I was sufficiently recovered from my cold this weekend to play Confed, the role-playing game created by The Cheshire Cat, who also serves as GM. This was a special session, held because our friend, The Court Wizard, was in town.
Also 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; 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.
The Cheshire Cat got us up to speed on a mission that had started in a previous session. The crew of the Vandervecken had been called to assist the government of a small planet of Velebi in the Rimhold Empire in tracking down a suspected assassin, Paulina Ivesk, a.k.a. Tracia Perk, who'd been implicated in the massacres of rival pirate ships, presumably with the goal of uniting the pirates into one organization. She was wanted by the Confederation for those and other offenses, but more importantly, she was suspected of being involved in a plot to assassinate the Grand Duke Sarlin of Zhykia at an upcoming Millennium Celebration. Such an action would no doubt throw that region of space into turmoil, thus clearing the way for an organized fleet of pirates to capitalize on the chaos. Ivesk had been spotted on surveillance camera shortly after arrival to the planet but had gone to ground since then and stayed off the grid.
Velebit was ruled by Baron Kakutza Makharadze, who owes fealty to the Grand Duke. The crew was in the city of Sochi, where the Baron's castle was located.
First, the crew of the Vandervecken met with the commander of the Duke's guards, Vanio Usupov, in order to question him about security arrangements for the millennium celebration and let him know they were on the job.
When they entered the room, Usupov asked who was in charge, and everyone glanced around awkwardly for a while until Johann, who is a member of the Rimhold military, stepped forward. Despite his reputation of being something of a dim bulb, he outshone himself when it came to Rimhold military procedures. He handled the conversation with the proper sense of decorum, managing to reassure the commander that the Vandervecken crew could be trusted with top-secret information, such as the guard's plans for protecting the Duke at the celebration.
Previously, Tina had told Carmella that Johann was on board the Vandervecken as a "spy." Well, it turned out this information had a grain of truth. He had originally been stationed on the Confederation ship the Vandervecken by the Rimhold Empire, who are allies of the Confederation, to serve as the Empire's eyes and ears. Tina and Taiwan (the ship's idiot savant engineer and Carmella's second cousin, twice removed) had decided that Johann must be on board to keep Taiwan out of trouble, since Taiwan is engaged to a baroness of the Rimhold Empire. They'd confronted the Rimhold Empire with that information. Subsequently, the Rimhold Empire had officially made that his assignment on the ship. Which is a long-winded way of saying that he didn't need to lie when he told the commander of the guards that he was the personal guard for the consort of a Rimholder baroness, otherwise known as Baron Taiwan MacGyver.
Katya also took a lead role in the discussion, as a high-ranking officer in the Confederation, assuring the commander that the Confederation was very interested in capturing this suspect. Of course, Usupov made it clear that their top priority was preventing an assassination. The Rimhold Empire had no compunctions about killing the would-be assassin in order to assure the Duke's safety. Katya nodded, meanwhile keenly aware that the Vandervecken crew intended to capture Ivesk alive, so she could be interrogated about the assassination plot and other criminal enterprises.
Of course, that also highlights a difference between the Confederation and the Rimholders. The Confederation prefers to handle conflict in a non-lethal manner: hence the use of stunners as the primary weapon. The Rimholders, however, lock and load the most lethal weapons available. It had taken some convincing in a previous adventure, for example, to convince Johann that a stunner was an appropriate weapon to use for an armed conflict. He was eventually convinced when Tina threatened to stun him in the head and tie him up upside down in his undies, to demonstrate a stunner's efficacy. Johann, though, was still a Rimholder at heart, as he would make clear later.
After the meeting with the commander, the Vandervecken crew discussed possible attack methods the assassin might use. Stephen ran an analysis on information the commander had given him about the security plans for the Millennium Celebration. Katya, meanwhile, posited the possibility of the assassin attacking with a small nuclear bomb or perhaps even launch an organized attack from space.
Carmella argued that Ivesk was known to be an assassin, and her normal M.O. was in-person "wetwork." Katya, who as a member of the Confed military, thought along military lines, insisted on tracking down leads regarding a possible military attack from organized bands of pirates.
As someone who had traded on the black market and had plenty of dealings with the underworld in the past, Carmella, was convinced that the best way to track down an underworld character was through underworld sources. Putting her head together with Tina and Stephen, she decided the best way to track Ivesk would be through the gold she'd been using in lieu of a credit line (part of her bid to stay off the grid). Fortunately, gold was an unusual currency in the Rimhold Empire, meaning that she would have been forced to trade large amounts of it for cash.
After some inquiries, Carmella managed to find a jeweler who was known to purchase large amounts of gold, and she arranged a meeting. Tina came along as translator into Empire German, as the Confederation members all spoke Patois. In actuality, Carmella's Empire German was passable, as well, but they agreed to do it this way because it would cause the jeweler to underestimate her, which could be to her advantage. Katya came along to serve as the muscle, while the rest of the crew waited outside at the van, watching their wrist comms, just in case they received an emergency beacon from Carmella, Tina and Katya.
Before entering, they explained to Johann how to look for the emergency signal on his wrist comm, since it was Confederation technology and therefore relatively new to him. They told him about the emergency beacon. "So if your wrist starts lighting up," Carmella told him, "come in, guns a-blazing." And then, remembering that he has a cybernetic arm, she clarified, "That is, if your wrist comm starts lighting up, not your robotic arm."
They hadn't made really solid plans before this meeting, except to express an interest in purchasing more gold than he was likely than the jeweler was likely to have on-hand. Carmella began speaking in Patois, with Tina as translator. She took a few liberties with her translations, adding in specifics that Carmella hadn't thought to include in her request, which incidentally, helped Carmella save face, as the jeweler presumably had no clue that she hadn't said things exactly that way. So, between the two of them, they managed to convince the jeweler that they were in the market for a hefty amount of gold, CS$50,000, for which they planned to pay in cash, as well as providing the jeweler with a finder's fee of 1 percent, or CS$500. To put this in perspective, the average annual salary in the Empire was $5,000.
He asked them for a contact number, but they hadn't thought to create an untraceable contact, so they suggested instead that he set up a time for them to meet with the buyer the next day at the shop. He agreed.
Meanwhile, since Katya had noticed that the store had security cams, they text-messaged Stephen on his wrist comm, suggesting that he figure out a way to link to that feed. In particular, they were interested in data files of recorded video for the past two weeks, to find out if Ivesk herself had appeared in the store.
He found an electronics box on the side of the building, through which he hooked into the video surveillance system and obtained a live link with the store's cameras. They could see that the jeweler was talking on the phone to someone but couldn't hear what he was saying and decided that tapping into the audio line was too risky. Stephen set it up so he could have remote access later, because retrieving the archival video files would take longer.
The rest of the crew was waiting in the van, with Johann outside the van, standing guard. He was approached by a guy with a long gun concealed under a trench coat, who insisted that he had to move the van, because it was blocking the alley. Since Stephen was still hooked into the electronics box down that alley, Johann stalled, claiming that there was something wrong with the van and that he would move it as soon as he figured it out.
Stephen extracted his equipment and ran out the other end of the alley, at which point, Johann hopped into the driver's seat. "Wait a minute," Carmella said. "Does Stephen have the keys? He was driving." But fortunately for them, Stephen had left the keys in the ignition when he hopped out to hook onto the box, and Johann twisted the key in the ignition again once the engine was started, to produce a grinding noise and make it appear as if they really were having van troubles.
As he drove off without Stephen, Tina — who is not known for her restraint — threatened Johann at gunpoint not to leave Stephen behind. "Jeez, I was just texting him to ask where to pick him up," Johann said.
"Do I have to separate you two?" Carmella asked, stepping into the role of ship's captain. While she had initially shrugged off the title of captain, since she knew she'd acquired it only because no one else wanted it, Carmella has since discovered that pulling rank has its uses.
When Stephen's security analysis was completed, Katya, Johann and Stephen returned to share the results with the Usupov. At that time, Johann requested a no-fly zone over the area where the celebration would be held, and Stephen revealed another weakness he'd discovered in the plan: the baron's castle itself, for which there were no plans to provide extra security. Usupov assured them there was no need to worry.
"Oh, I feel so much better now," Katya said after leaving the meeting. "They're certain it's OK because they're certain it's OK."
Usupov assured him he would provide the requested no-fly zone, but he said he was not the person to ask about military readiness. Instead, he set up a meeting for Johann and Katya with Commander Lipinski, in charge of the Imperial Navy presence in this star system. Johann told him that the Vandervecken had a number of high-value targets aboard and that it was his standard protocol to find out about the defenses for planets where he was staying with his charge, Baron Taiwan MacGyver While the commander wouldn't give away classified portions of the defense plan, he assured him that he and his ship's satellites would provide 15 to 30 minutes' warning of a space attack, both warning the planet and notifying Johann via his wrist comm.
Back at the Vandervecken, the crew discussed strategy. Given the security weakness at the baron's castle, they wanted to assess the loyalty of the baron's guards, in order to determine if there were any weak links who might assist the assassin. For this task, Tina, Carmella and Liang-Tze made plans to head to the local pub to "chat up" the guards. The rest of the crew worked on acquiring and analyzing more information about the security of the celebration.
In the bar, Carmella ordered them a pitcher of the local beer, and noticing an empty pool table, suggested that she and Tina play a game of pool. Since neither of them had the slightest clue how to play, Tina used her knowledge of physics to develop her own version of the game, which she called Space Pool. Partly because Tina actually did have some sports ability and Carmella had neither sports ability nor knowledge of physics, Tina routed her. It probably also helped that Tina had invented the game.
By this point, a group had gathered around them, including members of the baron's guards, enjoying some R&R. It's important to remember that both Carmella and Tina are highly attractive women, even if neither of them are particularly "girlie." So one of the guards eagerly offered to play the winner, and Tina explained the rules.
Carmella turned to another guard and exclaimed, "Can you believe that she beat me like that? She creamed me!" He said that, actually, he thought that she'd done fairly well. He asked what the game was called. She told him it was called Space Pool. In answer to his question about where she was from, she threw a fist in the air and slurred, "We're from space! We're here for the Millennium Celebration! Woo!"
You see, Carmella doesn't hold her liquor very well. However, she'd only had about half a beer, as she'd been focusing mostly on the game, instead of doing a lot of drinking. She wasn't drunk enough to forget her mission.
As it was, he was a consummate gentleman and offered to buy her a drink: a coffee, that is. She took him up on it. "Say, didn't I see you wearing a uniform today?" she asked. He said that yes, he was a member of the baron's guard. "Oh, cool! I don't know anyone who guards a baron." This was something of a lie, because she did, after all, know the bodyguard for Baron Taiwan; however, he didn't notice the falsehood.
"So are you, like, the most important guard?" she asked him. He said that no, that would be the commander of the guards. "Oh, but do you get to hear all the gossip? Like whether the baron's having an affair or not? I heard he's something of a skeeze!"
At this point, Batman's Roommate, who wasn't in this scene, exclaimed, "You're going to start a bar fight!"
I assured him it was all right. "Johann saying this might get him into a bar fight. A pretty, drunk girl saying it, nothing's going to happen. Trust me. I know what I'm doing."
Really, the statement was a test, and the baron's guard passed it, leaping to the baron's defense. "He is an honorable man, and I would never serve him if I didn't have respect for him," he said, indignantly.
"Oh, well, I guess you can't believe everything you read in the gossip rags in the space ports," Carmella said. No, he agreed, you couldn't. And then he asked for her phone number!
Tina, meanwhile, was gaining useful information from her Space Pool companion. She found out from him that all the members of the baron's guard were loyal to the baron and that there were no recent hires. This information wouldn't have surprised Johann, as a member of the Rimhold military. A feudal society, Rimholders value personal loyalty and honor above all.
Liang-Tze struck up a game of darts with a number of other guards, attempting to find out from them whether there had been any recent hires among the domestic staff. But he failed to turn the conversation in the direction he had hoped, and instead, the guards spent most of their time talking about the physical attributes of their favorite scullery maid.
Time, then, to sleep off the half a beer and prepare for the next day's meeting with the gold dealer. The players brainstormed ways to use the meeting to bring the crew closer to Ivesk and came up with a plan. Once more, Carmella, Tina and Katya went inside, while Johann, Liang-Tze and Stephen waited outside.
By now, The Gryphon had fallen asleep on the couch, effectively taking Stephen out of the game for the rest of the session. I woke him up, though, long enough for Stephen to analyze the surveillance tapes, although he found no sign of Ivesk having been in the jeweler's shop.
When Carmella, Tina and Katya entered, they saw the jeweler, standing beside a woman carrying a brief case. After introducing herself in Patois, Carmella was slightly surprised to discover that the woman answered in a thickly accented Patois, as well. "Oh, what a relief not to need a translator," Carmella said, while Tina fumed. Really, in the back of her head, Carmella was thinking, "Great. Now Tina can't help me out if I forget to mention something."
Carmella told her that they were eager to proceed with the transaction but wanted to talk to her first about a concern. She told the woman that they'd learned gold was being passed that had been marked with a chemical isotope by the Rimhold Empire as part of a criminal investigation. That gold was being passed by a known pirate, and anyone found in possession of it was likely to attract unwanted attention from the authorities. "The people we deal with" — by implication, the mob — "certainly do not want that sort of attention," Carmella said.
The woman agreed to let them examine the gold, and Tina faked some sciency-type analysis, looking for the fictitious isotope. Meanwhile, Carmella got a good look at the gold bar and noticed a flaw in the bank stamps on three of them. The bars were marked with the mint mark of the Free Stars Union had the wrong number of stars, nine instead of 10. Carmella pointed out this error immediately. "This bank stamp has been forged," she said. "We can't take it."
At this point, the woman had already denied having any dealings with the pirate, but Carmella called her bluff. "You know, the person who passed you this bad gold is only going to bring you trouble. Tell us who it was, and we'll take that trouble off your hands."
Tina jumped in, to sweeten the deal. "We'll make it worth your while. We'll give you 25 percent of the bounty." In actuality, the Vandervecken crew knew of no such bounty.
Not missing a beat, Carmella said, "Listen to my accountant."
The woman handed over a contact number. But anxious to resolve the matter as soon as possible, Carmella added, "Personally, the people we deal with have a beef with her and would like to see the problem eliminated. If you set up a meeting with her, we'll take care of it for you. Tell her that you need to meet with her further about the gold."
"It will cost you more," the woman said. "Forty percent of the bounty?"
Tina weighed the option silently. Batman quipped, "Forty percent of nothing? That's a lot of nothing.""
"Thirty-five," Tina offered.
The woman agreed and took the untraceable contact number that the crew had remembered to set up in advance, promising to set up a meeting. Liang-Tze attempted to tail her but one of her two goons spotted him coming around the corner, and he walked nonchalantly away.
Katya and Johann, intent on crossing all the "T's" and, knowing Johann, probably putting umlauts on all the "U's," met with the Baron's captain of guards, Captain Dorn Ludwik. Although he wasn't cleared to know about the mission, which was being kept quiet in order to keep prevent a public panic, Usupov had informed him about the situation. Katya and Johann wanted to discuss the lapses of security at the Baron's castle. He tells them that he has personally vetted all the employees of the castle and knows of would stake his reputation on their loyalty. He gave them the castle defense plan for the celebrations, as well as a list of servants who work for the baron, and promised to provide a list of the caterers for the celebration, who hadn't yet been hired.
After leaving the meeting, Katya quipped, "They've had a millennium to plan for this thing. You'd think they would have hired the caterers by now."
The crew received noticed about the meeting with Ivesk, which would take place along an abandoned shipping pier and warehouse area on the west bank of the river, since the crew had requested a place that was "quiet," with the idea that there wouldn't be any civilians around who might be endangered.
If the players had known how the meeting was going to go down, we probably would have woken up The Gryphon, if only for the extra gun.
The crew laid plans, agreeing to spread out in concealed locations, where they could get the jump on Ivesk, stun her and arrest her. We noted that it was just like one of those episodes on Law & Order. The Court Wizard said, "You mean, where the perp escapes the dragnet and runs off into the crowd?" Hopefully, not.
In case you're wondering why the Vandervecken crew didn't call in local military or police for reinforcements, they were afraid of scaring Ivesk off and losing their best chance of arresting her before the Millennium Celebration.
About an hour before the meeting, the crew scoped out the location and found places to conceal themselves. Tina wanted a bird's eye view, for strategic reasons, and she found a place on a nearby rooftop, while Liang-Tze hid behind a bush and Carmella ducked down behind some garbage bins. Katya, in the Fuchikoma, a stealth mecha, waited inside a nearby warehouse, the door ajar. Johann, however, chose to remain readily visible, standing beside the van, smoking a cigar. When you're an eight-foot-tall genetically-engineered part-cybernetic goon, you feel comfortable taking such risks.
Tina heard a sound behind her on the roof, and she ducked out of sight behind a ventilation shaft. Just then, she heard someone lean against the opposite side of the shaft, and she jumped out and used her quick-draw skills to take out the unseen adversary, who turned out to be an advance man for Ivesk, trying to find a place to conceal himself. Only he didn't count on the Vandervecken crew beating him to it and would wake up with one heck of a headache as a result. Tina was using a high-powered stunner weapon, akin to an assault weapon. She relieved him of his pistol and his phone. He was no longer in any condition to use them.
Another heavy entered, this one on the ground. He saw Johann and, assuming he was the advance man for the gold dealer, asked, "Where's Opilka?"
"She'll be here soon," Johann told him. They shared a lighter as the goon lit up a cigarette and then the heavy radioed to someone, saying simply, "One." As in, there's only bodyguard, one would assume.
Carmella text-messaged everyone on their wrist comms, reminding them to wait for the target before taking action. After what seemed an interminable time, Ivesk approached the meeting place, surrounded by four body guards in a close square formation. Ivesk asked where Opilka is, and Tina who had a clear shot from her rooftop vantage point, nailed her squarely in the chest with her high-powered stunner. Ivesk stumbled, but rather than falling, she began running towards the water.
I quote the Quentin Tarantino movie, Kill Bill: "You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you?"
"You know, for a second there, yes, I did."
Katya left the warehouse to try to figure out how they'd arrived at the scene, to try to ascertain what their possible escape route might be and if there were reinforcements. So when the first round of fighting took place, she wasn't close enough to assist.
Ivesk called, "It came from the left," and one of the henchman began firing blinding to his left, missing his target, since Tina was actually on the roof. He also missed the cloaked mecha, which was in his direction of fire.
Johann grabbed the henchman closest to him, and in true Rimholder fashion, didn't mess around with a stunner but shot him with a high-powered gyrojet pistol at point blank range, blowing his spine in half and using him thereafter as a human shield.
Liang-Tze popped out and, thinking of the mission over his own safety, attempted to hit Ivesk with his staff and knock her down. But he missed and, what's worse, one of her heavies fired at him and struck him in the chest. Only Liang-Tze's remarkable fortitude kept him upright.
Carmella was close enough to take action and had two possible targets: the escaping assassin or the henchman who had shot and was still threatening Liang-Tze, her friend and teacher. She aimed at the henchman and took him down with one stunner blast to the chest. Johann, with extreme prejudice, dropped another henchman, rendering him quite dead.
Then Carmella turned her gun on Ivesk, hitting her with a stunner blast square in the chest. Ivesk stumbled once more, but did not stop running. "She's got some sort of anti-stun body armor. Go for the head," Carmella called out.
Liang-Tze was close enough to place a forceful kick to Ivesk's left arm, breaking it but not stopping her. Another of the standing henchman, though, got another shot at Liang-Tze, striking him in the back. He fought to stay conscious but was clearly weakening.
Using her grave belt, Tina flew off the roof to try to grab Ivesk But as she did, a henchman on the ground got off a lucky shot, striking her in the head.
The Cheshire Cat told Batman, "I'm going to be nice and not kill you, since it was a lucky shot and nothing you did wrong. But you are unconscious for the rest of the battle." I learned then that this had happened to Tina before. Somehow, whenever she gets shot, it's in the head.
"You should wear a helmet," I suggested to Batman.
"I do," he sighed.
Back to the action. Katya ran towards Ivesk, crushing another henchman under her mecha as she did. Ivesk turned to Liang-Tze and, with her good arm, shot him in the chest, and he Liang-Tze lost his battle for consciousness, slumping to the ground and leaving the way clear for an enraged Johann to aim the gyrojet at her. So much for interrogation prospects.
As luck would have it, though, instead of killing her, he merely took off her right arm, and she finally collapsed to the ground, unconscious. The final henchman surrendered before Johann could make similar work of him.
Johann, who's a combat medic and surgeon, ran to attend to Tina, stabilizing her. Carmella, meanwhile, used her primitive medicine skills (essentially first aid) to stabilize Liang-Tze, but she needed help and called Johann over, who managed to stabilize him. Then he worked on Ivesk, stabilizing her, as well.
As soon as the battle ended, the crew signaled the Vandervecken, and the NPC's (non-player characters) who had been left aboard the ship rushed to their rescue, shattering the windows of the abandoned warehouse as it reentered. The injured people, including the still living henchman, were shipped immediately to the medical bay for emergency treatment.
We called it a night at this point, talking about what had just happened. We surmised that Ivesk was only one part of a larger conspiracy. After all, the anti-stun armor she had was extremely expensive and probably, therefore, provided by whoever had hired her for the job. Who that was, though, the crew would have to wait until another day to discover.
You can give a Rimholder a stunner, but you can't make him use it.