Project Aphelion Solo Playtest #013: Just Cut the Deal

This is me, making sure my PC is miserable and struggling as I’m testing Project Aphelion‘s mechanics in the solo mode. If we were to apply a standard story structure, I believe we have just reached Act 2. You know what happens in Act 2. Read on!


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Last we left off, Tomorrow has learned that one of her friends is a bug spirit spy, then fell into a spiral of paranoia and made herself an arcane doppelgänger (like we all would), then refused to leave her flat for days. Quality coping mechanics.

But, as Phase has told her, sometimes stuff you want to leave behind just doesn’t want to stay there.


January 9th, 2056

‘Hoi, Tomorrow, everything alright? Haven’t seen you in a while.’

Tomorrow looks at Wheeler’s reasonably, only partially worried face and sighs inwardly. She’s been avoiding everybody since Wednesday, even taking a rain check on their usual drinks in The Stampede with Wheeler and Friese. She knows she shouldn’t be raising any suspicions, but she preferred to skip one meeting than to go to it in the middle of a panic attack and blow the whole case. But it’s Saturday now, and her friends are obviously getting concerned.

She switches the call to the loudspeaker. Might as well start Tonight’s training.

‘Yeah, no, I’m good. I told you I got a pile of raw data in that lab, I’m still digging through it. I guess I kinda lost the track of time. I should probably eat something.’ She snaps her fingers and molds mana into a sandwich – a gentle reinforcement of the idea that she really can pull off a four-day research binge and not notice.

Wheeler shakes his head with a tired smile. ‘Don’t forget to sleep at some point. Even you have limits. Do you need any help with it?’

‘You any good with molecular physics?’

‘I can be.’

‘I’m fine, thanks. It’s probably a dead end. No deets about Chloe – makes me think they just wanted to headhunt her as a physicist. She always was a bloody prodigy.’ She grins and changes the subject to test his interest. ‘Anyway, how’s life in the Warrens?’

‘Fun as always.’ He shrugs nonchalantly, then drops the pretense. ‘And by fun I mean that BBs are becoming a real pain. Friese’s confusion spell still holds and it’s keeping them at bay, just like our deal with Hellhounds keeps the southern border secure, but they’re… Well, they’re local and have their central’s full support. And I have what, thirty people?’

‘Thirty two and a dog.’

‘And a bird.’

You got me,’ she corrects him with just a bit of pressure. ‘Cutters don’t.’

‘Well, I’m gonna have my ass handed to me if I don’t sort out this mess.’

‘Do you need to vent or do you need help?’

‘Hell if I know. What I need is somebody who can talk to those morons and figure out what they want. Ever since Unity got wiped out, the hood has been a mess – you’ve seen it. The market’s doing less than a quarter of what it did earlier, the smugglers don’t want to land in a war zone, and it’s just bad for the business. And I’m positive the damn clinic has a drug lab in the basement. Half of my troops are always high on something – not enough to be useless, but they’re losing the edge, and I’m losing a war. I’d court-martial them, but…’

‘Thirty two and a dog.’

‘Yeah, that.’

‘Okay, so – you got any talks set up? I take it you need somebody to run it for you. Somebody they don’t hate.’

‘I don’t hate them. I even like Bunny, we’ve been working together all the time before this place went to shit. But yeah, last time we tried to get a truce, ended up badly. Wanna lend a hand? They don’t hate you either.’

‘Of course I’ll do what I can to help you. I think I still have Bunny’s comm number. But – I’m not buying that ‘I don’t know what they want’ spiel. You know what they want. The question is, how much you’re willing to give, babe.’

Wheeler’s grim face tells her exactly how much he’s willing to give but she waits it out without a word. After a long, long while, he breaks the staring contest and sighs. ‘If we can get back to the original deal, with us controlling the guns and them having the market, with joint control over the jammer pad, I’ll consider it a success. I like this hellhole. Don’t really want to move – everything’s better than Seattle, honestly. But I can’t stay here if the Cutters go. And we will if there’s no money in it.’

‘Roger that. Well, I’ll give Bunny a call and hope he picks up. In the morning,’ she adds, noticing the late hour. ‘Get some rest, babe.’

‘You too. Stay in touch. I miss you.’

Tomorrow sends him a kiss through the camera and disconnects the call. She turns off her commlink right after, just in case, then looks at Tonight. ‘What do you think?’

The spirit materializes with a thoughtful expression on her face.

‘Didn’t really seem interested in the bug business. I’d say, barely interested in your shit at all. I guess he doesn’t really love you all that much.’

‘Almost as if his things mattered to him more than mine, right?’

‘Yeah. Normal. Healthy. Human. Probably safe.’

Tomorrow nods. ‘Agreed. Well, how would you feel about running some diplomatic talks, Tonight?’


Scenario Generation

The point of this Scenario is to negotiate a new deal between two gangs who are currently on Hostile Familiarity – and literally in the middle of a turf war (as an effect of everything that has happened in out SR campaign). The negotiation per se is not that important, at least for Tomorrow – unlike fixing the relationship between the gangs so they can work out the future problems in a more amicable way. She’s not concerned with money changing hands and details of the financial agreement. She just wants Wheeler to be less stressed.

The best way of changing the Familiarity is through Influence. It costs 3 points to raise the Familiarity from 1 (Hostile) to 2 (Resentment), then 2 more to bring it to 3 (Antipathy), then 1 more to bring it to 4 (Neutral). Which sounds like a truce and a good start for the gangs to figure stuff out. Between themselves, so Tomorrow can get back to a much more interesting job of figuring out who is spying on her. Probably not Wheeler.

Payout: 6 points of Influence to be spent to change Cutters/BBs Familiarity from 1 to 4.
Legwork: Tonight gets her first chance to be awesome, with a Diplomacy roll, 5v5=3, and Tomorrow helps her out with Sorcery (nothing beats magical spying on people, even if karma is a bitch), 5v4=4. With 7 total marks, they end the legwork with 1 net mark.
Threat Rating: As a Technical/Warfare Faction, BBs don’t have an Asset to help them in a Social Scenario, so all they get is the Scenario rolling 6v4=5. This means that Threat Rating equals 3-1 = 2.
Scenario Rating: 8. Default Actors: R3

Build Points: 8
Free Modules: 6 + 6 Passages
Free Scenes: 6

Module 1+2: Gateway+Hardpoint. Call Bunny and have him not hang up on Tomorrow/Tonight. Free Checkpoint Scene with a free R3 Social/Warfare Actor, Bunny. Bunny is an absolute unit of a troll and the right hand of BBs leader, Amy Steur. Intelligent, hilarious, single-handedly operating an assault cannon, if necessary. Tomorrow and him used to work together on some jobs, and Bunny was generally in favor of resolving the issues between the gangs in a civilized way, so he’s the easiest person to convince to listen. However, stuff cannot be too easy – I’ll raise him to R4, as Bunny honestly just deserves it (1/8 BP). I will also add 1 more point of Resistance to the Scene (2/8 BP)
A passage connects it to Module 3.

Module 3: Support Module. Get Bunny not only to listen but to support the idea. It’s a simple Offense Scene, again with Bunny as R4 Actor (3/8 BP). To simulate the complications, I’ll throw in 2 more points of Resistance (5/8 BP). If this scene fails, the conversation will go on, but unconvinced Bunny will work as 2 points of Resistance in the next Module/Scene.
A passage connects it to Module 4.

Module 4: Operations Module. Time to hash out the details and go over the whole deal – in a Licitation, a Social Capture the Flag Scene. Bunny, now a free R3 Actor, is in the Defense – and so is his boss, Amy Steur, raised to Technical/Creative R4 (7/8 BP). If stuff goes sideways, a Delayed free Scene of a bunch of gangers chasing Tonight out will trigger after the standard delay (18 intervals). I’ll add a point of Resistance in this Scene (8/8 BP)
A passage connects it to Module 5.

Module 5: Control Module. The Finale. Convincing Amy Steur (free, R3) to give the truce a chance. Money’s just money, lives are more important, and Cutters are willing to share the cake the way they did before Unity interfered in the gang business and instigated the war. I’ll sell the sixth free module as unnecessary, which leaves me with 1 BP – enough to raise Amy to R4.

And we’re done!


Preparations

Convincing Bunny should be achievable without much hassle. Amy is not that much of a challenge in negotiations, being a Technical Actor, but the 6 points of Resistance in the Finale aren’t going to make things fast. Tomorrow is also at Familiarity 6 with BBs, so the basic difficulty for both sides is set to 4, not standard 6. It does make the job slightly easier, but still requires careful planning.

Let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?

As much as I loved the chem grenade, it’s obviously useless here, as it would change the Social Scenario into a Warfare one. And in that one, BBs would have a severe advantage. Also, wouldn’t really help the situation in the hood.

Tonight came with R1 Agent gear pack and a R2 Diplomacy-adjacent item. The R1 business suit is a bit worse than Tomorrow’s pimped-up designer clothes, so Tonight is going to wear those – both for the disguise factor and for better stats. R2 fashion bling gives 2 pre-scored marks in ‘street’ Social Scenes, which is more or less what I need – it will speed up the Scenes at least by those 2 marks, and it will reduce the chance that Defense will shut down Offense in the first interval.

I think SpamBox will stay home, though – while it has a great function of seeping away actions, it first needs to be planted (and Tonight is rubbish at things that aren’t talking) and it can be traced back to the source – which means it would count as underhanded and torpedo the negotiations.

Wits’ End, however, will be clutch – with Tonight’s 5 Wit, she can potentially raise it to 8 using the item. Probably won’t, because she’d need 3 marks on 5v8, but even one mark is already an extra dice.

So I have Tonight on the Offense and Marker’s position, scoring points with her Diplomacy and Negotiations, I have Steven and a summoned elemental invisibly wrecking havoc and depleting Defense’s Morale Pools, and I have Tomorrow on the Support, helping out through running bots, commands, leadership, background investigations, and supplying data if Tonight misses a beat. She also fights against Driven trait, as she’d rather focus on her investigation, not her boyfriend’s war, but she does owe him for the winter break, even if he’s too gentlemanly to call in on that favor.

Sounds like fun?


Scenario 006: Just Cut a Deal

As this is a third Scenario I’m playing in the last week or so, and I care about it the same amount as Tomorrow does (‘Gotta be done, I guess’), I’m going to simplify the rules, switching the initiative to a simple Offense-Defense deal, and I’m skipping the behaviors unless I decide they matter – if not, everybody goes on Balanced Offense, which is ‘score marks without killing yourself’.

The Main Task is equal to 8 in all Scenes except for the initial Checkpoint, in which it equals Bunny’s Resolve = 4. I’ll roll the Scenario, then write the narrative for it, but don’t expect the long-ass winter-break drama. Tomorrow really doesn’t care about this whole thing – to the point of sending her body double to do it.

Tonight comes in with 2 pre-scored marks into every of them from the R2 bling and with 1 more from having the best clothes in the room (highest Style attribute – told you gear is great). Tomorrow’s suit also gives her 3 points of Resistance in Social Scenes and 1 point of Morale Armor. The rest of the stats isn’t going to matter.

In the first Scene with Bunny and in the first Scene with Amy, she’ll get to use 2 Clout from First Impression trait.

Module 1: Gateway
Tonight: Impersonation+1, 5v1=5. Interact: Call Bunny. Take a Breath. SP 5/5 MP 7/7
Tomorrow: IT+1, 5v8=2 points of Clout for Tonight in Mental Actions while sustained.

Module 2: Hardpoint
Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v1=5. 2 MA (comb) Negotiation+1, 5v3=4 Morale dmg for Bunny. PA TaB. SP 5/5 MP 6/7. MT 8/4
Tomorrow: Sustains Optimizer Bot for Tonight and reads a book.
Bunny: 2 MA (comb) Diplomacy, 4v1=4. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 4/8 MT 4/4 => Offense succeeds, moving on.

Module 3: Support Module
Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v1=5. 2 MA Stalling Tactics (Con+1) (comb), 5v1=5 > Bunny’s Resolve. PA TaB. SP 5/5 MP 5/7. MT 8/8
Tomorrow: Forgets about sustaining the bot, the book is interesting.
Bunny: Both his MAs have been engaged by Tonight’s stalling, so the interval ends before he even notices he has agreed to anything.

Module 4: Operations Module. As it happens later the same day, the Pools are refreshed. It’s a Licitation, so both Offense and Defense are scoring marks towards their respective Main Tasks.
Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v1=5. 2 MA Stalling Tactics (Con+1) (comb), 5v1=5 > Amy’s Resolve. PA TaB. SP 5/5 MP 6/7. MT 8/8
Tomorrow: MA Leadership+1, 3v8=3 points of Resistance for Tonight. MA IT+1, 5v8=2 points of Clout for Tonight. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 7/8
Steven: 2 MA (comb) Accident vs Bunny, 3v4=3 Bunny loses Actions.
Amy: Walks around listening to Tonight’s stalling.
Bunny: Spills coffee on himself and needs to clean his shirt.

Module 5: Control Module and the Finale. The MT is still 8, but there are 6 points of Resistance, raising the default difficulty to 10. Tonight has lost her First Impression with Amy, but she still has the Clout from the Optimizer Bot. As Tomorrow’s Driven trait works against her a lot in the Finale, her time is better spent doing stuff that doesn’t require rolling.
Tomorrow: MA sust Optimizer Bot. MA Wits’ End for Tonight, 5v8=1 more point of Wit from the next interval. SP 7/8 MP 7/8
Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v5=1. 2 MA Stalling Tactics (Con+1) (comb), 5v1=5 > Amy’s Resolve. PA TaB. SP 5/5 MP 6/7. MT 4/8
Steven: 2 MA (comb) Accident vs Bunny, 3v4=2 = Bunny loses Actions.
Amy: Wishes she had more than 2 Mental Actions.
Bunny: Still cleans his shirt.
Tomorrow: MA sust Optimizer Bot. MA Command+1 3v5=1 more point of Clout for Tonight. PA TaB. SP 7/8 MP 7/8
Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 6v4=5. 2 MA Stalling Tactics (Con+1) (comb), 5v1=5 > Amy’s Resolve. PA TaB. SP 5/5 MP 5/7. MT 9/8
Steven: 2 MA (comb) Accident vs Bunny, 3v4=3 = Bunny loses Actions.
Defense: Wishes Tomorrow/Tonight would just go home.

The Finale is won with 1 net mark!


January 11th, 2056

Tomorrow winces when her commlink, on which she was deep-stalking the social media of The Stampede’s bartender, lights up with the incoming call.

‘Hi, Adam. What’s up?’

‘Me. I’m up. In life. Thanks to you.’

‘Bunny called?’

‘He did. Said you called him, talked over and around him, and he barely noticed when he agreed to meet. And apparently, you got Steur convinced that she can only gain on a deal with us, which is ridiculous, because she’s honestly winning on all fronts but magic, and could take over with one good assault. I know I would with her resources. But no – we have a meeting booked in two days, pre-agreed conditions for negotiations, and a temporary truce until then. So, spill: how much magic did you pump into it?’

‘None. Well, a tiny bit, but nothing offensive, just something to make me more people-friendly. I guess they just still liked me from the beautiful times before. And, really, they were interested in cutting a deal with you anyway.’ She shrugs and explains: ‘They were basically half-convinced the moment we started talking. Looks like they also miss the business running smoothly and realize they can either deal or spend several more months in this standoff. It’s been what – half a year? Shadowmarket was the bees knees, and we’re all worse off with it gone. Be smart, don’t be greedy, and you’ll have your deal.’

‘You’re a lifesaver.’

‘Well, I owed you for Christmas. I’m sure your situation would be better if I didn’t drag you to Dallas.’

‘I can neither confirm nor deny. But any imaginary debts you may have had are cleared out. Wanna celebrate with us?’

Tomorrow is looking for the words for a second too long.

‘Got it.’ He saves her the hassle of finding an excuse. ‘Well, get back to your investigation. But don’t forget you have a life outside of it.’

A pointed look from Tonight pushes Tomorrow through the self-raised mental barrier and she forces herself to reconnect with the world of the living.

‘How about after you close the deal? I’ll wrap this research up, and you’ll have the real-deal reason to celebrate. We’ll make it a proper date. I miss you,’ she adds.

‘Sounds like a plan. Don’t be a stranger meanwhile. I like seeing your face, especially in the morning.’

‘Soon, babe. I’ll stay over. But I really gotta finish this thing. Love you, though!’

‘Love you too, you unbearable scientist. Stay safe. And thanks again.’

‘Anytime.’

As soon as the call ends, Tonight chimes in: ‘You really gotta stop torpedoing your relationships. You were supposed to behave like a normal person, not a paranoid shut-in. Keep it up and you won’t have shit to get back to once we’re done here.’

‘Since when you’re a relationship expert, huh? Much action in the spirit world?’

‘Since you hired me to be your community outreach manager. You’re already paying me – might as well listen to advice.’

Tomorrow grumbles and gets back to her investigation – but she knows well enough that the spirit is right. After all, it’s not saying anything she doesn’t realize herself.


Wrapping Up

Was it dead-easy? Yes.

Was it dead-easy because I’ve built the scenario to capitalize on the strengths of the team, carefully picked the gear, unloaded expensive consumables, and set up a complete action lockdown on all Defense Actors? And I specifically created a new character to make Social Scenarios easier, because it’s Tomorrow’s weak point? Yes.

This is a strategy game. You can scramble and suffer – or you can get prepared. I sometimes like to get over-prepared and just knock it out of the park. Especially on side quest detours like that one.

There are no further consequences from this scenario either, as I rolled a 4.

6 points of Payout went straight as Influence to raise the Cutters/BBs Familiarity from 1 to 4. Tomorrow’s Faction, due to doing both Factions a favor through a mutually beneficial scenario, gets to raise the Familiarity with them as well (to 8 and 7, respectively). Wheeler’s Familiarity of 9 requires 4 Scenarios completed to his benefit to be raised to 10, and this was the second of them (the first being the metaplanar trip).

Tomorrow also nets +6 general Rep (total 44 and 4th point of Influence) and so does Tonight (6).

Skill Learning:
Tomorrow: IT+2, Leadership +1, Command +1
Tonight: Impersonation +1, Diplomacy +4, Negotiations +1, Con +3


Back to Standard Programming

This small detour finished, Tomorrow can get back to the one thing that interest her: figuring out who’s doing her dirty. At least until some other interruption happens… Most probably, in the next episode. Because I’ve already rolled 3d10 and picked median for the number of days of peace and quiet. And stuff goes down on 16th.

But meanwhile, I’ll squeeze in some skill learning for two characters.

Tomorrow:
Leadership 1, 3v6=2, skill raised to 1 (Jan 11th)
IT 1, 5v6=3, skill raised to 1 (Jan 12th)
(Teaching+1, 3v5=3) Stealth 3, 5v5=4, skill raised to 3 (Jan 15th)
Command 1, 3v6=2, skill raised to 1 (Jan 16th)
Tonight:
Negotiation 2, 5v7=2, skill raised to 2 (Jan 12th)
Diplomacy 4, 5v9=0, no progress made (Jan 16th)

And we’ll do some more progress on the bug spirit investigation, continuing to collect marks. By 16th, they’ve scored 4 more marks and got the counter to 6/9. Still don’t know what’s it all about and who is keeping tabs on Tomorrow – but they’re close.

Who is it, who is it? Guess we’ll learn in the next episode. Unless stuff happens! (It will.)

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