The Survey Team was investigating TSA 40270-103, an ancient Tkoni Space Station orbiting Altair VII, a Class J Gas Giant. Back when the Tkoni Empire was thriving, the station served as a customs house for any ship approaching their colony on Altair III.
It was staffed by a single hologram named Portcullis whose job it was to interview petitioners to the Tkoni Empire. In defense of the station was a Thought Maker designed to trick petitioners into thinking Tkoni defenses were stronger than they actually were.
The Tkoni Empire passed away and what is now referred to as TSA 40270-103 fell into disuse.
Four years ago, Altair collapsed into a white sub-dwarf. Stellar matter was spread through the whole system annihilating Altair III and irradiating the atmosphere of Altair VII. The EMP put out by the collision damaged the circuitry of the station and altered Portcullis personality from cautious to downright paranoid.
When the survey team reactivated the station, they signed their own death warrants. The hologram took control of the Thought Maker and took out the Survey Team slowly and methodically.
One of the survey members, Chief Lynch, was a survivor of the Battle of Wolf 359 with a deep seated fear of the Borg. Portcullis used the Thought Maker to play on his fears until he reduced Lynch to a raving mad man.
As the Thought Maker did its work on Lynch, Portcullis turned his attention to Shimona. He knocked out the Chief Petty Officer and assumed his likeness. That done, he promptly jettisoned Shimona into space.
When Lynch, in a fit of mad rage, vaporized Chief Black, Shimona/Portcullis killed Lynch. The Thought Maker made LT Bingham believe that that Shimona/Portcullis had his phaser set on stun.
Portcullis then dispatched LT Bingham at his leisure.
Three weeks later, the U.S.S. Hood (or whatever ship you are using in your campaign) arrives to pick up the Survey. Portcullis is ready and waiting
None of the characters in my series are Psionic. If your series includes characters with a strong psionic background you might want to "up" the strength of the Thought Maker a bit.
CAPT DeSoto and LCDR Torres (my series NPC captain and first officer) can be replaced by your own command staff. I would strongly recommend play testing Portcullis against your players characters ahead of time to gauge and adjust his strength. Youd want the final battle to be a tough fight but you dont want Portcullis to mop the floor with them in the first round.
Im very lucky to have some creative players who come up with solutions that I dont think of. Ive included some of these alternate solutions in paragraphs preceded by the word "NOTE".
Barbarians at the Gate is yours. Have fun with it!
PART I: U.S.S. HOOD
SCENE: Bridge, U.S.S. Hood
Captain DeSoto will order the Conn to establish a parking orbit in conjunction with the station. This will be a Routine (5) Shipboard Systems (Flight Control) Test.
He will then tell his Communications Officer to hail the orbital space station. This is a Routine (3) Shipboard Systems (Communications) Test. A failure or a success will not establish a communications link. A success will, however, indicate that they are being jammed.
CAPT DeSoto will then tell Tactical to scan for life signs and Science to analyze the planets atmosphere. Both of these are Routine (4) Tests in Shipboard Systems (Sensors). Tactical will detect no life signs. Science will find that the upper atmosphere consists of highly ionized gasses that could interfere with transport, sensors, and communications.
CAPT DeSoto will then tell LCDR Torres to put an Away Team together and report to his Ready Room in 15 minutes. Torres will select the characters to make up his team and will order the Operations Manager to calculate the time until the orbital space station breaks up in the atmosphere. A successful Computer (Simulation/Modeling) Test at Routine difficulty will reveal it to be in four hours.
SCENE: Ready Room, U.S.S. Hood
Mr. Torres takes the stage.
Mr. Torres awaits input.
Give players Handouts one and two. Characters will be equipped with Type II Phasers, the appropriate Tricorders, and extra Environmental Suits for possible survivors.
NOTE: One of my players came up with an another idea. He and Torres went EVA to the station with Pattern Enhancers allowing the rest of the Away team to transport to the station. This saved another character (who was Zero-G Intolerant) a great deal of difficulty (and potential embarrassment).
SCENE: Empty Space Between Hood and TSA 40720-103
While traveling, LCDR Torres will inform them that if there are no survivors, the a log of their findings should have been kept by LT Bingham on his tricorder. Finding that tricorder will become a priority.
Once everyone reaches the airlock, Getting the airlock open will require a successful Security (Security Systems) Test at Routine (4) difficulty. Once inside, the atmosphere will automatically reassert itself.
PART II: THE ORBITAL SPACE STATION
Once the Away Team is inside the orbital space station, its defenses will be activated. The defenses consist of two levels: mental and physical.
The Mental comes in the form of a Thought Maker: a version superior to those that the Ferengi manufacture. Whenever the Thought Maker tries placing a mental illusion into someones head, roll a single drama die. The target number for the thought maker is each characters Presence + Willpower + Psi. If the roll is a success, the character will fall for the illusion. Any characters with a Psi attribute of 1 or greater and has the mental defense skill will remain unaffected.
The physical defense is a hologram like Portal in episode 7 of ST:TNG "The Last Outpost". This holograms name is Portcullis.
Portcullis takes the form of James Shimona, one of the lost surveyors. He will be activated with the rest of the defenses.
There first encounter with him will be him coming around the corner firing a phaser. It is a Type I Phaser at Setting 8. Count this as a Surprise. His first shot will miss, however, and combat will continue normally. During combat, "Shimona" will be screaming frantically about "the Borg coming for us all".
Once stunned or otherwise incapacitated, LCDR Torres will identify him as Chief Petty Officer James Shimona. He will remain that way for fifteen minutes unless someone tries to scan him with a medical tricorder. In that event, he will spring to his feet immediately screaming and babbling incoherently.
Scanning him with a medical tricorder will reveal him to have no life signs whatsoever. If told this, he will look confused and state that the tricorder must be undergoing some interference. Failing that, he will immediately vanish and not appear again until the tricorder is found in the central control room.
After the fifteen minutes of unconsciousness or him being calmed, he will become quite lucid and confirm that he is Chief Shimona. If asked about the mission log, he will claim that it was taken away by the Borg with the rest of the crew.
His face then brightens and he says that there are computer systems where each spoke meets the outer wheel. The computer system contains nothing but algorithmic garbage. Anyone who makes a Physical Science (Computer Science or Mathematics) Test at Moderate (7) Difficulty will realize that.
Anyone who voices any concerns about splitting the Away Team up, Shimona/Portcullis will claim that the communicators work perfectly well in the interior. Getting the signal to the exterior is the problem.
LCDR Torres agrees and spreads the Away Team evenly among the computers. Have anyone objecting to this plan make a Persuasion Test at Moderate (6) Difficulty. If this succeeds, LCDR Torres will compromise having everyone travel in pairs. A failure will mean that Torres will tell the character that they do not have time to go from computer to computer as a group much less stand around and argue.
If anyone asks about the central hub, Shimona/Portcullis will claim that the interior was stripped by the Borg.
With a wolf in the fold, the stage is set. As described above, have the Thought Maker roll against each character. Every character who the Thought Maker succeeds against will see the Hood bank out of orbit and warp out of the system. To keep the drama tense, hold off on this sight until the characters are split up from one another.
Communicating with the ship, due to surrounding ionized gases, is difficult. Reaching the ship will require a Personal Equipment (Communicator) Test at Challenging (9) difficulty.
Preparation can help. A tricorder could be used to boost a communicators signal. This will be a Moderate Systems Engineering Test (Personal Equipment) at Moderate (7) Difficulty. For every 15 minutes a character spends laying out the system and planning the correct connections, allow him or her a +1 to the die roll.
Some of the illusions will have audible components as well. One of the characters will receive a call from LCDR Torres to go EVA stating his belief that one of the computer nodes is outside.
The character will think that he has re-donned his environmental suit. In all actuality, he hasnt and he will not realize this until the pressure door closes and the count down begins. The character has five rounds to figure a way out of there.
Opening the pressure door from the outside will require a Security (Security Systems) Test made at Moderate (7) Difficulty. Forcing the door open will require an Athletics (Lifting) Test made at Difficult (12) Difficulty.
Alternatively, one of his fellow Away Team members might have caught a glance of him entering the airlock without a helmet. Opening the doors from the outside will require a Security (Security Systems) Test made at Routine (4) Difficulty.
The final option would be to take a phaser to the door. The door can take 20 points worth of damage.
Part III: Portcullis Revealed
Once through the door, the characters are in for a shock. In the center of the room is a large red globe with veins of silver running through it. Along the walls are is a complex array of computers. On the ground is the body of a decaying human whose skull had been split open. Just outside the corpses reach is a tricorder.
The red globe is the Thought Maker. The computer array is the holographic generator. Both can take 15 points of damage before being destroyed.
The body is that of LT Bingham. Anyone running a medical tricorder over him will determine that he has been dead for three weeks. With a successful Personal Equipment (Medical Tricorder) Test at Routine (5) Difficulty.
After LT Bingham was killed, Portcullis tried scrambling the log entries. Fortunately for the characters, he did not do a thorough job. Unscrambling the codes will require a Personal Equipment (Tricorder) Test made at Moderate Difficulty. Once unscrambled, LT Binghams log is an open book.
After the characters hear the last log entry, Shimona/Portcullis will materialize next to the character with the tricorder in hand and state "I really wish you hadnt seen that." In his hand is a large pole-arm.
Portcullis will sneer at the characters.
Characters might try reasoning with him. Telling him that the Tkoni Empire died over 600,000 years ago will not help. The only possible way to calm him down is by satiating his "ego" by acknowledging the right in his actions. Even then, the odds are against the character. Talking to him that way will require a successful Fast Talk Test at Difficult (12) Difficulty.
If that fails or the character tries to attack Portcullis outright, he will attack. The pole arm does 3+2D6 points of damage.
Whenever a character "kills" or "knocks out" Portcullis, he will fade away and be replaced in two rounds. Additionally, there will be a number of Portcullis "clones" equal to the number of characters who attacked Portcullis. These clones are nothing but illusions put on by the Thought Maker to distract the characters. The mimic Portcullis actions but can neither give not take damage. Destroying the Thought Maker will make them vanish.
Likewise, Portcullis will not be permanently killed until the Holographic Generator is destroyed.
Part IV: Escape
With the destruction of the Thought Maker, there will be no more mental illusions. The Hood will be there waiting for them.
Of course, going EVA from a space station caught in a planets gravity well will not be easy. Getting out will require a Moderate (7) Personal Equipment (Environmental Suit) Test. Characters who fail this test could be pulled along by two other characters making a Combined Athletics (Lifting) Test at a Difficulty equal to the victims Fitness and Strength +2.
The Hood will dispatch a shuttle to pick the characters up. If one of the characters get swept into the gravity well of Altair VII, have the shuttle swoop toward the character and give the character an opportunity to clamber on. This will require an Athletics (Climbing) Test made at Challenging Difficulty.
NOTE: Remember in the Surveyors logs when LT Bingham mentioned that the station moves via gravimetric drive? My Away Teams Science officer did. He activated the stations computers and got the drive working. It tore most of the station apart but it did get them far enough from the station to allow the Hood to transport them out.
When they return to the Hood, they will see the remnants of TSA 40720-103 crushed by the gravity of the gas giant.
Award each player one experience point for survival; two if they managed to get the data on LT Binghams tricorder.
Award Renown as follows:
Characters should end the adventure with no more than 3 points of Renown.
Captain Robert DeSoto
Image: Starfleet captain with sad eyes and a receding hairline.
Lieutenant Commander Manuel Torres
Image: An unassuming Hispanic male of average height and
indeterminate age. NOTE: For a better picture of Torres, see ST:TNG Episode 1:
"Encounter at Farpoint (Part 1)."
Image: A portly oriental male in his early forties with a weak
mustache on his upper lip. He wears a Starfleet issue utility uniform with Chief Petty
SUGGESTED ATTRIBUTE & EDGE RATINGS
SPECIAL OR UNIQUE ABILITIES
SPECIAL OR UNIQUE SKILLS
TRAITS COMMON TO THE SPECIES
Planet Name: Altair VII