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Crater Dreams

Eclipse Phase: Sunward - Martian City

FIREWALL BRIEFING

The PCs receive a briefing packet via their RED PRIORITY dead drops (the dead drops they are to check at least once daily and which are to be used only for the most time-critical of assignments).

BRIEFING:

  • Three days ago, a second-pass data analysis algorithm detected abnormalities while cross-referencing near-Mars sensor data.
  • Interpolating the data sources revealed an unregistered asteroid that was evidencing deliberate and possibly active cloaking of its albedo.
  • Three weeks ago, this asteroid impacted the surface of Mars in the Terra Sirenum, several thousand klicks south of Pathfinder City in a sparsely populated portion of the planet.
  • This was sufficient to elicit interest.
  • When the orbital path of the asteroid was traced, it was found to have originated 10 years ago from V-2011/Caldwell: The location of The Vulcanoid Gate.
  • In other words, the asteroid had either been ejected from the Vulcanoid Gate (or possibly launched by a TITAN as it passed through the gate) during the final days of the Fall.
  • We also know that a Direct Action militia team has been dispatched to secure the site.

MISSION OBJECTIVES:

  • Establish an onsite presence ASAP.
  • Determine the purpose of the Direct Action team and, if possible, the parties responsible for their presence onsite.
  • Assess the asteroid impact site for a potential existential threat.
  • If a threat is identified, take whatever action is necessary to neutralize it.

BACKGROUND – CRATER X-91

  • Three weeks ago an asteroid impacted the surface of Mars and left a crater several hundred meters across. This is unusual because most asteroids of this size are identified and have their orbits altered before impact (although errors and oversights are not unheard of).
  • Shortly before or after the impact, an organization or individual we’ll refer to as the Host became aware of the asteroid:
    • It was evidencing deliberate and possibly active cloaking of its albedo.
    • Tracing the orbital path of the asteroid revealed that it originated 10 years ago from V-2011/Caldwell: The location of the Vulcanoid Gate.
    • In other words, the asteroid had either been ejected from the Vulcanoid Gate (or possibly launched by a TITAN as it passed through the gate) during the final days of the Fall.
  • The Host mobilized a team to take control of the impact site.
    • Within two hours, a Direct Action team had arrived at the site – termed Crater X-91 – and secured the area.
    • Three days later, research personnel and equipment began arriving onsite. Quick-fab research facilities were erected and the area was further quarantined.

WHO IS OUR HOST?

Discovering the identity of the Host of the X-91 Project is beyond the scope of this scenario. Possibilities include:

  • Virtually any hypercorp
  • Project Ozma
  • Pathfinder
  • An undercover TITAN (or its agents) still active in the solar system

The Direct Action team was hired anonymously through the hypercorp’s secure communication protocols. Direct Action might know who’s paying the bills, but nobody on the ground does.

The research team is composed entirely of forks: They woke up in new morphs, received a recorded message from their alphas which told them they had been paid very large amounts of money, and were then shipped to the job site. (Some of them had done this sort of thing before.) Their alphas might know who’s paying the bills (although that’s almost certainly obfuscated), but, once again, nobody at Crater X-91 does.

BACKGROUND – SILVER BASILISK

What’s in the crater is Silver Basilisk: An exsurgent nanoplague. Instead of a nanoswarm, however, Silver Basilisk takes the form of a strange, silver-black oil.

INFECTION:

  • Anyone touching Silver Basilisk is considered infected.
  • Toxin filters and medichines allow a DUR x 3 test to resist infection.

EFFECT:

  • FIRST GENERATION: Those directly exposed to the concentrated form of Silver Basilisk found in the crater suffer the effects of a mindstealer strain of the exsurgent virus (EP, pg. 367).
    • Suffer 2d10 SV.
    • Succumb in COG + INT + SAV action turns.
    • Suffer -30 penalty to all tests during this time as they feel Silver Basilisk taking control.
  • SECOND GENERATION: Second generation exposure to the virus will suffer the effects of a haunting strain of the exsurgent virus (EP, pg. 366), but on an accelerated timeline of weeks instead of months.
    • Stage 1 (initial infection to 3 weeks): 1d10 SV, gain Psi (Level 1), Mental Disorder, and a psi-chi sleight. Gain new psi-chi sleight every 2-4 days.
    • Stage 2 (3 weeks to 6 weeks): 1d10 ÷ 2 SV, gain Psi (Level 2). Gain new psi-gamma sleight every 2-4 days.
    • Stage 3 (6 weeks+): 1d10 ÷ 2 SV, +5 COG, +5 WIL, gain Psi (Level 3). Fully under the control of Silver Basilisk.
  • ETCHING: In addition, the silver-black oil of Silver Basilisk will etch itself into the skin of victims (or press its way out, depending on how it manifests).
    • It particularly focuses on the face and, later, the eyes.
    • Stage 2: These tattoos will intensify during moments of “ascendancy” in which Silver Basilisk takes greater control of the victim.
    • Stage 3: The tattoos become permanent.

BASILISK EFFECT:

  • The silver-black tattoos of a Silver Basilisk host have the effect of a basilisk hack.
    • Viewer: COG + INT + SAV test; on failure, suffer 1d10 SV and catatonic stupor for 1 minute  + 1 minute per 10 MoF.
    • Avoid: REF x 3 test to block out the sensory input.
  • Silver Basilisk hosts will generally paralyze their victims and then vomit the silver-black oil into their mouths while they’re catatonic. The victim’s experience is that they look at the host’s face… and then wake up (possibly having experienced strange visions and with a bad taste in their mouth).

WHERE DID IT COME FROM?

A final gift from the TITANs to transhumanity? Or was it something trying to hitch a ride with the TITANs that got caught at the last minute and forcibly ejected?

CURRENT EVENTS – BASILISK DREAMS

Those sleeping near the asteroid may experience strange and disturbing dreams:

  • 20% chance of experiencing the dreams + 10% per previous time experiencing the dreams
  • The dreams act as weak basilisk hacks: COG + INT + SAV + 20 test. If this fails, a single suggestion is planted in the character’s mind. (Eclipse Phase, pg. 366)

Features of the dream vary. A few possibilities:

  • Corkscrewed corridors of gleaming fuligin (a material darker than black and almost nonexistent to transhuman eyes).
  • Experiencing emotions that cannot be felt by transhuman minds (and certainly cannot be expressed in words); the absence of those emotions upon waking is an immense and empty sorrow shaped like a lily.
  • The dream seems to end, but the character is paralyzed in their bed and a silver caul creeps up the sides of their face and covers their eyes and smothers them and plunges into their ears and eyes and nose and mouth. Then they wake up. (This dream may repeat several times.)
  • Staring into a mirror at one’s own face and slowly becoming aware that some other ego is looking out from their eyes. And then the reflection turns and walks away and the mirror is a window which looks into the world which they have been locked away from. (Turning to see that the world they inhabit is filled with half-formed items that consist only of those sides and features which might be reflected in the mirror.)

Go to Part 2: Crater X-91

I can’t do a murder mystery because the PCs will just cast speak with dead.

I’ve seen this sentiment a lot, but it’s never really made any sense to me: The act of investigating a mystery is one by which you reveal that which is unknown. When we talk about PCs casting a speak with dead spell, we’re describing a situation in which the players reveal that which is unknown (i.e., they investigate the mystery), but then, oddly, we’re supposed to conclude that they can’t investigate the mystery because the investigate the mystery.

I think part of the problem here lies in an erroneous instinct that I talked about as part of the Three Clue Rule:

There is a natural impulse when designing a mystery, I think, to hold back information. This is logical inclination: After all, a mystery is essentially defined by a lack of information. And there’s a difference between having lots of clues and having the murderer write his home address in blood on the wall.

But, in reality, while a mystery is seemingly defined by a lack of knowledge, the actual action of a mystery is not the withholding of knowledge but rather the discovery of knowledge.

Let me put it another way: Strip the magic out of this scenario. Imagine that you’ve designed a mystery scenario in which there was a witness to the crime. The PCs turn to this witness and say, “Who killed him?” and the witness says, “It was Bob.” And it turns out Bob is just standing there, so they arrest him. End of mystery.

You wouldn’t conclude that you can’t do mystery scenarios because people can talk to each other right?

Speak with dead should be no more alarming than an FBI team taking fingerprints or a CSI team enhancing video and running facial analysis.

DESIGN TO THE SPELL

You may also see people suggesting that you “nerf” the spell to one degree or another. (Corpses that refuse to answer questions, for example.) Nothing is more frustrating to a player than having their smart choices blocked because the GM has some preconceived notion of how they’re supposed to be investigating the crime.

But what you can do is design your mysteries to the reality of the spell. Generally speaking, after all, people in the game world know that the spell exists, right? So they aren’t going to plan their murders in ways that will expose them. (Any more than people in a magic-free setting will commit their murders while standing directly in front of surveillance of cameras.) They will find ways to conceal their identity; they may even find ways to try to use the spell to frame other people. (For example, imagine a murder scenario where the victim thinks one of the PCs did it because the perpetrator used a polymorph spell.)

OTHER DIVINATIONS

The same advice generally applies to other divination spells, too. The only divination effects which are truly problematic are those which allow you to contact omniscient beings and receive crystal clear information from them. Fortunately, these spells basically don’t exist in D&D (and most other games). The closest you can get are commune and contact other plane, but both are explicitly limited to the knowledge of the entity you’re contacting. (1st Edition AD&D actually had a lovely table for determining “Likelihood of Knowledge” and “Veracity”.)

Ten Candles: The Dig – 1939

November 16th, 2016

Ten Candles

THE DIG: 1939

In 1868 Frederick August Klein discovered the Mesha Stelae at the site of ancient Dibon. One of the stelae told of the anger of Chemosh, god of Moab, who returned to his people in a time of trouble in order to overthrow the Israelites who had oppressed them. The other told of the bleak artifact which Chemosh – the squamous, aquatic destroyer who had raped the goddess Ishtar and pillaged Mesha Steleher flesh; who had feasted upon the flesh of children given as molk fire sacrifices in the valley of Topheth; whose blood flowed through the abominations of the children of Ammon – left behind to crush the Jews if they should ever threaten his people again.

When the Bani Hamida – the local Bedouin tribe – discovered that the stelae had been recovered they seized them. When the Ottomans ordered them to be turned over to the German consulate, they heated the stelae in a fire, threw cold water upon them, and broke them into pieces with boulders.

Fortunately, just before their destruction, Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau – the noted French orientalist and archaeologist – had manged to obtain papier-mâché impressions of the stelae. So deeply disturbed was he by the content of the second stele, however, that he secreted it away, reporting only the existence of the first to the wider world in a paper written for the Revue de l’Instruction Publique. (He might not have done even so much if George Grove of the Palestine Exploration Fund had not announced the find in a letter to the The Times.)

The second stele was recovered by the Ahnenerbe in 1936. After it was translated in early 1937, Heinrich Himmler decreed that the recovery of the artifact it described was of the utmost importance. A number of subsequent investigations – following the clues contained in the ancient stele – were undertaken.

It is now the summer of 1939. As Nazi agents of the SS, you have been hand-chosen to lead an archaeological expedition into the Middle East and conduct a dig near the ancient city of D’Khesh where it is believed the artifact was interred. Upon arrival in the region, you obtained the necessary permits, organized a crew of native diggers (mongrel half-breeds and the like), established your site, and commenced work.

Initial results have been promising, but the telegrams coming from Berlin have grown increasingly urgent and demanding. It seems that there is some great undertaking afoot in Germany, and the bane of Chemosh would be of untold benefit to the ultimate undertaking of the Aryan race.

Areas of Note: Officers’ tents, native labor encampment, the latrine, vehicle pool, supply tent, the dig site, the acacia tree, the endless dunes of sand, the seal of black stone, the crypt beneath

Goal: Retrieve the bane of Chemosh

Special Note: The scenario starts normally, but when the vault of Chemosh is breached the Sun, Stars, and Moon are blotted out by the Dark. Shortly thereafter, They will arrive.

Thule Society

Go to Part 1

Battlestar Galactica - Starbuck

GM: Okay, you come up over the horizon of the station and you can see the trench up ahead. Three rebel fighters go roaring past.

Annie: I signal my co-pilots to follow my lead and drop in behind them.

GM: Sure. You fall into their 6 o’clock and hit the thrusters, zooming up behind them.

Annie: I target the lead rebel pilot and take my shot!

GM: He’s dancing around in the ray-trace of your targeting computer.

Annie: The Force is strong with this one. I pull the trigger!

GM: The walls of the canyon are really racing past you. All this amazing superstructure just whirring by in a blur.

Annie: Great. I take the shot.

GM: Suddenly that old YT freighter you’d planted the tracking device on earlier comes roaring out of deep space! It shoots! [rolls some dice] One of your co-pilots explodes!

Annie: What?!

GM: What do you do?

Annie: I… take my shot?

GM: Your other co-pilot, distracted by the appearance of the new enemy, loses control! They smash into your wing, careen wildly, smash into the wall of the canyon, and explode! Your own stabilizers have been damaged and you go hurtling out into deep space!

This kind of resolution dithering – where the players have declared their actions, but the GM isn’t allowing them to actually take and resolve those actions – is incredibly frustrating.

Sometimes the dither is caused by the GM prematurely asking the players what they want to do – after hearing the proposed action they realize that there’s additional information that they want or need to convey. (Or, if they’re improvising, details or cool ideas which popped into their head during the time that it took for the player to respond.)

Other times the dither occurs because the GM is waiting for someone to say the thing he wants them to do: Something cool is going to happen when someone tries to open the door, so any other action people propose will be put on pause until somebody in the group opens the door. (This also naturally leads to a narrower case in which only actions that would disrupt what the GM has planned are ignored – you can do anything unless it gets between them and that door.)

Another common form of dithering occurs when a GM responds to a declaration of action by discussing other options that are available. For example, I was playing in a cyberpunk game where I said I wanted to hack an electronic lock. The GM responded by pointing out that I could also kick the door down or just send my slither-bot under the door or physically pick the lock or…

Ultimately, when a player declares an action the GM needs to resolve that action and then describe the new situation: They need to move forward so that the next set of actions be cleanly declared. (The only exceptions are if the GM doesn’t feel they have enough information to resolve the action or if the declared action appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the current situation. In either case, the GM should still be seeking the necessary clarification as quickly as possible and then driving forward into the resolution.)

Resolution dithering often becomes obfuscated when the GM can jump between multiple PCs, leading to a muddle where the GM can get an action declaration from one PC, not fully resolve it, move onto the next PC, get another action they don’t fully resolve, and then repeat cyclically – kind of bouncing around the group without ever moving the action forward. This seems particularly prevalent with neophyte GMs (possibly because their lack of confidence manifests as an unwillingness to make the sort of definitive declarations required of action resolution), and the resulting quagmire can be difficult to diagnose.

GM DON’T #3.1: THE REVERSE RESOLUTION RING

What I refer to as the reverse resolution ring is a kissing cousin with resolution dithering and, for me, is even more frustrating to experience as a player.

For example, I was playing in a game of The One Ring. The GM would describe a situation – like a guard dog growling as the party drew near – and I would say something like, “Okay, I’m going to grab some of the fresh venison from the deer we killed this morning and I’ll toss it to the dog to distract it.” The GM takes note of that, but then proceeds around the table collecting action declarations from the other players.

So far, this is probably fine: Getting a collective understanding of what everyone is doing before figuring out how it would all play out together can actually be a really good technique for a GM to learn.

But where the reverse resolution ring kicks in is when a form of recency bias causes the GM to resolve the proposed actions in the opposite order from which they were declared (starting with the last person they talked to and then working their way backwards to the person who actually kicked things off). This is a problem because, at some point during those declarations, the other players will often say something like:

“Oh! That sounds good! I’ll dig some meat out of my pack, too!”

Or:

“I shoot the dog with my crossbow.”

The latter negates the original declaration by solving the problem in an alternative way. The former ends up basically stealing the original idea (even when the player saying it was just trying to support what they saw as a good solution to the problem) – the copycat gets to be the one to actually do the cool idea.

In either case, the GM is essentially stealing spotlight time. They’re punishing the player who took initiative, which is directly problematic because that’s demoralizing and unfair to the player affected, and indirectly problematic because it will eventually have a corrosive effect on the willingness of the entire table to step up. Even if it’s just a subconscious reaction, eventually you’ll end up with something that could easily be misidentified as analysis paralysis, but is actually just a hesitation to pull the trigger when it’s just as likely to end up shooting you in the head.

(It actually reminds me of something that crops up in live theatre: One actor will come up with a funny bit of business or line reading. Other actors will see it and think, “That’s hilarious!” And then they’ll end up duplicating the bit in their own scene, which can often happen earlier in the play than the original actor’s bit. These derivative bits are often not as funny and only serve to sap the riotous humor of the original – which is often built on the straight takes which are supposed to precede it. It’s the director’s responsibility to make sure that this sort of undercutting does not happen. But I digress.)

The reverse resolution ring can get truly cancerous when it turns into an endless ring: The GM goes through the ring once asking declarations, goes backwards through the ring resolving actions, and then – since they’re back at the beginning of the ring – they ask that last player, “So, what do you want to do next?” … only to then go forwards through the ring again getting everyone else’s declarations. The GM can even convince themselves that they’re “balancing” things – this guy went last, so let’s find out what he wants to do first. But that player is now systemically screwed, doomed to forever get upstaged by the rest of the group until something disrupts the current pattern.

In closing, however, I will mention the exception which proves the rule: A reverse resolution ring can be an effective technique when it’s used to model initiative. In other words, when the GM asks those with the lowest initiatives to declare their actions first and then resolves from highest initiative down. The “punishment” is now modeling the poor initiative result, and grants a strong benefit to those with a high initiative result.

Ten Candles: Apocalypse Dark

November 7th, 2016

Ten Candles - Stephen Dewey

APOCALYPSE DARK

The world ended awhile ago. At least, the world as you knew it: Famine and drought created desperation. Governments crumbled. Cities turned into wastelands. Marauders roamed the countryside.

But you survived. And you weren’t alone. You and a small group of others formed a compound. You secured it. You rebuilt your own little corner of civilization and for the first time in a long time each year was a little better than the last.

Then the darkness came. Those on watch that night said that the stars swam before their eyes. The moon winked out. The sun never rose. The scavenged solar panels became worthless silicate, of course. It was decided that the gas for the generators would be conserved, but that changed when They came.

Your friends. Your family. Those you saved and those who have saved you. One by one they’ve been taken by something out there in the dark. Now only a handful of you remain. The walls haven’t kept your safe, but they’re the only defense you have. Can they be reinforced? Or would it be better to abandon them and hole up in one of the buildings? You’ll figure it out. After all, if the Apocalypse couldn’t kill you, then you can find a way to survive this, too.

Areas of Note: Ramparts, the locked armory, barracks, the cornfields, the solarium

Goal: Hold the fort

Fortifications

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