Had our fourth session of our Gradient Descent playtest last week, and this one nearly ended everything. Joining us we had:
Before I start, one of our players, Ian Yusem, has an amazing new third party one page module out for Mothership, called Moonbase Blues and you should check it out. The development cycle was pretty incredible: David Shugars is GMDK pitched a one sentence idea for the module and asked for someone else to run with it. Ian wrote up a quick one and posted it on his blog. Then Warren D came along and layed the whole thing and. He and Ian tuned it up and I contributed some audio files for the project. It really was a cool little community thing and is a great example of how just putting out whatever you’re good at can lead to great things. As I write this, Moonbase Blues is in the top 5 on the DriveThru’s under $5 category and I really think you should check it out (and leave a review). You can also nab it on itch.
Now, between session three and four we did some light play-by-post bluebooking to handle all of our shopping and downtime activities. This worked really well for us, because we have limited playtime every other week and the crew was split up back on the Bell. I’d actually really recommend it for your group if you’re at all interested. You can really focus on a single character for a moment if you have some time.
The highlight of this downtime for me was an interaction Gnr. Lilith had while looking for a way to de-stress after learning that the strange vaccsuit he found in the Deep was now symbiotically attached to him. Lilith found a meeting marked “AA,” and I’ll just copy and paste from the discord chat here:
Sean McCoy Yesterday at 2:16 PM: The door leads to a squat corridor with blink old fluorescents. At the end it opens up into a dimly lit meeting hall with cracked tiles and folding chairs. About seven people are in attendance and at the podium is a woman in coveralls, her hair tied back with a bandana.
There’s a slight applause that’s been dying out as she says,“…Our speaker for today. David, would you please come up?”
A younger man in a recently pressed mechanic’s uniform comes to the podium.
“Hey everyone, I’m David. And I’m an Android.”
Slantio (They/Them) Yesterday at 4:07 PM: I’ll sit and listen. A support group sounds nice right now!
Sean McCoy Yesterday at 4:58 PM: @Slantio David tells a story about this time when he was a teenager and he and his boyfriend went out to the outer rim of their station and saw these plants that had grown in the cracks of the bulkhead. The boyfriend, Serba, untied his shoelaces and tied them around the stem of the plant.
“And I know now that that never happened. Or never happened to me,” David says. “It was designed, either by a curator, or Monarch, or culled from the memories of someone else. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. And that it’s not still my memory. I still matter. And I’m still here.”
A few people say “keep coming back,” and David wraps up his story.
We concluded as well that Everett-07 got his old mind uploaded into his new body, which we’re calling a Nexus-12. Upon awakening he feels emotional, confused, unable to access all his thoughts and memories.
Von Richter went to the Diver Bar to find out if there was any worthwhile work to go back around for another dive into The Deep. While there he overheard two divers arguing about a new job:
“I’m not going back man, these jobs are never worth it.” “We need the money, in and out. It’ll be easy.”
One of the divers storms off and Von Richter makes his way over. The remaining diver introduces himself as Federov, a “veteran” diver who has been into the Deep three times. They chat for a bit, establish their credentials and the diver tells Von Richter about the score: His client has a sister, Roja, who has “the Bends.” She was an android researcher studying the androids in the Deep when she had a moment of realization that she actually was an android. She refuses to leave the Bell and wants to be returned to the Deep to live out her life among her people. The client has secured payment for a team of Divers to take her into the Deep, access the brain scans in Brain Construction on floor 3.4, and show her that there is no brainscan of her on record: she is not an android.
The gang tools up with some combat shotguns and a smart rifle and decides to head back in. Their plan is to go through the first floor, cut across the second floor, which they’ve never been to, and make their way to the third floor where they’ll be able to find (hopefully) this brainscan they’re looking for.
Additionally, they decide to see if Arkady can hook them up with another mission on floor 3.4 to make the best use of their time. Arkady tells them there’s an old animal storage room where its rumored some nextgen synthetic dogs are chained up. He wants a deactivated one for sale. The crew buys a couple EMP grenades off Arkady and then hops on the shuttle to the Deep.
They make their way through Floor 1: Reception again, this time fairly quickly, making a left instead of a right, heading immediately to an elevator with graffiti:
“I dreamed I was a butterfly”
“fuck off with that shit”
“my other ride is a rubberlad”
The elevator squeals all the way down to the second floor where they’re met with a rundown formerly posh executive lobby. CLOUDBANK letters falling off the faux-wood paneled walls. There’s only one exit, a giant airlock rolling blast-door. They work together to pry it open and find a weird branching tunnel: one path is filled with android limbs from top to bottom, all of them twitching and grasping. The other path is wrapped in pseudoflesh, pulsating, breathing, sweating.
It’s at this point that they decide to use their bioscanner on Everett-07 to see if he shows up as biological. He does. There’s an argument about whether these paths are a test: are you human or are you an android. Roja and Federov make this decision for the group as Roja heads down the “android” tunnel on her own.
The tunnel gets smaller and smaller until they’re almost crawling, when they pop through an air vent into a small cramped bathroom. They find a destroyed Cybernetic Diagnostic Scanner on the ground and graffiti on the bathroom mirror: “tHe miNOtaUr eXtends BEYOnd the MINOtaur.” They’ve had some experience with bathroom mirror’s before, so they check behind it via infrared and find a small cavity: a diver stash.
Inside the stash are a few goodies: a custom rigging gun setup to deliver an electric shock through its wire, and an artifact. This one is a small pyramid made up of floating brass rods which hold their shape, but don’t touch or connect in any conceivable way. There’s a note on the rigging gun as well: “ISHMAEL SENDS THEIR REGARDS.”
The party messes with the new artifact for a second, but doesn’t see much point for now. Plus, they want to get moving. The only exit is a tiny tunnel of repurposed A/C ducts. Too small for them to carry everything. They leave their packs behind and make the claustrophobic crawl a couple hundred meters in the dark.
They come out in a strange cubic steel room. In the center lays a corpse with its ribcage cracked open and chest cavity exposed to the room. All the walls are decked in scanners. They investigate the corpse and find a huge black metal cylinder attached to a universal power cable sitting neatly inside the cavity. Another artifact. After some deliberation they remove the device and all the scanners in the room go off in a flash of light.
Federov loses it and starts screaming about how they’re all fucked. Von Richter takes Federov into a nearby room filled with grinding machinery to calm him down. Federov says, “Don’t you get it? We were hired to PROVE there isn’t a brainscan of Roja on record– but now we’ve all been scanned! This mission is over!”
Von Richter says maybe, maybe not. We don’t know what happened in that room. Federov starts spiraling, succumbing to the Bends. “Maybe this is my fault. Maybe I was programmed to bring you hear, to get your brains scanned as well. How long have you known me?”
Von Richter says they met in the bar the other night, they stayed up drinking.
“But that’s all! You don’t really know me. I could’ve been sent to get you…”
Von Richter isn’t having any of it. First things first, he wants to finish the mission. If there’s brain scans on record of all of them, they’ll deal with it then. If Federov wants to stay in the Deep he can, but he might as well stick with them for now. Federov calms down a bit and says that’s fine. He’ll go wherever they go. He might as well. This is where he belongs. Roja just smiles the whole time.
They turn their attention to the artifact they just found, which is huge. 100lbs. Too big to lug around this whole place. They cover it up and put it in the corner and decide to keep moving. They have a few options: there’s a grate covering up what seems like a blocked sewer tunnel, a regular corridor, though dark and unlit, and a passageway filled with grinding gears and machinery. They opt for the dark tunnel.
Von Richter looks down the tunnel with his smart rifle scope and sees nothing. It’s about 100m long and then turns sharply at a corner to the north. They move single file with Lilith in the front. When they get about halfway down the hall they spot a small bricklike object tucked into the corner of the turn. And it starts beeping. Lilith approaches to investigate and it starts beeping faster. There’s some shuffled talk and Lilith decides to head back when the brick explodes.
I call for Body saves, advantage for those in the back, regular for those in the front. Lilith, Von Richter, and Federov all fail and take 100 damage, killing them all. Lilith in his last moments realizes the tooth he found inside the Deep was his own, a memory from childhood. Federov crumbles in a ball and dies crying. Von Richter turns around and is caught up in the blast, dying instantly. Only Roja and Everett-07 survive. “Guess its just us androids.”
I kinda fucked up with that last trap and we had a near TPK so it was important that we discuss. I asked how everyone felt about how the trap was telegraphed and Ian mentioned that Save or Die is rarely fun, which I agree. We all agreed that the trap was well telegraphed, but my mistake was in not getting buy-in from all the players about what they were specifically doing in regards to the new information (that the brick was beeping).
Lilith/Slantio was fine with their death: they were investigating and didn’t respond quick enough. They were at the front. The NPCs obviously didn’t have a choice in the matter. Everett-07 got off lucky.
This trap was about as deadly as a direct hit from a frag grenade (1d10*10dmg) though I rolled max damage. So Von Richter who was at max health (of 90!) was dropped instantly. Failing their body save against death as well. Two saves and gone for hardly interacting with the trap at all.
I asked about a retcon, but that doesn’t feel satisfying. Everyone thought rolling up new characters and moving on was the better move. I addressed what I would do in the future to work on this (and then came up with an acronym for myself for use later):
Mothership is super deadly but it should be deadly because of player action, not because players didn’t get a chance to advocate for themselves. A lot of times wardens feel like a tpk is what “makes” Mothership Mothershippy. But really it’s about whether your players feel like they were tested. Walking into a room and rolling twice isn’t a test of anything. At its base, my favorite roleplaying experiences are about problem solving and letting the dice do all the talking is a shortcut past the fun.
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Five sessions into our Gradient Descent playtest as of yesterday, and the team is recovering from a near TPK last session with some fresh blood....