Friday, June 22, 2018

Deindustrial Future: Sessions 1 and 2

The group of players, as I noted before, chose to play in my Deindustrial Future game. To save you from having to follow the link, I described it there as follows:

GURPS Deindustrial Future - I presented this as a cross between Stephen King's Dark Tower series and Fallout without the nukes. The setting is the future a few hundred years after our civilization runs out of petroleum to fuel it. While electricity, and technology, does exist, the large-scale networks of power transmission and transportation infrastructure do not. Characters have access to items up to TL7 (most TL8 items require far too much interdependent, and so unavailable, infrastructure), but cost 2x as much as normal for every TL above 4 (roughly the 16th-18th centuries), which is the maximum easily sustainable technology level. The culture is heavily influenced by the American West, simply because that's easier to get everybody on the same page, but the world is split into, effectively, city-states and tribal chieftains - not unlike Europe's Migration Era after the fall of Rome. There's also some magic of a relatively subtle kind ("Path/Book Magic" for those of you who know GURPS) along with spirits, and alchemy of the standard GURPS sort ("snake oil") along with some other things like Gunslingers and traveling preachers of a sort.
I've refined this in play to note that there's still a sort of rump USA, based around where New York City exists today (well, a little inland of that due to rising ocean levels), but it bears a similarity to the USA we know in the same way that Byzantium in the 11th century bore a resemblance to the Roman Empire .  Either way, the players have started the game in the Illinois Kingdom, one of the more organized states of deindustrialized North America.

The three current player-characters are:

Caleb: a wandering Druid, notable for his extremely short stature.
Clementine: a Gunslinger.
Billy: a member of the Guild of Salvagers, a group of people who are somewhere between recyclers and archaeologists. Also a student of the martial arts. Caleb and Clem are friends of his, and often travel with him.

Because this game is a more cinematic take on the subject than other approaches I might have made, players started with 200 points. None of the players has played fourth edition GURPS previously (which did play a role in the selection of the game, as they like to broaden their experience), and I have never run or played fourth edition, though I have been reading it for several years. As a result, some of our rules-heavy play, such as combat, goes slowly and with a lot of page-flipping to make sure that things are remembered (this phase of learning to play a game is one of the many reasons that I do not like PDFs, which are even more cumbersome in practice than paper books if there's more than one to consult). I have taken the How to be a GURPS GM book's advice and limited the rules that we're using, though I have also chosen to jump right into GURPS Technical Grappling from the start. We've had some bobbles (notably that I misapplied some Technical Grappling elements), but we're getting into the groove.

We're meeting every other week in theory, usually every two to three weeks in practice.

As the game opened, the characters were on a journey to a meeting of the Salvagers' Guild at a small town on the edge of the Illinois Kingdom. Travel-weary, they had stopped in a saloon around a day's travel from their final destination to relax and prepare for the final leg of their travels. The saloon filled up with a few people when a group of six rowdies (we'll call them the McSomething Boys, due to their fairly generically thuggish nature) came in, taking up a table and generally making a noisy ruckus. Shortly, one of them started harassing a lone farmer named Joe, which quickly led to the others backing him up. The characters decided to intervene and a bar fight broke out.

Caleb threw a beer mug at the instigating McSomething Boy as he was jacking the famer, Joe, against the wall, causing him to lose his grip on the farmer and turn around to face the new threat. Billy grabbed one of the boys in an arm lock and found himself threatened by one of the others who had pulled out a knife. Clem decided not to use her pistols in order to not escalate the situation further, as two of the Boys came for her. Meanwhile, farmer Joe and the other saloon patrons scrambled for the exits as well as they could, while the bartender and server rushed to protect whatever bottle and glassware weren't out on the tables.

The players did win the fight, though the knife-wielding McSomething Boy stabbed Billy for a big chunk of damage. The whole fight took around 20 turns or so, or maybe a bit less (one of the players estimated it at 12 turns - I lost track and didn't record it well enough to know for sure). It might have taken a bit longer if I were using the "Last Gasp" rules on combat action, which I do hope to get to at some point. The town Marshal, Marnie, arrived to take custody of the three Boys who hadn't already made a run for it. The players learned, both from her and from questioning the Boys they'd captured, that the Boys were employees of Richard, a local ranch magnate who had been trying to take over Joe's land.

(Because we are new to using the combat system, that took up the first session of play. From here, we move on to the second session.)

Deciding to leave Billy to recover from his knife wound, Clem and Caleb asked Marnie, the town Marshal, where Joe's farm was located. She let them know, but asked if they could stay in town until next week when Judge Pike would be back, so that they could testify. They agreed, then headed out to Joe's farm to learn what they could. Due to Caleb's short legs, the journey to the farm was about two hours of walking. Meeting Joe's wife as she was hanging out laundry, she directed them to the back field where Joe and his son, Dick, were watering the crops, it being midsummer.

Interviewing Joe, they learned little more than they already knew, but Clementine's sharp gunslinger vision allowed her to notice a figure crawling from a pile of boulders at the top of a hill in the northern part of Joe's land. After asking Joe for permission, they started to approach cautiously, but when it seemed as though the mystery person looked directly at them, she took off at a run to try to catch them, with Caleb following as best he could. Unfortunately, by the time Clem arrived at the hillcrest, all that remained were some tracks heading off into a wooded area. When Caleb caught up, they considered following the tracks, but decided to check the boulder pile first. They found a hidden tunnel that led underground into a room which had two tunnels leading off from it. Clem climbed down to investigate while Caleb waited on the surface. The first tunnel led to a small room with a table on which were a bowl filled with a dark liquid and two candles, one on either side of the bowl, plus a small item made of a rooster foot with some feather tied to it. In the flickering candlelight, she didn't notice that there were also chalk markings on the table, though they would discover those shortly when Caleb would be brought down with a full torch to examine them.

Down the other tunnel, Clem found a small wooden elevator powered by a pulley system. That's when she called for Caleb to come help, first showing him the table, which he surmised was involved with spirits in some way, though he didn't recognize the specific set of symbols used. He also noted that the dark liquid in the bowl was wine.

With Clementine operating the pulley system, Caleb descended into the darkness and found that the elevator went down to a small room with three narrow tunnels leading off from it, generally in the direction of the stream that runs along the edge of Joe's property. Exploring all three, Caleb determined that one led nowhere, but the other two seemed to intersect a large vein of apparently pure copper. Most surprisingly, despite the moist conditions due to the proximity of the stream, the copper had no verdigris. Caleb used some tools lying in the tunnel to cut out a chunk to show Joe. After discussing the matter with Joe, the players decided to spend the night since it was getting late, in part so that they could protect the farmer if anything further were to happen.

In the morning, they set out back to the town, but Caleb, deciding to make the journey despite his injury, met them halfway. After being told about the copper vein, they all headed back to Joe's farm so that Billy could ask permission to take a piece to examine in town. During the ensuing discussion, the players learned that Joe had recently taken ownership of the farm from his uncle's will, and that there were a number of boxes of Joe's uncle's papers in the attic. Deciding that examining these might prove useful, the player grabbed a few of the many boxes of papers and started going through them. Caleb found a stash of apparently occult manuscripts written in German, but the rest of the papers they were able to examine before it got dark were of less interest. As the sun was starting to set, Clem noticed the glow of a fire in the fields!

As the farming family scrambled to prepare buckets and the water-cart, Caleb called on the weather to bring rain to help extinguish the fire before it could spread to do much damage. Between the rain, the fact that it still wasn't quite harvest time, and the water-cart, the fire ended up burning less than an acre of the wheat crop. The players surmised that the inopportune conditions for burning the fields might indicate that whoever was behind it may have been rushed to action, perhaps by their presence. At this point, we decided to break off the session. We'll next meet the week after the Fourth of July.

Overall, the players seem to be happy with the story and I'm certainly having fun slowly doling out clues about what is happening. I'm still not happy with my incomplete mastery of the rules, but I am also letting myself make mistakes so that I can learn from them.

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