So, last time, we ended on a cliffhanger: Emmeline Grippelash was peeping through a keyhole and gasped.
At the start of the next session, Nujanai promptly hurried over to her and pushed her out of the way, pausing only to ask, “What was it you took off that skeleton?” She showed him, and it turned out to be a locket with a picture of an old man and a young woman inside, and, yes, another engraving: “Mentor Forever, T.T.” (The face in the locket was not that of the man who called himself Thackery Tintapan.) Then Nujanai peeped through the keyhole and saw what had alarmed Emmeline so: a ghostly figure stood at the far end of the room, chattering away to… an unseen listener? Itself? It was hard to tell. There were multiple light sources closer to the door, which could not be seen.
They managed to jimmy the lock and look into the room, which they discovered was some kind of control room with a set of four workstations and four pillars with incomprehensible gibberish in unfamiliar languages spiraling up them, scrolling ticker-tape style. So they snuck in, or, well, Emmeline did: Nujanai knocked something over, and the ghostly figure saw him and immediately approached:
This was occasion for a little panic, until Nujani realized she wasn’t a ghost, but rather some kind of holographic ghost stuck on a loop, reciting some sort of welcome speech to visitors that was supposed to introduce them to the experiment being run at the Researchery. 1
Thus reassured, Fermi slipped into the room and distracted the holographic ghost while Nujanai messed with the workstations, pushing buttons he couldn’t read (always wise) and inadvertently shutting off all power within the Researchery. No more glowing green lights, just darkness, since (remember) the entire place was built into a hill.
They unlocked the doors at the far end of this room, and found it left into the first room they’d been in when they entered, the one with the broken machinery sticking out through the outer wall of the building. They left the control room and returned to the melted down “lab”, and then decided to proceed deeper into the complex—that is, westward, via the northernmost tunnel, in the hope of finding more books.
Emmeline, still herbed-up, lit up another little birthday candle and stared into the shadows, determining that, indeed, someone did pass this way, and recently. A little way up the tunnel, she shushed the others and listened, and lo, there were voices in the next chamber. After a brief exchange of threats—Nujanai and a woman in the next room each claiming they had a gang they could call on for backup—the characters entered a large chamber that looked something like an underground, 360° lecture theater, except half melted down. Sitting beside a lantern on the northern end of the room was a pair of people, one with a pistol aimed at the player characters.
These were the Rival Treasure Hunters that are generated at the start of an Electric Bastionland game: every group of PCs starts with a group of rivals. In our case, this group consisted of the pistol-toting Naphann Grimbottle, a tough woman whose failed career was as the leader of a Slug Gang:
… and Neville Galoonik, a nobleman from a horse-raiding kingdom that no longer exists, somewhere out in Deep Country, who is armed with only a fire poker and his aristocratic zeal:
The black warhorse outside is poor Neville’s. Poor Neville’s, because Neville was in bad shape: one of his feet had been partially melted off not long before, when they’d encountered… well, I’ll get to that in a moment. (Ah, that Luck roll I had the players do…) This left him barely able to hobble along walls. And that left his girlfriend, former Slug Gangster Naphann, in a hell of a state: paranoid, upset, and trigger-happy. When the player characters approached, she threatened them and told them to back off; when they tried to bum rush her, she shot at them, blasting Emmeline’s nose off. (Scar table, but sadly no advancement or benefit this, just a lost body part! Emmeline is screaming, bloody, and really upset. She’s also going to be Impaired for the rest of this expedition, I think.)
There was a scuffle, and by the end of it Neville was the group’s hostage, and Naphann was standing in the middle of the room when she shrieked in horror, shouted an apology to Neville, and fled. Our band of book-scavengers turned just in time to realize what was coming:
Mixing Red and Blue apparently creates deadly purplish sludge. (The same stuff that melted Neville’s foot.) Everyone scurried out of the way: Neville, faithless lover, fled down the tunnel they’d come up from, hobbling as fast as he could, whereas the player characters took refuge on the other side of the chamber, near where the couple had been seated when they’d come in. Thanks to a lucky Luck roll (another one) the purple sludge pursued Naphann instead of them. Nujanai noticed it possibly avoiding a pool of water at the base of the lecture hall seating area, while Fermi spotted Naphann’s backpack and rifling through it to discover spare bullets and a couple of the books on the requisition list:
- Advanced Topics in Paratemporal Messaging and Detection
- Seen in the Smoke: Nonbiological Entities and their Agendas
Emmeline sat on the steps, applying pressure to her face to stop the bleeding from her missing nose. Meanwhile, Nujanai spotted a suspiciously clean bucket beside the pooled water, and some kind of hard-to-see cluster of objects in the pool of water collected on the floor of the room, at the base of the amphitheater steps. Reluctant to step into the water, he simply collected the bucket, hoping it might prove useful at some point.
He was about to investigate it when the group suddenly heard someone’s—presumably Naphann’s—screaming, followed by some gunshots from somewhere in another part of the complex, and hauled Neville up the tunnel the purple sludge hadn’t come from, toward what was supposed to have been the Researchery’s Reading Room (though there was no passageway here on the hand-drawn map).
To their surprise, they found the Reading Room, right where it seemed it ought to be, though they’d reached it by a passageway not on the map. But it was far from empty! A troupe of bedraggled, threadbare Mockeries in the little red military uniforms sat upon the metal tables and chairs in the chamber, chattering among themselves:
When the party entered, the leader of the little band stepped forward and introduced itself as Mipple Pamp:
Through a little bluster and a little good luck, the party learned that these Mockeries were the guards posted outside the Researchery’s library during the meltdown. (Mipple Pamp was convinced that only “Six weeks!” had passed, not twelve years, but they didn’t disabuse it of this idea.) They convinced Mipple Pamp that they were the “other guards,” come to relieve the Mockeries of their shift, for which the Mockeries were very grateful. 2
There’s a twist that awaits in the library… I’m not going for a full-on screwjob, but, well, there’s something more valuable than what they came here for, and by somehow turning the power off they lucked themselves into maybe accessing it. Which is good, because I’m pretty sure they’ve savaged most (if not all of) the books they’re going to get.
I’m already thinking over the adventure that might follow this one, if the characters make it back out. (They’re expecting to be paid the moment they deliver the salvaged books. Ha! Universities do tend to pay their debtspay, but they have big bureaucracies and they never do it quickly. Well, okay, sure, if you submit Form 312B-F7—the blue version, not the pink version—to the right kiosk before it closes at 5:26pm (or is it Wednesday today? then it closes at 5:17pm, sorry about that) it might be possible to expedite the process…
How’s that for an inventive pointcrawl dungeon: a university campus! When you think about the average dungeon designed and stocked by a single evil mage, just imagine what a hellcrawl an inept, broken university bureaucracy could unwittingly design and stock!