Lasers & Feelings & Television

This week, we played Lasers & Feelings by John Harper as the crew of the small Consortium scout ship, Raptor. With our Captain incapacitated by an unknown psychic entity, the crew are on our own. Our cast includes: Ensign Zul, a genderless alien explorer from a water planet who looks like an ambulatory sea monster; the android diplomacy envoy P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. (Prediction And Calculation Intelligence For Initiating Conflict Avoidance), designed to use logic to negotiate an end to conflicts; Troy McVenture, well-known star of Intrepid Love and Adventure Forever, who has come aboard to audition for a role in a series about the adventures of a starship; Dr. Aak the bipedal cat and medical officer, out to prove what an orange cat can do on a starship; ship’s engineer Lt. Cmdr. Leah Brahms, who just love tinkering with Consortium toys; and the most senior crew member still conscious and security officer, Cmdr. Kaz Ardor, who just wants to keep everyone safe until the captain can be revived.

Lasers & Feelings Logo
Lasers & Feelings logo via One Seven Design.

Our mission begins with Brahms greeting Troy McVenture when his shuttle docs with the ship and, misunderstanding when he starts talking about his vid-series pilot, escorting him to his station at navigation as the ship’s new pilot. In the med bay, Ardor is working with PACIFICA and Dr. Aak to attempt to communicate with the entity possessing Captain Darcy, since Dr. Aak has not found any way to remove the entity without harming the captain. PACIFICA is able to make rudimentary contact with the entity, learns to refer to it as Monsieur, and suggests they might be able to convince Monsieur to move to a new host under the right circumstances. Ensign Zul receives a distress call from the starship of the Queen of the space pirate brigade, and we plan how to approach the touchy and dangerous pirates; Troy pilots the ship for the first time on this trip.

As we approach the pirate starship Archipelago, the first minister of the pirate brigade denies sending any distress beacon, but after muting himself and crying out to his crew, the beacon stops. The minister admits they had been attacked by a Consortium ship before a fleet of pirate vessels surround us, forcing us to activate the Raptor’s cloaking device to escape without damage. Cmdr. Ardor orders Zul to escort Troy to the med bay for a psych evaluation since he keeps insisting that we’re on a television set. After Dr. Aak examines him, he’s confined to quarters with a security detail stationed at his door. In engineering, Ardor has Brahms boost the range of the ship’s sensors to search for the Consortium ship the pirates claimed had attacked them. After some technical wizardry, Brahms reports there is a Consortium ship stalking the pirate vessel, a ship that matches the markings of the USS Saber, commanded by Captain Clarke.

Putting the ship on alert status, we intercept the Saber when PACIFICA and Ardor begin parleying with Capt. Clarke, who is unrepentant about his attempts to attach the pirate Queen and start a war. As we continue verbal jousting, Troy appears on the bridge of the Saber and lunges for Capt. Clarke. We attempt to teleport the two of them back to the Raptor but somehow we get Clarke and strand Troy on the other ship. While the crew and Troy keep the crew of the Saber occupied, PACIFICA and Ardor take Clarke to the med bay where PACIFICA convinces the entity Monsieur to leave Capt. Darcy and possess Clarke instead. Monsieur can now communicate clearly through Clarke’s voice and takes command of the Saber to end the pirate war crisis. Darcy returns to the bridge as we escort the Saber back to Consortium Command for debriefing.

No More Boundaries

This week we played No Boundaries by Marc Hobbs as a group of workers at a failing chain bookstore in an outdoor mall outside New York City. We are prankster Blythe the barista and fill-in storyteller, garrulous Dwight the gift wrapper, slacker Pete the shelver, and bitter Sonja the poetry specialist. We arrive on New Year’s Day and wait for the manager to open up and chat about our Eves. Blythe arrives with green hair, having stayed home to dye it as part of her training to be a hairdresser. Dwight is wearing a three-piece suit and tells us about the party at a billionaires mansion. Pete spent the evening whooping it up in Times Square with his surfer buddies. And Sonja complains about how she and her friends were removed from a boat house party where they had every right to be.

In the first part of the year, our corporate overlords decide that we need to add sporting equipment to our stock. Dwight and Sonja end up wrapping a set of golf clubs for a customer who insists that each one be wrapped individually and isn’t pleased with our book themed paper. In the lounge, Pete is chilling with Blythe and Dwight when Sonja comes in complaining about the basketballs in the poetry section, but before going back out there, Blythe dyes Pete’s hair in the sink. Blythe aids Sonja in selling a bicycle to a customer, even though neither of them know anything about bikes. On a smoke break with Pete and Dwight, Blythe suggests they go together to Hawaii if the store closes down, and all consider their futures.

Red stick figure stands in front of bookshelves loaded with book with section heads stating "Business" and "Failure".
Image courtesy of Less Than Three Games from

Over the long summer, the company offers an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to the employee who sells the most membership cards. While Pete is trying to sell a card to a customer, Blythe keeps needling the customer and gets him to write the check to her in exchange for her employee discount. Pete offers to meet the customer out back to sell him some weed. In the lounge, Dwight hears from Sonja rumors about the store: the manager Tall Dave may be leaving, and the higher ups may be catching onto Pete’s side business out the back. In a big smoke break out back, everyone is out of cigs after Tall Dave has been replaced by a real ball-buster who is making us all miserable. Blythe convinces us to sabotage the membership card contest to ensure the company has to shell out to send a winner some distance to get to New York.

For the end of the year, corporate starts a partnership to sell Taco Bell in the café, which excites Pete to no end and depresses the rest of us. Blythe decides to incorporate an anti-Taco Bell message into story time and brainstorms ideas with Sonja, who suggests a taco house in Hansel & Gretel or telling the kids about Willy Wonka & the Chalupa Factory. On a smoke break, we all discuss whether that Hawaii idea is real, and everyone promises to support Sonja with Dwight tending bar, Blythe styling hair, and Pete running the store. If we could steal a bunch of books before we leave, it might make opening our own easier.

At the end of the year, the store finally closes, our final workday New Year’s Eve. That night Pete holds a pity party with his surfer friends and Sonja joins in, uncertain what to do with herself. Blythe is packing for Hawaii, prepping the stolen books for shipment, and wondering whose coming with her. Dwight decides to live blog the celebrations in Time Square, hoping to outdo the professional announcers and get noticed.

Collective Downfall

This week we played the setup of Downfall by Caroline Hobbs. Using the words swarm, steam, and salt, we created a fantastic world where insectoids harvest salt from natural saltwater hot springs to build their nests and interlocking units. We call our haven the Saline Swarm. Our society depends on each individual showing loyalty to their station, to the collective, and to our traditions.

Like many entomons, we each serve a specialized function in the life of the colony. Each mating pair provides eggs to the Collectors who come each cycle gathering our spawn to sustain our communal endeavor. When a particular cohort hatches, the hatchlings are put into a family under a single Carer, each brood distinguished from others by the colors splashed across the hatchlings’ carapaces. Although each brood is intended for a particular function after their molting comes, before an individual joins a functional unit by performing the ritual signal dance for that profession. If someone insists on learning the dance of a different function, there is nothing to be done but welcome them into the new function with the appropriate professional stamp upon their foreheads.

Each function and each structure in our nest is built from the salt that Harvesters bring from the salt plains. We use interlocking structures shaped like blown-glass, with curved interiors coming to a point at each end. The Architects long ago determined this was the strongest and most efficient structures to be erected with the salts. The guild hall for each professional function is stamped with the interlocking shape for that function. Our relationships vary just as in any other civilization, but we are careful to reserve specific greetings for only our most intimate companions. The interlocking of the forelegs creates varied patterns that show the nature and closeness of each relationship. When a particular cohort comes to the end of their cycle, they go together to a specific place in the salt plains and splay as one upon the ground and fade away while the salt-crystal lamps burn in their honor.

We don’t know it yet, but our colony is destined for collapse. The head of each guild sits upon the ruling council, and our cast consists of three Elders on this council. Drax the Pairings Master, who arranges the mating pairs that will produce the broods the colony needs, has been fighting against the council’s loyalty to the old ways. He insists that we need new professions to address the diminishing returns from the salt harvests—explorers or hunters to find new salt deposits or venture beyond the salt plains. If the deposits and yield continue to diminish, our entire civilization will falter. Opposed to Drax is their old friend Lapida the Harvester, who objects to the implication against the harvesting guild and believes we should just put our heads down and continue the work rather than creating fanciful new functions. Asima the Lamp Crafter, who grew up with Drax in the same brood, feels both of them are too worked up. Asima knows Drax isn’t insulting the Harvesters but also that they worry too much. Surely everything will end as it should.

Clash in the Sky at Ikara

We played another session of Clash at Ikara by Randy Lubin on his storysynth engine, this time as a group protecting a floating monastery in the sky filled with a holy library of magical tomes. The monks are scholars not fighters and have been protected for centuries by the clouds. Human raiders have begun to master flying mounts and devices and raiding Ikara. To protect their magical trove, the monks have asked us to defend the monastery and drive the raiders away.

Our Strategist has joined to safeguard the knowledge that he wants to study to improve his strategic thinking. The Tinkerer has always loved books, especially those with practical applications. A military Veteran has also joined seeking peace, knowing the terrible costs of war. A well-known Sage is friends with one of the Ikaran monks, so joins our band. The martial Virtuoso joins simply because he hates bullies and cannot bear to see the defenseless overrun. Another joins our group, this Tagalong seeks the whereabouts of her brother lost long ago, who may be at Ikara.

To prepare for the raid we know is coming, we each show the monks how to act rather than wait passively. The Veteran learns that the raid will be delayed because the raiders must prepare the potion bombs they use when flying and are having supply issues. The Sage uses the additional time to drill the monks and teach them rudimentary tactics—how a group can work together and use sandbags and other fortifications as cover. The Strategist collects shards of glass and reflective metals and shows the monks how to use them to blind attacking flyers, and studies how to use the clouds to confuse the raiders. The Tagalong notices that the tunnel through the floating island under the monastery creates a natural whirlwind that could be used against the attackers. The Tinkerer notices the broken masonry from previous attacks and builds a pair of catapults to fling this rubble at the raiders. Finally, our Virtuoso advises the abbot that to secure victory, they must sacrifice the great yew tree in the monastery’s garden to the sky goddess Altara because the monks have lost the god’s favor. When the Strategist disagrees, the abbot decides to wait for their protectors to speak with one voice before acting.

Large yew tree rises up to a white sky between the walls of a monastery.
Photo of yew tree at Muckross Abbey Cloister by Johanning courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Once the raiders attack and the battle begins, we each must act as we see best. The Strategist has lain traps throughout the grounds for the raiders, such as hidden openings through which they fall. When given the chance to sacrifice himself to free captive monks, the Strategist instead moves to make the prisoners a burden for the bandits. The Veteran attacks recklessly with her Infinity Sword and disables and captures an entire cadre of raiders. The Tinkerer sees a bomb dropped into the courtyard and covers it with a metal helm and his body, sacrificing himself to save others. But the Sage uses their medical knowledge to save the Tinkerer from certain death. The Tagalong sees a group of monks—is that her brother—trapped in the fire from an incendiary potion and succumbs to the smoke while rescuing them from the flames. The Virtuoso sets the yew tree ablaze, releasing the poisonous smoke into the air before launching into the sky aboard a sphinx, destroying many raiders. The Strategist sees the monastery’s beloved mascot, a young acolyte, in danger but cleverly rescues them. The Tinkerer, injured but mobile again, leads the monks in using the catapults to take out the bandit leader, a terrible brute with a large beard and brandishing a large axe, bringing the raid to an end. We have won.

With their leader gone and forces decimated, it’s years before the earthdwellers are organized and developed enough to consider another raid. The Strategist stays at the monastery and writes new books on strategy to be added to its shelves. The Tinkerer helps to rebuild and introduces many innovative solutions. The Veteran, still seeking peace, becomes a monk and stays. The Sage plays chess with their old friend and stays to study medicine. The Tagalong recovers and learns what happened to her brother all those years before deciding to return to earth and move on. The Virtuoso tells the Abbot that now that they have earned Altara’s favor, they must build her a shrine where the yew tree once stood, then he leaves to find others who need his leadership and protection.