VAARN ACTUAL PLAY: EPISODES 29 & 30

Last time, the gang fought off a rustacean in the depths of the Water Baron’s Aquifer machine, escaped the attentions of the Hydra’s tentacles by taking refuge inside some broken cryogenic tubes, and descended deeper into the complex in search of the mechanism that would drain the water from the flooded lower levels. In their explorations they encountered a new hostile creature: a blob of white jelly, which began to create crazed, angry clones of Findus.

Our cast:

  • Flim-Flam, a two-headed cacogen. Proficient cook. Fights with twin pistols. Owns a cyborg hawk named Midnight.
  • Findus, a newbeast. Horse-man with mystical powers. Inhabited by a parasitic spirit entity. 
  • Crunk, a true-kin warrior. Taciturn, impulsive. A lover and a fighter. Has a big sword.
  • Karak, a gaunt cyborg. Robed and hideous, machine supremacist.
  • Nephew (NPC), a mute and enthusiastic fungus-man. Able to fuse his flesh with dead creatures and take on their abilities.
  • Jo Nah Thon (NPC), an odd man who wears unusual clothes and speaks a strange language. Has a talking wristwatch.
  • Fiddy (NPC), a large tame aphid.

We began the session with a brief recap of the scene: the PCs were in a dank, half-flooded room within the depths of the Water Baron’s aquifer machine. They had discovered a strange immobile blob of white jelly, which had spiked Findus the New-Horse with some kind of tendril, which it then retracted. The blob then began to spew out pairs of jelly-soft Findus clones, which were naked, insane, and murderously angry.

This was clearly a fight, so the PCs rolled for initiative and won it. They immediately opened fire on the jelly-Finduses, severely injuring one, which Findus finished off with his quicksilver spear. In the time it took them to kill one jelly-clone, however, the blob on the wall had spawned two more! It became clear that some of the party would have to focus on crowd-control, while others attempted to take out the blob that was creating the clones.

Nephew and Flim-Flam focused ranged attacks on the blob, while Crunk attempted to grapple with one of the Findus clones. He ended up slipping and falling in the thigh-deep water, and the clones immediately began trying to drown him. He locked his thighs around a jelly-Findus’s neck and began to squeeze, causing the jelly-clone’s head to inflate like an overfilled water balloon. Karak likewise found himself in trouble, as the clone-spawning blob hit him with a tendril and began to create clones that resembled him before he installed all of his cybernetics. Karak was horrified by the human-looking jelly-clones, as they confronted him with an image of himself that he had worked hard to erase (I thought this was a fun, unexpected character moment).

The battle raged on for several rounds, with the blob creating jelly-clones as fast as the PCs could blow them to bits. Eventually the combined force of Findus’ laser-eyes and Flim-Flam sticking his pistols right inside the blob and giving it a hot lead enema killed the clone-spawning goop monster, and it collapsed into a slurry of horrible ooze, revealing a doorway in the wall it had been growing across. The party celebrated, although not for long, as they had been expecting the remaining clones to melt when the blob was killed and it became clear that the clones weren’t going anywhere (sorry boys). Another few rounds of combat killed off the remaining jelly-Karaks, although not before Karak suffered some serious damage and had to chug their last health potion.

Before they explored the doorway the blob’s death had revealed, they decided to retreat to more familiar territory to take a Short Rest and recover HP. Using their grappling-hook gun, they headed back up through the shafts to the flooded shriekman graveyard. Unfortunately a luminous lobster creature was waiting for them there in the water, and ambushed as they left the vents. Not in any mood to fight this creature, the party set off the alarm on one of the speaking watches they had looted from the lockers they had found underneath the cryogenic tubes in another part of the complex. The noise from the watch alerted the Hydra tentacles, which came slithering into the room and made short work of the glowing lobster. With the random encounter safely disposed of, they made their way south, and into the dwelling of the garbage worms (to explain: they first discovered this room during Episode 28, but I forgot to mention it during my re-cap that week. So the players were familiar with this room already and knew it was safe, although readers of the blog recaps haven’t been introduced to it).

The garbage worm room was a half-flooded room, filled with drifts of garbage. Two long black worm-like creatures lived here, who communicated via staccato psychic messages. The party had encountered them previously, but hadn’t made much progress understanding what the worms wanted, only that they seemed not to be hostile. This time the parley was more productive, and Flim-Flam was able to understand that the garbage worms were willing to trade ‘sweet eats’ for items they could retrieve from the surface. If they were fed to their liking, the garbage worms would steal objects from Gnomon above and pull them down into the depths of the aquifer machine. A merchant of sorts within the dungeon. The party allowed the worms to suckle some sweet nectar from Fiddy the aphid’s teats, and then dispatched them to the surface with instructions to bring back whatever healing items they could (the main caveats with the worms was that (a) they didn’t have great language skills and (b) they couldn’t bring the PCs anything that wouldn’t fit through a water pipe).

The players took a Short Rest in the garbage worm room, eating some dried fruit and cheese. The worms returned after an hour, giving Flim-Flam a syringe filled with golden honey-like gel. Assuming this to be some kind of healing salve, the players stashed it for later. They headed back out into the wider complex, looking to explore the doorway that was hidden behind the clone-spawner blob. They only made it one room, however, before a Hydra tentacle came groping around (another unlucky random encounter roll). They attempted to sneak past the tentacle, but Crunk’s sword clanged against a pipe and the Hydra tentacle instantly grabbed him, attempting to pull the burly true-kin out into the main shaft to be devoured. They managed to pull the tentacle off and dived down the shaft to the room where they’d fought the jelly-clones, with the tentacle in hot pursuit. By distracting the blind tendril with other noise sources, the PCs managed to get through the doorway that had been hidden behind the clone-spawner blob, and shut the metal blast-door tight behind them.

The PCs found themselves in a large pump room, with a conspicuous switch that resembled the switch Findus had previously used to restore the power to the facility. They pulled this new switch, and were rewarded with the sound of pumps removing the water from the flooded lower levels of the complex, allowing access to the previously submerged lowest floors. They also reasoned this would expose the Hydra monster’s body, which they believed was hidden beneath the water. As they congratulated one another on this bit of progress, they were surprised to hear a synthesised female voice addressing them from the corner of the room, asking if they could understand her. They turned to see Jo Nah Thon excitedly brandishing his talking wristwatch, which introduced herself as Athena, and declared that her analysis of the PC’s linguistic patterns was complete. On this cliffhanger we ended the session.

This is kind of how I imagine the shriekmen look.

EPISODE 30

We resumed after a two-week break, with the PCs eager to talk to Athena (and by extension Jo Nah Thon). The conversation was halting and confused, as the AI in the wristwatch translated between Flim-Flam, Findus, and Karak on one side and Jo Nah Thon on the other. They managed to understand the following

  • Jo Nah Thon and Athena had never heard of ‘Vaarn’. They believed they were aboard some kind of ship.
  • The ship was supposed to have set off on a journey through the void, but something had prevented this. Jo Nah Thon had been in stasis for much longer than he had intended to be.
  • The reasons for the spacecraft’s original charter and the purpose of her aborted voyage were unclear. Athena described it as an ‘exodus’ and said that the passengers were escaping an ‘apotheosis’ or ‘becoming’.
  • Jo Nah Thon had awakened in his pod only a few weeks ago, and had found the ship’s deck in terminal disrepair. He had set off to find out if anyone else had survived in stasis, only to become entangled in a trap set by some screaming, blind monsters (the shriekmen). They had imprisoned him in their dwelling place for some unknown purpose.

The party were intrigued by this information. Karak wondered if the event Jo Nah Thon had been attempting to escape was related to the Titans, the long-fallen AI gods of Vaarn, but Athena did not seem to know. They welcomed Jo Nah Thon and Athena once again to the party, and decided they would attempt to bring Jo Nah Thon to the surface, so that he could see Vaarn for himself and decide what to do. It was clear that he was a man out of time, with nothing remaining of his own culture or the people he had cared about. They wondered about his sanity long-term, but decided all they could do was keep him alive and hope for the best.

The PCs continued to explore the dungeon, focusing on the rooms that had been revealed since the stagnant water was drained from the facility. They explored a garbage-choked filtration shaft, and amongst the rubbish they found an item of Exotica: a small hammer with neuro-active red patterns engraved into the hilt. Holding the hammer, they found that it scanned the surrounding architecture for weak points or flaws, relaying this information to the holder through a nerve-link.

They moved deeper into the Aquifer Machine, heading down another narrow, vertical shaft into the depths. Halfway down this shaft, Karak noticed movement above them. Findus lit his lantern – a plastic sphere of water with a tiny luminous eel inside it – and was horrified to behold two huge, hairy, colourless spiders sneaking down the shaft above them, presumably with bad intentions. Realising they had been spotted, the spiders dropped from the wall, revealing they had membranes of skin between their hairy legs, like a gliding squirrel. The glider-spiders swooped down on the PCs and battle was joined. A third glider-spider, which had not been spotted, scrabbled up the shaft from below the party and bit Crunk in the ankle, poisoning him. The true-kin warrior was in dire need of help, so Karak injected him in the neck with the golden syringe they had been given by the garbage worms. Crunk’s HP was restored, but his neck and head swelled to twice their normal size, and his cranial veins and muscles throbbed with golden light. He found he was able to use his gigantic, swollen head as a weapon, and made short work of a glider-spider by holding onto the grappling hook upside down and swinging into the creature like a wrecking-ball made of scalp muscles.

The glider-spiders were defeated, although Crunk and Flim-Flam were both poisoned and suffered severe damage. The party agreed to find somewhere safe to take a Long Rest. They descended the rest of the shaft, finding themselves at the very bottom of the main shaft, which had only recently been drained of water. Before them was a vast mass of blue jelly, with three enormous, searching tentacles erupting from it to drift lazily in the dank air overhead. They had found the body of the Hydra, and were in no state to fight the creature…

GM thoughts: Great pair of sessions here, with loads going on (and a lot of random encounter rolls). The fight against the doppelgeller went as well as I had hoped, although I had beefed up the rate it spawns clones. As written it creates one per round, but I wanted to ensure this fight would challenge the PCs on the action economy, and it certainly delivered on that front. The frantic efforts to do crowd-control, while aiding party members in trouble, and also ensuring someone damaged the doppelgeller every round, made for some great decision making and a very dynamic combat.

I was less happy with how I handled the information Athena and Jo Nah Thon offered – I had wanted this to be a big reveal moment, but I didn’t have the energy to roleplay Athena properly and gave the information as narrative summary, which I think blunted the impact a bit. I do regret this now, but sometimes you just don’t have it in you to RP a new character (especially one who isn’t a funny gimmick NPC). I’ll find a voice for her as the sessions go along. Assuming Athena and Jo Nah Thon actually get out of this dungeon alive, of course.

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