Friday, November 20, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 21

V.Cain.Dust by K-Bonifield
I caused a long break between sessions by going on another trip to Japan earlier this month. We resumed as soon as I got back, with another member of our gaming group, Felix, taking the GM reins for a while. Felix hasn't run any RPGs in years, but he was definitely firing on all cylinders by the end of the night. It's exhilarating to be back in the game as a player, not knowing what's coming next for a change!

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
Fay, Demigod Super-Genius Smuggler (female demigod City Rat/Runner), 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 Fay having joined the group, Solutions @ Gun Pointe takes advantage of her Horizont dropship's capabilities. As discussed with Sir Shanidar, they drop off a contingent of cyber-knights, a half-dozen titans, and Relos (along with a cargo container full of Naruni armaments) in Belize, to bolster the Range Knight Irregulars in their struggle in the Yucatan. 

Arisis then turns her attention to local affairs in Serendipity, letting her friends know about some sort of hedonistic ball or fetish party to be held outside of town in a few days. Apparently this bash is thrown annually by a traveling troupe led by an individual using the rather grandiose moniker of "La Princessa Pnemenopanthalus", and has become something of a tradition among the locals. Arisis is bound and determined to check it out, and though Max is somewhat trepidatious ("Am I even old enough to be let in?"), Valerie has no such qualms about attending, saying that if Arisis is that interested, she's in.

(Later, Max has a low-key birthday celebration, in which he provides everyone in S@GP with membership at the local gun range, explaining that it'd be a good opportunity for the group to rub shoulders with the other mercs in Serendipity. For her part, Valerie presents Max with the gift of a dune buggy to replace his missing Wastelander motorcycle. Max is thrilled.)

Though the group's benefactor, Nysa, doesn't seem to be a particular fan of the Princessa's recurring presence in Serendipity (and indeed, states that she never personally participates in their festivities), she hosts a formal reception or "pre-party" for Pnemenopanthalus and her crew at the Social Club, explaining that the troupe's activities attract some of the city's most influential citizens. S@GP's presence is requested at this party, and they attend, dressed in their finest, though many of the wealthier guests -- guild masters, oil barons, and the like -- put them to shame. Nevertheless, our heroes are escorted to meet with the guests of honor soon after they arrive. They are (roughly in the order that S@GP meet them):
  • Old Man Simms, a septuagenarian who is very interested in Valerie's bionic arms, and who Valerie allows to escort her for the evening
  • Hamilton Ponchartrain, a very short but extremely muscular bruiser type
  • Jack Spade, a teenage hacker that is constantly fiddling with a datapad
  • Remy, an agile-looking full conversion cyborg armed with some sort of high-tech staff
  • Joaquin Miranda, a wild-eyed man that seems amused by S@GP's presence and is imbibing massive quantities of illicit substances
  • Reana Negron, a female fortune-teller (complete with crystal ball and gypsy-esque clothing) with whom Max has a brief conversation regarding dreams and portents
  • Horacio, a silent practitioner of magic that wears a skull-like mask
  • La Princessa Alexisandriath Pnemenopanthalus (or "Alexis" for short), a lithe, languid elven woman who seems to thrive on innuendo
  • Invictus, a male elf who seems never to leave Pnemenopanthalus' side (and physically resembles her strongly)
  • Miss Tess, a brash woman that acts as a master of ceremonies
  • Alien Ahmed the Runner, a D-Bee in desert garb that serves as the crew's driver
La Princessa takes a break from holding court with Serendipity's upper crust to briefly address S@GP, complimenting their appearance and informing them that she has high expectations for their participation in the upcoming festivities. Our heroes mostly laugh off Alexis' lascivious intimations, and before long, call it a night.

The following evening, S@GP (along with many other citizens of Serendipity) travel to the ruins of Baton Rouge by rail for the party proper. The former city is half derelict buildings and half predator-infested swamp -- a dangerous location for revelry, to say the least, which seems to be part of the allure for the participants. Alexis' crew ensure that everyone attending understands that they do so at their own risk before they exit the train.

S@GP were expecting something fairly risque, but Max (at least) is taken aback by the sheer variety (and increasing debauchery) of the activities Alexis' troupe have on display amid the Baton Rouge ruins. He does his best not to look too interested, but he can't tear his eyes away from some of the performances, particularly when Alexis, Invictus, Horacio, Reana, and several others of the troupe's inner circle take the main stage. An elaborate sadomasochistic exhibition ensues, and those that watch it feel their perceptions altered by its intensity. Fay, though inured to this kind of torture by her upbringing among the evil Pantheon of Taut, is disturbed, and deduces that its impact on the crowd is somehow being artificially heightened to an almost frightening level by Joaquin Miranda, one of Alexis' followers. She resists the mind-altering effect Joaquin is causing, but Arisis and Valerie are less fortunate. Max is similarly reminded of some of the rituals performed by the Church of Tolmet in his home city, but is unable to stop himself from being caught up in the perverse spectacle (here, the GM invoked his Raging Hormones trouble quality, and I accepted a Determination point in exchange for an automatic failure on his Willpower roll).

Alexis and company's performance reaches its crescendo, and the air is suddenly filled with the sound of baying wolves. Max, disoriented, struggles to comprehend what is occurring, and reaches out telepathically to Arisis to ask her what's happening. He has difficulty contacting her -- something that is almost unprecedented -- and her response is that she doesn't know, but seems unconcerned about it. The howl seems to whip the crowd's tension to a breaking point, and the exhibition suddenly ends. When Miss Tess (in a spark-throwing exoskeleton) takes to the stage to ask for applause, the crowd erupts in a mad frenzy of excitement, and with the exception of Fay, S@GP are caught up in it. Arisis, Max, and Valerie party the rest of the night away with one another in wild abandon (with Max at one point assuming giant stature to dance with Arisis, at Valerie's suggestion). They are among the last to leave, and when Max notes that Ahmed seems to be loading up the traveling crew's APC, the D-Bee confirms that they will be moving on to another town soon. With that, our heroes return home to their compound to get some sleep.

Their rest is brief and fitful, however, as Fay, Max, and Valerie experience a vivid, shared dream that a great red-scaled dragon, their friend Arisis, and a gang of other giants are trying to tear down the walls of a castle to reach what lies within. The three somehow sense that their quarry is Quinn, the young Black Fortress woman that Max was formerly romantically involved with. There is a scream, and our heroes awaken to the sound of klaxons, and an amplified announcement stating that Black Fortress' headquarters is under attack!

Valerie, Fay, and Max confirm that they experienced a communal dream as they scramble to arm themselves, noticing that Arisis is nowhere to be seen. They race to Black Fortress' compound, with Fay riding on the back of Valerie's Cyclone, and Max flying to the scene in his techno-wizard power armor. Their fears are realized when they reach their destination: Black Fortress is in complete chaos, with Arisis shouting commands to a half-dozen titan followers, instructing them to smash their way in and "get the girl". A coterie of vampires has pushed their way into the compound, attacking Black Fortress personnel at will. The Coalition-affiliated mercenaries, caught by surprise, are hardly a match for their assailants, and their attempts to defend the base are made even more difficult by a thick fog that surrounds the entire area. As if the vampires, giants and mist weren't enough, huge swarms of swamp insects and packs of wild dogs are also harrying the disorganized and confused grunts.

Once Max has summoned a blast of wind to dissipate much of the fog, Fay's superior intellect and tactical acumen lets her ascertain Quinn's location within the compound, and she directs Max there. The young mystic rushes to his former flame's side. Valerie tries to grapple with Arisis, managing to get a partial hold on her -- a feat that would normally be almost impossible against the titan wrestling master. Realizing that the vampires are the source of the fog, the insect swarms, and the dog packs, Max evokes a globe of daylight to keep the undead at bay, away from the unarmed Quinn. A second incantation creates a localized rainstorm, which sends the vampires shrieking back into the night and gives Black Fortress' operatives time to regroup. The psi-stalker Master Sergeant Jesse John Ross, accompanied by his loyal Dog Girls, Barb and Bree, pursues the fleeing vampires into the darkness, and soon thereafter can be heard slaughtering the bloodsuckers. 

A furious Arisis calls off the assault. Quinn is a bit shaken up, but nevertheless embraces Max and jokes that if they're going to stay broken up, he needs to stop rushing to her rescue. Thoughts of Arisis and Alexis are foremost on Max's mind, however, and his reunion with Quinn is cut short by the arrival of gun-toting Black Fortress mercenaries. The young scientist wearily orders them to lower their weapons, but Max, a spellcaster in the middle of what is effectively a Coalition base, is on edge. Meanwhile, Valerie desperately continues to try to detain and reason with her friend as the titans retreat from the compound. Arisis treats the headhunter as an annoyance, insisting that she leave her alone. When she realizes Valerie is determined to stop her at all costs, Arisis teleports away. Valerie can do nothing but watch as her former ally and her fellow titans vanish into nothingness.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 20.5

Max by Runshin
I officially concluded my run as Rifts GM last session, but between that one and the next, we've been doing some interim role-playing (mostly on our private Google+ community) to wrap up the loose ends left hanging at the end of my scenario. I figured I might as well summarize that downtime and cleanup as a bullet-point "half-recap" in preparation for the next adventure.

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

Solutions @ Gun Pointe spend several days settling back into their new headquarters (and their new hometown), during which the following events take place:

  • Relos shares what little she knows about her origins with Valerie, revealing her telepathic abilities in the process. Apparently, she and her clone-twin Jendra were discovered by titans loyal to Maia on an unknown planet in deep space, sleeping in "eggs". Relos is disturbed by Valerie's account of her parents -- their world, the Praxian race, and the conflict between the Robotech Expeditionary Force and the Invid. Valerie, also confused, combats Relos' discomfort by imposing a semi-military structure on her day-to-day activities and by allowing her to stay in her bungalow. Relos slowly grows comfortable with S@GP, though she displays obvious distaste for Max's presence.
  • Fay (in her Horizont dropship) arrives at the group's HQ. Fay is still cagey about what happened after she left the group earlier, but has received mummy-like wrappings for her afflicted arm. She explains that they were a gift from her mother, Amon, and that they may stave off the curse. Fay accepts an invitation to stay in Serendipity with Solutions, saying that she promised Amon to "stay closer to home".
  • Nahar immediately follows Fay's arrival, breezing into Serendipity on a fanboat and sticking Max with the bill. She gives Valerie a token from Bastille Impenetrable, verifying that Sorventh was delivered to them as agreed. Nahar and Max share a brief fling, which apparently prompts Nahar's abrupt departure only a few days later. Before she leaves for Havana, she informs Valerie that there are sizable dead-or-alive bounties on both her and Max's heads, placed by a certain Lupe Guerra -- the petty warlord in whose employ Max and Valerie first met. She also lets her know that an even larger reward awaits anyone who can return Max to the custody of his father alive. Max has many questions, and is frustrated that Nahar didn't simply tell him directly when Valerie later relays the information to him.
  • Arisis, Max, and Valerie discuss what to do about Tetka & Yeshka, but do not reach a consensus on what (if anything) can be done to stop them from re-infiltrating S@GP. Arisis convinces her teammates that there are more pressing matters to attend to, and to deal with Tetka decisively when and if she rears her head again.
  • Fay teleports the group back to Center for a brief but eventful visit. Valerie and Max confront Naruni Enterprises for their role in Tetka's plot. Valerie is able to negotiate a fruitful settlement where S@GP publicly dismisses NE's involvement as "a big misunderstanding", pledges complete non-aggression, and receives a small trove of Naruni arms and armor in return. (These are earmarked by S@GP to be sent to Belize, to assist the Range Knight Irregulars in their struggle.) 
  • Max thanks Karen Cray for her assistance, which she shrugs off, revealing that the Othrys Totality was able to track them down because her assistant tipped them off, then disappeared. Before shooing S@GP politely away, Karen provides Max with a copy of the "Champions of Light" film at his request, but seems worried that he and his comrades will not approve of its content. (Max later finds that the film she gave him is in a format unplayable by any of the equipment S@GP own.)
  • Fay uses the visit to break off a relationship she had going in Center, and is understandably distraught.
  • Valerie, with Arisis as support, meets with the real Mian and Reez to explain how she was deceived by Tetka and Yeshka. Mian extends her sympathies and insists that Valerie allow her to assist her in bringing Tetka to justice if Valerie and her friends find the sphinx. Reez, who knows Valerie well, takes her to a shooting range, a simple gesture that sets her on the road to recovery. She drops off the rifle she took from Hard Repo's Magnus Maddock in a locker (and informs HR) before returning to Earth, where Valerie largely heals from the emotional trauma of the past several days. She spends much of her time with her increasingly close friend Arisis, deepens her bond with Max, and establishes a rapport with her new "sister" Relos.
  • Max finishes cleaning up Solutions @ Gun Pointe's headquarters in the wake of Yeshka's attack, incinerating the corpses the night stalker dragon had reanimated, and returning their ashes to the cemetery from which they came.
  • Valerie visits Wrightsmith Armaments to cash in the vouchers she received at the end of the power armor tournament for a custom-made carbine and shotgun, which she is promised will be done in a few weeks. Valerie is given an extensive tour of the facility, which is filmed, potentially for use in some future promotional capacity.
  • Arisis approaches Serendipity's Cyber-Knight militia and informs them of her plans to mount an expedition to Belize, to deliver the weaponry Naruni Enterprises provided to S@GP. She intends this sortie to include whichever of the newly arrived titans that wish to accompany her. Sir Shanidar expresses a few token concerns, but offers his support.

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 commands 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 nature 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 Atlas, 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 use 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 receives a note from one of her local contacts, 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.