It's been a long time since The Gryphon and I played Confed, which is the accepted nickname for Confederation, the role-playing game created by our friend, The Cheshire Cat, who also serves as GM.
On Saturday, we were able, for once, to attend. We had dinner at the Olive Garden first, to use a gift-card from my Mom. Then we got stuck in traffic on I-76 on the way there. We called and let The Cheshire Cat know we'd be late.
When we arrived, we were pleased to see that they weren't yet started when we arrived. Our late arrival had also apparently given The Punster the chance to create a new character, whom we would be meeting shortly.
Participating were myself as Carmella Maylock, a cheval trader (or gypsy) who's been made the default ship's captain; The Gryphon as Stephen Graff, a computer hacker extraordinaire contracted by the Confederation to do intelligence work; The Dormouse playing Liang Tze, a Shaolin monk who is strongly opposed to deadly violence; The White Rabbit as Alauzhi, a large female cat creature skilled with weaponry; Batman as Steve's girlfriend, Tina Balthazar, a female mecha pilot who's a bit on the wild and crazy side; and Batman's roommate as Johann Wolfcastle, an eight-foot-tall genetically engineered goon with a cybernetic eye, a penchant for weaponry and a thick Austrian accent.
Batman told me that Tina and Taiwan (the ship's hard-drinking, idiot-savant engineer and Carmella's second cousin), have become convinced that Johann is a spy, although any nation that would hire him as a spy would get what they deserve. Johann is not exactly gifted in the intelligence department nor known for his subtlety.
The crew of the Vandervecken were in the middle of an adventure which had started one or two sessions ago. They'd been hired by a religious organization called the Brotherhood of the Sword and contracted to locate a ship that had been hijacked, but more importantly, to locate its previous cargo: nearly 100 refugees, members of a religious sect who, after facing persecution on their own planet, were leaving the Western Worlds Alliance, headed for a new home, Prizren in the Rimhold Empire. The ship had been hijacked while en route. I should add that the Confederation Navy had urged the Vandervecken crew to take this job, because it was in keeping with interests of the Confederation. The crew of the Vandervecken, while they take on a variety of different assignments, also sometimes operate as a sort of black-Ops arm of the Confederation.
In the previous session, the Vandervecken crew had found the missing ship but neither the refugees nor the crew. They had, however, figured out that one of the crew members had been part of an inside operation to hijack the ship. And they'd found out the name of the underworld figure who'd been involved in taking the stolen ship to the chop shop.
While returning the ship to the planet where the Brotherhood of the Sword was based, Carmella met Johann and, astonished by his size and strength, challenged him to pick up Liang-Tze with one hand, no easy feet, given that Liang-Tze is a muscular martial artist. But Johann did it easily and, when he set Liang-Tze down, Carmella said, "Don't worry. I know you could still kick his butt."
Tina, meanwhile, tried to convince Johann that he should use a stunner in battle. Johann is from the Rimhold Empire, and unlike the Confederation citizens, doesn't feel compelled to opt primarily for non-lethal force.
The crew of the Vandervecken, undercover under the name Grievous Angel, arrived at the home planet of the Brotherhood of the Sword and checked in with their leader. They told him what they'd learned. Stephen wore his Confederation uniform, which drew the attention of the leader. The Cheshire Cat, who plays all the NPCs (non-player characters), took The Punster out of the room temporarily to discuss something with him. They returned, and the Brotherhood leader introduced the crew to a tall, blonde individual named Brother Alexander (but he later told the crew they could call him Brother Alex), a member of the Brotherhood who had worked with refugee issues before. The leader wanted him to join the operation to serve as a liaison to the group, because, as he put it, "You have a liaison to the Confederation."
Brother Alex was rather quiet, and the crew didn't learn much about him, except that he had dealt with refugee issues for many years and therefore knew something about the underworld. As he put it, his type of work often, unfortunately, put him in touch with unsavory characters.
The crew took off again for the planet where they'd been told they could find Big Mickey, on Gregory in the Western Worlds Alliance, the same planet, in fact, from where the refugees had escaped. En route, Carmella got some martial arts training from Liang-Tze, who primarily helped her work on balance and focus. That was achieved primarily from stacking up boxes in the cargo bay and having her attempt to balance on them.
Because of previous adventures, the Vandervecken crew was not welcome in the Western Worlds. In fact, if their true identities were released, they could be in grave danger, so the crew dusted off their cover identities, and Carmella pulled out her Molly Ringwald passport.
The crew needed a plausible story for the border guards when they arrived, so they decided to pose as merchants, looking for a potential market custom-built computers suitable for agricultural businesses. As The Cheshire Cat explains, "The Western Worlds is a developed industrialized society (although it's far behind the Confederation technologically). However, Gregory is a poor Western Worlds border planet that eagerly imports agricultural technology."
The Vandervecken crew had a few discussions about meeting him and discovered that, since Stephen spoke the language, he could act as interpreter and take the lead in the conversation. They changed into their best business suits and decided what to take with them, in terms of weapons, because of the border agents. Most of the party didn't take any weapons, but Stephen and Tina took so-called glass weapons, which are concealable weapons with a low profile for scans. Johann took a tool bag that contained a couple weapons that could be passed off as tools.
When they arrived at their destination, Carmella, Brother Alex and Stephen hit the streets to learn where they could find Big Mickey. Stephen's contact had told them to go to a certain restaurant and ask for a "party of five," regardless of how many people were in the group. They were seated at a table and brought food that they hadn't ordered.
One of the members of the crew took a look around the room and spotted one guy with a gun in a back corner. Other than that, the room was fairly empty, although they had reason to suspect they'd been videotaped by a security camera on the way in.
Big Mickey came in, an imposing guy, and took a seat at the table. He spoke in Patois, the language of the Vandervecken crew, so a translator was not needed. Carmella began to speak, since she had some familiarity with the underworld.
Now, I could have chosen, as a player, to just roll on one of my skills, such as "Low Society," and have The Cheshire Cat summarize the results. But I'd been having extremely bad luck with the dice that night and decided to role-play it. Of course, Carmella knows more about such situations than I do, and I floundered for an opening statement.
Brother Alex, seeing Carmella's uncertainty, offered to take over. I told him to go ahead. He put all our cards on the table, telling Big Mickey we were looking for the refugees and that our investigation had led us to him. He just shrugged and said, "What's in it for me?"
We had a Big Brain discussion, which means that we're allowed to put our heads together to discuss options, since the game is sent centuries into the future when, through advanced medicine and genetic tweaking, the characters are all a good deal smarter than we are. This allows us to give each other ideas for how to proceed. The Punster, as Brother Alex, was willing to expend a lot of money to get these refugees back, but The Cheshire Cat assured him it would be next to impossible to pay the amount that might be required. So instead, he came up with a Plan B.
Brother Alex pointed out to Big Mickey that his underlings had basically given him up, wiping away evidence of their own involvement while leaving information that led to him. The authorities would no doubt be interested in pursuing this investigation, leading them directly to Big Mickey's door. But the crew knew that he wasn't the top of the food chain, so if he just directed us to the top of the food chain, they'd make sure the pressure was off of him.
Much as in a Law & Order episode, where he might have said, "You don't have anything on me. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here," he said that he still needed more convincing, in terms of something that would make it worth his time. So Brother Alex offered him the bribe we'd arrived at using our Big Brain: to have Stephen give him executable code for the Tsunami virus, a nasty virus he'd developed that only attacks Alliance computers. Big Mickey could find his own nefarious uses for said virus.
At this, Big Mickey agreed and, with the disk in-hand as well as instructions on how to use it, he told them the name of the ship they sought, the Kingfisher, as well as the name of the person, Beata.
As the crew returned to the Vandervecken, Carmella apologized to them for freezing under pressure. "Usually, I'm good in these sorts of situations," she said. "Good thing Brother Alex was there. Thanks!" He nodded.
The crew then needed to locate the ship. First, Liang-Tze tried speaking to a dock worker whom they had previously befriended. He bought him a couple drinks in a bar. Because The Dormouse decided not to role-play, but instead to roll his dice against his "Small Talk" skill, Liang-Tze got into a lengthy conversation about boxes and how much the dock worker hated them, especially when they had things inside of them. The White Rabbit jumped in as the dock worker, rambling on and on in an amusing stream-of-consciousness way about his personal grievances with his job. "And the fork lift! It hasn't been working for two weeks!"
Finally, the dock worker got around to the crucial information, which was that he'd seen the ship in-system three weeks ago ( the same time that the hijacking took place) and that it was a local ship. However, he didn't know where it was just now.
The next route was to go through another contact they'd made, namely an air traffic controller that Tina had previously talked to, claiming at the time that she was looking for her lost brother. "Can anybody bake cookies?" she asked. Carmella, who has good cooking skills, baked them some delicious cookies.
Stephen and Tina went to the front desk at the air traffic control tower and asked to see the specific controller she'd spoken to. She'd found her brother, she said, gesturing to Stephen, and wanted to thank him. They were OK'ed to go up.
When they entered the guy's office, she gave him the cookies and thanked him profusely, gushing about how happy she was that they'd helped find her brother. Stephen, meanwhile, asked where the bathroom was and, on his way there, ducked into an empty office, hooked into their computer network, and retrieved the information they sought. He'd been looking for the last known arrival of the ship as well as its last registered flight plan. But he lucked out and found out its exact location, as well, 250 kilometers (100 miles) Northeast of the city.
After almost being spotted coming out of the office, he made a quick stop in the bathroom and returned to the office, where Tina finished her thanks and they said good-bye. The flight controller waved to them, busily munching on cookies.
The Vandervecken crew, on this new information, geared up to go to the rescue of the refugees. They took Stephen's stealth Rimholder military AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) aircar, which is usually kept behind a concealed panel in the docking bay of the Vandervecken. Carmella got to ride with Tina inside her stealth mecha.
Once they arrived, they saw a refugee camp enclosed by a fence, with guard towers on each of the corners. It was right next to a large transport ship, emblazoned with the name Kingfisher. "It's a concentration camp," Carmella exclaimed.
They made battle plans. Tina in the mecha would take out the guard towers, while Liang-Carmella and Liang-Tze, who speaks the language of the refugees, would approach on foot and calm down the refugees as the battle ensued, to let them know what was happening and minimize civilian casualties. Meanwhile, Alauzhi, Brother Alex and Johann would board the ship and take control.
Now, Confederation policy is to use non-lethal force wherever necessary, but if you're under direct threat, deadly force is justified. Some characters, such as Liang-Tze, have personal reasons to make even more heroic efforts to avoid lethal force, even when under personal threat. Others, such as Tina and Stephen, draw no such distinctions.
As Liang-Tze and Carmella were approaching the camp, Carmella snapped a twig, and a guard in the nearest tower aimed at them. Tina, in her mecha, took aim with a rail gun and hit the tower with such force that it exploded into splinters, killing its two occupants.
I quipped, "This fight scene will be directed by Michael Bay. And it will be awesome."
Using a sniper rifle, from a hill nearby, Stephen provided cover for all three of them, dispatching baddies who threatened his fellow crew members Tina blew up another guard tower. While Tina's mecha was still in stealth mode, when she shot the rail gun, it kicked up so much dust that it made it made her outline momentarily visible. When a guard on the ground took aim at her, Stephen took him down with one shot, along with another guard who ran onto the scene moments later.
Meanwhile, Alauzhi, Brother Alex and Johann had boarded the ship through an open cargo bay door. Their plan was to take over the engineering room, where they could manipulate all the ship's systems until they gained control. First, though, Alauzhi needed to open a locked door. When she failed at electronic lock-picking, Johann placed explosives and blew it apart, thus attracting the attention of members of the ship's crew, as they would discover shortly.
Outside, Liang-Tze and Carmella had reached the gate guards. They made quick work of them, using non-lethal force: a stunner in the case of Carmella and a stun grenade in the case of Liang-Tze. She disarmed them, taking their 9 mm pistols, as well as the keys to the gate.
Of course, another guard on the ground tried to attack them, but Stephen acted quickly to take them down.
Tina took out the third tower, this time using a laser but nonetheless literally knocking the tower guard out of his boots, killing him instantly. She wondered aloud: "I wonder if the guy in the fourth tower gets the hint and abandons his post."
Sadly for him, he didn't, and he attempted to strike Liang-Tze, who was using his grav belt to vault over the fence to speak to the refugees. Carmella insisted it was a bad idea to open the gate while the chaos was still ensuing, because they would be frightened and run off, possibly directly into danger.
So, shaking her head in a resigned fashion, Tina blew the final tower into bits in a massive explosion. It was awesome. She decloaked her mecha at that point and made an announcement in the presumed language of the guards: "Surrender or die." This, The Cheshire Cat told us, was programmed into the mecha in every conceived language, easily accessed by pushing a button, for just such occasions.
Liang-Tze made a general announcement, using his wrist communicator as a loudspeaker, informing the refugees what was happening. Just then, a guard inside the fenced area shot Liang-Tze, hitting him in the chest. Only because of his extraordinary training was Liang-Tze able to carry on, despite the wound. He threw a stun grenade at the guard, knocking him unconscious.
A nearby refugee disarmed the guard and killed him with his own weapon, then running off deep into the camp. Liang-Tze, concerned about the possibility of further senseless violence, followed.
Speaking of senseless violence, the boarding crew encountered an elevator full of baddies, overpowered them, through force (deadly in Johann's case, nonlethal in Brother Alex's case) and took the elevator up to the engine room.
At Tina's announcement, the two guards remaining inside the camp immediately dropped their weapons and tried to surrender, but Liang-Tze approached just as the refugee with the weapon aimed at one of the defenseless guards. Liang-Tze disarmed him, using his collapsible bo staff, and told him, "If you do that, you'll be just as bad as the people who did this to you." He promised him that justice will be done.
At this point, it was about 1 a.m., and The Gryphon and I had to get back to our doggy, Una. I made sure to point out that even though I was leaving, Carmella would have used her first-aid skills to patch up Liang-Tze's wounds.
When The Gryphon saw The Dormouse the next day, he told him the rest of the story. They had reclaimed the ship and rescued the refugees, taking them to their destination in the Rimhold Empire. They also discovered who had kidnapped and interred the refugees. They were a reactionary group from within the Rimhold Empire who didn't like foreigners, especially poor refugees, coming into their system. Therefore, they had kidnapped them and imprisoned them to their own planet.
The Vandervecken had encountered this group before, and no one was unhappy that the guards who'd been captured alive were funneled through the Confederation justice system and had their minds wiped, the severest punishment, used for the worst felonies. Mind-wipes are then given new identities and reintroduced into society, far from the places where they had originally lived.
Now, the Vandervecken crew had agreed to take on this mission despite no promise of financial reward, in part because of the urging of the Confederation and in part because of the humanitarian nature of the mission. So they were very surprised when they were invited to the palace of the Rimhold emperor in Freya, the capital city. He escorted them down to his treasure vaults and told them to each pick something as a reward. As The Gryphon and I weren't there at the time, we won't know until the next time we play what our characters gained from the adventure, other than, of course, some delicious cookies, some awesome explosions, and a warm, glowing feeling inside.
Further adventures from Confed:
If your guard tower is the last one standing, it's time to jump.