Today, the the request of some of the players (mostly the ones who’ve come in in the middle or who can’t always make it), it’s Part I of a (very) brief summary of the initial sessions of the Gates of Shadow Shadowrun Campaign (part II will be along shortly). As usual, questions, annotations, more extensive notes on particular episodes, and (for those who weren’t playing at the time) notes on “what my character would think or want to know on hearing about this stuff”, are worth bonus karma points and – rather more importantly – make the game more involving for everyone.
The initial problem was simple: Youngsters were disappearing – locked room mystery style – from inside the secure Mitsuhama corporate compound. It wasn’t all that many, or very often, but the pattern was clear. Many of them were mid- or upper-echelon, the parents were (understandably) pissed, and security was baffled.
The case got dumped on Mr Eric Moore simply because his supervisor disliked him. Unfortunately, no team was available (of the three trusted teams, one was on a deep-penetration mission, one was busy in Africa, and the third had already vanished while working on the investigation) – so Mr Moore got authorization, and a modest budget, to put together his own.
He wound up calling in Mr Sticks (a semi-superhero with an interest in disappearing kids), who brought along Kimiko (an old acquaintance and ex-intelligence operative), and a free order of The Ninja along with Kimiko. It seemed that The Ninja was an old friend of hers, and had moved into her house a few months ago without her noticing – a game they’d played before.
After a brief evaluation, they concluded that – without some idea of what to look for – they were unlikely to find anything that security had missed. Still, if the disappearances were more widespread, there might be clues out on the street – and they certainly had connections there.
Investigation, threats, and beating up a bunch of gangers, got them the information that several of the local gangs had simply vanished, allowing other gangs to expand into their territory. They spent a good deal of time tracing down one of the vanished gangs home base – which turned out to be hidden in an old industrial complex, where they’d renovated an old multistory thermal-cracking tank as a hideout. Not a bad choice: six inches of steel, two feet of insulation, plenty of space, plenty of power, and tight security. They’d never have found it without magic and enhanced senses.
Unfortunately, all that physical protection, a halfway decent security system, several booby traps, concealed exits through the old piping system, fifty or sixty armed gangers, and whatever else they’d had, had been entirely useless. It looked like everyone there – men, women, and children – had somehow been compelled to line up, been ritually sacrificed, and the power channeled into the metaplanes. The place was awash in rotten blood and corpses, what records there were didn’t reveal much, there had been no survivors, and someone had set an astral seal over the place that had hidden it for months. It looked like whoever’d done it had simply appeared inside and somehow controlled everyone there, probably – judging by what was left of the impressions (even though the power signature had been wiped away) on the physical level, rather than the mental. They’d all known what was being done to them, and had been helpless to resist.
They called in Lone Star – and wound up trading some information with Detective Davril Onslo. There was a wave of disappearances, mass, and individual murders going on, with at least four different patterns, most of them magical, and one of them specializing in the mass murders of gangs that wouldn’t be missed much. They agreed to keep a lid on it for the time being – just like several other groups that had found massacred gangs.
Mr Moore was pretty outraged. If the vanishing kids were going the same way, whoever was doing it was going to die as soon as he could possibly arrange it.
So; if the kids were being abduced via astral magic – an impressive feat all by itself – that left identifying how the kids were selected and catching the abductor in the act.
They spent a lot of time analyzing the records of the kids, doing database searches on their interests and looking for other people who’d run similar searches, examining what had been taken along and left behind, their patterns of activity, and much more, trying to find a way to predict likely targets. It looked like “Zagorchi Inc” had run a near-identical search out of a Carribean datahaven about four months back, Renraku had run a couple, the “Youth Advantage Policlub” (looked like a “boy scouts” sort of thing for disadvantaged youth) had run one about eight months back… Nothing direct there. They turned up a con artist (the “Archmage Sandorr”) who sold home-magic training and such, and wiped his files – but that was a dead end too. About all they could come up with was that most of the kids had been using computers just before they vanished – but there were no unusual outside connections and usually nothing running but games.
Eventually The Ninja came up with a brilliant notion; check for computer keystrokes and clicks that didn’t match what was running. A lot of randomness there shortly before they vanished – but still no way that made sense. It was something they could write a surveillance program to watch for though.
Somebody was having high-powered watchers drape themselves over the kids computers to communicate with them privately. Apparently whoever it was was avoiding the raising of alarms and screaming and such by convincing his or her targets to come voluntarily.
They watched for the pattern, set an ambush – and got spotted. The two kids involved made contact later on via watcher, and then were targeted by a ritual spell designed to haul them bodily into the astral plane. One got “away” – with Mr Sticks in supersonic hot pursuit – while the other got tackled and anchored by Mr Moore and put into a warded security cell.
The pursuit led Mr Sticks to a metaplanar rift in an old warehouse in the barrens. The kids were being physically kidnaped into the metaplanes? That made no sense at all. Neither did the gate. Investigating that revealed a charnal house, some sort of experiment gone horribly wrong about a year back, a gate that threw back far more powerful spirits then went into it (Mr Sticks pursued one to South America, but it seemed relatively harmless; it just wanted to restart it’s cult), some notes that had once belonged to “The Professor”, some ghostly psychic impressions/clues, and a bunch of super-powered bums living in a dirt-filled warehouse and tunnel network. Possessed by some sort of spirits that granted them inhuman strength, durability, the ability to spit acid, and several other powers.
The ensuing fight didn’t go well. They wound up screaming for help on the open airwaves, complete with live-action footage. They got help from the military, Mitsuhama, Renraku, Lone Star – although the military claimed precedence, and enforced it with lots and lots of firepower. They also took over the site and put up wards around it after clearing out the squatters in the area (a project which got Mr Moore temporarily blinded, given visions of hell courtesy of one of The Ninjas darkness spirits, and nearly persuaded him to kill some squatter kids). Feeling that the wards should stop the disappearances for the moment, and that they’d have to study the information in the notes to see if there might be any way of getting the kids back, the group decided that the hostile possessing spirits were likely behind at least some of the other disappearances, and decided to work that angle: letting alien spirits devour humanity was not anyone human or metahumans best interest.
Of course, they had to deal with Kimiko having flashbacks during the military debriefing first.
Mitsuhama, Lone Star, and British Intelligence all got a copy of the notes as well. The Professor had apparently been trying to initiate mundanes – and was, at least according to The Ninja (no mean magical theorist himself) an astounding genius. His system might actually have worked if something hadn’t gone horribly wrong.
With partial notes to go on, and a head start on everyone else, the group embarked on an attempt to trace any surviving participants of the experiment and on trying to find out who “The Professor” had been.
One actually proved relatively easy to find; he was still taking street-level jobs as a guard/assassin for hire. Wnt by “Copper”. Unfortunately, he was off the grid. Fortunately, he took jobs – and all they had to do was put out the word for a meet with money up front. Unfortunately, he was obviously mad, possessed formidable powers of his own, and not inclined to meet Kimiko’s attempts at intimidation with friendship. They managed to work together on a peaceful basis eventually anyway.
They eventually found out that he was containing a powerful lizard spirit, was suppressing all emotion to handle his own trauma and control the spirit, and was hunting bug spirits. He’d been responsible for some of the odder murders recently – street people possessed by beetle spirits, and slain in massive physical confrontations. He knew where there was a nest too big to attack.
Investigating that – and an abortive attack – led them to the conclusion that much of the block was under the control of insect spirits, that they had an underground complex set up, and that they had some fairly heavy weaponry. They seemed to be recruiting by infesting people who were currently immersed in simsense games, and unable to resist.
The group called in the reserves – mostly the military (under Captain Daniel Turner) and corporate reserves again – and had a block war. This led to a fair amount of looting, the capture of some spirit-infested youngsters, and a massive explosion that took out most of the underground complex. Samiel – based on several oddities in the sequence of events and the fact that the best weapons the bugs had purchased had not made an appearance – was of the opinion that it had been a setup and cover for the escape of the queen, although most of the others doubted it. (Copper disappeared in the aftermath, and apparently turned up some time later chasing insect spirits in Chicago; this may or may not support Samiel’s theory).
They decided to leave the beetle-spirits to the military , lone star, and Copper. Chasing individual, independent, bugs was a job for an organization, not for them.
Things were calm for a day or so after the debriefing. They got to work on trying to figure out more about the metaplanar gate and continued to try to trace down who “The Professor” had been. Maybe if they got enough information they could get the vanished kids back; it didn’t SEEM like they’d been eaten by bugs.
The Professor turned out to be one Erik Lovell, a graduate student at the Seattle University – and they managed to retrieve his personal computer and a sizeable stash of markers from the building where he’d been renting an apartment – although Samiel did kill the crazy woman who’d been renting the place and they had to bribe the manager to retrieve a box of Eriks personal property from his storage / auction room. After the Professor’s computer ate Kimiko’s, they decided to leave it alone for the moment.
Then an impossibly powerful astral barrier went up around the Renraku Arcology. Strong enough that mages sensed it going up miles away. Strong enough to have several dragons – including Lofwyr and Dunkelzahn – show up, in person, to have a look at it. Strong enough to be burning its way down into the ground to form a complete sphere, and far stronger than was theoretically possible. Investigation revealed that it had been recruiting computer-mages or “otaku”, downloading genetic species databases, bringing in supplies of rare earths and materials, and cutting off most outside contact – although it was still providing electrical power to Seattle.
They got in through the Ork Underground, and their private sub-basement entrance, thanks to some of the Professor’s markers. Unfortunately, the mission turned into a disaster, with two of the group captured and Mr Sticks and Kimiko escaping through the Mall – although they did manage to steal a great deal of valuable stuff on the way out. The Ninja bargained his way out, agreeing to not reveal much of what he’d learned about how the barrier was generated for two months. Mr Moore got mindwiped and – for some reason – given a high-speed trip to South America. They did get some information – mostly that the barrier had been put up because someone was fearfully paranoid about magical monsters – and that the Arcology was experimenting with antimatter, anti-spirit weapons, magic-nuclear reactors, and many other eccentric technologies.
Until Mr Moore got back, the group mostly spent their time doing barrier experiments: The Ninja had enough data to try a lot of things – and got some very interesting results (see the experimental files). When Mr Moore got back he got them organized for a massive theft. If Renraku was too busy with paranoia to watch the mall, there would be heaps of stuff free for the taking.
While they were getting that set up, the group took a job to divert Lone Star (which they did with a series of phony bomb threats), which turned out to be a diversion for a hit on Lone Star itself and the theft of a lot of data – including the Professor’s notes which Samiel had given to them. They kind of thought, just from the style and the drones, that it had been Renraku, but they never managed to prove it.
The robbery was a success – and netted the group a fairly enormous profit. It wouldn’t be possible to repeat it though: Renraku was coming back online.
Meanwhile, in part thanks to some extra clues provided by the group and to an ENORMOUS investment in investigation and computer searching, Lone Star had managed to eliminate one of the mass murderers – a madman who was attempting to become a god. Unfortunately, the gang mass murderer had run short of gangs and more or less gone public – taking out theater audiences, small policlubs, and other obvious groups. Interest in magical security was way up as a result.
Mr Sticks had some unique information though. The pattern looked a bit like some very ancient foes indeed – things from the last age of magic that his patron had told him about. Things that would produce terrible astral impressions on vulnerable minds. They went nightmare-hunting by consulting dream-therapists.
Thanks to a lucky break; one mage, a specialist in true sight and astral analysis, who’d seen something truly horrible and then fallen backwards through the Renraku barrier when it had reached for him, was in therapy with an image in his mind. The fact that it drew an astral attack from a spirit-horror-thing when broadcast on the astral plane showed it to be the face of a horror. That gave them a location under surveillance that got them down to a couple of hundred possible candidates for the possessed victim. Trouble was, every made in Seattle had been having a look at the barrier.
One was a security mage who’d recently developed a much-improved and cheaper technique for raising astral barriers. With the current climate of magical threats, his organization had been making a killing, and had been undercutting everyone else. Half the magical barriers in Seattle had been put up by Howell Occult Security.
If they were right, that meant that a horror could either bypass or remove most of the cities magical defenses at will, since the creator of a barrier was never adversely affected by it.
They set a trap – a supposed contract opportunity – and called in all their allies and Renraku with their anti-spirit weapons and set up barriers based on The Ninjas magical research.
Despite all that, the Horror nearly killed them all. It was only destroyed – or at least disrupted – in the end by an antimatter blast that was mostly channeled into the astral plane. It still put the entire group in the hospital, forced them to replace their cyberware and Mr Moore to move up his plans for a body replacement, and caused massive destruction. It also made the Military very unhappy that Renraku was deploying antimatter weapons.
While she was in the hospital with nothing to do but computer searches, Kimiko managed to make a very good case that it was a kid from Renraku who’d been involved in the Professors experiment who was behind the astral abductions – but still couldn’t tell why. She also called in Neo, a young hacker-friend of hers, to help out with The Ninja’s circle research while she was incapacitated and established that the Professor’s “Computer” was actually simply linked to the Seattle Shadowlands mainframe by a quickened linking spell. No wonder the defense programs had almost melted her old deck.
They set up their own initiatory group too – and Samiel rebuilt the Temple of David in Seattle, just for fun, and got a Levite in to do the sacrifices.