Aligning GUMSHOE General and Investigative skills

Don’t get me wrong I love GUMSHOE, really I do. I think the philosophy behind it is sound and works really well in action. It makes investigation play flow well and once the players understand their characters the investigative abilities fade in the background and are replaced by questions and answers.

I have played it in its Trail of Cthulhu and Night Black Agents incarnation, I have read the base rules, and most of the other settings using it. In short GUMSHOE is now my go to system for pretty much any game. That being said, I have now more sessions under my belt and I found some problems with it. Nothing that can’t be fixed or that completely changes the system. Some of those problems are even fixed in later implementations of the system.

Here are the problems I have seen at my gaming table and my proposed fixes. To make sure my solutions do not bring worse side effects, I have placed upon myself a base set of requirements, Unit Tests, that must always be kept in mind.

  • Keep the system using 6 sided dice
  • Stay simple, it can be explained in < 15 minutes
  • Changes should be minimal

The fact that a system like GUMSHOE can accept hacks of this type speaks to its solid design.

Problem #1 – Overlap

Large amount of abilities (investigative or general), something with a large overlap between them. Later incarnations (Timewatch, The Esoterrorists 2nd Ed ), have fixed this by reducing the number of abilities. So I won’t spend lots of time here as this is already taken care of, and the solution is so simple it makes monkey brain hurt.

Problem #2 – The Leak

That one will be tricky to explain. I call it the “I always win until I don’t anymore.” problem. It only occurs with general abilities. This is due to the use of the pool system and the pure 50% chance of success on most actions. In my experience it is frequent that a player will use 2-3 points for every general skill use.

Using 2 points gives the player a success rate of 83%, using 3 points gives us guaranteed success on standard difficulty 4. Varying the difficulty rating between 3-8 makes the problem more apparent as players are often unwilling to go below a certain success ratio threshold. So they spend enough points to almost guarantee success until they have no points left leaving them (the players) in a confused state of what their characters can do.

This is called a leak in computer science, where your resources are slowly drained. Adding more build points to a highly used skill only pushes the problem to later, but it remains there.

Problem #3 – Scale

The scale difference between the skill sets, while I understand that Investigative and General abilities are not used the same way in game (sometimes they are, some general abilities can be used in lieu of an investigative one).

Build points for character advancement can be used to increase proficiency in General or Investigative Abilities, but since both sets do not work on the same scale this feels clunky.

Problem #4 – Binary Results

The current GUMSHOE system treats any result equal or higher than the target as a success, anything else is a failure. The lack of varying degrees of success is one of the main reason why problem #3 happens, players abhor failure. Compounded by the lack of critical success or failure it leaves the players with only two choices, win/lose.

Problem #5 – Too many guests

Health, Stability and others (Network, Cover, Aberrance) as general abilities. These should be renamed to attributes as they are used for a completely different reason. I would not change their current scaling as I believe that a greater range offers the players more to play with here.

Continue reading

Layers

Do you remember that game session that went so well, you never had to resort to the dice or look at your character sheet? A session where the gamemaster walked away and the play continued without her? A game that bordered on drama play, where players are more interested in exploring the depth and richness of the characters than rolling some dice?

The last time I had this kind of experience, I was in college, and it was a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle. For you youngsters, when Vampire came out, it was a role-playing revelation, it contained minimal system and was big on story. It promised, and delivered on the relationships between a diverse group of vampires vying for control of a city. Sadly it all went to pass, for multiple reasons, we grew up,  the min/maxer found it and the story element was replaced by a greater combat centrist flow.

Do not get me wrong, I like the crunchy bits of role-playing, but I hope for the drama, the pathos of stories that cinema cannot even touch, that books hint at and that theater can really manage. The question remains, is it possible to build interesting dramatic stories using improv and role-playing. I believe it is.

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to play in my first DramaSystem game. The group comprised experienced role-players and something rare, a role-playing virgin. Some players had improvisation/theater experience and all were willing to try this new system. As a fan of the GUMSHOE system I jumped on the Hillfolk kickstarter, for no other reason than I trusted the creators, both Pelgrane Press and Robin D. Laws, to put out a quality role-playing game that would challenge my preconception of gaming as much as GUMSHOE had. I pledged in and received the beta draft of Hillfolk, read it, and could not fathom it. I was definitively challenged! I had read Hamlet’s Hit Points and found it interesting, but it seemed at the time so far away from anything in games that I could not understand how I could apply this to my gaming. It was a cool exercise in style from a doctorate level student of the game, but for the layman like me, it could have been gibberish, much less applicable than Graham Walmsley “Play Unsafe” book.

So, back to the Hillfolk beta,  at the time of reading I understood the “drama” vs. “procedural” explanations (based on Hamlet’s Hit Points) but the picture in my head was definitively more General Hospital than Game of Thrones. I could not understand why would someone play out these dramatic exchanges and be enthralled by them. The grandiose drama I had hoped for, seemed a bit difficult to attain. I still followed through because I liked being challenged and the last time a game had made this impression on me was when I read Fiasco, by Bully Pulpit Games. And for those of you that have played Fiasco, you know how much it has been a game changer.

Fast forward at least a year after the kickstarter ended with great success, my Night’s Black Agents game on hiatus, this was my chance. I managed to convince three long time friends to try it and between them got two others to jump in. Not really knowing what to expect.

To better our chances I had previously asked the players to read the rules section of the Hillfolk book, to my happy surprise, they all had done so. Note to self when starting another game, do bother asking, players are often surprising. The session went really well, we made it through character creation, laughing and telling stories about characters that were taking shape right before our eyes.

The chosen setup was an hybrid between Mutant City Blues, Matt Forbeck’s Revolution Series, The Watchmen and Marvel’s Civil Wars Series. We started off with character creation which got all the players – myself included – giddy and really excited. One player went so far as to consider that “he had been playing with one eye closed all these years”. If you read this and are intrigued, let me tell you that the character creation alone is well worth the price of the book. While talking about it in the following weeks we came to the conclusion that this game mechanic could be easily applied to any game, any system. It takes the “you are in a bar/tavern/club/inn”  trope and kills it, no more will characters have no reason to be together, and look to split at the first moment.

The character generation process is long, but well worth it, in addition to creating their own characters, the players are actively involved in helping create the characters of the others and define the world they will play in. This makes the players take ownership of the game as much as the host. With a setup like this, there is no possibility of railroading, no predefined trail, just a collaborative story with potentially great drama at the key. I hope to be able to play more of this new system, at the very least it will have opened my eyes.


 

Relationship Map [kumu.io]

relations


 

Characters

These character descriptions are based on what we had time to explore during the first session of play (character creation + 6 scenes). Some relationship were not even approached yet, therefore I made the choice to omit them as they will be defined during our next sessions.

Doctor Finklestein (Mad Scientist) [Ethics – Results]

A old Nazi scientist, extracted at the end of World War 2 by Richard Sharpe under orders from Stuart Dunn (CIA).  He managed to adapt to his new life by working at the University of New York, making great progress in the research on human genome. Rumors has it that Mr. Olympus could be one of his creation. He will stop at nothing to have his life work be approved by the rest of the scientific community.

Mr. Olympus (Golden Boy) [Restraint – Excess]

A Greek God wannabe, Mr. Olympus stands tall on the shoulder of Persei and Hercules, as these are both a shadow of Mr. Olympus himself. Destined for greatness, as one of the first avowed Supers, Mr. Olympus quickly understood that he needed good marketing on his side and contacted Stuart Dunn (Owner of the New York Post) to act as his publicist. Olympus true identity remains a mystery, this might be a challenge in face of the enactment of Article 18 and legislature to force heightened individuals to register themselves.

Rick Smith A.K.A. The Librarian (Geek) [Fear – Action]

One of the few black men at the New York University in 1961, he managed to get in via a small clerks job at the university library. A quick learner he became one of Doctor Finklestein confidants, to the surprise of many. Unable to enroll officially in the NYU scientific program he managed to learn as much as he could by attending courses as a shadow student. He often writes scientific columns in the New York Post under a pen name. Since the advent of the heightened syndrome declaration he quickly became obsessed with Mr. Olympus.

Richard Sharpe (Enforcer) [Apathy – Empathy]

An oddity by himself, Sharpe is a heightened Lazarus (He cannot die). Tired of the human comedy/tragedy, he clearly tries to cling to one last hope for humanity. He sees Stuart Dunn as a possible lifesaver, if only he himself can care enough to implement Dunn’s vision.

Stuart Dunn (Media Mogul) [Power – Responsability]

The controlling owner of the New York Post, knows that the human race survival is at stake. He knows where the hand of fate should be swayed but currently lacks the the power to nurture the required changes for the future. He looks at Richard Sharpe as a tool, an extension of his will through the ages. What is the greatest power if not to influence humanity from beyond the grave.


 

Scenes

#1

Caller : Éric

Location : Chrysler Building

Cast :

  • Mr. Olympus sitting on a couch
  • Stuart Dunn at his desk
  • Rick Smith storming in

Rick Smith wants to know why his latest article was not published.

#2

Caller : Yan (Host)

Location : N/A

Cast :

  • N/A

As the heightened are revealed, groups around the United States are clamoring for protection from the federal government. Proponents of stricter controls have placed regulation to Congress mandating the registration of any citizen with heightened powers. The president office unsure of its constitutional grounds and weary of special interest groups has placed a question to the Supreme court asking “Are heightened Individuals granted the same rights by the U.S. Constitution as other citizens of the United States”. In the meantime the federal agencies have geared up to begin mandatory registration of heightened individuals. Rumors hint that if the Supreme Court decides that the Constitution does not apply to the heightened, internment camps could be created to insure public safety.

#3

Caller : Simon

Location : Chrysler Building (20 minutes before)

Cast :

  • Mr. Olympus sitting on a couch
  • Stuart Dunn at his desk

Mr. Olympus is tired of being a second string violin, he wants more.

#4

Caller : Martin

Location : Central Park

Cast :

  • Richard Sharpe sitting on a park bench
  • Doctor Finkelstein

Sharpe needs help from Finkelstein, he wants to create a list of them.

#5

Caller : Patrick

Location : Chrysler Building

Cast :

  • Stuart Dunn
  • Doctor Finkelstein
  • Mr. Olympus (Jump)

Finklestein needs more study subject, he is really close to cracking the mystery of heightened DNA. For this he really needs to have the support of Stuart Dunn…

#6

Caller : Jonathan

Location : Europe 1945

Cast :

  • Stuart Dunn (young)
  • Richard Sharpe

Sharpe orders Dunn to recover a scientist named Finklestein before the Red Army gets him.

 

With DramaSystem and many more story games its no longer just about breaking down doors, killing the monsters, stealing the treasure and rescuing/getting the girl. Our hobby just became that much more interesting/challenging/complex.

Would the real TimeWatch please stand up

TimeWatch answers Kevin Kulp’s question “Who runs TimeWatch? ” in the last See Page XX.

What we are is of no concern of you Kevin – [Redacted] – { tRansMiss1on CoPromis3d – Rst of mssg dltd }. WE RUN TIMEWATCH – stop interfering.

This is a quick write-up of an idea I had a while ago. It is not in any way complete or edited correctly, you can actually blame time for this…

Excerpt from a transmission received by TimeWatch (ELINT section)

The Earth as we know it is no more. True Time is a bleak barren land scape, following the events of WW3 life on earth is/was no more. You are part of TimeWatch unaware of the true history, sent on missions to make sure time is protected. Rebels navigate the streams, causing havoc, most of the time you can stop them. Sometimes you can’t, but every time they change time a bit. You believe in your work, exactly the same way I did. Don’t bother looking me up, I don’t exists at least I don’t believe I do. Which is more than I can say about you lot. Your master probably just reset the Stream to a read position before I joined. Let me tell you a story, believe it if you want.. It is of no importance, your memories can always be refactored.

TimeWatch believed to be benevolent overseers doing a sacred duty, are just another bunch of fucking aliens, there I said it. WW3 was a draw, the kind of which boxing fan shake their head at. It was a draw because the fighters could no longer show up. When life on earth disappeared in a flash, the galactic community was completely overjoyed, the barbarian apes had committed suicide and would no longer pose a threat to the peaceful galactic empire. The problem had solved itself. Unbeknownst to them, just before the atomics fired, a small team of dedicated hippies broke in area 51 and stole the only functioning time machine on earth. They used it to slip out.

The hippies recruited across time, learned of the end of the world and are now pulling strings, which you are cutting, to make sure humanity endures. Initially they thought that it would be easy, change the mind of a couple of world leaders, rig some elections and get rid of a lot of nuclear warheads. It was all going well with proxy time getting stronger and more stable until the Green Uglies took notice. To say that the Green Uglies were not happy would be the understatement of the year, century history. This is where TimeWatch came to be created. The benevolent aliens created the time agency so that we would be our own police force. Following the example of our own history, we would be our own executioners. Once TimeWatch was in-place all they had to do was to give a couple of nudges and time would merge itself back to True Time. The resistance only goal is/was fighting TimeWatch to make sure proxy time does not reset to the true time stream.

The first event actually occurred in the 60s. In the true time stream JFK was not elected. President Nixon more aggressive leadership style could not prevent the launch of nuclear missiles during the events of the Cuban missile crisis. This became the first time humanity ceased to exist in True Time. The election of President Nixon and hard stance on the left wing west coast movements of the 60s had the effect of creating extreme left opposition groups. One of these group, sure that the election of Nixon had been rigged (they were wrong) assaulted a military depot near Roswell hoping to arm themselves to oppose the government. As they got in the military compound they found a device. As they got surrounded by the army, their fate seemed sealed, they activated the device hoping to destroy the military base. They instead saw themselves transported in time – a couple of years earlier.

Understanding the scope of their discovery, they set a plan in motion to insure the victory of President Kennedy. The firing of the time device, alerted the Galactic TimeWatch, who watched the hoped for end of humanity dissolved in a space race between the two world superpowers. Bringing the aggressive ape descendants one step closer to the stars.

From that moment on, TimeWatch started sending agents to correct the time stream, they were helped by time’s tendency to revert itself to True Time. Sad but true, the original hippies are no more, one of you got the last of them yesterday, or was it last year, I can no longer tell – please excuse me. So I was saying you got them all, Bravo!, but as every historians knows if there is one thing hippies do good is build communities and grassroot movements. Tell your masters that we are everywhere. Tell them that humanity will endure on, we will go on. Every moment time goes back to the final state, we will be there to steer the events so that humanity has another chance. You will not deny us, we will fight for our right to exist and we will prevail.

 

TimeWatch [Earth] believed by its own agents to be a benevolent organization working to protect the time stream from bandits, is in fact just another bad guy. In this Conspiracy Mode of play, the players can start as TimeWatch agents jumping around and fixing the time stream. Once in a while a weird order comes along, from high up, that they must follow. This can be the first story arc, understanding the powers controlling TimeWatch. Once they become more trusted the agents are sent to oppose the Hippies. At that point they have the choice to turn, allowing for a completely different type of game.

This allows the group to follow an investigation inside an investigation, peeling the layers of the conspiracy as they go through other events. This makes this setup really like the X-Files, where the investigators are actually internal to the conspiracy. It should be setup in a way where the agents understand later the real goals of their missions, and try to stop themselves from doing it. If this is setup correctly, in their early missions they could be thwarted by characters that behave exactly like senior version of themselves. The great thing about this is that to thwart the character the opposition CANNOT eliminate past versions of themselves.

 

Strangers

It’s been a long time since my last post; Nothing much happened here, one of the player gave birth to a beautiful little girl in the last week or so. That meant placing our Night’s Black Agents game on ice for the time being. The new baby put two of the agents down, while the mom and dad nurse their “injuries”, we will start a DramaSystem (Hillfolk being the first implementation) game.

Naturally, we will create our own setting based on the following ideas.  We will merge the Mutant City Blues setting with the ideas created by Matt Forbeck’s in his “Brave New World” series. Other sources of inspiration will include the Marvel’s Civil War series, Watchmen by Alan Moore  / Dave Gibbons and superheroes stories in general.

 


 

Strangers – A DramaSystem Setting

Nutshell

Newly heightened humans come to grip with their powers in an era of social upheaval, during the height of the cold war (.. – 1962).

Setting

Six months after a flu pandemic touched 1% of the world population, people start exhibiting strange new powers. While the United States and USSR battle for global domination in foreign territories, rights activists try to rock the foundation of the home country. Will the arrival of these newly heightened humans bring the world closer to World War 3 or will it spark a new golden age for humanity.

Sources

  • X-Men (Marvel/DC)
  • Brave New World books – Matt Forbeck’s
  • Watchmen – Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons
  • Heroes (Series)
  • Kick-Ass (Movie)

Characters

  • The Veteran – The Comedian
    • You have seen it all, as an old military or police officer. if only the world could stay as it was. If it worked for so long it’s probably because rules were in place and good people took care of it. You were probable one of those people, you are still one of those people. The kids with the long hair call you Big Brother or the Man. They can go back to smoking their drugs and dreaming about freedom, you know the horrors of the world. You know that your are their only chance, even if they refuse to see it. You fear change above all, where will your place be when you no longer recognize the world.
  • The Loner – Wolverine
    • You never asked for these powers, you will always try to walk away from it all. But your capacity for self-hatred only means that you comes back for more punishment. Unable to form long term relationship, they often end in tears and sometimes blood. You so wanted a normal life, but these powers put an end to that dream. you are a freak, and nobody should get to know the real you, less they get hurt.
  • The GeekBeast, Ironman, Mister Fantastic, Doctor Manhattan
    • Now that you can work on these ideas without interruption, you know you will come up with the solution to whatever got you going in the first place. The sickness that killed Aunt Julie or the accident that made you the monster you became. You despise being interrupted and will take any measure to be able to work unhindered, even if it means alienating people around you.
  • The Golden BoyCyclops
    • You got these cool powers, no longer just somebody, you are it. You know you will do great things, and it even works, at least most if the times. You will show the world, and the world will recognize you as a great person. You will accomplish great things, failure is no longer an option. They will remember your great deeds.
  • The Rebel – Ironman
    • Why do it the way they want me to do it. you  knows that you have to shakes things up to make change happen. People in power never understand when you say no, they think you difficult, even opposing. In truth, you fear becoming a tool for big brother. You are sometimes perceived as an anarchist or something to control and you despise this more than anything. You do everything for a sense of hedonistic pride.
  • The Caregiver – Invisible Woman
    • Caring for those around you, even if they don’t need or want your help. You can’t stop yourself, more often than not your help did good. Some of the stronger ones resent you for being the one who saved them. They will always try to make it up to you, but you know who holds the true power.
  • The OutsiderThor, Spawn
    • What the hell are you doing here, this is not your fight. Someone or something sent you here and expect you to complete the task. You probably don’t want to, but if that is the only way to get home, you’ll do it. Your goals are often at odds with the natives, but in the end your desire to go home, should be enough to break your will. And that might be your only fear.
  • The Fearless LeaderCapt. America, The Patriot
    • By God, you’ll take care of the situation and show the world that this is a positive event. People will be made to understand that what happened here is the next step in human evolution and that under your guise it will be better than before. People resisting this change are social dinosaurs, their opinions are of no interest. With your leadership skills you are able to make people bend to your will, even if sometimes you doubt your own motivations.
  • The PlayboyHuman Torch, Ironman
    • As long as you looks good doing it, you don’t care much about the consequences of your acts. You have powers now, why should you refrain from using them. You probably drove a red car before the Event. Now you  just flies around. You don’t really want power or control, you only want to be famous. Every second you spend out of the limelight is a step closer to the end of your 15 minutes.
  • The Kid – Robin, Spiderman
    • Holy Shit! Holy Shit! Holy Shit! That’s so awesome, your no longer getting beat up in school by the bullies who now seem so irrelevant. Initially you tried to impress everybody around by trying to emulate the bullies themselves, until you realized that you are still a kid. You do not know who you really are anymore, you never knew either. Before you were a social pariah that could not do anything about it, now you are still alone, people are afraid of you.
  • The Risk Taker – Daredevil, 
    • You are an addict, if you could you would not stop. You have always been seen as a weakling or an handicap but when you don the mask you exhibit powers beyond your wildest dreams. Saner man Will you be able to resist being absorbed by your alter-ego? Will be able to resist pushing out friends and family who only fear for your safety.
  • The Player – Gambit
    • This is only a game isn’t it? And you’ll play it as long as you got a chance to make a profit. You are the ultimate profiteer, creating opportunities out of thin air. All those other fools are stuck in the same game you are, but only you realize it for what it is – and that is the greatest advantage you can ask for. You know one day you will be put in front of the greatest prize of them all, will you go all-in or will you chicken out and become one of the losers?
  • The Strategist – Xavier

Themes

  • Patriotism
  • Individualism
  • Xenophobia / Racism
  • Fear
  • Alter Ego
  • Big Brother
  • Golden Age
  • Moral choices
  • Security vs Freedom
  • Evolution
  • Heightened Rights vs. Human Rights

Tightening the Screws

  •  A member of congress un/sympathetic to the cause is assassinated.
  • Government declares martial law in answer to troubles between heightened groups and “Normals”
  • Right-Wing groups propose regulations to limit the rights of Heightened Humans.
  • U.S. Government approves Article 18 (Heightened Statute Limitation) and proposes constitutional amendment to declare Heightened Individuals as dangerous elements of the population
  • Doctor Emerald Quade from the Berkeley University biological research group announces that he can start a project to map the heightened powers.
  • USSR sends its navy to Cuba – baiting the U.S. in open war.
  • Canada offers immunity to all Heightened Individuals refusing mandatory registration.
  • Government declares a ban on all costumed heroes, arresting anyone who opposes the measure.
  • Minority groups demand equal access to state resources and equal treatment. Their demands are lost in the Heightened crisis, some frustration grows and some group resort to in-state terrorism to make their demands.
  • Unable to control the newly heightened population of prisons and insane asylum the government added the unrestrained use of heightened powers to the United State Criminal Code as a Capital Offense.
  • The first child born from declared heightened is due to be born in Detroit this week. Police and the military are on high alert. Heightened advocacy groups and anti-heightened opposition organizations have declared that they will show up at the event.
  • Following the death of hundreds in the destruction of the Sears tower, the city of Chicago has asked the state legislature and Federal government to limit the rights of heightened. Meanwhile the city increased its statute suspending the “Citizen Arrest” law.
  • The Catholic Church declared that until it can determine if the advent of powers is the work of the Devil, it will refuse asylum to the heightened. This decision could split the Church.
  • The flu was not a natural occurrence, upon further studies from the CDC in Atlanta it was found to be an advanced bio-engineered virus. The research team who made the discovery is unable/unwilling to say where this type of compound could have been created.
  • New powers unlisted on the Quade diagram have started to appear. The press hungry for news have started relaying the opinion of conspiracy theorist from all over the United State saying that the Quade diagram was the unclassified version of  a much larger web of powers. The New York Times even prints an interview with Doctor Herbert, once research assistant to Doctor Quade. He explains that  …

Additional Elements

Using the 60s as a backdrop, this setting is a (game) study in the road map to fascism. Given a traumatic event would the U.S. have clamped down harder and closed its frontiers. Refusing equal rights to some groups based on the fear of the majority that their world was crumbling. Would those groups have resorted to stronger actions to make their demand clear. This is still a game, please just have fun.

The lost expedition. A prologue.

Abbey in the Oak Forest

When I started writing this in May, I knew I wanted a star vampire to be at the core of the conspiracy. Latching it to the Tunguska event, I had the means of arrival and declared it a spore with a fungus like ability to reproduce. I stayed pretty vague on the rest of the details as they were not required at the time. Now that the players have gathered information from the research binders they started looking more closely at the Tunguska event; it became self-evident that a prologue was the best answer. In my opinion it will give depth to the story and shed light on the organism itself. That being said, it also means that the Colonist must be better defined if we want a proper investigation type story. So here it is.

The Colonist

What happens to an ecology, when the parasite level reaches critical mass? The ecology dies.
— Hugh MacLeod, How To Be Creative

Alien Origins

The vampire in the Shoot at the Stars campaign is a fungus like entity that arrived through the Tunguska incident in 1908. The fungus is a parasite that migrates from star to star colonizing any ecology that it encounters, once the entire ecology is subverted, it becomes dormant for until a catastrophic event, planet collision, or even attempt by the inhabitants to send it out to space, enables it to reach the next stars. The organism is so simple that it can survive in most environment in its dried state, and will return to it when exposed to danger. When dried the organism looks like a white gray powder that could easily be mistaken for Anthrax.

– From Research Notes on S100A4 KU1/KU2/KU4

Einstein’s math was sound, faster-than-light travel is not possible. Unknowingly for the human race, this little tidbit of math is what protects it from most of the dangers of the universe.  The problem is that Darwin was also right. The organism known as the spore is a product of the adaptation trait, on a distant planet near a dying star. In the final days, before the star collapsed, the organisms living on the planet discovered a way to encode their unique DNA on hyper resistant spores that could travel the stars on the remnants of their planet. The dormant spore travels the void using meteors. In addition to the alien DNA the spore contain a really simple bio software algorithm that triggers when entering a new biosphere. The algorithm steps are really simple to ensure a maximum percentage of success. When connecting to the new biome, the spore begin establishing a bridgehead by mimicking the most simple organism it can find in the new locale. Afterwards it follows the evolution path to learn about the local biome DNAs, it then uses a high level organism from the host planet to act as scaffolding for its own DNA. To build this scaffolding, the organism harvest from local source and rebuilds the host completely by using available parts. This is where the colonization system can fail. Landing in a remote part of a world often means that the spore needs to lay dormant for a long time before being able to latch on a new organism. It’s parasitic nature also prevents it from colonizing barren worlds. Once the scaffolding material has been harvested, the spore enter the second phase of their programming. The graft the alien DNA to the protein base, allowing the parasitic organism to be reconstructed completely from local stem material.

The Tunguska Event

Historical sources tell us that the first expedition to the region of Tunguska following the fall of the meteor did not occur till 1921. What they fail to tell us is that the 1921 expedition lead by mineralogist Leonid Kulik is the first public recorded expedition. There was another one in 1909, lead by a geologist from the St-Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The record of which are currently unknowingly sealed in the Smolny Institute extensive historical library. The log was written by a journalist part of the expedition and was seized by the Cheka along with samples from the region in 1921.

Following our survey of the Tunguska region we investigated the possible presence of meteoric iron in a region just a couple of kilometers north. On the order of the expedition team leader, we used our remaining resources, equipped our dog sled and started our 3 weeks trip. Most of us were tired but happy, knowing that after this final trip we could finally go home to our loved ones.

Welcome to Ingelheim

Agents Goal : Escape the clutch of the conspiracy, discover its real goal.

Current Location : Ingelheim, Germany

Location Aspects : Cold, Small Town, Suspicious of strangers

Conspiracy Goal : After the failed attempt at recruiting the agents, the conspiracy will make every effort to get rid of the agents. The conspiracy is nearing its own goal, and will not tolerate any other change in plans. The loss of the research binders is unacceptable and they will make every effort to recover them. Luckily for the conspiracy, the binders were tagged with locators.

The Research Binders

S100A4 MR4 [0001]

Contains background information on the Tunguska event. The information is generic and contains eye witness reports of the event collected from various historical sources. See here for more information.

S100A4 MR4 [0106]

[KU3]

Animal testing is a complete failure. The non primate antigen are not able to support the growth factor of the spores, leading to a rapid cell degeneration. The cell degeneration is so fast that is creates huge amounts of energy and burns out the test subject. The same procedure applied to primates offers a much more interesting avenue of research. The larger primate seem to be able to sustain the burn rate of the spore. After careful monitoring, it seems the energy intake of the test primate increased by a factor of a 1000%. When we tried to reduce the amount of food given to the subjects, they quickly became agressive and attacked one another. We lost 2 of the 3 subjects, they were killed and “eaten” by Gargantua. After careful review of the events, it was theorized that the primate went for the closest primary source of antigen.

[KU4]

Following the orders of KNS the research team started testing the KU3 strain on human subjects. Thanks to the provided dossier – S100A4 MR4 [0039] – we were able to duplicate the research and derived a composite spore that we could inject in human subject. The higher intellect of the subject seemed to help in controlling the violent outburst that we saw in the primates. Once we started running protocol p6 to test the stability of the grafted spore we quickly found that the sought after stability would not be found in the KU4 variant.

[KU5]

Using the research notes provided by the chemists we were able to duplicate and reproduce his test results. The compound created using this process offers huge advantages compared to any strain we managed to create during our last research cycle. The effect still leaves the test subjects on the brink of death, but we feel that this hurdle might be completely preventable by lacing the material with some form of steroid construct. Samples are in route to research center in Moscow, Amsterdamand Ohio.

[KU6] – New research based on the KU3 strand. Will begin testing in the following weeks. Samples are in route to research centers in Moscow, Amsterdam and Ingelheim.

Without access to the original strain we feel the research might soon reach a dead end. Some advances could be made injecting the spores directly in a protein scaffolding. The fragility of the KU3 strain makes it unlikely that this method will succeed. Comparing our notes with those obtained from the 8 of heart could also lead to potentially promising variations. Given access to the original strain it is our belief that an air-delivered weaponized version of the KU6 variant could be finished in time for the arrival of the primary investor. We are therefore requesting additional funding.

Approved by Dr. Sorin Cimpeanu

Scenes

The angry farmer – He doesn’t like strangers.

The last hobo – He doesn’t drink the water.
The Syrians – They want respect.
The zombies – They drank the water.
The authorities – They are scared of the city – See Bhopal
The mayor – Turns a blind eye to the problems.
The bystanders – The work for Boehringer
Les minettes – Dr. Sorin Cimpeanu goes there to feed.

Everybody in Ingelheim is Infected KU5

Getting out of nowhere (Recap #11)

Stuck on a side track of the train running between Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Frankfurt, Germany, while getting gunned at by mercenaries or militia. The panoramic route once tranquil and relaxing, brought the Agents back to their sad life of plain old crazy.

Spotting a team of spotters on a ledge on the other side of the mountain the agents begin to clear out the wagon from the remaining civilian when they hear the high pitch sound of a hovering drone. So far so good, they begin walking toward the tunnel as they spot the flash of a surface-to-air missile being launched. A couple of seconds later the bridge exploded in a thunderous flash. The weight of the wagon adding to the damage of the AGM-176, the bridge had no chance, it started to break apart. As every horizontal surface reverted to a vertical state due to gravity.  Running from the collapsing girders Natasha fell as the bridge started to collapse and luckily was grabbed by Sean who just managed to get her back up on her feet and running toward the tunnel.

Once inside the brick and stone tunnel, the agents were able to take a breather, huddled together the civilian were crying and shivering due to shock and fear. Sanderson knew that most of them were suffering from shell shock, and that they would be marked for life by the traumatic event. Niclas was the first one to run, sure that the agents, sporting guns and looking like they knew what they were doing, were responsible for this. Sean quickly booby trapped the east entrance with shrapnel taken from the ground itself.

Victor is pissed and walks in the bullets

Sitting in the brick tunnel, militia came in both end of the tunnel – firing and moving, using standard German military covering techniques. Once both 3 man teams were in position, about 20 feet from the entrance, the dropped and started firing wildly at the agents. One of the civilians got hit by a ricochet just as Sean popped the blasting cap and collapsed the east entrance over the commando. Their ears bleeding, the agents now only had to take care of the west team; which redoubled their rate of fire. With Sanderson, Natasha taking pot shots towards the west entrance, and keeping the militia pinned, Victor stood up, ran west taking the militia completely by surprise. As he came close, the militia stood up to take him down, only to be gunned down by the concerted fire of the two female agents.

“J’en ai assez de cette merde…”

With the primary threats taken care of, the agents and their civilian ? walk out to a snowy German mountain side. About 50 feet from the train track the agents spot 3 snowmobiles, one pulling a snow trailer. After a short debate the agents and civilian load up and start driving toward Ingelheim – the nearest German town, the fated train next stop. As the reach the crest, they see that getting to Ingelheim might be really difficult, a couple of hour train ride would likely translate in a two day trek. Under equipped to withstand the cold, they hit the “Return Trip” button of the GPS and double back. Driving in the light underbrush, 2 patrolling snowmobiles start to chase them, firing light machine guns, hoping to take them down. Zigzagging through the forest, with the second agent returning fire, they manage to disable one of the pursing ski-doo using a precise shot to the engine, which locks up and explodes. The other chaser begins to bridge the distance pull up to the side of Sanderson’s ride, as they exchange fire, the second soldier on the snowmobile stands, ready to jump on the agent’s machine. This small distraction made the militia driver look behind while he should probably have looked forward. The snowmobile momentum went to 0 in about 1 second flat as it hit a gigantic pine tree, the driver and passenger never stood a chance. The pine tree will live on as if nothing has happened.

Nearing the edge of the woods, they see a large manor sitting on the edge of a cliff. Around the perimeter our Agents can spot well armed guards, snowmobiles and an airplane sitting on a short runway. Sanderson, takes note of the length of the runway and knows that it takes a pilot with an extra set of balls to fly this baby. The runway ends just before a cliff of at least 500 feet. As they take in the security measures, they are distracted by noises coming out of the woods behind them, as the agents turn to meet the newcomer they are scared shitless by a gray black gorilla. As the agents take the details in, they sadly notice wires coming out of its head. The gorilla snatches a civilian and throws it around like a rag doll. The shaken agents not missing a beat concentrate their fire and take down the 800 pounds beast.

If it looks like a duck

Rapidly assessing the body, McGee sees that the wires coming out of the head of the body use an insulation technique not seen since the 1950’s. Over a riot speaker system, they can hear a German voice asking them to lay down their weapons and parley. The voice offers a truce. Knowing that the gunshots and explosions alerted the militia, they decide to accept the offer and walk to the manor gate. At the gate they can see that the militia are weary, but not stressed. The agents weapons are confiscated, and they are then escorted through the manor main door. Once inside the manor, they can see that their first impression of age was not wrong, this manor smells of rot and mold, the humidity really high. They are brought to a room with a fireplace, as the door closes behind them, they can see a hidden side door farther in. After about 15 minutes, an older gentleman comes in with a glass of wine and official looking dossiers. The glass looks like the Saint-Grail, and the man holding it doesn’t do anything to dispel the Dracula feeling you get from him.

“It cost me/us a lot to bring you here. Please heed my offer, it should simplify our lives.”

A man of action more than word, Nikodim Stepanovitch, makes an uncomfortable pitch where the agents would work for his group helping to create a cure for almost all of Man’s illnesses. “I have seen the folly of man, and I will not let it repeat itself. This research must not fall in their hands, if it ever does, we will see an arms race that could completely destroy the human race. And this time their would be not stopping it. ” He looks genuinely interested in making sure the research progresses and from his looks the agents can tell that this old man has seen his fair share of horror. “We would be ready to offer you a truce, as we think you misunderstood our intentions, and to prove that we are well-meaning, we would be prepared to employ you to help us in our quest to understand and develop this cure. As we could see from these – he points to the dossiers – your skills would be very handy in a variety of ways.”

The Leprechaun

After completing his speech, he excuses himself, leaving behind the dossiers and an almost empty wine glass. The dumbfounded agents look at one another, unable to decide how to take the offer, or even how to refuse such an offer. Victor is the first to break the silence, and walks to the chair, as he sits down he takes the first dossier and starts reading. Sean dabs his handkerchief in the glass, and quickly pockets it.

In which Victor learns secrets from the other agents.

On Sophie Sanderson

Left the MI6 after anonymously leaking informations to the media, she is suspected by the British Secret Service and is considered a threat to the Crown. The documents leaked have caused at least 4 agents to die in the field, after their cover had been blown.  She is currently on the list of the 100 most wanted criminals of the British Commonwealth.

On Natasha Romanov

Left the KGB after she was told that her husband died in the field. Untrusting of the official story, she left to find her husband. The KGB brass considers Natasha could endanger deep cover agents around the world trying to  obtain information about her dead husband.

On Michael McGee

During his third tour in cold war Germany as a combat engineer, Sergeant McGee was found bloody and unconscious in the “Death Strip” of the Berlin Wall. Unable/unwilling to explain when and how he had gotten there, he was  charged with dereliction of duty and promptly sent home to finish his contract as a desk corporal. During is last medical check-up, a small metal object was found under his skin and extracted. Due to pressure from McGee the doctor entered shrapnel in the examination file.

On Sean Cormack

Known IRA bomb maker, Sean Cormack was suspected of being the mastermind behind the explosion of a bus on February 18, 1996. Secret Service have identified a possible link between Cormack and one of the survivor. Chelsea Leatherby, 3 years old at the time, lost both her parent in the incident. Placed in the public care system, she received access to an anonymously set-up trust fund. It is the bellief of Her Majesty Secret Services, that Cormack might be the secret provider of this money.

After a short discussion where the agents come to the conclusion that this is a trap. Nikodim Stepanovitch enters the room and seeing Victor in the chair stands near the fireplace, the picture of a perfect European gentleman. Sean walks over and explain that they will not accept the offer. He could only have said so, but he took out a luchador mask, “The Leprechaun”, puts it on and tackles Stepanovitch directly in the fireplace. As the man starts burning, yelling a most inhuman sound. He turn to dust and it floats to the walls. They quickly try to open the two doors, which are locked from the outside, Sanderson looks around and decides to find a third way out. “Since we are in a castle, there must be secret passages.” Looking really well she triggers a small mechanism which opens a small door that gives on a set of stairs. With no other choices but to go down, they line up and walk down.

As they get down to the bottom floor, clearly under the mountain rocks, the see medieval cells. The cells have been used recently and reek of human misery. They walk further in, wanting out of this hell, they arrive to a pristine room containing the best and worst science has to offer. Every instrument organized in a perfect production line designed to extract human blood, quickly, efficiently and without causing too much pain. Looking around the room, the agents spot a bookcase containing 5 research binders labelled S100A4 MR4 [0001],  S100A4 MR4 [0014], S100A4 MR4 [0039], S100A4 MR4 [0050] and S100A4 MR4 [0106]. As the agents started looking more closely, the compound alarm blared to life, the lights went down and the security lighting subsytem took over. They started running up some stairs to emerge from a side door of the manor. Looking around at the commotion the agents saw Nikodim Stepanovitch walk out of the main doors and order his men around to secure the perimeter.

It did not take them long to evaluate their possible options, between running out, blasting out on snowmobiles or just stealing the plane and flying out. Running to the plane, trying to keep a low profile the agents managed to get on-board and prepare for on flight movie. Oh yeah, some militia managed to spot them, and get dead the same way. Sanderson took the stick, gunned the engine and once the plane started moving became a small arms fire target. With the four other agents providing covering fire, they took off after a brutal drop at the cliff. The plane managed to stay airborne just in time to turn its side toward incoming RPG fire. Using all her piloting skill, Sanderson dropped the plane at a 90 degrees angle and dodged the incoming fire. Staying low the agents managed to get enough distance between them and Dracula’s manor. Now having more experience leaving in-flight airplanes, they decided to grab the available chutes, get them on and jump out while setting the plane autopilot to fly for as long as possible. Hopefully confusing their pursuers.

Floating down over the Ingelheim valley the agents can admire the beautiful landscape, the small farms on the outskirt of the town and the huge pharmaceutical complex that is named a couple of times in the stolen research binders.

Welcome to Ingelheim, we hope your stay will be pleasant.