EPISODE II: ACROSS THE DESERT
The expedition begins with a Sail Barge ride across the desert. Onboard, the heroes will meet the other adventurers in search of the lost city. Unfortunately for everyone, the journey is interrupted by an attack by Medjai extremists bent on stopping the explorers in any way possible.
The sail barge makes its way along the banks of the canal, leaving civilization behind as it heads off across the desert towards another distant settlement. From a rise in the distant desert, a group of mounted nomads watch the vessel make its slow but steady progress. The leader of the group suddenly urges his mount into motion, calling to his fellows. “Come, we will deal with these dogs after the sun has gone down..” Another nomad replies. “But Ardeth Bey told us only to follow-“ “And allow these infidels to defile our sacred trust? I think not. Now, ride!” The nomads slip off behind the desert ridge, shadowing the course of the barge as it heads towards the sunset.
The barge is a large, commercial vehicle that serves as both cargo and passenger transport between cities. Though equipped with repulsorlift technology, it relies mainly upon its sails for propulsion (a cost saving measure- and one that doesn’t really hamper the lumbering vessel’s speed very much). The lower decks of the barge are filled with various cargos as well as the mounts of both the party and the rival party of adventurers. The middle decks are filled with cramped passenger staterooms as well as a few ‘dormitories’ for poorer travelers. The upper and outside decks house the vessel’s limited galley and ‘recreational’ facilities- which consist of a few deckchairs and tables. In fact, the upper deck is also used as auxiliary storage, with all manner of cargo strapped to it- somewhat restricting movement. A luxury barge, this is not. Finally, there is a small ‘bridge’ located at the aft of the barge, from which the captain and a small crew guide its journey.
The barge travels along the route of an old canal that carries water between the major cities of the planet. In places, the barge will cruise along the banks of the canal, in others, it will actually venture out over the water- depending upon the terrain. There will be small farms and settlements along the banks, but these will get more sparse the further away from the city the vessel gets. If the players follow Evelyn and Jonathan’s advice, they will be planning on getting off the barge at a small stop far away from the city- a place where it is hoped they won’t be noticed much save for a few onboard the barge- and even then, they could pretend to be visiting one of the known archaeological dig sites in the area.
It is assumed that the heroes will have one or two staterooms reserved for themselves as well as space in the hold below for any mounts or larger supplies. Once they’re settled in, they can spend their time onboard in whatever manner they wish. Jonathan quickly looks for (and finds) the only bar-like place onboard- the ‘galley’ on the upper deck. Evelyn spends a fair amount of time reading on a deck chair or looking out over the surrounding desert. Gad Hassan (assuming the Imperial is along for the ride), will likewise gravitate to the bar and otherwise spend a deal of time planning what he’s going to do with his share of the loot- and planning how he might cheat the others out of theirs.
An exploration of the ship will quickly discover that apart from the normal local ‘worker’ types traveling from one city to the next, the ship is also carrying a decidedly uncommon group: Beni Gabor and his three ‘Partners’, Burne, Henders, Danis. Jonathan will, of course, recognize Beni and be suitably (though not physically) hostile. Beni will respond in kind. Burne, Henders and Danis are QUITE interested to find they may have competition, and will do their best to figure out just what the heroes are up to and how much of a threat they might be. The three will not be openly hostile. They won’t even start a fight. In fact, they’re much more likely to strike up a friendly ‘rivalry’ with the heroes. They will also be at least a little cautious in talking about their final goal- they don’t want anyone else to overhear any more than the heroes do. Beni will likewise try to ferret out any information from his rivals and may even attempt to sabotage their gear in some way (if he thinks he can get away with it- i.e., he won’t take any real risks to do so).
Give the players some time to roleplay amongst themselves and with the various NPCs. Talking with Jonathan or Evelyn could easily result in friendship or even romance (though the latter is liable to jump into anything too quickly- the former certainly is). Wait for things to naturally ‘wind down’ before proceeding to the next section- which will take place after sundown of that first day.
As the barge drifts lazily in the still-cooling night air, a band of dark-robed nomads (actually Medjai extremists) ride their pad-footed mounts out of the desert and quietly beneath the vessel. There, they fire silenced grapnels into its underbelly and ascend their lines up onto the barge- some stealing into open portholes, others climbing over the rail. They will first seek to eliminate any on watch. From there, some of the Medjai will head for the bridge with the intention of taking out the crew and heading the barge into the desert. Others will head below decks to find and eliminate the PCs and their rival adventuring group. Still others will prepare jury-rigged explosives to set the barge on fire. The plan of this group is take the barge off course, eliminate everyone onboard (because they aren’t sure exactly WHO knows the location of Hamunaptra), and then destroy the ship to make it look like a typical nomad raid (or at least destroy most of the evidence).
How this attack plays out depends a lot on the actions of the Heroes. Those who set watch may very well find out what’s going on before things get too out of hand. Once their cover is blown, the Medjai will attack in earnest- and with fanatical zeal. If it looks as though they are losing, they will set off their charges and set the whole barge on fire, even with their own people onboard.
During the attack, the normal passengers and crew will do their best to survive, but they are no match for the Medjai. Some may try to flee overboard, but many will be cut down in the fighting.
Beni will seek a place to hide during the fighting- or perhaps just cower behind his three ‘partners’- Burne, Henders and Danis. These latter three will meet the attack head on, taking cover behind the cargo on deck and gleefully pouring blaster fire into the fanatics.
Evelyn and Jonathan aren’t really soldiers, but they’re capable enough and will certainly help the heroes in whatever plan they develop. Gad Hassan, however, will seek only his own preservation- which may likely result in him hiding behind the PCs.
If the heroes pause to examine their attackers, they will find that under the robes, each of these men have tattoos with a strange Aegyptian symbol. Evelyn will be able to identify it as the mark of an ancient Pharoah- thus placing these men as part of his household guard- known as the Medjai. This particular group of Medjai is not acting upon orders from the leader of their sect, however, and will fight brutally and fanatically to the death.
The battle could be resolved in a number of ways, but a couple of the most likely are:
1. The heroes stop the Medjai attack cold and regain control of the Barge.
In this case, the players can continue on to their original point of disembarkation without further trouble.
2. The heroes thwart the attack, but the barge is destroyed. In this case, survivors of the passengers and crew will flee to the canal to wait rescue. Beni and his group will struggle to get their mounts out of the hold and continue ‘on foot’ to the ruins. Evelyn and Jonathan will urge the players to do likewise. In this eventuality, the GM may rule that some of the PCs gear is destroyed and lost in the evacuation.
3. The heroes barely escape with their lives. The barge is destroyed- along with most of their mounts and gear. In this case, the players are really in a tough spot. It is likely that Beni and his group escaped in a similar condition. His partners might suggest a temporary ‘truce’ in order to survive the situation. The group can pool together their meager resources to continue- perhaps scavenging the wreck of the Barge or even attacking any surviving Medjai to replenish their gear.
In any case, the heroes (and Beni’s group) will then have to continue on to Hamunaptra on foot. This will take them through the desert sands and (if the GM feels the players have had too easy of a time) might include encounters with some dangerous wildlife (sand worms, anyone?) or natural hazards (sandstorms? Quicksand?), etc.
Beni’s group will likely shadow the course of the players (provided they aren’t traveling directly with the heroes). This group includes not only Beni and the three offworld adventurers, but also a half-dozen or so local workers (and perhaps even a couple beat-up labor droids) hired to help with the excavations.
After several days travel across the shifting sands (led by Jonathan’s sense of direction), the group actually WILL find Hamunaptra- seeming to appear before them from the heat haze in the distance.
Any Force sensitive players may very well get a sense of foreboding from these sand-swept ruins, though at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a precise ‘source’ to these feelings. Likewise, both Beni and Jonathan will seem to be a bit nervous and even jumpy- though they won’t easily reveal why.
The main contingencies in this episode have mostly been discussed above and deal largely with how the players react and ‘weather’ the Medjai attack on the barge. There is also the possibility that the heroes might form a true enmity with their rival expedition (i.e. Beni and the others). The GM should work hard to prevent this. Burne, Henders and Danis aren’t looking for a fight. In fact, they realize that with the dangers they are facing, they might need help from the PCs. They certainly won’t start any trouble. But likewise they won’t be bullied or dissuaded by aggressive PCs. If the heroes go as far as to attack and kill their rivals on their own initiative, well… then they deserve what is likely to happen to them in the upcoming episodes…and it isn’t good.