Today I had the pleasure of running what I hope can be the start of a long-running (or at least medium length?) game of Netherlight, using Sigve Solvaag's setting (more on that in the near future!) and rules riffing off of Jim's Galaxy Far Away.
The setting is a space fantasy drawing inspiration from Treasure Planet (breathable space, solar sails space-ships, age of sail aesthetic) mixed with early Rogue Trader (there's an Empire, space elves, orcs, dwarves etc. as well as space wizards and a warp-like hypercosmos).
The rules are Free Kriegsspiel, 2d6 vs 2d6 after establishing intent and impact.
- Callisto is an Artificer of Serga. These are the engineers and machinists of wizard country (Serga is a Magocracy neighboring the Empire). Her powers mostly influence machines, electronics and manufactured objects. She is also blessed with cat-like reflexes, and wanted by the Sergan Secret Police (of wizards!) for mysterious reasons. She is driven to unlock the secrets of the universe, and pursues knowledge of the mysterious precursor race that left pathways through the stars.
- Cleanthor of Abgoror, a mighty Space Barbarian. A stoic man unimpressed by the so-called wonders of civilisation, hoping for a better life of peaceful gardening once he is rid of the massive debt he owes to a powerful crime syndicate.
Together with other (as of yet uncreated) spacers, they fly the ISS Absence and go on space adventures!
- Play began in Greenhaven, a hive world on the fringe of imperial territory. In the high gardens, nobles in golden mechanical bodies live away from the pleb. Beneath lies the Antechamber, with the bulk of imperial population, kept in check by silver-and-chrome police and bureaucrats, as well as a strong Imperial Navy presence. Down another level are the Depths, where the dwindling native population, as well as labourers, outcasts and criminals, dwell. Even below is the Zone, which opens into the toxic wastes outside the City.
- The party was hanging out at the Fourth Moon (Greenhaven has three), a rundown viking bar ran by a dour dwarven veteran, when they were approached by a prospective employer. A walking and talking hologram of Kathren Hayle, a pathfinder (like the scout service in Traveller), offered them a job: find Anita Kowalski. Kowalski had been away on an expedition in the deepest horizons of the galactic rim and came back changed. She had failed to deliver her reports and disappeared somewhere on Greenhaven. Suspecting foul play from the Imperial Navy, she had to resort to outsiders who looked like they could handle themselves in a fight.
- They took on the job for 2000 crowns, 500 of which would be delivered by an agent at the docks in an hour or so, and got work on their leads. They knew Kowalski's adress, her brother's name and that she had planned on visiting a local shadow broker called the Clock Maker. Then a ship blew up while they were waiting for payment on the docks.
- Imperial Navy showed up and started arresting random suspicious people, and ran after the party, who ran after the dude with the payment. Cleanthor grabbed him and checked the package he gave them, then they all ran after confirming the money was there. [first of five dice throws there. Running away from the cops. Risk was getting caught, one player rolled for the group and did very well] Thankfully, they managed to lose the imperials in a crowded street, and went to the appartment.
- Breaking into Anita's flat, the PCs found a burned journal with one page remaining, wild scribblings speaking of seeing things crawling out the walls. Plus a gun in the water tank and an emptied bottle of painkillers as well as bloodied rags in the bathroom sink.
- Next stop was Kyle - they went around bars asking about him until a patron gave them his adress. His place was in-between the Antechamber and Depths, and two goons (Pierrot with the Pompadour and the Sawed-Off, Max with the Mohawk and the Club) banging on the door. They waited for them to go in, then went after them. Pierrot saw them and suggested they leave, but Callisto drew her gun faster than he could ready his. [second dice roll. Pierrot had his shotgun in hands but didn't really expect to have to use it, and Callisto's talent is Dexterity, so I made it a roll off. Had she failed, she would have been shot in the guts at close range, which means probably bleeding out on the floor. But she beat him by a good margin so he was now at a disadvantage] This made negotiating an option again, and the party convinced the goons to leave for now and come back later as they had questions for Kyle. Chatting around with a perhaps unnecessary number of good cop, bad cop, the PCs figured Kyle didn't know where his sister was. Though he really wanted to help (and perhaps stay close to people who could ward off his debtholders) - so he joined the party for now as a Chemist/Gambler with a cocky attitude.
- The last stop was the Clock Maker's office, a tent filled with antiques in the Bazar. The kindly old man was accompanied by a hulking muscle man, with the physique of a Titan but the manners of, well, of a Titan [this are basically Space Marines]. Negotiations went well, and after losing a hundred crowns, the party learned that Anita had come visit the Clock Maker for access to someone who could change her face in a jiffy, and the keys to an old access tunnel to the Zone.
- After quickly stopping by at a party to meet Nezumi, the medical student who had performed the facial surgery (they got a holo of her new face from him), they went down into the Zone, where they found an underground lake surrounded by a camp of sick and injured refugees cared for by local nemurian healers calling themselves the Brotherhood of Pain and Sorrow. One Brother Martin showed them the way to where Anita had gone a little while ago, and mentioned how she left a journal for him that a strange man came to ask for a bit before the PCs arrived. A hairless man who seemed as if in a waking dream. Brother Martin now felt he had made a mistake, and that the journal should have gone to them instead.
- In the green mist of the Zone, walking in white sand dunes in high ceiling corridors nearing the outdoors, the party found Anita kneeling in pain. She warned them off, asked them to "warn Hannibal" and uttered it was already too late before suddenly turning into a horrible insectoid monster with slimy bat wings and sword-like appendices. The barbarian did cut her head as she started to turn, to no avail, but at least she didn't suffer. [The decapitation was not rolled for as it didn't seem like a challenge to me. He then kept swinging at the corpse and rolled pretty bad, so I described how his sword bumped away from the rock-hard chitin under the rapidly tearing flesh]. Then the monster took a swing at the barbarian who tried to parry. [He rolled low but not that far from the beast's roll, so I ruled he got injured - a deep cut along the arm, and he was knocked down. Being a barbarian, he didn't let go of his weapon though.] When the PCs realized Kyle's and Callisto's gunfire didn't do much either, they took off. [Another roll as the beast lunged forward to kill the Barbarian, and he got lucky again. Might have been a short-lived career otherwise].
- They then realized they were leading the monster straight into a camp of healers and injured people. Callisto stopped running and focused all of her psi energy into twisting the machineries around them to collapse the ceiling and walls onto the beast. [She rolled a 5, the beast got a 4] It stopped it just in time, but the strain was such that the artificer passed out from exhaustion, her nose bleeding profusely. Feeling safer but in great need of medical attention, Cleanthor carried her friend away and got help from the Brotherhood.
- The next morning, they went to Kathren to tell her what had happened, and she had no trouble believing them considering their wounds and some pictures they'd taken after the healing seances. She followed-up by mentioning a Casper Mardok - an Imperial Navy officer with no body or facial hair whatsoever, who had been on Anita's tail since before she came back from the Rim. The PCs mentioned how he had stolen her Journal from the Brotherhood, and Kathren gave them two jobs.
- They'd track down Casper and figure out what his role was in whatever Anita had discovered. Plus, they'd be hired as surveyors for the Pathfinders, getting paid for bringing news and updated star charts to local scout stations on their journey to retrace Anita's steps and discover what horrors lie beyond the edge of the Galaxy.
- Overall, it was a fairly straightforward adventure, though I think it worked well as an introduction to the setting and characters as well as a fun way to foreshadow some of the stuff that will come into play later. It took me about two hours to prep, though I think I should have made a random events/encounters table to spice things up at times. On the other hand, it took just about four hours (from an expected three hours) to wrap up entirely.
- I'm happy about how the dicing around violence went, and dropping hits is starting to pay off as I learn to telegraph danger and heighten the stakes to keep a somewhat gritty feel to things, which I had previously had trouble with without Hits. The key is to assume the worst. Anytime an enemy threatens you with intent to kill, the end result might be death or crippling injury unless the player does something to change that. This worked very well I think.
- Perhaps I could have celebrated the Barbarian's genre-savviness when instantly decapitating the poor lady-turned-giant-bug, as "it may have been a tad anticlimatic" does not necessarily trumps "what would happen". A better lesson I can take from that is "figure out exactly how tough and what weaknesses a monster has beforehand". It made sense to me that it wasn't just the head and more of a general "host body as chrysalis thing" that was being discarded by the monster at that point. So all is well.