Numenera 6: Plainsight

Spoilers ahead for one of the scenarios in the main rulebook, which I guess I should get out the way before Numenera 2: Electric Boogaloo comes out next year and they replace the introductory scenarios. Of the four, this one is maybe third best, but I’m making it work, I think, although with heavy superficial modifications and it’s tough to peel apart what the party is doing that is from the various strands I’ve laced that lead to adventures from the Weird Discoveries book.

I like the Weird Discoveries book in that you can run any of the scenarios in that book with about 5 minutes of prep time, but they provide you with another 2 pages of ways to flesh each adventure out a little bit more, as well as fitting it into a campaign. We’re not doing a campaign, there are no over-arching stories other than the ones the characters bring to the table. But I don’t want to spring a brand new, cleanly separate situation – an exploration-of-the-week episode, if you will – on them every session. Instead, the initial seeds of various future adventures are being laid along the way and the players have unconsciously, but graciously helped me out here by making interesting characters.

I’ve REALLY got to do more intrusions. I’ve started a little list of character specific ones, but I’ve got to get better at that. Anyway…

 

  • Sharad, an Intelligent Nano who Leads and who can Flash and recruit an assistant now.
  • Meef, a Mechanical Jack who Exists Partially Out Of Phase and who has learned to Push.
  • Giana, a Strong-willed Jack who Focuses Mind-Over-Matter and who just got a fourth pool of which to keep track.
  • Red Pepper, a Graceful Glaive who Wields Two Weapons and almost, very almost two tiers.

Through some pretty great orienteering on the part of Meef, the trip between the Murden’s bandit camp and the edge of the forest was both quick and accurate, putting them in sight of Plainsight and able to enter the town before dark.

As they approached the town, the unusual details of the settlement became clear. It was perched, in some cases literally, atop a dark metallic mound that raised it up over the surrounding countryside and gave the town a great view of the Plains of Kataru to the east. The buildings were constructed of an opalescent synth, for the most part, and were built for warm weather, it seemed. And as the sun sank over the Clock of Kala, the buildings cooled and changed colour from a milky white/silver to a warm peach to salmon pink.

 ++= Plainsight.

The explorers were in no particular rush to do anything in Plainsight – they’re there to meet Orrudis in four days time and also drop Yami off with some gainful employment, ideally. So they found out more about the settlement.

It was doing well for itself, it being a major stop-off point for cavarans and traders. It lies about a week’s caravan travel from Tremble Pass, about a week from the dangerous Slant Milieu where ‘miners’ risk their wellbeing and sanity to forage for silster and goldgleam, and about a week from the center of the Plains of Kataru. Geography isn’t the only thing that it has going for it. The ‘hill’ upon which it rests puts out a constant, predictable heat that the inhabitants have long ago tapped to cook their food, warm their houses and power simple steam turbines. At least it used to…

 

About four days ago the town was shaken, (along with everything else) when a tremor moved the earth. Some people were hurt, but not too badly and buildings were damaged, but not so badly that they weren’t currently being repaired. Far worse was the effect this earth tremor had on the hill: it opened up rents in the metallic surface, orange ooze began seeping out of holes and tears and the previously predictable heat-map of the hill went haywire. People were burned by previously lukewarm areas, frozen as they slept, scalded as steam contraptions exploded. It was particularly difficult on those who had been displaced by the tremor as the quickly erected shantytown was particularly vulnerable to these sudden and violent changes in heat.

Within a few hours of being there they’d also picked up that there was a cult of some sort, The Hozai. The Hozai had been going around for a while now, telling everyone that the hill was dangerous and that they needed protecting from it and up until four days ago that had been ludicrous and they’d been an annoying nuisance. Now it seemed to many people that The Hozai were correct all along.

Somewhere along this polite line of questioning, Meef picked up a creeper. The guy wanted to follow along with Meef and when that was turned down, followed at a distance wherever Meef went. Watching, smiling, waiting.

They made their way to a hostelry, the Silvered Leaf, and got themselves a nice big room to stay in. Sure enough, checking in more or less right behind them, Meef’s Number One Fan. Meef went off to do some shopping around town.

Sharad, Giana (who preferred to keep a low profile again) and Yami hit the taproom. Sharad has the charisma and gravitas to play this cool because you have to be real careful if you’re an older guy getting a drink with two teenage girls. They questioned the barman about the town and got a potted view of the tremor, the heat troubles and The Hozai. The town’s Ataman was apparently looking for someone to solve his problems and the barman knew this because his brother worked in the municipal building. If they wanted a shortcut to talking to the Ataman, they should try to see Osaul Carbo, the brother, and he’d put in a good word for them.

Red, meanwhile, went to go see one of the town’s spa bathhouses with a view to talking about their herbalist practices. What she found was Nerr, leader of The Hozai, with two of his acolytes remonstrating with the proprietor on her doorstep. The proprietor looked like she was taking none of Nerr’s shit, but Nerr wasn’t really talking to her but talking to everyone else passing by. Meddling in something that they did not understand (the hill) was putting the lives of the good people of Plainsight in jeopardy, he declaimed. Would the proprietress really risk the lives of her patrons who might be flash frozen or boiled alive in her hill-heated baths? No, the proprietress patiently explained, because she had separate boilers for heating the waters and the water wouldn’t be put in the baths of it was going to be too hot or too cold. Nerr went on, and on and the impassioned speech was not falling on unreceptive ears as the visitors and townsfolk passed on by.

Red interjected at this point, claiming to be very interested in this shrewd philosophy and also in the acolyte who tried to argue that The Hozai could make observations about the changes in the heat map and try to predict the sudden changes in temperature, before he was talked over by Nerr. Nerr was interested in Red being interested and so they agreed to go somewhere and really hash it out.

Theybis.
Art by Roman Oumansky

Red listened to Nerr’s bombastic spiel for a while, sizing up the two others with the orator – Theybis, a bookish sort who seemed to want to study the heat map and understand the nature of the ‘hill’ and Avan (I think) who was gazing adoringly at Nerr and apparently thick as two short planks. Red was eventually able to peel an increasingly ignored and agitated Theybis away from Nerr and arranged to meet in an hour’s time at a central location. She slipped away from the zealots and returned to the Silvered Leaf.

Meef, meanwhile, had attracted his Creeper and after being followed by him decided to give him the slip, through a wall… which is a pretty good way of doing that.

The group reconvened at the Silvered Leaf and got caught up on what they’d learned. Red Pepper returned to the large fountain in the main town plaza and met with Theybis. The nervous cultist spilled everything: Nerr was totally full of shit. They all were. The Hozai only wanted people too scared to enter the rifts in the hill so that they could go explore it themselves. Nerr was really just a numenera-seeking scam artist who was leveraging The Hozai’s sudden popular support to pressure the Ataman into allowing them to guard the tears in the hill’s metal shell and then loot whatever wasn’t nailed down. Not Theybis though; he was genuinely concerned that the hill’s heat map had gone haywire and wanted to help fix it if he could. To do that, he’d need to know what was going on inside the hill, with samples and readings and whatnot. But the only way Nerr would allow him in would be to loot and by then vital information/equipment might be lost/destroyed. The continued safety of Plainsight is at stake. If Red could get in there though… Theybis could analyse the samples, check the readings, plot the data and make the graphs that would help solve this problem. That would also mean that Theybis would have to leave The Hozai and go rogue.

Red brought Theybis back to their room at the Silvered Leaf by clandestine means (which sort of worked) and installed him there until they could hopefully get permission from the Ataman to enter the hill, get him the info he needed and get him working on a solution.

The following morning, after discovering a bouquet of flowers for Meef outside their room, they went “Eww” and then left Theybis and Yami in the rented room while they went off to see if they could wrangle a meeting with the town’s Ataman. The pair of armed Chorazy posted at the entrance to the Municipal buildings insisted that the Ataman wasn’t seeing anyone, but when they offered to buy them drinks if they could just speak to Osaul Carbo. That, and maybe a little bit of flirtation from Red, got them in.

The Chorazy can be talked around pretty easily, it seems.

The Osauls worked away at their desks inside the large central room, but it wasn’t too difficult to find Carbo, the barman’s brother. He managed to get them a meeting with the Ataman in short order. Ataman Veldis was a worried man: his political position was weakened by The Hozai’s remarkable sudden improvement in soothsaying. In not-exactly-these-words he hinted that everything might be better off if Nerr was to meet with an accident and that as the town’s Prosecutor he assured them that it would take a long long time to build a case against anyone who happened to be very close to Nerr when he is killed. So long that they’d probably be very far away by then. Wink wink.

But Veldis was on board with the idea of the party exploring the rent in the hill’s side with a view to solving the town’s dangerous new cyclothermia. Very much so: they should begin at once. Which they almost did before an irate townsperson burst into the office, ranting and raving. Geirn’s wife was missing, hauled into the hole in the side of the hill by goodness knows what and what on earth was the Ataman going to do about it? Rant rave, rant rave.

The Ataman had, he was relieved, the very answer as these fine people next to him were going to go into the hole and maybe they could keep an eye out for Geirn’s wife, Methune. This was, however, the first the explorers had heard of anyone being hauled into the hill by forces unknown. So they wanted to know a bit more. What they found out was that Geirn’s wife maybe hadn’t been dragged into the hole as she passed by but had simply not returned after deliberately entering the hole. Geirn insisted that he and his wife were simple jam-makers. But also that his wife had taken a bunch of gear to gather samples from inside the hill. But she definitely screamed, unless that was someone else.

Don’t answer, it’s a trick!

By the time they reached the now-guarded hole in the hill the Chorazy on guard had been alerted that they’d be coming, because apparently this town only ever hires ineffective speed bumps as guards. They were allowed to approach the structure and examine the tear in the metal side. The stressed metal had been further stressed, they thought, by being bent back (to allow passage) and then being bent again to cover up the passage.

The passage was small and cramped and didn’t allow for  much other than a crab walk for the first section. After that it widened a little as it led down into the.. well, further into whatever this metal hill was. The floors were buckled and sagging, made of  a translucent material that allowed them to see a darkness below that was occasionally lit by lights and sparks. Despite the buckling and sinking, the floors held their weight and eventually the passage led down into a mezzanine of sorts.

The area was enclosed on three sides by wall and the fourth side by a metal grid curtain that they soon discovered was electrified. Unpleasantly, but not lethally so. The floors were bare and the ceilings hung with tattered fibrous sheets. But that was it, there didn’t appear to be any exits from the area. Beyond the grid, they could dimly make out a large room of some sort, but the darkness was too complete for them to make out much in the way of detail. Lights floated around out there, like fireflies, but they could make out nothing else.

In the mezzanine, they searched and found an circle of a jelly like material set into the floor. They couldn’t figure out how to use it at first but Sharad noticed that the electricity to the grid went off any time Meef held his hand over the orange jelly, which glowed as he did so. At about this time someone messed with the fibrous sheets hanging from the ceiling, and the party was almost ambushed by a group of four Steel Spiders.

The creatures, over-sized arachnids with shiny metallic skin and silk strands like piano wire advanced, whipping the spun silk. Giana had a hard time seeing the strands as they slashed and caught at her, but everyone else was able to mostly avoid them, expecially Sharad, who hid behind Red.

Giana put a few arrows in them, Meef slashed and thrust with his sword, using his new Push ability to knock one into the electrified grating. Sharad whipped into them with his Shockstaff and then used Onslaught to finish them off. Red had trouble bringing her light weapons to bear against the tough skin of the creatures, but in the end they finished the spiders off without too many problems.

Keen to leave this room the kept the electrical current suppressed by holding their hand over the jelly and battered a hole in the metal grid that blocked them from the larger room beyond. Peering through the larger hole they’d created, they saw…

 

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