Posts Tagged ‘RPGs’

The Conqueror Worm

Posted: April 8, 2013 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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RPG-BurningWheel-BurningEmpiresLL and I have been collecting games built on Luke Crane’s excellent The Burning Wheel role-playing game for a while now. I’ve had Mouse Guard, based on the David Petersen graphic novels of the same name, for some time and have longed to play it. We recently picked up both the base fantasy core book and Burning Empires, a game based on Christopher Moeller’s gorgeous Iron Empires graphic novels. We sat down to begin exploring the latter on Monday and discovered that it’s a pretty amazing game with a lot of potential.

The book is absolutely beautiful. It’s nicely printed in full-color on glossy paper and runs to 655 pages. The organization’s a bit confusing at first but actually flows quite well for learning the game: a brief introduction to the setting and how the game works followed by the tools you need to get started playing. Most RPGs based on licensed materials start you off with a setting-dump and I was expecting something similar here. Seems that goes against Luke Crane’s basic philosophy and, after figuring it all out, I think I might agree with him. Still, the relative paucity of setting material sent me in search of a place to buy the Iron Empires source material! The dead-tree editions are more difficult to locate but you can get them in PDF format here and here.

The setting is intriguing. Humanity, in its distance past, established a vast interstellar civilization spanning hundreds of light-years in every direction. At the peak it had mastered the manipulation of the fundamental forces of the universe and learned to shape planets and even humans themselves to its liking. Enter the vaylen, a parasitic worm-like creature that can merge with a sentient being and take it over wholly. The vaylen found humans to be rather delectable, an experience far more pleasant than provided by any of its former hosts (most of which have been bio-engineered creations). The Worm, as they are lovingly termed by their human enemies, took thousands of worlds and billions of human hosts and still hungered for more. By the time of the Iron Empires, humanity has fallen greatly since its heyday – with eight petty squabbling empires too concerned with gobbling up the remaining scraps of their former glory to focus on properly defending against the terror arrayed against their southern borders.

IE-Master-Map-(revised)The game system is also interesting. It’s not really a role-playing game. Well it is, just not in the form many modern players expect – a band of murder-hoboes moving from place to place, killing enemies and taking their stuff. Players and the GM take on the roles of central figures in one planet’s conflict between humanity and the vaylen but the game is structured so that you contribute to an epic story of that planet’s struggle. The GM is the pacer and arbiter of the rules, not the end-all authority whose word is law – he and his characters have to follow the rules too. The players help to create the setting during play, acting through their characters to defend their world, or turn it over to the Worm.

You start by collaboratively building the planet under contest using the tools provided in the World Burner. The players and GM answer a series of questions about the world, its people and factions and so on, to flesh it out. The end result is a battleground on which to play out the coming vaylen attempt to conquer it – including some mechanical details that become important to both sides once the conflict starts. You also come up with concepts for the central figures in the conflict, people who are key members of the government, church, military, and other important institutions. Players may choose to play some of these roles later, or create their own related characters, while the GM will flesh out and play the others for the opposition.

Then you use the Character Burner to build up your character using Burning Wheel’s clever lifepath system to model her growth from birth to her present situation, which yields information about skills, resources, contacts, traits, and important mechanical statistics. When completed you’ve got your world and important institutions and a group of PCs and key NPCs that are all interlinked (to some degree) among themselves and the groups that make your world go. The default situation has the PCs working against the vaylen while the GM tries to win the planet for the Worm, but you can reverse those roles if desired.

The game is then played out in three phases: Infiltration, where the vaylen begin their intrigues; Usurpation, where key figures are taken over and the stage is set for the end-game; and Invasion, where all pretense is dropped and the Worm arrives in force to claim its juicy prize – a new farm world brimming with delicious human host meat puppets. There’s a fairly complex system set out for players and GMs to create scenes and build to inevitable conflict situations, where the real stuff gets resolved. As things move forward, the sides gain or lose ground, resulting in an eventual winner and loser for each phase. The winner gets an advantage during the next phase and early gains could easily result in a steamroller effect as the campaign draws to a close.

Of course a campaign in played out over tens of sessions so we didn’t get quite that far in our initial exploration! LL and I used the World Burner to start fleshing out a planet. We ended up with an “interior world”, not quite on the border but not quite in the safe core of one of our eight pocket empires. Its atmosphere supports human (and vaylen!) life and is predominantly (>50%) land but is geologically young and volcanically active. That makes it a good resource producer and we ended up deciding that it is administered not by the nobility but by a merchant league. It is protected by a professional volunteer military but nobody is all that bothered by the vaylen threat at this point – they’re focused on grubbing for ore for sale to their greedy neighbor lords. Factions include a competing merchant force, organized crime, and indigenous life-forms, all of which may become pawns in the coming war. The planet is protected by standard quarantine procedures and import/export regulations, paying close attention to weaponry, pharmaceuticals, and immigrant labor.

We’ll add some color to the world next session and flesh out key figures but I think we’ve got the start to a pretty good battleground for a vaylen invasion. I picture it being a chartered merchant world somewhere in the Karsan League. Maybe it supplies fuel for Hammer fleets or ore to build their massive hulls. That would make it a prime target for vaylen take-over; not only would they gain human hosts but also resources from an under-protected, strategically important world in the midst of one of their strongest neighboring human empires.

I’m definitely curious to see where it goes!

The curious case of Mr. Magnetti

Posted: February 4, 2013 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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LL and I met as usual on Monday night. This week it was back to RPGs with a short excursion into the world of Call of Cthulhu, with a session run by LL. She told me she had drummed up a little solo adventure and gave me some parameters so I created a character on the spot. I used the 5th-edition rules and rolled randomly, play-as-they-lay. We gabbed randomly for the better part of the night but finally got in some playing at the end of the evening, as a man named Faustino Magnetti decided to investigate something odd and ended up getting more than he had bargained for. Isn’t that always the way with CoC?

1898_prison13_DeerIsland_Boston_NewEnglandMagazineOn this particular morning in early June of 1928, the weather at Boston’s Deer Island House of Correction is sunny and fine. Most of the inmates are enjoying the weather in the exercise yard but we find Mr. Magnetti working in the prison library, where he has made himself most useful over the past six months of his confinement – being a man of letters incarcerated amongst a population of mostly lower-class petty criminals.

Before continuing, however, perhaps we should learn a little more about our protagonist: Faustino Magnetti was born in the year 1885 in Brooklyn, New York to working-class Italian immigrant parents. His father was a stone-cutter and his mother took in laundry and did sewing for the wealthier residents a few blocks over. They were poor, but not destitute, and managed to put away a bit of money so that their only child, Faustino, might attend college and see a better future than they.

Faustino was a diligent student, though not the brightest, and did well in school – eventually performing well enough on his placement exams to earn a place at the esteemed Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. He applied himself eagerly to his studies in the rapidly developing field of anthropology, with a specialization in archaeology, and received a B.S. in 1907. By this time, his father had died in a construction accident, though his mother attended his graduation ceremony with teary eyes.

Mr. Magnetti, as we shall now call him, took work as an assistant to the head of M.U.’s Anthropology department and rented a small apartment in Arkham for himself and his now-widowed mother. In his role at the university, he began to travel widely on school expeditions, visiting South America often. It was there that he learned to speak Spanish (quite well) and Portuguese (passably well) and discovered much about the vanished cultures of that continent. While away on one of these trips, in March of 1918, his mother took ill with the Spanish Flu and passed away. Her body was cremated and, on his return, Mr. Magnetti attended a small ceremony at the Catholic church where the two often attended Mass.

DeerIsland_prison1_Boston_LC_HABS_ma1445By this time, Mr. Magnetti had accrued a little money and some measure of reputation in his field so began to fund his own trips to Peru and other S.A. countries to explore the leavings of the lost civilizations of the Aztecs, Incans, Toltecs, and so on. He also began “importing” certain artifacts found during his expeditions for sale to discerning collectors of such things. On his return to Boston from just such an outing to Peru’s Callejón de Huaylas highlands, where he had uncovered a number of figurines of obvious religious significance and a curious crystal skull, he found himself answering some probing questions by U.S. Customs agents.

The unusual artifacts stirred their interest and, upon further investigation, it seemed that some of them resembled descriptions of items that had been placed on a certain “watchlist” issued by the Peruvian government. Though the U.S. government felt no specific urge to honor the Peruvian demands for extradition, or at least life imprisonment, it did hand the case over to the state court in Boston. He was convicted on a fairly minor charge of Possession of Stolen Property and sentenced to two years at Deer Island, with the possibility of parole after serving one year. And, so, this is where we find Mr. Magnetti, on this fine June day…perhaps half-way to his freedom and resumption of life as usual.

untitled2While shelving books in the library at about half-past ten o’clock, he noticed an eager young man waiting for him by his book cart. He bore a note for Mr. Magnetti from one of his fellow inmates, a Mr. Byron Humphrey. Mr. Humphrey was a career petty criminal with a history of minor embezzlement, fraud, and so forth. His love of alcohol and lack of innate intelligence has prevented the man from truly excelling at the criminal arts, pegging him squarely as a failed “fakeloo artist” and shabby “scratcher”. Mr. Magnetti has spent quite some time in the library with Mr. Humphrey over the past several months, helping him research his various pet projects – most of which seem to deal with this or that bit of obscure occult knowledge. Though Mr. Magnetti little believes in any of that nonsense, he has found his work with Mr. Humphrey interesting due to the many parallels between American occult beliefs and the religious practices of several ancient South American cultures.

untitledThe note from Mr. Humphrey was, as usual, intriguing. It invited Mr. Magnetti to visit him in his cell in two hours for a glass of “toilet wine” and to view an unusual rock he had found in the yard that morning. The rock bore a strange symbol, transcribed on the note, and Mr. Humphrey wondered if Mr. Magnetti had ever seen it or something like it in his studies. He had not, though it did resemble certain hieroglyphics he had seen in his field work. He examined a few likely volumes, the prison library being well stocked with unusual reference volumes bequeathed by the estates of wealthy Bostonian families from time to time, and found something similar – possibly bearing some religious significance, a reference to “Old Ones” worshipped by some primitive cultures. He decided that perhaps a quick letter to Professor Morgan, the current head of M.U.’s Anthropology department and an expert in many hieroglyphic languages, omitting the details of the discovery of course, might turn up the best possible answer in the shortest amount of time.

By then nearly two hours had passed so Mr. Magnetti posted an “Out to Lunch” sign on the library desk and went to Mr. Humphrey’s cell. He discovered the old fellow dead drunk, passed out on his bunk with a mostly empty glass of the aforementioned swill on the floor near his dangling hand. He shook Mr. Humphrey and called his name to no effect, though the man did roll over and drop an oddly-shaped flat rock from his flaccid hand onto the floor. “No reason to waste a visit,” he thought, and picked up the rock to examine it. The rock itself was of a curious reddish granite though, being no expert in geology, Mr. Magnetti could make no more of it than that. The symbol was indeed quite interesting and he could immediately see that it had not been created by carving or gouging, as it bore no tool marks whatsoever. It almost appeared to have been melted into the surface of the rock.

untitled1That would have been curious in itself, of course, but curiouser yet was what happened next. As Mr. Magnetti examined the symbol on Mr. Humphrey’s unusual find, he began to feel odd – a bit dizzy and slightly faint. In the dim light of the cell, lit by a single bulb dangling from a cord, the symbol almost seemed to be growing. Then, in fact, he became sure that it was growing…expanding beyond even the edges of the rock on which it was engraved. The effect was mesmerizing and, as the symbol continued to grow to surround Mr. Magnetti bodily, his faintness became quite urgent and he lost all sensibility, dropping to the floor in a heap.

When he awoke the light had faded considerably, as if many hours had passed. No lights could be seen anywhere, which was strange because the turnkeys should have already begun rousting the inmates back to their cells for dinner and headcount by this hour. He reached out but could not find the rock he must have dropped when he lost consciousness. He stood and carefully pulled the chain for the cell light. It illuminated the cell only faintly, leaving the corners in deep shadow. “Must need a new bulb,” he thought, as he noticed that Mr. Humphrey was no longer on his bunk…though his mostly empty glass had remained in its previous location.

Mr. Magnetti turned to the open cell door and walked toward it, intending to peek out and look up and down the remarkably quiet cell block. As he did so he nearly fainted again, feeling as if he was sticking his head from a completely dark room into a lighted one…a lighted room that looked remarkably like the cell in which he himself was standing. He was surprised to see a man standing with his back turned just a few feet away. He started to say something to get the man’s attention when he realized the man was wearing his exact suit of clothing. Astounded, Mr. Magnetti jumped back into the cell and looked around, noticing that the back wall of the cell was completely black. Still startled, he reached for Mr. Humphrey’s rickety stool and picked it up, pushing it through the cell door while watching over his shoulder. He relaxed when he saw the legs of the stool appear through the back wall.

“Only a dream,” he thought, “I feared I must be going mad.” Clearly relieved, Mr. Magnetti confidently stepped through the cell door and reappeared…on a spiral staircase surrounded by and descending into darkness. He could just make out the roof of a cavern far above his head. “One devil of a dream, I guess! Well, let’s see where this goes,” he thought, and began to climb down the steps. Suddenly, a thin gout of purplish flame rushed up from far below and licked the ceiling of the cavern. It soon subsided and, as it did so, he followed its ebb to notice that the flame had illuminated the cavern floor. There he saw two men close by the flame. They were curiously dressed, wearing robes and headgear resembling a mitre such as that worn by Bishops of the Church.

And…that’s where we left it. A devil of a dream indeed. Let’s hope, for his sake, that Mr. Magnetti wakes up soon. I have no doubt that LL will have some fine tortures in store for our protagonist next Monday. I just hope he survives…I’m growing to like him.

NB1: The word “curiouser” does not appear in my dictionary either. I figure if it’s good enough for Lewis Carroll then it’s good enough for me…and given the ever-deepening rabbit hole our Mr. Magnetti is currently traversing I thought the reference to Alice’s adventures was somehow appropriate.

NB2: It might interest you that a much more recent resident of Deer Island, Mark Wahlberg, stayed in the very cell Mr. Humphrey occupied in 1928. Well, we don’t know that for sure, but his time there certainly straightened him out some…so maybe he found a rabbit hole while he was there too. 

G:Z – Welcome to Dexter, MO

Posted: November 25, 2012 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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Excerpt from the diary of Richard Dawes:

G-Z 1We’ve been on the road for months, all through fall and the start of winter. We’ve lost people along the way. A lot of good people. Andy bought the farm just the other day, or maybe it was last week. We were hitting a grocery store somewhere in Kentucky. It looked pretty clear so Sam even let us cripples help out.

We got a lot of stuff but, on the way back to the front doors, we ran into a good-sized pack of shamblers coming out of the offices at the front. There were too many to fight in that cramped space and there was no way Andy was going to outrun them on one leg and an improvised crutch. He knew he was beaten, had been since we had to take off his leg at the knee, but he was still cocky as ever. Andy grinned and pulled an old grenade he’d been carrying out of his pocket and told us to go. We did. We heard the grenade go off from the parking lot. We said a few words for him over cans of cold beans later that night. Andy hated beans.

dex1Sam hasn’t been quite the same since that day. He’s gone back into lone-wolf mode. I guess Andy was about as close to a friend as Sam ever made. They removed a lot of shambler heads together. I’ve noticed he’s a little more careful these days. Hell, why not. I’ve been cautious ever since they took off my arm because of a little bite on my hand. Sadiq’s always been like that. Police training, I guess. He can’t seem to connect much with that old table leg he carries but he doesn’t ever get hit either. I think Paula’s got a better kill count than he does. You’d think the LPGA was still a going concern as many notches as she’s put on that fancy Ping wood of hers. I guess Jonathan doesn’t kill all that many either but that’s okay because he’s pretty good with a gun and he keeps the HMMWVs running okay. It’s not like I have anything to offer the group anymore. I could sell snow to an Eskimo but I don’t think anybody’s buying anything these days. Most of the people we meet don’t breathe, let alone talk.

That’s all, isn’t it? Just the five of us now. Well, and Buddy. He’s okay, but he still hasn’t really forgiven me for kicking the crap out of him in my sleep during the baby zombie nightmare. We really need to find a place to hunker down. Somewhere safe. Get out of this world for a while.

We rolled into Dexter, MO at around dusk today. I think it’s late December but I’m not sure anymore. Could be Christmas or New Year’s Eve…or it might be just another day at the End of the World. Anyway, I used to have a customer in Dexter and I remember checking out his location on Google Maps back when there was still an Internet. It’s a pretty small place. The graveyard’s bigger than the current population of the town…don’t get me started about my theory on that! Just outside of town, on the east side, I remembered seeing this big junkyard. Thousands of cars just lined up off into the hills. I spent quite a while looking at it.

Mentioned it to Jonathan when I saw the road sign for Dexter and he figured it might be a good place to put in for the night – we could check out the scrap heap and see if there’s anything we could use to get Hummer #2 running a little better. That thing took a beating back at the “Army base”. We managed to replace the two burned tired from a crashed HMMWV outside of Raleigh but it’s been giving us electrical trouble lately. Jonathan figures some of the insulation melted off of wiring somewhere…maybe everywhere, for all I know. Still smells like burned flesh in that thing. I ride in #1 whenever I can.


We found a little house on the outskirts of town, just off of 60 and right before the junkyard. Just drove the Hummers over the shoulder and up to the front door. Hey, who needs roads? We didn’t see many shamblers. There were maybe four of five a good distance off and moving slowly. They don’t seem to do well in the cold. Maybe they’re not decaying as fast, I don’t know, but at least they can’t keep up with you if you move smartly. Anyway, we got out and went up to the door. I gave a knock and an, “Anyone home?” Sam hates that. He’d rather bash down the door and see what happens than maybe alert the (warmish) shamblers inside to our visit. Me? I figure it’s only polite. If I was holed up inside I’d like to be asked nicely to open the door before some fool started swinging axe. Horses for courses, I guess.

I didn’t expect to get an answer anyway. But I did.We heard a gruff voice from inside say, “Don’t you fuckin’ move!” so we didn’t. It was getting dark by now and none of us much fancied saddling up and finding somewhere else to spend the night so I started talking. It’s nice to feel useful. I explained our situation and our mystery homeowner finally came over and removed the barricade. He introduced himself as Marvin Judd. I was skeptical but let it slide. He was pretty sturdy looking, carrying a shotgun and a bow. Survivalist type. My old customer base. That’s a good thing.

We talked about what was going on and what had happened to our group and to him since the Event. Seems he was a consultant to some sort of survivalist reality show. They’d take a him and a crew and a producer and some unlucky sap up into the hills and watch him shed thirty pounds eating twigs and berries and trying to chase squirrel and opossum. Marvin stayed off-camera, giving advice, helping the producer set up situations. I was never much for reality TV but might have watched that one. Anyway, they got done filming and started back to the world. Noticed their cells didn’t work but didn’t think much of it. First “people” they ran into? You guessed it. That took care of his ensemble cast, leaving Marvin on his own. I don’t doubt he was better off for it…here he was today sat in the living room of a loaner home skinning a deer. He said there was plenty and we could share if we were so inclined.

We were, so we blocked off the kitchen the best we could and built a fire in the old oven and smoked the deer while we went on talking over cans of food. The deer didn’t take too long and it sure was good. Don’t think I’ve had fresh meat in a dog’s age, whatever that means. We were all tired after eating so we checked the barricades and turned in for the night.

Meet Richard. He’s my character and he’ll be telling the story of our GURPS: Zombieapocalypse game, now entering Season Three…for as long as he’s around anyway. There’s a thing or two you should know about Richard. He used to, with his wife Joan, operate a Web-based survivalist gear store. Somewhere in Tucson, AZ there’s a “huge warehouse” stocked with “top-of-the-line” surplus military gear, rations, and so forth. Actually it’s just a 10’x20′ storage unit at Lock-It Lockers on Speedway Blvd. and about half of the Dawes’ two-car garage. The other half is taken up by “Arnie”, an Army-surplus GMC pickup in old-style camo.

From this data you may discern that Richard lies. A lot. Compulsively, actually. BUT he does try very hard to be truthful in his diary. If he ever tells a whopper I’ll hopefully catch it and let you know about it. He also has a picture-perfect memory. Remembers simply everything he notices. Main problem is that he’s been a little depressed lately so some things, like the date, have been slipping his mind.

We’ll learn what happened the next morning shortly and we’ll page back through Richard’s diary to have a look at the highlights of Seasons One and Two. Stay tuned…

Moving from Microscope to Alternity

Posted: November 19, 2012 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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LL and I kicked off our sci-fi Microscope game with the idea that we would be building a setting that we could explore in depth with a more traditional role-playing game system. Tonight we talked through some of the material we have created so far and how we might bring that content into an RPG setting.

As we played through the first four sessions (which you can read here, here, here, and here), creating the history of our setting with Microscope, we had a stack of Alternity books sitting beside our play area. Alternity is a generic sci-fi RPG published by TSR in 1998, prior to its merger with Wizards of the Coast. The game was innovative for its time and includes some interesting and playable mechanics. Though out of print it is still supported by an active fan community, headquartered at I’ve had the Alternity books sitting on my shelves for years but have never played the game, though I’ve wanted to do so for some time now. LL recently picked up a used set (in pristine condition, I might add) for a song. We both think the system might be a good match for our setting.

Characters in Alternity belong to one of several generic character professions (similar to classes in D20) that determine what skills they’re good at and how they progress as they gain experience. The basic professions can be used to build just about any normal character you’d expect to see in a sci-fi story: Combat Spec, Diplomat, Free Agent, and Tech Op.

The game also includes rules for integrating psionic powers, using a specialty profession called the Mindwalker and several “broad” and “specialty” skills devoted to psionic specialties. The psionic broad skills include Biokinesis, ESP, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. Each broad skill contains several speciality skills; e.g. ESP includes Clairaudience, Empathy, Navcognition, and several others. If you have a broad skill you can use its associated specialty skills at a default level, provided they don’t require training. A character with the ESP broad skill can use Empathy untrained but not Navcognition, for instance. If you also purchase a specialty skill you can use it more proficiently than the default level.

In our Microscope history we determined that certain humans gain psionic powers after travelling through jump space. We don’t know why, they just do. Alternity has a great way to implement that: any normal character (i.e. non-Mindwalker) can be declared a “talent” and purchase one psionic broad skill and two psionic specialty skills. They won’t be as adept at psionics as a Mindwalker, but they’ll have some ability with it. So, where do Mindwalkers fit in? Well, we’re pretty sure that humans won’t be able to be Mindwalkers until the Retreat era, when they have the opportunity to get together with other psis to train and study. We’re not sure yet if the TWSBG or amoth have any Mindwalkers.

We didn’t do any work on defining our setting’s three main species in Alternity. I think, however, that we might be able to file the serial numbers off of the T’sa and use them for TWSBG. As described in the Star*Drive campaign setting, they’re a pretty close match. No idea about the amoth at this point.

Alternity uses “Progress Levels” to denote a campaign setting’s predominant level of advancement: PL5 is the “Information Age”, PL6 adds fusion power and more advanced space exploration, PL7 adds more advanced power generation and gravitic manipulation (and FTL travel). The progression continues through to the indefinite PL10 “Far Future”. It seems likely that our setting is somewhere in PL7, perhaps with PL8 power (as defined in our Microscope Palette).

We’re not yet sure about technology in our setting, because we really haven’t delved deeply into technological specifics. We haven’t even really touched on things like medical technology, personal weapons, computer technology, and a host of other specialties that make an advanced civilization tick. Here’s what we *do* know about our setting’s technological level so far:

  • Starship propulsion
    • Slow STL: We assume that all of the major species can move around at reasonable non-relativistic velocities, but we don’t yet know any details about how they’re doing it, how fast they can go, etc.
    • Fast STL: We know that the TWSBG had accomplished near-lightspeed space travel, through their use of the kind of generation ship that destroyed the amoth home-sphere. Humans may have used similar technologies to settle their first colonies. The amoth did not have, or did not employ this technology.
    • FTL: Humans definitely had the ability to travel at some multiple of c, and used that ability to expand to colonies some distance from Earth. The TWSBG may also have this capability as well, though we have not seen this in our history yet.
    • Jump: Humans and TWSBG both use natural jump points to travel instantaneously from system to system. The amoth have acquired this technology from the TWSBG. We don’t know how this works yet but we think:
      • Jump points are naturally occurring weak points in space, leading to some sort of higher-order dimension that can be traversed by a starship that can “activate” the jump point. We are assuming that passage between jump points is bi-directional, though this hasn’t been firmly established by our history.
      • There may be any number of jump points within a system. We don’t know if jump points can occur in deep space. We don’t know if it’s possible to tell where a jump point emerges without traveling through it.
  • Starship weaponry
    • We don’t know much about this topic at this point except that a fleet of light cruisers is well-armed enough to destroy a pretty large mega-structure (as the Omega Fleet did at the Retreat).
  • Communications
    • We think FTL communications is impossible without psionics. That limitation would also seem to preclude FTL sensors.

And that’s about it, really. One of the reasons we didn’t play tonight was my growing-but-vaguely-formed fear of “overworking” the setting. After talking over how to bring it into Alternity, however, I realize that there’s an awful lot we don’t know yet. Looks like we need to play a few more sessions to go back in and explore some of these missing details. Interestingly, LL and I were loathe to speculate much about things we hadn’t specifically covered either in the history itself or the Palette. We could certainly just make stuff up…but it seems somehow more fun to discover it with Microscope.

This Sunday in Skull & Shackles, the PCs explored the castaway’s lodge, picked up some supplies for Man’s Promise, and received a concerning message from their spy still aboard. When we left off last week, Valana had just opened the door to the lodge and barely had time to take in the hanging corpse and awful stench before she was swarmed by flies flooding out of the stinking place.

Valana fell backward as the flies swarmed around her, biting fiercely. She turned and ran for the stockade gate with the flies still surrounding her. Killian, still examining the spyglass, thinks quickly and retrieves a torch and lights it. As Valana moves past Shiera the bugs go after her as well and they both continue toward the gate. Keeya creates some dancing lights in a vain attempt to draw the swarm off, but they appear to prefer the fresher meat offered by the two fleeing ladies. Afari realized there not much he can do so he too exits by the gate, followed by Keeya.

By now, even sturdy Valana has been badly bitten and she falls to the ground. More delicate, Shiera has also met her match and collapses near her friend. Still the flies swarm around the fallen crewmates. Realizing their danger, the group rallies: Keeya and Rosie both stop their rout and produce and light torches, charging into the swarm with Killian coming at the bugs from the other direction. Afari manifests a glowing humanoid form (MA: dancing lights again) and uses it to lead the swarm away from his comrades. This time it works, thanks to the burning flames wielded by Keeya, Killian, and Rosie!

Keeya lifts Shiera’s head and helps her drink the contents of the vials given to her by Harrigan after the taking of Promise. The healing effects of these potions bring her back to consciousness, thrashing and still trying to run to escape the cloud of biting insects. After she comes to her senses Shiera turns to Valana to help her, with a little assistance from blessed Besmara. Until now, Afari has been keeping a keen eye on his apparition and the swarm but now it has begun to break up, spreading out into the jungle.

After a brief rest, the group was ready to look into the lodge again. Inside they found a great deal of salvage from a Chelish ship called the Infernus: the former captain’s bed, a fine spice cabinet with waxed bags of pepper, suits of quality clothing, logs and charts, and so on. As Killian cataloged the lodge’s contents and Valana tapped the floor looking for secret compartments, Shiera examined the hanging corpse. As she drew near to do so…it grabbed at her! The man wasn’t dead after all, or so it seemed. Fortunately it missed and the others quickly surrounded it and put it to rest…again.

The final survivor of the Infernus was the ship’s former carpenter, Aaron Ivy…so they gathered from the scrawled notes they found in the margins of the ship’s logs and on the back of sea charts. There were originally several survivors of the storm that badly damaged their ship but the wreck had also torn open a cage containing the ship’s ghouls (MA: Yeah. What’s Golarion’s version of “WTF?!”) and several crewmen were infected by their bites. As the infection spread and more crewmembers died and rose again as ghouls. He managed to kill all but the three former ship’s whores…his locket containing a likeness of one of the three may explain his inability to finish off those particular creatures.

Ivy took refuge atop the ridge and built his stockade and lodge. He also cleared the jungle and planted the crops, though it was difficult to maintain these while dodging the former whores and the swarms of ghoul-fever-infected mosquitoes and bot flies. One day, several years ago, he was returning from the field and encountered his former love. She bit him and, though he escaped to his lodge, he soon took ill. Rather than die of the illness and rise as a ghoul, Ivy decided to take his own life by hanging.

Apparently he didn’t succeed. The Chelish hangman’s color is a delicate device and Ivy had donned it incorrectly. Instead of dying from a snapped neck, he must have hanged there for days before finally succumbing to the fever and turning into a ghoul. (MA: The wonder of the English language: “Hanged” is actually the correct usage, even though I so very much want to say “hung”)

With nothing much left to see, the group headed back to the field and gathered some corn and grains in sacks. Then they returned to the coconut palm beach for some coconuts and fresh crab, including three particularly large specimens. Finally, they headed back to the north shore and their gig, passing back through the swamp on their way. At the gig, they loaded their finds and looked to the Man’s Promise to see how things were on the ship.

Through the spyglass they saw the crew at work on repairs but one sailor was apparently loafing by the foreward rail, looking toward shore. It was Killian’s old friend, Crimson Cogward, keeping an eye out for their return. They signaled him and he disappeared, quickly replaced by the dark figure of Slippery Syl Lonegan. She took up her dagger and began flashing a signal toward them:

V: P and S plan maroon you. S wanted kill, P said exile. Some crew support. Friends all with you. Watch back. -SSL (MA: Honestly we don’t know what form this code took. I suppose it’s not Morse but surely there’s some sort of sailor mirror-flashing-sunlight code, right? Well, I guess there is now!)

The group flashed acknowledgement and then discussed what to do. They decided to stay the night on the island and rest up before returning to the ship and a confrontation with Scourge and Plugg. The night passed without event and they took up the gig at first light and headed back to Promise. The crew all took a break to greet them and unload the cargo. After it was done, Plugg faced the returning group, with Scourge grinning evilly at his side, and the massive Owlbear behind, club in hand.

He told them, somewhat uncertainly, “It looks as if you did well on the island. I’m glad, because it is going to be your new home…at least until you can catch the attention of a passing ship. You have become a disruptive influence on morale aboard ship and I can’t have you dividing the crew’s loyalties. We will leave you with some supplies and say goodbye in the morning, after the repairs are complete.”

And that’s where we left it. Other GMs and players of this AP will notice that our Plugg isn’t as bad as written. Scourge is every bit the scurvy jerk Richard Pett intended him to be but I didn’t take Plugg there. The PCs have actively attempted to do a good job on the ship and have worked hard to impress Plugg. He sees that, and doesn’t hate them, but he has Scourge in his ear and *does* see that they’ve built up a following aboard that’s more loyal to them than to him. That’s a situation that just can’t stand.

NB: I should have noted in the recap above that Ivy’s “journal” also dealt with the island’s grindylow population. The grindylows dwell in a series of sea caves on the island’s southwestern tip and harass passing ships, one of the reasons Ivy was never able to signal a ship for rescue. Infernus, like Man’s Promise, ran into a storm before its crash and there was a grindylow incursion during that storm as well. Crewmen were captured and never heard from again. Apparently the grindylows don’t venture inland so Ivy had little to do with them as long as he stayed away from the water…though they were a problem while the crew was trying to salvage what they could from Infernus before it sank. Some time ago they attacked another passing ship and captured crewmen. The ship itself survived the storm and attack and sent a rescue team to the cove…but it retreated without the missing crewmen and the ship went on its way. The PCs have decided that if Sandara Quinn and Concho are being held by the grindylows there’s not a lot they can do about it, so they’re going to abandon their former friends to their fates. Too bad. Sandara might have been able to do something about that ghoul fever four of the PC seem to have contracted while on the island…