Divergent Paths – the Ardell Campaign

   The Ardell setting will be using the “Mutants of Eclipse” rules. Outside of incomprehensible alien-nanite induced “mutant powers” and minor psychic abilities (Witchcraft, with no Pacts, a limited selection of advanced abilities, and some upper limits on Power), this is a fairly “hard” near-future setting; there are personal energy weapons, fusion power systems, and FTL travel – but not much else that goes beyond conventional physics.

   The laws had been laid out across the ages since the galaxy’s dawn. Each race that evolved intelligence was allowed to claim a limited number of the galaxies uninhabited worlds; those with only primitive forms of life or no life at all. Other worlds might be surveyed, but not claimed or contacted until or unless a sapient race arose and either achieved star travel – or destroyed their own civilizations and could be taken on as a client species, in which case their sponsor or sponsors might share the young species allotment of worlds if they were successful in restoring their civilization. Otherwise, each races homeworld was sacrosanct.

   Uplifted races stood or fell with their creators. Most races stabalized. Other races might pass on – either into racial senescence and death or over ill-understood thresholds and out of normal reality – and deed their worlds to others. Provisions were made for disasters such as novas, but the laws were complete enough. There had been time to address a vast array of special cases.

   Conflict between the races had proven impossible to eliminate – but it could be restricted to a transfer of rulership over colony worlds and a sharing of their resources.

   Thus there were the galactic conventions of civilized warfare and governance.

   The Sli!kang’ were adhering to the letter of the galactic conventions.

   There would be no planetary bombardment, no massacres of civilians, and no bioweapons,. Any captured spawn below the species age of rationality would be turned back over to the humans unharmed. There would be no extermination.

   Still… the “humans” were short-lived – so short-lived that a significant portion of their population was made up of their spawn. They were young enough to have focused on expanding their colonies and on upgrading the environments of their initial worlds rather then on ensuring that breaking their defenses would be impossibly expensive.

   Over the next few millennia there would be more than enough time for the long-lived Sli!kang’ to encourage emigration, to discourage their breeding, to push the holdouts into a marginal role, and to integrate “Ardell” into the Sli!Kang imperium. It had no major defenses – and such an easy addition to the Sli!Kang’ sphere of influence was not to be despised.

   No truly civilized race would have found a defense – but no civilized race (by definition, a race which had come to truly understand it’s own minds and bodies, to have reached stability, and to have mastered raising it’s spawn to fit into it’s society) would have ever needed one. No civilized race was so naive as to leave it’s colonies so open and undefended – and races that achieved star travel before they achieved true civilization were vanishingly rare. There had not been another one in two billion years.

   The nanite infusion process was a bit of elder galactic technology. A system scavenged from an ancient installation and traded across the galaxy until someone finally palmed it off on one of the younger races that didn’t know any better than to play with such things.

   Fears of “gray goo” accidents had led the government of the Federated Earth to establish the lab offworld – in fact, on Ardell. It hadn’t been a big project. The fact that they’d gotten the system cheaply had been a fairly clear indication that the galactic community wasn’t very interested in it. Still, it was rare for humanity to get unrestricted access to any super-advanced alien technology, and well worth a look.

   Even out in the galaxy, no one really understood how the system worked, or what had happened to the race that had created it (beyond vanishing) – but presumably that race had not suffered a massive lethal or crippling failure ratio in children, and a 100% lethal failure ratio in adults and non-sapient lab animals, as humans (and every other species that had tinkered with the infusion system) did.

   Well, most of the alien races to examine the device had never tried it on a child.

   Humans had never done so intentionally either. The discovery that children sometimes survived the nanite-infusion process had been an accident, when several mischievous youngsters had managed to get into the lab to see what all the fuss was about. Only seven of the eight had died…

   The lone survivor had – somehow – integrated the nanites with her own cellular structure and had acquired some remarkable healing abilities – even if they hadn’t been enough to save her friends. Abilities that human science could not yet explain. That young woman was still the occasional subject of research years later, even if relatively little had ever been learned.

   No civilized race would have risked turning their own spawn into weapons with a process that would kill most of them. It was a violation of the galactic conventions on it’s own – but humans were still so ill-organized as to have individuals who would impulsively violate the accords and their own laws without any authority to do so. People who would, and of their own free will, try incredible longshots, even at a fearful price. No truly civilized race could deny intent, and simply punish a few individuals who had exceeded their authority rather than suffer sanctions.

   One researcher stole the device – and focused it on one of the elite schools. A place where some six hundred of the brightest, most creative, most energetic – and most troublesome – children of Ardell were in class.

   Every adult there died. So did 80% of the children. One hundred and twenty-three were changed. Wildly.

   Almost half were somehow crippled – but no two emerged with the same abilities.

   The Sli!Kang’ had not expected that. Their spawn made up less than 1% of their population. They were well-taught, well-supervised, and well-controlled – and the humans were exercising almost no control at all over their newly-empowered spawn. Instead, they were allowing them to be utterly disruptive…

   An organized, logical, and civilized species was confronted with a wave of juvenile delinquency that exceeded anything they had seen in their two hundred thousand years of civilized history – and the instigator had fled with the responsible device.

   In the occupation period the Sli!Kang’ will be – at least initially – fairly tolerant. After all, they want to make sure that everything seems acceptable, and well within the conventions, if only for the benefit of the rest of the galaxy. Besides, they’ll expect the local human population to bring this mob of suddenly-and-bizarrely empowered kids under control before they become adult menaces.

   When it becomes obvious that the local humans aren’t going to do any such thing – apparently preferring to let their spawn die while their “scientists” monkey around randomly with technologies which they don’t even comprehend – it will become a race; can a group of empowered youngsters and a few crazy adults make enough trouble to either make the Sli!Kang’ give up the occupation as a bad job – or to convince them that humanity is irrational enough to make sharing a world with them far more trouble than it’s worth in the long run – before they’re killed? The Sli!Kang’ will be operating under restraints – going all out after some misbehaving underage spawn would make them look pretty bad – but the conventions only offer a limited amount of protection to spawn who insist on making serious trouble.

   Later on, you’ll have a limited group of super-beings running around an early interstellar setting. Quite a few may wind up being pushed into governmental service, exploration teams, or special-operations (or mercenary) groups, others may become “super-villains”, while others may evolve in strange and monstrous ways – or perhaps become conduits for some forgotten elder race.

   Mutants Templates (at various ECL modifiers)

Recordings from the Holocron of Valerie Soung – Repercussions

   Valerie Soung, Trayus Academy, Malachor V

   I woke up in a daze and feeling very hungry. Looking out the window it was hard to tell the time as it was still dark and raining. The worst effects of the suppression drugs had worn off, but I was still left with the sensation that I was covered with fur. I was tired of sleep too.

   Getting up out of bed was a familiar exercise of trying to reestablish the finer points of balance and posture. Each step was easier than the previous one, and I quickly made my way to the bath. Looking at myself in the mirror, I saw the circles under my eyes indicative of the restless drugged sleep. My lip had healed nicely from the doctor’s treatment but there were still traces of blood around my nose and mouth. I blew the blood out of my sinuses and then washed my face.

   While I certainly wasn’t looking great, I certainly looked better than I probably did after the fight with Virstris. I tried to recollect the details of the fight to no avail. The drugs interfered with the ability to recall emotional memories. I knew Virstris and I fought, and we even began insulting each other but I couldn’t remember much more than that.

   Ah yes, she mocked my lightsaber, and I made fun of her lack of talent.

   Funny how I can think calmly about it now, but couldn’t then. I lost control and Mother had to stop me. Like a little child all over again.

   Pathetic.

   No bath was ready and I didn’t feel like waiting for Gab to come and prepare one. So I took a shower and let the water flow over me. I could feel my power returning slowly, but my grasp on it was as shaky as my legs. Another two to four hours and I should be back to full strength again. Blast it. The drugs could be blocked metabolically if you were quick and skilled enough, or isolated easily – but another sensitive made them difficult to foresee, and a hit in the neck was hard to isolate and left you with little time to work in.

   Toweling off, I went to hunt for clothes since none were laid out. I eventually found a simple day dress and put it on. It wasn’t the type of thing to wear about the Academy, but it would suffice around the residence. I didn’t plan on leaving while my power was still recovering. A quick glance at the clock told me it was late evening of the same day. Apparently I’ve been in bed for about eight hours.

   Downstairs I found that Mother had had the servants prepare meals that could be quickly reheated. A servant silently appeared next to me and waited for direction. I pointed at one of the meals and then to the kitchen and she quietly went to work heating it. I sat in the screened patio and watched the rain fall while I waited for the food.

   I heard the chair beside me slide out as someone sat in it. Trying to hide my startlement, I turned to see Virstris sitting there staring out into the rain as well. I decided not to say anything as my food arrived. Virstris declined the offer for her meal and I started eating. A quick look at her face told me she had been crying recently.

(Virstris) I was really hoping we could make this work.

(Valerie) I am not used to losing.

(Virstris) So I’ve seen.

(Valerie) So you really want this life I live?

(Virstris) I thought I did. After today though, I am not so sure. Seeing you lose control and Mother having to intervene really opened my eyes to the differences between us.

(Valerie) We’re not so different. We both want Mother and Father’s approval and are willing to kill for it.

(Virstris) Does that goal have to be mutually exclusive between us?

(Valerie) Mother and Father don’t seem to think so.

(Virstris) Work together towards that mutual goal then?

(Valerie) Sounds like a plan.

   That smile of hers returned to her face almost instantly. While a part of me couldn’t help but be sickened by the sheer cheeriness of it, I couldn’t help but smile a little too. If I can learn something from her, then I can put up with this.

   She went off with a bit of a bounce in her step. I had just about finished my meal and left the remains for the servants to clean up. While I was still tired, I was too tired to sleep. Not knowing what to do, I started wandering the residence aimlessly. Father had returned to orbit, and Mother was trying to handle my sister’s duties while she and I were “unwell.”

   I ran into Kira in one of the hallways. He was showing obvious signs of being beaten with all the bruises, burns, torn clothing, and bloody nose. I could only imagine it had been Father trying to break him. Part of me had to wonder if this was only making Kira fight back harder. Willful, headstrong, and doesn’t like to lose. Kinda sounds familiar in retrospect.

(Kira) Geez, did the same rancor that trambled me get you too?

(Valerie) Nope, I got to deal with the master assassin.

(Kira) Huh, you obviously won then. I hope you don’t intend to follow through with practice today.

(Valerie) Afraid you’ll lose?

(Kira) Sure, that’s got to be it.

(Valerie) Then we practice as planned. Grab your lightsaber and I will meet you there.

   He groaned, but complied. I went to my room to grab my own. I briefly thought about changing into something more pragmatic than this but decided to make a quick turnaround instead. Outfitted for combat, or at least practice, I went down to the training room to meet Kira.

   He was already there and waiting for me. He had switched to a tank top and loose fitting pants. He was a lot leaner than the robes would have suggested. He wasn’t scrawny by any means, but it wasn’t a particularly muscular build. I’d have thought all the practice would have put some meat on him. He certainly could move when he needed to.

   It was also easy to see the bruises and burn marks on him. Usually a training burn from a lightsaber was hard to pick out after a few minutes, but his pale skin showed them clearly as angry red welts. There were a number of them.

(Kira) Yeah, yeah, no tan lines. How does he do it you ask?

(Valerie) Getting smart with me?

(Kira) Would you prefer I got dumber?

(Valerie) I’d rather you kept your mouth shut.

   Again with the annoying bravado and jokes. You’d think it was all he could say at times. Still, to have held up for this long against Father was impressive, if futile.

   We started off with some basic warm-ups and then proceeded back to the free form practice we had done yesterday. Not pulling on my power too hard was easy given the handicap I was under at the moment. Luckily Kira was under his own and was unable to detect my weakness. He was beginning to learn move more fluidly and jerk around less in response to his precognition.

   He was also learning to integrate the shield into his own personal style better. Although I did manage to knock him off his feet with a kick to the shin once and another time with a backhanded strike with my free arm to his face.

   Exhaustion hit both of us quickly though as neither of us was in great condition. He sat on the floor recovering while I stood propped against the nearby wall.

(Kira) Looks like even you get tired when pushed hard enough.

(Valerie) We all have limits, while you should know yours, keep your enemy from knowing them.

(Kira) Cynical, if pragmatic.

   We finished practice quickly after a few more, we were both too exhausted and hurt to keep going any longer. Trouble is, you had to keep practicing whenever you could for fear of regressing. It did give me a good chance to reestablish my hold on my power under less than urgent conditions. Besides, practicing with him did wonders for my mood after a less than perfect day. Kira retreated to his quarters and I started heading back to mine.

   It was now getting late in the evening at this point. It was frustrating to have most of a day wasted because of a careless mistake. That reminded me, I had wanted to check on something today that I never got the chance to.

(Valerie) Thelos?

(Thelos) Yes, my lady?

(Valerie) Is the old trail still out there and in good condition?

(Thelos) If you are referring to the endurance training trail the family has used in the past, then yes. The mainentance droids have kept the trail cleared and warded.

(Valerie) Good, then prepare a transport in the morning for Kira and I to the beginning of the trail.

(Thelos) Very well then, I shall make the arrangements. Is there anything else you might require?

(Valerie) Inform Kira when he wakes up in the morning to be ready and properly equipped.

(Thelos) It shall be arranged.

   I would have much rather have verified that in person. Leave maintenance of such things to droids for too long and everything becomes a veritable garden. I wasn’t entirely clear on what programming limitation was responsible for that though. Servants worked much better for such tasks, but had their own overhead that made using them for such things costly. Besides, droids had to serve some purpose, and if it was to take care of the things no one else could be bothered with then what did I care?

   Arriving at my room, I could hear Virstris singing again in her room across the hall. For whatever reason it didn’t seem to bother me as much this time. Stepping into my room, I saw that Gab had already prepared my bath for me. The hot bath water stung my still healing injuries at first, but then it began to soothe and relax my body. The last traces of the headache and the drug induced fuzziness melted away in the calm serenity of the bath.

   The back of my head and parts of my face were still a bit tender, but should be healed by morning. Virstris could hit hard and hit where it could really hurt. Hell, the whole exercise this morning was a lesson in humiliation. It was also clear that Virstris and Master Luarn were operating on completely different playing fields.

   Master Luarn’s lessons were about overwhelming power, speed, and using the best possible attack at any given moment to cause maximum damage. Virstris was nothing like that. Virstris was all about flexibility and maximizing options. She could block or dodge attacks and move to counter them smoothly like it was a single motion. She didn’t need a plan of attack as you’d beat yourself senseless trying to attack her like I did. I’d hate to see what a Force immune could do with those techniques.

   My musings done, I got out of the bath and dressed in the nightgown laid out for me. I crawled into bed and let exhaustion come over me.

   This time I dreamt about a city at night. The streets were filled with floating lights of many different colors. There was music, and performers at every street corner. Children were running around laughing and playing. Men and women were enjoying themselves with their own amusements. There were games, food, and drink aplenty to be had by all. Most interesting though were the masks worn by everyone there, even the children. Some were ornate, while others were plain and simple.

   The dream was following a group of six youths trying to sneak into some of the adult festivities. They were busy trying to hide from the authorities much of the time. Right when success seemed to be within their grasp, one of them turned to look at me even though I wasn’t there. What struck me most were the piercing yellow eyes and the look of shock in them.

   Morning came with the sound of Virstris singing a song about timeless love or some such thing. Stretching the sleep from my limbs, I bathed and dressed in the clothing Gab laid out for me. Today it looked like Thelos told Gab what to pick as it was a dress cut into sections for easier leg movement with light matching pants underneath to maintain modesty. Definitely the type of thing I would want on a run.

   I left my bracers behind, but took my lightsaber along with me. I didn’t expect combat since the area around the trail was warded and patrolled by drones, but it was good practice to carry a weapon all the time and Father insisted I carry the thing more often these days. I met Kira in the kitchen already eating breakfast. He reeked of some strange smell.

(Valerie) Fail to bathe this morning?

(Kira) Since I am told we are going to be outside for some time today, I needed to cover myself with sunscreen. Or is the massive sunburn part of the lesson?

(Valerie) Are you always this much of an ass?

(Kira) So my friends and family tell me.

   He seemed to get lost in thought on that comment. I could catch glimpses of what I could only guess was him homeworld. He needs to learn to hide these things better, his thoughts could betray him to someone looking for leverage against him. Odd, some of those images looked familiar somehow.

(Virstris) Martial arts practice when you get back?

(Valerie) Sure, why not?

(Virstris) Good, I will be sure to have my stuff ready then!

   She then bounded off down the hallway humming some tune to herself. I caught Kira watching her move down the hallway and made sure he saw that I caught him looking. That pale skin of his made the blushing readily apparent. I would have said he needed to work on his tan to hide that sort of thing, but that wasn’t going to work with him. Shielding your thoughts did no good if someone can read your body lagnuage.

   Once we finished eating we went outside to find that the chauffeur had the repulsor flyer ready and waiting for us. We climbed aboard and strapped ourselves in as the flyer took off and headed out to the prairies beyond the mountains. Weather outlook for the area looked to be cool but not cold. Once again the clothing I was wearing was proving to be very appropriate to the expected circumstances of the day.

(Kira) Alright, just for my own education, what exactly is a run?

(Valerie) The average person can only run so fast for so long. Slowing down helps, but in the end you are trading speed for endurance.

(Kira) So run and try to hold the stamina technique as long as I can to boost my time?

(Valerie) And the speed technique too.

(Kira) Aw hell, for how long?

(Valerie) This particular course is about eighty kilometers in length.

(Kira) And I am supposed to run for eighty kilometers straight?

(Valerie) You can take breaks, but if you wish to have a flyer there to pick you up at the end, then best not to pause for long.

(Kira) Damn it.

   He then asked if there would be water and food at some point along the path and I told him no. That just further deepened his dark mood. At first I thought it was a sign of him falling to the Dark Side, but to no avail. Too bad, falling to the Dark Side might have helped him today.

   Eventually the flyer landed in a field with a stone landing pad. Kira and I disembarked and I watched the flyer head back to the residence. The wind was a strong breeze with a refreshing cool air to it. Perfect to keep from overheating badly on an outing like this. A pair of small repulsor droids floated next to us to signal the trailway. One would follow just slightly ahead of each of us to mark the trail through the otherwise featureless grasslands that seemed to stretch out in all directions forever.

   The grass itself was a myriad of spring colors as each species focused on a particular color of light. It looked in many ways like a canvas a painter had splattered paint all over with no heed to form or image. Strangely Kira seemed to have an almost identical thought and it caused him to chuckle slightly.

(Valerie) Is something funny?

(Kira) Not really, just thinking about how something like this would never be allowed back home.

(Valerie) Why is that?

(Kira) Too wild, too untamed, and too natural. The people of Alderaan expect the grasslands to be artistic gardens of color and form. Everything in it’s proper place and nowhere else.

(Valerie) Sounds boring.

(Kira) It is, especially after the thousandth damned field I had to help my parents plant.

(Valerie) Your parents are grasspainters then?

(Kira) Yes, about one of the most boring ways to spend a childhood I can think of. Even more so than watching the grass grow normally.

   I had to laugh at the thought of it all. I couldn’t imagine doing that sort of nonsense all of my days, let alone try to make a living at it. The fact he was even remotely sane was impressive. Did he rebel just to have something happen in his life and it’s become ingrained in his personality?

(Kira) There is just something magical about something like this that has been allowed to grow wild and natural…

   He looked at me as he said that towards the end and then his thoughts became very clouded before he looked away again. What in the galaxy was that about?

(Valerie) Alright, follow the droid in front of you while moving at the fastest pace you can sustain. Sprinting will only slow you down in the long run.

   We both took off at a hefty jog. I wasn’t straining myself in the slightest at this pace, but it did keep me within easy reach of Kira. I could sense his power flowing as he tried to balance the stamina and speed techniques. He wasn’t getting it quite right and was going to end up tiring within the hour. I considered taking off without him to leave him with only the droid for company, but something stopped me from running ahead.

   At first I ran just a little bit ahead of him to make a point of how I could blaze off if I wanted to. At first he was goaded into taking the bait and would push himself harder to try and keep up only to have to slow down again shortly. After the third time he stopped falling for it. So instead I fell into line next to him and felt his rhythm and matched it with my own. The grass rolled by quickly as we ran up and down small hills, jumped over creeks, and along tree lines.

   Eventually though, exhaustion caught up with him and he fell onto his knees breathing heavily. I paused, looked at him disapprovingly and then sat down on a nearby stone. The sweat was beading on his skin despite the cool air. At this rate he’ll dehydrate before finishing the run. So I signalled to one of the repulsor droids and supply droid that had been following us out of sight appeared moments later.

   I took out a water bottle from a storage chest on the droid and tossed it to Kira and then took one for myself. He drank it quickly and then looked at me.

(Kira) I thought you said there wasn’t going to be food or water during this?

(Valerie) I lied. It helped motivate you to keep going didn’t it?

(Kira) It helped me think about stopping at the next stream regardless of what you did.

   Why am I surprised? You’d think I’d remember his disregard for authority by now. At least he isn’t stupid enough to run himself to death like some of the idiots I’ve seen take this training. Tell them it’s a sign of weakness to stop for a break and they will kill themselves trying to prove themselves. Tell Kira no water will be provided on the run and instead he starts eyeing the streams he is leaping over.

   After discarding the empty bottles, we began again. This time I didn’t even bother trying to run a little ahead and just fell right back into his rhythm again. I could feel his Force power take to the pattern and begin to match my own after a while as we both began to speed up a little. Little by little he was improving and holding it together better. We began to take breaks less and less frequently. Hours later we began to reach the end of the trail.

   His improvement was remarkable though. I remembered doing this same run as a teenager and nearly breaking myself trying to do it in as few breaks as possible. It took me nearly eight years to finally do it in one go and Kira might be able to do it in one or two years. What was going on?

   It’s almost as if he is….

   All thoughts on the matter were suddenly interrupted as blaster bolts started streaming towards us both. Reflexively I fell to the ground and spun my legs into Kira’s to knock him down into the grass too. I could hear people trampling through the grass and talking on radios too. They must be pretty serious about this attack to have gotten past the droids that guard the trail.

   Not really expecting combat today, I had only brought my lightsaber with me. Kira I saw had brought his too. Gesturing to Kira, we dived into the tall grass to the side of the trail. Reaching out with the Force, I could sense a total of four attackers in the field around us. I quickly gestured to Kira the number and general direction and motioned for him to lie low for now. After making sure he understood, I stalked off into the tall grass to go hunting.

   The grass would have barely come to my waist normally and now I was trying to use it as cover. That meant I had to crawl to stay under cover, and crawling was not the quickest method of moving around. I briefly thought about just standing up and mowing my way through them but decided it was potentially suicidal. There was a reasonable chance they had brought a heavy repeating blaster and there was no way I could block something like that.

   I found that trying to sneak through the grass quickly without making noise was incredibly difficult. Deciding that speed was more important than being quiet, I levitated myself a foot off the ground while laying flat. Pushing myself telekinetically along the ground, I circled around at as high a speed as I could manage to the back of the pack. I could sense a lone strangler towards the back and figured he was likely to be a commander.

   Him first.

   I cut his legs out from under him with a quick slash of my lightsaber. Then stabbed him through the chest. From the camoflague tattoos and armor, I would say this guy was a Mandalorian. Looked like he was armed with repeating blaster rifles, flame throwers, grenades, flash bangs, and a vibrosword. Looks like this bunch is out Sith hunting.

   A dangerous game to be playing.

   His companions were already turning to see what had happened to their commander. I flung the now dead body at one pair raising rifles towards me while jumping on top of another to my right. He died with a hole in his heart and I rolled into the grass again. Two down out of four so far. Unfortunately they started spraying flames my direction with that. Trying to remain hidden while outrunning the Mandalorians and the flames was proving difficult. Never mind the occasional blasts of automatic blaster fire.

   I felt Kira doing something with the Force and heard one of the attackers swearing. Then I felt a good sized explosion wash over the area. From what I could sense, Kira had gotten the other two with that blast. I sensed Kira behind a large rock to my left and walked over there.

   He turned to look at me and I pointed to the explosion and gave him a questioning look. His reply was to hold up ten grenade pins dangling from his fingers while grinning from ear to ear.

   Clever.

(Kira) Friends of yours?

(Valerie) Probably mercenaries hired to kill me.

(Kira) Probably? Do assassins try to kill you for reasons other than your death?

(Valerie) Smart ass.

   He was grinning wickedly and I had to admit it was contagious. This was fun. I was rather annoyed to find out my dress was slightly burned though. At that point I noticed Kira was missing his heavy hooded shirt and was only wearing a tank top. Apparently he had used it to decoy the enemy fire while trying to get a good line of sight on the grenade pins. What remained of the shirt wasn’t worth bothering with.

(Valerie) Aren’t you going to get cold?

(Kira) It’s not the cold I am worried about. How far to the pickup point?

(Valerie) About twenty kilometers that direction.

(Kira) Best we get going then if I want to minimize the damage.

   We started off towards the pickup point at a healthy run like before. Soon though I could tell Kira was wavering, but it wasn’t exhaustion or lack of power slowing him down. It looked like the sun was slowly frying his skin given how red he was beginning to look. Turns out the sunscreen we’ve been giving him washes off with sweat, and now he was missing the heavy shirt too.

   When we did finally arrive at the pickup point, Kira was a deep red and was breathing hard. I helped him climb in and messaged for a medic to meet the flyer when we got back to the compound. The ride was unpleasant to say the least as I could feel his pain telepathically and it felt like my own skin was hurting just from sympathy. Not knowing what else to do, I tried to soothe his pain until we arrived.

   At the compound, Virstris and a medic were out to meet us. Virstris draped a blanket over Kira and the medic walked him into the medical center. Virstris watched them go before turning to me.

(Virstris) I take it you are unharmed?

(Valerie) Save for a few scorch marks on the dress and the fact that Kira accounted for half the kills today, I’m fine.

(Virstris) What did you do, take a nap halfway through?

(Valerie) Nope, he pulled the pins off all the grenades the Mandalorians were carrying.

(Virstris) Right, note to self: buy locking grenades. I’ve already got men searching the area you were attacked looking for any clues. We think we have an ID match with a group that came planetside after the station was destroyed.

(Valerie) Try to figure out which ship they came in on and trace it back.

(Virstris) One step ahead of you! They came in on that freighter full of hafnium. Got off and to the other side of the station right before it blew. Then took escape pods to the surface. We’d been trying to track them down ever since.

   Great, now Kira and I had just killed our only leads as to where that freighter had come from and who sent it. Mother was never going to let me hear the end of this.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 23

   Meanwhile, Ben and Lazlo had been ushered right past all the formalities and had been taken aboard the Super Star Destroyer – with had it’s own small Sith Academy to go with the colonization setup – for evaluation. They were startled to find that the staff was quite respectful, very obliging, and inclined to try to explain to Lazlo that he was no longer a slave…

   They probably shouldn’t have been. The staff wasn’t stupid – and if these two did become full-fledged Sith, it would have been most unwise to have offended them early on.

   Lazlo wasn’t having any – just as he’d objected to the Republic’s attempts at the same general speech. That actually made him MORE of a topic of interest; installing compulsions like that was supposed to be impossible – and if someone had found a way to do it, it would be quite a breakthrough in the field (installing fairly strong instincts is possible, but rigid rules like Lazlo is operating under require cooperation at some level – which is being supplied because the player feels that it fits the character conception). That report started up the chain of command pretty quickly.

   Ben was finding that basic force-use drills and simple training exercises were pretty much the same for both the Sith and Jedi. Hr was beginning to wonder just where the difference slay – and how much of it was simply viewpoint. Lazlo had described his familiarity with the Sith Pyramid Scheme technique – and this group had been sure that something had to be wrong with it without having watched some one tty to use it and explode. There was of course – no one could handle the massed power of a world without burning out – but most Sith didn’t recognize that before seeing it happen… They’d even explained Lazlo! They knew that there were plenty of untrained force-sensitives with weird limitations – even if they were all psychologically based. They even looked down on the “Holosith”!

   Lazlo found some formal training hints quite helpful… He could feel his shamanic powers expanding as he experimented! (And the player took the chance of having an instructor to spend a few experience points).

   Alys got back to the Asrai – where Handell had been seriously considering just taking off, since it sounded like most of his companions had just crossed over to the Dark Side – and managed to persuade him that it was mostly a ruse; they’d needed to get SOMEONE into the ranks of the Sith so as to steal those codes – and she’d just seized the chance that came up.

   At least she was hoping that was what she’d done. She still wasn’t sure what had come over her – unless the Sith had been using his powers to lean on her mind a bit.

   And back with Kira…

   I awoke from stasis to find myself looking at Alys and the others. Apparently we had made it through Sith customs without issue. Taking my lightsaber back from 10CH, I took stock of the situation.

   It wasn’t easy to tell that we were back in the Sith Enclave. It wasn’t like there were signs posted or anything. Well, maybe there were signs at customs, but I obviously didn’t see them. The Enclave itself was of modest size in the grand scheme of things. That was good and bad. Good in that it limited the number of Sith we could run into, and bad because it meant we could stand out fairly quickly if we aren’t careful.

   Ben and Lazlo were both still with the Sith as best as we could tell. I still wasn’t happy about how enthused either of them seemed with the whole idea from what few messages we got from Ben. Why does every other member of the party wish to flirt with the Dark Side so badly? Hell, even Alys isn’t above selling annoying party members at this point. Sigh, best to shove such thoughts aside as long as these people are useful. It’s not like I don’t have a long list of nutjob volunteers to replace the fallen anyway.

   We came here looking for where the Sith codes might be held or generated so that we could break the blockade of Jerondal. Watching port traffic was getting us nowhere fast on that goal. I am not sure what I was expecting save some clue or lead that might show us where to go next. I supposed it was possible that we might hack the port computer system and extract the codes, but this was a major military facility and none of us had the skill to break Sith encryptions or else we wouldn’t be here.

   Shipwreck pulled out his sensor pack and started analyzing electronic traffic patterns. While there was a modest amount of traffic going to the rest of the Enclave and back, it just didn’t look to Shipwreck to be traffic meant to be carrying highly sensitive codes. What traffic there was like that was heading to orbit towards a particular ship up there. A super star destroyer command ship it looked like.

   Well crap.

   How in the galaxy did he miss that on our way in? Or did it just arrive? I didn’t like the timing of it all if that was the case. I doubt the Sith would send something like that to capture me, but they might if they suspected us to be here and up to no good.

   To be fair, Shipwreck had been scanning the entire three-star system, and had picked up hundreds of space stations, thousands of major industrial installations, and tens of thousands of ships. One of them was a bit bigger than the rest and parked, so it had wound up being listed under “space stations”. Not such a big deal.

   He couldn’t really tell much about the content of encrypted traffic either – but the Super Star Destroyer was a – or THE – central node in the enclave system. All he had to do was look at the transmission patterns and some heading information.

   We were pushing our luck to sneak aboard a regular star destroyer and steal it back to Republic space before being overwhelmed by the crew. That same sort of stunt wasn’t going to work twice in a row. Especially not with the same faction as last time when they nearly caught on to us before we pressed the button and escaped. Sneaking aboard, stealing the codes, and getting off again was going to be nigh impossible.

   Remotely hacking a super star destroyer was a similar pipe dream. A small enclave we had a better chance of knocking off than a major command ship. Completely at a loss as how to proceed, I consulted with the others only to get similar responses. About the only idea anyone had was Shipwreck wanting to unleash a horrific plague upon the ship, killing the crew and allowing us to steal the ship.

   I was not about to allow anyone to create a plague like that, let alone use one myself. Something like that was bound to backfire in dramatic fashion and kill countless innocent lives. Wait a moment, just how many people crew one of those ships anyway? The answer of three hundred thousand definitely shot down any delusions we might have had on taking over such a vessel.

   To make matters worse, Shipwreck determined that command ship was led by Admiral Vera Morrowain (through asking, not through instrumentation). Well that cemented this bunch as the same faction Valerie was in, and Morrowain would probably recognize me quickly. Anyone Valerie was willing to pay deference to was bad news for me.

   Shipwreck also determined that the command ship was carrying a payload of colonists and supplies. Colonists?! Why in the galaxy would the Sith be bothering with colonists? They don’t think that far ahead as a rule. Discretely asking around did tell us that the Sith were trying to set up fall back worlds once they began to lose the war with the Republic. Alright, that was even stranger. They willingly acknowledge that the Republic is likely to win this war? Most Sith would sooner castrate themselves with steel wool than admit defeat or that their cause was lost. For an entire faction to acknowledge this and make contingency plans while the war was still going on flew in the face of most everything I thought I knew.

   The icing on the cake was the discovery that these Sith were making plans to evacuate the civilians first. Did we end up back in Republic space by accident or something? Or are Alys and the others pulling some giant prank on me? What Sith evacuates civilians ahead of themselves?

   Handell thought that one was obvious enough; most of the Sith would have personal transports available – but they’d still need staff, food, and support personnel if they fled, ergo, prepare to take a support base along. Still pretty pragmatic and sensible for Sith, but understandable.

   So what in the galaxy do we do? I was about to say the mission was a lost cause and announce aborting the operation when Alys mentioned that Ben and Lazlo were apparently onboard the command ship. I briefly wondered about the odds of that when I eventually determined that the best Sith to be evaluating new prospects were also the ones most likely to be aboard a command ship.

   Alright, that changed the dynamics of the situation significantly. We just had to buy Ben and Lazlo enough time and distraction to allow them to steal the codes and get off the command ship. That was conceivably doable.

   Right about that time I got a death threat from Ben. At least, that was how it read. He was wanting to know exactly how I wished to die so that he could arrange it for me now that he was a Sith. Alys thought it was coded to ask how we planned to provide a distraction so that Ben knew when to act. I wasn’t so sure, this was the man that still doodled superweapons after all.

   Alright, assuming it was a coded message asking for a distraction, then how do we provide one? How do we distract an entire Sith enclave and fleet? That sick feeling in my stomache came as I realized we only really had one option. There was only one thing we had with us that could draw their attention and hold it for any length of time.

   Me.

   I could announce my presence, engage in impressive dramatics, and then lead the Sith on an explosive chase through the Enclave and even the Hutt or Corellian portions of the system. This would almost certainly result in my capture and/or death at the end of it all, but it was either that or walk away while possibly leaving Ben and Lazlo to the Sith. I needed Ben’s expertise and besides, I wasn’t about to leave a superweapon expert in Sith hands.

   About the only way I could conceivably survive this though was if I mastered that super acceleration technique. That would definitely keep the Sith occupied and keep my ass alive. Problem is, I don’t know that technique. Well, I know more or less how it was done. I also know how to fix it too at the cost of a hyperdrive.

   I could experiment here, or we could head back to the base and try it there where we had more resources and fewer enemies. Discussion eventually decided that we would head back to base and try it there. On that note I sent a reply back to Ben:

“I anticipate I will probably go down in a fiery explosion that will leave me running around with the fires of Hell in the next few weeks.”

   Hopefully that was what he was looking for and not some method by which I wished to die. On the other hand, if he was looking to kill me, I know where to find jellyfish, treesap, and hyperdrives. This is Ben after all and it isn’t like we don’t know how to circumvent that precognition of his.

   We were able to get back to the freighter Ranharik without any issue and leave port. The trip to Jerondal was uneventful save the anxiety I was feeling about the upcoming experiment. I was hoping to have more time learning what might go wrong and how to better control it before attempting this. Oh well, I was going to need some sort of a leg up on Valerie should I run across her again, and running around an enclave of her faction was asking for it anyway.

   We arrived at the Jerondal system to find a Republic fleet had also arrived to assist the base with the blockade against freighters. The Republic wasn’t especially happy with us hauling vital war materials to the Sith, but were as much at a loss how else we could enter the shipyard system otherwise as we were.

   The plating of the base and the Asrai with the stealth material was going smoothly. Given some more time, we could probably finish that and keep ourselves hidden from most pursuit. I have a sneaking suspicion the heat on me is going to pick up soon anyway if this stunt works.

   On the base we set up our initial experiment. The Arethi, Telera, and the others were going to provide support while I ran the experiment. Alys volunteered to also be a lab rat in this with me. I followed the test procedure that we were able to recover as best I could using the power available to me.

   First experiment failed without any detectable result whatsoever. Stepping back for a moment and consulting with Telera and the Arethi, we made some minor modifications to what I was doing and tried again. I could definitely tell I was getting a bit better at manipulating whatever it was I was manipulating, but that was of small comfort given the inherent danger involved. It waS also clear that manipulating this with the Force was an immense pain.

   Second attempt did get a result, just not the one I intended. Alys suddenly “blinked” and was replaced with another Alys dressed in different clothing and looking very confused. Great we just managed to duplicate the refrigerator Sith technique. Asking this new Alys if she was a Sith was an exercise in trying to lighten the situation considering the massive screw up I just committed.

“Oh hey, Mr Nere. I hate to tell you this, but I lost your daughter in an arcane Force experiment, but I did manage to get another one almost identical!”

   Oh yeah, that would go over well. Alys was wanting to know who I was, but just seemed to be happy to be interacting with people again. What little we could gather was Ben or someone like Ben was systematically destroying all of creation. Not really keen on giving away my identity without knowing more about who my alternate self was like, it was eventually agreed that I would be called “Kat”. There are days I really hate the direction my life has taken.

   There was much explaining and theorizing. Sadly we really needed Ben in order to make any headway on understanding what we were doing. The new Alys volunteered to be part of another experiment which really didn’t surprise me in the slightest. This girl seriously needs to learn to stop trusting people at their word. Especially people engaging in strange experiments that teleported you across dimensions against your will.

   We tried again. Third experiment did not swap Alys’s back like I had anticipated, but left us with the second Alys hyperaccelerated. Ok, that got us in the right ballpark for fixing our first problem, without doing a damned thing regarding our second problem. We blew out the Asrai’s hyperdrive restoring this second Alys to normal and then confirmed we could recreate the hyperacceleration and blow out hyperdrives. Well, while this was a success by most any measure, it really needed to be me hyperaccelerated if baiting the Sith was going to work at all.

   Besides, we really needed to figure out how to bring our Alys back to this universe. I would rather not have to send this Alys back to that barren wasteland, but wasn’t sure what to do about it though. Hopefully both of them will be willing to give me time to figure out how to control this, rescue Ben, and then together try and fix this whole mess.

   Rescuing Ben meant I needed to learn to hyperaccelerate myself, which meant trying this again. Well, since I can hyperaccelerate Alys repeatedly, this should be a simple matter of swapping targets, right? We prepped the experiment and tried again.

   Elsewhere in the Galaxy:

   Ben, meanwhile, had been looking into what the Sith were really after… As it turned out, the upper echelons weren’t telling – but one of the Sith instructors had his own notions. He wanted to have the Valen Sith replace or supplement the – obviously grossly incompetent – Jedi order, possibly setting up their own temple opposite the Jedi temple. They could work with the Jedi to exterminate those imbecilic HoloSith too…

   Oh, now that was almost tempting. Just to see the expressions on the faces of the Jedi Council as the Republic funded a Sith order across the way in the interests of “balance” or something.

   Valerie sat up with a start. Her bond with Kira suddenly felt really weird and very distant. She had sensed his connection to her waver up and down in strength several times in the last few hours, but now it was almost completely cut off.

   He wasn’t dead, that much was certain. But whatever had happened to him was highly unusual and had stretched their bond taunt. She really needed to find wherever that team of his was hiding and soon. If whatever stunt he had pulled hasn’t killed him, she was sure to after this. If what her mother said about these bonds is true, the sooner she tracked Kira down, the better.

   Back on the Base:

   I suddenly found myself surrounded by people I’ve never met before all staring at me like I was growing antlers or something equally odd. Several of them were face-palming and sighing in exasperation over something, probably me. Not wanting to be rude, but really wanting to know what was going on, I asked politely.

   Alright, it looked like a version of myself from another timeline or parallel universe was experimenting in Codex techniques and fell out of the cosmos. This happened all too frequently back home with so many Codifier prospects, but in this case it looked like he and I swapped places like this lady named Alys Nere.

   Apparently their Kira was actually a user of the ancient Binding arts, although they called it the Force. I had been wanting to know more about those lost arts, and it seemed he wanted to know more about the arts of the Codex. Now there is irony, I find the arts that might prevent me from falling out of the cosmos and into the multiverse, and I only find them because another version of me sucks me out of my home by mistake.

   If anything is a good sign, it does look like the process might be reversible with a great deal more control than he had, which I’ve got. Problem is going to be targetting the correct timeline out of the infinite chaos out there. The “Jedi” named Telera offered that the great seer Ben Therus these people knew might be able to see the correct timeline given time. Perfect! I might be able to get some vital information on the Binding arts and get home in time for dinner even.

   Except, it turns out this Ben is being held captive on a major command ship belonging to the enemy. This enemy looked to be evil Binders not unlike the Faders from back home. Well it’s not like anything worth doing is easy and this is likely to be no different. Now to learn about these “Sith”, what they can do, and what they would not expect Kira to be able to do. This should be fun.

   Ben and Lazlo, meanwhile, were resisting a few casual attempts to push them into using the Force while in a rage – and thus towards the Dark Side. Their instructor was pleased… If they had been that easy to push into a loss of control, they’d have been poor prospects indeed. They got the afternoon off to look around the civilian areas – where Ben tried to set Lazlo up with a girl. Maybe that would make him a bit less tense.

   In another galaxy, similar, yet different from home:

   I found myself staring at an unfamiliar sky. Had I put myself into stasis by accident and just been freed by the others? If so, then why am I not on the Asrai or the Base?

   I only got a split second’s warning before the blow sunk into the grass where my head just was. Rolling quickly to my feet and jumping onto a high wall nearby, I pulled out my lightsaber and shield while taking a look at my attacker. All I could see was a vaguely humanoid shape burning brightly in a manner very similar to the survivors from the Shar research group. Whoever it was seemed mildly surprised I wasn’t flattened through by that attack.

   Why they were attacking me was irrelevant until I got them to stop or died. Fighting someone with this kind of speed was going to be difficult indeed. The attack came almost instantly and my precognition was the only thing keeping me from getting skewered by that abruptly-apearing burning blade of incandescence. Whoever my attacker was didn’t seem to understand lightsabers as they met my parry and neatly sheared off half their sword.

   All sense of accomplishment left me as my attacker blurred faster than I could sense and grappled me from behind. They swung my arm and forced me to throw away my lightsaber with supernatural speed that nearly tore my arm off. Feeling the intense heat of the acceleration technique they were using, I tapped into my power and enhanced my strength enough to break the hold and throw my opponent into a nearby tree only to watch as they passed through the tree and roll into the ground beyond leaving both attacker and tree unharmed.

   Ok, that is new.

   The intensity of the fire surrounding them lessened a bit and I could make out a female form underneath the flames. They charged again and I telekinetically pulled my lightsaber to my hands readying a defensive stance. With a bright flash of light and speed, I found myself face first into the ground tasting the grass. Maroni wildgrass if I had to guess. My arms were bound tightly behind me with rope as I heard a familiar sounding female voice speak to me.

(Valerie) Alright, what did you do with my fiancee and how did you do all that stuff?

(Kira) VALERIE?!

(Valerie) KIRA?!

   Well that explained why I was face first into the ground. It didn’t really explain much else though. I was allowed to get back to my feet again. Valerie was wearing a bright yellow dress I would have thought she would never have been caught dead in. Her Force signature was also incredibly hard to detect when usually it was incredibly hard not to notice. What was going on?

(Valerie) But wait, you suddenly disappeared and came back dressed like this? What’s with the weird powers and the weapons? Why are you dressed like some sort of assassin?

(Kira) Alright, I can explain. It appears that in experimenting with some new technique, I dropped out of my universe and into yours.

(Valerie) Experimenting?! Then what happened to my fiancee?!

(Kira) What do you mean your fiancee? As best as I understand, I should either move into an empty space or just swap with my….

   My jaw just about hit the grass as that thought completed. Oh crap, I’m a dead man now. I wonder what special sauce my counterpart used to pull this stunt off. Heh, boy is he in for a rude surprise should he run into my version of Valerie. I wonder which of us has it worse?

(Valerie) Yeah, him, NOW BRING HIM BACK!

   Probably me then.

(Kira) Do you really think if I knew how to do that, that I’d be stuck here looking at your smiling face?

(Valerie) Are you getting smart with me asshole?

(Kira) Well if you’d think first before just spouting off dem….

   I ended up face first in the grass again. Damn, she’s fast, about the only person I know faster than my mouth.

(Valerie) You really need to learn the proper way to address a lady.

   Lady my ass, thankfully, this version of Valerie didn’t seem to be telepathic.

(Kira) I seem to recall such a lesson from you, but to no avail.

(Valerie) You’re not as charming as your counterpart.

(Kira) Aww, got a soft spot for the white haired pretty boys?

   That earned me a fist to the jaw and the world around me blacked out. I awoke some time later with my hands and feet bound together. I could probably untie them telekinetically, but I figured it best to find out what was happening before showing off more abilities.

(Valerie) Alright, it is clear you are not using the Codex but using something else. Your healing ability and those other stunts is proof of that.

(Kira) And you are obviously not using the Force.

(Valerie) I take it my counterpart does?

(Kira) Yes.

(Valerie) And you as well?

(Kira) To a lesser extent.

   That seemed to bring a smirk to her face. There certainly was a sense of satisfaction to it. Keep complimenting her and I might survive the next hour.

(Valerie) My fiance was interested in learning about ancient techniques related to the Binding. Apparently the Binding bound all life in the universe together. He hoped to find a way to ensure that he wouldn’t disappear from our existence from overuse of the Codex.

(Kira) Yep, that sounds like the Force.

(Valerie) And just for completion, do you seek anything?

(Kira) No point in hiding it now. Excessive Force use can result in massive explosions of power and insanity that destroy the mind and body. I was hoping to find an Anti-Force to keep it in check. In fact I was experimenting with a supposed Anti-Force technique when I appeared here.

(Valerie) Sounds like you are looking for the Codex then.

   Oh now this was damned convienent. I’d be able to not go Sith only to still never be able to see friends and family again. At least, my versions anyway. Of course, that was all assuming this Valerie let me live after ruining her upcoming wedding to a very smooth talking version of myself.

(Valerie) Alright, you wish to learn about the Codex, and I want to trade this ass in front of me for my fiance. Better control of the Codex might allow you to steer yourself back to your universe.

(Kira) Great, more brutal training under your fist.

(Valerie) Oh, you thought I was harsh before? We are first going to need to trigger your own breakthrough of Codex potential.

   At which point she started cracking her knuckles.

   Oh hell.

Regrettably…

   Thanks to a bit of necessary oral surgery and the consequent medications, posting will be delayed for a day or so – and I may have to let someone else run something tomorrow evening instead of the usual wednesday Twilight Isles session. Sorry about that.

You have no power over me!

(Jareth) “Sarah, beware. I have been generous up until now, but I can be cruel.”

(Sarah) “Generous!? What have you done that’s generous?”

(Jareth) “Everything! Everything that you wanted I have done. You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me; I was frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside-down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me. Isn’t that generous?”

(Sarah) “Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here, to the castle beyond the goblin city, for my will is as strong as yours: and my”

(Jareth) “Stop! Wait! Look, Sarah. Look what I’m offering you – your dreams. And my kingdom is great. I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want.”

(Sarah) “Kingdom is great… Damn! I can never remember that line.”

(Jareth) “Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.

(Sarah) “My kingdom is great… My kingdom is great… You have no power over me… You have no power over me!

   OK. So Labyrinth was not one of the greatest movies of all time. It was fun however – and it did have some very classic bits. One of the most classic is that a great deal of supernatural power is essentially an illusion, driven by fear and ignorance. Once the hero comes to understand his or her enemy and overcomes that fear, their enemy will be greatly weakened – and may well no longer be able to stand against an otherwise fairly normal hero.

   Thus the experienced swordsmaster, the mighty mage, and the righteous clergyman may be shown up by the relatively inexperienced hero who understands the emptiness at the core of some mighty villains power and does not fear it.

   In literature, and in movie scripts you can just assume that sort of thing. The experienced, powerful, characters don’t get it because the author says they don’t.

   In games you can probably assume that every player will get the idea right away – and that that information will carry over from game to game. That makes the “because I say you don’t get it!” approach awkward – but the effect can still be represented in a couple of ways. You could assign a value to an individuals, or a groups, “determination” (or “karma”, or whatever), and give it a bump every time they get beaten by the monster of the scenario, deal with the aftermath of one of it’s atrocities, gain information about it, or figure something out. Perhaps when that value hits particular thresholds they’ll get special bonuses, be able to overcome a creatures special defenses, or have the opportunity to truly strike a final blow.

   Of course, that gets awkward when people simply go and look up all of a creatures relevant weaknesses and want credit for that information. That’s reasonable enough in a lot of ways – if horrible werewolf-creatures are a regular thing, I’d expect every library to stock a dozen copies of “the big little book of werewolf weaknesses” – but practicality often does take part of the fun out of things. That’s the problem with many werewolf movies; every viewer can recite a list of the creatures major weaknesses, and watching yet another clueless hero who’s never heard of the creatures find out about them makes them wonder why – in a world where such things actually exist – the characters aren’t at least as aware of them as they are.

   On a more individual basis, you can ask that the individual characters spend some of their personal resources on such understandings. That’s fairly effective, since it provides a reason why the most skilled characters – who spent their character-building resources (whatever the system in use may call those) on personal abilities – do better in general situations than the characters who buy abilities which are specifically useful against the major villain.

   In Eclipse, you can represent creatures with such weaknesses with Corrupted and Specialized abilities – defenses and powers which quit working against heroes who figure out what’s going on, or a world law, or some such – but it’s a lot simpler to approach it from the player’s side.

   What we have here is an Immunity to a particular menage. That’s Uncommon (against a particular villain type), Severe (they do tend to kill you), and at a variable amount. For example a Minor Immunity would cost six character points – the same as a normal Feat – and would protect the user against twelve points of damage from each of the enemies attacks and from effects of up to level three (with a +4 bonus on saves against higher-level effects). It would even allow him or her to bypass some minor defenses, such as that requirement for silver weapons.

   That’s fairly impressive. A werewolf-slayer with that package would certainly have a big advantage over a swordsman without it – as long as they were facing werewolves.

   On a party basis, the easiest way to apply this is to leave a few points free in a Party Template. Party Templates are allowed to vary with retraining anyway, so as the party gathers information and builds up their determination to deal with a creature, those points can be invested in an appropriate immunity – thus allowing the party to face and defeat a foe that was far beyond their abilities at first. Since we’re dealing with a “training” situation, we can reasonably assume that getting information from books and such is less effective than practical experience – and possibly even that precautions like “getting the appropriate weapons” are built into that practical experience.

   On an individual basis, characters can simply spend those points – or pick up a version of Enthusiast that can only be used for such an immunity (Specialized) and can only be gradually shifted as the character gains experience with, and understanding of, his or her foe.

   That version would only be 3 CP, but would also only be half as strong as the basic version (a Trivial Immunity instead of a Minor Immunity) – still a very useful edge.

If she’d ‘ave kept on goin’ down that way she’d ‘ave gone straight to that awful castle! – The Worm

Star Wars – The HoloSith

   Virtually everyone in the galaxy knows about the Sith and the apparently-endless cycle of Sith Wars. They’ve been the favored master villains of holodramas, novels, and folktales for tens of thousands of years. There are humorously-incompetent Sith in comedies, badly overacted Sith in dramas, and long-running Sith characters in soap operas.

   Most of the people of the galaxy have never actually seen a genuine Sith – but they’ve seen PLENTY of Holo-Sith, bits of over-dramatized training techniques, and warped Sith philosophies. They may well have watched a bunch of Sith “training montages” on “Dark Lord, Dark Conquest” (there’s a good set in episode 18,437; the series is one of the longest-running serials in Republic history, with more than seven hundred years of bi-weekly episodes). Want to watch “Sith: The Reality Series” or “Behind the scenes of the ‘Massacare of Von’“? They’re out there. The galactic archives are pretty big and, after better than twenty thousand years and dozens of Sith wars, neither the Jedi nor the Sith, nor their basic teachings, are especially secret.

   The people of the galaxy have seen plenty of Holo- and Video-Game Jedi too – but Holo and Video-Game Jedi tend to be a lot more like real Sith than they are like real Jedi. Like it or not, the Sith practices are dramatic, exciting, and don’t forbid much of anything – while Jedi techniques involve lots of meditation, boredom, and giving up virtually everything that’s fun. A kid who’s pretending to be a “Jedi” – and to be bouncing around using his or her powers in dramatic combat, to strike down opponents, and to drive towards their goals, rather than focusing on things like teaching, education, and healing – is actually pretending to be a Sith.

   The Star Wars movies focused on the most exciting moments – the dramatic bits where the main characters are fighting, taking great risks, and going to the rescue. Those are also the moments when a Jedi is most at risk of falling to the Dark Side. There is a REASON why adventuring force-sensitives balance so precariously above the abyss.

   Young force-sensitives find it awfully easy to fall to the Dark Side anyway. Wish a broken leg on that bully, unconsciously boost that punch to the nose with a little bit of force-kinesis, use a bit of force mind-manipulation while out on a date? You’re on the way to the Dark Side – and a young and untrained sensitive may not even know it. Even amongst those that do, the temptation to use their powers to gain money, power, and influence, to claim attractive mates, and to enjoy the luxuries of life, can seem far more attractive than a life of monkish self-discipline. The Sith are the ones who live fast, die young, and get to posture dramatically along the way.

   And now you know where the secret Sith order is hiding, why kids can learn to be Sith so readily, why they posture so dramatically, and why so many of them are somewhat genre-savvy: all they have to do is be force-sensitive and watch their holos. Most “Sith” are self-trained based on old entertainment productions. Unlike someone who trains in – say – martial arts based on such sources, however, the Force tends to work as it’s user’s envision it working.

   That’s why self-training as a Sith based on holos works just fine – and is one reason why the Sith keep popping up again no matter what is done to try and exterminate them. Most orders have their own specific modifiers to the rules given in the books – and the Holosith are no exception. They have an easy time recruiting. Fallen Jedi and random force-sensitive kids will OFTEN wind up becoming HoloSith without ever actually meeting another or getting any training at all.

   It is rumored that at least one Sith Lord was genre-savvy enough to have a camera crew made up of his minions following him around with a camera and someone going “Emote! Emote! Laugh Maniacally!”. It supposedly let him get away with virtually anything as long as he got back to his ship and away before the local authorities figured out that his little rampages were quite real.

   The HoloSith have only a few game-mechanical modifiers.

  • Due to their excessive self-confidence – and the tendency of the Force to support that insanity – they gain a +1d6 bonus on their actions whenever they can overact them or describe them with really impressive dramatics. (In d20, that’s a +3 Bonus)
  • As noted earlier, they have a surprisingly easy time finding recruits.
  • They normally need not worry about petty cash, since they can use their force powers to readily support a comfortable lifestyle.
  • They are easy to find; they posture, waste resources trying to build superweapons, and tend to gloat and dramatically reveal their plans to their enemies. If they fail to live up to those limitations they will suffer a -1d6 penalty on everything they do until they’ve been living up to them for at least a week. (In d20, that’s a -3 penalty).

Federation-Apocalypse Session 123b -The Descent from Lunacy

   While closing up the conference, Kevin took a few minutes to consider the overtones he’d picked up from Cardinal Richar… It looked like… they were projecting twenty years until he got into trouble? He’d never believed that the upper limit on the number of Thrall-bonds he could support was anywhere NEAR where it was now! Conservative statistical estimates of where he might be in twenty years suggested that he’d have bonded every ensouled child in the Manifold by then if nothing else intervened – so if it was a bond-limit they were predicting it shouldn’t be anywhere near twenty years.

   Ah… That was when they projected that the first major wave of thralls would go independent and start wandering off on their own – at which point they felt Kevin’s restraining personality-imprint and restraints on the powers he’d granted would fail, and they’d be on the loose with a great deal of power at their disposal.

   Now wait! He didn’t imprint his personality on them – just skills and “how to be a servant”. They maintained their own personalities, just like all the Thralls at Hogwarts! They just didn’t show them much while they were being servants… He knew what powers he gave them too – and there weren’t much of any hidden aspects!

   For that matter, he’d been taking Thralls for nearly fifty years – and a few of the oldest had been starting to show signs of going free before the powers he granted started to increase and the time-scale (a good thing he’d never promised a particular one) had started to lengthen again. He could feel the bonds with their souls, and they were beginning to fade – but they were still happy wiggly property at the moment, and would be for quite a while longer!

   Wait a minute… some of the bonds WERE a lot weaker. The bonds with the kids he’d pulled out of Faerie on the strength of the “Tiend” routine.

   Hadn’t it been one of those – the oldest in fact – that he’d left with the Church? Those kids would go free a lot sooner; they had already possessed quite a few of the powers he granted though; it had only been because they were already fey-bonded that he’d been able to transfer their links to him. If they were going by that kid, it was no wonder that their estimate was a LOT shorter than his. Checking the links… He’d still stand by the “somewhere around two centuries” estimate (more if the power he supplied kept increasing so fast), and not a lot of additional powers.

   They could go early – but if they simply internalized the directly-granted powers and dropped the link, they’d lose all the stuff they got from what he’d been told was his “divine influence”. That would be a major power cut – and if they hadn’t wanted all those nifty powers, they wouldn’t have taken his deal in the first place. Some might do it, but probably not very many.

   Besides… If they broke the links, their immortality would go with it – and quite a few of them seemed quite happy working for him. It wasn’t as if he gave them very many nasty jobs.

   The Church probably saw them as being infused with demonic power, and was projecting that they’d run amuck once loose – but that really seemed sort of unlikely to him. The Church had a lot of experience, but he could feel their souls directly – and most of them seemed like typical kids and he hadn’t infused them with much demonic power – just the hellcat totem, and that was purely physical, not mental.

   He’d have to really look into it though. The Church had a lot of experience and had done a lot of research on Pacts and such, so if they were projecting chaos and rebellion – or competition – they might be right, even if the Darkness WASN’T a power he was giving them.

   Less importantly, the Church was definitely seeing some signs of Godfire at work in Kevin – but he wasn’t showing all the signs, and that did have them somewhat confused. Still, they were willing to believe that it might be some interaction with being an Opener – and that worried them even more. Two of the greatest, and most uncontrollable, known powers in the hands of a boy who was bonded to the powers of darkness. If Kevin lost his precarious balance above the abyss and fully fell, he might become a scourge upon the worlds…

   Anyway… It was time to get back to Inversion’s moon. It didn’t look like it was an immediate problem, no matter who was right.

   Back to the moon then. The lunar representatives were kind of confused by many of the services available in Kadia, but they weren’t having hysterics quite yet. That would probably come later when they got the reports from their observers, who would doubtless make inquiries about Kevin and be informed that he had created Kadia – and that it had a divergent hyperbolic geometry as a “planetary surface”.

(Kevin, privately to Marty) “I think, if possible, we’ll want some confusion and then a strike at the gate – or at least a good look at it.”

(Marty, privately) “So, should we head to Antarctica from the moon then? I’m all for landing somewhere in the wilderness near the suspected gate location.”

(Kevin, privately) “That depends… It’s still a day and a half until the trial, and I doubt that “God” will be attending now – but I bet that the trial will be publicized and that the persecutor is known… Ergo, lets drop by in a messengers uniform an hour or so before the trial with a sheaf of legal papers and a need for a signature. We’ll take his place with the help of a bit of illusion, and get to the trial. There are ALWAYS last minute papers – and we can slap some high-priority seals on them.”

   Marty was doing a little checking. There might be an audience, and he wanted to be in there in case something went wrong – or just to see the looks on the officials’ faces live… Drat. It looked like there WOULD be an audience, but the trial wasn’t open to the public – although it would be (very widely) televised. In fact, it would be a worldwide priority broadcast on several channels.

   Kevin was planning to assign some Thralls to make sure that it kept going out, and to broadcast through a lunar relay if necessary… Maybe they could get Marty in as a baliff or bodyguard? This was supposed to be the trial of a powerful manifolder, and guards with powers would be required. It would be easy enough to bring in Marty if he could replace the prosecutor – and his local ID should make that relatively easy.

   Spellweaver would want to come too of course – he really did want to get revenge – but if they could replace the prosecutor, they could probably get him in too. Besides, they always wound up improvising anyway. On the other hand, the guards might be looking for him specifically. On the third hand, they’d obviously have to be totally crazy to come back to Berlin after that prison break – especially given that they’d pulled out immediately when confronted with the Wrath of “God”. He probably wouldn’t expect anyone sane to come right back – and probably thought that, with his victim gone, there wouldn’t be any reason for anyone to interfere with his show trial.

   He might though. It was hard to say, he was obviously megamaniacal but he also had a Core childhood and education. It could go either way and largely depended on what was dominant and what was an act. Still… if he was acting, he’d be aware that he was overdoing it to the point of self-mockery. It really did seem likely that his mind had broken – at least partially – and that he was a raving nut case.

   Marty felt that THAT was obvious just from the paper airplane attack and the slaughterhouse waste manifestations – even if the slaughterhouse routine had started off as the summoner dropping a high-velocity blue whale on them to break the shield.

   Well, at worst they’d have to see what happened.

   They got their new allies readied for poking around the gate and soothed the lunar authorities a bit until it was nearly time for the trial.

   Then they went back to Berlin, running a variety of psychicly-based cloaking spells and such – and snagged some new electronic identities. There wasn’t time to get original ones, but it was easy enough to snag a few youngsters, copy their identities, and put them on ice for a few hours. If divination failed, they could just put in a request for some physical-parcel delivery boys and use detaining whoever came. Meanwhile, the Thralls (in various small-animal forms) deployed themselves near the broadcast uplink stations, ready to bypass the feeds if they got shut down.

   That proved easy enough – and a bit of shapeshifting and transformation matched the physical appearances of the kids they’d snagged – so they headed for the persecutors office. It was in a fairly normal government office building near the Reichstag.

   Marty had to grin. It was kind of fun being a kid again! It brought up a lot of old memories! He’d stay in kid form if he could… Maybe the prosecutor could be humoring the kid! Or at least using one as a prop! The old “we must protect the children!” routine!

   It didn’t prove very difficult to get past security and the secretaries – so they soon found themselves outside the prosecutor’s office.

   They knocked.

(Prosecutor) “Who’s there? I’m busy!”

(Marty) “We have urgent papers for the trial!”

(Prosecutor) “What papers?”

(Kevin) “They’re sealed sir!”

(Prosecutor) “Why the hell is someone sending me sealed papers at this time?”

(Kevin) “I don’t know sir! I just have to deliver them and get your signature!”

(Prosecutor) “Bloody hell, leave them on the desk then and I’ll sign. Then get out.”

   They headed in… The prosecutor was an older man, who looked haggard and tired. The office was full of books, disks, pictures and diplomas. He was sitting in a chair, looking out the window at the city below.

   Hmm… It looked like he was a reasonably honest man, and he wasn’t happy. He didn’t like having drawn the direct attention of “God” and was more than a little upset with the script given to him. He seemed very uneasy with the recent terrorist attack in the city by a bunch of manifolders trying to rescue their comrade too.

   They sent him quietly to sleep, using a small silencing effect and an illusion to hide events from the inevitable bugs and camera systems. The poor man seemed like he cold use the rest anyway.

   The man went out like a light. Another one for the transform-and-tuck-away pile – after a minute of probing for standard procedures and if he was supposed to bring a guard or assistants.

   Hm. He was expected to bring assistants – and there were lots of standard procedures. It looked like Germany was STILL fond of standard procedures.

   They called in the assistants, took them out the same way (none of them were even remotely powerful enough to resist), and did a bit of shapeshifting – as well as checking the mans script. They’d depart from it soon enough, but it would be best to appear to be following it for the first few moments.

   Hm… It looked like he was supposed to come up with a lot of diatribes about terrorists from the Manifold and Lunar Rebels with a lot of talk about how the security of the world and the future was at stake. How they could not possibly allow one of the enemy to wander around free to do as he wished, as it might very well result in the destruction of more lives.

   Well, they could work with that. Kevin would be the prosecutor, and Marty and Spellweaver could be his two assistants. Xellos was gone again, but he’d certainly turn up somewhere. They set up their cloaking effects, had a couple of Thralls take the messenger-ID’s and depart, got their shapeshifting done, used their smartclothes to copy the ID’s of the people they were supposed to be, made sure that they knew how to get there, and the courtroom’s layout, and the proper forms of address for the judge, and all the rest.

   Hopefully they wouldn’t walk into an ambush – but there are only so many precautions they could take and still hope to avoid a bloodbath.

   Marty took a moment to report back to Mr Leland via his mystic links; with the power “God” had, he might not have another chance if he bit it here.