November 3rd — The Eleventh Tribe, Session Six
Year Two, Rain
This session was a week later than expected due to me being ill last week. It also had one fewer player — Rick was a way at a LARP event for the weekend.
The Queen Speaks
We ended the previous session with the vexed question of whether the wandering thief Twisted Pair should be allowed back into the Tribe's nest, or left to starve in the Between. Tribble conducted a ritual in his mouldering burrow, accompanied by Bone (formerly the yearling Pritt), burning paper to attract the Queen's spirit and pose the question. I'd previously asked a player from last year's campaign if she would be willing to stand in as Queen. I'd send her questions by text message and she could answer without context, as a ghost should.
The Queen's ghost appeared in the smoke and said that as she had been a thief, the 11th Tribe should accept even thieves. She went further and said that no one should ever be turned away ... a fact that Tribble kept to himself.
Dusty and Husk went out, found Twisted Pair, and escorted him back to the nest. There, he told the others that Stationary had been suffering disappearances, and blame the 11th Tribe. As a result they had formed an alliance with Carpet Tile, and have been sending out armed patrols of guard-mice. The players wonder if the Asphalt mice they saw back in Winter might have been responsible, but decide to avoid Stationary even more.
The journey resumes
With the advent of the post-winter thaw, Roost Nest rapidly becomes uninhabitable. The feathers it is made from get damp and rot, and are quickly eaten by beetles — which at least provide some food. It is time to move on, and Twist reveals that he knows the route to Can-Teen (or much of it, at least). They must make their way to a place where the Between descends in many dozens of small steps that the Eaters walk up and down. Can-Teen is at the bottom. A few weeks after his arrival, the tribe leaves Roost Nest for good. (I allow each player 1 Stuff, reclaimed from the nest).
The tribe makes slow progress through the rafters of Far Up (the first two navigation rolls are ties, indicating the minimum of progress). Here, there is wood below, but not above. Instead, huge cubic shapes of cardboard soar up into the darkness, their sides many dozens of Hylin long. The tribe stops to gnaw holes in the sides of some (to collect the cardboard) and discover that the shapes are hollow, with mysterious Eater stuff within (not food though).
Exploring, they find a place where one of the Eater Beasts sits in the open, without the cardboard shell. It is a strange and terrifying thing, made of black metal with many wheels and loops of metal attached. There are also signs that Hylin have been here before. They locate an old abandoned nest (big enough for one or two mice at most), and scraps of paper on which strange symbols are embossed. Tribble tries to examine the symbols, but they scare him.
The tribe moves cautiously to examine the Eater Beast. They discover that a burning line (power cable) wrapped in black cloth enters one side, on the other is a single arm, lying limp. At the front, a steep slope rises up to a series of cylindrical forms. Between the ground and the shapes are four rows of strange platforms, a little like mushrooms, with long stalks and circular platforms on top that a Hylin could perch on.
Dusty, extremely nervous, circles the thing. On either side are wheels, some with teeth, some with cables wrapped round them. There are also springs, and things like jointed fingers. Tribble surmises that the beast might be missing a shell (perhaps the thing sheltering the camp they found).
The thing I am trying to describe is an electro-mechanical calculating machine a little like these:
Dusty warns that there is only danger here. The tribe should move on. Cobalt, the tinkerer, wants to have a closer look. He makes sure that his daughter Cyan is well swaddled, and creeps into an opening that one of the other mice spotted in the side. He penetrates into its innards, looking for its secrets. Unfortunately he trips something along the way. The machine whirrs, the wheels jerk, it begins to hum. The moving parts block the way back, he's trapped!
Lozenge, the mother of Cobalt's kit, rushes to his help, guided by some words of advice from Tribble (who has a quick vision in which he sees that the Beast has a beating heart, if they find the heart, they will find a way out). Lozenge, always brave, leaps into another hole and vanishes inside!
Dusty tries to get the rest of the tribe to back off, but the Clippies are in awe of the Eater Beast. Instead of running, they spread out around it, to see what it is doing.
A vision of the future
Alone with Tribble and Feather, Bone declares that she has had a vision. This Beast is a test for the Tribe, she says, the first since it truly came together in the winter. She is sure that she will find the parts she needs for her mask here. She says "I have seen, the Machine will mark me with its runes." Tribble tries to tell her that there is no evidence that she will also live, but she insists on trying to climb the machine, and Tribble reluctantly agrees to go with her.
Bone, young and agile, easily gets onto one of the platforms, but Tribble is a fat and lethargic mouse, and can't manage it. His attempts depress a key, and he is flung off, while the machine reacts by spinning and chattering (and injuring Cobalt inside!). At the back of the beast, a paper tape marked with cryptic symbols begins to spool down out of the air, causing the Clippies to bow down with their paws over the noses.
Bone starts to jump from platform to platform, trying to reach a place where some Thing is sliding back and forth, revealing symbols through a slit. Tribble can't follow, but then Feather points out that there is an easier climb to the right, where there are some large islands of red, green, and white, plastic (the enter, cancel, and minus keys). Tribble decides to climb here, but once again he manages to activate the machine! A deafening ring echoes out, and the upper parts of the machine slam from left to right, knocking Bone into its innards!
Cyan and Lozenge hear her despairing squeak, but decide that their kit is their priority. They run, and — amazingly — manage to make it out the back unharmed.
Not so Tribble, who decides that he must follow Bone and save her! He jumps into the machine to try and drag her out ... and is crushed to death by the moving parts!
Death of an Elder Statesmouse
At this point we break OOC so that I can explain the death system to the players. First, we check to see if another player is in the same zone as Tribble, and able to take an action that might save him. There is not (everyone else is out of the machine).
Then we ask if the players as a group are willing (and able) to spend 3 Luck between them to save Tribble. I explain that if they do this Tribble will definitely seem to have died, and will be Taken Out for the remainder of the scene, but will turn up in a future scene, having been co-incidentally saved. They spend the 3 Luck, and we spend a few moments brainstorming ideas of how he survived ...
Back in the machine, everything falls silent. Tribble becomes aware that something is moving amongst the cogs and gears, it is a massive pure-white snake — the mount of Death. The snake finds him and Bone, and they see that Death is perched on its back. It appears that Death is still smarting over the way that its domain was robbed, and holds the 11th Tribe culpable. However, before he can claim the two sad mouse ghosts for himself, the spirit of Queen Paperclip appears. She casts a handful of mouse bones in front of Death, and he is compelled to count them.
"Run!" She tells them
They run! Death pursues them through the twisting half world that forms the boundary from the Between to the realm of death. Eventually, after who knows how long, they are safe. "We have to find the others," Tribble says, but Bone insists that her vision is not yet played out. She must go back and be "marked by the machine", but Tribble must go to Can-Teen, where she will join him. The two argue, but Bone prevails. She guides Tribble to a crack that leads back into the Between and says he must go that way.
Tribble crawls through the hole ... and is promptly captured by two Stationary Guard-mice.
The Journey Continues
The rest of the tribe wait until the machine falls silent, calling for Bone and Tribble, but there is no sign of them, and everyone heard the horrible squeaks and crushing noises. Their fellow mice must be dead. With heavy hearts (the Tribe takes 1 Afraid Damage) they decide to move on, all save Feather, who insists on staying behind a few days longer.
The remainder of their trip is without incident. They skirt Stationary, and descend a long vertical until they reach the place that Twist described, and start working their way down towards Can-Teen. Halfway down they smell other Hylin, and detect traces of a recent camp. Cobalt, Dusty, and Husk creep ahead and spy two Stationary Guard-mice — well armed with hole-reinforcement mail and straightened paperclip spears — who appear to be tormenting a prisoner — Tribble!
The three can't explain how Tribble could be there, but attack anyway. They jump down and surprise the mice, who throw Tribble in front of them as a mousey shield. Dusty tries to flank them, while Cobalt goes for help, but the Guard-mice are well trained. They block Dusty and chuck a pouch of chalk dust to blind Cobalt, then make a break with their prisoner. Dusty valiantly manages to deflect them in the direction of the rest of the tribe, but they are getting away!
Which is where we have to call it for the week.
- The adding machine was the first time I've tried a dungeon so to speak. It was moderately successful, though my descriptions totally confused everyone and no one knew what it was — at all.
- Sections of the machine were represented as Obstacles with the Deadly quality, that could only be triggered if the machine was on (which required me to spend a success on a previous roll). It was triggering the Deadly that killed Tribble.
- This was the first death of the campaign, but people seemed to grasp how it worked. They were happy to spend the 3 Luck, but actually only had 1 left, so it was a close thing! The ghost scenes were great fun to run.
October 18th — The Eleventh Tribe, Session Five
Year One, Autumn & Winter
The 11th Tribe stay a double-pawful of days with Under Boiler, swapping bits and pieces they gathered up in Far Up for supplies they can use in their continued quest for Canteen. (I say that each character can swap Stuff for food on a 1 for 1 basis, and there are a few swaps ... turns out to be a bad idea later!).
There are a wide range of routes on offer, which boil down to:
- Follow the Up level past Tangle, Stationary and Carpet Tile
- Descend to Down, and try to make it past the terrifying Eater Beasts that infest the floor of Fac-Tory
- Return to Ghost Tribe, and then go along through the dry feather wastes of Far Up
- Enter the unclaimed Between of the far verticals and try to find a route that leads to Canteen
- Go to Tangle, and then descend to Down to avoid Stationary and Carpet Tile
There are arguments, and votes. After a while the tribe announce that they will head back the way they came, scaling the side of the great boiler! A whole host of boiler-mice gather to watch, since they think it is an impossible task — and once the tribe gathers with all its kits and elderly mice they have second thoughts and agree!
"Of course," say the Under Boiler mice, "We've tried hurling each other upwards and that doesn't work ... if we wanted to go up we'd go to the vertical beside Chimney and go up there."
Chimney is a huge black piece of the Empty filled with heat and smoke. The Under Boilers believe that there are chimney spirits there who can set a Hylin on fire, or cause them to die without even touching them. They advise the 11th tribe to avoid them!
The route via Chimney is longer, but safer. (The distance they need to travel is now 13, with 8 rests before the Tribe takes an Exhausted Damage). The first few legs of the journey go without difficulty, though the way is long, hot, and sooty. After a few days they come across a colony of woodlice, eating a decaying tie-beam.
Woodlice (in InBetween) are stupid individually, but collectively inteligent, and love to gossip. Hylin try to stay on good terms with woodlice nests since they will recieve news that way. The woodlice offer to trade for information, and the 11th Tribe decide to spend a Rest telling stories. They learn that the woodlice know something about Canteen — it is apparently a place where a Tribe once lived, but they are long dead now.
The Far Up
Eventually the Tribe reach the Far Up. They are near Ghost Tribe's nest, but separated from it by a chasm, and decide to bypass it rather than try to cross. Their route now takes them along the rafters, a land of dry boarding, pigeon feathers, and huge panes of glass that they avoid. It is a dry and foodless place, and they start to eat into their supplies. Food they have, but no water, and even for Hylin this is a dry place. After a few days of travel the water supplies have fallen so low that everyone is exhausted (and as a result the Tribe also takes an Exhausted Damage), worse, the journey is taking longer than expected.
When the situation starts to look like a crisis, the players decide that they must stop and look for water. Besides Dusty, the only tribe member with any skills in scouting is Husk, who doesn't get on with anyone. Tribble tries to appeal to her sense of duty (she has none), Lozenge to her heroism (also none). In the end it takes bribery from Cobolt to get her help.
Dusty and Husk scout around, looking for a place where the glass might be broken and let water in, or maybe a river that's leaking. Eventually they find a place where the roof of the level is missing, exposing the wooden beams. There is indeed a broken pane of glass above letting water leak in from the Empty. There are also mounds of eater beast feathers, eater beast corpses, and the eater beasts themselves — huge grey things that perch on the beams or go in and out through the broken glass.
Despite the beasts, Dusty and Husk think that this is a practical place to get food and water, and also — they think, to live.
Winter is closing in. The Far Up is cold and the tribe is exhausted, hungry, and lost. They vote on whether to press on through the winter to find Can-Teen, or try and set up a temporary nest here until Rain. It isn't even close, everyone wants to stop. Taking the scouts advice they decide that they can make a nest near the broken glass. There is stuff (feathers), water, and greens growing through the broken opening into the Empty.
We set the Difficulty of tinkering a nest at 10, and 7 scraps. There are 3 Rests left to do it — it will be a close run thing, especially since there just aren't enough scraps in the party to do the work. The tribe sets to work (using the new Tribe Effort rules I added), and manages to get hold of a reasonable number of materials, but Cobalt (the only Tinkerer) demands all sorts of stuff they don't have.
Dusty and Lozenge both set off to find the stuff she needs. Dusty, being a practiced scout, has a sensible idea, and tries to steal bits and pieces from one of the eater beast nests. That goes less well than it could, and he ends up in the nest when its owner comes back to feed its enormous pink chicks! Luckily he manages to hide beneath one of the chicks — it is literally sitting on his head — until the parent leaves, and make off with a pack full of stuff.
Lozenge has no ideas, only bravery. She heads off into the Between in search of Eater stuff that Cobalt thinks might be stored here, and immediately gets lost. Worse, she runs into a pair of roving cannibal mice from Asphalt! What are they doing up here? She has no idea, her only plan is to hide, keep very very still, and hope they don't notice her.
The Asphalt-mice smell something. They appear to be able to sense blood ... or is it hearbeats? Either way, they stop, looking for her. Luckily Lozenge manages to remain still enough that they leave!
Back at the Roost, the nest is built just in time. Snow begins to fall, winter is here. Luckily the new Roost Nest, although hastily built and somewhat fragile, is at least warm and snug. It is a place to wait out the winter. (Robyn takes a flaw — Fragile — to make the final roll, but then ends up also getting a benefit — Snug).
Winter in Roost
The Tribe spends the winter months in Roost. Everyone grows older, but no one dies, not even Sweep, who is now a Greyfurred Elder, but a few pups come along — courtesy of Lozenge and Cobalt (we used the random pup roll by group consent. Robyn ended up with a kit that she decided was pure white, and since Lozenge is pure white, it made sense that she was the mother). One of them, named Cyan, survived the winter and thrived.
Pritt and Scotch, the two Clippy Yearlings, also come of age. Clippy traditions say that they should keep their names, but Pritt and Scotch have now spent half their lives with the 11th Tribe, and make their own tradition, deciding to name themselves after things in Roost. Pritt becomes Bone, and Scotch becomes Feather.
We also took a Tribe Advancement, because the Tribe managed to survive the year undamaged (they healed the Exhausted Damage from lack of water earlier). Valid options were taking a Tribe Ability, or raising the Tribe's size from 3 to 4. Many arguments, but the result was increasing the Tribe's size.
A Stranger in Rain
We ended the session at the start of the Rain season. The nest has begun to rot, as has the ice, and the tribe is starting to consider starting their journey again. While Husk is out scouting she runs across a stranger lost in the Between, it is Twisted Pair, the Waykeeper who tried to rob them the year before. Some of the players want to leave him lost, others want to give him help, even invite him to join the 11th Tribe! There are arguments, and — of course — a vote. For the first time the result is a tie! Tribble prepares to hold a seance and contact the ghost of their dead queen to break the tie ...
- We started late with this session, but really got loads done. Using single rolls and Facts to establish things is working well, though I'm still giving too much guidance on how to spend successes.
- The new travel rules worked very well. There was a lot of tension around whether they could reach their destination in time, with the clock counting down. Every Rest they spent not travelling (looking for water, telling stories) was a big choice.
- The new Tribe Effort rules (roll dice equal to the size of the tribe + 1 per player in the group activity) worked well for gathering resources.
- Once again Lozenge got into a heap of trouble, and showed that a hyper-specialised character is a lot riskier to play outside their speciality. She was almost eaten by cannibals!
- We got to properly play through a Winter Season for the first time, and it was great. Across the group we managed to hit every note: rolled for pups, ageing effects, death. No PC died (or lost a stat) but the amount of Luck in the party went down by 4 even as their Stats and Edges went up, which seems like a nice balance.
October 11th — The Eleventh Tribe, Session Four
From the paw of Cobolt
After spending some time resting at Ghost tribe, we decided to venture into Underboiler in search of potential tribe mates and information that may help us on our journey across Fac-Tory and onwards to Canteen.
The way down the vertical was treacherous but we managed to descend using our handy winch (tinkered by yours truly) and my noble snail D’artagnan.
Upon reaching Underboiler Dusty came across two arguing Hylin attempting to turn a wheel to prove their physical prowess. We offered help in the way of tools, but it seemed to offend them. We soon discovered that Underboiler tribe rules were vastly different to our own. While we at the 11th tribe are used to democracy, in Underboiler status is granted through the demonstration of great physical strength. After a brief fight between the two Hylin, Lozange turned the wheel herself and we were invited to come into their nest and seek training from their great champion. Unfortunately one of our tribe members is a disgraced member of Underboiler, having left due to their peaceful nature. It was up to me to create a something so brilliant that it could conceal their identity. I ended up tinkering him a mask so impressive that it concealed face completely. (They are hereby known as Lucho to avoid discovery.)
When we reached the training room of Underboiler’s great champion we discovered that the slander from stationary had already reached this far and that our tribe had been branded across Fac-Tory as kit-nappers! We quickly explained our situation to the champion and they agreed that they had indeed thought wrongly of us and that perhaps we should attempt to convince their leader of this to avoid a tribe war.
We sought council with the Valve master of Underboiler and were challenged to a wrestling match. Our brave Lozenge took on the Valve master Ratchet and won, proving our worth to Underboiler and saving us from a potential conflict.
We decided that after saving our reputation and learning about Underboiler, it was time to continue on our journey. The rest of the tribe were so impressed with my mask making that perhaps I shall get to make us all masks very soon!
- I did almost everything wrong in the fight between Lozenge and Ratchet: I used dice pools as initiative, I forgot to give Ratchet First Strike, I didn't notice that Rick used a Thing even though they were fighting barepawed, I let Rick roll Fighting instead of Pushing ... basically a disaster rules-wide, however it was still great fun.
- Absolutely nothing about this session was planned — I'd expected the group to go somewhere else entirely. However it still flowed well and I was impressed by how well the system (Obstacles, Danger, Monsters, dice rolls) stood up to the sort of ad-hoc treatment we were giving it.
October 6th — The Eleventh Tribe, Session Three
Today's report brought to you by the paw of Lozange
Our Tribe of exiles and outcasts from the other Tribes of mice in Fac-tory, voted on where to go next. It was a close call between trying to claim territory over the hitherto unclaimed Can-Teen (a far flung region of Fac-Tory, where adventurous mice sometimes go to scavenge); or seeking to instead to build alliances and seek aid from those remaining tribes that might be friendly to us.
So, it was decided to travel to visit my old Tribe, Ghost, who live on top of an industrial boiler and are kinda like Tibetan monks (David's doing, not mine for once). They're all albino mice, being escaped laboratory mice, who wear feathers knotted into their fur.
On the way we were attacked by centipedes, who threatened to eat our kits (baby mice). My heroic white knight killed the centipedes with her spear, and gained herself a chitin helmet fashioned from the head of a slain centipede, as a prize for killing the centipedes and thus becoming the first Champion of our new Tribe.
Eventually we were able to scale the treacherous ascent up the boiler to the Tribelands of Ghost; visit the tribe's Mystic who has a map to Death itself tattooed into her skin, which allows those who know how to communicate with the dead Queen of the Hylin (which is what the mice call themselves); and now we are recovering from our journey and making plans where to go next, while one of our number has taken to meditation upon the Void (the great drop down the side of the industrial boiler) in an attempt to find wisdom.
I tried an experiment with the travel. The journey was assigned a number of dice, as if it was an Obstacle, but one that required Damage to overcome (I may be calling this 'Resilient', stay tuned). The group made "Knowing (Places)" rolls against the Obstacle. They could spend successes on finding food, or places to sleep, or making progress, whereas I could spend successes on Encounters (or raising Danger).
Naturally this meant that the first roll (against an Obstacle 8) was pretty much bound to fail, while the last few (against Obstacle 2 or 3) were bound to succeed ... which probably wasn't right. I think the idea of tracking successes to reach the destination is good, but I should have been rolling Danger instead of the Obstacle Dice ... of course that might have made it too easy ... something to think on!
- The Centipedes were vicious. They had the Venomous Quality, so did 1 Sick damage for every 1 Hurt. Luckily no one took more than 1 Hurt from them, or we might have had some dead mice!
- Trubble used the spend luck for a fact rule to have the Centipede bite him and not the kits, worked perfectly.
- Lozenge showed that even a young mouse could hyper-specialise into one good roll (in this case Fighting), but that they are even weaker in other areas than an old mouse. Rick could pass all the fighting rolls thrown at him, but not anything else.