Fifty-eight hours out of Elpis, the Battle of Basildon commences. Six Ducal Royal Navy Hammerheads working alongside six Collective Timber Wolves attack a quartet of PKF Type 336s, a destroyer analog and two patrol boats, with the Anne Bonny stuck in the middle, desperately trying to get their precious cargo away from the combat zone. In the opening minutes of the battle, the Hammerheads and Timber Wolves take advantage of the fact that the PKF ships are using railguns and thus need to be closer but unleashing their respective weapons at distance. The Wolves especially attempt to maintain distance so they can serve simply as missile boats.
Once the 336s and the three Basildon ships close the distance, they maul the Hammerheads with their railguns, killing three in a matter of minutes. Ironically, the very first craft to be destroyed is the Hammerhead that fired the first shots. The lead PKF corvette, already damaged from concentrated Hammerhead fire, takes all thirty-six missiles fired at it, which overwhelms its point-defense system and blows it apart. In retaliation, the three other 336s shred the remaining Hammerheads, with only one able to limp away, streaming debris and transmitting a ‘please don’t shoot me’ message. Flights of PKF missiles eventually take out the lead Timber Wolf, which disrupts the Collective command and control briefly. A second PKF ship is destroyed as they burn toward the Collective ships, as well as one of the Basildon patrol boats, but the Wolves are able to recognize that this battle is over. They begin maneuvering to escape via an emergency in-system Jump, losing another of their number to Basildon laser fire and PKF missiles; the four survivors narrowly escape a mauling from the remaining two PKF ships closing in on their positions.
In the middle of all of this mess, the Anne Bonny is burning hard away from the engagement, though even then, they catch the outliers of it and must defend against errant missiles or fighter strafing runs and the like. They absorb some damage, losing some cargo, having a weapon disabled, and so on, but there are fortunately no casualties and, by the time they finally put enough distance between them and the kill-zone to be considered safe, the attacking forces are fleeing or have fled. The commander of the Basildon destroyer analog instructs them to press on while he and the patrol boat conduct rescue operations; to Khonsu Warship and Twosret, Shipmaster, Sir Korbin transmits his condolences for those lost and thanks her for their aid. He receives no response.
As they continue their approach to Basildon, Princess Natalia informs Sir Korbin that she would like to address the Collective marines they brought aboard, then asks him if would mind terribly acting as her means of transport. This results in him carrying her bridal style to her visible appreciation and Lady Amelia’s equally visible amusement. To the marines (and Rostya!), the princess relates that she is aware of some of their story and how they were betrayed by the management running it – if Rostya was actually smarter, he might have noticed how she subtly emphasizes the mercantile angle and how the marines are perceived by the Collective as simply more numbers on a spreadsheet somewhere. Essentially, she makes a pitch to them to sign on with her as what amounts to House Troops and her seemingly impromptu speech is very good, touching on all of the things that are bothering Rostya and the marines about why the Collective would do this. They agree to this task on a temporary basis.
The princess then repeats this with the other groups – the would-be Companions; Baefre and the Rankless; even the three unaffiliated individuals – but acknowledges that Iahmesu, Farseeker, and Tausret, Chirugeon Fourth Circle, already have obligations to the Peace-Keeping Force. During the conversation with the would-be Companions, upon noting that they’re intent on the moons of Nyx, one of them jokingly asks if there’s any chance they’ll see the Shrike. Ilik is not amused.
Upon reaching Basildon “air space,” they are immediately diverted to a VIP landing pattern and patched through to Castle Flight Control where they’re given more instructions. During the approach, Amelia telepathically contacts Ilik and asks him if he trusts her. Implicitly, without question. He acknowledges that he does since they grew up together, and can sense her relief as she asks if he has a stunner or stun baton or something. She wants him to wear it please.
They are directed to land at the personal platform for the High Lord within Castle Basildon, and there is already a team of medtechs waiting with her grandfather and a couple of bodyguard types. Once again, Princess Natalia insists on Sir Korbin bridal carrying her out of the ship, which absolutely causes Lord William’s eyebrows to climb. After the princess is secured in a wheelchair, she waves off the medtechs and introduces Baron Sir Korbin and his valiant crew. Rostya and the marines are introduced as her House Guards, which means they are to keep their armour and weapons. To the surprised Korbin, she asks – with another smile – if he would mind terribly pushing her chair. Her grandfather, now amused, asks if she has any more surprises and Natalia responds: “Just one.”
Telepathically, Amelia asks Ilik to shoot “Bambi,” one of the would-be Companions, with his stunner. He does so, then immediately finds himself facing a lot of fierce-looking weapons now pointed at him. The princess raises her hand and states, “No more surprises.” At her nod, Lady Amelia begins searching the unconscious “Bambi,” producing a body pistol, a stealth knife and a couple of other unimportant items barely worth mentioning. She then asks the marines to bind the woman as she (Amelia) would very much like to have a conversation with this traitor once she wakes.
The crew enter the castle proper, with the survivors and refugees escorted elsewhere so they can get checked out and ‘in-processed.’ Lord William’s security chief, Emma Winter, is about to have the Anne Bonny’s crew relieved of their weapons, but again, the princess intervenes: she is awarding them all the Order of Merit which will allow them to bear sidearms and blades, even in her presence. Her grandfather gives her a look and she shrugs: maybe there was one more surprise.
Inside the conference room they’re being brought to is Lord William’s Faceless advisor, “Lady Veritas.” She is mostly silent throughout the conversation, though like Amelia and Ilik, she does her best to stand quite clear from Baefre. The princess declares her intent to travel to New Britannia and petition the Commonwealth crown for official aid since the SpaceFarer’s Collective technically are Commonwealth corporations; she expects that the CNB King will require her or her father to bring Moros back into the Commonwealth proper as payment. Without thinking, Anya interjects: the CNB king died recently, and his niece, Elizabeth, is now the queen. This is news to both Lord William and Princess Natalia, but they acknowledge this gratefully. Lord William then announces that most of the Twelve have declared that they do not recognize this coup government nor do they acknowledge Prince Ivan as duke; he muses how the lad was such a reserved young lad and Anya’s thoughts immediately skip to her weird memory of being in the tube and staring at the not-prince. Telepathically, Lady Veritas engages with her, asking her if she would mind expounding on that line of thought. She (Lady Veritas) is willing to reveal this information without admitting her source of information, but Anya would owe her a favor…
But instead, Anya again interrupts – politely! She knows how to talk to nobility since she’s technically one herself – and reveals some of what she suspects regarding the prince. Natalia and her grandfather exchange looks, with the latter nodding slowly as the pieces begin to fall into place for him. He then gives Emma a gesture, asking her to be a dear and look into this for him. They can’t publicly reveal this, the princess muses, as it would be perceived as just random made-up slander intended to sow chaos but if they can get proof that he is not who he claims to be …
The princess then makes a decision. To her grandfather, she says that she has found her crew. He grudgingly accepts this and politely dismisses his people, including Lady Veritas; as she is leaving, she briefly connects telepathically with Ilik, telling him that they should catch up later. He is startled to realize that Lady Veritas is none other than his former pupil, Annika Leon! Once everyone has left, Lord William opens up a secret accessway to a hidden elevator and departs himself. Natalia asks them to accompany her – there is something she wants to show them and an offer she wants to make. The elevator takes them down to a transit tube, that then carries them a considerable distance to a fairly vast hangar bay. She was going to originally call it the Harrier, the princess states as the lights come on, but after seeing their ship and hearing its name, now she’s going to call this the Francis Drake.
To the crew, she asks with a smile: how would they like to become pirates?
And that’s the conclusion of season 2. Partial success, partial failure. The first half, with the space battle, was good, but the second half of the session was way too much of me telling everyone what happened without adequately providing them opportunities to interject or issues/challenges to resolve. So that was completely my fault. I’d originally considered throwing in an assassination attempt so the PCs could smack that down, but I was concerned about the time so I dropped that scene. Which, in retrospect, was a horrible, horrible mistake on my part. I should have stuck to my instincts and run that quick encounter.
- As to the way the space battle unfolded, I pre-determined the general outcome since the players had previously indicated that they were interest only in “getting the hell out of there” by using the Fleet Combat rules from High Guard. Overall, this would go down as a Pyrric victory for the Basildon/PKF faction even though they lost three ships, two of them being 336s. Again, I could only get away with that because the PCs were trying to actively avoid as much of the battle as they could manage. A regular space battle where they’re getting in there and trying to actively take out a hostile ship … nah. Couldn’t use this system really.
- In terms of rules, using the task chain seemed to work – regular task chain, fails inflict not only a DM penalty, but that DM as dice of damage; so fail by -4 = -2 DM or 2D damage to the ships; I also randomly rolled on the critical hit location table to see if any shrapnel hit the crew or passengers, but those impacted had too strong Protection – but one of the players made the suggestion that, if I use it again, the next time I should declare “this is the immediate threat” and then have the players determine who tries to counter it and how. So, sort of “Incoming missiles!” and either the Pilot dodges them, the Gunner point-defenses them, the Sensor Operator spoofs them to miss, or the Medic deals with the aftermath, and so one. Something for me to consider.
- With regards to the four escaping Timber Wolves via a Jump, even though the FTL drive in this setting is closer to the nu Battlestar Galactica method of FTL, I still used the rules for rushing an Astrogation and Engineer (Jump drive) check. As I told the players, none of their character could know the results but I told them anyway: one jumped fine, two had minor misjumps (which just meant they were off course – FREX, trying to Jump from Mars to Jupiter, but ended up at Saturn instead), while the fourth had a catastrophic misjump. I decided that he appeared inside the Graveyard.
- We had a last-minute cancellation by Anya’s player due to family stuffs, so I had to coordinate with her via Discord after the game to get feedback on the “Prince Ivan may not be Prince Ivan” stuff. No real change to the narrative as I mentioned at the table that Anya may end up revealing this data or not, and I’d let everyone know after the fact.
- Season 3 will be … sometime. At the moment, I’m waiting for feedback on an internal group poll about the direction of season 3 since Princess Natalia made the privateering job offer and I’m unsure how everyone is going to vote. Baefre’s player (rightfully) said he wasn’t entirely sure if becoming a pirate/privateer fit his character’s G’Kar-like journey and he expressed a tentative interest in spinning up a replacement character to serve aboard a theoretical privateering vessel while Baefre goes out to bring religiosity to the fuzzy-wuzzies.