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Tartary: The Story So Far

June 11, 2013 1 comment

Having got out of immediate danger for more than 5 minutes, in an environment with unprecedented iced sherbets and gently plashing fountains, the PCs have shared information of their various adventures and acquisitions. I’m going to try to keep this short, but there’s quite a bit of it….

Tl:dr version – the PCs have unwittingly stumbled into a secret war being fought by various entities, some of whom come from space. Everyone’s interested in their mech, which they seem to think might be useful/important when their cold war heats up. Also being psychic seems to attract a lot of trouble just on its own.
Caravanserai
One week ago the PCs sheltered from a sandstorm in a caravanserai (fortified roadside rest-stop). Sadly, it was at the time being raided by some men in blue veils. The men were looking for something specific – they were threatening the family of the old castellan (called Wachim), and had put his head in a vise. Happily the PCs killed the men in blue and freed Wachim.

Wachim revealed that he’d been in hiding at the caravanserai, but now his hiding place had been discovered and some terrifying and psychically powerful “they” would soon come to capture him. Before going into hiding he had been an engineer at the court of Amritsar (in north India) – one of the main mech-fighting courts of Tartary, ruled by 2 pilot-princes. One day he had discovered something buried in an enormous brass cucurbit nearby. After this discovery he had been followed constantly, his memory had been interfered with and his family threatened. So he took his drawings of the cucurbit and ran to an obscure backwater caravanserai out in the Turkmen wastes.

There (by bizarre coincidence) he discovered another, smaller brass cucurbit. Without opening the cucurbit he and his grandson, Selim, built a control panel for the mysterious machine inside, which Wachim referred to as “Smeroe.”

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this is a brass cucurbit

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in stories they’re the classic containers for djinn

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except the one you found was this size

As Wachim explained this the caravanserai came under attack by a whole tribe of Turkmen raiders, lead by a psychic boy (promptly nicknamed “Spoons”), who was being remote-controlled by a tentacled lobstery creature.
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The PCs escaped the caravanserai and opened the cucurbit, freeing the machine inside. The machine obligingly opened for them to install Wachim’s control panel, and after some mayhem the PCs escaped into the desert with Wachim’s entire family in tow.

Cutter #5, driven by Jen the goat and Kyre the human

Cutter #5, driven by Jen the goat and Kyre the human

The machine is very, very unusual. It identifies itself as 4TH WATCH CUTTER #5 – a subsystem of SMEROE, its “parent.”  SMEROE is orbiting Tartary, completing one orbit every 14 hours. For 6 of those hours it’s above the horizon, and Cutter #5 is active. During that operational window Cutter #5 is able to run about as fast as a horse while carrying up to 25 tons.* For the other 8 hours Cutter #5 switches off and cannot be roused. Cutter #5 has no engine, fuel, or obvious mechanical means for moving its 12 tentacle arms. Nonetheless, it moves them, quickly and strongly. It is fitted with 5 “flensing spades” (used to be 6 but one was shot off recently). You’ve seen these chop through brick walls – SMEROE says that at some point in the past they have been used to kill something “very large and very very old:” “TUO MEN TIMUR,” which as near as you can figure out was a giant nautilus creature.

SMEROE is one of 7 “reapers” made to fight (or “harvest?”) such creatures. Each reaper orbits somewhere in the sky but has a support base on the ground. In retaliation for the death of TUO MEN TIMUR, its companions, TUO MEN TUGHRIL and/or TUO MEN AGHAL bombarded the ground bases with bunker busters, following which SMEROE lost contact with its fellows. It is keen to get contact back, which is why it has activated Cutter #5 – to go looking for the bases, particularly of TJERIMAI and TJALK – and it needs human, local guidance to get it there. And it looks very much like TJERIMAI’s base is in the Amritsar cucurbit, so the PCs have so far been heading in that direction.

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Surely just a coincidence

The bunker busters aimed at SMEROE’s ground base did not damage the base but they did render the surface unsafe to a distance of “40K,” making it impossible to approach for “a long time.” Since Cutter #5 was found only “5K” from the base, it seems that time might be over.

SMEROE also mentions “TUO MOTHER:” this was last seen at a very great “depth” and unknown trajectory. A drawing made by Cutter #5 suggests that TUO MOTHER might be roughly the same size as the sun, and that it will eventually return to Tartary.

Following these revelations the PCs, together with Wachim and his family, rode Cutter #5 toward the large city of Khiva, first stop on the way to Amritsar. Along the way they visited Dashoguz Gas Mining Colony. There they rescued Ahmed, who was being held prisoner and made to operate a pit crane, but unfortunately in doing so they blew up a big chunk of Dashoguz in a massive thermobaric gas explosion.

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In the wake of the explosion they broke into the Mining Colony to steal boxes of anti-mutation pills that Ahmed said they needed. While escaping they stole 2 mining mechs, destroyed one of them, and got themselves onto Tartary TV – specifically, PCs Kyre and Keisha were shown on TV, riding a stolen motorbike. Somehow the TV cameras failed to show Cutter #5.

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Leaving Dashoguz they headed for the river, where they fell in with a party of Thark slavers, who had captured and enslaved a party of orange Carcosan slavers, who had captured a small black Carcosan woman called Biruni. The Tharks made a gift of Biruni to Kyre, who promptly freed her. Biruni appeared confused by the idea of freedom and stuck close to Kyre thereafter.

khiva-wall

Finally the PCs reached Khiva, and spent the night at a caravanserai just outside the walls, hiding their stolen mech (“Caterpillar”), their weird mech (Cutter #5) and their newly famous party members. There they learned that the Great Mech Tourney (or “Basho”) of Khiva would be beginning in a few days – and that following the mysterious terrorist attack on Dashoguz, the qualifying rounds of the tourney would be held there – to bolster the Colony’s security and lend support to the rebuilding efforts.

During the night, the Pit Boss of Komtor, pilot-tyrant of Tartary’s biggest diamond mine and heel-in-chief of the mech fighting league, arrived in his Giant Black Box.

cube of komtor

The box radiated wrongness. Hatred. Pain. Of course, the PCs immediately investigated it. Of course the investigation immediately turned into freeing a container load of sky-men slaves that were being held on the roof, and then an attack with motorbikes and ramrods on the Pit Boss’s elite Industrial Druid guards.

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More surprisingly, Biruni chose this moment to reveal that she was not quite the enslaved black Carcosan she had pretended to be, but instead a psychic spy, sent to keep Kyre out of danger. She teleported herself and Kyre to the spinal conduit of some Geigeresque sea-space ship and interrogated her about Cutter #5, her reasons for attacking the Pit Boss, and who the hell she thought she was anyway.

Biruni’s questioning was cut short, however, by the fact that her ship-thing was unexpectedly deserted and, moreover, seemed to have been taken in tow by a pair of very large nudibranchs.

nudibranch that kyre saw1alabaster_nudibranch

Reassured that Kyre was not working for an enemy faction and that she wanted to work against the Pit Boss, Biruni gave her a compressed and impressionistic briefing, via a series of visions, before sending her back to the surface, which had abruptly become safer than her ship:
1. she showed her that each time she performs acts of psychic power, she attracts the attention of various factions, all of which employ psychics in their secret wars. These include the lobster-tentacle creatures, other oily creatures and a number of human psychics that walk incognito through the crowds of Tartary.
2. the Pit Boss and 6 other people – whom Tartary natives can identify as almost the entire top rank of the Mech-fighting league (including the 2 princes of Amritsar) are being controlled by a monstrous, shadowy, nautiloid puppeteer. She stated that the nautiloids bring ruin, and are plotting some big atrocity.
3. she showed the Pit Boss also as the hapless (though still horrible) pawn of his psychic advisor, Gaut (beware Gaut, he has spies everywhere).

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4. she showed that Gaut is hunting for Cutter #5 – as also are lobster creatures like the one that was controlling “Spoons.”
5. she stated that to bring about the Pit Boss’s downfall, Kyre need only be close to him in 4 days time, at the grand finale of the mech tourney – within 20 feet and with a clear line of sight. Since at that critical moment he would probably be piloting his mech, the obvious place to get close to him would be on the tourney field.

On agreeing (in principle) to do this, Kyre was sent back to Khiva. She has a white belt, which she can use to contact Biruni and her people.

While this was going on, the rest of the PCs were hiding from the Pit Boss’s guards in various bits of Khiva*** and the Khan of Khiva was impounding their mechs, hiding them under the mech repair yard attached to the Minaret of the Dawn (partly to study them himself, partly to keep them out of the Pit Boss’s hands). Reunited, the PCs followed the mechs through a very peculiar set of spaces under the minaret, with encounters apparently designed to find out what they wanted – weapons, or riches, or harems, or powerful mechs of a more conventional design.

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Eventually they met the Khan himself (or at least a projection of him), who also wanted to know about Cutter #5, why they attacked the Pit Boss, and what they were up to. On being told about 2/3 of the truth, he agreed to return the PCs’ mechs to them and supply them with the services of the mech repair yard, so that they might take part in the Tourney and do what they want to the Pit Boss – all on the condition that they never mention having met him, that they keep their mayhem outside the city walls, and that they manage to fight their way to the finale. He himself cannot be seen to provide them with any help – they can stay at the yard and use it for repairs, but beyond that they have to sort out their own resources and weapons and armour and dirty tricks.

This guy is the Khan of Khiva

This guy is the Khan of Khiva

This guy is also the Khan of Khiva. What's up with that?

This guy is also the Khan of Khiva. What’s up with that?

Speaking of the Khan of Khiva, he has his own problems – or more accurately he has problem for Keisha, the Judge PC. It seems some zealot calling himself Khalid, Sword of Faith has been sent from the headquarters of Keisha’s religious order to tell the Khan he can’t keep dancing boys any more. Now the Khan loves him some dancing boys, and he just about tolerates the presence of Keisha’s order and its madrasas inside his city walls. Nominally he’s a committed believer, but he certainly doesn’t make any kind of show of sticking to the strait and righteous path, and if forced to choose between dancing boys and religion… well, where there’s currently a great big madrasa there could be a prime real estate opportunity. The head of the madrasa knows this, but he’s divided – Khalid has support from HQ, so he can’t just throw him out or poison him. But that’s exactly what the Khan will do to all of them if Khalid isn’t stopped. He’s sure Keisha can find a diplomatic solution (one has already been suggested, involving a bottle of tequila and the aforementioned dancing boys). Right now Khalid’s being stalled at the caravanserai, but that won’t last for long. And because the tourney is on, the world is watching…

As he leaves them to their sherbets and plotting, the Khan only gives the PCs one piece of advice:

“disguise your mechs. Or steal new ones. You’ll be going to Dashoguz, and they’ll recognize that Caterpillar mech you stole from them unless you do something to conceal it. And everyone who sees Cutter knows it’s not of this world – you’ve already told me you have psychics after you, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pit Boss, or the Princes of Amritsar, recognized it – and even if they don’t, if it’s as dangerous as it looks, they’ll all want to steal it from you. Do something to conceal its nature.

“Make it work, and I’ll see you at the Grand Tourney Field in the final, 4 days from now. Fail and I’ll see you before then, being picked at by birds in the lime pits. And if you win…

“…if you win I wish you all speed to Amritsar, and take your accursed spidermech out of my domains, before everything that’s chasing you descends on my city.”

* For comparison, the PCs’ other mech, “Caterpillar,” is a fairly typical Tartary construction. It can carry 4 tons, weighs roughly 80 tons itself, and needs a new tank of gas every 8 hours – sooner if made to work hard.

** The complete roster of “flensing ships:” SMEROE, TJERIMAI, TJALK, FENOE, LIET, ETJE and OOLU (destroyed), SMEROE also has a “mother,” but seems to have lost contact with her/it.

*** Wachim et al have not been seen since the PCs left the caravanserai.

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Spiritrap: a variant on Bilbil’s Ravenous Phylactery for Pokemon-type shenanigans

June 7, 2013 5 comments

A while ago I wrote a pokeball magic item for destabilizing your DnD game. Here’s a variant that affords different sorts of trouble, ideal for Tartary…

The spiritrap can take any form but it almost always appears as a colourful orb made in 2 or more pieces. When activated these pieces hinge or distend or something so the whole thing “opens” briefly – all too briefly – on one side and simultaneously “closes” on the opposite side.

The spiritrap can take in one creature – man or monster, living or undead, first level or 30th. In order to be vulnerable to the trap, the creature must have been subdued or somehow rendered unconscious or immobile OR it must have performed the action that activates the trap. It gets one save vs magic to avoid capture. Once captured it heals at normal rates and requires no sustenance while inside the trap. It can be kept in the trap indefinitely. It observes everything that’s going on around the trap but can take no action.

The only way to get a creature out of the trap is to activate it. There are 2 modes of activation:

1. simple, obvious button-push: this frees the creature but imprisons the person who activated it.

2. incantation + button push: exchanges what’s in the trap SPECIFICALLY for a creature that has already been trapped in it (only works if the creature is nearby, creature does not get a saving throw).

Even though this item is clearly highly coercive and extremely evil in nature, the stories surrounding it all tell of partnerships and friendships between the creatures thus trapped. The most popular stories concern a wizard who appeared to be a were-creature: using the trap he could swap places with a terrifying monster at will, and then equally suddenly revert to his mild-mannered wizard form. Evidently either the monster co-operated with its captor or it was under some other kind of charm or coercion, so that it willingly reimprisoned itself. It is a matter of considerable irritation to historians of magic that the monster’s side of such stories is seldom told.poke_ball_by_clairc_artstuff-d5hvq62

Look how happy he looks. Look how the creatures piled up in a ball have no real way to tell us how they feel.

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so you eat a pokeball, so what’s the worst that could happen? Unimaginably bad. The second worst is that it opens inside you, splattering you everywhere and suffocating the pokemon.

 

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It occurs to me that if you haven’t read the post or thought carefully about the consequences of getting caught in a Pokeball and released only to fight for your handler’s pleasure, the deep creepiness of the above sentiment might be lost on you.

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After the straight-up pokeball, the reversible hat is one of the most popular forms for the spiritrap

 

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And then there are the people who want to trap up to 10 creatures in their fingernails. OK I say people, there’s really only Scrap Princess in this category

I do not make these up. And no I don't think I'm at all misogynistic, it's just that I haven't found any pokeball jockstraps. Even though it's _obvious_ I mean _come on_

This one was not designed by a woman. Consider the discomfort of getting a sandshrew in there.

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The whole issue of how you trap a goddamn god in a pokeball is never really adequately explored. Although in truth it’s no stranger than being able to catch a crowned dragonfish (which isn’t a dragon) in one.

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Decidedly handy for catching them all. Possible downside: which one is the user in?