Lasers & Feelings & Pirates

This week, we played the original Lasers & Feelings by John Harper as the crew of the Consortium starship The Raptor. With our captain incapacitated and recovering in a medical pod, the crew must do our best in difficult circumstances. We are Zadoc, the savvy envoy who’s infinitely curious about alien cultures, Tameka, the (overly) confident and competitive pilot, and Divi, our xenobiologist who’s more interested in animals than people.

Our story begins when our ship encounters a strange vessel and its sole occupant comes aboard. He is Mori, an alien scientist always up for a space mystery. His ship has been damaged, so Zadoc invites him to magnetically attach it to our hull for transport. Mori lets slip that the ship is stolen, and Zadoc becomes concerned. Before they can discuss it, Temeka calls from the bridge because two incoming ships refuse to identify themselves and may be hostile. Zadoc joins Temeka on the bridge and attempts diplomacy after making contact, but the pirates on board are not interested in talking and move to board the ship. Temeka engages the cloak and slips away, but not before our ship is damaged; our cloak won’t protect us on our next engagement.

Drawing of a male head with pink hair and a rainbow colored beard. A headshot above and a three-quarter body below, holding a guitar. Lasers & Feelings 8-25-22 written to the right.

After we’re safely away, Zadoc asks Mori if these people are after the ship he stole. Mori answers no, but suggests they might be interested in the powerful fuel crystals he’s carrying. As we’re contemplating the pirate’s intentions, Divi reminds us of recent scientific reports of alternate realities and the possibilities of travel between them. One such reality is supposed to be full of precious elements that would make quite a haul for a pirate crew. We decide to lay a trap for the pirates, using Mori’s ship as bait, while Temeka deploys the Raptor’s fighters in a pincer maneuver if diplomacy should fail. But diplomacy does not fail, at least not exactly. While parleying with the pirates who’ve boarded Mori’s vessel demanding our valuables, Zadoc sings a song of friendship and sharing, which miraculously convinces the pirates to invite the to join their pirate crew and share in their fate.

We take back some trinkets to make them think we’re cooperating in looting Mori’s ship. On board the pirate vessel, Zadoc begins teaching the pirates how to play a universal game he’s made to help create bonds between strangers. This distraction allows Mori to steal the circuits and equipment he needs to repair his ship. Meanwhile, Divi is saving all the animals the pirates have on board, and Mori finishes by setting the pirate ship’s engines to overload and explode. The three of them slip back to Mori’s ship while the pirates play Zadoc’s game, and fly away as the pirate ship explodes in a flash of light.

Epitaph for a Wise Woman

We played another session of Epitaph by Marc Hobbs, this time set mostly in villages in Imperial Russia. Our departed is Miroslava Valerievna, a village wise-woman who uses tarot cards to diagnose and brews magical soups to cure.

Miroslava was born in the village of Czelmic in 1654. Her father told us how difficult she was as a child, and how at three years old, she would refuse to walk except in the early morning hours while he was occupied with chores. One day, he notices another set of tracks next to hers and leaves a bowl of porridge out for their invisible companion. After that, Miroslava walked more easily and frequently.

Overhead shot of group of people sitting around a table covered in dishes while a warm glowing light shines from the right.
Epitaph cover courtesy of Less Than Three Games.

Her uncle Iosef ran the village tavern. One day when she was eight, he sent her to clean out the storage area. Inside, she found a set of Tarot cards with the major arcana blank. As she looked at one card, a vision of herself as an adult appeared on it as it became the World card. She learned from this that Fate would guide her to wherever she needed to go. When she was eleven, she became lost in the woods, collecting plants and herbs. She was saved by a large, bearish, fur-trimmed Russian man who lived alone in the forest. Afterward, he appeared on one of her cards as the Hermit, and Miroslava felt the weight of magic in the world and what that could make possible.

As a teenager, her friends and family suggest many suitors, however none worked out, each ending in some comedic mishap. She saw then the truth of the Fortune Tarot: life is chaotic, so one must become the center of the storm. The first time she ever concocted a potion to help someone, was when she was twenty-five and working for the village apothecary. A woman waiting to see the apothecary confessed her loneliness and troubles to her, so Miroslava decides to make her a special soup, adding various herbs to bring good fortune, which soon follow. It’s funny, she thinks, how she’s never been able to recreate that exact soup, and she’s unsure which ingredient actually helped the woman.

We catch up with Miroslava when she is fifty-four and looking for an apprentice so she can pass on the wisdom in her sheaf of magical soup recipes. She chooses a bright-eyed teen girl who’s always caring for others with kindness, her younger siblings, her elders, her parents. She knows once she’s taught Gariazanel that her legacy will be secured, Fate once again showing her the way. Thirteen years later, Gariazanel brings home a girl from the poor house, Lyamina, and asks if she can be allowed to teach her, to take her as her own apprentice. Miroslava makes like the decision is difficult, but she sees that Gariazanel is growing into her role and that her legacy will spread beyond this generation. Five years later, she’s ready to leave them alone for a time and goes to the university in Kyiv. We hear from Vira Ivanenko, a scientist and debunker of superstitions, how Miroslava came to the city and had everyone at her feet without meriting any of it. Vira herself worked twice as hard as anyone and still struggled to be accepted, and Miroslava’s “magic” only made it less likely they would take a woman scientist seriously.

Miraculously, or she would likely say fortuitously, Miroslava lived another thirty-five years to die, back in Czelmic, at the age of 107, surrounded by her students and their students and many villagers. At the funeral, the villagers speak about how she outlived everyone who was alive when she was a child, which surely must be attributed to the way Fate always put her just where she needed to be. Lyamina plants yarrow at her gravesite, since that was the first plant she was asked to fetch for her. One day, not long after the funeral, strange footprints and a bowl of porridge are found on her tombstone. And Gariazanel makes her best impression of the friendship soup every year on the anniversary of Miroslava’s death and hands it out to the village.

Truth & Daring & Appleaches

We returned to Truth & Daring by Tim and Kristin Devine in this week’s session as a group of kids living in rural America, determined to succeed and shake off the dust of this small town. Our crew includes Aveline, an upper-middle class collector with a love of emeralds; Gonzo, a curious kid from the city who loves exploring the strange detached houses in town; Hina, a very shy girl who aspires to overcome her stage fright and audition for a play; Michelle, a brainy new kid with a love of tools; and Cassie, a scientific girl whose goal is to win the science fair and the scholarship that will let her escape. Together, we comprise the Future Millionaire’s Club, who meet in Hina’s family barn.

Our story begins when Gonzo shows up at the clubhouse carrying a photo with a strange-looking blur in the bushes in front of a house with a porch. He borrowed the picture from the house of the Magician, a game warden who has a habit of appearing and disappearing without warning. Cassie and Aveline recognize the Petry farmhouse in the photo, and Aveline raves about the delicious lemon-apple jam and pies the family have been selling at the market lately. Hina and Michelle think the picture looks like an alien, but it’s not clear enough to know for sure. Aveline leads us in a discussion of what we know and what we need to do. We decide to lure the Magician away from his house, so we can sneak in and loo for more clues. Hina will call and use her voice distorter to sound like an adult saying an animal is caught in a trap across town. Michelle will create that fake trap to look broken and will sprinkle fake blood around to make him think the animal escaped.

Once they have finished their work and the magician has left, Cassie and Gonzo sneak back in by crawling under the house and up through a loosened vent. They discover more pictures hidden in a desk drawer, one especially clear and close-up. It looks similar to a rabbit, but is clearly alien, covered in fur with enormous eyes and strange antennae. On the desk is a map marked with a circle around the Petry farm and the words “strange apples” written in ink. As the two shimmy out from under the house, the pin Cassie wears on her hairband falls off.

Pink three-eyed fuzzy alien looks intently at POV camera.
Picture by Sebastian du Toit from his Artstation.

When we can, we visit the Petry farm. Aveline buys some peach apple jam and discovers that the fruit seems to be neither peach nor apple but somehow both. We decide to investigate the tent behind their barn, where we find seven small trees tended by aliens like the one we saw in the photograph. We see one bury blueberries and strawberries together in a hole, sprinkle something from its antennae, then a tree sprouts up in seconds covered in blue strawberries. Determined to study this fruit for her science project, Cassie snags an appleach and eats a blue strawberry that Aveline picks. Since Cassie seems okay, Michelle eats one too, but soon after, the two of them get incredibly sleepy and lay down for a nap. Aveline and Gonzo drag the two outside and wakes them with water. The whole time, the aliens seemed friendly or indifferent to us. Over the next week, we each prepare ourselves for whatever comes next. Michelle buys a Polaroid camera. Gonzo spies on the Magician and sees him making cages. Aveline avoids the rest of us but returns to the farm several times. Cassie carries through with her experiments and analysis of the fruit. Hina is rehearsing to maybe audition for the school play.

When we arrive back at the farm and enter the tent, we discover Aveline already there with the aliens! On her trips this week, she has guided the aliens into creating a fruit tree that grows emeralds. But before we can sort it out and get our pictures of the aliens and their work, Gonzo warns us the Magician has pulled up in his truck. He sets up cages and traps at the tent entrance and comes around to flush the aliens into his clutches. Gonzo goes outside to sabotage his truck, while Aveline and Michelle interrupts him, take his picture, and try to scare him off for trespassing. As we’re arguing with him to get him to leave, the aliens become agitated and the grasses and vines grow at exponential rates, pushing us all, including the Magician, out of the tent. No matter how hard we try, we’re not getting back in today. When we return the next day, the aliens seem to be gone, so we donate our alien fruit to the Petry family, so they can grow the special trees. It may take a lot longer now, but they’ll be able to keep the farm afloat.

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.