Wednesday, August 18, 2010

After Action Report: Andromeda Incident, Session 6

I've held off on reporting this one for over a week because our gaming schedule grew... complicated, and I wasn't sure how to tackle it. Now that we've resolved everything, I can post in confidence. Also, there's no consensus on detail vs summary, so I'll do a little of both: A tight but detailed description of the game (after the jump) with my thoughts up here, for those who want to know how it all went down quickly.

I have a very limited time, as my class will be on Tuesday and Thursday, the ideal days for gaming, so I wanted to push this game through, touch on just a little bit of roleplaying and then zip right to the missions. Oh but no, the players had to roleplay all night! Even so, it was probably the best "roleplay" session of the entire campaign. I have something of a reputation of a railroader, not in the sense that I force players down a predetermined path, but that I often have tightly designed stories that inevitably draw players down the path I've envisioned. This is an accurate description of a given session (more or less) and perhaps the overall shape of a campaign (though it grows less and less true by the end of a campaign, to the point where I generally don't plan the final session at all, because there is so much weight and player ambition that I just ride the wave at that point), but in between sessions, I change alot based on what players say and what they want, and this was a classic example. Nothing in this entire session "fit my plan." All of it was player-driven, with players wanting to confront this person, or deal with that, and I just tossed interesting, plot-related elements in there to make the mix a little spicier, and then enjoyed the rich roleplaying stew that resulted.

In short, despite the fact that it cost me an entire evening, it's my favorite sort of session.

As a result of it running so long, we agreed to run "mini sessions" with individual missions for the characters throughout the week. This fell apart and turned into "Dover running double duty on one day" literally running a game from 3 in the evening till 11 at night. That's not "meet at 3, get started at 5, wrap up at 9 and chit chat for two hours." That's "I was running at 3, and didn't stop except for dinner until 11."

I guess that means they like the game.

It all begins with a dream: Icarus dreaming that he floats in space while a familiar and comforting presence asks him if he's a creature of the heavens, a being uncomfortable in the earthly realm. The dream slowly grows stranger, with references to greeks and monsters and a hero begged to save a princess from the wrath of the gods, and the sense of heat from his re-entry that began his career with the rest of the Hell Divers.

"There ain't a single member of your unit that hasn't been shot, and a couple that shouldn't be walking, much less fighting." Colonel Samson growled, "You call this reinforcements?"

The Hell Divers finally arrive at the grand city of Grarrashe-Ya, with its limestone walls and sand-swept streets. The boom of artillery echoes across the Alliance encampment as human forces lay siege to the great, old city. Meanwhile, the well-rested Lieutenant Abrams finds her authority eroded by a gruff commanding officer who views her command style as "reckless" and Strider, former ally, now rival as he brings in Tennin reinforcements, the inscrutable blue space elf demanding diplomatic considerations and going over her head with command decisions. There's even talk of sending some of her soldiers home -- her soldiers. She stalks away in disgust.

Our two most heavily wounded characters wake up not in the care of Dr. Emerson, the squad medic, but in the care of some generic army doctors. They inform Rayner that, after his limpet mine wound, he "gets to go home." His heart has been wounded and will fail him, requiring an artificial replacement that will allow him to live, but not fight (a superior, cybernetic heart is against Alliance policy on transhuman soldiers). When Maddie asks after Dr. Emerson, the doctors point out he was never officially a military physician, and that they have no intention of allowing an "ex-con" into their medical tent. Rayner leaves (in crutches), to meet a worried Amy Carver half way, bringing him food and worrying over him, especially the military's desire to cut his service short. He has nothing to tell her, also depressed at the thought of failing his comrades. Ducky (Alexander Buckley) flutters around the pair, trying to edge out Rayner in an effort to win Amy's attention, but only when Rayner leaves does she finally agree to give him additional marksmanship lessons.

("Marksmanship?" Scoffs Pascal "How about you teach him where the safety is first.")

More happily, Mackenzie Buckley squirms into Jack Bishops bed and, once she has him thoroughly pinned, shows off her shiny new cybernetic arm.

"I remember the last time I had you pinned." She grinned ferally, tossing her shaggy brown hair over her shoulder, referring to their first practice boxing bout on the transport ship.

"I seem to remember reversing that hold," a tired Jack Bishop yawned, rubbing his sleepy eyes.

"Well, I'm always up for a rematch," she slams her metal hand into her flesh palm meaningfully.

Having spent the past two weeks in surgery and in recovery, she's eager to return to play, so drags the reluctant Jack Bishop to an illegal moonshine "bar" that some soldiers set up on the edge of the military encampment, where they are joined by Sergeant Roughneck (complaining about the Brass' treatment of the Lieutenant) and then, improbably and somewhat awkwardly, by the Lieutenant herself who orders a drink rather than reprimanding them.

At Emerson's personal tent on the border of the encampment, Icarus finds the brooding, handsome doctor in conversation with a mysterious, golden-scaled quetzali woman. Icarus puts in plain words his feelings about the doctor placing illegal combat drugs in the marine's trauma maintenance system with a solid right hook... Emerson retaliates with cold, defiant words.

"You may not like my approach to saving your life, but let me make clear to you, soldier, I will do anything it takes to keep you alive. Anything."

Icarus leaves in disgust, and when Maddie arrives, she discovers the bruise blooming on Emerson's jaw (he dismisses it as "a disagreement over his bedside manner.") She asks him about the military's treatment of him, and he dodges her questions with an invitation to join him at the banquet that the brass is holding for the soldiers that night. She's floored by the request (I think it was his pretty eyes) and agrees. Moments later, Lieutenant Abrams arrives with a request for a legally questionable procedure on Rayner to bring him back to fighting fitness. Emerson, naturally, agrees, and then before long has mysteriously acquired authorization for the treatment from a general. Lieutenant Abrams does not ask him where he acquired it from, or if he fabricated it, merely signs off on it, and orders Rayner to appear in Emerson's tent for surgery.

Maddie unleashes a torrent of unladylike words on Icarus (who is beating out his frustrations on a punching bag in a small gym) and demands to know why he punched Emerson. He explains the activation of the illegal combat drug while he was on a mission (back in Cat and Mouse). Furthermore, the slinky Kobayashi approaches the now uncertain Maddie and whispers to her "Why don't you ask the good doctor about the people he's killed." Maddie misses the jealous flash in the venemous commando's eyes. Doubts gnaw at Maddie's heart.

Lost in confusion, Maddie returns to her tent, where Sage is working on Icarus' armor. Her explanation of her doubt and the invitation to the banquet inspired ferocious jealousy in Sage (Chaos hadn't invited her to the banquet, nor even mentioned it to her), but the young mechanic sets aside her feelings long enough to confess that the doctor might actually be a gentleman, and so Maddie should just enjoy the date. Maddie, relieved, decides to go on the date. Meanwhile, a very drunk Mackenzie wobbles through the street, leaning on Bishop for support ("Hee hee, my cybernetic hand matches your cybernetic eye, see?" *ting ting ting*), and Bishop stops by Maddy's tent to give Sage a bottle of moonshine (a canister, actually) in exchange for her improving the balance of his rifle, just as she'd improved Chaos' weapon. She agrees.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Sam Abrams interviewed the captured/rescued quetzali commando (Seleya) and decides that her interest in learning about humans and her feelings for Chaos are genuine, and so agrees to her release and directs her to Chaos's tent (knowing full well the drama that would erupt if Sage found an alien woman in Chaos' bed and relishing it), then, emboldened by the General's authorization and her restored confidence, she storms into the command tent and demands a say in where her soldier's go. Impressed by her balls (so to speak), Colonel Samson allows her to divide her squad between the rescue of the Ambassador and an escort mission of a tank to the heart of the city. Strider vociferously disagrees with her decision to place Icarus on the rescue mission and wants him placed on reserve, claiming he believes he's "a risk to the mission." Samson finally allows Strider to have his way, overriding Lieutenant Abrams, and Icarus is placed in reserves, along with Emerson and Ducky.

Emerson finishes up on Rayner, who now sports synthetic organs, a boosted heart and two cybernetic arms, matte black and menacing. He's faster, stronger, and even harder to kill than before. Emerson taps on his chest and says "Now that you don't have a heart, we'll have to call you the tin man." Rayner's player heartily agreed.

(One of the players pointed out "What kind of crappy doctor goes to fix someone's heart and ends up amputating both arms?" Heh. It was just a balanced point value, and we'd decided that Rayner had to have some kind of surgery, or accept a penalty reflecting the tremendous wounds he'd taken. Also, we let him recover awfully quickly, but he also has Rapid Healing and absurd amounts of Health, so this isn't altogether unreasonable)

The banquet begins. The boys arrive in dress uniform, Bishop with his shiny pistol at his side, Icarus with his marine saber, and Snow sporting two dates ("I had to turn down the third. She wasn't really a ten..."). Mackenzie wears a little black dress and heels ("I feel like a transvestite," she complains), Amy was pretty in pink (of course), and Maddie astonishingly and uncharacteristically beautiful in a long gown. Emerson, wearing tails and a pair of snowy gloves ("Oooooo" says Maddie's player), has his breath stolen by the sight of the normally rough soldier in her elegant garb.

Instead of attending the banquet, Abrams takes her own cannister of moonshine, finds Strider in his tent (protected by his "creepy" white-eyed "blind" Tennin), and offers him booze and... companionship. In her words "Tomorrow, either of us could die, so why not resolve this tension between us?" After a long moment of thought, the surprised, white-haired space elf (and very surprised GM: "Loes! You broke Dover!") agree.

During the party commences, Icarus stands alone (as he has been for most of the campaign). Rayner refers to Amy's father as "Palladino Carver," and when she corrects him, he (finally) asks why, if her father's last name was Palladino, her last name was Carver? Suddenly, a bloom of embarrassment floods her cheeks and she explains that Palladino is her maiden name. In the last minutes of her deployment, she married her highschool sweet heart ("We didn't even have time for... a wedding night.") She grows increasingly flustered as she tries to explain this to the man who has saved her life so many times and then suddenly flees the scene, as though ashamed. Meanwhile, Maddie finally confronts Emerson with what Kobayashi said. All color leaves his face and he cannot speak.

"I like you." Maddie caught his hand, struggling with the plain words, her eyes intent on the doctor, "I really do. But I need to know I can trust you. Please, tell me what happened."

For a moment, it looked like he would. The icy silence melted, his shoulders eased and he opened his mouth.

And then the alarms rang. The Quetzali had made a final push on the Tennin Embassy in an attempt to take the ambassador hostage. All soldiers were to report immediately to their posts for a sudden push rescue the Ambassador. Strider leaps from Abram's side and dons his sleek power armor as quickly as he can. Mackenzie kicks her heels off and races off, and Emerson's hand slips from Maddie's. In minutes, the drop ship carrying Rayner and Jack Bishop along with Strider and his Tennin forces to rescue the Ambassador takes off, and above the flashing firefights of sandstone Grrarrashe-ya, they take anti-aircraft fire and fall out of the sky. As they spiral down towards the rapidly approaching city, Strider growls "She knew. Dammit, she knew."

And then the base hears word that the first rescue attempt has failed. Now, it's up to Icarus, Emerson and Ducky to rescue the Ambassador.

And that's where we ended the session.
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