The Adventure Continues
The party had some downtime while the quarry mistress headed off to organise the travel arrangements, and so Gabriel, Acrophelia and Arrowtail went for a walk through town, respectively healing, guarding and pickpocketing the tired townsfolk. Chronus went back to the ship where he convinced Deymish to walk up to the tower and again try to make entry. Hataniah refused them again, saying they should come back in the morning. Chronus apologised to Deymish for dragging him all the way to the tower, then returned to his friends to report the news that the tower was still inaccessible.
By this time the town’s steeds were ready. The party gathered their equipment, mounted the aneen and headed north out of the city. They were told the margr would roam the deserts at night, and they would be travelling at night, but this didn’t dissuade them. I suspect the nightmare visions scared them so much they didn’t want to attempt to sleep in the city and surrounds even once.
Note that at this time they had basically done the opposite of what I wanted. Once headed out of the city to the crystal dome, they would never need to return to the tower to investigate any of the back story or find out what the clave Priests had been up to, or how their attempts to solve the nightmare puzzle led them to the crystal dome.
Oh well! I had read Monte Cook’s advice to the GM in the core book, and he basically said not to sweat the little stuff. If it looked like the players were going to solve a problem or ignore it by just barging right past, just accept that and keep the story going. So I kept a straight face and just let them ride off into the desert.
The journey north was supposed to take 8 hours, so I split it in two, 4 hours of daylight and 4 of night. Just before the sun set, the party saw a cloud of dust on the horizon, as of a large party of foot soldiers and animals. They had been warned the margr moved around mostly at night.
Gabriel figured he’d be alright, because he’d just use his Giant Metal Cross to keep them at bay. I pointed out it was night time, though, so that would avail him nought. Turns out that trivial condition actually made a difference, so I’d advise you to add narrow conditions such as ‘must be held upright’ or ‘must be motionless’ to your oddities; you might find that in the middle of a fight your player is hanging upside down and can’t use it (which is the kind of conflict that makes for a good story, so definitely something you want to happen).
Chronus used his skill of Astronomy to complete their journey after the crystal dome was no longer visible (due to the lack of sunlight). At the same time he discovered that they were following a trail through the desert that lined up with their own. The trail was no more than a week old, and it, combined with his astronomical skills, allowed the party to reach the crystal dome without any complications.
At the dome, as per the adventure description, they found signs of a scuffle, including some torn Aeon Priest garments and blood and burned out cyphers. They also found ritual markings engraved by the attackers, which they figured out was some sort of attempted appeasement or ward, to separate the crystal dome from the fight that occurred.
After a little investigation they figured out they could enter the crystal dome by touching their palm to a panel and concentrating. Inside they found evidence that a part of the dome was being repaired, including a burnt out hexagonal prism. They poked around for a while and decided that perhaps the repairs had been interrupted, but upon trying to leave the dome they discovered they had been surrounded by a margr tribe. The abhumans weren’t trying to get close to the dome, seemingly kept at bay by their own superstitions.
The party decided to stay safe inside the dome until daylight. Arrowtail volunteered to try to nap for a bit, and after 5 minutes had the nightmare, which shocked her awake.
Now the titular Nightmare is indescribable, which makes it difficult for a GM to describe it. I started by working with the description provided by the NPCs, of strange lights and an eye and beams of rays and … I expanded Arrowtail’s experience by trying to incorporate non-visual things, such as ‘You feel like you are falling through a giant hug’, and emphasizing the otherworldliness of the process. I didn’t make any explicit scary references; I simply highlighted how unusual and unreal the dream was. Essentially it was of no use to the party, and it’s not supposed to be. There’s a sidebar in the adventure saying that there is a chance a sleeper gets the ‘how to repair the machine’ version of the nightmare, but I quickly rolled some percentile dice (picking 20%) and didn’t roll enough to grant Arrowtail that easy out.
The party listened to her story and then waited for the surrounding margr to break camp and head off to the west. They were relieved to discover that their aneen were unharmed, and discussed that since the repairs inside the dome were unfinished, it was likely that the Aeon Priest who had been murdered had the replacement part, and that the margr in their superstitious worship had taken this part away.
So far so good.
The party started in pursuit of the margr tribe, which they has estimated to be about 40 strong.
Now in Numenera, combat is supposed to be quick and straightforward. There isn’t any of the painful counting and measuring of 4E D&D; there are only 3 meaningful distances: immediate, short and long range. Immediate range is anywhere within 10′ of your character, and it’s possible to engage an enemy and perform an action in this range. Short range (50′) is reachable simply by moving on your turn, but you can’t do anything else. Long range (100′) is reachable but requires a roll, as you’re running as fast as you can.
With this in mind I’d decided at the start of the game that everything was to be Old School, aka Theatre of the Mind. No maps or grids or characters. I’d grabbed several glass beads to assist with general layout in case we had a fight, but that was it.
Hey, we used to play D&D like this in days gone by, so why not, right?
Anyway, the general impression I was trying to give to the players was that in Numenera a fight with 40 creatures isn’t going to take a weekend of real time. From memory, I said that they should be able to defeat 12 of the basic margr without too much trouble, so that 40 would be a challenge but not an insurmountable obstacle. Bear in mind I had absolutely no experience running this system before, so no idea how deadly combat might or might not be.
The party discussed whether to head back to the town or to follow the margr tribe. Arrowtail wanted to go back to town but the rest of the party wanted to follow the margr. They eventually decided against splitting the party (luckily Arrowtail’s player, Page, had watched Acquisitions Incorporated and understood the risks of doing so). The party headed west instead, following the margr trail for several hours, until they discovered that the main group split into three; two smaller groups heading north and south, with the main group still continuing west.
At this point the party realised that they might be able to solve this entire problem if they could just barter with the margr. Gabriel had his Giant Metal Cross. Chronus put his hand up: he had just the thing, a cypher that, when swallowed, allowed the user to speak and be understood by anyone for up to 28 hours.
The only problem was that he’d handed this to the quarry mistress for safekeeping because he hadn’t considered it a particularly interesting cypher.
The party sat down and discussed this problem for a while. Should they head back to the town, as Arrowtail had been suggesting, or should they attempt to attack the margr outright to recover the replacement part?
Arrowtail dug through her cypher collection and had just the right solution: an injection that would teleport her back to town, and a tracking gun that could fire a tracking needle into a target which the gun would show by distance and direction for an entire day. She fired the needle into Acrophelia and injected the teleporter to appear in the middle of the city, where the mayor, looking tired and confused, welcomed her while asking her why the nightmares were still happening. She said she didn’t know. The mayor explained that he’d believed very fervently and prayed quite a lot, but the nightmares were still happening.
Arrowtail managed to placate him and rushed off to find the quarry mistress, who gave her the same sad story, although she was very happy to be rid of the translator pill cypher. She gave Arrowtail the last aneen, a surly old grey beast, and wished her well. Arrowtail simply followed her tracking gun back to where the party had set camp, an 8 hour journey.
Because the players had had some time doing nothing, I decided to spice things up a little bit. I described how, just as Arrowtail arrived back at camp, one of the margr groups that had split off from the main party was coming back. Arrowtail was coming back into a bona fide fight! Note that I did not use GM Intrusion for this. The players didn’t even notice. It was just a regular storytelling event.
There were six of the abhumans, and they were charging directly into the players’ camp as Arrowtail returned. Gabriel placed his giant metal cross in the middle of the combat, and lined up a crossbow. Arrowtail and Acrophelia formed a wall against the incoming marauders while Chronus stood beside Gabriel, ready to attack.
Turns out 6 basic margr aren’t very tough. As they closed on the party, Gabriel loosed a quarrel, striking one of the abhumans directly in the face and killing it. It plowed into the desert dust as the others ran around it. Chronus used a force blast and caved in the chest of a second margr, knocking it to the ground. Arrowtail threw a dagger at a third, wounding but not killing it, and then melee was on.
In the second round, Acrophelia swung her blade and killed another of the margr while Gabriel loosed a bolt into the fourth, dropping it. The injured margr engaged Arrowtail, but she defended and then retaliated with her forearm blade. Weapons in Numenera do fixed damage, but rolling high adds damage. With only 1 Health left on her target, Arrowtail rolled a 19 to hit him. This triggers 3 additional damage as well as a minor effect, for a total of 5 damage (2 from a light weapon, 3 from the excellent roll). He was going to die hard. Describing the minor effect, we decided she stabbed her forearm into the poor creature, and then her ‘Exists Partially out of Phase’ power had her blade skip through his body and up and out of his head.
Witnessing such brutal slaughter, the final margr dropped to its knees and surrendered, giving Arrowtail an opportunity to hand the language-pill cypher to Gabriel, who swallowed it.
Protip: Weapons deal 2, 4, and 6 damage (Light, Medium, Heavy). This means, in general, that a Difficulty 3 or easier creature with 1 point of armour will die from a single Medium weapon hit, not taking into account effort or good rolling.
The margr’s surrender pretty much solved the adventure. Gabriel used the Giant Metal Cross and his healing touch to heal the creature, which, though not entirely friendly, was happy to be kept alive.
Arrowtail suggested that perhaps they could let the margr, Shobs, return to his encampment. Her tracking device was still good for another twelve hours easily, so she asked if it was possible to remove the tracker from Acrophelia. Normally cyphers burn out, but I ruled that someone could extract and reattach the tracker with a Difficulty of 5. Chronus was trained, and applied some effort, making it only 3. He rolled and succeeded, and so the party cleverly hid the tracker on Shobs and let him run off, in the direction of the rest of his tribe.
This basically allowed the party to track him perfectly safely at range, which they did to close the distance to the margr camp, where the chieftain, Blodskol, held the replacement part they wanted.
The tribe had camped just over a hill, and so Gabriel and Acrophelia crawled slowly towards the edge, in the hope of getting a glimpse of the encampment. They spotted a trail worn into the sand by a sentry, but he was nowhere to be seen, so they judged it to be safe.
Gabriel decided he would activate his magnetic cypher to allow him to control and levitate his tiny cube, thus granting him the ability to move his Giant Metal Cross projection around through the air. This managed to mesmerise the crowd of abhumans long enough to grant him a window of opportunity to speak…
…which I then attempted to close with a GM intrusion. As he opened his mouth I handed Acrophelia 2 XP cards and said, ‘That’s when you notice a tap on your shoulder from the guard, who is standing over you.’
The players had already learned that at the moment of greatest narrative crisis one of these GM interventions would come around. The book said to award no more than roughly 4 per session (or 1 per player), and this was only my second. Acrophelia rolled sideways and knocked the margr guard to his feet, at which point Gabriel moved his Giant Metal Cross even higher and started to intone how only through the power of the Giant Metal Cross the tribe could be saved. He explained how he could channel its power to heal their wounded, and he had to roll to persuade them to be okay with what might just as well be considered sacrilege (the locals had highlighted during the adventure how superstitious the margr were, and this had been demonstrated to the party the night they spent in the crystal dome).
The margr chieftain, Blodskol, grunted some kind of indication that he was listening (remember, the cypher granted the ability to be understood, but no reciprocal understanding). He called over one of his men, pulled out a giant sword, and cut him open shoulder to chest, then flippantly waved him over to be healed by Gabriel, who was a little shocked by this brutal test of his abilities.
Of course, such a critical point warranted another GM intrusion, and I said, ‘Unlike your regular injuries, this one is…’ and started handing over 2 XP, only to have Acrophelia pull out one of her own experience points and cancel the intrusion. ‘Nope,’ she said, ‘No it isn’t.’
I couldn’t really argue with that. The party burned through experience points once they worked out they could help each other reroll their precious dice and stop their devious GM.
Gabriel managed to heal the injured margr, impressing the whole tribe, and instead of killing and eating them, Blodskol agreed to give them two of his men and some cyphers and assorted junk. The party politely indicated (another roll) that they really would prefer just that hexagonal replacement part they needed to fix the machine. Blodskol grudgingly accepted and indicated they’d really pushed their luck and needed to leave now.
Note that the players had entirely skipped the clave’s tower section of the adventure, and so had no idea why or how the nightmares were projected, what they were for, etc. They knew that someone had tried to do repairs in the last week, but the nightmares were two weeks old. They’d found some pieces of Aeon Priest cloth at the crystal dome, so they knew maybe one of them was involved in the repairs. They still assumed that the clave was locked up in solipsistic study, back in their tower in the town of Redstone. The party mostly decided to find the replacement part and attempt to repair the broken switch because of a little ‘well, we’re playing an adventure’ metagaming.
Nonetheless, they now had their part and turned around to get back to the dome before nightfall. As they rode away Arrowtail made sure that Shobs wasn’t following by tracking their distance on her tracking device. It seemed the margr were leaving well enough alone. Maybe Shobs had told them about their bloody massacre?
The adventure wrapped up very quickly from here. The party returned to the crystal dome and managed to work together to repair the broken device, reattaching the replacement part. They used effort and their various skills and assets, then rerolled the roll using another precious XP point. It’s good that the players can burn a resource when they really want another shot at success.
Uncertain whether they had solved the problem or not, the party headed back to Redstone to be greeted by an elated population. Everything was solved! The nightmares were over! The players sneered at how those Aeon Priests all alone in their clave were studying away to no avail, little knowing they were all dead (and never to find out).
Corl, the mayor, paid them as agreed, saying he would let the clave know, and the party had a great celebration and hopped back on the boat to travel on with Deymish.
Next: Wrap Up
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