Numenera 5: Making friends! Not you, Murden.

That was very nearly a session without combat. Swoon! Nevertheless, this was a busy session, with an awful lot of stuff going on and I’m sorry Rolland missed it. The characters got a little more fleshed out, I thought: conflict helped Bryce and Ben delineate what Sharad and Meef’s priorities are, while Giana’s emerging background informed how Noe played and the whole thing made for a very enjoyable session from my point of view.

There was always a chance for the players to get bogged down and frustrated with something as complex as ‘teaching a long dormant alien construct how to bargain in a language it doesn’t know’, but well done to the players who kept at it and in the end achieved what seemed like a very satisfying conclusion. There are lots of ways to solve the water condenser problem, but I thought they did it well.

Meef and Sharad also advanced a Tier at the end of the session, so we have our first T2 characters. Both picked up new abilities, Push and Flash respectively. Meef can now phase defensively and Sharad is able to take on a follower.

Spoilerwise, I’m still running adventures from the Weird Discoveries book, albeit re-homed in this neck of the woods. I like the layout of WD so much that I’m just going to… if not line them up, then at least have them ready to go.

The Ausren Woods

  • Sharad, an Intelligent Nano who Leads but who is choosy of his followers.
  • Meef, a Mechanical Jack who Exists Partially Out Of Phase and who reminds people (and automated defense turrets) of other people.
  • Giana, a Strong-willed Jack who Focuses Mind-Over-Matter and spends a lot of time inside voluminous hoods.

Sharad reappeared at the site of the wall collapse, Red Pepper trapped beneath, scrambled but not hurt, concussion looking likely. Meef and Giana were working to free Red, but it was looking like the work of a few hours to pry and lift the structural collapse off of her. Sharad was followed, however, by the machine hounds, who were thoughtful enough to use their powers of field manipulation to lift the heaviest parts of the structure out of the way and instead of hours of grueling work in the dark, Red was freed in about 20 minutes.

Having established basic communication with the machine hounds, the party tried to get more out of them and found that the machine hounds would mimic words back to them: their own names at first, but once they had some sort of context to the vocabulary, the strange creatures were able to answer simple questions. They seemed particularly adept at understanding gestures when Giana used those.

Painstakingly, agonizingly, the party drew the story out of the creatures: They had been asleep for a long time and now that they were awake, they had to collect 13 items, one of which was the water condenser. They hounds – they called themselves something that sounded like Iani in their modem squawk language – knew that some were close by and others were not. Slowly, the two sides came to an arrangement; the aldeia could have the water condenser back until the Iani needed it, which was going to be kind of a long time because the other items – which looked like the water condenser – were going to take a long time to find. As a token of good faith, the party would go back to Adderstal, get the similar piece of tech that languished in the Chetris’ scrapyard. Then the Iani would hand over the water condenser.

You never know when that semester of mime will come in handy.

Estrin Chetris was – last time they saw him, delighted that they had brought his daughter back safely past the bandits laying in wait for her. But their reception at the Chetris homestead was notably more frosty than they anticipated. Nevertheless, he gave them the other piece the Iani were after in exchange for 7 shins and the carried it back to the Iani.

The Iani were delighted with the new piece of hardware, lots of tailwagging. They activated it and stood around watching it, as did Sharad, Meef and Giani, Red Pepper having been dropped off at the caravanserai to recuperate. The little container – roughly the size of Matt Duffin’s torso – extruded three legs and then a probe like augur which drilled down into the earth some distance. After a gradual building of a high pitched whine at the edge of hearing, the sound suddenly stopped and a ripple went through the earth, throwing the explorers to their butts. All around trees shuddered, some splitting and collapsing and the earth shifted. Earthquakes don’t happen any more on Earth – tectonic activity being a young planet’s game, so there’s a good chance that no-one even remembers what an earthquake is. It was this.

For some reason these give me the willies way more than buildings falling on me.

Aftershocks came and went, rebounding past the epicenter, opening rifts in the ground as the buried superstructures under the Ausren woods shifted. The Iani were well pleased with this. Who are the good boys? Who are the good boys? They are. They are the good boys.

The celebrating machine-beasts led the party to their cave where they used their field manipulation abilities to pull a section of wall out of the way and there was the aldeia’s water condenser. Sharad and Meef now got into a protracted discussion about whether or not to give the water condenser back in secrecy or glory. Sharad’s concern was mostly that the townsfolk may decide that these strangers returning with the water condenser were maybe the ones who took it in the first place. Meef was concerned that no-one would know that it was he – Meef Allare – who had done them this big favour. Eventually they decided that Sharad should go talk to Kuipania and ask for advice while Meef and Giana stayed with the water condenser, a little outside town.

Walking past all the people fixing their houses after the damned ground shook under them. Sharad met up with the Aeon Priest. Kuipania didn’t think there was a wrong way to give the condenser back, but was tolerant of Sharad’s concerns and agreed to help them put it back under cover of darkness. She would attend to the payment that Guyan had promised and had a task for them when they left the aldeia. She wasn’t the only one: there was a man at the caravanserai asking to meet the party, with the offer of a job.

That wasn’t the only possible complication – Meef and Giana spotted Yami Chetris spying on them as they waited for Sharad to return. Meef chased her down easily and the girl asked that they take her with them, that she wanted to be explorers just like they were,  this town sucks etc. Meef and Giana put off saying no by delaying her until the whole group could discuss it.

Wary of strangers looking for them, knowing that Giana was being stalked, Sharad led Kuipania to the hiding spot and they then all discussed what to do with Yami. They agreed to take her to the next town, so that she could leave Adderstal, but after that she was going to be on her own. They weren’t quite sure where the next place they’d go to was, quite yet. Kuipania thought that The Beanstalk would be the best place to find a job, but a worse place to be a 15 year old on their own. Plainsight offered fewer opportunities but was a little more safe too. Yami didn’t care much except that it was along the way out of the dead-end life awaiting her in Adderstal.

Fine, Yami could come with them, but she’d have to wait outside the aldeia until they had concluded their business in town, including sussing out the mysterious stranger at the caravanserai, getting tatts and picking up Red. They returned with Kuipania, the Aeon Priest making the water condenser practically invisible and floating with a few gadgets she had. She nonchalantly dropped the condenser off in its previous location and activated it. Whatever the Iani had done to it, it was now considerably more effective at drawing moisture from the environment and spouting fresh, clean water and she had to shove it back a little to keep all the water in the pool.

Then they all got to (finally) go inside Kuipania’s home – Meef getting zapped at again for his troubles – and into the bigger-on-the-inside-seeming room, although actually it was a very small room with a compression field on the door, so really they were just smaller than they thought. Or at least thinner. There they stepped up onto a vertical table and were held in place by an unknown force while one by one they had tattoos etched across their bodies. The nearly invisible tattoos (unless they want colours added) projected fields of protective force and were powered by their own bodies. So that was nice. Everybody was on board with getting them across their entire bodies, even if it meant seeing each other naked. No Ragrets. I think Kuipania loaded them up with a cypher each too; that seems probable.

As an aside, she asked them to deliver a package to an Aeon Priest at The Beanstalk, Vecchi. It was a small, slim black synth stick which they were told contained information. Drop it off and you’d be doing Kuipania a solid. She also provided them with a map, their first map, although she cautioned against relying to heavily on it. She made it by stretching parchment across a luminous display onto which she had made notations. Sharad and Meef went off to the caravanserai to meet the stranger: Giana waited outside somewhere in the dark, with her hood up, in the shadows.

Don’t look over here. I’m being inconspicuous!

The stranger, attended discreetly by two arm-breakers, was Orrudis, Seneschal of the Royal Household in Exile, personal counsellor of Fialla Nooran, the rightful heir to throne of Berenock and he told them just that, with a flourish. Several flourishes. Unfortunately, they’d never heard of the Noorans or Berenock, but Orrudis laid out why that was – the Noorans (Good! Kind! Noble!) were deposed by a treacherous cabal of military men and the junta (Cruel! Despotic! Unworthy!) still ruled Berenock. However, as luck would have it, there was a recording device which contained evidence of the false pretenses used to depose the Noorans and mislead the good Berenockians. Unfortunately, it was now in the hands of some filthy Murdens who made camp in the southern Ausren Woods.

Adderstal: Ghastly
Thyran Cheese: Magnificent
Orrudis is leaving Yelp reviews all over the Ninth World.

Bring the recording device to Plainsight in 8 days from now and he’d set them up with a pile o shins and a few choice cyphers from the Nooran’s private reserve. And he hinted at possible further employment and crucially the powerful patronage of soon-to-be-Queen Fialla, which he thought would come in handy for Meef and Giana in particular. Although he didn’t call him Meef, he called him Tralto and seemed to enjoy being in on a secret that went over Meef’s head. Giana, he knew was being sought with increasing urgency by her Father… uh… Something Sten. Cannot for the life of me remember what Noe decided her dad was called.

With no particular place to go and a teenager to drop off when they got there, Plainsight seemed as good as any. So they agreed and spent one last night at the caravanserai, while presumably Yami just kipped down in the woods.

In the morning they saw Orrudis depart on his conveyance: a very, very long limbed creature, like a giraffe with six knees. As it stood to its full massive height, it carried Orrudis and his henchpersons away in a howdah that cleared the treetops many times over. Off he disappeared into the distance. No such luck for them. They left an aldeia waking up to a renewed, albeit temporarily, water source and trekked on into the woods with Yami.

The hike south took days. The passed from the fringes of the Ausren woods, where all manner of vegetation had accumulated, into the pure center of the woods, where ancient purple and blue leafed trees, unique to the area, grew. The fruit from these trees was poisonous, Yami explained, but some of the fungi that grew on them was edible, if you knew what you were looking for.

On the second day they passed by a great conical pit, lined with mosses and grasses. At the bottom of the pit were structures of some kind, but they did not venture down, despite the mouthwateringly delicious smell that wafted up from the depth. Forest Hermit Frank’s Barbeque-Actual-Pit lost another table of customers.

Which got them thinking about a hot helping of slug bacon.

By the middle of the third day, they found the remains of a road, overgrown and eroded by the woods. Following it south they encountered a Pedlar, pulling a handcart behind him. The fellow stopped and was friendly enough. When he heard they were going to be facing off against Murdens, he offered to sell them something which would turn the tables on the Murden’s thought-scrambling auras, a Murden-thought-scrambler. Take that Murdens! He gave it to them for not many shins because he just hated Murdens; the bandits in these woods had rolled him a few years ago and he’d happily help harm come to them.

It didn’t take long before he got his wish. While they were generally agreed that they should wait until Red Pepper had recovered from her concussion or tweaked back or whatever before engaging in fisticuffs with the crowmen, they did want to locate the camp so that they could come back and more expediently set Red Pepper on them. They located the camp, but alas were spotted. The Murden, eight of them, poured out of the camp waving their cruel blades and whirring up their slings.

The party fled, Sharad finding a decent high ground to make a stand and Meef activating the Pedlar’s psychic-noise-bomb. The Murdens stumbled midstep, clutching their heads and the explorers counter-charged.

Sharad laid about him with his Onslaught ability before falling back on the tried and true nardpunt attack, while Giana got in a tussle that saw her throwing Murdens to the ground and then being thrown herself. Meef, meanwhile, achieved such an incredible state of zen as he prepared to loose an arrow that he phased himself further along the visible spectrum and right out the other side. If the Murdens had thought to bring X-Ray machines with him, they could have seen him coming, but as it was Meef took up his broadsword and waded into the oblivious Murden.

The leader of the disgusting birdmen and another unengaged bandit sprang towards the terrified Yami, but Meef arrived, cutting them down and reappearing in the visible spectrum. He had intended to knock the leader over the head with the hilt of his blade (does Meef’s broadsword have a basket hilt? It seems like Jacks should have basket-hilted swords) but misjudged the blow as the leader lunged at him and accidentally cut the birdman’s throat.

Oh well, that saved some time. They returned to the camp, looted it and found what they were looking for: the recording device, some shins, an extremely strong piece of glowing string (but only about 6″ of it) and a cypher that created a wall of ice, I think. We left them happily divvying up the loot, ready to head on to Plainsight.