EP: Wakeful, Part Five

In the area “below” the crew decks are three more levels of storage and the engineering and system control sections of the ship. These certainly haven’t escaped the nightmare that befell the Evening Star during the Fall, as we’ll see today. Levels 7-9 are the crew sector; we’ll pick up with level 10.

Chamber 10A: Thousands of thumb-sized and smaller splinters of ceramic hang in the otherwise empty chamber in a thick cloud of debris. If carefully cleaned up, this chamber is fairly safe, but checking the ship’s mesh for the cargo manfiest and crew logs shows no sign of ceramics being shipped. Testing the pieces with the lab and chemical analysis-related skills suggests the ceramic pieces are similar in composition to bone.

Chamber 10B: Tens of thousands of tiny lights fill this chamber, carefully arranged in a fashion that suggests a pattern to it. An Astrophysics, Astronomy, or related skill check with a MoS of 30 or better will find that it’s a map of local space, with all of the pieces in very slight motion that mimics the motion of the stars. Black holes are mapped as well, but no one is likely to see them until someone runs into one (Fray check at 1/4 to avoid impact with a black hole if the room is explored). Such a collision does 2d10 physical damage that ignores armor and produces a burst of light and high-frequency radiation as some of the victim’s body is swallowed by the event horizon of the microscopic black holes. The sheer strangeness, including how the gravitational field is otherwise suppressed, causes 1d10 Stress to everyone aware of it.

Chamber 10C: The entire outer wall of this chamber has been coated in an extremely high-resolution display projecting what appears to be a field of static; anyone who watches it without some form of visual protection, however, needs to make a Wil+Cog+Int check or contract a slow-acting memetic version of the exsurgent virus, suffering 1 Stress per day as the world begins to flicker and distort around them, briefly revealing an infinite-seeming expanse of circuitry behind the veil of reality.

Chamber 11A: Hundreds of thousands of cortical stacks are jammed into this chamber, so densely that they nearly fill all the available space. If examined, they all seem to contain identical copies of a single ego that, if instantiated, does nothing but scream in abject horror. Psychosurgical analysis suggests that the ego has been tortured in an endless sequence of simulspaces.

Chamber 11B: The chamber seems empty, but anyone who enters it hears whispering at the very edge of audibility; even those with augmented hearing can’t hear it any more clearly, although the reason isn’t obvious. (The whispering is a psi effect that permeates the entire room thanks to a layer of psiactive femtobots lining the walls.) Remaining in the room for more than fifteen minutes causes 1 Stress, but no other ill effects.

Chamber 11C: Half a dozen spheres float around the chamber, course-correcting with vector-thrust jets to avoid bumping into any objects. They evade anyone trying to capture them, exhibiting a high degree of ability to predict the movement of anyone trying to pursue them. Heat signatures and anyone with ego sense will glean clues that suggest that a living mind is trapped inside each sphere, but nothing seems to be able to catch one for closer examination.

Chamber 12A: The chamber is full of dessicated organic material; analysis will reveal that there’s nothing strange about this, as the chamber contained organic food that was damaged during the events of the Fall, permitting spoilage to occur before the rest of the ship went to hell; the organic debris is mold that consumed most of the damaged food before slowly dying off and drying out.

Chamber 12B: A solid black metal sphere with blinking lights sits in the middle of the chamber, with a handful of ports that can be accessed via hardlink to any computer equipment. Doing so reveals that it seems to be running a version of CleverBot that seems perfectly normal at first, but which quickly leads players into strange and disturbing conversational paths that make cannibalism and murder seem perfectly reasonable. (The program running on the system has an effective skill of 120 in Psychology for the purpose of convincing people to consider horrible acts.)

Next time, we’ll delve down into the systems of the ship, and where the Evening Star is bound when the PCs awaken.

EP: Wakeful, Part Five

Pathfinder: The Torch of Abeyance

At Paizocon in 2014 I played in a session of the Emerald Spire megadungeon as run by the game designer Owen Stephens. (If you’re wondering, he apparently tends to modify the dungeon to be a great deal more brutal and deadly for players.) During it, the character I was playing found a half-burned torch that he managed to get re-lit, later using it for several successful Intimidation checks against a spider swarm.

This led to joking around the table that my fighter had found an unexpected magic item, and it quickly became his weapon for most of the rest of that level of the dungeon. Now, after recalling that session, I present you with an item for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game: The Torch of Abeyance, which at first appears to be an old and half-burned torch, but which hides helpful magic powers.

Aura None (on discovery), Moderate Evocation (upon use)

Caster Level 10

Slot None

Cost 25000 GP

Weight 3 lbs

The torch of abeyance is most often encountered by accident, resembling nothing so much as a half-burnt torch still smoldering slightly where it lays. This is the sole clue to the torch’s unusual nature until either identified by a spell or ability or activated through use. When lit, it functions as an Everburning Torch that can be commanded to lit or extinguish from that point on.

The true nature of the torch remains dormant, and it is likely that the torch will be passed from one adventurer to another, until the lit torch comes within 60′ of either a swarm of vermin or monstrous vermin. At this point, the flame turns silver-blue and the torch functions as a +1 flaming vermin-bane club. In addition, the club enables the user to use Intimidate against all forms of vermin, including swarms, to keep them from approaching.

Requirements Craft Magic Arms and Armor; summon monster Iflame blade, flame strike, or fireball; creator must have 5 ranks of Intimidate

The Torch of Abeyance is typically found in the tombs of great heroes of the past who helped to tame the wilderness, leaning against their crypts or smoldering in torch sconces near their sarcophagi. Often centuries will go by, the role of the torch lost to time, before it gets rediscovered and put to use driving back the vermin that threaten the edges of civilization and serve as the vanguard of greater threats.

Rumors exist of greater versions of the torch, capable of creating warding circles against vermin and striking fear into the hearts of vermin-like aberrations that dwell in the darkness, but there are no confirmed reports of such items.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it, and best wishes to everyone else!

Pathfinder: The Torch of Abeyance

EP: Wakeful, Part Four

The last round of Wakeful examined the crew section of the ship; today, we’ll look at the cargo holds – and what became of those refugees the ship took on board during the Fall before it vanished.

Decks 1-6 are ‘above’ the crew quarters, decks 7-9 are for the crew, 10-12 are ‘below’ decks, and 13-15 are the insulated and isolated mass of the ship’s ion drive and power systems. Each of the cargo decks is divided into three segments, marked A, B, and C, with access into the central shaft of the vessel. Procedure during loading and unloading was to dock nose-first with habitats and stations and pass the cargo along the central shaft, never violating the integrity of the hull along the main body of the ship.

Chamber 1A is completely empty – spotless, in fact, even compared to the untouched parts of the ship. Spending more than an hour in this particular room causes 1 Stress per hour due to the unnatural degree of emptiness. Any attempts to mark up the room disappear when no one is looking at them.

Chamber 1B contains a single dessicated biomorph – an Olympian morph whose cortical stack was apparently removed violently, as an ugly wound is visible at the base of the skull where it was apparently torn out. Other than the corpse being unsettling as it slowly tumbles in the air, the room is relatively safe.

Chamber 1C is infested, with the doors only being able to open enough to allow a single human-size morph to slip through, and even then only after cutting through the tough membrane that covers the gap. The interior is a festering mass of fungal growth, the air is alarmingly warm and heavy with spores, and any biomorphs inside need to make a check against 2x their current DUR to avoid becoming infested with the spores. Infestation is effectiely harmless, simply causing mottled discoloration under the skin for a few days before the immune system fights it off, but at the GM’s discretion it can cause Stress as other events happen.

Chamber 2A opens on a solid mass of ice that appears to fill the entire chamber, with nearly three dozen human-sized bodies frozen inside it. Excavation attempts will reveal these to likely be bodies of Fall refugees, with several flats mixed in among the splicer morphs. All are missing their cortical stacks in a similar fashion to the corpse in 1B. Failure to make a Will x3 save causes 1d10/2 Stress upon extracting the first corpse.

Chamber 2B has a roughly spherical mass of metallic limbs and other synthmorph parts, all of which are twitching and jerking in erratic movements. No stacks are in evidence, but there are plenty of damaged cyberbrains, and vocal units spit out random strings of words at odd interals. Spending more than ten minutes in the room requires a Will x3 check, with failure causing 1d10/2 Stress.

Chamber 2C requires a Will x2 save the moment the doors open; anyone failing this sees a dazzling, tumbling starfield and feels a powerful wind drawing them through the doors, causing 1d10 Stress and leaving them trapped in the hallucination until someone shuts the door or five minutes pass per degree of failure. Those who pass the Will check find the walls lined with softly bubbling nutrient tanks with deformed masses of brain tissue inside – the source of the hallucinatory effect, as these are cultured masses of exsurgent-infected brain tissue that psychically project the effect. Destroying them potentially exposes anyone within melee range to the exsurgent virus, but ends the psi effect for good.

Chamber 3A contains dozens of transhuman skulls, all neatly cleaned of flesh, slowly tumbling around the chamber. None of them show any signs of violence or illness, let alone any sign of what stripped the flesh away. Compared to most of the other chambers, this one is fairly tame, and it inflicts no Stress unless someone has a phobia or other tick related to inexplicable TITAN events, death, or skulls.

Chamber 3B has a cleaning bot suspended in the middle, beeping out a malfunction code endlessly; the code is modified by the digitual strain of the exsurgent virus the bot is infected with, and staying for more than a few minutes requires Int+Cog+Will checks to avoid being affected with a mental strain of the virus.

Chamber 3C is completely empty; opening it causes 1 Stress if opened after any other chamber then 6B, but otherwise it could be used as a safe space for the players to hide out and try to recuperate if the crew segments are too troubling for them.

Chamber 4A has a thick column of dessicated flesh reaching from floor to ceiling; seeing it inflicts 1d10 Stress, as humanoid limbs and faces are visible in the surface of it, most of them locked in expressions of horror. Time and dehydration have rendered the mass brittle enough that any contact with another object fragments it at the impact point. It’s no longer a viable infection vector, and the room is otherwise safe.

Chamber 4B is infested with the mad nanotech mold that coats the hull; entering the chamber puts any synthmorphs at risk of being infected and experiencing a loss of 5 DUR per hour if they fail a check against their current DUR. At 0 DUR they break down into a new patch of the mold.

Chamber 4C is filled with rows of suspension and life support tubes full of nutrient gel. Instead of morphs, however, each tube contains an exsurgent nightmare – whippers being the most common, but almost every well-known exsurgent can be found amid the tubes, slumbering as a payload waiting to be unleashed. Realizing that the exsurgents are all viable and all waiting to be set loose on an unsuspecting station inflicts 1d10 Stress. Trying to smash the tubes to kill them simply wakes the horrors up.

Chamber 5A is packed full of boxes of cuts of freeze-dried human flesh, enough to comprise a few hundred people. The boxes are labelled whimsically, with references to Hannibal Steak and the like. Realizing what the boxes contain inflicts 1d10/2 Stress if a Will x3 check is failed. The meat is, if players decide to eat it, fully edible.

Chamber 5B contains the tortued and vivisected remains of the crew, who all bear a sharp resemblance to the morphs the players are wearing. A Will x3 check needs to made made on first seeing the room (1d10/5 Stress if failed), and a Will x2 if a player looks at a morph that matches their own  (1d10/5 Stress s failed) as they hallucinate being killed in that fashion.

Chamber 5C contains a synthmorph built of femtobots that is continually eating itself, spinning slowly in the middle of the room. No risk of infection, but whatever sapience might once have been house in the swarmanoid is long gone, atrophied into nothing by madness.

Chamber 6A is filled with chokingly thick clouds of dust that, if tested, are entirely organic in composition, seemingly made from a vast amount of dead skin cells and organic molecules. While disgusting, the clouds are harmless, and if emptied the room can serve as a safe space for the group to rest.

Chamber 6B is completely empty; like 3C, opening it inflicts 1 Stress on anyone viewing it if they’ve opened any other chamber, but it’s otherwise completely safe to stay in for the timeframe of the adventure.

Chamber 6C contains a dense web of glistening strands that, if tested, prove to be synthetic neurons that are collectively linked to the ship’s mesh network, appearing as NeuralNetA once the door is opened. If accessed, it produces an XP feed comprised of hundreds of human voices screaming, shrieking, and babbling in pain and fear. Isolated snippets give the impression that here is where the egos of the refugees and crew ended up, psychosurgically stitched together into a single violently unstable mind.

Next time, we’ll look at the lower chambers of the ship and the control systems, and the hidden danger of the ship.

EP: Wakeful, Part Four

EP: Wakeful, Part Three

Today, we’ll look at the current state of the Evening Star and where the messages the players found come into play.

First and most importantly, four of the six water tanks that protect the habitable section of the ship are empty; both of the Beta tanks have simply been drained over time to keep the atmosphere sufficiently oxygenated and to apply microbursts of hydrogen gas to course-correct as the ship has swung in a slow orbit around the Earth on autopilot. Alpha tank #1, directly behind the resleeving section, has a more serious problem – the outer hull of the tank has been fractured, leading to the water bleeding out and slowly sublimating into the void when the ship has swung into the sunlit side of the orbit. Beta tank #2 has it worse, however – the material of the tank has been infected with rogue nanoswarms that have turned it into a churning soup of water and pseudo-organic nanite slime. The tank’s structural integrity is significantly weakened, and the infested slime has spent a few years slowly oozing through the inner wall of the vessel; the exercise room adjacent to the tank has layers of melted-looking metallic encrustations covering the outer wall. Anyone who viewed the XP clip of the EVA crew member sampling the metallic mold on the hull will recognize similar traits between the XP clip and the encrustations. Those who failed the Will check become aware of a subtle pattern in the encrustations that they’ll feel compelled to approach and try to trace by hand; if not prevented from doing so, they’ll need to make a Dur x2 check to see if they become infected by the exsurgent virus strain present.

The resleeving lab where the players start is reasonably intact, with a basic desktop cornucopia machine that was kept off the ship’s mesh to avoid it being reset from being jailbroken. It can fab up simple items like clothing and weapons without moving parts in a matter of minutes; more complex items like firearms or ammunition will take at least an hour to fab up. Anyone who failed the Will check related to the picture of corpses and bloody-hued globs of nutrient gel will experience a deep sense of dread as long as they remain in the resleeving room, taking 1 Stress every ten minutes. If they accumulate enough for a temporary derangement, they become convinced that the globs are actually animate, trying to squirm through the air toward them, bearing some horrific alien plague in them. They need to make Ref  x3 checks every minute they remain inside to avoid the globules; each degree of failure indicates that they take 1 Stress as they collide with bubbles of crimson goo.

The science lab is an absolute disaster, looking as if a firefight broke out inside, with equipment blown to pieces and left floating free. Some of the debris is crusty brown-black blobs, dried blood from the three corpses that have settled into the corners of the room, desiccation and the soft impacts of objects over the years having rendered them into vaguely humanoid shapes of crumbling tissue. Medical skills can reveal that one of the corpses appears to have died due to soaking up a great deal of small-arms fire, well in excess of what should have been needed to kill it. An MoS of 30 or better reveals certain disturbing traits, requiring a Will x3 check to avoid taking 1d10/2 Stress as the corpse’s claw-like fingertips, signs of accelerated regeneration at the site of some of the bullet wounds, and jaw full of jagged fangs indicate a decidedly inhuman transformation arrested halfway through the process.

The habitation ring is home to little more than alarming messages painted on the walls in a mixture of blood and other, fouler substances, all long since dried and dessicated. A recurring theme in the messages suggests that the crew was hearing something in the walls, that the evacuees were turning feral, and that the void of space was screaming. Any player who accessed the XP of speaker-distorted screaming will begin to hear a soft sound in the background, which evades their direct attention; for the rest of their time on the ship, they suffer one Stress every hour that they’re awake as the sound slowly resolves into a distant wailing noise somewhere outside the hull of the ship, interspersed with occasional scratching from something outside against the outer hull.

One of the single-room habitation modules in the Gamma section is jammed shut; accessing the door’s programming directly via the maintenance port will permit a Programming check to reset the software, and a Hardware check of an appropriate nature can be made to find the archaic-looking hard reset toggle. Opening the door releases a sickly-sweet aroma into the rest of the ship; anyone with a medical or biological sciences skill will recognize the smell of ongoing rot. The room itself is a wreck like the rest of the hab modules, but the ‘roof’ of the room has the woman from the piloting and astrophysics clip fused to it by rippling waves of metallic mold. She appears dead to most, but anyone who viewed the XP will see her breathing slowly and feel a strong urge to free her. Coming into contact with the mold requires a Dur x2 check to avoid becoming fused to the contact point, requiring the removal of the offending body part to get free. Worse, at the contact, everyone will see the woman’s eyes open, her irises dilated to the point of being nearly all pupil, and start screaming with an atonal voice that sounds like the shriek of a modem handshake. Anyone hearing this needs to make a Cog+Int+Will check to avoid becoming infected with a memetic version of the exsurgent virus.

The bottom segment of the crew quarters contains the remains of the ship’s fabbers, a roiling ball of ever-shifting nanites that seem to be caught in a war against one another, as well as the broken-open wreckage of the crew lockers, with the personal effects strewn across the space and slowly tumbling. One anomalous item is a deformed skull, looking as if it belonged to a person with an unusually large cranium; a matching set of holes suggests that it was shot by a high-velocity kinetic weapon, probably resulting in it expiring. Anyone who touches it will need to make a Som x3 check to keep control as the ship suddenly seems to lurch around them as their muscles start spasming and throwing them around for the next half-minute or so. Close examination of the skull with the remaining lab equipment will show that it appears to be artificial, with heavy amounts of carbon nanofiber strung through it to reinforce it; the muscle spasms appear, after examination, to be triggered by the skull’s unusual patterns of electrical conductivity.

The AR/VR chamber is home to a bedlam of virtual nightmare. Psychosurgically butchered versions of the ship’s crew exist in a dismal half-life, instantiated in a simulspace that depicts an endless labyrinth of scorching hot sulfurous stone corridors choked with scalding hot air, foul clouds of steam and smoke, and an AI in the form of a mocking, tormenting imp that endlessly harasses its specific victim. There are periodic intrusions through the stone of anachronistic fragments of the ship itself; the comms antenna is a common one, although it has the flexibility of a tentacle and lashes out at anyone close to it. None of the crew are coherent or salvagable, unfortunately.

Next time, we’ll venture outside the crew area into the cargo holds and the maintenance area, and perhaps see what became of the refugees from the Fall itself!

EP: Wakeful, Part Three

EP: Wakeful, Part Two

Last time the Octopus posted, we were looking at the early stages of an Eclipse Phase adventure. Let’s pick back up today with the next part of it, wherein we look at the ship itself. Unfortunately, finding a map for a cargo starship has proven beyond my Google-fu, so we’ll be laying it out in words.

The Evening Star is a cylindrical vessel 150 meters in lengths and 30 meters across, built with trilateral symmetry; designed to experience most of the trip either accelerating or decelerating, the whole thing is arranged into floors, each one occupying a ten-meter segment. The thirty meters in the middle are reserved for the crew of the vessel, with the medical bay currently occupied by the players insulated from the outer edge of the vessel by one of the massive water tanks. The sixty meters at the nose are reserved for the cargo bays, as are the thirty meters ‘below’ the habitation segments. The last thirty meters are reserved for the ship’s non-life-support systems, including the drive and the communication arrays.

The habitation segments have personal quarters arranged into sets of eight on each of the trilateral portions on the ‘top’ segment; on a normal trip with only twelve people, each of the crew essentially had a bedroom and a living room reserved for their own use. Each of these segments has a small galley attached, enough to let each person handle their meals in private if so desired; shared between two people the galleys were more than enough to let the crew essentially function with nothing more than professional overlap if they wanted.

The middle segment has the vessel’s water tanks arrange in six segments around the outer hull, These served as much as radiation shielding as water supply or emergency fuel, protecting the ship’s medical and resleeving facility from radiation along with the exercise room, the food stores for the crew, and a science lab for studies being done on the long haul. The resleeving facility is built to be able to grow new morphs as needed, keeping a stock of six healthy spare morphs aboard the ship during most hauls; the usual load was three splicers, two furies, and a sylph, the latter being designated for the captain at any given time.

The bottom segment housed entertainment facilities, including one room dedicated to a localized and isolated mesh network for people to use for communal VR experiences, including multiplayer games and for the purpose of briefing the crew when necessary. It also houses rows of lockers for personal effects not stored in a person’s rooms and the on-ship fabbing facilities; being a long-range cargo hauler that could be out for years at a time, the fabbers aboard the ship are quite thoroughly jailbroken, capable of fabbing up anything that the user has materials and schematics for.

Outside of this area, each cargo level is split into three bays, with mass arranged so that the thrust from the vessel’s three exhaust nozzles is distributed as evenly as possible across the ship’s framework. The three decks at the top and the three under the habitation area are generally reserved for radiation-resistant cargo – blocks of raw fabber material, raw ore, masses of cometary ice on the odd occasions that someone decides to haul back only part of a comet, and so on. The three bays directly above the crew section are reserved for more delicate cargo – anything easily damaged by radiation goes here, as does any organic life, whether  stored in a support tube or left free to grow during the trip to the cargo’s destination.

The primary drive for the ship is a four-chamber ion drive that uses a small trickle of water from the tanks to propel the ship; the thrust is absolutely minimal, just enough to provide the ghost of gravity needed to provide orientation to the ship’s design without seriously hampering the crew climbing up and down the central shaft, and with no risk of stray objects dropping down the chamber with any significant danger. Hydrogen harvested by breaking the water down gets used to provide maneuvering jets when the ship reaches the halfway point of a given journey; over the course of a week, cargo would be strapped back down and personal items stowed, followed by a few hours spent carefully inverting the vessel before turning the ion drive back on.

This, of course, is the baseline design of the ship; anyone with an appropriate Hardware skill knows this, and the ship’s schematics can be pulled from the shipboard mesh. Of course, the degree to which reality deviates from the blueprint makes it somewhat less than reliable.

Next time, we’ll look at the physical changes that the Evening Star has suffered since it went missing, and touch on some of the horrific aspects of it.

EP: Wakeful, Part Two

EP: Wakeful, Part One

So, since it’s coming up on Halloween, I figured I’d take a little bit and produce an adventure across the next few days for fans of the horror/conspiracy sci-fi game Eclipse Phase that people can enjoy. As a synopsis, the players are awakened to find themselves aboard a derelict spacecraft in Earth orbit, with the air on the thin and stale side but breathable and the temperature hovering on the cold side of survivable. None of them know why they’re here; there’s a significant chunk of continuity lost for each of them. They need to get out somehow, of course, and find their way to safety – but can they do it before something goes wrong, or before whoever – or whatever – put them here comes looking for them?

The derelict in question is the Evening Star, a former cargo hauler that went missing during the events of the Fall; it was on record as accepting a sizable number of fully instantiated refugees from the space elevators before going completely silent and vanishing. The ship’s life support system was designed to support a maximum of one hundred people, so it was assumed that the crowding from the refugees overwhelmed the ship’s ability to cope and everyone aboard died of anoxia.

So when the players awaken in the ship’s on-board backup facility with the lights on and the air cold but breathable, those aware of the circumstances of the ship’s disappearance might be justifiably concerned. Also of concern is that the players’ muses will report that, according to the still-functional shipboard mesh, they’re missing about six months of personal time. Oh, and they’re all sleeved in naked morphs they’re unfamiliar with – a mix of splicers and furies, with nothing particularly exotic about them.

Checking the ship’s mesh will show that public access allows for checking the time, sending and receiving messages, and access to video from the hallways and cargo holds. At the time of waking, nothing shows on any of the video feeds, and each player has one or more messages waiting for them with no subject or sender information available. There’s no gravity, leaving the resleeving room full of floating bubbles of nutrient gel as players emerge from the storage tubes.

The primary goal of the adventure is for the players to find a way to escape the ship and make their way back to some hub of civilization; anything they can salvage to bring back as proof of where they were will be of immense value in the old-style economy of cislunar space. Of course, salvaging things from a derelict vessel in cislunar space has risks in and of itself.

The messages for the players depend on the skills of their characters.

Anyone with skills relevant to the TITANs, AI research, or the Singularity has this message waiting for them, apparently an random excerpt from a longer message: “ry has the chips; meet her in forward hold C at the midpoint to make the swap. Be careful, she might be packing an organic-hunting decon swarm and be aiming to scrub you to get the box and keep the chips. Don’t let her know about Mic”

Attached to this message is an XP file; if the player accesses it, they need to make a Will x3 check to avoid taking 1d10/2 Stress as they experience roughly 30 seconds of intensely burning pain and the sound of speaker-distorted screaming.

Those with skills relevant to biotech, genetics, or medical skills past first aid have another message waiting: “Something’s gotten in the nutrient system for the morph storage. Not sure what, but the system’s filtration is barely keeping up with cleaning it up. Next layover, I recommend we do a full purge on the system. Even if it’s harmless, who wants to instantiate in a tub full of blood-colored goo?” Attached is what appears to be an image file, but it’s heavily distorted and filled with pixel noise. Running it through image-processing software will clean it up, and will a MoS of 10 or better wil any relevant skills; either reveals it to be a snap of the medical bay the group is in, with half a dozen ragged corpses floating in null-G and surrounded by floating globules of blood. Failing a Will x3 check causes 1d10/2 Stress and the realization that all the nutrient gel globs look bloody.

Anyone with hardware skills has a message that reads “Can whoever has the next rotation check the after solars? The system’s bugging out pretty bad and keeps insisting they’re oriented at a weird angle to incoming, even  after I punch in corrections. They’re either at 65 or 190 to the solar instead of the 90.” Attached is a short video from an external camera, which shows an extension with solar panels along it quiver slowly for nearly a minute before it suddenly and impossibly curls toward the camera and the feed goes dark. Witnessing this is enough to prompt a Will x3 check, with failure causing 1d10/5 Stress.

Those with conspiracy theory or topics related to the Fall as interests have the following “lling you, something;s shadowing the ship. I know the radar and lidar haven’t returned anything, but I keep seeing stars get eclipsed by whatever it is. Probably some milspec stealth thing, but what do they want with us? Look, I’m sending the vid with highlights on when the stars get eclipsed. Whatever it is, it’s huge.” Attached is the described video; it seems to suggest a large object at some distance from the hull camera following the same trajectory as the ship. Viewing it causes no Stress.

Media skills and journalism/investigation skills results in the following message: “ow what the hell Burns thinks she’s doing but there’s no way we can send that footage to the rest of the system, they’ll think we’re insane conspiracy theorists cooking up faked XPs. I don’t care what she and Mort have recorded, if we have to we’ll blow the fuses on the comm mast and tell them their bug must’ve done it. No reason to panic anyone off-ship if it’s something we picked up on the last run. Tell her that sh” Attached is a short XP clip from a person in a somewhat clumsy vacsuit working their way along the hull of the ship, stopping every few meters to take samples of something that resembles a metallic mold on the ship’s hull. The clip cuts out when the person gets to the airlock. Have those who watch it roll Will x3; no Stress results from viewing the XP, but failing the Will check has repercussions elsewhere.

Piloting, astrophysics, and alien technology skills get a message that simply contain a video clip of a panicky-looking splicer with a weird blue mottling across her face. She seems to be hiding in a closet somewhere, and she’s whispering to the camera. “My name is Mari Burns. I don’t know if this will ever get out, but I have to try. The ship is infected with some kind of nanite plague, I’ve got no idea where it came from. The metal’s infested, we’re bleeding air, most of the rest of the crew is either dead, insane, or turned into something not even close to human. I’m pretty sure I’m infected – I keep hallucinating sights and sounds. Please, if you see this, stay off the Evening Star. Burn us with plasma if you can. We’re a plague ship and for the sake of transhumanity we can’t let this land anywhere.” Her eyes unfocus at this point, and those watching get treated to several seconds of her screaming hysterically before the video cuts out. Viewing it calls for a Will x3 check, with 1 point of Stress lost if successful and 1d10/2 lost if unsuccessful, plus later repercussions.

Next time when I come back to this, I’ll see about digging up a map of the ship and explaining some of what’s aboard. (Yes, it involves exsurgents.)

EP: Wakeful, Part One

Into the Court

There are times when one player is going to hog most of a session, simply because they’re the ‘face’ character who talks and negotiates with others. Most GMs try to hurry through these to keep the other players from getting bored and wandering off, either in-game or out-of-game, but there’s another way to go about it. Today, we’ll look at turning the players into the minds behind some of your NPCs for a session.

You know the character type already; the smooth-talking elven bard, the charming fixer on the streets of cyberpunk Seattle, the queen of a fledgling nation addressing a council. They’re the charismatic deal-makers who want nothing quite so much as the chance to show off their gift with language and their ability to charm and dazzle others. The problem, usually, is that the other players are terrified the person will say something to traumatically disrupt the game, and so the chance is often stifled. The GM can’t exactly build a scene with a dozen NPCs simply to let the character monologue, because that kind of scene can take hours while the other players have to either sit by quietly or disrupt the negotiation with their own adventuring. (The latter can make a wonderfully intense game if the talkative character is trying to keep those they’re talking to occupied while the others accomplish some goal unnoticed, however.)

So what’s a GM to do to keep the others interested? Simple: make them part of the scene. Rather than their usual characters, who are busy elsewhere, give them character sheets for the session for one of the NPCs the face character is dealing with. Let them pick the one they find the most interesting, and have a small packet of information for the player to peruse during the session that tell them the goals and desires of that NPC, to help them get into the character’s head.

Make all the NPCs have a reason to get involved in the conversation, so that there’s a chance that the players will get a conversation going where the GM only needs to occasionally interject as the other NPCs present, or to describe the events of the world around them. All the players are likely going to want the face to succeed, but most won’t want to simply handwave through the scenario; some things may emerge from it that you, as the GM, never considered, giving you extra fodder for building out the rest of the game.

Make the session a mix of roleplaying and dice-rolling; let the players face off in contested rolls, with bonuses and penalties based on their arguments. If possible, have there be a small crowd of observers to be swayed by the rhetoric of those speaking, and let the player currently doing the best get cheers and whistles from that group. By making it a competition without the players themselves being involved, you can inspire borderline roleplayers to give it a stronger showing, and push the already extravagant to new levels of characterization.

Wind the session down as if closing out an actual meeting of the type; if it’s something official, having someone with a gavel or similar tool banging on the table can signal the end of things for the time being, and the players can get a bit to switch to their original characters and find out in-character how things went from the face. Finally, tell them what they’ve won (or lost) from the exchange, as if finishing up a regular session where combat or exploration went on, and go through your usual post-game routine. (And yes, expect this kind of session to eat up the entire game session, once people get going.)

Gie it a try; you might be surprised by the results!

Into the Court