The Quiet Year and Dialect: Character building through Worldbuilding through gameplaying.

Part of the appeal of Numenera 2 (Electric Boogaloo in the Butt) is the focus on building your own aldeia – your own Ninth World settlement amidst all those millions of years of ruined civilizations. The Ozymandius’ Mighty Works Tour Basecamp. The Ninth World has much to commend itself as a freewheeling Tour de Murderhobo setting, but there’s something about the balance of primitive society, bonkers crazy tech literally lying around and the imaginative descriptions of the existing settlements by Monte and Shanna and Bruce and Sean etc that fire the imagination with regards to trying to build something sort of permanent in a world that has made laughably impermanent eight previous star empire-level civilizations.

The setting remains the same, the old rules have gone nowhere, Twomenera is not a second edition, there’s just a few extra layers to the lasagna. And three of these layers are character types (tries to remember his Numenera sentence structure… A Descriptor Type who Focuses… yes, type) especially suited to serving in the building of a settlement: The Delve, an exploring scrounger type; The Arkus, a community leader/diplomat; and the Wright, a person who knows how to create new technology out of the bones of very old tech. There’s still PLENTY of room for the Glaive, Nano and Jack, of course as long as communities need their particular skills.

The settlements of the Ninth World are rare but awesome: pretty much every one we ran into is its own kind of place BUT worldbuilding is never as interesting as character building. A cool sandbox is still just a sandbox without the players creating interesting inhabitants interacting with that sandbox. The goal of worldbuilding shouldn’t be the be-all of the game: the worldbuilding is there to enhance the character building.

This is just a dope festival poster with a real heavy Numenera vibe. Yay Moebius and also Orange Goblin.

So if 2menera involves cool worldbuilding, how do we incorporate cool character building into that worldbuilding? Can the two be connected, interwoven? The best way I can think to do that is to make features of the world important to the characters. You can do this if you have established lore that everyone has access to: Belegorn, my Ranger of Arnor laments the lost lore of the fallen Dunedain kingdoms of the north and hopes for the return of the King to the throne of Gondor as his people’s last chance of order in a darkening world because that’s easy when you have a background lore as thicc as Tolkien’s. You can ascertain fairly complex relationships that likely exist between Belegorn and the world around him. But in a brand new, hot off the stream-of-consciousness mad libs we used to create our settlements? That’s harder.

Creating that character investment in a place, time and the people involved might be best created by using creative mini-games. Two games have me thinking of this: The Quiet Year and Dialect.

The physical version of the game with proper cards and stuff.

The Quiet Year is a collaborative map drawing game where players help narrate the growth and development of a community in between two great calamities. I listened to a Friends At The Table podcast that used TQY in order to create setting background and I really liked the idea. The rules set a structure to how the players narrate the recovery of the community from the first catastrophe and all that they accomplish before the second crashes upon them. When the game is done, you are left with a map showing a pictorial representation of not only the area, but the history of that year. And you have a ready made background for the character’s hometown. Maybe not the characters, you could be collectively creating the distant founding story of the settlement, not necessarily your character’s formative years.

The “dies” bit is a bit overstated.

Dialect also tells the story of an isolated community, but this time the story is told through the language they speak. It’s again a card based game that is collaborative and chatty and at the end of it you end up with a dialect and a story you’ve told about the speakers of that dialect. Language in games is tough to do well with a mostly monolingual (or at least no-one speaks the same second language and no-one has hopped aboard the Duolingo Italian Express with me) group of players (I’d be super interested in how groups of bilingual players incorporate language into their games, because it seems like you could do a lot) because the easy default is for everyone to speak Common or Truth or Ye King’s Tongue or whatever.

Language though can be an important part of the world you build though: consider what it means to be able to speak French in Middle Ages England. Or Welsh. Or Latin. Each of these languages tell you something about the speaker, the society it moves within and the role it plays in that society. Even crazy games-created cants like the weird argot of Planescape (which, maybe they knew, maybe they didn’t, but ‘Berk’, used kinda like ‘dude’ in Planescape, is rhyming slang for ‘cunt’, which always made Planescape seem like the most Australian of D&D settings) or the cheesy street-speak of Shadowrun’s alternate-Seattle. It was awful, but… it kinda worked. I can read it now in the Shadowrun isometric games (all good, btw) and I slip right back into that world.

Numenera has a leg up in this regard because while people might speak the Truth, a lot of what they are talking about is simply shit other people have never seen and can barely comprehend when it is described to them. It isn’t crazy, it’s just really complicated to describe. People are constantly describing never-before-seen, one-of-a-kind stuff to each other.

These two mini games – a map creation and a dialect creation game should create a plausible physical, social and historical narrative of a settlement, outside the control of one person. As a setting kick-off, I think it would require that it is started from fresh – using none of the 9th World background presented in the Rulebook. Maybe somethings borrowed, but both mini-games seem like they’d work best if given as few ties to existing lore as is possible.

Thing is, without the idea of getting an End Result out of both these mini-games, I’m not sure how satisfying they’d be to play. And getting an End Result isn’t the goal of either game. The play’s the thing. There’s no resolution to either game. You end up telling a fragment of a story. But hopefully – the entire idea this sparked in me – is that this fragment of a story is enough to get going creating the world in which the characters are then created. And crucially, it would be a world I’d be only marginally involved in… and that’s sort of exciting as a GM. I get to be as surprised as the players.

The Cardassian Checkmate, 1.4

Well that was certainly an exciting episode last night, despite the reduced crew. Cardassians are one of my favourite villains, because they’re just so fucking arch. Suffice it to say that the outcome of last night’s rash decision making in fraught circumstances will substantially alter the USS Chiron’s mission briefing.

I got home, still wired from the late coffee and wrote up as much as I could remember…

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Machine of Death

Boardgame Geek gives Machine of Death a 5.5 out of 10 rating, which is pretty low, but also not terrible, since Boardgame Geek is the Pitchfork of Sitting Around a Table with Friends. This makes me think that this game isn’t that much funnier than the people you play it with, but that’s fantastic news for me.

I enjoyed the murderous improv and what amounts to Structured Bullshitting, which I suspect Boardgame Geek can’t figure out quite how to force into a metric, of last Sunday night.

How each round goes is this: You generate a target. A name, two possibly interesting aspects of their personality and a location.

Then you find out how they are going to die. This isn’t negotiable – someone who is fated to die of “Kittens” can’t be killed by bullets. They will die of Kittens, somehow.

Then, you make that happen.

As Predestinarian Assassins, you have to nudge the person – subtly or violently – towards their date with death. You are provided a budget, of course, of three objects (typically) to make that nudging happen. There’s a planning stage where you lay out what your plan is if everything goes right and during that time you collectively decide how likely each component is likely to work as intended.

When it comes to Murderplanisgo time, a 90-second timer gets flipped. You roll for your first element and if it works you progress to the next element of your plot. If it DOESN’T work, you draw another budget card and can then try and work that into the plan on the fly.

If you run out of time before killing your target… uh, too bad, they get away.

But if you do kill them, you can achieve bonus objectives (rolled randomly; like make a getaway, destroy evidence, throw a wake) using any leftover budget cards or a new one drawn from the pile.

There’s a tiny amount of things left to chance and a lot more just arguing about how to murder people and I think that is what makes it more fun for me than for the Boardgame Geek reviewers.

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Entropy’s Demise, 1.3

There are some things Modiphius has done really well with Star Trek Adventures and other things they’ve done really badly. The Index in the Rulebook is one of the most annoying wastes of time in any Rulebook ever. It feels like a giant backwards leap to mid-80s British roleplaying game where enthusiasm for getting the game out overcame other things like… hiring an editor or proper layout designer. I’ve been pretty gushing about their tone and I think we’re coming to understand and like the game system, so I won’t go on and on about how great it is.

The difference between Entropy’s Demise and Border Dispute is amazing though – not in terms of tone; that’s excellently done throughout the game products I’ve read so far. Border Dispute is a complicated scenario presented well, with supporting documentation and lots of good, thorough work by the writer (Obtain Information momentum spends fleshed out, for example or threat spending upgrades for the GM and his villainous NPCs).

Entropy’s Demise is lacking either of these “extra chips in the poke” when both would be useful and fitting, but also lacks maps when maps would be super useful, yet provides maps when they aren’t and doesn’t explain how certain key events go down. The Away Team in their first session took down a Romulan and took him prisoner. It’s good that they do that, that event advances the plot – but how they do could do that isn’t even outlined in the scenario. It’s neither a set up vignette, nor something for which you are given guidelines (oh boy, have I been spoiled by the elasticity of Monte Cook Games scenarios). Stats are given for the dude and also what happens if he is overcome and captured… and that’s about it.

Those kind of missing links between scenes or missing relationships between events are maybe the fault of the writer, but seem far more the responsibility of the editor. It really seems like a lot of content might have been cut out of this scenario with nothing done to fix the incisions. We’ll see which model the scenarios in the rest of the book follows.

Self criticism time, now that I’ve doled it out some: After this scenario it became obvious that we’re not leveraging the player values enough, which is something I should actively do and players should be keeping an eye on. Interaction with the values is how players grow or change and we just haven’t done that – the problem with being hyper-competent, I guess. So when it came time to do milestones at the end, no-one qualified.

Players are encouraged to get in the hang of technobabbling their crazy ideas because that is way more likely to work. I.e. “Can we use our tricorders to set up some sort of perimeter alarm?” isn’t likely to get the go-ahead because I have no idea how you would do that, whereas “Can we set up a narrow beam resonance field between two tricorders with alerts to our combadge if either tricorder stops receiving information from the other device?” is likely to get the go-ahead because I also don’t know how to do that, but in the right way. That isn’t (okay, it’s a little bit of) me just being a dick GM, that’s something the game encourages and with good reason.

I’ve also got to get used to spending threat more. I should finish the game with an empty pot of threat and a bunch of players with tightly clenched anal columns. I was – for at least the last two sessions of this adventure – running on only a few hours of sleep and an awful lot of espresso. Hopefully a break for a week and then right back into it should help.

Act 1

The USS Chiron was cruising towards the Carina system. A space station that captured gasses from the nearby gas giants in the outer edge of the system had started disintegrating, to everyone’s surprise. An evacuation was underway with which the crew of the Chiron would be assisting the station was past saving at this point, but still held enough to mean that they weren’t under the gun too much. The ships engineers would be assigned to keep everything where it should be while everyone else would simply provide guidance for the civilian ships arriving to ferry away the refugees.

That wasn’t the only thing going on in the Carina system, however, and the other problem seemed smaller, yet trickier. Colonists on the inner world of Carina VII – a fertile, warm idyll – had noticed rapid aging of both their crop (grapes), their structures and their population. They had no idea why and… would like to know what was going on.

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Liminal Shores

I just don’t know.

When I was alerted that there was another Monte Cook Games Kickstarter I a) was excited and b) groaned, because I can’t keep buying all these fucking awesome games.

With Numenera 2 (2menera) Kickstarted and delivered and all done and dusted this new KS is a bunch of great material for the system which I really, really like. Of all the RPGs I’ve picked up post-Pathfinder this was the one that changed the way I thought about them and changed the way I enjoyed them. Numenera has been great to me and I’m looking forward to playing it again.

The setting, with its tremendously open not-fixed-in-place world gives the GM and players room to make just about everything happen. There’s so much mystery and in that mystery, possibilities await. It isn’t a stuffy, stodgy world where certain things have to stay the same way otherwise it will invalidate x, y and z. There are benefits to that kind of world, your Dragonlance setting, etc or any well-established setting – instant familiarity and buy-in if you are slipping into a game of Middle Earth Roleplaying like a cosy familiar hoodie. But Numenera is about discovery as much as it is anything else – so there are unknowns. Unknowns.

Liminal Shores promises to push back some of that unknown. The project will reveal some of the secrets of the Ninth World – the planet encompassing datasphere will be explored, and mysteries of the past (how come Earth is the second planet from a sun that still works but should have died ages ago and who did that and why and, jesus, how?).

There will be three books: Voices of the Datasphere examines the information web surrounding earth and how you can interact with it. Liminal Shores explores a new land, found only through following clues in the datasphere. Edge of the Sun promises some big reveals regarding how things came to be as they are.

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A Romulan Engagement in the Neutral Zone

Personal Log: Commander Soral, Stardate 48212.4

This is the personal log of Soral, Commander and Chief of Engineering currently serving aboard the USS Chiron in the Delta Quadrant.

Having situated myself with the current capabilities of this vessel, running through numerous simulations involving improving efficiency of our warp drive and energy distribution systems, interviewing the staff of our engineering department to introduce myself and become aware of their personalities, interviewing with my captain to learn of her philosophies and planned implementation of commanding our crew, I found myself greatly anticipating our first mission.

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Border Dispute, 1.2

The spoiler warning for this one has to go up right away, because this one was a mystery scenario with a few twists and surprises. This was the first scenario I’ve run from the These Are The Voyages Vol. 1. So yeah, if you haven’t played Border Dispute, but might, seriously worth your time to NOT read this; it really is a good, very Star Trek adventure by Andrew Peregrine.

Act 1

The action got underway when the Captain of the Chiron was hailed on secure subspace channel and went to take the message in her ready room. A few minutes later, she re-emerged, gave the helm new coordinates and put the ship on Yellow Alert. She summoned her senior officers and informed them of the situation.

A Federation medical vessel, the USS Nightingale had strayed into the Romulan Neutral Zone and been apprehended by a Warbird, which had disabled it and was preparing to tow it back to Romulus as proof of the Federation’s ill intentions towards their treaty with the Romulan Star Empire.

Upon arriving just outside the RNZ they found the Nightingale pretty badly beat up, dwarfed by the hulking D’deridex-class T’Varen. Establishing contact with the Nightingale they found that her captain was dead, her computer core deliberately scuttled, her hull falling apart in places, half her crew dead and her engines buggered. It was looking bad over there.

via GIPHY

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Interstitial 1.1x

I went over the time between the end of the last Mission and glossed over debriefing and the character’s actual meet up with the Chiron before we actually dug into the next episode. I went over the Milestone system of character development too, which is unusual to me, but makes sense and has a nice cooperative element to it. We also decided how Riker sits on the toilet; and now you know how Riker sits on the toilet.

“Muh basement got one of them there Riker turlets.”

If you are injured (for reals) or if you challenge/live up to/suppress a Value or Directive (mission specific value, essentially) that’s an important moment in your career and you achieve a Milestone. For special circumstances, I – like a preening emperor tossing a laurel wreath to a gladiator-slaying lion – will throw out a Spotlight Milestone award. This is up for a vote by the players, deciding whose “special episode” this was. Both Milestone and Special Milestones allow you to reassign numbers on your character sheet – you can lower one thing to raise another. It isn’t necessarily a character getting better, they’re already hyper-competent, but they get the opportunity to dial in on what makes their character particularly useful.

Once you’ve received a few Spotlight Milestones (which isn’t going to be that often, even if you play a lot of missions given that we will have 5-8 players sharing the spoils) you get an Arc Milestone, which signifies particular growth as a person and does, finally, unequivocally improve your character’s numbers.

I’m not sure how often this will be important, but I kinda like the system. Especially that a Milestone is tied to a particular experience, which players should make note of at the time. “Whose episode was it?” Is also an interesting question to ask of the players and could lead to a little more player agency, which I’m growing to love now that I’ve taken my Dungeon Master gauntlets off.

To start play off I leaned into the cinematic/televisual nature of the game’s structure and asked everyone for a few montage scenes of their settling in to the Chiron. Show a lot of things happening at once, remind everyone of what’s going on (What’s going on?) And with every shot you show a little improvement, to show it all would take to long, that’s called a montage (Montage).

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Encounter at Xerxes IV

Personal log, Commander Soral: Stardate 73034.2

This is my first entry as engineering commander for the USS Chiron, and I anticipate future entries to include higher levels of detail, as I am new to recording a mission’s relevant activities. I will endeavor here to include as much detail as would be relevant to a crew member, Starfleet officer, or other interested third parties including those of any species yet to be discovered as I anticipate my participation in our 5 year mission will reveal new friends, and foes alike.

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Episode 1.1 The Rescue At Xerxes IV

I guess that means the Starter Set was the Pilot. I’m liking the new blog layout; much easier to use, but I can’t find the “read more” cut… so here’s everything.

With our crew of players assembled, and vacation and post vacation illnesses managed, it was time to get to the serious business of boldly going. Greg and JIM had never played it before, but I think the rest of us were happy to go over the game’s basic concepts again.

There’s a learning hump to get over with Star Trek Adventures and once you get over that, I suspect we’ll be golden. (Also, at the exact moment we do all get comfortable with the rules, it’ll be time to get back to Deadlands or Numenera or Paranoia, or maybe The Stars Are Fire will have arrived and we’ll do totally different Sci-Fi… who knows? An entirely new volume of Numenera Scenarios arrived at in the mail today – I think that’s the last thing I’m getting from the N2 kickstarter and should keep us going for another year’s worth of adventures in the distant and weird future.). I studied up a bit ahead of time and then explained basic tests and focuses, momentum and threat, values and determination and then forgot to mention Challenge Dice. But those are the cliffs to be scaled before we plateau.

The adventure I ran was the basic adventure included in the rulebook, designed (pretty well, I thought) as a starter/intro. For that reason, if you’ve stumbled across this blog and have any intention of playing this adventure, you should turn back now. Spoilers, obviously.

There are more advanced rules and concepts included in the rulebook: character arcs and the like. We’ll get to those sometime. Once I’ve got reminders about the basic rules streamlined out of my prep I should be able to help this game along with some reference materials for players (a few ship schematics and a couple of cheat cards) and I can delve a bit further into some of the more meaningful parts of the rules because the game contains quite a bit of development stuff and that’s cool.

Since everyone is new to their characters, there was quite a bit of table talk about what everyone is good at and given that things were supposed to be happening at a tense clip, I decided that players could only exchange numbers if their XO, Commander Troka succeeded at a test. In the short term I think that worked just fine, long term, I’m not sure we’d have to bother: everyone is hyper-competent at the things you’d kind of expect them to be hyper-competent with. Maybe though. That kind of group facilitation comes out as a feature of the Commanding Officer in space combat, so I’m into extending the benefits of rank in other situations.

Episode 1.1 The Rescue At Xerxes IV

Our episode’s cold open involved several of the USS Chiron’s officers climbing aboard the runabout USS Acheron. Piloting the runabout was Master Chief ch’Hezney who had been part of the shakedown crew taking the newly minted Defiant-class Chiron from the Utopia Planitia shipyards to Narendra Station for crew assignment. ch’Hezney was a relatively-grizzled Andorian Starfleet veteran, but this assignment: having a warp-capable craft under his guidance, was pretty choice and had him quite excited in his own way.

Climbing aboard: two and a half humans, one and a half Vulcans and a Denobulan. Ensign Rands, a young Conn officer; Lt V’Rona, Chief Medical Officer; Commander and Executive Officer Troka; Science Officer Soral and Chief Specialist Rolland. Handpicked by Captain Vasquez, these officers had landed a plum assignment on the Chiron. The USS Chiron had been imagined as a crisis response ship, making use of the Defiance-class engine power and advanced weaponry, but supplemented by two Runabout Class warp-capable modular shuttles. This allows the Chiron a remarkable degree of flexibility, despite its small size and small crew compliment (about 40 long term crew for the five-year mission, with space for a few more specialists brought on temporarily). The officers chatted amiably about their upcoming posts as the Acheron cut through warp…. until…

…an alarm from the Runabout alerted them to a distress signal in the area through which they were traveling. The crew jumped to their terminals to find out everything they could about the system and who may be activating a beacon there. Diverting to the source of the simple signal, the Xerxes system, they were dumped out of warp and into the heart of a raging system-wide ion storm. Warning lights blazed to life and alerts sounded as minor systems burst into showers of sparks and larger systems flickered on and off. The passengers of the Acheron were thrown around as their shuttlecraft began its largely uncontrolled descent to the surface of the source of the distress beacon, M-class planet Xerxes IV.

Cue good theme music and titles, none of this Discovery-era country horseshit. I’m talking stirring strings, horn sections, the whole thing.

Scene 1

Largely through pilot competence and a little bit of in-plummet fixing, the Acheron made a “controlled crash landing”. A quick survey of the shuttle showed no structural damage at all, barely any scratches, but with catastrophic ionic damage to several important Electro-Plasma conduits. These were not difficult to replace – far from it, they were one of the simplest fixes – but the Acheron’s supply of backups had also been frazzled by the ion storm. Not to worry – they knew from their scrambled information gathering session as they diverted towards the Xerxes system that there was a Starfleet research base on the planet large enough to a) weather the system’s crazy solar fluctuations and b) have a decent supply of shielded EPS conduits. And it was also c) certainly the source of the distress beacon, so win-win.

There was no sentient life on Xerxes IV that Starfleet didn’t bring there, so they didn’t have to worry about the Prime Directive, or any political machinations this far from contested space. No, their main problem at the moment seemed to be that they’d overshot the research base and had a hike in their near future. Stepping out into the violet gloom of the planet, they found plenty of phosphorescent flora lighting their way, but they’d only just left the safety of the shuttle when they were rushed by four shambling figures.

The “creatures” wore the tattered remnants of Starfleet uniforms on their coarsely furred body and one waved a type 1 phaser around dangerously but ineptly. The crew held their ground and exchanging a few blows with these cavemen-looking aggressors, incapacitated them all. Lt. V’Rona scanned them and found several aspects to these attackers that she found… fascinating.

For a start, their appearance was that of Homo Habilis or Homo Erectus, pre-human predecessors, rather than a new form of alien and she hypothesized that they had succumbed to a devolution virus, of which not many are known to affect humans. But further findings led her to believe that it wasn’t a virus at all, but worked through the same mechanism as allergens – presumably with a local environmental trigger. The devolved scientists all lacked their Starfleet insignia, but those likely had alarmed the creatures when used as communication devices. They appeared to have acted on instinct alone, with little fear (and therefore memory) of phasers.

Scene 2

First things first then, everyone went back into the shuttle and got into their environmental suits, quickly. Then, a little more on edge they began hiking their way towards the research facility. On the way Commander Troka became aware that he was beginning to suffer excessive anxiety, heightened senses and paranoia, likely the first sign of loss of higher functioning as his primitive brain started to take over. He alerted the rest of the crew to this and did his best to stay centered.

Lt. Vrona had the responsibility of determining when Troka had become so compromised that he should be relieved of command. But she also had the looming knowledge that pre-Surak Vulcan genetic-ancestors lived lives of paranoia and rage on levels humans could scarcely comprehend. So there was that to chew over.

They worked together to overcome the problems that the terrain threw at them with aplomb and finally arrived at the research base.

Scene 3

Outside the base they found a large functioning pest repellent and by the nature of the hardware attached to it, it seemed like a pretty big pest. Inside, they found damage throughout the facility. Mostly superficial damage though, so most crucial systems were still working.

They found Doctor Heidi Schipp cradling colleague Dr Jasper McIncreasinglycaveman, who was feverishly undergoing physical changes before their eyes. As they watched, they saw his brow twitch as his supraorbital ridge thickened and knotted into a thicker bone plate. Dr Schipp took a while to calm down, but eventually was able to fill them in on their predicament: the ion storm had triggered a wave of genetic regression on the planet’s flora and fauna which had also begun to effect the botanists and zoologists as their immune systems were overwhelmed by the new and ever-changing allergens, although at very different rates. It took everyone eventually, human and Andorian, although at different speeds. They were frustratingly close to a breakthrough in a possible cure for Irumodic Syndrome, although she believed that the possible curative qualities they found in the devolving plants may be a temporary feature of the regressing flora.

On a more practical level, she confirmed that the replacement conduits should be easy to salvage, but she stressed that she wasn’t going to leave Jasper here to devolve, for you see, they were lovers.

Also, years worth of research and recent breakthroughs into the treatment of Irumodic Syndrome would be lost, with lives across the galaxy being impacted. Also also, an old colleague of Lt. V’Rona’s was one of the missing-presumed-apewomen scientists.

Also also also, their portable weather radio indicated that an Ion storm-battering was about to commence planetwide leaving them a very small window to get everything done before the genetic regression accelerated in anyone/anything affected by it.

Scene 4

Alright, time to roll up the sleeves and get on with the business of actually solving these problems. Commander Troka did a quick mental recap of everyone’s strengths and qualifications and set to forming work teams.

Ensign Rands and Chief Rolland set off into the thick demi-jungle with their tricorders loaded up with information about the samples that they needed to get into shielded stasis pods. Technically Rands had the rank, but Rolland had all the experience, so that’s a fun pairing!

Science Officer Soral and Chief ch’Hezney set about stripping the conduits that they needed from the science station’s non-essential machinery. Their goal was to find enough of them to fix the shuttle without having to break them out of vital systems, not least of which the medical equipment.

Working that medical equipment as hard and as fast as was logical, Lt Vrona with as much aid as her XO could give her, but since Troka was antsy and not really medically inclined, that meant a lot of the burden fell on the Vulcan. Her goal was nothing less than finding a way to reverse the devolution of her colleagues and then figuring out a way to make that happen.

Rands and Rolland carefully collected the samples from the gnarly plants (the planet seemed to specialise in plants with innate defense mechanisms, many of which were very, very painful) but before they could complete the task were rushed by two more cavemen. Rolland responded quickly and shot his dead with his phaser, while Rands took the less lethal colleague-murdering route of trying to incapacitate his foe. He did, eventually, but not before the savage throwback leaped on him and bit deep into his shoulder, tearing his enviro-suit open. Lot to unpackage in this scene, and given that this game is about the moral quandaries in which we might find ourselves were we Starfleet members on the bleeding edge of human experience… rest assured, it will get unpackaged. The good news is that the berries they needed weren’t hopelessly trampled by the savages and the two returned successfully with time to spare and with an unconscious cavedude in tow ( I think).

ch’Hezney and Soral began searching the base for usable conduits and were able to procure enough to fix the Runabout and get off the planet pronto. This was the smoothest of all the necessary tasks, and no one murdered a colleague in self defense while doing it.

Toughest of all was attempting to cure the devolution and much depended on Vrona’s skills as a physician. First, she had to identify the exact cause – she had already figured out roughly how the change was initiated. Then she had to study the fast moving symptoms which was difficult because she didn’t have a whole lot of test subjects. Jasper was ideal, but he was about the only one.

Last of all, she had to formulate a cure. And amazingly, she did.

Get shit done, V’rona! Pretty rad retro ST art by Phil Noto.

With about fifteen minutes to spare, the replicators were ready to create a medicinal cure and everyone had returned to the base. But, what of those devolved creatures running around outside in the ion storm? It was going to be difficult to track them down and hypospray each one individually. Never fear, they’d actually formulated a plan for that too: while a hypospray full of medicine and sedative was just the thing for a caveman standing right beside you, the ion storm could be counteracted by broadcasting a counter-signal. If the radiogenic mutation could be forced one way, they could force it the other way, but it would be tricky.

Commander Soral and Ensign Rands scaled the crest of the rocky peak overlooking the research base and hooked up the necessary broadcasting parts to the beacon but their in situ fix wasn’t working. Soral, seeing that his attempts had failed, stepped aside emotionlessly to allow the young Starfleet graduate a crack at the job as ionically charged particles began to bombard the atmosphere and, in the nick of time, the signal burst to life, covering the surrounding region in just the right kind of magnetically charged particles, to counter the ionic surge sweeping the planet and reverse their effects when the surge died down.

Scene 5

Loading up lover-boy Jasper, their soon-to-be-replaced EPS conduits and their soon-to-be-replicated biological samples onto a floating palette, the soon-to-be crew of the Chiron hiked back to the runabout in the now relative calm of their counter-signal bubble.

Chief ch’Hezney enlisted help in replacing the conduits, but that wasn’t too tough a job. Much harder was standing outside being stalked by the Xerxes Panthers, a toothsome, lithe and ruthlessly fast flying predator that seemed to have little in common with a panther, other than it showed up silently and fucked you up. It tore into the crew as they waited for their shuttle to come back on-line, mauling V’Rona badly. As the power was rerouted successfully and the ship’s functions were restored, the crew piled in and hit the “hatch close” button just as a second lethal ‘panther’ slithered over the rocks near them. The engine hummed to life and impulse power took the Acheron out of Xerxes IV’s tortured atmosphere and into the still-pretty-rough space. With the runabout’s meager shielding straining, they hit warp and got out of there. OoooooooooBAMF

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