Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: Space Cowboys

Interpretation, pt 2: “We must consult the bones…”

“Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit” – “Man proposes, but God disposes” — Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Players don’t tell the GM what their PC does, they say what their PC tries.  The dice say what the PC actually does.

You can see this clearly demonstrated in the combat rules. Alric might set out to plant his axe in the forehead of some overwrought ogre, but if Alric’s player rolls an 18, it’s the Critical Miss Table that says where that axe really ends up. It happens outside of combat, too. Will rolls, especially, get to take the controls away from the player from time to time. If someone’s interrogating Needles, and he crit fails his Will roll, he’s going to let something spill, no matter what his player claims.

The dice also take care of everything that’s below the game’s level of detail. An example from the Space Cowboys game:  Dr Nanika had just completed an examination of an unconscious patient, and hadn’t been able to determine a diagnosis. (I can’t say for certain, but I believe this was during the part of the story when they were trying to understand all the strange things that were happening due to the Zombie Plague, before they figured out there was such a thing.) In the real world, of course, this was no more than the player saying “I’ll examine him and try to figure out what’s up”, then rolling Diagnosis. In-game, Dr Nanika did her thing; just like an episode of any medical drama you care to name, she did tests and performed procedures and consulted references. After all was said and done, she came out of sickbay and announced that she was stumped. Bubba asks, “Did you check him for head wounds?”

The players turned to look at me expectantly. Nanika’s player half-reached for her dice. I pointed out that if Dr Nanika had forgotten to check for the possibility that the patient had been bopped on the head and knocked out, until the ship’s mechanic brought it up, she needed to go back to Mars University and demand a refund.

There’s a lot of games that my group could never play. We’re just not equipped. No matter how much we might enjoy watching the antics of TV doctors through the ages, we can’t talk that talk. Anything medical in our games is always going to come down to dice-rolling and hand-waving. I’m more likely to give a re-roll for the player chewing the scenery than I am for someone remembering an obscure medical factoid. (Doc throws her stethoscope to the side, rips Bubba’s shirt open, and starts beating him with a lead pipe while screaming, “Live, damn you, live! I won’t have another brother’s blood on my hands!”… yeah, that’s worth another throw of the dice.) I don’t have the knowledge to talk details, so the dice handle all that for me. Did the doc stitch the patient up correctly?  Must have, since the roll for the procedure was a success…

What I do, as the GM, is, I’ll look at the dice, and base actions and outcomes on margin of success or failure. If the roll fails by just a tiny bit, one or two, then I’ll often describe it as a bit of bad luck, or something unexpected. The wind shifts, or a cloud goes across the sun. The sneaky person suddenly has to sneeze. If it’s an extravagant failure, by 8 or 9, I’ll aim more for incompetence, as the task is just beyond the character’s skills. Instead of cutting the red wire, the character slips and nicks the blue wire. The sneaky person trips over their own feet and falls out from behind the curtain. In the same way, if someone rolls really well, I’ll try to describe the action so as to make them look that much better, cooler, more skillful. That’s how we get things like Needles knowing how to disable the trap by grabbing it’s trigger just as it’s going off.

 

Advertisements

Why no mandatory Sense of Duty?

At one point, early on, when I was seeing the amount of treachery and back-stabbing going on, I speculated about the possibility of making “Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions)” a required trait. I had done such things in the past.  The “Supers 1200” game had a package of required traits just for being on the team, and a recommendation for Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction that was so strong as to be a requirement. (“If you do not have this, you will die in the first two seconds of your first real superhuman combat.”) The “Space Cowboys” game had the loose arrangement that all PCs were either family members, or hired hands, which had consequences for what traits one could purchase. I didn’t enforce a rule that any family member had to be dedicated to the family’s well-being, but that’s how it worked out. The players enforced their own rule, there.

When it came to Dungeon Fantasy, though, all I did was speculate, the one time. I never actually instituted the requirement. I felt it went against the sandbox nature of the experiment. The idea is to give the players as much power to decide — as much agency, as they say — as possible. In the words of Uncle Al, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”  My goal is to set up an interesting series of environments and inhabitants of those environments; how the PCs interact with those environments is entirely up to them.

So it follows that if the PCs want to find comical ways to step into the grave, they should have that freedom. If the party is fighting itself, as well as the monsters, I expect an overall drop in treasure extracted, as well as life expectancy. If the party is working well together, covering each other’s weaknesses and reinforcing each other’s strengths, using sound tactics, they’ll walk right over any monster I throw at them, and get rich doing it. I don’t need to wave the all-powerful wand of the GM to make that happen, it just emerges from the variables naturally.

One example came up, this past session, when the seasoned pros told the new recruit the tale of how Needles gave up a fortune by trying to keep the treasure to himself.  Acting alone, he was able to score 25cp, all for himself. Tax-free, you might say. If he had shared the loot, the gem likely would have been identified as magical, sold for ten thousand copper, with a share coming to 2,000cp each.

There’s a reason Jed’s new mantra is “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

In the meantime, since they can’t count on the Immutable Word Of Ghod* to say that every applicant is trustworthy, the party has again started enforcing its own rules. They’ve hammered out something resembling a charter, with the ground rules that the party operates by. Rather than hoping that every party member has uncharacteristically warm feelings for one another, they’re going to spell out expectations and police themselves. You can bet, if PC X is caught stealing from a fallen comrade, rather than honoring that comrade’s will (“I leave all my stuff to my next character…”), PC X will shortly wind up dead at the bottom of a pit, and PC X+1 will get the story of how PC X was swallowed whole by a purple worm, instead of any inheritance.

* * *

* This should go without saying, but:  They really shouldn’t trust everything I say, just ’cause I’m the GM. I’m an unreliable narrator, at best. I’m just reporting the evidence of their character’s senses. I try to shove off as many rolls as I can to the players, but I always try to roll the “what do I know” and “what do I see” rolls in secret, so I can give them false information if they crit fail. My NPCs lie. My truthful NPCs are often wrong. I just promise not to lie about the meta-game stuff, like “town is safe” and “stick to the templates”.

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #7 – hmm… that’s embarrassing…

Episode #7 was the last of one of Season 2 of the Space Cowboys game. By that time, I had been working on starting up the Dungeon Fantasy game for a couple of months, and everybody knew it was the last of the campaign. I was already receiving character sheets via email. Excitement was high.

So high, in fact, that it seems I never wrote up a synopsis for the last session. :p

The only document I’ve been able to turn up is a series of pictures of the NPCs that the crew met in the Pavlovich family space station. There were three generations represented, played by different members of the cast of the classic Dukes of Hazzard TV show, plus an apparently-hung-over Macaulay Culkin. The patriarch and matriarch of the family were Anatoly and Olga, played by the actors who played the Hogg family. Culkin’s character was named Stanislav.

… and aside from that, I can find nothing.

Anybody who played in that game, if you remember any details, please share.

My apologies to anyone who was just dying to hear the end of the story… but… looking back… it occurs to me that since the campaign was originally meant to be GURPS Firefly, it is in some way fitting that the last episode isn’t getting broadcast.

 

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #6 – “Going Down With The Ship”

Osolo scored the Cool Point for this episode, through creative use of a frying pan.

This was one hard-drinking crew. Terreno had a Quirk on his sheet, that he truly believed he did his best piloting with a couple of drinks in him. I don’t think Mel actually had the Alcoholism disad, formally, but sometimes it seems like she took on the effects voluntarily. (In this case, as I recall, the player had to miss the game, so it was an easy excuse to say that she was curled up with her coping mechanism.)

The triple-barreled shotgun really became a staple of the campaign. 

What Happened:

Twelve hours. In twelve hours, we enter the atmosphere, and then there’s nothing that can stop us.”

After looking over Terreno’s navigational solution and making that pronouncement, Mel went straight to sickbay. She locked herself in with Mung’s body, pulled out her special bottle, and proceeded to drinkin’ hard. The rest of the crew scattered.

Reasoning that the near future would likely call for some daring and skillful acts of piloting, Terreno checked the control room’s stores of alcohol and found them wanting. Jasmine’s tequila must be held in reserve for dire emergency. He went to search for strong drink.

Hal headed to the engine room to suit up, aiming to do a survey of the damage to the sails.

Down in the hanger deck, Bubba tried to patch the leak in the rocket fuel tank and capture the loose fuel. This turned out to be more of an undertaking than he had originally hoped. As he worked, he realized that he had a feeling of not being alone. Re-thinking his entry into the hanger deck, he recalled hearing the sound of one of the inchworms’ airlocks cycling.

Osolo and Felix went to work at the communications board, broadcasting a mayday – or, rather, attempting to broadcast. Felix opened up the board and quickly established that the fault must be with the external antenna. The two speculated that Jasmine’s astropus might be to blame. While Felix called for Hal to wait up, Osolo went to prowl the ship, looking for the astropus, with a cleaver in one hand and his best frying pan in the other. When he heard Bubba’s news from the hanger deck, he recruited Terreno – returning, dejected, after failing to find any moonshine near the still – for the search.

Felix caught up with Hal at the engine room airlock, where they both suited up and armed themselves with spear guns. Outside, on the hull of the Cabra, they found the sails in twisted disarray. When Hal had cut the power, the superconducting cables had gone limp. Then, without the stable structure of the circularized sail to “push” against, the spin of the ship’s hull had been delivered to the limp sails, tangling the cables in a knot measured in tens of miles.

Seeing that the sails were not the job of a moment, they took a quick look at the ship’s main antenna. It had clearly been sabotaged, with wires hanging free. Seeing this, Hal pointed out that it would do them more good to have sails and no radio, rather than radio and no sails.

They debated their approach. On the one hand, the quickest way to complete the survey would be to split up and share the job. On the other, Felix pointed out that the astropus was still at large, and might very well be out on the hull with them. It could be, Felix argued, that the astropus had sabotaged the antenna as a ruse to draw the crew out of the safety of the ship, and was even now watching them through its alien eyes, cold-bloodedly planning its attack…

They decided to stick together.

After walking around the circumference of the ship, the engineers thought they had a handle on how to attack the tangle. They called Bubba away from the rocket fuel and called up both the inchworms, Bo and Luke, to help haul sail. Hearing what they were up to, Osolo and Terreno dropped by the cabin where Jamison and Earl were confined. Confirming that both were willing and able to help with the sail repairs, even if only as semi-skilled laborers, they sent the prisoners outside.

As search parties and trackers go, Osolo and Terreno were not the finest. Their approach to an astropus hunt was little more than to walk the halls calling out “Here, astropus…” Just as they were about to give it up, Terreno felt a strange, but not uncomfortable, feeling fall over him. In a twinkling, he realized that the astropus was actually his only hope of getting out of this fix alive… and Osolo meant to kill it!

Claiming to have seen the astropus, Terreno tried to talk Osolo into investigating the nearest airlock. While Osolo couldn’t put his finger on it, he saw that something was off in Terreno’s demeanor, and started to move away. However, with his attention occupied by the wrestler, he was easy prey for the astropus itself.

On the hull, the three engineers were supervising the two prisoners and the two robots. Bubba was a bit rusty at lightsail work, but teamwork was making up for that. Felix noticed that Bo was acting strangely, seeming to cast about as if in confusion. He pointed this out to the others. Bubba approached the robot, hoping to discern the nature of the problem, only for it to turn and lunge at him!

Inside, Osolo’s view was obscured by the many legs of the astropus, as it jumped from a place of concealment onto his head and shoulders. He saw that Terreno was coming in to attack, and knew he had to act quickly: he brought his favorite frying pan up in a powerful arc ending directly on his own face.

The blow would have knocked a man unconscious, but given the circumstances, it was enough to break the beast’s concentration. Terreno came back to himself, and the two crew members turned the creature into sushi with their bare hands. And a small selection of foreign objects. And Osolo’s cleaver.

(The camera averted its gaze, in good Hitchcock fashion, leaving the viewers at home with shadows and several seconds of disturbing noises before cutting away to the next scene. We’re cable, not late-night cable.)

Outside, Bo had pounced on Bubba, pinning him to the hull and rolling him around like a puppy playing with a bone. Hal attempted to distract the robot by punching it, but being made of motors and sheet metal, it paid no attention. Finally, it snagged Bubba’s belt and flung him entirely off the ship!

Suddenly, during the dis-assembly, Osolo realized that Bubba was in trouble through their long-dormant psychic link, and tore off in a rush, leaving Terreno to finish the job alone.

While Hal deactivated his magnetic boots and jumped after Bubba, Felix jumped astride the crazed robot. He finally managed to pull lose a couple of key connections, shutting the machine down. Hal caught up to Bubba, clipping the two together before discovering that he had once again forgotten to look before leaping: he had forgotten to secure a way back for them both. Luckily, Osolo came out of the airlock with a lasso, managing to get a loop around the two before they drifted too far. Working together, he and Felix reeled them in.

After a brief moment and a heavy sigh of relief, the engineers got right back to work on the sails.

Returning to the control room with adequate supplies of booze, Terreno surprised a robot at the controls! It was Felix’s android, and it seemed to be trying to set a course for Earth-That-Was. Attacking ferociously, Terreno ripped one of the android’s arms off and slammed its head multiple times against the door frame. In seconds, it had again been reduced to spare parts. (Later, Felix would take the basket of parts back to his room, swearing to rebuild.)

After several hours of work, the engineering team came inside to wait out the circularizing of the sails. While everyone else on the crew had dinner, Hal and Felix grabbed a couple of quick sandwiches and went back out to work on the communications system. (Soundtrack: “Working Man”, by Rush.)

Discussing recent events, the crew realized that Jasmine Mung, the real Jasmine Mung, must have transferred herself into the body of her astropus familiar. It had been behind the antenna sabotage, but the sound Bubba had heard on the hanger deck wasn’t the astropus going outside, as he had thought, but coming inside, where it would later attack Terreno and Osolo. Meanwhile, the robot had come to life and apparently started working to get itself to Earth, damaging the fuel tanks and trying to turn Bo and Luke against the crew. The robot’s chosen landing coordinates meant nothing to anyone except Osolo, who recognized Area 51 from historical fiction he had read.

With a working radio and an operational – if fitfully sparking – sail at their disposal, the crew examined their options. The best bet seemed to be a small family space station in low Earth orbit. Osolo contacted the station and negotiated with Anatoly Pavlovich, the patriarch of the family, for docking rights. After he understood the stakes, Pavlovich demanded to know how much cash the Cabra had on hand. Downplaying their resources, Osolo claimed they had $5 million. Pavlovich noted that this would be a fair fee for docking, and the terms were agreed to.

Expecting to meet new people, Felix returned to his room, planning to use some of the core worlds cosmetics that he and Mel had split from fake-Jasmine’s room. When he opened the lockbox and unwrapped the contents, however, he found no cosmetics at all; rather, there were four doses of some drug, set up to charge a spray hypo. The doses were labeled only with a bar-code. (Osolo had found similar hypo loads in the real Jasmine’s room, earlier, while searching for the astropus.)

Babying the repaired sails, Terreno put the ship on a docking course. As they approached to within the last few tens of miles, the engineers struck the sails. Osolo hid the spare money and nearly all the crew’s guns. Bubba, of course, was an exception, and retained his sidearm.

Docking completed without incident. The crew gathered at the cargo bay door to meet their new hosts.

When the doors opened, they found themselves facing three young members of the Pavlovich family, aiming triple-barreled shotguns at the crew.

It’s All About The XP

I’m trying to suppress my instincts, and be a lot more free with the experience points than I have in the past.

Ever since I ran 3rd Edition AD&D and realized the party had gone up something like ten levels over the course of two weeks, game time, I’ve tried to pay attention to the speed of character growth. In more realistic games, with 150 point starting characters, I tend to hand out a minimal point or two per session. Even in the 1200 point supers game, I was handing out around 5 points a session. I figured, supers tend to be pretty stable over time, but if I tried to hand out less than 1/1000th of the starting point total, I’d get cut.

It’s a rough crowd.

So here I find myself, throwing around 10 point awards like they’re normal. Sure, I only hand out XP when they return to town, so it’s pretty normal for them to average closer to 5 per session, but that’s still more than I’ve handed out in the past, both as a percentage of starting points and as gross points-per-payday.

By my math, the Space Cowboys game, at 1 point per session for 150 point characters, had a standard award of 0.66% of starting points. I thought that was bad, but the Supers 1200 game was even worse, returning only 0.42%. The 500 point street-level supers game might have been my most generous, since I seem to have averaged 4 points per session, for a return of 0.8%. “Most generous”, that is, up until the Dungeon Fantasy game. Even at 5 points per session, with 250 point starting characters, we’re talking about a whopping 2% return!

Like I’ve said before, I’m aiming to simulate an idealized version of the dungeon crawl from 1984. Now, truth be told, I don’t recall a single instance of one of my characters going up a level through the entire decade. I don’t think any of my D&D characters ever received any XP, strictly speaking. I remember a lot of characters started off at 5th level, or 10th. We were kids, we didn’t have the attention span to run what you’d call a real campaign. (Though we did come pretty close, in high school, using the Marvel FASERIP system: folks played the same characters for more than one session, and Karma was awarded. I think I might even had once upgraded a character in play. Bought a skill. One of the five styles of martial arts, as I recall.  All the prices were super-steep. I think I might have been the only one in the group who stuck with a character long enough to think about doing such a thing.)

But in the ideal game, characters would grow and expand over time. They start off scrubs, then grow into competent adventurers. (We skip over this stage for DF. It’s boring whacking rats, and it’s no fun playing the apprentice wizard with only one good spell a day in ‘im. We assume our PCs are the kind that went out and found a nest of giant ants, then flooded it. Cha-ching! Third level, baby!) As adventurers, they wander around doing their murder-hobo thing, kicking in doors and gathering wealth. They gather gangs of followers. In time, they rack up so much wealth, kick in so many doors, and gather so many cultists-er-troops-er-henchmen *cough*cough* that they become a hassle for the local authorities. At that point, they’re invited to go subdue some wilderness and build a castle, at which time, they become murder-landowners, rather than -hobos, and start building up the castles and dungeons and towers that will become the ruins for the next generation of murder-hobos to explore.

I don’t know that I want to swear that we’ll play it to the natural endgame, but I do want there to be a sense of growth and increase in power. Realistically, that means I need to throw the points at ’em. We play once a month. (Pardon me while I go cry in the corner for a moment. I’d love to play more often, but adult life is what it is.  We’ve got one night-owl, two early-birds, and one guy who routinely works around the clock. I’m thrilled if we go a whole session without someone falling out from pure fatigue.) Historically, the campaigns I run tend to hit their peak at around the 12th session. What with the flexibility of GURPS, it’s really easy to give in to restlessness and switch genres.

Now, I think this campaign is going strong. Here we are, 2/3 of the way to what experience says is supposed to be the final game, and it feels like everybody’s just now finally settling in to their characters. Folks are planning ahead, interest is high, and there’s plenty more dungeon to explore. But, still, I have to figure, that’s the likely size of the canvas, so it’s best to paint a picture that’ll fit on it. If there’s room for more when we’re done, we’ll paint more then.

I think it’s working out. We’ve had a few people pick up multi-class lenses in play. That feels like gaining a level or two.

Here’s the scoreboard, as it stands after session #8, with everybody having just received a 10 point award (and TKotBO picked up an extra Cool Point on top of that):

  • Alric Redbeard — 280 point Barbarian (working towards Barbarian/Swashbuckler, a prospect which shakes me to my core, and oh my goodness you should have seen the look of unholy glee in the player’s eyes when he laid the news on me), 18 unspent points
  • Gabby The Cabin Girl — 255 point Swashbuckler (currently at 235 effective points, thanks to her shiny new One Arm disad, until the bones in her arm grow back), 24 unspent points!! What?!?
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker — 271 point Bard/Wizard, 10 unspent points
  • Needles — 282 point Thief/Swashbuckler, 12 unspent points
  • The Knight of the Blood Oath — 291 point Holy Warrior/Knight (only short the formality of choosing some combat skills), 6 unspent points

Folks have gotten away with paying less than 50 points for their multi-classing lenses thanks to overlapping traits. Jed really made out on the deal the best, I think, since he was designed as a Bard to cover a Wizard position. TKotBO probably climbed the steepest hill, what with having to buy Combat Reflexes in play — first time, I think, that I’ve ever seen that happen.

Alric is saving up to become the world’s tallest Musketeer, so I understand his unspent point total (even though, I allow lenses to be purchased bit by bit)… but I couldn’t tell you what’s going on with Gabby. With a reserve like that, I half-suspect it’s a waste of time for her to look for magical healing for her crippled arm. She should just talk me into allowing her to buy Extra Arm twice, and grow two new ones.  “Oh, those?  Curse. You want a story, you should ask about the horns and tail…”

Hmm.  Come to think of it, “critical failure with a Regeneration spell” is actually a better explanation than “Curse”…

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #5 – “Scurvy Sea Dogs”

It might be helpful, at this stage of the story, to know something about the “guest starring actors” in the story at hand. The conceit, remember, was that the game was based on a TV show that never was. We bounced back and forth between different visions of the show. At one point, there was talk of the Little House on the Prairie intro, for the 1970’s western version. On another occasion, we joked about the opening theme and credits montage, if the show came from the 1980’s and aired opposite The A-Team. I liked to think of it as a contemporary program (on cable, of course) that spent a lot on cutting-edge special effects to simulate the look of crappy 1970’s special effects… 

At any rate, I made a point of casting memorable guest stars.

I knew this story was heading towards the wind-down of the campaign. Since Jasmine’s plot involved bringing aboard a group of pirates under the cover of being paying passengers, I took special care with the cast, knowing they would step out of the background and onto center stage.

First, there was the leader of the little group, Mick Colquholn (pronounced like “Calhoun”), played by Lenny “The Guv`nor” Mclean, seen here in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels:

Why, yes, I did just figure out how to embed images from remote URLs. Why do you ask?

Before the mutiny, Mick took pains to come across as a benign, slightly daffy older gentleman. Afterwards, he took on his more accurate “hard man” persona, as can be seen below.

I was absolutely dying for someone to ask him about Jasmine, so he could say “Well, she’s a fookin’ feef, now ain’t she?”, but it sadly never came around. These things hardly ever do, if you think of them ahead of time, it seems.

Mick’s second-in-command was Roger Sutton, played by Steve Sweeney, also appearing in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Notice the theme, yet? I was really trying to tip ’em off, really I was…

Next, we have Dirk Hackett and his putative young son, Waylon. I found their pics by searching for “soccer hooligan” on Google Images, rather than picking out famous actors (which is why I’m not sharing). The kid looks about five, and he’s throwing a vigorous bird at (one hopes) the opposing team. The guy cast as the father has a shaved head and a long-suffering, half-exasperated expression. As it turned out, the two weren’t actually father-and-son, but (as I recall) brothers. Waylon wasn’t even really a kid. He was in his 30’s, but his growth had been arrested during childhood by advanced biotech. The pirates had used his apparent age as cover, concealing weapons in toys and so forth.

Finally, there were the two guys that the pirates had hired as muscle, Earl Perkins and Jamison Connelly. For them, I went local. Earl was cast as the player of Osolo (and TKotBO, in the DF game), while Jamison was a player in the original Old West game that got us going with 4th edition. This choice, originally a bit of a joke, turned out to be something more in play, when Osolo came face-to-face with his true self. From what I understand, the player found this to be an unexpectedly powerful moment.

* * *

Psychic powers. Yup, I never said “No!” to psychic powers. Way back when originally putting the game together, I had a list of things that would never, ever appear. Magic was on the list, but psychics weren’t. In fact, back during season 1, we had talked about it, and I pointed out that if you looked at the crew in the right light, they were all psychic, somehow. Osolo and Bubba had their psychic twin connection. Hal warped probability, being lucky, unlucky, and equipped with Serendipity. Mel, Dr Nanika, had Empathy and sufficient exploits in-game to support being somewhat telepathic. Samale’s skill at piloting was nigh-supernatural, such that he could claim to be “strong in the Force” and nobody would have room to dispute him. 

So, the surprise wasn’t that Jasmine had psychic powers. It was that a player finally decided to break the seal and go overt. Jasmine was a little telepathic, enough to add a devastating +4 to her already-high social skills. At least once, she failed a telepathy roll and gave Osolo a weird feeling, which (being unfamiliar with telepathy) he explained away. 

And, yeah, she had been built from the ground up as a PC meant to betray the group. This experience caused me to re-think my approach to PC secrets. It’s a big reason why I’m trying so hard to play the DF game “cards up”, to the point of having Needles’ player announce at the table when Needles is ripping off the other PCs, and having the contest of Perception versus whatever-sneakiness-he’s-committing rolled in the open.

There’s probably a whole post, if not more, that could be dedicated to this one incident… so rather than get into it here, I’ll just note it, and leave the re-opening of old wounds for a later date.

Hal had Intolerance (Pirates) after previous bad experiences.

What Happened:

The pirates spread out to secure the Cabra, leaving Jasmine, Mick, and the Hackett kid in the kitchen. Mick mentioned that he had overheard Jasmine mention reading minds. She claimed it was just a bit of misdirection. He said that’s what he figured, because otherwise, she would read his mind right now. While verbally scoffing, she, of course, peeked into his mind, as she had done before, when hiring him.

The first time she had read his mind, Jasmine had been amazed at how much of his thoughts were taken up with the game of soccer. This time, he revealed that the wall of soccer statistics was a cover for his true thoughts. Then, he showed her his first memory of her, as a half-starved waif in rags, selling matches in a small asteroid spaceport, directly contradicting her own memories of a wealthy childhood in the Core Worlds. Finally, he let her see his memory of just before coming into the kitchen, when he told the kid, “And while’s she’s looking at me, you shoot her in the fookin’ head.”

There was just enough time for her stomach to heave once before a laser killed her.

* * *

Osolo awoke slowly, still groggy from the drugs. A half-familiar woman’s face came into his field of view.

Uncle Osolo? Wake up, we need you. And don’t kill the guy, he’s OK!”

It was Haloes Nor, one of the passengers on the other cargo ship. Or, rather, the image of Haloes, on a tablet being held by a fearful Earl, one of the junior pirates.

Osolo listened as she filled him in on the events of the last few hours: During routine scans, Abe had observed someone coming out of the Cabra, through the engine room airlock. He had assumed it was Hal, doing some kind of middle-of-the-night maintenance. The figure had thrown some things into space, and shortly afterward, the cargo ship’s sails had suffered severe damage from multiple explosions. Caleb had gone out to attempt heroic repairs, only to die when the sails violently decircularized, cutting him in half. Since then, chaos had reigned, with the brothers being distraught and overwhelmed with the emergency. Haloes reported that she had gotten them mostly headed in one direction, but it was rough going. They had figured out that something bad was happening on the Cabra, but could offer no assistance. No one had responded to the radio, so she had turned to the ‘net, with no luck, until she made a connection with Earl.

Earl interjected that he had just being going along with his buddy Jamison’s plan. They had just hired on for theft, he said, not killing – nobody was supposed to get hurt.

Osolo took all of this in, then asked one question of Haloes: “Who are you?”

She removed her veil, revealing herself to be a surprisingly grown-up Rahne. (“Haloes Nor” being an anagram of “Rahne Solo”, naturally.) She quickly explained that she had cranked up the speed of puberty when she had realized she wasn’t going to stay with “those a–holes”, referring to her two stepfathers. Finally up to speed, Osolo asked for some privacy while he got dressed and ransacked Jasmine’s room.

Meanwhile, having been bought off by Jasmine before she was “paid off”, Felix had the run of the ship. He idly wandered down to the sick bay, finding the place torn apart by a previous search. He also discovered Mel, lying unconscious on one of her own beds. After an efficient look around, he turned up a half-full box of smelling salts, apparently the target of the previous searcher, as well. He applied the stuff, bringing Mel around. After a quick summary of everything that had happened, including how Felix had accepted the pirate’s offer in an effort at subterfuge, Mel was ready to hunt down the pirates and throw them out the airlock, one and all. And Jasmine, twice.

On the upper cargo deck, Hal came to, with both his squirrels working together to smack him awake. He skulked about, making sure that he was alone. Looking out through the windows in the cargo bay door, he saw that the ships were no longer flying in formation. One of the other ship’s sails were missing, while the other was far more distant than it should have been. At the same time, he heard the distinctive sound of magnetic boots on the ship’s hull over his head. Considering the evidence, Hal concluded that they were in the hands of pirates. Declaring that having his sails working for pirates was an insult beyond bearing, he entered the engine room, ready to take it back if he found it occupied. Luckily, it was not. He went directly to the main controls for the sails, and cut the power, causing them to instantly go slack.  (If the Cabra were a car, this would be the equivalent of throwing sugar in the gas tank. If it were a sailing ship, it would be like setting fire to the mainsail. Hal was righteously furious.)  All around the ship, people were thrown off-balance as the thrust from the sails unexpectedly stopped.

Felix and Mel proceeded up to the control room, planning to take control of the ship, with Felix leading the way. Outside the control room, they found Terreno, sleeping, cuddling his bottle of drugged tequila. They woke him, using more of the smelling salts, and entered. Inside, they surprised Jamison having a moment with his bong, causing an unfortunate spill on the controls. Terreno applied a sleeper hold to the hapless hireling while Mel surveyed the damage, which turned out to be fixable, but not in a hurry. While the control room crew took care of business, Felix headed towards the engine room to see what could be done about the sails.

Back in Jasmine’s room, Osolo discovered her stash of TL10 makeup, but little of use. Having a sudden feeling that Bubba was alive and in trouble, he dropped his search and left. Taking Earl with him as a lookout, he went to his room to arm up, then moved towards the central cargo bay through the ship’s crawlspaces, with an eye towards manning his cargo loading suit.

Rahne made contact with Mel through the ‘net, briefly, and filled her in on the details. Aside from what she had already told Osolo, she added that they had observed two people on the hull. The connection failed as Jarvis began acting in an erratic fashion. In short order, the program failed entirely under external attack. Having had enough of all this, Mel moved towards the kitchen, looking to take down as many pirates as she could.

Hal suited up to go out and knock whoever it was off the outside of his ship. As he was entering the airlock, Felix arrived. They conferred briefly before Hal went on ahead, leaving Felix to find the spear guns. Outside on the hull, Hal found two suited figures already engaged in a cat-and-mouse shootout. He tackled the closer of the two, which gave the other, larger figure an opening. The big man put his fist through the grappled man’s helmet visor, exposing him to raw vacuum. Hal released the wounded man, turning towards the other. Just as he was about to attack, the other man raised his visor shade, showing his face.

It was Bubba. (!!) Hal reacted with understandable enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the pirate staggered away, making for the airlock in a desperate struggle for life. Just as he made it to the door, the airlock opened in front of him, revealing Felix, suited, bearing two loaded spear guns. Between a rock and a hard place, the man gestured wildly for several seconds before losing consciousness from lack of oxygen. Hal and Bubba grabbed him and hustled them all into the airlock. After introductions and some discussion, the three crew members left the airlock, then cycled it with the pirate still inside. Bubba declared that he was after Mung, but displayed a wanted notice with Sabra’s picture on it. (Sabra, remember, was the Core Worlder passenger who had been travelling with her own cargo since the start of Season 2. She had been all but forgotten in all the excitement.)

In the control room, Terreno finalized the course calculations. As it stood, the Cabra was headed for a landing on Earth-That-Was. Without the sails, even stretching the rockets to their utmost, they could not make stable orbit.

Mel found herself under the gun of the Hackett kid before she made it into the kitchen. Thinking quickly, she managed to dive for cover without being wounded, then took to the crawlspaces to flank him. Sneaking to a position over the dining room table, she peeked through a ventilation duct, seeing Mick and Sabra, the long-term passenger, playing a TL10 card game. She was just about to leap down in a frenzy of destruction when a voice in her head told her to come down and join the game. Unable to resist, she complied.

At the table, Mel realized that Sabra was in charge here. During their talk, Sabra revealed that she was the real Jasmine Mung. Their “Jasmine” had actually been a front the entire time. She had started life on a poor asteroid, then been picked up and given psychic brainwashing to give her a new identity. Her telepathic powers had actually been on loan from the real Mung. Playing on her insight into psychology, Mel finally distracted Mung and gathered enough willpower to take back control of her body, at least enough to drive a hypodermic into Mung’s hand – a previously-prepared hypodermic full of curare.

Her victory was short-lived, however, as Mick hit her upside her head with his pistol, knocking her unconscious.

In the main cargo bay, Osolo made it to his loader. Just as he was getting ready to slide into the bench seat, he was interrupted by the sound of a triple-barrel shotgun being racked and a voice ordering him to freeze. It was Dirk Hackett, the apparent elder of the two Hacketts. When Dirk quickly got tired of Osolo’s verbal sparring, he moved to shoot him in the knee, but Osolo dodged and threw a knife at the pirate, taking him in the abdomen. This caused the man to sit down and re-think his career choices, while Osolo quickly moved to secure the shotgun.

Mick interrupted the crew by announcing over the ship’s intercom that he had Mel. He demanded that everyone gather in the main cargo hold. Faced with a hostage situation, the crew mostly complied, and gathered to lurk in the hold. They rapidly barricaded many of the entrances, hoping to channel the pirate into a door of their choosing. This fell through when the kid came on ahead and blew open one of the welded doors with his laser pistol.

Mick entered, using Mel as a shield. He began to explain his take on things: while there was plenty of reason for hard feelings on all sides, the thing to do at this point was to work together to make sure everyone survived. His speech was cut abruptly short when Felix came out of the shadows and put a knife to his throat.

Mick was willing to give up his weapon, requesting only that they pry the cat off his leg. Looking down, Felix discovered that Nuku-chan had apparently had enough, too. She was latched on to Mick’s leg with both sets of front claws and her fangs.

Since he could see that things were going wrong, the kid was still a threat. Felix directed Nuku-chan to “go get ‘im!” She ran off. There was the sound of laser fire and screams of pain, then silence… before Nuku-chan popped up in the doorway, dragging the kid’s unconscious body by the scruff of the neck.

In the aftermath, Mel and Felix agreed to split Jasmine’s makeup stash. There was no particular protest to the idea of throwing all of the pirates, including Jasmine’s body, out the airlock, with the exception of Earl and Jamison, who were placed under lock. The crew got the bad news about their course from Terreno.

While securing the ship, the crew heard a banging from the shuttle bay, as if someone were ramming the van into the walls. Upon investigation, Bubba found that the van had been broken loose from its moorings, and the walls were badly damaged, particularly the rocket fuel. With no gravity, the entire shuttle bay was filled with floating balls of fuel. One of the shuttles was badly damaged, as well.

Free of pirates, the crew faced the problem of being adrift and headed towards Earth-That-Was.

 

– – – – –

A note about the crunch:  when Jasmine saw into Mick’s mind, I called for a Fright Check roll, with a penalty for learning that everything she thought she knew about herself was actually a lie. The dice and the system came together perfectly, giving a result that set her up, in accordance with Mick’s evil plan, to be blindsided by the “kid”. 

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #4 – “Fallout”

The session where it all started to go horribly wrong.

The Venus spaceport was in orbit. Due to the harsh conditions, Venus had never been terraformed. People didn’t live on the surface. Rather, the planetary population lived in floating “cloud cities”, covered in manufactured diamond domes and filled full of breathable air. Being lighter than the surrounding atmosphere, they floated at a level above the corrosive rains. 

One of the dirty little secrets in Felix’s closet was that he was interested in robots. Remember, the culture of the TL9 outer planets had a serious problem with robots…

Despite all the talk, this was actually the first session where we saw ziggy wrestling “on camera”.  The ring was in the form of a cube. The edges were padded pipes, while the surfaces were formed of chain-link fencing.

Another point to remember from early on:  when I went through my list of things to say “No!” to, I mentioned aliens, magic, and faster-than-light travel. There’s an exotic source of power that’s conspicuous absent from that list. This is the session when it finally appears.

 

What Happened:

At the bar, Dempsey bought a round for Terreno, Hal, and Osolo, while Mel, Felix, and Jasmine took the public shuttle down to the cloud city the ship was doing business with. Dempsey told the tale of how the loan three years back had turned his life around, concluding by handing Osolo a bag full of “bitcoins” (the money of Venus: TL10 digital currency in the form of poker chips with embedded computers) amounting to the full $100K of the loan. Osolo caught the eye of Hu Yi, and then the party really got started.

The ladies went to a spa, where they shopped for clothes. using the place’s holographic projectors, while being made over. At one point, Nuku-chan became excited and ran off. Felix followed, and got a look in the back rooms of the spa, where some of the staff had their living quarters. He discovered an obviously sick man on a cot in the back, and called the others’ attention to him. Over the fluttering objections of the supervisor, Mel diagnosed the man as having Venus fever, a contagious disease. The others backed away quickly on hearing this. Jasmine returned to her pedicure, while Mel set up to sit with the man through the night. Felix kept his distance, but helped Osolo and Frank fetch Mel’s special supplies from the ship. (They came down in suits, until Mel told them they were OK. Then Osolo ate the sushi the spa owners had prepared for Mel as a gesture of thanks.)

Realizing that Terreno’s face had been (badly) reproduced on posters for the upcoming match, Terreno and Hal followed the drinking with a successful search for local companionship. Hal was approached by a local gangster about the possibility of bribing Terreno to alter the outcome of his upcoming match, but declined.

The next day, it was back to business. Mel left the man in much better shape than she had found him, but saddened that she couldn’t do more for the suffering locals.

Osolo went looking for a special kind of passenger – women who would make good marriage prospects for the brothers – and got lucky, finding a group of seven “Inshe’hova”, followers of a religion with root in common with the Space Mormons (aka The Church of Jesus Christ, Zombie, the official church of the Cabra, since it was Osolo’s church, and he was the only one who really cared), who believe in good cooking and spiritual values over the worldly… but aren’t crazy about it. As unmarried women seeking husbands, their religion compels them to “cover themselves” in some way, be it with headscarf, veil, or anti-facial-recognition makeup, so as to assure that their marriage has a pure basis, not being based on the “vanity” of appearance.

Felix went to the spaceport’s flea market, looking for deals. In one dark corner, he found a mostly-complete android, deactivated, being used as a mannikin. After a quick negotiation, he purchased the item, and smuggled it back on-board, intending to make it his next project.

Sohio had Terreno working out at a gym under the full gravity of Venus before his match.

Jasmine went out to sell 20 tons of the extract from Miranda. After succeeding, she offered one of the buyers a bribe to beat her up. Thanks to her persuasive ways, he bemusedly accepted. Afterward, rather than pay the man as agreed, she shot him with her holdout laser and called the police, claiming he had attacked her. Given the man’s history of petty crime, the authorities found this plausible, and turned her loose. She called for the others to come pick her up, claiming the cargo had been stolen during the incident. The price of the cargo, a sack of bitcoins, went into Jasmine’s quarters.

After patching Jasmine up, Mel and the others escorted Terreno to his match. He entered the steel cage with Brontosaurus. After a spirited give-and-take, Terreno got the better of the local champion, forcing a submission.

While the match was going on, Mel noticed a man behind her trying to conceal a knife. Moving quickly, she turned the tables on him, injecting him with a hypo and leaving him unconscious.

During the handover of the championship belt, Brontosaurus went for an underhanded sneak attack, forcing Terreno to further rough him up. Taking advantage of the distraction, Hal and Osolo grabbed a couple of bottles of champagne, braced Mel’s attacker between the two of them, and hustled him out, pretending he was drunk, rather than drugged unconscious.

While the others celebrated Terreno’s victory, they took the man back to the ship for interrogation. There, they ran into Jasmine, who offered to take over the task. Once in private, she used her psychic powers (!!?!) to extract information from the man, finding that he represented the gang that had wanted to bribe Terreno. They had wanted him to injure Brontosaurus, in the match, as part of a larger plot. When the crew had declined to play ball, he had been sent to stab Mel as a message. The intention wasn’t to kill her, necessarily, but if she died, it wouldn’t be considered a failure.

When Jasmine relayed this information, it became a contest between her and Osolo as to who would blow the man out the airlock first, with Hal pointing out that there would be repercussions from such an act. After extended discussion, Jasmine hit the button, throwing the man out of the ship into the vacuum of space.

Felix worked through the night on his project, restoring the android.

With his match finished, Terreno was feeling the call of the road. With nobody interested in hanging around Venus, and more than one crew member actively interested in putting distance behind them, a speedy exit was organized. Osolo and Jasmine sought out cargo, selling off some of the ship’s load and exchanging it for local goods.

During the two days this took, Hal went to investigate Jasmine’s story of being mugged. After asking around in various dark corners, he was approached by a man who claimed to represent the criminal interests who had bought the poppy extract. Injured at the thought that someone would think them dishonest in financial transaction, he produced a copy of the bill of sale. He also mentioned that they hadn’t seen “Bob” since the trade, and people were becoming concerned. Seeing that something was up, Hal apologized for the misunderstanding, and offered to pass a message to Bob, should they cross paths.

After raising sail, Hal accused Jasmine of being up to no good, producing his evidence and demanding explanations. Though she had to talk fast, Jasmine managed to mostly divert suspicion from herself. In the end, she had to distract Osolo with sexual favors. Having him at a disadvantage, she slipped him a dose of a drug that knocked him out. (!!!?!?$&*%?!)

Leaving Osolo in her room, she went, one by one, to the other crew members. She drew them off and drugged them, knocking out everyone but Felix and Hal. Hal was too suspicious, and didn’t fall for her tricks. Fighting back, he managed to wound her, before she distracted him with a convenient clothing failure and got him with the hypo.

While Jasmine was tussling with Hal, Felix saw one of the airlock indicators trip, showing that someone had opened an airlock door. He was just gathering himself to investigate further, when he ran into Jasmine, outside his door. There, she informed him of the ongoing mutiny. She explained the situation, and that the passengers were actually replacement crew members in her employ.

I like you,” she said. “I’ll can double your pay and keep you on as head engineer, or you can go out the airlock with the rest of the old crew.”

Triple my pay?” he responded brightly.

Osolo awoke slowly, still groggy from the drugs. A half-familiar girl’s face came into his field of view.

Uncle Osolo?”

 

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #3 – “Elbow Room”

If it hasn’t become clear yet, Hal isn’t just a source of comedy relief, with his mix of good and bad luck; he’s also a master of moving around with no gravity, in or out of a vacc suit. On several occasions, he took advantage of his skills to perform feats that no one else could hope to duplicate. 

The crew had read about the Lueger in the newspaper in the previous session.

What Happened:

The crew raised sail without further incident, working without the assistance of Mel, who retired to sickbay to see to her badly bruised throat. The brothers also raised sail, and the tiny fleet got into formation and shaped orbit for Venus. At dinner that night, the conversation started around the question of what had happened to Pequeño’s ship, with Osolo and Mel maintaining that the main thing to keep in mind was that all the important people were OK, and the bad guys weren’t a problem anymore. A comment concerning money brought up the questionable expenses from ground-side on Miranda, which led to a heated argument over accounting. In the end, Mung and Osolo came to a suspicious peace, agreeing that Mung would handle the finances, but under supervision.

The heavier discussion was interrupted when Caleb called for Uncle Osolo on the communicator, saying he had to come and see the dog, now that it was under ziggy. Hal volunteered to take Osolo for the trip over to the asteroid miner, with Mel coming along. Before going outside the ship, Hal pointed out that Osolo had been wearing his vacc suit incorrectly all this time, and fixed the problem, to Osolo’s great relief. Using a hand-held maglev “bug”, Hal ran the group out to where the two ships’ sail cables were nearest. Hal fumbled the transfer, losing his magnetic link to the sail cable, causing both his passengers quite a fright – Osolo fainted – but quickly corrected the mistake and latched onto the other cable.

In the asteroid miner, they found an entirely new dog, leaping and spinning through the air joyously. It was decided that the dog should be named “Uncle Bubba”. After the exciting trip over, it was decided that the three would spend the night in the miner, rather than heading back to the Cabra immediately.

Seeking off-duty amusement for himself and Nuku-chan, Felix asked for the use of some spare electronics parts to make some robotic mice. In the wee hours of the morning, he woke, drooling on his workbench, having falling asleep while working. Before his eyes, he found an old-fashioned soldier. Surprised, he sat up, rubbing his eyes, only to find himself alone. However, he heard the sound of footsteps outside, in the hall.

Meanwhile, over on the miner, Caleb woke up Hal, reporting a fluctuation in the sail readings, indicating that the cable had been nicked by space debris. Grumbling at the timing, Hal got his suit on and went outside to check on, and repair, the damage.

Back in the Cabra, Felix got on the communicator, reporting a possible intruder on the ship. He trailed the presence to the control room, then, finally deciding that enough was enough, burst through the door to confront the intruder. Inside, Mung, dressed only in a vague cloud of particles hovering in strategic locations, awoke from her sleepwalking with a start, knocking the controls askew.

Outside, the sudden movement caused Hal to lose his grip on the rigging. With admirable calm, he pulled out the hand rocket pack that he had had the foresight to bring along. The incident had put him into a spinning roll, so he lined up for his shot and waited for it to come around. Just as it did, he noticed a magsail trailing the fleet, as if they were being followed by a ship running dark. The surprise caused him to hesitate for a split second, throwing off his trajectory and sending him at right angles to where he wanted to go.

One by one, as Felix called on the communicator, the crew awoke and came together to deal with the emergency. Mel, still in the asteroid miner, went to the controls and used the ship’s sensors to locate Hal, Terreno went to deploy a shuttle, and Osolo went out the airlock with Luke1.

Osolo’s attempt at performing a swinging trapeze capture didn’t entirely work out. By the time he made a couple of failed attempts, Terreno had the shuttle out of the bay and in the neighborhood. He picked up Hal without further excitement, leaving Osolo to take the long way home.

Back aboard the Cabra, Hal told the others about the ship he had seen. It had been overlooked thus far because the telltale light of its sails had been masked by the fleet’s own magsail aurora. Armed with the knowledge that there was something out there to see, Mel quickly dialed in a visual. It was the Lueger, the other tramp freighter that had landed in Corinth, on Miranda, crewed by the Parson boys. Since General Pequeño had been the Warlord of Corinth, this caused a certain amount of unrest among the crew.

Before going to bed, Felix took a look around his room, thinking again of the soldier he had seen. Upon reflection, he realized that the soldier had been only inches tall. Also, he discovered that one of his mechanical mice was missing.

The next morning, at breakfast, the discussion returned to the Lueger. The engineers agreed that it was unlikely that the other ship carried weapons. The pilot and navigator estimated the potential of shuttles likely to be carried on such a ship, and figured that within a few days, there would be no possible way for the other ship’s crew to bother them, as the difference in speed would be too great. Therefore, the plan of playing “wait and see” won out over the idea of mounting what would effectively be a preemptive pirate attack. The expectation was that either the other ship would pull off to aim for a different destination, or they would arrive at Venus a day or so behind the Cabra. The crew felt confident that they could deal with anything the Parsons threw at them, with that kind of head start.

Seeing the worry of the group, Madame Dori offered to read the cards for them. The Tarot spread she laid out emphasized the virtues of family and teamwork, while pointing out the vices of pride and greed. After looking over the fung shui of Madame Dori’s room, Mel declared the whole thing fake and refused to acknowledge it.

The four month trip passed quickly. Felix found the stored parts of Bubba’s old still and got it working again. Mel processed the mega-poppy extract from the ransom trade. Sohio set Terreno to hard training for his upcoming match.

Entering Venus orbit went without undue trouble. The crew left the ship to find themselves in a veritable cowboy’s paradise, in the form of the Venus spaceport. Mung headed out to take care of business, while Terreno and Sohio went to examine their gym facilities, and the rest of the crew went in search of entertainment.

In the inevitable crowded bar, Osolo ran in to Dempsey Solo, the mail carrier who the Cabra had loaned $100K over three years back. He also saw Hu Yi in the crowd, but was himself unseen.

Terreno got a look at his upcoming opponent’s picture, and was introduced to his local guide, Tyrell-I Kalbu. (Meaning, “Kalbu, the indentured servant of the Tyrell Corporation”. Yeah, stole that, too. He was played by a mid-80’s Junk Yard Dog.)

Mung returned with a full set of passengers, political refugees seeking a better life off Venus. After more heated discussion with Osolo, it was determined that she would seek a buyer for most, but not all, of the processed mega-poppy products.

1The Cabra‘s number two inchworm robot.

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #2 – “Felix’s Follies”

This was the episode in which we learn that Miranda actually does export something besides opium derivatives and corruption. They are also the source of the system-famous Corinthian leather. 

The character of Juanito Pequeño was accordingly played by Ricardo Montalbán, from the Fantasy Island days. 

Looking back, this was one of the episodes in which the usual plans of PCs ran afoul of the <cough> “realistic” nature of the universe. At one point, a couple of members of the crew were advocating for a plan the involved all the usual bits of a plan put together by players: ultra-violence, shock and awe, a variation of Klingon promotion… 

Don’t get me wrong. When I play, my plans are predictable, too. I’m a bad’n for “split up, circle around in a pincers maneuver, team A attacks hard, then team B attacks even harder from behind while they’re distracted”.  You may have seen an echo of that in the bandit ambush from the last DF session, actually.

Anyway, the problems with this are manifold, which is why people in the real world don’t go in to random businesses, assassinate the head managers, and try to take their desks. As mentioned below, the first hurdle is, you have to be the kind of person who can kill in cold blood. 

On the other hand, this episode also shows how even a Reluctant Killer can set into motion a series of events…

What Happened:

At breakfast on Wednesday, 23 April 2521, Jasmine Mung returned to the ship from her business, to find a cigar box full of paper receipts. Mel brought up her plan to track down Dr Clement to ask about the sniper she had foiled the day before, which gathered support from Osolo only. Hal remained on duty in one of the orbiting ships. Madame Dori evicted Mung from her chair to get her customary breakfast of a soft-boiled egg. Felix skipped breakfast with the crew to go find a bar, with Nuku-chan scampering along behind him. Sohio set Terreno to running laps around town.

Mel had done some research into Dr Clement, finding that he had a compound in Syracuse. Being the top representative of Weyland-Yutani in the Heinlein system, he was among the richest people living on Miranda. (As a matter of fact, the only reason Mel was able to do this research was thanks to the ‘net connection from Clement’s systems.)

After breakfast, Mung sat down to come to grips with the accumulated receipts. She rapidly discovered some… questionable… expenses, and began asking pointed questions to Osolo. After a few frustrating exchanges, Osolo turned off his communicator.

Shortly after, the Akbar brothers tried to call Osolo for advice on what to say to Wally’s local laborers, come to load the cargo. They were unable to contact him.

Mel and Osolo agreed on a general strategy of trying to meet Clement at a bar, but disagreed as to which kind of bar to look for. Mel went looking for the most high-class establishment, while Osolo looked for the places with the most action. Accordingly, they split up.

Meanwhile, Felix had managed to break through the language barrier and order a drink. To his pleasure, the bartender indicated that there would be no need for cash. He celebrated by ordering another drink. Then, as a small crowd began to form, by buying a couple of rounds.

Back at the ship, inflated invoices for Felix’s drinks started arriving. Thanks to the Arabic invoices, only the amounts could be readily understood. Mung began to become curious about the stream of costs, but had her own headaches. Among other things, she caught one of Wally’s hired laborers unloading the Cabra, rather than loading it, thanks to a badly worded work order.

A well-dressed man walked into the bar and approached Felix. Using accented Portuguese, he introduced himself as Juanito, a humble dealer in leather, from the neighboring country of Corinth, and offered to buy Felix a drink. This was acceptable, and so Juanito took a seat. Shortly, he had the bartender bring a deck of cards, and struck up a friendly game of poker, along with drinks, cigars, and civilized small talk.

As the conversation continued, the other members of the crew filtered in, one by one. While each on their own errands, Terreno, Osolo, and Mel all noticed the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd outside the bar – at 10:30am, no less – and made their way inside, while Mung finally got fed up with dealing with the bar’s boy and came to see what she was paying out for. As each crew member arrived, introductions were made, and Juanito had another chair added around the table.

When Osolo came in, he noticed Nuku-chan, cowering behind the bar, out of Juanito’s line of sight.

By the time everyone had assembled, Juanito’s small talk had turned to anecdotes from his childhood in Corinth. He particularly mentioned an occasion when rustlers stole from his father, and his father had the men tortured and crucified for the offense. As the crew’s nervousness increased, Mel ran Juanito’s face through the local ‘net news database, discovering that he was, in fact, General Juanito Pequeño, the warlord of Corinth!

Felix put two and two together and realized that Juanito must be Nuku-chan’s original owner. He was just working through a combined confession and attempt to return the creature, when Terreno noticed Nuku-chan escaping through the kitchen. Mel and Osolo exchanged a series of meaningful eyebrow gestures that led to a trip to the bar and a whispered consultation. Upon their return, Osolo faked a drunken sprawl across the table, sending cards and local currency flying, and giving Terreno the cover he needed to get Juanito in a choke hold.

Several members of the crowd revealed themselves as Juanito’s agents, drawing guns, but held off firing for fear of killing their employer. Mung patted Juanito down, taking his concealed laser pistol. Osolo started crawling for the back door, calling for the Akbar brothers to come to the rescue, with the added advice: “Bring the guns!”

Just as it seemed that a Mexican standoff would firm up, Felix threw a knife, crippling one of the gunmen, and triggering the other two to fire. Mung’s right arm was crippled, but she was able to spray covering laser fire around the bar with Juanito’s pistol in her left hand. The crew made their way towards the rear of the bar, with Terreno dragging a gurgling Juanito along.

Bursting out into the alley behind the bar, the crew found the ship’s white van, driven by Daniel. Everyone piled in and they took off. To begin with, they just circled, while arguing about how to proceed. Osolo and Mel, as the crew’s radicals, described a course involving infiltrating Juanito’s compound, several hundred miles away, to get at the secrets in his safe, then killing Juanito to set up one of the crew as a warlord by taking advantage of the resulting power vacuum. (Enthusiasm for this plan dampened after Mel applied her psychology skills and realized that only Mung seemed to possess the required cold blood to pull off the role.) Others saw this as overly risky, and preferred a quick getaway.

Finally, they at least agreed to return to the ship and take off as soon as possible. While the crew was making final preparations, including obtaining food for the upcoming 4+ month voyage, a Walken approached the ship. He explained that General Pequeño was his employer, and his mission was to negotiate the General’s release. If negotiations failed, he continued, it would be his job to authorize the use of deadly force.

A short, tense talk was had at a local taco stand. In the end, it was agreed that the crew would hand over Pequeño in orbit, in exchange for safe passage and 26 tons of mega-poppy opium. Osolo spent the rest of the day with the Walken, playing go and preparing a fine meal for them both, acting as a hostage against the crew’s good behavior.

Unknown to the rest of the crew, Mel made contact through the ‘net with Dr Clement’s systems and negotiated her own side deal. In exchange for protection for the Solo family in the Heinlein system, she traded the time and place of the hand-off.

Osolo got to travel into orbit aboard a TL 7 ship. (As in, the kind of rockets that took us to the moon… complete with countdown.) He found the experience displeasing and frightening, being accustomed to the relative quiet of the Cabra.

The exchange went smoothly, to begin with. Felix suited up and went outside to help attach a plastic transfer tube between the Walken’s vessel and the Cabra. While the cargo was moved, Mel tested each package for purity. Finally, Osolo and Pequeño traveled the length of the tube together, each starting at his own end. When each had gone the distance, Felix and the warlord’s man detached the transfer tube.

Mel ran from the cargo bay to the control room. As she entered, Terreno turned from the controls, and so, only saw the flash of light from outside.

Felix hurried into the airlock, looking back just in time to see a streak of light cross the heavens.

Looking out the control room’s main window, Mel saw the explosion of Pequeño’s ship, blown apart by some kind of missile.

The Cabra bucked under the impact of the expanding cloud of gas that had been the warlord of Corinth and his ship and crew. The only injury was to Mel, when she got hit in the throat by an empty bottle of Scotch thrown across the control room by the unexpected maneuvering.

The crew immediately turned to the task of raising sail for Venus.

Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #1 – “Terreno’s Knuckle Duster”

After diverting into the Supers 1200 game, we returned to space for season 2. 

Terreno received the Cool Point, for continuing on using his Professional Wrestling style in a real combat… even after it became apparent that Professional Wrestling strikes did no actual damage.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody ever twigged to the reference to “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers“. I thought it was entirely too blatant, what with stealing not only the plot but the names of the main characters. It just goes to show, if your players don’t know it, it’s just as obscure as if it were hidden esoteric knowledge handed down from on high. 

What happened:

The Cabra lands on Miranda as part of a complicated deal involving another wholesale change of crew. Osolo is waiting outside the cargo bay door, still dressing in sheets, but now wearing Nano-Count Olympus Mons Color-Changing Mood Sheets™, as well as a tasteful amount of gold. He has added tattoos up both his arms which mark him as an “Uncle” in the Solo family. Dr Melika Nanika is with him, soddenly unconscious and loaded into a crate, clearly the worse for drink. Both are wearing oxygen masks, as the atmosphere over most of Miranda’s surface is too thin for humans who aren’t bred to it to be comfortable in.

The crew emerges, with most dispersing to all directions. Hal is the only one of the old crew who yet remains, and he’s looking haggard. After a joyous reunion, he introduces two crew members who are to remain with the ship.

Terreno took over as the ship’s pilot for their last trip, about six months back, when Samale found a berth that promised more exciting piloting (and smuggling) opportunities. He’s part of the Solo clan, which makes it easier to overlook his eccentricities, starting with his ever-present luchador mask. He is accompanied by Sohio Resolute, his aged trainer and manager.1 As they talk, Sohio reminds Terreno that they need to make Venus their next stop, as he’s set up a match with “some guy named Brontosaurus”.

Also about six months back, the Cabra hired on Felix to fill Bubba’s old position as console engineer. He’s a gruff-voiced, rough-looking sort, wearing a grease-stained pair of coveralls and a flowered pink tool belt.

One other member of the remaining crew, Jasmine, is not present. She had taken one of the shuttles and gone off on her own, in pursuit of her duties as the ship’s manager of commercial operations.

When asked, Hal explains how the ship had fared over the past three years, since Bubba’s death: Being a target for both the Chang Sing and the Wing Kong, and with the (at that time) war between the Asteroid Belt Alliance and the Coalition of Core Worlds heating up, the Cabra had been forced to move further out into the system, doing long hauls like the old crew had always talked about. Luckily, after her rejuvenation, Grandma had smiled upon their business ventures. The time had been spent to great profit, but the time between ports had been quite long.

In fact, the ship had done so well, it is now the flagship of a (small) fleet! The Cabra had landed on Miranda, while two other ships remained in orbit. One was an old asteroid miner, set up to produce rocket fuel and prospect for valuable ores, while the other was a long-haul cargo ship for supplying colony worlds in the old days, equipped with an extensive machine shop.2 Since neither ship was set up to land, they had remained in orbit; since Jasmine had insisted, their crews had remained with them. The new ships had been crewed by the Akbar brothers – Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, and Gideon.3

For his part, Osolo explains that he had spent three years on Agamemnon, working as the greatest Osolo impersonator in the ‘verse, with Melika coming along for the never-ending party that was his entourage. (Osolo confides that she maybe partied a little too hard, feeling she could have done more to save Bubba’s life.) The money was great, he says, and the concerts got bigger and bigger, until one day, he woke up and realized he wasn’t happy with it anymore. He wasn’t born to be a star, he was born a cowboy. …and getting back to honest work might just keep Mel from drinking herself into an early burial at space.

When Hal asks about Rahne, Osolo says that she is still in the custody of her stepfathers, but he plans to do something about that next year, when she will turn 13.

The group is interrupted in their storytelling by the arrival of Widad Sabra Jamil (“Call me Sabra”). Hal introduced her as a long-term passenger who has been with the ship for a while, doing her own trading, shipping her cargo as freight, and traveling along with it. She wears a set of oversized sunglasses with an obvious computer interface, marking her as a core-worlder. She leavers to conduct her own business.

At this point, the host of the Cabra arrives. Khan Abdul Wali Khan rides up on horseback, and greets the crew in Arabic, which none of the crew speaks. There is some amusement and annoyance at this, with the Khan giving curt orders to a henchman, who leaves on the run. Several attempts at communication fail before the group is approached by an incredibly old woman who speaks both Arabic and Portuguese. She gives her name as Madame Dooriya Ker, and offers her services as translator, in exchange for a good rate for a ticket off Miranda. Osolo is initially resistant, until she pulls out a deck of Tarot cards and tells him that the cards say it’s what he’ll do. At that, he agrees.

Finally able to talk, the Khan greets the crew and gives his approval to their commercial endeavors. He explains that he has assigned his nephew, Wally, to act as his agent and to facilitate the crew’s buying and selling. However, somehow, Wally had missed the meeting. The Khan assured the crew that Wally would be along in due time, and galloped off.

Madame Dori goes inside to check out her new room, while the crew leaves in search of the nearest bar.

Along the way, they come across a fried-dog cart and decide to partake in the colorful local cuisine. Without a shared language, the crew has a hit-and-miss interaction with the dog-kebab seller. Osolo gets what he ordered, Felix gets a double-helping of his order, Terreno gets rice instead of meat, and Hal… encounters something with a chicken foot in it.

Disgusted, he flings the offending piece of fowl away, but has a moment of klutz, neglects to compensate for the low local gravity, and launches it into the raised coffee cup of a dignified, elderly, local poo-bah. Strong hot coffee rains over the man and his fez, prompting three large locals to come to their feet menacingly. Terreno and Osolo moved to back up Hal, with Osolo ripping off his breakaway sheet ensemble to reveal nothing more or less than the traditional mawashi loincloth of the sumo. In light of this, the locals decided not to make an issue of it, and bent to helping the elder get cleaned up.

Resuming the search and discussing the quaint and picturesque scenery of the town of Syracuse, the crew remarks upon the date, 20 April 2521. Just as they wondered if this is a world that celebrates the ancient holiday, they run into a small parade, centered around a Chinese dragon spouting smoke in all directions. Happy to have their question answered, they proceed on.

Without further adventure, the crew makes it to a local bar. Being the crew’s charades champion, Osolo negotiates with the bartender, opening a tab and buying a round. After a few rounds, though, Hal’s not-really-dog-kebab starts to come back on him. Muttering something about needing to find the restroom, he ventures into the depths of the bar.

As it turned out, the bar is short on indoor plumbing. Hal finds the back door and spots the outhouse, but doesn’t make it. Stumbling off the path, he is forced to remove his oxygen mask to throw up. His head whirling, he loses consciousness.

Some time later, back in the bar, the crew starts to wonder what’s keeping Hal. They all move to follow him, prompting the bartender to object loudly. Through the language barrier, they make out that he doesn’t like the idea of the entire group leaving, carrying their drinks, with an open tab. As a compromise, Osolo and Terreno follow Hal’s trail, while Felix stays behind, holding down their table, enjoying the questionable local music, and continuing with the drinking.

Outside, the two find the outhouse, but no sign of Hal. After some searching, they find his discarded oxygen mask. Concerned, Osolo sends Terreno back to settle the tab and collect Felix, while he remains behind to try to find Hal’s tracks.

During this same time, Felix finds his foot encumbered by a petite cat-girl in a maid’s outfit wearing a collar with a length of attached chain. She shows no ability to speak, responding only with meows and purrs. The tag on her collar declares her name to be Nuku-chan, but there is no other information. Felix experiments, giving her bits of the crew’s leftover bar snacks, and a sip of liquor, which she quite liked. Terreno’s return finds him scratching behind the cat-girl’s ears as she purred happily.

The two settled the tab and returned to Osolo, bringing Nuku-chan along. Osolo has used the time to remind himself that he was born and bred on the metal grating of a ship’s decks, and has no idea how to track. Instead, he has decided to play the odds, and seek the nearest hospital.

Meanwhile, at the nearest hospital, Hal wakes up. He is under a plastic tent and has something very uncomfortable down his throat. He moves to remove it, only to be stopped by a nurse speaking Portuguese, assuring him that all would be well. He removes the tube from Hal’s throat and leaves the room.

The other patient in the room asks if he might practice his Portuguese language skills, which Hal agrees to. They trade stories until discovering that they have something in common. Hal grew up on a tree farm, while the other man is a farmer of bamboo. The other patient laments that his bamboo-based paper product is unfashionable on Miranda, leaving him with warehouses full of paper with no buyers. In short order, Hal has all but sealed his first big-time cargo deal, offering to buy 650 tons of paper for $52,000.

While the patients get to know each other, the rest of the crew make their painful way to the hospital, fighting against the language and cultural barrier the entire way. In the end, they are successful. The nurses explain that Hal had been found and brought in to have his stomach pumped, with food poisoning and quite possibly alcohol poisoning as well.

The crew enters Hal’s room just as he’s about to seal the deal. Osolo insists that Hal, being sick and inexperienced at this sort of thing, needed help, and steps in to the final round of negotiations. He manages to talk the other merchant “down” to $57,000.4

Enough ruckus is raised to bring Hal’s doctor, who insists that Hal stay for the night. Rejecting this outright, Hal signs himself out of the hospital, accepting responsibility for whatever happens. During the excitement, Osolo tries to subtly take advantage of Hal’s condition to obtain extra drugs, which leads to much confusion until the medical staff figure out what’s going on. Laughing at the silly foreigner, they tell him, if that’s the sort of thing he wants, he should just go to the convenience store down the street.

Checking, the crew finds that, indeed, narcotics of all description are freely available. Osolo gets excited at visions of profit, and starts questioning the store’s cashier about buying them out, before realizing they would be better off shopping wholesale, rather than retail.

The crew returns to the ship for the night, with Felix bringing Nuku-chan along. There is some discussion of what to do with her, with Felix insisting that they keep “Petunia”.5 One point of the debate is the question, is she a human with cat properties, or a cat with human properties? The crew determines that she can’t, or won’t, speak. When offered a pencil, she batted at it with her cat-like paws, demonstrating that there’s no way she could write. On the other hand, when Osolo asked her directly why they should keep her, she pantomimed a message to him: “Because I can get into my old master’s safe.”

In the end, they decide to keep her, but Osolo demands that Felix feed and clean up after his new pet.

The ship has changed since the old days, and not for the better. It’s dirty, in general, for one thing. All the knives in the kitchen are nicked and blunted, there are important pots and pans missing, while others are unacceptably dented. Bubba’s still has been disassembled.

So, the next day, it was back to work. Osolo ordered Terreno and Felix to relieve the Akbar brothers in orbit, so they could have some shore leave. Felix is given a list of kitchen utensils, and instructions to draw up designs for a new still, and sent to the cargo ship’s machine shop. Hal is assigned to keep an eye on the brothers while they take their R&R. Osolo goes on the hunt, searching for big-time wholesale suppliers of poppy products. Melika remains, passed out, dropped off in her old sickbay.

Osolo returns with no joy. Probably because of the ongoing drought, he is unable to locate any sellers on the necessary scale. Ephraim has better luck, finding and buying a full-grown, ziggy-born St. Bernard. The poor beast can’t even lift its head, even in the micro-gravity of Miranda. Nevertheless, the brothers are very pleased with their new pet, and swear to feed and take care of it.

That night, Felix has nightmares of being eaten alive by alligators, only to awake and discover Nuku-chan kneading his back with her claws.

The next day, Wally arrived, and went on the hunt for cargo with Osolo and Ephraim. The other Akbar brothers were sent to relieve Felix and Terreno.

Melika finally woke up and was absolutely appalled at the state of her sickbay. Stumbling forth, she came across the brothers’ new dog, saw the sad state it was in, and set up a quick IV to make it more comfortable.

The search for cargo turned up 50 tons of electronics parts, and 125 tons of wood. Deals were made, and both were set to be delivered.

That afternoon, while seeking entertainment, Terreno is stopped by three large men carrying baseball bats. They inform him that they are there to “send a message” from their employer, and that he should “return the cat”. Of course, he refuses, and offers physical resistance, in the form of a classic pro wrestling clothesline delivered to the spokes-mook!

Of course, pro wrestling moves are fake. The mook doesn’t know to sell it, and he and his buddies are stunned at the unbelievable sight. While Sohio hobbled away, calling for help on the communicator, Terreno pressed his advantage, such as it was. Taking advantage of the low gravity, he threw two of the attackers far away, while taking a solid hit to the torso. Seeing the balance of power shift, the last mook ran. Melika showed up, having been called by Sohio’s message, and administered first aid.

That evening, the crew gathered around the Cabra‘s kitchen table for dinner and to discuss recent events. At one point, Melika looked at the external camera – part of the improvements since the old days – and noticed one of the natives, some distance away, who seemed to be setting up a large rifle pointing at the Cabra‘s airlock door. (A critical success on a Perception check versus a poor roll of Stealth.)

Startled, Melika left the ship and headed towards the man to interrogate him, with other, slow-reacting members of the crew trailing behind. The man saw her coming, obviously panicked, grabbed some of his gear, and ran off, leaving the gun itself, his jacket, and some other kit behind.

As soon as Osolo caught up, he called dibs on the gun. Even as he spoke, he heard a voice in the back of his head, as Bubba pointed out: “That rifle is crap.” Even so, he claimed it as just spoils.

Melika investigated the jacket, and found a business card for one Dr Ronald Clement, the ranking scientist working on the terraforming of Heinlein6.

1 Sohio is family, but not part of the main, space-faring, tramp-freighter merchant family – similar to Hal’s grandpa.

2Neither ship has a name. Both need one.

3Members of the clan, but working as employees, rather than shareholders, while learning on-the-job. Their parents were very religious, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Zombie, and had named the boys as they were born, alphabetically, with names from the Old Testament. Frank’s full name is Frankincense, because the Old Testament is short on names starting with the letter ‘F’, but he doesn’t care for it at all.

4In-universe, this wasn’t nearly so obvious as all that. It’s more of a “and you pay the closing costs” agreement, where everybody walks away thinking they got a great deal… until the books are balanced next month and it (possibly) comes out in the accounting. But, out-of-universe, it’s amusing.

5Felix has trouble with names.

6The planet formerly known as Uranus, until they got tired of killing folks over the jokes.

Peter's ESL

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Set Adrift, On 3d6

A brief look into my life through GURPS.

Northport

adventures in designing a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy setting

False Machine

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Dreams in the Lich House

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Game Geekery

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

DYVERS

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Dark Paths and Wandered Roads

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Roll and Shout

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Dice and Discourse

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Ravens N' Pennies

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

One Yard Hex

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

The Lands of Nandêmē: A Hexcrawl for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse

Mostly Old-school RPG musings

Orbs and Balrogs

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

RPG Snob

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

yog-blogsoth

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Spiderweb in the Corner

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

The Tao of D&D

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Game in the Brain

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape