Numenera 2: Dogs In The Vineyard, I get it.

  • Sharad, an Intelligent Nano who Leads and fulfils his artistically rendered destiny.
  • Meef, a Mechanical Jack who Exists Partially Out Of Phase and it shows.
  • Red Pepper, a Graceful Glaive who Wields Two Weapons and can’t resist a rumble.
  • Giana, a Strong-willed Jack who Focuses Mind-Over-Matter, and who is stricken by a headache.

I’m getting a little better at not having fixed irrelevant points in my head while I’m GMing this. Two times I caught myself sticking to an image in my head that was unnecessary – Bryce wanted to know what the trees were like, so that he could maybe use one as a place of safety and Ben wanted to know if there was any old plants to set on fire to illuminate the Mouth Cairn. My first instinct was to say that the fruit trees were short and the Mouth Cairn’s surroundings were barren, because that’s how I’d imagined them. In many other games that image in the GM’s head would be the de facto landscape. But those are both cool ideas – Sharad leaping into a tree for safety and Meef illuminating the horror that is the Zaelem – so I walked my initial ‘ruling’ on the description back. The trees could be whatever shape Sharad decided, the cairn wall had trapped an easily flammable tumbleweed.

It takes a bit of readjustment because the responsibility for deciding how things are is usually the GM’s. But it is better to think of it like the Yes, and… improv game. Yes, the trees in the orchard could be taller, …and that will make them harder to search. Can’t blame me, Bryce did it.

I’m still one or two GM intrusions behind schedule, so I’ve got to up the incidence of those.

Spoiler alert: this continues to contain plenty of spoilers for the Beale of Boregal scenario presented in the main book, so be warned.

After a brief recap and settling the story that Giana has been overcome by a crippling migraine since Noe was out for most of the evening, we got back into solving a problem like Seria.

Darvin, the mind-healer who had taken Seria into her care, required raw materials from the Synth Garden outside of town. Bright and early – after the burrowing leech attack of last night, who could sleep? That’s creepy as hell – they set off for the Synth Garden.

“This one takes me back to my youth. It is called Axel F.”  Sigh. You know what else was really old? That House Special Duck I ordered last night.

The garden was about 5 miles outside of town. Far enough, Sharad observed, that they could not call for aid. Red Pepper picked her way carefully forward on scout duty as they neared the location. All seemed quiet down in the garden, a tended patch in the wilderness. Orderly rows of vines were banked to the sun, with a herb garden and orchard area. No Broken Hounds were visible, although Red thought she saw movement among the greenery. The wind was in the party’s favour, Meef knew how much these creatures relied on scent. “How will we know when we’ve killed them all?” Sharad wondered. Red Pepper shrugged, “When they stop attacking us.”

Advancing into the garden, a mixture of naturally occuring plantlife and stranger, less natural things. They kept a watchful eye out for the Hounds as they progressed, but in the near-middle of the garden, found the red metal stalks protruding from the ground. Sharad could see that they were being extruded by some deeply buried machine? Maybe? He tried twisting one out of the ground, but eventually had to hack one out with a sword. The soft flexible metal was one of the things Darvin required.

Just then, they were rushed by the pack of Broken Hounds, hideous and scabrous canines with oversized, beaked heads reminiscent of crow skulls. Howling, they poured through the vines, long beaks gnashing. Their method of attack was mostly direct, although a few circled around the back of them. Meef stepped to his Hounds with his broadsword, while Red unlimbered her two tomahawks. Sharad, not looking forward to taking on a whole bunch of these things, unlimbered a grenade full of a chemical that would cause instant, surprisingly brief sleep. He pulled his attackers over to Red Pepper’s combat and then dropped the bomb (after warning the other two to hold their breath). A whole bunch of creepy skull dogs hit the dirt and the humans stepped among them dispatching them as quickly as they could. Only one Hound that went down got back up again, but as he did the flanking force arrived at the same time. One took a tomahawk to beak and fled, the hatchet still embedded in its beak. Sharad pummeled the creature attacking him with his Onslaught ability just like in the character picture!

Sharad seeing to the gnarly Broken Hounds. I guess the landscape is wrong for the garden. Also, there was no prone dude. But I guess we could imagine it was…a BruceWillis gourd that grows in the garden. Okay, I’ve given up pretending this is accurate, much like I gave up trying to eat the House Special Duck last night.

Meef and Red Pepper finished the others off before Red took off after the fleeing Hound, but found that the animal had shaken off the tomahawk and fled for the plains. Retrieving the weapon, they finished gathering their red metal rhubarb stalks and then began looking for the golden pear they needed next. They found it, although it zapped Meef so hard that it fried one of his cyphers, an EMP device, which was rendered useless, but at least soaked up the charge of the pear for him.

They hauled the garden’s bounty back to Darvin, who was delighted that the Synth garden had been cleared and spread the news of this good deed to her fellow merchants, saving Meef the trouble of mentioning it to everyone. The healer, and the rest of the town, was effusive in their thanks. Darvin set to work right away, it was still only late morning, while a midday meal was provided free of charge from a grateful vendor. Sharad, taxed by the fight, had already opted for refreshments in the healing pools and was suitably gratified to find that his drinks had been comped.

Later that evening, a runner from Darvin found them at their leisure and summoned them to the mind-healer’s clinic. A bubbly and grateful Seria greeted them. She tried to hug them all, Meef squirming away from the child. She bore signs of a cranial implant – two bands of red metal lining the orbit of her left eye, joining and curving along her cheekbone and behind her ear. She seemed entirely at ease for the first time and answered their questions coherently and to the best of her ability. Darvin seemed satisfied that this would prevent any more overwhelming psychic noise – although she wouldn’t sanction letting Seria travel closer to the source of the disturbance.

Seria told them that the deluge of psychic energy was from a man, buried deep beneath the earth. She still heard his screaming and babbling, but she was no longer a conduit for it. She did not believe she wanted to help the man, she said he was not a good man. But that maybe they had to help him. She believed he was beneath a place called Embered Peaks, a town nestled amidst seven finger-like peaks to the northwest of the Mouth Cairns they had previously visited.

Embered Peaks had once-not-too-long-ago been a real draw for the area as the town was home to an artifact that seems to restore a semblance of life to the deceased – specifically the recently dead (or well preserved) could be asked a question and they would answer it. The Shyamalanian drawback to this was that eventually they figured out that the dead always, without fail, lied. The canny devoirs, leaders of the town, began permitting visitors with True/False questions to ask dear departed granny, knowing that the corpse would reliably fib. This was pretty good business for a while, but a few months ago, the trail of visitors stopped. The town has gone dark since about three months ago, with nothing but dark rumours told of it.

Darvin isn’t about to send Seria home without knowing if her settlement is still under attack either. So since they’re travelling north of the Wander Walk anyway, would they mind checking in? They agreed to it, although wanted money up front, in the time-honoured tradition of adventuring parties everywhere. What they got instead were mates rates at the tinkerer’s shop where they sold a bunch of oddities and cyphers for a cypher which allows them to view into the near past.  And a teleporter. Also a few steaming-baskets full of provisions for the road, which is certainly better than a kick in the teeth, were delivered to them that morning.

Mmm. Looks moist and delicious.

The following morning they set off, Giana having being given something by Darvin to help quell the migraine, although it seemed like a temporary solution. Retracing the steps they had taken with Seria to get to Cylion Basin they excpected the trip to take the whole day. They hiked uneventfully enough, although they did see, from a distance, several large predators slinking out of the mountains and higher foothills. Too far away to be a threat, but another decent sign that the wildlife is being upset by the same psychic tantrum that was traumatizing Seria.

By dusk, they arrived at the Mouth Cairns again. ‘Their’ cairn was inhabited this evening by three old women who had been intermittent pilgrims for decades. They welcomed the strangers in and were delighted that they shared their professionally prepared food with them. The three old gals gossiped about the ‘skulking bands’ who had been preying on the peregrines of the Wandering Walk and told them of their hope to – this time – see the light swarm for which this area is renowned. One of the old broads had alarming news for them once they’d warmed to the newcomers: two professional looking hard-men were searching the Wandering Walk for a woman matching Giana’s description. They seemed reallllllllly keen to find her.

It was a pleasant enough evening thoroughly spoiled by their sleep being interrupted by a deeply unpleasant rasping/slurping sound that wasn’t just me struggling to eat my Fresh Wok. Meef and Giana, in the dim first light of the day, could see what looked like a group of men, sneaking around in a cluster, behind the great metal spar that thrust out of the earth, sheltering the Mouth Cairn.

Giana roused the others and Meef seized a thorny bundle of tumbleweed, thrust the bush into the mostly dead fire, catching it alight and holding it up to illuminate… some really weird stuff. The creature was some sort of gastropod, rolling its way towards the cairn’s walls, but with four large protrusions on its back, which were humanish in size and shape because they’d also once been humans. Humans enveloped and partially digested by this terrible whatever it was. (It is called a Zaelem, by those few unfortunate enough to have encountered them.)

Sharad’s track record of useful cyphers is impressive and he continued the streak with a device that projected a wall of lightning and was able to shock the Zaelem and then, as it retreated, pursue it to shock it again. In doing so, he shook loose a bunch of the stuff that had been enveloped by the creature but not digested, armour plates, bones and unfortunately a small grenade. The thing went off, but everyone was able to dive out of the blast although it demolished the jawbone wall of the Mouth Cairn. A few more ranged shots on it and Red Pepper finished it off with an expert blowdart through its tiny brainstem. As Sharad pointed out, that was breakfast taken care of…

Well, there went their nice lie-in. Everyone was up and about early, unable to get back to sleep. Setting off northwards, they detoured a little to see if they could discover the fate of Patel. Alas, they did. Patel’s body, head smashed in with a wrench, was found just out of sight of the Mouth Cairns. They piled stones over him, with an hour or so of work and then cut Northeast, toward the peaks.

Climbing up into the foothills of the Black Riage, they found a broad valley beneath the seven very-finger-like peaks and the town of Embered Peaks. Even from a distance they could see it was a town in some distress. Charred buildings and a furtive and wounded populace were evident from distance.

Actually getting inside the town, the picture wasn’t much prettier. There were obvious signs of violence and arson. What locals they saw were skittish and preoccupied, those that weren’t were… nutty. One old nutter with a buzzer stuck in his belt loop claimed the town was against him personally, on account of his possession of the knowledge of the universe. He claimed they wanted to take his brain to access it. He seemed real serious about it.

Sensing that perhaps the locals may not be the best source of information, they headed directly to the center of town and a large circular domed building. The rather ominous legend above the double doors read “Forum Of The Dead”, which seemed a bit theatrical. Entering, they found an office in chaos, papers and machinery scattered across the floor and the more observant party members saw spatters of blood hastily scrubbed from the floor, but not scrubbed enough.

A young man was distractedly picking up papers and trying to make some sense of the mess. They questioned him a little, but he seemed a little batty too. He told a disjointed tale of sudden mob violence, murders, and the general dissolution of normal life in Embered Peaks. Looking around, they saw that the only exit was a grand set of doors, with two different types of sturdy mechanical locks. This secure arrangement would require both a specific key and a knowledge of how to rearrange the complex mechani- Meef walked through the door. Doors and walls are really just suggestions for Meef of course, he pushes himself out this phase of existence just enough to slip through the solid matter. They distracted the clerk while he did this – no great feat – and while Meef opened the door for them. They slipped through.

In the large chamber they had entered they found a few objects, but the room was clearly out of regular use. It had perhaps been a council chamber, designed to look imposing rather than functional. Meef found an area of conspicuous chill in the center of the room and a hidden button. Pressing the button caused a floor panel to retract and reveal a tight spiral staircase leading down into the earth.

This looks old and dark.

They descended maybe 30′ into the dark underground, holding up glowglobes to light their way. Their way was barred by a whisperlocked door, a cunning arrangement which required the utterance of a secret passwo- Meef walked through it and opened it from the other side.

We’ll get to what he saw next session.