Friday, October 31, 2014

Numenera - Tales of the Broken Mask - Session 7



The Sun Below: City on the Edge, Part 1


Special Introduction 


This week I received a copy of Dread Unicorn Games' The Sun Below: City on the Edge by John W. S. Marvin, a licensed adventure for Monte Cook Games' Numenera.  I've only done a few reviews up to this point, and if you are a regular reader of my blog you know that my typical post is just a simple rehash of the craziness that occurs at my gaming tables, both virtual and live.  But the timing was perfect!  I've had a bit of writer's block, especially following the Stonebound Monk, and wasn't sure where to take my game, so I welcomed the opportunity to give The Sun Below a try, and pick up adventuring materials to keep my players underground until the end of Hallowthanksmas.



So What's Inside?

This may possibly be a rather a nontraditional game review and ongoing play report for The Sun Below: City on the Edge, but I still feel it necessary to give you an idea of what you are going to find inside.  Right away you get hit with cover art that for me is reminiscent of TSR's Dark Sun.  The lead artist on this project was Reece Ambrose who, as well as being an awesome guy (we happened to meet at Gen Con this year) places evocative imagery all throughout the adventure, as do the other artists involved (Alysha Lach, Gill Pearce, Doug Scott, Alicia Severson, James E. Shields, Justin Wyatt, and Britanny Zendejas.)  Not to get ahead of myself, by my favorite piece from this module comes up on page 14, the image of the An Dormorr, a biomechanical craft that will take the adventurers deep within the bowels of the Ninth World.  One of my favorite aspects of Numenera is how the game can take you from a feel of traditional fantasy right to the weird so quickly.  One moment you find yourself battling a tentacled monstrosity with swords and bows, and the next you are getting ready to ride a living airship.  John W. S. Marvin does a superb job keeping the flavor and context that has made Numenera a success.  

The overall design of the adventure is easy to follow.  There is a very handy index, as one would expect from a quality adventure, but The Sun Below: City on the Edge goes a step further.  Hat's off to both John W. S. Marvin and Project Editor Alison Wells for such an awesome layout of the materials.  The adventure shares a similar layout as the Numenera Corebook, with callouts  and pertinent information listed along the edges of the main text, which makes running this adventure very easy.  Frankly, if I didn't know already that this was a third-party licensee, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.  

The adventure itself is vast and sweeping, with 42 pages of actual adventure text embedded within the 60 page product.  Here is where I deviate a bit from a traditional review.  Since I plan to run this entire adventure for my Tales of the Broken Mask campaign, I'll be featuring my thoughts on each section over the next several weeks.  What I will say is that you're in for quite a ride as The Sun Below: City on the Edge ends up providing a whole new setting beneath the drit of the Ninth World.  

Before I move on to the summary of the first adventure, I'd like to share some of the new rules and materials that you'll encounter.  First and foremost is the way Marvin scales this module for virtually any campaign, from First Tier to Sixth Tier.  In a section called "Modifying the Adventure," it is explained that most difficulty levels will have three values, one for first and second tier, one for third and fourth, and one for fifth and sixth.  

Let me say now, very clearly, that this... is... BRILLIANT!

If someone else in the Cypher community has done this already please let me know, but John, if you are the first, WOW, what a great idea!  I know that the Cypher System is in general very easy to scale, but to have everything so clearly set up for the game master is really, really great.  My players in the Tales of the Broken Mask campaign just hit Second Tier, so I'd be using the first number in the "x/x/x" split, but when they hit Third Tier all the necessary changes are made.  Love it!

Another new rule is a Mook system.  I'm sure most of you have seen this before, and for me this hearkens back to D&D 4th Edition and Minions.  1-Hit Mooks and 2-Hit Mooks are both described, as well as an optional No-Mook variant.  I'm going to break from my apparent fan-boy game-crush just a tad here.  While I like the concept of the Mook, I don't know if I care for the actual term "Mook".  Not sure if there is another option, but for me a Mook is slang that breaks the feel for the weird setting just a little.  This is probably just a preference-thing, and I guess I could call them minions, but I don't like that term either.  I'm probably not going to call them anything actually, but the rules are sturdy and I intend on using them.

So you get the maps, the art, and the optional rules, but you also get creatures... a DOZEN pages of additional creatures.  At the heart of the adventure are the Praithians, a Ninth World version of a Mummy using numenera to extend their lives.  Several variants are listed, and they fit the module very well.  But there are also other creatures that, while they are designed for The Sun Below: City on the Edge, can be lifted out and placed anywhere with relative ease.  The Pyronic Sentry, a synth and glass construct resembling a heat-impervious "Big Daddy" (from Bioshock) is probably my favorite.  To see a bunch of these rise out of lava would be a terrifying sight indeed!  

If this sounds good to you so far, be sure to check out the adventure on DriveThruRPG.  Download the sample PDF and give it a quick browse.  Given the time and effort that John W. S. Marvin and his team put into this module, it's certainly a steal at $7.99.  

If you are still wondering if the adventure is right for your crew, read on! 



Characters

Active:
  • Chase Rombek, a Mystical Nano who Sees Beyond, played by Frank
  • Jak, a Mutant Glaive who Constantly Evolves, played by Craig
  • Glyquorg, an Exiled Jack who Controls Animals, played by Andy
Inactive:  
  • Ralyx, Mlox Jack who Throws with Deadly Accuracy, played by Marc


Non-Player Characters of Note

  • Bel, owner of Bel's Bar and Coffins in the Traveler's Den
  • Ennuan, an old associate of Chase who was an Aeon Priest and now belongs to the Three Swords 
  • Gurn-Ellohesh, Fixer for the Broken Mask
  • Nyxie, Captain of the Grinder


Summary


It had been three weeks since our Unmasked Seekers of Nihliesh's well-known Sacred Hunters of the Broken Mask completed their capture of Raa-em, the Stonebound Monk.  Knowing that there novice bounty hunters managed to return with a rather impressive, and unexpectedly difficult mark, senior initiates of Typhaon's order decided that more important missions should be assigned to this new crack team of hunters.  Late one night at Bel's Bar and Coffins, a small dive establishment in the lowest depths of Nihliesh, Glyquorg was seated at a small table just outside of his sleeping chamber, one of the "coffins."  Bel had just finished cleaning up the bar when she walked down the back hallway of her Traveler's Den and placed a simple card in front of the Exiled Jack.  The card had a scrawled map of the city on one side, with an X marking the southern end of the petitioner's ward outside of the city's structure.  On the other side were the initials GE.

Gurn-Ellohesh, fixer of the Broken Mask was calling.

Glyquorg queried Bel as to whether or not in her opinion this could wait until morning.  She offered a serious response only if serious money was put on the table, so Glyquorg woke Jak and Chase and left the city.  Elehar had been missing for at least two weeks, on a "walkabout" outside the city's limits while Ralyx had business dealings to which he needed to attend.  They'd catch up eventually, thought Glyquorg.  

Just outside of the city, about where the mark was scrawled on the map was a massive organic ship, resting on top of the snow-dusted sands of the Matheunis Cold Desert.  The ship was a "Grinder", a land-sail craft carved out of the living body of a massive seventy-foot long beetle.  Jak had seen such craft before, and remarked that the giant beetle was flipped onto its back while great wheels were inserted into its sides.  The musculature of the beetle's innards would manipulate the wheels.  The term "grinder" came from the beetle's mouth, which was on the "deck" of the craft.  Drivers would take scoops of grain and dried beans and shovel them into the mouth of the creature, which would in turn grind them up with its mouthparts.  As long as it was fed, a grinder was a great way to travel the desert.  

The grinder's pilot was a young mutant woman with shimmering skin and six fingers on each hand.  She just happened to be speaking to Gurn-Ellohesh.  When the party approached, the fixer was not himself.  He was curt, saying few words, only that "Ellohesh" was hogging up too much time.  The woman interjected that her name was Nyxie, and that the lattimor fixer was in his bursk state at the moment.  A member of the Broken Mask as well, Nyxie dismissed Gurn and told the party that she would be delivering information regarding their next marks.   

Chase was interested in Nyxie's mutations, and blatantly scanned her in the middle of their conversation.  This of course fouled the mutant's mood, causing her to prefer conversation with Jak and Glyquorg rather than the party's Nano.  Nyxie told the party that their marks were two children, both grandchildren to an important member of the Three Swords.  The Three Swords were a terrorist organization of Angulan Knights, bolstered by the Order of Truth, bent on taking down the Fahat, the ruling caste of Nihliesh.  For the Knights, destruction of the Fahat could lead to the fall of a powerful city of despicable mutants.  For the Aeon Priests, the Fahat's connections to the Convergence was a dangerous impediment to the Order's expansion of power and dominance.  

Chase returned to Nyxie's good graces when he admitted that he had a connection to one member of the Three Swords - the Aeon Priest Ennuan.  Nyxie knew this, and told the team that Ennuan's grandchildren, Tuctin and Tar, were the marks.  They were to be captured and returned to Nihliesh as bargaining chips.  Once the mission was accepted the team boarded the craft.  

Scouts of the Broken Mask last tracked Ennuan to the city of Guran, where his grandchildren resided.  From there he was traveling north-west to the edge of the Black Riage mountains, in search of a prophecy spewing face.  Nyxie informed the team that a few weeks ago the Iron Wind ripped through the southern end of the Black Riage, and in its wake left a massive organic face on the side of a hill.  This face spoke strange words in an alien tongue, but occasionally a few lines of the Truth came out.  Many Aeon Priests traveled to the site, as well as other petitioners, pilgrims, and tourists.  Ennuan was said to be taking his grandchildren to see the face, which would make them especially vulnerable to  the bounty hunters.  It would take just the night and a few hours of the morning to reach this location by Grinder.

The face was an impressive sight indeed!  Sixty feet tall and constructed of violet and brown stone textured flesh, this humanoid face continued to talk and mumble countless words.  There were several witnesses to this scene when the grinder arrived.  Two elderly travelers were near the mouth, as well as a drunken couple seemingly in love.  A chain gang of slaves nearby sifted through the drit hunting for other materials that could have formed from the Iron Wind.  

At the center of the group was a wagon with a simple lizard pack animal, and sitting atop the wagon was Ennuan with his two grandchildren.  Chase was careful to cover his face while he approached the significantly larger cliffside face, hoping to not be recognized by his former associate.  The rest of the bounty hunters followed, listening to the odd words escaping the visage's lips:

"The sun below... floating heads tell tales... the world below... the portal station needs repair... the daughter sees, the father cannot, the mother might."  

Ennuan was just smiling, and when he saw Jak standing nearby he started up some small talk.  Ennuan assumed that since Jak was a mutant he came from Nihliesh.  Jak carefully stated that he hadn't been to the city in some time and asked why the Aeon Priest was interested.  The priest backpedaled, apologizing for acting on the stereotype that all mutants had to come from city that once walked.  Looking away from Jak and back towards the face Ennuan admitted that he was just interested in the goings-on of an important trade city, and that he was an occasional visitor himself.  While the two spoke, Tuctin and Tar decided to get closer to the face.  

It was about this time that the face started to slur its speech and come apart in great purple globs.  As the party lurched back in disgust a great tentacled monstrosity, a Travonis ul, bounded from within the mouth and started flailing on the visitors with its long whip-like appendages!  The elderly couple was smashed, as was the male of the drunken couple.  The tentacles not only struck with the force of a sledgehammer, they also created a stinging sensation that numbed everyone who was struck.  [When you get to the end of the adventure, I discuss this effect in my parting thoughts... a bit of a Game Master error]

There was little the party could do to wound the creature, as Glyquorg spent much of the encounter stunned and unable to flee while Jak's blade did minor damage to the beast.  Chase knew that his mental powers could have a significant impact though, and he backed away from the Travonis ul's reach and let loose with a massive blast of psychic energy.  The creature was struck!  Impressed with himself, Chase made the mistake of pulling back his hood to get a better view of the beast's reaction, but in turn revealed himself to his former associate Ennuan!  He didn't have much time to react, however, as he was soon struck by a dead body flung at him from the Travonis ul, causing one of his cyphers to discharge.  

The two grandchildren, marks for the bounty hunters of the Broken Mask, were not far from the giant face's mouth while this battle was going on.  While the team fought the Travonis ul, two yellow tubes emerged from the mouth of the giant face, and one by one the two children were grappled and dragged into the cave that formed in the stone maw.  Jak had been trying to get the lovesick drunken woman to let go of him; when her lover died, she charged towards the Glaive screaming "Save me, be my hero!"  Once free, the Mutant Glaive charged into the mouth, followed by Chase and then Glyquorg.  The trio found that the interior was made of synth and steel corridors, with a corridor to the left leading to an empty stasis pod, and one to the right leading to a stasis pod containing a decaying mass that was once another Travonis ul.  The party didn't have much time to search for the children when the Travonis ul charged back inside and started flailing again.  Luckily the beast was still sicked from a long time in stasis, so it only required a few more thrusts from Jak for it to collapse.  


Quotes


"… a flipped over giant cyborged potato bug." - Jim describes the "Grinder", the creature/ship that would take the party to the Black Riage.

"You let a terrorist, who is also a grandpa, get away!?!" - Glyquorg to Chase Rombek on finding out that the ex-Aeon Priest PC let a former associate and known member of the Three Swords faction go.  

"GM intrusions are a terrible mechanic in this game…" - Andy wasn't having a good night with the die-rolling

Jim - "You're trying to D&D your way out of this encounter!" -
Andy - "The encounter D&D'd us!" 

Parting Thoughts on Part 1


So I made a few changes to the very start of this adventure that you probably wouldn't notice unless you've read through The Sun Below: City on the Edge.  The adventure gives several optional plot hooks, one involving an Aeon Priest, and since our party of bounty hunters already had a connection to Ennuan, I only had to change a few names to make this work.  One of the plot hooks in the original adventure materials is more of a rescue mission, so the idea that our player characters have to save the two children only to kidnap them for the Broken Mask is a bit twisted.  It'll be interesting to see how that plays out over the next several weeks.

We didn't have an especially long session last night because we were two players down, but the initial reactions of our group were interesting... mostly due to my mangling of an encounter!  That first encounter with the Travonis ul, even though it was weakened, was absolutely brutal for three second tier characters considering this GM sometimes doesn't read an entire stat block!  I had the tendril attack, which can hit everyone within short range each round, capable of stunning victims on a failed might defense roll.  A Travonis ul can in fact stun a PC, but only if it hits with hits bite... the tendrils aren't supposed to have a stunning effect.

Oops!

Of course this left one player impaired and one debilitated.  So... yeah, I'm probably going to hear about that for a while!  Who knows what I'll bungle next week!

Coming Up Next Week

Our team of Unmasked Seekers will have to deal with Ennuan, who will question the party's presence at the Face.  Another potentially important NPC is Klaro, whose heart has been stolen my the incredible Glaive, Jak.  And finally... where did Tuctin and Tar go?