Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Skeleton of an Adventure

            In the comments a couple of posts ago, Alzrius asked when you’ll see Otherverse America adventures or even a full Adventure Path. I’ve been thinking of a good starting adventure for the setting, something that could equally involve Choicer, Lifer or Fed-Gov PCs, something that touches on the themes of the setting, and something that showcases the insane level of diversity. I also want an adventure that’s mostly non-linear, allowing for sandbox play, or to be dropped into any existing campaign.

            So what the hell, let me show you the bare skeletons of an adventure. I’m thinking of expanding this idea out into the first adventure for Otherverse America, so let me know what you think of it. Now, remember, this is only a skeleton, a basic framework of an adventure, not a complete product.

You’ll have to do a lot of the work yourself to bring it to life. In addition to the Campaign Setting, this adventure will heavily reference Species of Otherverse America and Never Born Again. (Some of the background elements and revelations about Sanger Genomics, found in Fursona III will also be used). Other books will be helpful, but that trio will be core to the adventure. Also, you’ll want to pick up Rite Publication’s Monsters of Taboo: Taker of the Unborn. (Rite Publications, 2009). I’ll explain why that last book in just a minute.

            The adventure takes place in late fall or winter 2106.
This adventure can take place in any North American city, but works best in ‘mixed communities’ where there is both a Lifer and Choicer presence within easy driving distance. The adventure is designed for first level characters, and they should reach 3rd or 4th level by the time this story arc is all said and done. I’ll mention some ‘entry points’ for Lifer, Choicer and neutral PC groups as the outline progresses.

Flight of the Parrots
(Stock image by Char Reed, Ignitus Innovations Inc)

            A Choicer Megacorp has genetically engineered a race of bird-like symbiotes (use the statblock for the Taker of the Unborn, with some modifications). These symbiotes can attach to a pregnant woman, and absorb her fetus without harm or pain to either mother or fetus. The Taker (which is recast as a more bird like creature than the stirge-like critter it was in MOT) can store the fetus within itself almost indefinitely, and can later than inject the fetus and amniotic sac in any living creature as a parasite, bringing the pregnancy to term in any mammal, regardless of species or gender.

            The project that created the Taker was initially funded as commercial genetech, maybe even a way to de-escalate the rising tensions, to solve the problem of the Abortion War once and for all, by completely eliminating the need for abortion. Good, idealistic research. The only problem is once the first generation of Takers are decanted and field tested, the Megacorp realizes they don’t have any market for these things. The Takers scare the shit out of Lifers and creep the hell out of most Choicers. The Takers are basically an interesting biological curiosity that will never see the outside of a testing lab.

So as the adventure begins, the Choicer Megacorp is transporting the Takers from its Main Lab to an Offsite Lab, for some final testing, to see if the project can yield anything really useful and eventual destruction of the experimental animals. The Takers are in stasis in the back of a commercial van, being driven to the Offsite Lab at about 0300, when the roads are mostly empty. Nobody is expecting trouble, because the Taker project has mostly flown under the radar.

Of course, the van gets hit.
The drivers and solitary guard get badly injured or killed, and in the process, most of the Takers escape their stasis tubes and make for open sky. The culprits are a half bright gang of Lifer Eco-Terrorists- idealistic kids from some nearby Wealthy Lifer Enclave. These kids want to make their bones, do something dramatic, but aren’t up to full on conflict with Choicers. They didn’t even want to seriously hurt anybody during the raid, but something goes wrong and suddenly, the kids are major felons.

Several dozen Takers escape, and most survive long enough to take shelter in the city. Over the next few days, really weird shit starts happening. Shit that is going to involve the PCs.

First, lets talk about how I’m going to modify the Takers from the Rite Publications version: drop their intelligence dramatically to INT 3-4, though the Takers can still understand and respond to properly formatted commands in English or Spanish. (Of course, determining the proper format for commands will make recapturing these things a lot easier, and will require some research into the Choicer Megacorp that created them). Second, give the Takers the Lifechained subtype- alien genetic material was used in their creation, and explains their strange biology. Finally, the experiments that lead to the birth of the Takers had their origin in Sanger-Tech that the Choicer Megacorp bought on the open market, so there’s a kind of bad history there.


The Lifer Eco-Terrorists
            These guys are teenagers or early college age, minimally equipped first level characters, actually a little less durable and combat ready than the PCs. They are the children of Lifer elites in the Enclave, and they formed an eco-terrorist cell pretty much under their parents noses, for their own reasons. They’re an ongoing complication because they pull other raids throughout the adventure, acting as a rival adventuring party to the PCs.

            The biggest complication though is that during the raid that freed the Takers, the leader of the cell used some kind of prototype Lifer Tech or Power. This gadget was recently developed by the AOG and entrusted to the Lifer kid’s parents for safe keeping. Obviously this gadget is super secret, intended to be used when the Abortion War next goes hot. Once the cops get done with forensics on the destroyed Megacorp Van, they’re going to realize that this tech or power exists, and very soon after that, APEX and the rest of the Fed-Gov are going to get involved. Now, Lifer Mommy & Daddy are scrambling to cover up their eco-terrorist kid’s mess, and destroy or recover the forensic examinations of the forbidden tech. If they don’t get to this tech in time, the Lifer AOG is going to send in some badass, high level Cleaners who will probably end up killing their kid, and the other kids in the eco-terrorist cell, in the name of tactical secrecy.

            I figure Lifer Mommy & Daddy make good patrons for a Lifer mercenary group- they can hire on Lifer PCs to destroy evidence and muddy the waters so their kids’ involvement isn’t suspected. Higher level Lifer characters, or ones based on Kodiak Island, will be the Cleaner team themselves, sent in to kill everybody and sterilize the scene.

The Victims
            As soon as the Takers find a roost, they are driven by their biological urges to absorb pregnancies and transfer them. If the characters are Choicer heroes, connected to a Clinic in any way, this makes a great way to get them involved. If a clinic’s patient, midway through a very much wanted pregnant, wakes up suddenly non-pregnant in a way that makes zero biological sense, any Choicer medic in town is going to be VERY interested. If random women around town find themselves in the same boat, multiply this interest by ten or twty; and if human fetuses are found grafted to unwilling random women, random men, or even animals, like dogs or livestock, everybody is going to want to know what’s up.

            The medical (and emotional) crisis presented by a Taker infestation makes a great hook for Midwife player characters, and might also get APEX or unaligned characters involved- if the players are funded by Patriot Medical or the CDC, they will definitely be sent in for a look.

            More personally, if a friend or loved one of the PCs suddenly finds herself un-pregnant, intimately violated by these freaky animals, it gives the PCs a visceral reason to go Taker-hunting.  Especially if the PCs realize that they might be able to get the pregnancy back, and re-implant it in the correct mother to be, within a short window of the Taker’s attack. This makes Taker-hunting a very time sensitive mission, which is a kick ass hook for an early campaign. 
The Sanger Connection
            Because the Takers were built using Sanger-Tech who knows what will happen if they mess with another Sanger creation, like a Fluxminx or Softling PC? In the actual adventure, I’ll probably have some kind of weird events chart- if a Fluxminx or Softling is affected by a Taker anything can happen, from minor illness to major risk of death to lasting mutation to the addition of a badass power-up template in rare cases.

The Machine Intelligences
            At this point I don’t know if either Nuremberg or the badly damaged Astarte-773 AI had any direct hand in the creation of the Takers, they are both certainly interested in the species. Nuremberg is fascinated, and wonders if the Takers have anything to offer its pet species, the Neverborn. Would a Taker symbiosis allow Neverborn to breed true? Because if the answer is yes, than capturing some Takers alive for study is vital to Nuremberg’s long term plans.

            Meanwhile, what’s Astarte-773’s role in all this? Did she manipulate the Taker Project in as a means of doing something to ‘her children’ the Softlings and Fluxminx? Are the Takers an apology (if the Sanger Connection interaction mentioned above results in something positive?) or are the Takers a weapon, designed to spread a deadly disease among Softlings & Fluxminx (if the interaction results in disease or something otherwise negative). Or are the Takers just some kind of biological SOS, sent out by Astarte-773 to say “Help! I’m still alive somewhere on the Mesh, and Nuremberg is torturing the fuck outta me!”

            Of course, you’re running the “Biological SOS” option, unraveling the mysteries of Taker biology might result in the PCs figuring out that Nuremberg itself is sentient and the depths of its manipulation of the Lifer nation. At that point, expect Susan Glauchester and her McDuffs to become unlikely allies for the PCs, and the Nuremberg and his Neverborn pawns to become long-term antagonists.

The Propaganda War
            The Lifer rumor mill starts buzzing with talk about the Takers within a few days of their escape. The Lifer civilian population is convinced these creatures are an intentional Choicer monster, designed to steal Christian babies away for sacrifice to Moloch or whatever fucked up things these assholes truly believe. Block Mothers with UZIs patrol the streets, demonstrations in Choicer neighborhoods turn nasty and violent, and tensions increase.

            Religious leaders start citing obscure passages from Scripture claiming that the Takers are some monster from Revelations about to start the end times. In the background of the campaign, you’ve got tragic family suicides, riots, brawls and propaganda played on Mesh. You’ve got that same sense of impending doom that Watchmen had.  

            A few days into the campaign, the Coalition for Life realizes that the Takers are more than just deckplate rumor. If the CFL can capture a Taker alive and release video of it ‘feeding’ on a test animal, they can launch a major propaganda offensive against the Choicers, recruiting hundreds of new ‘direct action rescuers’- read: terrorists, earning millions of dollars in micro-contributions and scoring some political points. So all of a sudden, the private army of the public face of the Lifer nation descends on the city.
Choice Has Her Hand In
            Sooner or later, in any espionage oriented campaign, the PCs will run across Choice Merideth, either as an ally or an enemy. She’s like the Choicer Nick Fury, only even more manipulative. It’s perfectly in character for her, through a series of catspaws, to manipulate a gang of Lifer teenagers into forming an eco-terror cell and hitting a Choicer Megacorp. What’s her ultimate objective? Does she believe the release of Takers into the eco-system, and allowing them to become a true breeding species, will some how benefit the Choicers long term? Does she have some grudge with the Megacorp? Is this a roundabout way of revealing or capturing whatever tech or power that Lifer Mommy & Daddy are keeping in reserve? Is the whole thing an especially nasty misdirection, while Choice and her loyalists are performing some mission of their own in the city?

            Whatever the case, things will quickly spiral out of control, as the players have to contend with the Choicer intelligence apparatus and Choice’s operatives as well as all the rest of the factions in this adventure.

The Endgame
            There’s no shortage of potential end-bosses for this mission, and depending on the PCs actions, they might end up battling more than one final boss. I would probably write these up as modular encounters, so the GM can choose where the adventure takes the PCs, and allows some or all of these encounters to be used as random encounters along the way. Some potential end-bosses:

  • A low level Lifer Closer, sent from Kodiak Island to clean the situation, recover or destroy all evidence of the tech or power, and kill the leader of the Lifer eco-terror cell.

  • The head of the Lifer eco-terror cell, mutated into some kind of powerful Lifechained superhuman by something he or she uncovered in another badly planned raid on the Megacorp, and rampaging out of fear or ego.

  • A mid-level Bastian superspy, answering only to Choice and willing to fight dirty to ensure Choices’ objectives, whatever they really are, are carried out.

  • An APEX containment squad, declaring martial law over the city and rounding up Taker victims for future study.

  • A Choicer superheroine who fell victim to a Taker and is determined to get her revenge, no matter who gets caught in the crossfire.

  • Some Neverborn fanatics, answering to Nuremberg, displaying eerie powers as they try to capture a Taker or victim alive and intact.

  • Some enigmatic Sanger-Tech mutant, created secretly by Astarte-773, and carrying out the mysterious AI’s orders in regards to the Takers.

  • A Nemesis Lifespawn alien, drawn to Earth by the Takers, acting on instinct and killing (or infecting) anybody that gets in its way.

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