Butterfly Princesses & the Mantis Regent

We played the setting of Butterfly Princesses of the Swordlands by Richard Kelly, but since we were online, I switched out the mechanics with a heavily modified version of the Lasers & Feelings ruleset. The Swordlands are bucolic valleys populated by faeries with butterfly wings, each of whom is a princess in line for the Monarch’s throne. Princess Necritia is a macabre mage with death’s head moth wings who seeks to promote the essential but much maligned decomposers of the forest. Princess Comma has tan spotted wings and seeks to organize the Swordlands to be less chaotic and more like the ordered ants. Princess Periwinkle has metallic blue wings with orange accents like the leaf-wing butterfly, and she just wants to bring everyone together in love and friendship. Princess Monarsis is an artiste with purple and emerald wings who wishes to make the Swordlands itself into a work of art. Finally, Princess Fortuneflame is a creature of the forests and hunter whose wings resemble those of the purple emperor butterfly.

Our story begins at a birthday party for Comma at her families abandoned bee-box estate. We each present our gifts to the birthday girl, but inside Monarsis’s gift of flowers emerges an orchid mantis in pink, whose dignified and precise movements grab Comma’s attention. At the end of the night, the mantis (whose name is Chrysalla) makes an offer to all the Swordlands—she would willingly serve as regent until the princesses mature and are ready to vie for the throne, allowing them to properly enjoy their youth. Monarsis and Comma find the idea especially appealing, but Necritia is dead set against it, already feeling excluded and slighted by how we all have treated her, with her dust and spores floating everywhere, during the party. Periwinkle escorts Fortuneflame and Necritia outside together to defuse the situation.

Pink orchid mantis disguised as a flower on a green plant.
Orchid Mantis image from El Guanche, used via cc by-nc 2.0

Later, sitting outside, Comma and Periwinkle discuss the possibility of a Mantis Regent. Comma’s is enthusiastic, but Peri worries about how much disagreement this could create, and what do we even know about what Chrysalla might do as regent. When Comma mentions the human threat, Fortuneflame, who had been perched above them in a tree, mocks them for believing in such myths, but then Monarsis and Chrysalla arrive. Asked questions by Periwinkle, Chrysalla states she wishes to make the Swordlands more ant-like, but that humans are immaterial, a phantom threat, prompting Comma to think she should be Monarch. Fortuneflame finds this prospect very unappealing, so she visits Necritia and convinces her to campaign for Queen herself on a promise of equality for all, mushroom and earthworms and princesses alike. Recognizing the threat, Monarsis visits Comma to argue for the Mantis Regent and discuss her attachment to the ants. It comes out that Monarsis doesn’t believe in humans, but knows that Bigfeets are real, which could be an ally against humans if they turn out to be real. When Chrysalla arrives, they discuss what the mantis may do—seeking a balance between the chaos of anarchy and the rigidity of ant-archy.

Our story concludes at a political rally with a debate between Necritia and Comma. Necritia plays to the crowd with talk of equality, and Comma tries to argue for learning a bit about productivity from the ants. Fortuneflame interrupts telling Comma that people do believe in equality and that means acceptance, so it is okay for her to admit that she is part ant, no one will judge her. Mainly join in, admitting to being mixed, including Fortuneflame herself, Monarsis, and various members of the crowd. Upset, Comma runs off crying, but by this point, all the ado has activated something in Necritia, who has unconsciously begun to emit some narcotic spores that mellow everyone out. Chrysalla comforts Comma, asking her what she would say to any little princess in the crowd who may be part ant, to which she replies: “everything will be okay.” Monarsis marvels at how beautiful everything has become and yells out about seeing such beautiful wings. Periwinkle arrives at this point, opening the door and seeing everyone in their euphoric state, puddled together about the room. “Finally,” she says aloud and joins her sister princesses.

After this, all the princesses agree to make Chrysalla the Mantis Regent. But what happens next? Some of us believe that Chrysalla will eventually work her way through the Butterfly Princess population, eating us one at a time for years. Others think that Chrysalla may demand regular sacrifices of male mantises for her enjoyments, but surely will otherwise lead us to years of peace and prosperity.

Pizza & Heroics & Muscled Digits

We played a new to us Lasers & Feelings hack this week, Pizza & Heroics by an unknown designer in which we play as teenaged superheroes out to protect our school and our town, Seacover. Our teens live in the same dorm together, which we all think is the teachers testing our ability to work as a team. We are Lotus, human avatar of the goddess Artemis; Elastin, a stretchy kid always reaching out to others; Maksim, whose super-powered fingers can knock down walls; Cybelle, the siren whose song controls plant-life; and SureShot, who can turn any object into a deadly weapon.

Pizza & Heroics Logo

Our story begins with us riding the bus on a field trip to Bumbershoot Labs, discussing whether the trip is worth our time. SureShot is flicking spitballs around the bus, generally cutting up, and treating it all as a lark, but Lotus is eager to enhance her bow at the weapons lab. Maksim also needs to visit the weapons lab to get his Squeeze Shockers repaired, but Cybelle is frustrated by still not having a costume our teachers approve of, the opera dresses she prefers impractical for hero-ing. She lashes out at Maksim when he pushes her too far, commanding vines to ensnare his entire head. Lotus talks them both down, and Elastin suggests she take Dramatic Posing 101 to learn how to wear her dresses better. Cut to the Labs, where two scientists are questioning the ethics of their super-serum and the real-world problems it could cause.

Once we arrive at the Labs, we split up, with SureShot roaming the facility to see what deadly objects he can find, including at the gift shop. Elastin and Cybele visit the fabrics division together (stretchy guys always have to worry about their pants) but mostly talk through her wigging out on the bus. Elastin recommends she try Dr. Richards, a wizard with materials, to see if he can help. In the weapons division, Maksim asks Lotus if she’ll keep him company while his shock gloves are worked on. He shares the story of being bullied in his childhood by a brute with massive thumbs, asking if she can help him hunt down and get revenge on this bully. While they debate whether that is a healthy path, they hear a scientist mention arch-villain Dr. Apocalypse and decide to follow to find out why. Maksim holds open the door the scientists disappeared through with his finger while Lotus gathers the rest of the group. Once we’re together, Elastin sends his ear into the room with the scientists and learns that they’re being compelled by Doc Apoc to create an ultra-concentrated version of their super-serum and that the villain is coming tonight to check on their progress. We decide to stick around and intervene.

Later, Dr. Apocalypse arrives accompanied by a group of street thug minions (his serum guinea pigs?) and a lieutenant with hypertrophied thumbs. They rendezvous with one of the scientists, who opens a secret lab behind his office to reveal injection vials full of untested and incomplete serum. Seeing a chance to destroy the vials before they’re finished, SureShot caroms a ball bearing off a wall into the rack the lieutenant is carrying across the lab, but Thumbie’s grip is so powerful the rack neither breaks nor falls. Cybele taunts him until he becomes so enraged that he uses two vials of the serum right there, one for each thumb, which immediately begin to grow even more massive, veins and muscles bulging. Seeing his old tormenter (for this is the same bully he knew as a child), Maksim freaks out and runs away, heading for the front door, so Lotus follows him, worried about his state of mind. Cybele calls forth thorns from the office lemon tree that go right into Thumbie’s thumbs, and SureShot grabs a couple of lemons to squeeze juice into the wounds. Elastin rolls into a ball and bounces past Thumbie into the lab, but Doc Apoc nonchalantly blasts him across the room and strides toward the door. Out in the atrium, where we have room to maneuver, Lotus catches up with and stops Maksim’s retreat. She and Cybele convince him that together, we can make a stand against even the most frightening of foes. Thumbie’s whole body is bulking up as the serum affects the rest of him, but Maksim knows how to defeat him and calls out our moves. Elastin wraps his legs around nearby pillars and his arms around Thumbie’s arms, and Cybele’s vines wrap about his legs, so he’s immobilized. Lotus and SureShot fire at him from a distance to keep him disoriented, and Maksim delivers the final blow, grabbing his face with both hands and delivering a double-shock that fells him.

While we’ve been busy taking down his lieutenant, Dr. Apocalypse has made off with a sample of the serum and scientific notes, but at least the scientists are safe and the serum incomplete. Later, we visit the Lab’s cafeteria for some well-deserved slices. Cybele shows off her new costume from Dr. Richard because, somehow, it looks wonderful but never gets in the way. Maksim suggests Lotus become a counselor for the way she helped him through his crisis, but he’s still a little dazed from the fight. When Cybele says, “that’s what friends are for”, he asks “we’re friends now?” Roll credits, play theme song.

Clash Atop Ikara

This week we played Clash at Ikara by Randy Lubin as a team of heroes in a land of honor and noble houses, determined to protect the mountain-top village of Ikara from raids by bandits with jump-jets that allow aerial assaults. Our group consists of the Sage, a retired elder long-sought out for his wisdom; the Charmer, a court diplomat here to secure the interests of his noble house; the Virtuoso, a taciturn gigantic warrior in a theater mask who clubs his way through life; the Veteran, a war-weary general who’s seen too many die on the field; the Untested Youth, the awe-struck child of a local farmer who we can’t dissuade from joining us; and the Returned, a dissolute ne’er-do-well native run out of Ikara hoping to earn the right to return by helping defend it from the bandits.

Knowing the bandits attacks are certain, we must prepare the village to fight them off. The Sage has said that if Ikara can withstand this assault, despite the bandit’s superior technology, it will show that order can overcome chaos. Knowing that the mists that roll across the mountain face make visibility poor, the Sage instructs the villagers in constructing decoy defenses to draw the bandits fire. He also discovers in the village records, a history of a unique missile weapon once used to clear the mountain of a particularly dangerous beast and where to find the long-lost store of these weapons, so the village can use them in the battle. The Veteran tries to fortify their perimeter and drill the locals in basic fighting techniques, and when a village elder starts to lose his nerve, he scares him straight with tales of the horrors he’s witnessed. He also encounters bandit scouts alongside the Youth, who is knocked to the ground and killed before the Veteran strikes down his foe. Never having encountered battle before, the Youth is frightened but hides his fear when the Veteran asks what he has learned.

The Charmer is here more to protect his family’s interest in the ancient meteorite embedded at the top of the cliff face. When someone suggests that it be prepared to create a landslide to use against the bandits, he convinces the villagers that it must be a last resort, though he cannot stop them from prepping it for use. He does convince them to prepare traps to negate or take advantage of the bandit’s flight abilities: covered pits that will collapse when they try to land and covered alleyways that they cannot fly out of. Meanwhile, the Returned returns to his old haunts, the gambling dens and bars, to drink away his fear, but in one of them he finds an old compatriot. This former rake has gone legit, married and settled down. He tells the Returned that he too could be more than he was before, could make something of himself, make himself a life here. The Virtuoso prepares for the battle, as all life is a battle to him, readying fires to light when the bandits arrive that will deprive them of sight and precious oxygen for their lungs and their jump-jets. For he has learned the most important information of all—how the bandits refuel their jump-jets between flights, and how to prevent them from refueling in the midst of battle.

At last, the day of the battle arrives and alarms sound throughout the village. We’re ready as the bandits come out of the sky. The Virtuoso lights his fires and crashes through swaths of bandits, taking out three at a time with each swing of his club. The Charmer uses his pit traps and blind alleys to ambush and take out many bandits. The Veteran general sees the moment when the releases the meteorite will create the greatest advantage for the village, and doesn’t hesitate to start the landslide. The Sage is the first of us to fall, cut down while freeing a group of young taken prisoner by the bandits, willing to sacrifice his few remaining years for their many. The Youth chases a group of bandits into the village temple to find them preparing to destroy it with the fuel cells for their jump-jets. Without thinking, he engages with them, striking one or two down before the others run out. Seeing the bomb they’ve left behind, he grabs it and follows them, but dies when the bomb explodes in his hands after escaping the temple. Finally, the Returned enters the fray when he sees his friend endangered, but he’s cut down while saving him. He dies thanking his friend for this chance to be good for once and to do something noble.

Through our combined efforts, the village of Ikara is saved, and the bandits decimated, their power and organization dispersed. The Veteran must mourn once more for those who’ve died while he lived, in particular the idealistic Sage and naive Youth. He spends the remainder of his years putting the honor he’s accumulated on the battlefield to promote the Sage’s ideas about resilience and peace. The Charmer must return to his court and explain why the meteorite of Ikara is no more. He tells the story of the battle as a signal of his family’s strength, when even the smallest of their villages can repel such powerful invaders. This lets him keep his life and to remain at court, but he loses prestige and the esteem of his family. The Virtuoso disappears back to wherever he came from, oft-remembered by the people of Ikara but spoken of only in hushed tones.

A Clown Venture

We played Venture by Riley Rethal this week, but placed our troop of adventurers in the early twentieth century. We are the quiet rogue, Shadowblade, who values freedom above all else; Ember Suzudz, a soothing and compassionate cleric who definitely will not be sacrificing herself for you; the unarmed fighter, Calvina, who fights to protect the weak; Zizzo the clown who entertains by inciting joy; and Menalania, a good-natured, cheerful wizard whose magic is very enchanting.

Our story begins with Menalania meeting with Zizzo after a show, asking him why he pretends those mishaps are part of the act when we both know that his magic makes it happen. Zizzo complains that these things just happen, that he can’t control them. Menalania chides him for never seeking any training to better control his powers, and she suggests he needs to find himself a wizard to train with. Now, if he only knew a wizard….

While walking through town, Calvina and Shadowblade encounter a group of thugs roughing someone up, probably a mugging gone wrong. Calvina dances around and taunts them, relishing the opportunity to fight, which takes Shadowblade aback, but he manages to get the victim to safety. Later at the temple, Ember sees all the injuries on Calvina and insists on performing the healing rites. Zizzo comes to Menalania asking why she’s been avoiding him, and she admits she doesn’t know how to teach someone to do magic. They discuss how she learned, and the exercises that her mentor would have her perform, but how to do that with magic that causes mishaps to befall people? Calvina recommends a magically imbued straw-man, like they use in martial training.

As we make the straw-man at the temple, Shadowblade keeps having bad things happen to him: an impossible water balloon falls from the sky, slipping and falling, and mouse running up his trousers. He decides to slip away before things get worse; he hates drawing that sort of attention. Prompted by Calvina, Menalania animates the straw-man, which seems to suffice to activate his power, as a fish emerges from a bucket of water and interrupts the straw-man’s attack. They keep at it for some time, but Zizzo never makes the bucket do exactly what he wants. Calvina and Menalania conduct an experiment, in which one boos a Zizzo performance while the other cheers. Each time, no matter which of them it is, some mishap befalls the heckler: a heretofore unseen monkey jumping at her face or a rubber chicken falling on her head. It seems Zizzo’s magic protects him, non-lethally, from the ill-intentioned. He’s taken his first steps into a wider world.

Shorthanded Palanquin

We returned to Palanquin by Jason Pitre this week with a small retinue bearing Princess Ulkualzi, the Ulanaki heir, to the safety of her Aunt’s palace across the kingdom after a coup kills the rest of her family. She is whisked away from the palace by Xanling the Scholar, Bearer of Society, and Periani the Hunter, Bearer of Nature. The princess is alone in the kitchen when the coup begins, but she is quickly joined by the other two, the scholar confused by all the commotion and the hunter determined to rescue the girl. Periani leads us through a trap door that takes us into the marketplace among the people, any one of whom could be a co-conspirator.

A dark-skinned woman in a cloak with an upraised hood glares off to the left in front of a fiery moon. Palanquin a roleplaying game of escape & trust is printed on the right side.
Image courtesy of Genesis of Legend Games.

The heir wants to explore the market and buy food, but Periani is concerned for how to blend in among people, having always preferred sparsely populated wild spaces. Xanling offers advice, but the hunter isn’t skilled at smiling or turning down the intensity. A large family of beggars surrounds us and starts making a lot of noise, pulling at our clothing, asking for alms. Periani fails to distract them by tossing an apple away from us, and instead a few take his bow and dart away while the others continue to surround us. To rid ourselves of them, the Princess must trade the food we just purchased for the bow, after which they let us pass. We talk of the river festival that is to happen next week, wondering how it will proceed without the royal family to preside over the ceremonies. Suddenly a man interrupts us, declaiming loudly about the adamantium oil he would sell us to enhance our strength. Before he attracts too much attention, Xanling steps forward with information about the history of adamantium oil and its general ineffectiveness, as proven by Atlas in ancient times.

At last, we slip into the Purple Jungle where Periani is master. He explains which plants are beneficial (the alohamora flowers and pennywhistle plant) and what dangers we must avoid (the fear mist is the worst) and what people we may find in the jungle (woodsmen to the north, jungle nymphs, and the aquatic mir people of the lakes and rivers). As we walk on, we begin to hear voices in our heads, voices that degrade us and make us doubt ourselves. We do not realize it is the madness brought on by the mists, but Xanling recites a riddle and its answer that allows us to block the shaming words from our minds.

When we reach the Holy River, we believe that we are safe. Periani knows the villagers who live upon the river on their stilt houses and their punting canoes. We learn about the dangerous animals on the riverbanks, and how the mir people have taken to capturing and killing humans. Periani takes us to the home of Bearded Brennan, a friend he has traded with in the past, who welcomes us with smiles and whose family gives the Princess the warm bath she longs for and clean clothes. But after dinner, Brennan locks us into the back room, talking of how he will give us to the mir people in the morning. Xanling makes an impassioned speech about the obligations of hospitality, and what terrible things await those who harm those in their care. After midnight, Brennan’s wife guiltily comes and unlocks the door and tells us to run away. We escape through the mists just before the sun rises and the shouts of alarm resound from Brennan’s village.

Now safe at the palace of the heir’s Aunt Baru, the Princess must decide what to do with us. For having solved the riddle of the mists, outfoxed the salesman, and saved us from the mir, she ennobles Xanling and appoints him to her royal council, for surely his knowledge will be needed if she is to retake her throne. To Periani, she gives her sincerest thanks for keeping us safe and sane on the road, and bestows upon him a future boon and a steed with which he can travel the open lands to his heart’s content.

Blackborow Reflection

We played Blackborow Academy by Becky Annison in this week’s session. The Blackborow Academy is a storied institution of learning for those with magical talent, and we are all former students and now teachers at Blackborow. We are Willa “Willow” Widowspeaks, teacher of potions and master of healing magic; Stanton “Stormy” Twombly, who commands the weather and teaches the Charms class; Quill Alkina, a master of Moon & Dream Magic who teaches Divination; and Romilda Wildwood, a (secret) werewolf who can communicate with all creatures and uses that ability when teaching Magical Creatures to the students.

Twenty years ago, not long after we had graduated from Blackborow, an evil known as the Shattered appeared on our shores. The shattered appeared as shards of a mirror that can infect people and slowly transform them into their mirror selves, right instead of left, evil instead of good. We banded together to stop the Shattered, but in the process we put our classmate, Nigel Limgrave, into a magical coma when we attempted to extract information from him. Each of us contributed to this grave error, and we each regret our part in it: Romilda for injuring him, Willow for failing to heal him, Stormy for naming him the target, and Quill for putting him to sleep.

Blackborow Academy Cover showing a stone bridge leading to a small castle.
Blackborow Academy cover image from Black Armada Games.

Today, something chilling happens. A student rushes into the teacher’s lounge screaming that they’ve found a dead body near the woods adjacent to the school. We go to protect the students and investigate. The body appears partially crystallized and wholly twisted into an unrecognizable form. Could this be the return of the Shattered? The victims didn’t look quite like this, but there are so many shards. Romilda stomps off into the woods to ask the animals what they may know about what happened. She learns there was a student, then the student was glass. A flash of light followed by the sound and spray of shattering glass.

While Romilda is away, Quill returns to her notes of recent prophetic dreams involving young Chloe Elbreen picking mirror shards from the skin of other students. Quill believes the girl may be destined to confront and defeat the Shattered. We argue over whether we must hide her away to protect her, or accept her fate and assist her destiny. Willow decides to make a reversal potion to restore the body to its previous state, so we can at least learn who was the victim. We cover her classes for her while she toils away at the potion, which takes days to complete. At last, when we apply the ointment to the body, time reverses for it until it returns to its original form. First it reassembles into a shape we recognize—a troublemaking student named Raphael Moor—but it continues regressing until it becomes a simple handheld mirror.

Magically searching the school reveals that Raphael is still alive, so this mirror self that shattered, we conclude, must have been Raphael using the mirror to conjure a duplicate self (to attend classes while he pursued other interests). Relieved that this doesn’t appear to be evidence of the return of the Shattered, we take up a very pressing matter. Quill thinks Raphael should be rewarded for his ingenuity and for nearly pulling off this very difficult spell, but the rest of us insist he be punished or at least discouraged from ever doing something like this again. We need him to think twice next time and to make some restitution now for endangering himself, his classmates, and his school. We fade to black as we walk down the hall, still disagreeing on what we’ll do when we reach young Raphael Moor.

These Words Within Me Burn

We played This Heart Within Me Burns by Sam Dunnewold this week, in which we play three adventurers who journey to the House of the Empty Goddess seeking to have a curse removed from one of our number. Jul is the accursed, a former circus performer who is always seeking another thrill, her mind now flooded with memories that are not her own. She is accompanied by Maggs, a former prisoner who once caused a man’s death and swears he’ll never be caged again, and Torcha, a former midwife seeking the woman who stole a young child she had ushered into this world.

Cover of This Heart Within Me Burns showing a red heart aflame.
Cover image for This Heart Within Me Burns from Story Synth.

It is Torcha’s thirst for revenge that leads to Jul’s curse, when she guides us into the lair of a hermit who has studied the lost tongues and been driven mad by the curse he discovered in them. Jul reads his notes before Torcha can and is struck down by the curse herself. Wracked by guilt for being so selfish, Torcha performs her usual ritual prayer after the adventure, lighting the incense candles while Maggs watches on silently. Maggs begins having to protect us from Jul during the night because she rises to attack us in her sleep, and when the memories overwhelm Jul, she speaks in strange ancient languages. Jul fears that she may never get to try her gliding suit, but otherwise thinks the new memories may be useful, may allow her to help others, a change in attitude that pleases Torcha. With her mind flooded with these ancient memories, we must go to the House of the Empty Goddess to appeal to she who empties the overflowing and fills the empty. Jul worries about the rumors of people being left empty husks, but what choice do we have. The memories flowing through her frighten us all, especially Maggs, who see them as the voices of the dead, at least one of whom has reason to want him dead too.

While the curse is not all gloom—Maggs no longer being dragged on Jul’s adrenaline runs and Torcha finding herself seeking hope and thinking less of revenge—Jul is often haunted by nightmarish memories and depends on Maggs to ground her. One day in a large city, while Maggs hides from the authorities, Jul goes running along the rooftops and ends up arrested, but Torcha uses her investigative contacts to free her. Another time on the road, we meet a traveling monk who will take nothing from us but bread and water, but who insists the curse is a conduit to lost knowledge from the long dead. Are we in danger from those who would take that knowledge? Each of us thinks of what could happen. Maggs thinks about losing his friends as well as his freedom. Torcha reflects on the terror of losing one’s mind and self of self. Jul remembers the fantastic stories told about her future by fortune-tellers at the circus after her parent’s abandoned her. She extracts a promise from Maggs to end her suffering if her mind goes completely, if she can no longer be saved.

At last, we reach the House of the Empty Goddess, an emotional moment. Torcha confesses to Maggs her fear that the curse will infect the Goddess. Maggs is comforted by an acolyte of the Goddess who tells him, “Be not afraid,” when she sees him worrying over having to fulfill his promise to Jul. And Jul herself fears that the only way to rid her of the curse will be for it to infect someone else. Inside, Jul is laid upon an altar in the center of a circle of acolytes of the Empty Goddess. They perform a ritual that calls forth a Babel of voices from her, each voice a memory and each spread among the gathered acolytes, diffusing the knowledge and making it both comprehensible and safe. Jul recovers and returns to her life of adventure, but more cautious now, though she is still occasionally plagued by nightmares. Just as Jul is emptied of the unwanted memories, a hole in Torcha’s knowledge is filled: the child lives, and she senses where she must go next in her search.

Maiden Voyage to Maiden Voyage to the Moon

We tried a game new to us this week, Maiden Voyage to the Moon by Stephanie Godfrey, in which we play in a world crafted by Edgar Rice Burroughs. We are the crew of the rocket ship, Barsoom, forced to crash-land on Earth’s totally unexplored Moon on our way to Mars. Our crew consists of Earth’s ambassador to Mars, Delta Equinox; the scientific liaison, Dr. MacGuffin; pilot of the Barsoom, Ace Proton; and Jimmy John, the massively strong on-board stevedore.

Painted landscape with a rocket ship under the words 'Maiden Voyage to the Moon: A retrofuturistic RPG'.
Image courtesy of S.R. Godfrey.

We begin our tale just having landed on the lunar surface, which is covered in a thick atmosphere that obscures the stars and keeps the temperature sweltering. As we prepare to leave the ship and explore, Jimmy John is moving boxes around in the storage hold, aiming to determine what unexpected or unexpectedly heavy cargo necessitated our emergency landing. No one, particularly Dr. MacGuffin, seems entirely comfortable leaving Jimmy alone with our equipment and supplies. After subtle cajoling, Jimmy feels being left behind would be being left out, so agrees to join the crew in exploring the surface.

Outside, the forest is filled with strange plants and unbelievable creatures. After watching a group of geometric creatures crossing in front of us yet again, Ace realizes that we’re no longer bushwhacking but on a footpath. We follow it until we emerge into an opening in the forest, where a group of achingly beautiful natives await us, some floating in on mechanical wings. Delta tries speaking to them in numerous languages, including Martian, to which they respond in an almost intelligible ancient dialect of the Martian tongue. When Delta plays them music from our portable phonograph, they grow quite excited and invite us back to their village.

In the Kalkar village (for that is their name), we are greeted by their chief and invited to share a meal, during which Ace and Delta negotiate a trade of aid and one of their wing apparatuses in exchange for some item from our ship. Afterward, Jimmy participates in an athletic game in which each team attempts to put a magnetically levitating ball into their opponent’s goal. Jimmy keeps using too much force and ends up exhausted, challenging Ace to do better. Ace decides to give it a go and manages to score a goal using finesse over force, but gains a rival among the Kalkar who resents the newcomer getting past him.

Back to our ship, we instruct the Kalkar to unload many crates filled with items we’d likely have to leave behind anyway to return to our journey to Mars. When Dr. MacGuffin cries out that one of his instruments is missing, we rush outside to find ourselves stopped by members of the tribe as we see one of their number rushing away with the doctor’s box. Jimmy swings his crowbar to knock the sword out of one of their hands, while MacGuffin and Ace pull their service revolvers. MacGuffin fires wildly, but Ace calmly levels his aim and fells the escaping thief. At that, the clearing fills with Kalkars armed and able to cut us off from our ship, leaving us in dire straits. Coming to our rescue, however, is another group of natives, dressed quite differently than the first, who drive off the Kalkars after a brief skirmish. We are now ready to meet the Laythe, who will become our friends, and one of whom will join our crew when we eventually leave this rock. But that is a story for another day.

Quiet Year in our Hill

We returned to the Quiet Year by Avery Alder this week to play as a colony of ants just emerged from a war with Ant Lion packs known as the Jackals. Our anthill sat on the ravaged side of a river in a forest, so we lacked leaves and sweets, and suffered from a shortage of ant-power after our numbers had been depleted during the war. Luckily as ants, we never suffer from a lack of cooperation to coordinate our actions and address problems. We do not have family units, but work, eat, and sleep together in troops that share a single mission.

Our story begins when we send a line of ants across the river to the standing forest to collect leaves and restock our stores. During the weeks of the gathering expeditions, heavy rains collapse one side of the hill, endangering our queen. Far from our hill, scouts find a strange rusted-out metallic hulk with round rubber objects at each corner, and some two-legged creatures come to the cabin across the river. Closer to home, the grasshopper peddler comes through, trading us sweets for some of our new leaf stores, but the anteater is spotted not far from our mound.

Quiet Year Map created with Google Drawing

We begin building new quarters for the queen deeper in the mound, to observe the two-legs, and to explore the mysterious hulk. Tragedy strikes when the troop sent to observe are captured by the two-legs instead; they are never heard from again. It turns out the rusted hulk provides excellent shelter to all underneath it. The queen and eggs are relocated to safer quarters, but the colony begins to wonder if we should become polygenic and set up a second queen for additional safety. While we grapple with these existential questions, other insects displaced by the war arrive at our mound seeking shelter, and we decide to welcome them and put them to work to alleviate our short-handedness. To accommodate these newcomers, we begin building new guest quarters to house them all.

Around this time, the two-legs plant an apple tree on our side of the river to honor a previous generation, and a troop of soldiers are lost to the anteater. We pledge to drive off the anteater and manage to redirect its attention across the river. We also decide that rather than becoming a single polygenic colony, we will send a second queen to create a new colony under the rusted hulk. The effort to build the guest quarters is repurposed to create a nursery to populate the new colony, a nursery run but the newcomers, who aren’t that skilled at food collection. A group of disgruntled troops tries to sabotage these efforts, but the tensions are eased somewhat when the newcomers share their rations with the dissidents. Another group builds a Summer Shrine near the rusted hulk to protect the colonies from the coming frosts and keep us warm.

After a new group of strangers, clearly infected with a fungal disease, have to be barred from entering our community, the shriners decide to hold a festival at the Summer Shrine obelisk. But things keep delaying the festival: the harshness of winter creates turmoil, we reject the festival organizer when he demands too much of the colony’s food, and the search for the missing grasshopper occupies the entire colony. We find the grasshopper, but before the festival can continue, the Frost Shepherds arrive, and our story ends.

Parley & Plunder & Sugar

This week we partook of Parley & Plunder by Stephanie Godfrey, a hack of Lasers & Feelings, as a crew of privateers charged by His Majesty’s government to disrupt French attempts to corner the sugar trade. Our command crew consists of Commander McTrick, who must lead in the Captain’s stead while he lies ailing in his cabin; navigator Leyola Aster, who loves maps above all else; and our helmsman Harrrvey, who hopes to become captain himself one day. In the lower decks, we have Kyrie, our adventurous gunner who loves nothing so much as a good fight; Storm Hawk, our dashing rigger whose romantic notion of piracy makes it hard for him to advance; and Ned Oldham, the grizzled old swabbie, who has previously held every job aboard ship but now only hopes to survive until retirement.

Our story begins with McTrick, Aster, and Harrrvey finding the directive to stop the French in the Captain’s quarters and debating how we should proceed. Aster eventually gets her wish and plots a course for us to sail seldom traveled seas to complete her maps. Meanwhile, below decks, Storm, Kyrie, and Ned entertain each other by relating yarns and memories. Ned tells the tale of how Captain Bancroft was able to sail his ship between two enemy craft in a deep fog to launch a broadside against each, thanks to the crew’s silence and his keen hearing. Kyrie talks about legends of another fog, one that ships sail into but only emerge empty, without her crew and no sign of what happened. Storm relates stories about mermaids and the paradise they live in below the waves, a paradise he wishes to see someday. Their tales turn to what’s going on with the Dauntless and how none of the crew seem to know where we’re headed or why. We beseech Commander McTrick to give the crew some guidance, but he seems miffed and suggests we direct all questions to navigator Aster. Aster’s answers fail to satisfy the crew, but she promises that we need sail but four more days before all will become clear.

Before those four days are up, however, we spot another ship slipping in behind us, a French Fleut. On the orders of Commander McTrick, Harrrvey wheels us around and we charge the French ship. McTrick leads the boarding party onto the other ship himself and fights his way through the throng to capture her captain and obtain his surrender. Among her spoils, Kyrie brings back a unique pewter mirror with strange carvings along its rim and handle. Upon examination, she, Storm, and Ned discover that the glass reflects an older version of the viewer. They take the mirror to Aster, not willing to risk the Commander seeing it, but worried it might be demonic or possessed. Aster uses it to see the finished map she’s been working on, and uses that glimpse of the future to complete her map and pinpoint the location of the island that we’ve been seeking.

McTrick, Aster, Kyrie, and Storm take the launch to explore the island. With Kyrie and Aster arguing over the mirror, McTrick finally learns of it and warns that it is the cursed mirror of Asperalda Nilda, the sea witch, and believed to drain the life from whoever looks into it. McTrick orders the pair to get rid of it before it kills someone, but Aster becomes such a pest that Kyrie lets the navigator keep it rather than bury it. Harrrvey comes ashore to warn them he saw a group of French soldiers marching through the jungle; they must surely have seen the ship. After regrouping aboard ship, McTrick takes another party ashore to ambush the French troops, which allows us to overwhelm the five soldiers, despite Ned sneaking off during the fighting. Before McTrick can question them, however, Ned returns with a warning that the fighting drew the attention of another squad of soldiers. With that warning, we leave Ned and Harrrvey in the clearing as bait, and when the second group arrives, our second ambush nets a bevy of prisoners for questioning.

This episode ends as we interrogate the prisoners and learn that this island is the focal point of the French efforts to monopolize the sugar trade. On the other side of this island is their fortified port and a large sugar growing and processing operation.