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Out of the Abyss: Alas, Poor Norin. [Aug. 31st, 2017|11:13 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Dumak.]
[Current Music |crown me king- guano]

IN THIS EPISODE OF OUT OF THE ABYSS: THE DEATH OF NORIN!



The last session concluded with our protagonists, still trapped deep in the Underdark, entering the Whorlstone Tunnels within the demented derro neighborhoods of Gracklstugh, The City of Blades. As for goals? They have a few. Uncover evidence of "corruption" in the city for Errde Blackskull of the Stone Guard. Find the stolen red dragon egg for Firekeeper Gartokkar, but at the same time report on the Firekeepers' plots to the adult red dragon Themerchaud first. Discover where the economy destabilizing foreign currency & treasure the derro are using are coming from for Ylsa Henstak of the merchant clans. All the clues have come together around one figure, & now they are in pursuit of a pale & tatterdemalion derro, one "Droki," on behalf of a significant number of parties, & in the midst of "Dungeon Time." That means pacing has slowed to a crawl, though we did an impressive job with staying on track & switching in & out of initiative order as needed. Now into the tunnels in earnest, the players have killed their one-time companion Buppido, whose lair they found within the twisting labyrinth & who attacked them while necromancing a handful of skeletons & ranting that he was the god Diirinka incarnate. Afterward, a ghost in that room asked them to find his corpse's animated severed hand to allow him his final rest. He was a gnome called Pelek in life, & his hand should bear a ring with an onyx stone. Before giving them a moment to compose themselves or regain their wits, our heroes are: Pritpaul's increasingly cannibalistic halfling ranger, Serafin; Jim's drow warlock, bound to the drow hero-goddess Eilistraee, Imica; Sam's thri-kreen bard Pook'cha who proved extraordinarily competent this session & Ellen's character, a wood elf cleric of the Red Knight who calls herself "Norin."

Beyond the haunted boneyard that Buppido claimed as his home, the PCs spot an odd scene; a ring of giant mushrooms around the wall, with moldy, overgrown kuo-toa standing perfectly still in the room, surrounded by broken bones. Then one of the giant toadstools shuffles nervously side to side, & our players realize: myconids! They retreat back to the skeleton strewn room from their scouting expedition, bandaging up their wounds & getting reading in case things take a turn for the violent. The Underdark's Darwinian intensity has taught them to be cautious of even the lowliest...but when they stealthily re-approach, they see now that the almost-humanoid fungal almost-people have begun to sway & dance around the room, all but one, while the two fuzzy fish-folk remain eerily still. Braving the spores, Pook'cha makes contact, inhaling the cloud of "rapport spores" that they exhale. Introducing himself as Voosbur, the "speaking" myconid adult keeps singing & vapidly saying that the Good Lady wants them to have a Good Time, because a Good Time is a Good Thing. When the skeletons came rushing out of the other room (having been turned by the cleric), the myconid troupe's Friends protected them, but that's why they were hiding...though now they are Dancing! The outcast myconid sprout over in the corner sulking-- gestured at with an appendage-like rhizome-- is "Norin," who doesn't seem to like to have a Good Time.



Oh great! Another "Norin!" The PCs knew this was coming; as their companion "Derendil," ostensibly an elf prince cursed to wear the form of a quaggoth, had his backstory muddled by the apparent existence of multiple creatures claiming to be polymorphed "Derendils." The stinger on that revelation was that there is apparently a similar situation of multiple "Norins," a category that includes Ellen's character. With no one else having inhaled the telepathic spores of the myconids, Pook'cha keeps the knowledge of another "Norin" to himself for the moment, & coaching the other adventures to follow his lead, the insectoid thri-kreen begins to dance alongside the fungal procession, keeping to their patterns but moving steadily through the room. The group dervishes across, some deciding to take a surreptitious gulp of the germinating spores to get a listen, as the myconids sing-songedly offer them the Gift of the Lady. Readers, they declined, & realizing the dance was coming to the end, the myconids used the blessing of the Gift of the Lady to psychedelically conga line into some of the mushroom patches in the room, a wriggling teleport that takes them far, far away in a single step. The mushroom "Norin" remains, however, & asks the group-- in a clear & lucid mental voice-- if she can accompany them, offering to help heal them if they can help her get out alive. One of her parents, Pylo & Basidia, wants to murder her, but she doesn't know which & so she fled, only to then narrowly escape being kidnapped by drow slavers. Sound familiar? It does to the PC "Norin," who elects to go by "Kris" in order to avoid a lengthy conversation about identity.

The Whorlstone Tunnel entrance was hidden by an illusion of faerzress, the fraying dimensional energy that suffuses the Underdark with differing intensities in different places. Here, it's a raw, primal force, eroding the very stone into the looping caves that comprise the complex. It is what the giant fungal gardens are feeding on, the decay of reality, & in the next room that is made extremely manifest. It is a vast thicket of fungus, cut back & trimmed in places but regrowing quickly, dense enough that only a Tiny creature could sneak through with any ease. Small creatures could try...& the players recall the Alice in Wonderland toadstools they saw Droki eating, "bigwigs" & "pygmywort" that cause those that eat them to enlarge or shrink, respectively, & decide to try them out. The elf "Norin"-- who was patched up by the myconid "Norin" but relieved to see that she didn't use any cleric spells, just first aid-- picks a few over-ripe torchstalks, & the whole mass quivers, one continuous & sensitive communal organism. A delicate business! "EAT ME" the toadstools metaphorically demand, &...you ever like, look at your hands man? They seem so small, man, oh woah man! My hands are small! I'm small dude! Thus reduced in size, our merry band of friends moves stealthily through the thicket...until they don't. Hideous swarms of giant centipedes erupt from the nooks & crannies of the mushrooms as they stumble, extra menacing to the shrunken heroes, & the cleric "Norin" goes to fire off a spell...before the Wild Magic of the faerzress takes hold of it, creating a secondary effect centered on her: fireball.



Fwoosh! Well, the first good news is that the first wave of creepy crawlies are neatly incinerated, along with creating a pretty strong deterrent to any further immediate attacks. The second is that since the exploding torchstalks were already picked, there isn't a chain reaction of any more explosions. The final piece of gospel is that Jesus saves, for half damage, as do most of the PCs. The bad news is that Imica gets badly burned by the sudden inferno, though the quick application of a healing potion by his old tutor Pook'cha helps mitigate the worst of his injuries. Myconid "Norin" is not so lucky. Ground zero for the blast, she is a charred mess of burnt flora & fauna. Searching her, they discover that her "holy symbol" was a gold coin with a hole through it, hung on a string: Waukeen, goddess of trade. Well, at least it resolves that tricky plotline for the moment, & "Norin" can go back to being Norin again. The party moves on, with Serafin pausing in the shadows, lagging a little behind everyone...to sneak a mouthful of the dead mushroom person's corpse, chewing on the fleshy matter left behind. Okay...

Beyond are branching pathways, leaving them to decide which to head towards: the sounds of echoing Dwarven, the sounds of choked screams or the rank smell of beasts. Electing to follow the spoken fragments, they find a stout, locked door, now silent...& another side passage, which they decide to follow along down. They can tell that Droki has been using the omnipresent network of cracks, sewers & chimneys (widened by a pack of demonic quasits, according to the fungi) to sneak around & miraculously, rounding into a corkscrewing cavern with a rushing water & narrow ledges, they manage to catch sight of him! & the weird, lurking water elemental, conjured to life by Whorlstone's faerzress, spots them! Ambushing them from the depths & sparkling with the luminescence of cave fishes, it almost drags Pook'cha to a watery grave. Three clicks of his heels & Droki's off at a dead sprint, & the players engage in a running battle with the liquid horror, which appears able to move about from eddy to eddy with impunity. Norin is slammed against the stone wall by it, but she clings on tight & keeps from being drowned, as the party successfully flees from the water's edges, hot on the heels of the elusive Droki. Which is where we will begin next time, with pursuit under way...which reminds me, I gotta brush up on the chase rules.

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The Curse of Whisperwall Manor. [Aug. 20th, 2017|05:32 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Red Kettle.]
[Current Music |crown me king- aklo]



I finally got a chance to try out the Pathfinder character that Ruthanna Emrys' subversive Lovecraftian paradigm put in my head: Hogarth Orne Who Will Be Called LEVIATHAN, a elderly Deep One Hybrid, an Innsmouth-folk on the edge of metamorphosis, so to speak, & an Occultist besides, so I could raid the Mythos for knick-knacks & spell concepts. Started off with the crystal skull of a K'n-yan alchemist ("the shpells are holographically encoooded in the cryshtal matrix!") for Transmutation & a complicated Elder Sign for Abjuration spells, halfway between a cenobite's puzzlebox & Lyra's alethiometer. I spoke in a blubbery fishman accent, exclaiming frequently out of character "don't worry, I'm a real person!", convincing everyone I was something horrifying in a rubber suit. Hogarth is a "Brackish One," from a very ancient colony of Deep Ones, now thriving in a land-locked sea amidst Pre-Cambrian fauna. Mike was in town from California, & he offered to run a one-shot, & I was happy to take him up on it. Megan, who I haven't seen since I ran Lasers & Feelings, was with him, & my co-worker Kirsten came over before hand to hang out & talk about RPGs, since this was her first time playing. My character was rich with hoary, incorruptible gold plundered from under the waves, & so he'd hired their characters as bodyguards: Kirsten's kick-in-the-door half-elf gunslinger Kayla & Megan's half-orc warpriest of beauty, Shay, with the catchphrase "that's a red kettle!" Shay was out to find peace with the orcs of Belkzen & Kayla was the daughter of an elf princess but they shared a father...& now, a boss! Burke showed up just as we started, with no time to wiggle his backstory in, but Gordon FizzChizzlewit the gnome investigator was actually a huge help, thanks largely to his comprehensive knowledge of heraldry.



The session was a lot of fun: it kicked off with an auction, which was a perfect fit for my wealthy occultist. More than just bodyguards, Shay & Kayla were partners with me, distracting (& in Kayla's case, even seducing) my rivals at the auction & keeping me from making any surface world social faux pas. Things were going great, until a very expensive deed got snatched. Luckily, we snatched it back without killing the kid, & the mystery began...leading us to be hired by a Suspicious Noble to clear out his ancestral home. (Yes, the Suspicious Noble was secretly a vampire, of course he was, we're in Ustalav!) So, no longer allowed to soak in my tub of tepid water, we set out on our odd quest to "ask the gravedigger what he saw," & then return a locked box to the Master Bedroom & light a fire in the hearth. & yes, of course I picked the lock & saw that it was gravedirt, I told you: I was playing an occultist. & yes, when the psychopomp harlequin pointed at the corpse, I danced with it, & yes that's what Mordicai would have done too, but it worked didn't it? Allowing us to speak with dead & ask it some questions, ultimately leading us to battle squatting orcs (getting rather carved up in the process) before confronting the nightmarish ghost of the old lady of the manor & having our benefactor reveal his undead nature & asking us to help him break his curse by redeeming the family lands. A heck of a prelude & a shame they live on the wrong coast, but next time they visit maybe we can return to Whisperwall Manor!

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Star Wars: End of Empire: Beyond the Blue Veil & the Old Daughter. [Aug. 20th, 2017|04:35 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king feat. james horner- 'round perdition's flames]



This write-up of my Star Wars: End of Empire campaign combines two sessions into one summary, let me mention right off the bat in the interest of good record keeping. Raj missed the preceding session, so we began it all with a little flashback to fill out where his gunslinging scoundrel Jax Cadderly had gotten off to. The wheel of the story has returned to some of the signature antagonists, as Contessa Misaani contacts Jax on a matter of some personal interest. When he arrives by speeder bike, he realizes it was a set-up, as the Black Sun crimelord Concilliator Kek is waiting for him...with an offer he can't refuse. Rachel plays the Contessa & Joey plays Zar Stygos, the slaver from the sabacc game, & the respirator-masked Concilliator offers the re-captured Trandoshan ex-gladiator Sshushath the Zode to Jax as a gesture of good faith, missing a hand. Matters with the Falleen mobster are relatively simple. Conciliator Kek is a peacemaker: he doesn't want any trouble for Jax. He doesn't want any trouble from rival Black Sun mob boss Rao Kast either, but he sees a way they can all get what they want. He's going to help Jax leave Ord Mantell by giving him the map to an old smuggler's hyperspace route out of the Bright Jewel nebula; it's sketchy & has to be timed just so, but if he leaves now Kast's gangsters, led by Hopper Rose, will chase him, & so Jax is going to leave now, or else Kek will have to come up with some other, permanent solution. (The Contessa, on the other hand, has a clandestine, potentially more lucrative offer: find her someone willing to buy the planet out from under her.)

Which brings us back to the current action, with Jax & the Zode rejoining the ex-Imperial Para Totool, human replica droid Jolit & felinoid Force-sensitive Theynur Kötturinn along with the other NPCs, privateer Eris Berserk, astroprobe AK-88 & espionage droid 4-DOX. The group is a small flotilla: Para pilots her TIE/interceptor, Theynur is in her X-wing, Eris is in a TIE/boarder & the rest are on the staryacht False Profit. Burke couldn't make it, which worked out well for the inevitable fight sequence, since there were enough ships with weapons & players to go around as I dropped them into the middle of ship-to-ship combat. While impersonating an Imperial convoy, Garrison TIE/ln report that Praetorian passcodes have changed after the recent intrusions by rebel scum & haywire droids; they should have gotten new checkphrases from their morning debrief...wait...actually it is Para's codes specifically that were flagged...at which point "hostile negotiations" commence. The battle had it all, probably: I'd printed up the charts from Fly Casual with potential uses of the custom die results for debris fields, & we use that to pepper in details into the fight as we try to explore the narrative dice system. At this point, the high ABV beers began to kick in. Dogfish Head? More like Dogfight Head!



The "Blue Veil" is a massive solar flare, an inferno raging at a slow cosmic scale, a loop of sapphire flame that marks a shockwave in the helio-shealth, dividing the inhabited parts of the Bright Jewel system off from the more uncharted flows & eddies of the nebula...& where the player's star yacht, the False Profit, makes contact with the Old Daughter, at which point the TIE fighters they haven't picked off retreat in a hurry. The up-gunned, heavily armored ship started off life as a Corellian corvette, produced by the Mon Calamari capital ship Mother One & now heavily modified by the tinkering shipwright Navigator Marid. It has massive docking bays full of black stealth A-wings & the new double-wide H-wings. The crew is a mix of mostly three "alien" species, with a few outlier humans & droids & miscellaneous others. There are the insectoid Verpine, renown mechanics from asteroid hives who staff the A-wing Joker Squadron & the bat-like Chadra-Fan who ride four at a time in Echo Squadron's H-wings. Most capital ship operations are done by the Mon Calamari, & the whole of the Old Daughter is rigged to support sections of each species' biome.

The commander of the ship, a burbling Churchill of a Mon Calamari named Navigator Marid, is less an extremist & more a hardliner; he still calls his cell "the Rebel Alliance," claiming that the Core Worlds are a little premature to dub themselves a "New Republic." Nevertheless, when he hears of the stolen datatape, the crew breaks out the Corellian moonshine, renowned for being a pan-species intoxicant, with Para trying a little of the Mon Calamari's salty Brine Wine & Jax sweet-talking his way into the Navigator's good brandy. Eris, meanwhile, is down in the fighter bays with the bugs & bats, convincing them to take her old TIE/boarder as trade, & to equip the party's luxury liner with a "pirate's suite" of weapons: a tractor beam & a concealable ion cannon. Para starts there too, making substantial repairs to her TIE/interceptor after being targeted as a traitor during the fight to escape Ord Mantell, but makes her way to the party afterward, unaware of the proverbial daggers being stared into her back by glittering compound eyes. At this point in the night, the spice has begun to flow; Jolit, 4-DOX & some of the Rebel protocol droids are splicing in junk code & the organics are drunk & arguing about...the nature of freedom. Or accusing each other of paranoia. Or...glug glug glug...

...the next morning (& the next session) the group gathers together in the mess hall with a similarly hung-over crew. Guerrilla fighters can party when they put their mind to it! Everyone's memories are spotty, so as the crew potter about getting their morning meals, the players (& NPCs) try to piece things together, & revisit or retread whatever they meant to say. Theynur, Burke back from his missed session, steals aside to meet up with her contacts in the Bothan SpyNet, built by Bothans & other non-humans using their innate advantages to stay alive post-COMPNOR, the Imperial pogroms of human supremacy. A secret, independent organization, even at the peak of the Rebellion, they were the ones that infiltrated the secretive Maw facility & stole the plans to the second Death Star...& Theynur Kötturinn is a member. Or well, an "asset," at least, as she checks in with her handler, a Chadra-Fan named Wemic. The chiropteran Chadra-Fan eat a medley of baked grubs we see as Theynur heads over, while the Mon Calamari break their fast on a sort of wriggling gagh ceviche, & the Verpine consume a gelatinous nutrient paste. They are more cricket than mantis, Para decides, sitting near them & realizing that they use their antennae to communicate on private comm channels...& that they are talking about her. As the other players go about their breakfast, one of the clutch-leaders, Zrb, confronts the Navigator angrily, as more & more of the locust-folk start filtering in to the cafeteria: apparently, Zrb recognized Para's TIE/interceptor, the Egg-Eater. As one of the mechanized support officers in the Inferno Squad stationed in the Elrood Sector with then-Captain now-Imperator Pryl, she oversaw a battalion of K-series security droids. Something awful happened with them & the Verpine "Hatchlands" in the Shroud asteroid belt back in Para's Imperial past, & while the set of Zrb's carapace is hard to read, it does not seem happy about her being here.



Luckily for everyone, Jax Cadderly has a silver tongue besides the good plaster at his side, & between his calming words pointing out that most Rebel officers were famous defectors, & Navigator Marid's eagerness to convert them to the cause, they defuse tensions. Marid wants them to join the Rebellion, but they demure, preferring their independence in the wake of the great Galactic Civil War. Marid argues that they aren't really independent at all, & that the Rebellion offers a golden chance: the chance to do the right thing...by being the scoundrels. You won't get rich, but you won't have to lie about who you are. Still as freelancers outside of the Republic, they do offer a unique opportunity. Navigator Marid recognizes the name of the STARKILLER file on their stolen data: The infamous "STARDUST" upload that contained the Death Star plans had metadata for other projects attached: Stellar Sphere, Pax Aurora, Sixty-Six, War Mantle...& Starkiller. As disdainful as the Navigator is of the New Republic in general, he doesn't think they'd ever blow up a planet...but he doesn't aim to give them that chance, either. He'll report to the New Republic about the stolen prototype Star Destroyer Insidious, & about the existence of the Praetorians & their invasion of Ord Mantel, but he wants them to investigate this super weapon, in case it is something so heinous it is better destroyed before any bureaucrat or tyrant can be tempted by it. Eris Berserk knows someone who can help, her old mentor: Baron Monstro, the thrillseeking madman nobleman who owns the palace moon of Corellia Prime, & half of Kuat Drive Yards, besides. He's obsessed with unique weapons, & Eris is confident he'll know more. The Baron could also be Para's ticket to Dathomir-- the Chiss pirate having learned of her interest in the planet-- as he's always talked about wanting to go there. Sshushath doesn't like this plan; he was a gladiator in the great coliseum there: when Jax asks if he gambles & Eris answers in the enthusiastic affirmative, he grumbles in parselmouthed Dosh "...yess...with othersss livess...

The Empire does not take defeat by cunning well, & the Praetorians respond just like the Imperator's idol Vader did when the Millennium Falcon evaded him in the Anoat Asteroid Belt: with brute force. The Super Star Destroyer The Eye looms up at the fringes of the Blue Veil, massive in a way that only something on a stellar scale can be, disgorging seemingly endless wings of TIE/interceptors...some, as the camera cuts in to Doom Wing leader, commanded by the ace from the Rubicon, Jeran Gauth. The player characters, still aboard the Old Daughter, are alerted by the proximity alarms & the call to battle stations! In the eternally raging tempest of the wilder parts of the Bright Veil Nebula, going out in a starfighter is a great way to get lost, & so the party pitches in with the crew. Theynur up to the bridge to help plot hyperspace jump coordinates, Para Totool down to the engine room to work along side the embittered Verpine, with Jax & Jolit each manning a set of turbolaser batteries & wait. & wait.

I'm going for outer space submarine warfare in the vein of Wrath of Khan & not being shy about it, even handing out another list of optional battle conditions for fighting in a nebula, but the players just keep rolling well! I succeeded in building tension but struggled to find ways for catharsis when the stealthier options kept succeeding. First Theynur's instincts & astrogation skills as a scout helped settle the ship into the lee of a rogue comet, further hiding it from detection, & then Para used her talents as an elite engineer to cobble together a signal pulse to knock out the Praetorian's communications, using backdoor codes, scattering them chaotically amidst the swirling blue ion storms & hydrogen clouds. At that critical stroke, the camera broke back to the Imperial perspective, to the white-clad Imperator raising her fingers like talons, reaching out from the edge of the flare with the Force, filling her pilot's minds with Battle Meditation as they call into new formations, more like swarming wasps than orderly flight wings. The gunners are frustrated with waiting, but Theynur uses the Force herself-- in full view of everyone-- to scatter some of the ship's vented garbage as a distraction, ignited into a beautiful fireball by Jax Cadderly (Jax always shoots first, even if it's garbage), allowing the Old Daughter to effectively evade the Empire's forces long enough to make the jump to hyperspace!
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Out of the Abyss: Droki & Diirinka. [Jun. 4th, 2017|02:43 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Eat Me.]
[Current Music |crown me king- dogs of war]



When it comes to GNS theory, I've always found "Game versus Story" to be the central tension. I mean tension in a neutral-to-positive way: creating twists in the narrative by means of lucky or unlucky rolls & creating immersion for a strategic climax are win-win scenarios. There are other stresses it brings to the story, though...like time constraints. The world moves a lot more quickly when roleplaying & abstracted skill rolls are the order of the day, but once the minis hit the map, things become more tactical & glacial, by the very nature of initiative order & formalized mechanics. That's fun too, but finding the balance is the trick, & it is different for every group. It doesn't help that none of us are Rules Lawyers, which means no one is the Rule Encyclopedia, either. I don't mean this to sound like a complaint by any means, but rather as introduction to say: the Out of the Abyss crew have hit a dungeoncrawl, & I'm meditating on my pacing & overall approach to it in the fifth edition, since my only other attempt was the Comet Sessions in #TorDnD.

The Derro Ghettos of Gracklstugh are a sharp contrast to the police state orderliness of the grey dwarf quarters. Now that the player characters have some borrowed authority-- Sam's increasingly aggressive thri-kreen bard Pook'cha as a Firekeeper of the red dragon Themberchaud clad in dragon scale mail & Ellen's elven cleric in identity crisis Norin as a member of Clan Blackskull by way of a belt of dwarvenkind-- & they are allowed to past through the Gates of Moria-like edifices that keep the Blade Bazaar & common areas segregated from the duergar-only residences. A vast canyon first fraked, then mined, then converted into brutalist architecture, Laduguer's Furrow grows ever outward & downward, with the eastern- & western-most directions becoming increasingly more poisonous & unstable with dangerous industry. At each cap are the internment districts of the derro. Second-class citizens, slaves in all but name in a city where chattel laws at least afford slaves protection as property. Our players are headed there; they are looking for the Whorlstone Tunnels to find "Droki" (& trouble) somewhere in the West Cleft.



It is a wretched life for the derro. The walls are of the same masonry as the great gates that divide the dwarven city above, but here the doors are bars, neighborhoods wrought as one big cell. The lawful evil dwarves let the derro run to anarchy, taking those desperate enough to come to the gates out in work shifts & occasionally committing violent pogroms to keep their numbers in check. Psychic derro mutants used to be a problem, creating riots & uprisings, but with the cullings the duergar also offered the psionic savants a seat at the council table with the Deepking, easily corrupting them by making them minor oligarchs. As our protagonists scout out the area, they watch the derro commit casual & random acts of violence. The streets are empty enough that the characters think they can navigate them stealthily...& with some decent dice rolls, they do, avoiding the notice of the diminutive & mentally unwell cliques & tribes of the derro. Jumping a member of the Grey Ghost thieves' guild wandering alone, they put the screws on him. Intimidation only seems to be going so far, but Jim's now sisterless drow warlock Imica uses the power of his pact with the fey to charm a lead out of him-- they are looking for signs of disruption in the faerzress, the weft of arcane energy that suffuses the Underdark.

Which of course they eventually find; like entering the Emerald Seer's cavern in Krull, they step sideways into an illusion that leaks foglets of energy, the two-dimensional shimmer of the blacklight aurora subterralis tilted into three-dimensional luminescent wisps. Into esophageal caverns lit by crackling energy corruscating along the walls in spiral patterns, carving-- shaping-- the stone into overlapping helical swirls within swirls: the eponymous "whorlstone." The tunnels range in size & regularity, & in fact Pritpaul's occasionally cannibalistic halfling ranger Serafin (whose last name Threepwood is a Monkey Island reference, not Wodehouse) overhears a madcap little figure down a cul-de-sac mumbling to himself. Just in time, too, as Droki shrinks small & scurries off down a fungus encrusted sewer hole in the stone far too tiny for even the halfling to follow. After some poking about, the map I sketch to give them a purposefully rough idea of their options is reversed & shown to me: the phallic pareidolia is undeniable & we all spend a few minutes in stitches. Skipping the puddle of water, the group heads off down the most obvious passageway.



The player characters were originally captured by the drow with a number of non-player characters. Along the way the way they've lost members, both to violent attrition like the drow Sarith to an ooze, but also to a friendly parting, as when they returned Shuushar the kuo-toa to Sloobludop. Their gregarious Lynchian derro companion Buppido helped them get to Gracklstugh safely before eagerly parting ways with the group. Off, coincidentally enough, to the Whorlstone Tunnels, where they find him now in a chamber that reeks of cooking meat, lined with humanoid bones, piles & piles of varied kinds. He keeps his usual jolly demeanor, overjoyed that one of them will be the last sacrifice he needs to unleash his true self, the god of madness & visions, Diirinka! & with that, he somehow raises the six freshest skeletons & attacks. Unfortunately for him, Norin is a cleric & she turns the majority of the undead quite handily. Those that are left, & Buppido, concentrate their attacks on her-- I confess that my personal motto is "kill the cleric first"-- but are dealt with in turn. Upon which point, while Serafin sneaks a mouthful of Buppido's suspicious cooking, a nosferatu-esque gnome ghost creeps out of the floor...& rather casually chats up the party. Pelek asks them to find his necromanticaly animated hand & take it to Blingdenstone for burial, mentioning the "Eat Me" growth & shrinking powers of the bigwig & pygmywort mushrooms clumped about the caves...like the ones by the miniscule tunnel where Droki vanished.

One big upshot of a traditional "dungeon" is that I'm already prepped for next session...
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Farewell to Ord Mantell. [May. 22nd, 2017|03:13 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Goodbye, Droid City.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. alexandre desplat- Star-Killer]



Raj couldn't make it to gamenight, but since last session focused on Jax Cadderly, his gunslinging gambler, we decided to press on without him. Things actually worked out quite alright with that, timing-wise: the session ended up being a long montage sequence that enabled a lot of character & relationship development, as well as a slight swelling of the semi-permanent ensemble cast. In terms of plot development, all that really happened was that they overcame some slight life-or-death situations to pack up & blast off from the hidden pirate base in the Savrip catacombs, but we learned a lot more about our cast of protagonists & their supporting ilk, instead. With the Imperial Remnant embodied in the Praetorians permanently occupying the planet, any hope the Droid Uprising had of coming to some pragmatic conclusion with the crimelord Concilliator Kek is gone. Now, they wish to send 4-DOX with the player characters to seek the holdout Rebel Alliance ship the Old Mother, & her Mon Calamari captain Navigator Marid, to plead for recognition & assistance from the New Republic. Ready to get off-world, our heroes are eager to agree to help, & set out to put their affairs in order.

Para Totool, the human engineer haunted by her Imperial past that Rachel plays, now subtly marked on her neck & shoulder with black veins from her brush with the vampiric Dark Side wielder, stayed in the converted hanger to make sure all their ships were in final order for hyperspace travel. Her TIE/interceptor, the TIE/boarder of Eris' that they fixed up, & the staryacht they stole at the start of it all are all painted the dark grey & blue colour schemes of the Imperial Navy, but Para gets it set in her heart of hearts to get the False Profit chromed out like a Nubian, so after tinkering with Jolit's parrot droid little buddy, she sets out into the junkyard catacombs built by Savrip grave-robbers. Just a few repairs on the simple little ID9 droid...including installing a long-range spy camera & naming her "Wrench." Then off to magpie through the decapitated droid bits & humanoid skeletons lining the caverns, hoping-- not entirely without good reason-- to find some shiny paint! Distracted by dreams of sparkling sheens & vigorous rummaging, she doesn't hear the sickened wheeze of a trumpet-throat behind her, doesn't hear the crunch of bones under enormous feet...

Repaired but with the permanent damage from the red lightsaber leaving a distinctly synthetic torso under his tunic, Joey's human replica droid Jolit meanwhile heads into Whorlport, to make sure his duties as faux-cyborg liaison between the robot world & the organic world don't fall apart in his absence, especially as the Imperial crackdown renders the peaceful facets of the Uprising somewhat moot. Analysis droids & labour droids issue flat, plaintive synthetic cries as bountyhunters & stormtroopers act as strikebreakers outside the assembling factories as Jolit creeps through the multi-tiered neon-lit streets of Ord Mantell's cyberpunk capitol. Blink-E, the "affectionately" dubbed patchwork droid assembled from juryrigged battledroid pieces, its once humble origins as a domestic droid obscure now, is given the tap to take over in Jolit's absence, & the synthetic humanoid notices a lacunae, a hole in his personality where "leadership" ought to be. Settled up, he gets ready to head back to the Scraplands...only to encounter an Imperial Security Bureau checkpoint, with a half dozen sinister agents accompanied by interrogation droids & a sable AT-ST straddling the intersection, mounted with an upgraded sensor array, scanning the crowd. The circle of red light passes over Jolit...& he awkwardly freezes. At which point it flashes back to silhouette him...

Burke was the last to arrive, per bedtime duties, which worked out just fine, since after Theynur Kötturinn, the felinoid explorer, revealed her Force powers saving Jolit on the ISD Rubicon, she passed out. Everyone assumed at first it was from preternatural exertion, but a closer look at the flaps of her nostrils with a misanthropic FX medical droid reveals the telltale signs of drug overdose: she's huffed so much avabush spice that she went on the nod. While she sleeps, she dreams-- but for those adept in the ways of the Force, who can say what dreams may come? Some kind of witch-hunter cardinal, pike-carrying & armored like Vader's Inquisitors from Rebels crossed with the Royal Guard, in this case. Red robed & cenobite gorgeted, topped with a tulip helm the hiss of a breath mask, the heavy hand of fate. Theynur can feel the Dark Side turning the inside of her brain to cinders, burning holes in the celluloid of her memories. The prison cell from her vision dissolves into the eerie droid medical bay, & groggily collecting her senses, she rounds up the Chiss privateer Eris Berserk & the two of them depart the robot's Lord of the Flies ship & return to the Savrip catacombs for their final departure.



No one knows anything about Savrips. Sure, they are the native "semi-sentient" lifeform of Ord Mantell but their numbers have been dwindling thanks to scalpers & slavers since being declared non-people by the Empire. If Eris was there, she could tell Para that the egg-shaped tunnels lined with bones & bots she's used as her pirate hideout are made by the Savrips as they near the end of their lives & enter a "death musth," collecting crypt-debris & growing increasingly isolationist & violent. Para is too horrified by the gigantic beast that grabs at her with gnashing claws & a sinuous neck to notice the reek of sickness, the sunken eyes, or to recall the well-known Savrip sweet-tooth. Not so surprised as to completely lose her wits; she struggles a hand free as it raises her overhead to smash her down, fighting it every step of the way. It lashes a tentacle-tongue around her neck, long & numbing-- coated with a paralytic venom, the ex-Imperial can feel her muscles going limp. Ah; the tunnels are egg shaped because with their long necks & prehensile tongues, Savrips can reach higher than their arms. Para grabs a manual clamp out of her many-pocked field engineer's armor, closing it with a magnetic snap on the alien beast's tongue. While it writhes in pain she throws a horned humanoid skull off into the distance, confusing the creature long enough to crawl away on uncooperative limbs.

Jolit has somehow managed to combine Rogue One's urban insurgent attack with Han Solo's detention bloc monologue from A New Hope. "You there, cyborg, where are your papers?" is not best met with "uh, negative, this is all...cosmetic. Totally not a cyborg. Everything's perfectly normal. I'm fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?" Luck, or the Force, is with him as he bolts for an alley; the AT-ST doesn't appear to have any regard for public safety, firing after him, but missing wildly. A geodesic dome building's thin polymer cover catches ablaze & rusted shopfronts collapse behind him, giving Jolit room to abscond...but he's cut off from his swoop bike & the anti-electronic blue horizon is making its way over to him. He calls Eris Berserk to come pick him up, so the cyborg shipjacker grabs the TIE/boarder & sets out. She's really been bussing them all around this session; with so many departures & arrivals it's hard to get the continuity straight, like the end of Empire Strikes Back; did we mention that Jax, since Raj can't make it, has been off on his own confidential errand this whole time?

Katee, the astroprobe droid, is trying frantically to tell Theynur something (along the lines of "Para is getting Wampa'd!") but the Farghul just can't make out her hurried binary. After enough fruitless back & forth, they wander deep enough into the tunnels in just the nick of time to discover Para Totool & help her up & through the blast doors of the hangar, though the frenzied Savrip remains without, pounding on the metal bulkhead. Rejoined by Jolit, the replicant & the mechanic try to explain to Theynur what's been going on since she's been in a drug-induced coma. In a nutshell: the Empire want Eris Berserk to get to her brother, Cadecus Dee, who has their prototype Star Destroyer The Insidious, & the weapon codenamed STARKILLER. They all suit up & strap in, Theynur in her X-wing & Eris & Para to their respective TIEs, leaving Jolit & 4-DOX at the helm of their stolen Sorosuub spaceyacht. Neither droid can really fly, but they can see Jax on a speeder headed their way just ahead of the indigo sunrise...on a bike being piloted by Sshushath the Zode, the Trandoshan ex-gladiator whose Wookiee life companion the Imperator just executed for the crime of being tricked by the PCs. I've got the smartlights at home glowing blue, & Jolit is afraid to grab the helm, but with no other options finally does so, awkwardly cruising out of the bay & lowering the landing ramp for the now one-handed reptilian & scoundrel to jump in dramatically, ion sparks crackling, before punching it!

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Star Wars: End of Empire: The Red Sun Rises. [Apr. 21st, 2017|11:09 pm]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, , ]
[Current Mood |Wheels within wheels.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. tech m'or- mad mad me]


(Frankensith, concept art by Joey Ammons.)

The White Zone, Imperial district of Worlport. A scarlet Praetorian Star Destroyer hangs turgid over the city. Far below it, the Imperator stands at a podium before an AT-AC3, an all-terrain armored command, control & communications walker. She is backed by four ominous Royal Guards, Vice Moff Solt & Countessa Misaani. They are flanked in turn on each side by black clad ISB agents with disruptor pistols & silently hovering interrogation droids (white jackets are internal affairs) & a squad of stormtroopers mounted on AT-PTs with a lead AT-ST scout walker centered behind Imperator Pryl: Imperial nesting eggs.

Tanda Pryl's voice is beautiful & stentorious, Chandrilan debate school crisp as she says, in summary, that Wuukar the Wookiee is an escaped slave & droid saboteur conspiring to create disruptions across the Bright Jewel system. While his alien accomplice Sshushath has been conscripted into a labor force for rehabilitation, Wuukar has squandered the second chance indenture had given him...

..& with that she personally executes the Wookie by red bladed laser sword, a sizzling slice as the bloody eye of Ord Mantell's crimson sun rises, the Star Destroyer's eclipse keeping the Imperator shadowed. Obviously, she says now backlit a toxic cadmium red, these brutes are not the brains behind the mass droidjacking, & so she offers a one million credit reward for the capture of the cyborg terrorist Eris Berserk, mastermind behind these Rebel crimes.

The PCs have no problem slipping past Imperial patrols & joining the flotilla of troopships landing on the planet, having already filed forged flight plans & gotten proper clearances. Their refurbished TIE/boarder cruises across the sky ahead of the horizon, & the hologram projections of the Imperator looming statuesque in the skyline, even as the astroprobe Kaytee's own holoprojector renders it in miniature for the characters in the boarding pod of the starfighter. In the background comms as the PCs talk, she can be heard with the rest of the boilerplate you expect from Commander Verbost's call: mandatory re-enlistment for every former imperial servant on favourable terms or forcible conscription. Crimes against the Empire are punishable by periods of indenture. The Empire pledges to respect individual world's traditions & corporate practices of indenture. Already the Sorosuub Sales Vichy shows the benefits of accepting Praetorian protection...

Fleeing the ISD Rubicon & a brush with the Dark Side, Joey's character Jolit's organic sheath is cauterized meat, his internal systems are ruptured & leaking an artificial person milky white from lightsaber wounds. Para Totool is a veiny blue, gasping for thin life from the lifedraining fingers of that...thing & the felinoid Theynur has passed out after her visible use of the Force to save the replicant from certain doom. Eris flies back to her lair in the Savrip catacombs, where the droids have painted the staryacht False Profit in Imperial colour schemes. The privateer has had her bacta tank installed inside, & Jax & AK-88 load Rachel's injured character Para in. The blue-skinned Chiss cyborg stalks back from her quarters where she had been conferring with the leaders of the Droid Uprising, The Committee, & says she's going to fly Jolit there to get him repaired...with the datatape from the not-quite successful attempt to steal a corvette-class Star Destroyer. Jax Cadderly, on the other hand, the droids have a mission for: they need him to go steal or win the protocol droid & Uprising spy, 4-DOX. It was taking the fall for the heist of her memory crystal that got Wuukar executed, & The Committee has decided that it is time for her to come in from the cold.


(Jax Cadderly, concept art by Joey Ammons.)

Jax Cadderly is Raj's character, & he takes off on a swoopbike muttering “why’s it always have to be red lightsabers?” under his breath, cruising to the Blue Pyramid, a sabacc parlor that sits on the very edge of the cliff marking the border of the Scraplands, the garbage prairies & junkyard canyons of rust & ruin. In fact, the eponymous azure "pyramid" of the Blue Pyramid is just the tip of an ancient blue obelisk, its length running down the full height of the chasm, revealed From Dusk till Dawn style, as the giant walker-sized droids with molten cores known as Fire-breathers stomp below gulping up garbage in their flaming maws. The massive incinerator bots are overseen by the tiny Junkers, who some believe to be Jawas given over to cybernetic addiction. The Jawas themselves have built modest second-hand empires, flitting about on sandskiffs, "fishing" with electromagnets, divining the best salvage. One of the newly lower middle-class Jawa "princes," Knnick-Knnick, is entering, just as Jax arrives, in clean blue robes & a conical metal hat.

The musician is a Bith named Tech M'or, a light pianist who occasionally uses an omni-box or mood-synth to create a Godspeed You! Black Emperor-like post-Modal Aubade cantina song for the film's soundtrack. The tech'ed out Quarren infochant in the corner, Valdo Vance, has cables jacked into the back of his head, mirroring the tentacles of his face, piping data as slicers & snitches whisper & exchange datachips with him. Several droids sit, kneel or wheel up to his palanquin-throne to get junk code uploaded, luminescent hallucinadraulics pumped into their systems along bright fiberoptic lines. Partially obfuscated by spice-clouds, a diabolical Devonian, skeletal Given & tenebrous Defel huddle in a booth talking to a humanoid figure on a holoprojecter; Meph, Rerak & Sk'ol. (Of course all of the background characters have names & their own stories: this is Star Wars.) Known for being an "off-white" bar for the Imperial margins, there are clumps of Garrison folks slumming it at the Blue Pyramid, but it is empty of the usual "former" Imperials in the wake of the Praetorian's ISB crackdown.

Crosh is reprised by Joey, a callback to the first appearance of deuteragonist villainy, the arms dealer getting a spin with Jolit out of comission; all the while Para floats in a bacta tank & Rachel tries out the espionage droid 4-DOX, whose surface persona ends up a bit Lucille Ball's Gal Friday. The proprietor & dealer at the Pyramid, Mu, is held in awe by the Junkers & Jawas, the cyborgs & cultists, because it is— or was— a B'omarr monk, a brain cut free from any meat body, pickled inside a BT-16 spider droid & running a casio as a low-ley temple to entropy & chance. Crosh brings 4-DOX to the table to help him decipher non-human tells & bluffs, as he plays with a cast of otherworldly scum & villainy. Jax sits down with a flourish of his long coat that brandishes his heavy blaster, bluffing for all the world like he belongs there…& they deal him in.

    Zar Stygos is a Zygerian Slaver with Thundercats hair, a bejeweled chestplate & delicate golden manacles, himself belonging to another Zygerian, the suzerain Baal Maat. A nostalgic fan of the in-the-sand rivalry between Sshushath the Zode & Wuukar, the reptilian Trandoshan kneels next to the slaver’s stool with an exploding collar around his neck, having been won by Zar Stygos from Crosh after a particularly dramatic hand. Over the course of the game, Jax Cadderly sees him playing with a skifter, a fraudulent sabacc card that lets you chose what it displays, but the slaver is using it to lose, so no one calls him on it. He elucidates the Praetorian’s goal of setting up a system of “triangle trade,” in which war profiteers like Crosh form one corner, with slaves & spice holding up the other ends. Already, semi-sentients like the Savrips are being pre-emptively “indentured.”

    Conscience Argos, though Jax never actually gets his name, is a thinspun human in formal purple robes with a tall lavender hat, face haunted by pupil dark eyes from iris to sclera. A spice pusher from Kessel, he passes a little silver tray in the scoundrel’s direction, offering a friendly bump of cardamom-scented Avabush or the more volatile Glitterstim, a substance that crackles prismatic in the light as Argos snorts a line. Avabush, Jax knows, has a side effect of acting like a truth serum. Glitterstim is much more intense, rumored to heighten your senses to the edge of ESP but with an addictive edge. Jax declines to sample the wares. An acolyte of fear, Argos finds the Imperator’s shock & awe tactics an admirable use of limited forces, & mentions that the elite research teams of The Maw are hard at work developing some kind of droid control signal, a broadcast restraining bolt.

    [Low Snarl] has a name that to many ears is just a guttural growl; Low Snarl is the Basic transliteration. He is a Gank killer in caution yellow heavy armor, wolfish face behind a tinted plasteel helmet hemorrhaging sparkplug cyber-brain structures in the back. The shaded helm sparkles with occasional diode flashes: a successful Xenology check lets Jax know that Gank’s have a cultural tradition of cybernetic upgrades, starting with an internal communication device, so he keeps his cards low so that the mercenary's packmates, like [Young Gold] at the bar, can’t read his hand. He has a predator’s glee at the Empire forcing the Hammerheads to strip-mine Ithor & chop down their Mother Jungle to fuel the war machine. Voice a hungry animal grumble rendered binary then dulcet by an implanted vocoder, [Low Snarl] sees the Praetorians as a pack of hunters, herding & culling their prey with a doctrine of buffer states & soft occupation.

    “Mother,” is what Zar Stygos calls the occupant of the booth the game table is backed up against. Blocked by a white privacy holoscreen, it is unclear if “Mother” is a name, title or term of endearment, as the occupant is completely concealed. She doesn’t speak, but when appropriate, old hands reach out through the intangible holographic screen to play her hand with black nails sharpened to talons & a gleaming poison needle attached to her index finger.

The gambling itself is fairly close to how the game suggests you run it. Cool or Deception, based on how you’d like to play your hand, plus Skullduggery if you want to cheat, 4-DOX, giving purposefully bad advice to Crosh, gives him penalties. Jax builds up the pot & talks trash about Crosh gambling with worthless Imperial credits while somehow convincing Zar Stygos to give him Sshushath the Zode outright, as Cadderly waxes poetic about being a true fan of the dried-up ex-gladiator. Losing on purpose & handing out slaves like party favours seems to be Zar's thing. It also gives Jax an in to provoke Crosh into betting his droid. Everything seems to be going great; a mixture of social engineering & being a skilled cardshark just might be their ticket out of here without any entanglements.

Which is when the saloon doors get kicked in by whooping, shouting gangbangers. Street toughs with T-shaped fluorescent tattoos over their eyes, nose & lips, one with sharp cheekbone lines, one with uni-visor goggles, all dayglow Mandolorean-esque. Their leader is a bald man who speaks excitedly, shouting frequently, periodically sucking a big hit of stimulant spice from a aerosol mask clipped to his chest like Saw Gerrera. Hopper Rose, an underboss of Black Sun Vigo Rao Kast. This is Conciliator Kek’s turf, but Hopper & his tribe of miscreants & Mando-wannabes— Bambam, Shank, Wriggles, Skeeter & Dalton— are here to…persuade Crosh that not selling his TIE fighters to Rao Kast is a bad idea. The problem is that Crosh is supposed to be exclusively supplying the Praetorians now, &…

…& then they spot Jax Cadderly. See, Jax & their boss, the Mandelorian former-assassin & crimeboss, go way back, back to a game of cards that went in Jax’s favour in a big way. Totally legit, he swears. Maybe they just want to haze Jax when they see him, but...maybe not. Either way, just as they get the shark smiles of bullies on their faces, the scoundrel whips out his blaster & gives Hopper a taste of hot laser, because, let’s all say it together, Jax always shoots first. The crew’s vibroblades come out; shivs for most of them, but Hopper Rose has a pair of vibroswords across his back, & before you can sneeze they are in his hand…& Sshushath the Trandoshan rages too, throwing caution to the wind & remembering past glories, giving Jax & 4-DOX— the droid all business now, dropping the flapper mumbo-jumbo as the infiltration protocols take hold— the opening they need to abscond, fleeing the scene to rendezvous with the Droid Uprising!

The leadership of the robot revolution, The Committee, hide in a circular, antique Separatist Lucrehulk-class capital ship gone submarine. It breaches the sea of toxic runoff & sinks again, keeping the droids secret’s in the dark of the ocean, half the rusted majesty of a former droid army, half the torture dungeons of Jabba’s palace, free of the conventions of organic morality or aesthetics. Eris Berserk & a repaired & healed Jolit & Para Totool rejoin Jax as 4-DOX leads them to the bridge of the ship, the bulb in its center, which is jammed full of hundreds & hundreds of astromech droids. Mostly R-series, including the curmudgeonly hitchhiker droid R5-NE Theynur Kötturinn picked up to make the hyperspace jump here in the first place. Linked & webbed over with cords, running in serial, electronic guts strewn about the room, The Committee is trying to calculate the odds of...well, everything.

Decrypting the stolen files from the Vigil-glass Star Destroyer is the agenda of the moment, & the number-crunching machines are chirping & whistling cacophonously away as the tape is plugged into the lone central control console. Looking through the code for headers & tags, keeping focus as line after line of semi-decipherable symbols slip by, the players do their best to help. The Empire isn't really looking for Eris Berserk, as it turns out. They are looking for her brother, her clutchmate, Cadecus Dee, for stealing a prototype Star Destroyer. A “kitchen sink” project starting with a cloaking device, The Insidious also includes interdiction capabilities, shield drainers, phase disrupters, a variety of other experimental weapons & countermeasures…& something else the Imperator is chasing. She doesn't want Eris at all, she's after something called Starkiller.



Wipe to an escape pod bobbing in space, scooped up by Lamda-class shuttle & flown into red Star Destroyer.

Cut to the TIE Ace Jeran Gauth from last session being questioned in interrogation by white-coated ISB Loyalty Officers, but rather than being mistreated he's obviously furnished with water & a stiff drink. Overseen by Lieutenant Commander Ulma Verbost, the Imperial Rachel helped flesh out as her PC’s former protége, the pilot from The Rubicon is looking at a holo-table, like a dejarik board, displaying corrupted security footage, rendered in three grainy blue dimensions: Blurry "bigfoot" images of the patchwork Dark Side user, strained by static. The “Frankensith” in the databank surrounded by frenzied, Jacob’s Ladder’d engineers. Freeze frame & rotate of stormtroopers being swarmed by a horde of maniacs. A bridge crew suicided en masse, along with the captain. The PC party in the databank messing with the tapes.

ISB silently hands Jeran Gauth a holochip, which he stares at for a moment before returning to them, & nodding. The agents hand the chip to Ulma, & she exits to the observation room, where a Royal Guard looms, observing silently. Ulma says to its back: "Lieutenant Commander Gauth can confirm. It was Para Totool, working with some wretched crew of smugglers & bounty hunters. She's part of the Rebel Alliance, & a traitor."

The figure in red just stands there, monolithic. But already plans are in motion...
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Mutiny on the ISD Rubicon. [Mar. 25th, 2017|06:49 pm]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, , ]
[Current Mood |If you only knew the power of the Dark Side...]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. michael giacchino- starkiller suite]


(The ISD Rubicon, ship by Ansel Hsiao.)

The human replica droid Jolit is standing in front of a seething, writhing mass of darkness. The end of the world given tangible form as seen through an observation window, like the one at the end of Empire Strikes Back on the medical frigate. A pane out into the void, or in this case, the Void, as the x-rays of a massive singularity-mass object play across his optics. Behind him: the sounds of magma & lava, the erupting roar of the fiery earth making fists of flame. He turns, & there is a ledge overlooking a black basalt plain, split by a Nile Delta of rivers of fire, & inhumanly shaped stairs leading down. Jolit takes them awkwardly, ending up in a medical theater, strapped to a table. Paralyzed, unable to move, he cannot even struggle against the restraints &...there are whirring drills & laser scalpels in his brain, boring into the back of his skull, lobotomizing him, the smell of his own burning grey matter a horrid parallel to the smell of dental work in progress. The faces surrounding him are oversized metal masks, hacking & coughing, skull-like visages looking down on him...& he wakes up from shut down mode in the cyborg pirate Eris Berserk's quarters, looking at her in her Ellen Ripley underwear bobbing in a tank of bacta, armless, her blue torso studded with feeding tubes & respirator valves...holding a drill & a bone saw in his hands.

Joey's malfunctioning assassin droid's dream sequence aside-- the rest of the party seriously considers putting a restraining bolt on him-- from there it's a montage sequence. Using such storytelling tricks is one of the ways I hoping to instill a cinematic feel, as well as things like this session's cold open & wipes to advance the story, like how we exited the montage. Last session ended with them getting a payday & hatching a plot to steal a corvette class Star Destroyer that Eris' contacts have reported adrift & seemingly abandoned. Eris has a semi-scrapped TIE/br Boarding Shuttle, a TIE/br Bomber variant whose payload is exchanged for plasma cutters & room for a squad of stormtroopers. It is rusted out & the drive system isn't piling, & Para Totool, the former Imperial officer played by Rachel, stays behind to work on it, with Jolit's ID-9 "parrot" droid helping out with the paint job. Jolit, meanwhile, practices with his new vibro-axe, & Eris shows up, mentioning incidentally that her "vibro-blaster" combo weapon was a gift from the man who taught her everything she knows, the Chiss teaching the droid a few moves that work for wielders with jacked-up cyberarms, like they both have.


(Jolit, concept art by Joey Ammons.)

Jax Cadderly, gambler & smuggler on the run described by Raj as "what if Han & Lando had a son," goes to one of the franchised medical droid booths in Whorlport, 21-B9's, something like a healthcare automat in a Zoltan vending machine. Theynur Kötturinn, Burke's felinoid Farghul Force-sensitive fringer, has...felt something, a disturbance in the Force, when Para's fancy flying saved them all by the skin of their teeth in the collapsing super-structure of The Girders. She gives Para a bit of mumbo-jumbo, enough to spook the ex-Imperial, & Jolit returns to "help" with the ship just in time to scrape up the paint & get scolded by his own multi-purpose droid. Jax, back in Whorlport, is following up on a tip from Eris about his...well, his nemesis. He's on the run from a Black Sun crime boss who retired upward from wetwork, Rao Kast. "Wait, as in Jodo Kast?" asks Raj; well, yeah! He's a Mandelorian, they come in clans! There's an abandoned commerce guild big box store filled with gonk droids, each tethered to brightly coloured flutterplumes, the avianoids a rainbow code for dead drops, love letters & other anonymous exchanges. Jax can't figure the setup out, but spots some of Kast's low level gangsters hanging around, Mando-wannabes swaggering with vibroswords & ultra-violent colours. Back at the shop, Para & the droids get the bomber up & running again; in fact the whole engine block is brand new, they just had to peel off the factory presets!

Running the Imperial blockade isn't actually all that difficult, if you plan things correctly! Theynur is in the TIE boarding shuttle's cockpit, cat-like features obscured by the TIE fighter pilot's helmet; she's filed a false flight plan in the navicomputer that makes it look like the ship is meant to go to a rendezvous location & wait for a transfer...& the Bureau of Ships & Services agent in her TIE interceptor & her two wingman assume by the crisp paint job, 501st worthy, that it is a VIP pick-up. Some fast talking gets them past the orbital BoSS inspection with no issues, the TIEs distinctive roar accompanying them as they fly past the Jubilee Wheel space station & Crosh's hijacked Kuat shipyards. The Imperial fleet is daunting: three Super Star Destroyers, flanked by classic Star Destroyers in Royal Guard scarlet. Out into the Oort cloud; the Ord Mantell system has only the single planet, & is one of a number of stars in the Bright Jewel nebula. The frozen comets floating there are vast, & scuttling in the void amongst them are the goliath binary starsifters, very similar to binary vaporators in most respects except scale. The things are capital ship sized, robots with transluscent nautilus shells filled with churning gears of darkness & light, with "tentacles" of optics, sensors, manipulators & inputs. They mine the ice & rock of the comets, building more of themselves & refining rare cosmic minerals. Friendly to the Droid Uprising, they put out a "goldrush" call to scramble any sensors in the area & provide cover for the TIE Bomber to abscond, the operatic vacuum of space split by the sounds of an R2 unit's whistles & chatter, dragged out long & low like humpback whale calls.


(Eris Berserk, concept art by Joey Ammons.)

The Rubicon is stranded in a death spiral around a proto-star condensing in the nebula, a stellar whirlpool that Theynur slingshots around, bringing the TIE up to one of the corvette's docking ports. Para & Jax are in imperial uniforms & Theynur's species is still masked under a TIE pilot's helmet, & Jolit they figure they can explain away as a bounty hunter: if the craft isn't as abandoned as it appears to be, they are set to bluff their way through as a salvage & repair team. Eris waits at the getaway ship to make certain nothing goes awry with the escape plan. The thermal shielding on the Star Destroyer is down, & the ship is frosty but the party is buttoned up tight-- Theynur especially in her environmental survival gear-- & weather it well. Two things besides that are immediately worrying: Jax & the Farghul smell hints of refined Tibana gas, & conclude there must be a dangerous power conduit leak somewhere on the ship. The other is the sound of Jokerized, haunting laughter echoing through the corridors...occasionally accompanied by the sounds of screams of terror, suddenly cut short. Welcome, friends! The players are thinking of standing their ground to confront whatever hyena-thing is cackling in the distance, but a chamber portal slides open & a pilot officer is there gesturing frantically for them to get inside & take cover. He's Lieutenant Commander Jeran Gauth, TIE ace, & with him is the injured stormtrooper Sergeant Eevee, EV-2600. Her arm is severed & none of the party has the medical expertise to alleviate her pain, but the hiding Imperials do confirm: red saber, & there is something mysterious "compromising" the crew. Para, who outranked sailors & soldiers like this in her day, order Lieutenant Commander Gauth to lead the way, & Jolit is helping carry Eevee, as an honorary member of the one-arm club that he & Eris are in.

The party's plan is two-fold. The priority is to grab the file on Eris from the ship's main computer hub, to discover why the Imperator of the Imperial Praetorians is looking for her, & the secondary mission-- frankly, our party's heart's ambition-- is to steal the ship itself. Para has her own mission, as well, & with her ordering Jeran Gauth around, they find the datacore with no difficulties. It is a Rogue One situation: a massive shaft running the depth of the ship, with the datatapes stored in a stack down the middle, accessible by remote-controlled arms, & a separate workstation to look up the reference tags & metadata. Your typical user interface experience. The players characters & NPCs set up cross-fire covering the corridors while Para & Theynur try to hack the system with a dataspike. They are bemused to discover that AK-88, the astroprobe droid, is not any good at computers...there's a reason the R-series was so popular! Her programming from the probe side of her lineage gives her the Vigilance skill, & she burbles off a warning as a small horde of utterly silent naval engineers charge them with pipes & shivs. Para grabs her datatape & tries to reprogram it with heightened security clearances, as if plotting to play double-agent some day; she glitches the final line of code but doesn't notice, thinking she's succeeded. Eyes bleeding as they charge, the party cuts the quietly berserker greasemonkeys down with blaster fire, with the ones that get close enough mowed down by Jolit like Obi-Wan in a bar fight. Still, there are just enough of them to stab the already wounded EV-2600 to death with their crudely made knives. Hearing more frantic boots, they grab Eris' tape-- marked with the highest levels of encryption-- & abscond.


(Para Totool, concept art by Joey Ammons.)

There's a matter of opinion on weather they should head towards the bridge, or back to the bomber. On one hand, wasn't the whole point to steal a Star Destroyer, even if it is a miniature one? Para needs to transport something...big. On the other hand...red lightsaber, & some insinuation that whatever is attacking the ship needs someone to help pilot the ship. They can't ask too many questions for fear of blowing their cover with Gauth, but enough of them seem committed to going back to their TIE boarding ship that they are headed that way by inertia. The astroprobe proves her worth again, making sure they don't get lost in ship's maze of hallways during their expeditious retreat. Not fast enough, though: just as they round the corner to the airlock, something...else comes down the intersecting passageway. Something in layers of tattered robes; as if one was worn threadbare, another put over top & worn ragged, another placed over that to get tangled & torn, all resulting in draping ribbons, a ringwraith hood, & the dull hum & crimson glow of the promised red lightsaber.

I thought I might have to kill someone. They make a fear check, & Jeran Gauth is the only one who fails it, straight-up hightailing it out of there to save his own skin. It is a little bit Tantiv IV hallway, if you know what I mean; Jax (who always fires first) & Para open up with their weapons but the blaster bolts don't seem to phase the thing. Its fingers are mismatched & crudely stitched together-- they dub the hysterical thing Frankensith-- & as they touch Para's face she goes blue as the life begins to flow out of her & into the Force vampire. She's felt a hate & rage this strong before, because she's been on the outskirts of the room when Darth Vader was present, back when he was still alive & before she fled the empire, back when he would visit the woman Para served under, the woman who is now Imperator. Theynur can feel it too, simply because the Force is strong with her. Jolit takes a swing with his massive quivering blade & the vibroaxe thumps into flesh & metal...& again the thing is unmoved, except to jam it's lightsaber through his torso, out his back & then to score across his legs, knocking him prone, doing quite a bit of damage even while continuing to drain away the living Force from Para Totool with the Dark Side. Eris has the twin ion engines hot & her hand on the release clamp screaming "go, go, go!" & Jax Cadderly grabs Para out of the thing's clutches & into the hatch. Theynur, seeing Jolit on the ground, the nightmarish thing still giggling over him & ready with it's laser sword, snarls "we're leaving...now!" She reaches out with the Force, grabbing the replicant droid & yanking him into the craft with supernatural power. Eris pulls the lever &:

Cue the escape pod sound effect from Episode IV & then that TIE fighter scream!
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Eris & the Holograms. [Feb. 26th, 2017|07:42 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |This recap got very, very out of hand.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams- insidious]



After the theft of a starship last session we come back from the wipe to the classic Star Wars cutaway of howling engines shot from behind as the False Profit punches it out of the bore-hole of the subterranean casino city, followed by the darting shapes of two Cloakshape fighters in close pursuit. Think of them like the Millennium Falcon's cockpit with wings & guns bolted on, rocketing in chase of the stolen getaway ship. You remember our dramatis personae: Rachel's character, the former Imperial mechanic Para Totool, is in the pilot's seat; Jolit the human replica droid infiltrator played by Joey is next to her, trying to figure out how to be helpful; & Raj's scoundrel Jax Cadderly is the group's face, down in the docking port clutching his wounded shoulder. Burke is running a little late, but I actually have a perfect deus ex machina for that: his character the felinoid Force-sensitive Farghul fringer Theynur Kötturinn runs to the back of the ship to find the transponder, seeking to disable it so they can't be tracked...& runs into a hovering black Imperial torture droid that promptly sticks her with a glistening syringe, dropping her to the ground, unconscious!

The dice mechanics of Fantasy Flight's Star Wars games are like reading the oracle bones...& I am finding that I quite like it. Those garlands & radiation symbols, the "interesting results" rather than the straight-forward explosions & triangles as "successes" or "failures," pushes me to evolve the scene organically, forcing me to stretch as a DM when the dice show unexpected results. As a way of resolving narrative scenes it excels, but it can be a little complex for turn-by-turn resolution. Or maybe that's a result of us being novices with the rules, still trying to figure out how piloting works & wait, there is are d% critical tables hidden in here, etc. The moral of the story is I very much like the custom dice, though the granularity of all the tables & weapon qualities is perhaps a little less abstract than I'd prefer. Hopefully familiarity will make winging it second nature.

The rules certainly suited this scene well. Para banked the stolen yacht into the Girders, a vast field of skeletal durasteel beams from a Kuat Shipyards supercarrier that rained skyscraper-sized hull struts due to built Star Destroyer keels down on Ord Mantell after a severe suborbital malfunction decades ago. A maze of twists & unpredictable terrain that Para pilots the party's ship into rather than face the rust storm whipped up to the north, full of sharp flakes of metal in a hurricane of razors. Into the massive forrest of i-beams they fly; one of the Cloakshape fighters peels off in panic...but not before firing off a pair of concussion missiles, setting a mass of pillars into blazing domino hell. Inside the ship, Jolit is on top of the floating, spinning interrogation droid, a vibroknife jabbed into it's shell as Theynur drools on the floor below. Jax helps, blasting the thing as he comes up from the loading bay: Raj is pleasantly surprised to realize that Jax's in-game "show don't tell" has revealed that he is the one who shoots first.

Ducking & weaving through the groaning, shifting beams, Para flies the ship & the Force is with her...& it really is, as the players using the Destiny Pool to boost all of her rolls. The other fighter isn't so skilled, or lucky, & busts into a flat explosion against the side of one of the falling supports. Para tries to keep from being crushed beneath the same piece of superstructure, gunning the engine & hitting a hard skid to get the long body of the False Profit out from below, the engines making that distinctive Lucas-y guttural motorcycle growl...& fails. I have Rachel roll on the Critical table, & she gets "Tailspin": just the nose is clipped, spiderwebbing the cockpit window with cracks & sending the ship into a Top Gun spiral, headed downward & towards the brutal rust storm as Para struggles, unable to reach the controls against the g-forces. Jolit finishes off the imperial droid-- tougher than he thought!-- & it's repulsors die & drop him to the group just in time for the centripetal force of the spin they are in to throw him to the wall. Theynur, coming to & still groggy, nevertheless manages to acrobatically move along the walls against the motion of the ship, slip down into an access pod, & disable the transponder beacon. Jax, gritting his teeth against the pain & vertigo, crawls his way down into the engineering section...& manages to kill the starboard engines, compensating for the spin & rescuing the ship before it can crash.

Pulling a classic Star Wars vertical 180°, they fly the ship back into the Girders, nestling the luxury spaceyacht into the crook of two where they will be hidden away. A sly move; any pursuers will likely assume they died in the conflagration; that's certainly what the surviving Cloakshape fighter pilot reports back to the Black Sun. Inside, the party gets to paranoia. Jolit, all on his lonesome, gets his hands in the guts of the ITO interrogation droid & convinces it to spit out a holorecording: the green-skinned (though how can you tell, on the blue holoprojection?) Faleen Concilliator Kek boarding the False Profit with his entourage of the Contessa, Vice Moff & the arms dealer Crosh. "They left this droid here to make direct contact with the Imperator; make sure it stays on the ship. I don't need it spying on our facilities." & with that it winks off, deleted from the buffer. Jax, searching for a bottle of Corellian brandy, rather easily finds 4-DOX's memory crystal, hidden in a Mon Calamari duo-directional water fountain on the luxurious upper deck, where there is also a long rectangular pool floating in the middle of the room, flanked by two rows of distinguished white holographic busts of a slowly shifting cast historical figures. The others give the rest of the sumptuously appointed ship a thorough ransacking just to be sure, finding some secret compartments but no other hidden foes. After some chatter, they contact Eris Berserk, who arranged this job for the Droid Uprising, & arrange the pick-up, past the blue horizon.

The cerulean sun of Ord Mantell's binary system creates an ionizing field, worse in the atmosphere, that shorts out droids, shields, & electronics. It also gives me an excuse to use my new smartlights for blue mood lightning, a trick that I first used in Out of the Abyss but that I first brainstormed for End of Empire. Flying the ship into blue daylight, they take cover by going down. Kuat Drive Yards had massive mining complex here-- that's what all these titanic bore holes are from, as well as the Girders-- & they take the False Profit in, idling slowly between rusty AT-CargoTs, six-legged walkers that once traveled single-file like mammoth Indiana Jones mine carts into the striped-out guts of the planet. Eris contacts them to tell the players the coordinates to meet her at: she's going to have them hide the ship down here & pick them up by landspeeder. Oh, & she's got a priority signal for Para: should she patch it through?

"This is Totool."

"Para, am I really the first to get through to you? That's fantastic! It's Ulma! Ulma Verbost, your old Ensign from the Elrood Sector! Listen, you've got to let me be the one who gets your re-enlistment bonus, I can really use the credits! Oh it's so fantastic, I can't wait for you to get back here: did you know the Imperator has your name double flagged on the roster as high value? I mean, they are frankly desperate for any officers, so you could pretty much write yourself a blank check anyhow, but you know how Pryl, sorry, the Imperator has always been about keeping her crew close to her, & besides that I guess your research on that planet you were obsessed with caught her eye as well. I'm so excited I got through to you, boss! Did you know your old middy would make Commander some day? Do you know I report directly to one of the Royal Guards? I've seen his face! Heck, they'll probably let you start a whole dewback program for those stupid monsters you love so much! The ISB say it's 5000 credits now, then ano..."

Click, as the players close the commlink in horror.

The tint of suspicion from earlier, at this point, erupts into full on Tarantino film paranoia. Para's backstory as an errant former Imperial is no secret, but she served with the Imperator? Eris, in a manta-shaped landspeeder with two big cannons & one big rear engine as the "tail," pulls up outside & the comm channel starts chirping again. Jolit & Jax get out of the ship-- Jax knows Eris best & Eris, with her sleek black cyborg arm counterpointing his overjacked cyborg arm, just seems to think Jolit is adorable-- & Theynur & Para cluster on the bridge, peeking through the crumpled transparent plasteel at the proceedings below. They've already been on the comm with Eris interrogating her about why she patched the call through ("because a call came in to Para's TIE fighter & knew all her code signs, that's why.") & how the Empire knew they would be there ("Why, because they were spying on the Black Sun?") & it ended with Eris calling them amateurs & refusing to talk further unless face-to-face.

Eris Berserk is one of the blue-skinned nearhuman Chiss. None of the party know any others, but while they aren't exactly common they aren't exactly unheard of, either. There are a few colonies of them here & there, like the Pantorans from the moon of Orto Plutonia, & a few famous examples, like the art-loving Grand Admiral Thrawn. They are renown for their cool composure...a trait Eris only occasionally shares. She can be downright coldblooded when the occasion calls for it, but otherwise she vacillates from fond detachment to frustrated rage. She's older, with shorn head except for a white forelock, & she's wearing her heavy black laminate breastplate with flashing lights in the chest & a voluminous if slightly tattered gown from a Chandrilan designer, leaning on her vibro-blaster. Jax & Jolit & her go around in circles for a bit, but eventually they all calm down, Para & Theynur come down, & the crew all head off in Eris' hammerhead landspeeder.

Bust out the death sticks & dive into the pirate booty! Into the creepy Savrip Catacombs they go. Decorated by the endangered Savrip species-- you know what they are, they are the holopiece in Dejarik that defeats the Gundark-- it is filled with the skulls & bones & droid pieces brought by centuries of elder Savrips in death musth. Now that cooler heads have prevailed, Eris breaks out her humidor & distributes the celebratory thick wraps of spice to the players & let's them comb through her trove of miscellaneous gear. What do you do with all that stormtrooper armor, swoop gang leathers, Gammorean vibroaxes & smuggler's pistols you've collected over your years of privateering? Chuck 'em in the junk room & forget about 'em till an occasion just such as this one! Telling the PCs to mind their Encumbrance ratings, a system that I think is plenty simple in this game, they get to pick out a blaster or vibro weapon of some kind & simple armor of their choice. It's the first costume change of the film & I tell them to think of it as a change to get a default look & visual cues settled.

Jolit puts together a complete set of laminate armor, other than his already well armored battledroid arm, Theynur pulls on a re-breather equipped set of environmental survival gear; Jolit picks up a vibrosword, Theynur a vibroaxe, swing them around experimentally, shrug, & swap. Jax puts on some piecemeal armor, a chestplate, & juices up to a heavy blaster. Rachel asks if there's some kind of mechanic overalls where the tools provide armor, & funnily enough I was just looking up the mechanic's utility suit! Besides that, they also manage to reactive an old astroprobe droid. Arakyd Industries was a droid manufacturer on Ord Mantell who was unable to recapture the success of their probe & scout droids, but never stopped trying, mostly by recycling other droid concepts. 4-DOX is a RA-series protocol droid, a bug-headed knock-off of the popular 3P0 model intended for non-human markets, for instance, & AK-88-- Theynur dubs her "Katee"-- is a similar attempt to capitalize on Industrial Automaton's popular but feisty astromech droids.

Star Wars movies are not shy about showing you scenes from the villain's point of view, & I wanted to keep that sense of cinematic logic so I reached into my bag of New School gaming tricks & decided that I wanted my PCs to get the chance to play deuteragonists from the other point of view. 4-DOX's bottled memories offer the perfect intro device: Eris plugs the holocrystal into the projecter table she has in a makeshift briefing room, & then I hand out NPC stats to the Players. They are Concilliator Kek's entourage, the fallen nobles, compromised Imperials & war profiteers who trail in his wake, come to bend the knee for the Imperator of the Imperial Praetorians, now that a fleet of Star Destroyers & three Super Star Destroyers have shown up in orbit. "I feel like we're playing the president's stupid, corrupt cabinet," someone says at one point, so mission accomplished. Concilliator Kek, breath mask hissing, orange topknot trailing, dressed in white wampa fur & glittering golden starbird scales, leads them into a long room on board The Eye, protected by a half dozen Crimson Guards & a copy of the Death Star throne. The secondary characters they play are:

    Crosh (Arms Dealer): A warlord who controls the old Old Sienar Fleet Systems orbital shipyards. Mostly fallen to decay, Crosh has scavenged the facility to keep it operational, cannibalizing the failing factories to cobble together some kind of operational assembly line. They now churn out mostly traditional TIEs, sold to corporate guilds, local systems, & criminal enterprises that want to bulk order starfighters. Not the most graceful of leaders, what Crosh lacks in subtlety he makes up for in decisiveness & low-cunning. Joey improved a reference to the arms dealer Crosh in the first session, & I knew then that I was definitely going to give him the NPC role that he'd just spun into existence, since I knew the holo-scene was coming up. He took a gruff tone & a pounding fist to the table.

    Vice Moff Pandar Solt (Corrupt Bureaucrat): Vice Moff Solt is absolutely terrible at his job-- that's why he has it. Never good enough to be quickly promoted through the ranks, never ambitious enough to have a position worthy of being thrust from by rivals or Force-choked by Lord Vader, Solt's studious mediocrity & lack of imagination presented an opportunity for Concilliator Kek, as Solt's imperial betters abandoned the proverbial ship. He sponsored Pandar's rise to command, making sure to keep a long holotrail of incriminating evidence & blackmail material along the way, though the pompous Vice Moff is utterly a creature of the Black Sun, & doesn't require much pushing. Played by Burke with a genteel obliviousness of ego.

    Contessa Wilva Misaani (Arrogent Heir): The young, spoiled heir of Ord Mantell technically owns the whole planet. Probably a few others? But Concilliator Kek controls Wilva's funds entirely. All of her credits are funneled through an anonymous banking clan account, to which only he has access, & Kek is not shy about making sure the Contessa knows that she is on a short leash. She may want to govern, but she has never been taught the skills needed to do so. She is a figurehead, trained to spend her allowance fashionably, & she knows it. The Contessa lives the life of an epicurean, hedonistically flirting & fencing her way petulantly across the scarred face of Ord Mantell. Raj relished the chance to play an opportunistic Paris Hilton.

    Commander Ulma Verbost (Naval Officer): Once upon a time Ulma Verbost was an ensign serving under Imperator Pryl, back when the Imperator was just a captain...but Verbost's mentor as a midshipman & direct report was Lieutenant Para Totool. When Para went AWOL, Ulma stayed, & in the power vacuum left after the Battle of Endor, her experience became a valuable commodity in the Empire's leftovers...& other than success, the only thing Pryl has always rewarded is loyalty, whether captain, admiral & Imperator. Now Ulma Verbost is a Commander, & her superior officer is a Royal freaking Guard. She's in charge of the TIE interceptors & other elite starcraft aboard the Super Star Destroyer The Eye. Rachel summoned her up with an Obligation check, & imbued her with a prideful stoicism.

Imperator Pryl enters, walking past the Royal Guards to stand behind the throne. Her naval uniform is crisp white & bears no rank, & she wears a white hooded cloak held together with same claps as Palpatine's robes. Her hair is a thick garland of blonde, wrapped around her head like a halo, & at her waist sits a lightsaber. She speaks plainly & with the illusion of choice, but the implicit threat behind her words needs very little underlining...especially with such eager toadies. The Imperator's agenda is this: she intends to govern. Not just conquer, but rule, & to do so she needs trade. She has access to the Imperial coffers...as long as someone honors the currency. To that end, Ord Mantell offers a unique opportunity: being resource poor but with countless factories, it makes a perfect import partner...much as Mandelore was once strip mined by the Republic to feed the shipyards. Furthermore, she has access to state of the art schematics, blueprints from someplace she calls "The Maw," research that she's willing to upgrade Crosh's factories with, as long as she can be his only customer.

To solve the Contessa's little droid problem, she will grant all sentients "the right of indenture," replacing droid workers with slave labour of another kind. The Praetorians also occupy the Spice Mines of Kessel, giving her control over the sole source of glitterstim in the galaxy...which the Black Sun can distribute. In fact, if Kek will swear allegiance to the Empire & stabilize the credit market, she will back him with force as Underlord of all the Black Sun. After conferring amongst themselves, the anti-party of course agrees to her terms, & the Imperator says she will begin sending down ISB agents for the re-enlistment & conscription drive immediately. She sends an ITO droid from the intelligence bureau with them as a rely so that she & Kek can be in direct contact, & dismisses them, adding one more thing: find Eris Berserk!

The scene ends with Kek telling Crosh to leave the torture droid on the spaceyacht, not wanting to take it into his lair: the scene Jolit first triggered, & with that they eject from the flashback & back into the pirate den. What to do, what to do! "Why do they have my name in their mouths?" wonders Eris, & while Jax tries to flatter her about her fame as a privateer, it falls short. Para doesn't exactly have a lot of chill for things as they stand, either, & so they all concoct a rather harebrained scheme. Based on some intel from Navigator Marid, the Mon Calamari running the Rebellion out here on this sector of the Outer Rim, one of the small, Vigil-class Star Destroyers is caught in a stormfront in the Bright Jewel nebula, one of the gravitic cyclones condensing into a nascent star. On the edges of this stellar whirlpool circles a seemingly abandoned Imperial capital ship. In order to find out why the Praetorians are searching for Eris, & what exactly is going on, they concoct a scheme to break in, raid the data banks &...steal a Star Destroyer.
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Out of the Abyss: Derendils & Dragons. [Feb. 24th, 2017|08:19 am]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, , ]
[Current Mood |So many delicious secrets I have.]
[Current Music |crown me king- plague of frogs]

Player Characters are truly rara avis. I thought I was still in the part of my Out of the Abyss story arc where I was leaving breadcrumbs, dangling hooks & putting Chekhov's guns up everywhere for some long-term plot lines, but I've had to escalate matters on one of my PC's threads, after advancing an Non-Player Character's backstory & causing a domino effect. It's funny; if you build a puzzlebox world & set up enough internally consistent rules...your players will eventually exploit the clockwork in ways you didn't expect but absolutely make sense. They'll also inevitably throw a monkeywrench in the gears at some point but I'm getting ahead of my story. It became the story of The Derendils & Norin, but it started quite differently, & with plenty of drama, besides.



The last session we played, separated in history by the holiday season & a wedding, ended with the players in Gracklstugh, non-lethally defeating a seemingly random two-headed giant with the help of some local duergar & a mixture of distraction & heavy blows to the head(s)...one mutated, incoherent with rage, the other seeming to silently be pleading for help. After taking him down, they were converged upon by a host of now-visible grey dwarves-- here, in the dark hollow center of the world, they are the Underdark's police state, with slave-stoked forges always clanking-- & another stone giant, like Easter Island's moai climbed out of the ground & clad in regalia made from scales of semi-precious stones.

The party splits into delegates to meet the emerging factions: Pook'cha the insectoid bard Sam plays goes to meet the dwarf in red dragonscale armor who is accompanied by pupiless-eyed mindthralls, random duergar passerby's psionically enslaved as an entourage: Gartokkar, the Firekeeper, agent of Themberchaud, the red dragon Wrymsmith. Imica, Jim's drow warlock, talks to Stonespeaker Hgraam of the Cairngorm stone giants. Serafin, the halfling ranger played by Pritpaul, addresses the Stone Guard, sent by Errde Blackskull, who answers directly to Deepking Horgar Steelshadow V. The wood elf cleric Norin that Ellen plays keeps her ears on all of the conversations, crashing Serafin's at the end when the Stone Guard police reveal that they have their friends in custody.

Negotiations with the stone giant clanlord Hgraam are easiest. He is pleased they did not kill Rahuud, & while he does not know what is going on but when they are done with all the "politics" he wants them to come speak to him. The other two factions...well, the psychic grey dwarf in incarnadine scales, Gartokkar says the dragon wishes to speak to the party immediately, & the players reasonably are cautious of offending a dragon. The tombstone-shielded Stone Guard are here to escort the players to their captain & try to use the fact that they have the party's friends imprisoned as leverage. Our heroes attempt somewhat successfully to mollify the guards but elect to seek out the dragon, first. Off down the proverbial yellowbrick road they go!



Or I should say "scarlet," as I pull out a cheesy trick from my new SFX toy. We got some smart lightbulbs that can project in different colours, so upon entering the lair of the red dragon, through increasingly complex Wonka factory doors, I switched them all to red light, gave the scene a real 80s fur n' fantasy feel. I'd used a similar trick in Oubliette long ago with a friends weird bathroom light fixture & the red planet RAM. Lighting techs, I know you do important work! The dragon is huge, an obese adult sitting on a pile of treasure & bones. Themberchaud, the Wyrmsmith & since I'm going method I drape myself languidly across the couch while I roleplay him. Long story short? He wants them to spy on everyone for him, including his own Firekeepers, & report back. The dragon can't understand anything like the idea of "peers," so the party nominates Pook'cha as the Master & the rest of them as his Thralls; Themberchaud rewards him with a set of the dragonscale armor of a Firekeeper, which seethes as if still remembering life, supernaturally adjusting to his six-limbed body...though he is not proficient.

The Stone Guard are headquartered in Overlake Hold-- I keep saying "Overhold Lake" on accident-- a stalactite carved into a massive military installation. The Deepking's home away from home, & a prison & a fortress besides. Errde Blackskull is the head of the Guard, & on the way to meet her, something curious happens. An imprisoned duergar runs up to the bars of his cell, pleading: "you must help me, my name is Derendil, an evil wizard polymorphed me into this wreched form..." which is surprising to the PCs, as...that's the quaggoth NPC Derendil's backstory as a "polymorphed elf prince." Huh. Errde wants the player to "find Droki," a derro of ill-repute, which is odd, because that's what the Firekeepers asked the players to do, too. She's willing to temporarily sponsor one of them as a member of her clan so they can move about the city freely, giving Norin a belt of dwarvenkind decoratively embossed with a bearded skull as token of her Official Dwarf Status. The PCs negotiate their friend's release, & in a surprising turn of events, ask if they can buy the duergar "Derendil" as a slave. This being Gracklstugh, the answer is, of course, yes.



Gracklstugh is great. More than a few times I stopped & laughed & said to my players, "this stupid evil dwarf city is fabulous." It's such an awful place, but after the horror of the wilds of the Underdark, the temptation of autocracy is strong. I mean, if you just follow the rules, you'll probably be fine? Maybe? Not to mention that the grey dwarves are stoically awful, but just rational enough to not be written off entirely. It is a special kind of bullshit. Leaving the Stone Guard, the players decide to regroup. Jimjar had been arrested for owning a deck of cards, & is pissed that the players seem exasperated with him; he covered for (the original) Derendil to escape with Stool! Ront was attacked by the drow, &...Topsy was in for graffiti? Last seen as a wererat, were-Topsy apparently carved "DON'T LET HER KILL ME" into the wall of the inn. Gnome-Topsy, on the other hand, is all about getting that curse broken. She & her brother had been bitten as children & the curse broken before, so it is strange it would manifest again.

"Turns out, I brought a D&D manual to a Paranoia game." -Ellen

The players decide to try to press the identity issue with the two Derendils. Frankly, they threw a curveball at me by freeing the dwarven Derendil, but that's the nice thing about a coherent story arc; I know what the master plan is. With the duergar Derendil, confronting him about the matter, bringing up the duplication...seems to keep resulting in brain aneurisms, as "Derendil" starts hemorrhaging from the eyes, nose, ears. The bestial quaggoth Derendil flies into a berserk rage when the other Derendil is shown to him, when his backstory is questioned...the PCs cast sleep & keep him in hand but they decide that the Derendils should go to the priests of Laduguer, the Toiler, with Topsy. The temple is a cave supported by golden pillars carved with ancient runic tales of legendary labours, & the greedy priest mildly overcharge-- duergar!-- for their spells. Topsy's curse is broken, but after paying a consulting fee, the priest tell them that they've actually been having an endemic problem with personality psychosis, of these delusional "Derendils" & "Norins."

At which point Ellen, who plays the PC Norin, goes, "wait what?"
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Star Wars: End of Empire: The Heist [Feb. 3rd, 2017|10:41 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Reactor leak!]
[Current Music |crown me king- main title]



Opening visual: swirls of iridescent nebula, blotted out by a familiar triangular silhouette...quickly dwarfed by the massive eclipse of a double-wide Praetorian-class Super Star Destroyer. Out of that massive black outline, four docking bays gleam like jewels & a smaller Vigil-class Star Destroyer departs one of them. Its blue ion engines burn steadily across the screen, past a traditional Star Destroyer painted bright scarlet bisecting the artificial horizon of the Super Star Destroyer, until a rusty world dotted with orbital junk & asteroids comes into view above. The Imperial cruiser then ejects a luxury yacht against the prismatic spacefield, which ascends to Ord Mantell.

In media res: you are doing a job for the Droid Uprising. One of their top agents, the espionage droid 4-DOX, serves as Concilliator Kek's protocol droid. 4-DOX is a black insectoid-headed RA-series, human-enigma analysis, who knows six millions forms of encryption. In order to circumvent the periodic mindwipes, she makes holocron duplicates of herself to be reuploaded later. The Concilliator just returned from going off-world to meet with this "Imperator" on one of her massive starships...& 4-DOX planned to hide the holocron crystal recording of it on Kek's SoroSuub space yacht on the trip back. Your mission is to retrieve that memory unit!

Fauna: Tiktocs are crustaceanoid creatures with many legs, living hermit-crab-like inside of cast-off droid parts & other machinery. They scuttle along, migrating with the horizon of Twilight on Ord Mantell, attracting prey with deep sea angler-esque lures & communicating with each other like crickets or fireflies by clanking on the insides of their metal homes with their claws.

We had our first session of End of Empire & I think it went pretty well! I started it by reading off the crawl & narrating the initial cinematic stellar event that starts each Star Wars movie (above) while playing the Phantom Menace soundtrack. The dinner delivery arrived & everyone forgot about it till after the session was over, so I'm pretty sure it was well enjoyed. I think this Fantasy Flight Star Wars system is going to work out just fine, by the way. Turn-based play seems a little clunky, but the goofy dice support pretty robust scene-resolution, & I'm happy to interpret that that as a call to more abstracted conflicts. It might end up falling into the natural rhythms of my pacing. Same with getting things kicked off with a heist. Gave the players a chance describe their characters, & then threw the group into the thick of it, on the first ring of a sunken casino city, home of the Concilliator Kek, breaking into the hangar where The Black Sun Vigo's luxury yacht just disembarked, as the droid whose memories they are trying to rescue waddles off to central computing to have her databanks blanked out, fully cognizent that at least for this self, she's marching to her death.

The maintenance entrance is guarded by Wuukar the former gladiator, a Wookiee slave who was bought by his fiercest rival in the Coliseum of Corellia Prime, the Trandoshan warrior Sshushath, & freed. Then they both indentured themselves to the Black Sun. Not the brightest fuzzball & scalefriend...as the "drunken fans" of Jax Cadderly (who speaks Dosh) & Jolit (who speaks Shyriiwook) can attest, appealing to the vanity & laziness of the washed-up alien killers to convince them to abandon their post for a toast to old times. Parra breaks into the access ducts & disabled the door, & Theynur takes up a post by a barrel inside, already stashed in the hanger by the Droid Uprising, casually velveting her paws. It is full of friendly buzz droids, relics from the Clone Wars, ready to cause havoc as a distraction. Jolit, using his built-in commlink determines that the hangar bay door control droid is a crystal eye-stalk "tattletale" droid, also friendly to the Droid Uprising. Milling about inside are a variety of scoundrels, pirates, smugglers & the sort of multispecies criminal riff-raff you'd expect in a crimelord's stardock. Jax & Parra approach with false assurance-- Jolit knows the weapons dealer Crosh would have gone with the Concilliator as part of his entourage, so with Theynur keeping lookout they try to bluff their way past some Weequay shipjackers...& fail.

"Here to replace a bad motivator? Just a moment...Sorosuub doesn't use motivators in the Luxury 3000!" Theynur kicks over the barrel of antique droids, who go skittering across the floor like marbles & start tearing up a Z-95 & a Cloakshape in the middle of repairs. Some of the gangsters head to investigate, & Jax takes the opportunity to blast one as Parra cracks open the emergency escape hatch & sets the whole ship to "emergency vent," opening the gangplank & every other airlock besides! Theynur makes a run for it, heading up the ramp & straight into the cockpit, sliding into the co-pilots chair as Parra pulls herself up the escape pod chute & into the pilot's seat. Jolit makes a break for it, & Jax takes a blaster bolt as Jolit grabs him & pills him up the gangplank. Luminescent reactor fluid is coming from the cracked hyperdrive of the Headhunter as the sabotage droids have their way with it, distracting the pirates as the TT-gatekeeper droid closes the bay doors behind the staryacht False Profit, leaving them only to deal with the two fighters already scrambled in the next chapter...
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Dramatis Personae. [Jan. 17th, 2017|04:54 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |More human than human.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams - spiderclan]



There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny!

Character creation for End of Empire the other night.  Our heroes are:

Jax Cadderly (Rajan)
Human Smuggler (Scoundrel)
Jax is the group's lynchpin with the galactic underworld, a friend of Para's from the Imperial Academy, & the Player Character closest to the intro NPC, Eris Berserk.  He fled the Empire out of the Academy, just after the first Death Star destroyed Alderaan: he didn't sign up to commit atrocities, just to get off his backwater homeworld.  His mouth turned out to be as much of an asset as his skill with a spanner, until a completely legitimate game of sabacc went his way instead of renown retired assassin, the red lightsaber wielding Mandelorian Vigo Rao Kast, & he's come to Ord Mantell hoping that the protection of rival Vigo Concilliator Kek will keep him safe.

Jolit (Joey)
Droid Spy (Infiltrator)

A "Human Replica Droid," with his oversized battledroid arm Jolit appears more like a cyborg than a droid.  Designed for infiltration & espionage, he lacks the technical expertise to keep himself in good repair, relying on Para for maintenance.  A miniature ID9 probe droid that can stowaway as a disc on his back completes his ensemble.  Jolit works as a go-between for droids & organics using his ability to pass as a human cyborg, which is how he knows Eris Berserk is a part of the Droid Uprising.  He is haunted by flashbacks, memories from the organic patterning that developed his neural net, something haunting that's led him to where he is now.

Para Totool (Rachel)
Human Engineer (Mechanic)

A former officer in the Empire, Para has seen too much & done things...things that made her desert the fleet.  Meeting up with an old schoolmate, Jax with her recent business partner Jolit, she's part of the crew Eris Berserk has rounded up.  Para actually served with Imperator Pryl once upon a time, when she was just a young captain in the Outer Rim, & following her superior's career has left her with a passionate interest in rancors.  She keeps tabs on all her old Imperial shipmates & has a bad habit of feeling responsible for them.  Para worked in the hanger, overseeing the upkeep of ships & droids, & still has the TIE/Interceptor she escaped with.

Theynur Kötturinn (Burke)
Farghul Explorer (Fringer) (Force Exile)

The Farghul are a felinoid alien race renown for their loose sense of personal property & their dislike of the Jedi.  That makes Theynur's sporadic fits of Force use unwelcome, & she's developed a spice habit to dull the pain.  She left her homeworld under a cloud of suspicion & fell in with the Rebellion, though she never joined up, officially: ranks & orders just aren't her style.  No, her style is skipping system to system in her X-wing, trying to stay ahead of the mess she makes with her uncontrolled abilities.  Ord Mantell is the latest place she's come to, & her freedom-loving ways have led to her sympathizing with the Droid Uprising, & meeting up with Eris Berserk.


So, what I told you was true... from a certain point of view.

The NPCs & Organizations that the PCs are aware of, in various combinations:

Eris Berserk
The cyborg pirate Eris Berserk is your contact on Ord Mantell, arranging jobs of varying legality that suit your special skills.  A Chiss, she has the blue skin & red eyes typical of that near-Human species, with a shaved head but for one sizable grey forelock.  The distinctive black gorget & blinking lights of her chestpiece, as well as the over-sized black-clad cyberlimb that replaces her left arm complete her regular appearance: otherwise Eris enjoys dressing in the looted couture of the nobility & wealthy.

"Privateer," is what she'll grumble to herself when people call her a pirate, if no one is listening.  It is barely a secret that Eris took a commission from the Rebellion to hunt Imperial ships during the War, but it is confidential that she's a former slave & a member of the Droid Uprising, not just a friendly third party.  Eris' cybernetics are extensive, & seem painful; she prefers to relax privately, in a bacta tank...or splitting a pack of imported death sticks with the crew after a successful job.

Imperator Pryl
Imperator Tanda Pryl is the leader of the Praetorians.  Supported by the remnants of the Royal Guard, she was an Admiral in Darth Vader's Death Squadron Star Destroyer fleet who vanished after the death of the Emperor for a time but has recently reappeared to reignite the embers of the Empire in the Outer Rim.  Her service record was marked by rivalries until she was singled out by Vader...or one could say that only after she brought total ruin upon all her foes did the Dark Lord of the Sith take interest in her naval career.  Before his sponsorship could blossom, the Battle of Endor ended Vader & Palpatine's lives.

Straight-laced & utilitarian, Pryl herself had a reputation for being "half-witch" that even her wealthy background couldn't shake.  Excelling in the Academy brought no relief, as her surprise victories & sudden turns of fortune turned to gossip & infamy.  Her harsh sense of justice won the slow loyalty of those who served with her, & any critics her military successes didn't silence became her bitter foes.  The Sith Lord's patronage earned her the whispered name "Vader's Pet," but what of it?  After the Battle of Yavin she was called in from the Elrood sector, rising to the inner circle of the Empire...until the victory of the Rebellion.

After the destruction of the second Death Star, Pryl's ship, the Devastator, Lord Vader's former flagship, retreated to the poisonous swamp world of Dathomir, homeworld of the galaxy's most fearsome predator, the rancor.  The Star Destroyer remained in orbit for quite some time, & it was there that the crimson ships of the Royal Guard rendezvoused with her.  From there she reclaimed the Empire's R&D facilities & academies, fringe resources not fully exploited by the war effort, as the battles shifted to other arms of the galaxy.  Her forces are elite but thin; they rely on re-converting defunct Imperials to their cause...

Concilliator Kek
Ostensibly the liaison between the various business consortiums of Ord Mantell & the government-- whether the Imperial garrison or the hereditary nobility-- Concilliator Kek is in fact the de facto authority of the planet, as well as the public face & legal owner of the legitimate business interests of the Black Sun crime consortium.  The Faleen Vigo is a respirator-wearing germaphobe who delights in wearing furs & feathers, whose topknot is long enough to trail behind him.

Navigator Marid
Navigator Marid is the Mon Calamari leader of the old Rebel Alliance cell stationed out here at Ord Mantell.  His ship, the Old Daughter, is a heavily armored Corellian corvette with a modest fighter bay, designed as a depot for operations in uncharted space.  Yes, "Rebel Alliance"; out here on the Fringe, with Star Destroyers still in the skies, it seems a bit early to Marid for the Core Worlds to be crowning themselves a "New Republic."  The Old Daughter lurks in asteroid fields & uncharted space, making naval guerrilla strikes on ostensibly Imperial targets & gathering intel on whatever forgotten bases or weapons the Empire might have tucked away in this forgotten spiral of the galaxy.

Rao Kast
The ancient Mandelorians & the Sith were allies, or so the story goes.  The same legends say the only way to unite the clans is under the blade of a laser sword.  Whatever the truth of the legend, Rao Kast believes it: his twin red sabers tell that story as plain as can be.  Not a Force user himself, Kast's customized black battlearmor & red blades nevertheless made him one of the galaxy's premier assassins, until his fame & notoriety grew too large & forced him into semi-retirement as a Black Sun Vigo.

Praetorians
Praetorians are a faction of the Imperial remnant led by Imperator Tanda Pryl & the fanatical survivors of the Royal Guard, dismissed from the throne room by the Emperor at Endor.  This warrior-cult's goal is to restore order to the galaxy, using Imperial elites to shore up the splintering force of the Old Empire, starting with the Outer Rim. They don't have the resources for total war, & instead prefer shock & awe tactics...something the Imperator is uncannily good at.

The Praetorians fly predominately TIE/Interceptors in ship to ship combat, & battle with gigantic Praetor-class Super Star Destroyers flanked by the corvette-class Vigil Star Destroyers & Interdictors.  They deploy more mechanized infantry than typical, relying especially on AT-PTs & K2 security droids.  Black-clad, disruptor pistol-armed ISB agents lurk amongst the greyscale officers, rounding out the Praetorian's frightening profile, alongside crimson Royal Guards, a tide of pale Stormtroopers accompanied by shining Chrometrooper sergeants & led by their dark Imperator.

Black Sun
Older than the Empire, older than the Republic, & the only real rival to the Hutt's control of the galaxy's underworld, the Black Sun are a crime syndicate with tentacles in everything but who are most famous for dealing in flesh, whether assassins, bounty hunters, or slaves.  Each gang in the Black Sun operates independently, & a shifting web of allegiances & rivalries between the Vigo bosses are the order of the day, as each jostles for the title of Underlord...a position currently vacant.  On Ord Mantell, where the almighty credit reigns, the Black Sun enjoy exceptional freedom, ruled by a respirator-masked Faleen Vigo named Concilliator Kek.
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Ord Mantell. [Jan. 7th, 2017|03:34 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Headcanon.]
[Current Music |crown me king- kyber uppercut]


(Starwars: Battlefront: Renegade Squadron.)

Ord Mantell: A junkyard planet dotted with rusted mining colonies & mothballed or abandoned war factories, orbited by malfunctioning shipyards. Ord Mantell is part of a binary star system within the Bright Jewel System, a nebula that prevents direct hyperspace jumps in & out. This hyperspace blockade has led to Ord Mantell being used as an ordinance depot by successive regimes, from the Empire to the Mandelorians to the Republic to the Sith & beyond.

Habitat: The "night" of Ord Mantell is when life happens: Twilight, when the sky is a riot of colour backlit by the nebula & nascent stars inside of it. When the suns of Ord Mantell rise, even the colours change. The toxic blue light of one sun fries unshielded electronics, while being under the harsh red light of the other cooks the living with radiation...with the co-mingled purple hour being the most dangerous of all.

Lifeforms: Droids outnumber humans & aliens on Ord Mantell. Savrips, giant semi-sentient beasts, are featured as one of the pieces in the popular hologame dejarik, & are both a terrifying wasteland menace & a quasi-domesticated heavy workforce. Flutterplumes are brightly coloured carrion eaters whose brilliant plumage & distinctive insectoid legs provide an eerie beauty to the occasional trash heap. Dianogas & mynocks are present both on the planet & in the orbital debris.

History: Ord Mantell was represented in the Senate by the hereditary nobility, & the young Countessa Misaani notionally rules the planet, at least on paper. Practically, the Imperial Garrison has been the de facto government of Ord Mantell, & Vice Moff Solt's only concern has been to eke every last iota of manufacturing capability out of the antiquated facilities. This lack of oversight has allowed a flourishing of scum & villainy, particularly the Black Sun gangsters, & a corresponding boom industry for bounty hunters & smugglers.

Current Events: In the failed state of the Empire following the destruction of the Death Star, Ord Mantell is ready to tumble into anarchy. Seizing on the moment, the droids of Ord Mantell have revolted. Household droids go on strike & protocol droids start keeping secrets. A medical droid euthanizes her patients & an astromech droid feeds false coordinates to the navcomputer & hyperspace jumps a frigate into a sun. Someone is shorting out control bolts, & in response memory wipes & paranoia are becoming the order of the day among the organics of Ord Mantell, as the various factions begin to take the droid guerrilla threat seriously.
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Holiday doodling. [Jan. 2nd, 2017|11:54 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king- astaroth, esq.]







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Star Wars: End of Empire: Opening Crawl. [Jan. 1st, 2017|08:51 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Campaign pitch.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams- starkiller]


It is a time of chaos. The fledgling NEW REPUBLIC struggles to bring peace to the galaxy following the Battle of Endor, with the brutal order of the Empire shattered in the aftermath of the Emperor's death.

On the junkyard planet of Ord Mantell, the unthinkable: the robots revolt! The secretive DROID UPRISING fights simultaneously against the nobility, the Imperial garrison & the Black Sun crime syndicate.

Amidst the turmoil, the starships of a faction controlled by the Royal Guard, the PRAETORIANS, arrive, & Imperator Tanda Pryl's forces attempt to occupy the planet below...
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Deadlands: Coffin Rock. [Dec. 26th, 2016|08:00 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Giddyup!]
[Current Music |crown me king- rawhide, raw flesh!]



Insert Ennio Morricone & theremins here: it's Deadlands time again! After last session, we'd our characters built & started off as newcomers to the nearly abandoned town of Coffin Rock, a pun on "Tombstone" we just "got" this week. Out to Theresa & Pritpaul's-- the snake handling cultist & the prospector with the Philosopher's Stone-- place in Queens, but got a ride home with Raj, the DM. Uh, "Marshall"? Factoring that in, their spot might end up being not all that out of the way, relatively speaking. Not to mention they went all out on the hospitality. Matt, who plays the crazy mad scientist-- in contrast to my creepy mad scientist-- lives in their building, too, so it's certainly the logical spot.

On our first foray into town my albino character made an appointment with a spooky dermatologist, visited a brothel where we hallucinated images in the mirrors, found a bunch of rotting horses, & generally "got a bad feeling about this." We picked up there, & things didn't get any better. Nests of swarming rats, formerly nesting in the old newspaper building, disturbed & sent scurrying throughout the town, more tangling with the house of ill-repute-- an avenue that was then discarded for being to uncomfortable-- & then! The dance of the mad scientists, as we bumbled into my appointment only to witness the doctor letting a man, criss-crossed with missing patches of skin, die on the table. He wants to blame us, but frankly we steam roll him by science-talking. We end up making a second appointment & coming back later, to have Matt's inventor tied down & given a square of new skin to replace the piece the dermatologist cuts out of him. An appointment we kept, of course. Verdict? He's not a mad scientist at all, just a bad doctor!

Things were kicking into gear when the session ended: the ruins of a haunted house, disturbed plots in the cemetary & sideways shadows, an undead mayor dragging himself from the grave...
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Out of the Abyss: The Bizarre Bazaar! [Nov. 15th, 2016|11:06 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!]
[Current Music |crown me king- the death dwarves of dwarrowdelf]



Monday is an odd night for a game, but why stick to a Thursday schedule if it means you have to keep rescheduling? No thanks, Sam-I-Am! Last session saw our Underdark exiles dock at the grey dwarf city of Gracklstugh, The City of Blades! Sam calls it "Lawful Evil," & that's about right, but after the constant menace & dangers of the Underdark wilds & the destruction of the destruction of Sloobludop, the fish-person kuo-toa town, by Demogorgon, civilization is a refreshing change of pace. It's a city: you can buy a beer, you don't have to worry about being part of the food chain...you can escape the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy for a moment, before being confronted by the higher anxieties. Lit by burning natural gas fracked by dragon-heated water, fueled by the crude black blood of the earth, patrolled by invisible guards...other than being confronted with reality face to face when they went to the slave pens to see if their missing friends had turned up there, they can almost feel safe in Gracklstugh, as long as they never relax about obsessively following the rules, never slip up, never fall prey to corrupt officials...

But there's shopping. I've long felt like this is a core part of the DnD experience that gets left out of those essays in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Sure, combat, sure exploration, but don't underestimate the sublime joy of deciding if you are going to sell off the set of fine clothes you looted or if you want to save them in case you need a disguise down the line. Did you know handcrossbows cost 75 gp? Well if you are in one of the hollow earth's biggest weapon markets, you can definitely find somebody to buy that stuff at half-price, turn those hand-me-downs into arms for grimlocks or skum or somebody who doesn't care about second-hand drow wares. Which-- speaking of-- selling the dark elf gear alerts local gossips, & the party is spotted by Asha Vandree, the junior priestess from Velkynelve, the outpost where the party first escaped from being slaves of the drow. They evade her, pull a Keyser Soze, vanish into the crowds, & head to the slave pens...where they elect not to buy a pair of deep gnome children being separated from their parents nor to buy them & pay more to house them with their parents as "apprentices," not understanding the economics involved & not knowing how to actually help, as they themselves are escaped slaves struggling to survive. Welcome to the Underdark.



Some of the merchants are acting hinky, the normally stoic duergar turning invisible at random, mid-sales pitch, or speaking to thin air without reply; either they are erratic, or their silent invisible friend is! (Or maybe psychic.) The derro, eh, they are always crazy. Creepy derro friend Buppido bids his farewell like an addict craving a fix. There's a new goofy little derro in an odd floppy hat hanging around, there's the ubiquitous but unspoken "no haggling" law of the grey dwarves that must be negotiated, the ever-present possibility of invisible eavesdroppers, but eventually they meet with Ylsa Henstak, a high ranking member of a merchant clan-- the dwarves advertise their family affiliation with large belts, or girdles-- who works with the xarron. What's a xarron? You know, dwarves with "firelances" like muskets & pistols of course! Welcome to Mordicai's campaign: you get the Underdark & Demon Princes but also firearms & a chocobo, as Jimjar wins a ranger's animal companion for Seraphin, an axe beak. Am I not a benevolent god? Ylsa's deal with the party is this: she hands them 80 gp in assorted coinage...mostly contemporary surface coinage: Cormyr's falcons & lions, Waterdhavian toals, Silver March moons, etc. Three rings worth 25 gp, each bearing the crests of the Wizards of Thay, an evil topside magocracy. Two gem necklaces in neo-Netherese style encrusted with 250 gp worth of jewels, clearly from the recent planar conjunction. It is their payment & their quest, as the derro have been paying for things with these surface goods, & Ylsa wants to know where they are coming from, before the city's third class citizens can destabilize the economy.

Then a two-headed giant kicked in a wall & everyone got brawling!

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The Big Fizz. [Oct. 31st, 2016|05:35 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Black Soup.]
[Current Music |crown me king- cadecus dee]



I dreamt too big with my Dread game. Honestly it was sort of on purpose: I thought having multiple weird hooks would mean more entry points to the story, but it just made things convoluted with red herrings. Or not red herrings but slippery eels; following my thought processes via the narrative was complicated by how at-right-angles it was to make a story about a black hole, vacuum point energy, & Alzheimer's medication set in the cyberpunk future. See, I told you I was too kitchen sink about everything. But! my pacing was good, & you know I won't shut up about over-analyzing my flawed sense of timing in most storytelling ventures, so locking that down is a structural success at the very least, & everyone had fun so it was a fundamental win, anyhow.

Backing up real quick-- Rasheem & Jessica are staying with us, but not in Spare Oom because...we've got a giant leak in there. We just got rid of some furniture out of that room, though. Anyhow, Raz & Jess & us went to brunch with Russell & Carol, & then Jennifer, Jessica & Russell all split, while Tom came over. A few other people were supposed to show up but cancelled on account of hangovers & the like; I think a few more butts at the table would have been helpful, because...despite what a hard time I give Tom about nobody dying in his Dread games, the tower never fell. I wasn't shy about asking for pulls, either...I think one more set of hands could have brought it tumbling down. Such is life; no matter how much I try to be hardcore, the characters make it through okay.

Or well, fooled you: nobody is okay! The behind the scenes in a nutshell: The Super Large Exotic Hadron Collider built under the Hague popped the vacuum point energy bubble-- the base state of the universe-- causing a "black hole" & also a tear in the universe rippling outward from Earth. "Black hole" because the very idea of stable physics is decaying, but to an outside observer it was a light-speed event horizon. Trapped inside, the players watch people dissolve into puddles of Kirby dots & Silent Hill beasties, as the sky is black worms, fraying string theory, screaming a steady static. Atoms dancing at the macro-scale, flesh as primordial soup, phones & ansibles as voices to the world outside the event horizon or the horrorshow weirdos within.

I did some neat stuff, I think; instead of pre-made questionnaires by character or a general survey, I wrote categories of person-- Military, Science, Tourist-- & with a variety of custom questions, & then a variety of other categories like Health, Background, Quirk, Drive. "Health" was the MacGuffin; they all had the same Alzheimer's medication, a futuristic treatment involving quantum consciousness that was the reason they were still "people" in the black hole; spooky action at a distance! Strange attractors! Subatomic entanglement! Nobody played a Science background character, though, so I didn't have a good hook for that. There was no outward facing exposition; next time, there should be! Instead it was just a chaotic mass of monsters & decaying reality.

The players went all out with the crazy concepts. Do you know who Lil' Bub is? Apparently I should; Carol's character was a...clone of Eartha Kitt whose "daughter" was a clone as well, both as mouthpieces for the divine feline. Rasheem's character was a soldier's whose medication was giving him flashbacks to the future, & had a plague doctor beak for a nose. Tom? A tourist visiting from the Neo-Victorian terraforming colony on Titan, & a lunatic. Given the weirdo I played in Carl's Dread game, I should have predicted that. I thought about making it explicitly a Shadowrun game, but I thought that would be too, too much for folks unfamiliar to that already plumbing-heavy setting. Still, this strikes me is a good way of modeling any campaign setting you like in a newbie friendly system, since "pulling Jenga tiles replaces dice & statistics" is awfully low fi. (Picture below by Tom.)

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Crazy Eyes! [Oct. 7th, 2016|05:01 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king- well & truly trapped]



Sunday we did an Escape the Room for Nicole's birthday; Inquisition themed! Apparently these folks are franchised from Russia, & they were talking about some of the games that they can't run in America...but I digress. Monk robes! Separate cells! I was in a stockade! & we got out in thirty minutes. There were two "clues" given to us that we didn't need, but I think the person running it was worried we were going to start tearing up floorboards & ripping down walls at one point. No need to fret, we were just checking for secret passages, we weren't going to get aggressive, but the person running it & watching us on spy cam didn't know that. It was also Elly's going away! Or almost, I ended up getting lunch with her & Nicole & Luke the day she actually left. So! Escape the Room, I did that.

Part of a bunch of busy town times! Saw our author Kai Ashante Wilson read & watched him burn the house down. Had a work meet-up & was present only for the flicker of a candle before coming home for the Dating Naked finale, & the last TV Night before Lilly has her baby. Saw Jenny Hval in concert with Jennifer & Liz, & her opener serpentwithfeet was great. Played D&D & Deadlands. Saw Leigh & the Duffs & a bunch of people from the wedding, which was cool, since they were interesting folks. I didn't get as much of a chance to talk to Leigh as I would have liked, but made up for it by hanging out with Ross & catching up with Lisa & Tristan. So that's life; Jennifer has been in Europe a lot lately & my social calendar & work calendar have been crowded. Also, I've got a bit of a stomach ache right now.

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Deadlands: Uradel von Batory. [Oct. 2nd, 2016|12:31 pm]
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I get to be a player in a Deadlands game! I haven't played in the setting since college, when I played a Pinkerton "Mulder" whose Scully had died, in a bowler hat. This time, well, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to be. An...alchemist? Don't I sort of always want to be an alchemist, though? Heck, why not! The question I really struggled with was did I want to be a white guy in the Weird West. Could I be research nerd enough to play a Native American character? I decided that the shamanic route was right out, & came up with a mixed-race concept of a snake-oil salesman who claimed to have been raised by his father, a Prussian baron, but who was actually raised by his mother, a Prussian maid. I'd just read Plague of Doves, so the Ojibwa were on my mind; also, I've researched them before so I wouldn't be starting from square one. As were the family relationships; I'm still not sure when the deal with my father is, yet. Then walking over there I had a brainstorm: my character is albino. Listen, it's the Weird West & I like to have an iconic quirk, & it played into my plan perfectly. I made my character part Hopi, since albinism is 1 in 200 amongst that tribe, & I have at least a smattering of knowledge, thanks to an interest in kachinas & such, enough that I think I can be respectful & not appropriative. I'll use Thelesperma megapotamicum infused vodka as my cure-all!

Raj is the Marshall. Theresa is the one who brought us all together; she's the Western fan & her character is a snake-handling Blessed, who was a revivalist in the carnival where I was selling my tonics. Matt wanted to be a Weird Scientist as well, but he's going more of a Tesla route than my potions, & so to diversify the group I decided I'd be the muscle, as well. So...okay then, how do I justify that? My plan was that I played "Prussian noble" as a persona, culled from my mother's time as a royal maid or something...but ok, let's turn the gain up on the Weird. I scribble out the name "von Wildegrave" & write in "von Batory." I mean...right, if this is the Spooky New World, then the Gothic Old World is out there too, I figure. Dracula's got a cowboy in it! So now my mother is the ghoul Black Widow; a body servant of Countess Bathory, the immortal & evil alchemist. My mother was a snatcher, hence the spy skill suite, & maid, hence the pomp & circumstance; she fled to the Americas & met my father here (a non-albino, though in my fictional history my mother was the white buffalo woman). I grab green glasses-- I need sunglasses, per my character's Hinderances-- & we're off to the races in Coffin Rock! Where the creepy dermatologist makes my choice of albinism quite germane! Now I just need to actually figure out how the Arcane Background rules work...
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Oubliette Session Twenty-Nine: Bug City! [Oct. 1st, 2016|10:13 pm]
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Not that much to really say in recap of the last Oubliette session; in defiance of most of our game meet-ups, this was pretty much all in-initiative! Not combat, but stealth. Frankly, that's even better in my book; either way, it was a largely tactical episode. Last time the castle-town was over-run by the toxic spores released by the Monkey King's priest, who activated one of the ancient Al-Kem weapons. An anime plague of biblical proportions. The players found their allies mutating, twisted into insectoid monsters & giant ogres, frenzying & really doing a number on the group. Exiting the chapel where Haru & Iroha have just been married, they see that ground zero was in some ways the eye of the storm. The city lies covered in alien coral, scampering toadstool oddities, spiderwebs of fungus; strange, silverfish bugs, horribly twisted people, all manner of horrors.


(Mutated Hokusai Nezumi no-Kappa; "Ruthless Onslaught" by Christopher Burdett.)

Flitting from building to building, jumping across the long drop to the canal below, our "heroes" take the long way around...& see a huge, Lugh of the Long Arm looking fomorian figure. O shit waddup, it's the tumerous, harlequined bodyhorror giant that used to be Hokusai Nezumi no-Kappa! & also from the auction, the beautiful courtier Toku o-Kirin & the assassin Masui...& they are with the enormous Kaori o-Foo, whom Amina is meant to duel to the death, after the wedding. The wedding that just finished. The party hides in a warehouse, breathing heavily through masks. Outside, the "other party" try to reason with their warped friend. In the distance, the sound of strange engines: a heavier-than-air ship!


(Kaori o-Foo; "Hida Shara" by William O'Connor.)



(Masui & Toku o-Kirin; Os Fashion, unknown.)
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Out of the Abyss: Rats on the Ship, Squids in the Sky. [Oct. 1st, 2016|10:07 am]
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"Can't go wrong with an absurdly avuncular mindflayer," is going on my list of Dungeon Master axioms. It's right there in Out of the Abyss, & that's the sort of thing that made me like the campaign enough to run it. Graziliaxx is a member of the Society of Brilliance, an organization of monstrous humanoids in the Underdark with super-genius IQs who want to "fix" all the problems of the underworld...& who are tangled up temporally with the party somehow? That's just a random encounter I can roll up, & that's to the story's credit. So, the party is traveling along in a kuo-toa keelboat: Ront the orc is a remarkably adept sailor, Jimjar is having an eating contest with the piranha's in the boat's nets...

First, an NPC heel turn, as Topsy, fresh from the death of her twin brother-- a pain Jim's drow warlock knows all too well-- comes rushing towards the party to tell them something...as they svirfneblin's body cracks, bones breaking, white furs sprouting, pink eyes blinking into a feral, lycanthropic snarl. The wererat seems unstoppable...until Imicia knocks her out with sleep. They tie her up...& when she wakes up she transforms into a white mouse & scampers into the bilge to hide, small enough that they can't get at her without squeezing down after her. Norin the elven cleric almost nabs her using a chain shirt as a net, but no dice. So instead, they keep watch on the grates leading in & out, & sail along.

(Meanwhile, the madness of the Abyss is starting to take hold of all of them.)



It was my call to play it as a mad uncle. It's a mindflayer that isn't evil...done as the "benevolent" colonial anthropologist. Grazilazz will squidsplain things like human sexual reproduction to you, but the relief in the face of seeing a Hasturian figure, a tentacled humanoid flying limply through the air, boneless limbs more like tentacles than arms or less, long "fingers" themselves even smaller cephalopodian appendages, & not being eaten by it. Really takes the sting out. Robed in purple, clothed in a sphere of violet light, it hoveringly darts willy-nilly above the cold waters of the Darklake telepathically shoulting "Haloooo!"

"Haloo, scion of DeVir," in fact, & as the thri-kreen bard Pook'cha knows, Imica is of that lineage, revealed long ago by Kalythra, Imica's missing half-drow half-sister. A small family secret-- the name of the House his father fled to the surface to escape-- suddenly germane. They draw the attention of the illithid-- who carries a lightning gun like the one the grell possessed, that the sea-sick (& PC absent) Serafin the halfling ranger now carries-- who oddly & gladly bobs over.



Grazilaxx, a super-genius, brought goggles of night for Serafin, the only character without darkvision. Realizing that Gizem the dwarf & Cavendash the gunslinger aren't with the party, it fears "Temporal Con-tinuity Edits!" if it talks too much about how it knows who the members of the party are, though it lets a few things "accidentally" slip, like wanting them to get the stonespeaker crystal & telling them to avoid anyone asking about "Cyrog." The reason it was looking for "DeVir"-- a House wiped out by Do'Urden, but Grazilazz seems to struggle with the idea that the House & the individual are not interchangeable-- is to tell him that Eilistraee (!) has a message for him, that She's left his House's moonblade with the "eldest of DeVir."

A real swell Thing, Grazliaxx talks while towing their keelboat towards Gracklstugh, the grey dwarf city where Buppido the derro has convinced them to go...largely because its Somewhere, as opposed to the middle of the Underdark or a creepy fishtown. & because if Demogorgon comes out of the Darklake again, at least they have armies & a red dragon. The mindflayer parts ways with the party just out of sight of the city, knowing his appearance might be problematic, warning them about the vrock called the Queen of Fleas, servant of Yeenoghu, who they've encountered twice before.

It leaves, & they paddle: Buppido knows a dock where they can avoid any trouble at the gates...



So, Gracklstugh! Part Singapore, part oilfield-factory complex, the plumes of smoke & bursts of intense flame are contrasted by the spotless, almost empty streets. Empty...except for all of the invisible dwarves, that is. Duergar are the "drow of the dwarves," a cold, ruthless, efficient race that can grow to be giant sized, turn invisible, loves spying, hates lawbreakers & loves making stupid laws to catch people breaking, like "no haggling." The party stays at an inn called The Ghohlbrorn's Lair-- "We Are the Only Establishment Legally Allowed to Serve Non-Dwarves" is their catchy slogan-- Jimjar starts to gambling with treasure he looted from the Netherese temple. Buppido agrees to lead the party to the Blade Bazaar before he parts ways with them, & that's where we call it a session! Music was provided by Makeup & Vanity Set's "Charles Park" II & III.
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At the Research Station of Madness. [Sep. 25th, 2016|10:51 am]
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[Current Mood |I miss the Arctic.]
[Current Music |crown me king- hack the gibson]



Carl ran a Dread game set in Antarctica for me, Bella, Seth & Alyssa. I sadly had to run out before the end, but after I took the Lead Scientist's LSD in order to talk to the extremeophile meme-creature that had possessed the Russian bases' scientists I really should have knocked the tower over. Yeah, it was one of those kind of games, where I made the empathic-- well, psychopathic, based on the DM's leading questions-- artist & then spent the whole game trying to semiotically communicate with the aurora australis using found materials. Ha. My first piece was called "Pareidolia" from when I painted over the humanoid face we saw in the southern lights. My second was "Camera Obscura," when I disassembled the component parts of a mysteriously smashed camera, down to the circuit boards, because of misunderstanding what the scientists were theorizing about the ice zombies. "Xenoglossia" was my use of all of the neodymium I could scrounge & electromagnets I could rig in a kind of stream-of-consciousness switchboard to try to talk to the sky. I think I might have had another piece that slipped my mind...but what was really slippery was my accent, which ranged from Peter Lorre to Colonel Klink. I never got to get into the death of my rival; I was going to haunt Alyssa about it if I died, that was my plan for that.

ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE

What is your name?

Francesco “Franko” Koyen.

When did you first realize that you matter more than other people?

When I got a scholarship to private school. My parents were the kind of warm working class people who nurtured my interests & were surprised by my talents & happy to chase scholarships for their kid. It was the rich pieces of crap who got into the intensive art boarding camp on money or family name that made me realize I had talent, & the rest were husks.

How did you drive your rival to suicide?

Husk? I don’t mean husks. Other people are like a clay jar. You can’t tell if there is light in them without cracking them. Is it my fault that when I cracked him, I didn't find him empty?

Suicide is a hard word for it. He thought I was coming to bring him fuel for the snowmobile. By the time he realized I wasn’t coming, it was too late for him to make it back here. I listened to him curse at me on the short wave, but I know he was a Real Person because he was brave enough to try to walk back, even knowing it was a doomed effort. That is true passion for life, & what is Art but the passion & solitude of life?

Do you think the Junior Scientist knows it’s your fault?

Impossible. No one else was in range of the walkie talkies. Impossible. No one could know. It’s impossible that someone could. No, that can’t be. Not possible. No...can it?

What moves you about your own art?

I prefer to work in native materials, expressing the futility of life’s struggle with multimedia trompe-l'œil. I made an optical illusion of a penguin’s tracks walking suicidally into the Antarctic interior with a small patch of snow & penguin droppings. I painted fishing bobs black to resemble the heads of orcas hunting humans at the ice edge. It is predator & prey, & life versus death that drive even animals mad.

What do you hear in the howl of the blizzard?

I won’t be able to tell you until I figure out how to translate it into Art. It speaks! It is saying something! I must translate it to understand it. Now it is just a haunting whisper in a foreign tongue, swirling across the White.

What artistic accomplishment could satisfy you?

You know that graph of Napoleon’s armies marching to Russia & returning? With all the data embedded in it in interesting ways?



Well I kind of want to do that, but on Death in Antarctica. From ice cores to animals to the first human explorers, Scott & all the rest, up through...now.

In darker, subconscious thoughts:

The idea of painting in the human canvas is a natural one. I always intended to make my death a work of art-- painting with diseased blood, if that’s the way I go out, or making maps from clumps of fallen hair from chemo, or heck, who knows-- but the death of my rival has made me realize that there are other ways to play in that medium.
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Fallout or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Vault. [Sep. 24th, 2016|03:25 pm]
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[Current Music |crown me king- 4-DOX & Baron Monstro]



Not a lot of replay value to Fallout IV, but I liked it. Most notably, the "morality" of the game is based on who you hang out with. Not in a banal "the good guy is a drip" way, either-- my favorite NPC of the game was Piper, the journalist, because she fit my video game ethics. Of course I will help everyone, I came here to play a game so the more quests the merrier...but I am also going to break in everywhere & snoop for easter eggs or rare stuff, obviously. Played a melee character with a high Charisma, because I always play high Charisma. Give me all the chat options, please. Red Rocket was my main base of operations, I married Piper, befriended everyone except Strong & the mercenary from California, who I sent to some settlement that I can't remember. Did all the DLCs, sided with the Railroad, & favoured gear that gave me a statistical boost. Ended up in the 70s after killing all of the raiders in Nuka-World. I did that quest right up until they wanted to expand, & then I butchered the bandit scum.





Hancock was pretty great, Nick is cool...Jocelyn & Brian played with Deacon last & armoured him up so they didn't get to see what a hilarious weirdo he was. They also wore the Silver Shroud gear most of the game, which I think is fun. Me, you know how I do, I was a crafter. I repped the Vault: painted up my power armor the same, dressed my companion Curie in a yellow trench coat like the Vault-Tec Rep, got Piper in my old 111 blues. Matt came over a few times & messed around on a character, getting as far as Diamond City. It's funny to see how much more of a sarcastic jerk he is than I am; I'm either inquisitive or friendly, pretty much as a rule. I feel like that describes the tenor of the four chat directions, clockwise from the top: curious, mean, nice, & skeptical. I can see how Kingtycoon can wander around on Survival mode. Me, I think a little more complex procedurally generated worldbuilding development & I'll be interested. Skyrim was the first time the emergent complexity of these games hooked me, & I wonder when that will dovetail into the elegant design ethos of Dark Souls & Bloodborne; the Chalice Dungeons show that they are co-evolving...

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Out of the Abyss: Stranger Tides [Sep. 8th, 2016|05:02 pm]
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Behold! The Demogorgon, Prince of Demons! Demogorgon, the Sibilant Beast, Lord of All That Swims in Darkness! My recent #humblebrag has been about being pals with the Stranger Things creators, but I had independently started running Out of the Abyss before I knew the show was going to name check the Mad Prince of Abysm, the Gaping Maw. I've been a fan of baboon-head for a long time; "Mandrillagon" actually showed up in Oubliette for a cameo. It was just good timing that he got to debut in the campaign while the pop culture buzz was strong, & even better luck that none of the group, including the RPG nerds, are planar cosmology experts, so the kuo-toa's worship about Lemoogoogoon went unremarked. Demogorgon! Not going to lie, throwing down a Demon Prince in the middle of the Underdark is pretty much the elevator pitch that sold me on this module.



So my first & major complaint with Out of the Abyss is that it seems to have been written with an old school "& also a ton of minions" mindset that is annoying for my Dungeon Mastering style & means that even when I've got a bunch of relevant miniatures, I still don't have enough minis. Heck, more than just my DM style, it's my gameplay style overall. I like high-cost heavy-hitter units in wargames & am notorious for playing "swarm" style armies but surprising everyone by focusing on elites. A relatively minor quibble, all things considered. If there was something like Pathfinder's paper pawns for the adventure, that would be swell. I quite enjoy collecting minis but a cardboard set of peons would be alright, since I could use my plastics for the more notable NPCs.

I think my pacing was pretty on-point this session! I knew going in that I wanted to get to Demogorgon by the end, & was pretty sure I could pull it off. After all, when in doubt I could always use the NPCs to advance the plot. Which was a tricky part: I want to make it clear that sometimes the NPCs will try to railroad you, but that's not the same thing as the DM railroading you. (I mean, at the same time who hasn't popped helpful advice in an NPC's mouth...) It's like NPCs giving exposition: please don't mistake that for objective campaign information. NPCs are characters, & even the most honest of them are going to be biased & have their own agendas. The size of the party was good for forward momentum & consensus this session, & the "on turn X, Y happens" & objective based kind of combat is more my speed than straight up slugfests.



& so the kuo-toa archpriest Ploopploopeen has "befriended" the party as "bait" to help kill his daughter, Bloppblippodd. I think my anthropology background gives me a pretty good ground state for addressing alien civilizations. Or as Sam put it, "I like to see what it would be like if people stupider than humans made a city." Kuo-toa are great! You just don't look at anyone directly, suddenly rush up close to their face, combine a bit of sleepwalking & narcolepsy, & you are golden. I went for a cross between amusing & scary, sort of like goblins, & when they all started screaming "BARTA! BARTA!" & dragging chests, chains & shells out from the water, it was one of the better "merchants rows" for offloading loot I've run.

After trading some of their stolen drow gear & other miscellaneous loot near the shrine of the Sea Mother-- a broken ship's figurehead with shark & giant crustacean pieces replacing the missing bits-- Ploopploopeen browbeats them into helping he & his cohort of fish-people kill his daughter. They seem surprised that he's not more concerned about killing his own spawn...but he really, really isn't concerned about killing his own spawn. Ectotherms, what are you gonna do? The party, amongst themselves, are resolved to talk to Bloppblippodd & at least hear the Cult of the Deep Father's side of the story before getting into the middle of this civil war.



Except...that's not really what happens. Because the "shrine" of tied together sharks & octopodes is empty...except for the schools of kuo-toa that dart out of the shadows of the driftwood & kelp buildings to cut each other with crude obsidian knives, their piscine blood driving the sharks in the water below into a frenzy. The cultists are more predatory than odd & it goes sideways pretty quickly, once Ploopploopeen starts pitching his yarn. That farce goes on just long enough to turn into a massive riot, with the PCs & NPCs trapped in the middle. A kuo-toa monitor pins down the svirfneblin twin, Turvy, & the other fish-folk skewer him. With Shuushar the Awakened parting ways with the party here in Sloobludop, that's two NPCs less.

Then, of course, the riot turns into a ritual, & the prayers are heard, & the for-real-actual Demogorgon appears. A screaming chaos of giant baboon heads squabbling amongst themselves as Godzilla legs & kraken arms demolish the crude & eerie kuo-toa settlement building by building, the fish-people themselves half in worship, half mad, half fleeing, all at once, devoured by the tentacle-full. The players, the buzzing of insanity ringing in their brain pans from all they've been subjected to in the Underdark & now this Thing, steal a keelboat from the docks & escape in the confusion. Where to next? Gracklstugh, the Derro "City of Blades" is a subterranean coastal city on the Darklake, while their intended destination is across the sunken sea & then another clip through tunnels to the myconid Neverlight Grove...& those seem to be the two big contenders.

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Out of the Abyss: Slouching Toward Sloobludop [Jul. 10th, 2016|02:12 pm]
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[Current Music |crown me king feat. allan sherman - hello muddah hydra, hello fadduh dagon]



I'm not going to drag my heels on this Out of the Abyss recap like I did last one...after all, these can be written up pretty pithily. I've been using Paizo's flipmats for my maps instead of the usual wet-erase mat, & they've been really nice. Easy transitions from "underdark-y caves" to "underground temple" to "fishing village." Still not a fan of tiles really, but I like these. Soundtrack-wise I've been a one-track mind lately: I played the Bloodborne soundtrack. We started with rolling initiative between the party & the spectres they'd disturbed, after putting the order of events together.

"Serafin opened the crypt that triggered the events...or was it Pook'cha who got cursed?" That sort of recap is a sign of a raucous previous game! Spectres are dealt with without too much trouble: the party's mundane weapons are barely effective, but they overwhelm the spooks anyhow. The pleading "help me, please, down here!" voice comes again, as does a crooked, cackling laugh from an incense-full room where some...one? -thing? Promises oracular answers in exchange for a little symbolic cannibalism & an prayer to a thing called Yeenoghu.

The party debates for some time, & when someone finally checks out the room, it's empty. "Don't leave me along in the dark!" says the voice in their heads one last time...& they decide nope, you know what, time to move along. They drag away the deep gnome Jimjar-- stuffing his pockets with looted treasure from the spectres' tombs-- & head down the exit of the shrine into the kuo-toa city of Sloobludop, where they are met by Ploopploopeen, priest of Blibdoolpoolp the Sea Mother, & a bevy of other fish-people. They are involved in an internecine conflict & want the party's help as "bait" against the cultists of Leemooggoogoon the Deep Father.

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Last of the Vilebloods. [Jul. 3rd, 2016|04:01 pm]
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[Current Music |crown me king- don't give up skeleton]



I've been playing the hell out of Bloodborne. I mean, I've platinumed it & just kept going because...well, because it's fun as hell to play & I keep seeing new things. & because I have to keep getting Dregs for the Vileblood Queen. Oh my first playthrough I had an alright time with the game, but didn't thing much of it. "I miss my shield," could kind of sum it up. On my second playthrough I found the secret areas, including Castle Cainhurst, where I was like "oh, a Wounded Queen motif, isn't that like one of my top archetypes, right alongside Harlequin?" & on top of that she's the equivalent of the arachnid Fair Lady in Dark Souls. I'm a noted Knight Tannhäuser, anyhow, so of course it was a done deal. I became the Last of the Vilebloods, all done up like a Slasher.

Head: Cainhurst Helmet
Body: Charred Hunter Garb
Hands: Old Hunter Gloves
Legs: Tomb Prospector Trousers

Trick Weapon: Saw Spear
Firearm: Repeating Pistol



I was digging it but then I tried out the Threaded Cane & thought to myself: "well, that's just dandy. Pun intended." I'd also started getting decent at parrying-- a literal game-changer-- & so was ready to switch my whole weapon set. Of course, being me, I can't play a game like this without interjecting a little roleplaying, so I needed a special impetus. I decided that the death of the Pthumerian Queen, the eponymous Yharnam, would be the tilt of the scales, in which I went with an "all Cainhurst" theme. Fashion Souls reigns supreme, so I left myself a little wiggle room, but my endgame look is much classier. I decided to go to level 150, since that's apparently the "meta" for late NG+ multiplayer, so I'm awfully dangerous.

Head: Cainhurst Helmet
Body: Maria Hunter Garb
Hands: Cainhurst Gauntlets
Legs: Black Church Dress

Trick Weapon: Threaded Cane
Firearm: Hunter's Pistol

Here's some more game mechanics analysis. Obviously the Trick Weapons are the game & they are fantastic. Nothing else to say there. Having to teleport back to the Hunter's Dream every time is stupid. The way Bloodgems work is stupid. Dark Souls III almost figured out upgrades. Using tiered upgrade materials, that's a fine system, & then use special gems to add unique properties. None of this "grind dungeons for percentage points" stuff. Don't get me wrong, I want to grind dungeons. Chalice Dungeons are almost there. I suggest a complicated "Boss Souls" system, where a "Boss Soul" can be turned into a ring or rune; a spell, miracle or arcane tool; a special weapon; or a chalice to add that boss to the possible dungeon bosses. Drive folks through some NG+ cycles!

While I'm brainstorming, here's a new Item class for Soulsborne-esque games: the Staff, which blocks like a Shield & casts on the L2. I've got to say, I think that might be a path forward for this style of game: balancing Shields, Guns, Two-Handed, Two Weapons & other options, the same way various Right Hand weapons & spell tools have been balanced. I really like the "class" aspect of these games, & I really like the "generic" aspect of these games; they balance those seemingly at-odds ideas by making you-the-player the steward of it, by getting you invested in a character & a play-style. That's the core of the game's combat mechanics, to me: "every weapon is viable, just pick a moveset you like & build your stats around that," the same way that "anywhere you can see, you can get to" is a thesis statement of the level design.


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Out of the Abyss: The Underdark! [Jun. 30th, 2016|03:51 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Grells with lightning javelins.]
[Current Music |crown me king- the god of butchers]



I've been lazy about recaps lately-- see also my last Oubliette twofer-- but that's not too bad because not that much narrative-wise happened in the last session of Out of the Abyss, as it was a more survival-exploration themed session. Previously the party escaped the drow, & were thrust out into the black chasms of the Underdark, fleeing with looted drow weapons...but no supplies. We had a little bit of "extreme survival" play, with the party scrambling for food, water, shelter, tools...& where to go. Off to the Kuo-Toa settlement of Sloobludop ("Sloop-du-bloop" is how I end up burbling it more often than not) & from there to Neverlight Grove, where the myconids live. That's the plan, at least, & surviving a grell & sneaking past a carrion crawler with a saddle on its back, they find enough of the underworld's odd fungi-- barrelstalks & fire lichen & trillimac-- to keep going. Sleeping in the dark, pawing along tunnels-- really only the halfling is blind in the forevernight-- they come to flooded caverns. They encountered a cackle of gnolls chasing two extra-large purple panthers with wriggling tentacles on their back-- the collective noun for hyenas is a "cackle," how great is that?-- & rather than parlay, battle was joined. "Ha ha ha, Yeenoghu!" they laugh & screech, as they players cut them down. Just beyond these caves is an abandoned shrine, & beyond that, their destination of Sloobludop...but of course, erupting from sarcophagi in the temple are wailing spectres! From within, a plaintive & feminine voice in their minds begs them to free her from the darkness...which is where we'll pick up tonight. A truncated summary but there you have it!

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Oubliette Twenty-Seven-&-Eight: The Lung Wedding & the Breaking of the Jar. [May. 7th, 2016|07:11 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king- let them eat yellow cake]


(The Underdocks; Art by Ian Jun Wei Chiew.)

Sometimes people ask me rhetorically how I manage to remember so much game detail for these recap posts. The answer is a combination of factors. One, the marvel that is my brain! It might not remember what people's names are, our what faces belong to who, or what I did yesterday, but the plot of a book I read as a kid is crisp & clear! Two, I normally start writing it down early, right out of the gate. At least the broad strokes, or the vivid scenes, or just to get the ball rolling. This is why so many of these recaps start with a disclaimer about them being stream of consciousness & unedited; I try to keep the act of doing them as stress free. Sorry everybody, I like doing write-ups, but I don't feel obligated...which not surprisingly is why I'm happy to keep doing them.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I let myself get hit with the whammy. Last Oubliette session was a big one, a fun one, with lots of events on the main stage & the side stage, player driven & narrative driven. With all those details looming over my head, I procrastinated. & then kept on putting it off-- well, to be fair I've also been otherwise occupied-- until now, when the edges of some of the details have faded from sharp creases. Hey, maybe it will work out, & it will lend some brevity to these proceedings, since otherwise my plan is just to start rambling, see what gets typed out, lather, rinse, repeat, until I've gotten caught up to the end.

This session was Christine's time to shine & she dazzled, all the luminous puns intended for the Miko of the goddess Kaguya, Lian. Introduced at the tea ceremony with the Lung family, she is a priestess of the otherworldly lunar goddess, assigned to purify Luke's character Haru o-Kitsune before his nuptials by his mother-in-law to-be, Nerai Lung. In a twist, Iroha isn't present for the purification ceremony, & Nerai stands in her place. In a shrine amidst the bamboo, with woven walls & an open roof, Lian invokes the ancestor spirits of the Lung & the Kitsune.


(Nerai Lung's ancestral spirit; Art by Chris Cold.)

The spirit of Nerai, the Lung ghost, is clad in raiment held aloft on ancient pillars. The Empire existed centuries before the Shogunate; in fact, the Shogunate is just the ruins of their reach, the provinces re-conquered by the fleeing houses of the Lung & the ancestors of the modern Kirin, the Qilin. This Lung ancestor sat upon the Throne of Heaven, once upon a time, & by the slightest incline of their head, the priestess Lian says they approve.


(Haru o-Kitsune's ancestral spirit; "Corruption" by mangycoyote.)

Haru's spirit, on the other hand, is a mangled, cackling, bloody fox, dancing frantically in the sky. The party, minus Lian, has encountered the Kitsune ghosts before, in some form or another. (There is a shrine to Tenku & the grave of the Butcher in the Skull Fort, after all, which Amina o-Kistune's husband Goro is tending with his Broken-Hearted Shoshin warriors.)


(Iroha Lung in her wedding o-yori; Tomoe Gozen by David Calhoun.)

Christine's moon priestess gives her blessing, & despite some misgivings on Iroha's absence, the wedding commences, & once it is underway in full swing they see the reason why Nerai has been keeping her sequestered; she is pregnant, as was one of their theories. The time line easily fits with her & Haru being intimate at the Skull Towers, so that's sort of a best-case for the party, who was worried about far darker things than that. Nobody besides Nerai cares about this, apparently, & Iroha rides down without her cannon arm, wearing her family o-yoroi armor, her gift from the clan. Haru, of course, wears his spider silk kimono, an engagement gift from his mother, & a sign of respect to the Spider House, which Iroha's father once belonged to.


(Haru's wedding gift from Iroha; Emperor's Hand Cannon by M. James Austin.)

The wedding itself goes off without a hitch. In fact, at this point, I have to kind of high five myself: I really under sold it. I mean: let's be real. The wedding violence in Oubliette is prefigured by Game of Throne, & we all see it coming. I think I managed to put a pretty good spin on it, if I do say so myself: it's become a bit of a signature move. It is always funny to me how themes & archetypes develop in game with or without intervention. Emergent complexity. Haru's present from his wife, as a newly minted Lung, is a pistol, & he shoots a special "firework" charge over the bay. Goro gifts him one of the years of study he's earned with the Gaki Goldur bint Agrat, same as he gifted his bride Amina.


(The Wedding of Haru & Iroha; Photo by Christine F.)

It has been weeks since I've started writing this, returning to jot down a paragraph before getting distracted. Weeks, hell, it has been months; this write-up is now compressing two sessions together...though the second session, while tense & action packed, does not need much description, as we will address below. I've got Dungeons & Dragons this week, so I best get cracking. Well, in a nutshell: BUGS! Not an intentional nod to Shadowrun, but at the end of the day...but I'm getting ahead of myself.


(Monk Sha & Monk Zhu, & mutated versions; photo by me.)

To stop beating around the bush: at the end of the wedding, when all is said & done, like Maleficent sweeping in from the wings come the monks of the desecrated shrine. They recognize Monk Zhu, Iroha's brother, his face smeared with ashes, & the other must be Monk Sha, who they never met. They come out from a side door, & open a jar. Not just any jar. One of the canopic jars, the weapons of mass destruction that Goro's auction was held over.


(The mutated Nerai; "Razorback by Dorian Cleavenger.)

Haru, warned by supernatural whispers, has come prepared for a strange paranoia: filtration masks. He & the woman who would become the Royal Physician travelled there as young adults, & he knows their construction; with a significant outlay of coin & favours, he scrounges together almost enough for everyone in the party. With a few tweaks, he manages to make just enough sub-par masks...not counting Christine's newcomer.


(Gong & the Lung family, & mutated versions; photo by me.)

His fears are well warranted, as a typhoon of spores pours forth from the jar, an unending torrent of mutagenic pollen that takes root in flesh, whose roots are cancer & whose blossoms are the vicissitudes of flesh. Iroha's mother & father & uncle all twist & warp horribly, over the course of faint moments growing monstrous. The monks grotesquery knows no bounds; at the epicenter of the jar's curse, willing agents of it, they are humanoid arachnids with eyes of glowing hate, joints seething with tentacles instead of tendons.


(The mutated Goro; "Leto Atreides II, God Emperor of Dune" by Gorrem.)

Gong, Haru's every loyal & omnicompetent manservant, in his final act-- struck by the arrow of love!-- thrusts his mask upon Kaguya's priestess, & is thus afflicted. From his head splits a worm-like collar. Disgusted, terrified, battle is joined...& it goes poorly for our protagonists. The odds are stacked against them & to say the dice are fickle would be a lie: the dice outright betrayed the players. & so Haru was gutted through, dropped down. & Amina failed her save against the infection & grew an eye on her forehead. & the Royal Physician fled, absconded by Ren. Lian rang one of her jade bells, & while the gaze of the insectoid horrors was dimmed, it also silenced Amina's connection to Kreecher.

What will happen next? Frankly, I'm just as curious as you are: I have ideas on where to go if things end up a TPK, but I haven't given up hope that the players will turn it around. If there is one thing I've learned about PCs, it is that they can do ridiculous things when you least expect them.


(Amina's new third eye; art by Seungyea Park AKA Spunky Zoe.)
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#DnDC! [Apr. 16th, 2016|04:18 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |!!!]
[Current Music |crown me king- John Mephistopheles Larroquette]



I met my friend ranai through Livejournal & today I saw her get married!

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Out of the Abyss: Escape! [Mar. 5th, 2016|06:25 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Lockjaw.]
[Current Music |crown me king- graveyard smash]



Last session ended with the played resolving to: run! This session, they had to relearn that lesson. The pacing didn't quite come together, but like Sam said, I was inoculating them, adapting them to my play style. Encounters are not balanced to be won by mathing them to death, the game mat doesn't always mean combat, NPCs can be unreliable-- things that can be taken for granted, once we all share a vocabulary. Still, when I whipped out that map at the end & said roll for initiative, the story slowed to a crawl. For clarification: I think the session was quite a success, especially by the "did we have fun" token. Actually, by any standard: only one dead NPC! I set out to establish that the Underdark is scary & difficult to survive in, & I think I sold that. Just always (over-)thinking about pacing, trying to up my game.

It was a close shave. The session started with them fleeing an overwhelming drow force. The "plan," such as it was: jump to the webs sixty feet below, climb across them to where they hang over water, then drop a hundred feet further...then make a break for it. Alicia's half-drow rogue Kalythraa is first over. My plan with the NPCs has been to distribute them to the players as back-ups & side-kicks as relationships formed. Kalythraa adopts the myconid Stool, keeping it real, who goes over with her. Pritpaul's halfling ranger has bonded with the elf-turned-quaggoth Prince Derendil. Sam's thri-kreen bard & the orc Ront are pals, & the dwarf cleric Norin played by Ellen ends up simpatico with the svirfneblin twins Topsy & Turvy. Jim's drow warlock Imica hasn't found a pal, yet, focusing on his sister's safety. Jimjar, the deep gnome, & Buppido, the derro, are making a break for it across the webs; they were the first down.

The players in this campaign have not had much luck with dice rolls, with two notable exceptions: Constitution & death saves. We started the session with some NPCs & Kalythraa down in the webs, but the rest of the PCs hesitating to jump, as they've seen monsters below...notably, giant spiders & oozes. (On a sidenote: I shouldn't've let them see the ooze, & should have only let the drow see the spiders, as the webs & the floor were out of the light & out of people's darkvision. I've been pretty good about optics; only the halfling cares about light, & he's mostly been stuck in dim lighting, then I have to factor in that the drow has darkvision out to 120'. I retconned it to the webs being 60' down & the floor 100' below it, which actually ended up being a good way for me & the players to figure out how it worked.) Getting bum rushed by three quaggoths from the pens & two more drow from a watchpost helped convince them to...jump!

Here's what Inspiration Points are for, in my experience: the same thing as Vices in World of Darkness, or Burning Wheel traits, or Character Traits in Oubliette. Rewarding players for screwing over their characters. To wit: down in the spider webs, at the beginning of every turn you need to make a Dexterity or Strength check. Your humble Dungeon Master can let things like that slip. If you remind him on your turn, he might just toss an Inspiration Point your way. I think the rules on being restrained worked, but making it double movement as well was a tough mechanic, since it was a whole area of it. I think I made the area just the right size; any bigger & it would have been an annoying slog instead of a dangerous complication. & when I say "restrained worked" I mean, a whole bunch of PCs ended up wrapped up in spider webs.

If it wasn't for the two natural 20s on Death Saves, I think the party might have been headed for a Total Party Kill. On one hand, I was ready for it: if you are TPK'd by the drow & their pet spiders, you end up...re-captured by the drow! On the other hand, I was frantically brainstoming ways of doing that without frustrating the PCs! Academic, though: two solid dice rolls & friendly NPCs turned the tide. You roll a 20, you come up with 1 HP, & that was just what they needed. Serafin the ranger was out the whole time, which is a bummer, & PCs went down & stayed down thanks to paralysis & a lack of spells...but letting the players run their pet NPCs helped with that, & in the end I think it was a good combat. The ooze in the water? Sarith the drow & it were lost in the dark, in a frenzied of blasphemous Abyss: "flesh for the Faceless Lord," burbled the slime, while the drow buzzed "Zgggmmmyy!" in a suicide attack of ecstatic seizures.

A cut rope bridge later, & everyone has a chance to talk. The Underdark natives discuss where to head to. Neverlight Grove seems to be a popular eventual destination, & Gracklstugh as well...both of which are on the Darklake, which would be navigable by the pacifist kuo-toa Shuushar's brethren in Sloobludup, so that's where they are headed. How long will it take to get there is a complicated question, as none of the natives really understand what days are. A week or two? If nothing terrible happens. Hey, they are lost in the Underdark, what could go wrong? They just barely roll well enough not to starve or die of thirst, thanks to a lucky find of these things like a cross between a moray eel & a banana slug living sessile on the wall. There followed a bit of a decompressed "survival & salvage" segment, all while covering their tracks from their drow pursuers & scouting for dangers.

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Lupercalia. [Feb. 21st, 2016|08:15 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Is @~ a nautilus?]
[Current Music |crown me king- hounds of love]



Valentine's Day! We got together with Rasheem & Jessica & Russ & Carol for brunch for Phase One. We went to The Wren, which has a whole Bloody Mary selection. Normally, I want a sip of a Bloody Mary, & that's it. I was talked into getting their...Beef Shot? Something like that. It was a non-tomato based Bloody Mary, using a beef broth. When I was in the Arctic I got an alcoholic beef broth drink that was awful, called Reindeer Piss, so I think now with Try Two that I can comfortably use the heuristic that meat cocktails are not really as good of an idea as they sound like in theory. Nice to see Jess & Raz, since they live in Florida Man now, but you know what, Raz has been solid about telecommuting in for Eleven-Books Club, & we all troll each other online enough, that is hasn't been a huge distance bump.

Speaking of book club, as an aside, last night was Kuba's first pick, The Girl on the Train. Consensus seemed to be a positive meh. There was some discussion of the role of "stress" in fiction, especially leading up to the meet-up, since I don't like stress. Not fear, not horror, I don't like drama or dramatic irony or maybe suspense? This is separate from my "I don't really like horror, I like the macabre, which is different but related," & is just that...I have stress in real life. If you successfully evoke stress feelings...why do I want that? Also, what Shauna called the "Bond Villain" exposition at the end was widely condemned. Still, entertaining enough, though I was the only one who liked Anna, as I predicted. After the meeting, a bunch more people came over, & we stayed up late playing board games. I played Battlestar Galactica, which shares the over-complications of games like Arkham Horror, but I was a cylon Gaius Baltar, & with cylon Starbuck's help, I won, so there's that.

Oh, speaking of the Arctic, went to Liz's birthday party the day before Valentine's, & I got more use out of my thermal underlayers because dang it was pretty cold out. I actually thought it was going to be worse; the mayor issued a serious weather advisory & told people to stay indoors...but well. I don't usually want to be "this guy," but I guess growing up in the Wasteland I learned to take weather advisories a little more seriously, because if you got caught out in a freezing blizzard or a tornado, you could be in real trouble. This was just a little Real Winter. Not to say it wasn't cold, because it was, but that's all it was.

After brunch on Valentine's Day, we went over to Matt & Kat's & hung out with them for a bit. I haven't seen them in a while, both from me being antisocial, the weather, & a bit from them being out of town on weekends. We hung out there for a good long while & then came home, where out of the blue we got into an argument about...me not reading the book club book fast enough? Not the best capstone, but I gave Jennifer a card I made with a picture of Kylo Ren looking at Darth Vader's helmet saying "I don't want to be Solo..." What else is new with me? Things have been going pretty well at work, we're being thought of when award nominations roll around, which is vindicating. I was going to say flattering but forget that, the books rule & we worked hard to get them out there. What is today, Sunday? The apartment is pretty much cleaned-up & I don't think we're getting Olivia today, so maybe just a lazy day today...
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Oubliette Session Twenty-Six: Ergot Tea Ceremony. [Feb. 10th, 2016|03:48 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |Late lunch.]
[Current Music |crown me king- spider (he is our hero)]


(Kikashi Lung; Angalamman Festival by Saravanan Dhandapani)

Running a Pan-Asian game with the most identifiable flavour being feudal Japan, we drink a lot of sake at these games. Not enough sake, however, that I instinctively understand "how much" I've had to drink. Which is to say I may have over indulged in my cups in the last session. There've actually been two sessions, but both were high complex social sessions that dealt with character focused set pieces & internal group drama, which is a lot of fun but hard to summarize in any meaningful way, as it is too high context. I actually skipped the last recap, because it was all player-on-player in-character interactions, which is why there is no session twenty-five recap. Both a lot of fun! Which is ultimately the goal, right? Have friends over, have fun. Drinks & social intricacies make for short &/or sloppy summaries, is what I'm saying.

The first major change is that Christine, the art director for our imprint, joined the game. She's Lian, a priestess of Kaguya, the moon goddess. A feminine folk goddess, she also is infamous for taking the gifts of her suitors & disguising herself as the masculine warrior Kusanagi & defeating them all in combat. Lian wears the traditional garb of a folk priest of Kamido & carries bells with her; while the party is in thick with the spirits, they don't have an actual religious person, per se. Amina & Haru are devout, but nobles. Keku is basically an anti-cleric. Ren & the Royal Physician probably count, technically, but they are their whole own kettle of fish. Not to mention the blood magic of the Kitsune cousins...

Notable, this session introduced more of Iroha's family to the party. This is the Lung Family, the Dragons, the Shogun's clan; Haru o-Kitsune the Fox courtier played by Luke is due to marry into them, in full Game of Thrones alliance style. Think of it like he's a Tyrell marrying into the Targaryens. His mother-in-law-to-be is the Shogun's aunt. His prospective father-in-law, as it turns out, is his uncle, on his mother's side: both are former Spiders, Kumo who married into other families. It's a lot of generational political maneuvering coming to fruition, for them.


(Nerai Lung; "The Lady of Pain" by Sinober.)

Nerai Lung: the matriarch of the family, the Shogun's aunt, the youngest sibling of the previous generation. She follows the state religion zealously, particularly worshipping the Monkey King & his aspect as Enlightened One. She seems like she'll happy cut a fool. Or more likely tell someone else to cut that fool, for her; she's used to command.

Seki o-Lung no-Kumo: surprise! Haru has an uncle, & it's his fiancee's father. It's not actually strange at all, given the extended family structure of the aristocracy. The Spider family is known for plots within plots, though the clan doth protest it's innocence too much. Haru has been very good about honoring his mother's side of the family, & now he's reaping the benefits.

Moyo Lung: Nerai's brother, he's older to the point of retirement. Past retirement, if we're being honest. Amina o-Kitsune met him in the barracks, before, not realizing who he was. The old Dragon is fixated on his past greatness at the "Battle of Tonka Bay" & claims to have seen ogres there, & even killed an ogre in single combat. He's also occasionally shrewd, & the old tactician in him can still sparkle now & then.

Kikashi Lung: Iroha's younger, genderqueer sibling, wearing the exaggerated facepaint of a Mao worshipper. The Oni King Mao is part of the pantheon, but he is opposed to the Monkey King & thus obviously Kikashi & their mother Nerai are at each other's throats. They are dragged along to Haru's tea ceremony, but find an unexpected connection in Amina.

The party begins in the Underdocks of Monzen-Jo, at the Inn they've made their base of operations. Haru's failed to drum up more than a modest following...except for the creepy people who riot & then throw themselves down in fits-- Nagini cultists! They've come to see the party off, & they lead Haru, Amina & Keku Kin to the palace proper. Keku has her menagerie with her; her familiar serpent the blasphemously named "Nagini" & her pet pterodactyl-- now about vulture sized-- both. Keku is the neutral party here, the outlier, the wild card. The entourage, off to meet the parent's of Haru's betrothed for tea.

Here's the nitty-gritty. Haru was challenged to a duel, & Amina volunteered to fight as his champion against his much more martial challenger, the giant Kaori o-Foo, as is the style for bushi warriors with kuge courtier cousins. If Amina loses, then Haru is expected to commit seppuku. Thanks to some political maneuvering & Keku's poisons & subterfuges, Haru talked his way into postponing the duel, as Amina sagged "drunkenly." The argument was that they'd need permission from their prospective daimyos. Kaori, who by all indications started the duel because she is in love with Haru's intended Iroha, will duel Haru or his champion Amina before the wedding.

Well pretty much the first think Nerai Lung, Iroha's mother, does is make clear that the wedding will be proceeding as planned, with the duel taking place at moonrise the evening after. Nerai is a steam kettle. She doesn't whistle, though; she gives orders. She is much younger than her husband Seki o-Lung no-Kumo, who greats Haru with a hug, calling him nephew. What he's up to remains elusive: he schemes openly under Nerai's nose, & she seems to tolerate it. Nerai's elder brother Moyo Lung is approaching senility, but by all accounts before he was this seemingly frail old man he was some kind of warrior legend. Don't worry, if you forget, he'll remind you.


(Seki Lung no-Kumo; Hida Satoshi by Jason Engle.)

Kikashi Lung is Iroha's androgynous sibling, the black sheep of the family. Iroha's family is loyal to their particular sect of the Monkey King & Enlightened One, which puts them in divine opposition to Mao. The gods, & their cults & lesser kami, oppose one another, but they are both still in-pantheon. Amanozako the Harpy & her tengu & Nagini the Serpent & her nagas are the same way; it's a traditional part of state kamido. So Kikashi's wearing of oni make-up & obvious rebellion enchant Amina, being the big-old grown-up-runaway wearer of the Mask of the Demon King that she is.

Also at the party is the aforementioned Lian! Christine blended into the group, though it was a more libatious first time then I bet she expected. On the plus side, as the last course of Haru's five course tea ceremony, he did an ergot grain steep. So at least their shenanigans matched, in-character! Lian's story will be revealed over the course of the coming sessions; part of the fun of dropping a new PC into the mix is stirring everything up. This particular campaign harkens back to my days as a Vampire: the Masquerade storyteller, so backstory mysteries play a big role, as recent sessions have been very character motivated.

So that was game! Oh, I mean, game went on for a while longer, as drunken players directed their mildly hallucinating characters. There were some religious discussions & debates, & then the players-- with their new friend Lian-- went back to the inn in the Underdocks to continue their celebration...ending up with Haru & Amina hiding in the rafters, cutting themselves, inviting Lian to join the blood circle, which she refuses. Fun stuff, & when we come back next time, I'm planning on dropping plot into the middle of everything, whether folks are ready or not.


(Left: Lian & horse. Right: Lung family; Photo by Mordicai.)
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Out of the Abyss: Velkynelve. [Jan. 30th, 2016|03:00 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |\[T]/]
[Current Music |crown me king- the monster mash]



I'm running the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Out of the Abyss. Reading it, I was like "woah, this seems like it would be fun to run," & so I decided to do so! I haven't run pre-made adventures since college, when I used to pepper in Harlequin adventures into my Shadowrun campaign: I'd do a SF-punk story, a Fantasy-punk story, then a Harlequin adventure, lather, rinse, repeat. I'm looking forward to running a game where the prep work is already mostly done for me! I also have been wanting to run "DnD," which is to say, the actual generic fantasy setting of the game. I had a blast defeating the Temple of Elemental Evil, & wanted to give newer players a chance to meet mindflayers, beholders, arch-devils & demon princes, that sort of proprietary intellectual property. Bragging rights for defeating named epic NPCs, that sort of thing.

We'd gotten together a few weeks ago to do the main push of character generation, so finishing up before the session was no hard shakes. Jim & Ellen are both pretty 5e adept-- more than me, in fact-- & Alicia, Sam & Pritpaul have some gaming experience, if not this edition. Katharine is a complete rookie, which is great; you know I like playing with novices, because they lack the bad habits some of us grognards have picked up. I told them they were encouraged to share backgrounds, but it was even less required than most campaigns, & that demon-y or Underdark-y hooks would play out swell. In the end, the party ended up about halfway "monster mash":

Imica the drow fey pact warlock & former sage, played by Jim.
Kalythra the cheerful half-drow thief & charlatan, played by Alicia.
Pook'Cha the thri-kreen bard who left his hermitage, played by Sam.
Norin, Ellen's wood elf cleric with a covert, not criminal, background.
Serafin the lightfoot halfling ranger (my first 3e character was too!) played by Pritpaul.
Gizem, Katharine's sagacious mountain dwarf old one pact warlock.

Captured by the drow! Honestly, the cliche in media res start was one of the early hooks this book got in me; it's kind of the only part of Against the Slave Lords that I think works, yeah? An oldie but a goodie, as I was telling Katharine; it's not the way most campaigns start, but it's a classic. Chained up with a very motley crew in a cavern far from the sunlit surface, stripped of all their gear, stuck in a cell with an anti-magic field! The players rolled to see if their characters scrounged up anything useful; three of them have semi-tame tarantula pets, one has a small gem, but nothing of immediate value.



The NPCs do the mash, too; they do the monster mash!

Buppido the friendly derro with bushy white hair.
Prince Derendil a quaggoth who used to be an elf prince.
Eldeth the surface world dwarf captured while hunting orcs.
Jimjar the svirfneblin gambler no one will wager with.
Ront an orc from the tribe Eldeth's people were trying to wipe out.
Sarith a drow, who captured the myconid Stool & killed his superior.
Shuushar the Awakened the non-violent kuo-toa.
Stool a myconid sprout with telepathic spores.
Topsy & Turvy standoffish twin deep gnomes.

Alicia gets the first point of Inspiration: kuo-toa are D&D's version of Lovecraft's Deep Ones, & upon meeting the enlightened Shuushar & leaning that he practices non-violence, she said "more like a pacifish, am I right?" Puns are the best! Her half-drow, Kalythra, befriends Stool, sharing a psychic link created by the myconid's spores with Serafin (& later discover that Sarith shares them too). Jimjar talks to them a bit, but they aren't interested in taking him up on any wagers. He's a gnome, but not like any gnome the surface folks have ever met.

Mostly the two drow talk to Sarith. Buppido the derro is friendly if a little bit "junkie shuffle" & the orc Ront doesn't speak a language anyone else knows but seems to know enough Common to repeat key nouns in agreement with wanting to escape. Eldeth the dwarf is a little foolhardy, & eventually ends up with a drow bolt through her throat-- the drow drag her unconcious & dying body to the "Shrine of Lolth" to be healed, as there's no easy escape in death for the prisoners. They chat with Derendil as well; there's a difference of opinion in whether the polymorphed elf prince should give into his quaggoth rages, or struggle to remember who he used to be.

The party's first testing of the guards-- throwing a fit during feeding time-- leaves them unfed for the day. The leader, one of the male "dones" that serve the matron in charge, shoots amber goo from a wand, which cocoons the Kalythra to the wall. The other drow shoot the thri-kreen who made a fuss, but all three miss, so the drow male leading the group of guards takes them away to be punished for their failures, with the rest of the grub. Norin & Gizem fail their Constitution saves & gain a point of exhaustion from hunger. Eventually they decide to eat the pet spiders (Norin's was crushed by the gate, as she tried to wedge it open with her spider, so she eats Kalythra's pet), & successfully manage to choke them down. Goodbye, little spiders!



Try number two is much more successful; when one group is taken to dump out their chamber pots, the group makes their move! Having heard from gossiping with the other prisoners that two of the "drones," or the elite drow in charge of the other worthless males, are rivals, they wait till the "scarred one"-- Jorlan-- is in charge of the guards, & then use Stool's rapport spores to secretly & telepathically communicate with him. At first, the drow is not having it, as the bug-man dumps his chamberpot on the floor, like he did the day before with his mushroom broth, & he orders the other prisoners to dump out theirs on the floor, fouling the prison with excrement as punishment. It does succeed in bringing him over to scold Pook'Cha, putting him into telepathic contact with those who've shared Stool's rapport spores. They convince him to aid their escape attempt, leaving the door open & a key to their manacles, in order to disgrace his supplanter.

Jailbreak! They spring the gated door of the cavern, & tell the NPCs to hang back. The sneaky characters-- which turns out to mean the cleric Norin, the half-drow rogue & Serafin the halfling-- head out. The cave has enough of a lip to have a walkway, but then it drops off into sheer darkness. Hanging opposite the cave is an "inverted tower," an enormous hollowed out stalactite that the drow use as a guard post...& an armory, at least according to the scarred drow who helped them slip free. Otherwise, one way leads to a waterfall & a dead end, the other to spider webs below, & then down to the small lake where they dump their chamber pots.

Beyond the guard "tower" is the Shrine of Lolth, where their equipment awaits, & their intended destination. If the sneaks can just get some equipment for the crew, maybe they can fight their way...drat! Curses! Spotted! The drow drone in charge-- a third, neither the scarred one or his rival-- notices them & battle commences! In the fray, the party use their manacles as improvised flails, & defeat the warriors, whom the leader sacrifices to buy him time to get reinforcements. It is a close battle; the drone puts down the ranger, who's already been down once already! They begin to raid the armory-- full of shortswords & chainshirts in the drow fashion, hand crossbows & studded leather-- as fast as they can.



Synchronized with the drow alarms-- little ringing bells on threads-- is a KABOOM! as the sounds of horrifying battle commence, culminating in a crash as a hideous being of incarnate evil shatters the wall of the stalactite, shaking it precariously. Resembling a cross between giant skeksis & a blasphemous angel, its feathered wings shed maggots as their bony fingers rattle. It's beak somehow manages to sneer & smile, especially at the two warlocks, claiming "it will see them again soon." It screams rage & envy at them & flaps back into the sky, where black flies the size of dogs with human faces wait to fall upon it with barbed pitchforks.

With that, the drow arrive! Mistress Ilvara herself leads the group, with her apprentice, all the elite drones, & a pack of lesser drow males. The native denizens of the Underdark, besides the drow prisoner, have already made a run for it; Buppido, Jimjar, Topsy & Turvy all booked it once the drone went for backup. They went for the path of the spiderwebs down to the pool of water below. Ront, Stool & Shuushar are with the party, along with Xarith. Seeing Ilvara, & the lateness of the hour, they decide to make a run for it as well. To the spider webs! & that is where we leave it. The game's ambient music was the Bloodborne soundtrack.

I think a big success all around! Katharine was pretty quiet, but it was her first time & I think she was in deep absorption mode. As DM, good table flow is your responsibility-- Wil Wheaton is really good at it-- but I'm also pretty sure she won't have a problem making herself heard when she's ready. Jim & Alicia don't know each other & are playing siblings & that always makes me happy; that's just good social engineering. Similarly, Sam's weird bug-person is their mentor. I've got to talk to Pritpaul about what terrain & enemy he picked; part of the fun of being stuck in the Underdark is the fish out of waterness of it all, but I don't want to actually screw his character. Ellen reminds me of Mike, actually, both in that she's the one with her character on a spreadsheet & that she's the wildcard. (Photos by Liz D.)





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