Alien RPG: Liars & Shadows, Act 1

ACT I, SC. I

FADE IN:

A pair of women’s muscular, barefoot legs striding up a tropical beach. We see VANESSA MILLER (48) pants rolled up, a sweat-stained tank top, a shirt slung over her shoulder approaching a wood shack on stilts on the beach. A fishing boat tied up to the pier is painted with the name ‘WRY BRED’. She slips on her shoes and goes inside.

— WOOD SHACK — INT.

KAYLA RYE (25) lounges in a rocker behind a counter, a desk fan blowing her dark bangs poking out under her W-Y ball cap. An empty whiskey bottle sits on the counter. She sits forward in her chair.

RYE: The fuck you doing here?

MILLER (looking lazily around the shack): I found her. I need you. You in?

RYE: Fuck no. (slurring) ..the fuck outta here ‘fore I call the policia…

MILLER (picking up empty bottle): C’mon Rye, you’ll be dead before you’re thirty here.

RYE: No! Fuck outta here Cap’n! I don’t wanta go back there. It’s just darkness and blood and… (chokes back a sob)

MILLER: On your feet, crewman! Shift starts now! I need you! And you need to get back out there. You know I’m right. So c’mon girl, we got work to do.

RYE: Stands unsteadily, looks green and pukes on MILLER’S shoes

RYE: Sorry cap’n. I’ll buy you some new ones.

MILLER (unfazed): If we get to her, before anyone else does, you can buy me some real fancy ones, buy yourself anything you want.

RYE: yeah unless…(chokes)…you know, there’s still…something out there.

MILLER (frowning): Only one way to find out, girl. Let’s pack you a bag and get goin’. First things first, we gotta round up a crew.

RYE: The fuck you gonna get for this run? They’d have to be crazy or fuckin’ desperate… or both.

MILLER: I got some leads.

We played the Chariot of the Gods scenario months ago and had a blast. Literally – one of the spaceships blew up at the end of it! Two crewmembers of the Montero made it out alive, but we left our vessel in the depths of interstellar space. When Icculus sent out the “after action” report, I suggested we should put together an expedition to try and recover the Montero. I’m sure that Miller would have done so. Not one to disappoint, Icculus wrote up an adventure to do just that. We started it last week when our Numenera GM needed a break.

Cast of Characters

Vanessa Miller: Captain of the ill-fated Montero. Cashiered as a captain after losing the Montero. For the past two years she’s been smuggling for Brazilian crime lord Ruth Santos. All the while, Miller has been looking for the Montero.

Kayla Rye: Mechanic on the Montero and one of the two survivors of the original crew. Rye hit rock bottom. She’s suffered greatly and turned to alcohol to help her forget the horrible things she saw and did during the previous adventure. When Miller discovered the Montero, she recruited Rye and got her sobered up. Rye’s still scared as hell about going back “out in the black”, but feels like she owes Miller one for actually giving a shit.

Kiefer Monroe: Hot shot pilot who’s been working as a smuggler for Ruth Santos for some time. Monroe is too much of a risk taker to be hired by a legitimate outfit. He’s a real cowboy. He even wears a Stetson and packs a revolver.

“Diya” Padilla: Former street punk from Buenos Aires, Padilla was “rescued” from the street by Ruth Santos. He represents her interests and conducts most of the negotiations for his boss.

Addie: We don’t know much about her. She stowed away on our ship with a backpack full of canned food. She’s told us she ran away from her pimp on the Titan colony. She’s a wiz with electronics.

Act 1

The Montero is not where we left her. The ship is now in the Gamma Geminorum system – parsecs away from the last adventure. Someone moved her and god only knows how Miller figured out her new coordinates. Miller wants that ship. Badly. If the cargo is still intact, she’s set for life. Her problem has been getting to the system to recover her ship.

By hook or by crook, Miller has finally landed a smuggling run to Gamma Geminorum. The system is 11.9 parsecs from Earth and well outside what would be considered the frontier of known space. There is a colony of wildcat miners on Alhena, a moon orbiting a Neptune-sized ice giant in the system. Needless to say, this colony is highly illegal. It is outside any government or major corporate control. They are extracting heavy metals from the moon and deal with Santos for food and supplies.

Our ship is named The Demeter. She’s a Corvus CM-90 salvage ship that has been converted into an armed smuggler. The vessel has got a pretty good engine and sports some sensor drones, a light rail cannon and a particle accelerator.

We started the adventure picking up supplies and cargo on Titan. We had a long burn to get out of the gravity well before we could engage the hyper drive, so we did a little research on the colony and caught up on some rack time. Rye was apparently passed out in her bunk when the rest of the crew heard some noise coming from the air ducts. The gang grabbed weapons and went to check it out. Miller ordered Padilla into the vent to “check it out”. One gunshot later, they find a stowaway aboard the ship. She’s a teenage girl and she immediately proves her worth by bypassing the hole Padilla had blasted in one of the electrical conduits.

We decide to hit the cargo deck and figure out exactly what we are carrying. There’s plenty of food, alcohol and porn for the colony. There’s also enough weaponry to arm a small mercenary company. We’re not just talking pulse rifles and grenades. Plenty of RPGs and missiles as well… There’s got to be something going on at Alhena to warrant all this firepower. Rye speculates that one of the big corps has found out what the wildcatters are up to and want a piece of the action.

There’s not much more to do – Miller isn’t going to give up this chance to get back the Montero and none of us want to fuck with Santos. We prep the ship for hyperspace, transponder and engines off – we’ll come into the system dark and see what awaits us.

Emerging from hyperspace in the Gamma Geminorum system, we soon encounter a USCMC Corvette. We’re ordered to stand down and prepare to be boarded. Fuck that! We’d be imprisoned for life with what we’re carrying. We fire up the engines and make a run for it. A tense chase ensues. Addie is ace on ComTech* – breaking every sensor lock the corvette gets on us and scoring a lock of her own. Padilla cuts loose with the particle beam and fries some of the corvette’s systems, but the Marines are still spoiling for a fight. Monroe proves his mettle as a pilot** outmaneuvering and finally losing the corvette.

Roaring up on the moon, we send a tight beam communication to the colonists and get coordinates to the LZ. We enter Alhena’s atmosphere way too fast. Claxons are sounding. Engines 3 and 4 flame out. Rye’s got a fire in the engine room and is on the edge of losing her shit*** when she finally gets it under control.

We finally touchdown on a hidden landing pad and the colonists drape our ship with camouflage netting. The ship is grounded. Key components are burned out and we don’t have any replacement parts. Icculus tells us landing usually takes a full shift and we did it in 30 minutes. Any landing you can walk away from is a good one, but our asses are firmly planted on this rock unless we can scrounge or machine some parts to repair our boat. The characters gear up and get ready to go outside when we call it a night.

I got to say, Alien is a ton of fun. I’m not a big fan of the system – it is way too swingy – but I also don’t know of any way to emulate the genre as well as it does. The stress mechanic is really awesome. It really does send a shiver down your spine when those damn facehuggers turn up on the dice…

*I don’t think Addie’s player rolled fewer than 3 successes when rolling this skill. Picture a scrawny teenage girl is outwitting the Marine sensor operator. I’m willing to bet she’s actually synthetic…

**Monroe’s player was rolling multiple successes on each pilot roll. Icculus couldn’t match it.

***I rolled 7 skill dice plus a stress die for heavy machinery to put out the fire – no successes. I push and end up with no successes and 2 facehuggers! Luckily, I held it together on the panic roll and used a story point to save the ship from burning up on reentry.

Review: The Sword of Thongor

TL/DR: A rousing set of tales that any fan of sword & sorcery will appreciate.

Much of Lin Carter’s career was built upon loving pastiches of other author’s works. He dabbled in the worlds created by Lovecraft, Smith, Howard and many more, so it is interesting to see Robert Price take a stab (pun intended) at one of Carter’s best known heroes: Thongor. In case you’ve been encased in amber by a malicious sorcerer for the past 50 years, I’ll remind you that Thongor is a mighty barbarian that adventured in the lost continent of Lemuria thousands upon thousands of years ago. These stories are great fun and hark back to the classic “pulp” sword and sorcery stories of the 1930s.

Price’s book gives us ten more tales of the mighty barbarian king to enjoy. They are all written in the style that Carter adopted and are great romps across the primeval continent of Lemuria. Are they as good as what Carter wrote? Honestly, I’m going to leave that up to you to decide. What they are is an excellent chance to enjoy more tales set in this exciting world of mad wizards and dinosaurs. Carter, sadly, won’t be penning any more tales in this exotic locale and I applaud Price’s contribution to the sagas.

The Sword of Thongor is available at Amazon.

Review: A Wintering of Evil – Books 1 & 2

TL/DR: Real page turners. You’ll like them if you are a fan of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

We’re having our first significant snowfall of the season, so I thought I’d better get on my duff and type up a quick review of A Wintering of Evil – The Pandora Affair. (And If I’m lucky, the boy will shovel some of the driveway while I’m at it.)

I picked these books up a couple of years ago. I’d just read the Metro 203X series and Roadside Picnic and was looking for more “Russian SciFi” in a similar vein. These books are set in the Exclusion Zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. They borrow from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. computer game. The zone is rich in plunder and weird artifacts. Mercenaries, scumbags and all sorts of adventurers are drawn to the area hoping to strike it rich. Both Russia and the Ukraine tussle over control of the zone. It is a lawless frontier. Mutants, radiation and other anomalies pose additional hazards to the men and women trying to make a euro in the zone. If you’re not smart and handy in a fight, you’re going to end up dead in this environment. Unlike a lot of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fiction the books are not just “dungeon crawls” in the Exclusion Zone. There’s something deeper going on. Something that has been building since before Chernobyl melted down.

General Nikolai Petrosky (a right bastard of a man) has been working for years to get back into his old stomping grounds in Pripyat – a complex called Pandora. He has hard copies of files in his old offices and he needs them to blackmail top Russian government officials. He’s also got a secret project buried in the depths of this compound and he desperately desires to start up his nasty experiments again.

Opposing the General is a man named Jarred McKenzie. McKenzie first crossed the Petrosky back in Vietnam. By exposing the Russian’s scheme during that war, McKenzie laid Petrosky’s career in ruins. Petrosky swore revenge. I’m not going to spoil the story, but let’s say the battle between McKenzie and him is very personal. McKenzie has pulled together a coalition of Russians, Ukrainians, and Stalkers who aim to take Petrosky down. They’ve been building a plan for decades and have the tacit approval from the highest levels of the Russian Government to move on the General when the time is right.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is a third player in the mix: an ancient race known as the Krailiaki. These creatures have stalked the Earth before mankind built the cities of Ur. Nearly impossible to kill, these apex predators are highly intelligent; they just don’t choose to use technology. As humanity has expanded, they have withdrawn into the darkest corners of the planet, but they are still there. I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that the secret project Petrosky was working on centers on them and they want revenge on all humanity for the suffering Petrosky has inflicted on one of their elders.

I can’t go into much more detail without spoiling the books, but they are well worth a read. The author knows how to keep you in suspense and writes great battle scenes. I’m not quite as sold on the characters. McKenzie seems a little too competent and Petrosky seems a little too evil. There are also a lot of characters. I think the author wanted to show that this was more than just a “good guy from the USA” versus an “evil Russian General”, but I had trouble following all of the agenda’s and names. A list of characters with a brief biography would have helped a lot. I should also mention that by the end of book 2, things haven’t been tied up. I assume the author had a book 3 in mind, but it has been 6 years since these books were published so Hastur knows if they will ever see the light of day.

There are some weird formatting issues in both of my copies: For example, long sections of white space in the middle of a sentence before they pick up on the next page. It’s annoying, but not too hard to get around.

The books are available at Amazon: Book 1 & Book 2.

A Little Self-Actualization (or Some Shit Like That) from Maga

This here is Maga talkin again. I’m self-actualizin’ with Ildrak. On account of you was pretty zoned out the last couppla hours. Like I saw you walkin’ around, but nobody was behind the rudder, if you catch my drift. Like you was here in the room, but only your body, like. So Ildrak, here’s what happened whilst you was bein’ carried around by the tides. 

First thing, we was lookin’ around that nice office room and we done found a door that was like a secret and it lead to a vault room that had five chests or boxes or something, and each was real hard to open. But we got ‘em all open pretty quick. And they all had differnt weapons from some kinda weird ass-faced lookin’ race of people called the Yautja. Their weapons were pretty cool and they even had a cannon you wear on your shoulder and like a spear that shrinks down and fits in your backpack and some kinda thing that makes you invisible, and other stuff I forgot. And then we looked in a hallway that had a bunch of doors like cells, and each cell had a robot that was sleepin’ in it. The robot lady woke ‘em up and put ‘em straight to work like they was sposed to be. At the end of the hall was a room that had a couple of them ass-faced Yautjas asleep or dead in some liquid tanks. And everyone really wanted to turn a red valve open, but I told ‘em not to. Then, one of them cell rooms had like a tunnel from some of them ice cold critters and so Dudley went to fight ‘em and I shot a couple with my crossbow and Dudley got real cold. And the tunnel from whence the critters came was a big ole infested dark hole. And we had a good laugh ‘bout that. So we crawled into the hole and it leaded to another secret tunnel that went into a liberry. It was a liberry for studyin’ the Yautja and all the stuff and critters in the world they live on. And then that went into a room filled with a big machine with a buncha balls on sticks, kinda like a clock, but like with a buncha ball on sticks. And then I found a secret ‘partment in the machine with like a map of how to make that machine find another even differnt world called Yarri or some shit like that. And then there was another door that was hidden and it went into a big room filled with like a tunnel or hole right into thin air that was supposta open right to the Yautja planet, which I guess I forgot the name of. I kept hearin’ them say Laurel but everyone else said it really started with a Y.

Then we decided to wait until you came to your senses and stopped sleepwalkin’ around, and hopefully Jemmy will show up from wherever he bin and strap that shoulder cannon on and help us blast some shit up. Think we’re maybe plannin’ to jump into that tunnel in the air and checkin out the Yautja planet, or maybe going to the last lab place so the robot lady kin wake up more sleepin’ robots.

Review: Lex Occultum

TL/DR: Great art and atmosphere – dodgy system

I debated even doing a review for this game… It’s been out for three years and there are much better reviews out there than this goblin’s poor scratchings. Like other reviewers, I’ll say the game looks incredible, but the system lets it down.

The core rules are split into two books: Alter Ego is the “player’s manual” and has all the rules for creating player characters. Lex Libris is the “game master’s manual” and contains the game system, background, monsters and spells. Both books are gorgeous.

Combat is over-engineered… Each combatant has a number of “action points” based on their combat skill. They use these points to move, draw weapons, attack, defend and so forth. I can recognize what the authors are going for – an action economy where skilled characters can dominate the battle. It looks like it will fall flat. It will take dozens of adventures for characters to become skilled enough to do anything than a simple “to hit” roll. If I did my math right, I think the maximum skill level can reach 25. Die rolls are based on 1d20, roll below the target number. So a master swordsman can take 2 attacks per round – one at 13 “to hit” and another at 12. Pretty meh for someone of D’Artagnan’s level… Oh, and if you don’t put any skill points into the fighting skill you can’t do anything during combat. Not even move (if I read the rules correctly).

There is a limited chapter on monsters. Lycanthropes, phantoms, wraiths (a spirit that possesses a dead body), and vampires are described. There are several options for each creature to help keep them varied. I was pretty disappointed with this. I pictured monster hunting to be a big part of this game and would have liked some more creatures to challenge the players. RiotMinds has released a “monster manual” for the game however.

The Secret Arts include spells, religious ceremonies and scientific inventions. While very evocative, they all look incredibly difficult to pull off. There are skill penalties to perform any secret art, the character typically needs to know a host of different skills and obtain some pretty wild material components to actually utilize them as well. My favorite has got to be the tears from an innocent man who was killed for a crime he didn’t commit. I bet these are a lot more common than you might think… Most of the powers don’t seem to give a lot of “bang for the buck” either. For example, there’s a spell to call a bolt of lightning from the heavens. It is -9 to the caster’s skill and grants them the ability to cast 3 bolts per week that do about the same damage as a musket.

Enough of the complaints! Let’s talk about where this game shines: the world. Lex Libris has a really nice overview of 18th Century Europe. The major powers and exciting adventuring locations. There are extensive write-ups on the secret societies of the age (both real and imagined). The art is fantastic. The whole setting is just packed with ideas for adventuring.

So, what does this goblin think? Overall, I’d say buy it. The background and the art are just that good. I’ve spent a lot of time railing about the rules, but they actually don’t take up that much space in the books. The basics of the system are solid and if you like tinkering with rules, you could probably get a playable game. If you ditch the game system entirely and use something like Renaissance or Ghastly Affair you’ll be a lot happier. This game compliments Ghastly Affair perfectly and would add a lot of ideas, adventure seeds and background for any presenter. I picked up my copies at Noble Knight Games.

Another Letter from Maga

This here is Maga talkin again. I still caint sleep so I’m talkin to the nice lady in the house of the King of Ghan (she told me her name was Bling) and she is not writin for me, but helpin me write it myself. Bling was tellin me a lot bout a church her friends and her go to. This church wants everyone to be as good of a person as they can be, but not like good, like Dudley, where you hafta have nice manners and are always polite and like helpin others and givin your money away, and you can’t even cut a fart without feelin bad about yourself. This church wants you to be yourself but like the best yourself you can be. It’s called Visualize. 

So Bling was tellin me bout Visualize and their leader called Sufi Gaipoun. Bling said they could really help me at bein really good at breakin things, cuz that’s what I’m best at. But she said that in order to be the best I can at breakin things, sometimes I hafta use my mind more. Sure, sometimes you just hafta haul off and take a whack at stuff with all your strength if you wanta break it. But sometimes, you hafta wait a second, or even a minute, and look at stuff and really SEE it, and find its weaknesses and flaws. And then you can haul off and whack it. Or sometimes you find maybe you don’t even hafta haul off on it. You can just tap it. Right in the right exact spot. 

I told Bling bout how I got kill’t whilst we was in that weird world with the glowing light everwhere. Everthin in that weird world was different, our bodies looked differnt and we felt differnt and I just couldn’t believe any of it was for real. I’m not for sure why we was in there, I guess lookin for that crazy scientist guy called Doctor Bidean. It seemed like he’d been in there for a long, long time and was keepin hisself real busy studyin pictures of them cute little critters. I’m no rocket surgeon like Jemmy, but I do believe Doctor Bidean was a little cracked in the head. Anyway, he told us to get out of that weird world we was gonna have to talk to Val. So we went to talk to Val. She seemed to be this giant metal face of a lady in a room full of light, with like 10 million wires comin out of her head. Creepy as hell!

But Val wanted show off how freakin smart she was so she like gave all of us a test. And everybody else aced their own tests. Dudley had a test where a little kid turned into a evil demon, Bucky had a test where he had to open some locks, and Siku was decidin what kinds of knowledge he liked best. But I always hated tests in school and that’s why I left when I was 10 and my old man said, “fuck that place! I need you on the boat to dive way down and get the anchor that done broke off!” 

So Val gave me her test which seemed to be, “Maga get pounded on by six of them machine-looking guardians until you’re dead.” And I thought, this test is stupid. Then I thought “is the test stupid, or am I bein stupid?” I heard like a memory of what Bling told me: “Sometimes, you hafta just wait and SEE things before you haul off.” And while I was waitin and lookin at this test for what I was supposeta do, I got kill’t anyway. That’s what they told me anyways, after I was alive again. 

Val said I failed the test because I din’t fight till the end. That I gave up. Hah! Joke’s on her! I totally passed the test cuz I din’t just haul off and whack away like I was one of them robots. I stopped and looked at it awhile. Any crazy idiot can go and get hisself kill’t by fighting until he’s dead, and Sufi knows, I been that idiot plenty of times before. But if you really want to break things properly, sometimes you hafta SEE it first. This is called self-actualization. Bling told me to say that. Bling says the next step, she will help me come up with a heuristic. I hope it tastes good.

Alien RPG: Tokens

We’ve played a few games of the new Aliens RPG and it is great fun. Icculus ran us through the Chariot of the Gods scenario and it was a blast. The player goals really add to the game and all the players got into them. It was fun to see us sabotage each other a bit just to try and attain our ends. If your character got killed, you just grabbed the next NPC and kept playing. Of the original characters, only Rye and Miller made it out alive. Pretty sure that Miller was close to a nervous breakdown due to stress! I’m really hoping that Icculus will do a sequel…

We’ve been playing on Roll20 and Icculus told me the tokens are kind of lame. I used photoshop to crank out a few of them from the core book and modules; posting here in case anyone wants to use them for their online gaming. They should be 280×280 pixels with transparent backgrounds. Here are the core book icons. I’ll put up icons from the two modules over the next few days.

D&D 2: From Tapwell Manor to Rosehall

Snorri Ivarson takes pen in hand to chronicle his last adventure. His gentle reader may remember that Snorri and his companions had been hired by one Augustus Tapwell to retrieve a chest from his estate. We discovered treachery on Tapwell’s part. He had stolen the land from stout halflings and Snorri and his companions had determined to make things right.

Tapwell had a pair of barges moored behind his manor that were used to ferry barrels of cider to the town of Rosehall. We determined to take one of the barges – despite the protestations of the Tiefling – since it would take far less time than walking. We were accompanied by a young woman named Fastrid, who was authorized to speak on behalf of the disenfranchised halflings and a stocky halfling hunter whose name Snorri could not be bothered to remember. As we made our way downriver, we saw evidence of the depredations of the goblin raiders. Snorri felt concerned about the halflings we left at the manor, for he had determined the building would not serve as a redoubt should it be attacked.

We drew the barge ashore on an island that night. As we were setting up camp, Burrfoot spied a pair of bodies in the nearby brush. We also found an unopened chest nearby. The bodies appeared to have been mauled by animals, but Burrfoot could see little signs of where the beasts had gotten too. We were preparing to organize a hunt when the surrounding brush seemed to come alive and spindly tree-creatures lurched out to attack.

After a brisk skirmish, poor Fastrid lay bleeding out, but our monk Silas was able to bandage her wounds. Soon thereafter, we heard a wailing noise coming from the brush. As we readied our weapons for another engagement, a gnome playing the bagpipes emerged. Reluctantly setting aside his axe, Snorri invited the Gnome, who’s name was Bagell to see to our wounded.

We disembarked at dawn and soon we could see smoke on the horizon. As we neared the village of Hogsbottom, we could see it was in flames. Goblin archers were stationed on the bridge over the river, but we made short work of them. We continued downstream, looking for survivors and soon heard the crack of whips and wailing lamentations.

Snorri urged all speed and we beached our craft, scrambling up the beach to see many of the poor Hogsbottom folk in chains, suffering lashes from their brutal goblin overseers. We leapt into action, quickly slaying the creatures and urging the prisoners to make their way to our barge. We scouted the nearby area and engaged other groups of goblins slaying without mercy and driving them before us. It is with regret that Snorri reports he had little to do with the victory. After the first goblin felt the bite of his mighty axe, he failed to land either blow or bolt for the rest of the engagement. Oh the shame of it…

After finally reaching Rosehall, we sought an audience with the Baron. The gate guard told us he was busy preparing to lead a force against the marauding goblins. Snorri suggested we look for Tapwell in the city. Overhearing us, the guard informed us he was a guest of the Baron. We explained Tapwell’s duplicity and the guard began to berate us, threatening us with imprisonment if we continued to disparage our “betters”. Snorri’s blood boiled at such talk. After striking the man down with a blow of his fist, and coming near to beheading him, Snorri strode off to write his final chronicle.

Snorri rejects his good father’s advice that he seek adventure. The world is not as it once was. Snorri longs for the days when a lowly goblin posed little threat to a mail-clad warrior. He is confused why his companions seemingly do twice as much as he during the combat. Yea verily, the time of the dwarf fighter has seemingly passed. Snorri now goes to seek service with some other lord, where he can drink and feast and remember fondly the earlier editions.