Gates of Despair: Session 7 Recap

Putting this right out there: this turns out to be the last main session of the campaign. I’ll say a little more about what’s next in the wrap-up section, but I think I’m mostly pleased with how this went, with a few caveats.

Narrative

((For ease of reading, I’m separating out a few different story threads into separate paragraphs, but we segued back and forth quite a bit during this game. More on that in the wrap-up as well.))

Annabelle, now somewhat “indoctrinated” by something strange, starts taking biology notes of what she perceives as tentacles embedded in the icy surface of the moon, as far as she can see. She recognizes that the tentacles trace fractal patterns, reminiscent of the Mandelbrot set. Everything is starting to make sense in her mind!

Back inside the research facility, Boris exchanges words with the two hard-eyed men who were watching his conversation with the chief security officer. Eventually, things escalate, and they reach for their stun batons. Deciding to end the threat, the Marine pulls out a submachine gun and fires on them. He misses, putting holes in the outer skin and causing a panic. Jones follows the crowd rushing to evacuate the area, heading back to the Arboretum and trying to catch up with Dr. Conway (who has some administrative control of the computer systems). Meanwhile, one of the men tackles Boris and stuns him with a baton while the other focuses on repairing the holes quickly. Boris kills his assailant with a vibechete, but two Security officers eventually show up and subdue him with a stun baton and tranquilizer darts before he can kill the other local. ((The dice simply would not cooperate with Boris! Despite a fairly high Combat score, he just consistently rolled even higher.))

Back out on the surface, Annabelle tries to open her mind to whatever presence or influence she can feel. For her troubles ((and her failed Fear save)), she gets another level of indoctrination. This helps her realize that the moon itself is an alien spaceship that will soon leave for another world, taking the Society of the Outer Realms with it and giving them a chance to start a colony further out than any person ever has. This is the proof she’s been looking for all her life! Taking notes on this as quickly as she can, she transmits them back to her advisor, claiming that Enceladus is an alien artifact and she now has proof of extraterrestrial intelligent life. She wanders over to a large depression in the ice they’d seen when landing, because it had a hatch in the center that led down into the moon.

Jones, having followed the evacuating crowd, finds an android off by itself and successfully retrieves the botanical research from the android’s databanks. He decides to go back and get Boris from the crime scene; at this point, the Mess Hall has been unsealed. The local security officers are no match for the cyborg, who hefts Boris onto his shoulders and gets to an outer airlock. They smash their way out, then decide to make sure no one can follow them. Jones runs for the shuttle, but Boris rolls up a frag grenade back into the smashed airlock and runs. He’s not able to get far enough away, and the ensuing shrapnel pierces his suit and kills him.

Jones is devastated upon seeing this, but hotwires the shuttle and takes it to the crater where Annabelle had entered. He tries to signal her on comms, but she doesn’t want to listen and shuts hers off.

Map of an "Elder Brain Portal" with overlaid tokens for monsters and dangers
The Frozen Conclave of the Unseeable God. Cartography by Dyson Logos

Annabelle finds herself in some sort of underground constructed structure. The entry room has three doors; choosing the central one, she finds a large crystal wrapped in arcing electricity. Squeezing past it, she takes some damage, only to find hypergeometric runes carved into the ice. She’s never seen anything like this before and continues taking notes. As she follows the curved corridor around, she is confronted with a terrifying sight: in the center of this structure, sitting partially submerged in a translucent blue fluid, is a huge, pulsating brain. The combined stress overwhelms her, and she goes fully catatonic. ((Thanks to Dyson Logos for an awesome map!))

Jones has followed her down into the structure, and manages to survive the crystal. The toughened Teamster sees the brain, which telepathically threatens him, and manages to keep his own mind together somehow. He pulls her out and up into the shuttle, returning to BNL-7734 before she comes out of her catatonic state. ((They didn’t explore the outer ring at all, and didn’t stick around the extrusion of the Unseeable God, so they didn’t come into contact with any of the monsters I designed. Which was probably a smart choice, to be honest…))

When she does, she’s restrained by the ship’s acting security officer (who is also her lover), with a somber Pilot Jones explaining that she’s had her mind broken and Boris will not be returning.

Wrap-up

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this game. As noted, we decided that this should be the end of the campaign. We’d already decided to end it in a couple of weeks, when one of the players will become unavailable for an extended period, and it feels like a natural conclusion to the story. They want a short epilogue session next week (think “the scenes that play behind the rolling credits”), and we’re going to play Lasers & Feelings with the remaining time.

A few things caused me trouble during this campaign. First, the party separated themselves very frequently. This meant that, much of the time, I was running two or even three “narrative threads” simultaneously (this session is a good example of that). Normally, I don’t mind when it happens in a dungeon or similar, because that can be part of the challenge, but in this case it sometimes felt more like two separate adventures that occasionally overlapped. (That’s not entirely fair, because they did often get together and support each other, but it happened often enough that I struggled from time to time.

Additionally, the Mothership ruleset has a few areas where I would get turned around from time to time. While I’ve mostly got a handle at this point about when to hand out Stress and when to call for a Panic Check, sometimes I still get tripped up when deciding whether something should be a Fear or Sanity save. This really came up in the Indoctrination mechanic I designed; that will get its own post very soon. (Note that this is not a blanket complaint about Mothership; in general, I love the game and will be running another campaign of it later this summer!)

The low Combat ratings for many NPCs also meant that sometimes fights were a lot of “miss” “miss” “miss”, or that players could just leave a fight with a high probability of escape. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but felt a bit anticlimactic in the Mess Hall scene. Probably I need to improve my own GMing technique here; I’ll stew on this a bit longer.

Also, the game just seems to lend itself better to a slightly “softer” science fiction: I don’t mean emotionally soft, but with a bit more handwaving of the science. It flows better when you’re not thinking about how spaceships really work, or just let antigravity exist (even if it needs some minor rules for consistency), etc.

Many other things went well! Once we embraced the “weirdness” that the game sort of implies, I feel like it got better. The aesthetics just hit such a great note for me, too: 1970s and 1980s technology in a style I’ve since learned is called “Cassette Futurism”. For me, it’s just how things looked when I was younger, so it imprinted on my tastes. But it also means that the layouts and art of modules and supplements for the game imply a lot about the setting and tone of the game.

Finally, while many of the principles of the OSR appeal to me, I haven’t really maintained interest in faux-medieval fantasy, and the gonzo stuff popular in many corners of this niche often bounces off of me as well. Science fiction as a genre has had me since as far back as I can really remember, and so I grew up loving what have become many of the touchstones in this game.

I’m looking forward to recharging these batteries a bit and coming back to Mothership in a few months.

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