Friday, September 18, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 19

We were able to squeeze a little bit of action in with our drama this time. I had honestly expected to finish the adventure (or get very close) during this session, but we were having too much fun chewing scenery to let that happen. I'm certainly not complaining. This campaign's cast of characters has swollen considerably during my stint in the GM chair; I may need to write some sort of guide explaining who everyone is if I expect readers to be able to follow what's going on.

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

Arisis, Kat, Max, and Nahar race after the alien war criminal Sorventh, who is fleeing from them in the giant Destroid Monster mecha, also known as "the Mac". Valerie follows close behind, carrying the mecha's rightful owners, Reez and Mian. Though the Mac is not a fast-moving vehicle, it is extremely heavily armed, and blasts away at its pursuers with abandon, starting with the largest target: the giant-sized Arisis. Arisis grits her teeth and soaks up a full-powered laser blast from the Mac's arm cannons, the impact of which sends shrapnel of ice and rock flying, striking her comrades. When the smoke clears, however, Arisis is bloodied, but still standing. With Arisis having taken the hit for the team, Nahar and Kat leap onto the legs of the Monster and, after conferring with its owner, Reez, via radio, Kat is able to punch in override codes to first open the mecha's crew hatch, then disable it entirely. The hatch drops open, and a ladder-like ramp automatically swings down to the planet's surface.

A brief standoff ensues, during which Valerie catches up with her friends. S@GP train their weapons on the open hatch, and Arisis commands Sorventh and his lackeys to stand down. The latter, at least, acknowledge her authority: the half-dozen miscreants that were assisting the draconid soon descend the ladder with hands raised, but Sorventh himself seems intractable. Max casts a stunning spell on the alien mage's minions, and Mian and Reez hurriedly set about handcuffing them. Kat suddenly senses magic in use inside the mecha, and jumps her way up the ramp, knocking two of Sorventh's men off of it in the process. She reaches the cockpit just in time to see Sorventh shimmer and vanish. Teleportation spells are no match for the psi-stalker's enhanced senses, however, and Kat directs Fay -- who had been guarding Reez and Mian's spacecraft in her Horizont dropship -- to pick her up. Sorventh teleports across the surface of Nong 6 several more times, but to no avail: Kat's ability to sense magic keeps him in range. Before long, the draconid war criminal is captured, and his reserves of magical energy are drained after Kat gives him a nasty bite. Evidently, psi-stalkers are nonexistent in the Three Galaxies, as Sorventh is completely flabbergasted by the ease with which he has been incapacitated.

Mian and Reez finish restraining Sorventh and his men, and Max raises an uncomfortable topic: the fact that S@GP needs their friends to hand Sorventh over to them. He suggests that Valerie, as S@GP's headhunter and one of the main negotiators of the agreement with Bastille Impenetrable, explain the situation. Valerie -- who is still reeling from being victimized by two shapeshifters wearing the faces of Mian and Reez -- is reluctant to do so, which prompts Max to take her aside for a tense discussion about keeping one's head in the game. Arisis and Kat take over for them, with the titan also detailing how Tetka and Yeshka infiltrated the group (and insinuated their way into Valerie and Arisis' confidence, in particular). Mian and Reez are bewildered and disturbed, but acknowledge that without S@GP's help, they would have been stranded or killed by Sorventh, and agree to let them take the war criminal in. They also inform the team that they did not knowingly encounter Tetka, her dragon companion, or any other Hard Repo personnel, and extend their sympathies. Valerie, her feelings somewhat soothed, offers Mian and Reez the bounties on Sorventh's associates as small compensation, which they accept. Valerie and Reez share a hug, mecha and captives are loaded up, and both parties leave Nong 6 in their respective spacecraft.

Seconds after Fay's ship leaves Nong 6's atmosphere, an urgent hyperspace communication request pops up on the viewscreen. A frantic Karen Cray says "I've been trying to reach you -- you guys are in trouble!" Before she can explain further, the communication channel is shut off, and a vast space battleship with a baroque chimera motif at its prow surges out of hyperspace. The Horizont's power is immediately cut from an outside source, and the battleship engages twin tractor beams, paralyzing Mian and Reez' craft and drawing Fay's dropship inexorably into a port carved to resemble a roaring lion's maw. Arisis grimly informs her comrades that they have been intercepted by the Xanthus, the flagship of the Othrys Totality -- the empire of her people, the titans.

The Horizont is guided down a seemingly interminable shaft and into a massive hangar, in which columns of armored titan warriors -- numbering in the hundreds -- are assembled, alongside soldiers of the various "servitor races" conquered by the Othrys Totality. At the head of the throng is an imperious-looking woman wearing the vestments of a priestess, flanked by a dozen elite guards: this is Maia, the eldest of Arisis' sisters, the Pleiades. Nearby stands no less than mighty Anhur, the Egyptian god of war; a powerfully-built giant of a man with the head of a lion. Fay mutters that she knew this was coming.

Maia's voice rings out in the ornate chamber, welcoming home her wayward sister and her friends, and inviting them to step forth from the spacecraft and disarm themselves. There is a moment of hesitation as S@GP look to Arisis for guidance, but she advises her compatriots to do as they are told. Nevertheless, Kat activates her BAKENEKO drone and engages its chameleon cloaking system. Arisis then strides down the ramp with Max, Kat, and Valerie at her side. Fay emerges from the Horizont as well, but Nahar pauses roughly halfway down the Horizont's exit ramp, and Kat surreptitiously directs her drone to do the same -- a smart move, since Maia seems as though she may have spotted it.

Arisis' sister continues to spout insincere platitudes as the elite titan guards step forward to divest Solutions @ Gun Pointe of their weaponry. Valerie makes a calculated effort to showcase her physical assets as she steps out of her armor (invoking Unforgettably Gorgeous), providing enough distraction to allow Kat to carefully inch her cat-drone out of the Horizont and slip its control module to Valerie (which she conceals inside one of her bionic arms). Meanwhile, Fay reluctantly approaches Anhur. "You have been unruly, and unwise," he chides, wordlessly questioning what possessed the wayward demigoddess to use her cursed gaze power and thus alert her mother, the witch-goddess Amon, to her location. After acknowledging Arisis as a fellow warrior, Anhur tells Fay to return to the ship. "We will be returning to Earth with the ogress," he says, and Nahar decides not to argue this point. Nahar vows to Valerie that she will ensure that Sorventh is delivered to Bastille Impenetrable, and tells her to make sure Max stays in one piece (a sentiment which catches the young mystic by surprise). Fay asks S@GP not to worry, saying she'll catch up with them later. Then, the Egyptian deities and Nahar board the Horizont and depart.

Maia raises her arms in a falsely affectionate greeting, and Arisis steps forward to embrace her with barely-veiled menace, delivering a forceful "kiss of death" to her elder sister's cheeks and forehead. As the titans file past Maia with S@GP's gear, the group sees that two guards that were previously in the rear of the formation have stepped forward. Both are wearing suits of ride armor -- one red, one purple -- that is similar in design to Valerie's Saber Cyclone, yet markedly different, even alien, in appearance. Something deep in Valerie's Praxian psyche reacts to their presence with frenzied hostility, and she suddenly lunges at one of them, hanging onto its armored breastplate and screaming "What are you?!" The purple-armored warrior that Valerie pounced upon is staggered, but the red one still stands at attention. Arisis attempts to restrain Valerie, but the headhunter wriggles free. Max acts decisively but imperceptibly, silently striking Valerie down with his "evil eye" ability. He eases Valerie's fall as she crumples, temporarily paralyzed, to the floor. Snickers of derision echo softly in the great chamber until Arisis commands them to be silent -- an order that is immediately followed despite her outlaw status.

(Several years ago, partially due to the influence of the sentient Sword of Baragor, Arisis turned against the malevolent Totality. With the aid of certain titans loyal to her, and along with her twin brother Rhaphis, Arisis escaped to Earth, where she became a cyber-knight. Rhaphis, however, took a darker path.) 

Maia informs Arisis that she is to be put on trial by combat for betraying her people, with the rest of S@GP likewise tried as her associates. Until then, Maia offers to lodge Arisis in the luxury that is the birthright of the Pleiades, but Arisis elects to remain with her comrades, and picks up the stunned Valerie. With that, Solutions @ Gun Pointe are taken to the Xanthus' brig, and the assemblage of soldiers slowly files out behind them... leaving Kat's still-camouflaged drone virtually alone in the flagship's immense hangar-chamber.

The brig turns out to be more like a dungeon -- an immense, crypt-like enclosure where those the titans would prefer to forget about are thrown together. Obviously constructed without consideration for species that lack nightvision, the dungeon is kept in near-total darkness. Max conjures a globe of daylight, and a voice familiar to Arisis calls out for "the Champions of Light!" Soon, she has another terse reunion with one of her siblings: her twin brother, Rhaphis, who is somewhat the worse for wear. He is accompanied by a few henchmen who appear to be Africans, which is consistent with the circumstances in which S@GP last encountered him: taking advantage of the discord on that continent during the scourge of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Rhaphis seems amused that his sister has ended up here, and correctly surmises that a trial by combat must be at hand. It turns out that roughly a dozen other turncoat titans -- some of whom were among those that helped the twins escape the Totality several years past -- are ready and willing to attempt an escape from the Xanthus, which Rhaphis advises his sister to seriously consider. Arisis, however, is dubious. 

Not long after, the door to the brig opens again, and Maia enters, accompanied by several guards, two of whom are the ride-armored individuals who earlier caused Valerie to lose control. Maia asks Arisis to accompany her, and the titan sisters exit, leaving the armored warriors behind. "This is pointless, Relos," says the one in red, to the purple-armored warrior. Valerie, spoiling for a fight, unsheathes vibro-blades from her bionic arms, and the red-armored one extends a pair of wickedly curved, pincer-like claws in response. Relos asks the warrior in the red armor, apparently named "Jendra", to stand down. Relos removes her helmet, revealing a face that Valerie instantly recognizes: that of her late mother, Atheia, which she has seen only in photographs -- but too young by several years. Dazed, Valerie asks aloud: "Mom?" This seems to unsettle Relos, who demands to know who or what Valerie is. "I have so many questions!" says Relos, clearly perturbed by Valerie's existence. Infuriated, Jendra reiterates her opposition to Relos' visit, then turns and leaves in disgust when Relos ignores her. Valerie and Relos stare at each other in silence for a moment. Valerie reasons that Relos must be a Praxian from the same cloning "oven" as her mother, perhaps one from a parallel universe where Praxians were conquered by the Invid, but keeps her thoughts to herself. Instead, she offers to tell Relos the answers she seeks, but only if she helps S@GP escape. Relos is taken aback, but soon collects herself, accusing Valerie of trying to trick her into betraying the Totality like Arisis did. "I shouldn't be here... Jendra was right," Relos blurts out, but her confusion is all too apparent as she stumbles out of the brig.

Concurrently, Maia guides Arisis to a shrine filled with elaborate statuary and ceremoniously offers her younger sister a bowl of water, which she reveals to have come from the River Lethe. "Let this water flow; let it wash the blood from your hands and carry you home," she pleads. Arisis knows that to drink will obliterate her memories. Maia explains that Arisis could return to her side and help her attend to their father, Atlas, while her friends "would not be harmed." Arisis coldly refuses, shoving her sister to the floor of the shrine. Humiliated, Maia's facade cracks: "I hope Rizon destroys you," she cries repeatedly, using the name of the man that trained Arisis. "That's not going to happen," Arisis responds. "See you in the stars!" Maia's guards spirit her away, and lead Arisis back to the brig. 

As soon as she returns, Valerie takes Arisis aside, confesses that she eavesdropped on her conversation with Rhaphis, and urges her to reconsider. "Please listen... we gotta try to escape from here," she implores, and begins to ask Kat how they can use her drone to help escape. Arisis kneels and apologizes, allowing that although the chances are remote, escape might be possible, but insisting that the only way to ensure that Arisis' family will leave her and the rest of S@GP alone permanently is to prove their righteousness in combat. "We would be under their shadow until the time of their choosing. But if I face her and her champions, if I force my former teacher into submission, my family will leave me to my fate as I choose it: a life alongside you, my friends, my family." Solutions @ Gun Pointe share an emotional group embrace and swear to fight alongside one another, even if it is for the last time.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 18

A role-playing game session... with only role-playing and no combat to speak of? That's unpossible! Yet that's more or less what happened. I hadn't anticipated that everybody (myself included) would be feeling quite as talkative as they were, but I'm certainly not complaining about getting into character. It'd have been nice to squeeze in a bit more action, but one player needed to wrap up early, and we weren't able to get to it. So, enjoy this combat-free recap.

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 Max's health restored and his armor once again operational, Solutions @ Gun Pointe (and their allies, Fay and Nahar) take a moment to regroup and recover. Fay engages her ship's unique techno-wizardry-based dimensional teleportation drive and "parks" it in deep space, in another dimension. Fay puts on a brave face and brushes off Valerie and Max's concern over her withered arm, saying that there's no way to fix it but that it's "nothing to fuss over." She downplays her own role in Max's rescue, telling Max that "us 'kid adventurers' need to stick together." Valerie thanks Fay profusely for her obvious sacrifice and tells her that S@GP will never forget it.

Max doesn't seem to be much the worse for wear. He is momentarily shaken, but recovers quite quickly, as if the magic of his Atlantean tattoo purged not only Tetka's toxins from his system, but also any potential trauma related to his mental ordeal from his psyche. He does inform his friends that using his magical tattoo's restorative powers has completely drained his magical energy for at least a day, however. (He also telepathically contacts those that helped free him from his fugue state and asks that they not tell Valerie exactly what happened in his dream-world if at all possible.)

The group considers their next move. There is considerable back-and-forth on the best plan, with some disagreement about whether to focus on attacking Hard Repo, tracking down the sphinx Tetka and her dragon companion Yeshka, checking to ensure the safety of their friends Mian and Reez (whom the aforementioned sphinx and dragon had impersonated), or to respond to Hard Repo's request for a meeting.

Nahar provides what little she knows about Tetka -- essentially, that she's twisted and unpredictable, and that she manipulates Yeshka into doing her bidding -- but points out that since the two have the ability to teleport across dimensions, it'll be nearly impossible to find them. More likely, she suggests, is the possibility that they will attack S@GP first. She suggests the group respond to her former employers' invitation to parley, saying that Hard Repo will probably want to make peace with everyone involved, since they have some degree of celebrity as "the Champions of Light," and might even be able to help them find Tetka and Yeshka. Kat, Arisis, and Max are open to the idea, despite their distaste for Hard Repo, suggesting that it's the most logical course of action.

Valerie seems dead-set on first confirming that Mian and Reez are safe, however, which prompts Nahar to bluntly wonder aloud who the leader of S@GP is. After Arisis and Kat inform her that the organization has no formal leader, and then engage in some well-intentioned (but somewhat tone-deaf) joking about the roles of the team's members, Valerie eventually relents and agrees to contact Hard Repo. However, she bristles at what she perceives as Nahar's inclusion of herself in S@GP's ranks, and calls her out, informing the tactless ogress that she will "never be as good as one of us." She then takes her leave, heading up to the cockpit. Nahar fumes for a while, but Max eventually soothes her rage with some quiet conversation in her mother tongue, Gobblely. Fay informs the group that the Horizont's communications systems were scrambled by the eldritch storms of Gemini-2, but that they'll be online again in roughly eight hours.

After roughly a day passes, Fay teleports the ship back to the Three Galaxies -- specifically, to Good Hope, the capitol planet of the Free Worlds Council, a ragtag assemblage of systems in rebellion against the totalitarian Trans-Galactic Empire. Good Hope's warp-gate works overtime, glittering among the planet's many space stations and satellites, and Free Worlds war convoys depart for the front as smoldering, battle-scarred cruisers return for repairs. S@GP convene in the cockpit to marvel at the somber but dazzling view.

Now that she is again able to access the hypernet, Fay sets about seeing what information is available about Sorventh, the draconid war criminal that Reez and Mian are hunting. She learns that Sorventh is wanted dead or alive by both the Free Worlds Council and the Consortium of Civilized Worlds for killing millions of Free Worlds colonists by intentionally targeting their outposts' atmospheric life support systems, presumably on behalf of the Trans-Galactic Empire. Seconds after accessing Sorventh's records, an incoming hail from an encrypted source chimes on Fay's console. She accepts it, and is greeted by one Jujube Yusuf, who introduces herself as the public relations liaison for Halcyon Reacquisitions (sometimes nicknamed Hard Repo) and says that she has been authorized by their CEO, G-Kon, to "discuss certain matters with Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Nahar tel-Kelyn."

Initially cautious, the Solutions crew soon find themselves negotiating with Hard Repo. Ms. Yusuf is pleasant to a fault and proves reasonably willing to work with S@GP to "squash the beef" between their organizations. There are a few disagreements over fine print which are eventually hammered out, and the end result, which Jujube informs them is more a treaty between military powers than a business agreement, is as follows:
  • Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Halcyon Reacquisitions will not engage in hostilities against the other party, nor encourage others to do so, unless either organization is found guilty of high crimes by the Intergalactic Criminal Court. (If such an eventuality occurs, HR agreed to testify that as shapeshifters, Tetka and Yeshka could frame S@GP with relative ease.)
  • Halcyon Reacquisitions does not accept responsibility for the actions of Tetka and Yeshka, since their employment was terminated the second they used lethal force in violation of Bastille Impenetrable's bounty (as delineated in their contracts). However, they will provide intelligence on Tetka and Yeshka's whereabouts and capabilities as a courtesy.
  • Since she was thrust into a situation where Tetka, the operational leader, was engaged in a criminal act, no punitive legal action will be taken against Nahar tel-Kelyn for breaking her contract. One-third of her outstanding debt to Halcyon Reacquisitions (primarily incurred through a juicer detox process and cybernetic enhancement to compensate) remains to be repaid. This remaining debt will be considered paid if both Yeshka and Tetka are brought to HR, alive or dead.
The last section, pertaining to Nahar's fate, is somewhat of a bone of contention. Kat argues forcefully that Nahar be free of any legal entanglements with Hard Repo, and the forgiveness of her debt is suggested by Valerie, a turnabout which stuns Nahar. Valerie apologizes for her earlier outburst, but lets the ogress know she didn't appreciate her flippant remarks about Max while he was in critical condition. "Fair enough," Nahar allows, and yet more beef is squashed. Jujube has to confer with her employer, but soon enough terms are reached, and a formal agreement between the two mercenary forces is forged. 

Jujube then provides S@GP with the personnel files for Tetka and Yeshka, which reveal that the two were implanted at some point in the past with unique crystalline artifacts called Amethyst Deceivers. When used by creatures of magic, these prevent all forms of detection (other than the five mortal senses) within a thirty-mile radius as long as the two individuals into whom they have been implanted remain within three miles of each other. 

Then, Jujube mentions that she would be happy to help S@GP negotiate with Bastille Impenetrable, clarifying that this is due less to her celebratory mood than a general desire to get the entire Bastille Impenetrable/Halcyon Reacquisitions/Solutions @ Gun Pointe debacle resolved. Kat suggests that it's more like Hard Repo wants to apologize to Bastille Impenetrable for screwing up, which amuses Nahar. Jujube counters that it's in S@GP's best interest to clear the slate with Bastille, unless they want more bounty hunters coming after them, an argument that eventually wins the group over. After a not-insignificant delay, a communication channel is opened with Bastille Impenetrable, with Jujube observing.

The Tisch triumvirate that arbitrate S@GP's case -- "this is not a negotiation, but a punishment" for their actions in Cuba, they repeatedly insist -- prove much less personable than HR's liaison. Instead, they demand that S@GP agree to capture four "high value" targets of Bastille Impenetrable's choosing, with no option to reject or modify the mission, at the completion of which their criminal records will be forgiven. One of the judges implies that S@GP will not approve of the targets Bastille Impenetrable selects, which causes S@GP to flatly refuse this scheme. Valerie insists that they be allowed to select their targets from Bastille Impenetrable's wanted list, which the triumvirate, in turn, rejects out of hand. They seem prepared to abandon talks entirely and reinstate the bounties on S@GP until Arisis (invoking her Radiant Daughter of Atlas quality) intimidates the judges into compromising, lest they invoke her titanic wrath:

"You seem to be under the mistaken impression that you are negotiating from a position of strength."
"I am the daughter of Atlas. Every step I take is from a position of strength."

More strong words from Arisis follow, and the following agreement is ultimately hammered out between Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Bastille Impenetrable:
  • S@GP will apprehend -- not execute -- six targets (either individuals or small groups) of Bastille Impenetrable's choosing, to be turned over to Bastille Impenetrable or their designated agents.
  • S@GP can refuse to accept a target, but no more than twelve times.
  • If S@GP fails to abide by the above restrictions, the agreement is null and void, and Bastille Impenetrable will take steps to apprehend S@GP.
Their mood dragged down by the contentious confrontation with Bastille Impenetrable, Solutions @ Gun Pointe agree to be provided with their first target, who is revealed to be Sorventh. Our heroes are informed that Bastille believes the draconid to be currently under attack by their allies, Reez and Mian, and that they will need to travel immediately to the planet Nong 6, in the Free Worlds Sector, and bring the interstellar mass murderer in alive.

Fay teleports the Horizont to Nong 6, a dry, frozen world with a barely-breathable atmosphere and a strange crust consisting of scarred earth and pools of ice. Her surface scan reveals a few ruined outposts, including one with a powerful and anomalous magnetic storm localized entirely above it, which she deduces is probably their target's location. The storm's interference wreaks havoc with sensors as well as guidance systems, and so S@GP set down at its edge. It rapidly becomes apparent that the outpost is indeed under attack, and the origin can only be the massive mobile artillery platform of a mecha that Reez and Mian used to great effect against the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: the Destroid Giant Monster, affectionately called "the Mac".

S@GP and their associates have great difficulty in getting their bearings, thanks to the magnetic interference, but before long they find themselves nearing the vicinity of the outpost (Valerie's military training comes in handy here, helping her follow the sound of exploding artillery). Valerie, whose piloting expertise is allowing her to fly in power armor despite the storm, soon receives radio contact from Mian, who is flabbergasted to find that she and her friends are planetside. Mian tersely explains that she and Reez are inside the outpost, taking heavy fire. Sorventh and his lackeys somehow eluded the bounty hunters and doubled back to seize their mecha, which they are now piloting back to Mian and Reez's spacecraft, shelling the outpost all the while.

Suddenly, the race is on: Valerie speeds toward the outpost, while her friends pursue the Mac. Valerie manages to avoid being blasted to pieces as Fay guides her progress remotely, using her demolitions expertise to suggest the most expedient route to their imperiled friends (she also invoked her Demigod Genius Smuggler quality to figure out a way to cut through the magnetic storm). Sorventh's gunners are not as skilled or as lucky, and their blind assault on the outpost fails to destroy it before Valerie, grappling with complex emotions, escapes with an ecstatic Reez and a thoroughly embarrassed Mian in her arms.