Aethelred Academy

We visited StorySynth again (which has been expanded and improved) this week to try out Aethelred’s Academy for Aspiring Heroes by Greg & Randy Lubin, in which we play aspiring heroes at the Academy seeking certification in various skills. We had three students appear before the Quest Giver to receive their tasks.

Her paper-kite butterfly dress billows as Origami strides into the examination hall to defend her answer to the Interior Decorating skill quest. The challenge was to design a beautiful kitchen for the academy to serve its diverse student body on a budget. Origami’s room has cement tables to withstand the pressure of our more massive students, but she’s decorated everything with origami cranes and butterflies in the school’s colors. The Quest Giver thinks this more a dining hall than a kitchen, but since Origami actually completed the decorations and wants compensation for the work, we decide to certify her with no fee.

Nogard arrives for his shapeshifting test, which is to navigate an obstacle course that can’t be navigated entirely in human form. He must become an ant to pass through a straw, a whale to cross a water room, a zombie to turn the tables on salespeople, an ankylosaur to break a lock, and a frog to hop across stones and exit the course. Although he isn’t the most subtle in his choices, the committee awards him his certification since he transformed into so many different creatures.

Last is Cobblepot, a very typical student wearing school colors and carrying a satchel full of study materials, who seeks to get certified in pyromancy. The Quest Giver tasks him with the care of a clutch of four dragon eggs. They must be kept in fire for a week until they hatch. Cobble pot leaves briefly to get a push hot food cart to transport the eggs to a fire pit in the school’s picnic area, keeping a swirl of flames about them throughout. He keeps the fire pit burning for a few days, but the effort to keep the fire hot enough but under control is too taxing. So, he transfers them to a kiln in the art department, which can be lit and kept roasting without as much constant attention. He brings the hatchlings back in a week, and the committee awards him the pyromancy certification for his creativity and effectiveness.

Follow My Canoe

This week’s game was a short session of Follow by Ben Robbins using the Championship quest as a team of synchronized freestyle canoeists. Our crew consisted of young hotshot Clancy, who seeks fame and fortune; Mel, a declining veteran who wants to teach these kids the right way to play; Lucille, our team captain out for the perfect routine; and Susan, a new player who struggles because she doesn’t know how to swim and fears the water. Our support team includes our manager Linley, team mascot Mr. Limpet, our driver and roadie Porter, and Lucille’s wife Cassandra.

Our story begins with the team preparing for the big competition. Clancy is always showing off his skills, but our Captain, Lucille, remains unimpressed and criticizes him for his lack of teamwork. Another time, Clancy is training with Susan and helps her when they need to get into the water. Back at the picnic area, Mel meets with Limpet and Linley and discuss the liabilities that Clancy and Susan present for the team. Training doesn’t go so well for the team and we lose that challenge.

On the day of the competition, Mel confronts Clancy about his showboating, which Clancy justifies as improved choreography. Mel explains how you have to develop synchronization before you build up the choreography. If he wants to make it big, he needs to make the team successful when he’ll be the centerpiece of the celebrations and promotions. Lucille and Clancy are chosen to represent the team in the pairs competition and begin working on their routine, where Clancy’s choreographer ambitions get a chance to shine.

On the bus back home, we think about all that happened at the championships. Lucille and Clancy’s pirate-themed duo event was a big sensation, and the team pulled through and finally did a clean routine. We worry over the loss of Susan, who quits the team to finally learn to swim, and the disappearance of Mr. Limpet, who swam off after the competition, looking remarkably like a fish.

Yokai Street Magic

Welcome to Abythys! A melodious city on a windswept, rocky coast where humans and yokai—nature and animal spirits—live together in relative peace. In this week’s session, we explore three major neighborhoods in Abythys using I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Asercion.

The Downs, the industrial neighborhood of Abythys, centers on an ancient garbage pit full of scavengers. That pit is surrounded by poor trade-smiths always busy making things, creating a cacophony of sound throughout the Downs. Workshop Row is where these tradespeople live and work, honing their crafts daily. Jutting askew out of the pit is the Abacus, a plinth of mystical stone that no one recognizes as the fulcrum around which the city’s magical heritage turns. No one now alive that is except Leila, a sea spirit who presents as a hermit crab and is older than the city itself. She was here when the people brought the Abacus down from the heights, removing it to make way for their temple to the winds. She is the memory of the Downs but is hard to find, buried as she is by eons of castoffs encrusted onto her shell.

Flow chart showing the layers of the city we created in our game.

The Aviary is a district filled with high-rise buildings with mirrored faces that glint in the sunlight, providing superior views for the elite of the city, including noble birds and bird yokai. Atop the highest tower sits the Murmuring Temple, filled with wind chimes and a central bell that peals across the city. It’s said there is no corner of Abythys where you do not hear the murmur of the chimes, rustled by the wind coming off the sea. Mr. Mayor, a rat yokai determined to keep up appearances, can often be found at the temple, seeking to cleanse himself of the taint of his past in the Downs. Another landmark in the Aviary is the Book Atrium, a library where bat yokai fly unmolested by the sounds of the temple and protect the precious books in turn, including the sacred grimoires hidden in the back room. Fr. Steven can perhaps be found in the Atrium more frequently than at the Temple, his curiosity about the world and wish for freedom bringing him here on many occasions. However, he is such a nervous creature, he still cannot find his way among the shelves and must always seek help.

Along the rocky shore are the Caves, eerie and creepy and mostly underwater hollows where the spirit council holds session. It’s a place of miracles, the people say, but mostly a place for yokai to gather and socialize. The council itself meets in the Celestial Grotto, a cavern that can only be reached by traveling through an underwater tunnel. This fount of magic is full of light, the walls dappled in multifarious colors as mystical energy pulses through the room, so powerful it’s palpable on the skin, washing over you like the tides. Amara is an elegant, proud spirit in the form of a beautiful crane who protects the grotto and comforts the spirits who visit. After one meeting, she greets and converses with a yokai who looks like a walking coral reef about recent events.

One such event is when, at the Aeolian Festival, the wind ceases its constant swirl, bringing the city to utter silence. While this made many fearful the gods were angry and ready to abandon them, others found the silence soothing, a relief from the constant churn, including people in the Downs who experienced a moment of transcendence, and Amara herself, who wishes the silence would return. Another event is the theft from the Atrium of a spellbook on transformations, after which Fr. Steven cannot be found. While many wonder what lapse in security or policy could have allowed such a thing to happen, most worry more about why the thief wants the book. Some believe the grimoire could allow humans to steal yokai’s shapeshifting powers, but others, like Mr. Mayor, wonder if perhaps the book could be used by yokai to become more fully human.

Thank you for visiting Abythys with us! We look forward to your next visit.

Wizard’s Quarrelous Dram

We played Wizard’s Querulous Dram by Jason Morningstar this week, seven wizards meeting to negotiate the merging of the kingdoms of Smallwood and Black Mountain. Early on, Ingrid the Agreeable of the Wizard Council proposes the Princesses—Aster and Tiffany—be paired, so most of our discussion focuses on that possibility. Hegedus the Fair from Smallwood thinks that a brilliant idea, and Belobor from Black Mountain (the Wizard of No) agrees that pairing has possibilities. Gyongi the Proud from Smallwood argues that Aster must be regent and Tiffany the consort: throwing parties is more the consort role, Tiffany’s strength, whereas Aster is the better decision-maker.

Title in wavering script for The Wizard's Querulous Dram
The Wizard’s Querulous Dram cover image from Bully Pulpit Games.

If a Smallwood heir is to be regent, Belobor suggests, why not a pairing with Prince Chadwick as regent, to which Volkon, the Thaumaturge of Darkness from the Wizard Council, assents provided Tiffany remains the consort. Hegedus and Ingrid and Zoltin the Serious from Black Mountain all agree that is not a good idea. Even Belobor was thinking Prince Winthrop would make a better pairing with Chadwick than Tiffany. Kostrin the Knowledgable from the Wizard’s Council pipes up for the first time insisting the capital must be in Black Mountain, so if as we all seemed to agree, the regent’s home should be the new capital, he backs the Black Mountain heir as regent.

Moving on to the remaining questions, we find very little disagreement. All agree that Chadwick would be a capable leader of the new unified army, or at least some Smallwood general. And Gyongi and Kostrin suggest that both kingdom’s delicacies can be served at the wedding; why not taste all the flavors! And no one objects to following the Black Mountain practice of burning swamp witches; in fact, everyone is enthusiastic about it.

When it comes time to vote, the choice of pairing is all but unanimous: 6 to 1 in favor of Aster and Tiffany. But the question of who is regent comes down to a single vote, and Tiffany wins the honor. Black Mountain shall be the new capital with a Smallwood general to lead the army. We agree by acclamation to the final two questions just as the last few grains of sand tumble to the bottom of the five-minute glass. We all, then, may keep our lairs, towers, or laboratories, and the unification of the great kingdoms of Smallwood and Black Mountain is finalized.

For a Galactic Crown

For this week’s session, we drew a crowd of players, but not everyone made it to the end. As a group, we completed a story using For the Crown on For the Drama, in which we play as a group of people seeking to replace the dying king of an interplanetary mélange of alien species known as the Luma system. Gustav, our current ruler, has trapped himself in a gravity well and is slipping past the event horizon, soon to be lost forever. We are Prince Plambus, the illegitimate son of Gustav, who resembles a young anthropomorphic elephant; Queen Melanie, Gustav’s current wife, a fish-like amphibious alien; Duncan, a synthetic AI lifeform well-respected at court who is programmed to be a chimney sweep (if only we had chimneys); Captain Cosmos, a cyborg and a space pirate who tricked the king into naming him to the royal council; and Siren, an activist for equal rights and the welfare of the people.

Cover image of For the Crown

Our story begins with Siren deciding Captain Cosmos becoming king would be a disaster that must be averted, so she digs up and releases information about the many murders he has been implicated in, which creates an uproar across the society. This is quickly overshadowed by the threat of an invasion from outside the system. Duncan the synth is tasked with protecting the kingdom with Gustav unavailable, and he reaches out to Captain Cosmos, the ruthless space pirate and his pirate fleet, to repel the invaders. Cosmos agrees as a way to rehabilitate his reputation, but bribes the court physicist to nudge Gustav closer to the point of no return while he’s away.

Next, we learn how Melanie became the Queen: after meeting Gustav at a party and realizing how hopeless he is, she woos and marries him in order to help him be less of an ass (and to live in the palace). Her step-son, Prince Plambus, has a major crush on Siren, one of the few members of his father’s court who paid much attention to him, a fact that is better known throughout the palace than he realizes. For her part, Siren resents Gustav not only because he’s a lousy ruler, but also because after appointing her to his council, he repeatedly ignored her ideas and laughed off her suggestion of a holiday to celebrate the people. Realizing the Prince is most likely to be chosen as the next king, Captain Cosmos sends a trained bird to assassinate the boy, but the naive child feeds and adopts the bird when it lands on his balcony and remains safe.

Meanwhile, Luma is suffering a food shortage, so everyone looks again to Duncan for a solution, but this time he doesn’t know what to do, which undermines his reputation as the infallible Duncan. His spirits are lifted somewhat when the Queen reveals to him that she saw his face in a melon, a sure sign of the intertwining of their destinies, and loves him…his wonderful Chinese cooking. Duncan attempts to persuade the Prince to speak well of him to his stepmother by sending him threatening letters, but Plambus doesn’t quite understand the suggestion. Siren meets with Duncan to try persuading him the throne isn’t for him, a simple chimney sweep, but Duncan brings up embarrassing facts about her mother and family, leading Siren to storm off. Having been excluded from the society of the court for so long, she is ready to see it tumble. The court has largely turned its back on Queen Melanie as well, recognizing now more than ever that she is just a gold-digger who married Gustav for the fame and money.

Prince Plambus is famous for showing up at parties throughout the system, crying “Happy Cake Day”, and serving royal confections to all. However much this may ingratiate him with the people, he uses his standing to promote the cause of Siren after his father finally completes his months-long fall into the gravity well. His mother abjures any interest in the throne, knowing that seizing it is more likely to get her killed than obeyed. And Captain Cosmos disappears, perhaps deciding the throne is more responsibility than a rogue like him would ever want. Siren leads a people’s march to the capital to petition to become ruler, but Duncan remains interested in leading himself and cuts her off just after she’s entered the palace and is about to receive a celebratory cake from the Prince. Duncan attacks her with his battle-broom to end her reign before it begins, but Plambus steps between them, and the broom hits the cake instead, sending cake bits flying everywhere. With the support of both the Queen and the Prince, Duncan is seized by the royal guard, and Siren is proclaimed the new ruler of Luma.

A Supernatural Fiasco

This week we returned to the foundational story game Fiasco by Jason Morningstar using the Supernatural Files playset by Bug McBride. We didn’t complete our story, only completing one sequence of scenes, so consider this a pilot episode for a miniseries. Our story is set in New York City and environs, centered around Finders Keepers, a curiosity shop on the Lower East Side run by an elderly seeker and collector of the old, the odd, and the unexplained named Alphonse and his protégé Jebediah. Jebediah was raised in an upstate community that forsakes modern technology and remains out of step with the rest of the city. He doesn’t realize it, but Gemma Stone, a shy patron of the store, carries a brightly burning torch for him. Her fascination with the supernatural brings Gemma not only to FK but also to an occult group that seeks to learn the truth about a legendary curse. The group’s leader is Vincent Everett, a charismatic megalomaniac who dresses only in white suits with black silk shirts, a red tie, and matching round sunglasses. Vincent has squandered his family’s fortune on building his network of followers and in his search for a horn-tailed snarl, the key to unlocking the mystery of the curse. Crystal Everett is the estranged sister of Vincent and an artist whose paintings of cryptids and other impossibilities have found an audience in NYC’s underground art scene. Unbeknownst to most, Crystal shares something with Alphonse: an obsession with uncovering the truth about the death of their mutual cousin Samantha in the woods far upstate by an unknown assailant. The death was attributed to an animal attack, but no wolf or bear or cougar leaves injuries like what Samantha suffered, and they believe something more insidious may be to blame.

Fiasco - A game about powerful ambition and poor impulse control from Bully Pulpit Games
Fiasco poster from Bully Pulpit Games.

We begin with Alphonse returning to the store from a curio-finding expedition upstate with a unique object, a hand-made book purportedly written by the nineteenth-century psychical researcher Erastos. Alphonse shows Jebediah a page in the book describing a creature called the horn-tailed snarl and drawings of the creature’s mouth, pointing to the unusual teeth with their strange shape and serrated edges. He believes these teeth match one associated with Samantha’s death and sends Jebediah crawling through old stacks for other Erastosean items in the store. Across town, Vincent has gathered his followers at his art-themed nightclub and announces that Alphonse has found a book with information on the horn-tailed snarl they seek. After exhorting and exciting them, he tasks Gemma with infiltrating the store and securing the book. Realizing that this is the store where Jebediah works, she goes to the park to spy upon him when he appears to feed the carriage horses, as she often does. Today, she speaks to him and gives him a gift, a book on Dragonology that she says she thought he would enjoy. They walk together back to the shop, and inside she convinces him to let her take the Erastos book. She clutches the book and leans against the door, sighing loudly, over-the-moon with their interaction.(Alphonse’s eventual reaction: “Wait, so you just gave her the book?!”)

In her studio, Crystal paints in the afternoon sun streaming through the loft windows when Alphonse rings her buzzer and comes upstairs. He shows her the page about the horn-tailed snarl taken from the Erastos book and tells her of his suspicions regarding Samantha’s death. As he reads her Erastos’s verbal descriptions, Crystal draws multiple versions of the snarl from all angles, each one depicting a slightly different beast by emphasizing competing details. Is one of these a true likeness of the creature? When Alphonse leaves, someone follows him back to his shop and reports back to Vincent by phone once they arrive. Vincent pays a visit to Crystal, who is not happy to see him, and he asks her to give or sell the snarl drawings to him. Suspicious of his sudden interest, she deflects his inquiry but claims to have reference photos she took when the creature appeared in the alley behind the loft. When Vincent tosses money at her and tries to leave with the drawings, Crystal convinces him they need time to cure properly or they’ll be smudged, so he leaves saying he’ll return tomorrow. Later, Vincent plants himself in the alley wearing night-vision goggles, waiting to see what she photographed.

Gladiators Microscope the Stars

Our game this week was a session of Microscope by Ben Robbins in a star system initially dominated by the last humans, but that ends with a galaxy populated entirely by those who come after humanity.

Concentric circles create the illusion of a tunnel with microscope written below.
Microscope badge courtesy of Lame Mage.

Our story begins with the wealthiest people on Earth mastering immortality, enhancing themselves so effectively they easily dominate the entire planet. They come to call themselves the Golden Gods, but their competitiveness results in a series of God Wars that leaves the rest of humanity dead or dying, civilization largely in ruins. In the end, only one God remains on each continent, seven people suffering alone through decades until they reach a breaking point. Their Ennui Years end when the scion of the Musk fortune realizes he can’t achieve everything alone and reaches out to the others to finally fulfill his family dream and conquer the stars. They escape our world together, each claim a planet, and create new life forms to populate them. This Age of Creation is the summit of the Golden Gods reign, as they soon begin competing again, wars fought by proxy in gladiatorial arenas. Can a Martian defeat an Europan both on Mars and on Europa? They pit their creations against one another to find out. Eventually, a gladiator rebellion succeeds, deposing and killing the Golden Gods, overwhelmed at last by the masses arrayed against them.

Over the centuries, the planets of our system grow less hospitable to life, and the gladiatorial people leave seeking new worlds. These people, united in their search, build a New Empire in which immortality treatments are not only banned but come to seem sacrilegious, an affront to life itself: to live is to die, a fitting motto for gladiators. Their Empire flourishes for centuries, but the supply of fuel for the ancient faster-than-light engines inherited from the Golden Gods eventually dwindles, which attenuates then severs the connections between the planets of the Empire. Before the last of the fuel is gone, the imperial worlds send out Space Arks in what comes to be called the Great Scattering, life once again slipping past the eclipse of annihilation. The Arks arrive on strange new worlds many lightyears apart with no way to return to or communicate with their origins.

Each world has its unique challenges, contrasting environments in far-flung systems orbiting different stars. It’s only natural the people on these new worlds evolve independently, particularly in their cultures and myths, which answer questions specific to each ecosystem, vast oceans evoking different stories and explanations than dry, rocky escarpments. Each world becomes its own civilization, unlike any other. Our story ends with a heretofore unknown Golden God—a secret love child of two of the last humans—watching over the dispersed descendants of their parents’ creations. They find it curious how these peoples change over the eons, but they cannot quite escape the limitations of their view from eternity. To them, the life that endures is the most fascinating.

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.