Project Aphelion Solo Play #006: Strategy Layer and Scenario 2: The Chaos World

Welcome to the Grand Strategy, version Lite. I’m sure Jakub will one day introduce you to Grand Strategy, version Full Aphelion Rules, but that’s not my thing. As always, if you’re new here, I suggest you start at the beginning – and if you’re not, just come on and see me spill the beans.

Project Aphelion works on three separate layers of play, letting the players zoom in and out from one character’s shenanigans to their corporation building a spaceport in Neptune’s orbit. The game comes with Crew Layer (your standard adventuring experience), Fleet Layer (spaceship races or large-scale battles of the infantry), and Strategy Layer (all things Faction related). Strategy Layer is also the default for downtime between Scenarios, letting the characters pursue their long-term goals, keep track of training or carousing, paint their castle pink, do research, or run a tavern if they so desire.

The Strategy Layer runs on the interval of a day, which allows for easy keeping track of all things to do. Let’s set up for December, then:

December 2055

Monthly Upkeep
Legwork for Scenario 1
Scenario 1: the art gallery
Drinks with friends
Skill Learning: Agility 1
Scheduled meeting with Henequen
Christmas party at parents’ house

Monthly Upkeep

At the beginning of each month, I need to calculate Tomorrow’s living expenses. The first month of the campaign is free, but it will all matter starting in January, so I want to be prepared.

Several things to take under consideration here:

  • Income (3) trait, providing T. with the cred equivalent of 6 points of Upkeep each month. That income is connected to having to spend 3 hours each day (five days a week) maintaining their source of income. In this case, this is her spell research business – three hours a day spent on keeping the digital shop going, taking care of marketing, networking etc. As Tomorrow comes from SR with a Sustenance adept power (cutting her need for sleep from 8 hours a day to 3), I’ve decided to wrap those hours into the saving on sleep and never worry about them again.
  • Low Expectations trait, reduce the monthly Necessities costs by half, rounded up.
  • Monthly Upkeep. Each point is equivalent to 100c. Total cost: 6 + 11 + 31 = 48.
    • Necessities are calculated based on attributes – a sum of all attributes divided by two, rounded up. In Tomorrow’s case, it’s 3+5+4+3+5+4 = 24, divided by 2 = 12, and reduced by half (Low Expectations) = 6.
    • Biotech covers all pharmaceuticals. Tomorrow has no health issues and no augmentations, so she doesn’t need to spend any money here.
    • Maintenance covers gear’s upkeep. No matter whether you eat a lot or spend your nights in a coffin hotel, your software needs upgrading, your guns need cleaning and ammo, your personal printer needs materials, etc. This is all wrapped up under the maintenance costs. This is calculated by gear’s upkeep stat but if you can’t be bothered with minutiae, rating will work as well.
      Tomorrow has R1: designer clothes, basic jumpsuit, a commlink, a magical-research toolkit, a mini 3D printer, a lockpick set, survival gear, a stealth suit, a non-lethal gun, and a R2 bound air elemental. That’s a total of 11 points spent on maintenance – the more stuff you own, the more you spend on it, there’s just no way around it.
    • Luxuries are the things worth living. They cover everything from decent coffee to cinema tickets to chocolate to date nights. As a rule of thumb, you need 1 point of luxuries per each day spent working. I could cut the cost down by giving Tomorrow a day off here and there, but she’s a workaholic alright and there’s just no way around it. 31 days and 31 points it is, then.
  • Contact Upkeep. Tomorrow has 6 contacts, each on R1 (Friese, Wheeler, Mom, Dad, Dash, Raven). This totals to 6 points / 600c a month spent on general upkeep: phone calls, small gifts, lunch dates, booze, etc. Skipping these expenses would save T. some money but caused a drop in Familiarity with the contacts, so we’ll keep the friends and family (and spirits) happy.

All of the above brings Tomorrow’s monthly expenses to 48 (48 upkeep + 6 contacts – 6 income), meaning 4800c, meaning a bit less than 1 Payout worth of cash. That means she needs to have at least that much on her back account to live her life as normal for another month. 

To that, I’ll need to add the Deployment Costs for all Scenarios – 1 Payout per each, paid in bulk at the beginning of the next month.It doesn’t matter if this is 5000c, a point of intel, some strings pulled, or a weekend at the spa to regenerate – you just need to invest resources (as a faction) to get resources. The game lets you pay for it later, so you don’t have to go into debt and scramble in the first month. But still – you pay for each scenario, making the low-Payout jobs not worth your time, and the higher-Payout more desirable, even if they require extra work to pull off.

I’m not going to drop a full list of gear, contacts, resources etc. on you. It’s boring to read and doesn’t tell you all that much about the system. Just believe me I have the lists and tables, and I keep track of everything. It’s kinda my thing. Instead, we’ll move to something’s more fun!

Scenario 2: The Chaos World

‘So you say you know where this spell can be found?’ asks Tomorrow, gently holding an ice-cold glass of water by her forehead.

‘As far as I can tell.’ Friese, in all her Czech glory, doesn’t show even a sliver of hangover. Her office is crammed with books, datachips, loose notes, and strategically placed ashtrays. ‘It’s not like I took a trip to see what’s there. You’re the one with first-hand experience.’

‘Mhm. And unless the city decided to completely rework itself, I kinda know which way is up.’ Tomorrow nods and instantly regrets it. ‘Last time I’m drinking with y’all.’

‘Sure, whatever. Look, this is how far I got: this spell I’m after is a mass-scale confusion charm, making it impossible to tell distances and time, and take any kind of measurements. From what you told me, it was worse near the castle, but not inside it.’

‘Yeah, pretty much.’

‘I can’t really plot a course through space I can’t measure or tell directions in, but it stands to reason that whatever’s the source of this spell, it’s in the castle.’

‘It’s massive, tho.’ Tomorrow closes her eyes and fights back the headache.

‘Well, I know it’s massive- Do you want to do it or not?’ Friese looks suddenly annoyed. ’Because I can just get some of Crowley’s lackeys if you have better shit to do.’

‘I…’ Tomorrow sighs. ‘Yeah, sorry. My head’s elsewhere. But I’m in, let’s do it. The gate is probably secure. The village is chaotic and rather harmless, as long as you don’t mix the colors of the flying fish. I think. The trade district will prolly kill us if we touch anything, so let’s not touch anything. The castle’s full of monsters. But it will be fun with you. We’ll go low and quiet until we find the thing, right?’

Friese grins. ‘And whatever other weirdo magic we can loot. No idea what we’ll need to get to that spell or whether it even has a physical anchor but hey – if not this, then we’ll get something else and just sell Wheeler a story about our heroic fight. Like, what he’s gonna do? Ask his third friendly magician for a favor?’

‘Lackeys know nothing, Crowley’s does what he wants, Sal’s not getting back into there, Mack’s dead, Dingo’s weirder than the metaplane. I think-’ says Tomorrow and stops. ‘Frag, this really is a magic-heavy area these days. Man’s gonna need a higher budget.’

Scenario Generation

Tomorrow and Friese are going to attempt a Payout 6 Scenario to retrieve a piece of valuable magic – be it a magical item or research notes on the spell – from a chaotic, confusing metaplane, full of wild, random magic, ghosts, treasures, and dangerous monsters.

While they can prepare themselves for the task, they have no way of checking what’s actually going to happen inside the metaplanar gate. The legwork task, in this case, is more generalized research into metaplanar theory and comparing notes than scouting the road ahead. That is why I will not be setting up modules, scenes and actors ahead of time – the Scenario will unfold as the two magicians go through it, using procedural generation and common sense.

There are some steps that need to be done anyway.

Scenario Type: Capture the Flag. No matter how you wrap it, it’s a matter of retrieving a payout and then skedaddling with it. That means we can reasonably expect some Defence Actors trying to protect the McGuffin, trying to stop us from reaching it, and then, trying to make it impossible for us to leave with it. It’s just basic storytelling. If there was no opposition, it would be a short story, not a Scenario.

Payout: 6. Decided by the previous Scenario’s consequence roll.

Legwork: 1 day per roll. The matter certainly warrants using all available resources, so both Tomorrow and Friese get to work (100c to call-in contact). Tomorrow’s facing an extra 2 points of Resistance in all Tasks (including Legwork), as her Driven neutral trait shows its rear end (she’d rather be digging for intel about her sister, no doubt about it). After two days of work, they both manage to accumulate 7 marks, enough to beat the Payout.

Threat Rating: However, in the same time, Scenario scored 9 marks on 12 dice total, generating 5 points of Threat Rating. 1 net mark on Legwork lets me cut it down by 1, to 4.

Scenario Rating: Payout 6 + Threat 4 = 10. This is the Challenge Rating of all Main Tasks in the Scenario. It’s a lot. It also means that all Actors in the Scenario will be R3 – 3 dice, 3 skill.

This Scenario is rather hard, that’s what I can tell you. And we’re going into it at random!

Let’s make it weirder, why don’t we? It’s not like Tomorrow can die there… (She can. She totally can. It’s quite a probable option, looking at these stats.) This chaotic metaplane is full of random magic. Why don’t I make it interesting and introduce a Scenario Action Card that will be played at the beginning of each interval if the trigger occurs. How about this:

Trigger: Any Actor purposefully interacts with the environment.
Effect: A random magical effect occurs, causing havoc in the area. Roll 3d10, pick median:

  1. All physical actions get +2 Resistance
  2. All mental actions get +2 Resistance
  3. Time doesn’t make sense. The initiative order is reversed in this interval. 
  4. All Actors regenerate 1 point of Morale and Stamina.
  5. A random Actor loses 1 point of Morale and Stamina.
  6. Nothing but smoke and mirrors. No effect.
  7. A random Actor gets an additional action (physical or mental) in this interval.
  8. A new R3 Actor appears. Draw Familiarity and Behavior as usual.
  9. All mental actions get +2 Clout
  10. All physical actions get +2 Clout

Am I leveling out the field? Am I just making life harder for myself? To be honest, at this difficulty level and with no pregenerated Scenario, it can go either way. Why not just throw it all into a cauldron and cackle?

Build Points: 10
Free Modules: 6 (necessary: Gateway, Central Module), 6 Passages
Free Scenes: 6 (necessary: Finale, Getaway)

I honestly don’t know how Tomorrow will handle this. And I mean: at all. This is a full-party Scenario. With 6 points of Resistance in the Finale. On top of Tomorrow’s +2 on all Tasks.

Anyway, let’s just charge in…!

… Did you buy it?

Yeah, no. This is a strategy game. I don’t have to go gung-ho into a scenario that I can see right here and now will be, at best, near-impossible to win. What I’ll do instead is something we call:

Scenario on the Fly

‘Lil, I really don’t want to burst your bubble, but what you’re proposing is just bonkers. We’ve barely survived the last time, and only that due to enormous luck and an abundance of meat shields.’

‘They’re called friends.’

‘Yeah, whatev. But I’m telling you, this is just not a viable option. The total randomness of that plane will kill us – but only if monsters don’t do it first. We need some leverage.’

Friese sighs and lights a cigarette with a snap of her fingers. ‘Fine. What are you proposing? I’m still going – I can’t reverse-engineer this spell from descriptions alone. Even Crowley couldn’t do it.’

‘I know, and I’m with you. But going in just like that will end badly. We need protection or some, I don’t know, hack to that place. We got a pile of research, between you, me, Crowley, his lackeys, maybe Sal… Like, we’re bloody hermetic magicians, Lil, not some motley band of brave adventurers. Been there, done that, still have the scars.’

‘You don’t.’

‘I do, on my butt. An accident with burning flying fish in my back pocket. Ask Wheeler.’

‘I certainly will not. So, a spell? A ritual? An item?’ 

‘Yes. Something. I’m sure that if we put our heads together, we can solve it.’

If the Scenario rolled is plainly too hard, there are ways to solve the issue – one of them is generating another scenario with a specific purpose of making the main one easier. That’s exactly what I’m about to do. The main problem of the metaplanar adventure is the Resistance, mounting in places up to 8 and making some things, like the Finale, just impossible. Time to cut it down.

What I need to do is to generate a scenario with Payout equal to the total change in parameters of the too-hard scenario – a mix-and-match of Threat Rating, difficulty, Clout, modules, or even build points. In this case, I’m going to try and get myself a Scenario with Payout 4: 3 points of Clout and 1 point of difficulty.

First, I need to run a Project to build this Scenario – yes, it will take a couple of days, but as I’m on Faction Layer, Tomorrow’s general distaste for sidequests doesn’t matter. Neither do her attributes – she’s a Crew R1 and she has 1 dice. To get where I want, I’ll employ Friese as a contact to help (for 100c) and promote Crowley the Free Spirit from an Extra to a R1 Contact (for another 100c – I’ll need to pay his Upkeep next month; as his Faction is 8 Familiarity with Tomorrow, the same applies to the personal relation).

Project: Generate Scenario on the Fly

Rolling 1 dice for Tomorrow’s R1 Faction, 1 for Friese and 1 for Crowley against the difficulty of 5, I gather 4 marks (CR equal to Payout) in two days – 2 days spent on research and finding a way to make the trip into the metaplane a bit easier. What they came up with is a protective amulet that will stabilize the mana field in the metaplane, cutting the random interferences and giving them an extra edge that they will most definitely need.

The three magicians will put their heads together and try to build said amulet, using Crowley’s extensive library, their own magical resources, help of elementals, ingenuity, and elbow grease.

Scenario on the Fly Generation

Scenario Type: Pushing the Envelope. It’s a type of a Race scenario, made specifically for creating new items in a more fun and exciting way than just a Crafting Project. It has a set Main Task for the Offense Crew, the Finale is a common Main Task, and should introduce some extra complications, like delayed Scenes, triggers, and general fun. If I wanted to build an item that will be useful elsewhere, I could use full Crafting rules for that, taking care of the materials, processes, etc. but as this is mostly just me geeking out over magic theory, I think I’ll mostly skip it.

Payout: 4 (an item providing 3 points of Clout and -1 difficulty in the metaplane)
Legwork: Rolling Tomorrow’s 5 dice on Logic (Sorcery) against diff. of 3, scoring 5 marks, 1 net mark over the CR.
Threat Rating: Rolling Scenario’s 4 dice against diff. of 6, scoring 2 marks. Those two marks raise Threat Rating by 1, Tomorrow’s net mark reduces it by 1, so the Threat Rating is 0.
Scenario Rating: 4 Payout + 0 Threat Rating = 4
Build Points: 4
Free Modules: 4
Free Scenes: 4

‘Hey, so I’ve found this blueprint for a protective amulet that I maybe could tweak to our advantage… I just gotta check one thing…’

This is a very straightforward Scenario, and should not be too hard. After all, this is just an add-on to help me in the main scenario, not a reason to die. All modules I’ll be placing and all scenes I’m generating are the ultimate Abstract – obviously, the amulet has neither the physical Gateway nor the Control Module, in which the Finale happens. However, it still has challenges that we need to undertake. Tomorrow will attempt it alone, just with her elementals to help. I want this done and cannot be bothered to write the whole narrative for it. Tomorrow will swallow the deployment costs (1 Payout worth of it to pay at the beginning of the next month) and go do the thing.

Module 1+2: Gateway + Hardpoint. The start is always the hardest, before we get the grip of the situation. Gateway requires just an interaction, Hardpoint comes with a Main Task of ‘breaking the lock’ to access the later modules. Let’s call it ‘building the amulet’, and when that’s done, the enchanting process will start. I’ll put a delayed scene here for 1 BP – after 14 intervals, the amulet will start falling apart and self-destruct, reducing the Payout by 1 at the end of the interval. Once it gets to 0, the scenario fails. (3BP left)
Passage connects it to:

Module 3: Operation Module. This is where the main enchanting process takes place. If the Main Task gets completed, the enchantment takes place, storing an arcane formula inside the silver casing. To make it more challenging, I’ll spend 1BP to raise the Resistance by 1 (this can’t be too easy) and another 1BP to put an Actor (R2) in place – the spell itself will fight against the containment, counteracting Tomorrow’s attempts in this Offense scene. After all, the job is to stall her until the time runs out. (1BP left)
One passage connects it to Module 4, a second passage connects it to Module 5.

Module 4: Treasury. This is a special type of Module, allowing me to place extra Payout in the Scenario to get extra BP. I’ll put 2 Points of Payout here and a Treasury scene. The Challenge rating equals SR and comes with free Resistance equal to Payout inside, reducing by 1 each turn until the Payout is gone. (3BP left)

Module 5: Control Room and the Finale.This is where the final binding happens. As the Scenario is a Race, the Finale doesn’t receive extra Resistance, it’s just a straight Main Task. To make it harder, I’ll pay for an extra Hardpoint in front of it with 1 more Resistance point and put 1 more Resistance into the Finale. All BPs gone and we can start.

Scenario on the Fly Playthrough

Tomorrow starts by setting up all her equipment nearby: her magical research toolkit, Steven, starts up the bots on her commlink, meditates, stretches, calls on Raven for help (narratively, I don’t think I’ll need the help of the contact) and taking a deep breath, focuses on the pieces of jewelry lying on the desk in front of her.

Module 1: Gateway. As she spends a physical Action starting to assemble the amulet, she offhandedly summons a second elemental to assist her in the Scenario (Conjuring skill learning +1). She takes another breath, bringing herself back to full Pools and gets to work.

Module 2: Hardpoint. This is not easy. She wishes her fingers were smaller and her levitation skills higher. However, between her careful movements and elementals’ help, she manages to arrange all pieces in the correct places. Rolling 5 dice for Sorcery against diff. of 3, she scores 4 marks (Sorcery skill learning +1), ‘solves the puzzle’ and passes through the Hardpoint, triggering the delayed scene. She either pulls it off in 14 intervals or she loses. 

Turn 1
Spent entirely on going through the passage between Module 2 and 3. She needs to switch her attention between building and enchanting and there’s just nothing she can do about it.

Turn 2
It’s the time to enchant this piece of silver junk. Tomorrow focuses on the engraved piece of metal she has placed in the middle of the amulet, willing it into action. The spell obides, coming to life as a R2 Actor who will act as Defense in this scene.

Hoping to quickly gain advantage, Tomorrow uses all her magic knowledge to beat the spell into submission (Sorcery 5v4=4, +1 Sorcery learning). As she sees the spell wriggling in place, she orders the elementals to hold it steady and focuses on placing the piece exactly where it belongs, trusting her fingers more than her magic (because she’s out of mental actions; Palming, 5v9=1, Palming learning +1). Steven and his friend, each with 2 dice and diff. 5, score a total of 2 marks directly against the spell, reducing its Morale Pool to 2/4 – if it falls to 0, the Actor is incapacitated and out of the equation). Offense: 5/4, Defense: 0/4.

The spell, held in place by two air elementals and an unyielding will of a magician, does its best to stall the process and reduce the Offense’s marks. Rolling 2v4=1, it gets the Main Task counter down to 4 – which is still enough to trigger the completion of the Main Task at the end of the interval.

Turn 3
‘Well, that was easier than expected,’ mutters Tomorrow. ‘I wonder if… Yeah, I should be able to replicate that…’ With a not-entirely-formulated plan in her head, she gets distracted from the main task and wastes this turn to mentally go through the Passage to the Treasury, where extra Payout and ideas lie. She uses this minute to replenish her slightly depleted Pools with Take a Breath Action Card.

Turn 4
‘Well yeah, that should work!’

Starting a Treasury scene, Tomorrow drafts an improvement to this amulet in her head – what if it could also detect the mana fluctuations in the metaplane? She could feel the spell trying to escape, maybe she can replicate the feeling…’ Her mind already spinning theories and drawing conclusions, she rolls her Sorcery with 5v5=3 (Sorcery +1) and quickly checks the research notes she’s keeping on her commlink on Investigation task with 4v6=1 (Investigation +1).

‘Thanks, Steven, you’re the best soundboard!’ she adds as she metaphorically packs up extra 2 points of Payout.

Turn 5
Without much rush now, Tomorrow backtracks her thoughts to the main task. She still has to finish the enchantment, she reminds herself, sipping on a soda and giving herself a moment of respite.

Turn 6
Back in the Control Module, Tomorrow starts figuring out how to best approach the job. It’s another Hardpoint, another riddle. She could just force the enchantment to bind, but this sounds like a rather crude way. She browses her notes, trying to build the new conditions into an existing spell. With Investigation, she rolls 4v5=1 (Investigation +1), and it finally clicks! This is not a matter of magic power, this is a matter of simple maths. She recalculates the equation (Sciences +1, 5v6=3), amends the enchantment and moves on, not wasting any more time.

Turn 7
This is now a matter of pure willpower, nothing else. The equation is perfect, the elements are aligned, the spell is bound, all she needs to do is exert her will and tie it all together. She pours her whole desire, her needs, her wish into the amulet. And when that seems to do nothing, she adds a litany of swear words, running an Intimidation task against an inanimate object (Intimidation +1, 3v8=2). 

‘You are nothing but a dumb piece of scrap metal and and if don’t pull yourself together, I’ll feed you to a fire-breathing hyena! Oh, you’re working? Oh, that’s cool. Let me just finish it off, then…’ With the final push of Sorcery (+1, 5v4=5), the Finale is finished, the enchantment is done, and the Scenario is over, with 3 net marks.

Wrapping up

‘Huh. I made a thing.’ Tomorrow looks at the shiny piece of jewelry on her desk. The flat disc in the middle is covered in arcane symbols, glowing with a faint blue light in astral space, but on the material plane, looks like any other piece of junk one might buy in a shop for magical wanna-bes. ‘All that work with foci actually came in handy.’

The amulet Tomorrow has made has exceeded her expectations. Not only does it provide her with the Payout she was after (3 Points of Clout and difficulty reduced by 1), it will also reduce the Threat Rating by 2. And that will make a massive difference in the Metaplanar Quest.

Also, as this scenario had more scenes, Tomorrow got to use several different skills:

  • Conjuring +1; 1/2
  • Sorcery +4; 5/3
  • Palming +1; 1/0
  • Investigation +2; 2/2
  • Sciences +1; 1/1
  • Intimidation +1; 1/0 

Those ticks in learning boxes will unlock the skill upgrade potential in most cases, but as Tomorrow doesn’t want to wait more days before going to the metaplane, I’ll sort it out after she gets back. If you haven’t noticed yet, on the Strategy Layer, time is a resource – and it’s the only one you can’t generate. Also +4 Rep for a finished Scenario.

The only thing left: consequences. Yes, all actions have consequences. Rolled an 8, so a positive consequence of the same (Payout 4) magnitude, but as I play high stakes, let’s crank it up to 10 with net hits and see what happens! 

A person from a character backstory gets involved with a new Faction in the Sector. That Faction will commit Projects with Payout equal to magnitude to further that character’s personal goals. Pick which character it entails.

Oh damn. I gotta think. And I will. But meanwhile – we’re going to the metaplane!

Scenario Generation, revisited

As Tomorrow and Friese have decided to be smart about this thing and behave like scientists, not looters/adventurers, and they now have some advantage for approaching the job, I need to rework the parameters of the Scenario, within what’s allowed by the system.

Scenario type: Reverse-Engineering. As they’ve realized, they’re not going into the metaplane to steal anything; they’re going to reverse-engineer a spell. All they need is the research notes, nothing more (probably). Now, reverse-engineering in Aphelion lets you make a blueprint for 3D printing of an item. But as this is not what we even remotely care about, I will be treating the spell like an Actor who gets its own Main Task. Quoting the Reverse-Engineering Scenario template: the investigated technology piece gets to use its Rating to roll the Main Task of its own – increasing the Finale Scene’s Resistance with each mark. If the item manages to complete its Task or the Resistance rises above 10, the Scenario fails, and the item cannot be reverse-engineered.

Payout: 6, no changes
Threat Rating: 2, reduced from 4 by Scenario on the Fly.
Scenario Rating: 8, all Actors are R3
Build Points: 8
Free Modules: 6 (necessary: Gateway, Central Module), 6 Passages
Free Scenes: 6 (necessary: Finale, Getaway)
Difficulty: 5, reduced from 6 by Scenario on the Fly
Clout: 3, provided by Scenario on the Fly

If the bonuses and adjustments provided by Scenario on the Fly seem too big to you, remember that they cost Tomorrow 4 days and 1 Payout worth of deployment costs (plus 200 credits). While Payouts are earnable, time is just… spent. And it could be spent on something that furthers Tomorrow’s main goal, not on a sidequest to a sidequest.

Anyway, as I’ve reworked the scenario to fit better with the scientific approach Tomorrow and Friese are about to take, the modules, just like in the amulet-crafting scenario, are mostly abstract concepts, not tied to the physical travel through the metaplane. I want secrets, puzzles, battles of wits, and proper scientific process, not a round of sneaking past gates and avoiding Horrors. That’s why I can actually pre-assemble them and make my life easier.

Skipping the trip through the metaplane (I get it could be fun, but I’ve already played this one in our SR campaign and I don’t fancy a reshoot), I’m placing the Gateway (1) already at the castle, followed by a Passage (1/6) leading to a Hardpoint (2) with a Checkpoint scene, as we need to solve the riddle to get past it – Checkpoint comes with a free Actor, a magical lock. After that, we’re in – and the room where we land is already the Central Module (3), supported with a Support Module (4) and a Modifier Module (5) locked behind more Hardpoints (6 and 7, 1/8BP). As I want this to be fun, I’ll place two Scenes in the Central Module: a Defense Scene (free) with two R3 Actors (2/8BP) and the Finale (3/8BP) with the main spell as a R3 Actor and two R2 Actors (all free), which triggers the moment we start analyzing the spell and follows the reverse-engineering rules. The Support Module comes with 2 R3 Actors (4/8BP) in a Shift Scene – what they are and how they respond, I’ll roll later – providing Scenario with 2 Clout and a Delayed Scene of Reinforcements with 1 R4 Actor (7/8BP) if we use the Module to change the conditions in the Scenario. The Modifier Module comes with a R3 Actor on Guard Duty Scene. With 1BP left, I’ll set up the Getaway Scene, and I’m ready to go.


‘Ready when you are,’ quips Friese as Tomorrow double-checks the pockets of her suit. ‘It’s not like we’re in a hurry.’

‘Time’s an illusion, Lil. Especially inside.’ With a huff, Tomorrow closes the clasp of her toolkit and winces, feeling its uncomfortable bulk on her hip. She checks the date on her commlink. ‘Alright. December the ninth, oh-eight-hundred. Wonder when we come back.’

‘Before seventeenth, geez.’ Friese purses her lips but she’s clearly uncomfortable as she’s looking at the glowing portal inside the penthouse’s study. ‘We’re making a very big mistake again, aren’t we? Like with the corpselight?’

‘Quite possibly,’ agrees Tomorrow, her tone of voice light and breezy. ‘But we’re both useless when it comes to the sunk costs fallacy. It would be a shame to unpack and all.’

‘You are both incredibly young and underprepared,’ adds Crowley. Free spirit’s translucent form fills the comfortable armchair as he stares down at his, much younger, colleagues. ‘I told you I’m not going to help you.’

‘As long as you open the portal so we can get back, we’re fine, old man.’ Tomorrow laughs with abandon, then quickly changes the tone, bringing all the respect into it. ‘Sir. We’re doing it for science.’

“I’m not stopping you. Go, get killed. Don’t come back crying if some monster eats you.’

‘One ghost per building is enough. Come on, we’re losing daylight.’ Friese pushes her friend towards the portal, not even making a step in its direction. Tomorrow laughs and pulls Friese behind her, as they both step into the light.

As the darkness before their eyes fades, a massive stone gate rises from the fog, a mere couple meters – or miles – in front of them.

‘Hey, you. You’re finally awake,’ says Tomorrow, taking a look around. The place seems just like it was the last time – old stone covered with ancient vines, partially destroyed mosaics and relief, this weird mix of Mesoamerican and European architecture. And a sea of bones behind their backs. Tomorrow knows it’s there. She isn’t going to check. Instead, she focuses for a moment, and a glowing vortex of golden-yellow arcane symbols materializes next to her. ‘Hiya, Steven. Scout ahead and stay hidden, will ya?’

‘This place is… ‘ Friese looks around with her eyes wide open, soaking in the grey, misty sky and the dark, giant shapes swimming between the clouds. She touches the ancient stones, letting their coolness and hardness bring some normalcy into the experience. ’Not my first metaplane, sure, but damn, this is so… real.’

‘And no guardian at the threshold either. Unless it’s Huey. I don’t know, I’m not a real mage. Come on, babe. We got a portal back to catch.’

‘Yeah, gimme a moment.’ She takes a slow breath in, composing herself. ‘Okay. Move your skinny butt, we’re going shopping.’

Tomorrow laughs – quietly – and leads her friend towards the gate – the last bastion of order in this chaotic, weird, bizarre, amazing world. With thoughts racing towards the Raven, she adds: ‘Let’s cause some mischief.’

Keeping their heads low and taking care to interact with nothing that they really don’t have to interact with, they travel for days or a couple of minutes. One moment, the castle is on the horizon; the next, they’re right there, staring with amazement at the massive complex of uncountable towers, bridges, and courtyards. In the stillness of the castle, only the movement at the corner of their eyes reminds them they’re not alone here, and probably, should not dawdle. 

‘You knock, I talk,’ suggests Tomorrow after a minute or a century.

Friese laughs grimly and pushes the door, stepping into a dark, empty hallway. 

(Let’s roll! First, a Random Magic effect: 4. All Actors regenerate Morale and Stamina.)

A wave of olden energy hits them, before they even have the time to look around. Surprisingly, nothing bad seems to happen – if anything, it just made them feel a tiny bit better.

Tomorrow smiles and fixes her hair, trying to get the golden glitter out of it. Wordlessly, she brings forward Steven and his cheaper copy (Conjuring +1) and sets up the bots on her commlink – which for some reason looks and smells like a tuna sandwich. Two tuna-scented will-o’-wisps fly out from between the pieces of bread and dance around Friese’s head.

‘That’s just awful,’ she comments. ‘Stop stalling, I can see the door.’

‘And I can see you, little one,’ says the door. ‘Which is a peculiar sight, I have to admit. Not often I get to see tuna sandwiches in this day and age.’

‘What day is it?’ asks Tomorrow, and as the door answers, the words fall out of her mind, the confusion spell working its magic.

‘Incredible,’ states Friese. ‘I can’t wait to figure out how this works. Can we offer you this sandwich as a gift and go through?’

‘Perhaps.’ The wood of the door wavers and stretches, opening a wide gap in the middle of it. ‘There’s only one way to check, isn’t there?’

‘How about this…’ Tomorrow cuts in. ‘I’ll keep this sandwich, I need it – but when we get back, you get two sandwiches instead? You’re the respectable guardian and if you let us in, we won’t harm anybody. We’ll study some magic, like many before us, and then we’ll leave, and you’ll have enough tuna sandwiches to last you until the next time. Deal?’

(Tomorrow rolling Con, 4v3=3, Con+1, Off=3)
(Door rolling Conditioning, 3v4=2, Off=1)
(Friese rolling 1v4=0)
(Tomorrow rolling Sorcery, 5v2=5, Sorcery+1, Off=6; at this point Door isn’t going to get it below 3 (its Conditioning) before the end of the interval, so…)

‘Deal. You may pass. But don’t make any mess inside, and don’t forget those sandwiches.’ The door stands open, letting them in.

Tomorrow looks at her friend and shrugs. ‘It do be like that sometimes. Say, friend, and enter.’

‘But… ‘ Friese stops and points at the silver amulet on Tomorrow’s chest. ‘Preparations! Work! Effort! Fucking tuna sandwich?’

‘I don’t make the rules. Come on, babe. Luck can run out at any time.’

As soon as they cross the threshold, they stop, barely catching their balance. The floor is nothing but a thin layer of ice hung above a raging ocean. There are no walls, just an endless sky filled with dark clouds and the smell of ozone. A flash of light zooms past them, speeding towards the horizon, then turning sharply and hiding between the clouds. A split second later, the ice cracks.

(2 R3 spells are now trying to see what’s up with those two mages as they put them through testing. Tomorrow and Friese need to prevent the spells from gathering marks equal to standard CR of 8. If they manage to reduce the Offense’s marks to 0 or below, stuff will happen.)

(Spells each roll 3v1, so automatically score 6 marks; extra clout from the Support module does wonders!)

Tomorrow focuses as the feeling of cold, cold fingers sneaks into her brain. Swearing and sweating, she reaches inwards, where her guardian and protector dwells. She calls for the Raven as the thunderstorm rages around her, she embraces the wind, her eternal friend.

“Leave me the hell alone,’ she growls at the streaks of light, turning herself into a raven. (Sorcery 5v2=5, Off=1). ‘We come in peace, the door let us, and you’re just making this thing inconvenient!’ (Conditioning 3v5=1, Off=0).

‘Oh. Sorry about that, luv. Standard testing. Are you alright?’ The calm and apologetic voice coming from the side causes Tomorrow to spin around, wings flapping, some distance above a perfectly normal stone floor. ‘No need to get so testy, you know? The folks are just doing their job.’

‘I’ll show you testy,’ mutters Friese as she fixes her clothes and pulls out a cigarette from her pocket. When the cigarette grows legs and jumps away like a cricket, she just sighs. ‘Listen… Excuse me. Hi, I’m Friese. My friend and I wanted to research a spell you’re holding here as it’s a beautiful piece of work and there’s no reason why it should be hidden in here.’

‘Yes, we know-’ cuts in Tomorrow as the troll-sized potted sunflower in medieval armor opens its smiley mouth to protest. ‘We know this spell guards this place and makes it impossible for the evil presence to escape. But that’s why we need it. For protection.’

(Defense Scene over, the magicians are left with the control module and two connected modules willed with Actors. There are no physical walls, and the Hardpoints between them are a matter of convincing the Actors about their good intentions. As they have already passed the front door – amicably – the Hardpoint’s R2 credential now works in their favor, providing them with additional 2 points of Clout.)

‘We need to keep the spell protected,’ explains a goblin-like creature sitting behind a marble counter on the other side of the room. A tall, orange-haired werewolf peels her eyes away from the screen of the computer and adds. ‘We’re running diagnostics here and makin’ it all work. Y’all can’t just barge in like that.’

‘The door let us, though.’

‘It shouldn’t really have done that. What did you do, bribe it with food?’

Tomorrow grins. As much as she hates leaving the investigation, she has really missed this metaplane. ‘No exchange of goods or services was performed. Can we study the spell, please?’

‘If you wanna. But we ain’t shutting the system down for you, and this thing scratches back when you scratch it.’

‘What does the system do?’ asks Friese suddenly. ‘Keeps the spell secure or something?’

‘Nah, just makes it work better and poke-back stronger.’

‘Well, can you turn it off?’

‘The big one doesn’t like it when we do.’

Tomorrow narrows her eyes as a sinking feeling in her stomach brings back the dark, tall silhouette of the labyrinth in the castle, the one who promised her to fulfill her dreams and wishes, for a small price of just letting it in. The one whom she shot and who has promised to find her again. She twitches, as a thin trail of sweat snakes down her back. Talking sunflowers or not, they were not safe.

‘How about just for a moment?’ continues Friese, paying little attention to her friend. ‘It won’t take long, promise.’

‘We won’t stay here for long,’ adds Tomorrow. ‘You got my word.’

‘It’s your funeral, luv.’

(Yes, there are Con and Diplomacy rolls in the background, it’s a Checkpoint scene, been there, done that, we’re convincing the crew to turn off the support module giving the extra Clout to the spell, triggering the Reinforcements scene. Time to do the Finale! CR 8 with extra Resistance of 6, reduced by 3 thanks to the Scenario on the Fly. The spell R3 is going to win its own MT with CR 8, raising the Resistance of the job, while 2 extra R2 spells will do their damndest to make the job harder.)

Tomorrow and Friese both find themselves nodding wordlessly and get to work. The confusion spell is humming all around them, swirling through the air the moment they focus the attention on it. Slowly, carefully, they look for an end of the formula, so they can start untangling this beautiful, masterwork pattern of a charm, checking and rechecking before they make the first move. Finally, Tomorrow sighs. ‘Ah, frag it.’

R3 confusion spell
R2 Steven & his friend
R2 spells
R1 Friese

(random magic roll! A random Actor gets a an additional action this interval; apparently, it’s Steven)
Tomorrow: Sorcery 5v5=4/8 (5-3skill+6Res+2Driv-3Clout-2Toolkit)
Confusion spell: 3v3=2/8
Steven: Accident power x2 against 2 R2 spells, 2 marks and 2 marks)
Summoned elemental: Sorcery 2v5=0 against MT
R2 spells: actions lost
Friese: 1v6=0

(random magic roll! Again, a random Actor gets a free action! This time, of the of the R2 spells)
Tomorrow: 1st MA Sorcery 5v7=1=5/8; 2nd MA Sorcery 5v7=1=6/8
Confusion spell: 3v3=1=3/8
Steven: Accident power, 0 marks
Summon: Sorcery 2v6=0 against MT
R2 spell: 2v4=0 against Tomorrow’s MT, 2nd MA 2v4=2 against Tomorrow’s MT
R2 spell: 2v4=2 against Tomorrow’s MT
Friese: 1v7=1 for MT

(random magic roll! All PA get +2 Res)
Tomorrow: 1-2MA Sorcery 5v7=4=6/8
R3 spell: 3v3=3=6/8
Steven: 2v4=1 against spell’s MT
Summon: 2v4=1 against spell’s MT
R2 spell:  2v4=1 against Tomorrow’s MT
R2 spell:  2v4=0 against Tomorrow’s MT
Friese: 1v7=1 for MT

(random magic roll! All Actors regenerate 1 point Stamina & Morale Point)
Tomorrow: 1MA Sorcery 5v8=1=7/8, 2MA Sorcery 5v8=2=9/8

The spell is cracked! Ooof! That was bloody close!

‘Holy shit and Raven’s balls.’ Tomorrow looks at a tiny ball of glowing string, looking like nothing but golden yarn. She gets worried for a moment that they broke the spell but no, it’s main pattern is still humming around them, swirling, dancing, singing.

‘Ya done over there?’ asks the werewolf. ‘We really shouldda get the system back up and you two need to scram.’

‘Yeah, yeah, we totally will, Yes.’ Tomorrow hands the ball of magic string to Friese with a silly grin. ‘Let me just do a thing.’ As she pulls out her commlink and breaks the sandwich in half, then pushes it through the letterbox in the door. ‘Thanks, babe,’ she adds, tapping on the wood.

‘You did bribe it!’ exclaims the werewolf and elbows the goblin sitting next to her. ‘Told ya, Bob.’

The goblin mutters something under his breath.

‘You go and keep that place of yours secure, right?’ The sunflower waves at them from its post. ‘We can’t have this here spreading anywhere. The exit’s right there, then you figure out the way out.’

‘Thanks, folks. This was a pleasure. Lil?’

‘Coming. No time like now.’

As they pass the previously hidden door, the magic around them twists and turns, almost as if it tried catching them with inky tendrils. Tomorrow knows the path, though – for all the chaos around, the castle still has the stairs and the towers, and the places to open the portal back – if only Crowley is keeping the watch. 

And of course he is, old, soft grandpa of a spirit. Grumble as he might, he’ll never leave them hanging. Or dead.

As they pass through the portal back, Tomorrow just hopes they didn’t waste a year in there.

Wrapping up

‘Well, that was something,’ states Friese, reaching for a cigarette. The ball of yarn in her hand looks perfectly ordinary on the material plane – in astral, though, it looks like a thin chain of molten gold, with links made from constantly changing filigree. Tomorrow suddenly feels like she’s falling and she quickly brings herself back to the mundane world.

‘Worth it?’ asks Crowley in a level tone, barely hiding the curiosity.




‘It’s been two days, by the way.’

Tomorrow sighs with relief. ‘Could be worse. I need a shower.’

Friese looks at her friend grinning like a Cheshire cat. ‘And I have some work to do!’

That could have gone badly! This raising Resistance sure makes for a hard time and without raising the Conjuring skill / Contacts’ rating / hiring contractors, Tomorrow might not be able to pull off scenarios like that again. This was down to the wire, no matter how silly and narrative most of it was – the mechanics are unforgiving. Once she has more Assets and can employ proper tactics in the Scenarios, it will get easier, but for the time being, I’ll stick to lower Payouts.


Payout 6 (1 Payout of cred, 5 Payouts worth of magic research intel).
Friese’s Rating jumps up to R2, making her actually somewhat useful.
Skill learning: lots of wasted ticks on Sorcery and Con, but Conjuring 2/2, Diplomacy 1/0, and Conditioning 1/0 are still some progress. Many days of skill learning ahead!
Rep +6 for finishing the Scenario.
Familiarity with Cutters +1, as they’re the benefiting Faction.
Consequences! (with a +1 net hit on the Finale): 6 or 7 – no extra consequences. Good. I still have some to sort out from the Scenario on the Fly!

Well, that was a trip. Just like Tomorrow, I have a lot to catch up on, I have stuff to organize, tables to fill, and research to do. But damn, it was fun!


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