Thursday, May 9, 2013

The SUE System: Mission

When last we left off, our three intrepid adventurers had been sent through a portal to the HALO ‘verse in order to stop the illicit trading of shield technology for ludicrous amounts of gold. I did not have a straight face the entire time, by the by.Incidentally, Igor’s player wasn’t here for this session. With his consent, we controlled her by party consensus so she’d get XP, and used her more or less as a lookout. If it seems a bit odd that a melee character would be so far from the baddies, that’s why: we really did not want Igor to die.
Okay. The three of us come out the other side of the portal into an enormous pile of assorted garbage in a dingy, cruddy alleyway. The GM, by the by, took great pleasure in describing how filthy we immediately got, but Rick was more focused on positioning and I was more focused on hiding. Once we were all in tactically significant rubbish heaps, I decided to mess around with my telekinesis and spill a paint can of used oil over the ground in front of the soon-to-be portal. The exertion from this took me down a step on the fatigue track. Literally tipping over a can – and missing with it, mind you -- was enough to tire me halfway to exhaustion.
I should mention here that I tried my hardest to build my character around psionics, in order to test the system, and the only things I ever succeeded in moving were the goalposts. First it wasn’t precise enough; I buy skills to stop this. Then it wasn’t powerful enough, so I needed feats. Then it was too hard to focus; more skills and feats were needed. Then it wasn’t capable of doing anything I wanted it to do for a number of reasons specific to use cases, and we never solved that slew of problems. I asked him, once, if he wanted me to just not play a psionic character, if he’s so hell-bent on nerfing psionics to uselessness.
“Psionics is not useless, dude. At twentieth level with the right build you can throw cars around. It’s powerful, so it needs to be balanced, one way or the other.”
So, because a highly optimized hypothetical build relying on things not in the game yet can do something scary, I pass out from throwing a mid-sized rock (for 1d2 damage) five times in the same day. I asked, once, when he’s putting in these wonderful talents that will let me play my character to spec, and I got told it will happen “when I feel you’re high enough level to be able to take them” – which was never any level I cared to guess.  Jam tomorrow, of course, has the inestimable advantage of never requiring jam.
And so, as we sat amidst jam and other things, we waited for fifteen minutes for our adversary to show up—and lo and behold, we have a surfeit of them. Coming through first is some idiot I can only describe as Snidely Whiplash down to the hat, not that the GM was so concise. Rick wanted to shoot then; I advised him to wait. Moments later, six “absolutely huge dudes” come through, pushing an enormous crate with a tarp over it. They’ve got it on platform trucks, you see, and apparently a lot of them; the crate is around two meters by two meters by three. I ask why they’re moving something so huge by hand, and apparently “it’s more inconspicuous” that way. Of course a bunch of guys pushing a minivan-sized  box along a sidewalk (I don’t even know anymore) is totally inconspicuous; they have a tarp! Upon seeing the size of the guns they have strapped to their backs, we decide to let them get on with their business for now, and stalk them through the streets. Yes, we had to stalk seven guys with a giant box. We almost lost them three times, given the difficulty of the rolls to track them.
Evenually we get to see them enter a warehouse, because it is always a warehouse in the bad part of town. Rick and I stand at the front gate after they’ve gone in, listening to muffled conversation, while Igor slinks around back. Slinking was the only form of motion her species was physically capable of, apparently.
Anyway, Rick is going through his pre-asskicking routine, planning his tactics and checking his guns and so forth, while I frantically roll Intelligence checks to figure out how my rifle works. Remember, we were neither briefed nor trained on this. I fail repeatedly; this is clearly not a good start. Having resigned myself to making no meaningful contribution to this fight, I decide to go out in the goofiest way possible. Just before we kick down the door in synch and run in, I shout the following:
Me: “HALO MPs-“
Rick: “UNSC MPs, you idiot!”
Me: “Yes, Them! Us! Anyway! Everyone on the ground; these men have been selling you counterfeit gold!”
It was wrong on so many levels. It shouldn’t have worked; I never meant it to work, just to distract them. The uniforms were wrong (and covered in garbage at that), and I’m not entirely clear on whose jurisdiction this would be or why the UNSC would particularly care that they’ve successfully scammed a bunch of smugglers out of who knows how much money. If they did, they wouldn’t send three guys, and anyway the idea of counterfeit gold is ludicrous when they have handheld scanners of insane capabilities. Or, you know, scales and rulers. None of this occurred to the GM. None of it. Instead, he has me roll Deception.
Natural 20.
We enter to find Snidely and his goons having drawn on two fellows in UNSC uniforms who are looking scared as hell, while one set of platform trucks holds the shield and another holds a 1.75 by 1.5 by 3 meter brick of solid gold. Now, doing the math, that’s a hundred and fifty metric tons of this stuff; given that these guys have been transporting “enough hardware to outfit a third of the fleet with tenfold redundant shields”, that comes out to around a million metric tons of solid gold. They carted it by hand over a few kilometers of densely populated urban area, in 6670 trips (they move these things one at a time), apparently totally uncontested. Meanwhile, the UNSC didn’t notice a cube of gold 37 meters on a side go missing over the course of a few years while these guys made trillions of credits and kept risking their lives doing this.
I begin to have the sneaking suspicion that everyone but Igor, Rick, and possibly me is an idiot, so I ask the GM as much.
“What? No. This was a brilliant plan, dude; these guys are geniuses.”
Having had it confirmed that they’re idiots, I go into the bullshit version of free fire mode and order my compatriot to “book ‘em, Danno.” The reference is lost. They consider running, and then Igor steps through the back door, so they’re led off at gunpoint by the only guy that can fire a gun. I instruct him to put them someplace soundproof, and wipe the more obvious trash from the faceplate of my helmet. Then I start lying my ass off, deliberately being as ludicrous as possible.
“Sorry about that; they can’t know who we really are: Special Agents Johnson, Johnson, and Johnson of the UNSC Special Operations Group, at your service. Now, listen: we’ve all got a good thing going here and no one in the know wants it to stop, but y’all have been going about it all wrong, dealing with these chumps. I mean, face-to-face meetings? Shipping one at a time? Conducting your business in full view of everyone? I apologize on their behalf for their lack of professionalism; this whole thing has been embarrassingly detectable. We need a much better arrangement if we’re going to keep Internal Security off our backs. Look: SOG has a station in Neptunian orbit we aren’t using at the moment. What say we just fill it with gold, biometrically lock it, and you guys dead-drop the shields for the gold at your leisure? No one has to see, you can move all the volume you want whenever you want, and we all come away from this safer and richer. Heck, SOG can afford to pay you guys 25% more per unit for your trouble.”
He doesn’t even bother with a Deception check; he’s in full on negotiator mode, now that I’ve mentioned a number. Snidely and I settle on an extra fifty percent.
“Great, great. If you’ll give us a moment, my people will get your brainwave patterns scanned for the bio locks, and this whole messy business can never have happened.”
And then I hop on our cranial radio.
“Ops, get me a memory wipe team in here NOW; dress ‘em up in armor with medic symbols on it first.”
And, lo and behold, after much sputtering, they actually do what I ask, and we get M.I.C. neuralyzer limpets on their temples. Idiots, I’m telling you; they actually let us stick little metal discs on their heads without protest. We memory-wiped them without much fuss. Pleasure never having done business with you, gentlemen.
This leaves us with the two on the UNSC end of the bargain, and having built up momentum and recognized just how stupid my lies can be, I’m swaggering in to see that Rick’s got them on their knees, hands behind their heads, a pistol pointed at the head of each. The GM advises we just knock them out and get them neuralyzed, but my ambitions run rather farther.
“Hello, gentlemen. Agent Smith of UNSC Internal Security; my compatriot here is also Agent Smith. You boys are in a heap of trouble.”
One of them: “But the gold was legitimate!”
“We know, damnit; the ‘shields’ weren’t, and we’re making every effort to keep your associates from knowing we know that. They’re actually a Covenant radiation weapon; the ‘shield’ is just the tamper for a neutron bomb linked to an ansible trigger. Set one off, and it sterilizes several thousand cubic kilometers down to the microbes.
And thanks to you boys, the Covenant have ten of them on the Pillar of Autumn alone. We have to invent whole new kinds of treason just to describe the magnitude of the shit you’ve pulled.
So here’s what we going to do. You’re going to get on your communicator, you’re going to call whoever you have up there, and you’re going to tell them to eject every shield on the Autumn, untouched, into the nearest star, as discreetly as possible; they’re to claim the technology was proven unsuitable for use, should anyone ask. Then you’re going to do the same for every ship, station, and storehouse you’ve handed to the Covenant on a silver platter, and you’re going to have whoever you have masking the records erase all trace of these ‘shields’ from the system as completely as possible. When we have confirmation our navy isn’t constantly at risk of annihilation, we all walk out of here, and you pray you never see us again.”
Another natural 20 on the Deception check, somehow; this was lucky as anything. I order him to make the call and try to emphasize my point with the rifle. The GM points out that I have no idea what part to point at him, or indeed where at him to point, so I start vaguely waving it at him until he looks scared; the GM decides this happens when the it’s pointed at his groin. Okay, fine, whatever.
The guy refuses, even with two guns trained on him, so I tell the GM “I hit him”, by which I meant I intended to poke him with the rifle muzzle as an inducement to get on with it. The GM interpreted it rather differently, and decided to go with his interpretation, over my protestations, as “I already rolled dice”.
Dear Diary: today I shredded some guy’s iliac arteries and learned the value of unambiguous communication.
The other guy made the call, though, and we were informed by the M.I.C. that all the shields were being destroyed. I was so happy I danced a bit, then remembered to call a medic for the guy twitching on the floor. Also a neuralyzer for the guy sobbing in bemused terror at the guy singing “My Way” in an armor-adjusted basso profundo, using the butt of the still-smoking assault rifle as a stand-in for a microphone. Once that’s taken care of, we leave the gold and shield there for the cleanup team and walk back arm-in-arm through the portal, me singing and Rick complaining he didn’t get to shoot anybody while I did. We got back in, got XP, and got to sleep—although the GM informs me, as we close session, that my character gets a knock on his door in the middle of the night.
What happened after that is for the next post.


  1. “What? No. This was a brilliant plan, dude; these guys are geniuses.”

    It's like Idiocracy IN SPAAACE!.

    But then, you don't need to be smarter than the NPCs, just smarter than the GM.

    1. The issue isn't he made a dumb plan-that happens.

      The issue is he refused to realize it had all the intelligence of a wet stick of corn when it was pointed out to him.

  2. Wait, so did he make you actually shoot the guy? Because there's a big difference between between "hit" and "shoot". I mean, if he interpreted it to mean that you slapped him hard with your rifle, that's one thing; but actually shooting him is another.

  3. What surprises me is how difficult it is to figure out how a gun works. Now I get the idea that the safeties and power system controls might not be obvious or intuitive, but 99% of firearms are "hold it how it feels comfortable, the sticky-out bit pointed away from you is the dangerous part, and that button/lever/switch behind your index finger makes it go boom." You prodded him and accidentally pulled the trigger? or are UNSC guns so freakishly unstable that they go off if you sneeze too hard?

    An interesting point of analysis: There is a weird sense of agency going on here (and further down the line). He is actively trying to keep you from doing anything that might affect his TOTALLY AWESOME story and show how AWESOME his characters are, but is absolutely beholden to the roll of the die - and once dice are rolled, the event has transpired, even if they were rolled for something completely different.

    1. "You prodded him and accidentally pulled the trigger? or are UNSC guns so freakishly unstable that they go off if you sneeze too hard?"
      While ZeRoller can clarify, my understanding of what he was saying is that the DM took "I hit him" to mean "I attack him," rather than anything that logically went with what he'd said he did.

    2. I meant "I poke him". The DM heard "i shoot him".

    3. Probably helped by the DM being completely uncomprehending of why you wouldn't shoot a random minor NPC who was being uncooperative.

    4. To be fair, the whole scene was a little extreme, but I think we had different definitions of "a little extreme"...

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  5. Wow... I actually enjoyed reading the crazy Bavarian Fire Drill antics you pulled off. I can sorta see where some people could imagine that the guy's "Not a bad DM". A shame things probably didn't go as smoothly as it came out, and everything keeps going loopy.

  6. Maybe it's just because I have a dirty mind, but there was only one other meaning of "hit" I could think of besides physically striking them. I thought you had engaged in some VERY unorthodox coercion methods. Still laughing my ass off either way.

  7. Throwing cars isn't even that GOOD.

    We have big examples today. Look at characters like Mob from Mob Psycho 100 or Tatsumaki from One Punch Man. Hell, look at Tetsuo from Akira, if you want an older example!

    They'd look at the whole 'throw cars' bit and would ask 'alright, what else can you do?' Mob can basically reconstruct an entire wing of a school building the way it was before, Tatsumaki can call down meteors and use debris to fight a freaking warship. Tetssuo was basically able to level cities and take what I recall to be an orbital weapon TO THE FACE thanks to his psychic powers.

    'Throw cars at level 20'. If that's not a basic as hell feat by that time that's equivalent to a basic attack, that would be massively underselling psionics.