[InSpectres/Inspace AP] “In Theory”

We have been talking about playing InSpace (the scifi variant for InSpectres) for a while now. We made characters over a month ago, but work schedules and real life hassles have been getting in the way, preventing the actual play. finally, though, the stars aligned last night and everyone was available, so the Second Chance could actually take flight.

The Second Chance is a starship primarily crewed by humans, but it is owned by a strange alien benefactor. She had agreed to support the crew on their mission to explore and investigate mysteries, though she had a few areas of particular interest: the ancient race of aliens called the Forerunners, any warps in time or space and negatively charged tachyon fields. The ship’s science officer, Miri Peirce knew of a human scientist that was an expert in tachyon fields, Dr. Cherenkov. So the ship’s first step would be to consult with Dr. Cherenkov and learn more about the behavior of negatively charged tachyon fields.

Dr. Cherenkov was studying a field of gases circling an electromagnetically charged black hole on a small research space station. As the Second Chance came out of the jumpgate, they established radio contact with the base. Just then, there were three strange energy pulses from the field of gases, and the radio went dead.

Thus ended my (slightly too long) backstory, and we arrived at the central question of the session: “Where is Everybody?” Finding the answer to that mystery would be the central focus of the session from there on out. (This would have been the opening teaser segment in a TV show. Then we’d play the opening credits, go to a commercial break, and come back to the players investigating.

Dramatis Personae:

Captain Noah Harrington, the often underestimated ship’s captain (played by Ross for the first half)
Miri Peirce, the ship’s science officer, who used a series of cybernetic chips to store all the scientific data that she needed (played by Amber)
Joshua Davies, mysterious cybernetic monk, working as the ship’s janitor and general laborer (played by Heather)
“Mercury”, the scruffy communications officer (played by Ross in the second half)

The captain ordered the ship’s pilot to dock with the station, despite the lack of radio response. We used Contacts rolls generally to order around the rest of the crew, so Ross rolled and got a 6. Excellent success! He described Sugita the pilot trying a crazy maneuver that would force additional air into the ship from the station, thereby saving the ship valuable resources like air and refueling time. But he didn’t describe the ship docking safely or smoothly, and the maneuver involved the ship ramming into the hold with enough force to fill the cargo hold. That sounded like a sudden stop, so I had everyone take 1 Stress from the sudden jerking around. Davies and the captain were fine (Davies gained a Cool die, useful for later on). Amber rolled badly for Dr. Peirce, though, and she took a -2 penalty. (This was the beginning of a long, nasty series of stress for Dr. Peirce.) Amber described how Miri had been on the stairs when the ship stopped suddenly, causing her to fall and break her legs. (That -2 penalty took her Athletics score from 2 to 0, meaning she couldn’t accomplish anything physical unaided.)

Ross’s narration from his roll also added in some clues to what happened to everyone. Specifically, when Sugita looked at the environmental readout, she noticed that the micro-organism count was zero. Not in normal levels of a few bacterial parts per million. Not below the normal levels. Zero airborn microbes. That’s a bit weird. Contacting Miri over the intercom, there was some bickering (Sugita not realizing she had caused Peirce to be injured in the docking). The science officer went to inform the captain of this, suggesting some caution entering the station. Just as the captain was ordering that no one leave the ship, we cut to Joshua Davies, outside the ship in the docking bay, hooking up refueling tubes and waste disposal systems and stuff as part of his job.

(Getting the Captain involved in a plot is easy, and the science officer is going to be a key role in a science fiction mystery game. But I wasn’t sure how to get the janitor involved. This was step one: forcibly push him into the plot. Eventually, we found that his monk nature was more useful for getting involved in the plot. But for the first half of the game, I was worried that we didn’t have enough time spotlighting our gentle cybernetic monk. By the end it all worked out, though.)

This led to a fairly long digression where no one was sure what to do about Joshua Davies. Leave him outside? Bring him into the ship? The ship’s security officer Ribbons of Glee (a human raised by aliens) brought Davies back into the cargo hold and sat with him there for a few hours while the science officer did some tests and watched to see if they died.

No one died, so it was decided that they’d send some people out of the docking bay and into the space station proper. As the two most exposed (if there was any exposure) crew members, Ribbons of Glee and Joshua Davies would go. And the Captain and science officer would also go, as the most qualified to investigate.

Miri and Ribbons of Glee started going through Dr. Cherenkov’s stuff, while Captain Harrington and Davies searched the station for anyone still aboard. They didn’t find anyone, but the captain noticed that many of the computer terminals on the station had been blown out during the energy pulses. This was just as Miri was putting one of the data chips into her brain-slot to study what Cherenkov had been interested in. Which seemed like a really natural time for me as GM to declare that another pulse washed over the station, causing more stress for Dr. Peirce. Amber rolled badly here again, losing some points from Academics as her chip slot was damaged. We decided that she had some scarring around the slot, which prevented her from taking out the quantum physics chip that she had in. Which meant that, among other things, Miri couldn’t sleep or relax or stop thinking about negatively charged tachyon fields.

As she recovered from the pain, Miri went to say something to Ribbons of Glee, and she realized that he had vanished during the pulse.

The good news was that she better understood what Dr. Cherenkov had been doing (with a good Academics roll in here). She knew that the energy pulses were fields of negatively charged tachyons. Records indicated that Dr. Cherenkov had been trying to amplify the natural energy pulses of the gas field. Some quick analysis showed that the pulses always came in pairs, with the next due in twenty minutes. Time to evacuate the station, back onto the (better shielded) Second Chance.

But Miri also had a hunch that she could get a signal to those who had disappeared, by sending a radio beam out during the energy pulse. She spent fifteen minutes of the time left reconfiguring a transmitter, leaving only moments left for everyone to get back to safety (Davies having to carry her back to the ship, as Peirce’s wheelchair would have been too slow.)

Heather rolled nicely on an Athletics check to get everyone back safely to the ship, so she got to describe the pulse and noted that the pulse seemed to contain a signal of its own, with voices and an extremely fuzzy video signal. It was unclear who exactly that was or what they were saying, just yet.

This brought us to the halfway point of the game, and we had the Mid-game huddle as InSpace suggested. This mostly was the captain briefing the crew on what was happening, then the PCs conferring with each other and with NPCs about what was going on. During this conference, it was noted that a few other crew members had disappeared as well, including the first mate Thusharsha and the communications officer Mercury.

During the midgame huddle, we discussed (out of character) if everyone was having fun and liked their characters so far. Amber was happy as Dr. Peirce, who couldn’t be abandoned at this point in the story. Ross decided that the captain wasn’t working out for him, so he elected to play a different crew member for the second half of the game. After some uncertainty, he decided to play Mercury, the communications officer who had vanished in the pulses. Very interesting. We had been having some trouble figuring out how to keep Davies a relevant character for the first half of the game, but Heather decided to stick with him.

following the midgame break, Joshua Davies started to look through his monastic order’s records to see if they had anything about disappearances or this star system or anything. Some research and a conversation with Michael, the ship’s gelatinous alien xeno-anthropologist/linguist, revealed that this star system had once been home to an offshoot sect that had disappeared a few centuries ago under mysterious circumstances. And the order had been set up to guard something that they called “The Ultimate Evil”. Ominous!

(The conversation also showed that Michael’s jelly people had a history of violence and conflict with Davies’s monastic order, so they don’t like each other. This wasn’t hugely important for this session, but definitely is something to be built upon in future games.)

I don’t recall if it was in here or a bit later that Davies and Michael unscrambled the transmission from the previous pulse. But they were able to identify that it was a distress call, warning that “the ultimate evil” had gotten out of their control.

Meanwhile, Mercury was waking up in a junkyard on an alien planet. He started to investigate, and was able to determine that he was in the same location in space, but several centuries previously. The planet seemed to be abandoned, so he started to salvage parts and build a transmitter to try to get a signal back to the ship in modern day. With a good roll, Mercury was able to cause the gas field to vibrate periodically, unleashing energy waves. These were the waves causing the disappearances. But Mercury was also able to encode a message into the pulses: their frequency formed a pattern that Miri would eventually be able to detect and understand, explaining what he had learned.

Davies went to warn Dr. Peirce about “the ultimate evil” just as Miri was decoding Mercury’s message. Hearing the phrase “The Ultimate Evil” made her realize that e=V*i^L, letting her graph out and predict the pattern of pulses better. And the pattern of pulses, if left to go on, would eventually increase in frequency and strength until they expanded to consume the universe. Not exactly what Davies was hoping to get from warning her, but it did mean that Peirce had a plan. Peirce was going to construct an energy beacon, drop it into the black hole during an energy pulse, and that would reverse the disappearances.

Back a few centuries beforehand, Mercury was working on perfecting his transmitter (he had a very good receiver, but a very poor transmitter) so that he could contact the Second Chance. But he was ambushed by several monks from Davies’s monastic order, who threw him in a prison cell, commandeered the transmitter for one distress call (the one decoded before) and then smashed it.

Talking to his captors, Mercury learned that they blamed him for the eventual destruction of the universe. He tried to suggest that it was al under control, and that the pulses simply were there so he could get a signal back to the future. The monks shook their heads sadly, and showed how the equations graphed out after the Second Chance’s point in time. Seeing how eventually he would eventually wipe out everything, Mercury was suitably taken aback momentarily. The equations governing the behavior of the energy pulses were themselves the ultimate evil, because someone misusing them could lead to the universe’s demise.

Back in the future, Dr. Perice recruited the ship’s engineer to build a big tachyon beacon as part of her plan to fix everything. This was going fine, until Davies got a message through his cybernetic implants. The monastic order used this method to send out urgent messages sometimes. This particular signal was especially painful and full of static (more Stress), because it was an emergency call from the past monks trying to prevent Peirce’s plan. They warned that anyone working on the Evil Equations could lead to the death of all life in the galaxy. So naturally, Davies went on a rampage and started destroying all of Miri’s work. Heather spent all available resources to destroy the device, including spending her Cool die (“It’s quite appropriate for you to lose your Cool when you go on a berserk rampage.”)

I was going to give Davies another Stress over all of this, but amber asked for it to go to Dr. Peirce, as her wheelchair got knocked over and her work got destroyed. It had been a few terrible days for Dr. Peirce, as she couldn’t sleep and all she could do was work on this device. The one that a crazy cybernetic janitor was now smashing to bits. Amber finally rolled well on a Stress die, though, and got a die of Cool out of it. Dr. Peirce was strangely calm, having finally come to understand what needed to be done. Instead of creating a beacon, they would simply drop the entire research base into the black hole. The station was already charged with enough tachyons that it would put out one final, giant pulse and undo this entire mess.

At this point, the team had enough Mission Dice to declare their investigation a success. Everyone had a good idea what was going on, and a plan to deal with it. The rest was basically wrap-up.

Davies was eventually restrained and brought back onto the Second Chance and the plan went ahead. Meanwhile, in the past, Mercury was brought before the head of the monastic sect. He started to explain everything that was going on and how it might be solved, as the energy pulse washed across everyone and Mercury disappeared.

In the ensuing massive tachyon field pulse, the black hole disappeared, the alien planet (and monastic order) restored to the present, and all the research scientists were alive on the planet. Mercury was careful to avoid the monks, though Davies conferred with them to help them get up to speed on what happened. Miri Peirce met with Dr. Cherenkov and determined that she now understood the behavior of tachyons better than he did. And the doctor was finally able to remove the quantum physics chip from Miri’s head and let her sleep for the first time in several days.

The crew were all able to buy off their Stress penalties and replenish their ship’s die pools, ending with slightly more than they started with. (The suggestion that I hand out about as many Stress dice as their Mission goal seemed like a good guideline.)

In the end, it seemed like everyone had fun and the game worked. We are supposed to play again on Sunday, even, which is a good sign that everyone enjoyed it.

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