When we last left off…it was around 5:45PM and our grubby heroes had made their way to what they thought would be Kiosk 63 on the 5th Floor of Pintram Hall, only to discover the Kiosk had been transferred to the 6th Floor of the enigmatic (i.e. unnamed) Building 8, and its former location converted to a public toilet. The group has been debating whether to make their way to the new location, gead to the library, or give up on ever claiming their earnings and leave campus…
6:00PM: Pintram Hall Exit.
- The our protagonists—now numbering Emmeline, Fermi, and some confused Mockeries—emerged only to be immediately beset by a strange group of antagonistic-looking creatures:
- The creatures—a pack of apes in (stolen) human clothing and bristling with weapons, demanded that the players aid them in revenge. Emmeline commented that the player could very well accompany them to find Dr. Tintapan, and exact their revenge when they all found him.
- This struck apparent terror into the hearts of the apes; muttering among themselves in some sort of primate “language,” they fled in the direction of an oversized mechanical velociraptor that was savaging some students, and disappeared from view.
- The characters struck out toward Building 8, dodging a few stray mechanical scorpions as they went.
6:00PM: Vintram Hall, 5th Floor:
- A new character—another sufferer of debt to the Masterphagers, and a failed medical student named Heihachi (the replacement character for the sadly-lost Nujanai)—arrives seeking his fellow debt-owers and Masterphager Guild members.
- He discovers the corpse of Nujanai, and gathers whatever of worth he can find on the body, and then consults his pamphlet map of campus, one different from the others that the players have seen before:
- Then Nujana follows the trail of bloody footprints out of the building, hoping to find his new debtmates. He follows them to Vintram Hall—site of the “hippie” party1…
- Pausing to consider whether to go around the building or to follow the bloodied footprints, he finally enters.
- The air is full of strange smoke, and countless inebriated students in various stages of undress and lunacy are gathered, inhaling the thick smoke of some cigars being smoked by a trio of aliens whom he is told are called Vlogmorgastrod (or something like that). He is told that if he approaches them, he will be granted wisdom.
- Heihachi begins the crawl toward them, but then sees the state of the many inebriated students gathered around them and relents, crawling the other way.
- He starts to become seriously Intoxicated by the smoke, and sees shadowy forms peeping and reaching out from the shadows cast by revelers’ legs and bodies, and those shadows that seem to cluster in the corners of the hallway.
- Some students, offended by his refusal to approach the (telepathic) smoking aliens at the end of the hall, reprimand him, but when he asks a few questions about the source of the drugs at the party, he is introduced to an unnamed, slightly older-seeming man—a student, by the looks of it—whom we shall call The Apothecary.
6:15PM, outside Building 8:
- Fermi, Emmeline, and the Mockeries arrive to discover that the sign over the entrance of Building 8 reads Pestilentarium. Peeping into windows, they find that it seems to resemble a sort of student dormitory, except that it’s chained shut from the outside. 2
- Just inside the door stands aging security guard, his face covered in pustules and buboes, who tells them that he cannot let them in unless they are ill. A little fast talk reveals that he can release some diseased students into their custody, for experimental purposes, however. He also seems quite eager for the characters to burn down the Pestilentarium—anything to be released from his position sounds like a blessing, perhaps.
- There is an abortive attempt by Fermi to goes so far as to ring a klaxon, summoning students with a specific illness (which seems vaguely like much-less-fatal form of smallpox—sores and horror, but not so much death) before the characters grow impatient and decide to try find another way in.
- There is an extended discussion about the nature of medical science in Bastion. Common wisdom follows the obvious and sensible logic that all diseases are caused by miasma, and that the avoidance of bad smells will permit the avoidance of illness. Sadly, the group does not possess strong perfumes, but Emmeline decides to wrap her turban about her face for protection from foul odours. Fermi, on the other hand, believes that miasmatic theory is nonsense and that disease is transmitted through phlogiston, so that face coverings can do nothing to block disease. He relies upon… strength of will, and his beard, to protect him.
- Emmeline tosses a grappling hook up onto the roof, and then she, Fermi, and the Mockeries clamber up the rope, kick in a 6th floor window, and proceed down the hallway, searching for Kiosk 63.
- Halfway down the hall, in front of Kiosk 65, a swarm of rats boils up the stairwell and sings to them in a telepathic choir: Take us to the bodies of our fallen comrades! The group had no idea what the telepathic rat swarm meant, but enjoyed the beautiful, surreal harmonies of their thoughts.
- After a brief, tense parley, Fermi takes a candle from Emmeline’s pack, carves it into the shape of a rat, and presents it to the swarm, who ask him to light it. He does, and then a few of the rats, rising to walk on two feet, carry the candle back downstairs, oohing and ahhhing in a telepathic chorus.
- The party finds Kiosk 63, which is manned by a Mockery—a dog, and end up making their way into the kiosk to help him fill out their disbursement request information, providing a record of their current address (which, since they do not have one, they substitute with the address of Fermi’s last workplace, a pub specializing in tiki cocktails and fruit carved into animal shapes).
- The party wrangles with the Mockery, who turns out to be illiterate, and briefly considers adding a zero to their funds disbursement invoice (changing the total from £2000 to £20,000) but the Mockery accidentally writes the 0 at the wrong end of the total, making it £02000. Noticing that the ledger is chained to the desk on which it sits, the group rips this page out of the ledger in frustration, and then discovers a prior disbursement record, just above theirs: Dr. Thackeray T. Tintapan has withdrawn £80,000 (or there may be a missing zero!) from his research funds earlier that day!
- The group re-enters the amount—£2000—into a new page of the ledger, keeps the page with Tintapan’s record on it, and then has the Mockery verify the ledger. The group discovers that the payment process consists of the following:
- A research funding disbursement form is submitted along with Form 237A.
- The paperwork is recorded in the ledger in Kiosk 63.
- The paperwork is forward to the Debt Reassignment Center.
- An official from the Debt Reassignment center visits Kiosk 63 within two weeks, to cross-verify the disbursement submission record. (This can take up to two weeks.)
- 4-6 weeks after the ledger verification, payment is issued to the address provided.
- Fermi desperately attempts to sell the group’s future £2000 credit for as little as £100. The Mockery balks, explaining that he only earns £5 a year and would need to work for at least a hundred years to be able to pay £100 to anyone. [As we all know by now, Mockeries are Terribly Innumerate.]
- Emmeline makes a half-hearted attempt to recruit the Mockery to the Mockhuman League, but it fails: the Dog Mockery is happy and faithful working in his post.
6:15PM, 1st floor of Vintram Hall:
- Interrogating The Apothecary about the source of the drugs at the party, Heihachi finds himself led into an upper room that seems to be some kind of chemical laboratory where the drugs are being manufactured, and is himself questioned. It seems that The Apothecary is—or wants to be seen as—an Applicationist. 3 By the end of the encounter, he has explained two things to Heihachi:
- Making money through adventuring is a fool’s errand, and the real way to make money is to join The Apothecary’s Gang. The £11,000 for which Heihachi and the other player characters are in debt to The Masterphagers could be made in a couple of weeks’ work for The Apothecary and his gang.
- If he wants to make some money and get in The Apothecary‘s good books, one way would be to assassinate a high-ranking figure on campus: Professor Winslee, the elderly and very dangerous woman in the body of a child:
- Lastly, The Apothecary explains that access to student-occupied buildings is possible if one possesses secret society medallions. He opens a door to a sort of side room filled with mysterious, peaceful and only slightly animate corpses from which medallions can be taken, and Heihachi claims one each for the Theorist and Applicationist factions.
- Heihachi is about to leave, telling The Apothecary that he will consider the offer, when it’s made clear that turning down the gig will likely prove hazardous to Heihachi‘s health, as his knowledge of the plot makes him a loose end. Heihachi accepts, is told to seek out Professorial Assistant Kaalvalin at the Deep Country Researchery for more information on this assassination plot, and is permitted to leave in search of his groupmates.
6:45PM: 6th Floor of the Pestilentarium (Building 8)
- The characters hear the scream of a klaxon, and smell smoke. (This is what happens when you give a lit candle to a pack of animals not used to walking on two legs!)
- The ledger on which their payment depends is chained to a desk inside a kiosk on the 6th floor of the building.
… and that’s where we left off.
The group had a lot of fun, and we laughed endlessly. This time, we really kicked into Alice in Wonderland mode: the oddness of the Mockeries, the Kafkaesque idiocy of the university bureaucracy, the dark menace of The Apothecary, the almost-too-realistic insanity of the factional warfare on campus: this kind of makes me think that a dysfunctional university campus is actually a great setting for an adventure RPG. I’m a bit surprised it never occurred to me to use this setting before. I’m not sure how much longer it’ll remain a campus affair, but four rollicking sessions in, based on just a few hours of prep, I’m pretty pleased.
I checked in with my players about whether they’re frustrated about the Kafkaesque nature of the university—they thought that they’d probably finally be getting their money this time, but one of the few things I’d definitely decided beforehand was that any payment they did manage to secure would take 6–8 weeks to arrive, and would require a fixed address. Universities might be more stable and likely to pay (that’s as maybe, but true in this particular case) but they’re also bureaucratic nightmares to deal with, and even more in Bastion than in real life. My players assured me that they were enjoying the satire and didn’t feel personally tortured by the game of cat-and-mouse.
Personally, I was very pleased at how things came together. Fermi’s player asked how much of what happened had been planned out, and I explained that most of the callbacks and links were improvised, or triggered by rolls on tables that called previous events to mind. The tottering scorpions outside the building, the multiplying aliens in Vintram Hall, the plot against Prof. Winslee, the whole deal with the ledger being chained to the desk and the fire downstairs… all of that was improvised. Hell, even Tintapan’s funds disbursement record was improvised: I had the vague idea Tintapan’s lecture might have been delayed because he was planning to do something sudden—possibly flee campus—but this was the first clear sign to the players that he hadn’t just been delaying the lecture for anything but innocuous reasons.
There are still a few shoes waiting to drop:
- The guys from the front gate, once they got over being drugged, assumed that the group had headed for the Goats’ Head Pitch, but are now combing campus to find them. They’ll happily deliver the characters to the Pestilentarium for a bounty (the university pays for students who capture trespassers and deliver them into the hands of the Pestilentarium for research purposes).
- That Alien who was looking for that Kiosk found it. Now it needs someone to translate Form 31-N5 (Faculty Hiring Certificate Processing Application). It has multiple copies. (This is the, “Would you like to remain on campus for your future hijinks?” option.)
- Where is Dr. Thackeray Tintapan? Prof. Winslee hinted that he is a threat not just to her, and the campus, but to Bastion in its entirety. His lecture has been postponed to the following night, and he’s cashed out his Research Funds: is he using them to Build Something Terrible that will Manifest at the Appointed Time, or Fleeing Into the Night?
In all these cases, we’re playing to find out. As it stands, the characters could just collect their money (if, forms and ledger in hand, they find the right pressure point to push); they could also end up members of a campus gang, newly hired “trial track” instructors, down-and-out bums on the run from debt collectors, refugees from a destroyed city, or many other things besides. As the cool kids in the RPG world say these days, we’re playing to find out…
- Though the player characters (and players) don’t realize this, the rats have actually pursued them all the way since the end of their first adventure: the fallen comrades are the rat-skins eaten by the professors who survived ensconced in the library of the ruins of Buttonsnemp Researchery for a decade and more. These telepathic rats were produced by a malfunctioning rat-dispensing machine in the only locale in that ruin that the characters skipped…
- The token for The Apothecary is Tom Hardy, as he appeared in the TV series Taboo, which I loved: London in set in 18th century London, but my own interest in the early Georgian era has affected the way I depict Bastion somewhat… it’s sort of a mix of 1730s London, late Victorian London, a dash of Gangs of New York, glops of the Old West—there are definitely bits of Deep Country that smack of Deadwood and the Klondike Gold Rush—and a couple of spoonfuls of a crapsack version of Alice in Wonderland all mixed together.
- It’s worth considering what happens to the research funds disbursement requests drawing on the funds of deceased researchers. Will the £2000 ultimately get disbursed if Professor Winslee is successfully assassinated before the representative from the Debt Reassignment Centre visits Kiosk 63? (It seems, to me, somewhat unlikely, but on the other hand, it depends on how long it takes for the university to realize Winslee is missing or dead. And Winslee has a personal gang of heavily armed (and apparently battle-seasoned) students at her beck and call, so any assassination attempt is far from guaranteed.)
- Depending on whether the plot against Dr. Winslee goes forward, I guess I’ll have a little prep to do for next session! I do, however, at least have some character tokens ready:
The students aren’t really hippies, but they are dressed oddly, cravats tied around their heads and shirtfronts unbuttoned, bloomers shredded, hair loose, and so on—what hippies might have dressed like if they’d become a cultural movement in the 1910s, say.↩
Again, the inspiration here is taken from real Korean university life. Dormitories chained from the outside at night are not just common, but an incredible fire risk that few question.↩
Reminder: Campus is split between the Theorists and the Applicationists; Prof. Tintapan is a Theorist, and his apparent rival Prof. Winslee, whom the protagonists sold some compromising material about Tintapan, is an apparent Applicationist.↩