Scum & Villainy Warstory #4: Microwaves and Marines
It’s been a while, but we’ve finally gotten our internet situation worked out (mostly) at the Drake house, which means that for the past three weeks, I’ve got no legitimate reason –beyond being an absolutely terrible blogger–not to have been keeping the warstories coming. The Crew of the Alleged Ship have been meeting as usual, but I haven’t been taking the time to make our game-notes into something story-shaped. That’s bad on me. But I’m going to fix it. I’m going to try and get the next four articles automated so that we’ve at least got a month of content in the hopper, just in case I have another catastrophic internet thing, or catch the ‘rona, or fall off the blogging wagon again. You know, just generally “in case.”
That’s enough excuses. Where’d we leave off?
When Last We Left Our Heroes(?)
The crew of the Alleged Ship, currently called “Snuggles”, have taken an off-the-books job for a Concordiat Knight named Cyril the Just. They flew to Vos to retrieve his wayward squire who had absconded with a map leading to a clue that might reveal the path to the thing that all of these crazy Concordiat Knights are Grail-questing for, the Light of the Universe. Since touching down on Vos, our heroes have been revealed to be only one group sent after this wayward squire. A group of professional bounty-hunters, former Hegemonic Marines, are also on planet. But that’s not all. The squire, Annabelle, has contracted a group of periphery pirates to act as escort on her mission. They come under fire almost the moment they touch down on Vos.
Thanks to some skillful rolling and creative thinking, the robotic sniper-system doesn’t ventilate anyone we can’t afford to lose, and the Marines decide to throw in with our heroes. They’re up against heavy opposition, and a few more guns on their side isn’t going to go awry. The discussion gets a little hazy around how they’ll split the bounty, but before that can all get hashed out, they’re parked in the midst of the glowing crystal desert of Vos, outside of a colossal Precursor ruin. And their mechanic, Bastien starts having visions.
Annabelle is inside. She’s in the control room of a forgotten Precursor power crystal refinery and they are wasting daylight. Only a couple of words are spared for the weirdness of Bastien’s visions. Because of an accident that brought him in contact with some kind of strange Precursor relic filled with a psionically reactive fluid in his past, when he channels the Way, Bastien’s entire circulatory system turns black as the fluid responds to his channeling. It’s a little morbid and creepifying, but they’re still wasting daylight.
Our heroes make entry.
Precursor Corridors and Cookery
The inside of the ruin is pretty alien in design. Like, it’s almost as if the entirety of the thing is composed of these weird snaking corridors. I did this because I wanted it to be unlike a space that was designed for humans because, spoiler alert, it wasn’t. Precursors, I’ve decided are these weird radial symmetry starfish creatures with five manipulator tentacles that communicate through color. It’d be weird if they thought of rooms like we thought of rooms, right? So there’s technology that’s been built into the walls, the floors, the ceilings. It’s utilitarian looking stuff that’s been done at seeming random. That’s weird, but it’s all off, and that at least makes the heroes feel safe. That, or the three gun-lugging marines in front of them calling out such tired militarisms as “stay frosty” and “watch those corners” are making them feel safe.
I hate it when the heroes feel safe. Our first obstacle looms.
One glowing panel covered in alien glyphs stands beside a huge airlock door. Bastien and Mink step up to figure it out. We have a cryptography puzzle and I rattle off some things about the seeming syntax and length and let them start drawing conclusions. Don’t be afraid to put information out there and then let the characters decide how they react to it. Turns out that Bastien naturally distrusts any string of symbols that runs on too long. He cites his noble background and how anything too flowery or effusive can’t be right. Mink decides that Goldilocks had it right and we should disregard extremes. She punches the middle row of symbols.
This whole thing was actually a study roll that Bastien rolled with an assist from Mink. They roleplayed it out beautifully, but they got a mixed success, so I needed to put in a complication. They opened the door, but…and here I struggled for a second. I mean, it was fine and dandy to just have it open into a bad situation, but I wanted to challenge myself to do something a little more impactful. Sometimes, just having the keypad shock the person pushing buttons or opening onto a booby trap or whatever just doesn’t cut the mustard.
So I had a skeleton pop out. Well, actually, it was a dead guy with full-thickness radiation burns. As the doors irised open, he fell out into the hall with a sick, hamburger splortch, still steaming. That got people’s attention.
Now remember, we know that Annabelle and her group have come through here. She’s down in the refinery somewhere, probably messing with the map and gaining progress as we consider this Kentucky-fried corpse. We know she got through here, but this guy didn’t. Why? Good question, but even better, is that we find out that this is an airlock and the other door has another keypad. That keypad is blinking. Bastien takes a look at it and the rest of the crew starts considering why there’s a guy who got cooked in the airlock. Tycho notices the lattice of wiremesh set into the entirety of the bright white polycrete inside the airlock.
“This is a microwave,” he says.
He’s right. This is the entrance to the research portion of the facility, and the Precursors didn’t want contaminants of any kind coming in and spoiling the delicate work that they were doing inside. It also works, in a pinch, as a pretty good counter-intrusion method. Now, why this pirate happened to be caught in it, we’ll get to in a minute.
Our crew needs someone to test Bastien’s theory that pushing this green button will open the other door. I ask the question, how sure are we that it’ll work. He gives me a supremely confident fifty percent. I nod and ask, “so you’re pushing the button?” Mink delegates one of the shave-heads. He’s the demo-troop, Driscoll, and he isn’t happy about it, but a word from his sergeant sends him into the airlock. He pushes the button, and the airlock closes. There’s a humming sound and then a pounding on the door. Not a frantic one, more like an “all clear.” The crew cycle through the airlock, but Driscoll isn’t there.
He went on ahead.
I describe this tense moment where they’re all piled into this big microwave, an emitter glowing and scattering a blue radiance over them. They wait good naturedly while Mink keeps an eye on her Geiger counter. It’s giving off some troubling readings, and she asks if she needs to administer anything. I ask if she typically carries anti-radiation medication, and with a flashback, she does. So, as we’re waiting for the airlock to cycle, Mink is prepping shots for the party. They’re stuck in a microwave, getting scattered with who knows what, one of their party has already disappeared, and the robot’s prepping needles. Joy.
Driscoll’s on the other side of the airlock, but he’s got his rifle up and is scanning the passage ahead, not looking back. That’s got some hackles up. Nail, the sergeant asks what’s up and Driscoll starts to be my Bill Paxton in Aliens. “We aren’t alone in here, man. Something’s in here with us.”
Well, yeah. There’s some pirates with an unconscionable amount of firearms and a former Martian Marine late of the Concordiat Knights looking for alien woowoo. But Driscoll is looking down that corridor with his hackles up and that’s got his fireteam on the lookout. More “stay-frosty’s” as we head down the corridor.
So the crew pushed down the corridor until eventually it split into three distinct trails. There was a blue one off to the left, a red one down the right, and their own corridor slowly turned a muted green. That felt important, especially when Bastien reminded everyone that the strange starfish aliens seemed to communicate in through the use of color patterns. He was about to attune when the shaveheads snapped the flashlights attached to their impressive military-grade weapons down the red corner. Something was skittering down that way.
At that point, a lot of things seemed to happen simultaneously. Kronico noticed that there were clawmarks leading down the red corridor, but they were all contained to the wall. Something had been scrambling across the walls. Tycho took a step down the hall and triggered that classic sci-fi horror effect where banks of lights go on in sequence down a corridor; boom, boom, crackle, boom. At the end of the hall was a…well, we ended up calling it a radhound.
Lights crackle as you step into the red corridor, strobing madly as they draw on reserves of power that began to falter centuries ago. The bank after bank snap on, illuminating flaking sterile paint that has fallen from long raking claw-marks onto the floor. As the lights reach a hard corner which peels off to the right and beyond your sight, you squint and can just make out the long muzzle of some kind of creature appearing around that corner.
It’s face, as it looms around the corner, is not overly large; perhaps the size of a terrestrial wolf. That’s where the similarities end, though. The bones of the jaw are visible, and visibly overdeveloped. The face is furless, skinless. Its muscle tissue is vibrant, squirming as it opens its mouth and a tongue like an articulated, cancerous tentacle snakes out to taste the air. It has no eyes. Claws follow, long and murder-sharp. Three-toed with an opposable thumb, it scampers around the sharp corner, clinging to the wall as it comes on. And it’s coming fast. What do you do?
The answer was obviously shoot it. A lot. Tycho, Kronico, and the shaveheads all made a group scrap with this thing. That’s a lot of dakka. And I knew that this wasn’t supposed to be a combat thing. This is just pulling back the curtain. They’re not alone in here, and now they know it. Little things like this give me the joy. I get to let them see that the area is dangerous…and sure, if they’d all managed to screw up the shooting bit, there would’ve been some face-eating, but that’s not the case. They turned it into pate. But now they know there are hostile xenos in addition to Annabelle and her crew in this defunct Precursor ruin, and that’s nifty.
We get some exploration, gathering of information, as the crew tries to do their best “If I were a crazy Concordiat squire where would I be.” In the course of that, Bastien gets his attune roll in while Kronico considers the relative merits of stealing little bits of alien research equipment, still running their ominous calculations in the dark deep under Vos. He gets a little red crystal fuse from a likely looking piece of equipment and pockets it. Bastien cracks the color code, and it’s off to central operations!
Twisted girders and arcing wires hang in the corridor to central operations. This place has been here for a long time, and I try and play up the fact that it’s only barely hanging together as time tries to tear them apart. Our crew scrambles, but even together they only get a mixed success. I ask who was in the lead, and everyone points to our handy-dandy NPCs. They’ve got three shaveheads, and so why not use them? They choose the heavy-weapons guy, Harlon. He hits a trip wire and gets thrown against a bulkhead by a concussion mine. He’s dazed, deaf, but not dead. The lizard-man xenos hiding around the corner, however, begin to open fire.
These guys are Tuanwei, kind of a cross between gorillas and alligators, selective bipeds who will knuckle-run after you if they piss you off. They’re the setting’s obligate proud-warrior race guys, and so it’s absolutely stereotypical that there are a couple of these guys pulling security for Annabelle’s operation.
My players had a little bit of an argument here. Our Muscle still hasn’t returned since his fight with his girlfriend, and I’m about to give up hope on him ever coming back, but one of the cool things about this game is that everyone is effective in combat (and everywhere else). So there’s a moment where half the party wants to start getting into it with the Tuanwei, and the other half is more for deescalating the situation. There’s a big old frigate up there, full of pirates, and they aren’t sure how many are down here. There are currently seven of them, including one who just got hit with a concussion mine.
Words are had, dice are rolled, and our scrappy scoundrels manage to get an audience with the Concordiat squire turned pirate queen. Annabelle, Angela Barris in actuality, is a surprisingly bookish looking woman for someone wearing carapace armor and surrounded by well-armed pirates. There’s a lot of posturing and discussion about what exactly she’s trying to do down in the depths of this Precursor ruin.
She’s decoding, translating really, a database that points off toward whatever “The Light of the Universe” is. Bastien decides that he is up to helping this strange woman with her band of greasy pirates, so he pulls out his hacking rig and gets to work. We get the classic scene of Bastien and Angela sharing a keyboard, dual-hacking. They decode the final message, and learn that “The Light of the Universe” was taken from the facility to a hidden place where “They” could not possibly get to it.
That’s about the time that we leaned fully into the Aliens pastiche and the shaveheads’ motion tracker started humming. Contact. Lots of them. “Ten meters,” says one. The other responds, “Can’t be. That’s in the room!”
Cue wave of Radhounds. Just a piteously huge wave of claws and teeth. There’s a big firefight, and our heroes are looking for a way out that doesn’t involve becoming rad-puppy chow. It’s a ventilation shaft, because they love those things so very much. Angela, and the crew get up, but because vents are my group’s bane, they lose one of their shaveheads, and because Mink was the one who rolled the die, she had to choose. It was easy. She had ordered Driscoll around, patched up Harlon when he’d gotten blown up a bit, but she wasn’t tight with Nails. So Sarge gets the shaft, dragged down by radhounds, his outstretched hand vanishing under a tide of ripping mutant fangs.
Our crew gets out of the ruin and seals it off with some of Driscoll’s explosives. They hop into their dunebuggies and start tearing off back to the spaceport. Now, I was very careful to talk about seating arrangements, and my players handed me a gift. They let Bastien and Angela (the shaveheads trussed her up when she told them to go back and look for survivors) go with the shaveheads, while Kronico, Tycho, and Mink drove the other buggy. Mink was driving…because of course she was.
I casually asked, as Mink’s helm roll indicates that she’s losing ground on the shavehead buggy, “What are we going to do about Angela? She got what she came for and she’s excited to follow the new clues off to the Light of the Universe, but Sir Cyril expects you to return her. Sir Torquewell expects the shaveheads to return her to him.”
Angela starts sending text messages through Bastien’s hacking rig. Soldier emoji, knife emoji, winky-face emoji, dollar sign. Bastien realizes for the first time that he’s stuck here alone with these two shaveheads, and even though he’s got the element of surprise, he doesn’t think that he can murder these two guys. They were all working together to save eachother’s bacon just a minute ago.
The conversation goes on for about five full minutes. Neither Tycho, our vat-grown clone, or Bastien, our dispossessed borderworld noble, have any love of anyone who claims another as property. The shaveheads lost their sergeant and while they’re better armed and armored than our heroes, they are only alive because of the crew. But neither of them get paid if they don’t come to a consensus.
Angela breaks the deadlock.
This is too big for either of those backbirths, and neither of them were ever going to give me my spurs anyhow. I’m no knight, but I’m on the quest. We can show them how a Marine handles a quest. I’ve got a little money. It’s not the eight cred Torquewell promised or the six you’d get from Cyril, but I can pay you. I’ve got five, I’ll wire it into your account right now. Just say you never found me.
Bastien decides that will work. But he doesn’t kill the shaveheads. Instead, he pays them four and thanks them for the work. They don’t want to fight either so they part from the crew, leaving their contact codes in case they find themselves in need. “It’s what Sarge would’ve done.” Not true. Nails would’ve put the boots to the crew and done the job, but that’s neither here nor there.
Angela Barris and her crew of pirates in orbit become a new faction as she sets off into the black to chase the Light of the Universe, and our heroes break atmo, angling back to the Alleged Ship. Their comm panel is blinking when they get there. They are all willing to bet that it’s Sir Cyril of the Concordiat Knights, but instead they get a wash of static and some panicked Sc’ree chittering. Kronico says that he can dig out the message, but it’s going to take some time.
And that’s where we roll the credits this game. Overall a pretty successful two-part episode, I’d say. The Universe has changed a little, our crew got some new contacts, made some enemies, and even scored some new stuff! All told, everyone was pretty excited to see what the little shrew-man wants from them, and that’s always a bonus!
We’ll have to tune in next week, won’t we?