Friday, November 15, 2019

Seven Worlds #5 - Broken Circle II

The crew face a Serran swordsman
Campaign Diary

The crew hailed the ships closing in on the station, but received no reply; the ships did not broadcast transponder IDs, which advertised their hostile intention.

The crew ordered Lamar, Ogden, and the rest of the station staff to embark the Magpie, and they took off in a direction away from the incoming ships, while he put the two station shuttles to auto-pilot and fly off in different directions, hoping to confuse the pursuers, but the ruse failed.

The ships soon closed the distance between the Magpie and themselves, and began shooting. Despite Nick's piloting, the ship began to take damage, and soon the ship's shields were down. As the Mapgie rounded Wotan V, Nick picked up the signal of another ship ahead of them - a large ship. He called Kumra to the screen, and Kumra recognised the profile of the ship: it was the Monad, the state-of-the art autonomous battleship that they helped the Robot Collective steal from the shipyard years ago.

The Monad hailed the Magpie, and a familiar face and voice came through:

"You guys still flying that piece of junk?"

It was RB, their old crew-mate!

(Click here for PC profiles)

The Monad began shooting at the pursuers, which turned and fled but were shot down quickly.

The Magpie returned to Harris Station, where the crew reunited with RB.

RB, it turned out, had escaped from the Teamsters Guild years ago, and joined the robot rebellion and had risen to become one of their leaders. Now, learning of the crew's involvement in the Gren invasion, he had persuaded the robots to meet with the crew.

Together with RB, the crew tried to convince the Robot Collective to join in the fight against the Gren. However, the Robot Collective considered the risk to their polity too great, and refused. RB had to make a choice between rejoining his friends, or returning with the Collective - he chose the former.

Once the Magpie was refueled, the crew decided that Jet would return to GCP with Lamar, while they returned to Earth to relay what they have learned to the United Confederation government.

When they arrived on Earth, they learned that three more systems on the Tazanian Empire were lost to the Grens. They also learned that the top management of Telenet had absconded two weeks prior, leaving the corporation in disarray.

They relayed the news of a possible Serran Brotherhood involvement in the Gren invasion, but the UC government was unwilling to act based on that information alone, and in any case the politicians had committed the UC fleet to defence of UC space, and could not spare any help. Nevertheless, the crew were able to leverage their fame to have themselves deputised as UC representatives, after which they set off to Hirceptus to investigate the source of the signal that shut the Telenet down themselves.

Upon their arrival at Hirceptus, they noticed that the Telenet satellite was still in orbit. Ignoring the command by Hirceptus Space Control to land on Hirceptus, they instead headed straight to the satellite.

RB was able to hack into the satellite to allow the Magpie to Dock with it, but as they did so, Nick picked up the signal of two frigates approaching them from the planet; this came as a surprise to the crew as Hirceptus famously did not possess a military force.

The crew hurried into the satellite and soon located the server room, where RB began to download the database for further analysis. But while he was doing so, the power to the station was cut off. The red glow of the back-up lighting came on, and the door to the server room opened. Standing outside the door was a man clad in battle armour and holding a sword.

The crew shot before they asked any question. The swordsman charged through their fire at superhuman speed, and began slashing at the crew. His sharp molecular blade cut through the armour on Kumra and AJ without difficulty, and even through RB's chassis. The droid fell to the ground and played dead, and when the swordsman was occupied with the others he got up and headed for the power room. RB restored the power to the satellite, while Kumra, AJ, and Nick finally managed to surround the swordsman and kill him. RB completed the download, and the crew limped back to the Magpie, just in time to escape the frigates sent after them.

The crew brought the data back to Lamar, who was able to confirm that the signal had indeed been sent from the surface of Hirceptus, specifically the headquarters of the Serran Brotherhood. He was also able to determine that the satellite were still actually operational, but now transmitted on a different frequency, utilising the second set of codes which Telenet had tried hiding from him.

In the days that they had left Harris Station, however, the Grens had moved into the Neutral Zone, and that three systems had fallen to them in a short space of time; the aliens seemed to be moving towards the centre of the galaxy, and towards the UC...

The government of GCP had out the system on high alert, and Hassel-Hoffa reckoned that the guild's ships would likely be requisitioned to evacuate the populace soon, and so he bade them to leave before the Magpie would be commandeered too.

Deciding that they needed to know more about the Grens to have a chance at defeating them, the crew resolved to visit Redlhu, one of the Tazanian planets which had fallen to the Grens

When they dropped out of hyperspace at Redlhu, the found the system surrounded by the wreckage of dozens of ships, both military and civilian. There were no signs of any Gren bioships. They scanned the debris field and noticed a derelict ship floating not far from them - attached to the hull of the ship were three organic pods.

Nick took the Magpie close to the derelict ship - a Tazanian frigate - and Kumra shot at the pods. As the blaster burned off parts of the pod, the remaining portion would rapidly grow over the holes made, sealing the pod again.

A scan of the ship showed that life-support and artificial gravity were still present, but the crew weren't taking any chances: they donned their vac-suits, and boarded the frigate.

Inside the frigate they found the bodies of dozens of Rakashan marines. Most had large wounds on them, and some had blaster marks on them - judging from the impact patterns on the bulkheads, it seemed that they may have been shot by 'friendly fire'.

The crew made their way to the bridge, hoping to download the tactical data from the bridge computer. However, the bridge door was sealed, and RB was unable to hack into it. AJ set a demolition charge to the door, but even the explosives were only able to blow the door partially open - large enough for Nick and AJ to squeeze through, but not Kumra or RB.

Nick and AJ entered the bridge to find its crew all dead, seeming from self-inflicted blaster shots to the chest. This was unusual, as Rakashans would rather have fought to the death than to commit suicide, and the 'preferred' way of doing so would be a shot to the head and not the chest.

AJ began to try to remove the bridge computer from the station with RB shouting instructions from outside, but he botched the job and instead caused the module to short itself out. Meanwhile, the noise from the demolition and their conversation had attracted unwanted attention...

RB and Kumra heard a skittering noise from up the passageway, and looked to see a bipedal, four-armed creature charging towards them. RB started shooting as he backed away and took shelter behind Kumra. The creature soon reached Kumra, and began to slash at him with the claws at the ends of its four upper limbs. The sharp claws tore through Kumra's armour. AJ and Nick shot at the creature through the gap in the door, but despite taking fire, the creature kept up its attack on Kumra. Finally, AJ took a grenade from one of the fallen Tazanian marines, and lobbed it through the door - the explosion tore through the creature's body, covering Kumra with a thick ichor.

Kumra has a close encounter with a Gren
More skittering noises could now be heard. The crew decided that they had outstayed their welcome and would have to leave empty-handed. Returning to the Magpie, they found that a bioship had taken off from the surface of Redlhu and was now approaching them. Kumra took aim at the Tazanian frigate and blew it up, while Nick took the Magpie outside the gravity well, and entered hyperspace.

Prepping and Running the Game

Jet's player could not make this session, but RB's player rejoined the group, which made the table a veteran's table.

This session was pretty much 'off-script' from the original module, partly because I didn't like how contrived the original storyline went (the hooks were basically anonymous tips from an alien benefactor), and partly because I wanted to give the players more free rein so the whole campaign is more organic. As it turned out everything they did was not something that I had specifically planned for.

I had initially expected them to travel to Hirceptus and try to confront Amahrius over Lamar's revelations, but they instead went back to Earth, which I was totally not expecting.

They then traveled to Hirceptus as I had expected, but chose instead to investigate the satellite instead of the surface, which I expected them to. Still, I was able to use the Serran swordsman, which I was planning to use for another encounter.

Finally, they chose to investigate a system that had fallen tot eh Grens, so I had to make up a name and an encounter on the fly. I had some vague idea that they may stumble across a derelict ship with some Grens inside, so I had the stats for the Grens ready, but I did not have the figurines ready, and it broke the momentum of the game when I had to dig them out.

Of the two fights they had in this session, the first one was the deadlier one, with three out of four characters having sustained two wounds. The second fight by contrast saw fewer hits on the PCs, but due to the lead up to the encounter and the fact that the party was divided, the level of anxiety was much higher.

At this point of the campaign they have gathered a lot of clues and learned a lot about the Grens, and there really is just one major plot point to reveal before the last act.

I do feel that so far I have not myself appreciated the scale of the destruction and loss of lives inflicted by the Grens, and thus had not conveyed that to the players. I plan to remedy that in the next session by putting the PCs on a system when a Gren invasion arrives.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Seven Worlds #4 - Broken Circle

Campaign Diary

The Magpie dropped out of hyperspace at the Tazanian system of Uppulu, where the crew were detained by the military. But once their identities were verified and their account of the battle corroborated by the civilians on the ships that fled Tabari, the data on the aliens they have received from the UC fleet were received with much gratitude, and they were permitted to return to the Neutral Zone.

Due to the Telenet crash, news of the battle had just preceded the crew's arrival at GCP. It turned out that about half of the ships in the second wave of the UC fleet managed to withdraw before being engaged by the aliens, although the commander chose to fight to the last with those in the first wave.

For a while the crew were divided on what their next move should be: to try to access one of the Telenet satellites to learn why the system crashed, to try to learn more about the aliens, or to continue their search for Lamar. Eventually they decided that Lamar's disappearance must have been linked with the crashing of the Telenet, and Jet, Nick, AJ and Kumra decided to return to Earth to deliver the data their have on the aliens to the UC, and to try to pick up Lamar's tracks again.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Arriving at Earth, they learned that news had arrived the UC had declared a unilateral ceasefire, and had moved all their ships out of the Neutral Zone. They were met at the spaceport by the UC miliatry, and invited to the Defence Department to debrief the UC Undersecretary for Defence; during the debrief, the crew coined a name for these aliens: Gren - short for Grendel, whom Beowulf fought.

Leaving the UC HQ, Nick and Kumra used their connections in the criminal world to track down Monty 'the mover', an 'independent operator' in Boston who specialised in helping people obtain new identities and go off-world. With some aggressive persuasion from Kumra, Monty revealed that he did indeed help Lamar switch his implanted ID chip and help him get on a transport, but in exchange for the information, he wanted the crew to get him off-world; Telenet, he revealed, had sent some hired help to try to get the information off him, and he knew it would be unwise to remain on Earth once they realised he had knowledge of Lamar's whereabouts.

The next day the crew met Monty, now with a new identity, at the spaceport. Lamar, he told them, had assumed the identity of one Antoine Novak, and had asked to the taken to StarMart at Wotan V, a place familiar to our crew. StarMart was a 'truck stop' that orbited Wotan V, a gas giant, and was a pit stop for ships making the 'Catalian Run', a route that went through an uninhabited stretch of the galaxy.

Arriving at StarMart, they learned that two more Tazanian systems had fallen to the Grens. The attacks were similar: the Gren ships dropped out of hyperspace barely two hours from the systems, leaving little time for the people to escape.

Jet attempted to hack into StarMart's database to pick up Lamar's trail, but the laptop Hassel-Hoffa gave him crashed, forcing him to use a shared terminal at an internet cafe. Here he was luckier, and found that Antoine Novak had arrived at StarMart as Monty had said, and had soon left the station on PEC-2, a transport ship based at Harris Station, which was the station that mined Helium from the atmosphere of Wotan V, in the company of one Mr Ogden, the Chief Engineer of Harris Station; what is more, Ogden was at that moment on StarMart!

The crew found out the berth the PEC-2 was docked at, and staked it out. Sure enough, they soon saw Ogden walking to the ship. Nick noticed that Ogden was being trailed by a man in a helmet and a droid. The crew acted nonchalant and let Ogden pass them, but when the man saw Nick, he turned to the droid, grabbed hold of its arms, and pulled on them - the droid's forearms were a pair of disguised blaster pistols, and they hid another pair of pistols that were attached to his arms!

The man and the droid started shooting at Nick and AJ, who charged at their attackers. Kumra grabbed Ogden and pulled him into a side corridor, and asked Jet to keep him safe, before charging into the the fight too. Jet told the confused Ogden that they were there to help him, and convinced him to open the door to his ship, and then rushed in to grab the blaster pistol that was kept in the cockpit (carried as standard against pirate attacks), but when he returned the fight was almost over. Despite being unarmed, AJ and Nick managed to disarm the man, while Kumra managed to break off both of the droid's arms. Sensing imminent defeat, the man ducked out of the fight, and pressed a button on the console on his forearm: the droid began to emit a beeping sound...

The crew dived for cover as the droid exploded; AJ and Kumra were unharmed, but Nick took a shrapnel in his chest, and the man had vanished.

The crew returned to the Magpie, and followed Ogden back to Harris Station, some four hours away on the other side of Wotan V. Here, they finally met Lamar Hassel-Hoffa. Lamar recognised the crew, and related his story to them:

A few months ago, while checking the codes he wrote for the next upgrade for Telenet, Lamar noticed some strange codes which he had not written. They seemed to be for a parallel transmitting system which he did not know about. When he questioned his employers, he was told that they were by a second team working on redundancy and business continuity, and asked to focus on his part of the work only. When his brother James called him regarding the strange signal recorded on the footage from the Beowulf a few weeks later, he decided to look into the codes again, and found additional lines that triggered a 'suicide sequence' that would wipe the codes on all Telenet satellites simultaneously, while leaving the parallel transmitting system intact. Curious as to its purpose, he decided to add more commands to the code, such that the data trail for the activation of the suicide sequence would be sent to him. Then, on a hunch, he hacked into his personnel files, and found that he had been scheduled for 'termination' by the company. Unwilling to wait to find out what 'termination' meant exactly, he decided to go off-world, and managed to find refuge as a chemical engineer at Harris Station with his old classmate Ogden.

Due to the crash of Telenet, Lamar had only just managed to access the data that he programmed to be sent to him, and by a process of triangulation, he was able to determine that the source of the signal that initiated the suicide sequence came from Hirceptus, home planet of Amahrius of the Serran Brotherhood.

Before the crew could make sense of the revelation, they were interrupted by Ogden: two fast ships of the type favoured by pirates had just 'crested' Wotan V and come into the sensors of Harris Station, and they were closing quickly...

Prepping and Running the Game

Broken Circle is actually the 4th module in the Seven Worlds campaign, but I felt that it would fit better as the third module we played.

The module involved the crew investigating a report of the sighting of Lamar at a space station, and them picking up his trail and finding him at a Helium mining station.

I kept the basic structure of the module, but allowed the players to decide what they wanted to do after the events of the last session. As a back-up I planned to have another teamster send Jet a photo of someone who looked like Hassel-Hoffa (Lamar) taken at a bar on StarMart, and have the PCs investigate, but I prefer the path they took.

I planned for there to be two fights: one with the bounty hunter and his droid at the bar, and a follow-up running battle as the two try to get to Harris Station before the Magpie.

I had expected the crew to do so old-fashioned police leg work and speak with people and try to find Lamar, but of course they would try some electronic sleuthing instead. As it turned out Jet's player failed to make the roll four times (burning three Bennies in the process), and I ruled that the state-of-the-art laptop that he had requested crashed. This may have consequences downstream, as the breakdown of communications and the chaos that would follow as the Grens destroy more worlds will mean finding gear and parts will become harder.

And speaking of Grens - I asked the players to come up with a name for the aliens (named Devourers in Seven Worlds), and it took them several minutes of brainstorming before they came up with Grendel. I think that's a pretty cool and evocative name.

Next week should see the return of another character from our previous campaign, so stay tuned!

Friday, November 01, 2019

Terrinoth #42 - Laboratory of the Forsaken

Campaign Diary

A voice called out from the other side of the door.

"My lord, is everything all right? I heard a  noise - had there been another accident?"

Assuming the dead count's voice, Therion replied that there had indeed been a mishap, and warned the man from entering.

"Very well. The carriage is ready," the man replied and left.

The party began to plot their exit, but before they could arrive at a plan, a ghostly female form appeared over the pool in the cavern.

The ghost declared herself to be Lady Mirabel, the count's late wife. Holzel, (for that was the count's name) she explained, would periodically marry a noble woman and then murder her. He would at the same time kidnap a male infant and, announcing that his wife had died in labour, present the infant as his child and heir. When the child came of age, he would in turn murder him, announce his own death, and assume the child's identity - by this means he had managed to hold his title and demesne over many centuries. Regular change of the servants and guards at the castle helped to keep the secret.

Holzel, the ghost continued, had for years been labouring on some alchemical experiment in his mansion in the forest, and had for centuries sacrificed his many wives and "children" to it - she herself was the latest victim, and now Kolthar, the teenage "son" of the count the party had seen, was to be sacrificed too. Her soul, she said, could not rest as part of her life essence had been trapped inside Holzel's experiment, and she could only manifest at the pool at the bottom of the castle well, which was once the place she went to for solace. She did not know what the exact nature of the experiment was, but she knew it must be evil, and she begged the heroes to travel to the mansion to save Kolthar and end the experiment.

Tom, Giso, and Whisper were willing to take on the mission, but Therion asked for a reward (click here for PC profiles); Lady Mirabel promised to reveal where Holzel kept his treasures if they would save the child and release her soul.

Just then the voice at the door returned, announcing once more that the carriage was ready to take the count to the mansion, but that the bodyguards Lazar was supposed to send had yet to arrive.

Assuming Holzel's voice again, Therion declared that they had arrived earlier and were indeed with him in the cavern. They stripped Holzel of his clothes and hid his body in a sarcophagus. Therion called up some minor enchantment to mend the clothes, and then donning them, he pulled the hood on the cloak over his head, and the party strode out.

A small party of guards were awaiting their arrival at the courtyard, but in the darkness and with his face partially hidden, no one realised that Therion was not in fact the count. Arriving at the carriage, Tom dismissed the guard sitting beside the driver, and the party entered the carriage. The driver drove the carriage to the waiting barge, which carried it to the north bank of the river.

For two hours the carriage passed through the forest, which gave our heroes time to rest and recover. As they neared the mansion, they began to notice signs of death: trees stood withered, and streams were fouled with the stench of dead fish.

When they at last arrived at the mansion, they saw that it was a two-storeyed wooden building, surrounded by a tall wall. Therion dismissed the driver, ordering him to return the next evening, and then the party entered the foyer.

Inside, they found the place sparsely furnished, but clean. While they wondered where to go next, they heard the sound of an organ coming from a room from across the foyer.

Standing at the doorway Therion saw a man dressed in the clothes of a noble seated at a pipe organ. The man began to speak with Therion, mistaking him for Holzel, and thanked him for inviting him to the final ritual, which will bring to fruition the plans they have been making for three hundred years, and which would allow them to challenge the power of Waiqar.

Before long, however, the man began to grow suspicious, and when he moved to throw back Therion's mood, the party attacked him with the bog oak weapons they have prepared, and quickly took him down. As the man's body laid on the floor, the party saw a few skeletal figures approach the room from the foyer - but these skeletons did not carry weapons, but brooms!

Two of the skeletons picked up the dead body, and began to move back into the foyer, while a third began mopping the floor, cleaning up the mess that the fight had caused. The party followed the two skeletons into the kitchen, where several other skeletons were standing, as if they were waiting for their turns to go to work. The skeletons brought the body into the cellar, and then into chamber where several carcasses of animals were hung, and hooked it to one of the meat hooks, and then they returned to the kitchen.

There were no signs of any living person or creature in the mansion - who or what were the carcasses meant to feed?

Venturing deeper into the cellar, our heroes found a passage that led to a maze. Giso called upon Kellos to bless his shield with a glowing light, and the party entered the maze. The passages branched and turned, making it impossible for our heroes to keep their bearings, and after a while they found themselves ending back at the entrance to the maze. They decided to venture into the maze again, this time using a barrel of wine they found in the cellar to leave a trail on the floor, and Whipser marking the way they went with chalk, but once more they found themselves back at the entrance - the wine trail and chalk marks had strangely disappeared!

On their third venture into the maze, they at last found themselves in a part they had not seen earlier. Here, they notice two skeletal figures approaching them from two ends of the corridor, seemingly floating just a few inches off the ground, and their limbs motionless.

Giso and Tom decided to try to rush past one of the skeletons... and found themselves running into a wall of cold, transparent slime! Belatedly, our heroes realised that the skeletons were actually enveloped in some form of living slime, which no doubt had been cleaning up the wine trail and chalk marks they had made.

Giso and Tom felt their lives being suffocated out of them, and it was with great difficulty that they managed to extricate themselves. Hemmed in by on both ends, our heroes struggled to fight off their silent attackers: Whispers sword and fists seemed impotent against the things, but at last Therion and Giso came upon the idea of using their powers to alternately freeze and then burn the things, which eventually destroyed them.

The party continued onward, deeper into the maze, and at last came before a door guarded by a strange humanoid figure, whose body seemed to be stitched together from several different bodies.

Therion strode forward, once more pretending to be Holzel, and the creature unlocked the door with a key, and handed him a flask of yellow liquid, "for his protection".

Therion dismissed the creature, and the party entered the room behind the door. It was a large hall with its roof supported by several tall pillars. At the far end was a round pool, inside which bubbled a viscous, yellow fluid. Standing by the pool was Lazar, and beside him was Kolthar, who appeared groggy and unsteady on his feet.

Lazar recognised our heroes at a glance, and immediately surmised that they must have defeated his master and taken his clothes and sword. Announcing that he would nevertheless help his master complete the ritual and complete his work, he began to drag Kolthar closer to the edge of the pool.

But before he could push the helpless boy in, Tom leapt forward and cast his throwing knife at Lazar. The blade spun in the air, burst into fire, and itself in Lazar's chest. The loyal servant's eyes widened in shock, and then he fell into the pool.

The bubbling of the yellow liquid increased. Therion hurled the flask of yellow liquid into the pool, but that did nothing to quell its stirring. Soon some of the viscous liquid began to extrude from the pool, like so many tentacles. The tentacles began to strike at Tom, burning his skin with acid where they landed. Whisper ran forward and pulled Kolthar to safety, hiding him behind a pillar.

The viscous fluid now formed into a large blob, and with the aid of its tentacles crawled out of the pool and began to move towards the party. Our heroes made for the door, but the creature outside had by now realised that he had been duped by Therion - he locked the door, trapping the party inside the hall.

The blob seemed proof against the heroes' weapons and spells, and for a while things looked grim. Then Therion threw Holzels rapier at the blob - it lodged inside it, but did not seem to do any harm... until Therion started playing his hurdy gurdy; the music caused the rapier to vibrate rapidly, and soon it began to glow with heat. Bubbles began to form inside the blob, and after a while the bubbles rose to the surface of the blob, and steam emerged.

The blob started to move back towards to pool, but our heroes would not allow it. They surrounded it, and set upon it with all their might; bits of the blob were hacked off, and as they fell to the floor they lost their firmness and dissolved into liquid, until at last the blob ceased its movement, lost its form, and became a puddle on the ground. Therion recovered the rapier, and returned it to its sheath.

Our heroes peered into the pool - the water was now still and black, and smelled foul. Therion used the enchantment from his ring to move the water out of the pool, hoping to see how deep it went; but as the water level began to fall, the ground began to shake. Soon the columns started shifting - and the roof slabs began to shift - the hall was collapsing!

Our heroes grabbed Kolthar and rushed to the door, and Giso began to hack at it with his hammer; but Whisper was quicker with her lockpicks, and unlocked the door in a flash, catching the guardian creature by surprise. Giso struck the creature down, and with his glowing shield lighting the way, lead the party through the maze back to the cellar, and from thence out of the mansion. Moments afterwards, the mansion collapsed.

Prepping and Running the Game

The B Team arc was supposed to have ended with the previous session in September, but a few days before that I learned about the module "Weekend at Strahd's", and thought it would make an interest "Halloween Special" finale instead. I ended the session on a cliffhanger, and hoped that the module, which was then yet unreleased, would give me enough material to run a comedic session where the PCs have to go around with the body of the dead count making it look like he was still alive.

Except the module didn't do that.

Still, I liked the idea of the PCs having to do the "Weekend at Bernie's" thing, so I looked for a reason to why they would have to do so. The obvious answer is that they are discovered, and need to hide the fact that they had killed the count. Then I needed to make sure they couldn't just walk out of the castle once they are out of the cavern, so I decided that the carriage was waiting and would be taking them somewhere else. But that still didn't prevent them from jumping out of the carriage, or just running off once they reached their destination...

The breakthrough came when I found the module Laboratory of the Forsaken by Fantasy Craft. The setting of a mansion was of course fitting, as was the idea of a laboratory where a mad scientist had been performing 'unholy' experiments, and the final key was the ghost of the wife of the mad scientist begging the PCs to help her soul rest.

Unfortunately, my players did not go whole hog with the Weekend thing, and only disguised one of themselves as the count. Still, that provided some role-playing opportunities.

The module also gave me a chance to use oozes, something which is an iconic part of D&D, but which I have struggled to fit into Terrinoth. This module allowed me to introduce oozes as a reasonable encounter, and also make them a 'limited edition' monster which have no reason to be found in other locales.

The combat with the two gelatinous cubes was played with slightly modified rules. I picked the maze map on my Big Book of Maps, and placed the PCs in a spot where their exits are blocked by the cubes. The cubes would move one space per turn, while the PCs could move two. This made combat almost like that game where you had to shift blocks of stones around while being pursued by a mummy.

The yellow ooze in the final fight was statted as a Black Pudding, but was given a yellow colour because that was the colour of the model we had. The vial of yellow liquid was supposed to allow one character to be immune to the digestive juices of the ooze, but Therion's player, to everyone's dismay, chose to hurl it into the ooze instead. Fortunately, he did manage to save the day by using the rapier and the Heat Metal spell to defeat the ooze.

All in all we had a fun session, but towards the end I realised that I had committed another error: by allowing them to save the count's heir, they now have a young and potentially impressionable noble who is in their debt. I have no doubt the players will leverage on this.

Once again, the B Team had acquired a strategic asset despite being, well, the B Team in our group. They now have a hidden keep in a swamp which commands a hidden causeway which can be used as a smuggling route, potentially a priory to 'inherit', and the favours of a young noble.

It may be many months before we return to B Team again, but I am keen to complete their involvement with Weiss, the other vampire drug-dealer in this saga. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Seven Worlds #3 - Divided We Fall

The Magpie tries to stop the opposing fleets from coming to blow
Campaign Diary

"Good news, everyone - " Hassel-Hoffa exclaimed as he walked into the hangar with Nick, Kumra, and AJ, "our old friend Amahrius is here!"

Sure enough, before the crew was Amahrius, his security chief Colben, and assistant Lindsay. Amahrius greeted his old comrades, and explained that he was on a stopover on his way to Mathus, the Tazanian capital, in a last ditch effort to prevent the war; although war had been formally declared, it would be weeks before both sides could mobilise fully - but that window is closing.

After the brief meeting, Nick, Kumra, and AJ boarded the Magpie and began their journey to Caeora, where they would rendezvous with the hab-ship (habitat-ship). Jet would remain at the headquarters to continue his search for Lamar.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Three days afterwards, the crew arrived at Caeora, an industrial planet, where the crew met with the crew of the Kobold, a mining hab-ship: the hab-ship would travel to its destination, whereupon it would "transform" into the miner's workplace and living quarters, and the crew would return on the Magpie.

The Kobold was owned by Capstone Mining, a name which was unfamiliar to AJ. A search online revealed that is was a newly incorporated company, formed just four weeks ago, and jointly owned by a few conglomerates, some of which were based in the United Confederation. Its destination was the Keelan asteroid belt, a region which AJ knew was previously surveyed and found to be not cost-efficient for mining - perhaps Capstone was betting that the coming war would raise the price of whatever resource they were planning to mine and make operations profitable?

Our crew took over the cockpit of the Kobold and docked the Magpie with the larger ship. The first two days of the journey was uneventful, although AJ found his attempts to inspect the operational part of the Kobold or to learn more about the nature of the miners' operations rebuffed, on account of "corporate secrets".

The first two days of the journey were uneventful. Then, on the third day, just a few hours before the ship would exit hyperspace, Wilson, the chief of the miners, entered the bridge of the Kobold, and pulled his blaster on Nick and ordered him to drop out of hyperspace. Nick attempted to resist, but was knocked out by the blaster. Minutes later, Kumra and AJ, woken up by the jolt of the ship exiting hyperspace, found themselves held at gun-point by four of the miners.

The crew were locked inside a storeroom with no view. Not long afterwards, the ship entered hyperspace again. For three days our heroes planned their escape, and when the ship exited hyperspace once more, Nick decided to feign illness so he could leave the storeroom.

The wary guards opened the door, and the crew now saw that they were dressed in UC military uniforms. The soldiers entered the storeroom warily,with their guns drawn (but still set to stun), and escorted Nick to the infirmary. As he passed by the windows along the way, Nick saw that the Kobold was heading towards a gas giant orbiting a red dwarf; and orbiting the gas giants were dozens of UC warships.

After a quick examination, the medic at the infirmary declared that Nick was in fact fit as an ox, and should be sent back to the storeroom. Nick's attempt to palm a scalpel ended only in him cutting himself, to the amusement of the soldiers. When they opened the door of the storeroom once more, however, AJ and Kumra were ready; the crew rushed the soldiers, knocked them out, and took their blasters.

The crew decided to try to enter the operational area of the Kobold to learn the true nature of the hab-ship, but instead triggered the alarm. With little option left, they stormed the cargo bay to reach the docking port to the Magpie, and entered the freighter... to find its communications module disabled, and its fuel tanks almost empty.

Nick turned on the astronavigation module and learned that they were in the Folken system, right on the border of Tazanian space, and that the only inhabited system they could reach with their limited fuel was Tabari, a border system that linked two more densely colonised parts of the empire. As Kumra and Aj repaired the communication system, Nick took the Magpie away from the Kobold, and headed towards the edge of the gravity well.

They soon found themselves being pursued by a UC frigate, but Nick's skillful piloting allowed them to outdistance their pursuers, and enter into hyperspace.

Two hours later, they emerged at Tabari, where they found a dozen Tazanian warships in orbit. They were soon intercepted by a Tazanian frigate and boarded. The Tazanians at first accused the crew to be spies, but when their identities were made known, they were put in communication with the leader of the Tazanian task force: it was Irkalla, sister of the murdered ambassador and niece of the Tazanian Emperor.

When Irkalla learned of the UC fleet massed at the border, she gave orders for the remaining civilians on Tabari to be evacuated, and for the task force to prepare for battle, and for the Magpie to be refueled.

Irkalla bade the crew to leave while they still could, for this was not their war, but they refused, believing still that they could stop the war. Not long afterwards, dozens of blips appeared on the starmap screen: the UC had invaded Tazanian space.

As the UC fleet headed towards Tabari the crew was hailed by one of the UC cruisers: it was Wilson, who was in fact a major with the combat engineers - he berated the crew for their actions, which put in jeopardy the UC's plan to end the war swiftly, which would prevent the unnecessary loss of lives.

The crew took the Mapgie between the two fleets, and tried to convince both sides that the whole war had been a set-up. Irkalla replied that regardless of that, the insult to the Imperial house meant war was the only available course of action, while Commodore Holden, commander of the UC fleet, believed that war between the two sides was inevitable anyway, and did not plan to deviate from his orders.

Then, just when the UC fleet was closing into range of the Tazanian fleet, a dozen blips appeared on the starmap, well within the gravity well of the Tabari system. The crew felt the hair on the back of their necks rise. Moments later, the Telenet communications system shut down.

The ships switched over to short-range communications and the crew told Commodore Holden and Irkalla that what they were facing was similar to what the Beowulf had encountered. The new blips began to accelerating at a rate beyond that which was tolerable to human or Tazanian physiology towards Tabari. The UC and Tazanian fleets paused, and then both despatched a few ships to intercept the newcomers. As these ships reached visual range of the newcomers, they relayed the images back to the parent fleets: a dozen... vessels? each the size of a battlecruiser but with an organic appearance, and having no visible means of propulsion, were heading towards them.

Attempts to communicate with these bio-ships were met with missiles that issued from what looked like pores or portholes on their sides. The missiles quickly depleted the shields on the UC and Tazanian ships, and in less than a minute, they were destroyed.

As the bio-ships continued to head towards Tabari, Irkalla ordered the Tazanian fleet to intercept them so the civilian ships could evacuate safely. Commodore Holden issued the same order to the UC fleet, and at Nick's request, ordered Major Wilson's ship to get to the nearby Telenet satellite to attempt to restore its operations.

As the Magpie and Major Wilson's ship headed for the satellite, they could see the bio-ships tear through the fleets, seemingly impervious to their return fire. Despite the best efforts of the small Tazanian force, a couple of the bio-ships broke through their lines, shot down a few civilian transports, and began bombarding Tabari.

More blips appeared on the starmap - it was the second wave of the UC fleet. With Telenet down, there was no way to warn them of the threat.

Wilson's ship was the first to reach the satellite, but before his crew could even dock with the satellite, a bio-ship came within shooting range, and quickly destroyed it and then the satellite.

Nick steered for the edge of the gravity well - with no means to defeat these bio-ships, the best thing they could do now was to warn the rest of the galaxy. He sent another message to Commodore Holden, requesting all the data his fleet gathered on the bio-ships to be sent to the Magpie.

The bio-ship that destroyed the satellite now turned its attention to the Magpie. As Nick pushed the Magpie to its limits, Kumra turned its stern guns on their pursuer. Where the laser struck the body of the bio-ship, the sheen upon it would fade, and then quickly reappear. Kumra kept up the fire, until at last the laser seemed to pierce through the skin of the bio-ship, and ichor spilled into space.

The bio-ship slowed down.

The UC flagship transmitted the scan of the bio-ships to the Magpie, and moments later, beset by three bio-ships, went silent. By now most of the warships were crippled and adrift in space. The bio-ships now spat out larger missiles, which attached themselves to the hulls of these ships: boarding pods.

Nick took the Magpie into hyperspace.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session is based on the second module in the Seven Worlds campaign. The original plot featured a ruse involving a secret jump point, but as my setting did not utilise jump points, I altered it to a secret and technically illegal concentration area within the Neutral Zone.

This session was more rail-roady than the first two, and I committed the GM sins of capturing the PCs, and of not allowing their actions to alter the course of event. Again, my players were cool with it.

In the first half of the session they were proactive in trying to figure out the real purpose of the Kobold and its crew, and while they learned enough to feel that there was something fishy going on, they did not put their suspicions into action.

In the second half of the session the players did some good roleplaying as they tried to convince both sides that the whole war was a set-up and that it was a mistake to come to blows before the mastermind behind the assassination was found; I felt kind of bad that despite their efforts the events would unfold the same way.

The remaining modules are all rail-roady to different extents, which is unavoidable for a seven-episode campaign - I will have to work at ameliorating this.

The climax of the session was the face-off between the two fleets. I think here the use of the map and the starship models helped a lot in setting the scene and making it look more epic.

We will be taking a break from gaming next week, and the week afterwards we will be playing a Halloween game instead, so we will return to this campaign in the month of November. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Seven Worlds #2 - Rumours of War II

AJ blows a hole in the wall to create an escape route for the crew
Campaign Diary

"Split up!," Nick said, and he quickly stepped away from the lockers. One of the four men headed towards the crew peeled off an followed Nick.

Jet headed towards a side exit, and another man veered to follow him. AJ started to move towards the turnstiles, but just then the crowd leaving a train that had just arrived at the station headed towards them, blocking his way.

As the remaining two men pushed through the crowd to head towards them, Kumra noticed that they each had a hand under their jacket, and started to tear off the door of the locker they had just opened to use as a weapon.

(click here for PC profiles)

But before he could do so, one of them men reached him and, flashing a blaster under his jacket, demanded Kumra hand over what he had found inside the locker. Kumra made a grab for the gun, and after some struggle wrested it from the man. But the fracas has drawn the attention of the other commuters, and soon the station security arrived.

In the meantime, Jet had given his pursuer the slip and reached the car. Driving around the block, he soon spotted AJ, who had also eluded his pursuer. When the duo saw police cars arriving on the scene, they decided to drive off.

Inside the station, the station security had disarmed Kumra, and detained him and Nick, as well as their pursuers. When the police arrived, the men revealed themselves to be Telenet corporate security agents, who had followed the crew after learning that the crew had broken into the home of one of their employees.

All four were brought back to the station, where they were interrogated. Fortunately for the crew, AJ had kept the memory card, and the police did not find anything incriminating on Nick and Kumra. Kumra was released soon afterwards and told that Telenet had decided not to press any charges, but Nick was detained for further investigation into his United Confederation ID tag, which he had illegally removed when he fled the UC years ago.

Kumra reunited with AJ and Jet. AJ called on his contact in the black market to try to identify the memory card, and was told that it could be a military or a proprietary system, which was not accessible by other systems. When Jet's attempt to jury-rig a reader for the card failed, the crew decided to return to Galactic Core Point.

Back at the GTC HQ, the crew reported their findings to Hassel-Hoffa, who informed them that Lamar had mentioned that Telenet had its own hardware and software system, with a proprietary source code that rendered it immune to hacking from other systems. The crew decided that to read the contents of the memory card, they would need to access a Telenet facility... but the security at the Telenet HQ was too advanced to risk a break-in.

Then Kumra had an idea: break into a Telenet satellite!

Now the Telenet satellites were unmanned, but they required a regular supply of fuel, which was what Beowulf was delivering when contact with it was lost. Beowulf had a one-time access code key to the satellite at HP-3 - if the crew could locate Beowulf, and if the key was still on the ship, they might just be able to access the satellite.

The crew prepared for their mission: AJ packed a small supply of explosives, and Kumra obtained three decoy drones, which he set to Beowulf's transponder signal. When they were in hyperspace, Kumra turned off the Magpie's transponder code.

A few days later, the Magpie was at Beowulf's last known location. After several hours of scanning, their sensors located the vessel, adrift in the asteroid field near HP-3. When they reached visual range of Beowulf, they found a two-yard wide hole in the side of its hull - normal docking between the two ships was not going to be possible.

Kumra launched grappling hooks from the Magpie through the hull in Beowulf, set the ship on autopilot to match Beowulf's drift, and the crew donned their vacuum suit and entered the derelict vessel.

The hole opened into the cargo hold, which was empty. The sides of the hole did not appear like it had been made by blaster fire, but that it had been melted or corroded by some form of strong acid. The crew moved to the bow of the ship, and Kumra entered the code to the cockpit - as a safety measure, the doors to a ship are powered by batteries that are separate from the power system of the ship. At that moment, the door to the engineering section in the aft opened, and blaster fire issued from there - pirates!

Jet rolled to one side of the cargo hold and returned fire. Kumra and AJ entered the cockpit to find two more pirates waiting inside with their blasters drawn; but in the confines of the small freighter blasters were of little use - the crew put their fists and feet to work, and soon there were three dead pirates and one begging for his life.

The pirate told the crew that his crew had come upon Beowulf's wreckage several weeks earlier. Boarding the ship, they found signs of violence, but no trace of the crew. They looted the fuel, stripped the ship of its computers, and then decided to use it as bait and attack any salvagers that came after them. Returning with the pirate to the Magpie, Kumra made him contact his ship, which was hiding behind an asteroid.

When the pirate captain learned that his men had inadvertently ambushed Kumra Ka'an, he offered his apology, and agreed to Kumra's proposal to trade the code key he had looted off Beowulf for his men.

The crew waited for the pirate ship to exit the system, and then made their way to the Telenet satellite. The satellite was the size of a small building; while it was designed to operate unmanned, its interior was built to accommodate maintenance and repair crew. Kumra turned one of the decoy drones on, and initiated docking procedures. To the crew's relief, the access code was accepted, and the Magpie docked with the cargo area of the satellite.

Once they were inside, Jet quickly hacked into the door separating the cargo area with the secured area of the station. Using a fire-escape plan they found on the wall, they located the control area.

Entering the control room, they found a computer terminal with a card reader slot that matched the memory card they found. Kumra slid the card into the slot. The screen lit up.

"Please enter your user id and password."

The crew entered Lamar's full name... and then his brother name for the password.

"Password error. Access denied."

On a hunch, Kumra entered the license plate number on Lamar's Mini Cooper.

"Login successful."

The crew let out a small cheer, and Jet began to access the contents of the memory card. It soon became clear that it contained Lamar's personnel file, including his CV, application to Telenet, his interview notes and security check...

As Jet pored over the notes, Kumra and AJ noticed a clanking sound coming from the corridor outside. They popped their heads out of the doorway to find two Mark IV security droids headed towards the room - they must have triggered a silent alarm!

The crew traded fire with the droids, but were soon forced to retreat as two more droids joined the firefight. Kumra shut the sliding door and jammed it with his knife, and yelled for Jet to "find something!" on the file and prepare to leave.

But with four security droids waiting for them outside the only door out of the room, the crew had to find another way out.

AJ set some explosives against the far wall, and the remainder against the door.

Jet got to the last file on the card, which was a memo that read, rather ominously:

Subject is aware of K-code; initiate termination protocol.

"Got it!" he yelled, as he pulled out the memory card.

AJ hit the detonator trigger, and two explosions went off simultaneously. A door-size hole was made in the far wall - the force of the explosion was so great it took out the door in the opposite wall; but the explosion against the door was not sufficient to take out the security droids.

The crew rushed through the hole in the wall. The droids pursued them, shooting blasters from their arms as they did so. Jet was hit several times and wounded. Kumra picked up the loose door from the ground and used it as a shield to cover their retreat. AJ picked up the wounded Jet, and the three fled towards the cargo area and into the safety of the Magpie.

Kumra undocked the ship from the satellite, pulled away, and then decided that for good measure, they should turn around and destroy the area of the station that held the servers and wipe out any camera footage of their break-in.

Then, as the Magpie cleared the gravity well of HP-3, he launched two decoy drones in different directions, and took the Magpie into hyperspace, towards GCP.

When they returned once more to GTC Headquarters, they found Nick already there.

By now the news of the "terrorist attack" on the Telenet satellite dominated the airwaves, with the United Confederation and the Tazanian Empire both accusing the other side of being responsible for it. Curiously, despite Kumra's not-so-elaborate ruse, the name Beowulf was not mentioned in any of the reports. The Tazanian embassy staff had arrived at Mathus, bearing the body of the dead ambassador, and war seemed inevitable now.

Hassel-Hoffa was disappointed that the contents of the memory card did not reveal Lamar's whereabouts, but now the imminent war was the greater worry on everyone's mind. Clearly this was was engineered by someone; but who would want to start a galactic war?

"My mama always said: if you want to know who did it, just follow the money," Jet mused.

His remark gave Hassel-Hoffa a sudden realisation; he left the room, and returned with a thick sheaf of paper. The company, he explained, had received a surge in orders recently, which he had assumed was due to people hoarding before the coming war. Perhaps they could find some pattern that would indicate that some faction had something to gain from a war?

The crew started to look through the orders. Many were from companies that were from the United Confederation, or were partially owned by companies from the UC, but this in it self was not unusual. After a few hours, they decided that the orders seemed rather random, and did not seem to implicate any single organisation, or point to goods being shipped to any particular system.

Then Kumra had a thought: what if the reason why the orders looked so random was because someone had deliberately made them look random?

"Well then perhaps the best way to find out if there is something fishy about these orders, is to deliver one of these orders yourself!" Hassel-Hoffa suggested.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was a continuation of the first module in the Seven Worlds series, with some amendments. The original module required the PCs to enter a VR fantasy game to find some clues, and then break into Telenet's VR office to decipher those clues. As I have decided to abandon the whole VR things for my campaign, I needed to come up with something else.

I figured that for something as important as the galactic network, Telenet would not be using off-the-shelf technology, so I decided that they had a whole unique software and hardware system that was physically incompatible with other systems, which would make it hard to hack.

Once that was decided, there were two clear sites where the PCs could access the software: a Telenet office, or a Telenet satellite. I guessed correctly that the players would go for a satellite instead of the office, although I was prepared to run with it if they had chosen the office instead.

The session ran pretty much as expected; for the password to Lamar's account I had in mind "minicooper", but when the player suggested the car's license plate number, I thought it made more sense and just went with it.

For the final part of the session I was very glad that Jet's player made the "follow the money" remark, which allowed me to segue into the plotline about the increase in freight orders.

We are taking a break coming Monday, and the session the week after will reveal a major plot point, before we break for a couple of weeks as I go on a short vacation. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Tribal Trojan War variant

A rather low resolution photo from today's game (yes, I have a cheap handphone), but when you are hanging out with old friends, getting high quality photos of the game, or even the game itself, is not a top priority.

We finally got to try out the Trojan War rules modifications I made to the Tribal game today. We played a small game, with two chariots and two units of foot on each side. My Hero was the first to fall to wahj's Hero, who in turn fell to a unit of foot. Martin's Chief then dismounted, stripped one set of armour, loaded it onto his chariot and ordered his driver to take it back to camp, then stripped the other set of armour, commandeered my chariot, and drove off, with fg's Chief powerless to stop him. The number of Honour points both sides had at the end was equal, but we thought Martin's side won.

The rules seem a little broken, since Heroes and Chiefs are vulnerable to only missile and thrown weapons when they are mounted, but they have to dismount to strip armour, which made them vulnerable. I suppose in future games we need more foot units, including at least one unit of missile troops on each side.

After the game we talked about other projects, and decided that we should perhaps finally get a game of aeronef going. I have in fact been having thoughts of that recently, and I have a bit of a headstart with my Dystopian Wars Ottoman ships. We are all of the opinion that whatever set of rules we choose should be simple, so if you have any suggestion, do let us know in the comments.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Seven Worlds #1 - Reunion and Rumours of War

The crew reunite (bottom right corner, from L to R): Marcelius Coban, Amahrius, Lindsay, Nick Johnson, Kumra Ka'an, and AJ Stamper. 
Campaign Diary

Our story begins at the headquarters of the Galactic Teamsters' Guild (GTC), where Nick Johnson, Kumra Ka'an, and AJ Stamper (see PC profiles here) had all come to attend the funeral of their former employer, James (Jimmy) Hassel-Hoffa XXVIth.

As the chief mourner delivered his eulogy, our crew, meeting for the first time in more than fifteen years, updated each other on their lives.

Nick, after the events of the last campaign, took to drinking, which doomed the Private Investigator business he set up; however, he had since managed to quit alcohol, and now relied on the constant consumption of coffee to get him through the day.

Kumra cashed out and bough the Magpie, their old ship, and started a business as an independent freight operator, although he was not averse to the the occasional less-than-legal deal when business was bad. His temper, however, prevented him from retaining a crew, and at the moment he was operating solo.

AJ too took to drinking, but was otherwise able to stay sober long enough to start and run a mining company of his own; however, his alcoholism had caused his partners to question his reliability, and strained their relationship.

When the chief mourner had finished the eulogy, the guests were invited to view the deceased one last time. As our crew passed his open coffin, Hassel-Hoffa suddenly sat up, and exclaimed:

"Good news, everyone - I'm not actually dead!"

He then took a stack of credits out of his suit pocket, and called Jet, and brawny young man to hand them out to the mourners (who were all hired actors) while he and the crew had a meeting.

Our bewildered crew followed Hassel-Hoffa to the conference room, where he explained that he had come out with the ruse as they had avoided his emails. The United Confederation (UC) government, he explained, was holding a parade at their Headquarters in New York to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Second Galactic Peace Treaty between The United Confederation and the Tazanian Empire, and the crew, instrumental to the peace, were invited to attend.

After confirming that the trip would be fully-paid for by the UC, our crew accepted the invitation.

Hassel-Hoffa then revealed that he had another reason for wanting the crew to travel to Earth. His brother Lamar Hassel-Hoffa, he explained, was a software genius working for Telenet, which installed and operated the galaxy-wide communications satellites that allowed communications between stars systems and ships while in hyperspace. (Prior to the invention of Telenet, ships had to upload communications from the 'cloud' at their origin system before a jump, and then download the data to the 'cloud' at their destination system, and were unable to communicate while in hyperspace.)

Four weeks ago, the GTC lost the ship "Beowulf" near HP-3, an uninhabited planet where a Telenet satellite was deployed. The final audio transmission to the GTC indicated that the crew were surprised by the sudden appearance of a ship close to them, and within the gravity well of the planet, before communications was suddenly cut off.

(Hyperspace travel was sensitive to gravity, and it was not possible to jump into or out of hyperspace within the gravity well of a system.)

Hassle-Hoffa then played the audio recording from "Beowulf" for the crew, who felt the hair on the back of their necks stand at the moment when Beowulf's crew detected the other ship.

Hassel-Hoffa forwarded the recording to his brother, asking if he knew of any similar occurrence at any of the other Telenet satellites. Lamar replied that he would look into it, but Hassel-Hoffa received no communications for the next few weeks. When he finally decided to ask Telenet, he was told that Lamar had disappeared suddenly, and that the police had been unable to locate him, despite the fact that tracking devices were implanted in all UC citizens.

The Telenet office and Lamar's home were located in Boston, and Hassel-Hoffa asked our crew to drop by after the parade in New York to see if they could learn more about Lamar's disappearance. He would send Jet, a new employee, as their assistant and driver, as well as to pay all the bills along the way.

Ten days later, our crew found themselves in New York, standing in line to clear security to enter the restricted area cordoned off for the parade, which would be held in front of the UC Building (formerly the UN Building). After passing through the cordon, guests had to walk half a mile to the building, past displays set up to tell the story of the UC, the First Galactic War and the First Galactic Peace Treaty, as well as The Order and the Second Galactic Peace Treaty that resulted from its rise and fall. The trail ended at Ralph Bunche Park. For a few moments our crew stood before the steel obelisk Peace Form One as they recalled the Serran Guidestones that led to their involvement in the crisis so many years ago, and when they were reading the inscription below, they heard a chirpy female voice behind them:

"Remarkable, isn't it? He was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, at a time when his people were an oppressed minority. It reminds me of the plight of the Serrans and the mission of the Serran Brotherhood."

They turned to see a young Serran woman, who introduced herself as Lindsania ("call me Lindsay!"), Amahrius' personal assistant. She escorted the crew through a second security cordon at the gates of the UC Building, and then through a third to enter the viewing gallery. Here were hundreds representative and dignitaries from the UC, the Tazanian Empire, and the many worlds of the Neutral Zone. Lindasy led them through the crowd to Amahrius and his Security Chief Marcelius Coban. Amahrius expressed his regret for not being able to attend Hassel-Hoffa's funeral due to his work at the Serran Brotherhood for Peace, and was told that it had all been a ruse to get the crew to come to Earth.

The parade began, and our crew took their seats in the gallery overlooking the street below where floats and marching contingents passed. Suddenly, Nick noticed synchronised footsteps behind him. He turned just in time to see three UC security troopers raise their blaster pistols. He called out a warning, but it was too late - the troopers fired several shots into the Tazanian party.

AJ charged at the troopers, but a female Rakashan intercepted him. The two struggled for a while, until AJ managed to restrain her.

"Assassin!" she hissed at AJ.

"No! I am trying to help!" AJ replied.

"Then release me!" the Rakashan said.

AJ released the Rakashan, but the attack had ended: a Rakashan bodyguard had ripped the throat of one of the troopers, while Kumra had broken the neck of a second with a single punch, while he was held in an arm-lock by Nick; the third trooper turned his blaster on himself, and shot himself through his chin.

More security troopers entered the gallery to restore order, and it soon became apparent that the target of the attack of Archduke Emmul, the Tazanian Ambassador to the UC, and nephew of the Tazanian Emperor. The female Rakashan, the ambassador's sister, now carried his limp form from the stands.

"You have murdered the Emperor's sister-son while he was under your protection. Such treachery can only be repaid by war; may your gods have mercy on your souls, for ours will not," she declared.

As she exited the gallery, she turned to AJ, and said, "Thank you."

The area was locked down, but no one dared to stop the Tazanian party. When at last they were allowed to leave, the crew returned to their hotel, where they tried to contact Amahrius to see if he could help them gain a meeting with the Tazanians so they could offer their help, but Lindsay, who answered the phone, informed them that Amahrius was in meeting with the UC authorities.

But it was already too late: they could now see on the TV Irkalla, the ambassador's sister, carrying his body through the spaceport lobby, flanked by armed Tazanians, while the UC security troopers stood by, too stunned and too afraid to stop them. After a few minutes, the Tazanian ship took off. It would be two weeks until the ship arrived back at Mathus, the Rakashan home-world. Then, war will begin.

Unwilling to stand idle while the galaxy headed towards war once more, our crew leapt into action. Nick called on his friend Edwards in the police, while Kumra asked his contacts in the criminal world if they had any information on the three attackers. Kumra's contacts drew a blank, but with Edward's help the crew were able to enter the morgue and speak with the medical examiner (which turned up little additional information), and learn the address of the trooper who shot himself, whose name was Finn Holden.

Jet drove the crew to the Holden residence, where Nick, giving the story that he had previously worked with Finn, gained his father's confidence. There, they learned that the elder Holden was a retired UC security trooper, and that young Finn had wanted to follow his father's footsteps since he was a child. He joined the academy after graduation, and had been a security trooper for four years. Like all security troopers, Finn had cleared psychological evaluations, background checks, and had no debts - there was no explanation for his actions. To comfort the grieving man, AJ offered mind-control as an explanation. The crew promised to get to the bottom of things, and left.

That night and the following day the news was filled with discussion on the impending war, from the UC top brass reassuring the people that they would both try their utmost to resolve the issue with diplomacy, and that they were ready for war, to military pundits giving their views on the relative military prowess of the two sides, to market analysts predicting a crash when the bourses open on Monday.

Amahrius called the crew that morning, apologising for not doing so sooner as he was caught in the emergency meeting after the shooting. The Serran Brotherhood would send envoys to Mathus, he informed them, but he warned them that the chances of a peaceful resolution was slim: in Rakashan culture, a man was considered the chief protector of his sister's sons, and for the ambassador to be killed while performing a duty assigned to him by his uncle was an affront that the Emperor could only respond to with war; that the ambassador was shot in the back instead of dying in combat as a Rakashan noble was expected to made it even worse.

When the crew told Amahrius that they wanted to find out the truth behind the assassination, Amahrius bade them instead to leave Earth as soon as they could, and to find a quiet corner of the galaxy to hunker down until the war was over.

With space travel still closed, our crew decided to make their way to Boston.

At Telenet headquarters in Downtown they met Stanley Morgan, the Vice President for Software Research, who told them that Lamar was working on the next-generation upgrade to the Telenet system when he suddenly disappeared. The company had co-operated with police investigations, and conducted their own investigations, but were unable to find any clues. Due to the nature of Lamar's work, he was unable to reveal any details of his research to the crew.

With little to go on, the crew traveled to Jamaica Plain, where Lamar had his residence. The crew broke into the Lamar's home, and found the place thoroughly searched by the police and his computers removed. AJ spotted a high-end bug in Lamar's study, but was unable to tell who had planted it.

The crew then visited Lamar's neighbour across the street. As it turned out the owner was one Professor Velkmann, a professor of Classics and Greek History at the nearby Hellenic College. Professor Velkmann was a friend of Lamar, and the two would often visit each other at their homes and have long conversations. When Nick expressed his surprise that a software scientist and a professor of history would have many topics in common, Professor Velkmann waved a hand at the ancient artifacts that decorated his living room.

The artifacts that a culture leaves behind, he explained, reflected its people's aspirations: a totem mask, for example, reflected the importance a culture placed on the spirit world and their connection to that world. And Telenet, which Lamar worked on, he mused, likewise reflected their culture's aspiration: to communicate, and through communication, to bring about understanding and peace.

Our crew then revealed that they had come at the request of Lamar's brother; Professor Velkmann recognised the crew, and knew that they had worked for Hassel-Hoffa. He handed them something that Lamar had passed him a couple of weeks before his disappearance, with the instruction to pass it to his brother when he visited: it was a car key, but not that of a "modern" car, but an older, antique car.

Our crew left the Professor and returned to Lamar's home and entered his garage. Inside, they found a modern car, its navigation system removed by the police, and a Mini Cooper, lovingly restored, in British Racing Green, and a Union Jack painted on its roof. The car key fit the Mini.

Searching the interior of the car, the crew found a second key in the glove compartment, this time that to a train station locker. Under the dashboard, Kumra found a homebuilt device that drew power from the car battery, and connected to a servo-motor under the hood that connected to the car's steering system. The crew removed the device and opened it, and were able to determine that it was a custom-made computer, but were unable to determine its purpose. Jet suggested they tried to connect the device to a computer, and drove the party to a nearby RadioShack. There, with various parts from the bargain bin, he was able to put together a computer that enabled him to determine that the device was built to navigate the car via servo-motors based on dead-reckoning, without accessing any external positional satellite or beacon. By superimposing the directions to a local map, Jet determined that the destination was Forest Hills station, not far from Lamar's home.

It was evening when the crew arrived at Forest Hills station. There were few commuters inside, and they soon located the locker. Inside, they found something that resembled a memory card, but did not look like it fit any of the current computer ports. As they stood at the lockers, wondering what to make of their find, Nick noticed four men headed towards them...

Prepping and Running the Game

This is a rather long campaign diary, as I had to get a lot of plot exposition and foreshadowing done.

The core plot of the session (and that of the campaign, really) is based closely on Seven Worlds, but I have of course changed the scale of the campaign from a few solar systems to the entire galaxy, and I based the main NPCs of the campaign on the NPCs the PCs have met in their previous campaign - in fact, Amahrius was one of the PCs.

When I pitched the campaign to the players, I told them to tell me what their characters had been up to in the intervening 15 years. Not surprisingly, all of them developed a substance dependence issue.

The first half of the session was a bit of a railroad, and the players went along because they knew that was the campaign I planned. What surprised me however was how the players rose to the occasion and took it upon themselves to "get to the bottom of things" and stop the galactic war. This is in stark contrast with the previous campaign when they were space truckers who were just trying to get the delivery job done without complications. At one point I had to tell them that this campaign different from the previous one, and that they should not expect to solve all the problems I throw at them in a single session.

I had a lot of fun researching for this session. For a start I decided that the UC Building would be the old UN Building, and looking at Google maps I noticed the Isaiah Wall and then Peace Form One. It occurred to me that the park would make a nice bit of foreshadowing to the campaign.

Once the attack had taken place, the players went into full gear, taking initiative in trying to first stop the Tazanian diplomatic team from leaving Earth, and then trying to investigate the three assassins. I had to make up backgrounds for the three of them on the spot, and when Nick called on his contact, I had to come up with an NPC on the fly too.

I feel a little bad that they are trying so hard to stop a war, when in truth *spoiler alert* war will come.

I set the second part of the session in Boston since it was a nice distance from New York, and the PCs could make it there and back in a single day. I had fun learning about the many neighbourhoods of Boston. The Mini Cooper was supposed to lock the PCs in itself and then drive them to the train station, but the players were cautious, which allowed Jet, the new character whose player could not attend this session, to show off what he was capable of.

At the end of the session I insisted the players write down the names of all the NPCs whom they have interacted with, partly because many of them would feature in future sessions, and partly because I was not sure I would remember the names I made up.

Over all this was not a session that gave the players many opportunities to affect the game world, but as a lead-in session, I think it achieved its purpose of introducing the major NPCs and plot elements, as well as allowing the players to get their characters invested in the plot.