(The Old Ones; Thor concept art by Michael Kutsche.)
Ended up having quite a lovely game on Sunday. After last session in the Cave, which was a very character & emotion driven episode, it was good to dig our teeth into the plot again. James mentioned that he felt like he could see the end of the campaign coming, not soon but on the far horizon, & Sam & Tracey nodded sagely. We've been using a television metaphor, & extending that we talked about being in the third season & seeing the showrunners sign on for two more, but then pledge not to pull an X-Files & over-extend it. I agree, too; I don't think I've got a tight enough plot to wrap everything up as tidily as Avatar: the Last Airbender, but I think I can pull the threads in enough to have as much closure as your Angel or your (controversial) Battlestar Galactica. Anyhow, it was nice to see that we're all sort of on the same page; I'm not planning on ending anything soon, but we've past the half-way mark. That piece said & done, we got into things. A few pieces of note: some wine, some Brussels sprouts & potatoes, & breakfast for dinner-- pancakes & bacon. Soundtrack brought to you by Fantômas, SUNN O))) & Daft Punk. & so off we went, on the journey to The Decadent Kingdom of Arioch!
We started out with our Experience Recap, which has I think moved out of beta testing & now is just part of the tradition. I offered a few suggestions & brainstorms, some of which were taken, some of which were judged unsuitable. Fine by me! I'd informed the Players that I would give them a -3 penalty to any rolls to use the airship-- The Heavier-Than-Air Vehicle Bumblebee commissioned by the Licorice Duke & assigned to insert them covertly into The Decadent World-- out of a lack of familiarity with its complex & exotic functions, unless they took a specialty. Curie Firstlight of the Stormstruck Tower bought "(airship)" for his Mechanics skill, & added a series of anabaric repulsors implants to his legs-- "Repulsors O" being a sort of Featherfall effect. We also had a referendum on whether he deserved a point of Humanity back for his recent turns towards altruism; I said it had to be unanimous between the whole group (including me, with a single vote) & it wasn't, so no dice. Tracey didn't think the airship specialty was appropriate for her Character Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus, but she DID have an idea for something a little more strange-- a wingsuit, with a sort of flying squirrel webbing, patagium for base jumping. We decided that her childhood Mentor, A Wind in the Door, had worn the suit when he was younger, & that Blue Glory inherited the tradition from him. She bought that as "Relic O," as a one dot Merit. Deciding that Athletics would be the appropriate skill for using it, she bought a third dot in that Skill. Slumbering Heart Dwell in the Blue House had a mess of things to buy; I asked James if he'd bought Baal, the language of Arioch, since he would have learned it when he was there. He said no, & tick, "Language O." After that he asked about Skills his character & zero dots in, & whether he should buy them-- & thus ended up buying "Subterfuge O" & "Brawl O," followed by the second dot of Strength. I have to say, as Player, that is the sort of character I am inclined to make in the World of Darkness-- high Attributes, dilettante Skills.
After all the "previously on..." recaps, we finally got into the nitty-gritty. At Tracey's suggestion last week, I started things in media res, jump-starting things to get underway. I showed them the maps of the Bumblebee & let them stake out their claim, & roleplayed a bit as Chaplin Rush. I just cover my mouth with my hand, & then act like a weasel. While Curie & Slumberheart argue about the nature of duality & an Alpha's soul, Blue Glory & Chappie talk about the missing element from the Arcanum-- the governing body of Aubade currently in an low-intensity war with Anise. They have ranks from One up through Jack, according to the suits of the Tarot, & they worship the Trumps, the gods embodying the Major Arcana...but where are the nobles? The Knights, the Queens, the Kings? Chaplin Rush sees the potential for that in the aristocracy, in the nobles of Anise & the rise of the heir, Miss Glass. We've rolled for airsickness-- Curie (with his "airship" specialization) & Blue Glory (with her feline sense of balance) are fine, but James willingly decides to subject Slumberheart to it, the trope being that the stuffy badass always gets seasick, to sort of take the stuffing out of him. Up in the heavens, they see that The Moon is a quarter bigger, & it isn't just an optical illusion. The Bumblebee leaves in the morning, so that it can cross into Antiphon under cover of darkness, & they fly above the now-daybright firefly graveyards, over fields of blackberry brambles & mists, through swaths of bamboo & scattered koi ponds, then above the pampas grass & the baobabs, & finally the brutalist architecture of the Templars. At long last, sliding below them like heavy omen of evil, they cross the Bridge of Dust & enter into Antiphon.
(Pazuzu; "Arzach" by Moebius.)
The don't pass through Antiphon unmolested! The trip is easy at first, but as the get deeper in, as they near the end of the second day, Curie-- with the augmented abilities of his Gleaner suit & cybernetics-- & Blue Glory the Nightmare Lotus-- with her feral & predatory senses-- they see a shape flapping toward them. Something almost goose-like, something almost pterodactyl-like, with a figure mounted on its back with a long-barreled rife. There is some confusion-- Blue Glory thinks this could perhaps be a messenger & Curie is cautious, but when the bird-thing starts moving in to a position where the figure can get a shot at the cockpit, Slumberheart finally gets them to understand-- Pazuzu! A harassing presence when he & Long Cleaver had entered Antiphon, he'd shot at them until the saint of killing, Raphael, had driven him off with arrows. The Bumblebee is big & clunky while Pazuzu is very maneuverable-- I mention the Palladium vehicle rules, T.M.F & P.P., but no one cares-- & Curie jockeys for position while Chaplin Rush climbs down into the gunnery pit to operate the anabaric canon. It is an air-to-ground weapon, but Curie is trying to get above Pazuzu to see if they can't hit him & his flying creature.
Blue Glory, on the other hand, jumps out of the airship to attempt some Top Gun style sky dueling. I may joke about my game being nothing more than going to fancy parties & exploring weird locales, but I don't know what to tell you, that is pretty action packed. She & Pazuzu go back & forth-- both of them are rolling really terribly! They keep tying with each other, each rolling like, one success out of their whole pool-- enough to stay in each other's grill, but not for either of them to get an advantage. Keeping enough thermals under her to stay aloft, Blue Glory came up above Pazuzu, but he spiraled out of the way as she tucked & plummeted. The Bumblebee was equipped with a skyhook-- a line on a crank with a hook to grab on to from the ground or-- in cases just like this-- in flight. I told Tracey that she had two more turns before she'd dropped below the hook-- she could either try to grab it this turn, & have another chance if she failed, or she could make another attack & have only one chance. She went with aggression! Blue Glory-- whatever mysterious events happened to her in The Savage Lands-- can speak the language of birds & beasts, & she screeched at the fell beast carrying Pazuzu, warning it off, & cutting at its wing in a sort of warning shot. A veritable hit! & like that the vulture-thing takes a dive, a fall, a literal downward tumble. Blue Glory deftly lands on the hook, foot in the loop, & is hauled upward.
(Daemon of Leprosy; Leukodaemon from Pathfinder, photo by me.)
There are worse things in store for the Characters, however, after we take a break to make pancakes. When we came back I started with the old standby-- "roll for initiative!" I figure, we've got an in media res thing going on, lets keep it going-- you come back from the commercial break to a fight already in progress. Something hideously strong is tearing its way into the ship; forcing the plates on the roof apart to drag its diseased carcass in. Birdlike & revolting, the creature is met at the breach by Slumberheat, who is sleeping on the top deck. The distinctive sound of the Singing Sword rings out-- like a struck tuning fork, quantum probabilities dancing & collapsing. Blue Glory is suddenly beside him-- from her hammock to the top deck, clamoring at impossible speeds, like a cat crawling up a wall in fast forward, like the sudden pounce of a predator. A foul miasma surrounds the creature, hanging about it in a cloud like a swarm of maggots, sickening ammonia & filth-- sickness incarnate. They both almost throw up, even full of action & adrenaline as they are. It has-- Sam hits the nail on the head-- an Aura of Revulsion. It is hard to bring yourself to be near the thing-- Blue Glory's clear glass blade scraping across its ribs as it howls in the voice of a woman pretending to be a bird, echoing in the skull-helmet. It lashes out with its claws-- its talons, its hands, its disease ridden nails, its touch of leprosy & rot. It gets a hold of Slumberheart, opening him up along his side, the gash already festering, already gangrenous. Blue Glory heaves her blade up through the thing's body-- lighter than it should be, like with hollow bones, or an old woman withered from a sickness within-- & heaves it out of The Bumblebee. It falls downward, dead, & she mutters a wordless noise of sorrow after it.
(The Obelisk; "Krait Obelisk" by Kekai Kotaki.)
So yes, I gave James' character Slumbering Heart Dwell in the Blue House leprosy. Well, tzaraath, more precisely. I passed him a note: "yeaaaah...you have leprosy. For real." Blue Glory & Curie-- chugging up like a steam engine-- look him over, & I confirm that it is bad. Not a "some extra damage," or even "some Stamina drain," but honest to goodness leprosy. Heck, the rest of my notes for the session have check boxes under them-- "Who has leprosy? How bad is it?" Remember that time I gave Radarless' old character Long Cleaver cancer? Sometimes I worry I am too gentle to my Players-- I never kill their characters!-- but then they bring up the maiming & such, & I feel a little better. They clean him as best they can, & Curie actually hits him with anabaric shock, hoping to use his Agonize power with his Medicine skill to defibrillate his chakras, get his vitabaric energy flowing-- Slumberheart is at Stamina zero & Sam rolls well, so I decide it works somewhat-- switching a dot of Attribute drain from Stamina to Composure, giving him the shakes. Chaplin Rush interrupts them, somewhat timidly, to tell them that they are approaching the Obelisk, the vast black monolith whose shape marks the boundary between Arioch & Antiphon, by a long forgotten infernal contract. As they pass overhead, I ask them about times their Characters have had to make checks against Humanity loss-- reminiscing about Degeneration rolls, as the alien guilt of the Obelisk is almost tangible. With that done, they cease the "Friendly Skies" portion of the adventure & move on into "The Fallen World."
(Wyverns of the Old Ones; "Not Avatar" by A. T. Anderson, photo by me.)
THE BLUE SUN! Passing the Obelisk, they see it low in the sky, a circle of blue fire, hanging on the horizon. A sliver at first, but rising the father West they go. Soon after the party's airship enters the airspace of Antiphon-- they have been flying along the coast, trying to skirt notice while avoiding the Abaia Mind Control Zone & what Chappie calls "The Tempest"-- they are surrounded by winged saurians! Draconic creatures, flapping their creaking wings, lifted by (Curie suspects) buoyant gas bladders & strange organs as much as wings. Riding on them are strange grey figures. Blue Glory can understand their semaphore-- they seem to be assuming that The Bumblebee is a smuggler out of Aubade, & they demand that the ship land, presumably so they can engage in some piracy. There are three of the flying creatures-- wyverns, let's call them, because that is what they are-- & the group decides not to resist. Blue Glory thinks that they must be related to the dam of her destriar, Morwena Nightmare...that they are chimerical creatures like the destriars, but avian & scaly rather than predominantly terrestrial. & so, the follow the great lizard-like creatures & their odd riders out over the water, out to the Isle of Dehn, landing atop a mighty mountain carved into the shape of a colossal elephant. The Leng Arcology, a statue, a building, a city, a piece of the landscape-- all of these, & more. They are met by The Old Ones; the so-called "albino Karnaks" of Arioch.
(Leng Arcology; "Elephant Sphinx" by Cecil Kim.)
The ship coasts in with finesse-- Curie behind the joystick, finding he has more than a knack for it-- he lands the thing "on a cookie," to use his term. Gentle & precise, he sets down on a platform right between the landscape-sized tusks. They argue a little over what order to leave-- Chaplin Rush hiding, of course-- & finally it is Blue Glory, then Curie, then Slumberheart. Slumbering Heart Dwell in the Blue House is famous in these lands-- he's The Primitive; a gladiator, a duelist, a cat's paw for the would-be Queen-- & they recognize him. They being the Old Ones! The Old Ones claim they were here "first," that they are the race from which all others descend. They are a greyish hue, & hairless, utterly hairless-- their bodies instead covered in whorls of tattoo & scar tissue. Slumberheart recognizes the shapes as being very much like the strange crop circles he presses into fields to talk to his patron Trump, The Moon. Those patterns are everywhere, like Feynman diagrams or irrational formulae; the Geometries of the Old Ones! Their famed patterns, their spell-religion, their math-philosophy, all caught up in tesseracts & imaginary solids.
The Old Ones are-- no surprises here-- strange. They speak to Slumberheart in Baal, the language most prevalent in Arioch, but when they learn that the rest of the group only speaks Argot, the spokesman-- he calls himself Shantak-- starts suddenly speaking in Argot, saying "you are fortunate that Yith was here." Alright, whatever that means. They agree to let the airship leave-- Blue Glory signalling to Chaplin Rush, who seizes on the better part of valor & takes off, stranding the party in a hostile nation. They are ambassadors, they make it clear-- & will the Old Ones please inform Carkoon, on the mainland, that they are here, or any of Slumberheart's defeated foes, now his allies among the Adeptus. The Old Ones are only too happy to reply, retorting with-- "do you consent to examination?" The party agrees, & they are led into the Leng Arcology. The rooms are spherical, joined together without hallways-- like bubbles of seemingly random sizes, blown into froth. They are separated, searched, examined. The Old Ones smell the Philosopher's Stone on Slumberheart & on Curie Firstlight, though they call them IOUN. They also are rightfully concerned about Slumberheart's leprosy-- tzaraath-- & the Old Ones stare at each other a while, as if all in deep thought. Bringing them all back together-- they quite like Blue Glory's tattoos-- they discuss how to proceed-- in a group, more Old Ones joining them, but always Shantak speaking to them. They do mention a potential "cure" for Slumberheart-- the Demon Princes of Arioch have methods normally used for life extension, that might work. The longevity treatments involve removing the blood & cleaning it-- but to do so the Prince will have to install a heartplug...
(Map of Arioch, including the Isle of Dehn, by me.)