CD3: Golden Crème Rumpus/the Quiet Life/Galahad Mack

In which five ageing whitey whitebreads of the 10s pretend to be young hip black dudes of the 70s

Warning: taken out of context this post contains offensive material.


The white hats:

Jon Samedy, the Haitian migrant: about 5’9 though stooped and limping. His strangely carved stick is a coco macaque and he wields power over loa and less friendly spirits. He is the brains and medic. This session Jon buys Influence as a new skill, spotting that there are a lot of scenes where you have to talk to people. This costs five xp.

Vic Creed, the scarred ex-paratrooper: about 6’6 and too bulky for speed. He is the muscle. This session Vic boosts his Influence, to help offset his other disadvantages. Since he already has a point of Influence, this only costs 4 xp.

Roosevelt ‘Arby’ Brown: about 5’7 and thin. He is the trickster. At present Arby seems about right in terms of point build and his player makes no further changes.

Steve Cutter’s player could not make the session. Stevie is a fast-handed boxer of useful size, and doubles as the party handyman.


Staging scene

The old Golden Crème Delights factory has stood abandoned for around six years. Even before it expanded to its present size, it was plagued by industrial accidents. Now, the work gang tasked with a full strip-down of the plant can’t risk working there. A few of their forklifts and trucks stand inoperable on the rear carpark as our white hats walk up through the reserve and towards the factory. It is mid-afternoon, and hot.


Scene: the factory store-room

Theme: Boom Boom

Vic launches himself forward out of the store-room door with his trench-coat held out wide like a gunny-sack, and swathes the seething mass of gremlins in it, pork-leg and all.

“Finally! We got some!”

To be fair their previous efforts have netted two of the little pests, and those are lying KOed back behind the group.

“Ease ‘em out one a’time, Vic, we tie ‘em up,” Arby urges.

This process allows them to identify the Queen Bee, or Princess anyways, who is dressed up like the Princess Crème Delight in a doll’s dress, and can talk.

This all happens on day two. Day one was a bust – Stevie got himself knocked out, Arby got shanked in the shoulder with a sharp metal brace, and everyone got cut and banged and covered in old old Sir Choc-a-Lots.

Overnight, they’d met Arby’s biological father Jeremiah Roosevelt, who is some kind of professor and ranger, and learned that hot mama Kelly Anderson is his birth mother. Seems like Jerry knocked Kelly up when she was only about 14, and her sister, Vic’s mother, decided to pretend Arby was hers when she placed him for adoption, so Kelly could finish school. (It’s kind of a relief to Vic and Arby both to discover they are only cousins: but Vic is disappointed that Kelly is his aunt.)

Jon had come up with the idea of using meat as bait, and old man Roosevelt added the advice to smear it with something sweet, like honey or sugar-water. It turns out that’s pretty irrestible to gremlins that Jones on Crème Delights and like to scavenge meat where they can.

Now, Jon negotiates with the Princess. It seems that long ago, in her great-grandmother’s time, her people came out of the Dark, into this wonderful fairyland where gadgets and electricity and such exist. Although the factory is ‘their’ turf she reluctantly agrees that somewhere else with gadgets and access to food would do if they have to move.



With the captives agreeing to a truce, the mission is over. DeNaRes finds another abandoned factory, and turns the gremlins loose there.

Over the next month the four continue working as DeNaRes officers, away from the city. They occasionally drive the Mystery Machine (as someone insists on calling it) out to CVNRA, a forested reserve out in the county where a summer camp, Camp Wikacini, hosts inner-city teens. Naturally the camp’s on the site of an old Indian burial ground… or so legend has it. But their missions are just to release ‘wildlife’ into the reserve away from the city so they don’t speak to the teens nor to the camp counsellors. The kinds of creatures they release give them an eyeful of the weird and somewhat dangerous things that exist in the dark spaces.

They return to city life in June. The city is humming with activity, preparing for the Bicentenary.

  • Vic finds life back at home a lot better now he’s sane. He enjoys time with his niece. One day in a bar, the barkeep passes on a note from a buddy name of ‘Jim’. It’s a man from Vic’s old platoon named Jim Fairbanks, who needs some help, and they agree to meet the next evening. Vic’s mom has a job for him too, but it can wait.
  • Jon’s maman calls a truce with him, but he finds himself consigned to the shack out back where stray cousins are put up. He doesn’t have a set allowance but maman is unwilling to just let him starve, so he has enough money to get by. The barkeep at Little Haiti tells him that Asha Barkley is trying to get in touch with him, and he eagerly waits to see her again.
  • Stevie finds that he can still get a job back at Brother Gloves – but not as manager. His floor-sweeper wage is a pittance, so he’s like Cleo, looking out for day-labor work.
  • Arby returns to life hustling mugs, and is fronted by the big mook again. But this time, Arby got some game. When he fronts, Titus Johnson steps off a little and it turns out what he wanted all along is to get alongside Arby’s operation and get a share. With Titus acting as patsy or shill the usual takings increase, easily maintaining Arby in the same poverty as before.

Scene: Little Haiti

Theme: Soul Man

If Asha looked good before, this evening she is positively edible. Sista’s put some real effort into making herself look dam’ good. Jon’s eyeballs are sweating. Something like a moan comes from Stevie, hidden a few benches down.

The only off-note is the blank-eyed hulking thug that trails in behind Asha, but she flicks off any curiosity about him, saying ‘Pico’ is here to watch her back.

Asha’s got two plays to lay on Jon. First, she’s fired up to get whoever it was put her brother Haile Selassie in an early grave. She can contact some bruthas got access to real weapons if need be. But that will have to wait. Right now, there’s something a brain like him can take on, and that’s the Phyllis Wheatley.

“The Man pushin’ sistas outta there, pressin’ them on leasehold, city taxes, all sorts a’ reg-u-lation papers rainin’ down. Yo’ gotta go behind th’ scenes, Jon, find out who’s pullin’ strings.”

Phyllis Wheatley, an institution that helps women find work or get off to a new start, isn’t one of the charities Jon’s maman helps: it’s a little too far out of her Fairfax stomping ground.


First legwork research

Theme: Theme from Shaft

Jon ropes in Vic and Arby to do a lot of the leg-work around public records, since not everything is in one handy place and it pains Jon to stand up for too long.

Even though Vic is really good at not losing his place in a queue, he is a failure at asking for the right records. Arby comes through and provides some help. Within the next two days Jon has worked out that the people doing the harassment legwork all work for Alderman Creed in one sense or another. The legal paperwork is being handled by a Downtown firm, Wolfgang and Hearst. It’s not clear yet which client is greasing the wheels for Boss Creed but there’s going to be a speech at the Ward Square in a few days’ time.


Scene: near a red-light district

Theme: Shorty the Pimp

“Yo Arby, sweet man, yo’ spare me a minute? I gots something ta aks ya.”

Arby and Titus swing around to see Cherry, one of the local girls. She’s obviously on her way to work for the evening, just like they are moving their base from the transit hubs to the entertainment hubs. Arby can see she’s bruised and marked up here and there.

Cherry has a problem with a John the girls are beginning to call the Monster. He’s rough, way too rough for what he’s paying. Can he help? Arby agrees to arrange something.

Titus can’t see any money in it and isn’t so desperate for a free ride he’ll take a job like this on in trade. Arby heads off to recruit some real muscle.


Scene: No-Name Bar

Theme: Higher Ground

Jim Fairbanks has kept in shape since Vic last saw him at the short end of a tour. If anything he looks tougher than Vic, though he is a shorter and slighter man. Vic remembers him as being smart and as idle as he could be: he’d trade his way out of any hard chores the noncoms dished out. Someone that looked out for a chance to make his post more comfortable and definitely not a glory-hound.

Jim is very glad to find that Vic isn’t crazy no more because The Man is squeezing him. He’s come down from Chicago on the trail of a big-time weapon – Jim tries to describe some old time guy name of Smith but it’s over Vic’s head – and some local dirty cops have him over his old Ohio sheet. Which is not as clean as it could be, him banging around in search of some kind of life after the 101st let him go. At the moment he’s over on the west side and feeling real exposed.

Vic gives him the phone and address of a reasonable man he knows, who will board Jim no questions asked, at least for a short time, for money. They’ll speak again soon.


Scene: red-light district

Theme: Pursuit of the Pimpmobile

From where Vic is sitting in the all-night diner he sees an anonymous blue Ford cruise slowly along the curb opposite, driver’s side to where Cherry and a couple of other girls are standing. The steady but slow traffic here isn’t a major problem and doesn’t stop Vic seeing Cherry’s signal as she leans down to the driver’s window.

Vic moves swiftly across the road and through traffic, motioning Arby to get round behind the Ford. Jon stumps along behind Arby, as gamely as he can.

Vic’s spotted, or Cherry gives the game away, and just as Vic roars “gotcha fool!” the driver grabs Cherry’s arm and hits the gas. She’s dragged along, screaming. Vic latches onto the Ford’s door handle and Arby sprints along right behind Cherry. He can see the driver: face distorted into a maniac grin. He’s Asian. The car is really at pace now, and there’s a power-pole right on the curb that will kill Cherry when she hits it.

Vic jiggles the handle, gets the button down, but can’t quite yank it open at this speed.

Behind them all Jon uses his stick to power out a quick burst of light between the driver and Cherry. It’s perfectly placed: Cherry is let go, Arby keeps sprinting and swoops her up and away before she can smash her ribs on the fast-approaching pole. Vic, startled, gets the door open just enough to grab wildly at the seat-leather but misses his hold and the car races away, weaving through traffic. A business card, or something very like it, flutters down at Vic’s feet. He picks it up and tucks it away after a quick glance.


Scene: Ward Square

Theme: Pusherman

Boss Creed is finishing up a rousing speech about progress and city renewal, pumping the cause of Black Advancement in union with Public-Private Enterprise. It sounds as though a large Federal fund is being used for this particular scheme. He introduces the head of Farmatec, to much applause from his own people in the audience and polite applause from his loyal voters. Local journalists busily write in shorthand, and cameras click and flash.

The white hats are watching. They’re interested in this Farmatec president, but just as interested in seeing that Mitchell Delaney, the big cheese from Blackhand Security, is right there as the Farmatec man’s coat-holder. Seems like he’s still ‘expanding the footprint’ locally.


Credit-roll scene:

Barnabas Marshall is up on the stand behind Boss Creed. He’s spotted Vic. The view pans across the square to Asha Barkley, standing well back in the shadows with her pet thug. Two tough-looking whiteys in sunglasses are watching the pair of them. The view pans and zooms to a plain black sedan. Smoke escapes from the rear passenger window.


GM’s corner

Worth noting? Vic is now the rich one with Resources 0. The others are all on -1. Any purchase has to be made prudently. Opportunities for making bread/green should not be ignored.

There are a lot of plot points up in the air, so I’m hoping at least a couple become clearer and resolve themselves into plot lines, next session. Stay tuned!

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CD2: Cleaned Out of Town

In which five ageing whitey whitebreads of the 10s pretend to be young hip black dudes of the 70s.

Cast of White Hats

Roosevelt ‘Arby’ Brown: player DL. A build that emphasizes speed and card-sharping rather than anything else. This episode, Arby rebalances a little, lowering Influence and raising Kung Fu. He avoids a Cowardice drawback.
Victor ‘Vic’ Creed: player DB. A true min-max tank and restrained with difficulty to a mere 10 points of drawbacks. He has had a 3-point Mental Disorder replaced with a 3-point Obligation to the Mission.
Steve (or Stevie) ‘the cutter’ Cutter: player SM. A nicely-balanced fighting build.
Jon Samedy: player AL. A vodou priest/doctor, using a coco macaque (stick) as a 3-point Quality. He has Oral Tradition rather than Occult Library.

Warning: taken out of context this post contains offensive material

Scene: PD3’s jail

Theme: Trouble Man

Stevie’s still got a swollen jaw from the last time he asked for a lawyer, but they process him out anyway. Maybe Cleo’s protest group – mostly ho’s what had just been kicked out but some of the ex-Panthers from the Rec Centre too – has made the charges more trouble than they’re worth. Or maybe that older white dude that took Arby away had something to do with it. Either way he’s a free man. Stevie shuffles over to Cleo, not exactly the walk of shame but he’s not feeling too fly.

“Girl, this is just a thing, what it is, The Man got me in wrong…”

“You on’y got one thing be ‘shamed fo’, Steve Cutter! An’ that how yo’ babies don’ gonna see you tonight! Tell me Iz wrong!”

“Uhh, an’how, Iz good fo’ th’ money you got comin’ sugah. Got’ be slippin’ cuz work be callin’…”

Feeling like the commitment-shy louse he is, The Cutter crawls off.


Scene: PD3’s (clean) interview room

Theme: Sweetback’s Theme

Arby smells smoker-man before he sees him. A well-aged whitey, expensive suit, eyes permanently crinkled up from the haze of smoke from his cigarette.

“Roosevelt Brown? Right, that’s you is it boy? I’ll have a word with you, just finishing a quick look through your file…”

It’s a solid stack in police manila, so Arby concludes it really is his file. Smoker-man continues:

“Hmm, your life to date has not been that of a model citizen, has it Mr Brown? Well, there’s an opportunity for you to eh, ‘do the right thing’ as it were. I take it you do care that your father is dead?”

“He dead? But th’ doc…”

“Oh – yes, dead I’m afraid. So, you are concerned? Right. I’m Head of Station Malcolm Lansing, CBI. This is your opportunity to get out of this shooting business and work with us.”

Arby decides to go with the flow, and accepts the role of snitch. He gets a number to call, then Lansing tells him they’ll be bringing him to his pappy’s house to see what might be missing. They know he stole the keys from there. Apparently those ‘conspiracy to commit’ charges have gone now he’s committed himself.


Scene: Outside the Dean’s Office, CWRU

Theme: Soul Man

Jon’s out of handcuffs, but a pair of large campus policemen are standing down the corridor, between him and the exit. He’s seated on the uncomfortable form usually reserved for wrongdoing students. At least his stick is back by his side.

His senses are wired though: sounds he’d usually tune out are coming in loud and clear. Salespeople a corridor away, bragging up the targets they are going to hit. He vaguely recalls they work with Farmatec, a private concern affiliated with the Med Lab. Alternately grumbling and whining exchanges behind the Dean’s door. Finally a worried staffer exits and hurries away clutching a sheaf of papers… that dude’s from another wing of this place – the Clinic. Not Jon’s territory – mostly drug trials for middleweight pharma firms like Farmatec.

The Dean doesn’t waste time. Jon is fired. Out of concern for the University’s reputation, the charges have been dropped. In a bewilderingly short time he’s on his own, with a small box of personal possessions, looking west down University Circle. Off in the northern haze a scow’s horn blasts scornfully. Lacking a fixed destination, Jon limps home, forgetting that his car is parked back on campus.


Scene: VA Hospital’s Psychiatric Unit

Theme: Cold Sweat

Jon’s calling, courtesy of the Junior League. And his back still smarts from the cane maman laid over it, after he got home. Chided gently by such phrases as:

“Don’ gimme that Creole Jon, you been American these twenny years! I’ll knock the Black off you!”

He’s surprised to find Vic Creed. Though come to think of it, those six policemen dragging Vic away did say they knew the guy and where to send him.

Jo’s also surprised to find that Vic seems quite rational. What’s he doing in the psych ward anyway? Well, the staff there need beds and his diagnosis helps things along. Vic is freed, and the two of them are eventually standing in much the same place Jon was earlier that morning.

There’s a black sedan, nicely polished, too far away to see who the driver is. And closer to hand a thin, anonymous type is leaning, idly watching them. After a quick debate the two decide to head through lower Hough around Fairfax then drop down towards the Brother Gloves gym.


Scene: Soul Food Diner near the Brother Gloves gym

Theme: Boot-Leg

Steve and this light-skinned brother that was waiting in the gym settle into the Soul Food diner. Dude’s name is Jude Humphrey. He starts out by claiming he’s with the DA’s office ‘in a manner of speaking’ but when he pushes across a business card, it says he’s with DeNaRes out in the county. And eat up, he’s got an expense account.

“So… what do ‘Department of Natural Resources’ gotta do inna city?”

“Oh… we catch the odd stray wildlife. Raccoons, that sort of thing. It’s a handy card to have, anyway. Hang onto it. Call me if you need something.”

Steve starts pulling a bill off his thin roll but Jude, if that’s his name, beats him to it, laying a twenty down as if it’s nothing. They part ways.


Scene: Prof. Brown’s apartment

Theme: Purple Haze

Arby kind of hates to go back in and look at THAT WALL again but since Lansing is there, he don’t see much choice. But something smells different – kind of a bleach smell. And a newish smell, a bit like paint. And something is off about the doorway.

The wall is completely bare. The stand and vase of flowers that was against it has been moved carelessly off to one side. The beat-up floor has a scatter of paint and paper chips, badly swept clean. Arby looks close at the wall. It’s not been painted over – it’s been stripped back – new wallpaper been put up. And the door’s completely gone.

He stands there feeling like he’s looking down a deep well. Lansing’s bored voice comes through, eventually, along with cigarette smoke.

“Yeah. Wall might have told us something about why your father was a target. We think you might be able to help… fill in the blanks, heh.”

Arby can do that: he’s got this freaky memory trick where he can ‘re-see’ what’s he read. It got him lazy through high school. But just the image gets him freaky again.

Lansing finds a decent size piece of paper from somewhere, and Arby sets himself down at his pop’s worn sideboard in the dinette, and draws what he saw that day. He’s no artist, and it’s all in one colour since that what he remembers in. Lansing takes a look.

“What’s this gap?”

“’At’s where door was, man.”

“What was on the door?”

“Dunno, I guess I open the door an’ lef’ it open.”

“But look – most of the arrows go into the doorway. There’s a word, or piece of a word here. ‘Clinic’ maybe. Mean anything? You didn’t see which clinic?”

“No man, Iz freakin’ out jus’ seein’ all they shit written there.”

“Hmmph. Less than satisfactory. Well, keep your nose clean, Mr Brown, we’ll be in touch.”


Scene: on Chester just past the Dunham

Theme: It’s a Shame

Vic takes a slow look back and round. Using the one-ways they seem to have lost The Man’s car, but the foot tail is still idling after them. Jon isn’t set up for running and he’d rather ambush anyway. Picking a clump of bushes overgrown nigh to being trees Vic signals Jon and they swing down a walk past the old tavern, keeping a Church tower as a landmark ahead, and duck out of sight.

It doesn’t work. Vic is just too big. The wiry dude makes with the feet – the other way.

Shrugging, and passing off a low five, the pair ease on down over Euclid and towards the Brother Gloves gym.


Scene: Outside the Brother Gloves gym

Theme: Superfly

A volley of gunshots brings Arby running: The Cutter’s already there of course: and Jon and Vic come stompin’ in from around a north corner – catching an impression of a dark sedan moving away fast. A brother’s just been gunned down outside the gym. Haile Selassie has thrown his last pose: face up, grimacing, fist raised in defiance.

Steve’s determined to take some action to avenge the brother lying fist-up in the street, and asks Arby where Haile Selassie might have stashed anything he took from the Med Lab, or was trying to hide. Arby can think of three likely places so they set off directly.


Scene: Haile Selassie’s pad

Theme: Boom Boom

At the likeliest, there’s another whitey waiting for them, well-dressed, shit-eating grin on his face. Jon keeps him talking while the others get in and start searching.

The man’s name, according to him, is Mitchell Delaney, some kind of big wheel with Blackhand Security. According to him they are ‘extending their footprint’ in this part of the world and don’t mind ‘working with local contacts.’

Meanwhile the other three toss the pad, Steve having the idea that a fly brother like Selassie would stash something outside down the fire escape wall. He’s right, and prys away a piece of siding that conceals – not papers – but a rock. With screwy marks on it.

About that same instant, a sedan howls to a stop outside, four armed men jump out and hell breaks loose.

Without stopping to scan the area, three race up the steps, throwing lead into the stairwell. They are not bothering with silencers. The fourth, the wheelman, does have his eyes open and sees Delaney, who stands out like a well-dressed whitey in Central. The guy lifts his pistol in one hand and empties it into the middle distance, none of the shots coming close to the target except by chance. Jon has strategically taken cover behind Delaney, who whips out an RT handpiece and calls for support. Jon escapes around the building and towards overgrown trees out back.

Upstairs the other three skedaddle down the fire escape, Vic taking the entire window frame with him and ignoring the cuts. They too take to the wilderness of feral allotments and all four make their way away as two police units and a private car with a Blackhand logo race in to help Delaney.

It’s time to lie low. They toss around a few ideas, but since Steve’s point that Alderman Creed is the one most likely paying for the hits, they decide not to go anywhere he would expect.


Scene: Stevie’s pad

Theme: Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing

Eighteen hours of rest and sending out for meals has worn billfolds thin. Vic didn’t have any, Arby only had the bills the cops didn’t find. Steve heads out to open up the gym and collect a paycheck, and Vic checks in with his home.

His mom is relieved to hear from him, and it seems like she’s been lining up help. She knows he’s been released from the VA psych unit and has heard he’s in trouble.

“I’m sending a note round by messenger. It’ll have details, but honey, you get yourself out to the reservoir. Not the Lakes reservoir of course – Baldwin. There’ll be a man out there you can trust, called Roosevelt. If you don’t find him, ask for Kelly Anderson. She’ll look after you all. And honey? You have money for a cab? I’ll send some round with the boy.”


Scene: Brother Gloves Gym

Theme: Mercy Mercy Me

Steve’s a little late in, and again, there’s a dude perched on the ringside. This one’s built for middle distance not heavy-bag work – maybe around thirtyish but with some grey showing on his short-cropped hair. Wise eyes and a half smile. Wearing a dog-collar.

“C’n I do for you, padre?”

“How do, son. Iz callin’ in as a perfessional courtesy, seein’s how you be a ‘quaintance of my, uh, Uncle Jon Samedy.”


“S’kinda comp’icated, son. Get Jon t’ ‘splain it maybe. Anyhow, thought Iz let you know, you a marked man. Time to get gone. If I see you again, it be through a telescopic sight.”



Scene: crossing the Detroit rail link

Theme: Don’t Look Back

The taxi got them all to Jon’s Plymouth in the University carpark where he left it, and the Plymouth is getting them round and up to Baldwin.

Vic and Arby are keeping an eye out the back. In case of tails, Jon has decided to idle down the road until a transit unit comes up the cutting, then dash across ahead of it. Steve’s calling distance and watching the west side. It works fine. Jon guns the engine in low gear, the car rocks across yawing up and down on its sloppy suspension.

Vic and Arby both see the same thing: As the unit comes up out the cutting, a man plunges head-first out a door, terror on his face: face-plants into the cutting side with an impact they fancy they can hear. Leaning out the door, just briefly before the unit gets into sunlight, a brother, eyes glaring – blazing almost yellow – then he yanks himself back in and the door shuts.

Vic feels a stab of despair: another killing! The others argue against turning back and Jon keeps his foot down.

“Anyhow, a dead whitey ain’t nothing,” Arby reassures Vic, but the big brother is plunged into depression for the rest of the day.


Scene: the DeNaRes station, Baldwin Reservoir

Theme: Higher Ground

Kelly Anderson is a nice surprise, Vic discovers once he’s eased his frame up out of Jon’s Plymouth. She’s maybe forty but it’s a young and fit forty. Her skin is café au lait, she wears her hair fairly straight and onto her shoulders, and she fills the Wildlife Officer uniform out in all the right places. She welcomes them all, taking a curious and closer look at Arby.

Jeremiah Roosevelt, she explains, is not in right at this moment, but things have been readied for them. She takes them inside, and the smell of cheap bad coffee and slightly burnt crust welcomes them to the ranger station. Kelly takes a big manila envelope out of a drawer and slides it over.

“What is you do, exactly, Miz Anderson?” Stevie asks curiously, looking at the fake ID with his face on it. Apparently he’s a Wildlife Officer now.

“Call me Kelly, honey,” she reassures him, “Why my branch of DeNaRes really does look after wildlife. Some of it wilder and stranger than others. We gen’ally call them raccoons, around the city. Explains most things.”

Some minutes pass as the four finish orientation and grab coffee and a bite. The ‘regular’ officers are lounging outside, enjoying the late-lunch sun. One’s an Asian, one’s Latino and one’s a cute, preppy-looking girl. Steve strikes up an easy rapport with her, and discovers that Laura is something of a party girl, and is looking forward to getting to know him better. Arby tries some Vietnamese on the Asian and gets a ‘yeah, us Asians are all the same’ look from him.


Kelly returns from trying to get hold of J Roosevelt, and says she has a job for them.

“So you want us to what?”

“None of the regular officers here like goin’ into creepy old factories after ‘raccoons’ and as chance happens, we got a call about one, just out this way. I figure you’d like to test the water, so to speak, go an’ ketch the little rascals and settle things down.”

“You givin’ us guns then?”

“Mercy no child! You get catch-poles, an’ a baton, an’ a good solid torch. More than enough for this kinda job.”

“Ain’t we s’pose’a’kill then?”

“Why would you? Mostly, we release the raccoons to the wild again. Oh, an’ as a big bonus, if you do good on this job, you get to drive the station van.”

Feeling deeply confused, and not particularly enthused about the van (like the Mystery Machine but without the paint job) the four gather their equipment and set out afoot for the old Golden Crème Delights factory. It will be mid-afternoon by the time they get there.


GM’s corner

  1. I used the fadeout scene of CD1 to step the posse through the process of going to negative life points. At zero, the Prof makes a consciousness roll (Con+Will) and spends a drama point, making it. There is a negative of 1 per 10 negative Life Points. Subsequently, the Prof also makes a Survival Test under the same conditions. He’ll need to keep making 1 a minute.Jon’s Doctor plus Intelligence helps with both stabilizing and resuscitating. For the latter, the Doctor/resuscitator can spend their drama points as well. Since I don’t want to drain Jon’s drama points, I leave the step-through there.

  2. Big Pistols, such as the one the wheelman was shooting with, are Unsteady if not held in two-hand FBI posture. -2 to hit. Big Pistols do 15 damage. Any damage that gets through armor is doubled, so it does not take many shots to whittle away all Life Points.


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CD1: The Clean-up Incident

In which five ageing whitey whitebreads of the 10s pretend to be young hip black dudes of the 70s

Warning: taken out of context this post contains offensive material.


Scene 1: Roosevelt ‘Arby’ Brown

Theme music: Sweetback’s Theme

The new rapid rail is coming in to the transit exchange, and R Brown – ‘Arby’ to people that can stand him – has his Find the Lady stand ready for the suckers coming in to grind away – just enough for the city! They’s getting off now. Time to make the show. Only trouble is, there’s some solid-built dude shouting in his face! Roosevelt ducks his skinny frame down a little, trying to sift the jive to tell if this blood’s got a real beef. It all sounds random shouting, until he yells:

“An don’ think I ain’t bringin’ down tha’ brother a’ hers on ya ass! He be gettin’ a real good story a’ me! You list’nin’ fool? I need Green! Or I ain’t goin’ away now! Dig?”

Arby can see the suckers drifting away from the train, slow like they real tired, hunched against another workday. He’s lost his crowd. And out of the corner of his eye something…? But right now, he can’t get his rap going like he wants to, his throat is dry, another failure!

Roosevelt Brown lives mostly with his mom in Central, though plenty of nights he’s crashed at some blood’s pad, or crawled into the arms of a lonely sista-girl. His mom – not his birth mom – is vicar at St. James AME, and has had a down on him ever since the first time she heard her baby made some girl into a baby-mama. It’s not a good fit with the message of Saving It For Marriage she preaches. He’s got a weakness for women that want to look after him, he admits it, but he wants to do the right thing by them. One day he’ll get rich, then he’ll buy them fancy clothes and a house and his kids – three in all – will never have to worry about where their next meal comes from.

Failure tastes like bile on Arby’s tongue and near chokes him as he dodges up the steps into the blinding heat of Woodland, past the tail of the slow-moving commuters, and as the mook bellows slowly in his wake, he takes his skinny ass through traffic. Traffic he fails to avoid.


Scene 2: Victor ‘Vic’ Creed

Theme: Paint it Black

The morning sun is already turning the square in front of the Ward Office Building into a griddle. Only a skeleton crew of four protesters is out here: there’s the crazy no-legs brother in his wheelchair, dirty blanket draped over where he ought to have legs, screaming about death and justice in his thin cracked voice. He’s always out here, since the VA is located here. There’s two sistas, barely bothering to raise fist at the windows or passing cars. And there’s him: big, crazy-twitching Vic. He often can’t focus on why he’s anywhere. When he does, his hands start shaking and his eyes water and the smell of flesh cooking off fills his head.

Vic’s family is proudly Republican and probably the only GOP vote in the ward. They keep him in clothes and give him an allowance, but he can’t always remember to get real to get home to get fed. Then he’ll remember the times his pops taught him to shoot, or how his sis looks up at him from her wheelchair, or how his niece pretends to be scared of him, and he’ll get back home again.

Something’s catching his eye, off in traffic, but right now, there’s a blood fronting and he’s big enough for this troubled giant – the maximum height the Airborne services allowed – to feature as a threat.

This guy’s easily as big as Vic, and fitter. Vic half-recognizes him – he’s a coat-holder for Vic’s uncle, Alderman Creed. Barnabas something….

“Lissen up boy…”

Not a good start! But Barnabas has the hard life experience to front and intimidate the younger man.

“Iz lis’nin.”

He starts to ‘lay it out’ for Vic: His Uncle don’t need no publicity, no protest, don’t need his name called up at City Hall.

Vic’s attention wanders. A thin brother is snaking through traffic… the crazy screaming vet has been turning, turning that chair, now he runs it out into the road, screaming at the cars… and there’s a squeal of brakes and a crash of metal on metal and the vet is smeared over the kerb. Someone’s shaking his shoulder:

“You mind me now, chump!”

Barnabas is furious now. He’s yelling something about People Watching: Enemies as well as Friends. Yeah, ever’one’s ever’thing. Don’t mean nothing. Inside Vic’s head Mick Jagger’s voice is shouting.


Scene 3: Steve “the cutter” Cutter

Theme: Trouble Man

Steve Cutter, still known from his prime fight days (a few years back now) as The Cutter, is readying the Brother Gloves gym for the day crowd, not that it ever gets crowded. Coming back in with some soul food from the joint down the road, he discovers that a thin older dude is hovering. He doesn’t look like someone that’s always wanted to shape up, either: he’s wearing a long light bluish coat or smock and has a satchel.

In a very tense, almost crazed voice he demands to see Boss Creed.

“He ain’t work here, fool,” Stevie explains kindly, “He a downtown man, owns the biz, ain’t managin’ it. Step off!”

Clutching the satchel to his smocked chest, the old guy warns Stevie that he’s got the details, he knows what’s going down, and it’s trouble for Creed. The Cutter has a loyalty to the owner, so he asks if he could explain. Gym patrons are drifting in, and the old man is nervous, so wants to talk about it somewhere else. To Stevie’s surprise the oldster names Little Haiti, in the evening.

The Cutter is loyal to his paycheck. He needs the money to support his baby-mama Cleopatra, even though she stepped out with that rat Arby and came away with another kid to go with the two that are his. He loves Kimba like he loves Kenyatta and little Jomo. On top of those hungry mouths there’s sometimes a fine or bribe to get Cleo out vacation time. She’s a street protester from way back. And of course his moms isn’t working much and the rent on their historic home needs paying. He phones the Ward office.

After a false start the Cutter finds he’s been put through to Creed’s office. A solemn-sounding brother with a voice like he’s as big as a room takes some details and hangs up without thanking him.


Scene 4: Jon Samedy

Theme: Soul Man

It’s evening and Jon Samedy is leaning, dog-tired as usual, against the Little Haiti bar, walking-stick nearby. He and the club’s barkeep are about the only crew in the joint, it being so early even the conventioneers haven’t found their way in. He’s shucked his bloodstained fatigues and is dressed for as much success as he usually has – none. Then his luck changes when the foxy mama walks in. Sashays in.

In his gran’-mēre’s day she would have been called a high-yaller, a creamy-skinned octoroon who could probably pass, except sista’s got her hair in a proud ‘fro as wide as her shoulders, with a comb stuck in it. Her outfit hugs her like a lover except for her flares, which are double-wide and deep enough to cover her platforms. And she leans over near Jon.

She seems to know who he is, introduces herself as Asha, and asks if they can speak privately. Jon says yes of course, retrieves his curiously-carved stick, and limps across the club dance floor to the deep-cushioned booths on the other side. The Little Haiti experience isn’t really helped by the fake voodoo shit on the walls and ludicrously out of place fake palms, but it does offer some camouflage.

Asha Barkley seems to be out of some agency, though she claims to be a freelancer, and she talks as though her paper – if that’s what it is – has a budget big enough to offer Jon a scholarship for the final stretch of his medical degree. Naturally there’s a trade-off and it seems to have something to do with helping his people, though Asha is very vague about that.

By the time the small talk and explanations are that far in, more people have arrived and they include the Cutter, a boxer and gym-trainer who is maybe a year or three younger than Jon and (like many in the Fairfax-Central border area) has a lot of respect for how far he’s got in life. Asha calls a halt and promises they’ll meet again. He says adieu. She gives a real handclasp now. Her hand is warm, her eyes cinnamon.

Jon could use the extra money, even though his family has financed his Case Western pre-med and intern career so far. He’d love to be able to support maman and give back something to the Haitian community that holds them in such respect.

The Cutter bumps with the barkeep and joins Jon. In short time he explains. His description of the oldster catches Jon’s attention.

“Sound like Professor of Computer Sciences, over on my campus mon. He be name Truman Brown.”

“He taken his sweet time,” grumbles Stevie, “maybe we roll that way, check on him?”

“Amen, be so.”

The two men pimp-roll out of Little Haiti. Jon confidently leads the way round back to the carpark and gestures to a Plymouth.

“Fancier wheels than I got,” Stevie admits.

It’s cooking hot even past sundown, so the windows stay down as they roll up Cedar to the University circle.

Flashback: Just west of Woodland Cemetery

Theme: Sexy Sexy Sexy

Arby’s got his own pimp-roll on, lookin’ good, he tells himself as he skirts by the apartment where one of his kids is being raised up believing his old man is dead. Same as the other two. All over a scheme that started out so right and just went so wrong. Speaking of kids, there’s some playing at that alley. Or are they kids? Arby blinks and looks closer: they kind of red-black, scrawny and scaly under those clothes… but then they fade back into the shadows as if they see him noticing.

Man got to eat to plan the next game. Arby eases into a greasy spoon joint, planning to skip. He’s just set down when a hand like a meat plate lands on his collar.

“You the mutha done run through traffic, got a brutha killed! What you head at, fool? That some Oreo jive!”

Twisting around in his jacket and shirt, Arby sees a deep black snarling face and bloodshot eyes like a crazy man’s.

Think of something! Say anything! Or he’ll pull your arm off and beat you to death with it!

“Ooh man, hadda getaway! See it was this weird dude! On the train! He givin’ evil eye! Uuhh… you not lis’nin a’ ya?”

No he’s not, you better do some ducking and running Roosevelt

His wriggling has no effect, until the monster is distracted by the phone ringing just behind the counter. The cook and server have ducked away, like all the other diners did. The gorilla keeps hold of Arby’s collar as he leans over and picks up the handset.

<Job for tonight> a deep, vaguely familiar voice says, <The computer lab, CWRU. Cleanup needed.>

Vic hangs up thoughtfully and notices he’s still clutching a jacket. And nothing else. Come to think of it, wasn’t that scrawny twig Roosevelt Brown? My half-brother?


Flashback: outside the Ward Office

Theme: Take me to the River

Barnabas is distracted by the crash. Vic has a decision to make. He turns from Barnabas and hurries to the vet’s side. He has no trauma skills, but has seen plenty of dying soldiers: this one already has Death writing in shadow script across his face.

The vet reaches up and they clasp hands, blood smears…

“Stop the killings – stop the apocalypse.”

This and flashing visions of many things smash through Vic’s haze. His head comes together and his hands aren’t shaking as he stands up, now with a mission again.


Flash forward: the greasy spoon joint

There’s a few ways ‘cleanup’ could be read but Vic can read between the lines too. There’s going to be a killing up at the computer lab. He’s going to have to go up there and check it.


Scene: on Quincy outside the Library

Theme: Sweetback’s Theme

Arby’s luck changes when the limo slides to a halt near an honesty box. It’s a long full-limo Lincoln, probably only a few months old. The chauffeur gets out and steps over to the box, takes a paper, then opens the passenger door and hands it in. From his angle Arby can see an expensive-dressed old white guy smoking… or is he smoking? Is that steam? … but by the time he’s blinked the door is shut and the limo rolls. Leaving a $50 lying near the honesty box. It’s in Arby’s mitt in an instant!

He swaggers off to the nearest men’s outfitters, to replace his lost jacket, and thence to a real eatery.

Scene Swipe: later still…

“Yo! Arby man, wha’ hap?”

“Hey Hi! Nothin’ shakin’.”

Haile Selassie “Hi” Barkley is the diametric opposite of Arby. Rugged, smart and relatively hard-working. But the two have worked together in some successful capers.

“Arby man, this is good timing. You gotta help me! The Man’s squeezing me – and I need to deliver man, or The Man’s gonna have my balls in the ringer!”

“What’s the deal?”

“You c’n get me access to the Med Lab up at the U man – you old man gotta key. I needs ya ta get me the key, so I can grab what The Man needs to get off my back.”

Arby hesitates, his natural spinelessness at war with his natural instinct to do what the much bigger, faster and tougher man wants.

“You be doin’ me a solid, blood, and look how many solids I done you!”


Scene Swipe: later still…

Arby eases the door open and walks through his old man’s mess. Not much of a place. Real mess here. What’s that on the wall?


There’s lines and triangles and circles and rhomboids and octagons and smears and scrawls and colors bleeding into colors… things begin to click inside Arby’s head… things like why he keeps seeing ‘Have You Seen My Dog’ or ‘Lost Cat’ posters all up and down… some Missing Children posters too…

“You got it yet?”

Arby jumps, switches on a couple lights, finds the key-cupboard easy enough and fishes out the spare Med Lab key. The two ease back out, making sure nothing’s out of place. Then they set off at an easy pimp-roll up to University.


Scene: Outside the Science Center

Theme: Superfly

Jon and Steve are walking – slowly and quietly – keeping to the shadows around the Stone Chapel. Adelbert Hall just ahead offers plenty more cover. Ease on down, ease on down, quiet and slow.

Roosevelt and Haile Selassie are easing quietly in past Adelbert Gym towards the Med Lab.

Vic’s boots crunch on the sidewalk, straight up, light or no light. Naturally he’s blocked by two of CWRU’s campus police, night-sticks out.

“You got no bizniz here boy!”

Vic charges right at them, and dives in a slam-tackle that takes both of them.

As he rises to his feet, the two cops – bottom-dollar night cops but toting a badge for all that – are suddenly set on by Haile Selassie, who stomps their heads with a solid size 12 brogue. They sleep. Vic grabs one of their batons, then sees it’s a soul-brother helping. Arby is lurking in the background. Haile Selassie is offered a baton, and strikes a kung-fu pose – then the scene is interrupted by something like a door being slammed, really fast, several times.

Vic knows that’s gunfire though he can’t place what type of gun.

But Jon and the Cutter are practically on top of the sound: it’s coming from directly ahead, in the science center. They both break into a run but Stevie, being fast and fit, is much faster than Jon. The lights have gone off in the center ahead, but he’s heading in fast anyway.

He catches enough movement to be aware of three people, and focuses on the one guarding the wing entrance. The dude starts swinging something up…

Jon hammers his stick’s ferrule onto the walk and cries out:

“San’ Pe’re! Lumee!”

But instead of a fine brilliance, there’s a weird adumbrated flash, more purple than anything, like a curved dome over the hall…

Steve finishes his charge with a dragon kick and the goon, distracted by the flash, hasn’t got his gun up and hasn’t dodged and he goes down, KO’d. Steve breathes a sigh of relief, because that looked a lot like an Ingram, but now he picks it up, he can see it’s some type of light carbine with a heavy silencer.

Jon limps closer and hears a cry for a medic…


Scene: a room inside the Science Center

Theme: Pick up the Pieces

First through the door, the Cutter makes pretty sure that the two other guns got gone. Roosevelt’s old man is splattered all across the floor and walls, though he’s still breathing and gasping out something.

“Medic! Jon! Got a man dyin’ here!”

Jon hurries in as quick as he can, and sets to work. But with nothing to work with it’s a lost cause.

“Get me a trauma kit! Get some lights on!”

Haile Selassie sees his chance and badgers Arby again for the key, then sets off at a run for the Med Lab.

Vic takes in the scene, while Steve, who’s inclined to search for the satchel first, reluctantly delegates that to Arby – “yo’ old man hadda satchel – find it!” – then sets out to locate the switchbox.

By the time the lights are on, Haile Selassie, much to Vic’s surprise, has come back toting a big green metal medical kit he’s ripped off the wall.

It’s some help. Jon is good at trauma work.

“Here’s the satchel – it was empty! Did it have some bones in it?” Arby wants to know. “I could do with some real Green!”

Somewhat disgustedly, most of them recognize Arby. Jon spent a short while pumping gas next to him back when they were both teens, before Arby got fired for being a light-fingered malingerer, and of course the Cutter knows whose baby he’s paying for. Haile Selassie introduces himself – striking a fly pose again – before Vic carries the dying professor across the compound, into the Med School compound and to the surgery.

Fade scene with university cops swarming in guns drawn, to Jon claiming he can still save the man…

Credit roll scene:

Haile Selassie slips away with whatever it was he wanted. He meets a dark, important-looking car, and hands some package in the driver’s window with a few words exchanged. The car rolls away. We can see all this from behind the dash of another dark important-looking car, where a woman’s fingers are holding the wheel.


GM’s corner

This was our character generation session and first hit-out of the ‘real’ rules using BtVS.

Here is the cast in order of appearance:

Roosevelt ‘Arby’ Brown: player DL. A build that emphasizes speed and card-sharping rather than anything else.

Victor ‘Vic’ Creed: player DB. A true min-max tank and restrained with difficulty to a mere 10 points of drawbacks.

Steve (or Stevie) ‘the cutter’ Cutter: player SM. A nicely-balanced fighting build. 

Jon Samedy: player AL. AL spent a lot of time shaping this vodou priest/doctor, I costed the coco macaque (stick) as a 3-point Quality. This may prove too light.

For those looking at the rules:

  • Black is a 1 to 3 point drawback;

  • Female is a 1-point drawback, but no-one took it which is just as well;

  • Photographic Memory is a 4-point Quality, but DL (Roosevelt’s player) still bought it;

  • Everyone is a White Hat. Those wishing to play a teen could not push attributes beyond 3 before Quality changes; those wishing to play an under-30 could not push attributes beyond 4 before Quality changes. Everyone went with a 20-something, though SM had a teen ready as well.

  • Everyone had to be African-American, and not be a monster. Other than that, I also wanted them to live pretty much in the same area.

  • I used Character Webs and a little bit of Universal NPC Emulator to flesh out family and some work-related facts. It was supposed to be a dialogue, but everyone was OK with what I suggested.

There are a number of commercially-available products feeding into this campaign, and in weeks to come I will probably cite them, but here I’d like to tip my hat to Les Roberts whose Milan Jacovich stories have built Cleveland into something I wanted to run a game in.

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GM-Free SHC Season 5: Full Session 3

Welcome back to this third and final instalment of the mini-season of SHC Season 5!

A d20 Modern campaign run by five players and no GM, using Emulators.

We last left our crew of L15 urban arcana characters in their secret base, which needs a lot of things finished to be a real base where people can live. It has mystical wards, but not much more.

  • Dan: AKA Dan ‘Steeleye’ Hewstone: ex-radio psychiatrist and now Acolyte of the faith

  • Cliff: ex-bouncer and now close-protection Bodyguard for the team

  • Hitch: AKA Joe Hitchcock: ex-journo and now powerful Arch-mage of the Mage style

  • Paul: AKA Paul Birkby: ex-white-collar crim and now powerful Arch-mage of the Technomage style

  • Sandi: ex-student and now Gunslinger of the Infiltrator style


Action Point: these frequently appear in the mechanics though this week I skip naming when they are spent. Each character receives a number at each new level. They can only be spent during play, not earned. They grant a small number of advantages depending somewhat on feats, but are principally used to improve dice rolls in skill checks and saves. Most characters began season five with around 60 APs. Assume many of the key saves this session saw an Action Point or two thrown in. As an added feature for GM-Free they can also be used to ‘tag’ a scene.

Descriptions: When I use this term I’m referring to Description tables from the Location Crafter.

Emulator: When I use this term on its own I am referring to the Mythic GME.

Scene: The team’s base. Still.

“Say Hitchie, are you like totally sure we have to go like right now?”

Hitch pauses in packing his bag, his face suffused with emotion.


“OK well Hitch then. Same question. ‘Cause like Paul’s written up this cool schematic and I got to start climbing and wiring. And Cliff’s just assembling the door gizmo thingy.”

“Thing is luv, I got a message from Unit 14, and it’s not all Nice Guy North; it’s also Mean Joe Green. They want a nexus fixed in the worst way.”

“Well OK… only I did think with Dan still hurt and Cliff a teenchy bit banged up we could lay-up and anyway I got this cool idea about how we get to Three Fish Island!”

Hitch sighs, but some of that babble did make sense. Especially to an Arch-mage well shy of the Arch-bit when it came to spells in hand.

“It’s Third Fish Island Sandi. This is not Dr. Suess: it’s January in Chicago. Who would be insane enough to ferry us out into the middle of a Great Lake in winter?”

Mechanics: Since the last session ended on an Interrupt, we needed to check some of the detail around it.

  1. Is this ‘flaring Nexus’ Hitch has learned of also on Third Fish Island, where a previous mission has already aimed us?
  2. Is this something we have to deal with right now given we did not have a complete handle on the time we had rested?

The answers to these questions were extraordinary yes; and yes. Chaos is 5 as this is the start of a new session.

Scene: The team’s base, in a spot where Sandi can get good reception.

“Uh h’lo Uhleesha, it’s Sandi here! …Yeah hi, right, like totally! …So I’m in town… Yeah you had a feeling I’d be here…”

The other four listen with half an ear as Sandi works around to her point.

“So Leesha, Uncle Barry still around? Remember when he took us ice-skating, it must be like three years back! I like need a favor from him so like if you can send me his number, that would be so awesome!”

At length, Sandi ends the call.

“Uncle Barry is Uhleesha’s last father-but-one, he’s a pretty cool guy, and he works on Team Shogren, the powerboat thing, you know. I don’t figure he’d have a powerboat but he could put us onto something and maybe take us out.”

“Uhleesha was one of your room-mates, right?” Hitch verifies.

“Yeah, like, the bigger one.” Sandi gestures as to cup-size.

“I wasn’t going to say…” Hitch murmurs tactfully.

“Oh she totally wouldn’t mind, she loves how she’s got it over us other two in that department.”

After a brief discussion on approach and needs, Dan prays for Sandi’s charm to increase and she makes the next call. The others listen in as she puts it on speaker. This is easy to follow. Barry knows a guy, and if we have money, he could be the right guy for an unscheduled boat trip out into the deadly waters.

“But since we’re looking at heading east to the shore tomorrow morning, we do get to rest after all. Cliff, Sandi: keep working!”

Mechanics: There are no Chaos events. We use the NPC Emulator to set Barry’s mood in this conversation given his current relationship with Sandi, then move to d20 mechanics for Sandi’s Charisma check (at +5 rather than +3 thanks to Dan). Sandi uses an action point to get DC14. This is enough to give us a contact. The NPC Emulator indicates it is a contact, and that he wants money. Chaos moves to 4 as this scene went the way we wanted. The spellcasters are given a chance to rest in a compromise on time. It’s not logical that a boat could appear ready to take us, so some time has to elapse anyway.

Scene: a deserted parking-lot off Tower Road, on the lake.

“That’s a fancier boat than I’d expected,” Paul remarks. He scans it anxiously, one might say paranoiacally, for signs of coastguard or police insignia. The clear grey light of morning betrays no such thing. And there’s only one man on the jetty, though any number could be hiding behind the nearby ‘Tower’ building, its smokestack an easy landmark.

“Team Shogren has some really rich guys, like sponsors, you know. I guess Uncle Barry knows a guy with a fancy boat,” Sandi replies vaguely, being too busy moving bags of gear from Cliff’s Ford Excursion over to the jetty. She’s wrapped up much heavier than usual, and her nose barely pokes out of her fur-lined hood.

“Hmmm… oh well, let’s front up Dan, you do the talking I’ll chip in where needed,” Hitch avers.

Dan’s bulk is even bulkier in his winter layers and as he follows the man’s tottering path to the jetty, Hitch can’t help a mental picture of the sweat being wiped and a ‘Sheeeit’ escaping, even though Dan has never ever sworn in his presence. He does note the boat, a handsome launch, might have come from the north, where the rich estates are, many of them locked up for the winter.

Since Dan has a bundle of high-denomination notes, and knows how to talk to a brother, the negotiations are swift and successful. He can’t help but suspect that this boat is stolen, but the insurance claim of some vastly wealthy person is something he’s willing to live with. Glancing over at Hitch as they clamber down onto the launch deck, he can see the Britisher thinks the same.

“Cliff! Make sure to move the car back to somewhere less obvious!”

“Roger that!” Cliff replies cheerfully. He’s loving the position of key driver and he’s still stoked from installing the hardware needed before they left. The SUV rolls into the anonymity of the main carpark and under the barren embrace of a snow-laden beech.

“Nice-looking family,” Hitch comments, looking at a smiling family on the cabin’s wall. Every face is many shades whiter than their pilot’s.

“Oh, uh, sure, well no mind that now, H’ep y’sel’ ta th’ drinks cab’net!”

Mechanics: very similar to the last scene. There are no Chaos events. We make assumptions that the NPC is willing to deal, Dan makes a diplomacy check aided by Hitch (like most of this family of rules there is no ‘haggle’ in d20 modern) and the only question left for the Emulator is:

Is our contact willing to pilot us? [Likely] A: Yes.

There’s some doubt about how far south we had to go but, like the uncertainty of time between Dan’s action against the Harpies and our final return to base, it’s the simplest explanation that is used. Since we have money, our contact can meet us more or less due east of where our base is, so a short drive for us. We have not moved grid-wise, so no need to test for an event.

Chaos is back to 5, since we did not quite get the Uncle Barry solution we originally wanted.

Scene: the icy waters off Third Fish Island

“Is this it?”

“Shu’nough, that what the compass an’ GPS say. On’y compass be acting crazy, an’ wind be pickin’ up, so man, you gots to getcha asses on that dinghy and I gots to get depth!”

“Into the boat kids!”

Hitch turns back to ‘Slick Willie’ as he’s decided to name this anonymous pilot.

“There’s a dock somewhere around the island – we’ll meet you there tomorrow!”

“Can do! I knows ya don’ wanna be here longer than ya haveta!”

With a last wave the little dinghy speeds up to a sandy shoaling beach and Cliff jumps out and runs it well up, careless of the outboard’s setting. It’s a piece of salvage now anyway.

Mechanics: This was just dealt with via the Emulator. No Chaos event. Did he find the dock? No. Did he pack a boat for landing? Yes. Will he agree to meet us? Yes.

Chaos drops to 4 since we got where we wanted and landing at the dock (where the Deep Ones’ human hybrid allies are bound to notice) is not necessary.

Scene: Third Fish Island

Exploration: I have prepared a hybrid of Location Crafter and Mapping Cards, coupled to a playing card deck mechanic, for exploring Third Fish Island. (Having a week to prep made this easy.) I had not been happy with Mapping Cards on their own. By creating a number of unique and common cards I have a system that offered a random exploration with good chances to interact with the inhabitants.

Mission reminder: This is a thread given by Judge Maynard. “Recruit the Deep Ones” to help break the barrier.

Other threads: Close down the Nexus activity.

The team, burdened by heavy clothing and various bags, makes its way off the sandy shore and up through stands of evergreens, mainly pine, the needles sliding underfoot. Snow was old-packed into any northern slope or hollow.

Sandi, in the lead with ‘toaster’ or Nexus-device, crouches into cover and signals Cliff forward.

“Possible RP?”

Cliff weighs up the dangers of walking up to what looks like a lookout point, against the potential to spend the night walking through forest. He gives the thumbs-up and Sandi, shedding a layer of fur parka and a bag, weaves almost unseen up there. She gives a soft-called report, bringing the others up to the high ground to see what she has seen.

“Deep Ones!”

“That looks like some kind of ranking chief.”

“Actually Dan that would be a female,” Hitch explains. “I’ve done some background in this field and we could be looking at a Priestess.”

“Those others don’t look friendly.”

“They’d be her guard of honor. Brutes or maybe female Vestals, tough fighters either way.”

“So, we’ve caught our deep ones and now we just have to land them and cook them!”

“Not actually funny Cliff,” Paul snarks.

After some details from Hitch as to what the Priestess might bring down on them if negotiations go sour, Hitch and Dan buff themselves and set forth down the slope.

To the watching trio, it seems to take forever. But at length, the dynamic duo return and report.

“She’s given us the go-ahead!” Hitch announces jubilantly.

“I can only see God’s hand guiding us in this,” Dan agrees, “we can close the Nexus problem and it looks like that will sway her voice to our side for Deep Ones councils.”

“Whereabouts are we ‘going ahead’ to?” Paul asks acidulously. Cliff and Sandi muttering about ranges and damage from the G3 has frayed his patience.

“Down roughly opposite where we came from, there’s an old lighthouse. Apparently that’s where we have to sort something out,” Hitch explains cheerfully.

“To the lighthouse!” Paul sneers: even his cultural references have a barb in them.

Mechanics: exploration generated a chance of bad or good at DC13. The likelihood was that it was harmful but the Emulator disagreed. This meant that a Spot DC13 would provide an advantage. Success (it’s a take 1 for many in the party) moved us to a Description: Fortunately Warlike.

Since that ought to be Deep One related, I read possible deep ones out and we decided the logical one to meet was the Priestess (plus entourage). We were on a lookout, and the card drawn was a diamond meaning range, so the team had plenty of time to prep.

The scene then moved to a diplomacy session, though it probably should have been a new scene. The NPC Emulator gave us a current attitude off the norm, and d20 Diplomacy mechanics moved the priestess’ attitude to Friendly.

It was now time to learn what ‘Friendly’ actually meant. Returning to the NPC Emulator, now with Friendly as a base, we find her bearing is Prejudiced Discrimination. That sounds bad but I argued convincingly that this being an Advantage, means the priestess is discriminating enough to treat us different to all other humans and actually see us as useful.

So what is it that she wants us to do? The Description gives us ‘Rudely Glorious’ which suggests the abandoned lighthouse, and the Action gives us ‘Travel Liberty’ which means we can walk there without being attacked.

Chaos drops to 3.

Scene: approaching the lighthouse

Dan strides forward confidently, holding his cross-cane aggressively outthrust before him. A dozen or so grey-green foul beings launch themselves up out of the earth around the entrance, and he bellows:


Seven of the ghouls evaporate but the others mob Dan, who scuttles back unadroitly. Choking down a laugh Cliff hammers shots into two, dropping them, then a third that staggers and a fourth that falls as well. One remains unwounded, loping down and tearing at Dan’s coat. Hitch sprays Magic Missiles selectively into these two last, and they fall. Sandi has stood relaxed, coat open, side on, and as she expects, there is no call for her to produce her Glocks. Paul sniffs, rubs his nose’s tip with an ungloved hand, and hastily puts the hand pack in a fur-lined pocket.

Dan trudges back up to the lighthouse, poking at dead ghouls and making sure they really are dead.

“That was easy!”

“It could have been harder if we hadn’t met buried ghouls before. And of course we are pretty sure to spot this kind of thing. Well, kit ready, let’s get down there. No electricity and I gather there’s some kind of tunnels below ground. So let’s prep for darkness.”

Mechanics: since the things we did know about the lighthouse were that it does contain a route below ground, and that the Deep Ones want us there, it seemed best to roll descriptions again, as well as a Monster roll. There was no Chaos event.

The descriptions are: Slowly Empty; and Stop Nature.

We get quite excited thinking this could be a major league vampire, but I have not prepped a Vampire Lord (Note to self: prep Vampire Lord as a boss.) It seems undead-y, so when a monster roll comes up with a mere CR3, Dave, who is instigator this week, comes up with ghouls. I did forget to point out that Action Points used thus far could be used to boost the CR, but that came in later so was not wasted.

The descriptions also influence our choice for the level boss later.

The ‘buried’ ghouls are my own touch, they could just as easily have been pouring out of the lighthouse and adjunct building. Either way we did not feel in any danger, this is a no-xp encounter.

Chaos is back up to 4 though because it was an attack on us.

Scene: below ground under the lighthouse

Sandi is in the lead again, toaster creating a ruckus-in-miniature. The Nexus is close and as Hitch warned, it is off the charts. She nearly misses floating, ichorous tendril-like things slowly extending down from the roof just in range of her NVGs. She signals and pulls back, dropping the toaster lightly back into its satchel.

Then all present feel their minds being invaded! All save Paul shake off the gloatingly crepusculous mental attack and ready weapons. Paul’s nature is – just perhaps – slightly more akin to these spores from hell’s cesspit, and he readies a devastating attack on his fellows.

Cliff opens the ball with bursts from his G3, the final one collapsing one of the floating oozes into writhing tendrils, which crumble swiftly to dust. Hitch, with the benefit of the Darkvision he’s using, spots two more, and chills them down with a Cone of Cold: then holds, to see what they do. Dan also pauses – range attacks aren’t always his forte and besides, Sandi has yet to open up. Then he notices Paul’s spell – and it’s an attack on the team!

“Confusion take you all!”

No-one is affected – luckily! Sandi hasn’t even noticed and now the toaster is away she has two hands free. Glocks appear like magic and bullets, empowered by Hitch’s best enchantments, scour the other two oozes off the ceiling. Paul clutches his temples as the compulsion to get rid of his fellows is broken.

But Dan has also spotted more trouble: those were not the only ichorous fiends in the passage!

“Faith’s Fury!”

Four ichors drifting towards the team are bathed in a column of holy flame. Their tendrils thrash, but they bend their fiendish intelligences into the next attack.

But some miracle preserves everyone’s mind this time. Hitch glances sharply at his fellow-mage but can see Paul is back to ‘normal’ so casts Haste on Cliff; while beside him Paul throws a Cone of Cold that devastates the four oncoming oozes then hastes Sandi.

The extra speed granted allows Sandi to run in, blast with her Glocks and run out again as three of the four collapse behind her. Dan finishes the last one with a Searing beam of Light.

But before the team can congratulate one another on a job well done, their minds fill with Confusion!

Paul’s eyes narrow as he sees Sandi some thirty feet in front of him. “You think you’re sooo stealthy, you and your perky can-do personality! Try something a bit more conspicuous!”

Sandi’s form is bathed in coruscating sparkling dust, and she is brightly outlined as the Glitterdust settles.

“Oooh sparklies! Sparkly bullets, sparkly me! Cool!”

Dan, who alone is unaffected by the ensorcelment, has spotted where the fresh menace has appeared. It’s more of the same!

“Faith’s Fury!”

“Flaming Wrath!”

The latter fiery spell has a devastating effect on the three sluggish ichors. But none collapse and the team’s future teeters on the balance!

Hitch swivels around and drops a fireball on Dan, standing somewhat behind the others. The ground scorches right up to his toes. To his surprise, as the flames wash out, he sees Dan is still on his feet! But he has no time to consider a follow-up, because from beside him Paul fries him with a Lightning Bolt! Hitch jumps with the shock but staggers back to fighting stance – and this time, Paul is in his sights!

Dan knows enough about spells to be well aware that this is Trouble. He’s got time enough to give a quick prayer of thanks that Sandi and Cliff are wandering away, not joining the mayhem. He pulls Spell Immunity against Magic Missile up and then with a surge finishes the ichors off with another Flaming Wrath.

But the mages are now locked in a Mage Duel. Hitch maximizes his Magic Missile and Paul screams with the pain as the multiple bolts arc home. But he stays on his feet and ripostes with another Lightning Bolt! Hitch evades enough to avoid the worst of it, and readies his next attack: then Dan’s Dispell shatters the Confusions from them!

“Whoof! That was close! I’m dreadfully sorry Paul!”

“So am I…”

Hitch chooses to read reciprocity into the grudging drawl, and asks:

“Quick! Dan! Where are the other two?”


Hitch runs, thankful that his Darkvision was not stripped away, and Paul follows. Just in time! They briefly catch a glimpse of Sandi snuggled quite close up against Cliff, then she grabs for her guns:



And before the startled Cliff can react, his Confusion is also gone.

“All safe and well? We’ve taken a beating but we’re still all up, so let’s shut this mother down and get home!”

Mechanics: This mini-boss-fight comes from a relatively simple monster check, based partly on the previous “Stop Nature” description. There were three AP in the kitty and these were used to boost the card draw to CR10 from the 7. The options included Satanic Ichor, which seemed to fit best, so that was chosen. The d20 cross-roll was a 20, giving three groups of 3-4. This is a tough combination since teams can’t target more than one group at a time. The Ichors were immune to bullets but Sandi and Cliff use +4 Magic Bullets so not an issue. Their mind attacks were potentially deadly and very good work from Dan saved everyone.

Chaos is now 6.

Scene: The Nexus

Mechanics: The team closes the nexus. There is no chaos event so this is a non-event. Chaos drops to 5.

Scene: Audience with the Deep Ones

Mechanics: using the NPC Emulator heavily, with support from the Descriptions, we move from Cautious to Helpful via a Diplomacy check. Again, Dan leads and Hitch helps. I ask that this is double-checked off the NPC Emulator and we get Knowing Examination. We conclude that the Deep Ones did not just take Dan’s word for it that the Nexus was calmed: they went back and examined it. Over to the main event: result of negotiations. We make two paired rolls on Descriptions. First, Defiantly Creepy. Then, Befriend Allies. Awesome! The Deep Ones will continue to act in their own creepy way, but are now allied with us in our own mission.

Thread ‘Recruit the Deep Ones’ is closed.

Thread ‘Close the crazy Nexus’ is closed.

Chaos drops to 4.

Scene: The dock

“Nope. No-one on the horizon either.”

A feeling of desolation vast as the grey ice-flecked lake beyond fills the team. Trapped on Third Fish Island! Hitch kicks a bollard moodily.

“Slick Willie must have seen Coastguard or maybe Police were out after him. Either way he’s not going to come back any time soon. Bugger.”

Sandi’s native optimism bubbles up through her parka.

“Say! Let’s not be down about this! I bet if you geniuses got up into that Lighthouse you could rig something up to radio across!”

“Or increase our coverage to get to the shore… you’re right! Let’s get up there and rig a booster!”

It’s not long before Paul and Cliff have fashioned a rough and ready cellphone booster. Hitch is looking at his notepad thoughtfully.

“We’re ready!”

“What? Oh… right! I’m going to see if I can get us a wire-walk into UC.”

“Why’s that Hitch?”

“My research points to Jack Deverick’s secret library being stashed in a lockup near there.”

Paul sighs.

“Going off half-hitch-cocked again? You know we need to get back first, rest up, collect Cliff’s car…”

“Alright, alright, let’s do it step by step. I’ll try Yelp for some fooderie, we’ll get across then sort things out. You ready?”

“If it’s wire-walk you are referring to, yes. If it’s another glimpse of Sandi enjoying the view with Cliff, no.”

It is not long before the Golden Arches on Green Bay Road has five sudden drop-in guests, all heavily kitted up for the winter as though they had been out on the lake shore. The short stocky one heads out quickly saying something about a car, and the lone woman heads after him. They arrive back in an aging SUV about ten minutes later. The other three bicker about who is picking up the tab, pay, and leave.

Mechanics: Chaos intervenes for the first time in the session. We get an Interrupt, just when we think we are about to chug back in triumph. The Event Focus is Moving Away from a Thread, and by the guidelines it is the current thread – i.e. we don’t get home. To double-check, we roll action and subject on the Emulator and get Betray Adversity. This is convincing enough – ‘Slick Willie’ has indeed fled the law and left us high and dry, and cold.

The ‘can we get cell coverage’ is handled via Emulator though I personally think a booster would be needed, so wrote it in.

Hitch has some unrevealed research, as to the whereabouts of Jack Deverick’s occult library, and does check at this point via the Emulator whether it is on 3rd Fish Island, but it is not.

Chaos rises to 5 since that was an Interrupt.

Epilogue: A secure lock-up compound

Sandi gives the all-clear and Hitch moves in swiftly, entering the lock-up alleys and choosing one in a very quick time. He waves his hand and the lock unsnaps. The others move up, open the lock-up and begin transferring boxes into Cliff’s SUV.

“And now… we have a campus!”

Mechanics: even though it’s getting late we add this scene on. Sandi makes an Open Locks roll – her other skills are Take 1 level for not being seen or heard in the night and away from people – and we agree this gets us into the lock-up. We don’t bother tagging the scene because it doesn’t matter, unless something happens, how big it is. It’s less secure than a Bank and more secure than unattended locked sheds. Hitch has a Knock spell capable of opening normal locks. We call the scene, allowing us to discuss xp.

Thread ‘Set up a secure base in Chicago’ is closed.

XP and Future Sessions

So far in the three-week trial we have avoided xp discussions. At this stage we take feedback and put some thoughts about how xp is gained on the table.

XP options vary from ‘just what you kill’ through ‘everyone gets the full xp of kills’ to ‘thread based – a major thread is a level’ and considering how the GM used to deal out xp we opt for the third option. This gives us a clear path of objectives and just as importantly, will not gear the season as a monster-hunting exercise.

All characters rise to L16. Dan has the worst problem because he is considering moving to Shadow Slayer – an odd choice but he’s taken some odd choices throughout – and was told he needs the Carpathians to instruct him. Hitch and Paul just stack on more Archmage; Cliff is looking at more Bodyguard and Sandi takes her first level of Gun Goddess (AKA Kowloon Gun God).

 Overall, the group is satisfied with GM-Free play, if not willing to switch to this mode completely.

‘A lot better than I expected – because I thought it would suck’

‘Not as much fun as with a real GM, but bearable’

These are typical of the bottom end of approval, and with two players happy enough to repeat the exercise when the schedule allows, we’ll be seeing more of Cliff Dan Hitch Paul and Sandi in the future.

Keep an eye out – we’ll be back!

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SHC Season 5: Hitch’s Journal 23 January 2012

It took an hour down at the police station to write up the report of the hardware lot fight.  In the end we went with stray bullets of a group of street thugs in hoodies set off two propane tank explosions.  The resulting explosion severely damaging a Chevy in the car park.  Assailants died in the resulting blast.


The report had a punch to it, and didn’t rely on a gas leak from gas lines not shown on any municipal map, and the store sells propane tanks. Also, it turns out I type faster than Quentin North, detective in Unit 14, Chicago PD’s underfunded, uncanny crimes squad.


I first met Quentin when he pulled two of the Francesco brothers’ decapitated bodies out of the Lake.   He was always welcoming, not so much Lt. Green, his boss.  He hasn’t changed.  Lt. Green still looks on the campus with the same disapproval of uncontrolled, and somewhat odd civilians; tempered by the Unit’s need for allies as always.  In the end, they provided a bit of information about a Nexus flaring up near our new base.


Just to cover our current main aim: our new base which is coming along well.  We should have power in there shortly, Paul’s copy of DARMA is ready to install.  Dan, after slamming some monsters outside a Cathedral has won the support of the local Catholic monster fighters, which may well mean we’ll get some wards around our site shortly.  Pretty soon, the Campus will have a base, so long as we get a break to put it together.


So far in two days in Chicago, it is almost as if we can’t walk down the street without running into someone wanting us to sort some threat out.  On the plus side, this means we have been pulling our network together fast, we keep meeting people who need the Campus back in town, and will support its rebuild.


On the minus side.  Well, Lt. Green has just called me.  That Nexus they mentioned as being dangerous, is currently putting out enough mystical power for a volcano.  We need to investigate it now!  And Paul just confessed that the Judge that had a word with him wants us to re-establish links with the Deep Ones.  Non-human aquatic monsters who want to be left alone, and cannot tell most humans apart.


We all look alike to Deep Ones, and not that dissimilar to gorillas, chimps, baboons… so it is bound to be easy.


To Do List –

  • Get the power on in Vitae Labs basement. Wards and security.
  • Locate Jack Deverick’s research library, and borrow it.
  • Sort out the Nexus emergency
  • Chat with Deep Ones


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GM-Free SHC Season 5: Full Session 2


Welcome back! This is the second full session of SHC, GM-Free.

We took a few minutes before the session got under way to discuss changes from last week. We are using a lot of ‘tools’ to stand in for a GM.

The main change for this session is that Risk Points are out. Each player uses their own Action Points as intended BUT also to ‘tag’ scenes, 1 point for each tag, exactly as described for Risk Points. No other costs.

The action points spent over a scene then get put into a Risk pot for the Instigator to tag scenes. So far as it went no problem was caused, though it may be in future points get held over to the next session; otherwise if the session begins with a bang (as it did this one) the Instigator has nothing to work with.

The previous session did seem to come to mini-stops while we tried to work out what a new scene would be. This time, the person that spent the most Action Points in a scene got to suggest what the next scene would be.

Finally the other change tested was for moving around. We agree that we can’t just have characters roll around greater Chicago with no consequences, so a variant on the Emulator is used that makes an event more likely the more grids are crossed.

Now let’s head over to our opening scene!

Scene: Crafty Beaver Hardware, off SH41

The lot is unusually busy for the season. Taking advantage of a lull in the weather, folks are replacing snow-shovels and tools and buying in stores for larger projects. Then the busy peace is rudely interrupted.

“Gunfire!?” Cliff exclaims, turning from where he is fitting a plank into the back of his Excursion.

“Sure is! I’ll go check it out – you call Hitch!” Sandi shoots back, hustling away from the loading-zone of the store.

Cliff reaches deep into the boot space and slides his G3 out and under his hand as he thumbs open his phone and calls Hitch.

“You’re needed!”


Glancing around to make sure no-one in the public records office is watching, Hitch immediately dials Cliff back and disappears, appearing next to Cliff. The flat, ripping sounds of MAC 10s echo around the parking lot. Barely pausing to look around, Hitch dials Paul.

“You’re needed!”


And Paul, Burberry shimmering with magical protection, soon arrives next to the pair as well. Sandi’s voice comes in clear over their top-of-line ear-pieces:

“Around six Xs grouped say 20-20 on our 2, ten-y, civilian in danger, will wait over.”

Estimating Sandi to be around 300 feet forward, and in cover in the carpark, Hitch Dimension Doors the trio forward. The whining of shots caroming off a parked SUV draws their attention to five or six dark-dressed men, apparently trying to pin one civilian down and kill him with their sub-machine guns. There is no official lettering and no badges being waved so these are bad guys!

[Chaos is now 6.]

Cut-scene: back at St. Mary’s

[The purpose of beginning elsewhere than last session’s cliffhanger is to see if in some way what Cliff and Sandi are doing yanks Dan out of his sticky situation, but it turns out the answer is no. So having ascertained that, it’s time to head back to see if Dan survives.]

Dan scrambles into St. Mary’s beside “Father Jack” and hugs the door-frame, wheezing for breath and pulling up Shield of Faith. But in spite of the protection of the solid brick and the spell, two heavy-calibre pistol bullets crease the big man’s flank.

Uttering a Prayer for more help, Dan pulls out more energy in a surge and enhances his own Agility. Now let them try to hit him! He’s encouraged to see how clumsily the Harpies are flapping around the church’s side. His plan, formed in the seconds it took him to get to cover, has a chance of working!

The six harpies swoop down again, lining up the difficult target and triggering their .44 Magnums as they sail past the doorway. Dan winces again as another shot grazes his side, but holds his courage and unleashes a sphere of darkness!

[Can Dan cover three with Darkness? A: Yes]

Unable to judge where to pull up, two of the three smack into the solid brick wall and slump to the ground. The others screech angrily.

By this time, Dan has gotten a fair idea of vulnerable points along the Harpies’ caracoling. As long as he can survive a round in the open, he can cover most of them with an area spell! He heals himself of most of the hurt taken and poises ready for action!

The two harpies that have just gotten back to their feet begin ascending and the other four swoop down and all shoot at Dan where he crouches. Again, one shot tells! Then Dan charges out, and they come face to face with the terrifying presence of Very Angry Steeleye Hewstone! Brilliant flashes of holy light surround them all as Dan slams out two Faiths Fury!

Two Harpy survivors flee, squealing dismally.

“And don’t come back!” Dan yells, clamping his fingers onto the last gunshot wound.

[Dan confiscates two magnum revolvers and receives the Priest’s new favourable attitude and a new result on NPC action: “Gratitude/Relics.” This result is held over until it is called for by the plot. Chaos has advanced to 7.]

Scene – the Crafty Beaver carpark.

[Most of us have spent APs to make sure we have gear or protection. DL whose character is not present is Instigator. We attempt to ask a minimum of questions about the capabilities of these foes, so the fight has some suspense.

We do ask: Is an innocent in danger? A: Yes.

This limits us in regard to area effects.]

Sandi, in cover within point-blank range of the six black-dressed men, readies a gadget she “just thought might come in handy.”

“Cliff – when my flash-bomb goes off, fire!”

Combat begins

Initiatives: Sandi, Cliff, the Xs, Hitch, Paul

Surprise round: Sandi [spending a third AP – the first was to tag the carpark ‘cover’ and the second to equip a flash-bomb] makes a good throw and lands the grenade accurately. Four Xs fail Fort SV against stun and are flat-footed. Cliff shoots a stunned X, dropping him, then a second. [Mas saves are Fort DC15 and these have low Mas and relatively poor Fort.] Paul throws a Slow at the group but only one fails its save. Hitch is still off-actions owing to the Dimension Door.

Round 1: Sandi opens up and puts the exposed X down. Cliff shoots a fourth, but this time it does not fall, instead uttering a strange string of syllables and summoning a pall of strange greenish smoke in which clawed shapes seem to writhe! At the same time the two unharmed Xs shift so they are in cover from gunfire and pour a hail of autofire over all four of the Academy agents! Unseen by the team as they duck for cover, the three downed Xs start twitching.

[All Reflex DC15 saves for the autofire are OK.]

Hitch maximises a Magic Missile spell and slams it into one of the gunmen. Then surges and casts Haste on himself. Paul lobs a targeted Dispel and curses as it fails to clear the smoke, which is rolling out towards us. [Smoke is DC20 for his Dispel attempt.] He surges and casts Forked Lightning at the gunners. The slowed one is struck but such is their evasive powers [improved evasion] he takes only half damage and is still on his feet.

[The event prior to the fight included Unit 14, the campaign’s arcana police unit. Is Unit 14 here yet? A: No.]

Round 2: Sandi, having shifted slightly to line the next target up, blazes away at the slowed X and puts him down. Cliff targets the more difficult other gunman, hits him twice and puts him down. Unseen behind the smoke the three previously ‘down’ Xs sneak to full cover under a sturdy pickup. The hideous cloud rolls out over the Academy!

[We are being attacked by something named ‘clawing cloud’ that we don’t have stats for, but treat it as Cloudkill powered by natural ability of these deadly beings. Fort SV DC20, Hitch fails and wears 5 lung damage. All of us have to fall back out of range.]

Now sure that whoever the men are targeting is dead or gone, Hitch throws a fireball at where he guesses the source of the cloud is. He evades easily.

[Question: did the three in cover wear the fireball? A: Yes!! We decide they slid forward under hard cover, which blows up,  and have lost their reflex save. They cop Hitch’s full fireball effect, and die with overkill.]

Paul has a target and lets the cloud-pusher have it with Magic Missiles, dropping him. We begin high-fiving and concealing weapons…

[Is Unit 14 here yet? A: Yes]

…as the original target of the assassins crawls out from cover and is recognised as Quentin North of Unit 14, and back-up Fed vehicles scream into the lot.

Over the next couple of rounds we learn that these are Breath-snatchers, particularly nasty Outsiders that Unit 14 has been trying to recapture. Not pointing the finger of blame at anyone that they got loose in the first place. [coughUnit14cough!]

Round 5/Surprise round: Just as Hitch is beginning to convince Quentin that it will be best if he alone head back to the Fed building and helps fill in the report, two recovering Xs open up! [Yeah, we are now sure they have regeneration or something like it. The Instigator also tags the scene to ‘standing in the open’ so no bonuses to SV. Paul spends an AP towards a SV but still fails. However his twin layers of protection stop most of the damage.]

New Inits: Xs, then Sandi/Cliff/Paul, then Hitch, then Unit 14.

Round 6: Both Xs target Hitch, whose protection is adequate but still lets some damage through. Then they drop out of sight and are no longer to be seen [Hide in plain sight].

Sandi loops around, senses alert [Infiltrator Sweep] and spots them, calls the pattern back to Paul and Cliff. Paul drops a Cone of Cold across them but they evade; Cliff charges around the vehicle and hammers one, finishing it. Hitch drops an entire Ice Storm down, killing the last one.

[As we wrap the scene, we test Unit 14’s attitude to us which is now Cautious. After all, it has been about a year since we went away. It’s a yes to Diplomacy so Hitch heads out to Unit 14’s base. Chaos is now 8.]

[New Scene Required: three of us have 3APs apiece so we need to agree on where the next direction is. This is an area that lagged in the first session. We agree that the next main scene needs to be on our thread ‘Equip the Secure Base’ but spend some minutes testing if travel across from Dan’s position is going to go wrong. The travel method tests fine, but we can’t work out what the event generated means so ignore it as per GME instruction and set up the Base scene.]

[We find out what Paul’s private thread is (from back in the Shakeout session where a Judge gave him a mission).

Using Location Crafter for what the Action was, we get Recruit Evil; and Wildly Watery for Description. Given the campaign’s history, it’s pretty easy to move from ‘could be a water elemental’ to ‘must be the Deep Ones’.

Smoothing it out, the mission reads like this: Paul has had the arm put on him by a Judge who knows something of his dodgy background, enough to make Paul cooperate. The mission is for the full team and is to Recruit the Deep Ones to help in this situation. They are no friends to man, and we have run afoul of them before. It is fair to call them ‘evil’ at least from our point of view.]

[The Base scene is Interrupted by Remote Event, “Move Energy” by which we take it that something Nexus-related has come into play. Now the two strands, Paul’s thread and this interrupt, are weaving together. Hitch has a Gather Info on his flashback scene, and gets a ‘Judge Tactics’ on NPC result.]

Paul finishes explaining. Hitch nods. “Now it makes sense. I got a tacit message from Unit 14 as I was packing up there. ‘Do the next job right and we will cooperate; screw it up and you are on your own.’ So it’s not just the Judge that will be watching us.”

Obviously, this was a combat-heavy session. Many d20 sessions are like that. No problem there. Action point spend was more reasonable. I’m encouraged to think there’s not many more tweaks needed.

Next session: Return to Three Fish Island… or not. We need to concentrate on closing threads so the ideal session will be, recruiting the Deep Ones and finish setting up our base. Stay tuned to see how far we get towards those!

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GM-Free SHC Season 5: Full Session 1

This is our first full session of GM-Free modern roleplay. Our group is using materials I’ve assembled, tools that stand in for a GM. We plan to give this three sessions then evaluate, and if it seems worth continuing we will adopt any necessary changes.

The main mechanism of GM-Free is the Mythic GM Emulator.

An NPC’s general attitude and specifics can be generated using the NPC Emulator; while an Affiliation Table (cribbed off Wellstone City and heavily adapted) shows affiliation of NPCs encountered.

The Location Crafter has useful descriptions of actions and things.

I built a ‘monster draw’ from scratch, using it to provide adequate-level challenges along with some information about range. Then a lot of copying out of monster stats to collate a great many suitable monsters (and not-so-suitable). I also built a system for giving an idea of how a hostile mage is going to attack.

I assembled a lot of Mapping Cards, including chase cards, to help shift locations.

Finally, the “engine” of how this all works, other than discussion, are Risk Points, which each player sacrifices out of the character’s Action Points. Risk Points burnt to ‘tag’ a scene (think FATE) or ask for a question or description give the Instigator (the player currently minding the monsters) the points to themselves tag scenes.


In order that this report is not too long I’m going to assume you are somewhat familiar with the GME and just stick to how things worked and a context based write-up.


We open with our five Academy operatives still parked up off southern Waukegan, in a rapidly darkening January evening.

“Well, what was that about Paul?” Hitch asks, pushing himself off his 1973 Dodge Monaco station wagon, “What did the Judge tell you?”

“Umm… look Hitchcock, it’s late, I’m tired, any minute now it could snow, and even the “Holiday Inn” you were scaring me with earlier sounds adequate. Let’s get going!”

So saying Paul Birkby brushes a few stray sleet pellets off his expensive suit, slide back into his Aston Martin and guns the engine to a throaty rich-bastard burble.

Taking that as a signal to move, Sandi and Cliff break from their guard points: Sandi swinging a leg over her “Dave Shanahan Special” BMW motorcycle; Cliff hurrying back to his affordable used Ford Excursion SUV and settling back behind the wheel, next to Dan, who has stayed inside with the heater running.

Hitch shrugs: he’ll get back to the topic later.

[We did have some homework from last shakeout session, but the Judge’s thread for Paul was not something that could be filled in. Paul’s player DB has lost his character sheet (again!) and is too distracted to get into trying to figure out what mission the judge has given him.]

It’s a very short time later that the whole “get to shelter” nearly comes completely unstuck. Sandi’s bike elegantly slides to the icy berm as she heels it over. There’s no traffic at all ahead, just a line of blinking detour lights. Behind her, Paul, Cliff and Hitch brake gently, alert to trouble.

Suddenly some half-dozen enormous troll-snake-like beings appear grouped right around the four vehicles!

[Scene: Chaos 5, ‘Interrupt’. We want shelter, and the focus is ‘Move away from a thread’ so it looks like we are delayed. Someone has the idea this might be an exciting (!) nexus warning. ‘Is the nexus meter warning us?’ (Very unlikely) A: no. Follow-up question: ‘Is this some other monster?’ (Unlikely) A: yes. SM who is instigator, and therefore wants monsters, grins evilly and card-draws, plus a d20: our opponent is 5-6 CR10 Advanced Rogue Tulpas. The card is a diamond so the range is far, ideal for mages. They get to tag first (I would have tagged ‘traffic’ for Sandi). We agree that even though his player is instigator, Hitch can stay in the encounter. SM plays a risk point and tags the scene ‘no witnesses’ and as instigator uses two of the three points now available to tag the scene ‘night’ and ‘detour’. The Chase card for ‘Detour’ is laid down. I drop a point for ‘magic bullets’. SM suggests drive checks are in order.

Drive checks: Sandi natural 20, Hitch and Cliff roll 18 and Paul rolls 17. No problems stopping.

Neither mage tags the scene further so we move to the monster attack. Tulpas have Dimension Door so SM has them close the range by that means. We bicker for a moment that changing range costs 3 points and there’s only one point left in the kitty but I let that go in the interest of seeing a monster fight with all characters present.]

Round 1

“I’m dropping a Wall – just focus left!” Hitch yells, casting Wall of Force off right. With a heroic surge he casts Haste on himself. Up ahead he can see one Tulpa being shot to snakey-chips as Sandi opens up with both glamoured guns. Behind Sandi’s fireworks, Dan slides out of the SUV and over the bonnet throws Faith’s Fury onto the wounded troll. Then with a heroic surge, another one! The first looks staggered, the second annoyed.

[I strongly recommend average damage, as we are L15 and our spells/bullets use a lot of dice. Sandi’s average damage is 50 against these beasties, and Dan does 35 each spell.]

Cliff looks out of his window up into the grinning snake-jaw of a Tulpa, and slides back Dan’s way, reaching out his H&K G3 as he joins his portly comrade in cover – though directly under the gaze of two other Tulpas behind them!

In his expensive sports car Paul layers his expensive body with an expensive Stoneskin spell, and with a heroic surge throws Cone of Cold over the nearest Tulpa to his door. The wide blast catches two of them.

Round 2

[Time for Inits as we now need to know in what part of the round the Tulpas act. We are all ahead of them save for Dan who is the same, but 1 better Dex than they are. Good news for us!]

Sandi balances upright as her bike runs back towards Dan and Cliff: this time it’s the Tulpa looming over Cliff and Dan that is part-shredded by bullets. Behind her the Tulpa nearest the detour barrier falls as Paul moves away from his Aston Martin [tagging the scene so he has ‘room to move’] and Lightning Bolts the two he hit with the Cone. Then he throws a pile of Magic Missiles into the least-hurt Tulpa.

Nearest Hitch’s wagon, the third Tulpa is enveloped in Hitch’s fireball. Cliff charges around his SUV and under the reach of the wounded Tulpa on the other side, though he’s struck as he does so. He’s dropped his G3 and is swinging the fancy little silver hammer Old Man Hagen gave him. It feels a lot heavier than it looks as it smashes into the creature’s side.

[We really need to know what this does now! AL, Cliff’s player, has a thought that it might be similar to his favored melee weapon, a machete. A complex description is paid for and tells us it is Dangerously Heavy so we go with the Silver Hammer of Maxwell, +4, d10, but appears to be a light hammer or gavel made of silver.]

With another surge Cliff smashes the creature again. On the opposite side of his SUV Dan sends a Searing Light into each of the two wounded Tulpas, bringing one down! [He wastes an Action Point trying to get a good hit, they have very easy Touch AC.] But with a roar of insane commitment the remaining Tulpa in action hammers at Cliff, wounding him with each blow. [Cliff has taken 42 damage so far despite his DR, but has plenty of hp left. His elevated MAS means a save is not needed.]

Meanwhile the remaining pair, trapped behind Hitch’s Wall of Force, have not yet figured out that their heads actually reach over it. [This is a relatively tough test set by the instigator, they both fail miserably.]

Round 3

Hitch kills the remaining Tulpa with some empowered Magic Missiles, and with another surge Ice Storms the pair over the wall. They both take little damage from the effect.

With the breathing space, Paul buffs his Armani and moves back to the Aston Martin. Cliff hustles back from under his falling foe, picks up his G3 and checks it. Sandi moves further back to Dan, who has moved further away from possible squashing. She’s calling for more magic [I miscalculated; she has not run through all her magic bullets yet. I spend a needless point to re-up] and Dan powers her guns up.

The two puzzled Tulpas Dimension Door back into melee range!

Round 4

Hitch casts a double-encircle Wall of Fire around them. We have seen how deadly this is back against Ussher so call the fight there.

“The next question is, is there treasure?” Hitch wonders.

“You’re not going to get much off the cooked ones!” Cliff calls back from where he’s shifting the barricade.

“Worth a check old boy,” Paul drawls, “those blinking lights aren’t papier-mâché you know – someone set this up carefully!”

[Emulator question time: ‘Is there treasure?’ A: no. ‘Is there ID such as a phone or an amulet that could allow us to trace them?’ A: yes.

Scene is called ended.

A new thread is added: trace the source of the Tulpas.

A new thread is added: find a secure base (though this is more of a tweak to an existing thread).

No threads are closed.

Chaos has moved to 6.]

Coffee is keeping most of the team going in the early hours of the morning. They’ve done this many times before. Four of them are assembled in the single largest unit rented, still north of the scenic and ritzy Great Lakes Reserve – Lake Bluff area. Paul’s taken himself off to his own unit and is presumed sleeping.

Sandi Dan and Cliff are trying their own contacts, testing possibilities of a safe house.

“I know some girls that live up here, in the rich area,” Sandi suggests vaguely, then seeing Hitch’s sceptical look, adds “through work – one works part-time.” She tries Weldon’s line but either the number has changed or Weldon is out of range.

Dan tries his own church network, deciding that more official channels might be too public, but again there’s nothing the local pastor can offer.

Cliff gets the call-back he’s been waiting for. “What? Say again? So you’re saying you might be the one looking for work? OK…”

“Thanks for keeping me in the loop,” he snarls sarcastically as he ends the call.

[The Event for this scene is NPC negative, and we randomly find it is Cliff’s NPCs. He has very few and none named, but this is his current close-protection employment NPC. The event meaning is Create Business, so that is how we read it. Cliff is denied safehouse and is in danger of being out of work. He now has a personal Thread, ‘find a way to get my job back’.]

“I have it!” Hitch exclaims [34 on research means only an exceptionally difficult and obscure answer could have evaded him.] “It’s that bastard Liam Heaney!”


“You remember Sandi, he was the one that attacked us at Troll Bridge!”

“I know you keep calling it that, but I don’t think you ever told me you found out who it was. But hey! That’s great! So time for payback then?”

[In order to match research to a result we used the Affiliation table and draw an Ace of Diamonds, Liam Healey, the same mage that attacked Hitch and Sandi at Troll Bridge. This is a great match-up of materials to story.

Thread ‘get to shelter’ closed.

Thread ‘find the source of the Tulpas’ closed.

New thread ‘get Liam Healey’ opened.

Chaos is supposed to go somewhere but we lose track of it.]

Then Paul knocks and enters.

[We kind of rolled a new scene, as DB re-emerged from wherever he had been searching for his character sheet.

Event: ‘Move towards a thread’ which is excellent news. It must be the secure base thread (we agree). I chip in a point to imitate Paul’s trawling through his online resources, for a Description: ‘Helpfully Mighty’. 

We ask some Emulator questions, graduating from ‘abandoned military’ to ‘abandoned police station’ then I pay another 2 points for a random Scene Card from a Location deck. I deal out ‘Science Lab 2’ and suddenly we realize this could be the burned-out Vitae Labs down in Highland Park.

Scene closed.

Thread ‘locate a secure base’ is closed.

New thread ‘equip the base’ opens. Chaos is back to 5.]

Dan finishes his conversation and walks down the echoing tunnel, still smelling faintly of burned insulation, to the Greenhouse area of the sub-basement. Cunningly-concealed light ducts allowed Vitae to grow all kinds of things down here, but now the weeds have taken over.

“I got service out there, and I have a job for us.”

“You know Dan, we do kind of have a job.”

“My mom says she and pop are snowed in and need supplies. Do we have a vehicle tough enough to stand up to a blizzard?”

[Scene, based on another Location card is Greenhouse, where the team is fixing up basic living quarters in the down-powered ruin.

Event: NPC negative. Randomly chosen to be Dan’s NPC. Like Cliff Dan has very few NPCs though most have names. The random pick is his family, who live near downtown Chicago, probably south.

New thread: ‘help Dan’s family.’

We do an ‘equipment montage’ so later we can just pay a point and say we stocked it.

Now comes one of the stickiest questions we have not solved yet. How do we travel around, without just hand-waving it? I had an idea for it but that is not working.

We try an Emulator question: ‘Do we get there safely?’ A: no!

We use a Description rather than track through endless yes/no’s, and get ‘Cautiously Small’ so decide we left the SH41 and tracked through minor roads to avoid traffic jams in bad weather.

Now we go back to the Emulator: ‘Does this get us there safely?’ A: yes.

We relieve Dan’s parents, who are grateful but taken aback that the strange white foreign guy has come back and brought more whites with him.

Scene ends.

Thread ‘help Dan’s family’ is closed.

No new threads.

Chaos drops to 4.]

It’s desperately crowded in the Hewstone family home, though Dan and his folks are making the best of it. Mrs Dan (as Hitch calls her) has done her best to recall hot tea making. Members of the team are sprawled around, on their mobile phones or scribbling things down. There’s a lot of cross-chatter. Cliff makes himself heard.

“That’s sweet! So no further cause for concern? No, my problem’s resolved itself. I’ll get back to you if I have another…” Cliff raises his voice and hollers:

“All’s well on the job front! I still got a job!”

To further questioning Cliff explains that his training contractor has used its influence to help his Close Protection agency out of its problem. Threatened by a rain of fiery lawsuit, whoever was causing the problem has backed off and if Cliff was available he could actually report for duty.

[Cliff’s personal Thread ‘find a way to get my job back’ is closed. This happens simply because the Event is NPC Positive, randomized to Cliff’s training contact, and had the meaning ‘Vengeance of Legal Matters’.]

“I’ve talked to Whittler, my U-Spy guy,” Sandi chips in, “there’s no problem if we have money, we just need to head back through Skokie and pick up whatever.”

“Skokie, back in the north… hmmm, thing is luv, I’ve got plans downtown now we’re down here. I’m going to pull Jack’s legal papers and get a line on where his occult library is. Dan?”

“I’ve talked to a Catholic admin person, didn’t quite understand her accent, but she’s agreed I can talk to a monsignor or something and meet at St Mary’s.”

“Hmmm… swing onto the I90 then freeway it…”

“You don’t wanta do that son, freeway’s murdera this tima day. I c’n direct ya.”

“You’re quiet Paul, what have you found?”

“Oh! Ah, this may not be something we can talk about in front of Dan’s folks… or Dan.”

“I’m not your priest Paul – well I am in a way – but just lay it out for us!”

“Thing is, when Elliot was in tenure, and I was working on DARMA upgrades… I… took a backup.”

Paul explains further after the initial reaction is over. He put all of DARMA’s essentials on a hard drive, so that he could secretly research away from the campus. Then when his supposedly-secure apartment was broken into, he placed it in his attorney’s secure vault.

“I’ve spoken to old Sparce and he sounds as though the usual fifth of good whiskey will seal the deal. He’s invited me down to the Berkshire.”

“Right, right, sounds good. Expensive but good. So here’s the plan: Cliff, you’ll be loading the SUV up with plumbing and whatnot – you may as well buy those in Skokie when Sandi picks up the surveillance gear Paul writes up. Dan Paul and I will take the El and head into the city anonymously. We’ll link up tomorrow. But Cliff, Sandi: keep your phones on, and if we call, answer!”

[Scene closes. There are five separate threads, though they all fall under the general ‘set up the hidey hole’ thread we started once we moved in. Sandi is in charge of surveillance gear, Cliff in charge of hardware, Paul is getting a version of DARMA (the arcane database), Hitch is trying to get Jack’s old library, and Dan wants holy wards and supplies that come from the Catholic Church.

Chaos drops to 3.]

[Quick scenes follow: we start with the three heading into town.]

Hitch bumps into Desmond Harrington at the public records office. The Mancunian’s cheery greeting and offer to catch up is met with what can only be described as a brush-off.

[Event: NPC Action, we randomise Hitch of the three PCs involved, and get Desmond Harrington, his legal office contact from Newspaper days. But the meaning is ‘Mysterious Lies.’ This doesn’t sound as though it will help Hitch. I unhelpfully spend a point asking ‘Is Hitch being screwed?’ A: no.

Hitch’s Take10 means his legal probate research will take 3 hours. We move on to Paul.]

“Ah! Paul! How’s tricks? Here’s to crime!”

The two Brits raise a toast with expensive bourbon, one of several nay many that are quaffed on Paul’s account.

“I’ve brought the paperwork with me,” Leonard Sparce at last avers, stacking an impressive stack for Paul to sign and initial. “I’ll have our notary stamp it when I get back so it’s all tickety-boo, all righty? Well, here’s your dingus.”

Paul tucks the boxy hard drive away in his breast pocket. I should have disguised it as a box of chocolates, he thinks.

[This is from the NPC Emulator-driven attitude ‘Friendly Comfort’ and fully fits the initial NPC generated for Paul. From the initial profile we know the attorney likes to do business over a drink and climbs into Paul’s wallet big time while being helpful. And finally we move to Dan.]

Dan works his way round the famous white pillars and red brick to the little-used side where the campus has previously met and been helped by the priests. He finds an anonymously-dressed priest waiting for him in the doorway, preventing him from entering.

[Dan is Southern Baptist and on his own, we judge this to not be an easy encounter. Dan’s Cha check is pretty awful, though his rep is highest among us. Mind you being a well-known radio-show psychiatrist may not be a plus when approaching a priest.

Time to NPC Emulate: beginning with ‘peaceful’ attitude we move to ‘Hostile Combat’ with Focus ‘Flaws.’]

“I have a wee problem with ye coming to us out of the blue now.”

“Uh, what? I mean, We are doing God’s work father, no doubt.”

“Thing is laddie, we have more than one wee problem. Look out!”

[Running the Monster encounter I get 5-6 CR8 Urban Harpies swooping down at Dan. Their card is Heart, a SV range attack, and I see they have SQ Siren Song. Dan makes a Will SV and with 28 is in no danger no matter how many are helping.]

Round 1

Priest casts Bless, calls, “get in cover!”

The swooping harpies are within 30-40 feet. Dan wants to get closer so as to use his own SV effect Frightful Presence, but then sees they all pack pistols so sprints clumsily for the doorway, belly and bum waggling.

[And we leave the combat there.

Thread ‘outfit the base’ is still open but is well under way.

No other threads close.]

We still had around a quarter-hour but that was a good time to stop and get some initial feedback.

My own observation was that we need a different mechanism to move Regions. The basic idea of a gridded-off Chicago is good, because otherwise we could just ask ‘do we get into Ralph Hagen’s secret base?’ and skip all other action. Something along the lines we were doing in the road drive with a series of Emulator checks as we move will work I think.

We also need to review whether we should use risk points at all. Yes, they do add up and give the instigator a tool. No, they don’t work for completing a scene at all. If we keep using them, is the ration concept sane or is it encouraging us to waste APs? Is it balanced? I spent 9, DB spent 1. Don’t know how, he had two definite uses of them.

In places the scene comes to a halt and without a question (costing a point) there’s no forward momentum. Would it be better to just use everything as much as possible?

I do think risk points take care of a lot of GM-work such as minding equipment and re-upping ammo. But APs could do that just as well, if we broaden the d20 rules to include that. So, tentative tweak is drop the Risk points but use APs in a similar way for tagging a scene, so the instigator has a mechanism for tagging scenes for monsters/NPCs. Another suggestion is to keep risk points and the one that spent the most in a Scene gets to move the Location.

Other tools – Mapping Cards need a better means of integration. Waiving the cost but rationing down to one per player, would do. The suggestion in previous para would also work and sounds simple. If so the original concept of the Location Builder might be used with them in a stronger way, because that also feels disjointed. Its original concept offers a way of frustrating attempts to explore but also exit, return and find answers.

We have not tested Placing a Grid, which tends to slow fights down tremendously in exchange for better use of talents, feats and spells.


On the positive side, again the speed impressed me. Even moving all tools one player left after each scene did not slow the pace, certainly not more than one player constantly wandering off did. The fight was longest scene (naturally) and we then got through about five scenes, depending how you count the two at the motel that accidentally rolled into one and the separate PC threads at the end.

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