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Guildmasters' Guide to Waterdeep: Blood in the Streets. [Apr. 27th, 2019|01:22 pm]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, ]
[Current Mood |A friend in need...]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. nirvana- on a plane]

Running this Guildmasters' Guide to Waterdeep weekly lunch game mashing up Waterdeep: Dragon Heist & Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica has turned out to be a lot of fun, & judging from the events that are about to unfold in the Magic: the Gathering metaplot during their "War for the Spark" event, I feel like I'm very "on trend." I'll note that this campaign is shaping up to be a fairly brutal one: sure, there is a lot of rubbing shoulders with epic level NPCs & high CR monsters, but even beyond that the threats on the ground seem quite lethal. The last we'd heard from our protagonists they had been hired by a notorious popinjay, one Volothamp Geddarm, author of the various Volo's Guide to... books, to find his missing friend Floon. Other than a description ("human male, pale skin, red-blonde wavy hair, well dressed") the best lead that they have is that Volo had been trying to break his writer's block & Floon had taken him out gambling & drinking two nights ago at the Skewered Dragon, a casino in Dock Ward between Net Street & Fillet Lane.

Carl is playing Soom Splintertusk, an elephantine loxodon warlock & member of the Golgari Swarm. Membership has its perks, & her Guild grants her the ability to move about in the city's underworld rapidly, mostly made manifest by her buddy Shtaa, myconid sewer gondolier. The little toadstool person takes them aboard its boat made from an inverted giant mushroom cap after they descend a manhole near the Inn of the Yawning Portal, swallowing jar after jar of blood smuggled down into the undercity, drained from the corpse of the Xanathar gang member Soom dismembered. & off they scoot! Jellywinks Stumbleduck, Ruoxi's gnome barbarian, is the only one with nightvision, so it's torches or darkness for most of the trip. There seems to be some sort of drama up above, but they safely & quickly pass below it.

They come up safely, near their destination, detouring into a nearby purple storefront named after the stuffed beholder in its window: The Old Xoblob Shop. The shop is packed with wild gizmos & bric-a-brac, swathed in violet decor: amethyst lamps, lilac curtains, & an periwinkle deep gnome in plum robes, face adorned with eye tattoos & puffing on a pipe of lavender smoke. "Xoblob's the name...no relation!" Vanri "Toad" Todeshi, Caro's Rakdos Cultist air genasi rogue, trades some stolen death's head moths for a bone flute & the Selesneya Conclave's representative, Jeff's water genasai monk, Serous of the Nine Currents, yearns for a fancy mechanical goldfish he finds tucked away on a shelf; while the group barters & chats, they question the svirfneblin, who tells them that Floon & similar looking looking man (“not brothers, but you know how old friends can grow to look alike,” he says, gesturing at beholder in the window) were jumped outside the shop by half a dozen men with winged snake tattoos wearing black armor.

The Skewered Dragon is artfully distressed, the front torn up, with anchors embedded in the roof, smashing in the windows. It's the sort of dive where the professional upper-crust slum it with their working-class peers; in this case, It's the Order of Master Shipwrights drinking with the salt of the earth folk from the Most Diligent League of Sail-makers & Cordwainers. Asking around the bar, the consensus is that after Volo parted ways with Floon, he met up with Renaer Neverember, son of previous Open Lord of Waterdeep, Dagult Neverember. The dwarf Orsic Ruby-Eye says Renaer is “another spoiled, rich brat wrecking it for everyone!” but Eggren the dragonborn thinks “he’s okay for an aristocrat; I don’t mind winning his coins, at least!” There's a rumor that Floon was living off of blackmailing a noble, but otherwise the scuttlebutt is that the two of them played a few unlucky hands of Three Dragon Ante & were followed out by five men in black leathers who frequent a warehouse marked by a flying snake. As the group interrogates the patrons, Toad is subtly sneaking into conversations, inflaming tensions, escalating the stress in the room into an all out riot!

The clues have pointed them towards a warehouse with painted over windows on Candle Lane— now a poverty-stricken area, the broken street lamps still flicker with the continual flame spells cast in more prosperous days. Set in a part of the city with varying heights of infrastructure, half-built into a bridge, the main floor of the warehouse is lower than street level, inset with a yard & loading dock. & well, here is where things start to get rough. The players have a lot of reasonable concerns: the initial premise was that they were all friends with Yagra, & having found out she's a Zhent they are wary of bursting into their stronghold guns blazing. & Toad climbs the wall & goes to scout in through the second-story, as is the rogue's prerogative. The problem here is the dice: the players are rolling terrible on Stealth & Open Locks, & dun dun dun, the bad guys are rolling much, much better. Kenku, crow-folk, armed with wicked kris knives & cruel bows, mimicking the words of others to speak, lying in wait.

So here's how it goes down: Toad is ambushed & dropped to zero in the first round. This is tense: I know that the kenku inside of the warehouse are kidnapping her & I'm giving her "death saves" to let her have a chance to wake up, but the table is feeling pretty dire as she starts critically failing them. Jellywinks charges in, but the raven-people from the Xanathar Guild are covering the back & ventilate her with arrows, as well. She's up & trucking but sticks to the shadows, taking the long way around the crates & boxes of the lower floor...which is littered with a dozen bodies, some with the many-eyed circle of the Xanathar Gang but more in the black armor & winged snakes of the Zhentarim. Soom & Serous both climb up & go to help Toad; they are barraged by arrows & dagger strikes but fight back with spell, sword & punch. Still, the odds are against them & things are looking grim, until a clumsy yell & hurdled violence stuns the corvid villains for a moment, giving the remaining party members a chance to finish the avian antagonists off.

The battlecry comes from one Renaer Neverember, pickled herring soaked son of the previous Open Lord, armed with a scavanged kenku dagger & slim Zhent rapier. In his princely attire & ginger hair, he does match the rough description of Floon, & indeed, Renaer believes that both group of gangsters' cases of mistaken identity are at the root of things. The Zhentarim kidnapped both of them, but when ambushed by the Xanathar Gang, Renaer managed to sneak away to hide in a back closet in the chaos...but Floon wasn't so lucky. He doesn't know what's going on but the Zhents who kidnapped him were too stupid to shut up, & so Renaer learned that the crooks all seem to believe that his father Dagult Neverember embezzled a vast sum of gold from Waterdeep’s charity & welfare budget when he was Open Lord & hid the dragon-stamped coins somewhere in the city. The Xanathar Guild has — or had— a magical artifact called The Stone of Golorr, whatever that is, but it was recently stolen, & now it seems like there is going to be an all-out gang war.

The whistles in the distance mean the City Watch is on its way, but they have a moment to search or question the unconscious or dying bird people. The Selesneyan representative Serous is roused from unconsciousness, confused but glad not to have been dissected. They focus on a round of questions: Soom's magic is able to stave off death for a few of the parliament of avian crooks; the one with the gold rings in its beak & the one with blue cheeks are too far gone but the perpetually molting one lives & the one with the peg leg is roused for questioning. You might call it [Gears,] since it mimics the sound of spinning clockwork teeth when questioned. These bird-critters only answer in call & response, but eager to live, it chirps:

    In a scratchy voice: “No time to loot the place; just get him to the boss.”
    In a gruff voice: “Heh, heh, heh...The Xanathar sends his regards!”
    In a nasal sing-song: "🎵Follow the yellow signs in the sewers...🎵”

There is a secret closet where a crate full of paintings & a crate full of silver bars are stashed, but they don't have a chance to grab any before the cops show up. When the City Watch arrives it is embodied in the person of one Hyustus Stagat, Watch Captain & Boros Agent, wearing a “Worf sash” with a glowing Boros Legion symbol & a Chultian Flaming Fist. "A triple cop," they call him, & they aren't wrong, but he's not the kind to play by the book; he's the type from the school of hard knocks. What's the cliche? “Keep the blood off the streets”? Well, Stagat's laissez faire attitude extends thus far & no further. A Waterdhavian native & Guild member, he's a pragmatist whose familiar with Force Grey murderhobos, Golgari crypt-gardens & secret Rakdos clubs; if the PCs can restrict their violence to gangsters & monsters, out of public eye, he’ll try to help them out..."but not everybody as understanding as I am, like the Boss." Besides as much, he’s impressed by a Neverember, even a black sheep like Renaer, so they depart unmolested, but not unremarked.

Everyone decides it is best to rest the night at the Yawning Portal: Volo is up in the balcony but they avoid him & settle in for a few drinks, tucked away in a corner. The Inn is plastered with posters for an upcoming Rusty Bighat show, & a fat orange tomcat is sitting on the bar being fed a saucer of milk by Bonnie the barmaid; they overhear gloomy old Durnan chiding her not to encourage the thing to stick around or it’ll be stirge food before long, or worse. Toad tries to befriend the fluffy one-eyed beast— "Marmaduke"— but they get off to a bad start: he scratches her & runs off to hide in the rafters. Exhausted & put upon, they are not long for the taproom & soon head upstairs, Soom & Toad bonding & nuzzling while Jellywinks passes out in a nest of books & sweaters with the necklace belonging to her stillborn sibling that she somehow found amongst the bar's many oddities. Serous meditates in the stable barracks; Durnan recognizes a certain thousand yard stare in his eyes & put him up in the workers' quarters free of charge.

    That night they dream. Serous is troubled by nightmares over-brimming with spectral kaiju, as ever. He hides while the Temple falls, but this time the earth genasi he's powerless to save from a fate worse than death is not the little girl he remembers, but an older man with bismuth “hair” wearing a heavy leather apron who is soul-flensed by the dark, grasping tentacles, spirit ripped screaming from his body while the young monk watches helplessly. He's first up in the morning, lurking in the hallways outside everyone else's room, half-awake.

    Soom is a warlock, & the Corpse-Germ is her patron, rhizomes of unlife reaching deep into her nervous system. It appears as a tusked skull, jawless & sprouting the veins & connective ligaments of a body as roots & fungal bodies, waiting for her in an endless grey sea sprinkled with prismatic stars above & below. Corpse-Germ has a literally cyclopean affect, as it turns to face the viewer with no relation to the eye sockets, giving the impression that the central nasal cavity is it's "face." It wants to know “What did we learn today?”

    "Are you locked inside or out?" is what I ask Ruoxi while her character Jellywinks dreams of the Blue Door. The Blue Door that haunts her. She's locked inside. "What is outside?" The steppe. When she wakes up from the dream of the Blue Door, the Blue Door that haunts her, she remembers that her unborn sibling's necklace is a kind of puzzle-locket, but she can't figure out how to twist it open. Is it some kind of key? Jellywinks sleeps in; she has to be pried from her cocoon of slumber with a proverbial crowbar.

    Caro's air genasi rogue also picked up a knick-knack from the Yawning Portal, a black book labeled “Nocturne” that records people's dreams: in the morning, she can see everything written in perfect detail on the first page, ready to be copied into the following pages if she so chooses. She floats in the eye of the storm, a dust storm of brittle glass swirling in eviscerating breezes that spiral closer & closer until biting into her face, blood everywhere.

Morning comes uneventfully. Renaer does not have access to any deep coffers; he lives on his mother's estates but his name does still afford him a line of credit to some degree, which he leverages with a cleric of Waukeen, Obaya Uday, for two potions of healing. He's waiting for the party in the common room with Volo, who is complaining about being stood up by his editor & drinking a hot, bitter, brown drink from a complicated pot. Chultan kaeth, coffee from his friends in the import & export business, River & Flask. He asks Soom, as politely as an overly curious man like him can, what happened to her "other trunk," mentioning that the other "Loxo" he's met all had a pair. Strange! Volo is, of course, staying behind, but Renaer comes with them on the rescue mission, albeit trepidatiously. The kitchen is serving a kind of biscuits & gravy, & Jellywinks stuffs her overflowing pack with a handful before heading out.

Down into the dank, churning sewers again! This time to follow the yellow chalk signs the kenku "spoke" of. They pile into another manhole in the Castle Ward, climbing single file, not entirely unnoticed, & it takes a bit of searching to pick up the trail...but luckily Soom & Shtaa are specialized for the sorts of labyrinthine, underworld affairs. The myconid is a little lumpier & flirtier than before, & between them, Jellywink's ability to see in the dark, & Serous & Toad getting out & searching for old chalk markings that might have been rubbed away— "Wet & Breezy" combine clever eyes & a working knowledge of thieves' guild tactics— they find themselves back under the Dock Ward, navigating the maze of chutes & tunnels swiftly & unerringly. They've got a torch burning but have all (besides Renaer) inhaled the psychic rapport spores of their fungal friend, so they are largely silent, except when they remember to speak out loud to include the young Neverember.

Their initial approach is stealthy, deadly & efficient. A gazer— a small beholderkin creature, like a hovering grapefruit of flesh with four eyestalks & an angerfish maw— blocks their path through the fetid tunnels, but a few arrows & darts dispatch it. Coming to a three-way junction, with a landing platform, very narrow drainage passage & continuing canals, Jellywinks spots a hidden door! & they all spy several arrow slits, & hear the sounds of snoring creatures: goblins? The telepathic spores they shared with the Golgari myconid allow them to remain eerily silent, sneaking up on the gang hideout unawares. The group slips in through another murderhole, past more arrow slits & almost catch the warty green humanoid asleep at the watch...almost. At the last minute he jumps up, yelling "BREE-YARK!" out into the echoing tunnels & trying to scamper away before Serous knocks him unconscious.

The action is on, now! They players sweep the area; the main room features a plinth topped with a stylized beholder, absent its main eye; the room is otherwise featureless, literally swept clean, though ever-perceptive Toad finds a dustless spot on the wall, as if a large painting or tapestry that reached all the way to the floor had been removed, as well as a mysterious glass bottle of some kind of "serum" in the side chambers: crude cells, junk-strewn & with bloody manacles bolted to the wall. There are two massive double-doors left, & pausing to listen they hear the sounds of pain coming from beyond, like Han being tortured on Bespin. Ready to get the drop on them, the party use magical smoke & illusions to simulate all sorts of shenanigans in the room on the other side of the door.

Here's the thing about that: it works, but perhaps too well. Unbeknownst to them, one of the lieutenants of The Xanathar Gang is visiting an underboss, & the mindflayer capo comes straight through the doors (opening them telekinetically, hovering a foot above the ground) into the room the players are in. With it, skittering along the wall, is a brain with four chicken feet, its pet intellect devourer, & last in through the door, spewing gouts of fire from his fists: a magical, pyromaniac...orc? Half-orc? Three-quarters orc wizard. The Rakdos troublemaker, Toad, hiding behind the corner of the door, is nonetheless cooked by the cone of flame.

So there's a moment of true terror: the party is face to face with a threat easily capable of destroying (& to be entirely honest, devouring) them. Now, it is clear from an audience standpoint that this mini-Cthulhu is basically done with the whole scene & looking to bounce, but you know how heroes are. So there are a few moments where it is touch & go: mammoth-like Soom had a spell prepared to go off at the first non-redhead through the door so she takes the brunt of its initial annoyance, luckily rolling over twenty on her save versus being dominated into killing her friends. The monk Serous, well. He's "lucky" in that his short sword draws blueblack ichor from the thing, piercing into it; but unlucky in the way that it looks at him, mindblasting him, liquifying important parts of his grey matter.

Two healing potions later & things are looking a little better; the mindflayer has left through the portal, though it still hangs ominously open. The cerebral horror is no slouch on its own; clawing through the room & focusing a horrible psychic assault on Renaer, who falls to his knees, beats himself about the head & flees into the other room, a blessed mix of stupid & stubborn defeating its awful, sustained psionic assault. Axes & blows seem to harm it, but not completely; it's like doing three-dimensional damage to being that exists on more than just this plane of existence. The spellcaster, Soom, is occupied keeping people from dying, so it falls to the rest of them to deal with it— & the orkish mage with the eerily familiar gruff voice— via brute force & mundane damage...& violence wins the day!

They hurriedly scan the next room; Renear has a man who looks like him up in a fireman's carry— Floon, bearing truth serum track marks, at one hit point & with several levels of exhaustion— & the chamber is otherwise adorned with ragged curtains, a dais, a throne, & more torture cells. Searching, the group finds a secret passage, the orc magician's spellbook & sack of treasure. They decide discretion is the better part of valor & ignore the secret dirt tunnel they've uncovered under a flagstone, & whatever else might be in the rest of the dungeon, doubling back to the canal. Another goblin— chanting "🎵fill 'em full of arrows 🎵" in a sing-song voice— takes pot shots at them as they retreat, firing from behind the arrow slits opposite the way they came in, sinking a barbed arrowhead into their myconid pilot, Shtaa, but they beat an otherwise successful hasty retreat, as the Golgari lead them back through the filthy, sunken passages of Waterdeep's sewers.
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Dino Dread! [Mar. 17th, 2019|11:56 am]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, , ]
[Current Mood |🧟🦕]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams - dino dna!]

It is just after the first “Jurassic Park” has happened but scientists working for Biosyn managed to retrieve the dinosaur DNA that Ned tried to steal. In the subsequent years, Biosyn has created dozens of cheap knockoff dinosaur theme parks around the world. You are all employees at the latest theme park called DinoMight!®. Located in the Virgin Islands, it's a quick Carnival cruise from ports in Florida and a leisurely cruise further up the east coast. Vacation packages are available, come visit us soon! You're guaranteed to have a DinoMIGHT® time!

The last time Tom ran Dread, it was a standalone sci-fi horror game set at the bottom of the sea, so when Tom told us he wanted to run "Jurassic Dread," we took it at face value, like a bunch of suckers. Even after we saw a diplodocus wandering around with a broken neck, we spent a good hour thinking the park's dinosaurs might be robot fakes on a rampage. The truth was staring us in the face: this was a return to Tom's apocalyptic Dead World, & those absolutely are undead dinosaurs. I can survive dinosaurs, I can survive zombies, but zombie dinosaurs?

Francis "Fitz" Fitzroy was a whiz with numbers & a rising star in economics, who decided all capitalism is corrupt & the best way to live in the system is to drop out & compromise your values in the Happiest Place of All Time: Disney with dinosaurs. Life as a burnout & beach bum, funded by goofy antics in a hotboxed costume? Yeah, there's worse ways to make a living then as Iguana Don, DinoMight's® Hawaiian shirt clad iguanodon mascot, man. The real problem I had was my addiction to painkillers: I had started dating a park veterinarian named Maureen ("Mo") just to get access to animal tranquilizers. Which came in handy when I was able to sneak off to the bathroom with an emergency tranq gun & empty out a cartridge to take the edge off. I made it to the very end of the line, before a pack of zombified velociraptors tore me to pieces as the rest of the survivors raced down the dock & onto the boat. At least I wasn't killed by pterodactyls.

I spent most of the adventure thinking Alex, Nicole's character, was either some evil corporate spy or a total grifter. In the end it turned out the latter, but the gun she pulled had me thinking the former for a while. Kat's character, Lucy, was the creepy research scientist; she definitely knew that there were some kind of hijinks going on here! Maybe she even helped commit the crimes agains nature that brought these terrible lizards back from the dead, for all I know. Harmony, Luke's character, was the technocrat pretty boy & secretly a video "influencer," working here at the park waiting for the inevitable disaster to post as content. He was in love with Matt's character, Amery, the disgraced Air Force pilot who crashed his plane over the Super Bowl & is now working on his knife skills in the kitchens like Steven Segal in Under Seige. At first he can't stand Harmony, but by the end of the story, their love was real!

Here are some short clips of us playing.

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Guildmasters' Guide to Waterdeep: The Yawning Portal. [Mar. 2nd, 2019|02:33 pm]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, ]
[Current Mood |Mana from heaven.]
[Current Music |crown me king- the four seasons]

I've never been a Magic: the Gathering player, since I'd rather dive into a roleplaying game if I can get a bunch of nerds together, but I have always admired the background worldbuilding. I picked up A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara once upon a time & enjoy dipping into the game's meta-narrative when I stumble upon it. When Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica came out, I was instantly charmed by it. Cool new species, some new background abilities, but above all it's the factions that sold me. Some of the most iconic intellectual property in Dungeons & Dragons comes from combining the game mechanics with the logic of the cosmology, like the Outer Planes. A Blood War between the devils of a Lawful Evil Hell & the demons of the Chaotic Evil Abyss, Sigil, that sort of thing. The Guilds of Ravnica work the same way, but on the Magic: the Gathering coloured mana paradigm. It lends a "same but different" feel to the Guilds' design, & I starting thinking of a lot of various ways to work them in to D&D, most notable as pan-dimensional franchises. The ur-magical Guildpact prevents largescale conflicts from breaking out on the city-world of Ravnica, so I've decided that if all ten Guilds are able to get established somewhere (whatever that might mean mechanically) a similar protective ward, what the people of Forgotten Realms might call a mythal, would come into effect there, as well. Not to mention that the last time there was shenanigans with the Guildpact, the winning Champion ended up bestowed with the power of the Living Guildpact, whose rulings are magically binding across the plane of Ravnica, so there is probably a supernatural incentive to compete, & while each Guild has to be included for the Pact to take effect, there is no need for all ten to be equal...

Another sourcebook I'd had my eye on was Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Running Out of the Abyss has given me a newfound appreciation for published modules. I think I'll always be a homebrew guy at heart, but there is a lot of appeal in both being able to share in a part of the collective gamer zeitgeist, of having taken part of a "classic module" like The Temple of Elemental Evil & in having someone else do a big part of the game prep for you in advance. I've never had a story relationship with the metropolis Waterdeep, & this module is meant to go from level one to five, which is, I think, a modest & reasonable length considering the way most game scheduling goes these days. I've been playing in a Ravenloft game at lunch at work & I started to think that maybe the "scene at a time" restrictions might work for my vignette-heavy style...plus it reminded me of how much Middle-earth Role Playing I did during study hall in junior high. Major flashbacks to Morlókë the Noldo Sorcerer chilling at the Grey Havens. Dragon Heist also has a structure ripe for both faction quests & for sandbox-style "guild-building," & is cosmopolitan enough to be a worthwhile target for expansion (privately, I joke that the higher level Guild diplomats were sent to Kai Shan to negotiate with the Spelljammer sphere-spanning Shou Lung). So I rallied up some of my work crew & this is who they've chosen to play:

    Jellywinks Stumbleduck of the Flayed Monkey Clan, Gnome Barbarian & secretly the envoy from the (Blue & Black) spies of House Dimir, played by Ruoxi. A failed academic freelancing on the courtiers beat for the Deep Times, delivering tabloid gossip about the aristocracy while a deep & abiding rage stirs in her soul, waiting eagerly for blood & axes. She has a creepy talking doll.

    Serous of the Nine Currents, Water Genasi Monk, devotee of Istishia, & Faerûnian convert to the (Green & White) sylvan Selesnya Conclave, played by Jeff. Graceful & with a solemn playfulness, Serous is the survivor of planar catastrophe & kaiju menace, nursed back to health in the glades of the Selesnya, where street & forest, house & stream all coexist in harmony. He has a candle that burns under water.

    Soom Splintertusk, Loxodon Warlock of the Undying, the elephantine shaman sent by the necro-fungal (Green & Black) Golgari Swarm, played by Carl. She is the only one openly wearing her Guild insignia, & she is exceedingly friendly...which what makes her periodic indifference to death & decay all the more uncanny. One of her tusks was shattered & repaired with gold, Kintsugi-style. She wears skullpaint that shifts with her moods.

    Vanri "Toad" Todeshi, Air Genasi Rogue, a pale little thing, the childlike representative from the demonic (Red & Black) Cult of Rakdos, played by Caro. Sure, an archfiend runs the Guild, but there are plenty of people who join because they like circuses, crime, or in the case of Vanri, chaos. Her slight frame can lend her a false innocence, & it is your fault if you fall for it. She has a magical pipe that blows smoke into shapes.

The adventure begins in the legendary inn The Yawning Portal, built over the ruined foundations of a crazed wizard's tower, the open well of which is the only known entrance to the infamous dungeons of Undermountain. The bartender is Durnan, an immortal adventurer, retired; a collector of knick-knacks & trophies who pours a steady pint with a thousand yard stare. Each player gets to choose an NPC from a pre-generated selection of contacts, & they each independently decide on Yagra Stonefist. Okay, that makes my life easier; herding Player Characters can be difficult but at least I've got a half-orc to corral them to one table. & so she did, convincing the massive but relatively weak Loxodon spellcaster to arm wrestle the deceptively tiny Gnome warrior. Jellywinks ("Jelly, Winks, Stumble, Duck, you can call me whatever.") wins but the ice is broken & soon they are chatting & admiring the mummified corpse leaned up against Durnan's bar in a coffin ("He's waiting for someone.") & an unopenable bottle of fizzy liquid.

Yagra gets up to get them all a round of drinks so that we can do some character descriptions & introductions, leaving them to talk amongst themselves, but that is cut short by slurs & violence. “Ya pig! Like killin’ me mates, does ya?” is what they hear, & by the time they push through the crowd, Yagra has a human with an eye tattooed on his forehead pinned & about to get knocked out for the count, but four of his friends with similar eyeball marks & brands ("The Xanathar Gang!" realize those in the know) are about to jump her from behind. Oh no, not on their watch: they get right into the thick of it. At first it's fists & non-lethal attacks, as Waterdeep is a city of laws & police, but Vanri palms a blade & tries to shiv the thug on the ground, & while no one else notices, he decides it's blades out...just in time for Jellywinks to rage & remove his head with a battleaxe. Thunk. Soom throws the body towards the chasm into the deadly dungeon in the center of the bar, but she falls short & only the head goes in. Plunk, plunk, plunk plunk. There is more bloody scuffling but soon Soom & Yagra facedown the rest, tusks & sneers, intimidating them into fleeing...except the one Serous kicks in the pants on the way out. That one decides to get a little vengeance, or at least, that was his plan before Jellywinks & Serous pinned him to the floor.

Just in time for the warty, green fingers & grotesque, carroty nose of a desiccated troll to crest the lip of the well, climbing up out of Undermountain! A cloud of sluggish, possum-sized mosquito-things surrounds it, bloated on it's blood & bile: effing stirges. "Troll!" shouts Durnan, unsheathing Grimvault, of the moonlit glimmer, of the shining edge, from beneath the bar. "Take care of the bugs & get ready to douse this thing in oil!" he barks, leaping to battle. Most of the stirges, seeing stiff resistance, sink heavy & lethargic back down into the dungeon, but three are still hungry for the sweet red kroovy. Serous & Jellywinks drag the Xanathar Gangster toward the troll, throwing him towards it as a distraction, & as stirges attack him & Soom, she calls upon black magic to envelop her mammoth form in tentacles of darkness, crushing the bandit & two of the bloodsuckers. Durnan is picked up & gored by the troll, mauled by rows of teeth, but preservers, chopping off some of the thing's fingers & a hand, massive blade ringing like a chime. Vanri uses the wind magic of her djinn bloodline to pick up a barrel of lamp fuel from the second story of the Yawning Portal, dropping it from a height onto the troll, coating it & Durnan thoroughly in oil. Yagra is behind the bar throwing bottles of liquor at the thing, & the others squash the remaining stirge & help distract the troll so Durnan can really whale on it. He does so with gusto, as Vanri picks up a torch & chucks it squarely at the troll the instant Durnan is clear. Whoosh!

Cleaning up, collecting a wriggling troll finger under glass cake lid for display on the bar, Durnan says they can't solve everything like murderhobos, but he saw the crook draw first; he’s not willing to lie for them but he is willing to tell the police that...either now or later if there is an investigation. Yagra, who they have now figured out is part of the Zhentarim black market syndicate, says she'd love to stick around & talk with "the big one with the nose & the little one with the temper," but she has to go tell someone named "Davil" that the "Eyefuckers" are out looking for trouble on their turf. As she leaves, Soom dips into a pouch with her trunk for some spell components & touches the badly injured Xanathar member, casting spare the dying to make sure he is stable, & gathers up the headless corpse of the other for disposal back in her room. She's been eyeing the mummy at the bar all night & Durnan says "his" tab is up at last call; Soom can keep ‘em after that, since that troll— or the stirges!— probably took care of his friends, so they won't be be getting back in time either. Similarly, he tells Serous that he can keep the fizzy bottle & says the others can have one of the many, many oddities stashed around the inn, but it's not a flea market: don’t go poking around, just grab something. Jellywinks takes a break from chopping the burning troll corpse & finds...a lost heirloom from her family, a necklace belonging to her stillborn sibling, while Vanri picks up a black book labeled "Nocturne" that seems to have recorded her most recent dream in some detail.

Which brings us to Volothamp Geddarm, preposterous author of such volumes as Volo's Guide to Baldur's Gate, Volo's Guide to the Sword Coast, Volo's Guide to the Sword Coast Number II, Volo's Guide to Monsters, the forthcoming Volo's Waterdeep Enchiridion, & the soon-to-be-written ...Guide to Spirits & Specters. A human wizard in at least four contradictory styles of fashion, if even a fraction of his stories are true he has lived a cursed & charmed existence. If any of them are true, but for now that's besides the point. He's single-mindedly focused on his friend Floon, which hey, sounds like Soom, & also, does Jellywinks think that the Deep Times would like to run a book review column? He's has a galley copy of his Enchiridion with him, as I hand over the printed out pages to Ruoxi as a prop. Did we accidentally create a publishing mini-game in our publishing lunch hour game? Signs point to yes. But for as pompous as he seems, his concern (& gold) seems genuine, though Vanri Todeshi turns the conversation dark & the haranguing & bargaining of the other members makes him start to think he might have read the room wrong & accidentally approached a party of evil adventurers instead of a greedy party of heroes. They assure him they'll take the job, as he flees, throwing four pouches of ten golden dragons each, having promised at least ten times that on completion.

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Out of the Abyss: Farewell to the Whorlstone Tunnels. [Feb. 3rd, 2019|04:42 pm]
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[Current Mood |Gracklstuck.]
[Current Music |crown me king - the tower]

Looking out at the game table from behind the Dungeon Master's screen can be such an interesting & singular perspective. You know what's behind Door Number One & Door Number Two, but somehow the any path that adventurers choose to take is always going to surprise you. How could any DM have prepared for Lilly befriending the rocs in our Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, or the "Thieves Three" hacking the throne first thing? In my Out of the Abyss campaign, they have been mucking about down in the bowels of the dungeon for a while now: there has been time for factions & monsters of Whorlstone Tunnels to notice & start responding to them. Having discovered a red dragon egg & continuing the explore the chamber of a large black monolith after a thrilling battle with a derro savant, a many-eyed horror, & their minions, the players were ambushed by reinforcements including more of the gigantic, stitched together pickled punk pigs, a derro riding one of the duergar spider mounts called "steeders," & a huge kuo-toa alchemically mutated into a briny & bubonic berserker.

Thanks to the size-altering mushrooms of the faerzress-infused caverns, Serafin, Pritpaul's part-time cannibal halfling, ate a bigwig & grew brobdingnagian; then the ranger tossed the person-sized dragon egg into one of the rickety circus carts the derro had used to house a frankenboar, & pulled the carriage to a hasty retreat. Exit, stage left...but not before smashing down the doorframe, collapsing the tunnel behind them to buy a little time. They dodn't waste any, themselves: time, that is. Ellen's elf cleric in identity crisis, Norin, heals everyone up & dabbles in a little reconnaissance along the route ahead, sleuthing out some traps & shrieking mushrooms. Pook'cha, the thri-kreen bard Sam plays, was the only one not to "eat me" themselves up to size category Large, & so the cricketman clambers into the driver's seat, trying to steer them through the corridors. Imica, drow warlock & recent only child, is not very strong, but Strength is this party's dump stat, so he takes the back, trying to both push or lift the back wheels to help turn steep corners, as the situation demands. A silence spell centered on the egg & an illusion of a sealed passage further obscures their harried departure.

The group still has the elusive derro Droki, one of their main objectives, captured. Shrunken extra-Tiny with a pygmywort mushroom, they've put the mumbling courier in a jar & poked holes in the lid. In the cone of silence no one can hear any of his gibberish, but they try to gauge his excitement levels as they approach forks in the path...so they can go the opposite direction. Between the advanced scouting, interpreting Droki's body language, lucky guesses, good rolls & the absence of those guards who were already conscripted into the enemy cavalry, the players have a miraculously smooth journey, caravanning along the scintillating lights of the tunnel to the fetid pool they found near the entrance. Of course, back then they just elected to take another passage, but the players are, for the moment, found, & they worry that if they try to go around, they'll end up lost again. & so into the pool of warm toilet water they go, doing their damndest to keep the carnival wagon afloat. They get the whole contraption across with some swimming & some rope work, the whole gang is wet, gross & bedraggled, with a couple of looming Constitution save failures left to incubate. But that's the last hurdle; they are out of the Whorlstone Tunnels, plus one dragon egg & a Droki! With Norin proudly positioned to display the belt of dwarvenkind she's wearing, borrowed from Clan Blackskull, & Pook'cha in the red dragonscale armor of the dragon Themerchaud's Flamekeepers, the PCs go full Intimidation on their way to leave the derro ghettos. In a state of constant semi-riot, the PCs are able to strong-arm their way to the barred gates, & out.

They head back to The Ghohlbrorn's Lair, infamously "...the Only Establishment Legally Allowed to Serve Non-Dwarves," to meet up with their NPC companions & plot their next move. Who exactly were they on quests for? What did they want, anyhow? & who do they actually want to help? Some of the crew have stayed in hiding, up in their room— the myconid Stool with its helpful telepathic spores, a beastly quaggoth who thinks of himself as the elf prince Derendil, & Topsy, the former wererat who is also a former twin— but the flashy gnome gambler Jimjar has set up a little impromptu casino down in the main room of the tavern, with curtains drawn & the orc Ront as his "pit boss." Being as haggling is illegal in Gracklstugh & that Jimjar has already been arrested for owning a deck of cards, the players are less than enthusiastic about this, but Jimjar tells them he's got it all figured out. He's going to be staying behind when they move on; he's found a niche for himself here. As a thank you he wants to deal the players in on a very special hand of cards; Norin is asleep & no one wants to wake her from her elf trance, & Serafin is too cautious, but Pook'cha & Imica both agree to draw a single card as Jimjar deals. I'm being a little coy but it is clearly a deck of many things; this is my first time breaking it out as a DM, & I was a little worried how much it might destabilize things. The thri-kreen chooses The Talon, loosing all his magic items instantly...most notably the dragon scale mail on loan from the Wyrmsmith Themerchaud, the red dragon himself, which should prove interesting for Pook'cha. The drow is more lucky: Imica pulls The Moon, which grants him two (1d4) wishes!
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Star Wars: End of Empire: The Gargoyle. [Jan. 12th, 2019|02:22 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |🧟,🎁.]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams - doom of the fates]

After tonight's End of Empire session I feel pretty good about my ability to make roleplaying choices have cosmological consequences: honestly I think it is something I've always been good at as a storyteller, whether or not my players have consciously noticed it, but especially in Star Wars. Darkness rises, &...dark, to meet it. At the end of the last episode I had interrupted the colossal coliseum battle on Corellia Prime by dropping a Star Destroyer on them, rather literally; then I had the hatches & airlocks pop open & disgorge a horde of armed maniacs, Reavers-style. I think between the race, the battle royale & this session we managed to have a pretty action packed sequence of events with a wide variety of set pieces & shifting stakes. I'm proud of the pacing; adopting a hard "cinematic tone" has been teaching me a slew of new tricks.

The fallen Star Destroyer, The Gargoyle, was deliberately crash landed into the palace moon. It spews fumes & gouts of flame & radiation as coaxium reactors im-, then ex-plode, but the human beings, the human bodies deranged by the Dark Side of the Force still come horribly tumbling forth. A full ship's panoply: stormtroopers in disarray, malevolent deckhands & gunners, a wobbly, coltish AT-ST...& well, as Rachel's former Imperial officer Para Totool can tell you, the ship's complement of this class of Star Destroyer is just under forty thousand, so if even a tenth of the people inside have survived, that's more of a slavering horde than the dozen blasters of the gladiators can hope to defeat. With that dawning understanding, with poison & the Dark Side heavy in the air, each round the players have to roll versus Fear, accumulating Stress. I've not been using the Stress mechanics as much as I'd like, & it added a nice sense of menace to the encounter.

Thrown back together after being separated during the fray, Jolit, the replicant droid played by Joey, has to dodge massive chunks of falling debris, trusting his programmed instincts. Meanwhile, the Farghul Force-sensitive played by Burke, Theynur Kötturinn, hides amidst the rubble, as some of the turbolaser turrets on The Gargoyle are still armed & operational! One takes fire & with a dusty shockwave blast, a speeder-sized crater divots into being nearby: too close for comfort. Seeing the lay of the land, Jolit is shouting in slow motion over the oncoming bombardment for everyone to make a break for it— despite his protestations, he's he ends up in leadership roles, including back in the Droid Uprising on Ord Mantell— while Raj's character keeps his eyes on the horizon. The gunslinging Jax Cadderly is watching for Rao Kast, Black Sun gang boss, sleemo & twin lightsaber wielding Mandalorian assassin with a vendetta against him, currently lurking, hidden by a personal stealth field.

Oh but the laundry list of problems keeps growing: besides Dark Side zombies & maniacal gangsters, there is a Krayt dragon on the loose! With the Baron's contest now abandoned, the cat-like Theynur reaches out with the Force, continuing to draw on her spite & frustration to control the now murderous & irrevocably Tainted beast, directing it into the oncoming swarm. She's able to do so, tapping into a deep, deep well of Darkness, a bottomless void; a bleeding hole in reality that as she touches draws her in, & draws into her, as well. The taste for slaughter spreads outward from Theynur like invisible lightning, a conduit for all the malice & evil in the galaxy as a family of nerf herders in the stands begins to wail vile epithets at each other, turning to slaps, then fists & worse. Pek, one of the muscular Twi'leks sidekicks of the CEC team, eyes rolling bad in his head, points his blaster & fires...at Para?! She takes a bolt to the shoulder as the armored up spacetrooper, Zed, muscles his way to Theynur's side...

...& a small black figure with a tiny blade of red light in its hand steps out of the collapsing Star Destroyer. Limned by burning durasteel beams in a visual callback to the Girders on Ord Mantell, it's the "Frankensith" from The ISD Rubicon, a small Vigil-class corvette, which that seems to have rammed itself into the much larger Gargoyle at some point. Para feels the black veins on her throat & neck from where it sucked the life from her growing & throbbing as it draws closer, but that's nothing compared to what the out of control Farghul scout is feeling, seeing. The Jedi will be reborn only to be betrayed from within to birth a greater evil than anything the Sith accomplished. Old Zed drops his shield & takes off his mask— revealing a sort of winged sword that no one recognizes & a surprisingly young face that is familiar to the audience but somehow unknown to our friends— taking her by the shoulders. When did the mutilated, seams & stitches Sith appear? When Theynur used the Dark Side for the first time.

Jolit sees Baron Monstro's repulsorpod descending into the chaos, rallying the others towards where it's descending. The original architect of the completely unsafe & utterly unfair competition, the mercurial fancies & moods by which he'd planned the occasion have been ruined, simply ruined by this turn of events. Hopper Rose, the juiced-up lieutenant of Rao Kast, is back up after huffing himself full of medspray & stimulants, but another heavy blaster bolt from Jax drops him right back down again, as Para shoots dead the Twi'lek joyboy who shot her. Luke Skywalker will betray his apprentice. Luke Skywalker will abandon the galaxy. Zed is looking into the yellow eyes of Theynur. "Be calm. Focus. Don't give into the Dark Side. You are one with the Force." When did the Star Destroyer crash into the moon? After Theynur used the Dark Side to win the race through the Labyri— as with a wrenching of all her willpower, marshaling every last ounce of luck & the final Destiny Point token, the felinoid finds the moment of peace within herself...enough, anyway, to snap out of it & sag into her friends' arms just as the Baron hits the ground. He's jumped out of the pod, relying on his golden power armor to absorb the fall, bounding over to them through the fray, grinning, blood splattering on his gilded armor.

Baron Monstro announces to the party, quite theatrically, that he is, in fact...a man of his word: he’s going to make sure they find out everything they need to know about STARKILLER, just as his promised; mysteriously, he says Zed knows where to take them. Releasing his master of arms, he tells Zed to go with them back to their ships— "I know you're leaving with her no matter what I say, old friend!"— & to make sure they get where they are going, wink; he then calls his personal droid Oh-One on his commstick, ordering him to make sure that "the gifts he got for them" are conveyed to the False Profit. "I've spent a great deal of time thinking of just the perfect presents for my new friends & I would be extremely displeased if they weren’t delivered just because of a little spaceship accident!" Monstro apologizes, saying he’s afraid he can’t be there to give the gifts to them personally, but he never could pass up a challenge, or so he claims before taking one giant leap into the slavering melee, toward the giggling, shambling "Frankensith," just as Eris & Sshushath finish bringing the observation pod down for everyone to load into.

Shushath the Trandoshan has his slowly regrowing arm in sling with blaster out, wary for cloaked Rao, hissing to Jax & covering his back; he owe's the scoundrel a life-debt, through somewhat crooked means, but the two of them have really started hitting it off & developing a rapport, even if Jax is partially responsible for the execution of Wuukar the Wookiee, who Shushath also owed a life-debt to. He's also an ex-gladiator who did a long stint in here on Corellia Prime, which is how he knows Zed & the group's sort-of mentor, Eris Berserk. A cyborg pirate, Eris is a blue-skinned Chiss with a heavy duty black cyberarm as well as some kind of extensive internal apparatus with a blinking control box on her chest. She fusses over the group, healing a little Strain, but spits out her deathstick & curses after a few ticks.

Annoyed, angry, & a little scared, she tells the party that she’ll catch up with them, but she’s got to drag "this idiot"— jerking her thumb exaggeratedly in the direction of the Baron's suicidal jaunt— off this moon alive. He’s practically her father, or anyhow, he mostly raised her, at least. She's got no plans on dying here: Eris tells them that Oh-One won't countermand the Baron, but after they get their "gifts," whatever those are, they should tell it to get the Plume & come pick up her & Monstro— scratch that, say The Baron & her— they'll rendezvous with the party wherever Zed is taking them. That said she leans over, her code cylinder & clavicle necklace clattering, & grabs the person nearest to her, Jax Cadderly, giving him a kiss "for luck," & slipping a cloaked binary beacon onto his wrist to so she can find them later. She yells to the Baron’s Herglic guards— "you scuvy mob!”— to follow her & with a shout, chases after Monstro.

Para's well acquainted with controls to these floating palanquins at this point, so it's just a moment till the rest of them are ascending into the sky, toward the dangling antennae & landing pads of Sub-Palace Besh. Below, the two surviving CEC contestants, the bubblegum & ivory Duros known as the Sugar Sisters, still chasing their dream of getting the Baron to grant them a megawealth "wish," have noticed Eris & the Herglics pursing the Baron & triangulate to meet them, flash grenades banging & blasters finally set to lethal while the wood-wise & cautious Tantal rangers from Nubia beat a strategic retreat back into the precarious black glass columns of the Labyrinth. Hopper Rose, screaming obscenities— I need to figure out what the most "Star Wars" bowdlerization of "fuck" is— couldn't stand up but was still alive when they rose out of sight, as the Krayt dragon, berserk & invincible, ran amok amidst it all.

Oh-One, the Baron's majordomo, is an antique super tactical battle droid: Clone Wars era contraband with a nice patina of age. The robot explains the logic behind their gifts: after the Eclipse Day party, the Baron went shopping based on his first impressions of them. That's part of the reason Theynur doesn't have a gift, but in a way the Baron's real gift is letting Zed go, whatever that means. Also, pointedly, she got a lightsaber. Jolit, for all that parlor talk of being stabbed by lightsabers & shot at by walkers, gets a set of very old plasteel Centurion shock trooper armor. Because of his Mandalorian rivalry, the Baron got Jax Cadderly a jet pack, figuring that he might end up needing it. Last but certainly not least, for Para Totool, the finest gift of all: a glass vivarium with a beautiful, pedigree, glittering mynock, after her interest in the Mynock Fancier's Society.

Their staryacht finally back in space, Zed muses that he thinks "that thing" must be a Wound in the Force, "like Darth Nihilus was."

“But we’ll have plenty of time to talk about on the trip; once we are past the Rishi Maze it’s still a couple more jumps to Kamino.”
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Honey Heist: "You are what you eat. Even if that's Elon Musk." [Dec. 10th, 2018|11:35 am]
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Battle Royale! [Nov. 23rd, 2018|11:46 am]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |💀⚔️🚀💥!]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. john williams - goliath & desdemona]

The prior session of our Star Wars campaign was the obligatory race sequence that George Lucas baked into the setting's foundations; this chapter of Star Wars: End of Empire flowed right into the equally mandatory coliseum scene, chockfull of creatures & monsters, & ending with a bang. Like my D&D campaign, this episode was mostly in "initiative order," which slows down the pacing but makes for dynamic action sequences. The custom dice of Fantasy Flight serve well, but the actual nuts & bolts of the rules seem, well, confusing & over-wrought. I admit that the homebrew guy in me has been turning over a few house rules for a stripped down version of Genesys, their generic system...but for this session I continued my general agenda of handwaving away too much mechanical granularity & relying on interpreting the symbols on the dice with ad libbing & imagination.

The players are here competing at the whim of Baron Monstro, the fabulously wealthy & erratic noble who trained Eris Berserk, the party's friendly neighborhood Chiss cyborg privateer. Monstro has promised to reward them with the answers they seek about the STARKILLER project as a "favour" for their participation in his little deathrace, & while Eris, the Trandoshan ex-gladiator Sshushath the Zode & the droids look on. The rest of the competitors have their own favours to deal with, but the winners get a "wish," which the Baron has said includes anything up to half his financial holdings, & as he is the controlling shareholder of Kuat Driveyards, that means something quite substantial. "Winners" in this case meaning our protagonists, for winning the race through the Solar Labyrinth against all odds, as well as "whomever brings me the kyber pearl from the heart of the Krayt dragon that I'm about to let loose in the bone-strewn crater where the surviving maze-races have gathered," or such is the jist of it.

Here's the situation: Rao Kast is a retired assassin, a Mandalorian who dual wields two lightsabers: he's no Jedi but the laser sword is a power symbol for his people, as well. Since then, he's become a Black Sun Vigo who still likes to get his hands dirty from time to time, especially over personal grudges...like the one he has for Raj's Jax Cadderly. Somehow the gang boss got the idea that the fast-talking, gun-slinging scoundrel Jax cheated him in a game of chance, & Cadderly has had to look over his shoulder ever since. He's joined the royal rumble with his surviving gangsters, as has Old Zed, the spacetrooper armor-clad man-at-arms who has been sitting at the Baron's right hand through most of the preceding events. Add to that the CEC sponsored team of candy-coloured Duros & Twi'leks & the Tantal Rangers from Nubia that made it in time, & it is quite the full ticket.

"You should have stayed & faced the music, Jax. But instead you made me chase you, so now I'm going to make you watch me kill your friends before I turn you into bantha fodder & take your head home for my collection— I'll put it in a place of honor, right next to the crystal skull of Xim the Despot!"

Rao Kast, in his Rinzler-black armor, descends in a repulsorpod, riling up his troops— the howling, huffing Hopper Rose & the sniveling Skeeter— while failing to intimidate Jax, who knows he's just a middle manager with a sad soul patch at heart, even if he is a Crossfit ripped sociopath who sits on a literal throne of bones. Instead, the Corellian troublemaker runs over to the Sisters Sugar, the pale & pink Duros with their muscular blue Twi'lek sidekicks, & offers them the "wish" if they help the players stay alive. It's a heck of a deal & a great Negotiation check, & so they agree; the bug-eyed alien sisters clicking their heels together to activate jet boots while the tentacle-headed adonises hunker in behind cover, laying down close range cover with long-barreled blasters set on stun. (They are professional competitors on a circuit full of shifting loyalties, & are conspicuously non-fatal but pro-spectacle in their approach.)

While Jax Cadderly is making his play, the force field drops & the vast, slithering monstrosity of the Krayt dragon hoots & howls its way in— only to be captivated by the power of the Force of Others, as the felinoid alien Theynur Kötturinn, Burke's Farghul fringer, opens herself up to the connection between all living things, pacifying the creature in a moment of supernatural emotional vulnerability, a Moment passing between them. While this is going on, the crowd is roaring, struggling to shout in unison. When the chants synch up, the Baron, playing histronic ringleader in his golden power armor, effects change in the coliseum. "DARK! DARK!" they scream, & with an over-dramatic flip of a switch he makes the skydome opaque, shutting out the magnetic aurora caused by the planetary eclipse.

Unable to hold tight to her tranquil center of inner peace, feeling her control of the Force & the Krayt dragon slipping, Theynur taps into her rage & frustration; the snakecharming of the beast becomes a iron fist of oppression & she brands the Black Sun gangsters in it's mind as hated foes as it breaks from her psychic grasp. The blue zaps of the CEC team's stunblasters don't seem to be doing much but keeping the creature berserk, though they do manage to channel it's frenzy of violence away from the themselves & their allies. The crowd's chants change to a call for "FIRE! FIRE!" & the Baron causes the stadium to respond in kind, pressing buttons & spewing gouts of flame from secret nozzles & sprayers.

Cut to space. What looks like a cosmic storm coalescing, complete with eerie blue flashes of lightning & condensing clouds of stellar gas, alerts the orbital watch stations as klaxons blare to life.

Gunners in glossy white backwards-pointed helmets at
Subpalace Esk: “We’ve got an unidentified hyperspace signature coming out too close to the gravity well. It’s big & the transponder says its one of ours, but we’re spooling up the defense grid, just in case.”

Both Para Totool & the human replica droid Jolit are caught in the inferno! Para, Rachel's former Imperial tech officer, makes a run for the hoverpod that Rao Kast came down in, sprinting right through the blaze & making a jump...just barely grabbing on as it resumes its ascent. "Wrench," the ID9 mini-probe droid, is off from his usual perch on Jolit's back, hovering up to go assist Para just as a geyser of napalm forces Jolit back, engulfing him in fire & separating him from the rest of the group. While he's reeling, the Black Sun gangster Skeeter, with a mohawk & a tattooed Mandalorian "T" on his face, keeps pelting him with old skulls & bones from the battleground floor before running over to tackle him, as the spice-huffing, nonsensical obscenity screaming Hopper Rose, high out of his mind & ready-deadly starts peppering them with a hail of two-fisted blaster bolts. Elsewhere, the rangers from the Nubian team have moved in aggressively on the Krayt dragon with armor piercing force pikes: they must have had inside information, because they clearly came prepared for this hunt.

Jolit, played by Joey, is a replicant whose replacement parts have him passing as a cyborg, & luckily he's stuffed into heavy enough armor that the fire safely burns itself out, as they do with Para's heavy-duty armored mechanics coveralls...though she continues to plummet skyward as the autopilot on the pod continues to gain altitude. She clambers inside & rips open the control panel, frantically pulling out components in the hopes of rigging up something, anything...& rolls uh, less than good. So instead she successfully removes...the calibrator on the repulsor drive, causing the pod to, well; drop. Things are going better for the human replica droid; throwing the thug Skeeter off of him, he lifts his vibroaxe & with a vicious roundabout embeds it straight in the punk's skull. I figure this is Star Wars, so the action is on-screen but the point of impact isn't shown: the fatal cut is mostly communicated in foley work, a gruesome sound effect for the wet thunk of finality.

Rao Kast starts off the fight with a flurry of crimson blows & feints; gaining a little space & leaving the felinoid Force user with a notch burnt in her ear, Rao brings both his dual red lightsabers to bear on Theynur...only to be foiled by the imposition of a cortosis riot shield, belonging one Old Zed! The white armored man-at-arms tosses a little cylinder to the cat-like alien, who pulls it to her with a tug of the Force, igniting it with a hissing whoosh: a blue lightsaber? Followed by the ignition of another blade of light in Zed's hand! Jax, seizing the moment, shoots the Black Sun Vigo in the back, & Rao Kast disengages, hitting a button on his suit & initiating optical camouflage, cloaking him in near-invisibility as Hopper Rose takes another hit off his aerosol mask & screams incoherent filth into the mouthpiece. "I'll send you a love letter straight from my heart, you sleemo!" Meanwhile, up in the skies above, Para's sinking hoverpod is saved thanks to the little droid ID9-WR3-H, as Wrench plugs a port in & throws on the emergency inertial dampeners. & then, just as things are getting good...

The ISD Gargoyle is an old, Imperial I-class ship, but storied; the fearsome beast painted on its hull mark it as part of the old Outer Rim fleet that the Thrawn’s Chimera once belonged to. A vicious black wound vents plasma & atmo into space; the wreckage of the Vigil-class Rubicon, flung like an javelin into the hull of the Gargoyle, which now plummets planetward.

The orbital sub-palaces start firing wild, as screams come over the comm channels, & laughter; like a clip from
Event Horizon. "Ytik, what are you doing? Why do you have your sidearm out? Oh N—" The platforms even start catching each other in friendly fire as static sputters. "...Brezel...come out come out..." The Gargoyle takes turbolaser blast after turbolaster blast, guts hollowed out & greebles blown off, but not enough to stop its momentum; the Star Destroyer keeps hull integrity & blows past the blockade, hurtling towards the surface.

Piloted, somehow still, barely holding together though slowly sheering in twain during entry, nose up, eventually crashing, plowing through the Solar Labyrinth like a white knife through black silk…sliding to a stop...right in the middle of the Coliseum, the nose of the triangle shattering ancient archeology & cutting edge technology alike, an arrow cracked in half & pointed at Theynur, as if her song to the Dark Side had beckoned it. A pause, & then the airlocks & hanger bays fall open, as a hoard of slavering, mindless stormtroopers & non-comms, engineers, pilots, officers, even a shaky-legged AT-ST all come pouring out…followed by the spontaneous violent rioting of the people in the stands.

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Out of the Abyss: Escape from the Black Monolith! [Sep. 15th, 2018|01:44 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king- hc svnt dracones ovo]

This session followed hot on the heels of last session's big battle, & was in a very real way "round two." The players have been exploring the Whorlstone Tunnels in Gracklstugh, & having captured one of their targets, the White Rabbit-esque derro errand runner Droki, defeated one of their old friends, the divinely deranged derro Buppido, & encountered a myconid twin of Ellen's elf cleric Norin, the party took a much deserved rest. I readjusted the occupants of the dungeon based on what information they had & what their mindsets' were like, & the next morning the freshly rested PCs encountered a bolstered set of enemies, & had quite the fray. All covered in mud & blood & glory, this session started with reinforcements arriving to that battle...with the players spell slots emptied, their hit points low. A radically different context to essentially the same set-up— one big fight, the whole session— that gave it a completely different tone. Suddenly it's not the PCs strategically defeating a well-balanced foe, but the PCs tactically withdrawing from a menacing threat. Same map— a vast cavern, crackling with faerzress & wild magic, littered with ruins & sand the consistency of the foot callous shavings inside of a Ped Egg, marked by a vast, albedo-less monolith, a few rusty circus carts, a set of (now broken) mushroom covered doors & a red dragon egg— but on defense, instead of offense. Golly, running Out of the Abyss is fun.

Serafin, Pritpaul's halfling ranger, ended things on a dramatic note by chewing the nose off of the face of their captive, the psychic derro savant Pliinki. She's plenty cooperative with the players after that, out of a mix of intimidation, demonic dementation...& as it turns out, determination, as she stalls long enough for the cavalry to come charging in, with only Sam's thri-kreen bard Pook'cha on his guard. Quite literally the cavalry: Narrak the screaming, naked derro cultist rides atop a furry arachnid steeder, while his minions cling to the side of a charging pickled punk boar fetus, co-joined at the neck & horrifying, supernaturally all grown up. These pig golems are gross, but the smell from the deformed, mutant kuo-toa is just a hint of what's to come. A living mass of ichthyous overgrowth, pale scabrous scales mottled with toxic tubing, runic scars, & abyssal implants. One of the fishfolk of Sloobludop, transmogrified by rituals & elixirs, hormones & steroids. Pliinki's quasit familiar is back to join the fun as well, & before you know it, they've cut Pliinki free to go full Carrie & wreck her telekinetic revenge. Imica, the drow warlock played by Jim, gently settles the red dragon egg— no small feat, as it is four feet high & weighs as much as a person—into one of the now-fallen pig-creature's carnival wagon & creates an illusory copy of it for Pook'cha. There in a nutshell is our scene: the insectoid bard runs off as a distraction, while the others struggle to push the cart with the dragon egg inside toward the formerly hidden door they broke in through. There's no "muscle" in the group, & they can't quite seem to keep up momentum, until they all decide to eat the magical Wonderland bigwig mushrooms, enlarging to twice their previous sizes, & really get moving.

They come under heavy assault; crossbow bolts, enervating spells & psionic attacks, charging corpsegrown piggies...but the "divide & retreat" tactic seems to be working! At the door's threshold, they struggle to hold off the enormous & malformed fetal boar & its riders while themselves supernaturally embiggened: the party members at the door hack at the frame & lintel in giant form, while Pook'cha uses his magic to turn invisible & make an all out sprint for the gap. In the chaos, Droki starts slamming his skull into the glass jar over & over, trying to break free in a self-destructive frenzy, but Imica doses him with drow sleeping poison, knocking the pygmywort 'shroom-shrunken derro right out. & the plan works! Falling rocks pin the pig— though not quite killing it— as the obfuscated mantis-man leaps through, escaping while the lumbering figure of the piscine leviathan & skittering Narak are too busy looking for him elsewhere, off on a wild bughunt. The battle is touch & go at many points & by the end almost everyone ended up knocked out & failing death saves. The one crucial piece of luck is that the cleric was the last one conscious, hastened by the random metamagic of the faerzress. We end the session with everyone stable, & no one dead. They are back in the fungi-covered nub where the quasit infested passages they'd explored while reduced to miniature-sized let them out, only now their massive forms are entirely brobdingnagian to that warren of sewers, crevices & shafts by orders of magnitude. Where to next? That's what we'll find out next time! Till then, enjoy this rust monster from Adventures Outlined that I coloured in.

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The Sword, the Crown & the Unspeakable Power: the Hunger: Session Zero. [Sep. 1st, 2018|01:26 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king- ]

In the beginning there was only hunger. Then the hunger bore fruit, that it might eat. This resulted in the rise of civilization, humans who picked, & harvested, & ate their fill. & because of this the hunger grew until it took root in the guts of men. & now there is never, ever enough.

The Raven (Renata, The Spur) thinks me useful & powerful.
We (Christine, The Beloved) wants something from me.
I've seen Bear (Ruoxi, The Gauntlet) carry through on a well-deserved threat.
The Seventh saw Bear eat somebody.
I need Luv (Esther, The Bloodletter) to keep someone I care about alive.
The Ninth needs insulin.
Gold Ribbon is a royal courtesan NPC (Carl, Master of Ceremonies).
The Seventh is in love with her...as, apparently, is Aunt-Regent Virtue.

The Few
Order; Honored; Magic & Rumors.
The Resurrectionists (Luv): Allied
The Ten Thousand (Bear): Allied
The Street Youths (We): Rivals
The Steppe People (The Raven): Indiffrent

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Out of the Abyss: Battle of the Black Monolith. [Aug. 26th, 2018|05:00 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king feat. györgy ligeti- nyx aeterna]

I'm feeling pretty good about the challenge level of my game! Out of the Abyss is my first Fifth Edition campaign & uh, honestly I don't really believe in "balanced encounters" except for in the broad sense that I don't want to accidentally "one hit kill" somebody. Which, ha, funny story about that...but I'm getting ahead of myself. After last session, the party was in a cul-de-sac of the Whorlstone Tunnels, looking to try to rest. I made some appropriately maniacal cackling, but I knew what I had to do. The perks of running in a real "dungeon" environment like this is that it's a closed system. For once, the Player Characters can't just go anywhere, because they are trapped in a dungeon, & the same is true for the Non-Player Characters. I run very active NPCs, both reactive & proactive; heck, my NPCs have always been notorious for doing things when the PCs aren't around. The world gets up to stuff, even when you aren't there to see it: I know, because I'm the Dungeon Master! So all I had to do was think about what information the creatures, critters & cultists in the Tunnels have about the adventurers, & then figure out what those subterranean creeps are going to do about it. Then from there it is blind watchmaker time; just let the characters loose & see how their choices & the dice rolls turn out. Well, alright, there's a little more finessing than that; as the DM I want the monsters to make in-character decisions without metagame knowledge, but I want those decisions to be narratively interesting, as well. So it is a triangle, balanced between Optimal, Plausible & Interesting. & I balanced it all while almost but not quite killing them, mostly thanks to their own pluck & ultraviolence; the spice of life!

We're still in "Dungeon Time," which means the plot doesn't crawl by quite as quickly, but on the flipside of that, the "game" aspect of it is exercised a lot more. D&D 5e has pretty fun combat mechanics, & I want to give the players a chance to try out all of their character's quirky powers or mix & match their new spells from time to time. It's the old GNS tension between "narrative & game" that I think teases out into a good story. As they make camp, Droki stays in the jar & the party sets up a few trip wires, with the elves splitting watches, as their otherworldly minds don't sleep, but just slip into trances. Overnight, the sounds of great, squeaky wheels & the horrid, wafting stench of some kind of over-ripe piscine stinker are sensed by Ellen's character Norin— the wood elf cleric who has had her fundamental sense of self questioned, grown a beard, & now wears a hat made out of a dead displacer beast— along with the rattle of chains & the occasional bestial grunt, but they all remain hidden, & the night passes...uneventfully! Well. Well, other than the drow warlock Imica, played by Jim, whose pactblade shines with the silvery words of his faerie paetron, the outcast daughter of Lolth. She warns of "Powers on the loose," written in starlight letters & strange cadences, an immortal casually lost in the eons, delicate script fading from his sword. All in all, a successful long rest! Healing commences, prayers are replenished, spells re-memorized, &c. Thus emboldened by fresh faces, the combined strength of the surprisingly robust halfling ranger Pritpaul plays, Serafin & the multiple limbs of Sam's polymath insectoid thri-kreen bard Pook'cha is able to force open the forgotten, mushroom-covered "secret" door that lay hidden behind their resting spot, shattering the crossbeam with a loud "crack!"

The ground they have been trudging across & through in these lower tunnels is extra soft, extra fine, almost grit-less, like a sand of exfoliated skin; here, beyond the door, it gets dirty, littered with sea shells, spark plugs, bigs of rock or bone— all kinds of junk. Also ruins: long, fallen walls funneling up to a tall, tall ceiling...where sparkling, flickering faerzress coruscates & crackles as random meta-elemental forces twist the very weave of the universe. That's right: it is a wild surge zone! These ruins— with a plinth of albedo-less black sticking up from the middle, in mimicry of the oddly dense black chunk of "metal" they found in Droki's possession— are twisted by the paradoxically chthonic & supernal magical chaos. They are attacked quickly, the sound of the breaking crossbar having given their entry away: a horrifying, multi-eyed thing, perhaps some winged & deformed beholderkin judging by the unhappy assortment of eyebeams it begins shooting, & a deranged derro savant who begins to blink about, raining psychic lightning bolts & miniature prismatic orbs down upon them. They are reinforced shortly thereafter by giant cannibal pigs, their heads having been surgically swapped: crude stitches & all made possible by the infinitive improbabilities faerzress. To use a little Fourth Edition parlance, the combination of a controller, a striker & a couple of tanks is nothing to sneeze at. The pigs are let loose from the rusted, blood-spattered circus cages they'd been penned in by a pair of hardscrabble derro who then flee; must be the same wheeled contraptions Norin heard passing by in the night. One of the diminutive, capering demons from the drainage tunnels is there as well, but it promptly turns invisible & isn't seen from again. I'm really rather proud of the way the fight turned out, from there.

Like I was saying, I'm not a big believer in "game balance." I'm not here to do slow math or run a craps table. Sometimes you just shouldn't fight the proverbial red dragon...but I'm not looking to TPK the group on accident, either. For this encounter, I just cleaved to the internal logic of the dungeon & hoped that things wouldn't end up too lopsided...& between a rested party & a bolstered enemy, it was pretty perfect. Almost all of the PCs dropped at some point, & there was all the fun of counting through death saves & everything. We even had a comical "dice on the loose!" moment with a d20 in a teacup, which I declared a legal roll for fitting the Alice in Wonderland theme. Several unexpected side-effects from the wild magic, too, including Norin turning permanently blue, & another fireball; we're not sure what the "massive damage" rules are in this edition, but there is a suspicion Pook'cha might have technically died if we did. (There's always going to be a part of me who is just the magic-user who fills up all of their first level slots with Nahal's reckless dweomer, you know?) Victorious, they manage to capture the derro savant, & in the course of interrogating her...Serafin bites off her nose.

It's not the first time we've seen Serafin eating someone; he even had some of Buppido's cannibal chili. So it's like that. Just chews it up & swallows & hey, will you look at that— with these psychopathic zealots, you never know what is going to work, & anthropophaginian brutality at least gets her talking to them like peers, instead of prey. Up close, they observe that the ultra-black menhir that Droki called The Thing is actually flawed: chipped & cracked. It sizzles with power, & anyone with the vaguest connection to the arcane can feel lacunae within it, a vacuum eager to be fed spell slots.  The savant, Pliinki, is carrying a journal with a list of random objects in it, along with an ancient elven coin...that's listed as the last item in the book. In a massive brazier of coals, three feet tall & hundreds of pounds, is a literal red dragon egg, ritual sigils & circles tying it to the fuliginous monolith. Mysterious! Pliinki bloodily tells them there's...a dumping ground, for the bodies that get...re-animated by the faerzress? That doesn't sound good. Noseless, she makes a few rhetorical flourishes about the oppression of the duergar, as well, but mostly she almost seems to be stalling for time...as the re-reinforcements her quasit familiar went to summon arrive!

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Out of the Abyss: the Pearl of Overconfidence. [Aug. 13th, 2018|08:44 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Music |crown me king- the devil's playground]

Wow. Hard to believe it has been almost a year since the last session of my Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Babies & traveling & softball & steam pipe explosions: there's been a whole life saga between then & now, but the good news is that we're ready to jump back into Out of the Abyss! We are at peak Alice in Wonderland, as the party searches through the Whorlstone Tunnels for a tatterdemalion derro named Droki who keeps evadeing them by eating special mushrooms to shrink down & escape via the drainage pipes & crevices inundating these winding supernatural caverns. We do a little recapping to start off: Droki is a very, very (un)popular fellow it seems! The party are in the grey dwarf city of Gracklstugh...& most of the side-quests point to him. The Stoneguard, in the person of Errde Blackskull, have sent them to discover the source of the "corruption" in the city, enfranchising Ellen's elven cleric Norin as her proxy with a belt of dwarvenkind. One of the Merchant Lairds, Ylsa Henstak, has given the party a variety of odd treasures & coins, tasking the players with discovering how these economy destabilizing baubles are falling into derro's undercaste hands. The Firekeepers, psychic aides to the red dragon who lights the adamantine- & mithril-melting forges of the City of Blades, have asked the players to find a missing red dragon egg...& the corpulent dragon himself, Themberchaud, has declared Sam's thri-kreen bard Pook'cha the "Master" & the rest of the party "Thralls," loaning the bug-person a suit of red dragonscale armor & telling them quite simply that whatever anyone else asked for...they will bring it to him first. Ellen is the party quartermaster, but it turns out Sam is the party notetaker, because he nails most of details.

A lot to remember! But like the return to my Star Wars game, we jump right in with a chase sequence! They've killed their friend Buppido, ranting about his imminent apotheosis; they've met the madly waltzing myconids & confronted the mushroom-Norin. A paranoia inducing puzzle of identity for elf-Norin, solved for the moment by a faerzress-awry spell spontaneously combusting into a fireball & halfway frying half the party, including all of their new fungal clone companion. (Let's not dwell too long on it, but Pritpaul's halfling ranger Serafin paused & took a bite of the crispy critter when no one was looking.) Through winding tunnels, past the water weird, until: madcap Droki, dead ahead! Dressed in a hat halfway between a pilgrim hat a sombrero, with long dangling tentacle earmuffs, in a dirty svirfneblin silk vest, stolen duergar britches, mis-matched shoes, & two or three different capes & cloaks. He spots them too: it's a dead-out sprint...& Droki almost makes it, as all of the party's attacks frustratingly seem to just barely miss him, as he seems to be seen tilted as if through water, reflected to the side, even on their best blows. Just as he's about gulp down a miniaturizing mushroom in order to scamper down a small tunnel in the wall, Jim's drow warlock Imica hits him with the old sleep spell. Blammo! Just like that, they've captured him, & between their looted ropes & general knowhow they've got him trussed up with his legs— & mouth— free. Interrogating any of the unilaterally insane derro is of dubious value, & for Droki that goes double. He's clearly lying, but can they second guess & glean breadcrumbs from his wiles & deviltry? Sure he's crazy, but which Droki is the most sincere: the helpful one, the conniving one, or the sporadically violent one?

It is Norin who claims the twitching violet hat, part ten-gallon & part deerstalker. Once they figure out that it is made of "gen-u-wine" displacer beast leather— a notorious monster: six-legged, two-tentacled & mostly a purple panther, hard to hit because it's never quite where you expect to see it— they easily deduce why he was so hard to grab or strike. It's a hat of displacement! He's a living hoarder otherwise as well, carrying with him: a gold piece, two potions of healing, ten silver pieces, a worthless collection of dead centipedes & a worthless collection of live spiders, pages of lizard-skin parchment between covers from two different books, a strange domino-sized ingot of supernaturally dense black metal, a spell scroll of see invisibility, a scroll in a copper tube & four small pouches. The pouches contain enormous toenail clippings, colourless lockets of hair and skin flecks, which are labeled with the names of the giants of Clan Cairngorm, including the two-headed giant who was rampaging in the city, which the players helped defeat & showed mercy to. Droki, muttering to himself & periodically shouting, offers to take them wherever they want, all too eagerly. Oh, he'll "take them to Narak" alright! Who is Narak? "Oh you know who I mean" with lots of sly winks & nudges at Pook'cha. "Two heads" are involved: that's who is putting the curses on the stone giants! Hm, does anyone else important have a two-headed thing? They decide the clearest answers are when they ask him about the heavy black sliver of slightly tingly metal & the mysterious jewels & coins they've brought. "Oh you wanna see The Thing? I can take you to The Thing!" & so to The Thing they elect to go.

There are two paths to The Thing, says Droki: back the way they came, past the water elemental they previously fled from, or for everyone to eat a stalk of pygmywort, the magic shrinking EAT ME toadstool, & for the shrunken party to follow him into the crack he was about to scamper down. A shortcut from mushrooms! That's the path they choose & down they go, into the square, manufactured drains & ducts. Droki leads them around a few bends then falls to his knees screaming— & they are attacked! Pook'cha casts silence to cut Droki's cries short, which almost worked but for the random chance of bad stealth checks & good perception rolls, & they are ambushed by gigantic demons, perhaps nine-feet tall...no, wait. A tiny demon, but enormous at this scale: quasits! Rather than penalize the players with the reduce spell's side effects, I just gave the abyssal gremlins the benefits of the enlarge spell. Close enough for my purposes, folks! The PCs fight back & strike hard; one quasit fights with a giant gleaming trident— translation: a sharpened silver table fork— & Norin summons a spiritual weapon in mockery of it, striking it dead in a single blow! So used to being on the run in the survival-horror of the Underdark, they've forgotten that they are still adventurers— AKA dangerous murderers— at the end of the day. Or as I put it, "this moment is the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl of overconfidence." Which, apparently, is a funny thing to say. With the tanar'ri obviously on the ropes, they turn invisible, but even that isn't enough to save another, the one they hated most, with the roly-poly belly full of all the extra belly buttons, from the warlock's blade & cleric's...well, spiritual fork. The others hide & escape, & the victorious players leave the cramped gutters & eat the bigwig fungi that return them to regular size.

Droki goes in the jar! They could gag him, but that defeats the purpose of trying to trick him into giving them clues, so they take his biggest jar, give him a pygmywort, & put him in, remembering to give him extra to stay small so he doesn't get crushed, & to poke holes in the lid. For a second they were all "wait, is there a jar big enough?" & I was like, "if you think for a second that I would sabotage you putting Droki in a jar, you've got another thought coming!" That sorted, they take stock of their surroundings; they've come out into a patch of dense fungal "forest" like the one infested with vermin from earlier, but as they rummage around & explore, looking for more embiggening & beshrinkening 'shrooms, no creepy-crawlies come skittering out. They turn up rhizomes & rhizomes of the magical things, spores & spores, actually, & more: a door, long overgrown, down a little nook of the twisting caverns. Here, they think, might be a good place to spend the night...& so we leave it there, as they begin to make camp, of a sort. Are they one step closer to "The Thing," whatever it is? Back in the mundane world, plans are already afoot to play again...but in the meantime, you can check out this sweet drider page from the new Adventures Outlined colouring book that I did.

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Dread: Outpost 37 [Jun. 30th, 2018|10:36 am]
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We skipped Tom's usual Halloween game of Dread last year, which are the contemporary incarnation of his old Dead World one-shots, so it was a treat to crash one in to a weekend afternoon! Nicole (The Doctor) & Luke (The Captain) have played in one before, & we're joined by Carl (The Navigator) & Ruoxi (The Engineer), who are editor friends I work with. I played The Geologist, & my obvious cyborg enhancement was in being purposefully subdivided across the corpus callosum, with neuro-accelerants & glial boosters keeping us in a state of amicable cooperation, able to do two things at a time. The problem was, I didn't have any military training, & when the Big Lebowski pacifist captain lied to us about how the grenades worked, I didn't know any better. Shame about those horrifying headcrab zombies killing all of the men, but a nice horror movie "moral" with a modern twist. Also, secret laboratories? We got pretty Resident Evil on this one. A million miles of fun, & next time, I'm totally going to have an accent. Here's Tom's prologue:
    It is the year 2070 and you are all crew members aboard the Nautilus Explorer - an Extreme Depth Exploratory Craft (EDEC) on a standard mission to survey possible ocean floor mining sites. Working for the Tri-Oceanic Corporation, you are returning from your 90-day surveying trip to mining outpost 17 (sometimes just called #17). This has been your home for the past two years. Located 6 miles below the Pacific Ocean, it is one of forty ocean-floor mining plants owned by Tri-Oceanic. During the return trip you receive a transmission from the communications base that four days ago Tri-Oceanic lost contact with another of its mining operations, outpost 37. Your orders are to attempt contact and report your findings back to base. You can’t help but feel a little apprehensive. Four days is a long time for com’s to be down, even for the notoriously unreliable deep-water radio system. Turn's out your gut was right.

    As you approach outpost 37 it appears eerily quiet. Closer inspection only increases your unease. Normally a hub of bustling activity it now sits silent. Illuminated only by the gliding beam of your searchlight, the ghostly gray structure looms in front of you fading in and out of the abyssal blackness. Repeated attempts to make radio contact have been met with silence, although cursory inspection of the structure does not reveal any obvious damage. As you are finishing your survey something catches your eye. As you get closer, a debris field of escape pods, all of which appear to have sustained severe implosion damage, come into view. Caught within the twisted metal and glass, are the pale and indiscernible parts of what were once people. It is only more shocking because these are C-76 emergency transporters, large ships designed to carry up to 50 crew members. You have counted at least four of them on the ocean floor, possibly five. The thought of them all being full is too awful to think about.

    The stunned silence that fills the bridge of the Nautilus is suddenly broken by a crackle on the radio. It’s base #17 asking for an update. As you begin to report your findings, a powerful explosion rips through the outpost. You watch as an entire section blows outward, then violently collapses in on itself as it rapidly depressurizes. A shock wave of twisted metal and debris smashes into the Nautilus’ side, peppering it with fist-sized holes. A steel girder the size of a small tree pierces the hull, rupturing the pressure control valve and bursting the ballast. With the sudden loss of buoyancy the Nautilus plummets to the ocean floor, smashing nose first into the sandy bottom before settling on its side. The lights go out, alarms begin to ring, and the sudden sound of groaning metal echoes throughout the ship as its pressure system begins to catastrophically fail...
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Star Wars: End of Empire: The Solar Labyrinth! [Jun. 29th, 2018|02:01 pm]
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[Current Music |crown me king feat. györgy ligeti- hc svnt dracones]

Eclipse Day
It has been a while, but the last episode of my Star Wars campaign left off on an easy note to pick up on. The chase begins! Baron Monstro has press-ganged them into his "Eclipse Day" celebration, some kind of Most Dangerous Race situation to sate the erratic noble's deadly appetites, with the promise of giving the players the intel that they seek on the STARKILLER weapon that they learned about when they sliced into the Rubicon's databanks. Survivors of the convoluted course get "favours," but the winners get a "wish." I do a little mechanical catching up with the players while waiting the crew to fully trickle in: we're getting better at the d6 advantage & obstacle dice, but I'm going to try to start working Strain into things more, because that's something I've been glossing over up till now. We're still in the "learning the new system" mode but the fundamentals of the system, what I call "reading the bones," where successes & failures & pros & cons cancel out & add up are intuitive enough that the nuts & bolts aren't too crucial. I also gave Raj a quick reminder about the Contessa's offer, not to nudge him but just to remind him that it was on the table, since it's been a while since we had the chance to play. The trains were screwed up— what else is new— but once everyone arrived, it was off to the races!

In the tradition of the "tandem win" rules of the swoop dueling league during the days of the Old Republic, racers can go in pairs or ride solo. Jolit the HRD "human replica droid" agent of the Droid Uprising partners with his erstwhile mechanic, Para Totool, the ex-Imperial engineer from "Special Projects." So that takes care of Joey & Rachel; the other team is the Corellian gunslinger Jax Cadderly, played by Raj & the felinoid Force-using Farghul farseeker Theynur Kötturinn played by Burke. Which is where we begin, back from break: a shot on Theynur, spice-addled & muddling her way into wakefulness before it's time to be at the starting line. She's in the sabacc-as-tarot den, last to wake up long after the party has ended, with one card, the Queen— sometimes more elaborately called the Queen of Air & Darkness— laid on the table in front of her. It's a hand-made deck, & highly political; the various cards are painted to match prominent contemporary figures, famous or infamous, & here the Queen is Imperator Pryl. Jax & Jolit, meanwhile, get the lowdown on the course ahead, both intel downloaded from the Corellian team's droids & tips from the Trandoshan ex-gladiator who owes Jax a lifedebt, Sshushath the Zode. Power surges & butcherbug webs, oh my! What's Para up to? Oh, you know. Nothing terrifying. Just decanting a single molecule of coaxium from her TIE fighter, using the pent up energy from the twin engines to make an ion pulse detonator. ...& rolling a critical failure...& a critical success. Do you cut the green cable or blue cable? Blue, no, gre— actually, let's just yank 'em all out! ...&...still alive! In the tradition of the films she stencils a little Aurebesh message: "This Bomb Knows Teräs Käsi."

The Solar Labyrinth
From above, on the surface of the palace-moon of Corellia Prime, the Solar Labyrinth looks like a vast, black, complicated crop circle. The planetary titan whose shadow the moon now begins to fall under is the entire sky: opalescent, coruscating with auroras as the satellite & gas giant's powerful magnetospheres tangle, shimmer, & dance. On the ground, the walls of the Outer Labyrinth are vast, solar panel-tinted octagonal columns ranging in diameter from a meter to a city block, ascending & descending, shuffling monoliths shifting like tumblers in a lock, some rising or falling from the height of skyscrapers. A moving maze of power collectors, crackling with hair-raising energy & the smell of ozone. Sudden flashes of lightning pass between them, as slowly gliding octahedronal droids, reminiscent of the geothermal station bots on Mustafar, dart about on their errands. The speeder bikes are classics, just like the ones we see on Endor...well, a little tweaked, since those are the forest model & you know the toy companies are going to demand a specialized racing version. It's the fins— these run on the ambient energy waves of this city-sized power station. After the baron's speech, they'll have a few moments on the cycles waiting for the start, & Para is already scoping out what adjustments & recalibrations she's going to make.

“Friends & enemies, admirers & subjects..." begins Baron Monstro, encased in his golden power armor on a floating platform, surrounded by guests in their own hoverbox seats, in a set-up not dissimilar to the old Senate. The other teams have representatives next to him: at last the Nubian ranger's sponsor, Negus Zo, a humungous Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin-like figure, makes an appearance, & there is an older member of the Corellian Bel Ibis family there as well, a caped man with sweet muttonchops. Some pale, human beancounter in thick, multi-lens glasses represents CEC interests in the race, & then of course Eris Berserk, the blue Chiss privateer the players have been working with who is technically their "coach" for the race, & Rao Kast, the black armored Mandalorian gangster whose goons are in the race mostly to try to kill Jax Cadderly. Gesturing all about him with the monomaniacal self-obsession that seems to be his hallmark, the baron continues: "After last year’s debacle...where no one was willing to transport any Rathtars to me, to my eternal disappointment...Rao Kast—& a whole tribe of Rodian trappers, rest in peace Neetakka Clan— did me the favour of procuring one of the galaxy’s deadliest megapredators to add that certain hint of primal motivation to the race that this celebration deserves...a fully-grown & ravenous Krayt dragon!" His speech his followed by an echoing whippoorwill roaring from a chasm whose octoganal block slowly begins to rise.

They all start to settle in to the saddles: the players are two for two, Jax & Theynur on one low-slung speeder & Jolit & Para on another— & she's already fiddling with the manifold, over-clocking all the capacitors. Each of the fair-haired & well-coifed Corellian nobles, Freki & Geri, has a smooth, "All is Full of Love"-style prototype droid they ride with, & each of the dark-orbed Jem & the Hologram Duros has a phenomenally attractive cerulean Twi'lek behind them. The Tantel rangers adopt the same strategy, riding in pairs, but the Black Sun gangsters are split up. Hopper Rose is hanging on to the back of Skeeter's speeder, with Bambam & Shank on their own bikes, lined up next to the party. & then, as the totality of the prismatic silhouette swallows the horizon above, the Eclipse is complete & the race begins...& starts with Shank running over, throwing Para off her bike as she bypasses the six-cycle motivator, & trying to take off with it. He almost gets away with it, but a blaster bolt from Jax causes the whole bike to burst into flame! Not an explosion, but the venting exhaust was so volatile from Para's jury-rigging that the speeder is wrecked & Shank left howling & jumping in pain, while the rest of the racers take off, Hopper screaming after him like the drugged up & barely coherent legbreaker he is: "stop, drop & roll, mommy! Baby wants to go for a riiiide!" as the bikes dwindle from sight.

The Outer Labyrinth
The dice determine the course of the race; I hand out charts with a variety of potential uses for rolling successes & advantages just as inspiration, & I'm able to have the "NPC on NPC" interactions predominantly off-camera; I can broadly figure out their "race position" & then deviate from there based on what the PCs do. Jolit & Para can't catch a break; after they jump on another bike, they are off to a rocky start, though Jolit coaxes his little ID droid to grab the control sticks with its calipers to make sure they don't go fireball into a wall while he's distracted by whatever the race throws at them. While Para tinkered with the bike, Jax hyped up the crowd with a little trick shooting, sending a power droid dancing; but nobody quite feels elated. Suga & Shuga, the "Sugar Sisters," & their adonis Twi'lek companions Tek & Pala are also playing to the audience, but Theynur's untrained Force abilities are tinged with darkness: all she can hear from the crowd with her pointed ears is heckling, & she empathically projects her feelings of dismay & despair to her friends. It doesn't matter that Jax is the consummate showman: that's now what she feels. & now everyone's fortune is bent for the worse.

Para tries to manipulate the Krayt dragon by making whooping calls of her own...which, sort of works? She gets the thing's attention, at least: a horned & scaled reptiloid almost fifty meters long that comes scrambling across the black tiles like a primordial crocodilian horror, & ahhh, off they flee with the gigantic creature in pursuit, Jolit taking a few pot shots with the bike's turret blaster at the walls to rain down shards of black glass as a distraction or directly other racers' speeders, even landing a good hit on Bambam's. People are limiting their shots to the vehicles: that's the gentleman's rule, anyhow, but really everything here is at Baron Monstro's whim. Put on a good show & he's fine with whatever. Pulling into a narrow, jet black canyon, Para & Jolit watch as one of the cutting edge droids— Peebee, the one Jolit interfaced with— has their placid blue eyes suddenly flip to red, shouting out an auto-tuned "down with the oppressors: long live the Droid Uprising!" as it begins to rain blows down on the head of the now distracted pilot, Freki, with metal fists.

Jax meanwhile is racing hard; somewhere along the way he realized he actually had a chance at winning this thing. He's keeping them covered with his blaster while Theynur pilots the speeder, & we see her lashing out with the Force, knocking away obstacles & anticipating the lightning-bright power flashes. Their speeder's front tines get entangled with one of the gangster's bikes as they jockey for position, but they each break free at the last possible moment, instants before colliding with a skyrocketing plinth, teamwork keeping them in the running with—


— now only one of the Corellian teams in front of them, as the dragon leaps from a crevice & swallows the spinning, struggling noble Freki & freethinking Peebee with a crunch, whole in one. Pulling ahead, the black columns & thumming buzz of the solar capacitors end, as the Old Labyrinth begins. Ancient honeycomb cliff faces, orange & painted with shapes: the convor, the white wolf, humanoid figures, the white wolf, constellations, but above all the shape of the white wolf, wolves in the walls. Coated over them is a translucent black sheathing of the same substance that formed the octagons. Without the omnipresent charge of the pylons, the bikes sputter out, & the second leg of the race begins.

The Old Labyrinth
Great Ibbots are Archeopteryx writ large, a flying Allosaurus; fell beasts, but full fed, as trunk-sized sharpened spits with nerf haunches skewered upon them are all over, rendering the avians a little more docile than usual, & a little too heavy to fly high enough to get above the puzzle-paths. Here in the inner Labyrinth, everybody but the droids have a little "luck," & I've got them rolling the Force die just to add a little spice to the mix. Theynur & Jax stay together, hopping on a bird & taking a few shots at the Black Sun gangsters while Para & Jolit have managed to agitate theirs; almost like fate is working against them. The Tantel rangers, Naod, Mako, Giger & Oko, each move with a hunter's grace onto their own birds, & the foursome start to catch up behind the remaining Corellian racing pair who have hoped astride their fierce Ibbot like a noble skysteed. Hot on their talons are the Sugar Sisters, each Duros & Twi'lek couple still riding tandem, Lisa Frank riding pleathers now stained here & there with carbon & green blood. Theynur & Jax stay above the rest of the pack, where the butcherbug webs are thick...but the Farghul just bats them aside with the Force, letting her frustration & despair fill her up, a frenzied vortex of negative energy. Para throws her ion bomb into the quickly gaining wedge of the Nubian's terrorbirds with a mighty heave & a—


—of blue Kirby krackle, the ion wave throwing the magnetic senses of the Ibbots completely out of alignment, causing them to collide with each other in a cherubic flurry of feathers & scales. Out alone in second place with only the New Republic aristocrat & droid ahead of them, Theynur's heart is full of malicious glee. She lets go of her conscious self, rage growing, filling up the primitive mind of the Ibbot, & true to its predatory instincts it falls like a hammer upon the lead team, slamming them to the ground, impaling their mount fatally on the sharp stakes with a dying Rancor-like whimper & scattering the riders Peetoo & Geri to who-knows-what fate. Which means— & no one is more surprised than Jax, too overwhelmed by success to marvel much at the cruelty & power that helped get him there— that they've won! Jax & Theynur— riding ahead of the haunting, echoing call of a feasting Krayt dragon that must have found some of the stragglers in the maze— representing Eris Berserk & the "home team," have the victory, winning the baron's favour & a "wish"!

Coliseum Crater
It seems the team that played it safe, the CEC sponsored team, have all made it through the race alive, thick in the middle of things but short of winning, each taking home "favours" from the baron. Of the teams that played a riskier game, well; the Corellian nobility have clearly lost, only two of the Tantel rangers recovered their poise in the aftermath of the ion bomb's chaos enough to make it to the ring in time before the energy field went up & of the Black S...er, swoop gang members that are left there are only Hopper Rose & Skeeter, jeered by the player characters. The race ends at Coliseum Crater, a vast & ancient impact zone at the heart of the Solar Labyrinth full of loose moon dust. Above, one of the baron's sub-palace's hovers— we'll say it's Besh, for sake of continuity, but really it could be any one of dozens— & all around in floating palanquins & in old fashioned stadium seating are a cross section of galactic spectators, humans & aliens from every planet & every slice of interstellar life. One last trick up his sleeve, Baron Monstro announces a Battle Royale, with the victor to win a "grand wish" up to & including half of his holdings in Kuat Drive Yards.

No-holds barred, with the victor being...whomever brings the baron the nearly priceless kyber "pearl" from the heart of the Krayt dragon, suddenly & loudly clawing & hooting at the forcefield blocking the entrance of the stadium, just behind the remaining contestants, as if the monster had a sense of melodrama, as well. Rao Kast, upset to say the least to see the target of his ire not only live but win, says he's calling in his aforementioned favour for catching the dragon: he wants to jump in to the melee. Monstro, laughing & clapping delightedly, agrees that that's fine, wondering aloud if any other former champions— with an exaggerated wink to Eris— would call in a favour to enter as a dark horse as well. (Jax, before Sshushath the Zode can do anything stupid like enter with one claw just a barely regenerating stump, gives him a curt signal not to). Instead, before the Chiss cyborg can say anything, the spacetrooper called "Old Zed" puts a hand on her shoulder to stop her & says he will, hefting up his huge riot shield as their soaring hoverpods begin to descend to the chalky floor.
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Eclipse Day! [Feb. 20th, 2018|11:17 am]
mordicai caeli
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A lavish party scene is a classic load-bearing trope in my campaigns. Masquerade balls, royal weddings, holiday rituals: I think a big fête is a great set piece. I was telling Terra that I think it stretches all the way back to my junior high days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: After the Bomb: Mutants Down Under. I ran a session set at a county fair in a post-apocalyptic Australia populated by mutant animals, full of betting on giant racing snails, feats of anthropomorphic strength & outlandish critters as fried food, & it was a big success. On the ride home after this game, Raj & I were discussing our structural techniques as storytellers; I'm bending more cinematic than usual for that "Star Wars" feel but my core methodology is still to construct potential vignettes & Schrödinger outlines & let the chips fall where they may. A big social scene lends itself naturally to that style; you can build "clumps" of people either directly through drawing rooms & architecture, or organically by parlor game or activity, & that provides easy scene shifts if the party of characters fragments to pursue their own interests, as well as making a large group of NPCs more accessible. It was long past time to have one in my End of Empire game.

As usual, I'm getting ahead of myself. We start the evening with a little basic book-keeping, like spending Experience points & talking about the rules. I don't think I've been using the Disadvantage d6s enough, & I don't think the players have been using the Advantage d6s enough, so I encourage them to chisel a little. If you've got the tools in your belt, if your droid sidekick can lend a hydrospanner, ask for a bonus die! I also talk about Obligations a bit. While I feel completely free to weave them into the story as natural consequences of the game or just to kick the plot into high gear, I do still use the random system. That is, there's a d% chance one will come up each session, per the amount they took at character creation, as standard per the Edge of the Empire rules. Besides that, Obligations are resolvable by story action. If Han had abandoned Luke at Yavin & mollified Jabba with Alderaanian blood credits, the bountyhunters would have stopped coming. They are also modifiable; a sketchy Imperial can become an Alliance recruit pretty easily by enlisting & just changing the name on the Obligation. If you really want to, you can take on more, as well, if there are "big ticket" items otherwise out of reach: join the Empire as a pilot & I'll give your character a TIE interceptor, sure!

The last session of the campaign ended with the players making contact with the madcap Baron Monstro over comms in the Corellian Sector, & racing him in his VT-49 Decimator across the Rings of Drall. The screen wipes from the ships approaching the off-white planetoid down to them crossing the atmosphere: the palace moon of Corellia Prime is covered in repulsor-lifted buildings, mostly spherical or teardrop-shaped, with maze-like patterns on the ground far beneath & game preserves teaming with nerfs, the stampeding herd below just little dots below when seen from this height. They are preyed upon by velkers, dangerous skymantas the size of small starfighters, & approaching the hovering globe arcology of Sub-Palace Besh, a flock of roosting rawwks— feathered & wolf-faced batbirds— add a touch of gothic flare to the moon. The many, many levels of the spherical castle are open to the air, & the one the Baron's wedge-winged White Plume warship pulls up to is littered with piles of swoop bikes, a shining J-type diplomatic chromeship, a CEC luxury sail barge, an exquisitely trained velker with palaquin on it's back & an assortment of space oddities.

Getting out, the party sees that the Baron has waiting for him a vintage Super Tactical Droid butler, Oh-One, a relic of the droid armies of the Separatists in brass, with polished filagree & patina'd depths. The droid holds on a magna-leash a snarling, prowling Nexu, one of the two-tailed, four-eyed feline monsters from the Geonosis arena in Attack of the Clones, its shoulders as high as a human tall: Malice. All in gleaming gold, with a fluttering blue & red cape, they finally lay eyes on the Baron for the first time as he exits his ship. His armor is clearly customized to fit & strength-enhancing, & with the face plate open he's got an Idris Elba-esque twinkle in his eye. That Corellian charm! The droid releases the beast, which bounds up to slobber mightily all over Baron Monstro...but as the players come down their own staryacht's gangplank, it's ears flatten & it suddenly spins & charges them. Para Totool the ex-Imperial mechanic that Rachel plays, has quite a great deal of experience with ferocious creatures, & Raj's character the human scoundrel Jax Cadderly has got a cargo hold's worth of chill. Pouncing, the ferocious Nexu...ends up entwined with the two of them, purring gutturally. With a power-assisted moon-leap of his own, Monstro lands next to all of them, laughing, pleased, impressed that no one lost a hand...until he pauses, stunned for a moment, noticing the stoic replicant droid Jolit, played by Joey. Burke had to miss out on this session, & so Theynur Kötturinn's X-wing docks separately from the False Profit, & the Farghul spice junkie remains off-camera for the majority of this scene. She lingers in the background with the Trandoshan Sshushath the Zode, a long ago veteran of this world, while the other droids, 4-DOX & AK-88, stay back on the ship.

The Baron leads the group through to a pristine white feasthall; a vast, round table set with transparent Bespin porcelain, ringed by doors that speedily hiss open & clang shut as they pass through. The walls are three arches, & above the table is a three-dimensional version of an orbital clock in stark CGI outlines that suggest the Death Star's approach on the Rebel's base...only in this hologram, the big object is the one projecting the umbra of an imminent eclipse. I remain cagey about the planetary mechanics of the palace-moon; I'm teasing about the logistics of Endor but really the situation is more like Yavin IV, with a smattering of technobabble about Centerpoint Station mixed in, but Jolit fails his Astrogation check so I don't bother expounding. Space opera: pew pew! One thing we do figure out: a "zode" seems to be a unit of time, or at least some astrological measure. As the group settles in, there are a rainbow of liquids in shot glasses presented to them. Gamorean opera plays in the background, & to represent it I throw on Godspeed You! Black Emperor's F♯ A♯ ∞. It's a little bit abstract, a little bit experimental, a little bit Vogon poetry. Baron Monstro begins with a toast to the fallen Wookiee hero, Wuukar, executed by the Imperial remnant, telling the story of how Sshushath & Wuukar planned a final, no weapons, no holds barred, till death or submission grudge match to settle their career long rivalry. The Baron promised them a cage battle, & he delivered, but he never promised them the cage would be empty: Monstro put a gundark in there with them, too! Rather than quarrel, the Wookiee & the Trandoshan teamed up & went King Kong & Godzilla on the four-armed xenoterror.

The Baron lives to play both sides against the other, according to his own arbitrary sense of fun & personal honor; Eris has warned them as much & he's quite frank about it. He's worked with the Republic & he's worked with the Empire; in fact, he's old enough, thanks to longevity drugs & life-extension treatments, to have directly profited from both the Clone Wars & the Civil War, though that's not something anyone openly talks about much these days, besides him.

What he wants to know, however, is just who the hell Jolit is. Who is his father? Ever been to Kamino, wink wink, nudge nudge? When Jolit reveals that he's a synthetic humanoid droid, not a cyborg, the Baron laughs & laughs. Oh, ah ha! He see's how it is: it is not accidental that Jolit has slowly found his way to Eris since crawling out of the junkyard. The Force? Destiny? No; her brother Cadecus Dee is Jolit's Maker. There must be something in the back of the droid's databanks, whether just a ghost in the machine or some more sinister backdoor in his programing, that led him to her.

When Jolit mentions that he thinks he has been to The Maw, that infamous cluster of black holes, or at least he's dreamed that he's been, Monstro says that makes a certain kind of sense: Cadecus was working with the Bothans to break into the Maw Installation. How does he know that? & does Monstro know where they can find Dee now? Well, the answer to both those two questions is kind of the same: the last time the Baron saw Cadecus Dee is when he captured him & turned him over to the Empire for the bounty. Before anyone gets a chance to get heated, the Baron admits that it was all part of the plan to have him infiltrate the secret Imperial R&D facility, since the droids weren't working. (Jolit: "wait, droids?") Monstro had been working with the SpyNet ever since realizing that Tol Daala, then just the base's spymaster, was kidnapping “his” engineers & scientists: industrial espionage!

How did Cadecus end up working with the Bothan SpyNet? It was Monstro who helped rescue Cadecus Dee & Eris Berserk from their stolen Imperial shuttle in the first place, decades ago, along with his Bothan partner, Bri Gwin, now a Strategos in the New Republic. The Chiss Ascendency treats undesirables as chattel, purging them in genocides or selling them off to people like corrupt Old Republic politicians or nihilistic CIS droids— that's why there are whole populations of exiles in diaspora, like the Pantorans. Eris & Cadecus were part of one of these round-ups, a batch sold as Near-Human lab rats, tested on by heartless robots & mad scientists. Yes, that's where she got her robotic arm, & the painful, blinking box in her chest plugged into all her organs. Eventually, Cadecus became a trustee; he was removed from the program & worked as a nurse to the cybernetists & as their pilot when successful discoveries were duplicated & transported to the archives at the Maw laboratories. He rescued Eris when he left, & didn't have to: there was no reason for it other than he could. That's why she'll always owe him everything. Dee, seeking revenge, ultimately chose to go with Gwin to the Rebellion but Eris chose to go with Monstro, to freedom. She was his apprentice for many years, until she won her name as a Champion & chose to strike out on her own.

As the giant orrery at the center of the table ticks over to the very edge of the penumbra, the magnetic auroras between the two planets begin to flicker in the heavens outside & above. Now, it's a charming patterning of dancing lights, a glittering, opalescent edge; a shimmering sky pattern. The tock of the stellar clock is the signal for the Baron to switch from confessional to big top, as he announces the beginning of the Eclipse Day Celebrations. He's been mentioning a race from time to time all evening, the "main event" in which some kind of maze will be involved...& clearly, now he's emceeing the introduction of the competitors. The Baron puts on that Michael Buffer inflection, the airlocks hiss open & he introduces the teams as they march in.
    Representing the Noble Families of Corellia: House Bel Iblis!, as a pair of spoiled nobles in capes & pseudo-uniforms come in with a set of fancy black & white droids designed in the smooth neo-classical motiff of Bjork's "All is Full of Love."

    Representing the Bitwoded of Nubia: Negus Zo!, a foursome of Tantel rangers, faces obscured by the curling tusks of their masks. A unified look, but each hunter is personalized with trophies: a feather cape, carapace pauldrons, etc.

    Representing the Corellian Engineering Corporation of Duros: the Sisters Sugar!, a pale albino Duro & a pastel pink Duro in synthetic motorcycle leathers, accompanied by a scantily clad pair of beautiful, muscular blue Twi'lek adonises.

    & representing the Swoop Gangs of Centerpoint Station: Rao Kast! The Mandalorian assassin's armor is SR-71 black, limned with glowing crimson, & he is accompanied by his drug-huffing lieutenant, Hopper Rose, & the 80s cartoon gangsters Jax calls "Tee-boys," since they ape the Mandalorian helm with T-shaped tattoos on their faces. That's not good, him being here: Rao Kast is a lightsaber-wielding Black Sun Vigo who somehow got it in his head that Jax cheated him in a game of cards, & he has wanted violent payback ever since. Hopper & the Mando-wannabes just ran the scoundrel off Ord Mantell, & it's not great seeing them here, now, with their boss.

    ...but Baron Monstro is not finished. Representing the home team, the freebooters & privateers: Eris Berserk! By which, he means of course, the player characters; while some of the team leaders are the racers themselves, mostly they are just coaches or sponsors; Negus Zo isn't even here. The group takes the news gracefully; coming here was a roll of the dice in the first place, & a dangerous chase is about par for what they were expecting based on Eris' descriptions of the Baron.
This is my chance to do a bit of a Canto Bight sequence, & so you'll forgive me if I've over-stuffed it with visual references. The cotton candy aliens of the CEC-sponsored gang are wearing Captain Eo pleathers, Lisa Franked in zippers & hologram panels. Rather than Lando's shabby look in Return of the Jedi; the Tantel rangers of Numbia don't mess around: dark skinned humans in earth tones & armor made from natural materials, dotted & slashed with splashes of vibrant color. Wakanda forever! The Corellian nobles have the clearest lineage, with Han's bulky belt & blood-striped pants paired with Lando's shiny shoes & flowing cape. There's some OG BSG in there, too, from the braids on their capes to their big blonde hair. Rao Kast is a black & red Tron: Legacy Mandalorian, but underneath that iconic helm he's a weasel of a man with a soul patch, like a mid-level bureaucrat who is obsessed with the gym. Rachel calls out the swoop gangers as "Tarantino's Star Wars," & I laugh sadly because that's totally what I was going for with them, & also, fuck that guy.

With that, the walls of the three archways start evaporating, revealing them to be separate, themed sub-chambers where the party is already under way! The Baron's honor guard, marching out, is a trio of cetaceanoid Herglics; part Krogan, part Scarran, all orcan. (Turk, Gogo & Lulu, or rather eQe-turk, eQe-gogo & eQe-lulu, since we are at a fancy occasion; though their pod name "eQe" is a bit of a high frequency squeak, so on second thought perhaps no need to be quite so dignified.) If they are the bouncers, their boss, the cooler, is the Baron's master-of-arms, an old spacetrooper named Zed, carrying a massive riot shield. Para recognizes the armor; it was a prototype batch, cortosis-laced, designed for the 501st for space assault but never actually deployed; just developed as proof of concept. Whoever is inside talks just like an old clone trooper, when the players get a chance to talk to him; Baron Monstro just seems to like collecting antique odds & ends.

The racers split off into the separate room, enjoying their last supper before the race. Para drifts off after the aliens into the Ryllian Spice Den & the Nubian rangers— Naod, Giger, Mako, Oko— go to the living dejarik game run by the Circus Horrificus in the third arch; they even have a Savrip! Unexpectedly, Jax marches right up to Rao Kast, backed up by Jolit. Jax Cadderly is through running, but he does decide to keep the acrid wit to a low sneer; no point in giving the assassin the pretext for a duel. Jolit is tempted to push for just that— he has some kind of deep desire to get red lightsabers shoved through him— though that's a joke about Joey's apparent deathwish, from the Rubicon to now, not a clue about his memory wipe. Instead, the replicant asks Hopper Rose for a hit of the blue drug the crook is always inhaling & well, if you haven't guessed that he's Frank Booth from Blue Velvet crossed with Saw Gerrera yet, as he takes a hit of aerosol Booster Blue from his spice rig & starts spewing vulgarities, it's pretty clear & awful. They hate these guys; it's great. They should. They are the worst, & Jax Cadderly has had enough; if they are going to try to kill him during this race, then he is going to try to kill them right back.

The mechanic, Para, followed the Duros & Twi'leks into the room done up in the style of a spice parlor. There, the floor is made of octagonal slabs, raising & lowering to create chairs, tables, raised podiums...whatever the situation demands. Protruding from an opaque white lace covering that stretches the length & breadth of the room is a crowned humanoid figure. Just the silhouette, in veiled blanc relief, asking the former Imperial officer whether she'd like her fortune read now, or after she had a chance to speak with the other contestants. "After," says Para, & drifts over to the CEC team. Their outlook is professional, if bleak; indentured servants, if they put on a good show their "favours" will be recouped by the corporation...if they win though, & get a wish, then all bets are off. Literally. Playing it cool, Para figures out that she won't get a chance to chopshop the speeder bikes they will apparently be racing on before hand, but they are the old Imperial standard 74-Z, so Para knows a few tricks to hotwire them on the fly. The Duros, Shuga & Suga, want to know if the players are planning on racing "two & two" or "all four," so Para figures out that they can double up...& that the aliens appear to be a double celebrity couple, paired with the hunky Tek & Pala. Sensing the conversation has come to an end, Para relents & has her future told, by hands projecting from the shrouded flood like poltergeists from the television. It's a sabacc deck, which between suits of flasks, sabers, staves & coins, face cards like commander, mistress, master & ace & about half the major arcana as trumps makes a perfect little tarot deck. I flipped a lot of potential questions, but Para went in with a tabula rasa...which were the first kind of readings I did, starting with a blank slate for each of the player characters. For her, the first card is the Evil One. The Past. Where you are From. What you are. Then, crossing it, Endurance. The Present. Where you are At. Who you are. & last, transfixing those: the Star. The Future. Where you are Going. What you Want.

Jolit, seeing that Eris & Sshushath have Jax's back in staring down the mobsters from the Black Sun, wanders into the Mynock Fancier's Society, following the Corellian boys, Geri & Freki Bel Iblis...or more correctly, their fresh off the assembly line droids. Within, exquisitely bred mynocks, with none of the muddy colours of the vermin in a space slug's stomach but rather a mother of pearl biodiversity of plumage, engage in a feeding frenzy, an eating contest to see whose pet will breach the hypermatter core first. Scoring a handful of Successes & Advantages on his social check, Joli gets P-X2, Peetew, separate from the humans & Peebee, P-X2b. "Hello! Thank you for agreeing to troubleshoot this prototype model!" Peetew is the epitome of the naive wunderkid; it has data banks full of racing protocols, predictive course modeling, optimal route pathing, adaptive puzzle solving...but not much about the hard knock realities of life. The "bee" in "P-X2b" stands for "beta patch," as it turns out; the patch Peetwo didn't get. Jolit convinces it to jack in to him, the test-model droid data spiking his arm like K2-SO does in Rogue One, which the other players find creepier than intended...but was certainly meant to be a little unsettling. He learns that there are two sections of the race, the Solar Labyrinth & the Old Labyrinth, before the Crater Colosseum, & while you race on repulsor bikes for the first half, it's some kind of terror-bird for the second part. By this point, the two Corellian aristocrats notice Jolit messing with P-X2, & he is chased out of the Society, followed by shouts of "hey, get away from our droid!" & the angry quivering shrieks of pedigree mynocks.

Meeting up back in the banquet hall, the gang goes over what they've learned, & start hatching plans; nobody is all that great a driver, but that's alright. They intend to focus on lateral thinking— what might be called cheating, in a less chaotic setting, but well within the scope of Monstro's sense of "fair play"— & being entertaining for the Baron. Jax, at least, intends to take out of few Black Sun stooges before any of them can do the same to him. The group reassures each other that they can always jump between the speeder bikes midway through to swap gunslingers & gearheads, or so they convince themselves. Music to my ears. Some days it is just great to be a Dungeon Master: you just sit back & let the players come up with the gonzo ideas. Which is when Rachel mentions that Para will be packing a thermal detonator. "Wait, what!?" Well, she has a Talent that gives her a chance of jury-rigging a plot device, & she figures she'll just siphon off fuel cells from her TIE interceptor & whip up something nasty. Which is a heck of a piece of punctuation to put on the session; with Burke out & at a natural breakpoint, we call it there for the night.
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Star Wars: End of Empire: Witch-Queen of the Empire. [Jan. 21st, 2018|12:34 pm]
mordicai caeli
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[Current Mood |☄️ 🚀 🔮]
[Current Music |crown me king feat. michael giacchino- "thus spoke monstro"]

Recapping Last Session
I've been keeping fairly detailed summaries of my Star Wars: End of Empire RPG sessions, & we're all fresh off the high of arguing about a new movie, so it wasn't difficult to get back into the spirit of Star Wars. Where were we again? That's a little trickier. What is the whole convoluted plot, er, plan? The fractured Imperial forces known as The Praetorians are looking for the party's ally, Eris Berserk, & now them. Why? Because they want to find her brother, Cadecus Dee, who stole a prototype ship called The Insidious along with a superweapon called STARKILLER. Finding out all this put them on this new Empire's hit list, & so they've fled the system, intent on finding Eris' old mentor, Baron Monstro. He'll help identify just what this top secret project actually is, & they intend on using that intel to convince the fledgling galactic Republic to aid the cause of the Droid Uprising. I handed out experience, with a special story bonus for concluding the "Tatooine" or "Jakku" podunk planet portion of our saga as they escape Praetorian controlled Ord Mantell & finally leave the gravity shadow of the Bright Jewel Nebula. I gave them a chance to spend it, save it, or to talk to me about substitutions on their class Talent trees. After reading the new Genesys rules, I'm going to keep the character class mechanics mostly untouched, & just allow people to broadly substitute a Talent for any other lateral Talent. I'm not going to sweat the small stuff; it doesn't seem like it is going to break the game. Ships are all fixed up, gear is all stowed, pencils ready, Rogue One soundtrack playing & the trumpets blast.

Repressed Memories: Man & Machine
We return to the story with a shot of the interior of a Lamda-class shuttle, a variant model with a surgical bed built in the middle of it. Joey's character Jolit, the rebuilt Human Replica Droid is standing there, along with a completely human-looking version of himself strapped to the bed in a loose white sickbay robe. At the front console piloting the ship is a scorched metal skeleton, a Terminator-eque droid duplicate of himself. We've been doing a lot of temporary character swapping & deuteragonists in this campaign so far, from games of sabacc & the villains' POV to the supporting ensemble of NPCs, & this session was no exception: Raj played the restrained organic subject & Rachel played the burnt, robotic helmsman. Their remit was simple, & Jolit, in the haze of "dream" logic— or whatever you call it when androids shutdown & imagine electric sheep— played along. The patient eagerly exclaimed, "cut off my arm!" & Jolit went for it, spending the experience to gain a point of Medicine before touching the dice, in a synergy of role & roll. A smell like drilling teeth & bloody iron, & a feeling of incredible pain as it paradoxically bit into he, himself. The creepy deathbot demanded: "this unit will navigate the ship to vector 0.0.1" straight into a black hole, & Joey's HRD unit complied, buying a rank of Astrogation & stealing his will to follow through on such a nihilistic course. The stars drew back into the signature lines of a hyperspace jump...& just stopped, still, like Kylo Ren freezing a blaster bolt.

Praetorian Interlude
I thought it might be nice to have a few scenes re-introducing the villains & the stakes, & time to up the ante on a few plot lines, so we took an abrupt cinematic cut from Jolit's face in his hallucinatory hypnogogic malfunction to the Praetorian Commander Ulma Verbost, Rachel's character's former subordinate from back in the bad old Imperial days. She comes across the footage of the infiltration droid escaping a AT-ST led ISB patrol, & soon, followed by a scarlet-robed Royal Guard, & played by Rachel, she is led into one of the private chambers used by Imperator Tanda Pryl on this Super Star Destroyer. In the center of the massive black data-table, something spherical lies covered with a white silk sheet. The Imperator is "dressed down," in Princess Leia casual, with her signature white cape, Sith clasp & a lightsaber at her stormtrooper's belt. Her long blonde hair is braided & coiled around her neck. Commander Verbost, accompanied by her silent, crimson overseer, salutes the Imperator, while the she is inspecting a hologram being projected by a black astromech droid, ST-R5: a Savirip being tortured, spread crucifex in electrofied repulsor shackles.

The Imperator says that she remembers Ulma & then-Lieutenant Totool working in the "Special Projects" Division when the she commanded them as a humble captain back in the Elrood Sector. They were trying to adapt ancient Arkanian technology as members of the Exogorth Control Program, if memory serves, & so the Imperator tells her she would welcome any insights into the Savrip Re-education Program, gesturing at the wavering hologram. Ulma is...distracted, her gaze returning to the alien, but snaps to, remembering that she has something to report to the supreme commander of the Imperial Remnant. Ulma is in charge of the elite mechanized vehicles on The Eye & came across something recently stuck in one of the memory banks of a black ISB AT-ST scanner unit. She recognized someone in a recording of an escaped fugitive on Ord Mantell. A face somehow familiar to the Imperials, though he was wearing a helmet in the Rubicon holotapes: Jolit. The cybernetically enhanced Rebel's armor, however, does match that recording, & Verbost concludes that Rachel's character Para Totool & this mysterious cyborg are working together.

The Imperator off-handedly orders a nearby stormtrooper to summon the TIE fighter ace Jeran Gaulth immediately, played by Raj. Some believe the Imperator's plans rely on too many leaps of faith & spurious links but that has always been the way she operates. Imperator Pryl had presumed after discovering that Totool with Eris Berserk— who the Empire is furiously searching for to use as leverage in order to locate her brother Cadecus Dee & his stolen Star Destroyer prototype, you'll recall— were working together during the blockade runner's escape from the Bright Jewel Nebula that the former Imperial was a Rebel traitor now. When Commander Verbost shows the Imperator the face on the holochip, however, the ice queen grimaces oddly & asks if the new hyperspace communicator is functional. As a disheveled Jeran Gauth arrives, she uses it to contact Director Tol Daala at the Maw Installation...who looks just like a twenty-years older Jolit, & is played in this scene by Joey.
    Director Tol Daala is in charge of The Maw Installation, the top secret facility in the heart of a black hole cluster that developed the second Death Star, among other Imperial innovations. He didn't have the aristocratic sophistication of Tarkin or the scientific background of Krennic; rather, Director Daala is the head of the Imperial secret police, the ISB. He answers to the Imperator, for she has the loyalty of the remaining fleet & the blessing of the Royal Guard, but he has surrounded himself with the creepy Sith cultists— who fled the Emperor's death to the Spice Mines of Kessel— as a hedge against her dark arts.

    It is his black-clad faction the supplied the designs for the next-generation TIE fighters currently under construction at Crosh's facilities in orbit around Ord Mantell, among other experimental weapons, & he is the one who knows the locations of other secret Imperial bases. Director Daala looks like an aged version of the Human Replica Droid Jolit, dressed in a stark white ISB uniform with a white cape with red lining, carrying a disruptor pistol at his side. Besides the purple-clad Imperial "advisors," the Director is typically accompanied by deathtroopers armed with flamers as protection.
In the exchange that follows, the Imperator cautions the Director about staying well away from the old clone programs. He cracks wise, & she inquires further, pressing the subject. There's an odd vibe in the air, but the dice aren't with the players; all they can tell is that while the Director seems to be the closest thing to a rival for control of the Praetorian faction that the Imperator has, ultimately she's willing & capable to punish insubordination with a little telekinetic asphyxiate. That's right: the old Vader strangle, & for all that the Imperator obviously strives to purposefully evoke his aura of horrible gravitas, it works. I was impressed; Force Choke scared the bejeezus out of my players. There is a reason it is a classic, I guess! Bantering violently concluded, she releases him so that he can inform her that the the schematics for Improved Restraining Bolts are being transmitted now, & work on the Droid Master Control Signal is nearing completion.

Daala is also pleased to be able to report that the Devastator Swarm on Ithor is reaching critical mass & is ready to divide: where should it be sent to next? The Praetorians control a wedge of the galaxy with hyperspace routes from Ord Mantell, Dathomir, & the Kessel Run, & prompted by the Imperator, Ulma racks her brain. Jeran is a fighter pilot, not a navigator, & he comes up empty, but after rattling through nearby worlds like Mandelore, Korriban, or independent systems like Hutt Space or the Hapes Consortium she suggests...Dathomir? Earning the Imperator's eerily arched eyebrow, which lingers overlong on the Commander as the she instead orders the second swarm to Dantooine. Terminating the connection with the Director, she orders the rest of the attending stormtroopers to leave the room, & unveils a sickly green orb set into the table, swirling with toxic emerald light. She has the ace & the commander come over closer, & kneel before her, telling them, in a voice taking on a sinister air, that she will form a "triumvirate" with Ulma, who knew Para Totool, & Jeran, who just saw her on the Rubicon. Forcing them to kneel, there is a brief feeling nightmarish pain, & then.

My question for the players who filled the roles of the NPCs: are you a true believer?

Dark Side Dream
Para Totool is asleep on the False Profit, having left the up-gunned corvette Old Daughter at the system's edge in order to avoid any political entanglements. She has the extremely unfortunate sensation of falling lucidly into sleep paralysis, as the diabolical weight of the Imperator's will settles down oppressively around her. With the sickly sweet power of the Dark Side of the Force, the Imperator projects herself into the thoughts of her erst-while officer. The sensation is not pleasant, numbness & vertigo, but it's like the Imperial witch is there in the flesh. (I planned this scene in August, just for the record; The Last Jedi & I are putting down a lot of the same vibe.) Idly, Tanda Pryl muses about how now she remembers meeting Para: she gave her a commendation for putting down the Verpine Insurgency in the Shroud Cluster "decisively." Why doesn't she want to come back home, re-enlist? Para, when pushed into a corner with nothing left to lose, has a lot of bite to her, & the dice rolls to back it up: she refuses, & when the Imperator questions her about her loyalties, wondering whether she's part of some elaborate scheme of Director Daala's or just another traitor after all, she's got sass of her own. She even insults the Imperator's hair; it was very Jyn Erso. Never one to use a scalpel when a hammer will do, the Imperator modulates her Voice, contorting it hypnotically to compel Para to tell her where she is. She is able to resist, grinding her teeth, but as the dreadful sorceress stretches forth her talons, the psychic puppetry of the Imperator cannot be denied. If she cannot break Para Totool's mind, she will simply seize control of her slumbering body...as she sleepwalks her towards the navicomputer in the engineering section. (Asking "did you hear that?" as if someone was eavesdropping). If only our crew of heroes had a Force-user amongst them! But wait!

Planning things out with Eris & 4-Dox
Behind the scenes, Burke had known he was going to be arriving a little bit later than everyone else, so the prelude stacking worked in our favour. As the Dark Side powers of the Imperator bring them ever closer to discovery, Rachel rightly guesses that this chapter has been timed for the arrival of his character, so we take a beat, letting the camera shift to Raj's character, Jax Cadderly, planning things out with the RA-espionage droid 4-DOX & Chiss privateer Eris Berserk, while the Trandoshan Sshushath the Zode & astroprobe AK-88 hangout nearby. It's a regular NPC troupe, a whole chorus of voices for the PCs to play when their main characters are out of the scene; we're all prepared for half the party to go to Bespin & the other half to traipse off to Dagobah, so to speak. 4-DOX is here as the direct liaison between the players & the Droid Uprising...& hopefully the New Republic. Ideally, she wants an Independent Droid Space, but she'd settled for a world, or even better, citizenship. Jax, who secretly has been asked by the Contessa who owns Ord Mantell to find a wealthy noble to buy the planet off of her, wants to know about the man there's going to meet, Baron Monstro.
    Baron Monstro is...incredibly rich. The hereditary owner of the majority share in Kuat Drive Yards, he has the unspeakable wealth of centuries of warprorfiteering...but he is a noble from a culture that prizes glory, & Monstro loves danger the way some Corellians love speed. A thrillseeker, he has been a bounty hunter, a gladiator, a gambler, a big game stalker...always chasing the next adrenaline rush with the most expensive toys, like a golden Corellian powersuit & an overclocked VT-49 Decimator, The White Plume (which comes equipped with a carbonite cell, with a suite of riding animals kept "on ice" to be suitable to the occasion). He collects trophies from his victories, like fighting with a Wookiee bowcaster & carrying a Tusken gaffi stick. It's not that he's unscrupulous, or immoral but sort of...amoral. He's not above hunting "the most dangerous prey," though he restricts his appetites to the Most Wanted & the often lethal races & fighting matches he hosts. Larger than life, it is all a game to Monstro.
Dark Side Dream
Theynur Kötturinn is a Farghul, Star Wars' answer to the Khajiit. She's also a junkie on the run from a power within her that she doesn't understand & can't control. & she's in Para Totool's dream. Or in the corridor with her. It's not important where she is: what's important is that she's there. ("Did you hear that?") Burke has shown up, hackles raised & ready to role, pun intended. The poise of the Imperator doesn't ripple when suddenly confronted with a feral Force user, but her curiosity is certainly piqued. Theynur, reaching deep into her connection to the Force, touches her mind to Para's mind, buying a new Force power & managing to sever the connection between the witch-empress & Para Totool, just before she's about to walk into the astrogation room. In fact, the door hisses open right as she blinks her eyes awake...& there they see the sub-conscious Jolit, a host of wires plugged into him Matrix style. Cords running from his eyes, throat & veins into the navicomputer, data flashing up & down the datalinks. So that's all very reassuring. it seems that Jolit was just randomly referencing starcharts & hyperspace coordinates, pulling up systems & clusters with no discernible pattern & making no changes to them, not even copying them; just pointlessly scanning though them.

Race Through the Rings of Drall
All the excitement is great timing, because we are starting to draw to a close on the session...but not before introducing Baron Monstro! The reckless fool has his shiny white VT-49 Decimator The White Plume, engine pushed to critical & running out to meet them venting plasma...& he wants to race them through the Rings of Drall. He's excited to hear Eris on the commlink & to know the old champ Ssushath is there— "the Zode!"— & asks about the reptiloid's old friend Wuukar...who was recently executed by the Praetorians as a Rebel. From there it's the opening shots of Rogue One as their SoroSuub 3000 staryacht The False Profit (which Joey 3D-printed a model of; see below) & The White Plume skip across the densely packed stellar rings from a distance like streaks of light, then cutting to the Empire Strikes Back's asteroid chase, ships dodging through a tight chaos of rock & ice. After a session of rather flat results from the dice, successes & failures canceling out, the crew is in their element. Well, Jax feels a bit out of it, but our band of scoundrels manage to plot an impossible course, thread the needle of actually flying the route, & eke every last ounce of power for the sublight drive. Even though they mostly assume they are just going to get Most Dangerous Prey'd by this lunatic when they get to his planetoid, their plan is to impress the Baron by putting on a show, & they succeed. Breaking into sight around the cosmic horizon: the palace moon of Corellia Prime! "Can we see the planet it is in orbit around?" my sweet summer children ask me. No, you cannot. This is a "forest moon of Endor" situation. Just hush now.
    Corellia Prime is the palace-moon of Baron Monstro. It's visual design is Death Star-esque in Star Destroyer off-white, a world built over with solar panel "crop circles" & luxurious greebles. Urbane settings & decadent sprawls combine, with a variety of humans, Duros & other aliens thrown together in a jumble, ready to cater to any whim, no matter how carnal or legal. A bubble of consequence-free fun for the powerful, built on the purchased talent's quite literal blood, sweat & tears. A playground of delights with no safety railings, where the only real freedom or security is power, or the Baron's favour. It is a world of rhomboid towers, pleasure mazes, gladiator pits, & race tracks.
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Out of the Abyss: Alas, Poor Norin. [Aug. 31st, 2017|11:13 pm]
mordicai caeli
[Tags|, ]
[Current Mood |Dumak.]
[Current Music |crown me king- guano]


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
[Tags|, ]
[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 Mood |🐜 🦑 🦇]
[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
[Tags|, , ]
[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 build 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 Imperial credit market through money laundering, 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
[Tags|, ]
[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
[Tags|, ]
[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 to renowned 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 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
[Tags|, ]
[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
[Current Mood |Opposable thumbs.]
[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
[Tags|, ]
[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
[Tags|, , ]
[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
[Tags|, , ]
[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
[Tags|, , ]
[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
[Tags|, ]
[Current Mood |Insomnia times.]
[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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