Thursday, 17 January 2013

Secrets in Sulphur Session 2

Or Five Old Guys Go Looking for Their Salad Days Part 3

Like the difficult second album, the second session of a game can be a bit fraught for a Gamesmaster. Not only do you have to carry the story forward and start resolving some of the little mysteries you have carefully set out, you also have to maintain or exceed the levels of excitement and fun set in the first session.

Well, two Saturday nights ago, we gathered together again for the second session of Secrets in Sulphur. I had given the scenario ahead some thought and had plotted out some of the set pieces in both my mind and on paper, expanding upon my initial notes. With these “hand holds” in place, I felt confident of being able to move the story forward, while still being nimble enough to react to any unforeseen curve balls thrown at me by the players.

Our cast of characters:
John – Boris Clapshaw, ex Army Infantry Sergeant
Jonathan – Riishaa Daanel, ex Marine
Dylan – Count Asenault “Chivers” Washington-Pipps, retired Marine Colonel
Chris – “Bunty” Staffburger, ex Marine Force Commander

After getting out of the Marines, Bunty Staffburger spent a few years bumming around Gamelea Subsector before winding up on Por’via in Lymethius Subsector. While working service jobs at Por’via Downport, he hooked up with Selia Vuir, a sulphur miner.

Recently, Selia found a cache of valuable sunstones. As her employers, Ossourous Processing, are the legal owners of all valuable minerals found within their claim, she stood to lose the lot. However, Jorgan Kiorpanos, the local agent for VenGems Holdings, was interested in having a look at the gems she had found with a view to working out a little deal.

Things began to unravel when Selia’s Mining Unit was late returning from a shift out on the Sylvian Flats. Then, a storm front began moving down out of the Green Mountains onto the Flats, and Jorgan Kiorpanos seemed to have made the acquaintance of some unsavoury-looking offworlders. Fortunately for Bunty, his old friend Colonel Count Asenault “Chivers” Washington-Pipps, (Rtd.) showed up at the starport with his batman, Sergeant Daanel, and ex-Army Sergeant Clapshaw. These three were in the process of transhipping into the Geithurian Republic to chase up employment offers with the Murkhida Kargesu – the Republic’s equivalent to the Foreign Legion.

After some bother with some Vargr, the party located Selia’s wrecked Mining Unit and chased Jorgan and his cronies up onto a tableland. There, they arrived in time to see Jorgan and two of his assistants killed by a band of fast and deadly carnivores. While Bunty captured the survivor of Jorgan’s crew, Chivers, Daanel and Clapshaw sorted out the carnivores with some well placed gauss rifle volleys and the odd autopistol shot. And then the storm struck.

Deciding that they needed all their equipment up on the tableland before taking on the irrijari, Chivers heads back to Jorgan’s crew’s ATV where Bunty is securing the tranqed captive. Daanel investigates the sunstone geode while Clapshaw keeps an eye out for any more irrijari.

Chivers carefully backs Jorgan’s ATV down the narrow trail towards the party’s ATV as the rain begins to bucket down. Meanwhile, Clapshaw spots two sets of human foot prints leading further uphill from where the irrijari attacked Jorgan’s group. He starts to follow them as he can see that the rain is going to wash the tracks away very soon.

As Clapshaw strides off into the wind and rain, Daanel is on the horns of a dilemma. One of the geodes has been broken open and he can see a fortune in sunstones lying inside it. But combat armour doesn’t have pockets. But there’s a fortune in sunstones just lying there. Helmet – he could fill his helmet with them. But then his head would melt because of the hostile atmosphere before he could make it to the ATV. But there’s a fortune ... oh, sod it! He clambers to his feet and hurries off after Clapshaw.

Chivers and Bunty quickly transfer the party’s extra ammunition and explosives from their ATV into the smaller one Jorgan’s group were driving. Then, grabbing a vial of adrenalin from Clapshaw’s medical kit, they give their prisoner a shot to wake her up. With a gasp, she regains consciousness and promptly throws up all over the back seat of the ATV.

After some questioning, Chivers and Bunty learn that the woman, Cari, was unemployed on Feor/Gamelea when her friend, Clay, was recruited by Jorgan. Along with their friend Mikki, Cari and Clay were given passage to Por’via to help Jorgan claim-jump any miners who brought in under-the-table finds. Cari doesn’t much care for Jorgan, but is upset to learn that Mikki and Clay have also been killed by the irrijari.

After driving back up to the geodes on the upland, Bunty and Chivers leave Cari handcuffed to a seat in the ATV. With her Environment suit secured to the exterior of the vehicle – out of reach for her in the hostile atmosphere – they decide to risk leaving her unguarded while they rejoin Clapshaw and Daanel. Meanwhile, Clapshaw has lost the tracks he was following as they wash away in the rain. But, he has spotted what looks like a declivity under a large rock about half way up the side of a narrow valley, uphill from the geodes. It would appear that the tracks were heading towards it.

As Clapshaw rejoins Daneel, three irrijari appear out of the swirling mist and driving rain. Snapping and snarling, the irrijari dart and lunge. Daanel shoots one and then his gauss rifle jams, again. Clapshaw shoots a second and then the third one dashes in, clawing and scratching. Clapshaw drags his autopistol from its holster as the irrijar knocks him to the ground. With the irrijar trying to tear its way into his combat armour, he manages to swing his pistol up. There’s a muffled report and then he pushes the body off him.

Chivers and Bunty slog up the rise to where Daneel is helping Clapshaw to his feet. Together, the foursome make their way up to the large rock on the hill side. Examining the declivity beneath the rock, they find a cave – now more of a muddy slide – leading down into the earth. Sliding down first, Clapshaw, and then Daneel, discover that the slide only descends a couple of metres before a half-buried metal grill arrests their descent. In front of them is a dark, metallic, keyhole shaped door. There is a slightly darker discolouration part way up one of the door sills. Checking that Daneel is ready and armed, Clapshaw touches the discolouration. The door slides open.

Standing out in the rain, and occasional flashes of lightning, Chivers muses aloud that with both their combat armoured compatriots below ground, the only thing standing between Bunty, Chivers and any wandering irrijari (with their big, pointy teeth) , is the rather feeble protection of their Environment suits. Bunty does not see this as amusing and, after some consideration, neither does Chivers. Piling through the narrow cave mouth, they arrive at the foot of the slide in a rather undignified pile, just as Daneel and Clapshaw step back from their first glance through the keyhole-shaped door.

A second door lies beyond the first door, separated by two metres of smooth, metal corridor, wider at the top than at the bottom. Cautiously opening the second door, the party sees that the corridor continues for another twenty metres before ending in another door. The muddy foot prints they had seen around the first and second door quickly fade away in the long corridor. Clapshaw thinks he sees something like a bundle of rags by the door at the far end of the corridor while Daanel notices that the atmospheric mix is now containing a lot more methane than the natural atmosphere of Por’via.

Exploring the corridor, the party discover that the pile of rags is actually the body of Jimmi, another of Selia’s mining crew and the only other miner, besides Selia, unaccounted for. He has serious claw and teeth wounds on his chest and shoulders which have compromised his environment suit and it may this, rather than his injuries, that lead to his demise. Just as they are about to move on to examine the door at the end of the corridor, the party hear the distinctive sounds of some things sliding down the mud tunnel and landing on the metal grill behind them.

As the party turn to face the open entrance, they see three irrijari slither into the corridor. Chivers and Bunty drop to their knees; Chivers drawing his autopistol while Bunty snaps off a burst from his gauss rifle. Behind them, Daneel and Clapshaw open fire with their gauss rifles. The hail of needles accounts for two of the three irrijari. As the third one springs forward, Chivers fires his autopistol. The muzzle flash ignites the methane in the corridor.

Picking themselves up after the explosion, the party decide to push deeper into the complex to see if Selia managed to reach a place of safety. It is about this point that they hear a grinding, groaning noise, and the corridor seems to subside slightly towards the left. The players conclude that entire structure appears to have settled somewhat, possibly due to the shock wave from the methane explosion.

Passing through the door at the end of the corridor, they find themselves in a hexagonal chamber. The internal atmosphere is now registering as a fairly typical methane mixture with very little oxygen present. Three other doors lead out of the hexagonal chamber – one straight ahead and one each to the left and right. Crossing the chamber, they open the door opposite and see a corridor of a similar length to the one they have just exited, though this one has two doors opposite each other about halfway down, and another two doors opposite each other at the far end.

Opening the first door on the left, the party sees a small, three metre by three metre room. In each of the four corners of the room stands a large metallic ovoid on a small plinth. Daanel spots a darker patch on one of the plinths, much like the door opening patches they have seen in the corridors, so he presses it. There is a humming noise and then a small character, in an obviously alien script, lights up beside the dark patch. This character begins to rotate and change in a regular sequence, like a countdown.

Backing out of the room, the characters try the door opposite the one they have just examined. Again, they see a three meter by three meter room with four ovoids, one in each corner. This time, they resist the temptation to touch anything. Moving down the hall, they open the door on the right at the end. Again, they see a three meter square room. In this room there are three ovoids. On the plinth where the fourth ovoid would stand, they see a tall, strangely alien creature – a Mi’yargin. And standing in the middle of the room and facing them, is Selia.

It is immediately apparent that there is something amiss with Selia. A massive chest and neck wound has ripped her Environment suit open. She stands awkwardly, facing the party, her eyes blank and her bubble helmet pulled back from her face. When she speaks, it is in a flat, monotone.

In the rather unusual conversation that follows, it appears that, much to Bunty’s distress, Selia was fatally injured (“this one was fatally compromised”) by the irrijari (“vermin”) and that to save her, the Mi’yargi known as "The Second" has included her within the Mi'yargin Collective – a group consciousness. Their efforts have stabilised her body at the expense of effectively transmuting her at the cellular level, while her consciousness has become part of the Collective consciousness of the Mi’yargin crew. The structure the party is currently within is actually a Mi’yargin shuttle that became stranded on Por’via some 200 years ago – the Mi’yargin use a base five numbering system and measure time in clock cycles of cesium so there was some frantic figuring carried out on handcomps.

Eventually, after discussion and possible mistranslation, a deal is struck. The party agree to get rid of the irrijari (vermin) that have infested the ship and damaged it, preventing it from lifting off. The Mi’yargin will endeavour to preserve Selia from further “compromise” and pay the party a fee in “metals of a heavy atomic weight” – the implication is that their Nullship, which the party assume is their jump-capable starship, has been busily refuelling and mining in the rings of the Por’via system’s gas giant for the last two centuries and has picked up a quantity of heavy, or radioactive, metals which could be worth a lot of Imperial Credits.

The characters then search the rest of the deck they are on and the one below it. Both decks are similar in layout – a central hexagonal room (which is also the elevator that runs the length of the ship) with four corridors leading off it. Each corridor, except the entry corridor, gives access to four rooms, and each room contains four ovoids – the crew’s life pods. Some of the ovoids are discoloured and the characters assume that perhaps the life support has failed on these units but, out of a possible complement of 112, at least 100 Mi’yargin appear to have survived. No irrijari are found on these upper two decks.

As the lift doors open onto a gantry at the third deck level, the characters find themselves looking down into the vast, empty space of the cargo hold. Tie rods and bracing struts form a lattice of anchor points between the deck head, above, and the engine deck below.

Looking down through their IR scopes, Clapshaw and Daanel spot movement around the base of the lift shaft. At least a dozen irrijarri are prowling about. Clapshaw, Dannel and Bunty start sniping at them from the gantry. The irrijari quickly work out where the fire is coming from and start swarming up the bracing struts towards them. What started out as a fun turkey shoot, suddenly starts turning serious as missed shots and miss-fires fail to stem the tide surging towards them.

Just as the characters begin to wonder whether it might be time to cut and run, as they’re getting pushed back into the lift car, Chivers fells the last irrijar with a shot from his autopistol. Heaving a collective sigh of relief, they head down towards the engine deck.

As the lift doors start to open, Clapshaw’s combat armour tells him that the atmosphere on the engine deck is an oxygen/methane mix. The irrijari compromised the ship’s integrity when they broke out onto the surrounding tableland. Waves of irrijari come swarming out of the gantries and crawl spaces of the engine deck. A volley of gauss needles cut some of them down and then Bunty fires a RAM grenade into the midst of them as Chivers closes the lift door. A flash fire and explosion rips through the engine deck, blowing the party off their feet, even as the lift doors close. When the smoke clears, the irrijari are gone and the Mi’yargin shuttle tears itself free from Por’via.

Rejoining Selia and the Second on the top deck, the party prepare for the ride out to Harrimol VIII, the Por’via System gas giant, when the Collective advises them that a ship has lifted from Por’via Downport and has given chase. The Mi’yargin instruments indicate that the pursuing ship is the Vargr freighter, Akhska.

To be continued...