Monday, September 4, 2017

ICONS Drop-In (Strange City) Session 4: "What Rough Beast"


I started by making this a complete write up and ran out of time toward the end, so it gets sketchy. If you weren't actually there, this is probably a good thing.

This is still long, but is not essential for playing in the setting, unless you want to know about (a) relations between APRIL, PICA, and the heroes; (b) the PURITY88 anti-mutant organization; or (c) mutant porn.

In terms of gameplay, it's sort of odd, because it was my attempt to convert a Champions adventure ("What Rough Beast") to ICONS. I did okay, but certain powers, like the extra limbs (Fast Attack) I never used. I'll put the conversion-specific material up next.

The Set-up

The UN organization that deals with superhumans, APRIL, is not allowed to operate within US borders, and their relationship with the American organization, PICA, is rocky at best. So in the USA, they work informally, through local superheroes.

Lt. Commander Fawkes arrived from New York and contacted a group of you, because the local hero team is missing (though this isn't generally known yet). APRIL has information about a base for PURITY88, the anti-mutant organization which created the VIGILANT robots, which hunt and capture or kill mutants. Fawkes is normally someone who works in the UN building, but Lieutenant who was watching the PURITY88 base has not reported in for three days.

APRIL knew where the base is. They had it under surveillance for the last two months. They knew that nothing has gone in or come out for a month. Three days ago, the ranking APRIL officer in the area, Lt. Aruja, decided to go in with a totally illegal task force of 6 people. (APRIL had 11 people in the country; the other five, including Lt. Commander Fawkes, are in New York and Washington.)

Lt. Commander Fawkes doesn't know how the team got in. She doesn't know what's in there...but if it's a biological agent, they don't want to risk it getting free. And per PICA doctrine, PICA's first act will be a "can-opener" bomb. If it is a biological agent (and she doesn't know if it is), that will contaminate the countryside.

She wanted the heroes—Spectre and Gold Tiger—to go in, find out what was happening, and stop it.

She had personnel records for the APRIL agents. She knew that they had taken in a device that checked the air for contaminants and toxins (the only one that APRIL had in the country, though the CDC undoubtedly has more). Without official status in the country, APRIL has very little extra equipment. APRIL has associates at the CDC and they can pass the word that something might happen, but they can't do anything else officially.

APRIL knows that the area has a slightly higher radiation level, and they know that radio signals are seriously attenuated from inside the base. Before everything went silent, they got a message from inside. Lt. Aruja saying, "It's hideous—gigantic—glowing poison—it's..."

The Adventure

Gold Tiger has some communications equipment that uses frequency modulation of ultrasonics, which works well enough through interior construction and avoids the whole radios-not-working problem.

Fawkes puts them in the rental car and the hired driver takes them to the site of the base. It's on a hill in a forested area; the nearest people were at a service station a few miles down the road. The shack is large, as shacks go, about twenty feet by fifteen. It looks like a hunting shack.

Spectre went inside to search. There was a woodburning stove in the corner, and castoff chairs and mismatched chairs shoved against one wall. Spectre tried the obvious things (is inside the proper dimensions according to outside; are there obvious buttons, and so forth). Eventually he noticed that two of the boards on the wall were identical, with knotholes in them. He stuck his fingers in the knotholes, and found regularly spaced bumps that could be pressed down. They experimented. Gold Tiger gave him the ASCII code for 88, and that summoned the elevator.

The elevator had two buttons: up and down. They entered. It opened to show a blast door, which was held open just a bit by a piece of APRIL armor. The armor wasn't good any more, but in being splintered and deformed it held the door open enough that a person could squeeze under it. Spectre could get in, but Gold Tiger couldn't. Spectre got in and opened the blast door.

The entire place was dark and lit only by red emergency lights. There was a whiff of some kind of decay but the temperature was a controlled slightly cool room temperature. The floor was littered with ashes and suits of armor—the remainder of the suit of APRIL armor was there. Ashes spilled out of it.

Except for the tile floor and the lighting, the place looked like a hotel or an office building. On this floor, the pictures were innocuous—pictures of flowers.

To either side of the blast door were clearly niches that normally had guards. There were a few blaster pistols discarded there, empty. The blaster pistols were of a different make than the APRIL carbine, so the assumption is that they were PURITY88 issue.

A little farther down the corridor was the analyzer that APRIL had brought in. It was out of power. Gold Tiger boosted it and downloaded the data. He also checked the radio frequencies: they were staticky and probably unusable. His Geiger counter showed a higher-than-usual level of radiation (not tau radiation, though). The ashes were high in secondary radiation: they had been hit by something radioactive, and that contact had made them radioactive.

From nameplates on the doors, this level had three offices and a boardroom; it ended in another elevator. They searched all three offices, which had nameplates, and the 7 three offices (one was a converted boardroom) were:

Mr. Henry LeDuc, head of security
A rich site: a personnel list;yielded a PURITY88 carbine, fully charged (5D6 Blast, Fast Attack 4); a map of (most of) the installation; a list of security codes for locked doors.
Dr. Rosalinda Ward, Chief Technician
Dr. Ward had technical texts, pass codes and operating systems manuals for the nuclear reactor, an operating system manual for the GaiaTouch thermal power system; and, hidden in a drawer, what appeared to be a personal project: the schematics for a VIGILANT robot; a memo from Dr. MacBeth pointing out a flaw in the reactor system and requesting Dr. Ward have it fixed before it accidentally withdrew all the control rods; a torn page, apparently from a journal: "I have deep reservations about Project Omega. The DNA seems to mutate even more when agitated with high energy fields. This is due to—"
Dr. Morris MacBeth, director of the site
Dr. MacBeth's office was a converted boardroom, so it was larger than the other two. The decorations were photos of the VIGILANT robots, the experimental models and the Mark I, II, and III models. The office had texts and journals with titles like, "An Analysis of Genome Markers to Distinguish Mutations from Epigenetic Transformations." There is a computer terminal here (other executives presumably used tablets). Gold Tiger managed to get a description of Project Mu and then a warning about system cleansing.
Meeting room
A board room; this is clearly where the guest chairs came from.

The elevator at the end of the hall had three smears of ash—something had trampled them. Maybe later people escaping by elevator? Combat armor seemed unaffected, but regular clothes was nowhere to be seen, presumably destroyed by the same mechanics that turned the bodies to ash.

Something sticky had been smeared over the elevator control panel, and then dried, like a giant had licked it.

The next level was the living level. They found a sound system playing in the security lounge. The vaguely decaying smell was from the kitchens. It looked like something caused an alert, they scrambled to action, and then the something killed them all.

Posters in the dorms made fun of certain celebrities who were supposedly mutants of some kind (Angelina Jolie took a.lot of flak). Dr. MacBeth's living quarters gave up a small stash of mutant porn (like regular porn, but at least one of the participants has good-looking mutations, like wings). Dr. Ward liked romance novels and movies. Mr. LeDuc did not read, but had a large collection of gun manuals.

They also noticed the burns and scratches on the walls, which normally stayed about three-quarters of the way up but might occur at any height. They checked the stairwells, which had crash bars so that you could get into the stairwells at the lower levels but only out at the top floor. The burns and scratches were in one of the stairwells; they didn't check the other.

Information in the tech dorms let them know that the plans they had for a VIGILANT robot weren't the standard plans: this version of the robot was not vulnerable to cold and heat, as the usual VIGILANT Mark III robots are, but was vulnerable to radiation. With a sufficient background field, the robot would be essentially comatose until the radiation was lifted. (In game terms, it had switched from taking an extra degree of damage from cold and heat attacks to total shutdown in a certain environmental condition.)

The third level contained fabrication and machine shops, and labs. This is clearly where the fighting was the most extreme—there were blaster bolt char marks everywhere and abandoned blaster carbines. The armoury was also on this level, but it contained nothing but armour and pistols.

Near the elevator, they found the armor of all but one of the remaining April agents. Something got them at this level.

The labs yielded a picture of a mutant bear cub...something with three extra limbs. One set of labs was for preparing and applying mutagens like radiation and the other set was for keeping the test animals alive and examining them.

As reconstructed by the heroes, Project Mu was kept in the lab. A reactor problem caused the area to be flooded by radiation, which set off the Project Mu animal. Probably enraged, it broke free of the lab and killed its handlers. It killed everyone in the other lab, then broke into one of the fabrication shops. There was a fierce battle, which the PURITY88 people lost.

According to LeDuc's map, there was only one other floor, the one where the reactor was. Presumably the "something" was still there.

The antechamber between the reactor control room and the elevator was actually the place with the lowest radiation count in the base, and there the heroes found the last APRIL agent, unconscious and hurt. They made sure he was stable, and went into the control room. This storey was twice as tall as the others, about thirty feet tall.

It seemed fine. The control rods were in fact out, as Dr. MacBeth's memo had presaged, so the reactor had gone bad. Gold Tiger set about getting the system to put them back in. In the meantime, Spectre scouted the room. One side had an access panel to the reactor proper and windows of radiation-proof glass.

There was something big in the reactor room. With the movement of the control rods, it was stirred to action.

It squeezed through the access panel, twenty-four feet of mutant grizzly, making Gold Tiger's Geiger counter shoot through the roof. Gold Tiger fired at it, and that seemed to hurt it a bit, but it went after him. One hit from it disabled part of his armor.

As Project Mu moved, it hit some kind of pressure sensor that caused the far wall to open up. That revealed the VIGILANT Mark III variant that Dr. Ward had been having them build in their spare time....the one what was held comatose by the extra radiation, but once the control rods were fully in, would awake.

Spectre managed to lift the thing up (and noticed it was much heavier than it should be...perhaps a level of Density?) which gave Gold Tiger a chance to move away, but it was still so large that it could move by catching its claws on the floor and ceiling...though it moved slowly.

The extra time that Spectre gave him let Gold Tiger put it down. They called the CDC, got the APRIL agent to a hospital, and shut down the VIGILANT robot through the simple expedient of plopping the radioactive animal right at its feet to keep it unconscious.

Spectre kept the blaster carbine.

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