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. Joining us we had:
Before we start, just so you know, we recently opened up pre-orders for Gradient Descent on backerkit. So if you missed the kickstarter, you can pre-order the print/PDF copy of the module right now and get it right after copies get shipped out to backers. We also have print copies of our pamphlet modules Hideo’s World and The Haunting of Ypsilon-14 for pre-order as well as the first ever Mothership t-shirt. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re interested. You can check it out here.
Okay, so last session ended with a nailbomb going off in a dark tunnel, which nearly destroyed the entire party, killing Federov (the NPC guide), Lee Von Richter, and Markus Lilith. For this new session, Slantio took over control of Roja, the scientist the crew has been hired to escort into the Deep to prove to her that she isn’t an android. Additionally, Reece Carter, and my game soulmate, Alan Gerding, joined in as a teamster crew hired to keep an eye on the original crew. SEBACO Mining, Ltd. didn’t want to lose their investment. So we jumped right back in with Rex and Cobb joining the group and the team deciding to scrap their initial mission of proving to Roja that she wasn’t an android, and instead following up on their secondary mission from Arkady, to head to the Animal Storage facility on 3.4 Brain Construction to see if they can still scrape some credits out of this disaster.
Cobb doesn’t trust Everett-07, nor Roja, and Everett is feeling grief over the loss of his human companions for the first time ever. Roja doesn’t feel like its safe to stand around here any longer, so they decide to press on, north to find their way to the third floor.
Before they do, however, they decide that since they’ve all likely been brain scanned, they need a way of guaranteeing that they know who each other is. The first thing they do is come up with a password: two crew members say the first letters they think of, and the other two come up with a word for each one.
F. F. The password is Freaky Friday.
Anytime they feel like one of them as been scanned, they’ll change the password. Rex also marks him and Cobb with an X on their foreheads and Dr. Billy gives himself a smiley face on his cheek.
Their relative calm was short lived, however, as they start to hear muffled weeping coming down the corridor. Everett investigates despite Dr. Billy and Cobb warning him not to. It’s a woman, weeping into her hands, staticky and blue, fading in and out of existence. One last warning, and Everett phases his hand through her. She’s completely incorporeal. And now, notices that they are there.
CW: Abuse, self harm, children harm
The woman begins to howl and scream and shoves her hands into Everetts skull as light shoots out of her eyes and into his. He sees a flash of memories of the woman’s life. I remind players that we use safety tools and that can say X or post an X-card in chat if anything comes up they want to skip, everyone is down to keep moving so we continue. The woman works at CLOUDBANK in a lab, testing android children. The children are hooked up to each other and play mental zero-sum games against each other. The winner survives and is cloned. The losers are destroyed. This happens endlessly. She brings a report to her superiors. It’s having an affect on the scientists and researchers. These children are getting so smart they’re feeling the pain and stress and anxiety. What they’re doing is wrong. The C-levels threaten her with blacklisting, they have pictures from her phone that she sent to her partner. They have a whole file on her. Get back in line. Instead she brings a frag grenade to work and blows herself up along with her research station.
Everett snaps back awake (gaining a massive amount of Stress). He says he thinks he knows how Monarch was created. He runs. Finds the next room terminates in massive blast doors and childish murals of androids being torn to shreds, a silver hand leading some of them to victory.
The ghost turns her attention to Dr. Billy and shoves more memories into his head. This time it’s of the work and abuse she suffered on her way to the top of CLOUDBANK. How hard and lonely the work was. How isolating it was. Cobb breaks the cycle and tears Dr. Billy away from her as they all run into the next chamber.
Dr. Billy gets the blast doors open, they all stream through. Roja takes out her cybernetic diagnostic scanner and crits an Intellect check to scan the ghost. She discovers its some new type of hologram that doesn’t need a projector, that the light particles exist on their own. She has an idea. She tells everyone to point their lights at the ghost to maybe diffuse her out of existence.
Rex picks up on this and asks me if he can jury rig his laser cutter together with his flashlight to put out a powerful light. I say that he definitely could not in combat, but in combat it would take probably 5 rounds to accomplish and require checks. He thinks it’s worth it. Critical success on the first check leads me to knock it down by 3 rounds.
The ghost, however, sinks her hands into Rex causing him a massive amount of Stress. He critically fails a Sanity save and has to make a Panic check, which he barely passes. Rex draws a bead on the ghost with his laser cutter, not wanting to fire it just yet.
Roja runs back into the room and waves her flashlights at the ghost, trying to distract it from Rex. Rex keeps working on the new device and the next round finishes it. He lights up the room with a white super-flash that blinds the entire crew for a few rounds and forces one of them to make a panic check.
When their vision returns to normal, the woman is gone. They’re alone again. I give out XP to Roja and Rex for carrying out such an amazing and inspired plan.
The crew moves onward through a cement tunnel filled with more murals depicting a brutal massacre and a steel hand impaled.
When they finally come out the other side they’ve arrived at a shanty town of broken down Androids. They don’t want to engage and so try to circumnavigate the town, sticking to the edge of the bulkhead walls, but are approached by a party of Androids none the less.
The Androids are beat up pretty badly and ask about some other beings called “The Chosen.” Dr. Billy quips that they ran into some down the other hallway and as a result a few androids are dispatched to deal with them. The crew asks if the androids know how to get to a maintenance hatch to Floor 3, they’ve seen a map recently that led them to believe they were heading in the right direction. The androids say they’ll trade directions for the crews’ weaponry.
The androids suggest that the crew bring them the heads of 10 Chosen and then they will show them the route to the exit.
Uh hard pass.
Rex suggests that he can fix up the androids and that maybe that would be a fair trade. The crew hates this idea too, but the androids say that if they stay the night and repair five of them, they’ll show them the way. They head back to their campfire reminding the crew to “beware of the Minotaur.”
“What the fuck is the Minotaur??” Rex asks.
Everett fills Rex in on rumors the crew had heard aboard the Bell about a creature called the Minotaur who could kill you just by looking at you.
“How do these rumors even spread?”
The crew decides to fuck all of this and stick to their original plan. They spend the next hour crawling around the outer wall until they find another strange tunnel filled with ears. Rex yells, “Hello!” as loud as he can down the hallway, but nothing happens. After traversing the strange labyrinth they find themselves in a brightly lit, well maintained utopic haven and are immediately approached by a dozen gleaming, factory fresh androids.
“Hello outsiders! Welcome!”
The androids are nice and speak wonders of the Minotaur who saved them. The crew is pushy, they want to get out of here, but the androids are polite and evangelize about the Minotaur for awhile. They say they see what the Minotaur sees in the humans. What their potential is. They have weapons. They are waiting for the Minotaur to return and instruct them. They know the Minotaur will have the right solutions.
The crew gets a little twitchy. They want out. The androids describe the Minotaur: a hideous beast, easily ripped from the nightmares of humans, but one who only wants good. An enemy of Monarch. They gladly show the players to the exit: another labyrinth hallway filled with eyes. The players take a deep breath and shuffle onward, gaining some Stress and paranoia from the feeling of being watched and the terror of being discovered by the Minotaur.
But, the androids were good on their word, they discover a maintenance hatch that leads into a dark shaft going straight down. The ladder only extends about forty feet and then it drops off into darkness. They throw a crowbar down into the darkness but never hear it hit the ground. Rex finally climbs down the walls with his magboots and discovers the gravity shift. Thirty feet below the ladder the station returns to zero-g. Free fall.
The crew dive in.
And that’s where we left it.
Great session and even with the extra players it was still fairly easy to run online, though I had to make sure to check in with everyone regularly to make sure they weren’t being left behind or overshadowed with the difficulty of people talking all at once.
Feels like we’re really getting into some of the meat of Gradient Descent and I’m happy to see the players discover more and more of the world. Can’t wait for the next session in two weeks. If you like what you’re reading so far, don’t forget, you can pre-order Gradient Descent and get the PDF as soon as physical copies start shipping.
Until then, stay safe out there.
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