(Stillborn unicorn; "Unicorn Fetus in Jar" by Indigo Ocean.)
The other week I buckled down & ran the idea for my Oubliette campaign that has been on my mind for a bit past my Players. "So...I think I want to skip ahead a decade." If you recall, the Characters split up a while back; not wanting to railroad them back together, I thought the best solution would be to turn into the skid-- to give each group a story arc, while the other Players made temporary characters. This has been working out, but I aimed for a three-episode arc for each, & we're at the end of that rope. Rather than railroad them back together, I thought-- wouldn't it be neat to let them do their own thing? The "One Year Later" trope is a really good one, but I thought-- why not go all out? Ten years later gives them not just time to do their own things, but time to evolve. Anyhow, we're not quite there yet-- one more Antiphon episode & one more Aubade episode were left. I'd planned on running the Antiphon finale, but Radarless had to cancel, & hey; that just meant I would do the finale for Aubade, instead. So that is what I did. Music was provided by the Tron: Legacy soundtrack & a few different Tettix albums.
(Noam Vespers, decanted; "Connected" by Justin Currie.)
Last session ended with our heroes Blue Glory on Dark Water, the illegitimate spy-daughter of the Licorice Duke of Anise, & the mostly-sane inventor & Gleaner Curie Firstlight, pulling the proverbial plug on the dream-stasis of Noam Vespers, who by all appearances is the daughter & heir of the decades missing Pearl Queen. We start the session with a fantastic SPLOOSH as the tank releases the glowing blue bacta goo that she'd been held in. Noam collapses out, & Blue Glory & Curie see that the black wires & tubes coming out of her back are techno-organic, & interfibrated with her person. They hurry to pull them out before she goes into shock-- pulling up the tube in her throat, out black veins of metal that seem like IVs, & finally the thick cord of inky tech that is jacked into the base of her spine like one big epidural. Curie is an expert with gadgets & a burgeoning cyberneticist himself-- he's already put in one of his own implants-- & Blue Glory is similarly gifted at battlefield triage; even so they are hard pressed, focusing all their attention on the matter-- & to great end! They unhook her from the matrix of connections before she chokes, has a seizure, or even goes into shock. In between the thick black wires, dripping liquid blue arcs of lightning, Blue Glory sees something strange-- a ring of a half dozen jars, five of them filled with undifferentiated tumors, masses of flesh & teeth, while the very last is a stillborn creature...a unicorn?
("White Ape"; Gnophkeh by unknown.)
Suddenly, Coyote's Lucky Day appears! Shirt in tatters, eye patch missing, the golden gleam of his supernatural eye is fully revealed. His knuckles dripping blood, he greets the others-- he separated from them to give them a chance to escape, & now he's back. Under the threat of the white "apes" that are still out there, roaring in a mixture of a bear's bellow vibrated by beatings on the chest, they move on. Curie has collected the fallen pieces of the haunted suit of Gleaner armor, all nine hundred pounds of it, in a miner's cart, & they bundle Noam into it & press onward. Eventually, Noam gets out & starts walking along; she's getting stronger, & has an eye for the small things. She's always looking at her feet, picking up rusty cogs, pieces & bits of widgets, the sort of small treasures abounding in the trash. Curie mentions his mysterious [black element] which seems to be defunct Philosopher's Stone; similarly Noam says that she thinks Coyote's golden eyeball is a Philosopher's Stone, come to think of it. She also mentions the War of Iron, the Dark Epoch & the Hemophages as reasons that there are so many fallen, depleted Stones .The party smells fresh moving air, so they start moving in that direction. Unfortunately, they've been running full out for about twelve hours, & are exhausted. They find a miner's camp in a gap in the tunnels & doss down there for the night.
(Noam with bees & cyborg mouse; "Tin," artist unknown.)
Coyote takes first watch, & hears a squealing sound; when he goes over to Noam he sees that she is still awake, but torturing one of the white mice that live in the cave? Disturbing. Curie has the next shift, & wakes up with a bump of cocaine given to him by Count Cinnamon. He sees Noam & realizes that she is building clockwork parts for the mouse; a wrap-around tail with a claw, that kind of thing. They talk about the ethics of mechanical uplift until bed, when Curie helps Noam finish up with the mouse by bedtime. There is a humanity roll-- I think vivisection is an easy "sin," but probably would make someone with a seven flinch-- but Curie passes no problem. When it is Blue Glory's watch, she & Noam stay up talking about unicorns. Noam says that the unicorn is the synthesis of every single living creature's bloodline, a genetic chimera of every single being, all at once. She & Blue Glory cook up some dehydrated beans left by old sandhogs, & the next day they head out, following the moving air & the sound of trickling water. They pass a pit filled with the yellow Gas, & Curie hubristically takes a sample. Curie mentions his plan-- he intends to save his father's life with synthetic parts-- better living through cybernetics!-- but wants to consult his patron Trump, The Chariot, first. Coyote's Lucky Day says he thinks that he knows how to get in touch with the Trump called Strength-- Blue Glory is skeptical that this will help but perhaps Strength can lead them to The Chariot. The last obstacle they face is a two hundred foot long corridor swarming with fat, enormous bumblebees. Huge things, like flying black & yellow thumbs. The party balks, but Noam is undeterred; she walks up & plucks one out of the air, putting it in her mouth. The party follows in the eddy behind her-- they steel themselves, but as the parkas & gasmasks Curie & Blue Glory found act like beekeeper's outfits, they aren't too worried.
(Abandoned quarry; "Goldmine" by Jacky Ghossein.)
They come out at a small lake shore; Curie has deduced that in fact they've escaped through a different mine entirely-- that both the mine at the crashed ship & this (quite extinct) mine were burrowing into the same thing. In fact, this is the massive excavation that built Aubade City, one of the biggest urban centers in the nation! & more to the point, Blue Glory on Dark Water's destriar mount Herakles Vagabond is there! His feline & equine features are all a puddle of purrs as the hippofelis is glad to see Blue Glory. They came at the bottom of the mine's circuit-- they've had a raucous few days, indeed. Curie sets up his tent, but both Noam & Blue Glory prefer to sleep inside one of the mouths of a mineshaft-- Coyote on the other hand joins Curie, & during the night their rest becomes intimate. Coyote is a sort of wandering pansexual, while Curie strictly prefers men; neither are overly sentimental, but it bestows a feeling of camaraderie on the group. The next day, the took the circular roads up out of the quarry, & found Curie's tinker's cart & his horses there, unharmed! Apparently Herakles Vagabond decided to sheep dog the horses, rather than eat them. "Huh, it never occurred to me that Herakles might eat the horses." Don't worry, I reassure them. The thought occurred to the Narrator! Don't you remember a few sessions back when I made you make Mount checks? Yes! Coyote's Lucky Day's riding bird, an enormous cassowary, is up there as well.
(Aubade City; Concept art by Mitchell Mohrhauser.)
Into Aubade City-- just around the ridge! Curie's never been there, but he knows where it is. Coyote is an explorer, but even he hasn't been to Aubade City. Blue Glory's mother Thoreau hails from Aubade, but this is her first real trip into the interior. But first! Rising above the horizon...The Garden of Forbidden Fruit. An impenetrable border at the south of Aubade, a forest from which no one has returned. Imagine a fast sea of redwoods, huge, looming, packed check to jowl. Except they are black, of bark & limb. & the limbs spiral out in a Fibonacci sequence, which is repeated again, smaller, & again, in a fractal gloaming. The Garden of Forbidden Fruit! See it! & then yes, go to Aubade City. Imagine the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, buried by the centuries & then excavated, dragged to the surface, reassembled as best as a pre-industrial society was able. Imagine they've scrounged through the detritus of the future, & built a civilization from what they found there, stretching gaslights through the empty sockets, running drayage carts through the street. Aubade City-- live in the city of tomorrow...yesterday!
(Noam, armed; Danielle Dax, "Blast the Human Flower" album art.)
Curie Firstlight is a member in good standing with the Gleaners, the technoclique of archeologist-inventors, & so he obtains quarters at a guildhouse for himself & his friends. Curie brings word that he's accepted the patronage & of citizenship from Anise's regent, The Licorice Duke, & that Anise is eager for the Gleaners to become a presence across the border. This, coupled with news of the attack on the Arcanum's crashed ship-fortress & Curie's discovery that a seam of technology is still to be dug into in the mine all contrive to raise his estimation in his fellow's eyes. The Gleaners are an odd lot-- far past autism, in many cases-- & Sam remarks that I really brings Curie into focus...he's like the rockstar of Gleaners! Meanwhile, Blue Glory scours the streets looking for anyone who responds to the password her mother gave her: "pelagic argosy." She doesn't find anyone, but does hear snatches of rumor about the destruction of the ship-fortress, radiating outward from the quarters where they are staying, & more, that common wisdom is that the cold war between Aubade & Anise is due to turn into a conflagration soon. Coyote meanwhile slips away to get in touch with his contacts in search of Strength, & Curie trades the canister of yellow Gas to some Demi to pray for the attention of The Chariot. So to do they shop, picking up clothing & running more mundane errands. Noam has fairly specific requests for ammunition-- conical rounds, sheets of brass, a laundry list of alchemical supplies-- but doesn't request a weapon. The gun, she builds herself, stripping plumbing from the walls, metal from here & there, odds & ends, knicks & knacks. They watch her put it together, fairly certain that-- much as Peter Parker can extrude ultrafine spiderhairs in order to climb on walls-- her body is secreting ultrafine manipulators.
(Chaplin Rush; "Chappie" by Doug Williams.)
Coyote's contacts are at The 101, the tallest building in Aubade City. In our world, skyscrapers have an internal skeleton of steel, supporting their weight-- The 101 is like an insect, then, with a plated & jointed exoskeleton holding it aloft. "Yes, toughlad, just like Matachin Tower." Blue Glory, Curie & Coyote enter through a side entrance into one of The 101s lobbies; they have to take stairs down, first, as the lobby is essentially the basement & the first floor, both combined. The lobby is like a hunter's trophy lounge, but with tools & mechanical items-- half-suits of Gleaner armor propped up, taxidermy devices, artfully preserved inventions. There they meet Chapin "Chappie" Rush & Engle Sicklemoon. Described by the Narrator as "earnest atheists," the Players heard "Earnest Atheists," & teased your poor humble storyteller! "This is Oubliette, it wouldn't be even slightly weird for there to be an organization called 'The Earnest Atheists,' you know the good old EA!" Fair enough, I suppose. Chappie & Engle act as brokers, it seems-- they have appointed themselves as gatekeepers to The Trumps. ("Don't you wish you'd called The 101 'Trump Towers' now?" says Tracey. "Oh dang I didn't even think of that, & also boo hiss!") Blue Glory is not having it; she barely has time for these guys. Finding Strength isn't interesting to her, even if it does lead to the Chariot. Engle & Chappie request a show of strength, to prove their devotion. Thinking quick, Coyote fast talks them into accepting Blue Glory's stubbornness as "strength," while Curie wires up the arm on one of the stuffed mechasuits to lift an engine block. Coyote just stares them down-- apparently, this group is too cool for school! They don't bat an eye at Blue Glory's killer hippofelis-- Strength is portrayed as a young girl with a lion, after all. Noam in tow, up they go.
(Engle Sicklemoon; "Man With Coat" by Tobias Kwan.)
Chappie is lacking most of a face. In fact, from nose to sternum it is all metal, front to back, all the way through. Hissing pistons & wheezing bellows. Engle, on the other hand, is missing his body from the waist down. Instead, it has been replaced with a powerful steam broiler running spiked metal wheels, a chugging engine. The elevated platform is operated by gears & chains, & the teeth of Engle's wheels fit into the chain, acting as a motor for the whole device. Up they go, the contraption clacking like a roller coaster on the ascent. CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK. They ascend about three-fourths of the length of the tower, & then Engle stops the platform, rolling up the gate, throwing the lever, locking the chain in place. Out they go, into a dingy corridor. Like a warehouse apartment, the domiciles on this level appear to be big, but hardly luxurious. Rather, it is decaying particle board & drywall, mold & dust mites swirling. Rather like the doll-filled loft of J.F. Sebastian. The door to the apartment Engle (wheeling behind them) directs them is shattered, as the large figure of a dead Alpha slumps over in it. Murderous Gleaner-like humanoids with knives for hands & feet slink out-- inside, bright eyes gleam. A voice from inside says: "The third flower is red." Blue Glory's trusty destriar sidekick, Herakles Vagabond, growls low in his throat. They growling is echoed by Coyote-- or at least, his eye begins to glow...& suddenly, a pack of "white apes" charge in from all ends of the hallway! A trap! Betrayal!
(The Killer Gleaners & the Juggler in silhoutte; art by Tatsuyuki Tanaka.)
Combat! Or well, I admit-- I was ready for combat, or vaguely ready, but didn't think it would be neccisary. Overwhelming odds! Killbots! Betrayed from within! Angry primates with narwhal horns! I should have known better than to think they wouldn't fight. They are Players & the Players always fight, they are brave! An four armed albino ape-bear grabs Noam, & things go from tense to violence just like that. Now, I did prepare one thought in advance: the level of logic. I went into it saying: "Okay, the season finale set in a dystopian skyscraper...whatever hi-jinks they get up to, I'm going to apply a Die Hard rule of thumb to. Could it happen in Die Hard? If so, then it is acceptable for them to try." I think this is an important thing to do; develop how crazy things can go, how far you can bend probability. I think it ended up being a wee too "action flick" for Tracey, but I was happy with the results, & so were Sam & James, I think. The fracas was surprisingly tilted in the PCs favor, & they had some very clever tricks up their sleeves, but the crushing odds against them took their toll. Curie used the direct link of his vitabaric jack to pump raw Willpower through his lightning gun, rupturing Engle's pressure tank-- a hiss of steam, & the Killbots leapt into action, one kicking him into the elevator shaft, the other jumping in after him & clipping the chain with its talons. They plummet away. Herakles bats at the multi-limbed ape-bears, guarding his "pride," while Blue Glory fights after Noam-- kicks to the solar plexus, pulling her free of grapples, pushing her toward safety-- but what safety is there? Just a smoking hollow elevator shaft.
(Chappie, The Juggler & Engle, Killer Gleaners in background; photo by Mordicai.)
Curie Firstlight digs into his satchel & pulls out the extra sample of [black element] that he found in place of the Hollow Armor's power core. He hurled it at Coyote's golden Philosopher's Stone eye, reasoning that since the [black element] was a denatured Stone, it might cause a chain reaction. Minus three for a called shot, minus three for Coyote's defense...but Curie hits him square in the eye! I asked James-- what do you want to do? & James decided he wanted free will. Okay! "His eye starts smoking, like cesium dropped in water, bubbling, his flesh boiling away, his skin melting. The smell of his burning skull is like the smell of drilling at the dentist, if the Devil was your dentist. You take three points of aggravated damage." That is right, Curie, make a Humanity check! & this time, a failure! Coyote, screaming, yanks the golden orb out of his face (make a Resolve check! To deal another three aggravated damage!) & yard after yard of nerve along with it. He tosses it, smoking, to Curie...& the apes descend on him, ripping him apart. The inertial of the swarming apes, the preternatural quickness of the Murder-Gleaners, it is all just too much to bear, too much to win against. They fall back, as Noam is dragged away kicking & screaming. (After game, James asked "was there any way to rescue Noam?" I told him the truth-- I was 10% ready for them to rescue Noam, somehow, but 90% sure they couldn't.)
(The Juggler's Airship; "Air Yacht" by Keith Thompson.)
Blue Glory runs into the room, getting a good view of the fellow-- the mastermind-- sitting in a chair, a common every day chair a throne to him. She runs right past him, smashing through the plate glass. Die Hard logic? Check. I forgot to give her some cuts-- but that is alright, they were all vaguely beat up. One of the Killer Gleaners shredded one of Herakles' ears like an alley cat! Speaking of Herakles, he follows Blue Glory out the window. Now-- peaking behind the curtain, Blue Glory on Dark Water is pretty good at climbing. She has a four Dexterity, & three in Athletics, & a specialty in Climb. So I figure-- hey, you jumped out of a skyscraper, but you know what? There are those guys who climb up buildings, & plus, Die Hard-- but it is still going to be tough. Minus five! Well. Tracey's dice hate her. They hate her a lot. Fail. She ended up catching herself on a collection of dish-shaped antennae, after a sixty foot fall. Looking down, it is about half an Empire State Building's length to the ground. "If I'd've realized how high up I was, I wouldn't have jumped!" So close to being famous last words. Curie runs into another apartment, jimmying the electronic lock, slipping in & sealing it behind him. There is no pursuit? Overhead-- an enormous skyship, each of its central fires the size of a factory. Huge, looming, docked with The 101. Still no chase. Curie looks around the room for something useful, but finds nothing. Instead, he starts flickering SOS in Gleaner (Morse) Code: ... --- ...!
We have moved out of "rounds," I inform everyone, & into "minutes." Which is when the fire begins to rain from the sky. The massive dirigible pulls away from The 101 & begins to bombard it-- the same shake, pause, BOOM! rhythm they experienced in The Waiting Room, confirming the culprit. BOOM! Shingles of iron are falling away, vast metal plates tumbling, smoke billowing through the stair wells, & the entire building starting to list. It is a huge disaster, explosions, tumbling, crumbling architecture-- the Juggler, for that is whom the presume it is, is destroying The 101! Below, after terse struggles on both their behalves, a hot air balloon rises up, adorned with the Ideal (Platonic) Solids. In the basket...is Chaplin Rush (now played by James). "Jump (gasp) into the basket (hiss)." Tracey jumps...& misses! But Herakles (who she'd tied herself to with a rope harness) snags it! "Okay Tracey, Blue Glory has to make this roll, not to drop & fall. There have been too many misses-- if you miss this roll, I have to kill your character." Time to put the Bad Cop pants on. She rolls...& makes it! & when the blimp rises to rescue Curie-- Chappie throwing all the ballast over, his top hat, his shoes, everything he can!-- Curie misses his roll too! Blue Glory catches him, & hauls him in. Die Hard! They rise up into the sky, as Chappie says he is a mercenary, but didn't see any reason for them to die. "Shut up," they tell him. Up they go, all the ballast gone, waiting for the air to cool. Left with the image of the figure in the room, the man behind Noam's kidnapping, seared into their minds. The Juggler. Fin.
(The Juggler; "Cardinal Grievous" by John93036.