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".