The Gates of Despair: Session 6 Recap

After an extended break due to real life, we finally got back to some science fiction horror! I also wrote up some new random tables and a new mechanic, but those will get fully detailed in separate future posts. No spoilers this time – everything is original material. The map is my own creation, using assets from Caeora (in my case, acquired as a sponsor on Patreon).

Map of Enceladus Research Facility
Welcome to ERF (assets by Caeora)

Narrative

The crew has just arrived at the Enceladus Research Facility and proceeds to the primary airlock. Jones and Boris decide to stay primarily in their vacsuits; Dr Annabelle Cane takes off the torso and helmet portion, just staying in her flight suit and vacsuit legs. As soon as they enter, I ask them for Fear saves. Annabelle and Boris fail, and so they find themselves with a vague sense of disquiet, as if something nearby just hasn’t quite made it to their attention yet. (This is the Indoctrination mechanic, which I will outline later.)

Just inside the airlock (in the regular pressurized area), they find a guide android to welcome them. The android, slightly distracted, asks about the purpose of their visit and is satisfied with the answer of a research review. When asked about security requirements, it answers only that visitors must comply with instructions from security personnel. Boris gets into some passive-aggressive questioning about the android’s preferred entertainment, mostly to needle Annabelle.

In the cross section just to the north of the airlock, another android provides directions. The crew doesn’t really know who they’re looking for, but eventually is sent towards the science wing to the west. This first module contains several scientists at computer consoles; one of them is Dr Nicola Orsanov, a former colleague of Annabelle’s! They have a brief but enthusiastic discussion about Nicola’s research, primarily focused on the effect of the local hydrocarbons on the metabolic pathways of terrestrial flora. Three other scientists work busily at their consoles and pay the interlopers no attention whatsoever.

The group wants to chat privately and moves into the cross section further west, which only contains one android doing wiring maintenance. Annabelle gets right to the point and asks about the Society of the Outer Realms; despite repeated questioning (and what she perceives as hostile threats from Boris), Nicola deflects most of the questions. She does admit to having heard of the Society, however, though she doesn’t think colonization of Enceladus is particularly feasible. (Boris, the Marine, has some ideas about how it would work, but the scientists pay him little mind.)

Eventually, they decide to head back east to the Arboretum. In here, they find a banyan tree with hanging vines that undulate slowly. Annabelle and Boris fail Fear saves again and have brief flashbacks to their worst, most terrifying moments. ((Boris’s player tells me he thinks his character needs to make a Panic check based on that moment; he passes and relieves 1 Stress.)) Apart from the strange behavior of those vines, Annabelle (herself a botanist) finds herself enthralled with the progress of the science here and donates a couple of bonsai samples she’d brought along for this purpose. Boris walks up the structural girders with his magboots, although a security guard eventually asks him to stop. After mumbling something about “mall cops”, he complies.

One of Nicola’s local colleagues, a computer scientist named Conway, wanders up. He comes across as extremely relaxed: so much so that the crew has no doubt that he’s actually under some sort of chemically-induced bliss. After a brief chat, Boris insists on meeting a real security officer and they summon Jeff Meade.

Jeff tries to explain several times that Security here is fairly unneeded; occasionally, they break up a fistfight or something, but they have no serious threats here from “terrorists” or whatever. He loves this post: lots of lonely cuties, decent pay, no stress. They did have one brief episode with a “psychotic” a few months ago who raved about “brains and tentacles” and had to subdue him before sending him out on the next shuttle, but otherwise this place has nothing going on. Boris and Jones accompany Jeff into the Mess Hall, where Jones starts to ask questions about the Society. Boris rants about the problems with the Alexis and accuses Jeff of ignoring serious security issues while they consume synthetic coffee and artificial eggs & fruit. Boris realizes that two people are watching their conversation from a short distance away and that they both look very unamused. He walks up to them, intent on confrontation.

Back in the Arboretum, with few people watching or listening, Nicola finally opens up a bit to Annabelle. She alludes to knowing a great deal more about the Society; Annabelle (after failing another Fear save) finally perceives the cosmic dread. Nicola tells her that soon she will understand everything and that she just “hasn’t had her Best Eyes opened yet”. The two scientists look out from the arboretum onto the icy surface of the moon. This time, Annabelle can see an intricate network of tentacles and feelers just inside the translucent ice. She fails her Sanity save and Panic check, and gets a nervous twitch.

Wrap-up

The players really enjoyed getting to some “Elder God nonsense” and really engaging with the Stress mechanic (including how it interacts with Fear, Sanity, and Panic). This session included a LOT of interpersonal roleplay, of course, although a good chunk of it took place with the group slightly split up. But then, the characters had slightly different goals and approaches, so that sort of just came with the territory. They also liked how a few of the NPCs (e.g. Nicola and Conway) interacted with each other. As a GM, I really work to avoid extended segments of roleplaying with myself, but having the NPCs briefly chat with each other gave some texture and realism to the world.

Of course, we’re all looking forward to the next layer of Indoctrination and continuing to dig into what’s happening here on Enceladus.

The truth is out there.

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