Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Kempeitai and Horlas

The Gill Men weren't the only monstrosities the Japanese found in the jungles of Brazil. The rubber industry there was largely developed and run by Japanese immigrants and one plantation manger with strong ties to his homeland reported strange unseen creatures troubling his workers. A special Kempeitai team was smuggled in, and found evidence of the creatures. They set out to trap one, being versed in their own form of shadow walking.

Floor boards were arranged to squeak, coal dust spread, and thread strung to wind chimes. Nets, caltrops and darts were readied. In the end they lost several agents but brought down one of the unseen creatures. Chained and caged they began its interrogation. It called itself a Horla.

After some negotiation several Horla's were recruited for the Axis cause. They devastated a special ops group in the Phillipines and killed several Australian officers and ministers before one survivor told what was going on. An Agent Unseen was sent to deal with the problem and nearly killed when cornered by several of the monsters. A Team of HRH catgirls were dispatched from India and with the American mystery man known as the Bat the creatures were trapped on a wharf as they waited for extraction and the wharf set ablaze.

Eventually American and Brazilian scientists were sentinto the jungle and located several Horlas who were willing to work for the Allies. They took the codename Killroy (thought we were done with that? Nah!)

Horla are naturally invisible creatures of the same size and shape as humans. No known form of photography will record their appearance. Coating one in paint or dust will only reveal a blurry outline for a brief time. It is unknown how they evolved or the basis of their invisibility. The Allies never captured one alive and the corpses soon dissolve. Horlas are -4 to be hit if the attacker has a reason to target their specific area, -8 otherwise. They have a +8 ST vs. suppressive fire and take no damage if they make their throw and half damage otherwise.

A Horla's invisibility lets it strike with surprise most of the time unless it is extraordinarily stupid or unlucky. they have a 5 in 6 chance of attacking by surprise if alone. The creatures do not use weapons or armor. their claws (?) deal 1d6-1 damage in close combat. A Horla is far more apt to cause accidents, throw things as a distraction or use its mental powers to cause destruction. Horla's can perceive invisible humans somehow. Invisible humans perceive the Horlas as an indistinct greenish wraith.

A Horla's invisibility is not perfect. Mirrors behave strangely in their presence. While the creatures do not show their reflection they can block the reflection of other living beings (and often do this to torture victims).

A Horla has impressive hypnotic abilities. It can use the Charm Person spell a number of times per day equal to its level rounded up. It must speak to its victim, however. Others can hear it and be unaffected. This does not affect invisible humans or any human with their eyes obscured. Holy symbols or indeed any symbol or sight that stirs deep emotion in victim can allow another saving throw to break their spell. While under their spell humans have a weird greenish light around their eyes.

The Horla are immune to normal effects of weather. No Horla ever caught cold or sneezed (a problem with several British invisible operatives). The creatures have a powerful fear of fire and even bright light. Fire attacks do double damage to Horlas and a Horla must make a saving throw to avoid fleeing when faced with a fire based weapon.

Level       XP          HD             BHB              ST        Usage Die
1          2,500          1+1              +1              14          1d4

2          5,000          2+1              +2              13          1d6

3          7,500          3+1              +3              12          1d8

4         10,000         5+1              +4              11          1d10

5         15,000         6+1              +5              10          1d12

The Horla's usage die refers to its ability to remain undetected. They can leave footprints, be heard, and some people have reported a coldness or acrid smell in their presence. Roll the usage die every time the Horla remains in close proximity to a group of people. On a 1 or 2 the Horla left some trace and the humans have reason to be suspicious. The usage die also decreases one size. When a usage rolls fails at 1d4 humans have a distinct idea of where the intruder is and make their attacks at -4.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Mighty Keg

And we're live!

http://www.rpgnow.com/product/204064/Launches-the-Mighty-Keg

The Keg is my first offering for White Star, a little workhorse so ugly it has to be useful.

The Keg is a small launch designed to haul cargo and modified to do nearly anything else. This is a twenty-one page booklet containing renderings and stats for the Keg/launch/gig/OTV and five variants. Which one will you choose? There's the beauty, it's modular! You can have them all (though not at the same time). The book also contains a battle mat for the keg and rules for making other ships modular.

I hope you'll take a look, like what you see, buy a copy and play the hell out of it.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Warping Through the Fall of Empire

One of the tried and true axioms of your golden Age SF and most settings is that there a single way to travel faster than light. FTL itself is fairly common in SF.  Even hard SF manages to get away with this one cheat. After all you're breaking the rules of physics as we know them once (maybe twice if you have anti-grav), there's no need to be piggish and paint modern physicists as absolute louts.

My apologies to modern day physicists. I respect you guys. Your work with metallic hydrogen looks very promising and you are making great strides with that cloaking device but I want to be a little gonzo right now.

In general stories and games take a conservative approach to FTL. If technological advances or levels are part of the IP higher tech levels make you go faster. That's it. There are other areas that could be improved.

Let look at the Traveller jump drives. Tech levels will let you improve your jump range from one to six parsecs (which seems to be the limit but hell they said that about the J-3 drives a few centuries ago.) What if higher tech levels let you reduce the exclusion radius, i.e. you could jump closer from or break out closer to worlds?

TL 9-10 100 radii

TL 11 80 radii

TL 12 40 radii

TL 13 20 radii

TL 14-15 10 radii

Militarily, this will raise hell with your neighbors. If you can jump closer to their installations you can attack them with less warning time. As the jump radii drop a system's defenders move closer to their mainworld and other juicy targets. Jumping closer to a gas giant is a huge advantage because your fleet will reduce transit time for refueling and their vulnerability while playing 'Who's High Guard'?

Economically it provides an advantage to traders. Less jump radius means a faster insystem flight which means more time to spend hunting up cargoes and more trips per years (maybe per month at higher levels). There's also less opportunity to be jumped by pirates.

Of course for player characters this means that the window between THEM learning what you did and you doing a quick escape is much smaller. This usually means less holes in your ship after the climax.

On the other hand ships with less advanced drives than their world of departure or destination will spend time away from defense satellites and patrols and are prey for pirates jumping in from further out. Do these worlds spread their defenses out to accommodate merchants or keep close and defend their worlds better?

What about jump anchors? This is non-canon but some referees play with a minimum mass necessary to drop your ship back into normal space, usually Mars-Earth sized (though I may be remembering Niven's The Borderland of Sol).

TL 9-10 Stellar Mass

TL 11 Jupiter Mass

TL 12 Earth Mass

TL 13 Mars Mass

TL 14 Lunar Mass

TL 15 Asteroid Mass

Using this rule creates choke points in your star systems based on the mass of worlds. A TL 11 world would only be able to attack its enemy by jumping into the system near a gas giant or around the primary giving them some warning. Their TL 12 enemy could appear directly over their world however and attack much more quickly.

A secret asteroid base is also less likely to stay secret when both sides achieve TL 15 and can jump right to it rather than make a long trip from the nearest planetary mass.

Jump fuel seems to be used according to the distance jumped without regard for tech level. More efficient drives might let you make more jumps than lower tech ships bypassing the defenses of a neighbor, needing less tankers and fewer fuel stops.

this assumes there is only one way to access FTL space. And that there are either no FTL communications or everyone has them. A culture that develops FTL radio before its neighbors has an immense advantage.

Who's to say an Empire will be the first to make these technology leaps? When they are evolving and progressing a Polity will be able to use superior drives to great effect. It will project its forces further and quicker than neighbors and grow swiftly as they fall into line or are conquered.

Polities age. Other newer polities (not big enough for a capital 'P') are out there and working on jump drives as well. They might benefit by an unorthodox approach or a better system to motivate and fund research ("Develop the new drive or your kitty suffers!") Maybe the Polity has just stopped trying or the researchers found better jobs in the video game industry.

A 'barbarian' state that gains one or more advantages is likely to use it fast! Consider, as soon as the Polity learns of it they WILL drop everything and begin their own research to close that gap. Or they will panic and orchestrate an immediate attack since their only advantage lays in overwhelming the barbarians. Or they could negotiate with the barbarians who would either give them their secrets and trade their shot for glory, or refuse and be back to square one.

Every day the barbarians wait the Polity will be shoring up their defenses or readying their attack. Regardless the situation is unstable and given the Polity is much bigger their only choice is to attack with everything they have and hope to kill the Empire while it is still in disarray, and behind technologically.

So the Empire will fall, their Fleet swept aside. Many SF Empires end that way. They never tell you the 'barbarians' are more advanced than the 'civilized men'.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Accept No Substitutes

Sandoval looked up from her sundae as Luch barreled into the galley.


“Sandoval you better … is that a chocolate sundae with butterscotch, pecans and pineapple?” he asked. His face appeared animated even under his fire pattern leather mask.


“Mine. Next time you go provision shopping with me.”


“That’s fine … the Captain showed up from his bargain hunting and he’s mad enough to kick holes in the hull.”


“Yeah …” Sandoval had applied the first spoonful to her tongue and at the moment was in a state of rapture. She that does the food shopping gets first pick of the goodies for herself. That was crew law.


“He asked me where the devil you were and … I told him you were up here stowing food. This isn’t quite what I meant though.”


“Meep. He’s mad? At me?” States of rapture were apparently vulnerable to bad news.


“The way your luck runs … “


Sandoval fled with neither grace nor dessert. Luch waited till the scurry of feet faded and then grabbed the sundae whistling happily.


The Captain was an old hand at cornering recalcitrant and evasive crew (the only types he ever encountered to hear him speak). She was in the gig studiously shampooing the upholstery. He dragged her out by the collar and then proceeded to explain her shortcomings as crew, shipmate, and higher mammal.  Luch had broken under such a barrage before and Luch could hurt people with his hands, feet, elbows and once or twice his head. A diminutive second tier navigator never had a chance. In a terribly sexist and cliched scene he had her sniffling, then bawling before she was allowed to flee. Fortunately a bug had flown into his mouth.


Luch was still in the galley, having finished the sundae, adjusting his luchador mask and his belt and wondering what the poor crew were doing that time of day when the navigator slumped in looking barely capable of finding her behind with both hands.


“Angry, hunh?”


“Uhuh,” she said inhaling sharply to contain a nasal emission. Luch patted his lap and she sat down and put her head on his shoulder.


“Tell Uncle Luch … what did old Captain say?”


The story took some doing to get with several breaks for nose blowing and an angry rant on the sanctity of sundaes (You Leather Masked Baboon!) It seemed that one of the starport merchants, Selvaggio, who had bought a number of fuel cells. Said cells were paid for in local currency. Said currency was handed over to the Captain quite dutifully. The Captain then went on several errands such as scaring up passengers, cargo to ship and enjoying a seven course meal in a local bistro off the port grounds.


The currency turned out to be more homemade than local. The restaurateur was not at all impressed at serving a merchant prince experiencing a cash flow problem and the Captain had spent two hours washing dishes and loading crates of vegetables.


“He said I was to get his money back whatever way I can.”


“Hummh. That’s a lot of latitude. The Captain would perform acts of necrophilia for a hundred credits you would pray desperately to unsee.”


“Heehee. Say again?”


“Did I stutter? Ahh the Captain would perform acts of necrophilia for a hundred credits you would pray desperately to unsee … he’s right behind me isn’t he?”


“Yes, Uncle Luch,” Sandoval said.


***


Selvaggia the merchant regarded ‘Uncle’ Luchador coldly. Luch was impassive. Wearing a demonic leather face mask did that for you.


“I know your … niece,” the merchant paused as Luch snorted derisively.


“She’s my shippie … and a very bad girl for dragging me into this,” Luch said angrily.


“Whatever. When you write your life story I’ll buy a copy.  Anyway. I’m sorry your shippie was stuck with 500 credits in funny money but I am not liable   for your loss. You have no way of establishing that money came from me. Any constable will agree.”


“That is your final word?” Sandoval asked through gritted teeth.


“No. Fuck off is my final word,” Selvaggia spat.


***


“Why didn’t you visit violence upon him? You guys live for that sort of thing!” Sandoval spat when they were back on the street.


“Did you not notice the large number of burly employees loading crates using pry bars and hooks?”


“I see. You’re scared.”


“Some of them looked tough … almost brutal and those were just the women. Not scared, but let us label violence as plan B,” Luch said with a shrug.


“What is plan A?” Sandoval asked looking at the wad of local credits in her hand.


“I came up with plan B. Do I have to do everything?”


***


“I would be obliged if you could tell me how to point this funny money out,” Sir Bert said angrily. Sandoval decided to speak to a Tech Knight. She was fortunate enough to find this one eating a sundae at a drugstore counter. They joined him.


“It is a little embarrassing. The counterfeit notes are good, very good. They pass high denominations in multiple places at once and the only way we have to spot them is by the serial numbers. They’re the same on all the bills. We assume some locals have gotten a copy machine from offworld.We’re working on new notes with fluorescent particles in the ink. Right now you need a microscope and a sharp eye to spot a note. The boys at the exchange office are going blind.”


“Makes sense, sir. If it were anyone with a computer and half a brain they could manipulate the image and change the numbers.”


“Here’s a real c-note, and my card. If you figure out a way to spot phony money give me a call.”


“Sure. You’re awful nice trusting me with a hundred credit note,” Sandoval slapped Luch’s hand halfway to her sundae.


“Actually I trust you with a hundred credit note because I’m not nice at all. Show my card to anyone before you plan on stiffing me.”


***
Luch was tending to his duties a little later and pondering liberating some confections from the Captain’s fridge when Sandoval came strutting in bearing a paddlet in her hand. Luch closed the fridge door quickly and she seemed to take little notice of it.


“I got it! I programmed a paddlet to scan a note you slap on it and determine if it’s counterfeit or genuine. I’m gonna call Sir Bert and then he’ll get me my … the Captain’s money back!”


“This is the Sir Bert who made us by his lunch?”


“... yes.” Sandoval suddenly felt like a little kid asking to stick a drawing on the fridge that her  mom judged unworthy.


“You raise a good point. Like as not he’d cop it and take the credit, hunh? And giving it to Selvaggia … it might get us the money back  but he’s as likely to gouge us.”


“You’re learning buttercup.”


Sandoval was diminutive and soft spoken and gave the impression she could get mugged by an animatronic plush animal. Now, though an evil grin lit her girlish face that made Luch’s blood drop a degree or two.


“I assume we have a plan A?”


“I think so. How many of the big warehouses are there on this dinky port? We don’t have to worry about importing tech here, right?”


“There are five counting that swindler’s house of swag and you are correct we do not need to worry about our own tech here. Cross the duty line and the locals will jail your ass for a  monochrome holo,” the steward said.


“I can see why with all the trouble a copy machine is giving them. Anyway I need another hour to fab more of these and … will you go with me?”


“”I dunno … I have to shampoo some masks … floss the artichokes …”


“LUCH!”


***
Some time later Sandoval and Luch were sunning themselves on the Profit Rockit’s ramp. They were making due with having free time and no money as best they could. Selvaggia came storming up. Sandoval flinched a bit at the negativity blasted at her.


“Oh. Mr. Selvaggia. Excuse me a moment. I’m not dressed to receive company,” the navigator grabbed a short robe off the back of her lawn chair and threw it over her shoulders. Selvaggia did a slow burn for a moment and then said, “Knock it off! I want one of those currency scanners!”


“You don’t always get what you want but if you’re lucky … you find what you need,” Luch said without moving.


“You both need my foot up your asses! You sold  those damn things to all the other warehouse owners in the port.”


“We did … for 150 credits a piece,” Sandoval said smiling a moment.


“Fine … I’ll take one!”


“The price is 500 credits,” Luch said. Sandoval had wanted to tell Selvaggia but Luch beat her at rock paper scissors.


“Five hundred! This counterfeiting fad may be over in a week!”


“Great wait a week … with every crook knowing you don’t have one of these and the competition does!” Luch snapped.


“It’s a special model,” Sandoval said grabbing the paddlet from under her chair.


“... special?”


“Yes. It’s the last model we have. Five hundred. Six hundred with the apps installed eep!” Sandoval ducked behind Luch as the merchant balled his fists and snorted.


“ … will you take a check?” he finally managed.


***


“I knew you could do it. My faith was in you my little cherubs of windfall!” Captain was saying later. He embraced Sandoval and Luch in a somewhat moist bearhug. The crew put up with it.
In one massive hand he clutched the gold coins they made Selvaggia cough up.


“Thank you fatso.”


“Thank you Captain!”


“Canteen is open for you guys till we lift. Go enjoy!” Sandoval aye ayed and prepared to beat it before things went 180 from due North.


“Oh … one moment my little beacons of commerce,” the Captain called.


“Sir?”


“I can’t seem to … find … any … paddlets,” the Captain said making a show of looking under his desk and chair.


“Oh … I used them f …” Luch’s knee interfaced with the navigator’s backside a moment too late.


“Oh. You used them … out of my stores?” Captain stopped looking and punched a computer display up with frightening competency. “And you fabbed some adapter modules in my shop. Kiddies it seems you made a lot of money selling lemonade … but you were squeezing my lemons.”


“I’d like to kick in your lemons,” Luch muttered.


“But ingenuity should be rewarded. Just not at my expense. I’ll give you the hundred extra you got from Selvaggia … and 25 credits for each of the other four units you made and sold. That’s a hundred each.”


Captain carefully counted out eight shiny coins and handed four to each of them. Luch for once remained silent though Sandoval felt his eyes burning into her scrawny back.


They left Captain’s cabin quickly, Luch heading down to the galley. Sandoval followed him on the theory if she did he would find it harder to sneak up and murder her.


“Luch, what are you doing?” Sandoval asked, a little worried. The money was not what they had expected but it was enough for some shore leave, shopping, a sundae or two.


“I’m going to open the canteen and eat till that fat sonuvabitch shows a loss for this transaction!”

***
The technophile says, "New tech is GOOD!" The technophobe says, "New tech is BAD!" The wise say, "This requires further testing," and keeps it for personal use as long as possible.

In the case of Zaonia, a photocopier would probably make pretty slick counterfeits that would be difficult to spot. The locals already had problems with counterfeit credentials (see many previous posts.) Restricting technology should keep things like this from happening except someone willing to counterfeit won't be deterred by import laws.

Capturing such counterfeiters might be more a matter of police work and squeezing informants and offworlders until some leads turn up. Make sure your offworlder characters aren't the ones squeezed.

If the counterfeiters have any brains they'll move around and pass their money in different cities and moving on when the police get to close. They might even be spacers plying their trade when they hit Zao Port, passing bad money and slipping away till their freighter calls again.

Merchants might demand gold or silver instead of paper money from spacers. This could lead to a shadow economy. Locals purchase wares and services for spacers in exchange for a percentage of the coin spent. All of this makes a nice messy web for players to step into.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tunnel Rats

The tunnel was a gloomy reminder. Once Zao Prime (now called Zaoprym as language drifted as sure as the continents) was ten times the present area and twenty time the population. Once before the Collapse Zaonia had a score of similar cities, now blasted and scavenged ruins.

Much of Zaoprym was still abandoned outside its bright beating center but ruins remained and were there were ruins there was infrastructure.

Professor Elevator knew infrastructure. He had mapped a good third of the old tunnels used for express transport ad various services and, knowing his future was as a revolutionary, did not share the information with the Order of the Flaming Sword. Now his quarrels with his brother and sister Knights seemed petty as invaders camped on their starport and waited for the strength of numbers to truly destroy them.

To Professor Elevator the tunnel was a means, of escape and of insertion. He was an old hand at defying oppressors. Offworld oppressors were dumber than most local tyrants. He had the going for him. He risked a light and checked his map again. Maybe another hundred meters and he'd arrive. He smiled as his plane began to gel, despite the sweat on his forehead. He carefully rolled the map back up and replaced i in its case on his belt. then he took a small nip from a hip flask.

"We should have brought the rest of the Elevator Operators ... don't you thi ... maybe ... never mind ..." Mezzanine trailed off as her leader's glower deepened at her words. Then he was smiling again. For a criminal mastermind he was alarmingly upbeat.

"Too many people would be noticed. We can only succeed by stealth. Remind me to have Mort slap you when we're done here."

"Yes sir. Maybe you should slap me now. It seems unlikely we'll survive."

Professor Elevator's fist balled to strike out. Mezzanine didn't flinch but the hand descended gently and beeped her nose. The professor even intoned >beep< gravely. Mezzanine's eyes crossed a little.

"I did not take you out of that abominable waitressing job, train you, put my faith in you, to see you die. Your attitude though ... you need to stay upbeat girl. Don't give me that look ... if I'm too old to date you then I can call you 'girl'," he said squeezing her shoulder a moment.

Mezzanine smiled, "If anyone can do it, you can sir."

"We can."

"Why don't you sing a couple fucking songs?" Basement muttered as he joined them. He pointed back the way they'd come. "A couple of mercs found our entrance and are investigating. I don't think they made me. We better move."

"Those offworld scum hold no fear for Professor Elevator ... but as it happens we were just about to leave."

***
"Fan out now and tell the psionics we're all walking down to the water on the east end of the island. They'll get instructions once we all meet up," the Captain said. Luch nodded and headed down an alleyway. 

"What about me, Captain?" Sandoval asked  trying to keep up.

"You ... stay with me," Captain said grimacing.

"But why?" the navigator demanded.

"Luch can kill a man with his barehands. Can you?"

"Maybe. If he was little ..."

"Also, you're fricking blue! Because you're blue. That doesn't go with a low profile. What were you thinking?"

"I get bored with basic caucasian sometimes." 

***

"Word from our people and robots in the starport is we're going to get hit tomorrow," the Mayor said to the assembled police and squires. There was some muttering till Twoomey stepped up beside him and glared.

"Were you expecting an easy ride this time?" the sergeant snapped. The muttering stopped.

"Sleep in shifts," the Mayor said. "Get some food in you. this is the last of it. At least they ain't waiting till we're starving to hit us."

"Why is that?" Twoomey asked.

"I think ... they're on the clock. They mean to smack us down fast before the Subsecgov or the Outreach Foundation can get nosey. We gotta hang tough and wait till we make them go over budget."

"I think I'm making them dip into the petty cash for more of these drones," Steigen said. There was some chuckling at that.

"We hang tough. We don't knuckle. There's always hope," the Mayor said. He wasn't making a speech so much as talking to the troops. 

"On the bright side ... we did finally work out a medical plan for you guys the Union found acceptable ..."

***

A steel grating barred Professor Elevator's way, an obstacle to lesser minds perhaps. He gestured to Mezzanine and she took up guard position watching their backs. Basement removed his backpack and extracted a metal saw from it.

"Brilliant, Professor," Bullethead said admiringly.

"Thank you my lad."

"Professor?"

"Yes?"

"Where do I plug it in?"

"Sonuvabitch! Zao damn your eyes! Why didn't you ..."

"It's gas powered you stoops! Pull the Zao damn starter cord!" Mezzanine snapped.

"Oh ... " Basement grabbed the handle. "I thought this was a funny shaped plug. You'd be amazed how often this kind of thing happens to me."

"Try not to surprise us further, lad."

"Okay ... now this engine is going to be a little noisy when I start 'er up ... but don't worry. The blade sawing will drown it right out."

"... well let us put our earplugs in. That will make it quieter."

"Professor, you're a genius."

***

Staff Sergeant Thadh watched the free trader crewmen and officers walking down to the East Side Beach. The Beach was a nearly enclosed bay. Two rock pillars, the Gargoyles marked the entrance. The normally strong but placid current played hell outside the bay throwing spray as waves dashed themselves on the twins and other rocks below the surface. You'd be hard pressed to get into the bay with a power boat. Swimming out was out of the question unless you were an uplifted porpoise.

Behind him Tradh's squad clambered out of the truck, The people kept walking. Tradh grabbed the bullhorn on his belt and hollered, "Return to your quarters. There is no escape this way. The currents outside the bay will drown you." He hit the rep[lay button and the horn repeated his words.

"They're looking to kill themselves, Sarge?"

"You got me. We didn't make internment so bad it seemed. We can't let them drown themselves ..."

"Should we open up on a few and turn them back? We can shoot low," another trooper said. That got him pained looks. A mercenary was not paid enough to die for his boss. That was true. He was paid enough to kill but wholesale slaughter of civilians was another matter entirely. You could be up on charges for that.

Sergeant Tradh settled for calling it in to his platoon leader. Let him sweat the details.

***

Basement was cutting through the last of the steel bars when Mezzanine gestured and the Professor tapped him on the shoulder to cease.

"Someone's coming," Mezzanine hissed. Sure enough a long shadow could be seen coming around a corner. The three got under cover and readied their weapons.

"Sir Bert!" Mezzanine gasped.

"Indeed. What have you been up to Cuthbert?"

"The usual ... Elihu. There were a couple of guards trying to follow you down here," sir Bert said matter of factly. He checked his own weapon, an automatic pistol with a large silencer and judged the silence to still be sound. He reached into a pouch on his equipment belt and handed Professor Elevator a small shining cube.

"Metallic. Hydrogen. Where?" Elevator asked.

"I was just at the Venture Project. I was all night riding home. When I heard about this soiree I decided to horn it. That's yours, Sir Eli, compliments of Mr. Gutman."

'He's a good fellow. This is wondrous stuff.  ... so he faked his death?"

"Came close. He's in a healing suspension awaiting transport to an offworld hospital. His wounds were too extensive for the gear we have here."

"He's a lateral move from a brain in a jar ... he has to be one of my people deep down. We'll talk after this is done. Basement ... continue." Basement should have engaged the saw and  continued working at the bars. Instead he stood looking at the small cube in the Professor's hand.

"Hey ... izzat stuff stable? Ain't it like nitro? Last time we used nitro ... you needed to wear a wig for a couple months ... sir"

"Perfectly safe. The only things that set this off are lifter effects or a temperature in excess of 2000 degrees."

"See scale or Kay scale ... that 273 degrees leeway? It could mess you up." 

"Get to work!"

"Oh. I'm done. You got more stuff what needs sawing?" Basement pulled the last bar out.

A short jog down the corridor got the group to a series of switches controlling valves, if the old signage was correct. 

"When my robot friends staged their little tea party it was very easy to get down here. Who watches a robot carefully? The offworlders have shut them down now. Pity."

"I do when it's toting a damned ground car."

"Ah Bert, the Elevated Man missed. Let bygones be bygones."

"It was my fucking ground car he threw. Technically he still caused me injury. I loved that car."

Elevator threw several switches and watched some old gauges carefully. He spared himself a chuckle. "We're almost there. The software on my laptop already accessed the controlled of the starport mainframe ... and the computers of our interned merchants. They are going to begin a partial power up as part of a maintenance cycle. I just flooded their tanks with deuterium. Mwahahahahahaha!"

"Huh?" echoed around him. 

"Isotope of hydrogen? Gives off a ton of neutrons when it fuses? Neutrons screw up lifter tech, make people sick?"

"You used this plan awreddy ... for the robot uprising! Remember?" Basement looked shocked.

"I can use a plan again," Professor Elevator said, almost petulantly. "Besides ... using the interned merchant ships is new ... "

"Can he Mezzanine? This don't seem ..." Basement trailed off as Sir Bert stuck his pistol in the minion's ear. Mezzanine had Bert covered. Elevator threw his hands up.

"No one shoot. Cuthbert, Basement will do as instructed. I assure you. He's just ... special. Like a big kid. Now no one kill anyone. I must insist. Comrades in arms and all that!"

The first bullets spanged off the walls and pipes and everyone dove for cover. Mezzanine peeked from behind a circuit box and saw mercenaries coming out a corridor not wasting time on words.

"I knew you gorillas were making too much chatter!" she yelled firing her submachine gun.

***

Sergeant Tradh's dliemma was solved by an alarm siren from the starport at the other side of the island. His ear piece simultaneously began squawking. 

" ... Holy ... follow them!"

"Sergeant?" 

"I said follow them."

"But the recall siren ..."

Tradh already doffed his helmet and pack and was running for the water.

***

Colonel Leogain peered out the bridge porthole at the people scurrying about. "Find out what's happening!" He said to the comm  tech. 

"Radiation alert. The interned ships are all running on a prelaunch cycle and they're hot! It's neutron radiation!"

"Nnngh ... ground all lifter tanks and trucks immediately. Are we in danger here?"

"Not short term. We're going to need anitradiation drugs if the cycle continues to increase ..."

Leogain was watching his beautiful tanks and attack speeders falling out of the sky. A troop transport was coming in for a landing. It suddenly lurched and began to drop . It was enough time for Leogain to shout "No!" in his head several times as the ship grew in size and held a steady position.

He never heard the crash.

***

The bullets echoed down the corridor. It must have been far worse for the mercenaries who weren't wearing earplugs. Thankfully they were firing single shots, afraid to hit vital machinery or send ricochets their way.

Basement crawled beside Professor elevator and said, "I can keep them off your back for a while. You guys beat it down the corridor. You can make it to the main tunnel from here."

Professor Elevator thought about it a moment and then said,"Go ahead, Mezzanine and Cuthbert. We will let Basement guard our rear. Mezzanine, go! Now!" His lieutenant loked at Basement a moment and then complied. Cuthbert and Elevatormoved behind her shooting over Basement's head.

Some mercenaries were moving forward while others kept up a stream of fire now. Basement couldn't get his head up long enough to take a shot without getting it blown off. He grimaced. There were too many. He made sure the others had left then opened his hand, looking down at the tiny cube of Metasol.

"You'd think a smart guy like the Professor would know when he's getting his pocket picked," he tsked.  What'd he say? It takes about two thousand degrees to set this Metasol off. He spared a glance at the metal saw. the sparks it threw would be hot enough. But there was no way to secure the two properly. The saw vibrated like a mother.

Basement or Bullethead had trouble telling time but he knew bullets. The muzzle blast from his pistol would suffice ... he hoped. He crawled near a steam pipe for good measure and put the muzzle over the cube.

***

Several pistol shots echoed down the tunnel they hastily fled. Then there was an explosion that hurt their ears a hundred meters away and round a corner. The steam explosion that followed hurt only less so. Mezzanine was looking back and the flash blinded her for a moment. Elevator swore and slapped an empty pocket.

"Dammit! I never lost a man till I started hanging with the good guys!" he hollered. 

Ahead of them was an old subway tunnel. They were nearly home free. "Come on! We can't let Basement's sacrifice be in vai ... what the hell?"

Basement was crawling out of the tunnel feebly and smouldering. Apparently he was just out of view when the blast hit. Mezzanne broke into a run back. "I got this boss!"

"She's breaking protocol Eli, shall I shoot her?"

"No. We do not leave a man behind. Go no further Bert."

Mezzanine had reached Basement and was struggling to get him upright with no success. It was very hard not to kiss every inch of his big stupid face. He opened his eyes which drew attention to his missing eyebrows and grimaced then got one knee under him. He had to be alive the way he felt. Otherwise the afterlife was very overrated though those bells he heard were kind of nice.

"C'mon hon. Get up. I don't wanna kill ya to prevent yer capture.We're almost home," she said. She got his arm around her shoulders and heaved with all her might. Professor Elevator had joined them by then and between them they got him the rest of the way up. 

"Sorry, I got a longer way to go when I stand up," Basement said.

"That's fine my boy. You ... used the saw to detonate the Metasol?"

"Naw sir, I couldn't rig that up. I was gonna use my pistol then I saw they had a camera drone with them ... it used little bitty lifters so I ran for it and threw the cube back," Basement looked around a little puzzled. "Hey I just realized I'm alive!"

" ... for the moment. Let's go!"

The trio rejoined Sir Bert where the tunnel opened into a large subway station As they stepped onto the plaform more mercenaries piled onto the opposite platform. 

Basement muttered, "They probably come to see why someone is ringing that bell so loud," and shook his head to clear the ringing to little effect.

From the tracks a huge cylindrical form rose with a chuff and a whine of engines. Elevated Man stood betweent them and the offworlders. He gave every appearance of trying to narrow his photoreceptors as he strode towards the invaders.

The troops rapidly lost all interest in the human Zaonians. Elevated Man did a quick visual scan, spotted no rocket launchers and went to town as the first bullets spanged off his armored torso.  An invader died under a hammer fist punch. A second was backhanded into a bloody smear on a dusty wall. He snapped a third in his graspers even as Sir Bert cut down a fourth and fifth.

"Let's see how you are at doing the dying, rats!" the old knight bellowed. "Holy Crap Eli ... you were going easy on us with him all this time weren't you." It wasn't a question.

"Bert, you shouldn't know," Elevator said in rapt attention at the destruction his robot was wreaking. "When I found his brain in an old ruin, he was programmed to style hair. Can you imagine? Wasting a synthetic brain on styling hair. Our ancestors were morons!?"

The Elevated Man activated the flamethrower in his left arm. He liked it.

It reminded him of hairspray.

***

Then mercenaries on the beach had remarkably little fight in them. When you're all bobbing water trying to minimize neutron radiation fighting takes a backseat to keeping your head under as much as possible. Besides the merchants had mobbed them and grabbed their guns.

"There's a lot more of us back at the starport, you know? A couple of small arms aren't going to get you very far ... neither is my comlink. Taking us hostage won't matter to them either,"  he said to the navigator, Sandoval.

"We're not taking you hostage. You can leave if you want. If I were you and your men, I'd stay with us. You seem a decent sort based on your not shooting anyone. We can afford you a little portection when the Zaonians come for you."

Tradh had heard the awful crash even a few kilometers away. But he was not the sort to just surrender when he was paid good money.

"This is not going to take us out. You forget, the supplies you brought for relief included anti-radiation drugs," he countered.

"Yes. I know. I was responsible for that little wrinkle myself. In fact we brought those drugs for you lot. As I said, I'm glad you're here. You seem a decent sort. The radiation is probably falling off by now anyway. No need to get sick over 10 or 20 rads.

"The. Anti. Radiation. Drugs."

"Not so much as you might think from the labels."

***

There was a fine mist falling as Ranna met with the surviving officers of the invasion force. Her squires stood behind her warily. She took her cigarette from her pale lips and shook her head angrily.

"No. You will lay down your weapons and file out of this port. We will see about your offworld transport. We want full access to your ships. If you do all that we demand you will not be harmed."

"We still have ships in orbit ... some of them are armed. We could strafe your city and lay waste to it.

"We could begin aerial bombing ... with Metasol munitions, did you think we'd use it all for propellant? We'll lay waste to our starport, the whole damned island if we must. Kill each and every one of you. Your ships will assure we keep our agreement ... but this is the goddam agreement you're getting. As soon as we get confirmation your commander and his posse are dead we will begin treating your men for radiation sickness and ... the tainted drugs you were given."

"That was against the rules of war."

"Then don't steal our fucking relief supplies. You want to start pointing fingers or turn this into a pissing contest your bodies will be up on that starport wall in 24 hours. Level our city ... we'll build another. Face it ... you are going to provide the example that keeps other mercenaries away from us for all time. It's up to you whether you're going to be around to tell them yourself or not."

"... you suck at negotiating. We need a couple of hours to get our people ambulatory. Those drugs messed them up pretty good."

"Good. We'll start treating your people as soon as we start getting them. It's better than you deserve," Ranna agreed.

"You people are barbarians ... irradiating your own ships and planet! Bring out robot monsters ... we would have kept fighting and won if the backer's check hadn't bounced!" the officer spat finally.

Ranna called Beppo and Mort off with a wave of her hand. She took a long drag from her cigarette and breathed it in the man's face. "Yeah we're barbarians. We care about getting things done ... not doing them the way you civilized mooks tell us."

***

"Gimme back that cigar gaddamit!" The voice snapped Sissy awake. Her head was splitting. Psi amplifiers did that. The oxygen tube in her nose was annoying and the gas had given her a dry throat and mouth.

"Yeronnor?" she croaked.

The door to the hospital room opened with a bang. Twoomey hobbled in, his right arm in a sling. the Mayor scuttled in behind him. The head nurse snagged hizzoner's cigar expertly as he entered and hizzoner produced a fresh one and clamped it between his teeth without breaking stride.

"Hey! What are you trying to do, you threadbare carpetbagging pundit, blow us sky high. This place is got oxygen!" Twoomey hollered.

"Great, I understand it aids the breathing. I ain't gonna light it you subpar ticket writing baboon. Here siddown before you fall down." The mayor grabbed a chair and stuck it under Twoomey. The big man sat down heavily. 

"Hello hon," Twoomey finally said.

"Hello, Galen. I see you guys made it through," Sissy smirked.

"The big dope stopped three slugs. If he worked a little harder I could've awarded him his medals posthumously," the Mayor growled.

"Sorry to put you out. Make the medals the kind you hang around the neck. I lost enough blood lately," Twoomey said. He winced as he took Sissy's hand. Sweat covered his upper lip and the short tirade had tired him. Truth was he wasn't up for much of a fight right then. The Aquires just shied away from shooting the ranking politician and a war hero.

"What was all the ruckus, boys?" Sissy asked.

"Old Dead-Eye Bert had you under lock and key here. We had to throw our weight around. chase a few Squires off," the Mayor said chewing his cigar.

"Oh," Sissy said. She didn't need to read minds. When the Mayor was chewing his cigar it was usually an appetizer, the main course being someone's butt. Berry pie for dessert. You wanted to get that taste out of your mouth. He gave her a glance and she knew she was going to be asked some questions when she was on her feet. 

Fine. She'd come clean. There was no way Sir Cuthbert was going to have a hold on her. Let him try some funny business and he'd learn why psionics  were feared. She gave the Mayor a small nod.

Twoomey didn't notice with all the stars in his eyes.

***

Thank you everyone for following the Zaonia Epic. I'm leaving it here because this seems as good a place as any. If I get a good idea I'll be happy to come back to it. For now I'm out of diesel fuel. I'm glad you liked it. If any of you run your own adventures using what I've given you please let me know. That would be awesome.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Wonder Animals

Not all the troops in the Second World War were human. As the war ground on monsters began to appear. Heroes stepped up and even man's best friends joined the fight.

(Don't call me sir, I'm a sergeant!)

A wonder animal can be a dog or cat (I don't discriminate here). Their bite a/o claws do 1d6-1 in close combat.

Armor Class and Damage
Dogs are AC 7[12]. Cats are AC 6[13]. Both animals surprise humans on a 1-3 on 1d6 if the referee choses to roll for surprise. Furthermore their keen senses allow them to avoid being surprised and warn their human companions.

(Who says a wonder dog has to be a German shepherd?)


Obedience
Wonder animals can follow normal animals commands flawlessly -when they chose to. A dog ordered to go on ahead who spotted a minefield his human handler missed could stop instead and even stop his handler. If they have to display human level intelligence they must make a saving throw. They would need to do this, for example, to fetch keys off a sleeping guard's belt or enter through a window and open a door.

Playing dead
When a wonder animal is reduced to two hit points or less they can feign death. This will buy them a breather which lets them restore 1d4 hit points. Ordinary troops (1 HD) are automatically fooled. Higher level foes may get a saving throw.

Saving Throws
Wonder animals get a +2 to saves vs. suppressive fire and damage caused by traps.

Wonder  Animal
Level       XP          HD          BHB          ST      
1          2,500          2             +1              14      

2          5,000          2+1         +2              13      

3          7,500          3             +3              12      

4         10,000         3+1         +4              11      

5         15,000         4             +5             10        

IN
MEMORY OF
"SIMON"
SERVED IN
H.M.S. AMETHYST
MAY 1948 — NOVEMBER 1949
AWARDED DICKIN MEDAL
AUGUST 1949
DIED 28TH NOVEMBER 1949.
THROUGHOUT THE YANGTZE INCIDENT
HIS BEHAVIOUR WAS OF THE HIGHEST ORDER
(Yes, I know his story is a little late, have you ever tried to rush a cat?)