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.

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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!