Last week, the party caroused in an inn, hired themselves out as guards for a merchant’s wind-barge, and explored a ruin that turned out to be the lair of a monstrous Alzabo, which they killed.
Our motley crew:
- Flim-Flam, a two-headed cacogen Adept. Proficient cook, fights with twin pistols. Has a cyborg hawk named Midnight.
- Findus, a newbeast Mystic. Horse-man with mystical eye-lasers, a quicksilver spear, and a parasitic spirit entity.
- Crunk, a true-kin Warrior. Taciturn, impulsive. A lover and a fighter.
We rejoined the characters aboard the wind-barge ‘Oblique of Understanding’. Dawn broke after a night spent moored next to the Alzabo’s ruin. Nothing had approached the barge overnight, but the new day brought a bad omen: the horizon was obscured by a boiling wall of blue dust, rapidly approaching their position. This was a full-fledged Vaarnish sandstorm, and Nashir informed the PCs that sailing the barge today would be impossible. Instead they helped the merchant and his barge-boy, Gorsk, to shelter the craft behind the bulk of the ruin, and anchor it safely in place. They did this without incident, and hunkered down in Nashir’s quarters with some turquoise wine to wait out the storm.
This was an opportunity for the PCs to get to know their fellow passengers and each other a little better. Findus spoke to Wormwater, the synthetic being who was a passenger on the wind-barge. The synth informed them that it was a dealer of rare books, returning to its home in the market city of Gnomos after an expedition into the wastelands. Findus asked the synth to appraise the volume he had looted from Mother Yarot’s sanctum, which turned out to be a golden-bound volume of poetry by a warrior of the Fallen Autarchy. The PCs asked Wormwater to read them a selection, so the GM had to quickly search for some appropriate material, as he cannot improvise verse when put on the spot. Wormwater informed Findus that the commander of the Hegemony Legion stationed in Gnomos, Loonflower ul-Eldwall, would likely be interested in purchasing the volume of poetry. The synth also told the PCs why people would be interested in Alzabo brains: the creature retains the memories of those it consumes, which explains its ability to mimic human speech. Alzabo brains can be ritually consumed by scholars, who are able to glean knowledge from the fragmentary memories concealed within. Nashir, the water merchant, expressed profound distaste for Alzabo brains and people who ate them. Wormwater dropped the topic, but hinted to Findus that a person known as ‘Needletooth Jack’ would be interested in purchasing the brain when they reached Gnomos.
Attention turned to Nashir and Gorsk. Nashir told them that he had gotten himself into debt to Ancamulla, the Water Baron of Gnomos, and essentially worked as a barge captain for the Baron to keep himself out of slavery. Gorsk, a young true-kin boy with a branded face and synthetic leg, told them that he was an orphan, his family slain in one of the petty conflicts that periodically ravaged the New Hegemony. He worked aboard the wind-barge for food and a place to sleep, and like Nashir seemed a slave of Ancamulla in all but name.
We also learned a little more about the PCs’ backgrounds. Flim-Flam revealed himself to be the scion of a true-kin family, abandoned because he was born with two heads. His hawk, Midnight, is a family heirloom, programmed to aid the family member most in need. Findus had been involved in racing and betting predictions, having fled after making the wrong call and angering a powerful figure. Crunk revealed himself to be the child of a nomad tribe, but had parted ways with them as they were ‘not strong enough for him’. Crunk added that he had headed to the Pelerine Temple because he had ‘heard there were women there’, which was entirely in character. The iron helmet that had been sealed over his head remains a mystery.
The day wore on, and the storm showed no signs of abating. The group ate an evening meal, noting that they had only four days of supplies remaining, and Findus elected to stand watch. He failed a Psyche test, and therefore was surprised during the night when two humanoid figures climbed up the anchor chains and boarded the wind-barge. He rang the warning bell, waking Crunk and Flim-Flam, who rushed up to the top deck. They realised the creatures were Cacklemaws, a race of hyena-headed, all female newbeasts with a poor reputation with the other cultures of Vaarn. However, these Cacklemaws were uninterested in fighting. One was wounded and bleeding, and both seemed to have been struggling through the sandstorm for hours. They were weak and desperate, and in broken speech begged the party for help.
A debate raged. Flim-Flam favoured killing the creatures to steal their weapons. Findus wanted to help them, arguing that as the creatures were representatives of a warrior culture, it would be useful to gain a positive reputation with their kind. In the end Findus prevailed, and gave the Cacklemaws his draught of the healing milk that he had taken from the Pelerine Temple. It was agreed the creatures couldn’t stay the night on the Oblique, as Nashir would probably not be happy to find a pair of Cacklemaw warriors asleep on his vessel, but Findus suggested they shelter inside the ruin, and they agreed. The hyena-women thanked him, naming themselves as Maccail and Cian, who served Mama Hecklehaw. The players hoped their kindness had earned them some prestige with one of Vaarn’s factions.
The next day dawned windy, with dust storms and poor visibility, but Nashir believed in would be possible to travel if the party were willing to expend more effort than usual. They decided to do so, worried about the remaining supplies in the barge, marking two levels of Exhaustion and travelling a day through the dust storms. They passed the remains of two geodesic domes, but elected not to explore them.
They anchored the barge for the third night on the road, and Crunk took watch. Towards dawn, he was alerted to the sound of something moving beneath the barge. He sprang into action, sliding down the anchor-chain and loudly hailing the intruder. The being rushed towards him, revealing itself to be a loathsome mass of living yellow fungus. A brief combat ensued, with Findus and Flim-Flam joining the fight from above with their eye-lasers and pistols. Crunk was victorious, dealing the final critical blow with the strange hairy black spike he had found in the ruins last week. The biomechanical weapon revealed its function, draining the body mass of the fungus monster and transforming it into fresh drinking water, which Crunk sipped from a weird little nipple on the other end of the spike. With this victory we ran out of time for the evening, and ended on the image of Crunk suckling happily at a biomechanical teat, a pitch-perfect encapsulation of everything I wanted the Vaarn campaign to be.
A short session this week, of only an hour and thirty minutes. I wished that we’d had a bit more time, but writing it all out I realised that we got through some character development, a tense night-time negotiation, a day’s worth of overland travel, and a climactic combat, all in 90 minutes. Not bad!
I was able to introduce a fair bit of the wider world through conversation this week, which is something I really like doing. The players have a bit more of an idea of who might be important and powerful in Gnomos, and have some loot-related hooks that will motivate them to meet these NPCs. Thus far, I’m really happy with my decision not to include a cash currency in Vaarn, instead having treasure take the form of tools, weapons, books, tonics, and other valuables. It can make generating treasure a pain, as I have to come up with something concrete each time, rather than dish out coins, but I think (hope) it opens up narrative avenues. I am curious to try out my bartering rules once they reach Gnomos. They’ve also made better friends with Nashir, Gorsk, and Wormwater, which will hopefully serve them well.
The Cacklemaw encounter was interesting. I’d assumed it would be a fight, but the creatures were outnumbered and they rolled an extremely positive result when I determined their Disposition at the start of the encounter. I decided they were wounded and lost in the sand storm, and allowed the encounter to play out from there. I worried that I influenced the players too heavily by explicitly informing them that the Cacklemaw would remember their kindness, but I ultimately think it’s best to be transparent about the fact that the game-world contains Factions that will develop opinions of the PCs.
Crunk’s fight with the fungus-creature at the session end was amusing. This wasn’t actually a guaranteed combat encounter; the fungus monster was blind and had no idea the wind-barge was even overhead. If he’d stayed quiet it would have moved on, but his decision to leap down to ground level and loudly greet the creature was perfectly in character and got a big laugh from me. Looking forward to next week’s session, and hoping we’ll be able to get a more extended game in.