Monthly Archives: November 2005

Our Buddy, Agent Baker

Third RPG session recap. Or braindump, whatever.
Here’s the first one and here’s the second.

This week we were joined by Oren Genkin as our special guest star, playing special agent Douglas Baker from the ETIA. Still no Gingi, he’s doing a play.

I’ll also mention the system we used in both last session and this one. In the first session we had the “roll high on precentile dice” or in fights “roll higher than the NPC”, with higher roll winning and a mix of player/GM narrating the effects. We decided to try a more structured system, and I guessed that with this party, something that is more “meta” would be most appropriate, so I picked a pool variant (specifically, the one labelled “Anti-Pool Variation by Mark Whithers” on this page). We don’t use traits and allow other players to donate dice, and we haven’t used it all that much so far, or so it seems. It does pretty much eliminate fight scenes from the game, as demonstrated below.

So, Jack McDonald and Winston Slade are driving back from the reservation where they left Jacques Davreux. On the way they reflect that Davreux was acting strangely, as if trying to tip them off to what he was doing. Perhaps he was under the influence of someone? Perhaps his wife? Perhaps aliens? Perhaps his wife is an alien?
On cue, Winston gets a call from Dominique Davreux, asking if he knows where her husband is – he isn’t answering his phone, and she heard about the explosion in the New Jersey plant. Winston tells her that her husband is safe, at an undisclosed location, and that he really can’t tell her more on the phone. When can they meet? Dominique tells him she’s out of town, down in Boca Raton, Florida (Bo came up with the exact location), and she can meet him in a couple of days. Winston is very eager to meet her, and she sounds like she’s delaying. Also, she doesn’t sound too worried, or too curious. Just a criticism of how I played her there.
Shortly after, there’s another call, this time from Bernice Malamud, who asks to meet them urgently, and asks about the New Jersey explosion: apparently investigators on the site discovered remains of an alien superconducting metal in the debris.
They head for New York, and go to an ETIA safehouse, with valet parking. Winston taunts the valet, who as a government employee can not accept tips. They go into the safehouse itself, which is a Chinese restaurant, empty except for a minimal staff. In the back room, with a teapot ready on a lazy susan, is Bernice, and agent Douglas Baker, a plain looking guy in a plain gray suit. Bernice, I inform them, is dressed a lot less formally, and looks more like a college girl than a government officer. This throws Bo and I, who have been picturing her until now in a power suit (not the Iron Man kind, the business suit kind). They asked me if this is a change, and I say no, this is her usual attire. Although when they met her last, in the first session, she was probably in an orange coverall like the rest of the clean-up team.
Bernice introduces Douglas Baker, and Winston describes their run-in with Davreux, and speculates that he might be under some influence. Bernice focuses her attention on Jack McDonald. According to her, McDonald’s (the bar) is a hotbed of alien activity; Jack has some alien connection, and specifically she thinks he’s connected to a faction of aliens that are enemies of the faction that might have been pressuring Davreux. Bernice suggests that Davreux might have been trying to appeal to this faction through Jack.
They discuss aliens, and Bernice says that these two factions, the aliens that crash-landed in New Jersey in 1974 (well, at least their “seed-pod bearing gender” did) and their enemies, the ones that hang around McDonalds, have been called The Greens and The Blues by FETA. The ETIA doesn’t consider this politically correct, so they have a committee trying to come up with better names. It comes out in the conversation that the Blues are Psionic, and at their most powerful, they can rewrite reality. The Greens, apparently, are able to detect when reality gets rewritten. And so can Douglas Baker, who Bernice describes as our Synchronicity Warfare Specialist [ here is omitted a long digression, in which Winston asks Jack to play around with his powers, to test Baker’s ability, and after rolling dice, Jack decides that revealing the full extent of his power would be dumb. So forget it, never happened.]
There’s also a digression in which Jack tells Bernice that they were thinking of setting up some kind of private venture to handle alien visitors that would be more friendly and hospitable than the ETIA, which Winston likens to the border police. We were thinking less bureaucracy, more room service.
ANYWAY, Bernice is annoyed about all this weird shit that is going down, filling her desk with paperwork, and probably asks them to go sort it out. Or something. Maybe she just needed to vent.
Meanwhile, Baker is nudging them about Dominique, which Winston and Jack are planning to meet as soon as possible. In fact, Winston has already booked a private jet for Boca Raton, due to take off in a few hours. They agree that Douglas can tag along.
Until the plane takes off, We sit in the hotel lobby and not drink martinis-I.
Me: You really have no idea how sober people spend their time, do you?

So they fly down to Boca Raton in the private jet that Winston hired. After landing, Winston calls up Dominique, tells her he’s there and wants to meet her. She says she’s busy, but can meet them for Lunch at four.
They spend their time playing pool somewhere on the boardwalk (I assume there’s a boardwalk), not investigating or anything. At four, they show up at the restaurant Dominique suggested, which turns out to be a steakhouse, with a balcony out back that looks out onto the sea. Dominique, her bodyguard and her personal assistant are already seated and in the middle of eating their steaks. Dominique apologizes, says that they thought the meeting was at 15:00 [I. gave me a dirty look because he expected me as GM to make sure his character knew the precise time. But I as GM fancied having Dominique and her entourage chowing down on dead cows, in sharp contrast to the vegan place where they ate last ].
Winston uses his special power to try and detect if any of Dominique and her entourage are aliens, by sending a chi-ripple along the floor to resonate from their auras. We find that (1) we can’t really roll in secret using the system we chose, but we try: Israel invests so-and-so dice, I roll them plus one other without showing him the result. We also discover that (2) chi-ripples is a great name for a cereal.
The three seem normal to Slade, although he suspects that the fitted wooden floor might have thrown him off. Introductions are made, and then Slade asks to speak to Dominique in private, so they get up and head for the patio out back. The bodyguard (and the PCs) keep them in their sight, and Jack orders a steak.
Dominique asks Slade if she can see her husband or talk to him. Slade tells her she can’t, her husband is kept isolated for his own safety (or so I think she’s to assume). Slade asks her if she knows who might be in a position to influence Davreux to do what he did. Dominique names herself, Slade and a couple of others, and Slade arranges a bunch of coins on the railing of the balcony, and asks her to point to the one representing the person she thinks might have influenced Jacques to go nuts. Dominique refuses, and abruptly cuts the discussion off by saying my steak is getting cold.
Winston follows her back to the table, and the PCs take their leave. Jack gives his steak a last longing look, musing that there are other steaks elsewhere. Winston launches into a rant about the evils of cattle farming and how they are the agro-consumerist manifestation of the same evil as NASA. Or something. Perhaps he doesn’t.

ANYWAY, the PCs head out, and back in the car decide to keep a discreet eye on Dominique and her crew. The best way to do this, Douglas suggests, is for him to make some calls and order satellite surveillance of Boca Raton. He does this, presenting himself as Thomas Mayhew of the CIA, is told that only the FBI or the meteorological service can order surveillance of a domestic target, makes some more calls, and it is done. The PCs drive back to their hotel, or the airport, but in midway, the satellite surveillance images being transmitted to Baker’s PDA show that Dominique and co. are heading out. The PCs hurry back, driving out of the urban area and finding the Davreux car heading up to a big lighthouse at the top of a cliff which forms a spur of land at the edge of a bay.
Parking the car at a safe distance, they decide that Jack and Winston will try to sneak up to the lighthouse, while Baker stays in the car where it’s safe, keeping track of the lighthouse using the satellite and keeping in touch with Slade through cellphone. Jack takes off his shirt and swims like a torpedo, while Winston skips and hops overt the surf like they do in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or Hero). As they approach the lighthouse from the sea, Slade manages to see a ruckus on a mid-level balcony – someone bursts out of the building, hits the rail, and then is hit by something or someone, knocked off the railing, and falls to the rocks below.
Slade lands on the lighthouse wall, clinging to it like a spider. He notices no one on the balcony. He looks down and sees that the man that fell is dead, papers scattered around him. Jack pulls himself out of the water, and grabs one of these papers. It’s an old tract, printed in the 19th century, about American foreign relations. He tosses it and heads for the front door of the lighthouse, reasoning that he’ll create a diversion for Slade.
Meanwhile, Slade peers into the doors that open into the balcony. The interior is dark, filled with books and bookshelves, and the rich smell of old printed matter. Also, he can hear three people, searching the books frantically. He jumps in and hides in the shadows, listening as Dominique and her crew mess about. And then everyone hears Jack’s loud knock at the door.
Slade leaps out and spider-mans his way down at top speed, but not before hearing a last exchange from the folks in the library. What’s that? (in reaction to the knock) and Never mind, I’ve found it from Dominique.
Jack forces the locked door open, and takes a look around the front room of the lighthouse. It’s big and crowded with books, furniture and brick-a-brack such as model sailing boats in glass cases, tribal masks, etc. There’s a kitchen to the side and a big spiral staircase heading up.
Slade dashes in and commiserates Jack for completely missing the idea of “stealthy approach”. Jack grumbles that he was setting up a diversion. There is some hurried half-whispered shouting, followed by a sudden noise from above.
Slade dashes back out and climbs back up the outside of the building. I think Jack actually calls out, but there’s no answer – just loud crashing and banging about from above.
Slade gets up on the balcony and peers in. There’s a fallen bookcase, and big dark figures moving about – five very tall men in ornate black armor, all spiky and weird, crashing about and banging against bookcases. There’s no sign of Dominique or her crew anywhere. There’s also an odd smell in the room.
Winston takes a snapshot of these “knights” and SMSs it to Baker (remember him?) Baker runs a query on the design through the ETIA’s databases.
Jack hears some heavy footsteps and then one of the armored knights falls down the spiral staircase, crashing on top of some furniture and pulverizing it. Jack draws back (or steps forward, or does something, or not. I just need a break here) and the knight rises from the wreckage, unharmed, steps forward and, upon being greeted by Jack, lifts his hand – and a huge triangular sword appears in it, with a very broad base tapering to a point. The knight hacks at Jack, who grabs his hand, crushes it (or tears it off – perhaps that came later), and diverts the blow so that the knight cuts through his own armor – the blade cuts through the armor with ease, and the air is filled with an odd smell.
Jack takes the sword and cracks open the armor. It’s hollow, except for a cold and weird-smelling vapor; there’s apparently some power-source and a skeletal control network on the inside, but no actual occupant. Hefting the sword, Jack trudges up the spiral staircase.
Meanwhile, Winston observes a big book open on a reading desk, about where Dominique was earlier. He moves closer hoping to sneak in and snatch the book, but the four remaining armored figures array themselves around the table, forming a square. Slade chooses to remain unseen (I think. not clear exactly on what he was or wasn’t doing).
Douglas gets some answers on his query, finally. The ETIA’s outsourced research team in Bangalore found an image of a knight in nearly identical armor fighting a highly stylized dragon in a 14th century occult/symbolist text. A footnote says something about the ETIA suspecting this symbolism, of St. George vs. the Dragon or Serpent, is something planted by the Blues – apparently, the Blues and Greens have been on Earth for a long time, and their touch is evident in these symbols (knight = Blues, dragon = Greens).
Just then, Jack burst into the room, and the knights attack him, one with a sword and one with a morning star. Jack steps into the fray and wipes out all four knights with a few sketchily describes sword-strokes and a single roll. This does highlight some of the system peculiarities, with player fiat annulling the entire fight, really. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a bit different from what we’re used to: Bo kept expecting me to describe outcomes, and I was a bit lax in encouraging him to do that. Note that now Bo has had two successful rolls and is down to not too many dice in his pool. Israel is better off, with some bad luck keeping him well stocked with dice.
Baker drives up the driveway, blocking Dominique’s car, and joins the others in the library. They examine the book on the table, and see that it is written in some weird alphabet that looks a bit like Gothic, but has more characters than the standard Latin ABC. Stranger and more noticeable, the book is open on a page with a woodcut illustration showing a strange quasi-medieval city, a big gate and a staircase beyond it. The fleeing figures of Dominique and her crew can be seen in the picture, climbing the staircase. And in front of the gate, there are four shadows, without figures to cast them.
They look through the book and Douglas Baker runs some more database queries on it. Apparently, it is a mystical text, or an 18th century forgery of one, something called The Black Book of the Silver City, written in a cypher using an invented alphabet with 36 letters. Different versions of this book were written by unconnected authors, apparently channeling some spiritual author. The concept of memetic intrusion is mentioned somewhere.
Winston, Jack and Douglas suggest various ways of recreating the ritual or whatever that Dominique apparently used to get into the book. Jack suggests just going into the book, but can’t figure out how. Winston suggests taking positions to match those of the figures in the picture. Douglas downloads info on different ways of pronouncing the language the book is written in. He picks one intuitively, Oren decides to roll all the dice in his pool, and…gets no successes. Israel donates him a bunch of dice, but these too fail to bring up any success. So I guess they’re stuck. Stupid system, why doesn’t it work when needed and fail only when we need to create suspense?
Meanwhile, quietly and without fuss, the armored knights fade away, and the sword as well.
Winston suddenly remembers that he’s supposed to meet Alex in LA in 5 hours, and is confident that with Alex with them, they will be four and able to recreate the ritual and step into the book. And with that, the session closes.

Scenery note:

The lighthouse near Boca Raton looks like this (or, for an area shot, look at the third picture on this page). I was picturing something more like this (only higher up). The Cape Florida lighthouse (pictured here?) is better, and might just be close enough. Or we could pick something else.

NPC likeness:
Bernice Malamud is being played in my head by Sarah Silverman, because it’s more fun than the more obvious Janeane Garafolo:
Bernice Malamud
The Davreuxes

I have no idea what Dominique looks like yet (although I did find myself downloading pictures of assorted babes all Saturday instead of writing the recap), but Davreux is either Malcolm McDowell (specifically from Entourage), or the baddie from the third Indiana Jones movie. And Wang is obviously The Rock.
Update: I. says the Knights look like this:
Dressed for the hunt

Sleuth like it’s 2002

Oddly, I stumbled across this by randomly pecking at my browser history. I’d followed some link to this blog from Soshana Forbes, I think. But scrolling down, I found this, the result of this and a follow-up to this. Apparently, Nana readers are now playing the game the IRPPS forum has been playing way back when. Except they aren’t really putting too much effort into this, because it’s not really difficult (or interesting) to answer a question that’s already been answered.
Having a whole blog that asks who he is is impressive. Or at least, it might be, if it had more than two posts (then, actually, it would be scary).
and

Owww

People complaining of their aches and pains seems a recurring motif in blogs I read lately. Turns out that it was foreshadowing.
I slipped in the bath last night. Soaping my feet, not very clever, but I’ve done it each time I showered since moving here, so I got careless. And falling, it’s this moment that’s so slow and so helpless and I felt so stupid until my head slammed the side of the bath. Or had I already hit my head, was I remembering what happened, pretending I could do something?
No blood, but there’s an angry red abrasion on my scalp, and my head throbs, my neck got all whiplashed and hurts to move. Annoying. I was surprised when I woke up in the morning that the pain had gone down enough for me to fall asleep, because lying in bed after the fall it seemed that the discomfort would never decrease all the way to bearable. Perhaps I was just tired.
Anyway, ouch.

Random linkery

  • [via LMG:] The Thames Estuary Army Forts photos of these abandoned WW2 pylon fortresses, looking bery much like something from New Crobuzon…
    Looking up a suitable China Miéville link for that (Rungate Rampant, anyone?), I notice that Jewish-related google ads seem to be stalking the Ocher*. Weird.
  • Ultimate Eye for the Vertigo Guy is more fun than funny. If you don’t know who Bendis, Millar and Constantine are, skip it. [via same].
  • Colorblender is a neat tool for color matching and palette design. Fun for the aesthetically challanged.

* – China Miéville is participating in the British academic boycott of Israel, according to Nir, who was oddly sympathetic to this, despite having no problem insulting the venerable Brian Aldiss, just because he didn’t enjoy his books.