Friday, 12 August 2016

Other Dust solo - Part I : Incipit

On a morning like any other, the forty or so scavengers of the enclave are assembled on the beach. Some are watching the last of the fishing skiffs put out to sea, some are idly chatting, some are merely sitting on the pebbly ground and waiting, fiddling with the nametags they are to throw into the Sorting Hat to receive today's unit assignments.

Soon the Director is spotted emerging from the fortress, and trudging down the beach to meet the scavengers halfway. Such is the custom, though the significance of the act is no longer really remembered.

Rumours begin to fly through the assembly. What's he holding? Is that a Writ? There are more soldiers than yesterday. Yes, and fewer of us.

The Director stops, looking overheated in his fur-trimmed robe of office. He wipes his pallid brow with an ancient Nanoclean® handkerchief, then raises his jangling, scrapmetal staff to command silence. The scavengers do fall instantly silent -- for that is a Writ in his other hand, and there are more soldiers today.

"I have six names," states the Director, brandishing the Writ for emphasis. "These six will step forth when called, and put their tags in the mission jar." Here a soldier holds aloft the top of a blender. Some amongst the scavengers shudder, as they know the blades within symbolise great danger ahead.


"I call the first name: Taf!" Here a sullen-faced woman clutching a scrapmetal spear in her calloused hand stands up from the ground and stomps up to put her nametag in the jar.


"I call the second name: Ling!" A young woman saunters across the beach, her every motion exuding an easy sensuality. Ling is beautiful and she knows it. Before the collapse, she would have been an artist's model or a poet's muse, her form known to, and envied by, the teeming billions. Now she is simply the most gorgeous woman in the enclave, even with her insect head.


"I call the third name: Kaz!" Kaz is a hotshot in garish Old Terran clothes. He has a laser that he'd scavenged himself in the ruins, and brags about endlessly. He is waiting for a chance to prove himself and be accepted into the Fortress as a soldier. He's been waiting for a long time.


"I call the fourth name: Norna!" Norna is a good 15 years older than any of the rest of them, which practically makes her one of the village elders. She has a crossbow she made herself, because she 'doesn't trust weapons using nor powder nor power'. She's also sick of most people's bullshit. It's said she's even told the Commander to get stuffed once or twice.


"I call the fifth name: Fitz!" Fitz looks like a walking junk pile. He's fashioned everything he owns himself, even the sword he isn't technically allowed to own. Fitz has a problem with authority, and is perpetually one infraction away from becoming fish bait. But he has a superb eye for finding real treasure amongst the rubble.

"I call the last name: Ewa!" The blue-skinned mutant is almost surprised to hear her name called, but as she walks up impassively to throw her tag in the jar, she realises that the Fates must indeed have added her name to the Writ. One way or the other, she knows, this will be her last mission for the enclave.

[Rather than throwing my PC right out into the wilderness, I decided to start the game just before she leaves on her Quest. In fact, getting away from the others and setting out will be one of the starting Threads for the adventure. Also, her interactions with her compatriots will be a sneaky way of doing some world-building setup without taking time away from actually playing. It's a good shakedown of the rule system as well.

There is a wealth of tables in the Other Dust rulebook, so I may not have to supplement it much, but just in case my toolkit for this game will be:

Scarlet Heroes has plenty of solo tables which can be mostly used as-is, but I'm applying a few minor house rules to the combat overlay to reflect a less cinematic campaign:
  • No fray die
  • Any damage die that rolls a natural 1 inflicts 0 HD of damage, regardless of modifiers. PCs still take damage in the normal way (unless the modifier is +5, they would only lose 1hp).
  • Classed NPCs get +1HD at 1st level to make them less absurdly fragile. Survivors get an additional bonus hit die at levels 3, 6, 9, & 12.
  • I'll probably keep the Defying Death rule, but it is a bit redundant with my PC's Hard to Kill class feature.
Back to the narrative...]


The soldier holding the blender is a gangly, awkward girl whose visible mutations have caused her to be stuck with the unfortunate moniker of 'Horsey'. As Ewa puts the final tag in the mission jar, Horsey squints, and moves her head from side to side to make sure all six of the chosen are still standing before her.

"Go collect your overnight things and some food, then meet me back here. It's gonna be a long one."

"How long?" asks Fitz. "I don't know how much to bring if you don't tell us nothing."

"At least three days. Maybe more if you lot don't do your job right. Now go get your kit and meet me back here before the Lieutenant arrives. She won't be pleased if you're late."

"Two soldiers for only six scavvers?" asks Kaz. "Don't you trust us?"

"If we didn't, you wouldn'a been picked. Now move!"

The chosen six return to their dwelling places and gather together the things they'll need for an extended mission. Ewa packs every last useful thing into her pack, and a few things she can't use but is hoping to trade. She'd hoped to find the vicar about to say a final farewell, but he is nowhere to be seen. But, she reflects, he has already given her leave to depart on her great Quest, and there is truly nothing more to be said. Besides, if she went back with tears in her eyes, it could scupper the whole plan.

Ewa makes it back just as the last band of scavengers is heading out into the local rubble, and fortunately isn't the last to arrive. The mission leader has meanwhile come forth from the Fortress, and is talking to the Director. When Ewa sees her, her step falters, and her chest feels suddenly tight. She's been so distracted by the thoughts of her Quest that she failed to make the connection when Horsey mentioned the Lieutenant. Of all the soldiers in the Fortress qualified to lead a major foray -- why did it have to be her?


[So, here's the stats for the party in full. I made three other first level characters when I was playing around with the rulebook. Ling is a Speaker, Kaz is a Scrounger, and Horsey is a Slayer. The others are 1HD human Enclave Dwellers per the bestiary chapter, except Junemay (the Lieutenant) who is a 3rd level Slayer. I rolled attributes for them to make them a bit less generic. OTC stands for Old Terran Clothes, base AC7. Hide armour is AC6.

        sx C/L ST IN WI DX CN CH AC
Ling     f sp1 10  8 14 13  8 14  7 revolver, OTC
Horsey   f sl1 14 12 11 10 12  7  3 2-h axe, scrap plate
Kaz      m sc1 15 10  8 14 14 13  5 laser pistol, OTC
Taf      f  -  10 12 14  7  5 11  7 spear, hide armour
Norna    f  -  14 11 13  8  9 15  6 crossbow, hide armour
Fitz     m  -  11  5 15  9 13  6  6 sword, hide armour
Junemay  f sl3 18 13  8 14  9 10  6 combat rifle, OTC

Ling and Ewa dressed for AC7

For Ling's Stigma, I rolled "The nanites have molded your flesh into an unearthly vision of beauty or handsomeness save for one blatantly
inhuman feature". Her mutations are (briefly)--
1: foolish / natural immunities (auto success at 1 Tech save per day)
2: needs 2 food rations per day / quick healing
3: -3 Physical saving throws / Laser Eyes

Horsey's actual stigma is a pattern of nanite tattoos. This is overshadowed by her first two mutations:
1: hippoid traits and features / healing touch
2: weak sight (no ranged attacks past 10m) / poisonous stinger
3: extra damage from psi / +2 dex mod. (activated, costs 1 system strain per 5 minutes)

Kaz, being a null-strain human, spent his mutation points to increase his Wis, Dex, and Cha bonuses by +1 each. Thus, his attributes and modifiers are:
st 15/+1 in 10 wi 8/+1 dx 14/+2 cn14/+1 ch13/+1

Ling, Horsey, and Kaz actually have full character sheets, but I will spare you the info-dump in order to get to the fun part, which is the characters' inter-relationships, for which I naturally turned to Star Trader--
  • Ling is secretly Horsey's half-sister. Not even Horsey knows.
  • Horsey is a loner
  • Kaz is openly jealous of Horsey; why should she get to live in the Fortress when he is forced to live in scavvers' digs
  • Taf is also a loner
  • Norna is an old (and these days, ex-) friend of Junemay
  • Fitz is Junemay's enemy, and is waiting for chance to strike!
  • Junemay is bitter towards Ewa about a past event
PCs aren't exempt; Ewa's roll turned up Sexual partner -- of Junemay. So the Past Event for which Junemay still feels bitter is obviously a messy breakup. Whose fault was it? Is our Scarlet Hero also a Scarlet Woman? We'll leave the fine details aside for now whilst we pause to reflect on the dangers inherent in starting one's adventuring career with a 3rd level Slayer who hates you.

Now, on with the adventure.]

Scene 1

Chaos: Average (d10)

Setup: travel to Hastings (1d10=1, Altered)

NPC List: Ling, Horsey, Kaz, Taf, Norna, Fitz, Junemay

Threads: mission, escape

[Q: How is the scene Altered? Failure / Vehicle]

Junemay looks over the assembled chosen and sighs visibly. Ewa is sure that the soldier's eyes rest on her for a bit longer than the rest, and she seemed just about to say something, but didn't. She merely shouldered her rifle -- one of the priceless ancient artefacts owned by the Commander and issued to his elite soldiers -- and turned to head up the beach.

"Right. Follow me."

Horsey twitches her barbed, venomous tail. "You heard the Lieutenant! Step lively! You too, blue girl. Don't keep the Lieutenant waiting!"

Ewa falls in next to Horsey. "You know," says Ewa to the marching soldier, "she may be one of the Commander's 'picked men' and all, but Junemay hates being called 'the Lieutenant'. You might want to keep that in mind."

"Just shut up and march," says Horsey, flushing red.

They trudge about a kilometre up the beach where their transport awaits them. There is a small speedboat anchored a few meters off shore, and a second that has been pulled up onto the shore. A pair of technicos work on each. The beached one has most of its engine disassembled and arranged carefully on a plastic tarp, and judging by the anxious faces of the two in the one offshore, its engine fares little better.

The lead technico stands up, brushes the sand from his trousers, and pushes his magni-goggles up from his eyes. "They both got bad engines. That one'll at least turn over, but it cuts out after 15 seconds. This one was seized up good. Dunno what the problem is."

"You guys are really fucking useless," says Junemay, and throws up a hand to interdict any further comments. She instead addresses her band. "Looks like we're walking, then."

"You heard her," yells Horsey. "Fall in!"

"I'm pretty sure they were going to," says Junemay. "They're scavvers, not recruits. So bin the echo, 'kay?"

Junemay doesn't wait for a response, but turns and heads inland. The scavengers follow her without question, and a moping Horsey brings up the rear. Junemay halts just before they cross into the ruined streets of old Eastbourne.

"As those of you who aren't complete fuckwits have probably surmised," says Junemay, "the last special mission never made it back. So it's like this: we're going after them and completing their mission. And recovering the bodies if we can, but that's a secondary concern. They knew the risks."

"So do we get to know what the mission is?" asks Fitz.

"I was just getting to that. Jeezits, you're as impatient as Horsey. Our objective is a working solar generator that one of our scouts saw on the Hastings pier. So it's up through Old Eastbourne until we pass the harbour, then the rest of the way we go up the beach. Now, which of you lot has got a scavvers' map?"

"I do," says Ling in her breathy but slightly buzzing voice. She reaches into her coat pocket to produce a hand-annotated 2079 Ordnance Survey map of the East Sussex coast.

"You're with me then," says Junemay, trying not to let her voice crack. Even elite soldiers sometimes blush like the schoolgirls of Old Terra (so the legends say) when they are bathed in the beauties of the divine presence of Ling. Even with her insect head. "Lead on."

[Random encounter check: 1d6=1, an encounter (I'm checking once during the day and once at night).

Rolling on the encounter charts in the back of the rulebook: d12=Building collapses or deathlands sinkholes have made progress treacherous. 1d6 days are spent in the same area trying to get
clear of the wreckage, -1 day for each level of Navigation skill possessed by the group. 1d6-1=1 day].

After a few minutes, Ling stops short. She peers at her map, then her surroundings, then heaves a long sigh. "None of this should be here," she says with a sweeping gesture. "There should be through-streets and housing blocks. That big pit shouldn't be there at all."

"Is, um, is your map wrong?" asks Junemay.

"No. Or, it wasn't. There's been some subsidence. Probably the sewers collapsed or something. Either way, we'll have to go round it. It's not safe."

"I think I feel a rumbling under my feet," says Kaz.

"We need to not be standing here now!" shouts Ewa.

"Oh, shit," says Junemay. "Everyone follow Ewa!"

Ewa has already started running before Junemay finishes her order -- and so has Norna, who knows her reputation in such matters. The rest are quick to follow.

They look back from afar, and everything seems still. There is a slight rumbling, then silence. Fitz starts laughing, and points an accusing finger at Ewa. "Bit jumpy, are we? I'd feel a right pillock, crying danger at th--"

His words are cut short by the loud metallic clang of a streetlight toppling over where they had stood just moments ago.

"Given the dangers from further subsidence," says Junemay, "Ewa and Ling are going to navigate us around this mess. That cool with you, Fitz?"

And so what should have been a six or seven hour jaunt turns into an entire day of just finding a new trail through the wreckage. Ling fastidiously marks their route and new danger zones on her map. Horsey seems anxious that this will delay the mission, but Junemay reminds her that they need to return this way with the generator.

It's dusk by the time that the little band has nearly reached the edge of the ruined town. They find a suitable, two-storey semi-detached house for shelter, the more ruinous half of which provides easy access to wood for the campfire. Junemay haphazardly orders the watches, and hands her timepiece over to Ewa and Ling whilst the rest of them head upstairs for some rest.

[Q: Anyone ask Ewa why she's brought so much gear? Likely (3+): O6 C3 - Yes, but...she can try to laugh it off (see below)]

Ling and Ewa converse now and again to break the monotony of guard duty, and to make sure neither falls asleep in the small, warm front room, lit by low lantern light.

"I don't care what most people say about you," says Ling, "I think you're well easy to work with."

"Uh, thanks, I guess," says Ewa.

"That sorta came out wrong. I just mean you don't fall all over yourself around me and go all goo-goo eyed."

"That's because I've seen what you do to your lovers when you're done with them. Marcus walked out into the wastes alone, Annabel wandered into a nest of heritor bugs--"

"But Tasha shacked up with Imran and now they're expecting a litter of kittens. Or something... anyways, I thought you were above listening to enclave gossip."

"Should we change the subject, maybe?"

"Yeah, prolly. So, like... how come you brought so much gear this trip? You can barely walk under it all. And you're at least as strong as Norna."

"I was fine until Junemay made me lug the tent."

"Well she hates you the most. Even more than Fitz. But seriously, I saw power cells in your bag. You don't even own anything that needs them."

[Ewa needs to make a CHA/Persuasion check of 8+ to deflect the question: 2d6-1(unskilled)=9, success.]

"Special assignment. I want to be ready for anything. I got a good feeling about our scavenging potential on this one."

"You're weird, you know that?"

[Time to check for a night-time encounter; 1d6=1! Since the watches were haphazardly chosen, I just went down my N/PC list and took each pair as a watch. Ewa counts as the first on the list, since Junemay wouldn't want to take a watch with her. So, on which watch does the encounter occur? (1d4) 1 EL, 2 HK, 3 TN, 4 FJ: 1d4=2, Horsey & Kaz

The random encounter charts produce 1d4=2 Flaysnakes (AC 7, Move 20, HD 3, Att +4/1d6 bite+poison, Skill +2, Save 14+, ML 8).

Now to check for surprise... Surprise -- when there is a chance of it at all -- is determined by an opposed skill check. The average Dexterity/Stealth skill total of the ambushers is rolled against the best Wisdom/Perception skill total of the ambushees. The flaysnakes have a Skill +2 notation which applies here, and Kaz has Perception-0 and a +1 Wis bonus.

So, Kaz's PCN-0: 2d6=12! vs. 2d6+2=10; No surprise round]

Kaz and Horsey are sitting in uncomfortable silence. Horsey is desperately trying to think of something -- anything -- to say, and Kaz is just wishing he'd been given watch with Ling. Or Taf. Or anyone else, really.

Something stirs in the ruined kitchen, where no one should be. "Did you hear that?" whispers Horsey, her ears twitching.

Kaz does not respond, but stands and aims his laser pistol at the empty doorway. But it isn't empty for long. Two flaysnakes -- man-sized, skinless, venomous serpents famed for their malicious ferocity -- dart out of the darkness to strike.

[Initiative is 1d8+dex modifier; Rolls are K8 H8 fa5 fb2]

Horsey leaps up and sounds the camp alarm, all the steel and aluminium cook pots hanging on a cord. Kaz fires his laser at the first snake through the door. The sizzling yellow beam leaves a long, charred wound in the flaysnake's side, but it merely hisses louder and tries to strike. Kaz wheels aside at the last second, and its dripping fangs close on thin air. The other serpent tries to sink its teeth into Horsey. It almost succeeds, but cannot pierce the armoured shell of scrap metal she wears.

[Kaz rolled a 19. His base attack bonus is +1, so I stopped counting, as an adjusted roll of 20+ is a hit (just like in Scarlet Heroes).=hit; Laser pistols do 1d6 damage; a roll of 2 translates into 1HD in Scarlet Heroes terms. The flaysnake has 2HD left.

Flaysnake-A attacked Kaz. It rolled 1d20=7 +4(attack bonus) +5(Kaz's AC) for a total of 16, miss. Flaysnake-b rolled even worse (a 6) versus Horsey's better AC (3); 6+4+3=miss.

Having been roused by the alarm, the sleepers upstairs will all be grabbing weapons and rushing down the stairs. They will arrive on round 1d6+2; Ewa's Danger Sense will let her arrive on round 1d4+2.]

Arrivals -- E3 L4 N4 F5 J5 T7

[Round 2]
Kaz burns a hole in the peeling wallpaper with his next shot. Horsey lashes out with her tail stinger, and the tip nearly gets stuck in the floorboards. Neither flaysnake catches its prey in its slavering jaws.

[Rolls of 3,4,3,6. I swear I was using d20s...]

[Round 3]
The flaysnake before Kaz coils back to strike again. Kaz takes careful aim and fires just as it springs towards him. The laser beam burns into it but it does not drop, and Kaz finds its jaws clamped down on his shoulder. He cries out and falls to the floor.

[The laser did 1 more HD of damage; the flaysnake has 1HD remaining. It rolled a 6 on its damage die, which translates into 2HD of damage. Kaz is now at 0HD -- dead or dying.]

Meanwhile, Horsey and the other snake are circling each other warily, looking for a chance to attack [miss, miss].

The first flaysnake is rearing up for a chance to strike at Horsey from the back when Ewa comes down the stairs. She takes her crowbar in both hands and brings it down on the snake's head with a loud crunch. The flaysnake flops down over Kaz, twitches once, then is still.

[Ewa arrived on Initiative d8=1. A crowbar used one-handed is a normal club (d4 damage), but with two hands it inflicts 2d4 damage. Ewa gets to add +1 to one die for her STR bonus. The damage rolls were 2+1 & 2: 1HD each. 2HD damage killed it.]

[Round 4]
Horsey and the furious serpent keep circling one another. Each makes a few feints, but neither can get past the other's guard. [The flaysnake needed to make a morale check as its friend was killed and it's seriously outnumbered. But as these things are so vicious, I did not apply any penalties to the roll. 2d6=8, it kept fighting].

Norna and Ling are next down the stairs [Initiative 2&5, respectively]. Ling has her revolver in hand, but doesn't wish to risk hitting one of her friends in the small space, so draws a knife instead. Norna doesn't particularly care, and shoots her crossbow. The bolt hits the snake in the tail, but it seems to be more annoyed than injured.

[There aren't firing-into-mêlée rules, but I will probably use some from another game. But Norna rolled a natural 20, so I don't need to go looking quite yet. Unfortunately, she rolled a 1 for damage, so the hit has no appreciable effect.]

Ewa swings her crowbar so hard she nearly loses her balance, and connects with nothing.

[Round 5]
As the flaysnake ducks slightly underneath the arc of the wildly swinging crowbar, Horsey's tail swishes up and spears its jaw [1d6=6; 2HD damage drops it to 1HD]. The snake hisses in pain, and blood and venom leak from the wound. It strikes back at Horsey in a rage, but just rebounds off her steel breastplate.

Ling advances with her knife, but between Horsey's swishing tail and Ewa's wildly swinging crowbar [miss], she cannot get in close enough to stab at the flaysnake [miss].

Norna draws her own knife. Fitz and Junemay arrive behind Norna on the staircase, but can only crane their necks to get a glimpse of the action.

[Round 6]
Horsey stabs forward with her stinger once again. The point pierces the awful snake's heart, and blood sprays out its mouth as it falls to the floor at her feet [1HD damage kills it].

[Round 7]
Having slain the flaysnake, Horsey rushes immediately to Kaz's side. His breathing is ragged, but at least he still draws breath. She puts one hand over his head, the other over his heart, and concentrates. She stirs up the life-energy in his injured frame, willing injured flesh to heal. She's never understood this power herself, but her instincts have always been true.

Soon Kaz opens his eyes, and stares weakly up at Horsey. "If this is heaven," says Kaz, "I want a word with that lying vicar."

"Jeezits, Kaz," interjects Junemay. "I was gonna let you off since you were injured in the line of duty, but since you're such an ungrateful shite I'm gonna make you finish your watch. Horsey, you're relieved -- you've earned a rest. Ewa, you take the rest of her watch."

"Me? What'd I do?"

[After 6 rounds, a mortally wounded character dies, so Kaz had until round 9. He got to roll a Luck save to avoid being poisoned by the flaysnake's bite, which he fortunately made -- had he failed it, I would have ruled him past hope.

Healing Touch restores 1d6+Con modifier damage. 3+1=4, which translates to 1HD in Scarlet Heroes terms. Kaz also picks up a point of System Strain.

I actually threw a die to determine who got stuck with the extra shift. 1d6= Junemay is not above petty vindictiveness.

Re-reading the Encumbrance rules, I realised that Ling and Norna would have been able to draw their knives (being Readied Items) and attack in the same round. The whole drawing-a-weapon-and-not-attacking-until-the-next-round will be a feature of this campaign for a while, at least until Scene 15. Mea maxima culpa.

The Oracle said the rest of the night would be uneventful, and there were no random encounters the next day, so this ends the scene.]

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