Avoiding Realism Like The Plague II – Learning Skills

RuneQuest Deluxe Edition as published by Avalo...

Yes, this edition did come out nearly twenty years ago. I'm giving them a plug anyway.

A great many games tie learning new skills to “gaining levels”, spending abstract “experience points” (usually gained for doing things that have nothing whatsoever to do with the skill in question), or other thoroughly abstract mechanisms. This leads to another common “realistic” request – that characters either be allowed to “learn by doing” or that characters be allowed to train up skills during downtime – whether by paying instructors, by teaching each other, or by experimentation.

This is hardly unprecedented. Rather a lot of old games handled things this way if they had a skill system at all. There are reasons why it went out of style though…

Chaosium’s “Basic Role Playing” and “Runequest” offered a simple learning-by-doing rule: If you used a skill and succeeded (and you had a minimum chance of 5%), after the adventure you rolled it again; if you failed that time, the skill increased by 5%.

OK, you used your intelligence as a bonus to the chance of learning, a minimum 5% chance of learning let you get skills above 100% (to deal with penalties), there was a rule for formal training, and there was a requirement that your use of the skill actually mean something (so you couldn’t just roll skills at random in hopes of an increase) – but those didn’t really complicate things much.

Not bad as a model – except that it meant that one could learn EXTREMELY fast. You could start as a clumsy farm kid with no weapons training, get into a bar fight (one of the examples in the Runequest II book) and pick up 5% in the weapon(s) you used. Admittedly that sort of thing is a rough school – but you could go from “untrained farm kid” to “master of a dozen weapons” in very short order if you lived through a few weeks of fighting.

Less dramatically, it soon led to a lot of the characters looking a lot alike. Characters would swap out weapons during adventures to get those improvement checks, look for excuses to use any skill they could, and soon EVERYBODY was good with a sword, and with stealth, and with whatever-it-was that their game master often called for. That was dull, and dull is one of the major enemies of a good game.

Like it or not, “learning by doing” has a lot of limitations (for anyone who thinks it doesn’t, I recommend a fine old British drama series – “Danger UXB” – about the bomb disposal “experts” in England during WWII. It is perhaps revealing that it doesn’t have that many episodes). Implementing learning this way realistically in a game is usually too slow and undependable to actually be of interest.

Learning by Training sounds a lot better. After all, everyone is familiar with that; it’s what people actually DO. Why, if you have some aptitude for a field, normal intelligence or better, and a few months to spend, you can easily pick up enough basic skills to get along in a lot of occupations!

That is indeed pretty realistic. Where it runs into trouble is with one of the basic elements of role-playing games:

The player doesn’t feel the character’s pain. You can pull emotional reactions out of the players sometimes – at least if they’re into deep immersion play – but you can’t make them feel that axe to the head, or the terrible boredom of a long wait, or the stress of burning all their free time every day on some project.

Most of us could be martial art experts, be working on our second or third degree, be out of debt, be in great shape, have written three books, be running our own business, and be well-informed on a hundred different topics – if we were willing to devote every moment of our time to hard work, determined study, and practice. We might not be able to become Olympic-level gymnasts without a lot of natural talent – but we could easily work our way into the top 1% in most things simply because on most things 99% of the population isn’t making any particular effort.

Yet most of us aren’t all those things. As far as we’re concerned, the gain isn’t worth the pain. We lack the raw determination and patience to undertake such a program and stick with it. We want to take time off, play a few computer games, relax, and have another cheeseburger. We go out and do, eat, drink, and otherwise use things that we know are killing us.

Player-Characters don’t have those problems. Their actions are controlled by players – who don’t have to live with the pain and boredom – and so their determination is near-infinite. Just as importantly, their abilities are almost always exceptional. After all, playing an incompetent is only fun for so long.

If you allow learning-by-training to make a serious difference in a character’s abilities, you’re going to find that – the first time six months of downtime comes up on a long ship voyage or something – the characters are going to be almost unrecognizable at the end. It’s hard to say that they can’t teach each other either; player characters tend to be grand masters of their fields (whatever those fields happen to be). When simple time will make the characters far more skilled, and far more likely to survive, you’ll soon find that your “adventurers” are all elderly professors.

That works just fine in Call of Cthulhu – which, you may note, is still using a minor variant on Basic Role Playing – but it doesn’t really work well in most other genres.

Now, if you throw in the background assumption that the characters are basically a lot like human beings, and get distracted a lot, you’ll wind up with a system like Classic Traveler.

Classic Traveler’s system did indeed account for the problem. You could designate a topic that your character was studying in each game year. If you allotted enough time to study during that year, and succeeded in a roll at the end of the year, you gained a +1 rating in a skill. If you wanted to keep it, you had to repeat your course of study, and make the roll again. If you succeeded again, your +1 was permanent. If you failed… it went away. Start over.

OK, a +1 was more important in a 2d6 system than in a lot of others, but it wasn’t that big a deal. As far as training and study programs went, Traveler was pretty static. Many characters only picked up a new skill when the game master handed something out by fiat.

Of course, if we use a system like that, we’re pretty much saying that “I’m really not allowing this” without being quite so blunt as to say it outright. Still, that does make it easier for some people to swallow.

So if you’re going to allow downtime studies at all almost you have to make downtime learning extremely minor – whether glacially slow, providing only tiny bonuses, being sharply limited after childhood, being subject to strict lifetime limits, or only slightly supplementing learning through other means.

Well drat! We do want the player characters to be able to improve their skills. Character advancement is one of the major reward-elements in most RPG’s! Yet we’ve established that all the “realistic” methods of learning skills are too slow to really have an impact – and have very undesirable side effects on the game and setting if we speed them up.

This is why most of the current crop of mature games use very unrealistic methods of acquiring and gaining skills – usually providing a small package of skill enhancement options every so often, or using a general pool of “experience” with which the character purchases boosts to his or her abilities.

Oops! The long way around has brought us right back to… various abstract forms of levels and spendable experience points.

Remember: it’s not that all those old game designers COULDN’T design simulationist systems that worked realistically. Many of them were veteran designers of systems designed to recreate historical battles in detail; they were past masters of simulationism. It’s just that there are some points where you have to simulate a fantastic reality, rather than a mundane one, to make things work as a game.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 173 – Marty, Martial Comforter of Numerologists!

Satellite view of Manhattan.

Not the view he'd been wanting!

Marty mused… hey, there WAS another benefit to this multi-presence thing! It really was a big help at looking at places from an exterior point of view… Of course, it also meant that your various versions were sitting in judgement on each other.

Which was WEIRD.

At least he wasn’t as susceptible to identity takeovers as Kevin was… Maybe that was because he was an adult and had had time to establish who he was? Were the kids identities running rampant because he had all his attention and willpower tied up in keeping his powers under control?

Wait. If he just took care to remember that his basic, human, identity was HIM, that should… wait; had Kevin messed that one up when he made Kadia his primary home and opted to be a dragon there? If only he’d realized that sooner! That would make mending his psyche much harder!

Blast it! The kid adapted to situations so fast that it LOOKED like he knew what he was doing and had a contingency plan in place for everything. It had taken him until now to realize that the kid was simply going with the flow! He was never really surprised because he was operating under dream-logic in the first place!

How had the kid become such a concern of his anyway? Was it just more of that responsibility stuff creeping up on him, was it just that no one else seemed to be there, or was it just that all this hanging around the kid was making him a father-figure whether he liked it or not?

Oh well! He had accountants to deal with at the moment!

Huh… He’d never really thought about it before – but there was a reason why the corporations of Battling Business World put up with accountants that terrorized their own companies! They could do complex math and handle bureaucracy without explosions of rage like nearly everyone else. They were worth the trouble because most battlers were limited to ordinary addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. That gave them a stranglehold on economics, math education, engineering, and most of the sciences. They held the world’s knowledge together.

Before the Number Lords came, most of them had simply been really strong-willed individuals. Some had been really stubborn – but few of them had been outright insane like modern numerologists were.

Another thing to chalk up against the Number Lords – but mow most of them were sane again.

It all hinged on whether or not they recognized that they’d been being used – and if he could explain things and start slipping a few of them out from under Lord Zero without provoking an immediate duel with the Number Lord.

Oh well! Dumping money all over Manhattan would draw a lot of their attention anyway!

The Accountants did indeed want to know why the hell Marty undermining reality by devaluing money and messing up the books all over the place with unbalanced entries!

(Marty) “I apologize for disturbing you fine servants of the Number Lords. I was not aware I could control my Cash Cloud’s droppings until I tried! Do you need any help with fixing the damage?”

(Accountants, in auditorial voices of doom) “Well, first off, how much did you drop?”

(Marty) “Oh, no more than a hundred per person. Enough for a nice dinner at a nice restaurant!”

(Accountants) “Aargh! At the population of New York City… That’s nearly two billion! And a good quarter of it will wind up with the Ghetto Union! At about two and a half million each!”

Marty frowned… what… Oh! (as his own numerological powers reached out to provide an answer). There had only two or three ghetto scenes in the entire original production – and they were just background images that got recycled. Battling Business World Manhattan had massive ghettos, and wherever you went the place was swarming – with the same people. There were millions of ghetto dwellers, but they were all played by about 200 people; they just got to appear in a lot of places at once!

He should have watched the DVD before he returned. Ah well! He’d play it by ear!

(Marty) “I take it that’s going to be a bother to fix.”

(Accountants) “You know how absurd it’s going to be when every ghetto-dweller is using a chauffeured limo? The gold chains and the bling were bad enough!”

They did have a point of sorts there.

(Marty) “So what can we do about it?”

(Accounts) “Well… We could try to hire some replacemant ghetto dwellers… but most of the ones from other places look different! Trying to get the money back is impossible! No one can ever get a refund from a ghetto dweller!.. We could try to cover it up as a welfare error perhaps!”

(Marty) “What’s that going to take?”

(Accountants) “What else! An assault on the Department of Health and Welfare! The only trouble is, what with the Transformation Plague that’s gone through the bureaucracy, they’re all a bunch of dinosaurs!”

(Marty) “Not to worry! I’ll help you out! All I ask on your part is a favor.”

(Accountants) “You should talk! Even at 80% off, Tyranosaurs have big teeth!

(Marty) “Please, I’ve fought things that have eaten planets.”

(Accountants) “You really think you can do it?”

(Marty) “Yeah. And I don’t even want anything other than that favor.”

(Accountants) “Which would be?”

(Marty) “After we get this done, come with me to my home. I’ve got things to discuss with you guys.”

(Accountants) “Hrm… No funny stuff! We’ve heard about the kind of parties you godly types can get up to!”

(Marty) “I promise. Would you like to make a contract to that effect with me?”

(Accountants) “Hrm… Very well!”

The accountants directed him to the appropriate offices… They also had no problems with using a Great Oathbinding to reinforce the contract; Marty wouldn’t harm them, and in return, they wouldn’t try to do anything funny themselves.

Hmm… There were a lot of ankylosaurs (secretaries and messengers), quite a lot of raptors of various types (ambitious bureaucrats), a scattering of other types (stegosaurs in the records department mostly), and tyrannosaur department heads.

Well, it was pretty obvious that – like any bureaucracy – if he just went for the head, somebody even worse would get promoted (or, presumably, transformed in this case). The velociraptors were just WAITING to devour someone else’s responsibilities and get bigger!

He’d have to go after the Raptors first. There were almost a hundred and fifty of them!

Maybe he could pull off a “reduce monster” effect with his Mathematical magic? It wouldn’t normally stretch that far, but if reality was loose enough in Battling Business World to let Limey start a transformation plague with a bit of file editing…

Ah! He could just use a multiplier spell! A bunch of Bureaucrats (even if they did have big teeth) were no match for Lord Marty, the Martial Comforter of Numerologists! He could even get the accountants to boost him a bit!

Pint-sized raptors would be kind of cute! And an aura of pleasure would work on quite a few of the “herbivores”! He had Minel get some power tools to deal with any reinforced doors he might encounter too! And some traps! And some…

Wait. This was going to be rather a lot to carry on a wild rampage. These WERE dinosaurs he was talking about.

He went looking for a sapient truck who was open to a bit of shady freelance work.

He found one soon enough. He’d never seen a truck smoking a muffler before. It chomped on the end with it’s radiator, and growl something about “it being an anti-pollution model, so what’s it to ya?”

What, it was a smoke-belching truck? Oh! It had just EATEN an anti-pollution model!

(Marty) “Hey, want to help me and some accountants fight dinosaurs? You get a free vacation out of the deal!”

(Truck) “What, you found another enclave of those blasted steam engines?”

What? Was it hard of hearing? Those victorian-era steam engine enclaves were a bother… Oh! It’s definition of “dinosaurs” was a bit different from his!

(Marty) “No, but where I’m going to take you, there aren’t any steam engines or pollution. Ithought I saw them operating computers with steam engines, though, so you can help us.”

(Truck) “Wat a barstard ting to do! What’s it pay though? Leaded or Unleaded?

(Marty) “What would you prefer?”

(Truck) “Leaded o’ course. You get a better exchange rate with them as need it!”

(Marty) “Plenty of leaded for you then.”

(Truck) “Roight then! Whatcha need movin’?”

Marty reflected for a moment. The records room was down in the nuclear attack shelter beneath the building. It had been decided that records needed the protection; the people would just be back at work tomorrow anyway.

Marty had to laugh. Bureaucrats… So insane, and yet so sensible at the same time!

(Marty) “I need you to move that building! That will show the dinosaurs!”

(Truck) “Hrm… Roit then! Oi’ll be back in about ten minutes!”

Ten minutes? He didn’t look like he was about to call the police or anything… Oh! He was just considering how to move the building.

The truck was back shortly with a load of… something. It came to a screeching halt that turned into a flip that hurled the load into the building as it landed on its tires. There was a moments pause before the explosion…

That was actually pretty impressive!

The building bulged out most comically, then took off for orbit on a pillar of flames…

(Truck) “That’ tere’s concentrated balonium! Pure political statements! More hot air per cubic centimeter than anythin else in th known universe!”

(Marty) “Augh! Gotta stop it before the pressure and suffocation get them!”

Minel laughed and paid the Truck. It had earned it!

At the moment, the building was at eight thousand feet and climbing… He didn’t yet have magic strong enough to fix that!

On the other hand, he could fly, though not fast enough to catch up.

(Marty) “Hey, you got any balonium left?”

(Truck) “Heh! Trouble with that stuff is getting rid of it! There’s ALWAYS more Balonium!”

Okay! Marty had Minel make a balonium rocket pack, and used his Math magic to enhance her already-impressive working speed, just to be sure. Then he put it on and tried to catch up!

Soon he was entering the stratosphere, chasing an ever-accelerating office building powered by inflammatory political statements and crewed by hundreds of panicky dinosaurs. There were dozens of tiny velociraptors trying to shove the balonium out of the building while the ankylosaurs approached it very slowly.

Still, tipping them over was enough to keep them out of the way! He could only get one at a time with the Hand of Shadows, but he could do that while stealthily working his way into the building. Fortunately, the general panic provided excellent cover. No one here was sure that their death benefits covered political acts or even if this somehow counted as being fired!

Sadly, the Velicioraptors were having trouble handling the Balonium now that it was burning. Trying to pick it up with their mouths kept leading to them swallowing it, and then they started making speeches. Worse, it seemed that raptors who swallowed too much Balonium turned into flame-war breathing dragons. Who knew?

There were eight of them already… Well, they had wings! Marty threw them out of the building too!

With Hand of Shadows to steer with, Minel’s fireproof barriers to help channel the balonium thrust, and the windows sealed to hold the atmosphere, Marty attempted to Bring in dinosaurs from space aboard a building plunging like an asteroid…

He brought it down in rural New York. About eighty miles from the City… The landing was a little rough, but better than he could reasonably expect.

The dinobureaucrats’ promptly started filing for business-related travel mileage.

Marty gated back to the shelter and had Minel open the door now that most of the dinosaurs were out of the way. The accountants had gotten a bit scalded when the building unexpectedly took off – but they were Battlers, and resistant to angry messages anyway.

All that left was some stegosaurs with spectacles. They were in the vault updating records, and hadn’t yet noticed any problem…

(Stegosaur) “Hrrrrrmmmmm? Did you have a records request?”

(Marty) “Yeah, I need all the records of New York City Ghetto Union Welfare Payments for the last week!”

(Stegosaur) “Hrrrrrrmmmmm…. Do you have a request form?”

Marty used his Contract Magic to conjure one up! It was a bit fringe, but even a half-way decent forgery would keep them busy for quite long enough. They WERE slow!

(Marty) “Yes I do!”

(Stegosaur) “Hrrrmmmmm…. Hrrrmmmmm…. Hrrmmmm…

That continued for some time as the dinosaur slowly went through every line.

Minel spun an illusion of them all waiting.

That let them get to, and revise, the records. Of course, that would probably get some bureaucrats into trouble for paying out two billion dollars, but that was their problem and it wasn’t like they didn’t have tenure. Besides… who was going to try to imprison a dinosaur? It would take the military, and most of them were busy fighting desert wars.

Marty held the meeting on Battling Business World II, in Escrima, through another portal. There he explained what his alternate numerology entailed – emphasizing that it didn’t harm the user’s sanity.

That certainly has it’s attractions – but it required that they shift their allegiance from the Number Lords to Marty. Still, that would let them remain normal humans and not digits. Heck, if they wanted to, they could even have second homes in this alternate of their dimension. He didn’t even require them to be celibate or have a limited number of kids! That was just stupid. Competition was always good for the consumer!

But those apartments… they were for FREE!

Marty was amused. Rent-controlled apartments were apparently a far bigger draw than sanity, being allowed to have fun, and all the other advantages he was offering!

They’d start selectively and quietly spreading the word! That would probably attract the attention of Lord Zero fairly shortly – in BBW accountants don’t normally disappear from his awareness in large numbers – but by then he might have the advantage!

He told him that – if they saw Terry Jenkins – they should tell her that he’d like to meet with her.

The accountants planned to hold a large online meeting and vote, so they could get an exact percentage.

(Marty) “Hey, no problem with that. Just try to get good cybersecurity on that. Jenkins did something funny with computers for whatever made Lord Zero sane.”

(Accountants) “A most impressive stunt – one I would have considered impossible.”

(Marty) “I guess her Champion status let her do that. Anyway, who needs a residence here? I don’t want your old master eating any of you!”

He had the thralls keep an eye on them for the next couple of days, in case regaining sanity had side effects.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 72b

Time travel hypothesis ; using wormholes.

No, this is NOT how it works!

Just breather masks damn it! Oh well, at least he had the subspace systems up and running to dump some of the excess energy these people were flinging around! That would keep them from roasting all the unprotected refugees and the people (including himself and Alys!) in the port buildings.

Then he set out, phasing through walls with his new subspace lance to make examples out of the idiots on the guns…

Sadly, it was hard to keep them from shattering once frozen – so he couldn’t do too many – but it was kind of fun! Almost as much fun as the stasis gun, without the annoying need to keep holding it on them!

Poking the parts of the jellyfish that were coming in through the shields was strangely therapeutic as they froze – and the shields instantly shattered the frozen remains into monoatomic powder.

Meanwhile, of course, Kira was still all too busy.

As hard as I found it to believe, that only heightened the panic around me. Leaving the shuttle via phasing, I immediately set to work on the others. I was partway through disabling the third shuttle when my commlink chirped again.

(Ben) I’ve got a second subspace lance ready for you to use. It should be able to discharge all the power supplies and weapon system.

(Kira) That’s nice and all, but where in this maelstrom did you put it?

(Ben) Warehouse on the Northwest corner of the base. You should find it leaning against the South wall. It will be the yellow staff about two meters long.

(Kira) Got it, on my way now.

It took some dodging and weaving through the slow motion explosions going off as the rain of defensive fire continued unabated. Eventually though I was able to find the warehouse Ben had spoken of as I phased through the door in Hypertime. I could see the occupants trying to collect various forms of munitions, presumably to use against me. I ignored them as they turned to look at me in horror. Running along what I thought was the South wall found me a yellow staff like implement taller than I was laying on the floor.

I figured this had to be it. Of course, leave it to Ben to not leave any instructions on how to use the damned thing. It didn’t have any sort of a trigger that I could see and the handle wasn’t very indicative as to which direction the thing needed to be pointed. Oh well, I figure the odds are 50/50 and worst case I will look silly as I turn it around. By this point the occupants of the warehouse had worked up their courage and were coming to assault me with heavy weapons.

In a warehouse full of heavy weaponry….

Right, I charged them in Hypertime before they had a chance to unleash more devastation we didn’t need right now. First one got the wind knocked out of him as I shoved the apparently wrong end of the lance into his sternum. I then did a simple twirl of the lance into the other guy’s face before poking the correct end of the lance into the one I had attacked first. He immediately went still and began to tip over. I got the vision of him shattering into a thousand pieces from the intense cold via the Force, but thankfully I was able to catch him telekinetically in time. I laid him gently down on top of a crate and then departed the building. With any luck I’ll remember I left him here with his unconscious pal.

Outside the shuttles were still shooting at the immense cloud of dust they were creating in a vain hope to hit me via sheer odds. I then proceeded to repeat my earlier tactic for knocking out shuttles except this time I simply used the lance to disrupt power supplies and weapons. Pilots and gunners I simply bludgeoned unconscious with the lance or my hands. Just when I thought I was about to have this won though, more shuttles fell out of the sky and began raining destruction across the field. I managed to avoid a direct hit in that barrage, but the sheer bombardment resulted in me getting hit with a number of pieces of shrapnel and a lot of heat.

Luckily my reflexive reaction to harden myself against attacks served me well as I took all the shrapnel and thermal blasts without any lasting injury. It still knocked the wind out of me though. Abruptly the bombardment stopped and the dust began to clear from the port.

The place was a mess of craters, burning buildings, and crashed shuttles. My clothes were about as tattered as some of the main characters in an action holo as I stood there perched on top of an i-beam jutting out of the ground with the lance slung over my shoulder. I had to admit that even I was impressed by the sheer amount of carnage I had unleashed without firing a single shoot at my opponents. I was beginning to wonder if they had run out of weapons to fire when an intercom broke out over the port.

(Intercom) This is Commander Targus, cease the attack on Kira Keldav immediately! You’re causing more damage to yourselves than you are to him!

Looking up I saw that the voice was coming from a frigate that had descended upon the port. The Hybrid I had sensed earlier was aboard and appeared to be on the bridge. I could feel a note of amusement in his thoughts as the ship came down for a landing. Slowly things began to settle down and get organized. The fires were put out and the refugees were allowed into the port itself. Once everyone was inside, the shields were brought back up and the defenses focused on keeping the jellyfish at bay. Our proposal for refitting the hyperdrive of the frigate to handle trans-temporal travel was ardently opposed on numerous grounds, but as the jellyfish attacks became more frequent and intense, dissent quieted.

Two hundred thousand light years, and several universes, away, Lazlo was cheerily taking his new truckload of explosives up the ramp into the Yeveetha ship – and then sneaking off to have a look at the bridge. Droid security was easy enough to bypass – and there were only three Yeveetha (and a restrained local that they were trying to decide how best to cook to cover up the flavor) on the bridge.

It took a little climbing, and wedging himself into the angle of the ceiling – but after that, luring the first two out to be jumped was pretty easy.

It helped that they were all busy speculating on how they could advance their own clone-line over all the others rather than actually doing their jobs. Of course, there probably hadn’t been any real trouble out of THIS planet in the last fifty years.

Unfortunately, the only Yeveetha who were entrusted with the navigation routes were the astrogators – and they weren’t currently on the bridge… He stole the navigation computers memory core, rigged the controls to lock the doors and crash the ship into the moon, before heading out with the captive – detonating his bomb as he left to keep them distracted until their ship hit the moon.

Well, he MIGHT have enough information to start mapping the Yeveetha empire… and he kind of was missing his friends.

Time to get back!

His lurching ship made it offworld, if not easily, but the hyperdrive went on the blink. He tried to rig it with what he remembered from Ben’s instructions – and recalled rather too late that the three-coil configuration was one of the transdimensional ones…

He wound up… in the clean-up of the Infinite Empire, with the Jedi – as military commanders – and the nascent republic fleet in pursuit of the final Rakasta Starbreakers.

They picked him up on passing, even if even THEY thought that his ship was on obsolete joke.

Oddly, these Jedi seemed… a lot more aware? Had they tried to use the Censor as a weapon against the Rakata? There’d surely be unexpected consequences from that!

He left a test for true time travel by leaving a message for himself – but to see if there were any results from that, he’d have to get home!

Back home, Jarik almost had his weapons restocked after emerging from the cloning tank.

Shipwreck was mourning his lost planet of gold, with Handel helping him drink.

Xiang was off with Chan Naldor.

We loaded everyone into the frigate while Ben made modifications to the hyperdrive. I found a relatively quiet corner of the ship and was struggling to stay awake. My personal clock indicated I was about eighteen hours ahead of the local time and it was well into my third day awake straight. I wasn’t about to fall asleep with this many people out for my head on board this very same ship right now. My attempts to stare vacantly off into space were interrupted by a tall shadow looming over me.

(Darius) WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!

(Kira) Well, what did it look like?

(Darius) You just fought all those monsters by yourself and then fought the port facility to a stand still unarmed! The people are beginning to whisper some nonsense that you’re that freak Kira Keldav or something!

(Kira) They are? Well, I guess that isn’t surprising considering that’s my name.

(Darius) WHAT?!?!

(Kira) Sorry I hadn’t been more truthful, but a planet full of people looking for an excuse to kill all Force users isn’t a place I like throwing my name around. It tends to result in a little bit of excitement.

(Darius) EXCITEMENT?! The entire damned planet moved to who knows where and you are calling this a little excitement?!

(Kira) Calm down, you’re going to exhaust yourself for no reason.

(Darius) No reason?! You lied to me! Someone I considered a friend turns out to be a damned Sith!

(Kira) That depends on your definition. If you define a Sith as a Force user that has fallen to the Light or Dark Side, then no I am not a Sith. If you define a Sith as any Force user who is not a Jedi, then yes I am a Sith.

(Darius) Now you are arguing semantics?!

I stood up at that point. While I was not nearly as tall as Darius was, I must have had a presence as he stepped back. The others in the room also took note of my stance.

(Kira) Darius, if I was truly a Sith like you think they are, I could have killed a large number of people today and left the rest to die a horrific death while I calmly retreating to safety using the techniques at my disposal. Instead I fought the monsters, provided medical treatment to the injured, saved those poisoned by the jellyfish, organized the evacuation, and then distracted the people willing to kill the refugees in the hopes of getting me. And you’ll note it was those same people so willing to sacrifice others that recruited you to be a disposable assassin! Yes, I gave this planet the nudge it needed to fall out of the universe and I even botched my attempt to steer the planet to the timeline I wanted, but I wouldn’t have been able to even try it in the first place had the RDF not been working so hard to isolate this world in the first place. Now I would recommend you take a sedative and get some sleep.

(Darius) You actually pushed the planet out of the universe?!

(Kira) As I said, it was only due to the activities of the RDF that this was possible. Normally that sort of thing is impossible for even a large group of people to accomplish. I was trying to steer the planet to a Galaxy full of nice people I consider allies, but forty thousand people make for a lot of extra noise.

(Darius) And why are you pushing planets out of the universe? Was it in your way or something?

(Kira) The instructors figured out who I was and I was out of options for hiding my identity. You saw the immense panic my name alone causes and the sheer amount of weaponry these guys have. Are you sure they wouldn’t have used one of those Starbreakers to get me? They certainly proved they were willing to kill thousands just for the sheer chance of success.

(Darius) So what are you planning to do with them?

(Kira) Take them somewhere where I have enough allies and resources to ensure I get the information I want without them escaping to spread panic across the Galaxy with tales that I can now steal planets. Those not directly involved with RDF activities will be sent to a Galaxy where they can live quiet and happy lives without fanatics oppressing them.

(Darius) I am not sure I can believe you.

(Kira) Then I imagine you should just sit back and watch.

Ben came by two hours later and informed us the hyperdrive was ready. Everyone was by now loaded on the ship and the jellyfish attacks were becoming more frequent and intense. Luckily the shields were holding for the moment, but staying any longer than we needed wasn’t prudent. There was a major fuss with coming onto the bridge, but Commander Targus hammered the protests down eventually. I quietly mentioned to Ben to ask Commander Targus to lock the escape pods and weapons to prevent any “accidents”. With that out of the way, we started up the hyperdrive and I did my best to steer us home using the thread connecting me to Valerie as a guide.

That was another several hour trip and I was approaching the limits of my endurance even with the Force assisting me. Thankfully I saw the familiar profile of the Mrs Beasley and felt Valerie’s presence once again. Ben immediately fired off some coded messages to the Mrs Beasley as part of the docking request and I could tell that we were about to enter stasis based on how my precognition was going blank.

Next thing I was aware of was being carried over someone’s shoulder. I was promptly set down on my feet by a female figure clad in a form fitting jumpsuit that covered her from head to toe. I didn’t need to see her face to tell who it was, but it still was a welcome sight as Valerie took off the hood.

(Valerie) By the Force you reek! You smell like something that had crawled out of the ocean, died, and has been baking in the sun for a couple days.

(Kira) That’s not that far from the truth.

At which point her face contorted into one of concern.

(Valerie) You’re exhausted.

(Kira) Yeah, currently I think I am on hour 58 without sleep.

(Valerie) I am not sure I want to know what made you think that was a good idea, but I am sure I will find out anyway.

With that she touched her commlink as we made our way to an elevator.

(Valerie) Gab, I need a bath and fresh clothing prepared for Kira in his quarters. Have Vincent ready to do a diagnostic. We’ll be arriving shortly.

<Gab> Yes, my lady.

(Kira) You brought her here?

(Valerie) Well yes, this is quickly becoming my new residence since I no longer live at the Academy, so it made sense to arrange her transfer here.

(Kira) It may be prudent to have her lie low for a bit.

(Valerie) And why would I do that?

(Kira) I found her little brother and he isn’t going to react well to her enslavement.

(Valerie) Then he can get over it.

(Kira) He’s also a potential Hybrid.

I could feel the consternation and annoyance cross her mind with that revelation. At least she didn’t seem to object to the request for the time being, but I could tell there was an argument brewing for later.

We arrived in the Sith Canton minutes later. Gab lit up when she saw me but then her face turned to shock when she saw my current state. Vincent gave me that perpetually condescending look of his and made a production out of sniffing the air. His comment about my smell wasn’t helpful in the least. Vincent ran his scans, took blood samples, and asked a lot of annoying questions. Finally he seemed to run out of tests and questions as he gestured for me to go ahead and get cleaned up. The bath felt nice as I let all the stuff on me wash off while letting the hot water soothe the aching joints. It was tempting to fall asleep right there, but I forced myself out and dressed. Valerie was waiting for me as she sat on the bed.

(Valerie) There’s a pill on the table Vincent wants you to take. He says it will help with the fatigue and remove some of the remaining toxins in your blood. Get some sleep. Gab has been informed not to let anyone bother you and get you anything you need. We’ll take care of sorting through the passengers of the frigate.

I didn’t respond to her except to take the pill and crawl into bed.

I awoke about sixteen hours later. After stretching a bit, I got dressed in one of my robes and donned my equipment. It felt weird wearing it again, but the exquisite fit kept it from being uncomfortable. I stopped by the mess hall to grab some food and then made my way to the docked frigate to see how things were going. I found Virstris and Valerie watching over things while Alys directed droids to shuffle back and forth carrying people in stasis belts. Apparently they had Khadim carry first stage stasis generators aboard the ship at regular intervals and then disengaged the second stage stasis. This way the droids could enter and exit without issue while the organics remained locked in time.

We were missing some of the instructors, but it did look like they had never boarded the frigate. So that left them someplace they weren’t likely to interfere with us though. We were having problems sorting through the people we did have though. Reading the minds of the dead (or those in stasis) was one of the specialties Lazlo had picked up. But Lazlo hadn’t returned from his infiltration mission so he couldn’t do the job. Valerie lamented the fact none of the rest of us had learned the technique, but I had a plan. I knew where to find the one that taught Lazlo that technique.

Ben more or less arrived at the same conclusion I had and made his own preparations for delivering gifts in exchange for the services we were requesting. Apparently he was having the Mrs Beasley fabricate the shields generators we had asked the Jedi for and building an “instant civilization starting kit”, whatever that was. It took a few days for all of that to be loaded into one of the larger freighters, but that gave us time to continue unloading the frigate and make sure no one was hiding someplace before we took the ship out of stasis. That also gave me time to give Valerie full details on what happened in this whole fiasco. That led to the next argument.

Valerie wasn’t willing to give up Gab as a slave without some sort of concession from me. At first she offered that Gab could be freed if Darius joined the Varen, but there wasn’t a chance in hell of that happening. Attempts to just ask for a price resulted in her giving me an absurd amount. Finally I got fed up with this and came straight out and asked her what it was she was wanting in exchange for Gab.

(Valerie) I want you to treat me to a series of nice evenings somewhere.

That was not what I was expecting.

(Kira) And where would the princess like to be taken to?

(Valerie) Well, you can certainly afford most any place I can think of. How about you surprise me? I am sure an opportunity will come up in the near future for you to treat me.

Ah, now I get it. She was wanting to trade one form of pampering for another form. It was also a good sign that Valerie’s emotional spectrum was increasing significantly from the perpetual cranky annoyance she had when I met her.

(Valerie) Perpetual cranky annoyance?

Well crap, she heard that thought.

(Kira) Sorry, just comparing the apparently progress you’ve made compared to when I met you.

(Valerie) Noted, and you are becoming more comfortable with the status your powers entail. Especially if you are willing to take an apprentice of your own.

(Kira) Well, I really doubt Darius has many other options right now besides us. The military won’t take him given the near fanaticism, and the Sith are the enemy to him. Leaving him with the RDF is a death sentence.

(Valerie) Just don’t get too attached to him. Failures are common and nasty when they do occur. I’ve seen enough of Father’s to know.

(Kira) Oh who knows? Maybe he will be the one to bring our efforts to full fruition and I would only be remembered as the guy that trained the great Darius Kilnes. I would be merely a footnote in history.

(Valerie) I am not sure if that is ambitious or lazy.

With that out of the way it was time to talk with the JLA Hybrid we found. Targus immediately struck me as the typical military man except a little more pragmatic and not so paranoid. He still gave that vaguely disapproving look at most everything he saw though. He especially did not like all the Sith running around on board, but at least he wasn’t pitching a fit. My response that I found having insane yet predictable people around me more trustworthy than the sheer number of sane but greedy people out in the Galaxy also was not well received. Apparently this fact was still supposedly my fault somehow. That led to the question as to whether or not all Hybrids had these kinds of issues, with him replying firmly no.

Oh well, we did sit down and compare notes on being a Hybrid, what technologies our group knew of, countermeasures, techniques, and things like the Censor and Rakata immunities. When asked how we derived the existence of the JLA and RDF, we told the story of our investigation and accidental discovery of the multiverse and Codifiers. To which I asked him about my location of my family and friends since it seemed likely that the JLA had been involved in the disappearance based on all the evidence we had available. Predictably he didn’t know where they were, but he promised to make inquiries into the matter since we had assisted with the elimination of two Star Breakers.

Sigh, that is about all I can expect these days without firm leads.

With that squared away and instructions left for Virstris to keep Gab and Darius from finding each other for the moment, it was off to Chyran. With the place being an isolated backwater, there wasn’t much of any issue getting there. We could still see the remnants of the Republic War Droids still circling the planet, but this time we had the firepower and resources to readily handle those things. Ben started working on cleaning those out so he could begin to place his shield generators, and I descended to the surface near that village we had visited what seems like a lifetime ago.

The villagers recognized me at least. We told them that we had come to fulfill our promise to stop the attacks by the “demons” and to put the dead “gods” to rest in their final slumber. The announcement that more would be arriving to help them rebuild their civilization was met with mixed responses. Apparently millennia of bombardment had made them incredibly shy about anything more advanced than wooden and stone implements. I was rather amused to see an increased number of shields in use amongst the youngsters and even some of the adults. I guess we did make an impression after all.

I expressed our wish that one of us be trained to read the minds of the “dead gods” or have someone come with us that can. At which point the elders told us we needed to reaffirm ourselves as adults and members of the tribe again before any such training or assistance be given. Apparently departing the planet for a few years causes tribal membership to expire. It was the same basic formula as last time, but now we had a much better idea of what to expect, we weren’t silted, and we had a great deal more power and weaponry at our disposal this time. The youngsters with us got to more or less watch as we found one of the lizard creatures, killed it, and then drug it back to the camp as proof of our adulthood.

With that out of the way, the tribal shaman then offered to train one of us and even come along if that was what we needed. Ben volunteered for the training and after some more exchanges and promises of further aid, we loaded into the ship and returned to the Mrs Beasley with our new Sith Shaman in tow. I figured Targus wasn’t going to be happy to see me bringing yet another Sith aboard the Mrs Beasley, but he was going to have to get used to it I think. I did find it amusing that he and Ilia were seen discussing their respective organization histories in the mess hall. That ought to be an eye opening experience for them both.

Alright, we are waiting on a report back from the JLA on the whereabouts of my family. The Shaman and Ben were busily trying to sort through the captured RDF Breakers for clues and valuable information. Ben was muttering something about needing an infiltration mission somewhere, but I ignored it until he provided more details on where and why.

Meanwhile I had Darius to worry about.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 72a

Fun with an Argon-ion and a He-Ne laser. Most ...

Isn't it nice when people color-code their weaponry?

The wookie immediately charged at me with a scream and a leap. The blaster rifle shots I fired into his torso didn’t seem to have much of any effect though as he continued that arc to collide with me. Too late I realized there wasn’t enough time to dodge the attack as I attempted to block with the rifle. The wookie’s overhanded blow snapped the rifle in half in my hands as I barely managed to knock that blow aside. The impact of that blow still resounded through my arms, my chest, and even my legs as the pavement cracked under my feet.

Ungh, even with the Force reinforcing me, that was going to leave me sore.

I didn’t have time to be playing around with this wookie given the chaos unfolding around me. I needed to finish this now so that I could help the others. The rifle was now broken in half, but I still had other means of fighting. Using Hypertime to boost my speed, adjusting the interface for inertial boosts, and then using the Force to enhance my strength, I unloaded rapid series of punches and kicks onto the wookie. The final kick to the side of the head caused him to fall to the ground unconscious a number of meters from my feet. Whether he was dying or not was hard to ascertain at the moment, but unfortunately for him there were bigger priorities.

It looked like my earlier telepathic broadcast had distracted all those berserkers not immediately trying to kill someone. That still left thirty or so still running around attempting to kill everyone. I looked down at the broken remains of the rifle and considered my options. Tackling them all in personal combat was going to result in me getting overwhelmed soon enough. Individually they weren’t a problem and even as a group, my speed and agility made me near impossible for them to catch. The real issue was keeping them from attacking and eating everyone else. Any weapon I could think of large enough to get them all would also get the rest of the population too. Plus there was the issue of all the jellyfish floating about eating people and turning the rest into these berserkers.

The best way to handle the jellyfish was find somewhere defensive until we could build a hypertunnel and escape this world. Getting all the people somewhere safe was the real trick though since all the berserkers were making life difficult. Outsmarting an enemy that simply charged the first thing it saw was both incredibly easy and pointless at the same time. I mean ideally I would just announce myself a target and let them all chase me all day. I could probably get a few of them to chase me that way, but all of them was not just feasible. As amusing as the thought might be, I really doubted that smothering myself in sauce would really work to get them all to focus on me.

Wait a moment.

I could get them to focus on me using another telepathic broadcast associating myself with food. I could certainly keep them all on a merry chase for some time once I got them all on me. With that plan in mind, I pulled as hard as I could using the Force as I sent out a telepathic command making me food in the eyes of the berserkers. It was only when they all stopped to look at me that I began to question the wisdom of the move. Too late now I think.

The mob came quickly and more arrived every moment. I used a brief bit of Hypertime to get outside the encirclement and then used the Force to enhance my speed from that point onwards. With the main mob running behind me, I reached out with my senses to find any stragglers that I missed so that I could add them to the pack. Grabbing them, I saw that those people not affected by the berserker toxin were staring at amazement as I ran by followed by the horde of feral nuts. Stupid idiots, this wasn’t the time to be standing and gawking. They need to take the opportunity to find shelter somewhere defensible.

Hmm, where was there somewhere defensible? The feral berserkers were going to be easy enough to defend against given weaponry and time to prepare. The real problem was going to be the jellyfish when they inevitably swarmed the place en masse. The typical building or vehicle wasn’t going to cut it in this case. Somewhere deep underground would be nice, but I wasn’t aware of anywhere nearby that could hold nearly forty thousand people. About the only place nearby that I knew of that could conceivably hold that many people and have any sort of defenses was the space port I arrived in weeks ago. It was a military port and so had all the appropriate equipment and supplies needed. Hell, it probably was one of the few locations on this planet with a large power supply we could use to run a trans-temporal hypertunnel.

Well, best to be pointing this out to people then. I imagine it must have looked ridiculous to everyone to see me run past yelling for people to evacuate to the space port while being chased by an angry mob of blood thirsty people. At least this was buying everyone time.

Meanwhile, Alys and Ben were getting things organized. The students needed better weapons, organization, and some strategy. Pulling out a section of the floor with phasing and merging it with the walls where the door had been had cut off the influx of human zombies (a good thing they weren’t all Kreedath! The half of the one that was sticking out of the floor was STILL trying to reach out and kill someone) – but the situation wasn’t good; their opponents were just dumb zombies, so there was no need to panic (even if they were incredibly strong and durable) – and Kira was leading a lot of them on a wild Kira chase (a galactic idiom that was rapidly becoming synonymous with “snark hunt”), but capturing the “zombies” without killing them was difficult – and they might still be treatable. Neither Ben nor Alys wanted innocent blood on their hands.

Ben was wondering (while doing a distracted and not-too-effectual pep talk… How did Alys make that stuff look so easy? At least they were ONLY zombies!)… how could the blasted things possibly be FLYING? And through space yet! They HAD to be generating a repulsorfield somehow… which meant that they had to be partially crystalline… could he use a laser to trigger a lightsaber-like discharge inside them?

Oh well! It was for this sort of thing that he had armor! AAARRRGGGHHH! His armor was on his ship in orbit! Surrounded by Jellyfish!

AAARRRGGGHHH!

OK, never mind, he could deal with this… To the spaceport! There couldn’t be TOO many jellyfish around yet, and he could use the equipment there! Lasers would save them!

Alys was wondering if Ben had gone crazy (on top of her other problems), but quickly got a local exodus to the spaceport organized to clear the way for the mass evacuation.

Unfortunately, the port defenses were active, both against the jellyfish and against the zombies. Worse, a zombie had smashed up the communications equipment (oh of COURSE). Even WORSE, a Jellyfish was coming in to attack them while Ben was fixing the communicator!

Ben added “Zombies” to the list of things he HATED HAVING TO DEAL WITH!

Alys had the students try to hold off the Jellyfish with lasers – and the thing… absorbed the energy and fired it back?!?!

(Alys) “Ben? What the hell is going on?!?!”

Ben swore, nursing his new laser-burn… The DAMNED JELLYFISH HAD SHOT HIM! That was SO WRONG! How the HELL could a DAMNED JELLYFISH SHOOT HIM? The damned things were… made of Zandramas Goo! Able to absorb and discharge energy… That explained the normal-space travel capabilities – but it also meant that they could generate basic energy-weapon effects and that they could – given time – blast their way into structures and penetrate shields! Shit! And those ships out there were… armed with turbolasers! And likely to use them! That would make things SO MUCH WORSE!

He needed to get in there! He needed to make some liquid nitrogen weapons for short range and to warn all the idiots in the spaceport NOT to use energy weapons against the jellyfish!

Unfortunately, the first idiot to respond to the comlink was panicked, and was afraid that they were zombies.

(Ben) GET OFF THE CHANNEL YOU IDIOT! ZOMBIES DO NOT USE COMMUNICATORS! THEY DON’T EVEN TALK!

Alys sighed. It was true enough that Zombies would NOT be calling in to request a way in, but screaming incoherently at some frightened crewman was NOT going to help either. She got on the link and started providing some information on the limits and capabilities of the jellyfish while carefully NOT suggesting that all they needed to do was to take off and get out of local space.

Alys got someone less panicked on the line soon enough and got them inside the defenses at least – although not aboard a ship as yet. Still, that let Ben get his mind off of being eaten by Jellyfish (again!) and back onto weapons and hypertunnels. All he needed to do was to wait until the Jellyfish were exterminated in the local area and a secure zone was set up and he could work freely! It wasn’t like the damned things had any kind of…

Zandramas Goo could run droid programs! And communicate! Even if their normal-space drive was relatively slow, it was no WONDER that they’d shown up so fast, and that more were appearing all the time!

They HAD TO GET OUT OF HERE! In hours to days there’d be enough firepower here to overwhelm any defense the port could put up!

Across the galaxy, Lazlo had completed his “investigation” – such as it was. It hadn’t taken all that many interviews or even approaches to discover that the locals were all terrorized farmers, who were permitted to live to produce other crops for the Yeveetha simply because they tasted really bad to the Yeveetha.

The Yeveetha still ate any who acted up – or one out of any group that failed to meet their quotas – out of “principle” though.

Some “principles” they had there.

The Yeveetha seemed to regard this planet as under complete control – which said that this might have been going on for generations, and that the locals had no weapons, no resources, and no way of standing up to their overlords; he wasn’t going to be sparking any revolutions here.

Fortunately, that also meant that they took few precautions save for operating in pairs; they simply took skimmer-trucks out, let the droids handle the routing, and spent a few “pleasant” days intimidating farmers and occasionally killing people before letting the droids haul back the produce and unload it into the hold.

Well, at least there was an opportunity there to get them to focus on him instead of on the poor locals.

Unfortunately, his own temper – and a bit of distraction – got the better of him there. Instead of zipping up behind their lumbering produce-transport and leaping aboard dramatically, he wound up smacking into the back of it and hurling himself into forty tons of two-foot-across balls of green leafy vegetables.

Not too surprisingly, they noticed and investigated – and Lazlo arose from the cabbages with some quip about condiments and an announcement of his mission as a spy.

The Yeveetha really were big on this “when in doubt, attack!” routine weren’t they?

Lazlo shoved enough vegetables into the first one to rupture his throat and stomach, but the second one managed to stun him with a lucky blaster shot – and then unloaded five or six less fortunate (and thus totally ineffectual) shots into him to “make sure”. Luckily, the creature was then Imperceptive enough to be sure that Lazlo was dead, and turned his attention to laughing at (and then dispatching) his mortally-wounded companion and preparing to gut and roast the “corpses” for transport back to the ship.

Bludgeoning him into unconsciousness worked well enough – and eventually yielded the information that there were at least two hundred Yeveetha in the main ships crew, since that was how many the Yeveetha said would kill and eat him.

The droid-autopilot was more helpful; it knew all the routes – which revealed that most of that crew would be out driving trucks.

Hm. That gave him an idea. He had a truck, and there were LOTS of fertilizers around, and they WOULD be expecting the truck to come back…

Meanwhile, back with Kira…

I was about to make a turn down another street when another berserker of some purple species I didn’t recognize leapt out from behind a store stall in front of me with his arms wide open in a grapple. My momentum was too great to allow me to simply sidestep him and there wasn’t time to stop and pick another direction. So I jumped up, planted a foot firmly in his face, and used him as a springboard to propel myself further down the road. I missed the turn I wanted to make, but figured I could circle back around the block in a few moment anyway.

The second ambush (not that I thought these guys were actually thinking enough to set up a trap) caught me in the middle of pedestrian walkway with berserkers ahead of me and of course behind me. Judging by the relative speeds involved, I figured the two groups were going to collide with me in the middle near that light pole. I could probably jump to the roofs of the nearby buildings, but that would put me out of the reach of the nuts following me and my hold on them was tenuous at best. To make this work I had to stay just out of reach. Time was growing short, and I could think of only a single option.

Adjusting my direction slightly I ran haflway up the light pole and then pushed off it to go airborne. That flung me backwards over the heads of the group that had been following me. A number of them tried to jump up and grab me. One or two came a lot closer than I really liked as their hands tore rents in my clothing (blast it! Why did so many species have to come with effective natural weapons? I got along with fingernails, why couldn’t they?). Still I managed to land on the far side of the mob and on my feet as I took off running again in the direction I had just come. That only left a few pockets of these berzerkers on the outskirts of town near the farms.

I thanked Valerie for all the endurance lessons as I could tell my legs were getting the point they should have stopped responding to commands to run. So far I had only managed to work up a light sweat with all this running and leaping around town. I was covered in blood and dirt but the blood wasn’t mine and the dirt was from the explosions still going off around me occasionally. This wasn’t bad considering I had no weapons or armor to speak of I figured.

The third ambush occurred when I found that the end of the alley I was rushing down was filled with the remains of jellyfish goo. Skidding to a halt, I realized there wasn’t a lot of options to get out of this one. The buildings were simply too tall to just jump straight on top of given my skill and I wasn’t keen on trying to use levitation under these circumstances. Looking at the walls and then the mob quickly catching up, I figured it was time to try something I have only seen done in the holos.

Leaping up towards one wall, I planted a foot against it and timed my kick to propel me upwards and backwards. Spinning around I was able to orient myself in time to land my other leg against the opposite wall and do the same thing again. Thus I jumped from wall to wall in an upwards climb until I finally reached the top, flipped over, and landed on my feet. Below I saw the first sections of the mob stop to stare at me as the center and rear sections collided with them. The whole mess then proceeded to get pushed into the jellyfish goo. Fresh flows of the stuff and made the air reek as more membranes tore open.

Ungh, I thought they smelled terrible before.

I stood there watching the slippery mess unfold when I saw that a number of children were part of the mob. And unfortunately that was when I started to see these as people and not just more monsters and nutjobs out to kill me. There was no way we could get adequate medical treatment to all of these people in time before the effects of the chemicals killed them. Well, I guess since they are going to die anyway, the only chance they had for survival was for me to try something stupid.

Reaching out with the Force I tried to feel what enzyme it was that was causing the berserker rampage. My initial scan was showing nothing but the symptoms being created, what the stress was doing to their hearts, and the agony they were feeling. Finally I had to stop, wipe the dust out of my eyes, and steady my breath for a moment. With that, I tuned out the rest of the world around me as I sunk deep into a trance scanning the disruptions of their metabolisms deeper and deeper until I was aware of individual bits of barely living nothingness floating around and interacting with each other. One in particular stood out as foreign though as I felt it interact with the others in what I could only say I felt was a disruptive manner. I reached out to that bit, felt it with my powers and got a good idea of what it “looked” like.

With that image in hand, I spread my awareness as far as I could to the point it was almost painful. Quickly I became aware of a “cloud” of the stuff surrounding the area, with some large concentrations and a lot of little bits moving about. I grabbed a hold of all of it that I could, disrupted the connections holding it to this universe, and meanwhile did what shifting I could to ensure that reality reassembled itself in a positive manner. Balancing all of those techniques at once and trying to use them over such a large area was quickly becoming exhausting as I made one last shove.

At that point I became aware of my own existence in this universe was beginning to fade badly. The light around me went dim, sound became muffled, gravity felt inconsistent, and the presence of the lives around me became hard to detect. Well crap, I’ve pushed too far and now I was about to drop out again. That took even more straining of my abilities as I sought to grab a hold of what few connections remained and tried to anchor myself to the local reality. While I didn’t doubt that I would survive dropping out of the universe, I really had my doubts that this whole fiasco would end well if I wasn’t around to intervene.

I wasn’t quite sure how much time had passed there when full sensation returned. I was sore from the tremendous effort I had made, but I reflexively pulled on the Force to compensate against the aches fatigue. Looking over the edge of the roof towards the alley below, I saw that all the feral people had collapsed to the ground. Reaching out with the Force, I could tell that they looked to be alive and stable though. With that verified, I dropped to the street below with a gentle telekinetic landing. A few of the people that had been hiding in houses were now cautiously peeking out windows and doors to see if the danger had passed. I used the Force to amplify my voice a bit.

(Kira) I have neutralized the toxin. They shouldn’t be in any danger of losing their lives, but they are too exhausted to move on their own. Get a transport, load them up, and make for the spaceport. A defensive position should be forming there.

Whether it was fear, mistrust, or sheer shock, none of them made to move. I was too tired to really be frustrated though as I sent out another telepathic wave reinforcing their courage.

(Kira) DO IT!

That got them moving. They were rather cautious about retrieving the ones stuck in the mass of jellyfish goo at first until I made a show of wading in, grabbing someone and dragging them back out to no ill effects. Once they saw that, the people started collecting the exhausted and injured and loading them into transports. With that started, I reached out again with the Force and took a survey of the area around the city. I was burning power fast as did two intensive scans of the area looking for injured and trapped people. That list of locations I then fed to my precognition and probability analysis to find an optimized route to hit them all in as little time as possible with priority given to those in most need of medical care.

The zig-zagging pattern I got from that was more than a bit dismaying to say the least. There was no way around this except to burn a lot of Hypertime to move as quickly as possible. At least I had some “credit” on my lifespan stored up from all that time in stasis in the Droid Galaxy. I “stole” the keys to one of the nearby parked bikes from one of the bystanders with a show of telekinesis. He started to protest at first, but then realized that the keys had leapt to my hands telekinetically and lost his resolve to dispute the matter. I turned the ignition over and drove the bike to the first point on my route.

First location found a wall partially collapsed on a man and his two children. Flinging the debris away telekinetically, I stayed long enough to verify that they could get to the spaceport and went on. Second location had a woman holding the remains of her left arm trying to stop the bleeding of the partial amputation. That was resolved with a tourniquet and putting her on the seat behind me. I dropped her off at the first group of people I came across and continued on. Next it was a man with a pinned leg, then three children trapped in a basement, and on and on it went for what seemed like hours.

Finally it seemed like I had gotten everyone that it was possible to save as I turned the bike to follow the mass of refugees fleeing the city to the spaceport. By this point my appearance was drawing recognition as people would point and gesture in my direction while muttering something among themselves. As we got within sight of the port though, my sense of foreboding kick in again. Whatever the source was, it was either well shielded or going to cover a wide area. I didn’t sense any jellyfish in the immediate vicinity though. Then my comlink chirped.

Back at the spaceport, the conclusion-jumping was in full swing. The RDF commanders had decided that they knew what was going on; the infamous Kira Keldav had called in his ship-eating jellyfish creatures to zombify the population – making them easy to turn into a deadly army that he could use to overrun all remaining resistance on the ground while his jellyfish prevented any escape to space! Probably assisted by Ben Therus, who’d been building planet-moving superweapons for a “resistance group” on Gruenn.

Ben was too busy throwing speciality weapons – most notably a subspace lance based on Smooche’s original design – to pay much attention to the building wave of irrationality (bombard Kira? Why would anyone think that something like that would work? All it would do is kill a lot of people in the course of failing!), but Alys was finding that – in the face of so much panic – there were times when people simply didn’t even hear you any longer, and then it no longer mattered how reasonable and persuasive you were.

She called Kira to warn him.

(Alys) Kira, they are planning to fire on the refugees as a desperate bid to kill you!

(Kira) Who they?

(Alys) The RDF Port Authorities!

Damn it. This was not what we needed right now. While I was fairly certain I could survive simply by dropping out of the universe, that wasn’t necessarily going to stop the Port Officials from firing just to make sure I wasn’t invisible or some nonsense. Staying in the midst of this exodus was not going to work, and fleeing into the woods would just result in them focusing enough firepower to force me to drop out. That would in turn likely strand these people here. The city wasn’t any better an option in that regard. It wasn’t like there was any place deep underground I could hide in either. Sigh, that left one choice.

I stepped into hypertime and phased myself as I ran forward through the crowd towards the port shields and walls ahead of me. I could see weapon turrets turning to try and target me but they weren’t going to be able to swivel in time given my speed. I saw a section of the shield that contacted a small hill and aimed for that. As I reached the hill, I took a deep breath and dove into the hillside. There I used levitation to direct me through the hill to the inside of the shield. A second later I reentered daylight on the inside of the shields and inside the port proper.

At which point it seemed like the entire place freaked. Shuttles immediately powered on shields, took off, and started pointing weapons at me. The port defenses also turned inwards at me. Those people out in the open started screaming, pulled out large amounts of heavy weapons and aimed them in my direction. Precognition more or less shut down after informing me that Hypertime was going to be the only way of surviving this.

These guys can’t be serious….

They were serious unfortunately as the weapons fire began. Pushing myself hard into Hypertime, I immediately started dodging incoming shots. All too soon I realized this was a fool’s game likely to end up with someone getting a lucky shot while destroying the port and with it all chances of escape for these people. Attempting to reason with these morons was probably out of the question given their shoot first and ask questions later policy. I needed to start disabling shuttles and defenses now. Luckily the port shields were keeping the shuttles from getting too far off the ground. All of them were close enough to the ground that their shields were actually contacting the surface.

Time to rehash a recent tactic again.

I phased through the ground again and used the Force to guide me as I levitated beneath the ground to underneath one of the shuttles. Surfacing, I then leapt on top of the shuttle in front of the cockpit window. The people inside the shuttle panicked even further upon seeing me there. As dramatic as smashing my fist through the window would have been, that would simply have broken every bone in my fist regardless of any Force enhancement. Nonetheless, I simply phased through the window into the cockpit itself. The pilots immediately tried to resist the intrusion, but simple blasters weren’t enough to threaten me with harm these days. I slammed one face first into the dashboard and the other went unconscious after a fist to the temple. That took care of the crew, and initiating an emergency shutdown of the main power core took the shuttle itself out of service.

On their part, Alys was busily keeping the panic from escalating to the point where they deployed suicidal amounts of firepower, calming those she could, and letting the refugees get inside the outer shields, since those controls had been more or less abandoned in the rush to get Kira when he’d bypassed the outer defenses.

Ben was shutting down the power to as much of the major weaponry as he could, while finishing up a few more weapons… Still, he needed SOME form of life support! This place was a spaceport, surely it would have some suits?

Flexible Adventure Design – Ridmarch and the Open Sandbox, Part II

Hades and Kerberos, in Meyers Konversationslex...

Yes, I'd say that something went wrong...

At this point the writeup has established the history and motivations of the adventure, the opponents, several locations to locate and explore, at least five different ways of dealing with the problem, and – most importantly – no particular “level”, power, or magical requirements – although some of the areas are reactive, and will adapt to a given parties power level.

That’s one of the most important items for a genuinely “good” sandbox scenario design.

It shouldn’t rely on characters of a particular power level, or any one vital clue, or a particular tactic, or spell, or magical item. For that matter, it doesn’t really need all that much in the way of game statistics; pretty much every game out there comes with a pile of monster statistics to use. It’s the situations that are interesting – as can be easily seen all around us. The statistics for most soap-opera characters would look an awful lot alike in a game wouldn’t they? Yet soap operas are perennially popular thanks to the situations those characters wind up in.

As a consequence, it will probably be easy to adapt to a wide variety of game systems.

That’s where most published scenarios fall short. There are a few almost universally-useful items out there, like Flying Buffaloes old “Citybook” series – but not very many.

As soon as you say “for this game system” you’ve lost 90 to 95% of the people who might otherwise be interested in a good scenario. When you say something like “for levels ten to fourteen” you’ve just lost 80% of the remainder, as well as a lot of reuse potential.

Dumping 99% of your potential audience before you start is less than ideal. Even if you’re just writing up some notes for your own sandbox game, a scenario that the players could have fun with at any point in the game – novice to expert – greatly increases the chance that you’ll actually get to put that work to use.

Thus, in Ridmarch…

A clever party of novices can pick up clues, sneak around, avoid conflicts, explore the various areas involved as quietly as possible, and still defeat the enemy. Their challenge will be to overcome a vastly superior foe by discovering and exploiting the weaknesses of that foe. They may not be able to compete with raw force or magical power, but cleverness knows no “level”.

A more experienced party may deal directly with the cultists of Olfenac, perhaps by sneaking about in their tunnels and releasing their captives for assistance, discover the nature of the ritual which opened the troublesome gate, and then visit Kareon. There they can recruit some allies to help them reach the Caverns of the Dead and perform a counter-ritual (a solution that will work until or unless more demon cultists manage to get in and open the rift up again). If they consult Rathine Mora along the way, or follow up on old mysteries, they may obtain the Eagle of Ridmarch – which will make their task considerably easier.

A very experienced party may opt to skip looking for assistance, and simply begin to smash their way through the Dark Legion en route to closing the gate. This is dangerous, and demands a fair amount of power, but is straightforward. Still, their mission will be immensely easier if they do enough investigation to discover the Eagle of Ridmarch first. Alternatively, such a group could root out the cultists and then assemble the components for a grandiose ritual of exorcism – a solution that will work just fine until the locals forget to keep an adequate watch on the Cavern of the Dead.

A epic-to-godlike party can probably use their own vast powers to solve all the mysteries, grab the relevant items to dispose of the Dark Legions in short order, and then jaunt down to the infernal regions to challenge “Harkold” directly – in which case you can assume that the Eagle offers some advantages there. Of course, if a party of such power is in the area and becomes involved, they’re likely to attract quite a lot of attention. In fact, they’re likely to have attracted attention long before, and the entire situation will, in fact, be a well-buried trap for them. If they fall into it by jaunting off unprepared they may well wind up permanently dead. The main body of THEIR adventure is likely to be discovering what traps lie in wait, figuring out how to bypass them, and then engaging in an epic battle.

If the party is beyond godlike, and can’t be challenged by an entire infernal dimension full of traps, troops, and a canny archdemon/god, then my advice is to either retire those characters or to go and play Amber or Nobilis, where intra-party politics can keep everyone busy.

If the party is unpleasant, and decides to side with the Dark Legion, they still have much the same set of goals at lower power levels; find the weaknesses of the Dark Legion – and plug them, rather than exploiting them. At higher power levels they’ll probably be trying to eliminate the local refuges and help the cultists withstand goody-two-shoes adventurers. At the highest power levels they’ll be wanting to usurp command of the Dark Legion – or “Harkold” himself.

Still, for most parties, a big part of the problem – and their most likely introduction to it – is going to be having the Dark Legion running all over the place. Ergo, here are some likely encounters for the area:

Ridmarch Encounters:

  1. A party of Dark Legion scouts: This group of militaristic “undead”will be mounted (whether on undead horses, undead giant wolves, or undead whatever depends on the setting), will employ skirmisher tactics, and will try to call in assistance to handle any party that either escapes them or proves to be too powerful to handle. A single ordinary scout group probably won’t be a major threat to the party – but letting them sound the alarm will be trouble. Worse, even wiping them out won’t keep them from reporting back to their masters; it simply delays it until they rise again the next nightfall.
  2. A Champion of the Darkness: This Dark Legion scouting party happens to be led by a moderately powerful captain, who will either back up or lead his or her “men” as appropriate to the Captain’s abilities. There aren’t that many captains however – probably less than a dozen – so extended adventures in the area may wind up in a cat-and-mouse game as the captains become ever-more familiar with the parties abilities and tactics. There’s a modest chance that a Champion and “his men” will be taking a few captured civilians back to the Cavern of the Dead to be sacrificed to help keep the rift open. Following them would be tricky, but would be a good way to locate the Caverns.
  3. A Knight of Hades: These Dark Legion solo outriders possess considerable power – but are out on their own, looking for vengeance on the world, personal power, and battle glory. While they cannot leave “Harkold’s” service – at least not without truly powerful spells or rituals to recall their souls from the underworld – they can certainly try to overthrow their commanders, get rid of those annoying cultists who are bossing their friends around, and acquire servants of their own. A party which can offer any of those things may well have a good chance at persuading two of the three Knights of Hades (the third is depressingly loyal to his/her commanders) to help them out.
  4. The Dark Legion: This is a major contingent of the Dark Legion, usually en route to somewhere. It’s probably led by one of two or three major commanders and includes hundreds of lesser horrors. Confronting them is unlikely to be a good idea, although sending a warning on ahead or trying to slow them up is far more practical.
  5. Stray Civilians: Whether it’s a child pursuing a favored pet beyond the bounds of safety, a youngster hunting for a lost herdbeast, a parent out looking for a stray child, a messenger who failed to reach safety before sundown, a new arrival in the area who did not know what was going on, or merely someone caught out, stray bystanders (whether or not they’re actually “innocent” in any sense) can be a burden to any “good” party. They can inform you of other strays that you have to go and find, lead their pursuers to you, bring you out of secure positions to rescue them, get taken hostage – and provide all kinds of clues and information, point you to places where your intervention is needed, serve as useful contacts, and even bring the characters useful rewards and offers of employment. As far as the game goes, a stray civilian is a novelty surprise package; you never know what you’ll get.
  6. Demon Cultists: Cultists are the only people who can travel safely at night at the moment – but they usually prefer to pretend to be stray civilians when they do. Like the old Thuggee, they will infiltrate a group – and then call in their undead minions. If the group deals with the minions too easily, they’re too strong to attack at the moment and so they can be spied on or be lured into other traps. If the minions just need a little help, well, they’ll be in a good position to start stabbing their “defenders” in the back.
  7. A Small Siege: This is a village temple or sacred circle or some such – currently being defended by the constant ringing of bells (a noise which serves to guide in strays and attract parties of adventurers all by itself). While the Dark Legion cannot attack such a stronghold, or anyone within it, directly, they may expose themselves to draw missile fire and expend the defenders resources, keep the people there awake until they start making mistakes, try to smoke the defenders out, start fires upwind of them, start avalanches if the terrain is appropriate, build shelters against the sun so as to hold the siege during the day, stampede herds across the area, and so on.
  8. Animals or Tainted Animals: What with all the disruptions, and the Dark Legion roaming about, the local herbivores are panicked and the local carnivores are starving – and not a few have been tainted with infernal energies, and have turned into minor monsters. While a small stampede, or a few infernally-tainted wolves, are little menace to a defended position, they can be quite bothersome out in the wilds – and will soon reduce the Ridmarches to a howling wilderness.
  9. The Aftermath: In this case the characters have come across the remains of a merchant caravan, a ruined farmhouse, or another scene of slaughter. You can expect desperate and confused haunts, tainted predators feeding on the remains, disease, swarms of foul insects, terrible odors, and – possibly – some of the victims rising as minor undead. There may be some “treasure” (or perhaps a survivor) around, but there’s unlikely to be a lot.
  10. Brave Defenders: In this case the characters have found some resistance fighters – ranging from “barely above civilians” (such as local militias) on up through the local nobles, priests, and minor adventurer-types. Sadly, such groups are always too distracted by immediate local concerns – families, relatives, crops, the prospect of famine, and so on – to undertake the dispassionate and ruthless investigations that would let them solve the problem on their own. They’ll also lack the raw power to do it directly; if that much power was loose in the area, there would be major parties of evil adventurers present in support of the infernal invasion. Still, they can provide useful support, small rewards, and plenty of local information – making contacts with the resistance useful to most parties.

Flexible Adventure Design – Ridmarch and the Open Sandbox, Part I

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), Gwynedd is the highest mo...

There's a reason why most people use passes you know!

In this particular case, it’s easiest to start off with an example.

The peaceful villages of Ridmarch have nestled in the folds of the hills beneath the mountains for many centuries, their inhabitants living by herding, sheep and goats, farming the hillsides, and cutting wood from the stands of pine.

Centuries past, a small humanoid army, sworn to destroy the Ridmarches and to claim the land for their own peoples, swept down from the mountains in the night. Led by one “Harkold” (actually a minor demon possessing the body of a foolish would-be summoner) they overran Viardel, the first hamlet in their way, with no more disturbance than a few screams as houses were surrounded and stormed. With Viardel silently fallen, there was no obstacle or guard between them and the town of Kareon in the central vale. If they took that central valley, the other villages of the Ridmarch – now isolated and unable to support each other – would be easy prey.

In the hills above Viardel, a young shepherd boy had been hunting late for a lost ewe and her lamb – and so was spared when a detachment of scouts set fire to the sheepfolds and cut down the other shepherds as they tried to escape.

Rather than fleeing into the safety of the woods and hills, that courageous youngster slipped into the temple overlooking his ravaged village – and his slain family, friends, and neighbors – and there used the temple bell to sound the alarm. Whether the ensuing fire was also meant as a warning beacon may never be known, but the youngster paid a terrible price for his valor, pinned beneath the fallen bell and left to burn alive.

Roused from their slumbers early enough, the hastily-assembled militia of Kareon and its farmers held the walls – albeit at a great price. Early the next morning the massed militias of the other villages of Ridmarch struck at the attackers rear flank, and two local adventurers attacked “Harkold”. Those battles were hard-fought – but eventually ended in a massacre of the enemy. The bodies of the enemy slain were thrown into a nearby cave, a minor sacred relic – the Eagle of Ridmarch – was placed within, the entryway was sealed with a great slab of stone, and priestly ceremonies were enacted to ensure that their dark spirits would never rise to trouble the Ridmarches again.

When the grateful survivors reached the remains of Viardel, they found the body of an adolescent boy broken beneath the warning bell, burned beyond recognition, and now – with the death of the people of Viardel and the destruction of the temple records – forever anonymous. They raised the bell to hang once more in the tower of the ruined temple and left a memorial there, in honor of the young and nameless sentinel who had died to save them.

When, twenty years later, a sizable party of bandits emerged from the mountain forest to raid a resettled Viardel, the unattended bell sounded a warning once more – and the legend of the nameless sentinel grew. It remained a popular tale for several centuries and then, when the Ridmarch Vales were well within the frontiers of civilization, faded along with the need for vigilance.

When the ancient belltower collapsed some centuries later, none remarked it.

When a minor earthquake cracked a weathered slab of stone, and sent half of it’s blurred priestly inscriptions toppling down a slope and into a nearby gorge, it passed unnoticed.

When a passing adventurer fought a few minor undead and took an relic from the cavern in the woods that the slab had once sealed (and later sold it to a collector of arcana) it caused no disturbance.

But with that, “Harkold” took notice. Over the centuries he had slowly risen through the ranks of demonkind until he was a minor demon no longer. Now an Archdemon, or even a Lesser God of Evil, he saw an opportunity to spread suffering and destruction – and to avenge an ancient grudge. He dispatched some of his cultists to the area to settle in, gather power, and perform a ritual to open a path for him. What was another twenty years to a prince of darkness?

On a night of the winter solstice, when the powers of light were at their lowest ebb, the earth shook again as terrible sacrifices were offered in the depths of the old burial cave. A rift opened – and the foul energies of the infernal planes bubbled up. Ancient remains, infused with hellish power and once more linked to the souls that had once animated them, gave birth to a dark legion.

That legion set forth once again. This time, perhaps, they would fulfill their oath – and the Ridmarches would become a haven for the humanoids who still lurked in the depths beneath the nearby mountains.

The cultists received the first portion of their reward – command over a few units of the dark legions, giving them minions to work their wills in anticipation of their high positions to come when the Ridmarches had become a realm of darkness.

Those units struck at the cultists personal targets – avenging slights, destroying enemies and those who suspected the cultists secrets, and gathering wealth and slaves for their masters.

When the dark legion’s scouts struck at nearby farms and hamlets, many died, their souls stolen and bound to the rift to help maintain it. Some few fled successfully – and a priest attempting to sound the alarm discovered that the ringing of bells on sacred ground could hold the dark legion at bay.

Still, the situation is desperate. While having everyone hide in those small areas that can be protected is a stopgap measure, it makes farming near-impossible. All too soon the people of the Ridmarches will begin to starve. Even now, the undead have began to set fires that spread into protected areas, to raise or break dams to flood them, to lay traps on the routes to and from them, and to slaughter livestock and trample crops. They pick off stray children, those who are unable to reach shelter before sundown, and travelers on the roads.

Worse, until their oath is satisfied, or ended with the breaking of “Harkold’s” power, the dark legions can never be truly slain; they are merely than infernal constructs controlled by souls already dead and on the lower planes. When destroyed they will simply rise again at sunset – and so “killing” them is only worth about 20% of the normal experience (and none at all after you do it five times). However, as the sounding of a bell once brought destruction on them, so they can be held back or even temporarily dispatched by the sound of bells combined with sacred energies. Worse, of course, they cannot be prevented from reporting what happened the next morning; the dark legions will steadily become more familiar with, and prepared for, the tactics of any group that fights them too often.

The game statistics of the dark legions can best be represented by various kinds of corporeal undead. The legions, however, are all intelligent regardless of their basic statistics; they will learn and use basic tactics. Any which could normally reproduce themselves, however, will only be able to spawn basic animated corpses unless they possessed the magical ability to create more powerful undead in life and apply those talents. Fortunately, they cannot directly attack any consecrated area while bells are ringing within it, and any priest attempting to drive them away or exorcize them will gain a substantial bonus if bells are ringing nearby while he or she does so. Unfortunately this does not prevent them from making indirect trouble – and, as noted above, any form of “destruction” that cannot cross the dimensions and strike at the lower planes, is strictly temporary. Even – say – burying them in concrete is only good for a month or so, after which the link with the soul in the lower planes will break and they’ll create a new body back at the rift.

Like many undead, they are also driven off by the light of the sun – but can readily take refuge underground or within structures.

Major Locations:

Olfenac: This small town lies at the entrance of a mountain pass that has become one of the major trade routes for the area. It’s relative wealth, easy acceptance of strangers, and location near the Cavern of the Dead, made it the natural spot for “Harkold’s” cultists to infiltrate. At the moment, it’s completely dominated by demon cultists, who have used their new minions to kill or capture the rest of the population – and to help turn the cellars, and a few natural caverns below the town, into a considerable network of tunnels in which to hide their minions, keep their slaves, and conceal their new wealth. They have kept one (very!) elderly priest to front for them; the poor old man is senile enough to be unaware that the occasional night of gathering in his small temple and ringing the bells is purely for show. Alert characters, however, may realize that all the nearby graveyards have been pillaged in search of material for more undead – and for any minor treasures that might be found. The fact that none of the current residents has lived in the area for more then five or six years may also serve as a warning.

The cultists of Olfenac are currently beginning to expand their operations a bit. More people to sacrifice means more power and rewards, the occasional caravan disappearance is only to be expected at the moment, and lone travelers are at risk in the best of times – and if some party of adventurers is foolish enough to believe that the villages small (and desecrated) temple is proof against their undead minions just because some bells are ringing… well, they deserve their fates.

Olfenac, of course, is a fairly basic “dungeon”; the cultists are decent ritualists, and use ritual effects to cover up inconvenient details such as their evil auras, but their active magic is fairly basic – unless they’ve earned a temporary boost through some exceptionally good sacrifices. They are, however, kept informed of relevant information gathered by the Dark Legion and it’s scouts – so if a particularly powerful group of adventurers is in the area, they can upgrade their magic with special sacrifices, their tunnel-defenses with better traps and a few summoned demons, and their personal abilities with some gift from their patron – most likely some version of Lycanthropy.

If the cultists are exposed and defeated, there is enough information here to easily locate the Cavern of the Dead and to get an idea of what ritual they used to open the rift. If enough of them are captured rather than slain, enough details of the ritual can be extracted to attempt a relatively easy counter-ritual. If not, a more general – and far more difficult – ritual may be used to seal the rift – and, if the rift is so sealed, the remaining elements of the Dark Legion will fall to dust at sunrise, not to arise again – unless another group of cultists manages to re-establish the rift.

The Dark Legion – and the cultists – are well aware of this particular vulnerability, and have left guards within the Cavern of the Dead who will resist attempts to enact such a sealing ritual.

The Fallen Belltower: Hidden in an overgrown patch of hills overlooking old Viardel a few fragments of walls and a heap of rubble are all that remain of the once-temple of Viardel, and later the Shrine of the Nameless Sentinel. Whether that once-consecrated ground retains enough holy power to protect those there from the Dark Legion through the ringing of bells is up to the game master.

While the temple crypts were never extensive, there were several rooms beneath the old temple, and the heavy bell has – of course – long since fallen through the old floor and into the basement. While no undead were ever tolerated there, it’s quite possible that – over the years – something nasty has moved in.

If the bell is dug out, hung, and once more rung, it will once again herald the defeat of the dark legion, as it did so many centuries ago. The rank and file will simply fall to dust, banished forever from the mortal plane. The greater beings – the captains and commanders – will be stripped of their special defenses and their immortality, while remaining subject to all their limitations – and when they are slain, they too will be forever banished.

Sadly, there are few in Ridmarch who so much as remember the tale of the Nameless Sentinel, much less the location of the shrine and the blessed bell. Locating the bell will require a good deal of digging into the origin of the Dark Legion, talks with old (and desperately busy) priests and the occasional historian, traveling the countryside to reach distant temples where records are preserved while evading the undead scouting parties, and bargaining with desperate folk. Still, this route to victory doesn’t call for much personal power – or much fighting. Just research and cleverness. 

The Cavern of the Dead: This minor cavern complex includes half a dozen accessible chambers, several pools and streams, a selection of passages (most of which dead-end), the remains of many bodies, a partially sealed-off chamber dedicated to totemistic shamanic magic (it’s pent-up energies, amplified and tainted by the abyssal forces unleashed in the rest of the complex have turned the chamber into a gateway to a terrible world filled with dinosaurs and other primordial creatures; hopefully the Dark Legion has not discovered these and turned them to their own purposes), and the rift to the abyss – hidden beneath a roiling pool of boiling, unholy, corrosive fluid. From it rise new bodies for the Dark Legion, through it passes the influence of the Dark Legions controlling souls – and beyond it lies the heart of “Harkold’s” demonic realm.

Truly epic-level characters may wish to force their way though the rift and confront “Harkold” and his forces directly – ending the oath and curse with the destruction of the archdemon who empowers both. In general, good luck with that… Such a course of action will require truly immense power – and will incur the enmity of other forces of darkness, for none will bear such an intrusion in their domain with good grace, no matter what their rivalry or enmity with “Harkold”.

Casting the Eagle of Ridmarch into the gateway will seal it, causing the Dark Legion to revert to mere masses of infernal slime and ooze. While still a filthy, toxic, mess to clean up – and likely to turn any normal creatures it contaminates into fearsome, infernal dire creatures – this isn’t an especially widespread menace.

Reconstructing and resealing the sealing slab is a strictly temporary measure; it will prevent “slain” and reborn members of the Dark Legion from exiting the Cavern – but unless it’s supported by the presence of the Eagle of Ridmarch (either inside or outside) the Dark Legion will be able to break the slab’s enchantments eventually.

Rathine Mora’s House: Rathine is an elderly (if low-level) bard and a collector of the tales and mementoes of the Ridmarches. If asked, he can provide a reasonably accurate version of many local tales – including the tale of the Unknown Sentinel. Unknown to him – although recognizable by a knowledgeable priest who has been studying the ancient records- his collection includes a powerful sacred relic, the Eagle of Ridmarch. This particular item was forged around a minor divine token from a local god of war, and, many centuries ago, served as a rallying standard for the ancient militia of the region. After the battle it was used to help seal away the spirits of the attackers – but it had also become a focus for the strength and valor of all the militiamen who had fallen in the defense of Ridmarch. While the eagle is displayed, no defense against the enemies of Ridmarch will fall – although, of course, individual defenders may. They will not, however, do so easily.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 172b – The Audit

Centurion (Roman army) historical reenactment ...

Yeah, you don't belong in this century either. So?

Picking up again on his pleasant buzz over in the Green Galaxies, Marty tried to relax a bit… This really wasn’t going too badly for a shakedown period. All you had to do was to make sure that you didn’t lose track of which identity was your basic core…

Oh dear. Kevin had made his home in Kadia – and was being a dragon there. Had the kid lost track of his SELF? That WOULD explain a lot – and he had been loaded down with impossible amounts of darkness as a mere child – but it was going to be really hard to fix!

On the other hand… Was he letting his IDENTITIES bear the brunt of the darkness-drives? That might be letting him use powerful instincts, emotions, and roles as channels and buffers for those powers while he was keeping his self… safely buried. Was that why he showed so little in the way of an identity of his own?

Blast it! He needed SOMEBODY who could analyze the kid and tell him what was going on in his head! How much freedom did the boy actually have? Was it really any more than his Thralls? And was his “payment”… pretty much the same?

Oh well! It was incredibly relaxing to just lay back in microgravity and realize that there was nobody else around for at least a dozen light years!

Not counting the animal-phantasms anyway, unless a few of those dolphins were still about!

He wandered off to see.

The dolphins seemed to have moved on to explore some other seas. There were the usual colossal birds and butterflies, some giant squirrels, and so on – plus some sharklike water predators.

Oh yeah. THOSE guys again! They weren’t at all interesting to talk to. They just wanted to eat you – unless, perhaps, they were a different variety.

It didn’t seem likely to be worth checking. Marty wandered off to chat with the squirrels.

(Squirrel) Allo!-Who-Are-You-What-Do-You-Want-I’ve-Got-Nuts-They’re-Mine-Get-Your-Own-Isn’t-My-Tail-Great-How-Do-You-Climb-With-No-Claws?

(Marty) “Hey, I’ve got nuts too! And I’ll share! Here, have some. That tail is really fuzzy, and I climb with ropes and hooks. I’m a human being, and I just wanted to see if you’d seen anything interesting lately.”

That got him quite a recital. A few other people had come through (what? Oh, there probably weren’t THAT many gates here), the large birds and other animals had been up to a wide variety of things (there seemed to be a whole fuzzy community thing going, since most of the local wildlife was large enough to have big brains by default), and he learned a lot of new and (not all that) interesting things about nuts.

Trying to get some more on the people proved difficult. Squirrel-perceptions left out a lot of the items HE would have considered important. Nevertheless, it sounded like a week or two back. It sounded like… a trade-group gathering botanicals? This WAS a GREAT place for that; where else could you extract essential oils from flowers by the barrelfull with a tap?

The squirrel remembered because they’d had a gatekeeper with telepathy along. Mostly… primitives in armor though?

It took some time (and pursuit) to get the squirrel to focus long enough to pick a halfway decent visual out of it’s mind.

A… Roman Centurion, a dozen Legionaries, and a young gatekeeper? Pretty classically dressed?

Now THAT was kind of odd. A Rome alternate?

The gatekeeper seemed to be of the same racial type as the rest. From the squirrel’s memories of a minor predator attack though… those legionaries were as fast as snakes, and EXTREMELY skilled.

He reported that to the Thralls back in Kadia to see what they’d come up with. Even if nothing came up, at least it would be on record for later.

The first Thrall didn’t know – but if the kid was a gatekeeper, he must have had a soul. Ergo… a roman world with a lot of souls could be a later holoshow or game setting or it could be full of actual romans – in which case a lot of those people were OLD.

Marty guessed at a later holoshow. Surely Rome hadn’t lasted long enough in Core to pull off anything like THAT.

The Thralls (of course) said that they would continue to look into it, although a squirrels memories weren’t that much to go on.

Marty settled in to enjoy things. The squirrel-community was actually quite a lot of fun – more than a bit hyperactive, cheerful, and even a few interesting shiny bits.

Hm. He might have to hunt up some solid asteroid-ground. Camping in the trees was fun, but sometimes a bit of stone was handy!

He shifted his focus to Battling Business World – currently with an almost sane Lord Zero and a lack of champions of accounting!

Appearing in Lower Manhattan, Marty was rather shocked to NOT see accountants rampaging. In fact, most of the numerologists were busy juggling the math to make up for lost time in the aftermath of Lord Zero’s rampaging. That sort of thing took up a lot of time!

Hm. According to the paper, New York was negotiating to hire some teams from Japan…

Marty flipped to the page on that! Would it be business teams, sentai teams, or business sentai teams? Hopefully business sentai! Those guys were fun!

It was… Magical Girl Defense Teams? Well, they did almost always win against evil magical beings! Plus they were easy on the eyes!

Hm. It might be fun to spring a bunch on Kevin and see what happened….

Oh, never mind, he knew what would happen, and the boy had enough kids now!

The bystanders were looking at him funny… Well, he was flying around on a cloud of money, with Oprah-style giveaways for all!

But wait… New York had NEVER been willing to even consider hiring outsiders before, no matter WHAT was going on! What had changed?

Oh… He had. He was the ONLY ensouled resident of Battling Business World at the moment – and that meant that the realm was starting to split between his version – where progress of a sort was being made – and the classic version.

Well, at least it was without directly preaching! That was the best kind of divine influence!

He was attracting upset accountants though. Their reaction to his steady rain of money was fairly emotional… Undermining the value of MONEY?!?!? The Apocralypse is surely at hand!)

Marty stopped to talk. He wouldn’t come down yet – even phantasmal Battlers could be quite deadly – but he stopped leaking money.

(Marty) “Servants of the Number Lords? Very well. What do you need?”

Hm… With Lord Zero temporarily semi-sane, Battling Business World was starting to unify to some extent under the influence of “1”.

Wow, taking all the souls out of the world really DID screw things up, didn’t it? And the one unifying it was representative of identity. An awful lot of people were being very stubborn right now, but – for once – were also willing to cooperate if the price was right.

Geez, that really might provoke genuine talk of the Apocralypse! And perhaps a spread of opportunism tempered somewhat by that tendency towards actually being organized.

Well, he might as well go with the split and advance the plot, then! The accountants were likely rather confused about their patron’s sudden shift, and willing to listen – even if they wouldn’t be too happy about him spreading money around like that! They might even be convertible to his numerology if he played his cards right!

Huh. He probably SHOULD feel odd about being in charge this way at the moment! A bit of revolution might well be in the cards!

Atheria: Marriage Edition!

Atheria: Marriage Edition!

Love and Marriage throughout the world of Atheria

This little post mentions a few ideas about the Atheria campaign setting. It’s not officially approved yet, but hopefully some players may find it interesting enough to comment on. I definitely took more liberties with settings we weren’t familiar with than the areas we’ve visited repeatedly.

Dernmarik (Dimension)

The nature of Dernmarik’s attunement means they have a tendency to get the spouses they want. Reality warping is a subtle but powerful art. Of course, this also makes life remarkably interesting. Getting what you want, for the young, usually means adventure, drama, and excitement – none of which are very conducive to sensible relationships of any form. And no amount of wish fulfillment can forever stop reality from intruding.

Fortunately, most sane ladies and gentlemen settle down as they approach age thirty, and begin having families and raising them, voluntarily subjecting themselves to children who somehow keep finding hidden candy, manage to escape the most heavily locked bedrooms, and generally repay the parents for their own childhoods. Familial bliss, or at least as much as people can attain, tends to follow.

All in all, married life in Dernarik isn’t bad at all, but divorce can happen. A nation of reality shapers is going to have some things go wrong. The trouble is that it’s not necessarily a legal process. If, in a fit of anger, you declare that you, “Never want to see” someone again – you might get your wish. They might suffer a fatal accident, or simply be dragged by circumstance away forever if you keep on wanting that. Perhaps worse is what occurs when both spouses want to leave. The marriage itself can literally be written out of history, as everyone slowly forgets. Hopefully at least one of the parents remembers the children, but at least half the time a new lost orphan, with vague memories of the past, wanders the land, forever searching for something that should never have been lost – at least until they get collected by a new family who suits them.

Don’t forget that the sons and daughters of Dernmarik can’t entirely control their reality shaping. A few of the wiser ones might – but most will shape themselves into trouble at some point. Their power is all the more dangerous because it’s impossible to say how it works. Most people simply think of Dernarik as a land where people are supremely lucky, not realizing how that luck comes about. Dermarik’s own don’t think of it at all, simply considering it the natural order. Remember than a Dernmarik character can have a happy accident once a day, or a major stroke of luck every week, starting almost from birth.

Alaran Imperium (Order)

The great thing about living in a land of supreme order is that everything – every part of life, is just as orderly. While love may not come into pubic matters very much, the Alarians do enjoy very clear expectations in life, including marriage and child-rearing.

Courtship is a legal and semi-public process, involving negotiation and contracts for anyone of some class. Since its your assets and social station which matter, this applies to merchants, nobles, and well-off soldiers or farmers. The poorer classes, though well-off by the standards of most races, have much simpler if no less straightforward marriages.

Marital life is quite simple in any case. Marriage is a contractual obligation, and strong social standards apply. While discretion exists, the Imperium isn’t a very secretive society, and it’s hard for couples to really hide messy private lives or cheating. Further, with such obvious public standards, offenders face social disapproval which can matter more than legal sanction. Of course, given the aforementioned contractual nature of marriage, legal sanctions may exist too!

It’s worth noting that – in a world where disease is essentially non-existent and where contraceptive amulets are available and effective, “cheating” usually refers to producing a child with someone, not to casual flings – especially with slaves. -Thoth

Divorce is quite uncommon among most classes (the exception being higher nobles, who often use marriages to establish social ties). Like marriage, it is a legal process, and as embarrassing and problematic as bankruptcy – not fatal, and the repercussions may years, but ultimately recuperable.

Chelm (Darkness/Blood)

Of all the attunements, Chelm has the most “normal” marriage, being a tribalistic people. Marriage processes vary from tribe to tribe, but they rarely have overly-complex traditions. However, some commonalities do exist in most of the tribes there. First, marriages and most courtship take place in secret, or at least discretely. The people of Chelm consider it extremely dangerous to allow anyone to know about a new relationship. Only once the marriage has been safely enacted is it publicly revealed. To do otherwise invites curses and wicked spirits, although why this might be so or whether this is actually true is another question entirely.

Divorce can be problematic for the tribe as well as the unlucky couple. Most tribes believe that breaking such a bond invites dangerous spiritual enemies, and therefore it must be done with considerable care. Divorcing couples enact a complicated set of rituals and separate slowly and surely. Of course, since tribes are small and close-knit, divorce isn’t terribly common anyway.

Barbarian (Totem)

Innate to the totem attunement is the concept of public demonstrations of self-worth. Any barbarian, of any variety, from any tribe, has an internal need to prove themselves worthy. Yes, individuals vary in the way and degree, and tribes and breeds have their customs, but everyone must pay some attention to their public persona. In a way, barbarian tribe have even more developed concern of reputation and public image than the high cultures of the Empire.

The consequences for love lives comes in because marriage tends to occur between people of similar social prestige and ambition. Passion may not have anything to do with it; and it creates some… unpleasant social tensions when manifestly incompatible people end up together solely because they have similar fame. Secret love affairs and adultery are common ways to get around this for those who can manage to swing them. Unfortunately, the consequences of that has included blood feuds, war, or in lesser cases long-standing grudges and violence.

Divorce is unknown – but murder isn’t. it’s not so much that they can’t understand the concept, but that breaking a marriage by “legal” means would be a massive insult and spark a terrible blood feud. As a result, it’s much more socially acceptable to kill your spouse, or arrange such an end, than to end things legally. While Barbarians would never talk about matters like that, they would all agree this is a more respectable and honorable solution. Of course, murder still gets punished if caught – there’s no change there.

HuSung Empire (Elemental)

As with most aspects of life in HuSung, marriage is a product of the seasons and spirits. Even the poorest village boasts a part-time diviner, whose work involves using the elements to predict what the coming year holds. Many families also use ancient calenders or rituals to determine the proper days for planting or markets.

Marriage is no different. People marry certain individuals to balance out family bloodlines, gain favor with the mystical forces, or please the spirits. The criteria for these matches include native attunements (as everyone has a pair of elemental specialties), place of origin, birthmarks or physical features, ancestry, and much more. That, of course, doesn’t exclude the more mundane elements of status, character, and wealth. Indeed, it’s hardly uncommon for families to reject local prospects and seek far and wide for suitable suitors. Family connections are vital in choosing the right spouse, and marriages tend to be arranged several years before it is consider the “proper” time for marriage.

HuSung marriage is a world of even clearer expectations than Order marriages. Everything is known and harmonious. Everything must be done properly, as ancient tradition commands. This does make it quite obvious what everyone involved must do in their lives. Even the flaws of the marriage must be dealt with graciously – but this need not pleasant. The husband who knows about his cheating wife must act in accordance with the land and the spirit world, and if that means he suffers through life in silence, so be it. Or another might be driven to murder his wife and desecrate her body for the exact same offense, simply because the Harmony demanded it.

The Harmony, a living, powerful force, has no human scruples. And though it may demand that people do terrible deeds, it has no compunction about equally terrible punishment for those same deeds. Some do ignore the Harmony, and this carries its own risks; freedom carries an awful price itself. most don’t even notice the Harmony, though they may invoke it as a philosophical or religious concept. This does not mean the Harmony fails to notice them in return, though fortunately most have fairly dull destinies.

Divorce, like everything else, is a matter of family connections, and has little to do with personal reasons. In fact, personal dissatisfaction rarely comes into play, unless the problem becomes so huge as to cause an inter-family insult. Rather, changing family ties or allegiances within the larger social system might tear a family apart, if the heads of the clan decide on it. This rarely happens among commoners, but is all-too common among wealthy and powerful families.

Dain Peninsula (Divination)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, divination specialists rarely find themselves surprised, by marriage or anything else. The ability to peer into the future, however limited, smooths over a great many of the troubles of life.

Most Divination attuned people know pretty who they’ll wed long before it happens, along with a great deal of what else will happen in their lives. They might not know all the details (like names and faces), but they can make a pretty good educated guess by combining the results of their inquiries with personal experience.

After all, it doesn’t take much in a small, isolated land to guess whom you may live with when you see your best possible match is a red-headed girl with a love of romance novels. There simply aren’t that many possible mistakes to make. Furthermore, even if one individual did get confused (“Wait, both of you love romance novels!? I never would have guessed.”), the others wouldn’t and things will rapidly sort themselves out. As such, marriage is more of a formality, simply describing what everyone knew beforehand.

For better or for worse, life is equally dull in the same way. Couples decide in advance when children would be most convenient and simply have them at those times. They know what the children will likely break or when they could get in trouble, and take steps to prevent anything unpleasant. Since they have a good idea of the results of any course of action, they don’t commonly face any drama or excitement.

Exceptions exist. Some individuals simply refuse to follow their visions, and deliberately or accidentally screw things up. Even Divination specialists get things wrong from time to time. Numerous tales and stories reflect the often-uncomfortable relationship they have with the future, seeing one thing, wanting another, and find themselves living in a third reality neither here nor there. Marriage follows this, too. People make stupid choices, and sometimes even the wisest ones aren’t conflict-free.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 172a – The Wheel of Incarnations

Elminster

What do you mean "I'm not the star of this episode"?!? Are you MAD!?!

Marty, meanwhile, had fully activated both his multipresence and multitracking powers – and was more than a bit overwhelmed. Sure, the multi-tracking let him pay ATTENTION to all of those inputs at once, but the conflicting identities were quite another matter. And Kevin seemed to run it all smoothly…

No. He didn’t, did he? It was like that time in Inversion; the world had given him the identity it needed – and had sent him to where it needed him to be. When he’d no longer been needed, it had… thrown him out. Kevin… flickered from one identity to the next like a movie shifting scenes, flowing into the mold of each identity like mercury – and he didn’t even see anything wrong with that.

Was there anything left of the boys personality except that iron determination to adhere to his promises? Even his hobbies seemed to be facets of particular identities or of the drives he’d been burdened with.

Ah well! At the moment there were too many distractions to worry too much about THAT – and he hadn’t yet decided what he could do about it anyway!

His first identity was in the Green Galaxies, where a gravitational step-function limited the size of stars, arranged them into interlocking grids – and formed living dyson spheres of air and water around them. Marty had always enjoyed a quiet tropical vacation – and, this way, he could be on one all the time!

And that was… wow. It was even neater now! His mathematical powers let him genuinely appreciate what he was seeing – and the sheer scale was awesome. Even if you could only really used an average of a hundred miles or so out of the thickness of the spheres for living space (and it might be more) and used a 1 AU standard, that was still some 43,474,579,056,000,000,000 cubic miles of living space around each of this particular galaxies 12,182,000,000,000 stars…

With a mere turn of his head – a glance around the particular living dyson sphere he happened to be occupying – he could see as much thriving life as the fifty billion planets of the entire Core galaxy supported.

The makers here had dreamed very, very, large indeed.

And – as the quintessential Mary rose up again – he realized that this particular biosphere was all HIS. More room to kick back in – and hold wild parties – than he could ever need!

Marty leaned back to relax, idly catching drops of fermented nectar to sip from one of the fifty-foot flowers while watching a swarm of beautiful hundred-foot butterflies sipping from them.

Marty left Marty to enjoy his vacation with his complete attention while he shifted his… drat it! This called for an entirely new vocabulary!

Over in Faerun, things were busy. The Waterdeep Amarant Solutions office had been busy… Marty hadn’t been there – but now that he was, he knew what his local bardic identity had been up to while he wasn’t in it. One of the dark gods – Bane again most likely – had somehow stolen the dragon portfolio from Set, as he had stolen it from another god before him, and was now stirring up a dragon war across the Sword Coast. Many chromatic dragons, and not a few of the weaker-willed metallics, had rallied to the “cause” of loot.

 There had been an early strike on Shadowdale and Elminsters tower. The tower had been reduced to rubble, but neither Elminster nor his library and gear was found in mess afterwards. Marty’s local identity had been one of the scouts and messengers who’d braved the trip through enemy territory to search for him.

Marty had to grin at that. The old codger had probably done some divination and teleported to one of his other strongholds.

Waterdeep -his current location – was, of course, at the center of things again. In the Realms it was something of a tradition. There had been a couple of attacks, but – so far – the Guild Mages had kept the damage from going past the superficial level. On the other hand, many of the evil creatures of the wilderness were rallying behind the dragon leadership at the moment.

There was also a baby waiting for him; she’d been dropped with the Thralls a few hours ago; the message to him about it was still in channels.

Oh. OH. That was definitely something notable there! She wasn’t a half-dark elf though… She was human. Apparently the mother was a young female bard who’d used a bit of magic to get the pregnancy over with quickly. After all, there was a war on!

Her name was Syrlinell – and her mother had left a note saying that, since she’d had the baby, she was being pursued by some unpleasant mages. Ergo, she’d left the baby with the agents who specialized in bodyguard and protective services and who seemed to serve Marty. She might not be up to dealing with the child, but would rather not see her snatched by some cult or other.

He had to admit that she was a smart woman. Sadly, she really hadn’t left much information about the mages – but apparently she didn’t have much.

Marty was making sure that his new daughter was well-fed, had clean swaddling, and had a good dose of cuddling, and was issuing orders to get her safely to Kadia afterwards when she looked at him with her glowing violet eyes…

Whaaa….?

That was a rather supernatural trait! What was… Oops! Since he was manifesting as a local god, however minor, that made little Syrlinell her a demigoddess, and (by default) his local high priestess. No wonder nasty people had been after her! Especially with the Godswar heating up again!

And no wonder the mother (What HAD her name been?) Hadn’t felt up to dealing with an infant demigoddess.

Well! His first divine baby! He got her some silken swaddling and smartclothes.

The thralls weren’t for baby demigoddesses though. They know about normal and anthro babies, and werewolf babies, and dragon hatchlings – but were fairly sure that demigoddesses might have a bit of a learning curve!

(Marty) “Well, she looks like a normal baby other than the demigoddess part. I guess just watch out for sudden magic outbursts and let me know when they happen.”

Oh dear! It looked like natural chaos magic for the baby… That was going to complicate things!

He got her out of the war zone, and away from her pursuers.

He supposed he’d have to take some Thralls and get involved in the dragon war – but, for the moment, until he got used to handling so many situations at once, it would be best to hold off on that until he got used to handling multiple roles at the same time.

He left himself to investigate – and to look for spots where he and a dozen or so thralls could have an impact – and turned his attention elsewhere.

He really did need to find out what was wrong with Kevin – and this multipresence thing made keeping an eye on what the boy was up to really difficult!

Huh. Budding God and Mentor to an Adolescent Lord of Darkness. That future would never have occured to him a year ago… No wonder Gelman was so nervous! He wouldn’t have trusted himself back then with a beer run!

Aaarrrgghhhh… With all of them active at the same time, his various identities all had their own perspectives on each other and himself! And it was hard to argue when the people with the opinions were all you!

In the Dragon Empire he was an adult Green Dragon with a small holding – a dozen or so slaves (not counting some hatchling slaves that had belonged to a couple of them before they challenged him and lost), eight wives/concubines, and thirty-four young offspring. The Dragon Emperor had issued a decree requiring that all hatchlings be sent to Ailill’s school for testing.

He didn’t like that at all! Despite his natural draconic urge to just let the kids sink or swim on their own! That meant that his less competent (sigh… at least 20% or so) kids were at serious risk of winding up as slaves or pets before they even got out of the nest!

Still, he had six months on that before the scheduling for his sector came up… The decree recognized both the limitations of transport and of the testing facilities.

He evaluated where his weaker kids were in terms of strengths and weaknesses – and spent a fair sum on crash courses and the like for them, to give them one last chance to improve. With any luck, he could get almost all of them to pass – unless one or two were really hopeless or badly fouled up the tests.

Still, at least he could get those back by just paying the testing fee up front instead of having it be a percentage of the failures.

Wait a moment… He quite clearly remembered claiming his territory, defeating and enslaving his challengers (weird; no matter how much his dragon-self savored those memories of battle, triumph, and the ensuing enslavements, his human side made those memories a distinctly guilty pleasure), claiming his concubines, and siring his children.

Yet his human self didn’t remember ever actually visiting in his dragon-ID to do any of that in the first place. The instincts, memories, territory, ten-year-old kids, and defeated enemies (with their own memories of the battles) had all… come with the identity.

That was SO WEIRD.

Reality – at least once you reached the power levels he and Kevin were working on – was a lot more malleable than he ever thought it was before he started traveling. It might only be real HERE – but here it was indeed real, and with multiple identities active, he was in both realities at once.

A certain level of disorientation seemed to come with this power – at least as long as you didn’t just go with the flow and let the local identities more or less run themselves while you… whatever “you” meant in this situation – jumped from channel to channel in your own mind.

This was going to take some time getting used to

Still. He was NOT just a dragon! He was going to make sure that most of his kids at least passed, and set aside money for the ones who looked hopeless… Hey! He could just have the Thralls running the school ship them to Kadia if they washed out and put them into Kevin’s “get dragon’s souls” program. That way he could introduce them to all the other kids too!

By the time he was done with all of THAT, he had a challenger.

Oh of COURSE. That was pretty much one of the iconic features of this universe! You took up a draconic ID, things came to fight you.

Fortunately, he had an arena dedicated for the purpose!

Wait, he did? Oh, of COURSE he did!

He’d have to visit the school when he took the kids up; the Thralls would easily recognize him.

It was a semi-natural cavern system. A full formal battlefield would be a bit above his current station.

It was a young adult green named “Kruath” who wanted to take over his holdings and concubines and enslave Marty and his offspring…

Boy was THIS kid in for a shock! Hm… It looked like he had some slaves and concubines of his own to put up for stakes along with himself! That was even better! Soon they would be his as well!

Marty decided to toy with the kid a bit, and let him show him what he had before his victory celebration. Reacting a little quicker than his challenger, he slipped into a side tunnel rather than moving directly to the attack!

The youngster muttered something about “Chicken!” and breathed a blast – which split up into a dozen hawklike elemental spirits and zoomed down the tunnel after Marty!

That was pretty good! And showed originality! But wouldn’t he be immune to another green’s breath? What did the boy think he was up to?

Marty gave the kid the first one, just to see what he thought he was doing – but managed to dodge most of the others.

Ah! He was having them combust – well, they were made of highly-active chlorine gas – and thus blow up doing physical and fire damage instead of chemical damage, thus bypassing Marty’s natural immunity! They hit fairly hard too! That was very clever! He’d say that… against a single target, who failed to dodge enough, they might even be more effective than the basic breath weapon – and they could be sent out to hunt people down! No wonder the kid had some slaves of his own already!

He might want to learn that trick himself!

Fortunately, he was tougher than a normal adult green!

Using actual weapons in a dominance duel was considered extremely cheesy at best – dragons were supposed to fight with their breath, natural weapons, and magic – but his claws made quite serviceable knives…

He popped out a few moments later to hit the kid with a stunning blow – mostly as a prelude to using his own breath – but the kid had another batch of breath-elementals circling around him, and he had to dodge some more.

Ouch! He let his healing powers handle what got through his defenses – but the kid readily resisted his stunning fist, and struck back with his own Crushing attack.

That hurt! Still easily within what his healing powers could handle, but the kid was doing very well for a youngster!

Hm… At the moment the youngster seemed to be willing to make it a slugging match for at least a few rounds – almost like he was stalling. Ambushes were pretty unlikely, but he could be working on some really big effect. After all, the stakes were pretty high!

He hit the kid with a powerful euphoric effect with his pleasure magic – THAT would spoil his concentration if it worked (although he did make it non-addictive though, to spare later awkwardness) – and the kid failed to resist it.

Bad luck for him! For his lapse in willpower he got mauled… It was easy enough to lay him out (this was a dominance duel! The kid was of little use dead, save for being sold for magical components) during the brief period when he was unable to defend himself!

That had been rather invigorating! And fun! And now there would be more fun! And information!

He called in the servants and had them stick him in the dungeon – which was just beneath the arena for ease of access.

They took him away and restrained him properly.

Marty took care to be there when the kid woke up.

(Marty) “Not a bad trick with the hawks, kid. Too bad I’m trickier.”

The kid flexed against the restraints – but they were quite solid and professional. After that, he just gritted his teeth and looked sullen. He couldn’t really talk though the anti-breath-weapon muzzle anyway.

(Marty) “Yeah… I made sure those don’t break. So you’re stuck. Now then… what were you stalling for?”

Marty launched a telepathic probe, keeping his own mental defenses up.

Ah, that was simple enough. The youngster had invented some good tricks revolving around animating his breath and changing it in various ways – but he could only do it every few rounds. He just needed to stall a little longer to pull off another fancy trick. He’d been… going to animate his breath as a major elemental, which would have held Marty to be pummeled with crushing blows for as long as it could – and would THEN explode.

That WAS pretty good! And it looked like he’d developed it entirely on his own!

Not that it did him much good now…

Marty hesitated… It would be a lot of fun – at least as a dragon – to go with the social norm and the basic challenge-bet, take everything the kid had, and turn him painfully into a harem guard to go with the six harem guards the kid had owned and the four concubines he’d had. He “remembered” the pleasure of doing that to other losers “before”.

The youngster’s mind was fairly open – after all, he had no reason to resist – and he was expecting the procedure to start as soon as his new master was done gloating.

But to the human side at the back of his mind, even some of the restraints on the youngster – never mind the implements – were downright embarrassing.

No. He wasn’t letting a dragon-identity take him QUITE that far – at least not in the first day or two! He was going to show some leniency, since this one had something interesting to “offer”!

(Marty) “Mwahaha! Tell you what, kid. You teach me to do those breath tricks, and I let you keep your manhood and your favorite concubine and slave. You’re still not going to be a free man, though. Deal?”

The boy nodded without hesitation – albeit with considerable astonishment.

(Marty) “You have something worth offering me. But one betrayal, and you’re GOING TO GET IT.”

He used Kevin’s dragon-slave conditioning technology with a few functions turned off?

The dragon part of Marty enjoyed that a lot – while the human part still felt a bit guilty.

On the other hand, he was QUITE serious about taking those few concessions away if the kid screwed up. There were things you just couldn’t tolerate!

As it turned out, the kid hadn’t had all THAT much personal wealth other than a few smaller holdings – but Marty had endless cash reserves to draw on anyway.

He stuck the kid in his newly-established magical research department (the kid must have a good understanding of that if he was already able to manipulate his breath weapon like that) and got his three new concubines and new slaves set up. The new concubines were young adults – a little younger than he was as a dragon, but (at eighty years or so ) older than he was as a human (which was also a little odd).

Hmm. He’d have to start improving the holding! It wasn’t all that impressive at the moment… Maybe add in a traditional waterfall to hide the arena entrance, and traps in case some defeated challenger didn’t accept his fate?

Oh wow… He was really starting to understand the appeal of this for Kevin. Being a dragon came with some powerful instincts and a LOT of appealing factors! The combat, and defeating a challenger, were both as much fun as the concubines! Dragons seemed to be built for that…

He hang out with the concubines for a bit – then shifted his attention before the identities hold got too strong.

It was no wonder that Kevin – as an inexperienced teenager – had gotten caught up in a dragon identity! They were positively ADDICTIVE!

He switched his… not his attention, but perhaps his focus?… back to the Green Galaxies.

Old School Renaissance Eclipse Part II – Simplicity and the Roll of Last Resort.

Statue of Confucius on Chongming Island in Sha...

What? Who could be MORE "Old School"?!

The second rule of of “Old School” role-play is really derived from the first one.

It’s Simplicity – at least on the players side.

There are several reasons for that.

First up, and perhaps most importantly, when you stick with familiar biology and the basic rules that go with it – a human body needs blood to live, a heart to pump it, a brain to think with, eyes to see with, and so on – you wind up having to recognize that human and near-human beings are actually pretty fragile. For every one that survives a really long fall there are thousands who kill themselves by falling in the tub or down a single flight of stairs. Worse for you, that’s not going to change. Your character may get somewhat less fragile – whether it’s by gaining a few ‘hit points”, improving your parrying skill, or getting tougher armor – but you’re still going to be basically human and all too mortal.

Going out adventuring is, like mercenary work, a high-risk occupation. In fact, it’s almost the same occupation; you’re going out, and fighting when necessary, in search of lots and lots of money. Status, glory, power, and magic (really just another form of power or wealth) may all figure into it too – but it’s wealth which draws almost all serious mercenaries and adventurers into the business.

High risks, lots of combat, and fragile bodies mean that old-school characters die a lot. Often before getting very far. VERY often before there’s any chance of getting a hold of your plot device of choice for bringing them back.

That means that replacing them has to be quick and easy – both for the player and for the rest of the group.

For the player, that means that there aren’t going to be any really complicated choices involved, or much of any number-crunching (unless your game is computer-based and does it automatically – in which case there STILL isn’t going to be any on the player’s side). Things like attributes are either going to be quick-and-easy random rolls, even simpler “here are your numbers. Put them where you like” systems, or a mix of the two. To start with, we’re looking at (maybe) a few simple choices (like a favored weapon) and a few suggestive sentences for a background.

On the rest of the groups side, new characters are going to have to fit into a quick-and-simple set of slots. Complex tactics revolving around special abilities or a focus on particular weapons, or special backgrounds, and (for that matter) details of a characters personality are all things that are going to have to be mostly determined in play – if the new character should happen to live so long. The other players want to be able to say “Right! A fighter to replace poor Jacob Bloody Bones! (RIP). He can take the second-to-the-front slot…

The other players don’t want to waste their precious game time on hearing about your background, or why you’re a speciality priest of Kali (and therefor have no healing or defensive spells, which is the sort of thing that killed the second edition specialty priests and Spheres when 3.0 came out). They want to hear that you’re a (whatever) and will therefore be filling one or a half-a-dozen or so roles in the party. That way they can be ready to go in thirty seconds.

That’s also one of the major reasons for shorthand “alignment” systems. “Getting the party acquainted with a new character” means “we recite things everyone already knows about our own characters for a bit, then we listen to you monopolize the session for twenty minutes rambling on about your new character, and… hey! What happened to all our playing time? All we’ve done is boring junk!”

The old school wants a player to be able to say something along the lines of “I’m playing Chagin Zerof, a fifth level lawful good fighter with Con 17 and Dex 16* with a bow speciality. He’s got +1 Chainmail and a +1 Longsword” and be more or less done with the matter. That’s everything the rest of the party really needs to know to get started playing in thirty words. They now know that you have a fair number of hit points, a decent defense, fair melee and better ranged offense, compatible ethics, and can hit things you need a magic weapon to tackle. They know where you fit into the party – and they can get on to the actual gaming.

*Presumably the only stats high enough to get bonuses.

An old-school character who lasts long enough will soon develop a history, enemies, grudges, tales of adventure, close friendships, and goals beyond “experience and loot!” – but all of that will be developed in play because it’ a real pain to spend hours on all that stuff and then get killed in the first session.

Now this is where the conflict with most “modern” game systems – not to mention Eclipse – really begins. Modern systems tend to offer all kinds of specialized character options, branching trees of decisions to make, complicated systems to ensure “balance”, and so on. Eclipse in particular offers freeform character design and a complete lack of predesigned “classes”.

On the other hand, a fully old-school game seems like a bit of a straightjacket these days. Players do want SOME choices, and even old-school AD&D started offering kits, nonweapon proficiencies, weapon specialization, and – eventually – things like the “Skills and Powers” series.

Some of that was fairly poorly implemented by current standards of game design, although some criticism misses the point (for example, non-weapon proficiencies were usually essentially binary; you either WERE a blacksmith or you WEREN’T. Improving your score really wasn’t relevant).

To make this work in a more flexible system, you’re just going to have to make some packages – perhaps offering a few slots as a character progresses for abilities of choice. That way you can still have most of the “…and done!” benefits of the Old School while allowing some customization to make the player’s happy later on.

That also means that you no longer need a backstory to explain your starting characters specialities. Bob the Farm Kid, with his big muscles from spending his adolescence hauling heavy things and getting basic weapons-and-armor training in the village militia, can jump right on in. He doesn’t need to worry about where he learned the seven secret cuts style, or who taught him to channel his C’hi into his blade, or whatever. All of that is for later.

You’ll also want to explicitly add in the ability to make mechanical trade-offs without other special powers, but that will come up in the mechanics section.

The third rule of old-school play is another derivative. Old-school characters are fragile. A bad die roll or two could get them killed – so turning your characters fate over to dice-rolling was to be avoided if at all possible. If your goal was “treasure”, or “stop the evil plot”, or pretty much anything except “clear this area of the blasted monsters” (for which you’d want to be well paid), monsters were best avoided, outwitted, or escaped rather than fought. That’s why old-school games usually gave experience for gaining treasure (a major goal) and accomplishing other goals, with combat experience being more or less incidental. In most abstract experience games you were supposed to get just as much experience for avoiding that monster as for fighting it since, either way, you’d gotten around the barrier that was in front of what you really wanted.

So there’s our second rule; in an old school game, making a roll is a last resort. The phrase you wanted to hear from your game master was not “Roll…” it was “That will work”. If you couldn’t get “That will work” what you wanted to hear was “Roll with a plus (whatever) bonus.” – where “whatever” was as large as you could make it.

You didn’t take a stand on the bridge if you could avoid it; you got across it and you broke it. You set fire to the enemies camp and let them fight that instead of you. You lured them into traps. After all, if you got involved in enough dice-rolling contests, sooner or later you’d lose. Upping the odds in your favor put that off for awhile. Avoiding rolling could put it off forever.

This was where things like “Thief Skills” came in. They were just as much a special power as a magic spell was. For other types of characters the player could describe how their character was looking for a trap. If they got it wrong (which happened quite a lot), it was bad news time. If the thief got it wrong, then it was time to roll that “find and remove traps” skill – and it was only bad news time if your thief missed that check.

Sadly, when the odds of success on a roll approached 100% there was a distinct temptation to skip the full description in favor of a quick one that you threw in in hopes of getting enough of a bonus from the game master to get to 100%. When time was tight – and when is there ever enough time in a game session? – there was a strong temptation to skip straight to the roll.

Skipping straight to the roll soon led to people not bothering with the description at all.

That’s where the real problems with skill systems began. No game master actually expects his or her players to know much about blacksmithing, or demolitions, or negotiating treaties with dwarves – but the description of what the character is doing to try and forge that marvelous blade (perhaps a sacrifice and prayer to the smithing gods, a purification ritual, selecting the finest coal and other materials, and so on) should be a vital part of the skill roll. If the description is good enough, you can probably get by without a roll.

That high persuasion skill can HELP you talk people into things when they have doubts. It doesn’t make you Mesmero, Master of Hypnosis.

Ergo, to make a decent skill system really work properly in an old-school game, we’re going to have to explicitly note the possibility of narrative success – and that the skill rolls are just a backup for that narrative and won’t work without it. If the narrative is bad, they won’t work very well at all. Thus all the “Diplomacy” skill in the world won’t help you if you don’t have a reasonable position to advance in the first place.

That’s another item for the mechanics section of course.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XVIII – The Question of the Divine

It was only a couple of evenings later when Kiko came by.

Gri Fel and Terapishim didn’t have busy schedules to keep them from investigating in depth. For another, they were both fairly old – if somewhat weakened – gods. They had seen a lot, and Gri Fel had once been god of the biggest center of intrigue outside of Yu Shan. It was likely that Charles’s truly anonymous time was drawing to a close. Soon his secrecy would depend – perhaps far more securely – on the selfish interests of various powerful individuals who all wanted him protected for their own reasons.

That was when his unwitting involvement in conspiracies would begin.

Kiko had been working on her disguise skills, so that she could walk all but unnoticed among the mortals. She still hadn’t decided what she wanted to do once it was time for her to reveal herself. Certainly, she could make a name for herself in the same field as Gri Fel, but she was no politician. Vigilantism was a bit more appealing.

She’d been trying to keep the area around Gri Fel’s current residence safe, mostly by patrolling and the like, and had been making a difference in that neighborhood’s crime rate. It felt good, especially since Yu Shan’s laws on intoxicants and drugs were a good deal lighter less burdensome than most of Creation’s. That was one reason why she was considering vigilantism or bounty hunting once she got certain aspects of Charm disguises down.

She was hoping that Gri Fel would get the job he’d been talking about though. The money might trickle down to her, and it would be a good nest egg for her skate park.

She hadn’t seen why he was asking her about Charles (even if he was a nice kid), but she’d gladly told him about him making a minor artifact for her. Why not? It had been a pretty good trick! The kid was really good at artifacts!

Charles hadn’t heard of any problems with that as of yet, and he was keeping an ear (and a few agents) out – but he wasn’t a great politician and had rather limited pull. Still, just getting word of a problem was a lot easier than dealing with one was. Still, at least he could help her out with some armor and things…

Kiko would like one of those sashes – but wasn’t entirely sure how she’d pay for it, though. She was currently living off Creation-based Resources, and those didn’t go too far up in Yu Shan – and Charles had given her a lot already!

Fortunately, Charles was never worried much about payment – and didn’t regard such “minor” artifacts as particularly important gifts.

(Kiko) “How about this, dude? You let me have a sash – real cool how you get all that in there, by the way – and I help you with something dangerous when you need to go down to Earth. Deal?”

(Charles) “Ok!”

(Kiko) “Awesome! I can even hide it under my clothes!”

They settled in for munchies, since Kiko was tired of tea ceremonies.

It took quite some time of them playing video games and eating chips (and Kiko constantly losing, but not caring because she was too stoned) before Kiko recalled that she had an errand as well…

Gri Fel and Terapishim wanted to have a meeting – for which, of course, they’d issued another dinner invitation – to Maya’s Vistas, since it had excellent security magic for a restaurant.

Well, that was easy! After all, he had to eat, and it didn’t much matter where. He could do that anytime!

(Charles) “Did they say what it’s about?”

(Kiko) “Said it was about that job. Don’t know if there was any other reason, but Gri Fel said he wanted to talk to you as soon as he could.”

(Charles) “Oh! OK, I can make it today if it’s important!”

(Kiko) “Okay, dude. He told me to let him know when you could make it. Oh yeah, and he wanted to eat where you took him before.”

(Charles) “ Maya’s Vistas? OK!

(Kiko) “Yeah, that’s the place! I’ll go tell him.”

Kiko will put her disguise back on (Charles had to admit that she was getting pretty good at those these days) and headed out to let Gri Fel and Terapishim know that things were on for that evening.

Both Gri Fel and Terapishim were waiting when he turned up. (It was probably really important!) And Kiko was with them in yet ANOTHER disguise.

(Charles) “Allo! What’s up? There isn’t any problem I hope!”

(Gri Fel) “Oh, no. I was just curious about something, Charles.”

(Charles) “Oh?”

(Gri Fel) “I must say, I appreciated the tea sets, as did the committee members.”

(Charles) “Oh good!”

(Terapishim) “Same with the ambrosia cookers. But then Gri Fel bought up something that’s been bothering me.”

Now that was a puzzle. Perhaps some old feud or something?

(Gri Fel) “Yes. Where does a boy your age, even one running a major industrial facility, get the Quintessence and Ambrosia, much less the connections, for such items? Even Dynasts in the Imperial City had trouble getting such tea sets en masse.”

(Charles) “Oh! Well, I’ve got a good salary, and several manse-workshops and lots of aides on Earth, and finished artifacts are lots more expensive than the raw materials – so I just trade a few finished ones for the raw materials to make more things! Then I trade some of those for more raw materials, and so on!”

(Gri Fel) “And who gives you the raw materials? Those would be useful if we do indeed get this position. I’m certain the donatives alone would drain our salaries.”

(Charles, who had thought that he just answered most of that). “Well, the most basic one I use a lot of is Orichalcum, because it’s one of the few I can just make – all you have to do is get gold and have it thaumaturgically refined, and gold created through Alchemy works just fine. It works for the core of a lot of items made primarily of mundane materials. A lot of people pay in Jade – and always lots more than I need to make THEIR artifacts. Moonsilver and the rest are hard though; you have to sort through a lot of coinage before you can find any suitable for those materials!… I don’t usually work in Soulsteel at all if I can help it. It’s nasty!”

(Terapishim) “Yeah, that stuff will suck the Essence right out of you. Another question for you, kid: how fast can you make those finished items for trade? We might need more of them, depending on how things go.”

(Charles) “The little stuff? It doesn’t take very long, especially with Dudael and the other manses to draw on. There are more tea sets and essence cookers left anyway.”

(Gri Fel, driving to the point) “But can you make them in minutes? My assistant here told me the most interesting anecdote about your abilities.”

Kiko shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She really should have realized that that ability was Charles’s secret – but she was no artificer, she’d just thought it indicated excellent skills.

(Charles) “Not everything but some things! If it doesn’t upset anything very much you can slip stuff into the pattern pretty quick! For that you just need a little chaos, to fill up the spot where something COULD easily be, but isn’t NOW with enough potentiality to make it be there!”

(Terapishim, blinking slightly) “Kid’s pretty good if he can back that up, Gri Fel. Makes me wonder why he’s helping us out, other than just because.”

(Charles) “It would be mean not to!”

The two gods looked at each other – and then at Charles rather quizzically. Kiko just shrugged. As long as the focus wasn’t on her, she was reasonably content.

(Charles, explanatorily) “It’s a wrong thing in the pattern that needs fixing! There are a lot of things which do!”

(Gri Fel) “Oh, I certainly agree. It’s just that… well, people usually demand MORE.”

(Terapishim) “He’s worried you might be too good to be true. Now, I don’t see it, but then I’m not the city god here.”

That got Terapishim quite the look from Gri Fel, but he didn’t say anything.

(Charles) “More fixing? There are some things which are too complicated to fix now, and others I don’t have access too… Dudael is very helpful, but there are tools it doesn’t have!”

That got Charles a pair of very strange looks; what POSSIBLE tools would an operational Factory-Cathedral from the primordial era not have? The only better workshops in existence were The Dawnstar, the Primal Forge, and aboard Autochthon himself!

(Gri Fel) “Such a nice boy.”

He seemed to want to say something else there, but something was holding him back.

Gri Fel was actually surveying Charles’s essence in detail. The boy appeared at a glance to be nothing but a god-blooded – but there had to be something more for him to even come close to such abilities! A closer look might be revealing… What WAS the boy?!

There was a bit of fear there, although he was doing an admirable job of hiding it. If the boy WAS a Solar Exalt… He already had free access to Yu-Shan, control of one of its most powerful Factory-Cathedrals, numerous artifacts, and apparently controlled large numbers of artificer-assistants!

And the boy… STILL looked like a god-blood! Admittedly, one with rather a lot of geomancy wrapped around him, but… wait. Underneath the geomancy there were several powerful artifacts that seemed to be an internal part of the child, rather a lot of motes, and… secondary essence nexi? They didn’t seem to be links to external sources though… Could the child have internalized enough geomancy to be acting as a living manse? Was he playing host to other spirits? Was more than one soul incarnate in his body?

There was something about that thought that stirred OLD memories – and a peculiar internal resistance to probing further, even if he could.

Was the boy representing some greater entity? What might it want in return for the assistance the child offered?

Charles, meanwhile, was occupied with the food, which had finally arrived.

(Charles) “Was there anything else you wanted to know?”

It was amazing how grown-ups always missed that that question didn’t actually promise to tell them anything though.

There wasn’t at the moment. Everyone ate an excellent meal;, although Gri Fel was a little tense throughout. Terapishim wasn’t especially nervous though; he had been pro-lunar before he’d lost his job. If anything, he was enjoying watching Gri Fel dance around whatever was worrying him.

Gri Fel spoke finally:

(Gri Fel) “Oh, nothing else. But would you be interested in a visit to my sanctum sometime? You have been more helpful that most others in the past millennia.”

Gri Fel was nothing if not discreet, and wanted any demonstrations to be in private. If Charles’s abilities did seem to be Solar, he didn’t want anyone clamping down on the kid before he got his new position.

(Charles) “Certainly! I haven’t really been to a sanctum before!”

Of course, “sanctum” in this case meant “abandoned mansion I am currently squatting in.” – but it was polite to keep up the fiction.

(Charles) “Does it need any kind of fixing?”

(Gri Fel) “I always appreciate having a craftsman look things over. If you could do so, I would appreciate it.”

Gri Fel lived in an abandoned quarter bordering a slum occupied by gods of obsolete technologies. Smoke and dust filled the air across the border. His own place was indeed a dusty mansion, with an overgrown garden.

Kiko moved through the underbrush, overgrown flowers, and the like, quite effortlessly – carrying her patron. Terapishim just flew over the garden.

As Charles wandered through the gardens became clean, neat, and weeded, with various minor repairs done – all through Thaumaturgy.

Yes, it did look like Gri Fel had smiled there!

Even if it was still a bit nervously.

Charles was busy putting up a thaumaturgic ward against smoke and dust and noise, with a millenial duration.

The interior of the mansion was dustier, but still well-appointed. There was no way Kiko could ever keep this place clean (although it was obvious that she’d been trying) though; it would require a staff of several dozen, which Gri Fel obviously could not afford right now.

Charles added a quiet cleaning spell and another set of speciality wards. At least the place, as a part of old Yu-Shan, was geomantically harmonious!

Things became cleaner and the light shone in brighter, as the Unconquered Sun was currently ahead in the Games of Divinity. Gri Fel invited everyone to sit in his audience chamber, where someone (Kiko) had bought in a throne for him.

It was a very nice throne actually – the first ambrosial item of furniture Charles had seen in the place.

He fixed all the murals while he was at it. That vastly brightened up the place!

Gri Fel looked more relaxed already as he ascended the dais and sat down. In the throne, he really looked like somebody who could have been the god of the world’s most renowned city. He looked brighter, less shabby, and a good deal cleaner.

(Gri Fel) “Now, I wasn’t going to ask this in the restaurant, but could you demonstrate your techniques for me? I am curious about what Miss Tanaka has said about you.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, I could make something minor; it would need to be something that doesn’t make any significant difference to make it really quick… Oh! I know!”

He drew on Dudael (and thaumaturgic acceleration) to make a forty-eight Folding Servants – limited so that they drew their essence from proximity to their masters, and so couldn’t be set to doing things outside their owners household or be sent on more than brief errand. That made them about as trivial as artifacts could get.

That made twenty-four each for Gri Fel and Terapshim to help out with their cleaning and such! (And to get Kiko off the hook for it!)

That… got a reaction. Granted, they weren’t major artifacts – but they had simply appeared out of nowhere, generated by… thaumaturgy powered and supported by the primal geomancy of Yu-Shan and Creation. The deep levels of reality rushing to support… a child’s thumaturgy.

Gri Fel managed to stammer out a shocked “Thank you.”

Terapishim just smiled – but he was a rustic land deity, rooted much more in the here-and-now.

Kiko quietly sighed in relief. It would have been really embarrassing if Charles hadn’t done something impressive after all the glowing build-up she’d given him!

(Charles, absently) “This place could have servants without it disturbing anything at all really, and so could you (he nodded to Terapshim), and so you do. Which is the way it ought to be!”

(Terapishim) “Yeah, that is how things should be! Hey, can I talk with you, god to stripling? You won’t mind, will you, Gri Fel?”

(Gri Fel) “No, certainly not. I need to give these servant orders anyhow.”

(Charles) “And your garden and things will stay fixed… (With some startlement) Why couldn’t you talk to me?”

There was a long, silent, pause there.

Charles spent the time musing that it was too bad that all the Geomancy in Yu-Shan was already occupied. Otherwise he could have fixed Gri Fel up with some other boosts!

(Gri Fel, finally) “I had… suspicions… about what you were, and I was reluctant to discuss them in the restaurant. One never knows who is watching.”

(Terapishim) “And I was going to tell you, since I wasn’t sure he’d get around to it. There’s such a thing as being too paranoid!”

Charles was still a bit confused. After all, he was still only using thaumaturgy and manses. He was just getting the power for it straight out of geomancy instead of using his own.

(Gri Fel) “Geomantic power like that is normally not in the hands of God-Blooded, or even gods.”

(Charles) “I get along really well with manses!”

(Gri Fel, pausing and trying again) “It is a rare talent to do so. Where did you learn such abilities?”

(Charles) “Learn? Uhm… Gramps says I tuned one of his manses with healing powers to myself when I was six or so. I don’t really remember much from that far back… I was sick then!”

(Gri Fel) “Gramps being, if the rumors are true, Lord Richof Haldane himself.”

(Charles) “Yeah! What’s he do anyway? No one ever tells me!”

(Gri Fel) “Really? I would like to know myself. I know that he was not always involved in Celestial politics, or even in Yu Shan itself… He didn’t tell you?”

(Charles) “Not yet! I think he thinks I’m too young to be involved in whatever-it-is.”

(Gri Fel looked mildly disappointed.) “And he doesn’t know how you acquired these… miraculous abilities? I believe you implied that.”

(Charles) “Well, he hasn’t told ME anyway… Some of the fey creatures around home that have settled in on earth might know more, but they’re really unreliable about explaining anything. Most of the time they just make stuff up because it sounds more interesting.

(Gri Fel, sighing) “They will do that.”

(Charles) “They were always fun to play with though!”

Wait. That meant that the boy’s “home” had to be somewhere in the middle of a chaos-pocket or on the actual bordermarches in the depths of space! And that he’d been allowed to play freely with the local fey as a small child – and had survived that unharmed!

Blast it! The child was so… sincere and helpful and honest! How was it that every word out of his mouth just made the headache bigger?

(Terapishim) “Hey, what does it matter where he got them? If his powers were hostile to Heaven, the defenses would be stopping them!”

He examined Charles himself.

Charles was not so sure about those defenses personally, but that Abyssal girl was probably getting in via some sort of loophole.

Gri Fel was not so sure about the defenses himself, but he wasn’t too picky right now.

(Terapishim) “And you’re a real nice kid, with few dishonest bones in your body. You’ll probably get eaten alive up here when you’re older, but you’re helping us now, and that’s what matters.”

(Gri Fel) “I suppose you’re right, Terapishim.”

He was still wondering just what Charles was, although – now that he’d seen some of his talents in action – some of the assumptions had changed. “Thaumaturgy not Charms made quite a difference.

Kiko was busily directing the servants to clean the hall outside.

(Gri Fel) “I am thankful for your assistance, Charles. In all this, I forgot to let you know that we were indeed approved as candidates.”

(Charles) “Oh good! And that will set a precedent that will help get more gods back into positions! And that will make things better all around Yu-Shan!”

(Gri Fel) “If all goes well, we should be able to make our cases in the next few months. I will keep you informed.”

(Charles) “Thank you! Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help!”

(Gri Fel) “Certainly. Do be careful going home. This is not the safest of neighborhoods.”

(Charles) “OK!”

(Terapishim) “Don’t worry Fri Fel, I’ll escort him home. No way am I letting him get hurt.”

He did – in part because he had a questions that he didn’t want Gri Fel to hear.

(Terapishim) “So, that Kiko kid. What is she exactly?”

(Charles) “Uhm, that’s not really my secret…”

(Terapishim) “Worth a try. Gri Fel won’t tell me.”

(Charles) “Well, it’s Kiko’s secret. It wouldn’t be fair for me to tell! She might tell you if you asked though, especially at a party!”

(Terapishim) “Mead and honey it is, then! Maybe next time we go to see Burning Feather!… Thanks, kid.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

Terapishim dropped Charles off at the appropriate gate. It was far too late to do anything but go to sleep.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XVII – Leonine Customs

Afternoon light on the jagged grey mountains r...

We put those there for a REASON you know! Stop moving them around!

The next urgent summons was from the Celestial Lions. They definitely wanted to talk; The Dimensionless Truesilver Sands of Cecelyne were extremely rare and incredibly dangerous stuff… The creation or abrogation of dimensional borders was a power that could all too easily unleash some disaster upon both creation and the heavens. They weren’t illegal to possess – that would more or less require explaining WHY, which seemed like a bad idea – but they were certainly suspect!

For good or ill, Charles was a most cooperative youngster. When the two lions – Shengdu and Chengyan – inquired about the Sands, they got a perfectly straight answer.

(Charles) “I put it in some magic amulets! Want to see one?”

They did indeed – and Charles (somewhat proudly) promptly showed them one.

(Charles) “They let you travel around Yu-Shan really quickly, and that makes getting to the gates to gather ingredients and commuting a lot easier!”

(Shengdu, rather dryly) “I can think of other things that would make easier. Now, kid, where did you get the sand? We like to keep records of that.”

(Charles) “I got it from an artist down on Earth who had some!”

(Chengyan) “Huh. Normal mortal, God-Blooded, or something else?”

(Charles) “A mortal glassblower. Someone had given it to him, because they thought that unusual sand would be good for his work. Probably good for him that I sent someone to buy it; it might have done something really strange if he’d tried to make it into glass!

(Chengyan) “That’s an understatement.”

(Shengdu) “Did he say who exactly gave him the sand?”

(Charles) “I don’t recall it being mentioned offhand to me… I could go get the agent I sent to buy it though! He probably knows more!”

(Shengdu) “Well, send for him then.

(Charles) “I’ll be right back!”

The amulets special effects depended on the essence of their user – and Charles dissolved into a swarm of tiny sci-fi starships, ranging from X-wings through Shuttlecraft (of various sorts) and on to the USS Enterprise.

That rather startled the Celestial Lions. They hadn’t left in millennia and didn’t exactly pay attention to popular culture on Earth.

Charles was indeed back in a minute or two, swirling back in as a few thousand tiny ships spent a few seconds “building” a two-foot-across “space station” (Perhaps a Death Star?) and turned back into Charles and the Inukami he’d brought along.

(Charles) “Here we go!”

Well, the boy had certainly used the sands to make at least one working Amulet of Celestial Wings or gotten someone else to do it for him. That was impressive in itself; there hadn’t been many of those made since the first one, and that was so far back that even they would have to look up the details.

The lions got what little information the Inukami had. Sadly that wasn’t much; he hadn’t really been interested in where Mr Santhia had gotten the stuff; he’d simply wanted to get it from him. Some wealthy collector had given it to him. The man might have been a thaumaturge, but Mr Santhia really hadn’t known.

(Inukami) “Is it especially vital to know? Several earthly groups apparently have access to the stuff, and I DID promise to try to keep the supernatural away from Mr Santhia.”

(Chengyan) “We want to keep track of WHO has access to it. Nobody will bother that guy, since he isn’t involved beyond receiving it.”

(Charles) “Oh, I can try to find out where it came from!”

After all, the collector might have defenses, but the “delivery from” should be available.

(Shengdu) “Really? Well. No need to break your back over it, just give us any information you find.”

(Charles) “One minute!”

He called over to the research assistants at the Observatory and had one of them try using the Efficient Secretary Technique to find out who sent the sand to Mr Santhia. It might not work – it wasn’t all that potent a charm or an artifact producing it – but it was easy.

The lions looked at each other. Kids often were obliging, especially when dealing with an authority figure – but they would have expected a kid in a Celestial position, even a contractor, to ask for a bribe. Besides… they’d been meaning to ask about how he’d found out that Mr Santhia had the Sands – but it was ambrosia to dirt that the kid had just tapped whatever information network he was using NOW and asked.

Just how well-connected was this kid?

Charles, of course, never even considered asking for something. After all, it wasn’t much trouble at all and he didn’t NEED much, even if “bribe” had really been part of his lexicon.

It looked like… a Mr. Antonio Oberloni. He so informed them.

(Chengyan) “Thanks, kid. I’d go down myself, but I haven’t been down there since . . . I don’t even remember when.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Charles) “Oh, I was wondering… You do most of the maintaining order in Yu-Shan, right? Is there anything that would make that easier?”

(Shengdu) “Yeah, that’s right, kid. An amulet like that (pointing at the Celestial Wings) would help. You got a source? The only other one of those I’ve seen has been around Yaogin’s neck.”

(Charles) “Uhm… I only had enough sand for a partial production run. Would some of those help?”

(Shengdu) “That’d do. That sand’s not easy to get, as it should be.”

(Chengyan) “Maybe some kind of non-lethal ranged weapon too. I mean, I have Charms for that, but it doesn’t seem fair to use them on the mortals.”

(Charles) “I’ll see what I can find! I should be able to schedule something.”

(Shengdu) “Hey, I know what the kid could do! You ever work Orichalcum?”

(Charles) “Well, yes… I’ve worked with all the major materials.”

(Chengyan) “See, there’s this buddy of mine, Yangzi. He raided a God-Blooded crime lord’s mansion a while back, and came under heavy bolter (artifact automatic firearm) fire. Didn’t stop him from doing his job, but it took a week for all the chips in him to heal back up. Think you could make some armor for us? It’s embarrassing for us to be dinged up like that.”

(Charles) “I should be able to! How many sets would you need?”

(Shengdu) “Well, we’d have to get the design through committee before they’d let us requisition a big load. How about a prototype?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Let me check… (he rummaged in his pack and pulled out a sash-belt)… Would these work?”

(Chengyan) “Is that good against bullets? I hated firedust and I’m not that crazy about gunpowder either.”

(Shengdu) “Why ask? It’ll fit, try the thing on. Kid’s offering.”

(Charles) “It should be!”

The Lions looked it over, and – satisfied – one of them wrapped it around his head as a headband.

(Chengyan) “Lot of functions here. Who’s your supplier, kid?”

(Charles) “Uhm.. I run a factory-cathedral and some workgroups! There are lots of designs in the archives!”

The Factory-Cathedral job had come up on their quick check – but it had seemed virtually certain that he was fronting for someone. Was it possible that the kid really was running the factory-cathedral – AND some workgroups – on his own? And, if he was, who had put him into that position? He couldn’t possibly have enough contacts on his own to have arranged THAT!

That merited a little more confidential investigation. Even if the boy really wasn’t making any trouble, he’d be a new factor, and it was a good idea to keep an eye on those.

(Shengdu, looking Charles over) “Yeah, I’m sure. A kid could get into a lot of old records in that kind of position.”

(Chengyan, still considering the various functions of the armor-sash) “Something like this doesn’t come every day. Bet this would save a lot of lions a lot of trouble. Let’s take it to the station.”

(Shengdu) “Yeah, see what we can do with it. I think we’re done here. Let’s leave our contact stuff here, he might need it.”

(Charles) “Thank you !”

(Chengyan) “No, thank you, kid.”

The two customs agents left, whispering quietly to each other on the way out.

(Charles) “Bye!”

They waved with their massive paws, then took off, making sure that they did not disturb other gods along the way.

Their conclusions about his talents were likely to be fairly accurate – although their source would almost certainly remain questionable.

Old School Renaissance Eclipse Part I – Simulationism

The “Old School Renaissance” notion has a fairly strong following. Ergo, I’m going to take a look at how to do it in Eclipse.

Old-school gaming is heavily simulationist. That’s partly because modern roleplaying games sprang from simulationist wargaming, partially because such rules are easier to write, and mostly because that made “lets pretend” (with some rulebooks to sort out who shot who) relatively easy to explain.

“Ok, pretend you’re Batman / Indiana Jones / Hans Solo and you’re in this situation… What are you going to try to do about it?”

The first rule for old-school gaming is pretty simple – but it really has more to do with attitude and setting than with the rule system.

Physics, not Rules

To illustrate the difference, here we have a power. It could be an enchantment on a ring, a bit of mystic lore, some eastern-style C’hi power, or whatever. Lets call it..

Mountain Root Stance (At-Will, 3/Day, up to 10 minutes):

  • Description: You may bind yourself to the earth beneath you.
  • Effect: The Character becomes immovable.

That’s simple enough, yes?

Now, for a simulationist, it’s the description that matters: the mechanical effect is just a quick rule-of-thumb to help simulate what’s going on. Obviously Mountain Root Stance doesn’t truly render you immobile or (at least in many settings) the planet would leave you behind or squash you. You’re just anchored to the ground – and enough force will simply rip up the ground you’re on OR rip the characters legs off. If the ground moves, so do you. It won’t work if, say, you’re flying. For the simulationist, the rules are simply there as an aid to representing the “reality” of the game world – and when the rules don’t properly represent the setting, the rules get tweaked.

From the gamist prospective it’s the mechanic that matters. You are, after all, playing a game, not actually living in a fantasy world. Thus you can’t actually test all those oddities. You CAN test the mechanics and apply them without a lot of subjective rulings. The mechanics are (or at least should be) balanced against each other, and tinkering with them fouls things up. There’s something to be said for this approach. In fact, in quite a lot of games and settings, you have no choice about it; if there isn’t enough information about how the setting works available (something which is all too common), all you’re left with is the mechanic.

You can see that conflict all the time. Someone will use a game-mechanical effect and someone else will be saying “Yes, I see what the mechanical effects are – but what is the character actually doing to cause that?”

In a well-written set of rules, the description will agree with the mechanic all the time. Want to guess how common that is?

For a classical example, at one point a group of AD&D-style characters in one of my campaigns were in (realistic, not spelljammer) space. The rules didn’t cover space very well – but a couple of things had been noted, such as “no maximum range on projectiles”. After all, they DID keep going.

The characters ship was under attack; they were being harassed by a small base firing a laser cannon at them from somewhere (and they had no idea where) on the surface of the planet they were orbiting.

One player had his character put on a suit, climb out, and attempt to throw a grenade at the attackers.

I pointed out that even if he could throw the grenade out of orbit (which he couldn’t), and it wouldn’t detonate long before getting anywhere (which it would), and it wouldn’t burn up on re-entry (which it would), and it wouldn’t hit along a limited track on the surface if it could make it through the atmosphere (which it would), his chance of getting a grenade close enough to a small base to damage anything was utterly minuscule.

He was quite upset. After all, if there was no maximum range, he should be able to throw the grenade as far as he wanted, missiles were always considered to reach their target as a part of the user’s action, there were no rules for unprotected re-entry damage or vectors, and he knew he had a 5% chance to hit – he might roll a “20″.

For me, the rules were there to provide some handy shortcuts in simulating the setting; where the rules didn’t reflect that setting accurately it was the role of the game master to override them. The rules did not accurately simulate throwing grenades from orbiting ships at planets, so the rules gave way.

For him, the rules were there to give structure to the game, and if the footnotes on those rules didn’t address a situation – admittedly, an odd one in the context of those first-edition rules – the rules applied and whatever problem I saw in that was a matter for a later supplement (even if it meant another few pages of house rules for a situation that would probably never come up again had to be typed up, handed around, explained, and discussed).

In that particular case it was my game, and the rest of the players (all technical types) were looking at him like he was completely crazy, so the “No, you don’t get a roll. What you want to do is impossible” simulationist ruling was used – but a game can certainly be run the other way entirely. Some modern games, such as fourth edition, are designed for it.

Older edition games didn’t avoid tables (in fact, many older games delighted in them), or modifiers, or special maneuvers, or all kinds of crazy stunts and special attacks. They simply recognized that no usable set of tables could ever be detailed enough to be realistic.

A modern game might include some combat modifiers for “smoke” – perhaps even several thicknesses of smoke.

An old-school game wouldn’t – and it’s not because the author didn’t recognize that smoke might be a problem. It’s because they looked at that situation and said “Smoke. What kind of smoke? Wood? Burning Plastic? Sulfur? Some kinds are a lot more trouble than others. Just how thick? Is it mostly near the ceiling? Can you crawl under it? Is there a breeze? How hot? Is it toxic? Irritating? Indoors or outdoors? Is this at night? Is it worth bothering with a table for this? Everyone knows about various kinds of smoke – which means that we can safely leave this up to the game master. He or she can make a quick decision based on real-life experience and the exact situation in his or her game – and there won’t really be any “inconsistency” problem. The details of every situation are different, and thus so are the modifiers.

The tables started to multiply when players and game masters forgot that “thick smoke” might be the description, but it could mean something different every time.

There’s no such thing as a “Rules-Lite” role playing game, whether it’s “old school” or not. There are only games with their rules written out and games which rely extensively on the rules that are already in your head.

Games don’t include major chunks of rules on the behavior of cats and dogs, or about how knives work, or at what temperatures stone and iron melt – despite the fact that the domestication of cats and dogs, the uses of knives, and iron melting at a lower temperature than stone, have shaped civilization.

You don’t need to include rules for those things. The players can generally be relied on to have those rules in their heads already.

There’s another one of the keys to an old-school role playing game right there. It’s familiarity. An old-school game will want to keep itself grounded in real-world physics, biology, and mechanics. Any exceptions to those rules are likely to be carefully limited – and kept out of the player’s hands as much as possible. You’re a warrior? You might know a special magical trick or two – but most of your activities are going to fit into the real world fairly well. You may get some bonuses that push your performance up to the “action movie” level, but you’re still going to be doing things that a (tough and lucky) human conceivably could.

The horses and dogs will behave like real-world horses and dogs. The effectiveness of weapons is not generally going to depend on the enlightenment of your spirit and how long you spent meditating the day before. You will not be playing a blob of animated metal that can take almost any form. Those things all take us out into “lots and lots of rules” territory.

You’re a magician? You’re either going to have weak psychic “skills” or a rather small set of tricks with limited use. Why? Because too much of ANYTHING that doesn’t work in reality is going to disrupt the familiarity of the setting and generate more rules – which are a complicated pain to write.

Games aren’t novels. You don’t have the luxury of giving directions to all the characters. Your rules are going to have to deal with players who pick holes in the logic, try to exploit whatever loopholes you establish to the maximum, and who want to try things you didn’t think of. Worse, you’re not going to be there to answer them; they’re going to get to second-guess you all the way, since you have to write and publish your rules before most of your audience gets to play with them.

If you don’t keep it as close as possible to reality, you’re going to have to figure out how everything in your world works, explain it to the people trying to use the game, and anticipate their questions while still holding their interest in your explanations.

Good luck with that.

For the most part it’s best to go old school – and keep it close to reality.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and ability builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 171 – Into the Magestorm

Raphael's fresco The Battle of Ostia, an indic...

Charge!

With the negotiations clearly at an end – even if they had been mostly a stall for time on the enemies part – it was time to get on with the battle!

(Kevin, cheerily and loudly) “Was that enough time for everybody to get ready? We can wait a bit longer if you need us too!”

(Marty, similarily) “Yeah, it’s not like we have anything to do!”

There was a moment of shocked silence. Were these people completely insane, or did they actually expect to defeat several hundred organized opponents?

Then the defensive line wavered as many of the people on it considered the spell which was restraining their own powers.

For good or ill, a very frustrated young woman acted to brace the line. Her response was another lone arrow shot into the midst of your group, barely missing Kevin’s cheek. She cursed in frustration; even with her own powers backing the attack, that… NOXIOUS child with his insane blather and impossible arrogance had too many defenses wrapped around him!

Oh well. The explosive arrow would have been BETTER on a direct hit, but “nearby” was good enough with attack magic of that caliber!

The arrows fiery detonation was both quite impressive (Inflicting a LOT of damage and blowing Raphael and Marty off their feet) and the opening signal for some fifty fighters to appear in their midst and start attacking.

Drat it. Evidently the local definitions didn’t include tactical jumps as “teleportation”.

Kevin promptly spun his innate gating ability out with an amplifier-spell -to cover the entire area hurling all but thirty of their remaining opponents and rather a lot of local animals to Kadia – and into the restraining arms of the Thralls there (who would provide the after-the-battle party). He might have retreated under normal circumstances, but not as a wolf.

That left them with twenty immediate assailants and ten backup types.

Marty was mildly concerned… His regeneration was running out, and things were getting real!

Oh, wait; there were swarms of Thralls nearby. He just had them link to him and start pouring in the healing.

Raphael was, once again, sure that he was dealing with lunatics. They’d just taken some massive damage, their reserves needed time to rebuild, and Kevin was wasting a perfect escape effect on attacking. The boy was INSANE!

The vast majority of them struck at Kevin, with an outpouring of magic and weapon attacks. After that spell… He was clearly the one to take out.

There were chain scythes (even if they did look like clouds of metal links rather than something solid at times), toxic clouds, allergic transmutations, fireballs, lightning bolts, stone hands reaching up to grab people, energy drains, spears, arrows, swords, knives, and a geas – mostly centered on Kevin

Kevin spent a lot of his stockpiled defensive effects and burned through the last of his regenerative reserves surviving the damage (thank goodness for being tough enough to ignore some of it) – but that still left him coughing madly, sneezing and choking, almost blinded, sliding around on something slippery, and seriously drained.

Raphaels golems – including the one he’d been using as armor – were blown into dust, annoying him. They’d done a large part of their job though; HE was having trouble with his footing, was flash-blinded, and was also feeling an urge to abandon the battle and flee – but he wasn’t seriously injured.

Marty was finding it hard to maintain his footing, found his weapons difficult to grasp, was blinded by a brilliant flash of light, and found himself being slowly pushed away from the rest of the group while choking, sneezing, coughing, finding his eyes watering too badly to fight, and feeling an urge to flee.

(Kevin) “That’s really not bad!”

Kevin’s three Thralls, not being intoxicated with being mighty smash-them werewolves like their boss – and not being primary targets – had sensibly blipped out for a few moments during that entire mess. Kevin could have too – but he was just too excited.

The opponents behind what had USED to be the enemy line unleashed a storm of arrows and greatly-boosted fireballs.

Kevin absorbed the spells, sparing everyone (Raphael needed time) – but reaching his absorption limits. At this rate, he might actually lose to a bandit encampment… That would be HORRIBLY embarrassing! It looked like he was actually going to have to resort to tactics! And maybe even KEEP ON using them in future encounters!

Hm… An adaptive Shapechange variation – boosted to mass effect to cover Marty, Raphael, and the Thralls – should be enough to dump all those assorted penalties. It might not be much good to Raphael, since none of those things would really stop him (he just needed to resummon his defenses) – but Marty was going to be severely curtailed if he couldn’t hold his weapons, maintain his footing, or stop suffering from allergies.

He used one of his own bits of personal time to cast it – having one of the Thralls handle keeping him looking unruffled.

Lets see… twelve major opponents remaining in the group in melee with them, another five on the ridge above, thirteen minor guys still about who’d just gotten lucky.

Marty attempted another of his patent focused blows to take out one of the monkey mages – but he or she got up a wall of iron at the last moment, and he lost almost all his power shoving the knife through it.

Raphael shook off the mental influences, summoned more protective constructs – and warped space a bit more, to make sure that many of their opponents would also be affected by any area effects that they happened to use – regardless of where they were trying to target them.

Kevin went with Oratory again – attempting to render the rest of their opponents non-hostile and – once again – suggesting that it was time to think about surrendering, since almost everyone else was gone…

That brought down the last of the little guys, leaving only seventeen opponents who were still capable of resisting.

Still… Kevin was beginning to think that the “just walk in” plan might have been unwise – these people just weren’t willing to surrender, no matter how outclassed they were (perhaps in part because their side was obviously going for captures rather than kills, so there was no reason not to “fight to the end!”) and his links with Marty and Raphael indicated their agreement; it was time to call in the Thralls…

The sixty concealed Thralls were well-stocked with disabling spells stored as power words, minor witchcraft curses, subdual damage, and ways to hinder people – and they did outnumber their remaining opponents four to one counting Kevin’s and Marty’s personal companions.

Their opponents defenses were good – but not THAT good, especially with the amount of power they’d expended fighting Marty, Kevin, and Raphael. A number of the Thralls wound up stuck in trap-spells and such for a few minutes, but the spell-barrage brought the battle to a swift end.

Hm. No casualties! Maybe that was a tactical victory after all!

Kevin was now willing to give more credit to the “sneaky lion elder” bit; the Lion elder who’d given him the map to the Panther’s hadn’t mentioned anything about how much raw power they had at their disposal. It was still possible that he hadn’t known – these guys had had a LOT more resources than was at all reasonable – but it still looked like something was fishy somewhere.

Oh well! They’d probably horrified any observers, especially since most of the Thralls who’d put in the spell barrage were still in sneaky-small-animal forms and cloaked against detection!

Hm. Did he have circuses in Kadia? With clowns and trapezes and animal tricks? If not, get some set up immediately! All captured children and youngsters (not many of those, they were probably stashed back in the caverns) got free tickets to the circus!

Hurrah!

They looted the place mostly for the fun of it – and to look for any connections to the assassin-lizards.

Kevin had some of the Thralls help Raphael start building more golems. He’d gotten them all blown up!

He went and apologized to Raphael.

(Raphael) “Oh don’t worry about it too much; they needed a redesign anyway.”

Raphael took a look at the stuff that was scattered around… It would take several days to rebuild his golems anyway.

Kevin was checking his new collection… Thirty-eight actual Panthers, including two powerful ones who were upset about being denied their “rights”, a few opportunists, some adolescents who wanted higher status, and a bunch who wondered what all the fuss was about.

Marty evaluated the loot.

There’d been six (!) caravans camped here (the caravaners were now running carnaval stalls; they hadn’t put up any real resistance). There were crates of various ores and gems in one pile, foodstuffs and other supplies in a second, and a stockpile of magical and alchemical supplies in a third. There was a training ground with mockups of various tactical situations and target dummies spread around. There were charts and maps of the supposed layout of the Cat Clan residence. There were detailed ward diagrams of the city’s protections and the Cat Clan’s protections. There were maps and drawing of the various mountain passes and approaches to the city.

For BANDITS?

Had they been setting up for a full-scale invasion? If they just wanted to challenge the cats, why did they need layouts of the city protections?

Looking at the crates… there were large piles of enchanted weapons, armor and charms. Some of them were quite powerful – like the ones that had been used against them. All in all, just the stuff on the surface represented enough money to practically purchase a clan. The sheer amount of enchanted equipment was staggering once they’d stripped the stuff off the captured and looted the remaining stockpiles. There was enough gear to equip at least three hundred soldiers in rather high style…

That pretty much said “major attack”. Had they been going to try and seize the entire city? Possibly starting by taking out poor Mrs Nine-and-a-half and starting a civil war through the rabbits?

Kevin had the thralls do some probes and such back in Kadia.

(Raphael) “If they had this much stuff, why not just buy their way back in? I am sure that is possible here; even if they WERE disgraced, this much money will talk.”

(Kevin) “I think they could just come back as a new clan with this much loot!”

According to the Thralls back in Kadia, the basic plan that had been sold to the rank-and-file was that the bandits would fake an attack on the walls with enough equipment to make the attack seem real while also being able to hold out for some time. That would draw the city defenders to the walls and away from the city core. The bandits would retreat once their ability to pose a threat was exhausted. Meanwhile, the Panthers would get into the center of the city via a hole in the defenses created by the Rabbits and assault the Cat Clan directly. Trained Rabbit teams were to run around the city, delaying attempts to assist the Cat Clan residence, and in general cause chaos and confusion in the process.

Huh. The number of Rabbits they had and the number of targets for the Rabbits in the initial strikes did not seem to match up – even adding in rabbits who’d been trained but were currently back in the city. There seemed to be way more targets than they had rabbit teams to assault. The captured didn’t seem to realize that, since they’d all heard different stories on the exact list of targets and had never bothered to compare lists.

Were there other groups in training? Operatives already inside? Were they being set up to bite off more than they could chew?

Kevin kind of thought that the Rabbits were cannon fodder, and that most of the Panthers were just a diversion – and, most likely, that mind-manipulating Shadowdancer was setting things up for someone else’s attack on the city. Good odds; she wasn’t among those captured.

That turned out to be a good guess.

Outside funding looks pretty probable… She WOULD be cross though; this operation was blown, lots of investment had been captured, she had a complete failure to report – and she might have some friends or relatives that she actually cared about amongst those captured.

Kevin had thought that her “generic grievance” insistence was a bit odd.

They’d have to see what was going on in those caverns.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 170b – The Core Resistance

L5R

Men who drew the sword...

As they approached the central nexus, it became more and more obvious that this bunch had real discipline – and either training or someone in charge good enough to simulate it. There were organized wings of archers, mutually-supporting defensive positions, some powerful defensive spells being set up, and a lot of stuff that didn’t go with the whole “bandit rabble” image.

A tall but slender rabbit was running around behind the line shouting orders. Perhaps the organizer?

Oh well! They could always use some area-effect stuff since there was a crowd!

Was it just a tactical genius running around somewhere, or was it outside support and training? Kevin had the Thralls start probing the ones they’d already taken to Kadia…

Hm. It looked like the Panthers had been slowly taking control of the bandit groups running around for their own purposes. They’d been supplying the bandits with equipment in exchange for a portion of the proceeds and orders to attack specific caravans or ignore others. The rabbits started showing up in large groups some time ago and had begun working with the bandits on training exercises and supplies. It was known that a big plan was going to be unveiled sometime soon in the hopes of getting a number of the noble houses to have a “change of heart” and giving the bandits compensation for their efforts. The three monkeys only showed up three days ago though and hadn’t been interacting with the rank-and-file bunch much.

That could be a giant blackmail scheme – or just asking to be converted from “bandits” to “outriders”, with the threat of “otherwise staying bandits” to back a request for amnesty and better conditions. But what were the rabbits getting out of it? If they were providing the supplies, this would be enormously expensive. Was getting back at the cat clan worth that much to them? If not, where were the supplies coming from?

Well, if they HAD any archmagi, they wouldn’t need the blackmail – and they hadn’t seen any opposing magic on the level they were using yet. They might be preparing to try and negotiate. Ergo, in they went!

Kevin waved cheerily!

A single arrow rose from behind the enemy line and planted itself firmly into the ground ahead of them. The shadow it casts grew long and thick in the bright light – and out of the shadow rose the shadowdancer they’d met earlier.

(Pantheress) “What brings you here and why are you attacking this camp?”

(Kevin) “Well, your bunch was interfering with our vacation, so we thought we’d come over and make most of you go to school, and everyone who isn’t in school work four hours a day manning carnival booths instead of going to school. Besides, Martin hasn’t had a chance to hit anything much in days, except when dancing!

(Marty) “HEY!”

(Pantheress) “An internal house dispute is interfering with your ‘vacation’? And what would it take to secure the freedom of our comrades that you have taken prisoner? I see no profit in us continuing this conflict further.”

(Kevin) “So what are you disputing about anyway?”

(Pantheress) “It is a dispute between the Panther family and the rest of the Cat Clan that forced us into exile. We take issue with the conduct of the heads of the Clan with regards to our family and the so-called circumstances they used to force our exile.”

(Marty, crossing his arms) “They told us one story. Let’s hear your side.”

He was willing to listen.

(Pantheress) “I am not going to go into the full details of the conflict. But we felt the Lion Clan did not come to power within the Cat Clan through honorable means. The dispute eventually became violent as clan disputes frequently did at the time. In one of the battles though the Lion enlisted the aid of the Canines in the defense of one of their strongholds. They then twisted that into a story saying we had slaughtered innocent people in our “paranoia” and lust for power. With that excuse and the dead bodies of the canines in hand, they united the rest of the clans in banishing us from the city.”

Kevin was more or less of the opinion that past allegations of dishonorable behavior were no excuse for attempting to rape women to start wars, disrupting the fun at carnivals full of uninvolved people, and otherwise behaving dishonorably NOW – and he rather suspected that most of the bandit attacks had NOT been limited to harassing the Lion family. Had the bit about school and carnivals been shrugged off as insanity or as an attempt to confuse? Too bad if so; he’d been hoping they’d send someone with truthsense…

Marty had to agree there. This was clearly an ancient clan war situation. That just confirmed it.

(Marty) “Did you know your Rabbit buddies thought it was okay to attempt to rape a Lion maiden there? Or mess with the carnival?”

Raphael suspected that they’d sent someone who was good at getting away instead. Something was… off though. It would make more sense for them to make an offer on their comrades, or try to recruit them, or some such; how would THEY know what the camp had to offer?

He kept on pretending to be a bodyguard golem.

(Pantheress) “The enthusiasm of the Rabbits in their… indiscretions has reached our attention. Sadly I think that one is shaping up to become an internal Rabbit Clan dispute regardless of whether we do anything or not. The Rabbits sent to train with us though either show great discipline or they….. don’t. (She grinned and showed a lot of teeth).”

(Kevin) “So what is it you actually want to get? Revenge for an injury to a prior generation is never really worth much.”

(Pantheress) “Well, I think a good starting point would be to break the leadership of the Cat Clan, force them to acknowledge our grievances, and release the banishment of our family. Leadership of the Clan can then be disputed properly in a civilized manner.”

(Kevin) “And the bandits?”

(Pantheress) “A measure to show that the Cat Clan management of the passages through the mountains is not nearly as effective as they like to proclaim. Earning enough money outside the city to run an operation like this does not come easily by the way. The caravans all had the option to pay the toll or to smuggle our own goods if they so chose.”

(Keven, privately) “Hey, Raphael? Think you can tell what kind of goods were being smuggled?”

(Raphael privately) “By pure logic or by searching the camp or some other trick?”

(Kevin, privately) “Well, you’re the diviner.”

Well, that was something of a point.

(Raphael, still privately) “Well I guess I could”

Raphael took a little extra time to keep it quiet – but spun a high-powered divinatory spell to see what they HAD been smuggling. He should be able to piece most simple shields…

Huh… So far; three tons of gold powder, fourteen tons of silver bars, geodes, a hundred and twenty tons of quartz, and fourteen tons of obsidian, with traces of other materials – but not in that kind of quantity.

Well that was boring. He passed the information on privately.

Kevin and Marty were mildly disappointed. Nothing objectionable, revealing, or even very interesting. Stuff that could be used for enchanting, but all quite generic. It could have been poisons and monsters, or slaves, or protective charms, or odd woods, or lots of other things – but all that just meant a small mining camp or two somewhere about.

(Pantheress) “And I will ask again, how much shall it take to get you to release our comrades and leave us be? Continued conflict isn’t profitable for either of our groups I suspect.”

(Kevin, with some surprise) “Er… Why not? It is fun, and the carnival can always use more staff, and the schools can always use more students… Besides, you haven’t said what you WANT. Just what you feel you can justify.”

(Pantheress) “As I said, we want the Lion to acknowledge our grievances, and undo the banishment of our family. I would think these are more than simple justifications. And what is this nonsense of schools and carnivals?”

Marty had heard that kind of thing before – but mostly from political fanatics. Slogans in place of thought and anything which didn’t fit in with the “us against them” worldview automatically rejected as nonsense. This probably wasn’t going anywhere. Kevin should just open a gate and start chucking people through. It wasn’t like they could do much harm in Kadia.

(Kevin) “Uhm, no… Those are slogans that you’ve passed around. Are you really trying to claim that you couldn’t just change your name, walk into town, set up as a new group, and start arguing and competing with the lions? Or even walk down the coast to a different town? At the least, you want to humiliate your rivals, and you’re willing to stoop to helping some extremely unethical people to do so. As for sending people to carnivals and school… that’s what I like to do. Most people need school! They’re very irrational, their thoughts are poorly organized, and they irritate me! And at least half of them shouldn’t be out in the multiverse without a leash!… Drat it! I’ve been forgetting the “Make People Well Informed Ray” project!

(Marty) “I don’t remember that one. Did you send me a copy?”

(Kevin) “We discussed it in that silly ‘Five Worlds’ place. Come to think of it, the servants were being Panthers there…”

(Marty) “Oh yeah, that’s right! I’ve slept since then.”

(Pantheress) “It seems you are unclear on how banishments work then. We can no more enter the city unnoticed than we can pretend to be fish. Those of our bloodline that enter the city would instantly be marked as trespassers and thrown out by the guards. As for moving to another city down the coast, that would mean giving up the rights to the mountain passes and mines our family discovered. And I get the feeling you aren’t above humiliating your own rivals and working with unethical people yourselves.”

Right… That would never work! Bloodlines tended to spread – and would be shared within the original clan. Maybe for a generation or two, but MUCH more likely only for the originals and for a limited time… Besides, if they had no legal rights in the city, their claims to passes and mines had no legal effect anyway; they were holding them by force – which meant that they could easily move down the coast and simply garrison them.

Raphael quietly contemplated firing of a ray of education simply because it would be funny – but decided that educating the people they were talking to was a bad way to negotiate in front of an army.

(Pantheress) “And I question the wisdom of sending random people to run a carnival and an education system. Seems likely to backfire in a spectacular fashion at some point.”

Ouch! Marty had to admit that she DID have a point there!

(Kevin) “No, no! It’s to be students in the education system!”

(Pantheress) “Ah, so you grab a random cross section of society, stuff them into a class room setting against their will and then try to teach them the philosophy that it’s ok to call others on their unethical behavior so long as you do it too?”

(Golem, at Raphael’s telepathic command) “He foolishly has automatons teaching students so that they all get the same quality of education while ignoring the damn machines taking over his culture and making them all boring and standardized.”

Hm. She was trying some sort of mental probe… Fortunately, they could all block that fairly readily.

Kevin, at least, had no real objections to his surface thoughts being read. Active probes would run into barriers though.

(Pantheress, with some surprise) “Automatons teaching students? What is he trying to do? Turn people into golems or something?”

(Kevin) “Hey, I never claimed not to be evil! You’re trying to justify yourself because you want us to go away; I’m just doing what I want to…”

(Raphael, still speaking through a golem) “It might not be his intention but it seems to be working”

(Pantheress) “You asked what we were doing and if we were aware of certain activities. I have asked for terms to release my comrades and you reply with nonsense of carnivals and golem educations.”

(Kevin) “Oh! That’s because it will be less of a fuss if you come along quietly! I want to know what you actually want because the easiest way to get people to come along quietly is usually to give people what they want – but you’re caught up in self-justification and don’t even seem to know… Oh well! Is there anything else to go over? Raphael? Martin? Whatver-your-name-is there?”

(Marty) “Nothing that I can think of!”

(Pantheress, with considerable frustration) “Then I think we are done here. I shall take my leave now.”

With that she sank back into the shadow of the arrow, and was gone.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 170a – The Preliminary Assault

Description unavailable

OK, NO ONE is going to swallow THAT illusion!

It wasn’t long before the sixty-odd Thralls, with their shapeshifting animal-form “disguises” and anti-detection spells, had located and surrounded the Panther encampment.

Kevin had them settle in to report – and to be ready to catch minor attempts to escape.

It looked like the panthers had three encampments within a short distance of each other. The area was split by three small ravines or valleys spread out in a simple “Y”. Each camp was nestled in one of these little valleys – and the connecting area between the three valleys was a clear field with a number of circled caravans and what looked like the entrance to some caverns as well. Each of the paths leading to one of the valleys from outside the area had some defenses – but could serve as chokepoints from either direction. If they could get to the central area in force and hold it as a defensive position they could split them into four groups.

There were quite a few people between the three sites, and there was probably another site in the caverns. The Thralls reported roughly forty Panthers, 123 rabbits, ninety assorted bandits, and a small assortment of individuals. It also looked like there were a number of caravans mixed in with the encampments – all apparently voluntarily bringing supplies to the cavern system.

That was quite an operation for a single exiled family! It was surprising that they were getting away with it, even if they WERE officially only arguing with one clan! Foreign agents assisting subversive elements, maybe?

There weren’t any of the reptilian assassins around though. Kevin had half-expected some; their double-agent had been traced to this general area, but they’d never heard anything more from her. That had been a bit of a disappointment; they’d thought that the reporting-link was well enough buried that it would take a day or two to find – but no such luck.

That might be a bit much to just wander in on… Much as it pained Kevin to admit it, it might be advisable to take a few precautions first.

Marty kind of favored going in with everybody – but Kevin wasn’t so sure. Random bandits weren’t a big problem, and a lot of the rest would be noncombatants… Oh wait! The local gods were obliging enough to label everyone with power-signs! They could just have the Thralls look for those and get an estimate on the number of powerful individuals!

Raphael pointed out that – given the local magical birthrights – EVERYONE could cast some fairly effective low-level attack spells. Enough of those could swamp them. The Panthers were technically exiles from the Cat clan, and – to a lesser extent – from the rest of the city (apparently the original schism that had split the clan had brought ill-will from the rest of the city). The Rabbits were cooperating with, and possibly arming, bandits and city exiles within striking distance of the city walls. That was definitely going to look pretty bad for them barring a REALLY good explanation. Ergo, the Panthers and their voluntary associates were fair game – but did they really want to fight EVERYONE?

Kevin noted that situations like this were what Globes of Invulnerability were for!

Raphael pointed out that one higher-level caster could knock it down for him.

Marty was impressed! Raphael was actually THINKING! They rarely had an associate who did that! Most of the thinkers took a look at the things they got up to and went elsewhere!

Kevin still kind of wanted to simply stride forward. He was more than a bit intoxicated with his wolf-forms potential for physical mayhem.

For once, even Marty wanted to restrain him. That was a lot of people even by his standards, and he’d rather not have to commute back from Kadia at the moment, it was a pain.

Raphael wasn’t liking that “plan” too much either.

The Thralls estimates of power levels were rather rough. It lookws like the caravaners were all noncombatants and one-half to two-thirds of the rest were relatively “low-powered”. On the other hand, there was quite a bit of enhanced weaponry and armor about as well.

So twelve or so panthers (mid-powered and up), ninety Bandits (probably mid powered; high-powered individual could usually find better positions), maybe forty mid-powered and up rabbits, and a scattering of weird individuals. Probably no more than half a dozen or so with really powerful abilities – and even that was a bit weird for a little camp of outlaws!

(Raphael) “Too bad we cant just do an battlefield magic dispell followed by a battlefield magic globe of invulnerability… that would likely drop all the minor buffs and keep them down.”

(Kevin, with some surprise) “We can’t?”

(Raphael, also with some surprise) “Abjuration is not my thing… but you could do that?”

Marty sighed. Raphael hadn’t yet seen the records of Kevin’s spellcasting in the New Imperium had he? It REALLY wasn’t wise to push the boy… When he let it come through, the power of darkness was quite appalling.

(Kevin) “I can if necessary… Of course, it’s a “not too often” kind of thing.”

(Raphael) That would still leave us with some others capable of higher level spells to deal with, but that’s better than hundreds of minor spells on top of the higher-powered stuff.

(One of the aides, sotto voice) “Besides, just think of the ladies you’ll get for just strolling into a camp of more than two hundred enemies and fighting them all with your bare hands!”

Kevin considered… OK, that was kind of tempting – it would really demonstrate his dominance (and impress the girl who’d been attacked by the Panthers through their Rabbit catspaws) – but if he exerted himself he should be able to blanket the area with an effect that would damp out low-order magic and would be almost impossible for anyone without his level of power to do anything about – and if anyone amongst this group had his kind of magical power, what were they doing lurking outside the city?

Marty did have Battle Magic as part of his dominion, and had recently acquired Math Magic. Given that the underlying rules of this world were those of a computer simulation, would that let him muck around with some fairly basic elements?

As it turned out, only to a limited extent. There was some awareness of underlying math, but the actual world was based on user perceptions, not the original underlying rules of the sim… Oh well! There were still some major tricks – like a multi-target power drain – that he could pull! He’d focus it on the most powerful ones to avoid hurting any of the lower-powered types.

Raphael sighed. The pair of them were actually worrying more about how impressive they could be than about survival!

Kevin worked up his grandiose low-level magic damper, Marty worked up his personal-power damping effect, and Raphael summoned some more “honor guard” constructs to help out (and to keep Kevin’s usual three servants company) – and to hide among. Unlike these two lunatics, HE had some caution! They could still be physically or magically overwhelmed by numbers!

Still, a lot of the minor opponents would probably look at the kind of magic that was being thrown around and run.

Oh wait! They’d need a teleport-blocker too!

Kevin opted to throw that in with his big spell. They were blanketing the entire area anyway, so why not?

They set up a couple of other enhancements (including Raphael’s anti-missile spell), dropped their big spells over the area – and strolled in down one of the main paths. The Thralls caught a few who did indeed try to run, but most of the group seemed to have a surprising level of confidence in their defenses.

That was a bit weird for a hunted group of exiles too!

There was enough shock when those spells went off to let them take most of the local by surprise…

Kevin promptly used his oratorical powers to demand a mass surrender – an effect which swept over the general horde (all the ones who weren’t either unusually powerful or possessed of mental defenses) quite easily.

Marty saw four likely targets with high-end power-signs on them… A lithe female rabbit with what looked to be rather loose-fitting chainmail, a HUGE male rabbit with a sword as long as he was tall, a female panther wearing a combination of leather and cloth who was balancing a knife on her finger tip, and a monkey mage digging through a batch of supplies.

He tried silencing and paralyzing the male rabbit. Sadly, it didn’t work… Oh well! Kevin was the magical specialist, he’d just have to go with knives!

The female panther fell into her own shadow and disappeared – reappearing behind Marty to knife him in the back, striking with an impressive impact. A few more strikes like that and he’d be in trouble!

Suddenly, the loose chainmail the female rabbit was wearing seemed to explode into a whirlwind of spiked chains – lashing out at Raphael and his collection of golems and inflicting considerable havoc.

The big rabbit pulled out his huge two-handed sword and charged Kevin – pointy end first, slashing him messily.

Raphael entrapped the chain-wielder in a dimensional maze.

The monkey mage scrambled to open a crate and pulled out a bushel of bananas. Why? It was kind of hard to say…

The general masses were mostly surrendering, as Kevin had demanded – but Kevin had other distractions and let the Thralls handle it. HE was cheerfully hammering away at the rabbit who’d attacked him. In this identity he could regenerate a lot more damage than THAT!

He scored several times, but evidently this guy was pretty tough! He was barely scratching him! (Although that did seem to mildly impress the man).

Marty decided to try to keep the monkey mage out of things. Whatever-it-was he’d wanted bananas for, he had them now… He pulled on his knife-related powers and flung a dagger at him that would have annihilated an old-style tank. The mage just barely survived the impact – but it didn’t stop him, although it did divert him to healing himself.

The pantheress with the shadow-powers stabbed Marty again – not quite so effectively – and vanished into the shadows once more.

The big rabbit hammered Kevin some more. That was getting annoying!

Raphael summoned more constructs to distract, grab, or attack the shadow-walking pantheress and guard their backs.

Kevin hammered right back at the rabbit – but it was becoming pretty obvious that his unenhanced fists weren’t accomplishing much. He was going to have to try some boosts!

Marty considered hitting the rabbit pestering Kevin with one of his trademark massive strikes – but Kevin didn’t get to do melee stuff often, and the kid seemed to be enjoying it. He decided to dispose of the shadows instead, and shed some brilliant, directionless, light on the area to wash them all out. He left hitting the rabbit to Minel – who uses an energy-draining ray that weakened him somewhat; Kevin might be tough as nails as a wolf-person, but he still really wasn’t all that skilled a fighter and could probably use a hand.

It did seem to weary the rabbit a bit. Not enough to stop him though, as he hewed at Kevin again – this time ineffectually. With the chain-scythe wielder still on an involuntary dimensional vacation, the shadow-dancer in parts unknown, and the mage working something up, it was about time to begin advancing again…

Kevin was wondering why the Rabbit was focusing on him. He wasn’t actually doing much of the big attacks – and the big spells had been cast before they came out. Was it related to the earlier rabbit attacks?

(Kevin, to the Rabbit) “Well this is good fun! I may have to start hitting harder though!”

(Rabbit) “Yeah, you are obviously the most powerful one in this bunch! I can tell just by looking at you! Plus you’ve taken a number of blows from me and are still standing!”

Hm… Most of the others who had managed to resist the oratory had fled back towards the other encampments. They just had the chain-scythe specialist (in another dimension), the monkey-mage was hiding and healing, and the shadowdancer was nowhere to be found.

Raphael accelerated the group – including the golems and the constructs.

About then, the monkey-mage popped up again – standing up, lifting the lid off a sealed barrel, and dropping the bananas in. He then proceeded to shout “Bananas!” and ran for the pass leading to the other camps.

The barrel then proceeded to bounce violently and spewed forth a thick yellowish fog around itself as it made belching sounds.

(Marty) “Yech, it’s a banana barrel golem!”

Kevin, now that the Thralls were collecting the non-combatants, fell back to work some self- enhancements, somewhat like the ones he’d used against he invisible golem…

Marty was no specialist mage – but, at least to him, it looked like the barrel was using a combination of the bananas as a material component and a command word to initiate some sort of high powered conjuration effect.

Hm. He might be able to slow that down with his own magic, but he probably couldn’t stop it.

He took a shot at it – but the blasted thing was tougher than was even remotely reasonable. It didn’t quite break, although it cracked and splintered the barrel significantly. He could see foam and banana cream beginning to leak out of the cracks in the barrel though, somewhat reducing whatever effect it was working on producing.

There was a moments pause as the chain-scythe specialist failed once again to escape her dimensional maze, the shadowdancer failed to reappear, the monkey-mage had fled, and the big rabbit was taking a moment to catch his breath while Kevin enhanced himself.

Raphael had one of his constructs pick up that pesky barrel – and then cast it, and everything it was carrying, into another dimensional maze.

He followed up by ripping open a pit in the ground where the chain-scythe specialist would re-appear and had his summoned golems stand around holding the debris to drop them in after her when she re-appeared. That almost certainly wouldn’t kill her, but it should at least be a great inconvenience – and give his summoned golems an advantage.

Marty was keeping an eye on the Wolf-Versus-Rabbit battle – but he wouldn’t intervene unless Kevin was REALLY getting pummeled.

Kevin, however, was now putting serious power into it (and throwing in a a multiple-image illusion-trail just for fun), boosting his movement, and closing to dance around Mr Rabbit and pummel him!

That was considerably more effective – although Mr Rabbit wasn’t going down as of yet. Worse, it made Kevin a lot harder to hit – and Mr Rabbit wasn’t having much luck.

It took a few more exchanges, but Kevin was now winning easily – and the golems readily captured the scythe-chain specialist when she popped back in.

The prisoner roundup was going nicely; all the ones who were capable of resisting had already fled to the rest of the camps. Kevin set up a gate for the Thralls to take them through – and they started advancing on the central area – where a defensive line was forming, combining most of the remaining defenders from the caverns and the other two camps.

Well, that wasn’t a bad tactic. Strength in numbers always had it’s point, and that way they could get some use out of the less-powerful ones before the oratory and other persuasive powers could get to them.

According to Marty and Raphael it looked like… about two-thirds of the initial group was still over that way. Of them, it looked like there are still four powerful rabbits, another five panthers of similar power levels, and four bandit leaders. They were all moving into the central section to work on repelling the assault… Also present were a trio of powerful monkey mages, one of whom Marty had nearly managed to kill. There are also about a hundred and sixty low level fighters and mages of various sorts over there too. The power levels for the more powerful ones were similar to the ones they’d just fought.

Sixteen powerful targets? Seventeen if the Shadowdancer turned up again? That was REALLY impressive for a bunch of exiles and bandits! What was going on here?

Kevin was still all for heading on in… The low-level guys weren’t too important. Sixteen major targets was harder – but they just needed to drive them into retreat, and their resources were in fairly good shape outside of being down a fair chunk of regeneration and some of Raphael’s power.

At least the Thralls could provide plenty of healing quickly enough.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 169b – Egging Them On

Marty considered pointing out the eggs to the skeptical guard (after all, they didn’t seem to be afraid of the things), but decided not to bother. What good would it do? He was right in some ways; trying to keep and tame a wild creature that reflexively teleported would require either crippling it by blocking that ability or zapping it’s mind before it was even born – and neither seemed likely to get a good performance out of it.

OK, the creature – or possibly a pair, parents seemed likely – had been taking out individual thralls easily enough – but a big surprise attack would take out most anyone who wasn’t a specialist or incredibly powerful.

Kevin voted to simply assign some Thralls to make them feel welcome and – possibly – take them back to the Amarant Solutions offices while someone took a look around for that island. Local wildlife issues were not really one of their major concerns.

Raphael sent for some food (some of the better stuff sold to cat people according to the cat people and a variety of dishes, in case it only liked fish or something) to feed the (presumed) poor parent-thing and tried to use some telepathic broadcasts to try to get it to feel welcome – while still making sure to stick with a group.

Marty tried singing! Didn’t it have charms to soothe the savage beast? Raphael’s golem-things just didn’t look very tasty, and they’d be hard to digest.

It wasn’t like any of them had any real skill with Animals – although Raphael promptly gave himself some boosts in that area.

They set up in the open, so that their presumed creature could see them doing it. Presumably it didn’t HAVE to teleport when seen, or it would have a terrible time trying to find a mate.

Raphael put some food samples behind a wall so that it could try the stuff while staying out of sight before deciding whether or not it wanted to come out.

It got eaten quickly enough – and soon enough they noticed a purple creature floating amongst the stalagtites in the top of the cavern/cove. It was bipedal and appeared to either have a metal exoskeleton or full armor. There were large claws on the paw-hands and feet. It quickly noticed that it had been spotted, but sat there watching them as it floated slightly behind a rock formation.

They sent happy mental hellos – and it silently vanished and reappeared peeking out from behind another rock formation some distance away. It was looking at the food though.

They provided more food… and more friendly thoughts.

It made a cautious and hesitant approach, then telekinetically collected the food from about thirty feet away, inspecting it cautiously before eating it suspiciously.

It settled on the ground, sitting on it’s hind legs somewhat like a kangaroo, watching them all with wary caution. It seemed that this approach was unfamiliar.

Hm… Two primitive minds engaging in some sort of a debate in there. Male and female. The male seemed to be worried that this is some sort of trap or trick, while the female mind seemed to be concerned about the eggs it knew must be here. The internal debate seemed to be focusing on what part the party played in this.

Marty focusrd on “We don’t want to hurt you or your young.”

The female mind apparently picked up on the reference to “young” and focused it’s attention on Marty.

(Marty, mentally) “We are friendly.”

An image of a greenish egg entered Marty’s mind – along with the impression of a question and flashes of concern, a parental urge to protect, and anger over the theft of the eggs.

(Marty, mentally) “We want to protect them too.”

That was Raphael’s intention as well. He would love to have them around and comfortable around people as pets or general guard animals that inhabited the area around his stuff.

Kevin wasn’t unobliging, but he already had plenty of pets – and, in his opinion, far better ones. A combat-focused Thrall would probably be a fair match for one of these things, and much more versatile and cuddly and easily-trained!

Marty and Raphael picked up another intense internal disagreement going on in the creature’s mind – followed by a brief flash of light, which left them with two creatures, one pastel blue, and one a pink color. The pink one was slowly approaching them while the blue one floated upwards.

The pink one was trying to send assurances of being non-threatening. The blue one in the air was drawing back, while sending emotions of fear and anger at the bunch of you.

They stuck with friendly and non-threatening – while Kevin turned most of his attention to another avatar. There was more fun to be found elsewhere at the moment!

Raphael calmly kept an eye on the one which was floating away, as he could count on Marty to keep track of the one that was closing.

More questioning images of the egg, along with motherly concern.

Marty continued to project a friendly desire to help protect the eggs – and Raphael sent images of where they were, explaining the packing material and the boxes.

They had the Thrall bring the one they’d taken out over too.

The blue one picked up on those images instantly, and moved with fantastic speed as it crashed through the side of the ship. Moments later they heard the sounds of breaking wood – and a veritable explosion of straw and sawdust burst from the ship. The male emerged again moments later with the five eggs swirling around it, held in telekinetic fields. The pink one caught sight of the egg carried by the thrall and gently floated over to pick it up telekinetically as well.

They got a feeling of grudging appreciation from the blue one and sincere gratitude from the pink one. Marty got an image of an island and a vector from the pink one, although the blue one seemed upset by that.

Marty projected more reassurance – although, interestingly, it looked like the island would be somewhere near where the platypus trading expedition was expected to go – as well as near the locations where the penguin pirates were suspected to have a base.

That really wasn’t likely to be a coincidence. Captured from penguin pirates, ships damaged in the battle?

With that, the pink one withdraw with the egg back towards the blue one. The two of them, and the six eggs, were enveloped in a shield bubble before silently vanishing from view.

(Raphael) “Well hopefully that takes care of the monster problem. I cant see those things missing a hostile monster in the area”

Kevin sighed. More local cat-monsters. Meh.

The judges were pleased to report that only a few items appeared to be fraudulent or of poor quality. That put the total valuation of the site at at least four times the competitors, making the duel a clear victory for Rapheal…

They had the Thralls pack up the remains of the food and clean up… and assess the damage to the ships. The cat-creatures were probably half way back to their home already if they hadn’t simply teleported in the first place.

(Raphael) “Now what am I going to do with a pirate cove and a small fleet?”

(Kevin, absently) “Well, you could send for some more crew and set the place up as a business outpost.

He was busy sending out sixty-odd Thralls using shapeshifting-disguises and cloaking spells to surround the area the Panthers were supposed to be in and take a look.

Marty liked the business outpost idea. Maybe he could build a hotel at the exotic pirate’s cove… Or a secondary port. Buy a building or two on the block, reroute the water supply spell, and build a tunnel to the gate. Easy for passengers anyway and they avoided all the shipping mess at the harbor!

As far as Raphael’s inspection of the ships went, one needed prompt attention since there was a good-sized hole near the waterline (a few spells would cover that for the moment). It wouldn’t take long to repair with magic given some raw materials though.

He set some Thralls to work on that. The secondary port plan sounded pretty useful to him.

Kevin – as usual – was more interested in Thrall-collecting and grandiose plots than practicality. Panther collecting would be fun! They were supposed to be a bit more powerful than the typical group of bandits. Some of their number might be significantly so, but the bulk of the panthers weren’t archmagi or such. They’d been able to knock over smaller caravans, but the largest and most heavily guarded ones seemed to be avoided.

Now, if that was where the reptile-assassins were hanging out, that would be even more interesting!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 169a – Egging Them On

Helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England.

Who're YOU lookin' at?

  • Off in the deeper cosmos the Elder Races wanted to severely scold Ryan O’Malley – and the human race in general – for unleashing Kevin on the universe.
  • Rampaging through the Manifold, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse were gathering their forces for a final attempt to fulfill their purpose before the human race spread so far that their purpose became quite irrelevant.
  • Marty was getting some well-deserved rest – well, except for indulging a little on coming up with a scheme for breeding Godzillas and getting them ninja training. Get up in the morning, find the entire city of Tokyo leveled during the night, and no one had seen or heard a thing…
  • After all, it would expand the range of acceptable excuses no end if you could point at that ten-mile-crater and plausibly say “A ninja did it!”.
  • Raphael did some reporting in – mostly that Kevin was, indeed, as powerful as had been reported, and that even the elder races appeared to be concerned – and got some rest. It looked like life with this pair had only been getting more chaotic.
  • A party of Thralls were busy cataloging the contents of Raphael’s treasure-trove.
  • The Platypus Fleet would soon be ready to depart, but there was no real sign of activity from the Otters yet. They’d probably try to get up to something big soon enough.
  • And Kevin – thanks to a secondary avatar – was having a fine night out on the town in Kadia with five young women while still getting a good nights sleep… They all accepted the invitation to stay for a few pampered vacation days to see the sights – especially since all expenses, including some shopping (he did set a limit), was on Kevin…

Godzilla did not show up that night. He would eventually turn up to pester Marty though; even considering messing with Godzilla eggs pretty much guaranteed THAT.

In the morning there were quite a few people who wanted an audience with them. There were people wanting loans, people wanting to work for them, people wanting them to invest money in their bank or business, historians wanting to look at the pirate cove, and so on.

Some were spies of course, although Kevin wasn’t caring a lot. Almost all of them would be more than willing to pass on information to others in exchange for coin of course, but “loyalty” would be a bit much to expect before they were even hired.

Kevin was feeling expansive. Loans were quite possible, jobs could be found somewhere for people who wanted to work (such as in general public improvements; there wasn’t much to spy on there), and Historians got referred to Raphael. It WAS his treasure-trove.

Marty was a lot pickier. He actually sorted out the best picks and made sure that they were all paid well enough that’d think seriously before taking bribes.

Raphael opened up a bidding war to be the first historian to go to the cove – although he was perfectly willing to consider things like “publication credits” and “free copies of your books” as a major part of the bids.

He had Marty run it though; he knew when to delegate – and when it was something that he didn’t enjoy at all, and there was a professional handy who did enjoy it, it was certainly time.

Back at the pirate’s cove, over the night the Thralls had found eighty-seven bodies, all appearing to have died in battle. There was a substantial amount of ship plunder to be found as well. There were three ships with varying amounts of damage and a single larger ship under construction in the drydock. It looked like the entire cove was actually in a hollowed out mountain some distance up the coast. There was an illusory cliff wall and a force wall projection to keep people from finding it from the outside.

They also reported that five thralls had ended up dead and returned to Kadia for unknown reasons. None of them had reported seeing anything, although some of them had heard something approach them from behind. The attacks had always been on singleton Thralls though, so they’d started moving in groups to compensate – and there hadn’t been any more deaths since.

Kevin told them that, if any of the bodies turned up, they were to quietly get rid of them so as not to upset the locals – and to get more thralls in while the ones who had gotten killed were enjoying their death-bonus.

Given the deep water in the cove, ready access to the ocean, and magic, that should be easy enough to handle if it came up. Still, it was at least as likely that something had been dragging them down and stashing the bodies. Whatever-it-was must be pretty powerful if it could take out Thralls that quickly, so he had them warn the locals.

Marty added a requirement for escorts and a clear danger warning to the historian bidding wars.

The thralls also reported the presence of a number of lodgings, although some of them needed to be cleaned before they’d be usable. The local guards swore mightily and then put a large force at the entrance to the well, as well as insisting on sending in a group of their own in to do a search and report.

Fortunately, the guards and judges were fine. They’d been milling about as a group.

Kevin was extra-cheery, and put on a pirate hat and a sword!

Well, OK, not that he hadn’t been going for the “Corsair” look anyway.

They did stay in a group though.

This was like something out of an old movie or VR game! Oh, wait! That’s where this world came from!

Raphael ensured that he had has his full screen of robots in golem form to guard the group and keep a 360 degree watch. Marty had the Thralls set up nightvision for him. Kevin didn’t do a thing; actually taking any special precautions would not fit his image!

He did take along a few crewman as usual to take notes.

While they were preparing to take a look at some crates hidden in the lowest section of one of the ships, both Marty and Raphael caught a glimpse of a clawed metallic hand reaching for one of the people nearby – although it vanished the moment they spotted it.

Kevin, somewhat distracted by events in Kadia, didn’t notice a thing.

Marty was tempted to violate horror movie rules and split from the group!

(Raphael) “Did anyone else see that metalic claw?”

Marty nodded., happily looking at the crates. Treasure WITH a guardian! It was bound to be something fun!

(Kevin) “Nope! (Privately) Probably what’s been getting the Thralls!”

(Raphael) “Lets look at these crates and see if it will try again. everyone keep your eyes peeled… oh I guess I should scan for traps first.”

Meanwhile, Kevin was cheerily cataloguing treasure! (There was quite a bit). He had a pair of the Thralls start in on determining how seaworthy the ships would be with some repairs. They might have preserving spells – or they might just be too old.

There was quite a bit of treasure; gold, gems, precious cargo, some artwork and such. If repaired the ships should be fairly seaworthy, but would need most of their enchantments renewed. In another ten to twenty years the ships would probably have had to be scuttled instead. They all needed new sails, ropes, hull repairs, fresh caulking, and – in one case – a new mast.

The six crates didn’t seem to be trapped, but there were a number of preservation charms and masking charms on them all. Illegal stuff?

The judges were still valuing, and would be for some time. Still, it looked like Raphael was in the lead by a significant margin – depending on how pure some of the items are in composition and whether a few of them were fakes.

Kevin let one of the most eager Thralls run to open a crate. Why not? They’d been looking at pirate treasure all night, so it was only fair to let them have a chance. Considering that they were all wolf-anthros at the moment, he sent the one with the waggiest tail…

The thrall beat Raphael’s golems there, mostly because the golems weren’t fast.

(Thrall) “Way cool! Lemme see… Open here!”

Breaking the Crate’s seal released a puff of warm air… Inside there was a good deal of packing straw that practically exploded from the crate once the lid was off.

(Thrall) “Wruff-huff-huff! Ptooie!”

Inside the boy found… a roughly ovoid pale green object inside, about eighteen inches across and two feet tall. The surface had a bit of a leathery plastic feel to it. He took it out and looked! And smelled!

(Raphael) “Huh.”

Well, they did all have enhanced senses of smell didn’t they? Especially in canine form… For that matter, the kid might be a neodog. They were sort of interchangeable with normal human thralls in anthro worlds.

It smelled roughly like the forest. There was a very quiet thumping noise inside as well once it was removed from the box – and it radiated psychic energies and a slight feeling of cold – and fear.

(Thrall) “No idea boss!”

Kevin sighed. This one must not be a parent yet. A frightened infant about to hatch.

The infant whatever-it-was was definitely alive and was somewhat aware of its surroundings using telepathy and clairvoyance. Three or four days from hatching at most. Quasi-mammalian, psionic, not quite fully sapient, but close – like some of the original dolphin species. It looked like the young form was a vaguely cat like creature with an oversized skull. The adult form was bipedal and similarly disproportionate in structure while still retaining a cat-like appearance. Carnivorous, familial, and aggressive against threats. The crates had been in stasis…

(Raphael) “I hope that is not an adult out there protecting its young.”

Raphael spent some time with telepathically reassuring the thing – and telling it that they would look for its parents – and broadcast that around too.

(Kevin) “Well, anyone have any idea what they are locally?”

(Raphael) “Time to ask the locals”

Marty got them warmer and soothed in short order.

A few of the locals recognized the description.

(Guard Mage) Oh those things are mythical. There were some pretty wild rumors a couple centuries back about a species of cat creatures living on some remote island. Supposedly they were able to teleport, use telekinesis, project shields and other force constructs, and even capable of limited emotional telepathy. The rumors about the damned things got so outrageous with stories of no one seeing a living adult specimen since they would “reflexively teleport” when spotted. Supposedly people wanted to keep them and train them for protection/guard duty. How you were supposed to catch something that teleported the moment you looked at it is beyond me. Tell me, did someone offer to sell you one or something else equally ridiculous?

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 71c

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy M51, NGC 5...

And just when did you get here?

Meanwhile, towards the enter of the galaxy, Lazlo and Vi were graduating from their special-forces boot camp – having had to use hypertime to pack better than six months of training into less than two months.

There was some choice of assignments – but they were assignments. The latest Sith War might have fallen apart with the destruction of Zandramas, but the Yeveetha war was now in full swing.

For once, the military was in full (nearly)agreement with the Kreedath: the goal was to wipe them out. Their assaults had done more actual damage than a dozen or more Sith Wars; the Yeveetha didn’t want to rule worlds, they wanted to exterminate their inhabitants. The military (ulike the Kreedath) didn’t care too much if the scientists got a few prisoners to examine and see if the species could be restored to it’s (presumed) original state, but the goal was to win.

The Senate was still dithering – they wanted the Yeveetha confined until they could consider the problem – and the Jedi, of course, were pushing for research on undoing the apparent bio-weapon modifications and turning them back into a peaceful, productive, species.

Vi, as “Ben’s Apprentice”, was wondering if it would be possible to confine them for a time by simply interdicting the area? All they’d need to do would be to get a black hole of the right size into the area and deploy the Zomoogostar – and the military was apparently already building one.

Still, for that to work, they’d need to know the exact limits of Yeveetha-controlled space – and the fact that they didn’t trade with ANYONE – and didn’t allow other species in their domain -was making it hard to get information by any of the usual routes. Direct probes were slow work, and sending in agents tended to simply get them killed.

Fortunately, Lazlo was available – and didn’t mind the notion of having to fight a few hundred Yeveetha every time he turned around.

The military offered him one of their usual field agent setups; a heavy “civilian” trading ship, it’s heavily armored hull disguised as heavy reinforcement for trading with gas giants and deep-water worlds, an advanced medical bay with a full bacta tank for emergencies, concealed fighter bay, concealed mounting points for various weapons, surprisingly powerful engines, top-of-the-line shields, instruments, stocks of personal weapons, disguises, tailoring gear, trade goods, and more.

One of the techs made it a point to let him know that running off with the ship and gear would lead to trouble – but most of them seemed to have confidence in him. That was.. unexpected.

The ship wasn’t what he wanted though. He wanted something a bit less… expensive.

He opted for one of the smallest, most battered, and cheapest junkers the military could find. ship with a leaky hull, mismatched hyprdrive coils, little cargo space, and as many problems as it could have while still being capable of getting into space.

Well, the Techs generally didn’t question Jedi or the militaries special forces. He got what he wanted – a small ship that had been an asteroid miner for a race that didn’t yet have a hyperdrive. It’s crude fission drive had been replaced by an over-sized fusion system that could be vented to provide a reaction drive (and which overcharged and triggered an emergency release every few moments, giving him a horrible fuel efficiency along with the only startship in the galaxy that went “Putt-Putt-Putt), a leaky hull patched with duct tape, some panels held together with actual nails and lumber, and a warranty date which had given out better than three thousand years before.

He christened it “The Rusty Fowl” and took off – just barely making it into space what with the series of minor EMP’s from the reactor venting fouling his instrumentation. (A video of the takeoff would later make appearances on several “Galaxies worst” collections, as well as in a war parody where it wound up being labeled as a “Sith Transport”).

He did make it into hyperspace though – headed slowly in the general direction of presumed Yeveetha space.

Vi, however, decided to take one of the direct-surveillance jaunts. Sometimes seeing the battle directly provided new insights – although most people didn’t take small probe ships straight into the center of the combat zone.

Fortunately, he wasn’t a major target. On the other hand, he wasn’t a Yeveetha, which meant that they were willing to take a few moments out for minor targets at any time.

It got messy – and it also let him see that the Yeveetha were willing to stay aboard a dying ship in hopes of at least crashing it into an enemy. It made him appreciate a military command that regarded “casualties” as undesirable quite a bit more.

There were enough close calls that he fell back to the command ships eventually. The Yeveetha were… more insane and hostile than most Holosith!

This was a war that he could actually feel comfortable fighting – on both the strategic and personal levels.

He was soon deeply immersed in the planning sessions.

Lazlo, meanwhile, was making a landing – just barely – on a planet of green-and-brown slightly Leonid centauroids. His new ship had handling characteristics that were a good deal worse than most bricks; it had various projections that threw off what little aerodynamics it had to start with.

It was a Yeveetha world though – or at least in their space. It still had an indigenous population (of enslaved farmers) for one simple reason – the Yeveetha found that the local life forms tasted really REALLY bad.

They were still willing to eat them if they acted up or failed to fill their crop production quotas though. The local farmers apparently always had the most elderly amongst them report to their masters just in case.

Well that was just SICK. He’d have to do something about that!

Still, they seemed awfully… accepting and passive. How long had this been going on?

Drat it! ALYS could probably organize a successful rebellion! If only she was here!

Of course, in another universe altogether, Alys was busy organizing yet ANOTHER planetary evacuation.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 71b

Anvil, powder horn, Bowie knife, Hawken rifle,...

No this has nothing to do with Star Wars. I just liked it.

Lazlo did find a few interesting things in training… Most interestingly, the JLA seemed to blame most of the codex-related disasters on the RDF. They believed that their recruiting come-ons led a lot of people to experimenting with the Codex without any idea of what they were messing around with. With that, disasters were inevitable.

Well, at least it helped keep ignorant meddlers from breaking up the galaxy. If you intentionally took out the worst cases before they got to do anything too bad, they wouldn’t be running around warping space and time out of shape!

Vi, meanwhile, was focusing on building a personal contact base and intelligence. After all, if he was going to be in the command structure, he might as well be good at it.

Back with the breakers…

Alys was working on her tactical and command skills – obvious choices, given her existing talents. Besides… playing to her strengths made it easy to keep up her cover and to find the spare time she needed to keep watching for information. There really hadn’t been much so far save for confirmation of a lot of things they’d only believed were true, but that was worth quite a bit in itself.

Wouldn’t her brother be surprised to see her in “boot camp” as well. Both she and Ben were in the pre-command program… Well, pre-everything-that-was-noncombat. She was further refining her bureaucratic skills and tactical training, while giving the impression of a quiet student.

Ben too was going with his strengths; engineering. More vehicles than superweapons, but vehicles were the only way to make war across interstellar space, so the breakers needed that kind of specialist too. In fact, they seemed to need them desperately. Were they having trouble maintaining their ancient, stolen, technology? Alys was pretty sure that they were; at least in her estimation – usually more accurate than most peoples detailed surveys – they couldn’t possibly have the industrial base to fully maintain the things. Of course, that fit in with what they were asking him about… A depressing couple of months of working on their superweapons.

“By the sith, let them know I am in any way related to ben and suddenly its make superweapons all the time. I need to lead my people out of sith rule and get a reputation as a leader.”

Vristris – with an ID as a highly skilled mercenary – hardly needed to hide anything at all.

Kira was having bigger problems. Being so much better than the other students while having to conceal it was difficult enough – but with so many other students being basically scum, it was trying to put up with their behavior that turned out to be impossible.

One evening we were returning to the dorm from one of the card games Virstris had set up among the class. I had lost badly on purpose while Virstris had made out like a bandit. Darius was laughing up with Virstris about my lack of skill when I felt something coming from behind one of the training buildings. It was difficult to pinpoint what exactly, but some sort of disturbance was in progress. While evening classes were still going on for the upper classmen, that particular building wasn’t in use at the moment. Virstris saw my attention straying.

(Virstris) What is it?

(Kira) Not sure. I’m going to check it out. You and Darius return to the dorms and I will catch up once I’ve satisfied my curiosity.

(Darius) We’ll all go.

(Kira) We’ve already been chastised enough about tardiness from the instructors. They at least expect it of me. There is no need for you too to be receiving any of that when there is no point.

Darius continued to protest but Virstris more or less towed him away behind her. Once they were safely out of sight, I quietly skulked through the evening shadows while hiding my Force presence. It wasn’t quite as effective without my color changing robes, but then we’d already proven countless times that the instructors weren’t the most observant bunch around.

It was as approached the back corner that I heard the scream. Rushing forward with no heed to stealth, I turned around the corner to find three men and a woman. I recognized the three men as some of the more degenerate students that even the instructors were having issues with. They were armed with knives and I saw two rifles leaning against the tree nearby. Two of them were busily restraining the woman while the third was cutting at her shirt. Much of her clothing was torn or cut from what I saw and her eyes spoke of the terror she was experiencing. I wasn’t naive enough to have any illusions about what was going on here. She saw me immediately, and the others turned to look at what had caught her attention.

(Man #1) Oh, for a moment I thought it was a teacher. Get lost you stupid punk if you know what’s good for you.

(Kira) I am only going to say this once. Let her go.

(Man #1) Or else what? There is only one of you.

Seeing the blood on the knife and watching the woman sob uncontrollably was making my blood boil. I had seen enough of this kind of stuff at the Academy – and what it did to people – to know I didn’t want to see it happen to anyone else. Recognizing my rising anger, I shifted over to the Codex side of things.

(Man #2) I recognize him. He’s that idiot that was smacking around the other students back at the beginning of training.

(Man #3) All that fist fighting must have made him over confident if he thinks he can take all three of us on at once.

(Man #1) Looks like that is going to be your last mistake. You should have gone running for the teachers when you had the chance.

I strode up to the first one holding the knife and looked him in the eyes. He didn’t back down as he grinned at me while waving that knife around.

(Kira) And what makes you think I need the help of the teachers?

He rammed that knife towards my chest with the full aim to stab it into my heart. It was a simple matter in Hypertime to step aside, grab his wrist, and then flip him over. Holding onto the wrist as he fell resulted in the sound of snapping bone and tearing muscle. A split second later the second one had one of the rifles pointed at my head as he stepped into Hypertime as well. Too bad for him that his speed in hypertime was inconsequential compared to my own. I merely leaned to the side as the shot hit nothing.

Grabbing the rifle, I rammed it back at his chest. He let go of the rifle and doubled off gasping for breath. I adjusted inertia and swung the butt of the rifle in an underhanded swing into his face. That sent him flying upwards and backwards in a slow motion arc. Flipping the rifle around so that my hand was on the trigger, I fired a trio of shots into his chest as he continued his slow arc.

At the last second I caught a blur of motion out of the corner of my eye. Whirling around the blaster rifle, I fired another rapid trio of shots at the figure rushing me in Hypertime. Those unfortunately phased through him to hit the wall behind him. He took the opportunity while I was watching the stray shots to then ram the rifle barrel he had into my face and held the trigger down. I had to use a combination of phasing to avoid the first few shots as well as Hypertime to fall backwards rapidly.

Hitting the ground, I quickly spun in place to knock his feet out from under him. That sent him into a slow motion fall. Quickly standing up, I grabbed him by the foot while he was still airborne. Spinning him around me with the aid of more inertial control, I then slammed him down on top of the first one that was slowing trying to get back up. They collided with each other and the ground with the sound of more breaking bones and screams of pain. I quickly verified that all three were not getting back up and then threw the rifle in my hands to the side.

At that point I realized I had an audience.

A large crowd of students had appeared as well as a pair of instructors. Judging from the looks on their faces, they had seen my little performance. And I had just beaten three armed classmates without any weapons of my own and without the slightest hint of injury to myself. The odds me being able to talk myself out of this one were not good.

(Instructor) Alright, it looks like we may have to consider you for the advanced classes after all given that little performance. The rest of you students should get back to your lessons. I am going to go get the other instructors to discuss this. If you wouldn’t mind waiting here for a moment Aaron.

With that he ran off in Hypertime to get the other instructors. I had no illusions about the reason why he was fetching them, and it had nothing to do with advanced training. While he ran off, I stepped into Hypertime myself to think rapidly for options. I couldn’t just run off or drop out of the universe since that would still draw suspicion on Alys, Ben, and Virstris. Killing all the instructors before they had a chance to get a warning out was going to be impossible too. Attempting to claim to be part of the JLA was likely to result in them trying to kill me anyway, and possibly trigger reprisals against the JLA. Claiming to be a Sith was only going to fuel panic of a Sith Hybrid and possibly start a war of genocide. The only ID’s I had that could be considered powerful Codex users were as myself and Verun Navaro.

Verun Navaro still had that whole Sith Hybrid issue, and would raise an awful lot of difficult questions for Alys, Ben, and Virstris. At least Kira was considered a Republic sanctioned trouble magnet and ergo a possible allied agent. Still, given how paranoid and Force-phobic these guys are, claiming to be a Force user was going to be dangerous. Add to that fact the two Star Breakers in the system and I wouldn’t entirely rule out them using the things just to try and kill me as an option of last resort.

If I stay I can’t win, and if I leave the others would be instantly marked. Taking all of them with me would just alert the RDF that someone matching my description was seen snooping around one of their bases. That may well trigger a major incident anyway. Turning myself over to their custody and I have little doubt about what could happen in that case. I can’t win this situation.

And if I can’t win the game, then it’s time to change the playing field. I was reminded of a situation Ben was in not so long ago. With that thought in mind I reached out telepathically to Ben and Alys. Virstris I could not reach since all of her training had closed off her mind to outside influences.

<Kira> Alright guys, it looks like I’ve blown my cover.

<Ben> Well it was simply a matter of time.

<Alys> I am surprised it took this long for you to blow it.

If I could have glared via telepathy, I would have then.

<Kira> Regardless, it is only a matter of time before they figure out who I am and thereby who the rest of you are. If we are going to stop word from getting out, then we need to move fast.

<Alys> And what do you propose?

<Kira> Trigger a Codex cascade event that takes most of the population with us.

<Ben> Ah, you mean like I did accidently…. I mean on purpose?

<Kira> Yep, take all witnesses with us to say the Codifier Galaxy and sort them out there. Back in this Galaxy it will look like a Codex accident that wiped out the population. You’d expect that sort of thing in this situation.

<Alys> Alright, I am in.

<Ben> Me too.

<Kira> Alright, get yourselves ready for the transition effort. I need to check on something first.

Dropping the link to them, I then did a full scan of the planet with my Force Senses to verify that my initial assessments of the number of Force and Codex users on the planet was accurate. I made no effort to hide my scan as it crossed the Hybrid in orbit I had sensed earlier. At first he tried to conceal himself, but as I gave the area of thorough scan and he knew I was aware of his presence, he reached back out to me. I could tell he was trying to get a reading of my personality and I did nothing to hide it. Eventually he was apparently satisfied with whatever he found as I felt his presence telepathically.

<Hybrid> I wasn’t aware of another agent in this system.

<Kira> Well, not quite a member of the JLA or whatever you guys call yourselves. I am a trouble-magnet agent though.

<Hybrid> Interesting that you are here then.

<Kira> Well, it seems I’ve blown my cover in infiltrating this group. And in an effort to keep this from spiraling completely out of control, I was going to try to tip the local balancing point.

<Hybrid> Well, my mission is to see what I can do about destroying those damned weapons they have here. I was trying to sneak my way aboard, but I am open to suggestions on what you might have instead.

<Kira> The local reality is a bit unstable anyway given the Force shielding, the superweapons, and all the Codex users running around. It shouldn’t take much to tip things enough to drop the people out of the local reality and into another.

<Hybrid> That’s a bit of a one way trip with a lot of similarities to a suicide mission.

<Kira> I’ve had some practice steering between dimensions. You just need to be able to sever some links while selectively leaving the links you need to return where you want to go.

<Hybrids> Sounds like an excellent way of overestimating the strength of the links.

He had a point. Trying to use Valerie as a link to drag the planet along to was more likely to bring her here instead of the planet to her. As amusing as the idea of bringing the planet to her as a surprise might be, the potential silting issues made that idea foolish at best. Best to drop out with everyone I could get, and then aim the mess for the Codifier Galaxy. Then we could use hypertunnels and such to do the heavy lifting of moving us back to this Galaxy in a controlled fashion.

<Kira> Which is why I am going to try to tip the planet out and then steer it to a nearby dimension instead of dragging it across our Galaxy. Once there we can attempt take our time coming back.

<Hybrid> Sounds like you have a lot of experience doing this sort of thing then.

<Kira> Well, my name is Kira Keldav and I have some experience with this sort of thing.

There was a silence over the link that could have been him swearing, gawking, or just sighing. There was no way to tell what. There were a few awkward moments of silence before he finally responded.

<Hybrid> All right; I will assist in this.

With that I brought Ben and Alys back into the link. Together we tried to reach out to as many people as we could and then phased in concert. I could feel space around us warping in response to the combined effort. Just push a little further and it should all just tip out of place.

Suddenly it all just snapped back into place again with significantly more force than any other time I’ve been involved with this sort of thing. At first I thought something had intervened and stopped the process since the area around me was unchanged. Then I realized it was about mid-morning and the sun was a bright yellow instead of dull red. I saw a watery world above me hanging in the sky where a moon would normally be. This looked like the same little planet we had been on moments ago, but now the rest of the system looked different. I could sense the Hybrid still in orbit, along with Ben and Alys down here on the surface. Had we actually succeeded in bringing the entire planet along with us?

Aww damn it, and Jacob was mouthing off nonsense recently that I had the power to teleport planets.

At that point I was suddenly confronted by three of the instructors.

(Instructor) Alright, who are you and what did you just do?!

(Kira) What makes you think I had anything to do with this?

Alright, I will admit that was about as flimsy a retort as they come, but it was vaguely possible that in their eyes that I had nothing to do with this and that it all was a big coincidence. But I highly doubted that they were going to buy it. I got my response as two of the instructors pulled out blasters and entered Hypertime while pointing their weapons at me.

(Instructor) It’s obvious you had something to do with it. Now tell us what you did and who you are or we’ll open fire!

(Kira) It seems I accidently dragged the planet out of the universe and into another one. As for who I am, I really doubt you are going to like the answer I have to give on that.

At which point the two pointing blasters at me opened fire. I stepped into Hypertime myself that same instant and dodged the first blast. I then reached to my sides to pull out my lightsabers to block the rest when I abruptly remembered I had left purposefully those on the Mrs Beasley to avoid suspicion. That also meant my armor was missing too. Thankfully years of sparring with Valerie had gotten me used to reflexively reinforcing myself against attacks as I was hit three times. The first shot hit my shoulder, the second hit me in the thigh, and the third caught me squarely in the chest. Amazingly I took all three shots without any damage save for smoking burn marks on my clothing.

That left all three of them gawking at my still standing form. Taking the opportunity to appear dramatic and to make an impression, I telekinetically reached out to one of the blaster rifles laying on the ground and pulled it to my hand. I rested the barrel of the rifle over my shoulder as I spoke again.

(Kira) Gentlemen, I am Kira Keldav. Pleased to meet you.

The one that had been talking suddenly ran away at full speed in Hypertime. The two in Hypertime dropped back into normal time and just stepped back with a look of absolute terror on their faces. Like some sort of terrible monster out of legend had just arrived to eat them or something. I had to admit that was more than a bit surprising. Either these guys had a downright religious fear of Force users and Hybrids, or they had some really warped ideas about who I was and what I was capable of. At least the fellow who ran off likely had no way of warning the rest of his organization about my presence now.

Then I heard the sound of blaster fire coming from the far side of the training center. Waving to the two instructors standing there stupidly, I stepped into Hypertime and ran to the source of the commotion. When I ran into a building in my direct path with a crowd of people milling about in front, I simply did a Force enhanced leap over the crowd to the top of the building, ran along it, and then stopped at the edge of the building. From here I had a good view of the commotion.

Oddly enough it looked like the streets on that side of the training facility were now covered in some sort of gooey mess. The fighting itself was being fought between some of the students running around clawing and biting at the rest of the students who were shooting back. Focusing my senses on that suggested that the ones biting and clawing were being influenced by some chemical concoction. What the hell is going on?

Meanwhile Ben and Alys were having their own “bit of fun”. They’d been quietly working in a class when their instructor got a call and went dashing off somewhere. Then they’d participated in a bit of planet moving – which, surprisingly enough, had worked.

The giant flying jellyfish had NOT been a pleasant surprise. Ben had taken several minutes to recover from the flashbacks – by which time Alys had seen someone shoot one of the blasted things with a missile launcher. They’d blown off a large piece of it, gotten splattered with the resulting goo – and had promptly gone utterly berserk.

Locking the doors and preparing to hold the line had gotten messy when a Kreedath (was that fair? The things were tough and strong enough even when they WEREN’T berserk!) Had smashed straight through the door….

A full-power, amplified, tight-focus shot to the head barely stunned it. This DEFINITELY wasn’t fair. Still, at least it gave them a chance to phase it into the floor, which at least stopped it from coming at them.

A similar trick with using phasing to take a chunk out of the floor let them replace the hole in the wall with a solid barrier. Fortunately, organizing the students was easy.

Looking at the effects… The blasted jellyfish spread panic and terror to places they couldn’t reach by secreting massive overdoses of high-powered combat drugs? Anyone they stung turned into a berserker zombie out for blood? That really was pretty evil! Especially since the likely first victims would be the ones who were tough and courageous enough to defend everyone else!

This was bad. At least the other students had been easy enough to take command of.

<Kira> Alys, Ben, any idea what is going on?

<Ben> Looks like we brought the planet and the orbital stations with us.

<Kira> I can see that. I am talking about this commotion where some of the other students are acting like zombies or something and trying to eat the other students.

<Alys> It’s the jellyfish. Their remains contain a concoction of chemicals designed to shut down higher brain functions while instilling a berserker rage. They’re acting purely on reptilian instinct.

<Kira> Wait, what jellyfish?

<Alys> Giant jellyfish that could swallow a star destroyer.

<Kira> Wait a minute….

Turning to look at that “moon” again, I suddenly recognized the profile. This was Archegyph and these were the giant jellyfish bioweapons from there. How they had managed to get to this planet – much less to a landlocked town – and why they were secreting berserker goo was an open question for another time.

<Ben> I think the Sith in this timeline made a variation that can travel in a vacuum and release zombification chemicals instead of paralytic venom.

Just perfect.

<Kira> Right, it looks like we missed in aiming for the Codifier Galaxy, so new plan. Ben I need you to make a trans-temporal hypertunnel as fast as you can. I don’t care how you do, just make it happen. Alys, I want you to try and organize everyone into some kind of defensive perimeter. We need to evacuate the nearby town as well. I get the sneaking suspicion we are going to be in the midst of a major disaster here and we’re going to be the only way out for all these people.

<Ben> Now you want a Hypertunnel….

<Alys> I’ll see what I can do.

<Kira> In the meantime, I am going to do what I can to rescue survivors and hold off the enemy.

With that I shifted the link to focus back on the Hybrid in orbit.

<Kira> You alright up there?

<Hybrid> I had heard stories about you using giant jellyfish to eat starships, but I thought that was purely rumor.

<Kira> It was, at least in our timeline. Apparently the jellyfish in this timeline actually do eat starships.

<Hybrid> Apparently?

<Kira> Alright, so I missed the timeline I was aiming for. The collective noise of thirty or forty thousand people was a bit harder to overcome than I expected.

<Hybrid> Hmm, yes. I can see that.

<Kira> Do I need to work in a rescue mission up there as part of this, or are you doing alright?

<Hybrid> The shields will hold for a few hours, so we’re fine for the moment. Tell me, is there a plan beyond survival at the moment?

<Kira> Current plan is to collect the survivors, build a hypertunnel to do the grunt work of tearing a hole between the dimensions, and then that way I can focus my techniques on steering the tunnel. Lot more reliable that way. Besides, I’ve learned to be very good at improvising plans on the fly.

<Hybrid> Sigh, right, I am going to try to organize this rabble up here to take the frigate to the surface then. I’ll meet you shortly.

<Kira> Understood.

With that I shut off the link.

Turning my attention back to the growing battle below, it looked like the people were catching on to the idea that touching the jellyfish goo was a bad idea. That still left us with the berserkers running around trying to eat people. At least it looked like there was only the one jellyfish at the moment and it had been shot down. I then caught a glimpse of a young woman below me carrying a small child as she ran from a wookie chasing after her. He was roaring like some primitive animal as he followed her.

Right.

Stepping off the ledge of the building, I fell to the ground. I landed with a resounding crack as the pavement broke and cratered from the impact. The wookie and the woman both stopped to look in my direction. I didn’t stop for a moment though as I stepped into Hypertime and charged the wookie. I slammed into him hard as I focused my on enhancing my strength, speed, durability, and inertia. That flung the wookie into a large stone outcropping that then proceeded to explode in a hail of stone shrapnel. I dropped out of Hypertime and turned to the woman that was now staring at the remains.

(Kira) Quickly, get to the building at the center of the training facility, there are others trying to set up a defensive perimeter there.

She just stood there paralyzed with fear. A light touch of telepathic manipulation though snapped her out of it and got her moving in the direction I had pointed. Thankfully it was easy to manipulate people in a state like her’s was at the moment. Loss of rational control made such things simpler.

Loss of rational control….

Wait, if these berserkers were being driven past the point of reason, then it stood to reason that they would then be easy to manipulate so long as I kept things simple like appealing to a base instinct. Let’s see, fear of injury wasn’t going to work, neither was the urge to sleep, that left sex and food as the remaining options. I wasn’t going to consider the first one, so that left food.

The surrounding farms were filled with many things that would qualify as food, and were obviously sparse on people compared to the training facility and the town. To that end, I pulled on the Force hard and sent out a telepathic pulse associating the farms with food in the minds of all the berserkers running around. I doubt that was completely effective, but I think it eased the immediately pressure and bought us time.

That was when I started sensing people trapped in the nearby building with jellyfish goo blocking the way out. Again I reached out with the Force pushed on the jellyfish goo telekinetically as I lifted it up into the air and flung it out into the countryside I wasn’t able to completely scour the streets free of the stuff, but I was able to get the bulk of it out of the way. That combined with judicious use of makeshift causeways using whatever debris I could find helped clear a path for those that were trapped inside the buildings in the immediate area.

I was about to head to the next block when I heard the movement of stones behind me. Turning to look, I saw the wookie from earlier crawling out from under the pile of rubble I had left him in. He was covered in blood, but not nearly as much as I would have expected from that kind of a hit. It was then that I realized that most of that blood wasn’t the wookie’s. The sheer amount of dried blood confirmed what I feared was happening across the town. I proceeded to unsling the rifle and pointed it at the wookie as he turned to focus on me.

(Kira) Taken to eating people? Now that is on my ass-kicking list.

With that the wookie bellowed a roar and charged at me.