Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Torch of Liberty Part 3

When last we saw the PCs, Anja was plummeting to her death, and the other PCs were locked up in Uncle Sam's flying capitol.

Anja didn't actually die, of course. Players don't really like when you put them in completely unavoidable death scenarios. Or so I've heard. On her way down, she was caught by Keezekhoni, who had a flying spell in her repertoire.

Keezekhoni landed the two of them safely, and revealed two things: First, the cells weren't the only antimagic location on the Flying Capitol; The entire airship had some sort of magic-suppressing field around it. Second, she had stolen the key to the cell when Leuco dropped her.

So now Anja had everything she needed to free the other PCs, but no way of getting back up to the airship, even with the aid of a powerful NPC Anglican.

She was informed that only one man in New York could get her back onto that airship: Ignatious Knievel of the Steam Demons!

Anja found Knievel at a biker bar, and tried to convince him to climb to the top of the New York World Building, and jump her onto the airship when it came by. He refused to help her unless she was able to accomplish a dare: Beating a Steam Demon champion in a contest of her choosing.

She chose a one-act play contest, and with some creatively selected craft skill points, created an impressive set with moving parts, and a script involving Count Dracula riding a motorcycle.

It was a moment that was pretty obviously crafted to facilitate a great character moment, and the player gladly took it the extra mile. I put in a token performance as her NPC rival, and she acted out her scenery-chewing performance with gusto. Everyone was entertained. It was great. I recommend setting up moments like this whenever possible. I'll probably write up a post about this kind of thing in the future.

Anja won the contest, and Knievel jumped her onto the airship, enabling a quick, easy jailbreak, and setting the players loose on the airship of the biggest, baddest boss in America.

The priority here was to escape. Preferably without any players falling to their deaths. But hey, a plot twist changed all that.

The players made their way to the room that housed the tractor beam, and after overpowering the inventor, they realized that the room from the church that they had been abducted in was still there in the big tractor beam room.

While looking through that room for healing items, they found that the unfinished crystal/bomb thing from the Statue of Liberty was still in there. Nick, the Anglican/robot guy seemed to think that it would be possible to detonate it if it could be completed. He didn't know how much damage it would do, but obviously it had potential to be a pretty good ace in the hole. Unfortunately, in addition to the missing heart, the bomb couldn't even be detonated due to the powerful antimagic field over the whole airship (I know, I know, that's not how antimagic is supposed to work).

The players figured out that the antimagic field was emanating from a nest of affected eagles at at the very top of the airship. There was a pretty good encounter with some spike pits, and some handheld steam tractor beams that were good for forcing characters into the spike pits. Nick was handily killed in the conflict, and in dying, revealed that he had an actual human heart in his chest cavity! "Is it so wrong," he asked, "for a tin man to want a heart?"

Disabling the antimagic was pretty easy. The party opted for a stealthy approach rather than fighting them, which was very effective. I admit, I made it harder on them than I should have, because this was the final proper combat of the adventure, and I sometimes respond poorly when my narrative arc gets disrupted, but hey, who wants to hear about my weaknesses?

On the way back to the big room with the crystal/bomb thing, the PCs unexpectedly ran into Millicent Braincroft; Uncle Sam's wicked psychic with the ability to near-permanently petrify people. Braincroft was intentionally weighted to be far more difficult than the PCs could handle, with teleportation abilities. The only thing the players had in their favor was that she could only petrify one character per turn.

The PCs bolted for the tractor beam room, and a few of them got petrified on the way. When they reached the room, Constantin immediately started working on getting the bomb thing finished/detonated, while the remaining non-petrified PCs barricaded the door. At the last second, when they thought they were safe, Braincroft teleported in, and petrified the last of them. Constantin barely had time to set off the bomb, but when he did, Braincroft was handily reduced to dust, which ended the petrification effect on all the PCs.

Leaving the room, the PCs found the entire eerily airship eerily deserted. I'll spare you the details of the exploration and gradual unraveling, but everything affected was dead. The guards, Leuco the Eagle Man, all the senators and representatives in the legislative branch of the capitol, all the judges in the judicial branch, all of Uncle Sam's most powerful generals, and yes, Affected Uncle Sam himself. The players wouldn't believe it at first, but I let them kill the ominous, massively powerful big bad of the entire campaign offscreen by accident.

After that was mostly wrapup, with the players receiving a few more revelations:

  • Ross Douglass, the popular mayoral candidate, was among those on the airship. He had been affected all along. Among the ashes, a painting of him was discovered. For those who haven't read The Picture of Dorian Grey, a Basil Halward painting hides a person's age and true nature by basically aging in place of the subject. In Apocalyptus terms, they also take on mutations. Basically, this means that there are affected in America who are perfectly disguised as regular folks.
  • When Millicent Braincroft died, everything she ever petrified came back to life. Considering her habit of petrifying huge monsters and threatening to unfreeze them to hold cities hostage, this is has some really negative implications.
  • Uncle Sam has no clear successor for leading the Northern Affected Army. Without him, it will likely fragment. This will probably spoil Lincoln's plan to pit the North and the South against each other.
  • With their charismatic leader gone, and no orders, the affected of the north want nothing more than to get revenge on the PCs.
Anyhow, as is probably obvious here, one of my goals for this campaign was to explore what would happen if the players inverted the usual campaign structure, and killed the biggest boss first, with nothing left but the minions. I'll post more thoughts on this later.

The Torch of Liberty Part 2

In the previous post, the PCs were seeking the source of some Affected organized crime in New York. They managed to take down a mafia-like organization, spectacularly exploding its big boss. In doing so, they discovered a secret passage down into the unknown.

The PCs followed it down, and discovered an evil Affected patriotism cult that worshiped various items of American iconography, especially Uncle Sam. They were also housing a Lovecraftian horror made from the remains of the original American Flag.

There were some good combat encounters in here. In one room, there was an eagle statue that could shoot lasers out of its eyes, and was controlled via remote. The PCs quickly got their hands on the remote, and turned the eagle against the cultists. Another encounter involved groups of intensely patriotic Affected who would follow the orders of whoever carried their flag. The PCs eventually figured out that they could steal the flags, and built a temporary army for themselves.

The best bit for me was when they came into the room with the pit. Basically, there was a huge pit cloaked in steam with three narrow stone bridges across it, with a door at the end of each bridge. On the opposite sides of the bridges were some groups of Affected.

The group on the right immediately charged all at once. As soon as eight of them were on the bridge, the bridge collapsed, and they fell into the steam below.

Romeo Scrabs, being a hotheaded daredevil, decided to back his motorcycle onto the middle bridge to see if it would support his weight, reasoning that if it started to feel unstable, he could go back at full speed. The bridge held him, and he came to rest for the round in the middle of the bridge.

The head priest on the other end of the bridge shouted for all of his followers to pile onto the bridge and collapse it, sacrificing themselves to kill Romeo. Loyally, they did so, and Romeo fell into the pit, and came face-to-face with the aforementioned Lovecraftian horror. It was a tense moment, but he got out. Later, the players crossed the room with an unlikely combination of ropes and child-tossing.

After a few less remarkable encounters, and some exploring for loot, the players finally encountered the ancient and decrepit Affected Betsy Ross, who was speaking on a telephone when they entered her cool boss chamber. They beat her without too much trouble, but she placed curses on some players, making them unable to heal, and making one of them unable to hold objects.

Here's where things started getting a bit more unconventional: After they took out Betsy Ross, the characters realized that her telephone was still off the hook. On picking up the receiver, they heard UNCLE SAM, the BBEG of the entire campaign, on the other end! The players didn't take this matter too seriously (Patches decided to just speak Chinese into the phone), and Sam announced an intention to dispatch Yankee Doodle to take out the PCs.

The PCs decided that they had better run (after doing some looting. They tried to steal a 15 foot idol of Uncle Sam before they left, which went about as well as you would guess). They got out of the underground temple without incident, but when they surfaced, they were faced with Uncle Sam's enormous flying capitol flying just over New York's highest skyscrapers. The players ran back to St. Paul's church to have their curses healed, and while they were inside, the entire room that they were inside of was abducted by the Flying Capitol by means of an experimental "Steam Tractor Beam." Along with them, a Native American priestess named Keezekhoni and a robotic warrior-priest named Sam were abducted.

The party woke up divided into two antimagic cells located somewhere in the Flying Capitol. The inventor of the experimental tractor beam casually interviewed them about their abduction experience, explaining that "the really big tractor beam" has the effect of causing unintended unconsciousness. It was a pretty good moment, because the players had no idea what was going on at the time.

I know players hate being imprisoned, but I really loved this next bit. See, at this point, Leuco the Eagle Man, one of Uncle Sam's highest ranking and most brutal generals, came onto the scene in the first cell, and demanded that the PCs tell him "WHERE'S THE HEART??"

The PCs figured out that he meant the Anglican heart which had been stolen from St. Paul's Church. Apparently, either Helltoni or Betsy Ross's people had stolen the heart for Uncle Sam's nefarious purposes, and somebody had further stolen it from Uncle Sam. The PCs had no idea what to do with this information, and Leuco was all too happy to resort to brutal means of extracting information.

Leuco took Keezekhoni out of the cell, dragged her through a nearby door, and revealed that the cell was located right next to the edge of the flying Capitol, mere feet away from a perilous drop. Leuco then dangled Keezekhoni over the side, and demanded once again to know the location of the heart. When the PCs had no ready answer, he dropped her to her apparent demise, and stormed off.

Then he went to the other cell, and repeated the process. Only this time, he grabbed one of the PCs! Of course, the players knew what was happening, and flew into a panic, but their characters had no way of knowing what had happened with the other cell.

The PC in question was Anja, a Steam Mage who thought she was a vampire for some reason. Her player was fairly new, and her character had only just been written into the campaign. Had I not discussed this scene with her secretly before the game, she would have probably gotten a terrible impression of this campaign, but since she knew what to expect, she played her role with a fantastic cockiness, telling Leuco to "go ahead and drop me, I'm immortal!" in her character's classic Eastern European accent.

So Leuco dropped her!

To be continued!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Torch of Liberty

It took about two months to get through the first adventure that I wrote for the new campaign, and in that timespan I completely forgot about this blog.

My design goal for the adventure was to start off with a lot of the same RPG cliches that I relied on in my last campaign, and then shatter them all at the end, leaving a clear message that this time, anything can happen. I'll try to summarize the important bits here.

The PCs were summoned to New York, for the funeral of a railroad tycoon, and mutual acquaintance named Glendon Aldridge. In his will, he revealed a lifelong desire to go adventuring, and offered to put his vast personal fortune into paying the PCs to travel America in his crazy experimental train (think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but a train). If the PCs accepted, they would be obligated to help any Americans they came across who were threatened by the Affected.

The PCs agreed, for the sake of the campaign actually happening. While the train was being fitted for the journey, a priest from St. Paul's Church (where the funeral took place) suggested that they do something about Affected organized crime in New York; Particularly the many menacing "Uncle Sam Wants You" posters that kept appearing.

The PCs poked around some different locations, mostly bars, and heard a lot of rumors about the Affected activity in the city. The most troubling rumor was that Yankee Doodle had come to town, and was spearheading the propaganda campaign with the posters. Additionally, there were rumors about a few of Uncle Sam's high ranking generals, including Leuco the eagle-man, and Millicent Braincroft, a psychic who could petrify monsters and hold cities for ransom by threatening to unfreeze them.

In the session where I first brought the characters together, I established that the Statue of Liberty was an enormous fighting robot that defended New York with "Purity Bombs" carried within her "Judgment Torch". For those arriving late to the game, "purity" damage is used by the game's equivalent of Clerics (called Anglicans, since this setting is mostly made to accommodate British adventures), and is harmless to Trueborn characters, damaging only the Affected, and very mutated Nukeromancers. Anyway, back in the present, the PCs found out that a single bomb for use in the Judgment Torch had to be forged from the hearts of 77 Anglicans (typically, Anglicans from all across America would donate the precious organ after their deaths). The last bomb was used to save the passengers of an incoming train that had been beset by Affected. There was a new one being constructed in St. Paul's church that was still one heart short. The final heart was being moved in from Pittsburgh, and had been stolen neatly from an armored carriage along the way.

While passing a spirited but dim political candidate named Ross Douglass on a soapbox, the PCs spotted an Affected in the crowd who was concealing his mutations under a light scarf. They followed him away from the crowd, cornered him, and interrogated him. He didn't know much. He was a low-ranking minion of an organized crime syndicate, and had never even met the local crime boss personally. The players ended up getting some good information from him: The location where he was supposed to receive his next assignment, and the code words to get the assignment.

The players sent Emilio, the bizarre horse-fish hybrid, to the location of the assignment. Sure enough, a higher-ranking gangster named Davide Demoni was there. Emilio convinced him that he was the other guy, and Demoni gave him the assignment: He had to rub out a member of the gang named Luciffi who had been leaking the gang's secrets. The party considered attacking Demoni and getting more information, but he was carrying a suitcase bomb, and they deemed it too risky.

The party went off and staked out Luciffi's house, assuming that his reputation for having a loose tongue would pay off in the form of more information. When they raided his house, however, he brandished a stick of dynamite, intending to save his reputation by exposing the PCs plot to his higher-ups. It didn't work. The PCs managed to disarm him of the dynamite.

After a lengthy interrogation, Luciffi finally revealed that the gang's main operation was located in Helltoni's Italian Restaurant. The PCs promised Luciffi protection, but revoked it violently when he tried to escape.

The PCs went to Helltoni's restaurant at night, and found their way into the secret gangster area in the basement, with a couple 0f combat encounters along the way.

The best combat here was in a sealed-off room with some card-playing gangsters. When the PCs showed up, the gangsters filled the room with poison gas, and took some pills, which created bubbles of breathable air around them. Someone tipped over the table, and Romeo Scrabs used it as a jump, awesomely running down one of the gangsters with his bike before he could take his air pill. Romeo gave the pill to Colonel Jefferson, who took it, and all the non-melee PCs clustered around Jefferson for air. The gangsters had an impressive (and kind of broken) regenerative ability which made it virtually impossible to deal with them one-on-one. Which was kind of cool in my opinion, but some of the players resented it.

The PCs then found themselves in Helltoni's chamber. Helltoni was a huge fungus-like being made out of pasta. His body had grown all over the walls and ceiling, and he revealed to the PCs that he was holding up a bunch of acid goo on the ceiling, which would fall if he was killed.

Surprisingly, the PCs tried to convince Helltoni to hire them. Even more surprisingly, their bizarre logic worked, due to some really good diplomacy rolls, and some treacherous intentions on Helltoni's part. Helltoni hired them on temporarily, demanding that they assassinate Ralph Winewater; A mayoral candidate, and rival to Ross Douglass. He also revealed a printing press in an adjacent room, along with stacks and stacks of Uncle Sam posters for the PCs to put up.

The PCs then went and tried to convince Winewater to fake his death so that they could gain Helltoni's trust, but Winewater worried that such a move would be bad for his campaign, and was somewhat disturbed by the PCs methods. The PCs decided to abandon this idea, and opted instead to fill up a cake with dynamite and explode Helltoni's chamber from outside.

This plan worked fantastically, except that they dropped the cake while climbing down a ladder, and had to replace it with a big plate of spaghetti. Helltoni was easily neutralized with some remote detonation from Patches, and the players were able to evade the tide of acid by standing on the gangsters' card table. Demoni was speaking with Helltoni at the time, and he died too.

It was revealed that behind Helltoni's usual sticking-to-the-wall place there was a staircase descending deep underground.

To be continued!