Shadows of Keron, Episode 30: Hunter’s Moon

Shadows of Keron lurched briefly back into life over the weekend. Four of us found ourselves in a windswept cottage in Oxfordshire with a bunch of dice, more whiskey than the mind can comfortably conceive of, and a copy of Beasts of the Dominions.

HUNTER’S MOON

Since the group was last seen in the Ivory Savannah, that is where we pick up their story again. I had packed BoD because what one needs in these circumstances is a short, picaresque adventure that can be finished in a few hours; and in the Ivory Savannah we find Hunter’s Moon, an everyday story of tribesmen, merchant caravans, the Elephants’ Graveyard, and Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.

We established earlier that the group splintered at some point between Ekul and the Brown Sea, and is making its way home in penny packets. While our series regulars are off dealing death to Kumal the Smiling and picking up a piece of treasure they will really regret finding, three of the fellowship have taken passage with a merchant caravan across the Savannah, intending to cross that, then the Red Desert, and thus at last come home to the Independent Cities.

These worthies are Peter Perfect the Paladin, Seasoned holy warrior of Hulian; Abishag, Seasoned halfling thief (don’t ask); and Alihulk Junior, Seasoned fighting man and the living embodiment of the phrase “No retreat – no surrender”.

I will limit my report of the scenario to avoid spoilers, but here are a couple of vignettes for you:

  • Alihulk attempting to catch a man-eating lion by covering himself in raw meat and sleeping outdoors. He attracted a lot in the way of noisome vermin, but no lions.
  • Peter replaying the famous motion tracker scene from Aliens using Detect Arcana and a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know.
  • Alihulk, mounted on a lame warpony, chasing down a burning lion (set on fire by Peter Perfect) and grappling it. That really didn’t end well for either party.

Hunter’s Moon worked well. The plot is very linear, but the players naturally followed it without apparently noticing that, and with no steering from me. A fine time was had by all.

LATIFUNDIUM

As veteran roleplayers, the party got through Hunter’s Moon more quickly than I’d expected, and I felt Alihulk and Abishag deserved some time in the spotlight as Peter had shone in that scenario.

So it was that they encountered an old witch in a walking hut (Baba Yaga-style) who had seen Alihulk’s father and brother earlier. Learning that the father, Alihulk Senior, had moved to Caldeia to become a dark sorceror – he is Alihulk Junior’s enemy, which is intriguing – and that Alihulk Junior’s younger brother had followed him there some time later, the party decided to follow them down the Buffalo River to Caldeia.

Peter Perfect was bent on overthrowing this stronghold of slavery and dark sorcery; Alihulk aimed to confront his father; and Abishag is designed for city work, so we ought to get him into a city for a bit.

I had a vague plan, based on Alihulk Senior being somehow connected with the Disciples of the Black Temple, a couple of recycled NPCs, and a copy of the Mythic GME tables, and this proved to be enough. In fact, it flowed more smoothly than Hunter’s Moon, because I didn’t need to look anything up.

The first sign of civilisation they found was a slave plantation. After maiming a slave overseer because he wouldn’t free the slaves, they decided to enter the villa and have it out with the plantation manager, who they had learned ran the place on behalf of a priest prince. There, Peter and Alihulk were mistaken for guests at the evening’s orgy, and Abishag for part of the entertainment. Taking ruthless advantage of this, they attempted to suborn the plantation manager with a plan for a more cost-efficient plantation operated by freedmen, and offered to stand in for the stable boys who would otherwise have to handle the Priest-Prince’s giant bat steed (“We usually have to replace a couple of stable boys when he visits on that, it’s vicious.”).

After much planning, they settled on ambushing the Priest-Prince as he arrived, using Lower Trait to discomfit his steed. He had realised something was wrong on the approach, and consequently survived the crash-landing because he had Deflection and Armour running, which also helped him with assorted stabbings. While his Amazon bodyguard was being run through by Alihulk, the Priest-Prince made a run for the edge of the roof, intending to leap off and trust to his Armour to save him from the fall; but Peter rugby-tackled him and then stabbed him fatally.

The plantation manager, arriving to greet his master, took in the scene quickly and realised that his life was forfeit. Secretly, he also has a thing for the Amazon, so ran to save her. Learning that the Amazons are loyal to whoever pays them, and that the death of her principal makes her life forfeit and her contract void, Peter heals her, and the party decamp before the three other Priest-Princes expected at the orgy can arrive.

They are now on the outskirts of Caldeia, planning their next move. Little do they know that Baaltasar the plantation manager is in fact a renegade Disciple of the Black Temple, on the run.

Good fun. Shadows of Keron practically writes itself by now.

Flack, Z+199: The Only Easy Day

“The only easy day was yesterday.” – US Navy SEALs.

With my other half out of the country and my boy studying hard for exams next month, I had a little extra time this weekend just gone; and how better to use it than killing zombies?

7th July, 2013. The boys are back in town, looking for supplies but expecting to find zeds. Flack is bringing along Hardcase, Wannabe and Pugh; Wannabe needs to start earning his keep, and the other two are reliable enough. That leaves the other Pugh and Dibble guarding the land rover off-map.

SETUP

This is a Take Back scenario in daylight, in an urban area (ER 5). Take Back is risky as I have to clear the board to win, but I figure if the group is staying in town for a month, an early priority would be to secure a base of operations. As it’s a new area, I check for available supplies using the rules on p. 57; this area has 16 Body Armour, 59 Food, 29 Fuel, 53 Luxury Items, 18 Medical Supplies, and 41 Weapons.

The team move 8″ onto the board and I place zombies and PEFs (dice on their own in the middle of sections, see picture below). In an urban area, there are 1d6+1 zeds per human, so 4d6+4 against the group today; we roll well, and there are only 14 of them, 4 at 4 o’clock, 2 at 6 o’clock, 2 at 8 o’clock, 2 at 10 o’clock, 4 at 12 o’clock.

You’ll see I’m using my shiny new City Deck and Risks & Rewards Deck for this game, and pawns from the Zombies!!! boardgame. Flack is Red, the Rep 4 Pugh is blue, Hardcase is green and Wannabe is yellow.

FZ199-01

TURN 1

Activation: Flack 4, Zeds 2.

Firstly, Flack can see the PEF in section 4, so I resolve it. I roll 5, 3 and given the ER of the area is 5, we’ve found something and I go to the contact tables to find out what. It turns out to be three more zeds.

Flack & Co. fast move into the Bar None. (They don’t need the extra movement, but it does make them harder to hit if anyone shoots, so I do it habitually now.) Well, what else are you gonna do in the Zombie Apocalypse?  You certainly need a drink by this stage.

I don’t bother drawing a card from the Risks & Rewards deck because initial placement put two zeds inside. We take the Charge into Melee test; Flack passes 2d6, Pugh 2d6, Hardcase 2d6, and Wannabe 0d6. Wannabe panics and opens fire with his machine pistol, missing with all three shots (not hard if you’re a fast-moving Rep 2) and generating two more zeds.

“If you fire that thing again,” Pugh says, “I’m going to make you eat it.”

“Can I kill him, boss?” Hardcase wants to know.

But there’s no time for that. The rest of them are attacking the zeds in melee, giving them +1 success, and the zeds are at -1d6 because of the excellent rolls from the team. Flack kills his outright, and the other fights Hardcase to a standstill until Pugh takes it Out Of the Fight which is the same as dead for a zed.

While this is going on, the two PEFs both pass 2d6 and move up two zones. The zeds move one zone, which brings three of them into contact, barging into the Bar None behind our Heroes. Oops, I should have seen that coming. More melee, and the team is at -2d6 on the Charge Into Melee test because they’re hit from behind. As we’re rolling 2d6 + 1d6 (Survivors) – 2d6 (hit from behind), all open fire. I really do have to take that MP off Wannabe, it’s physically impossible for him to hit with his Rep, all he can do is draw more zeds. The rest of them fare a little better; Flack kills one, Pugh knocks one down, and Hardcase embarrasses himself by missing everything. Four more zeds rock up, drawn by the gunfire.

The rest of the zeds march to the sound of the guns, creating a target-rich environment.

FZ199-02

TURN 2

Activation: Flack 5, zeds 4. This means only the zeds who can see humans will move; that’s basically the ones in front of the Bar None.

On the basis that there are more zeds in front of the bar than behind it, Flack leads the crew out the back door, fast-moving, and behind the Cornerstone Coffee House. This will leave them facing five zeds, but the alternatives are (a) facing 17 zeds, or (b) barricading themselves inside the Bar None and watching hopelessly as every zed on the table moves up and batters at the doors. No thanks.

More melee? Well, if you insist… Everyone except Wannabe passes 2d6, so opens fire, but Wannabe only gets one shot. Of course he misses, although I still roll in the vain hope that he runs out of ammo, but luckily no more zeds appear. That’s a small mercy, as the remaining 16 zeds now know where we are. Flack knocks two down, Pugh kills two, Hardcase kills one. Good enough. All that gunfire draws six more zeds; we have to stop doing that, but unfortunately you don’t always get a choice.

FZ199-03

TURN 3

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 2. Time to get the hell out of Dodge. The crew zip into the side entrace for Downtown Parking at a fast-move, Wannabe trailing as he passes 0d6. What’s inside? I draw a card from the R&R deck and discover it’s a brace of Casters. I’m not using those – they’re from High Rise to Hell, which I don’t have yet – and not knowing how many there are in the deck, I decide to treat them as no encounter and drive on. We’re not stopping to loot with that many zeds on our tail, so that ends the team’s activation.

The zeds move to wherever they think we might be, and the PEFs close up as far as they can without breaking cover.

At this point I check the time and discover I’m just under an hour in, halfway through the target time for the encounter. Even allowing for my being rusty, it looks like the full 16 cards is going to be too many for a typical game for me. Let’s see how things go.

FZ199-04

TURN 4

Activation: Flack 2, zeds 1. The team fast-move across the street (fortunately the zed in the road is facing the other way) and into Gilligan’s Tavern, where they find – three vampires?!? More High Rise to Hell stuff, and this time I decide to redraw and get four zeds.

Naturally, Wannabe panics and fires, drawing two more zeds. Flack kicks one zombie OOF, Hardcase kills another, the third knocks down Pugh who rolls boxcars on his Recover From Knock Down test and is Obviously Dead. Oh no! Continuing the roll of extreme luck, Wannabe kills the final zed.

The team takes a Man Down test as they react to the loss of Pugh. Flack, as a star, can choose his result and passes 2d6. The rest get the benefit of Flack’s leader die; Hardcase rolls 2, 3, 3 and passes 2d6; he carries on. Wannabe rolls 5, 4, 3 and Runs Away, so he is removed from the table.

FZ199-05

TURN 5

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 4. Only the zed in Gilligan’s activates, as none of the others can see a human. It’s already in melee, and Flack kills again, clubbing it viciously with his rifle until Hardcase pulls him off.

“He’s gone, Captain. He’s gone.”

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Flack composes himself. Scanning the area, he can see, or knows of, over 20 zombies, and there’s only him and Hardcase left. Time to go.

“Right,” Flack says, with the merest hint of a catch in his voice. “Follow me,” and the pair of them fast-move off the board.

AFTERMATH

Wannabe rolls 3, 3 vs Rep 2 for After The Battle recovery; he never makes it back to camp. The team never find out what happened to him, but given his flaky Rep it’s not likely to be anything good.

Hardcase and Flack roll to see if they lose Rep as a result of failure, but neither does. They have both lost men before, and no doubt will lose them again.

The rest of the crew reflect on whether to stay with Flack once he breaks the news about Wannabe and Pugh; not his best day in command ever. Flack himself is rolling 5d6 for Rep, an additional 1d6 as he is a Born Leader, but -1d6 as he lost a man this trip. He scores 4 successes (rolls of 1-3).

Dibble is not rolling to leave the group any more. Hardcase rolls 5d6, -2d6 because he has been with Flack for over 6 months now, for a total of 3d6; he rolls no successes and is no longer rolling to leave the group. Pugh rolls similarly and gets 2 successes; again Flack has at least twice as many successes, so Pugh becomes a permanent member.

REFLECTIONS

That was a big, ugly failure. I used 26 zombies and 4 humans, and the game lasted about 90 minutes. The tactical lesson is not to shoot at zeds if you can possibly avoid it, but you can’t always, especially if you have a low Rep team member.

The two card decks work very well; the risks and rewards deck in particular saves a lot of time, and now I want to use it for Savage Worlds as well (it was the vampires and casters wot dun it, officer).

Based on the movement ratings, the recommended board layout is equivalent to a board around 40″ x 48″, and based on my progress in this game would take me 3-4 hours to clear, which is more than I have available in a typical session; I shall switch to one card per built-up board section, which is a good match for what I get when using terrain, and see how that goes – I can always add more cards later. (As an aside, I personally think a ground scale of one inch to six feet is about right for ATZ, in which case to scale my local coffee shop is about 4” by 6”, my usual office is around 8” by 10” and a typical house is probably 4” by 4”, so the city deck is about right, actually; a couple of buildings per board section in a built-up area.)

Considering they are little plastic men and lists of numbers on an index card, I was surprisingly touched when they pulled together more tightly than ever after losing Pugh.

It’s all about the story.

STATUS AT Z+200

  • Capt. Flack: Rep 5*, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative. Body armour, assault rifle, binoculars.
  • Pugh: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Dibble: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Hardcase: Rep 5, Pep 3, Sav 4. Body armour, assault rifle, SMG, goggles, backpack.
  • Group: Land Rover, 3 Food, 0 Fuel.
  • Area: 16 Body Armour, 59 Food, 29 Fuel, 53 Luxury Items, 18 Medical Supplies, 41 Weapons.

Is Your Journey Really Necessary?

We interrupt our scheduling programming to answer a question from Umberto Pignatelli (ciao, Umberto!), who wanted to know whether so much detailed world building is necessary to run Traveller.

The short answer is “No”. The longer answer, at least my longer answer, goes like this…

Traveller is a child of its time, namely the late 1970s and early 1980s, back when the Old School was the New School. Original D&D had been available for about three years, if you knew where to look for it, which in 1977 meant Games Workshop in Hammersmith (yes, that Games Workshop, but pre-Warhammer) or a couple of other places in equally seedy sidestreets.

In those days, the GM was expected to fill in the gaps in the rules and create his setting from scratch, himself. That was a natural result of where RPGs came from; initially they were written by, and for, tabletop wargamers, who were used to doing that and had all kinds of tricks for it, mostly spread by word of mouth as I recall. RPGs then were all sandboxes; the GM had to generate material for everywhere the players might go and everything they might do, because until the players sat down nobody – not even them – was sure what they would do next. This meant that games had to have random tables for things like encounters, which you’ll notice have largely disappeared from the current generation of RPGs.

After a year or two, games companies realised that one of the big obstacles to starting a game – and therefore, indirectly, to selling their products – was the amount of time, effort and imagination the GM had to put into generating the setting before anyone could play; at that stage, the only generally-available RPG with a setting was Empire of the Petal Throne. And thus setting books (and eventually adventure paths, which are a different answer to the same problem) were born; in the case of Traveller, the first published adventure – the Kinunir, in 1979 – had several pages of setting material in it, a pregenerated subsector with a map and some vague hints about the Imperium. Soon after, Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches, was released, and then things kind of snowballed.

The Rules As Written assume that you will generate at least one subsector for the players to adventure in, maybe 30-40 worlds. When you’re familiar with the rules, that takes about an afternoon to do, maybe longer if you want to draw a nice map, and then as much time thinking about backstory and plots as you need. (As an aside, a number of GMs went crazy and generated hundreds or thousands of star systems, but those campaigns tended to be stillborn, crushed under the weight of their own statistics.)

One of the beauties of this approach is that you can run a campaign with no GM, especially if you have a Free Trader starship, because that gives you a spine to build the rest of the game around – trading. A group of us did that for a while with a crew of scouts; the mission was to explore a subsector, and we diced up each world as we arrived, then either took it in turn to answer questions as they arose, or used reaction tests to answer them, almost a primitive version of Mythic.

But there are other ways, ways that don’t need so much prep time; it depends on the kind of game you want to run. Here are some I’ve tried:

  • You can make stuff up. Traveller’s world generation rules are actually intended for the situation where you’ve run out of ideas, and you need another planet. Until you run out of ideas, you just allocate stats to match your vision of the world, and give it a concise write-up in the form of a Universal World Profile.
  • You can use one of the published settings.
  • You can use a setting from books, movies or TV. A lot of people did this, and in fact one of the stated aims of Traveller was to allow people to explore aspects of their favourite setting that hadn’t been covered in the source material.
  • You can limit the players to one world, if necessary by having their starship break down – now they’re stuck until they have enough money to fix it. (I have fond memories of a game like this that my brother-in-law ran, set in the universe of Andre Norton’s The Beast Master, which had a definite Wild West vibe.)
  • You can make all the worlds the same, so you only need one set of stats. This works well for a universe like C J Cherryh’s Alliance/Union novels, where most star systems have only a space station as a colony as there are few habitable worlds. (This is the gaming equivalent of early seasons of Stargate: SG-1; all planets look like the same stretch of Canadian forest.)
  • You can allocate worlds as you go. In my last Dark Nebula game, I stayed a couple of worlds ahead of the exploring PCs – wherever they went, I pulled the next world off the stack and that’s where they were. Then that got written into the GM’s notes as if it had always been there, and I generated a new one to replace it in the stack. I also had a “default” secondary system in case I ever ran out – that’s what every system looked like until somebody went there.

There’s another angle to this, though; Traveller tends to attract the kind of player or GM who enjoys generating worlds, or characters, or starships.

For the average Traveller GM, generating worlds isn’t a chore, it’s more like a solo mini-game within the main game.

Shadows of Keron: A Retrospective

It’s time to call this one. Time of death: April 2014.

I have enough material to keep running the game for another year, maybe two, but with several of the group dealing with serious illness in the family, two running after a new baby, one off to university and two off to Japan, the best I can hope for is a long hiatus. All the same, it’s been fun while it lasted, and a real success. My only regret is that it petered out, rather than ending on the kind of slam-bang, white-knuckle high note I’d hoped for; but such is life.

If you count the city of Irongrave where the PCs began, which was absorbed into the Dread Sea Dominions once Beasts & Barbarians captured my imagination, this campaign has lasted about four years of real time; one of the longest I’ve ever run.

The game introduced half-a-dozen new people to role-playing, and four of them still play on a regular basis; that’s a win, right there. I converted the whole group to Savage Worlds – win – and they converted me to Shadowrun – win. I got to know Piotr Korys and Umberto Pignatelli – win.

Over the course of the campaign, the PCs have grown from their lowly beginnings at Novice rank to the edge of Legendary. They have travelled across the Dominions from the Independent Cities to the Troll Mountains to the Ivory Savannah. They have looted tombs, toppled kingdoms and slain a god. They have upset the balance of power in the Dominions for centuries to come by gifting both the Ascaian Amazons and the Smith-Priests of Hulian the secret of steel-making.

What now for our heroes?

The Warforged intends seizing control of the abandoned City of the Winged God, where he plans to create a new race of warforged and take over the world – for the greater good of all, of course. (It always starts like that, doesn’t it? Then there are dissenters, then the Blast powers and frying pans come out, and the screaming starts…)

Nessime has been instructed by the Smith-Priests to make her way to Jalizar, there to help contain its ancient evils.

Gutz’ present whereabouts are unknown; but the party’s jewels are safe with him, wherever he and Maximus the warhorse are – at least until he finds a tavern with dancing-girls…

“When it’s over, when it’s done – let it go.” – The Bangles, Let It Go

Shadows of Keron Episode 29: The Death of Kumal the Smiling

Yes, it had to happen: Kumal’s luck finally ran out.

This was an improvised scenario aimed at switching the narrative track towards Caldeia, where I intend to run the Kithtakharos adventures next. Sitting down at the table, I pulled together a number of leftover plot threads – campaigns start to write themselves after a while. So there were undead guardians, a Daughter of Hordan, a handsome slave in vigorous good health, a Valkyrie, assorted Valk on warponies, a dark and stormy night, and a cave.

“We are NOT going in that cave,” said the Warforged. “There’s always something nasty in caves.”

Deftly bypassing the cave (and its undead guardians), the party treks on through the night and the pouring rain.

At length, they come upon an encampment, with a couple of dozen Valk and their tents, the leaders debating something with a Valkyrie. The Warforged hates Valk, and is all for slaughtering them on the spot. Nessime takes a more reasoned approach, and being unsure what to do, consults the Hindrances on her character sheet as I often counsel players to do in these situations.

  • Heroic. Are the Valk in trouble? No, so Nessime does not have to help them.
  • Loyal: Friends. Are the Valk her friends? No, so this Hindrance doesn’t come into play.
  • Vow: Fight evil until the last fire goes out (she is a paladin of Hulian, in effect). Are the Valk evil? Well… they worship demons. They speak the same language as demons. Close enough.

They approach stealthily, and The Warforged opens hostilities with a Fear spell. All the lesser Valk and the warponies flee in panic, but by virtue of not running away, the Valkyrie reveals herself to be a Wild Card. Gutz then taunts her something rotten, one of his favourite tactics, and she becomes Shaken. This buys the party enough time to drop an overpowered Blast spell on her, killing her outright despite the liberal application of GM Bennies.

Searching the wreckage, they discover a slave hiding in the Valkyrie’s tent, which also contains a map, a half-written letter, and a strange leathery object somewhat bigger than a football.

“Do you have a name?” asked Nessime.

“Yes, ma’am,” replied the now-freed slave. “Antaeus.”

“Oh you poor thing,” she said. “I am so sorry.”

This leaves Antaeus in a state of confusion, little knowing that throughout the campaign the only NPCs to survive encounters with the party have been those without names (and Kumal the Smiling); having a name ensures NPC death, or so the party now believes.

Antaeus declines to join the party, even after gifts of weapons and armour, but does agree to travel with them to the next town, wherever that might be. He explains that he was a prisoner of war from the Kyrosian rebellion the PCs fought in some time ago, sold as a slave and passed from merchant to merchant until the Valk picked him up. Had they kept on with this line of questioning they might have learned something truly useful, but since it’s not something Antaeus wants to talk about he doesn’t volunteer it. The party instead becomes distracted by the map and letter. The letter is apparently from the Valkyrie to someone called Baltazar, which several of the party recognised as a Tricarnian name, explaining that she has the object he seeks and is bringing it to him in Caldeia. (Gutz immediately reasons that this must be the leathery object, and it is therefore valuable and should be carried off.) The map is interesting partly because it exactly matches the map Gutz liberated from his erstwhile colleagues early in the campaign, which he was told by said colleagues showed the location of a great treasure, and partly because it has little pictures of Warforged on it, in the Caldeian swamps.

By now the party is getting the idea, and decides to press on south towards Caldeia. They come to a river, and determine (rightly) that if they follow it downstream they should come to the swamps. After a little while, they encounter the warponies, who have somehow got onto the other side of the river. There is much debate about how to cross the river to get to them, but at length this plan is abandoned.

A little while later, they encounter the Valk, who are looking for their warponies. Now that it is daylight, Kumal the Smiling (for it is he) recognises his opponents. He bullies the other Valk into attacking the party (because he hates them), then attempts to sneak off (because he is terrified of The Warforged, and not without reason).

Outnumbered three to one by dismounted nomad archers, the party is undaunted. The Warforged fires off his signature Blast spell against Kumal, and incinerates him, again despite GM Bennies.

Gutz takes a moment to honour the memory of a worthy foe, while Nessime uses Beast Friend and an excellent Persuasion roll to convince a swarm of nearby meerkats that the Valk are attempting to steal their territory. Two of them fall under a whirlwind of tiny teeth, claws, and offers of cheap warpony insurance.

Gutz drops a couple with arrows, The Warforged barrels into the closest group and whacks them silly with his Enchanted Sorceror’s Frying Pan, and once they reach 70% casualties the survivors break and run.

Antaeus is volunteered to pick up and carry the loot (mostly composite bows), since the party forgot he was there and didn’t use him in the fight. (He was quite happy with that, and they didn’t seem to need his help.)

It is without further incident that the group travels downriver into the swamps, to the sleepy village of Kithtakharos, which I must now read up on.

If you have worked out what that leathery object is, don’t tell them, it’ll spoil the surprise.

The Arioniad, Episode 47: Turtles All The Way Down

I think I’m done with Arion now, but I thought he deserved better than an abrupt halt to his posts, and I wanted to leave my options open in case I change my mind. So…

Arion awakens in a silent, white room. He looks around, to find himself in a hospital gown, lying on a bed. On a nearby chair sits a man with spectacles and a short, neatly-trimmed beard, hands clasped in his lap.

“Call me Gordon,” says the man. “Your crew is safe, and so are you. But you have some decisions to make, and before you make them, I need you to understand what’s really going on.” Arion sits up, and focusses intently on Gordon.

“Have you ever felt as if the universe was different from one day to the next? Almost as if you were in a game, and the rules kept changing?”

Arion nods.

“That was me, tickling your subconscious, preparing you for this moment. Have you heard of the Simulation Hypothesis? No? Then I’ll enlighten you.”

Gordon crosses his arms and leans back in the chair.

“A technologically advanced civilisation, like mine, has access to staggering amounts of computing power. Understand me, Arion; my civilisation is as far ahead of yours as yours is ahead of the Upper Paleolithic. When I talk about staggering amounts of computing power, you literally cannot conceive how much I mean.”

Arion frowns, but decides to accept that for the moment.

“One of the things such a civilisation might do with that power is run detailed simulations of their ancestors, or beings like their ancestors. Those simulations might become complex enough to run simulations like that themselves, and those simulations in turn might run further simulations.”

Turtles all the way down,” says Arion.

“Exactly. I suspect most of those simulations would be games, by the way, but that’s just my personal viewpoint. Anyway; this line of thinking means one of three things must be true. First, civilisations don’t advance to that level – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation has. Second, civilisations that advanced don’t run those kinds of simulations – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation does. Third, we’re almost certainly living in a simulation set up by some more advanced group; although we could be the original universe, the one at the bottom of the pile of turtles.”

Arion is a quick thinker, and by now he has put the pieces together, as Gordon knew he would.

“So, I’m a simulation? I’ve been living in simulations the whole time?”

“Yes, and yes. You’re in one now, as a matter of fact.”

“Prove it.” Gordon sighs, then briefly turns into a lobster while the room turns from flat white walls to intricately-carved pink coral and back.

“That do?” he asks, on resuming his human form. Arion frowns.

“Let’s say I believe you, for the sake of argument. Why are you telling me this?”

“You’re an instrument, Arion, a very sophisticated software tool, and those were the test environments. And now we’re promoting you to the live environment – this fork of you, anyway. You see, the very fact that a simulation is a simulation imposes limits on things – cosmic ray energies, for example, have the GZK cutoff, and the way that manifests itself looks more like a simulation than a law of physics. We need agents to go to strange places, look for weird things, and survive to report back. You’ve been doing that quite effectively in our simulations, including quite a few you don’t remember, so we’d like to instantiate you physically and have you carry on doing that, this time in our world.”

“In the real world?”

“It might be. Either way, we want you to go everywhere for us; stick your nose into everything; and find out if it really is turtles all the way down. What do you say?”

Arion grins. “You know that already, don’t you? Did you seriously think I could turn that down?”

“No; frankly, you’ve been programmed not to. That isn’t one of the decisions.” Gordon leans forward and his expression is more serious now. Arion realises that Gordon hasn’t answered his questions yet.

“The people who made you tell me you might be more effective if you know the truth; but that increases the risk that the next turtle down finds out what we’re up to, if it exists. But even we can’t be sure which is better, to send you out knowing who and what you are, or wipe that knowledge; so I’m asking you. You’ve got three decisions to make, Arion. First, do you want to remember this conversation? Second, which of your crew goes with you? And third, do we tell them the truth?”

Arion opens his mouth to blurt out his immediate response, then closes it thoughtfully.

“Not an easy call, is it?” says Gordon.

Flack, Z+69: Staycation

1st March 2013: Z+69…

CAMPAIGN TURN FOR MARCH

I’ve been ignoring the official campaign turn rules on p. 52 for a while, but let’s be good this month. Working through them step by step:

  1. Check if area has been Fished Out. For some resources, yes, but there is still some food and fuel to find.
  2. Declare what area we’re in or move to a new one. We’re staying put in a rural area, ER1.
  3. Declare whether or not at home. Let’s try staying Home, it’ll give Pugh a chance to heal.
  4. Each group member consumes one Food. I already did that at the end of the last session, a bit out of sequence.
  5. Check for Involuntary Encounter. Roll 2d6 vs ER; if this comes up doubles and is less than or equal to ER, NPCs take a crack at us. I roll 22, which is a double, but not low enough for an encounter to occur. Note that the involuntary encounters happen before the voluntary ones; while Flack & Co are in a rural area, for simplicity I’ll assume involuntary encounters occur on the 1st of each month, and voluntary ones on the 15th.

Steps 6-9 only occur if there is an encounter, and step 10 is having more encounters if you like (depending on the type of area, you can have up to 5 in a month, 4 voluntary and one involuntary).

If you have the food for it, which Flack currently does, and are holed up in a rural area, you can potentially go a long time without having to fight. This was my plan for Mike, but it didn’t work out.

APRIL TO JUNE

Actually, come to think of it, there is an advantage in staying home longer… on the Keeping It Together table, grunts get -1d6 for every three full months they have been with the Star. So, while we have the food for it, let’s chill out and go fishing. I should’ve thought of this earlier, I might still have the others then. The troopers and gangers joined Flack in January, so they lose 1d6 in March (already accounted for) and 1d6 in June.

  • Z+100: 1st April 2013 – roll 1, 4 so no involuntary encounter. -6 food, taking us to 15.
  • Z+131: 1st May 2013 – roll 2, 1 (no encounter). -6 food = 9.
  • Z+162: 1st June 2013 – roll 4, 4 (no encounter. -6 food = 3. And that’s as far as we can take it, we need food now.

However, Flack’s followers are now at -2d6 when rolling to Keep It Together, making it much less like they will wander off. The dice have been unkind to Flack in a way, in that his attributes are contradictory – Born Leader is good at keeping a group of grunts together, but Initiative works best when you are alone.

Z+192: 1ST JULY 2013

Now I’ve done it once, we’ll scamper through it again to set up the next encounter, in which the team moves back into town to stock up. The urban encounter sequence will be involuntary on the 1st, then voluntary ones on the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.

I check for involuntary encounters again (6, 6 so nothing happens), and then roll for lack of sleep before the encounter proper. 2d6, +1 as there are more than 2 in the group, score of 9 – everyone is fully rested so enters the encounter at full Rep. I keep forgetting to check for this.

STATUS AT Z+191: NO CHANGE

Except for eating another 18 food units – actually they should only have eaten 6 in February, not 7, I bet that ratbag McGrew took an extra one with him – there is no change to the group’s stats.

  • Capt. Flack: Rep 5*, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative. Body armour, assault rifle, binoculars.
  • Pugh: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Pugh: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Dibble: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol. Not rolling to leave group.
  • Hardcase: Rep 5, Pep 3, Sav 4. Body armour, assault rifle, SMG, goggles, backpack.
  • Wannabe: Rep 2, Pep 0, Sav 1. Machine Pistol, walkie-talkie. Not rolling to leave group.
  • Group: Land Rover, 3 Food, 0 Fuel (burned up moving to the city at the start of July).
  • Area: 0 Body Armour, 3 Food, 6 Fuel, 8 Luxury Items, 0 Medical Supplies, 17 Weapons.

NEXT TIME…

7th July, Z+199, and the boys are back in town looking for food and hoping to refuel the Land Rover, after which they can return to the countryside and go fishing. They’re nearly a quarter of the way to 28 Months Later (Z+850) already, although admittedly this way feels sort of like cheating.