Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dreams of the Cybermen

The Mystery Machine
Session 1: Dreams of the Cybermen

I ran this adventure at Troll Hoot IV, kicking off what I'm going to optimistically describe as a campaign. Shut up. It could happen. With the character generation, I decided to have them not only come up with their own backgrounds, but the story behind their being in a time machine together, and the nature of the time/space capsule itself. Here's what they came up with:

Merwyn Harkness: A descendant of Jack, but from the mid-21st century. She's a Torchwood agent, generally sort of a test pilot for weird junk that the agency appropriates. In the course of poking around in a new time capsule, she found a sonic screwdriver and discovered a temporal anomaly which led to an unstable bridge between 2040 and the 1970's. At this interface she found...

Ramsey Walker: A scientist who is generally altruistic but has somewhat questionable ethics. As a contractor for Torchwood, he had stumbled across a time corridor experiment and used used it to try out some new enhancement drugs on an ambitious athlete in 1976. Merwyn caught up to him, tagged him with an ankle bracelet, and was about to take him home along with...

Dallas Rugby: An American pro football player from 1976. He was the beneficiary of Ramsey's drugs which, so far, don't seem to have had any serious side effects. Nevertheless, Merwyn tagged him as well and was taking him back to the future for testing, concerned that whatever Ramsey did to him might unduly disrupt the timeline. Like any good sci-fi football hero, he brought his cleats and pads with him. In Merwyn's time capsule, he met and attempted to converse with...

Brock Snow: Technical assistant to Merwyn. Never developed much because his player was sleepy, unlike...

Doctor Wyman: Wyman putters around, stumbling into and narrowly avoiding danger like Mister Magoo, and wears the same glasses. Merwyn chose this man to accompany her because she hoped his divergent mind would have some luck deciphering the arcane technology of their not-technically-stolen time capsule...

The Mystery Machine: On the inside it's kind of TARDIS-like, but the outside is the Scooby Doo van. Torchwood "recovered" this device under ambiguous circumstances and they have yet to master its quirky, quasi-sentient controls, a situation which draws us tumbling through the time vortex with Merwyn, her crew, and her prisoners, when...

The communication panels started beeping and flashing. A communication from Torchwood was coming through simultaneously with some other kind of alert with a weird symbol from the Mystery Machine systems. Merwyn kicked the console and lost the Torchwood message completely, but cleared up the other one. The beacon was directing them back to 1976, a circumstance strange enough that Merwyn felt it was worth turning back to investigate.

After some more fidgeting, Wyman was able to pull up a map that led them right to an abandoned house in Dallas's neighborhood. There, they found signs of an explosion, radioactive particles, and several patches scattered around the walls that looked conspicuously untouched and even differently decorated, like pieces of the house from different times. In the center, in a small hemispheric indention, they found a piece of a mask that looked similar to but not quite the same as a Cyberman's faceplace.

The Cybus Industries Cybermen of the alternate Earth were familiar to Merwyn and Wyman. Ramsey and Brock only knew what the public knew: these metal men had appeared one day out of nowhere, clearly favoring Torchwood facilities for their HQ, abducted people, converted them to Cybermen, and then abruptly disappeared. Most people, Ramsey included, believed that Torchwood was responsible for creating the Cybermen in the first place. (Nobody is supposed to know about Torchwood but, come on, everyone does.) Dallas thought the Cybermen were a disco band, although when someone mentioned the Doctor, he revealed that he had a big fat book about Doctor sightings throughout history and various conspiracy theories revolving around him.

Before anyone could stop him, Dallas picked up the mask and pressed it over his own face. The mask sparked and hissed and Dallas could feel it twisting its sides towards him. The weird patches of other-time around the building flickered and shifted to other viewpoints and then the mask fizzed out and went dead. Merwyn scanned it with her sonic screwdriver which, when plugged back into the Mystery Machine, revealed that there had been a momentary time-corridor into the future, although the readout was maddeningly vague.

So off they went to what they would soon discover to be the planet Sarkis, orbiting a red giant star in the year 3073. They stepped out among the blue scrub plants to find a lumpy landscape with a cliff and a waterfall in the distance. Closer by, across a shallow, rocky river, was a sleek black landing pod with a stylized "GCE" logo prominently displayed in chrome.

Three people were setting up camp outside the lander, while Zora Trask, a thin older woman with short graying hair, supervised. Tasseker Zal, a weathered man wearing body armor and carrying what appeared to be a Dalek gun adapted for human use, stood idly by and looked around. The three who were actually working were Rick Janneks, a young man with a blond ponytail, Minsk Curran, a big bald man with a bushy beard, and Alice Unwin, a petite red-haired woman with pale skin.

Rick immediately waved to our heroes and went out to meet them, to Trask's obvious disapproval. Trask nevertheless took charge and made the introductions, noting immediately that Ramsey and Dallas wore radio devices that marked them as criminals and requiring that Merwyn sign several forms (on a data pad) acknowledging her responsibility for their behavior. GCE, it turned out, stood for Gnumetis Consolidated Enterprises, a corporation with controlling interest in a number of companies, which Trask listed proudly.

Rick and Dallas hit it off immediately and, while the others discussed the reason GCE was here, Dallas, discovering that Rick was a technician from a society far in advance of Merwyn's, asked for help removing his ankle tag. Meanwhile, the others (and of course Dallas' player too, because I wasn't about to have people leave the room or start passing notes) were learning that there was supposed to be an ancient cryogenic facility with, possibly, some operating Cyberman units preserved inside. Trask offered to share information with Merwyn and her crew if they wanted to help out, after signing the appropriate waivers, of course.

Merwyn agreed to cooperate, secretly planning to destroy any Cyberman technology that was uncovered to prevent it from being reactivated, and the rest of the team followed her lead. Everyone started setting up for the search. Wyman helped with the dig coordination system and took the opportunity to scan and study 31st century technology. In the midst of another conversation, there was a flash and a high-pitched noise and Zal said, "Ha! Got the little bugger!" as the seared corpse of a long rodent-like creature tumbled down from the ridge. Minsk was terribly dismayed and complained to Trask about the hired security man killing off the local fauna.

Also during the day's work, Rick managed to surreptitiously disarm Dallas's security bracelet. (Okay, I passed one note.) Dallas left the device behind at the site, going back and later making the point to Merwyn that he could have escaped, but he's not a criminal and shouldn't have to be shackled. Everyone went back to the Mystery Machine for the night rather than hanging out at the GCE camp. Somewhat frustrating, but I suppose I should have come up with a way to separate them from the thing if I didn't want them using it in what's really a perfectly sensible manner.

The next day they resumed searching and, again, in the middle of a conversation, Zal fried a creature, this time an odd sort of hyena-like ape-creature. No one, including Minsk, paid much attention beyond the initial startled look. They found a skeletal hand with cybernetic support structures holding the bone together, and it looked like much of the circuitry was still in good shape. Wyman was eager to help examine it and stayed at the GCE camp well into the evening.

Later that night, Minsk was seen leaving the camp. Wyman called the Mystery Machine to let his friends know and Merwyn and Dallas followed him and found him digging at a previously uninvestigated location. I don't remember why they left (maybe to go get Ramsey?) but they came back to find Minsk dead by a now-empty hole with his neck broken. Following a set of obvious tracks, they caught up with an old-series Mondas Cyberman (which none of them had ever seen before) staggering into the wastes with a crazy Frankenstein walk. They made several attempts to stun or restrain it, but the encounter ended with Dallas spending a lot of story points and crushing its head with a rock.

I'm getting a lot of this out of order. I started compressing events as I realized that the original build-up was going to be too slow and some of the more complex details were never going to be explored, and I've lost track of exactly how it played out because I was getting a little punchy too. Maybe they were split up. It would explain why so many things happened that don't seem to fit together. It's also possible that this stuff happened over two nights instead of one.

At some point they were attacked by cyber-masked hyena-apes and they found some odd crystals which Wyman discovered to be almost life-like in their complexity, but clearly inert, like some kind of petroleum product.

Back at the hole, they found that Minsk's body was missing, and had been dragged away by someone who didn't leave tracks.

They also spotted Brock wondering off and, noticing that he was acting strangely and had acquired an earpiece like a hand-free wireless phone gadget, subdued him. They then discovered that it was wired into his brain and couldn't be pulled out without killing him. I don't remember what Brock was trying to do. I think he was going to work on the headless Cyberman.

Later still, Ramsey managed to disable the earpiece and remove the external part, leaving Brock with wires dangling out of his now-deaf ear. They discovered at this point that the earpiece had little tentacle-legs so it had probably been able to move around on its own.

They found Minsk's body being operated upon by an egg-shaped techno-organic creature with five faces. It hovered a few feet off the ground and had a ring of metallic tentacles dangling from its lower body.

They were able to stun the creature with a sonic blast and haul it back to a cell in the Mystery Machine. Once it woke up, they tried to interrogate it. It communicated oddly. While the five faces and voices were clearly just masks for one personality, it would rotate a different mask to face the person it was addressing at different times.

The Quintesson at first attempted to negotiate for its freedom, but all its offers were rebuffed with "no, you were turning people into Cybermen." It then became rather sullen and started telling them that their actions were irrelevant and could not impact the project plan. Then it started smiling at Ramsey. At about this time, Trask and Zal showed up, demanding that the Quintesson be turned over to them, as all cybernetic organisms discovered on-site were considered part of their defined scope of work and therefore property of GCE.

When it became clear that our heroes would have none of this, Zal started to draw his pistol but was tackled by... I keep thinking it was Ramsey, but it would seem to make more sense that it was Dallas. I'm not sure. Whoever it was, he spent a ton of story points to pull this off so that he not only tackled Zal, but made him crack his head on the wall and fall unconscious.

After thinking for a moment, almost seeming to be listening to something, Trask offered a tight, insincere smile and agreed to leave the Quintesson with them. "Be advised, however, that, by the end of this quarter, our action item list will be updated."

And that was it. Questions were left unanswered, but it was a bit after midnight and it seemed like as good a stopping place as any we were likely to reach.


  1. And forgot to mention about how Doctor Wyman had begun to show a higher interest in the Quintesson, the cryogenic material, and the search for the Cybermen in the future. This could be called a healthy interest in the advanced technology, but it can- and will- become an unhealthy obsession. Which can lead into some interesting stories. Such as his becoming lost on the "Alternate Cybermen World."

  2. Yeah, on the whole I probably understated the amount of time Wyman spent obsessing over things. I'll certainly make a note of his extra interest in the Quintesson, though. That's something I can work with.

  3. It was me who tackled the Boba Non-Fett character. And any other changes you made, actually made the story better.

  4. I did use about 5 story points at some point...I think I overkilled something...

  5. And I kept forgetting about my story points. I needed to use the to, actually, succeed at more of the challenges.

    I enjoyed the entire story, especially with the inclusion of the Alpha/Beta Radiation for Wyman. Everything else was great as well.