Categories
Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG

“The Gang Commits Blasphemy”

A Tale From the Third Horizon

Platform Nakshatra, orbiting Quidar

When last we left our intrepid heroes, they had elected to “go meddle” in the affairs of the space station in which they were currently trapped; a sudden embargo arising from disputes between the Hydra Fleet (Zenithian Hegemony) and Jevghena Colony Security (The Legion) clamped down on all non-essential travel. It began, as meddling often does, in the local bar. Well, bar is perhaps the wrong word; Platform Nakshatra was a small station, with a fraction of the traffic seen by the mighty Coriolis. This bar, known simply as “The Bar”, was more like a an airport kiosk with cheap plastic furniture. It would be unfair to call it a place of ill-repute. It lacked repute of any kind at all. Into this softly lit den arrived Blue Beetle’s engineer Fattah, and science officer Pol. It was quite busy, relatively speaking; A merchant lay passed out on his spreadsheets, five off-duty Legion soldiers were gathered round a table, drinking hard liquor in that way grim men of war often do, which is to say silently and constantly. And a holy man sat next to a younger, panicked man, attempting to give him solace and wisdom about his impending marriage.

The arid world Quidar

While Fattah decided the best course of action was to ingratiate himself with the soldiers through the time-honoured practice of buying them a round of drinks, Pol immediately wandered up to the holy man and his charge, deciding to inject his own wisdoms into the rather dry conversation. “Ah, don’t worry too much about it buddy, there’s always divorce if it doesn’t work out!” This approach… did not go down particularly well with the preacher man (although it did raise a smile from the panicked groom-to-be, who truth be told was merely a little overwhelmed with the amount of planning he and his partner were doing for the celebration). He stiffly agreed that while, yes, divorce was legally and scripturally an option wedded couples could pursue, it was important to remember that marriage itself was a very serious institution, not to be entered into frivolously. Pol responded with a decidedly atheist argument about how the Icons were probably pretty chill about the whole thing, to which the preacher, now quite red of face, spluttered with rage that he had never before encountered such *disrespect* for the teachings of the Icons, and other such appalled indignities.

The young man, watching this in awe, suddenly laughed heartily once the holy man had left. “I’ve… I’ve never seen him so angry before, and he’s ALWAYS angry about something. I needed some levity today, thank you, friend.”

Pol waved for a couple of drinks to be brought over. “Oh, don’t worry about it. Think of it as a wedding present, you looked like you needed some cheering up.”

Fattah, meanwhile, now found himself sitting in the circle of soldiers, being appraised in a “I don’t know you, but you DID buy me a drink, so let’s see how this shakes out” manner. Not being able to recall any toasts specific to The Legion, he decided to play it safe and raise his glass simply “to The Legion!”, which went down well enough. Slightly relaxed, they began to talk. They mentioned how there was a fight brewing for months between the Hegemony and Legion, that there were multiple chances to avoid bloodshed, but stubbornness had kept winning out. “It could be 2, maybe 3 weeks before delegates arrive to mediate the dispute. Meanwhile, we’re stuck here in orbit with a bunch of toff-nosed Hegemony fools who’d run away if you showed them a real gun”

Legion soldiers tend to go drinking in their armour, too.

“Probably run towards it, not knowing what it was!” quipped Fattah, to much approval from the disgruntled grunts.

“Hah, yeah. Ugh, it’s a stupid mess. You ever been at a wedding where there were two guests that HAD to be invited, but you make sure they’re seated at opposite ends of the room? It’s a lot like that right now. Tense.”

“Anything an independent trader might be able to help with?” asked Fattah, deciding now was the time to press for details.

“Hmph. Couldn’t rightly say. I know there’s still traffic between here and the colony, so the higher ups must have agreed on something, but we’re definitely not the people to ask, we just point guns and shoot. You wanna talk to them, really.”

Pol and his new friend had settled into their fresh drinks by now. He had learned the man’s name was Shareef, that he was having the same stress that so many couples endure when planning a wedding, and that he was a Legion soldier currently on leave after a bullet to the leg rendered him unfit for duty. While he was enjoying the relative peace, he did admit that paid leave was nothing like an-duty wages, and times were a little tight. Pol again offered to help: “Look man, I know how it is. Tell you what: I’m not going anywhere while this lockdown is on, so if I can help clear anything off your to-do list over the next couple of days, just let me know. I’d be happy to help get you on your way to that honeymoon in your near future!” Shareef was quite beside himself at this offer.

“Very kind of you, sir! Let me think on it, and I might call you later?” They exchanged details, Shareef finished his drink, and limped home in a far better mood than when his day had begun.

Dav and Ash Drum had elected to stay with the Blue Beetle. Ash was idly monitoring radio chatter, Dav inspecting the ship to ensure there were no more surprises like the one which almost killed them on the portal jump. Ash’s tabula rang out. It was a call from Pol.

“Ash, my friend! You know how you’re a genius with information and computers?”

“… what do you want?” asked Ash, voice heavy with suspicion.

“Well, I met a fellow in the bar. He’s getting married soon! I hope that goes well for him, he’s a nice lad-“

“How many drinks have you had?” interrupted Ash, no less suspicious but now also slightly worried.

“Not enough. Not nearly enough. But where was I? Oh yes, the lad getting married. So I offered to give him a hand with his workload, and long story short, he gave me a whole bunch of confidential reports that need rubber stamping and I thought, you’re brilliant at writing programs and scripts to automate things, you could get this done in a couple of hours!”

“Yeah, but-“

“Great! I’ll send the files on over with a list of what boxes need ticking brilliant thanks bye!”

There was silence, but for the muffled sounds of the docking ring outside.

“I’m going to hide his damn pillow.”

Ash needed only minutes to write a script to automate the process of completing some 300 official Legion reports between Jevghena Colony and Platform Nakshatra. She spent several hours, however, devising a way to scan each report for interesting keywords or repeated phrases, aggregate the data and analyse the whole for useful, or valuable information that could fetch a nice price with the right collecter. By the time she had her scan running, Pol had returned, loudly exclaimed that Dav was going to be upset about his pillow being missing, and was sleeping off his adventures in the bar.

His peace was short-lived, of course. Presently, the Blue Beetle was visited by an official and his bodyguard of Legion soldiers. “Ahem. The crew of the Blue Beetle, yes? I apologise for interrupting but you see, there has been… a complaint. Some allegations of blasphemy, in fact.”

Ash was shocked. “What? They’re just boobs! I’m not even flashing them, they’re all in my shirt!”

“Ahem, I’m sure they are. No, the incident to which I refer concerns certain utterances made by crew members in the local cantina, and-“

“POL! WAKE UP! WHAT DID YOU DO?”

“asdfgl” said Pol, waking slowly. Ash forced a cup of strong coffee into his hands, to better explain himself. The official seemed nonplussed, as if this happened every other day for him.

“Indeed, according to the complaint, one or more individuals who crew the ship named Blue Beetle insulted the Icons, and a priest of the Icons. Now I’m sure it wasn’t a serious as the complainant makes out, but nevertheless, the station must be seen to take all complaints of such concerning nature seriously, and so I must request that the crew accompany me-“

“What’s your name?” asked Pol.

“Kadife, sir, and now if-“

“Is this how you saw yourself as a kid, Kadife? Ticking boxes, filling forms for the Man?”

“Actually it is, I thoroughly enjoy the intricacies of bureaucracy.”

There was a stunned silence, which Pol broke by saying “Well I think we should follow him, I don’t know how to respond to that, he’s got me.”

Dav sighed. His day had been going so well. “Look, Mr. Kadife, this is all his doing, why do we have to be dragged into it?”

“I’m afraid my orders were quite specific, sir. Legion envoy Majid Nahas requested the whole crew. Please, I’m sure it is just a formality, a ticked box, a form filed, nothing exciting” his eyes flickered over to Pol for the briefest moment. It was like seeing Pol being slowly flayed with a rose-scented razor blade.

A collective sigh. “Pol, after this we are going to have to have a serious talk about insulting holy men. Fine, lead on Kadife.”

Majid Nahas was an imposing man, over six feet tall and every inch of him a Legion veteran. Muscular, his shaved head displaying the Legion’s skull tattoo proudly, his right eye and left arm replaced with intimidating cybernetic prosthetics chosen more for their value in combat than any ergonomic or aesthetic concerns. He shuffled some papers with his organic hand when the crew entered his office in the station’s administrative section.

Majid Nahas. Absolutely not that guy from Deus Ex. Shhhhh!

“Now. The Blue Beetle’s crew, yes? Brother Ravi here claims-“

The apoplectic man shot to his feet, pointing at Pol. “That’s him! That’s the man who slandered the Icons to my face! To my FACE!”

Pol waved at him.

“Yes, yes, calm down please. And you, Pol, do you dispute this?”

“All I did was say there’s nothing wrong with divorce. Honestly, if the Icons are so mad at me they could have sent a better envoy than shorty here…”

Brother Ravi, at this stage, was beginning to choke on his own rage.

Majid pre-emptively held up his bionic hand in a call for silence, which was quite effective given its large size and battle scarred exterior.

“Enough, gentlemen. Brother Ravi, I shall deal with this, have no fear. That will be all, thank you.”

“But wh-“

Thank you, brother Ravi, that will be all.” Majid had a very commanding tone when he wanted. He may as well have yelled “you are DISMISSED!” while drop-kicking the priest out of an airlock. The furious man slunk away. The door closed, and Majid sighed.

“I never liked him,” he began. “A real fire-and-brimstone zealot. He regularly denounces the use of cybernetics in the Legion, but he has never required life-saving surgery on the battlefield.”

Before any of the crew could say something, he spoke up again. “Nevertheless, he is technically correct, and an example must be made. I trust a small fine, say, 50 birr, will suffice?”

“If the money goes somewhere that’ll annoy him, I’ll double it,” said Pol.

“Hmph.” That was the closest thing to a laugh Majid appeared capable of. “He does have a particular dislike of the Legion’s widow and orphan fund, given they provide cybernetics to wounded family members.”

“Perfect”, Pol smiled widely. Majiid tapped a few commands into his tabula.

“Done. Thank you.”

“Thank YOU, sir,” said Ash. “While we’re here, do you have any idea when this lockdown is going to end?”

Majid gave them an appraising look. It lasted a while. “That depends. It might be in two or three weeks, when we expect diplomats from both Factions to arrive…”

He tapped the console on his desk. The doors audibly locked shut, and Ash saw the signal reception of her tablet die.

“… or it could be as soon as tomorrow, if you’re willing to do me a small favour.”

The crew’s ears picked up. Now, THIS sounded like some top quality meddling!

“As I’m sure you’re aware, hostilities have erupted between the Hydra Fleet and The Legion. Violence on this station has been limited to fist fights, but in Jevghena Colony there is already a bodycount. While outright fighting has ceased for the moment, there are no guarantees of peace until the diplomats arrive.” His bionic arm twitched, clearly feeding off his agitation.

I have a younger brother in Jevghena. Honourable discharge, like myself, but the circumstances were less than celebratory. He has a rare neurological condition, which cost him the use of his legs. The best minds in the Third Horizon tell me his condition is such that prosthetic replacements will not work, something about degraded nerve clusters. The Legion would not replace limbs that weren’t damaged in battle, in any case. Part of the reason I took this position was so I could look out for him.”

Majid’s mouth twitched. A proto-smile, maybe? He sat back, clearly not used to being this open, yet so clandestine.

“These hostilities have been brewing for months. Omar and I have had many discussions about what to do if… when they came to a head. He is headstrong, but he’s not a fool. We both agreed that in the event of things getting out of control, he would move to our uncle’s home aboard Coriolis station. Unfortunately, the lockdown happened quicker than we anticipated, and military personnel from either faction, even retired like I am, don’t get to travel anywhere right now. But your appearance presents a solution.”

“You have no affiliations that matter to this conflict. An independent trader would be of use to either Faction. I can arrange for your ship to have clearance to land at Jevghena, and, by pulling some strings while you’re away, I can pressure my opposite number in the Hegemony to grant you clearance to leave the Caph system. If you collect Omar and bring him safely to Coriolis, I will clear the path for you. And yes, I can provide some compensation. 5,000 birr, and on top of that…”

Now Majid did smile. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.

“Since I retired from The Legion, I developed a little hobby of keeping tabs on ex-Legion members, particularly deserters. I understand that your ship had a close call making the jump here from Kua, yes? An attack on your stasis chamber?”

Ash leaned forward. Oh, she was VERY interested in having a word with the people who nearly killed her.

“Once my brother is safe, I will tell you who was responsible. I will send you their entire military files, in fact. The Legion takes a very dim view of deserters, and you’ll find that the names I give you all have a pretty little bounty associated with them. Off official records, of course. Your discretion is very much appreciated in such matters.”

Down to the surface of Quidar, down to Jevghena colony in the northern hemisphere. The journey took 4 hours from high orbit. During this, the crew messaged Omar Nahas on the surface, agreeing on certain greeting phrases to make sure they knew who was who. Ash’s datamining algorithm also completed its analysis. With certain keywords and coded phrases scattered across dozens of reports, someone in the Legion had managed to conceal a smuggling operation! The algorithm determined the location of a dead drop within Jevghena’s space port and administrative buildings. The sun was rising as they landed at the space port, alongside the central colony administration in a rugged valley surrounded by grassy plains, it was looking like a beautiful, if extremely hot, morning.

Jevghena, on the planet Quidar. The main colony administration and space port shelter in the valley while the plains to the east support farming.

First up, they decided to investigate this dead drop Ash’s snooping had uncovered. It lay within a maintenance area that saw little in the way of traffic when the colony was running smoothly, and the rather unsubtle crew of the Blue Beetle had little trouble infiltrating unseen. They emerged with a large carrying container, hermetically sealed, the contents of which they could only guess at but which they were sure would fetch a tidy price with the right buyer. Then, on to locating Omar Nahas. His tabula signature pointed to one of the outlying farms on the plains beyond the valley. Temperatures were already approaching 30 C., and were due to climb as high as 50, so they elected to borrow a pair of sealed ATVs to keep the heat off them. Within half an hour they were clear of the valley and another 30 minutes took them to Omar’s small goat farm.

Omar Nahas. Nice fellow. Has a goat farm.

Omar was in a similar 4-wheeled pod to the crew, doing his morning inspections of the fences and his animals, accompanied by two men wrapped in many layers to ward off the growing heat. The crew radioed him. “This is the crew of the Blue Beetle, how is Abigail doing?”

Omar’s ATV and “minders”, a takeoff from Jevghena space port in the background. Note the adorable baby goats. One survived.

Abigail the goat, they had decided, would be their mutually agreed greeting.

“Hello! She’s fine, thank you for asking. These men will be looking after the farm while I’m gone, I was just showing them around. Shall we be off?”

With one ATV (carrying Dav and Pol) in front of Omar and one (Fattah and Ash) behind, they turned back toward the space port. Whether from pure luck, the will of the Icons, or razor-sharp perceptive skill, the occupants of the rear pod noticed a reflection of the receding farm and its new minders. They saw the men remove large hand guns from the folds of their apparel, and take careful aim at Omar’s ATV. They raised the alarm. An assassination attempt!

Dav, ever the quick-thinking pilot on or off the ground, sprang into action. “Omar, break right and follow me, now!” before executing a magnificent powerslide that wound between two boulders and led to somewhat rougher terrain, where the constant bumps would throw the aim of the two would-be assassins. Omar swiftly followed suit, proving almost as skilled a pilot as Dav. The first shot sailed wide. The second hit Fattah’s pod, smashing a glass panel and letting the baking heat fill the cockpit, but otherwise not harming the vehicle. Fattah messaged their employer as he drove. “Blue Beetle here, we have your brother but there are hostiles after us. Any backup you can send would be appreciated!” Ash leaned out and fired a shot from her Vulcan Cricket pistol. A miniature explosive rocket slammed into the shoulder of one man, wounding but not downing him. Their radio crackled in response. “This is Majid. Make for the eastern gates, I will double the guards there to provide covering fire.”

“Yes! Thank you! Everyone, eastern gates, we’ll be safe as soon as we’re within rifle range!”

Pol, being a wealthy upper-class dilettante before joining the crew as a penniless medic, had rather more personal wealth than the rest of the crew to spend on preparing for a life travelling the stars. While his friends armed themselves with the relatively affordable Vulcan Cricket (a common weapon that fired tiny rockets), he had treated himself to a top of the line hunting rifle that used magnetic field manipulation to launch tiny metal slugs at hypersonic speeds. His shot hit the second assassin’s leg with such force that a full third of the limb simply disappeared in an explosion of bone and blood, severing the leg and leaving the shocked man to swiftly bleed out on the ground. Such was the force of the explosion that a nearby goat, showered in gore, fell over in shock.

But the assassins were not finished. Taking careful aim again, the remaining killer fired again, this time hitting Omar’s ATV and causing something to spark and smoke. Omar’s vehicle started to slow, the damaged engine unable to keep pace with Dav’s ATV. Ash contacted Omar. “We’ll draw level with you, get you on to our pod, hold steady now!”

The two vehicles drew level. The cockpit on Omar’s ATV slid open, revealing a handsome, if understandably anxious, young man. The cradle that held him extended out, and Ash leaned out as far as she dared, ready to catch him.

Dav, watching carefully on his rear view mirrors, suddenly cried out in alarm. Three men on grav-cycles were approaching from another direction, weapons in hand! Somehow they had masked their sensor presence, and the lack of wheels left no dust trail to announce them. Thinking fast, he spun the ATV around…

… as the lead rider fired his gun at Omar’s vehicle. Something critical in the engine lurched, and the ATV flipped violently, hurling Omar forward into the air…

… Dav slammed down hard on the accelerator, and swung open the cockpit. This was going to be unpleasant for Omar, but better to live and complain about broken bones than blasted to pieces by hostile strangers.

It is unknown precisely what went through Omar’s mind as he was launched into the air. Perhaps as he sailed upwards, he cursed the crew of the Blue Beetle, his attackers, even his brother. Perhaps he surrendered himself to the mercy of the Icons as his flight reached its peak and the fall began. Nobody knows, he refuses to talk about that day, when he flew straight into the curvature of Dav’s raised cockpit like a ball into a basket, landing with little ceremony and at least one broken leg on Pol.

The riders, furious at being cheated of their prize, gunned their throttles and zipped towards the remaining ATVs. Fattah, a moment of inspiration flashing in his mind, shouted “take control for me!” to Ash, and began to tear into the electronics systems of the ATV. He recalled how vehicles like these ran on powerful fusion batteries, and that many of the electronic systems could be hardwired straight to the power source, overcharging them. Ash, struggling to drive while not in the driver seat, awkwardly fired off another round. The Icons smiled on her, and the remaining assassin on foot crumpled. There were only the three riders remaining.

“Go big or go home”, mumbled Dav. Sealing the cockpit once more, he launched the ATV straight towards the lead rider. His grav-cycle, while extremely fast, was not very big. Its rider was not blessed as Dav was with great knowledge of physics. When the two vehicles collided head on, the ATV didn’t even slow as it crushed both rider and ride under the wheels.

“What in blazes are you doing?” Ash screamed at Fattah. Her somewhat wobbly driving made their vehicle a surprisingly hard target to hit, the remaining riders’ shots sailing wide. Fattah did not explain, only clambered onto the roof of the ATV, calling on her to take full control and drive straight at one of the riders. As Ash turned to face their oncoming threats, Fattah, flicked his hastily constructed switch, the immense power of the ATV’s fusion battery bypassing the normal distributor circuits and flowing right to the microwave sensor emitter array one the roof, which he aimed at the nearest rider. Ash, now in the driver’s seat, was briefly annoyed as the electronic sensors fizzled and went dark. She might have complained, but the sight of a man on a grav-cycle being explosively vaporised led her to conclude that she could let it slide this time at least.

The remaining rider broke off, jinking side-to-side to throw off Pol’s aim, before coming around for another run. The inspiration of the Icons was not done with Fattah this day, as he remembered that he was in possession of a considerable length of “hyper-rope”, a very strong monomolecular carrying cable which required special gloves to handle without slicing your hands off. Ash pulled up next to the wreckage of Omar’s ATV, and Fattah jumped out, drawing a taut line of hyper-rope between his ATV and Omar’s.

The last rider, moments before he felt nothing at all. Nothing at all. NOTHING AT ALL!

Their pursuers defeated, the crew made their way to the space port, with Omar battered and nursing two broken legs but happy to be alive. Having lost his ATV, the crew made a quick stop at the colony administration to secure a wheelchair for Omar. Majid was true to his word, and no sooner had they reached Platform Nakshatra again than they were granted permission by the Hydra Fleet to leave the system. When they rose from their cryo pods in the Kua system once more, there was a message from Majid waiting for them on the ship’s logs.

“You have my most sincere gratitude, friends. My brother would be captured or dead now, but for you. Our uncle will provide him with a safe home on Coriolis, at least until it is safe for him to return to Jevghena. I have transferred 5,000 birr to your account as we agreed.”

“Now, as to the matter of those who tried to sabotage your cryo chamber. All available dossiers are attached. They are ex-Legion, as I suggested. Their leader is Ariana Remora, once a Lieutenant. She chafed at what she called the “red tape” of the Legion, which is to say she disliked the rules by which we operate, for example our rules on avoiding civilian casualties. My sources tell me that she has a band of at least four confirmed ex-Legionaries, and recently aligned her group with the criminal organisation known as the Syndicate. From what I can gather, it would seem that your last job for Melem Gesurra prevented Remora from completing a Syndicate-backed operation, and she has taken it personally.”

As they read through the files, a shock hit the crew almost simultaneously, as they beheld their attackers.

Lt. Remora and her crew

These rough, scarred men and women were the very same people who had tried to steal their first job with Adzem Kembouri! Majid’s message continued.

“I am confident that video footage from Coriolis will confirm what I have told you. I am sorry to bring you news of having made an enemy, but for what it is worth, you have made a friend in me. If I can help you against these honourless dogs, it will be my pleasure to do so. Again, thank you, and may the Icons light your way.”

And so the crew sailed through the dark between the stars, home to Coriolis, an uneasy feeling settling upon them. They had, however unwittingly, however minor, upset the schemes of a powerful organisation, and the sabotage of their ship was only a taste of things to come. There would surely be further attempts on their lives.

Categories
Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG

Trade War Blues

A Tale From the Third Horizon

[This was a relatively short session due to 2 of the players not being able to make it for various reasons, and doesn’t really feature much action, but it does set up a couple of things that might go pop in next week’s episode.]

A week went by after the Crew of the Blue Beetle defeated the djinn of Orun II, and saw the ship and its remaining crew dock safely with Coriolis. As tends to happen, word began to spread. Mister Adzem Kembouri became something of an overnight celebrity, his career as a freelance paranormal investigator and exorcist cemented. He had several interviews with big names in the Bulletin, who speculated and imagined great things coming from him in future, but he was at all times a surprisingly humble, albeit still devastatingly charming, guest.

Ash Drum, Hacker and Coffee Addict

The crew, having experienced the rather unpleasant situation of being outnumbered by a vastly more powerful force, decided that hiring on some new members would be a good idea. Enter Ash Drum, an expert in data analysis and programming, who as you can see came with her own coffee mug, which was a major selling point to the other kawah (coffee)-swilling members of the crew. In fact, after joining the Blue Beetle, the very first thing they did was spend 500 birr from their reward money on upgrading the kawah machine in the mess. I forget which rolls were made but they succeeded admirably, and the formerly average brew was replaced with a potent extraction, black as the Dark Between the Stars, and as invigorating as a blessing from The Dancer. I gave them a moment to nod with satisfied approval at their excellent decision making abilities, before giving them some Plot.

“Aaand Like, and Like, and Like, and save to device, and Like…”

Their tabulas rang out, bearing a new message from one Zulaikhu Irides, professing to represent the hauling company Melem Gesurra, who had contracted them the week before with the thorny djinn problem. Pol, perhaps owing to his upper class heritage, was instantly paranoid, and spent an hour researching Zulaikha on the station’s equivalent of social media. He found Mr. Irides’ profile quite handily, and skimmed over his credentials as a graduate of the Miran courtesan Acadamy of Ahlam’s Temple, exclaimed that he was a *beautiful* specimen of a man, and promptly hit like on a dozen of his pictures before being reminded that Zulaikha wanted to meet them to discuss business.

Away with the group to the infamous Wahib’s Cantina, where they found Zulaikha drinking water while reading the financial news. He rose to greet them warmly, the very model of grace and hospitality. If he’d noticed Pol smashing that like button like the fist of an angry god, he made no sign of it.

“Ah, a pleasure to meet you my friends! Please, sit, make yourselves comfortable, I have ordered refreshments for you all.” The group did so, and made hopeful sounds about the possibility of work.

Cantina time!

“Straight to business, then, very good! Yes, I represent Melem Gesurra, who were very impressed with your work last week. Oh, by the way, Captain Rajtun sends his regards. He is currently on leave and in hospital undergoing treatment for all the unpleasantness that was forced upon him. But I digress. My employers have authorised me to offer you further work, if that is to your liking. Now, as you’re no doubt aware, the normal procedure for hiring independent contractors is that an employer will place a mission on the Free League’s trade database, and waits until a crew in good standing claims it for their own, before the fine details and negotiation of price are entered into. Melem Gesurra has decided to delay this protocol for the moment, and offer you exclusive contracts before they are made available to the wider trading community. To give you first refusal, as it were.”

He paused for a delicate sip of his drink, while a waiter brought an earthen jug of lime-infused chilled water to fill glasses for the crew.

“And this is why I requested the pleasure of your company today. Melem Gesurra wishes to transport a shipment of medical equipment and supplies to the neighbouring system of Caph. One jump, along well-patrolled routes, minimal danger. I am authorised to offer a base payment of 15,000 birr on completion.

“What if, um, something like last time happens? Or we get really unlucky and pirates happen?”

“Well, the Caph system is home to the Hydra Fleet, a Zenithian organisation which is *enthusiastic* in its dedication to hunting corsairs, so I can safely say it will be safer than Kua! But you’re quite right, I cannot guarantee some problem may come up. To that end I am also authorised to offer generous hazard pay, on a case-by-case basis, as well as a bonus for timely delivery. In addition, I happen to know that a bulk hauler will be making its way through the Kua-Caph portal in approximately 48 hours. The captain is known to me, and he is happy to let smaller vessels dock and share the portal jump, which is considerably safer when the portal stations are paid to make the calculations on your behalf. I believe the journey from here to the nearest portal averages a day and a half, and about as much again from there to Quidar, the planet destined to receive the shipment.”

Some general muttering of approval, and Pol being told to put his phone away and stop liking Mr. Irides’ pictures on social media.

“Ok, we’re in.”

“I am delighted to hear it. Here’s the contract, please read and sign with a thumbprint on the scanner at the bottom…”

They read, found the contract agreeable, and signed. Mr. Irides smiled beatifically at them, finished his glass, and rose to leave. “My friends, it has been a delight. I have a considerable amount of free time today, now that I no longer have to log this contract with the Free League Database, and I thank you for your time. Now, I must capitalise on that free time. I bid you a good day and a safe journey!” And then he was lost in the crowds outside.

The crew spent a few hours getting everything ready. They checked the cargo manifest, and double checked, and ticked each item off as it was loaded into the hold of the Blue Beetle by a surly group of stevedores on one of the station’s many docking rings. The medical supplies were just that; various bandages, medications, first aid and surgical items, antiseptics, all quite dull but valuable nevertheless.

Their work done, the stevedores waved goodbye. “Good luck out there, Messenger bring you back safe and all that” their leader grunted. And with that, the Blue Beetle cleared the station and plotted a course to Kua’s star.

Jina
Lubau

On their way they passed Jina, the hot, oppressive world of poisonous air and sudden storms of concentrated acid where one breath without the correct filtration equipment is certain death. They sailed within visual distance of Lubau, tidally locked, closest planet to the Kuan sun and a mystery in and of itself; despite being 40% the diameter of the planet Kua, its gravitational pull is almost equal.

At last, then to the portal station, where they only had to wait about three hours in the blinding fires of Kua’s yellow star before sensors detected the Zula, a heavy freight ship, coming from one of the other portals on the far side of the sun. They were hailed, and quite amenable to letting the Blue Beetle piggyback on the portal jump.

At this point, Dav the pilot noticed a blinking light on one of the consoles. “Problem in the stasis chamber. Fattah, can you go check? We have beds to spare but better safe than sorry.” Fattah dutifully inspected each of the stasis pods that would protect the crew during the transition between one star and the next. The machinery was in perfect working order, only… something had caused a malfunction in one of the pods, altering the mix of gases and fluids it supplied. As he watched, another pod followed suit. The ship had a virus, and the problem was spreading!

Calling for Ash, she took stock and analysed the machine code of the stasis chamber in a smooth, professional manner. Indeed, someone had managed to insert malicious code to the AI maintaining the stasis pods, altering their functions slightly enough that many crew members might not have noticed, but significantly enough that they would provide no protection travelling through the portal. She was not at all pleased at the thought; Very few people ever survived travel through the portals while awake, and those that did were all driven irreparably insane, their minds destroyed by forces no human understood. A rare few travelled through physically unharmed but possessed by something from the Dark Between the Stars, not unlike the djinn the crew encountered the week before.

But Ash was well-learned in the ways of computer memetics and malicious code, and recognised exactly how the virus operated. It was a trivial matter for her to not only isolate and purge it and repair the damage, she was able to deduce that the code had been uploaded during the 2 hours it took to load the cargo into their ship’s hold. The docking rings on Coriolis are well monitored, and there would be video footage of the area. She made a note to inspect that footage when they returned. For good measure, she updated the ship’s operational programming to harden it against any such attempts in future.

The stasis pods secured, they barely had time to prepare for the jump. Dav’s docking procedure with the Zula was decidedly lacklustre given his previous attempts, perhaps shaken by the knowledge that someone had tried to murder them. Nevertheless, they were all in their pods and asleep by the time the Zula entered the portal from Kua to Caph.

Caph A, hot blue-white star

They woke slowly, groggy and shaking. The stasis chamber door opened to reveal the mess hall bathed in the harsh blue light of a whole new solar system. They fumbled around, getting dressed, and their communications bleeped. The Zula calling to confirm they arrived intact. Ash growled something about not being intact until she has consumed a large mug of kawah, to which whoever was manning comms on the Zula replied “I can appreciate that. May the Icons see you safely to the kawah machine before they see you to your destination.” then, slightly muffled as if turning away from the mic, “Hey, Vadim! See, SHE gets it!”

The arid world of Quidar

As luck would have it, the planet Quidar was currently on the same side of Caph A as the crew’s exit portal, a mere 2 AU which could be covered in about 18 hours. They were almost immediately intercepted by an armed cruiser, requesting their name and business in Caph on behalf of the Hydra Fleet. After a quick cross-check with their own records, they were almost escorted by the ship to one of the Caph Platforms, the large ring of satellite stations above Quidar that serviced the fleet. Lacking the means to land on the surface, the Blue Beetle was instructed to dock with the one platform that also serviced the public, Platform Nakshatra.

Platform Nakshatra, the one station of the Caph Platforms not completely given over to military use. Caph B, the other sun of this binary system, is visible in the distance.

Hails were made, identifications confirmed, and docking clearances granted. A team of stevedores and one official-looking clerk stood by to greet them once the docking clamps were engaged and engines powered down. The clerk, as fastidiously as the crew had been when loading the cargo, ticked every item off as it came down the ramps, checking and double checking. When the last item was off the ship, he smiled a thin satisfied smile as he ticked a final box, and approached the crew, addressing them as one unit with a dry, monotone voice beloved of bureaucrats across the Third Horizon.

“Thank you for this prompt delivery. If you can provide a thumbscan for my tabula here, I will immediately release payment. I’m sure you know, but I am contractually obliged to remind you that as radio signals cannot travel through the portals, your account will not *technically* be credited until the next information courier travels through to Kua and broadcasts the change, which could take several hours depending on traffic. All financial institutions in the Caph system will have been updated within approximately thirty minutes of contract completion, so you may avail of your new credit within Caph. Thank you, and have a pleasant day.”

As our heroes basked in the glow of a job well done, they noticed several squads of soldiers enter the hangar and form up by all the docked ships. Soon after the tannoy system crackled to life, informing everyone on the station that an immediate embargo had been enacted, and no ships were permitted to dock or leave the Caph Platforms except under the approval of station management.

Three soldiers formed up between the Blue Beetle and its crew. Ash, never one to back down in the face of authority, walked up to them and asked what the hell was going on. The sergeant, or at least who they thought was a sergeant because his helmet visor could turn transparent and he had some more dots on his uniform, told her “Honestly? You know as much as I do ma’am. We weren’t expecting this, but orders are orders. We won’t stop you going on board, but the docking clamps won’t be retracted unless one of the high-ups says so. If you need lodging or food, the central plaza has a few cantinas, a small market and a hostel.”

One of the Legion soldiers impounding the Blue Beetle

Ash, perhaps trying to test their claim that they wouldn’t stop her, went aboard. She spent the next hour listening to any radio chatter she could decrypt, which was basically everything but military channels. Lots of confusion, frustration and fear. From what she could gather, the main colony on Quidar, Jevghena, used Legion troops as security and defence from the larger desert predators. The Legion, considered by most a Zenithian faction of mercenaries for hire, appeared to have been involved in a dispute with the Zenithian Hegemony proper (considered particularly arrogant and imperialist even for Zenithians) over the past month, and diplomacy finally failed a couple of hours ago. Details were scarce but most likely revolved around both who was paying who and how much, and various interpretations of exactly where each group’s jurisdiction began and ended. There were already multiple skirmishes planetside, with a few confirmed casualties.

If you’ve never played Deus Ex: Mankind Divided then this is totally Majid Nahas, ok? Shh, don’t tell Square Enix!

Ash wondered if the Legion had a representative on Platform Nakshatra. A quick data search revealed that there was indeed. A man by the name of Majid Nahas, a veteran soldier who retired to the relative safety of orbital politics, was stationed on Nakshatra. Perhaps he could tell them what was going on, and whether there was a way to get off the station?

Satisfied, Ash updated her colleagues on the unfortunate situation, to glum faces. Military blockades were considerably less fun when you were trapped in one. Ash said “I think it’s time to go meddle. Who wants to go meddle?”

And suddenly, the faces were not so glum at all. A glint in their eyes, they set off for the central plaza…

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Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Updates

“The Gang Gets a Job”

A Tale From the Third Horizon

Cover art for The Dying Ship
Cover art for The Dying Ship

[Because I’m up the walls with a separate writing commission for the last month, I didn’t have time to prepare a campaign beginning of my own, so I began with the published adventure “The Dying Ship”. I don’t follow the plot to the letter, but I hit the important beats, and the players weren’t overwhelmed with new information, they got to ease themselves into the setting and learn a bit about it before making big decisions.]

The ever charming Adzem Kembouri

Our enterprising crew of Fattah, Dav and Pol are contacted by a Mr Adzem Kembouri on behalf of the Melem Gesurra trading company, a respectable haulage business mostly concerned with transporting ice water from the Kuan asteroid belt, and foodstuffs to/from nearby systems.

On arrival at Wahib’s Cantina they find Mr Kembouri already talking to a small group who were posing as our heroes in order to steal the job. In a display that will surely have no consequences at all, Pol’s catastrophic failure to politely introduce the group nevertheless exposed the charlatans, who scarpered rather than deal with the Coriolis Guards. Mr Kembouri, somewhat embarrassed, recovered gracefully and got down to business.

24 hours ago, Melem Gesurra lost contact with Orun II, an ice hauler returning from the asteroid belt with some 3,000 tonnes of ice. After failing to respond multiple times, the ship suddenly changed course, now headed for the notorious asteroid swarm known as the Eye of Anubar. Clearly, something had gone wrong on Orun II, and Mr Kembouri offered the crew of the Blue Beetle a princely sum of 20,000 birr to intercept the ship, find out what happened, and return ship and crew to Coriolis before it was torn apart in the Eye of Anubar.

Pol, ever keen at the sight of profit, negotiated an advance of 5,000 birr, and they were off! The crew performed their pre-flight checks, prayed to the Messenger, and the Blue Beetle left Coriolis. There were some stares as Mr Kembouri dragged two large travelling chests to his assigned cabin, but suspicions over his collection of religious texts, fairy tales and a large ornamental urn were dispersed as he removed a large number of mission files: The freighter Orun II was a Class IV hauler, a little over 310m in length, with three habitable sections in the bow, the stern and the midships workshop. There was a manifest declaring a crew of nine, detailed blueprints, and last known coordinates. A course was plotted (and then re-plotted with appropriate prayer to the Icons for a less sucky result), and some 3 hours later, the Blue Beetle was skittering around Orun II. Their investigation could begin.

The ice hauler Orun II

The ship was unusually dark. It showed up on sensors, but only just, and every window and porthole was dark as night. Suddenly, a series of flashing lights from a window in the stern! No code or signal, but at least proof someone was alive! Pilot Dav performed an immaculately smooth docking procedure with the aft airlock. Mindful that there may be no atmosphere on Orun II, the crew donned their exo suits before boarding. With a hiss, the airlocks were cleared, and the crew were standing on Orun II’s Engineering section.

There was creepy music too!

Emergency strip lighting in the floor mixed with pulsing glow from the 3 massive graviton projectors, a chaotic array of power cables, ladders and walkways casting a maze of shadows over the engine rooms. Inside was the body of Kakinwe, one of the engineers. He had been stabbed in the heart by a bladed weapon. Examining further, Dav and Fattah concluded that the exceptionally neat cut could only be a mercurium blade, advanced technology whereby liquid metal is manipulated to form a solid blade of unsurpassed sharpness. Having had no success contacting anyone while aboard the Blue Beetle, Fattah tried one of the wall-mounted consoles. They were met with static, and then a deep, sonorous voice warning them “Turn around and live out your days in peace. There is only darkness here. We go to our doom!”

Behind a locked door, monitoring the power to the engines, was Orun II’s chief engineer Ard Atallah. A tall, serious looking man, head shaved, forehead tattoo proclaiming his devotion to the Icons, again he spoke into the ship’s comms. “I tell you, leave us! There is evil here and I will not let it reach Coriolis!” Somewhat lost for words, our heroes turned to Mr Kembouri. Perhaps his authority on behalf of Melem Gesurra would convince Atallah to say more. Kembouri was successful, and Atallah allowed them entry into the control room.

Atallah explained that on a routine ice hauling mission, his regular maintenance scans picked up an anomaly in one of the great pieces of ice. Informing the Captain, Ardul Rajtun, he decided to investigate. The crew cut 4 strange large containers out of the ice and brought them to the observatory below the bridge. And then all hell broke loose. There was a djinn loose on the ship now, a scheming, powerful terror spawned in the Dark Between the Stars, and it quickly overpowered the captain. Rather than let a djinn reach the half million souls on Coriolis, and seeing no other option, Atallah sabotaged the navigation, changing course for the Eye of Anubar, cutting power to the bridge to prevent anyone setting a new course, and sealed himself in the engine control room to await destruction. On hearing this, Pol, by no means a warrior but wealthy enough to own weapons, ran back to the Blue Beetle to get his Vulcan Pistol. Likewise, Mr Kembouri retrieved several items from the chests in his cabin, namely a number of religious texts, his unusual ornamental urn, and a pack containing items he believed could banish or even imprison the djinn. Perhaps sensing this new threat, the djinn focused its will on the engine room, to observe these newcomers. Our heroes felt the air grow suddenly cold, while the lights flickered, and each felt the indescribable sensation of being watched and measured by something unimaginably ancient and alien. They had little time to lose.

Mr Kembouri remarked that it was fortunate that Atallah flashed a light at them, allowing them to dock right next to engineering. Atallah, confused, said he did no such thing, and went to his consoles to scan for others. his sensors bleeped, and he grabbed a broom handle and struck an overhead air vent. “Ayda! I know it’s you in there!”

The vent opened, and out fell a young woman, surely no older than 20, with tattooed arms and the grubby overalls of a deckhand. Ayda, having heard our heroes talk with Atallah, admitted to flashing the signal light, hoping to get off this doomed ship. She saw creatures rise from the sarcophagi retrieved from the ice, like men but moving erratically like marionettes. They began murdering people and Ayda ran, escaping the bow through the cramped air vents. At this, Kembouri grew serious, and asked for a description of the creatures. Ayda recalled impassive porcelain masks, regal red silks under embellished armour plates. His eyes grew bright. Pol reminded him they were not in one of his fairy tale books. Kembouri smiled and said “My friend, that is precisely where we are! I was right, this crew stumbled upon the legendary Princess of Kah!”

The tale itself is ancient and lengthy, but suffice to say: Centuries ago on the world of Kua, a princess lived in a magnificent city named Kah. One day she came back from a walk in the forests… changed. Possessed by a powerful malicious spirit. Her father the king spent no expense trying to drive out this devil, to no avail. Desperate, he heard tell of a healer and holy man living beyond the asteroid belt of Kua, who might yet cure his daughter. Sealing her in a stasis sarcophagus along with three of his royal guard, he sent them on his fastest ship. The ship neither arrived at the healer nor returned to Kah, and the king, stricken with despair, let his kingdom crumble away to nothing.

Ayda was not at all happy with the idea that our heroes were not leaving before dealing with this mighty djinn of legend, but having no other way off Orun II, she agreed to stay in Engineering with Atallah while they did their business. At Fattah’s request, Atallah cut power to the engines. While inertia would still bring Orun II into the asteroid swarm, at least it was no longer accelerating, buying them precious time. Atallah restored power to the bow of the ship, allowing a new course to be set. They boarded the elevator car linking Engineering to Midships.

The elevator was a rickety, grimy pressurised container that rattled across its old track, along the outside of the ship. Below them loomed the blue-white ice blocks, turning to purple in the baleful red light of the Eye. On arriving at Midships, they found nobody at first. One small room, the control centre for the stevedores, was welded shut. On the other side, Kolb the stevedore akbar hid, warning the heroes to turn away and leave him.

“I have a pulse drill, and I swear I’ll use it!”

“YOU’RE a pulse drill!” responded Pol, undisputed master of diplomacy.

“Yes, I’m a… wait. What?”

“You heard me!”

“… is there someone else there I can talk to?”

“OH, HAD ENOUGH HAVE YOU!?”

“uh… yes? Look, I’m really very confused right now.”

Using the pulse drill to cut the door open, Kolb greeted our heroes warily, especially the triumphant Pol. He explained that the captain opened one of the containers, and then apparently lost his mind. Then, he said, came monsters. The first and second officers were murdered, he didn’t know if anyone was left alive. When our heroes explained that Captain Rajtul had been possessed, and Atallah had changed course to destroy the evil, his mind finally found its old focus. Uttering a seemingly endless stream of curses about this suicide plan being “just classic Atallah”, he agreed to join the chief engineer and Ayda in Engineering and await rescue.

The second elevator car from Midships to the stern was even less pleasant than the first. About halfway from safety, the lights flickered again, and the elevator car lurched suddenly, as one of the collosal blocks of ice snapped some of its moorings andhit something vital. The djinn was trying to stop our brave heroes! The elevator car shuddered to a halt, a mechanical problem that would not be fixed from the car. Only Fattah and Dav had trained to work in zero gravity environments. engaging the vaccum seals on the boots of their exo suits, they tied a cable around Pol and braced for explosive decompression. They would have to take a walk outside.

Fattah and Dav, used to the weightlessness, deftly traversed the remaining distance to the stern airlocks. Pol, however, was not at all used to every direction at once being both up and down, and his stomach made its strong opinion on this very clear, as he vomited into his helmet. In zero gravity. Perhaps the Icons have a sense of humour, as Pol accidentally activated his comm channel just in time for the others to hear every damp, sloshing moment. With practised ease they manually overrode the airlocks from outside, using the rope to swing Pol into the room and its beloved gravity before climbing in themselves. To Pol’s considerable relief, there were exo suits for the crew of Orun II on the other side of the airlock. Thanking the Icons for the miracle of standardised technology, he replaced his sullied helmet with a considerably more fresh copy.

Immediately out of the elevator airlock, they stepped into the crew quarters. Orun II was an old ship, built for considerably more crew than currently operated it, and the place looked empty and neglected. Half-withered plants, a frayed carpet, plastic chairs and scuffed rubber floors decorated the mess hall. The place was in disarray, as if a meal had been suddenly interrupted. In the cabins they found three more dead crewmen, the 2nd officer Kirin Bor and the stevedores Mirra Touli and Lasar Ulba. From where they stood they could see inside the observatory, and the 4 opened stasis chambers Captain Rajtul had brought aboard. Deciding that the most pressing issue was NOT being destroyed by the Eye of Anubar, they raced upstairs to the bridge.

The bridge was bathed in the red light of the asteroid swarm. Three control chairs sat in front of a large horshoe command console. Two of the seats were occupied. First was the body of first officer Reyna Zarkavan, stabbed in the heard like the others. The second was Captain Rajtul, still breathing, his eyes mirror pools of black, darker even than deep space. His head turned to brave Pilot Dav, and when he spoke, neither voice nor words matched his body.

“Insssectss… What do thesse bugss intend, Kh’oudour wonderss!”

“We, um… Well, first we would quite like to not die in that asteroid swarm. Then-“

“The great Kh’oudour dessiress thiss alsso.”

“Uh… Great. Can… I mean, may I use the console in front of you to steer away from the big death cloud please?”

Long seconds pass. Mr Kembouri, specialising in tact, began preparing the banishment ritual silently, drawing a circle in chalk, enlisting Pol to light seven incense burners whilst repeating the Creed of the Faceless One. The djinn finally answers.

“You may approach.”

With palpable relief, our brave pilot reverses course, grinding to a halt, then that telltale inertia tugging them forwards, indicating acceleration away from the Eye of Anubar.

“Kh’oudour iss pleassed. Now, bug, you will bring Kh’oudour to Kah!”

Unfortunately, a wayward clink of the incense burners being set around the circle alerted the djinn, and Captain Rajtul’s head snapped around fully 180 degrees to take in the deception.

“Inssolent bugss! Kh’oudour sshall rip your very ssoulss from their meat bindingss! Kh’oudour sshall-“

“Oh shut UP already,” interrupted Dav, firing his pistol point blank into the captain’s gut. His head snapped around and his eyes cleared. The captain was still in there! “Get her OUT of me!” he yelled, half pleading, half furious at having just been shot. And then his eyes darkened again, and a string of curses in an unknown language called forth the monsters Ayda and Kolb warned of. Royal guards, though for which king or queen none alive today could say, stepped forth out of the shadows, as if just waiting on the other side of the darkness. Blades levelled, they advanced on our heroes.

“Can’t you pray faster!?” muttered Pol in between setting incense burners. His own repetition of the Creed had accelerated considerably after the first gunshot. Swearing under his breath, Kembouri redoubled his efforts. “The captain isn’t the primary host! Killing him still leaves the princess!”

Dav, saddened that violence against the possessed captain was not the answer he’d hoped, instead placed an excellent shot on one of the guards, but it did little more than blast away a chunk of protective armour. These creatures, whatever else they were, were warriors. Swearing yet again, Kh’oudour transformed in the blink of an eye, becoming a large wolf, which leapt over the command console, into cover. Fattah the engineer, finding a large armoured guard bearing down on him, desperately dodged a sword meant to take his head from his shoulders. The missed swing exposed the guard’s back for a split second, and Fattah took his opening. Praying to the Icons his blow would land, he swung his industrial power glove as hard as he could at the exposed guard. The guard’s armour shattered like old pottery, and there was a sickening crunch as Fattah’s strike snapped the guard’s spine in two! He went instantly limp, arms clawing at the air but unable to gain purchase on the floor or an enemy.

Kembouri uttered the final prayers, and once more the lights flickered. A howl from behind the console as a freezing cloud of mist leapt out and the djinn tried to escape, but the binding was complete, and it was sucked into a vortex within the circle. The Princess of Kah railed against the wards but they held firm. With a flourish Kembouri opened his strange urn and commanded the djinn to enter. Screaming bloody vengeance, the malevolent spirit left its primary host and was driven into the vessel. The Princess of Kah, free of possession, turned almost instantly to dust, but not before her lips curled into a faint smile of thanks. Her centuries of torment were over. Her guards, finally released from their oaths of eternal service, likewise crumbled to dust.

Boom!

Adzem Kembouri breathed a huge sigh of relief, and a hysterical giggle escaped him. Exhausted, he fell to his knees, laughing “I had no idea if that would work! By the Icons we nearly died hahahahaha!”

When he calmed down, Dav had questions. “You were prepared for this. How long have you been hunting this thing?”

“Honestly, since yesterday. I’m an independent consultant, I mostly do minor exorcisms. When Melem Gesurra hired me to deal with this, I was sure it was at least related to the Princess of Kah. The tale suggests a djinn of quite worrying power. When I sought additional help, your names came recommended.”

“I do apologise for my… reticence, in explaining the full extent of the situation. Taking orders from Melem Gesurra unfortunately came with certain obligations and restrictions. If I may begin to atone, allow me to offer you my services at any time for no charge, should you ever have need. I will also inform Melem Gesurra that I am extremely impressed and satisfied with your services. There are clauses in the contract that allow for additional 10,000 birr to be made available in payment for particularly notable displays of competence, and my friends I promise you shall receive it in full!”

And so our brave heroes returned to Coriolis, where Adzem Kembouri was true to his word. The crew received a further 25,000 birr to add to their 5,000 advance. He spoke extremely highly of them at his debriefing with the managers of Melem Gesurra, and gossip soon spread about the station regarding the courageous freighter crew that saved a dying ship and its crew from certain destruction, but also defeated and banished the great djinn Kh’oudour, sometimes known as the Princess of Kah. With their reputation on the rise, perhaps others will join the crew of the Blue Beetle in time to seek their fortune across the Third Horizon?

Kembouri offered to buy the first round in celebration. Pol requested…

… djinn and tonic.

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Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Updates

Let’s Play Coriolis: The Third Horizon

An attempt to chronicle the exploits of a ragtag group of space nutters

So I’ve gone on at some length before about how much I like Coriolis: The Third Horizon just from reading it. I’ve been meaning to run a game for ages, but with the Irish government still defiantly sticking with a public health strategy along the lines of “Fuck ’em” it has been quite difficult. Unable to gather round a table, my list of prospective players is short, and the sheer mind-numbing monotony of another bloody half-arsed lockdown we all know is pointless because they’ll open up schools and shit too early and cause another surge makes online socialising and organisation a thousand times harder than it should be for pretty much everyone. Nevertheless, I persisted, and finally, at long, long last, I have plans in motion. And they have enough momentum to STAY in motion. For a while, anyway.

Coriolis, home to half a million people, orbiting the jungle planet of Kua

I think, given that we’ve agreed on sessions every other Thursday, I will use some of the extra week to write a blog on the previous session. I used to love doing this way back when Livejournal was still a thing, and I really should get back into the swing of it, it’s good for the memory and creative muscles.

So, I have my lovely friends Janet, Dav, Shubhangi, Pól and Dermo lined up to come explore the Third Horizon with me. They’ve so far decided that the group will be “traders”, which is to say they will of course do a lot of hauling goods around the Third Horizon, but their space ship (currently named “The Blue Beetle” but they have other names ready to go should they end up in trouble) is designed for speed and stealth, or as the rulebook calls it, a blockade runner.

A "Scarab" light freighter spaceship. It resembles a thick/inflated X with rounded edges.
They chucked the arboretum in favour of better engines and stealth equipment

They’ve also mostly decided on their character concepts, and I’m sure by the time our first game is underway they’ll have decided on names and faces:

  • Janet: The computer specialist (commonly called a Data Djinn)
  • Dav: The expert pilot
  • Shubhangi: TBA
  • Pól: The scientist (specialising in medicine)
  • Dermo: The ship’s engineer

The first proper session begins Thursday Feb 4. Normally I’d try to stream these games, but I decided not to for this. For one, I didn’t want to put the players under any extra stress or pressure to “perform” for an audience. There’s also the fact that there is VERY little art, music and sound that evokes the “Arabian Nights in Space” feel of Coriolis that isn’t also copyrighted, so I can give players some sweet beats without being sued by the developers of Sands of Time or Conan Exiles. I own both games and this RPG is personal not-for-profit use, so it’s all good.

(here’s a taster of what they’ll be hearing in the background when things get dangerous)

I’m looking forward to it, I have to say. I’ve spent the last few days importing art and maps from one of the published adventures (I won’t say which because they might be reading and spoil the surprises!). I almost never ran published adventures before the pandemic, but right now they’re a lifesaver. The art from a PDF is *invaluable* for setting the atmosphere in an online game where communication isn’t as easy. It’ll make a useful springboard for adventures and plot of my own.

And who knows, if the gang sticks together we might even have enough time to run them through the colossal, world-changing 3-volume “Mercy of the Icons” campaign Free League also published. The first 2 are out now and I like where it’s heading. I like it a lot.

Anyway, that’s what’s happening with that. The prospect of a regular game with a regular report has me in quite good spirits. And when I’m in good spirits, I inflict only the finest of horrible setbacks to my players. With any luck I’ll have strange tales from the Third Horizon the weekend after next, or thereabouts.

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Neurotypical? Not for long.

Forewarning: Contains a whole lot of talking about depression.

Anyone not currently living on Mars is probably aware that Covid cases in Ireland are pretty much out of control, along with the death rate. Anyone paying the least amount of attention will remember that last year Ireland, a small, sparsely populated island, was in single digit figures for daily cases and deaths in the early summer. We nearly had it beaten. And then the government decided to abandon all pretence of vigilance and opened everything up for business again, going as far as to pay for advertising about how pubs, restaurants and hotels were perfectly safe in an effort to get everyone out spending money.

And now, well, we’re in our third lockdown, over 3,000 people are dead from an easily preventable disease, and the government is completely washing its hands and blaming the public they lied to. They’re still pretending schools are safe. They’re still refusing to quarantine tourists leaving or arriving. They’re actually claiming, as of today, that there’s nothing they can do, that a “zero covid strategy” is not 100% possible, therefore it’s pointless to even try.

I was unfortunate enough to read all this doom and gloom yesterday, combined with bits and pieces on the side about how stressful the last year has been, mostly from people who’ve never experienced depression, who respond to cries for help with platitudes like “have you tried mindfulness?” or who genuinely believe “sad for a while” is the only symptom of depression. And I got angry. Neurotypical people are juuuuuuust starting to feel the weight of the last year being a write-off, and yes it’s been a rough year. But to have the audacity to claim they’re dealing with severe depression, when they’re still spouting all the harmful platitudes, and still showing that they have no understanding at all of mental health… Oh my sweet summer children, so naïve,  so innocent. The darkness hasn’t even *begun* for those of you still fortunate enough to have never gazed into that abyss. 

So I wrote. Twitter is a fucking awful place to read long threads at the best of times, so I’ve transcribed it to over here and tidied up the paragraphs. Because somehow, despite [waves at world burning down in the background] I still care. I very much hope that the below doesn’t happen you. But, given the monumental stupidity of the massive pissbabies currently running the country, that hope is brittle. Consider this a warning of sorts.

_____________________________________

I’m so tired of all of this. All the hurt and fear and death that could have been avoided. The future disappearing because a few rich people traded it for profit. The numbing sameness of it all. I remember a while ago someone told me that feeling suicidal wasn’t about wanting to die, it was about feeling dead already and looking for anything that could be used as an excuse to go on living. I wish I didn’t understand what that was like.

You feel it too, don’t you. Yeah, you do. I can see it in every other tweet. The lack of purpose. The light at the end of the tunnel getting smaller and colder and dimmer. Like you’re just a meat clock with no goal but to tick down the seconds until nothing. You don’t want to get out of bed, because there’s nothing out there to give you direction. You don’t want to wake up, because being awake means feeling that nothingness, and unconsciousness is a far less horrifying proposal. You don’t want to watch television, browse a website or engage at all with the outside world, because the outside world is run by fucking monsters so invested in the idea that there’s nothing they can do, that they do nothing.

A lot of you are getting your first taste of depression over the last year. Just a taste. A sniff. A thin slice of what you’ve been able to merrily ignore all your life because it was something that happened to other people. It shows. A fun (read: not actually fun) bit of depression is the wee detached part of you observing your new thought processes and your actions and thinking “how fascinating, that’s not how I normally think or act, I must make a conscious effort not to- oh, I did it anyway and made things worse, shit”. I’ve never seen it affect everyone at once before.  

I say all this because I want you to understand that I know what I’m talking about here, after years of dealing with it myself, and so that you understand that there’s genuinely no malice involved when I say that you have no fucking idea how much worse it’s going to get for you.

It’ll tear out the heart of you. It’s going be that breakup on repeat. It’s going to crush you underfoot. And it’s not even out of spite or evil. It’s going to steamroll straight over you without even noticing you were there. It’s going to show you, really show you, what ‘insignificant’ means. You’ll fight, of course. Oh, how you’ll fight it. How could you not? You’ll fight it harder than you’ve fought anything before, you’ll give it absolutely everything you’ve got and somehow even more than that. And it won’t matter. You’ll feel so small and alone and and empty. Helpless. You’ll be taken apart, piece by screaming, agonising piece, and left in the dark to try and put yourself back together. And you’ll fail. Some parts of you will be too bent out of shape. Others will simply be gone, dead little pieces of you that won’t ever wake up. 

And you’re going to think you’ve gotten a handle on it. You might see hope. And more than once, I promise you, you’re going to be wrong, and you’ll fall apart all over again to begin from scratch. This is going to take you years. Decades. You’ll try and fail so many times that you simply stop hoping, because it’s the hope that made it hurt so much every time the “fixed” you shattered again. Hope becomes the first step on the road to despair and you just can’t bear to travel that road any more. You remember what it was like, and may well pine for the time before, but you know you will never be complete the way you were before. You’re someone different now. The person that was you is dead. You’re a ghost of who and what you used to be. A muffled echo. An imperfect reflection in a shattered mirror.

You’re probably reading this, waiting for me to say “However…”  

No, that’s not how this story ends. That’s not how it works. How any of this works. This is your life now. Trying to glue the shattered mirror back together, knowing it’ll never show the reflection it showed before.

You don’t get a happy ending. That’s not how it works. You’re a blind man begging to see a rainbow. A deaf man hoping to hear a symphony. You’re a meat clock, ticking down the seconds.

I’m sitting here, watching almost the whole world lose its fucking mind at once, and I wonder which of you will make it through in some shape or form. I might have some experience but I still couldn’t guess who’ll break and who’ll bend. I do wonder if you’ll emerge realising the enormity of the damage this has all caused you. If you’ll rage against the people who lied to you, demand accountability from those who led you down this path that damaged you in ways you can never repair. Or perhaps you’ll go straight back to denial and claiming mental health problems are only for lesser people.  

I know I’ll still be here to see for myself. 

Not out of hope.

 Just spite.

Categories
TTRPG Uncategorized Updates

Help I can’t decide

THE BURDEN OF CHOICE IS JUST TOO MUCH

Right, I’m going to start up an online TTRPG. I’ve had the GM’s itch for too long, and I need some soothing ointment. Uh, figuratively speaking. Funny thing about online RPGs during a pandemic lockdown, people are, some crazy how, EVEN HARDER to find to play your game. You’d think with no pubs or cinemas or even the middle aisle for dads in Lidl there’d be a mass of people sitting around looking for something to do, but no, suddenly everyone’s just that popular or found another habit or hobby. Bah.

Anyway that’s not my problem. My problem is deciding on a game to run. That’s where you come in. I have literally and figuratively scoured WordPress for the laziest way to get a poll plugin so that you can take whatever control is left of my dreadful existence and have a say in what particular flavour of horrible adventures I get to inflict on other players. So Ka-POLL, motherfuckers!

This poll is no longer accepting votes

Which Game?

In case anyone is unfamiliar with the games in question, I feel the below is enough to give you a good idea of what each is about.

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play:

God, I love this game. Been playing it for years. Not a huge fan of tabletop wargames with their expensive fiddly models and such, but this is a gem of a setting jam-packed full of adventure, grim peril and Small But Vicious Dogs. Players are hapless adventurers drawn together by cruel fate to witness and battle plots and threats to the Empire of Sigmar. It’s like the Holy Roman Empire but more deep dark woods, grotesque beasts, monsters, mutants and insane cultists, if such is possible.

Coriolis: The Third Horizon:

God, I love this game. The general premise is “Arabian Nights in Space”, so players can expect a great many bazaars, opium dens, magnificent architecture, and advanced technology living uneasily beside a variety of philosophical, mystical and sometimes downright occult threats from The Darkness Between The Stars, from mad doomsday cults to starships possessed by electric djinni.

Elite: Dangerous RPG:

God, I love this game. Based off the videogame series which has been going since the 1980s, which means there’s a tonne of lore, factions, politics and perhaps most importantly, space ships. It has a short punchy rule system for players, with rather more complicated options for spaceship combat, because each player begins with their own little ship capable of FTL travel. Combat is brutally dangerous. It is possible to just play by randomly generating encounter after encounter, as they went to great lengths to make it playable without a GM if you really want.

Alien: The RPG:

God I love this game. It is perfect for capturing the mood of the first two films depending on how you want to play it. Space is cold, dark, vast, and not your friend. You might not even like the crew you were assigned to work with. But you have to depend on each other because all it takes is on fried circuitboard and everyone dies. And of course if corporate brinkmanship and interstellar cold war between the United Americas and the Union of Progressive Peoples wasn’t enough, there are murderous alien killing machines out there in the black. And I’m not even talking about the xenomorphs themselves, who are just absolutely fucking horrifying.

Four beautiful choices, four fantastic RPGs that I would dearly love to run, was I capable of running four completely different games a week like I was before my spirit was crushed and sucked dry by the lumbering uncaring behemoth of scientific academia. Please, for the love of gods help me make a choice, I can barely function as a human being right now beyond hugging my dog and hoping that this hellish plague will finally come under the control of vaccines some time next year.

Do it for Duilleog.

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Uncategorized

3am Musings

Going to bed (very) early is good for you right?

3am, despite my best efforts, is a time I encounter far too regularly of late. Of course, time itself has lost all meaning thanks to the lockdowns we keep having to undergo because the government decided it was more important for pubs to open than for citizens to not fucking die. The isolation-based depression now has a chance to interact with seasonal depression, and the results are going to be very interesting. Fucking blueshirts. Not nearly enough of them died fighting for Franco…

My little WFRP publication is still in the charts at DriveThruRPG, which is simply astounding. Granted, it’s dropped to #4 on the under $5 list, and #15 overall, but that’s still quite respectable, and way better than I’d expected for a first time attempt at doing this stuff professionally.

I sent off invoices for another small project this afternoon, which I hope will see the light of day in another month or two. I might have gotten in on a slightly larger project happening in January, I’ll know more about that in the next week or so. That’s a good start for a freelance TTRPG writer, I think.

All work and no play however, does… something, I forget exactly how that one goes. I’m currently playing in a friend’s campaign of Forbidden Lands, another Free League game, but this one has a retro pulp adventure feel to it, like Indiana Jones meets Conan the Barbarian, crossed with the survival/crafting mechanics of Minecraft. For centuries, the Ravenlands were too dangerous to travel, the Blood Mist of Zygofer the Spellbinder would take anyone not hiding indoors at night. Five years ago, the Blood Mist vanished, and travel beyond one’s village is suddenly viable. The lands are still horrendously dangerous; Zygofer was said to deal with demons, and to create all manner of abhorrent combinations of man and beast. The religious order that served him, the Rust Brothers, still go about their grisly business. But for those brave or foolish enough there is opportunity aplenty in the abandoned ruins and deep forests.

I would love to get a campaign of my own going in the near future while I’m at it. For obvious reasons I’ve been reading a lot of Warhammer Fantasy, and Cubicle 7 gave me the Age of Sigmar core book as payment for running a few convention games for them. While I don’t particularly care for the AoS tabletop wargame, the RPG looks to be fascinating and I’d love to give it a try.

There’s also Coriolis of course. I have read a few more adventures since I wrote that blog, and god damn but I love the setting. I must try and get something together there. If I get the chance to stream a campaign again, it’ll almost certainly be Coriolis. I just get a great feeling from how the writing and setting inform the mechanics and vice versa.

Buuuuut that’s not going to happen straight away. I should probably go to bed.

Categories
TTRPG Uncategorized Updates WFRP

Holy Shit, I’m Published

Am I a real writer now?

Seriously. Not only did the editors approve every single terrible joke I wrote, they even ADDED some!

One Shots of the Reikland was a long time coming, due in good part to the fucking death plague we’ve all been trying to hide from for almost a year. I have been a fan of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play for Quite Some Time, becoming instantly hooked when the 2nd edition made it into my local game shop. Oh, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many introductory sessions at college I ran, or full-on campaigns myself and friends ran for each other. The game was a classic. The rules were so simple, the mechanics so clever, and everything so lovingly written and illustrated. It took the vast wealth of the setting that surrounded the tabletop wargames, and added depth and complexity to that world that you just can’t get with the wargame (and arguably shouldn’t try, it’s a good wargame). Now I could see what the common folks of the Empire get up to when the grand armies aren’t on the march, I could take a look at the secret plots and cults that worked behind the scenes, where an army couldn’t go.

One of my favourite memories of 2nd Edition is a lengthy campaign with a proper conclusion (an almost unheard of occurrence in those days of playing until one or more players ran out of interest) that a friend ran for me and some friends. It followed the fortunes of a lesser noble family down on their luck and with no real allies to turn to, who ended up combing the ruins of the cursed city of Mordheim not long after it was destroyed.

My character was… several steps removed from any hope of an inheritance, would be the politest way to say it, and had become a priest of Sigmar. He insisted from day one on having a two-handed warhammer which he could not wield until much later on, and developed a worrying habit of leaping into battle without armour, screaming “MY FAITH IS MY SHIELD!” which was even more hilarious to us for the fact that more often than not an enemy would genuinely miss, or fail to do any damage at all, when I screamed that just before the dice rolled. Of course when it didn’t work it REALLY didn’t work, and the poor lad took more than his fair share of insanity points from critical wounds. A good time was had by all at that table.

I’m saying all this so that when I tell you that I’m not just praising the game because I made a little money writing some adventures for it, you know I mean it. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever get asked to write a little bit of WFRP action. This is a Big Deal for me.

It also helps that it jumped to #1 on the DriveThruRPG under $5 list and #4 overall (Beaten by Cyberpunk, Vampire, and another WFRP book). TTRPG players like them some Warhammer.

excuse me HOW is something I wrote rubbing shoulders with these huge names!?

So. That’s a nice thing that happened recently.

Yes, I am busy on other projects.

No, I can’t say whomst or what.

But I can say I’m excited about it. >_>

Categories
Fluffdiving From Patreon TTRPG

An exercise in world-building

Or: why you shouldn't stay up til 5am playing Scifi horror

The end of the world was right on schedule, nutcases and all. The richest evangelicals were no exception. A second Flood was coming, they said, and none on earth would be spared. Details varied from figurehead to figurehead, and espionage was rife between groups with differing interpretations of one book or another, but there was no setback more donations from the faithful couldn’t fix. We don’t know how many succeeded in the end, but several massive vessels took shape in orbit, funded by armies of loyal fanatics eager to buy their ticket to paradise. They were dubbed Arks, of course, each one the sole anointed saviour of humanity for thousands on board as they set off, the best technology money could buy, piloted by numerologists who saw a map of heaven in whatever ancient scriptures most appealed to them.

Those of us left behind, the alleged lost and damned, tried to get on with our lives in the face of impending Armageddon. Surprisingly, it didn’t happen. Maybe because so many assholes fled to the stars, or because they took so much with them, or maybe the sheer idiocy of the act simply knocked sense into the world’s remaining leaders, but cooler heads prevailed, ceasefires were made, agreements signed,  treaties ratified. We had a chance at repairing some of the damage to the planet. Maybe even most of it. The UN grew teeth, and brought rogue nations to heel from North Korea to the remaining United States. People started to hope.

Then the Arks returned.

After decades in space we thought the ones that hadn’t exploded had reached the edge of the solar system. The first ignored attempts at contact and flew straight into the atmosphere, breaking apart and burning to dust save for some minor impacts in Siberia. The second stopped over the Pacific, in a geosynchronous orbit exactly above the halfway point of the main tectonic fault line. This one responded to calls from earth, although most wished it hadn’t; the video feeds show dark, empty corridors and unmanned stations, the thousand or so passengers nowhere to be seen, and the only audio response to any contact is the scream of a man that has not stopped in 3 years.

We had assembled a team of astronauts to investigate this ghost ship when the third Ark returned, stopping above the side of the moon forever facing earth, casting a shadow visible to the naked eye. This one contacted us first, four voices in unison broadcast worldwide. They simply said “come and see”.

And then, all Hell broke loose.

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Uncategorized

Leo Varadkar Reviews

A neoliberal shit plays some video games

Dungeon Keeper:

I couldn’t give it a more brand-friendly name like “Welfare Office” so I turned it into a prison. And still nobody came! Apparently the game doesn’t think criminals sprout out of the ground fully formed. Poor realism IMO.

I like how you can slap imps to make them work faster. I assume the same is true of other minions, but I have yet to see a single one of them so I can’t confirm. I don’t understand why there are no minions in my dungeon; I’ve found several portals, which I’m told are where the minions all come from, but despite turning every single tile of my dungeon into a casino, I am alone, the imps I create through magic my only friends.

The Batman Arkham series:

I think there’s a plot to these but honestly I’m just so busy slamming the head of what I think are dirty welfare cheats into concrete walls, the story doesn’t matter so much tbh

Oh, I like this. You start off as a billionaire, for a start, and things only get better. You get to spend the entire game beating up criminals while the police just let you, it’s just like in Eoin O’Duffy’s time! Well, I assume they’re criminals. They’re definitely poor, and that’s basically the same thing. BAM!! Just broke that dole scounger’s nose. KAPOW!! That illness benefit leech won’t walk again, haha! SPLAFF!! I hope you like soup pal, because you definitely can’t afford the dentist now! It’s just the feelgood game of the year, every year.

Frostpunk:

Ahhh, the smoke of industry, making me wealthy, while sapping the strength of the children working the furnaces so they can’t overth- WAIT WHAT NO

This game starts off great. You’re in charge of everything, and you get to make the big decisions about where society goes and how it should be governed, all in some freezing post-apocalyptic world where something bad happened, but I quickly lost interest in the plot, the important thing is I’m the leader right now. There are some really appealing options, like fascism and capital punishment, but the game quickly loses points for attaching consequences to everything you do. I don’t see why the game has to ruin the fun I have from making society run on child labour by suddenly ending because the children are dead and people revolted.

Untitled Goose Game:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA YOU STUPID POOR CHILD I’M GOING TO RUIN YOUR PARENTS HOUSE AND GET YOU EVICTED TOO

Ahahaha you can upset the poors by stealing their things and then steal the child’s plane and make him pay for it again and again and again and again and again and

Tonight We Riot:

Why can’t you play this cop? I WANT A STRONG MARKET DAMN IT

Oh I don’t like this. You start off poor, and then the police come and beat you. I tried to tell them I wasn’t a filthy prole and that I could point out some real working class people for them oppress but the developers seem to have forgotten to add that as an option. I’ve emailed them about it several times, but they haven’t replied.

Categories
Uncategorized Updates

Sleep is for the Week

Not so much update as... side-date?

To this day I’m not sure whether I slept badly, or didn’t take my meds at the right time, or still suffer fatigue from the mononucleosis I caught at the end of 2006. It’s a fun guessing game the whole family can enjoy.

Anyway. Work is slow for various reasons, some of which are even legitimate. The fatigue, the death plague and its daily dose of existential horror as the government keeps telling us it’s about personal responsibility when they’re the ones packing total strangers into schools, colleges, Direct Provision internment camps and meat packing plants. They’re still clinging to some farcical notion that a highly contagious virus just… magically refuses to jump hosts as long as they’re all listening to a teacher, or that the millionaire owners of factories can be trusted to treat their workers safely instead of demanding more work for less time and ignoring any and all safety measures that get in the way of profits. Sooner or later socioeconomic groups the public actually gives a shit about are going to start dying, and I just want it on record that you were all fucking warned and the people who COULD have done something actively decided not to.

tfw you’re daydreaming about killing all the filthy Poors

Existential horror notwithstanding, some things ARE happening work-wise. If all goes well I’ll be able to brag about it as early as next week. Suffice to say that freelance writing for TTRPG publishers is certainly less *regular* work than slaving in a lab from 8am-9pm every day including holidays for less than 18k a year, but by all the gods it’s a HELL of a lot more satisfying. And even if it is an incredibly niche geek hobby, orders of magnitude more people will still actually read the fucking thing. Impact factor only seems like a big deal to scientists because they’re fucking thrilled if the paper they spent 5 years writing gets read by a dozen other scientists.

Why yes, I *am* still angry, thank you for asking.

Gaelcon is just around the corner, and honestly I could get used to attending in an online capacity instead of the monumental hassle of finding affordable accommodation in Dublin on a bank holiday weekend with a literal marathon happening too.

I’ll be helping out the lovely folks of Cubicle 7, who are running a few Warhammer Fantasy tables to entice people to buy the 4th Ed. books (you should by the way, it’s very much like they took all the 2nd Ed. books and distilled one massive core book out of them. There’s loads of fluff and lore, the magic system is greatly expanded and very distinct from priests and their miraculous abilities, and it’s topped off with some REALLY good artwork).

I’m also writing an Alien scenario. I prefer running campaigns for Alien instead of one-shot sessions, it’s better for pacing the rise and fall of tension and players can manage their character’s Stress/panic better, but the “cinematic” scenario definitely has its place. Because I’m a very *lazy* writer, I’m taking the recently published multi-session “Destroyer of Worlds” scenario that I ran for some friends, and building an unofficial sequel off that. I already have the Kruger 60 system and the (now mostly destroyed) colony of Ariarcus mapped out on Roll20 as a result, so I’ve been able to focus on just writing some plot that wakes a hapless crew of space-truckers from hypersleep light years away from their destination because of a distress signal from what should be a lifeless icy rock after a major war with deadly chemical weapons happened on and above it.

Curious, that.

Right, I’ve just realised I wrote all this as procrastination; I should finish writing that Alien game. Bye.

Categories
Fluffdiving Reviews TTRPG

Coriolis: The Third Horizon

In which I wax lyrical about a game I have yet to actually play

Coriolis - A Sci-Fi RPG from the makers of Mutant: Year ...
Coriolis Core book cover

Free League Publishing have quickly found a soft spot in my heart, like some burrowing parasite that lays its eggs in there to be whisked off around the body until they hatch. I had heard very good things about Tales From the Loop/Things From the Flood, but I hadn’t actually paid them much attention until they announced Alien, and anyone who knows me knows that if there’s one movie monster I fucking love it’s good ol’ face hugging, chestbursting head chomping xenomorphs. I fell in love with the system, so simple and yet so very good at representing the players’ slowly rising panic, and I’ve run several games of it since it came out almost a year ago. I’ve since gone in hard on Free League games, picking up Tales/Things From the Loop/Flood, Vaesen, Symbaroum, and now Coriolis: The Third Horizon. I haven’t actually sat down to play it yet, but I know the core system inside out from all the other Free League games (with some small modifications of course), and I know that any game using that as its core is easy to learn, versatile and doesn’t bog the story down in working out complicated dice rolls. These are all things I love as a GM, and the only thing that would spoil them really is a terrible GM or a dull setting.

Thankfully, I’m actually a pretty fucking good GM, and more to the point, Coriolis is not at all dull.

One thing that I cannot stress enough about Free League’s games is how good the artwork is. It ranges from super-detailed to almost abstract broad strokes, but it’s always vivid and colourful and very much in harmony with the writing. Even Alien’s dimly lit, grimy starship interiors are balanced with blazing fires, bright splashes of yellow-green acid blood and the multi-hued glare of CRT computer monitors. So it’s no surprise that Coriolis is, upon first glance, fucking gorgeous.

Space is vast and dark, but the stars and planets blaze with colour. The setting’s “Arabian Nights in Space” aesthetic is very strong, with architecture, fashion, customs and landscapes drawing heavily from North African, West Asian and some South European cultures. First impressions put me in mind of Destiny 2 at times, with places, people and even starships sporting a blending of sleek and futuristic with the sort of decorative embellishments you might expect to see adorning a priceless museum artifact. If you can picture “Warhammer 40K but flying space-mosques instead of Space-Catholic” you’re headed in the right direction. Souks, bazaars, cantinas and oases are more likely where your adventures will take you, as well as space.

What of the lore? Well, There have been three great pushes by humanity in colonising the stars over history, and each new region was called a Horizon. Somewhere in the distant past, the first Portals were discovered; The first cluster of worlds colonised by Portal travel was called the First Horizon, and so on. A schism grew between the First and Second Horizons as people flocked to the Third to escape the increasing oppression of the others. At some point in the past the Portal Wars began across all Horizons, and ended, at least in the Third, with a battle that destroyed the Third Horizon’s only link to the older Horizons. There was a long dark age after that, until a ship called the Zenith appeared. It was a colony ship carrying hundreds of thousands of people in cryostasis from ancient Earth, and they were quite surprised to find that the star system they’d set out to colonise had already been colonised 500 years before they arrived. Still, they couldn’t just head back, so they elected to turn their massive colony ship into an equally massive space station dubbed Coriolis. Today it functions as a sort of Babylon 5/Deep Space Nine for all the peoples of the Third Horizon. Which is to say it’s full of diplomats, traders, emissaries, crooks, assassins, religious zealots and enough courtly intrigue to put Game of Thrones to shame. Entire campaigns could be set there without the players having to leave.

The titular station is B I G

Enter the players! And your ship! The game revolves around the crew of a ship, who may have a patron or other authority to send them on missions, or who may be freelancers, scavengers, explorers or whatever. Like the other Free League games there’s a *sort* of class system which gives access to a list of exclusive abilities, but everyone gets the same points for their attributes and skills, as well as a generic list of abilities, so there’s a tonne of possible within classes. When a roll is called for, you add the relevant attribute and skill and roll that many d6. If you get at least one 6, you pass. Roll three or more 6s and you have a critical success. In combat you can trade excess 6s for benefits like damage or called shots. If you want, you can “Pray to the Icons” (the Icons are the main pantheon of gods in the Third Horizon, quite beautifully represented in the deck of cards that comes with the game), and re-roll the dice in a test that didn’t come up 6. If you do that though, the GM gets a Darkness Point. Which brings us to the Darkness Between the Stars. It’s an unknown (perhaps unknowable) force which spawns all manner of evil and corruption. Possession, ethereal monsters, even powerful djinni can all be introduced by the Darkness. The antagonists at the back of the book often have special abilities that can be activated by Darkness Points, so the player really has to consider whether re-rolling those dice might lead to horrible consequences later on. It’s a simple twist that’s at once similar to their other games but tailored towards the mystical almost heroic aspect of the setting instead of, say, the grim tension and horror of Alien. There are more little twists, but suffice to say it’s very simple as mechanics go and I like it a lot.

What else? Well, there are over 30 systems in the Third Horizon, some safe, others horrifically dangerous. There are jungles and deserts and forests and swamps, mighty cities and squalid backwater settlements. Religion and social etiquette are very important to the various cultures, and play a major role in the mysticism most people apply in their daily lives. While the setting is very human centric there *are* a couple of alien species you can play if you want, albeit with the caveat that they are seen by most as a bit primitive, and by some as amusing pets. Oh, yeah, there’s some slavery, because RPG designers love having slavery in their settings for some reason. You can ignore it if it bothers you; the Third Horizon is a big place with plenty of other things to do after all.

Again, I really cannot stress how GOOD the art in Free League books is.

And that’s basically (very basically) Coriolis: The Third Horizon. It’s well-presented, very simple mechanically, rich in lore and fluff, and from the looks of it has strong support from the publishers (“The Free League” is a faction in the setting that the publishers took their name from, so it’s safe to say they’re fans). I am absolutely dying to get a game of it going some time soon. Once I’m done with Gaelcon, perhaps…

Categories
Duilleog

Here are some Dog Photos

D O G

Look, it’s content isn’t it? And the internet loves a Good Dog. And as Good Dogs go, Duilleog is right up there. Soon after this she bit my nose. Not hard, I’m not at all injured, just… one of her fangs went up a nostril and it was Not Wholesome and I didn’t take a picture.

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Uncategorized

Some manner of progress

The place is starting to come together. There’s still plenty of work to do, I’m continually messing with the colour scheme to find something nice and easy on the eyes. Of course the theme I went with is set up to automatically change text colour to maximum contrast, which makes for clear text in all situations I’ll admit but ends up being rather harsh after a while. I’ll delve into the CSS at some point to see if I can soften it a little without entirely breaking the site and having to start from scratch.

There’s a Downloads section now, where I’m putting up bits and pieces. Some are freebies from my Patreon, others are TTRPGs I ran for one convention or another down through the years. It’ll definitely undergo more tweaking as I add more things, to avoid an endlessly-lengthening page as well as offer some manner of sorting/grouping, so when I finally upload a voice recording you won’t have to hunt through a list of TTRPGs to find it.

That’s enough for now. I leave you with a picture of me enjoying a beer in response to Minister for the State Patrick O’Donovan calling for off-licenses to be punished for selling reasonably priced beer while COVID is preventing pubs cramming as many people into their venues as they can. “When you see slabs of cans being taken home you know that they are not being taken home for an after-dinner aperitif”, he said, proving himself to be a shit-eating fuckhead pretending to be high-class, who doesn’t know that an aperitif comes before dinner and after dinner one has a digestif. I suppose if Fine Gael can’t be classy, they’ll settle for classIST.

The raised pinky is crucial
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Uncategorized Updates

Hello world

Boop!

Right, so. I went and got myself a website, obviously. They’ve been getting popular since the 90s so I suppose it’s about time I got in on that sweet dot com lucre, which surely hasn’t collapsed since I last checked around the time Netscape was the most popular browser.

I’m still finding my feet around all the new gadgets and menus and domain management bits and bobs, so I wouldn’t be expecting great things just yet. But I’m sure this place will come in handy at some point. At the very least it’ll be a place for dumping pictures and videos of Duilleog instead of being restricted to everyone’s favourite Nazi-riddled social media platform Twitter.

Blatant filler content

Right, that’s about it for now. Stay safe and wash your damn hands, everyone.