Sunday, February 9, 2020

After Action Report: Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt, Session 1

Part 1: Introductions

Our session starts with the Calico, Xerxes' Tigershark-Class Assault Corvette. As Xerxes pilots it into Caliban, we get treated to a view of the mountainous planet below, the distant red sun, and the majestic and terrifying view of the Hammer of Caliban and the Orochi Liberation fleet docked with it.  I introduce his crew:

  • Persia Purasinga, an Asrathi med student turned pirate (by accident!). She seems quite pleased to be moving away from piracy and towards "mercenary work," especially against the Empire, who pushed her into piracy to begin with.  She's small and cute, with red, tabby fur and large green eyes with a pair of glasses.
  • Sylvar Ro, a terrifying and religiously fanatical Jagarathi assassin with "siberian tiger" markings and cold blue eyes.  He argues that they shouldn't get involved and "let humans kill one another.
  • Born Riksen, a native "Belter" to the Orochi Belt, heavy set and half-drunk, who loudly announces his excitement to be part of the liberation fleet, and reminds Persia that they won't be engaged in piracy, but they might engage in the "legitimate salvage" of Imperial ships they defeat.
  • Winner Chau, a Denjuku native Shinjurai punk girl with a white face, black make-up, straight black hair, chunky boots and purple-and-black striped hose who rolls her eyes at everyone and gets back to work on the engine (with her kleptomaniacal robot, Ripper), while listening to tunes via her earphones.
Next, Walker Lee lands his Nomad-Class Modular Corvette, the Bad Penny, on the Heirophant, the flagship carrier of the liberation fleet. As he and his "Pilgrim" companion, a young man named Jethro Page, depart from the corvette, Walker gets tackle-hugged by Arietta Lee (No relation), one of mechanics of the liberation fleet, and daughter to the head mechanic, Callister Lee. They discuss his heroism in the resistance against the Empire in the Orochi Belt, and whether he'll need any help maintaining his corvette.  The Calico also lands, and Xerxes' pirate crew interacts roughly with the group.

Then, aboard the Hammer of Caliban, Baron Mallus Grimshaw enjoys one last holo-call with his wife, princess Dani Shinjurai, who instructs him to wear a specific outfit to the gala aboard the Heirophant, cut after the style of the Shinjurai, but appropriate to a Maradonian noble like Mallus, with an orchid motiff.

As an ally, Dani has Fashion Sense, so this allows him to claim his bonus
In a dueling gym aboard the Hammer, Talos spars with Axton Kain, trying to teach him the basics of the Destructive Form, as Axton's own Knightly Form is unsuited to dueling. Talos makes quick work of Axton, proving his point, when they are joined by Asura Kain, the white-haired, golden-armed daughter to the Archbaron, who complains about the coming party, and the Elegans brothers, Enzo and Arthus. Enzo is a space knight with a thick braid of dreadlocks and a quick and easy grin and Aspect with the Avatar of a lion, who immediately wins Axton over with his smile, and then joins in to perform a quick practice duel, wherein they fight to a standstill.

Then they are joined by the belle of the ball, Lady Thalia Sabine and her handmaiden, Lady Peony Pavonis; the latter, dark-eyed with long, curly hair and Mediterranean features, fetching but betraying a low blood purity, cannot stand to not be the center of attention and thus inserts herself right into the middle of the duel, announces her intention to participate, and then realizes how outclassed she is, and is saved by Thalia reminding everyone of the need to attend the gala.

The group leaves to go to the Gala, where they are joined by the Baron, and walk the promenade, the great ring constructed around the ancient artifact of the Hammer of Caliban. While walking, they encounter Kerin Kethim, a Ranathim mechanic.  She crouches over her son, the toddler Caliban Kethim, as both gaze upon the world of Caliban through the window.  Enzo Elegans approaches, and greets her in Lithian.  After a brief exchange, she reveals she works under Callister Lee on the Heirophant and hopes that her service in the liberation fleet will earn her Alliance citizenship.  Enzo invites her to attend the gala as his date, but she demures.  Mallus is offended by Enzo inviting someone who is clearly not noble to a noble event and says so, to which Enzo retorts by questioning exactly how noble Mallus actually is, to which Mallus responds by drawing his force sword.  Before Enzo can do the same, Arthus intervenes, notes that a formal challenge has been issued, and that the duel can be fought after the gala.  All parties agree and move on.

Kerin is a bit of a relic from my original conception of the Tall Tales, where the players would be serving on a station in the Orochi Belt and have to deal with a sudden Imperial incursion.  The mechanic Callister Lee had a reputation with the station's... ladies of the night as employing only beautiful women (Kerin and Arietta) whom the women referred to as "Callister's Whores."  All of this has had to go to the wayside, but I like the idea of an outsider alien trying to become an insider, and so she's stuck around, as have Callister and Arietta, and the idea of an "all female mechanic crew" from the "Orochi" side of the mechanics team. 
Note that Mallus has 2-4 points total in his force sword skill, while Enzo is a full-on space knight skilled in not one, but two force sword forms.  Mallus' player was playing his disadvantages, particularly Code of Honor (Gentleman) and Overconfidence.  Should be an interesting, and quick, fight. But something for another session.

Finally, Viscontess Shay Sabine finds herself in a fighter simulator flying a Valiant against a Javelin. She quickly loses, as she's more familiar with her own Devil-Pattern interceptor. The opposing pilot, an old veteran of the Alliance navy who stands ready to retire soon, Captain Quentin Scott, steps out of his simulator and explains the need to expand her flexibility into other fighters, because of the limitations of the Devil-Pattern Interceptor.  Then they both notice the time and that she needs to attend the Gala. He says he won't be going ("It's by invite only,") and that some of the mechanics and Orochi pilots are having a small get-together that he wants to attend, because he fears that the combination of Orochi pilots and Maradonian pilots in Harlequin squadron will cause friction and he wants to overcome it.

When it comes to introductions, I tend to let the characters and their background seep over me as I picture what their introduction might be like.  Tyro Pavonis and Shay Sabine came quite late, so I didn't have much time to introduce them.  I had this idea for a generic "Fighter simulator" intro for SOME pilot, which I gave to Shay because Tyro is blind and thus can only fly a Devil-Patter interceptor. As a consequence of this, plus some unfortunate Will rolls later, Tyro got very little "screen time."

The Gala

 The Contessa Styliana Sabine, the Grand Dame, opened up the Gala for all the nobles, greeting each in turn as they entered.  Major personalities included:

  • The Grand Dame herself, presiding over the gala.
  • High Priest Pad Palantir, who would manage an invite only Akashic Mystery Play for certain prized participants as well as reveal the presence of an Akashic Oracle on the Heirophant.
  • High Admiral Lowelin Cole, the hero of the Slaver War and a man well past his prime, now in command of the Orochi Liberatoin fleet.  He is round of belly, his dark skin speckled with liver-spots, and his eyes have a rheumy, tired quality to them.
  • Senator Sawyer Septum, smiling and pumping hands, and his inhumanely attractive wife, Rayna Septum, who seems unaware of her plastic, fetish-model perfection.
Axton Kain enters early, and mostly focuses on Asura, his frenemy from house Kain, as she proceeds to get drunk and complain that nobody in the gala has the slightest idea of what war really means.  They are interrupted by the Senator and his wife, who are making the rounds thanking nobles for joining their crusade.  Then Rayna Septum spots Mallus Grimshaw, and begins to fangirl over the husband of the Shinjurai princess (clearly a fan of Shinjurai courtly melo-drama).  She goes to approach him.

Meanwhile, Tyro Sabine makes his grand appearance and quickly gets monopolized by Sir Malachi Harrow, a "volunteer pilot" in the fleet.  Malachi has pale features, piercing black eyes, coarse hair and shabby stubble where a beard should be.  He presses Tyro on the relationship status of Peony (whom he used to date) while his natural psychic vampirism begans to drain and exhaust Tyro, who is unable to find a way to escape the wheedling man.

Peony Pavonis also arrives and makes a beeline for Mallus, whom she aggressively flirts with, both to avoid an awkward encounter with Malachi Harrow (a sacrifice she's willing to allow Tyro to make) and to see if she can add an interesting notch to her belt.  Mallus is very unimpressed with her offer and attempts to shoo her away when she spots something and then vanishes: Dani Shinjurai herself shows up, surrounded by a small swarm of hovercams and in the presence of a media consultant.  She also wears a dress with an orchid motiff. She approaches her husband, who is suddenly the center of attention.  Enzo and his brother both approach and mysteriously congratulate Mallus, while grinning at one another, their psychic senses picking up something about the couple.  Tyro uses their presence to finally escape the malign influence of Malachi, and Asura takes the distraction as an opportunity to drunkenly escape, crashing only a few glasses in the meantime.

Mallus' player had taken Dani as an Ally, but I couldn't imagine the Ally being useful "off screen," as there would be a lot of radio-silence over the campaign.  So, naturally, I had to bring her in.  She created a useful nexus whereby the players could more formally introduce themselves to one another, as Dani would obviously want to meet everyone (with a focus on the PCs, naturally).

The Viscontess Shay Sabine also arrived, and had a polite conversation with the Grand Dame, and then a second, secret conversation using the Sabine Caress discussing the Grand Dame's political standing with House Sabine (not great), her purpose here (to help protect her fellow Sabines) and whether she would be willing to help and guide the rather underqualified Thalia Sabine with her first command (she agreed).

Then we advanced to the "rolling portion" of the Gala:
  • How well they comported themselves, which involved a summation of appropriate reaction modifiers and savoir-faire and dancing rolls as complementary modifiers; Shay managed to impress the High Admiral by dancing with him, and Axton ultimately won the contest.
  • A political sub-game, where people carefully tried to figure out where everyone stood and what was really going on in all those private conversations.  This involved a Politics roll with some complementary rolls for things like Observation and Current Affairs.  Everyone picked up a few secrets, but ultimately, Axton won this contest as well (he was rolling very well.).
  • Finally, Peony proposed a game of Inquisitor, a Courtly Game that involved swapping secrets (sort of a cross between a drinking game, truth or dare and Werewolf).  Everyone swapped some secrets, and Axton, surprise surprise, won the night with this one too.

The Shindig

In the hangar of the Heirophant, the pilots and mechanics play a game of Belter's Brag.  These include:
  • Lynwood Vos, a roguish pilot who is obviously good enough at the game to be hustling the rest
  • Matua Manticora, a Jagarathi pilot with tiger-stripe marks and an aggressive attitude
  • Nadia "Viper" Morgan, a skinny and awkward looking pilot with a shaved, stubbly scalp.  She exudes an aura of a viper, hence her name.
  • Arietta Lee, with her cloud of curly blond hair and her small, impish face, a mechanic on the ship, with her salvaged Hobnob-pattern robot, Nubbins.
  • "Echo," a Shinjura android with a mannequin biomorphics who looks a great deal like his master, Tadashi "Prime."
Xerxes also joins the game, while Walker Lee and Jethro Page focus on cooking up some "Rugger Steaks" and keeping everyone happy and drunk.  Matua offers Lynwood a glass of "Asrathi Mint" liquor, which results in a rebuke from Sylvar Ro for  Matua's "desecration" of the "sacred drink."  The two argue until Walker intervenes with some folksy spacer anecdote and defuses the situation.

Two Alliance pilots, Captain Quentin Scott and Lieutenant Kobayashi Zero, join the game.  Quentin allows himself to be dealt into the game, but seems less interested in winning than in learning about his fellow pilots and creating a sense of camaraderie. Lieutenant Zero remains quiet as she plays the game, with a carefully perfect "poker face" that makes her virtually unreadable.  She's beautiful, with a form-fitting pilot outfit, large, innocent eyes, a rosebud mouth, and a vibe of real trouble and danger that make the more experienced men a little nervous around her.  Jethro, of course, is immediately smitten, and she does nothing to discourage his attention (though she doesn't seem to return them either).

Nubbins is also in the midst of walking around to each ship, especially the Alliance ships (typical for an Alliance-built robot, he's fascinated by ARC technology), calling out their names.  He calls out "Ashen Dragon," the ship of Baron Mallus Grimshaw, which causes Echo to exclaim that "Prime isn't going to like that," and indeed, his master suddenly starts cussing up a storm, talking about how Dani Shinjurai "deserves better," revealing himself as a Denjuku native who, like Rayna Septum, has an opinion on the Baron's marriage. 

Finally, Rayna and Sawyer Septum arrive, having "co-opted" a lot of food from the Gala, and spread it out among the Orochi pilots and mechanics, while the Senator praises them as the real heroes of this effort (to which has had only the paltry contribution of getting it all started).

The game continues: Xerxes wins, thanks to his dangerous, Witchcat abilities, and everyone has a good time and gets to know one another better (with a Carousing contest, though Xerxes begins to get ill from all the alcohol).

The Prophecy

The session rounds out with the Mystery Play, in which the various nobles are ushered into a sacred Akashic Shrine and are given roles to play that emphasize Thalia Sabine's role as conqueror-liberator of the Orochi Belt, when the Oracle behind a veil suddenly interrupted the play with a well-timed epileptic fit and speaks a prophecy:

Blood invites the storm.
The Hunter scatters three knights
While the thieves take flight;
And the crown loses its light
For Blood invites the storm.
Deep in the mountains, the queen makes a fortress her domain
In the fortress, a princess with hair of blood must break her chain
For the many-headed beast readies itself to destroy her reign
Because Blood invites the storm.
Blood invites the storm
Blood invites the storm
From the mountains they will swarm
The Emperor makes all conform
Blood invites the storm.
At the same moment, Xerxes has a monstrous, deathly vision of an eyeless man clad in strange, twisted, organic armor who is locked behind a great door.  "Kill for me." He instructs Xerxes who, between the vision and the alcohol, immediately vomits.  Viper also suddenly begins screaming about a strange, eyeless man as though in sympathy with Xerxes's vision.

The mechanics of the prophecy is that there's now a Destiny in play: the players need to find a "fortress" and occupy it, and they need to avoid killing.  Each (major) death will give me a "villain" impulse buy point. Except for Xerxes: he gets to make one kill and has a destiny that will help him, and must make that kill.


The Tall Tales of the Orochi Belt is very much an ensemble game.  The point is that the players are part of a larger community of fighter pilots, soldiers and mechanics, and need to learn to work together, as well as to deal with bits of drama.  Ideally, they'll come together and when the war begins to pick of NPCs, it matters.

So my primary mission with this session was to introduce each PC, help them get to know the NPCs (at least a basic, whirlwind tour), hence the gala and the shindig, and then give them their basic prophecy to set the game in motion.  

The NPC collection is pretty big, and I have an "NPC Directory" on our Roll20 site to help players navigate it.  A real quick summary:

The Brass:
  • The Grand Dame, Styliana Sabine, controls the Hierophant and is the "patron" of the fleet.  She's not in command, but you can bet what she wants, happens.
  • High Admiral Lowelin Cole: Hero of the Slaver War and, like, 80 years old, he's definitely past his prime and likely sees this mission as his opportunity to go out a hero. Ostensibly commands the fleet.
  • Lady Asura Kain: daughter of (but not heir to) Kento Kain, Archbaron of Caliban, she represents Kainian interests and commands Kusari's Pride, a lancer.
  • Sir Arthus Elegans: the more terrifying of the Elegans brothers, he commands the Mother's Touch, the Regal-Pattern Eleganian medical cruiser.
  • Senator Sawyer Septum: technically a civilian, this politician represents the legitimacy of the liberation fleet, as his invitation precipitated the mission.
The Pilots
The pilot PCs will need to pick one of these as their wingman.  Shay has already chosen Thalia, and Tyro, as a wing commander, might have a few in his wing.
  • Lady Thalia Sabine: The squadron commander of Harlequin Squadron and grand-daughter to Styliana Sabine, and being set-up to rule over the Orochi Belt, if Styliana gets her way.  She's best friends with Peony Pavonis and more than a little out of her depth.
  • Lynwood Voss: An Orochi pilot and a master gambler. He hails from Rust City.
  • Nadia "Viper" Morgan: an Orochi pilot, she's a native of the Botanical Asteroids, and has an aura of weirdness around her.
  • Matua Manticora: An Asrathi pilot native to Nekotara (near the Orochi Belt). He follows the Old Ways.
  • Captain Quentin Scott: an old veteran of the Galactic Civil War and nearing retirement, he acts as an advisor to Thalia and other high level command staff of Harlequin Squadron.
  • Lieutenant Kobayashi Zero: a femme fatale and a mystery who keeps to herself.  Excellent wingman, but with an usual flying style for an Alliance pilot.
  • Sir Malachi Harwood: An "adventurer volunteer" who joined the fleet to prove himself to house Harrow and, perhaps, to get closer to his ex-girlfriend, Peony. He's a psychic vampire who has a bad habit of getting his wingmen killed, but achieves good results.
The Mechanics
The pilots need their fighters maintained!  Each pilot will need to choose one mechanic.
  • Callister Lee: the "head mechanic" of the Orochi fleet.  He has a habit of picking up "strays" and tutoring them in how to be a good mechanic; these almost always tend to be attractive women, for some reason.
  • Arietta Lee: The daughter of Callister Lee; her and her salvaged Hobnob, Nubbins, are fairly innovative mechanics, but Nubbins has a bad habit of "acquiring" parts from other fighters.
  • Kerin Kethim: A Ranathim refugee and mother to a toddler, she's trying to work her way into being allowed into the Alliance as a citizen.  She hates robots and follows the strange superstitions of the Divine Masks, but is a fine mechanic. She works under Callister Lee
  • Chief Petty Officer Canto Cogsworth (Not featured in the session): The head of the Heirophant's engineering team, Canto has a team of 3 hobnobs who work with precision to make sure every fighter under their care is in tip top shape.  Quite stodgy, though, and demanding of pilots' time, and requires everything to be "up to spec."
  • Tadashi "Prime" and "Echo:" This shinjurai team-up represent Denjuku's gift to the alliance; they come with quite a bit of prototype Syntech fighter parts and will spruce up your fighter, but they have opinions on what the best layout and operating systems are and tend to "beg forgiveness" rather than "ask permission" when it comes to modding a fighter.
Other NPCs:
  • Talos: Known teasingly as "the Weakest Knight," Talos is a retainer to House Kain who has been extensively cybernetically modified after defeat after defeat. He has lost more battles than most alliance soldiers have even fought, making him a hardened veteran.  He has an unrequited crush on Asura, and serves on her Lancer.
  • Sir Enzo Elegans: A space knight and commander of security aboard the Mother's Touch.  His empathy manifests as a deep understanding of others and an infectious charisma.
  • Lady Peony Pavonis: Handmaiden to Thalia Sabine and technically a space knight (though the other space knights question her qualifications), she mostly has her position thanks to her friendship with Thalia.  She has a reputation for drama.
  • Rayna Septum: The "first lady" of the Orochi Belt and wife to the Senator, he rescued her from a pirate ship, though she has no memories from before that event.  She's extremely beautiful, but with "off-the-shelf" looks: candy-red hair, exaggerated secondary sexual traits and a certain naivety.  Her pale skin is marked with a barcode tattoo betraying Shinjurai origins, and she has a deep love of the Shinjurai royal melo-drama.
The rest of the NPCs are tied primarily to the PCs (allies or crew, etc).  There might be more, but these were the main and most important ones.

It was a pretty tightly packed 4 hours of game that I thought went by quickly, but it split down the middle between aristocracy and commoners, which meant that half the group was idling about half the time, which was unfortunate. That said, the commoners had opportunities to join the gala (Walker is a war hero and Sawyer would have invited him, and Xerxes is there by the invitation of the Archbaron of Caliban, and so could get into the Gala). Both said "Nope, so much nope," and definitely enjoyed their game of Belter's Brag and rugger steaks more.

I had planned about three times this much for the session, but I expected this would be as far as we got.  I continue to struggle with a problem I had in Tinker Titan Rebel Spy, where I want to have mechanics (like fights and such), but they take up so much time and I want to move move move with the story, so I need to find a way to strike a balance between the two.  This one could afford to be mostly story, but next session will almost certainly feature more mechanics as the players get their first real taste of space combat.

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