Friday, October 2, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 20

S@GP & Other Champions by EUDETENIS
This is it: the conclusion of my adventure for Rifts. Looking back on it now, there were a few things I'd certainly have done differently if I had the chance, but ultimately I'm happy with the way everything turned out. The switch to ICONS, in particular, has been well-received. I'm handing the reins to another longtime player: Felix, who usually plays the titan cyber-knight Arisis. I already miss running the game but can't wait to get back to seeing the action through my character's eyes again.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker P.I. (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Kat sends her still-camouflaged BAKENEKO drone out to investigate the area near the brig that she and her friends are locked into. As she does so, one of the imprisoned titans approaches her and suggests that as a psi-stalker -- a species practically unknown in the Three Galaxies -- she might be able to offer her services to the Totality and secure her escape. She feigns interest until the titan starts to try negotiating his own release as part of the plan, which Kat points out would do nothing for her. "I was told you were a woman of principle," he protests impotently, and eventually relents. Kat shrugs and checks in with her drone, which has found no trace of Arisis' former tutor, Rizon, and little else of note. She decides to command it to wait outside the brig.

Arisis decides to approach Rhaphis again, to try to talk him into fighting alongside Arisis and her friends in the trial by combat. She reminds him that if they succeed, Maia will have no choice but to release them, and the Totality will pursue both of them no more. Her twin brother is apparently unconvinced, though many of the other titans in lockdown urge him to fight at her side. Rhaphis is more interested in the content of Arisis' conversation with their elder sister, Maia. She summarizes the content of their meeting to Rhaphis, who is amused to learn that Arisis physically struck Maia, until he realizes that this course of action has likely sped up Maia's legal proceedings. 

Sure enough, the door to the brig soon slides open, and Maia sweeps into the chamber, accompanied by a dozen armed guards. S@GP and Rhaphis are separated from the other prisoners and escorted down a long hallway in a silent procession, during which Kat nonchalantly uncloaks her drone and directs it to rejoin her. Maia is barely able to mask her fury as they walk, and at one point one of her guards tries to "accidentally" knee Max in the back, which seems to amuse some of the titans. Max avoids the blow, then telepathically asks Arisis why the guards seemingly have it in for him in particular. Arisis is more concerned with the upcoming trial by combat, and advises Max to network all of S@GP together with a telepathic mindlink, so that they can better coordinate their strategy -- a link he more than succeeds in creating.

As our heroes are led to an huge set of double doors, Arisis senses a subtle shift in her surroundings and realizes that the Xanthus has performed a dimensional teleport. The doors open to reveal what appears to be an immense arena -- or better yet, coliseum -- suspended in deep space. Its configuration resembles a giant bowl lined with seats, filled with spectators: mostly titans, along with some representatives of their conquered "servitor species". The bottom of the "bowl" is an open, circular space, beneath which hangs a large platform, as if suspended by invisible wires. The crowd erupts into a roar as Maia breaks away from the procession to be seated upon her Judgment Throne, to the tune of martial fanfare. 

Meanwhile, Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Rhaphis are conducted down a long walkway, then onto an elevator-like conveyance that carries them to the battleground floating below, which they now see is littered with shattered statuary. As the defendants disembark, the titan that earlier attempted to strike Max manages to trip him, sending the young mystic sprawling to the dust. Valerie rushes to his aid as the spectators erupt in laughter and jeers, and a brief scuffle ensues, with Arisis cuffing the titan and Kat siccing her drone on him. A more level-headed titan guard takes charge, quelling the disturbance and flatly telling S@GP (and Rhaphis) to get off the elevator, informing them that their weaponry will then be delivered back to them. The group grudgingly complies, and the platform is lifted up, then back down, with their gear. Our heroes equip themselves for battle and take in their surroundings, realizing that beyond the edge of the slowly rotating battlefield is indeed deep space -- in fact, the inexorable, yawning chasm of a black hole is visible.

The dire nature of their predicament starts to sink in, and a hush falls across the crowd as Maia rises from the Judgment Throne and begins to imperiously recount the "story all the Totality knows well," of how Arisis Solstice and her twin brother Rhaphis Equinox conspired to abandon and betray the Othrys Totality, then fled to Earth. Arisis denies having ever turned her back on the Totality and claims her right to do as she sees fit, as a daughter of Arisis, which surprisingly draws shouts of support from some of the spectators. Maia pays no heed, and summons the Zodiac Enforcers: a glowing, clock-like wheel of astrological symbols appears above the battlefield, and from a dimensional portal in its center, five warriors are disgorged:
  • Siculus, the Libra enforcer; a bulky, toad-like alien who seems unpopular with most of the crowd
  • Rizon, the Taurus enforcer; an undying warrior forever encased in a giant armored battlesuit, wrestling trainer of Arisis in her youth
  • Keryx, the Sagittarius enforcer; an ancient cyborg-centaur archer from the planet Ixion and veteran of the combat trials, now mostly machine
  • Relos and Jendra, the Gemini enforcers; the twin Praxian (?) warrior women that seem to be related to Valerie in some way
The arrival of the Enforcers whips the crowd into a frenzy. Arisis summons her psi-sword, the legacy of her new role as a cyber-knight -- a feat few titans have ever before witnessed her perform. Jendra unsheathes the pincer-like claws of her ride armor, and Valerie revs the engine of her Cyclone in response. Kat draws her rune no-dachi, the crystals of Max's techno-wizard power armor darken and grow spiky, Rhaphis readies his glaive with a flourish -- then, the terrific clash of a giant gong sounds, and battle is joined.

Kat leaps into the fray, chopping at Keryx with her no-dachi. She catches the veteran flat-footed, and her blade scrapes against the centaur's bionic frame, sending sparks flying. A split second later, Valerie uses the mindlink Max established earlier to warn Kat of incoming fire and targets all of the Zodiac Enforcers, unleashing her mecha's entire payload of mini-missiles upon them. A burst of superheated plasma engulfs nearly half the battlefield, with only Kat's enhanced psi-stalker reflexes and Keryx's nimble hooves proving enough to escape the blast. Rizon seems barely singed, but Siculus, Jendra, and Relos are badly injured -- Jendra, in particular, is staggered by the explosion. 

From his new vantage point at the edge of the field, the Sagittarius Enforcer, Keryx, singles out Valerie as the most urgent target and looses a pair of arrows at her, but the man-machine interface-enhanced reflexes of her Cyclone allow the headhunter to avoid them. Arisis, hopeful that Rizon is at least somewhat stunned by Valerie's missile barrage, charges full-speed at her former mentor. The Taurus Enforcer proves to be a wily toreador, however, and sidesteps Arisis' bull rush. Max decides that Rizon is the greatest threat and telepathically asks his friends to cover him, then begins to weave an incantation, which draws thunderous boos from the crowd above. Arisis belatedly realizes the source of her people's disdain: in the Totality, mystics are always female "sibyls" -- prognosticators and advisers that are generally kept hidden from society (and certainly never engage in combat) -- making Max's existence a scandalous inversion of, and insult to, titan social order.

Rhaphis, seeing an opportunity, strides forward matter-of-factly and bloodily dispatches the still-shellshocked Jendra with his glaive, causing the crowd to erupt in shrieks of horror and delight. Jendra's sister, Relos, cries out in despair and slashes wildly at Rhaphis with her mecha's pincer-blades. The scion of Atlas parries her attacks with nonchalant ease. Rizon, unperturbed, turns to his former pupil and drives a lunging knee into her back, then twists her prone form into a devastating submission hold. Arisis, wracked with pain, struggles to break free, but even her considerable wrestling prowess and titanic strength are no match for those of her immortal instructor. Max, still casting his spell, uses his mindlink to direct Kat and Valerie to "get Rizon off of Arisis." Meanwhile, Rhaphis, distracted with deflecting Relos' frantic assault, finds his vital energies being siphoned by Siculus, who has adhered to the titan with his long, sticky tongue. Siculus' wounds begin to heal before the eyes of the crowd, which nevertheless boos the amphibian Enforcer.

Heeding Max's request, Kat rushes to engage Rizon. Her rune no-dachi proves enough to scratch his mechanical frame but inflicts only superficial damage, and his hold on Arisis remains unbroken. Valerie, suddenly having a bright idea, performs a jet-assisted leap onto Rizon's back and tries to her cybernetic interface ability to hijack his armor -- and amazingly succeeds! Rizon's powered suit shuts down, crumpling to the side, and Arisis is freed. Keryx, now growing frantic, looses another volley of arrows at Valerie but misses badly in his haste to turn the tide of battle. However, he is still competent enough to dodge a tackle thrown at him by Arisis. Max, seeing that Rizon is now out of the action, elects to instead turn his attention to Keryx. He completes his incantation, telekinetically lifting a massive chunk of broken statuary from the floor of the battlefield, then sending it speeding at the centaur. To the crowd's shock, the improvised missile crashes into the Sagittarius Enforcer with enough force to send him skittering off the edge of the battle-platform and hurtling into space. The old archer floats in the arena's inertial field for a fraction of a second, then is wrenched violently into the horizon of the black hole. Max's triumph is greeted with a storm of furious boos and screams of outrage, and the young mystic, who has had enough of the Totality's abuse, soaks it up with shouted profanity and an obscene gesture or two.

Rhaphis turns calmly to Siculus, the Libra Enforcer, and says "you need to yield, now." Siculus considers his predicament -- Rizon out of commission, Jendra dying, and Keryx cast into the void -- and kneels in submission. Kat interjects herself between Rhaphis and Relos, with her sword at the Praxian's neck, and asks if she will also yield. Relos frantically pleads for someone to help her sister, who lies at Rhaphis' feet in a growing pool of green blood, then acquiesces to Kat's demand. Valerie comes to Jendra's aid, and with Max, works to stabilize Jendra's condition. Arisis and her compatriots have won.

Confusion reigns over the crowd until Maia, quaking in anger, rises from her throne and motions for silence. The platform that brought S@GP to the battlefield now delivers the titans that had been held in the brig along with Rhaphis. She tersely acknowledges Arisis and Rhaphis' victory, and offers them a choice: return to the arms of the Othrys Totality or leave it forever. Rhaphis says he will travel back to Earth, inviting all who wish "to forge a new, true Totality" to accompany him to glory. Arisis rejects the notion of Maia's choice entirely, again claiming her birthright as one of the Pleiades as well as her right to follow her own path to justice, which again draws an unusually mixed reaction from the crowd. Maia ignores this, asking her younger sister where she wishes to be sent, and Arisis chooses to return to Earth. Rhaphis proposes that his sibling accompany him, since they're headed in the same direction, but Arisis refuses, telling her brother to "go back to Africa." At this, the titan followers that were brought to the battlefield begin to separate, with six choosing to remain at Rhaphis' side, and six electing to accompany Arisis. Maia calls for titan navigators to report to the arena and teleport the victors to their destinations.

Max uses a healing spell on Jendra, and Valerie helps her to her feet. Valerie ardently urges both of the clone warriors to come with her. Jendra turns her back and walks away before Valerie can even finish speaking. Relos dejectly agrees to accompany Valerie to Serendipity, saying "I have nowhere else to go." With the crowd still murmuring in shock, Kat ascends a pile of rubble and calls for any titans that would follow "the TRUE daughter of Atlas" to come to the battle-platform. To Arisis' surprise, dozens of titans rise up and try to storm their way the battlefield. A trio of strange-looking titan navigators hurriedly encircles S@GP, Relos, and their new titan allies. Several people try to leap their way down out of the stands as Maia and her elite guards struggle to maintain order. Only three of them reach the floor before the navigators complete their dimensional junction, teleporting everyone back to Earth.

In a flash, Arisis, Kat, Valerie, Max, Relos, and nine titans materialize on a street in Serendipity, not far from the Naruni Enterprises outpost that originally took S@GP to Center. It takes the group a moment to get their bearings, however, as said outpost is now nowhere to be seen, as if it had vanished into thin air. Solutions' headquarters is a short walk away, and soon enough, the group is back at their new home... though it is somewhat the worse for wear. Sections of fence appear to have been torn up, sections of a few buildings are scorched, and (perhaps most alarmingly) a few dead bodies are being disposed of by crewmen. Kat reviews footage shot by the drones she left protecting the compound, and sees that it was attacked in the night by a black-scaled, fire-breathing dragon accompanied by zombie minions. It seems that Yeshka staged a night raid in retaliation for S@GP's defeat of her and her companion, the sphinx Tetka, but was driven off by the combined forces of Asha and Annejah, the Gun Street Girls militia, and (oddly) the silent Glitter Boy pilot called Jim J. Wynn, who competed in the invitational power armor tournament several days prior.

S@GP are welcomed home by Nysa, who was already on the grounds and informs our heroes that she foresaw their return. However, the entrepreneuress insists that she takes her pledge to support the group seriously, and will pay to repair all damages. As the coordinator of the Mutant Railroad, she also offers to provide room and board to all of the titan refugees. Arisis and Max thank Nysa profusely. Kat finds a mysterious note, which she silently reads and then demands that Max let her borrow his Wastelander motorcyle. Max is puzzled but tosses her the keys, and Kat peels out with no explanation. Nysa is somewhat nonplussed by Kat's sudden departure, since the psi-stalker had agreed to Nysa's request to provide her with intel on Phase World. Max is likewise unhappy, lamenting that the motorcycle she borrowed was important to him. He checks his calendar, discovers that the group was away from Serendipity for a grand total of four days, and realizes he turned seventeen while he was unconscious. "Happy belated birthday to me."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 19

We were able to squeeze a little bit of action in with our drama this time. I had honestly expected to finish the adventure (or get very close) during this session, but we were having too much fun chewing scenery to let that happen. I'm certainly not complaining. This campaign's cast of characters has swollen considerably during my stint in the GM chair; I may need to write some sort of guide explaining who everyone is if I expect readers to be able to follow what's going on.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker P.I. (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Arisis, Kat, Max, and Nahar race after the alien war criminal Sorventh, who is fleeing from them in the giant Destroid Monster mecha, also known as "the Mac". Valerie follows close behind, carrying the mecha's rightful owners, Reez and Mian. Though the Mac is not a fast-moving vehicle, it is extremely heavily armed, and blasts away at its pursuers with abandon, starting with the largest target: the giant-sized Arisis. Arisis grits her teeth and soaks up a full-powered laser blast from the Mac's arm cannons, the impact of which sends shrapnel of ice and rock flying, striking her comrades. When the smoke clears, however, Arisis is bloodied, but still standing. With Arisis having taken the hit for the team, Nahar and Kat leap onto the legs of the Monster and, after conferring with its owner, Reez, via radio, Kat is able to punch in override codes to first open the mecha's crew hatch, then disable it entirely. The hatch drops open, and a ladder-like ramp automatically swings down to the planet's surface.

A brief standoff ensues, during which Valerie catches up with her friends. S@GP train their weapons on the open hatch, and Arisis commands Sorventh and his lackeys to stand down. The latter, at least, acknowledge her authority: the half-dozen miscreants that were assisting the draconid soon descend the ladder with hands raised, but Sorventh himself seems intractable. Max casts a stunning spell on the alien mage's minions, and Mian and Reez hurriedly set about handcuffing them. Kat suddenly senses magic in use inside the mecha, and jumps her way up the ramp, knocking two of Sorventh's men off of it in the process. She reaches the cockpit just in time to see Sorventh shimmer and vanish. Teleportation spells are no match for the psi-stalker's enhanced senses, however, and Kat directs Fay -- who had been guarding Reez and Mian's spacecraft in her Horizont dropship -- to pick her up. Sorventh teleports across the surface of Nong 6 several more times, but to no avail: Kat's ability to sense magic keeps him in range. Before long, the draconid war criminal is captured, and his reserves of magical energy are drained after Kat gives him a nasty bite. Evidently, psi-stalkers are nonexistent in the Three Galaxies, as Sorventh is completely flabbergasted by the ease with which he has been incapacitated.

Mian and Reez finish restraining Sorventh and his men, and Max raises an uncomfortable topic: the fact that S@GP needs their friends to hand Sorventh over to them. He suggests that Valerie, as S@GP's headhunter and one of the main negotiators of the agreement with Bastille Impenetrable, explain the situation. Valerie -- who is still reeling from being victimized by two shapeshifters wearing the faces of Mian and Reez -- is reluctant to do so, which prompts Max to take her aside for a tense discussion about keeping one's head in the game. Arisis and Kat take over for them, with the titan also detailing how Tetka and Yeshka infiltrated the group (and insinuated their way into Valerie and Arisis' confidence, in particular). Mian and Reez are bewildered and disturbed, but acknowledge that without S@GP's help, they would have been stranded or killed by Sorventh, and agree to let them take the war criminal in. They also inform the team that they did not knowingly encounter Tetka, her dragon companion, or any other Hard Repo personnel, and extend their sympathies. Valerie, her feelings somewhat soothed, offers Mian and Reez the bounties on Sorventh's associates as small compensation, which they accept. Valerie and Reez share a hug, mecha and captives are loaded up, and both parties leave Nong 6 in their respective spacecraft.

Seconds after Fay's ship leaves Nong 6's atmosphere, an urgent hyperspace communication request pops up on the viewscreen. A frantic Karen Cray says "I've been trying to reach you -- you guys are in trouble!" Before she can explain further, the communication channel is shut off, and a vast space battleship with a baroque chimera motif at its prow surges out of hyperspace. The Horizont's power is immediately cut from an outside source, and the battleship engages twin tractor beams, paralyzing Mian and Reez' craft and drawing Fay's dropship inexorably into a port carved to resemble a roaring lion's maw. Arisis grimly informs her comrades that they have been intercepted by the Xanthus, the flagship of the Othrys Totality -- the empire of her people, the titans.

The Horizont is guided down a seemingly interminable shaft and into a massive hangar, in which columns of armored titan warriors -- numbering in the hundreds -- are assembled, alongside soldiers of the various "servitor races" conquered by the Othrys Totality. At the head of the throng is an imperious-looking woman wearing the vestments of a priestess, flanked by a dozen elite guards: this is Maia, the eldest of Arisis' sisters, the Pleiades. Nearby stands no less than mighty Anhur, the Egyptian god of war; a powerfully-built giant of a man with the head of a lion. Fay mutters that she knew this was coming.

Maia's voice rings out in the ornate chamber, welcoming home her wayward sister and her friends, and inviting them to step forth from the spacecraft and disarm themselves. There is a moment of hesitation as S@GP look to Arisis for guidance, but she advises her compatriots to do as they are told. Nevertheless, Kat activates her BAKENEKO drone and engages its chameleon cloaking system. Arisis then strides down the ramp with Max, Kat, and Valerie at her side. Fay emerges from the Horizont as well, but Nahar pauses roughly halfway down the Horizont's exit ramp, and Kat surreptitiously directs her drone to do the same -- a smart move, since Maia seems as though she may have spotted it.

Arisis' sister continues to spout insincere platitudes as the elite titan guards step forward to divest Solutions @ Gun Pointe of their weaponry. Valerie makes a calculated effort to showcase her physical assets as she steps out of her armor (invoking Unforgettably Gorgeous), providing enough distraction to allow Kat to carefully inch her cat-drone out of the Horizont and slip its control module to Valerie (which she conceals inside one of her bionic arms). Meanwhile, Fay reluctantly approaches Anhur. "You have been unruly, and unwise," he chides, wordlessly questioning what possessed the wayward demigoddess to use her cursed gaze power and thus alert her mother, the witch-goddess Amon, to her location. After acknowledging Arisis as a fellow warrior, Anhur tells Fay to return to the ship. "We will be returning to Earth with the ogress," he says, and Nahar decides not to argue this point. Nahar vows to Valerie that she will ensure that Sorventh is delivered to Bastille Impenetrable, and tells her to make sure Max stays in one piece (a sentiment which catches the young mystic by surprise). Fay asks S@GP not to worry, saying she'll catch up with them later. Then, the Egyptian deities and Nahar board the Horizont and depart.

Maia raises her arms in a falsely affectionate greeting, and Arisis steps forward to embrace her with barely-veiled menace, delivering a forceful "kiss of death" to her elder sister's cheeks and forehead. As the titans file past Maia with S@GP's gear, the group sees that two guards that were previously in the rear of the formation have stepped forward. Both are wearing suits of ride armor -- one red, one purple -- that is similar in design to Valerie's Saber Cyclone, yet markedly different, even alien, in appearance. Something deep in Valerie's Praxian psyche reacts to their presence with frenzied hostility, and she suddenly lunges at one of them, hanging onto its armored breastplate and screaming "What are you?!" The purple-armored warrior that Valerie pounced upon is staggered, but the red one still stands at attention. Arisis attempts to restrain Valerie, but the headhunter wriggles free. Max acts decisively but imperceptibly, silently striking Valerie down with his "evil eye" ability. He eases Valerie's fall as she crumples, temporarily paralyzed, to the floor. Snickers of derision echo softly in the great chamber until Arisis commands them to be silent -- an order that is immediately followed despite her outlaw status.

(Several years ago, partially due to the influence of the sentient Sword of Baragor, Arisis turned against the malevolent Totality. With the aid of certain titans loyal to her, and along with her twin brother Rhaphis, Arisis escaped to Earth, where she became a cyber-knight. Rhaphis, however, took a darker path.) 

Maia informs Arisis that she is to be put on trial by combat for betraying her people, with the rest of S@GP likewise tried as her associates. Until then, Maia offers to lodge Arisis in the luxury that is the birthright of the Pleiades, but Arisis elects to remain with her comrades, and picks up the stunned Valerie. With that, Solutions @ Gun Pointe are taken to the Xanthus' brig, and the assemblage of soldiers slowly files out behind them... leaving Kat's still-camouflaged drone virtually alone in the flagship's immense hangar-chamber.

The brig turns out to be more like a dungeon -- an immense, crypt-like enclosure where those the titans would prefer to forget about are thrown together. Obviously constructed without consideration for species that lack nightvision, the dungeon is kept in near-total darkness. Max conjures a globe of daylight, and a voice familiar to Arisis calls out for "the Champions of Light!" Soon, she has another terse reunion with one of her siblings: her twin brother, Rhaphis, who is somewhat the worse for wear. He is accompanied by a few henchmen who appear to be Africans, which is consistent with the circumstances in which S@GP last encountered him: taking advantage of the discord on that continent during the scourge of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Rhaphis seems amused that his sister has ended up here, and correctly surmises that a trial by combat must be at hand. It turns out that roughly a dozen other turncoat titans -- some of whom were among those that helped the twins escape the Totality several years past -- are ready and willing to attempt an escape from the Xanthus, which Rhaphis advises his sister to seriously consider. Arisis, however, is dubious. 

Not long after, the door to the brig opens again, and Maia enters, accompanied by several guards, two of whom are the ride-armored individuals who earlier caused Valerie to lose control. Maia asks Arisis to accompany her, and the titan sisters exit, leaving the armored warriors behind. "This is pointless, Relos," says the one in red, to the purple-armored warrior. Valerie, spoiling for a fight, unsheathes vibro-blades from her bionic arms, and the red-armored one extends a pair of wickedly curved, pincer-like claws in response. Relos asks the warrior in the red armor, apparently named "Jendra", to stand down. Relos removes her helmet, revealing a face that Valerie instantly recognizes: that of her late mother, Atheia, which she has seen only in photographs -- but too young by several years. Dazed, Valerie asks aloud: "Mom?" This seems to unsettle Relos, who demands to know who or what Valerie is. "I have so many questions!" says Relos, clearly perturbed by Valerie's existence. Infuriated, Jendra reiterates her opposition to Relos' visit, then turns and leaves in disgust when Relos ignores her. Valerie and Relos stare at each other in silence for a moment. Valerie reasons that Relos must be a Praxian from the same cloning "oven" as her mother, perhaps one from a parallel universe where Praxians were conquered by the Invid, but keeps her thoughts to herself. Instead, she offers to tell Relos the answers she seeks, but only if she helps S@GP escape. Relos is taken aback, but soon collects herself, accusing Valerie of trying to trick her into betraying the Totality like Arisis did. "I shouldn't be here... Jendra was right," Relos blurts out, but her confusion is all too apparent as she stumbles out of the brig.

Concurrently, Maia guides Arisis to a shrine filled with elaborate statuary and ceremoniously offers her younger sister a bowl of water, which she reveals to have come from the River Lethe. "Let this water flow; let it wash the blood from your hands and carry you home," she pleads. Arisis knows that to drink will obliterate her memories. Maia explains that Arisis could return to her side and help her attend to their father, Atlas, while her friends "would not be harmed." Arisis coldly refuses, shoving her sister to the floor of the shrine. Humiliated, Maia's facade cracks: "I hope Rizon destroys you," she cries repeatedly, using the name of the man that trained Arisis. "That's not going to happen," Arisis responds. "See you in the stars!" Maia's guards spirit her away, and lead Arisis back to the brig. 

As soon as she returns, Valerie takes Arisis aside, confesses that she eavesdropped on her conversation with Rhaphis, and urges her to reconsider. "Please listen... we gotta try to escape from here," she implores, and begins to ask Kat how they can use her drone to help escape. Arisis kneels and apologizes, allowing that although the chances are remote, escape might be possible, but insisting that the only way to ensure that Arisis' family will leave her and the rest of S@GP alone permanently is to prove their righteousness in combat. "We would be under their shadow until the time of their choosing. But if I face her and her champions, if I force my former teacher into submission, my family will leave me to my fate as I choose it: a life alongside you, my friends, my family." Solutions @ Gun Pointe share an emotional group embrace and swear to fight alongside one another, even if it is for the last time.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 18

A role-playing game session... with only role-playing and no combat to speak of? That's unpossible! Yet that's more or less what happened. I hadn't anticipated that everybody (myself included) would be feeling quite as talkative as they were, but I'm certainly not complaining about getting into character. It'd have been nice to squeeze in a bit more action, but one player needed to wrap up early, and we weren't able to get to it. So, enjoy this combat-free recap.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker P.I. (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

With Max's health restored and his armor once again operational, Solutions @ Gun Pointe (and their allies, Fay and Nahar) take a moment to regroup and recover. Fay engages her ship's unique techno-wizardry-based dimensional teleportation drive and "parks" it in deep space, in another dimension. Fay puts on a brave face and brushes off Valerie and Max's concern over her withered arm, saying that there's no way to fix it but that it's "nothing to fuss over." She downplays her own role in Max's rescue, telling Max that "us 'kid adventurers' need to stick together." Valerie thanks Fay profusely for her obvious sacrifice and tells her that S@GP will never forget it.

Max doesn't seem to be much the worse for wear. He is momentarily shaken, but recovers quite quickly, as if the magic of his Atlantean tattoo purged not only Tetka's toxins from his system, but also any potential trauma related to his mental ordeal from his psyche. He does inform his friends that using his magical tattoo's restorative powers has completely drained his magical energy for at least a day, however. (He also telepathically contacts those that helped free him from his fugue state and asks that they not tell Valerie exactly what happened in his dream-world if at all possible.)

The group considers their next move. There is considerable back-and-forth on the best plan, with some disagreement about whether to focus on attacking Hard Repo, tracking down the sphinx Tetka and her dragon companion Yeshka, checking to ensure the safety of their friends Mian and Reez (whom the aforementioned sphinx and dragon had impersonated), or to respond to Hard Repo's request for a meeting.

Nahar provides what little she knows about Tetka -- essentially, that she's twisted and unpredictable, and that she manipulates Yeshka into doing her bidding -- but points out that since the two have the ability to teleport across dimensions, it'll be nearly impossible to find them. More likely, she suggests, is the possibility that they will attack S@GP first. She suggests the group respond to her former employers' invitation to parley, saying that Hard Repo will probably want to make peace with everyone involved, since they have some degree of celebrity as "the Champions of Light," and might even be able to help them find Tetka and Yeshka. Kat, Arisis, and Max are open to the idea, despite their distaste for Hard Repo, suggesting that it's the most logical course of action.

Valerie seems dead-set on first confirming that Mian and Reez are safe, however, which prompts Nahar to bluntly wonder aloud who the leader of S@GP is. After Arisis and Kat inform her that the organization has no formal leader, and then engage in some well-intentioned (but somewhat tone-deaf) joking about the roles of the team's members, Valerie eventually relents and agrees to contact Hard Repo. However, she bristles at what she perceives as Nahar's inclusion of herself in S@GP's ranks, and calls her out, informing the tactless ogress that she will "never be as good as one of us." She then takes her leave, heading up to the cockpit. Nahar fumes for a while, but Max eventually soothes her rage with some quiet conversation in her mother tongue, Gobblely. Fay informs the group that the Horizont's communications systems were scrambled by the eldritch storms of Gemini-2, but that they'll be online again in roughly eight hours.

After roughly a day passes, Fay teleports the ship back to the Three Galaxies -- specifically, to Good Hope, the capitol planet of the Free Worlds Council, a ragtag assemblage of systems in rebellion against the totalitarian Trans-Galactic Empire. Good Hope's warp-gate works overtime, glittering among the planet's many space stations and satellites, and Free Worlds war convoys depart for the front as smoldering, battle-scarred cruisers return for repairs. S@GP convene in the cockpit to marvel at the somber but dazzling view.

Now that she is again able to access the hypernet, Fay sets about seeing what information is available about Sorventh, the draconid war criminal that Reez and Mian are hunting. She learns that Sorventh is wanted dead or alive by both the Free Worlds Council and the Consortium of Civilized Worlds for killing millions of Free Worlds colonists by intentionally targeting their outposts' atmospheric life support systems, presumably on behalf of the Trans-Galactic Empire. Seconds after accessing Sorventh's records, an incoming hail from an encrypted source chimes on Fay's console. She accepts it, and is greeted by one Jujube Yusuf, who introduces herself as the public relations liaison for Halcyon Reacquisitions (sometimes nicknamed Hard Repo) and says that she has been authorized by their CEO, G-Kon, to "discuss certain matters with Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Nahar tel-Kelyn."

Initially cautious, the Solutions crew soon find themselves negotiating with Hard Repo. Ms. Yusuf is pleasant to a fault and proves reasonably willing to work with S@GP to "squash the beef" between their organizations. There are a few disagreements over fine print which are eventually hammered out, and the end result, which Jujube informs them is more a treaty between military powers than a business agreement, is as follows:
  • Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Halcyon Reacquisitions will not engage in hostilities against the other party, nor encourage others to do so, unless either organization is found guilty of high crimes by the Intergalactic Criminal Court. (If such an eventuality occurs, HR agreed to testify that as shapeshifters, Tetka and Yeshka could frame S@GP with relative ease.)
  • Halcyon Reacquisitions does not accept responsibility for the actions of Tetka and Yeshka, since their employment was terminated the second they used lethal force in violation of Bastille Impenetrable's bounty (as delineated in their contracts). However, they will provide intelligence on Tetka and Yeshka's whereabouts and capabilities as a courtesy.
  • Since she was thrust into a situation where Tetka, the operational leader, was engaged in a criminal act, no punitive legal action will be taken against Nahar tel-Kelyn for breaking her contract. One-third of her outstanding debt to Halcyon Reacquisitions (primarily incurred through a juicer detox process and cybernetic enhancement to compensate) remains to be repaid. This remaining debt will be considered paid if both Yeshka and Tetka are brought to HR, alive or dead.
The last section, pertaining to Nahar's fate, is somewhat of a bone of contention. Kat argues forcefully that Nahar be free of any legal entanglements with Hard Repo, and the forgiveness of her debt is suggested by Valerie, a turnabout which stuns Nahar. Valerie apologizes for her earlier outburst, but lets the ogress know she didn't appreciate her flippant remarks about Max while he was in critical condition. "Fair enough," Nahar allows, and yet more beef is squashed. Jujube has to confer with her employer, but soon enough terms are reached, and a formal agreement between the two mercenary forces is forged. 

Jujube then provides S@GP with the personnel files for Tetka and Yeshka, which reveal that the two were implanted at some point in the past with unique crystalline artifacts called Amethyst Deceivers. When used by creatures of magic, these prevent all forms of detection (other than the five mortal senses) within a thirty-mile radius as long as the two individuals into whom they have been implanted remain within three miles of each other. 

Then, Jujube mentions that she would be happy to help S@GP negotiate with Bastille Impenetrable, clarifying that this is due less to her celebratory mood than a general desire to get the entire Bastille Impenetrable/Halcyon Reacquisitions/Solutions @ Gun Pointe debacle resolved. Kat suggests that it's more like Hard Repo wants to apologize to Bastille Impenetrable for screwing up, which amuses Nahar. Jujube counters that it's in S@GP's best interest to clear the slate with Bastille, unless they want more bounty hunters coming after them, an argument that eventually wins the group over. After a not-insignificant delay, a communication channel is opened with Bastille Impenetrable, with Jujube observing.

The Tisch triumvirate that arbitrate S@GP's case -- "this is not a negotiation, but a punishment" for their actions in Cuba, they repeatedly insist -- prove much less personable than HR's liaison. Instead, they demand that S@GP agree to capture four "high value" targets of Bastille Impenetrable's choosing, with no option to reject or modify the mission, at the completion of which their criminal records will be forgiven. One of the judges implies that S@GP will not approve of the targets Bastille Impenetrable selects, which causes S@GP to flatly refuse this scheme. Valerie insists that they be allowed to select their targets from Bastille Impenetrable's wanted list, which the triumvirate, in turn, rejects out of hand. They seem prepared to abandon talks entirely and reinstate the bounties on S@GP until Arisis (invoking her Radiant Daughter of Atlas quality) intimidates the judges into compromising, lest they invoke her titanic wrath:

"You seem to be under the mistaken impression that you are negotiating from a position of strength."
"I am the daughter of Atlas. Every step I take is from a position of strength."

More strong words from Arisis follow, and the following agreement is ultimately hammered out between Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Bastille Impenetrable:
  • S@GP will apprehend -- not execute -- six targets (either individuals or small groups) of Bastille Impenetrable's choosing, to be turned over to Bastille Impenetrable or their designated agents.
  • S@GP can refuse to accept a target, but no more than twelve times.
  • If S@GP fails to abide by the above restrictions, the agreement is null and void, and Bastille Impenetrable will take steps to apprehend S@GP.
Their mood dragged down by the contentious confrontation with Bastille Impenetrable, Solutions @ Gun Pointe agree to be provided with their first target, who is revealed to be Sorventh. Our heroes are informed that Bastille believes the draconid to be currently under attack by their allies, Reez and Mian, and that they will need to travel immediately to the planet Nong 6, in the Free Worlds Sector, and bring the interstellar mass murderer in alive.

Fay teleports the Horizont to Nong 6, a dry, frozen world with a barely-breathable atmosphere and a strange crust consisting of scarred earth and pools of ice. Her surface scan reveals a few ruined outposts, including one with a powerful and anomalous magnetic storm localized entirely above it, which she deduces is probably their target's location. The storm's interference wreaks havoc with sensors as well as guidance systems, and so S@GP set down at its edge. It rapidly becomes apparent that the outpost is indeed under attack, and the origin can only be the massive mobile artillery platform of a mecha that Reez and Mian used to great effect against the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: the Destroid Giant Monster, affectionately called "the Mac".

S@GP and their associates have great difficulty in getting their bearings, thanks to the magnetic interference, but before long they find themselves nearing the vicinity of the outpost (Valerie's military training comes in handy here, helping her follow the sound of exploding artillery). Valerie, whose piloting expertise is allowing her to fly in power armor despite the storm, soon receives radio contact from Mian, who is flabbergasted to find that she and her friends are planetside. Mian tersely explains that she and Reez are inside the outpost, taking heavy fire. Sorventh and his lackeys somehow eluded the bounty hunters and doubled back to seize their mecha, which they are now piloting back to Mian and Reez's spacecraft, shelling the outpost all the while.

Suddenly, the race is on: Valerie speeds toward the outpost, while her friends pursue the Mac. Valerie manages to avoid being blasted to pieces as Fay guides her progress remotely, using her demolitions expertise to suggest the most expedient route to their imperiled friends (she also invoked her Demigod Genius Smuggler quality to figure out a way to cut through the magnetic storm). Sorventh's gunners are not as skilled or as lucky, and their blind assault on the outpost fails to destroy it before Valerie, grappling with complex emotions, escapes with an ecstatic Reez and a thoroughly embarrassed Mian in her arms.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 17

Max's Dream by EUDETENIS
TOOT TOOT goes my own horn: This session was awesome. Everybody, myself included, had a great time. (I say this because players were still talking about how much fun it was the next morning.) Unlike last session, where I felt like I was scrambling at least two-thirds of the time, I was laser-focused and driven. If anything, I probably rushed through some stuff that could have used a bit more time to breathe. I could have taken a little more time describing some of the surroundings and action. But I can't complain too much.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female Titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker P.I. (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Karen Cray leads Solutions @ Gun Pointe through the wire-choked labyrinth of her home, to a room that contains a bed-like medical scanner, which she instructs Arisis to place Max upon. As the machine examines the young mystic, our heroes explain how they came to be in Center, and how they were duped by Hard Repo operatives. They also ask Cray about the film she apparently shot of "the Champions of Light" in action against the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She claims responsibility for distributing the footage, but adds that it has taken on a life of its own since, having been "chopped and screwed" into a multitude of unauthorized derivative works, which have made S@GP -- and many others that fought alongside them in Africa, including Nahar -- celebrities, after a fashion.

A hornet-like drone begins to photograph and film the ailing Max. Cray mentions that Hard Repo also have something of a following in the Three Galaxies, and urges S@GP to strike first -- with a media blitz. Kat's drone recorded much of their conflict with Hard Repo and Naruni Enterprises, and Cray suggests that although it might feel exploitative, they could intercut it with images of Max suffering and with interviews or testimonials from the other members of S@GP. Nahar approves of this strategy, pointing out that Tetka's use of lethal force (the deadly toxin she injected Max with) violates the terms of the Bastille Impenetrable-issued contract on S@GP that HR had taken on. Valerie, flustered, agrees that the idea makes sense but is more concerned with Max's diagnosis and survival. At that moment, the scan is completed, and Karen Cray groans in frustration: whatever was injected into Max's bloodstream is at least partially magical in nature, and so the examination has yielded very little of use.

Kat decides to astrally project her consciousness into Max's in an attempt to better understand the nature of his affliction, with Arisis accompanying her. After leaving their bodies and entering Max's mind, the pair find themselves in startlingly real surroundings: an idealized version of the pier behind S@GP headquarters in Serendipity. At the end of a long boardwalk, they notice the silhouettes of a couple sitting on a bench under a parasol. They approach, and after an unusually long time, find Max and Valerie happily chatting with one another. Max seems surprised (and not especially happy) to see his comrades. Arisis loses her patience and forcefully explains that the idyllic scene Max has apparently constructed for himself is an illusion -- that the real Max is in the bowels of Center, dying. Max is annoyed, claiming that "we haven't seen you guys in two years" and insisting that Arisis and Kat have little right to order him and Valerie around. "Valerie", for her part, encourages Max to "just ignore them." At that, the pair simply get up and walk away, the pier suddenly extending in front of them. Kat and Arisis can do little but watch as Max and his companion settle under another, even more distant canopy.

Kat returns to her physical body, bringing Arisis back with her. Arisis contains her fury over being dismissed by Max, and the psi-stalker suggests that the dream-world they entered could be part of his affliction, or might be a "safe place" constructed by Max in order to shield his psyche from attack. Kat opines that it would be too risky to try and wrest him from his astral domain either way. A frustrated Valerie insists that something has to be done to help Max immediately, and asks Karen if she knows anyone that could. She muses that she might, and makes a video-phone call to a shop in the Warlock Market. A young-looking dwarf girl answers, and excitedly agrees to aid "the Champions of Light" as soon as she lays eyes on S@GP.

Nahar points out that they'll need better disguises before heading to the Warlock Market, which is located on Level 4. Karen provides her and S@GP with cheap holographic disguises, which she likens to Halloween costumes and says won't hold up to close scrutiny. (I let the players describe each other's costumes: Kat is a stereotypical anime catgirl, Arisis is a cartoonish-looking dragon, Nahar is a bumbling Promethean alien, and Valerie ends up in some sort of plumber's outfit.) Arisis bundles up Max, bringing along his inert techno-wizardry suit of armor at Kat's suggestion, and the ridiculously disguised S@GP head out. Strangely, just before closing the door behind them, Karen advises Valerie to "watch out for those other biker chicks."

Access to the elevator to Level 4 turns out to be controlled by gangsters affiliated with an organized crime outfit called the Society of the Knife. Nahar makes a point of paying everyone's way and makes some ill-phrased comments about wanting to help S@GP even though Max has "no business being a mercenary," which earn her some icy stares. Soon enough the group arrives in the Warlock Market, where the air is filled with strange fumes and the footpaths are crowded with techno-wizards hawking their inscrutable (and impractical-looking) gizmos. As advised by Karen Cray, they weave their way through the market to the place of business of Embrar, Royston, and Rhian, which resembles a squat, intricately mechanized clock tower, and enter through its face.

Solutions @ Gun Pointe are greeted (as "Champions of Light") by Embrar, a shrill elven "alchemist of the fifth degree." He advises them that Royston, the shop's most adept healer, is waiting for them, and directs them to an adjoining room. Rhian Cinder-Mud, the exuberant young dwarf that spoke with Karen earlier, sarcastically compliments the group's disguises and then relieves Arisis of her burden. She and Embrar begin attaching a number of whimsical (and ineffective)-looking contraptions to Max's quivering form. (Valerie, who has a quality called Me and Magic Don't Mix, makes a point of looking away, unable to stop herself from observing that "even if this works, it looks so dumb.") Royston, a serious, elderly human in a wheelchair, soon joins them, and before long is able to pronounce his diagnosis: the poison which Tetka introduced into Max's system is a heretofore unknown blend of rare venoms, magical compounds and hallucinogens, and some sort of nanotechnological element (possibly techno-wizardry). Royston points to the magical phoenix tattoo Max has on his left upper arm as a potential cure, as it should be able to cleanse any impurity, but with Max apparently catatonic, it's impossible for him to activate its healing powers... and without doing so, he likely has less than two days to live.

Arisis and Kat briefly consider another astral jaunt, but discard the idea. Embrar brings the deactivated giant gauntlet that was once Max's armor to Royston's attention, who is quite impressed that S@GP has been carrying what he refers to as "Prysma-Knight" technology around. He says that these mysterious suits of armor have adaptive capabilities designed to protect their wearers from any conceivable form of peril, and that if it were reactivated -- and if Max was then drawn out of his astral coma -- Max's armor might be able to stabilize him enough for him to regain consciousness and then use his tattoo's healing magic to purge the toxin.

The issue, Royston says, is that it would take "a charge of potential psychic energy 20 times that of a dimensional rift" to fully restore the armor to working condition, and the only place he knows of that might fit the bill is the planet called Gemini 2, the atmosphere of which is charged with the most powerful dimensional storms in the Megaverse. A restricted world guarded by the Consortium of Civilized Worlds, Gemini 2 will be difficult to reach without being detected, but Nahar says she knows a smuggler that should be up to the task. Rhian informs "the Champions of Light" that there will be no charge for their consultation despite Embrar's screeched objections, and S@GP quickly depart.

Nahar reminds S@GP that they still need to film their testimonials for Karen's proposed viral video. A brief elevator ride back down to Level 7 later, Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Karen Cray get to work. Arisis, Valerie, Nahar, and Kat each say their piece into Karen's drone cameras, stressing that Hard Repo has crossed a line by luring S@GP to Phase World with subterfuge and deceit and then poisoning their comrade Max. Each of them takes a slightly different approach (Nahar's, in particular, talks about herself and why she left Hard Repo more than anything else). Kat's message is perhaps the most direct and to the point:

"We are here to set the record straight.

Hard Repo are a bunch of lying punks. We kicked their ass, so they come back and try and kill us rather than capture us. Bull shit.

Next: We are not the Champions of Light. The Demons needed to go down - hard - so we took them down. ‘Nuff said.

Who we are is Solutions @ Gun Pointe. If you need us, come find us.


Karen Cray speedily (and skilfully) edits the footage, weaving together glimpses of the group's interviews, Max's suffering, and S@GP's confrontation with Hard Repo and Naruni Enterprises. As she does so, she volunteers a bit of background information, perhaps inspired by Kat's anti-Coalition tirade. Cray says that the Four Horsemen video she shot was originally intended to be distributed on Coalition data networks -- "I wanted their people to see what real heroes look like" -- but she was forced to go into hiding in Center before she was able to do so. She peppers this with a discussion of something she calls "Mobius resonance," a pet theory which proposes that actions taken in one reality create ripples of similarity in others, and says that in fighting the Coalition, she hoped to disrupt the activities of a similar organization in her own world. (Thus, she is apparently a native of neither Rifts Earth nor the Three Galaxies.)

As Karen works, Arisis and Nahar grudgingly bury the hatchet ("I can't believe I'm working with an ogre"), and Valerie tries her hand at cybernetically accessing Three Galaxies-style computer networks. Surprisingly, she is fairly adept at interfacing with IMJN, and she soon finds what she's looking for: the whereabouts of the real Mian and Reez. She learns that the bounty hunters are on the job, hunting a notorious draconid criminal in the Free Worlds sector. Valerie's concern is somewhat abated, but not entirely dispelled.

In less than an hour, Karen has uploaded the completed video package to the interstellar hypernet. Mere minutes later, the Intergalactic and Megaversal Justice Network (or IMJN) and Phase World news media are abuzz over the video, and not long after that, Bastille Impenetrable formally rescinds Halcyon Reacquisitions' exclusive contract on S@GP due to unauthorized use of lethal force, something which the punishment-obsessed Bastille strictly forbids. In response, Halcyon Reacquisitions/Hard Repo post a public video on IMJN requesting that S@GP agree to meet with their public relations liaison, one Jujube Yusuf.

S@GP have no time to consider HR's overtures, instead heading to the spaceport on Level 2. With Hard Repo apparently out of the running, the group dispenses with the flimsy disguises Karen earlier provided them. Level 2 is spacer territory -- a rough-and-tumble place catering to hard-living people, yet Nahar leads S@GP to a jarringly well-lit cafe with gaudy, candy-like decor. Called Minor Entanglement, this establishment caters to a decidedly younger crowd; as in, one not old enough to drink. It is here that they find another of their old allies, Faramon-makar, better known simply as "Fay": pilot, smuggler, genius, and teen demigoddess daughter of the Egyptian crone-deity Amon, barely entertaining herself with a chess game against four other youths.

Fay instantly finishes her game with an effortless checkmate and welcomes her friends, then gets down to business. She confirms that Gemini 2 is a demon-infested dimensional nexus torn apart by rift maelstroms even more powerful than those on Earth. Gemini 1, its counterpart world in what should be an impossible "binary planet" system, is a sort of nature preserve for otherwise extinct species, and home to the dinosaur-like and formidable Seljuk race. The group hatch a plan to use Fay's Horizont dropship, which has a unique techno-wizard drive allowing it to dimensionally teleport, to bypass Seljuk security entirely. Fay and Valerie will pilot the ship and skim the upper reaches of Gemini 2's atmosphere. Then, Fay will open the loading gate of her ship's cargo pod, where Arisis will recharge the Prysma-Knight armor and help Kat and Nahar fight off any marauding extradimensional entities. Once the armor is recharged, it will be placed on Max, who will then (hopefully) restore himself. With a strategy in place, the group hurries to the Horizont and takes off into outer space.

The plan to recharge Max's armor in the middle of a aerial demon-horde is madness, but it works: Fay teleports the ship into another dimension for a split second, and then back into that of the Three Galaxies, practically on top of Gemini 2, and concealed from Seljuk sensors by the interference of the dimensional energies bleeding from the planet's ionosphere. Valerie "rides the cosmic lightning" with expert ease, smoothly guiding the Horizont into the storm-wracked skies of Gemini 2. In the open hatch, Arisis stands amid the howling winds and streams of bizarre radiation, armor-fist upraised, bolts of dimensional energy streaming into it. Nahar, teeth gritted, blasts away at flocks of unspeakable flying predators with her railgun-revolver. Kat, unlike her companions, is only partially strapped in, using a single cord as a tether while she leaps in and out of the cargo hold to slash at the demons. Though everyone involved -- including the ship itself -- suffers some degree of damage, it takes only a few minutes for the armor to recharge thanks to the group's strong teamwork and tactics.

The cargo bay door slams shut, and Valerie takes sole control of the dropship, climbing away from Gemini 2's surface as Fay rushes down to the hold to join the rest of the group. Arisis moves to the back of the cargo pod and places her hand, clad in the re-energized gauntlet, on the young mystic's chest, and the crystalline armor flows over him, encasing him completely. It pulses with a soft glow momentarily, but Max does not show any signs of having been roused from his fugue state. As anticipated, another dive into Max's dream-domain proves necessary. This time, Kat and Arisis are joined in the astral plane by the intelligences bound to their respective rune weapons, Akuma no Shushi Ken and the Sword of Baragor, as well as Fay. Under Fay's leadership, they launch an immediate psychic assault as soon as they "arrive" in Max's mental realm, focusing their attack on the Valerie-construct. Arisis summons her psi-sword and squares off with Max, who summons his own blade -- a talent the titan cyber-knight taught him -- and the instructor and student clash violently. "Valerie" pleads for his aid as Fay uses the mesmeric, psyche-shattering gaze-curse that is her birthright on the doppelgänger. Max, realizing that Arisis was intentionally drawing him away from "Valerie", lashes out at his assembled comrades in confusion and fury, fighting for what he believes to be the love of his life. As a psionic and practitioner of magic possessed of remarkable power even without the psychotheric effects of the toxin boosting his abilities, Max nearly overcomes them, but a second gaze attack from Fay seals his astral companion's fate. "Valerie" is destroyed, and all of the mental combatants are instantly thrust back into the physical world.

Back on the Horizont, Max silently raises his hand to his magic tattoo, and the crystalline plates of his armor part to allow him to activate it. The phoenix's cleansing eldritch flames surround him and purge Tetka's toxin from his body. His friends celebrate, with Valerie's jubilant cries ringing from the intercom, but Max merely cradles his head, momentarily reeling from the loss of a false, happy life that never was. Fay gives him a nod of recognition before heading back to the bridge, but clutches her arm as if in pain. For a moment her companions can see that it has grown ashen and withered, writhing as if maggots squirmed beneath the skin. Max has survived, but at an awful cost.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 16

Hard Repo by EUDETENIS
This was a clunky, messy session. I thought I had planned for every likely course of player action, but of course things never turn out as you'd expect in a role-playing game. As a result, I ended up winging it for at least half of the time we played, with no real idea exactly where I was going with it. But I was determined to not completely railroad the players, and when you don't railroad, things get a little sloppy sometimes. (For example, I completely forgot about a backup plan I had cooked up for the antagonists.) As a result, I have some hard thinking about what to do for the next session, and I made a few split-second decisions in this one that (in retrospect) probably weren't great ideas. Everybody seemed to have fun, regardless.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female Titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker P.I. (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

With a full-scale riot having been successfully averted, the final match of Serendipity's third invitational power armor tournament gets underway after a brief intermission. Now playing the role of the hometown hero, Valerie Cain enters the ring to party music and the roar of the crowd, while Raymond "Tracer" Chen makes somewhat less of a splash, with more understated musical accompaniment. The man from Northern Gun touches gloves (well, powered gauntlets) with Valerie and returns to his corner, then pounces at her the instant the bell rings. Though blunted, the blades of Tracer's Cougar mecha strike with surgical precision and knock his opponent to the mat before she can even react. A hush falls across the crowd as the anticipated counterattack never comes: Valerie Cain has been defeated in a matter of seconds. Even Chen seems surprised at the speed of his victory, and after Valerie's friends rush to the ring and revive her, he raises her arm and congratulates her -- though admittedly, in a backhanded way -- telling her that she's got "a lot of heart" and has "what it takes to be a real fighter," even inviting her to come and face him in the Northern Gun stronghold of Ishpeming some day. Valerie takes Chen's "compliments" in stride, but Kat, from ringside, shouts that in a "real test of fighting skills" she would "end" the Michigan mecha jockey. Chen, for his part, pretends not to hear her.

Tracer Chen and his crew begin loading their gear onto their hover-semi before Sir Shanidar even finishes officially declaring a winner. Chen tells Shanidar that his team was more interested in showing off the capabilities of the Cougar than any potential winnings. Knucks St. Crux bellows his opinion that as the winner of the exhibition match, he should be entitled to the 5000 credits (and the pair of vouchers for customized weapons from Wrightsmith Armaments), but Valerie points out that she and Kat are the runners-up. Sir Shanidar hems and haws momentarily, but is won over by Valerie's beauty (her player spent a Determination Point to invoke her Unforgettably Gorgeous quality) and awards her the prizes.

Orson Quang arrives at S@GP's pit to congratulate Valerie and Kat on their performance in the tournament, and to simultaneously dismiss Tracer Chen and the tournament itself as "some bullshit". He invites Kat, Valerie, and Arisis (with a "sorry, youngie" to Max) to participate in the Scrap Car Saloon's notorious pit fights. Kat sticks up for Max, saying "he can handle himself," and Max objects to both Orson's slight and Kat's defense. "I know I can handle myself," he grumbles to Kat. "I don't need you to handle it for me." Meanwhile, Mian and Reez emerge from the bleachers, and Mian tries to console Valerie for her loss.

The tournament crowd begins to disperse, and as Solutions @ Gun Pointe consider their next move, Max informs his comrades that the young lady he has been distracted by is named Quinn, that he was unaware until yesterday that she was a member of Black Fortress, and that he has terminated his relationship with her. A bruised Quinn, for her part, stops by for one last time to try to talk to Max and his friends before they pack up and leave. She seems conciliatory, and though she admits that Brigadier Omar Espinoza is her brother, she halfheartedly attempts to distance herself from her organization, particularly the psi-stalker Jesse John Ross. Max seems uncomfortable, saying nothing, and Kat is having none of it, essentially chasing Quinn off with not-so-veiled insults.

Max suggests that if they're really heading to Phase World, S@GP will need somebody to look after their new headquarters, and formally (perhaps overly formally) requests that Nysa help them. Nysa is amenable, and her sisters, Asha and Annejah, insist that they be the ones to house-sit. With that settled, the group decides to once again decamp to Nysa's venue, the Serendipity Social Club. Though he was earlier overruled on his attempt to claim the tournament's prize, Knucks St. Crux's ego is stoked somewhat when Kat invites him to the Social, where they can "dance" with each other (the precise meaning of which is deliberately left vague). Knucks happily agrees, and alludes to more Wild Hurricane juicers arriving in Serendipity in the near future. The group's night out at the club is largely uneventful, though Valerie drowns her sorrows a bit too thoroughly.

The following morning, as a tired and scratched Knucks St. Crux stumbles out of the compound, Mian advises Solutions @ Gun Pointe to select the gear they will carry to Phase World. Arisis brings her rune weapon, the Sword of Baragor, and Kat follows suit, electing to carry her own rune sword, Akuma no Shushi Ken, as well as her BAKENEKO drone. Max simply asks Arisis to carry his inert techno-wizardry suit of armor -- still frozen in the form of a giant-sized arm -- for him. Valerie decides to bring her Cyclone mecha-motorcycle with her. Before long, the team is ready to go. Valerie makes a quick trip down the street to let the Gun Street Girls (the local militia) know that S@GP is leaving town for a while. On the way to Naruni Enterprises' local site, Max says offhandedly that Quinn has promised to try to keep Black Fortress away from S@GP headquarters, not mentioning when she might have told him this.

Before long, the group arrives at their destination. Mian and Reez lead their friends into the gleaming black Naruni Enterprises site, where the group is painstakingly scanned and screened "for microbes" as Kat, Max, and Valerie each muse aloud that none of them has ever traveled through a rift. Once this process is complete, S@GP, Mian, and Reez are allowed into a circular room outfitted with what is described as a "dimensional transport pad" on its floor. Without much of a warning, the Naruni enact an extremely brief countdown ("2... 1... engage dimensional shift"). There is a flash of blue-white light and a fleeting moment of vertigo, and then the group is suddenly standing elsewhere: a much larger version of the circular pad, in a dizzyingly immense plaza in Center, a sealed city on Phase world, filled with throngs of alien beings. S@GP quickly realize that they are surrounded not only by a glowing force field, but by the armed Hard Repo operatives they had encountered previously (minus the cyborg that Valerie injured, but with a half-dozen "grunts" in body armor replacing him). The Naruni are also apparently participants in this operation, as three of their security personnel (including one in full powered armor) are present.

Max suddenly crumples to the ground, and Mian -- or who our heroes believed to be her -- seizes the helpless mystic by the head, her hands replaced by powerful, leonine paws. Having jabbed Max in the neck with some sort of hypodermic device, "Mian" makes her demands: "Unless you want this little mouse to lose its ears, stand down, now!" There is a split second of hesistation, and before Arisis can lay down her sword, Valerie opens fire on "Mian" with one of the guns built into her VAMPS bionic arms. She manages not to hit Max, and the round explodes in "Mian's" face, but inflicts less damage than expected -- she is badly singed, yet still very much in the fight, and starts to take to the air, still gripping Max. Hard Repo and the Naruni seem taken aback by this turn of events, and Kat and Arisis press their advantage. Kat runs up Arisis' back and lunges at "Mian" with her no-dachi, wounding her badly and nearly severing her arms at the wrist. "Mian" roars in agony, but is caught in a crushing wrestling hold by Arisis before she can act. The catlike creature that was once Mian drops Max, who is caught by Valerie as "Mian" resumes its natural form: a winged sphinx.

The ogress Nahar, a former ally of S@GP, looks on in disbelief, her giant rail gun hanging at her side. "Reez" shapeshifts, revealing herself to be a sinuous, black-scaled dragon. Enraged, the dragon cries out the name of her downed sphinx ally ("Tetka!") and attempts to cast some sort of incantation on Arisis. Hard Repo's grunts follow suit, firing their stun blasters at the titan knight, but Arisis shakes off their attacks (and the dragon's spell) with minimal effort. Nahar barks orders at her compatriots, commanding them to hold their fire and insisting that "Yeshka" (the dragon's name, evidently) stand down. Hard Repo's psi-stalker hesitates, and all combatants notice that heavily armed security guards -- Center authorities -- are amassing around the transport platform, pushing past an excited crowd that seems to be cheering on the battle and attaching devices to the outside of the structure. The air is filled with the sounds of alien cheers, klaxons, and commands (in multiple languages) to disperse, followed by warnings for those on the dimensional pad to cease hostilities.

The force field surrounding the platform suddenly changes from an open "fence" to a closed dome. The Naruni enforcers abruptly announce that they are aborting their operation, and vanish. This spooks the HR grunts, who fire a few more stun rounds at Arisis, prompting Nahar to again shout at them to lower their weapons. Soon, the force field dome begins to bifurcate, separating Solutions @ Gun Pointe from Hard Repo, as the crowd outside clamors for "the Champions of Light" in a jumble of languages. From outside the dome, the Center security forces inform S@GP that they are being "redirected to the lower levels", as the force field begins to extrude itself into a tunnel shape and close behind them. Just before the force wall seals, Nahar suddenly ducks under it onto the S@GP side -- but rather than attacking her former compatriots, she briefly soaks up the applause of the throng outside, then tells Solutions to start running. "They're gonna push us into an elevator," she explains. "Center security doesn't like people fighting in Gateland."

Nahar is soon proven right, as the force tunnel guides (or forces, depending on one's viewpoint) the group (carrying the catatonic Max) into a huge rectangular opening in one of the side walls of the Gateland enclosure. A huge metal door slides shut behind them, and while the elevator slowly descends, Nahar explains herself. She tells the group that she was not a part of Tetka and Yeshka's plan to trick S@GP into coming to Phase World and claims she was against it from the start. Solutions' previous encounter with Hard Repo is revealed to have been carried out under Nahar's command, and when it failed, the organization's leader, a temporal raider called G-Kon, allowed the sphinx and dragon to hatch their own plan. This insulted Nahar and left her deeply disgruntled with her employer.

The ogress takes a break from explaining herself to repay Arisis for breaking her jaw in their previous encounter by punching the titan in the face. To Arisis' credit, she restrains herself from starting a fight in the elevator. Nahar begins to explain that they've been made famous due to appearing in films shot by the hacker and city rat Karen Cray, one of Solutions' allies that was present at their battle with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and who now resides in Center. Our heroes try to disguise their identities as best they can once Nahar points out that although it's unlikely that Center authorities would help Hard Repo find "the Champions of Light," they are de facto celebrities, and word of their location might spread quickly. Valerie insists that the group find a medic to revive Max, who is still feverish, shivering, and unresponsive. Nahar muses that whatever Tetka injected Max with might not simply wear off, but probably requires an antidote, and Kat suggests that Karen Cray (who Nahar explained is well-connected in the lower levels of Center) might be able to help them find either an antidote or an individual that would know how to help their afflicted comrade.

The elevator eventually dumps S@GP and Nahar on level 8, a warren of rusty tunnels and ramshackle dwellings considerably less picturesque than Gateland was. Having decided to seek out Karen Cray, the group navigate this labyrinth of scum and villainy and bribe their way past a brodkil gang and onto another elevator, this time leading up to Center's seventh level. Nahar seems much more familiar with their new surroundings. Soon, the group is admitted into a seedy-looking building by a gangly-limbed alien that Arisis recognizes as an etivess -- one of a species conquered by her space-faring titan brethren. Karen Cray arrives to welcome her guests, and when Valerie urges her to help Max, she hurries them inside.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 15

In this session, I formally took over as GM and switched the system to ICONS. As I mentioned in the previous recap, ICONS isn't terribly different from the system we were using before (Fate Core), but I wanted to give it a try to see if it really is a better fit for the setting and our playstyle. So far, things are looking good, and I had more fun GMing than I have in a very long time.

The Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female Titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker P.I. (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Now officially fielding two of their members in Serendipity's power armor tournament, Solutions @ Gun Pointe mingle with the fighting contest's other participants. Having already met professional mecha fighter Tracer Chen and the rest of the Northern Gun representatives, the group heads to the pit of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Workers, widely known as the "legitimate" operational wing of the Quang organized crime family. Orson Quang, who seems to be in charge, is a thuggish sort, but treats S@GP -- particularly Kat -- relatively cordially. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Brotherhood's official competitor, Rachel Bailey. Valerie wishes her luck against the silent Glitter Boy pilot Jim J. Wynn, once again stating her opinion that the artifact mecha "belongs in a museum." However, Bailey is unresponsive, and seems to take personal offense at the presence of a teenager in Solutions' ranks, to the point of treating Valerie with thinly disguised contempt when she sticks up for Max. Orson's jealous, trouble-mongering girlfriend, Chessie Ly, is also openly hostile towards the women of S@GP, but Arisis and company laugh it off.

Before long, a massive battle ATV enters the field of battle, announcing that the mercenary team Black Fortress has arrived in force. The camouflage and khaki paintjobs of their armor and equipment do little to conceal their Coalition affiliations, but their entrance is indisputably impressive. With her teammates, Valerie begins to formulate a plan for S@GP's entrance. Max, however, is clearly distracted by the presence of a stylish young woman among the Black Fortress contingent, who seems close with the group's contender and leader, Brigadier Omar Espinoza. Kat notices that the young woman briefly seems surprised to see Max at the field of battle.

The remaining participants are either no longer present (Jim J. Wynn) or unapproachable (Naruni Enterprises), but Valerie goes out of her way to invite the Quangs, juicers, cyber-knights, and Northern Gun to the Serendipity Social Club that evening. As allies of Solutions, Reez and Mian are also invited to attend. Black Fortress, perhaps needless to say, is not on the guest list. S@GP then head back to their headquarters to prepare for their evening outing. Valerie insists that Mian and Reez come along and helps the willowy martial artist and the catgirl bounty hunter select something to wear from her wardrobe, which seems to spark some romantic interest between Mian and Valerie.

Mian by K-Bonifield
Solutions play host to the tournament participants they invited, sharing friendly conversation and libations with the Gun Street Girls' juicer, Begnijo Mbibe, in particular. Dame Illiaema, of the local cyber-knights, again expresses to Arisis her apologies for her father Sir Shanidar's brusque demeanor and ham-fisted operation of the tournament, and says she hopes that it will eventually add events more open to the titan's participation. Kat challenges Wild Hurricane's representative, a brash (and somewhat dopey) young juicer named Knucks St. Crux, to an arm wrestling match, which she somehow wins. Max largely keeps to himself, possibly trying to avoid the girl who he saw with Black Fortress earlier that day (who, as an employee of the club informs S@GP, eventually arrives at the Social). Valerie, meanwhile, focuses most of her attention on Mian and Reez, a strategy which pays off by the end of the night. The headhunter is, however, unable to stop herself from partying a bit too heartily (earning her player a Determination Point for playing to her Amazon Cyborg Wildchild quality).

Kat's BAKENEKO drone, which she sent out to surreptitiously investigate the field of battle after she and her compatriots left, electronically relays that sensors hidden in the bunker-like structure Naruni Enterprises has set up there have been scanning the entire field of battle area heavily. She takes note of this fact, then sends the BAKENEKO to the Social Club and instructs it to follow the Black Fortress girl when she leaves. When the young lady does so, however, the drone observes nothing suspicious; she simply returns to the mercenary team's headquarters.

The following afternoon, Solutions at Gun Pointe arrive in style in their monster truck-esque Range Booster ATV. Eschewing the pits, tents, et cetera favored by the other participants, S@GP set up a sort of "picnic" atop their giant vehicle, with Max and Arisis watching their friends participate in the tournament from on high. Nysa and her entourage (which includes Annejah and Asha, as well as several mutant animals, security guards, and assistants) set up a day tent and parasols nearby so that they can better cheer on Kat and Valerie. As the sun begins to set on the field of battle's makeshift octagon, and the air fills with the scent of pho and funnel cakes, the tournament begins.

An exhibition match between juicers kicks things off, with the visiting Knucks St. Crux facing off against hometown favorite Begnijo Mbibe. Unfortunately for Mbibe, Knucks' ridiculous smoke-and-pyro-and-Scorpions-filled entrance is not an indication of the Wild Hurricane juicer's combat acumen. Knucks demolishes the Gun Street Girls' favored son, knocking him out in the first round.

Then, the power armor tournament proper gets underway. Rachel Bailey, representing the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Workers, and the mysterious Glitter Boy pilot Jim J. Wynn have a less one-sided bout than the juicers, with the opponents raining largely uneffective blows on each other's heavily armored battlesuits. Though Rachel Bailey is judged the winner, the crowd is split over the decision.

Kat faces Brigadier Espinoza, Black Fortress' combat-decorated, four-armed full conversion cyborg in the next bout. He is accompanied to the ring by the young woman Kat investigated the previous night, but her moral support makes little difference. Kat denies a handshake from the Coalition veteran, and S@GP's nimble psi-stalker's lightly armored custom mecha consistently stays one step ahead of the Brigadier. It isn't long before Kat KOs the cyborg with her (blunted) daisho, to the roared approval of Nysa's group, Max, and the rest of her comrades.

Next, Valerie squares off against Naruni Enterprises' unusual Techno-Warrior power armor after a carefully planned, crowd-pleasing entrance where she spins out her Cyclone in motorcycle mode, then transforms to battloid mid-leap. The opposing pilot, a blue-skinned alien named Auunio, takes advantage of Valerie's hung-over state early in the match. She soon gets her head in the game and rallies for the win, using her mecha's agility to avoid her opponent's vibro-sword attacks and deliver a knockout punch. The crowd is clearly behind the beautiful amazon in the flashy mecha-motorcyle.

The cyber-knights' Dame Illiaema faces Tracer Chen in the next match. Surprisingly, she has the professional mecha fighter on the ropes for the entirety of the first round. It soon becomes clear that Chen was taking it easy, however, as he trounces her at length in the second round, taking his time to show off the capabilities of Northern Gun's new Cougar power armor. He shows her mercy in the third round, effortlessly KOing the elven woman immediately after the opening bell, which garners mixed reactions from the crowd.

Quinn (detail) by EUDETENIS
The young Black Fortress woman approaches Solutions' area, but is quickly intercepted by Kat and Valerie, the latter of whom sternly advises her to "keep your narrow ass away from my pit." The girl does as she's told, and simply shouts past the two, telling Max his avoidance of her is "pretty weak." Arisis asks Max what's going on, and he quietly confirms that he and the Black Fortress girl know each other, but is reluctant to discuss the matter further. "I'll talk to her later," he says.

As the tournament enters the semi-final brackets, Tracer Chen again enters the octagon, with Kat as his opponent. Kat and Chen seem evenly matched at first, with as many blows being dodged as connecting. Before long, the two begin trading blows in a brutal tit-for-tat. Both opponents back off momentarily to catch their second wind, but Chen is ultimately the victor, with his mecha piloting experience giving him the edge over Kat's raw, innate agility. Her friends in Solutions are crestfallen, but congratulate her nonetheless, as Tracer Chen basks in his victory and advances to the final bout.

Valerie cheers up her compatriots when she soundly defeats Rachel Bailey (after a rousing entrance set to Blur's "Song 2"). Bailey's heavily armored mecha soaks up a lot of damage, but its lack of speed and maneuverability is her downfall. The older Brotherhood-affiliated combatant takes her loss in stride, but Chessie Ly, a poor loser, repeatedly screams "she ain't shit!" at Valerie from ringside. From the crowd, the young Black Fortress woman confronts Chessie, telling her to sit down and calm down. She catches a preternaturally fast, vicious attack from the psi-enhanced Chessie in response.

Almost instantly, a brawl between Black Fortress and the Quangs erupts, and Max bolts to the scene, followed by the rest of Solutions @ Gun Pointe. Kat gleefully leaps into the fray. Max and Arisis are unable to calm the mob -- in fact, their respective attempts to use psychic stun attacks and sheer titanic awe to control the melee seem to make matters worse -- but Valerie, transforming her Cyclone back to motorcycle mode, is able to kick up enough dust and dirt with her wheels to force a stop to the fighting.

Sir Shanidar, the organizer of the tournament, takes to the octagon with microphone in hand, insisting that any further disruptions will result in the immediate cessation of the contest, with no winner declared. Valerie encourages her opponent in the finals, Tracer Chen, to get in the ring with her, and the two combatants pose together, telling the crowd to calm themselves "because you want to see us fight, right?" The mob begins to disperse, and from her vantage point in the elevated octagon, Valerie sees Max helping the bloodied Black Fortress girl to her feet.