Friday, February 3, 2012

Annual Awesomeness

Once more I have left my (now) 'native' Florida to brave the frozen tundra that is South Dakota in late January. I return to you now with tales of adventure and amusement from what has now become an annual gaming pilgrimage. It started four years ago, shortly after I began this blog. A friend of mine (Steve, the other one (TOO)) was going to visit our old stomping grounds of Vermillion, South Dakota. A few of our mutual friends still live and game there. On a lark, I decided to go with him and attend a small gaming convention there called Vermincon. This trip is now a tradition, and every year I marvel at how much fun I have.

DAY 1:
I fly into Denver where I meet with Steve TOO.

Steve TOO drives the 9-10 hours to Vermillion, SD. Along the way, we game. In this case, I ran an adventure in our new 'Next Generation' Star Wars campaign- where he is playing the child of his 'old' Star Wars character. If you haven't tried gaming on a long trip, let me tell you that it is a GREAT way to pass the time. It keeps both driver and passenger engaged without causing an accident. The only thing that really requires figuring out is how to roll dice. This was solved this time by using digital dice rollers. Steve TOO has a tablet, I have a laptop. Between them, there is plenty of juice to last through the trip. The adventure I ran was fun, and in it, we discovered that a young Mandalorian with the 'Stubborn' and 'Overconfident' disadvantages doesn't make the best candidate for handling 'first contact' situations with powerful, alien empires.

Upon reaching Vermillion, we bunked at the house of my other friend (also named Steve). There, we kicked back, shared amusing youtube clips we'd discovered, then watched a 'Rifftracks' version of a truly abominable 80's film called 'Abraxis, Guardian of the Universe' (or something of the sort). This starred Jesse the Body Ventura. Yeah. It was horrible. But the commentary was hilarious.

The next day I slept in, then helped get things set up at Vermincon. Instead of running anything, I signed up to actually PLAY in a game that evening. Steve was running a session of a game he has dubbed "Scooby-Doo Cthulu". The premise of this is as follows: The players take control of members of the Scooby Gang. If there are more than five players, 'Special Guest Stars' are introduced. In our case, this was Don Knots (appearing as a local deputy, of course). Once players are assigned to characters, a situation is introduced. In this case, we were attending the wedding of one of Daphne's friends- which just happened to be in the creepy old Cathedral in the middle of nowhere.

Well, odd things started happening and the 'gang' began to investigate. But instead of men in rubber masks or images projected on the mist created by dry ice it was... well, REAL horrors from the unknown. In this case, a coven of witches and warlocks determined to sacrifice the bride-to-be to their demonic patron. Thus, the gang found itself fighting animated, pumpkin-headed scarecrows wielding scythes. In the end (and much to all of our surprise) the entire gang managed to escape- though Don Knots was almost killed, Velma was wounded and Shaggy had a permanent psychosis. Scooby wound up tearing the throats out of two of the Witch cultists- which really saved the day. The gang, upon escaping (with the rescued sacrifice), burned down the cathedral. Like, ZOINKS!

The game was a LOT of fun. I played Shaggy and Steve TOO played Scooby. We had the rest of the group giggling on several occasions- like when Officer Don Knots drove up to the mystery machine in his squad car. I did my best Shaggy voice: "Like, hide the stash, Scoob! It's the fuzz!"

The next day, I started my Star Wars adventure for the group. The premise was a bit different than anything we'd done before. A series of bad dreams drew the group together. The group included: Rick Oman (Mandalorian Warlord), Arianne Volar (New Republic Admiral and Jedi Knight), Horatio Flynn (Self-Proclaimed Emperor of the Nagai), and Bob (Jedi Knight and Khan of the Tusken Hordes). Following the clues found in their dreams, the team made its way to the ruins of the planet Korriban (destroyed in the last adventure). There, they discovered an ancient, spherical prison that had once been buried far below the surface of the planet. It was now, unfortunately, cracked open and empty. Inside they found a group of Sith also investigating. After some initial tension, however, the two groups talked and pieced together the following: An ancient and powerful evil had been imprisoned here by the Sith, thousands of years ago. It was apparently set loose by the destruction of Korriban. Already, it seemed to be 'calling' to Jedi and Sith both, with some on both sides 'vanishing'.

Searching for clues, the heroes (with one Sith 'ally' in tow), traveled to the ancient Library of Xer. There, they found not only a hidden repository of Sith Knowledge, but also signs that others (some of the missing Jedi) were also investigating this, and had already visited the library. The Jedi in question included Jared (one of my Star Wars group's previous comrades) and Galen Marek (yes, Starkiller- who they had 'rescued' in last year's adventure). The main find of the mission, however, was information on how the ‘prison’ sphere the Entity was housed in worked. The Ancient Sith created the sphere, lured the Entity inside it, then ‘sealed’ it by sacrificing thousands of force-sensitive thralls. The spirits of these beings is what held the entity inside. Thus, in order to put this thing away again, someone was going to have to die. According to the information, the ‘imprisoning’ effect might also be achieved by the ‘sacrifice’ of one very powerful person instead of thousands of ‘lesser’ individuals.

As the group tried to exit the library (with data and a few Sith Holocrons), they found their paths blocked by the normal 'patrons' of the place, all of whom were acting in unison, like zombies. Evidently, the Entity had 'touched' this place as well and spread its influence. Thus, the group had to escape WITHOUT injuring the (mostly) innocent people standing in their way.

As soon as they escaped, the group contacted their various ‘support groups. Oman put his fleet on Alert and moved one of his cruisers into position in case it’s firepower was needed. Horatio called his Nagai and, since they were experts in crystalline structures, ordered them to proceed to Korriban to repair the crystalline ‘prison’ there. Arianne contacted the Republic task force guarding Korriban to alert them of the danger. Bob, meanwhile, delved into the Sith Holocrons, looking for any more clues on how they might defeat the Entity.

Using clues found in the data repository (as well as some information gleaned from a brave/foolhardy 'mind-meld' with the entity, made by Bob), the group proceeded to a remote world housing a Sith Artifact/Temple. There, they discovered that the artifact was a ‘focus’ for Force Powers. The Entity was intending to use it to spread its influence and control across the galaxy.

I essentially stole the core storyline from a snippet I read on wookieepedia about the being ‘Abeloth’- and changed things up (since I never read any of the novels in which it was featured). Essentially, the ‘Entity’ wanted ‘love’- and thought it could get it by forcing people to adore it.

To make matters worse, word came from Korriban that the Republic forces there had fallen under the sway of Abeloth and were preventing the Nagai from entering to fix the prison. A quick call to Luke Skywalker resulted in him personally visiting Korriban to ‘sort out’ the situation there with a group of his fellow Jedi.

On the remote world, Abeloth had already gathered a sizable group of followers and housed them in the temple complex. These included Jedi, Sith and a number of civilians, including children. This complicated matters for the heroes, as they could not simply bombard the temple from orbit. Instead, they went down in person to see what they could do. This forced them into a battle with both Sith and their former comrade Jared- all mind-controlled by Abeloth.

Bob once again engaged Abeloth in ‘conversation’- providing an increasing distraction as the rest of the group went to work. Oman set about placing demo charges on the temple’s arcane generator. Horatio managed to clear the temple of its ‘human shields’- leading them outside as Abeloth’s attention became more and more focused on Bob. Arianne, meanwhile, was able to talk down a mind-controlled Galen Marek and snap him out of his zombie-stupor. Upon learning of the situation, Marek decided that he would be the one to sacrifice himself to imprison Abeloth once more.

The charges went off, the temple was destroyed and Abeloth was pissed. The party fled to their ship, taking on most of the recently freed mind-controlled folks. They then fled back to Korriban. All the while, the Jedi AND Sith onboard the heroes ship were battling mentally to keep Abeloth at bay. Upon arrival at Korriban, Galen Marek used a Nagai teleportation belt to enter the recently repaired prison. Drawn to his power, Abeloth followed. Galen sacrificed himself, sealing Abeloth inside once more.

Uncertain of what to do with Abeloth, the New Republic decided to move her prison to a Deep Space location- with only a handful of people knowing where that is. It is hoped that it will not be discovered- and that if any method of ‘destroying’ Abeloth is found, they can implement it.

And that was the end of the Star Wars adventure. Once more, I had a GREAT time, and my players seemed to have fun, too.

DAY 5:
I had an open schedule for the third day of the convention. In the morning, Steve TOO ran some Mass Effect adventures for me (with Todd sitting in to take control of one of my character’s ship mates). Steve had started this game a while back for me. It is a ‘homebrew’ game, using the D6 system as its base. In it, I play a commander of the ‘MIDWAY’, the second of the Normandy class vessels. So far, we are up against a group of Battarian terrorists working on some kind of bioweapon to use against humanity.

In the afternoon I ran an open session of Star Wars, using the Tatooine Manhunt adventure (shortened and modified by me to fit the limited time available to run it). I had been both looking forward to this and dreading it. I was absolutely CERTAIN that one particular gamer (one that had proven to be a constant annoyance in all the previous visits to SD) would want to play in the game- and would likely ruin it for all involved. Oddly enough, he was absent from most of the con- and did NOT show up for my game. In fact, nobody but Steve TOO had signed up for the game until shortly before it was due to start. Then I got a sudden influx of folks in the form of two 20-something guys (brothers, I think) and an older dude (40’s, maybe 50). I was shocked to find that these guys were both normal and good players. I’d go as far as saying that the older dude was a GREAT player.

The session was quite fun and it was interesting to note that the adventure proceeded a LOT differently than any of my previous run throughs with other groups (and I have run the adventure with quite a few over the years). In fact, this group did a lot to avoid some of the ‘set piece’ combats in the adventure. For example, they notice they are being followed by a speeder in the middle of the desert. The Heroes proceed through a canyon, set a booby trap for the following speeder. They mange to disable it- and as soon as they do, the heroes turn and continue on in their own speeder. Most ‘gamer’ groups would have gone to ‘finish off’ their pursuers. I respected the fact they didn’t use MORE force than was necessary. In fact, by avoiding several of the ‘big’ fights on the way to the final confrontation, the party had managed NOT to use any of its Force points. This resulted in a very quick ‘boss battle’ at the end which might have been much more difficult if the group hadn’t conserved their strength.

This was the first time I had run for a group of (mostly) complete strangers in a long while. I’m surprised and pleased it went as well as it did.

DAY 6:
The voyage home. Steve TOO drives and I run another adventure. Again, we play the ‘Next Generation’ campaign. This time, the hero (or heroine, as Steve’s character is a female) is part of the crew of an exploration ship (corvette sized). This mission is to rescue a team of researchers on a remote world. The ship arrives to find most of the researchers dead. Much strangeness ensues as Steve’s character explores the planet. Eventually, it is discovered that the researchers found an odd ‘stone’ on the planet, one that causes mass paranoia and eventually violence. He managed to get the stone back onboard the rescue ship with him. The heroine manages to get back to the ship and get rid of the stone in the nick of time, just as the entire crew is going berserk. Again, I had a lot of fun with this- and it really helped to pass the time on that long trip.

DAY 7:
I got home, after a hefty delay and a missed connection. As nice as it is to get away and see friends, it is just as nice to get home once more.

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