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[Rifts] Two and a half sessions at Odyssee Con, Berlin

Started by Settembrini, August 30, 2006, 07:37:43 AM

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Dear Readers,

As I promised Ron some time ago, here is a Rifts Actual Play report. As I'm not deeply enough into terminology, I will reflect on the goings in the game with my own words. As I´ve been invited to write this, I'm sure you can bear with that, even more so as my half-baked misunderstanding of a given Big Model term would only confuse the reader; thereby hindering communication instead of furthering it.

Situation: Odyssee Con is a unique Convention in Berlin, Germany, where DSA, D&D and Shadowrun are banned from being played. The mission used to be to promote and play niche or unknown systems (to the german market, that is). As times changed, so did Odyssee's focus: now it's mostly independent german systems (most of which are Adventure Roleplying Games on the Story-heavy side) with a growing dose of Forge nascent thematic rolplaying games also presented.

Intention: My intention was to get use out of my dormant huge Rifts collection, and to show people how great Rifts can be. I wanted them to get to know:

- the diverse background
- the conflicts in North America
- the ugly face of racism

I wanted them to experience:

- wonder
- excitement
- feeling of being clever
- sense of accomplishment
- Rifts style awesomeness in action scenes

My limiting factors where mostly:

- time
- plausability

That is to say, I wouldn't dole out the experiences, but make them earn them.

Preparation: I chose Canada, more precisely Old Bones (City of Quebec) as the setting. I read up a lot on the published material for the area, as well as read the wikipedia articles on the landscapes and citys involved. I started making myself comfortable with the rules:  Rifts has a crude Version of D20 as its core rules, so I had to re-organize the looking up the modifiers for combat and saving throws. Once I re-organized Kevin Siembiedas dreadful :" and +1 at levels 1,3,5,7,8,10,14" lines into easy-on-the eye tables, the system was as playable as any other d20 style D&D derivate. With this top-down view on the modifiers, errors were easy to spot, and easily corrected. I also very quickly made my mind up in regards to dodge: the dreaded -10 malus was to be omitted, as only a dodge with a chance for success is dodge wrth taking. And I wanted the combat to be about the tactical decision of foregoing an action or not. More on that later.
Whence the rules were clear, I took a deep look at the equipment, as there is much talk about how there is a power creep involved. i made a short spreadsheet, wherein I checked the damage averages of weapons against their costs, as well as checking Power Armour and Body Armour. In a nutshell, it basically works out. I was amazed, but the most equipment can be used: as is. So only when something looks too powerful I make a quick comparison to the spreadsheet values and can see wheterh it has to be nerfed or not. I did not have to nerf anything for the sessions played at the con.
While looking at the equipment, I already got a good impression, backed up by data on how much power a certain amount of soldiers in a certain amount of equipment meant. To totally grok North American politics, I also had to make myself acustomed with the powers of the magic kingdoms, therefore I had to read all Spells, Psionic Powers and Character Class (O.C.C.) descriptions. Interestingly, the description of political goings on Rifts Earth are very plausible in regards to the rules. That is, the world basically obeys to the RAW, which I liked a lot.
So I was loaded with world data, the workings of the game world and the balance of power in Canada. Now I could create the adventure situation. When I prepare Adventures, I basically use a thing called "Story Engine", which is a formalized graph of the involved parties, their objectives and theri ressources as well as their lines of influence. I assume there is no emotional attachement to the Rifts setting in many a reader here, so I try to  be as abstract as possible or provide explanations. I'll also omit the allotted ressources:

Lazlo (Good Magic City State) wants escaped chimpanzee scientist with superweapon, that would kill all non-humans, to kill evil Insect Invader who treaten Lazlo and Earth and to prevent exctinction of all non-humans

Chi-Town (Fascist Bad City State) wants escaped chimpanzee scientist with superweapon, that would kill all non-humans, to kill all non-humans

Free Quebec (Racist Bad City State, at war with Chi Town)
wants independence, thusly to damage Chi Town. Secretely controlls everything in Old Bones

Splugorth of Atlantis (Ultra Evil Cthuloid Slavers)
want scientist to trade to other dimensions for huge profit and blackmail all mutants/D-Bees on Earth

Island Kingdom of Montreal (Anarchic Corrupt City State): Bribed by Chi-Town to fight against Free Quebec.

Old Bones (Casablanca/Mos Eysley Crossover), secretely controlled by Free Quebec with agents of all powers

Knights of Jean D'Arc (Ultraviolent Racist Hillbilly Militia of Free Quebec): Want to drive out all D-Bees, and punish those who associate with them through murder, rape, torture and plundering. 

Mr. Bingles (Chimpanzee Mutant Scientist), who escaped and wants to leave America for Europe and the NGR. Conspired with the mutant underground railway and Psiscape (Good Psionic City State) to flee. Carrier of the superweapon, it's in his brains, he developed it and destroyed all records.

My plan was to GM two sessions: The first would be for the Lazlo (Good) sponsored expedition to retrieve Mr. Bingles alive, the second one for the Chi-Town (Fascist/Bad) intervention force, following on the heels of the Lazlo expedition.


First Session, the Lazlo experience:

In a matter of seconds after inscription was possible,  I had six player sitting at the table. At earlier Odyssees I had problems getting enough people for playing Traveller or 2300 AD, so this is worth mentioning.

I had prepared the characters to save time, but left some skill points (I.Q.*10 in percent) to customize the characters, so everybody would have some feeling of "owning" the character. The mix was:

Rogue Scientist (think Indiana Jones with a computer)
Burster (think "the Flame")
Juicer (think "the Flash")
Mining Cyborg (think Robocop with a motordrill)
Ley Line Walker (think Wizard)
City Rat (think Rogue with Psionics)

The session started with me plastering the table with printed illustrations to introduce newbies into the settings, I also explained a lot verbally in sort of a power ride. Then I let the players decide wther they were totally loayal Lazlo-dwellers or hired mercenaries. I made a big speech as the Dragon Plato, head of Lazlo, to generate a sense of urgency and establish the mission goal for the players. As expected, some players were awed by the apparition of a huge white dragon, others were jaded and took pleasure in bein cool headed professionals who asked the right questions no matter whom they were talking to.
The hints this group had were very sketchy, as they only relied on some mystical visions the Master Seer of Lazlo had had. So They travelled towards Montreal. They avoided all distractions I had come up with, so they kept quiet and on the timetable. That was a smart move on the players side, which paid out later. Some more illustrations were shown and quick descriptions uttered to set the scene.
At the entry of the St. Lawrence River, they had to deal with their first problem: A drunken pilot, whom they needed for navigating them through dangerous waters. They decided to stay for the night, which lost them eight hours. Still the group as very smart in hiding their mutant and sorcerous parts in the boat, while the other characters caught up on gosipp and found out about the Knights of Jean D'Arc. Some nice in character play was also possible for some members. Luckily, the players not interested into playing the chit-chat were on the boat, so everybody was served. on a sidenote, several players grew angry and disgusted at the Knights of Jean D'Arc when they had to listen to their drunken boasting. So actually some players already cared. Others chose to keep a cool and professional stance, which they enjoyed once again.
The next encounter was the Island Kingdom of Montreal where the City Rat player took great enjoyment out of bribing officials with drugs. The other players were making a spectacular entry by driving their magic monster truck off the boat to impress and frighten the fishermen and would-be privateers. Quickly they bribed and impressed all information they wanted out of the small town, albeit leaving quite a trace. They had made the strategic decison of favoring speed over clandestinity, so that was intended. I hope.
They knew the Chimpanzee was taken away in a "purple yacht" to Old Bones, so they lost no time to get there.

Cut to Old Bones

After arrival, they quickly searched the "purple yacht" and through clever use of their different abilities (PSI, social, clever in character talk) found out who the owner was. In the course of that they split up the group to explore the city and follow the lead more thoroughly. They had several sense of wonder moments, when they found out about the workings of the city. They also explored some more of the undrlying racist conflicts.
Still they moved with urgency and quickly came up with a plan: Storm the party where the Chimpanzee was going to be shown around as a party joke.
Waht they didn' find out was the plot of the Splugorth: From their base in the city, they manipulated and instigated the Knights of Jean D'Arc to blow the party as a diversion. A Splugorth Slave Barge (Famous illustration on the old Rifts main Book Cover) was sent to snatch the Chimpanzee during the ensuing chaos.
As the players moved quick, the Splugorth didn't find out about them, so this was a classical two sided surprise. The Knights of Jean D'Arc were killed easily by the group with a clever combination of spells and powers (Carpet of Adhesion and Burster Fire Wall), the party security guys shot the juicer, who had no Megadamage armour at that moment, and failed his Autododge. He was toast.
I let the player play the Slpugroth Slave barge from that on, which filled him with great delight!
What follows now was a collection of great action scenes, a techno-wizard monster truck breezing through the narrow streets followed by the nightmarishly powerful and ugly Slaver Barge! The Slaver Player pulled no punches so this was even more deadly. As a GM, one oftentimes plays the opponents sub-optimal out of the many tasks involved. But especially an enemy like the Slaver has so many special abilities, that the assigned player was a great help!

Quick sidenote: Looking things up in Rifts Sourcebooks is painful. Only the continued use of the index and bookmarks kept the game moving at cinematic pace.

The fight climaxed with the 'Borg player jumping unto the barge after the shields collapsed, thereby buying enough time for the others for escape  with the chimpanzee (without consent from the 'Borg player! Great moment of decision making)!
Luckily for the 'Borg player (he held out long enough and I rolled low enough for the time of reinforcement arrival), who had fully counted on being killed, Free Quebec forces arrived which the Slaver flew from. he could take another boat and follow the others into the sunset...

Stay tuned for the summary of the second session.

Frank T

Sounds good!

I have some questions:

In the first part of the adventure, did the players notice they were avoiding all kinds of trouble because of their clever approach?

Could you elaborate on that bit about reinforcement time? How did that work?

Did you prepare something like a "what happens if the characters never show up" timeline? What did it look like?

- Frank


QuoteIn the first part of the adventure, did the players notice they were avoiding all kinds of trouble because of their clever approach?

I can't say that. When I introduced stuff they could have investigated, like  a battle site, or a mystical mist, they didn't investigate, but said: "We don't have time/This looks dangerous. Let's move on."
One player wanted to investigate, but was quickly quieted by the others.

Reinforecement time was like this:

Upon alert (Slave Barge blasting Lighnting all over the city), I rolled a one on 1D6+1 for the the minutes the FQ Quebec SAMAS would need to scramble and drive the Splugorth Slaver off. That meant two minutes, which is about 8 Rounds of combat. With all the combat actions everyone has, this is quite some time. FQ has a base right next to Old Bones, so they were as quick as a trauma team in cyberpunk.

I did not prepare a timeline, but the logic of the story engine would have unfolded:
Splugorth capture Chimpanzee extract formula from his brain through bio-wizardry, blackmail everyone and wipe out races with an altered retro virus at will. Most likely all humans. Basically the end of the world, save for some few who where resistant to the virus. Lone Star might have researched a cure, but already too late for millions and millions of people. Why are you asking?

Frank T

I'm asking because I'm interested in the applied techniques. Like: When did you make up the whole "party" thing? If the characters had shown up one day later, would the chimpanzee already have been gone, and would they have had to chase the slaver barge to get him, or would you have made up different circumstances then? That kind of thing.

- Frank

Precious Villain


Nifty post - I have the Rifts base book and was put off by the combat system so I'd like to know exactly what your modification was to make it "work."

Also, I'd really like to see the full "Story Engine!"  Both the filled in graph for this game and your thoughts on what information you put in it, why and what you leave out and why.  This kind of things sounds like it might be helpful for my Shadowrun prep.

My real name is Robert.


Quote from: Settembrini on August 30, 2006, 12:45:56 PM
QuoteIn the first part of the adventure, did the players notice they were avoiding all kinds of trouble because of their clever approach?

I can't say that. When I introduced stuff they could have investigated, like  a battle site, or a mystical mist, they didn't investigate, but said: "We don't have time/This looks dangerous. Let's move on."
One player wanted to investigate, but was quickly quieted by the others.

Well, as a player I had the urgent feeling of looming doom and apocalypse and knew of far too many different enemys groups around. So I tried to focus on impeeding the apocalypse and staying alive.

In a con-game there should not be too much red herrings. I hoped that this would be true. So I did not follow all the hints the SL cleverly layed out. If there is some mysterious 'monster' around stomping on Coalition Skelebot Divisions you don't investigate, you beat it ... especially with this not really combat oriented group.

The size of the Rifts-setting is huge and the rules are ... well Palladium ... and of six only two players were familiar with the setting and the rules. It seems natural, that the people concentrated on the task instead of travelling around like tourists.

I had tremendous fun and especially liked the chase scene with the Spluggort-Slaver.



Callan S.

Hi Martin,

Could you sort of tell what was a side task (that you would bypass) and what was the main one? If you could, how would you say you knew? Thanks for posting by the way, its great to get a players posts in a actual play thread as well! :)
Philosopher Gamer


QuoteWhen did you make up the whole "party" thing? If the characters had shown up one day later, would the chimpanzee already have been gone, and would they have had to chase the slaver barge to get him, or would you have made up different circumstances then?

The party was there from the start. Had the charcters not been this quick, the Splugorth would have taken Mr. Bingles to Newfoundland. I prepared all the way up to Arcadia, with the possibility of a cool water chase/Ship battle between FQ, Chi Town SAMAS from Halifax, Splugorth, the two parties and some hundreds of Pixies from Prince Edwards Island.

But most likely the other group would have cought up, so that battle between the groups would have ensued.


Quote from: Callan S. on August 31, 2006, 08:58:50 AM
Hi Martin,

Could you sort of tell what was a side task (that you would bypass) and what was the main one? If you could, how would you say you knew? Thanks for posting by the way, its great to get a players posts in a actual play thread as well! :)

The characters were given orders by an old dragon. The main task was finding an unknown thing/object/being nearly the size of a man with unknown powers and get it back to Lazlo if possible, failure would bring the apocalypse ... oh and fast action was of utmost importance.

So I left with no real info, but the persistent feeling, that we were already too late.

The fist strange encounter was smoke in the wood that we could see from the river. Quick investigation showed some destroyed and some functioning Coalition robots, standing in a clearing wich looked like something big dropped onto them. This didn't look like the action of a mansized object/being and just made my character feel worse. The Coalition is swarming in the woods and big things drop from above, most forboding ... so my char pushed the throttle.

When we came to Montreal there were some hints of mysteries but the Island and its inhabitants seemed strange and double-tongued, so we raced after the purple yacht the moment we heard of it. Again I had the feeling of being late or even more late.

Up until my Ley Line Walker saw (via Read Aura) that the "funny" ape at the party was a mid level being I had the gnawing, unpleasant feeling (for the char, for me it was quite a sensation) that I was totally wrong and loosing the trail and time. Combined with the feeling of being naked (no MDC-Armor during the party), I was quite on the edge ... which also may have been caused by the high volume of coffee I was drinking to counter just 3 hours of sleep and 3.5 hours highspeed race to Berlin ;-)

Well, to answer another question from above: I was aware that we wasted no time and were pleased that we were quite effective. The congratulation from the SL (that we had been very fast) sounded a little bit like "... but I had prepared so much more ..."  ;-)

I didn't miss anything, we had all some spotlight time, mystery, combat, planning and survived being chased through town by a Spluggorth Slaver Barge and even survived (!) and escaped ... that was Rifts like it is supposed to happen especialy in a convention game.



Callan S.

Ah, so tactical consideration as to whether you took them on, rather than being cued to do so. Cool, I wish I'd played! :)

Hi Settembrini,

I like how you've listed an intention at the start with three main elements. Your pumped and excited about these things, right? How many of them got into the game, do you think? If any didn't or didn't much, do you think that your excitement about them was still part of the play experience? By that I mean an excited GM makes a more exciting game, even if what he's excited about isn't coming into play too much. What do you think?
Philosopher Gamer


QuoteBy that I mean an excited GM makes a more exciting game, even if what he's excited about isn't coming into play too much. What do you think?

Adventure Gaming is all about being excited. You can't prepare a decent session if you have no vision, nothing that gets your juices flowing. Ther must be a reason for taken all the workload.
But:plausabilities must be served first. If something doesn't come upt even though I want it, it won't come up. There is no value in things I like to happen that I actually let happen anyway. This would be circular self-fulfillment in a bad way. At least for me.

For the themes and motifs that I wanted to introduce:

I can only say that players were confronted with that. Everyone could and should react in his own way. It was there, I portrayed it, but wether anybody actually cared I can`t say. I surely had the possibility to introduce racism and politics into the session, exploration was also done.


Second session:

Starting some hours behind the first group, the Chi-Town Intelligence Chief Col. Lyboc intercepted the notice of escape from Lone Star. Lyboc sees his chance to get really powerful, so he tries to seize Mr. Bingles and present him to the Emperor, before the loss is even noticed. He wants to discredit and replace the leader of Lone Star to gain control of that vital installation himself.
He sends for some troops and sends them:

Special Forces 1st Lt. (Leader)
SAMAS Flight Officer
Technical Sergeant (Mechanic/Demolitions)
Psi Stalker Sergeant
Dog Boy Cpl.
Soldier Cpl.

quickly after the Chimpanzee. He tells them they were last seen in Montreal, and gives them access to a fast boat. They didn't ask many questions and don't request heavier weaponry and start their hunt (big mistake, I'd say).
When they arrived at the pilots house at the outlet of the St. Lawrence, they bungle their way through the conversation with the drunken Militiamen and Pilots. The Lt. is very indecisive and doesn't want to travel at night with a drunken pilot. His subordinates where all bickering and secretly confering what is about to be done about hte Lt.s inaction. Finally the Flight Officer steps up to him and presses for a decision, as well as reminding the LT. of the harsh time limit they are under.
THe Lt. remains indecisive and orders the tech sergeant to "steal" a drunken sleeping pilot, but that proves impractical. All in all the Lt. started showing being a very bad adventure gamer, he makes himself a fool by "knocking on the pilot's house, but silently!" even after asking back, he insisted on knocking at the door "loud enough to wake the sleeping drunken pilots, but  very quiet!".
After quite a stall in the game, which some characters used for acquiring infos on the Knights of Jean D'arc and some local clothing, the Lt. can be ushered to actually decide. After this shameful episode, the humbled Chi-Town soldiers close on to their quarry as they actually travel all through the night up to Montreal.
In Montreal the Lt. is indecisive again and starts a dangerous discussion with the Chi-Town sponsored pirate-fishermen. He insists on paying no toll, by blowing their cover and waving around with his military I.D. Meanwhile the Dog Boy socializes with the natives and basically single handedly finds all the clues the previous party left. As the rumbled into the city and took no precautions, the locals can tell them quite some story. Especially the Dog Boy player keeps asking to find out about the enemy's group members, to adjust tactics (smart dog!).
Then they usher the Lt. to "decide" for a quick leave, w/o further investigation to catch up on the competing party.

Cut to Old Bones

The group is trying to collect as much information as possible in short time, and therefore splits. They basically collect all the info left by the other group, as they were not very cautious. They are only several hours behind them, but the crucial time saver was when the tech sergeant and the psi stalker went to a random pimp to check up on underworld rumours:

They enter the pimps "lair".
They talk to him.
He is uncooperative.
They threaten him.
He activates alarm button.
They get angry.
Bodyguard Octoman Mr. Slithers (meanest bounty hunter in anvil galaxy, think boba fett with eight arms) arrives.
Tech sergeant thinks he is smart and threatens Octoman with explosive device.
Octoman laughs and attacks.
Tech sergeant presses button

Player: Rolls dice AND MULTIPLIES WITH TEN for  ninety MD!
GM: "Holy cow! I thought you only had some kind of grenade."
Player: "Fusion block. And we aren't even harmed."
GM: "He fires back."
Both Players:" He isn't dead!?"

After a quick firefight with MD weapons, that leaves the neighbourhood leveled and the pimp and octoman dead, the players emerge victorious. Bystanders proclaim them to be the new "Kings of the 'Hood". The players take this role to order everybody around to gather information about the Chimpanzee and the other group.

Back with the others a strategy discussion ensues, after all facts had been collected. Here, the Lt. wants to sell the rare alien Octoman artifact weapons in order to buy a large grenade launcher. (Which he could have applied for at the start of the adventure...)
The others discourage him from doing that. Strangely the line that settled his concerns was: "Stun grenades don't work on environmentally sealed people."

I thought: He wanted a friggin awesome auto-grenade launcher (oodles of Megadamage x10) to shoot Stun Grenades?!

Anyhow, they make their plan w/o Auto-Grenade Launcher and follow the other group. They pinpointed their location by clever use of their new underground minions and hefty bribes to farmers in the river area. During the strategy discussion a lot of flipping through sourcebooks was done by the players, and they enjoyed and revelled in thinking about tactics and the neccessary tools/weapons for the task.

That's were the session ended.

One player quickly came towards me and expressed his total satisfaction with the session, and that he totally liked my way of GMing. Especially the way I fast forwarded the unimportant and zoomed in to the important parts was a pleasure for him.
All in all, I was very surpised that noone was bored to "just" follow in the footsteps of another group. The players thought it to be very cool, as they could actually picture the events much better, and were sure they could actually get somwhere with reasoning. They really had to and could outsmart someone.

Stay tuned for the final encounter, wherein both groups confront each other to decide the fate of Rifts Earth...

Ron Edwards

Hi Andreas,

I'm following these posts with interest, but am short on time for comments. My observation: you are extremely skilled with scene framing and also with scene-cutting, which not only makes the game more fun to play, but also more fun to read about.

Best, Ron


Thanks for all the warm comments. I'll gladly answer qustions also.

The final confrontation:

Pragmatic Dimension: I could not foresee what would happen to both groups, so I did not know whether they would ever meet up, still I hinted at the possibility in the ad for the sessions. There was a three hour break between the last session and the start of the ll-nighter sessions (they started at 2400 hours). One couple left during the break. They had already expressed their liking the session, but obviously went home to sleep. The Juicer player didn't want to play, as his character was toast. The Lt. left quietly for another game, w/o ever speaking to us/me again. I think he didn't like it at all. One player had to continue a tradtional session that is held year after year and continued. he wa sundecided at first, but left for that endeavour, expressing his regret at not being around for the showdown. So Three players from each side had the time and willigness to wrap it up in a big fight!

With the purple boat and Mr. Bingles the Lazlo group hid in a sidearm of the big river to meet up with the valiant 'Borg, who  had followed them and to rearrange some other stuff. Rolls were made for their sensor use, but the Chi-Town Group surprised them. The Chi-Town party was all over them, spraying them with Laser Rifles and Stun Grenades and dishing out great amounts of damage.

Me: Wow, Lazlo group is toast.

Sadly they didn't follow their own plan: Shoot the Wizard first!
So once the Lazlo groups Initiative came up, they did the killer combo: Carpet of Adhesion + Flame Wall again!
All but the SAMAS (flying power armour) were stuck to their boat and burning for 6d6 MD every turn.

Me: Wow, Chi-Town group is toast!

Then the Chi-Town soldiers remembered their battleplan and concentrated on the wizard, ignoring all others. He chose to use "actions from the future" to keep dodging the blasts. Thereby he was neutralized. Then they aimed for the Burster and forced him behind cover as well. [Here the Pally System of combat actions and suppression fire really did shine]

Me: Wow, Lazlo group is going to die...

The City Rat went all valorous and used the Techno-Wizard emplacement gun to kill the Chi-Town Lt.

Me: Heck, how's this gonna end?

Tech Sergeant threw another one of his dreaded fusion blocks over to the other ship, killing the Burster and the City Rat

Me: What the...?!

Meanwhile the SAMAS flew around doing some damage, but generally being unimportant. The 'Borg from the Lazlo forces was largely ignored and merrily kept firing at the SAMAS.
Then, after some more fighting, it all came down to a showdown between the 'Borg and the SAMAS. They wrestled and shot and the 'Borg kept drilling for the head of the SAMAS.

Oh my!

In the meantime, the Ley Line Wizard who had been hiding so long, was able to act again. He saw that only him and the 'Borg remained, and things were looking bad. So he made a grave decision: He went under deck, and killed the chimpanzee!

The SAMAS made many holes into the Ley Line Walker with his Railgun and ejected out of his power armour, as the Mining 'Borg had fled under water. He had tried to drill through the SAMAS helmet, but missed after reducing his head to a meager 2 MD. As the slowly-to-death-burning other Chi-Town soldiers kept melting away his armour, the 'Borg player didn't want to stretch his luck and jumped into the water.

With his buddies dead or dying, the mission goal unattained, his armour in shambles, a frightened and wet SAMAS flight officer took it to the wilderness, hopefully to return to Chi-Town safety...

With his friends dead, his plating in shambles, the Chimpanzee killed by friendly fire, a disillusioned Mining 'Borg crawled out of the water, hopefully to reach Lazlo alive...

Player applause