Sunday, 21 November 2021

Braindead at the Shopping Mall, a Reboot the Future Play Report

I was very excited to get on to a game of Reboot the Future at GrogMeat2021.  

Memories of trying to get Glastonbury tickets had come back to me as I childishly sit there hitting F5 in the hope of getting the prized #1 backer of this game, when the Kickstarter went live (still 10 days to back it, as of 21/Nov/2021). 

So Reboot the Future is Newt Newport's attempt to make the Cyberpunk game of his dreams.  He's pushed the usual near-future setting further into the space age by setting it in the year 2223.  He's also using Paul Mitchener's Liminal system, which is simple and accessible, yet has some very clever rulings to give it meaningful depth both in a rules sense and to support roleplaying.

Technically this game was run using a table, some dice, print outs and (unverified) humans!

Many thanks to the other players PookieAndrew and Rob (aka JellyRovers on discord), Newt was our avuncular referee. 

...Here Be Spoilers...

Mourn the Fall of the Mall

The year is 2223 and the drone swoops down over the remnants of New Oldham, a partially terraformed desert planet in the Proxima Centauri system, nearly four light-years from Earth-Prime.  As the drone tracks through the air, it shows a myriad of information points on its display, it then scans over the Shopping centre, the data drops off, black space in the grid appears, no datasphere coverage.  Odd.

The drone banks and a yellow triangle alert flashes, it sees a hoverbike speeding along the torn-up expressway, jumping over holes and then banking and turning down a slip road.  The drone follows as the bike heads down towards a dry river bed, besides which a dilapidated old Steel Mill sits.  The bike and rider disappear into the darkness.  The drone hovers outside, waiting.

Braindead at the Shopping Mall


Pitbull, jumps from his bike as it slows and bumps against the end wall, of what passes for the garage of the Stainless Steel ProvidersLadykiller, GreaseMonkey and StreetRonin are lounging in a makeshift "war" room.  Ladykiller is plugged in and oblivious to anyone else, the occasional, strangled giggle is heard.  GreaseMonkey is toying with a large ball of electronics; wires, tubes, and metallic chunks.  The device judders and sparks fly out from it, at which point GreaseMonkey, looks over to StreetRonin for affirmation of her progress.  StreetRonin is picking her nails with a long thin vibroblade, steam hisses and she looks down at the makeshift work, the nails/meat-tallic claws, glint in the pale, yellow light of the LEDs.  She smiles coldly at GreaseMonkey, clacking her claws together, GreaseMonkey shifts uneasily, focusing on his work.

The Old Steel Mill


Pitbull walks to the fridge for a beer, passing over the footage from his scouting of the mall, they all connect in to assess.  It's been 30 minutes since they received a new job offer, a Find and RetrieveHead to the old shopping centre, the Palace of Dreams, find a bike in the local car dealership, a Rider 2000 HoverBike.  This had come from Imperial Sterling Inc, the corp responsible for this messed up world, for the deaths of many they'd known and loved.  All of the group had deep connections with this corp.  It wasn't ideal, but life in New Oldham, was often about difficult choices, often about just surviing.

Rider 2000 HoverBike


LadyKiller looked up, "I'll spell it out, for those more meat than mind.  Seems there was a previous investigation into the mall, DataSphere coverage is minimal, looks like all senors are down.  There is some kind of Monument in the centre, dust storms followed the previous explorers, like it was sentient, they went missing, something is not ... cool... about this job."

The others look at each other, StreetRonin proposes to throw up some drones in the sky and Pitbull would suggests circling the mall, the others would then monitor all these feeds.  Then they turned to one of the three "interns", Ted, or was it Fred, could even be Ned.  

StreetRonin, beckons the Intern over, a clawed finger on their chest, "Name?"   
"I'm Ted miss.", whispered the white-faced urchin.  
SreetRonin looked him up and down and grinned, "Today, you have won the shittery.  Let's go."  
"S-sss-ss sorry, Miss.  Shittery?", stuttered Ted
"The. Shit. Lottery.  We require cannon fodder.  Don't dawdle.", with this StreetRonin, slahses her fingers across the metal plates of his barely adequate armour, sparks fly and deep scratches are left behind.  Ted stumbles after her.

Ted (or Ned, maybe Fred)


A little while later and the group are all watching footage of the drones as it circles the shopping centre, a black van is parked at the entrance and a figure is standing beside it, talking into something.

Their comms crackles and an unfamiliar voice announces with authority, "Evening all, this is Inspector Samuel.  I know you are listening.  I used to be the bobby on this beat.  Now let's say we all talk about what's going on and how we can learn something to our mutual benefit."

"Don't trust him, that van, I did a trace, it's owned by Imperial Stering Inc.", mutters LadyKiller.  StreetRonin's voice comes in over the comms, "We are sending someone to negotiate, if he dies horribly, in a hail of bullets, you'll upset us."  

StreetRonin's bike skids to a halt at the top of the expressway, she turns to Ted.  "Get down there and see what he wants, we'll be listening."

Ted jumps off and begins jogging down the abandoned street to the shopping centre entrance and the strange black vehicle.  He slows, there is no one around, he tries to peer into the van, but the windows are blacked out.  Suddenly, a voice whispers in his ear, "You're fucking knicked me old beauty!"  Ted jumps back and reaches for his cosh.  "Whooah!  Easy there, just my little joke, old habits die hard."

Ted is beside the man his back against the van.  The man has a gas mask covering his face and is dressed in survival gear and wears a large hooded cloak, his hands are up in the air in mock surrender, he cackles uncontrollably at Ted.  Ted squeakily shouts, "Turn to channel 23!!"

Inspector Samuel


On their hidden frequency Samuel's gives the group the low down, he was here to investigate missing cyber-enhanced individuals, his partner Eddie Lyons had been on the case and has gone missing.  The black bus he was in is able to operate in the dust zone, it would clear a path through the storms, he calls it, the "Magic Bus". If they help him, he'll lend them the bus, he knows they need to get into the Shopping Centre, so "squid pro go", take the bus, get the Rider 2000 and find out what happened to Eddie.

As they listen and question the man, LadyKiller has hacked into more information from the datasphere points on the outskirts of this area and on Samuel.  She confirms he is legit, also it seems he was somewhat romantically involved with Eddie.  Something odd though, a van like the one Samuel's has, was owned by Imperial Sterling Inc to collect corpses - is this a double-cross?

The Magic Bus not the Moria Sex Bus

With greed written large in their eyes, it doesn't take long for the Stainless Steel Providers to throw caution to the wind and rendezvous with the van.  Samuels explains the workings of the van, and they see already, there is a circle of dust that is cleared around the van.  They pile their bikes into the back and then Pitbull takes the wheel.  The barriers are down on the shopping centre entrance, but he puts the pedal to the floor and takes off up the bank, landing with a jolt and spinning around, but mainly, now inside the centre.  The rest of the crew pick themselves up and start to survey the scene.

GreaseMonkey consults his gizmo, it jumps in the palm of his hand and lets out a series of electronic squonks.  GreaseMonkey, pats it and then declares, "Over there.  Towards the tower.  Power signals, everything else is dead."  Meanwhile, GreaseMonkey has a series of wires plugged into part of the Vans interior, he's trying to identify and replicate the dust clearing properties of the van - this could be worth millions.

The van makes its way through the deserted roads and down towards the tower, which is surrounded by a series of five bunkers or mausoleums and a church off to one side.

The Monument


Coming to a halt at the tower, GreaseMonkey gets out and inspects a small plaque at the base of the tower.  He unscrews it and starts examining the insides, there is a circuit board, this seems to control the signals that are emanating from the tower, he fiddles around with it and gets an unpleasant blast of magnetic waves, he staggers back to the van.

The others are investigating the five mausoleums, they seem empty, there are places for bodies, but the bodies are missing.  On the final mausoleum, they find some steps descending into the dark.

GreaseMonkey stumbles across to join them, hair frazzled and smoking above his mask.  The others point to his hair, trying to make themselves heard, but he shrugs.  StreetRonin stretches out a hand, stopping Ted, "You stay in the Bus, we may need to leave in a hurry."  Then, the remaining four step down out of the dust and into the beginnings of a metal staircase, that stretches down past the limits of their lights.

StreetRonin goes first and after a long but uninterrupted descent, they are on the floor of a bright and clean looking service tunnel.  They hear quiet noises up ahead, there are a series of slack-jawed, pale-eyed creatures, they seem to be performing menial cleaning and repair jobs.  Straws are drawn and PitBull has the short one, he edges up the corridor towards a group of these creatures.

CleenzNet New Oldham franchise

There is no struggle as Pitbull puts one of the cleaners into a headlock and drags them back to the waiting group.  The other group of creatures seem to ignore this attack and carry on about their business.  They investigative their captive, the skin is cold, pale and puffy, almost greenish and there seems to be an eye missing, a possible cyber implant removed?

The group continue down the corridor, the other creatures go about their business and it is not long before they are faced with a large steel blast door.  LadyKiller announces that the datasphere is back on, it seems GreaseMonkey's tinkerings have done some good.  LadyKiller hacks into the CCTVs beyond the door.  They see some heavily-armed security guards, just on the other side of the door, a lab and a series of holding cells.  One of the cells contains Eddie and also notorious criminal and terrorist, Norman the Nazi.

Norman the Nazi


LadyKiller triggers the door mechanism and it begins to lift, StreetRonin slides underneath the door and with a thrust of her katana, and a crunch and squelch, one of the guards screams and drops to the floor.  The second guard aims their rife at StreetRonin and then falls backwards as a round from Pitbull's cyber-enhanced assault rifle hits him between the eyes.

The group proceed into the area,  They see, lit up like a Christmas tree, the Rover 2000, up some stairs that lead to a podium outside the Car dealership.  Pitbull races up and begins tinkering with the bike.  The rest of the group split, LadyKiller goes into the lab and starts downloading information from whatever hardware she can access.  The remainder of the group goes into the holding cells, freeing Eddie.  She is bruised, battered and semiconscious but will live.  LadyKiller joins them, just in time to see Norman, screaming abuse at the group, threatening and cajoling them to let him out.  LadyKiller grins and jumps into cyberspace, tearing up Norman's virtual defences like confetti and replacing his Avatar of a bulldog with an eye patch, with a rather fetching rendition of Carmen Miranda in a pink tutu... Norman roars his displeasure as they turn to leave.

Norman gets a new Avatar


LadyKiller sprints back into the lab, the download is done, they disconnect.  Then, they pause a signal on the screen in front, a signal from off-world has been received.  Alarms start going off, a computerised voice intones, "Self-Destruct sequence begun, three minutes to achieve safe distance... 2:59... 2:58...

Pitbull's Rover 2000 bursts into life and he roars off through the empty shopping mall, "See ya at the mill!"  the others are already sprinting down the corridor and then up the staircase, they run out of the mausoleum towards the Magic Bus.  StreetRonin is screaming on the comms to Ted, "Get it started and get us out of here and you may just earn your stripes!"

Ted powers the Magic Bus through the car park and on towards the exit, rubble, boxes and debris goes flying as it accelerates, flames are sprouting up from the road behind him.  The ground starts to rumble and as the van smashes through the security gates, a horn is heard to the side as the Rover 2000 appears in Ted's side mirror, Pitbull gives them a fist salute as he overtakes.  

The dark, dusty sky lights up as the shopping centre explodes in a ball of flame, the bus is hit by shock waves as Ted fights to keep it on the road, and then they are free and gliding up the expressway, back to the old steel mill.  

Ted grins from ear to ear and StreetRonin rests a friendly clawed hand on his shoulder.

Goodbye Palace of Dreams



Wednesday, 17 November 2021

The Dragon's Dress Ball, a Dee Sanction Play Report

This was a game I'd chosen to run at GrogMeat2021, a Dee Sanction game, it was my second TTRPG face-to-face since about 1992, my first homebrew and my first time running something face-to-face.

 😬 

The Dee Sanction is a tabletop role-playing game about serving Queen and country in the late Tudor period. While kingdoms vie for power and the Church splinters under the pressure of reform, folklorish creatures emerge from enforced hiding seeking revenge against those who imprisoned them.  The Dee Sanction is from the brain of Mr Paul Baldowski and has incredible art by Evlyn Moreau and Astaneal

Technically this game was run using a laminator!

Many thanks to Arjen, Debbie, Martin and Chris for bringing the whole adventure to life! 

...Here Be Spoilers...

Sic Parvis Magna ~ thus great things from small things come

The year is 1581 and Sir Francis Drake has returned to England, a hero, from his circumnavigation of the globe.  There is a great celebration across the land, none more so than in Devon and at Buckland Abbey, where another dress ball has been arranged to celebrate this magnificent explorer.

El Draque


But not everyone is so enamoured with El Draque (The Dragon), as he is coined in Spain, usually followed by a gobbet of phlegm passing the lips. 

Closer to home four dishevelled, wet and green-faced looking folk huddle in a fishing boat, the name on the prow, Ye Olde Bastard Beth.  Rain lashes down on the occupants, they are Reynold Fitzwilliam, an official of the watch, Sandra Knoylles and Edmund Greywell, scavengers by trade and finally Semer Gomersall, a waterman, currently the only one in action, as he tries to trim the sails and navigate up the River Tay towards Buckland Abbey. 

The boat's occupants all share a common fate, rescued from the gallows, they are indebted to John Dee, advisor to the queen and the creator of The Dee Sanction.  The Dee Sanction exists so the four travellers may live, as long as they use their limited magical powers and eldritch knowledge to protect the Queen and England.  Who knows, one day, they may even do such deeds so as to be granted a pardon from Elizabeth the I herself.

John Dee

Sandra ponders her fate and the words of Dee, as he made clear his orders in a waspish voice, they all marvelled at the device he used to perform this, given he was many hundreds of miles away in Europe.  The Black Seal, a two-way magical communication device, only to be used in the direst of needs, each Agent of Dee had one.  Dee has need of them, as "magical emanations" have been found centred around Buckland Abbey.  Dee has long suspected that something supernatural, esoteric and above all dangerous had made its way with Drake back to England and now resided in the abbey.

"Listen lowly wretches!", barked Dee.  "Find, steal and return the source to Mortlake, arouse no suspicion, trust no one!", he continued.  "Place ye a seal at the uppermost point of Buckland, from this I will be able to scry the exact location of yon article.  Make haste now!!  If ye be discovered, I disavow all knowledge!  Ha, ha and thrice ha!  Be gone!!"

Sandra disliked the pompous old fool, but she was also greatly fearful of him, something in his voice spoke of ungodly power, a connection with another world.  He was hellishly creepy.  Sandra spied something in the gloom, "A Ship ahead, beware!"

Semer heard a commotion from a boat in front.  A large, well to do gentleman was struggling to hoist the sail, whilst an older woman and two younger ones sat in damp, misery.  The man looked across at Semer, "I say.  You wouldn't know how these things work would you?  I said, I say."

A few hours had passed Sir Edwin Bainbridge was relaxing as Semer piloted his boat upstream, towing Semer's fishing boat behind.  A deal had been struck, as luck would have it Sir Edwin had a ticket for Drake's dress ball and he would put in a good word for the four of them to try and secure work at the ball, in return Semer and the others would guide them safely to Buckland.

After mooring the boats, Sir Edwin required an escort only as far as the main track, horses awaited them, but rest assured, they would have their jobs when they arrived at the Abbey.

Eventually, as the afternoon wore on, the Agents trod wearily onto the threshold of Buckland Abbey.

Buckland Abbey

The  Agents continued straight to the main gates.  Showing the letter and seal that Bainbridge had given them, they were told, that they would join the general temporary staff at 7pm tomorrow, they had almost 24 hours to wait.  To make good use of their time, they decided to join in with a bit of gambling and try and loosen the lips of some of the villagers, also hoping for work.  They learnt a good deal, tales of a stranger, a priest, possibly from the middle east - Edmund judged this given the description - with a gold headdress like the sun.  Sandra tried to tip the gambling in her favour by judicious use of her card counting but was found out and only the quick intervention of the others saved her from further harm.

As the evening wore on, Reynold pointed to the Tower, "It's the tallest point, it's where Dee wants the seal, let's get to it, for I say to you all, I have a cunning plan."  The plan was cunning in both its simplicity and danger; Reynold and Semer would pretend to wager that one or the other of them could climb the tower, they would pretend to fight and the crowd, riled by this, would insist they try, providing a distraction so no guards would interfere.  The plan began well, but the crowd, many of whom were full of drink, decided to get in on the argument and Semer was punched to the ground. 

After the group attended to Semer, a large, black swelling under one eye, Reynold stepped forward.  At this point, a section of the villagers took off to bait the guards and distract them.  Semer loped forward and vaulted nimbly onto the fence he stood, arms aloft, as the crowd cheered, before falling back into the dark.  He'd judged the fall into the bushes below a soft one and so it was, dusting himself off he set off at a jog to the main tower.  

Reaching the bottom of the tower, he looked up, some of the confidence drained out of him, but he could not let his adoring fans down.  He pulled himself up and began to find every nook and crevice as he slowly made his way up to the top.  Distant cheering alerted him to the fact that he must be near his destination and with a final heave he was on the roof of the tower.  He quickly did as Sandra had instructed, finding a small crack to slot his seal into.  He gave one last wave and a theatrical bow to the crowd at the gates, before swinging himself over the edge and down, to the sound of applause and more cheering!

The crowd were still at the gates, when over a side fence, Reynold slid over and brushed himself down.  Sandra, Edmund and Semer all rushed over to congratulate him.  Sandra, said breathlessly, "Dee has given us notice, a book, overflowing with magic, the Canticle of Fire, but there is more, other objects.  Dee will give notice of them when he has defined their location.  The canticle is too powerful it occludes his sight, so we must remove it first."

The Canticle of Fire


Edmund and Sandra decided to go for a walk around the boundaries of Buckland Abbey, whilst Reynold and Semer indulged in some more drinking and gambling.  Dee had not been specific of the canticle's location, they had hoped to gain some sign or indication from their trek and to see if there was any sign of the strange gold-adorned priest.  As they trodded around, Edmund gave out a cry and fell to his knees, a bright light, like a spark was dancing around the Abbey, at each location a fierce fire sprang up until the whole of the Abbey was in flames... but just as quickly, this vision faded, until only an imprint was left on his vision.  Sandra had seen nothing.  They decided together, that they'd seen enough and hurried back to the others.

The next morning as more and more helpers turned up, Sandra, Edmund and Semer chanced their luck at getting in, as circumstances would have it, they followed closely behind some kitchen staff and within a short while found themselves in the kitchen of the Abbey itself.  There was no sign of Reynold, still sleeping off the spent proceeds of his wagers.

Buckland Abbey Plan

It was not too hard for the three agents to spend time looking around the ground floor, the magnificently decorated hall, a kitchen full to bursting with the finest fare and a sombre chapel.  In the chapel, Sandra looked up to the gallery, something was prickling her skin, "Up there!", she barely whispered.  The three went up and moving along a corridor came across an enclosed library, access was barred by a strong iron gate, but through it they could see the canticle, sitting on a shelf.

After some thought, they decided it best to smuggle the book out in some loaves of bread, Semer went to get the bread, whilst Edmund worked his knife into the lock.  A hand rested on Edmund's shoulder, he spun around, there was Sandra, a finger to her lips, she beckoned for him to follow.  Looking down from above on to the chapel, they saw a figure, dressed in gold and orange robes, with a magnificent golden headdress in the shape of a rising sun, that rested just behind him.  He carried a long black pole, with a golden sun affixed atop of it.  Sandra was itching and prickling all over her, she felt the Black seal vibrating in her pocket, but she dared not move.  They watched some more, the Priest bent and inspected an altar, he started to press at the carvings on it, when he was interrupted by the familiar figure of Sir Francis Drake.

Drake crossed over to the man and shook his hand, "Flame Master Carn Ne-Seval, what are you doing in such a cold and dank place, come, let us inspect the hall, it glitters like a 1000 diamonds, a suitable place for your benediction tonight."  The two men walked off arm in arm through the door and into the great hall.

Flame Master Carn Ne-Seval

Semer came through from the kitchen, eyeing the door that Drake and his companion had left by, he looked up, nodding to his two companions and started to make his way up the stairs with a large tray of bread.

Later, back upstairs Edmund was twisting his knife into the lock, trying to get a feel for the mechanism, beads of sweat ran down his forehead as his two impatient companions implored him to hurry.  As he put a little more pressure on the knife, he heard a crunch, not good, but the gate swung open, unfortunately there was no way someone would not know it had been tampered with.

Edmund rushed in grabbed the book, and started making room under the bread for it.  He then picked up bread, book and tray and staggered, the book was devilishly heavy.  Semer supported him, until Edmund had regained his balance then they gingerly made their way back down the stairs, through the kitchen and out to the awaiting carts and tents.

Once they were past the guards they spied Reynold, they ushered him over to them and began to head off to find a quiet space.  Edmund looked at his hands, they tingled somewhat and were slightly reddish.  Nethertheless he picked up the book and started leafing through, he glanced at the exotic golden writing, the pictures of the sun and strange, alien temples.  Edmunds eyes felt dry and as he went to mop his brow, he winced, his face was hot, extremely hot.  He slammed shut the book, "Ye gods! My face!", he exclaimed.  Semer, nursing a large puffy black and purple eye, started at him with his good one, "You've caught the sun, your face it looks like a carrot!".  Edmund rushed to get some water and tipped it over his head, returning, he looked into a hand mirror, his skin was blistered and peeling, "Touch it not, tis the work of the devil!", he melodramatially announced, pointing a red, shaking finger at the book.

A a little while onward and the book was well hidden underneath a patch of gilly flowers.  Sandra had been speaking to Dee again, she recounted the conversation, "He says the staff, that that Flame Master, sun priest has, he needs it.  It's called The Sceptre of the Sun.".  Reynold leaned in, "And jest how the feck does 'e expect us to pluck that from under his nose!?"  Sandra shrugged, "That's not all, Dee says there is something much more powerful under the chapel, we will know it when we see it.  He says to be aware!"

The Sceptre of the Sun


As the clock passed 7pm, more people were requested to help with the service and it was straightforward for the agents to head in side.  The spent their time serving and wandering the main hall.  Eventually the time came for the festivities to begin.

Sir Francis Drake bestrode the small makeshift stage at one end of the hall, there were cheers and the clinking of glasses.  Following behind him was the Flame Master, Drake give a quick speech, thanking all those for coming and requesting that everyone, partake of wine, food and dance, but first, "Please indulge me, by allowing my companion on many travels, Flame Master Carn Ne-Seval, to bless this occasion.".  There was polite, scattered applause, as the Flame Master muttered a few strange syllables in an unknown language before raising his sceptre and a gout of flame lept into the air.  The audience oohed and few screamed and then Drake implored them all to drink like fishes,  eat like hogs and dance until their legs gave way.

As Semer and Reynold served food, they had caught some interesting gossip, it seems the Flame Master was a student of gambling, in particular Chaturanga, an ancient four player game of no little skill.  Reynold started up a loud boast, claiming him and his partner, he pointed at Semer, could best any Chaturanga player in the land.  This continued outrageous boasting stopped, when Reynold found himself staring into the bright, mesmerising eyes of the Flame Master, "Follow me, young lamb.", he whispered.

A shortwhile later and the games room, next to the library had been cleared with Semer, Reynold, the Flame Master and one of his bald acolytes, sat at a Chaturanga table.  The Flame Master intoned, "What do you offer for one game?"  Reynold thought, he clutched at the sealed letter in his pocket, "This!", he thrust the letter up into the air.  Reynold continued on, "A deed to some... to a valuable, no a rare... thing of something!"  The Flame Master cocked an eyebrow, "Then I shall claim the rare... Thing of Something!  But what would you have in return?"  Reynold eyed the sceptre, "That!", he pointed at the golden sun, sitting on top of the black stick.  The Flame Master looked taken aback but soon regained his composure, "Very well, it has done it's work, let the game commence."

Chaturanga


Reynold was a master of most games of chance and a few of skill, he'd played a couple of rounds of Chaturanga, but Semer had never lifted a games piece in his life.  The first round the Flame Master progressed to a strong position, he smiled up at the agents.  The next round Reynold had learnt a few moves from watching the wily old priest and had started to gain a hold on the board.  The Flame Master flapped his robe in agitation, glaring once or twice at the acolyte opposite him, who started to turn a bright shade of red.  The game was well balanced but the Flame Master was only a few moves from victory, when Reynold saw an opportunity to use the little magic he had.  He started to twist his fingers beneath the table, then he brought them up to his mouth and blew in the direction of the acolyte, he disguised this as if warming up his fingers.  The acolyte's eyes went wide and he started to cough and choke, he tried to steady himself and made a rushed move, the Flame Master's face fell and he bared his teeth, "Fool!"  Reynold saw his opportunity with a decisive move of his piece he then extend his hand to the Flame Master.  But the priest had already risen, making his way from the room, his sceptre lying on the game board.

Downstairs in the chapel, Edmund and Sandra, examined the carving that had so intrigued the Flame Master, Edmund noticed two finger shaped holes, worn smooth, he pushed in his fingers and pressed down, a click was followed by a lurch as the altar moved as he leaned on it.  Between Edmund and
Sandra they pushed the altar, until they could see a rough, hewn hole with steps leading down, looking around, they descended quickly.

Semer and Reynold were upstairs, rejoincing in their victory, as Reynold danced and cavorted around the room, Semer inspected the sceptre, it seemed to have a button or clasp on the side and he could smell some kind of chemical contained in the end, in the sun.  Semer had a pretty good idea, how to release the gouts of flame, if he should need it.  Reynold eventually calmed himself, "Come me good mate, who is a shite player of games.  Let us see if we can find our other halves, they planned to head down below."

Edmund was inspecting a large wooden door, it looked as though part of the cellars had been bricked up into a room.  He again stuck in his trusted blade, wriggling it from side to side until the lock gave, he pushed open the door and a treasure trove of wonders greeted him and Sandra.  Artefacts from all over the known world, much silver, gold and gems.  Sandra pointed at one of the objects, "That is Drake's drum, 'tis rumoured that if played, he will come and save England, be he alive ... or dead."  Sandra's eyes drifted across the objects, "That, that should not be, we are in such peril Edmund!"  Sandra was pointing at a large sarcophagus.  

Drake's Drum


At that moment the Seal started to vibrate, she held it up, Dee's disembodied voice rang out, "Save the drum, save Drake, something from your darkest nightmares has been summoned to destroy Drake!  Protect him, protect the drum, save England!!" before Sandra could reply, there was a screeching noise and the lid of the sarcophagus started to slowly move to one side.  Sandra rushed into the room, smelling a cold, fetid waft from the opening, she leant past it and grabbed the drum in both hands, just as a tattered, bandaged claw fell onto the side of the sarcophagus next to her head.  Sandra turned and ran toward Edmund.

Edmund grasped his short staff in front of him, knuckles white, teeth gritted, his teeth almost cracked, as the creature, skin peeling off of it, eyes red as coals, started to pull itself out.


The Mummy

As Sandra and Edmund weighed up whether to run or not, two figures clattered down the stairs, Reynold and Semer.  Semer stepped forward pointing the Sun end of the sceptre at the creature, he depressed the button and a gout of hot, white fire leapt into the room, covering the beast from head to toe and igniting tapestries, pictures and anything flammable.  Within the flames, the undead roared and threw it's arms about the room, searching for its foe.  Edmund stepped forward and dealt the creature a crack about it's shoulder.  Reynold sliced deep into it's side with his sickle, all the while the sickly smell of burning flesh surrounded them, as the creature wailed and lurched forward, grasping at thin air.  Spinning around it corned Sandra and reached for her, she calmly pushed some fine dress making scissors into it's chest and with a grunt, it sunk slowly to the floor, black smoke billowing up from it.

The seal again vibrated, Sandra held it up to her ear, calm but pale. Dee spoke, "The Flame Master has left Buckland, he must be stopped.  Is all the other business concluded?"  Sandra whispered back, "Yes."  Dee responded, almost pleased, "Right, then hurry after him, he must be stopped, else you'll be back on the gallows."

The treasure room was now a roaring inferno, it was hard to breath as the smoke coiled around them.  They rushed up the stairs and into the hall, Edmund found Drake and announced, "We are agents of Dee, we would speak with the Flame Master."  Drake turned and looked at the red faced man, "He has left my good chap, off across the sea I believe, and... oh my god... fire!  Fire!"  Drake was pointing at the curtains at the back of the hall, from which thick smoke was rising.  He turned to the agents, but they were gone.

Sandra vaults into Drake's carriage and the others clamber in beside her.  She cracks the whip and the carriage begins to gain speed, it lurches from side to side as she pushes it through the gates, past the surprised guards and up the side of the valley.  At one point, she almost loses it, but regains enough control to keep two wheels in contact with the ground.  Eventually they came to a halt at the River, ahead they can see the shape of a boat, with a number of people onboard and the occasional glint of gold in the moonlight.  

Semer brings his boat to bear on a course directly behind the Flame Master and his acolytes, slowly, using all his seamanship, he begins to gain on them.  "Wait, I think we are near enough for my grease, I've been saving it.", Reynold scrabbles in his jacket before pulling out a green tinged jar.  Reynold lights the contents, which starts to boil, hiss and give off the foulest of stenches.  He leans back and overarm, throws the lit jar towards the boat ahead.  They watch as it a arcs through the night sky, then  it's content explodes on the boat ahead, lighting up the darkness around them.

A jar of foul smelling grease


People in the boat ahead are screaming and jumping into the water but to the edge of the river, can be seen the outlinedshape of the Flame Master, swimming confidently towards the bank.  Semer focuses and opens his mouth wide, a strange noise echoes from deep within and little sparkling dust motes rise from it and fly towards the man in the water.  The Flame Master pauses his swimming as the glowing dust settles in front of him, then it flies directly up his nostrils, he gasps and swallows lung fulls of water, he flounders, turning only to see a large boat bearing down on him Ye Olde Bastard Beth, are the last words he sees. 

The prow of the boat hits him between the forehead with a wet crunch.  The agents rush to the back of the boat, but only bubbles come to the surface, they look around for other survivors but the waters are still, only a few scorched and blackened corpses rest on the surface.

The Agents pull to the side, "Our work is done here.", Edmund sighs.  "More than our fair share.", replied Reynold.  Sandra clapped her hands together, "Come on!  Let's get the book and then head back to London, I'll contact Dee once we are under way.  Or anyone think otherwise?"  Semer smiled, "With the way you brandish those scissors, I'll go along with whatever you say."

Semer turns the boat around and it starts to make it's way back up the river towards Buckland.

After a little time, out of the shadows step three men, two of them talk in hushed voices, in Spanish.  A third man strokes his beard, he speaks with a strong Irish accent, "Well, King Philip is not going to take kindly as to how this plan ended up.  Let's make for Plymouth boys and give him the bad news."

James "Spanish" Blake

Monday, 15 November 2021

GrogMeat 2021 Meat Space is back on the menu

 I've never been to a Gaming Conference before and it's been nearly three decades since I played face to face...

GrogMeat 2021, Manchester

...so, I thought what better way to raise my blood pressure than to go to a con, play and run a game at GrogMeat 2021 the gaming con, coming back into meat space (virtual space games also available) post pandemic.  It's run by the hosts of The Grognard Files podcasts, Dirk the Dice and Judge Blythy.

I'd spent days leading up to the con, figuring out ways to back out gracefully whilst also laying traps to stop me, posting on social media about stuff I was running, booking the cheapest but also least flexible transport and hotel.

Ultimately, work went a bit insane so my brain was kept busy with other stuff and before I knew it, I was boarding a train to Manchester, the journey was super quick and the train was very quiet, a whole table to myself.  I arrived just before 12 and decamped to Motel One opposite the station [Tip: Quiet rooms are on the 8th floor, oddly numbered].  I got forty winks and then prep'd for a late-night game of Paranoia, this was a last-minute idea of joining a game from my hotel room, 11.30pm-3am.  Internet was saying a download speed of 1.6MB/s, this was inauspicious.  I then did a bit of prep for The Dee Sanction game I had created/stolen by mashing it up with an 80s RPG and I also took part in my favourite pastimes of procrastination and faffing.

I arrived at Fan Boy Three at about 1.15pm and almost uttered the phrase, "Hello, I'm a grognard. I'm here for GrogMeat." before stopping myself because firstly, they'd know that, because I'm old, grey, bearded and wear glasses.  Secondly, I had a t-shirt on that also announced this.  This was definitely the first day at school moment, as I stood in the corner, sweating, trying to clean my glasses, get a signal on my phone and find the table I'd been assigned, but within a few moments I was sitting down with Cris, James, Mark & Mark and our GM for the first game, Rick...

[I am aiming to do a full write up of each game over the coming week(s), and will add the related links below when I do]

Friday

Barbarians of Lemuria

Barbarians of Lemuria

This was the bastard offspring of, not a 100 maniacs, but Neil, a multi-table event where we had to select various missions which would give us victory points, these points would then adjust a dice roll, which would give us an overall bonus that could be used in the final roll, across all the tables, to see if the world could be saved or would be overrun by Demon kind.

We started on a Rescue mission, slowly getting to grips with the system, it was pretty simple but seemed to have that little bit of variety that turns a simple & dull system into something special.  The spending of hero points, to Control the Narrative was expertly utilised by one of the Marks.

We continued on, craftily combining the Kill a VIP and Destroy missions into one, but then crapped out on the roll to get our overall bonus to take into the final die roll to save the world.  As it turns out, our penalty to the roll made sure the world was burnt to a crisp and the Demon horde ruled forevermore, can't win 'em all.  A fantastic start to GrogMeat and some very memorable moments, which I'll capture when I write this up.  A big thanks to Rick for GMing, his first BoL game, but you couldn't see the joins and he and the other players turned it into an awesome experience.


The Dee Sanction

The Dee Sanction

I was up next, I'd offered to run a game of The Dee Sanction, I started off as a lowly tester of a brilliant implementation of the rules in the Foundry VTT by Chris Sharp, but had since been hooked and I think the running of games now stretches into double figures.  I felt very comfortable with the mechanics and sticky points of the rules.  In addition, because running a game face-to-face after 30 years isn't stressful enough - I decided to write my first Dee Sanction scenario and introduce it at this time and place - I am an idiot.

My scenario, in best Grognard tradition, was a reworking of 1980s Thieves' Guild 3, The Duke's Dress Ball.  When I say reworking, I'd switched Duke Fernando di Cotillion with Sir Francis Drake and the Duke's City Estate became Buckland Abbey.  Also, the Thieves' Guild scenario is just a series of opportunities to pilfer items, rather than any complex plot.  I added some supernatural elements, related to Drake's recent return from circumnavigating the globe and threw in one of the more interesting characters from Thieves' Guild 3, that of Flame Master Carn Ne-Seval plus the opportunity to play a few rounds of an ancient precursor to chess, Chaturanga.  Lastly, I transposed some of the 60+ timed events, to give the Agents an opportunity to plan how to get into the grounds.

Again, I'll cover the actual scenario in more detail in my write up, but after a brief intro for Debbie and Martin, helped by me having run online for Arjen and Chris, we got going.  I stood for most of the GMing, as this felt most natural and allowed me to project my softish voice a bit more.  The group dived in headfirst to make the game special, as it still has a lot of things to iron out, but they really developed their characters and were inventive and totally immersed in the setting.  A big shout out to Martin, who broke the sound barrier to make it from the train station to Fan Boy Three in perfect timing as I'd stupidly given him the wrong start time.

Overall I was pretty pleased that folks enjoyed themselves and the various things I threw in their path were fun or challenging, it got a little bit "scooby doo" at the end as I juggled timings of events and threw in the kitchen sink, plus we were all a little exhausted from early starts, long days and a fair amount of adrenaline as we went through our first fact-to-face games for many years, for some of us.

Post gaming, people headed off to the pub, I decided I needed to grab some food and dump all my stuff, with Manchester rain lashing down and discombobulated by lack of food and a post-game comedown - I ended up dropping my wallet in Tescos as I paid and obliviously heading back to the hotel.  

Back at the hotel, I realised I'd done something stupid, although luckily I had all my cards/cash in another pocket, so I decided to crash out and head to Tesco's first thing in the morning to see if some kind soul had offered up a battered waller with second class stamps, a work security pass and some receipts.

Saturday

Troika!

Troika!

Up early and the sun was also shining, I trotted over to Tesco and was handed back my wallet, after a series of rigorous security questions, "Is this your wallet?"  "Yes." "Are you sure?"  "Yes."  "Ok, here you go."  Result!  

As I was heading up to The Fitzgerald, the location for my next game, I bumped into Andrew, I'd recently played with him on an online Dee Sanction game, so we went for a quick coffee with a few other attendees at hipster joint Ezra and Gil, round the corner from Fan Boy Three.

Soon after we were sitting down in the atmospheric upstairs of a pub as Rob aka JellyRovers on The Grognard Files discord, the GM, breezed through the rules of Troika!  Myself, Dirk the Dice (Chris), Daily Dwarf (argh, can't remember, apologies!), Chunky Duff (Roy) and Clownf1st (Matt) settled down to make sense of it all.

A note here, that I think everyone who comes to GrogMeat should be issued with their social media moniker - Twitter handle, discord user name - in the form of a badge/tattoo to be worn at all times.

I won't go into the mechanics or setting in too much detail, they were simple and completely hatstand respectively.  But also the game is deadly, our trusty stevedore Hoist had his stamina cut from 20 to 4 in one blow, we all drew an intake of breath, this was as deadly an OSR game that there was, under the guise of a cute, psychedelic setting populated with weird and wonderful munchkin type characters.

But things got better for the group and we romped through the scenario, enjoying every moment of ridiculousness and fleshing out our already characterful characters - Vengeful Child, the Befouler of Ponds, Hoist, Donkey Oaty and a fellow of the sublime society of beef steaks ...

A word for the GM too, I'd previously played with Rob when he ran an online Numenera game, the enthusiasm and energy shone through and it was no different in this game, he kept up a rollicking pace, putting forward interesting choices and challenges and it all seemed like a seamless, meticulously planned out adventure, when I'm sure it wasn't, but then, that is his skill!

Also mention for Dirk, he was busy at the start trying to rouse players from their slumber and get them to games - he must have a hell of a lot to organise and take care of - but he was always engaged in the game and his beef obsessed boxer, was another great character.

Definitely keen to play some more Troika!

We stayed on in the pub for a few drinks, chatting with Daily Dwarf, Jonac (a player in a Liminal game I'm part of on Sunday morning) and also had time to speak briefly with Chris Sharp aka Chris Sharp (the creator of the aforementioned Foundry Module for The Dee Sanction) and Jim aka JimJimtheGrim, who I was going to be running the Dee Sanction for, face-to-face again, in a few weeks time in that there London.

Back to Fan Boy Three, pizzas had arrived and after refuelling, we moved on to the final game...

Reboot the Future

Reboot the Future

I was really looking forward to playing this, a big fan of Neuromancer/Snow Crash, I'd been introduced to The Sprawl when I first came back to the hobby in 2015, but we didn't really understand PbtA games and we gave up after a few sessions.  More recently Sue had run a series of Sprawl sessions, that worked brilliantly and I'd got lots of enjoyment out of them.  I was keen to run some Cyberpunk, but I tend to steer away from crunchy systems, for running anyway, and I wasn't sure my improvisational skills were up to it for The Sprawl.  As Reboot the Future was based on Liminal, which I love and have played and run, I thought this would be a perfect fit.  Also, through a series of blog entries, Newt had touched on lots of aspects of deficiencies in Cyberpunk systems that I agreed with and that he'd planned to address in his game.

Again, I'll write this up.  But Andrew from breakfast, Rob (JellyRovers, a player this time) Pookie and I, delighted in getting into the unique Cyberworld and we had a full rundown of the setting background, character concepts and rules from the designer, Newt, himself.  The play moved along quickly, helped by Newt bringing characters to life and pushing us along, New Oldham was familiar but altered by future events to become somewhat baffling; Perfect for a future setting and mystery focused game.

Hours rushed by in a frenzy of chrome, dust and dubious choices and we were done.  A deserved round of applause for Newt and we headed off to the pub for a few drinks.  At The Fitzgerald, I settled down with more lovely folk and was fascinated to listen to Kehaar formerly of Dissecting Worlds, discuss his homebrew campaign set on the island of Tenerife and to Debbie celebrating a raucous success of her running of Savage Worlds in the afternoon - it's these chats and so many more, which makes me want to sign up to new things, but I also need to keep my marriage going and I'm on the edge with the stuff I run and play in so far.

The Kickstarter is still running for this game, just 16 days (as of 15/Nov) to go, you can sign up here.

As the clock ticked on to 10pm, I decided to go back to the hotel and get some food on the way, I had signed up for an online game of Paranoia and it started in just over an hour.

Paranoia

Paranoia XP

I'd been looking forward to this game, I'd also been nervous about it - it finished at 3am and I didn't know after a few pints if I'd fall asleep midgame, say something wildly inappropriate or just have a breakdown(!) - this is, after all, Paranoia, perhaps this is the way it should be played.

The game started dead at 11.30pm but unfortunately one of the players had to drop out due to a family emergency.  So myself, Brett, Andy, SteW and then latterly Dirk, hot-footing it from last orders, made our way through the usually pristine, though sometimes blood-splattered, corridors of Paranoia, assisted and sometimes actively not by our GM Iain from the Roll to Save podcast.

This was a return for me, as I'd played in a Paranoia game at the same timeslot at an online grogmeet a year ago (nope, didn't learn my lesson).  It's something about a late nite, slightly boozy-sleep deprived mindset, that suits Paranoia so well - this is almost like therapy, or at least shouting in your mates ear in the pub as he nods along, glassy-eyed.

The players were brilliant, lots of prep provided by Iain and the mission itself occasionally popped up, but this was about trying to walk a tightrope of bureaucracy as your teammates surreptitiously wriggled the rope at either end.  The music and sound effects, were again top-notch, adding so much to the flavour and setting of the game.

The scenario ended with my two best rolls ever, in a Paranoia game, you could almost call it a successful mission!  I find it hard to imagine that there is someone better than Iain at running this game, the line between slapstick and jeopardy is a fine one, but he runs along it brilliantly, like some kind of arm-waving, chattering, nimble gibbon. 

I collapsed into bed, setting my alarm for a close-run dash to the Frankenstein RPG live podcast and then a final game of Cthulhu Dark Ages at Go Play Manchester/Post GrogMeat comedown party.

As it was I got a call at 7.30am, a big panic about A-Level assessment and my Geography/Data skills were needed, so, unfortunately, I had to head off home early, so I pinged the organisers with my apologies and only 8 hours later I was home!

Summary

Firstly, I must say a big thanks to Dirk, Blythy and all the GMs and organisers of GrogMeat including Fan Boy Three and The Fitzgerald.  It was a safe and well-run con, with a very friendly and enthusiastic set of attendees.  After a fair amount of stress, I enjoyed it immensely and I'm looking forward to next year, even the 3am finish for Paranoia, which feels like this is going to be an annual occurrence!

I probably underestimated the emotional energy expended by doing a face-to-face meetup or even the shock of finding out the avatars I played with online had real humans controlling them.  There were times I was completely exhausted, but I'd say by Sunday morning, even though mentally knackered, I was starting to get over this, unfortunately, other circumstances got in the way.

I hope I can keep some of the friendship and games going with folks I met, some of whom I already play and run games with, but it would be great to do more games and plan more elaborate face to face sessions if time permits.

Lastly, for me a con (real or virtual) is all about new stuff; going to new places, playing games in a new way, trying new systems out, meeting new people, letting their enthusiasm rub off on you and taking it back into your RPGs!  I appreciate for some it's about reliving past glories or games, finishing off that epic homebrew campaign, reliving your youth or simply spending time with friends.  All of these aspects can be indulged in at GrogMeat and everyone seems to make space for others interests or needs to make this a happy and welcoming event.

The final point is, I don't really have any point of reference having never gone to a face-to-face gaming conference before.  I am sure there are bigger ones and flashier ones and ones with a broader range of games, maybe more modern RPGs, and a more diverse range of attendees but GrogMeat does what it says on the tin (if the tin is the podcast that attracted you to the community in the first place) and many of the members seem more than open to trying new things, welcoming new members.

Who knows, with the sons and daughters of The Grognard Files rapidly getting to the age that many of the current members were when they first got into gaming, I wouldn't put it past Dirk or Dirk Jr to be arranging a Progeny of Grogmeet in the years to come.  Or maybe I just misheard them chatting about Prog-Rock...

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Liminal Case 3 a Play Report

 A session of Liminal created by Paul Mitchener.

This session was expertly written and run by Dave and featured Jeremy, Jonathan and Michael.  There is a load of information that Dave provided as part of session notes/summary, but I've written a storyfied actual play, from the perspective of new joiner Rae (Rae is a werewolf, lecturer & climber/parkour nut.  I joined this Liminal group halfway through their first season of cases).  

Technically this game was run using Discord for dice rolls and handouts and Zoom for voice, video and further handouts.

...Here Be Spoilers...


Revenge is the raging fire that consumes the arsonist...

...the woman crawled across the floor of the nightclub, swinging lights illuminated the carnage around her, pools of blood, limbs, organs.  A ragged, furry shape leapt over her and a human figure threw up their arms, a scream rang out as a flurry of teeth and claws ended them into pieces.  The woman let out a ragged breath and continued to crawl, blood was flowing from a stomach wound, she struggled to keep her vision from fading.  Eventually, she made it under the mixing desk, the cries and sounds of tearing and chewing were heard over the sound of VTSS, Sober Raving, a favourite set closer at the club.  A sound, a door, the fire exit to the street, she heaved herself to her feet, trying to stem a rising moan of pain.  Slowly, she edged towards the street and safety, she looked back... Raphael was on the floor behind her, he was reaching out, imploring.  She turned towards him and a shape pulled Raphael back into the melee, two red eyes glared back at her, the flash of strobes shone on its teeth, a howl pierced through the chaos.  This jolted the woman who turned and ran straight into the bonnet of a taxi, she spun, pulled at the door and threw herself inside, she just had time to look through the back window as the fire exit door slammed shut.

18 months later

Rae tosses her bag over her shoulder, the parkour club she'd set up at Brunel University was thriving, it was a great way of letting off steam, but it was also turning her into the fittest and strongest she'd ever been.  She was going to need every ounce of strength and agility to do what she needed to, it was revenge, pure and simple, for the friends she'd lost, for what she had become.  She snarled involuntarily, then laughed at the stupidity of it all, she was a werewolf, plain and simple, a killing machine.  The one person she trusted, Henry had confirmed it and they'd spent the last year researching all they could, Henry had saved her from doing something she regretted, she needed to learn all about her powers before she started tracking down the animals that had destroyed her life.

Rae Mendoza, Lecturer & Werewolf


But today, Henry had a favour to ask of her, he and some colleagues had been approached by P Division, an Inspector Skinner needs them to look into a sword that had been found in a cave in Wales.  The sword was all over YouTube, a tuber by the name of Josh "Ronin" Rayes was parading it and it seems to have caused consternation and interest from those with an interest in the occult.

The Sword


Henry and Rae arrive together at Mrs Miggins Pie Shop, meeting the rest of the group Ingrid and Abel.  Rae's hackles rise as she faces off to Ingrid, there is something otherworldly and deadly about this woman, who smiles back at her with all the cuddliness of a tiger shark.  Introductions made, they sit, eat, drink and discuss things which Rae only half listens to.  It seems Ingrid has something to do with magicians, there is mention of vampires and a ghost realm.  It sounds like teenagers discussing a computer game, but then she IS a werewolf, perhaps it would do well to listen closely.

Mrs Miggins Pie Shoppe


After a long discussion, where Rae barely controlled her temper as the two old men noisily slurped their teas and spilt bean juice onto their shirts, it is decided they will go directly to the home of Ronin and get the sword.  This is more like Rae, she likes action, to be doing something.  She feared, with these two doddery old men they would sit and discuss the finer points of fae and magical lore until the cows came home, or pontificate on the best way to fry bacon or make the perfect cuppa - infuriating!

The best fry up north of the river


Arriving at Ronin's house, Ingrid makes her excuses and heads off around the back.  It's left to Abel, Henry and Rae to front it out, they try a bit of flattery and Ronin's guard drops and he invites them in.  As Rae turns to close the door, she spots a well-dressed, elderly gent, sitting on a car bonnet down the road, she turns to the others to point him out, but when they look again, he's gone.

Inside the house is every geek's paradise, a cornucopia of tech and cool.  There is a woman there too, Beth, supposedly Ronin's girlfriend.  After Ronin recounts finding the sword, the group suggest they could do further research and surprisingly, Ronin is open to this, it seems the Sword has brought him nothing but bad luck but he makes the group swear, that if they find anything else out, they record it and send it to him.  Ronin refuses to go with them, for all his bluff and bravado, it's clear that he is scared.  Henry and Abel agree with Ronin's wishes and they make to leave.  Ronin and Beth whisper then Ronin steps forward, "There was a weird ninja type, tried to get in, like a cat they was, we spotted them on the camera, might be connected?"

Abel is carrying the sword as they leave, it's wrapped in a rug.  Rae is transfixed, it's like the rug is pulsing or light is trying to escape from it. Henry had mentioned that she may have The Sight, the ability to see through illusions or detect magical items or beings.  Whatever it is, there is a ton of magical energy pouring out of the rug.

Abel, Henry and Rae spot Ingrid as she walks from the back of the house and along the street, she nods in the direction behind them.  The same man, who was sitting on the bonnet of the car, is making a beeline for them.  Rae feels a claw ping out but bunches her fist to hide it.

"Hello gents, ladies, my name is Mervin Reese and I believe you have something I need."

Mervin Reese


A little while later they are in the pub, Mervin, a somewhat down-at-heel magician, is downing his third pint.  Mervin explains patiently, in his soft, welsh drawl, how it is important that the sword is returned to a cave in Wales, "as it will ward off werewolves, trolls and various fae fuckers from running amok", he's quietly but steadily adamant that this is what must be done and what will be done.  But Ingrid wants to return the sword to the Council of Merlin and Henry needs to do more research before handing it over to P-Division. And Rae is transfixed, this talk of a werewolf clan, the Clan of Ultr, seems the best lead she has had in tracking down the werewolves that killed her friends.

Excusing themselves from Mervin, the group debate the merits of this quest and decide it is worth checking out the "Cavern of the Lost Souls", where the sword was found, this is locally known as the former Cwmorthin Slate Mine.  Rae can commandeer some climbing equipment and one of the Brunel Minibuses for the journey.  They return and shake Mervin's hand, whilst promising only to head up to Wales and check this out.  Mervin passes on an incantation that they must remember and cast when the sword is in the ground, this should then protect it from future prying eyes and the ward will slowly spread across the surrounding area, protecting the great and good of the valley.

A little while later and Rae is driving the group up to Wales in the bus, rain lashes down and Henry and Abel swap tales of magical wards and mystical swords, whilst also sharing a bag of Werther's.  They suck on the boiled sweets noisily as Rae grits her teeth and tries to focus on the road ahead.  It does seem that the research Henry and Abel have done backs up the tale that Mervin spun.  Ingrid lounges in the back, she's polishing a wickedly sharp knife and glances over at Rae, giving her a cold, dead smile from time to time.  Rae mutters.

Arriving near closing time, the group quickly dump their gear in the rented cottage and then make the short drive into Blaenau Ffestiniog for a drink and a snack at The King's Head.

The King's Head


The Kings Head is a basic but friendly pub and there is enough time to grab drinks and some bar food before closing.

As the team wearily sit down they see a man staring unblinkingly at them, he looks elderly and fairly normal for this part of Wales, apart from an unusual necklace of slate jewellery.  One of the staff puts in front of him a plate of grub sufficient for a hungry Welsh Rugby Team, along with six pints of ale.  He drinks and eats as if his life depends on it, eyes never wavering from the party, in particular Rae.  Beer, meat juice, gravy and all manner of food detritus hits the man, his table, the floor until at last the table is relatively empty, if not clean.

The Necklace of Slate


Having finished their food, they decide to approach the man, after a few pleasantries, he introduces himself as Bowen.  Bowen fixes his eye on Rae and utters a few words under his breath, his eyes seem to flash with hate and Rae retreats, angry and crestfallen to the bar.  Henry stands beside Rae, as her fingers dig into the bar top as they order more drinks.  Rae glances back at Bowen, her shoulders shaking with anger as she assesses the possibility of shapechanging right here in the bar and tearing this unpleasant local limb from limb, but Henry calms her and they return to the table.

Bowen the Ogre


By this time, a misunderstanding seems to have been put to bed and Bowen invites everyone back to his cottage, a cottage next door to where they are staying.  After more drinking and a contrite Bowen apologising to Rae, Bowen is revealed as an Ogre, the slate necklace hides his true nature.  Bowen guarded an entrance to Annwn, in the fae underworld.  This portal is essentially the output of waste from the Fae lands into our world.  Bowen has now travelled around Wales and met his true love, a human called Gracelynn, she was blind and her family were slaughtered by werewolves, something that explains his antagonism towards Rae.

Gracelynn

The evening ends with Bowen setting out where to place the sword, in order to close up the portal and then cast the incantation to protect the surrounding lands from werewolves and other predators. BUT under no circumstances will he ever go back to serve in the mines, he's free, he's found love and that breaks all laws in this world or the other.

The next day a decision is made, breakfast at the Lakeside Cafe.   Tripadvisor has rated the breakfast highly and they have a varied selection of tea, including herbal and floral selections.  Rae snorts in derision, but plumps herself down next to the group, she is feeling left out, none of this makes any sense, she's questioning why she even made the journey in the first place and why can't they just get on and do stuff.

The owner of the cafe remarks how they are the second group to head up in the mountains, a group of three fellows left earlier today, she believes they were staying at the nearby Eco Lodge.  Henry and Abel, think it is worthwhile trekking down to the Ecolodge to check out the new arrivals, whilst Ingrid and Rae make their way up to the mines to try and find a way down to the caverns before another group does.

Rae and Ingrid are tramping through long grass, up the side of a mountain path, they spot an old miners building and a splash of red in the window.  On approaching, they see a red rucksack, leaning up against the window frame.  A glint from up the path looks to be a phone, Ingrid heads over to it, she barks at Rae, "Don't touch the bag."  As Ingrid bends over, she sees a phone in a plastic bag, splattered with blood, the bag has a cord that could easily fit around a neck, a very large neck.  Rae takes the opportunity to open the rucksack and look inside, just neatly folded clothes.  She quickly does it up again, before Ingrid turns around.

Mine remains

Meanwhile, Abel and Henry have drawn a blank at the lodge and feeling increasingly exposed without the more athletic side of the group, they decide to waste no more time and follow them up to the mines.  

It is not long before they catch up with Rae and Ingrid, who are peering into the depths of a hole, Rae is covered in mud and crap, she calls out to them "This is the cavern.  The rope is secured at the bottom, past all the cars.  Just a quick abseil and a soft landing, in the shitty water."  Abel and Henry exchange a glance and purse their lips, they stand at the top as Rae fixes harnesses, Abel clutches the sword to his chest, it's now in an easier to carry duffle bag.  Henry senses something, "Ooooh! That's worrying."  As he says this, a low growl is heard in the undergrowth and into their clearing steps a massive, grey werewolf.  Rae, eyes yellow and feral, produces a guttural, garbled sentence, "Take the sword down, I'll deal with this."

At this, the group look on befuddled as Rae's back arches and clothes tear, her face distorts as large canines force their way forward, hair sprouts from her back, across growing muscles and within seconds she is a large, heavy brown werewolf, stepping sideways around the grey. 

Rae transformed


Henry and Abel scramble for the rope, Ingrid helps them as they swing out into the hole and begin to awkwardly lower themselves down.  First Henry and then Abel, as Abel disappears into the dark, Ingrid flicks out her knife, a large shape is leaping across the hole towards her, she falls backwards and pulls the knife up from her side in an arc, it slices into the soft belly of the werewolf as it flies over her head, the werewolf cries out as it lands in a heap.

Rae and the alpha werewolf are wrestling on the floor, Rae is holding the massive grey beast down as it thrashes and snaps its jaws at her.  Rae slashes it across the chest as it breaks free, causing it to grunt.  Turning, the grey lunges forward towards Rae and she spins and rakes her claws across its back, it stumbles, blood pouring from the wounds as it eyes her.  They both turn and charge at each other, Rae retracts her claws and balls her fist, smashing it into the side of the grey werewolves' head, it slides to the floor, unconscious.

To the death...


[Was there a third werewolf, already wounded?]

Ingrid and Rae survey the scene, two wolves lie on the floor one unconscious, another bleeding out.  They hear a cry from below, "Are you coming?  If you are come quickly!"  Ingrid nods, "You go.  I'll take care of these."  Rae points at the grey, she acts out a "no killing" mime.  Ingrid smiles and nods again and shoos her with her hand, still holding the curved knife, still wet with blood.

Rae leaps and climbs down across cars and into the cavern, the entrance to which has a staircase of battered and disintegrating cars.  At the bottom of this stands Abel and Henry, they are peering into the gloom, pointing at something.

The Cavern of Lost Souls


As Rae, in werewolf form, splashes down beside them, she sees the shape of something, under the water, ripples on the surface moving fast towards the three.  Rae steps forward to intercept and a hideous form bursts through the surface, reaching up close to the ceiling of the cavern.  There is the stench of rotting flesh and effluence, the creature has matted hair and a warped and boil ridden face, it hunches over them and cries out, baring a mouth full of cruel, sharp teeth.

Abel and Henry point to Rae and then the troll and give a cheery thumbs-up.  The two academics are busy at work trying to secure the sword into the ground, the water around this spot grows a sickly green.  Using The Sight, Rae can see the portal beneath pulsate as the two men struggle to remember the incantation that Mervin taught them.

Turning to the screaming creature, Rae reaches under the water, pulling out a lump of metal, an old wheel, she throws it in an arc and it crashes into the side of the beasts head, black liquid leaks from the wound, sizzling as it hits the water.  

The troll starts to thrash through the water towards Rae, as Rae steps forward, a figure rushes past, Ingrid.  Ingrid jumps and clambers onto the back of the Troll, using her knife to give her purchase, as black blood spurts out.  As the troll's arms try to wrap around her she plunges the knife into its skull, once, twice, three times.  The troll gurgles and collapses back into the water, as Ingrid lightly steps off its back and onto a rocky outcrop, she sits there, cross-legged, eyeing the scene below.

It's a f**in' troll!


Down below Abel and Henry are happy that the sword is in place, protected and protecting the cavern and the valley.  Abel takes a bit of footage of the sword for Ronin, carefully keeping the immense body of the troll out of shot.  Once they are satisfied all is well, Rae, now back in human form, helps secure the ropes and pulls Henry and Abel up out of the cavern.  When all four are at the surface, they are surprised to see the werewolves are both dead.  Rae's head swings round to Ingrid, she exclaims, "I needed to talk with it, you could have killed it afterwards.  I needed to know something!"  Ingrid picks at her fingernails with the blade, "Too bad.  Needed to know what?"  Rae splutters, rages and screams her frustration, "Nothing.  Not a thing.  But next time, listen to me."

"Problems Ladies?  Hello gents!", up over the rise has appeared Mervin, pushing Bowen in front of him.  "Thanks for finding this thing for me, saved me the trouble it did."  Mervin continues, "Now all we have to do is magic him away and all our little problems have been cleared up."

"NO!", shouts out Abel.  "Bowen must be given his freedom!!  Love must prevail."  Abel raises his clenched fist and Henry steps forward, "YES!  Free it!  Free the ogre!!"  For the first time, the implacable cool of Mervin is shaken, a vigorous debate ensues, during which it is discovered that Mervin is a guardian of Annwn.  Eventually, Mervin accepts, Bowen will remain a free creature and return to his beloved Gracelynn.  Mervin strikes a bargain though, he will call on a favour from the group, maybe next week, maybe next year or decades from now, but when called, the favour will, must be returned.

The group walk past Mervin and Bowen as they go about cleaning up the mess in the caverns.  A meaty hand falls on Rae's shoulder, it is Bowen, he offers her the slate necklace.  Rae pauses then smiles and takes it from him.

The four of them head back to the cottage and without a word start to pack for the journey home.  On the way home, Rae relaxes, this feels a little like home, somewhere she could stay for a while.  She feels safe here, well almost safe and she glances in the rearview mirror at Ingrid.  Ingrid's eyes stare back, unblinking, unsmiling.