A Visit to the New Guttershine Academy, Part 5

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Adventures in Bastion

When we last left off…it was around 6:45PM and our beleaguered heroes were split up: Heihachi had just been offered a job he couldn’t turn down (to assassinate Prof. Winslee) over in that building filled with reveling students, and was still intoxicated by some kind of alien smokeweed; Emmeline, Fermi, and the Mockeries were in a kiosk on the top floor of the Pestilentarium, the smell of smoke on the air and confronted by the pressing need to find a way to remove from the building a ledger chained to a desk within the kiosk, which they’d just been told by the kiosk worker would be needed to process their payment application.  

Like last time, we only advanced about an hour and a half in this session.

Having broken into the kiosk and interrogated the Mockery working there:

… the main group decided to try get the ledger out of the kiosk. Close inspection, however, revealed several hidden mechanisms besides the chain seemingly designed to prevent its removal from the kiosk: 

  • a thin wire running from the interior of the spine of the book into the desk, 
  • a degree of “flex”to the chain’s connection to the book, and a “springy” feeling when the book was pulled in such a way as to dislodge the chain, and
  • the extremely heavy desk, seemingly made of some heavy metal and covered over with fake wood veneer. 

After learning that they would not be able to just tear the pages from the ledger and leave, they managed to get the desk out into the hallway just as smoke started to become visible, rising up the stairwell from below. They peeled of some of the veneer, shoot some of the springs, and then, with much hesitation, slash the wire with Emmeline’s saber and…

… nothing happened. Still worried that the ledger might explode if mishandled, they made their way out the window onto the ledge with the ledger under Fermi’s arm, just as flames spread up the stairs and into the hallway, where he and the others puzzled over how to get down to the ground floor  

Meanwhile, Heihachi stumbled out of the party building, and, noticing flames pouring out of some of the windows of a nearby building—yes, the Pestilentarium—made his way over. He didn’t look up, too distracted by the crowd of figures inside the first floor, hanging on the barred windows for someone to help them. He rigged up a lever using some rope and his sports bat, pried apart the bars, and freed a crowd of inmates, who burst forth from the window, pustules spraying and faces full of joy. 

Above, Fermi decided to tie the still-dangling rope around the ledger and lower it down, then climbed down and swung himself off it. After he untied it, Emmeline followed, and the Mockeries threw themselves to the ground, all of them surviving without too much damage beyond the cosmetic.

Just as they recovered, Fermi was tapped on the shoulder by a man who introduced himself as a Debt Transference Officer working for the College.

Just as soon as he introduced himself, Emmeline was shot in the arm by someone peeking around the corner of the building—a face recognizable as a member of the Front Gate Gang whom Fermi had drugged way back when they first got to campus.

The Officer returned fire, explaining that he would be happy to hold the attackers off and to expedite processing of the Research Funding Disbursement Voucher, if only Fermi and his friends would quickly sign some paperwork on the spot. A moment later he blew off the head of one of the students. Someone grabbed the gun from the corpse and crawled back around the corner, shouting, “We want our stuff back!” “Stuff” being a real pistol, some fake pistols carved from soap, and a pair of kitchen knives. 

Fermi, wisely and unwisely, signed in the spots indicated, and then Emmeline and Heihachi followed, as the Debt Transferrence Office shot one more, and then two more students dead. The remaining students fled, the Debt Transferrence Office said, “Nice doing business with you,” and then, ominously, to the Mockeries, he said, “Thank you very much!” before grabbing the ledger and assorted paperwork, and disappearing around the corner of the building. 

The group stood there, bewildered, sitting down so that Emmeline could bind her own wounds, (after splashing them with a little of Fermi’s booze) and then taking a break for some food and drink. While resting, Heihachi introduced himself as a fellow Masterphager and co-debtor of the group while Emmeline took a closer look at the contract:1 

If you click the first page, above, you can see the whole handout: it’s based on an actual legal document, but lightly edited for setting and details. That said, the big reveal is on page 1: Emmeline discovered it right there in Clause A:

She and her friends had, by signing the paperwork without reading it, increased their debt to the Masterphagers by an order of magnitude.2   

It was at this point that the Mockeries spotted Tintapan entering the Grand Amphitheater, to the group’s surprise: his lecture had been postponed to the following evening, hadn’t it? They went over to investigate, found the front door open, and strolled on into the lightless interior as the sun began to set on Bastion. Inside, they found two kiosks lit by candles. Fermi and Heihachi approached the nearer one and found a Cat Mockery working inside. 

They tried to purchase ten tickets for Tintapan’s lecture the following night, but as it turned out, the Cat Mockery clearly had never worked a ticket kiosk before and had no idea where the ticket dispenser even was, much less how to sell them to visitors. While chatting with it and watching the pathetic spectacle of its ineptitude, Fermi and Heihachi overheard a muffled moan coming from somewhere behind the cat; they noted a door near the back of the kiosk, and surmised that someone had been trapped behind that door. 

Meanwhile, Emmeline’s sharp senses allowed her to hear some rustling at the south end of the foyer, and when she went to investigate, calling out, “Oi!” at them as they rustled quietly, sneaking back down the hallway, she found herself faced by a group of heavily armed students:

… gleefully smoking one or another narcotic herb and fondling their altogether too-shiny and apparently brand-new guns.

Heihachi, Fermi, and the Mockeries, concerned for Emmeline’s safety, followed her and a short exchange began. There was a bit of transparent inquiry as to whether the gang were Applicationists or Theorists—they implied they were the former, which was odd since Tintapan is a Theorist—and the group managed to convince them to trade the late Nujanai’s top hat and Fermi’s lovely bowtie for three doses of their smoking herb (which Emmeline needed in order to use her Urbalist powers). They heard the sound of heavy construction or work of some kind going on in the auditorium, but the student gang apparently took seriously their assigned work as guards. 

The group stood in this side hallway, pondering how they might get past the armed gang and into the auditorium, and that is where the session ended. 


The after-session chat was fun. My players asked a few questions about the nature of economics in Bastion, of which I’ll share the following: 

Player:

Does New Bastion have a federal reserve?

Me:

Ha, not really?

I’m gonna say the debt system evolved out of an older system of semi-formal but creatively construed contracts, alliances, treaties, fealties and possessions. The city that became Bastion was able to grow in part because they invented the innovative concept of debt as a system for making all of those things transferable, which essentially meant they invented the possibility of owning the future labor or productivity or alliance or existence of currently-existing people, constructs, and creatures. The problem that plagued early debt systems in Bastion was that creatures and people die, and machines fail and break, and alliances fail; the solution was to make debt extremely transitive and fungible.

Now debt is infinitely transferrable, and (with an unexplored Underground and a lot of the wealth of Deep Country currenty (unextracted or at least unrefined), so raw materials are meaningless and skilled labor and workers are the productivity bottleneck.

So in other words, Bastion’s equivalent to the Gold Standard is the size of its population and territory (and all contained within it). The primary method of creating wealth is the creation of new debtholders (population growth, whether through skeezy recruitment, birth, fomenting of conflict driving refugees from Deep Country into the city, or even just the appeal of greater access to wealth (i.e. creditor status), goods, and services accessible in the city).3

(Of course there also are invisible-to-theory bottlenecks like crippling debt ruining people’s lives and how living on the streets is, for those who failed in their careers, a terrible drain on creativity and labor; and of course there are more isolated threats, like debtholder uprisings that break out in random Council Districts occasionally, or mishaps that result in a fire or Council-wide sinkhole or whatever. But Bastion is large enough and the population big enough (and growing constantly enough) to cope with this, however, and, well, effectively if it’s invisible to theory, it kinda-sorta doesn’t exist.)

That’s off the top of my head, but this is sort of how the average well-educated, but nonspecialist-in-economic Bastion resident would understand it.

(The average person in Bastion, though, just takes the existence of fungible debt as a fact of life, period.)

Player:

Ok, so… The average North American?
Debt transfers after death, debt is a part of life. You missed the part where you get blamed for the debt.

Me:

LOL Ha, well, other than having to avoid the debtors, there’s somewhat less shame associated with debt?

(…)

The thing is that for NA, your debt transfers through familial links; in Bastion, debt can transfer much more freely between people—like, if Rowan’s boss died, his kids would be stuck with the debt. In Bastion, the work agreement might stipulate the debt passes on to the workers, or to the mash tuns (and thus obviously to their future owners). If they are deconstructed, the debt transfers to those who deconstruct them; if they’re sold off, they come with built-in-debt.

The system I describe feels a little different, but it’s definitely built to emulate the insanity of our world’s system!

I wouldn’t say this about every game, but for a game set in Bastion, where debt is built into character generation and (potentially) an important part of how the setting works, I think it’s a good sign when players start wondering how the economics actually works.

(And yeah, this is totally a sendup of the insanity of mainstream economics, of late capitalist systems, of the gig economy, of all of that. That’s already present in the DNA for Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland anyway, I’m just amplifying the signal a bit… I think?)

Beyond that, it’s nice not to be completely flying by the seat of my pants again. I had a proper map for the Grand Amphitheater, and a couple of pages of prep (including a page of random encounters and some room descriptions for the rooms of the Amphitheater.) As for that adventure: it’s actually quite prosaic, so I might revisit it to inject a little more wonderland madness. That said a lot rides on this: Bastion could be in big trouble if things proceed as Tintapan plans, and the player characters have bumbled into the position of being (almost) the only people in a position to discover this and maybe stop it. 

(But I’d wager they’re likelier to just try blackmail him and then burble off into the night!)

That “almost” matters, though: there’s always Prof. Winslee, who is on to Tintapan and, indeed, already looking into it quite directly.  

One more thing: I shared a bunch of “rumors” in our Discord channel, in the form of summaries of posters seen all over campus. There was some interest in a couple of the minor rumors (a place where free, experimental medical treatment and prosthetics could be gotten, for example) and some curiosity about some of the off-campus adventures, but mostly the players wanted to press on with their plan to (a) deal with the ledger and then (b) find Tintapan, presumably to try blackmail him.

We’ll see if they get the chance next time. No spoilers, though it’s really tempting! 


Finally, here are a few more tokens I created for the session, but haven’t yet gotten around to using:

Series Navigation<< A Visit to the New Guttershine Academy, Part 4

  1. Not really: the players actually read the document at the end of the session, but it makes more sense for it to have happened at this point

  2. Once again, the players and I alike commented on just how much my Kafkaesque take on Electric Bastionland is, but also how it’s actually inspired by totally-normal-for-expats-in-Korea stuff: the kiosk hunt was a lot like the process of trying to get a phone under my own name in 2003; the campus dysfunction is… pretty much realistic; and the insanity of having contracts shoved at you with no time to read them and which may not be legal, or for which the English version might be a radical mistranslation and, well, nobody will care when it comes time to enforcing the contract… yep, that’s regular old daily life for expats in Korea.

  3. A lot like early Georgian London!

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