Having escaped the Buttonsnemp Researchery with at least some amount valuable stuff last time, Nujanai, Fermi, and Emmeline decided to take the night to recover, burning almost the last of their monies on a room (but no food) to share with one another and Nujanai’s seven Mockery recruits.
We picked up the next morning, where the group decided that, as badly injured as most of them were, obtaining some healing would be wise before trying to navigate campus and submit their salvaged books (and other stuff) for the promised money. 1
To that end, they visited a pawn shop near the fleabag hostel where they’d slept. After a long session of bartering, they sold the shopkeeper a silver bracelet for £50, and after Nujanai and the Mockeries upset the shopkeeper, Fermi used his fruit-carving skills to deescalate the situation: he turned a carrot into a parrot, and this convinced the shopkeeper that a little squadron of a dozen carved fruit and vegetable animals would be the perfect adornment to a expensive bowl that a patron was coming to pick up that afternoon. (Fermi was paid another £50 for the carvings.) The shopkeeper offered the group the opportunity to delivery the bowl for a little more money, but the group declined, explaining that that needed to head to the hospital.
As two of the characters had lost a significant amount of their STR scores, they had two options: quick healing would cost £400—of which £300 would have to be assume debt. Slow healing would take a full night’s rest and some time in the morning to be discharged, but would in contrast only cost £100. They opted for the latter, and in the morning discovered that they’d lost more than time and £100: two of Nujanai’s Mockery henchmen—the Lobsters—were missing. The other Mockeries offered a jumbled mess of explanations, but the nurse a the entrance of the building commented that the trio’s “friends” who’d visited the night previous had left with the Lobsters. (With no “friends” having actually visited them, they were perplexed, but shrugged and decided to make for the campus.)
At the front gate, in the middle of the wall surrounding campus, stood a gang of students:
“Student Identification?” they demanded, and the group noticed that they were armed, mostly with what looked like pistols. Eager to deescalate the situation, Fermi joked with them about student life and offered them a drink, drawing forth the bottle in his pack containing the Pregabalin, about which the Electric Bastionland rulebook says the following:
Pregabalin: Smoky, sweet, and lemony. Just a very, very good drink. Definitely not a nerve agent.
He poured out four shots for the four students at the front gate, and in a few minutes they were unconscious. Under the pretext of helping them, the group searched them, finding only a few pounds in small change, but also discovering that all but one of their pistols were in fact either stag props or carved from soap. Nujanai, ever the packrat, took the soap guns, as well as one pistol (d6) and a pair of sharp kitchen knives (4) but left the stage props, and then Fermi informed him and Emmeline that the students would only stay unconscious for two to two-and-a-half hours. Since they’d probably come looking for the group after they recovered, time was short, so everyone decided to get a move on.
Luckily, they found a stack of brochure maps of campus at the front gate:
Since there was a clock ticking—figuratively: I’m using the “clock” system from Blades in the Dark to track travel times on campus, as well as the advancement of certain threats both known and unknown to the PCs—let’s get chronological.
12:00: The party heads to 2. Admissions Hall.
12:15: The party arrives and enters 2. Admissions Hall.
- The lines at the kiosks in the main hall are very long, likely an hour’s wait or more.
- People are casting them dirty looks; they’re not sure why.
- The characters decide head to the next locale, 4. Debt Transference Centre. (No travel time is incurred since it’s an adjoining building.)
- The lines are shorter, and one kiosk has nobody lined up in front of it, so they group approaches that kiosk.
- The dirty looks and muttering are getting worse. Nujanai realizes it’s anti-Mockery sentiment being expressed.
- Femi and Emmeline are asked for Student ID; Fermi waves it off by showing the clerk the locket he found at the Buttonsnemp Researchery, with a picture of (elderly) Thackeray T. Tintapan along with the engraving “Mentor Forever, T.T.” inside. The clerk’s bifocals must be bad, because he doesn’t realize Tintapan looks too old in the picture, and is impressed when Nujanai claims to be a friend of Dr. Tintapan’s.
- When they ask where Tintapan might be on campus, the clerk points at a poster advertising a “Lecture on Cosmogonic Metamorphosis” by Dr. Tintapan, to be delivered at 1:00PM.
- Emmeline and Fermi head straight for the hall where the lecture will be given, while Nujanai heads off to try find the Mockeries, agreeing to meet the group there as soon as possible.
- The Mockeries were standing around in a small group, unmolested by human supremacists; Nujanai herds them out of the hall toward the next destination.
12:45-ish: Emmeline and Fermi arrive at the 3. Grand Amphitheatre.
- A group of conservatively-dressed young female students are “updating” the sign with small paintbrushes and buckets of black paint.
- They confirm that Tintapan’s lecture has been rescheduled to 3:00PM. They’re not sure why, but insist they need to hurry, as there are hundreds of posters all over campus that need to be updated. The devotion they express regarding Tintapan is… unsettling.
- Nujanai and the Mockeries arrive, and the group decides to proceed to the armory, to see if it is locked or guarded.
13:00: The group arrive at the 5. Campus Armory.
- It is indeed guarded, apparently by students who are members of an as-yet unnamed faction who seem to assume (with a great deal of derision) that the player characters are members of their rival faction, the “Applicationists.”
- Fermi, hoping to dole out some more Pregabalin, is disappointed to discover they have their own cheap rum to swig on, pulling a cork stopper from the mouth of the bottle with their teeth and passing it around. Determined to impress, he pours a shot of his finest spirits, which they pass around carefully, savouring every drop.
- In the background, a band of students marches past toward the north (where loud music and cheers can be heard), carrying three individuals stripped down to their underclothes, spattered with vomit, and tied to large metal letters: an E, and R, and a W.
- Impressed by the booze, they offer the player characters a chance to prove that they’re not Applicationists but rather members of the guard’s faction, which the PCs discover are the “Theorists.” Nujanai makes a brave attempt to answer an obscure academic question on the cosmological original of electricity (but botches his CHA roll), and the group mocks the answer as being “Pure Applicationism!” and blows a whistle.
- Another band of seven young women shows up, dressed in the same conservative garb as those who were altering the signs at the Grand Amphitheatre:
- They, too, are armed, and urge the player characters to make it easy for themselves and submit to capture instead of forcing the issue and causing violence—an argument that proves convincing.
- Nujanai and the Mockeries are induced to pick up one of the letters—the E—upon which an apparently drunk apparent Applicationist struggles against his ropes. Emmeline and Fermi do the same with the R and its captive student, while two of their captors take up the burden of the W and its captor, and they being their march north.
13:30: The group arrives at 7. Campus Greenbowl, a large field filled with a raucous crowd containing countless students drinking, dancing, cheering, and chanting.
- In preparation for their “inebrifixion” (inebriation + crucifixion), they are ordered to strip down and start drinking. Fermi strips down more than desired, and is ordered back into his underclothes.
- Before Fermi can comply, Nujanai—who is desperate to avoid “inebrifixion”—has an idea: he digs into Fermi’s backpack and pulls out one of the books that is not on the salvage requisition list (and thus is seemingly worthless), and tells Nujanai to slather himself with beer and then affix the pages to his body. 2
- Emmeline, lacking underclothes, was taken off to slip into some, and returned with a brochure map in hand, which she had found on one of the tables among the reveling crowd,with some interesting differences from the original.
And that is where we left off.
Don’t read further if you’re a player, you know who you are.
I’m pretty happy with the prep work I did on this.
- Astute observers will notice the maps differ slightly. So do the other versions of the maps I’ve prepared. None is wholly accurate. None is completely inaccurate, either. By design, each contains at least one important locale that the other maps omit. There’s no set path, no optimal path, but there are ways for the characters to succeed in what they’re trying to do.
- What they think they’re trying to do is to hand Tintapan the books and collect their money.
- If they succeed at that, they’re going to discover that this is not now it’s done on college campuses. Tintapan will direct them to Kiosk d%, on the d6th floor of building d30, where they can drop off the books and the requisition list and obtain a form they can fill out and drop off at another kiosk for processing. What other kiosk? Kiosk d%, on the d6th floor of building d30. Payment should arrive in 1d8+6 weeks. If they need it sooner, they can get Form 275B from Kiosk d%, on the d6th floor of building d30, and then submit it to Kiosk d%, on the d6th floor of building d30, in order to expedite the process. But it needs to be the blue form 275B, not the pink one. And the kiosk is closed for the day, but they can submit the form at Kiosk d%, on the d6th floor of building d30 instead.
- The deal is that they roll for a random encounter every time they move to a new locale; the trip is 15 minutes if they don’t encounter someone or something. If they do, it can take longer, but everything is run in 15 minute blocks.
- They currently have about three quarters of an hour before the “guards” from the front gate—a group of Applicationists, note—wake up, get their stuff together, and start hunting the player characters.
- They’re also being followed by at least one other individual, and at least one group of students who are not embroiled in the Applicationist/Theorist rivalry, but have instructions to knock them out and clean them out.
- Various other random encounters are also wandering the campus, especially those that have escaped from the menagerie and the museum this morning:
- Also, remember that humanlike form Nujanai glimpsed inside the Purple Sludge last time? Well… I’ll just say someone is walking around who happens to be a hint to the true nature of Tintapan’s dark and terrible secret:
The whole Theorists vs. Applicationists is sort of my Bastion’s version of the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, reconfigured for a breakneck technofantastic setting. There’s plenty of handwaving nonsense on both sides, so players can dive in and bullshit along.
That said, the “inebrifixion” rite (yes, the word is my coinage)—kidnapping students from an opposing group, getting them drunk, and then affixing them to large alphabetical letters that are “planted” on a specially prepared ground on campus, as the setting for a big brawl?
That’s basically a thinly veiled reenactment of a Hell Week event (known as “the E-plant”) which happened annually at the university where I did my undergraduate degree. One our campus, it was engineering students kidnapping the President of the Agriculture Students’ Association, getting him 3 drunk for some extended period of time, stripping him down down underwear and then duct-taping him to a large iron “E” which got planted on “E-plant” hill, at which point the engineers—stripped to their waists and covered in vaseline and body paint—chanted and taunted the Agriculture students. A brawl typically followed.
In my freshman year, I was warned that Arts & Science students who got caught in the middle of this tended to be forcibly separated from their trousers, so I avoided the entire proceedings. This was easy since there were underground pedestrian walkway tunnels connecting almost the entire campus.
This photo of the event, from the university’s archives, was taken during my time on campus:
There’s an account of the event here. Probably not too crazy by US university standards, but seeing as we had neither sororities nor fraternities, this was extremely atypical behaviour on our campus. (Perhaps less so in the past? I get the impression that college pranks and similar events were more common before my time at the school. 4
- The map was grabbed from someone’s computer science course assignment. I could have done up my own, but, eh…
- I am proud to say I managed to fit a lot onto the single map page for this adventure:
- A general short summary of the situation on campus.
- Tiny locale descriptions for each numbered locale on campus, with some descriptions of creatures or opponents, complications, etc.
- A reminder to roll a random encounter for each move between buildings.
- A little die algorithm to randomly determine the closing time of each building or kiosk, and for figuring out which campus faction is in control of a given locale when the PCs arrive.
- On a second sheet, I fit:
- a d12 random encounters table.
- A table for determining the locations of the kiosks
- A table reminding me how to roll up the locations of kiosks, which have been “distributed stochastically” all over campus to minimize work. (Students who cannot find the correct kiosk cannot submit paperwork, after all.)
- A table for generating a Kiosk’s current state/response. (Open but wrong kiosk, closed, back in d30 minutes, open but that’s the wrong paperwork, etc.)
- A quick reference table for established groups who are actively hunting the PCs. (There are three, though only one knows they’re on campus so far.)
- On a bit of scratch paper, I’m filling in clocks as time passes.
Most of my prep time really went into making some funny tokens and creating multiple versions of the campus map with different key text. I’m running this as light and on-the-fly as I’ve ever run anything, and overall I’m happy with how it’s going. I’m also happy that such light prep is still likely to hold us over for another few weeks!
I find myself eager to play again, as I’m curious to see how all of this insanity is going to come out in the end and I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen in the next session. (I have vague ideas about what might happen, but I did not expect the characters to be facing inebrifixion, so… well, the PbtA dictum “Play to find out what happens next” definitely applies to our game, and I honestly have no idea. I guess that means we’re doing something right!
His logic, apparently, is that the inebrifixion involves people being affixed to large letters, and Nujanai’s body being covered by letter-printed paper might somehow affect their captors’ treatment of the group.↩
You will not be surprised at all to hear that this event was dominated, on both sides, by male students, I’m sure.↩
There had been “Godiva rides” just a few years before I started university (though maybe not always exactly what you imagine that means—I suspect usually it was a woman, though); they ended several years before I enrolled. They—sensibly—were shut down after the Montreal Massacre, which… well, talk about the tip of the spear for the antifeminist backlash we’re living through now. The video on that last article especially: “If they just let it die down on its own it’s go faster than trying to force people.” Ah, the “Just be patient,” argument.↩