SR2053: Totally Not Another ‘Heart of Darkness’ Trip

Here’s first of the proper session recaps from our Shadowrun campaign that I mentioned in the previous post. We’re playing 5E, a bit house-ruled, as our campaign is set in 2053 (in Chicago, for better or worse), and some of the things, like Matrix rules, had to be reworked. Our GM is the amazing Jakub from Project Aphelion whom you can follow in his GM glory on Twitter.


Our merry band of adventurers:

Ravael

An elven mage from Tir Tairngire, somewhere in his early 20s. Supposedly a duke if he ever gets that arrest warrant canceled. Spellslinger with a penchant for ice combat magic, barrier spells and crowd control. Distinctly disliked by spirits and somewhat off in social relations. Will sell his soul for good quality coffee.

Vector

A human mage from Chicago, with ties to the ghoul society under the care of Tamir Grey. A summoner who really dislikes binding spirits. Extremely loyal, as his Dog mentor spirit suggests. Slings his flamethrower spell left and right if needed, and can be used to keep the coffee hot under any circumstances.

Topper

Ex-stage illusionist and manager of rock bands and simsense stars, turned bodyguard, turned shadowrunner. Proud fedora-wearer, can’t stop himself from calling people Mr. and Miss, in the most 1920s mafia aesthetics. An incredible marksman and face, the only mundane in the team.

Phase

The most Chicagoan to ever Chicagoed. A physical adept, ex-ganger, martial arts and B&E specialist. Runs up the walls with the speed of a moving car, noiselessly and invisibly. Street rat by chance, hooder by choice. Knows pretty much everybody in the worst parts of the city and goes for drinks with most of the gangers in Chicago.

Played by yours truly.


After a long trip from Chicago to Amazonia, perfectly organised by Anson Helm, one of the best fixers alive, our little party got the the point in the journey where we had to start fend for ourselves. A smuggling chain got us from Chicago to Kansas City, to Cuba, to a tanker ship somewhere on the Atlantic, to an old USSR jet, to some remote village to the west of Macapá, to the Amazon river, to Manaus, to Fonte Boa. There we got on a small plane with our contact, Mr. Graham Green, an older gentleman from Fonte Boa who was supposed to get us as far up the Amazon as possible (so, up to a half of his fuel tank, of course).

The purpose of all of this: get to heart of the jungle, to a well hidden plantation, sneak in, steal a flower, leave a chip, and sneak out. Bonus points for not killing anybody, extra bonus points for not getting detected by any person/sensor/spirit/whatever else they might have there.

(Yes, we’re totally doing “Harlequin” at the moment. I know, some other players, I think, also know, our characters are more or less piecing it together. At lease Phase is, as she’s the only person who actually got to do the Harlequin campaign from the beginning; the rest either died and had to create new characters, left the play, or started the game in the other team).

We get on the plane, aptly named ‘The Swamp Rose’ (which is fun because we’re just going to steal a black rose from the plantation), and chat with Mr. Green about his life in Amazonia before and after Hualpa got to, well, change everything. Apparently, the jungle just cannot stop growing. Daily life in Fonte Boa is a struggle for survival – one day you cut down your lawn, the next day you learn that your neighbour’s lawn is actually Awakened and just ate his owner. And then there are those flies that feed off auras, and Awakened jaguars, and shape-shifting beavers. Guys got a bit perplexed about the idea of beavers in Amazonia but Phase confirms that yes, they are there, and they look like this:

What’s the point of having speed reading and eidetic memory if you can’t tell your nerdy hermetic mages that they know nothing about flora and fauna of Amazonia?

On the plane there’s also a self-inflating boat with a map hidden withing it, that’s supposed to get us to the plantation; about 160 km upriver and then some 80 km south through the jungle. That is, if we get by the plane exactly where we’re supposed to get and not get captured by the authorities (using oil and causing air pollution is a felony in Amazonia, punishable with 20 years of incarceration) or just crash the plane. I mean…

So, one fuel pump malfunction, 0.3 second of panic, 25 reagents and one Fix spell later (plus some really good effort on the pilot’s side), we managed to not crash the plane. A big round of applause for Ravael for fixing the plane – and I guess for me for contributing the 0.3 second of panicked shouting: “Rav, fix it!”

Well, we’re really getting a lot of mileage out of this spell. Rav so far fixed cars, ancient staircases, walls, 70-year-old Soviet coffee machines… Planes are just easy in comparison.

Finally, we got to the landing site, inflated our pontoon, put the oars where they belong, looked at the map attached, collected our belongings, and said our goodbyes to Mr. Green who was more than happy to go home. We have no way of contacting him, so I just hope he got there safely. Really nice guy, would be a shame if anything…

Anyways. We got on the pontoon and started rowing. That is, Phase started rowing because for our two mages and the marksman Strength is a dump stat. Let’s say they helped. Mostly by looking around and scanning the river banks. We decided to keep our heads down and not use any magic to make our trip faster; during our trip we were told again and again that we should avoid bringing attention to ourselves using magic, as that will bring free spirits upon our heads, and we’ll have to sling more magic around, which will bring more enemies upon us… You get it, we did too. So, thanks to Phase’s “no physical stat is a dump stat” we rowed upriver, keeping watch at all times.

And thanks Ilúvatar they did, because after about two hours of travel Topper and his termographic cybereyes picked up some heat signatures on the northern bank. In a moment it became clear that they are a dozen of natives, picking up bows and packing themselves in small boats, rowing in the direction of our pontoon. As the mages took cover and we quickly discussed tactics as proper shadowrunners do.

Hard choices.

It ended up with Phase doing what she usually does: waving her hand and saying: “Hi!” Which apparently was a good choice as we got greeted back in the cleanest of English; better yet, in perfect Chicago gang lingo. The shaman and his spell of understanding languages explained that they were waiting for us and that we’re welcome to join them for a feast on the shore. He also took a swig from his waterskin and handed it to us, saying that we need to drink up if we are to be friends. After some prolonged silence on our side, the shaman sighed and muttered under his breath something in Tupi, the local language.

Alas! Phase did not spend two weeks on legwork about Amazonia for nothing, learning everything she could about the geography, history, ecology, society, local tribes and their languages… Having qi foci with Eidetic Sense Memory (perfect recall + speed reading) and Linguistics (pick up basics of languages quickly and without spending karma on it) definitely helps being the nerdiest jock in the universe. So…

The Laughing One said you’re going to be assholes, said the shaman.

The Laughing One owes me some explanations, replied Phase, winking at the shaman and taking a swig out of the waterskin. Whatever alcohol was in it, there’s no way she’s ever drinking it again on her own volition.

Sorry, I don’t understand Tupi, responded the shaman in Tupi.

Phase just smiled and passed the waterskin to Ravael, meanwhile sending the rest of the team a short message through our comms, telling them that everything’s fine, these people work for our Johnson, let’s just roll with it.

Do we know who The Laughing One is? Well… Kind of. We have this BBS on our Discord server, which works pretty much like any other Shadowrun bulletin board – and Phase sure as heck seen somebody called The Laughing Man “Ha, fraggin’ Ha!” commenting out there, especially around comments of Big D and Lady Of The Court. And on Shadowland’s discussions about unfortunate stuff happening to Ehran the Scribe lately… And the last time Phase got tortured (by Ehran’s goons), they were specifically asking her for a dark-haired elf missing a part of his ear, looking like a street punk. So she’s of course putting information together, and will totally send him a PM on BBS as soon as they’re done with this run. Facing her problems head-on, that’s 100% Phase.


We rolled with it, getting to the village of the tribe with the shaman and his crew of warriors. Got informed that they were waiting for us for weeks, and they’re supposed to help us out with everything. They even got us a detailed map for our journey to the plantation, saving us about 80 kilometres of travel. So, worth every drop of that foul liquor. We also got intel about the nasties in the area, picked up some area-specific antidotes, and learned about the tribe of cannibals living south of the river, working for the owner of the plantation (who are wearing blond wigs to celebrate the owner… Phase just went Called it!, as she always presumes Ehran is behind everything annoying in her life). We also ate some baked anaconda, because our GM and I watched both Anaconda and Anacondas before this session. B-grade horror movies are life.

No better anaconda than a frowning one.

We chatted a bit with the locals. Our mages decided to learn more about the magical background in the area and the spirits living in the jungle, so they made a small circle with the shaman and the spirit of the village, and just kept to themselves. Topper, who’s an aquarist when not being a shadowrunner, went to bother fishermen with Tupi on linguasoft and just learn about what’s living in the Amazon river, make photos, record some videos and chill. Phase charmed all of the village women with her electrochromic, rhutenium-coated armour, so they kidnapped her into the women’s tent for the evening. They spent hours chatting about everything from local medicine plants to sewer system in Chicago, because Phase is nothing if not a social chameleon and everybody’s buddy.

In the morning we got on the other side of the river, quiet as mice, and with every sensor option activated. We actually found some foot prints on the sandy bank, relatively fresh, and decided to proceed with caution. Still without using any magic, we sneaked through the jungle. And had The Talk.

We have a couple of rules in our team. They’re not really complicated:
1. If you want to get paid, do your job.
2. Don’t leave the trail of bodies behind you.
3. Do your best to make sure we’ll all survive.

However, we weren’t sure if we could afford going non-lethal and non-magical if something attacks us. After all, if fighting some paracritters with magic brings us more paracritters to fight, it’s still better than dying because we didn’t use any magic at all. And leaving any cannibals alive was not really an option, as left unconscious they could pick themselves up and go inform the plantation guards about our approach. We decided in the end, to pull out all the stops if anything decided to attack us and deal with the consequences if and when they appear.

After that, we proceeded in silence, Phase in the avant-garde, as her rhutenium-covered full-body armour, traceless walk adept power and skill in sneaking make her a proper ninja. Or, as we were in the jungle, a proper Predator.

Phase as far from her natural environment as possible.

After about three hours of sneaking and scanning the jungle around us, we noticed that all the birds have stopped singing, and we can’t hear a single sound. Automatically alarmed, we managed to notice approaching heat signatures, and then realised they’re in fact nine warriors with bows and blond wigs. Probably with deadly poison on those arrows. If you ever played Shadowrun, you know that there’s strength in numbers, and we were badly outnumbered. So, we didn’t give them time to do anything. Alerted, we just jumped into action.

Taking advantage of the reverse ambush, we got prepared. Ravael boosted his initiative with a spell, Topper reloaded his gun with gel ammo, Vector started preparing offensive spells, and Phase (who’s battling her drug addiction every day and usually winning) got herself high on speed-boosting jazz and activated her power of magically-enhanced movement. Then Rav created some barriers around the three ranged combatants, Topper put two enemies under short burst fire, Vector dumped a powerful Blast spell on three other guys, and Phase threw a flash-bang grenade at the three dudes on the other side of the road. And then we rolled initiative. With only four opponents still standing, the rest knocked unconscious.

Phase got to act first, as she usually does with her speedster build. As soon as her grenade blew up, knocking out one guy and dazing another, she charged the stunned enemy, punching him with a shock glove. Vector took care of another, with his next stun spell, Rav put a binding spell on one of the guys still standing. The two still conscious warriors decided to save themselves and leg it. Topper sent a burst after one of them but the dense jungle made it impossible to hit the guy.

But then, we got to another initiative phase, so Phase charged the guy running south, knocking him out in one hit with her shock gloves, and then ran north and caught up with the other one, because she has Movement for days and can do about 160 metres each turn without sweating. Meanwhile, our mages took any means of moving from the poor guy, and just left it for Phase to finish in the third phase of combat, because that’s totally not why she has her nick in-game, but that’s totally why she has her nick out-of-game. For pun’s sake.

The encounter map at the end of the fight.
Also, Ravael lately changed his hair from long white to short black to fool the authorities but nobody cared to change his token on Roll20.

The whole fight took three seconds and ended up with nine warriors knocked unconscious. We really don’t like to leave a trail of bodies. However, there was still information to be gained. Rav cast a mind probe spell on one of the warriors and while navigating an unconscious mind is always tricky, at least we learned that they did not expect us – just went hunting and stumbled upon us, which means the plantation’s guards probably don’t know about our approach. Thankfully.

Also, we realised fully, that if we didn’t deal with the problem as quickly as we did, this fight might have been lethal. Poison-covered arrows would probably not kill us outright but even the smallest contact would cause an enormous amount of damage – and then some more in another turn, and more in another, and another, and another… If one of us got hit with it, chances of survival would be slim.

While discussing what we should do about nine knocked-out warriors (we really didn’t want to kill them in cold blood, but we couldn’t allow them to go and alert our target, and leaving them in the jungle unconscious would only mean something gets to eat them – so, murder with extra steps), Topper and Phase noticed that there’s three more people hiding in the bushes about thirty or so metres behind us. Still with her camouflage on and moving with inhuman speed, Phase just got to them quietly, ready to get rid of another “minor” annoyance (those poison arrows are no joke, really).

However, Phase recognised in those three warriors from the tribe up north, our hosts from last night, so instead of dropping some knock-out gas, she just snuck up on them and said ‘Hi!’.

It’s a spirit, said one of the warriors.

No, it’s probably The Laughing One, visiting us again after so long, said the second one.

No, it’s a woman’s voice… Oh, it’s probably that chick. Hi, Phase, concluded the third one with laughter.

As we learned, the chief and the shaman instructed them to follow us and make sure we’ll get to the plantation safely. However, seeing us in combat, with their sworn enemies dropping like flies, they felt rather… redundant. When we shared our dilemma with the unconscious cannibals, our friends suggested they can take our enemies back to the village where we spent the night, not only solving our problem but also getting some leverage / ransom for themselves. We bound the warriors with plastic restraints (which were thought of as a generous gift, so Phase just handed a bunch of them over to her local buddies), and left them in the loving care of our superfluous arrière garde.

We said our goodbyes and proceeded deeper into the jungle, after two more hours finally seeing through the dense vegetation the white walls of the plantation building… And that’s exactly where we’re going to pick up the next session.

Everything is gonna be alright, guys. Totally. We’re professionals.

A quick note: as you might have noticed, our session was not really combat-heavy, and the one combat we had went ridiculously smoothly. You may have wondered: how about the feeling of threat, where’s the suspense? So, two things:

  1. We’re constantly scared for our life. Mostly because:
  2. Our GM believes Shadowrun is not a feel-good game. If characters die, they die, there’s no fudging rolls to keep somebody from dying.

That being said, nothing ever comes out of left field and there are no quantum ogres. If he decided that a part of the river is being protected by a free water spirit who will attack us if we use any magic, we will sail safely if we don’t use any magic. If he decided that there is a group of hostile warriors patrolling the territory and preparing an ambush, he’s gonna make them go the distance and set up an ambush, not teleport them around just to kill us – so, spotting them ahead of time, we had a chance to get rid of them before they did that to us. And I’m positive that having established the protections around the plantation, he’s not going to change them just to make our life difficult if everything goes too smoothly.

So, we’re going to spend the next couple of days on Discord, staking out the plantation, sending spirits to do some recon, scanning walls and floors for wires to learn whether they have any motion/pressure sensors in them, learning the rotas of the guards… And once we crack it, we’ll break in, steal the flower, leave the chip, and break out.

Or die trying.

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