EPISODE I: THE EXPEDITION BEGINS
Recruited by Aegyptologist Evelyn Carnahan, the heroes must somehow rescue her brother from prison in order to learn the whereabouts of the lost "City of the Dead", Hamunaptra. From there, they prepare for the journey into the desert itself.
A battle rages in the midst of a desert ruin between a band of nomad warriors and a small group of mercenary soldiers. The soldiers are overwhelmed- one (wearing a fez) hides within the ruins. Another, in a pith helmet prepares to make his final stand in front of a crumbling obelisk. Suddenly, something stirs beneath the sand, roiling its surface throughout the ruins. The Nomads flee in terror- as do the two remaining soldiers- back into the open desert. From a ridge nearby, another group of nomads watch. One asks- gesturing to the soldiers. "Do we finish them?" The apparent leader of this group shakes his head. "The desert will do it for us. The secret is safe... for now." But even as he looks down upon the ruins, the sands shift once more, ominously.
This adventure can begin in different ways depending upon the type of group involved:
For Independent smuggler types, the heroes could simply be recruited by Evelyn Carnahan- hired to join her on an expedition to a ruin on the planet Aegyptus. In this situation, it is likely she will not be specific about where they are going, but will point out there is likely to be some 'treasure' involved (which explains why she isn't willing (or able) to pay much in advance. She will negotiate with the heroes for equal shares of whatever they find- though she would like to arrange sale of the most archeologically significant pieces to a museum. In this case, unless the heroes seem VERY trustworthy, she will probably NOT mention the troubles her brother is facing (see below) until AFTER the group is on Aegyptus.
For Rebel (or New Republic) types, they could be assigned to the mission for several reasons. The rebellion IS cash-strapped, and could use any treasure found to help support itself. There is also a desire to keep these treasures out of the hands of the Empire. There is also the more idealistic reason of wanting to secure such treasures against exploitation or even destruction by unscrupulous people. For groups with Force types (Jedi), there may also be rumors of ancient Force artifacts rumored to be in the possession of the ancient Aegyptian pharaohs. Evelyn herself could have connections within the Rebellion/NR- Perhaps she is known by prominent historians within the organization (such as Arhul Hextrophon- the Alliance's official historian). In any case, in this scenario, Evelyn would be much more open with details about the mission- revealing just where they are trying to go (Hamunaptra) and the fact that her brother is in trouble and will require help (see below)
Once the heroes are officially part of the 'Expedition' (as Evelyn will refer to it). They must make their way to Aegyptus- which is currently under Imperial occupation (as noted in the previous Locations section). This means the heroes will have to go in 'incognito' and try to maintain a low profile. This Imperial presence is also one of the main tools that a GM has to ensure that the characters don't just avoid the dangers of the expedition by flying DIRECTLY to the lost city. In fact, Evelyn will warn them of this fact- if they go flying off into the desert, the Imperials are likely to get suspicious and investigate- which could compromise the location of Hamunaptra. In fact, Evelyn has gone as far as to officially register the expedition to the Empire- using fictitious credentials- and stating a fictitious destination at one of the planets numerous known (and already looted) archaeological sites.
Once on Aegyptus, Evelyn will explain that they must 'pick up' her brother, Jonathan. Evidently he sent her a message some time ago stating that he had discovered the location of Hamunaptra. It is at this point point that Evelyn reveals that her brother also said he was in trouble. Checking at Jonathan's hotel finds that he is a) behind in his rent and b) currently in the local imperial jail.
At this point, Evelyn will want to rescue her brother- pointing out that only HE knows the location of the city. How the players do this is up to them, but could include:
1) Jail break. The characters could simply try to break into the prison and bust Jonathan out. This would be difficult, but the jail itself is located in an old, 'native' structure of brick and stone- and isn't exactly as 'high tech' as your typical imperial detention center. Unless handled carefully, this approach might have the unwanted effect of putting the Empire on Alert. Prudent parties would plan on leaving the city VERY quickly after any jailbreak to avoid the patrols that would surely follow.
2) Negotiate. The characters could try to 'bail out' or otherwise remove Jonathan WITHOUT breaking in. Any attempt to do so will inevitably send them to the presence of the repulsive local Imperial Magistrate, Gad Hassan. Hassan has heard the rumors of Jonathan's knowledge of Hamunaptra, and is VERY unwilling to let him go. He will demand a stake in the rewards of any expedition. He will at first demand two full shares, but can be talked down to one. He will also insist on accompanying the group to 'protect his investment'. As a negotiating technique, Hassan might also order the immediate death of Jonathan by hanging. He may even allow him to hang for a little before finally agreeing on a price.
Please note that if Hassan DOES wind up joining the expedition, he will still counsel against flying a ship into the desert. He is only a mid level bureaucrat, and does not have the right to supercede planetary security sweeps.
Once Jonathan is secured, he will need some cleaning up. He will also need someone to pay his hotel bill in order to get his luggage out of hock. This should tell the players something about his character and what to suspect. He's a good guy, but... well, something of a freeloader and huckster.
When asked about Hamunaptra, Jonathan will relate the story of his previous expedition- inflating his own role within. He will also play up his own heroism in the battle against the nomad tribesmen- while at the same time commenting on the wretched behavior of some of his previous comrades- Beni Gabor, for one, who evidently locked himself into one of the ruins- and locked Jonathan and the others out. In fact, Jonathan (rightly) suspects that Beni is the one who tipped off the Imperial Magistrate about Jonathan's whereabouts. Jonathan also suspects (again rightly) that Beni is planning his own expedition to Hamunaptra. He downplays this a bit, though, saying that Beni was 'rubbish' with maps and a coward, to boot. Jonathan will not bring up the odd happenings at the ruins, however- not unless the information is ferreted out of him through conversation. On the one hand, it frightens him a little- on the other, he doesn't want it to scare others off from helping with a NEW expedition.
At this point, Evelyn and Jonathan will help the heroes plan out the next phase of the expedition. Jonathan is dead set against using any type of vehicle- mainly because the Empire's orbital arrays could pick them up. He suggests using local transport- this includes a sail barge for part of the way (such barges travel along the planetary canals between cities). After a couple days of this, the group will have to disembark and use riding beasts (Eopies) for the rest of the journey.
After a day of gathering the necessary supplies, the group is ready to board the sail barge and begin their expedition in earnest.
NOTE: It is entirely possible that the Imperial Magistrate, Gad Hassan, may insinuate himself into the mission. He will be an obnoxious companion, but is ‘trustworthy’ enough- he wants the expedition to succeed- afterall, he wants to become rich.
As mentioned above, getting Jonathan out of jail could go in any number of ways- and if any of those ways draw too much attention, then the Empire may crack down on the city or even the entire planet. This could very well serve as a warning for future actions by the heroes and help the GM keep them 'grounded'- something that is very important to this adventure. While I dislike 'railroading', there are certain aspects of this adventure that could be ruined if the players could simply fly their ship to the lost city and bring its weapons to bear to take out any obstacles. However, a GM should never just arbitrarily say they can NOT do something. There should be reasons behind it. Just like any other obstacle a GM sets up for a group in his game, there are effective and less effective ways to overcome it.
In this case, those reasons have been mentioned above. There is a LARGE Imperial garrison on the planet and in Orbit. If the players draw attention to themselves and their expedition, the Empire will send scouts first- and then troops. Lots and lots of troops- more troops than ANY gaming group should be able to handle. If players insist upon doing things that will draw attention, then a GM has no other recourse than to bring that full weight against their characters. This can be done incrementally to try and URGE them to be less conspicuous, but persistence could result in the Empire completely foiling the rest of the adventure. Hopefully the players will not let it come to that.
Also note that in the planning portion of the expedition, the GM should not necessarily have the NPCs present the 'plan'. He can use them to help guide the PCs in coming up with their own plan. Players might, if aware of the unique situation on the world, come up with the idea of using riding beasts themselves. They may also come up with some other solution that no one can foresee. By all means do not squash other ideas just because they don't go according to the 'story'- if they come up with something good that isn't in the 'script', then by all means, let them do that. Just take a moment to try and see how you can still work elements of the adventure in with the 'new plan'. If they wind up coming up with something that DOES bypass big parts of the adventure? Oh well, good for them!