Project Aphelion Solo Play #008: The Lovely Wintertime

Welcome back to the solo game of Project Aphelion, in which I take this lovely engine and do weird things with it – and it still works! Now, this episode is mostly a matter of downtime, comes with a very short story, and sets up another scenario. There are no dragon encounters, but I promise it’s still worth the time.


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Faction Layer, December 18, 2055

Resources

  • 3 Payout worth of cash
  • 4 Payouts worth of Influence towards Henequen’s Faction
  • 4 Payouts worth of magical research Intel
  • 8 Payouts worth of Chloe Intel
  • 2 Payouts worth of Dragon Intel
  • 2 points of general Influence for Rep
  • Cash: 3300c (5000c earned as a deposit from the art gallery Scenario, minus 1000c spent on designer clothes, minus 200c spent on Sc001 and 500c spent on Sc002)

Character Advancement

Total Rep: +5, 29
Magic items created: +1, 2
Campaign progress: 17/100
Skill learning:

  • Conjuring 5v8=3, skill raised from 2 to 3 after 3 days of learning, try again later!  (by Dec 20).
  • Con 4v8=1, 1 mark out of 2 for skill learning (by Dec 23)
  • Negotiation 4v6=0, 0 marks out of 1 for skill learning, try again later! (by Dec 24)
  • Sciences 5v7=3, skill raised from 1 to 2 after 2 days of learning (by Dec 26) – this raises my 4th Primary Skill to R2, unlocking this part of the career progression – now, just a Deed to be deeded!
  • Perception 4v6=3, skill raised from 0 to 1 after 1 day of learning (by Dec 27)
  • Investigation  4v8=1, 1 mark out of 2 for skill learning (by Dec 30)
  • Intimidation 3v6=2, skill raised from 0 to 1 after 1 day of learning (by Dec 31)

And I’m out of the month! Skill learning all set up and some progress made (or not – I’m looking at you, Negotiation). I plan on only one more scenario in December: a winter break at Tomorrow’s parents’ home, and the rest of the time spent on research and item-creation projects. I’m currently out of steam for another dragon encounter, and I’m sure Tomorrow is as well.There’s a couple of things I want to do with the character, and the time has come to list, organize, and prioritize. In no particular order:


Education

Tomorrow has finished high school during the downtime of our SR campaign in an online course, and in October, she has joined an online university, working for a Master of Magic degree from University of Santa Fe (Pueblo Corporate Council), then a PhD. Sarah’s study focus and planned thesis is about the effect of transformative manipulation magic on organic tissue. In SR, I had this whole ordeal house-ruled into a massive undertaking of acquiring knowledge skills… In PA, I can just call it ‘achieving the Rating 5 in the Magician Career’. Leveling up her career is important to Tomorrow – even more since the Career trait has received a small facelift and now provides me with [Rating] amount of Clout when using Primary Skills (Sorcery, Conjuring, Investigation, Sciences). Hence, one of the main downtime focuses of Tomorrow will be making progress in her career and collecting deeds needed to level up: from leveling up contacts and finding new ones to making new spells and magic items.


Teaching skill

You know all those RPGs that include some kind of teaching or instruction skill, but the rules for them make it only useful for NPCs, because there’s literally zero payoff for the person having the skill? Well, that’s not Project Aphelion. In here, it’s not only a skill of teaching – giving people Clout for their Skill Learning Projects – it’s also a skill of learning – giving yourself the same benefit. And you only need the basics of a skill to teach it to others – R1 is enough. After all, your usual shooting instructor doesn’t have to be the best marksman in the West to teach you how to handle the gun, and the understanding of learning process is one of those soft skills that are widely applicable in life. So, Teaching is definitely a skill that Tomorrow wants to learn as she doesn’t want to waste her time on currying favour with factions having access to magical learning and training facilities. To learn Teaching, I’ll have Tomorrow study over the holidays – nothing better than cramming arcane theory and gingerbread on the same day.


Magic research

New advanced action cards and new magic items. After the conversation with Henequen, it’s obvious that I need some way of reducing the Morale damage, because with just 8 effective ‘hit points’ in conversation when a R5 Actor can reduce them to 0 in less than one turn, I’m a squishy baby. Therefore, I will be using the Crafting rules to make some new gear, with Morale Armor. Probably also activated; I don’t want to hook Tomorrow up on some kind of neurological bioaugmentation that would make her more resistant to stress, so a magical mental shield sounds like a better option. And with a built-in duration for the consumables and the cost in Stamina drain, this is easily balancing itself.

Project Aphelion doesn’t have random encounters – if somebody tries to mug Tomorrow on the street, it’s because of another Faction’s projects or interference, and not because of randomness of dice. However, she will sooner or later step on somebody’s toes and lead will start flying. So, in the interest of staying alive, Tomorrow could use some kind of spell creating an Awareness modifier, raising the difficulty for all kinds of Awareness-related tasks. Most notably, Perception, Gunnery, and Marksmanship. I think this should be a sustained spell, so I don’t have to worry about the duration – it is going to eat up one of Tomorrow’s mental actions while being sustained but actively warping light / air / molecules around you so you’re harder to spot and shoot is worth it. That, combined with the stealth suit providing Tomorrow with extra Resistance in such cases, should make shooting her a relatively complex ordeal.

As far as spell research go, I also want a spell that will let me animate objects (creating Actors of R=marks for as long as it is sustained) and some kind of a Sleep/Drowsiness spell (depleting target’s Stamina Pool in a non-combat way). I’m toying with more ideas too, but they’ll have to wait for now.

To learn a new Advanced Action Card, as per rules, I need to spend 10 points of Influence and then run a training project. However, as I want to make it a spell research endeavour, I’ll swap Influence for Intel of the ‘magical research’ kind  of a feel and leave the rest as is: a Training Project with Challenge equal to the number of Advanced Action Cards already known times 5, using the Career Rank for a Dice Pool. That Training Project has Resistance equal to the number of Advanced Action Cards already known by the character. Does it sound like a long, long time? Rolling 1 dice against diff. of 7 (Focus Rating acts as skill, reducing diff. by 1) to gather 10 marks? Yes. Yes, it is going to be a long time. But hey. Shadowrun gives you an interval of 3 months on spell research for Manipulation spells, so it takes roughly a year and a half to come up with a spell. RAW. We had it houseruled into an interval of a week, and it still only allowed Tomorrow to come up with a couple of spells during the campaign. I’ll take my ‘gather 10 marks’ – should be done within a month.

Because I need those Intel points of magical research, I will be also running projects generating Intel in the background – just generalized ‘arcane research’ that will be later used for specific spells and other thingies. I don’t really have a facility for that but I won’t be building a magical research lab just to get some research done. Not yet, anyway.

Also, as I have now Conjuring 3 (as of 20th December), Steven is due an upgrade. Higher rating of the skill lets me conjure elementals on R3 but as my bound elemental is basically a biodrone, I need to spend time rebinding and upgrading it through reskinned crafting rules.


Scenarios

As I’ve mentioned, only one planned for December, because Tomorrow needs to think and figure out how to approach the matter of Aztlan feathered serpents and their quarrel. I will have to introduce them and as per previous Scenario’s consequences, the new Faction will make contact, but it will take some time as Zacualtipan runs her project in the background, so I’m leaving that until January. Time-gating myself? Yes – but mostly to give Tomorrow a fighting chance in this mess. This is a strategy game, after all, and player choices matter.

Oh, and the package of intel from Green Bishops that needs to be unwrapped into a proper narrative, giving Tomorrow even more research to do… Life’s not easy.

So, the last scenario of December? Holidays at the parents’ house. Tomorrow has a rather tumultuous relationship with her parents – as one can expect of a rebellious cop/lawyer kid from upper middle class who dropped out of high school, landed herself in prison for five years, and became a family disappointment. Tomorrow’s mother is a devout Christian who despises magic, and Tomorrow’s father is a straight-as-uncooked-spaghetti (in the ethical sense) Texas Ranger whose reputation took a massive hit because of criminal endeavours of his firstborn. However, after Chloe’s disappearance and Tomorrow’s release from the prison, they’re all trying to rescue the relationship: the parents don’t want to lose their daughter, and she just plainly misses them and wants to prove she’s not a total mess.

Here’s the objective for the Scenario: raising the contacts’ rating from 1 to 2, making both parents more important for the story. It doesn’t progress the main plot, so Tomorrow is going to struggle with her Driven trait, but she understands that she cannot just focus only on the Chloe’s investigation; the world’s bigger than that and she needs balance in her life. Having healthy relationships with her parents is a part of the long-term goal of uniting the family, so they’re ready and healed before they get Chloe back. There’s a lot of conflict to resolve, years of resentment and unaddressed trauma on all sides.

Mechanically, I’m going to run a Scenario with Payout 4: raising two R1 contacts to R2, costing 2 points of Payout each. Tomorrow needs to connect with her mother above their magic/religion split and probably make a good impression on the neighborhood Joneses during the Christmas party, and she needs to get back to her roots with her dad, who used to take her on cross-country trips and target practice, where they talked about their lives, goals, ambitions, and ethics.

Am I just using the mechanics of the Scenario to create a structure for the narrative I want to build to mend the family wounds in a self-indulgent, feel-good wintertime narrative?

Obviously, yes. But the mechanics got my back and provide the objectives and challenges to overcome, so I know how to run NPCs and their reactions to Tomorrow’s actions. The failure is, honestly, unlikely – the Payout is low and the sides are willing to reconcile (and at Familiarity 8). But, as Jakub and I are literally just working on some complications mechanics, stuff might happen.


Running the Game

It is 18th of December, and Tomorrow has just left her meeting with Henequen. She knows that there’s a deeper intrigue brewing in the background and that Aztechnology really is behind it all, in one way or another. She knows she needs to think through her options carefully and make sure there are no missteps. And if there’s one thing you should know about Tomorrow, is that she thinks best if she has a soundboard.

December 18th, 2055

Tomorrow sighs contentedly, leaning her head against Wheeler’s arm. A good trid after a meal and some intimacy is exactly what she needed after the harrowing and enlightening experience of the dinner with Henequen. Dragons’ intrigue or not, she’s not alone in all of that. She will have figured it out by the morning, as usual.

‘Feel better?’ asks Adam, handing her a bowl of popcorn. He sounds as always: composed, down-to-earth, and pragmatic, but Tomorrow knows him well enough to notice he’s at least slightly worried about her.

‘Yeah, a bit. I mean, you know, I got this. Not like I didn’t expect some second and third layer to this mess. If anything, I’m actually relieved.’

‘No more waiting for the other shoe to drop, I get it. Happy and unexpected breakthroughs usually come with a price tag.’

‘Makes me wonder about those Bishops too,’ she admits. ‘But I think that’s a different pair of shoes. Anyway. One dragon tells me to go chat with another, to plot against the third, who tried to rope me into going to Hawaii, probably to sniff out Chloe for Aztech. Which feels, honestly, like a wild goose chase.’

Wheeler shrugs. ‘Frag them, then. Pretend to be their pawn, dig deeper into the case outside their sphere of influence. Hedge your bets and don’t commit until absolutely necessary. Wouldn’t be the first time for you.’

‘Hey!’ Tomorrow levitates a bunch of popped kernels at his face. ‘I did what I had to do, trapped between the Cutters and BBs in a middle of a turf war. It’s not my fault you didn’t show me how cool you are ahead of time. Should’ve been more charming, you’d get my commitment earlier. Or not, I’d probably assume you’re seducing me for the nefarious purpose of using me in the war.’ She waves a hand and the scattered popcorn picks itself up and floats into a trash can.

‘I did use you in the war.’

‘Yes, but I volunteered to help with a nefarious purpose of picking you up. That’s a difference.’ Tomorrow laughs – and quickly stops, biting her lips. ‘Would be cooler if people didn’t die.’

‘Us or them, Tomorrow. Them’s the breaks.’

‘Yeah. Well… You know.’

‘I know.’

She sighs again and lies down on Wheeler’s bed, losing sight of the trid. Whatever the protagonist is trying to achieve there, is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things important in the world of Tomorrow. ‘Hedging bets against dragons sounds like something that will blow up in my face. But if I already have one of them as a personally interested, opposing faction, it only makes sense to equip myself with a dragon of my own. And I still have a pile of Bishops’ intel to parse, double-check, and cross-reference before I can act upon it. And…’

‘Yes?’ asks Wheeler as she falls silent, with a mischievous smile on her face.

‘You got any plans for the holidays?’

‘Possibly.’

‘Do they include me?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Would they mind including me about 800 miles south-east from here?’

To his credit, he catches it immediately – or at least that’s what Tomorrow assumes, looking at his suddenly furrowed brows.

‘Am I gonna get shot for dragging their daughter into a lair of lowlife criminals?’

‘Unlikely. They know I’ve dragged myself there through my own choices. You may be asked to participate in some family parlor games. But I think you’d be good at Scrabble.’

‘I’m amazing at Scrabble. Do you really want me there or do you just need a buffer?’

Tomorrow pretends to consider the question for the moment, but the truth is the only fair option.

‘Both,’ she admits, closing her eyes and focusing on the comforting softness of the pillow under her head. ‘We seem to be progressing nicely towards a genuinely positive family unit, but I haven’t spent much time with them since I got out from the prison, and as much as they’re both flying high on Chloe’s investigation, we still have a giant pile of unresolved shit between us. Like, I get why they raised us they way they did, and I sympathize, and whatever – but yeah, I wouldn’t mind somebody on my side just in case we get to revisit exactly why I moved out from their house at sixteen. I’ll owe you big time, I know.’

‘No, you won’t.’

‘What?’

‘It’s not a transaction and you don’t owe me anything. Of course we can go visit your parents together. It’s Texas, it will be fun – and if it won’t, we’ll just pack up and leave them to their uptight, holier-than-thou bullshit.’

‘I love you, you know?’ she states in response, opening her eyes.

‘Figured.’


Now, priorities. Between all stuff on Tomorrow’s plate, upgrading Steven is of the highest priority – the bound elemental is her constant companion, and raising him from Rating 2 to Rating 3 is going to raise all his attributes by 50%, increase his dice pool by 50%, give him 50% more morale and stamina, and – most importantly – double his available actions each interval. Adding a third power (next to Accident and Concealment; what I call Confusion is just a basic ‘morale damage attack’) is just an icing on the cake, but I will most definitely take that icing.

However, I can only do that after raising Conjuring to R3, so starting on 21st of December. That gives me 2 days, 19th-20th, to do something else – a short arcane research project towards new spells won’t hurt. I’ve given T. a day off on 18th, so she can reset after all the dragons and just enjoy her date night. With 2v5=1, I add 1 Payout worth of Intel to my magical research pile, raising it to 5. Five more, and I have enough for a new spell!

Now, as I’m treating my bound elemental as a drone, I need to run a crafting project to upgrade it. You can’t actually raise the Rating through crafting, but I’m hacking this anyway, so let’s say it takes the same amount of time as crafting from scratch and uses up as much material as modding. It’s a scientific project with a challenge equal to Rating (3), and I need to spend materials equal to the Rating, also 3. As there’s obviously no set price for ‘mana-based elemental DIY kit’ in this hard scifi system, I’ll just steal the generic ‘magical resources’ of Shadowrun, 500Y apiece. Not cheap by any means, but upgrading an asset as good as Steven is worth the price. Rolling 1v5, I’ve gathered 3 marks in three days, so on 23rd December and after paying 1,500c (leaving Tomorrow at 1,800c in cash), Steven has been upgraded and rebound as a R3 elemental with the following stats:

R3 bound air elemental, Steven (Clout 3, Range 4 (4 modules), Acceleration 4, Tonnage 0, Signature 2 (astral), Heat 0, Upkeep 3, Mods 0/3, Durability 3. Access to Action Cards:

  • Concealment [M, S, N/A, Effect: Marks scored provide Resistance against all attempts to spot the target. Max number of targets = Rating],
  • Accident [M, I, N/A, CR: Fitness. Effect: Target must commit a number of actions equal to marks scored as a small accident makes their life harder: they trip, spill a drink, or get dizzy. Net marks reduce Morale Pool.])
  • Elemental Attack [P, I, Awareness, Marksmanship, Effect: Ranged attack dealing Stamina damage = marks. Counts as electrical damage.]

Those two things bring me to 24th December and it’s clearly high time to prepare for Christmas in Texas.


Winter Break Scenario Generation

This here is not supposed to be a hard scenario. Quite the opposite – it’s supposed to be a feel-good, self-indulgent scenario that gives me mechanical structure to something Tomorrow personally really wants – rebuilding her relationship with her parents. I see no reason for it to be a struggle, I just want to specifically put effort towards making Tomorrow’s parents bigger factors in this adventure. It is a path she has chosen in our original campaign, and went from occasional ‘how are you’ text messages to pouring her heart out and receiving nothing but support, so there’s a lot of progress already made. I want to commit the time, resources, and effort to make it better.

Payout: 4 – raising two contacts from R1 to R2

Legwork: Investigation sounds like the best pick in this case, so with 4v4, it takes Tomorrow two days to prepare everything she needs to spend the holidays in relative peace and quiet. No net marks, though!

Treat Rating: Scenario rolling 4v5 twice, scores 6 marks, setting the Threat Rating as 3.

Scenario Rating: 7

Build Points: 7

Free Modules: 4

Free Scenes: 4

Default Actor Rating: 3

Now, let’s imagine the Winter Break in Dallas-Fort Worth. There’s several things that I envision happening there:

  • Tomorrow’s conversation with her mother over preparations for the party
  • a Christmas party at her parents’ house, with invited guests and a bit of flaunting a recovered daughter
  • Tomorrow’s bonding trip with her dad, split into hiking and a fun target practice adventure.

Those are four free modules. I will add a fifth one (spending 1/7 BP), in which the Finale is going to take place – maybe just a nice and quiet chat over some board game, in which Tomorrow will try to convince her parents that her new path is not going to cause the family more grief, quite the opposite – that she will bring honour to them all.

Whether or not her boyfriend is literally a lieutenant of a gun-smuggling international (and well known) cartel. He works in logistics. He’s also a guest and sometimes opposition in this scenario, not a paid-for contact.

I’m going to ignore the ‘two days of legwork’ which would set the starting date at 26th, as I plan to run this scenario over multiple days anyway, starting on 25th (module 1 and 2), running through 26th (module 3 and 4) and ending on 27th (module 5).

Module 1: A lovely kitchen in which Sarah (none of that street name silliness under the parents’ roof!) is going to quite probably run a metaphysical debate (Scientific Capture the Flag Scene) with her mother (free R3 Social/Scientific Actor) over the differences between magic and religion, the heresy of spirit summoning, the personal Jesus vs the personal Raven, and all other kinds of lovely matters. This is going to be fun! As her mother is a devout Christian with deep distrust of magic, this scene is going to have an extra 1 point of Resistance thrown into it (2/7 BP).

Module 2: A Christmas party, with some friends of the family. Sarah wants to make the best possible impression on the people whom her parents have invited, so it will be, mechanically, a Live Show / Race Against Time scene, in which Sarah needs to gather marks towards the main goal until the clock strikes midnight and the time of the scene runs out.  By default, it’s 10+SR intervals, so 17 – I’m going to treat each interval as 5 minutes, giving T. ample narrative time to do what she needs. The scene comes with a free R3 Actor, as always – it’s somewhat inappropriate to make her parents any kind of opposition, so this will be one of the guests. So they’re not alone, I’ll add two more R3 Actors and 10 Extras to the Scene, giving both sides something fun to work with (5/7 BP). Whether the Actors are going to have behaviors and agendas that work against Sarah – we’ll see when we meet them. For the purposes of this, both parents and Wheeler count as extras – Sarah can bribe them to bring in reinforcements and they are in the scene, but they’re not active Actors. No amount of praise and support from her loved ones can help impress the neighbours.

Module 3: A hiking trip. The trip includes all four people, but the core part of it is a matter of reconnecting Sarah with her dad, and for that purpose, I will place a King of the Hill scene there. Unlike the heated and scientific debate with her mother, this should be a matter of slow progress towards mutual understanding – in King of the Hill, only the side which scores net marks in each interval gets to add them to the Scene’s Main Task. The free Actor is of course Sarah’s dad, a R3 Warfare/Investigative Actor. As in this generally social scenario this hardened military man will be at disadvantage even against his somewhat socially inept daughter, but that’s okay. He really wants her happy, and I just want to roleplay some father-daughter reconciliation, because I’m missing it in my life. Sue me.

Module 4: A target practice adventure. It wouldn’t be a holiday at the Jameses if there wasn’t some shooting involved. In our SR campaign, Tomorrow was actually a master marksman due to my innate ability of stacking dice and modifiers, but in here, she’s at 4 dice of Awareness and skill rating 0 of Marksmanship. Time to fix it! This will be a literal Capture the Flag scenario, with a free R3 Warfare/Investigative Actor of Sarah’s dad and a paid-for R3 Social/Warfare Actor of Adam Wheeler (6/7 BP). Just imagine a family trip to a paintball area – because this is exactly what’s going to happen. Special rule: no magic. This is not one of the standard PA conditions but I’m making it one, spending the last BP on hamstringing Sarah. No magic means no Steven as well, of course. Just grit, smarts, and quality shooting with nonlethal paint ammo.

Module 5: A family board game night before Sarah and Adam go back to Denver. The Scene: Finale with automatic 4 points of Resistance. It comes with a free Actor R3 but I need two, so I’ll reduce the Rating of the free Actor to R2, net myself a build point, and buy a second Actor R3 with that. R2 will be dearest daddy and R3 will be dearest mommy, as that relationship is harder to fix – a difference between what Sarah is doing (crime) vs who Sarah is (a heretic magician). Wheeler is there, but other than a ‘screw you, we’re going back to Denver, you’re terrible parents’ in case of a failure in the Finale, he has no role to play.

And that’s the plan for the Scenario! Expect lots of family feels, bunch of self-indulgence, and exactly zero snow.

And maybe – some complications.

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