What it is, where it came from, and what I was smoking at the time :)
Dreamland is a contemporary Sci-Fi (for lack of a better classification) campaign, designed to represent a fantastic, weird dream. It features the
Players using Self-Characters, and includes places, events, people and “inside jokes” familiar to and revolving around the Players, themselves. The focus, in the beginning, was on
“realism”—a true “what I would do” situation. It begins as the standard average-Joe-in-an-unusual-situation story, with the Players’ visit to a Sci-Fi convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, and quickly melds into—something else. The primary antagonist for the campaign, if there really is one, would have to be the Technocracy (WoD) in general—though you could claim that this is more of a
“survival” story. People we know would show up in unexpected places, with unexpected changes. The world we know would be turned upside down—or inside out—or whatever. The PCs would meet all manner of strange creatures and people, visit strange places, and do impossible things. In a dream, anything can happen…
I went with 8 Sessions—the longest I have attempted, to date (by this point, as a group, we were pretty loose about how long a particular GM would run). The pacing and structure of the game was much different than my previous campaigns, as there was no real structure, other than what I thought the group could accomplish in one night—one continuous story, without breaks. Though I still used Actors, as before, the campaign was not meant to be
“cinema-based.” I intended the lethality-level of the campaign to be “medium”—that is, I wasn’t going to go out of my way to either save or kill off the PCs. However, no Player would be allowed to play another Character should he be killed (more on that in
the Execution section).
I had always wanted to run (or play in) a self-character campaign. I’m not entirely sure where the idea for this one came from, exactly, but there were several inspirations that stand out. The first, most obvious, inspiration was The Matrix, whose influence is easily recognizable in the earlier stages. The second is the video game, Half-Life, which inspired the latter part of the completed adventure, and was something I had wanted to try in an RPG since I first played it. The campaign was intended to be an ongoing and unending story. At the end of the 8-week
run, I had a near-limitless number of options as to where to go next—the dream “theme” allowed for pretty much anything I wanted.
Who played who, who they met there, and who tried to kill them
- Phil Norfleet (Phil); represented by Phil
- Self-Character, AKA PX-336, “SuperPhil”
- Mike Esque (Esque); represented by Esque
- Self-Character, AKA TK-421
- Ross Pate (Ross); represented by Ross
- Self-Character, AKA LV-426, “Paterman”
- Mike McNurlen (McNurlen); represented by McNurlen
- Self-Character, AKA UD-571
- Aaron Albrecht (Aaron); represented by Aaron
- Self-Character, AKA ED-209
- Old Friends:
- Myself (The GM—Daniel Lunsford); represented by Myself. AKA Dante, gone off to join a Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Apoc (and later, Ghost))
- Mark Hermanns; represented by Mark. Actually one of over 100 clones of his father, each slightly genetically altered. All but NormalMark know of the others’ existence.
- Mark001-NormalMark: the one we know
- Mark007-SneakyMark: superspy
- Mark013-EvilMark: Ref: Dr. Evil-Austin Powers
- Mark019-PsychoMark: bald w/ facial scars & bad attitude; X-Com member
- Mark069-SuaveMark: hispanic, Ref: Batmanuel-The Tick live-action series
- Mark072-HippieMark: hacker/hippie; works at A51, Alpha Sector
- Mark101-CyberMark: AKA HitMark, cyborg, Ref: Terminator; stored at A51
- MarkXXX-MiniMark: Ref: MiniMe-Austin Powers, midget; minion of EvilMark
- MarkXXX-AfroMark: AKA BlackMark, BruthaMark, FunkyMark; negro, w/ afro
- MarkXXX-BrainyMark: E.Indian, scientist; works at A51, Epsilon Sector
- MarkXXX-Markette: AKA LadyMark, female; secretary at A51, Alpha Sector
- MarkXXX-FreakyMark: punker-type
- MarkXXX-SilentMark: Ref: Silent Bob-Clerks, mute?
- MarkXXX-MuscleMark: body-builder, ST:18, health-freak, Ref:
pro-wrestler, Randy Savage
- Thomas Dill; represented by Tom. Recruited into X-Com, squad leader to PsychoMark. I planned for him to keep showing up in the story in weird places, and then die heroically, only to return later with some fantastic story about how he cheated death, always starting with,
“As luck would have it…”
- Preston Evans; represented by Preston. AKA Odin, gone off to lead a Magi cell, recruited Daniel, Megan Love (Ref: Matrix,
=Morpheus) (his Matrix name probably should’ve been “Xenocore,” but that would’ve been recognized immediately by the Players, so I went with something else)
- Michael Moch; represented by Moch. AKA DivideByZero(“Zero”), gone off to join a Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Neo)
- Denée Simmons; represented by Denée. AKA Corvina, gone off to join a Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Trinity)
- Robert Coleman; represented by Robert. AKA LazerWolf(“Lazer”), gone off to join a Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Mouse)
- Chris Dunham; represented by Chris D. AKA Player_1(“Player”), gone off to join Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Cypher—Curse his sudden but inevitable betrayal!)
- Daniel Maynard; represented by Maynard. AKA Cosmo, gone off to join a Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Tank)
- Bobby Ledbetter; represented by Bobby. gone off to join a Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Dozer)
- Other Recurring Allies:
- Megan Love; Alyson Mack. Weirdness Magnet, parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances; later plan was to have her go off to join a Magi cell (Ref: Matrix, =Switch (and later,
What I planned to do, and how I planned to do it
The “dream” theme meant I could do pretty much anything, without having to explain myself or adhere to
“reality.” For instance, when a major Las Vegas hotel has an “interrogation room,” all I have to say is,
“It’s a dream—it doesn’t have to make sense,” and that was all the excuse I needed. I intended to, and had to in some cases, use this to full advantage. For instance, Esque was present for the first Session, but not the second, and Ross was not present for the first, but present for the second—I just switched the two Characters’ places and the story continued as if nothing was amiss—“It’s a dream.” Later in the game, when a Player had to miss a Session (or take a long phone-call, in one case), I simply had them
“go limp” in-game, and made it part of the fun. That aspect was entirely intentional, as I have
suffered through continual attendance problems, as Player and GM, and was expecting
Weirdness was the star character in the campaign. Ironic or joke names for NPCs were the rule, and not the exception. Scenes and Characters from books or movies would appear periodically, and nobody but the PCs would notice. There are other weirdness aspects that didn’t make
it into the synopsis, or the game. An example would be in Session 7, with what I refer to as a
“Gary Larsen Moment” (of The Far Side fame), when a large bug lands in front of the PCs, to be smashed by a flyswatter-shaped section of broken gantry. Another such moment that didn’t show up was when the PCs would come across a scientist crushing a cockroach under heel, only to be immediately run over, himself, by a giant cockroach
“vehicle” driven by bug-men. I never expected outright laughter, for the most part—just groans. I mostly got what I expected, as far as that goes ;D.
Since the Players were playing “themselves,” their actual “stats” really didn’t matter, in most cases. In general, if the Player knows or notices something, the Character knows or notices it. Quite a few situations that might’ve required some skill checks no longer needed them—that’s good for the GM. I gave them all 100 points, and let them
“embellish” a little on reality, if called for. The hardest part was getting the Players to realistically
“compare” themselves to each other, as no one wanted (outwardly, anyway) to be the one to say,
“I’m smarter than you,” or, “I’m stronger than you,” etc. It wouldn’t really matter in the end, and the low point-cost kept anything from getting out of control. Reality would see to itself, in this case. I used the more-current version of the Alternative Character Point Usage house rules, using 3 tCPs per Session—my
default. Initially, I gave the Players their eventual powers based on their Questionnaires on-file—it was entirely pre-planned, without the Players’ knowledge (although they all know me well enough to expect that sort of thing). I intended for the Characters to continually refine their powers and gain new ones, so I was a little more liberal with the XP for that purpose. The only
admonition I gave them in that regard was that new abilities should be related to or derived from their existing ones—for instance, if Ross were to take the Shield power, he could make it webbing-based; if Aaron wanted a new vision-mode, he would
“discover” one already there. I was looking forward to seeing some creativity in that aspect.
I also instituted a “no new Characters” rule. It sounds harsh to begin with, but (1) it makes sense, since
everyone’s playing self-characters—and you can’t change who you are, and (2) I made plans beforehand regarding the possible deaths of each PC, and how to make it all part of the fun. For instance, a killed PC might be resurrected as a new clone with different powers; the dead PC might follow the Party as a ghost, trying to get their attention, so as to be returned to his body (or a new one); a dead PC might possess another
“host body.” There are any number of fun ways to handle the situation (I particularly enjoyed the idea of the
“ghost” PC—on the following Session, I would’ve secretly spoken with all the
“living” Players and instructed them to completely ignore the “dead” one, until he figures out what happened ;)).
- Some Specific Issues:
- This campaign was an “event-based” story, in that the story was driven forward by specific Events, tied together in sequence. I gave out XP on a per-Event basis. Therefore, the number of XP the PCs received at the end of a Session was based on the number of Events that they had completed. Each Event had an event goal, and consequences for failure. PCs would receive no XP for failed Events, or half-XP for Events that I intended them to fail (the Hebco Massacre is an example).
- The car-chase scenes were entirely scripted out; NPC skill checks were rolled in advance, and recorded in such a way as to allow me to modify them during the game. The first chase was the easiest, as the PCs would be chasing someone over which I had complete control, so I could know in advance where he would go—I had to be flexible, though, in case the PCs pulled something crazy. The second chase would’ve presented more of a problem, since the PCs were leading the chase, so I added in the
“Cosmo” element giving them directions, which, along with the cops “funneling” the chase (a standard real-world police tactic, if I’m not mistaken), allowed me more control over their route—once again, being flexible, in case of craziness. I bet on the Players
“trusting” the voice of Cosmo, and ended up winning out.
- Props: I made the convention flyer (here) by taking a real one, and using Photoshop, replaced existing pictures with ones I had pulled from the internet; the font used in the original was easy enough to match. I managed to find some photos of the Vegas Hilton online as well, including a picture of Quark’s Bar and all. I also found a web-site with some
“virtual tour” bits—panorama photos of the outside, pool, lobby, rooms, Buffet restaurant, and such—very helpful, except that I couldn’t print them, and had to have a computer on-hand with the web-site cued up to show them. That was the easy part. The hard part was finding a layout of the convention floor and/or the rest of the hotel, which I found a reasonable example after much toil and hair-pulling. I got a street map of Las Vegas in a travel guide, scanned it, and placed it in Illustrator, so as to overlay the car-chase routes; a copy without the
“routes” was given to the Players
during the chase scenes so they could get their bearings. Though I had been using Actors in several games prior to this one, this was the first time I actually printed the Actors’ photos and cut them into little
“flash cards,” which turned out pretty well.
- There are many elements within the game that I specifically engineered for a certain response from the Players. My use of the quotation in the promo-graphic was meant to subtlely point out what sort of action I wanted from the Players, overall. Actors were chosen specifically to influence the Players’ choices. For instance, I chose Alyson Mack for Megan Love’s character because everyone liked her, and her character in
Smallville, which was necessary to keep them from abandoning her when all the weirdness started (and it almost wasn’t enough). In a similar
instance, I used Nicholas Cage as Megan’s boyfriend, since everyone was fully aware of how much I hate that actor (merely on a professional level ;)), and would immediately see him as a Bad Guy (and might want to beat the crap out of him for the sake of their own dislike of him).
- As to the Area 51 portion of the game, I planned to go through the entire storyline of Half-Life. However, I was aware that that would take several runs to complete, and I didn’t expect the Players would want to stick with it for that long. With that in mind, I built in several
“exit points” along the way, so anytime the Players started getting bored with it, I could just let them off at the next
Inside Jokes and Easter Eggs
Funny stuff that you might not understand if I didn’t explain it to you
- Mark: One day, for reasons I don’t recall, I got this image in my head of hundreds of Mark clones stuffed in a house, happily yapping to each other—big smiles and all—the thought of it cracked me up. I told others about it, and they thought it was funny too. When I started working on this campaign, and was deciding what to do with Mark since he wasn’t here, I hit upon the idea to work in the clones, and came up with the back-story: his father, a nuclear scientist or somesuch (no really—he actually is), actually worked at Area 51 in the Biotechnology department, where he had cloned himself—the first of which was Mark001, AKA NormalMark (the one we know). There are hundreds of Mark clones, only a few of which made it into the game, as it stands. Later in the process, I even told Mark (the real one) about the idea, and he even came up with a few more for me.
- The number 1138, used in several places, is a reference to George Lucas’ first movie, THX-1138
- The fact that the Sherriff looked like Lee Majors, and his name tag read
“Austin” was an on-the-fly addition, spurred by the Players. If you don’t know (what rock have you been under?), Lee Majors is the actor that played the character, Steve Austin, AKA The Six Million Dollar Man.
- The Matrix bits need no further explanation, I expect. I did my best Agent Smith impression for the interrogation scene (it’s not bad).
- The bit with Christopher Walken pirouetting into the elevator comes from the Fatboy Slim video for the song,
“Weapon of Choice,” which features Christopher Walken dancing around a fancy hotel lobby/convention center like area—creepy and hilarious at the same time.
- The bit where the PCs and cops get momentarily distracted by the lightsaber-fighting Vader and Kenobi in the hotel lobby is obviously ripped from Star Wars Episode 4, when the stormtroopers all gathered to watch Vader and Kenobi fighting on the Death Star as the
“PCs” were attempting to escape. If I’m not mistaken, I actually came up with this one on-the-fly (unusual, for me), as a means of allowing the PCs to get past the cops—I’m pretty proud of that one.
- Dr. Blaire and Dr. Hamilton are an homage to a Queensryche song (and, apparently some other references I wasn’t aware of), which in it’s beginning, you hear a hospital PA system calling out,
“Dr. Blaire, Dr. Blaire…Dr. Hamilton, Dr. J. Hamilton…”
- Conspiracy of Bobs: Any NPC not already given a name is called some derivation of
“Robert”—a tradition carried over from a very early, short-lived GURPS Espionage-type game,
“run” by Esque.
Where the Players went, who they saw, and what they conquered
I wrote this account of the game as if someone (unidentified) was telling the story of a dream he’d had.
|So, I had this dream once…
Everything starts out pretty normal. It’s around June of ’04, I think. There was one weird thing, though—it’s like, Daniel had disappeared around six months prior, and no one had seen a trace of him since he left some note on Greg’s desk saying he wasn’t coming back.
So the whole gang (at the time, that’s Phil, Esque, Aaron and McNurlen—Ross was just finishing up with OCS, and was unavailable.) was on this trip to Las Vegas for this huge sci-fi/comic convention at the Las Vegas Hilton—it’s got George Lucas in a rare convention appearance, among other things (see the flyer). So they all pile into Esque’s Neon and road-trip to Vegas. They get there on the Thursday before the convention officially starts. Beforehand, they’d reserved two adjoining rooms at the hotel,
’cause Aaron wants his own room (something about “in case he needs to bring a chick back to the room”—everyone’s like,
So everyone’s up in the room getting settled in, and some strange woman starts banging on the door like the Devil himself was after her. Someone checks the peephole, and it turns out to be some very cute, very desperate-looking chick, so they kindly let her in. And she comes in, and tells them that her crazy boyfriend is chasing her down the hall to kill her—or so she said, anyway (some of the Guys are thinking she might be exaggerating a bit). Well, right after that, some guy, presumably
“the boyfriend”, comes banging on the door and screaming bloody murder. So the girl hides out in the room somewhere, and the Guys tell the supposed boyfriend that he’s got the wrong room, or something like that. Well, he buys it, obviously not being the smartest example of humanity, and starts yelling down the hall after her, saying she’d better be back in their room by the time he gets back, or some such thing.
So he’s out of the way, and one of the guys goes and calls security, who eventually come and question everyone about what happened (but, of course, they don’t do anything). Before that, though, the girl says her name is Megan Love, and gives them this story about how she’s been working at this local bar and falls in with this Russian dude named Rick Djorkov (the guy they just dissed), who later turns out to be some local drug dealer thug with Russian mafia ties and a crazy-jealous streak. So she says she just told him she was leaving him, and he freaks out at her, so she makes a break for it and ends up here. After the story’s over, she asks the guys for
“one more favor,” to let her hang out with them until it’s safe, so Aaron gives up his room to her (how ironic?).
So later, after security leaves, Megan remembers that her stuff is still in her old room, and she’s locked out without a key. She says the stuff has a lot of sentimental value, and is irreplaceable, so she asks the Guys for
“one more favor,” to help her break into her old room (she didn’t want to go to security for help, since she has this
“problem with authority” thing). A little coaxing, and the Guys agree to help.
So, they all go to the hallway a few floors up, where her old room is. Phil and Aaron keep watch down the hall, while McNurlen and Esque cover for Megan while she picks the lock (and where did she learn to do that, I wonder?). Some people walk by now and then, but ultimately, they avoid attracting any
“special attention,” and Megan re-emerges from the room with her suitcase.
So, everybody heads back—no big deal. Everything’s back to normal, right?. Well, Megan opens the suitcase, and to everyone’s surprise and amazement, she finds out that Rick had apparently left with the wrong suitcase when he left (for a
“meeting” as she’d described it), leaving Megan without her stuff but with a substantial amount of cash—$200,000 to be exact. There follows no small amount of heated deliberation about what to do with the money. Megan was entirely ready to spend it, without hesitation. Aaron wanted nothing to do with the money, out of principle. McNurlen
wanted nowhere near it, out of fear of retribution from the “owner(s)”, whoever that would turn out to be. Phil and Esque were OK with keeping all or part of it. There was some talk of gambling it away, or leaving it anonymously lying around, or dumping it out the hotel window—eventually it was agreed that they (those that weren’t already opposed to it) would keep a few handfuls for themselves, and then drive around town
“donating” the rest to various charitable organizations in the area, and discreetly dispose of the suitcase. So, that’s what they did.
After all that was over, they come back and everyone spends the rest of the evening hitting the slots and blackjack tables, winning some and losing some as one generally does in Vegas. McNurlen actually managed to pick up about $5-grand. All in all, it was a very profitable evening for all. And the convention hasn’t even started, yet!
Anyway, Friday morning comes and the convention kicks off. Everyone splits up to go do their convention stuff. Aaron kicks a considerable amount of butt playing in a Warhammer tournament, and ends up placing in the top three before the day was over. Esque could apparently do no wrong at the Battletech tournament (how weird is that?), and ends up taking the top spot by the end of the day. McNurlen performs swimmingly at a Star Wars RPG tournament, winning some stuff by the time it’s over. For whatever reason, Megan ends up hanging with Phil most of the day, and they spend the day wandering around, and watching movies, and buying stuff—while Megan tries to keep a low profile.
In the middle of all the tournament stuff, everyone gets together to get some lunch. So, they’re walking out of the hotel, right? Well, they step up to the curb, heading for the parking lot, and this car jets out of nowhere right in front of them—barely stops—and Megan gets yanked into the car as it speeds off. It looks like it was her
“boyfriend” at the wheel, with a handful of goons. Everyone just stands there in shock for a second (kinda like this Mike’s Hard Lemonade commercial).
Then, in a flash of heroic bravery or colossal stupidity (the two are often confused, y’know), Phil and Esque charge off for the car to go chase the bastards down. McNurlen and Aaron stay behind and call the cops on Aaron’s cell-phone. Aaron’s on hold with 911 for, like, a minute or two, then he conferences them with Phil, on his cell-phone, and they listen in on the whole ordeal. Meanwhile, Phil and Esque are tearing off after Rick’s car. They’re dodging and weaving, cutting across traffic, and through intersections and such—and Esque’s keeping up like a pro while Phil keeps his eye on the prize and helps direct. After a minute or so, Phil gets the conference call with Vegas PD, and the cops start joining the chase, one at a time. They don’t drive nearly as well as Esque, though (once again—who’d’a thunk?)—either they were incompetent drivers or they were having a real bad day. The poor bastard in car 1138 just couldn’t make it happen to save his life, crashing into all kinds of stuff on the way. At one point in the chase, Esque clips a semi, breaking off his passenger-side mirror and scaring the crap out of Phil. At another point Rick tries to lose them by cutting through a strip-mall back alley, but Esque & Phil continue on the main road and catch them on the other side, gaining ground on them. They could see that Megan, in the other car, was giving her would-be kidnappers a hard time of it. So they come up on the Strip, which is packed as always, and Rick squeezes through the traffic. Esque’s close behind, and the cops are a fair distance back. Then Rick hauls through an intersection and across the railroad tracks—just as a passenger train was coming. Esque goes for it (almost as if he’d done this sort of thing before—hmm…), and clears the tracks with feet to spare before the train cuts off the police cruisers.
Now all this time, back at the hotel lobby, McNurlen and Aaron have been gathering a crowd—and wouldn’t ya know, people start placing bets on the outcome of the chase? McNurlen even gets in on the action. Then the news choppers showed up and started broadcasting the chase live on TV, and everyone at the lobby was instantly glued to the screen, watching the action.
Now, back at the car chase…on the other side of the train, Rick takes a hard right onto this dirt-strip area alongside the tracks. Esque follows hard and Rick blocks them in next to the train, and they all come to a stop. Then everybody piles out of the cars, ready for a fight; Phil grabs a tire-iron out of the trunk, through the inside trunk panel, and Esque grabs his sword (he apparently brought it to impress other geeks at the con). They all stand off, and they’ve got Megan there, being held by one of the goons. Rick yells back at Phil and Esque to butt out of things that don’t concern them, looking like he’s ready to take care of some business with Megan. Well, the guys are having none of that, and they refuse to back down, so Rick casually reaches into his jacket to pull out a gun—but comes up with nothing but air. Rick goes into this Homer Simpson-like fit, and the Guys are barely keeping from cracking up. Then Rick composes himself, and he sticks out his hand and asks for a gun from a nearby goon, who goes to slap one into his hand.
And with that, the Guys spring into action. Phil throws his tire-iron and smacks Rick in the forehead—it doesn’t knock him out or anything, but it rattles him, and makes him drop the gun. The goon that handed him the gun jumps down and makes a grab for it, but Esque charges up and whacks him in the hand with that sword; the hand is obviously broken—probably would’ve been chopped off if that thing had an edge to it. Megan’s
new buddy gets a chop to the ’nads, and a kick to the ground for his troubles. Now, Rick was obviously not ready for this display of defiance and surprising martial competence, so he makes like a Frenchman and bolts for the driver’s seat on the other side of the car. Esque throws his sword at him—that’s right!—he throws it! Rick catches the pommel right on the cheekbone, knocking him out like a punk. Phil chucks a rock, sidearm, at the last goon, breaking his finger and his will to fight—and he bolts. It’s all over in a few seconds.
Back at the hotel, everyone’s watching the whole thing on the news, via the choppers, and cheers go up as the fighting starts—and then it’s over. Bets are collected. People are shooed out of the lobby.
At the train, just as all this is wrapping up, the cops finally show. They detain everyone there, and chase down the runners, and such. An ambulance shows up soon after, taking care of the wounded (Rick’s gonna be eating through a straw for the next few months of his jail term). The Guys, plus Megan, are all cuffed, searched and questioned by the cops. It seems like hours. Then the Chief (who looked a lot like Lee Majors—I think his name was Austin) lines them up and literally slaps them all on the wrists, and tells them he doesn’t ever want to see them again—and they’re released.
So, with all that behind them, everyone gets back to the convention, and their respective tournaments and such. And that evening, everyone goes back to their rooms, and to bed, exhausted. Now, up to this point, everything’s been relatively normal, right? Relatively… Well, here’s where it all starts getting weird. Saturday morning, everyone gets up to start a brand new normal day of convention-y goodness, and Megan walks in asking for
“one more favor.” She says she had this dream, where this mysterious stranger that she dreams about all the time, whom she refers to as
“Odin,” told her to go to room 1138 at a certain time today and meet with his
“representative.” She apparently really believes in this stuff. She’s set on going, and she wants the Guys to go with her to watch her back. Understandably, the Guys are less than enthusiastic, but they decide to humor her and go along anyway—morbid curiosity, perhaps? How much worse can it get, right?
So they get to the room at the specified time. Megan goes and knocks on the door, and someone inside the room calls her in. She goes in, all excited, like she’s meeting a guy she’s only talked to on the internet or something. The Guys follow her in—all cautious-like. But when they go in, the room doesn’t look like it’s supposed to—it looks straight out of the
“Blue Pill” scene in The Matrix, complete with the beat-up red chairs and all. There’s a guy in shadows in the far chair, and he motions for everyone to approach. As they do, the shadows part enough so they can recognize that it’s Daniel (or, at least, someone that looked just like him). But he looks younger—with really long blood-red hair, and his hairline seems to have regained some of the ground it had lost. He’s dressed like Apoc, in The Matrix. As the light of recognition washes over the Guys, he smiles and says he’s been expecting them—they’re sure it’s him, at this point. There’s some small talk and catching up for a minute or two—Aaron gets on his case for leaving him with the house payments—and then he turns to Megan.
He asks her if she’s ready for the “test.” She says “Yes.” Everybody’s just watching, like he’s going to pull a rabbit out of something. He has her sit in the other chair, and breaks out this hand-sized box, and sets it on the end-table next to her chair. He tells her to put her hand in the box. She asks what’s in it. He says,
“Pain”; etc., etc… It’s just like in Dune—poisoned needle at her throat, and all. Through the test, Megan has the most pathetic
“Please, help me” look on her face—tears and all. The Guys seem shocked by Daniel’s uncharacteristic cruelty (Phil less so, since he’s more familiar with Dune), and some begin to wonder if it’s really him—or what’s happened to him—but they keep their peace. After what seems like minutes, Megan’s disposition changes to excitement, as she
“made the pain stop” (as she would later describe it)—and then it was all over. Daniel congratulated her on the speed with which she beat the test, like she’d just earned her driver’s license or something.
So, as everyone starts breathing again, Daniel apologizes to everyone, and says that they would all probably be in a great deal of trouble for having seen him here (like they needed more trouble…), so they should watch their backs, and he would try to help them when the time comes. He’s in a bit of a rush, so he can’t hang out and chat, so he says goodbye and everyone exits the room. After leaving, one of the Guys sticks his head back in the room, and, sure enough, the room has returned to normal.
So, after all that craziness is over, everyone is understandably paranoid—more so than before, anyway. McNurlen decides to go rent an SUV, just in case they have to split up later.
At some point later in the day, everyone meets up at the Buffet for lunch. For some reason, Ross is there, but Esque
isn’t—go figure (this is a dream, after all). So they’re all sitting there,
eating and otherwise minding their own business, watching the TVs for
reports (that never came) about the car chase and all, when this waiter
comes up to the table with a delivery for “Rigil Kent” (his pen-name). So, Phil takes the hint, and receives the package, and the waiter goes on his merry way.
Everybody stares at the package for a minute or two, expecting a bomb or a poisonous snake or something—they listen to it, and shake it, and all. Then Phil tears it open, and out falls this cell-phone and a bunch of ear-phones. Soon as the thing hits Phil’s hand, it starts ringing. Phil answers. A strange, yet somehow familiar, voice tells Phil that they’re in immediate danger, and that if they follow his directions he can guide them to safety. The ear-phones are apparently for the others to listen in. Everyone’s wondering what the hell’s going on, but, sure enough, there are some security guards running around with some photographs, showing them to people and pointing and all—obviously there’s something going down—so they leave some cash on the table and vacate the restaurant through the kitchen. The voice, who identifies himself as
“Cosmo”, guides them around, like in The Matrix—you know…go down this hall; when I say
“go”, go to the door on the right down the left hallway; stay as low as you can; etc., etc. They’re evading security guards and cameras and all that. They end up at the convention’s vendor’s area, where Cosmo says the security camera coverage is less effective, and they can hide out in there until help arrives—then he hangs up.
So, there they all are, standing in the middle of this huge geek-fest, trying not to be noticed by the teams of security guards gathering at all the exits. Ross gets this idea to bribe someone to pull the fire alarm for a distraction, and try to slip out. So he turns to this kid, who turns out to be an easily-offended midget, who storms off—then he slips some money to an actual kid, who runs off to presumably pull the alarm (but doesn’t—he just keeps the money). Meanwhile, the rest of them start buying masks from a nearby vendor, and put them on (Ross does so as well, after he’s done with the kid); Phil as Vader, Megan as the Fett, Aaron as Darth Maul, Ross as Jar-Jar, and McNurlen as a Klingon. Then they move out, trying not to look suspicious—well, more so, anyway. McNurlen starts looking for one of those Klingon fighting-blade-thingies, just in case, and Aaron is looking for a saber-baton, and they both get pointed toward a booth on the other side of the bay that sells that sort of thing. They get almost there, and McNurlen gets stopped by some security guards (one of them recognizes his t-shirt or something), and he asks him to take off his mask. Well, McNurlen starts playing up the whole Klingon thing, and challenges him to a duel and all—playing it to the hilt, trying to attract attention. Some of the other Guys join in, and egg him on. The guards think it’s amusing, but a job’s a job, so they persist in their unmasking efforts. Finally, McNurlen gives up and the masks come off, and the guards realize they have their men, and start trying to take them in. It was about to resort to fisticuffs, when Ross just breaks out and says something to the effect of,
“Screw all this…we’re walking out of here! These guys are hotel security. They can’t touch us.” So, everyone followed Ross’ example and starts marching out of the hotel, with the security guys following close behind trying to convince them to play along. It might’ve worked, too, except there’s Vegas PD all over the lobby waiting for them.
So, long story shortened, the Guys are all taken into custody, and they get escorted upstairs in the hotel, amidst much protest (they were obviously feeling like the cops were up to no good by keeping them here, instead of taking them downtown, but the cops were hearing none of it). They all get frisked and all, and the cops take their cell-phones and stuff, and toss them into this small white room, with nothing in it but a table, chairs, and a security camera—like your standard interrogation room (don’t ask why they have a room like that at a hotel). Some security guys remain in there to guard them. So, all subtle-like, the Guys start trying to come up with a way out.
A bit later, the guards leave, and in walks these three Agents, almost like it’s in slow motion, y’know (once again—like The Matrix. Are you sensing a pattern here, yet?). Agent Smith sits down at the table and starts thumbing through this file-folder for a minute. He addresses everyone by name, and then goes into this spiel about how they’re all upstanding citizens up to now, but they’ve been associated with a
“known Deviant terrorist called Dante,.” He offers not to “soil” their otherwise clean records if they cooperate with his effort to find out what
“Dante” told them. Well, the Guys started out like they were gonna cooperate—but then they launch into a huge line of obvious, utter bullshit. Agent Smith is visibly disappointed, and he nods to one of the other Agents, who pulls out this silver, metallic sphere, and
“points” it at Aaron (who has been particularly “unhelpful” up to this point). Aaron just stands right up and starts choking himself, like he’s under some kind of mind-control or something. Everybody’s horrified.
About the time Aaron’s face starts turning purple, and everyone’s freaking out, the lights flicker off for a second, and one of the other Agents tells Smith that
“He’s here,” or something like that. Smith gets up and says, “We’ll finish this later,” and the three of them leave (and the guards come back in). Megan, who was staring wide-eyed and silent the whole time, mutters something about them not being real—whatever that meant. A beat later, one of the guards jumps out of his skin like he just saw a ghost or something. Everyone looks over and sees Daniel again, standing there in the corner like he’d been there the whole time—where’d he learn that trick? Well, he goes right to work, delivering a Trinity-style beating to the guards in the room—complete with running on the walls and everything. A couple of seconds pass, and all the guards are down. Daniel tosses another cell-phone/ear-phone set on the table and says he can only hold off the Agents for a little while, and the Guys should run, and not stop
’till they cross the state line. Then he kicks through the door and disappears into the hotel. Gone again.
Well the Guys waste no time in committee, and set about looting weapons from the downed guards. They run into the hallway, and immediately pick up a gaggle of guards on their tail. Cosmo, on the phone again, directs them to the stairwell, while he tries to sabotage the security camera system. Megan’s hopes of going back for her stuff are quickly smashed,
’cause the Guys are not stopping for anything—no discussion. They haul ass downstairs a bit and make for the elevators, as Cosmo remotely calls one up (don’t ask how he does all this). They get there, and they see none other than Christopher Walken pirouetting into their elevator—and the doors close behind him. And Cosmo’s like,
“What the hell was that?” So he tells them to make a beeline for the elevators down the hall a bit (after they recover from the spectacle), and that takes them down to the ground floor. While they’re doing that, Cosmo starts screwing with the system some more, causing it to misreport the elevator’s location and keeping hotel security from taking it over. They come out near Quark’s Bar, and one of the Guys pulls the fire alarm (finally!), sending everyone in the hotel running. They take advantage of the chaos and get back up to the second floor on the next elevator, while Cosmo sets up another misdirection. They end up entering a room above the hotel’s carport, making a hasty bed sheet rope, and climbing down the side of the carport. Now, a crowd has gathered outside the entrance, in all the fire-alarm chaos, and that gives the Guys a chance to slip out. The cops outside are all distracted, watching Kenobi duel Vader in the hotel lobby. The Guys take off (briefly distracted by the duel, themselves), but they’re spotted by the Agents as they make a break for the vehicles, and the car chase begins.
McNurlen, Aaron and Megan make for the rented SUV, and Phil and Ross make for the car—only it’s Phil’s Saturn instead of Esque’s Neon (it’s still missing the passenger-side mirror, though). On their way out of the parking lot, they spot a black Audi (the Agents) and several Vegas PD cruisers in hot pursuit. Aaron’s got his PDA out, with it’s map function, and Ross has a local street map, and they help guide their respective drivers, while Cosmo gives directions over the cell-phones. They tear out of the hotel parking lot and double back around a nearby golf course. The pursuers are close behind and keeping up. They all blow through some intersections and such, and they hit the Strip, where PD has blocked-off traffic, giving them all a clear shot—but it’s not enough to let the Fuzz or the Feds catch up. The Guys make it to the highway and cut through some road construction, but the cops and Agents are still right there with
’em. All of a sudden, their pursuers inexplicably give up the chase, just as the Guys clear the construction zone. So, it looks like the Guys are finally home free—for the time being, at least. A little too easy, though.
So, they’re headed for the state line, trying not to look too suspicious. They do a great deal of reflecting on how their lives have most likely been completely ruined, and who or what is responsible, and deliberating about what to do about it all. They ended up leaving all their stuff behind at the hotel, including a nice laptop of Aaron’s, and Megan’s only surviving photos of her real parents. They dial around the radio, but can’t find any report of their recent unpleasantness, and chalk it all up to a cover-up. Ross is thoroughly unconvinced that the Agents have anything at all to do with the US Government, and there is much discussion of calling or turning in to the authorities. Aaron calls the JAG office at Tinker, and they say they haven’t been informed of any sort of tomfoolery. Oddly, this doesn’t make anyone feel any better—it just makes them more paranoid.
Eventually, they ditch the rented SUV at some motel along the way, and proceed to the nearest Army base—Ft. Huachuca, in Arizona. It’s just before COB, and Aaron and Ross march right in to talk to JAG, while the others hole up at a local motel and wait for their report (they keep in contact by cell-phone). Once there, the JAG officer listens to their story, and tells them that he hasn’t been informed of any of this himself, and can’t really do anything at the moment, so they should report back to their regular duty station’s JAG office ASAP. The two return, and the group proceeds back toward OKC (Ross is on a 30-day leave after OCS, and was already planning to stay with the Guys this week). They’re all at a complete loss as to what to do. The complete lack of reporting of what has transpired is making everyone a little nervous—okay, a lot nervous. In the process, Megan is basically blamed for everything that’s happened—not out loud, mind you—and some think to themselves about ditching her somewhere along the way. She did admit that weird stuff like this always happens around her, and she apologized for dragging everyone else into this. But she would go along with them to OKC (providing she isn’t kicked to the curb before she gets there), and maybe start her life over there.
And so, they journey on to OKC, all five packed into Phil’s Saturn,
grumbling the whole way about their misfortune. A great deal of strangeness
follows. Things like seeing a 60ish Elvis working a fast-food drive-through,
and a “sasquatch” on the side of the road, and a porno being filmed in the back of a moving SUV. Other weird things happen too, like they accidentally get extra food at fast-food places, and gas stations unknowingly giving change in $10’s instead of $1’s, and stuff like that. At one point, around 0-dark-30 on Sunday morning, the car is apparently struck by lightning and comes to a dead stop, but starts back up like nothing had happened. Of course, everyone immediately identifies the event as a standard
“alien abduction scenario,” which is later substantiated by the discovery that they were missing about 24 hours.
Later in the trip, they’re even narrowly missed overhead by a DC-9 that crashes on the highway in front of them—so they all stop and get out, to help. The plane is split in half, and the fuel spill is about to catch fire so they don’t have much time. There’s several cars mixed up in it all, too. Phil ends up taking charge of the onlookers, and everyone else goes inside to pull people out. One guy trapped inside, who they couldn’t pry out of his seat, gave up and told everyone to leave him—but Ross whips out the crash axe and chops off his leg with a single mighty stroke (without the guy’s consultation, mind you), and saves his life (but not his leg—he’ll probably be sued). They manage to get all the people out (that they know of), just before the plane explodes. Of course, they all bolt as news and emergency crews start showing up.
So, on Monday afternoon, everybody gets back to OKC, exhausted but without further incident. Now they’re all preparing for the worst, so they plan to go to some pawn shops and such and pick up some weaponry (they’ve got plenty of money, at least). As they’re running around, they end up at Academy Sports on Walker and I-240, and they’re on their way out of the store when some guy passes in front of them and drops something—a ring. Megan picks it up and yells after the guy that he’s dropped his ring. So, the dude turns around, looking like he’s seen a ghost or something, and gets blindsided by one car, which knocks him into another car going the other way—turns out he’s quite deceased, after all that. An ambulance is called, and everyone goes on their way. That was messed up, but what can they do, right?
So, after that, everyone goes out to the outdoor gun range to get in some target practice and sight in the new weapons. During the course of the day, it is discovered that Megan hasn’t yet seen the special edition of Lord of the Rings, so she talks everyone into watching it with her. They could all use a break anyway.
So, later that afternoon, everyone meets back at the Clubhouse. During all the Vegas stuff, Esque was in Tulsa for the weekend, and this being Monday, he’s been at work all day. Esque gets back, as normal (all this running around happens while he’s at work), and after a little storytelling by everyone else, he says that he too has had a similar
“lightning strike” incident while driving back from Tulsa last night. That’s pretty weird, but once again, what can they do? So they start watching the movie, right?—no big deal. It’s just a movie. Well, a little bit into the movie people start noticing that Megan still has that dead dude’s ring—and then they notice she’s wearing it, and she’s starting to act a little
weird. Okay, not weird—scary. Especially according to Esque, who says he saw her eyes go all
“evil.” For whatever reason, everyone pretty much figures the ring is somehow responsible—I mean, with all the other
weird crap that’s happened so far, how hard is that to believe, really? Eventually everyone but Phil
“casually” gets up (one at a time, all subtle-like) to go quietly discuss what to do about it. But, Megan gets up too, and corners Esque in the kitchen, just when everyone has their back turned. From everyone else’s perspective, all they know is they hear Esque scream, and a
“thud” as he hits the counter, and then the floor.
At that, everybody comes running over and sees Megan with a pair of scissors about to make an Esque-kabob. Everyone jumps her and starts trying to wrestle the scissors from Megan’s hand, but she’s apparently really strong. She tosses McNurlen around like a rag-doll. The whole time, she’s cursing at them in some kind of growly
“demon” voice. The tussle ends with Aaron, Phil and McNurlen finally holding her down and prying the ring off her finger, while Ross has his newly-purchased AR-15 pointed at her. Esque had apparently passed out, and he wakes up after a minute or two. No one else is injured but McNurlen, who bruised his back a little when he got thrown against the wall. Not too bad, given the circumstances. They waste no time, and take a hammer to the ring (there was some discussion about making a fire and burning it, but someone took charge and grabbed the hammer), and some kind of
“evil spirit” (for lack of a better description) is released. Megan is totally shaken, and she says she doesn’t want to stay here and subject anyone to her
“weird karma” anymore. Pretty much everyone strongly agrees without discussion (in fact, Ross never even puts the gun down!). But, in the end, Phil decides to at least drive her to a nearby hotel.
With all that wackiness out of the way, the next day is a normal work day for Esque and Phil; Aaron
“works” his normal schedule, as well. McNurlen has the rest of the week off (his wife is still out of town, with her mother), and Ross is still on leave, staying at the Clubhouse. Everyone’s packing heat, except Esque, who wasn’t available to participate in the gun-buying spree the day before. Aaron, Ross and McNurlen each get a phone call from Esque (from Hebco) asking them to come to Hebco ASAP to discuss
“new developments,” or somesuch. So, they all go, armed and expecting trouble.
They all get there about the same time, and Esque gets paged to meet visitors at the front office (Phil is in a meeting at the time, and remains there). Come to find out, Esque’s surprised to see them, and says that he didn’t make the call. Well, they don’t have much time to stand there and scratch their collective heads before a mean-looking black van pulls up in the parking lot behind them, and out come several very large, determined-looking and heavily-armed men (in fact, armed with very similar weaponry to the Guys’), with a hint of laser-light in their eyes—very Terminator-like. Needing no further cueing, the Guys take off downstairs, and they can hear their new buddies coming through the glass and spraying hot death all over the entryway. They’re pretty sure this isn’t going to end well. As shots are fired, everyone in the building starts panicking, screaming and running and all that—not that it does them any good. The Terminators are coming in from every entrance—back, front and side. And they’re mowing down anything that moves—and anything that doesn’t move—except the Guys.
Esque, Ross and McNurlen first try to run out the back door, then turn toward the middle bay as some Terminators break through their would-be escape route. Esque dives into a cubicle to make a grab for Kelly’s .357 in her purse, while Ross and McNurlen
are stopped at the middle bay exit and “tasered”—these thin tentacle-thingies (kinda like Scorpion in Mortal Kombat) come out of the guys’ palm and attack like a taser. The Guys get off some ineffecual shots before going down, chunking off some bits of pseudo-flesh and showing the metal endoskeleton underneath. Esque gets off a .357 hit before getting zapped himself.
Phil comes out of the meeting when the shooting starts and goes diving for the gun in his backpack at his desk. Aaron ran through the middle bay, spraying a few shots at the intruders as he ran by, and met up with Phil in the lower bay. About that time they see Terminators coming through the lower bay exit, so they turn toward the conference room. Aaron jump-kicks through the conference room window, and they both pile out, and are met by more Terminators outside. They try to evade, Aaron running away toward the houses behind the building, and Phil running for the black van parked nearby. Aaron is dropped by a sniper-shot to the hip, and subsequently tasered into submission. Phil is surprised by the van’s driver, and empties his gun into the door, but is zapped from behind. They didn’t have a chance.
The Terminators collect the Guys, and hit them with some kind of hypo-gun thing (presumably with a sedative of some kind), and drag them into the middle bay in a pile. As the paralysis is setting in, they can see the carnage—everyone in the building is messily dead. Then the Terminators drag in some new bodies—bodies that look exactly like the Guys—already dead or something—clones, maybe? The Terminators place pistols in each of their hands and fire them at their temples. The frame-up attempt, here, is obvious. The Guys’ vision fades to black as they’re being zipped up in body-bags…
They all have flashes of conscious memory, kinda like Wolverine’s in the X-Men movies. They remember someone mentioning Mark Hermanns.
They wake up in total sensory deprivation, but their senses shortly fade in, and they can see where they are. It’s a small room, and dark, except for some emergency lights. They’re strapped down and can’t move much, but the restraints snap open all of a sudden, and they hear this mechanical whirring sound behind their heads, and feel a sensation kinda like someone pulling an
ice pick out of the base of their skulls while under heavy anesthetic. They’re free—a little wobbly, but free. It doesn’t take them long to start noticing that things are different, though. They see some kind of computer text floating a foot or two in front of their eyes—it scrolls by and disappears. They notice that they’re wearing some kind of weird suit—looks a lot like the still suits from Ridley Scott’s Dune movie. They’re also in much better physical shape—maybe even perfect (except Esque, who’s still a little overweight, but much less so). McNurlen even has a full head of hair. All in all, they feel years younger. On the really weird side, Aaron’s irises are glowing pale-purple, like Riddick in Pitch Black (he can see just fine in the darkness, apparently—but he doesn’t tell anyone. He also saw a lot more
“text” than anyone else). The sleeves on Ross’s suit are shorter than the others, and his arms and feet itch.
They stumble through the only open door. It looks like some kind of control room that’s been hit by an earthquake or something—a complete mess, and lit only by emergency lights. There are injured
“workers” all over, and one guy in a lab coat calls out to the Guys, ordering them to help tend the wounded. They have no idea who this guy is, ordering them around and all, but they go along anyway—he looks like he’s in charge. After some paramedic work, he calls the Guys over to him. According to him, there has been some kind of accident here at
“the base,” that’s knocked out power and generally wrecked everything. He identifies himself as Dr. Blaire, and sends them on a mission to find some dude named Dr. Small in Zeta Sector, to bring him back here to do some emergency surgery on a couple of the critically wounded types. He offers whatever information he can give in return for their cooperation. Now, the Guys automatically don’t like this guy—or trust him. But, they keep playing along, figuring they’ll get this all sorted out along the way.
So they dig around a little, and come up with some security-guard gear and a couple of functional pistols (some type they’ve never seen before—kinda look like Glocks, but with caseless rounds, and P-rails, and integral lasers, and such), and then they move out. They have a couple of hand-held radios to keep in contact with Dr. Blaire, who’s gonna be talking them through the complex to Zeta.
They come up on the exit , but the door is warped and stuck in place. Esque and McNurlen start working to pry it open. Ross is messing around and accidentally shoots some kind of
“webbing” out of his forearm and tags Phil in the facemask of his helmet. So now, they’re figuring they’ve been
“modified” more than was initially obvious. So, like good gamers, everybody starts thinking about what sort of super-powers they might have. The door comes loose, and Phil has this deja-vu sense that the ceiling will collapse—and then it does. Phil yells for everyone to bail, and they do, except for Esque, who gets buried under the collapse. The Guys dig him out real quick, and find him without a scratch, even though he’d been hit by some very sharp, very heavy chunks of concrete. They move on, almost forgetting how they got here in all the excitement.
On the other side of the door, they’re supposed to go across the lobby to
the elevators, but the lobby area has caved in through several floors. They
look around for a way to cross, and see a pipe and an I-beam that go all the
way across, a short climb up. Aaron’s heading for the pipe, climbing
easily, and crosses hand-over-hand to the other side. Ross goes next,
and discovers he can wall-crawl like Spiderman (he even started referring to
himself as “Paterman”). So he starts goofing around, testing himself by hanging upside down from the pipe, and crawling all over the place—he’s like a kid in a candy store. Esque goes next, and slips and falls, but Phil catches him—telekinetically. McNurlen pulls him back over to the ledge, and he tries again. After a few more similarly-unsuccessful attempts, the rest of the group manages to get up to the I-beam, and start crossing. Midway across, Phil gets that deja-vu thing again, just before he ducks something flying at his head. It hits Esque instead, knocking him off the I-beam, and he falls—all the way down. The rest have all got flashlights out frantically looking for him, and they see him down there at the bottom of the rubble. He’s apparently uninjured, although he definitely felt the impact—not in a happy way, either. Aaron, in the process of trying to discover what it was that attacked him, discovers he can
“zoom in” is vision. Ross shoots Esque a web and hauls him back up, then helps the others cross over.
On the other side, they find the elevator is not functional—another victim of the power outage, no doubt—so they break in and use the maintenance ladder to ascend to Level 1. When he’s prying at the doors, Esque figures out that he can
“pump up” his strength, at the cost of a little fatigue. Mid-climb, an aftershock hits and shakes everything up. Phil stops himself from falling by levitating.
Finally, they reach Level 1. They break out of the elevator shaft, and make their way down the hall a bit. They see a security guard fighting off a couple of ill-tempered men in lab-coats, that on closer examination, turn out to be some kind of
“zombie.” McNurlen, for want of a weapon of some kind, discovers (the hard way, mind you) that he has implanted Wolverine-type claws—and they hurt coming out. To make a long story short, the Guys make quick work of the zombies with some well-placed pistol shots, some creative web-work, and some crazed claw-stabbing. As the zombies die, the body splits apart and some kind of pinkish bug-man thing crawls out, then it spasms and dies.
With that over with, they continue toward Zeta Access, along with their new buddy Wyatt Black (the security guard they rescued), fighting off zombies and experimenting with their
“powers.” Ross discovers he can “jump good.” Aaron figures out how to activate some sort of video playback, a holoprojector, and some other stuff, but he keeps this all secret from the rest of the group. Phil determines that his abilities aren’t as useful when it’s not an emergency. On the way, Wyatt lets it out that they’re at Area 51, around two years after
“Vegas” happened. He tells them about how he is working the weekend to save up some leave so he can get married (of course, everyone knew this meant he would die a horrible death soon). He’s heard, second-hand, about the suits the Guys are wearing, referring to them as FLA/SH suits, which as the name suggests, heal suit punctures. About the time they reach Zeta Access, Phil discovers he can read minds if he tries, but he tries once a little too hard, and slumps over, unconscious, with a slight nosebleed.
The Guys try to wake up Phil, but he’s not responding to anything. They give up, and go back to a nearby med-station to fetch a stretcher for him, and strap him in, so they can keep moving. Zeta Access turns out to be closed, and with the power outage, it can’t be opened. McNurlen, getting accustomed to the pain, uses his claws to test the door, and it turns out to be very thick steel. That’s a no-go. They figure they’ll have to somehow go around, and Wyatt suggests they try the control room.
Esque pries the control room doors open, using his newfound strength, to have some creature fly at his head. It looks like some kind of huge spider-thing—definitely insectoid, with a
“body” about the size of a softball. Turns out, the control room is full of those things, with some kind of webbing all over the place—combined with the earthquake damage, the control room’s going to be no help. According to Wyatt, they’ll have to go down to the Level 3 Zeta Access, which means they’ll have to go through the control room. The webbing is extremely sticky, and it’s slow going, with people getting stuck either from tripping over, or getting knocked down by the Hoppers—Esque ends up doing a nose-dive into the mess. They kill several Hoppers in the process, which have glowing green blood, like the Predator.
On the far side of the room, they find a less-than-cordial scientist webbed in, whom they help rescue. After they make it out of the control room, they determine the scientist’s name to be Dr. James Wiener, and he has a manner reminiscent of the Dr. Cox character from Scrubs. Some in the group don’t care for his attitude, but others find him humorous. It turns out he hates Dr. Blaire (he referred to Dr. Blaire as
“Satan”), and thinks he can’t be trusted.
On the way to the staircase that will take them down to Level 3, Wyatt wants to stop by the Eta Sector Security station and pick up some weapons, and find out if anyone else is alive (he hasn’t heard from any of his security comrades since the accident). Predictably, there’s no argument against getting armed-up from the Guys, so they head that way. They get there, and Wyatt remarks about the doors being open just before he jogs ahead to see why. A hail of automatic gunfire puts an end to that rather quickly, and Wyatt Black is (as predicted) no more.
It’s a sentry gun—apparently a common security feature at this facility, as they would later determine. Ross webs Wyatt’s body, and drags it back. They determine he is, in fact, dead as the proverbial doornail, and being good gamers, immediately loot the body of its weapons and armor. But they still want to get inside. They deliberate for a moment, and Ross comes up with a plan. Then they execute it; they swing-toss Wyatt’s body to the far side of the entryway, causing the automatic sentry gun to train and fire on it, then Ross pops around the corner and webs the gun in place firing off to the side, and Esque and McNurlen charge forward and destroy the gun. The plan goes off without a hitch, and they find another security guard inside, just coming to from unconsciousness. His name is Ben Dunn, and he apparently has suffered from a mild concussion as a result of earthquake damage (he keeps calling Aaron,
“Bob”). He is a little shocked to see the bodies of his coworkers lying about, having not survived the gun. The station is a mess, with rubble everywhere. The Guys make it back to the arms-room, but with the power outage (surprise, surprise), the door won’t open on its own. They were thinking about cutting through, when lasers jump out of Esque’s eyes and fry the keypad. Esque then uses his newfound ability to cut through the door, and they set about looting what they could find. They come out with some P90-type rifles, a shotgun or two, some kind of hand-held sensor pack, and lotsa ammo, with web-gear and packs to hold the stuff. Once properly attired, they grab Phil’s stretcher and get back to business.
They get to the stairwell, break through the door, and begin descending. Partway down, another aftershock hits, and a chunk of the stairwell above them crashes through the stair in front of them, putting a nasty hole all the way down. Ross webs down to recon the landing they were headed for, and after determining it was clear, does some creative web-work, and lowers everyone down.
Once on Level 3, they pass through what the employees refer to as the HAZMAT storage area. It’s built like a bunker, with barrels here and there, on shelves and palettes. Some barrels have been knocked over by the earthquake. They round a corner and come across a spill of some kind of glowing green liquid. Esque starts getting nauseous as they approach, and when they get up to it, is nearly incapacitated by nausea. They move some barrels off their palettes and make a palette-bridge across the mess, helping Esque and carrying Phil across.
So they continue through the HAZMAT area and round a corner into a two-level area, when they spot the Agents walking by on the upper level. It looked like they just passed through, without even noticing the group, so they wait a second or two and continue.
Down the hall at an intersection, they notice a creature they haven’t seen before. It’s some sort of insectoid, about the size of a medium-sized dog, with eyes set wide apart on stalks extending to the side at the front of its head, and some kind of
“crest” on the back of its head. It eyes the group (if you can say that), and then another joins it. They start
“hacking,” like a cat with a hairball, and the group doesn’t wait to find out what was next. They open up on the creatures, as they shoot
“fireballs” out of their mouths. The Guys make short work of them with the rifles, as Dr. Wiener and Dunn guard the rear and protect the still-unconscious Phil. The Guys spread out through the hallways and encounter a few more, dispatching them quickly. These Hammerheads have the same glowing green blood as the hoppers, and they occasionally spout fire when struck in the neck.
Further down, they come to a “room” (little more than a brief widening of the hallway). McNurlen has been trying to figure out the sensor pack, and picks up movement in the direction of the room, and Aaron zooms in to confirm—there’s a
“nest” of the buggers ahead. The group quietly takes up positions where they are, and wait for a good shot. Then they open up, and the entire nest swarms out after them. Half of the Hammerheads fall before they even reach the Guys, but the other half end up mixing it up. Parts fly. Guns bark autofire. Some of the creatures shoot jets of fire out of their mouths, others lob some fireballs. Some get in close and go to tooth and claw, as it were. At one point, Ross jumps up and sticks to the wall, firing one-handed into a group of
’em—he’s figured out by now that he can “pump up” his reflexes, making him an insanely good shot, when necessary. Esque takes a few shots with his eye-beams, but they don’t appear to do much damage to the bugs—he figures it’s probably their armor. When it’s all over, there’s green blood and bug body parts everywhere. The FLA/SH armor stopped all the fire and claws the Guys didn’t dodge, and no one is injured even slightly. Ben accidentally discovers that these round fish-egg-looking organs that spilled out of the creatures when they were cut open catch fire when they’re broken, as he inadvertently steps on one. Ahead, in the nest, there are eggs all over, so they use the fire-organs to burn out the nest. As they move out, Phil starts to stir a bit.
They pass through the nest area, and another Hammerhead pops out down the hall. Just then, some guy comes running with some kind of sprayer, spraying the creature. It runs away. They guy approaches, giving his name as Rusty Spotts, a
“maintenance engineer.” He tried the industrial bug-spray because he didn’t have any weapons at the time, and it happened to work—they apparently hate the stuff.
Well, after all that mess, all the group agrees that more guns would probably be a good idea, and it happened that there was a Security Checkpoint between HAZMAT and the Warehousing areas, according to the employees. So, off they go. Phil finally wakes up, and has to be cut out of the stretcher, since Ross had to web him up earlier. He doesn’t remember anything since he went down. They throw all the spare guns and ammo on the stretcher and continue to carry it. On the way, Phil experiments a bit with his
“Jedi Mind Trick.”
The get to the checkpoint, and it’s a sort of chin-link fence arrangement, with a gate system and a check-in window and such, and there’s an arms locker to the back of the security area. Dunn goes to let them in, but with the power outage, the keycard doesn’t work. So, once again, they have to cut through. Then they get to the arms locker and cut through again (this time Esque
burns through the lock mechanism with his heat-vision). It looks like it’s
already been raided, and there’s not much left. But, there is a SAW, with one box of ammo, which Ross immediately snatches. Phil finds a collimating sight, and puts it on his rifle. They load up on ammo, and grab some spare pistols and such. As they’re getting ready to continue on to Zeta Access, they notice a creature on the ceiling, just before it pounces on Dunn. It’s some kind of black bug-man thing. Ross gets the jump, and immediately wastes it with his new toy. Aaron is so shaken by the sight, he can’t stand to even look at it—maybe, to the point of a mild phobia. In any case, Dunn is saved from possible nasty death, and the group keeps moving.
As they continue through the Warehousing area, they hear sounds of a distant firefight. As they approach, Aaron detects in the distance many of the bug-men (which cause him some mental discomfort to observe) attacking a group of employees, holed up behind a fenced area between shelving units. The group immediately starts moving in, Dr. Wiener and Rusty taking up the stretcher, and the rear. Ross webs up and advances on the ceiling, and drops down onto some shelves to get in position to lay down fire with the SAW. Phil makes for a ladder, and ascends to the catwalks. The others advance forward on the ground, McNurlen still trying to use the sensor pack, to less than full effect (he eventually hands it off to Dunn, who makes better use of it, calling out targets). The employees manage to hold off the bug-man advance for some time, as the Guys mow them down like pros. McNurlen and Esque mix it up hand-to-hand (or claw to claw?), McNurlen with his claws and Esque with his billy club and pumped-up strength. The bugs are coming from everywhere, crawling on the ceiling, on the shelves and on the ground. One or two go for Dr. Wiener and Rusty, and Esque drops back to the rescue. By the time it was over, all the bug-men were dead, with only a couple of losses from the employees. None of the Guys or their hangers-on are injured.
After the dust settles, the new bunch gathers themselves, and collects the wounded and such, and prepares to move out with the Guys, heading for Zeta Sector. There’re eight employee survivors, plus several incapacitated—a Dr. Hamilton takes charge of the survivors, and determines they need to head for the surface, with the Guys pulling security (they’re headed that direction anyway, so they don’t make a fuss). On the way, they run into this runaway forklift. There’s a scientist stuck at the top of it, with a bunch of bug-men trying to get to him. So the Guys rescue him. His says his name is Dr. Bashir, and he’s a cybernetics technician—he recognizes Phil from having worked on him, and tells him about psi-amps. Phil is certainly interested in
“obtaining” one, so Dr. Bashir leads the group over to a nearby high-security storage area, where some amps are stored, and fetches him one (he actually makes Phil sign for it), plus the operator’s manual. It’s the same sort of silver sphere device that the Agents had used on Aaron back at Vegas.
So the whole entourage starts making their way to Zeta Access and find it shut down, just like at Level 1. With the power outage, nothing short of a miracle (or a lot of explosives) can open these things. The control room is no help, but indicators are showing there is an access breach in the cargo loading area. The maintenance guys know the area, and lead the way. About this time, Dr. Blaire calls in on the radio, and says he’s starting to move out from where he’s been, and he wants the survivors to wait there at Zeta Access for him—“safety in numbers” and all that—while the Guys continue on their mission to bring back Dr. Small. The two surviving maintenance guys, Rusty Spotts and John Leake, volunteer to go with the Guys, as do Ben Dunn and another security guard they picked up, Jane Won. Dr. Hamilton takes charge of the remaining staff and returns to Zeta Access, as ordered.
They have to go through a maintenance back-area to get to the cargo loading point, and the maintenance guys take the lead. The lighting up to this point has been intermittent at best, with the power outage and all, but when they get to the maintenance area, the lighting is even worse. There are large pipes coming from levels down, going up to God-knows-where, and there are steam vents venting here and there—pretty nasty going. The path through is pretty much catwalks and such all the way. Leake pulls out an acetylene torch and lights it. So they start in, and Dunn takes point—but he gets a few paces in and gets grabbed on both sides by some kind of tentacle-things that shoot out of nowhere, and subsequently is ripped in half by them. Even Aaron, who can see in total darkness, can’t make out where they came from. After much deliberation as to how to proceed, Phil uses his telekinesis to float Leake’s torch down the way a bit, which gets snatched. Then Esque goes out, with a webbing tether of Ross’s making. He gets nabbed by the neck, yanked off the catwalk, and banged around on pipes and such. Finally he gets reeled in until he meets his attacker. He fires his rifle at it, as do the others nearby, who are tracking him courtesy of a telekinetically-wielded flashlight. The thing is splattered, and lets go of Esque, who they pull back in to the catwalk. It was insectoid-looking, kinda like a giant grub or something, about the size of a big dog, and it had some kind of frog-tongue that it grabbed things with. It was really well
camouflaged, too—maybe chameleon-skinned. It had the same glowing blood as the other creatures, and even dead, it was still stuck to the wall where it was hiding. Aaron experiments with different vision modes, trying to come up with one that picks up the creatures a little better, and discovers that they are slightly more electro-active than humans. So, together with Aaron’s direction and Phil’s floating flashlight, the Guys systematically clear the area of danger, and everyone passes through without further incident.
Now, on the other side of the maintenance area is the cargo transfer point, and the group finds itself on a platform looking at a chasm, and a string of large cable-suspended crates that extends into the darkness ahead. According to the maintenance guys, there’s an observation platform down the way a bit, and Aaron confirms. Ross takes off, webslinging his way to the platform after setting up a web-line over to the platform for people to climb on. Not wanting to wait, though, the others start jumping crates. Phil gets across, discovering he can
“force-jump” the whole distance. McNurlen makes it to the end, and then catches the platform railing with his forehead on the last jump—Phil catches him telekinetically before he finds out how much falling damage he can take, and places him on the platform. Esque follows just behind McNurlen, but takes a nose dive off the third crate, falling four stories to the floor below—and gets up with little more than a bruise on his mid-back. Ross drops him a web and hauls him back up. Meanwhile, Aaron starts scooting down Ross’s web-line, hand and foot. The maintenance guys start jumping crates, and both nearly take a tumble if not for help from the Guys. Jane Won decides to follow Aaron on the web-line. Finally, everyone is across, but they had to leave the stretcher (and spare ammo) behind.
Leaving the platform area, the group finds itself in a hall opening into the Zeta Access Tunnel, a tunnel big enough to drive a couple of semis through. And it’s refreshingly well-lit. Then they find out why as Ross, on point, sticks his head around the corner and discovers a gaggle of new creatures—dwarf-sized bug-men, with a single
“eye” and and extra pair of arms—and it looks like they’ve been spotted. The Guys get in position in the hallway, ready for a firefight. Then they get to it, using the hallway as cover. They are surprised to see the bug-men displaying use of tactics, using what little cover was available by crawling up the walls, and attempting to flank from the ceiling. They ineffectually fire green electrical bolts at the Guys, from
“guns” attached to their backs by some sort of cable. In spite of their relative intelligence, they fall quickly to Ross’s SAW, Won’s .357, and the others’ rifles, and none escape the slaughter. The group examines the carnage after it’s over, and determine that not only are these Cyclops somehow cybernetically modified, but they’re using some sort of bio-tech, including some kind of flare-bugs that are lighting the area. Some of the Guys grab some of the
“utility bug packs” from the fallen Cyclops, to experiment with later. The bugs had somehow been melting through the access door on the Zeta end of the tunnel, and the group exits to Zeta.
Ross is heavily fatigued, from pumping up his reflexes, and Esque from his strength, and the group decides to rest for a few minutes before continuing. After a little rest, as they press on, they head for the nearest access to the Level 1 office complex, a wide winding stairway. They can hear ahead the occasional bark of automatic gunfire, that Won identifies as sentry guns. They also make out a female scream from high up the staircase. Aaron uses his parabolic cyber-ear implant (that he discovered earlier) to pinpoint the location of the screaming. Then Won runs forward to shut the guns down, but comes back immediately after discovering that his personal IFF transponder isn’t working (which would’ve prevented the guns from targeting him). On top of all that, a quick recon showed that the blind spots in the guns’ coverage are filled with Hoppers (presumably, what the guns have been shooting at). There is much deliberation as to how to proceed, but
ultimately, they move out with Phil telekinetically pushing a pair of steel-reinforced doors (pillaged from nearby) forming a
“plow”, up the stairs and through the Hoppers to block the gunfire, and then the others quickly move up behind the cover to disable the sentry guns. They repeat this process all the way up several stories.
At the top, they spot a woman hanging from the railing, and pull her up. It takes a few seconds—then it dawns on the Guys what’s strange about this woman—she looks just like a female version of Mark! After the initial shock wears off, she introduces herself as Marcia, AKA Markette, one of over a hundred of modified
“Mark” clones, of whom the Mark Hermanns they knew before was the first. Markette is a records clerk here on Zeta 1, and she offers to take them to Dr. Small’s office. The Guys are very interested in seeing their records here, and she offers to lead them there as well.
The group follows Markette into the office complex. They are met by a hit-and-run attack by one of the Cyclops. The thing ends up hitting Rusty square in the chest, and he goes down. After they get rid of it, they check out Rusty and find he’s gone into cardiac arrest. Esque and Phil work together doing CPR on him, and get him back in action—a little worse for wear, but alive. McNurlen and Esque scout forward, while the others hold back and try to rest up some more. They run into some more Cyclops, and dispatch them. The group encounters a zombie in front of a broken vending machine, whose skin splits open and falls off, revealing one of the black bug-men (like in the Warehouse area), which is also quickly destroyed. Having been here for nearly four hours now, Ross is starving, while the others are starting to get hungry, so they raid the vending machines. They continue through the office complex, fighting off more zombies and bug-men.
They arrive at Dr. Small’s office and break in. Nobody’s home. A quick search of the office finds a phone-message note indicating that Dr. Small had received a call from Harry Baldwin in Records, asking him to come by the Records Office and pick up something. Markette says she works with Harry at Records. The Guys decide to dig around for clues as to Dr. Small’s identity, and discover some photos, one of which is a Special Forces photo, commonly featuring a large black man (presumably, Dr. Small). They also find a great number of books on topics related to medicine and robotics, leading them to believe he’s in cybernetics research. So they head out, in the direction of Records.
Markette takes them through the back way to Records. They find it completely without lights, and flooded with an inch or so of water. They barely get inside before a voice, that Markette identifies as Harry’s, calls out from the back of the room, telling them to stay back because there are
“things” in the ceiling. Aaron immediately spots one, hidden in the high ceiling just around some missing ceiling tiles—it’s one of those
Grabbers...so he shoots it. Then everyone starts moving in slowly, McNurlen and Esque heading toward Harry. Phil’s experimenting with his psi-abilities, homes in on his
“records,” and so he’s moving that direction. It doesn’t take long before Esque and Won are strangled by the tongue-things and being hauled up to the ceiling. The Guys start shooting, best as they can. Phil, having already basically located his files, lets off the search and telekinetically grabs one of the
“flare-bugs” from Esque’s belt and smashes it into the ceiling above him, which almost completely lights the room. With the room properly lit, the rest lay into the bugs and kill the lot of
’em. Esque comes out of it with a little bruising around the neck; Won’s neck has sustained some tooth-related lacerations, as the creature was starting to chew on his head, but he’s otherwise okay. They get Harry out, quickly grab their files with some direction from Markette and Harry, and get out of the area.
Ross and Esque have gotta rest, and everyone else is starting to wear out a little, so they all take a break once they get a reasonable distance away. The Guys are disgusted to discover that Markette and Harry are apparently
“seeing each other”—not that anything’s wrong with that on its own, just that—it’s Mark—but it’s not. Anyway, Harry recounts that just before the accident, Dr. Small had come by the office and said he had business in Hydroponics, so he’s probably there now.
Harry and Markette lead the group to the Level 1 Hydroponics Observation Deck, and they’ll have to descend to reach the lab area. Aaron looks through the window, the area being completely dark, and relays that the area is huge—at least a football field out to the structure in the middle of the room, and it’s full of jungle-type vegetation. But there’s a break in the passageway just before the reach the stairs down. Ross throws up a web-bridge, and everyone crosses. Then they descend to Level 5.
As they reach the bottom, they hear a scuffle not too far away, and find a large black man fighting off a creature they haven’t seen before, resembling the bugs from Starship Troopers, only about the size of a tiger. He has no weapon but a length of pipe, but he’s holding his own. The Guys quickly step up and end the threat. They barely have time for introductions before the whole place comes alive, as the power finally comes on—lights, machinery, and sprinklers. There were some radio reports earlier that some technicians have been trying to get the reactors online, and they must’ve succeeded. But there won’t be any celebration just yet, as the lights reveal many nests of these bugs, all over the place. The group tries to sneak quietly away toward the nearest exit, but Esque trips up a bit—but the bugs don’t react—maybe they didn’t see him. However, when the Guys turn back around, one of the things jumps off a gantry overhead and lands in front of them (apparently they have wings). The gantry, broken from earthquake damage and the creature’s weight, falls down and smashes the creature in front of them. That does get the attention of the other bugs in the area, and a butt-load of
’em come running. That’s all the inspiration the Guys needed, and the group starts running like scared bitches—because they are scared bitches. Ross hangs back with the SAW and starts laying down suppressing fire. Esque trips and falls, and McNurlen turns to cover him as he gets up, while Ross web-zips back to their position. Phil blurs forward, all the way to the exit, and covers the group from there. They kill many bugs as they progress toward the exit, but these things are fast and determined. Most of the way to the door, a bug manages to break through their defenses, and Leake is cut in half. At one point, Phil has to force-jump away from a bug that surprises him. In a matter of about thirty-to-forty seconds, the group reaches the exit and disables the door behind them.
They have got to rest. Other that the loss of Leake, everyone is unharmed. Ross is down to one round left in the SAW. While they’re resting, they talk to Dr. Small, telling him why they came. His response is a little unexpected, saying he doesn’t understand why Dr. Blaire would ask for him for emergency surgery since there are many more qualified doctors—he pauses, and a look of disappointment crosses his face as he obviously begins to understand the truth. He doesn’t say anything, though. He borrows a radio and talks to Dr. Blaire for a minute, who says they are waiting for clearance so they can open up Zeta Access, now that the power’s back on. Not one to let secrets lie, Phil uses his telepathy to skim Dr. Small’s thoughts, and discovers that he owed Dr. Blaire a favor due to his lying on Dr. Small’s behalf when he
“saw something he shouldn’t have,” and that Dr. Blaire is planning to escape the Company, which requires Dr. Small’s assistance to disable his PDT so he can’t be tracked down. Phil confronts him with the info, and he confesses to it. Dr. Small’s appears to be an honorable guy, and he’ll make good on his debt, even if it means his career. He says he need to get to the Cybernetics labs to fetch some equipment. It so happens that Dr. Small worked on Aaron’s cybernetics project, and he tells Aaron everything he knows about his modifications and how to access them (up to this point, the rest of the group still did not know all that he could do).
So, after having rested a bit, everyone gears up and heads for Cybernetics. They get there after a few minutes, and Ross goes limp and collapses, not unlike Phil did earlier. Nothing they try can wake him, so they continue. Dr. Small swipes his keycard, uses the retina scanner, and the door opens. Then there’s a sort of Mexican standoff, as they all see a group of bug-men (of a variety they haven’t yet seen, slightly larger than the one-eyed types) who appear to have been harassing a lab-chimp on top of a computer cabinet. The two sides stare at each other for a few long seconds, and the fighting begins. The bugs use fire-teams, bounding under cover fire to a large hole in the ceiling on the other side of the room, crawling along the wall and ceiling. One of them grabs the monkey and runs with it like a football. They have these
“machine guns” on their shoulders, that fire explosive rounds, and they spray the door area. Esque, McNurlen and Dr. Small enter the room and seek cover, while the others use the cover of the doorway and fire into the room. Ross comes to after a second or two, and starts webbing up the bugs’ escape hole. Meanwhile, bugs are falling left and right, and bits of shrapnel and loose machine parts are flying everywhere. McNurlen and Esque go in and mix it up hand-to-hand with
’em, and find them to be quite tough and agile. Someone shoots the one carrying the monkey, who drops it, and the monkey hides under an operating table. The remaining bugs turn their guns toward the webbed-in hole and blow it open. Only a couple make it out.
So, now that the fight’s over, Dr. Small starts digging around the mess for the tools he came for, while everyone else examines their handiwork. These bug-men have some new utility-bug packs they haven’t seen yet, but they have no idea what they’re for. Esque’s been experimenting with some of the previous utility-bugs, and discovers they regenerate injury. Dr. Small digs up a couple of smart-gunsights too, and gives them to the Guys.
All this time, Phil’s trying to figure out what’s up with the monkey. Just for giggles, he uses telepathy to make mental contact with it—and it turns out it’s actually a female scientist who was transformed into a chimp during the
“accident.” Phil establishes mental communication, and she tells him her name is Dr. Keyes, and she needs to get to the Cloning Facility, to be restored to her normal body. Dr. Small knows Dr. Keyes, and agrees to oversee the procedure. He calls Dr. Blaire on the radio, who says they’ve finally gotten clearance and they’re headed that direction, so they’ll all meet up at Cloning and figure out where to go from there.
Dr. Small says this process is going to take some time, so they’ll be able to take a load off for a while, once they get there—not too far away. They arrive, and Dr. Small starts the clone transfer process. Some time later, all the survivors they’ve met so far arrive, and deliberation begins. At one point, Dr. Wiener punches out Dr. Blaire—obviously tensions are high at this point.
The Guys are minding their own business, and someone hears a noise from under the floor grating. Peeking through the grate, they see what looks like Mark, only with long hair and a goatee, and he whispers for all the Guys to come back with him and not let anyone else see. Not really knowing what to expect, they go along. Out of sight, the guy introduces himself as HippieMark—obviously one of the Mark clones—and leads them to a room beyond where they meet BrainyMark, another Mark-clone who looks to be an East-Indian version. The two explain that they want to make backup copies of the Guys, in case the worst happens. They don’t have a lot of time to explain—or so they say. Phil jumps right in, but the others take a little coaxing to warm up to the idea, not trusting the clones entirely—or anyone for that matter. But, eventually, they all get strapped into the machine, and the process begins. Their vision fades to black, and…
|To Be Continued…
What went right, what went wrong, and lessons learned
I still consider the Dreamland campaign to be my biggest GMing success. Everyone loved it, and it was fun to GM. It wasn’t without its problems, however.
The first half of the game went pretty well. The Players were quick to point out the irony of
“gaming” out gaming tournaments—role-playing role-playing, as it were. I have some regrets as to some snap-decisions I made, but that tends to always be the case. The biggest stumbling block I ran over was the idea that the Players did not believe the Agents were part of the government, and intended to turn themselves in to the authorities. That came completely out of left field—so much so, that it took me a good 20 minutes to recover, and required much assistance on the Players’ part to keep things moving in the proper direction (my thanks to the Players for actually helping, there—years ago, I think it might’ve been otherwise). I ended up giving them some extra XP to cover the time-loss suffered—basically adding an Event that wasn’t already there. Lesson learned—always plan for the PCs to do the opposite of what you expect, no matter how crazy it may sound at the time.
I used a lot of scripting in the car chases and such, which turned out reasonably well. There was a problem with them, though, in that PCs who are not driving really have nothing to do for the entire Event. It worked out a little better in the second car-chase, when the PCs were in two separate vehicles, but it’s still a problem I’m working on, as it occurs in other situations as well—PCs should always have something substantive to do. In retrospect, I might’ve had the idle Players play Aggressor or NPC participants.
I had to make some on-the-fly modifications to the Alternate Character Point Usage rules. Initially, I made no distinction between non-combat and combat usage. That turned out to be a mistake, as the PCs were able to use points to
“force” a couple of hits on Djorkov. Thankfully, the Players were in agreement that it was a little much, and actually suggested they be changed themselves.
On a side note: Previously, I never truly “agreed” with the description of the
Weirdness Magnet Disadvantage in GURPS 3e, with regard to the -2 Reaction penalty to anyone who
“knows” about it. As it turns out, it’s pretty spot-on, as evidenced by the Players’ general reactions toward Megan Love once the
weirdness starts becoming evident. Some of the Players really wanted to leave her on the side of the road somewhere. Who’d’a thunk?
In the latter half of the game—the Area 51 stuff—there were several problems that cropped up. The puzzles that I intended to be lead-ins or lead-outs to the real Events turned out to take way too long (a problem I have yet to truly solve), and in retrospect, should’ve been an Event unto themselves. As a result, we didn’t accomplish nearly enough during those later Sessions, and I ended up having to fudge some XP to make up for the loss. As the 8-weeks came to a close, I had to skip past several planned Events to get to the intended ending on time, and I had to breeze through the last few Events as well. The creatures in the Area 51 part ended up being far too weak, and were barely a threat to the Characters, given how I equipped them—I would definitely beef up the enemies, while at the same time, toning down the PCs gear, so as to meet somewhere in the middle. The Powers I granted the PCs, though all coming to equal point totals, had some PCs becoming
“more useful” than others, specifically when it came to combat, which resulted in further Player dissatisfaction. Through the course of it, I discovered, to my regret, that the Players didn’t care overmuch for the Half-Life portion of the game, to the extent that they wanted to get out as soon as possible. I’m sure most of that dissatisfaction stemmed from the above points, although I have to admit, they may not have liked Half-Life as much as I did. It definitely lost the
“adrenaline” of the first half.
Although the ending of this “chapter” was a bit rushed, it was perfect, from the standpoint that it could conceivably go anywhere
from that point. They could pick up where they left off. They could wake up as new clones, with new powers, or no powers. They could
wake up at any time or place. They could wake up as evil clones, sent to kill their other clones. They could do any of those things, and when I run out of ideas, they could come back and pick up where they left off with their first characters. The possibilities are endless.
Sadly, even though I had no major problems with continuing the campaign, it ended at a time when our group was going through some changes. Mark had left some time before and was not included (actively), but Aaron was soon to follow him to Japan. Ross was to leave for the Army (again) just before Aaron left, a fact that was incorporated into the story. Denée had been absent from the group for some time, having recently given birth, but was expected to return soon—as she was relatively new to the group at the time, she wouldn’t have had a clue when it came to most of the
“inside jokes” the campaign revolved around. My attempts to keep it going, spawned two other (aborted) campaigns, the CXB and Fallout campaigns. Ultimately, after gaining two more group members that had no past with us, I decided that the group makeup would not work with the campaign as it was, and shelved the idea entirely (those spinoff campaigns developed short lives of their own, separate from Dreamland). All that being said, however, should the group return to an
“acceptable” composition, the campaign could easily be resurrected.
Critical acclaim, heckling, and other comments from the Peanut Gallery
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