SHC GM-free session 18: Something is out there…

Recap: The five Chicago Peers, Birkby Cliff Dan Hitch and Sandi, are in San Francisco of April-May 1922. They have located Videnko, the Russian who looted the St Vitellius cup and fled to America. Unfortunately the first contact has not won them any friends!

Now, puzzling out what obstacles lie in their path and what they can do without triggering cascading time paradoxes, the five peers have wandered off the ritzy Nob Hill and down to an area occupied by the Navy, Fort Mason.

Scene: outside Fort Mason’s gun emplacements

“Oh, we haven’t done sparklies this morning,” Sandi prompts.

“Mehh… well I suppose…”

“You know it’s paid off,” Dan reminds Paul. “Two spells, off your very extensive stock, and file and forget for the day.”

Tucked away in a convenient corner of a cement bastion, out of the biting wind, Paul enchants a number of bullets equal to ‘a very large number’ for everyone except Sandi and ‘sufficient’ for Sandi.

“Yay! Sparklies rule! Plus plus, you’re the best Paul,” she exclaims winningly. To no perceptible acknowledgement.

Meanwhile Hitch has noticed a naval patrol approaching, guns at port. He’s surprised, because when he was here last, this was a popular promenade.

“Any problem?”

“This is a military area! Who are you?”

“We’re… federal stores approval board, just checking the warehousing,” Hitch claims, producing the enhanced ‘magic paper’ he and Birkby have empowered.

The ratings proffer a respectful salute, and retire, leaving Hitch triumphant over the battlefield.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Chaos begins at 5. A chaos check immediately throws up Interrupt, NPC negative. Recalling that there are no ‘character’ NPCs in the time-frame and vicinity, I need to find out where they are. The Location Crafter throws up ‘powerfully horrible’ and looking at the vicinity (and checking history) I find that Fort Mason was still a very active naval port, probably with its WWI guns decommissioned by this time but certainly still providing services to the Pacific.

The Meaning of the interrupt is ‘celebrate magic’ so I’m scratching for this, but check whose magic it is, and whether it is an encounter, I narrow it down a little.

Q: is this Birkby’s magic? yes. I settle on the usual daily ritual.

Chaos rises to 6.

Scene: near the same

“Dan? What is it?”

“There’s something out there… prepare! The fiends are upon us!”

Readying his cross-cane at the quadrant he senses evil seeping from, Dan prays and surges, enhances his Charisma. The two mages ready staves, slipping them out from under their coats. Cliff slips his shotgun out from under his coat; and Sandi loosens her coat and stands balanced, ready to leap one way or another.

Even so, when the attack comes, it comes soft and horrid: a freezing blast envelops all but Sandi, though most do manage to avoid the worst of it. Hitch is driven to the ground, screaming, hands crabbed into numb claws. Birkby and Dan are little better, though they keep their feet. Cliff curses bitterly, having failed to prevent the blast from near-killing Hitch!

Dan, whose preternatural senses tell him where the attack comes from, calls on God to cleanse the foulness and wreak his Fury upon it!

It is hard to make out details, but amidst a strange icy fog can be glimpsed a tall skeletal figure, seemingly encased in ice. It shows no sign of fleeing Dan’s wrath!

Birkby has Hagen’s staff at the ready, but decides to go with the tried and true: a mighty fireball engulfs the creature! Hitch, still prone, forces his hands and voice into action and follows with his own incandescent ball of fire! Cliff can see it reacts sharply to the fire, and skittering sideways to shield Dan, fires his shotgun, which belches a cone of flame at the creature – but it is a little off the mark.

The icy skeletal creature unsheathes enormous talons like crystal knives and leaps for the kill – then is struck in head and body by a hail of bullets from Sandi’s Glocks, shatters, and blows away like fine crystal snow powder!

The temperature around the port bastions rises as the five, Hitch supported by Cliff, quickly escape up into Russian Hill away from any search. Glancing back over her shoulder Sandi has a momentary glimpse of a preternaturally tall, black-coated shape atop a roof: then it is gone. She shudders.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Chaos check is 6, interrupt. Focus is NPC action. I’ve been wondering when an encounter would happen. I check:

Q: Is this an encounter? (50-50) 60 yes.

I have been thinking about what kinds of powerful adversaries would pursue a time-traveling group.

Q: Is this time-related? (not likely) 37 yes.

I have a read over things like Epic monsters and draw a card, adding 5 for number in party and factoring the L19 party in, and get a Winter Wight, CR23, as a servant of a more sinister master, the Gloom.

This is a probing attack, I decide, so that the Gloom can assess defenses. And though the range drawn is close, I do a Mage draw because it has a lot of spell-like FX. I get a Reflex-SV attack, which is its Cone of Cold.

Q: Can Dan sense the wight? (has to be!) 21 yes!

This denies the thing a surprise round, though its Init is off the charts high so it inevitably attacks first. The only twist to inits is, Sandi rolled so low she re-set, delaying for a close-up point-blank shot.

Reflex saves were remarkably good, except for Sandi who needed an AP. Mas saves were pretty low, and by the end of those, 5 APs are on the table.

I draw Mage cards for the options Dan, Birkby and Hitch choose. Since they are under attack they don’t need to draw for how many rounds until next spell.

Dan’s Turn check needs to be enormous and is lame, even with enhance Cha and specialist focuses. But Faith’s Fury and two maximised fireballs wreak tremendous damage in spite of its DR 10 (like stoneskin, but icy) and its Reflex and Will SV dropping their effect by half. Then by great good fortune Sandi rolls a 19 on her double-up Leadstorm. The Prayer plus maxed-out magic bullets powers the slugs though its DR.

This is one scary encounter to run – the thing’s attacks are so devastating that a TPK looms if the fight extends a round more. Still, I wanted higher-CR encounters to justify moving up a level at the next Thread achievement, and I got my wish!

Chaos rises to 7.

Scene: The hotel: a council of war

Sandi’s just finished trying to describe what she saw. And how lucky she was to hit the ice-creature.

“I really only just hit it,” Sandi cautions soberly. “It was more luck than anything. So if we can get some sure-fire… somethings, how about we do that?”

The Peers agree some research and prep are needed if this is a sample of the foes stalking them. Hitch adds a word of warning:

“Paul thinks the enemy are too good, and they damn’ nearly are. Sandi thinks we’ll infiltrate Russians, and it looks like we will have to… everyone, just be careful what you wish for!”

Birkby and he digress on a ‘possible wish-dream’ environment, but Dan firmly assures them that the Judges sent them into a portal, not a nightmare.

“How is it,” Hitch asks slowly, “you come to be so pally with the Judges, Dan?”

“I studied with them when the Carpathians* were shattered… I needed to be a warrior of the faith, in the frontlines, and that seemed the way God was calling me.”

The mages plan to research some ‘hot shot’ bullets, perhaps ones they can fire themselves using Trueshot; and Dan promises to pray about faith-fuelled missiles. And maybe think about immunity from cold? Cliff and Sandi make some notes about gunsmiths.

Scene ends

*A Dresden-style group of weres and undead hunters. Dan’s player wished to move into the Slayer role but the ‘Boston Bombing’ that wrecked a lot of New England kind of knocked them out of play. Hence me moving Dan to link to the Judges and the Witch-hunter role.

Mechanics

Much as above. Focus is ‘move away from a thread’. This attack has the Peers distracted and unwilling to carry on trying to get Videnko’s cup when some monstrous foe is out there stalking them.

Other notes

I’m being fairly liberal with re-scripting and have vaguely conjured both Hitch and Birkby into the feats that permit spells to be re-learned and inscribed in 1922. So research like “let’s figure out how to inscribe True Strike on a gun and shoot tankbuster rounds” isn’t as silly as it sounds.

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