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Author Topic: My 2+ Year Post Apocalypse Game  (Read 6664 times)

The Butcher

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My 2+ Year Post Apocalypse Game
« Reply #15 on: September 24, 2012, 06:12:54 PM »
I'm not usually a big fan of gonzo post-apoc stuff, but I love this thread! Keep the good stuff coming!

-E.

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« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2012, 09:16:26 AM »
Quote from: The Butcher;585184
I'm not usually a big fan of gonzo post-apoc stuff, but I love this thread! Keep the good stuff coming!

Really appreciate the encouragement.  Good to know it's interesting.

If there's something you'd like to see more of (or less of) or whatever, let me know. One thing I've been skipping (in addition to a good deal of the actual encounters) is any discussions of our approach to getting the most out of playing on-line, the PC's character-specific actions, or anything about game mechanics.

I also left out a lot of detail about the world and history. I try to "show" rather than "tell" things about the world as much as possible, but periodically the PC's will run into something that either tells them things they don't know, but their character's would (e.g. their civilization's founding 'myth') or they learn something about the Age of Wonders.

Here's a summary of the story behind the Demoness Esorom in the Clock of Fate:

T-Ball
T-Ball was the greatest game in the Age of Wonders. The T-Ball, itself is a variable yield tactical nuclear device about the size of a soccer ball, but with spikes coming out of it (like the head of a mace) and a Red Digital Display that can provide simple LED messages, count down, or whatever.

The game's rules depend on whether you're playing Pro or College.

Pro T-Ball is poorly understood, but involves teams of armored warriors with hover-boards and electric guitars / machine-gun devices. Apparently there are also "stasis spot-lights" which, if you surf/skate-board into the one, stops time (for the rest of the universe) giving you a chance to shred your guitar solo while literally everyone else has to stop and listen.

College T-Ball is different. It takes place in a more intimate setting (often a bar or coffee house). The T-Ball player takes the stage, holds up the T-Ball, like Hamlet holding up Poor Yorick's skull and recites a poem. Usually a poem from the Stupid Age (the past, before the Age of Wonders, when everyone was "stupid" -- basically our time and before).

When the College T-Ball Player is done the observers vote (including those watching over the network) + or -, depending on how sincere and affective the recital was. Based on the outcome of the vote, the T-Ball either explodes or doesn't. Mildly bad performances result in anything from damage to the Player, to incineration of the entire venue for complete stinkers.

The Story of Esorom and the T-Ball Champion
Quote
Mikalas Kadan was one of the great College T-Ball Champions of the Age of Wonders. He could recite even the most difficult and culturally obscure poems with complete sincerity and deep emotion. He was fearless, performing in anywhere from a small, intimate room, to a stadium with ten-thousand present and millions or more virtual. He was beloved by an army of fans.

He was also the object of seething envy and resentment from people who hated him, hated his honest sincerity and natural good looks, his emotional openness.

There were also people who thought reciting poetry, even with a nuclear bomb in your hand, was a wuss thing for a man to do, but they used a more vulgar word.

The Haters wanted to take him down -- they'd vote against him every chance they got, but their "Don't Like" votes were always drowned in a tsunami of "likes" from Mikalas's fan-atics, so the Haters, frustrated and furious, developed a new plan.

They created a Simulated Lifeform dedicated to Kadan's total destruction. It would be called Esorom, and it would study him with monomaniacal ferocity, discovering his weak point, and then striking. They designed Esorom to be brilliant, merciless, immortal, and utterly, completely maleficent.

When their conception of the creature was complete, the had it instantiated and released.

Now, this was back when the Computer prohibited the creation of anything truly dangerous, so Esorom couldn't just go eat Kadan (and he was a formidable warrior in his T-Ball armored uniform, anyway. Even emo college T-Ball champs apparently knew how to fight).

Her assault on him would be psychological and social. Her initial strategy was Social to find evidence of the worst crime known to the man in the Age of Wonders: Hypocrisy. If Kadan was revealed as a hypocrite, his fans would be horrified and would desert him. He would be down-voted... and incinerated.

She studied his personality, his history, his past. She was looking for evidence that he was not, in fact, sincere. That his veneer of true emotion, depth and feeling was nothing but a facade. That he felt contempt for his fans. That he used them for sex. Whatever.

Failing that, she would look for evidence of the second-worst crime: arrogance. If she could reveal him as a egotism or pretention, many of his fans would desert him (similarly, if he proved not to be pretentious, a subset of his fan base would hate him).

She came up empty. Kadan was pretty much what he appeared to be: a poetry lover and gifted performer. He had a pretty high opinion of himself, but he didn't cross any lines. He was lucky enough with the ladies to make the haters growl and gnash their teeth and rend their garments... but most people pretty much figured he deserved it.

Frustrated -- but implacable -- Esorom, switched tactics. She mounted a psychological assault on him. This involved getting close to him and explaining who she was and what she had come to do. She laid everything out for him and told him that she intended to destroy him.

Her approach was to make him doubt himself and lose confidence.

She would do this by convincing him that his good fortune was undeserved. Yes, he was talented -- but he had been "born" talented. He hadn't done anything to earn it. She showed him the Haters: men and women no less 'deserving' than him, but without his innate talent. Surely it was unfair -- intolerably unfair -- that fate should gift him with fortune, fame and adoration, while others languished in obscurity and the outer darkness of the Social Network.

Surely he should question everything he had and wonder at the vile and inhuman machinery of the universe that would rain gifts down on him while others, without those gifts simply had to go without.

She dismissed the idea that he'd worked hard or that his hours of practice and his perseverance in the face of failure had anything to do with it: yes, he'd practiced. Yes, he'd endured. But surely all that "performance" was also a matter of fate.

Wasn't it the very height of hubris to assume that he was any better at all than the trolls who sat in the dark down voting anyone with more than them. How could he assume that had been born with their lack of talent, lack of endurance, he wouldn't be as bitter and furious as they were.

He found himself disturbed. He had always assumed he deserved his fantastic situation by virtue of hard work, honest engagement, and sincere good-will toward his fans and audience.

Faced with the idea of Fate, and the claim that he deserved none of it -- and his good fortune was the height of unfairness, he felt the very creeping doubt that Esorom had intended. As someone who had believed himself committed to fairness, he wondered if he should take it somehow upon himself, to balance the scales Fate had put off kilter.

Doubt -- self doubt -- can be fatal in College T-Ball. In his next performance, before hundreds of adoring fans (willing to risk their very lives to be close to him as he performed) and tens of millions of virtual fans, he hesitated, and he wondered: If I perform flawlessly am I not furthering the indignities fate has heaped on my caustic, untalented critics?

In that moment of doubt, his fans gasped. Many -- a great many -- were willing to forgive him. But many more simply saw that his heart was not 100% into his recital... that his mind was elsewhere. That he was not Giving Himself to them as he always had in the past.

The reaction was overwhelming and terrible -- Down Votes came in by the multitude. The adoring fans in the audience gasped as they saw the totals climb toward his obliteration and then... then past that... toward theirs!

It was a cascade effect: as people saw the Down Votes come in, more and more piled on. People who had previously Up Voted him but had, in their secret heart, resented him saw their opportunity to hurt him from the anonymity of the mob!

The haters sat forward, hearts in their throats, waiting for the Earth Shattering Kaboom they had dreamed and dreamed of.

Esorom felt a flood of well-being through her entire body. She was built to destroy him. She had. Her purpose in existence was about to be fulfilled. She was as Complete as a Simulated Life-form can be. The blast would annihilate her (she was in the front row), but she would burn knowing she had won.

Then, when Voting Closed and the votes were tallied and finalized, the sentence was passed: it would be a 1.2 kiloton blast. Enough to vaporize everyone in the room many times over.

But the T-Ball decided the vote was Bullshit and declined to explode. It said, basically, screw all you loser mother fuckers. Who's the nuclear weapon here? That's right, biatches, I'm the nuclear weapon here, and I say "Guess what? Life isn't fair. You want to whine about it? Get your ass up here and recited Robert Frost with a bomb in your hand. Otherwise stop bitching."

And so that is the story of how Mikilas Kadan and Esorom the Demoness and the Haters and Everyone Who Bet Money on College T-Ball learned the moral of this story:

Life Isn't Fair.

Then End.

So -- this is the kind of stuff I've been sparing you. To conclude the story, Esorom now haunts the ruin of the Clock of Fate (why and how is a different story) snarking at those who come for readings and go on to their judgement and doom, and Mikalas Kadan went on to even greater acts of glory, but before he "passed out of this world" he left his "ghost" behind -- an insubstantial 1934 BMW R7 which is also housed in Clock and awaits a true hero to claim and ride it.



Cheers,
-E.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2012, 09:42:50 AM by -E. »
 

-E.

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« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2012, 08:24:45 PM »
Graduation

The characters return to the Academy driving Harp's white pickup truck. They stop at the trading bazaar to buy and sell and R&R. Loaded with treasure to sell they can afford the best artifacts that the trading post has to offer including a .357 Imperial Executioner handgun (one of a matched set, the other gun, apparently missing) and the 2-handed sword Stalingrad that gives its wielder metallic skin.

They also notice that they are being stalked by a green-haired girl who could be a twin of their mutant. When confronted, the girl identifies herself as “Depth Charge” -- Vikkity (mutant) girl’s self proclaimed Arch Enemy (She’s a creation of the PASADENA fortune cookie). She declares the mutant girl of being intolerably shallow and accuses her of having never read Albert Camus's The Stranger. When the mutant girl not only doesn’t know who Camu was (understandable) but doesn’t even get that DC is talking about a book, Depth Charge quotes the opening from memory (“Mother died today -- or was it yesterday”) and spectacularly fails to clarify anything.

They fight. while the other PCs stand back and discuss their assessment of Vikkity (she is pretty shallow...). The PC prevails and Depth Charge explodes into thousands of emerald green butterflies which evaporate into the sky.

On the way back to the Academy, the gunslinger tries a bite of PRECEDENT and has a series of disturbing visions starting with their instructors being unhappy to see them, predicting violence at the academy, and finally the “convening” of something called an Oroboros Meritocracy.

When they arrive home, their instructors are, in fact, unhappy to see them.

They are taken up to see the Headmaster who explains that the annulment of their contracts in the clock of fate puts them -- and the entire school -- in jeopardy. This matter was supposed to be settled by their death in the cube, but since that failed to happen direct action is required.

The Horn
The Academy exists -- and has existed for centuries -- because it is connected to a thing beneath it called a Horn. There are other Horns -- the one under the Academy is called Jolop. The Horns play a critical role in maintaining Civilization: they help to provide Civilization with the riches and bounty of the Complex.

The Complex is failing more each day -- falling apart, collapsing into dust, crumbling into ruin -- but the Horns are robust and self-repairing. They are as close as anything comes to being Eternal.

They serve and sustain Civilization, but they require payment: Jolop requires the “provision” of young lives. Not all of the Students will be sacrificed -- some will graduate -- but there must always be more provided. This is what the Contracts are all about.

The characters have annulled their contracts -- something that wasn’t supposed to be possible -- and that was disturbing. But there's worse to come:

Something is Coming Up
Seismic sensors have been detecting small earthquakes around the school for weeks. The Academy instructors weren’t unduly alarmed at first but they’re getting more worried: they believe that there are four elevator shafts tunneling up toward the Academy.

The shafts will connect the Horn directly to the surface, something that is unprecedented.

And the Horn, while it doesn’t communicate directly, has made it extremely clear: the characters are not, under any circumstances to be permitted to descend. There is a psychic “storm” around the school that is causing horrible nightmares and directly affecting the more psychically attuned students warning everyone about what might happen if the PCs return and go down.

This is all completely outside of anyone’s experience, but the Instructors have decided that they will offer the characters a sort of “Technical Graduation” -- they’ll be dismissed from the Academy and given posts within the Tagmata. They will not be ‘real’ graduates of the Academy, but their futures will be assured.

They should leave tonight: the Elevators reach the surface tomorrow morning.

The PC’s admit this is a good deal and agree to consider it. But they want more information. And, as this deals with their “contracts” they want to talk to their lawyer.

First Day Of School/Last Day of School
Candidates for the Academy are chosen when they’re 8 years of age. They are taken to the Academy and brought into a chamber in its lowest level where there is automated equipment that injects an unknown chemical into the child’s brain.

The child sleeps.

About a third of the children never awaken.

They die on the exam table and are buried in the expansive graveyard behind the school. Those who do awake are accepted and choose a course of study. It is believed that the chemical somehow identifies those who are trainable gives them the aptitude to learn Tagmata combat.

This is not true.

The PC’s meet with their classmates (who are aware that the PC’s refusal to simply leave endangers all of them) and ask the psychic girlfriend of the Class President to help them understand what is happening. She does.

Memories of the Past
Lei (the psychic NPC) is incredibly disturbed by the storm the Horn has created, but she can tap into it with a “seiance” and “rewind” everyone’s memories to understand what might be happening and why the Horn is demanding the characters be sent away.

Here’s what really happens: The 8 year-old’s brain is mapped and the Horn makes a series of predictions about what sort of adolescent the child will develop into with a decade of combat training. The child’s mind is “artificially” aged and given basic memories. The Horn also determines who will be in the child’s Primary Group.

Then, the matured child is “run” through the Graduation Dungeon -- a brutal, horrific, level designed to inflict maximum psychic trauma. At any point, the child can “push the red button” and choose death over further torment and adventure.

Many do.

Those who do not -- those who continue despite dying (potentially) many horrific deaths and being returned to the dungeon (death in the simulation, mercilessly, does not kill you) are faced with a choice: they can choose to kill their classmates (to select them for death in their own adventures) to enhance their own chances.

Those who sell out the most other children will be given advantages that are likely to put them at the top of the class.

Apparently, in their Simulation, the PC’s were the most brutal and the most ruthless. It is theorized that they might have consigned the entire class to horrible deaths to achieve their exceptional status.

The Army of The Dead
The Class President was horrified as was his girlfriend. Not everyone was -- the bottom of the class (The kids most likely to die in Trials 2 and 3) were morbidly impressed. Some of them (coming from good families) had known the deal -- and they admit that as ruthless and brutal as they were prepared to be, they were apparently not as inventive and sadistic as the PC’s had been!

The going theory: The PC’s had somehow traded the entire school for their own success. Now, even without a Contract, the Horn was obligated to collect. The Elevators would open and lethal robots would spill out slaughtering everyone, unless the PCs simply left.

While the instructors moved the younger kids out into the desert to “camp” as far away as possible, the instructors asked the PC’s -- again -- to quit and just go. It wasn’t even clear that that would work. But it was what the Horn wanted, and it was (perhaps) the best chance of averting disaster.

If the PCs would not leave, the Instructors would take their only other option: Graduate Everyone.

Convene The Ouroboros Meritocracy
The Headmaster can, if he chooses, graduate the class in a single “action” -- the students are given weapons and the fire teams hunt each other. The last team standing Graduates. The snake eats its tail. The most ‘deserving’ walk.

if the PC's don't go on their own, the Headmaster will Convene the Meritocracy and the characters will be "graduated" no matter what they choose.

The PC’s are given a final choice: leave or be ‘responsible’ for a bloodbath.

The Army of the Dead asks them to stay -- they’re dead anyway. They’d rather take their chances against fellow students than the likely horrible death deep underground. Besides, they resent the Hell out of everyone else and would love a chance to go after them.

What Did We Do 10 Years Ago?
The PC’s are in a weird situation: they can just walk... and leave the school and their classmates (whom they already said they didn’t particularly care about) to their own devices -- leave them to face whatever comes out of those elevators.

They can stay... and possibly die fighting it... or die fighting the other students.

But if they leave, they leave people they kind of like to possible death. And worse: they leave the system that eats children in place and victorious. It wants them gone for some reason, and that’s good enough reason not to leave.

Also: they want to know what kind of deal they reached. What they actually sold out.

The PC’s go back to see the psychic girl and ask her to pull up their memories.
 

-E.

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« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2012, 10:05:03 PM »
The Conquering Worm

Clearly we hadn’t gamed out what happened when the PCs were eight years old, so the question that was on everyone’s mind was “Did -E. make a bunch of critical decisions for our characters, deprotagonizing us mercilessly?”

Also: “If deprotagonizing isn’t actually a word, why are we using it?”

When the characters, with the help of the psychic, accessed their memories, I sent them their 0-level character sheets from the beginning of the game (at this point about a year ago, real time), and told them that they now remembered what their Artificially Matured characters had gone through.

Here’s the map and I can talk a little about it:



  • The whole thing was filled with toxic (but not instantly lethal) formaldehyde gas.
  • There were apertures on the walls that periodically emitted explosive fireballs, and sections of corridor that had oven-like flame jets on timers.
  • They were stalked by carnivorous mimes that scuttled silently along the walls and ceilings and fell on them like white-faced spiders to consume their flesh.
  • They found creepy images and shrines of a cult dedicated to “incorruptible forms” -- people preserved by formaldehyde. The Incorruptibles theorized that the answer to the Drake Equation was naturally occurring formaldehyde gas: they were intrigued by the idea of entire civilizations being sterilized, their planets turned into silent, undecaying mausoleums by clouds of drifting, interstellar poison.
  • There was a “trap” that required the characters to solve a simple substitution code to prevent the entire level from being flooded with poison gas -- but the code didn’t work and the level flooded anyway (there was  secret door leading out)
  • There was a chamber full of gas masks, but the filters were toxic -- wearing the mask would be fatal.
  • Than ran into Monoids and other low level robots that were, at this power level, formidable opponents.
  • They moved into even more morbid rooms, finding a giant red worm that ate mimes and tried to eat the PC’s. They were being watched on monitors by a theater full of weeping, faceless angels (mimes, the worm, and the hopeless angels from Poe’s poem about the pointlessness of life and the inevitability/ascendency of death).
  • The whole thing was an unfair and merciless death trap, and the characters died again and again as they fought toward the exit.


When they died they would suffer until they lost consciousness and then appear in a small chamber with a one-way observation mirror, a chair, a table, and a white projection screen.

They would watch their death on the 8mm projection. The person running the reel-to-reel machine wasn’t easy to see (they’d have to turn around and look into the light), but he was cheerful and friendly and advised them that if they found the whole thing too painful, they could press the Red Button.

The Red Button would kill them. In real life. It would end their suffering.

He told them that it was pointless, really -- they’d just keep dying and dying, hurting and hurting. They would do better to end it all and “punch out” before they lost their minds.

They tried a few things:

  • One character asked if they could just stay in the video room. Nope: they’d get dumped back into the dungeon without ceremony after about 5 minutes.
  • Another asked if they could just keep suiciding and hang out there. No, said the Projectionist: If you die “on purpose” you end up coming to my “friend”  -- Tick-Tock-Mr.-Clock. Tick-Tock-Mr.-Clock isn’t nice. He puts barbed wire in your eyes and burns your tongue out with a hot poker. The first time. After that, it gets worse.
  • Okay... what about breaking out of the projection room? There’s a door, right? Answer: There’s a door, yes -- but it won’t get you anywhere but back in the dungeon (the mutant girl did break out, and escaped capture, eventually finidng an air vent that ... dropped her back in the dungeon)


  • Who’s watching us in the mirror?


At this point, the Projectionist was revealed as Cheeseburger (the talking, sentient Cheeseburger). And Cheeseburger... didn’t know there was a mirror in the room. He couldn’t see it. To him, it didn’t exist.

Weird.

The Gunslinger put his face up to it, and looked into a small room. It was empty except for some dusty shelves -- but on one of the shelves was a golden head: the head of the weird robot girl from the Ace of Pinups they’d seen in the Clock of Fate.

She looked at him, with eyes slowly-slowly-slowly dimming -- going out, and he heard the song “The Division Bell” in his mind. Reflected in her dying eyes, he saw an image of incredible complexity and beauty that was well beyond his understanding.

No idea what to make of that, but clearly this was NOT part of Cheeseburger or The Horn’s plan. This was something outside it. Something potentially important.

In one of the last times they died, one of the PC’s broke into the mirror, disrupting the simulation and abruptly returning him to the party.

They meet the Horn
Having refused to snuff it, they finally crossed a bridge into the Horn, itself. It was a massive thing, too big to really see. As they entered it, they could see that its surface was ... moving somehow... as if it were covered with a strange swarm of insects or worms. In the darkness it was impossible to make out anything beyond frenetic, disturbing movement.

They moved through chambers that showed them images of what it would give them if they served it and survived: it would give Civilization power sources -- massive metal hearts. It would also give them metal hearts -- that would make them tougher and more resilient, but would compel them to serve it and to be part of the “System” that fed it children.

Jolop The Horn Feeds On Innocence.

They were given the opportunity to betray their classmates (again) by choosing names and eating “symbolic” cheeseburgers representing the doomed children.

They refused, and entered the final chamber where they were met by four “Sphereoid” robots (way, way above power level) that were fitted with terrifying flesh-destroying weapons (“auto-flay cannons”) The Spheroids were marked with card suits, all black, and called themselves the Dark Queens.

They were offered a feast at a table set with terrifying surgical instruments and then death: they had not sacrificed any children. They would die here -- and then, in ten years, they would return to this level and die for real, screaming in an agony they would not wake up from.

The Dark Queens begged them to reconsider -- after all, surely their classmates would not spare them!

The PC’s prepared to fight and die, but as they steeled themselves for more horrific pain, one of them saw the metal robot head they’d seen in the Observation Room. It telepathically told them that there was another way: The Wall of Heroes.

The Wall of Heroes
The PCs asked about the Wall of Heroes. The Queens laughed! Where had they heard of that?! Yes. It is a thing. Here is how it works:

You are not the first ones to stand in defiance against us -- to refuse to sacrifice your classmates, to raise your fist against our gleeful atrocity and the abomination we serve. For those who have such ... fortitude... we have a special deal: you will live. Your first and second trial will be glorious. You will arrive here, ready to fight, certain that you’ve earned the power to survive.

But you will still be powerless to face such as us, and when you find yourself in this very chamber -- in real life, we will subdue you, but not kill you. Instead, your flesh will be stripped off. Your body will be violated with shards of metal and glass. You will be harmed in a thousand ways, each unendurable -- and you will be added to the Wall with the writhing, mindless forms of a thousand “heroes” before you. You will decorate the Horn’s exterior, writhing and screaming forever, with your only escape from degradation and torment being to lose your mind.

That would be their contract: ten years of success and achievement to make their eternity of suffering for their “principles” even more sweet and ironic.

The PC’s chose to join the Wall of Heroes. They “remembered” setting the rest of the game in motion.
 

-E.

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« Reply #19 on: September 28, 2012, 09:10:23 PM »
School’s Out For The Summer
The PC’s came awake in full possession of their memories of Initiation Day. They remembered that they had invoked a special agreement reserved for the truly heroic and defiant -- one that would ensure (relative) success at school, but would (on graduation) return them to the horn to face a terrible fate of unlife and eternal, bone-shattering torture.

Their Lawyer (the robot) was able to fill in a few other details -- their annulment of their Contract in the Clock of Fate meant they were not trapped in a sequence of dungeness designed to deliver them to the Dark Queens, but it did not absolve the Horn’s obligation to bring the Top Students to it.

The Horn was required to provide access. The elevators, when they arrived, would take the characters directly to the Graduation Dungeon. The confusion and the psychic storm were probably the result of the Horn trying to avoid this and being forced to by its programming.

Why wouldn't the Horn want them to come down?
Their lawyer didn’t know for sure, but it wasn’t hard to figure out: Four Spheroid robots would be utterly overwhelming to a first or second level party. But the characters were now 7th level and well -- well -- beyond the Dark Queens.

In annulling their contracts, the PC’s had become entirely unpredictable and entirely uncontrollable. They had gained power and experience beyond what the Horn’s defense systems were prepared to deal with and the Horn was desperate to deny them access.

The PC’s met with the entire school in the assembly room and explained both the secrets behind the school and their intention: to enter the complex, to fight to the Horn, and to do what they could to end it.

Not everyone was convinced
The Instructors served the Horns -- they were all top graduates who had offered their classmates in the service of the vile machine. Many of them hated it, and they weren’t mind-controlled, but they did point out that the Horn, as awful as it was, was an important part of civilization: in exchange for children, it provided the location of powerful Metal Hearts (power sources that ran factories, the waterworks, etc.)

It might be a horrible thing, but it wasn’t necessarily the enemy.

And the Headmaster was personally dedicated to the school. If the PC’s were successful, it would be finished. In the end, the Headmaster was still in the school when the Elevators arrived.

School’s Out Forever
The elevators came up like freight trains, blowing up through the floor and shattering large sections the school and playing an instrumental version of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out over the intercom and across all radio radio frequencies.



Whatever computer programming “code” was forcing the Horn to make itself accessible was aware of the implications -- the PC’s were coming.

I ran the PC’s through the exact same dungeon at 7th level. They burnt through it without breaking stride, slaughtering mimes and conquering worms and harvesting robots.

They crossed the bridge into the Horn and heard the alarmed communications of Cheeseburger with the Dark Queens trying to deny them access. The Horn had a variety of defensive and security systems, but as top-level Academy Students on a graduation mission, they were entitled by ancient law to it’s inner chamber.

They arrived and faced off with the Queens. They fought. It didn’t last long: they obliterated the queens.

When they did the Horn (which was somehow tied to them) didn’t fail, but it did start to recycle (“reboot”). While it was rebooting, Cheeseburger, speaking to them over the radio claimed they hadn’t won “anything” -- the Queens were still “alive” (they’d only killed copies of them) and the Horn itself was beyond their ability to harm.

You’d need a nuclear device.

As it turned out, the same agency that had ensured the code forcing the Horn to admit the characters had provided one: A fully armed and operational T-Ball waiting an eternity for the narrow window when the Horn would be offline and vulnerable.

School’s Been Blown To Pieces
The T-Ball arrived in a Complex elevator, while Cheeseburger, in some remote control center fought desperately to get the Horn online before it detonated. It wasn’t successful: the characters hit ground level and got the instructors and students top-side as far out into the desert as possible before the timer ran out and school collapsed into a smoking sinkhole.
 

-E.

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« Reply #20 on: October 01, 2012, 01:04:36 PM »
Part II

The first part of the game, with the characters as students in the school was over at that point. Some of the players worried that the game itself might end there -- and if it didn’t, where would it go?

The answer was -- and had always been -- to the City Osco, the Capital of Civilization.

Moving from “Structured Missions” model to “Sandbox”
While the first part of the game was not really “scripted” the characters (as students in a school that would send them into the dungeon) had a ready source of adventure motivation. They were free to pursue their own agenda, of course (which they did), and they were free to respond to the offer / challenge however they wanted (they could have chosen to  sell out their fellow students -- or to reject the Wall of Heroes offer).

But upon graduation, while they would have a “job” it was not exactly the same thing -- their day job would not provide an unending stream of adventures.

Worse, I made it clear that most people did not have ready access to the Complex. The characters would not find it trivial to continue to adventure and level up.

Sandbox Toys
My experience with sandbox games is that they can lose momentum if the characters don’t have a good understanding of what’s out there to go adventure in.

I think the GM should provide the players with materials that give them enough information about the world to make meaningful choices about how to pursue an interesting game. I think there’s two basic criteria for a sandbox game

  • Having an agenda or objective. Having goals your character cares about and your players find interesting
  • Knowing what’s out there that might be of interest


The most classic Sandbox scenario is

  • You want treasure and power and are willing to risk life and limb to get it...
  • Here’s a map with a few ruins and dungeons on it that might be of interest.


That scenario is simple and effective, but it only works for adventurers. In my case, it wasn’t that simple:

  • While the PC’s definitely wanted the classic ‘treasure and power’ the road to getting it wasn’t as simple as just ‘adventuring’
  • They were in the heart of Civilization. There *are* “dungeons” around but they’re typically well below the PC’s power level
  • Power, in the PC’s situation (military officers) would necessarily be social as well as physical.
  • Treasure (at least basic treasure) would be more likely to come from buying artifacts from brokers than from bringing it out of the complex -- so there would need to be a sort of ‘reference’ price list


With these things in mind, I wanted to give the PC’s a simple, readable document that would not only help them understand their place in their new world but would also give them a “map” of things they could do to gain social standing and money (which could be converted into power and treasure).

To be clear: I fully expected them to return to the Complex, but it wasn’t “just going to happen.”

I put together the following documents

Staff Officer Handbook
https://docs.google.com/open?id=0ByxxSW6_L1-1VGQ0WlUxb19mQXM

Imperial Gift Registry
https://docs.google.com/open?id=0ByxxSW6_L1-1cTV0MVpROXFhcm8


The Imperial Gift Registry is just a listing of commonly available artifacts and weapons. In many cases, they’re below the PC’s power level, and so would serve to provide the characters with an idea of what NPCs might be equipped with or how much looting the bodies would give.

But they provide some luxury items to shoot for. I used Google Images to find pictures for as many of the weapons and artifacts as I could.

The Handbook is fundamentally more interesting...

Here are some images from it

Staff Officers
The characters have the glorious position of “Staff Officer” is pretty much what it sounds like. Actually, it’s not as bad as all that -- they’re Political Officers, so they don’t even have any real work to do, but are expected to shoot unfaithful, disloyal, or otherwise misbehaving Regular Army officers as necessary.

Here’s the Order of Battle. I wanted the PC’s to sort of understand how the Army was organized and get a sense for what passes for “heavy weapons” in their society.



Chain of Command
I introduced several NPCs to the characters including their immediate superior Cato Donkova (who has a “World’s Best Political Officer” coffee mug, and is widely liked for being easy to get along with and never shooting anyone).

This also introduced their somewhat competitors -- the “B-team” which was there ahead of them, but fundamentally lower level.



Wheel of Quests
What do Staff Officers actually do? They Receive Quests from the Emperor. Okay, actually they get their assignments from a Duty Officer who tries to rotate things around to keep it fair. If you can make out the Quests on the spinner, you can get a sense for the level of glory they could expect.


Social Calendar
I provided them with their social calendar which put them on notice that there were a number of official functions (dances, dinners) which they were expected to attend and at which they would be under the microscope.


Achievements
The characters were told they could get badges that they wear on their uniform for “achievements” -- social, combat, or otherwise. This provided them with a clear view of what kinds of things they would want to pursue to get ahead.


A note about the Metagame: All the metagame mechanics are explicit. Characters (including NPCs) talk about “what level” they are and to a certain extent what “class” in the profession sense. Metagame currencies like Success Points are real things that can be seen and collected (they look like a holographic coin, spinning in space). Gaming terms like “Kill Stealing” are used in in-character discussions, and so-on.

This is justified by the surreal nature of the Age of Wonders and the way that the past civilization changed the world. It’s also played for comedic effect -- but it didn’t end up turning the game into a joke; it’s gets used as dark humor: their world full of pain and misery is still running according to someone’s entertainment-based cosmology.

Arriving in Osco
I ran the characters through a “here’s your new home” scenario. They met the gray-haired commander of their entire Hazard; Cato Donkova (who gave them fatherly advice about staying out of trouble and wearing protection), and the B-Team who weren’t especially glad to see them, but weren’t enemies.

They got to interact with the NPCs, ask questions, and get a basic sense of life in Osco and on the military base.

They also got information about Trouble Coming -- the military was dealing with a high level deserter who had taken both his men and heavy weapons and disappeared into the desert for reasons not clearly stated. This was the same guy Harp had fallen in with  (and Harp had been executed for his affiliation).

Despite my desire to stop giving the PC’s missions, the scenario ended with one final mission: Cato had a request from one of the Methlum Houses -- House Gothic -- to intervene in a “military situation” involving arbitrating a dispute between participants of a tea-party of some kind.

Cato admitted this was an incredibly dangerous scenario: interacting with high-level aristocrats could be career-ending. He would normally take charge of a mission like this, but he was remodeling his bathroom and was in the process of bribing a supplier and couldn’t leave his office.

He sent the characters with his best wishes.
 

-E.

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My 2+ Year Post Apocalypse Game
« Reply #21 on: October 07, 2012, 08:52:34 AM »
The ‘It Girls’

House Gothica’s familial palace is a fortress with towers and ramparts and buttresses and arched gateways with dark metal portcullis and so-on. Behind its stout walls, are the innumerable living chambers for the massive extended aristocratic family.

The characters arrive in their dress uniforms and are escorted in, first, to see one of the Lords of the Estate who is hiding with his valet in an upper room.

The (drunk) aristocratic lord explained that they have got to diffuse the situation: ‘The girls’ (six or so late-adolescent daughters of the highest privilege) are having a fight about something and the Ladies (their mothers, aunts, etc -- the adults) have Gotten Involved and are now demanding that He (the Gothica Lord) Intervene.

He is not about to Intervene. He knows that if gets involved At All in this, his misery will be Unending. In these matters, choosing sides means pissing someone off and whoever does that is Fucked No Matter What.

So he wants -- NEEDS -- the PC’s to rescue him. This this involves “That Nerdy Science Girl”  (one of the ‘It Girls’ is a... nerd?). The Lord Gothic didn’t really know anymore -- Nerd Girl has pissed the rest of them off and now they were ‘Occupying’ his garden, demanding satisfaction.

The characters promised him they’d do their best and marched off to meet the Ladies.

There are five First Daughters of the High Houses and three or so middle aged “Ladies” who are clearly Not To Be Fucked With. They are taking tea in an inner courtyard garden along with their daughters / nieces / family friends.

The Situation:
There was a bit of reasonably polite, High Society tea, before the girls demanded that the characters take action: Wendimere, the Nerd is a licensed, credentialed Mad Scientist (PhD in Mad Science), has created a Perfect Butler.

He’s handsome, intelligent, polite, powerful, extremely loyal, etc. etc. He’s a “Simulated Lifeform” which means that he comes from a vat, and Wendimere can make as many of them as she wants.

But she’s refused to share the wealth -- despite their requests, pleas, and now demands, she won’t make more than the one.

She’s intolerably selfish. They’re intolerably jealous. And so The Girls want the Military (the PC’s) to destroy the Perfect Butler (“If I can’t have one, No One can!”) or force her to make more (but only a few more -- they DO NOT want the unpopular girls getting Perfect Butler's. That would ruin the whole thing).

It was made pretty clear that the PC’s were expected to choose sides and were expected to side with the mass of eligible, high-society young ladies.

Wendimere’s Laboratory
The PCs promised they’d talk to Windimere, who had locked herself in her tower full of experiments. They went in, walking up eleven flights of stairs (!), to find the white-coated girl hard at work in her laboratory, surrounded by bubbling vats. She had dozens of Simulated Life creatures locked in glass bubbles -- they looked like incredibly vicious teddy bears. She was attended by her Perfect Butler (“James”).

She assumed the PC’s were there to destroy James, and threatened them with disintegration, but they assured her they were there to be honest brokers -- they wanted to know why she’d refused.

Wendimere’s Problem
Everything she ever made, except James, has been completely and irredeemably homicidal. Her current work (trying to make the Emperor an army of  Simulated soldiers was running into that very problem. Her “exile” to Osco (Kedachai is the home of the great University, and the center of learning of the Empire) was probably the result of the “Giant Robot Incident” (this was her speculation -- her mentor had technically sent her to study "The power dynamics of Social Network Connections between ‘Frenemies’”)

She believes that if she made any more James, they would be horrible monsters (she’s considered actually doing this -- giving her ‘Friends’ deadly assassins -- but is worried about the practical repercussions).

The PC’s solution:
They told her the only way out of this was to admit the truth -- and demonstrate to the girls the danger that complying with their demands would create. They also refused to destroy James, since he represented a possible source of information about building non-deadly creatures.

The scenario ended with the PC’s and Wendimere back in the Garden.  Windemere offered an embarrassing explanation about the limits of her ability, and the PC’s demonstrated the danger to the girls by turning James temporarily evil (he had a switch set to ‘good’).

Evil-James laughed chillingly and told them they were all dead, but smugly wouldn’t explain why. When they threw the switch back to “Good” he explained -- as an Evil Simulated Life Form, he had access to information not previously available. It seems that Wendimere’s security precautions were inadequate -- the Cruel Simulated Teddybears were easily able to get free and were only playing along with being “contained” so Wendimere would make more and more of them.

100 Carnivorous Teddybears swarm out of the Mad Science Tower
The good news is that Mad Science facilities are all equipped with self-destruct mechanisms and with the massive security breach, the entrances and exits to the tower are closed off and incendiary devices activate to turn the place into smouldering rubble.

The bad news is that the hoard is going to surge the gates and maybe get out before the place goes up.

The PC’s stand in the breach and kill wave after wave of monsters. Then, when most of them are “dead” and the tower is starting to burn, they decide to run into the burning building to rescue / loot valuable items.

I have a (somewhat sketchy) 11-story tower map, with a brief description of what’s in each level and key treasure / traps / monsters. They find a cluttered confusing maze and the first thing they come to is an electrical experiment with several metal tubs full of water and submerged, connected power cells.

The sword guy decides he can disarm this thing by sticking his (metal) sword into the (electrified) water. He’s blown across the room and they carry him out on a stretcher, retreat to the garden, and watch the tower burn.

What worked and what didn’t
The scenario was successful in terms fun and it’s primary purpose -- to introduce some key “society” NPCs. I had expected the PC’s to make some enemies -- so there would be some antagonists. That didn’t happen (even the girls who didn’t get what they wanted were favorably impressed).

The Hoard of hard hitting but easily dispatched monsters was really kind of rules test of a sort-of mass battle. From a game system standpoint, it ran smoothly and convinced me that I could have other (and more challenging) mass-battles in the future.