, doing business, sharing jokes, waiting silently while reading on their hand terminals. The public screens throughout the street, which were showing different broadcasts, suddenly synchronised and showed the same thing.
“My name is James Holden, and my ship, the Canterbury, was just destroyed by a warship with stealth technology and what appear to be parts stamped with Martian navy serial numbers. Data stream to follow.”
As Zadie citizens buzzed with apprehension about this sudden destruction of the ice hauler Canterbury, Kazuo made his way to S3C Headquarters which was not too far away. He knew that the ice hauler Pitlochrie was en route to Zadie to refill her diminished water tanks. What if it was destroyed as well? And why would the Martians do it? Was this the start of an interplanetary war?
Director Rashid Grumman waited for Kazuo. The Earther closed the door and began his briefing.
“Port Authority found a shielded secret compartment aboard one of the freighters that arrived yesterday, the Terang Bulan. They found evidence that three people were smuggled into Zadie. Forensics found parts that could be made into bombs. There were also plans for the Gertak Lembu Water Storage Facility.”
Kazuo sat up. He lived in Gertak Lembu.
“We have to play this quiet or there’ll be panic,” said Director Grumman. “I want you to pick a partner and go down there. Learn as much as you can. Do something about it if you are able.”
The former soldier left the director’s office and approached the security executive whom he knew had a high technical aptitude: Margarid Bohn. Bohn was a 26-year old with a shaved head, wore polarised eyeglasses and dressed mostly in blacks and dark browns. After a short briefing, Margarid grabbed her faux-leather jacket, ensured her pistol was loaded and said, “You, my friend, have come to the right woman.”
The Train Ride
They headed for the External Rail Network station at Gamelan Sakti. It was a building that extended out from the asteroid’s surface. The ERN connected all the major population centres of Zadie via rail on the outside of the asteroid.
It was a 25-kilometre ride to Gertak Lembu and the journey would take nearly 30 minutes.
(Irfan rolled a Perception check and succeeded.)
Kazuo noticed something peculiar standing with dozens of other commuters. He slowly moved in one direction, then pressed his gun against someone’s body and said, “I suggest you give the nice lady her purse back.” Margarid noticed this and moved behind the lady who was being mugged. She made sure the mugger saw the S3C badge on her belt.
Suddenly, the mugger spun and hit Kazuo with a knuckle duster to the chest. (The mugger got 5 Stunt Points, enough for a +2 Knock Down and a +3 Duck and Weave. Irfan spent 3 Fortune points to stay in the game.) The Martian fell back onto the train floor coughing. He croaked to Margarid, “Don’t shoot. Too many civilians.”
But his partner was already aiming. She pulled the trigger and (despite the +3 Duck and Weave) the mugger went down clutching his wounded shoulder. Margarid arrested him while Kazuo ensured the mugged lady was fine and got her purse and hand terminal back.
15 minutes later, they had arrived at Gertak Lembu and the uniformed S3C officers took away the perpetrator.
Soon, Kazuo and Margarid headed for the Water Storage Facility with an S3C cart. The water pumps made a loud resonating thrumming throughout the entire 4-level complex. There were not many people in the corridors of the facility which had tank monitoring panels every 20 metres along its walls on both sides. Sometimes there were doors that led to storage closets, maintenance stations and wash-rooms.
They looked for a security station and found that it was locked. Margarid was unable to bypass the electronic lock so Kazuo pried the door open, physically cracking its lock with his bare hands (when Irfan rolled a 17 with a TN of 11).
The Water and Sanitation Concert officer inside was dead, apparently thanks to the bullet hole in his head.
It’s true! Something was up!
Kazuo and Margarid were unable to retrieve any video footage from the hard drive nor gather any information from the security monitors. (Irfan and I rolled low for some reason.) Kazuo did find a case with two flashlights, a voice amplifier and a grappling gun. Kazuo hooked a flashlight and the grappling gun to his belt and gave the other flashlight and the voice amplifier to Margarid.
The Storage Bay
The further down they travelled, the less people they met. There was no one at all on the fourth level so they drew their pistols just in case there was trouble. Kazuo found himself at a pair of heavy doors marked EXTERNAL STORAGE BAY. The door opened when he pressed on the button.
They both entered with weapons pointed ahead. The bay was a great big storage space with a couple of obviously empty crates in it. At the centre of the bay was a floor airlock. Margarid approached it first, very carefully. She saw that there was an unconscious technician on the outer door. Through the reinforced plexiglass, the stars slowly whirled. She asked Kazuo, “You wanna go get him or should I?”
“I’ll go,” Kazuo said. Margarid tended to the airlock control panel that rose from the deck right beside the open inner airlock door while Kazuo climbed down the ladder to get to the unconscious man.
That was when Margarid (successfully rolling a Perception check) noticed a grey disc-like machine connected to the control panel. She yelled, “Kazuo. It’s a trap!”
The Great Outdoors
The inner airlock door closed shut. Kazuo grabbed the fallen technician with his left hand and thought, This is it. This will be a problem I will not be able to survive.
As expected, the outer door parted. The air fled the airlock, but the spin gravity launched Kazuo out into space. The open airlock door was getting farther away as he marvelled at the stars all around him. Then something occurred to him.
He quickly let go of the pistol in his right hand and grabbed the grappling gun on his belt. As he was slowly losing consciousness, he aimed for the airlock and fired. The cable struck the wall within and the gun automatically pulled him towards the open hatch. (Meanwhile, Irfan successfully rolled a Constitution check. Instead of a 6d6 damage, he only received a 3d6 damage. To our horror he got a 17. He only had 17 Fortune points left. So he incurred an Injured status and recovered 5 Fortune points. Meanwhile, the injury will accord him a penalty of -2 to his actions.)
Margarid was able to bypass the hack in the panel and close the outer doors. (I had to roll for an Advanced Test for Margarid as an NPC with a Success Threshold of 10. She succeeded in two rounds, at first bringing the Threshold down to a 4, then she was successful with a -1.)
Kazuo was happy to not be dead, but he was weak and needed medical help. The technician, they discovered, had died of exposure to vacuum (because he had to endure the full 6d6 vacuum damage).
The OPA Live
They quickly left the storage bay and headed back up. Margarid discovered that they could not call for help as their comms were being jammed.
At the first level which is now totally devoid of people, they discovered a huge hole had been cut open into one of the tanks. Kazuo told Margarid to go up top and get help. He could not go with her because if he did he might be too late to stop any sabotage to the tanks.
When Margarid had gone, Kazuo sneaked into the tank antechamber and found it peculiar that there was no water in it. The breach should have flooded the corridors outside. He carefully looked around the hole that led to the tank interior and saw a person with a pistol. From the looks of it, he was OPA.
Kazuo stealthily positioned himself to be able to climb into the tank and rush the person. He lunged at the man who viciously punched back (which reduced Kazuo’s Fortune down to one). Before the man could point his pistol at Kazuo, the security officer shot first. The bullet hit a huge pressurised metal tube behind the saboteur marked COOLANT.
The coolant gas burst with so much energy that the saboteur flew halfway across the vast tank.
As the gas started to collect in the tank, Kazuo found a ladder and began climbing up through the hatch in the tank ceiling.
The OPA Dead
Soon, Kazuo found himself in a rocky tunnel with an incline. He was sure that the gravity here was less than the standard 0.4g. He climbed up easily up the curving tunnel until he reached a region that was badly lit. In the shadows, he saw a pair of men leaning on the tunnel wall.
Kazuo approached them cautiously but they did not move at all. He carefully approached one and called, “Hey.” It was in vain so he click his flashlight on at the human-shaped silhouette. (This was quite spooky to Irfan as he played it.)
It was someone with the OPA tattoo on his forehead and he was dead as a doorknob, shot in the head. So was the other person. Kazuo though, Hey! That’s three. Who’d shot them?
There was a case at the feet of the second person and in it were three explosive devices. Each device was powerful enough to wreck the water tanks beyond repair and jettison all their water into space. Without water, there would be no life. Well, there would be life, but frightened and selfish life would kill each other over the scarcity of water.
Kazuo knew (with Irfan successfully rolling an Intelligence check, getting a 4 Stunt Points with which he purchased Upper Hand) that they were in the earliest mining tunnels to be dug a century ago. Over the decades, the builders had installed the water tanks here and cut off the tunnels.
The Impossible Derelict
He climbed further. Around the corner, he saw something that overwhelmed him.
It was something buried in the rocks which looked as it it had been there for thousands of years. The hull material looked positively ancient and most of the paint job had faded away. There is no doubt though, he thought. He could see the signage on the dusty, scratchy and old metal surface.
It read KERIS GANGSA. How can this be? That was Captain Ding’s ship and she had just departed Zadie earlier today!
Then he realised that the entire area was bathed in a glowing blue light. There were dozens of blue fireflies that flitted about the hull of the Keris Gangsa never straying far from it.
That was when he spotted someone. A human – with his back to Kazuo – brandished an automatic rifle at the buried hull. The man stepped forward and disappeared into the blue shadows. Who is this and what is going on here?
Suddenly, Kazuo noticed that the random flight patterns of the blue glow-worms had changed. Now the blue particles seemed to be wafting towards him, in their quasi-Brownian motion flight pattern.
Kazuo decided to run.
To be continued.
- I will need to run this more to get used to it. There were some points when I thought I knew the basic rules, but ultimately needed to look it up in the rulebook, for example Advanced Tests.
- I am still developing the Scheherezade setting but I have a rough idea of how the campaign will end.
- Gertak Lembu is a kampung near Salor, Pasir Mas.
- Kazuo has a mixed Japanese-Pakistani ethnicity, Irfan says.
- Margarid is an Armenian-German.