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Author Topic: [TSOY] Tales from the Aether: The Jovian Enigma  (Read 4866 times)

Posts: 86

« on: August 25, 2006, 09:00:17 PM »

Enigma of the Great Red Spot is the sequel to Thought Lords of Mars, John Harper’s science-fantasy TSOY variant. The adventurers from the previous episode (with some staffing changes) have journeyed to Jupiter in their aethership the Cosmos. They are seeking an ancient Neptunian transmitter that lies somewhere in the Great Red Spot. Unbeknownst to them, the once thriving civilization of Jupiter, destroyed in some ancient cataclysm, still inhabits the ruins of their cities in the form of angry vengeful spirits.
Arriving over the Red Spot (which in this settings is a huge mesa that rises from Jupiter’s uninhabitable surface, the crew of the Cosmos set down on an ancient Neptunian temple.

The crew is: Ahaxtl, played by Doug, a native Jovian Shaman on a mission to lay ancient spirits to rest, Rufus Castle, played by Brandon, the half-Martian relic hunter, Dr. Lem, played by Wilhelm, scientist and diplomat, Claire Tremont, played by Phil, psychic and adventurer, and Nick Timber, played by John, jet pack wearing rocketeer. We’re using several custom keys and secrets that I will post in the TSOY forum after I get the character sheets back from my players.

The temple (to make things interesting) is played as a possessed structure with a powerful zamani creature at its core, seeking to keep the crew of completing their objections.
This AP is focusing on the systematic details of one episode of Bringing Down the Pain (BDTP). I ran the entire adventure of penetrating the temple as BDTP, and I thought that was kind of an interesting experience, which is why I’m posting this AP.

As the players disembark the temple begins slamming all the rooftop entrances. Dr. Lem decides to use his master scientist ability to try to rig the doors. The temple rolls its master “foil intruders” ability against him aided by a bonus die for “honkin’ big stone doors”. After some bonus die are tossed in both directions, Lem loses. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.

“Do you want to bring down the pain?”

“Hell yeah!”

We pick up the narration inside the temple. The temple’s goal is to prevent the crew from reaching the inner chambers. The crew’s goal is to get there. I narrate the temple’s action: as the crew is moving through a large corridor, inch in diameter metal rods begin to extend in a crazy semi-random pattern, rapidly filling the space in the room. We agree that this is a perpendicular roll. The temple uses synergy to roll it’s “Neptunian technology” ability into its “foil intruders”. The crew choose various abilities to resist, ranging from flight (for the jet packs), to science (“they’re arranged in a reverse Fibonacci sequence”), to combat telekenesis. Everyone who is beaten by the temple takes harm. Everyone who beats the temple does harm to it. We narrate the harm: cuts and scrapes against the temple’s growing rage that it cannot snuff these interlopers.

Next, as the players move deeper into the temple, the suddenly realize that they’ve moved into a patch of poisonous gas. Nick Timber, who tied the temple in the last roll takes advantage of his free change of intention. “I’m going to  shove Claire to safety risking my own life as a parallel action” (which gives him fat key XP).  Nick gets a good roll, but since he’s rolling parallel, the temple does straight harm to him, bloodying him.

Claire wants to do the same for Nick (hitting HER keys), but we realize that players can’t really hand bonus dice to each other, and besides, Claire needs to go defensive if she wants to change her intention. She declares that this is what she’s doing. The others continue to roll perpendicular, and some damage is handed out on both sides.
The temple has taken three hits now. A bad round could put it out. I narrate that they reach a deep shaft with no bridge. A howling gale fills the shaft, which is lined with odd projections and sharp corners. Nick wants to spread his helping dice around this time (after all, he IS the jet pack guy), and we agree that this fits his current intentions. Claire also wants to lend dice, but she doesn’t want to go parallel. We agree that it’s valid to help perpendicular style. If she scores extra successes they do not act as harm, but rather as bonus dice for the others. Rufus announces rather slyly that he is going defensive to change his intention next round.

We narrate how Nick and Claire use flight and Claire’s telekinetic powers to ferry the group across. The temple rolls hot and beats or ties everybody. Nick gets bloodied again (always getting a bloody nose for somebody, that Nick Timber). Nick gives at this point. He is too exhausted to continue.

Rufus announces his new intention. He is no longer seeking to reach the center of the temple, instead, his intention is to find a relic. Rufus finds a narrow descending staircase, and as the other characters are occupied with the wind tunnel, he slips away.

Now I narrate how the temple begins to shift shape, with hallways twisting, ramps tilting, and pits opening up in the floor. Axhatl narrates how the skull of his ancestors leads the way to the inner sanctum (he is using pray to get through the mazw). Lem narrates how he starts blasting away at the walls with the limited-use Lemmite ray pistol he picked up many episodes ago. Claire lends her helping dice to Lem to help blast walls.

For Rufus, I narrate that he’s getting lost in the bowels of the temple, and isn’t sure there’s anything of value here.

This time the players roll hot and I roll poorly. The crew blasts me into incapacitation. Lem, Claire, and Axhatl find the central chamber, where Doug narrates a really cool ritual whereby Axhatl purifies the spirits of his people. Rufus finds an ancient relic in the temple to satisfy his relic hunting keys. As a side narration, the spirit that ruled the temple attaches itself to Rufus. We’ve already worked out a secret and a key for zamani possession which Brandon has agreed to take on voluntarily (mua-ha-ha-ha-ha).

So that’s how to run a dungeon crawl using BDTP in TSOY. A few recommendations: don’t make the dungeon a thing, but rather put a personality behind it; make it hard enough to beat the dungeon on one roll that BDTP is likely; be warned that if your players really want to, they’ll probably beat the dungeon in one roll and NOT request BDTP. If this happens, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Also, a few questions; is it railroading to make an adversary that’s designed specifically to force the players into BDTP? My group  didn’t seem to think so, which was a relief to me. Do you approve of how we handled bonus dice and intention changes? Was I too lenient? Too harsh?

"Come on you lollygaggers, let's go visit the Thought Lords!"

Posts: 594

« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2006, 12:28:53 AM »

This was definitely a cool episode in a cool series, and the use of a single, multi-party extended conflict to mechanically handle a mini-dungeon crawl was quite inspired.  Now as to Tony's guilt about "forcing" us into BDTP, I'd just to like to point out that Dr. Lem succeeded in his initial "force the doors" roll (with a little help from the Shaman), and then the rest of the group proceeded to innudate Tony with massive quantities of gift dice until the temple was winning again (they had to give him like 4 or 5 as a I recall ;)  Yeah, some GM force man!

Lem narrates how he starts blasting away at the walls with the limited-use Lemmite ray pistol he picked up many episodes ago.

Picked up?  Picked up?  That pistol conceived, designed and built by none other than Dr. Lem himself.  And I'd like to point out another modification to the base TSOY we are using, as it impacts the pistol.  Tony called it "limited use" but it's really more subtle when that.  Borrow some concepts from Sorcerer, when Dr. Lem crafted the pistol, the successes he got on his Engineering roll were "baked" into the pistol, as a pool of bonus dice that I can draw from as needed whever I use the pistol.  Of course it is also cool color and a weapon in the TSOY meaning of it, but the fact that there was the pool of bonus dice that I could call on meant that when the pistol came out, it really had mechanical impact, but I was also incentivized not to just blast away at everything that moves.  Once those successes are gone (and I'm down to just 1), it'll still be a cool weapon, but it won't carry quite so much plot power anymore.

We've been doing this alot, taking successes and holding them in "advantage pools" for various reasons.  For example, Nick Timber, our resident daredevil, is current having an affair with a hot Russian Commisar we "rescued", and she's currently holding a pool of 6 intimidation and general browbeating successes over his head, useable anytime she needs to twist him around her little finger.  And John (the player) is loving it.  It's a obvious extension to the TSOY way of doing things, and one that has been very successful so far.

Posts: 86

« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2006, 06:47:03 AM »

You are quite right to point out my error with the ray pistol. I stand corrected. :)

"Come on you lollygaggers, let's go visit the Thought Lords!"

Posts: 5

« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2006, 10:48:27 AM »

This just sounds cool as all hell.  I loved the Thought Lords of Mars so much that I'm thinking of pitching it to my group after we run our first game of tSoY tonight, and The Jovian Enigma seems to be on a good track to live up to the original.  Between this temple and the thread on the CRN forums about using armies as weapons, I'm starting to see just how grand a scale tSoY can operate on.

As for Tony's guilt about forcing players into BDTP, it seems to me that that is the goal of a good tSoY game.  Without BDTP, you might as well play a diceless game (or near enough) as the game seems to lose all hopes of drama and tension, which is core to the game.  As well, your players seemed to want to fail entering the dungeon, or at least make it more challenging for themselves, else they wouldn't have tossed bonus dice to you in order to create more challenges.


Posts: 86

« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2006, 07:14:48 PM »

Yeah, I think it's worth mentioning that our group was formed on the premise of playing many different games. Typically we play a 6 adventure cycle, then move on to the next game. TSOY is the first time we've elected to go back and play for a second cycle. It really seems to deliver a lot of what the group is looking for.

"Come on you lollygaggers, let's go visit the Thought Lords!"
John Harper

Posts: 1054

flip you for real

« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2006, 11:09:02 AM »

TSOY rules.

The "pool of bonus dice" from successes has been a great addition to the game. They set up future scenes by offering a great carrot to whoever holds the bonus. I've wrangled several contests between Nick and Irina (the Commisar), using Nick's worst abilities (unskilled Savoir-Faire and Sway, mainly) so she has a huge pile of bonus dice against Nick. This puts a huge, blinking neon sign in front of Tony, the Storyguide: "Have more scenes with Nick and Irina to use these fat bonus dice." And more scenes with Irina (especially some really conflicted and desperate ones) is exactly what I want.

I'd also like to point out that I didn't just give in the BDTP because Nick was beat up. Nick, in addition to being all heroic and daring, also has "Key of the Coward." I figure, Han Solo and Indiana Jones turn tail and run from danger all the time, and so should Nick. I might as well earn XP when I do it. So, I exited BDTP with the "dungeon" by running away from the horrible death trap at the end, thus hitting my Key. I also flew back to rescue Irina (who had a broken leg), hitting my Key of Conscience.

And saving Claire in the gas-room hit the Key of Fraternity Nick has with Claire. It was an XP bonanza. I think I got 4 or 5 advances in that session.

And this brings me to another point about TSOY. The game has two great input/outputs. They are 1) Make great story and 2) Get XP. You can play the game from either end. You can focus on making great story (playing your character, introducing adversity, etc.) and, if your Keys are set up right, you get XP. Or, you can instead look at your Keys, do what they say to get XP -- and as a result -- you make great story. It's an elegant and beautiful thing.

Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Posts: 86

« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2006, 11:46:23 AM »

Well said, John! I didn't do more than touch on the awesome key and story stuff going on in this scene because I was concentrating on BDTP mechanics, but there was a lot of cool stuff that I left out. I'd love it if you guys chimed in and gave your pespective or just told us about the awesome stuff your character did.

"Come on you lollygaggers, let's go visit the Thought Lords!"

Posts: 43

« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2006, 04:07:23 PM »

Rufus Castle (formerly Ru'Fas Ka'Sul), Former Relic Hunter, Former Martian Corsair, and now a Relic Hunter again was badly shaken in our last tale.

A Brief History told in Keys (I am leaving out the unnecessary ones)
Here is the Key:  B = <session bought>  S= <Session Sold>

  • Glittering Gold - Bought because I am a Relic Hunter, Sold when I give away all of my Earth Possessions. (B=0, S=1)
  • Paragon - Bought because I am the dashing American.  Sold when I reveal I am not an American at All.  (B=0, S=1)
  • Imposter - Bought because I something that I am not.  Sold when I reveal I am really an Atlantean Martian (B=0, S=1)
  • Outcast - Bought because I was cast from Mars to Earth.  Later revealed that it was because of my love for the daughter of the Wave Mistress (B=1)
  • Thrilling Heroics - Bought because this is pulp, baby! (B=1)
  • Love - For the Wave Mistresses Daughter turned Reconciler (B=4, S=6).  Sold it when she dies, to buy Grief.
  • Outcast - Sold to attain enough status that Wave Mistress could "hear" me when I request that she remove her protection from the Reconciler so that my friends can help me kill/capture her.(S=5)
  • Vow - Bought because my life is forfeit to the Wave Mistress.  I Vow to Kill UmRau when she commands it (B=4, S=6).  I end up selling it because I need the Advances.
  • House - I do what I do for the good of the Atlantean Martians and end up Selling it when I tell the Atlanteans that the Wave Mistress must be overthrown, but then walk away without doing anything about it.(B=4, S=6). 
  • Vengeance - Psychics are no good and will pay for mind f'in Mars and my Girlfriend. (B = 5, S=Between "Seasons")
  • Love - Sold when my girlfriend is "re-activated" as the Reconciler and is then killed during the final confrontation with the Thought Lords (S=6)
  • Grief - I am filled with grief.  (B=6, S=See below.)

Phew .... and that is only about half of it.  After this campaign I will do a full “retrospective” on extended TSOY play. 

So Between sessions we get to re-org our characters.  I drop Vengeance because it doesn't fit play and take:

  • Collector – Bought to re-attune with my Relic Hunter concept (B=7)
  • Pacifist – Bought to reflect a new shift in thought.  On a side note, Pacifist is a really hard key to earn XP from.  Partly because of my style as a player and partly on how narrowly it is worded.  (B=7) 

For this 2nd Season, with the inclusion of Nick Timber, I knew that John would be able to pick up any heroic slack that I left so I felt comfortable going a bit grittier.  In addition, in the last Season Umrau (Tony) had the enviable position of Heroic Villain (He did want to take over Mars, after all) and I got to be the Heroic Persona.  For this Season, I have the opportunity to be bad and because of the group and the system, I think it will really add to the game.

We decided to introduce Zu to the game in the form of Relics.  Between sessions I found an ancient puzzle box that had the Zu for:  Truth – Reveal – Truthfully.

I knew that I ultimately wanted the Key of the Precious (my … precious) and since these games are short, I was going to have to start my decent fast in order to get a good arc.

I set about trying to hit Collector (which is harder than it seems) and Grief (which is super easy) so that I could stress that I was trying to find a way to bring my Love back.  I was becoming withdrawn, grumpy, and very not Ka’Sul.

After we bumped into the Russians, I used Key of Contacts to have an Ex-girlfriend on the ship.  I managed to stave off her anger, stave off the flirting of the cute pilot, and sneak onto their ship to steal their map of the area.  After the Man-bat PC was introduced, I tried to hit him up for Relic Knowledge using my Zu of Truth.  This started a conflict between myself and Claire over whether she could sense my use of a Zu on the Man bat.  I fought it until broken to stress my growing obsession.

Then the Bringing Down the pain with the Temple started.  It took me a couple of exchanges, but I realized that I didn’t care about this manbat’s sacrifice thing.  So I changed intentions.  Knowing that we were going to beat the Temple, this was a slam dunk for me and a new Relic.  The Key of the Pacifist was “making” me do stupid narration so it was going to go.

After I split from the group, Tony throws my ex-girlfriend at me.  She breaks her leg and I have to decide whether to help her or go further into the temple.  I can give, I carry her for (yet another) penalty die, or I can leave her.  I leave her, being overwhelmed with Grief (ding.)

At the bottom of the Temple I find an ancient skull of the a manbat that hasn’t been put to rest.  Now Tony has already told us about the Key of Possession and has dangled it out there like no one was going to take it.  Why would anyone want to be possessed.  Well for me it is the XP, no wait it is the story, no wait it is the Crunchy XP outside and the creamy Story inside.

Upon finding the Skull I:
  • Grief – Sold upon becoming obsessed with bringing my love back to me. (S=8)
  • Pacifist – Sold because I will keep my Zu at any cost (S=8)
  • Precious – I love my Zu so much.  I needs them (B=8)
  • Possession – I will earn more XP every time I feed my Zamani spirit.  Man that thing is going to be scary when it decides to come and kick our Ass all Forbidden Planet like. (B=8)

Conclusion:  My motivation is become the crazed fallen hero who the rest of the party has to bring back from the brink or allow to plunge into darkness.  The funny part is, I don’t even know how it will end.  This game is full of the possibilities.  I love it.


Posts: 86

« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2006, 08:00:36 PM »

I should interject how possession is working in this game. This is still evolving, so comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Secret of the Possessed

You are possessed by a zamani. When you take this secret, buy a new key. That
key is your demonic obsession. Whenever you gain XP on that key, the zamani
gains the same XP. Any time after the zamani gains 10xp in this way, it may
become embodied with vigor 1 by initiating an opposed reason conflict with its
host. For every success it gains, it gains an an additional point of vigor and
the host loses 1 from their vigor pool. The zamani may not gain more vigor than
the host has in its pool. A possessing zamani can choose to lend secrets to its
host and may roll its abilities to help or hinder its host.


Key of the Possessed

1XP: every time you activate your possessed key
3XP: risk harm to gain XP from your possessed key

The 3xp condition needs some work.f

There's also a key that zamani can have that let the zamani gain XP every time it incfluences a decision made by its host, i.e. by offering help or hinderance.

"Come on you lollygaggers, let's go visit the Thought Lords!"

Posts: 23

« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2006, 10:51:43 PM »

Vengeance - Psychics are no good and will pay for mind f'in Mars and my Girlfriend. (B = 5, S=Between "Seasons")
I drop Vengeance because it doesn't fit play

Actually, I don't think I realized you had taken that key with that particular description. You certainly could have kept that key for added tension between Rufus and Claire - after all, not only is Claire a psychic, she was the one who protected the "Reincarnator persona" from being destroyed and then unleashed it in the final fight, which led directly to your girlfriend's death.

Heck, is there some kind of Guilty Conscience key? Maybe Claire will start feeling responsible for Rufus's descent into darkness...
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