Gates of Despair: Session 2 Recap

See the Session 1 recap for context. SPOILER WARNING: I repurposed some material from the module “Dead Planet“, but have made significant changes to fit the atmosphere I wanted for this game.

The session began with the crew still in the captain’s quarters. They decide to continue to clear the deck clockwise, so the next room to search was the science officer’s quarters. The entire room is COVERED in propaganda and other papers for “Society of the Outer Realms,” an unknown organization that preaches the need to go beyond the limits of the civilized or even known system. Some of the papers and notes indicate an extensive supply network in the Saturn system, but Jones has difficulty garnering any details from the papers in this state. Boris connects this with the cryogenic storage pods: the logistics network must consist of smuggling on other ships and making use of existing shipping.

During the search, though, they notice that some of the papers in the corner are moist. Clearing things away, they find a severely decomposed body (more than the others, maybe a week or more?). Dr. Cane can’t determine the cause of death.

In the First Mate’s quarters, they find several family photos on the walls. Looking more closely, they recognize the dead man in the spacesuit as one of the photo subjects: apparently the First Mate got shoved out the airlock and couldn’t get back in. He seems to have a penchant for survivalism, as they find a dozen rations, a waterproof poncho (which perplexes the characters endlessly), and an SK-201 “Seeker” Smart Rifle. Boris is overjoyed – a big gun!

Much of the rest of the deck consists of crew quarters, largely consisting of bunks, footlockers, and corpses. Under one of the bunks, they find a pin-up poster of a young woman riding a rocket, but with throwing knives embedded in the poster. Target practice, they conclude. The crew doesn’t see any obvious wounds or other indications of violent death. They take a small blood sample back to the medbay in lieu of a full autopsy, and determine they all died peacefully of CO2 suffocation when the life support turned off. ((I don’t know whether you could still tell this about a corpse several days after a fact, but we didn’t want to focus too much on this.)) Other items found among the corpses include a couple of rabbit feed, a napkin with coordinates (unknown where or what frame), and cheap sunglasses with shark teeth.

The only other room of significance on this level is a galley with a sealed airlock door. Jones and Boris hotwire the door, and they see dried red splatter on the floor. Fearing the worst, Dr. Cane takes a sample back to the medbay to run tests while the other two keep watch. It takes her way longer than it should to realize this is actually cranberry juice!

However, despite the fact that the splatter is cranberry juice, the tables conceal two more corpses. One has some sort of codebook that translates cipher symbols to numbers, but it would take more work to understand what this is for and who uses it. The other corpse has a key to a storage locker; maybe it fits something in the cargo hold. The crew opts to continue up to the command deck rather than go back to look for more salvage.

They also note that, conspicuously, none of the corpses have included the captain.

Command Deck of the Alexis. Map by beyondEnvy on Discord, based on an illustration by Stephen Wilson & Sean McCoy.

On the command deck, they find themselves more or less in the center of a smaller corridor. Aft of them lies the navicomputer console room; to either side are smaller life support areas. But directly ahead they see the bridge door, and the panel is red. Dr. Cane confirms that she still detects two synthetics in that room and nowhere else on the ship.

How should they go about this? Should they negotiate? Go in shooting? Try to lure the synthetics out? Are there any humans in there?

They quickly sketch out a plan: Jones will try to hotwire this door but insert a small delay before it opens so he can get to cover. Boris will shoot the first humanoid-type shape he sees. Dr. Cane will hide around a corner and hope not to get shot.

Surprisingly, the dice cooperate! Jones makes quick work of the door, and dives around a corner just in time. Movement in the bridge – Boris takes the shot with his new smart rifle (linked into the HUD on his battle dress armor) and hits easily, taking down the target with a hit on center mass. But he knows that at least one more person is in there, and calls out. A female voice answers, and he believes it’s the captain, as she complains that they’ve ruined everything and she’s dead now anyway. After some back and forth, an alarm blares, the red emergency lights come on, and he moves into the bridge.

The bridge consists of a large raised area in the center and rear portions of the command room. On the front and sides, he sees a lower area extending about two meters all around with several consoles and chairs.

A shot rings out and he’s hit in the arm, somehow between the weak spots in his armor. But it’s not enough to take him down, and he returns fire at the captain while she tries to get back into cover. It’s a clean kill: in one arm, through the upper torso, and she’s done. As he clears the room, a calm synthetic voice informs him that the reactor is overloading and they have little time. He sees half of an android – torso, upper limbs, head – lying in the corner. But the ship is going to blow!

Boris, moving more quickly than the others, dives back down the deck ladder. Jones and Dr. Cane get a bit tangled up as they reach that ladder at the same time. Once the two of them get to the lower deck, they don’t see Boris at all.

That’s because he didn’t go out the airlock – he went to the engine room. His first attempt to shut things down fails, and Dr. Cane exits through the airlock, hoping that she can get back to their ship and that will provide enough protection when the Alexis is scuttled.

Jones decides to argue with Boris about this, putting his own life at risk. ((As GM, I roll a 1d100 every few seconds of in-game time to see if the ship explodes, deciding the ship will explode on any doubles result, like 11 or 88.)) Boris instead summons his courage, swallows more stress ((I had him roll 1d10 stress to try again)), and this time he gets a critical success! The overload is shut down!

Jones grabs some of the genetic material. Combined with the Society’s propaganda and the captain’s cryptic warnings, he suspects this is part of the smuggling network. That would explain why such valuable cargo didn’t appear on the manifest. Together with Boris, they interrogate the synth, who mostly does not cooperate. The synth either wants to resist them, is irritatingly literal, continues to follow the previous captain’s orders, or a combination of all three, and they finally decide to shut it down. Boris wants to shoot the synth in the head, but stops when he’s told that’s where the data are stored and they can just examine it that way.

The session ends with them attaching the tow cables and preparing to head back to Herschel Station. In the next session, they want to review the hard drives from the science lab, potentially carry out some additional data analysis, and then we’ll wrap with delivery back at the station and a debrief.

Wrap-up

As with the previous week (and my normal process), we consider everyone’s “stars and wishes”. They enjoyed this searching more than before, as they found lots more unexpected stuff in these rooms more than just “everyone died here”. Plus they found a big gun and some potentially cultish materials. The players also want more weirdness in the game: more cult stuff, fantastic science beyond what we currently think we could build, more Sanity saves.

Personally, I enjoyed getting to play real NPCs again; I enjoy doing voices and the interaction, and lately that hasn’t been what the game needed, but tonight we did! I also really liked being surprised by the output of random tables and finding ways to riff on them to tell a story slightly differently than I’d expected.

Everyone receives a base of 13 XP: 10 for surviving another session, plus 3 for successfully clearing the ship. Boris, as a Marine, receives 2 XP for 2 kills, plus 3 XP for saving his crew members by shutting down the overload. Dr. Cane, as a Scientist, receives 1 XP for bringing back the genetic samples from cryostorage onto their ship. And Jones, as a Teamster, receives 1 XP for recovering the cargo for his employer.

Next week, we plan to wrap up this arc. We will probably take a week in between, then play another 3-week arc. (Of course, we might just roll straight into that arc without a break; that remains to be seen.) Without showing my cards yet, I intentionally built the framework for this scenario as both a self-contained adventure and also a potential prologue to something larger. If we want to push things further, I have an idea of what that will mean, though that will be shaped by their decisions and outcomes in the last session of this arc next week.

I look forward to seeing how the players and random outcomes surprise me!

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