Terraforming – Starships as Traps

“Captain, scans are showing that all life signs have ceased. The pirates are no more and we should be clear to board.” announces the shirren’s voice modulator. Kik’grik’luk looks to Captain J3NE for confirmation, returning its gaze to the console before it after the captain nods. “Roger that Kaygeel. Listen up, crew …” the captain waits for all eyes on her before continuing, “… they came at us. We were here for friendly trade. They brought this upon themselves. You all performed admirably. On your day off, no less!” A gravelly voice from the weapons station mutters “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” before the owner looks around, embarrassed, to see if anybody heard her. “And that, wink wink,” says the android captain smiling at the hulking gargoyle sitting at the gunnery station, “is why I am letting you lot have all the spoils this time!” She barely finishes before the crew excitedly hops up and begins to gear up to board the now derelict smugglers’ vessel.

Hello, Randal here to take another look at ways in which you can use starships in your adventures. Last time, we looked at using ships as loot drops to provide fun ways to improve the party’s wealth. This week, let’s look at ways in which we can use ships as traps that make the party think twice (and likely mumble “It’s a trap”) the next time they encounter a derelict, an escape pod, or a smuggler’s cache.

An empty derelict provides many avenues with which you can trick or trap your PCs.

  • Infection. An oldie but goody, the grew is all dead with no clue as to why. With the crew dead of seemingly unknown causes, the party is going to be on edge as they try to sort out the meaning of the lack of activity or destruction. The best way to play this type of scenario out is to provide some evidence of a minor struggle, perhaps one body detained in some way. You may downplay the scene if you want to trick them into relaxing their defenses, or you may play to the strangeness of the scene if you want them to be paranoid about what they have walked into. If they do not willingly expose themselves, then you may look at other routes such as damaging or disabled their equipment. If they are being extra careful, or managing to properly defend against your trickery, do not  force the issue, let them have their victory … and then play into their paranoia a bit here and there after they have moved on.
  • Infestation. Another we have all seen on the screen, the crew is dead and there are obvious, yet bizarre, wounds that give no clue as to what may have done them in. This scenario plays best with a small creature, or a swarm of tiny creatures, that can easily hide in various parts of the ship. Did it sneak aboard at port? Was it part of their latest cargo? Is it still here? This type of trap is likely to become a dungeon crawl as the PCs look for the culprit to ensure they do not suffer the same fate. As the intent is to be a trap, you are going to want to give them ample chance to find and defeat the creature(s), and I personally would ensure at least one party member falls victim just to drive home the true nature of the trap.
  • Death Trap / Time Bomb. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but I can recall a few instances of this. When on death’s door, or simply to take as many out with them as they can, the ship is set to self destruct and goes on lock down. This forces the party to fight and claw their way to the core in an attempt to disable the self destruct sequence. This can be as simple as making them fight through crew members to get to the core console, or it can be as complex as dealing with multiple traps/defenses. Perhaps they have to deal with 4 consecutive encounters that involve a firefight in a trapped room with a locked door. Or perhaps the party hacker is simply jacked into the first console they found and the party must split up and disable various security measures in different parts of the ship. Of course you can use any or all of these to make the trap as simple or deadly as you want, and of course playing to the tension can be fun if you constantly remind them of the lights, sirens, and countdown being announced over the comms.
  • Bait Car. Nothing says easy pickings as a pair of ships docked with each other. Especially when the entire crew of one ship is aboard the other ship and has yet to gain control of it. While the party is investigating the derelict, the entities behind the trap suddenly appear in near space and begin to close in on the party’s location. This has the added benefit of causing the PCs to make rash decisions that they are likely to regret later. Do they finish searching that last room (you know, the one you decided was always going to be last so they found the loot last … or not at all)? If they find the loot, but it requires everybody or heavy equipment to transfer it, do they risk doing so and taking some hits before they can undock? Do they attempt to hack control of the derelict and flee in both vessels? If you engineer the scenario quickly, they will have a multitude of options that seem good but ultimately they all have their drawbacks. Destroying the derelict which the loot in it, damaging their ship, is a good way of driving the point home that they shouldn’t dawdle.

  • Other Random Ideas. A derelict ship that fires up engines and jumps to the Drift after the party has docked and boarded. A ship that once docked begins to fire all weapons and destroying the party’s ship (can be a surprise way of upgrading their ship). What seems a derelict is actually a beacon marking territory for rival smugglers or pirates, causing them to be attacked by two groups. A friendly trading vessel that goes on lockdown to shake the party down for credits.

Captain J3NE was still looking through the air lock windows as Sarahnd kicked the thrusters into full burn to flee the derelict. Grawnmoot was carrying an unconscious Marissa in a large stoney claw while helping the limping shirren back toward the bridge. The captain didn’t dare divert her eyes from the ship that almost ended her and her crew. Mere seconds later it imploded only to set off the compliment of nuclear warheads it contained, causing it to explode brightly. Shrapnel pinged off the Bits of Freedom’s hull, and the captain gasped as a chip appeared in the air lock’s outer window. She watched until the last lights faded, before focusing on that chip. “Thank you, sister, for the warning. We would not have made it back without you.” She turned and as she began walking toward the bridge a hologram appeared where she had been standing. It watched her walk away, “Of course, dear sister”, and then vanished.


Let me know what you think! Please continue to join us at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj.

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him vast amounts of ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, playing with his kids, bowling, or running a PF campaign, Randal is likely writing some new mobile web app (http://halfmugtavern.blog) to enhance the experience of playing Pathfinder!

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