Changelings of the Outer West Part 6

Part 6: The Summer of Blood Part 3

And welcome back imaginary readers! I know its been a while since our last installment, but given these events transpired about a year and a half ago now I figure my memory isn’t getting any worse. So here I am diving back into my haphazard little notes to bring you our tales from 1970s Cootamundra. For those of you just joining us, see here for our Rogues Gallery, Setting Summary, Hedge Summary, and the Summer of Blood Part 1 and Part 2.

Our heroes, as always, are Anais the Fairest Dancer and Blaize the Fireheart Elemental, former servants of the Lord of the Maze, and Father Callahan, an escapee from the Witch of the Wilds’ bio-luminescent forest. We left our heroes fleeing from the wrath of Father Damian Crowley, who they had tried to rob on behalf of a local Korean Demonologist and restranteusse they had met a few days earlier.

The motley limp home as the sun is rising and collapse into their respective haphazard nests. The days wear on, and the motley ponders the mess they’ve gotten into.

Anais begins to leaf through the classifieds of a discarded newspaper in search of a job, while Father Callahan grills Christine, a younger woman doing volunteer cleaning at a church that serves more tourists than worshipers. Blaize, finding her hunting talents largely uncalled for in the town, wanders a while before seeking out Solomon at the library, having formed a curious fascination around the old academic. The others find their way in as the day moves on.

Solomon, unfortunately, doesn’t have much to offer in terms of job advice, but he does decide that now is the time to call in a favour. Reminding them of his help in their first stuttering days, he asks them to look into something for him.

A few nights previous, a couple of young drug enthusiasts met in the graveyard and were attacked by the Devil.

The paper man hopes that it was nothing. The gnawed wounds on one of the young men’s legs could have been a dog, and the Devil they saw little more than a shared hallucination. But he doesn’t want to discount the possibility that something more problematic is active, and would prefer that the problem were resolved without drawing too much mortal attention; by the time monster hunters have taken notice, chances are the more worrying focus of the True is already incoming. As the librarian is already occupied with maintaining the local peace as he puts it, and rather forcefully requests that the motley investigate and report back to him when they have more information.

Anais asks what Solomon knows about Black Hill, and the strange sickness hovering over the town. Solomon thinks for a moment, before recounting that perhaps seven years earlier there had been a great furore when a star had fallen to Earth near Black Hill. There had been a brief flurry of scientific interest, until the heat of the meteor had caused it to fall into the old tin mines beneath the town. Since then, there have been fewer visitors from the outlying hamlet. The old fae agrees to look into it while the motley checks the graveyard.

The motley returns home.

Blaize takes a brief detour, wandering the streets near the house. Drawn by a collection of curiously twisted night sounds, she finds a beige envelope on a doorstep. A voice from the deepening shadows warns her to leave it be, and she beats a cautious retreat.

As the night grows deeper, Owl flutters in through Blaize’s window.

“There’s someone on top of the nest.”

“What was that little guy?

“Someone’s on top of the nest. They gave me jerky.”

A panic grips Blaize’s heart. With the weight of a promise already on her mind, she doesn’t want to consider what the Mirrorbirds might do if something happened to the egg they were caring for. Shoving Owl under her arm, she leaps out the window and sprints for the tree. Clambering to the top, she finds the nest she built… and the Hedge-bird’s egg remains, safe and undisturbed.

“Owl… what happened?”

“Like I said. There was jerky.”

“You said there was someone on top of the nest…”

“Yeah.”

“Where are they?”

“Not this nest, silly.”

“Then what nest?”

“Our nest.”

Cursing loudly, the Fireheart leaps from the branches, letting Owl fly off as she tucks and rolls on the ground. She runs back to the house.

Clambering onto the roof, she finds a hunched figure sitting over the gutter, a crawling pall of shadow surrounding her.

“Your little friend is a pretty crappy messenger. Ate all my jerky too.”

Blaize approaches cautiously, and the figure rises to her full height, the shadows slipping from her skin like silken sheets. Her dark skin in a tapestry of burn scars, her eyes empty pits like the night sky. A loose bun of dreadlocks twitches like a mass of worms.

The stranger introduces herself as Half Penny, and says that she had come to check on the newcomers Solomon mentioned. Given the recent surge in Cuckoo activity, and the disappearance of a number of resident Cootamundra fae, she made it clear that she intended to find out for herself if these events and the arrival of the newcomers formed anything more than coincidence.

Nodding slowly along at the barely veiled threat, Blaize asked if the Tunnelgrub wanted to come inside.

Blaize climbed down, while the newcomer slithered down the wall ahead of her, and was waiting when the Elemental moved to open the door. The dark fell behind as the ropy young woman strode into the house, interrupting Father Callahan’s painstaking sorting and sampling of his most recent Hedge-berry harvest. There was a brief but cagey conversation; where the motley had come from, what they intended to do in town, and a number of reasons why they should consider the area around the Cold Hill Slaughterhouse off limits. Anais brings forth a new concoction, a glamour rich tea, and the meeting begins to settle. Soon, Half Penny makes to leave.

“You guys are either the best liars…” she mutters from the door, “… or the worst Cuckoos I have ever seen. You’ll be hearing from me.”

And with that the night swallows her again.

A little worried by the local denizens, the motley opts to settle in for the night. Upon awakening Callahan finds a surprising amount of loose change in his socks, and smiles at the idea that maybe their luck is changing. Bouyed by this, the trio head into town once more, trying to source what they’ll need for the coming troubles. Anais dials a number she finds in the classifieds of a discarded paper, responding to the request for new exotic dancers at Lady May’s Adult Entertainment company. The voice who answers sounds tired, but after a short chat agrees to meet.

Blaize wanders into a record store to find a collapsed, aging hippy face down on the counter, with a couple of others hidden away under the shelves and a pile of discarded pizza boxes. Waking Petey, the counter dwelling proprietor, she strikes an agreement to clean the place once a week in exchange for David Bowie postcards. She catches a wisp of glamour from the agreement, the crackling voice of the fire within surging into activity.

Father Callahan takes some time to study the book he took from Crowley’s Black Hill Church, and notes that despite the references to Antebellum America, the print plate the book keeps falling open on is out of place; over the chain gang stands a man in a British Colonial Officer’s uniform, and the plants in the background suggest an Australian scene. The chained man in the foreground is a tall and muscular African, but the print does not belong in the book. Holding his crucifix close, the Father closes the book, and decides that its time to go to the library.

He spends the afternoon amongst the books, and eventually begins turns up a name to go with the figure.

Cesar.

The former slave turned convict enjoyed a brief bout of fame after having delivered a knockout punch to the Aboriginal war leader Pemulwuy, a man of no small reputation for toughness, while the latter was leading a raid. Tracking the name through records over the next few days, he found that both Cesar and, later, his son were buried in the area that would later be Cootamundra. Any haunting that old had no choice but to be entrenched and resilient. The Father, it seemed, was going to need extra supplies.

Christine did indeed know where to find some priests’ vestments. The former priest had left a set with the church, saying they belonged to it and not to him, and she knew exactly where they were. She was also entirely willing to trust Father Callahan when he said that he was a priest. What took a bit of convincing was why exactly he needed a set immediately. In the end he spun some tale of a wedding on a tight turnaround, as it were, and made off leaving behind a promise to have the Catholic paraphernalia back in good condition.

He’d figured she probably wouldn’t believe he was going to exorcise a ghost in the church of the next town over.

Having stowed his new acquisitions, the trio meet up to discuss a potential solution to the Devil in the graveyard. The place has no history of unnatural trouble that they can find, but the night tourists’ statement made the local papers, and has circulated to the local rumour mill with a chuckle ever since. Figuring there’s not much they can do without a bit more information, they decide that they should take a closer look. Better to get at least one favour owed out of the way.

They make their way across town, and do a brief reconnoiter around the edge of the cemetery, figuring that a quick clamber over a lower section of the eastern wall is their best option. Sneaking through the long shadows of funerary gardens and being careful to avoid the lone nightwatchman, they pick their way through the dark towards the old mausoleums where the incident took place. As the  graves grow taller around the paths, an unseasonal mist and chill begins to well up around them.

Anais steps into the clearing first, and she sees a name carven upon a gravestone in the dark that she recognises as her own, even if she can’t truly remember it. She falls to her knees, and starts digging at the ground with her fingernails. In an instant, Anais is gone.

The others notice her disappearance, and try to fan out and search for her. The shadows of the tombs crawl with malice, writhing forward to snatch more of the feeble light from their torches. Then, they see a tombstone too, with the name “Anais” dripping darkness on the face. Blaize lays into the earth with her shovel as they scramble to open the grave in time.

Meanwhile, their friend is cold. She can see her motley scrabbling away, mere meters before her, but her arms feel constricted by an iron grip, and when she raises her voice to scream the breath is snatched from her lungs before it can make a sound. As she struggles, she feels consciousness ebbing away, and makes one last desperate push…

The huntress’ shovel cracks a slab of stone, and the dancer falls wheezing out of the air.

While Blaize and Callahan struggle to get Anais back on her feet, a vicious neck wound bleeding into her dress, and fear itself steps forth from the shadows.

Blaize and Anais see the Lord of the Maze strut forth from between the tombstones, while Father Callahan sees his own Keeper limp forth from the shadows. The old priest slumps to the ground shaking.

Blaize raises her shovel and, interposing herself between her friends and her once Keeper, screams out for the interloper to back off. The Maze Lord’s face snarls back for them to leave the cemetary before it gets angry, but there is a creeping baritone in its voice that seems unfamiliar. Blaize scents the illusion; there’s none of the Maze Lord’s wisps of perfume or debauchery here. The thing before her reeks only of worms and cold, dark places, and it is in their heads.

When she refuses to back down, the thing leaps forward. Caught in its shadow, Callahan’s mind plummets back to an image of his Keeper’s son, the Wilting Waxen Woodsman, beating him bloody with the haft of his axe. The old priest screams and runs with the devil’s own speed. The nightmare surges on towards Blaize and Anais.

The Elemental snaps her lighter, and drives the flickering flame into the skin of her arm. The flesh singes, and in response the Wyrd honours her contract; the fire within her surges out, flashing and coruscating in a raging shroud around her. The thing wearing the Maze Lord’s face falters and takes a cautious step back, like a cornered wolf.

“Not so cocky now, huh? Who the hell are you?” the Fireheart snaps.

“Nobody you’d want to get close to,” the figure replies in its sepulchral tones, before single handedly wrenching a gravestone out of the earth and pitching it like a discus at the furious fae. Blaize tried to dive out of the way, but the massive stone caught her under the arm, and she felt at least two ribs break as she falls with the slab on top of her. Through the veil of pain, the illusion around her crumbles, the night in the graveyard returning to the crisp mugginess of the Western summer. Anais struggles with the heavy stone before managing to lever it off Blaize’s chest with the haft of the shovel, and the younger fae drags in a wheezing, painful breath. Seeing that her friend is stable for now, she briefly follows the footprints of their assailant; finding the door of a mausoleum thrown open and a flight of steps beyond; she spies an incense burner flickering dimly in a small alcove below, but no sign of their attacker, and figures it wiser to avoid any further confrontation at this stage. She slips back to Blaize, and manages to help her friend to her feet as they both stagger away from the mausoleum.

They find Callahan cowering in the shadow of the outer wall. Coaxing him out of his near catatonia, he feeds some of his Hecate’s Eye extract to Blaize; not enough to heal the broken ribs, but sufficient to stop the injury getting any worse while they head home. They drop down over the wall and limp back through the midnight streets.

They are relieved at least that in the morning they will be able to tell Solomon that whatever is in the graveyard is no True Fae; after all, fear of flames and crushing people with tombstones never really were the Maze Lord’s style. They are also reassured that whatever it was seemed to wish more for privacy than expansion. And they are at least ninety nine percent sure that it was definitely not the Devil, which is probably another plus.

What is  worrying is that they don’t really know what it was at all.

And I think we’ll leave it there for this week folks, nice little bit of a mystery for you. I’m afraid competition for the historical figure guessing game are now closed in light of Father Callahan’s revelations, but  phone ins from my dear imaginary readers are always welcome. As ever, feel free to use any of the ideas you like in your own games, though I guess if you publish it refer to my usual CC-A-SA-NC spiel. That is, throwing me a mention would be appreciated. Anywho, have a good week everybody.

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Eclipse Phase Character Jam: Parvati

Well, I never did plan to repeat this exercise, but I had fun with the first one. Once again we have a randomly generated character, just like Vik was a week ago, and I’ve often enjoyed the strange stories that are created when you’re relying on the often contradictory outcomes of dice rolls (digital ones in this case). In this case, we got a fairly unified if nomadic character.

So here’s Parvati Gairola; militant async, once dead and heavily edited, and continuing to hunt an enemy that seems to have left humanity behind.

And to make it all just that little bit more complicated, she’s getting married.

So like the last post, I’ve written you some fiction. Crunch pages connect at the bottom.

“Are you alright Vati?”

She snapped back to alertness, but caught the cold mug of tea before it fell from the camp bench.

“I’m awake, Shadow.”

Her muse swelled in her AR feed, a reflection of her own face made clear and hollow and filled with an unknown starscape.

“This is the alarm you requested Vati. The fabber has completed your order.”

“Thank you Shadow. That’s all for now.”

Parvati took one forlorn glance at the tea, and threw it out against the dusty wall of the dugout. The mining lights strung along the supports registered her activity, flaring into illumination. She reflexively connected to the nanodetector above her and the Guardian nanites swarming around her feet. No intrusions registered. She took the Hive from its place under her camp bed and dropped it in the pocket of her cargo pants, ordering the swarm to return home.

She glanced at the fabber, the four hand sized blocks of plastic explosives, the little tag of a remote detonator sitting beside them, cooked up and ready to go. She hefted one of the blocks, her memories resurfacing in the perfectly orderly fashion they always did.

Breach!

The flare of the explosives, the almost impossibly slow caving in of the hatch. The guns, both sides, flaring to life. The TITAN worshippers were panicked, and she locked onto their fevered brains and squeezed until they collapsed, clutching their misshapen skulls, and still she fired.

The riot-shot that hit her full in the chest and carried her out the window in the pale Lunar gravity.

“Are you alright Vati?”

She was still cackling down the comm when the evac hit.

She sat down on the camp bed and began to strip and clean the battered sub-machine gun in its chrome case.

“Shadow?”

“Yes Vati?”

“Re-establish the connection to the transceiver. Download and parse anything its picked up, then seal us off again.”

“Of course.”

The muse faded momentarily, and Parvati locked the clip back into place, dragging the hammer back and setting the gun across her lap. She reached across and opened up the red leather case, spinning up the ancient turntable and letting the strains of Nat King Cole hum through her subterranean world.

Shadow reappeared in a burst of starfire.

“You have received several important messages, Vati.

“Prioritise as normal.”

“There as been an additional request from Miss Queen.”

“Yeah?”

“She has requested that once the target point has been secured, that we attempt to salvage a sample of the device.”

Parvati glanced up at the ephemeral form of her muse.

“What?”

“She has requested that you secure a sample of the target.”

“That wasn’t part of the deal.”

“Miss Queen acknowledges this, and has agreed to provide additional payment or rep boosts by negotiation once the sample is delivered.”

“We’ve been on this rock for three Martian months, and she only thinks to tell us now? Does she know how dangerous these things can be?”

“Judging from the text mode, Vati, Miss Queen does not appear to be attempting to deceive us. On the balance of probabilities I would say our benefactor has suffered an unexpected turn of events.”

“Alright. Anything else?”

“Marco has sent another message.”

Parvati sighed and ran a hand through the stubble of her raven hair.

“He knows when I’ll be back, why does he keep trying to find me?”

“He appears to have sent a selection of colour swatches.”

“Cache it for now. We’ll respond once we’ve handled our objectives.”

“He’s requested a response as soon as possible.”

“Dammit Shadow, he has a date, what is he worried about?”

“Are you alright, Vati?”

“What?”

“Your endocrine levels have spiked. Do you want a dose of Komfurt?”

The memory resurfaces in its neat little box, empty blackness on either side. The frazzled artist took a knee and proposed in a storm of petals, hanging dreamily in their languid Titanian fall.

“Will you be wearing a dress?”

“I’m sorry, Shadow?”

“Marco has asked if you intend to wear a dress for the ceremony.”

“Save the message. We have work to do. The mission comes first.”

She knew this was important, but couldn’t place why.

“Can’t let my groom marry a pauper, now can we?”

“As you wish, Vati. I will inform Miss Queen that we have received her request and then sever the connection.”

Thank you Shadow. She wasn’t sure if she’d said it or just thought it.

She placed the explosives in a case, and stripped out of the light coat she’d been wearing. She took a moment to run her eyes over the coffee coloured warzone of her skin, the scars she had kept against all advice. She opened the box of memories that each was connected to. These bones, these muscles, the skin and all the machinery. These were hers.

A little girl feels her head snap backwards, feels her limbs tumble away beneath her. Feels the smothering weight on her chest, crushing out her breath and forcing the darkness into her heart.

“My God, are you alright Vati?”

She flexed her shoulders, and pulled on her combat webbing. The armour twitched, and cinched itself in around her, its weight familiar and comforting. She keyed her ecto into the jury rigged network they had installed through the weeks of digging.

“Morgan? Skald? You still with me?”

“Ready and waiting, fearless leader.” Came Skald’s rapid fire reply. He slept even less than Vati did, but in his case it was a voluntary condition.

“You got eyes on Morgan?”

“I got eye’s everywhere, boss. She checked out for some private time. You don’t want to hear what I do…”

“Get her prepped. Its time. Be at the B Point in 10.”

“At long last. See you there…”

Parvati hefted her gun, packed down the listlessly spinning record player, and stepped out into the tunnel.

*****

The dreadlocked, muscular Fury morph shimmied down a narrow section of tunnel, pulling up her industrial mask as she spotted Parvati. She stowed the heavy rifle, and crouched beside her hunched leader as Parvati strung together the packages of plastique. Morgan’s font flared across her AR feed.

“Time to take out the trash?”

Parvati kept her focus on the explosives, and twitched back a text response.

“Same plan as ever.”

Breach.

Deploy flashbangs.

Eliminate hostiles.

“You just be ready to drop those flashers.” Parvati continued, “I’ll take point.”

“You get all the fun.” Morgan texted back, and casually prepped a grenade. Parvati stood up, shooed the mining bot down the hall ahead of her. Skald slid into sight from the shadows, winked, and did a last prep on his observation drones and pistol. Parvati nodded back.

“Are you alright Vati?” murmured the tattooed journalist.

“Never better.”

She sent a note to her squad: “Ready. Breach in 3. 2. 1.”

Breach.

The rock wall gave way in a burst of heat and shock, and Parvati felt the surge of enhanced adrenalin and the hammering of her heart.

The way is open.

She saw the flashbangs register and flare on her Tacnet, and sprinted through the opening.

She let herself sink into the dark part of her mind, the place she had sunk to as a child and had returned when the TITAN’s had tried to take Luna from her. The dark place that the doctors had called The Virus, but she recognized as Death.

She sensed six targets, their mind scrambled by their exhuman sensed, and her body began to ride ahead of her mind, her thinking mind sitting back and letting the scene unfold. A multi-limbed sentry tried to raise a rifle, but fell to the ground screaming as the dark place reached out. She let herself be born away with the inexorable slowness of her clip draining to nothing, the sprays of blood and shattered bodies collapsing into scrap meat. She felt the pin click, and dropped the gun, her claws already sliding into place.

Her mind started to come back as she was pitched headlong into a bank of machinery that looked like it had grown from the surrounding bedrock. She tried to roll, but heard a rib crack, managing to turn before the crawling, insectoid combat morph leaped towards her. She tried to get hold of its mind, to crack it open to madness the way she had been taught, but the inner dark slid from its mind as, moments later, her claws glanced off its bio-mechanical carapace.

The sound of a heavy machine gun had never been so welcome.

The thing collapsed on top of her, and she felt the activity of its brain twitch off. The chitinous arms twitched frantically, and she hauled her claws up in a boxing guard, letting the dying limbs scrabble against her vambraces. She heard a couple of cursory guarantee shots before the massive Fury hauled the serpentine corpse off her.

“You alright Vati?”

The little Splicer retracted her claws, and winced at the pain in her chest as she tried to drag herself to her feet.

“Final sweep Morgan, keep an eye out for any synths. I think we got ’em though. You got your footage Skald?” she shouted across the cavern.

The little man, his drones hovering like vultures over one of the corpses, gave her a thumbs up sign. She called the mining bot to her, and when the spider legged thing arrived she popped its stack; Celia was reliable as AI went. She then keyed a timer on the incendiary charges built into the robots body.

A few more shots rang out. She couldn’t tell if Morgan had found new targets or had just gotten bored. The timer began to tick down.

“Time to bug out everybody!”

She saw her team pack up and begin to make for the tunnel by which they had entered. She took one more glance around the immense chamber, seeing the marks of the TITAN’s on every face; the inexplicable machines, the insane nanoforged sculptures, the maddening scale. The exhumans hadn’t built this, and she wondered what it was they were looking for.

She drew a sample bag off her belt, and extended her claws again. With three hard strikes, she took the insectoid creatures head from its neck, and shoved it into the bag before running for the exit.

*****

“Are you alright, Vati?”

“Fine Shadow. Just sore. How long to evac arrives?”

“The shuttle is due to land in twenty three minutes.”

“Good. I’d…”

She looked up at the cold stars above her.

“I’d like to talk to Marco now.”

“Of course…” the muse paused a moment, “Though I’m afraid I can’t reach the system Mesh at the moment Vati. There appears to be some signals interference, I’ll let you know once we’re back online.”

Of course. Alone. The cold dark above, and the cold dark within, alone with the Virus and a body that isn’t mine, it isn’t mine, it isn’t mine, why the hell am I still here?

The little girl’s neck snaps backwards, and the darkness smothers her.

“Are you alright Vati?”

Tears and heavy breath began to mist the inside of her mask.

“No Shadow, I’m not…” She whispered, looking again into the void above her, “I’m getting married.”

Fin.

So that was that. Once again, we had a fairly interesting turnout from random generation, and I didn’t have to replace a single result. I think the life path really gives a good jumping off point for playing around with some fiction, and I’ve enjoyed it so far, but I think if I were to do it again I’d use something a little less in-depth than Eclipse Phase…

Anyway, as promised, the nuts and bolts.

Parvati Gairola has led a thoroughly fractured life.

She was born to a small commune in Northern India’s agricultural belt, and lived there until she was seven years old, a happy if rustic childhood. It was a quiet place; there were days when not a single car passed through town. It was a terrible twist of fate that the car that did come through on that day in her seventh summer was the one that killed her.

Her parents and community were naturally distraught. Before the funeral was held, however, the local doctor presented her parents with the little girl’s cortical stack. He said that here, at least was a silver lining; their daughter was not truly dead, just waiting for her chance at rebirth in a new morph, or even as a datalife angel in new, networked communities. But the Gairolas were a poor family in a poor community, and could not afford server space, let alone a new body. The cortical stack itself had been contentious, only installed in the end due to the large government subsidies attached. But Parvati’s mother, Gaya, decided to take a chance that her daughter’s soul might still be linked to the little gem, and arranged for the stack to be sent up the beanstalk, to the glittering Lunar colonies, and a wealthy uncle she had known when she was small.

Uncle Rajesh received the package, and the old man had his grandniece reinstated as quickly as the process would allow. Parvati awoke, naturally shocked; she was in a new body, a new place, with an unknown relative and the memories of her own death lingering still far too close. She was in a state of near panic for weeks, but slowly began to acclimatise. Rajesh arranged for her education, which was idiosyncratic to say the least. Having observed a number of curious warrior traditions in his long life, he had come to the conclusion that war was the natural human state and thus his granddaughters, and his newly adopted grandniece, should be the best at it to ensure his family’s survival. Most twelve year olds don’t receive smartgun systems for their birthdays, but Rajesh had grown to trust that Parvati would make good use of it.

As she reached her majority, Parvati had volunteered for testing of new psychosurgical methods, and found that her mind reacted well to the editing. Some parts she had removed wholesale, freeing up capacity for her to focus on what she felt was most important, but she insisted that she keep the memories of her last day on Earth. For her, death had become a strange portal, a conundrum in itself, and she knew if she lost that referent she may be cast adrift entirely.

It was something to be treasured, and it proved to be the last time she would see her home planet after all.

The TITANs launched their horrifying assault when she was 25. The flood of terrified refugees into the lunar colony brought with it stories of monstrous, indestructible machines, but their eccentric ancestor had taught them that any obstacle can be overcome with determination and the right tools. Signing on with local militia with her cousins, they met the waves of kill drones and exsurgent freaks head on. After a furious firefight that left them adrift in a partially destroyed tin-can station, however, Parvati found herself losing time, and on her return was diagnosed with a strain of the exsurgent virus. She waited weeks, but the expected madness and mutation did not come. She found her senses acting in strange ways, finding information and locating people they had no right to be able to. When a woman wearing a Lunar Defense Force uniform arrived and offered to teach her how to use what she had become, she agreed, and bore out the Fall taking the fight to the TITANs, her mutant psyche wreaking havoc on enemy biomorphs.

And then, it ended, and she was cast adrift after all. Trained and conditioned for a war that ended without explanation, she has drifted, using her skills to eliminate any TITAN remnants or exsurgent threats she finds. She has been contracted repeatedly by Firewall proxies, but has yet to understand that her various employers are linked by the same conspiracy. She fell in with the Autonomists through her nomadic lifestyle rather than through fervent belief, but they have proven good friends. She stayed on TITAN, for a time, and there met Marco, the man who asked her to marry him.

But the Hunt goes on, and she doesn’t know if she’ll stay. In her mind, the war never ended, it just changed its face.

Like I said… fractured, but hey, it makes a decent story. For those of you who care, yes, the rulebook also told me she was getting married, which was a nice story point. PDF character sheet is attached below.

Parvati

Anyway, hope you all have a great week imaginary folks. I promise I’ll talk about something that isn’t rpgs soon.

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Photo “Tunnel Vision”, courtesy of Eli Bishop aka wiretapstudios on Flickr

Changelings of the Outer West Part 5

Part 5: The Summer of Blood Part 2

And here we have it, another installment for Changelings of the Outer West. I was able to find one of my old notebooks from when we ran this, so my report may be marginally more accurate than it would have been with just me memory! Yay! For those of you just joining us, the previous installments are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

As a refresher, our protagonists are Anais, a Fairest Dancer and escapee from the Maze, Blaize, a Fireheart Elemental also fleeing the Maze Lord’s diabolical clutches, and Father Callahan, a Wizened Brewer and former slave-alchemist in the Witch of the Wilds’ Midnight Forest.

Having secured their new transport the motley set out to fill their side of the agreement with Mama Park. Pedaling their bicycles through the early twilight, they reach the outlying town of Black Hill as the sun is fading away into nothingness. The place is eerily quiet; most of the buildings on the outskirts looking to be either abandoned or in a state of disrepair bordering on collapse. As they move towards the center the signs of habitation grow thicker, but without the vivacity that normally comes with a town center. It doesn’t take an expert to see that Black Hill is dying, but Anais struggles to understand why anyone would stay at all.

As they lock up their bikes, they notice a group of kids throwing pebbles at the windows of a house. The kids scatter when Callahan calls out, but Blaize smells something off. She ruffles Owl’s feathers, and lets him fly off into the night (he’d been riding in the bicycle basket up to this point), but not before her eyes have grown reflective and sensitive like the little bird’s (through the use of her Contract of Fang and Talon). Using her night vision, she picks out that the little stones are oddly shaped, and one picking on up sees that it is a human tooth.

There is a flash in her memory, the old forest and the pack.The tear of human flesh between once human teeth.

She shakes off the haze, and glances at the windows. Signalling for her comrades to wait in the alley behind, she creeps up to the open window and slips through. The house inside is dusty and almost forgotten, but the fire sprite can hear someone in a side room. She moves as quietly as she can between stacks of newspapers and meticulously stacked garbage, and sees a hunched, wheezing figure in the front room, shrouded and leaning heavily on the window frame. Between laboured gasps, Blaize can hear the figure whimpering out a prayer. She leaves them in peace.

On returning to her motley, they come to the conclusion that there is something much worse at play here than a recession. They ascend the last streets to the old town center, and see the church and its cemetery on the other side of the green. A number of large black carrion birds lurk in the bare trees of the park, taking wing as the characters approach. All Blaize gets from their caws is “poison”.

They follow the path of darkness to the side door of the church, and quietly spring the lock. The church seems normal in most ways. It has pews and a heavy altar in the Catholic style, but it also has an odd set of banner strung along a ceiling that seems lower than it should, and grates in the floor that even Blaize’s owl-eyes struggle to see far beyond. The Father follows his instincts, and locates the hidden staircase at the back of the vestry in short order. The three changelings began to ascend, and found themselves in a long room with a loft at the other end, a lamp glowing on a desk. They fanned out and began to make their across the silent room.

Callahan moved to the bookshelves, and in the low light of his smothered torch saw an occult library fit to make the eyes bleed. As he passed, a book feel from the shelf. He turned, and the old leather bound book on the floor has fallen open on a print: I white man gesturing over kneeling slaves. The priest notes the title page: “Superstition Among Antebellum Slave-Peoples”, and puts it back in its place. When he turns his back, he hears it fall again. Its around this point that Anais screams.

She had been moving towards the lamp, across an open stretch of floor. One moment she was there, the next she was falling. The Fairest tumbled, and managed to catch a banner rail before the floor four meters below had the chance to break her legs. She hung maybe a meter beneath a gap she had thought was solid wood. She called to her compatriots, and together they managed to haul her back up through the gap; it took a moment, but eventually their fae-selves were able to to reconcile the illusion for what it was. As they did so, Blaize heard a giggling, and looked up to see a scrawny figure scramble on all fours toward the stairway. She immediately gave chase.

Sensing they were out of their depth, Anais made a careful break for the loft, hoping the book they were looking for would be in one of the cases up there. Callahan moved to the table, only to have the chairs hurled at him by an unseen hand. He dove for cover between the bookshelves, and pulled the fallen tome into his satchel; it had opened on the same page once again.

Blaize ran after the spindly gremlin, down the step and through the vestry. The creature darted through a door, and Blaize made to barge through after it… and promptly knocked herself into near unconsciousness against the heavy wood of the locked door. She fell, her vision swimming. Anais scrambled up the steep steps to the loft, and saw a book that looked very much like the one Mama Park had described under the lamp. She raced to the reading bench, when a freak gust blew out the old lamp flame. Running her hands over the table, all she could feel were old, heavy chains. A ray of moonlight fell across her face, and across the face of a tall, heavily muscled African man, his neck in an iron collar, and his eyes weeping liquid darkness. A whisper cuts through the dusty night air.

“Would you die without a name?”

A moment later, the Fairest crashes into the railing of the loft, and before she can cry out she is airborne.

Father Callahan heard Anais hit the floorboards hard, clutched the silver cross around his neck and muttered something that doesn’t bear printing. Bracing himself, he makes a run across the open floor, only just ducking under the table as it is hurled after him. He grabs the unconscious dancer’s collar in his skinny fingers, and drags her frantically back towards the stairwell. The broken furniture rattles ominously, and he sees a hugely muscled silhouette against the moonlight for just a moment before he reaches the stairs and slams the door behind them.

Blaize manages to drag herself to her feet, and found a conspicuous note on the desk, obvious enough that it seemed strange they hadn’t noticed before. Written in what looked like spilled ink, it simply read “Forgotten”. Callahan slumped down the stairs with a barely responsive Anais in his arms, informed Blaize that this was no time to practice her reading and that his noodle arms weren’t going to cut it on this one.

Together they began moving their unconscious friend towards the exit…

And the air reverberated as the main doors were pushed open by none other than Father Damian Crowley. The hatchet faced old man, with a number of people behind him, strode down the aisle of the church, switching on lights as they went. The motley backed rapidly into the vestry and Callahan, hoping he wasn’t making a big mistake, put a hand on the arch of the stairway, called up his Glamour, and asked it to Let Him In.

The Hedge Gate shimmered open, and the motley didn’t wait to see if anybody was following them. Dragging their fallen friend through, Blaize and Callahan fell into a sucking mire of mud and creeping thorns, with little in the way of leaf cover or trees. The Gate closed again behind them, with no normals having had a chance to look through, the arch standing like a tombstone in the mire. Blaize kept watch in the moonlight while Callahan managed to coax Anais into drinking a concoction he’d distilled from the Hecate’s Eye fruit that grow in the Mirrorbird’s Grove. Soon enough, she was back on her feet, and the gang began trooping off in what they hoped was the direction of the River.

After a few hours of scrambling over the morbid quagmire that Black Hill’s Hedge had devolved into, Blaize took a tumble down a ridge and landed in rich garden bed of ripe hedge fruit. As she picked herself up there was a frantic rattling from inside the corrugated iron shack rigged up under the spindly trees around the grove. With a shout, a half clad man with an akubra hat, a beard made of long insect legs, and a shotgun burst out, and an ominous rustling rose in the trees behind her. Glancing over her shoulder to see the six foot tall redback spider that had flanked her, she made a show of dropping her knife and told the others to come out slowly.

Things went better after the Skitterskulk, who introduced himself as the Wrangler and his enourmous arachnid pet as Scuttles, was convinced that these still badly injured strangers weren’t here to kidnap him, and mentioned that there had been some Cuckoo trouble in the area recently. When questioned as to what a Cuckoo was in this context, he responded;

“Er, right… slaver types. Folks like us who’d sell folks like us back to… folks like Them.”

On this, they settled in around the Wrangler’s campfire, and he fed them some Baconbloom (a furry, meaty, occasionally chatty tuber) that he’d grown in his garden. When asked about the taint in the Hedge near Black Hill, he mentioned that he’d noticed it, but it hadn’t found its way over the ridge yet. He also asked if they were coming to Market on Saturday.

Given our gang are clueless new escapees with only Solomon’s word (totally trustworthy) to go on as to what they are, they had no clue what the Goblin Market was, so the Wrangler took time to explain. Given the strange crossroads that seemed to form in the Cootamundra Hedge, the monthly Roped Lake market was probably one of the biggest gatherings of fae and hobgoblins in the region, all bent on engaging in their own twisted version of capitalism. He also made a point that they tended not to take cheques or cash, so bringing something to barter was probably their best option.

They talked a few hours more, until the sun began to rise. Then their new pal pointed them on their way down the River and described the Colonial stone bridge that acted as a Gate back into town, then said to give him a shout if they needed him. He didn’t often leave the Hedge, so he knew his way around pretty well. They picked their way downstream, strange figures of smoke and heat haze watching them from the other bank. When they reached the bridge, they sloshed out into the waist deep water and stepped  into the dry bed that lay on the other side.

They began their long walk home, only now realizing that they’d left their bicycles in Black Hill.

I think that’s a pretty good place to leave our hapless heroes. More Changelings of the Outer West will surface soon, and if anybody wants to sling comments to guess which famous Australian figure the ghost in the church is based on, you’ll get a prize. Since I’m poor, the prize will probably be one of my trademark surreal compliments, maybe arranged as a jaunty e-card. No, my players cannot participate, cause they already know and get plenty of compliments anyway. Have a good one folks.

Eclipse Phase Character Jam: Vik

I’ve been reading up on my Eclipse Phase lately. As its all Creative Commons (something my regular imaginary readers will no doubt realize I make extensive use of) it makes a good way to smash your brain open and fly onto a new creative horizon when on a budget. Which I am. So I’ve smashed through character creation… which I’m going to come out and  and say was pretty painful and drawn out, even with the handy module system in Transhuman.

But I came out with Vik Archaki, a bedevilled interplanetary historian and robot enthusiast. As its taken a few hours, I’m gonna reward myself by writing some fiction for y’all. The crunch junkies can get their nuts and bolts further down.

One more piece, and it would be perfect.

The metal guts came in to sharp focus in an instant, a nest of scavenged junk remade into something beautiful. Over that was a skin painted and finished so that it was just the way he remembered. Down to the finest micro-shade, it was perfect. Not even the mouthiest Neo-Raven could dispute him on it. Not this time.

His hand did not shake as the final element moved across the gulf of the valley, inexorably drawn to its rightful nest.

There was a sound like a shuttle ramming the door, and Vik clutched his ear, screeching as the metal fiber slipped away from his snatching fingers and tumbling away to the other side of the room.

Exhaling deeply, he unhooked  his harness and let the microgravity buoy him, his little family moving off the tabletop and clambering onto his sleeves as he pushed off. The hammering continued. He punched the door control, felt the restabilization of atmosphere fumbling over his skin as the hatch slid open and his bots shimmied to his shoulders, forming a strange halo of antenna and gun barrels.

“What… do you want?” Vik stage whispered.

He took a momentary double take. He had been looking at the Gargoyle morph’s spindly, gunmetal torso. He looked up at the holographic face. Vik blinked, and the face changed, cycling as they spoke.

“Shop talk, Vik.” The elongated figure warbled, its voice shifting with its face. “You got time for a little chit chat, don’t you?”

Vik sniffed. Talbot. Had to be Talbot. She was the only one who thought that premium double-refined protective oil made any difference. Well, so did Jonah, but he wasn’t the door knocking type…

“No.”

“Of course you do.” The Gargoyle clambered forward along the railings like a fluid stop-motion nightmare.

“Tchtchtchtchtch- Talbot… what’s it about?”

“Cool stuff.” The synth voice replied.

“Oh. Good.” Vik replied, and let her pass.

“What’s the project?”

“Just… just a memory. You know.”

“The gravity doesn’t make that tricky?”

“Oh it does.”

“I bet.” There was a moment of silence. Talbot’s holographic face shifted again. Vik struggled to reconcile her as a middle aged Javanese man with poor image quality, but before he could worry it changed again.

“How’s the new digs running?”

“Not the best,” Talbot replied, leaning casually against a work rig like a pile of brooms in a corner, “Had a burnout in the fabber on third deck, and a micro-meteor shanked our quarter a few days back. So byee to the atmosphere. Not such a problem for yours truly, but… its made things difficult for some of my pals.”

“Oh, it was a meteor?”

The synthmorph cocked a holographic eyebrow which changed from brown to grey. “You felt that on this side of the barge?”

“Maybe. 19ish ship time, two cycles back? Thought I heard a pop.” Talbot chuckled like broken glass in a blender.

“But we haven’t the spares to patch up that sector right now, so… I’m bunking with Teal until we make port. Which I think is why Indigo’s looking for you. She wants eyes on a piece of scrap, think it’ll have some resale.”

“I thought you hated Teal. He’s a dick.”

“I’m mostly bunking with Teal’s fabber. Gotta keep patched. I’m glad this place never sleeps, or I would get so bored… besides, he’s no more insufferable than you.”

“What?… You have eyes. Fancy ones. Why doesn’t Indigo want your eyes?”

“Because I’m just a sweet little spy,” Talbot lilted, “And of all things, right now Indigo wants…” She gave the best synthesised sigh she could muster, “… a historian, for reasons her own.”

There was a brief silence as Vik sucked the corner of his mustache.

“Cool stuff you say?”

“The fucking dickens.”

“Great.” The goatee’d Observer clambered through the hatch and hurled himself along the corridor outside, leaving his spindly compatriot to ponder where he had scrounged all that modelling clay.

*****

“What do you care where I got it? And keep your hands where I can see them, Vik, you’re a shite thief.”

“Sorry, I just wanted a closer look.”

“Then ask…”

“O… kay. Can I handle the thing?”

“Why of course Vik, you may handle the thing. See? Politeness works wonders.”

The crewcutted Fury passed him the padded wooden box, open at the top. There was a cylinder… a cylinder? A tiny replica of a monolith perhaps… Vik knew that it was almost… no. Exactly the length of his forearm, elbow to the little burn mark on his wrist from when his engine blew out over an unnamed ocean. His Speck bots crawled out onto his hands to inspect the strange object.

It was black, carved with swirling glyphs that seemed to leave the stone it was carved from unblemished. He ran his fingers along it. Too smooth for granite, too rough for any kind of volcanic glass. Like stone that he’d only ever touched once before. His eyes picked up unusual wave activity around the stone, like it was trying to drink in the light around it.

Just like in the ruins.

“It’s a hoax.” He looked up at Indigo reclining on the other side of the low glass table. It was odd to be in centrifugal gravity again. Everything always seemed more… left than it should.

“A hoax?” The towering woman cocked a flared eyebrow, the wing of purple tattoo following it.

“Where did you pick this up, Indigo? Some Souk back on goddamned Olympus? I could have made you a better one.”

“Great to have a volunteer Vik. Glad your willing to do a solid for the swarm and make us a better one, so we can, you know… patch the holes in the goddamned ship.”

“What?”

“How do you know its a hoax, little man?”

“Oh, er…” he scrambled for a convincing lie, “The glyphs, they don’t make sense… its like someone was working from a good copy, but didn’t understand what they were making. A very good copy, don’t get me wrong. But still… hell, I’ll make your copy. Then we can see how much we can scam for it. Do you mind if I hang onto this… just for a little while?”

“As long as you don’t hawk it for yourself Vik.”

“No, its fine, I don’t need the money.”

Indigo looked at him sideways again, before snorting.

“You know, if you weren’t so weird that could be taken as an invitation to rob you.”

“Yeah… maybe. So where’d you get it?”

“I have a feeling we’ll be hauling that particular merchant in for a chat fairly soon. You can talk to him once I’m done. Now you make us a good replica of this, and we’ll be in the money. Just don’t drop it out the hole, there’s a good boy.”

The amazon clapped him on the shoulder, then pushed him back off her gravity.

*****

Vik put it where it belonged.

The monolith sat in pride of place on top of the hill, over the minute replica of the city that he had been rebuilding from memory, a block and a street at a time.

It was perfect, this ruined city, and it was still waiting on the other side of the Pandora Gate.

You can’t dodge the hairy hand of Fate, his old man had once told him, on an orbital that had gone down with their lives during the Fall. And Fate’s fingerprints were all over this, and it was then that Vik knew that somehow he would make it back.

The city waited, and soon it would be peopled again.

So on that ominous twinge of obsessive weirdness (Author’s Rebellious Id: Ooh, do you mean the character or the one who wrote about him? Teeheehee!) that’s the end of my short fiction. If you wanna hear more from Vik, you just say so in the comments, otherwise he probably won’t appear again.

As for the nuts and bolts, Vik was created using the random lifepath tables from Transhuman almost entirely. The only thing I retconned was illiteracy… which given his origin didn’t really make sense. So here’s the fiction that ever entertaining random generation has gifted us with.

Victor Archaki was born in orbit over the Earth, his family the inheritors of an immense aerospace company that had left their native Poland for space when encroaching climate change made it unlivable. He was born and raised in the spotlight, and as he grew to maturity his expensive education focused on the best use of that. He achieved a level of fame as a director and practical special effects designer pre-Fall, though the glitterati he filmed drew most of the spotlight. This ended when the Earth did, as a swarm of TITAN attack drones tore open the habitat and left the inhabitants to the freezing void, returning occasionally for the memories in their Cortical Stacks.

It was a few years later that Vik was reinstated from backup by the Cognite hypercorp, looking to put his expensive education to use as a lab indenture. A few years after reawakening in his new Hibernoid body, Vik was able to reconnect with his family accounts, paid off his morph and hitched a ride as a techie on the next Scum swarm to pass. It was with the trailing space nomads that he remained, continuing his study and tinkering on board, until one of his many manic schemes came to fruition.

The lottery was taken, and Vik found himself on an exploratory mission to an extrasolar planet through the Pandora Gate wormhole. He doesn’t often talk of what he saw, but the cyclopean ruins of some dead species have left him thirsty for more.

And so that’s where we would probably start a roleplaying game with that character. Probably won’t though, as I said, the character creation system was a bit of a pain (maybe I’ve just spent too much of my recent life Powered by the Apocalypse), but we got some nuance. Here’s his character sheet for the curious, though I was tired enough by the end to not bother filling in weapons, armour or defaulted skills.

Vik

Tired, like I said, but I think Eclipse Phase works a lot like Call of Cthulhu in this respect, in that its extremely front loaded. Character Creation is a lot of work, after which the system gets out of the way with a level of elegance. And hey, from me trying to learn something you all got a nice piece of fiction, so that’s nice.

Have a good one folks.

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Photo “Watching You Watching Me” courtesy of Todd Huffman on Flickr (Creative Commons Attribution License)

Changelings of the Outer West Part 4

Season 1: The Summer of Blood Part 1

If you’ve only just arrived, the previous installments of Changelings of the Outer West are available here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Now that we’ve got our introductions out of the way, its probably time that I get to recounting the chaotic trajectory that began with our escapees bursting free from the Hedge and the clutches of their former masters, and ended with them settling into real jobs, testing the limits of acceptance, and maybe making deals with abominations beyond human understanding (net gains, guys, net gains). I decided a few sessions in that our arcs would follow seasonal themes, and… well it was actually as we were coming to the end of our Summer arc that I realized how closely it had followed the themes of the Summer Court, and I sort of jumped on that to give our arcs a bit of cohesion. I won’t pretend that I planned ahead any more than I did.

So Summer was our first season. Summer is the season of Wrath, the season of War, of fires raging in the hills. It’s blood on the thirsty soil, and between the terrified newcomers, the angry dead, and deals turned ugly, that’s exactly what surfaced. Admittedly, I am recounting events purely from memory, so I may miss some things.

And that’s where we start, with a group of escaped fae having made their way back to their town, on New Years Day. The first day of their first year spent free.

To refresh your imaginary memories, dear imaginary readers, our escapees are;

Anais, Fairest Dancer from the Ballroom in the Maze;

Blaize, Fireheart Elemental from the Forest that girds the Maze, and;

Father Callahan, Wizened Brewer from the Witch’s Dark Forest.

The nightmare of captivity is behind them, as the memories begin to fade like raindrops on dry ground. An old priest bursts through a hotel mirror, and thinks it strange that the man who throws him out the door makes no comment of his purple stained skin and sharp goblin teeth. When the machine he dreams takes him to find Blaize and Anais, they are running together from things that are hounds that might have been men but are now monsters.

They drive into town, in a car held together with twigs and mud.

On their arrival, the newspaper tells them that it is New Years Day, 1972, and they struggle to remember how long ago it as that they were taken. The stall vendor unlocks his roller door, and smiles at the dazed passers by. He comments that they look like they had one hell of a party. Their clothes are in tatters, and at least a decade out of date to boot.

The sun crawls higher, and the town stays quiet. The Chinese Takeaway begins to open in expectation of a lazy lunch hour. They notice activity behind the closed doors of the library.

Through snatches of confused conversation beneath the clocktower, the three bedraggled strangers move to the library door, and knock hard. The answer takes a long time to come.

The door edges open, revealing a man in an old tweed jacket, unreadable words crawling across his paper skin. He eyes them cautiously, then waves them inside. They engage in tense small talk initially, the librarian says that their kind are common here, but not all will be as accommodating as he is. When asked of what kind he thought they were, he responded.

“We’re of the same… breed, as it were. We’ve all spent time under Their rule – best not to speak of them in too much detail – but… come through. I’ll get you some clean clothes. You can call me Solomon.”

They step into a reading room. The lost dancer sees a book that she remembers reading, and the librarian agrees that she can borrow it. She takes the name Anais from the spine.

He gives them new outfits from a duffel bag that he keeps tucked away at the bottom of a cabinet. When asked where they go from here, he quickly leafs through a battered filofax and offers them a card with an address.

“This is a place you can stay…” he says, “Not owned, by any means, but downtown, if a house isn’t sold within six months… well, it won’t be. And really, you only need doors and you can have all the space you need. Its yours, along with my arranging a meeting with the leader of the Cold Hill Crew, if you’ll owe me a favour in future.”

Half stunned, Blaize takes the card. They feel a strange hum in the air like an active Tesla coil as the Wyrd falls into place.

“What do you mean…” Anais murmurs over her book, “Space from doors?”

The old librarian smiles, and turns to the closet door of the reading room, the Staff Only sign clearly emblazoned. He knocks three times and intones,

“Let me in.”

A desert breeze kicks up from the depths of the library as Solomon opens up the door to his Hollow; a dry, dusty expanse girded with woven stringybarks and creeping vines.

“You can get in here from anywhere you need to,” he says, “Just take care not to open too many, otherwise They will start taking notice. Be careful, plenty of dangers on both sides of the doorway…” He closes the door again. “Best of luck. And one final piece of advice. Don’t go near Mama Park.”

The escapees nod, and shrugging into their new clothes, and trying to figure the best way to get halfway across town to their new squat. Blaize also decides that she’s hungry, and would like some Chinese food.

Leaving her compatriots in the town square, the young Fireheart barges through the red and gold doors to the front counter, where she sees a middle aged East Asian woman waving a couple through and guaranteeing that they will want the banquet in an extremely thick accent. Once the couple is seated, the woman adjusts her glasses and practically nails the changeling to the wall with a wry stare.

“Why hello…” the hostess says in perfect American English, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

Blaize blinks, and realises very quickly who she’s talking too.

“Er, yeah?” she stammers, “How do you know?”

“I know everyone around here darling,” Mama Park replies, “Enough to know that you’ve not been here before anyway… well, if you’re blowing through, would you like to pick up some work before you leave?” (Out of characters, Mama Park’s response is summarised as “Yay! Drifters!”)

Blaize leans in to the counter.

“Can you…” she waves at her face, “see me?”

Mama Park nods conspiratorially.

“Where did your accent go?” Blaize presses.

“The punters seem to like it,” Mama Park murmurs, “They like the Mama Park character as it were. And they like Chinese takeaway better than Korean barbeque so… yeah, I make do. So, you interested?”

Blaize’s stomach growls conspicuously.

“Well, my friends and I are pretty hungry…”

“Not a problem.” The Korean matron replies.

Blaize emerges in the town square with a bag of Korean takeaway pretending to be Chinese takeaway and a promise to return and hear Mama Park out.

“But he said not to speak to her!” Anais mutters as they follow the librarian’s directions south.

“She seemed… nice.” Retorted Blaize, “And she offered me a job. Even though she knew what we were.” She thinks for a moment, then adds “Maybe it was better you two didn’t come in with me.”

They find the house soon enough. By a fluke of luck, the hot water is still connected, and they make do without electricity for a while by using Blaize to boil water. Its not luxurious, but there’s enough bedding for each of them, and its a quiet place to stay.

Anais elects to do the washing, which leads to all three fae hanging around the house in bedsheet togas while she stirs a barrel in the back yard and they all wait for their one functional outfit to dry.

Eventually, they find their way back to Solomon, asking if he knows any way that they can find some money to live on, he does suggest that there is a way to “game fate” by playing into Fae ideas; in this case, by swearing a familial bond they might have a number of odd coincidences work in their favour. When he hears about Blaize’s encounter with Mama Park he buries his face in his hands for some time, but agrees that now she’s promised she had better go through with it, facing the reverse side of the “gaming fate” coin.

They promise to watch each others backs, and never betray their comrades in word or deed for a year and a day. If they fail, curses of blindness or crippling are put forward. The very next morning Callahan starts finding money in his shoes, while Blaize and Anais begin to grow more connected with their acquaintances and the world around them.

Blaize returns to the restaurant, this time with Anais in tow to try and avoid any further fuax pas. The Korean restauranteur discusses her terms; someone has stolen a book from her, and she would like it back. The thief, a Father Crowley from Black Hill, has used some kind of Geomancy to ward his church against the Park bloodline, so she would like the newcomers to retrieve it. When she finds that they are in need of ID, she agrees to arrange something for them, as well as setting them up with legitimate access to their own property. The Bargain is struck.

In the meantime, Father Callahan has opened a doorway to the Hedge using the door to the broom closet. The escapees agree to go  through the door together, in case anything untoward occurs, and after slogging along a long, dusty path in the shadow of immense termite mounds, they come to a clearing with a pool in the middle. A tiny figure dances across the water, while a gang of raven-sized birds that appear to be made from broken glass look on.

The birds seem wary, but Blaize speaks fluent Owl (Fang and Talon Contracts) so Mirrorbird isn’t too much of a stretch. In short, she cuts a deal. The Mirrorbirds will guard their turf, along with the small grove of Goblin Fruit and their Hedge door, in exchange for a Glamour tithe and the changelings carrying one of their eggs into the real world where it can grow strong by eating dreams. Blaize builds it a nest in a pine tree later that night. The birds also mention that the strange little spear wielding bushes from the next pond over tend to be less than friendly.

After a bit of further exploration, the motley runs across the trap-lair of a huge and snarky redbelly black snake, and only get away after Blaize sets the creature’s lair on fire. Father Callahan is bitten, but shakes off the venom due to his immense alcohol tolerance. They slink back to reality, with Blaize at least vowing revenge.

That nigh she summons Owl using her musical pipes, and the little guy crashes out of the sky and asks if she has any food. After gorging on chicken leftovers he agrees to help her find somewhere safe for the Mirrorbird’s egg to incubate. They settle on a tall pine tree and construct a nest in the top, overlooking several houses, and place it there after a brief debate over what form the egg’s dream-eating will take.

Father Callahan has begun making inquiries about a church near the center of town. The woman who cleans it seems to take a shine to the gaunt old priest, and confirms that the building is mostly open for tourists; the building has no priest or regular services. He decides to go to town hall and begins asking after securing tenure as a pastor, but is stymied by his lack of legal identification.

Anais hunts glamour from the back of cinemas, trying to skim off the emotional highs of romance and horror viewers, but the second hand emotions are thin and less than potent.

Their dreams are thin and scattered, but they begin finding ways to twist them. Father Callahan is haunted by images of the glowing forest, and the strange voices he hears from the Hedge-fruit. Anais’ dreams wander towards Louis, and she wonders where the man who wanted to marry her is now. Blaize dreams of her sister.

The house begins to devolve into distinct territories, with Anais claiming the master bedroom and Blaize the second, with Father Callahan most often wandering between a couch and his ramshackle alchemical lab in the garage, where he brews gathered goblin fruits into bottled potions. The Fireheart initially refuses to bathe, worrying that water would still sting her as it did in Arcadia, but Anais eventually wrestles her into the shower. Blaize screams as she scrubs, a habit that continues even when she takes to showering under her own volition.

That might have been the breaking point; the young Elemental hates bathing, but dislikes being beaten even more. She confronts Callahan at his workbench, and demands equipment to sort that chatty giant snake once and for all. The priest makes a spear from a trowel and a stave, as well as a collection of nasty dirks and knives. Thus equipped, they trounce off into the Hedge, past the Mirrorbirds’ grove, and back into the snake’s trap.

The giant reptile, not to be outdone, says that he has found a way to even the scales. From the top of the Hollow, the fae hear a screech of

“Simian Security! Cease and Desist!”

And the redcoat wearing monkey opens fire with his musket.

Th fight is intense, but brief. After his initial volley, the monkey-mercenary leaps down and attacks with his bayonet, only to be clubbed unconscious by Father Callahan. Anais manages to pin down the creatures tail, while Blaize fends off its bite at spearpoint, before finally finishing off the immense serpent with a flaming headlock. Having killed the creature, the starving motley begin to skin it for leather and meat – waste not want not – and graciously accept the surrender of Kensington, the security monkey, after he implies that he would be perfectly happy to transfer the snake’s contract to them if they let him live. Anais agrees, and takes the snake’s old hiding place as her Hollow.

The Father’s mysterious windfalls have proven enough to not only buy food, but also enough to secure bicycles for the motley. They buy these from a local store, as Callahan is beginning to run low on Glamour from constantly repairing their car, which has been affectionately nicknamed The Junker.

Blaize investigates a strange rattling in the fridge to find Owl eating his way out of a half stripped chicken carcass. She tries to get hold of her companion, but he flops out the door covered in grease and stuffing.

The motley waits until the sun gets low in the sky, and sets out for Black Hill, to try and understand how deep their promise goes.

I think this is a good spot to leave Part 1 of the write up, hope you all enjoyed it! The Summer of Blood was probably our longest arc, with a lot of it being used to get to know our characters, their world, and the strange new rules that apply to them. Add to this our group’s tendency to play home-maker, and you get a rich and detailed story that is kind of surreal. The characters delight in the mundanity of the everyday, which for Arcadian escapees feels new and different. So they build their house, and their lives, and they make them their own. Its not slaying a dragon. Frankly I like this much better.

See y’all next time, imaginary readers.

Changelings of the Outer West Part 3

Part 3

And They All Went Mad Together: Origins

Hello again dear imaginary readers, and welcome to another installment regarding Talking to a Stranger, our Changeling the Lost chronicle from last year. Part 1 is our Rogues Gallery, available here, with Part 2 giving a setting rundown here. Today, you get a writeup of how the story began for our zany heroes.

So here we are, and I’m trying to reconstruct the introductions for about a year’s worth of weekly game sessions from memory. But I wanted to get the characters started with memories, to give them a life to lose before they are whisked off to their respective supernatural prisons. Arcadia took each of them,but before that we had a person, and the tragedy of the story is that our escapees never got the chance to live as that person.

As a refresher, our three escapees are:

Anais; formerly Gail Kelly, now a Fairest Dancer escaping the Maze.

Blaize; formerly Rose Anderson, now a Fireheart Elemental also fleeing the Lord of the Maze.

Father Callahan, formerly John Callahan, escaped Wizened slave-alchemist of the Witch in the Wilds.

The Beginning

It begins in memory, as these things so often do. Each changeling’s past is experienced as flashes of a past no longer there.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the drive.

Anias remembers the last dance class. She and her friends are working on a musical, big song and dance pieces set to knock an audience’s socks off. They wrap up for the night, and she says goodbye to the other chorus girls. Her boyfriend, Louis, is waiting with his car and offers to drive her home. After a little while on the road, it becomes clear that they are going the wrong way. They drive out to one of the hills outside of town, and Louis asks for her hand in marriage.

The night sky is beautiful and cold.

She turns him down.

He takes it pretty well, pockets the ring. They begin to drive home. In the short view of the headlights, he sees… something on the road. He swerves, and the car rolls.

A pair of strong arms breaks the window and pulls her through.

The window that was lying against the asphalt.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the picnic.

Blaize is on a hill that tapers down to a creek. Her father calls for her to go and find her sister Belle, the sun is setting. Its time to go home.

She wanders, looking for her older sister, but all she can find is her clothing, folded neatly by the side of the creek. In a panic, she begins calling out for her.

She sees a hand sticking out of the water.

She jumps into the muddy creek, paddling out towards the hand, ducking under a fallen branch that makes an arch over her. She seizes the fingers, fearing her sister has drowned. But all that comes to the surface is a handful of twigs.

It’s then that she realizes that she can’t see the way back.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the service.

Father Callahan delivers the final lines of his sermon, and the churchgoers begin to file out like any other Sunday. An old widow approaches him, saying that despite all her prayers the ghost of her husband still haunts her house at night. The priest listens, and agrees to come to her home and try and exorcise the spirit.

On an afterthought, he puts his copy of the Fourth Key of Solomon into his satchel.

He arrives at the widow’s house, and sets up a chair in the living room where the ghost was last seen. She brings him a cup of tea. The sun goes down.

The night wears on, and the priest begins to nod off.

He wakes up in the early hours of the morning, and there is a smoky, vaguely humanoid figure with eyes like burning coals in the room before him. He pulls himself out of his chair, scrambles for his chalk, and begins to scrawl a binding circle on the floor.

But of course, there comes a voice over his shoulder. The forces from this point can trap someone in the circle. Like so…

A hag cackles as he is dragged by thorny boughs through the floor.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the ballroom.

She has been dancing as long as she can remember, surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful things. The night outside the windows in never ending, as is the revelry.

This is what the Lord of the Maze desires. The band plays on, wearing their porcelain fingers to dust.

She cannot remember the last time she slept.

Others slept, and they were quietly dragged away by the goblin porters who maintain the ballroom. Others are gathered to replace them.

The dance does not end, for that is what the Lord of the Maze desires, the dance and beauty and the insomnia and the midnight blood spilled in the space between breaths and stanzas drag on.

She cannot remember her name.

The dance pauses for breath as the porcelain band theatrically shuffle their sheets. She looks out the window into the starless darkness, and she sees a crack in the glass. And the crack spreads.

The world falls apart, and she falls with it.

She cannot remember her name.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the oubliette.

A little girl cries alone in the dark.

She has hunted through the maze for her big sister.

She has run from terrors, clambered over obstacles, and tried countless doors.

But she is here now, and there is no space to run, no holds to climb, and no doors to push through. She is here; she is forgotten. Alone with nought but a slowly burning lamp flame for company.

She doesn’t know how long it is before the flame starts to bargain. He says that he can teach her his magic, the way that fire can crawl and surge and consume, and that she can use that magic to break free through cracks so thin she can’t even see them. The little girl agrees, and she gives her fingers to the flame. It takes her hand, then her arm, her body and her screams, and together they crawl from their earthen cage in a surge of fire.

Time passes, and the girl grows up with others like her.

Blaize tends her campfire idly while her companion Lightstalker gnaws on a leg of meat. The forest is dark, but the sun should rise soon. Owl flutters down, and gets some of the meal for his trouble. Lightstalker complains that the runners barely give any sport at all any more.

Blaize cannot shake the idea that somehow, the little pink shoe on the end of Lightstalker’s meal is important. She says she’s going to take a look around.

Something makes her fold the discarded clothes outside of their camp neatly, the clothes of those who tried to get away. She is so close to remembering something, but she can’t quite place what it is.

She hears the Maze Lord’s hounds baying in the Goblin City. She climbs to the top of the wall, Owl fluttering ahead and giving commentary that she really needs to learn to fly better.

Someone is trying to get away.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the forest.

They don’t come every day.

For all that day means anymore. Father Callahan wakes in his lean-to under the incessant glow of the mushrooms that crawl up the dank tree trunks, or grow to the size of trees themselves. He wakes, methodically checks the lists that the Witch left for him, then gathers his things and presses out into the underbrush.

He hunts the mushrooms with a sling. That’s how he knocks down the ones that move. Then he takes the ingredients he needs from their strange gullets. Sometimes they beg. They usually don’t.

He mixes the ingredients with the tubes and alembics he has cobbled together next to his lean-to. He stirs his drops and powders in the half light, knowing that if they are not perfect he will be punished.

The giants by the hills have been giving him trouble again. He mixes a potion of his own, the strongest sleeping draught he can. If he can slip it into their food maybe they’ll leave him alone to do his work.

The hut lumbers out of the woods on its jointed, rusty legs. It lowers itself to the ground like an immense farm bird, and the Wilting Waxen Woodsman gestures the frail alchemist inside with his axe, saying that his mother is awaiting her delivery.

Callahan pockets the sleeping draught almost without thinking, and shoulders his bag, the weight of his Bible and the Key of Solomon a comforting memory even as he faces the Witch of the Wilds.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the run.

The dancer’s world shatters like a glass ornament dropped from a height, and she finds herself hiding in the halls of a strange castle. The goblins are dragging the dancers… somewhere. She overhears that the Lord of the Maze has grown tired of these playthings, and would like to see them repurposed.

She tries to sneak out the door, but is confronted by an immense troll of a man that she recognises. Gruf had once helped with repairs in the ballroom, and today he is wearing a strange ring.

The dancer remembers a late night drive, and the young man who had given her that ring. She trades the ogre a kiss for the trinket, and wipes his tears when he laments that he’ll never see the beautiful dancers again. When they hear goblins approaching, he lets her through the door and says that he will try to slow them down.

Blaize watches from the top of the wall as a woman leaps out of the side door of the castle and begins to run across the courtyard. Her skirt billows about her, and the fire sprite remembers the skirts of her mother and sister that were just the same on windy days, and she remembers her father calling to her.

Its time to go home.

With a crash the side door gives out, and the two women see Gruf with the teeth of one of the Lord’s hounds buried in his forearm, a dozen more of the dog-men surging towards and over him. Blaize reaches down and hauls the stranger over the gatehouse, and they leap down the other side of the wall together.

Father Callahan’s vision swims as he looks at her, and the Witch chuckles away as she gorges on the last of he raw meat platter. She takes the potions she ordered from him, and takes them to her cabinet. While her back is turned, and the Woodsman looks out the window through his melting locks, the old priest slips his sleeping draught into the Witch’s meal.

She ties another spider silk list to his arm, cutting deep enough to bleed. She gulps down another slab of bloody meat, and makes to say something more. Before the words can fly, she collapses onto the table. The Woodsman thinks his mother dead, and flies after the old priest axe in hand.

They sprint through the dark of the forest, crashing through undergrowth and diving through spore clouds. Callahan runs until he thinks his lungs will explode.

Its then that he dives under an arch of boughs and falls into the light.

The light flickers, and the old priest finds himself in an unfamiliar bathroom, having just stepped out of the mirror. He clutches his satchel and tries to staunch the bleeding in his nose, but turns to see nobody following.

The man who throws him out of the hotel room was clearly both surprised and irritated that this tattered clergyman interrupted his intimate time with his partner, and Callahan has a vague memory of replacing the Bible in that hotel room, a long time ago. He walks until he finds a burned out wreck of a car. Half asleep, he guts the radio, assembling it into a device that rings a bell, but he can’t think why. After repairing the engine with mud and twigs, he begins to follow the ringing to a park he doesn’t recognise.

The hounds are snapping at their heels, but Blaize thinks she knows where she is going. They surge over the crest of the hill, and on the other side of a stretch of brambles they see a river. They plow into the layer of cutting leaf litter and wade under the arch made by the fallen branch.

Father Callahan’s strange device rings out frantically as two young women burst out of the near dry creek bed, pursued by a gaggle of hairy, fanged, human-like creatures. Blaize pushes her companion ahead, and lashes out at the pursuing hounds, grounding the first couple with furious kicks and elbows. Right as the mob looks set to overwhelm her, Callahan drives his scavenged vehicle into the middle of the pack, and the wounded fire sprite dives into the back seat as they speed away from their pursuers.

When they reach the centre of town, the newspapers are welcoming people to the New Year. 1972. The old librarian is among the first people they meet, and he tempts them in with the promise of explanations, even as indecipherable words crawl across his paper skin. The dancer takes the name Anais from the spine of a book she remembers.

It is New Years Day, high summer in Cootamundra in 1972. And three changelings begin their first day free.

Eat your heart out, Labyrinth fan fiction writers. Hope y’all enjoyed that, I’ll get on to a summary of the mismatched motley’s various adventures in the next post. This went on a lot longer than I expected… but it is a lot easier to say things than to write them. During the introduction I found the rotating use of ritual phrases (It feels like a long time ago, but…) very effective, especially in the twisted fairytale context of Changeling: The Lost. A great game in the World of Darkness line that I would highly recommend.

Any similarities to David Bowie or the works of Jim Henson in this work are, of course, entirely coincidental (cackles maniacally). I own none of the rights… but fiction has a strange life of its own…

In Which I Teach the Jokers D&D: RPG Actual Play

Hey again everybody.

This is a little story from when I was still living in Scotland. Now, to clarify: first, the Jokers of the title are a group of Australians, one of whom is a former comedy colleague of mine from back in the old country. Now, they’d been jetting around Europe on a binge of new experiences, and realised at some point that they had never played Dungeons and Dragons. For privacy, lets call these guys Jerry, George and Kramer. So, in their ignorance, they approached me in the hope that I could DM for them. Now, those who know me know that I don’t really get along with D&D, so for the nitpickers what I gave them wasn’t actually D&D. What I gave them was a lazily reskinned version of the Hollow Earth Expedition’s Ubiquity rules with enough Lord of the Rings and Adventure Time references to make it seem authentic.

So that did away with things like feats, classes, levels, and firm ideas of good and evil that would normally annoy me. What it produced was a sort of deranged psychadelia that was somewhere between Looking for Group and In Bruges. This was not aided by Jerry, my former comedy comrade, having bought litres of Sainsburies budget cider, scotch and Irn Bru.

So, I brewed up these characters over a lunch break at work, and then did a half arsed series of “how do you know each other” questions. So, given the circumstances, this is what the guys came up with.

Jerry chose the thief option, and came to the conclusion that he was a depraved drug dealing Hobbit named (I think…) Lenny. He is deeply dissapointed in his son, Aragorn, for the boy’s lack of adventuring spirit.
George went with the ranger, going with the ever popular name Aragorn, and named his wolf companion Pongo. As it turned out, he was a half elf half hobbit, Lenny being his father. Despite his father’s wishes, Aragorn really just wanted to dance and introduce rhinestone body jewelry to the Dwarf diaspora.
Kramer went with the barbarian option, an Uruk Hai of ambiguous gender who was Lemmy’s current lover, named (perhaps…?) Rok. Ze did not got along with Aragorn, disliking the smell of his soap. Ze had a bear spirit totem, because I was drinking and playing Shadowrun Dragonfall a lot at that point.

So, that was the party we started out with. Not traditional, by any means, but you replace D&D morality with something a bit more relativistic and you can work cider soaked wonders.

Wonders and horrors, as it turns out.

Our story begins with our strange group being summoned by Cerwyn Kneesmasher, Godfather of the local Hobbit mafia, who wanted a group of professional murderers to look into something for him. They were to travel two towns over, to Brookmeadow, and find out why an associate of his hadn’t sent a package. In exchange for this they would each receive a “fuckoff pouch of gold”. Aragorn attempted to negotiate for more, and received the response that Cerwyn would break their legs if they failed in the assignment. So they agreed. Lenny picked Cerwyn’s pocket, finding a ring labelled “totally not cursed” (every hobbit should have one), and threw himself out the window. Rok and Aragorn left by the stairs, stopping to pull Lenny out of the hedge.

Cerwyn had recommended that they stay at the town of Happyhat halfway along their journey, so the gang started hitch hiking. When an old peasant on a cart rolled up,  they promptly killed and butchered the horse. The peasant continued to chew his piece of grass, fairly unsurprised. The party debated what to do now that their only transport was crippled, and Rok ended up pulling the cart. They camped for the night, Rok climbed a tree to go on lookout, and promptly fell down again when Aragorn shot zir in the buttock. Lenny chewed him out while applying ointment to Rok’s wound, until Pongo ate his stash of hallucinogens and ran off screaming into the woods.

In the morning, the adventurers realised that Rok could no longer pull the cart with zir wounded leg. Thus the gang started walking. Aragorn stopped to put an arrow through the old peasant’s head as he sat by his cart. The arrow went through, but the old man kept chewing his blade of grass.

A week later the characters arrived at Happyhat, lost and on the edge of starvation. Lenny decided to sneak in, and when he did not return by morning the others went into the town and find him sharing a chicken with the town’s morbidly obese mayor. Lenny found the mayor’s chatter irksome, and seduced him, Aragorn filming the resulting orgy with the help of a local wizard. As the shoot proceeded, the mayor explained that all was not well in Happyhat, with Heckroaster the dragon returning tonight to collect on demands they could not meet.

After the shoot was over, Aragorn went looking for some repair work. He found Granite, a dwarven smith who was currently working on a dragon restraint collar. Granite was cagey, but Aragorn broached the subject of whether she would be interested in some intimate rhinestone apparel.

He woke up later that night with a hammer wound to the head, hanging naked from the town gate with his genitals covered in rhinestones. Rok and Lenny came to rescue him as Heckroaster approached, Rok chopping down the gate and trapping Aragorn beneath it.

Then, Heckroaster burst through the treeline, fiery breath lighting up the night. Lenny fled in terror, and Aragorn screamed for Pongo. Rok was the only one who realised that the dragon was made of papier mache, and piloted by five gnomes.

After a brief battle in which Rok used zir own flaming, oiled body to destroy the dragon and Lenny returned only to be knifed to death by gnomes. Rok managed to kill the remaining gnomes with zir fuckoff big axe, and prayed that Bear would revive zir fallen lover. Bear, being a fairly forgiving character, returned the depraved Hobbit to life.
Meanwhile, after a still tripping Pongo chewed through Aragorn’s bonds, the eflhobbit began hunting naked through the streets, looking for revenge on the dwarves. He was confronted by Allejandro Montoya, the notorious dwarf ninja, and held at nunchaku point briefly before shooting him through the eye, killing him instantly.
It was around this point that the question was asked what they were meant to be doing here. I responded that Happyhat was meant to be their rest stop.

Having defeated the “dragon”, Rok made it’s head into a cape, and the gang continued to Brookmeadow. Where they found their contact murdered, and descended into a self destructive cycle of drug use and uncertainty. That’s where the session ended.

So yeah, heroic fantasy at its best.

It was interesting to play with newbies, especially with the express idea of making the session as madcap as possible. I inevitably improvise most of what goes into an rp session, and the Jokers latched onto making this fictional world as strange as possible. Veterans of improv games, I knew they would have a good time with the collaborative storytelling element of the game, but I was surprised at how exciting they found rolling the dice. Which was interesting. I suppose I always phrased it like a wager, and it got really good results.

So. That was weird.  Have a good one folks.

Changelings of the Outer West Part 2

Part 2: The Trouble They Landed In: Setting

This is part of an ongoing series of memoirs about a Changeling: The Lost chronicle I ran before leaving for Europe. Part 1 is here https://nextbestplan.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/changelings-of-the-outer-west-part-1/

As mentioned, the Talking to a Stranger Changeling arc was set in an entirely fictional version of 1972 Cootamundra. I strongly suspect it has very little in common with that town at the time, and is mostly formed of my childhood memories of Bathurst, Dubbo, and a degree of frenzied improvisation.

For those unfamiliar with Changeling, you have a fractured reality; the world is divided between the “real” world that normal humans experience, a the Hedge, a surreal and labyrinthine place that is both a wall and a bridge between the real world and Arcadia, the realm of the True Fae. Our heroes also spend quite a bit of time in worlds created from their own (often traumatised) dreams, and the collective dreamscape of sleeping humanity.

So for the 1970s escapees of Arcadia, Cootamundra is a pretty complicated place.

The “Real” World

Cootamundra in 1972 is divided between the mostly Gold Rush era Uptown from the mostly residential and light industrial Downtown by the river, which due to several years of serious drought has become a mostly dry ditch.

In Uptown, the Town Square is dominated by the Memorial Clocktower, a monument to the fallen of the two World Wars, which casts it’s shadow over the Colonial era Library and Town Hall, a number of old fashioned shops with apartments above them and the lantern-bedecked frontage of Mama Park’s Chinese Takeaway. The proximity of Solomon’s hideout in the Library and Mama Park’s place of business has naturally led to some tension between the two.

Cross the bridges over the river and the town begins to gravitate more towards 1950’s suburbs. On the outside of this towards the highway there are a number of autoshops and light industrial areas, including the abattoir that the Cold Hill Crew lairs near. Though once thronging with life, with the local mines having run dry nearly ten years prior there are more and more abandoned buildings in both the suburbs and industrial area.

Nearby, the former copper moving town of Black Hill (also fictional) is in an even more advanced state of decay, most of the town having fallen to dereliction. The remaining residents cling on in under the life sapping curse of a fallen Vampire Star.

The Hedge

The Hedge by default tends towards thick and claustrophobic forests, which doesn’t really mesh well with the arid surrounds of Cootmundra. You step through a gate in town – the main ones are under the main bridge over the river and in the door of John Callahan’s church – and you emerge onto a dry outback path bordered by immense termite mounds, leafless trees whose charcoal black bark saps blood and memories, and an omnipresent heat haze that obscures the distant mountains. It is a place of dusty plateaus, huddled oases, shadowed gorges and scorching sun.

The River in the Hedge, unlike its earthly counterpart, runs wide and slow, and forms the main Trod of the region. You follow it downriver and you’ll eventually come to the Sins of the Nameless down by the coast. You follow it upriver… and if you’re driven, resourceful and crazy, you’ll hit Arcadia.

Heading away from the center of town one way, if you leave the dry bushland and cross the treacherous outcrops there comes and immense plain of long, biting grasses, dotted with tight clustered groves and small earthen altars watched by the little clay people who built them and the clattering wooden beast that circles in the sky above. In the other direction and the hills give way to cliffs over a river of crawling human hair.

Dotted throughout the Hedge there are both disintegrating stone ruins and the odd clay-white Watcher Stones. These little half egg shaped stones with their two bored eyeholes make no sound or motion, but if you sleep near them or ask nicely enough you’ll find yourself elsewhere. A mostly empty, forgotten place, with islands of Hedge dotted far apart and disconnected, a place from before the imagination of the current crop of human beings.

The other major feature is the Roped Lake, an immense nest of rigging and suspended tents and platforms strung between immense tree trunks that forms the local goblin market. The unusually high number of escapees in the region allows the goblins a tidy trade.

Hedge Denizens

Here is a probably incomplete list of Hedge creatures that our motley has run across.

Charity Hogface, Goblin Merchant: Charity is a three foot tall bipedal hog who wears a tuxedo and pilots a steamboat up and down the River. As one of the prominent merchants of the hedge, he employs a gaggle of Smokeys and is prone to ramble on about the “invisible hand of capitalism” in his mincing South African accent. It is also noted that his chopper riding gunslinging cousin Wrath Pigface is a local menace though he has not received any screen time.

Coffincello, Goblin Merchant: a skull pokes between the strings of this casket turned stringed instrument. His skeleton arms strum the heavy strings that make his voice, deep and old. He deals in strange gadget cobbled together from junk, and made Snake’s new eyes from brass and lost memories.

The Mirrorbirds: a flock of raven like birds made from broken glass who live in a grove near the motley’s Hedge gate. They were convinced to guard the grove’s stash of goblin fruit by the motley’s promise to take one of their eggs to the real world and let it eat dreams.

The Bushmen: a gang of scurrying, semi-intelligent plants who use their sharp fronds as spears. They seem to worship a flabby tentacle-like creature in a small lake.

The Buried Giant: when Callahan attempted to dig termites from one of the huge mounds near their hedge gate, the mound flexed and was answered with a low rumble from beneath the ground. The giant was large enough to deter further investigation.

Simian Security: An alliance of monkeys and apes, dressed like English Redcoats, who operate as private security forces in the Hedge. Anias employs one of their operators, Kensington, to secure her Hollow.

The Yowie: an immense hairy humanoid with a taste for raw meat, the Yowie keeps a large clearing as its territory, and will generally attempt to eat interlopers.

The Quinkins: these stick thin creatures wander the Hedge in eery silence. They are inquisitive, often rummaging through stash of goods left within arms reach, but they tend to scatter info the shadows once observed.

Spiderbies: crawling creatures like wallabies with arachnid legs, these little guys travel in packs on the lookout for any Glamour they can find, be it the loose or walking kind.

Vultures: these immense, wind-voiced birds appear to be made of bones, old leather and tattered cloth. They live in the high places of the Hedge.

Meatbag, Goblin Merchant: Meatbag is a writhing pile of worms in a vaguely person shaped leather sack. But having made the bag themselves, they are naturally one of the best tailors in the Hedge.

Fox Brigade: these pig riding vulpine mercenaries roam the Hedge, trying to capture any changeling they can find fot sale. The motley managed to bait them into the Yowie’s clearing with predictable results.

Mushrooms: there are a lot of these guys dotting the dark places of the hedge. Nobody is sure if they’re sentient, but they seem to move around when people aren’t looking.

Owl: The undisputed star of the show, the best comic relief we get, Owl is Blaize’s hedge-beast companion. He is, for the most part, a gluttonous little kleptomaniac. But he’s pretty good at Owl stuff. Mostly. It’s not that Owl isn’t loyal. Its just that he’s easily… distracted by the promise of carcass.

Down the Skein

The final element of the world is a collection of dreamscapes, a world made of impossible numbers of human dreams tied together by the strange Gates of Horn and Ivory. These dreams are as varied as the dreamers, but Cootamundra is a town on a down swing, and has a number of troubled minds returning from the hellish warzones of Korea and Indochina. Coupled with strange, parasitic creatures like Judy, those who would wander in their dreams are walking a dangerous path.

Not that something like that has ever stopped this motley…

Once again, I’ve probably missed stuff. This is in part a memory jog for my players, as we’ll be commencing our 1984 arc fairly soon (a prize to the first imaginary reader who can guess its name!) but also cause its nice to share. Feel free to butcher and cannibalize any ideas for your own games folks, just don’t go quoting me in Cootamundra guidebooks.

Changelings of the Outer West: Part 1

Hey folks. Before I left Australia, I was running a game of Changeling: The Lost for my little group.

As a sort of personal challenge, I decided that I would make my first stab at an Australian setting. My previous settings had been a Vampire the Requiem chronicle (later dubbed the Atrocity Machine) in an entirely fictional Scottish small town, and my Call of Cthulhu stories had tended towards the traditional occult center of Arkham. So I wanted somewhere distinctively Australian, but with enough capacity to just make things up on the fly. So naturally, I chose Cootamundra in 1972.

An entirely fictional version of Cootamundra, admittedly. The setting is kind of cobbled together from my memories of Bathurst and Dubbo, though alarmingly my improvised locations began to appear when we later looked up the map. Turns out the Chinese takeaway actually is next to the library by the clock tower. So maybe I really am narrating reality again. Weird. Anyway, in part for the fun of sharing and in part as a sort of reference for when we pick up the “8 years later” arc, I’ve decided to put our little rogues gallery. So here you go. Some characters and sites from our Changeling game.

Our Heroes

Anais: A Fairest dancer who escaped from the Kingdom of the Maze Lord with Blaize. She was captured on the night she turned down her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, put to work in her master’s surreal ballroom. Of all the characters, Anais lost the most of herself to the thorns, and her story focused mostly on nostalgia, loneliness and loose ends.

Blaize: A fire elemental who escaped with Anais from the Kingdom of the Maze Lord. Captured as a young girl and transformed into a burning huntress to guard the woods of her fae master’s realm, Blaize’s story has focused on learning, acceptance and growing up.

Father Joseph Callahan: a Wizened Brewer, the former priest was forced to become an alchemist in service to the Witch of the Wilds. After escaping back to reality, his story focused in a return to religious practices that he had begun to doubt, while brewing and testing an obscene amount of hallucinogenic potions.

The Mundanes and Not Quites

Petey: the owner of Petey’s Record Emporium, Petey is an aging hippy who loves the Burning Man festival and complaining about his ex-wife. After a drug binge in which he saw Blaize using her fire conjuring abilities, the elemental bound him into a pledge that rewarded his silence with youth and good health. This led to something of a free love revival in Cootamundra.

Mary McIver: You hear Mary before yous see her. Her heavy Scottish accent rings out across the town square from her hole in the wall grocery store, the place Blaize found her first job. She has a penchant for saying ominous things, though whether this is because of a touch of the Second Sight or just the Wyrd putting words where lost fae can hear is unknown. She certainly puts no stock in prophesy.

Josiah: A mentally shattered man left homeless after his return from Vietnam, Jo had become a fixture in the town square. After running into him repeatedly, once asking him for directions after ingesting too many Hedge berries, Father Callahan started to feel responsible for the young guy, and struggled to alleviate his nightmares. After months of unconventional psychic therapy, he began to glom onto the charismatic priest.

Father Damian Crowley: The occultist pastor of the neighboring Black Hill hamlet has been battling the supernatural for years. He collects texts stolen from the local supernatural community, as he looks for a way to defeat the fallen “Vampire Star” now buried beneath the town, slowly draining life from its citizens. His occult warding was until recently reinforced by a bound ghost the motley subsequently exorcised while retrieving a text stolen from Mama Park. There were a few more run ins, and a degree of respect built up between Crowley and Callahan.

Mama Park: The owner of Mama Park’s Chinese Takeaway, Mama Park is not from China. A refugee from the war in Korea, she and her sons speak with smooth American accents and have a marked knowledge of the supernatural. She frames her spirit binding as Classical Confucian magic, based on a text hidden by her family first from prying eyes and warring empires. She frequently engaged the motley for favours in exchange for false ID’s, money and a home. By the end of the story,  Father Callahan cut a deal with Mama Park and her demon Mr Chiang, trading five years of servitude to escape his former Keeper’s Servitors. Her sons are Jimmy, Harry and Sammy. Blaize and Jimmy pursued a surreal and awkward romance throughout the arc, concluding ambiguously with his discovery of her supernatural state.

Changelings

Solomon: This ancient man, whose Mask covers a body of paper and ink, inhabits the shadows of the Cootamundra library. He is often the first contact freshly freed Lost have with their new lives, and his strange knowledge of occult secrets seems at odds with his apparent amnesia. In truth, Solomon is an exiled Fae, once the Watcher in the Tower, who failed in a bargain with his rivals, and had his memories flayed out before he was released into the mortal world. For years, he has believed himself an escapee like his fae cohabitants. He acted as a mentor to Blaize, but his powers began to return as the motley helped him reclaim his memories, and he came very close to a return to Arcadia. In the end he was convinced to choose a mortal life, and the artifacts that held his memories hidden away.

Dawn Song: In the twilit ballroom of the Maze Lord, this porcelain man sawed on his cello all night so that the sun could come up. His speech is disjointed and small, but his music still sings across town each morning from his east facing apartment window.

The (Former) Golden Dragon

Alice “Golden Girl” Macdonald: This Draconic Fairest escaped Arcadia only to be recaptured by the Maze Lord. The bargain she made kept her and Snake free, but required a tithe of captured changelings to maintain. With a web of pledges she was able to bind the loyalty of her late husband’s biker gang and open their eyes to the supernatural world, remaking them as the Golden Dragon. Her roving privateer ring lasted until the motley and the Cold Hill Crew tracked them to their hideout in the Hedge, and Father Callahan put a bullet in her heart.

Snowblind: This ice Elemental has not said a word since she broke loose from the bonds of the True. She found a calling as a trump card with the Golden Dragon, solving problems with cold and stormy violence where they can’t be solved with knives and pipes. She met her end as Blaize tried to free her prisoners, the two elementals burning and freezing the ruins of the Hedge to destruction as they clashed.

Snake: Snake was taken by the Storm in the Desert, and turned from a man into an animal. His Mask manifests a red birthmark from his chin to his chest, marring his otherwise beautiful skin. His mien is like that of a red belly black snake, and he was first encountered running with the Golden Dragon, as he and the Golden Girl had sworn to defend each other from harm (a big mistake when the Wyrd is involved). Before she died, however, his tryst with Anais had become something more, so much so that when the Wyrd’s judgement blinded him for his failure she sold her own memories, and some of her already frail connection to reality, so he could see again. They have been lovers ever since. Of Darug descent, he has been unable to reconnect with his family, with the exception of his nephew Tony, the only one who believed his story on his return.

The Cold Hill Crew

Half Penny: In her short life, the woman who called herself Half Penny has been stolen twice. As a young girl, she was taken from her Aboriginal mother who was deemed unfit to care for her. As she grew to adulthood, she was taken again by the Maze Lord. He forced her to live in the cracks in his walls, until her hair became worms and her skin was scorched to charcoal. Through mortar and furnace, she was able to worm her way free, and the cracks in the world hide her still. She took the name of her despised foster mother, and took her revenge on the judge who signed off on her being taken from her family. She kidnapped his grandchildren, one by one, and took a year of their lives, their first steps and first words. She had them call her mama before she gave them back, and ate the sorrows of their parents. As the story grew, her loyalty to those she considered family came into greater focus, and she and the motley became allies as winter grew closer.She and the Cold Hill Crew are Cootamundra’s resident adherent’s of Winter, though they would never call themselves a Court.

Jawen Nomansson: This Swedish lake troll is a recent immigrant, and fell in with the Cold Hill crew after finding work the abbatoir. His personality is friendly and affable, almost childish. When he is stressed or angry, though, his dissociation becomes clearer. He can kill a man as easily as a cow, and his big hands make it very easy indeed. Nonetheless, he loves Penny and Junior with all his mighty heart can muster.

Junior: This little Wizened almost personifies the tinkerer, and though he looks maybe twelve years old his eyes speak of a much older person. He seems unable to speak above a whisper, though people tend to listen to somebody whose last sentence ended with “hovercraft”.

The Blossom Motley

Lucy May: Marked with magpie feathers by the Storm in the Desert, Lucy is a captivating figure and one of the few fae in town with a Spring mantle. She lives in the moment, acted as Anais mentor when she sought work as an exotic dancer, and loves to drink, dance and collect beautiful things. She has been with Julia as long as they have been free, and counters her chef motleymate’s bitter humor with sanguine vivacity.

Julia Small: Some Wizened build, but Julia creates; she makes bland foodstuffs beautiful, and makes fine ingredients sing. The second Spring adherent in a Courtless region, she pursues beauty as much as her motley mate, but where the chase energises Lucy, it leaves Julia feeling very small. She knows that she needs Lucy far more than Lucy needs her. Julia is a stick thin woman whose grey hair suggests old age, but her face makes you doubt that assumption.

Nomads

Suzan Slaughter and Little Mack: This mismatched pair have spent the time since their escape travelling Australia in a battered combi van. Suzan is a six foot six Amazon of an ogre, and has made a small living for her motley in the newly arrived field of Pro Wrestling. Mack acts as her manager and fixer, putting his business brain to good use. Even if people sometimes sit on him without realizing he’s on the couch.

Scruffy the Rat: This former wanderer and lamb roast enthusiast was rescued when the motley broke up the Golden Dragon, and spent a few weeks sleeping behind their washing machine before settling down in Cootamundra. His twitchy mannerisms, rodent like buck teeth and strange clicking run have made him an amusing if somewhat unpredictable acquaintance; but the motley took a shine to him, enough so that they chased him into a locked dream that nearly killed them.

Emissaries from the Sins of the Nameless The Sins are the city of Sydney’s largest freehold, divided into a Day Court and a Night Court. The Day Court try to keep the True at bay with their belief in Law, whereas the Night Court do so by disregarding all rules, including the promises that define the Fae. Both Courts also give up use of their names, taking a nickname for ease of communication.

The Huntress, Day Court: The Law does not stop at the border of the freehold, and if you break the laws of the Day Court you can expect the Huntress to be hard on your heels. This Fairest combines investigative acumen with social prowess and a strong right arm with a discus for those who think they can run.

The Enemy, Night Court: The Enemy feasts on disgust, and uses his mastery of Mirrors contracts to get under people’s skin. To Catholics he is an unwed mother, to veterans a pacifist. Lately he had grown fond of a young Vietnamese face in Maoist regalia. He is a liar, and a shameless flirt, but is otherwise oddly friendly. If only he knew what his real face looked like.

The True Fae

The Maze Lord: aka Totally Not David Bowie from Labyrinth. At the insistence of the players, the Maze appears in all its twisted glory, with its goblin legions, insomniac dancers and forests full of cannibalistic fire sprites. The characters escape after some upheavel in the Maze, with the Maze Lord having grown tired of his ballroom dancers and looking to “repurpose” them. When he appears it is in full pomp and regalia, and he rarely bothers traveling to the human world himself. As far as the motley know, Blaize’s sister Belle remains a prisoner in the Maze.

The Witch of the Wilds: The Witch of the Wilds lives in a walking hut that strides through a bioluminescent forest of whispering trees and scuttling fungus, where the sun never rises. She has little time for agents, and is more likely to venture directly into the real world in pursuit of new slaves and secrets. Her slaves she puts to work, harvesting the strange plants of the forest and brewing them into compounds that she never explains the use for. She usually appears as a hunched, blinded hag with iron teeth and wire for hair, but her servitor the Wilting Waxen Woodsman will appear to either aid her or act on her behalf.

The Surgeon: Seen only in brief, the Surgeon appears as a jaundiced woman with no visible hair, dressed in plastic lab whites and long latex gloves. She played a part in amputating Solomon’s memories and scattering them across reality upon his exile.

The Storm in the Desert: This roaring and terrible sandstorm lives in the strange depths of Arcadia, on a dry and crumbling plateau beneath an alien moon. Sometimes he appears as a building cloud, or an immense stone giant, or a crawling Yaramayahu. His slaves are altered into beasts of the ground or air, or ferocious elementals in imitation of their master.

Fetches

Blaize’s fetch was dead at the start of play; the little girl drowned tragically in the same river that took her into the Hedge. Her sister, however, may be a fetch. She remains unsure.

John Callahan: This fetch replaced Father Callahan, but always possessed a sense of the supernatural. He turned this sense to tracking and eliminating any supernatural creatures, including fae, that he could lay his hands on, indoctrinating a small cell of hunters as he did so. In the end, his victims caught up with him.

Gail Kelly: Anais’ fetch took her grace and presence, and followed it to become a pub rock icon. For her, the roaring crowds and whiskey soaked parties were a natural progression, but Anais naturally had different plans for her life, and Gail was ubderstandeably hostile when this doppelganger appeared claiming it was the original. To make things worse, glamour seems to fail near her, and the loss of their magic left them at a loss with how to deal with her, and her national your continued. She remains at large.

Stranger Things

Judy: Nobody ever quite figured out who or what Judy was. She lived in Father Callahan’s dreams, wearing the appearance of a lover from his youth. He proved powerless to resist her charms, and had to enlist his motley to help scare her off. When they arrived in the dream, however, he was distracted enough that he couldn’t think why he would ask for that. They managed to free him. Eventually.

Ruby and Mr Gold: A pair of God Machine angels (totally not qashmallim for this one) sent to hunt out the “largest anomaly”, Solomon in this case for reasons they didn’t disclose. When the motley capitulated in the face of implied mass murder, they returned artifacts connected to his memory to try and accelerate his return to Arcadia to let them shore up the barrier between reality and the Hedge. Ruby fell after Callahan’s exceptional success with the argument “That seems a little roundabout. Why don’t you just kill ’em all?” She later took on the identity Gene Scarlet, working in “animal control”.

Meg: This odd woman arrived in town and started telling jokes about angels along into churches. She later kidnapped Callahan’s fetch, who had previously tracked down her “mother”, who in photographs seemed no older than Meg. Meg turned out to be a Frankenstein Promethean, though her search for her mother was never resolved.

The Vampire Star: It fell from the sky over Black Hill, and scored it’s way into the abandoned copper mines beneath the town. Since its arrival, the residents have been suffering from a strange wasting disease, and cannot leave without dying.

Well, I think that’ll be all for this week folks. Intending to follow this up with a rough sort of “setting” and “what happened” section. Once again, this is mostly for our memory, but feel free to swipe any ideas you want.

In Which we Play Australia Day: RPG Actual Play

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Massaman Curry. As is tradition.

Well, we got around to it eventually. And just because we didn’t play my little roleplaying game, Australia Day, on Australia Day, doesn’t make its first flight any less majestic. If you wish to get a copy of your very own, scroll down my homepage to “My Australia Day Special“. In preparation, we ate Massaman Curry (as we would if we were in Australia…), gathered our nugs (dice) and Mugshots (character sheets), and I donned the High Poobah’s hat. This led to Queenie being unable to look me in the eye for most of the game, despite it being “bizzarely fetching”.

So we had our two players; Queenie started playing Stabitha the Dropbear, and Flock was running Fredamine the Caffiend. I was operating as High Poobah, a role usually referred to as “Game Master” or “Dungeon Master” in more sensible iterations of these kinds of games. This was certainly not one of those iterations. May have had something to do with the Scotch, but I would hesitate to blame Laphroaig entirely.

So, our heroes weirdos drive out of the salt flats bordering the Drop Bear Republic in their battered Holden hatchback, struggling to escape the murderous horde of Emu Bikers hot on their heels.

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Though the insta-rice was less than cooperative.

This led to about five minutes of garbled laughter and questioning of my sanity.

Having realized that he was dead out of coffee, Fredamine staggered into the general store/fish and chip emporium that they had found on the dry, dusty crossroads of the town they started from, Waldongle. He encountered Steve behind the counter, his moustache waxed to hold a cigarette so that he can smoke without his hands. He was, unfortunately, fresh out of coffee, so Fredamine began rummaging through the bags of lima beans, hoping some of them were coffee. Stabitha then strode Dropbearfully into the shop, and hurled a bag of coffee sweets into his face, which he then chewed through the packaging.

A discussion ensued as to how to make my High Poobah’s outfit even more incongruous. I played a plastic battle axe as a ukelele for a while.

“So guys,” Steve rasped, “Haven’t seen you in a while. Things not go so well… down the Republic?”

The question of Merchant Republic or Banana Republic is raised. Eucalyptus I guess.

“Things are pretty lonesome out this way though. Wanda mentioned she might have an assignment for you…”

“Does she have coffee?” muttered Fredamine.

“In the chip shop…”

They turned around to see Wanda, their spirit animal, behind the fish and chip counter. It was established that currently she looked like a middle aged Mediterranean aunty.

Queenie: Why do I have a spirit animal? I’m a drop bear!

Flock: … but you’re not a spirit.

They debate turning the deep fryer oil into fuel. They figured they had enough to reach Wangdangle either way. They would have petrol there.

Wanda: Oh hey guys. Your coats looking good Stabitha. Washed in the blood of your foes again?

(Flock: I knew it. It would have alliterated if she were a wombat, so she isn’t…)

Stabitha: Don’t you know it…

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The High Poobah hat of the night.

She passes out some fish and chips.

“Might have a little assignment for you wandering types. There’s been a string of disappearances of orphans and cattle all along the north side of town. I’ve not been able to find any clues… so maybe you can help. If you do, I’ve got the bag of magical reagents for you” She holds up a bag of possibly illegal plant matter.

Stabitha listens quietly, eating her chips. A brief discussion ensues as to whether, in our collective minds eye, Stabitha is a CGI Koala or a poorly disguised puppeteer with a glove puppet.

Eyeing the baggy, Fredamine responds “Alright.”

Before they leave, she warns them that it is rumoured to Henry the Magical Platypus may be stalking the north side of town (Stabitha: “Ah fuck that guy”), and that Anh at the Post Office may have more information. When asked for petrol, she starts scooping deep fryer oil into the thermos, and stagger out to their car, now a rust red Dolorian. They hammer the thermos into its fuel port.

Fredamine: The car only runs because one day it’ll kill me.

They head into Waldongle to see Anh, Stabitha hijacking a busboy so that she has the same stride as Fredamine. They arrive at the Post Office.

Anh: Oh hey guys. You’re back in town. How’d the republic go?

Stabitha: Don’t ask.

Anh: That bad huh?

Fredamine: So much eucalyptus…

Anh: Ah brutal.

Fredamine: So few bandages.

Anh: Well, always preferred menthol myself, but each to their own.

He takes a belt of Scotch and adjusts his aviator sunglasses.

Stabitha: Wanda sent us by.

Anh: Right, you’re here about the mystery? Right.

Stabitha: Yeah, the dissapearing cattle and orphans.

Anh: Yeah, well, someone’s been stealing cattle and orphans. North side of town. That way.

Stabitha: Yeah, she also mentioned Henry.

Fredamine: Damn centaur enthusiasts.

Anh: Centaur enthusiasts? Ah brutal… wait. Well, centaurs right I guess. Orphanataur.

(Queenie: Wouldn’t they have to steal horses for that? Flock: I said enthusiasts, not professionals)

Anh: Well, a lot of folks seem to think its Henry up to his old tricks again. But I don’t think it fits with his usual Modus Operandi.

Fredamine: No, udderly different.

Anh: He’s just up there in the river systems and billabongs… well, I can give you the full briefing. Would you care to step through into the Room Full of Guns?

Stabitha: …No…

Anh: Well I can’t do the slideshow out here.

Fredamine: Eh… alright.

Anh pushes open one of the walls into a room with gun racks on every wall, and sets up an old overhead projector.

Stabitha: Which government are we under at the moment?

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The surface

Anh: Well, on the way through we passed through Egypt, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and, well… now we’re in Queensland. Anyway, Henry as a creature tends to operate under the assumption that there is a weird sense of humour under his weird and inhuman acts. But basically, no one’s been delivered the punchline yet, so Henry’s out of the running.

Anh goes on to explain, using his overhead slides, that he has discerned a pattern, a rough line of strange incidents. First the collapse of the community rec center, then damage to religious sites of both indigenous and late arrival’s significance, then the squatters in the old rock quarry were driven away.

Anh: Pretty wild country out there. You guys get along with the emu bikers right?

There were some uncomfortable looks, and the characters agreed to take a look at the collapsed Community Rec Centre before heading north to the quarry. They leave the Room Full of Guns.

On reaching the Rec Centre, they encounter their first Villain of the game, an abstract one called “The Mystery”, with a Horribleness Rating of 2.

Attempting to locate and catch a guinea pig and use it as a divining rod, but suffers his first Terminal Blunder as he fails the Jerk roll and tumbles into the crater that was once the Community Rec Center.

Stabitha: Do you see anything?

Fredamine: (muffled) Lots of gravel.

Stabitha leaps down on the cackling guinea pigs, blocking out the sun in her silent descent and seizing hold of one before tying it to the divining rod. The others scatter, realising the trouble their in given that Stabitha is taller than they are, and thus above them (a Dropbear’s primary axis of attack). She then throws the rod to Fredamine, who begins scrying for anything the guinea pig is more afraid of than he and Stabitha. He finds his way to a square cut shaft on one side of the crater. Stabitha heads in first, with Fredamine following more slowly behind. Deploying her DEATH FROM ABOVE!!! crazy skill, Stabitha leaps, claws raking the sides of the shaft, her koalavision zeroing in on the terrified heartbeat of something below her, and immediately snaps its neck on reflex. She drags the corpse into the narrow light from above, and reveals the logo of Holecorp, the evil mining megacorporation, on his overalls. Fredamine arrives several minutes later shimmying down the steel cable.

Turns out the hole doesn’t go anywhere, they just left him down there to dig.

Stabitha: He’s better off this way…

Its at this point that Queenie was alarmed by the revelation that in my Poobah hat I looked unnervingly like Don Burke from Burke’s Backyard. I’d have sung the song if I remembered it. Strange reminiscences of childhood viewing of gardening programs followed.

Me: So you found a guy in a Holecorp uniform.

Queenie: And I kill him!!!

Me: You kill him to death!

Queenie: Didn’t exactly mean to.

Me: DEATH FROM ABOVE!!!

Queenie: (laughs) What the hell are we doing!

Fredamine arrives, pokes the dead Holecorp guy with the guinea pig stick, then rifles the pockets of his presumably throroughly soiled overalls.

Me: Yep… looks like he’s been digging for weeks.

Flock: In all that time, he never thought to dig a hole…

Me: Oh he did. You’re in it.

Fredamine wonders where the dirt from the shaft went. Stabitha worries that he hasn’t had enough coffee today.

Stabitha mentions that she probably didn’t need to kill that guy, and Fredamine replies that he could totally see her looking mildly disappointed as she wrenched his jaw out of his face and used it to stab him repeatedly before he’d hit the ground.

Flock: Bend it a little bit, stab it through both eyes.

Me: I kind of imagine it as a sort of wishbone snap to double slash maneuver.

Flock: God, The Downunderbite.

Me: Cheers, sir, you get a producer credit.

Stabitha attempts a koala mind meld with the guinea pig, and is assailed by terrible visions of what she just did, but manages to wind it back far enough to see a pair of white dickshits in suits high fiving as the community centre collapses and the guinea pigs escape their cages. The Stick-pig then gets added to her inventory.

They climb out of the shaft, and wander through town to find houses of worship, Aboriginal sacred sites and many other sites all with holes and sometimes trenches dug through them. It is assumed that the trenches are dug by Holecorp miners suspended sideways from cranes, as it is easier than teaching them to dig anywhere but down. Deciding to look further into this, they head to the Holecorp Beach Shack Kiosk out by the dry, empty salt flats, quinkins frolicking in the distance, always just out of reach.

Fredamine manages to convince the kiosk guy that he’s looking for work, and the guy points him out to the executive picnic at the quarry to the north. The execs would show him “where to dig holes for money”, because “the way of the future, the past and now is holes.” They jump into the Dolorian and head north with the strains of Icehouse echoing across the empty space.

Until it is drowned out by the roar of motorcycle engines coming rapidly closer. The Mob of Emu bikers bears down on them, and Fredamine scrambles under his seat and finally earns a magic bean. The car is rapidly surrounded, and Fredamine loses control of the car, crashing into a roadside rock. The impact and the airbag hurls Stabitha skywards, and she launches DEATH FROM ABOVE as Fredamine bleeds into his airbag. Emu screams rend the air, and Fredamine looks to finish the job by crippling their self esteem. He climbs out the sunroof, and to the sounds of Emu bike radio Black Sabbath he tries to Ozzy the head off the guinea pig. Which promptly jumps down his throat and kills him.

OH GOD, THE TERRIBLE INEVITABILITY! NOOOOO!

With Fredamine dead, Flock picks up a new character sheet.

“At last!” comes the roar from the Dolorian’s engine block, “I got him!” And a mechanical creature lurches forth from the cars mangled frame. It seems oddly friendly towards Stabitha. Lori the Dolorian used the Invention Mugshot. He lashes out with his piston fists, but the fight is still going against them.

Realising they probably can’t fight their way out of this, Lori decides that its time to use his Keep Inventing! crazy skill. Using his hatred of Fredamine to crack physics, he rips open his former owner and uses his mastery of haruspexy to create a dimensional wormhole. They plummet through an industrial nightmare, and burst through a shadowy door in a surreal factory complex into the night of an unknown desert oasis. They spy a shadowy figure in a broad hat strung with corks, his bill gleaming in the moonlight, waist deep in the billabong.

After a string of cryptic exchanges, the scene ends with Lori carrying Henry the Magical Platypus to Tity and Dong’s, a nearby family run bordello that appears to be a one room tin shack, and in exchange he kicks open a gate back to their reality with his poison spurred cowboy boot.

Back in their own dimension, they crest the top of the quarry after heating some canned beans for a group of lonely looking emu bikers who ride off into the night. Below them a number of Holecorp executives continue their junket, drinking champagne, punting orphans into a chasm for laughs, and sacrificing cattle to an effigy of Ayn Rand.

Flock: I know I’m just a car engine block, this isn’t really my fight.

Queenie: But you are a Master of Human Studies.

Me: You can get inside their minds.

Flock: Sometimes figuratively.

Suddenly, Stabitha and Lori are ambushed by a Holecorp Supersoldier, burying his shovel in the back of Lori’s head. As Lori winds up to attack, he falls apart into a pile of scrap, his hatred of Fredamine exhausted. Flock was… well, his rolling was spectacularly bad this session.

Stabitha was faced with a choice: battle the supersoldier on the plateau, or leap down onto the executives below. She goes with her instincts.

As she leaps down to do horrible murder amongst the executives, a familiar figure is being dragged towards the crevasse of punting. Wanda Rerring, the gang’s spirit animal, had never known her real parents, and was about to be punted into a chasm for it. Struggling for an escape route, she spied a hunched, woolen shadow on the wall of the quarry, and reached out to it in hope of an escape. As she was drop kicked into the abyss, the Beardaclava leapt onto her head, and the two became one deadly creature; the Beardblade.

Her deadly woolen follicles carry her back to the edge of the chasm, and she unleashes a Beardblast against the assembled executives, killing the last of them. Flock was happy to have finally succeeded at a combat roll. Bad news for Stabitha, however, as the raging follicles launched her into the crevasse. She was afraid, for a moment, until she realised that she was falling. She roared “DEATH FROM ABOVE!!!” as she plummeted into the unknown depths.

Queenie decides to make it a full house, and chooses the Showstopper so that each of the Mugshots gets a chance to shine. Apparently warned about this situation by those migrating emu bikers, Myrcy the Showstopper and her gaggle of activists surge over the horizon chanting “Don’t punt Orphans!”

Down in the quarry, Wanda is confronted by a final terrible foe.

“I er… don’t appreciate what you’ve er… been doing here. Rather ruined some er… investments for some er… friends of mine. I don’t don’t think that’s er… appropriate.”

From the shadows of a cavern, a Mad Monk strides into view, his waist length cassock tucked into his obscenely tight speedos.

“I don’t appreciate you non voting types, or your ideas on gender, so I suppose I’m gonna have to kill you in some horrible waaaaaaaaaaay…”

One wanker amongst the activists attempts the rhyme, “Don’t punt orphans, find better endorphins”, but it doesn’t really catch on.

Confronted with the fascist glory of the mad monk, Wanda launches herself at him and attempts to garrotte him with her beard. She sinks the choke, but somehow her enemy keeps spouting inanities about how she doesn’t have rich parents and thus doesn’t deserve the vote.

There is some discussion as to what Myrcy and her followers are defending for her to get the bonuses from her Peaceful Protest crazy skill, with examples in the current situation being the remaining un-punted orphans, animal protection laws, and ideas of sensible desert attire excluding speedos. She and her followers surge down into the quarry, but the roll doesn’t quite make it.

“Oh no, protestors!” the Mad Monk shouts, raising his hands, “It’s ok! I’ll stop the boats!”

Myrcy’s followers stall, and glance at each other, trying to figure out what the hell that is suppose to mean. There are no boats in the desert.

“What do we do Myrcy? Where are the boats?”

Myrcy: There are no boats.

“Where’s the water?”

Myrcy: There is no… it’s a trap!

As the protesters stall, with a thunderous sounds surging closer, Wanda’s crushing follicles close in further on her nemesis.

Wanda:There once was a Mad Monk that couldn’t be killed. But he had a fucking beard.

She then drove her beard into the Mad Monks chest, trying to Temple of Doom his heart out. She strikes true, and the Mad Monk nearly topples, though she finds he has no heart at all.

“What do we do Myrcy? The waters coming! Run!”

Myrcy: Protestors! With me! Don’t punt orphans!

They rush forward, only to have an immense amount of water wash into the quarry from an unknown source (possibly Queensland). They are carried away, confused, and the Mad Monk and Beardblade wrestle to a jagged rock in the midst of the chaos. Myrcy struggles to bodyboard on her placard towards them, and her followers begin to chant “Kiss of death! Kiss of death!”

Wanda pushes the mad monk down towards the waves, and brains him on Myrcy’s current driven placard. Her bloody beard turns to meet the early morning sunlight, and she says

“You were never popular with the boaters.” Because this is how democracy in Australia works.

The weirdos spend their day fishing orphans and cattle out of the unexpected flood-zone, then head back to Waldongle with Wanda carrying a fish under her beard-arm. They arrive at the fish and chip shop, and Wanda congratulates herself in the mirror, fist bumping her spirit animal, taking the bag of magical reagents for saving the orphans and cattle.

In the end I had really bad hat hair, and then we kind of narrated the evening to the tune of Down Under. And that was more or less that.

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There may have been some left

Things I learned: OK. I’m the first to admit that I designed Australia Day poorly. I may have done so in a haze of Kahlua. But there were a few things I noted down.

First, Villains don’t stack well. If you want your weirdos fighting a lot of Villains, just call it a Mob of What Have You, a Mob of Emu Bikers for example. Add one or maybe two to the Horribleness Meter for numbers, and that keeps things nice and smooth.

Second, when the Beardblade uses Beardblast any friendly players need to roll more Squibs than the Beardblade did to escape it. The Beardblast becomes a hazard with a Horribleness of the Beardblades successes. That wasn’t made super clear either. There might be an errata. I promise nothing.