Palanquin Across the Water

Tonight we played Palanquin by Jason Pitre in which we hear the tale of how five loyal courtiers escorted Princess Ulku-alzi to the safety of her aunt’s palace after her family had been killed in a coup. Besides the princess, our company includes Lan the Faithful who leads our worship of the goddesses; Ulu the Veteran whose heyday was long ago; Xanling the Scholar, an outcast from another land who has tutored the Princess; Periani the Hunter who saved the Princess’s life recently on her first royal hunt; and Illic the Shadow, a criminal who escaped out of the dungeons right into our flight.

We begin by fleeing the palace into the surrounding town, trying to find a way out through the night market. After procuring a cloak to hide the Princess, a group of soldiers from the palace begin searching the market. Illic the Shadow deftly guides the group away from the soldiers and into a dark alleyway filled with unsavory characters, so we avoid the patrols as we make our way into the smuggler’s tunnels beneath the city.

In these drainage tunnels we run into a number of problems, the least of which are the various creatures scurrying about, but little do we suspect that the creatures are fleeing the rising tide of the waters rushing into the tunnels. Ulu the Veteran tries to find a path he thinks he remembers from the war, but everywhere he turns leads deeper in rather than out. Xanling the Scholar finally finds a hidden compartment with a lever inside; he pulls the lever and a stone closes the tunnel behind us, cutting off the flow of water and the roar of the approaching flood. Next we encounter a group of the nights watch, rousting through the tunnels, but they’re no match for our Veteran, who disarms and routs them easily. But the greatest challenge is a lone palace guardsman who claims to be here to take the Princess to safety. First, Lan the Faithful tries to convince the guard he must be anointed in the waters before he can have the Princess, but the guard ignores her and grabs the Heir. The Scholar steps in to challenge the guard’s authority and position, but he appears to truly be a member of the palace guard. Losing patience and alarmed seeing the guard hurting the Heir in his grip, Periani the Hunter sends forth his falcon to attack the guard, which comes at the guard’s eyes with talons flashing, chasing him back up the entrance and away from us.

A young woman with long red hair and wearing a blue and white dress stands with one hand on her hip. Her limbs and dress have symbols on them and a sigil floats in the air in front of her. Lan the Faithful, Cleric of the Eternal Waters is written above and Palanquin 2-17-21 written below.

As we emerge from the tunnels at last, we see the holy river and a small village and remote temple across the water. We check that everyone is well and discover ticks covering the Princess’s cloak, which the Shadow brushes off before the Hunter gives her a tincture to protect her. Lan the Faithful asks the priests at the shore for a boat to cross the river, and they provide one, but rather than cross the river, we immediately head down it using magic-driven paddles. We are making good time until river pirates appear and surround the boat. Illic the Shadow tries to convince them that we’re poor travelers with nothing worth taking, but they know their quarry and persist. Lan the Faithful tosses each pirate a stone with the squiggly-lined sigil of Malsana, which immediately sends each into gastronomic distress, and we easily leave them behind as they retch and clutch their guts.

Safely ensconced in her Aunt Baru’s palace, Princess Ulku-azi judges the trustworthiness of each bearer and rewards them according to her judgment. To Ulu the Veteran, bearer of warfare who defeated the night watch in the tunnels, she grants a future favor from her royal person. Knowing that Periani the Hunter, bearer of nature who warded off the guardsman, cares not for worldly treasure, Her Highness bestows upon him a lifetime of hunting unmolested on royal grounds. She graciously gives Lan the Faithful, bearer of religion and the curser of stones, one week’s head start before being arrested, being too dangerous to walk free. Her Highness appoints Xanling the Scholar, bearer of society and learning who disguised her in the market and stopped the floodwaters, as royal counselor in the court. And for Illic the Shadow, convicted criminal who led her through the alley into the smuggler’s tunnels to escape the capital, she gifts a small chest of gold and a royal pardon for service well-rendered.

Death on the Selene

Tonight we played Final Voyage of the Selene by James Mullen in which we sail from node to node through substitial space on board the interstellar vessel The Selene. We begin our story seeing Lieutenant Kazarian awaking from a nightmare about a military squad in danger, drenched in sweat, and ordering a booking aboard the Selene. We see ambassador Masiri attending a wedding, accompanied by his wandering wife, between an Epsilon and Omicron, a joining that would cement the long-sought peace he had brokered between the two warring species, before boarding the Selene. In a montage, we watch Professor Caris board the Selene with a handful of plant specimens, then years later, staying on board because she feels close to a breakthrough, then more years later, again determined to make her breakthrough refusing to leave the ship, and again throughout the years. We see Chief Pryce, a cyborg engineer, getting dismissed from ship after ship, until the merchant marine office gives him one last chance aboard Selene. Finally, we follow Doctor Tsien getting spurred out of his dorm room and general dissipation to answer a job ad for a medical office aboard the Selene.

Act I begins with Chief Pryce visiting Doctor Tsien in the Med Bay and jacking himself into the Doctor’s medical systems and complaining about how his internal systems leak and the interface between organic and inorganic parts don’t always mesh well. Professor Caris sits down with Ambassador Masiri in the Lounge to partake of the flavored oxygen, enjoy the lively theremin music, and talk about the mysteries of the universe that she’s learned from her studies of plant life while sailing on the Selene. Later, the Ambassador visits Lt. Kazarian at the security office to assure her that the death threats against him by an Omicronian sect are very unlikely to come to fruition. Kazarian reports to the Med Bay as ordered to get a prescription to help with the nightmares so she can sleep, but the Doctor only half-heartedly listens and agrees to say he’s seen her when the captain asks even though she leaves without any meds.

In Act II, the Chief interrupts Lt. Kazarian searching the Ambassador’s suite when he comes to repair the sonic showers. She keeps rifling through things until she finds something on a datapad and leaves. Later, after having hacked the ship’s systems to see what she was up to, Chief Pryce confronts Kazarian about the unwarranted search and learns that Kazarian suspects the Ambassador of having betrayed her unit during the Earth-Omicron war at the Battle of Antares 3. Meanwhile, Doctor Tsien calls the Ambassador to the Med Bay to inform him that he appears to have an allergy to travel through the interstitial nodes and that if he continues making jumps he could die, so provides him with a powerful alien medication to help him stay awake but that can have devastating consequences if used incorrectly. Professor Caris meets with the Ambassador again and offers a number of natural remedies that could aid with his condition, but makes a point to explain the truth of her findings, that there is no god and nihilism is the only true creed because nothing we do matters. Distraught, Ambassador Masiri flees until next we see him calling Kazarian because he found his wife’s body, in pieces, in their suite, apparently an accident with the Doctor’s prescription.

Doctor Tsien begins Act III sitting at the bar nursing a drink and lamenting how his prescription caused a woman’s death. Chief Pryce sits with him and suggests that if he wants to do good, to make a difference, he has to actually make an effort to do something, anything, instead of sitting around bored all the time. Professor Caris corners the Ambassador and Kazarian in her cabin to discuss the life of plants and the reality of nihilism and in his grief, the Ambassador agrees that nothing matters, and storms out. Before he can escape, however, Lt. Kazarian confronts him about the information she discovered about the unexplained large deposit of Epsilonian credits to his account just before the Battle of Antares 3. The Ambassador explains that his wife came into a mysterious inheritance about that time, and Kazarian realizes that she may have blamed the wrong Masiri. Finally, we see Chief Pryce jacked into the ship’s engines siphoning off energy until some…thing goes from his systems back up the jack and into the ship itself. When this happens, the Selene lurches out of substial space and begins to break apart.

In the epilogue, Lt. Kazarian manages to drag herself and Ambassador Masiri to a lifepod, but the Ambassador dies from his exposure to the pure nodal energy during the crash. Doctor Tsien also makes it to the lifepod and goes on to develop a cure for nodal allergies. Professor Caris does not make it to a lifepod, but uses her plants to protect her and land safely upon a nearby moon, where she continues her research for hundreds of more years as she learns to use the plants to prolong her life. The last image we see is Chief Pryce floating among the ship’s debris, still jacked into the engine.

Dawn of the Monster Invasion

Tonight we played Dawn of the Monster Invasion by Randy Lubin of Diegetic Games in which we created a monster movie in a little under two hours by holding six speeches or interviews.

Our story opens to the face of the night janitor at Physics Labs Inc., a middle-aged slob named Roger Stone, explaining into a television microphone how he just turned off a machine and a massive hole appeared in the floor of the quantum physics lab. The reporters are mostly skeptical, questioning his story and description of the hole and grilling him about ecoterrorists and the company’s pending sale. Next we cut to a local mall where Victor Jimenez is beginning his presentation at a small convention for monster hunters about his descent into the Pit at Physics Lab Inc. He describes the red fumes wafting from the opening and shows grainy footage of the claw marks along its walls, and the sticky blue ooze upon the floor when they stopped at what seemed to be an underground storage area that smelled strongly of sulphur and didn’t seem like part of the Physics Lab facility. Unable to repel down further, he returned with mysterious gaps in the footage of his GoPro and addresses questions from the audience regarding the blue ooze and rumors that it’s all a government trick. When asked directly what he thinks it is, he claims it’s probably the lair of a giant red saltmander, with its red chitinous shell.

Next we join a press conference being held by Lexi Weblock in the coffee shop where she works, describing her harrowing encounter with the beast in the local park. She keeps mentioning her Etsy shop, but mostly focuses on how everyone was running wildly from the park in fear of the beast eating them like it did that defenseless peanut cart and someone’s pet. She says she only escaped by ducking into a bookstore, where she got a good look at its face with five eyes, the swinging twin tails behind it, and the sidewalk hissing from its acidic drool. Next we have a live AMA with Rex Stiner of whosthemonster.com, who defended the creatures who’ve lived underground and in hidden valleys across the world peacefully until humans encroach on their lands and invade their space poking them with sticks and disturbing their slumber. If we’d only leave these poor creatures alone, they would leave us alone, so humanity ought to pull back into our human enclaves and leave the bulk of the planet to these creatures.

We come to the conclusion to our story by following the conversation on a Reddit thread started by Mr. Bananahands, who claims to have determined that the creature is allergic to peanuts, so we can ward it off with vast amounts of peanut oil, coating the town in it if needed. Many commenters are questioning the logistics and safety of such a plan, but it develops its own momentum by the end and a protest is planned at the governor’s mansion to get help in securing enough peanut oil. Our story ends with Mr. Bananahands after using the peanut plan to drive the beast into the cage, which sits behind the triumphant hero. The plan now is to study the creature before releasing it back into its home and sealing the hole. In the post credits epilogue, we see the monster being lowered into the original hole and hear its voice. It explains to its fellow monsters that humans are interesting creatures and dogs delicious, much better than boring peanuts, so perhaps the upper world is finally ripe for conquest.

Did you say Bonesville street magic?

Welcome to Bonesville! A colorful, magical city we created this week using I’m Sorry, Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Asercion, a city where the dead mingle with the living in a colorful, Burton-esque world. Let me introduce you to its neighborhoods, landmarks, and residents.

Derelict ships and ruins litter Shipwreck Beach and the neighborhood that surrounds it is populated by many ghosts who never knew the city while alive. You can almost hear the hushed conversations behind hastily drawn curtains as you walk down its streets toward the Blue Whale Bar, populated with locals in the day but big crowds from all over at night, or toward the Shipwreck Troll, more affectionately known as Barnabas, a statue guarding the entrance to the neighborhood. One day a group of school children encounter Lady Martin living across from Barnabas, and are surprised by the kindness behind her sad tale of being marooned here after attempting to escape the city. A campaign to clean up the beaches leads to a great deal of controversy as some locals are happy with the improvements while many object to the destruction of their past.

The city’s founders set up their mansions in what is now called Old Town, but those mansions have mostly been divided up into multi-family units and filled with creative types looking to cheaper accommodations and inspiration. These artists have festooned the neighborhood with colorful streamers, artworks, and carved hedges. One mansion, though, remains unoccupied, having become the keeper of the city’s history and annual Founder’s Day Festival. The Founder’s Day Mansion and the Old Town Library are often visited by the ghost of famed writer Edith Stenlake, who overseas the annual library book sale that benefits local children. Another landmark is La Belles, a store on a narrow, cobblestone street that specializes in window displays of Edwardian clothing in dramatic lighting. The proprietress, Athena, can be found there, perhaps in an argument with her sister, a refugee witch of the Argent Coven.

At the center of town are The Warrens, a large hedge maze that is the seat of city government. As you pass the Entry Arbor, you’re warned against entering unless you know where you’re going, but you can’t walk away without feeling like the bush is judging you. Deep within the maze is the Lost Fountain, surrounded by stone benches of cold marble but no longer filled with water. You can feel the ghosts rustling the hedges before you even sit down. Here you’ll find Antonello de la Torre, a ghost who’s been Bonesville’s mayor for decades and is particularly adept at keeping everyone happily distracted.

Out beyond the beaches are the swamps of Bogburg, a rough neighborhood with a big heart, where many of the living reside in big apartment buildings. Johnny Johnson, one resident of these block houses, is obsessed with hunting the green-eyed mega-fish known as the Jade Leviathan and, with the help of a ghost buddy and folks from the Bonesville Alchemical Institute, known for their explosive results, manages to catch the giant fish. The ghosts of Bogburg attend services at Our Lady of the Soggy Heart, a sunken cathedral with bioluminescent stained-glass windows. When the window’s glow is replaced with alchemical concoctions, most everyone asks themselves “But why?”

When you visit Bonesville, you want to be sure to see the Night Market, an open-air marketplace known for warm spices and glimpses of magic. You can always orient yourself by looking for the colored plume coming from the cauldron at The Witch’s Brew, and pick up a few magical trinkets while you’re there. If you’re of age and looking for more adult entertainment, visit the Garden of Unspeakable Delights by looking for the hedges shaped like mythical creatures. Another major attraction is the newest neighborhood: Shrubbery Town is full of the most wonderful houses grown entirely from shrubs, including the Brick Bush Mansion, which while entirely vegetal appears to be made of strong bricks that would deter any huffing and puffing wolf. Be sure to say hello to Agatha, the town’s horticultural master, if you run into her as she’s always happy to see new people. Another wonder is the Shrubco Factory building in which plants have grown into machines that produce goods for sale at the Night Market. “How?” you ask. Nobody seems to know.

Thank you for visiting Bonesville. Come again!

Around the Whirl

Tonight we played Around the Realm by Randy Lubin on his new storysynth game engine. We play to create the journey of lifelong BFFs Nella and Bly as they travel around the Whirl of islands that make up their archipelago. Once we’ve proven our resourcefulness and bravery, we’ll be offered the coveted position of Curators of Antiquities at the Magical Library of the mega-city Boppicity. If we can return home before the summer solstice, we will win the role.

Our journey begins leaving the city on foot rather than via boat because we crave to get away from the crowds and hustle we’ve known all our lives. As we finally leave the city behind us and enter the lush jungles that surround our tropical home, our way is blocked by someone chanting as they write upon the ground, actions which cause the jungle vines to grow and engulf us. Bly decides that this is too much and uses her coif fixative and a small flame to blow a path through the foliage, but at the cost of losing our pack animals and the weight they carried. We soon reach Treetopia, a city in the trees and eco-paradise filled with exotic animals and goods from all over the jungle sold in its sprawling bazaar. Two guards take us to the palace, claiming that Nella is the princess whose father is demanding to see her. Once locked in the princess’s chambers, we hurriedly search for the secret exit the princess must use to escape and find it. We pass the princess returning on our way out through the secret passage. Nella and Princess Pardoo become fast friends, despite looking so much alike.

Two anime cartoon girls walk together. One has a heart-shaped eye-patch and long hair and the other has a scarf and a pair of high buns on top of her head.
Nella & Bly traveling around the Realm.

We leave Treetopia aboard at an ancient flying ship whose decks and holds are mostly off-limits as it’s run more like a museum than a passenger vessel. We’re soon attacked by Sky Pirates riding giant birds and wearing jump-jet backpacks that allow them to fly from the backs of the birds to the ship’s deck. As they line us up to begin confiscating our valuables, Nella uses her extensive knowledge of birds and bird languages to speak in cockatoo to the pirate’s birds and convince them to help us by knocking the pirates overboard. Our reputation is already being burnished by our defeat of the Sky Pirates, and the ship diverts to the nearest port, which is Aslanta, a city built into the crest of a great mountain, filled with intricate tunnels, vaulted chambers, mechanical lifts, and a mini-rail system. The city goes into lockdown not long after we arrive due to the sudden outbreak of a mysterious illness, but Nella recognizes the illness from her studies and knows how to manufacture a cure. She just needs that medicinal herb that grows at the base of the mountain….

After curing the illness, we join an Aslantan expedition down the mountain seeking powerful artifacts that must be hauled out by mighty turtles pulling enchanted bubble carts. We’re met along the way by a team of archeologists who claim to have found what we’re looking for and who are willing to show us where to find the artifacts for a fee. Bly recognizes their shady intentions and subtly undermines the teams trust in them by asking more and more pointed questions and identifying the inconsistencies in their claims, until the con men decide to leave for more gullible marks. We come to a formerly great mining community that has become a kind of mine-inspired theme park that caters to visitors by re-enacting mining activity, providing thrilling rides, and mining costumes. When Bly tries to leave with a small gem she found on one of the rides, the gatekeepers demand that she fill out a specific form, get it stamped by the park commissioner, and get it endorsed by two deputy park commissioners. Nella tries to reason with them and understand the specifics of the regulations, and Bly tries to slip away while the gatekeepers are preoccupied but is stopped at the secondary checkpoint and forced to relinquish the stone before we can leave the park.

We leave on the back’s of domesticated dragons with iridescent wings who fly over the Levitating Isles with one guide and passenger per dragon. But the Isles are plagued by Rock Storms when landslides result in dirt and stones falling up into the sky. We may be grounded for some time, but Nella knows that if you feed dragons, even domesticated ones, enough garlic, it will activate their natural fire breath, which can melt and disenchant the levitating stones, allowing us to cross over to the next great city, Necropolis, a haunting city ruled by a decadent elite consisting of death mages who have reanimated skeletons to serve their every whim. When we arrive, Nella comments on how foolish the whole thing is since we’re all skeletons inside and all end up skeletons in the end. This stray comment foments discord and revolution among the skeletons, who rebel against their masters. To escape (and make friends), Nella teaches them the skeleton dance and leads the entire city in the steps, which allows us to slip away while the revolution continues behind us.

Arriving home just days before the solstice, we win our dream job as Curators, which is ever so exciting and quite a relief. Our trip has been more eventful than we had ever expected.

September to May on the Love Balloon

Tonight we also played, in a separate breakout room, The Love Balloon by Ray Chou & Vincenzo Ferriero of Mythopoeia Games on board the Cloud 9, a cruise dirigible about to set sail into the sky. Our crew member is the ship’s bartender Natalie, who always has a kind word and seeks out fun wherever she flies. A pair of criminals disguised as musicians, Sarah and Gary, are staying in the Presidential Suite, with very different intentions. Henley Howard is back aboard the Cloud 9 in the Single Ensuite; he’s a salesman with a heart of gold and a never ending sales patter. In the Bachelor Suite is Al Own, a slime ball and inept pickup artist, who really just fears being alone. And in the Balcony View Suite is Jane, a dentist from Ohio, who has recently begun to lose her memory and wants one last chance at adventure before she can no longer travel.

The Love Balloon, a game of ... hijinks, humor & romance appears in the left hand corner with two figures dancing the Charleston to the right in a field of soft pink.

Our story begins with Natalie welcoming Jane aboard and giving her a tour of the Cloud 9’s many attractions on the way to her cabin. Henley Howard pitch meets Al and manages to sell him breath mints and shoe polish to help him in his attempts to woo the woman of his dreams. When Gary and Sarah check into their suite, it’s clear that Sarah calls the shots and is packing heat for protection, but Gary is the one paranoid about being found out. They’ve made off with the money from Gary’s employer, but have very different ideas about what to do with it. Sarah sends Gary off toward the bar while she plots alone.

Natalie and Henley have a nice chat outside the ship’s theatre, but he fails to sell her a retractable screwdriver, a pair of dice, monogrammed napkins, sunscreen, or a joke book, but she does decide to buy the coin changer and puts in an order for a set of decorative silly straws for the drinks. Al meets Sarah at the buffet, but she sends him packing easily enough, and he beats himself up over something silly he said about a spoon. Gary and Jane meet on the top deck and despite their difference in ages (he’s 28 and her 59), an easy rapport quickly develops between them.

When the ship docks at a Sky Castle, Henley encounters Gary at the end of the organized tour. Gary keeps buying everything the salesman offers and even insists on overpaying. He buys disposable cameras, perfume bottles, artificial flowers, gift wrapping and bags, and offers to finance the salesman’s supply runs. In return, Henley invites Gary to join him and upgrade his travels: “I’m not a traveling salesman as much as a wandering nuisance.” Meanwhile, Sarah and Jane meet at the ship’s pool and Sarah tries to dissuade Jane from pursuing Gary, despite having and wanting no claims on him herself. Jane, having little time to waste, just wants Sarah to let Gary make his own decision. Later, Al meets Natalie while crying into his beer at her bar. She tries to convince him that he’s trying too hard and needs to be more curious about the woman and more humble about himself if he wants to ever succeed in getting a woman’s attention. Natalie agrees to a walk later around the deck so he can practice being a genuine person.

As they walk along the deck, Al asks about her day and her trip, and after replying, she says he’s pretty fun when he’s behaving himself. Henley shows up and offers to sell Al a series of self-help books and women’s magazines to help him improve and learn more about women. Then Gary and Sarah arrive, and Gary gifts Al the package that he’d had been hesitating to spring for. When Jane arrives, Natalie and Al walk on, while Henley runs interference with Sarah so Jane and Gary can steal away to talk. It’s quickly apparent that they’ve developed feelings for each other, but before she can accept him, Jane confesses to Gary about her impending memory loss and the likelihood that if he chooses a life with her, he’ll end up spending more years taking care of her than adventuring with her. He replies, “I’d rather have memories to forget than no memories at all. Taking care of you doesn’t sound bad at all.” And they share their first kiss under the moonlight.

Each of them depart the ship, Al hugging Natalie for all the help and true friendship she’s given him, Sarah pretending to be as happy as a clam, and Henley leaving a case as a gift for the new couple. Natalie hands over the case to Jane and Gary as they come down hand-in-hand. Inside are books on memory loss & retention, a camera for freezing time, and brain teasers and puzzles to keep the brain limber with a note stamped “Paid in full”.

Until We Sink into the Twilight

Tonight we played Until We Sink by Magnus Jakobsson in which we play the natives running a hotel on a small island slowly sinking into the sea and the guests who visit the hotel. We are Kalea the hotel hotel manager, Leroy an eternal backpacker guest, Ari Kovair a fading star celebrity guest, and her son Ralph.

Our story begins when a sports fisherman is found dead on the beach, within sight distance from Ari’s room. She is furious that as a Gold Member of this hotel she has to deal with such gross situation and demands to Kalea that she and Ralph get rooms on the other side of the hotel.

The next day, Ralph and Leroy go hiking in the island. The view is majestic and there is a lot of interesting fauna here. There is a lake brimming with colorful fish that is very captivating. Not too far from the path that leads to the lake, Ralph finds the shallow grave where the fisherman was buried. The word “swine” is marked with black paint on the cross. Later that afternoon, back at the hotel, Ralph tells his mother about it and she is more and more concerned about the state of affairs at this hotel. Kalea keeps on appeasing her by bringing her drinks and promising her of coupons for her next stay at the hotel.

On the third day, the hotel has lost radio communication as some pumps failed overnight and the basement of the hotel flooded. Kalea is all disheveled from spending all morning cleaning the basement.. and tending to her demanding guests. When Ralph complains about how his room has not been made to his standards, Kalea hits back at him by pointing out that she went ahead and cleaned his shirt that was covered in black paint. Ralph ends up admitting that he was the one that wrote ‘swine’ on the cross previously as he had seen the fisherman staring at his mother when they checked into the hotel earlier.

On the fourth day, the three go back to the lake area as Ralph has to go clean the cross he vandalized earlier. While doing that, he finds a wedding ring near the grave. Ari notices that a hand is sticking out of the grave and now really wants to leave the island. Leroy pushes the group to hike further out and the reach the Lemur Bridge from which they appreciate a great view of the island. Back at the hotel in the afternoon, the group discusses a twenty year old newspaper clipping they found under a sofa that mentions of a murder that took place at the hotel then in 2001.

On the fifth day, Ralph confronts his mother as he overheard her coordinating on the radio (which was finally fixed) talking about the wedding plans she had with her publicist. Ralph is annoyed that this was not ever discussed with him… and that she keeps on calling his dad ‘her publicist’ instead of using his name. By now Ari is tired of this island and convinces Leroy to charter a sea-plane together for the next day to come pick them up and leave the island.

But on the sixth day, the group wakes up to the island sinking. In the morning the water is up to their ankles. They make their way into a row boat with a broken engine that the hotel had. Shortly after getting onto the boat, the island disappeared beneath the waves. As we are stranded in the middle of the ocean waiting for help, a skywriting plane flies over us, typing in the air “Happy New Year 2001!”

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

For the Headline on the Alien Ambassadors

Tonight we played The Case that will make the Headlines by Nicolas ‘Gulix’ Ronvel. Our characters are a group of newspaper reporters covering a high-profile meeting with alien ambassadors. We are Justin Case, who runs a paranormal blog on the side; Carol, obsessed with access to government officials; Odin, cursed with bad luck ever since entering the newspaper business; Fabrone Carbury, chenille suit enthusiast who’s wanted to be a reporter since childhood; Sam Smith, a paranoid columnist; and Sidra, passionate about journalistic ethics.

One year ago, Sidra got her first front-page story, covering a robbery and attempted heist. Odin was the first to congratulate her, musing that he’s never made it to the front page because the editors only give him unimportant stories to work on. Things were fine when he worked on the college newspaper with Fabrone, but his luck went bad when he became a professional reporter, and his envy of Fabrone’s assignments has soured their friendship. Sidra hasn’t been back on the front page since, but she’s hoping this case will get her there. Odin understands that if he messes up this story, he’s likely out of a job.

Fabrone and Carol often cover the same stories as part of the government press pool. Carol, who never goes back to the small town she grew up in now that she lives in the city, is not above making campaign donations as a bribe to get information out of politicians. Fabrone, inspired by her time covering U.N. meetings, is hoping to frame the alien summit story in a way that will bring people together, without turning people against the aliens. When Fabrone got this newspaper job in the city, she left behind her (now ex) girlfriend and their dog, but now she has a new girlfriend, a fashion designer who designs her suits.

Coworkers Sam and Carol used to regularly go out for drinks, but they’ve had a falling out over Sam’s latest story. He’s cast suspicions on the aliens and their motives; Carol thinks he’s ridiculous and finds his fear-mongering abhorrent. Furthermore, her government sources won’t talk to her anymore now that Sam has given their newspaper a reputation for criticizing their plans.

Justin needs his newspaper job to pay the bills, but his real passion is the blog he runs about paranormal and extraterrestrial activity. He spends his spare time watching paranormal documentaries and trawling YouTube for evidence, so he can share his stories with the world. Sidra doesn’t trust Justin not to fabricate stories in order to bring in more readers.

The alien meeting case brings back a painful memory for Fabrone: As a child, she made up a story about aliens for her handmade newspaper, complete with painted “alien rocks” and a dog dressed up as an alien, but her peers mocked her for being weird. Sam’s childhood also inspired his journalism, when he helped clear his neighbor/babysitter’s name after the neighborhood targeted her with false reports to Child Protective Services. His absent father wanted him to become a professional oboe player, but his heart belonged to journalism.

Odin’s contact meets him in a dark alley and gives him a strange package. The package contains a piece of alien technology that reveals the details of the aliens’ schedule… but Odin can’t read the information, because it’s written in an alien language.

Sam already has beef with Fabrone over her coverage of the U.N., and this story continues the trend. He dislikes her positive approach to the story, because he wants to alarm the masses. He used to envy Sidra, but now thinks she’s delusional like everyone else, because she doesn’t see the danger of the aliens.

When Justin invites Carol to dinner to discuss the case, Sidra is incensed. She doesn’t trust the pushy blogger not to pry into Carol’s personal life. Between this and his dubious blogging, Justin has gone too far. Sidra follows Justin to a bar and punches him in the face. Surprisingly, this is the wakeup call Justin needs to realize that he needs to tone down his obsessions, because they’re interfering with his newspaper job, and blogging doesn’t pay the bills.

At the last minute, the venue of the meeting is changed, because the original meeting place is near a paper mill, and paper pulp fumes are toxic to the aliens. Fabrone gets the scoop on this story, and is the first in line for the new venue.

Two weeks later, the meeting is over, and the world has moved on. Sidra never got a story submitted because she was poking into everyone else’s business, and her job is in jeopardy. Justin published conspiratorial rumors to his column and blog, and has been hired for a TV show about aliens. Carol published a dry story about government policy, which everyone ignored. Fabrone’s upbeat story got more attention from young reporters and the blogosphere than newspaper subscribers, but her photos of alien fabrics elevated her girlfriend’s fashion career. Odin’s newspaper went under the day after he published his story, due to a scandal in the publishing department; Odin moved to Connecticut, got married, opened a candle shop, and lived happily ever after. Sam broke into Odin’s home to steal the alien schedule and then disappeared, leaving a legacy of conspiracy theories around his disappearance.

For the Haunted Aether Island

We had some extra time after our session of For this Ungrateful City, so we also played The Lost Island by Steffen Jörg. Our characters are survivors of an airship crash in their world’s Bermuda Triangle, on a floating island not found on any map. We are medium Minerva, dentist Flavia, upper class Brenda Goodwitch, and areal cartographer Reginald.

Unfortunately, disaster has brought out the worst, or at least the crankiest, in us. As soon as we crash, Flavia starts complaining about the crew’s incompetence, and we start arguing: Reginald wants to explore, but the rest of us just want to get the ship fixed and leave. We eventually decide that the ship’s crew will make repairs, while Reginald and the vacationers explore the island.

Minerva notices that the island is absolutely full of human, or humanoid, ghosts and spirits, suggesting that it is not uninhabited. Reginald notices that his mapmaking compass has disappeared, and blames Flavia. Brenda misses her mansion full of servants, and her politically connected brother who will pay for anything.

On the fifth night after the crash, we make a campfire. Reginald is reminded of his childhood, when the world seemed bigger; a feeling this unplanned excursion has rekindled. Around the fire, we exchange secrets. Flavia confides that despite her success, she is afraid of the dark. Brenda confesses that she uses less-than-legal means to help her brother get ahead politically. Reginald is in no rush to get back to his loveless marriage. And Minerva notes enigmatically that she has helped cover up a murder… more than once.

During our extended stay on the island, Reginald teaches Flavia how to build a clay oven. She is impressed with his skills, and vows to support scouting programs when she returns home. Brenda is spends a rainstorm hiding under a rock ledge with Reginald, but has no desire to get any closer. Meanwhile, Minerva continues exploring, protected from the ghosts by the symbol she wears. She is terrified to discover an old ritual site that, unlike the rest of the island, is completely devoid of ghosts.

Finally, another ship appears out of the fog, here to rescue us and take us home. Reginald takes with him a bag of Neanderthal teeth found at the ritual site, after trading two of them to Flavia to get his compass back. Flavia looks forward to presenting the teeth at the next dentistry conference. Minerva takes with her the memory of this strange, haunted island. Brenda is just glad to be rid of this place and return home.

For the Secrets of Quail City

At the other table, we played For this Ungrateful City by Alexi Sargeant and Cloven Pine Games. We are the City Watch: indestructible Rollbar, refracted light artist Lux et Partiis, cold-powered Captain Winter, and people-powered paragon Echelon. The leaders of Quail City have called upon us to deal with a rising threat: supervillain Solstice has built a machine that fills the city with mind-control fog, encouraging the residents’ worst and most violent impulses.

Lux (a.k.a. George Harvey) has only come to town recently, but finds inspiration in the city’s breadth of culture and street artists. The city’s leaders have tasked him with restoring the old clock tower, with the help of his old-money friend Norman. He takes note of the residents’ civic pride that drives people to get involved, and its flip side, the cruelty reserved for people who are seen as taking advantage of the city. While many locals believe that Norman is one of these advantage-takers and that his kindness is a front, George knows that Norman’s enthusiasm for the common people is genuine.

Captain Winter is a scientist who gained his powers in a lab accident while trying to solve global warming, and rose to prominence after freezing the getaway car of some mobsters who were robbing a bank. He longs to be a hero and do anything to help the city, which inspires him with its sense of community and different groups of people working together. His faith in people recently inspired him to forgive an enemy, seeing their potential for good. While his powers are so strong that he could easily condemn the city to endless winter, the Captain is optimistic that the city will continue to appreciate his help.

Echelon, generally recognized as the leader of the City Watch, is widely renowned for his seemingly infinite skills and expertise. What most people don’t know is that he draws his knowledge from all the people around him, and in fact moved to this large city in order to have more people to draw power from. While the people love him, and have built a statue in his honor, the city’s political leaders and law enforcement dislike vigilantes and feel threatened by his popularity. Thanks to his powers, Echelon knows that the chief of police is Solstice’s son, and she plans to use her machine to make her son look like a hero by creating more crime in the city. Echelon respects Solstice’s brilliance, and is tempted by her offer to trade information on other criminals in exchange for staying out of her way.

Rollbar (a.k.a. Finley Holland) honed their powers of strength and durability in the underground fighting scene before joining the City Watch. After years of homelessness as a teen and young adult, during which they saw a friend die without any help, Rollbar feels they’ve seen the worst the city has to offer, and they’re skeptical of the vastly different treatment available to a member of the City Watch. Nevertheless, they’ve made a promise that if the city is in danger, they will be the last to leave. They don’t trust Lux, a newcomer who’s always skulking around and doesn’t want to be associated with the Watch. The fog machine frightens them, but they put on a brave face because the people need to believe it will be okay.

Finally, Solstice’s machine goes haywire, and all hell breaks loose in Quail City. Lux heads downtown to protect small businesses and people who need help, while Captain Winter goes to his lab in search of a scientific solution. Rollbar is relieved to have something they can fight, so they grab a sledgehammer and go with Echelon to the planetarium, where Solstice’s machine is hidden. Solstice pleads with the heroes not to destroy her machine, and plays on Rollbar’s resentment, asking why they should save a city that never cared about them. While Rollbar hesitates, we see George walking around downtown; in all the chaos, he didn’t have time to put on his usual disguise.

Back at the lab, Captain Winter has found the cure, which must be distributed via Solstice’s machine. He rushes to the planetarium, where Rollbar has shaken off Solstice’s influence and is about to destroy the machine with a sledgehammer. Just in time, the Captain freezes Rollbar mid-swing. Echelon, affected by all the emotions running wild in the city, lets slip that he’s known about Solstice’s machine for a long time, but was letting her run it without interference. Now that she’s out of control, she must be stopped by any means necessary, so Echelon starts brutally attacking the villain. Captain Winter dodges through their fight to get to the machine, where he plugs in the can of cure and reprograms the machine. A blue cloud rolls out over the city.

Downtown, George sees the city residents calm down and return to normal, wondering at the unusual fog that has turned to snow in the summer. He sneaks away before anyone can see him out of his disguise. Once the people of the city calm down, Echelon does too; he’s beaten and badly injured Solstice, but stops just in time to avoid killing her. The police chief is upset by what’s happened to his mom and throws us all in jail. Fortunately, before too long, Norman makes friends with the police chief, who sets us free and thanks us for saving the city.