Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Legend of Sleepy Hellhole

Dr. Macalahan called with a new "quest" for the group: finding the long-lost "Lantern of the Deep."

"I've been doing some research into local history, and I found something odd. Not long ago, there was a talisman brought from Ireland, called the 'Lantern of the Deep.' It was brought to Texas by an immigrant family, and kept in one of the businesses in the city of Harmony Hill - now non-existent. The city started failing in the 1870s, but was well and truly destroyed when a tornado flattened most of it in 1906. After which, by the way, news of the lantern simply stopped. However, recently unearthed information suggests to me that the Lantern of the Deep has returned to its watery home - or at least a watery home. I suspect it was at first merely lost - or hidden - but when Martin Lake was flooded in 1976, it was covered as well. The lantern has a - sadly unspecified - curse, but from what I can tell, great tragedy follows it. Which is why I'd like for you to see if you can find it, before some poor fisherman snags it, and ends up calling another tornado or something."

However, the work likely would require a good amount of underwater work; he offered to help them get into a SCUBA class. Still needing a phys-ed class, the group decided to go ahead and get trained, first.

About a week later, early Friday morning, while walking to class, Priya heard someone talking about how they had missed Chemistry, because the professor hadn't shown up. Will and Alistair also overheard the news; by lunch time, the professor had missed several classes, and a sub was called in for his last afternoon class. No one seemed to know where he was, so the students decided to go investigate. After dropping in at the library and finding the professor's home address, they paid a visit.

Unfortunately, no one was home - and the front door was unlocked. Inside, the house was trashed; they found blood in the hall. Outside, they found footprints leading away from the house to an alley, and under a bush, a scrap of paper - a map! It lead them about 20 minutes south of town, off the main road and onto a dirt track, mostly used by oil company vehicles.

On the way, Alistair got a phone call from his overprotective parents - they were in town! He managed to convince them he wouldn't be back for 40 minutes or so... though didn't stop to consider that they would spend those 40 minutes talking with his annoying roommate and Michele, his girlfriend...

There, Priya, Will, and Alistair found a large number of people dressed in dark red robes, chanting, dancing around a bonfire... and the missing professor dead, tied to a table. As they watched, one of the cultists lifted a staff over his head; another cultist stepped forward, removing the robe she was wearing - and leaving her entirely nude. The first cultist touched the staff to the bloody corpse of the professor, then touched the bloody end of staff to the naked cultist. Almost immediately, she fell to the ground, her mouth hanging open, drooling onto the ground; she shuddered, writhing inhumanly, as her body sprouted hair, and her arms and legs thinned and shortened, while her torso elongated. She turned her head upwards, her eyes blank and staring, and with a final shudder, completed her transformation into a huge jaguar!

The cultists went wild, cheering and chanting. Alistair, hoping to bring down the leader, crept to the edge of the firelight and took a shot at the leader with the staff, hitting him in the head, and dropping him almost instantly! The cultists, hearing the gunshot and seeing the muzzle flash, turned and started running towards Alistair, who charged back up the hill to flee the crowd. The jaguar bolted forward, catching up with him just as he reached the hill, though only scratching his body armor. Priya swung her new spear at the jaguar, and Will stepped forward, undecided at the moment what to do.

Just behind the jaguar were a horde of cultists; almost immediately, half a dozen cultists surrounded the college students... but between Priya's slicing spear and Will's new katana, they mowed through the cultists like a weed whacker through dry grass. A few well-placed cuts dropped the jaguar... but not before the person with the staff, below, managed to heal it once or twice.

As the cultists on top of the hill fought, the cultists at the bottom of the hill continued their ritual. A cultist was killed, and his blood used to touch another recently-disrobed cultist. The man staggered backward, pulling his arms in towards his chest; he shook and twitched, moaning, then with a horrible, wet, tearing sound, ripped the flesh from his body, revealing a man-sized bat, its wings ending in wicked claws!

Next, another man was transformed into a raging were-ape; then a woman was turned into a were-owl. One after the other, however, the creatures were cut down or shot; the staff-wielder, now a tall blonde woman, was unable to heal them quickly enough. A well-placed shot from Alistair killed her, too.

Will and Priya charged down the hill, cutting down the next staff-bearer, then focusing on the were-ape. At this point, only 6 cultists remained; one slipped off to help the man with the head wound escape, leaving 5. Those five slipped and fell in the blood and mud, unable to grab the staff. The instant one of them did, he got a spear tip in the back of his head for his troubles. The next managed to whack a fellow cultist, transforming him into a werewolf, just as the were-ape fell dead. And with a swing of his blade, Will split the staff in two, and killed the cultist as well.

The staff sparked with red electricity as the decorative head exploded into fragments; almost immediately, the werewolf returned to human form.

Alistair, meanwhile, chased after the two escaping cultists; he reached them as they dove into the nearest car, and managed to shoot out a wheel before they escaped. He returned to the bonfire, where Will and Priya were interrogating the three surviving cultists... and when he realized they had no information to give, gunned them down in cold blood!

Realizing they were standing in a field of corpses, dripping in blood and filth, the three students quickly found some non-blood-soaked robes (those discarded by the first three were-creatures), and tossed their own clothing into the fire. Alistair drove them to the Sabine, where they washed off... or rather, traded the blood and mud for plain ol' mud. He called James, who brought them all a change of clothes (if a little ill-fitting), and they quickly made their way back to campus.

While Priya and Will were each able to get a showed and fresh clothes, and fall immediately into bed... Alistair arrived home to find his parents waiting for him.

Lucky for Alistair, his girlfriend didn't exactly get along with them. She played nice, but as soon as he was home (somewhat bedraggled, but at least not dripping in blood), she immediately jumped to his defense: "Oh, sweetheart, you look so tired out! Why don't you go get a shower? We can wait!"
She immediately turned to his parents and explained, "Like I told you earlier, Alistair is so helpful, always helping people out with things. He's been helping a friend clear out his, uh, backyard. I'm sure he's absolutely bushed."

After what may well have been the most comfortable shower of his entire life, Alistair had only to spend a few minutes with his parents before Michele shooed them away, and told him to go to bed.

All three were asleep before their heads hit the pillow... but what of their dreams?

As a note, here... there is definitely an ongoing investigation into the deaths of 21 cultists. Detective Morris of the Longview PD was called in by the Gregg County Sheriff's department, as well as the FBI and the ATF... Here's hoping you don't all go to jail. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Gobsmacked

Real talk, people - the write-up will follow.

I enjoy being challenged by my players. I love when my players come up with something I didn't think of, or try a route I hadn't considered. I adore surprises. I am not an easy GM to derail...

But then there was tonight. I... I am shell-shocked right now. Gobsmacked. Absolutely floored.

I expected one of two outcomes: either the gang would go all-out in destroying the staff, making sacrifices to destroy it, at which point the cultists would leave angrily, their plans foiled - or even be held in a stalemate until the cops arrived, and be arrested... Or, the gang would see that they were outnumbered, and would quietly gather some evidence, then sneak away and get help from the police, from their mentor, from the FBI guy, from old friends (zombie guy's brother, the professor they know can control bugs, Cryptid Underground, Lurk Until Dawn, the list goes on), even from other classmates (ROTC, anyone?) or heck, the Russians, that weirdo owes them a favor for saving his life, right?

But no.

Oh no.

Oh Hell no.

After the failed assassination attempt, the gang proceeded to kill every last cultist. All of them. The three that survived long enough to surrender? Shot dead. And then, a complicated attempt at covering their tracks, complete with throwing a gun in a bonfire, burning their clothes and donning cultist robes, and getting their team mate to bring them new clothing... All before showing up on campus.

Before I can even close out this adventure, I need to make a bunch of rolls to determine just how the police react to the scene... Because they showed up about five minutes after the gang left. I honestly don't know if the gang is going to stay out of jail. It's up to the dice.

I'm still reeling from the outcome; this has wide reaching results that have literally detailed the campaign.

And I'm loving it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Bug's Life

Early one Monday morning, Alistair and Will were on their way to a class when they heard a scream from the office area; making their way there, they found a secretary standing at an open doorway, staring in horror at the body of Entomology professor Dr. Lyle Canton - covered in hundreds of insect bites and stings. A quick search of the office revealed nothing more than the few insects the professor kept in plastic terrariums. The professor appeared to have died Saturday. The door was previously locked, and there was no sign of forced entry (or exit) - nor signs of bugs.

Remembering Johnny Chafe, the group went to interrogate "bug boy". After some pressing questions, he revealed that his notebook was likely stolen. He had an alibi for the weekend, too, which helped the students believe him.

Back to Glaske, they asked around and discovered that Dr. Sheila West and a graduate student, Eddie Ruiz, didn't show up for class that day. A little more investigation revealed the professor's address; that afternoon, the students headed over. They found a beat up economy sedan in the driveway, but got no answer from knocking on the door. Realizing the neighbor across the street was snooping on them, they trooped over, and after convincing her they were not selling anything, asked about the professor. The woman pulled out the notebook she kept notes on the comings and goings of everyone in the neighborhood, and pointed out that the car's owner had showed up early Saturday, and hadn't left.

The group thanked her, then vaulted the fence into the back yard; Will picked the lock on the fence, and James quickly grabbed his tools from his truck. After picking the back door lock, Will and James headed inside. James flung open the mudroom door, and instantly had to dodge a swarm of flying and crawling insects, ending up shaken from the experience. The others were slightly farther back, and managed to get through the insect onslaught unscathed. Alistair rushed inside, and fired off the a circle of protection from insects he had prepared; most of the bugs were forced away, and fled. Eddie, now looking more like the main character from The Fly, screeched, calling two giant swarms of insects - one of creepy-crawlies, and one of wasps and other fliers. He stepped forward, ignoring the protection circle entirely, and struck at Alistair, thankfully doing very little against his body armor. Alistair was quickly joined by the others, who shot, bashed, whacked, and tazed the big bug-man (though the tazer seemed to have no effect). Will narrowly avoided certain doom (by burning a black chip!), while James took a few good thwacks. The flying insects didn't manage to get through the barrier, but the crawling insects did, though the heavy clothes of the students protected them from the bites and stings.

Having killed Eddie - or what was left of him, he was mostly bug at that point - James and Alistair, uh, ripped off his arms and fashioned them into melee weapons. Because of course they did.

After desecrating the corpse, the students broke open the cocoon Eddie had been watching, and found Dr. West! She was unconscious; after a bit of cleanup, the students called the police and an ambulance. After answering some questions, they headed over to Eddie's apartment, and ransacked the place, finding the notebook in the process. It seems Eddie had modified the formula, splicing DNA to make the liquid injectable; the process didn't seem to work well for him, however.

Two days later, she regained consciousness, and seemed perfectly fine - though Alistair followed her around a bit, and realized that she could control bugs, too. Filing that away in "useful information to have," the group left her to her own devices.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Series Of Magic Tubes

Before the semester started, Matt Meranda and Ariel Summers (both Burn survivors) started dating; Matt, however, became obsessed with the strange phenomena of the Burn; just before the semester started, he had a little too much to drink, and mentioned that he could see "magic pipes" running all over campus, due to some concoction he found online. He insisted on driving home; however, he wrecked his vehicle...

Not long afterwards, the group heard Dr. Harry Wells telling his friend Dr. Jeong Yi that he found something - a nanomachine, trapped in a block of glass! His analog electron scanning microscope caught a picture of it. Stranger, he said, was the fact that the school's microscope couldn't see it. He could even find the objects around the nanotechnology, but it wasn't there. He took it back home and looked again, and there it was, plain as day! He handed his friend a couple printouts he had made - one picture with the nanotech, one without. Excitedly, he pointed out exactly what surrounded the tiny machine. It couldn't just vanish; so where did it go? His theory was that it was somehow cloaked - hidden from the digital electron microscope, but visible to the old analog scope.

As he left the cafeteria, a black sedan pulled up, and a thin, bald man in a dark suit stepped out. After a moment of conversation, Dr. Wells, of his own volition, climbed into the back seat with the man.

At the same time, Derek Ward caught up with the gang and asked them to check on Ariel. He told them that Matt's vehicle was found totaled, but no Matt inside... just blood. Police suspected he tried to get out and get help, and died in the woods. Ariel locked herself in her apartment and wouldn't come out.

Visiting Ariel turned up a pile of occult books, specifically about ley lines; she seemed to firmly believe that Matt was wandering the woods: "Just wait. I promise you he will show up in another day or two alive and well." Although she seemed to be hiding something, they weren't able to figure out what - and she wouldn't let them take the books.

Back at Mary Lynn's bookstore, they studied the map of ley lines from the decades previous; perhaps there was something there? There wasn't anything to find at the scene of the accident... Crayton's Compendium turned up some information on ley lines, and mention a ritual, True Seeing, that reveals them. Alistair opted for the slightly more expensive version, and bought the same stuff Matt did, following a link Matt had written in the margin of one of the books.

The next morning, the student newspaper came out with details on the crash - the wrecked car was certainly not "walk away" material. It was wrapped around a tree, and every window was smashed. Meanwhile, Dr. Wells' case turns up a letter, supposedly from him, saying there was a "sudden family emergency"... of course, Dr. Wells is estranged from his father, and has no other family, which Dr. Yi is happy to point out. In the lab, the man in black carted away the electron microscope, flashing a Secret Service badge and stating that they removed dangerous, unregistered equipment from his lab; the university doesn't fight it, as that is technically true.

At Dr. Wells' house, the group found his electron scanning microscope in the basement, and the tiny slice of glass with the supposed nanotech stuck in it; after a bit of discussion, they decided to leave it there, though they took his notes.

Alistair followed the ley lines he could see - nothing at Dr. Wells' house, but there were several on campus, with two of the larger ones on top of the education building - along with a flash of movement! While Alistair looked for a ritual to assist them, James took off, following his instincts... and not getting much of anywhere. Will, using a lockpick fashioned by Priya,
picked the lock on the roof door, and onto the roof. Ariel was there, holding a cheap steak knife, with a hasty bandage on her arm; Matt was there as well. Well, his corpse... as fresh as it looked, he was very obviously dead. Ariel quickly waved them off, explaining how Matt was researching these teeny-tiny bugs, and how they could do all sorts of stuff, but they needed the right information to begin. "It's ok! Everything will be fine! Just... just stay back!"

Of course, they were having none of it, and whacked her over the head, knocking her out. And then Alistair saw the shadows spinning out from the two newly-joined ley lines... The creatures attacked, but the group was able to hold them off; Alistair tossed them the other vials, and quickly they applied the "ley line mist" to their eyes. Matt, meanwhile, began groaning and coughing...

Unfortunately, their weapons weren't damaging the creatures; Alistair, who could now see his Spirit Guardian, found it bodily shielding him from the wraith-like shadows. Hoping they were some kind of ghost, he grabbed a container of salt from his bag, and told Priya to pull out the one she was carrying. Priya dumped water on her, Will's, and James' weapons, then poured salt onto them, leaving a lovely crust. Together, they made short work of the shadows; Alistair, away from the group, tried dumping salt on Matt (which had no effect), then dumped two thirds of a container over a ghost - which destroyed it! Finally, they finished off the last of the shadow-wraiths. Ariel crawled over to Matt, who was moaning louder, as if in intense pain; quickly, they staunched the bloodflow and got him to a hospital.

A few days later, Matt's recovery is nothing short of miraculous; even so, he's still in a great deal of pain. He calls the group to the hospital, and asks that they not pass around the fact that, y'know, he was raised from the dead by nanotechnology. Alistair was quite adamant that it wasn't nanotech, but magic; he and Matt agreed to disagree on that point.

Meanwhile, Dr. Wells remained missing; Dr. Yi electred to take care of his home (which, thankfully, is paid for), and his plants.

The day after visiting Matt in the hospital, Will got a phone call:

"You don't know me, but I know you, Will, as well as your friends. Do not be alarmed; I am a friend. Furthermore, I know that you have recently discovered information on nanotechnology. Do not discuss this with anyone else. You may find that those you have already discussed this topic with will no longer remember. I will not interfere with you, as I believe you have an important role to play... but tread carefully. There are others who are... not as understanding as I am."

Me, Myself, and the FBI

The leather patch (recovered from the super-zombie) turned out to have a small symbol on it; some successful research later, and the group found that it belonged to a group known as the OBR, a Russian intelligence group of some sort. They learned more when they ran into an old friend - Kit Muller, of the FBI! He was following some sort of shape-shifter. He explained that the OBR were essentially the KGB, except their work centered on the supernatural; he had run into one or two of their agents. The group was lead by none other than Maksim Kuznetsov, the old man they had met some months earlier! Kit also mentioned Vladislav Rasputin, an edgy ritualist, and how he really hates the song "What Is Love."

Priya, Will, and Alistair soon found themselves on the trail of another book thief; a local bookstore was hit, and Mary (the owner of the bookstore they use as their hoe base) asked if they could go check it out. They did so happily, arriving to find a slightly damaged bookstore, and one Vladislav Rasputin, possibly more edgy than Kit described. They approached him, and warned him off from the books. Using their connection with Mary, they convinced the bookstore owner to lend them the new books he had received, so they could keep them at Mary Lynn's bookstore.

At the bookstore, late at night, they were awakened by a clatter as someone tried to get in. It was Kit! However, he seemed a little off; they called his cell phone, and found Kit was actually in his hotel room. They delayed the doppelganger long enough to give Kit time to arrive (he raced past, then slammed on the brakes and backed up), but the creature was gone in a flash. After some discussion - and verifying the books were safe - Kit headed back to bed.

The next evening - Friday - they headed to RPG night (I know, I know, no recursive RPGs), and the next day visited their GM's home (yours truly). Alistair tried to steal a brick from the foundation, and after a telling off, settled for a brick from under the house. Using the time to do a bit of studying, they learned that there was some kind of object of power hidden in some Indian burial mounds. That evening, they headed to the woods, and after a bit of hiking, found the mounds. As they were looking around, once again Kit showed up; this time, they didn't bother asking questions, and immediately opened fire! Whatever the creature was, it wasn't human - their bullets seemed to only barely be hurting it. Only Priya's ax did any real damage.

Quickly, Priya began forming a chalk circle; she was grabbed by the creature, who shook her book bag off, spilling books all over the ground. Alistair completed the circle, and as soon as Priya broke free, completed the outline. The creature slammed against the temporary boundary (chalk circles are useful, but don't last long unless they have a ritual to back them up). Throwing its (tremendous) weight against the boundary, it broke free, grabbed the book, and slammed its hand into the open pages. Instantly, it was transformed into a 12 foot tall beast, with demonic red skin, cloven hoofs, massive wings... well, you get the idea. The group had been expecting something like that, however, and quickly got over the fright; they fired a few more rounds at it, hit it with an ax, and eventually killed it. It fell backward into a yawning void and was gone...

Just as Kit showed up, Priya discovered an unconscious body laying in the underbrush: Vadislav! Will immediately began singing "What Is Love (Baby Don't Hurt Me)", to which the injured ritualist responded with a pain transference spell. Further singing caused a massive headache... Kit took Vadislav into custody, after learning what his plan was - calling the demon to do his bidding, Vadislav bit off a bit more than he could chew, and ended up with some greater fiend instead of a ghostly Vardøger. Oops.

The book, however, was gone; whatever it held, that mystery was lost forever...

Book-It!

The group were hired by a friend of LeTourneau, the daughter of Marvin Ashwright, a well-known local philanthropist and businessman who disappeared in 1998. Promised a good bit of money, the group set out to get organized. Well, get books organized, anyway - the Ashwrights were donating Marvin's library to LeTourneau, or at least some of it.

The house was a sprawling Victorian-style mansion, out in the country; it was obvious that Ms. Ashwright came from money. After setting them up Friday night, she left them to their own devices. That evening, they packed and sorted books, seeing a few strange things, like a man watching them from a mirror, or footsteps walking through empty halls. After a bit of exploration, they decided to stay the night, and get the rest finished in the morning.

The next morning was a further drudge of stacking and sorting, but eventually, they had found every last book, and were well on their way to getting it all finished. After a supper of Pizza King, they heard a knock on the front door. Alistair and James went to investigate; suddenly, there was a crash! A haggard, gray-skinned human stepped through the plate glass window by the door - a zombie! James lit into it, whacking it with his pipe wrench, and Alistair went for his gun. After fighting off those zombies, the others found yet more attempting to walk through a french door in the west bedroom, and still more coming in the back door! James, having finished off the zombies in the front, heard sounds to the east, and ran out the door to intercept them. Will finished off the zombies to the east, and Priya and Alistair took care of the zombies at the back door. Priya headed east, hearing sounds of zombies - and found two zombies grabbing a box of books! Interrupting them, she chucked an ax, injuring one.

Meanwhile, James went toe-to-toe with a huge, muscular, super-zombie, with a glowing symbol stitched onto its chest; after a few misses, he slammed his pipe wrench into it, nearly hacking it in half! It, like the other zombies, collapsed into a pile of dust and dirt - though this time with the strange patch-like scrap of leather in the dust. Hearing the battle in the house, he spun and hurled his secondary wrench, flinging it through the open window and into a zombie! While it was stunned from the blow, Will and Priya finished it off.

Tired (and in the case of Alistair, bruised and battered), the group reconvened in the main library. Once assembled, they heard a faint click - a secret entrance! Inside, they saw two things: one, the very dead skeleton of Marvin Ashwright, and two, a comprehensive security system, still working, with cameras in every hallway. For a moment, they glimpsed a burst of static - in the form of a man, waving serenely.

In the center of the room, resting on a display, was a book, hand-labeled "Ashwright's Arcane Tome", in square script.

Thankfully, there was not much damage; the group was paid for their efforts, and went home to sleep off the excitement.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Pakku Mansion

After a lovely Christmas break, it's time for a little ghost hunting! GlennMac called the group into his office, and introduced them to a new member, a Flight Mechanic named James Carrar. He handed them an address to investigate, a property that was rumored to be haunted; several people had tried to buy it, before being run off by "ghosts". The price had dropped to a mere $10,000, barely more than the property alone, even though the building was in good condition. If nothing happened, it would be scheduled for demolition soon. GlennMac had managed to get the electric company to turn on the lights, but there was no running water at the moment.

Reaching the property (with Austin's girlfriend and roommate in tow), they took a look around. The building was a very large, single-story home; they stepped inside, and started looking for ghosts. They hadn't gone far before the front door slammed shut! Shrugging, they continued their search. Every room's door was locked; they managed to break, pry, or pick a few open, but didn't find anything interesting, apart from some furniture, empty boxes, and garbage. Oddly, they kept scuffing over shards of some kind of crystal or broken glass.

Eventually, James and Will found a fist-sized glass sphere; it looked important, so they grabbed it. Out of the corner of their eye, they saw a flicker of movement! Lugging their recording gear with them, they chased the shape down one hallway and another, finally cornering it; they finally saw it for what it was - a bluish, dripping, humanoid shape! They approached, and it suddenly turned, growling, and ran for Alistair! Raising his hands in defense, he dodged aside, neatly flipping the creature over his head. It dashed off, moaning...

It was at this point that someone pointed out that the mansion sure looked like a Pac-Man map.

Gosh, really? Pac-Man? No idea why you would think that.

In the corner, they found another bobble; Alistair held onto this one. Looking through it, he realized that certain forms were clearer than before, while others were more... ghostly. Suddenly, they heard a scream from Alistair's roommate! Dashing towards the source of the sound, they ran into a figure clad in an orange jumpsuit. It slid to a stop and looked them up and down. "We-heh-heh-hell, now! What have we here?" Grinning, he fished in his pocket, and pulled out a metal plate with loops of wire - a poor man's brass knuckles. He took a swipe at James, who retaliated by swinging a heavy pipe wrench at him. The wrench slid easily through the ghost... Alistair, realizing that his glass ball might have an effect, held it out and tried to activate it. With a "WHUM", all the lights in the old house changed from flickering orange bulbs to slow-moving tongues of blue-white flame. The ball itself dripped blue light, glowing brightly. James took another swing, and this time, connected! Will, moving in from behind, pulled out his tazer-club, and let the ghost have it; shaking, the jumpsuit-clad jailbird crashed to the floor. Alistair, arriving with his glowing ball, pulled out his gun and shot the ghost in the head. The ghost's form vanished in orange smoke...

Meanwhile, someone else pointed out that the globes seemed to function like the powerballs from Pac-Man. Hmm, how strange.

Just then, they heard sounds from behind them! They turned to find... the roommate? Behind them? Huh. Searching further, everyone stuck together to investigate the rest of the house. It wasn't long before they found an oddly dead-end hallway. The wall and the end seemed to... fade in and out, almost. Alistair stepped forward and held his globe to his eye. The hallway seemed to continue on, unimpeded. Curious, he stepped through the wall! His girlfriend, already freaked out by seeming him headshot a ghost, absolutely freaked out. Screaming, she ran towards the wall, only to find herself catapulting into the hallway! She was so overcome by fear that a streak of white appeared in her hair.

Gosh, someone said. That hallway is EXACTLY like Pac-Man!

After a little exploration more, someone realized that the music I had been playing the entire time was the Pac-Man theme song. Finally, the pieces began to come together. James suggested that everyone look for the large room in the center; they did, and found another ghost - first, a pink-haired punk girl, who yelled at them for hurting her friend, Bashful. Using another globe, they defeated that ghost when James came up behind her and bashed her head in with his pipe wrench.

After defeating Pinky, they came to the center of everything. Alistair found a secret door, but no way to open it - and suddenly, the fourth ghost slid through the wall! Growling, the demonic form slashed at Alistair. James shrugged and moved on, realizing he wasn't going to be able to do much against a ghost, and reasoning that he already had proof enough of ghosts. Alistair took a good hit, shrugged it off with a chip, and decided that maybe he would NOPE out too... abandoning his girlfriend in the process. Luckily, Will got there just as the ghost entirely missed hitting her, and gave him a good taze. Furious, Alistair's girlfriend dug out a can of mace ad a set of cast's ears, and proceeded to beat the ghost to within an inch of its... death, I guess? She and Will finished it off, as well as the blue ghost that reappeared.

James, meanwhile, had a very Matrix moment when he finally opened the door - there was a brick wall behind it! Alistair hurried past, grabbing crystals off the floor, and showed James how they clicked together. If this was Pac-Man, then they surely had to collect all the dots, right? And so, they did. The whole team (except for Alistair's roommate, who was rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself about walls and ghosts) gathered every last dot. As they clicked together, the perfect globe they formed began once again to glow blue, and down the hall, they heard the door click open. Quickly, they hurried into the room; there, with a skeleton draped across the controls, was an old Pac-Man game, the screen showing the movement of the ghosts and party members. Just as the ghosts materialized inside the room, they unplugged the arcade. Shadow, the red ghost, was pulled into a black abyss; Clyde, the orange ghost, fled through a wall, but the rattle and slam of a jail door echoed behind him. Pinky paced back and forth, staring as she slowly vanished, mumbling, "No, no, I can't be dead, I can't be...!"

Last, with a heavy yet peaceful sigh, Bashful faded away into nothing.

As they left the room, they realized the other room doors had unlocked; inside, they found the body of Clyde, an escaped convict, who had tried to hide out in the house and gotten shot and locked in a storage room for his trouble; Pinky, forcibly overdosed in the kitchen; and Bashful, a writer who came to the house for its ambiance, and was drowned by... Shadow, a serial killer who died playing the only game he loved more than killing, and who, through it, managed to keep on killing after he died.

Unfortunately, all the recordings they had were muffled, static-y, or overexposed; every shot of a ghost was useless, and every recording of a ghost's voice was unintelligible. It was enough that the gang knew what was going on, but they also knew no one would buy that they had been fighting ghosts...

Still, GlennMac was pleased with the footage; "If nothing else," he said, "It proves that ghosts can't be photographed by conventional means! We'll have to just keep on trying!"

Antarctic Jump: 2132

Deep in the Antarctic, scientists uncovered a thermal vent; however, after equipment started to go missing, they called in a crack team to explore the area:
James Fosse, mission commander, who volunteered for the mission and signed off on the roster
Oliva Borde, a grumpy, stubborn combat medic
Colin Burwell, a loud, brash, and slightly overweight Heavy Weapons expert
Renate Gerver, a big-ego'd soldier
Rory MacWilliams, Scottish Engineer
Nikita Zyma, overconfident Russian hacker, out on loan, because she had previously been in jail...
Indy Yonnes, a small, hyper archaeologist with a gift for languages

After discussing the area with the scientists and getting a rough map, they headed in. Not far inside, they found a strange, multi-legged creature with sharp, stabby claws! Shooting it down caused two more to clamber up from a crack. The larger of the two seemed to be trying to cause a cave-in, but after some quick work by the soldiers, and a bang-up job reinforcing the walls and ceiling by the engineer, they managed to stop them.

As the group continued on, the rough volcanic tunnel turned into a crystal clear icy tunnel; deep inside the ice, Indy could see a flash of light. Hoping to cut off any creatures following them, Colin convinced Rory to set up a tripwire, with a couple grenades on it; Rory pocketed one of the grenades, though, and Colin demanded the second to be returned. Hearing a noise behind them, they team retreated, only to find a large block of ice had been moved into the path! There was no retreat!

Hurry back, Indy kept trying to get into the front, while Colin pushed her back. He hit the tripwire, and tripped; for a heart-stopping moment, he was sure the grenade would get him... and his fear turned to a burst of adrenaline when he realized there was no kaboom. Rory got quite an earful.

Not far up the path, they heard shouting; someone was calling for help! They rounded to corner to find two good-looking scientists, one with her hand trapped in the ice. Olivia tried to examine the man, shining a light in his eyes, and he reacted by spitting acid in her face! A quick shotgun blast later ended that, and the woman hardly had time to pull her clawed hand out and attack before she was put down. The blood from the two was, like the monsters before, green - copper-based. And their bodies seemed to shift and sag, turning into strange, clawed, grey-skinned creatures... shape-shifters!

Moving on, they entered a strange tunnel, made of some leathery substance. Just inside were a number of very, very large creatures, with more claws and thicker armor! Thankfully, they were frozen solid; even so, the group chose to back off and chuck a grenade into the room first.

The next room, finally, had something the hacker could sink her teeth into; hooking into the computer systems and figuring out a communication protocol, she managed to connect to the ancient alien tech, and find a few warnings, along with a map of what apparently was a ship - a hybrid organic/technology ship, in fact. Indy helped Nikita translate, and together they mapped out the ship, and where the technology they were there for would likely be found.

After another brief skirmish, the group broke into what appeared to be some sort of control center; in the middle of the room, standing at a computer, was a large, light-skinned monster, standing on its hind legs, using its clawed hands to manipulate controls, its slender twisting horns sweeping over its head! To get its attention, Colin fired a few rounds through a terminal. Angrily, the creature turned; Indy, using her slight grasp of the language, quickly jumped in front of it, showed it pictures of the dead monsters and the shape-shifters, and demanded to know why it was trying to kill them.

Or at least... that's what she planned. In actuality, she waved pictures of the bloody corpses of the creature's friends and pets in front of it, pointed at the shot out screen, and shouted something like, "Why you? My friends trying to do!"

Understandably, it did not take that well, and picked up Indy, chucking her into one of the others. Renate chucked a grenade, which missed, but the engineer managed to toss his pilfered grenade perfectly, damaging the creature and the computers behind it. After a combined effort, they managed to bring the creature down. Meanwhile, Nikita hacked into a side console, and managed to trigger the self destruct sequence. As the battle raged, she hacked furiously; just as the battle ended, she got around the countdown and cancelled the detonation.

Rory, eager to find the new tech, located the containment for The Device. With Nikita's help, he freed it from its containment, and loaded it up for transport.

Looking for an exit, the group followed the map to another important location, one that Indy translated as being both advanced technology, and some sort of weapon. They found a sealed room, with a strange vat in the center; hacking into the terminal, Nikita opened the vat, releasing a swarm of nanites! The nanites bored a tunnel through to the surface, then dissipated into the atmosphere. Behind them, the ground rumbled; the self-destruct reactivated, and blasted the ship apart. Or mostly apart; there was enough of the ship left to study...

The device itself was incredibly important, however! Further research revealed it to be some kind of advanced interstellar warp technology, one which scientists dubbed a Jump drive. Within five years, the first ships with J0 drives were launched...

A Tale of Two Captains

Everyone has gathered near the launch platforms, according to status and function. You can each see the colors of the other officers around you: blue for navigation, orange for engineering, green for science, white for medics, yellow for comms, and far to the right, black for security, as well as a sea of crewmen and women in gray uniforms behind you. There are about 300 officers present, and more than 3,000 men and women total.

Meanwhile, it's been a long morning. Admiral Ackilo has been droning on for the last two hours, and he's the third speaker of the day. Thankfully, he seems to be wrapping up, so you force yourself to tune back in, in time to hear: "...make... us all... proud." He peers out at the crowd from under his bushy eyebrows, and a tired but hopeful smattering of applause breaks out.

From his seat on the stage, Captain James Montegue Harrison III, Earl of Shaftesbury, steps forward, salutes Admiral Ackilo, then replaces him at the podium. There's a bit of a groan as everyone realizes they have to sit through yet another speech. He begins: "Welcome, Officers, crewmen, and passengers. As you well know, we are journeying into deep space, on a mission to map the stars. If we are indeed successful, we will be the first of many to cross Dark Space. Our mission will face grave danger, and untold wonders."

He clears his throat again, raises his fist in the air, and shouts, "Greatness awaits!"

There is a moment of uncertain silence, but the confusion is quickly discarded when everyone realizes they don't have to stand through another two hour droning lecture. The applause is deafening.

After the ceremony, the gang was sent on an escort mission - bring a large number of citizens to a covert base in the middle of nowhere, to protect them from the upcoming crisis. The trip there was largely uneventful; their ship landed in one piece, and the citizens were entirely unharmed. That was only the beginning, however. The next part of the mission required driving the civilians in old, beat-up hover trucks a good few hundred miles away. For the most part, the mission went well, and they avoided anything too nasty - or, things that were too nasty got the hot end of a flamethrower. After finishing off a few creatures, they ran into a pirate barge; their highly skilled sniping managed to finish off most of the crew, and the few left died when the ship fell out of the air, courtesy of a couple missing engines.

After fighting off a trio of multi-legged lizards, they finally got the civilians to their base. After a quick escape, they made their way back to earth... only to learn that Smooth Criminal's girlfriend had been captured!

Free from their mercenary responsibilities, they rolled up their sleeves and did a bit of investigating. In the girlfriend's apartment, they found a jack-booted Al-Sec agent, one Captain Daneel Kaspar. He, of course, turned out to be a hologram. Somehow managing to stay legal, they shot up an automatic turret, stole a car, and left most of their illegal gear in a parking garage. Later, they returned to collect their stuff - after the cops had left - and headed towards their next lead.

Finally, they made it to a black-ops bunker, built inside a warehouse of some kind. After fighting a few goons (and a turrent inside a polie car), they pushed farther inside, splitting up to cover more ground. The West crew found a tech, manning some monitors, and decided to save his life; the East crew surprised a room full of goons, and left a grenade behind. The tech, of course, ended up being one of the bad guys, and after nearly killing one of the West Crew, was laid to rest in pieces. The East crew, somewhat perforated by a minigun nest, finally met up with the others to face a large robot and another hologram of Kaspar. Though one of the crew died in the mission, Smooth Criminal's girlfriend was rescued, and Kaspar's plans were once again foiled.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Gus and Guy

Hangovers eventually dealt with, John Smith returned to give a mission:

Losing a bit of paperwork for a certain android that would be essential to an upcoming mission.

The facility was made up of three buildings: a rather dirty manufacturing building, a spotlessly clean building, and a fairly ordinary building connected to the other two. After dealing with the guards (and kidnapping one of them), they headed into the compound.

Attempting the third building first, the sniper made a door through the wall via explosives, and wandered around until they made their way onto the manufacturing floor, where android bodies from the dirty building were being fitted with electronics from the clean one. Finding a worker, the group bullied the poor man until he gave up the location of an engineer; tracking down the engineer, they made enough noise to convince him they were from the UEA. He pointed them towards the document storage facility, in the body-manufacturing plant.

Inside, they quickly realized there were a LOT of documents. Shrugging, Flamethrowerette walked to the back and started hosing down the files with her flamethrower. Which, of course, kicked off the sprinklers. The sniper stepped outside the door and took a shot at the pipe feeding the sprinklers, cracking it open. The water inside splashed out onto the wall as the overhead sprinklers dribbled to a stop.

After a good ten minutes (and most of her ammo), the room was a towering inferno. Job done!

On the way out, they came across a delivery truck, full of androids. "Hey - buddy! Hey, you  know where I'm supposed to drop this load of Gus-designation androids?"

They did not.

With Gus the Android set up to be returned to service without a full overhaul, the party was sent to the most important mission yet: removing explosives from one of the exploration ships. The other ships had been cleaned, but that one had shipped out to be stocked before they had time to get to it.

Inside, they swept the corridors and rooms, removing the bombs where they found them. Finally, they located a bomb on the jump drive - and while trying to get assistance in removing it (from a certain Guy Gift, moving in with his family, Madge, Guld, Frank, and Myrr), they ran into a new infiltrating force from AlSec! The fight was over quickly; the few injuries were dealt with, and the ship finally cleared of bombs.

Outside the ship, Captain Seth Grainer met them - he lead them to a missile bay on the station, and loaded the bombs inside. They watched the ship launch; Grainer smiled a bit sadly. "It's strange to think that these could have lead to such destruction are being used for good, now... How odd the way that targets just seem to change. It's a fitting name for this ship, then, isn't it? 'Shifting Horizon'."

After a thoughtful silence, he turned. "Now, I believe we have a ceremony to attend!"

Fast and Furiously High

Once again, John Smith came to give the gang (posse? Band? Whatever) a new mission...

"There is a public figure that has been hounded by AlSec; we don't think he's dirty, but he might be under their watch. We want to send a message that we can be scary, too. He's going to be doing a public announcement tomorrow. You need to get in position... and shoot his bodyguard. Wing him if you can, make it look close, but hit the bodyguard and take him down. We only have one chance for this."

After a little planning and a few light hover-bikes, a select few of the group (including the smooth criminal, the ghost, the sniper, and the Miss Flamethrower) headed downtown. There were two buildings; the Smooth Criminal took one, and the sniper took the other. After a bit of waiting, the politician took the stage, far below; together, the two snipers fired. The sniper shot cleanly through the politician's upper arm, and just behind him, the lower half of the bodyguard's head vanished in a puff of pink mist. A millisecond later, the smooth criminal's shot whistled through the bodyguard's new gaping hole and plowed into the stage. For a brief second, there was stillness, then the square sprang to life as police rushed to action. Quickly, the two snipers took their disposable rifles and jammed them into a ceiling tile, leaving them smoldering, to eventually turn to ash.

The overweight sniper decided to take the elevator. He managed to bluff off two policemen, but a third was a little more wary, and ended up getting tasered. Smooth Criminal, meanwhile, took the stairs, and roared past the guards without stopping. He headed outside, breezing past police, and eventually slipping into the subway, taking a few passages, and popping out near the destination. Whistling, he bought a T-shirt and a cap at a nearby stand and blended into the crowd. Easy-peasy.

At the hovercycles, the flamethrowerette distracted a police officer long enough for the sniper to hit him with a sonic shotgun blast, folding him in half; the two took off, the sniper heading south, the other heading north.

Miss Flamethrower narrowly avoided a police blockade, but with a little luck, managed to weave through traffic and get lost in the crowded highway traffic.

The sniper, however, had a little more trouble. He managed to make it through the southern blockade without any trouble, but he wasn't quite as speedy as Miss Flamethrower, and was tracked long enough for backup to arrive - a large mech! It kept up with him until he turned off and into some trees. Getting lost in a baseball crowd, he slipped off, eventually finding the meetup point.

And that was the easy mission!

Next was something a little more... interesting.

The gang was given an infiltration task: get in, get someone in trouble, and get out. And who was to be in trouble? A certain James Montegue Harrison III, Earl of Shaftesbury. The group settled in to the party, and soon were enjoying some very good alcohol. The flamethrowerette decided to get the Earl in trouble by drinking the alcohol the Earl offered her, then immediately drinking some ipecac. Which didn't exactly work. She got pretty sick, but a waiter helped her to a bathroom to clean up, where she was equally sick and woozy from the drugs the Earl had slipped in her drink...

Meanwhile, Smooth Criminal managed to collect the hardcore drugs the flamethrower lady had ordered, and decided to share it with... well, everyone. The Earl got really, really high. Well, higher. Smooth Criminal, meanwhile, got himself a girlfriend! Which was only slightly related to the drugs...

The culminating moment was the Earl strutting over to his mother, telling her how he really appreciated her, and giving her a long kiss on the lips. His father, incensed, shoved him off, and began bellowing something about his next assignment being off-world - really, really far off-world.

John Smith collected the heroes(?), staying behind to impersonate Smooth Criminal and get his new girlfriend home safely (as it turns out, John has face-changing capabilities...).

The next week was spent nursing some of the worst hangovers anyone had every experienced.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What Does HOT Hot Mean?

Cryotechnology progressed in leaps and bounds in the last century; even so, like almost anything else, most ships use last gen tech, and the military uses the generation before that. The ship they got a ride in, though? Top-of-the-line pleasure vessel, with cutting edge cryo chambers and comfortable, padded seats. Even closets for their gear, and a pre-flight cocktail served with real fruit and an authentic tiny umbrella. Rather than a sudden sense of panic and light-headedness, the marines gently drifted off to peaceful sleep.

Just as gently, they awakened, refreshed after your long nap... just before a momentary headache. One of the marines was hit a lot worse than the others, losing his lunch. The lights in the room flickered, then turned on with a bit of a hum, revealing a sandy-haired man in a white ship's captain's uniform, his brow furrowed, his hat under his arm.

"Well, good news is, you made it home. Bad news is... you missed your interview with the president. Good news, I guess, you all got the medal of valor awarded... bad news, it was posthumous. Yeah. welcome to 2748, boys, you've come a long, long way, and you've still got a long way to go. Funny how 55 years of waiting doesn't help that we're all in a hurry... I am Captain Seth Grainer, of the - well. We'll get to that. For now... you've got some catching up to do."

The man explained that the ship was destined to be flown into the sun, but that his organization had boarded the ship and redirected it to an orbit around Saturn. The others were not so lucky; Lt. Commander Thawar and the Ghost were assassinated. The Lt. Cmdr because of what he discovered about the Duul'Tlak - wholly separate from the Kchurg - and the Ghost, because of the Ghost Initiative, and what it could have meant... The ghost technology is dead and gone. Which means no more upgrades for those with the Ghost tech in their head.

Meanwhile, defeating the Kchurg and the Duul'Tlak resulted in the Duul'Tlak surrendering and returning both Quern and Melba - which has become L20's new base of operations. The Duul'Tlak have actually joined the UEA, as have the Kchk'Trrs; between the two of them, the UEA gained a lot of new technology, and have even opened a joint research facility with the Kchk'Trrs.

"But that brings me to why I am here. You are... no one. You are 200 years out of your time, dead twice over; no one knows you exist. In point of fact, as far as the UEA is concerned, you no longer do; your biometrics have been scrubbed from every database, down to the ancient paper copies. You simply don't exist. Which means you are perfect to talking, fighting, and blowing things up - all the things you are good at. However... Alliance Security, or AlSec, is growing too bold. They have far more power than they ought. They built a new class of stealth ship, one that could signal dark days ahead. There are forces working in the background to destabilize the UEA..."

"A new initiative has begun, a galaxial survey mission. That initiative absolutely must succeed. There are, as always a few dissenters, but some seem more... entrenched... than others. Your first mission is to "convince" one of these dissenters to change her mind. Legally, I'm afraid - no disintegrations!"

After a few days of rest, the team loaded up on shiny new gear - lasers and sonic grenades and shoulder-fired missiles, oh my - and set off on their... er... latest first mission. The team experienced their first running insertion - as their dropship flew over the drop location, they were fired from man-sized cannons, along with a blast of gel; they hit the gel to slow them down, then the gel dissipated. Overall, very exciting.

After a quick firefight (resulting in one of their members gaining a few new holes in her armor), they managed to burn a hole through the door of the mansion and break in. Inside, after a quick search, they located the safe room, and quickly set to knocking on the door with their shoulder-mounted missile. After some back and forth, they came to realize that one, the senator and her husband thought that they were someone else, and that two, that someone else had taken their daughter, and was using her as leverage. Now this was something they were prepared for - assaulting a hardened bunker! The senator sent her daughter's location - using a beacon she had kept hidden from the kidnappers - to her desk upstairs. "Oh, that's a heavy desk, but I guess we can..."

"Oh, uh... check the drawer. There's a pad inside. Use that. Please... leave the desk here."

Calling for their drop ship and apologizing for breaking the senator's house and killing her security squad, the group headed towards the signal. A few miles out, the copilot relayed that the facility was heavily armed, and asked, "Do you want to go in hot? Like, HOT hot?"

The party agreed. Twice, actually, because the pilot asked in a somewhat disbelieving tone at first. As it turns out, HOT hot means instead of firing the marines at the ground, the dropship would fire a barrage of bunker-busting rounds, then fire the marines at extremely high velocity at where they hoped the hole was. With the warning, "When you land, MOVE!" the marines started their very rapid journey. Everyone landed and moved, except for the overweight sniper, who rolled into the wall in front of him and bounced back; lucky for him, the last member bounced off the wall above his head, having not actually been fired before, and entirely unsure of what to do. She pinwheeled through the air, bounced around through the hole, and slammed into the wall, sliding down somewhat disoriented.

After killing half the personnel in the facility (not that they skimped - they only met half the facility), the team finally located the girl - Annalise - and with a few well-placed shots, took out her captors. And rescued a bulky suit of mechanized armor:
Heavy Armor 10; weapon hardpoint; pace 10; built-in targeting system. Oddly... the sonic grenade they threw had no effect on the girl. Hmm.

Returning her to her parents (and freaking out the police), they bid them farewell, refusing to tell them how to get in contact. Later, during debrief, Captain Grainer explained that he had gotten in contact with them afterwards, and offered his support whenever they needed it.

And then, for once, everyone got a real vacation - a whole week with nothing to do. What could go wrong?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Musgrave Poem

Arriving home from their adventures, the Musgraves (and friends) return home, where Geoffery Musgrave, with some amount of groaning, set to the mountain of paperwork that awaited him. However, a letter awaited him: his great Uncle had passed away, and in so doing, left a small amount of money to various members of his family - among them being the Musgraves. They were invited to a meeting a few days hence at the Musgrave Manor. The uncle, Reginald Musgrave, was already buried, but the will was to be read; additionally, since Reginald was quite the fan of parties, a huge event was to be thrown, and thus guests were encouraged to bring friends and family.

Bertie attempted to learn how to throw knives from Jo; he was... mildly successful. Depending on who you asked.

Desmond St. Price, happy that his nephew was enjoying his time with the Musgraves, left him in their care, though took Penelope with him. Veronica was tired from her travels, and remained at home; Frances decided to keep her company, while Jo opted to go with the Lady Musgrave.

Two days later, they were moved into their rooms (Piper, who drove everyone there, stayed with the other help in the employee housing), and at 9 AM promptly, the reading of the will commenced. The barrister, Roger M. Gently, read the will - the house and the little fortune that remained was to go to Reggie (Lord Reginald's grandson, Lord Reginald Musgrave IV) and his wife. However, there is a treasure, hidden somewhere on the property; were it to be found, its wealth would be divided amongst the family and friends, and part given to the British Museum. The treasure was connected to a poem:

Find the face that workers tread
Hook the eye and wet its head
Pull the teeth and be then lead
With other kings to buy our bread

The barrister clears his throat, and added, "In a strange turning of fate, the treasure was uncovered by Lord Reginald himself only three weeks ago, though he refused to say where it was, only that he would write down its location in his will. Unfortunately, that time never came, as his illness was very sudden. His will stands as written, if the treasure is rediscovered."

There is some discussion, in which the family agrees that apart from a small fee - "Spending money, wot wot" - the treasure should be donated to the museum. Most of the family were only somewhat interested in the treasure itself.

As the reading was wrapping up, Bertie noticed another boy his age - Humphrey Silversmith II - sitting behind one of Reggie's friends, Me. Eustace Spode. Seeing Bertie, Humphrey put his finger to his lips, then stood up, back up a few feet, and laughed uproariously, catching the attention of the adults. As Spode turned, he tripped on his shoelaces - tied together by the bratty child.

In the crowd of distant relatives and their friends, there were a few that actually seemed interested in treasure hunting, among them Mr. Rudolf "Kipper" Herring, Mr. Freddie Glossop and his friend Mr. Edgar "Bicky" Bickersteth, Mr. Cuthbert Wilberforce, and Miss Cora "Corky" Winkworth.

First, the family went to investigate the garden, and its sundial, suspecting the "face". While Lady Musgrave and Piper spoke with the gardener, George Bingley, Bertie and Jo picked their way into the garden shed, then quickly fled the scene when Lady Musgrave wandered over. She looked over the shed, but saw nothing of importance. While she was investigating, Bertie decided to relieve himself on the shed, and was caught and firmly cuffed for his impertinence.

Hearing that Professor Enoch Bassington-Bassington knew quite a bit about the history of the house, they returned to the house to speak with him. He told them that the house itself was only 215 years old, but the stables (and attached workers quarters) were quite old, having been built in 1192, originally as a small barracks. The barracks was converted to living quarters for servants, but the stable is still used for horses. He mentioned that Sir Oswald "Pigeon" Widgeon knew more about the actual poem and associated treasure, but the party decided to head to the stables.

Bertie explored the barracks/living quarters, and tried the doors, but found nothing in the open ones. The three locked doors belonged to Emily Byng, the maid, George the gardener, and Piper, temporarily next to George. Finding nothing interesting, he joined the rest of the party. Lady Musgrave's keen eyes spotted a strange looking stone in the floor - the face of a winking fat man, with a snaggle-toothed grin. Looking closely, she realized his "eye" was actually a hole! Bertie grabbed a hook off the wall, and managed to wrestle it into the eye, as Jo poured some water from her canteen on the face. Pulling the hook did nothing, and for a few moments they were stumped. Finally, Jo and Bertie left to get some water from the well. Returning and pouring the full bucket on the stone's "head", they watched the water quickly drain into a tiny crack. A moment later, there was a clunk! Jo and Bertie gave the hook another pull, and this time, the stone tilted, and slid across, revealing narrow stairs down!

With her torch (flashlight) in hand, Lady Musgrave led the way. Inside, they found an entryway, that lead to a small workroom (with a heavy bronze hammer), and finally a bedroom of a sort. Lady Musgrave spotted a shelf, surrounded with scraps of rotted leather; as Bertie carefully put the pieces of the "puzzle" together, she took a closer look. Something wooden was kept on a low stone shelf, next to what Bertie pieced together - a bag that could hold roughly a basketball. Jo discovered a scrap of pink taffeta, torn and stuck to a loose nail in the doorway.

Whatever treasure was here... someone else had discovered it, and stolen it!

As they returned to the light of the stable, one of the youth came to inform them that lunch was prepared (The chef lived in town, and thus didn't stay in the barracks).

The adventure will conclude... next time! Whenever that is.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Nukes, Bugs, and a CRAAAZY Escape!

Two of the members of the party awoke in darkness. Quickly, they lit their flashlights (and in the case of the guy afraid of the dark (nyctophobia), lit two lighters and an extra flashing, too), and took a look around. Each was in a small, cave-like area, barely six feet wide and 12 feet long. Tentacles wrapped around the room, and a leathery skin-like covering that seemed to be some sort of doorway. A thick, slimy, mucus-like, grey sludge covered the room - as well as their sidearms, supplies, and armor. wiping everything off as best as they could, they realized their rifles were missing, as were their flamethrowers, grenades, and other high-powered weapons. They were left with their sidearm, some ammo, their (de-powered) melee weapons, and most of their gear.

After cutting and/or pushing their way past the leathery door-flap, the two upright members of the party met each other in a narrow hall, filled with more leathery doorways. The nyctophobe found one of the party's ghosts, and kicked him awake; startled, he vanished in a blink. Freaking out a little, the nyctophobe started muttering to himself about ghosts - more so when he heard footsteps behind him, and saw no one there!

After a little trial and error (and successful fear checks), the party was reunited. Listening carefully, they heard wind from one direction, and headed that way. Everyone was present except the Ghost; she wasn't in any of the rooms, and even her gear was nowhere to be found.

Outside, they found a ruined city, obviously having been attacked by the Kchurg; after a short discussion, they returned to the cave, and explored the other direction. At the end of the tunnel, they found a hollowed-out room filled with leathery eggs. Correctly surmising that they have been left there as food for the soon-to-hatch brood, they carefully crept out again.

Those with ghost abilities were sent into the city; they found a ruined office building, which was bereft of unspoiled food, but had running water. Sending for the others - and fighting a razerdog on the way - they made it to the building and got cleaned up. Once reorganized and with working sidearms, they set out to find somewhere a little less damaged, in hopes of finding some decent food. The area looked as if it had been attacked about three weeks prior, so a lot of food was spoiled; no fresh fruit, for sure.

Heading for a stronger looking structure, they ran into a strange man who introduced himself as Crazy Jimmy. Professing to be a drifting engineer, he managed to avoid answering a single question they asked. He did, however, suggest that he had a way to escape the city.

One of the more hardy-looking buildings had some minor damage, but enough hardening to look like a decent place for supplies. Inside, they found bloodstains and shells - or rather, not shells, but rocket-gun casings. Hoping to find the owners, they searched the second floor (the first floor was a huge lobby), and uncovered a break room, with a working beverage and snack dispenser! They quickly smashed it open and pulled out any unspoiled food. Next door was a security office; there were obvious signs of a struggle, and a bloody smear of a handprint on the pad. Unfortunately, using tape to press it didn't open the door. Down a long hallway was another security door, this one with a pair of cameras guarding it.

Checking the fire escape, they found a perfect handprint; ever-so-carefully peeling it up with tape, they managed to transfer it to the hand scanner in front of the security office! The door only opened a little way - too little to enter the room in armor - and after a short discussion, "DASH" was picked to enter the room. Gagging on the smell of death, he found half of a security officer in the door, and another dead officer sitting in a chair, his oxygen tank long since run out. Luckily, he found a security swipe card on the man, and was able to pull some nice weapons from the gun safe. They headed back down the long hallway, and swiped into the room. After a tiny lobby, complete with secretary desk (empty), the room continued up some glass stairs, ending at a massive pair of wooden doors. In fact, black walnut - wood not found on Quern, as it was native to Earth. Whoever owned this place was loaded.

Inside the doors, they found an opulent home - and better yet, food! Steaks in a curing chamber, cheese, wine, alcohol (including some insanely expensive Snakebite Whiskey and some very expensive Black Label brandy), and even weapons. They also found the owner, hidden behind a secret door, having shot himself while listening to Bolero, the classical piece by Ravel. The music was playing on a loud loop.

Settling in and looting the place, everyone enjoyed a lovely meal and a good rest on the various beds (one huge "for show" bed, one comfortable king-size bed, and one rather strange round bed, that was inexplicably pink, and had fluffy handcuffs dangling off of it). In the morning, they awoke to Crazy Jimmy making breakfast: beans and sausages. They didn't complain much. Afterwards, they asked Jimmy what his plan was.

"Aha! Well, you see, here's the deal, now: before we can get off this rock, we gotta nuke something! Oh yeah, nuke it REAL good!"

The immediate response, of course, was, "Uh... wait. A nuke?"

"Well, yeah! Y'see... a bullet has a name on it, right. A grenade is more of a 'Dear Sir or Madam'. A bomb is addressed, 'To Whom It May Concern'. But a nuke? A nuke is more of a PSA."

He leaned forward and grinned toothily, while attempting a subtle wink. "Gotta nuke 'em all!"

By bits and pieces, the party unraveled his plan. He had, it seems, found an unexploded nuclear bomb, hanging in some webbing. When throwing rocks at it had failed to cause it to explode, he decided to enlist the assistance of the marines. He took them there, and after a brief fight with a detonating infested marine, managed to rig up enough flame thrower ammunition to burn the webbing and drop the nuke into the pit below it. Crazy Jimmy "borrowed" one of the nyctophobe's lighters, and handed over a box of parts, wired together. He tried to explain how it all worked, but only got as far as "the basics of radiofrequency cavities and klystron-based electron beams," before everyone was well and truly lost. He rephrased it.

"The pointy tube in the box makes the tiny lightning balls in the air all sing together so loud it makes the big dumb space-bag go quietly insane because it can't hear the voices in its giant head, and that lets you yell at it, an' hopefully it'll listen better'n you dumb lot. Here, this button makes it go whoosh. Now git, I gotta warm myself up for my PSA."

Hurrying to another tall building (this one with four of the fleshy, floating creatures hanging in the air above it), they managed to toss a rope up and climb inside. It was a rather unenjoyable experience. Inside, they pushed the button, and the creature shook and moaned; it called for a pilot. The pilot stepped up and found that the "controls" were, in some way, familiar, as long as he closed his eyes and pretended he was wearing meat gloves.

Up they went! After a few minutes, the nuke dropped, and the city and surrounding hills were blasted sky-high. The creature they were riding in rocked, but they managed to gain altitude and head into space. Once there, they were fired upon by another ship - a friendly one! They managed to contact it, and left their rather disgusting transport behind.

Once aboard the damaged battle-cruiser, they introduced themselves, and learned that they were on fairly equal footing with the crew - after a battle with space-borne Kchurg, the ship was damaged, and the entire bridge was destroyed. They had been keeping the ship and minimal power levels, as the creatures seemed to sense energy.

Alarm bells sounded! From below, a shuttlecraft rocketed towards them, pursued by the ramming Kchurg; some quick firing managed to blow them out of the sky, and allowed the shuttlecraft to land. Inside were the Lt. Commander, and Ghost, as well as a few other survivors! They had used the distraction of the nuke to flee the planet, promising to return for the others once it was safe to do so.

The ship, however, was in no state to fly down, and the other battlecruiser - and its captain, General Acetus - were destroyed. They decided to flee into jump space, to give them time for repairs...

Unfortunately, they had forgotten about the Duul'Tlak blockade! Dash was quite surprised - "What, what? Who are these guys?! I thought the Duul'Tlak were those bugs we were fighting!"

The blockade immediately opened fire, as the navigator, with the assistance of the aces, dodged as best as they were able. After only a single barrage, however, the firing shifted to new targets - the Kchurg! As if the battlecruiser were dragging them from the planet below, huge creatures sped towards the stationary Duul'Tlak. Most of the creatures were shot down, but the few that made it through tore through the Duul'Tlak ships.

The battlecruiser, with only a lone Duul'Tlak still focused on it, sped beyond the gravity well of the planet and made the jump into jumpspace. Once again, the party got a bit of a break. There weren't steaks, but at least they didn't have to worry about anything eating them or burning holes in their brains.

Finally, the ship dropped out of jumpspace. The navigator began taking bearings to determine where they were, but none of the star charts were lining up; puzzled, he started doing calculations. They ended up in a solar system, with at least one habitable planet... And judging by the absolutely massive ship that approached the battlecruiser, the system had a pretty good amount of tech, too! The navigator took that moment to inform the crew of their current location: Omega Parada.

The other ship hailed them, and nervously, the comms officer opened the channel, filling the secondary bridge's screen with... bugs! Multi-eyed, carapaced, bugs! Though... not like the Kchurg. Oddly, the bugs were wearing... uniforms?

Through their translation software, the crew were greeted by Lord Dappled Sunlight of the Kchk'Trrs, who welcomes you to the Omega Parada system, his home. After some back-and-forth with the Lt. Cmdr, the lights suddenly dropped to red alert! Multiple targeting systems locked onto the battlecruiser, and the other ship immediately fired, blasting the rear engines!

After a few tense moments, the comms pinged again. It seems that a Kchurg had stuck on and made the jump. Obviously upset, Lord Dappled Sunlight immediately took the entire ship hostage - for their safety, as much as anything. The party received a hurried advancement, becoming officers, just so they would get better quarters. Which were actually really nice, even if they were bug-shaped. The Kchk'Trrs had obvious high-tech laser weapons and stung guns, far outstripping the tech of Earth, which provided quite a bit of diplomatic encouragement not to die like an idiot by trying to fight them.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Ghost Initiative

Outpost 7 is a carefully hidden base, blended into the foothills of a nearby mountain range. It was one of the original bases on Quern, and as such, is stocked with weapons, ammo, and armor is available. Because of its out-of-the-way location, not only was Outpost 7 not a target during the original Duul'Tlak invasion, but it managed to survive the first wave of the newest threat. Over the next two weeks, stragglers pour in from all over Quern. Some troops were fresh as a daisy, and confused as the the sudden panic, while others were just as war-torn as the party. News filtered in; the Duul'Tlak were tough, but these monsters are far, far worse. Cities were wiped out by the rampaging monsters. It's a good thing most of the civilian population were pulled out.

Apart from a few patrols to keep everyone from going stir crazy, the party decided to invest in the surgical facilities, and upgraded themselves with countless cybernetic enhancements. A few decided to try out for this new, secret UEA program... the Ghost Initiative. After a major surgery, where complicated tech was implanted in their head and body, the newly-reformed characters found themselves having attained new powers...

And of course, new weapons. The UEA Fireteam grew by one member, and more than one marine decided to grab a sniper rifle and a pile of grenades.

After the two weeks of "R&R" elapsed, Lt. Cmdr. Lars Thawaar called the troops to one final all-hands meeting.

"Men and women of the UEA, we've been getting reports of these creatures - we're calling them Kchurg - moving this way for a while now, but it looks like they are gearing up for a scrap. As animal-like as they are on the battlefield, something intelligent is controlling them; they've got us cut off from any other way out... except for a path through the mountains. It's tough, but it's the only way. That said, we simply can't get through just yet. We've got excavation clearing a path, but it's going to take at least 48 hours, and intel suggest we've only got 30 before those creatures come charging in. We've got the tank sandbagged in, plus two mechs we managed to get running and souped up, plus whatever equipment you can get your hands on, but that's still not much."

He takes a slow look around the room. "Your orders are this: survive. Keep everyone here safe for as long as you can. You are our last, best hope of living through all this."

The battle was a long, drawn-out fight, as the waves of Kchurg washed up against the long-guns of justice. Only a few of the creatures managed to make it all the way to the front lines, and those were quickly dealt with. Carefully chosen shots eliminated the large Fleshies, and the rocks they hurled were no match for the tough armor of the mechs. They gained an unlikely companion - The Ghost, the original member of the Ghost Initiative, and one of the most famous UEA army. Her likeness was plastered on all manner of recruitment posters and bunk walls. Not that she cared. Her nigh-on robotic sniping abilities were legendary, but she lived only to end the next enemy.

Finally, the main wave of the Kchurg arrived. The wave of razor-dogs was still held at bay, as the troops retreated back into the main building. The last marine in the tank decided to stay, to provide covering fire until everyone was inside. It took a little convincing for the last mech pilot to not die heroically, but he stepped inside the blast doors as they closed, safe and sound. They kept up radio communication with the tank as they moved through the base. She ran out of bullets, first on one mini-gun, then on the other, and finally on the heavy cannon, but the smaller razor-dogs couldn't crack the tough tank's armor. She spent her final hour reading the tank's manual and learning how to crack the reactor, so she could send whatever larger creatures came for it skyward.

The route through the base was much longer than the party expected; after nearly five miles of trekking, they finally made it to the tunnel. Behind them, the last marines moved through the tunnel. Taking a moment to reload and attempt to fix the mech (unsuccessfully), the party were the last to exit the tunnel system. As they stepped into the narrow ravine beyond, they heard a thrumming sound overhead... Fleshies! The mech fired, but didn't manage to bring down the great floating beasts. Each dropped a load of razor-dogs and needle-snakes, as the uncomfortable thrumming sound got even louder in their brains.

The ground creatures were, for the most part, dealt with swiftly, in a burst of fire and bullets, but the sound in their brains grew louder and louder until they could no longer stand it. One by one, the party fell unconscious, even the Ghost...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Meat Grinder

After holding position for little more than an hour, the party was relieved by fresh troops. After some medical assistance, they were debriefed by Lt. Cmdr. Lars Thawaar, who had picked up camp and moved into the ravine. If all went well, he expected that they could break through the enemy defenses and hit the base where the rumored super-weapon was being deployed.

During their debrief, another group of recruits were deployed, this time shoving the line forward hard. They arrived en mass in an armored personnel carrier, and quickly set to defending the ravine from the newest wave of enemies.

The first onslaught was brutal, leaving several dead and dying, but the UEA troops gave as good as they got. One by one, the Duul'Tlak fell to the UEA guns. A tall spire between the two sides created a definite "our side" and "their side"; the Duul'Tlak took refuge behind the wall, and the UEA jarheads refused to advance past it. Grenades and gunfire flew in both directions, until the UEA troops were down to only a third of their original number.

Even so, they pressed their advantage, using their APC as a mobile shield and picking off the enemy one by one. A wave of reinforcements arrived, including a large mech, and soon the APC was taking fire! The two sides battled to a standstill, with the Duul'Tlak keeping out of sight of the APC's autocannon, and the UEA forces staying well away from the deadly gun of the Duul'Tlak mech.

The sound of a low-flying UEA troop carrier echoed up the ravine, and within moments, the jarheads were joined by the original party, as well as a few friends they had made earlier -  Lisa Tychus in her Fireteam armor, and Albert "Huffer" Huffman in his Heavy Weapons armor. Together, they opened fire on the enemy, quickly eliminating the last troops, and beginning to focus-fire the mech.

Suddenly, the ground beneath their feet rumbled, and dozens of creatures poured out! Some were the size of very large dogs (or small ponies), sporting razor-sharp claws on their backs, while others were tall, snake-like creatures with arms ending in wicked talons. Huffer was swarmed by the creatures, and fell, screaming, as they shredded his armor and tore him to pieces. The Duul'Tlak mech was surrounded by the snake-like creatures, and after two blasts of some sort of spikes or needles, it toppled over. The UEA troops quickly returned fire, with Lisa opening fire - literally - on the swarm of creatures, and the others hurling grenades and spraying bullets.

Surprisingly, they managed to wipe out most of the creatures almost immediately; the clusters of razor-dogs were no match for the grenades, and even the needle-snakes couldn't handle an APC blast to the face! The initial cheer was interrupted, however, as another wave of creatures poured over the side of the cliff, and from the direction of the ravine. While the APC slammed into reverse and provided covering fire, the marines leaped aboard and rode to the still-waiting troop carrier. Piling aboard, they saw several other carriers racing up the ravine; as the needle-snakes began spitting at their own craft, the pilot quickly pulled up and out of the ravine. As they rose into the air, it became clear just what was happening. Like a living carpet, the new creatures flowed down the ravine and across the plains to the south, while Duul'Tlak troops to the north opened fire on the newly-acquired target... but not for long. With no one left to eat in the ravine, the creatures quickly scaled the other side, and slammed headlong into the Duul'Tlak troops. The cannon fire targeting the carrier quickly faltered as the troops turned their attention on destroying the new threat.

The danger wasn't over, however; on the horizon, a large, blimp-like creature with dangling, fleshy tendrils floated slowly towards them. Smaller creatures flapped through the air, and suddenly dove towards the nearest ship! With a rending crash, the creature latched onto the fuselage, then suddenly exploded! The troop carrier fell from the skies, as more creatures began targeting other ships. Manning the guns, the marines kept most of the creatures from their own vessel, but another carrier took a hit. Dripping fuel, the only option was to escort the other ship to Outpost 7, one of the few military outposts nearby.

After several near misses, the ship managed to safely reach the outpost and land; the other carriers arrived as well, spilling out troops, medics, and equipment. Within minutes, they were once again rushed into a base... but this time, the battle wasn't for Quern, but for their lives. The Lt. Cmdr. estimated they had only a few days before the outpost would be discovered.

Luckily, however, Outpost 7 was well stocked with supplies; armor, weapons, ammo, and even surgery centers, if anyone wants to try a new limb on for size, or maybe get a few skills implanted?

More importantly, there is a discrete but urgent request for anyone with above-average intelligence for a super-secret project...

Friday, May 24, 2019

Musgrave Express

Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all my notes on this adventure! However, I'll try to reconstruct events based on my original notes...

The Musgraves and others begin packing up to leave, but Lord Musgrave uncovered a letter he had missed - there was a dig found by his "searcher" that may be interesting! He still needs to pack up, but he's sending the others ahead - on the Orient Express! After a day-trip to Munich, they board the Orient Express, en-route to Varna, Bulgaria.

The train was slightly delayed, departing at nearly 8pm. After meeting a number of the train's occupants, and causing a little trouble here and there, the Musgraves and friends settled in. Here and there, they cause glimpses of drama - tension between guests, and eventually, a murder! A man was thrown from the train!

There is a layover, and police question the group, but eventually give up. One of the guests, a Bulgarian named Küçük, seems very upset about a shipment of his, yelling at the conductor.

After some investigation, the party found a young Romanian boy; they freed him, and eventually smuggled him off the train. They had Küçük arrested for kidnapping, and additionally helped the American, James, find who killed his friend - a pair of mobsters!

A few days later, Mr. Musgrave joins them, and they continue on to the new dig.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

First Blood

With the War on Quern well underway, new recruits signed up daily, wanting to do their country - er, planet - proud. After a fast, grueling bootcamp, the fresh new recruits were flown from Nahundi to the staging area on Quern. On the flight over, they chatted briefly with the quiet Marcus Andwards, the young Joe "Over the" Hill, the wiry and well-tattooed Lisa Tychus, the gruff Jason Abshire, and the somewhat-plump Albert "Huffer" Huffman. Huffer joked, "Big muscles, fast reflexes... Say, any of you pass the IQ test? I hear they were looking for some smarter-than-the-average-marine types for some super secret experiment or something..."

Tuesday, April 12th, 2535

Almost immediately after landing, they were hustled into a large meeting room in the main bunker, where they listened to an address from General Acetus, an older man with a well-chewed cigar.

"All right, people, listen up. I'm sure you've heard about the big, red, dumb idiots that are shaking their sharp sticks at us. That's wrong. 100% wrong. These Duul'Tlak are crafty, smart, and a lot tougher than a couple skinny army boys like you lot. They've got tech like ours - gauss rifles, even some early prototype laser weapons. They have heavy armor and more troops than... [sigh] Look. They've got us outnumbered, and there are rumors of a super-weapon they've got. We need to stop them, and we need to stop them now. This won't be easy, but we do have a way. We need recon, though, and that's where we're sending you now. Get out there, and do us proud, soldiers! Dismissed!"

The troops were loaded up, and rushed to the front lines. The first sign of the enemy was a simple engagement - four scouts, quick but not well armed. Advancing forward, the group next found a slightly larger group, this time with a pair of melee fighter, much tougher than the scouts! Even with sniper fire, they managed to destroy all resistance, quickly rooting out the snipers.

That area cleared, they were picked up and taken back to camp for a quick rest. One soldier, wounded in the line of duty, managed to spot the entrance of a ravine, something that might work as cover.

Wednesday, April 13th, 2535

The next day, they were once again roused for another meeting;the room wasn't as full as it was the day before. General Acetus shared the night's planning:

"All right, boys. The recon was a success. We found a hole in the enemy defenses - a narrow chasm that runs perpendicular to the enemy fortifications. Hopefully, they haven't found it, and we can sneak in unperturbed. I can't stress this enough - you need to kill every last creature in this ravine, or yesterday was for nothing. Get moving!"

Once again, the troops were herded into troop carriers, and shuttled into the forest. The first skirmish of the day was much rougher than the day before; wounds were taken by several marines, but the enemy was beaten back once again. Again they clashed, and this time, two of their number fell - one permanently. They called for assistance, but were told not to fall back - the camp was coming to them. They bunkered down, and waited for assistance...

Thus concludes the first session of the Battle for Quern! Rough, but rewarding, I hope. As a note, everyone who survived (and everyone who gets a new character next session) gets an advance: improve one skill currently equal to or over its linked attribute, improve two skills currently under their linked attributes, improve one attribute, add one edge, or remove one hindrance!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Monster Mystery Makes Mad Mage Meet Machete

In an attempt to bolster spirits, the party traveled to Dallas to eat some delicious food. It cost a bit of money, and unfortunately Alistair's roommate tagged along, but forgot his wallet...

After a lovely meal, Will overheard two men discussing an ABC - Alien Big Cat. Catching up, he asked if they needed any assistance; once they realized he wasn't just going to make fun of them, they offered to show the group what was going on.

Just off Rowlett Nature Trail, at a branch of the stream that drained into the lake, they had found an ABC, a large, black, panther-like creature. It kept to itself, for the most part, but recently, it had gone missing. The two men showed where it had been living, and after some discussion, left.

The party found traces of a ritual - wax from burned black candles, a crushed rattlesnake rattle, and other things. Then... the weirdness started happening. First, bark flaked off of a tree, revealing flesh beneath; once exposed to air, the flesh toughened back into bark.

They found tracks, and while following them, a small calico cat approached them, and laid a small heart at their feet. Moments later it dropped dead.

Reaching the far creek, Alistair overestimated his balance, and slipped off the fallen tree he was using as a bridge... one foot on each side. Wincing and groaning, he pushed himself to the other side, as Will and Toby managed to make it across without any trouble.

Continuing to follow the tracks, they found themselves walking out of the woods and into a very nice development... with a rather strange artifact of some sort. Nearby, they spotted man watering his flowers, and walked up to ask him some questions:

"Can I help you?"
Have you murdered any cats recently?
"What are you talking about?"
Anyone looked like they murdered a cat...?
"Why do you ask?"
Why do you think, there was a dead cat!
"Why would you think I would know anything about it?"
We were following tracks that lead us here
"Why were you following tracks?"
To find who murdered the cat
Turning to another member of the group: "Are you with this guy?"

This back-and-forth continued for over half an hour, with Toby and Alistair trying to get a straight answer, and the man only answering in questions. Eventually, fed up, Toby demanded the man actually answer, and the man suddenly grabbed his head, screamed, and passed out!

Stunned, the trio could only stare at each other in confusion. After a few minutes, a large owl flew up to a nearby window, pecked the glass until it cracked, then flew away.

Just as they began walking back, the sun suddenly skipped forward in the sky! Checking their watches and phones, they realized 84 minutes just went missing. Realizing the weird events were growing closer together, they hurried back to the site of the original ritual. In the underbrush, they caught sight of a strange, goat-faced creature...

Then, bursting out of the brush, they found a young woman chanting, already having started a ritual! Will dashed forward and kicked over half the black candles she had burning, and Toby tried to bull-rush her, only to miss as she dodged aside. Alistair, possibly going insane, unclipped his gun and started taking pot shots at her. He struck one or two glancing blows; Will continued disrupting her ritual, and finally, just as she chanted the last words, Toby managed to land a solid blow, knocking her out.

The ritual was complete, however, and a split second later, a wavering portal opened... with a roar, the strange white creature they saw earlier careened into the portal, just as a large, black panther leaped out! The portal crackled and snapped shut, as the leopard loped off into the woods.

Alistair quickly rifled through the young woman's... person... and discovered the ritual she had been using: Leofrick's Preternatural Scourge. He and Toby left; Will, unsure of what to do with the young woman, stuck around until she moaned and sat up. Seeing him there, she screamed and pulled out some mace! She sprayed it at him, but missed, only managing to get a little in her own eyes. "Why did you do that!?" she demanded.

Will tried to explain about the ritual, and why everyone thought it was a terrible idea, and how they were trying to stop it because magic is bad, and importantly, "I have a gun too, but I didn't shoot at you, I knew that was a bad idea!"

She stared at him, red-eyed, and shouted, "IF YOU KNEW IT WAS A BAD IDEA, WHY DIDN'T YOU STOP THE OTHER GUY!?"

Eventually, Will managed to calm her down, and escorted her to the others. Alistair, meanwhile, realized that he had neglected his roommate in his vehicle; somehow, the roommate had emptied the car of its contents and created a rather intricate artistic sculpture on the lawn. Groaning, Alistair had him collect it all and put it away; he was just getting into his car when Will and the young woman - Virginia Scott - showed up. She stalked over to his car and demanded her grandmother's ritual back; after a tense standoff, Alistair finally gave up the paper.

Fun fact: this was a completely random adventure, originally created to eat a little time until everyone showed up, then expanded because no one could figure out why the guy was talking in questions...

Who
Supernatural: A creature, ghost, demon, or human with supernatural abilities is on the prowl.
Double Trouble: There are two forces at work here.
Two Cryptids: A natural but unproven creature such as a chupacabra, skunk ape, or night panther. (In this case: a night panther, aka ABC, and the Lake Worth Monster)
What
Missing person: Someone is missing:
Paranormal: The victim is a supernatural creature; it may be good, redeemed, or the lesser of the evils. (The Night Panther, again)
Ritualist: The perpetrator practices the black arts. A master. (Virginia had a d12 in ritualism, though she hadn't done much black magic... yet.)
Why Accident: The antagonists didn’t mean for anything to happen. (The portal wasn't meant for the night panther)
Where Out of Town, in Dallas
Complication
All Hell Breaks Loose: Magic or Ritualism gone awry causes a dimensional rift. A number of creatures enter our world and run wild. (The Forth Worth Monster, and the portals causing High Strangeness!)

I don't know about anyone else, but this was a fun way to end - certainly silly! We'll start up next semester; in the meanwhile, prepare yourself for the Battle for Quern!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Quern War: An introduction

July 17, 2889

In 2424, the planet Melga was settled by some of the first human explorers. However, in 2463, a mere 39 years later, Melga was attacked by the Duul'Tlak as the first known act of interplanetary war in the galaxy. For the next 70 years, Earth fought a few light skirmishes against the Duul'Tlak. However, in 2533, the Duul'Tlak reached Quern, and immediately set up a blockade. Quern was the only Jump-route connecting the rest of the known galaxy. That attack and blockade began a 160 year cold war, ending only in 2693 when the Kchk'Trrs helped the Earth forces break through the blockade. By 2741, the Duul'Tlak had been beaten back to their homeworld, and the war was over.

It was not, of course, the only war; AlSec's coup, followed by the great battle of 2880 was a terrible war, but removed the subversive AlSec from Earth and the other planets, thanks largely to the crew of the Shifting Horizon. The events that took place before, during, and after that war were released under the watchful eye of Emperor Julian and the crew of the Shifting Horizon, in an effort to maintain transparency. Of course, compared to the 230-year-long war against the Duul'Tlak, the information relating to the uprising of AlSec and the overthrow of the Earth is still fresh in our minds; few remember the final salvos of the Duul'Tlak war, let alone the opening ones.

But the Quern War and the Battle of Melga may not have been all that the history books had written. There are rumors that something else entirely was at play.

Excerpt from presentation on anonymous J-Web message board, 2855:
So the Duul'Tlak discover Jump Drive technology only a few years before declaring war on Earth, right? As far as we could tell, they never left their own system - no Jump tech. However, the seven years they even know about the tech, they managed to not only start replicating the tech, they were able to fully duplicate it! It wasn't perfect, but we're talking about technology that took hundreds of years for humanity to engineer that was rebuilt in under a decade. I think you'll agree that there is no chance of that happening. In aptitude tests, the Duul'Tlak are no engineers - warriors, yes, but not engineers. How did they copy our drives? Stranger still, there is no trace of the original Duul'Tlak technology. Their assault made it as far as Quern, and held there. It wasn't until the Kchk'Trrs helped us assault Quern that we even made it that far. What happened to our superior numbers? Superior tactics? Superior firepower? You've read the same summaries I have. The Duul'Tlok are great warriors and tacticians, but they couldn't stand up to our forces! A bare handful of worlds against all the resources of Earth? Really?
End excerpt

The document fueling these rumors of conspiracy is a single transmission, received during one of the major offensives on Quern. Much of the document is redacted; furthermore, after only one more offensive, Earth forces stopped most major offences, resorting to maintaining the existing battle line, and only devoting a trickle of forces to the war at large.
Scan of a military communication, circa 2538.

Though the redacted portions of the scan have yet to be uncovered, it is believed that General Acetus, aboard the Sturmmund, had perished, leaving his troops under the command of Lieutenant Commander Lars Thawaar. LtCmd Thawaar held out at Quern Military Outpost 7, though they were cut off from the main fighting force. Any further information about Thawaar and the forces at Quern Outpost 7 has been lost to time - or, if the conspiracies are correct, hidden from the public. What really happened at the battle of Quern? The world may never know...