After the big OOF of the previous episode, it’s time to get back to strategizing. We’ve made a lot of progress in several areas lately, we have some unfinished threads, and it’s high time to bring it all together. Let’s take the blood mage down a notch!
Or, let’s make popcorn and watch him destroy himself, while we’re taking care of personal growth. Seeing your enemies suffer is self-care. For some people.
It’s time to build and play the Scenario. Due to unforeseen circumstances and Scenario complications, let me just put a content warning in here. It goes dark and nasty. Not graphic and I suppose it counts under ‘fantasy violence,’ but the corruption arc isn’t over yet.
This time, we’re hitting d’Venescu where it hurts! Or at least, where we hope it will hurt him. Some data stealing, some secondary objectives, and a hell of a lot of planning and scheming. Strategy game, y’all.
After the grueling scenario played last time, it’s time to slow down, re-assess, reconsider… Or just accept the consequences and throw ourselves into the spiral of retaliation and vengeance. Yes, that sounds more plausible in this case.
Welcome to the new episode! This time: mass murder, grand larceny, and arson. And a fair warning about lots of blood, death, and mental and physical trauma. Mentions of self-harm, suicide, and several other nasty things. This is not a story for everybody, and our protagonist is, honestly, a rather messed-up person, if you haven’t yet noticed.
The Villain gets his turn! Oh, what a delightful turn he took. Come and see how Aphelion’s mechanics procedurally steer the opposition in solo play. It’s a doozy. We also buy real estate, because roleplaying is all about wish-fulfillment fantasies.
Time to get back to the main story! This time, we’re quickly rolling into the new month, checking what’s new in the world, and starting our offensive against the blood mage. Gotta get Chloe’s girlfriend back, after all!
We’re jumping straight into the next Scenario, hoping to catch some more cash and clean out the plate before we move to the next month and the main plot. As a freebie, some more of Tomorrow’s I really don’t wanna kill people, but they keep pissing me off drama.
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Scenario 12: The Gig Economy
As the effect of the previous Scenario’s consequences, Tomorrow got her first legal gig. She kinda wishes she didn’t, but money is money, and stuff needs to be done to keep up the appearances. Nobody in her position would turn this offer down.
Payout: 4 (3 cred + R1 contact in Alp Group Faction) Legwork: Sorcery, 5v3=5, 1 net Threat Rating: Scenario rolling 4v5=1; TR 1-1=0 Scenario Rating: 4; default Actor R2 Free Modules: 4 + 4 passages Free Scenes: 4 Build Points: 4
The job is a consultancy gig on Alp Group’s contract for a client, plus a short update on the newest achievements in security magic and the ways it might be overcome. I will be splitting the Scenario into two parts: one, 3-modules-long, will cover testing the defenses. The finale will be a chat with the Alp Group Academy people and, hopefully, the beginning of a beautiful working arrangement. Again, I’m skipping the Gateway, because it makes the Scenario harder.
Module 1 will be a Hardpoint (1/4) with a free Checkpoint scene (1/4). As Tomorrow is supposed to test the magical side, the default R2 Actor (Investigative/Scientific) here is not a lock or a guard, but a magical ward that will need to be fooled without raising the alarm. The alarm will be raised as soon as somebody interacts with the ward – and it has the mental action to contact the magician who put it there! To make the job harder, I’ll bump the ward to R3 (BP 1/4). The Hardpoint leads to Module 2.
Module 2 is an Operations Module (2/4) with a free Guard Duty scene (2/4). A free R2 Actor (Investigative/Warfare) is a spirit roaming the halls. Tomorrow’s objective will be to sneak past it, without raising any suspicions. I’ll give the spirit a friend, because patrolling is more fun in a group (BP 2/4), and I’ll throw in a detection spell, like any reasonable person would (R2 Actor, Scientific/Investigative) that will try to sniff out any magic used (BP 3/4). For the last Build Point, I’ll give the spell special gear/ability: each mark scored by Tomorrow on Conjuring or Sorcery in this scene will reduce her Concealment pool by 1. A passage leads to Module 3.
Module 3 is another Operations Module (3/4) with a free Idle scene (3/4). A bored security mage (R2 Actor, Scientific/Investigative) is guarding a McGuffin. Will Tomorrow manage to get to him without being spotted?
Whether or not Tomorrow manages to succeed in Modules 1-3, doesn’t really matter. If the defenses prove sufficient, the client will be happy. That’s why I’ll tie the 3 Payouts worth of cred to this part of the Scenario – she will get paid if she does the job, and the job is not ‘to steal the McGuffin.’ The Finale will decide whether she ‘wins’ the possible future contracts and her brand new R1 career-adjacent contact.
Module 4 is the Finale, which takes place in a Social Space and required Tomorrow to convince the R2 Actor (her future contact, Investigative/Scientific) and the unnumbered Extras (for whom I don’t have Build Points, so they won’t be a part of the Defense), that she’s really good at her job and that they should keep hiring her. For big money.
Modules 1-3 call for the stealth suit. Module 4 is a social event, and will be performed in proper designer clothes and with nice jewelry, because Tomorrow needs to play the part. The Resistance of the Finale equals 4 + 2 from Driven +1 for one Actor working on the MT (the pain of side quests), on top of basic difficulty 5 (we’re at Familiarity 5 with this Faction). Which means 12, minus whatever skill I’ll be using. Not too great, honestly. At some point we’ll have to upgrade that Sorcery toolkit. Other than that, Wits’ End is always on call, because who can say ‘no’ to those three mental actions?
Module 1: This is a Checkpoint scene, so the MT is equal to the Defense’s applicable Attribute. In this case, it’s Awareness, and it’s 3 (because Actor R3). Due to Threat Rating = 0, there’s no additional Resistance in the Hardpoint.
Tomorrow can feel the tingling on her skin as she approaches the ward. She’s not in a rush – she knows she is being observed, and as much as she wants to do a good job, she also wants to show them that she’s a pro. True, she could probably pass this ward in her sleep, but what if they put some twist on it, a custom enchantment? She can’t just walk through it and wing it like she usually does. She focuses on the patterns floating through the glowing wall in front of her, looking for any weak points, any deviations from the standard wards she usually puts up. And she has trouble finding any. It’s a perfectly normal ward, and between her skill at masking her aura and fooling wards, she shouldn’t really have that much trouble. But it’s best to get prepared.
Scenario complications: 4v5=2 / 4
Offense: Tomorrow: MA Conjuring+1, 5v5=4, R3 Summon with 4 actions. MA Activate Wits’ End. PA Stealth+1, 5v5=4 points of Concealment. SP 7/8 MP 6/8 Steven: PA Concealment, 3v3=3 points of Resistance for all three Actors of the Offense. PA Stealth, 3v3=3 Conc. SP 4/6 MP 6/6 Summon: PA Stealth, 3v3=3 Conc. SP 5/6 MP 6/6. 3 Actions left.
Defense: Idle, because not interacted with.
Scenario complications: 4v5=3, 5/4. Roll 3d10, pick mid, 8-1=7, no complications.
Offense: Tomorrow: Wits’ End kicks in, 5v7=1, +1 Wit, +1 MA. MA Sorcery+1, 5v3=3 Morale dmg to the ward. MA Sorcery, 5v3=4 Morale dmg to the ward. PA Stealth, 5v6=3 towards MT. PA Stealth 5v5=2 Conc. Move through the ward. SP 7/8 MP 5/8. Concealment 2. Steven: PA Sus Conc. PA Stealth, 3v3=3 Conc. Move through the ward. Concealment 5. SP 2/6 MP 6/6 Summon: PA Concealment, 3v3=3. PA Stealth, 3v3=3 Conc. Move through the ward. Concealment 4. 2 Actions left.
Defense: Wants to raise the alarm but it’s at Morale 0 and needs to TaB and not pay any attention to the passersby this interval. With MT reached, the scene is over.(Also, Wits’ End ticking by, 1/5)
Module 2: Two R2 Actors (Investigative/Warfare) – spirits on guard duty + R2 (Scientific/Investigative) detection spell. Can’t rely on magic here – unless we just dismantle the spell first! The MT Challenge equals 4.
Offense: Tomorrow: PA Stealth+1 5v5= +4 Conc (total 6). MA (3 comb.) Sorcery+1, 5v4=4 dmg to the detection spell, 1 soaked (Conc 1.) PA Stealth, 5v5=4 Conc (5 total). SP 5/8 MP 4/8 Steven: PA sust Concealment. MA Accident 3v3=1 vs Spirit A. PA TaB. Concealment 3. SP 3/6 MP 6/6 Summon: PA sust Concealment. MA Accident 3v3=2 vs Spirit B. Concealment 3. 1 Action left
Defense: Spirit A: Lookout, 2v10=1+1 automark, reduces all Offense’s Concealment by 2. All above 0. SP 3/4 MP 4/4 Spirit B: no actions left. SP 4/4 MP 4/4 Spell: TaB, 2v6=1. SP 4/4 MP 2/4(Wits’ End 2/5)
Offense: Tomorrow: MA Sorcery, 5v4=3 dmg to the detection spell, 1 soaked (Conc 0.) PA Stealth 5v6=3 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v4=3 towards MT. PA Stealth 5v5=3 Conc. (Luck used to reroll 1 dice into a mark). SP 3/8 MP 2/8 Steven: PA sust Concealment. MA Accident 3v3=3 vs Spirit A. MA Accident 3v3=2 vs Spirit B. PA Stealth 3v3=3 Conc (3 total) Summon: PA sust Concealment (3 total)
Defense: Spirit A and Spirit B: controlled out of Actions. Spell reduced to 0 MP, forced to TaB. Interval ends with Offense at 6/4 MT, Scene won.
(Wits’ End 3/5)
Another interval spent crossing the passage. Tomorrow TaB, 3v6=2, SP 5/8 MP 4/8, Conc 1. Elementals continue to sustain Concealment, each at Conc 2. Wits’ End at 4/5.
Module 3: One R2 Actor (Scientific/Investigative) and a simple Offense Scene. After dismantling the detection spell for long enough to slip its attention and making sure the guarding spirits look the other direction, this should not be too complicated – especially as Tomorrow only needs to succeed at MT and finish the scene in Concealment.
Offense: Tomorrow: MA (2 comb) Sorcery+1, 5v3=4 towards MT. PA Stealth+1, 5v5=3 Conc, 3 total. Steven: PA sust Concealment. MA Accident, 3v3=1 vs Defense. Conc 2. Summon: PA sust Concealment. MA Accident, 3v3=3 vs Defense. Conc 2. 0 Actions left, departs.
Defense: controlled out of actions. Interval ends with Offense at 4/4 MT. Wits’ End at 5/5, deals 3 Stamina Drain, reducing Tomorrow to SP x/5.
Module 4: The Finale. With a single R2 Actor (and no need for concealment, this should be doable. The Scene is a Social one, taking place probably after at least an hour, so I will return Tomorrow’s and Steven’s pools to maximum – the Stamina Drain should be gone after about half an hour, and it should not matter anyway, because this is nothing more than a conversation. Defense does not specialize in talking, and that’s their problem. Offense comes prepared with 4 automarks, but will also not be using elementals in a hostile way.
Offense: Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v6=2+4 automarks towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 4v8=1 towards MT. MT 7/4
Defense: Investigation 2v3=2, 1 soaked, MT 6/4
Interval ends with Offense at 6/4, winning the Scenario with 2 net marks.
You can imagine the narrative, right? I’d rather get back to the main plot.
Payout: 4, 3 cred + R1 Contact, Sheila Kile, a red-haired human in her 50s, the head of security at Alp Group. A convenient future employer for more career-adjacent Scenarios. Rep: +4 (total 72, +1 influence point to Faction resources) Familiarity: with Alp Group +1, total Fam 6. Net marks: 2 Skill learning: Conjuring +1, Stealth +3, Sorcery +4, Investigation +1
Scenario consequences: roll 3d10, pick mid = 3+2 = 5 = no consequences this time. I am okay with this; I need to get back to the main plot!
Back to the regular programming!
Tomorrow needs some time off – she only had two days this month, so she’s running ragged at this point. Let’s give her two more days (Low Expectations trait means that 4 days will be enough to cover her for a month, instead of the usual 5), so she can reset, process, and make up her mind on several issues. That covers 24th and 25th Feb, and 26th-28th will be spent on learning that new spell, rolling 1v5 for three days, earning 3 more marks, bringing the total to 5/10. This is gonna take forever.
So, one more thing left to do, and then we’re rolling into the next month and all that entails!
Yes, I mean the main plot.
February 24th, 2056
For once, it’s neither raining nor snowing. It is Tomorrow’s second winter in Denver, and she’s still not used to the climate – a far cry from her Texan homeland, at least until the summer rolls out. But on Wednesday evening, the sky is clear for once, and flying is a pleasure for the first time in months. She takes a longer route, skipping most of the densely populated UCAS Sector, flying over the fields and farms outside of the city. It’s so quiet, so peaceful there – nothing but snow-covered plains and flocks of crows on the leafless trees. The starry sky above her is cold and uncaring, the ground is cold and unshaken – and the black raven soaring between them counts her blessings.
It’s good to feel alive for once.
First year of many, answers the voice in her head. Don’t waste it.
When she finally lands at the side entrance to the biking arena, Tomorrow is cold too – and happy. The place is quiet and dark, save for the light in Phase’s office. The bikes in the garage look weirdly lifeless without the team milling around, exchanging jokes and drowning the place in teenage drama. Endless drama, it seemed. Tomorrow hopes they come back – she may have never been a part of the team, not really, but she enjoyed teaching them how to shoot and making sure none of them kills themselves. The thought of them in Sal’s employ is uncomfortable, grinding her gears every time she considers the situation. And she can only imagine how much more annoying is it for Phase.
And yet, once she gets to the team captain’s office, she is greeted by rock music – Concrete Dreams, if she’s not mistaken – cold beer and a smiling friend.
‘Weather’s nice,’ says Phase, as if it explained everything. And after the long-awaited, glorious flight, it does.
They chat a bit about stretching the wings and legs, both feeling like they’ve been cooped up for too long throughout this dreary winter. Tomorrow has seen Phase running – while the adept can easily match a racing bike on her own, Tomorrow cannot help but wonder just how fast Phase would be if her natural form was something else than this five-foot-four, twenty-seven-year-old woman with perfectly defined, toned muscles of a professional athlete. Say, a peregrine falcon. Once she suggests this to her companion, Phase grins like it’s her birthday, and suddenly all troubles are forgotten.
Five minutes later, they’re both flying laps over the arena, testing the limits of Phase’s magically-enhanced speed of movement and the control needed for maneuvering under such conditions.
Several crashes and an hour later, tired and elated, they get back to their beers, now-cold pizza, and the conversation.
‘I can’t make their choices for them,’ states Phase finally. ‘If they want to sign their lives away to a gang, it’s their prerogative. I wasn’t any smarter when I was their age. Bah, when I was your age.’
In the warm light of the office, the pale lines of laser-removed tattoos on her hands are barely visible, but Tomorrow’s eyes catch the outline of the words stay down written a long time ago on the adept’s knuckles. The pale scars snake up Phase’s arms, partially covered by new tattoos – magically active foci, granting her more powers than her innate magic could. The intricate, geometric designs of mountains, waves, concentric circles, and dotted spirals are almost hypnotic. Tomorrow finds it hard to look away, as always, just yearning to study the patterns and uncover their mysteries. One day, she resolves. One day we’ll be close enough friends to ask and examine.
‘So you say there’s still hope for me,’ she answers instead, picking up a slice. ‘They’ll be fine. I mean, they could end up with a much shittier gang. Salazar is all razors and ruthless, but he cares about his people. His second-in-command will treat them as family. The kind you actually like, not the toxic parents and nosy aunts. You know.’
‘I don’t, never had any. But I’ll take your word for it. Speaking of… How’s your family drama going?’
Tomorrow takes a sip of beer, stalling. She knows that Phase’s office is warded; she can feel the tingling on her skin every time she crosses the threshold. But is it protected enough to trust it? With an apologetic smile, she opens herself to the astral, focusing her attention on the golden film covering the walls, the sole window and two doors of the room. It takes her a while to attune to its energy – whether it’s due to the physical magic of adepts or a different tradition, she isn’t sure. When she’s finally satisfied with the inspection, she turns back to her host. Phase’s aura is as green and lively as always, only darkened in places where the bioaugmented muscles replaced her own. The sun-yellow flashes flickering between the green can only be interpreted as amusement.
‘Sorry,’ she says, focusing back on the material world. ‘Can’t be too cautious, especially now. I went to Hawai’i two weeks ago. Chloe says hi.’
Phase grins widely. ‘Congrats! That’s awesome news. I take it there was no further bug business?’
‘Some, but not directly connected. I solved it.’ Tomorrow barely manages to contain the smile threatening to split her face in half. ‘But yeah, it’s awesome. I never expected this day to actually happen. A year ago, I didn’t even know if she’s still alive. A month ago, I was worried she might be an insect spirit. It’s so damn good to have her back.’
‘Happy ending, then?’
‘Nah. There’s still… Well, she’s now safe and with me, but they’re still looking for her and her girlfriend. We’re currently working to dissuade them.’ Tomorrow sighs. ‘A long story.’
‘I got time if you feel like sharing.’
Surprising even herself, Tomorrow does find herself willing to share. The story spills between one bite of pizza and another. Phase listens intently, nodding, and while she winces when Tomorrow tells her about the blood magic ritual, she otherwise withholds any overt judgement. When the story is finished, the silence falls. Phase stares at Tomorrow with an unnerving, calm gaze that seems to read not only the mind but also the soul behind it.
‘You know they need to die, right?’ she asks finally. ‘People like them will never stop coming. Not if they’re that desperate, not if they’ve decided that your sister and Fayette are the keys to their survival.’
‘We’re trying to figure it out. He’s got those people looking currently for Fayette and we’re about to mess with them soon. We just need to set up some smoke screens, so they cannot track any of it to us. My sister is, apparently, a decent decker. But I don’t know what we’re about to do about them yet. We’re somewhere between social disgrace and drastic measures.’
‘They chose their fate the moment they decided to help a blood mage in a vile ritual, in which he plans to murder his own daughter.’
‘I know. But I’m not a…’ Tomorrow bites her lip, forcing herself to keep her gaze straight. She sighs heavily, shoulders slumping. ‘Well, I am. Even not counting those poor folks invested with insect spirits, I’ve killed people before. Not only in self-defense. They’ve always meant harm to me or mine, but well, I’d rather not make it a habit – going on a murderous rampage just because it’s the easiest way.’
‘It’s your life and your conscience.’ Phase shrugs, not particularly impressed with the speech. ‘Just remember what they’ll do to any of you if they find you. Because death would be a sweet release when they’re done. You might have dabbled with the most benign side of blood magic, but this stuff is nasty.’
‘I do what I can to cling to the normal life of an upstanding citizen, don’t I?’ Tomorrow shakes her head and pours beer over her moral deliberations. ‘I’ll end up in the shadows sooner or later anyway.’
‘You can have both. Just keep separate bank accounts and don’t get caught, that’s all there is to it. Especially if you’re smart and keep your distance from megacorps and dragons. Do you need any help with the job?’
The question catches Tomorrow off-guard. She furrows her brows, considering the options. ‘Maybe. If we decide to go with the wetwork, it will need to be done absolutely quietly and without leaving anything that can lead d’Venescu – or the cops – back to us. He doesn’t know where Chloe is and I want to keep it that way. She can deal with most of the electronic and matrix security we might encounter, I’m half-decent with magic, but I admit I wouldn’t mind assistance on the job itself. Somebody who won’t trip alarms and who can punch a spirit in the face sounds perfect. But I know you’re busy.’
‘Oh, yeah. How did you say it earlier?’ Phase finishes her bottle and smirks. ‘Investigations are fucking expensive. Charity work for at-risk youth brings no money, and I care about my marital bliss too much to fund my personal vendettas from the family holiday budget.’
Tomorrow chuckles. ‘Yeah, I bet. Well, surprised as I am you’d go kill people for me, I accept. With gratitude and without negotiations. Just give me your rates, I might need you in the future too if you’re… open for commissions.’
Phase leans over the table and lowers her voice to a whisper, warm and confidential. ‘I did it for people I liked much less.’
‘Aaaawh,’ coos Tomorrow with a smile, beating down the awful sensation in her stomach. ‘I look forward to murdering people with you again. Bring a gas mask.’
Let’s Get This Story Moving!
That was a long interlude and I cannot wait to get back to the matters of Chloe, Fayette, and d’Venescu. In the next episode, we’ll do the first-of-the month math, see what’s new in the world, and start messing with the enemy!
We’re going on a side quest! The time has come for Tomorrow to start preparing for her life after the whole Chloe business, even if it’s very, very far away from her current interests. We also get to set up some future sources of personal drama and tragedy, for no other reason than I like it!
It’s time to start the offensive! We have a lot of cash getting dusty on the bank account, and I look forward to spending it before some other Faction decides I have a nice trove of cash and it would be a shame it something has happened to it… Those 65 thousands of nuyen are just sitting there, and there’s not that many things we can do with them…
No, I’m lying. There are millions of things I can spend this money, intel, and influence on. Just watch me <imagine some money-throwing gif here>.
After the absolutely self-indulgent episode 19.5, which was completely unnecessary for everybody but myself, it’s high time to get back to the playtest. We have projects to pick up, scenarios to plan, contacts to contact – and, I suppose, a hacker to add to our growing faction.