To introduce the deadliness and unpredictability of the Verge, the next session had them approach the borderland, a space station overlooking the immense Red Nebula before them. The Red Curtain before them, they make a quick stop for some repairs and fuels before the long trip.
This was a rather fun game, where there were cantina scenes, as well as a Ridley Scott Aliens survival scene where they encounter an unknown lifeform, as well as a climactic self-destruct scene, where the team is forced to disarm the bomb, or die. Everyone did pretty well with this session, and though there were situational delays due to rules lawyering, it went rather smoothly enough that everyone had fun… enough fun to forget that time flies.
I was rather surprised the time was 1 a.m. as well. Here’s a quick look of what happened.
XCONS S01E02: “Infection”
“No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power. ” – Jacob Bronowski, Scientist
Act I: Droid Whisperer
The scene began with Doctor Ramus, the resident scientific quack of the ship, ran about in the ship holding a piece of slipper. His antics damaged the Stardrive, and almost boosted the off the galaxy if not for the timely intervention of our newest PC character: Ion Parsons – the woman who can talk to machines.
Enter, flashback. Ion Parsons has been a slave for most her life, being raised by androids in her time with the Zamorran Guild. When her powers grew beyond the guild’s control, she was thrown into prison – supposedly to live the rest of her days isolated from both humans and machines.
She was approached by the Admiral Tsukiyama to become one of the Acarina’s crew, to help retrieve a valuable A.I. – HELEN – back to the Federation. Only she can access HELEN’s databanks in case the Rebellion has tinkered with her original directives, and thus, was very important to the mission.
- Rvel notes: Frankly, I had a hard time gming in Ion’s flashback, and I’m sure it showed… There were a bit of confusion on character mechanics and character concepts from start-up. It’s also quite hard to establish a personal character-centric scene for a character who has absolutely no human emotion, as well as trying to roleplay Artifical AIs and Oven Toasters. (Yep, you heard that right… Oven Toasters.) I was juggling ideas in active time left and right on how to make the storyline more ‘involving’ but alas, I failed on this one. I figured since the story was about infections, that Ion Parson’s whispering power ‘may’ be called an infection as well… (and eventually create a parallelism between her powers and the Big Badd’s later on) so I tried to show that in the flashback, with androids risking their life for her, despite the programming. I’m not sure if anyone managed to get the hint from that opener… but I suppose that was a mite too ambitious and complicated to implement in an action-oriented game. Oh well, my mistake. Moving on…
Act II: Roaches and Starships
The scene, after the flashback, continues with Doctor Ramus running around with his slipper… which is later revealed to be chasing after a cockroach loose in the ship. Trying to kill it, he tries to hit it several times with his slipper – but misses. The largest damage happens when he accidentally hits the StarDrive and almost launches them to Hyperspace – but thankfully Parsons managed to stop it, by singing a lullaby to the StarDrive.
Worried, Talver does a life signature reading on the entire ship in order to locate where the roach was and if it wa sposing any danger to the FSS Acarina’s engine. Alas, the readings went wild, revealing at lest 50 blinking dots – all roaches, nesting underneath their very floors.
Worse, the excess energy the StarDrive collected from its near-hyperjump released itself on a random ship compartment (after a roll, it was decided to be…) Life Support. 60% of the ship’s breathable air was suddenly all gone – dissolved into space.
Now, the optional stop at Ithaca Space Station (an Independent Open Port) was deemed necessary – and they stop there to repair the StarDrive, the Life Support, and the forward engines… not to mention fumigating the entire ship.
I’m not sure if any picked up on the description of the scene, but Ithaca was supposed to be a beautiful awe-inspiring place. Before them is a giant red sea, The Red Nebula (which has the same legend inspirations as modern time Bermuda Triangle) where few dared to cross. There was a brief cantina scene here, as well as allowing the characters free reign with their characters to do as they wish. Aedon Talver was the only one hard at work in this scene, buying and bartering for parts and repairs on the ship, as well as paying for the ‘fumigation’ of the ship. Dolly Jane tried to smuggle a few objects and to hack the computer system, but thought better of it. And Ion Parsons tried to access news data to obtain new information for her nanites. Prisoner X, Vimes and Captain Crichton shared a few tales with the locals about the Red Nebula, and discover tales of a Ghost Ship wandering within – one that kills anyone or anything it comes across… also, being approached by a fellow bounty hunter, Vimes discovers that there is a new bounty on them posted recently, because of their theft, murder, and vandalism of a major scale in the Floating Market scenario. Fortunately, the Bounty Hunter did not recognize any of them.
Once they were finished, the crew left for the Red Nebula.
- Rvel notes: Silence before the storm… And a big setup for what’s to come… The roaches scene was more important than they expected…!
Act III: Crossroads
As they travel through the blinding Red Nebula, it is only through Talver’s skill that they could even survive the trip, (Talver rolled a 4 on navigation!) where he managed to find a practical non-dangerous route toward their destination. However, they were met by a mysterious Star Cruiser, Federation in Design – and seemingly old and decrepit – as if it was stranded in that place for 10 or more years. (I did a funny gimmick here, where I simulated the entire crew’s deaths when they hammered head on against the ghost ship – resulting in a painful explosion that kills them all. But I later showed it was just Talver’s precognition – which he hastily avoided.)
For something like 30 minutes real-time, The Captain tried making a decision between leaving or boarding the fallen vessel. Orran Voss, an NPC Federation Officer, urged him to board it – because it may have survivors inside – but Prisoner X disagrees, saying its too dangerous and would conflict and threaten with their primary mission. Dolly Jane was troubled, and had a gut feeling to not join the boarding crew. Ion Parsons asked Aedon to pilot the ship close enough so that she could speak with the A.I. – wherein she got a coded and typed message in their primitive computer monitors. The words “Everyone… dead… save…us.”
After speaking with the dying A.I. of the ship – it reveals its problem… it was not alone. Something had ‘infected’ its systems, and whatever was there, it had full control of the ship. The A.I., who introduces himself as Demetrius, has been compromised, and asked Ion to save him.
Parsons agrees and promises the A.I. that she would save it. But the final decision still fell with the Captain.
Finally, the captain decided. “Get your space suits, people. We’re boarding.”
- Rvel notes: There were clashes in decisions in this part of the sequence. And the Captain (Nychuus)did freeze for a moment, because of the crew’s conflicting desires. Vimes wanted to go inside (because the action was there) but X, forever cautious, wanted to avoid it. Talver didn’t want to harm the ship unecessarily, and wanted to just run away from the ghost ship (which he probably can) while Parsons wanted to fulfill her promise to the A.I. Dolly didn’t seem to worry eitherway, as long as she keeps away from that ‘thing’ that can infect her A.I. Finally convinced that they at least need to try and save the survivors, the Captain opts to enter.
Act IV: Ghost Ship
There were only four space suits available for the team, and they needed to activate the space cruiser’s life support before the rest can follow. So they chose a group of four people to act as the ‘field team’ – Nathaniel Vimes, however, had an armor capable of full life support and radiation protection – so he joined in, making it a total of five. The Field team were as follows: Crichton, Vimes, Parsons, Dr Ramus, and Shela Kuei (the Harem Girl, a new recruit from last session). The captain ordered Prisoner X to stay, wanting him to be near the ship (though Orran Voss markedly remarks to Prisoner X that the captain probably just didn’t trust him.
Upon entering the ship, Talver makes a new scan of the ship, altering the coordinates enough to allow a zoom feature in the scan. Like his earlier scan of the Acarina, it was revealed that there was an Infestation of metallic insectile creatures throughout the cruiser. Shouting a warning at the field group through his comm, he managed to warn them before the first creature showed itself and attacked them.
Vimes, secretly a Psion Warrior, was the most disciplined warrior among the away group, and was the most pivotal in keeping them away from the creatures. He used his “Force Push” skill quite creatively here, pushing the creatures away like billiard balls. Ion then runs to the nearby door and speaks to it, urging it to let them enter. The door hesitates, but opens.
The door shuts behind them, trapping one creature through the door – as it tries to claw itself in. But thanks to Vimes abnormal 30 STR, he pushed them back easily.
Ion, now realizing they trapped themselves in the control room, tried to talk once again with the A.I. – but too late, she discovers that the original A.I. is dead, overwhelmed by its attacker. And the one that remains is the invader. “Good day, Ion Parsons.” it typed in the screen.
- Rvel notes: I was half expecting the field team to engage the enemy through combat – but they played smart and ran from them instead. And the result was cool, simulating an Ridley Scott Aiens-like environment. I described the insectile creatures as metallic yet seemingly organic. SO it was potentially mankind’s first discovery of a xenobiological creature. The crew inside the Acarina also had an attack within, where kalindrel’s character, Aedon Talver – decided to risk it and to ‘alter’ the gravitational pull of the ships so that it would simply be magnetic in nature. This stopped the creatures cold in their tracks (including Vimes who wore metallic armor)
Act V: HELEN
“You are quite different from other hu-mans I have encountered.” HELEN began. Parsons and the field team then asked the A.I. why it had attacked the ship, wherein it replies that it did not bear any ill will to the people she killed, it was just part of her programming. It appears HELEN was responsible for controlling the mechanical insectoid creatures. She then makes a direct contrast between ‘destiny’ and ‘programming’ where their respective creators had prepared the road for them to travel, and they have no choice but to continue it through. Ion then said that she will reprogram her, no matter what it takes. HELEN then further challenged, that even though it is part of her programming to stop anyone who would try tor each her, she also wished that the crew succeed in stopping her. But she cannot abandon her programming. (After a complete tie on a persuade vs persuade roll, neither of the two backed down)
“It is a conundrum.” said HELEN, but stated that she found a way to fulfill her programming to try and stop them, but at the same time to give them a chance to reach her. Immediately, everything shut down, and the A.I. of HELEN disappeared from the systems… instead replaced by the numbers 0100 in the screens.
AT first the group thought it was a code of some kind, and Parsons thought it was a binary code. After a click, however, the numbers revealed itself for what it was. It changed into 0099, then into 0098, then into 0097… It was a countdown! “Self Destruct Sequence initiated.” And furthermore, HELEN made sure that the sequence couldn’t be closed down again.
- Rvel notes: Everything went crazy when I began the countdown. The metallic creatures have all been rendered inert as soon as HELEN left their control. So then, the whole group came a-running to try and deactivate the explosive triggers scattered throughout the ship.
Act VI: Self Destruct
Upon discovering that the ship has activated the self destruct sequence, everyone looked at Captain Crichton for guidance. Will they flee and sacrifice the survivors or do they attempt to disarm the sequence with only a minute to spare? Crichton’s honorable nature decides to risk it.
This whole part consists of finding the stowed explosives, and trying to disarm them without the use of electronics. Ion managed to disarm most of the bombs using her nanomachines, who flood the explosives and disables them. Dolly Jane try to disarm one of the bombs, and encounters a young child afraid saying that there’s a “ticking monster” under her bed. As soon as they forge past the residential part of the ship, they finally find the dead crewmembers of the starcruiser, all massacred by the mettalic creatures. The captain was the first to come to the engine room, where the last detonators were located… rightly placed in the radioactive area of the StarDrive.
It was revealed to be twin bombs, where both must be rewired and deactivated at the same time, or else they would trigger each other, and blow up. This was easily solved by Ion’s nanites (once again) as she removed her radioactive gloves (!!) and touched the detonators to activate her power and disarm it. It was disarmed with no problems, and it seemed everything was finally done.
- Rvel notes: I realized in this session how powerful a 50 point VPP is. Since a VPP transform power is potentially a swiss knife solution for just about everything. I asked Kalindrel to finally give Ion’s nanites some stats, since its no-roll auto-success system seems to take away the tension and innate danger… especially from that last scene… which should’ve been far crazier and nastier than a simple touch and go moment.
Act VII: Epilogue They finally find the survivors, numbering only 3, though the lifesigns of the fourth survivor was no longer found anywhere in the ship. Dolly Jane and Vimes went out to find the last survivor … but with no luck. Finally, they agreed they should leave the Red Nebula as soon as possible, lest another danger surfaces.
- Rvel notes: Overall aside from some debates on real-life bombs as well as some confusion on character limits… this went particularly well. The resolution was a bit anticlimactic, but that’s to be expected in a pen and paper rpg, isnt it? This was thoroughly both fun and a bloody headaching session, since we went around 7 hours straight… right past midnight, just to finish the game. I especially liked the PC-NPC interaction here, particularly rping HELEN. All in all, this was a moment of pure Ridley Scott fun, kinda like a what-if… Riddick met Aliens. Good RP and decision stuff from players all around. Kudos to kalindrel for the ‘magnetic’ moment, mads for the HELEN moment, and wowz for the alien pinball.
_So far, the only long downtime in this session was the ‘deciding’ moment – wether to go in the ship, or to leave it be… but other than that… KABOOM.