VAARN ACTUAL PLAY: EPISODE 6

Last week our heroes discovered a shed lizard-skin in the desert, endured various hostile encounters, and abandoned the wind-barge that had hired them as guards in order to throw their lot in with some Hegemony soldiers. What awaits them in the Vaults of Vaarn this episode? 

Our cast: 

  • 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. Lost his sword last week.

We rejoined the party surrounded by Hegemony soldiers, having just defeated three ‘Hivey-men’; human corpses infested with parasitic black bees. The true-kin soldiers were pleased with their help, and invited them to share food and rest at their base-camp. It didn’t look as though the wind-barge they’d abandoned was returning for them, so the PCs accepted, reasoning they could travel the final day’s distance to Gnomos tomorrow. 

The party followed the soldiers into the depths of the ‘singing tower’ they were camping in, which seemed to be an enormous conflux of biomechanical pipes and tubes, stretching fifty or more feet high. Nestled in the midst of this contraption was a much smaller, mud-brick building, which was the soldiers’ actual abode. Flim-Flam elected to put their culinary skills to the test and hopefully ingratiate the party further with the soldiers. He cooked up a spicy lamb and skull pepper pie, with rice and pickled eggs alongside (glad to finally get some use from my Vaarnish food generator). This was washed down with sweet xanthine wine. The non-human members of the party endured some insensitive comments from the true-kin soldiers, but the conversation didn’t turn hostile. The commander, Officer Make-Peace, gave them some decent directions to Gnomos, noting that there was a small monastery on the way if they needed a place to rest. They slept in a pile of rags in the corner of the building. Findus was briefly awakened in the night by gunfire, but nothing came of it (this was a night-time encounter, which I judged the Hegemony troops could easily handle themselves). 

The next day dawned overcast, with green and yellow lightning flickering uneasily in the clouds. I informed the PCs that the wind was coming from the north (world building!) today. This type of Vaarnish weather isn’t dangerous unless you’re flying, so they proceeded on foot. After around half a day walking, they encountered a dusty arcology dome, which they presumed to be the monastery Make-Peace had mentioned. They approached, finding a New-Mongoose and a hulking mycomorph working in the well-irrigated gardens around the dome. They bartered with the monks, followers of the Pale Faith of Amun-Oh. Flim-Flam swapped a mortar and pestle for some fruit and water, and then the monks revealed that their craft was casting bronze bells, and the party lost their minds, all clamouring to trade away their inventories for these devotional bells. Flim-Flam traded his glowstone, Crunk traded away the mysterious red can the soldiers gave him, and Findus rid himself of a spy-glass. All equipped with bells, the party noisily made their way towards Gnomos. 

After another few hours of walking, the fabled trading city finally came into view. Four sessions of travel had finally paid off! I described the layout of Gnomos as seen from a distance: the city is circular, enclosed by crumbling blue-stone walls. The most distinctive feature is the Apex of Gnomos, a kind of dark-metal fin or curving spine of enormous size that protrudes up from the ground in the middle of the city and casts a shadow over the districts below (much like the gnomon of a sundial). There are some buildings on the apex itself, most notably the manse of the Governor, Larke xan Lonrot, and the Church of All Suns. 

The party approached from the north-east, heading for the eastern gate into the city. I determined that it was getting on in the day by now, and suggested the party should think about where they would sleep. I furthermore noted that there was a Faa nomad encampment near the eastern gate, and they decided to try their luck with the Faa nomads. Findus made a point of hiding the nomad rifle that the Hegemony soldiers had given him last session, as I had made a point of describing the clan markings on the strap and butt of the gun (this was a sensible move, as I was absolutely planning on having someone recognise the gun and make trouble). With the rifle concealed, they approached a circle of nomads sitting around a fire and greeted them. The Faa patriarch responded favourably, and began to question them about spiritual matters, assuming them to be followers of Amun-Oh due to their bells. Flim-Flam decided he was agnostic, Crunk worshipped strength, and Findus decided he followed the All-Beast, a kind of newbeast god who represented all animals (a nice idea and something I want to run with). The Faa proclaimed themselves followers of the Binary Devotion, and began chanting in binary code, which Crunk’s player informed me actually meant ‘J’. I decided to loop this back into the game, and told him that the nomads were astonished that Crunk seemed to understand their doctrine, and invited the PCs to sit with them and smoke from their pipe. All three eagerly did so, at which point I revealed the contents of the pipe were extremely hallucinogenic. 

Moebius

Crunk and Flim-Flam passed their Psyche tests, and were only mildly affected, but Findus the New-Horse failed and fell into a psychedelic nightmare, falling through the blue sands and back into the dungeon of the Pelerines, while Sister Orma cried that he’d failed to save her. He came to beneath the stars, sweating, with Crunk and Flim-Flam trying to talk him down. The nomads were amused by this state of affairs, and the PCs crawled, still tripping, into one of the Faa tents and slept there.  

The next day dawned with clear and bright, and the party were awakened by the crowing of the nomads’ cockerels. They thanked the Faa leader, who named himself Kambikia, and told them to give his regards to Governor Lonrot, if they should meet him. They took their leave and headed into the city, passing the guards with only a brief conversation. It was also around this time that Flim-Flam decided to send his cyborg hawk, Midnight, back to check on the situation at the Pelerine Temple, which they had left roughly eight days before. I warned him that Midnight would take roughly ten days to fly to the temple and return, but the cacogen let his faithful companion go. 

 The party then found themselves on the Avenue of Chariots, the eastern thoroughfare of Gnomos, separating the Eveningshade district from the Red Quarter. The party deliberated over what to do. They wanted to retrieve their lizard-lion skin, which they intended to have made into suits, and they also wanted to find the book-dealer Wormwater, who they had entrusted with their Alzabo brain. They decided the quickest way to accomplish this would be to head for the docks on the western side of Gnomos, where the wind-barge ‘Oblique of Understanding’ should be tethered. From there, they hoped to track down Nashir and Wormwater. 

As they made their way down the Avenue of Chariots, a pair of goats rocketed out of a side-alley, one of which had a red hat in its mouth. They were hotly pursued by a pair of Hegemony soldiers, one of whom was missing a cap. Without another word, Crunk ran off in pursuit of the goats, leaving Flim-Flam and Findus to head to the docks. 

Crunk’s adventure with the goats took a while, as the wily creatures led him on quite a chase through the streets, but the burly true-kin was eventually able to catch up with them and scoop them both up under his arms (although not before he bowled an old woman over and injured her quite badly, something he totally ignored). The Hegemony soldiers were impressed with Crunk’s goat-wrangling, and promised him that they’d put in a good word at the barracks. Crunk wanted their assurance that they’d ‘look the other way’ when he inevitably got into trouble with the law, and I assured him they’d overlook a minor infraction or two. 

Meanwhile, Flim-Flam and Findus headed for the docks. They stopped briefly to watch some street performers, and Film-Flam noticed someone reaching into Findus’ robes surreptitiously. They grabbed and confronted the person, who turned out to be a seven-year old cacogen boy with two mouths. Interrogated at gunpoint, the thief revealed that they worked for a figure known as ‘the Magician’, who compelled orphans to steal for them. Flim-Flam and Findus let the child go, but swore to track down and deal with this not-at-all-Fagin-like figure. 

They reached the wind-barge docks, but were disappointed to find the Oblique of Understanding was empty, lacking crew and cargo. The harbour-master rather brusquely informed them that the barge was the property of Ancamulla, the Water Baron of Gnomos, and all enquiries should be directed there. At this point Crunk rejoined them, and they decided that the best course of action might be to locate the book-dealer Wormwater, who had told them its house was in the Lantern District of Gnomos. With the afternoon drawing on, they began to search this quarter of the city for Wormwater. They intervened in an ugly scene outside a gambling-house, where some garishly dressed men-at-arms were abusing a nomad merchant, but they managed to intimidate the drunks into backing down without a fight. 

Eventually they found Wormwater’s bookshop, a slightly ramshackle house shaded by a lemon tree, and the synth was in when they knocked. Glad to see them again after the excitement on the barge, Wormwater invited them into its courtyard, where Crunk immediately fell fast asleep on the floor (tired from goat-chasing) and the other two PCs talked with Wormwater about their situation. The synth assured them that the Alzabo brain was secure and safe, and furthermore offered to let the party stay in its attic for a few nights, at least until they could get up on their feet in Gnomos and find a boarding-house. I elected to end the episode here, with them enjoying some fragrant tea that the thinking machine had brewed for them. 

GM THOUGHTS – A change of pace this week. This was the first Vaarn session where no violence occurred; in fact, I think it’s the first TTRPG session I’ve ever GM’d that had no combat. The closest we got to a fight was Crunk’s chase with the goats, the comedy of which I haven’t come close to capturing in my session recap. I was worried that this would be ‘boring’ for the players, as combat presents an obvious challenge with high stakes, whereas roleplaying conversations sometimes doesn’t, but the session seemed to be a success. I think it makes sense that there will be a little less open conflict in the civilised part of Vaarn, although Gnomos can certainly still be dangerous. 

I felt, as always, like Wile E. Coyote when he’s frantically laying down tracks in front of the steam train he’s driving. This week I especially felt hyper-aware of the flimsiness of the fictional world I was constructing and was worried that I wasn’t ‘pushing back’ hard enough against the players with my NPCs, but I don’t think the session was a failure. They got good reaction rolls all the way through, and are generally polite and courteous to the strangers they meet, so I don’t think it’s unrealistic that Vaarn’s saner inhabitants are nice in turn. 

Some good leads this week- who is the ‘Magician’, and what might they do to find this person? What exactly will the Water Baron say when they show up demanding their lizard skin? Who are they going to sell their Alzabo brain to, and what might this person offer in return? 

Watch this space. 

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