Monday, May 9, 2011

"ALL HAIL THE SHELLED GOD!!!" (or, "Insert Gamera Joke Here")

Yesterday was the inaugural session of my Don't Mess With Wrexus campaign.  It was a doozy.

Due to illness, my player pool went from 6 to 3 at the last minute, so I scrapped my ruin-crawl adventure and went with the tried-and-true "rescue the kidnappee" plot.

Our cast:

Penny The Craw:  Not only is she obsessed with fashion and finding Ancient toys for her allicat, Baxter, she's also the precocious teenage daughter of Carl Clawson, one of Gone-Woe's key leaders on The Council Of Seven.  Her big brothers Dave and Steve are elite scavengers in the Forager's Guild.  Penny is convinced that her parents don't love her, because she never gets to go on adventures.

Grabthar:  Grabthar is a 16'-tall humanoid turtle with a razored beak, GigantismEnergy Ray (heat-breath), Neural Telekinesis, Poison Susceptibility [D], Reduced Immune System [D], and below average Hit Points for his Constituion.  [When rolling him up, he rolled Gigantism twice, and ended up being 44' tall.  That was a game-breaker, so I had him re-roll the extra, and he got another Drawback instead.  Seemed fair to me.]  Because of enormous size and health woes, Grabthar was abandoned by his people (the Galapagon tribe, who are now long gone in the wilderness) as a tike, and was found by the Clawsons.  So...Grabthar is Penny's adopted kid brother.  And everyone calls him Sniffles.

Hobodeath:  In Real Life, Hobodeath's player is a tough-as-nails-but-lady-through-and-through army sarge, so it seemed a natural fit that she wanted to play a combat-centric Basic Android bounty hunter with Energy Ray (Cold)Killing Sphere, and Natural Armor.  Gleeful visions of gun-toting robo-babes from Heavy Metal and 2000 AD came to mind...but here's how she succinctly described her character:  "Like 'It's Pat' from 'Saturday Night Live'."  So, she's an androgynous, lumpy murder-bot...who wears a tattered black Ancient concert shirt that reads "Hobodeath".  Oh, yeah—she's traveling the Mutant Future in search of a mate(?!), thus bringing her to Gone-Woe.

The Adventure:  After setting the stage about Gone-Woe, Wrexus, with a little presentation about the game world, the economy (it's based a conglomeration of scavenged compact discs, credit cards, aluminum cans, and barter), and name-dropping some key NPC residents, the adventure began with an alarm at the main gate.  A lone member of the Forager's Guild was there, battered and bloody.  Turns out his team was ambushed by raiders to the south, and had their loot stolen...but they all escaped despite their injures.  However, just 5 miles from the safety of town, they were ambushed again and, weak and vulnerable, they were dragged off into the forbidden woods surrounding Camp Strike (an old recreational area of The Ancients now overgrown and overrun with critters).  Only he escaped, and his final words before passing out were: "Swamp gobblers."

The fact that the carnivorous xottle people had kidnapped them was bad enough, but things took a personal turn because Dave and Steve were amongst those take!  Oh, the horrible fate that awaited them!

While The Elders and Security Guild squabbled about how best to proceed, Penny and Sniffles recruited Hobodeath with the promise of a pet crawdog (for use as a hunting animal) to lead them into the ruins of Camp Strike.  They crept from the village (as only a 16'-tall tortoise-teen, a crawdad-gal, and andryno-borg can) and into the wilds.

Random encounter time!  The group ran into 3 radpoles drinking from a pond, and while Penny really wanted to talk to them "because they might have valuable information," the others talked her out of it.  [I would've LOVED to see how that played out.]  The group crept past, leaving the glowing amphibians alone.

The group pressed deeper, and discovered some cement slabs on the ground, and then some rotting shacks.  One had a faded sign hanging by rusted chains, and on the sign was a strange logo and the letters DSA (or maybe was too faded to make out) that looked like this:

They decided to rummage through the buildings [which involved Sniffles just lifting the roofs off one by one and peeking inside like they were cookie jars]...and that's when they disturbed a nest of 8 leapteeth!

Combat ensued, with Hobodeath and Sniffles slaughtering beasties left and right, and Penny missing every attack and getting repeatedly chomped about the face and neck.  She was demoralized by her lack of combat prowess ("Maybe dad is right...I'm just a dumb girl who can't do anything!"), but her teammates did their best to cheer her.

After killing the beasties, the PCs uncovered two 3'-tall, non-human skeletons with enlarged, toothy skulls that had all been picked clean and gnawed.  Swamp gobbler remains?!  One had a small sack tied to its waist, and it contained some ambiguous dried-out meat, a few scratched up silver discs with holes in the center (one reading "Billy Joel's Greatest Hits"), and a small black metal box with colored bulbs on its front, a suction cup on its top, and wires coming out of the back.

Exploring the cabin, they also found a rusted file cabinet, and inside were some soggy, tattered, 1-inch cloth discs:

With the sun going down and many dead leapteeth to snack on, the group made camp in the shacks.  Penny and Sniffles fell asleep, and the all-business Hobodeath ventured out to explore the woods further.

The robot was soon drawn to the rhythmic sounds of drums and the flickering glow of a raging fire, and she crept to a clearing where she spotted a horrifying sight:  over 25 diminutive swamp gobblers (including li'l foot-tall xottlings) chanting and dancing around a giant boiling pot, while others assembled an over-sized roasting spit.  Overseeing this spectacle was an atypically spiny, spiky xottle with a feathered headdress, and a 4' tall xottle with a crown sitting in a throne made of bones and rubble.  And just beyond the firelight was a cage with the captives!  Oh, the horrors!

Hobodeath rushed back and awoke her companions, and the group sped back for a rescue with this plan in mind:  the robot would create a diversion at the sound end of the clearing, and while she was dealing with the gobblers, Sniffles and Penny could free the hostages at the north end.  The dialogue ended like this:

Penny:  "But how will we know when you give the signal?"
Hobodeath:  "Oh, you'll'll know."
Penny:  "But how are you going to handle them?"
Hobodeath:  "Oh, you'll'll see."

So the group split and took their positions...and just in time, too, for as they settled in, a bubbling, wheezing voice echoed through the clearing:

"...and it issss with great pleasure that I, the humble Sssshaman Goiglug, blessss thissss great feasssst to honor our mighty Chief Kagluushk and commemorate the glorioussss day of his sssspawning!  Let ussss feed!"

At that, the guards unlocked the cages so as to drag their captives to the pot and spit...

...when out of the southern darkness zipped a crossbow bolt that hit the chief square in the shoulder, and pinned him to his throne [Hobodeath rolled a 17, and max 8 damage].  The chief wailed in agony, the xottles froze in surprise...

...and then Hobodeath strode into the clearing, and in the most pitch-perfect, Schwarzenegger-ean deadpan this GM has ever heard, said:

"Happy birthday." 

And then she shot the chief again, pinning his other shoulder to the throne...and his wailing went up enough octaves to shatter glass.  [She rolled a 19, and 7 damage!]

At this point the 20+ xottles went berzerk, and surged across the clearing to get at the robot.  She lowered her crossbow, and stood there confidently with nothing but a smirk on her face.

Penny and Sniffles decided that had to be the signal in question, so they attacked the two cage guards from behind. With the snicker-snack of claws and chomp of jaws, there were now two headless xottle bodies that fell limply to the ground.

Chaos reigned.  A fanged pink tidal wave of fury surged at the robot, Goiglug struggled to free the mortally wounded [he had 2 HP left] Chief Kagluushk, and Penny and Sniffles freed the captives.

On her turn, Hobodeath still stood rigid and smiling, because her REAL PLAN was about to unfold—she intended to lure all the xottles to her end of the clearing, and then activate her Killing Sphere.  (Her allies didn't know she had it, you see.)  Sniffles and Penny watched as the robot's eyes began to glow a bright, phosphorescent silver-white, and the glow radiated across the forest...

...and then there was a sudden pop, then some sparks, and then steam poured from Hobodeath's eyes.  The android went dormant, and was instantly buried beneath a horde of furious, gnashing amphibians.  Polymerized flesh, lubricants, and Hit Points geysered into the air.  [I had Hobodeath roll a Mental Attack against the collective mass, and she only needed a 6...but she rolled a 4.  Even worse, she rolled an 11 to determine how many combat rounds she'd be helpless.]

Holy crap.

Sniffles and Penny stood paralyzed as chunks of Android went flying.  But movement caught Sniffles' eyes, and he saw the shaman still struggling to free the mortally wounded chief...and a proverbial lightbulb went off over his head.  From the darkness, Sniffles stood, opened his mouth... 

...and with a flash of red, a shrieking, squirming, fiery amphibi-man soared across the clearing and out into the swamp like a burning comet.  [He rolled a natural 20!]

The xottles froze, and stopped their mangling of the robot just as the giant turtle boy lumbered into the clearing right in front of the throne.  Sniffled bellowed, pounded his chest, looked down at the equally helpless and horrified xottle king...

...and leaned in and bit off his head, Jurassic Park-style.  Sniffles then spit it, crown and all, into the boiling pot.

A hushed silence fell across the clearing, and Sniffles, Penny, and the captives prepared for battle...

...but then 25+ xottles collectively fell to their knees, and with arms stretched high, started basking and bowing in reverence, and croaked in exhaltation as one:  "ALL HAIL THE SHELLED GOD!!!  ALL HAIL THE SHELLED GOD!!!"

Sniffles was struck absolutely, positively dumb.

The seconds ticked by, and the xottles maintained their worship.  Trying to get a handle on things, Sniffles sat down on on the throne to get his bearings...and utterly smashed it beneath his girth.  The xottles rushed before him in supplication, still singing his praises.  Females began to fawn at him and dance seductively around his shins.  One infant shimmied up his shell, and latched onto his head with little suckered fingers and tentatively gurgled, "DADDY?!"

Some others dragged out a chest, which contained a sealed spindle of those silvery discs, a pile of colored plastic cards marked "Master" and "Discover", a blue plastic cube [a Firestarter Cube], and some red-tinted lenses on a strap [Infra-Red Goggles].

No one heard Dave and Steve utter, in unision, "...the hell?!"

Post-combat interaction ensued.  Hobodeath clinically (and quite robotically) wanted to eradicate the xottles ("Don't these things infest your town's lakes every spring and eat up all your fish?" ), but Sniffles explained that he knew the pain of being unwanted and alone, and there was no way he could kill the parents of the helpless little xottlings and leave them orphaned, much less outright kill the babies.  Penny decided that an alliance was in order, and did her best to explain to Grickle, the now-senior xottle, that a peace treaty was in order.  If the tribe would act as scouts and front-line guards for Gone-Woe, then the two settlements could could establish a joint trading alliance for fish, supplies, and medical aid.  The xottles enthusiastically agreed ( "Love fissssh!  LOVE FISSSSH!!!" ), and Sniffles gave Grickle one of his badges as a token of faith to seal the deal.  Penny fished the chief's crown from the pot ("It'll look great with my wigs!"), and the party and hostages returned to Gone-Woe just as dawn broke.

Upon their arrival, there was much celebration, as a search party was just about to head out to find the wayward teens.  And the Foragers were safe!  However, lecturing and haranguing by The Elders set in, but before things could get too heated, the alarm bells started ringing again...

...and all returned to the gates to see a swarm of xottles sitting outside, proudly displaying a 4' tall turtle effigy made of mud, reeds, and saliva.  They were chanting Sniffles name, and wanting their fish.

His new family had followed him home.

Epilogue #1:  Sniffles went out to the xottles, and got frustrated as he realized they really didn't seem to understand the concepts of "trade" and "alliance" and "treaty".  He tried to explain that he didn't want to be their ruler, and incinerated the sculpture in an attempt to show them they didn't need gods.  That backfired, though, and the creatures fled screaming back into the wilds.  Vexed, he sat down at the city wall, started smoking a cigar he kept hidden in his shell, and exhaustedly sighed...just as a lone female xottle cozied up to his ankle and sighed, too, while fluttering her gill-fronds ever so suggestively.

Epilogue #2:  That night, at the site of now-abandoned xottle feast, a broken, blackened figure dragged itself by one arm into the clearing.  It inched across the ground to the ruined throne, pried a leather bag from the wreckage, and pulled a plastic cylinder from within.  A switch was flipped, and from the tip of the cylinder came a narrow beam of yellowish light...which the figure held up and beneath its chin.

From between gritted fangs and cracked, blistered lips came a gurgling hiss equal parts agony and rage:  "Goiglug will have vengeance.  Oh, yessssss...GOIGLUG WILL HAVE HISSSS REVENGE!!!"

Mutant Lord's Commentary:  I have to confess that I was totally nervous about the game, as not only did I have to cobble together a scenario (and a cliched Very, Very Cliched First Adventure, at that) on the fly, but I don't think I've GM'd something that didn't involve superheroes in well over a decade.  My concerns were unfounded, as the game was an absolute scream from start to finish.

The group consisted of one experienced LARPer (Sniffles), and two newbies who only have 3 RPG sessions under their belts.  The gonzo post-apocalypse was new to all of them, but everyone seemed to have a blast as they recognized familiar modern-day environs and items (and they are anxious to figure out what the black box is).  And unbeknownst to me, Sniffles' player was/is an Eagle Scout, and actually spent summers at the very real Camp Strike Strake.

As for the climactic showdown?  It was AWESOME.  Thanks to their rather sweet (and totally random) mutations, Chief Kagluushk and Shaman Goiglug were supposed to be combat machines...but they never got a chance to actually do anything.  The party had an amazing plan, and Hobodeath's unexpected bungle—she just needed a 6!—only heightened the drama.  And no one—NO ONE—anticipated that Sniffles would end up as King Of The Swamp Gobblers (who came across in play like Spielberg's gremlins). And Goiglug getting blasted into the off-camera ether with just one lone Hit Point?  That, friends, is just pure gaming gold.  (Oh, yeah...during Goiglug's little vow, I actually held up a flashlight to my face; I had it with me for something else that didn't transpire, but it sure came in handy.)

Speaking of random—everyone seems to be enjoying how everything is ol' school haphazard.  The PCs rolled their stats randomly, I'm randomly building the monsters and corresponding treasures, and it's all working out quite peachily.

And a confession?  It wasn't until about 10pm after the game was over that I re-read the Killing Sphere description, and realized I may have made an error.  While the Mental Attack rules [on p. 47 of the Mutant Future Core Rules] state that psionic combat requires a mental test roll between the antagonists, the actual mutation description says that the Field seemingly goes off without any complications.  Everything worked out thanks solely to the players' creativity, but I would've felt terrible if my mistake had doomed them all.  (And I can't make up my mind if I want Killing Sphere to actually require a roll or not; I'm leaning towards not.)

But when all was said and done, mutants were vanquished, Ancient artifacts were plundered, and Gamera cracks flew fast and furious.  All the players said they can't wait for the next session, and I'm right there with them.  This is gonna be a hoot AND a holler!