When we last left our trio and their Xottle henchmen, they had just "secured" the services of Bruno, an independent ferryman. The group crossed the river, and dragging the raft behind them, headed further south down the broken Eye-45 road. Nightfall was a few hours away, and they still had no way of treating Sniffles' extremely serious wounds.
Random encounter time!
C) The Cryena Game
The farther the party ventured down Eye-45, the more congested the road became with debris (primarily rusted-out and stripped Ancient transports), and they wound through a veritable maze of junk. Upon breaking through to a clearing, they saw two canine creatures sitting calmly in the middle of the road ahead. The animals were bright blue, but Penny noticed they looked almost indigo-black through her IR goggles. The group slowed, and decided to walk in a wide berth around the two beasts.
And then they heard voices in their minds.
In cultured, sesquipedalian dialogue, the cryenas apologized for startling the PCs, and introduced themselves as the caretakers of the local environs. They complimented the group on their attire, and championed their courage for clearly venturing so far from the comforts of home. They then expressed condolences about how "their cyclopean reptilian colleague" was in such ill health, and offered up a helpful solution to the group's problems:
They would gladly strengthen the party's chances of furture survival by mercifully and painlessly putting Sniffles out of his misery...and they would be doing him a kindness, as even at his healthiest, they could smell that he suffered from debilitating health woes [both Poison Susceptibility [D] and Reduced Immune System [D]]. They promised to give Sniffles the most sombre of funerary rituals, and dispose of his body in its entirety. And to ameliorate any bad feelings or guilt, they even offered up a sack of functioning Ancient artifacts.
The PCs were decidely unenthusiastic about the proposal.
While further telepathic banter ensued, the Xottles readied their weapons and faded into the nearby wreckage, clearly preparing for things to take a turn for the worse.
Despite the cryenas maintaining their calm and reasonable demeanor, the party got increasingly angry...and Sniffles finally had enough, and launched a surprise attack: he let loose a blast of fire-breath, engulfing the canine duo in raging flames...
...and was dumbstruck as the inferno vanished into nothingness. (Through her goggles, though, Penny saw that the flames were seemingly "sucked" into the cryenas.)
Unphased, the cryenas continued talking like nothing had happened.
Angry, Sniffles threw his now-lit Firestarter Cube at them...and it, too, was extinguished the very second it landed.
The cryenas sighed, and thanked Sniffles for the wonderful snacks...and repeated that their hearts set on another meal. They realized, though, that negotiations had broken down, and no compromise was in sight.
It was at that point that the cryenas said that they'd let the group pass unharmed, and carry on their way. However, they added that they'd be keeping a close eye on the group, and following their exploits from a safe distance away...
...and then five more cryenas appeared at various points in the wreckage, each carrrying a mighty Xottle warrior in their jaws like a mother cat with a kitten. These newcomers dropped their captives, and the little amphibians scampered back to the group with nothing injured by their pride.
The cryenas wished the party well...and as they slinked into the shadows, said they looked forward to speaking again very, very soon.
Exhausted and dispirited, the PCs decided that shelter was the best option, and the group hunkered down in some ruins just a little farther to the south. Hobodeath volunteered to stand watch...
...but as soon as everyone was asleep, she sneaked out into the darkness, hoping to find medical supplies. She had previously spied some buildings a few miles back with a familiar red t-shaped logo (like at the Red Crossing), and planned to check them out. Before heading north again, though, she saw a building about a mile to the south that emitted a rhythmic glowing pulse. She ignored it.
Upon reaching her destination, she entered an expansive building with an open atrium. She crept into some corridors and random rooms, grabbing whatever loose items she could find in various drawers and cabinets. While doing so, she pushed open a swinging door...
...and almost knocked over a glass sculpture right on the other side. It was human-shaped, with arms outstretched. Oddly, parts of the statue had "accessories" etched into it (like rope and boots and a hat), while a plastic bandolier of daggers was hanging across its torso. Hobodeath took the daggers, and tried to study the statue further...
...but that was when she heard the birds.
Clucking and squawking sounds were echoing through the facility, and closing fast. She fled the building, and upon looking back, saw silhouettes like this at the entrance:
Hobodeath had no idea what they were, and didn't stick around to find out. She returned to her sleeping companions.
D) Bowling For Domars (or, The Terror Of The Tenpins)
No one ever noticed Hobodeath left during the night, and the group had a pleasant breakfast of dried frogs and fish. [Oddly, the Android never shared her items found at the hospital ruins with the group. No idea if she was hoarding them for real trouble, or forgot about them.] Bruno was getting surly again, though, so Penny re-zapped him, and he calmed right down.
Sniffles: "I'm still surprised you can do that. I never knew."
The group headed for the major ruins, but Hobodeath veered them towards the aforementioned glowing building. As they neared the structure, the only distinguishing features were some letters and a faded red triangle painted on a crumbling wall:
They saw a wide opening into the building, and a very, very faded glow shone from within. The party lined up side to side, and marched into the entrance. They spent only just a few seconds in the darkness, letting their eyes adjust...
...when a sudden blazing strobe seared into their retinas.
When his vision cleared moments later [he was the only 1 of 9 to make his Save Versus Stun!], Sniffles beheld a terrible sight: all his companions—Penny, Hobodeath, the Xottles, and even Bruno—were marching in zombified lock-step into the dark recesses of the building. He tried to stop them, but they didn't reply to his cries.
Lumbering forward, Sniffles grabbed Penny and Hobodeath, and but they wriggled out of his grasp. He tried to grab them again...
...but then was a terrible roar, and from the darkness came a lightning-flash of razored jaws and claws...
...and Bruno was no more, as his body erupted in a geyser of limbs and innards.
At that point, all hell broke loose as the building's resident over-sized anglion jumped into the party's midst, trying to devour everyone and everything.
And then a furious—albiet ridiculous—battle ensued. For at least 4 rounds, every single attack from every combatant missed [which the GM blamed on the buckled wooden floors being slick with gore], but then the anglion got in a few hits on both Penny and the beleaguered Sniffles [who was now down to about 5 Hit Points]. Fortune smiled, though, as the PCs hitting with a series deadly strikes [multiple Natural 20s], and the Xottles started rolling black orbs found nearby at the beast, tripping it. Penny even landed a lucky blow [another 20!] that severed the anglion's hypnotic lure. The beast went down, and it went down hard.
The group collapsed in exhaustion, and called it a day. They didn't even have the energy to check for loot!
Mutant Lord's Commentary
I've been behind the screen most of my gaming career, and 90% of the games I've run have involved comic book superheroics. And to paraphrase one of the best GM's I know on the genre, it's a purely reactive one; the villains drive the plot, and force the heroes into action. With Mutant Future, though, I'm striving for a pure sandbox campaign, as I want the characters to explore—and, more importantly, shape—the world as they see fit.
And this group is doing a bang-up job. They've set their own course for adventure, and I'm reacting to their plans and actions. I had no warning at all that they'd want to recruit the Xottle henchmen, or want to "adopt" and educate the tribe (despite them being, as Sniffles' player described, "...like slimy Smurfs, but even more gross.") with such gusto; I've had to handle all that on the fly. The PCs actually feel responsible for the little guys, and they've embraced them as part of the team. (After the big brawl with the anglion, Penny said, in ever-so-serious tones, "If that monster had killed any of my Xottles, I'd have been pissed.")
Another thing that's been fascinating to watch has been Penny's development as a character. If you recall her bio, the only thing noteworthy about her is that she really, really likes wigs. But over the course of play, more facets have appeared, like that she's the youngest daughter of a very prominent family in Gone-Woe, and that she's vain and bossy.
But in Session #2, her realization that she has the Empathy mutation put an entirely different spin on things. Maybe Penny isn't just the spoiled baby of an over-protective family...instead, she may be a cold, calculating brat who's used her mental powers to manipulate people her entire life. Penny's player's complete forgetfulness of what's on the character sheet inadvertantly opened up more roleplaying opportunities.
Oh, yeah—that bit with the cryenas? That was 100% pure random encounter goodness. I couldn't have been luckier on the dice, as those specific creatures were the perfect threats to appear when the party was seriously vulnerable. The group was off-balance the entire encounter, as they weren't used to such calm, rational, and loquacious monsters. And now the PC's are scared, as they know the cryenas are lurking on the fringes, and who knows when they'll pop up again...?
On top of all the above, the inter-party banter has been great. The Android has talked smack to her organic companions, and they've lobbed insults right back. They really have the "real people" rhythms down.
Here's two of my favorite quotes, utterly free of any context whatsoever:
Penny: "I snacked on some carrion along the way."
Hobodeath: *dismissive snort* "You wouldn't last one day in Gunspoint."
I am simply ecstatic about how the game is going.
PS: I forgot to mention that during the cryena encounter, Penny's player started talking to her compatriots at the table through clenched teeth and semi-moving lips. Her words came out muffled and completely unintelligible ("Mrrmph-murrrph-brmm-krllll-mmmmrmmm!!!"), and the overall effect was like a lousy ventriloquist's routine. No amount of asking her to repeat herself cleared it up.
Finally, exasperated, she sighed and said, "I'm trying to tell y'all things without saying or thinking them...BECAUSE THEY CAN READ OUR MINDS!!!"