View Full Version : Smuggling: How to make it Fun?

2012-06-22, 08:27 AM
Hi everyone, I'm GMing a game set in the Mass Effect universe with characters that are part of a small criminal/mercenary syndicate based out of Omega (think Saints Row in space).

Last Sunday, after selling out the people who hired them to some bandits, I was asked if they could do some smuggling to raise capital. I thought about it and came up blank... I don't know how to run a smuggling scenario.

So, I come to you: How do you make smuggling fun enough to bother with? Right now, I can only think of having smuggling be a couple of opposed rolls between the players (smugglers) and police ships - which is a foregone conclusion since one player has insane piloting abilities.

Thanks in advance for any help.

2012-06-22, 08:51 AM
The actual flying of the smuggled goods is the least critical bit. Dealing with shifty suppliers, sellers...hiding things within your ship to get through inspections, etc. These are the fun bits.

Frenth Alunril
2012-06-22, 09:12 AM
The actual flying of the smuggled goods is the least critical bit. Dealing with shifty suppliers, sellers...hiding things within your ship to get through inspections, etc. These are the fun bits.

That's right. Think about it.

First you have to be sure you are not being set up by the police with the initial offer.

Next, mules usually smuggle for extortion reasons and not money: "do it or you're family dies."

After that, other criminals will try to rob you.

Then there is the drop off, which is usually unsafe for its location, the presence of police, smugglers, shifty people of all types.

Not to mention most smuggling, except for supplies into war zones, is either going to be drugs or slaves, and the morality that comes with it. Plus, a lot of people don't even know what they are moving. They could tell you it's drugs, but it could be weapons or secrets, or the queen's underpants. All the while you stand to lose you're ship and be shortchanged by your contractor.

2012-06-22, 09:13 AM
Actually, just look at firefly.

Most of the flying itself is pretty straightforward, unless they've neglected to care for the ship, or stop off somewhere.

2012-06-22, 09:18 AM
Customs Inspection:
IMO this is likely to happen at a spaceport, as a condition of being allowed to dock, rather than having a customs ship run them down in the middle of nowhere. There are a lot of ways to run it - there could just be a routine sensor sweep of the ship and verification of the PCs 'credentials' or there could be a armed inspection team that boards their vessels and goes over it in detail. Either way, if the customs folks turn something up, the PCs are probably going to need to bribe them, do them a favor, or fight their way out . . .

Business Rivals:
If there is money to be made doing something, the PCs (and/or their employers) aren't going to be the only people doing it. If they are just getting started, they're probably going to be encroaching on the turf of an existing criminal organization. And you can bet that organization isn't going to be happy about it - they might tip of the authorities, hire bounty hunters/assassins, or just make the PCs an 'offer' they can't refuse (hand over your cargo, or else . . . ). The more lucrative the contraband, the more numerous and powerful the current organizations.

Good source material: The current situation in Mexico with the cartels (Zetas, Sinaloa, etc).

Smuggling means dealing with criminals, and criminals aren't always upstanding businessmen. Maybe the militia that the players just ran an arms shipment for don't actually have the money (or have no intention of parting with it). They figure it's easier to ice the PCs and hire another 2-bit outfit next time. Or maybe the contraband isn't what the PCs thought it was - the seller lied to them about the quality, or maybe they are actually trafficking illegally harvested organs rather than illegal bio-implants and now they are wanted for accessory to genocide . . .

Good source material: Firefly has some excellent examples of these sorts of problems. Any good history of the Mafia should have plenty of examples of the double-cross in action.

Sure - sometimes smugglers can be good guys, but most of the time contraband is contraband for a reason. Are they willing to run guns for terrorists (or an authoritarian regime bent on ethnic cleansing)? How about importing drugs that wreck families? Or trading in niche market slaves? Sure, it's one thing for the PCs to be ok with it in the abstract, but what happens when they arrive with the weapons shipment and see the local peasants being herded up and slaughtered like cattle?

Good source material: Imagine running weapons into Darfur, or supplying FARC in Columbia, or the right-wing deathsquads in Latin America. Or trafficking sex slaves between Europe and North Africa. Or smuggling industrially produced Meth into the US.

edit: Ninja'd on all counts - took too long to write . . .

2012-06-22, 04:35 PM
If you want to keep it fun, stay away from the moral event horizon -- don't smuggle slaves, or drugs, or weapons of mass destruction, or parts of endangered animals.

People still smuggle goods that are either illegal at the destination, come from a source that is sanctioned or banned by the destination authorities, or are heavily taxed. Cigarettes, tobacco from Cuba, and alcohol have been smuggled to and/or in the United States in recent history, and even today.

Historical/cultural artifacts can also be smuggled, and depending on the political climate where they come from the smugglers might even be considered heroes for saving them. Likewise, if goods are being smuggled from point A to point B past the authorities of point C, the characters might again be considered heroes by people at point A and point B.

2012-06-22, 09:07 PM
Thanks for the help guys!

I suppose I really wasn't thinking about everything leading up to and away from the physical act of smuggling, but I figure I can scrap some stuff together for at least one operation.

Sadly, this crop of characters seem to be morally dead soulless cretins - I once started describing a "Primitive" vorcha dance around a fire when I was interrupted with a hail of gunfire. The only explanation being "they're vermin". I honestly don't think the characters would mind smuggling slaves, WMDs, or anything - so long as they got paid. Which is a big change from the "never ask for rewards" group we had last game.

2012-06-23, 10:27 AM
Depending on how long they want to be smugglers for (a one-time deal, or do they want to make it a smuggler campaign?), that would change a lot: if they plan on becoming full-time smugglers, then I'd say make everything go right on the first try, but make sure they're paranoid about everything. Then, during the next couple of trips, add a couple of complications here and there.

However, if it's a one-time deal, or if they want to make it a campaign and you don't, just lay it on them. Make every single thing go wrong.

Another possible complication is for one of the members of the crew to be a rat, or maybe even for a mutiny!

If your players are oblivious to morals, maybe have them smuggle slaves and for one of the slaves to be related to a PC?

Dr paradox
2012-06-23, 12:18 PM
Another possible complication is for one of the members of the crew to be a rat, or maybe even for a Mutiny.

There ya go!

2012-06-24, 10:42 AM
There ya go!

Thank you so much!

2012-06-27, 10:26 AM
Right now, I can only think of having smuggling be a couple of opposed rolls between the players (smugglers) and police ships - which is a foregone conclusion since one player has insane piloting abilities.

Police ships? If the police are on your tail, something has gone drastically wrong. AFAIK, smugglers try to avoid the police at all costs. If I was playing in this scenario, I would try to circumvent the police as much as possible. Avoid the major shipping routes, go through backwater areas. Stay away from population centers.

Of course, less traveled also means less civilized, so the risks could include rival smuggler gangs ("this is our turf!"), hostile locals ("special tax, 50% of your cargo"), dangerous wildlife or natural hazards. Options for repair or refueling also decrease a lot, which adds to the excitement.

And of course, police patrols are only decreased in a certain area for a good reason. From basic obstacles such as fences, to automated sentry guns and mine fields, to a neutron star. Surely no one in their right mind would try to approach on such a dangerous route...

This gives the players an opportunity to dodge most of the police force, but they could still encounter a few squads like surveillance sweeps or sentry maintenance crews.

2012-06-27, 01:20 PM
Okay, this is the Mass Effect universe, right? So here are some ideas:

1). They are smuggling Geth parts their client collected from a battlefield somewhere and bringing them to some high-tech place. Turns out the parts might not be so inactive and the Geth software starts hacking their ship and/or reassembling themselves.

Alternatly, there are alot of other geth parts being moved in by other smugglers and it's an attempt by a geth faction to infiltrate the system. If they deliver the goods, the geth assemple and start messing up the place when the players stop to spend their money. Local police won't be happy with smugglers who brought the geth here.

For fun, have one geth be a talking one like Legion... maybe an engineer or infiltrator who can hack systems to steal money. If the players confront him, he just offers them huge piles of stolen credits or intel. If they betray him or outlive their usefullness then he flags the money he sent as stolen so the people he robbed go for the players. Basically, an amoral machine who thinks he can control 'meatbags' by tossing stolen money at them.

2). Krogan testicle traffiking.

3). One of their clients is an asari who would rather provide certain 'sevices' then pay credits for the goods they smuggled to her. If they choose to accept, it results in them getting drugged and tied up naked somewhere. Or she's one of those asari who kill their mates (in which case give the players some warning, possibly by the police or a justicar who despises them but is obligated to not kill them until they help her get the crimminal asari).

4). Smuggle stuff for Cerberus operatives... some of whom are total racist a-holes to any nonhumans in the group.

5). Someone is traffiking those dragons teeth things that turn people into husks.

6). Blockades around the mass effect relays.

7). Wanted criminal wants to be smuggled out. Justicar following them.

8). Smuggling some plants from that planet where the plant life slowly deteriorates your brain.

9). Blue Suns or some other chaotic stupid merc group wants something, plan to betray the 'freelancers' as soon as the job is done.

2012-06-27, 01:36 PM
10). Someone is smuggling around the guns that don't require heat sinks to function. Somebody else (possibly a weapons manufacturer... or EA) then sends a disproportionate amount of resources out to capture and destroy said guns and replace them with crappy alternatives.

Players face enemies who spend most of their battle juggling heat sinks that aren't interchangable between weapons despite being designed to be exactly that and further forced to scrounge around the battlefield for heat sinks and heavy weapons ammo despite the fact they (hopefully) have ammo on their own ship.

(jk. Sorry, couldn't resist taking a jab at the Mass Effect 2 ammo system).

2012-06-27, 01:46 PM
Go watch a Guy Ritchie movie like Snatch or Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, then try to apply some of the concepts to a space-age smuggling story.

Maybe they're transporting something that was stolen from a crime boss, maybe it's a piece of tech that a secret service of some sort want their hands on and keep on the hush at the same time.
Maybe it's a decoy; while the police (who have of course been tipped off by their employer) arrest them the real mule slips through the net.
It really depends on where you want the smuggling story to go, but the actual, physical transportation of the smuggled goods is only a very small component of a smuggler story. Its all the rest that gives opportunities for making your players sweat.