…Nothing appears quite right to you. The air itself is electric and unnatural, not charged with life, but blurred, as if this part of the world has been neglected by a forgetful god. As you turn your head objects seem to disappear even before they leave your field of vision and return lazily, clumsily, slowly coming in focus as you try to catch their disappearance. You see flashes of places you have never seen, sights and sounds that are always gone when you clear your head to attempt to focus on them. Even your life seems hollow and stale in the same way; you have been attempting to solve a mystery that has no end, only continuing threads of leads that loop back upon themselves and lead nowhere. Logic itself seems absent. And then, again, there it is! That recurring scene, the one you keep seeing, the tired or dying man lying on a divan. His face looks familiar, as if you have seen it in a dream or another life. Beside him, out of focus, is a strange blockade or screen set upon a table. You somehow need to know what lies behind it, as if the answer to so many mysteries is behind that shimmering screen…
Welcome to The Shimmering Screen, a reality warping adventure that will test your player’s creative skills. Tired of the same old cliched RPG plots? Watch the players attempt to solve the ultimate mystery, one that strikes at their hearts more than they’d care to admit…
A GURPS Fantasy adventure for 3-6 players
by Howard Collins and Tony Faber
The contents of this page are (C) 1994-2001 Howard Collins and Tony Faber
A Warning to Prospective Players
. In fact, unless you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN you are going to gamemaster this adventure, do not read any further than this paragraph. The Shimmering Screen is a mystery adventure on many levels, and going any further will rob you, your GM, and your fellow players of a great deal of enjoyment.
For those of you who are power-gamers and will read the adventure anyway and try to use inside knowledge to "win", first off you are LOSERS, and second, you will gain nothing from doing this here and merely miss out on the fun. Get a life.
A Warning to the Gamemaster
This is an unconventional adventure in almost every sense. It is important that you become fully familiar with the entire adventure before attempting to run it. For fullest effect, you should refer to written materials as little as possible, giving the adventure an improvised feel.
At various points during the adventure, you will be counseled to project certain attitudes towards your player group, or to fudge seemingly important information. This is important to the adventure, and should be taken seriously. If your players become annoyed with you, so much the better.
This adventure is for 3-6 players, playing 100 point characters, although it can be easily modified to suit more or less as needed. Only the GURPS Basic rules (3rd edition) will be required, although it may of course be modified for the inclusion of other rules if the GM so desires. It is highly recommended that this adventure be played as a one-shot, for reasons which will soon become apparent.
Players should be told to design characters for a low-tech (TL 3) fantasy campaign, and to assume that their party has been adventuring as a group for some time successfully (traitorous characters not recommended). The game world is normal mana, and Magery and Magic Resistance will be useful (magic using NPC’s have been designed using only the Basic Set magic rules), but psi is not recommended for player characters. Non-human or demihuman characters are not recommended.
During this adventure, the GM should not keep careful track of time (except in combat circumstances, where time is germane to the game mechanics). Instead, he should fudge travel times and the time it takes to perform certain actions, and simply rule that it gets dark when it seems reasonable to him. If players protest that the passage of time seems to be irregular, the GM should get on his high horse and rule that regardless of what the player thinks, it is in fact the time he dictates.
A character with Absolute Timing, or who cares to perform experiments like studying the movement of clock hands or sundial shadows, may realize that something is amiss with the flow of time with a successful IQ roll.
What the Player Characters Know
In addition to information regarding game mechanics (point values, magic, etc.), the party is assumed to have some general information about the game world, having been a successful adventuring group for a number of years.
1. The Free City of North Contis has been a center of adventuring activity for about twenty years or so, and the party has found it a convenient and useful base of operations.
2. Currently, the governor of North Contis is Harley Roland, a former adventurer who rose to popularity during the Siege of North Contis twelve years ago. Harley has been North Contis’ official governor for seven years.
3. There is no known thieves’ guild in North Contis, although there are small gangs of criminals who operate together for mutual protection and profit.
4. The largest threat from outside the city comes from raiding bands of goblins and “Tuskers” (tall, horned humanoids), as well as the occasional ogre, who prey on travelers and explorers who venture too far from the walled city. Although they occasionally raid the surrounding villages and farms, they have learned that invasion of settled areas typically leads to swift retribution, so they have avoided such actions.
5. Fantastic supernatural monsters such as dragons are rumored by travelers to inhabit the mountain ranges to the far north, but are never seen in the vicinity of North Contis, so they are not worried about by the general populace.
Also, certain bits of special knowledge are available to the party due to their extensive adventuring in the area. The GM may roll before divulging this knowledge, pretending to check against certain skills to see what is known.
1. Governor Roland is well-disposed towards adventurers. Adventuring-types are granted a certain amount of legal leeway, as long as their actions don’t seriously endanger the town or its inhabitants.
2. There is rumored to be a powerful figure in the North Contis underground, who seems to be attracting followers from the criminal element. His identity is unknown, but those who follow him reputedly identify themselves to each other through a complex system of gestures.
3. The best practitioner of magical arts in North Contis is Gomez Crull, an eccentric type who shuns company and rarely accepts students or apprentices. The party has dealt with him once or twice, and these interactions have proven to be trying, although generally helpful. Gomez is an old adventuring buddy of Harley Roland’s.
Finally, the players should be informed of peculiar conditions which have afflicted their world in recent months. These include:
1. The characters have noticed a particular sort of slowness in events recently, permeating all aspects of their “off-duty” life. Their daily routine has become staid and boring, consisting of little more than hanging out at the Brown Elf, a local rough and tumble tavern frequented by adventurers. Even the weather itself has become drab and boring, skies being clear nearly all of the time, with no fluctuations in temperature or wind. The character(s) with the highest IQ in the party, or Eidetic Memory, cannot remember the last time it changed seasons.
2. Whereas adventure has sought out the party in the past, through rumor or a patron or discovered information, nothing exciting has happened for months. Thieves, which had previously plagued party members with their occasional robbery attempts, have all but disappeared. The occasional goblin raids on unwary merchants have become all too infrequent, and no one has spoken of tusker sightings in the surrounding woods for some time.
3. Normal parts of everyday life have seemingly gone unnoticed, most noticeably the treasure tax of 10%, which has not been solicited from the party following their last few adventures.
The City of North Contis
The bulk of the adventure will take place in the free city of North Contis, a small (pop. 5000) but bustling community at the edge of the wilderness. It tends to attract a large number of adventuring types, as its proximity to the untamed lands is convenient for those in search of treasure and exploration, and its distance from the seat of government
The history of North Contis is purposefully sketchy; the GM is recommended to make up details off the top of his head should the players press him for information. Basically, the city was founded some fifteen years ago as a trading post and shelter for explorers who frequented the mountainous regions to the north. The city’s permanency was established after the Siege of North Contis twelve years ago; ever since then, the city has grown slowly to its present size and population. Although technically a free city, most residents acknowledge fealty to the Imperial Capitol, somewhere to the south. (When the players ask for the name of the empire, or any similar questions, the GM should look exasperated and make something up, or ignore the inquiry as not being germane to the adventure.)
Basically, the surroundings of the city consist of small farms and single family settlements, which are in turn surrounded by woodlands and hilly areas. Twenty miles to the north are the “Forbidden Mountains”, reputedly inhabited by large numbers of humanoid monsters and more fantastic creatures. A trail leads south from North Contis through the hills and woods to the settled lands of the Empire.
An important thing to realize about the surrounding areas of North Contis is that any area which is not specifically referred to in the adventure should not be visited by the players. The GM should feel free to make up whatever fantastic terrain or mythical elven cities or lonely crags lie in various directions, but any character who attempt to move towards one of these directions should be restricted by the use of a transparently silly cop-out: “You are about to set out for the Mines of Malimar, but you think better of it when you see several large reddish dragons flying lazily in that area”.
Maps and Map Locations
If you like, you may quickly fashion a crude map of North Contis and its environs for the players; it is assumed that the party would have acquired such a map from Governor Roland or other city contacts. However, it is not necessary or even recommended for the GM to refer to this map. Instead, when the players express a desire to go to a location in the city, you simply allow them to arrive, without detailing the trip. An adventurer who wishes to purchase an item at the market should be told that he has acquired whatever it was he wished to buy, as long as the GM thinks it reasonable. For most items, the price lists on pages B206-206, B210, and B212 should suffice.
The Governor’s Mansion
This is a relatively nice, two-story structure in the center of the city, adjacent to the courts and other administrative offices. It is the home of Governor Harley Roland.
This area of North Contis subsumes all types of mercantile and trading activity. It should deliberately not be described to the party unless the players insist, at which point the GM is encouraged to fake a stereotypical bustling market place with all sorts of wares, etc.
The Brown Elf
The Brown Elf is a tavern/inn where the players reside, and where they apparently have been spending most of their time. It is a typical noisy adventurer’s tavern, with arm wrestling, heavy drinking, and nightly brawls.
The Rich Section
This is the upper-class residential section. This place is populated with rich fops, master merchants, courtesans, nobles, etc.
The Poor Section
This is a slum in a corner of the city walls, populated by the dregs of North Contis’ citizenry. Crime is rampant here, and characters who frequent this area may find themselves robbery victims.
There is no middle-class section in North Contis, although most of the merchants and craftsmen would seem to fit into that category. Also, the residents of these areas always seem to be home, a fact which may be noticed by attentive players.
Tower of Gomez Crull
The mage Gomez Crull resides in a three-story squarish tower at the exact center of North Contis. Gomez is always awake, always attended by his apprentice Mitzak Greeneye, and always in the middle of an important alchemical experiment which is disrupted by the arrival of visitors.
This adventure takes place in four phases, which represent the changing structure of the game-world. As conditions change, the GM will be instructed to change his handling of certain things, most specifically interaction with NPC’s.
In phase one, the game world is basically in its “normal” state, with the exceptions outlined above. NPC’s will refer to themselves by full names and will exhibit behavior appropriate to their personalities and quirks.
The Tavern Brawl, Scene One
Play begins in the taproom of the Brown Elf. The party is seated around one of the several round wooden tables, stained by many a flagon of wine or ale and scarred by the points of many daggers. Serving wenches walk between tables, carrying mugs of ale and joints of roasted meat to the various patrons, which mainly consists of rough, swaggering adventurer-types drinking and swapping lies about their prowess. Behind the bar, old Percy Bowman taps kegs, swaps stories with patrons, and generally keeps an eye out for developing trouble or brawls, which seem to happen here on a regular basis.
Characters who wish to listen in on the conversations of others may do so with a successful Hearing roll, which will reveal snippet of information along the lines of “…six perfect emeralds, guarded by a…”, “…another murder in the streets, but I don’t…”, and so on. These will all be red herrings, and any character who hears about these rumors may make an IQ roll to realize that many such ambiguous leads have been popping up recently, none of them leading anywhere.
Before too long, the front door will slam open and conversation in the tavern will hush briefly as the towering figure of Brutus Hammerhand strides into the room, with a few of his cronies. Percy Bowman will grumble and shake his head; Brutus is a known bully and is infamous for picking fights for no particular reason. When he has everyone’s attention, Brutus will make his oft-heard speech to the tavern denizens in his gravely voice:
“I’m Brutus Hammerhand, and I’m the biggest, meanest son of an ogre that ever tromped these parts! Ah kin drink enough ale to fill the gullets of a whole company of soldiers, and still have room for a pair a roast oxen with a dozen pies for dessert! When I comes across an ogre in the woods, I beat on his head until he’s a goblin, then kick him home across the mountains so’s his folks don’t fret too much! If I don’t like the way a river crosses my path, I jes’ stare it down until it dries on up! An’ I’d like to know just WHO in this godfersaken sty of a brew joint thinks he kin take ME in a fair fight!”
Naturally, Brutus wants to fight a party member; pick one randomly for Brutus to have his quarrel with. Brutus will not back down from wanting a fight, and if the character tries to retreat, Brutus will strike from behind. Any other party member who attempts to join in the fight will be confronted by one of Brutus’ companions (he will have enough for the whole party, if need be). The rest of the tavern will simply whoop and cheer on whomever appears to be the winner, except for old Percy, who will be resting his chin in his hand and drumming the fingers of his other hand on the bar.
Brutus Hammerhand will fight his chosen target with every dirty trick in the book, but will not draw his knife unless the fight is going very badly against him or if his opponent draws a weapon. Drawing a weapon will draw a loud shout of protest from Percy Bowman, who tries not to allow armed combat in his establishment.
Brutus is actually not very formidable from the standpoint of a 100-point character, and should be dealt with quickly. When Brutus is defeated, his beaten form will be dragged to the street and thrown out by Percy and a couple of burly patrons, who will then set to righting tables and chairs as the character who beat Brutus enjoys a free ale and 4d6 copper coins, each worth $1, thrown by applauding onlookers.
In the unlikely event that Brutus manages to best the character, he will loudly and hoarsely proclaim his victory, after which Percy and several burly men with clubs will inform everyone that the fight is over, and there will be no more tonight. Brutus will acquiesce and go to the bar to drink up, as the beaten player character is recovered by his teammates, to the jeering and catcalls of the other bar patrons.
The Old Man In the Tavern
Shortly after the party defeats Brutus Hammerhand and things have quieted down around the Brown Elf, an old, grizzled man will approach their table, buy them a round of drinks, and ask to sit down. (If the player group lost the fight, he will do this anyway, but will preface his acts with some good-humored jesting and shoulder slapping.)
The old man is Analaeus Thork, who has been a fixture around town as long as anyone in the party can remember, and has been an occasional source of helpful and/or profitable information.
“Well, well, me hearties, have I got a lead for you!”
At this point Thork will turn towards a mysterious, black-cloaked figure who observes the group from the shadows near the tavern door. As the stranger watches, Thork puts his hands together and moves them back and forth, like a flying bird. The black-clad man responds by tugging on his left ear and then slipping out of the tavern. Thork then turns back to the party and resumes speaking. If asked about this behavior he will incoherently mumble a response or refuse to answer.
He continues speaking in a guttural whisper. “So where was I? Oh yes… well, well, me hearties, have I got a lead for you! Ever heard of the six emeralds of Haireen the Red, the legendary elvish prince? Of course you have, garrr!” Thork smiles to reveal a gummy mouth with the odd tooth jutting up here and there. “Word has it they’ve turned up in the hands of those rogues in the poor section! Found them somewhere up in the silver hills!” He gestures vaguely. The party has heard of the silver hills, but any attempts to find out exactly where they are will result in many contradictory answers. “Find that Jacob fellah, the one they call the Black Prince of the poor section, he’ll tell you what you need to know! I’d go myself if it wasn’t for that arm I dropped back in the goblin wars of ‘62! Garrrrrr!” Out of his cloak he pulls a stump with a hook on the end. He then proceeds to tell a long-winded account of exactly how he lost the arm, and, if allowed to continue, an account of the entire goblin war itself until the party gets bored enough to leave.
Crazy Elias the Madman
As the party searches for Prince Jacob, the GM should roll a few dice and smile, saying, “Oh boy… looks like you have a run in with Crazy Elias, the town madman!” The GM should chuckle and quickly fill in the players about Crazy Elias: he is the town looney, staggering and dancing his way through the streets, talking crazy and begging for change for a jug of wine once in a while. He never hurts anybody, and some people even find his rantings entertaining, but he does get annoying once in a while, and has found himself in the city’s drunk tank more than once.
Crazy Elias is an extremely important character… in fact, he may be the party’s only key to finding out what’s really going on in North Contis. His madness is not conventional, but rather comes from his ability to perceive things that most people can’t, which overwhelms his brain at times. (ESP, Aura, etc., may detect something unusual about Elias.)
When playing Crazy Elias, the GM should take an intense interest in the role, being highly descriptive and colorful, temporarily dropping the disinterested air otherwise maintained throughout this adventure. Also, as the nature of the game world changes through various phases of the adventure, Crazy Elias remains constant. (GM Hint: Think of Crazy Elias as another sentient player character, unaffected by the changes which affect non-player characters.)
Crazy Elias will nearly stagger into one of the characters and begin talking:
“…Whoops, sorry there… din see you there, what wif all the funny lights an’ stuff. Y’know, I really like you guys. I mean, a fella kin talk to you, y’know what I mean? Yer not like these other… bassards! Yer not like them, the idjits! They jess go ‘bout their bizness, an’ I can’t get a single copper off them! Things’re too quiet, if ye know whut I mean! I miss the old days… monsters, bandits, all dat good stuff. Now I jess have my wine… wine… ohhh…”
At this point, Crazy Elias will double over, shaking, eventually vomiting in the street. If one of the characters indicates he is going to try and help Elias, make sure Elias vomits all over his boots. Any passers-by will laugh, and shortly two watchmen will show up, apologize to the characters, and escort Crazy Elias off to the drunk tank, reassuring the party that Elias will be OK after a night in the tank.
Meeting with Jacob
After the run-in with Crazy Elias, the GM should ask the players how they intend to find Prince Jacob. The GM should listen to them say how they intend to do this, then grab huge handfuls of dice and roll them out of the players’ sight. The GM should then look thoughtful and frustrated for a moment, then turn to the players and say, “Whatever. You find the guy in an alley.”
The place is a quiet lane of the main drag of the poor section. Jacob wears a black cloak with a hood that covers most of his face. Jacob will admit to knowing something about the emeralds, and say he will put the players onto them for the price of three of the jewels. If the party does not agree, Jacob can be talked down to the price of just one. If during this time any of the PC’s attempt to strong-arm Jacob or do anything else which would require the GM to have detailed information on his character, the GM should look cross and say sarcastically, “Yeah, why don’t you just kill your only lead to an adventure.” If this should fail to stop the player, the GM should go right into the events below.
At the end of the haggling session or when the players persistently hassle Jacob, an arrow will suddenly appear in the middle of his chest. His eyes bulge, he gurgles up a little, and then falls face forward, dead. The players will see a black clad figure about a hundred feet away, running towards a fence that marks the far end of the alley. In a quick motion, he vaults over the fence and is gone. The pursuing players will make it over the fence to find that there is no one in the street on the other side. Any attempts at pursuit prove fruitless, and efforts at tracking or magical divining result in the GM rolling handfuls of dice, then sighing and shaking his head.
However, the player with highest IQ will notice a piece of torn black cloth with a brooch on it hooked onto the top of the fence. The brooch is in the design of a red serpent wrapped around a sword. None of the players knows exactly what the design means, although it will look vaguely familiar to one or two of the high IQ members of the party. If the players are at a loss as to what to do next, the GM should give an unsubtle reminder that Gomez Crull is an expert in magic and cryptic lore.
If the players want to go see Crull right away, the GM should pick right up with “The next morning you arrive at Crull’s tower”, and any players who complain that they wanted to do something else that night or that time just flew by should be met with a cross expression and an explanation that this is what the player’s said they wanted to do, so they’re doing it. If the players want to do something else first, the GM should assume a bored demeanor and get it over with as quickly as possible.
The players arrive at a huge wood door with a brass knocker in the shape of a ram’s head. Knocking is answered by a piece of metal being slid back and a pair of young eyes stares at them through a small peepslit in the door. It is Crull’s apperentice Mitzak Greeneye, who will then ask what they want. He will be overly impressed with the party and their request to see his master, and open up the door and let them into a stone hall covered with paintings of bloody battle scenes.
“I’m Mitzak Greeneye”, he says while walking up the hall and attempting to shake the lead player’s hand at the same time. “Crull’s apprentice. It’s great to meet you! You look like seasoned adventurers, if you don’t mind me saying so! I can do some pretty tricky magic myself. Say, you wouldn’t happen to need a mage with you, that is, sometime when Crull gives me a day off. I’d like to work with you guys. I can handle myself in a pinch, and I’m older than I look.”
By this time Mitzak will have lead them down the hallway, up a stone stair, and into a large room. There are so many wild objects, such as bubbling flasks, animal heads, old tomes on dusty shelves, candles inside skulls, etc., that the players recognize it as a magician’s laboratory. Before the player’s can respond to Mitzak’s request, a wizened man in a robe will turn around suddenly at the sound of the party’s approach, and in doing so, drops two flasks he was holding. The glass breaks with a crash on the stone floor, and there is a small explosion where they land. The magician is covered in a huge puff of smoke. When the air clears, Crull is still standing there, unharmed but covered in black soot.
“Ruined! A week’s worth of work up in smoke! I don’t know where I’ll ever get more monkey hair and leopard skin! Mitzak,” he says, drawing himself up to his full height and pointing a bony finger, “how many times have I told you not to interrupt my experiments! Come here!”
Mitzak walks slowly over to Crull, whereupon Crull turns him around and kicks him right in the rear end, sending him to the floor. Mitzak then scurries back down the stairs, yelling apologies as he goes. “Eh, no matter,” declares Crull. “So now, what do you young fellows need?” As the party speak to him, he will putter around the lab, picking up scrolls and moving flasks, and beakers, nodding his head and muttering an occasional response to show he is still listening.
As he does this, the characters have a chance to give the lab a cursory inspection. Anyone specifying that he is doing so will get an IQ-5 roll to see a flash of a shimmering, luminescent something out of the corner of his eye which disappears when he turns to look at it directly. A critical success shows the character some sort of figure behind the shimmer before it winks out. If questioned about this, Crull will state that all sorts of strange things happen in the tower. “After all, it is a wizard’s lab,” he will explain, and chuckles maliciously.
At the right moment Crull will say, “So now, let me see this little curio you boys have obtained.” Crull puts on his spectacles and fingers the brooch, then begins to talk.
“The symbol is ancient, dating to millennia past when the continents were in different places. There was an evil, vile race of lizard people who ruled much of the earth. Their capital Silensia was the richest and most decadent place on earth. The streets were paved with gold, and they feasted on human flesh for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They had the strength of ten men; none could stand before them. Finally, when the whole world seemed ready to submit before their might, there was a vast cataclysm, earthquakes split the ground, volcanoes covered the land in lava and ash, and fires swept the earth. Silensia was swallowed into the sea, and although a few men survived to rebuild, the lizard people were never heard from again… until now. Only the wisest sages know that North Contis itself sits on top of what used to be Silensia, buried so many ages ago.”
When the characters ask him what it could mean that the symbol has resurfaced now, Crull will say that he himself knows only general history, but that a colleague of his is more of an expert in the field, and may have seen this sort of thing before. In fact, the colleague, a small man named Noah Shoah, is supposed to be arriving in town at the Brown Elf this very night. The party can show themselves out. (Note: If any player purloins any of the items in the lab, he or she can do so, but will be foiled by the hokey device of finding that the items teleport back to the lab as soon as the player exits the house.)
During this next phase of the adventure, the world has undergone subtle alterations. The city is now particularly bland and faceless, and minor details are out of place. As a GM you must walk a fine line so that the players both don’t instantly see that something sinister is going on, and at the same time don’t just assume that you as GM are being particularly lazy. Here are some specific examples:
1. NPC’s whom the players have met during Phase One are to be referred to only by their first names (e.g. Percy, Brutus, Gomez). NPC’s will speak in a boring and stereotypical fashion, quickly saying what they are there to say and then moving on.
2. Once per day, each player gets an IQ-2 roll to detect something amiss. A player may notice an object such as their mug of ale, isn’t where they put it down on the table a minute ago; the blond barmaid who took the order comes back as a brunette; the roads they took to get somewhere are now slightly different on their return. The creative GM can come up with many similar examples.
3. A player who specifically looks for anomalies and makes a perception roll will notice that the whole world seems slightly drab, lacking a bit of detail and color.
Back at the Brown Elf
When the party goes to the Brown Elf to wait for Crull’s friend, they find that things are the same as before. In fact, the snippets of conversation they overhear are identical to the ones they heard in Phase one.
Once again, Brutus and his thugs walk into the bar, even if they were killed or injured last time. The patrons grow silent, and then Brutus issues his challenge:
“I’m Brutus, and I’m big and mean! I can drink and eat a whole lot of stuff! I can beat up an ogre! I can dry up a river by just lookin’ at it! Who thinks he can fight me?”
The ensuing brawl is exactly like the one in phase one, except without as much detailed commentary from the GM. The patrons stare boredly at the fight, and if the player character wins, they will throw 4d coins without saying a single word, then return to their positions at the bar and tables. The beaten thugs are again dragged out by their heels. After this, the GM should roll some dice, frown, and say something like “Well some time goes by… it’s now 2 in the morning, no one looking like this Noah guy has showed up and most everybody has gone home… what are you doing?” As the players respond the GM should interrupt, telling them that just then the black-cloaked man who exchanged strange signals with Analaeus the night before just walked into the tavern. He takes a glance around, sees the players, and then leaves, but not before the players think they recognize the serpent brooch on the back of his cloak.
The party will probably follow him immediately. If they don’t, he will reappear at the door of the tavern every hour, turning around so the party sees his brooch and then leaving, until the party finally takes the hint and follows him. If the cloaked figure appears several times, anyone checking a time piece will notice that it remains two in the morning (time does not start moving again until they pursue).
No matter how quickly the party comes outside, when they reach the street the black-cloaked figure will be seen rounding a corner twenty yards away. When the party reaches that corner, the figure will look back at the party, and then begin to then run. During this pursuit the GM should at first give exact details of the pursuit, and then become more vague as it continues, until descriptions sound like, “he’s runs up a road, you follow, then he turns on another road, you follow some more.” If the party changes speed during the pursuit, an IQ-2 roll will reveal to any party member that the mysterious figure somehow maintains the twenty yard gap no matter how quickly they follow. Another IQ-2 roll for each character will reveal that it seems strangely easy to see the figure twenty yards ahead in dark city streets. (Inquiries regarding this should be met with the dubious explanation of “torchlit streets.”) When the players are completely bored with this, they will round yet another corner in time to see the black cloaked figure starting to climb down a hole in the middle of the road; a large flagstone has been pulled out to reveal an opening.
Rushing over, the characters will see down a twenty foot shaft with an iron rung ladder. They will realize there must be a passage at the bottom because the cloaked figure can’t be seen, although there are splashing noises coming from somewhere. Climbing down, they will emerge in a dank, fetid passage, roughly circular, running north and south. Apparently, this is a sewer; the center of the floor is a foot deep in sewage. The passage is completely dark, but splashing noises can be heard to the north. When the group manages a light, they will see that the sewer extends as far as their light source allows in either direction. The pursuit will take place using the tables below. Roll on table A to determine distance moved in a straight line, and then roll on table B to determine what happens. Repeat this process 5d times (or until the players become dangerously bored).
Table A – Distance covered
1 = 10 feet
2 = 20 feet
3 = 50 feet
4 = 100 feet
5 = 200 feet
6 = 300 feet
Table B – Events
1 = side passage appears 90° to the right (1-3) or left (4-6); splashing heard straight ahead (1-3) or down side passage (4-6).
2 = passage ends in T-intersection; splashing heard from left (1-3) or right (4-6).
3 = four way intersection; splashing heard from left (1-2), straight ahead (3-4) or right (5-6).
4 = passage turns 2d x 10 degrees to the right (1-3) or left (4-6).
5 = Random party member slips and is covered in raw sewage.
6 = An iron rung ladder is noticed, leading to the surface. The splashing continues straight ahead.
Don’t worry if the directions above cause the main sewer to cross back on itself in impossible ways; if this happens and the players notice, the GM should look uncomfortable and rationalize that their mapping must be faulty. After 5-30 events, the sewer will end abruptly at a strange door. It appears to be an ordinary access door, except a strange glyph is painted across the front. The symbol shows two red hawks flying in opposite directions towards each other. From behind the door, a hearing roll will allow perception of mocking laughter, then nothing.
When any player announces his character is going to open the door, the GM should look extremely uncomfortable in an “I’m not ready for that” fashion, and stop their attempts in any way possible. (Examples: “…There’s no lock to pick.” , “…The door’s wood reinforced with iron bands; you can’t break it down.”, “…Did I say wood? I meant it’s solid metal, you can’t burn it either.”.)
The character with the highest Occultism skill (or IQ) will recognize the symbol as an obscure mystical warding, which should naturally lead them to Gomez Crull for further counseling. Any other course of action should result in the GM becoming irritated, continually dropping pointers in Crull’s direction (e.g., “…You order an ale, but Percy asks you, ‘Shouldn’t you be going to visit Gomez Crull to ask him about the hawk symbol?’”).
Another Meeting with the Madman
Whenever the party agrees to visit Gomez Crull’s tower, the GM should say, “Okay, you get a night’s sleep and get to the tower the next morning…” If there is any sort of argument from any of the players concerning going to the tower immediately, the GM should roll his eyes and remind the players in a haughty fashion that Crull might be very annoyed should the players visit him at this hour of the night. (If someone asks the GM what hour it is, he should act exasperated, roll a few dice, and bark, “Late!”) Any player wishing to go somewhere else first should be met with cheesy obstacles, such as all the shops being closed until later that day, or people not being home.
On the way to Crull’s Tower, the party will meet Crazy Elias for the second time. He is half-staggering, half-dancing as usual, but characters with Empathy or similar abilities will notice a tinge of very real, rational fear behind his glazed eyes.
Elias speaks: “Oh, ‘s’you. Y’know, ‘s’nice to have someone to talk to these days. No one talks t’me anymore. Iss like… y’ever think, hey, whass wrong wif me? Do I exist? Well, I’m here, y’know, but do I exist? Wha do I do besides sing an’ dance an’ drink an’ beg an’ stuff? Not that no one really wants me t’do this stuff… ‘cept you guys, of course. (Smiles broadly.) No one else pays no mind t’me. You guys are my bes’ frien’s. Y’don’ mind me talkin’ t’you like this, do ya? I tried ta talk t’the ol’ man, y’know, but he jess lie on dat couch o’his, watchin’ the lights. No one talks ta me no more…”
If the party questions Crazy Elias about the old man he refers to, he will mumble a bit, look confused, and tell the questioner the following: “He’s not real, either… mebbe I jess dream him up, or the likker dream him up. No, thass not right… ‘f I’m not real, how kin I dream him up? The likker dream us both up… yeh, thass it. He got his own likker… he jess drink an’ watch the lights… the lights…”
No other line of questioning will have any effect on him besides encouraging him to mumble semi-coherently. After a short time, he will begin jerking his head around as if he is trying to see something out of the corners of his eyes, and will scamper around shouting, “Don’t you see it? The screen! The shimmering screen!” Nothing can calm him down, and he will persist in looking down alleyways, under carts, and behind other characters in his frenzied search.
After several minutes of this, two town watchmen will show up and drag him by the arms to the drunk tank, without a word to the players. Any inquiring players will be ignored by the watchmen. If the players attack the watchmen, they will defend themselves and raise an alarm, which will bring 2d watchmen within 3d combat turns. (Players who announce an attack should be reminded that the guards are only doing their job, and it would be ill-advised to attack town guards.) Characters who try to visit Crazy Elias in the drunk tank will be denied entrance to the city’s jail, and will be reassured that Elias will be free to go in the morning, after his delirium passes.
Gomez’s Tower Revisited
After this brief but important interlude, the party should arrive at the Tower of Gomez once again. As soon as they knock on the door, the small slit will open in the door, and Mitzak will peer out at the party. He will once again ask for their names, and will open the door just as he did before. He will lead them up the stone steps once again, bantering inanely, but now his starry-eyed inquiries and explanations are limited to simple phrases, such as, “You’re adventurers? Wow…” and “I can do magic stuff.” When he gets to the top of the stairs, he will open the door to the lab (not heeding warnings to the contrary), and at that moment, a loud explosion will be heard from the lab. Peering inside, the PC’s will see the angry, soot-covered figure of Gomez approaching from out of a cloud of black smoke.
“Ruined!” he says. “Apprentice, you’re in trouble!” He will then approach the unmoving figure of Mitzak and smack him in the temple with his staff, sending him bleeding out of the room. Turning to the party, Gomez asks, “What do you want?”
If someone thinks to inquire about Gomez’s friend Noah Shoah, he will deny ever having told them to go to the Brown Elf. In fact, he will not seem to remember the party visiting him in the last few weeks.
As soon as someone tell him about the two hawk symbol on the subterranean doorway, he will nod knowingly. He will tell the party that they have come across a long-forgotten portal to the tunnels of the lizard men, and that the symbol is in fact a magical seal placed there by himself and several other wizards years ago, to prevent the lizard men from invading the new city of North Contis. He will then drone on and on about boring and irrelevant details about the old days and how he fought with Harley in the tunnels, etc. (NOTE: Do not improvise this speech; tell the players “He then drones on about…”)
During the long and boring speech, each player gets two rolls to notice strange things about the lab. The first roll, against unmodified IQ, is to notice that the layout of the lab seems to be much simpler, and many of the colorful knickknacks, magical trinkets, cobwebs and dust bunnies that were present earlier are gone. The second roll, at IQ-5, is to see something odd in a mirror or crystal ball: a brief vision of a tired-looking old man lying down on a couch of some sort, his gaze fixed upon a scintillating and ever-changing light in front of him. Then an unearthly, shimmering screen seems to come in from the side, blocking the view of the old man, and the vision disappears. If questioned regarding this vision, Gomez will tell the players that he saw nothing, and since he is the magician, the character in question must be hallucinating.
In any case, after about an hour of boring stories, Gomez will tell the party that although he was one of the ones who placed the glyph on the door, Governor Harley (as he is referred to in this phase) actually entered the tunnels beyond while driving back lizard-man invaders, and might be able to give them advice regarding this matter, which he will agree is serious. He will then shoo the party out of the lab, gesture at Mitzak (placing his right thumb in his ear and waggling his fingers), and close his lab door. Mitzak will show them out; a successful roll against perception or any medical skill will show a character that Mitzak is no longer bleeding from the staff blow he sustained, and he will not remember the incident.
Cheesy “Random” Encounter
As the party leaves the tower, the GM should roll a few dice, frown, then grumble to himself while leafing through the GURPS Basic rulebook. At this point, a random party member will be approached by a redheaded woman with fair skin, who will claim to be new in these parts and lost (roll a contest between her Fast-Talk of 13 and the IQ of the PC). While she distracts the party, another random member will be pickpocketed (roll a contest of Pickpocket-15 vs. IQ or Streetwise, modified by Alertness).
If the pickpocket, a short, raggedy male with dark hair, is caught, the woman will cry, “Dai! Oh no!” The two will try to escape; if this fails, they will draw knives and attack. These thieves are none other than Dai Blackthorn and Robyn of the Meadows (pp. B214-215), and they will fight or try to get away for two combat turns, after which they will be joined by their confederates, Katrina (p. B216) and Corwin Bearclaw (p. B217). Katrina will fire arrows from a nearby alleyway, engaging in melee only if attacked; Corwin will charge into the fray, trying to help Dai and Robyn escape.
When the fight is over, several town guards will show up without a word, and haul off any prisoners and/or bodies, saying nothing to the PC’s. However, these four were wanted criminals, and a small reward is thrown at the party’s feet: $100 per criminal taken alive, $50 per dead one. (If the players seem too dull to have figured out who they were fighting, roll a few dice and tell them that something was very familiar about them…)
In the third phase, things are even stranger. No longer are NPC’s referred to by any name at all, but rather by their occupation… for instance, Gomez is referred to as “the wizard”, Mitzak as “the apprentice”, Harley as “the Governor”, and Brutus as “the bully”. These characters will refer to themselves in this fashion. Everyone seems to walk stiffly, without expression, as if they were being mind-controlled.
Everything seems to be drab and boring now, which is automatically noticeable by everyone, without rolls. Make everything as generic as possible. If the GM really wishes to ham things up, this would be an excellent time to seem distracted from the game by every little thing that happens in your play environment.
In addition, the GM should now stop using the advanced combat system and instead revert to the basic combat system (pp. B95-101). If miniatures are being used, all fights should be reduced to their simplest form; ignore things like movement and precise range modifiers, fudge everything, even (especially) when it doesn’t make any sense. Remember now to use the basic critical hit system and that all damage is generic, even if your players insist they are targeting a specific part of the body (the cruel GM will still use the “to hit” penalties).
Characters get the same IQ-2 roll to detect minor things amiss, as in phase II, but now the rolls are made every 30 minutes of playing time, rather than every hour. If this roll succeeds by 3 or more, then the character in question sees something seriously wrong (e.g., looking down a side alleyway, the character sees only an empty void, which is filled in slowly, as if being materialized; passers-by seem to repeat themselves, as if they are part of some looping cartoon background; a small group of anachronistic people, like a group of supers or W.W.II soldiers, goes walking by). These major discrepancies are always followed by the presence of a 6’ x 12’ shimmering screen of light (visible only to the character who saw the discrepancy first) which comes down in front of the oddity and remains for 2d seconds, then fades out of existence.
Breaking through this screen requires a successful Will-3 roll; otherwise, the character is repelled, takes 1d damage, and is stunned for a like number of play minutes.
Conference With the Governor
It is late afternoon when the party arrives at the Governor’s Mansion, regardless of when they set out for it. The Governor is busy in meetings that day, and the party will be kept waiting in a comfortable, albeit drab, waiting room for several hours. If the party is wounded from their last encounter and has not received proper medical attention yet, they will also be treated by the court physician (referred to as “some doctor at the mansion”; each wounded character automatically recovers 1d-3 hits). Finally, they will be shown in to meet with the Governor.
“Hello, adventuring-types. I am the Governor,” he will drone, nearly expressionless. The party will be seated on small and slightly uncomfortable wooden stools before a wooden table, while Governor Harley lounges in a comfy high chair on the opposite side. “What can I do for you?”
The Governor will, of course, be unable to help the players with anything except for the two hawks symbol (any other inquiry will result in a computer RPG-style “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that” response). When the party asks about the symbol and the tunnels, he will say, “Ah yes, now there’s an old story,” and launch into a long and boring story about how he fought back the lizard-men who were seeking to come up into North Contis through the newly-excavated sewers. Once again, the GM does not actually tell the story, but summarizes it in a slipshod fashion. According to the Governor, there were only a few actual lizard-men beyond the place where the door was set, but their ranks were swelled by goblins and evil humans who had trade with the underground empire since before the city was founded.
The Governor will agree that the situation is serious if people are once again traveling to and from the lizard-man warrens, and will suggest that the party wait for him at “the tavern” (not “the Brown Elf” in this phase), where he will meet them in disguise, and accompany them into the sewers. The GM should tell the party, “The Governor then rushes you out of the mansion so he can make preparations, and you soon head back towards the tavern.” Protests from players who are sick of being pushed around should be met by an exasperated sigh on the part of the GM, and some lame plea along the lines of, “Look, just do it, okay? Nothing else will be pertinent to the adventure at this point! Geez!”
Yet Another Tavern Scene
As the party returns to the tavern and waits for the Governor to show, their worst fears may be confirmed as Brutus (now referred to as “the bully”) once again appears. The door slams open, but no one in the tavern seems to pay attention this time, as a glassy-eyed bully and several of his glassy-eyed cronies enter the room and the bully speaks in a monotone:
“I’m big and mean! Who wants to fight?”
This fight proceeds as before, but using the basic combat rules. Once the bully is defeated, the glassy-eyed “barkeep” and two glassy-eyed assistants will drag the bully out of the tavern, and the 4d coins are now apparently thrown by one bored person who doesn’t even look at the victor.
Shortly thereafter, the Governor will finally appear, dressed in chainmail and a cloak of indeterminate color. He will walk stiffly over to the party, saying, “Hello, adventuring-types. I am the Governor. Let’s go.” He will then walk out of the tavern, expecting the party to follow him. If for some reason the party does not follow, he will return in seconds, repeat his words and actions, and leave again, continuing to do so until the party accompanies him.
The Governor will lead the players around in the street for a while, in silence. If anyone asks him anything or talks, he will turn to the speaker, put a finger to his lips, and say, “Shh. We don’t want… (looks from side to side) …them to know we’re here.” He will say nothing else; an inquiry about who “they” are will elicit the same response.
After a couple minutes of this foolishness, the GM should roll a few dice, frown, roll a few more, grumble and curse, and begin searching through his papers as much as he can. Then he should tell the players to give him a few minutes to prepare something and start rifling through his papers and worldbooks, cursing as he goes. Any and all source materials should be used; optimally, the GM should leave the room and return with several unrelated sourcebooks and old campaign materials, apparently cannibalizing them for material on the spot.
Finally, after much shuffling, the GM announces that the party has been attacked (don’t bother checking for surprise). Their assailants are various anachronistic enemies from other universes who appear in sequence. Each assailant appears 1d seconds after the previous one, except for the Super. Descriptions of the various assailants and their tactics are listed below. All assailants except for the Super will not parley and fight to the death, each picking a random party member to attack, proceeding to another when the first is dead or unconscious.
To the players: “As you walk down a street with the Governor, you suddenly hear a blood-curdling yell from the side. Turning quickly with weapons drawn, you see a wild-looking man clad only in a fur loincloth and wielding a huge club in both hands. He is hairy, dirty, and grunts his rage… you think he might be half-ogrish as he crashes into you and starts swinging.”
Tactics: The caveman is a mad berserker who simply attacks over and over again. He will not parry, but rely on Dodge and Toughness to see him through.
To the players: “Suddenly, a dark form leaps down from a nearby rooftop and lands silently in the street. A slight figure, this one is clad entirely in black from head to toe, and his face in concealed by a black mask which reveals only his dark eyes.”
Tactics: The ninja’s first action is to throw a shuriken (already in hand) at his selected target, followed by the drawing of his sword and subsequent melee. The ninja will parry, of course, and will use acrobatic Dodge should it become necessary.
To the players: “As you fight, you see out of the corner of your eye what appears to be a heavily muscled man with long hair in the act of scaling a building. In fact, he has just reached the roof, and time stands still as he yells something unintelligible, flexes his muscles in a strange display, and leaps directly into the party in an explosion of violence and body odor.”
Tactics: The professional wrestler is completely foolhardy, attacking the players without armor or weapons of his own. Treat his leap from the rooftop (a flying elbow smash or body slam) as an all-out kick for extra damage (1d+4 if successful). He will attempt to disengage so he can attempt the same maneuver over and over; if this is not possible, he will alternately attack using various generic wrestling blows (Brawling) or use Judo to throw his opponents over his head or get them in headlocks.
To the players: “In the midst of the confused melee, you think you hear a distant trumpet fanfare. This is immediately followed by the sound of horse’s hooves,and from up the street you see a mounted fighter, clad in heavy plate armor, charging toward you with lance at the ready. He wears an ornate full helmet with a large red plume bobbing atop it, and on his shield is emblazoned an ornate crest which you can’t quite make out. He seems undaunted by his mount’s limited maneuverability in the narrow streets of North Contis as he charges.”
Tactics: The knight loves to joust, and will persist in using his utterly impractical lance charge for as long as he can. After each lance charge, he will proceed down the street away from the fight for 1 second, stop for 1 second, turn around for 2 seconds, move back for 1 second, and then attack with the lance again… a 5-second gap between each actual lance attack. If unhorsed, he will get to his feet as soon as possible and fight with his axe. If there any female characters in the party who are being attacked, he will move to defend them!
This foolishness continues until the party has vanquished all of the attackers, or the party itself has been defeated. This is very unlikely, as the attackers are not that tough and slightly irrational to boot. When the fight is over, the party will have a few seconds to catch their breath, then the Super will appear.
To the players: “Just when it seems the fighting is done with, you see the Governor’s gaze transfixed by something above. Following it upward, your jaws slacken at the sight of a blond man clad in a red, skintight outfit with a blue cloak. He appears to be flying under his own power. He descends, cloak billowing, until he hovers before you, six feet in the air.”
If the Governor is still alive at this point, the Super’s first action is to kill him with a powerful energy blast. The blast will come out of the Super’s hands, shattering the Governor’s shield and blasting him back ten yards or so; he will be obviously dead.
Normal tactics do not apply to the Super. No attack forms will have any effect on him, and the characters can do nothing except get beaten to a pulp. The Super acts first each turn, picking a party member to deliver an attack to. The attack can be anything you like, from heat vision to balls of fire to a good old fashioned punch in the jaw… keep it campy. Every attack does 5d damage and automatically hits, but will not do enough damage to merit a survival roll from any of his targets (i.e., don’t kill the party with the Super). Keep rolling the dice, and keep track of the damage the Super does to each character… it will be important.
When the party has been slapped around for a while by the gleeful Super, the GM should roll some dice and announce that the Super is targeting the party member who is closest to death. Ignoring the groans and protests of the players, the GM should roll some dice, look horrified, roll some more dice, and look deeply thoughtful for a few seconds. Then he rolls a few more dice and makes a remarkable announcement: “Just as the flying man attacks, a blue bolt from the heavens comes crashing down and strikes the flying man directly in the head! (The GM rolls dice.) Uh oh… the flying man is caught completely off-guard, and is fried by the bolt of lightning! He hovers in mid-air for a second or two, then collapses to the ground dead!”
The GM lets the players say what they will about this hokey deus ex machina, then he rolls some dice and says, “As you struggle to understand what is going on, a vision appears to all of you. You all see a blurred figure at ground level, shaking his head as if he’s disappointed in something. As soon as he does this, he is obscured by a translucent, shimmering screen of light, about 6 feet high and 12 feet wide.” The screen will fade in 2d seconds, taking the image… and all of the party’s assailants… with it. At the same time, all characters regain all HT lost due to the Super’s attack. If questioned about this phenomena, the GM should reluctantly mumble something about “game balance”. (The party may attempt to leap through the shimmering screen when it appears; see the introduction to phase III concerning this.)
The GM should then ask the players what they are going to do. Regardless of what they say, the GM should ask them, “Aren’t you going to ask the Governor about these guys?” When the players respond that the Governor is dead, the GM should look embarrassed, then say, “Did I say that? Wait! He’s not quite dead yet.”
The Governor makes a soft hissing sound from his position on the ground, signaling the party to pay attention to him. He is still alive, albeit barely, and he did not recover from the damage the Super did to him. When he has their attention, he will weakly remove a golden amulet from around his neck (which was not there before) and hand it to the closest player character. Pressing it into the character’s hand, he will plead, “Take this… to… the wizard… uhhh…” He will make a weak gesture of peering at the character who holds the amulet through an “OK” hand symbol (thumb and forefinger touching, other fingers extended) and die.
The amulet in question appears to be elaborately engraved gold, showing what appears to be some sort of predatory cat wearing a tunic, possibly a lycanthrope. It seems miraculously undamaged by the Super’s attack.
Crazy Elias Again
Shortly after this incident, the party will hear the all-too-familiar sounds of Crazy Elias, mumbling and cavorting onto the scene from a nearby alleyway. His eyes are filled with wild fear, as he looks all around at the scene where the anachronisms appeared, then gestures wildly at the area where the shimmering screen appeared. He then talks to the party, his breath reeking of cheap wine.
“Y’see? Y’see? ‘S all wrong, I tell ye! The old man gets tired, and our world is dying! He dasn’t lissen ta me… no one does anymore… You gotta help me… al of us… I don’ wanna be like the others! Aaah!”
Crazy Elias will be essentially unresponsive to the players’ questions, as if he is fighting some vast battle inside his mind. (In fact, he is trying to maintain his grip on “reality” as the world around him fades.) Soon, as expected, two town guardsmen show up, but this time they appear to be identical twins. Expressionless, each one grabs one of Elias’ arms and they proceed to drag him off to the drunk tank. Elias will scream: “No! They don’ unnerstan’! They’re jess like the udders! Ya gotta help me! Aaah!” The guards will mumble something about getting Elias sobered up.
The wounded party may not wish to attack the guards to free Crazy Elias; if so, they can always wait for the next day (and phase IV) for Elias to be released from the drunk tank again. Attacking the guards causes the alarm to be raised as before, bringing 2d identical watchmen in 3d seconds. If they manage to free Elias from his captors, Elias will not be much help until phase IV anyway, spending much of his time slobbering and gibbering like an idiot.
Note regarding Crazy Elias and the Shimmering Screen
One advantage the party will get by having Crazy Elias is that Elias automatically senses when strange things are going to happen several seconds in advance. He will act alarmed and warn the party in a semi-coherent fashion. Of course, he will not participate in combat, seeking a secure hiding place at the first sign of trouble.
Whenever the shimmering screen appears after such an event, Elias automatically notices it and can point it out to the PC’s. Occasionally he will mutter something about the “old man”, although the other characters will not be able to discern his form through the screen normally.
Should the party decide to attempt to enter any of the shimmering screens and wishes Elias to accompany them, he will act fearful, then with surprising sobriety refuse to accompany them. He will simply and lucidly state, “My place is here, whatever may become of it. What lies beyond the screen is not for the likes of me.” He will then wish the party luck and run from the party, disappearing down a side street.
If the party somehow compels Elias through a gate, he will materialize in phase V as a life-size metal statue of himself.
Another Visit to the Wizard
After all these events, the party should wish to go to the wizard’s tower again (if they don’t, prod them in all sorts of unsubtle ways to steer them in this direction).
When the party reaches the tower, they find that the glassy-eyed apprentice opens the door even before they knock. “Adventurers. Come.” he says and walks stiffly towards the stairs. As they reach the top they hear the wizard’s voice: “Ruined!” He then appears in their midst, giving the apprentice a vicious shove which sends him toppling head over heels down the entire flight of stairs, apparently breaking his neck. Then he turns back towards a table, where he knocks two flasks to the floor with a crash and an explosion, and is again covered in soot.
As the adventurers notice enter the room, they will notice that it consists of blank white walls and empty tables, except for a single crystal ball on a stand in the center of the room, holding a blurred vision of a man reclining on a couch (which will be seen by everyone in the party).
“Well?” says the wizard, holding out a hand. He will do absolutely nothing until the player’s place the amulet in his hand. If they don’t do this right away, the GM should look very pissed, and say “Just give him the damn amulet!”
“A short guy at the tavern knows about this stuff. Go there.” He hands back the player’s the amulet. If the players ask him about anything else, he will simply repeat this phrase, making a pantomime motion of returning the amulet again, until the players leave.
At this point in the adventure, the world is completely falling apart. All NPC’s except for Elias are complete robots, repeating their stock phrases over and over again until the players leave. The small inconsistencies that started in phase II now occur automatically, all the time.
Larger discrepancies occur much more frequently, and are handled in a special section (see below). These events become increasingly frequent and dangerous as the game world collapses on itself, which will take slightly over two hours of game time.
The Tavern, Again
The Bully appears, a generic zombie like everyone else, and his challenge consists merely of a grunt, followed by an attack on the player character of his choice. None of the robotic patrons will even notice the fight, and the 4d coins which would have normally been thrown at the victor will simply materialize at his feet. The unconscious or dead thugs will simply disappear rather than being dragged out.
If the players spend any time here, various NPC’s they ran into at other times during the adventure (with the exception of Elias) will appear in the tavern, their arms extended like zombies, and repeat their stock phrases. For example, the Governor could come back to like and repeatedly say “I am the Governor,” over and over again, or Crull could appear, yelling “Ruined!”. None of the NPC’s will take any notice whatsoever of the players’ existence, merely repeating these words until they eventually wander out of the tavern or are torn to pieces by the frustrated party.
Finally, when the party is preparing to leave, Crazy Elias staggers into the tavern. He will head straight for their group, a look of wild fear in his eyes. A second later, two zombified guardsmen appear at the door, and head right towards him. “Back to the drunk tank.” they say, over and over again. Elias will look pleadingly at the players as the guards grab his arms.
“Y’see? They’re crazy, I tell you! I just got out! I haven’t een got a chance to drink yet!” If the players intervene to save Elias, the guards’ first action will to be to draw two service revolvers from their scabbards. They fire once every second turn thereafter (these are big clunky single-action revolvers), hitting on a 10 or less for 2d damage; their shots may be dodged, but not blocked or parried. The guards’ pistols never seem to run out of ammunition.
Note that if they party attacks the guards during this phase, no reinforcements will show up. If the party gets their hands on one of these weapons and attempts to use it, the only effect will be that a small rod extends from the barrel, unfurling a red flag with the word “BANG” written on it.
The Collapsing World
If the party rescues Elias, he will pull them out of the tavern, saying “C’mere… it’s almost too late! You gotta see!” He will half-run, half-stagger towards the edge of town, and point. The wall surrounding the city has completely disappeared, and the entire world beyond the wall is also gone, leaving a blank white void as far as the eye can see. “We’re doomed, I tell ya’, doomed!” Elias takes a desperate swig off a hip flask which has suddenly materialized in his hand. “You guys… yer th’only ones who can stop it! Talk to him… the man! The old man!”
The party will realize that the void is slowly growing, closing in on the city at a slow but steadily increasing rate. It will be apparent that it is a matter of hours before the entire city is gone, and the party with it. (NOTE: Any character who tries to reach into the void, or actually tries to leap into it, will be stopped by an invisible barrier which prevents their entry, and the character can feel the barrier pushing back on him.)
Keep accurate track of game time from here on in. The party has two hours before everything in town is utterly destroyed. From this point on, there are also increasing dangers associated with the crumbling universe. The frequency and effect of these dangers are charted below; roll 1d at the game time intervals specified to come up with a random non sequitur to occur.
The shimmering screen is visible on an IQ roll after each of these occurrences, and anyone making this roll can point it out to the rest of the party (the screen remains for 2d seconds). Going through the screen to Phase V is accomplished as before.
First Hour: roll 1d every ten minutes.
1 = Random small object (book, glass, squirrel) materializes above random party member; roll vs. DX to avoid taking 1d-2 collision damage.
2 = A sudden burst of fireworks appears; each character rolls vs. HT to avoid 1d minutes of blindness.
3 = Ancient holy man appears and talks about sin and repentance; any player who listens to his sermon rolls vs. Will or is bored to sleep for 3d minutes.
4 = Randomly colored hailstorm strikes the area for 2d minutes; characters must take cover or suffer 1d-4 damage per minute.
5 = Roving gang of twenty young Dickensian waifs runs through the party; roll a contest of Pickpocket-12 vs. IQ or Streetwise for every character to avoid losing a random item.
6 = Cheesily dressed death-like figure in hood with scythe curses at party in thick southern accent and attacks (ST 12, DX 12, IQ 8, HT 12, Dodge 6, attacks every other turn for 2d cutting damage).
Next 30 Minutes: roll 1d every 5 minutes
1 = Colorfully garbed troupe of tap-dancing sword jugglers cavorts through the party; each character subject to one 1d cutting sword attack which hits automatically but may be parried or dodged. Jugglers may not be hit and will quickly dance down the street.
2 = Party attacked by pack of giant raccoons, one per player (DX 12, HT 12, 1d+1 cutting damage); they disappear after 2d turns or when killed.
3 = A grinning wizard appears, casts a spell, and vanishes in a puff of smoke. Each character rolls vs. Will or suffers odd physical change (lose or gain 10-60% of height and weight; grow a duck bill; skin color changes to plaid).
4 = The clouds open up and it starts raining hot sauce; clothes are ruined and roll vs. HT every 5 seconds outside to avoid blindness for 4d minutes (storm lasts 1 minute).
5 = A pack of Indy stock cars sweeps by; roll vs. DX or take 2d+1 damage from being hit.
6 = Street collapses beneath party; roll vs. DX or fall into sewers, causing 1d+1 damage. Falling characters also roll vs. HT to avoid being crippled (lame) for 5d minutes.
Next 15 minutes: roll 1d every 2 minutes
1= The party is caught by a miniature tornado; each character takes 1d-2 damage and the party is deposited somewhere else in the city after 1d minutes.
2 = A large freight train barrels through the party; roll vs. DX+3 or takes 3d damage from the impact.
3 = Pack of lepers appears and gropes at the party; roll vs. DX to avoid being touched. Touched characters roll vs. HT to avoid getting the Hideous disadvantage and becoming carriers themselves (others touching the afflicted character roll vs. HT or suffer similarly).
4 = Grizzled, cigar-chomping, middle-aged man wearing an eyepatch and blue skintight bodysuit parachutes near the party and sprays them with an Uzi for 1d turns; characters are unable to do anything but flee and cower. Each character has a 1 in 6 chance of being targeted during each turn; targeted characters must Dodge or take 3d-1 damage. The man is picked up by a helicopter and flies away afterwards.
5 = Giant amoeba crawls out of sewers and attacks party; each character is attacked every turn with a pseudopod which hits on 12 or less, doing 1d damage. Amoeba has HT 100 and will pursue the party at move 4 for up to 4d minutes, then squirms back into the sewers.
6 = Large three-ring circus materializes around party, complete with fire-eaters, dancing bears, lion tamers being eaten, clowns tumbling out of tiny cars, etc.; party requires 2d minutes to escape the confusion and return to the “real” city.
Last 15 minutes: roll 1d twice every minute; the first roll determines which previous table to refer to (2 in 6 chance for each table), apply second roll to that table.
Obviously, the GM can use 1,001 other events as well; cattle stampedes, squads of Nazi frogmen running down side streets, being buzzed by World War I biplanes, etc.. Anything you’ve ever wanted to do to your players, but thought it too silly or too cruel to use in a real adventure, is now perfectly appropriate. Keep in mind that the events become more dangerous and more frequent as the collapse progresses, and that you probably don’t want to kill off the whole party with random events.
This progression is designed to encourage the party to find a solution to the self-destructing universe quickly. A party which wastes time and messes around probably does deserve to lose a few members due to a train crash, but you may wish to exercise a little compassion for the party which is really trying to accomplish something.
The End of North Contis
There are two ways for the party to get to Phase V. One is to jump through the screen when it appears following a bizarre event. The other is through the wizard’s tower (see below). Any player who has been paying attention will realize this tower is at the very center of the town and will be the last thing annihilated by the encroaching void, and that the weirdness in the area seems to have been elevated each time they have visited the tower.
Elias will grow increasingly scared as the two hours progresses, and should be played more as frightened than drunk or crazy. If the party is completely stumped and it looks like the end of the city after all, a charitable GM may wish to use Elias as a mouthpiece to help the party out. (“The tower! It’s at the center o’town! Mebbe we’ll be safe there!”)
Final Visit to the Tower
Crull’s tower is now completely empty. Crull and Mitzak are nowhere to be found. There is no furniture, no objects, not even a front door. All that is seen is the basic shape of the tower with blank white walls. The only thing of note is the shimmering screen itself, six feet high by twelve feet wide and two-dimensional, slowly spinning through the room that used to be the laboratory. Every so often, the image of the reclining man is visible behind the shimmering screen.
Gale force winds blow in through the open windows. Characters must roll vs. DX each minute to avoid taking 1d-4 damage from a random object that flies through a window or a hole in the now crumbling wall. Due to the conditions, an attempt to leap through the screen may be attempted once every 30 seconds, requiring a successful DX roll to do so. However, due to the relevance of the tower to the phenomenon, no Will roll is necessary to break through, and repeated attempts are possible (until the city is destroyed).
This phase takes place after each surviving member of the party has broken through the shimmering screen. Regardless of when each character jumped through the screen, they will all regain consciousness at the same time, together. Things in this section are highly detailed, in contrast to the rest of the adventure.
After the Leap
“You feel as if your mind has been turned inside out. Whatever lay immediately beyond the screen caused your very existence to change, perhaps to cease momentarily. Your memories also twist; at points it seems hard for you to hold on to what you know of your lives, your experiences in your world, as they become interspersed with images which seem familiar, and at the same time totally alien. (The GM rolls several handfuls of dice.) However, you somehow manage to stay together and somewhat intact, as you all concentrate mightily on some indescribable goal, like a beacon you collectively reach out for. After a soul-wrenching journey which could have lasted seconds or years, you seem to regain your senses.” The GM should stop speaking and look around the room distractedly. When the players prods him into proceeding, he should look startled and continue, giving the players ample time to soak in the detail, map, or take notes if they wish.
“Oh! Uh… you all come to your senses at about the same time. You are all standing on flat, strangely springy ground, on top of what appears to be a mesa of some odd sort. This surface seems to extend some 100 yards from left to right, with a straight edge about 40 yards directly in front of you. The mesa’s sides seem to join at right angles. In two places on this mesa are strange cylinders of a glossy blue material about 15 feet wide at the base and 35 feet high, tapering slightly outwards near the top. Behind you is a mammoth wall covered in strange glyphs and alien writing, roughly 80 to 100 feet high and about 50 or so feet wide. At either end of this wall can be seen two similar walls, attached to the central wall and extending back 50 feet at approximately 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock. It seems possible to walk around back of the three-sectioned wall on either side.” (At this point, any character making a successful IQ-5 roll will connect this wall to the shimmering screen. Magic-using characters immediately sense that this place is a no-mana environment; magic will not work.)
“Looking a little more around the environment, you discover that the huge mesa and all on it seem to be contained inside a gargantuan cavern which seems to be of artificial construct. The sides of the cavern, which seem to be a drab yellow in color, look about 150 yards to the left and right of the mesa’s edges, although the side behind the wall might be closer, and the side directly in front of you might be further. On the wall to the right appear two mammoth paintings, each perhaps the size of the entire mesa or larger. One depicts a hideous ogre-like humanoid with a bizarrely painted face, holding what appears to be an intricately decorated battleaxe or war club (characters who make a successful IQ-6 or any music-related skill roll will recognize this as an instrument as well as a weapon); at the bottom of this painting are a series of large, highly stylized letters or glyphs which you don’t recognize, except for the center one: the sword with the serpent around it. The other painting appears to be a beautiful oceanscape, with two red birds circling each other in front of the sunset, and a great many alien glyphs at the bottom.” (Literate characters who make an IQ-5 or Poetry roll will recognize the placement of the symbols to be consistent with poetry, but will not be able to discern more)
“Stepping cautiously to the front edge of the mesa and peering over, you discover that the floor of the cavern is a good 250 foot drop below, and apparently covered in a strange, multicolored fungus-like growth, which is in turn littered at odd intervals with unidentifiable objects. Looking straight down the drop, you realize that the mesa is not a solid structure at all; rather, it seems to support itself by means of metallic columns which extend from the corners of the surface to the cavern floor. Indeed, you feel a slight, almost imperceptible shifting of the surface beneath your feet, and you wonder about the stability of the entire structure.
“A noise draws your attention, so strange that you can only surmise that your wonder at your surroundings kept you from noticing it before. You look around, and notice a gigantic couch or divan up against the left wall, and lying down on it, facing away from you, is the single native inhabitant of this domain. He is enormous; you estimate his height would be over 400 feet were he standing, and the back of his brown-haired head easily spans 50 or 60 feet side to side. One enormous hand drapes over the side of the couch, holding a brown bottle which he occasionally raises to his lips and drinks from. He appears to be looking into a scrying device on the far wall, which routinely cycles between strange images ranging from what seem to be humans in various situations in different realities, to huge giants engaged in odd gladiatorial contests in arenas filled with cheering spectators, to sights so strange and terrifying that you can’t relate them to anything you have ever known or imagined. This device seems to be the source of the sound, as it seems to allow clairaudience as well as clairvoyance into untold universes. Although the mammoth figure does not seem to be old or even grey-haired, there can be no doubt in your mind that this godlike entity is the man behind the screen.”
The party has some time to look around a bit before the giant notices them; attempts to get the giant’s attention will be fruitless. Jumping off the edge of the surface should be warned against, but only once. The fall is fatal to anyone stupid or unlucky enough to take it.
Climbing the bluish cylinders is very difficult, as the surface is smooth, with few defects, and inclined inward; climbing rolls are at -5, and climbers will make only 2 feet per minute. If someone makes it to the top, they will be able to see that the cylinder is actually a vessel of some sort, half-filled (12 feet deep) with a dark, bubbling, hissing liquid. Standing on the rounded edge of the vessel requires a DX roll per 30 seconds to avoid falling in or out; walking at even 1 yard/second requires a DX roll every 5 seconds. If someone enters the liquid, the fluid will taste sweet and slightly acidic. Swimming rolls in the fluid are at +2 due to the buoyancy of the bubbles in it, but the character will not be able to escape without assistance, and will make swimming rolls until drowning. Puncturing the cylinders from the outside may be done on a critical success with an impaling weapon, causing the liquid to leak out of the vessel, foaming on the mesa surface and lowering the internal liquid level by 1 foot per minute per puncture. Both cylinders are identical.
Behind the three-section wall are many interesting objects, all huge, all dusty with disuse. There is a stack of several titanic books, two long cylindrical yellowish objects the size of ancient oaks with a point at one end and a red pommel at the other (literate characters will recognize these as giant-sized styluses of some sort), a stack of papers covered with cryptic writing (on the top sheet is a crude portrait of one of the party members, chosen randomly), and 2d strange, chest-high objects engraved with mystic-looking symbols on their sides. These are heavy, and require a combined ST total of 40 to move. If they are examined, they will be found to be geometric in design (cube, pyramid, dodecahedron, etc.) , and an IQ-7 or Gambling-2 roll will reveal that these are, of course, dice.
The wall is completely unclimbable. Optionally, there may be life-sized metal statues also behind the wall, clearly representing goblins, tuskers, an ogre, prominent NPC’s from North Contis, and any deceased party members. A very nice touch is an oversized glass vessel, like the blue ones in front of the screen, but judging by the color of the fluid at the bottom of it and the smell, its contents are clearly scotch.
The Angered God Awakens
After 30 game-minutes of exploration, the ground will tremble beneath the party’s feet, and a grunt will be heard from the couch. Characters in front of the screen will see the giant turn his head in the direction of the table, and the scrying device will suddenly go dark and silent. The giant will then stand up; he is clad in cloth pants and a long-sleeved thick shirt, on which is emblazoned a strange glyph, with a superimposed panther wearing a tunic (the symbol from the Governor’s amulet).
The ground shakes with each fall of the giant’s mighty feet as he crosses to the mesa in three quick steps. “WHAT THE HELL…” he will say, his booming voice strangely understood by the characters. His breath smells of ale. The giant will peer around at the table for a few moments (complaining quizzically about any mischief the party may have gotten into), and will soon find the party. Hiding does no good, as anything the party might hide behind or under can easily be looked over or moved out of the way by the giant.
When the giant sees the party, he will appear a little miffed and more than a little puzzled by their appearance. “JUST WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING OUT HERE?” he will demand thunderously. Any character who tries to attack the giant by any means will be ignored, as the attack will be ineffective. Persistent aggressive behavior will result in the giant sighing and the attacking player’s weapons disappearing altogether. If the party (or any part of it) is behind the wall when the giant finds them, he will yell angrily at the offending member(s) and pick them up, depositing them roughly in front of the wall in the center of the mesa. This may be followed by a short lecture along the lines of, “WHAT LIES BEYOND THE SCREEN IS NOT FOR YOUR EYES!”
The conversation between the giant and the party will consist mostly of the giant demanding to know what they are doing “out.” He should give the impression of an insulted god whose wards have peeked at the universal plan without permission. The giant should be played to the hilt by the GM.
If the party does not get to the point with the giant within a few minutes of conversation, the giant will become exasperated and state, “LOOK, I’M MISSING THE TOURNAMENT. COULD YOU SPEED THIS UP A LITTLE?” If the party continues to waste time, the giant will finally sigh in exasperation, scoop up the entire party in one mammoth hand, and deposit them individually into padded, coffin-sized spaces, finally covering them with some sort of plate or lid… this ends the adventure. Characters in this predicament who attempt to escape will find that they are inexplicably paralyzed in a combat-ready pose.
The point, of course, is the fact that the characters’ world is disintegrating, and that the giant seems to be connected, if not responsible, for the world’s well-being. As soon as this is mentioned, the giant will look very cross, and start fuming. “HEY, GIVE ME A BREAK! YOU THINK THIS STUFF IS EASY? EVERY WEEK, IT’S THE SAME THING… (sneering) ‘LET’S HAVE AN ADVENTURE, I’M BORED!’ OR, ‘THERE’S NOT ENOUGH DETAIL… I CAN’T GET A FEEL FOR IT!’ GRIPE, GRIPE, GRIPE! YOU GUYS THINK YOU’RE ENTITLED TO A LITTLE EXCITEMENT, AND SO YOU PUT IT ALL ON MY SHOULDERS!”
The giant then steps around the mesa, leaving the terrified party on the ground in front of the wall. His head and shoulders are still visible to the party over the 100-foot barrier. “EXCITEMENT?” he bellows. The giant then lowers himself so only the top of his head and his menacing eyes are visible over the top of the wall, and a thunderous crash signals that he has apparently taken a seat on the other side.
“I’LL GIVE YOU EXCITEMENT!”
The party hears thunder, the earth shakes, and in front of the wall, about 20 yards away, a group of goblins with spears and shields suddenly appears. They are all completely identical, and even seem to move in the same way at the same time as they approach the party. There are two goblins per party member. (This battle may be fought in whatever combat system is preferred by the GM. If hex paper and miniatures are being used, the GM may also wish to tell the players that glowing, yard-wide interlocking hexagons have appeared under the characters’ feet, but this should only be resorted to if the party doesn’t really know what’s going on.)
At the same time the goblins appear, a strange energy will wash over the party, invigorating the characters. All characters are restored to full HT and fatigue levels immediately. In addition, all magic using characters will sense that the mesa has suddenly become a very high-mana environment. Spells can be cast at no energy cost, although critical failures result in spectacular mystical disasters (to the chuckling of the giant behind the wall).
The goblins will approach the party, and one goblin will confront each character, brandishing his spear, as the “spare” waits behind him. The characters will have first strike opportunity, and the goblin will merely use all-out defense until the character attacks. After this, the goblin will fight to the death.
When a goblin is killed by a party member, the “spare” goblin will step up and act in the same way, waiting for the character to strike before attacking. Meanwhile, the dead goblin will fade out of existence, and a new goblin will materialize at the wall, running forward to be the new “spare.” It should become apparent to an observant player that no matter how many goblins they kill, they will keep coming and eventually kill the characters. The sounds of thunder continue throughout the battle, and the ground trembles from time to time.
The way to defeat this scenario is to not fight the goblins. The goblins will not attack any character who does not attack them first, but merely stand in striking range, threatening and feinting. When all of the characters are completely ignoring the goblins (this means not defending themselves, not looking at the goblins), the goblins will fade out of existence. When this happens, the confused giant will stand up, scratch his head, and circle around to the characters’ side of the table.
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND,” the giant will say. “YOU SAID YOU WANTED ADVENTURE AND EXCITEMENT… WASN’T THAT WHAT YOU CRAVED?” At this point the characters must try to convince the giant to pay attention to their world and not let it slip out of existence. There are no rolls involved here; the GM must simply assess the players’ arguments and decide whether they are convincing (be generous… the party has gotten this far). If the party as a whole is trying to convince the giant to help them, but one player persists in acting belligerent, etc., the giant will look annoyed, pick up only that character, and deposit him in the coffin-like space described in “The Angered God Awakens”.
When the party manages to convince the giant, they have won the game. Read the following text to the victorious players:
“The giant looks thoughtful, and eventually comes around to your point of view. He agrees to pay a little more attention to your world and not let it slip into nonexistence, although he does request that you rest a little longer between your adventures so he can also relax; you readily agree. He thanks you for taking the trouble of breaking through the screen to tell him about this, and bids you farewell.
“Once again, the world seems to turn inside-out as you once again pass through the phenomena which separates your world from that of the giant. For a moment you think he has tricked you, sending you into a limbo from whence there is no escape, but after an indeterminate time, you are all suddenly sitting around your old table at the Brown Elf, now as colorful and noisy and smelly and wonderful as it ever was in the old days. Patrons carry on about you as if nothing had ever happened, and maybe for them, nothing ever did. There’s certainly no gratitude in Percy Bowman’s gruff voice as he ambles by and mentions something about your weighty and somewhat past due bar tab.
“Before too long, you turn your heads at the sound of the bar door crashing open. Sure enough, in comes Brutus Hammerhand, looking to ply his trade. Just as you fear you’ll have to listen to his speech all over again, he spots your table. Turning a little pale, he quietly backs out of the door and disappears with his cronies down the street.
“‘Off to look for easier pickins,’ says grizzled old Analaeus Thork, who shuts the door behind him. The regulars chuckle and cast a grin in your direction. Analaeus grabs several mugs of ale off the bar and carries them over to you. Setting them down on the table, he looks around at you with a meaningful grin and opens his mouth as if to say something. Then, strangely, he closes it again, mumbles, ‘Maybe next week,’ and ambles off to another table to speak with some people you’ve never seen before.
“ You hear laughter off to the side, near the hearth, and you turn to see what’s going on. Crazy Elias has just done one of his famous pratfalls too close to the embers, and is now frantically jumping around and putting the sparks in his pants out. A couple of patrons give him a few farthings for the entertainment, and he manages to look over in your direction and give you a knowing wink before he allows old Percy to escort him out into the night.
“Life is good.”
The adventure is over. At this point it would be a good idea to thank all your players, break open a bottle of champagne to share with them, and promise from the bottom of your heart that your next adventure will be extremely well-prepared.
Final Notes for the Gamemaster
Much of the fun of this adventure can come from careful preparation of the real world environment. One threat that hangs over the GM’s head is that the players may become so bored and frustrated that they simply leave. Ideally, then, the GM should arrange to pick up the players and bring them to his house, thus depriving them of any possible escape.
The day before, the GM should contact each of his players, and express enthusiasm about the wonderful new adventure he has prepared. When asked about this the next day, he should look somewhat embarrassed, and grumble something about the adventure being somewhat sketchy due to the Twilight Zone marathon on the night before.
As the GM may have noticed, this adventure is perfect for a party he is sick of refereeing. Players who might become angry if the GM simply quits may be enticed to do so themselves after this adventure. Alternatively, if the GM’s regular playing group has one or two troublemakers, he use this as a special adventure just for them. The players will either be taught a good lesson or quit the campaign, and either way the GM wins.
For the adventuring group whom the GM actually likes, more tact is required. The GM must strive to entertain through his own ineptness. One good idea is for the GM to keep a small hip-flask behind his screen, and allow the players to catch glimpses of him taking surreptitious swigs which become more frequent as the adventure continues. At other times, the GM should “accidentally” allow the players to see behind his screen. Great fun will be had from the players’ expressions when they realize there is nothing but a ham sandwich and a bottle of Jim Beam back there.
Non-player characters have no quirks listed, for the reasons that their behavior is detailed in the text where they appear and their personalities change with time.
Late 40’s, paunchy, receding blond hair with grey streaks; 5’9”, 160 lbs
ST 11, DX 12, IQ 10, HT 11
Basic Speed 5.75, Move 5
Dodge 5, Block 6, Parry (Brawling)-8, Parry (Broadsword)-6
Advantages: Charisma +1, Reputation +2 (a fair and respected businessman)
Disadvantages: Mild Pyrophobia (fear of fire), Overweight, Stubbornness
Skills: Bow-13; Brawling-13, Broadsword-13, Carousing-12, Cooking-12, Innkeeping-14, Shield-12
Weapon: Club (1d+2)
ST 12, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 11
Basic Speed 5.5, Move 5
Dodge 5, Parry (Brawling)-8, Parry (Broadsword)-6
Skills: Brawling-12, Broadsword-12
Weapon: Club (1d+3)
Tall, bald with a black mustache, bully by nature; 6’3”, 210 lbs.
ST 13, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 12.
Basic Speed 5.75, Move 5.
Dodge 5, Brawling Parry 8
Advantages: Toughness DR 1
Disadvantages: Bully, Jealousy, Unattractive
Skills: Area Knowledge: North Contis-9, Brawling-13, Broadsword-11, Carousing-11, Knife-11
Weapons: Brawling (1d-1 punch, 1d+1 kick), Large Knife (hidden in left boot, 1d+1 cutting/1d impaling)
ST 11, DX 10, IQ 9, HT 11
Basic Speed 5.25, Move 5
Dodge 5, Brawling Parry 7
Skills: Brawling-11, Broadsword (Club)-10, Knife-10
Weapon: Large Knife (1d-1 cutting /impaling)
Raggedy drunk, staggers, matted brown hair, brown eyes; 5’9”, 135 lbs.
ST 11, DX 11, IQ 12, HT 9
Basic Speed 5, Move 5
Advantages: Danger Sense (from ESP)
Disadvantages: Absent-Mindedness, Alcoholism, Poor
Psionics: ESP Power 10 (Clairaudience-10, Clairvoyance-10, Psychometry-10, Precognition-10)
Skills: Area Knowledge: North Contis-12, Bard (Comedy)-12, Dancing-10, Fast-Talk-12, Scrounging-13, Singing-9
ST 12, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 11
Basic Speed 5.25, Move 4 (due to light encumbrance)
Dodge 4, Block 6, Brawling Parry 8, Broadsword/Club Parry 6
Wears leather armor (PD 2/DR 2, everywhere except head) and pot-helm (PD 3, DR 4, areas 3-4). Use generic leather armor for phases III and IV.
Carries small shield (PD 2 with Block)
Advantages: Legal Enforcement Powers
Disadvantages: Duty to Governor Harley Roland quite often
Skills: Brawling-12, Broadsword-13, Shield-12
Weapons: Broadsword (1d+3 cutting, 1d crushing), Light Club (1d+3 crushing)
Late 60’s, grey hair, mustache and beard, eccentric, wild-eyed; 5’8”, 120 lbs
ST 9, DX 12, IQ 15, HT 10
Basic Speed 5.5, Move 5
Dodge 5, Parry (Staff) 8
Advantages: Magical Aptitude Level 3, Status +1, Wealthy
Skills: Alchemy-15, Detect Lies-15, History-14, Knife-13, Literature-14, Merchant-15, Occultism-16, Savoir-Faire-17, Staff-12, Teaching-14, Throwing-13
Animal Spells: Beast-Soother-16, Mammal Control-16
Communication and Empathy Spells: Persuasion-18, Sense Emotion-16, Sense Foes-17, Sense Life-17
Air Spells: Clouds-16, Create Air-16, Lightning-18, Purify Air-16, Shape Air-18, Walk On Air-16,
Water Spells: Create Water-16, Fog-18, Ice Sphere-18, Purify Water-16, Seek Water-16, Shape Water-16
Knowledge Spells: Aura-18, Detect Magic-16, Identify Spell-16, Analyze Magic-18
Light and Darkness Spells: Blur-16, Continual Light-16, Darkness-16, Flash-18, Light-16
Mind Control Spells: Foolishness-16, Daze-16, Mass Daze-16, Sleep-18, Mass Sleep-18
Weapons: Daggers (2, hidden in sleeve and boot; 1d-3 impaling), Staff (1d+1)
Shabby-looking, brown hair, late teens, eager; 5’10”, 140 lbs.
ST 10, DX 11, IQ 13, HT 11
Basic Speed 5.5, Move 5
Advantages: Magery Level 2
Disadvantages: Struggling, Duty to Gomez Crull all the time, Unluckiness
Skills: Alchemy-12, Knife-11, Literature-11, Occultism-13
Communication and Empathy Spells: Sense Life-13, Sense Foes-13
Knowledge Spells: Detect Magic-13, Identify Spell-13
Light and Darkness Spells: Light-13
Weapon: Dagger (1d-3 impaling)
Governor Harley Roland
Tall, attractive, brown hair in ponytail, early 40’s; 6’2”, 180 lbs.
ST 12, DX 14, IQ 13, HT 13
Basic Speed 6.75, Move 6
Dodge 7, Block 8, Parry (Broadsword)-8
Advantages: Attractive, Combat Reflexes, Reputation +4, Status +3, Very Wealthy
Disadvantages: Honesty, Sense of Duty to Wilderness Types
Skills: Administration-13, Area Knowledge: North Contis and environs-13, Bow-15, Broadsword-15, Detect Lies-12, Fast-Draw (Arrow)-14, Fast-Draw (Broadsword)-14, Knife-14, Leadership-14, Politics-14, Savoir-Faire-15, Shield-14, Stealth-14, Strategy (Land)-13, Survival (Woodlands)-13, Tracking-13
Armor: None normally; when combat is expected, full chainmail (torso, legs, and coif, PD 3, DR 4; PD 1, DR 2 vs. impaling) with leather gloves and boots (PD 2/DR 2). Generic chainmail in basic combat system (PD 3, DR 4; PD 1, DR 2 vs. impaling).
Weapons: Thrusting Broadsword (1d+3 cutting, 1d impaling), Large Knife (1d cutting, 1d-1 impaling), Longbow (1d+1 impaling, SS 15, Acc 3, ½D 180, Max 240)
ST 15, DX 9, IQ 7, HT 12
Basic Speed 5.25, Move 5
Advantages: Toughness (DR 2)
Disadvantages: Ugly, Primitive (TL 0)
Skills: Two-Handed Axe/Mace-9
Weapons: Maul (3d+1 cr., 1 turn to ready)
ST 11, DX 13, IQ 10, HT 11
Basic Speed 6, Move 6
Dodge 7, Broadsword Parry 8, Karate Parry 10
Advantages: Combat Reflexes
Disadvantages: Bloodlust, Overconfidence
Skills: Acrobatics-12, Broadsword-14, Karate-14, Shuriken-13
Weapons: Karate (1d-1 punch, 1d+1 kick), Shuriken (1d-2 cutting, range unimportant), Thrusting Broadsword (1d+2 cutting, 1d+1 impaling)
ST 15, DX 11, IQ 8, HT 12
Basic Speed 5.75, Move 5
Dodge 5, Brawling Parry 9, Judo Parry 8
Advantages: High Pain Threshold
Disadvantages: Odious Personal Habit (body odor, -2 reaction), Overconfidence, Compulsive Posing
Skills: Brawling-14, Climbing-11, Judo-12, Sports (Pro Wrestling)-15
Weapons: Brawling (1d-1 punch, 1d+1 kick)
ST 12, DX 11, IQ 9, HT 11
Basic Speed 5.5, Move 2 (from heavy encumbrance)
Dodge 2, Block 6, Parry 6
Wears heavy plate (PD 4, DR 7) and carries medium shield (PD 3)
Advantages: Very Wealthy
Disadvantages: Chivalric Code of Honor, Compulsive Use of Lance Charge
Skills: Axe/Mace-12, Lance-13, Riding (Horse)-12, Shield-12
Weapons: Axe (1d+4 cutting, 1 turn to ready), Lance (2d+2 impaling)
Rides light warhorse: ST 40, HT 15, Move 8 (due to city streets), Dodge 4
ST 12, DX 11, IQ 8, HT 11
Basic Speed 5.5, Move 5
Dodge 5, Block 6, Spear Parry 6
Wears leather armor (PD 2, DR 2), carries small shield (PD 2)
Skills: Knife-12, Shield-12, Spear-12
Weapons: Large Knife (1d cutting, 1d-1 impaling), Spear (1d+1 impaling)
Appendix A: Notes on Playtesting (appended 7/3/96, H.C.)
This adventure was a lot of fun to write, and Tony and I could hardly wait to spring it on some unsuspecting victims. There were two sessions of playtesting: the first involved both of us co-GMing the adventure for two players, and the second was a solo adventure run by myself for another player. A summary of these sessions follows.
Norman and Rich
The initial test of the adventure was a session with two players, Norman and Rich. These two are very different types of roleplayers (Norman tends to play insane characters to the hilt, and Rich is very, very serious about his characters — a perfect mark for this adventure), and both were eager to try this fascinating new adventure which we felt was publishable at the time.
Instructions for character generation were given over the phone before the session, and when the GMs got to the players’ apartment, Norman’s character (a fighter-type) was ready to go. Rich, on the other hand, was busy leafing through all sorts of GURPS supplements which could not be used in the adventure, and eventually sat down and designed an elemental-control magician for about an hour, complete with illustration, even though he knew this would be a one-shot. Finally, the screen was set up, a bottle of banana rum set strategically up behind it, and we were ready to go.
The introduction to the adventure went innocently enough, although detail-minded Rich continually pestered the GMs with questions (“What’s in the Forbidden Mountains?”, “How about an Assassin’s Guild?”, “Does my character know Gomez Crull?”, “Are tuskers as tough as D&D orcs?”), providing the GMs with many opportunities to look annoyed, glance at each other with bewildered expressions, and rattle off flimsy and contradictory answers. Everyone groaned at the name of the tavern, as well they should have. Finally, they all pondered very seriously over the nature of strange happenings, as if he could somehow divine the nature of the mystery set before them in the preliminary phase (which happens with great regularity whenever a pre-prepared adventure is used).
Everyone recognized the clichés in the exposition, including the tavern brawl and the old man in the tavern, although they still thought this was a serious adventure. The little gestures in particular were wondered about. The encounter with Crazy Elias was humorous and in character enough to make everyone laugh (Elias vomited on Rich’s character’s shoe) and set them up even more for the fall.
The business with the assassination of Black Prince Jacob was taken very seriously, as it signaled the beginning of the adventure in earnest. The visit to the tower and the stereotypical scene of the ruined experiment was blamed on the GMs’ warped sense of humor, and the first appearance of the shimmering screen was dismissed as a sort of window-dressing event appropriate to a wizard’s tower. The players actually took notes during the wizard’s recounting of the ancient history of Silensia, a sign to the GMs that things were going well.
At the beginning of Phase Two, the little inconsistencies in the world around them began to bother the players, and they began to pay very close attention. When Brutus showed up, the wizard handled him, as they knew he wasn’t so tough. The players failed to notice anything strange during the chase, and once in the sewers, failed to notice that anything strange was going on. When they reached the door, Rich’s character wasted amazing amounts of time trying to figure out how to open it, eventually summoning a water elemental to help him. At this point, Howard went into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and gargled the water elemental’s advice of “SEEEE CRUUULLLLL!” Shortly thereafter, Tony accidentally spilled the bottle of rum from which the GMs had been drinking (prompting Rich to remark, “Smells like a distillery in here …”), soon followed by tipping over the screen which had nothing but the bottle behind it.
When the players revisited the tower, they started to think that the tower was the source of the strange occurrences around town, which was not far from the truth. As soon as the GM at the time starting looking in the back of the GURPS Basic book and the pickpocket screamed, “Dai! Oh no!”, they knew what was going on, and even ribbed the GMs for not having an encounter prepared.
When Phase III started, the players knew the general nature of what was going on, and even that this was a humorous adventure, but they had not yet guessed the awful truth. When the Governor began to tell his story, the players even prompted the GM to summarize! The GM did have the opportunity to impatiently bully the party back to the tavern, where the Governor had to come back in and make his monotone statement three times before the players realized that they had to follow him out.
At the time of the anachronistic ambush, both players were slightly annoyed at how lax the GMs were being with their valuable time and characters. When the Super descended and began picking them off like flies, they barely moved to defend themselves, and almost seemed annoyed when “game balance” saved the day for them. After the Governor gave them the brooch with the college football emblem on it, the players wanted to do something other than go see the wizard. At the time, Tony was in another room, and Howard began arguing with the players, until Tony heard through the door, “LOOK! WILL YOU GUYS JUST GO SEE THE DAMN WIZARD! NOTHING ELSE WILL WORK!”, a source of much amusement for Tony. After the wizard told the party to go back to the tavern, they tried to go anywhere else; after arguing with the GM for a while, they were allowed to go everywhere else, but everything was mysteriously closed, and no one was home (not even at the wizard’s tower, when they tried to go back in just after leaving).
After getting Crazy Elias into their custody and dodging Nick Fury and all of the other hazards which plagued them (they were actually having a bit of fun at this point), they managed to get back into the tower and leap through the screen, which was where the real fun began. In a low tone, the GM began reading the narrative at the beginning of “After the Leap”, and the players listened intently. Partway into this, Rich said, “I don’t believe this.” Then, as the narrative continued, he said disgustedley, “We’re on a gaming table.” A little thereafter, he began pacing the room, and then exploded into a long a genuinely angry speech about wasting his time and all the stuff he had to do and how this just sucked, etc. He actually stormed out of the room, leaving everyone except Howard stunned; Howard said, “Norman, you see Rich lying on the ground, full of spears. What do you do?”
Norman (who roleplays a little too well for his own good sometimes) simply pleaded with the giant to let him go home, after the goblins disappeared. Both of the GMs were laughing and/or shocked too much at this point to continue, so they wrapped it up quickly, and everyone laughed insanely. Discussing the game over Mongolian barbecue later, they talked about the adventure and Rich; Norman really liked the adventure, and liked it even more when he read the materials. Even Rich, upon reading a copy of the adventure which had been left around the living room of his apartment a few days later, commented that “I thought they were totally unprepared and just screwing around, but now I see that they were unbelievably well-prepared.”
A week, later, Howard told Jared, very abstractly, that he and Tony had run the best fantasy adventure ever the previous week. Jared wanted to try it, and since Howard really wanted to see how he would handle it, he agreed to run a solo. Jared is a pretty good roleplayer, sometimes slow in his deliberations, but a good character actor and thinker, true to the fantasy heroic ideal. Jared fared better in “The Shimmering Screen” than Norman or Rich, and figured out what was going on very early.
Jared was doubled up laughing at the first mention of fantasy role-playing conventions like the old man in the tavern, and had an inkling about where things were headed from there. When the black-cloaked figure poked his head into the tavern, Jared waited until he had done it two or three times to pursue him, and during pursuit, would turn down the wrong street on purpose, and sure enough, there was the figure, twenty yards ahead of him. He noticed immediately, without even mapping, that the tunnels under the city seemed to be mapped out randomly, and immediately suspected the Random Dungeon Generation table (Jared knows the old DM’s guide better than Norman or Rich).
When the final phase was happening, Jared immediately got a hold of Elias and started running for the tower, to be interrupted by tap-dancing sword jugglers, Death, and Nick Fury on the way. He leapt through the screen and was helpless with laughter upon hearing the description of the landscape (as opposed to Rich’s reaction). He refused to fight the goblins, and when the giant asked him what the matter was, he actually launched into an impassioned and convincing speech about how gaming was not just about fighting, or treasure, or anything like that! With the ideal ending to “The Shimmering Screen”, Jared wins the prize for best playtester.
Appendix B: The Origin of “The Shimmering Screen” (appended 7/3/96, H.C.)
The Shimmering Screen was cooked up by the authors in early to mid-1994 after countless jokes about the shoddy nature of gamemastering in many cases, and how much work it was to create a good adventure, only to have it wasted by the blundering of bad players. The consensus was that game mastering was a gigantic hassle, and the hours and hours of work that go into running a campaign are scarcely appreciated by the players, who often badger the gamemaster to come up with a new adventure for them to ruin when the gamemaster would rather be doing other things (like making money, pursuing romantic interests, and keeping up with sports). Soon, the idea of a completely ridiculous adventure based around the antagonism between the players and the gamemaster formed, and from there grew into this monstrosity faster than we could control it. Basic plot ideas were drawn up, outlines were made, chapters were drafted and edited, copies sent back and forth on disk … it soon became difficult to remember that we were writing this as a joke, and were pursing it instead like a serious project. So much the better.
Much of the material for The Shimmering Screen comes out of an excellent AD&D (1st edition) campaign originally drawn up by Tony’s brother Lo, called “The Northern Continent.” From the setting comes North Contis, and the governor is based on Howard’s character, a ranger named Roland Hadley (who manages to sneak into every campaign Howard ever runs in any setting). Much of the rest of the adventure is based on cheesy fantasy adventure motifs, including the tower of the wizard, the tavern brawl, the mysterious symbols which seem important but wind up meaning nothing (if the GM hasn’t planned that far ahead), the sealed magical portal that lies in every sewer under every fantasy city, etc. The randomly generated tunnels under the city are a play on the Random Dungeon Generation tables in the back of the AD&D DM’s Guide (1st edition), which has always amused the authors (along with the Pummeling Table and the Potion Miscibility Table). Most importantly, the inspiration for the adventure lies much in the fact that when Lo originally ran the Northern Continent campaign, Tony and Howard stayed cooped up in a shed in his backyard for a week, playing every day for as long as we could pester Lo into refereeing, always hassling him for more adventure. At the end of this week, Lo put away the campaign materials, and the campaign wasn’t touched again until two years later, when Tony picked it up as the DM. The players (especially Howard) continued to badger him about more adventures, which is probably why the Northern Continent hasn’t seen any action for about two years as of this writing. (The Northern Continent is still, hands down, the best fantasy role-playing campaign I have ever played, and I hope Lo comes up with more stuff for it soon — H.C.)
More inspiration for The Shimmering Screen came from one really unfortunate play session, when Howard was really bored and the Northern Continent (then under the direction of DM Tony) wasn’t doing much for several months. Against all rationality, Howard called a number tacked up on a 3” x 5” card on the bulletin board at The Compleat Strategist, looking for new players to join an ongoing 2nd edition AD&D campaign. Despite the fact that it was 2nd edition, Howard decided to play, and was drawn into the horrible world of the evil DM Stanley, who though a pretty nice guy was thoroughly incompetent as a storyteller. He kept Howard on the phone for agonizing hours telling him all of the boring and irrelevant details about his game world, such as what his landlady looked like (including her hairstyle), the address of his boardinghouse, the names of inconsequential streets in the city, whether people were too nosy in his neighborhood, where his character could get a good loaf of bread in that part of town … it went on and on, detail after agonizing detail.
Finally, after seemingly endless phone conversations and the trouble involved in drawing up a character in a system he didn’t know, Howard went to the session. Stanley was about an hour late, and the players were busy checking out the latest useless supplements they had thrown their money away on, as well as comparing their character’s statistics and magic items (Howard declined to do this, explaining that his character has a “very private nature”, one which soon would hopefully lead him out of this group). When the DM started the adventure, Howard noticed immediately that the entire adventure came out of Dungeon magazine, which led him to ask Stanley why this was; Stanley explained that in this campaign, he wrote everything except the adventures, which took up so much time. (He had plenty of time to figure out my landlady’s hairstyle, though.) The adventure was weak and boring, and to liven things up, Howard had his character do all sorts of irrational and semi-suicidal things, which amused the other players and Stanley, who expressed his amusement in the same monotone voice he used to express everything.
When the adventure was mercifully over, Howard’s character got what seemed like an outlandish experience award, including a “story bonus” of 3000 or so experience points which was given to everyone, just for playing in this godawful game (chatter around the table afterwards including sayings like, “How many levels did you gain?”). Howard avoided returning Stanley’s plaintive calls for a few days, and when he finally explained that he would be unwilling to continue participating, Stanley’s voice actually took on some character as he whined about how unfair Howard was to drop out like this. This might have had some effect on Howard if he cared at all (and if he hadn’t been watching TV at the time of the call). Stanley’s boring and lackluster world and style of gamemastering was a good deal of the inspiration for the condition of the world in the latter stages of the game.
The Shimmering Screen was submitted to Pyramid magazine in mid-1994, and was rejected with the comment that they were into strange stuff, but this one went “way too far”. They asked us to submit more material which was a little more down-to-earth, but since their pay rate was really awful (a pittance, or a double pittance in Steve Jackson Games products), the authors (primarily Howard) didn’t feel like pursuing other submissions which seemed too much like work. The Shimmering Screen was entertainment.
An interesting effect of working on The Shimmering Screen is an increased appreciation for really good writing as a gamemaster. This is a fault in many (if not most) gamemasters, and it seems like the most important skill for a gamemaster to have. After all, the true purpose of running an adventure for your friends to blunder through is so that everybody has fun, not so their imaginary characters can get more imaginary life experience and imaginary money and imaginary magic items. The players’ enjoyment comes from being a participant in a good story which they would normally not be able to be a part of in real life. No one wants to be part of a badly crafted story, just as no one wants to have a cheesy, badly-crafted life. Gamemasters can’t do too much about the latter (especially where some players are concerned), but the first can be taken care of with a little bit of care and attention to good storytelling. Not everyone can be a great writer, but one can try, and the effort will (or should) be appreciated by your players, who put the GM through untold hours of drafting, calculating, and mapping so that they can have some fun for a few hours on the weekend. And if you don’t try, relying completely on pre-written adventures without fleshing them out, throwing together cheap and shoddy storylines, pushing your characters down a narrow path of where you think the adventure should go because you didn’t think of anything else the players might want to do, then may you rot forever in the sewers beneath North Contis, forever trapped behind the impassable barrier that is the shimmering screen.