Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rock Lobster Part III

My game was in shambles.

Dead technocrats littered the camp. Johan failed to save a single father from electrocution.  Now the whole desert is teetering on the brink of disaster and the players are no closer to answers. Exploring the camp, they found the key to the technocrats plans: an enormous nuclear-powered robot, like a giant metal bowling ball on three squat hydraulic legs. A quick examination showed just how broken down it was. The whole thing needed a complete overhaul and it's reactor shielding was cracked right down the middle. It never came up in the game, but if the technocrats lived a little longer they would have explained that the first to repair the robot would have been appointed leader. Using it, they would have brought their new scientific order to the people of Trinity. So yes, they were villains. But the players still ended up looking worse thanks to their wanton destruction.

This was also going to tie into the lobster man's problem. Because the water the technocrats were hoarding wasn't just any old water, it was heavy water intended for the robot's nuclear reactor. But again, irrelevant.

As the players made their way further north there was a loud roar of engines flying overhead. A huge metal box soared past them and came to a graceful landing a few miles away. It had strange alien markings all over it's surface and was towing a huge metal cylinder under it's body. I told everyone to imagine something like to the shuttle from District 9. The players finally found it: the missing Kretak dropship.

Finally, they were back on track. They would meet up with the Kretak, get Urmon's enchanting supplies and finally get out of this desert. Even better, they could drop of the huge piece of scientific equipment they'd been lugging around since their visit to Tory 401. All they needed to do was not cause needless conflict.

The hike to the Kretak camp took several hours. It was late evening by the time they made it to the other edge of the Glowing Pond and found the wall made of gutted, rusted cars. A single Kretak guard was there to greet them and luckily for the players, it recognized Wilfred. It crawled down from it's perch and started leading them back to camp. It clattering wildly. Omaru's radio filled with static as the rest of the Kretak came out to see them. Several dozen of the alien creatures where there, safely hidden under layers of armor and environmental conditioning. Each one carrying a tank of the exotic gas mixture they breathed on their home planet.

The camp was cobbled together from old environmental pods, the remains of their mothership and whatever junk they had scavenged since being stranded on Chmatra. On the edge of camp was the Kretak dropship, still unloading it's cargo. Beside it was a large cylindrical object hidden under a tarp. The Kretak leader quickly ushered Wilfred over to it's workbench and operated a few dials on it's console. A display lit up and suddenly a huge holographic image formed before the players.

A map of Pitchblende Flats appeared, with arrows indicating every major mining operation for miles around. In the center was God's Candle, the radium mountain. God's Candle was the richest source of radioactive ore in the entire world, but also the most inhospitable. The mountain was composed entirely of radium and it's decay products, spewing radioactive gas in a huge cloud around it. Every night, the mountain could be seen from all over the desert, glowing a faint green.

The hologram spun around, showing the land deep beneath the surface. The radium deposit under God's Candle came into view as a bluish-green blotch. All around it were deposits of uranite, coffinite, zeunerite and all manner of other radioactive ores. Another spot appeared far below the virtual surface. Colored purple, it flashed several times and the Kretak leader pointed to it. A huge red wave, signifying hot magma started to pulse upward, compressing the purple ore. It heated as the pressure squeezed it from all sides. Alien numbers and symbols danced across the display as the purple spot continued to compress. Then, without warning, it exploded, bombarding the uranite above it, which then exploded itself.

The whole simulated desert started to tear itself apart as more and more of the uranium started to undergo fission. After mere seconds, all that was left was a smouldering crater in the virtual sand. The Kretak turned to face the players, to see if they understood.

There was a local legend shared among prospectors. It was believed that uranium wasn't the only fission fuel dragged to the surface by the earthquakes. Somewhere out in the desert, far past the high-radiation zone of God's Candle there was a huge deposit of pure weapons-grade plutonium. It's said that the plutonium is so rich in that deposit that it can be placed in a bomb without any other refining and still explode with the force of several megatons of TNT. Mining such a deposit would make a prospector rich beyond their wildest dreams. And now, the Kretak were trying to tell the players that the plutonium exists, they found it and more, the volcano under the surface was going to make it explode with enough force to wipe the desert off the face of Chmatra.

A second simulation appeared, only this time, the scene zoomed in to show a drill digging deep behind the high-radiation zone, straight down into the plutonium deposit itself. A virtual miniature of the Kretak dropship appeared above the bore hole and the scene zoomed in again. A long cylindrical shape fell out of the ship and froze above the lip of the hole. The cylinder exploded open to reveal it's inner workings, revealing a small bomb and two subcritical masses at either end of the assembly.

The scene zoomed out and the bomb fell down the bore hole. It reached the plutonium and there was another explosion, only this time the deposit cracked apart. Pieces of it still went critical, some even formed a chain reaction with other rocks nearby. But most of it survived intact. All that was felt on the surface was a dull thud, like another short earthquake had struck. The Kretak turned the hologram off and turned to face the players.

Suddenly, Nick had an idea. The Kretak could only explain so much through pictures, but his character had just gained the ability to create minor reality last session. He asked if his character could use his ability to alter reality to rewire his own brain in order to speak fluent Kretak. I told him yes, absolutely. But be careful, because if it doesn't work he'll end up with brain damage or just die right there in front of everyone. We all agreed it was worth the risk and he rolled.

He got a 5 (on a d6). And right before everyone's very eyes, Minamillian started speaking fluent Kretak Interworld. Immedat

"It is because I am God." He said.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rock Lobster Part II

Last session, Wilfred and his gang of bandits met the wizard Urmon and his staff. After a brief misunderstanding with his apprentice, he promised them that if they retrieved his spell book and magic dust and what have you, he would enchant their weapons and make them several orders of magnitude more deadly than they already were. The players agreed and made their way north, into the marshes surrounding the Glowing Pond, the second-most radioactive destination in all of Pitchblende Flats.

This was around the time Obtuse Goose invited his friend to play. I wanted him to have fun so I tried to ease him into the setting and explain the world of Chmatra.  But the more I tried to rationalize the talking cow people and robots the more I realized that I didn't even really know what was happening at this point. Any semblance of a goal had vanished long ago. After the pie lady died it was really just a matter of everyone following Haydn's character, Wilfred around the desert, looking for more people to kill. But none of it mattered anyway, because by the time I was done explaining the details of naturally occurring fission reactions I realized he didn't really care anyway. He was just along for the ride.

And that was just fine with me, since I figured it probably meant he'd stay out of trouble. With that, they were off. Travel through the bogs was long and arduous as they struggled against the mud and tried to weave a safe path through the zones of intense radiation. A sickly green light filled the air. Balls of luminous swamp gas floated eerily through the fog. As they reached the waters edge the mud started to bubble around them and before they knew it, a arm reached out of the muck and grabbed their mechanic, Travis. A mud monster pulled itself out of the underbrush and started trying to eat the hapless elf where he stood. Everyone else rolled for initiative. Wilfred fired into the monster. And since he's extremely overpowered he got a whole handful of rolls and dozens of bullets to use. He squeezed the trigger, neatly severing the mud man's arm in a hail of gunfire. The rest of the bullets plunged deep into the body of the monster, doing nothing.

The bog beast started flailing Travis around as more creatures started to form out of the murk. Nick's character, Minamillion killed one with a fireball. I asked Twitch what his temporary character Mikial would be doing. He snorted over the microphone and flatly refused to do anything. "He's an elf right? Forget that, he's on his own." I couldn't really do anything about that. It was out of character for Mikial, sure. But then again it's nice to see elves get whats coming to them.

More swamp monsters appeared. Wilfred kept shooting, Minamillion kept launching fireballs. Omaru did nothing. Suddenly there was a stream of gunfire from the lake and what looked like miniature rockets started cutting through the mud men. As the creatures scattered a large shape appeared from the water and waved at the party with a huge barnacle-encrusted claw. A pair of yellow eyes appeared out of the fog. A huge lobsterman came striding out of the lake, carrying a hi-tech assault rifle in one of his claws.

He greeted the players and jokingly asked what they were thinking wandering into a radioactive, monster-infested swamp. They didn't have an answer for him. Instead, everyone decided to immediately start lying to the guy who saved them. Since Wilfred and Devereaux were both journalists, they tried to convince the lobsterman that he'd been picked as a contestant on a new reality game show. He would be competing against several other eligible bachelors for Devereaux's hand in marriage. He was instantly seduced.

Lovestruck by the elf woman wandering into his swamp, he led them up the shore while telling the party what a great candidate he was. He had been living in the swamp for a few years by that point. He and his previous wife moved out there when he got a job at the local dam. Back then, a huge river went through the desert and the swamp was a fertile delta. But after a series of intense earthquakes the river was rerouted and the marshes started to dry up. "All that's left" He said. "Are the stagnant pools here. When the earthquakes shook us it cracked the dam right down the middle and threw up the radioactive dust clouds. That's what killed me first wife, bless her soul."

Devereaux kept feeding him lines about what a strong, crunchy lobsterman he was. But Wilfred wasn't listening. He was just eyeing his rifle the whole time. I made a point of describing the gun as very unusual looking, like an FG 42 made of advanced polymer plastic, something it shouldn't be possible to build on Chmatra.

And it wasn't actually; it never came up in the game itself but the gun was actually a IPTA assault rifle designed for astronauts. Chmatra drifts across the multiverse, with wormhole storms opening in the upper atmosphere all the time. Junk from all over the multiverse comes raining down on the planet all the time. Sometimes it's Beanie Babies, which local shamans hoard as powerful totem animals. Sometimes it's alien home appliances, advanced pieces of technology they assume are powerful weapons and death rays but end up being something like a pasta strainer. In the case of the lobsterguy, it was an InterPlanetary Trade Administration gyrojet rifle, firing 13mm rocket propelled bullets. The gun was from the moon Titan in the year 2137 AD (and incidentally, from my science fiction setting which remains mostly unrelated to this game). Again, the players never knew any of this.

Meanwhile, the lobsterman was telling the players his life story. Before his wife died she laid a clutch of eggs they kept hidden in the least polluted part of the lake. Since then, a new group of people moved into the dam and started stockpiling all the fresh water for themselves. "If I don't get clean water soon I don't know if the kids'll make it." he said.

Lobsterdad lead them to the ruins of the old dam. "There," He said. "I don't know what their deal is, but they've been hogging all the junk, all the good water and everything for themselves. They won't even let me back up there and I practically ran the place. No respect for honest working people, I tell you..." So, the players snuck up the wall and peaked inside neighbor's camp.

A bull man was giving a speech on a cobbled together stage, extolling the virtues of society based on the scientific method. His peers, a cow woman, gnoll and a dwarf were sitting around him. Each one of them were bristling with cybernetic augmentations; robotic limbs, electronic eyes, metal plates grafted haphazardly onto flesh and bone. The players weren't impressed though and happily barged in on the rally. Immediately, they tried to convince the cyborgs that they were filming a documentary and wanted an exclusive interview with them. Otom Blackrock, the one speaking was all too happy to start lecturing them on the obsolescence of elected leaders, how a new ruling class of apolitical engineers would take control and that soon, a new order of scientism will reorganize society along new, logical, scientifically formulated strata. Again, the players weren't interested.

"Hey," Twitch said. "What if we just killed these guys?" Haydn was hesitant at first but then Nick joined in. Chanel still wasn't paying attention. Before long, most everyone was okay with killing the Technocrats and Haydn was forced to relent. Suddenly, Obtuse Goose butted in.

"Hang on," He said. "I know you, you're trying to start something."  Before then, Wilfred had been the driving force of evil in the party and only Omaru had done anything to stop him. Sure, he helped burn down the thorn thicket and sure, he never looked into the mysterious disappearance of all his babes. But whatever was going on he wasn't going to let Wilfred get away with it. I let him roll to fire a low power laser blast to stun Wilfred in his tracks. He got a six, and the tiny lizard fell to the ground, unconscious.

With the unexpected voice of reason silenced, Minamillian and Mikial launched fireballs at the cyborgs. Their electronics started to melt. Their servos ground helplessly as they tried to flee, their screams were distorted through their melting vocoders, muffled by the sounds of burning flesh, and sputtering vacuum tubes. Omaru did nothing.

The lobster man started to panic, pleading with the wizards to stop.

"Why not kill him." Nick said. Lightning flashed, and the lobster fell to the floor, sputtering and seizing. As the game master, I couldn't really forbid my players from taking certain actions, but I could definitely hint that they were taking a few steps down the slippery slope:

"Alright, you roll a five and mercilessly fry the single father as he pleads with you to stop killing people."

He was still squirming as the players were getting ready to finish him off. Wilfred was still unconscious. Chanel wasn't paying attention. I realized it was up to me. Me, and the little gnoll sitting in Devereaux's backpack. Suddenly, Johan leapt out and stood defiantly between the wizards and the dying lobster. He threw his little arms up to stop them and putting as much power into his meek voice as he could, he gave them an ultimatum.

"If you kill him, you have to kill me too!" He cried out. It was up to him now. If I had to sacrifice my favorite character to make them see reason, so be it. Live or die, Johan wasn't going to let this go any further. The smouldering remains of technocrats continued to convulse around him. The last survivor fled into the junkyard. Meanwhile the lobster was coughing up ichor, shuddering as sparks danced across his carapace. Omaru did nothing.

But Chanel heard Johan's name. I knew she was protective of him. I could count on her to change her mind about this senseless slaughter, even if it was just to protect him. She put herself between the lobster and the other players, scooped the little gnoll up...and went to the back of the group.

"Okay, now do whatever you were doing." She said.

Another pair of lightning bolts flashed and the lobster man slumped over, smoking from the joints in his shell. Omaru did nothing.

Wilfred started to wake up just as their guide stopped twitching. He took a look at the scene around him and without a word, stood up and started walking away.

And I knew in that moment, that the gods had abandoned these adventurers. Whatever noble quest they may have had was at an end. Whatever goodness was in them had vanished. All that was left was to take this as far as it could possibly go.

And I told myself, never ever let someone take control of an NPC again.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rock Lobster Part I

We finally rejoin our heroes as they continue their adventures in the wastes of Pitchblende Flats. It's been ages since anyone played my tabletop game. But I've finally been able to gather everyone together, pile them into the Steam chat and remind them why they all left in the first place.

When we left off, the players had just finished murdering a clan of Gnolls living in the desert. This came on the heels of another crime spree of theirs; releasing all the prisoners from jail and burning down the town of Trinity. The Bristlefur clan had befallen the players and their psychotic leader, Wilfred Sanddrinker one too many times and they had resolved to kill the innocent unassuming miners. Thankfully, the clan's matriarch sacrificed herself to buy her sons enough time to escape. Not so fortunately, one of those sons took that time to climb inside a bulldozer and ram 0M-4R-U, Obtuse Goose's character.

The last-ditch attack did nothing to harm the giant robotic monstrosity. Omaru smashed the bulldozer into pieces with a single blow, turning the driver into a thick red paste in his seat. Only a single Bristlefur gnoll made it out alive that night, last seen fleeing into the glowing desert to the north.

After the battle, the players kept going west. They heard a rumor about a powerful enchanter living on the edge of the mining claims. So, with no other quests or obligations, they set out to find Urmon's tower. After a day's hike through the desert, they found it; perched on a clump of fresh dirt and grass, the massive stone tower was leaning precariously to one side as if it materialized from another part of the world and fell on that spot.

Standing outside to greet them was Urmon's apprentice Karlo, who had been ineffectually sweeping up all the dust and sand kicked up by the tower's sudden appearance. He tried to say hello and welcome the players inside, but all he managed to do was offend them and make himself sound prejudiced against kobolds and robots. Thankfully they didn't kill him right away, more on that later.

Urmon himself and his fellow spellcaster Kelly were better received. The only problem was that Nick pointed out that the voice I put on for him sounded exactly like Dr. Orpheus, so it was basically impossible to get through any kind of conversation with the guy and have them take it seriously. Nonetheless, the players were adamant about getting their weapons enchanted and were willing to spend a large sum of gold to do it.

"Alas" The wizard explained. "I can't help you, not since those filthy crab people and their metal box stole all my enchanting materials." Thankfully, everyone pieced two and two together and realized the wizard's tower was actually raided by the Kretak, a group of alien miners who only bore a resemblance to crab people. Finally, something like a plot was starting to form again. After killing the pie lady and burning down the town the players had been wandering more-or-less aimlessly, looking for something to kill. Now one of the most successful mining companies had gone off the grid, stolen magical artifacts they couldn't use and had gone missing somewhere in the wastelands to the north. I expected Wilfred, Minamillion and Omaru to start asking themselves the hard questions and touch on the larger conspiracy at work.

They didn't, but we were getting somewhere.

And with that, they had their new mission and were back on the road. As a parting gift, Urmon gave the organic members of the party his own specially brewed radiation resistance potions, the side effects of which are still unknown to them.

Next stop: the Glowing Pond, the last known location of the Kretak miners.

First, something needs to be said about Wilfred's personal minions. Travis Splinterpeak, elven car mechanic and Mikial Kalwilsko, gnoll wizard. The players met Travis back in Trinity when they were trying to engineer a rotary Gatling-style shotgun for Omaru. By that point, everyone was terrified of the ten-foot tall robot and the only mechanic in town who agreed to help them was Travis. From the outset it was clear he was way too enthusiastic about building their newest superweapon and clearly had some issues he needed to work out. Wilfred agreed to bring him along since they were planning on burning down the town anyway. And Travis was a pyromaniac.

Later, when the group was fighting the Bristlefur's Tiger tank, Travis leapt into the crew cabin (while it was on fire) and started headbutting all the gnolls inside. He was unfortunately knocked unconscious but managed to distract the crew long enough for the other players to hurl fireballs into it's radiator. From then on, when he wasn't being knocked unconscious Travis's role in the party was either getting into fist fights or carrying Wilfred around on his shoulders.

Then there's Mikial, who's been with the group longer than most of the players. Originally the court mage for a backwater swamp kingdom, he had recently tried to feed Wilfred to a pack of sandworms after having second thoughts on the direction his life was taking. Wracked with guilt, he had been a faithful yes man ever since.

Now everyone was ready to brave the dangers of the Glowing Pond, the most polluted body of water in Pitchblende Flats. But we had a guest player that week. Obtuse Goose invited his friend Twitch to join the game to see what he'd think of my setting. Rather than have him make a new character I lent him Mikial. It seemed like a good choice, since Mikial was a big coward anyway and spent most fights hiding behind the bigger members of the party. To me at least, it seemed like a safe place to put him. More on this later.

My sister rejoined the game around this time too. Her character Devereaux was a journalist by trade, like Wilfred, and had her own minion she picked up in the swamps: Johan Axegrinder. Johan had been a guard in the king's gatehouse until the players framed him for terrorism. He joined them when it became clear his whole homeland was going to be destroyed in a civil war and had been riding in Devereaux's backpack ever since. He's easily the least evil member of the party and spent most of his time up to that point trying to find a peaceful way of resolving whatever crisis faced them. Part of the reason he doesn't gel well with the rest of the group is that he's the only one who hasn't committed any kind of murder, wanton or not.

Finally, everyone was gathered together again. They faced the poisonous wasteland ahead of them with nothing but steely determination. A larger conspiracy was brewing just beneath the surface. But with luck, they would accidentally stumble upon it on their next great unrelated killing spree. But little did I know I would be facing the greatest disaster of my gaming career. We didn't know it, but the session was about to take a turn for the worse and the game was about to enter a much darker place.

Tune in next week for Part II, where the players explore the ruins of the dam, meet the Kretak and ruin more lives than you can possibly imagine.

Finally, here's Slithers: