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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 14

Max and Valerie by EUDETENIS
This was a transitional session, switching from the previous GM's (Kent's) adventure and the Fate Core system to setting up my adventure. Obviously, I'll be acting as the GM for the duration of my adventure, though how long that will take is very much up in the air. It could take four sessions, or it could take fourteen, depending on what the players decide to do and how they react to the scenario I've created.

It also depends on how well we adapt to the new system I'm trying out: ICONS. I've been talking about how Rifts is a superhero setting for so long, I figured it would make sense to try and use an actual superhero system to run it, and ICONS is close enough to both TSR's original Marvel Superheroes RPG (which we're all quite familiar with) and Fate (which we've been using for roughly a year now) to seem like a good fit. ICONS is also simple enough that it's been relatively easy to stat up Rifts monsters, NPCs, and equipment using the system. I'm using the new(ish) Assembled Edition of the game, though thus far I've had very little opportunity to give the rules a real workout. Whether or not it will suit our playstyle better than Fate Core remains to be seen. (For the record, I do not have many serious problems with Fate Core as a system.)

So, this session was basically winding down Kent's Caribbean adventure, followed by the setup for mine.

The Roster (with Fate/ICONS "high concept" aspects/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

Session Recap
With two of the three Deathweaver spider-demons slain, our heroes and the Range Knight Irregulars set about ransacking the treasure chambers of their pyramids like true adventurers. Though the surviving Deathweaver apparently brought her hoard with her when she escaped, several million credits' worth of gold and gemstones remain in the other pyramids, to be split amongst the participants. They also find a pair of techno-wizardry flaming swords and an unusual spellbook that seems to date from the age of Man. The currently nearly sixteen-foot-tall Max takes the book and one of the swords, and expresses mild concern that the Giant spell he cast during the battle with the thunder lizard hasn't worn off. In the meantime, he fashions a makeshift loincloth for himself out of one of the tapestries hanging in the temple-pyramid.

The real prizes are a pair of original, pre-Rifts Glitter Boy powered armor suits, still in their original Northamerican Economic-Military Alliance radiation-shielded crates. Valerie, in particular, is astounded by this find, and lays claim to one of the suits on behalf of the group, telling her comrades that selling it would probably net them enough to set up a permanent base of operations in Serendipity. The RKI warriors point out that having both of the suits would be a tremendous boon to their goal of bringing some semblance of security to the Yucatan. Max, who has an aspect called Always There For Val, fiercely comes to the defense of Valerie's claim, insisting that "we're splitting the spoils 50/50, so we get one of the mecha," and the Range Knights elect not to make an issue out of it. Max quietly announces to his companions that he has been unable to cancel the Giant spell he placed upon himself, and that his techno-wizard power armor, which adapted to his magical transformation by reconfiguring itself into a sort of gauntlet/pauldron, is not responding to his mental commands.

Meanwhile, RKI's shifter, Erik, seals the active rifts that the Deathweavers had put in place within each of the pyramids in an impressive display of arcane might. A serpentine woman emerges from the jungles, accompanied by the priestess that Max had spoken with earlier, and reveals herself to be the goddess that slept within the egg. Our heroes accept her thanks, as Max again wonders exactly what a "goddess" is. With the power of the demon-spiders apparently broken, our heroes and the Range Knight Irregulars decide to return to the village of Belize to celebrate. During the journey back, Max, still giant-sized, attempts to wrench off his techno-wizardry armor, to no avail.

Back at the village, they find that Annejah and Asha have finished overseeing the repairs to the Sunstar Aegis. By this point, Max -- still giant-sized -- has gone from trying to pull the armor off to simply sitting and hugging his knees to his chest. Valerie expresses concern for her old partner, but Max says he's just making sure he doesn't knock anybody over. Embarrassed by her attention, Max walks away, saying he'll be fine. Valerie confers with Kat and Arisis, then asks Erik to see if he can ascertain the nature of their friend's magical problem. However, not long after the shifter catches up with Max, the armor abruptly drops off Max's arm, and the young mystic returns (now once again naked) to his original stature. Max hurriedly gathers his giant loincloth around him, and Arisis picks up the now-inert TW armor (more accurately, the giant, greyish crystalline arm that it has become) and loads it into the Sunstar Aegis along with the rest of the group's gear and treasure.

The group says their goodbyes to Etza and Black Puma, who both decide to remain in Belize. Before they leave, Sir Edward, the leader of the Range Knight Irregulars, urges Arisis to contact the cyber-knights in Serendipity and inform them that he and his compatriots are still there, and still fighting. Then, as promised, Erik clears the way through the dimensional storm for our heroes' return to Serendipity, and before long, they reach their destination -- soon to become their home.

Having contacted their benefactor via radio as soon as they were in range, our heroes find a warm welcome awaiting them in Serendipity. An overjoyed Nysa meets them at the docks, and her armed entourage spirits her twin sisters away to safety. Nysa offers the group lodging at her penthouse once again, which they accept with thanks. They spend the next several days alternately recuperating and partying hard at the Serendipity Social Club, the establishment owned by Nysa. (Much drinking and salacious dancing ensues. Valerie and Kat start a friendly arm-wrestling contest at the club, which Kat wins, overcoming the strength of Valerie's bionic arms with clever leverage and pure guile.) With Nysa's connections, they also sell the Glitter Boy they recovered from the Yucatan, and over the next several weeks, use the funds to set up a fully equipped riverside compound and base at Gun Pointe. Our heroes are now officially a mercenary company based in Serendipity and known as Solutions @ Gun Pointe (or S@GP for short).

Arisis keeps her promise to Sir Edward and reaches out to the cyber-knights stationed in Serendipity, who are thrilled to learn of their comrades' survival and begin planning a relief mission, one which Arisis intends to be a part of.

Valerie spends much of her time directly overseeing construction of the headquarters, stripping and cleaning all of her gear, and other such headhunter-ish things (as well as soaking in the luxury of Nysa's penthouse). Kat, an investigator at heart, wastes no time in hitting the streets, making connections, and setting up a network of street informants.

Max, somewhat mindful of becoming too dependent on Nysa's generosity, spends much of the setup time exploring Serendipity and familiarizing himself with his new home -- particularly with the neighborhood of Jugtown -- and moves into the small hut he has reserved for himself at the S@GP compound as soon as he is able. A visit to the local Wizards' Guild is unproductive, but as soon as he returns, he receives a surprise visit from Nysa, who surprises him further by formally asking him to give her tutelage in the mystic arts.
Max and Nysa by EUDETENIS
(Nysa not to scale)

The sixteen-year-old Max, to his credit, doesn't let the shock of receiving this request from a statuesque 8-foot-tall goddess show (much). Instead, he simply says he'll need to consider it, and asks Nysa to "come back tomorrow," which she recognizes as a sign of acceptance. Max becomes Nysa's tutor, and as the weeks pass, the two forge an unusual bond of friendship in the process of plumbing the depths of arcane metaphysics and merging with the supernatural together.

(At this point, Kent ceded the GM chair to me.)

Solutions at Gun Pointe are celebrating the completion of the construction of their compound by having a barbecue at the pier that adjoins their property when a fan boat manned by three Black Fortress mercenaries arrives. S@GP are on the alert as soon as they catch sight of the mercs' Dead Boy armor, and make it clear that the interruption is unwelcome. The pilot of the fan boat offers some token apologies and says that Black Fortress simply wished to welcome some fellow mercenaries to the neighborhood, but realizes that disembarking would probably be unwise. He and his men move on before long. Max, disappointed by the apparent presence of a Coalition element in Serendipity, voices his intention to visit the Social that evening. Kat gets the word out to her "Baker's Street boys" to keep an eye on Black Fortress' activities.

S@GP once again encounter their old allies, Mian and Reez, in the Heroes' Lounge of the Serendipity Social Club. Mian informs them that she'd been hoping to run into them, and produces an electronic tablet. The martial artist shows them a video of a glittering, high-tech city street, with giant advertising screens that appear to display images of S@GP members. Mian explains that somehow, someone has produced footage of the group battling (and defeating) the Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Africa. Mian tells them the film has "gone viral" on the extra-dimensional planet nicknamed Phase World, which Mian and Reez call home. Mian further explains that she and Reez have the means to travel between Serendipity and Phase World, and suggests that S@GP accompany them back there. She also answers Valerie's questions about Hard Repo, confirming that they (and their starship, the Cashier's Cage) have great notoriety on Phase World and throughout the Three Galaxies. 

Meanwhile, Kat has a brief encounter with a young and rather obnoxious juicer who repeatedly introduces himself as "Knucks" and asks the psi-stalker if she's "going to the tournament". Kat largely ignores him, but also learns from one of her contacts that Black Fortress is aware that she's watching them. Valerie suggests the group take Mian up on her offer to travel to Phase World the day after tomorrow, and that Mian and Reez stay at S@GP's compound until then. Max expresses hope that he might be able to learn what went wrong with his magical power armor there, since neither he nor any of the local techno-wizards he has consulted have been able to figure it out.

The following morning, Black Fortress attempts a second social call. This time, S@GP headquarters is visited by the psi-stalker Jesse John Ross, who cordially invites them to attend a fighting tournament organized by the local Cyber-Knight militia. Though S@GP are disgusted with Ross' treatment of his female Dog Boy companions, they cannot deny their curiosity, and visit the location delineated on the flyer the psi-stalker left them: a "field of battle" near the Cyber-Knight encampment.

S@GP are met at the tournament location by a haughty elven cyber-knight named Sir Shanidar, who invites them to participate, but flatly informs Arisis that she will be unable to participate, as she is "simply too large." He likewise excludes Max based on his age. Shanidar's daughter, the Dame Illiaema, chastises her father for his boorishness, but his decision stands. (I granted Arisis' player a Determination Point as I invoked her Larger Than Life quality to her detriment.) Valerie and Kat are informed that if they agree, this, the Third Serendipity Grand Invitational Tournament, could be host to the following non-lethal, close-combat-only opening bouts:

Begnijo Mbibe (Gun Street Girls) -- Juicer vs.
Knucks St. Crux (Wild Hurricane) -- Juicer

Rachel Bailey (Quangs/Brotherhood) -- Titan Heavy PA vs.
Jim J. Wynn (Sophisticated Professional Services) -- Glitter Boy PA

Brigadier Omar Espinoza (Black Fortress) -- full conversion borg vs.
Kat (S@GP) -- custom PA

Valerie Cain (S@GP) -- Saber Cyclone PA vs.
Auunio (Naruni) -- Naruni Techno-Warrior PA

Raymond “Tracer” Chen (Northern Gun) -- NG Cougar PA vs.
Dame Illiaema (Cyber-Knights) -- partial borg in NG Samson PA

Valerie is astounded and dismayed to see the priceless antique mint-condition Glitter Boy that S@GP sold to fund their base in the lists. Its pilot, Jim J. Wynn, seems unfazed by her outrage, however; in fact, he has little reaction to her whatsoever. The other pilots that are present keep largely to themselves, with the exception of Raymond "Tracer" Chen, a professional mecha fighter who has been brought all the way from Ishpeming via hover-semi to show off the capabilities of Northern Gun's new Cougar power armor against one of the manufacturer's older models. Chen is insufferably gregarious with his self-promotion, but Kat and Valerie agree to participate in the tournament nonetheless. Max hopes that Reez and Mian will be willing to wait around a little longer...

S@GP HQ by K-Bonifield

Friday, April 24, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 13

Kat Attack by K-Bonifield
I got to play an extra-long session of Rifts as a belated birthday celebration, so I got my wish. Previous session recap is here.

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

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

Session Recap
After a dimensional storm at sea, our heroes have been thrown far off course, and now find themselves approaching the Yucatán peninsula. Once they recognize their location, they attempt to correct course and head north to Serendipity, where their benefactor, the enigmatic Nysa, awaits the return of her kidnapped twin sisters. However, soon after they set out, a thick, grey mist envelops the Sunstar Aegis, making navigation impossible. The group are forced to turn back, and reluctantly make port at a small fishing village.

The locals welcome the party to their town, which they apparently call Belize. Their shaman explains that the mist the group encountered is an "astral fog" that shrouds the sea and sky around the region, and is virtually impossible to navigate -- those that try soon find themselves in the astral plane itself. The shaman encourages them to seek out a Shifter named Erik, who is part of the Range Knight Irregulars (RKI), a local paramilitary group located outside of the village, for assistance in leaving the area. He explains that these soldiers are affiliated with the vampire-hunting mercenary team called Reid's Rangers (an organization that Valerie and Max fought alongside early in their careers). Max and Arisis object to the idea of leaving Asha and Annejah behind with the Sunstar Aegis, but acquiesce when the twins insist that they can take care of themselves. True to form, Arisis and Kat leave behind robot drones to "look after them", which prompts a few choice verbal barbs from Max.

The Range Knight Irregulars have a sizable encampment set up around an abandoned airfield. When our heroes arrive, they are greeted warmly by a Cyber-Knight who introduces himself as Sir Edward the Brave, accompanied by a serpentine D-Bee in power armor. Arisis and Sir Edward, both members of the same order, exchange niceties briefly, then Max inquires about the Shifter they were told could help them.

Sir Edward informs the group that he and his men originally came to the area in an attempt to eliminate a minor vampire intelligence, but failed in that mission and suffered great losses. The serpentine D-Bee, whose name they soon learn is Zerdul, is one of a race called the Vernulians, who are engaged in a civil war that has spread from their home dimension to Rifts Earth. The two groups -- vampire hunters and Vernulian resistance fighters -- have joined forces (and causes) to survive. One of their units is currently pinned down in the jungles by Vernulian loyalists, and Erik, the Shifter the group seeks, is among them. Our heroes decide to lead a rescue mission. Zerdul volunteers to accompany them, and Sir Edward sends along a mutant water opossum named Luz to serve as a jungle guide.

Luz leads the group to a tiny settlement deep in the Yucatán jungle. The dead bodies of humans and Vernulians are strewn about, and other than a central armored bunker, its structures have largely been laid to waste by Vernulian loyalists in power armor, who still control the area. Kat, Max, and Valerie sneak up on three of the worm-like enemy and quickly incapacitate them, with Max stunning one with his psionic powers, then using his armor's supernatural strength to send its paralyzed body crashing into one of its allies. Arisis, never much one for stealth, charges in with psi-sword blazing. The Irregulars that were taking refuge inside the bunker -- a female spellcaster, a man in black tactical gear, and a feather-haired, fire-breathing young woman -- soon emerge and join in the fight. With their assistance, our heroes are victorious, though Max receives a minor injury.

It turns out that two of the warriors that helped win the fight are not strangers to the group. As the haze of battle clears, the feather-haired woman recognizes Arisis and, shapeshifting into a feathered serpent, happily embraces the Titan. Arisis introduces Etza, a kukulcan dragon that was raised alongside her as a childhood companion, to her compatriots. As Arisis and Etza get reacquainted, the black-clad man unmasks and reveals himself to be Black Puma, a super-powered hero from another dimension who fought alongside our heroes in the struggle against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. However, these joyful reunions are somewhat dampened by the task ahead: cleaning up the carnage that was once a village.

Max takes his leave from this grim work to speak with Erik, who is injured and recuperating inside the bunker. He is surprised to find the female spellcaster that assisted he and his friends earlier tending to a large, snake-scaled egg. Ignoring that detail for the moment, Max tends to Erik's wounds as best he can with some minor healing magic, and then asks for the Shifter's aid in navigating back to Serendipity. Erik informs Max that his unit was attempting to combat the predations of a trio of spider-demons, sisters called the Deathweavers, who hoard and feed on magic. The demons, he says, have seized three ancient Mayan pyramids and the ley line nexus points atop which they were constructed. The leader of their unit, a man named Madero, is being held captive in one of the pyramids, but Erik and his associates are unsure which. Upon hearing this, Arisis suggests that they begin planning (yet another) rescue. Erik thanks the group, and recommends that they set out the following morning.

Our heroes spend the evening hours tending to the wounded and catching up with their friends. Max quietly returns to the bunker to investigate the egg he saw inside. From the spellcaster, who he discovers is a priestess, Max learns that the egg holds the hibernating form of the village's snake-god. The priestess suggests that the Vernulian aggressors may have somehow been aware that the god was slumbering, and took advantage of that fact when they attacked. The young Mystic is both fascinated and discomfited by the apparent existence of divine beings, and yearns to find out more, but ultimately leaves with more questions than answers (as well as inklings of the exact nature of the mysterious Nysa, who has so captivated his interest).

Accompanied by Erik, Etza, Luz, and Black Puma, our heroes makes their way toward the Deathweavers' pyramids. As they near their destination, Black Puma lets out a roar, summoning the RKI operatives that have been watching the ruins: a group of werejaguars and a mutant bat. They provide valuable intelligence, indicating that Madero is being held in the pyramid of Becán, and reveal that the Deathweaver sisters are able to teleport from nexus point to nexus point, making it difficult to anticipate their locations. They also help Kat to direct her feline drone into the Becán complex itself. The drone is able to bypass the pyramid's magical defenses (which Arisis and Max identify as circles used to summon djinn), penetrate deep into its labyrinthine tunnels, and broadcast the location of Madero, who has been badly beaten, back to the group. Our heroes confer on the best course of action. Max initially wonders if he might be able turn the djinn against their masters, but soon suggests a different plan of attack: he and his friends will initiate a frontal assault on one of the other pyramids, drawing the demons away from Becán. Then, after the Deathweavers are distracted, Black Puma and his compatriots will rescue Madero.

Our heroes travel to the next closest pyramid, the ruins of Chicanná. Arisis again forgoes any attempt at subtlety; she loudly challenges the demon to face her in combat. The response is a huge swarm of insects that burst forth from inside the pyramid, harrying our heroes and making it difficult for them to proceed. Nevertheless, Kat, Valerie and Max race up the pyramid's steps, as Arisis shouts that she and her companions slew the Horseman Pestilence himself in Africa. They are met at the mouth of the temple entrance by a pair of Psi-Stalkers loyal to the spiders, but they are dealt with soon enough. The group quickly make their way to the pyramid's central chamber, where the Deathweaver demon awaits them. It summons an earth elemental, but Kat slides past it, viciously wounding it with her rune no-dachi. As the demon shrieks in shock and pain, Max blasts it with a bolt of lightning from his magical power armor, slaying it. The earth elemental, having received no orders, silently trudges off into the jungle.

The nexus point in the central chamber of Chicanná erupts with magical energy, and the remaining two Deathweavers, screeching in rage, emerge from the rift, accompanied by a trio of Psi-Stalkers and a Thunder Lizard dragon. Kat engages with one of the Psi-Stalkers, who seems to be an even match for her fighting prowess, and Max casts a shrinking spell, hoping to avoid the attention of the enemy as he moves toward the dragon. Arisis immediately locks up with one of the spider-demons and kills it with a single blow, a display of raw power that prompts the remaining Deathweaver to turn invisible. (Unfortunately for it, only one of heroes, Valerie, lacks the ability to see the invisible.) The Thunder Lizard casts a lightning spell, but it has little effect, and as the beast opens its mouth, the now-tiny Max flies into it and inside the dragon.

A radio message from Black Puma informs the group that the Irregulars have successfully reached the captive Madero. Arisis grapples with a Psi-Stalker, pinning him, and Valerie launches mini-missiles from the chest pods of her Cyclone power armor at the ceiling of the pyramid, blasting a large hole into it. The Headhunter radios back to Becán and tells the kukulcan, Etza, that a door is now open. Sensing that the tide of battle is turning against it, the remaining (invisble) Deathweaver springs into the nexus rift and flees the scene. The Thunder Lizard is evidently determined to make a last stand, however, and casts a spell to animate the skeletons that are strewn about the chamber.

Max enacts his strange plan, casting a Giant spell, hoping to destroy the dragon from within. However, the Thunder Lizard, like most of its kind, is a natural shapeshifter, and it swells along with Max, spitting out the now sixteen-foot-tall Mystic and commanding its newly animated minions to attack. Sadly for the dragon, as a Titan, Arisis has the ability to turn the undead, and destroys the skeletons with ease.

Meanwhile, Kat and Valerie dispatch the remaining Psi-Stalkers. Furious, the Thunder Lizard lashes out at Max, injuring him badly and knocking him to the floor. The feathered serpent, Etza, arrives and tackles the Thunder Lizard, with the rest of the Range Knight Irregulars presumably on their way. The entire group turns its attention to the dragon, the only remaining opponent, which soon recognizes that discretion is the better part of valor and teleports away.

(Did you see this announcement? I did not see that coming.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 12

Max [Commission] by babyk00lz2010
RIFTS. PLAYED IT. FUN. If you need a refresher, click here.

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

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

Session Recap
Our heroes, still stuck in Big Heap until the Sunstar Aegis is repaired, have tried to open the stasis box that contains the twins they were hired to rescue -- and failed. One of the defenders of Big Heap, the young woman called Nina, informs the group that a restless spirit is interfering with their attempts to release Asha and Annejah. Nina, a psychic spirit medium, asks Max about the ghosts that attempted to contact him earlier. Max recalls that the ghost of a small child that gave her name as "Maria" sought him out, and admits that he regrets being unable to help the girl. Maria, Nina informs Max, was the name of her older sister, who died "badly" when she was very young. She suggests that the two of them travel back to Death Gorge to resolve the issue. Max is initially reluctant, but Nina is an attractive, intelligent young lady, and her romantic interest in him is increasingly apparent. His Raging Hormones eventually get the better of him: he agrees despite his concerns about the encounter with the Hard Repo mercenaries earlier, and his focus on the group's mission (and eventual return to Serendipity). Nina happily links arms with him.

Valerie tells Max that she's confident he can handle his mission on his own if he feels up to it -- a vote of confidence which Max deeply appreciates. As he prepares to leave on his "date", the dwarf woman Grooma (the techno-wizard that has been repairing the Sunstar Aegis) asks if she can inspect Kat's no-dachi rune sword. The psi-stalker consents, and after a painstaking examination, Grooma informs Kat that the sword is a weapon of great importance in her home dimension, and tells Kat that if she ever wishes, she can take her (and the sword) there.

Max and Nina depart, and Arisis, Kat, and Valerie decide to hit the pavement of Big Heap in search on information on Hard Repo. Having learned that Bastille Impenetrable has posted a bounty on them, they eventually find themselves in an underground hookah bar called the Caterpillar's Cocoon, where various shady characters imbibe in substances both known and unidentified, the majority of them scavenged from the surrounding Pile. (Arisis' radiance is deeply out of place in this venue, and she is not received warmly.) Valerie notices the presence of two juicers in the colors of the notorious Wild Hurricane mercenary company. The pair, a married couple, soon wave our heroes over and introduce themselves as Mister Payne and Infinity Payne. They share a fairly jovial (if somewhat shouty) conversation with Valerie and her friends, repeatedly asking "where's the kid?" Valerie steers the discussion towards the subject of Hard Repo, and Mister Payne relates the story of "the time back in Iron Heart a blue guy and a Glitter Boy-lookin' thing" appeared out of nowhere and repossessed a jump bike that Payne admits was "ripped off from the Black Market". In the end, the group doesn't get much about Hard Repo from the Paynes that they didn't already know. Valerie evades the Paynes' question about her group's current base of operations, Kat avoids the Paynes' offer to "come home" with them, Arisis buys them another bowl of whatever they're smoking -- presumably something quite potent, to cut through their default combat-drug-enhanced state -- and the trio leave the Cocoon to find more concrete intel.

An unfortunately oily-looking local computer hacker named Jorge is able to provide them with data captured from Bastille Impenetrable's local "bounty board" using his custom hacking rig, assembled from pre-Rifts and interdimensional computer equipment. Jorge informs the group that the board connects to something called the Intergalactic and Megaversal Justice Network (or IMJN) -- apparently, some kind of information schema based in another dimension. He finds that the bounty on our heroes was a special type, where certain established groups have the opportunity to bid on the exclusive right to pursue it. The bounty in question, he finds, was claimed before it was ever posted to the general public. Interestingly, the wanted posters use only our heroes' professional aliases (not the "true names" that the Hard Repo agents used when they accosted them) and are clear that the group are to be taken alive. Their crimes against Bastille Impenetrable are enumerated, accompanied by images and video clips taken from their recent actions in and around Isla de Juventud, as well as supplementary files detailing "persons of interest": the young goblin Gia and the Tisch vigilante called Objection among them. Valerie, intrigued by the apparent existence of a headhunting network that extends far beyond Rifts Earth, asks if Jorge can provide any further information, but he demurs, saying that he's provided her with everything that he could translate from the alien language in which the initial bounty files were written.

Max, meanwhile, has taken to the air in his crystalline power armor, cradling Nina superhero-style in his arms (with her permission, of course). As the pair fly toward Death Gorge, they notice a number of partially cybernetic, chimeric beasts vaguely similar to those Max and his allies have faced sporadically since they arrived in Serendipity, which seem to be on the move as if they were migrating. A pair of flying hybrid creatures speed towards Max, intent on tearing him and his new female friend apart. Max barely avoids their attacks, weaving, spinning, and dodging in midair -- even having to let go of a startled Nina at several points. Eventually, he is able to outrun the monsters and recover his date from freefall, and he and Nina reach the apparent source of the ghostly disturbances that plague the Gorge: a small black stone etched with arcane symbols, presumably some sort of artifact disgorged along with countless others from the rifts that created the Pile.

At around the same time, Max notices that he and Nina are being followed: they have been tailed by Kat's feline drone, as well as Arisis' robotic T-Rex mount, both remotely controlled by their owners. Arisis, via radio, tells Max of her respect for him taking the mission on his own, which briefly flatters Max until Nina points out that they have essentially been chaperoned. Max doesn't have time to express his disappointment: the apparition of Maria soon materializes, joined by a chorus of other spirits, who insist that the pair should leave. Nina senses that the ghosts are anchored against their will to the strange stone, prevented from moving on to the afterlife. Max rebukes the ghosts with an octagonal mirror, which keeps them at bay long enough for Kat and Arisis' robots to shatter the stone after he discovers that his psi-sword has little effect on it.

Nina realizes that with the anchor stone gone, the spirits, who have been maddened by their long and tortuous linkage to it, will be free to haunt and otherwise wreak havoc across the land. Desperate to aid the spirit of her departed sister, she offers to tether them to her own soul and pledges to help each of them find peace. Max is both moved by Nina's selflessness, and saddened that she has shouldered this tremendous burden, which will surely overtake her life for a long time to come. Nina and Max's eyes meet, and they silently realize that whatever small romance might have been blooming between them is, at least for now, not to be. Nina quietly curses her decision, and kisses Max.

Valerie, Kat, Arisis, and Max return to Grooma's workshop and find the matter of opening the newly non-haunted stasis box much simpler. The apparatus soon opens, steam and fluid streaming forth, revealing the sleeping, nude forms of Nysa's twin sisters, Asha and Annejah. The machine slowly awakens them, and Max offers them blankets to cover themselves. After some brief introductions, the group explain that Nysa hired them to rescue the twins, which seems to relieve them. Our heroes' questions about Prince Osange are not answered in detail, but the twins assure them that they want to return to Serendipity and to Nysa.

The mayor, Mrs. Velasco, arrives to inform the group that she has visited Bastille Impenetrable's local outpost and bought them some time, but that they must leave Big Heap as soon as possible. Hearing this, they and Grooma work doubly hard to get the Sunstar Aegis seaworthy again, and succeed in doing so. Our heroes say their goodbyes to Big Heap and its defenders and set out for Serendipity.

The twins largely keep to themselves as they recover from stasis, the side effects of which prove beyond the capability of Max's minor healing spells to quell. The return voyage goes smoothly until the Sunstar Aegis finds itself simultaneously under attack from a band of ogre pirates and in the grip of a sudden, fierce D-storm. The group, now quite familiar with the ogres' tactics, handle them with aplomb, hurling them into the sea and blasting them from the lightning-wracked skies. When the battle haze and the dimensional tempest clear, however, they find themselves badly off course. After a brief moment of confusion, the group sights land, and by sailing around the small island, are able to triangulate their location. They learn that they are nowhere near Serendipity. Instead, they have found themselves off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula.

(For those who are regularly following these posts: if you are detecting a shift in tone in the last couple of recaps, that is probably because I have started GMing certain parts of the sessions. For example, the Hard Repo material is me setting up the conflicts that will be in play during my stint as GM. So, in this session, almost anything that didn't involve my character, Max, was at least partially GMed by me.)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 11

V. Cain by K-Bonifield
Rifts was played last weekend! This session was the most fun I've had playing an RPG in years. Nice mix of combat, social interactions, and laughing our asses off at dumb jokes. I wish we could play every week, though I'll never feel like we get to play as often as I'd like, because I'm obsessed with these characters and this campaign. Catch up here.

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

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

Session Recap
The group is confronted by the defenders of the scrapyard settlement known as Big Heap. Their leader, the mutant bird of prey Ortio Caracara, is vocally displeased with our heroes for drawing so much trouble into their community, but the other members are less confrontational. One of them, the dwarf woman Grooma, even offers to help repair the Sunstar Aegis and to try to unlock the stasis box.

They are soon joined by a group of Big Heap movers and shakers, led by one Mrs. Velasco, who introduces herself as the town's mayor and demands to know "what, exactly, have you brought to my town?" Kat speaks up and offers to help repair any damage, and (accurately, but rather rudely) points out that "this shitstorm was already headed your way". Max successfully smooths over the situation, explaining his team's mission and mentioning the devastated villages they found in Zaal's wake before arriving in Big Heap. He points out that Zaal, the Prince, and the ogre pirates would likely have wreaked even more havoc had he and his friends not been there. Having won her over, at least momentarily, he then tries to get more information out of Velasco, asking if Bastille Impenetrable might be coming after them, and if Big Heap is aware of any Coalition activity in the area. Velasco responds that in the wake of the chaos in which they were involved, it's likely that Bastille has issued bounties for all of our heroes, but is mystified by Max's question about the possible involvement of Dr. Stakes or his agents. The Coalition is a nation of which she professes only a vague awareness. The mayor seems more interested in what our heroes will do with the corpse of the neuron beast, Zaal. Valerie suggests sending his head back to Havana as a sign of a mission accomplished.

Caracara interrupts to insist that Max and his friends track down Prince Osange, lest he and his retinue return to menace Big Heap again. Arisis flatly refuses Caracara's demands, arguing that she and her companions have invested too much time (and blood) into retrieving the stasis box to even consider leaving it behind to blindly chase after the villains. Caracara, for his part, does not back down until Velasco suggests everyone reconvene at her mansion that evening to discuss matters in a more relaxed environment. Kat, for her part, quietly dispatches a catlike robot drone to try and hunt down the Prince and his men in the meantime.

Velasco's suggestion proves to have been a wise one, as tempers have cooled considerably by the time the two groups arrive at the mayor's "shabby chic" mansion. Max finds himself discussing the supernatural with Nina, one of Big Heap's defenders, who seems legitimately interested in what he has to say on the subject. Arisis is fascinated by the strange music played by Mayor Velasco's husband, though he shrugs off the idea of allowing the titan to record him. The topic of Prince Osange is hardly even raised until well after dinner, when Kat's drone returns and plays back surveillance video of one of the Prince's ectoplasmic-armored comrades, his mecha apparently badly damaged, heading toward a ravine. The defenders immediately recognize the locale, and our heroes consider leaving the mansion to investigate. Arisis remains reluctant to leave the stasis box behind, however. She seems dead-set on carrying the box with her into the scrapyard until Grooma volunteers to protect it. Max, who has been observing the Defenders intently all night, telepathically assures his titan compatriot that "we can trust this woman," and the mystic's word is enough for the cyber-knight.

Our heroes ride a giant elevator up to the top strata of the Pile and begin to follow the trail laid out by Kat's feline drone. Even here, where the detritus of an otherworldly war still rains down, humans eke out a living, and before long one of this blasted region's inhabitants flags down the group. The man informs them that a monster has occupied his home, and begs them to remove the beast. Though the group is concerned that the trail will go cold, they agree to help, and Kat climbs up to see what has taken nest in the man's ramshackle dwelling, which is built atop an inert walker mecha. She finds a strange hybrid creature, seemingly part lizard, part porcupine, with what appear to be "Crazy" implants in its head. The psi-stalker sneaks back and relays this information to the group. Max volunteers to try and magically entrance the beast, but is concerned that the cranial implants might interfere with his attempt to dominate it. Flying up to find the creature feasting on the contents of the man's freezer, Max soon finds that he was right to be dubious -- his Trance spell is a failure, and the creature is now aware of his presence. Luckily, he manages to slink away unscathed, and with Arisis immobilizing it, Valerie quickly puts it out of its misery with her CADS-1 blades. Max opines that the beast is similar to those he, Valerie, and Arisis faced in Serendipity earlier -- chimeric predators evidently created in Lone Star by the elusive Dr. Stakes.

Back on the trail, our heroes soon find the ravine they seek, in an area where the earth itself is steeped in malignant, necromantic energies; a place Max glibly describes as a "bad nexus." Here, the walking dead -- only some of them formerly human -- roam freely, preying on travelers and each other. It soon becomes evident that the area is haunted, as well, as strange visions of a young girl and an older man begin to invade the edges of the psychics' senses, and shimmer across even Valerie's electronic sensors. Max, uncharacteristically impatient with the cryptic utterances and vague warnings of the ghostly child, attempts to abjure and question the spirit, but learns little of use.

Max's frustration proves symptomatic of things to come. The group tracks down the Prince's ecto-mecha associate, but discover that he, like everything else in this part of the Pile, is zombified, mindless and aggressive. He is quickly destroyed by the group, but before they can decide on their next course of action, an immense undead dragon lunges forth, its body torn by unimaginable warfare, yet still animate. Kat stuns the group by slaying the ancient behemoth with a single stroke of her rune no-dachi.

Valerie, pumped up by Kat's display of prowess, asks out loud "what else you got?" As if to answer, our heroes now notice an odd, mirage-like disturbance of vertical lines, which quickly "unfold" into a somewhat ragtag assemblage of heavily armed men and women:

  • A pair of human(oid)s in full environmental body armor, decorated with unfamiliar insignia and indecipherable writing
  • A male cyborg with extensive (and badly mismatched) bionic enhancements, carrying a sniper rifle
  • A male psi-stalker, possibly of African descent, armed with a scimitar-like electrified blade
  • Two terribly attractive young women (one fair, the other with dark green hair and jet-black skin) who appear to be completely unarmed and unarmored
  • Nahar, an ogre juicer woman with whom our heroes have crossed paths with several times in the past, and whom they have counted as an ally, if not necessarily a friend

Nahar briefly exchanges tense greetings with the group, but it is clear that she has not come for a social call. She calls for our heroes' surrender, as one of the armored men reads off all of their names -- their true names -- and informs them that "Halcyon Reacquisitions" will be placing them under arrest and delivering them to Bastille Impenetrable. The name rings a bell to Valerie: she knows the organization under the nickname of "Hard Repo", which headhunter lore describes as a mercenary group that appears out of nowhere and muscles other mercenaries into giving up their most prized possessions. The amazon warrior has some choice words for HR, which seemingly amuses their patchwork cyborg sniper -- "that is such a Val thing to say," he chuckles, and attempts to shake hands with the Amazon headhunter, giving his name as Magnus Maddock. Max is thoroughly bewildered by the mercs' evident familiarity with him and his friends, but before he can articulate his confusion, Arisis squares off with Nahar, the titan towering over even the massive, chemically enhanced ogress, and successfully intimidates her into backing down somewhat. Nahar begins to rethink her strategy, but Valerie overplays her hand, overconfidently demanding that Hard Repo stand down and "strip."

The tension finally boils over, and both sides explode into combat. Kat and the silent psi-stalker lash out at each other, with neither one badly injuring the other. Valerie slashes wildly at Maddock, and he instinctively blocks -- with his non-bionic arm. He curses his own stupidity as he collapses, clutching the bleeding stump. Max, who has been hovering above the fray, has been unable to tear his eyes away from the pair of beautiful ladies (damn these Raging Hormones!) on the Halcyon Reacquisitions side. Unfortunately for Max, the young women seem less impressed with him, as they both take to the air (apparently under their own, unseen power) and attack. He avoids the fair-haired one's feint, but the dark-skinned one connects with a brutal kick that knocks the wind out of the mystic, sending him crashing to the ground. Arisis, unperturbed, lays out Nahar with a single haymaker punch to the ogre's face. As Nahar crumples, one of the armored Hard Repo operatives, realizing that two of their number are down for the count, frantically shouts a command into a communication device. The mercenary agents disappear instantly, seemingly flattening and folding into nothingness.

Now completely irritated, the group elect to return to Big Heap. They find the stasis box well-protected by the Defenders, though unfortunately still sealed. Grooma, it seems, has been stymied by the device, at least for now, and though each of our heroes attempts to determine how to open it, each of them fail. What next?

(If you've made it this far, thanks for reading Dungeonskull Mountain's 200th post!)