Friday, July 17, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 16

This was a clunky, messy session. I thought I had planned for every likely course of player action, but of course things never turn out as you'd expect in a role-playing game. As a result, I ended up winging it for at least half of the time we played, with no real idea exactly where I was going with it. But I was determined to not completely railroad the players, and when you don't railroad, things get a little sloppy sometimes. (For example, I completely forgot about a backup plan I had cooked up for the antagonists.) As a result, I have some hard thinking about what to do for the next session, and I made a few split-second decisions in this one that (in retrospect) probably weren't great ideas. Everybody seemed to have fun, regardless.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

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

With a full-scale riot having been successfully averted, the final match of Serendipity's third invitational power armor tournament gets underway after a brief intermission. Now playing the role of the hometown hero, Valerie Cain enters the ring to party music and the roar of the crowd, while Raymond "Tracer" Chen makes somewhat less of a splash, with more understated musical accompaniment. The man from Northern Gun touches gloves (well, powered gauntlets) with Valerie and returns to his corner, then pounces at her the instant the bell rings. Though blunted, the blades of Tracer's Cougar mecha strike with surgical precision and knock his opponent to the mat before she can even react. A hush falls across the crowd as the anticipated counterattack never comes: Valerie Cain has been defeated in a matter of seconds. Even Chen seems surprised at the speed of his victory, and after Valerie's friends rush to the ring and revive her, he raises her arm and congratulates her -- though admittedly, in a backhanded way -- telling her that she's got "a lot of heart" and has "what it takes to be a real fighter," even inviting her to come and face him in the Northern Gun stronghold of Ishpeming some day. Valerie takes Chen's "compliments" in stride, but Kat, from ringside, shouts that in a "real test of fighting skills" she would "end" the Michigan mecha jockey. Chen, for his part, pretends not to hear her.

Tracer Chen and his crew begin loading their gear onto their hover-semi before Sir Shanidar even finishes officially declaring a winner. Chen tells Shanidar that his team was more interested in showing off the capabilities of the Cougar than any potential winnings. Knucks St. Crux bellows his opinion that as the winner of the exhibition match, he should be entitled to the 5000 credits (and the pair of vouchers for customized weapons from Wrightsmith Armaments), but Valerie points out that she and Kat are the runners-up. Sir Shanidar hems and haws momentarily, but is won over by Valerie's beauty (her player spent a Determination Point to invoke her Unforgettably Gorgeous quality) and awards her the prizes.

Orson Quang arrives at S@GP's pit to congratulate Valerie and Kat on their performance in the tournament, and to simultaneously dismiss Tracer Chen and the tournament itself as "some bullshit". He invites Kat, Valerie, and Arisis (with a "sorry, youngie" to Max) to participate in the Scrap Car Saloon's notorious pit fights. Kat sticks up for Max, saying "he can handle himself," and Max objects to both Orson's slight and Kat's defense. "I know I can handle myself," he grumbles to Kat. "I don't need you to handle it for me." Meanwhile, Mian and Reez emerge from the bleachers, and Mian tries to console Valerie for her loss.

The tournament crowd begins to disperse, and as Solutions @ Gun Pointe consider their next move, Max informs his comrades that the young lady he has been distracted by is named Quinn, that he was unaware until yesterday that she was a member of Black Fortress, and that he has terminated his relationship with her. A bruised Quinn, for her part, stops by for one last time to try to talk to Max and his friends before they pack up and leave. She seems conciliatory, and though she admits that Brigadier Omar Espinoza is her brother, she halfheartedly attempts to distance herself from her organization, particularly the psi-stalker Jesse John Ross. Max seems uncomfortable, saying nothing, and Kat is having none of it, essentially chasing Quinn off with not-so-veiled insults.

Max suggests that if they're really heading to Phase World, S@GP will need somebody to look after their new headquarters, and formally (perhaps overly formally) requests that Nysa help them. Nysa is amenable, and her sisters, Asha and Annejah, insist that they be the ones to house-sit. With that settled, the group decides to once again decamp to Nysa's venue, the Serendipity Social Club. Though he was earlier overruled on his attempt to claim the tournament's prize, Knucks St. Crux's ego is stoked somewhat when Kat invites him to the Social, where they can "dance" with each other (the precise meaning of which is deliberately left vague). Knucks happily agrees, and alludes to more Wild Hurricane juicers arriving in Serendipity in the near future. The group's night out at the club is largely uneventful, though Valerie drowns her sorrows a bit too thoroughly.

The following morning, as a tired and scratched Knucks St. Crux stumbles out of the compound, Mian advises Solutions @ Gun Pointe to select the gear they will carry to Phase World. Arisis brings her rune weapon, the Sword of Baragor, and Kat follows suit, electing to carry her own rune sword, Akuma no Shushi Ken, as well as her BAKENEKO drone. Max simply asks Arisis to carry his inert techno-wizardry suit of armor -- still frozen in the form of a giant-sized arm -- for him. Valerie decides to bring her Cyclone mecha-motorcycle with her. Before long, the team is ready to go. Valerie makes a quick trip down the street to let the Gun Street Girls (the local militia) know that S@GP is leaving town for a while. On the way to Naruni Enterprises' local site, Max says offhandedly that Quinn has promised to try to keep Black Fortress away from S@GP headquarters, not mentioning when she might have told him this.

Before long, the group arrives at their destination. Mian and Reez lead their friends into the gleaming black Naruni Enterprises site, where the group is painstakingly scanned and screened "for microbes" as Kat, Max, and Valerie each muse aloud that none of them has ever traveled through a rift. Once this process is complete, S@GP, Mian, and Reez are allowed into a circular room outfitted with what is described as a "dimensional transport pad" on its floor. Without much of a warning, the Naruni enact an extremely brief countdown ("2... 1... engage dimensional shift"). There is a flash of blue-white light and a fleeting moment of vertigo, and then the group is suddenly standing elsewhere: a much larger version of the circular pad, in a dizzyingly immense plaza in Center, a sealed city on Phase world, filled with throngs of alien beings. S@GP quickly realize that they are surrounded not only by a glowing force field, but by the armed Hard Repo operatives they had encountered previously (minus the cyborg that Valerie injured, but with a half-dozen "grunts" in body armor replacing him). The Naruni are also apparently participants in this operation, as three of their security personnel (including one in full powered armor) are present.

Max suddenly crumples to the ground, and Mian -- or who our heroes believed to be her -- seizes the helpless mystic by the head, her hands replaced by powerful, leonine paws. Having jabbed Max in the neck with some sort of hypodermic device, "Mian" makes her demands: "Unless you want this little mouse to lose its ears, stand down, now!" There is a split second of hesistation, and before Arisis can lay down her sword, Valerie opens fire on "Mian" with one of the guns built into her VAMPS bionic arms. She manages not to hit Max, and the round explodes in "Mian's" face, but inflicts less damage than expected -- she is badly singed, yet still very much in the fight, and starts to take to the air, still gripping Max. Hard Repo and the Naruni seem taken aback by this turn of events, and Kat and Arisis press their advantage. Kat runs up Arisis' back and lunges at "Mian" with her no-dachi, wounding her badly and nearly severing her arms at the wrist. "Mian" roars in agony, but is caught in a crushing wrestling hold by Arisis before she can act. The catlike creature that was once Mian drops Max, who is caught by Valerie as "Mian" resumes its natural form: a winged sphinx.

The ogress Nahar, a former ally of S@GP, looks on in disbelief, her giant rail gun hanging at her side. "Reez" shapeshifts, revealing herself to be a sinuous, black-scaled dragon. Enraged, the dragon cries out the name of her downed sphinx ally ("Tetka!") and attempts to cast some sort of incantation on Arisis. Hard Repo's grunts follow suit, firing their stun blasters at the titan knight, but Arisis shakes off their attacks (and the dragon's spell) with minimal effort. Nahar barks orders at her compatriots, commanding them to hold their fire and insisting that "Yeshka" (the dragon's name, evidently) stand down. Hard Repo's psi-stalker hesitates, and all combatants notice that heavily armed security guards -- Center authorities -- are amassing around the transport platform, pushing past an excited crowd that seems to be cheering on the battle and attaching devices to the outside of the structure. The air is filled with the sounds of alien cheers, klaxons, and commands (in multiple languages) to disperse, followed by warnings for those on the dimensional pad to cease hostilities.

The force field surrounding the platform suddenly changes from an open "fence" to a closed dome. The Naruni enforcers abruptly announce that they are aborting their operation, and vanish. This spooks the HR grunts, who fire a few more stun rounds at Arisis, prompting Nahar to again shout at them to lower their weapons. Soon, the force field dome begins to bifurcate, separating Solutions @ Gun Pointe from Hard Repo, as the crowd outside clamors for "the Champions of Light" in a jumble of languages. From outside the dome, the Center security forces inform S@GP that they are being "redirected to the lower levels", as the force field begins to extrude itself into a tunnel shape and close behind them. Just before the force wall seals, Nahar suddenly ducks under it onto the S@GP side -- but rather than attacking her former compatriots, she briefly soaks up the applause of the throng outside, then tells Solutions to start running. "They're gonna push us into an elevator," she explains. "Center security doesn't like people fighting in Gateland."

Nahar is soon proven right, as the force tunnel guides (or forces, depending on one's viewpoint) the group (carrying the catatonic Max) into a huge rectangular opening in one of the side walls of the Gateland enclosure. A huge metal door slides shut behind them, and while the elevator slowly descends, Nahar explains herself. She tells the group that she was not a part of Tetka and Yeshka's plan to trick S@GP into coming to Phase World and claims she was against it from the start. Solutions' previous encounter with Hard Repo is revealed to have been carried out under Nahar's command, and when it failed, the organization's leader, a temporal raider called G-Kon, allowed the sphinx and dragon to hatch their own plan. This insulted Nahar and left her deeply disgruntled with her employer.

The ogress takes a break from explaining herself to repay Arisis for breaking her jaw in their previous encounter by punching the titan in the face. To Arisis' credit, she restrains herself from starting a fight in the elevator. Nahar begins to explain that they've been made famous due to appearing in films shot by the hacker and city rat Karen Cray, one of Solutions' allies that was present at their battle with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and who now resides in Center. Our heroes try to disguise their identities as best they can once Nahar points out that although it's unlikely that Center authorities would help Hard Repo find "the Champions of Light," they are de facto celebrities, and word of their location might spread quickly. Valerie insists that the group find a medic to revive Max, who is still feverish, shivering, and unresponsive. Nahar muses that whatever Tetka injected Max with might not simply wear off, but probably requires an antidote, and Kat suggests that Karen Cray (who Nahar explained is well-connected in the lower levels of Center) might be able to help them find either an antidote or an individual that would know how to help their afflicted comrade.

The elevator eventually dumps S@GP and Nahar on level 8, a warren of rusty tunnels and ramshackle dwellings considerably less picturesque than Gateland was. Having decided to seek out Karen Cray, the group navigate this labyrinth of scum and villainy and bribe their way past a brodkil gang and onto another elevator, this time leading up to Center's seventh level. Nahar seems much more familiar with their new surroundings. Soon, the group is admitted into a seedy-looking building by a gangly-limbed alien that Arisis recognizes as an etivess -- one of a species conquered by her space-faring titan brethren. Karen Cray arrives to welcome her guests, and when Valerie urges her to help Max, she hurries them inside.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 15

In this session, I formally took over as GM and switched the system to ICONS. As I mentioned in the previous recap, ICONS isn't terribly different from the system we were using before (Fate Core), but I wanted to give it a try to see if it really is a better fit for the setting and our playstyle. So far, things are looking good, and I had more fun GMing than I have in a very long time.

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

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

Now officially fielding two of their members in Serendipity's power armor tournament, Solutions @ Gun Pointe mingle with the fighting contest's other participants. Having already met professional mecha fighter Tracer Chen and the rest of the Northern Gun representatives, the group heads to the pit of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Workers, widely known as the "legitimate" operational wing of the Quang organized crime family. Orson Quang, who seems to be in charge, is a thuggish sort, but treats S@GP -- particularly Kat -- relatively cordially. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Brotherhood's official competitor, Rachel Bailey. Valerie wishes her luck against the silent Glitter Boy pilot Jim J. Wynn, once again stating her opinion that the artifact mecha "belongs in a museum." However, Bailey is unresponsive, and seems to take personal offense at the presence of a teenager in Solutions' ranks, to the point of treating Valerie with thinly disguised contempt when she sticks up for Max. Orson's jealous, trouble-mongering girlfriend, Chessie Ly, is also openly hostile towards the women of S@GP, but Arisis and company laugh it off.

Before long, a massive battle ATV enters the field of battle, announcing that the mercenary team Black Fortress has arrived in force. The camouflage and khaki paintjobs of their armor and equipment do little to conceal their Coalition affiliations, but their entrance is indisputably impressive. With her teammates, Valerie begins to formulate a plan for S@GP's entrance. Max, however, is clearly distracted by the presence of a stylish young woman among the Black Fortress contingent, who seems close with the group's contender and leader, Brigadier Omar Espinoza. Kat notices that the young woman briefly seems surprised to see Max at the field of battle.

The remaining participants are either no longer present (Jim J. Wynn) or unapproachable (Naruni Enterprises), but Valerie goes out of her way to invite the Quangs, juicers, cyber-knights, and Northern Gun to the Serendipity Social Club that evening. As allies of Solutions, Reez and Mian are also invited to attend. Black Fortress, perhaps needless to say, is not on the guest list. S@GP then head back to their headquarters to prepare for their evening outing. Valerie insists that Mian and Reez come along and helps the willowy martial artist and the catgirl bounty hunter select something to wear from her wardrobe, which seems to spark some romantic interest between Mian and Valerie.

Mian by K-Bonifield
Solutions play host to the tournament participants they invited, sharing friendly conversation and libations with the Gun Street Girls' juicer, Begnijo Mbibe, in particular. Dame Illiaema, of the local cyber-knights, again expresses to Arisis her apologies for her father Sir Shanidar's brusque demeanor and ham-fisted operation of the tournament, and says she hopes that it will eventually add events more open to the titan's participation. Kat challenges Wild Hurricane's representative, a brash (and somewhat dopey) young juicer named Knucks St. Crux, to an arm wrestling match, which she somehow wins. Max largely keeps to himself, possibly trying to avoid the girl who he saw with Black Fortress earlier that day (who, as an employee of the club informs S@GP, eventually arrives at the Social). Valerie, meanwhile, focuses most of her attention on Mian and Reez, a strategy which pays off by the end of the night. The headhunter is, however, unable to stop herself from partying a bit too heartily (earning her player a Determination Point for playing to her Amazon Cyborg Wildchild quality).

Kat's BAKENEKO drone, which she sent out to surreptitiously investigate the field of battle after she and her compatriots left, electronically relays that sensors hidden in the bunker-like structure Naruni Enterprises has set up there have been scanning the entire field of battle area heavily. She takes note of this fact, then sends the BAKENEKO to the Social Club and instructs it to follow the Black Fortress girl when she leaves. When the young lady does so, however, the drone observes nothing suspicious; she simply returns to the mercenary team's headquarters.

The following afternoon, Solutions at Gun Pointe arrive in style in their monster truck-esque Range Booster ATV. Eschewing the pits, tents, et cetera favored by the other participants, S@GP set up a sort of "picnic" atop their giant vehicle, with Max and Arisis watching their friends participate in the tournament from on high. Nysa and her entourage (which includes Annejah and Asha, as well as several mutant animals, security guards, and assistants) set up a day tent and parasols nearby so that they can better cheer on Kat and Valerie. As the sun begins to set on the field of battle's makeshift octagon, and the air fills with the scent of pho and funnel cakes, the tournament begins.

An exhibition match between juicers kicks things off, with the visiting Knucks St. Crux facing off against hometown favorite Begnijo Mbibe. Unfortunately for Mbibe, Knucks' ridiculous smoke-and-pyro-and-Scorpions-filled entrance is not an indication of the Wild Hurricane juicer's combat acumen. Knucks demolishes the Gun Street Girls' favored son, knocking him out in the first round.

Then, the power armor tournament proper gets underway. Rachel Bailey, representing the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Workers, and the mysterious Glitter Boy pilot Jim J. Wynn have a less one-sided bout than the juicers, with the opponents raining largely uneffective blows on each other's heavily armored battlesuits. Though Rachel Bailey is judged the winner, the crowd is split over the decision.

Kat faces Brigadier Espinoza, Black Fortress' combat-decorated, four-armed full conversion cyborg in the next bout. He is accompanied to the ring by the young woman Kat investigated the previous night, but her moral support makes little difference. Kat denies a handshake from the Coalition veteran, and S@GP's nimble psi-stalker's lightly armored custom mecha consistently stays one step ahead of the Brigadier. It isn't long before Kat KOs the cyborg with her (blunted) daisho, to the roared approval of Nysa's group, Max, and the rest of her comrades.

Next, Valerie squares off against Naruni Enterprises' unusual Techno-Warrior power armor after a carefully planned, crowd-pleasing entrance where she spins out her Cyclone in motorcycle mode, then transforms to battloid mid-leap. The opposing pilot, a blue-skinned alien named Auunio, takes advantage of Valerie's hung-over state early in the match. She soon gets her head in the game and rallies for the win, using her mecha's agility to avoid her opponent's vibro-sword attacks and deliver a knockout punch. The crowd is clearly behind the beautiful amazon in the flashy mecha-motorcyle.

The cyber-knights' Dame Illiaema faces Tracer Chen in the next match. Surprisingly, she has the professional mecha fighter on the ropes for the entirety of the first round. It soon becomes clear that Chen was taking it easy, however, as he trounces her at length in the second round, taking his time to show off the capabilities of Northern Gun's new Cougar power armor. He shows her mercy in the third round, effortlessly KOing the elven woman immediately after the opening bell, which garners mixed reactions from the crowd.

The young Black Fortress woman approaches Solutions' area, but is quickly intercepted by Kat and Valerie, the latter of whom sternly advises her to "keep your narrow ass away from my pit." The girl does as she's told, and simply shouts past the two, telling Max his avoidance of her is "pretty weak." Arisis asks Max what's going on, and he quietly confirms that he and the Black Fortress girl know each other, but is reluctant to discuss the matter further. "I'll talk to her later," he says.

As the tournament enters the semi-final brackets, Tracer Chen again enters the octagon, with Kat as his opponent. Kat and Chen seem evenly matched at first, with as many blows being dodged as connecting. Before long, the two begin trading blows in a brutal tit-for-tat. Both opponents back off momentarily to catch their second wind, but Chen is ultimately the victor, with his mecha piloting experience giving him the edge over Kat's raw, innate agility. Her friends in Solutions are crestfallen, but congratulate her nonetheless, as Tracer Chen basks in his victory and advances to the final bout.

Valerie cheers up her compatriots when she soundly defeats Rachel Bailey (after a rousing entrance set to Blur's "Song 2"). Bailey's heavily armored mecha soaks up a lot of damage, but its lack of speed and maneuverability is her downfall. The older Brotherhood-affiliated combatant takes her loss in stride, but Chessie Ly, a poor loser, repeatedly screams "she ain't shit!" at Valerie from ringside. From the crowd, the young Black Fortress woman confronts Chessie, telling her to sit down and calm down. She catches a preternaturally fast, vicious attack from the psi-enhanced Chessie in response.

Almost instantly, a brawl between Black Fortress and the Quangs erupts, and Max bolts to the scene, followed by the rest of Solutions @ Gun Pointe. Kat gleefully leaps into the fray. Max and Arisis are unable to calm the mob -- in fact, their respective attempts to use psychic stun attacks and sheer titanic awe to control the melee seem to make matters worse -- but Valerie, transforming her Cyclone back to motorcycle mode, is able to kick up enough dust and dirt with her wheels to force a stop to the fighting.

Sir Shanidar, the organizer of the tournament, takes to the octagon with microphone in hand, insisting that any further disruptions will result in the immediate cessation of the contest, with no winner declared. Valerie encourages her opponent in the finals, Tracer Chen, to get in the ring with her, and the two combatants pose together, telling the crowd to calm themselves "because you want to see us fight, right?" The mob begins to disperse, and from her vantage point in the elevated octagon, Valerie sees Max helping the bloodied Black Fortress girl to her feet.