We last saw our heroes executing a Pelerine priestess to ensure the Holy Order of GAEA would discontinue their practise of sacrificing unwitting pilgrims. What havoc will they unleash upon the blue wastelands of Vaarn this week?
Our cast of rogues:
> Flim-Flam, a two-headed cacogen Adept. His area of expertise is cooking. He fights with double pistols, and has a cyborg hawk named Midnight.
> Findus, a newbeast Mystic. Findus is a horse-man who wears the mask of a child. He wields a quicksilver spear, and his Gift is turquoise laser-eyes, a power granted by a parasitic spirit entity.
> Crunk, a true-kin Warrior. He is muscle-bound and enigmatic, and fights with a sword and pistol.
Having left the confines of the Temple of GAEA, the party were faced with a daunting choice: what should they do now? They were no longer confined to a complex of stone rooms and hallways. Instead the whole of Vaarn was at their disposal. They stood on a low hill-top, with the Temple behind them and the small village that had grown to serve the Pelerines below. At this point Crunk’s player told me that Crunk had decide to urinate on his robes and then wear them like a hat, a decision that set the tone for the rest of the session.
The players then debated where would be a good destination (admittedly with very vague advice, as I haven’t fleshed out the geography of Vaarn yet). Eventually the PCs elected to look for a market town or trading outpost, because they wanted to offload some of the items they’d looted from the Pelerine Temple and get some new weapons and armour. The GM felt this was a very reasonable decision, and informed them that there was a large market town, Gnomos, several weeks’ travel to the south, across the desert. The GM informed them that they were free to walk if they chose, but that finding transport might serve them better. Furthermore, the GM mentioned that usually travellers would cross Vaarn in trading caravans, as there was safety in numbers. Happily, the party could see a wind-barge moored next to an inn at the bottom of the hill, likely the transport of a merchant or trader. The party headed down the hill to check it out.
Entering the inn, the party were faced with a shabby but not uncomfortable scene. The bartender was a small, pyramid-shaped purple synth. There were two groups of patrons: some newbeasts sitting against the back wall, who immediately caught the scent of Crunk’s urine-hat and were not impressed, and a cacogen and a synth sitting nearer the door. The party elected to split up, with Findus the new-horse feeling he would find a sympathetic audience with the two newbeasts, while Flim-Flam and Crunk approached the bartender.
The bartender’s face was a TV-screen, which displayed a staticy image of a voluptuous woman. Flim-Flam greeted the synth, who responded in a highly flirtatious manner. Flim-Flam was disappointed(?) to realise the synth was looking directly between his two heads at Crunk, the muscular true-kin. She seemed not to have a sense of smell, and his unusual headgear didn’t bother her. Man and machine exchanged some rather bizarre innuendo over clay mugs of whiskey, while Findus attempted to get some information from the two newbeasts in the far corner. The two introduced themselves – Snivere, a new-porcupine who wore a Judge’s mask, and Fross, a new-serpent with grafted human limbs, who wore the mask of an Autarch. Winning their confidence with some drinks, Findus was asked by the pair whether he was interested in looking for treasure out in the desert. Fross claimed to know the location of a large statue that had riches buried beneath it, and they asked if Findus and his companions were interested in joining them on an expedition there.
Meanwhile, Flim-Flam approached the pair sitting closer to the door: a cacogen man with a tortoise-like shell and a deformed, scaly right arm that bristled with glowing growths; and a synth that resembled a large infant, with a clear, fluid-filled orb in its abdomen, which seemed to contain living tapeworms. The pair introduced themselves as Nashir and Wormwater. Nashir, the cacogen, was a merchant, and was returning to the market town Gnomos directly, with a cargo of goods from the deep Vaarnish deserts. Wormwater was his paying passenger, and clearly more of a scholar than a fighter. The merchant told Flim-Flam there was space on his wind barge for the three PCs, provided they earned their keep. He said he was in need of reliable guards, and intimated that FF and his companions looked like they could handle themselves.
The players were faced with a decision point. They ultimately decided that Nashir’s offer was more attractive, and elected to sign onto his crew in order to journey to Gnomos. However, they cannily also wanted to coax the location of the ‘treasure’ from Snivere and Fross, so Findus ordered several more whiskeys for the newbeasts, and proceeded to get blind drunk himself. The night wore on, and the water-merchant and his passenger excused themselves, telling the PCs they would depart the next morning. The newbeasts revealed the treasure they sought was somewhere to the west, but remained frustratingly tight-lipped about the exact site. Faced with a legless Findus and a not inconsiderable bar tab, the party elected to pimp Crunk out to ‘Sunny’, the amorous robot behind the bar, in return for the booze and a room to sleep in. Crunk was happy with this arrangement, and accompanied the synth into the back room of the inn, where she expertly sheared off his armour and opened her chassis, revealing an erogenous interface that resembled a SNES controller. The scene mercifully faded to black here.
The morning light found Flim-Flam and an extremely hungover Findus sleeping top-to-tail in a tiny straw cot, in the attic of the inn. Heading downstairs, they found the main room abandoned, but Sunny had left a covered dish with some breakfast for Crunk (nothing for the other two). Findus and Flim-Flam stole some flatbread and peppers. Crunk emerged from the inn’s back room, totally naked, and ate the rest of the food. At this exact moment Nashir entered the inn, told his new guards the wind barge would be departing, and left as fast as he could.
Crunk dressed and the party climbed the rope-ladder to the deck of Nashir’s wind barge, the ‘Oblique of Understanding’. (For those curious, a wind barge is a ship-like construction built around a large ‘sky-seeking stone’, a substance with negative weight that constantly tries to escape Urth’s gravity. The barge weighs the sky-seeking stone down just enough that the whole contraption floats above the ground, and a large sail propels it across the dunes.) They set out across the azure dunes aboard the ‘Oblique’.
The morning was uneventful, but in the afternoon of the first day’s travel they sighted a ruin amongst the blue sands. It was boxy and dull grey, with the architecture suggesting it dated from the Age of Titans. The party asked Nashir to stop so they could explore, which he agreed to do, although he and his crew remained on the wind barge. The players explored the ruin, discovering a few dusty, empty rooms, and a shrine to the Titan THEMIS, an avatar of justice. They moved the statue of THEMIS aside to discover a cache of parchment and a bottle of turquoise wine. The noise of the statue being moved seemed to alert someone within the ruin to their presence, and a human voice began shouting for help, crying that it was trapped. The party followed the voice deeper into the ruin, discovering the source of the cries was a hulking monster, somewhat like a crimson bear, with a head that was half animal and half screaming human. The beast fell upon them.
This was the most challenging foe the players had faced yet, with a healthy reserve of HP and two devastating claw attacks per round. However, the beast was not able to withstand the damage of three PCs working together, and was sorely wounded. It fled deeper into the ruin, but the party pursued it and killed it in its lair, a dank, corpse-strewn vault. Searching this slaughterhouse, they discovered a jade figurine that seemed to depict the creature they’d killed, and a strange black spine that was coated with coarse hairs. They kept both for careful study.
Returning to the Oblique of Understanding, the party described the encounter. Wormwater informed them that the being they’d killed was an Alzabo or ‘mocking-bear’, a much feared predator of Vaarn. The synth further informed them that the brain of an Alzabo was a sought-after commodity by some collectors, prompting the PCs to return quickly to the corpse and remove its brain for preservation. The final part of the session was concerned with pickling the brain, and then Flim-Flam stood watch over the wind barge during the night. Nothing attacked the Oblique or its crew, and a new dawn broke over the lazulite sands of Vaarn.
This was a challenging session for me, as it was a test of my random content generators and my travelling rules. I was happy with how both performed. There were definitely moments where I felt like I was frantically laying tracks down just in front of the train, but broadly I was happy with my improv’d scenarios. Having tables to generate contents of rooms, motivations for NPCs, and of course random monsters, helps me a great deal. The tables are a lot of work to fill out, but they allow me to be spontaneous during play.
Crunk being pimped out to the synthetic bartender wasn’t something I had anticipated, but I rolled the NPC’s motivation as being ‘carnal lust’ and things snowballed from there. Crunk’s player seems to enjoy his role as a muscular himbo, so I suspect this won’t be the last of his amorous adventures. The man/machine romance was something I felt was built into the setting anyway; Vaarn is written as a post-human future and synths are perfectly acceptable partners.
The Alzabo was a foe I was worried might be too tough for Level 2 PCs, but they ended up dumpstering it. I played the monster a bit less nasty than I could have done, varying its target each turn rather than focusing on the player I knew had the lowest HP. It also missed quite a few attacks, so they never got to see its special bite ability. Ah well. Players like killing monsters more than they like being killed by them, so the fight was a total success from that perspective. The party taking the creature’s brain opens up quite a few plot threads, as they’re not yet aware what people use Alzabo brain tissue for…