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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 5: Other Settlements and Hazards

17.06.2014 by Beaver-Skin
CITY-STATES OF THE NORTH CASCADES COMBINE
Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the Fifth:

(The following is a sampling of known settlements and hazardous locales in the greater Cascadian region.)

Ape Canyon and the surrounding volcanic slopes of Mount St. Helens are home to tribes of Sasquatch. Those that have chosen to remain in the canyons and caves, rather than joining the Sealth Chieftaincy, are a reclusive and dour people. They typically avoid contact with visitors, but will drive out those that outstay their welcome.

Devil's Lake, located on what was once the coast of Oregon, is infested with particularly troublesome -- some would say uncharacteristically hostile -- faerie folk that torment anyone foolish enough to dare enter their realm. Rumors persist that they are guarding some sort of invaluable treasure.

The Ochoco Conjunction is an unusual ley line nexus located roughly 20 miles to the northeast of the Barony of New Bizantium. It is unusual in that it is often inactive -- practically nonexistent -- but sputters to life at apparently random intervals. When inactive, the nexus is virtually bereft of psychic energy, undetectable to any but the most sensitive. When active, the nexus always opens a rift, and always to the same dimension: the fantastical world of Palladium. (However, the rift seems to connect to different points on the Palladium world each time it opens.)

The Olympic Rainforests have been colonized by an unknown, technologically advanced race of D-Bees that appear to be using the region as a sort of greenhouse for bizarre, off-world plant species, which apparently can be grown only in a temperate rainforest ecosystem. Very few individuals have interacted with these D-Bees and lived to tell the tale. They are said to be heavily armed and uniformly aggressive, and are thought by some to have some sort of connection to the Splugorth. It has been suggested that their entire operation may be part of an interdimensional, Megaversal drug trade.

The Red Shoulders Horde, a large Simvan tribe, herd dinosaurs and other creatures throughout the Cascades region. Their herds are comprised primarily of grazing animals, such as small ornithopods, which are sold to various Cascades settlements for slaughter or as beasts of burden. The Red Shoulders are considered to be relatively peaceful (for Simvan), but they occasionally raid travelers when they come across them, making sure not to leave any survivors lest they inform potential customers.

Smithville. (Former population: 7,000.) Located in the far northern reaches of the Cascades, in what once was British Columbia, the reclusive settlement of Smithville magically contacted the NCC member state of Weirminster almost immediately after the Combine's formation, practically begging to be accepted into the organization. When King Oswald sent his envoys to Smithville via TW biplane, they found it obliterated -- every single structure completely reduced to ash, with no survivors anywhere in sight. Smithville had a reputation as an out-of-the-way but politically stable and well-protected town. Its ruling Smith family were viewed as somewhat backward and xenophobic, but fair to their citizens. What happened to Smithville is a mystery, and the town's destruction has been kept a secret from most of the NCC's general populace thus far.

Triune Junction. (Population: 1,000.)  A rough-and-tumble place located in what was once southeastern Idaho. Triune Junction serves as a crossroads between the Pacific Northwest proper and neighboring territories, including the Pecos Empire and tribal lands of the Rockies, and is generally regarded as more of a checkpoint or trading post than a full-blown settlement. Under the watchful eye of Boss Hewitt Greene, Triune Junction caters to the tastes of its often rambunctious clientele, with a surprising array of services readily available despite the town's small size. Notable among its businesses (in addition to the expected saloon and gambling house) are a fully operational Body Fixer/Cyber-Doc medical clinic and Operator workshop. Triune Junction is reputed to be the only place for miles around that is capable of Crazy and Juicer conversions.

Ulterior City. Recently, wild stories of "living robots" that have claimed a ruined city somewhere in the Canadian Cascades have begun to circulate. The story says that a group of adventuring mercenaries stumbled across this so-called "Ulterior City" while exploring some ruins, when they were accosted by machines that "talked and acted like people". The mercs' leader, a Glitter Boy pilot, was supposedly challenged to a duel by a robot "General", who told the pilot that he and his "army" would pledge their service to the young human if bested. The story goes on to say that this mechanical General was impervious to harm, and destroyed the pilot and his mecha in seconds, but let the rest of the mercenaries go in peace. Whether there is a nugget of truth to this tall tale, which grows wilder with each retelling, is unknown, but the Mount Hood Banate seems interested in finding out.

Friday, July 11, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 4: The Sealth Chieftaincy and the Cougar Mountain Holdfast

CITY-STATES OF THE NORTH CASCADES COMBINE
Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the Fourth:

The Sealth Chieftaincy. (Population: 20,000.) A collection of small settlements rather than a single city, the Sealth Chieftaincy was itself a multi-member polity when it became the latest state to join the North Cascades Combine. Located in the Puget Sound region, most of the villages and towns that make up the Chieftaincy operate at a subsistence level, maintaining small farms and fishing the Salish Sea that they surround. The Sealth Chieftaincy emphasizes an "anti-invasive" policy, meaning that they work to preserve native (non-extradimensional) species and expel or eradicate all others. As a result, the population is almost exclusively human, though not necessarily of Native American descent. Exceptions are made for the small groups of Sasquatch that live in the area, who are seen as a returned "lost tribe" and native species. This emphasis on nature should not be interpreted as an indication that the Seatlh people are low-tech -- their towns are small, but fairly modern, if not especially heavily protected. Though the Sealth communities are nominally each overseen by a chief, each of whom votes on important issues in a Chieftains' Council, the real power rests with the operators of the Vancouver Island fisheries.

In recent months, a new, invasive predatory species of aquatic invertebrate has begun to appear in the fisheries, gorging themselves on salmon and other important stock. These "serpent eels", as they are nicknamed, are relatively easy to kill but are a persistent problem. Soon after the fisheries began concentrated efforts to exterminate the serpent eels, huge flying creatures, dubbed "ramjets" after their habit of crashing into Sealth defenses at high speed, began to attack the fisheries. The ramjets were largely immune to conventional weaponry, and the Chieftaincy lacked the firepower to deal with their attacks. It is this new threat that has forced the Sealth Chieftaincy to apply for NCC membership, which was ratified only after the chiefs agreed to allow Pilots from the Mount Hood Banate to begin excavating and exploring the ruins of Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, and other previously off-limits ruins in search of lost technologies -- a move which the chiefs' Shamans and Mystic advisors have warned will have grave consequences.

The Cougar Mountain Holdfast. (Population: 2,000.) A primarily subterranean community built in what was evidently some sort of underground military installation during the Age of Man, located in the Issaquah Alps. Cougar Mountain is contested territory -- the Sealth Chieftaincy argues that the highlands region is part of the Puget Sound area and thus within their lands, but Kaaltong Sluntch, a gigantes who proclaimed herself "Warrior Queen of Cougar Mountain" over a decade ago, refutes that claim, insisting that "the spineless fish-eaters and their stinking man-animal friends" have yet to defeat her, and that she and her subjects will remain in their "Holdfast" until driven out. Sealth counters that Queen Sluntch and her followers, most of whom are D-Bees and mutoids, have survived by raiding their towns, poaching their hunting grounds, and pillaging their lands. The Warrior Queen has verbally requested membership in the North Cascade Combine for reasons that are not entirely clear. She has offered the NCC access to a supposed "vast arsenal" of pre-Rifts technology if they will accept Cougar Mountain and expel the Sealth Chieftaincy, whom Queen Sluntch insists somehow summoned the so-called "ramjet" monsters to destroy her and her people. Thus far, this request has not been formally considered, but Ban Hathli of Mount Hood has pushed for Queen Sluntch's bid to be taken seriously, which has her counterparts from the other member states wondering if there is some truth to the giant's wild claims about the contents of the Cougar Mountain base. But if the mountain is full of relic weapons, why haven't the Holdfast's raiders used them in their attacks?

Friday, July 4, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 3: The Mount Hood Banate

CITY-STATES OF THE NORTH CASCADES COMBINE
Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the Third:

The Mount Hood Banate. (Population: 25,000.) Atop this active volcano rests an enormous, geothermal-powered military base and weapons factory constructed from a rift-disrupted spaceship. Over the last decade, the now stranded crew have retrofitted their craft into a combination of fortress and factory which they call Tharna Ulthesse in their native language. Their neighbors, however, simply refer to the base as "Mount Hood" or "Pilot Mountain".

The exact nature of these former soldiers is unclear. They are fully human in appearance, but with some interesting deviations from the norm. They are typically left-handed, and careful examination reveals that their internal organs are in situs inversus; that is, they are located on the opposite side of the body than they would be in a typical human being (with the heart on the right, liver on the left, etc.). Additionally, though there seem to be multiple ethnicities among them, many have combinations of hair, skin, eye color, and other characteristics not seen on Rifts Earth prior to their arrival. Magic and psionics were apparently previously unknown to them, though a majority of them have a least a few cybernetic implants or bionics, which are often intricately crafted, even beautiful. (Indeed, some are known to have implants that are entirely cosmetic.) Their language has thus far proven completely unrecognizable to any inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, as has their culture and religion. They are familiar with the planet's geography, though their detailed maps show several major differences -- Atlantis, for example, is absent from their charts.

That these people originated on a highly divergent parallel Earth seems likely. As is often the case, their arrival on Rifts Earth was an accident. Apparently, in their reality, much of the Earth had been conquered by an invading alien race, and their ship, the Ulthes, was part of an effort to reclaim the planet. Their enemy used an unknown weapon against the expeditionary fleet, which evidently snatched the Ulthes, a mobile base intended to be to planted on the Earth's surface as a sort of staging ground, from orbit (and from their universe entirely). The rift from which their spaceship-base emerged was many miles away from Mount Hood. Disoriented and confused, the Pilots attempted to leave Rifts Earth entirely, but the Ulthes was badly damaged by the orbital satellites and debris field enveloping the planet (something of which they were unaware). They managed to steer their massive craft back to the surface, selecting Mount Hood as the best location for them to regroup, since they would be able to tap into its magma chamber for their energy needs.

The crew found themselves stranded in a familiar world that was nevertheless beyond their understanding: a world where their language was unknown, aliens lived alongside humans, regular attacks by nightmarish creatures were commonplace, and magic, an impossibility, was real. Perhaps understandably, the Pilots reacted to the inhabitants of the region with belligerence for several years after their semi-controlled crash landing. Early offensives led against the often-lawless local settlements in an overzealous attempt to "secure the area" and obtain food and basic supplies quickly degenerated into pointless aggression perpetrated by frustrated (and, ultimately, frightened) soldiers who had lost their purpose. Those that lived in the area surrounding Mount Hood were likewise terrified of the sudden appearance of strange-looking mecha, piloted by hostile people that looked human, yet unfamiliar, and shouted at them in an incomprehensible language.

Eventually, the Pilots, as they came to be known, started encountering determined resistance to their assaults, particularly from Weirminster and the Barony of New Bizantium, and even began to lose men and mecha in these military engagements. Soon afterwards, an officer named Hathli managed to convince many of her comrades that their leader, Sevna, had been rendered mentally unstable and unfit for command, and relieved him of duty after a brief and bloody coup. Hathli informed her troops that they were not going to be returning home without aid, and that they would concentrate on building alliances with their neighbors in the hope of doing so in the future. She declared herself Ban (military governor) of Mount Hood and the region around it, and arranged for a meeting with the representatives of the adjacent city-states. With the aid of a Tongues spell cast by a Weirminsterian Techno-Wizard, her overtures of peace were accepted, and the Northern Cascades Combine, an organization that had originally been proposed to defend the city-states of the Pacific Northwest against the Pilots, was officially formed.

In joining the NCC, the Mount Hood Banate (as it is now officially known) agreed to supply its neighbors with aid and weaponry, an obligation which it has begun to fill in recent months. Under the direction of Ban Hathli, the factory portion of the base has been named "Ulthesse Mechatronics" and has started to provide jobs and training to a select few non-Pilots, most of whom are humans that have chosen to live and work among their extradimensional cousins and communicate with them via Weirminster-manufactured TW translation devices. These men and women live in a swiftly expanding shantytown set up outside of Tharna Ulthesse proper, and are derisively known as "Hood Rats" by those who still hold a grudge against the Pilots. (It is widely believed by their neighbors that Mount Hood was allowed into the NCC as a member state only because the others were either afraid of further conflict, or wanted access to their advanced armaments. Many Pilots, likewise, have not warmed to the idea of "settling down" on Rifts Earth.)

Ulthesse Mechatronics vehicles are large and somewhat ungainly in appearance, but their use of lightweight ceramic armor, supplemented by high-powered force fields, means that they are as agile as any war machines on Rifts Earth. In fact, most UM mecha, even the largest, are capable of short-term powered flight. The "reporting names" the feudalistic Barony of New Bizantium gave these war machines during their conflict with the Pilots have stuck, meaning that most of them have unusual nicknames like "Mantyger", "Yale", "Basilisk", or "Zilant", all derived from fantastical or heraldic beasts. Though they are not mandated to do so by the terms of their NCC membership, Ulthesse Mechatronics is also considering mass-producing and distributing their unique cybernetic implants and bionics.