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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crabs, Snakes and Dangerous Beauty

As was promised in my previous post, this Tuesday's game went better. Much better. I had three players who braved Colorado's “springtime charm” (Snow and wind at about 17 degrees F. It's okay, it'll be 60 tomorrow. See how charming that is?) to sit at my table. Some GMs may see that as a table half full, but I don't. I'll run for just one player if that's how it plays out, because I came to run a game, and that's how I roll.

In fact, the number of players only tells me how to run the game. The game experience will be different, but it will certainly not be lessened according to the number of players. Sometimes, it is quite the opposite, and that is what happened on Tuesday.

The three players had attended the previous session. I gave them their characters. In a move perhaps unexpected by the players, I then took the characters of the players who attended last week's game but who were not present for this game and I put them away, instead adding them to the NPC roster as Extras. I could sense a subtle, unspoken horror pass along the table.

For non-Savages, I will explain.

In Savage Worlds, the game system I use for The Edge, player characters are Wild Cards. They are special snowflakes with in game currency (Bennies) and Wild Dice to help them survive and run around doing heroic things like shooting two guns at once while swinging from a chandelier over a flaming chasm and so forth. With Bennies, they can even cheat death by soaking and often entirely ignoring damage, allowing them to heroically survive exploding cars and falling buildings. Even if they don't soak it all, a Wild Card can take four Wounds before being Incapacitated (not quite dead yet).

Extras are emphatically not Wild Cards. They have no Wild Dice or Bennies to save them from poor dice rolls. Equally important, they have no Wounds. If an Extra takes one Wound, they are out of the fight, most likely dead. And with no Bennies, they cannot soak that damage.

The horror (real or imagined) came from a realization that if you (the player) don't show up, there is a very real possibility that you won't have a character when you come back. On top of that, the players that did attend are responsible for keeping those characters alive.

With the characters of absent players included, our three players were responsible for the survival of nine NPC Extras. They each took three NPC cards and we started playing.

When we left the last session, the characters had befriended a band of Irkallans and had agreed to accompany them to their base, a place called Irkalla. There was some disagreement, as some of the NPCs were ambivalent or even opposed to leaving the safety of the building to travel into the city with a group of strangers.

The characters convinced them to go, and so a gaggle of 19 people set out onto the streets of The Edge, trusting these Irkallans to lead them to safety.

It was noted that not all of these Irkallans were human. Three of them were “bugs”. One was a grasshopper-fellow, one was rather beetle-ish and the third was openly mothly. None of them spoke English of course, and the characters were fascinated by them, while the NPCs were scared to death of them.

The group traveled along the trash strewn streets and blood stained sidewalks, going around collapsed buildings and across vacant lots. They were not alone. All around them were the sounds of footsteps, cries and shouts and occasional growls or snarls. Nevertheless, they didn't encounter anything until they came across a big batch of seafood walking toward them.

Five man-sized shrimp-people were accompanied by two massive crab-people with enormous claws. They were foraging the parked cars as they moved up the street toward the party.

The party nearly panicked and hid in the nearest building. It turns out that it is nearly impossible to hide nineteen people, especially when most of them are untrained civilian Noobs whose only idea of stealth is grade school hide and seek.

The crab-guys found them and there was a tense moment when the party thought they might be in serious trouble. One character's quick thinking saved the group, though. An offer of an energy drink softened the situation and the party engaged in awkward trade with the shrimp-people, who were in search of food (and weren't terribly picky about its source or freshness). Month-old cheeseburgers and melted candy bars changed hands.

The encounter was tense and awkward, but no one was harmed and the group proceeded. The Irkallans were amazed, saying that they had heard of the Crab-men but had never seen one. The rumor was that they were monsters who eat people, and that they themselves were supposedly delicious.

There was a brief interlude where the Irkallans shared with the Noobs the basics of their culture. They are led by a woman with “powers” called The Mother, and they live in a safe area with a hundred or so people. They explained their faith, including the belief that the city is a Great Test in which all people must endure and suffer the dangers of The Edge to prove themselves worthy of the comforts and priveleges they took for granted in their previous lives. When they pass this test, they may proceed to Paradise.

This received mixed reactions by the players, but the Irkallans didn't seem perturbed at the players' skepticism. Then the group almost died.

The veiled guardian of the Irkallans, a woman named Sanjika, halted the group and signalled for them to hide or run like their lives depended on it. People crawled under cars or behind walls and watched for this new threat.

A half dozen filthy, disorganized people came into view a block away. They were crossing the street, and didn't see the group. They were driven from behind by a huge snake monster with a brightly glowing red gemstone on its head. This thing was as tall as a truck, and a snake body as big around as a car's wheel trailed behind it sixty feet or so.

The group hid like their lives depended on it.

It worked, but another group up ahead was not so lucky. From the next block up, as the filthy people and the snake monster approached, a dozen or so survivors, like our group, burst from hiding and scattered, sprinting for their lives like rabbits driven into the open by hunters.

The scene was horrifying and disgusting, and the group was glad they weren't found out as the filthy people captured some people while the snake monster constricted others until they literally burst or shot red lightning from its gem, splitting victims in two.

The group hid until the sounds of the massacre could no longer be heard. Sanjika checked around the corner to confirm that they had gone, and led the group in the opposite direction. The Irkallans called the snake monster a Serpentine, and they would only say that they were horrible monsters, incapable of communication or mercy and that they killed or captured all they came across.

After that, the group came across a patch of Mint Spores, and gathered as much as they could once the Irkallans explained that the spores were a powerful antitoxin.

Then the group arrived at Irkalla, which was a square block or two, walled all the way around and occupied by a hundred or so people, including armed guards and others like Sanjika, who carried automatic weapons.

Inside, the group was allowed to shower and were given a place to rest until they were summoned to meet The Mother.

The Mother was a middle aged woman with graying black hair and powerful beauty. The characters were unsettled, but mostly held their bearing. The Mother interviewed them, but she seemed to focus on the characters' latent power, and made an offer to teach them to harness it and use it responsibly if they joined her community. She somehow knew about their special snowflakeness just by looking at them with her piercing eyes. She said she knew because she too had these powers. She explained that she had received a vision of the Lady Lapis, who showed her the way. She is still in communion with the Lady, and she uses what she learns from her to guide the people of Irkalla as they struggle in The Great Test. She said that Sanjika, and other members of her Cadre also possess the gift of power. They lead a disciplined life and take vows of silence in order to maintain control over their powers.

The characters then left the presence of The Mother and wandered around the camp, meeting people until they laid down to rest.

In their sleep, they each had a vision. There was no Lady Lapis or burning bush. There was an ocean full of godlike beings warring against each other, and a hall with giant doors. They were tested by a group of elder beings, and when they woke up, they each had in their hand an apple. The elders had told them that to set out on the path to their destiny, they had to eat the apple.

They each ate their apple and immediately, their power was awakened within them.

What those powers are, and how their possession will change things remains to be seen, as the session ended here.

So, there wasn't any combat at all for the entire session, but it was nonetheless exciting and full of danger and discovery.

A larger group would have made it more difficult to role play the encounters in this session. On the other hand, if there had been combat, whether with the Crab-men, the Serpentine or the Irkallans, it would have been catastrophic, with only three Wild Cards who are themselves only barely effective in a fight. NPCs would've died, and badly; by giant crab claws and red snake lightning.

But they didn't, because the players used their brains instead of their trigger fingers and on at least one occasion, by pure luck.

I am excited to see how the adventure continues next session!