The key to any Station Duty campaign: layers. Everything – every character, every faction, every location – should have a surface layer that’s immediately obvious, and hidden depths that must be uncovered. These don’t all have to be dark secrets or criminal schemes – it’s fine, say, to have the Lasers discover that the officious Recontact Office bureaucrat is having a secret affair with a Balla pirate, or paints watercolours, or has a lifelong desire to be a Synthculture cowboy. Having multiple layers to everything means the players can continue to interact with the same supporting cast and still have new things to discover.
Layers might be:
- Explicitly tied to investigative abilities: Use Tavak Culture to understand the dishonour suffered by your shuttle pilot
- Discovered through roleplaying: After you and the shuttle pilot are stranded in the Dark Zone, you establish a new rapport with him, and he tells you…
- A minor character trait: Because of his dishonour, the shuttle pilot actively avoids other Tavak and embraces human culture, which results in amusing misunderstandings
- A plot point: The Shuttle Guild blackmail the pilot into passing on information about the Lasers’ investigations.
Early in the Campaign
The Grand Tour
The first cases in the campaign need to introduce the various factions and the tensions between them.
- The Infinity Motive: A Reform Party politician is murdered on Themis Prime, and her computer files deleted. She was involved in legal scrutiny of the Buratha Ring. The politician’s predecessor, a TFT member, claims that she entrusted him with a copy of her files shortly before she died. Is he trying to curry favour with the newly-arrived Lasers, or is he trying to launder false information about the Buratha Ring? Did the Buratha Ring murder the politician, or is someone else trying to sic the Lasers on the Buratha? And why did the late politician meet with an AI researcher?
- Before The Sky Falls: Salvage workers demolishing one of the massive derelict refugee ships accidentally start the engines, causing the vessel’s orbit to decay. Unless the engines are repaired, the ship will crash on Themis Prime – but the ship’s former engineer is missing in the wilds of Themis, and only she knows how to deal with the jury-rigged drive core.
- Letter of Marque: A notorious pirate gang gets intercepted and defeated by pilots from Uqbar Anchorage. Legally, the Lasers are obliged to fly out and take the pirates into custody – but who takes the credit for the capture? Were the Uqbarian pilots just being heroic private citizens who happen to have access to decommissioned military ships, or are they clearing out the competition?
- Hunger: The Lasers raid an illegal Buratha viro-ware lab – and find thousands of vials of the Themis-Prime protein digestion tweak that allows the consumption of native-grown food. Who gets these vials? The Kch-thk, with their insatiable hunger, demand special treatment…
Three major plotlines run through the Themis Prime campaign – the simmering conflicts of the war, the opening of new systems and the Ghostmaker ruins, and the challenge of balancing the demands of justice and accountability to the wider galaxy with the unique adaptations made during Themis’ isolation. Kick off each of these plotlines early in the campaign.
- The Reconciliation Factor: A young farmer from the uplands of Prime contacts the Lasers. She says that her family farm was raided during the war by military looters from Uqbar, and that her family was murdered when they refused to hand over their crops. The Uqbarian records claim that General Gatar’s forces carried out an operation against Kt’Lar terrorists in the uplands, and that there were no civilian casualties. How do the Lasers investigate this old crime – and is the young farmer’s memory reliable? Was her family connected to the Kt’lar syndicate? And what are the mysterious ghostly figures glimpsed near the ruined farm?
- Isolation: A researcher on Goliath-C is found dead – in a sealed compartment on the Cyrex Mining Base. No-one could get in or out – except a phasing Durugh. With the miners blaming the Durugh of Rhedos Outpost, can the Lasers find the real culprit – and what was the researcher doing with a deep tachyon probe stolen from the Pathfinder Office, anyway?
- The Sleeping Children: Salvagers on a refugee ship make an alarming discovery – a cache of thousands of cryogenically frozen kch-thk larvae, rescued in the confusion of the Mohilar war. They belong to the Kt’lar clan – the same clan that turned to crime. Do the Lasers bolster the numbers of the criminal syndicate, or keep the larvae frozen? Or do they use this unexpected leverage over the kch-thk to demand a favour in return?
Evolve the campaign with a twist or three.
- The Corridors Open: The Pathfinders re-establish several of the damaged corridors – what’s on the other side? Frontier systems cut off for decades, unexplored alien worlds, the lost planets of the Ghostmakers, Class-K monsters, and who knows what else? The Lasers are issued with a ship of their own so they can bring justice to the frontier.
- The Durugh Revelation: A clerk working in the Recontact Office going through old files on the Blight discovers evidence pointing to the outbreak being deliberately engineered. Farmers in the hinterlands reported seeing a mysterious ship shortly before the fungus was first detected. More detailed analysis of physical traces confirms it was a Durugh bioweapon. Now, the clerk’s being hunted by Durugh assassins, who’ll stop at nothing to conceal this crime.
- The Demands of Justice: A replacement Combine legate arrives to deal with the case of General Gatar, and she needs the investigators’ help. How do the Lasers investigate a warrior who commands the loyalty of so many? Should the Lasers choose the stability of the system over the demands of justice? And is the legate all that she seems?
- Ghostmade: The discovery of alien relics on Goliath triggers a gold rush, as the criminal syndicates race to seize the valuable technology.
As the campaign continues and the Lasers become embedded parts of the setting, the cases can become more complex as you build on previously established elements and plotlines. When novelty is required, introduce a new visitor from outside Themis to perturb existing relationships.
- Translight Ghosts: One of the refugee ships was in hyperspace when the translight corridors collapsed – and it’s been stuck there ever since, in a dimensional phase state. Now, the Pathfinders have found a way to reach the trapped ship, but they’ll be able to align the tachyon flow for only a few minutes. How can the Lasers arrange for the evacuation of the refugee ship in that brief window? Do they ally with the Shuttle Guide, or Gatar’s pilots?
- The Divinity Uplift: The Cybe Zero achieves what she sees as electronic enlightenment, and attempts to spread this bliss – by forcibly converting humans into more cybes. This revelation happened after Zero visited the mysterious monastery at the edge of the system – what did she discover there, and can the Lasers use that knowledge to stop Zero before she takes over Uqbar?
- The Saddest Are These: A Vas Mal entertainer visits Themis Prime, and uses his telepathic powers to show the Lasers what their lives would have been like if they’d been on Themis during the Blight.
- Station Mine: Whichever one of the criminal syndicates the Lasers have foiled the most decides the time has come to take out those meddling space cops one and for all, and launch an attack on the station.
Whichever arc the players are most invested in becomes the spine of the final scenarios; the other ongoing arcs become plot devices to resolving that main story.
- The Bleeding Wound: General Gatar stands as a Bleedist candidate against President Videt, calling for the Themis cluster to reject the Combine’s ways and find its own path forward. He promises a return to the strict order that characterised Uqbarian martial law. In desperation, Administrator Wells turns to the agents and asks for their help tipping the election against Gatar.
- The Ghostmaker War: The Ghostmaker civilisation launches an invasion of Themis through the rebuilt translight corridors. Can the Lasers cobble together a defensive alliance in time to turn the tide?
- The Buratha Ascension: The Buratha Ring, having secured its position using ghostmaster artefacts, now seeks to take control of Themis Prime. The Ring’s crimelords converge on Themis, with the intention of turning the system into a criminal haven – and they’ve made an alliance with one of the other powers in the system. It’s a remake of High Noon in space, with the Lasers in the Gary Cooper role. Have they made enough stalwart friends and allies to stand with them against the Buratha?
Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.