Blades in the Dark: Hidden Depths

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

We played for 3 hours, with only the loosest plan ahead of time that was immediately used up and/or discarded.

Initiate of Carrow

Wolfram was invited by his Carrow contacts to iron out some details. He went to the Sorvale Crypt in the cemetery of Seven Shallows, where he met a young woman. She wanted him to sit with her and wait, and he did.

Meanwhile, twins from Carrow (Fergus and Child) went to Adelaide’s to meet with Aldo. They went downstairs to the secret rooms with him, then pounced on him and poured leviathan blood all over his torso and face.

He had a horrible moment, then hallucinated he was outside time and space in the Void. There he spoke with a figure called the Outsider, who told him he was pivotal in the coming times, and he would be observed by the Outsider. The otherworldly creature gave him power, but no instruction in how to use it; it was Aldo’s decisions the Outsider wanted to follow with interest.

the_outsider_s_mark_by_redspark_reno-d62msyvAldo woke, the leviathan blood soaked into him. It left a tattoo of the Outsider’s mark on the back of his left hand. The twins bowed to him and called him master, and he protested. They thought they would unwrap a gift for him, but the gift unwrapped him. The blood was meant to allow him to pass through the enchanted crypt door, but it did much more. They were in awe, but left. They told the girl in the crematory about what Aldo became, and Wolfram just picked up “Chosen” out of their muttered ancient Iruvian.

Aldo called Wolfram and Vincen’s Coven in to a meeting, and told them what transpired. Both the coven and Wolfram felt honored to be witness to this moment, and what would come next. They went out drinking to celebrate.

Stealing the Bard

Setup

Bazso Baz, leader of the Lampblacks and good friend to Aldo, called them in to see if the crew would be interested in helping take down the remains of the Red Sash operation. Of course they were interested!

The Red Sashes ran the Tenpenny Court Upstairs Network. It was built when regulations required buildings be no more than three stories tall. When regulations changed later, 1-3 new floors were added on top, but they often did not communicate with the floors below. This warren of high construction became an interconnected series of rooms where drugs and prostitution became entrenched.

The operation was run by Lysander, an elegant bard pimp. Lysander hated Baz, who tried to take over the operation three times, and would die before helping him run it. Also, Lysander was friends with many networks, and without him the clients and service staff and connections would dry up and the business would no longer be profitable.

Baz brought in the Unrecommendables to try and sway Lysander over to working for them; not the Red Sash, and not the Lampblacks, but out of the line of fire and no longer supporting the beleagured Red Sash.

Introduction

They found out Lysander was performing at the Thrice Fried Chicken, a theater pub where unwashed masses were at the bottom, skilled workers in the middle, and elite on the top floor.

They checked their contacts, and found that Wolfram’s friend Dr. Kepp was Lysander’s personal physician. He could get them invited to see Lysander. Also, to appear respectable, Aldo took Arlynne, his tavern owner friend. She agreed to be on his arm for most of the night, but planned to bed (and rob) a noble before the night was through.

Things went as planned. They got through the guards, to see Lysander. Their plan was to convince him they were investors who wanted to see him have a bigger stage to express his personal and directorial talent; then work into the conversation that they wanted him to work for them and not the Red Sashes. (Two big deadly Red Sash duelists served as Lysander’s bodyguards.)

The Pitch

Wolfram was utterly convincing as a star-struck fan, a hard man just opened to the world of art and beauty. Aldo played his role as investor and devotee. Even though they suggested they would fund an opera, certain it would return its investment, Lysander balked. His friends the Red Sashes were in trouble, and he didn’t have time for such a project.

They revealed more of their true nature, offering to protect his operation and give him freedom in the way the Red Sashes would not. (They thought theater was low.) Right in front of the bodyguards, Lysander told them if they could get rid of these bodyguards (who were now witnesses) he could claim it was an assassination attempt, and he would consider working with them.

If they did make it out, he would work with them if they would secure for him the Worldstage Theater, an abandoned theater under the Tenpenny Row upper rooms operation. He could then stage his production there. They agreed.

The Guards

They flashed back to ordering their adepts to get hired as wait staff; the adepts were too manky and weird. So, Aldo flashed back to bribing a waiter, and arranged for the two bodyguards (who were closely watching Aldo and Wolfram, unsure how to react to this new situation) some drugged wine.

One guard passed out, the other was too big and tough; Wolfram blew Aldo’s trance powder in his face, then ordered him to heft the other guard, and the four left happily together. The doctor enjoyed the rest of dinner with Lysander, and Arlynne went noble hunting.

Once out in the night air, Wolfram and Aldo delivered the two men to their Carrow contacts (to be disappeared and used however they liked.) They sold their swords and jewelry to Amancio for a fine profit.

The Worldstage Theater

Aldo asked around to see who owned it and what it would take to get ahold of it. He heard a bloody story from nearby building managers. Hiesmann and Jelyn were critics that were savage hecklers. One night as they were attacking a performance, someone laid into them with a machete and cut them apart, spraying their blood everywhere. Since that night, they lethally haunt the theater; first they heckle, then there are accidents, then the blood sprays.

In better news, the theater was available for back taxes only. If they could get the money together, they could buy it fair and square. Then they would have to clear the ghosts.

Meanwhile Wolfram began vetting people to put together a gang of thugs. And he didn’t care who knew about it!

They also scraped together the funds to rent a small shop space. Aldo asked Amancio if he would do them a favor and expand his business on their behalf, and Amancio graciously agreed. Now their fence runs a pawn shop!

Wanting to demonstrate there were no hard feelings, they decided to go talk to Jettilyn. Sure they invaded her space and stole her boyfriend, but that was then and this was business. They approached her at home, and told her of the job. She agreed to work for them for a small fortune, and consider whether she still felt vengeful or not.

Not wanting to borrow money from the Lampblacks or work out any other loan, they decided to pull a heist to raise the money to buy the theater. They checked to see if the Dimmer Sisters had any work for them.

The Aspect of Tsathoggua

Setup

The Dimmer Sisters’ assistant Marcy led them through gates, past giant invisible guard dogs, and into the house to meet the sisters as they knit spidersilk with their fingernails on their thrones. The Dimmer Sisters offered them a way into a secret forgotten temple space; the actual space was filled in, but there was a memory of the space under a Temple to the Ecstasy of the Flesh. The Sisters gave them the combination of stairs down, up, and down to get into the memory. The Sisters wanted a statue, the Aspect of Tsathoggua.

Aldo got acolyte outfits and figured the temple’s public open hours. Then he slipped in with Wolfram. Jettilyn agreed to help, if she could keep one item (besides the Aspect.) They agreed.

Going In

The adept gang threw horse manure at guards to lure them away from the break-in. Jettilyn tried to get through the locks magically, but they were warded; she borrowed some of Wolfram’s life force to help.

They went into a back corridor in the dark, with candles. They found a door, triple barred but unlocked. Going through, they descended, then ascended, then descended, as proscribed. Moving through increasing dankness, they found themselves in the half-remembered lair. It was a feeling of lazy hunger carved into reality’s sense memory.

While the others fought off the feel of Tsathoggua’s mind pressing into theirs, Wolfram accepted the touch. His worship of the Forgotten Gods demanded it, and he was curious to see what he would learn.

In the dim candlelight (the candles burned low and green) they passed big mushrooms haunted by large centipedes. Then they crossed a mud flat. Jettilyn animated dragonfly jewelry to light up and fly, to find their goal; they saw a column rising out of the mud. It was like an extruded intestine made of stone.

Climbing it, they found the top had a square hole down into blackness, four ceremonial sacrificial daggers, a ceremonial frog-man mask, and the Aspect. The Aspect kept changing perception and size, and Wolfram tried to grab it only to find it was as big as he was. Jettilyn splashed it with electroplasm then grabbed the statue and Wolfram, and when it seemed to be the size of a head she swept it into a bag. She broke the spell on the daggers briefly, and they grabbed those and the mask.

Escape

Then they heard the croaking! Huge things shuffling and jumping in the blackness. Jettilyn smeared both of them with glow paint, so they could see as they sprinted for the exit. They managed to get out without seeing what pursued them.

Moving up to the temple, they then put on acolyte outfits and Aldo shepherded them out. They were stuck in traffic, but eventually won free.

After taking long, thorough baths, they took their prizes to the Dimmer Sisters. Jettilyn kept the mask, but they turned the rest in and got paid enough for the theater and some left over.

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Blades in the Dark: The Professors

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli
We played a 3.5 hour session with two players. I improvised their heists based on their characters and entanglements.

  • Mialee Keel. Lurk. Akoros. Collects masks. Academic background, linguistics professor. Best friend is a noble, Roslyn Kellis.
  • Katharin Arran. Whisper. Akoros. Collects occult texts and materials. Academic background, somewhat celebrated scholar. Best friend is Scurlock, a vampire.

Both scholars operated out of Kandaralis University, where they had offices in the Carmichael Building. They also had a basement studio apartment in a massive building that was once a noble miser’s townhouse, but was subdivided into a dozen apartments upon his death. They got the basement apartment because it had a vault, so they can protect their collections. The apartment is in Verek Block, in Seven Shallows.

Mialee had a translations service as a level 1 enterprise. Making some coin on the side using her linguistic skill and contacts, and keeping an eye out for possible scores. Weaver, an efficient teaching assistant, ran it for her.

Katharin had the Hauptman Research Grant as a level 1 enterprise. The university funded her ongoing research into various occult matters; a prestigous award that came with a small office and a nervous intern named Jenkins.

Both enterprises start out legitimate, fees and taxes and such paid up, and so absorb their own profits.

The Sealed Coffin

Preparing the Way

They caught news of an unopened sarcophagus being shipped in from the Dagger Isles. Lord Crichton had a purchaser there who bid on it, and shipped it to Duskwall. If they could get to it and open it and steal the grave goods, then seal it back up, no one would know that it arrived fully loaded.

Katharin knew that Lord Crichton had great security in a compound built by his father, but she also knew that there was a ghost neighborhood she could find her way into, and out of inside his defenses. His secure building was built over an old slum that endured in Duskwall’s memory.

She found her way through the shadow of the Willamach Tree, stepping between the shadows of branches (some of which had been cut off long ago, but still projected a shadow.) Then she was in the old Shallowstep Slum, where she did some scouting so they’d be ready to infiltrate when the time came.

Meanwhile Mialee checked around until she found a disgruntled former staff member of Lord Crichton’s estate. She talked to Theresa, a former maid who had only one arm. Theresa told her that she lost her arm to one of Crichton’s traps, and he paid her off and dismissed her; the money is gone and she’s trying to work with one arm. Look out for the diamonds worked into the woodwork, they reveal the presence of a trap. It’s a tell built in to help the staff navigate the place. Theresa coldly asked Mialee to shake Lord Crichton’s hand for her.

Mialee also did some research into the old plans for the place. She noticed that the outer defenses were brutal, with living guards and machines and tall thick walls. But once inside, the defenses dropped off significantly. This gave her hope that their ambitious infiltration could work.

The Infiltration

It was a windy night. As the rogues waited for night to deepen, sitting in the Hogtied Tavern near the Crichton Estate, they heard a commotion of a big group arriving. Lord Crichton was home two nights early! By all accounts, he was eager to get into his prize. Now it was a race, to see if they could break in and check out the sarcophagus before the noble got through all his homecoming responsibilities and freed himself up to check it out.

They hurried to the Willamach Tree, where Katharin led Mialee through the steps and into the memory of the Shallowstep Slum. They scurried through, their steps soundless but the shadow of the slum around them reverberating with every step like a spiderweb as half-blank bright-eyed spirits drifted in to watch them. The most aggressive closed in, hungry for the memory of flesh and bright hot blood.

The rogues evaded them, and managed to navigate the twisting and half-remembered streets. They felt something closing on them, like the spider from the middle of the web, but they plunged into the boat landing at the far side of Shallowstep, and escaped.

They slogged up out of the ink-black waters in a channel of water under the Crichton estate, where barrels were floated in. The portcullis was down on both sides, and the water level raised by the locks, so it was inaccessible by normal means. Still, they were inside, beyond all the outer defenses!

The Prize

They wound their way through the labyrinthine corridors and chambers under the Estate, until they found the secure loading bay. It was closed off from outside by a vault door, but inside was safe and did not need that level of security. The sarcophagus itself had stone knobs in a combination lock along the side, as well as niches for organs, and arcane writings of various kinds.

Katharin sussed out some of the curse patterns, that were designed to strike through a bloodline and persist for three generations if triggered. Mialee figured out one of the niches was not for organs (and not cursed) and it contained instructions for a priest to open the sarcophagus without desecrating it. Together they followed the instructions, opening the stone box without triggering the curses. Katharin read the prayer chiseled inside the lid,  then the rogues set to plundering.

Rings, a jeweled belt, a shield, a sword, a mask, and more! But they had to be careful, as the body was on pressure triggers, and there were dime shaped holes beneath it. (Fortunately they never found out what THOSE were for.) By now they heard approaching voices, and saw lights flickering in the corridors. They closed up the sarcophagus, and stole away into the dark hallways, dodging the traps and orienting on the portal to escape.

The Getaway

They plunged into the supply canal’s inky waters, sputtering up in the half-remembered Shallowstep Slum. They instinctively felt that the predator at the center of this place was much closer than it had been before, so they raced through the twisting streets as fast as they could. Hungry dead pounced on Mialee at one point, trying to hook into her cloak, but she shrugged them off and kept running. The predator was near, but did not catch up to them.

They dove out of the shadows in the Willamach Tree (which was just a young thing in the slum shadow.) They were clear!

Downtime

Reading and Relaxation

They fenced most of the grave goods, keeping only the choice bits for their collection. Then they immersed themselves in the delights of their collections, cataloging and corresponding and researching and such.

The Break-In

Unfortunately, a gang broke in and trashed Mialee’s translation office, putting fear into her intern (who did not show up for work anymore.) The Carmichael Building manager informed her that her officing privileges were revoked because she brought in an  undesirable element.

Furious, she checked with Six Finger Smythe. He was the head of security for the university, but he also had many illegal contacts. He was a fixer, keeping the noise down and business continuing as usual. He would know who wrecked her office, or he could find out.

He offered them a job in exchange for the information, with some coin to sweeten the deal. He helped a faculty member’s daughter escape with her student paramour, so he couldn’t fetch them back. However, the father was prominent at the university, and wanted them back. Smythe was looking for someone to carry out the errand. The rogues turned the job down, as that wasn’t their style, and paid him off instead.

He reported that the office was trashed by Cronen and his gang, Black Eyes, answering to the Lampblacks. He did not know why the office was a target, however. Cronen and his people could be found at the Severance Tavern, the last stop of disgraced teachers and students expelled from the university, by the west gate.

Planning Next Steps

Katarin and Mialee did not like their odds of handing an interrogation by physical force. They agreed Katarin would compel a ghost to question Cronen for them. Now to pick a suitable specter for the job.

Katarin did not want to revitalize a ghost for the job, she decided to find one that would be suitably useful and bind or persuade it to help. Considering her various options, she decided to consult with her good friend Scurlock. He agreed to help her out if she would be the “plus one” for one of a number of socially hopeless friends of his at an event. She agreed with a smile.

Scurlock steered her towards the Lodon Estate, where Karl Lodon is a ghost. He was ruthless and intimidating in life, he drove his servants to hang him from the balcony of his master bedroom when he eventually went too far. His ghost still haunt the Lodon Estate; normally that’s illegal, but a number of aristocrats pooled their ghosts together there as a sort of museum no one visits, where powerful previous generations could continue on in relative peace. The estate was walled off.

Scurlock also gave her a signet ring of the Lodon family, which would help persuade or bind the powerful ghost.

With that objective in place, Mialee checked into the neighborhood. There was a waterfall down onto the Lodon Estate that flowed through then dropped into the Vasilly Family Gardens. She figured they could get through any grating that remained at the top of the waterfall, and slip in unseen.

Retrieving Karl Lodon

The Approach

They entered the Vasilly Family Gardens in the late afternoon, taking in the sights. Many aristocratic families had idiosyncratic approaches to topiary and garden works. The radiant bushes shaped the growth around them, glowing and brightening when living things approached. The particular color and brightness blends were proprietary to the Vasilly family.

(Radiant plants have electroplasm integrated into living plants by alchemists and whispers. They glow, giving off life-granting energy that feeds the plants around them. This is hauntingly beautiful and a bit disturbing, but makes for amazing works of art in a garden, and useful food in a garden.)

The guard did the last round and closed the garden up for the night. The rogues approached the waterfall at the end, where the last third of the waterfall had radiant plants behind it so it glowed.

It took a false start, but they climbed up to the mouth of the waterfall and Mialee hacked through the grating. The rogues pushed against the current on the slippery stone and dragged themselves out on the stone bank inside the Lodon Estate.

Finding Karl Lodon

They heard the clotted howl of dead hounds, and quickly slipped through the thorny mounds of growth that grew around the fainting remains of radiant plants. Through the kitchen windows, into the estate house proper. Katharin focused through the signet ring and picked up three ghosts who might answer to it; one in the crypt, one in the master bedroom, and one in the basement. They chose the one in the master bedroom.

As they stalked through the house, Katharin tried to diffuse their life energy’s scent. However, one ghost spotted them, then others swarmed towards them. They raced to the master bedroom, which had a plasm-laced door. They rushed in and closed it behind themselves before the ghost horde caught them.

There they faced Karl Lodon himself, still imposing in death. (Drifts of drained and half-disintegrated servant ghosts mounted the walls on all sides, his revenge continuing.) Katharin persuaded him to help, if he could have a hollow to conduct his business for a week afterwards before returning here.

Karl’s ghost put the signet ring on, then shook Katharin’s hand, the ring slipping onto her finger and her arm going numb and painfully tingling with the (magnitude 5) ghost that would ride her life energy out of the prison.

Escape

They raced past the ghosts, mounting the wall, and trapped between a mass of starving spirits and a thirty foot drop. They leaped down and got away, then vanished into the city with a powerful ghost.

Downtime

Finding a Hollow

Katharin met with a hollow seller, and as she was offering each to Karl to see what he might like, bluecoats burst in to arrest the seller; she barely escaped, and lost the money she had paid in advance for a hollow.

Frustrated, she returned to Scurlock to see if he could help her out with a hollow. (It did occur to her that this spirit was FAR more powerful than what she needed, and he was being AWFULLY helpful. It surprised no one that he might have an ulterior motive.)

Scurlock provided a hollow who was a great great nephew of Karl’s, who burned his mind out with drugs refined from leviathan blood. Karl flowed into the body; it would do fine.

Academic Troubles

Katharin tried to expand her career as a scholar, building on the grant as a foundation and offering talks on some of her radical theories. She did manage to get some good speaking engagements, but she also provoked a reaction from the Dean of Faculty for pushing; she irritated someone more powerful, apparently, and she was forbidden to do speaking engagements for at least a time.

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Lasers and Feelings: Pale Horse

Here is the theme song for the campaign, repeated here in case you need to get in the mood.

Our intrepid space explorers!

  • Captain Pera Dewitt. A changeling, curious, delighted by intrigue and espionage.
  • Chief Engineer Duruk. Lt. Commander, hard boiled and gruff about his paycheck.
  • Dr. Lonona London. Lt. Commander, both Security/Tactical and Counselor. And a Betazoid. Focused on regulations, but enticed by discovery of new worlds.

NPCs of note include:

  • Dr. Rezal, Chief Medical Dudebro.
  • Carol Garcia, First Officer and Communications.
  • Lt. Tinesonis, Engineering second in command.

871221-planet-wallpaper

Tactical Strategics

The four starship captains in the sector met at the Dyvarian IV system base on a volcanic planet with 1.5 Earth gravity. Really, they met to have a poker game where choice crew members were the stakes. Cpt. Dewitt turned out to be an excellent player, keeping her key personnel and picking up a few more expert transporter operators.

Meanwhile Chief Engineer Duruk watched some bloodsports and built a collapsible repulsor couch for Dr. London to carry to patient appointments. Dr. London got a serape of Daravian fabric, recently verified as non-sentient (even though it has cool shape memory and color shifting ability.) Cruelty-free fabrics!

The game broke up early when Cpt. Driller Corbett of the SFS Epoch took off in his big Mauler class starship, with a hot new secret mission. Meanwhile the Raptor was assigned to monitor the Everest XVI space lane. Ho hum.

The Beacon

Some distance into their monitoring mission, they got notice that a data beacon was launched by the the Epoch. Troubled, Cpt. Dewitt diverted course to go check it out. Before they arrived, it sent off a signal that it had been destroyed.

The beacon was dropped at the edge of Klinger space. (Klinger are a more aggressive variant of Klingons, with fancy head fins and bright pink skin.) Three Klinger ships menaced at the border, after blowing up the beacon and the data it promised.

Negotiations to get at the circumstances of the beacon or what it might have contained broke down quickly, but as one of the Klinger ships moved to open fire the other two destroyed it. Cpt. Fitzgerald, the Klinger captain of the Sparrowhawk, agreed to beam over to the Raptor for a discussion. Dr. London replicated some water and a fountain for him, as Klingers value water above all else.

He told them he believed the Epoch was already destroyed, and they should make peace with their gods and put their affairs in order. Their time was nearly done. While he and the Klingers would enjoy a nice war, this was something else. They let him go back to his ship, perplexed as to what to do next.

Now What?

Cpt. Dewitt sent a coded message to the other two captains that had been at the poker game; she did not want to report back to command, but she also did not want to be the only one knowing what was going down.

Cpt. Tenser of the SFS Singer responded to her message, warping to the edge of Klinger space with her to offer what support he could in the ambiguous situation.

After some difficulties using the experimental transporter, the Chief Engineer Duruk wanted to redeem himself. He got the captain’s permission to hack into the sensor net of the Klingers through the enemy ship’s array. He found that the secretive Klinger high command ordered a cleared corridor to an unspecified point in Klinger space. Duruk shared this with the captain, who formed a plan to have the two Space Federation ships warp as fast as they could to get past the border and into the zone of cleared space.

Multiple acts of war were involved in this approach, but the Klingers had already blown up an off-limits target (the beacon) and were clearly up to something shady. Investigation was imperative.

Wreck of the Epoch

They came out of warp at the Epoch’s distress beacon. It had been destroyed. There were only three survivors, from the astrogation lab. Lt. Cmdr. Newcastle was a friend of Dr. London. He reported that they had encountered a Peacekeeper shield ship, one of the vast ship of the line destroyers that had been at war with humanity seven centuries before. One had not been seen in over five hundred years, and the Peacekeepers (not the Farscape version, more like Protoss) had not been seen in centuries. They fell to genocide, and were believed extinct.

The astrogation lab more or less survived because it was drained of data. Now the shield ship was likely to fall back, parse out a detailed route at warp speed, and drop back into subspace close enough to Earth that it could ram the planet, potentially an extinction level event. This was deeply chilling to the crew of the Raptor.

Boarding the Pale Horse

The specialized long-range sensors on the Singer found the shield ship. The intrepid explorers decided to mount two boarding parties, one for the bridge and one for engineering, to try and take control of the threat. The ships could not stand in a space battle, the shield ship was far too much for them. In the Academy, they ran simulations of the fleet against one shield ship, and the best scores were between 10-15% survival of the fleet. Here, they only had two Cutlass class ships.

The sneak attack commenced, finding the shield ship operating at about a quarter power. The Raptor beamed aboard a massive boarding party of over 40 security officers, all they could manage. The captain went along, as well as Dr. London and CE Duruk.

As soon as they arrived, they saw globes of energy with incandescent tendrils; an alien race known as the Drivers, who implant cyber control modules in corpses and inanimate material to control them remotely. That explained why scanning for life signs only revealed 12, and lots of interference; the drivers and their controlled devices or corpses!

The Drivers went incorporeal and dropped through the deck, so Duruk ordered the transporter crew to beam him and 10 security officers down a deck to give chase. He was then menaced by two robots designed to add implants so the Drivers could control the subject. He burned one down with his phaser as the security officers burned down the other. He chased the Drivers, adjusting a setting on his phaser to destroy them even if they were in phase. Threatened by Peacekeeper corpses shuffling along motivated by Driver tech, he led his team down to a lower deck, chasing the Drivers as they drifted through walls and floors.

Meanwhile, Dr. London directed her team as they cut through the bulkheads to get to the bridge, using their phasers. Once on the bridge they confronted a dozen or so Peacekeeper corpses, and blazed through them with a phaser display that looked like a Pink Floyd concert.

Once they had control of the bridge, the captain plunged her hands into the control matrix system of the ship, her hands reshaping to Peacekeeper hands as the system expected. The ship had a basic intelligence she could connect to, and she learned the name of the ship was Pale Horse. It was now a tomb ship, and it was deeply creeped out by the dead hands of its former crew trying to direct it; it felt the spark of life in her and found her interesting.

Dr. London reached out empathically and found the cold and knitted minds of the Driver collective. She dumped powerful emotion into the mind, and they were ill-equipped to cope; she began to hunt their minds and incapacitate them with emotional loads while the boarding party stood guard.

Cpt. Tenser and his team fought their way to Engineering and reported that they were in, and could possibly destroy the ship from there. Security officers relayed this to Dr. London, who roused from her trance. She noticed that Cpt. Dewitt’s face was bleeding, and attempted to empathically connect with her while she was connected to the ship.

CE Duruk found his party hemmed in by Peacekeeper corpses, and he directed their defense, cutting down the dead. They pursued the Drivers into a tomb chamber where the slain officers of the ship were embedded in crystal, pulsing with light. He squared off with a couple Drivers who now sported energy shields, as they mustered their forces to crush the intruders.

He also realized that there was a toxic residue on the ship. It was possible they had been hit by a human chemical weapon that killed them at their stations, centuries ago.

Meanwhile the captain connected with the anti-boarding protocols of the Pale Horse, scanning for the energy signature of the Drivers nervous systems and sending out a pulse that destroyed them and dropped the corpses, their controlling strings cut. Dr. London joined the two of them in psychic connection.

The ship wanted to be a tomb ship once more. Dewitt pointed out others would come, and suggested the ship come with them. The ship could not bear the prospect of dealing with humans, death was better, and counter-offered a trip into the sun. Dewitt wanted to learn from the ship, and it agreed to offer something for them if it was allowed to sun-dive in peace. Dewitt agreed, and the ship released a homing beacon style module with enough alien riddles to keep a xenomorphic studies department busy for decades.

It’s a Wrap

The Star Federation boarding teams returned to their ships. The Raptor snagged the information module. But a small fleet of Klinger ships were inbound, so the SF ships raced across the border as the shield ship ponderously wheeled and targeted a nearby sun, its threat to life on Earth averted.

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Lasers and Feelings: Humans at the Center

Star Trek style games have a couple questions at their heart; why are humans so prominent in their version of the Star Federation, and how do all theseShip-graphic-310x175 aliens communicate with each other? I tied the two questions together for the answer I use in my Lasers and Feelings game.

The first race that meaningfully interacted with humanity quarantined Earth until they got the results from studying the human race. The results came back that everything from the cultural leaps of humanity to their basic psychic profile was toxic and dangerous to the galaxy.

The Peacekeepers that discovered them did the only merciful thing; they virus-bombed the planet from space. The results were not what they expected. About 30% of the human race survived somehow. Among the survivors, over half had mutated brains from the effects of the virus.

These mutated humans were called explorer class. Their psychic contagion adapted so that they could understand the thought patterns and instinctive communication of a range of aliens. With a little practice, explorer class humans could understand alien speech as though they were reading subtitles, even across electronic media or through barriers. Also, those they interacted with were able to understand them at an instinctive level.

This “transthink” mutation affected about 70% of the aliens the Peacekeepers interacted with. Scientists among the Peacekeepers brought their political clout to bear, and explorer class humans were to be harvested and studied. Humans being what they are, within a few years enough had escaped to make alliances and wage war against the Peacekeepers that tried to destroy them. After a century of war, the Peacekeepers were driven to the edge of extinction, and humanity stood at the center of a new galactic coalition.

All that was over 700 years ago.

Now the Star Federation is a sprawling bureaucracy glued together by explorer class humans who are the beating heart of diplomacy, trade, and warfare across the diverse races of the galaxy.

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Blades in the Dark: Striking the Red Sashes

We had a second session with gang rules, over 3 hours online.

  • Clave Hellyers. Whisper, the Liar of Duskwall.
  • Prichard Keel, a shrike from the underworld with an uncanny fascination with leviathan song recordings.
  • Paeter Goode, a lurk with a larcenous bent.
  • Benvolio “Dean” Tetsudo, a cutter focused on academic approaches to violence.
  • Timoth O’Neill, a slide, also a noble attached to parliament.

They chose to be a rook gang, with access to resources, working for Stella.

Robbing Sir Myron

The Red Sashes hung on the edge, driven out of position and ripe to either make a comeback or fall into obscurity. The Crows want to push the advantage, so Stella made a plan to steal some of Sir Myron’s most prized books, the First Edition of Evard’s Song Folios. They were annotated volumes of sketched out leviathan song, capable of driving humans insane. With his books stolen, he would pay anything to get them back, stealing from the Elegant Companion Tea House to do so. This would rob them of a formidable leader, reduce their assets, and throw their organization into further disarray.

Knowing the place was guarded by Serlevica, a whisper who branded rats so she could see through them, they prepared their defenses. Clave caught a rat and bonded with the rat network. Stella also noted that there was a signal booster of some kind in the Tea House, and she wanted that too if they could manage it. He tracked the signal booster to the plaster statue of the Goddess of Sensation in the middle of the lounge on the main floor.

Prichard went through a contact to get a fake copy of the folios for a great expense, and Timoth managed to get provenance details. Both paid out great sums to get the most authentic versions possible, good enough to fool an expert.

The Dean arranged for an entourage, and Paeter got some laudanum-soaked peanut butter balls to help against the rats.

Into the Tea House

They used a three prong approach. Clave and Paeter got an alcove in the den of drugs and prostitutes, so Clave could jump into the rat network and help spy. Paeter covered him as he used chalk on the wall, and pinned a rat hide with the glyph in place.

Meanwhile Timoth and Prichard entered, found their way up near Sir Myron’s box seat, and had a discussion about the relative values of leviathan song until they were invited in to the box for further philosophical discussion.

Finally, the Dean swaggered in with his entourage and challenged the Red Sashes to a fighting school pissing match. Unfortunately he met his ex, a deadly woman named Kerlew who lost an eye when they were dating in University and was expelled for killing a man during one of her two-foe battles. She sicced two of the Red Sashes on him, and he welcomed the challenge.

As the Dean fought, Timoth and Prichard bet on his success. The Dean was cornered, but managed to get out of it, and one Red Sash ran the other through accidentally. He was celebrated, and went up to see Sir Myron. (Timoth and Prichard won a coach and four horses in the bet, to Sir Myron’s chagrin.)

Meanwhile Timoth and Prichard managed to pique Sir Myron’s interest, from a collector’s standpoint. When he got up to see them, the Dean insisted they sell him their portfolio; Sir Myron was aghast at the idea, and sent the Dean off with three women and some drugs to celebrate his evening. He decided to take Timoth and Prichard to see his collection, first intending to kill them but then softening towards fellow collectors as Timoth struggled to pull on the deadly philosopher’s heartstrings.

Meanwhile the Red Sashes took the dead body to a pit, so rats would clean the corpse. Clave saw and felt the rats eating the body, and told Paeter. Paeter sloped off after them, but was deterred by Red Sash guards in the kitchen. He was forced to drink with them or be rude, so he shared the laudanum peanut butter balls with them along with the rum; he had to eat one himself, but he shrugged off the effects and slipped down into the basement. He gave the peanut butter balls to the rats, and collected a few teeth from the corpse. He then returned to Clave, then snuck upstairs to follow Sir Myron and company.

The Switch

Sir Myron’s safe room was a brick corridor that used to be a crematorium on the second floor, adapted to be a posh office and living quarters. The dangerous philosopher opened the cremation rack to show off his rare and dangerous book collection.

Timoth flew into a fake outrage at seeing books so stored, and Prichard added to the distraction with his pet lizard. Timoth carefully played the brinkman’s game of focusing the madman’s attention on him and not being gutted; he barely succeeded. Prichard meanwhile swapped the real and fake folios.

He was almost out of time, but Serlevica burst in and shouted that another whisper was among her rats, and she raced downstairs with blood on her mind. Prichard finished the swap, and the shaken scoundrels were escorted downstairs by bodyguards.

Meanwhile, Paeter saw them go, and Timoth gestured to him that there was great loot to be had inside the locked room.

The Grand Exit

He knew he was made, so Clave set the rats to eat each other, and burned the chalk and skin ritual he’d made. The fire swelled out of control and burned him, and as he stumbled out into the room, Serlevica came for him with a sword that turned into an electroplasmic flail. He hurled himself at her and battered his way by, as the Dean shouted encouragement from a balcony above. Clave raced out into the night, pursued by some Red Sashes.

Meanwhile Timoth and Prichard comandeered the Dean’s entourage and stoked their excitement, and they raced into the main room and stole the plaster statue, dashing away with it as the various guards of nobles hooted and shouted encouragement for their daring prank.

The Dean felt no particular reason to leave, as he enjoyed the spoils of his victory in a private room.

Meanwhile Paeter broke into Sir Myron’s room through its protections, nabbed the rest of the valuable books, and escaped through a window using magical objects to cover his escape from the furious Sir Myron.

Conclusion

Since we played one heist, we didn’t worry about clearing stress or lasting conditions. They got paid double (and the Crows cleared far more than that.) All in all, a GREAT heist.

A review.

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Blades in the Dark, Aldo and Wolfram, Session 3: Blood

Broken Fence

Wolfram and Aldo met with their fence, Amancio, who told them he couldn’t work with them anymore. He had a wrist in a cast. He also let slip that he was being threatened by the Crows, and they had his daughter Lana captive. His new “business partner” was Melbek, an underboss with the Crows who managed the Selvin Street Protection enterprise of legbreakers. Melbek was apparently upset that Aldo and Wolfram interfered with Jettilyn, a famous whisper.

Furious, Aldo and Wolfram checked into Melbek’s reputation. He ran the enterprise, and had a thing for whispers; he had a wall with sandals from whispers nailed up on it, and perhaps pervier expressions of interest. He was paranoid about his inner circle of toughs, making them get tattoos, testing their loyalty constantly, and only recruiting family members of whispers. Aldo found out one of his lieutenants, Shilwise, was ex military and grouchy about serving such a nut job. Melbek and his people could generally be found in the Three Whiskers tavern by the docks.

They considered various ways to rain down ruin upon him and his, and decided instead to pay him off with a small fortune. Mollified, he allowed Amancio to resume working with them, and released the fence’s daughter.

Blood Trail

With that out of the way, Wolfram resumed his search for the trickle of illegal leviathan blood into the Crow’s Foot neighborhood. He discovered the Sorvale Crypt was involved. Using Aldo’s people skills, they bluffed in to the hall of records and reviewed the crypt design from three hundred years ago when it was built.

Then they collected their adepts and headed out to the cemetery. The enchanted doors opened for Wolfram because he had once been covered in leviathan blood. Once inside, they discovered the statue in the plans was much less creepy than the actual statue; inlaid with plasm, the statue was of an octopus-headed thing on a humanoid body, its eight tentacles each touching the head of eight kneeling people.

Wolfram recognized one of the Forgotten Gods, the God of Sacred Dreaming, and he got in under the statue and pulled a lever, revealing a secret door. The stammering adept gang negotiated for combat pay, then reluctantly followed Aldo down Wolfram’s trail.

They found a chamber with some supplies, with clay walls that were fired as in a kiln. There were prayers written all along the walls. The adepts warned not to say the prayers aloud, as they promised body and soul and more to the God of Sacred Dreaming–more than they cared to pay. Freaked out, they followed the passage.

It continued for two and a half miles, quarter miles marked with symbols on the wall, walking prayers the whole way. On the other end, they came out in a shack’s basement.

They pushed up through the snow and found themselves by a standing stone that was inlaid with plasm, with topographical subterranean patterns and warding glyphs, the strength of the earth against the dead in the air. A lighthouse on Innocence Point moved slowly, disrupted by the clamoring dead, but they could not get past the line of standing stones. Ahead was the village of Carrow, a fishing village perched by the cliffs overlooking the inky swells below.

The crew moved into the ramshackle town, into the public building, seeing signs of disease and madness and inbreeding. The nervous adepts pointed out there were a number of whispers present. The village elder entered, fancy with a bear skin coat and antlerered staff and helm, demanded their business.

They played coy, and Headman Valin demanded they be captured to be sacrificed; Wolfram snatched a hostage and demanded the conversation continue. The crew offered to manage the leviathan blood trade. The Headman said they swore to work with the Red Sashes, Dr. Everecht, working in the Baldric St. Emporium. Aldo and Wolfram smiled; if something happened to the doctor and the emporium, the limmers of Carrow would need a new contact in the city. Wolfram was confident his crew could do the job.

Battle in the Basement

Posing as members of the Crimson Petals, a gang working for the Red Sashes, Aldo and Wolfram tried to infiltrate the basement complex of the Emporium. They were accosted by three prostitutes who were desperate for a fix of their drugs of choice.

Using the prostitutes as part of their cover, they bluffed to get down to where the doctor was laired. He suspected them, and Aldo’s fast talking convinced him somewhat. The doctor ordered them to kill the prostitutes.

Bluffing, Wolfram said there was a fascinating growth on one of the prostitutes. He piqued the doctor’s curiosity, then in a vulnerable moment Wolfram attacked the guards, clearing the way for Aldo to lunge with his rapier, trying to spit the doctor. Instead he killed a prostitute and injured the doctor, who tried to escape as Wolfram battled the reinforcements who gushed into take the intruders down.

The prostitutes finished the doctor off, pouncing on him and stabbing him. They got the key to the drug cage, and as Wolfram fought off incredible odds against the duelists, Aldo got in and snatched up some sensitive papers and expensive supplies. The prostitutes grabbed a lot of their favorite drugs, then Aldo tipped over explosive reagents, and everyone ran past Wolfram’s victims and out to the street as plumes of flame licked up through the ruins.

Wolfram and Aldo bluffed that they saw someone kill the doctor as they saw other guards running to the scene, then they escaped.

Down Time

Aldo cleared off some heat while Wolfram set up the new enterprise with the Carrow Limmers (2). They still had too much stress, so they spent some hard earned coin to finish off their stress (and pay the gang of adepts their hazard pay.)

For now, things are quiet. The Red Sashes are angry but weak, a new business is cycling up, and they’ve got some payback to plan for Melbek.

A bit more detail.

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Lasers and Feelings: Darkness Between Stars

Our cast of player characters:

  • Captain Pera Dewitt. A changeling, curious, delighted by intrigue and espionage.
  • Chief Engineer Duruk. Lt. Commander, hard boiled and gruff about his paycheck.
  • Dr. Lonona London. Lt. Commander, both Security/Tactical and Counselor. And a Betazoid. Focused on regulations, but enticed by discovery of new worlds.

Their ship, the Raptor, had an unreliable comm system that would randomly translate into inappropriate languages. (Some suspect this is because of overload due to all the surveillance shunts the captain surreptitiously placed in various systems.) The Raptor has experimental sensors that allow it to hack into local technology grids and use them; it also has super teleports that work through shields if properly coaxed by experts.

The MissionShip-graphic-310x175

They were to go to the Erkelliash Nebula Pulse Center to monitor a dwarf star putting out emissions that scramble sensors. It was defibrillating, and they had a window of a few days to get the readings they needed, and to that end they took Dr. Reenand and his research team out to the area.

Wreckage

Their last stop for supplies before heading out was Starbase 482. When they arrived, it was a smoking ruin. They found it had been hit by raiders, and four other ships were hit too while docked there. They began documenting the site, and consulted Dr. Reenand, who knew the anthropologist working with the now-destroyed science vessel. (Dr. Gentris, who was apparently working on xenology and anthropology on Daluvian IV; he studied how aliens and humans interacted as his primary area of study.)

They got a distress call.

Battle!

The merchant tug Navi was under attack, not far away! They warped to the scene, confronting the raider ship captained by a Sarvan crew (brutish raider aliens.) The Sarvan ship had a capitol ship gun wired straight to the warp core, making it very dangerous.

Captain Dewitt contacted the ship, and bluffed that they had a spy aboard. The captain was shocked and frightened; what was going on over there? Still, he reverted to type and attacked. Dr. London returned fire, and the ship’s defenses folded with surprising speed; something went wrong aboard the other vessel.

The Raptor’s crew managed to beam the raiders off their ship as part of it filled with plasma. London tried to vent the plasma to space with tricky phaser work, but the whole ship blew. Its ill-gotten gains were attached to the hull, and much of it was not consumed in the explosion.

Taking Things in Hand

After the brief confrontation, Chief Engineer Duruk supervised collecting as many of the containers (ruptured and otherwise) as possible and affixing them to the hull for transport. He also led the team of engineers that brilliantly patched up the tug’s engine, so it could limp to safety without an escort.

Meanwhile Dr. London supervised as the security team stunned the captain of the raiding vessel enough for him to be safely interrogated; she used her empathic and telepathic powers to find that some shadow had been on the other ship, slipping through its interior, killing some of his men in gristly and horrible ways and haunting their dreams; he had not slept well in three days, since hitting the Federation space station. The captain growled that if the shadow was on his ship, then they were free of it; but if it was in his dreams, it was now here. Dr. London touched on the aftertaste of that shadow, finding it iridescent and dark and terrifying.

So What Happened Back There?

As they headed out to the nebula to resume their mission, London meditated to clear the shadow from her mind. The captain called for quarantine of the brig, which excited Dr. Pharly Rezal; he didn’t get to do quarantine often! Rezal also checked the prisoners, and found one had strange traces of lubricant on his fingers, and one finger burned by molecular acid.

Duruk confirmed those substances were not part of any ship system (engineering or weaponry) he knew of, so Dewitt decided to have a talk with the prisoner with those substances on his hands. Security obligingly stunned the daylights out of him and restrained him in a chair for her.

The alien thug talked of a shadow from the darkness between stars that came aboard the ship, stalking and killing them in horrible ways, so the fear in them tore their chests open. The puddles of slime it left, and how when they hunted it with flichettes it licked steel and left the void of space behind.

Dewitt consulted with London, and sent her to offer counseling to the freaked-out raiders. London discovered that these raiders had always raided in the dark, and found comfort in firelight; the ship was their firelight now, space was their night, and it did not surprise them that the darkness held monsters just as it did at home–just scaled up for a bigger dark.

And What’s Going On Here?

Engineering had other problems about now. Of the team of engineers and security on the hull cataloguing the salvage, two engineers went missing. Shortly after, there was a problem with an airlock. Duruk investigated, and found that something got into the airlock then tore a hole in the wall and got down to a Jeffries tube; he initiated local lockdown and sent engineering teams to hunt down the intruder.

A pair of security officers investigating the missing engineers outside also went missing; the rest of the security staff that wasn’t coming back in massed to take a look with 8 of them, so they wouldn’t “disappear” so easy.

Meanwhile, two engineers disappeared from a junction in the Jeffries tubes–inside the ship, near engineering!

Hunting

Dr. London meditated to pinpoint what was going on, looking for the missing people on the hull. She found a couple, terrified, but then brushed against an inhuman mind that was full of darkness, slime, and hissing.

She was recruited to hunt down whatever made it into the ship, and used her empathic abilities to pinpoint its location; it was in a tube, starting a nest with the two captives. Duruk got some portable force field generators to hem it in, and the captain assumed the form of raiders (possibly its favorite food) and together they headed towards the one in the ship.

It was aware of them as soon as they got in the neighborhood. London meditated, and engaged with its mind, to distract it and keep it busy. That bought time for the others to set up the force fields to trap it in one tube. Then the captain approached it, wanting to touch it so she could take its form and communicate with it.

Between London’s empathic and telepathic abilities, and what Dewitt learned from mimicking its form and trying to communicate, it was a drone. Insect like, lonely, eager to nest and feed and make more of its kind somehow. And beyond the darkness of its need to mesh with others in a hive mind, a more profound darkness; if this thing was like an ant, that deeper darkness would be its queen.Alien

Dewitt pulled the two captive engineers out of the already-hardening resin the thing excreted with its drool, pulling them to safety past the barriers. London pleaded to keep the drones alive for study, and because they were lonely and frightened. Dewitt felt the risk was too great, should they escape. London stretched to contact both the one on the hull and the one in the ship, and felt their voracious insatiability, their drive to make the whole ship a nest, and was intimidated by that darkness.

Meanwhile the one outside jumped at the security officers, who got authorization to burn it down with phasers. They found the four that had been grabbed (two were still alive, the other two eaten) and the “eggs” that had been retrieved from the basement of a temple Dr. Gentris had been studying on Daluvian IV.

Science would still be served by autopsies, after all.

(A review!)

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