Welcome to Project Aphelion‘s solo playtest, in which I have an exorbitant amount of fun stretching, twisting, and adjusting the mechanics (they still hold) – and making my PC miserable (she also holds quite well). In this episode, we’re planning, plotting, dealing with dragons, going on trips, and enjoying the fact that we have two people in the Crew.
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The Scheming Dragons
Zacualtipan has a plan. Dzitbalchen also has a plan. I have a vague idea what those plans are – about as vague as Tomorrow has. Let’s enter the game of play, counter-play, bluff, and triple bluff! Skipping the double bluff to throw the enemy off balance.
First, Zacualtipan doesn’t know that Tomorrow already has Chloe’s address – Tomorrow has dismantled her bug-spirit-powered spy network, so the dragon doesn’t have a logical way of possessing intel about Tomorrow’s blood magic ritual. And Tomorrow should be generally right about Zacualtipan’s plan – Dzitbalchen wants Fayette, so Zac will want to spit into his porridge. Why does he want Fayette? Ah, that’s a question for another time, perhaps. Does it all give Tomorrow maybe half a step ahead (or at least: sideways) from the dragons? Possibly. And she will do everything to not forfeit that sliver of advantage.
Does it mean that Zacualtipan will offer her a job finding Fayette as a ‘way of finding your sister’? Yes. Will Tomorrow take it and pretend to be grateful, as she’s ‘out of ideas and options’? Yes, and she’ll do her best to never, under any circumstances, suggest that she has her own leads – unless in an obvious bluff, to pretend that she’s pretending… It’s probably best to leave this to Tonight. Bug spirit intel didn’t cover the matrix, so the matters of Green Bishops should be treated as unknown to the dragon as well.
In any case, Tomorrow is aware that as long as Dzitbalchen is looking for Fayette, Chloe is in danger, so getting to the bottom of this case benefits her investigation as well. ‘Finding Chloe’ was never the objective – Tomorrow has already found her. It’s the ‘make sure they can live happily ever after, without Aztechnology on their backs‘ that matters.
Before you say ‘finding and selling Fayette to Dzitbalchen would solve the problem’ – yes, Tomorrow has already thought about that, and she hasn’t so far discarded this option. Again, not a good person. Yet another reason to get paid for finding Fayette.
Will the dragon have layers upon layers in the plan of hers and superhuman intelligence, and years of scheming more than Tomorrow’s little tricks? Yes. And I’m positive there will be twists, turns, and betrayals… But why don’t we leave it to the emergent gameplay and just see what happens instead of planning some multi-level-marketing intrigue of two dragons and then pretending I don’t know it?
I don’t feel like playing a Scenario of a ‘Johnson meeting’, so I will instead run a project with Challenge = Payout to generate the Scenario, and then go from there. There’s no reason why the whole matter with Zac couldn’t be resolved without personal contact, letting Tonight substitute – even a dragon cannot tell apart a realistic-form spirit from an elf over a matrix chat. And with Tomorrow and Zac both being under Aztech observation, avoiding meeting face-to-face sounds like a reasonable option.
Payout of 5 sounds worth it, so it is a Project with Challenge of 5. I’m going to throw some of the Chloe intel at it, to make it go faster. As Tonight is busy with preparing the Scenario for the main plot, Tomorrow tries to make progress on her magic research, because surprise, surprise: I want her to get her degree at some point.
It’s now February, and Tomorrow has some skill learning ticks that I can run in the background.
(Teaching+1 3v4=2) Sciences 3, 5v6=0, no progress made (by Feb 3)
(Teaching+1 3v4=2) Investigation 3, 4v6=1, 2/3 marks (by Feb 6)
I told you it’s easy to pick up basics in this system. Leveling up your skills, even though it costs nothing but time and requires you to use them, becomes a challenge of its own once you’re trying to get to higher levels.
Tonight: project to generate a Scenario from Zac, rolling 1v5 with Challenge 5. She scores 1 mark on the first day of the project, and then watch me throw 4 points worth of Chloe intel at this, ending this project on the same day it was started, Feb 4th. And it makes all kinds of narrative sense, which will become apparent to you shortly.
Tomorrow: desperately trying to make some progress on her spell research in that one day, rolling 1v6=1 and getting her studies to 1/10, and then it’s already legwork time. She really, really, really wanted to have more time for studies, but then – she can finish uni together with her sister, right?
February 4th, 2056
It took several meetings with friends and associates, magically refilling over a hundred meters of a fortified tunnel, diving deep into neighborhood gangs’ politics, bothering Crowley halfway to madness, a bunch of cinema trips, and an impromptu date night with skydiving from an ad zeppelin, but Tomorrow has survived her five days of relative rest. The end of the month has finally arrived, and by that time, she was so thoroughly bored and miserable that Wheeler, to his own surprise, gave her a free hand negotiating a deal between Henequen and the Cutters.
Not that Wheeler particularly needed a dragon in his yard, but on the other hand, Henequen was – just up until this point – a competitor, and one that he couldn’t keep track of. Now, thanks to Tomorrow just itching to do something productive and more than willing to call in favors for his benefit, he found himself with a lucrative deal and a partnership. As much as her distaste for the Cutters as a syndicate was clear, she just couldn’t stop herself from finding or creating new and exciting business opportunities. And, well, she probably still felt guilty about the ritual and wanted to even out the scale with him. She didn’t have to, but if it made her feel better…
It was also a relatively safe thing to do.
What’s happening right now also sounds like a safe thing, and it makes him uneasy. He wonders if it’s his or Tomorrow’s paranoia – or maybe it is just one feeding off the other.
‘Basically, she wants you to find Marti Vann and get the story out of her.’ Tonight sits cross-legged mid-air, snacking on white grapes. She tries and fails to balance the single grapes on her nose, like a circus seal who grew self-conscious enough to grow bored. ‘I’ve negotiated twenty kay in cash, half up front.’
Tomorrow absentmindedly chews on a pen and the expression of deep focus on her face makes it unreasonably pretty. ‘For a trip to Shoalwater and a chat? This feels… excessive.’
‘What you wanted to say is: thank you,’ reminds her the spirit, clearly proud of herself. ‘Scan this: Zac doesn’t know where Marti is. Or at least she pretends she doesn’t know, to test you. She said that Marti and Fayette both moved to Denver two years ago, when Fayette started the Azzie university, and that she lost track of her afterwards.’
‘Sounds fishy. Dash has found out Marti’s whereabouts months ago, and as far as I know, it only took her a couple of weeks, working in her spare time. Either Zac is lying, or Dash is an absolutely amazing and underutilized asset that I haven’t appreciated enough.’
‘Zac kept an eye on you, of all people – it really makes no sense for her to lose track of one of the two people that we know Fayette cares about. Unless Marti managed to disappear and hide herself properly? Until recently, you made more progress in your investigation through the Matrix than you did through spy networks and magic. Maybe Zac just sucks at that – and didn’t trust anybody else with Matrix search.’
‘Far-reaching,’ states Wheeler. He was trying to stay out from that conversation, but they were clearly missing a possible angle there. ‘Have you considered the chance that the dragon just wants to use you as bait? If Vann’s whereabouts aren’t a well-kept secret, she’s under Azzie observation, one way or another. You asking around or causing a spike in Matrix searches would be easy to pick up by a spy or a Matrix agent program. They must have those set up for anybody looking up names connected to the case. If you cause waves and then fly to Shoalwater, whoever is keeping tabs on it will follow and probably interfere. And more importantly, they will leave Denver, clearing the field for whatever operation the dragon really has in mind.’
‘Would somebody do that? Lie and use innocent birds as bait?’ Tomorrow feigns the outrage, puts down her notebook and stretches lazily. ‘Monsters, I tell you. Lucky that we don’t have to cause waves then, eh? I got Marti’s new name, address, and even a bloody LTG number. And a Pueblo SIN, letting me get into Salish-Sidhe territory without a visa. Gotta love Native American Nations and their freedom of movement.’
‘Almost as if you bought that citizenship specifically to pull this trip off.’
‘Well, I knew I’ll have to go to Shoalwater sooner or later.’ His girlfriend flashes him a smile, confirming the assumption. ‘I had the opportunity to get prepared, so I took it. And they gave me a start-up tax break for the first year, so it’s totally worth it.’
‘You’re just going to make yourself an open target for Aztech. They’ll start following you everywhere once you make any progress on this case.’ There goes the relatively safe part.
‘If I find Fayette for them, they’ll no longer need Chloe.’
Tomorrow’s words hang in the air for a second. Wheeler tries to catch her eyes, but she’s staring at her nails, her jaw set and her back stiff.
Calculating. Effective. Ruthless. It must be love.
‘Unless they decide to trim the loose ends. But you’re right, it could work,’ he agrees calmly and it prompts her to raise her head. Her eyes are cautious, looking for something in his face – judgment? ‘Is that your plan?’
She winces but doesn’t avoid eye contact any longer. ‘If I trusted them to honor the deal – maybe. But I don’t, so it’s just an option, and not one I’ll use while I have others still available. If I have to choose between Chloe and Fayette – well, it’s not a choice.’
‘You actually want to be a target, don’t you?’ Tonight laughs as if she has just heard the best joke. ‘To clear the damn field?’
Tomorrow responds with a grin, but it’s far removed from her usual cockiness. She’s scared, realizes Wheeler. But it’s not going to stop her even one bit. ‘As long as they know I’m looking for Fayette and they can track my movements, they won’t harm me. It’s most beneficial for them to let me run the investigation and then swoop in if and when I find her. After that…’ She shrugs, and she’s right about that – all bets are off at that point. ‘If I manage to keep their attention on getting closer to Fayette, I might be able to remove Chloe from Hawai’i quietly, without ever going there. I know they will follow anywhere I go – they literally told me to go to Honolulu and now they’re waiting for me to make the move. So I was thinking of just hiring somebody else to do that part for me – preferably after talking to my sister first. If Zac wants to pay me for the investigation, that’s even better – I won’t have to look for other ways of financing the rescue team.’
‘Just let me know if you need anything. We have some business in Hawai’i, and putting one person on a transport shouldn’t be too complicated if you manage to make contact.’
Tomorrow looks at him wordlessly, clearly surprised and considering her options.
‘I get that you don’t trust the central after the spying business,’ he adds seeing her hesitation. ‘But I thought the access to the Cutters’ network is exactly why you got involved with us in the first place. You might as well use it after putting in so much work into the relationship. You are owed at least a couple of favors here. The Agni Institute blueprints can buy you more.’
‘It is why I got involved with y’all in the first place,’ she agrees lightly. ‘I just didn’t expect you to know it.’
‘I didn’t, but it made the most sense. Good to have a confirmation.’ Her glare makes him laugh and he pulls her closer, causing a pile of notebooks between them to fall from the couch. She yelps with surprise, but relaxes quickly and hugs him. ‘But I mean it. If you manage to get to Chloe, we can probably arrange the transport for her.’
‘Thank you. I’ll figure something out. Matrix will probably be the safest. Then we’ll see.’
Tonight clears her throat – a thing so incomprehensibly unnecessary for a spirit, that it stops their conversation in its tracks.
‘You know… All you have to do is to ask,’ she says, popping another grape in her mouth. ‘I can do a metaplanar jump and be in her basement in about half a minute. Nobody can track me through the metaplane. I thought that’s exactly why you made me.’
‘Looks like I have all the ducks lined up, then.’ For somebody so close to reaching her goal, Tomorrow looks rather unimpressed. ‘I can get her back within a week. Two, tops. Awesome.’
‘You can,’ agrees Wheeler. ‘What’s the problem?’
‘What am I going to do with her in Denver? Stuff her in my Pueblo flat and leave her alone, while I’m running after Fayette? Put her here, with all the mess and spying eyes? Send her to Dallas and hope she doesn’t get into a massive fight with our parents? That they’ll manage to keep her safe? What if I drag her out from her hideout and that’s exactly what Aztech is waiting for? What if she wants to stay in Hawai’i, because she’s now involved with ALOHA’s case and has friends there?’ Tomorrow rattles out a list on a single breath, her eyes staring at the cracks in the ceiling. ‘What if she hates me?’
‘You need comfort or solutions?’ he asks, not sure how to proceed. ‘Because…’
‘Because two of those things would take about five minutes to check and the rest is just more work,’ Tonight cuts him off, not a shred of sympathy in her voice. ‘You’re not doing anybody favors with that, and least of all Chloe. Pull yourself together, you whiny bitch.’
‘Is that your internal voice?’ Wheeler shakes his head at the sharp words. ‘She somehow manages to be both accurate and punchable at the same time.’
‘She’s the absolute worst. I might have skimped on empathy when making her.’ Tomorrow, surprisingly, looks a bit better already. ‘She’s my social engineering project, not an emotional support spirit. It does make her a heartless, manipulative asshole, yeah.’
Tonight grins. ‘So, what now, boss woman? Am I jumping to Hawai’i now or are you still self-sabotaging?’
‘Neither. I have a plan.’
To Out-scheme the Schemer
The plan is not complicated, it just requires running two Scenarios at more or less the same time: one with Tomorrow following the Fayette trail and causing the distraction to the Aztechnology-powered Eye of Sauron and the second with Tonight contacting Chloe and convincing her to leave Hawai’i. Would it be potentially much easier if I could go with both characters into one place and double-up the dice pools? Yes. But we don’t do things easy in this house. We do things for The Narrative.
Tomorrow has no intention following along Zacualtipan’s supposed plans – she wants to go to Shoalwater and she’ll happily get paid for it, but she’ll do her best to keep it quiet. It’s possible that she’ll still make a blip on Aztech’s radar, but this is more of a covert-ops / stealth mission than an open diplomatic approach. Aztechnology is keeping an eye on her anyway, but bringing more attention to herself than she has to is unwise. And if they’re right and this messes with Zac’s plans – that’s just a bonus.
While Tomorrow’s keeping the Azzies and Zacualtipan’s attention, Tonight will jump through the Metaplane of Air, her native plane, and check up on Chloe, hopefully not getting shot and convincing her that this is not some Aztech plot. A Payout of 5 seems reasonable enough for the importance of this task – and yes, I will be throwing even more Chloe-intel at the Scenario preparations project to pull it off within the time frame. But we’ll deal with this a bit later.
Scenario 008: The Shallow Waters
Tomorrow needs to quietly get to Shoalwater, an elven hippie commune on Salish-Sidhe territory and talk to Marti Vann, Fayette’s aunt, who might have some information about her niece’s whereabouts. Most certainly, she will have the information from the ‘why the Aztechnology is even after her’ category. Quite a lot of that story comes from old-as-balls Shadowrun “Ivy & Chrome” adventure, which was used by Jakub as a base for this plot. I don’t know exactly what kind of spin my GM wanted to put on this story, because we didn’t get that far, but it’s my story now, so I’ll do what I want.
Payout: 5 (4 points of pure cash as a paycheck from Zac + 1 point of Chloe intel, as it’s not that much connected to her).
Legwork: Sorcery time! (Yes, I know Tomorrow has other skills. However… Divination magic is bae.) 5v3=4, 5v3=3. 7 marks, 2 net.
Threat Rating: Scenario rolls 5v5=4, 5v5=3. Total = 7, halved = 4, minus 1 = 3.
Scenario Rating: 8, default Actor R3.
Free Modules: 5 + 5 Passages
Free Scenes: 5
Build Points: 8
Module 1: Social Space with a free Scene (1/5) of Covert Ops. It’s a Stealth Offense Scene, with Tomorrow using stealth and concealment to leave Denver unnoticed. She needs to reach the Main Task Challenge (8) while under Concealment for it to succeed, avoiding cameras (free R3 Actor) and whatever Aztech operative is assigned to her keeping track of her (R3 Investigative/Creative, 1/8 BP), equipped with R1 Investigative gear (2/8 BP). Should she fail, she can still move to the next Module – but she triggers a Reinforcements Scene (free, 2/5) with a free R3 Investigative/Creative Actor and their paid-for R3 Warfare/Technical friend (3/8 BP). The Reinforcements Scene would normally have 15 intervals of delay, but I’ll cut it by 5 to 10 (8/8 BP).
A passage connects it to Module 2.
Module 2: Hardpoint with a free Checkpoint Scene (3/5) and a free R3 Technical/Warfare Actor reduced to R2 because I need Build Points (8/9 BP). The Scene gets 3 points of Resistance for free. I could buy some credentials here, but Tomorrow’s ID and connection to Chloe (about whom Marti probably knows) should get her through the door, so this would be just wasting Build Points.
A passage connects it to Module 3.
Module 3: Social Space. Time to meet Marti, don’t you think? In a simple Offense scene (4/5), let’s convince her, a free R3 Technical/Social Actor (she’s a hacker), to spill the beans on the Fayette’s case – the old one, the one we’re tracking. Can’t be too easy, so why not raise Marti to R4? (9/9 BP)
Passages connect it to Modules 4 and 5.
Module 4: Treasury. Yes, I need more Build Points, so here you go, extra 3 points of intel that might be useful in the investigation in a Treasury scene (5/5). As the intel needs to be taken from Marti, she’s the free R3 Actor for this Scene. (9/12 BP)
Module 5: Control Module. Here’s the big one: The Finale scene (10/12 BP, as I’m out of free scenes) of ‘what does Marti know about Fayette’s current whereabouts?’ Automatic 5 points of Resistance of the Finale are a pain already (but I get to use Driven trait in this case), but let’s also raise Marti to R4 for this (11/12 BP), and give her a friend, introducing a second R3 Creative/Technical Actor (12/12 BP), also a potential contact and hook for the next Scenario.
Will Tomorrow be able to pull it all off without triggering the reinforcements – and if she doesn’t, will she succeed before Aztechnology goons spawn at Shoalwater gates?
What Tomorrow needs, is to keep her head down. And yet, a stealth suit won’t really help her in this case all that much – try to take a plane and go through border patrol in that. Instead, she opts for her pretty designer clothes as the social challenges of the Scenario worry her more than alerting Aztech, and will use her Shapeshifting, Stealth, and Steven’s Concealment to evade the spies. Tomorrow’s Faction doesn’t have a spy facility that would allow her to start the Scenario Concealed, but maybe we’ll get to fix it at some point.
Wits’ End is going to be, as always, a potential great help, so will the designer suit. Adding a splash of Elegant Jewelry (giving her pre-scored marks in society situations) of R2 (costing her 600c) will help out a bit, as will a R2 Pheromone Emitter (800c for a thingie that increases Familiarity with people by its Rating).
Between Driven, First Impression, and some Clout from the Career, Tomorrow will be able to offset the Resistance (First Impression won’t work in the Finale as it’s only working in the first Scene with the Actor, but it will help at the Hardpoint.)
The big unknown is Marti’s initial Familiarity. It can make it a cakewalk or an absolute hell – but there’s little we can do about it.
February 7th, 2056
Tomorrow has considered magical means of getting to Shoalwater, but between unknown background counts and the literal thirteen hundred miles of land between Denver and Seattle-adjacent Shoalwater, she decided to just get on a plane. There was just one problem in the plan. Somebody was definitely watching her. She could feel it. Between the cameras at every Aztech-owned Stuffer Shack, street grid, and whoever was hired to keep an eye on her, it won’t be easy to find her way to the airport unnoticed. Sneaking through Pueblo Sector was generally not an easy job – the high-tech environment included high level of surveillance, and while Tomorrow was reasonably sure Pueblo Corporate Council wouldn’t sell data of one of the company investors just because Aztechnology asked for it, it was still possible that data will be accessed.
Thankfully, she no longer needs to walk this street, as a perfectly legal and registered magician.
She chooses her new form carefully. She wants to default to a raven, but they aren’t that popular in Denver – and everybody who knows her is well aware of her animal preferences. A magpie, then – there are bunches of them everywhere, and if she manages to hide her aura between a flock of birds, she should reach the airport unnoticed. It’s good that she always packs light.
Module 1. Defense: R3 Cameras on Lookouts. R3 Investigative/Creative Aztech operative with R1 Investigative gear, giving them 1 point of Clout and 1 point of Resistance in the thingies.
Scenario Complications: 5v5=2/8
Tomorrow: MA Conjuring+1, 5v3=5, Summon with 5 actions. MA: Shapechange, Sorcery+1, 5v2=4. Changed into a bird. Marks add to physical stats, up to +half, so: Toughness 5, Fitness 8, Awareness 6. Requires sustaining. 2 PA (comb) Stealth+1 8v2=7 points of Concealment. SP 7/8 MP 7/8. MT 0/8
Steven: MA Concealment, 3v3=3 more points for Tomorrow (10 total) and 3 for Summon. PA dematerialize from the Physical Plane, can’t be spotted, can’t do anything but sustain cards).
Summon: PA Lookout, 3v3=2, notices two not-hidden Actors of the Defense. MA Confusion at Azzie Actor, 3v3=3 Morale dmg. MA rinse and repeat, 3v3=3 Morale dmg.
R3 Cameras (Conservative Control = will try to reduce Tomorrow’s options but not using more actions than they have to). PA Lookout, 3v3=3 marks of Tomorrow’s Concealment gone (7 total) and Summon spotted but the camera has no reason to react to a random spirit.
R3 Azzie Spy (Balanced Defense = half the actions for their main objective, half to keep themselves safe, TaB when at half). Has Morale Pool reduced to 0, so forced to TaB, 3v3=3. SP 6/6 MP 3/6.
Scenario Complications: 5v5=1, 3/8
Tomorrow: MA sus Shapechange. PA Perception+1, 6v6=2 towards MT (6 Concealment). MA Investigation+1, 4v4=1 towards MT (5 Concealment). PA Stealth, 8v2= 8 points of Concealment (13 total). SP 5/8 MP 6/8. MT 3/8.
Steven: sustaining Concealment on Tomorrow and Summon. TaB.
Summon: MA Confusion at Azzie Spy, 3v3=3 Morale dmg. (1 more action left)
R3 Cameras: PA Lookout, 3v3=3 points of Tomorrow’s Concealment gone (10 left).
R3 Azzie Spy: Morale 0, forced to TaB. 3v3=3. SP 6/6, MP 3/6
Scenario Complications: 5v5=1, 4/8
Tomorrow: MA sus Shapechange. PA Stealth, 8v2=6 towards MT (9 Concealment). MA Sciences+1, 5v5=4 towards MT (8 Concealment). SP 4/8 MP 5/8. MT 13/8.
Steven: sustaining Concealment on Tomorrow. TaB.
Summon: MA Confusion at Azzie Spy, 3v3=3 Morale dmg (last action, dematerializes)
R3 Cameras: PA Lookout, 3v3=1 points of Tomorrow’s Concealment gone (7 left).R3 Azzie Spy: Morale 0, forced to TaB. 3v3=3. SP 6/6, MP 3/6.
The interval ends, the Challenge of the Main Task is Reached, and the Scene is won! The Reinforcements will not trigger, but as you may have noticed, the count on complications is still ongoing, so we might yet get some mess out of that!
Looks like she wasn’t followed, decides Tomorrow as she’s climbing the stairs to the plane. None of the passengers seem to pay any attention to her: just a blonde and rather unassuming elf in business-class attire. Her lack of luggage makes her look like she works and belongs on that airport – and it suits her needs perfectly.
When a couple of hours later the plane touches down in old Aberdeen, Tomorrow is still going over her plan for the meeting with Marti. How much should she say? How much should she conceal? Marti has been protecting Fayette for years, hiring runners after runners to recover her after a series of kidnappings. She should still have her niece’s best interest at heart, shouldn’t she?
But what if Aztech got to her first? It’s safest to keep the same line as with Zac – not mention any other leads. State the truth – just not all of it.
Tomorrow considers for a while catching a bus to Shoalwater, but the next one runs in five hours. She shivers at the thought of flying twenty miles in the freezing rain, but if that’s what needs to be done… Good that she’s only going to have wet feathers, not clothes. And yet, she’ll take the frost of Denver and the scorching sun of Dallas over whatever the weather around Seattle is.
Shoalwater is just a small enclave built on a rocky outcrop near Westport. A tidal inlet surrounds it from one side, and wooded fields from the other. The solar panels and windmills surround the place, confirming what Tomorrow has already read about the commune: that at least food won’t be terrible.
She passes two small gardens, sad and ugly like most gardens in February. The rain is pounding on the ground around her, and all she can do to protect herself is to keep a translucent small barrier like an umbrella above her head. She could just wrap an elemental around herself, but she’s yet to find a non-magician who would react to that without some degree of panic or at least distrust. Sighing and casting a quick spell on her shoes, she presses the intercom button.
‘Hi,’ she says once the intercom quietly buzzes with an open connection and raises the commlink with her displayed Pueblo SIN to the camera. ‘My name is Sarah James. May I please talk to Ms. Newblood?’
Module 2: Hardpoint. Defense R2 Technical/Warfare Actor on Conservative Defense behavior and Familiarity of 8. I suppose a well-dressed, polite elven citizen of an allied NAN country arriving at the gate of an elven community isn’t going to be faced with a lot of scrutiny. The Checkpoint Scene has Resistance of 3 (Threat Rating), Challenge of 2 (Rating of the Actor), and basic difficulty of 2 (10 minus Familiarity). Tomorrow’s elegant jewelry gives her 2 automarks and Driven and First Impression deliver 4 points of Clout for the Scene.
Scenario Complications: 5v5=2, 6/8 – aaaah, the emotions!
Tomorrow: MA Diplomacy+1, 4v1=4. MT 6/2.
Defense: MA Electronic Warfare / Scanners, 2v4=1. MT 5/2.
Tomorrow sees the scanner arrays at the gate light up and check her for something – weapons, probably. Pro-eco elves in a commune or not, nobody wants to let people packing heat into their territory. She’s not carrying any weapons, though – other than herself, Steven, and whatever elementals she can summon. And, to be honest, even Tonight – their mental link is strong enough to call for reinforcements if necessary.
Hopefully it won’t be necessary, she thinks when the gate buzzes open.
‘Welcome to Shoalwater, Miss James,’ says the guard through the speaker. A friendly, polite tone of softly-accented English. ‘Please, come in. Somebody will be with you shortly.’
In soaking-wet twilight, the commune looks almost empty – if not for white habitats with lights turned on, it could very well just be deserted movie scenery. It’s so clean and quiet, thinks Tomorrow, looking at the immaculate lawns and a tended gravel path leading from the gate to the main building. Not a leaf out of order, not a piece of garbage in sight.
I spend too much time in the Warrens, she decides, starting a trek towards the meeting hall she recognizes from the data Dash has collected back in… May? June? It’s been sitting on the back burner for ages.
There’s a flood of warm light on the other side of the gravel path and a silhouette appears in the doorway, hurrying towards her with a massive umbrella. An elf, of course – a tall, slim woman with dark hair put in an immaculate bun, looking just a couple years older than Tomorrow – which can mean anywhere between twenty five and two hundred.
Tomorrow welcomes her with a polite smile, joining her under the umbrella and releasing her spell as soon as possible. No reason to cause any issues in case the woman hates mages. Wouldn’t be the first one.
The woman ushers her inside and as soon as she puts the umbrella on the stand, she turns towards her guest and extends a hand. ‘Welcome to Shoalwater. I believe you were asking for me, Miss James?’
Module 3: Social Space. Defense: Marti Vann, R4 Technical/Social Actor (behavior Balanced Control, Familiarity 6 – a nice, neutral start!). A simple Offense Scene – the problem is, Tomorrow’s not a social character. But she’ll do her best. At the same time, she’s not about to toss magic at Marti as a show of good faith.
Scenario Complications: 5v5=1, 7/8 – we’re still waiting for the shoe to drop!
Tomorrow: PA Interact w/ Feromone Emitter, will start working in the next interval. MA Diplomacy+1, 4v3=1, MA Sciences+1, 5v2=5. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 7/8. MT 8/8
Marti: MA Cold Shoulder, 2v2=2 points of Resistance for Tomorrow’s next Social Task. MA Diplomacy, 2v2=1 against MT. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 8/8. MT 7/8.
Scenario Complications: 5v5=4, 11/8 – 3 net marks on the Complications roll! And the Scenario rolled a 2, minus 3, which means something disastrous is about to happen!
“The Defense Actors must deal with an intrusion drill. All non-alerted Defense Actors not engaged in a priority Task enter an Active Lookout Scene for the next magnitude times 10 intervals (=70). Trigger a Reinforcements Scene.”
Shit. What am I about to do now? Tomorrow’s not hiding, she’s just chilling with Marti, talking her into spilling the beans… Well, she’s not hostile, so I suppose they’re just going to go for a walk and talk some more. The Reinforcements Scene means that there’s some more Actors arriving at the place…You know what? This Scene will be won in the next interval, through the sheer dice pools. Let me just switch to the narrative, it will be more fun.
‘Please, Ms. Newblood, call me Sarah. I’m…’
‘I know who you are, Sarah.’ The woman’s smile is guarded, measured, but not unkind. ‘I had the pleasure of meeting your sister some time back. She said you’ll get here sooner or later.’
‘Oh.’ Tomorrow finds herself grinning, against her better judgement, as Marti lets her into a room nearby – her office, most certainly. ‘Looks like she was right.’
Marti Vann closes the door behind them and points to the two armchairs in the corner. ‘I expected you here sooner, actually. You’re far behind the schedule your sister envisioned.’
The words cut deep – much deeper than Tomorrow has expected. She can feel the guilt, so nicely beaten down for months, rise to the surface. ‘I wasn’t sure it will be safe,’ she admits finally. ‘I’m under observation – we all are, I imagine. It took me a while to leave Denver unnoticed. I didn’t want to bring any unnecessary attention to you.’
A commcall interrupts Marti before she gets to respond. The older elf opens the message on her terminal and furrows her brows at the sight of three silhouettes in military fatigues sneaking along the edge of the woods. They carry weapons, notices Tomorrow, and they move like professionals. Fast, quiet, in perfect coordination.
‘Any chance they are your security forces?’ she asks her hosts, but Marti only shakes her head. ‘Well, shit. I suppose I was right avoiding Shoalwater. My apologies, Ms. Vann.’ Tomorrow gets up quickly and smiles at Marti with what she hopes is a reassuring smile. ‘I need to go. At least I’ll lure them away, if I don’t manage anything else.’ She turns towards the door, focusing just enough to bring Steven into the Material Plane – just as the first alarm blares.
‘They’ll kill you,’ says Marti.
Tomorrow stops herself from responding with an action-move quip and it costs her more than she would ever admit. ‘Unlikely. I’m more useful to them alive. Which stacks the deck in my favor.’
‘Sit down, Sarah.’
‘Sit down, please. They’re not Aztechnology. It’s just our scheduled security drill. But it happened to be a nice way of learning a bit about you. Would you like some tea?’
Tomorrow nods, lost for words. She takes off her coat and puts it on the hanger in the corner, trying to control the rush of adrenaline that flooded her just seconds ago. Breather in, breathe out. Raven, give me strength. The mentor spirit is silent, but she doesn’t really need him. Sitting down in the armchair, Tomorrow observes Marti calmly preparing tea. Give me strength to not strangle the woman.
Marti had to read something in her eyes, because she smiles apologetically – it’s either that or the pheromones in the air starting to do their job. ‘I apologize. The timing was just too perfect to not use the opportunity. You realize we all need to be at least a bit paranoid.’
Tomorrow does understand – but it doesn’t stop her hands from shaking as she picks up the teacup a moment later, as the rest of her body adjusts to the useless, unspent adrenaline. ‘It’s alright. From the two options, this one is definitely the least disturbing.’
‘And not the one you’re used to. Just how many clashes with the Jaguar Guard are already behind you?’
‘Actually, none,’ she admits. ‘I manage to stay out of sight and run my investigation in a quiet and inobtrusive way, I suppose. They haven’t yet decided I’m worth their time and resources.’
‘They hope you’ll find your sister and my niece, and they’ll just take them from you.’ Marti sips her tea as if they were discussing weather.
‘They can certainly try. But I will definitely not make it easy for them.’
‘No, I don’t think you will. I suppose you have questions, Sarah. Do you want to ask them or do you prefer me to just tell you everything? I don’t know how much you’ve learned.’
Tomorrow doesn’t have to think about that for even a second. ‘Tell me everything. I’d rather not miss any detail.’
Module 4: Treasury! Defense: R3 Technical/Social Actor of Marti. Treasury Scene has 3 points of Resistance and 3 points of Payout, going down by 1 after each interval.
Tomorrow: MA Investigation+1, 4v1=4, MA Sciences+1, 5v1=5, MT 11/8
Marti: MA Diplomacy, 2v1= 2. PA TaB. MT 9/8 -> interval ends, Offense won. Offense stacked her deck like heck.
‘Well, settle in, then. It’s a bit of a story. It all started with this monster – my sister’s husband, Anton d’Venescu. He was – or maybe still is – an Aztechnology mage, studying drugs of magic. The corporation was happy to fund his research, and he was happy to test it all on himself. In one of the trips, he believed he has contacted one of the gods, and was promised unlimited power and glory for performing a sacrifice of a mother-daughter dyad. He chose his wife and his five-year-old daughter.’
It’s obvious Marti has practiced this story – probably told it many times to the groups of runners she was hiring to get Fayette back. Over and over again.
‘He killed my sister, but she managed to hide Fayette here, in Shoalwater, before he got to her. We kept the little one safe for ten years. But it was time for her to become her own person and spend time outside of the enclave. We didn’t want her to waste away in seclusion, and neither did she. She joined a preparatory school in Seattle, but fell into a bit of a bad crowd with a go-ganger, Nick Voigt – you know those teenagers…’ Something in Marti’s voice suggests she fully expects Tomorrow to know. ‘But she was happy. At least until we learned that her father and his associate, Dr. Arnhill, decided to finish that ritual.’
Marti lowers her head, her gaze resting on the teacup. ‘That was five years ago. Since then, it’s, pardon my language, a blasted circle of somebody trying to kidnap Fayette, some failing, some succeeding. Searches, near escapes, hiding, rescues… They’ve tried to breach Shoalwater several times, sometimes succeeding. That’s why we have invasion drills. It’s an awful situation and I’m sorry your sister got mixed up in it.’
‘How did she get mixed up in it?’ Tomorrow asks the question her investigation couldn’t so far answer. ‘I’ve made a full roster of Chloe’s friends. Nobody has mentioned Fayette. Not Chloe’s colleagues, not my parents.’
‘Yes, Chloe mentioned your parents are rather… Conservative, I suppose.’
‘They are that,’ allows Tomorrow. ‘But… Oh.’
Marti smiles, a rather sad grimace on her pretty face. ‘I believe your sister wasn’t yet ready to tell it to the world back then. When Fayette escaped from Anahuac University, the people who were after her decided to kidnap your sister, use her as leverage. We managed to get her out, and they both went into hiding for a while. Half a year of peace, perhaps? Then it started anew… It feels cyclical. Your sister had a theory…’
Marti stops and looks at Tomorrow patiently, expectantly.
‘They want to finish the ritual? That means d’Venescu is alive, doesn’t it? They couldn’t have finished the started ritual if he was dead – and if they wanted to replicate it on a different dyad, they wouldn’t need Fayette. I suppose the cyclical nature means that they’re forced to perform the ritual on a specific date, like an equinox, a solstice, or a specific planetary alignment. It could be the end of the fiscal year, but I somehow doubt it.’
‘You and your sister are very similar people, Sarah. Chloe had a theory they need a solstice, yes. But I think they’re also running out of time. The unfinished ritual left Anton sick. Weakened. Deranged. Maybe he’s finally ready to die.’
‘Maybe he needs help getting there,’ says Tomorrow slowly.
‘Ah.’ Marti puts down her teacup and refills it. ‘So this is where you two differ. Yes. Maybe he needs help, Sarah. Fayette and Chloe were willing to hide and wait it out. But the enemy just keeps coming. This is not life.’
‘Do you know where they are right now?’
Module 5 and the Finale. Let’s do this! The Finale gets Resistance of 5 on top of basic difficulty 4 (the pheromones have a duration, and they would run out by now.) Driven works as always, First Impression doesn’t on Martti (R4 technical/social), but does on the second Actor (R3 creative/technical, balanced offense, Fam 7) whom we will meet soon. Just let me roll.
Tomorrow: MA activating Wits’ End, 5v7=4 marks, Wit raised to 6 in next interval. MA Sorcery+1, 5v2=5 towards MT. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 7/8. MT 7/8.
Marti: MA Diplomacy, 2v3=0. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 8/8. MT 7/8.
Steven: MA (comb) Confusion, 3v2=3 MP dmg for Marti. PA TaB.
R3 Actor: MA Investigation, 3v1=3 vs MT. MA Negotiation, 3v1=3 MP dmg to Tomorrow. SP 6/6 MP 4/6. MT 4/8
Tomorrow: MA Diplomacy+1, 6v3=5 towards MT. MA Job Well Done. MA Sorcery 5v2=5 towards MT. Full marks collected, Job Well Done restores 3 Stamina and Morale. PA (comb) TaB 3v6=1. SP 8/8 MP 6/8. MT 14/8
Marti: IT 4v3=3 from MT. Negotiation, 2v3=2 MP dmg for Tomorrow. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 3/8. MT 11/8.
Steven: Accident, 3v3=2 actions lost for R3 Actor. Confusion, 3v3=2 MP dmg to them too.
R3 Actor: Investigation, 3v1=3 from MT. PA TaB. SP 6/6 MP 2/6. MT 8/8 = the Finale completed, 0 net marks.
‘I’ve found it safer not to know. Too many people trying to pry the knowledge out of my head,’ answers Marti plainly, but something in her voice prompts Tomorrow to dig deeper.
‘If they used magic to learn about Fayette’s whereabouts, I’m sure they also tried to learn how you contact her. It’s safe to assume you do.’
‘I don’t.’ Marti smiles.
‘How do you know if she’s alive, then?’
Tomorrow shakes her head and returns the smile. ‘But I’m sure you’d knew if she were dead, because nothing would matter by then. Who’s keeping up the spell on you, Ms. Vann?’ Now that she knows exactly what she’s looking for, it’s there. Hidden in Marti’s aura, masked from prying eyes, artfully, beautifully painted over with fake memories…
‘A friend. Let me… Let me just call him, it will be easier that way.’
Tomorrow blinks and gets her vision back to the material plane. She expects Marti to make a commlink call, but she’s just pressing a button of her office’s intercom. ‘Good evening, Raul,’ she says once the call connects. ‘My apologies for the late hour. Would you mind coming to my office? We have a visitor. I believe you two have already met.’
Tomorrow says another quiet prayer to Raven as she quietly finishes her tea. Oh yes, she has already met one Raul.
When after not even a minute Raul Aranda walks into Marti’s office, Tomorrow is ready and waiting. She appreciates the heads-up. If she just saw the Aztechnology kid here, she would assume the worst. Now, she’s only halfway to throwing lightning at the man.
‘Hey, Sarah.’ Raul greets her with an awful, friendly, polite smile of a professional liar. ‘How’s that search for your sister going?’
‘You fucking asshole.’ The low growl is not what she planned, but there’s no helping it now.
It takes everything to not tear him another one. It’s been a year since they met for the first and only time – when fresh in Denver, Tomorrow was running in circles, trying to contact Chloe’s friends and collect any shred of information about her disappearance. From all of them, only Raul agreed to meet and over a coffee, told her there’s no sign of Chloe. Not a second of CCTV footage of her disappearance, no magical trace, absolutely nothing.
Raul raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. ‘Hey, I told you to contact me if you manage to find any information on Chloe. You didn’t trust me, why would I trust you? We’re dealing in secrecy here, if you haven’t realized. Can’t just walk around telling you vital details in a coffee shop.’
Tomorrow narrows her eyes, looking the man up and down. His fashion sense didn’t change much. Just like then, he’s in camouflage cargo pants and combat boots. Only his t-shirt features a different heavy metal band. Raul drags a hand through his hair, flustered by her scrutiny, and smiles – less cheekily now.
‘Sorry,’ he adds finally.
‘Where’s my sister, Raul?’ She regained enough composure to bring her voice into civil registers, but the edge is still there, and Raul can hear it just fine.
‘I don’t know,’ he admits. ‘We have a cold relay; Chloe, Fayette, and I. Unscheduled, random-times connections, just to make sure they’re still alive. Enough to pass messages, but we don’t include anything that could put them at the risk of discovery in there.’
‘Discovery by your mother corp, you mean.’
‘No, Sarah.’ Raul sighs and leans against the wall. He pushes his hands into his pockets, but it’s easy to notice they’re clenched fists by now. Upset, frazzled. Good. ‘Aztechnology doesn’t want to hurt your sister. Nor Fayette. They’ve been protecting them.’
‘Come again? I must have missed the part about an Azzie blood mage wanting to bleed his daughter on the altar.’
‘Damn, you Texans… We’re not all like that, why can’t people understand that?’ There’s a visceral, deep frustration in Raul voice, and Tomorrow can feel herself relax as his discomfort grows. ‘Will you listen or am I wasting my time here?’
‘I’ll listen.’ Tomorrow nods and decides to throw her sister’s friend a bone. ‘I know it’s all Dzitbalchen’s plan, you don’t have to sweat it.’
‘Well, yes.’ The fists in the pockets unclench a bit and a shadow of a smile re-appears on the young man’s face. ‘And the dragon is not Aztechnology. Not all of it, not by any means. Most of the management think d’Venescu a failure and a burden to the bottom line, a lost case that should be hospitalized at best. And most definitely not funded. Do you know how much money went into this absurd idea of his in the last five years? You don’t and I don’t either. But if not for the dragon’s personal interest, he wouldn’t get half a peso. Why do you think Fayette joined an Aztechnology university? Her father is an embarrassment to the corporation and a public relations disaster. Helping his daughter would fix it somewhat.’
‘And help you raise in the ranks, wouldn’t it?’ Tomorrow doesn’t need the confirmation, but Raul’s shrug is enough.
‘Chloe is my friend,’ he states finally. ‘The fact that some people in the company want me to help her survive is not the main reason for what I’m doing.’
‘It’s fine, Raul. There’s no shame in having more than one reason to do something,’ admits Tomorrow. ‘Chill, we’re good. I’m not gonna eat you. And it looks like your career isn’t going to be in jeopardy through association with me either these days.’
‘You went up in the world.’ It’s not a chuckle yet, but an attempt at humor has not gone unnoticed. ‘We’ve been watching.’
‘No shit, Raul. I haven’t noticed at all.’
The Azzie mage grins and relaxes. ‘We’ve been so sneaky? Anyway, next time you want to grab a coffee, call me. I’m sure we’ll find a way to talk important things between the weather and music.’
Look at that, a plot twist. Did I roll for the whodunnit and what-for with Raul? Of course I did. Chloe and Fayette being a couple? YES, I rolled for it too. As much as I love drama, I love rolling for drama even more. Whodunit and what-for tables come in handy again! I am so proud of them.
Let’s see here. Tomorrow ends the scenario with a success but 0 net marks.
The Payout of 4 points of cash goes into her Faction resources, so does the 1 point of intel that Zacualtipan has requested – the ‘background’ about d’Vensecu, the kidnappings, hidings, Aztechnology’s role in the mess, and the existence of the cold relay etc. that Tomorrow will give to her employer to earn her paycheck. The Treasury part of the Payout, extra 3 points of intel with personal relations of Chloe and Fayette and the potential job of d’Venescu’s assassination – that stays with Tomorrow.
This means my Payout 5 Scenario is actually Payout 8 Scenario and counts as such for purposes of Rep (+8), campaign progression (+8), and magnitude of consequences. So, let’s roll for them, why don’t we?
And I rolled a 2. No net marks, so it is a negative consequence of magnitude +1. Meaning 9. Nine, you people.
An enemy Faction launches a hostile Project against the character’s Contact, with Assets Rating equal to magnitude.
Ouch. Oh, damn. That will be… Ouch.
Well, okay. Let’s unpack that.
An enemy Faction. Tomorrow doesn’t really have an enemy Faction. The lowest Familiarity is with Aztechnology (3, so ‘antipathy’), then there are two Factions with no Familiarity established (ALOHA and Yakuza), and the rest is at neutral 5 or above. Well, the bug spirits are always an enemy, no matter that the Familiarity 7 says. That means 4 possible options – let’s add a fifth, a brand-new Faction, and let the dice fall.
1-2 Aztech, 3-4 ALOHA, 5-6 Yakuza, 7-8 Bug Spirits, 9-10 New Faction.
A bloody 4. I guess we’re getting a nice, nice introduction to the Hawai’ian Resistance / Terrorists. They don’t have enough Assets to pull it off, but that’s okay – it’s called “hiring mercenaries or shadowrunners.”
At the moment, let’s establish against whom the hostile move is going to be launched. Tomorrow has 7 contacts, but as Raven cannot be targeted due to being a mentor spirit/possibly just brain damage, that leaves just 6: mom, dad, Friese, Wheeler, Dash, and Crowley. Each of them is more or less involved in Tomorrow’s search for hiding-with-ALOHA Chloe. Let me roll a D6.
Another 4. Of course it’s a 4. Of course it is.
We have some business in Hawai’i, and putting one person on a transport shouldn’t be too complicated if you manage to make contact, said Wheeler.
I think ALOHA knows that Cutters have some business in Hawai’i and they don’t like it.
I wish I knew about it.
If only I had Tonight literally talking to Chloe about her Cutters-connected escape plan right bloody now.
EMERGENT GAMEPLAY, Y’ALL. SHIT JUST WORKS.
ALOHA is a R2 warfare Faction, so they get to roll 2 dice to run a warfare project, 2v4, to be exact. And blowing up whatever business Cutters have in Hawai’i is definitely a warfare move. As their move is against Wheeler, who is a R2 contact, they only need to score 2 marks to finish that project. If Tomorrow knows about it, she can interfere – run her own project, hire people, plan around it…
Options, options, play and counter-play. Strategy game, as I’ve mentioned. There will be a way to save Chloe’s escape route, but it won’t be easy and might certainly fail.
We’ll deal with this after Tonight’s meeting with Chloe, though, as it will inform whether and how much Tomorrow will know about the planned attack.
Meanwhile, uhh. +8 Rep (and +1 Influence point), +8 to Campaign tracker (up to 42), +1 to solved mysteries deed.
Skill learning: Conjuring +1, Sorcery +2, Stealth +1, Perception +1, Investigation +2, Diplomacy +3, Sciences +2
Sorry if I seem uncaring about my PC’s character development. I just honestly don’t give a damn right now.
I need to run Tonight’s scenario. Like, RIGHT NOW.
See you in the next episode or something.