Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tinker, Titan, Rebel, Spy - Session 2

After Action Report

We pick up exactly where we left off after the first session. Aldru pulls in a captured fighter for questioning. After some interrogation, “Jimmy Scrambles” identifies himself as a member of the Junk Punks cell of the Mech Mob, and claims that someone gave them intel on the Princess’s arrival and orders to shoot her flight down. (Which raises the question: Why would someone fake a message to draw a Shinjurai princess out to the Empire to kill her? What puzzle pieces are we missing?)

Meanwhile, Damari analyzes the Marrowheart. It’s obviously an incredibly advanced piece of ancient technology, and it seems to fit certain controversial Fringe Rationalist speculations about psionic computers, but only so much can be gleaned by looking at it.  Damari decides to take a moderate gamble (literally, Mailanka offered me two approaches, and I chose the safer/less rewarding one), connecting it to an isolated computer system. Should be perfectly safe!

Obviously it isn’t. The computer seizes, begins repeating “Who?” incessantly, drawing massive power from the Warmain, gives every Psi on board a migraine, (notably Commander Rook and Lt. Sun, who turns out to be a latent pyrokinetic) and demanding a member of the Shinjurai royal family. Commander Rook jumps into action, hurrying to Damari’s lab, cutting the door open with his force sword, and forcibly ending the experiment. Damari is a little disappointed, but that’s the chain of command for you.

Sherri the prison soldier gets some attention from the Imperials, starting with Lt. Kyra Elso giving her a hard time for wasting the Junk Punks instead of capturing some. Nal sticks up for her as a fellow PC and hotshot, and makes some inquiries into her background. Sherri’s “parole officer” Abbot Chance recommends that she cultivate relationships for her eventual review, so Sherri pals around with Nal, Kyra, and Lt. Sun in the cantina. Nal’s definitely planning to put in a good word for her. Sherri explains how she wound up with explosive collar on her neck (poaching spotted space rats out of season), and the others speculate on how and why she might have been railroaded, although Sherri thinks she just had bad luck.
Times were hard in Space Oklahoma, and Sherri did what she had to do

The gang meets up for a briefing. Sub-Admiral Shaw and Governor Vos are both frantically attempting to meet with us and figure out what we’re doing; ignoring them would be potentially dangerous and probably stymie parts of our mission. We debate the possibility of hosting a ball or social function to loosen them up, but we flub an out of character Event Planning (IQ/A) roll to conceive of an event that advances our goals without being an obvious trap. So instead we’ll have Rook and Commodore Greave meet with them both to avoid favoring either party, while the rest of our group quietly inspects Director Thorn’s camp. Oh, and Damari gets approval to question the Princess further about the Marrowheart.

Having asked for the inch, Damari fully intends to take the mile, and walks over to the Princess’s quarters with a datapad loaded with specs. We’re officially treating her as a guest rather than a prisoner, so she’s in good quarters and Damari waits for a maid to show him in rather than waltzing through the door. The Princess is dressed down just a touch, asks Damari to call her “Mina” since they’re both so very rational, and has some tea brought in for them. Just a cozy captor-captive tea party.

Damari offers her the results of his experiment with the Marrowheart earlier, and asks for her thoughts. He’s explicitly consulting her as an equal - for one thing, she’s clearly intelligent, well-trained, and has expert knowledge on the subject of her family’s heirloom. For another, he’s guessing that the Princess gets more empty respect than actually asked for her opinion. Mina’s more skeptical of fringe theory than Damari is, and the Shinjurai myths are vague and metaphorical about the origin of the Marrowheart (it’s definitely linked to a monster of some kind, but that’s all that’s clear).

She suggests that more useful results could be gathered by hooking the Marrowheart to an AI like her secretary bot, but Damari demures and quietly decides that this would be too risky. While they talk, Mina makes a point of noting that the Shinjurai are not as wedded to the Alliance as their Grimshaw overlords. There’s the slightest hint of feminine interest from Mina, fleeting out of sight as soon as Damari takes a step back. The Imperial and the Princess, what scandal!

Basically Nal's ride

After some time (this event log isn’t strictly sequential) the party splits into two shuttles bound for the surface. Nal retroactively pulls some strings to get us a black ops drop ship to drop in on Thorn with, and in a moment of confusion, Damari decides to bring Mina to see Director Thorn. Honestly, that wasn’t my intent, but I was having mic issues, and the conversation went from “Wonder if Damari sneaks the princess down?” to “So how does he go about it?” before I could say otherwise. When in doubt, just roll with the fun option. Honestly, the hardest part of sneaking the Princess out is politely convincing her to quickly pick an outfit that she could potentially run in. We pretty much end with Nal bellowing at Damari to explain why there’s a princess onboard his stealth ship.

Session Commentary and Thoughts:

This wound up being kind of a transitional episode, where we re-evaluated after the big moments of the first session and prepared to meet the real powers planetside. Mailanka mentioned that we didn’t progress as far as he expected, and I find that’s pretty typical of second sessions in plot heavy games, as everyone tries to get their ducks in a row. I was struggling to focus on the session for other reasons though, so that might have been part of it.

We wound up splitting the party, with the two highest ranked PCs going to play politics and distract the Governor and Sub-Admiral while the fighter ace, spy, and bounty hunter track down Director Thorn at his campsite with a space princess in tow. RPG cliches aside, this doesn’t worry me - once you get away from pure combat games, it frequently makes sense to split the party - but I will be interested to see how the split is handled. I’m confident that my group is going to have fun, but part of me hopes that Greave and Rook’s meeting goes sideways for fun and drama.

Damari’s poor operational security became a running joke with the other players after going mad scientist with the Marrowheart and sharing the results with Mina, not to mention sneaking her off the Warmain. Which is fair, but there is some method to the madness. Damari’s main goal is to flip the Mina to make an Imperial asset, as well as to support Thorn’s discovery of an ancient weapon for the Empire. Working hypothesis that the Marrowheart is a control device for whatever Thorn’s found, and apparently coded to Mina’s bloodline.

Since Mina is showing blatantly pro-Imperial leanings (for one thing, she jumped at the chance to help Donlan Thorn hand the Empire an ancient super weapon), Damari is openly courting her (not like that! Okay maybe a little like that). If Mina flees back to the Alliance with whatever data Damari and Thorn can uncover, she still doesn’t have the Marrowheart. Unless she runs off with both the the Marrowheart and Thorn’s discovery (easier said than done, unless it’s a starship) then the Empire doesn’t really lose any advantage. It’s a bold play that’s way above Damari’s pay grade (at Rank 3, he’s not even a Special Agent yet), but he’s on home turf and feels that he has a strong hand to gamble with.

He’s also quite taken with Mina, who is intelligent, beautiful, willing to take risks, and insistently humble about her royal status. She’s also engaged, just to make things fun (but does she really want to marry some second-string Grimshaw?) Damari knows what a honeypot is (whole course on that at the Imperial Academy) and is aware that Mina could be playing him, but thinks he’s taking adequate precautions. We’ll see if that’s right.

Damari’s goals for next session revolve around filling in the big unanswered questions about Mina and Thorn. If he can work out what Thorn’s found, who brought Mina to Grist and who tried to have her killed, the crew of the Warmain will finally have a clear understanding of what they need to be doing on Grist. That’s probably easier said than done.

Play-Test Notes:

We didn’t interact too heavily with the Psi Wars setting, but we did some interesting meta-level playstyle interaction between a lot of the table. Mailanka and Salsathegeek (Nal Aldru) spent a fair amount of time trying to get Kalazz to expand on how Sherri was arrested and forced into the Galaxy’s Most Dangerous Work-Release Program. Kal wasn’t thrilled about this, and protested after the fact that he didn’t like backstory writing, much less writing backstory mid-session.

I think it’s fair to say that Sherri’s backstory is intended to be just a thumbnail sketch to justify her participation on this mission. Who cares why the President was kidnapped, are you a bad enough dude to rescue him from ninjas? It’s a different approach that most of the playtesters, but it’s also really good to have in the game. Psi Wars is intended to work for Brent and Bjorn as much as Willow and DesirĂ©e, and building characters with simple backstories should feel viable and not out-of-place. I think Sherri works on that note. She was raised by dirt farmer refugees, wound up on the wrong side of the law, and is working off that debt. Kalazz isn’t interested in extensively rehashing how or why she was arrested, but Sherri shows an interest in currying favor with the Imperial Navy for her eventual parole hearing.

A parenthetical point: Psi Wars might benefit from a Inventor-Gadgeteer-Scientist template. Mad Scientists and Genius Inventors are definitely part of Space Opera. However the skill overlap with the Scavenger template is so intense that the Gadgeteer is probably more of a lens on the Scavenger than anything. Trade out the emphasis on Perception and perception-based skills for unrestricted Gadgeteer and academic skills like Weird Science could be fun. Less Mad Max and more shiny tech.

This may seem obvious, but the optics of the Scavenger are so tightly themed that it’s easy to miss. I mention this partly because Damari has had a lot of opportunities to show off his hacker/neo-rationalist side and I could see players wanting to focus on that, and partly because I’ve seen discussion of how to play an engineer in Psi Wars.


  1. To be fair, Nal wasn't so much bellowing as demanding. I'm not sure I could maintain his voice if I raised it too much.

    On the other hand, I hope Damari is ready for some ribbing from Nal next session. :)

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