Numenera 3: This is your brain on ancient machinery.

This was the awkward bridge between episodes as the last session had ended with just a little bit more to go of The Beale of Boregal and then we had to kick onto the next scenario: this one pulled from the Weird Discoveries book of ten quick-to-run standalone adventures. There’s nothing really connecting most of the stories except whatever story the players have come up with and whatever bits I slide in to prepare them for coming… um… let’s go with ‘opportunities’.

I’m not too worried abut spoiling the Weird Discoveries scenarios because crucial ‘keys’ to resolving the adventure are determined by the GM, so every game will be similar but different. But this early in things there aren’t many reasons for the party to be heading any particular way.

So I used one of my GM Intrusions for one of the rarer purposes for which they can be used – nudging the story in one direction or another. By giving Noe the option to refuse or accept the nudge, I can walk away from it with a clean conscience knowing that I didn’t railroad anyone, but at the same time, the story moves in a direction where it’s easier for me to serve up something without to much readjustment.

I’m not going to put you on a plot train.
But I am going to leave these complimentary tickets right here…

But when you do that as a GM, it must be okay for the player to say “No thanks, that sounds shit.” Otherwise it really is railroading. So you can’t set it up as a false choice otherwise you’ll be stuck as a GM with nothing to run or players will feel, rightly, that you are taking their free will away from them. I had a clearer idea of what  lay to the south, so nudged them that way, by giving Noe the option to have Giana get a strong preference for travelling with a merchant’s caravan. She went with it and it saved us 5 minutes of waiting at the game table while I did some mental gymnastics. So that’s positive.

The other advice I took from the book was to “Skip the boring bits”. It’s tempting in most games to make monotonous travel… monotonous. At least a grind, so that your players understand how little fun it is or what an effort they are undertaking. But that is, literally boring, why would we do that for fun? In retrospect, I should have opened it up and let the players describe what went on: make a montage.

The landscapes of the Ninth World are wacky and interesting and unnatural and beautiful. And it seems a shame to skip them.

We skipped some pretty vast distances and that’s fine. The extra temptation in Numenera is to paint weird, vivid scenery, a la Moebius; if the GM does that, it may be taken as a cue to explore, which you don’t want, necessarily. But if the players do it: share-magine the strange relics of aeons past and the landscape that it leaves… well they know it is flavour and can paint a vivid picture without getting distracted. I should do that more: every player suggestion has been great so far.

Also, if you’re unfamiliar with Moebius, you could do worse things than trying to understand his influence on Numenera. Have fun down that rabbit hole.

Anyway… recap and spoilers after the jump.

  • Sharad, an Intelligent Nano who Leads and who is picking up Aeon Priests in taverns.
  • Meef, a Mechanical Jack who Exists Partially Out Of Phase and doesn’t necessarily always use that skill wisely.
  • Red Pepper, a Graceful Glaive who Wields Two Weapons and occasionally masonry tools.

meeting up a little later with…

  • Giana, a Strong-willed Jack who Focuses Mind-Over-Matter and isn’t ready to play Jessica Fletcher to these yokels.

 

We left them last session as they had just discovered the steep stairway leading down from the floor of the Devoirs chamber to the whisperlocked door far beneath. Meef pushed himself out of phase and slid through the cunningly locked door which would have bamboozled most other people. The Jack opened the door from the other side and let everyone else in to the somber room he found.

It was a morgue, clean and austere, with slab-like tables jutting from the wall; shroud-draped bodies laid upon them. At the far end of the room, an array of devices and machinery lit by glowglobes provided the backdrop to an eerie scene: A richly dressed man, bent over a corpse on a slab as the machine around him crackled and hummed, and the corpse’s mouth opening and closing, it’s lips whispering to the man.

He scolded himself, this corpse-listener,  and then asked the party if they had come to help or hinder him. They equivocated, but apparently that was good enough for him. He continued distractedly recalibrating equipment and seemed willing to answer their questions. They began to get a firmer idea of what had happened: Something called Boregal, a man with a powerful mental ability was trapped beneath Embered Peaks and powered the machine which allowed the Devoirs to ask questions of the dead. Something started to go wrong with Boregal and the townsfolk began to suffer delusions and paranoia. Slowly Boregal’s pain was vented on an increasingly large area, effecting even the creatures of the region and those sensitive to these types of phenomena.

The Devoir, Yeiran, had been trying to unravel the mystery but was doing so through what seemed like increasingly thick blankets of insanity. He could not bring himself to kill Boregal, but could think of no way to help him and was by now too susceptible the psychic/magic/mental/psionics/whatever. He gave them a weird pizza-cutter tool and told them he’d open the way down to the machinery. They agreed to go – Giana decided to stay behind and make sure Mumbles-with-stiffs didn’t double-cross them.

Yeiran opened up a metal hatch in the wall that led to a brightly lit, circular corridor leading down further into the earth. They descended and emerged in a triangular room dominated by a mass of dark spheres that glowed with a red light. The mental anguish pouring from the room was almost palpable, a deeply unpleasant torrent of screaming and pleading and babbling. The globules appeared to be connected to a pillar in the center of the room, with ancient machinery plugged into it. Around the room lay junk metal of scrapped and looted machines from eons past.

They investigated in some sensible ways (looking around, scanning) and some not sensible ways (Meef phasing his head into the mass of black globules, aided and abetted by Sharad, who thought that sounded like a solid plan). Spoiler: It was not.

That’s just science.

Eventually they decided to use the pizza-cutter to disconnect the mass of spheres from the pillar that was sustaining and supporting it. The mass fell to the floor, sphere-ily and revealed the petrified brain and stub of a nervous system that once belonged to Boregal. They decided to put it out of its misery.

They thought it was just a rock, but it wasn’t a rock! It was a rock psyker! And it fried their brains but good. Gathering all the metallic plates from the junk around the room, the brain formed a coccoon of sliding metal and began lashing out with devastating all-encompassing waves of synapse frying power. Dazed and confused, Meef began striking at it with his sword. Sharad blasted it a few times with his Mindslice variation of Onslaught. Red – realising her light weapons were never going to penetrate this level of armour -dug out her hammer and chisel from her explorer’s pack and drove the chisel through the gaps in the plates to chip chunks off it. They quickly realised that they had bitten off a very large, dense mouthful – but running away would have allowed the brain to pulverize their own minds as they fled, so they stayed and fought, healing when they could.

Their greatest test so far would have made an attractive paperweight.

To say it was a close fight was an understatement – the waves of damage coming off the brain were punishing, especially to Meef and Sharad who possessed mental powers of their own. But, with the world swimming around them and very little higher cognitive functions left, they prevailed, the last blows splitting and shattering poor old Boregal’s brain.

They looted the room, obviously and went back up to check on Giana. She was fine, being good at withstanding this sort of barrage of nasty mental stuff, but the same couldn’t be said of Magistrate Yeiran, who had run around as though on fire when the mental attacks had started and whose frontal lobes had over-pressured and exploded out through his forehead.

via GIPHY

Emerging into the town of Embered Peaks they found the terrified populace simultaneously relieved, appalled, thankful and profoundly embarrassed.  They were not particularly welcome guests, but they badly needed to recuperate and the townsfolk allowed them that at least, being mostly too shocked to do anything else.

Their minds turned now to returning Seria to her aldeia by the False Woods. They schlepped all the way back to Cylion Basin, where Seria was waiting with Darvin. Fortunately they made the acquaintance of Uolis, a racer of oversized biomechanical mantids. He was taking his herd out for a pre-racing season shakedown, from the far distant Beanstalk. He needed some material to make  repairs and due to the Synth Garden being opened, was happily doing so. He offered to take them all north on his herd of weird-ass artificial racing insects. This is the most Numenera paragraph I’ve  written so far.

They travelled in harnesses strapped to the back of the creatures at a good speed across the low foot hills between the two settlements and arrived at False Woods at the scene of recent conflict. The Pallones that had preyed upon the villagers had finally fled or been killed and now the settlers were patching their wounded and their homes into shape. Seria’s family, including the town leader, her grandad, were thankful and relieved at Seria’s return, although grieved to hear of poor old Patel.

Oh, well, can’t let tragedy get you down. They returned to Cylion Basin with Uolis and for some inexplicable reason just waved goodbye to him, despite him being fine with transporting them across the plains on his strange steeds. Players, eh? They then went about finding a way out of Cylion Basin that would keep Giana incognito, as apparently more people had been around town asking about her, offering hefty rewards.

Oh, hey fellas.

Eventually, they settled on leaving the Wandering Way for the time being – a wise move since they knew for sure that that way had bounty hunters on it. They elected to travel along with an Aneen caravan headed south, although they had to fake leaving northeast and quickly meet up with the train of lumbering bipedal mega-avians.

Aneen are one of the few omni-present creatures in this part of the world.

Their destination was Adderstal, an aldeia on the edge of the Ausren Woods. Upon arriving, there was considerable consternation among the caravan drivers. Turns out, someone stole the freshwater generating artifact from Adderstal just a few nights hence. Without it, the aldeia and to a lesser extent the caravan are boned. The watertable in this neck of the woods is irrevocably toxic and the endless supply of fresh, clean, wholesome water was 1/2 of why the caravan came here (lumber, crafted goods and furs being the other) and the entire reason there’s a settlement here at all.

Look, we just really need our fountain back.
What does it look like?
Uh, you’ll know it when you see it.

The party talked to Guyan, a town leader, who begged them to look into the matter. The caravan began making preparations to return to Cylion Basin. Their first lead was to go talk to Kuipania, the town’s lone Aeon Priest. Her clave was pretty obviously different than the rest and the Aeon Priest, dressed in austere ceremonial robes and tattooed with faintly glowing lines crisscrossing her skin, was expecting them.

She explained that the artifact was a very powerful condenser, not very large, that had stood in the center of the village, in a shallow pool. If someone had wanted to sabotage the village, this would have been an excellent way to do it, but the condenser was intrinsically valuable, so profit may have been a motive.

MOAR LIKE CLUEMENERA AMIRITE?!!

She set them to see Miola the Baker and Narv the Butcher. Narv denied actually seeing anything, but suspected that this was the work of the Chetris kids, of whom he appeared to have a low opinion. Miola told them a story of skulking dogs seen in the village the night of the ‘theft’, but also took the chance to blame the town’s Dairy owner, Charmele. Charmele, it turned out was experiencing a boom in dairy sales as milk was the only thing available to drink now that the water had gone. She was quick to point out that a) Miola hates her, b) whatever, Miola is a bitch, and c) this boom will only last as long as her thyrans keep producing milk, which is not long without access to water. If anyone know about goings on with dogs and such, it would, she thought, be Oane, the local trapper.

Knee deep in town squabbles and false leads, they scratched their heads and took stock of the situation.

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