Archives of Nethys

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Chapter 4: Running Starship Campaigns / Starship Campaign Arcs

Down On Their Luck

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 146
Space is vast, its frontiers are ever expanding, and there’s plenty of business and fortune to be found among the stars... or at least, there would be, if an oppressive organization—whether corporate or governmental—weren’t trampling all over your ambitious, entrepreneurial, and morally ambiguous player characters. In this campaign, the PCs have each been slighted by a society, government, or other organization that has stolen their livelihood, crushed their dreams, and caused the heroes to lose their homes and families. Perhaps the Veskarium colonized their home planet, or a corporation has established a monopoly that drove the family business bankrupt. It’s hard for the PCs to find hope when they’ve lost all they had to the oppressive control of a system so much greater than themselves, but they’ve got a ship and a ragtag crew, so it’s time to keep flying and—just maybe—find a new fortune.

Another Day, Another Problem

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 146
When they’re starting out, the PCs really need to feel hardship. Their ship may have been good in its day, but now it’s barely flying. It needs a lot of work, and the PCs need funds soon— especially if they want to eat next week. The group includes PCs with a disparate mix of personalities and values forced together by economic and social pressures, but if everyone can learn to tolerate their strange crewmates, there’s a promise of both riches and security.

The PCs spend their first few missions taking on various jobs—simple endeavors to get them started, like transporting cargo or desperate passengers, acting as guides or bodyguards, or procuring and delivering a difficult-to-acquire item. But taking jobs indiscriminately can get the PCs into trouble. Some of their jobs have unintended consequences: their desperate passengers are actually fugitives, their cargo is contraband, or the item to be procured needs to be stolen from its current owner. The PCs may be aware of these wrinkles before taking the job, allowing them to debate if the reward is worth the risk, but the revelation of additional danger can also come in the middle of their mission, raising the stakes. The PCs, intentionally or accidentally, find themselves on the shady side of the law and on the radar of governments and corporations who’ve oppressed them in the past. Over time the PCs figure out how their team functions; as they set up their new lives and pursue their fortunes, they struggle with inadequate equipment and question their morality.

At a Crossroads

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 147
With money flowing and opportunities to improve their ship and gear, the PCs have established themselves as a reliable, multi-skilled crew capable of handling challenging jobs. Their previous actions have earned them a reputation, good or bad, and that reputation precedes them; more prominent clients seek them out, and their services are in greater demand.

The PCs’ latest job is exceptionally shady, but also promises to be very rewarding. This may be a simple escort mission with an excessive reward or a mercenary gig that pits the PCs against defenseless combatants. Regardless, the PCs realize they’ve been asked to do something immoral, unethical, or simply wrong. Perhaps they’ve been hired to traffic in sapient beings or squash a rebellion with which the PCs are sympathetic. This job challenges the PCs to choose a side: their morality or material wealth. If the PCs abandon the job or actively sabotage it, they’re regularly challenged to uphold this decision, damaging their reputation and costing them additional work. They also make an enemy of their former employer. But if the PCs carry out this controversial job at the expense of their moral sensibilities, the resulting wealth comes at great personal cost. Important NPCs walk away from the crew, refusing to associate with such mercenaries; something precious to the PCs is stolen (perhaps even their ship); or their patrons turn on them after the job is completed. Naturally, their employers insist this betrayal isn’t personal— it’s just good business.

A Jaded Affront

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 147
Eventually, enough is enough. The personal losses the PCs have faced and the horrors that they’ve endured make it clear that they will never truly be safe, secure, and prosperous until they confront the forces that have plagued their lives. The PCs are an experienced crew now, and together they have what it takes to succeed where they unfortunately failed before.

In a previous job, the PCs attracted the attention of an authority figure in their nemesis organization. This individual may have hired them in the past or may be an antagonist who came after the heroes when they sabotaged a job for ethical reasons. Now the PCs can investigate this individual, turning up evidence of extensive corruption and crime. These crimes have a personal connection to one or more PCs, a connection no one knew about until now. For example, the rotten rations that sickened a whole colony world and cost a PC their family could be revealed to have been mass-produced by the same corporation the PCs have been running from, and the signature on the bottom of the form is that of the same person the PCs already hate.

Up until now, the PCs have been merchants first and warriors second, but all that changes. They take on a new, more difficult, kind of job with lucrative payouts so they can outfit their ship to become a weapon of war. But simply killing this nemesis individual won’t do the job—that person will simply be replaced by another tool of the bureaucracy. Instead, the PCs need to amass enough evidence to delegitimize the organization itself. This requires subtlety and subterfuge as the PCs sabotage the career of the individual who’s become their nemesis, recruit allies within the organization itself, and gather evidence they can use to expose the organization’s nefarious deeds to the galaxy at large. The campaign might end with the PCs achieving a final victory over the organization that has tried to keep them down and out for so long—or it might continue, with a new organization filling the power vacuum resulting from the PCs’ victory.