Jin and Darya apparently had one, and Ian half of the other. This was lucky, because it meant I was invited to move into the apartment with the ritual magic circle I needed to talk to Yog-Sothoth. This was an interesting development, because no one had ever told me anything about any five foot wide intricately carved circle in a magically cleansed ritual space.
This is not entirely Marty’s fault – at least, not the ritual requirements. These are purely Ctech’s thing. Someone decided that these rituals need to take weeks or months and require truly bizarre things of the participants, like being freshly bathed without perfume or deodorant. For three months. Sounds like fun! I still like Shadowrun’s magic system better. It might have odd things, but at least they conform to a sort of generalized hippie ideology, and there’s some predictive value in that. Cthulhutech is just this weird mishmash of the demonic, the “natural”, the properly eldritch, and the purely random. I know asking magic to make logical sense isn’t the point of magic, but it’s nice when you get the sense of an internal logic, no matter how divorced from physics.
That said, if you’re going to DM a game with nonsensical ritual requirements, let your ritualist characters have a reason for knowing them. Don’t put them in a “cult” where no two members know each other and there is neither initiation nor organon. I looked at his diagrams for the ritual circle; there are several hundred characters without any underlying pattern, and each one has precise polar coordinates. I really, really want to see the vision where Yog-Sothoth explains the process to the prospective recruit, especially given that the visions are always cryptic and need the ritual circle to happen.
The ritual circle is unfortunately not easily usable. There’s the dragons to deal with. Apparently Ian summoned two dragons from “across time and space”, and they’re morphologically identical to the Dragons of Eternity in every way but scale: they’re reptilian housecats. They get into everything, and they keep poking in my stuff and burping little flames. I admit, I honestly found them really cute in concept, but Marty did their voices in this awful squeak, and he kept emphazing how they were disrupting my ritual preparations.
I have what is in retrospect an awful idea.
Storytime! Right, need a story… I’m bad at improv.
I start telling them everything I remember from the Fenian Cycle, albeit in simplified form, while oiling/maintaining my various apparatus. I was expecting them to pick up on the whole “crazily effective warrior” thing and go competitively hunt rats or something, as cats do; instead, Marty heard “Fianna” and thought “Irish ninjas”, and now they’re playing hide-and-seek. I even nat 20’d the check, so now I’m beset with hyperintelligent micro-dragons trying to be undetectable. They do, however, leave me alone for a while.
Right, paging Yog-Sothoth.
And thus I get the first of many “actual” visions, as opposed to the pre-interpreted one from earlier.
I get that they’re supposed to be cryptic, but these are about three pages long for a few sentences of actual information. The first page is utterly worthless; just some garbled things about space and vampires and the moon. The next page was some stupidly meta stuff about the prophecy itself and how history proceeds inexorably between certain indelible moments. Apparently the moon landing was one; “sometimes the flag or the person or the craft changes, but the moment remains the same.” There is also Marty’s standard line about how no matter what you do, history adapts and forces events back into line with fate. The “inverse butterfly effect” or whatever he calls it is stupid in several ways; the butterfly effect refers to divergence from predictions in deterministic nonlinear systems based on their dependence on initial conditions, not fate. The whole concept flies in the face of free will anyway, but then again, that’s Marty’s modus operandi.
The third page finally has a bit about going to Toby’s the next day, sitting down with the Tagers, and shortly thereafter having a byakhee land on the ground outside while a bunch of dhohanoids charge through the hallway behind the bar and start eye-lasering everyone.
Yeah, okay, I can work with this.
Then I learn how the arcology is in fact constructed.
It is not, as one might expect, a vaguely pyramidal structure, as with many proposed arcologies. It’s more like the Costco from Idiocracy; the Chicago arcology is roughly 175m tall while covering 606 square kilometers with a perfectly flat roof. Inside, it gets even stupider: there are no internal supports. Most of the buildings are five stories tall, with five meters of air between them and the next ceiling. They’re arranged in clusters of four, with a little + of alleyways within them and slidewalk-lined streets outside. This arrangement repeats over the entire land area of Chicago, across five floors, except where they have warehouses. Two-story warehouses built like a standard building cluster without the alleyways. The wastage of space here is amazing, let alone the material stresses of kilometers of concrete with a city built on it. That’s a lot to ask of five meter thick reinforced concrete. I asked about why they didn’t just run the buildings up to the ceiling and use them as supports.
“Because they put gardens on top of the buildings.”
Right. So we have to needlessly endanger millions of people because no one wanted to put their petunias in window boxes. The cars in this setting apparently all fly; why not just replace the vehicle streets with median gardens, stick landing pads at the intersections and have done with it? It’s not like most people are allowed to have cars anyway. The streets are usually empty. People move solely via the conveyor slidewalks, which must be hilarious for anyone trying to go a long way.
Whatever; Marty normally assumes everyone is as sessile as him anyway.
Toby’s, by the by, is on the ground floor of its particular building, and like everything else in this arcology is built into a corner. Thus the map:
I’ve never seen a bar laid out like that, but there we are. The furry dhohanoids with the eye lasers come down the passage behind the bar, just after the byakhee lands by the s in “slidewalk.”
Right. Step one, I call all six of my associates.
Apparently we’ve gone from “dozens” to six because “not many people want to play Psycho Pan and the Lost Boys with you, dude.” Lost Boys, you say, Marty? I have an idea.
It takes me a bit, but the shopping list is surprisingly short. A toothbrush, high-test fishing line, Yamaha children’s recorders, air horns, high-pressure piping, several potted plants, several bowling balls, a shopping cart, plywood, an umbrella, charcoal, an old oil barrel…scrapyard time.
And here’s where I lose the ability to describe half of what went on, because under SP 419 (one of several bits of legislation called the Feinstein Amendment), it’s not legal to distribute information about “bombmaking” with criminal intent. Now, obviously no one’s going to read this and go out and try to defend an impossibly tiny bar from Martian carebears, but the problem remains that the chemistry, demolitions, etc. are both realistic and feasible to emulate experimentally, this country is run by increasingly crotchety epistemophobes who think this newfangled Internet thing is an irredeemable hotbed of unprofitable criminality, and I can’t afford lawyers sleazy enough to convince a jury otherwise. So when I get vague, it’s not to impede your enjoyment, reader. It’s to dissuade the FBI from breaking down my door, shooting my cats, seizing my stuff and beating me senseless.
Sorry. Didn’t want you all to think I was hiding anything by choice, including the disappearing trees that spawned this whole thing.
Moving on, two of the lads are weaving a quick net out of the fishing line. Marty’s quick to point out that it won’t do anything like hold the byakhee. It’s thankfully not meant to; it’s anchored to the bowling balls, which are themselves in the pot plants. Marty is of course confused as to why I’d waste my time with a net that won’t catch and hold the target. It’s not supposed to; it’s supposed to foul its wings in mid-dive and pelt it with heavy weights after an uncontrolled five-story fall. He’s equally eager to point out that it can probably see the net – although of course I have no idea how.
Well, hopefully Mie scattering still works. I have another two go grab a load of the cheapest meat they can find, along with a bunch of charcoal and certain chemicals good at producing smoke when chucked into a fire a bit at a time. Apparently this only costs $50 in crazy future money – and better yet, Marty has no idea what solicitation is, so we can park the thing right outside Toby’s all day. After much sawing/ painting of plywood and bolting of oil drum grills into a hacked-apart shopping cart (and twenty-six Repair checks), Crazy Pete’s BBQ was born: quite possibly the most ramshackle barbeque stand ever wired to energetically deconstruct itself. “Pete” himself was told, more or less, to arm the thing and walk quickly away at my signal – but just in case, his “Kiss the Cook” apron was also a partial plate carrier and we hid a helmet in his oversized chef hat. Let no one say I don’t take care of my people. Heck, he even spent the night practicing grilling.
The rest I had to do personally, together with my security expert. For some reason, while my Security skill is through the roof, Open Lock is a completely unrelated skill; I could use Security to hack the back alley’s security camera, but when I try to open the bar’s back door, I “slip with the tool and mar the lock face.”
Uh, Marty, I’m using a Leatherman with a ground-down brass blade on it as my torsion tool and you said the lock face was tool steel. I’m not entirely certain, but I think we have a bit of a hardness differential here. Besides, how the heck does one slip with the tensioner?
“I didn’t see that tool on there.”
“Here’s the message where you said I could have it, here’s that tool on the list…”
“But I didn’t see that tool on there.”
Fine. Whatever. So the expert pops the lock and we’re in. Things are stuffed in places, and I note that Toby keeps a shotgun and a truncheon behind the bar – but, annoyingly, it’s directly opposite the hallway the dhohanoids will be coming down. It would be acutely unhealthy to be there; I move them both to the far end of the bar.
Incidentally, Marty overestimated the size of everything involved by about an order of magnitude, and had no idea what brisance is. The man wants to design jet engines for a living and never learned the mechanics of deflagration…we’re gonna be here a while.
Or not. Apparently midway through installation, dawn breaks and “it would be a very good idea if we left.” We get done with everything but the thermal, which worries me—I’m thinking they probably have thermovision, given the rest of the party’s stories of their accurate shots in darkness. Before we leave, I clog the toilet and vastly accelerate the wear on most of the kitchen apparatus (read:sabotage), because I’m an optimist.
I also send a text to Darya: “If anyone asks, you drink neat Everclear.” Sure I can’t get thermal. Sure, Marty.
Naturally, Ian’s awake when I get back to the apartment.
“Your dragons ate my toothbrush, so I had to get a new one.” Thus the toothbrush in my hand.
“At 4 AM?”
“Oral hygiene is very important.”
He shrugs, and we go over to the other apartment to see Jin and Darya laughing at the news. Apparently “dissidents” attacked a shipping depot yesterday afternoon and a rare coding glitch disabled the internal cameras. Well, that explains Jin’s fiddling with his PDA during the fight. On my entrance, he throws me a Guy Fawkes mask and says if I’m going to be so far afield I ought to be more careful about showing my face.
At this point I should mention that Jin is, at least in appearance, intellect, and certain mannerisms, a partial expy of L. We start joking that we need letters for the other PCs.
Still, we have more immediately important things to do. Apparently Marco slipped Jin his phone number, and they call and ask to hand over the box at Toby’s. Off we go.
When we get there, Darya goes and buys from the BBQ stand, against my warnings. Apparently Pete is awful at cooking—clearly he can’t run a grill to save his life, I say. I mean, look at the smoke. At least the bar is full of people trying to get the taste out of their mouths.
The Tagers are already there – that is to say, Jill, Marco, Nery, and Lily had scattered themselves around the bar. Ian and Jin sit at the Tagers’ booth. Darya, at my subtle nudge, sits at a stool opposite the hallway.
I ask Marty if there’s anyone here who’s looking at Darya.
“Sure, there are a couple of jocks leering at her.”
Okay then. Mass Suggestion time; having hung back slightly, I walk in, and immediately feign shock that “such a striking lady as yourself has to buy her own drinks. Why, I’d think every red-blooded lad in here would be rushing to buy you one. What are you having?”
“Neat Everclear, apparently.”
DC doubled for being an implied suggestion, but I still make it, and Darya encourages them beautifully. I’m cracking up OOC, and it works beyond my wildest dreams as they basically try to outdo each other in buying her ever-larger drinks. Between them, two more Suggestions from me, and people caught up in the spirit of the thing, Darya has one hundred liters of Everclear on the bar in front of her. Thank you, Marty, for thinking people are that stupid, or that buying people drinks works in bulk. Bowing out, I sit by Jill at the booth, where Jin and Marco have made the handover.
At that point, Marty tells me I hear the phrase I’d heard “about half a minute” before things started in the vision, and I start the countdown music over a conference call with the lads. After that Lost Boys crack, could it be anything but Skrillex?
Shout to all my lost boys… Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shout to all my lost boys…
Pete’s at the BBQ stand, of course, and I have a lady on the opposite roof garden chilling with camera glasses. Both are in place, and tap their mics.
Everything works. No one’s in the bathroom because it’s out of order, and the kitchen staff have the day off until someone can come by and fix the kitchen.
Then I ask where Toby is. Apparently he’s right in the danger zone, mixing drinks. I order something from the far end; apparently “he’ll be busy for a few minutes.”
Right, new plan – and again, I must stress that I am bad at improv. Hey, Toby keeps the truncheon in case of bar fights, right?
I spontaneously hug Jill.
Tager reflexes are as quick as I hoped; she punches me out of the booth and into the bar, breaking Darya’s stool and the adjacent one with my spine. She gets up, still incensed, and Toby goes for his stick just in time, while Pete starts walking right on cue.
Finally, everyone’s out of the way, with literally a second left to go, and I put on my mask.
Every window in the bar shatters from the boom outside. Simultaneously, the hallway is filled with smoke, fire, and debris; much of it flies out into where we are and would have hit Jill full on had she not morphed and phased through it. Somehow the ethanol doesn’t ignite from this; on my first turn, I reach over and light it. Marty points out that I’d blown open the sprinklers directly overhead.
Yep. Water on an ethanol fire. Safety Tip: Ethanol remains flammable down to around 40% v/v with water.
The patrons are fleeing, although I note with some satisfaction none are hurt. The Tagers ready for a fight, as does the party; they all make their Intelligence checks to look down the hallway for something.
What staggers out “look like shaved Wookiee cyclopses and burnt octopi.” They actually miss with their eye lasers, and instead blow much of the window out. So begins all the machine gun fire from Nery and Darya, shoulder pimple fire from Lily, and carving from Marco. They don’t want to leap over the flaming bar; instead they go around, which gives us enough time to get over the table and start running. Ian and Jin get out first; I start running the next turn, and then Nery takes an energy beam to the shoulder.
Darya drags her out, keeps firing, and gets a beam in the chest for her trouble. It was around this time that the byakhee rips through the fishing line. It is pissed that we shredded its wings and dropped three bowling balls on its head – and while it’s screaming at those two, Ian and Jin run headlong into a night gaunt barreling down the road.
Then Jin gets control of the slidewalk impellers routed to his PDA.
The gaunt trips as his slidewalk revs forward and backward, and Darya/Nery are launched away – but not before she lobs her last grenade between the byakhee’s feet and significantly improves our tactical position. No dhohanoids emerge from the remains of the bar, so we only have the gaunt to deal with. Thankfully it’s too big to take advantage of the slidewalks with more than one foot, so we get on run while Jin sets it to carry us forward. As we clear each segment, Jin reverses it, and the gaunt nearly falls a few times. It nearly falls a lot more as Jin starts handing me satchel charges – and then we’re out of boom, and it’s gaining.
I notice it has no visible eyes, and I really hope it has sensitive ears. Improvised air horn/recorder-based sonic device, I choose you!
I make the Repair roll for it to land correctly, and everyone goes deaf as all the windows shatter because Marty doesn’t know how sound works. Even the gaunt staggers, especially as it starts treading barefoot on broken glass Hey, I hated recorders as a kid OOC and I’m decidedly sadistic.
It buys us enough time for OIS to get there and kill the thing for us, anyway. They do the same thing with the remaining dhos, while Ian heals our ears.
This next part may well be triggering for, well, just about everyone.
He also heals Darya’s chest, which was apparently “seared down to the bone, which is especially psychologically scarring given the location. With the current cultural emphasis on humanity, disfigurements that rob someone of their attractiveness also detract from their sense of self. She’d have lost a couple of points of Wisdom as well as Charisma if it had scarred.”
Marty, if it wasn’t already apparent, is a terrible person.
I didn’t confront him about it then; to my eternal shame, I waited until I could speak to him (okay, yell at him) without breaking his stupid face. Hooray for IMing. To his miniscule credit, he acknowledged it was a stupid, chauvinist, shallow thing to say, agreed never to do it again, etc. It’s the only time I ever knew him to actually, earnestly apologize, without caveat or qualification. Jin’s player also went out of his way to convince me to stay in the game, so I gave him one last chance.
Still sickens me that I didn’t end up leaving over that. Of all the things I, being a guy, am definitionally incapable of getting right to the satisfaction of a consensus of concerned activists, dealing with this kind of filth is near the top.
Lily died, and this puzzled us, because she didn’t lose nearly enough HP to die. Apparently “it just wouldn’t have been dramatic if nobody died.”
Right, well, that’s my efforts shot. It was also curious that no dhohanoids died without Tager help, and the explanation for that one was just a gem.
“Oh, we were working under cinematic damage mechanics. Basically, they would have all died, so to make the story better I had Cael’s charges strip off their DR and healing instead of damaging them, and then they just died as and when the story dictated.”
So basically I was too effective, so Marty had to manually decide who lives and who dies.
There is the tiny germ of a reasonable idea here. It is kind of boring to have one player just push a button and end a fight. Still, here’s an idea: have more enemies. Take the nightgaunt and add more. That way, I get to do my job and there’s still a way for the other party members to have fun, we all enjoy ourselves and no one dies based on nonsense.
There was one bright spot: this was the last time anyone but Marty and Jin actually tried to preserve this game, and the conversations it spawned led to the rest of us considering a lot of ways in which we had, in the past, previously failed at either GMing or being human -- including my little stunts above. We’ve all been a lot more conscientious since then, and our games at least have certainly improved.
Next time, we open the box.
Incidentally, sorry about the formatting on the last part of this post. Blogger can't handle my text colors apparently.