VAARN ACTUAL PLAY: EPISODE 11

Last episode the party defeated the Magician, freed the child pickpockets who served her in the depths of Gnomos, stocked up on sewer gold, and clumsily fought off some vampire bats. 

Our cast: 

  • Flim-Flam, a two-headed cacogen Adept. Proficient cook, fights with twin pistols. Owns a cyborg hawk named Midnight, who has been dispatched on a scouting mission.
  • 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. 
  • Nephew (NPC), a mute and enthusiastic fungus-man. Able to fuse his flesh with dead creatures and take on their abilities.

The party awoke amongst the tombs to the south of Gnomos, surrounded by blood and pieces of dead bat. There was discussion about what was next on the docket for the PCs – Crunk wanted to find a way to speak to his fungal friend Nephew, Flim-Flam and Findus wanted to visit the markets of Gnomos to spend the gold they had found in the Magician’s lair. Everyone agreed that they needed to find a permanent place to stay, and stop sleeping in the attic of Wormwater’s shop. It was shaping up to be something of an odd-jobs session. 

The PCs passed through the southern gates of Gnomos, unchallenged by the guards, and began to explore the Red Quarter, the south-eastern part of the city. They learned this district was named for the Crimson Courtyard, a gladiatorial arena that drew huge crowds to see bloodshed. Many drinking establishments and food stands served the gladiator fans, and there was widespread graffiti and evidence of crowd trouble. As it was early morning, few people were on the streets, but the players noticed many drunks and opium-addicts hanging around outside the Black Lotus Club, a popular nightspot. 

Eventually they found their way to the house of Karoe, a fungus expert who Wormwater had indicated might help them speak with Nephew. Crunk knocked on the door of the ramshackle house, and was greeted with a suspicious pair of eyes peering through a slot. Karoe agreed to examine Nephew, but told the party they would need to be ‘decontaminated’ first. They reluctantly agreed, unsure of what this would entail. After a long wait the doors to Karoe’s house swung open, and they were instructed via intercom to proceed upstairs. They were examined for impurities by a mechanical eye, and were then dusted with flour from a ceiling vent, as Karoe believed baking products were the antidote to all manner of infections and contagions. Thus purified the PCs were welcomed into Karoe’s workspace. 

They discovered the fungus expert operated from behind a reinforced plastic screen, and was wrapped in biohazard protection gear. Underneath all of these layers they dimly saw an emaciated, pale true-kin man. Crunk bargained with this strange figure, asking him how they might communicate with Nephew. Karoe gave Crunk a kind of translator mushroom that would grow behind his ear, and turned Nephew’s spore-based language into electrical signals that could be interpreted by a human nervous system. Crunk placed the translator fungus onto his head, where it bonded with his audio nerves, and he was finally able to hear the affectless booming voice of Nephew. They conversed for a while, but Nephew’s words were somewhat confusing. 

Karoe also sold the party some other special fungus – the ‘Foolish Friend’, a pink mushroom that could cause those who ate it to become very empathetic and friendly, and the Phoenix Cap Fungus, a strange piece of biotech that could reconstruct a fungal clone of a dead person if planted on their corpse. Karoe the fungus expert revealed that they themselves were the fungal clone of some long-dead original Karoe, which disturbed the party somewhat. The fungus expert kept a sample of Nephew’s flesh for study, and informed the party that if they were looking for a place to stay, they could try the Lemon Tree Boardinghouse. 

Leaving Karoe’s abode, the party made their way across Gnomos to the Lemon Tree. On route they encountered a street scuffle between a Faa nomad with a worm-like predator creature for a pet, and two of the Water Baron’s mercenaries. The party intervened in the conflict, trying to calm everyone down, and Findus took the opportunity to dip into the pockets of the Water Baron’s troops, stealing several water tokens and some kind of ID disc from one of the men. They made good use of the water tokens almost immediately upon arriving at the Lemon Tree, a run-down but charming establishment located near the wind-barge docks of Gnomos. Findus gave all the water tokens to the landlady, a three-armed cacogen woman, in return for a week’s lodgings in two rooms on the top floor. After leaving some of their less valuable possessions in the boardinghouse, the party ventured back out into the city. Crunk sought a dentist to fix his teeth, which had been injured during their fight with the Magician, while Flim-Flam and Findus wished to shop in the great market. 

Crunk found his way to a dentist – a young female new-antelope named Penta. Despite his lack of teeth he immediately turned on the patented Crunk charm, telling Penta she should come and ‘meet’ his friend Findus once she was finished work. She seemed amenable to the idea (a good Charisma roll – Crunk just does not miss when it comes to the ladies), and then set to work fixing Crunk’s teeth. Meanwhile, Flim-Flam and Findus headed into the market to look at weapons. Flim-Flam purchased retractable blades to fix to his pistols, and as the session ended, a mysterious figure in a grey robe brushed past Findus, slipping a note into the newbeast’s pocket. Reading it, Findus found nothing but a drawing of a black flower and a time – it seems the party have an appointment tonight at the Black Lotus club… 

I’ve been looking at photos of Chefchaouen, a famous blue-painted city in Morocco, for visual inspiration for the streets of Gnomos.

GM THOUGHTS – This was a session where I really didn’t have anything planned at all, and just decided to follow the character’s whims and wants. We ended up with an episode focused almost exclusively on role-playing, something of a house-keeping session where people went shopping and talked. I really enjoy this side of the game, as it’s quite different to the experience you can get with video games or any other kind of media. I was most happy with the improv I did around Karoe the fungus expert, who went from a single line of notes in my Vaarn file to a fully-fledged NPC with several memorable quirks and a distinctly eccentric personality. What the game summary doesn’t quite capture is how suspicious the players were of this person and his ‘decontamination’ procedures, and how convinced some of them were that his house was a trap – something I played up right until the reveal that the white powder falling on them was flour. I’m now pretty interested in Karoe and hope he’ll come back into the story somehow. 

I’ve also been really enjoying Nephew as an example of emergent story coming out of play – this character was never intended to be important, and existed only as a brief mention of an NPC in the background of a bar brawl. However, Crunk’s player decided he really liked the mute fungus-man, and a few session later it’s impossible to imagine the party going anywhere without him. 

When I first started GM-ing, these kind of free-wheeling social scenes were what scared me the most. I felt incredibly uncomfortable doing voices and conversing in character without an obvious ‘goal’, and I really worried I would bore players. I think the thing I’m most proud of in my development as a GM in the last 18 months is that I can now run a session without combat and not feel like I wasted everyone’s time. 

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