My first Vaarn solo play experiment was remarkably popular, becoming one of the blog’s most read posts to date. Because I’m a sell-out who only cares about engagement metrics (and also because it was fun), I have decided to revive the solo-plays and make them a semi-regular series. I’m going to keep playing with our party from last time, and see where the dice rolls take us. I’m still using the Travel in Vaarn generator to create travel events, and a custom-built dice oracle which I consult when I’m not sure about player character actions, NPC motives, or plot points. With that, let’s begin.
LAST SESSION: I created a party of three Vaarnish PCs. They are Fflaa, a New-Gorilla who wears the mask of a fool, Seeks-the-Path AKA ‘StP’, a mute falcon-shaped mining synth, and Xhiva, a small mute mycomorph who was born from the corpse of a king. We established they were searching for a long-lost weapon or weapons silo, in the hope of deposing a living tyrant. Xhiva’s past life as a monarch gives them the memories needed to locate the weapon silo.
The opening session was a bit chaotic; we got ambushed on the first night of travel by cacogen pseudo-giants and our world got pretty comprehensively rocked, as first level characters do not fare very well against 4 HD opponents who win the initiative every round (yes five months later I am still salty about that first encounter). We escaped, but Seeks-the-Path has a shattered limb and an injured optical sensor, which makes them effectively useless in combat until we get them fixed up. The rest of the session was consumed with recovering from our wounds, worrying about supplies, hiding from sandstorms, and trading with some Faa nomads. With that recap in place, let’s begin.
DAY 7 – A full week on the road already. The day is bright and clear; the party witness the brief golden flare of orbital debris falling to Urth as they pack up their campsite and begin to trek across the blue desert. After a few hours of walking, we come upon the wreck of an Autarchy War Stalker, collapsed in the sand. The tall, spindly contraption has been lying here for centuries, a hole blasted straight through it during some long-forgotten skirmish. Currently another small conflict is playing out here. We spy four hulking white-furred shapes, hooting and beating their chests in displays of aggression. Looking a bit harder, Fflaa realises there is another side to this conflict: a group of Faa nomads, tough to spot in their blue travelling clothes against the blue landscape, are trying to get close to the wrecked vehicle.
Why are the Faa nomads trying to get inside the wrecked War Stalker? Is it the White Apes’ home? The oracle says NO, the apes don’t live there. So what’s going on? The oracle gives us The Serpent, Revealed – so this is some kind of revelation of deception or poisoning. Weird. I know that White Apes can be trained as bodyguards or porters, if they’re taught from birth. Is that what’s going on? The dice oracle gives us YES, AND. Ok, the White Apes are bodyguards. Looking closer, Fflaa and Xhiva spot that the apes are wearing golden collars. I suppose the person they’re guarding could be the poisoner or deceiver. The Faa have been chasing them, and have tracked them here, but are afraid to get too close because of the apes.
The bigger question is: do we get involved? The oracle gives us NO, BUT. I take this to mean that the party decide to hide and wait it out. That makes sense. There’s no need for them to be involved in this conflict when they can loot the aftermath at no risk. The three adventurers hunker down to wait and watch.
The Faa have a problem: they don’t have firepower sufficient to deal with the White Apes at a distance. One of nomads has a sling, but the rest are armed with curved swords, and they aren’t keen to get into melee combat with the much larger and stronger animals. After a bit of posturing, the nomads retreat back into the desert, heading south on foot. The four apes calm down, and as their alert noises fade, their owner emerges from the wreck. He’s an ageing cacogen man, with translucent, glass-like skin and a pair of stubby antlers sprouting from his scalp. He wears colourful, lacy clothes. As Fflaa, StP and Xhiva watch, he strokes the apes’ heads and gives them treats from a little pouch.
The party feel this might be the moment to make their approach, and emerge from hiding with their hands empty. The White Apes seem restless, but their owner doesn’t order them to attack. Fflaa does the talking, since StP and Xhiva can’t speak.
‘Well met,’ the New-Gorilla says. ‘May you live to see a new sun rise.’
‘And you,’ replies the cacogen. ‘What brings you to these wastes?’
Fflaa decides to tell some of the truth. ‘We seek a great relic, lost for many years. It lies some distance yet from here.’
‘Vault-raiders then,’ the cacogen says. ‘You have the look.’
Fflaa asks the antlered cacogen his business, and the man replies that his name is Bilge (strong name) and he works ‘at times’ as a jeweller and goldsmith. The apes are what remains of his caravan guard, and they’ve been trying to escape from the attentions of the local Faa nomads for some days now. The Faa believe Bilge poisoned their ruler, a nomad queen of some repute, although he insists he was merely in the area at the same time she died, and the Faa have decided the outsider is to blame and are pursuing him (my oracle indicated the party believe Bilge is telling the truth about this stuff, by the way). The nomads will return soon, Bilge claims. He suggest we travel north together, for safety.
I actually feel ok about this. Bilge is (I think) not completely on the level, but the White Apes are pretty strong fighters, and they’ll keep us safe from most threats on the encounter table out here. Fflaa is open to travelling with Bilge, at least for a few days. Xhiva and Seeks-the-Path nod in agreement, and we head north together, with Bilge’s apes hauling his gear.
In the afternoon, the travellers come upon a great broken ruin in the desert. This construction is shaped like a vast wheel, sunbleached and shattered. The party decide not only to explore the structure, but to make camp here if it seems safe. We reason that the Faa nomads are likely to attack again, and they may return in much larger numbers. Having some cover could make the difference.
We explore the hallways and atriums of the ruin. Seeks-the-Path still has some knowledge of Titan-era script, and indicates that this was once a cloning facility, although the equipment is nowhere close to functional now and there is no trace of any living clones. In more recent years, the western half of the facility has been used as place to worship Vaa, the Blue Goddess of Empty Spaces, in a decadent and wild fashion (I’m not really clear what this would involve. Dancing and drinking?) There is also artwork honouring KRONOS, the First of the Titans. Perhaps most surprisingly, a few synthetic janitors are still active, monotonously sweeping sand out of ceiling-less halls and polishing the broken windows. They don’t respond to our attempts to interact with them. There’s nothing else of interest here; the ruin has been picked clean of anything valuable long ago.
The structure feels safe enough, so we make camp on the second floor, in front of a large window overlooking the southern desert. The wine-red sun sinks in the sky, and Bilge plays us a mournful tune on an electric harp. The White Apes take guard duty. The party fall asleep.
We’re woken in the night by a racket of hooting downstairs, but Bilge advises that we let the apes earn their keep and deal with whatever tried to attack us. Fflaa lies awake, listening to some gruesome combat playing out in the ruin below, but the White Apes are victorious, ripping apart the intruder with their pale claws. There are no more surprises overnight, only the sound of the wind.
DAY 8 – The day dawns bright and still. We break camp, leaving the ruin of the cloning facility behind. One of the White Apes has sustained some nasty-looking burns on its flank, which Bilge ignores completely. We make our way across the blue sands, looking over our shoulders all day for any sign of the nomads, but nothing happens. At night we camp in the open, beneath a canopy of stars.
DAY 9 – The sky is overcast, and a wind churns the clouds, but there is no sign of rain. The morning’s travel is uneventful, but in the afternoon we come upon another ruin in the desert. This one is shaped like an ill-omened ziggurat. I imagine it as black-walled and glowering on the horizon. Watching for a while, we see that the ruin is occupied – there are guards posted up on the crumbling walls, armed with crossbows. Not knowing how many people live there, or what their disposition could be, the party elect to go around the ziggurat, without engaging with the inhabitants. Another few hours are spent skirting the ruin. It’s difficult to move across such empty landscape without being spotted, and one of the lookouts definitely spys a glint from Seeks-the-Path’s shiny body, but nobody follows us. We camp out again beneath the stars, with no encounters.
DAY 10 – I’m starting to get concerned about rations again. We’ve eaten most of what we got from the Faa nomads and the leopard worm, and Bilge isn’t enormously willing to share – he needs to keep four White Apes fed as well as himself. The sky is overcast again, but still no rain. We trudge onwards, eventually camping in the shelter of a huge boulder. Fflaa and Xhiva consume their last rations. Tomorrow looks like it might be make-or-break. The party settle in for third night’s rest beneath the Vaarnish stars. Orbital debris flares white and gold above us as it burns up in the blackness, and the apes hoot softly to one another in wonder. Fflaa, Xhiva, and Bilge huddle into their sleeping crannies, while Seeks-the-Path enters ego-engine defragmentation mode and folds up into a neat, more compact form. We rest. This feels like a natural point to end the session.
AFTERTHOUGHTS – another fun experience. It’s strange how much the game can surprise me, even though I wrote all of the entries on the tables and have complete control over the world. I’m quite entertained by Bilge – I’m not sure exactly what his angle is, but his ape bodyguards are extremely handy in a fight and I think we need all the help we can get out here in the badlands. Moving forward I’m going to use my Oracle and my imagination to flesh out Bilge’s motivations and past a bit, since he seems like he’ll be a recurring NPC.
Still waiting for the personalities of the three PCs to reveal themselves to me. Fflaa is our diplomat it seems; Seeks-the-Path and Xhiva are still kind of ciphers. I’ve felt like I’m ‘playing as’ Fflaa the New-Gorilla for this session, with the other two characters as mute sidekicks. It is funny that they both ended up as silent companions but it means I don’t imagine them having conversations. Maybe they use sign language of some kind? I may explore this in future solo sessions.