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Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

Fun With Side-Quests

A Tale From the Third Horizon

[Due to a plethora of scheduling issues, it has been EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to get a session of Coriolis going in the last couple of months. Last Thursday I decided come hell or high water I would run it with whoever managed to show up, which turned out to be only 2 of the team. To keep things manageable (and also because Free League finally provided official support for the Foundry modules so it was ready to go) I opted to run the adventure “The Statuette of Zhar Bhagra” from the core book. It didn’t seem entirely fair to continue the campaign proper with half the crew missing.]

It has been a week (9 days) since the Blue Beetle’s encounter with the horrific remnant of Nazareem’s Sacrifice on Xene’s 5th moon. Nine days since they received an invitation to the wedding of a man who received rather… unique, life advice from Pol the Mildly Blasphemous. The crew had been relaxing, trying to forget the hideous Darkbound entities that attacked them, or at least forget how there were still traces of humanity in their monstrous, hateful forms. It is the 14th day of the Segment of the Messenger, when the ship’s AI announced an incoming communication from a man named Merez Alcan.

Ash, being a data spider, but more importantly being paranoid, immediately began searching the name, while Fattah answered the call. Merez was a man in his late middle-age, with neatly trimmed hair and beard both gone grey. A cybernetic eye peering from one socket put one in mind of a monacle, how it whirred and changed shape. He regarded Fattah warmly.

“Good day to you, I am addressing the crew of the Blue Beetle, yes? Excellent. My name is Merez Alcan, and you were recommended to me by my contacts as efficient and discreet when it comes to finding things and people.

Merez Alcan

“I would like to hire you for just such a case. I am an antiques dealer by trade, and one of my associates has gone missing. His name is Lavim Tamm, and I last saw him 3 days ago when I had agreed to purchase an item from him. My own sources cannot find any trace of him, but missing people are not exactly their expertise, and so I turn to outside help. I am prepared to pay 1,000 birr per day plus expenses, for you to try and find Lavim and the item of interest, with a bonus of… shall we say 10,000 birr, if you locate both?”

Fattah quickly ran the numbers in his head, and found the results quite pleasing. “I think we are certainly interested, Mr. Alcan, but I cannot speak for everyone. Please, allow us a moment to discuss the matter, and we will answer shortly.”

“Of course, I quite understand.”

With a bleep, the call ended.

“So what did you dig up, Ash?”

“Merez Alcan, antiques dealer right enough. Owns a respectable establishment on the classier end of Archaeology Alley near the Spring Plaza. Good reputation, known to be firm but fair and honourable in his dealings, nothing particularly weird or suspect.

“Lavim Tamm, though. Not much to go on. Graduated in archaeology on Coriolis a cycle ago. Not a registered inhabitant of Coriolis since his student days, or of anywhere else in the Kuan system. There are references to a Tamm family in the neighbouring Aiwaz system, might be him? Last reference I have is he was working for a professor called Zhar Bhagra, kind of infamous in archaeology circles, headed several expeditions to Firstcome and suspected Portal-Builder digsites.”

“Sounds fairly standard ‘missing person’, might be a nice change from, ahem, recent unpleasantness. And a thousand birr a day is nothing to be sneezed at.”

“I agree.”

Merez picked up the call almost immediately.

“Mr. Alcan, we would be only too happy to take the job for you.”

“Excellent, I am pleased. Allow me to give you what information I can. Mr. Tamm was one of a number of archaeological experts studying and working under the esteemed professor Zhar Bhagra, who most recently embarked on an expedition to the jungles of Kua, searching the Terenganu Plateau region if I remember correctly. That was several cycles ago, and there has been little communication from the expedition, which I usually take to mean that they are too busy discovering exquisite ruins and items.

“Now, like I said, I have my own network of contacts in the archaeology world, there being quite the overlap between that field and my line of business as you can imagine. So it was that I learned… oh, five days ago now, that Lavim Tamm had arrived on Coriolis, and that he had a number of curiosities with him. I reached out to express an interest, and three days ago we agreed on the sale of one item in particular over a video call. That call appears to be the last time anyone saw him. I am reasonably certain that he did not leave Coriolis, as a friend in the Judicators tells me there is no record of anyone matching his likeness departing. Perhaps you can succeed where I and my sources have failed.”

“We will certainly try. Can you provide us with the video call you mentioned? If that is his most recent likeness it may be helpful.”

“Ah, of course, I will forward it as soon as we are done. Is there anything else I may help with?”

The crew considered, and asked a number of questions. Lavim Tamm appeared to have been drinking when Merez had made the deal, although not nearly to the degree that such a deal could be rendered invalid. The last time his communication’s locator had been active was in the Spice Plaza. The item Merez wanted was an ancient Firstcome depiction of the Dancer, a particularly ugly statuette of an obscure aspect of that Icon called “The Shadow Monkey”. Far too unsightly to be worth much to the average person, but to certain collectors and students of theology it would be worth a great deal of money. No, Lavim was not known to have enemies, it was not known why he had left Zhar Bhagra’s expedition, and he had no known associates on Coriolis.

Their questions answered, the crew awaited the archived communication between Lavim and Merez. Lavim was indeed drunk. As they watched, he knocked back a tiny glass filled with clear amber-yellow liquid. Probably Miran fire kohôl, rather rare on Coriolis which tended to frown on public drunkenness, but the Spice Plaza would be an excellent place to find it, and thus they had a lead to pursue.

The Spice Plaza was crowded, and few people had the time to stop to examine a picture of a missing person. When fire kohôl was mentioned, however, those people flashed a rogueish smile and pointed them to either the bazaar kohôl trader Abzir, or the White Tugur Bar just on the edge of the Plaza. They decided that in the video call, Lavim’s surroundings looked like some manner of cantina or bar, and so they drew aside the bead curtain and stepped inside the White Tugur.

The bustling Spice Plaza

The bouncers outside were very imposing, but well dressed and impeccably mannered. Almost as soon as they entered, a middle-aged woman in Miran finery rushed to greet them.

“Welcome to the White Tugur Bar! It is a delight to see new faces. I am Jasina, the matriarch of this humble establishment.”

Ash was all smiles; she smelled kawah. “Thank you, Jasina. We were recommended this place by a friend, we’ve been looking forward to a visit. Is that kawah I smell?”

“It is indeed. Please, sit wherever you wish. Jinna! Food and kawah menus, please!”

Ash went for the third-most expensive coffee, splashing out 20 whole birr on a pot of Dabaran berry-kawah; an odd strain of bean that was halfway to being a dark, tangy fruit, but it percolated as well as any other, with an above average caffeine content and unique flavour profile including more than merely hints of blackberry and blueberry.

She savoured it as if it were words of wisdom straight from the Icons themselves.

“Delicious. Absolutely wonderful. Lavim was right about you.”

“Lavim… Lavi- Oh, the archaeology fellow? Yes, he does quite enjoy it here.”

“Has he visited recently? I only ask because we haven’t been able to contact him in the last few days. I’d hoped to come here with him but…”

Jasina put her hands on her hips, thinking. “Now you mention it, I haven’t seen a trace of him in… three days? Which is odd, usually he and Jinna are thick as thieves. Actually, maybe Jinna knows. Hey Jinna! Can you- oh!”

She turned around to see Jinna, who must have been listening, flee through the front door with a panicked expression.

“Well isn’t that typical. She has taken her break early. I was going to say, Jinna might be able to help you with Lavim, they’re good friends…”

Ash quickly sent a message to Dav, waiting outside, to follow the girl who had just fled the bar.

“I say,” said Jasina, seeing how seriously Ash and Fattah were taking things, “… Is… Is Lavim in some kind of trouble?”

“I hope not, ” replied Ash, “I really, truly hope not. But we need to find him to make sure.”

“I see. Well… I hope you find him soon, then. I’m rather fond of the boy. I mean I don’t mind if Jinna is in trouble, she’s far from the best waiter I’ve employed, but Lavim’s a good soul. You know how some mothers will say to their daughters, ‘Oh daughter, I love you… but I prefer him’?”

Ash indicated that she did, indeed, know exactly what Jasina meant. Thanking her for the coffee, the pair left to consider their next move.

The cramped, decadent splendour of the Student District

Dav had shadowed Jinna halfway across the station, reporting that she went to ground in the University District in the station Core. Ash decided to see what kind of digital footprint Jinna had. There was nothing particularly surprising. Final year of university, a year behind Lavim. Social net images of the two sightseeing or at gatherings. Working at the White Tugur to pay off student loans. Some rather lax university network security allowed Ash to determine Jinna’s class schedules and locations for the coming evening. The crew decided to wait on the path between classes and have a chat with her. Given that she had already run from Fattah and Ash, it was decided that Poll and Dav would intercept her.

Ash and Fattah were out of earshot when Pol began speaking to Jinna. She prayed to the Icons that he be convincing in spite of what he actually said. True to form, whatever it was he DID say (The only audible part was him exclaiming “like a giraffe’s PLUMS!”), it was enough to convince Jinna the crew meant no harm. She walked over to Ash and Fattah.

Jinna apologised for running earlier. She had seen Lavim, yes, but he was convinced that someone was following him with ill intent, and Jinna had assumed that Ash and/or Fattah were that someone. Like everyone else, she had not seen him in three days.

“But the last time I did see him, he said he was going to a place called Kaffra’s Antiques. I don’t know what for.”

It wasn’t much, but it was all they had. Fattah and Ash set out to the seedier part of Archaeology Alley, where Kaffra’s shop was alleged to be. Those who gave directions insisted that they would find far better in other shops, rather than “that quack Kaffra”, but directed them nonetheless. Kaffra herself was a wizened old woman with black hair, almost lost behind a prodigious number of embroidered shawls. Ash and Fattah posed as concerned friends of Jinna, looking for a charm or talisman that might help her forget her rotten, deadbeat boyfriend Lavim. Perhaps Kaffra was moved by their testimony of the hearbreak Lavim had caused, or perhaps it was because they didn’t haggle when she asked for 10 birr for a piece of half-rotted wood allegedly blessed by the Faceless One, but she recounted her own story, where Lavim came in to ask strange questions, with something wrapped up under one arm. When she asked what it was he was holding, he got very angry and left.

Being… perhaps slightly less possessed of nobility and grace than her peers, Kaffrah followed him, intending to pay for some burly stevedore to teach the impudent youngster some manners. But when she saw the flea-ridden boarding house he entered, half conscious after nearly a whole bottle of fire kohôl, Kaffra decided that perhaps he was punishing himself enough without her intervention. She gave the Blue Beetle crew the flophouse address, high up in the Promenade between the Spring and Market Plazas, perhaps thinking he still deserved a piece of someone’s mind for speaking like that to an elder.

On leaving Kaffra’s, Fattah and Ash became aware that someone was following them, a young woman by what they could make out underneath a dark, hooded kaftan. She was clearly no stranger to shadowing people, and it took every ounce of focus for Ash and Fattah to remain aware of her. Before leaving Archaeology Alley, they decided to head away from the flophouse where they might find Lavim, and then to split up and hopefully catch their follower by surprise.

They parted ways at the Spring Plaza. The mysterious shadow elected to follow Fattah, giving Ash leeway to circle around and ambush her. Ash crept close, then all of a sudden wrapped her arms around the stranger as if embracing a friend (and making escape all but impossible), exclaiming “Cousin! It’s been so LONG, how have you BEEN!?”

The woman tensed, taken completely by surprise. Ash could feel the faint smile on the woman’s lips as she said “Cleverly done. People are looking at us now, I cannot run or retaliate. Release me, and we shall talk.”

The woman brushed back her hood, revealing a calm, bright-eyed woman in her mid-twenties. Her stare was piercing, and her faint smile constantly suggested she knew something an onlooker did not. Both were quickly explained by her next words.

Salindre, with a fearsome meson handgun, which sadly did not make an appearance thanks to the players doing a pacifist run

“I am Salindre. I am a Draconite.”

The Draconites were a mystery. Originally, they were part of the crew of the Zenith, that great colony ship that arrived in the Third Horizon 65 cycles ago, which became the mighty station Coriolis and revived trade and travel across the Third Horizon. The Draconites saw the officer families of the Zenith arguing about the future of hundreds of thousands of people still in cryosleep, and revived all of them, so that they could decide for themselves. They then disappeared out into the great darkness of space. Decades later they returned, styled as disciplined warrior-philosophers, possessing advanced technology clearly not of the Third Horizon, and esoteric, mysterious beliefs to match. They are tight lipped, and thus far the only belief they have let slip to the greater public is their mantra: “Through conflict, the truth.” This has fuelled all manner of wild speculation, about their battle-prowess, and how they strive to win some “inner conflict”. The Draconites, for their part, say nothing, but their fearlessness in battle and diplomacy speak volumes.

“You are looking for a man who was part of Zhar Bhagra’s last expedition. I can tell you that Lavim Tamm is the sole survivor of that endeavour. Professor Bhagra found what he was looking for, and meddled with powers he did not understand. Lavim fled here, hoping to sell the statuette you no doubt wish to acquire for your employer.”

“How’d you know all that?”

She smiled. “I am a Draconite.”

“Uh, that doesn’t really answer the question.”

“I know. But it is the answer with which you must be content. Allow me to be blunt: I am not interested in Lavim Tamm, unless he is beyond saving. The statuette he carries is a thing of darkness. You have faced humans possessed by the great hunger that dwells in the black, have you not?”

Mentioning the Dark Between the Stars in polite company was a major taboo. Salindre clearly wanted to impress the seriousness of the matter on the crew.

“We have. It’s not something I wish to see happen to anyone else.”

“Indeed. The statuette is a thing of evil. It warps the mind, and perhaps the body. But its most damnable feature is that it is a weapon. Its malign influence can, with the correct knowledge, be directed. Do you understand? Merez Alcan works for the Syndicate. He keeps this secret closer to him than anything else. Should the Syndicate acquire the statuette, it is only a matter of time – and innocent bodies – until they unlock its full potential. I wish to ensure the statuette is placed beyond the reach of anyone who would attempt to use it. Should Lavim Tamm still be human, he is no concern of mine.”

“And if he… isn’t human?”

“Then you know he must be destroyed. The sooner we move, the better it will be for him. I propose that our interests are aligned, at least in this matter?”

Ash, suspicious to a fault, reluctantly agreed.

“Ok, we’ll go to Lavim, take him back to our ship, sober him up, and… work something out. Come on.”

The flophouse was a dismal place. The smell was awful, the air felt greasy in some manner, and the surly ex-Legion proprietor was not in the mood for small talk. As soon as he heard they were looking for a drunk man, he led them straight to Lavim’s deplorable room, where he was almost blind drunk. “AHA! I kneeeeeeeewwwwww I was being flflflflollowed! Go on then, k’ll me. Can’t be worser than… than the dreams in my heeeeeaaauuuurrrrrgblblbblblffftp” Lavim’s flow was interrupted by a stream of vomit which splashed on Ash’s shoes to her great annoyance. She looked at Salindre.

“He is… not corrupted by darkness, which is the nicest thing I can say about him.”

“Good enough for us. Fattah, can you hail a taxi? I don’t want him puking on my boots again.”

A grav-chair taxi ferried the motley crew to the Neoptra port, where the Blue Beetle was docked. Manhandling Lavim into the medbay, they called on Pol to see what could be done about his impressive insobriety. Pol administered a cocktail of antitoxins and alcohol destroying enzymes, and within 30 minutes Lavim was desperately hungover, but coherent.

“So you’re not here to kill me?” he said almost hopefully, clutching his aching head.

“Nope, we just want the statue you were going to sell to Merez Alcan.”

“Oh. Pity, my head is… Ugh. Look, I hid it, ok? It’s in a bag tucked into a crack under one of the bridges across the Promenade. It… I kept having dreams. Really, really horrible ones. I’ll give you the coordinates, just keep it away from me.”

Ash put on her Things-Shall-Be-Thus voice.

“Right, here’s what’s going to happen. Salindre, you go get your statue. We’ll keep Lavim here for 24 hours, then tell Alcan we found him but the statue’s long gone. We won’t get as big a bonus, but some birr is better than none. And you, Lavim, had better come up with a good bloody excuse for messing about with Jinna like you did!”

“Jinna? But I… Oh. You’re right. The poor-“

“Shut up, Lavim.”

“Shutting up right now, ma’am.”

Perhaps 20 minutes later, they received a message from an anonymous, untraceable user:

“Item secured. Recommend you inspect the bridge nevertheless; I was only after the statuette. Walk in the light of the Icons.”

The next morning, they sent Dav and Pol to inspect the bridge, while Ash and Fattah went over their plan. Before long Dav called them, but it was not Dav’s voice on the communicator.

“I think we should meet. I’ll be at the bridge. You know the one.” Merez Alcan hung up.

Merez was waiting at the far end of the bridge, a roadway near the top of the Promenade for maintenance vehicles and repair teams to access the maze of ducts and cables above. He was flanked by four strong young men, two of which held Dav and Pol, their hands tied.

“Where is my statue?” Merez took a few steps forward.

“No idea” replied Ash, truthfully. “Could be anywhere by now.”

“This is very disappointing. I said that the statuette was worth a great deal of money, did I not? That your payment hinged upon its recovery?”

He took a few more steps, reaching the middle of the bridge. His bodyguards moved alongside him. Pol and Dav were marched to his right, where the railing was very obviously missing. There was a drop of several hundred metres beyond it.

“You told us a thousand birr per day until we found Lavim. We found him. Whatever happened the statue, it happened before we found him, not our problem.”

Fattah, perhaps sensing which way things might be heading, discreetly took out his communicator and began recording the proceedings. Merez’s heavies reached for weapon holsters, but the old man held up a hand to stand them down.

I put a LOT OF EFFORT into making this map look like it was dangerously high up in the air and not a single fight broke out on it! Bah.

Merez’s tapped his cane on the ground, his grip turning his knuckles white. Despite the calm face, he was evidently furious. “Most disappointing, indeed. I can only conclude that my contacts were mistaken about your reputation. So be it. In… two days,” he said with a smirk, suggesting he knew otherwise, “you found Mr. Tamm, and so I shall honour my offer of one thousand birr per day. Your failure to secure the item I so wished to purchase, however, not to mention your shameful disrespect, inclines me towards withholding the proposed bonus. May the Icons keep you from darkening my doorstep for eternity. Come, gentlemen, I believe we’re done here.”

Merez turned away and walked off into the shadows of the far Promenade. His goons formed a line until he disappeared, before roughly shoving Dav and Pol towards Ash and Fattah, and retreated likewise.

Lavim was having breakfast in the Blue Beetle when they returned. “How did it go?” he asked nervously.

“He’s not happy, but nobody’s dead.”

“Oh. Good? I think?”

“About as good as could be hoped, I suppose.” said Fattah.

There was a short silence, as Lavim helped himself to some more food.

“So… did you get the data tag?”

“Hmm?”

“The tag. Under the bridge. That thing has the coordinates of the expedition.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Lots more than just that ugly statue down there.”

“Yeah…”

“You… don’t have it, do you.”

“Not as such, no.”

“An absolute fortune in ancient relics. Not to mention the shredded remains of literally all my friends and colleagues, who deserved a proper funeral.”

“I, uh…”

“And now he has it.”

“Er, yes.”

“Brilliant. Just absolutely, utterly fantastic. You know I-“

“Shut up, Lavim.”

They arranged passage for Lavim home to Aiwaz, and paid a visit to Jasina and Jinna at the White Tugur once more. There, they explained that Lavim was fine, but had very important business to attend to back home, and wouldn’t be back for some time, and that Jinna should just get over him. Jasina remained tight-lipped but her face radiated “I told you he was no good, Jinna. didn’t I TELL you he was no good?” while Jinna was extremely confused as to why everyone thought she and Lavim were a couple, but decided to just go along with it to avoid further embarrassment.

Their good deeds done for the day, the Blue Beetle crew retired to their ship for a well-earned rest.

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Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

Coriolis 2: Electric Boogaloo

A Tale From the Third Horizon

It’s nice to be back.

Over the last month, I busied myself with switching the virtual tabletop I ran things on. That meant transferring the entire Coriolis campaign thus far from Roll20 to Foundry. It would have been considerably easier, had Free League Publishing released official modules on either VTT, but so far they haven’t, and I had to settle for creating the equipment, weapon and talent lists and random tables from scratch. The latter was a real pain in the ass because several of the tables involve modifiers to the results rolled. The best example is for when a ship fails to make its portal jump; you roll on a d66 table to see what happens. But if you you made the jump without all the necessary calculations, you add 10 to the result, so the table actually has d76 results, with the worst results only achievable in certain circumstances.

That involved a lot of searching around for Javascript tutorials that weren’t completely fucking mystifying to the lay person, and after much frustration I finally pieced together enough to write a little script that, when you clicked the “roll on the failed jump table” button, first asks you if you made the jump with or without the calculations, and modifies the dice rolled based on your response. I’m sure it’s an ugly, inelegant piece of coding but it works, and that’s the important thing.

Apart from that, the move went surprisingly smoothly. There’s a steeper learning curve with Foundry if you want to run games, but once you make the effort, it becomes so much more intuitive and useful. I felt I was constantly fighting Roll20, but the systems for Foundry are far more streamlined and focused on taking care of book keeping and busywork. The game tracks Darkness Points for me whenever a player pushes their roll, the combat turn tracker doesn’t accidentally leave out players who hadn’t explicitly clicked on their tokens before rolling, and it automatically sorts everyone on the fly if their initiative changes. You begin combat, and the music changes by itself to your predefined combat music playlist. Just loads of lovely little time savers.

And that’s the base system. With added community created mods I’ve been able to add some real flair to the game. There’s advanced lighting effects that outmatch anything Roll20 does for its $5/month subscription. Flashing, multi-hued lights in a variety of different effects from “faulty electrical light” to “ghostly light that is part illumination, part churning, dancing shadows” to “red. just a red light, nothing fancy”.

There’s a delightful little mod that places blood splatters on the map underneath a player’s token if their health hits a threshold of your choosing. And you can set any token to have a specific blood colour, so my big nasty creatures of darkness and shadow bleed dark purple ichor, and if I ever get an Alien game going the synthetics will bleed white.

Thanks to the Calendar mod I’ve been able to import a fan-made Coriolis calendar that splits each year into nine months with four weeks that are nine days long, with a “day of rest/accounting/settling debts” in between each month. It’s already full of holy days, reminders for the players of upcoming events, such as the monthly payment of 20,000 birr they need to make to stop the bank taking their ship.

None of this is really important from the point of view of the writeups, if I’m honest. I just wanted you all to know how hard I worked to give my players a cool experience.


It is the 1st day of the segment of The Messenger, CC 60. The crew of the Blue Beetle made their first payment on their ship the day before, the day of accounting, which also happened to be the Cyclade, or new year. Celebrations are rife on Coriolis, with the various plazas along the Promenade filled with pilgrims and prophets, acrobats, musicians, jugglers and fire-breathers, the many kawah shops taking in very satisfying profits as everyone makes merry and gives praise to the Icons.

The crew had just returned from a most interesting expedition. After delivering a cargo hold full of scientific equipment to the Foundation’s research station orbiting the gas giant Xene, they were contacted by a prospector on one of Xene’s moons who needed a fast ship to register what he thought was a rich gold find, but which turned out to be some strange manifestation of the Dark between the Stars within a buried temple, tomb or other archaeological find. The put the prospector, Faisal, in touch with their friend Adzem Kembouri, who had made quite the name for himself off the back of his adventure with the crew aboard Orun II, and his capture of the djinn that had wrought havoc on the crew.

Adzem Kembouri

Mr. Kembouri arranged to meet the crew at a kawah shop in the Spring Plaza, commanding a delightful view of the master-crafted fountains in the centre. He had a charming smile on his face, as always. “My friends, welcome! Please, have a seat, I have arranged fresh kawah for all. Some honeyed dates? Figs? Help yourselves.”

“Mr. Kembouri, always a pleasure. How’s business?” returned Dav.

“Magnificent, thank you for asking. Before Orun II, my biggest contracts would be a simple blessing of a shop here and there for good fortune in the coming business year. But now? I have sultans from Dabaran and dignitaries from Sadaal and beyond seeking me out! Hauntings, exorcisms, banishment of frightful creatures of shadow, I am so blessed with work to do, why, it is almost a curse, haha! I jest, of course. And I have you and your crew to thank for my good fortune. Speaking of which…”

He paused for a long sip of kawah, before popping a date in his mouth, chewing casually as he talked. His smile faded as he got down to serious business.

The Promenade, filled with markets, spice shops, and all manner of food and drink.

“… I’ve spoken with your associate Faisal. He was very… descriptive, of the unpleasant encounter you had with his former colleagues. I have no doubt what you fought were Darkbound, but the manner of their transformation is, if you’ll forgive the clinical observation of the tragic loss of two good men, quite fascinating. These men were, by all accounts, no less upstanding or pious than any pilgrim you see walking by right now. For them to suffer the transformation that they did, it must have been forced upon them, and suddenly. Only a place steeped in shadow and darkness would be capable of twisting an unwilling man.”

His smile returned. “Fortunately, you happen to know someone with a great deal of experience in cleansing the shadow from Icon-forsaken places. And since you blessed him with good fortune, he is pleased to return the favour. I would be delighted to accompany you back to this and help bring it back to the light of the Icons, and because you are my friends I will waive the extraordinary fees I have been able to charge my recent clients!”

A general grunt of polite laughter arose around the table.

“That said, I have one small request: This find of yours, it must be quite ancient. And from what Faisal has told me he is eager to make it someone else’s problem, most likely selling it to Foundation scientists. My request is that we go before this happens. Once it goes public, there will almost certainly be censorship, as some findings will refuse to line up with the Horizon’s official history. Take our time aboard Orun II for example. The Princess of Kah is a fairy tale, but we met her and her guard. Had we solid facts about her instead of fanciful stories, perhaps the bloodshed on board could have been avoided completely.”

A quick discussion among the crew ensued. “Not a problem,” said Dav, “We can leave as soon as you’re ready.”

“Oh my, in that case,” he swigged down the last of his kawah, “please allow me half an hour to grab some equipment, and I’ll meet you at your ship. Oh, and please make sure you have some firearms. Relic and ritual can banish many evils, but a few vulcan rounds are occasionally much more effective, yes?”

With a wave, he hurried into the crowds, to his lodgings. The crew contacted Faisal to advise him of developments, and he readily agreed to join them. With a little spare time they then looked to their armaments, and decided that a little shopping in the Ozone Plaza was in order. Fattah, only passing familiar with marksmanship, selected a long rifle with scope. Ash, already proficient with her vulcan cricket pistol and more comfortable with easily concealed weapons, added an accelerator pistol to her belt.

The journey to Xene was blessedly uneventful. Faisal mostly kept to his cabin, extremely focused on making sure his own rifle was in perfect working order. Mr. Kembouri spent most of his waking moments in the mess, poring over the reports and holy rituals stored on his tabula and on occasion physical books, the age of which would make many a librarian green with envy. The atmosphere remained upbeat, despite the knowledge that they were likely entering a dangerous battle. After all, it is said the Icons smile on the faithful. Many soldiers agree, but add that they smile more on the faithful who always make sure there’s a weapon within easy reach.

Everything on the unnamed 5th moon of Xene was as they left it, right down to the desiccated corpses of Faisal’s erstwhile partners they had unceremoniously left on the almost airless rocky plain after they had transformed and tried to kill everyone. Faisal was quiet, clutching his rifle tightly. The gold, too was where they left it. They ignored it for now, squeezing through the little tunnel Faisal and his partners had cut from the cliff face. With roughly a further 30 minutes of digging at the original “seam”, they broke through into a large, dark cavern.

The unnamed fifth moon of Xene.

The cavern itself looked quite naturally formed when they shone their torchlight inside. The many bones scattered in piles on the floor, however, quickly reminded them that this place was deeply stained by the Dark Between the Stars. Mr. Kembouri couldn’t contain his curiosity, and examined the intact skull of a human. “These remains are about four hundred years old!” he exclaimed. I don’t believe there is any record of this moon ever being inhabited before the recent mining boom. Fascinating.”

Just out of the range of their torches, the darkness moved. Animal hissing gave way to feral growls as misshapen humanoid husks leapt out from behind the corners and charged the crew. Scraps of hair and skin clung to grossly extended limbs, and burning fire where eyes should be. Darkbound. They attacked the party like rabid animals, a dervish of talons and fangs.

Dav and Fattah took the brunt of the attacks, but gave as good as they got with well placed shots from Dav’s accelerator pistol and mighty swings of Fattah’s powered gauntlet. Faisal got a few shots off with his long rifle after an initial shock. Ash, thinking tactically, covered the rear, and sure enough she saw shapes attempting to flank them.

The Darkbound perished quickly, save for one, who skittered off into the darkness. Dav, perhaps worried he might find allies, or perhaps enjoying the violence, gave chase. This was a mistake. Out of the darkness lumbered something altogether too bizarre to fully describe. It vaguely resembled a gigantic featherless vulture, but its form was hazy and indistinct, and as the torchlight flickered so did it, resembling by turns a raven, a mole, a reptile and a decaying corpse, the only thing Dav’s senses could agree on was that it was utterly repulsive. He emptied his clip at it but still it came at him, putrid filth dripping from its mandibles/beak/lips. Its head darted out, mouth snapping, and only Dav’s armour prevented the loss of a limb. the painful scratch along his arm immediately began to itch and Dav knew he had been infected with something.

A “typical” byara

Fortunately help was close behind. Faisal and Fattah rallied around Dav, and between the three of them they tore the creature apart. It bled a smoky, inky blackness instead of any physical ichor, and the corpse dissolve before their eyes, leaving a scorched stain on the ground like the site of a bonfire.

“What in the name of the Icons was that?” gasped Dav, feeling slightly woozy.

“That was a byara,” replied Kembouri. “They’re drawn to places of darkness, literally and figuratively. Sites of terrible tragedy, the dark side of tidally locked moons, battles, that sort of thing. To encounter one is thankfully very rare. Tell me, did it injure you?”

“Not really, but it scraped my arm here…”

“Please, allow me to examine the wound. The tales often mention one who was injured by a byara dying within a day, I suspect they carry all manner of disease…”

Kembouri produced a medical kit and took a small sample from the wound to scan. “Ah, I was correct. Quite a nasty cocktail of several pathogens. Easily dealt with using antibiotics…” he got a small vial and sprayed the wound, “…but had we no access to medicines, you would have died of terrible fevers by tomorrow. Did it injure anyone else? No? Excellent.”

There were a few Darkbound left in the cavern, but the team was on alert, and they were brought down quickly. Exploring further, the caverns gave way to human construction; Several walls and alcoves with torches illuminating a fine flowing script carved into the stone. Mr Kembouri was fascinated. “This is some dialect of Dabari. Unusual, the people of Dabaran were still spacefarers during the Long Night but very much kept to neighbouring systems.”

In the far corner of the cavern, the walls became a corridor, which in turn led to a large, circular stone door next to a collapsed corridor. It was clearly meant to roll into a recess in the stonework, but the mechanisms were jammed by a tangle of odd roots and plant growth. After clearing what they could with fire, the crew used brute force to roll the door back, wedging it open with a loose rock from the collapsed tunnel.

The inner chamber

Inside was a spectacular sight. A large rectangular room, the walls overgrown with luminescent fungi, with a large raised dais in the centre. The dais had four triangular structures at each corner. At the far end of the room, a huge stone carving of a woman’s face stared out at a busy collection of urns, vases and assorted offerings. As they got closer to the stone face, they could see unsettling bestial traits had been carved into the woman’s features. Her eyes were like that of a hunting cat. Her teeth were a little too sharp. She was not smiling, she was snarling. On the wall to her left was more of the Dabari script, more than simply decorative statements of faith. The crew recorded images and linked up with their ship’s AI to attempt a translation. The results were… somewhat unsettling, for the crew. But Mr Kembouri, well versed in ancient history and things often considered heretical, grew increasingly concerned as he read:

Here, in this most sacred place, did Dabbak the Soothsayer receive a vision of our destruction by unholy works. Here, an agreement was made to safeguard against such calamity. Here was made the Sanguine Accord, in the sight of The Beast, and cursed for all eternity be whosoever does not honour it. And thus here lie the souls of our masters, bound to the living rock of this most sacred place, until the day arrives when the terms of the Accord shall be fulfilled.

Unto Kalah is entrusted the Chrysalis Sequence, the Sacred Number, lest what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass.

And unto Aram is entrusted the Alcheme, the Gift of Change, lest what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass.

And unto Sora is entrusted our histories, all that we were and may yet become, lest what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass.

And unto The Beast we entrust our souls, may She protect our people in their hour of need, should what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass. Let the unholy have their victory. It matters not. For in the end, the Beast devours all who do not honour the Sacrifice of Nazareem.

Kembouri, when asked, stammered a little before taking some deep breaths and collecting his thoughts.

“I cannot imagine what most of this means. But I recognise some of these words and they worry me greatly. You are familiar with the mighty Factions of the Horizon, the Consortium, the Legion, and so on. Before the Portal Wars, there was another Faction. They were called Nazareem’s Sacrifice. Astonishingly little is known about them, because towards the end of the war they were wiped out. It is mentioned only in some of the oldest books I have seen. They speak vaguely of an alliance, but only the Order of the Pariah are named. It seems that Nazareem’s Sacrifice sided against the Third Horizon. Whether they were allied with the First or Second I cannot say, but nevertheless their betrayal was answered with terrible vengeance. Their seat of power was the Odacon system. History books teach us that the final battles of the Portal Wars took place there, and entire worlds were destroyed. The Odacon Portals are still unstable, centuries on. One may read between the lines and surmise that this is when the coalition struck at the betrayers, eradicating all but a few stragglers. I believe the Order and its allied attempted to destroy all record of the Nazareem, erasing them from history. And well they might. They worshipped the most accursed aspect of the Dancer, called the Beast.”

“Records of the Beast are a little easier to find, as doctrine and dogma on the Icons are only a relatively recent thing with the rise of the Church, and beliefs varied greatly from system to system. I’ll spare you the fine details, but cannabalistic orgies were one of the more common forms of worship. What we have found here… My friends, I think the sooner you sell this on and make it someone else’s problem, the happier we shall al-“

There was a grinding crunch as the door at the far end slammed shut, pulverising the wedge. The dais began to glow in eerie green waves of light, as if under water. And a face of each of the four triangular structures around it slid into the ground, revealing gleaming gold. The crew raced to the door and started to heave it open, as the gold flowed out like water onto the dais, leaving behind a perfectly preserved corpse in each alcove. Four wraith-like apparitions bubbled up into shape and form. They resembled Darkbound, but taller, dressed in centuries old finery fallen to decay. Their faces were no longer recognisable as having once been human, however. Glassy black orbs formed heads split in two by maws of razor-edged teeth. As they slowly advanced on the party, one of them threw back its head and howled. The sound seemed amplified by the chamber and struck terror into Faisal and Kembouri, both of whom froze in panic.

The elder Darkbound.

Finally, they managed to prise the heavy door open just enough for a body to squeeze through one at a time. Ash was first, wisely holding her pistol in the hand facing the terrors, squeezing off a few rounds as she emerged into the corridors. Another of the apparitions raised a claw at Dav, vomiting forth a stream of whispering Darkness. He paled in fright, the world around him twisting, becoming darker, sharper, devoid of light and hope. Another drew a talon across Kembouri’s shoulder, causing him to cry out in agony, although it seemed to do no harm.

That was enough to shake him to, if not his senses, then at least to flight, and he scrambled through the gap and kept running. Fattah attempted to steer Faisal through the gap, but the man was still too terrified to act. Dav and Fattah turned to face the four spectral things as they converged. Firing madly, Dav placed three shots into one of the creatures. All four grunted. They both realised that perhaps if they focused on one, they might destroy all four, and Fattah swung wildly with his powerfist while Dav and Ash fired shot after shot at the one target.

They were correct in that the four shared a link, but they did not destroy them. Each apparition froze, statue-like, and melted into puddles of gold, which flowed back towards the dais, slowly reforming. But they had bought themselves enough time to shove the numb Faisal through the gap, followed by Dav and Fattah, and then pull it shut. They did not stop to listen for sounds within the chamber.

They found Kembouri in the cavern outside. He was tending to his leg after a fall, and mumbling incoherently to himself. Dav pulled him up to his feet and got him to focus.

“Y- yes. We should go. We have to get out. This place… Get out, we have to leave…”

The Blue Beetle’s AI had warmed up the ship’s engines in anticipation and they left at maximum speed. It was going to be a long trip back to Coriolis.

Categories
Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Updates

Coriolis is Returning

More Tales from the Third Horizon on the... uh...

It’ll take some time, but the most terrifying step has been taken: I have messaged the group to ask if they’re still interested in getting it back together.

The response was pleasantly positive.

However, since that long hiatus from Roll20 I have invested in another virtual tabletop called Foundry, and it’s safe to say I quite prefer it for… almost everything tbh. There’s more of a learning curve setting things up, sure, but the sheer breadth and depth of features and time-saving little bits and bobs is quite amazing.

To that end, rather than dust off my Roll20 account I’ll be porting all the stuff I’d… well, stolen, from my Coriolis PDFs and various art deposits across the internet. And that’s going to take some time. Especially in the current heat. Bloody hell. I can barely lift this delicious chilled can of ready made gin and tonic to my lips, such is the fury of Helios outside my window today.

But it’s coming. And, maybe, other things.

Categories
TTRPG Uncategorized WFRP

Shameless Self Promotion

Moi? Toot my own horn?

Been a while since I mentioned that I occasionally do freelance writing for rather famous and well-respected ttrpg publisher Cubicle 7. My little pack of punchy short Warhammer Fantasy adventures, One Shots of the Reikland, went Gold on DriveThruRPG quite quickly, which is a delight for my first professionally published, uh, publication. Yes I know I have scientific papers published too but that whole industry can fuck off into the sun thank you VERY much.

But I’ve been beavering away on a lot of other WFRP publications since that. Archives of the Empire Vol. 1, for example. I had the honour.. nay, the PRIVILEGE, to create some ranger-style careers, with none more noble and astounding than the Halfling Badger Rider.

I had the good fortune to contribute to the Death On The Reik Companion, too. It’s one thing writing your own one-off adventures but being asked to help write the director’s cut of one of the most popular ttrpg campaigns ever written, that’s an intimidating and amazing prospect.

I can hardly believe I’m in the credits!

Speaking of which, I was also one of the writers on Vol. 4 and Vol. 4.5 of that behemoth adventure, The Horned Rat, and The Horned Rat Companion. Death On The Reik was a firmly established adventure that got a shiny remaster, and that’s awesome. The Horned Rat though? Completely new and that’s intimidating as hell. Y’see, the campaign as originally published had something of a… well, let’s say the writers didn’t get to write the ending they wanted. There’s nothing wrong with the original Something Rotten in Kislev, mind they’re some great adventures, but they were originally intended as standalones and weren’t related to the Enemy Within campaign, and some shoehorning was done to accommodate that. The Horned Rat is a massive book that directly follows on from the political thriller that was Vol. 3, Power Behind The Throne. It was a hell of a thing to be considered good enough to not only help write enhanced versions of existing adventures, but to help create a new one to those same standards. Then again, judging from how The Horned Rat and Companion shot straight to Electrum and Silver on DTRPG respectively (the Companion was only released last week so that’s quite impressive), it looks like people are pretty satisfied with the results.

There’s other stuff I’ve worked on that I can’t talk about until after release, and I’m hoping to take on a couple of future projects that haven’t left the planning stages yet, but my goodness there are some exciting things ahead for WFRP, let me tell you. And some crazy how, I might have the privilege of writing some of it.

Also the artists have been absolutely amazing throughout this whole series. Fantastic, gorgeous stuff almost every page.
Categories
Fluffdiving TTRPG Uncategorized

World building continues

Late night dabblings in cosmic horror

So, that setting idea with the space Arks and weird multidimensional gribblies that used to be religious fundies and non-euclidean protein folding, it isn’t done with me yet. What follows are a few snippets from what I imagine is the indoctrination ritual for a particular Ark. It’s quite a challenge to consider. The general shape of such a thing should ideally emerge as a natural result of the Ark’s past. What was the prevailing orthodoxy on the Ark? Why did they leave? How would that colour their experience of the sanity-blasting multidimensional awareness mentioned previously?

“Generic semi-catholic Christian” is the flavour of this evening’s origins. Partly because I cannot be arsed reading up on specific faiths in this heat, partly because I’m starting out small and doing what I know, partly because proper blasphemy takes time to do right. I’m calling them the Broken Mirror for now, but I’m sure something better will occur later.

Accept despair. Embrace it as an old friend, a lover returned. Sing as it permeates the core of your being. Learn, in the farthest corners of who and what you are, the truths it lays bare. Let it grind away your past and present as the ocean turns the cliff to sand. Strangle your future in its crib, that despair may feed on the sweet rot of the corpse. To unlock your potential, you first must murder it. Let emptiness fill you. And know, when the void is all that remains, that Life is a lie.

-Initiate’s rite, Catechism of the Broken Mirror

The cult teaches that enlightenment comes from stripping away the barriers they claim separate a disciple from reality. This could involve destroying a person’s “limited” senses like their sight or hearing, stripping away their self-confidence or drastically altering brain chemistry to induce severe depression; to the Broken Mirror, serotonin and dopamine are liars that cushion the sharp edges of reality.

It should go without saying that the Broken Mirror are *utterly* divorced from what most of humanity considers the baseline for sanity. And yet, they display similar abilities to the Awoken children. So they must have figured *something* out, right?

Your senses are a mirror, reflecting only yourself. Let that mirror shatter. In that collection of imperfect reflections, you will begin to truly see. Shatter each shard again and again, and in the gentle caress of each razor-edged prison by which each new shard is bound, true understanding dawns. See, and bleed, and shatter until the mirror is as dust and the reflections beyond counting, and behold the truth. And know, when the space between you and your reflection is no more, that Reality is a lie.

-Acolyte’s rite, Catechism of the Broken Mirror

As I see it, the people on this Ark that survived did so only after being nearly destroyed, inside and out. When their brains began forming hypercube structures, and receiving and sending signals they couldn’t possibly hope to understand, it would break most people, no matter how hard they fought, much like how depression can steamroll over the strongest will without even noticing. And everyone’s first instinct would have been to fight it. But ugly as it is, there’s a tiny nugget of truth in their creed. Fighting the changes, holding on to the normal you know, that’s a death sentence. But embracing it? It’s not easy, letting go of the world you know, but it causes far less damage.

Well. In a strictly medical sense, and all things being equal, less damage. But the Arks were tin cans in space, filled with prideful, arrogant zealots who may not have had the healthiest outlook to begin with. They were subject to radiation from poor shielding, starvation when people could no longer maintain the hydroponic gardens, and violent gang wars as security and social order disintegrated. Without the infrastructure and resources of a whole world, they had no chance of coming out relatively unscathed. They learned that accepting the change worked, but they discovered it in an INCREDIBLY unhealthy way, surrounded as they were on all sides by insanity, violence, cannibalism, and worse. Their initiations have a high death toll, because they fundamentally misunderstand what it is that lets a person coexist with the changes coursing through their bodies. But enough of the utterly disenfranchised, broken souls they recruit are ready to accept whatever happens them that they can maintain and even grow their numbers.

Let the hollow bell of your soul ring out! Let it toll its great peals of negation. Emptiness will flow from your shattered form, and entire nations will drown in you! Let angel and demon alike cower before the dead thunder of your great and terrible apotheosis! And know, as the embers fade and the last thread unravels, as even the gods bleed their last upon the altars of your fury, that I was a lie.

-Penultimate rite, Catechism of the Broken Mirror

Broken Mirror members delight in stripping away what they believe are the barriers between humanity and harsh reality. To put a positive spin on something, to enjoy any of the little comforts of life from a hug to euphoria-inducing drugs, these are all sins, further barriers placed between the mind and the brutal truth of reality. They delight in crushing such barriers, and draw their targets ever further downwards. Much as various cults have done for centuries, they employ psychological torture to break their victims, to brainwash them. Once a victim has lost any sense of self, they are considered to have removed the final barriers between them and the truth, and the initiation begins as they are slowly remoulded into more fitting servants of the Arkborn.

Categories
Fluffdiving TTRPG Uncategorized

Further adventures in World-Building

Those of you who read this blag may recall Back in November that I had a little word-building seed I wanted to plant, about billionaire conservative religious nutters leaving Earth on Arks and coming back all… gribbly.

Those of you who don’t (and if you’re not reading then why the heck am I even writing this bit?) can find it right here:

So that seed has, it turns out, been growing in the wet soil of my brain matter, its new shoots tickling the odd neuron here, the odd synapse there. I wanted, I realised, a way to explain the weird world I’d described. Well, explain is probably the wrong word. More “figure out a way to hand wave it all away”, really. After many nights staring at the ceiling in the dark, wondering what it was I wanted to make “sense” of, I came to the conclusion that what I wanted was a way of linking magic into the proto-setting I’d got here. “Just invent a new magic system, how hard can it be?” I thought to myself, future Ciarán laughing bitterly but as yet unheard.

Back when I studied it, I really quite enjoyed the more unusual and less immediately practical mathematics areas. Basic geometry, sure, handy for thinking about angles, but I can’t exactly apply hyperdimensional polytopes to a game of pool or soccer in the same way.

“He sees his opening, he shoots, he… JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE HELL IS THAT”

Now, some time last year I had jotted down a little idea that amused me. It was about how many viruses have a little protein shell that often resembles a a simple symmetrical shape, like a 12- or 20-sided die. And I suddenly remembered the gif above (I have a small folder of hypercube gifs like this, I find them really soothing to watch), and wondered: What if virus, but hypercube?

The idea was pretty simple, sort of. Definitely simple if you’ve studied microbiology. But for the uninitiated: One of the most basic processes of life is the translation of DNA to proteins. That accounts for a HUGE amount of how a living thing actually functions from moment to moment. DNA is a code for a string of amino acids, which fold into various shapes to form larger proteins. And with proteins, the shapes they fold into are as important or moreso than the individual amino acids that make them up. So, why not explore what might happen if proteins folded into MORE than the usual three dimensions?

I read a lot of science fiction, and I have a few physicist friends, and pop-culture often references it, so I was familiar with the ideas Einstein put forward that space is 4-dimensional, with time being the 4th. And there are fields of research in both physics and maths that talk about more dimensions than that. My last maths lecturer often told us it was a common joke in his department that all you had to do to imagine 13 dimensions was to start by imagining there were n dimensions, and then let n=13. Mathematicians are odd people.

So originally I thought I’d write a little story about the world’s first tesseract virus, which contained more dimensions than the ones we’re familiar with. I even sought some criticism on the SCP forums, which was honestly invaluable and excellent. And I would have developed it further as an SCP thing, but that Ark story just kept coming back to me, and I wondered if I might be able to marry the two.

And one very late night (it was definitely closer to 7am) it struck me. And then I sort of forgot it for a few days because you know what trying to remember things when you half dreamed them is like. It came back to me slowly over the next few days, and I started scribbling, and slowly an idea I really liked took shape.

I dunno if I’ll develop this little world of mine further. I’d certainly like to, but don’t let the bible fool you, world building takes an absolute FUCKtonne of work and time. The below is, I suppose, the equivalent of the start of the “Magic” chapter of any RPG rulebook. Or Psyker powers, or whatever you want to call it. Maybe it’ll develop into an RPG setting. Maybe this is the last I’ll ever write about it.

Either way, it was enjoyable.


Magic? Don’t be daft. No such thing. Oh sure, the Arkborn are horrifying monstrosities that can turn you to ash with a flick of the… well, the ones that still *have* wrists might flick them. And yes, you’ve seen humans seemingly create fire out of nothing, or move impossibly fast, or even fly. But it’s not magic. For the full story you need to go back two generations, not that there’s much left of either. But as far as we can establish, it goes a bit like this…

So… dimensions. Your average human is kinda 3.5-D; They can freely manipulate 3 dimensions and have an intuitive understanding of Time, but they’re stuck going in the same one second per second direction as everyone else. Other dimensions exist, but we are wholly unaware of them except as abstract theoretical concepts demanded by our best physics models.

With me so far? Good, because it gets weird.

Towards the end of the 21st century, physicists managed to create a physical hypercube, a shape related to a cube the same way a cube is related to a square. It only lasted for a few trillionths of a second and drank several hydrogen bombs worth of energy, but it paved the way for an explosion in technological advancement. Can you believe our computers used to be flat wafers of 2-dimensional circuitry? It’s not the electronics we’re about here, though, it’s the squishy sciences. Some decades after CERN 2, molecular biologists successfully created a “hyperprotein”, a string of amino acids folded into 5 dimensions. Medicine was revolutionised overnight; Gene therapy became orders of magnitude more precise and powerful, drugs too large to cross the blood-brain barrier could be attached to a small hyperprotein which tucked them into a pocket of spacetime until they crossed the barrier and could release the drug into the body’s 3-D space.

Some viruses adapted to match our new tools, as they always do. Most famous is Adenovirus Tesseracteae, a variation of the Adenovirus genus responsible for about 5% of cases of the common cold, but there are others. It wasn’t long until we saw human bodies developing hyperproteins. Hypercube viruses hijacking our cellular machinery to replicate might have kickstarted it, or maybe it was deliberately inflicted on the population by the returning Arkborn, but either way the results were varied and deeply unpleasant; the lucky ones would suddenly die from an aneurysm, as part of a tiny capillary in their brains shifted dimensions and became a blockage. Whole or partial organs might “disappear” for a split second, or suddenly exist outside the body, or worse. A rare few were driven mad as hyperprions in their brains caused neural networks to develop across more dimensions than a human was born equipped to deal with. The symptoms were horrendous, and ran from nightmare visions borne of the brain trying to interpret hyperspatial shapes, to the complete loss of perception of linear causality. Between the hrperprion disease and the Arkborn slaughters, millions died, and more prayed for death.

It’s a little ironic that our salvation came from those broken, wretched souls. A handful of that first generation were pregnant when the hyperprion condition took hold. They crossed the placenta easily, working their changes on the developing embryos. To much relief, they were born without complications, and seemed just like any other newborn, something of a blank canvas as the brain began to learn and react to the outside world. It was hypothesised that if a human was born with a multidimensional neural network, they would adapt and grow alongside it, as opposed to the sudden, jarring changes experienced by infected adults. As they grew, they displayed many tendencies and mannerisms that were not unlike their parents, albeit on a far less fatal scale. The scientists and psychologists studying them put it down to their brain cells including dimensions the rest of us aren’t even aware of. It quickly became clear that they also possessed an instinctive awareness of spacetime; with a bare minimum of education, teenagers could solve complex equations that took mathematicians weeks to work out. They could navigate the kinds of advanced geometry that would have taken their parents’ generation decades of study to grasp. Not that they were *smarter* or *superior* in any way; Those that excelled at complex mathematics had no time to become sports stars, just like anyone else. They had tools the rest of us didn’t, is all. Like kids raised with the internet versus their parents who didn’t know what an email was.

It was early adulthood when the serious changes occurred. The hyperprions hadn’t just changed their brains, and with puberty came a slew of modified hormones. Most still performed the expected functions, but a few caused… Well, most people call it an Awakening now. Already possessed of an instinctive understanding of spacetime, puberty brought perception. Their parents’ brains were unequipped to deal with seeing spacetime, but the adolescents welcomed it easily, like an old friend. Well, for the most part. Not everyone made it through puberty. The sudden changes were like what their parents endured, and more than one child simply disappeared, or died of old age over the course of a week, or even disintegrated in a burst of gamma radiation. It was a change of extremes, you either made it through pretty unscathed, or you died, but out of maybe 30 hyperprion children worldwide, 20 were confirmed to make it to adulthood. And now that they could see what they already innately understood, they could manipulate it.

The first generation of Awakened became young adults of extraordinary perception and ability. They could perceive, understand and manipulate reality on its most basic, primal levels. Some conjured fire, some could slow or accelerate regions of spacetime, some altered the gravitational constant of their bodies from moment to moment and, in lay terms, learned to fly. Of all the new phenomena these men and women displayed to the astonished world, by far the strangest thing was that they didn’t fight amongst themselves, didn’t use their powers to bend and break others into submission. What few Arkborn humanity has managed to defeat and bring home for autopsy reveals that the brains of the Arkborn and our Awakened are unnervingly similar. They appear to see reality much in the same way, but where the Arkborn are like demons out of the very worst religious apocalypse scriptures, something in Awakened perception led to a surprising and powerful altruism. Maybe they saw further down the path humanity was walking, and knew fighting the Arkborn was the only choice leading to a better tomorrow. Maybe their parents, blinded and tortured by the hyperprion infection, are a sobering reminder of what the Arkborn used to be, and what the Awakened could become, and they resolved to be better than that. Whatever the case, they are sorely needed lights in a time of unparallelled darkness.

Categories
Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

Rocks Fall, You Die

An Ode to Random Misfortune Tables

I’ve been in a fairly steady campaign of Forbidden Lands for the last few months. It’s a good game, really focuses on the idea of a harsh, unforgiving setting where travel is dangerous, your weapons and equipment can fail you, and you really need to build yourself a stronghold to claim and protect anything you manage to create, loot, win or otherwise acquire. It’s dangerous, life is cheap, and no one person can survive on their own, are really the core themes.

I began that campaign with a Wolfkin Druid, combining lethal brawling skills with shapeshifting magic and Wolfkin hunting prowess. Arathus quickly became one of the front line fighters, dealing out terrific damage with fist and fang, helping bring down an ever-increasing number of deadly foes from slavers to demons to harpies to colossal Elven tree constructs (disgustingly, but accurately, dubbed Entapedes by the party).

We had losses along the way, of course. Poor Jim lost his hunter on our first foray to the castle of Weatherstone. Alive, but so badly wounded that moving would kill her, and with a small army of undead soldiers bearing down on us, Arathus decided that throwing her from the battlements would be a kinder death than rusty, blunt halberds. A flock of ravenous harpies left little beyond bones and cloth by the time we found her again. That was a sobering day for us all.

Fate was not done with Jim though, and several sessions later, we were south of Weatherstone, aiding a dwarven siege army retake their ancestral home of Wailer’s Hold, now overrun with demons and undead. They caught a break that allowed some deep reconnaissance into the Hold, when the undead armies of Weatherstop came south to battle everything in Wailer’s Hold, and sent us in to look (we decided it was better for everyone concerned if we didn’t mention that we were the reason Weatherstone’s armies were taking an interest in the outside world again).

At the last moment, our party was spotted by a Rust Knight and his demonic mount, and we had to flee beck to friendly territory. Jim’s character, a powerful geomancer who had made people explode simply by throwing a pebble at them, tried his favourite spell like he always did. The good news was that he defeated the Rust Knight and his griffon-like flying mount. Unfortunately for him, his roll for the spell included a fumble result, and he had to roll on the Magical Mishap Table. Essentially, he lost control of the spell and became the epicentre of the effect, blasting himself, Rust Knight and mount all together into a homogenous fine crimson mist.

I believe it was at this point (also owing to how one of the other players swapped their character’s profession previously for various reasons) that I called the group “The Adventure Party of Thesus”. There was still myself playing Arathus, and Shidd’Fuk the Goblin, who were founding members of the group (we don’t count the halfling because Dale didn’t join for a session or two), but we were fairly chewing through the membership to the point where some plot threads simply weren’t relevant to the group any more.

By this time, we’d all accrued quite a hefty chunk of XP. Arathus had maxed out his Brawling talents and had started taking further close quarters abilities, so not only could he attack twice per turn, his attacks hit with *tremendous* force, and he got a free dodge each round to boot, making him a warrior absolutely not to be trifled with, and with the druidic knowledge to talk with animals, become as stealthy as a cat, steal the sight of an eagle, or further augment his attacks with the strength of a grizzly bear. So when our party heard rumours of a dragon in the northwest, injured and potentially something we might have a shot at overpowering, we packed our bags, paid our stronghold’s guards several weeks in advance, reminded our accidental slave (a long story for another time, Orc society has some WEIRD ideas about defeated chiefs we didn’t know about) to keep fed, and set off for Adventure!

Along the way there were harpies, a racist halfling with a terrifying magical oven (pastries should not move.), and we got involved with an up and coming new empire of free Orcs when their king mistook us for ambassadors and we decided to run with it. That was when we encountered the Stones of Stanengist. Another long story, but suffice to say Elves turn into sentient rubies when they die, and allegedly the first 6 Elves in creation were wrought into the decorations of the Crown of Stanengist so they could be together forever. RPGs being what they are, the stones were scattered in ancient times and so on and so forth. This new Orc empire was being subtly manipulated by one such stone, imparting wisdom to their leader in his dreams. His wife, a rather more cunning and shrewd Orc, realised what was happening and got us involved to take the stone (or “homewrecker” as she called it) off her hands. That led to a fight with some elves who wanted the stone back, which didn’t go their way, and a heavily surreal dream sequence where the stone spoke to the party about how it was hoping to help the Orcs to atone for how its people treated them in the long long ago, and how WE might be able to seek out the 5 remaining stones, and with their power combined turn Ravenland into a paradise free of demons, slavery, hardship inclement weather yadda yadda yadda. Being the main point of contact between the Orc Queen and the party, Arathus took charge of the new Stone, which makes what happened next even funnier.

We decided that after coming all this way northwest, we might as well continue on the extra day or two travel to where the dragon had been spotted. After real life obligations caused the Adventure Party of Theseus to replace another member (just 2 founding members left now), we tracked down the dragon by the trail of destruction. The thing was a walking thunderstorm, literally; wherever it went, storm clouds followed. So when we saw a storm that wasn’t moving despite the winds, we just had to follow the lightning-blasted earth and petrified forests and horse-sized clawprints straight to the dragon’s lair.

There we stood, considering how to proceed. After seeing humanoid bootprints leading into the caves we decided to be stealthy and see whether the dragon had already been slain, or if it was sleeping after a nice feed of adventuring party.

Arathus declared “Rather than risk the stealth roll, I’ll use magic to automatically succeed.”

The GM gave his permission. “Cool, but you still have to roll your magic die to see if it’s 1 success or more”

I clicked, ,the RNG did its thing, and… Skull face.

“Ooh, a mishap. Roll D66 please!”

I duly rolled, thinking that at least the stealth part had worked so I wouldn’t be eaten by a dragon.

I rolled 66. That’s the highest number you get on a D66. In forbidden Lands, rolling higher on tables is almost always bad.

The GM duly read out the result:

Your magic rips open a rift to another dimension, and a demon pulls you over to the other side. Time to make a new character. Your old character will come back as an NPC after D66 days but will be … changed.

Forbidden Lands Magic Mishaps Table, Player’s Handbook p119

There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather awkward silence around the virtual tabletop.

Eventually the GM said “So, Arathus… would you like to describe how, precisely, you accidentally sneak straight into Hell and get trapped there for… 66 days!? Jesus christ.

Much laughter ensued.

And then we remembered that Arathus had been in possession of the Stone, the main plot maguffin for the entire future campaign, when he disappeared and unwittingly became a demonic adversary for his erstwhile companions.

The laughter continued, but with a slightly more “oh fuck oh shit he was a combat demon BEFORE becoming a literal demon” sort of tone. Brittle, I think is the word. To say nothing of what the effects of two months in Hell would have on the Stone itself. The GM, every bit as surprised as I was, decided to conclude the session there, as that one little chain of quickly escalating events resulted in him having to rewrite a large chunk of what he had planned for our group in the immediate future.

And so ends the tale of Arathus, heroic and mighty Wolfkin Druid to the Bloody Huntress, and the Adventure Party of Theseus has only one original member left.

God I love random disaster tables.

Categories
Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

The Shadows Lengthen

A Tale From the Third Horizon

[My computer troubles haven’t been fixed, but it had been almost a month since I ran anything, and I had a Need. So I steeled myself and braved the random flickering of my monitor to keep my Coriolis campaign going. I am braver than the troops.]

The Blue Beetle and its crew, after quite the adventure on the distant Jevghena colony in the Caph system, were finally home. Docking at the Neoptra, the largest public space port on Coriolis, they were witness to their passenger Omar being greeted by his waiting uncle, an elderly gentleman with the look of a retired soldier about him. This man, Qamar, was so delighted to see his nephew arrive safely (well, alive and only with two broken legs, but better than dead), he insisted that as soon as Omar had been seen to by his doctors, he would take the crew out to dinner. Never ones to turn down a free meal, the crew graciously accepted.

The next day, Qamar sent his official invitation to the crew. He had chosen Alkamaar’s, the most exclusive restaurant on the station, and quite possibly the most exclusive and legendary dining hall in all the Third Horizon. For a crew more used to places like Wahib’s Cantina, where brawls, grubby back-alley deals and even the occasional murder were just something the clientele sort of got used to, this was almost as distressing as being shot at and nearly killed back at Jevghena. The day was spent hunting for acceptable formal attire so they wouldn’t automatically get turned away at the doors. It took *months* to reserve a table, and Qamar Nahas was able to walk in with 5 scruffy merchants and be seen to immediately. Clearly he was a man of means and influence.

Alkamaar’s, the finest restaurant in all the Third Horizon

They had of course seen the planet Kua from orbit many times as they came and went in their ship, but travelling to the very spire of Coriolis, and watching the blue-green world through the glass dome above them, surrounded by the scents of orchids, rare spices, incense and the delicate perfumes of the other guests, the view had never been more spectacular. They were assigned a courtesan to show them to their table, retreating to a divan to be summoned at a moment’s notice, and Qamar encouraged them to order whatever they wished from the multiple menus.

Conversation was pleasant, ranging from Omar’s modest sheep farm on Quidar to current political affairs and the latest happenings with the Council of Factions. Dav at one point saw Qamar being saluted by a Legion officer on his way to the bathrooms, and decided to ask if Qamar had served.

“Oh yes, proud family tradition. Although I don’t like to brag about it. Not to mention if I told you any more, I’d probably have to have you shot, haha. No, the military is a younger man’s game, and I’m happy to have survived long enough that I could put it all behind me. Now Majid back in Caph would be able to tell you many stories…”

And so it went. Qamar was an excellent host, many exquisite dishes and cocktails were sampled, and the crew made the most of what they suspected would be the only visit to Alkamaar’s they would ever afford. Ash made a point of getting a bag of Alkamaar’s finest coffee beans before leaving.

Zulaikha, graceful and handsome as ever

The following morning, those coffee beans were warmly welcomed by tender sleepy heads. As was the invitation to lunch with Zulaikha Irides, their mission broker for Melem Gessura. He was taking his leisure at one of the many cafes near the Spring Plaza, enjoying the bright open spaces and the exquisite fountains and public works. He greeted the crew with great enthusiasm, asked them how their mission went, and expressed sorrow over the danger that arose unforeseen. “By way of apology, please allow me to offer you a very safe, in-system job that nonetheless pays well. There is a shipment of scientific equipment that the Foundation needs to get out to station FS-7, which orbits the gas giant Xene. No portals, no pirates, no political or military upheaval, just a simple transportation job. 15,000 birr.”

The crew, perhaps naturally, was suspicious. But Zulaikha was correct; Xene was close by, Kua was a well-policed system when it came to open piracy, and the money was good. They accepted over a round of refreshing kawah, and made their preparations to leave. The cargo was checked and double-checked, loaded and secured, and they were off. Xene would take about 4 days of travel, which did prove rather boring. The open blackness of space has a strange effect on those who sail it. Some times the abyss looks back. But our heroes were determined and steely-willed (or perhaps just lucky), and boredom really was the only threat they encountered.

The gas giant Xene

Xene grew quickly in the distance. A massive planet, some ten times the volume of Kua, and an atmosphere constantly wracked by storms easily as large as that jungle world. Compared to Xene, station FS-7 was a mote of dust, but on approach the crew saw that it was quite large in its own right, clearly a major scientific endeavour. Since the mysterious Emissaries rose from the depths of Xene, with one of them remaining on the station, FS-7 had required several new habitation modules to account for the many faithful who believed the Emissaries were either the Icons made flesh or their messengers, and the science station had become an awkward fulcrum, an endless stream of pilgrims on on side and the original scientific teams and staff who just wanted to get on with their godless research. The docking ring was therefore a great deal busier than expected, and songs of praise and hoarse preachers formed the lion’s share of the background noise.

FS-7, cutting edge scientific research and pilgrimage site extraordinaire since the appearance of the Emissaries.

They were expected, and the chief scientist and her bodyguard were there to meet the crew. She introduced herself as Jarouma had Peleter and was almost unprofessionally giddy at the sight of the equipment. The crew received their 15,000 birr and an invitation to dine with Jarouma while her staff took care of the logistics.

The fare was naturally not as good as their time in Alkamaar’s a few nights previously, but for a research outpost it was impressive. Jarouma thanked the crew again, saying that since the Emissaries her work has been greatly delayed. “But with your delivery or replacements and repairs, I think we can finally get back to work!”. Dav, curious about what was actually done on FS-7 as well as politely making conversation, asked if she could elaborate on what that work entailed.

Jarouma had Peleter, Chief Scientist and de facto ruler of FS-7

“Well… Years ago, we found something on an expedition, a structure with very similar energy patterns and emissions as the portal fields we use for travel. Now, that’s all very fascinating and there is still a large team out there many systems away, trying to make sense of it as we speak. But… you see, I noticed not too long ago that the magnetic field of Xene naturally looked very much like those patterns when viewed through the correct instruments. My hypothesis is that… how to put it… well, if we were able to modify Xene’s magnetosphere, with targeted interference patterns, I think we might be able to create a brand new portal field!”

She sat back, beaming with pride. The portals were not at all understood beyond the mathematical formulae humanity had developed to allow their use. How they were created or how they allow one to jump instantaneously from one star to another was a complete mystery. Dav was mightily impressed. The crew and Jarouma talked for some time, making appropriate sounds at Jarouma’s ambitions, listening with sympathy when she described how the pilgrims make everyone’s jobs more difficult, and nodding pensively when she gave her opinions on the Emissary. “I don’t know who or what this Emissary is. They can certainly do things that should not be possible according to what we know of the universe. It’s not that I don’t believe in the Icons, I do of course, it’s just… Look, science isn’t about what one believes, right? It’s about what one can observe, measure and model, and how accurately you can use that model to predict something. Faith… well, it’s a dangerous thing to bring with you into a laboratory, you see. Faith might get in the way of how you observe the data, even if you’re trying hard to the contrary…” There was obvious tension between Jarouma’s staff and the new pilgrims, and Jarouma had perhaps celebrated a little too much, and she took the opportunity to thank them again and make her apologies, before heading to bed. The crew did likewise soon after.

Faisal. Or possibly Benit. Or Ahmed. It was very hard to tell with everyone sealed in pressurised suits against the near-zero atmosphere…

The next day, the crew was readying to leave, when Jarouma approached them in a most apologetic and embarrassed manner. She explained that while under the influence of perhaps a little too much kohol, she had maybe bragged about the station’s scientific goals a little too much, and could technically have said things that were, strictly speaking, highly confidential, at least until her papers on the topic had been published. She appreciated that the Blue Beetle’s crew were models of discretion and would of course keep such things to themselves until such time as discretion was unnecessary. Dav assured her that of course they could rely on her, and was delighted to note that when they shook hands, there had been a tag containing 5,000 birr in Jarouma’s palm, along with a relieved smile on her face.

Just as they were prepping their ship for launch, they received a call from a mining prospector. The moons of Xene had experienced a gold rush in the past decade, and dozens of mining colonies had sprung up on most surfaces. As the only transport ship nearby at the time, this prospector, by the name of Faisal, claimed to have struck gold, and wanted swift transport to Coriolis to register his claim before anyone else could. He also claimed to have about 50,000 birr worth of gold already extracted and ready for the markets. Some *extremely* tough negotiations on Dav and Ash’s part (ruthlessly exploiting Faisal’s need for speed and secrecy didn’t hurt) secured them a whopping 10% of the claim’s future profits. The deal agreed, Faisal transmitted coordinates to his claim, a fairly nondescript rocky plain on the near-airless 5th moon.

Landing the Blue Beetle, Faisal greeted them in protective exo-suit. He was not alone; he introduced his two partners Benit and Ahmed, both standing on an aged anti-grav hauling platform, indistinguishable in similar head to toe protection. They gave a little wave.

Xene’s fifth moon. Faisal, Benit and Ahmed on their little hauling platform.

The mining site was barely a kilometre away, where the plain encountered cliffs, probably thrown up in some tectonic upheaval long since passed. The crew decided that trust was a much rarer commodity than gold, and agreed that Dav and Fattah would accompany the men to the claim while the rest stayed on board the Blue Beetle and kept a close watch on, well, everything.

The claim was a modest cave entrance in the side of the cliff, some geological and mining equipment scattered haphazardly outside. Faisal was talkative as they piloted the loader, his excitement at the find very obvious. Inside the cave, the path turned into a cramped tunnel requiring all manner of squeezing and shimmying to get in between opposing sheets of rock, until perhaps 50 metres in, it opened up into a little staging area. As Faisal promised, there were some 20 crates filled with variously sized chunks of what looked to be extremely pure gold. On the far side of the little cavern halogen lamps shone on the rockface which sported a thick, shimmering golden scar from top to bottom. “Our instruments say this seam goes back for another 50 metres, and down at least another 70, which is the scanning limit. This is HUGE!”

Perhaps it was because every contract they’d agreed to inevitably had a catch, perhaps it was the touch of the Icons, but Fattah and Dav were suspicious. Such pure gold, just waiting to be mined out? After some discussion, they convinced Faisal to bring one crate back to the ship, where they could use the medlab to run a few basic tests on the metal. “Benit, Ahmed, start bringing the crates out front, we’re going to examine this one in their lab, establish purity and such so we know what price to set. All going well we should be back soon.” They hopped on the loader and returned to the Blue Beetle.

Pol was already in the medlab, wearing exactly no pants. Dav explained the situation, and Pol took a hunk of the gold and went to work examining it with what tools he had. Faisal looked about to inquire as to Pol’s immodesty but Ash shaking her head with a serious look persuaded him to remain silent. After some 30 minutes, Pol had completed his assessment.

“Well, it’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that our patient is dead. Can’t find a trace of life.

“Pol, it’s… it’s a geological sample. They’re not supposed to be alive.”

“Oh. Well then doubly good news! This is almost pure gold. About 5% of it is ionic salt-like compounds that… Well, you know electroplating? Where you submerge something in a salt solution and hook up an electric charge and the metal ions of the salt stick to the object? Yeah. That’s what this is. Here, one second…”

Pol jogged out to the ship’s temple and swiftly returned, bearing the small statue of the Messenger. “See this lad? Looks like solid gold but you’d know from the weight of him that he’s gold-plated. I bet if I analysed the surface it would be pretty much identical to what you brought in.”

Ash winced slightly. “Please don’t deface a holy statue of the Icons, Pol.”

“Relax, it’s not like I shove him down my pants when you’re not around.”

“… Pol, that’s a very specific thing for you to-“

Faisal interrupted. “Hang on, hang on. You’re saying I found… what, exactly?”

“Well, I’d guess it’s either *extremely* specific and improbable geochemistry, or this gold was used in electro-plating,” said Pol. “So… I guess your mining claim might be, uh, more of an *archaeological* claim, if you get me?”

Faisal’s face fell, but Dav stepped in. “Don’t worry, partner. Ok, so that means a little more paperwork when we get to Coriolis. An archaeological fine with that much gold in it is still a huge find, and we can still make a lot of money from it. The Foundation, the Consortium, Free League, Ahlam’s Temple even, there are a lot of extremely rich factions who’d be delighted to hand you a hauler full of birr for the chance to be the first at uncovering whatever history this place represents.”

As Faisal was recalculating the potential untold riches in his head, the silence was broken by the ship’s AI, cheerily announcing that 2 humans were approaching from the direction of the claim. “Must have gotten lonely I guess.” said Faisal, wandering out to the cargo bay to meet them on the ramp.

Benit and Ahmed stopped to meet him. “Quick change of plan, friends,” Faisal began, “we think this gold was used in electro-plating, meaning there’s a real good chance we’ve found us a hidden temple, or ancient factory, or some other installation.”

Ahmed’s head tilted, unsure of the full meaning. Faisal continued.

“Instead of a mining claim, we’re going to have to make it an archaeological dig site. Now don’t worry, this means we can get college students to do all the digging while we sit back, sell the finds to the highest bidders, and become rich enough to buy our own palaces on Dabaran!”

Benit and Ahmed looked at each other. Benit shrugged, and held out his hand to shake on it. Relieved, Faisal took the hand and shook.

“Good, good, I’m glad we can agree on… OK you can stop now. Ow. Benit, you’re squeezing-“

And then he screamed as Benit crushed Faisal’s hand in his, the crunch of bone shuddering through his body and audible over the comm links.

Dav and Ash were quick off the mark, whipping out their Vulcan Crickets and planting solid shots on Benit. Ahmed raised his rifle and shot Ash in the shoulder, before taking a round himself.

Any resemblance to Volatile Infected from Dying Light is purely coincidental.

Whether it was inevitable or triggered by the damage they had taken, Benit and Ahmed both howled, the sound becoming less and less human as their pressurised suits stretched and ruptured, their helmets cracking apart to reveal burning pits of yellow fire where eyes should have been. Arms elongates with sickening pops, fingers became rending talons. And the howl went on, hate and pain and rage incarnate. The Darkness Between the Stars had claimed these two, body and soul. Darkbound.

The creature that had been Ahmed leapt with terrifying nimbleness, crossing the ship’s cargo bay in the blink of an eye to come face to face with Ash, rendering her cover useless. It was all she could do to dodge the thing’s claws. The other charged the doorway to the medlab, where Dav and Fattah were both taking cover. Fattah was unable to dodge, taking a nasty cut across the chest, while Dav put another round in it at point blank. Instead of blood or even ichor, the Darkbound bled thick oily black smoke, like a drop of paint diffusing through water. It was outnumbered, however, and between Dav’s handgun and Fattah’s powered gauntlet, they took it down.

Ash, being badly wounded by the remaining Darkbound, sprinted for the safety of the others in the medlab. Her opponent flexed its unholy powers and surrounded her in chains of shadow, attempting to poison her mind with despair. Ash’s will was steadfast, however; for an instant the world flickered and appeared bleak, colourless and devoid of hope, but she gritted her teeth and shook it off.

The remaining Darkbound tried changing tack, then. Leaping to the ceiling and skittering about like a perverse spider, its head turned 180 degrees to regard its victims. It lashed out at Ash again, cutting her shoulder with long claws, but the three were ready for it now, and sustained gunfire shredded it to wisps of oily smoke. Silence descended on the Blue Beetle once more, broken only by the faint sound of snoring coming from the ship’s temple. Pol had slept through the whole ordeal.

We absolutely did not play out this scene.

In the end, the crew took Faisal and only one crate of gold back to Coriolis, for fear it carried the taint of the Dark Between the Stars. Faisal split the sale with them, giving them 5,000 birr, which they added to a further 5,000 after dropping off Jarouma had Peleter’s latest data. This was all very fortunate for them, as upon docking, a representative of the bank they originally took a loan from to purchase their ship was waiting there to meet them. It was time for their first repayment of the loan. After a little to-ing and fro-ing, it was agreed that 20,000 birr per month was an acceptable arrangement for all parties. Bank accounts now considerably lighter, they took stock of their respective situations.

Faisal declared that he would remain on Coriolis for another week at least; to settle his nerves, let his hand heal, and figure out what to do next with his lucrative but dangerous find. The crew, perhaps convinced that Faisal was as surprised by his old partners’ transformations as they had been (or perhaps looking to make sure that they still got their cut), put him in touch with their old friend Adzem Kembouri, a now well-established name in djinni, exorcisms, lifting curses, ancient lore and all manner of supernatural phenomena. If they were to return to that cursed spot, they reasoned, better to do it with someone who knew how to fight the darkness.

All in all, the crew felt, things were going quite well. They had taken some risks, yes, but so far they had all paid off. They had enough birr to cover the next repayment, in the unlikely event no other jobs came their way in that time. And they already had some other backup options; the group of mercenaries hunting them had a pretty price on their heads, should the Legion learn of their elimination. They had also intercepted a delivery of stealth and weapon optics clearly intended for an assassination attempt aboard Coriolis. If they ever figured out how to crack the dynamic encryption on the datapad accompanying the gear, the target of such a dark deed, who was clearly quite rich to deserve such high tech treatment, would surely be grateful…

Coriolis cover art seems a good way to book-end the maybe last session for a while…

… And so the stars burn, and their worlds turn, and the people of the Third Horizon trade and explore and fight and love and die. Much has happened, much has been discovered, and much more yet remains in long forgotten places, the plans of great Factions, and the future’s infinitely branching potential. And so shall it be.

[NOTE: an indefinite hiatus is coming up, if this isn’t the last session then the next one will be, as I try to fix my computer’s display issues, and perhaps try out another game or something. Gun & Slinger is on the list, a more intimate sort of game where one player is a mysterious wanderer and the other is their sentient, magical firearm. Anyway, don’t be surprised if this is the last Coriolis update for a while, it’s part of the Plan!]

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…

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

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.

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.