Project Aphelion Solo Play #035: So You Want to Be a Researcher

Remember that our protagonist is supposed to be a scientist? The academic type, not the ‘overpowered witch on an obvious corruption arc’? Well, there are times in each researcher’s life when they actually have to do that research. But first: let’s see what is new in the world!


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Faction Layer, 1 May 2056

April went… quick. If you’re wondering how am I keeping track of all the things that are happening, this is how:

Yes, those are the notes for just my Faction. I keep the rest just floating in my head. Please note: this is not how you have to play Project Aphelion. This is how I like to do it. Yes, I know the calendar says April 2021 – I can be bothered to keep track of non-existent characters’ skill learning progress, but I can’t be bothered to change two digits. Don’t @ me – changing the two digits would take me much less time than typing this explanation.

Anyway. It’s a brand new month and I get to check all my new and adjusted rules for deployment and upkeep costs. We’ll see if it all holds water. Re: changes in the calculations: Tomorrow’s attributes went up by 1, so did her necessities. I’ve sold Wits’ End for 500c – with a natural 3rd Mental Action, it’s no longer necessary, and it saves me 500c a month. +1 Contact Rating, +100c. Chloe had her commlink and Black Hat upgrade earlier that I forgot to add last month, so I’m rectifying it now.

The most important change is that we changed the deployment cost to 10% monthly upkeep, instead of half, but from now on, they apply to all projects and Scenarios the Crew is involved in. We figured it will be more fair that way.

We’ve raised the costs of owning Facilities, because they were way too low. R1 Facility is supposed to hire 10 Extras, so even at 1000c / Rating / month, their paychecks are a steal. True, the Extras aren’t necessarily people hired there (we’re using spells and computer programs for that), but we gotta pay at least somewhat-proper wages.

TomorrowTonightChloe
Necessities130010001100
Gear Maintenance250010001800
Contacts Upkeep2000800600
Luxuries000
Total Monthly5,800c2,800c3,700c
Scenarios / Projects887
Deployment Costs80% of monthly Upkeep = 4,640c80% of monthly Upkeep = 2,240c70% of monthly Upkeep = 2,590c
Facility UpkeepR2 Field Lab = 2000c. R1 Ghostworks = 1000c.
Total Faction Expenses24,770 = 4 cash payouts + 4,770c
Cash Left4 cash payouts + 400c

R2 Field Lab has also generated 2 points of magic research intel for us.

Are we running out of money? You bet we are! But payouts are payouts, and if wanted to pay with our influence to offset some of those costs, the game isn’t going to stop us. It’s not like Tomorrow is actually paying rent, is she? As far as the mechanics are concerned, all Payouts are created equal and each point is equivalent to 5,000c. We could have paid all bills with d’Venescu intel if we wanted to (we didn’t).


Guess Who Also Has to Pay His Bills

That’s right! We might have just destroyed d’Venescu’s R8 Crew, but! The Upkeep costs are for the past month. What does it mean? That the blood mage, who has just spent 8 Resources to hire and outfit his R8 Crew, not only has lost them – he’s also left with 8 Resources of monthly Upkeep to pay! Oh, and he also didn’t yet pay their deployment costs for the Kill Raul Scenario, so that’s 10% of their monthly Upkeep = 4000c.

Which leaves him with 9+2,575c. Sucks to be him.

Soon, he won’t have the money to hire anybody and will be forced to join the fray in person. Which is literally what we’re trying to achieve, because we can’t target him personally otherwise, so… Good for us!


State of the World: May

Let’s do it! This is always fun.

  1. Aztechnology was trying to gain new Assets, but we have since moved to actually running the Faction day by day, so we’ll get back to them once we get back to the story.
  2. Henequen has failed to provoke a warfare response from Aztech – the dragon was trying to bait them and force them to fight on three fronts, but it looks like the megacorp is more concerned with d’Venescu and Dzitbalchen. As the effect, Henequen reduces Familiarity with an allied Faction by 1. In a toss-up between us and the Cutters, the dice lands on us. Well, back to Fam 6, then. I think we’ll just move the dragon into the background now, as he’s not really that big of a player here.
  3. Cutters have succeeded at their project and they add a R1 Command Center Facility to the Faction roster, giving them access to Strategic Preparedness (adding Warfare Resistance) and Rapid Deployment (adding Warfare Clout) projects, which might become clutch for us if the war with d’Venescu goes south. This also means there are at least 10 more Cutters in the neighborhood, the Extras hired in the Facility. As their main behavior is beneficial growth, they’ll reach for a Staging Area next, so Wheeler can do more maneuvers and logistics. Everybody has hobbies. The side effect of their completed project is reducing the Rating of another Faction’s Asset by 1, so I suppose BBs’ Warfare Crew is now only R1 – no matter the gang war, Wheeler wouldn’t hurt the money-bringing Shadowmarket. Crippling opposition’s Warfare Assets? That sounds more plausible.
  4. Hellhounds have failed in their new plan of rebuilding and lost a whole Asset! As they only have two (Scientific Crew, Sal and Caw-Caw, and a Technical Fleet, their biking support), this means Hellhounds find themselves in a very peculiar position – they’re technically a thrill gang, but they don’t have any gangers left, just a bunch of magicians and a physical adept. Salazar won’t be happy – but have we ever seen him happy? With their primary hostile growth behavior and a vindictive trait, I’m sure Salazar is planning something nasty against those who cost him his people. This will be fun.
  5. Doc Harmon’s clinic has finally succeeded at fixing their relationship with the Cutters! That took them… Since we started playing, so almost half a year in-game. They raise the Familiarity to 4, finally landing in a neutral territory, and as a side effect, they create a new Freelance Crew in the Sector: R4 (3) Scientific/Investigative Crew! Looks like there’s a band of three paramedics for hire. Doc will now focus on growing his Assets, especially the MedBay. Now that they don’t have to worry about getting evicted (and that Wizard, an Azzie doctor and the only local competition, has moved out due to increased Aztech’s influence in the neighborhood), they can put some effort into making the local clinic better.
  6. Crowley the Free Spirit continues making Best Western the safest place to live, especially against investigative projects.
  7. Phase is still running interference against bug spirits, which is good, because we did not have even a second to look in that direction all month.
  8. Ancients are about as irrelevant to the story as possible, and they fade into the background.
  9. ALOHA has actually succeeded in exacting their vengeance against us/Cutters and as an effect, they raised another Faction’s Asset by 1. Their options are rather limited: they only know us, yakuza, Green Bishops, and Hawai’ian Cutters, so it looks like their vengeance, in the long run, just raised the Hawai’ian outpost’s Staging Area from R2 to 3, and we stop caring about ALOHA ever again. Shoo, to the background!
  10. Yakuza/MCT goes straight into the background as they’re still infiltrating ALOHA, even though the whole world has already moved on.
  11. Green Bishops are in there already, doing whatever.
  12. Zacualtipan has failed to provide us with Clout – or rather, we completely forgot she’s doing it. As a side effect, she reduces the rating of an allied Faction’s Asset by 1 (the only option is Aztech’s R5 freelancing Crew, reduced now to R4 (1) and fades into the background. We’re doing just fine without her and she doesn’t seem to care about us all that much anyway.
  13. BBs are still technically running this trade war against Cutters, which reduces their Familiarity by 1, but their hearts aren’t really in it. As we still have to resolve that beneficial project they ran for us, there’s a narrative brewing.
  14. Bug spirits have actually failed in their constant quest for growth (probably because of the equally constant Phase’s interference) and as an effect, they raise the Rating of a hostile Faction’s Asset. Phase’s R3 (1) Crew of Phase grows to R4 (1) Crew of Phase. Maybe the runner actually has a chance here. At the moment, the bugs are focused on collecting more Resources to facilitate further growth.
  15. Hawai’ian Cutters are living their best lives in the background.
  16. D’Venescu is being (man)handled on day-to-day basis. Soon, he’ll have no other option than join the fray in person.
  17. Dzitbalchen is still running the Stealth Deployment for the blood mage with his sole Asset. Would be a shame if anything happened to it.
  18. Alp Group, the security company for which Tomorrow is sometimes doing consulting work, is doing their things in the background.
  19. So is Irene Woods, the Juzu clinic manager.
  20. Delta Labs are also in the background, potentially providing Tomorrow with some more cash along the way.

Well, that was a handful. We cut the numbers down to 10 active Factions (11 with us), and I think the main threads of the campaign are rather obvious:

  1. the four-sided war between us, d’Venescu, Dzitbalchen, and Aztechnology;
  2. the precarious balance in the ‘hood between Cutters and BBs (well, one side is clearly winning);
  3. the rotten luck of Hellhounds, which makes a nice story of Tomorrow trying to take down one blood mage, while trying to elevate the other – she doesn’t see any problems with this kind of magic as long as it’s not aimed at people she cares about;
  4. the feud between Phase and the bug spirits, with the luck swinging both sides from month to month.

Crowley and Doc Harmon are on the side of all that, but I think they’ll become more important now.

The first story will run itself as it normally does.
The second, let’s roll… Scores 13/9 marks in 4 days.
The third, 9/9 in 7 days.
The fourth, 9/9 in 4 days.
The other two will wait until we have the time/emergent gameplay opportunity to deal with this stuff.


State of the War

We were extremely busy last month, and it is obvious that this isn’t going to change. We’re making a good progress in the campaigns:

  • Get a Life Campaign: 78/100
  • Destroy d’Venescu Campaign: 18/40 (2 projects so far, total: 18/100)

Meanwhile, d’Venescu sits on 9+2,575c Resources and 10/40 in his Destroy Aztechnology Campaign (2 projects so far).
Aztechnology sits on an unlimited pile of Resources and 8/30 in their Destroy Dzitbalchen Campaign (1 project so far).

Our Resources?

  • 4 Payouts worth of cash
  • Extra cash: 400c
  • 5 Payouts worth of magical research Intel
  • 3 points of dragon-connected intel
  • 10 points of d’Venescu intel
  • 4 points of Fayette intel
  • 10 points of local gang intel
  • 10 points of general Influence for Rep
  • Payout 5 Protective Duty project from the Cutters, providing Warfare Focus for a project or Assetet

Also:

NameRatingPrimary Focus, Behavior, & AssetsSecondary Focus, Behavior, & AssetsTertiary Focus BehaviorTrait
Tomorrow2Scientific Crew R2: Tomorrow
Social Crew R1: Tonight
Technical Crew R1: Chloe
Scientific Facility R2: Field Lab
Investigative Facility R1: Ghostworks
NA
Aztechnology4Scientific (exclusive growth)
Crew R4 (1) Sc/Inv
Facility R1: Research Lab
Investigative (exclusive growth)
Fleet R1 (1)
(hostile growth)Vindictive
add 2 priority to hostile Projects targeting a Faction who run a hostile Project against them in the past Cycle.
d’Venescu4Warfare (Exclusive Offense)(Exclusive Defense)(Exclusive Defense)Excessive
add 2 priority to Projects already at the highest Payout.
Dzitbalchen3Investigative (Hostile Defense)
Facility R1: Intelligence Center
Scientific (Hostile Growth)(Beneficial Growth)Nomadic
add 2 priority to acquire new Fleet Assets and move existing Fleets to different parts of the sector.

I’d say we’re doing pretty well – especially as I expect all three of our PCs to level up in their careers this month – all through the ‘Gained Rep’ deed! Well, this will boost the threat ratings through the roof – but it will also give us an extra layer of protection! You’ve seen how easy and cheap it is to run a project/Scenario against a R1 Asset, right?

Which reminds me: we’ll be also slowly moving towards raising the Faction Rating to 3 as well. We don’t yet qualify for any of the deeds, but we’ll be trying to collect Assets of Rating equal to New Rating x5 – which, yes, means that we’ll be after some new Facilities and possibly some extra Crew to run them. I’ve been eyeing the Listening Post and Intelligence Center for a while now – I have a soft spot for Investigative stuff, it lets me do my favorite, underhanded things. I might play a magician, but I’m a rogue by heart.


Meanwhile, the War

Well, stuff has happened by the end of April, and none of the sides is particularly thrilled. D’Venescu’s plan to kill Raul has backfired spectacularly, costing the blood mage a total of 16 Resources + 4,000c cash to hire, deploy, and upkeep the R8 Crew he no longer possesses – and he has gained absolutely nothing out of that, other than causing Aztechnology some expenses (that we don’t even track) and Tomorrow some migraine (that was only for a narrative purposes anyway). Somebody has been dealt a bad hand.

Even worse – his failed attack on Raul triggers another retaliatory strike from Aztechnology who were just attacked through Warfare means and were scrambling to protect themselves, as they don’t have any Warfare Assets. However, as their Warfare behavior is Hostile Growth, I think they should invest in some protection.

D’Venescu is out of Assets and he needs some desperately – there’s not much he can do without them. He will try to hire some contractors – he already knows a Warfare/Investigative mercenary Faction that he was using before. If I remember correctly, they were R4, so I’ll roll 4v6 and see if they have any Assets available for hire! They scored 2 marks, giving birth to a R2 (1) Warfare Crew that can be hired for the standard price of 1 Resource/Rating. Because d’Venescu has no Assets with which he could run the negotiations, he needs to do it through extras. We’ve adjusted the rules a bit for balance, so he will be rolling his standard Faction dice, 4v6, and needing to score Asset Rating x5 marks (standard in projects targeting Assets), doubled as he has not Assets to run the project. This means that he needs to score 2 x 5 x 2 = 20 marks, and he does so in 10 days. This means that on May 10th, d’Venescu adds a R2 contractor Warfare Crew to his Faction roster, although his Resources drop to 7+2,575c.

This is an interesting place for him. About two months ago, he came into the game as a R5 Faction with 50 Resources. Now, he’s at R4 and running out of money, quick. As an Excessive Faction, he should add priority to project with the highest Payout (destroying Aztechnology, Payout 40), but if he does, he’ll end up without Assets and Resources. Clearly, the primary behavior of Exclusive Offense is not possible – which means he’ll move to the next behavior in the stack, which is Exclusive Defense! Even with his tunnel vision of finding Fayette or Chloe, or destroying his enemies, the blood mage realizes that he needs to:

  • first, protect his Assets,
  • second, stop others from interacting with him and his Assets,
  • third, rebuild his Faction – he has only one, hired Asset and 20 empty Asset slots.

This does flip the priority table and will push him into defense.

As d’Venescu is already riding the high of May 10th, Aztechnology is still on May 1st. Their primary (and secondary!) behavior is Exclusive Growth, so they’d prefer to increase their Resources and Assets while stopping other Factions from interacting with their targets. This, on top of the Vindictive trait, means that d’Venescu’s move to kill Raul rubs the megacorp in the wrong way – in a couple wrong ways, actually. In fact, d’Venescu has run 3 projects against them last month, putting the need for vengeance at the top of the work queue.

The best way to exact vengeance is to send the R4 Crew on a Scenario to further the Destroy d’Venescu campaign – yes, the one we’re running. We’ve just saved their mage’s life, they can return the favor and do something that’s obviously mutually beneficial. Rolling the dice equal to Campaign Rating, they generated for themselves a Scenario with Payout 7; the project took them 3 days to accomplish, then another 2 days for legwork and 1 day for running the Scenario, which brings them to May 6th. The project was not covered in Stealth Deployment, but d’Venescu didn’t have the time nor the Assets to run interference, so he’ll have to eat the pie.


R4 Crew: 4 dice, 4 skill, 2 Resistance, 2 Clout, 2 soak, 2 automarks. Scenario Payout 7.

Legwork: 4v2=4+3 +2 automarks, 2 net (finished by May 5th).
Threat Rating: 7v7 = 0 (-2 soak) + 0 (-2 soak) = 0. TR 0-1 = 0
Challenge: Payout + 0 = 0.

Aztechnology Crew needs to score 7 marks. They’re rolling 4 v 6 – 4 (skill) + 7 (Payout Resistance) – 2 (Clout) = 4v7, and start with 2 automarks. Scenario rolls 7 v 6 – 1 (number of Actors) + 2 (Resistance) = 7v7, and gets hit with 2 points of Soak each interval.

T1: Offense: 4v7=1 + 2 automarks = 3. MT 3/7. Defense: 7v7=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 3/7
T2: Offense: 4v7=2. MT 5/7. Defense: 7v7=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 4/7
T3: Offense: 4v7=0. MT 4/7. Defense: 7v7=1 -2 soak = 0. MT 4/7
T4: Offense: 4v7=0. MT 4/7. Defense: 7v7=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 3/7
T5: Offense: 4v7=3. MT 6/7. Defense: 7v7=5 -2 soak = 3. MT 3/7
T6: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 4/7. Defense: 7v7=5 -2 soak = 3. MT 1/7
T7: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 2/7. Defense: 7v7=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 1/7
T8: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 2/7. Defense: 7v7=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 1/7
T9: Offense: 4v7=3. MT 4/7. Defense: 7v7=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 4/7
T10: Offense: 4v7=2. MT 6/7. Defense: 7v7=6 -2 soak = 4. MT 2/7
T11: Offense: 4v7=3. MT 5/7. Defense: 7v7=4 -2 soak = 2. MT 3/7
T12: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 4/7. Defense: 7v7=1 -2 soak = 0. MT 4/7
T13: Offense: 4v7=2. MT 6/7. Defense: 7v7=6 -2 soak = 4. MT 2/7
T14: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 3/7. Defense: 7v7=0 -2 soak = 0. MT 3/7
T15: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 4/7. Defense: 7v7=4 -2 soak = 2. MT 2/7
T16: Offense: 4v7=0. MT 2/7. Defense: 7v7=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 1/7
T17: Offense: 4v7=0. MT 1/7. Defense: 7v7=1 -2 soak = 0. MT 1/7
T18: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 2/7. Defense: 7v7=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 1/7
T19: Offense: 4v7=3. MT 4/7. Defense: 7v7=5 -2 soak = 3. MT 1/7
T20: Offense: 4v7=0. MT 1/7. Defense: 7v7=4 -2 soak = 2. MT -1/7 -> FLIP!

T21: Ex-Defense: 7v7=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 1/7. Ex-Offense: 4v7=1 +2 automarks = 3. MT -2/7 -> FLIP!

T22: Offense: 4v7=1 + 2 automarks =3. MT 5/7. Defense: 7v7=3 -2 soak = 1. MT 4/7
T23: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 5/7. Defense: 7v7=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 5/7
T24: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 6/7. Defense: 7v7=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 6/7
T25: Offense: 4v7=2. MT 8/7. Defense: 7v7=4 -2 soak = 0. MT 6/7
T26: Offense: 4v7=1. MT 7/7. Defense: 7v7=2 -2 soak = 0. MT 7/7

Offense wins, with 0 net marks.

Consequences: median roll 5, no consequences. Scenario completed by May 6th, giving Aztech / us +7 points to Destroy d’Venescu Structured Campaign (25/40, 3 projects total).


Well, that was a long one. Reducing the Resistance/Clout to half the Rating definitely prolongs the Quick Resolution, but it still took less than 10 minutes, and actually allows both the Crew and the Scenario to score marks, so that’s good. I’ve run the algorithm on different Ratings and Payouts, and the math actually checks out – attempting a Scenario with Payout of double the Crew Rating is the ‘danger zone’, where the failure becomes a threat. Below that, it’s mostly smooth sailing; a couple points above – it becomes near- and really-impossible. Which is what we wanted to achieve – challenging Scenarios are supposed to play out in the zoomed-in version, while quick resolution rules are just there so we can handwave small side gigs.

Anyway, the logical response of Aztechnology would be to get some Warfare Assets of their own, because they’ve just realized they don’t even have any Warfare-focused allies. And because of d’Venescu, this is no longer a matter of social play and a couple of spells cast here and there. This is war. First, they need to run a project to locate a contractor Faction (which, by the gods of dice, is a R5 Warfare/Investigative Faction), which takes them (5v5=2+3) two days, with the use of their Investigative Fleet and the standard Faction dice pool. However, there is only a R1 Warfare Crew for hire, which is better than nothing, I suppose. The hiring process takes (5v5=5) just one day, so by May 2nd, Aztechnology has a tiny R1 (1) Warfare Crew on their roster that will run an ongoing protective duty project for the Scientific Crew, prividing it with 1 point of Warfare Focus for the duration.

What should Aztechnology do after that? Well, let’s look at their priorities. Across the Faction, we have +6 for growth, +4 for exclusivity, +2 for hostility, and +2 to hostile Projects targeting a Faction that run a hostile Project against them in the past month. D’Venescu has ran 3 of those, which means we’re looking at +6 for retaliation. We also have about +16 for acquiring new Assets (because Aztech has only 4/20 Asset slots filled in).

Let me run the math here.

  • Hostile projects against d’Venescu have a basic priority 3 for the 3 last month’s attacks + 6 as the vindictive trait triggers 3 times + 9 (10-Familiarity) for the fact that Aztechnology really hates his guts. If we make it a Scientific project, it will get extra +3 for the primary focus. This gets us to 21.
  • Getting more Assets comes in with a +16 for empty Asset slots +2 for growth in each Focus + the priority bonus depending on the Focus, making getting Scientific Assets a priority 21, Investigative a priority 20, and others 19.

Their Field Lab is running a passive project, generating Resources for the Faction, so it’s out of the commission. The R4 Crew is busy exacting vengeance upon d’Venescu until May 6th, and the R1 Warfare Crew has been assigned to protect them. This leaves us with a R1 Investigative Fleet, that should take care of finding a new Scientific Asset! Luckily for them, there actually is one in the Sector: a R3 Freelance Scientific Crew of paramedics – hiring them is a Challenge 15 project (Rating x 5), which the Faction attempts with their 4 Faction dice, scoring the necessary marks in (4v5=1+2+2+2+2+1+4+3+1+2) ten days, finishing the job on May 12th.

This means that on May 7th, after finishing the project against d’Venescu, R4 Scientific Crew will be free to do other stuff, but we’ll get to them later.


Somebody’s Messing with My Elementals

Me, it was me. I messed with my own elementals the moment I’ve decided to count their Ratings towards the Threat Rating of the Scenario. Now I cannot just walk around with an army and will need to summon them as I need them.

Let us look at the AAC:
[Free] Summon Elemental [M, I, Logic, Conjuring. Summons an elemental (Air, Earth, Fire, or Water) at Rating equal to Conjuring skill. Marks = the number of actions the elemental can perform before dematerializing. Only one can be be summoned at any given time. Requirement: Magician.]

Now, according to the rules I came up with, all elementals are basically treated like drones, which means their basic stat block looks like this:

RatingArmor (Soak)Range (Modules)Signature(Astral)Power SlotsDurability (10)Action CardPowers
ElementalRRRRR/RR x10Conjuring

Soak is basically for Warfare approach and environmental damage – as magic beings, elementals aren’t really affected by people shooting at them with small weapons, and they have R x10 Durability, which means that even if they get ‘killed’ through Stamina or Morale damage, they’re still around – unless their Durability went to 0. Range means how far from the summoner they can go, in modules, and astral signature means extra Clout for Lookout Tasks, if the sentry is also magically active. Power slots replace standard drones’ mod slots – just like you can install modules on drones, we’re installing powers – ie. Action Cards.

With our Conjuring skill at 4, each type of the elemental gets 4 powers – I’m mostly using standard Shadowrun rules on spirit powers here, just adjusting the mechanics to fit within the system I’m playing. The Focus tags on the powers are just guidelines – Fear can be a warfare thing as much as social, so it all depends on the application.


Air Elemental

[Investigative] Concealment [P, S. Marks scored provide Resistance against all attempts to spot the target. Max number of targets = Rating]

[Scientific] Accident [M, I, CR=Fitness+Agility. Target loses a number of Physical Actions equal to marks scored as a small accident makes their life harder: they trip, spill a drink, or get dizzy. Net marks reduce Stamina Pool.]

[Social] Confusion [M, I, CR=Resolve+Conditioning. Marks deplete Morale Pool.]

[Warfare] Elemental Attack [P, I. Ranged attack dealing Stamina damage = marks. Counts as electrical damage.]


Earth Elemental

[Warfare] Guard [M, S, N/A, Target receives [Rating] points of Soak against physical attacks and environmental damage. Max number of targets = Rating]

[Social] Fear [M, I, N/A, CR=Resolve+Conditioning. If marks >= Target’s Resolve, reduce Target’s Morale Pool to 0. Counts as a hostile action.]

[Scientific] Binding [P, S, CR=Toughness. Target loses a number of Physical Actions equal to marks scored as they become immobilized. Net marks reduce Stamina Pool. Counts as a hostile action.]

[Warfare] Engulf [P, I, CR=Toughness. Melee attack dealing Stamina damage = marks. Forces target to engage with the same number of PAs.]


Fire Elemental

[Warfare] Elemental Attack [P, I. Ranged attack dealing Stamina damage = marks. Counts as fire damage.]

[Scientific] Elemental Aura [P, S. Creates a Fire Environmental Hazard with Rating = marks. Max number of targets affected = elemental’s Rating.]

[Warfare] Noxious Breath [P, I. An AoE effect dealing Stamina damage = marks to all living Actors in the module. Resisted with Seal.]

[Scientific] Movement [P, S, N/A. While sustained, targets can travel modules = marks in a single interval. Max number of targets = Rating]


Water Elemental

[Investigative] Concealment [P, S. Marks scored provide Resistance against all attempts to spot the target. Max number of targets = Rating]

[Warfare] Elemental Attack [P, I. Ranged attack dealing Stamina damage = marks. Counts as freezing damage.]

[Scientific] Movement [P, S, N/A. While sustained, targets can travel modules = marks in a single interval. Max number of targets = Rating]

[Warfare] Guard [M, S, N/A, Target receives [Rating] points of Soak against physical attacks and environmental damage. Max number of targets = Rating]


Scenario 022: So You Want to Be a Researcher

If you remember, the negative consequence of our project with BBs has been conveniently wrapped together with complications from the last Scenario, and now we know that d’Venescu has come up with a spell that influences the astral space, which: a) causes a whole lotta problems for Scientific approach, b) causes Tomorrow a migraine, c) is a thing we really-really-really don’t want used against us. In beautiful words of the Aphelion rulebook:

A rival torpedoes the player Faction’s plans. Generate a Scenario with Payout equal to magnitude. Failing that Scenario adds Threat equal to magnitude to the next Scenario in the Campaign.

This means we need to generate and win a Payout 10 Scenario, otherwise our next move against d’Venescu will get +10 TR, which would royally screw us over. So, as the Scenario narratively generated itself from the information we dragged out of the Bloodstreet Boys’ boss, we don’t need to run a project for it, just the Scenario, which saves us a lot of time. If we win, we avert the disaster, but we’re getting nothing else out of this.

Well, they way I see it, this is a matter of preparing a counter for a spell, which obviously calls for a Scientific Scenario – especially as the next one we had planned was supposed to be Scientific as well! This is all about the battle of wits now – can Tomorrow pull off enough mojo and skill to find a way around this spell?

Can she do a Payout 10 Scenario all on her own or should she take others with her, even though they’re not particularly magical? Well, yes, because in this game there’s always a way to participate in the story, no matter the character’s Focus and skills. Nobody needs to be sidelined, ever. Not even our hacker in a strictly magic-research Scenario. She can google for answers, right? Yes, she actually can. That’s the whole point.


Scenario Generation

Payout: 10 (not gaining anything, just averting a disaster. Payout works here as the base difficulty level of the Scenario.)
Legwork: Tomorrow, Sorcery, 5v1=5. Chloe, Hacking, 6v3=6. Tonight, Diplomacy, 5v4=2. Total 13, 3 net.
Threat Rating: Scenario rolls 10v3=6. TR = 4 (Crew) + 3 (half marks) – 2 (half legwork net marks) = 5.
Scenario Rating: 10 + 5 = 15. Default Actor Rating: R4.

Free Modules: 10 + 10 passages
Free Scenes: 10
Build Points: 15

For all intents and purposes, this is an ‘Investigate a Mystery’ Scenario – exactly the kind of a thing Tomorrow would like to be doing in her life. She’d like for her life to not depend on it, but hey, glass half-full, it’s better than intimidating some gangers. And if she wins, she gets to upgrade herself to Rating 3, because she’s currently sitting at 143/150 Rep for this Career Advancement Deed. Sounds like a perfect place for magical research to happen, especially as she’ll come out of it with a new, free Advanced Action Card.

This Scenario will be a magical-research equivalent of a ‘Pushing the Envelope’ Scenario.

  1. Gateway – A free Delayed Scene (1/10) with d’Venescu’s spell coming into action as R4 Sci/War Actor + another R4 Sci/War Actor (BP 1/15). The standard delay of 10+Payout intervals, shortened to 15 (BP 6/15) to add more pressure to the job.
  2. Hardpoint – A free Checkpoint Scene (2/10) to stall the Offense, with a free R4 Tech/Sci Actor – they need to get access to proper databases before they can even start solving this riddle. Hardpoint has Res 5.
  3. Operations – Time to find the necessary data! It’s a free Offense Scene (3/10) against R4 Tech/Sci Actor and R4 Sci/Tech Actor (BP 7/15). To make it harder, we’ll add another Scene here (BP 8/15) – a Defense Scene, as we’re accessing the databases illegally and our hacker needs to avoid detection and getting booted by a R5 Tech/Sci Actor (BP 9/15). The moment they are finished here, a Delayed Scene (BP 10/15) of Race Against Time triggers – the girls need to accomplish the MT of it, before the 20 interval countdown finishes; if they run out of time, the Scenario fails.
  4. Support – A free Offense Scene (4/10) against a R4 Tech/Sci Actor, providing all the MTs in Module 3 with 5 points of Resistance. Who used the interface of scientific databases even once, knows what I mean.
  5. Hardpoint – A free Checkpoint Scene (5/10) against a R5 Sci/Tech Actor (BP 11/15), representing the absolutely incomprehensible lingo of hermetic magic academia. It’s a Hardpoint, so 5 Res.
  6. Modifier – An Offense Scene (6/10) with a R4 Sci/War Actor. This module provides 3 points of Logic mod (BP 14/15) in Module 8. The scene represents getting in touch with Crowley, who actually has a lifetime of experience in all things magical, and getting his help would make the whole job hella easier.
  7. Hardpoint – A Checkpoint Scene (7/10) with a R4 Tech/Sci Actor, as another pay-to-use database lock messes up with our life. Science should be free!
  8. Support – A Defense Scene (8/10) with a R4 Soc/Sci Actor of peer-reviewed articles. The module provides Module 10 with 5 points of Res for the MT, as we just cannot deal with the level of pompousness in the hermetic academia.
  9. Hardpoint – A Checkpoint Scene (9/10), this time of a scientific/magical nature. We have all the data; are we able to connect the dots and come up with the counter for d’Venescu’s spell? R4 Sci/War Actor will do its best to stop us.
  10. Control – A Finale Scene (10/10), which is just as straightforward as they go, with a R5 Sci/War Actor (BP 15/15) that will try to rip us to shreds as we counter d’Venescu’s spell. This will be fun!

I look forwards to Scenario complications messing with me even more. Adding that Crew Rating to Threat Rating definitely made the game more challenging (it upscaled all default Actors from R3 to R4!).

Is the whole Scenario just us dealing with the pains of modern academia and paywalls? Yes. Tomorrow is a scientist, she deserves being dragged through mud in her chosen career, not just in wars.


Preparations

Right, so this doesn’t look like an easy Scenario, not by any stretch. Looking at the number or Technical Actors involved, we will probably have to get ourselves equipped with some Bots (Chloe didn’t yet have the opportunity to write any during the Scenario, but that’s what Software skill is for. We’re not taking any elementals with us and we won’t be conjuring any, because this whole Scenario takes place in the minds and computers, and a bunch of elementals can’t really help with it.

There is one Social Scene in the whole thing, so I suppose we’ll get dressed of the occasion, but other than this, the whole thing is run in pajamas while sitting on bean bags in Tomorrow’s (well, now Chloe’s) flat. It’s a Scientific/Technical Scenario and that’s how we’re going to run it. Expect a couple of Scenes on the Fly, as I’ve made this this as hard as I could.

The Resistance in this Scenario is absolutely awful, but we’ll have to deal. We’re only taking the appropriate gear with us, which means we won’t be throwing grenades around this time.

Also, as this is more of a research thing, I’m going to assume that each interval is actually more like half an hour than a minute. Nobody does proper research in 20 minutes.


Playthrough!

T1: Gateway.
Reinforcements: 1/15
Scenario Complications: 10v3=9 /15

Instead of interacting with the Gateway, we’ll try to build a passage to skip Module 2 and go to Module 4 directly. Also known as: ‘you know what, I ain’t paying for this stupid database. Is there a backdoor?’

Tomorrow: Investigation+1, 5v2=4
Chloe: Hacking+1, 6v3=2
Tonight: Con+1, 5v4=5
Scenario: 10v3=7


T2:
Reinforcements: 2/15
Scenario Complications: 10v3=8 + 9 = 17/15, 2 net. Median roll, 5-2 = 3, negative consequence with magnitude 10:

A crew belonging to a friendly Faction attempts to interrupt your Scenario, but gets intercepted by the Defense Actors. They’re using the Faction’s Main Focus, spend 3 build points plus magnitude to create them. If no such Faction exists, create a new Faction with Familiarity of 5 plus magnitude. Defense Actors are alerted to their presence and consider them a higher threat than your Crew. Trigger a new Reinforcement Scene.

Well, that one’s interesting. Who could be crashing our Scientific/Technical scenario in a search of a spell formula if not our friendly Scientific/Technical Faction, the Hellhounds? We have 13 points to build them, and Hellhounds are now basically 3 mages + 1 physical adept, so as far as the mechanics go, they’ll be: R4 Sci/War (Sal), R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), R3 Sci/War (Ahab), and R3 Tech/Sci (Gargoyle).

Tomorrow: Investigation, 5v2=5
Chloe: Hacking, 6v3=5
Tonight: Con, 5v4=4
Scenario: 10v3=8

Us: 25/15=10 net
Scenario: 7+8 = 15
TR = 8-5=3

We get 3 BPs to build a passage and a Scene to skip Hardpoint and Operations module and go directly to Module 4.


May 2nd, 2056 

‘That’s… peculiar,’ notes Chloe as soon as she keys in the command and waits for her deck to execute the program. ‘I think somebody is trying to gatecrash our party.’

Tomorrow raises her head from the notes and takes a look at her sister’s screen. The crude visualization of the Matrix architecture looks gray and boring when compared with the vividness of the astral world, but other than that, it’s rather similar. She squints at the pixels, searching for what Chloe could have meant – and she finds it, right there in their node: a tiny blue icon of a… sailor?

‘Any idea who’s that?’

‘Well, it looks like they just jacked in on the same path we did… The original signal comes from deeper in the Warrens, but they’re hacked into Best Western’s link. And I think I know this persona. Do you want me to poke him and ask what are they doing?’

Tomorrow already has her commlink in hand. ‘Nah, I got this. If this really is Gargoyle, it’s not him who’s running the show anyway.’ A few seconds later the call connects and Salazar’s bald head fills the screen. The black tattoos on his face stand out even more than usual against his sallow skin, and Tomorrow feels an uncomfortable pang of guilt. She quickly stuffs it into a different part of the brain; there are priorities, and Salazar is not one of them.

‘We’re busy here, Tomorrow.’

‘Yeah, I can see you’re busy. Riding coattails. What are you doing, Sal?’ 

‘Helping you.’ Salazar grins in the most obnoxious way. ‘This spell you’ve mentioned is definitely powered with blood magic, about which I know more than you do. So I figured I’ll help you with your research, and then you’ll owe me. Which is the position in which I like you the most anyway.’

‘I’ve heard what happened,’ she mentions and watches as Salazar’s cheeky smile disappears. ‘I’m sorry about your people, Sal. I liked them a lot.’

Salazar shrugs, but the gesture is more despondent than nonchalant. ‘Yeah, well. Fucking rotten luck. But I’ll make all of them pay. Now, let me help you, so you can owe me, so I can cash in some favors.’

‘All they did so far, was trigger all the alarms,’ mutters Chloe quietly. Not quietly enough, because Salazar immediately scowls at her.

‘Well, sorry, princess. Not everybody can afford your top-shelf decking gear. You try getting somewhere without tripping an alarm when you’re hacked into a hacked and rerouted connection. Can you even imagine the lag we have here?’

Tomorrow rolls her eyes. ‘It’s all good, Sal. Thank you for the help, I accept and appreciate it. Doing research with you is fun – and honestly, if y’all can keep the system’s heat away from us by taking it on, that’s even better. About owing you, though -‘ She shakes her head with a sigh. ‘We’re friends. All you have to do is tell me you need my assistance.’

‘I know. I still prefer it this way.’

‘Suit yourself. Help me figure this shit out and I’ll owe you a favor. I’m gonna leave it to Gargoyle and Chloe to hash out the technical part – but man, happy to have you on the team. We’re gonna make some pretty cool magic together. As always.’


T3:
Reinforcements 1: 3/15
Reinforcements 2: 1/20

The Scene on the Fly has been created: we have 3 BPs for it! First, we buy a passage leading from Module 1 to Module 4 (1 BP). The Offense Scene there comes in for free, together with a R4 Tech/Sci Actor (Aggressive Control) – we’re trying to exploit a hole in the system and avoid the main firewall. For the 2 BPs we have left, we’ll buy extra 2 points of Resistance.

Offense:
Chloe: MA Software+1, 6v4=3, creates a R3 Optimizer Bot (Hacking). PA Interact to connect with the Defense Actor. MA Hack the System (Hacking+1), 6v4=5 -2 soak = 3 actions in the system next turn. MA Electronic Warfare+1, 5v5=1 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8.
Tonight: MA Leadership+1, 4v4=3 Clout for Tomorrow’s Hacking). MA (2 comb.) Stalling Tactics (Con+1) vs Defense, 5v2=5, MAs wasted. PA TaB. MP 7/7
Optimizer Bot: 3v3=3 -> reduces difficulty for Tomorrow’s hacking for duration (3 intervals)
Tomorrow: MA Hacking+1, 5v3=5 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 5v2=4 towards MT. MA Investigation, 5v2=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8

Defense: got stalled by a user walking into a non-idiotproof part of the system and DDOS-in it with silly questions.

MT: 15/15 -> Offense wins and can move to Module 4!

Meanwhile, in Module 1, Hellhounds interact with the Gateway and move to the Hardpoint.


T4:
Reinforcements 1: 4/15
Reinforcements 2: 2/20

Module 4: Support, providing 5 points of Res to MTs in Module 3. And Module 3 is hell, so we need to solve this issue. While Chloe is riding her Hack the System high, we’ll try to succeed at the Offense Scene.

Offense:
Tonight: MA Leadership+1, 4v4=4 Clout for Chloe’s Hacking. MA Hacking+1, 5v8=0 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 5v7=2 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 5/7
Chloe: 3 actions in the system. MA IT+1, 5v3=5 -2 soak = 3, commandeering 2 MAs of the Defense Actor to run itself in a loop. MA Hacking+1, 6v5=5 towards MT. MA Hack the System (Hacking), 6v3=6 more actions. PA TaB. MP 6/8
Optimizer Bot: 3v3=3 -> reduces difficulty for Tomorrow’s hacking for duration (2 intervals)
Tomorrow: MA Hacking+1, 5v3=4 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 5v2=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 5/8

Defense: MAs wasted by Chloe running the system.

MT: 16/15 -> Offense wins, the extra Resistance in Module 3 is no more.

Meanwhile, in Module 2, Hellhounds are trying to get through the Hardpoint, using their Faction’s primary behavior = Scientific against a R4 Tech/Sci Actor (Aggressive Control)

R4 Sci/War (Sal), 4v5=2+2 automarks = 4 towards MT.
R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), 3v6=2+2 automarks = 4 towards MT
R3 Sci/War (Ahab), 3v6=0 towards MT
R3 Tech/Sci (Gargoyle), 2v8=0 towards MT.

Defense: 2v4=1 +1 automark. 2v4=2.

MT 4/4 -> Offense wins and Hellhounds are through the Hardpoint!


T5:
Reinforcements 1: 5/15
Reinforcements 2: 3/20

Chloe, Tonight, Tomorrow: TaB while going through a passage. Chloe, MP 7/8. Tonight, MP 7/7. Tomorrow, MP 7/8.

Meanwhile, in Module 3, Hellhounds are already working on the Scenes here! One is an Offense Scene, one is a Defense Scene – as the Defense considers them a prime threat, it will be probably best if they focus on the Defense Scene against the R5 Tech/Sci (Aggressive Offense) Actor. As they use the Scientific approach, the Tech/Sci Actor responds in kind!

R5 Tech/Sci: 3v3=3 +2 automarks. 3v3=3. 3v3=3. MP 7/10. MT 11/15

R4 Sci/War (Sal), 4v5=3+2 automarks = 5 against MT.
R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), 3v6=2+2 automarks = 4 against MT
R3 Sci/War (Ahab), 3v6=3+2 automarks = 5 against MT
R3 Tech/Sci (Gargoyle), 2v8=0 towards MT.

MT -3/15 -> FLIP!


T6:
Reinforcements 1: 6/15
Reinforcements 2: 4/20

Module 3! Oh, it’s such a nice place to be right now. Hellhounds are working hard on dismantling the Defense, and looks like they’re winning. This means we’re free to take the Offense Scene for yourselves. This is mostly a matter of searching for the accurate magical data and collating the necessary information. What we’re facing here is a R4 Tech/Sci (Balanced Control) and R4 Sci/Tech (Balanced Offense) Actor.

Offense:
Chloe: 7 actions in the system left. MA Hack the System sust. MA IT+1, 5v3=5 -2 soak = 3 MAs of R4 Tech/Sci wasted. MA IT, 5v2=4 -1 soak = 3 MAs of R4 Sci/Tech wasted. (5 actions left.) PA TaB. MP 6/8.
Tonight: MA Investigation+1, 5v4=3 towards MT. MA Sorcery+1, 3v9=0 towards MT. MA Teaching+1, 4v5=2 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 5/7
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 towards MT. MA Conjuring+1, 5v2=3 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 5v2=3 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 5/8

Defense: Got controlled out of actions by the hacker.

MT 16/15 -> Offense wins and triggers Race Against Time! Needs to score 15 marks before 20 intervals pass or the Scenario is failed.

Meanwhile, Hellhounds are dispatching the automated defenses of the server. They’ve managed to flip the Scene with -3/15 marks, which means they’re starting an Offense Scene with 3 marks prescored.

R4 Sci/War (Sal), 4v5=3+2 automarks = 5 towards MT.
R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), 3v6=2+2 automarks = 4 towards MT
R3 Sci/War (Ahab), 3v6=2+2 automarks = 4 towards MT
R3 Tech/Sci (Gargoyle), 2v8=1+1 automark = 2 towards MT.

R5 Tech/Sci: 3v3=2 +2 automarks against MT. 3v3=3. 3v3=3. MP 4/10.

MT 8/15


T7:
Reinforcements 1: 7/15
Reinforcements 2: 5/20

Looks like Hellhounds don’t need any help, and we need to make a decision whether we want to finish the Race Against Time Scene here, while nobody’s watching (although Chloe will have to stop Actors from the previous Scene from interfering), or move forward and try to accomplish other goals. I think it will be best if we move to the passage leading to Module 5 and attempt the Race Against Time there, out of view.

So we move to the passage, leaving the Hellhounds behind. It’s their problem anyway.

Chloe: MA Hack the System sust. MA Job Well Done. MA Hacking+1, 6v3=6 towards MT. MP 8/8
Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v2=5 towards MT. 2 PA TaB, 2v6=2. MP 6/7
Tomorrow: MA Job Well Done. MA Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 towards MT. MP 8/8

MT 16/15 -> Offense wins Race Against Time, regains some of their Morale Points and moves to Module 5.

Meanwhile, in Module 3, Hellhounds realize they don’t really make good progress and it’s the perfect moment to shoot down the Defense.

R4 Sci/War (Sal), 4v5=2 towards MT.
R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), 3v6=2 towards MT.
R3 Sci/War (Ahab), 3v6=1 towards MT.
R3 Tech/Sci (Gargoyle), 2v8=0 towards MT.

R5 Tech/Sci: 3v3=3. 3v3=2. 3v3=3. MP 1/10.

MT 5/15


‘We got all we needed from there, I think. It’s… a pile of incomprehensible bullshit, from what I see, but that’s how most hermetic research looks like until you decipher it, so I guess we’re good. Abstracts sound vaguely useful. Nothing on blood magic, of course, but I’m assuming that the basic counterspelling and disenchanting principia should apply anyway. Right?’

‘No idea whatsoever, you’re the one studying magic. I just make stuff happen when I want it.’ Salazar looks away from the screen and Tomorrow can hear Gargoyle’s quiet voice, but the words are hard to understand. ‘We’re stalling the system for you as much as we can, but Gargoyle says it will be much faster if Chloe switches to admin and just shuts them down, because they keep doing us vibe checks and grinding it to null will take forever. Then we can go get those articles for you, from node PZ-oo98fp4. Just need to break the ice. Or something. Don’t ask me.’

‘I know about as much as you do, man. Them hackers, aight? Weirdos.’ Tomorrow flips the page of a book floating in front of her and glares at the article displayed on her commlink. ‘The word of the day is pretentious. Like, I know that arcane studies are supposed to be esoteric, but honestly – if somebody cannot explain what they mean in simple sentences, they probably should just shut up.’

‘So how are your studies going, anyway?’

‘Poorly. I’ve been running a war on the sly most of the time. I got a couple of mag-sec consultancy gigs, so at least I have some reports of practical experience to write and cash in for credits. My independent research… You know – I can’t really write a paper on what we did. Between a secret metaplanar gate, an unregistered leyline, blood magic, mass murder, and arson, I somehow don’t want it peer-reviewed. And I ain’t got time to do any other research either.’

‘Tut-tut. You’ll drop out if you continue on this path. And then you’ll be a total fuck-up, like the rest of us.’ Salazar assumes the expression of total disappointment. ‘We expected more from you. You’re the first of our family to ever go to college.’

Tomorrow laughs and flips him a bird. ‘Oh, piss off. After seventeen years with my mother, I’m practically immune to guilt-tripping and disappointed looks. Two days ago, I was intimidating a whole fucking gang to get off our case. Do you know how much time I got for studying the theory of the metaplanes, drawing maps of local manasphere density, or whatever else is there in the syllabus? About three hours a day, between four and seven in the morning. If I’m lucky. College is kicking my ass more than d’Venescu ever did.’

‘That means you should just embrace your destiny of joining the gang scum. We have a place for you. A whole selection of empty rooms to choose from.’ Salazar’s tone is as sarcastic as always, but a year of friendship is enough to read the emotions behind it.

‘I think I prefer my current spot in Wheeler’s bed – saves me on commute for booty calls. Thanks, though. If I were a joining type, I’d seriously consider.’ She reads the same paragraph of the book for the third time, then sighs and levitates it across the room. ‘Maybe it’s you who should move in somewhere else.’

‘Maybe,’ agrees Salazar and this is the biggest concession on his side Tomorrow has ever seen. ‘When you’re done with all this and have some hours to spare, come visit. I wanted to run something past you. Off the matrix. But it can wait a couple of days.’

‘Yeah, this spell is really screwing me over, and not in the ways I like. I’ll deal with this shit and then I’m yours. More or less. Less, actually.’

‘Good enough for me.’


T8:
Reinforcements 1: 8/15
Reinforcements 2: 5/20

We’re moving to Module 5, another Hardpoint – the absolute mess of incomprehensible academic, hermetic lingo. As Chloe is still in the system, she’ll actually help out Hellhounds with her sustained Hack the System actions, while Tomorrow and Tonight will try to get through this R5 Sci/Tech (Conservative Offense) Actor in the Checkpoint Scene. Classic 5 points of Resistance in the Hardpoint.

Tonight: MA (3 comb) Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v1=5, 3 MAs of Defense stalled. PA TaB. MP 7/7
Tomorrow: MA Sciences+1, 5v5=1 towards MT. MA Sorcery+1, 5v2=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8

Defense: controlled out of MAs, TaB.

MT 6/5 -> Offense wins!

Meanwhile, Chloe and Hellhounds:

Chloe: MA sust Hack the World. MA Electronic Warfare+1, 5v5=4 -3 soak = 1 MP dmg to R5 Tech/Sci Actor in Module 3. (4 hacked actions left.) PA TaB.
R4 Sci/War (Sal), 4v5=3 towards MT. 4v5=1 towards MT.
R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), 3v6=1 towards MT. 3v6=1 towards MT.
R3 Sci/War (Ahab), 3v6=0 towards MT. 3v6=2 towards MT.
R3 Tech/Sci (Gargoyle), 2v8=1 towards MT. 2v8=1 towards MT.

R5 Tech/Sci: MP 0/10, forced to TaB. 5v6=3. MP 3/10

MT 15/15 -> Offense wins!


T9:
Reinforcements 1: 9/15
Reinforcements 2: 6/20

As the next step in this journey is to talk to Crowley the Free Spirit in Module 6 and get him to answer some questions for us, removing the +3 Logic modifier from the Finale, we’re splitting the party. This is a job for Tomorrow and Tonight, while Chloe (who really doesn’t care all that much about magic – hackers, eh?) will stay in the system and join the Hellhounds crew as they go to Module 7  to dismantle the Checkpoint and the Support module behind it.

Module 6: Modifier Module, with an Offense Scene against a R4 Sci/War Actor (Balanced Control), approached in a Scientific and Social way. For once, Tomorrow’s Sorcery can actually mean arcane knowledge.

Tonight: MA (2 comb.) Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v2=5, Crowley’s MAs wasted. MA Diplomacy+1, 5v3=2 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/7
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 towards MT. MA Conjuring+1, 5v2=5 towards MT. MA Sciences+1, 5v3=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8

R4 Sci/War: MAs stalled and he’s not about to shoot them.

MT 17/15 -> Offense wins and removes the mod from the Finale.

Chloe and the Hellhounds: In the passage to Module 7, regaining spent MPs on the way.


‘Have you tried Vaughn’s? She had a hypothesis about the effect of local mana disturbances on physical adepts. It might not align perfectly with your needs and it’s at least a decade old, but that’s the closest I can recall.’

Tomorrow looks at Crowley’s vast library – much, much larger than anything she has managed to collect so far – and shrugs.

‘I don’t think I’ve seen that one. Is it somewhere here, sir?’

‘Right, you wouldn’t find it on the Matrix. It was never officially published, because Vaughn died before she could finish it, but I received a copy from a mutual acquaintance. Look between theory books, third or fourth shelf, library binding in eggshell marble.’

She spies the book between all the spines and brings it down with a spell. The other five volumes are lying open on the ground around her, as she’s sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor. The spirit stands with his back to her, busy in the alchemical laboratory. Tomorrow wishes she could join him – there’s so much she can learn from him – but it’s better to focus on the job at hand. After all, it’s her life that’s on the line. Distractions are dangerous – especially when they’re so fascinating. But a minute won’t kill her, right?

‘Mr. Crowley, sir? What are you working on?’

‘I’m afraid I don’t know yet. I’ve found an interesting set of notes in the metaplane and I’m trying to recreate one of the recipes, but between deciphering the language and the handwriting, I am not at all sure I even have the right ingredients. The working hypothesis is that it’s somewhere between a bomb and a sandwich.’

‘Please don’t blow up my house,’ she laughs, flipping the pages of Vaughn’s Astral Resonance in Inhomogeneous Mana Fields. ‘I’d hate to leave Best Western.’

‘The wards will contain a bomb,’ assures her Crowley offhandedly. ‘That’s what they’re for. Do you still need those anti-spying spells in place?’

‘I don’t really know. On one hand, we’ve pushed d’Venescu into defense and looking for my sister is probably not the hottest item on his to-do list. On another, I don’t really know him. Neither do I know the limits of his power. Most of my data about blood magic comes from Salazar, and he’s not really one for theory.’

‘The spells will stay, then, until they are no longer needed. But you’d do well spending some time on researching the issue.’

‘What does it look like I’m doing?’ She sighs and reads on for a while. ‘The intersection of blood magic, manasphere control, and physical magic used for spellcasting looks more and more like a party of one.’

‘So you have a high chance of becoming a worldwide expert on the subject with your unique perspective. Do your research and publish it.’

‘And become a laughing stock for even talking about blood magic. All that I could find about it is rumors and conspiracy theories. I wouldn’t believe in it either if I haven’t seen it with my own eyes. If I haven’t participated in it.’

The spirit turns back and smiles in the most annoying, all-knowing way of an old academic. ‘You were just looking in the wrong place. Those conversations do not happen over the publicly available Matrix, as you can imagine. There are reasons for the existence of magical lodges. The ability to have a proper discussion with your peers is one of them.’

‘I’ll look into it,’ she says reluctantly. ‘Once this whole research stops being so… personal. The less connects me to d’Venescu now, the better. The fewer people look in my direction now, the better. I still have a potential murder on the horizon.’

‘It’s certainly a choice in front of you. One you should probably make elsewhere.’ There is no pressure in his tone, but Tomorrow takes the words for what they are – a dismissal. She picks up the volumes and gets off the floor.

‘Right. Thank you for the books, sir. I’ll return them as soon as I’m done. Please don’t blow yourself up with that sandwich.’

‘How did I ever survive so many decades without your words of caution?’ The spirit smirks and shakes his head. ‘Come talk to me when you’re done with this project. I’m sure your solution will be… interesting.’


T10:
Reinforcements 1: 10/15
Reinforcements 2: 7/20

Time to run for the Finale! Tomorrow is several modules from it and the Reinforcements clock is ticking! Both her and Tonight will ‘run’ straight for the Module 9, retracing her steps through Module 5 and 3.

Meanwhile, Chloe and Hellhounds attack the Module 7: Hardpoint and its R4 Tech/Sci (Aggressive Control) Actor. As Chloe still has actions from Hack the System and this part of the Scenario takes place all on the Matrix, it just makes sense. As in all other Hardpoints, this gets +5 Res.

Chloe: MA sust Hack the World. MA IT+1, 5v3=4 -2 soak = 2 MAs of the Defense wasted. (3 hacked actions left.) PA TaB.
R4 Sci/War (Sal), 2 actions comb., 4v7=1 towards MT.
R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), 2 actions comb., 3v8=2 towards MT.
R3 Sci/War (Ahab), 2 actions comb., 3v8=2 towards MT.

R5 Tech/Sci: 2 MAs wasted by Hack the System.

MT 5/4 -> Offense wins!


T11:
Reinforcements 1: 11/15
Reinforcements 2: 8/20

Tomorrow and Tonight: in the passage between Module 5 and 3. I could technically cut down on the time needed by using a Water Elemental with the Movement power, but: a) the modules are abstract, she’s not really going anywhere; b) it sounds fair to give her a couple hours to actually reference the book she borrowed. Shortcuts don’t really sound like proper research.

Chloe and the Hellhounds have arrived at Module 8, where a Defense Scene against a R4 Social/Sci (Conservative Offense) awaits them. As they’re in defense, the type of the Scene is dictated to them, and only Caw-Caw is any kind of a social person – but then, it’ll be fine.  It’s a Social Scene, so we need to establish the Familiarity as the basic difficulty; rolled a 5, so it will be slightly easier.

R4 Soc/Sci: 4v1=4 +2 automarks = 6 towards MT. And they call it a day, because being conservative is one hell of a drug.

Out team is nowhere near conservative. It’s a Team Get Shit Done Or Your Sister Potentially Dies. And we’re in the defense, so we don’t get hit with the Resistance for working on a MT, because we’re working against a MT.

Chloe: MA IT+1, 5v1=5 marks against MT. MA Diplomacy+1, 6v3=5 marks against MT. MA IT, 5v1=5 marks towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8
R4 Sci/War (Sal), 1v4=1 against MT.
R3 Sci/Soc (Caw-Caw), 2v3=2+1 automark = 3 against MT
R3 Sci/War (Ahab), 1v4=1 against MT.
R3 Tech/Sci (Gargoyle), 1v4=1 against MT.

MT -12/5 -> FLIP!


T12:
Reinforcements 1: 12/15
Reinforcements 2: 9/20

Tomorrow and Tonight are still working on the solution to the whole magic conundrum, while they’re ‘moving’ through Module 3. Just as a reminder, each interval in here is about half an hour. Reading books takes time.

Meanwhile, in Module 8, Chloe and the Hellhounds have moved to the Offense. The Resistance for working on the Main Task is back – but they’ve managed to score 12 net marks in the Defense Scene, so they start with that many prescored! Which, with the Conservative Actor in the opposition, means that Chloe should be able to pull them over the threshold on her own. It’s unlikely that she’ll be joining her sister in the Module 10, so she doesn’t have to worry about sustainability of three-actions-per-interval approach.

Chloe: MA IT+1, 5v1=5 marks towards MT. MA Sciences+1, 5v4=3 marks towards MT. MA Sorcery+1, 5v5=3 towards MT.
Hellhounds: Don’t interrupt and don’t raise the Resistance.

R4 Soc/Sci: 4v1=4 +2 automarks = 6 against MT

MT 17/15 -> Offense wins! The +5 Res in the Finale is no more!


T13:
Reinforcements 1: 13/15
Reinforcements 2: 10/20

Tomorrow and Tonight are working their way through the passage leading to Module 9, where they’ll arrive in the next interval.

Chloe and Hellhounds are leaving Module 8 and getting back towards the Gateway; currently in Module 7.


T14:
Reinforcements 1: 14/15
Reinforcements 2: 11/20

Module 9: Hardpoint with a R4 Sci/War (Balanced Control) Actor, representing the need to connect the dots and figure out the formula for the spell we’ll be casting in the finale. As there is no logical reason for Stalling Tactics to work here, we won’t use them. Instead, we’ll just push trough the Defense and their +5 Res.

Tonight: MA Leadership+1, 4v4=4 Clout for Tomorrow’s Sciences. MA Leadership, 4v4=4 Clout for Tomorrow’s Investigation. PA TaB. MP 6/7
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v2=5 towards MT. MA Sciences+1, 5v3=4 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 5v2=5 towards MT.  PA TaB. MP 6/8

Defense: MA 4v2=4 +2 automarks against MT.  MA 4v2=3 against MT

MT 5/4 -> Offense wins!

Chloe and Hellhounds – currently in a passage between Module 7 and Module 3. Probably just chatting and hanging out.


T15:
Reinforcements 1: 15/15
Reinforcements 2: 12/20

The time has come! The reinforcements of d’Venescu’s spell have actually reached the Scenario and are just about to cause one hell of a trouble! They spawn at the Gateway, where the Reinforcement Scene has been placed and they’ll try to mess with Tomorrow before she finishes the Finale.

Chloe and Hellhounds have reached the Module 3 and will probably chill there for the time being. However, as the modules are not physical spaces, Chloe can still influence the Finale – she’s sitting in the same room as her sister, after all.

Module 10 and the Finale: After we’ve dismantled the Support and Modifier Modules, this is just a standard Finale Scene, with Resistance equal to Payout (10). A single R5 Sci/War (Balanced Defense) Actor is there to make it harder for us while we’re trying to dismantle d’Venescu’s spell before it starts affecting us through the incoming Reinforcements. As it’s behavior is balanced, we’ll make it use 2/3 MAs and TaB once its Morale Pool drops to half. As it’s focusing on the Defense, it will mostly protect itself and its Main Task.

Chloe: MA Leadership+1, 3v4=2 MP for Tomorrow. MA Leadership, 3v4=2 Clout for Tomorrow’s Sciences. PA TaB. MP 7/8
Tonight: MA Leadership+1, 4v4=4 Clout for Tomorrow’s Investigation. PA TaB. MP 7/7
Tomorrow: MA Artificial Intelligence (Sorcery+1), 5v1=5 Clout for Logic Tasks. MA Sciences+1, 5v3=5 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 5v5=4 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8

R5 Sci/War: MA 5v1=5+3 automarks=8 extra Resistance for the Finale. MA 5v1=5+3 automarks = 8 extra Resistance for self. MP 8/10.


T16:
Reinforcements 2: 13/20

The Reinforcements are moving to Module 2. Hellhounds/Chloe are moving towards Module 10, as they’re supposed to be interfering. They are currently in the passage between Modules 3 and 9.

In the Finale, we’re at 9/15 progress in the MT – although making more progress will be dicey! Extra 5 points of Resistance isn’t going to be pleasant here.

Chloe: MA Leadership, 3v4=1 Clout for Tomorrow’s Sciences. PA TaB.
Tonight: MA Leadership, 4v4=4 Clout for Tomorrow’s Sciences. PA TaB.
Tomorrow: MA sust AI. MA Sorcery, 5v2=5 -3 soak = 2 MP dmg to Defense. MA Sciences, 5v7=2 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8

R5 Sci/War: MA sust Res vs Finale. MA sust Res vs self. MP 6/10MT 11/15.


T17:
Reinforcements 2: 14/20

The Reinforcements are moving to Module 3, slowly catching up with us. Chloe and Hellhounds are now in Module 9.

In the Finale, we are realizing that the Finale system is broken and needs much more variety, because two of my characters are basically jobless. They can’t help in the Main Task, because they have no way of overcoming 18 points of Resistance (21 if all three characters would want to participate!), and none of the skills have an option of directly engaging with the Defense. This is somewhat of my fault – I’ve abstracted all the modules and most of the Actors, and I’m putting a game that was built around a heist module through a stress test of ‘let’s run a scenario of us trying to do research in an exciting way!’

However, I really want this system to cover this kind of Scenarios. It needs to accommodate situations like this: where neither the Modules nor the Actors are physical things, not even computer programs that can be interacted with. The Defense in this Scene is a problem, and I’d like the whole team to participate in solving it. This means they need to have options for action control, Resistance and Clout generation, automark and soak generation, as well as attack and defense moves against other Actors.

If we weren’t in a complete abstract, I’d just use Stalling Tactics to control enemy actions, but I can’t with a clean conscience use it like that here. Neither would Accident Power help – not that it would work, with Defense giving itself 11 points of Res and 3 soak against Scientific Focus. I’ll run the rest of the Finale the best I can, and then just sit down with Jakub and we’ll come up with variations for the Finale. I’ve been running this playtest for 3 months, and we need variety.

Guess we’ll just use Investigation as an offense weapon. Defense’s extra Res is against Scientific Tasks anyway.

Chloe: MA Investigation+1, 6v5=4 -1 soak = 3 MP dmg against R4 Sci/War Actor. MA Investigation, 6v5=4 -1 soak = 3 MP dmg against R4 Sci/War Actor. Ground down to 0, forced to TaB, can only sustain Actions otherwise. MA Leadership, 3v4=1 point of Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery. PA TaB.
Tonight: MA Leadership, 4v4=3 Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery. MA Leadership, 4v4=3 Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery.
Tomorrow: MA sust AI. MA Sorcery, 5v6=4 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v7=3 towards MT.

R5 Sci/War: Forced to TaB, sustaining its Actions.

MT 18/15 -> Offense wins, with 3 net!


Wrapping Up

I am, honestly, stretching this system above and beyond what it was supposed to be doing – but we want it to work flawlessly in different playstyles. Mine’s not particularly heist- or combat-oriented.

Payout: 10 (not for us, but at least there won’t be any extra Threat Rating in the next Scenario. This negative consequence really was a bitch)

Rep: +10 for all three characters. This not only brought us +3 Influence points, but also pushed Tomorrow over 150 Rep, completing a new Career Deed. Somebody is a Rating 3 Magician now, which means a new Free AAC and 3 points of Clout when using Primary Skills! This also means we have a Crew R5 now and are less susceptible to people trying to do us harm.

What’s the new AAC? Well…

(FREE) AAC Counterspell (M, I, Logic, Sorcery). Marks = ablative soak against magic for the target Actor.

First, it’s fire-and-forget (ie. instant). Second, it’s ablative, meaning that it generates a pool of soak that will be depleted when attacked. So on one side, I don’t have to sustain it, on the other, it will require recasting to stay effective. I’m not tying it to any particular Focus, because we have already discussed how magic works across all Focuses – it will be applied when it makes a narrative sense.

Familiarity: no change, but (1/3) for raising Fam with Hellhounds.

Skill learning:
Tomorrow: Investigation +7, Hacking +2, Sorcery +6, Conjuring +2, Sciences +4
Chloe: Hacking +4, Software +1, Electronic Warfare +2, IT +5, Diplomacy +1, Sciences +1, Sorcery +1, Leadership +1, Investigation +1
Tonight: Con +4, Leadership +4, Hacking +1, Investigation +2, Sorcery +1, Teaching +1, Diplomacy +2

Scenario consequences:
Median roll 6+3 net = 9, positive consequence of magnitude 11!
A Contact asks for help in a Scenario with Payout equal to magnitude. If successful, that Contact gets a Rating promotion.
I’d normally roll for the contact in question, but I think the Scenario complications and Salazar’s ‘you owe me now’ give a good enough reason to not roll for this particular one.


The door to Crowley’s penthouse is one of the few Tomorrow has never considered not knocking on. Not since Friese and her tore down the wards – before they even knew about Crowley – and one lost a hand and the other got sucked into an astral rift and trapped in the metaplane. If nothing else, it taught her to wait for permission to enter Crowley’s domain. It was also the polite thing to do, and the old-mage-turned-free-spirit deserved being treated politely.

If she hoped to one day call him a mentor, there really was no other option.

‘Thank you for the books, sir,’ she says after being admitted inside. ‘Vaughn’s book saved me a lot of work in the end.’

‘I thought it might. Although I admit, I did not expect you back so soon.’

‘Ah, well.’ Tomorrow shrugs and put the books away on the shelves; after almost a year, she knows the system by heart – she even copied it for her own, much smaller collection. ‘Life’s not waiting for anybody, and I have bigger problems right now than theoretical minutiae. My sister calls it a hotfix.’

‘Care to extrapolate?’ Crowley sits down in a chair and folds his arms, looking at her with an expectant expression.

Shit. Raven never makes me feel so… Inadequate. Well, here goes nothing.

‘Sure. Vaughn put forward a hypothesis that the local mana disturbances create a ripple effect in physical adepts’ internal mana reserves. I’ve figured that instead of fighting it, I’ll just attune to the disturbance – you know, sir, in a similar way as when attuning to a ward or when masking the aura. Took a bit of meditation, but in the end, it wasn’t really that complicated. The basic principia of masking and flexible signature metamagics came in handy. I was done with it in about half an hour. I’ve spent the rest of the time just picking up basics of counterspelling, so I don’t have to deal with each of d’Venescu’s spells separately. It was in my study plan for a while anyway.’

‘Peculiar. But your way of doing magic is peculiar in general, so there are no surprises there.’

‘I know,’ she laughs with a bit of embarrassment. ‘I sometimes wish it was clear-cut hermetic magic, it would be much easier if I didn’t have to adapt literally everything – but then, there’s no way in hell I’m giving away my connection to the Raven. And I obviously have no way of not channelling the mana through my body, so… I’ll have to live without astral projection and metaplanar quests.’

Crowley patiently waits out her nervous rambling. ‘As I said, a unique perspective. Stop being ashamed and use it to your advantage.’

Tomorrow sighs. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Is this about your degree?’

‘I wish I had the time to even think about my degree,’ she explains, eyes downcast. ‘I’m falling behind, and I’m trying to stop a blood mage from killing my sister is not an excuse I can supply when turning in late assignments. What research I can cash in for credits is only tangential to my major. I’m not trying to get a degree in magical security. But if nothing changes, I won’t be getting that degree in applied thaumaturgy either. Environmental sciences are a big field on their own, and once magic comes into it…’

‘It was an ambitious project even without the life-or-death distractions.’

‘Well, it’s still a project I’d like to succeed at. I didn’t put my life back on track just to drop out from another school, because I can’t keep up with all those twenty-year-olds who are living with their parents, have no jobs and no shit to do other than college. And they’re actual hermetic mages, so they don’t have to rewrite every single line of instruction to work within their framework.’

‘Do you plan to waste more time complaining about it or would you rather get to work?’ Crowley looks at her with an amused smile. ‘I’ve already achieved immortality, partially thanks to you, so I’m not in a rush. But you should be. Looks like you have a free evening, and I could use an assistant in the lab. Maybe you’ll learn something useful. There’s more to magical education than college.’


Coming Up!

We have the actual Scenario against d’Venescu to run (the one that was perpared last month by Chloe), we have unresolved narrative coming from Cutters/BBs business, we have Salazar’s new pet project, and there’s still a fair amount of other things to deal with. Looks like May is going to be about as busy as one might have expected.

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