Friday, November 21, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 9

One thing I worry about when running a game is keeping momentum. In my experience, if a few weeks go by without convening to play, a campaign has a tough time getting back on its feet. Happily, that hasn't been the case with our Rifts campaign, which started roughly 20 years ago and has "died" several times, but always bounces back with everybody on the same page. The recap of our group's last session is here if you'd like to catch up.

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 meet with the Tisch vigilante that calls himself "Objection" to review their plan of attack. Realizing that a running battle is about to begin, Gia, the young goblin woman that Max has taken a shine to, excuses herself -- a decision which the young Mystic cannot fault. (Max, for his part, asks Gia to look him up if she ever visits Serendipity.) Kat and Arisis are looking forward to starting trouble with the ogre pirates that are hanging around outside the Neuron Beast Zaal's embassy, and Valerie confers with Objection: the Headhunter will pursue Zaal, and the vigilante will capture Phket, the middle-man whom Zaal has been using to smuggle his captive.

Though Max trusts his old comrade Valerie implicitly, he is apparently hesitant to leave the infiltration of the embassy in the hands of Objection. When Max proposes an alternate plan, in which he will use his transformation magic to shrink down and sneak into the embassy to gather reconnaissance, Objection shoots him down, assuring Max that his original plan will work. Max, still dubious, questions the Tisch on what he intends to do if Zaal and Phket don't fall for their ruse, and Objection stares Max down, insisting that he knows "his city". Max, who has seen and done more than his sixteen years might suggest, wordlessly locks eyes with Objection. After a long, tense moment, the vigilante turns away, muttering an apology. (Valerie silently mouths her approval of Max's refusal to back down.)

Kat decides to initiate the goosechase by walking up to a trio of ogres, asking who the toughest among them is, then knocking him out with a single punch. A high-speed chase through the back alleys of the city surrounding Bastille Impenetrable ensues, with Max maneuvering the twists and turns (though not always successfully) in his flying power armor, Arisis riding her giant mecha-mount, and Kat simply running full-tilt away from the ogres' motorcycles and ATVs. The trio successfully hit several known ogre hangouts with hurled garbage and insults, luring the bulk of the pirates back to the city docks and simultaneously avoiding being apprehended by the Bastille police force (who now on high alert). Valerie is in constant contact via encrypted radio, confirming that Objection caught his quarry: Phket, who had successfully turned the "stasis box" containing one of Nysa's sisters over to the Neuron Beast. She also informs her comrades that Zaal has left his embassy with the stasis box, and that she is in hot pursuit, heading towards the docks.

Arisis, Kat, and Max reach Nysa's stolen ship, the Sunstar Aegis, still chased by ogres and police. The ship is occupied by a number of ogre pirates, one of whom is the shaman that thwarted the group's attempt to reestablish contact with its sapient "rune CPU" earlier. As the trio race toward the Aegis, Arisis (invoking her status as the Radiant Daughter of Atlas) issues a stern, shouted ultimatum to the ogres: abandon ship, or forfeit their lives. All of the pirates, including the captain, decide that discretion is the better part of valor and flee -- with the exception of the ogre shaman, who moves to activate one of the ship's weapon turrets. Max, somewhat uncharacteristically, elects to engage the shaman physically, and (invoking the Golemite Vigorizing Frame aspect of his techno-wizardry power armor) hurls the ogre overboard with a suplex before he can open fire. A hover-truck carrying the Neuron Beast Zaal and several armed minions appears on the coast across from the docks, with Valerie giving chase. As Arisis, Kat, and a large number of ogre pirates rush to engage Zaal, Max heads to the Sunstar Aegis' bridge, where his magical power armor interfaces with the techno-wizardry-powered ship and starts its engines.

More of Zaal's troops appear, and a full-scale battle is soon underway on land, sea, and air with ogre pirates (using jetpacks, jetskis and small watercraft), minions of Zaal (on the ground and in flying harnesses), and our heroes all engaging each other. Before long, the chase has taken the combatants away from Bastille Impenetrable and into Big Heap, a settlement on the outskirts of an area known as the Pile. This part of the island is a literal dumping ground from some off-world war, with spent shells, wreckage, waste, and bizarre weaponry regularly disgorged from dimensional rifts.

As the chase weaves through half-submerged piles of extradimensional detritus, the Neuron Beast psychically influences all of our heroes (save Kat, who resists), filling their minds with doubt and resentment toward their comrades ("your teammates are always getting in your way"). Despite this distraction (and Max's constant badgering), Kat is able to remove the armed thugs guarding Zaal from the fight, creating an opening for Valerie to slice at Zaal's tendrils and wound the beast. Max opens fire at Zaal with the Sunstar Aegis' armaments, to no effect, but Arisis uses her peerless titanic strength to wrest the stasis box from the pain-wracked demon's grasp.

Almost simultaneously, a heap of alien wreckage explodes as a trio of mecha and a pair of individuals in strange, ectoplasmic armor burst forth. Zaal cries out that he'll let the newcomers have Nysa's sister for free if they can save his hide, to which one of the interlopers replies: "A bargain... I'd pay nearly any price for my aunt."

Friday, October 31, 2014

Victory Lap

In case it wasn't already obvious, I have been having a very hard time thinking of things to blog about recently. I find that I have increasingly less to say about RPGs these days. (Well, less substantive things to say, anyway.)

I think it might be because I'm having such a great time with them at the moment. The Rifts/Fate campaign I'm playing in is sincerely a dream come true. My other game (D&D 5E, which I currently run) has been a blast, a few hiccups here and there notwithstanding. Honestly, the games that I'm participating in at the moment are a personal all-time high in terms of sheer enjoyment, and there's nothing more boring than somebody who's just plain happy about everything, right?

So, I think I'll take a break from enforcing my "must post every Friday" rule for a while. It's mostly worked out well for me, and I'm proud to have managed to keep it up for over a year. I will still make posts when the mood strikes, and will certainly continue to post session recaps for the Rifts campaign whenever we play (though whether anybody still reads those or not is up for discussion, I suppose).

This isn't a break, a hiatus, or a shutting down. I'm just not going to force myself to post when I've got nothing interesting to say.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Baleful Beasts

HAVE FUN, KID
Rod Ruth, illustrator of children's books like Album of Dinosaurs and Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures -- which I compulsively checked and re-checked out of any number of childhood libraries and public school media centers as a child -- is an unsung master. Everything he painted was filled with mad, vibrant energy and color (and often, terror).

If I could commission RPG artwork from anyone who has passed beyond the veil, this man would be near the top of the list.

(Yes, this post is laughably low on content. It's been an extremely busy week for me.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 8

Adventurers by Razuri-the-Sleepless
Our latest session of Rifts (still powered by Fate Core) featured the triumphant return of the missing member of our original player character team: the Psi-Stalker known as Kat, played by my brother Chris, who joined us via a (somewhat buggy) Google Hangouts feed. The band is now well and truly back together and it's hard to describe how good that feels. The previous session's recap is here if you'd like to catch up.

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
Valerie, Max, and Arisis successfully make their way to Isla de la Juventud, also known as "Isla de Encanta" and "Treasure Island". Shortly after they reach the island, the erstwhile fourth member of their group, the Psi-Stalker called Kat, arrives at the docks, having earlier been summoned by Max via astral projection. Kat is warmly greeted by Valerie, who is openly thrilled to see the Psi-Stalker. Max, still haunted by the senseless deaths of the villagers back on Cuba proper, is somewhat more reserved, but glad to have Kat's particular set of skills on hand for what he anticipates will be a great struggle. Kat has arrived armed for bear, with much of her arsenal of mechanical combat drones, as well as Arisis' carnosaur-like robotic mount, in tow. (The Cyber-Knight is too excited about being reunited with her steed to properly greet her long-missing comrade.)

The group gets Kat up to speed on the nature of their predicament. They've learned that the island is home to a massive prison complex known as Bastille Impenetrable, which is operated by an extradimensional race called the Tisch. Grey-skinned and three-eyed, the Tisch (or at least, the ones running Bastille Impenetrable) are vehemently opposed to the death penalty, and will hold any criminal in one of their pan-Megaversal prisons (for a nominal fee, of course). Thus, they operate this prison out of both philosophical and profit-based concerns. The city surrounding the prison is under strict rule of law, and any infractions are punished with immediate arrest (and, presumably, imprisonment). The group believes that one of the twins they seek to rescue must be imprisoned in Bastille Impenetrable. Max wonders aloud whether it's Asha or Annejah, and under what sort of pretenses they could be held. The mere mention of their names apparently sets off some sort of psychic alert, which the team's psionics -- Arisis, Kat, and Max -- all detect.

Max links hands with the other two and attempts to trace the source of the distress call, expecting to find one of the twins requesting aid. Instead, the three sense another being entirely: one that is guarded by an ogre shaman. Their concentrated will easily thwarts the shaman's attempted mental interference, and they are surprised to find themselves speaking with a presence that identifies itself as the Sunstar Aegis -- the ship belonging to their benefactor, Nysa, which they were told had been seized by ogre pirates. Max, bewildered, admits that he's never telepathically contacted a ship before. He and his companions soon learn that the ship has a magically sapient control CPU, and it is with this artifact that they are communicating. The "rune-puter" (as Kat describes it) informs them that the Neuron Beast Zaal double-crossed the ogre pirates that captured the twins (and the Sunstar Aegis) upon arriving at Treasure Island, and that he has one of them in captivity now. Their conversation is cut short, however, when the ogre shaman that was guarding the Sunstar Aegis resumes control and severs communications. Max attempts to contact the ship again, but proves unable to. (In an interesting feature of the Fate Core system, I accepted a Fate Point in exchange for agreeing that Max would be unable to reach the ship again.)

Taking an alternate approach, Kat uses her inborn Psi-Stalker tracking abilities to home in on the residual psychic trail leading to the ship's location, but upon arrival, she and her compatriots are detained by an alarmed Tisch dock inspector. Max, often the voice of the team, attempts to appeal to the inspector's sense of justice by calmly explaining the nature of their situation, but the bureaucrat's insistence that the group lacks the proper permits and must leave the dock immediately quickly wears down Max's resolve, and his teenage distrust of authority asserts itself.  While the Tisch continues indignantly babbling in legalese and prodding Max and associates with a clipboard, they notice that a group of unsavory-looking ogres are staring them down from where the Sunstar Aegis is docked. Max grows increasingly frustrated, and before long the young Mystic goes into meltdown, shouting that "somebody's in trouble and you want us to do paperwork -- this is why nobody bothers with the cops!" (I accepted another Fate Point here, for letting the GM compel Max's Raging Hormones aspect to his detriment.) The inspector angrily responds that he is "not a cop" but suggests that perhaps he should call for backup. The titan Arisis literally carries an infuriated Max away before the situation can get worse, and Valerie flatly informs her young friend that he is "blowing it." Kat steps in and tries to provoke the dock inspector into giving away something useful, with limited results, and it seems that things are about to escalate even further when Val finally takes control. She flirtatiously smoothes over the disagreement, but has little choice but to agree to an evening date with the inspector in order to stop him from calling in armed reinforcements. Max (somewhat sullenly) muses that at least something productive may have come from the group's efforts.

Our heroes, stymied, head into the city that has sprung up around Bastille Impenetrable. Kat and Valerie search for more leads, while Max and Arisis find themselves more distracted by the sights (and tastes) of the city rather than turning up anything useful. Over a strange delicacy known as a "corn dog", Max apologizes to Arisis for his disastrous outburst during the group's encounter with the dock inspector, but asks that she not pick him up like a doll in public again. As he is wrapping up his heart-to-heart with the titan, Max is surprised to see Gia -- the young, unusually attractive goblin he had met in Havana some days prior -- also enjoying a corn dog. (I spent one of my Fate Points to set a scene detail here, since the GM had already expressed an interest in having Gia show up again someday.) Evidently, she is a travelling folk healer who roams throughout the region, plying her trade. Max seizes the opportunity to ask Gia out on a date, which she accepts. Max, naturally, picks the same restaurant that the dock inspector chose for his date with Valerie, since (after all) it's the only nice place in town that he knows of.

That evening, Max spends a little bit too much of his date craning his neck to get an idea of how Valerie's is going, but Gia is apparently only slightly annoyed. Valerie's rendezvous, which the Headhunter is apparently unable to extricate herself from despite her best efforts, is still underway when Max and Gia leave the restaurant to meet up with Kat and Arisis. As they continue to explore the city in search of clues, a gruff-voiced, masked Tisch who introduces himself as "Objection" suddenly makes his presence known to the group. Objection knows that our heroes are in search of Neuron Beast Zaal and informs them that the creature is currently holed up in the embassy that it, as the ostensible ruler of an "empire" in Cuba, maintains in the city. Watched constantly by members of the band of ogre pirates that it double-crossed, the neuron beast is unable to leave his domicile. Zaal, we're told, has one of the twins in a "stasis box" and intends to sell her to a banker named Phket, who clandestinely launders money for human(oid) traffickers. (At this point, Max advises Gia that things are likely to get a bit crazy, and that he wouldn't object if she decided to bail, but she elects to stick around.)

Arisis, Kat, and Max agree to Objection's plan to draw the ogres away from Zaal's embassy. Arisis, no friend to ogres, is particularly keen on this gambit, suggesting that she and her comrades go the extra mile and lead the hulking humanoids all the way back to the docks where the Sunstar Aegis is held. Objection plans to break into the embassy during the chaos that ensues -- "I work alone" -- and insists that "no murders are going to happen in my city", an edict to which Max and Kat scoffingly agree. The group rushes back to the restaurant and rescues a grateful Valerie from her interminable outing with the dock inspector, and after filling her in on the details, she agrees to their plan: Val will head to Zaal's location while the others distract the ogres and withdraw with them in pursuit.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Is Rifts Gonzo?

Nope.

One thing I keep seeing online is people describing Rifts as "gonzo" and "kitchen sink". I have to admit that this rubs me the wrong way a little. Don't get me wrong: I think both of those terms are applicable to the game to some extent. However, I would hesitate to sum up Rifts with either of them. Why do I say this? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Why not make this feel like a bad college paper and start with a definition? Merriam-Webster defines "gonzo" as "bizarre" and "freewheeling or unconventional especially to the point of outrageousness". I know that the term probably means different things to different people -- what doesn't? -- but I'm surprised to see that the dictionary definition actually lines up with the way I see it used when describing RPGs fairly well. The picture I posted up there (found somewhere on the internet -- sorry, I have no idea what the source is) seems to encapsulate the "gonzo, kitchen sink", outrageously bizarre aesthetic so many associate with the game.

I can see what they're getting at. Even people that have a similar take on the game to mine have pointed out that it can be pretty wacky -- after all, my own Rifts campaign has been (fairly accurately) summarized as "a titan-sized Cyber-Knight, a teenaged Mystic, and a partial cyborg Headhunter working for a secret godling to help smuggle mutant animals out of the breeding pens of Texas Nazis". So, yes, there are lot of crazy things in the game's setting, even right out of the box: believe it or not, most of the elements mentioned in that summary are straight out of the original rulebook. (Those "Nazis" are among the elements I can most easily understand having a hard time taking seriously.)

The more books you include in the setting and make available to players, the wilder the world gets, particularly when you incorporate visitors from Palladium Books' other games. In Rifts, a robot, a catgirl, a wizard, and a ninja could very well team up and fight crime, more or less by the book. (That's got to be the textbook definition of "kitchen sink".) This game is sounding pretty damned "freewheeling and unconventional" at this point, right? So why don't I like it when people call Rifts "gonzo"?

The biggest reason is that I don't think it's tremendously more so than any number of other popular properties, particularly roleplaying games. For example, Dungeons & Dragons crams together practically every possible flavor of the fantasy genre, along with bits of horror and science fiction. It's been described as a game where Conan and Gandalf team up to fight Dracula, and I think that's an accurate summary in many ways. Particularly in the more recent versions of D&D, player character options are so diverse that if a DM is permissive, the robot, catgirl, wizard, and ninja team is every bit as doable in D&D and its derivatives (like Pathfinder) as it is in Rifts. Is D&D a "kitchen sink"? Granted, the setting backdrop of Rifts Earth might be harder for some to swallow than the fantastical milieux of D&D, since it's supposedly "our world" in the far future. But is harder to swallow than, say, superhero comics' version of Earth in the present day? Look at the bizarre combinations of characters and locales the Marvel Universe features. Does anybody describe The Avengers as "gonzo"? And what about the outright tongue-in-cheek, elbow-in-the-ribs, "get it?" nature of ostensibly "post-apocalyptic" games like Gamma World?

One could certainly play Rifts like it's a big "lol so random" joke, and more power to those who want to do that. It could probably be a lot of fun, but I think that the idea that it's the only way to play (or that there is an over-the-top level of wackiness that is baked into the game) is an exaggeration. Like most good imaginative properties, there's a fundamental earnestness (as well as an overarching aesthetic) to Rifts that I think makes taking the game at least a little seriously -- Illinois Nazis, Techno-Wizards, Mexican vampires, and all -- worthwhile.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 7

With the missing player from our original gaming group -- my brother, Chris -- now scheduled to rejoin the campaign via Google Hangouts, the last few sessions of Rifts have involved almost as much planning as actual play, as we figure out how to get his character, the psi-stalker Katrina Mansfield (pictured here), back in the mix. We still managed to get into character and play a little bit. Check out the recap of last session if you need to.

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
Max Parkinson, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Session Recap
Arisis, Max, and Valerie have successfully defended the people of Red Moon Water Village from several waves of vicious attacks, finally driving them off with the assistance of troops from the city of Havana. Osorio, the villagers' shaman (and now leader) advises our heroes to visit three other settlements on the island of Cuba as they continue their search for the elusive neuron beast, both to rest and to ensure that they have not suffered the fate intended for Red Moon Water Village.

Unfortunately, while they manage to complete the journey to the next village without significant incident, the group find it completely annihilated: burnt to the ground, with no survivors. Max surveys the carnage and wishes aloud that he was able to use his magic to restore the victims of the massacre to life. (This is something his teammates have witnessed firsthand in the past, but of which he is currently incapable, having "burned out" his ability to do so for the time being). Instead, Max supernaturally melds into his charnel surroundings in order to commune with the slain. The young Mystic fades into the ashes, asking the spirits of the villagers to explain what happened to them: "Tell me how you died." He effortlessly overcomes an astral servitor of the neuron beast that tries to interpose itself, and learns that the beast's armed forces destroyed the village and its people in retaliation for their defeat at Red Moon Water Village, then marched to another settlement that Osorio had mentioned, two days' travel away. The neuron beast's spirit minion takes physical shape and is instantly reduced to dust as Max returns to corporeal form.

Our heroes resolve not to allow another such slaughter to occur, and set out for the second village with haste: the Mystic uses the adaptive systems of his techno-wizard-constructed armor to maneuver through the canopy jungle, with the Cyber-Knight hurling the armored Max ahead ("fastball special" style) and cutting a path through the underbrush for the Headhunter to follow on her mecha-motorcycle. Along the way, Max and Arisis realize that their psychic sensitivity allows them to "pick up" communications between multiple beings that are apparently sharing information on the groups' activities. It does not take long to realize that they are inadvertently eavesdropping on the psychic network of several neuron beasts, considering that they refer to each other as "Neuron Beast Zaal", "Neuron Beast Tobril", etc. (apparently through a quirk of their mental "language").

The trio arrive at the settlement in one day rather than two, catching the neuron beasts' forces completely by surprise. The enemy, who were preoccupied with rounding up villagers and putting them in chains rather than preparing for an assault, are never able to organize an effective defense. Max disperses a unit of gunmen with a Fear spell and sets a "neuron thrall" (another of the human-neuron beast hybrids they've faced in the past) ablaze with a well-placed Fire Bolt. Valerie rips into a group of lizard men armed with melee weapons with a barrage of mini-missiles, and their leader, a lizard woman psychic, literally turns tail and runs. Arisis squares off with a cybernetically enhanced troll after her attempt to invoke her supernatural aura of awe is ineffective ("Trollborg does not understand human emotions", her opponent helpfully explains), but struggles to cause any lasting physical harm to the cyborg. Max opts to trade foes with Arisis, shutting down the troll's central nervous system via psionic Bio-Manipulation before things get out of hand, and Arisis overpowers the Gigantes (mutant giant) that had threatened Max. Valerie removes the threat posed by a walker mecha by nonchalantly decapitating the gunner perched atop it, sending his head tumbling into the cockpit below and terrifying the war machine's pilot.

The mecha pilot and Gigantes quickly surrender as the few remaining allies that have survived the trio's surprise attack disperse into the jungle. The team radios the Havanan forces they left behind at Red Moon Water Village and asks them to send a contingent to take care of the enemy captives. As Valerie severs the oversized bionic arms of the immobilized Trollborg with the CADS-1 blades of her mecha, Arisis and Max question the captured walker pilot. "Neuron Beast Zaal", they learn, is in charge, and has taken at least one of Nysa's twin sisters to Isla de la Juventud, to the south, where there is apparently some sort of prison facility in which she is incarcerated. The pilot also tells them that the third village Osorio asked them to visit is the domain of a bruja ("witch") and that Zaal's men take care to avoid it. 

The pilot's tale turns out to be true -- when the group reach the third village, they find themselves unwelcome, and have little choice but to strike down the bruja and her harpy pets (a task which they complete without much difficulty). With the last village out of the way, the group head toward a pirate-run coastal town they have heard lies to the south, in the hopes of securing passage to Isla de la Juventud.

(If you're wondering, yes, that is another piece of commissioned artwork up there. This one is courtesy the illustrious Azu-Chan. I love it, and I imagine it's about as far from how the creator of Rifts imagines a typical character should be depicted as possible.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Let Me Tell You About My Character's Mom (Sort Of)

I've been busier than usual at work this week, and had kind of a dud session of D&D on Sunday, so I haven't had much time to think up a topic for a blog post.

So, um... maybe you're wondering what one of the characters mentioned in this post looks like. Well, wonder no more:

Artha Parkinson by K-Bonifield

This is Artha Parkinson (née Serris), a tough-as-nails woman who happens to be a powerful psychic (and also happens to be my Rifts PC's mother), drawn by my good friend Kent Bonifield (who happens to be the GM of our Rifts campaign). He nailed it. I love the strange mashup of "fantasy world" and "high fashion" that Artha is rocking -- particularly the purse.

I imagine that requesting artwork of your character's mom has to be pretty high up on the "RPG mental illness warning signs" list, but to hell with it. You can't argue with the results.

So yeah, no real gaming content for you, once again! Next week's will be a meatier post, I swear.

Friday, September 19, 2014

More Mercenary Teams

We Are Mercenary by madspartan013
Here, have some more (mostly antagonistic) mercenary teams for Rifts. Many of these are a bit tongue-in-cheek, which I suppose might not work for some people. I had a little help from people in my Google+ circles in coming up with several of these. Some were heavily reworked by me, but I've given credit where it's due, regardless.

Wild Hurricane. In many ways a typical Juicer mercenary company, Wild Hurricane are worthy of mention due to their membership (over 130 members at last count) as well as their reputation as completely amoral adrenaline junkies. Wild Hurricane have no qualms about accepting virtually any job from any employer, as long as they are allowed to execute it in their trademarked fashion (which typically involves flying in on jetbikes equipped with colored smoke exhaust, blasting pre-Rifts stadium rock and jock jams at maximum volume). All members use outlandish monikers like "Duke Raiden", "Blacules", "Velocity Maxx", "Slam Atoms", etcetera (exemplified by the current leader of the organization, "Chief Administrator Golgo Superior") and tend to wear brightly patterned workout clothing. Now based in Puerto Rico, the Wild Hurricane organization's membership is constantly shifting, thanks to combat casualties and Last Call, but they have surprisingly consistent success in attracting new recruits. Company legends say that Wild Hurricane's founder was once a member of a rival Juicer outfit called Happy Jo's Funtime Adventure Club, who supposedly "doctored their prescription" to create a more relaxed, "blissed-out" state of awareness -- something that is seen as an abomination by Wild Hurricane. (It has been speculated that Wild Hurricane uses a similarly variant combat drug cocktail or injection rig that produces tenser, more violent Juicers.) It is unclear whether the Funtime Adventure Club ever actually existed, but mercenaries in southern North America sometimes speak of a strange group of Juicers that traveled in a rainbow-colored APC called "the Bus". Wild Hurricane members are known to deride those deemed "not extreme enough", including more well-adjusted Juicers or those that detox before Last Call, as "Happy Jos" or "Funtimers". (Some example Wild Hurricane member names by Cole Long and John Carr. Happy Jo's Funtime Adventure Club concept by Benjamin Baugh.)

The Great Volunteers are a highly professional and competent group of soldiers of fortune that operates primarily in the Magic Zone and its surrounding regions. They were so named by their benefactors because they arrive unexpectedly and volunteer their services to anyone who requires them, particularly if they are having some form of conflict or disagreement with the expansive forces of the Coalition States. The Great Volunteers' commander, Dana Roskos, assures the prospective client that a long-term payment plan can be arranged afterwards. If the clients decline -- which they often will, if they are familiar with the company's reputation -- the mercenaries simply leave. If they accept, the Volunteers engage (and drive off) the enemy, then exact their payment under threat of force. The Great Volunteers are backed by the sorcerers of the Federation of Magic, and their masters expect to be paid in human slaves (who are usually later sacrificed in their black rites). The mercenaries return repeatedly, over a period of many years, to collect their dues. The majority of the rank and file of the Great Volunteers do not necessarily relish this duty, but much like their sworn Coalition enemies, they are hardened soldiers who regard their activities as a necessary evil. (Concept by me.)

Providence Express Protection is a mercenary company led by a clairvoyant psychic known only as "Melgren", who directs his compatriots to pre-emptively eliminate major threats he detects with his precognitive abilities. His predictions are almost never incorrect, but the issue of securing payment for PEP's services is often a sticky one. Fortunately, none of them are above extorting their fee from those they insist that they saved from a terrible fate. (Concept by Cole Long.)

Pascal's Rascals. A wildly unpredictable, but mostly heroic mercenary team that debuted recently, Pascal's Rascals have met with a rate of success disproportionate to their small size (five members), poor equipment and unorthodox fees. Many of their clients suspect that something strange is going on with Pascal and his compatriots, though none have yet realized that they are, in fact, a clutch of hatchling Thunder Lizard dragons that have taken up the mercenary life (and human form) as a lark. (Concept by me.)

The Scabs are a fairly large and well-equipped mercenary team that has a wide operating range covering much of North America. "The Scabs" is, obviously, not the official name of the company -- they have been known to operate under many names, including Axon Syndicated, Elegant Assistance LLC, Kotter's Marauders, and Falcon Standard -- but they are known as such by their peers in the mercenary business. Scab troops move into a known conflict hotspot, find the most vulnerable settlements, and then undercut the prices of whatever companies are currently in operation there, driving them out forcibly if necessary. The Scabs then gradually raise prices to exorbitant rates. When the communities that employ them are unable to afford the Scabs' services any longer, the mercenaries typically ransack them, usually leaving them to the mercy of whatever it was that threatened them in the first place. The natures of the Scabs' operations prevent the formation of a strict chain of command, but a Manistique woman named Camilla Gold is believed to ultimately be in charge, and likely in league with some arm of one or another of the Black Market criminal organizations. (Loosely based on a concept by Benjamin Baugh.)

Zach & Suns are a group of vampire hunters active in the upper parts of the Southwest that are gaining notoriety for the flashy, sun-emblazoned, full-environmental golden body armor they always wear, and for their tireless crusade against the wild vampires that prey upon the rural communities of the region. "Father Zach", the group's leader, is secretly a master vampire named Armand Zacharias, who claims to have walked the Earth since before the coming of the Rifts. The other members are his secondary vampire "children", and the wild vampires they create are the predators they hunt down and "rescue" their clients from (though they rarely actually destroy them). Every community Zach & Suns "aids", regrettably, loses several members to the vampire attacks, and yet the mercenary company's ranks continue to slowly grow... (Based on concepts by Chris F. and Benjamin Baugh.)

Captain Jack's Daisies. Jacinta Hayson -- the "Jack" mentioned in the outfit's name -- is a rough-looking, tobacco-chewing, horse-riding, no-nonsense woman who looks every bit a part of the real Old West. She could not be more different from the dandily dressed, robo-steed-riding group of men that make up the rest of her group. Despite her employees' appearance, Jack's company is well-known for their skill, resilience, and professionalism. Their focus is on bodyguarding and long-range protection, expertly escorting clients across the entirety of the North American continent. "Famous last stands a specialty." (Concept by Matthew Adams.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 6

That cape from the ending scene... by kawacy
Our third session using Fate to run Rifts was a relatively short one, though you might not be able to tell from reading this recap. Our GM hadn't had much time to prepare, and so we ended up spending a decent chunk of the session just catching up and shooting the breeze. Good times either way.

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

Arisis SolsticeRadiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Max ParkinsonRunaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie CainAmazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Session Recap
The inhabitants of Red Moon Water Village flee in the face of an aerial assault, with our heroes bravely bringing up the rear, protecting them from the neuron beast's minions. Several valiant (but hopelessly outgunned) warriors from the village attempt to engage the enemy, but Max and Arisis convince them that while their valor is admirable, their people would be better served if they ensured that they reached the cave alive. As they make a run for it, Valerie draws the fire of the flying bandits, nimbly dodging their attacks, but the group faces several challenges from the ground.

Max finds himself under mental assault from a slimy, serpentine psychic presence. He wards off the attack, but nearly stumbles and falls in the process. Arisis helps him to recover, but an elite squad of soldiers loyal to the neuron beast -- including an earth Warlock, a super-powered merc with gravity-manipulating abilities (presumably from the Heroes Unlimited reality), a supernaturally strong D-Bee, and a flower-sniffing bishounen samurai (!!) -- attempt to stop Arisis in her tracks. Briefly, it seems as though they will succeed, as the super-merc traps Arisis in a gravity well while his allies rush in to finish her off. But the titan knight draws on her memories of her father, the legendary Atlas (in Fate terms, invoking her Weight of the World aspect) and shrugs off the attack, knocking the boulder the Warlock magically hurls at her into the super-merc with an uprooted tree she wrests from the D-Bee's grasp. The samurai attempts to trip her up with his sword, but Arisis is unaffected, and soon sends the group scattering into the jungle.

As our heroes near the cave, Max notices that a hill they are passing is, in fact, alive -- a rocky, plant-covered beast that is preparing to pounce on the fleeing villagers. The young Mystic overpowers the creature's will before it can act, commanding it to sleep, and soon he, his friends, and the inhabitants of Red Moon Water Village are inside the cave tunnels, safe for the time being.

The village's shaman, Osorio, leads them to the communications array he had earlier spoken of -- in reality, little more than a ham radio set up in a grotto with a vertical "chimney" fissure that opens to the sky, with a tall, makeshift antenna reaching all the way to the surface opening. A neo-Taíno operator starts to activate the equipment. Valerie, mentally exhausted from the bandits' attack and frantic chase, seems to "check out" for a moment as she takes in the cool, lush splendor of the cavern. Max notices that she seems distracted and gently reminds her (in a Zen koan sort of way) to stay on her toes. He lets his own guard down in the process, though Arisis spots the shadow-caster Max faced back at Red Moon Water Village, partially cloaked by a Chameleon spell and calmly walking down the passage as if its surface were horizontal.

Arisis alerts her allies and leaps upward, delivering a glancing blow to the mage with the Sword of Baragor. Max, still in his techno-wizardry-powered armor, summons his Psi-Sword and soars up the shaft. As Max flies past his opponent, he lances him with his Psi-Sword, wounding the shadow mage, but not badly enough to stop him from slicing the radio antenna with his own dark energy blade. The radio operator cries out that he has lost power, but Max reassures the neo-Taínos, saying that he has other ways of contacting Havana. Arisis, who has been leap-climbing back up the tunnel, now tries to grapple the enemy spellcaster, but finds herself tackling a straw effigy instead. The mage has escaped, again.

Having discovered the opening, the neuron beast's air forces initiate another attack. Val tears out of the cavern on her Cyclone in motorcycle mode, zipping past the walkers and picking off the weaker, less heavily armored soldiers. Max finds a corner of the cavern and begins to enter a meditative trance, guarded by the vigilant Arisis. The young Mystic projects his consciousness into the astral plane, and Arisis uses her own psychic sensitivity to accompany him, as do the warrior villagers the pair had reassured earlier.

With the tribesmen and the titan piggybacking on his jaunt, Max's astral form swoops out of the cavern and high into the sky, a thin silver cord connecting him back to his unconscious body. As an artifact of techno-wizardry, Max's armor is still usable in the astral plane. From his vantage point, Max sees several of the jury-rigged walker mecha similar to the one he and his friends fought at the village, as well as the astral forms of the neuron thrall Arisis had bested earlier and the demon-serpent that had psychically assaulted Max on the way to the cave.

Max telepathically contacts Valerie, warning her of the incoming mecha. He also relays the locations of the neuron thrall and demon's physical forms, since they too are bound to their bodies by astral silver cords. Seeing that the serpent-thing is preparing to lunge at Max from below, Arisis slashes at its slithering tentacles with her Psi-Sword, but does not dissuade the demonic creature from attacking. Its tendrils lash out at Max, intent on violating his psyche, but they are blocked by Max's mental shielding. The neuron thrall moves to intercept the Mystic, but bolstered by the psychic presence of Arisis and the neo-Taíno warriors, Max blasts it with bolts of astral fire, destroying its silver cord and sending its consciousness hurtling into the sky, out of control.

Valerie reaches the slime-encased body of the serpent demon, but before she can slay it with the vibro-blades of her mecha, Max uses the psychic capabilities of his armor to encase the demon's astral self in a crystalline shell, which he then shatters with the force of his will. The demon's soul, or whatever black thing serves as one in its place, is obliterated, and the foul being is slain.

 Arisis' mind returns to the physical world as Max's astral form speeds toward Havana at the speed of sound. She and Valerie defend the cavern while Max contacts Governor Milan's shaman, informing him of the attack on the village and requesting Havanan aid. The young mystic's consciousness returns to his body, and along with the scout Calvo and a ghostly cadre of fallen Cubano warriors from throughout history (summoned by the shaman Osorio), the group manages to hold off the neuron beast's forces until Milan's reinforcements arrive two hours later. Eventually, the attackers are defeated when Havanan forces -- a mix of conventional troops and techno-wizards in flying machines -- join our heroes and drive off the enemy.

The Havanan troops escort the neo-Taínos back to Red Moon Water Village, set up camp, and recover the power armor that had been stolen from La Fantasma. Though Osorio offers his sincere thanks to the team for rescuing his people, our battle-worn heroes realize that his village is now effectively under the control of Governor Milan, and Max silently wonders if he and his friends have been manipulated.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Down, Down to 5E Town

Although my last attempt at running Dungeons & Dragons was ultimately unsatisfying, I can't stay away from D&D for long. I've picked up every official edition of the game since the arrival of AD&D 2nd Edition, and the latest iteration is no exception. One of the two local gaming groups I play with, being well-acquainted with my love-hate relationship with D&D, started to bug me about running it as soon as the 5E Starter Set was released, and I quickly caved to their demands. Although the angst of the defunct Demon Verge campaign that I ran via Google Hangouts still weighed heavily on me, I comforted myself knowing that I was only committed to running an introductory scenario, after which a rotating cast of friends would be occupying the Dungeon Master's chair, with the option for me to return if I wished.

I ended up purchasing the Starter Set because it was ridiculously cheap, despite being leery of running a published module. After all, the Demon Verge campaign had taught me that modules and I aren't always the best of friends. Besides, what I had heard about the introductory adventure, which bore the unpromising title of Lost Mine of Phandelver, didn't exactly set me on fire: it sounded like the standard "small town in trouble / goblins in the caves" setup. As much as I like D&D, I've been down, down to goblin town more times than I care to admit. As it turned out, that description does apply to Lost Mine in practically every meaningful way. It also turned out not to matter, because I and my players had a great deal of fun playing our first session of D&D 5E with it last weekend.

The Good:

  • Combat moves fairly quickly again. I found 3E combat very slow, and 4E combat murderously, unbearably slow, so this is a huge improvement.
  • I like the advantage/disadvantage mechanics, supposed mathematical problems be damned. Likewise the proficiency bonus stuff, which I think is really slick, elegant design.
  • I like traits, bonds, and flaws, and handing out inspiration for showing them off in play. My recent experience with games like Fate Core has given me an appreciation for touchy-feely mechanics that reward people for playing in character even when it's not tactically sound.
  • Backgrounds are fun, even when multiple players take the same one. (There are no less than three nobles in the PC party.)
  • Speaking of which, nearly all of the player characters seem to be at least a little shady, if not downright smarmy. This makes a boilerplate scenario like Lost Mine much more interesting. I'm usually very much in favor of shiny heroic characters in fantasy stuff, but I love that many of these heroes also happen to be jerks.


The Stuff I'm Not So Sure About:

  • Characters still felt fairly fragile despite their inflated HP totals, but I'm not sure if this version is lethal enough for me. It seems like it's relatively easy for characters to be knocked out of a fight, but unlikely that they will die. They're probably not as unkillable as 4E ones, in my experience, but I'm used to death coming a bit more easily in D&D.
  • In 5E, if you can cast spells, you've almost definitely got a magic zap attack power that never runs out. I didn't find these "zonks", as one friend called them, to be overly powerful, but the image of magicians tearing into enemies with at-will magic beam attacks all day, every day has never really sat well with me. It's purely a matter of personal taste; I'm well aware that being the zapper is what many people expect out of spellcasters. I'm probably just out of touch on this.

So, when you total it all up, I'm pretty happy with the way things are going with this game. Honestly, any session in which I get an opportunity to act out a speak with animals spell cast on a couple of hungry, semi-tamed wolves is going to be a good time for me. For the first time in a while, I felt like I had as much (or more) fun than the players did, and I am legitimately looking forward to running the next session.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 5

Flea by distritopapillon
Last week's session was our first using Fate to run the Rifts setting, which was a lot of fun. (Refresh your memory of the previous session here.) This week, we spent at least half of the session tweaking our characters and fleshing out their "extras" (Fate Core's term for special powers), so we weren't able to get in as much actual play as usual. Much of this session's play was taken up with a big "set piece" battle, which we tried very hard to run 100% by the rules. This meant that we ended up looking at the rulebook much more often than we normally would, and so the fight took us a while to resolve. We still had a great time and learned a lot about how Fate works, and I expect that future sessions will go much more smoothly now.

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

Arisis SolsticeRadiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Max ParkinsonRunaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie CainAmazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Session Recap

Having overcome an ambush at the hands of the duplicitous Prince of Red Moon Water Village, Borega, Arisis and Valerie get to work cleaning up: Arisis drags the now unmanned Samson power armors into a heap and guards them, and Val recovers a dazed and apologetic Max from the trees he crashed into. Max and Val return to find the neo-Taíno tribesmen conferring with their shaman, who they recognize as the one that attempted to attack them in the jungle earlier.

The shaman introduces himself as Osorio, and there is a brief moment of tension as the young man insinuates that our heroes were in league with Prince Borega, a man who Osorio says killed their rightful king and seized control of the village. Max points out that Borega attempted to murder him and his comrades, and that Max turned Borega's magic against him. "Your prince told us where we could find some property that was stolen from our employer," Max explains, gesturing to the power armors. "We were tricked by Borega, and when he showed his true intentions and tried to ambush us, I killed him," he says, with apologies to Calvo, the Wilderness Scout that Borega had entranced during the fight. This explanation satisfies Osorio, who agrees to Max's request that he and his friends be allowed to reclaim the Samsons. "They are not our property," the shaman says simply. Valerie suggests contacting the authorities in Havana by radio to come and recover the mecha, but Osorio explains that communication in the jungle is difficult, and that the only equipment that can reach Havana is located in a nearby cave.

Arisis and Max trade some professional quips about the cave ("Hmm, I wonder if there might be something in the cave. Something that doesn't like us." "Like a bear, maybe."). Before the group can set out for the cave, however, Max senses impending danger and immediately warns Calvo, telling him to get the villagers to safety. Before the Scout can react, however, an assault begins. Three heavily armed boats are roaring down the river that flows next to Red Moon Water Village, followed by a giant, four-legged walker mecha that appears to be homemade. As if that weren't enough, five bandits riding makeshift flying craft attack from above.

Max quickly casts a hex upon the riverbank. As a dozen armed humans and lizard men disembark from the gunboats, they find that the sand erupts into adhesive tendrils as soon as they set foot upon it, ensnaring them and preventing them from moving or attacking. Two individuals manage to avoid being trapped in the Carpet of Adhesion, however -- one, a man in dark, tight-fitting garb that Max immediately recognizes as a fellow practitioner of magic; the other, a human with ghastly neuron-like growths limned in electric fire erupting from his head and forearms.

Val springs into action. The chest-mounted mini-missile launchers of Valerie's Saber Cyclone mecha open and launch a Missile Circus of crisscrossing explosive death at the flying bandits, who are forced to take evasive action, firing at the missiles rather than their intended targets. The Praxian Headhunter then takes to the skies, her booster jets positioning her above and behind the bandits, whom she quickly dispatches.

Though the armed grunts are temporarily incapacitated, the dark-clad mage moves to threaten the fleeing villagers. Max moves to intercept him, but momentarily loses track of his foe in the tumult when a beautiful neo-Taíno woman stumbles to the ground in front of Max, begging for his help. The young Mystic's Raging Hormones get the better of him, and he stops to help the woman, who is suddenly revealed to be the dark mage himself, cloaked in a spell of deceit. Barbed tendrils of shadow lash out from the arcanist, and Max tries to absorb their blows, rather than avoid them and potentially endanger the escaping villagers. One of the black tentacles finds a crack in the plates of Max's crystal armor, however, and wounds the young man badly.

Max, angry both at the deception and his own susceptibility to it, taps into the sensation of pain he feels and transfers into a psionic assault on the shadow mage, relaying it to his opponent's nervous system and flooding it with pure agony. The mage howls and doubles over, but his shadowy attack continues. Max ducks out of the way, and still clutching at the deep cut in his side, he blasts the dark magician with a blazing Fire Bolt generated by the twisting, glowing crystals of his armor. The mage, immolated, screams and dives into the river, carried away by its current.

Meanwhile, Arisis has found herself the target of grenade launcher, plasma ejector, and high-powered "scribble" laser attacks from the gunboats and the walker mecha they escorted to the village. The mythic resilience of her race has proven too much for their weaponry, however. Despite being knocked into the water and swamped in the muddy riverbed, the Cyber-Knight giantess has methodically been breaking the boats' arsenal to pieces with the Sword of Baragor, her Psi-Sword, and even her bare hands. The bizarre, neuron-augmented humanoid attempts to halt her determined assault, but while he is able to harm Arisis to some extent with the unearthly, flaming electricity that engulfs his grafts, in the end the titan is victorious, handily defeating the neuron-thing.

The group now turns its attention as one to the jury-rigged walker vehicle. As the human and lizard man bandits retreat to the gunboats, their weapons still mired in the tarry riverbank, Max uses his armor's ability to Call Lightning and strikes the walker. Arisis damages one of its legs badly (spraying herself with coolant in the process), and Valerie leaps atop it, slashing at its hatch with the forearm blades of her Cyclone. When she manages to pry it open, Max sends another lightning bolt crashing down on the mecha. While the team hammers on the walker, the gunboats power up their engines and beat a hasty retreat upriver. Realizing that the tide has now turned completely against them, the pilots of the walker surrender. The triumphant but exhausted trio barely have time to catch their breath before they spy another squadron of flying enemies -- helicopters, bandits, and winged monsters -- on their way to intercept the retreating tribesmen, and realize they must make haste to the cave.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Role & Roll Station: A Tokyo FLGS

Blurry action shot hastily taken while fleeing the store
During my blogging hiatus a couple of months ago, I was traveling in Asia, including Japan. I didn't get a chance to do any gaming while I was there, but I did manage to visit Tokyo's famous Akihabara district. So, here are some brief thoughts on Roll & Role Station, probably one of the best game shops in Tokyo:

There were tons of "replays". These look like manga tankobon (collections or trade paperbacks), complete with glossy covers of cool-looking characters. The interiors are just text recaps of game sessions, more or less similar to the "actual play" session reports I and many others post online. I knew that these replays existed, but had no idea how many were being published. There were dozens and dozens of the things, so obviously somebody is buying them. I found this oddly depressing, in that I wish there was something like these replays available here in the US.

There were D&D Encounters posters (which looked exactly like the US versions, but in Japanese) everywhere, but the most popular games appeared to be Call of Cthulhu, Sword World (an indigenous fantasy RPG) and GURPS. All of the CoC and GURPS stuff seemed to have no stateside equivalent. Most of it looked very impressive.

I didn't notice any Western RPGs for sale other than the ones I just mentioned.

There were many, many Euro boardgames translated into Japanese. Boardgames are not really my thing, but I found it interesting anyway.

There were several tables of people excitedly playing CCGs, boardgames, and RPGs, D&D among them.

About a third (!!) of the customers in the store were female. That's... not how it is here, which I think is a shame.

There were homemade D&D t-shirts that looked really cool and (from what I could understand) seemed to have been made by store regulars. They were monochromatic prints (like white on a blue shirt, etc.) and had anime-style illustrations of each of the four basic classes as well as English explanations of what they were about. I would have loved to have been able to buy them all. They were out of my price range, sadly.

It looks like I will probably visit Japan again in the not-so-distant future. Next time I will do my best to fight off the sensory overload that is Akihabara and get a clearer picture of what was going on there.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Let Me Tell You About My Character: A Rifts Timeline

I am a fairly obsessive player when I'm engaged, and I'm fully engaged in our current Rifts campaign. As evidence of this, have a look at something I wrote up a few weeks ago: background for my player character, Max (and his family, and the North Cascades Combine a little), written as a timeline.

Do you care? I dunno... maybe?

A lot of things that happened in the original high school campaign have been forgotten (or, more often, thrown out for being dumb). But we've definitely established that our characters were recently part of the so-called Gathering of Heroes against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, so I've assumed that the current year in-game is around 103 PA. I'm getting that date from this site.

In the original campaign, each of us ran many more characters than the "core" ones we've chosen to use in the current one. Some secondary characters have made brief cameo appearances in play, and some others are assumed to have worked with the core ones at some point in the past (possibly during the aforementioned Gathering of Heroes). I'm not mentioning any of these characters in this timeline unless we've explicitly established where and when we met up with them.

(Oh, this makes more sense if you read about Max's hometown, the Barony of New Bizantium, first. But probably only a little.)

41
Park Dae-sung, a.k.a. David Park, is born in Iron Heart.

59
David joins the recently organized Coalition States military and shows great promise.

62
David begins a secret relationship with one of his superior officers, a Psi-Stalker woman named Millicent Reece.

David begins to experience terrible headaches after coming under psionic attack from a Mystic. He soon manifests powerful surges of psychic abilities. Millicent agrees not to reveal his developing Mind Melter powers to their Coalition superiors.

64
When Millicent becomes pregnant, she and David are forced to go AWOL and into hiding. Shortly thereafter, Millicent gives birth to a daughter, also a Psi-Stalker, but dies during childbirth. David names his daughter Alison Sarah Sang-mi Park and flees Iron Heart with the infant, killing several Coalition soldiers in a botched attempt to sneak over the border.

Artha Kesmai Serris is born in the Barony of New Bizantium.

76
David and Alison (now using the assumed surname "Parkinson") arrive in the Barony of New Bizantium after living a bandit’s existence for over a decade. David quickly finds favor as a hired assassin for the Baron, the kobold Chulgrem Shran.

79
David Parkinson is now the Baron’s right-hand man, officially in his employ as his top enforcer. He is given a luxurious home in Hightown.

81
David, now 40, marries Artha Serris, a psionic teenage girl, at the urging of his employer, the Baron, and with the approval of the Serris clan.

Marcus Itomas Myung-hwan Parkinson (nicknamed Rex), the first of David and Artha’s children, is born in the Barony of New Bizantium. The spitting image of his father, Rex is a master psionic. He can do no wrong in his father’s eyes.

83
Scott Rowmock Seung-chul Parkinson, the second of David and Artha’s children, is born in the Barony of New Bizantium. Scott possesses minor psionic abilities, but is intellectually disabled and requires constant attention. David begins to physically and mentally abuse Artha, who offers only token resistance despite her powers.

87
Maximillian Arksam Jae-won Parkinson is born prematurely in the Barony of New Bizantium. He struggles with poor health for most of his childhood and shows no evidence of having inherited his parents’ psychic abilities. David's behavior grows increasingly erratic and violent.

90
David breaks Artha’s leg in a physical altercation. After being threatened by the Serris clan and reprimanded by the Baron, David’s emotional outbursts and physical abuse of Artha largely cease. Artha walks with a cane from this point on.

The Barony of New Bizantium is attacked by mecha from Mount Hood for the first time.

97
With the support of the Serris clan, Artha becomes a Congregat in the Church Tolmeti and is seemingly being primed for the priesthood. The Church reveals to Artha that it engages in the sacrifice of the old and infirm; a fact that disturbs her. Frightened of what the Serris clan will do if she leaves the Church, Artha feels she has little choice but to participate in these rituals.

The Kingdom of Weirminster and the Barony of New Bizantium make a pact of mutual defense against the Pilots of Mount Hood.

98
David Parkinson discovers that the Church Tolmeti is engaged in human sacrifice. He accuses his wife of planning to hand Max over to the Church's clutches and soon resumes his old pattern of abuse.

Artha reads her husband's mind and learns he is plotting against the Baron and the Church.

99
Torn between her loyalties to her family, her clan, and her religion, Artha Serris-Parkinson flees the Barony of New Bizantium for parts unknown. She attempts (but is unable) to bring Max with her. David is enraged.

Realizing that their family home is now completely unstable, Alison escapes into the Barony's Undercity with Max in tow.

100
Chulgrem Shran, the Baron of New Bizantium, dies. David Parkinson, secretly his assassin, becomes the new Baron, reverting to his original, legal name: Park Dae-sung. Baron Park immediately enacts a bloody campaign against the Church Tolmeti.

Max and Alison go into hiding in the Undercity, avoiding their father's operatives, who are hunting down Tolmetians and practitioners of magic (and also searching for Max).

Max and Alison are assaulted by Undercity thugs they had believed to be friends. Max is left for dead, but is taken in by Chenoxl, a D-Bee Mystic. Max quickly displays considerable psionic and magic potential. Alison disappears.

101
Max continues to train under Chenoxl's instruction, shielded from his father by his master's magic.

The Kingdom of Weirminster shoots down a Coalition reconnaissance plane.

102
Chenoxl releases Max from his tutelage. Max travels east to Triune Junction, then south through the Pecos Empire with a band of mercenaries called Las Perras de Guerra, led by the psychic Lupe Guerra. Max offers Guerra his services as a mystic advisor.

Lupe Guerra is gravely injured and has no choice but to undergo full bionic conversion in order to save her life -- a process which robs her of her psychic powers. One of Guerra's subordinates, the headhunter Valerie Cain, is blamed for the mishap and is slated to be sold into slavery by the vengeful warlord. Max helps Valerie escape, and the pair flee into the southwestern wilderness.

Hathli seizes power on Mount Hood and reaches out to Weirminster and the Barony.

Having successfully evaded Las Perras de Guerra, Max and Valerie Cain travel to Ciudad Juarez (and then further into Mexico) to hunt vampires.

[Other Max & Val adventures happen]

103
The North Cascades Combine alliance is formally declared.

Smithville requests membership in the NCC, but emissaries from Weirminster find the town obliterated.

Max and Val travel to Atlantis to save a True Atlantean mage's daughter from slavery in Splynn. They join up with Katrina Mansfield and Arisis Solstice in the process. Max receives a magical tattoo (Phoenix Rising From the Flames) as a reward for the successful rescue.

Max, Val, Kat, and Arisis travel to Africa and participate in the Gathering of Heroes, joining other warriors (including Reez and Mian Feng) and destroying the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Sealth Chieftaincy is accepted into the NCC. Shortly thereafter, the Cougar Mountain Holdfast requests membership.

[More adventures with Max, Val, Kat, and Arisis]

As the new Baron's purge continues, Rex Parkinson is killed in action against followers of the Church Tolmeti. His body is never recovered.

["Rifts Misadventures" begin]

Max, Val, Kat, and Arisis arrive in Serendipity. Kat leaves to meet with wild Psi-Stalker tribes. The other three meet Nysa and agree to head to the Caribbean to find her sisters.

Max, Val, and Arisis meet Gia and Arim in Havana.

["Rifts Misadventures" continue...]

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mercenary Team Black Fortress

Mercenary Team Black Fortress, more often simply called "Black Fortress", is a travelling company of soldiers of fortune that have recently made Serendipity their base of operations. Unlike some of the city's other mercenary militias, the group is large -- over 100 members strong -- and well-equipped. Black Fortress is widely assumed to have the unofficial backing of important individuals in the Coalition States, or possibly even the CS government itself.

Black Fortress does little to dissuage this perception. Much of their arsenal consists of decommissioned and repainted Coalition weapons, mecha, and vehicles, equipment to which no other mercenary company seems to have as much access. Many Black Fortress troops wear the infamous old-style "Dead Boy" armor of the Coalition States, but even those that opt for the (nominally standard issue) modified Urban Warrior body armor typically personalize it with CS-esque skulls and similar insignia. Though these motifs are never identical to the standards used by the Coalition, they are close enough to make a connection clear, at least in the eyes of Black Fortress' critics.

These critics say that the "Mercenary Team" is little more than a clandestine wing of the CS military, a deniable private army used to carry out black ops missions in which the Coalition cannot be openly involved or implicated. In truth, the situation is slightly more complex: Black Fortress is sponsored by a single powerful Chi-Town family, the Espinozas, who can boast of more than a few Coalition war heroes in their family tree. While not a household name to their nation's general populace, the Espinoza family is well-regarded by the Coalition's upper echelons, who tolerate (and in some cases, even tacitly support) the existence of Black Fortress. This tolerance is dependent on their ignorance of the lengths to which the Espinoza family are willing to go in order to secure what they see as the greater goals of the Coalition, however. Unlike most of the CS elite, Meyer Espinoza, the family's patriarch, is an idealist who believes that the Coalition has lost its way. In his eyes, the Imperial family's drive to take control of a horrendously chaotic situation has slowly ossified into a zeal for totalitarianism. Meyer believes that Emperor Prosek is more concerned with consolidating power for himself and his family than with helping humanity recover from the apocalypse.

Black Fortress never accepts a contract that would work directly against the interests of the Coalition. However, they regularly bend or break rules that would restrict their operations. For example, while they are much more tolerant of psychics and mutoids than any official Coalition organization would ever allow, the company of Black Fortress does not accept non-humans or practitioners of magic into their ranks. However, they have much more nuanced, inclusive policies than the Coalition when it comes to interacting with these groups. In other words, they are willing to work with them when it would advance their objectives (and generally not a second longer). Perhaps most intriguingly -- and dangerously, since the Espinoza family courts treason by condoning it -- among Black Fortress' various subdivisions is a clandestine paranormal research unit dubbed Grey Gate, which works to scientifically study magic and extradimensional phenomena, a practice which was banned by Imperial proclamation decades ago.

Black Fortress' recent relocation to Serendipity has been a cause for unease in the community, and was vociferously opposed by more than one organization (the Quang family among them). Serendipity's D-Bee and mutant animal populations, in particular, are fearful of the company. Thus far, however, Black Fortress' mercs have caused minimal disruptions -- in fact, with a few exceptions, they have behaved with a level of professionalism and restraint that puts the bulk of the city's other militias to shame.

Notable members of Mercenary Team Black Fortress include:

Brigadier Omar Espinoza is the leader of the Black Fortress mercenary company and a former Coalition special forces operative. Once a gifted soldier, Omar was badly injured in an encounter with a Thornhead demon in the ruins of old Chicago, and although ostensibly restored to combat readiness thanks to a full bionic conversion, he seems to have yet to become accustomed to his new body (possibly because of the trauma he experienced). He nevertheless expects the best from those in his command and drives them to excel, tolerating nothing less than excellence and upstanding behavior from those in his employ. Never a strategic genius, Omar takes his marching orders from his his father, Meyer Espinoza, and his trusted advisors in Ivory Tower, Black Fortress' strategic unit. He is curt, guarded and reserved. Omar lacks much of the fiery idealism that drives his father and sister, and while he believes in their objectives, he is secretly uneasy with his role, and increasingly disturbed when asked to order his men to violate the code by which he lived during his military service. He is also displeased that his sister, Quinn, has joined Black Fortress, and firmly believes she does not belong there.

Omar is a heavily modified and customized cyborg whose design is patterned after that of Free Quebec's FX-320C Dervish; a towering, four-armed combat unit. Though he was once regarded as a handsome man, is said that the Brigadier's face is now horribly scarred, and he is never seen in public without his olive drab exterior armor (including a faceplate) in place. He wears oversized military-style formal uniforms or fatigues that fit his cyborg frame.

Specialist Noa Quintanilla Espinoza is a young Rogue Scientist, highly driven but brusque; a transwoman and sister to Omar. Technically the second-in-command of the Grey Gate paranormal research unit, "Quinn", as she prefers to be called, is for all intents and purposes in charge of Grey Gate's research efforts (by dint of her enthusiasm if nothing else). Both fascinated and frightened by the supernatural, Quinn is a major psionic, and possesses the power to sense magic and dimensional disturbances as well as an ability to cloak her own psychic nature from detection -- abilities which she uses to aid her research. Like her father, Meyer, she believes strongly in humanity as the rightful inhabitants of Rifts Earth, and in the core ideals of the Coalition. She is deeply disturbed by the atmosphere of enforced ignorance in which her countrymen live, however, and enamored of the freedom that being away from Chi-Town affords her in her studies. At this point, Quinn would likely be unwilling to return to the CS.

Quinn is tall and thin, a striking young woman with dark skin and hair. She is a child of privilege, with an expensive, if unorthodox, sense of style. Her appearance does not conform to the stereotypical image of the bookish scientist: she has numerous tattoos and is fond of gold jewelry and piercings (though these are generally hidden away when in uniform). Quinn has a cutting sense of humor many find insulting, and her professional obsession with accuracy carries over into her social interactions. She often comes across as confrontational or overly critical as a result. Despite her annoyance with being assigned a subordinate position in Grey Gate by Omar, she is devoted to her brother, and is concerned that he is not adjusting to his new form.

Master Sergeant Jesse John Ross heads Red Rampart, the military operations wing of Black Fortress, and personally manages the company's battlefield actions as well as training and screening new recruits. An ex-Coalition Psi-Stalker from Lone Star with the Stetson and the drawl to prove it, Ross is rarely seen without the company of his two loyal Dog Boys, Barb (a female Labrador Retriever) and Bree (a female Boston Terrier). Though neither are legally Ross' property in Serendipity, both are extremely subservient to him, and always refer to him as "Master" -- a fact which disturbs many (particularly Serendipity's free mutant animal population), and which Ross relishes.

Ross is perhaps overly fond of food and drink -- things which he barely requires to survive, yet indulges in regularly. He is a paunchy, heavy-set man, something that is highly out of the ordinary for a Psi-Stalker, but has the lightning reflexes, chalk-white skin and pointed ears common to all his kind. A deeply unpleasant individual who finds fulfillment only in violence and excess, and disdains those he perceives as weak, Ross somehow manages to keep his brutal drives and vices in check when in Omar's presence, maintaining a disciplined veneer around him.

Technical Sergeant Kanuka Kladivo is the Operator in charge of The Keep, as Black Fortress' garage and supply division is known. A native of Ishpeming who relocated to Serendipity several years ago and was only recently hired by Black Fortress, Kladivo prefers Northern Gun technology, regularly (and loudly) reminding her superiors that the Coalition surplus that comprises over half of their armaments is "shabby Chi-Town shit". She does her best to keep everything in working order, but isn't above declaring something "unfixable" and procuring a non-CS-manufactured substitute. Kladivo is uncomfortable with Quinn -- especially her research into the supernatural -- but for once hasn't openly voiced her opinion thus far.

Boisterous and brash, the Technical Sergeant of Black Fortress is not an unattractive woman, although she seems built for power rather than grace. She has shoulder-length, reddish-brown hair which is generally kept pulled back under a baseball cap, and stunning, piercing blue eyes (not natural, but bionic implants). Kladivo is a mutoid with several redundant internal organs and an anomalous brain structure, a fact of which she is thus far unaware. She is also an alcoholic, yet insists that she "can control it".

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 4

Jellyhead by Kurunya
I mentioned in the last recap that we were considering switching to a newer system with which to run our Rifts campaign. Having realized that the Palladium system was perhaps a bit too time-consuming for the style of play we tend towards these days, we decided to give running Rifts with Fate a spin last session. We're still getting used to the system and probably made many mistakes, but it was good fun regardless. Take a look at the recap of last session if you wish.

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

Max Parkinson, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me

Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Session Recap

Not long after the helicopter that stole the cargo our heroes were hired to help transport escapes into the night sky, Havanan police arrive on the scene and demand that Arisis, Max, and Valerie come with them. They are told that the governor wishes to speak with them. The three acquiesce to la policía's orders, and pile into a police truck in which Captains Ramos and Dixon (of La Fantasma and Big Rusty) are already waiting. Despite an understanding that the mercenaries had been dismissed and told to take shore leave, there is some tension between our heroes and their employer, Captain Ramos.

Max begins to explain to Ramos that he regrets their failure to stop the theft, but Arisis voices her opinion that their time would be better spent putting out the fire that is now spreading across the city. Ramos seems nonplussed, saying that they need to speak with the governor first and leave it to Havana's Techno-Wizard firefighter brigades. Valerie apparently disagrees, as she abruptly blurts out "fuck this" and jumps off the back of the truck (playing to the Wildchild portion of her high concept aspect). Max, who has an aspect called Always There For Val, follows without hesitation. Arisis considers grabbing Ramos and running after her friends, but Ramos' look of exasperation makes her rethink that plan. She leaps after her compatriots regardless, heading towards the center of the conflagration firebomb-hurling raiders started earlier.

Max casts a spell (inspired by two incantations he had in the original Rifts system, Orb of Cold and Wind Rush) that creates a great magical sphere of ice that blasts the burning buildings with freezing winds, transmuting the crackling flames they touch to rapid-forming crystals of ice. His spell works beyond even his own hopes, completely dousing the fires throughout the city and barely straining his own reserves of energy. Cries of confusion and panic turn to cheers of gratitude as the icy orb dissipates and snow falls on the streets of Havana.

Arisis, Valerie and Max don't stop to bask in the appreciation of the Havanan populace. They head for the Governor's palace in haste. Arisis encounters considerable difficulty in squeezing her giant frame into the human-sized palace, which does not endear her to the Governor's personnel. Nevertheless, the trio are led directly to the executive office, where a heated exchange is already underway between Governor Eugenio Milan, his nephew (the city's Fire Chief), Captains Ramos and Dixon, the Chief of Police (a severe-looking woman named Luska), and various other parties. It quickly becomes apparent that a game of "pass the buck" is in progress, where each party blames another for the failure to stop the raid. Max speaks up (in fluent Spanish) and makes a passionate appeal for calm and cooperation, which is largely usurped by a smooth-talking local shaman, presumably an advisor to Governor Milan. The shaman takes the floor and explains that even though Max is very young, there is wisdom in his words --  a backhanded compliment that plays on Max's insecurities. Max retreats, contributing little other than translating for Arisis for the next several minutes. Valerie and the titan Cyber-Knight are able to pick up the slack, however, as they make their case with judiciously applied flirtation and righteousness, respectively.

When a man (somewhat dismissively) introduced as Borega, Prince of Red Moon Water Village, makes his entrance, Max recovers. The Prince claims that the bandits that stole Governor Milan's shipment of power armor were in the employ of a neuron beast. The young mystic realizes that Borega is referring to the creature he saw in his clairvoyant vision aboard La Fantasma -- the demon that carried off Nysa's sisters, Annejah and Asha, in its thrashing tendrils. Max insists that Borega must lead him and his friends to the beast, but Captain Ramos suggests that their responsibility is to recover the lost cargo. Governor Milan, asserting his authority, echoes Ramos' claim, and essentially bullies Ramos into promising that Valerie, Max, and Arisis will return his stolen property intact. Regardless of the Governor's arrogance, the group agree to work to reclaim the lost Samson suits as they track down their quarry.

Borega agrees to lead the trio to his village the following morning, guided by a canny Wilderness Scout named Calvo. Even with the titan Arisis blazing the trail, the journey into Cuba's jungle interior is treacherous, and the group has to navigate numerous threats, including a burial ground haunted by restless ghosts (whom Max convinces to depart for the world beyond). Arisis, for her part, rescues one of Borega's retinue from a mudslide and manages to avoid offending the powerful spirit of an ancient banana tree (!) as she chops her way through the underbrush with her Psi-Sword. Arisis also proves instrumental to the group's success in an attempted ambush: as they prepare to cross a river, Max's Sixth Sense is triggered, and he alerts his friends to impending danger. A band of neo-Taíno painted warriors and lizard men, led by a shaman with a birdlike familiar that appears to be blend of quetzal and phoenix, soon emerge and threaten the party, but Arisis, as the Radiant Daughter of Atlas himself, cows them all with her innate, near-mythical glory, warning them that she has no desire to take their lives, but will if they force the issue. The strange bird-creature takes to the skies, and the tribesmen lay down their weapons and are taken prisoner by Prince Borega and his men.

Late in the night, party arrives at Red Moon Water Village, which has been built around a derelict, inoperable armored personnel carrier. Atop the hulk is a formidable-looking machine gun turret, which Borega explains has been restored to working order and is used to defend against the neuron beast's minions. As the neo-Taínos are detained under guard, Borega ascends to a stilted hut, saying that he must speak with his father, the King. Arisis realizes that the wrecked APC's turret is aimed at the center of the village, and that Borega's men are moving into an attack position: another ambush. As the titan shouts a warning, the three suits of Samson power armor that had been stolen from La Fantasma the evening prior clumsily emerge from their hiding places. Borega reappears and mentally seizes control of the scout, Calvo, commanding him to attack our heroes. To make matters worse, the gargoyle mage that had overseen the raid on Havana bursts forth from a pit in the earth, scorching Valerie with its fiery breath.

As Borega's men open fire on the group with energy weapons, Arisis notices that the inexpertly piloted Samsons have been activated without their sound-dampening equipment being engaged. Taking advantage, she claps her titanic hands directly next to the helmet of one of the power armors, rupturing its pilot's eardrums. In a panic, the pilot ejects from the suit and flees into the night. Max takes Arisis' lead and hexes the audio sensors of a second Samson, filling its pilot's ears with the sound of a demon breathing down his neck (a riff on a fear-causing spell from Rifts called Heavy Breathing). The terrified pilot follows his deafened compatriot, running from the battle. Valerie viciously slashes the gargoyle mage's wings with her mecha's CADS-1 sabers, crippling the demon, as Max dodges laser fire from another of Borega's henchmen.

Suddenly, the bird-creature that the trio had earlier encountered returns, accompanied by a number of neo-Taíno tribesmen, who immediately set about freeing their captured brethren. In the confusion, Max turns his attention to his betrayer, Prince Borega, telepathically penetrating his mental defenses and convincing the Prince that "I am you... you are me." His perception mystically twisted, and now convinced that he is standing in Max's position and vice versa, Borega mentally commands Calvo to fire his crossbow at the young mystic. Calvo, still entranced, has no choice but to obey, and buries a bolt in Borega's neck, killing him. Yet Max does not realize that the attack he dodged earlier was merely a feint to set him up for a clear shot, which Borega's henchman now takes, blasting Max with such force that his TW Mystic Power Armor malfunctions, sending him careening into the dense jungle surrounding the village and knocking him unconscious. Valerie cries out after Max, blocking a bolt of lightning called down from the sky by the gargoyle mage with the energized blades of her Saber Cyclone mecha, then brutally dispatching the demon. The third and final Samson, now having powered on its dampening gear, attempts to grapple Arisis, a course of action which proves ill-advised: the titan breaks the power armor's hold, grasps it by the legs, and "whiplashes" its pilot into unconsciousness. With the neo-Taínos making short work of the remaining resistance, Valerie and Arisis rush to check on Max.