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[JAGS] After The War

Started by Marco, September 04, 2004, 11:54:36 AM

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Marco

A GM I like came down for the weekend and we agreed to run a two or three day game using most of the available time (dawn-through-dusk).Here are the results:

Request: I told the GM to come up with a setting for us and we'd make characters. After bouncing things around, he did and sent us notes.

Note: this was one of the darkest, most disturbing games I've ever played in. Although I don't think the write-up will be especially stomach churning (and maybe you'll find it tame) I, and the other players, were fairly shocked by the content.

This was the GM's notes to us:
Quote
- For the War to have a name it would have to have been against people.
- Officially, the War was against a disease
- Unofficially a whole lot of people got killed
- The WHO plans to treat 3 million people with antiretroviral drugs by 2005
- This is called the 3x5 initiative
- South Africa was never on the list
- You went for Leave in Sun City, where you relaxed in postcard
delicious resort complexes and casinos a million miles away from the
dark-blood uncertainty of the veld
- Back in New York, once in awhile, you'll smell a hint of chlorine on
the wind and you're back in Sun City
- It was eighteen months ago that you came home
- It was another lifetime ago
- New York City has the best veteran support program and
infrastructure of any place in the country; it's absurd, really, when
you think about it
- You don't have to work
- You go to school for free
- You live in the great, ancient apartment towers that line the East
Side and look down, across the river, on the horizon-bound sprawl of
Queens
- The schools all seem nearly closed down; you don't remember them
being so empty
- You take night classes, almost everyone is your age. Where are the kids?
- The kids are out there, it seems. Just not in college. Did all the
drive and ambition drain out of the world while you were away?
- Kids these days are strange and impossible to relate to. You don't
remember them being so happy
- Mr. Micheal Goswell says he's thinking about driving a cab. Laying
around all day gets boring and it would be a chance to meet people.
Ace thinks he's cruising for rejection.
- Mr. Micheal was a Warrant Officer. The guys in HQ used to juke that
that meant he worked for the CIA. He was always nervous
- Ace was a nurse trainee. She got into trouble a lot. Dr. Vernon says
she misses that. Sometimes that sounds right
- Dr. Vernon leads your weekly "group" at the Sloan-Kettering Hospital
in Union Square
- You can take the 4, 5, or 6 train to Union Square
- You took trucks and helicopters out to the Limpopo which, you
learned, is on the boarder between South Africa and Zimbabwe
- The trucks smelled like dirty oil. The helicopters smelled like clean oil
- South Africa is the largest exporter of gold in the world. Much of
the gold is mined below 3000 meters (10,000 feet) in an area called
the Bush Veld Igneous Complex
- It is very, very dark down there
- And hot
- They say the center of the earth is a Lake of Fire
- They say the War is over. But they never really said the war
started, did they? It's hard to imagine it actually ending -- it's
probably still going on somewhere, and it's just...
- mutated
- You got a radio in your head; they put one in everyone's head. It's
called a Global Unique Identification DEvice. The company that makes
it calls it GUIDE. It lets you hear everyone else who's got a GUIDE.
You can feel the rest of your group all the time, even now
- You *are* a unique individual, Soldier!
- The civilian version is called a 'virtual global information link',
and each person who has one becomes a 'node' in the world wide network
- Question: What do you call a girl who's just got her link, but has
never logged on?
- Dr. Petrosky says he's glad that everyone's getting chips put in
their heads. He says that the cybernization of humanity is the final
battle ground between post-modern enlightenment and the dissolution of
human nature
- Dr. Petorsky teaches Civics at night in the university. He teaches
in a great auditorium that could hold 350 people if there were any
students left. There are six of you
- He thunders to the near-empty room about the Nature of Criticism and
the 'Practical Energy of Post Modern Theory'
- Ace listens, rapt, and eats Pop-Tarts out of the vending machine.
She claims it's the only thing she eats all day
- You took his class because you heard it was a riot
- It is
- In Union Square, the kids lay like lizards in the sun. Or like great
cats. They watch you go by and the cute girl in the cutt-offs with a
sliver of her belly showing throws you a wink that asks, "Why aren't
you available?"
- She means on the Virtual Link. You've got one, it just doesn't let you on
- Dr. Vernon says that once you've "emotionally decompressed" the
sub-band signaling should admit you
- It's been eighteen months. Dr. Vernon admits she isn't on the
network either. Too much stress, she says. Too little hope, you and
Mr. Michael thinks
- She's lonely. At least you have each other
- The alarm is going off now, and you're awake. A minute ago, you were
standing next to chain link, with the smell of the veld all around
you. The veld smells like a butcher's back lot in summer.  Like lush
death. The ground is laid open, its modesty stripped away by the
miners, its riches plundered and itself left barren
- And now you're in New York, and its gray outside
- Four hours to sundown, when classes begin
- Eight hours to Dr. Chelsea Vernon's Tuesday morning Group Meeting
- what do you do?

=====================================================================

The WHO's 3x5 Initiative includes provisions for enforcement of
critical health-related edicts by member nations. In 2002 and the
United Nations sent a peace-keeping force to conduct a survey of AIDS
in the far-north Limpopo province of South Africa.

This was not a war; to the outside world it was a medical
intervention. There is a general understanding that the medical teams
encountered resistance from politically secessionist groups related to
the mining companies and unions and that the Johannesburg made an
official request for extra-national forces.

You had a role in that, as a unit with diverse capabilities and
responsibilities. The operation in the Veld (Afrikaner for arid
grassland plane) were extensive and specific. You worked with or were
special forces agents. You were 17 to 25 years old. You could have
been civilian or military, as you like, skilled or green. Up to you.

Exactly what your experiences were will depend on who you were and why
you were there. But you were attached to a field unit, and you did go
out the the BVIC where significant actions took place.

The most significant action you all took together involves an
operation that took place at the refinery for the Paardekraal
Shaft owned by Anglo Platinum. Your group arrived as part of a special
detachment to support an Indian unit under UN flag securing the
refinery and surrounding area. You were attached to a special command
that was responsible for collecting evidence that the industrial
concerns (including members of the Anglo Board of Directors) were
responsible for covert action designed to prevent the nationalization
of the mining resources.

What happened there will be discussed in the game, but there was
violent action and your characters could have been traumatized by it.
Non-combat characters would be less likely to have been directly
involved in bulk of the fighting. The game will involved flashbacks,
which will include combat scenes. If a character "dies" during a
flashback, he'll be declared severely wounded (explaining how he's
around in the main flow of the game).

You're all retired now. As retired as you want to be. In the brief
years you were away the world changed without you. Everyone has a
little RFID chip in their head that you can use like a PIN or a
drivers license. You can't use it like a cell phone.

You have your own version of that, that lets you feel the others
around you. You can't use the Virtual Global Infrastructure yet. You're
working on that every week with another one of your benefits --
sessions with Dr. Chelsea Vernon, who is trying to get everyone calm
and 'integrated' enough to get on the network.

You're also taking classes at Rockefeller University because it's
free. Dr. Alexander Petrosky teaches Post-Graduate Political Science,
but he's agreed to teach an undergraduate introduction to Civics this
year because he thinks 'Big things' are coming.

NOTE (from GM/Player Feedback) The world looks like modern day, but the technology level is a little higher in subtle ways. There are no cyborgs.

There was some discussion of characters and this is what we came up with:

John McKee: Basically Riddick (Vin Disel) in terms of build--a human wall. Strong, but neither too fast nor too smart. A skilled soldier and good shot, he was also an expert brawler. He had returned and quit the army and had been getting into conflicts with neighborhood drug dealers and other people who presented roles for conflict. I played John.

Zack Siebl: A dedicated soldier--fast, skilled, and lean. He too had kept fighting the war (sort of). He was loyal and very brave. The player was female playing a male character.

Roland Thunder: The Lieutenant. He was massively rich (at the start of the game Donald Trump rich) and had signed up to prove himself and facilitate his upcoming political career. He was smart, handsome, and slick--but not a dedicated fighter. He was brave and patriotic but inexperienced (and was horrified to have wound up in the ultra-gritty traumatic WHO-action). He was the last character made and it was a surprise when he became the Lt. I'd thought there might be problems  with a group leader if we didn't hit it off well--but things went
perfectly.

Quote
Notes: The set-up was clearly, something of a teaser: we knew something important happened to us in Africa--but not what. That meant, to an extent, that some of the game would be "scripted."

There was also some back and forth I haven't listed here concerning tone and focus. The GM said that while we'd been soldiers, we were now civilians trying to re-integrate into a changed society (theme!) and so we discussed how we'd handle that. It was noted that we all made military men first (expected, I think) so there was some discussion about how we were taking our re-integration and how we felt about being alienated.

One NPC was reasonably happy with being alienated (the cab-driver) and one PC (Roland) was highly motivated to re-integrate (for his future political career). The other two PC's (Zach and myself: John) were interested in re-integration in an "I want to fit in and get on with life" fashion.

Our players felt similarly, I would say (Immersion--imagine that you've come back and 'don't get it'--but we also had an idea that hooking our brains up to this global net-thing might not be such a good idea in the long run).

With some embedded themes present, we were pretty sure there would be something resembling a "point" to the GM's situation--but I, myself, didn't feel obliged to engage with it or validate it outside the (fairly broad) character parameters.

This was, I felt, a mix of techniques, the GM providing situation that had thematic elements for the players to engage with--the players running their characters in an immersed state with an expectation that whatever thematic goals the GM had in creating the situation the game would (largely and importantly evolve from internal-cause style thinking).

Also Note: I know the GM well and know he's committed to player-freedom. That meant that I realized my *expectation* that I wouldn't have to interact with his embedded themes (I expected the situation would carry them--it seemed to be--but I didn't know, fully how the situation would develop and didn't try to figure it out) meant that I wasn't worried about making a "fit character." I simply made a character with a POV on the world I found interesting and went with that.

My relation to the thematic issues was this: my character was a battle machine who was fairly horrified by his ability to kill. So he'd adopted a somewhat laid-back persona--and tried to get rid of his soldier nature when he left the army. But when coming back, he'd found himself attracted, over and over, to potentially violent conflict. I decided that he was deluding himself, using the excuse that he was "apart from the world" to justify his continuation to seek war (with anyone--with evil or badness or predatory-ness). As the therapy progressed, he would have to face is true nature (even if the chip integrated he would still be a warrior at heart) or, if the therapy
failed entirely, then he might decide that society had failed him and either become bitter ... or embrace the darker elements of his nature entirely.

From this 'script' I worked on getting inside his head--but I was also very aware of how those issues appealed to me (and how they were relevant in my life).

Getting Started
The game opened with our group having coffee (we were the PC's, NPC Nurse Ace, a small Hispanic woman with an attitude, and Paul a big African American rifleman--Michael Gosswell--the final member of our party was out driving his cab). Across the street were some Asian tough guys that had been hanging out and causing minor trouble. The grocery store they were around seemed to be having problems.

My character (followed by Zach and the rest of the team) got up to check it out. It turned out that they were, in fact, robbing the place. Combat ensued. After we'd won against the guys outside (8 of them) we entered and went downstairs to the storage area--where the owners had been taken. They were bound and the two gang leaders were
dead--killed with a machete (the store had a worker downstairs who they'd missed and brutally slaughtered them both before running).

The blood and the smell brought back Africa.

Quote
Notes: This scene got the energy up. Both Zach and John (my character) were bad-asses and it was nice to get to use them in a low-risk environment (even against multiple opponents. Two-to-one odds were quite a lot (Ace didn't fight). The Lt. actually flanked the group and made it to the out-door group's leader (the two real gang leaders were inside, downstairs, and dead)--and he fought and got beat up by the gang's martial arts leader (and the player was cool with it--the Lt. was no combat machine--but he was brave and got his licks in).

From a staging example, this did a number of things:
1. It played to my character (who "stuck his nose into other people's business" and was inclined to stand up to thugs).
2. We got to "get in character" with lots of dialog and establish how we felt about each other and how the NPC's talked.
3. The fight was run in an entertaining factor with some mixed up tactics (grappling, pushing/shoving, you-hold-him-I'll-hit-him,attempted intimidation, stuff). It was a bit cliché to open a game
with a fairly softball combat ... but there's a reason it's cliché: when done well, it works.

Also: There was a 'theme' at work. The brutal way the two gang leaders were killed (single brutal machete blows to the head) echoed the unforgiving atmosphere that would later come. Although in this case the blind-side assault was motivated by survival instinct, there was no mercy or quarter. The GM's language detailed how the two
vicious blows (one each) had ended their lives instantly.

Flashback To The War #1: The Town
The Lt. was meeting with a UN Australian force commander who was responsible for conducting talks with The Town. The Town was a prosperous circle of relative wealth and comfort. Outside it was a massive "smile" arc of shanty-towns that were insect, dysentery, and rat ridden. We had been asked for to meet Warrant Officer Michael
Gosswell, CID (Criminal Investigation Division) who was, we heard, in over his head.

The scene opened with the Australian commander telling Lt. Thunder that he knew the American officer was there to interfere--Gosswell was working with Jaan, an important South African official who was using his power to "protect the town." The WHO needed to use its resources in setting up relief for the stricken in the sub-slum level squatters outside the town limits.

Jaan, the commander said, was cutting deals with the Americans that would interfere with the mission. He ordered Lt. Thunder to share any information. Lt Thunder told him that if the commander was coming to him for answers he'd replaced himself as the "most pathetic person I know."

Backing up the Lt,. we rolled into town to meet with Officer Goswell and Jaan. We met them both (Gosswell was *way* over his head--his senior officer came down terribly sick and was in Germany. He was continuing the mission. Jaan didn't have faith in us--he wanted *more* troops). Things got worse when a package we'd been carrying turned out
to be a diplomatic satchel full of morphine that the US government was using to bribe Jaan.

After some negotiations, in which Zack was slick and cool and deadly, John (me) was confident and cocky, and the Lt was matter of fact, Jaan relented and told us what was going on.

Quote
Jaan: "Out at the Paardekraal Mine there are two shafts. Out of shaft one comes 2% of the world's Vanadium supply and platinum and gold. Do you know what comes out of shaft two? Secrets."

We were to accompany him out to the mine (which was in land where law had broken down completely and UN forces and merc-forces of unknown origin were battling it out). He said that there were records down there that the American government wanted. In return for those records was immunity for Jaan, morphine and money, and a guarantee that the UN forces trying to pressure the town would be pulled back.

Return to Present: Going to our Encounter Group
We were in the Doctor Vernon's office. She led our encounter group and counseled us. It was known we couldn't get on the network and the prevailing theory was that something in our experiences had led the network to reject us. The Network was a sort of short-range ID system (you could "flash someone" but not really communicate) and with a conventional internet terminal it was like having master-level "Google Fu."

The GM described the effects of surfing the web with the chip like this: You can see, under the visual display, bars of static--like a news-ticker across the bottom. When you are logged on, you understand that this is the search-signal. Surfing the web, finding data you require, is sort of like using a microfiche--pages slam by in a three-dimensional blur coming to stop on exactly the data you needed. It's instant, it's intuitive, and there's so much data out there now that without it, it's like being paralyzed. It's bad now--in the future, they're saying, you'll be crippled if you can't use it."

Dr. Vernon told us that she wanted to try something new--that there was research she'd become aware of in the Mayo Clinic that might help us. She explained: we used a military GUIDE chip--Mayo thought that this experience (and not every platoon fitted with GUIDE had "taken to it"--for many groups it was a failure) had sensitized us. She said that it was felt that when we connected to the global infrastructure is was too overwhelming and we initiated the disconnect.

She told us the experiment would be for us to go downstairs to network-cages (where the signal didn't reach) and they'd set us up on a small "private network" that wouldn't be so threatening. Essentially just a one-computer World Wide Web (we'd be shielded from the other signal) and that might let us connect. We agreed it seemed reasonable and we went down.

But Dr. Vernon seemed nervous--and so we were troubled.

Down in the basement was a young technician at the computer console and he was nervous too. He scanned us with what looked like a home-made device (we asked about it and he explained it was a diagnostic for our GUIDE chips and latent network chips)--but he didn't meet our eyes.

We were concerned--but we got into the cages. There were four and three PC's and one NPC (Paul) got in.

That was when we moved to our second flashback to South Africa.
Quote
Notes: The GM did a great job of conveying nervousness--by the affect each NPC had when talking to us and switching back to a neutral narrator voice when appropriate. My character even asked if something was wrong and got a negative from the doctor. I considered bailing or (tactically) having one PC stay out of the cages--but ultimately I decided against it. My character was no coward and we didn't think the doctor would outright lie about the test (she wasn't).

We were in the chambers and the Doctor spoke as the tech (who seemed less like a real technician) set up the operation. He turned on the pretend network and started the shielding that blocked out the real universal signal. "Okay," she said. "Try to connect."

We did. For the first time we made contact.

Quote
GM: "You can feel your head ... expand--there's unsettling sensation of a door being left open--behind your eyes is a room--a vast dark room and wherever you look, it's always behind you. You can feel the sub-band too--the static. Now it sounds like whispers--whispers you can almost understand. There are things in that room. Boxes? Maybe. Moving things? Maybe. Watching things. The open door is in that room in the back of your head. You can feel it--like someone's watching over your shoulder.

But you know, as your skin crawls, that if you kept feeling this--hearing it--that you'd forget about this sensation--that it would still be there but you wouldn't remember it like a dream you'd woken up from. What do you do?

We--all of us--instantly disconnected.

We exited the chambers and demanded to know what the hell was going on.

Zack: "I don't know what that was--I don't know if that was connectedness or not--but it didn't feel right doc--something was very, very wrong with that!"

After some pressure the story came tumbling out.

The tech was Jeff Berger--a patient of Dr. Vernon's and a hacker. He'd discovered the Mayo Clinic's research and gotten it illegally. He'd built the scanner he'd used on us with some help from an electronics friend and stuff off the Internet. The doctor had tried the experiment but nothing had happened ... to her.

I asked what the deal with Jeff was--she told us: when he hooked up, he spent 24 hours in a panicky, near suicidal state. He said that whatever sensation *we* felt, for him, it didn't go away--it just kept on and on and on.

He said it felt like someone was standing behind him watching him--and he said he felt like he was being judged.

Quote
GM: "'We were judged.' You'd heard that before--when Jaan said it, down in the mine. That was much later though.

Flashback To The War #2
We had left The Town in two humvees (I was the top gunner with an M60 on the lead car) and Jaan was traveling with us. Our first stop was to be the refinery where the raw material from the Paardekraal Shaft was turned into useful and valuable metals. The area was north and in no-man's land. We spoke over radio with the UN Force that was holding the refinery: an Indian contingent that had been shot all to hell and was in dire need of medical supplies.

Over the radio they were tense, terse, and told us we were idiots for coming out into the insane meat-grinder that the war zone had become. We went anyway--but we loaded up on medical supplies.

When we arrived at the massive complex we saw giant trucks (ore-hauling flatbeds) that had been reduced to burned metal skeletons. We saw massive tanks and a large complex of buildings and clouds of flies. We were warned that "the compound is not secure--and we moved in carefully, parking close and sprinting to the guarded door.

Inside we saw wounded lining the halls and met with the Indian Force commander--he was enraged at the situation his men were in (many wounded, many dead--our medic, Ace, peeled off to assist with the wounded). He told the Lt. (Thunder) that he was mad to bring his people out here (he did not know our mission and we were under orders not to tell him) and he warned us that whatever mercenary force was operating in the area it was still strong and dangerous.

By "the area is not secure" he meant: there are still combatants within the grounds. We asked what the hell was going on and he showed us a motor pool full of bodies (Africans). Around their necks were golden keys--payment given to convince them to fight. He was appalled that someone would kill themselves for so little (the gold was cheap, the objects almost worthless--he didn't know who was paying them--or why ... it was presumed to be industrial concerns that didn't want the mine and the refinery searched--but he had no idea for what--and he didn't care).

Jaan told us that at the bottom of Shaft Two was a bomb shelter. It had been built when the ruling class believed they might be involved in some apocalyptic exchange that would threaten their way of life. He told us that "had happened"--but had not come in the form of nuclear missiles (but rather the end of  partide).

To get into the bomb shelter (which contained documents that the US Government wanted) we had to go out of the admin building the Indian force was holding and to a security area elsewhere in the un-secured part of the complex. There was a locker with "keys" that would get us into the secret section of the mine.

Jaan needed a morphine fix--but Ace left him only a single vial (Lt. Thunder had shrewdly kept two secretly in case we needed to pressure him). The rest of his bribe, she took to help the wounded. He objected, was told to stuff it--and shrieked with outrage--even crying before he composed himself (and took a hit, putting him in a much better mood).

We loaded up and left, on foot, moving into the battle-scarred buildings that housed the refining plants.

As our characters walked, Jaan described the processes by which the metals were milled into pure form. He described the toxic chemicals (leaching and distilling) the sounds of the grinders getting into one's head. We would have to travel through an area filled with tanks.

LT: Do those tanks catch fire? Explode if they're shot?
Jaan: Oh, no. They are filled with cyanogen gas. Totally non-flammable.
LT: Greaaaat.

When we came to this room--a forest of tall bright yellow tanks and cat-walks and metal ladders, they hit us.

The GUIDE Chips allowed us to share perception so we moved as a single unit with "many eyes"--we didn't actually 'see' through each other's heads but we knew where we each were and we got signals of 'perception' that let us know who was targeting what.

From a catwalk above came movement and, at the same time, two men--emaciated African soldiers, wearing nothing but torn shorts, uncoiled from two tanks bringing AK-47's to bear.

Horrifically, the two had been hung upside down behind the tanks, curling into a sort of sit-up to come over the tops of the yellow metal 12 foot tall canisters--and their faces had been mutilated. Their cheeks were flayed open and their lips were cut off, leaving a visible skull's grin beneath their noses.

We obliterated them.

We moved to the locker and I got ready to blow it. The rest of the team was guarding both avenues of approach when Zach heard a squeaking noise as something approach the corner he was watching. He threw a grenade around the corner and it exploded out of sight. The squeaking stopped.

I got the locker open and Jaan took two keys ("It's one of these")

Zach and the Lt. went and looked around the corridor. An African man was dead. He was a quadruple amputee affixed in a wheelchair. One arm-stump had a hook that let him roll the wheel. The other was attached to a heavy machine gun bolted onto the chair. He was tightly strapped in, the leather straps,themselves attached with metal bolts to the frame. We were highly disturbed.

What the hell was going on here?

Jaan: "Here is what I think (looks at the man's mutilated body). I think that when you hurt enough inside you eventually do things to hurt yourself outside."

Lt. "You think this was intentional!?"

Jaan: "Yes. I think so. Yes."

Quote
Notes: the apocalyptic sense of place was beautifully developed by the GM--the verisimilitude of the descriptions and the dialog (he had correct nomenclature for Indian army units and ranks, technical descriptions of the refinery and the processes, political asides from Jaan, and a sense of the horrific in the laconic, matter-of-fact descriptions of the mutilated people we battled. The commander's hopelessness and the sense that things were falling apart was very present.

Facing military weapons was frightening--although we had a convention for flashbacks that if we were "killed" we'd just be severely wounded. This was a reasonable way to handle such heavy firepower (although if we'd all been killed in a grenade blast, I dunno what would've happened).

We knew some 'safeties were on'--and this was something I identify with Dramatism (this was in contrast to the present-day of the game where I realized the GM would very much run it on the table.

In this sense, I think it took some pressure off of us to be *good*--and let us play with a little more flair (although we were still pretty by-the-book tactics wise).

Return to Present Day
We were back in the basement in the hospital (the GM gave us the exact name but I don't recall it--the GM was very exact about street names, landmarks, and locations). Jeff was nervous: we were pissed, the Doctor was apologetic. She admitted that she hadn't expected those unsettling results and would find out what she could.

We, somewhat upset and discomfited, left.

That night, at home, by myself, I tried to connect ... to see if I could. I did (and failed a WIL roll by 5--a major problem!) I was horrified by the feeling of vulnerability, of being watched, of the massive baroque room within my head and out of sight of my eyes—of the open door in my skull.

I disconnected and took sleeping pills and vodka. In the morning, the GM told me, I lay awake with my eyes closed imagining myself in a giant chamber full of dark objects.

We decided to meet with Jeff.

We called and agreed to meet with him at a diner. When we got there, he was slightly nervous with us (we were a bunch of bad-asses and he was a skinny kid in comparison)--but he was genial and sat down. The first thing I asked him for was if he could get more data on the experiment. He explained:

Jeff: "I didn't hack the Mayo Clinc's computers. I found information on various sites and then I made some phone calls pretending to be working for legitimate doctors and got the secretary to send it to me. After I did, I went and found Dr. Vernon to see if she could help me. So far, it hasn't worked--but I had this idea--one that still might help you."

He told us about the GUIDE chips we had (he'd gotten one off Ebay) and his "scanner" device.

According to what he had read, some (small) percentage of people who installed the chips experienced the "Uncanny Affect"--the sense of foreboding or judgment--which, usually, cleared up rapidly. Most people walked around with the chips turned on because a) they broadcasted a short range signal when you wanted them to that other chip users could use to acknowledge you and b) there were many, many internet devices that became windows into a massive world of data which was instinctive to access.

While some small percentage of folks were No Access (like us) an even smaller (and he thought, pretty much undiscovered) group of people were still "experiencers"--people, like him, for which the Uncanny Affect didn't go away. People who, when they were connected, felt judged--and horribly judged.

He said he theorized that those people were people with secrets. Him, being one of those, he told us, meant he had 'stuff his close friends didn't even know' about him.

Those people, he said, did stuff with their chips to "pass"--that is, they activated them and deactivated them in specific patterns to make it seem like they were always connected (if you're not, people would look at you strange). They used certain patterns of neural access (maybe like a learned mantra) to screen out some of the signal. A number of esoteric and exotic techniques.

His scanner (which he gave me) was used to scan run a ranged diagnostic on a person's chip and look for those patterns of usage. It couldn't read minds--it couldn't even tell *why* a person had unusual usage--but it could detect them.

He said: "Each light (there were six) is an order of magnitude. Most people are two. A few are three. I'm four. If you find me a five or a six, I'll get my electronics genius to take a closer look at it—if you can get his chip--and we'll see if there are some deeper abnormalities."

He encouraged me to use the scanner. We agreed it might be plausible--and he left. Paul, the NPC, didn't trust him much--and the other PC's felt he was a bit 'slick' and weasley but couldn't see any way for him to be damaging to us--hell, he couldn't have even planned to get close to us through Vernon.

I decided I might spend some time scanning crowds--but I knew the odds were low that I'd find a needle in a haystack ... and how did you ask to buy someone's chip!?

Roland pointed out that if the person who felt judged was a real weirdo--and Jeff said that was likely the case--then this device was a Blackmail Sniffer--it wouldn't tell you what they were hiding--but it would tell you who to check out.

We agreed to have our friend Michael (CID) check up on him (Michael, being a detective by trade back in the army) and went back to our business.

I met with Dr. Vernon in the next few days and explained to her that I wanted her to look up the "Uncanny Affect" and see who else was doing research on it. Zach argued with his neighbor (another ex-military No-Access guy) and Roland pondered.

Flashback To The War #3
Our convoy, with the keys, set off into deeper danger heading towards the mine. The mine, we hoped, was not populated with insurgents or mercenaries--Jaan estimated that it was hard to get into and of little value to someone who couldn't run it and refine it.

On the way, he told us what we were looking for.

He told us about the "band of brothers" (Broderbund?) that had run the South African government. He told us that he--and others--had been in charge and believed they were preserving their way of life from descent into war and chaos (exactly what has occurred, he said). In the process of doing so, he told us, they did very, very bad things. He mentioned by way of example some scientists who had wondered if AIDS could be a solution to 'their problem' instead of a problem  itself. He said they did worse--and when the end came, and they saw it coming, they decided to hide ... and run.

But there had been a phone call: Andre, one of their cadre had phone him and others and told them that they needed to meet him in the shelter and talk about their Future. The word, he said, was a code—he *did* mean 'their future' but he also meant 'their past.'

These were very devious men--and they didn't trust each other—but precautions were taken (letters held in escrow. Documents that would come out, etc.) and two years ago (this was 2002, Present day was 2004, the meeting in the mine was 2000) they had gone--every man—to the shelter.

Every man but Jaan.

And none of them had ever returned. Jaan said they weren't hiding: he'd know how to find them. He'd suspected they were dead. Then he got a phone call from a friend--a doctor--who had gone.

"We met men there," the doctor had told him, "who knew everything we had done. Everything. And we were judged."

The call had been a threat--a warning. Jaan would be judged as well. Jaan was circumspect--but he believed, he told us, it was a call from hell. He intended, he said--to go down into that bunker, get the documents the US Government wanted and then live the longest natural life he possibly could.

The presentation was excellent. It was chilling. We arrived at the mine.

The mine shaft was large enough to drive  the Humvees into and ran deep (going into the ground in a sort of zig-zag 'Z' pattern with the shelter at the very bottom. When we entered, it became hot.

Half way down there were quarry pits filled with water. When I saw movement, I opened fire. Nothing. We threw a grenade in. After the explosion great white "jellyfish" of flesh rose to the surface--somehow preserved and now dislodged bodies of drowned men. The smell was horrific. Jaan said he thought that was some of his former comrades.

We came to the end of the shaft and found massive doors to the bomb-shelter where the South African elite would hide from the end of the world. We used the keys—they worked--and we entered a sterile, high-tech chrome and tile world of the survivalist. It was big. There were lime-green couches (disturbingly 1970's) and big glass walls and narrow corridors. When the lights and power automatically came on it was cold and we could hear the fans in the air-conditioning.

Jaan led us to the records room and Michael started collecting information files from cabinets detailing the South African's plans and actions. Michael found a lot of what he'd come for, but there were important documents that appeared to be missing

While they searched I asked Jaan where the meeting would've taken place. He answered: "The command chamber--down at the very bottom."

That was where Zach and I went. That was where we found the missing records.

Looking through the door of the command center, we could tell something horrible had happened.

Within was a two-year-old intricate execution chamber.

Giant "Bell Jars" contained grisly, twisted corpses of men who had asphyxiated when the oxygen was sucked out. Metal posts had chained bodies affixed and burned. A series of glass containers held men dressed in doctor's lab-coats. Their bodies had liquefied, signs of blood running from their mouths and down from their lower regions--they'd crashed and bled out--from something horribly like Ebola.

The center of the room was dominated by a massive statue of a golden bull--the mouth was open and there was a door in it's underbelly.

Someone had been placed inside it. If it was a Roman atrocity there'd have been a fire pit beneath it to roast the person within (and, indeed, there was a heating element built into it)--but the execution was not from fire. When Jaan opened the bottom door what was inside were the desiccated corpses of thousands of wasps. The body, filled with poison, had long since decayed.

There was something else: each body had something bizarre: a golden plate screwed into the back of its head--with wires leading to a main trunk--and that back to a closet with a massive stack of still running server computers.

The Lt. destroyed them.

In the room were the missing files--the true details of the atrocities.

We got them and ran--but we didn't get all the way out.

Heading back, silently and quickly, through the corridors, we heard a banging sound--a heavy, heavy footfall of a giant--something huge being dropped--something. When the enemy hit us, they came charging around a corner.

They were men--mutilated and altered with steel prostheses. Some came in low, running on all fours. They wore metal body harnesses that bent them over and were bolted with infected welts into the bone. Facing forward, above the heads of the attackers were a series of giant scissor-like blades that they worked with their arms (also bolted to the metal frameworks) as they ran.

Amongst the runners ("The wolves", we called them) were larger things--men on metallic stilts, their hands cut off and connected to other metal poles that also touched the floor. From the metallic fore-limbs came scythe like blades.

They came at us, sliced into John (my character), injured another character, but came,  relentlessly, for Jaan.

They didn't get him--we cut them down with fire as they charged.

We heard the heavy pounding getting closer.

It was some kind of modern-medieval siege machine or battering ram. Two men on each side of a massive metallic fist (made of metal that was now rusted) pushed over-balanced wheels from behind steel shields. As the thing loped forwards it rose and fell with a CLUNG! CLUNG! CLUNG!

On the top were two machine guns and two burning flame throwers.

Zach made a perfect grenade throw to land behind it. The explosion ignited the flame-tanks and again we were running from the inferno of jellied gasoline that erupted from the tank.

We managed to get around the burning blast area and, carrying wounded (and wounded ourselves) we returned to the vehicles and exited. Jaan lived long enough to reach civilization. We heard he died while in the process of being transported out of the country. None of us were sad that he died (I'd mentioned that after we were done I'd 'cure his addiction with a bullet.')

That was our memory of the war.

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Notes: Jaan's death seemed a "dramatic intervention." More probable might be that he was stabilized until he left--or that whatever happened we never heard, in my opinion--but only my opinion. However, the note did give a satisfying closure to the situation. None of us liked him and were glad he hadn't gotten away entirely (although we were far more horrified by the things chasing him--an 'army of the damned.')

Also: the timing of the attack seemed 'dramatic.' The GM wasn't timing us inside the bomb-shelter or asking us how fast or thoroughly we checked things or how cautiously we moved--these answers would've given him a timing sense that would be calibrated against a set arrival time.

It seemed more like their appearance on the way out was the most satisfyingly dramatic time and that's what he picked.

At the time I didn't consider that (it was after the game had stopped that I reflected on that). I did find it satisfying--although if the timed arrival had, I felt, interfered with something in a way I didn't like I would've found it jarring, even if plausible. I'm not certain what the gold standard is, but I think it's this: so long as the action doesn't invalidate my actions or choices, I'm okay with it being dramatic. If it does, then I better feel the limitation is imposed by internal cause. I'm still thinking on this.

Back In New York
I had asked the doctor to chase down anything she could find about the Uncanny Affect. We had Jeff's weirdo-sensor (or shame-sensor or secret-detector ... we weren't sure what to call it) and Thunder, pondering the possible effects of some sort of judgment being widespread had the idea of having art-dealers find him modern (within the past two years) depictions of rooms or  chambers ... maybe that featured a golden bull as the centerpiece--but were disturbing and/or graphic).

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Notes: Until this point we had been on a somewhat "ballistic course." The starting situation (which could count the opening-scene fight: I'd made a character who fearlessly got in the face of local bad guys) was character development and scene setting--we had either an appointment (modern day) or orders (flashback) and while we could've bolted from the mission or missed the appointment (and I'm sure we could've done both) there was no reason for us to do so.

Now, though, we had little clear direction.
1. I had Jeff's sensor and the idea of examining a chip that had strange usage patterns seemed reasonable--but I figured that day-in-and-day-out standing at a subway station and scanning people would be something that wouldn't likely pay off. And although Thunderwas *rich* I had no idea how to go about asking to buy a chip from someone--someone who was probably nervous about it.

2. Thunder's request was interesting--we had a sense of a great chamber (I thought it was just  the internet") and I had no sense of a Golden Bull--and the feeling of vulnerability, the disturbing whispers, and the sense of being *watched* wasn't exactly the same as judgment--and, finally, the command center/execution room wasn't a great big chamber anyway. Big, yeah--but not huge. The GM's descriptions, however, had a resonance and we did feel they were connected. The golden plates in the backs of the executed people's heads were, after all, something like early chips.

3. We'd asked Mike to watch Jeff--and the GM told us that if we didn't follow through we knew Mike and knew he was (mostly) out of the detective game. He probably wouldn't do much. We didn't trust Jeff much--but none of us could see any reason or way for him to be using us--so we didn't put much energy into that.

4. Our counselor had come clean about her unauthorized test and had been told by the hospital admin to stop counseling us. They were getting another doctor (one we didn't know). She agreed to still help me find out what we could about the Uncanny Affect.

I was aware that the game might not move unless we did--and I was getting ready to start pursuing some of the things I'd built into my character (works with neighborhood kids, etc.)--also: since we were now "cured" (I could connect if I wanted--I just didn't trust it) it seemed that what we'd spent all the time working on was somewhat wasted: we weren't locked out of the net by the net. We were locked out of the net by ourselves. I could connect and I didn't want to.

The GM had both myself and Thunder's player make rolls for the general effectiveness of our questions. Both came out 'excellent.'

Thunder -- The Artist
Roland got a call from a gallery: "It's not exactly what you asked about--but I found someone who works with TV sets--some cutting edge stuff--and you might like ... you might want to talk to him."

Thunder gathered the two of us and off we went. The guy lived in a brownstone with boarded up and metal-barred windows. That meant a certain amount of money. When we arrived we saw that his building front was adorned with CCTV cameras. He welcomed Roland (and his 'two assistants') in, buzzing us through the door.

Up the stairs against the wall was a wide-screen TV turned sideways. It held an image of a ticking Grandfather Clock (which showed the correct time). He met us and invited us into his show-room where he displayed a piece of his work: an entertainment center with many refurbished TV's from large to small, each showing various news channels and weather channels.

Artist: "It's called News and Weather. It feeds off a DVR--usually if there's no break in signal it can run 24/7. (the images changed and rotated from screen to screen) There's no sound."

Thunder's player had him make an Etiquette roll to critique it. The character's skill was excellent and the GM told him that he could make some basic art-criticism but, essentially, it seemed a bit like junk-art to him.

I secretly scanned the artist with the sensor and got a "4". Weird--not super-turbo weird. But weird.

News and Weather was not what we were there to see. The artist showed us what the dealer had asked about.

Artist: "About two years ago I had a recurrent series of nightmares. I'm in my house and someone is chasing me and I run from room to room with the guy--I can't see him--he's always a room or two behind me—in silet pursuit. I can't get out the windows because of the bars but every time I come to an exit door ... I open it up and there are these great chambers--these wrong chambers beyond it."

Thunder: "Was there a giant golden bull?"

Artist: "There might've been statues--something--some-things in there... (seems disturbed thinking about it)--I don't know. But this is what I did. I got one of those things for online games--one of those tools and I built my dream on the computer. I created a series of rooms for my house and ran myself through it--and created a cycle."

He led us upstairs.

"I had some idea it might help with the nightmares."

The attic had a pull down staircase that was already down and we looked up. We could see the glow of a monitor up there. He gestured for us to go up ahead of him.

"It did--and--when ... well ... see, I *only* modeled my house. In the dream I didn't go in the wrong rooms outside it. I just opened the door, saw them, and said "this is wrong" and kept on running. So they're not in the model--not on the computer."

We went up and saw, indeed, on the screen, a 3D image of a man running through rooms that looked vaguely like the guy's house. There were TV objects scattered about (in corners, on counters, etc. The artist said the toolkit had some that came with it). It was primitive and not all that artistically done.

Thunder: "So how come the dealer got in contact with you?"

Artist: "Well ... I showed it to people--but didn't tell them about my dream, just showed them the loop. They came to me--two of them--who'd spent time with it (he didn't look at the monitor as he spoke) and they asked me about the Giant Rooms. I told them there weren't any--and they said they'd seen the guy go into them and they were frightening."

He looked at us.

"I've checked the simulation. They're not in there. They never were."

Thunder: "I'll take it," The guy was reluctant to sell (he said he was afraid if it was gone the dreams might start again--but a price was worked out and we made arrangements for delivery).

Thunder said: "If this uncanny affect is hitting more people than we think, I'll fill a gallery with this art and we can analyze it."

It seemed like a good idea.

Doctor Osbourne
But then I got a call from Dr. Vernon. She told me, although she was no longer my therapist, that she had discovered something ...interesting (her voice said: disturbing). The Uncanny Affect *was* more prevalent than the current psychological literature showed, and for some people--rich people or high society people it was a real problem: if you sorta had to use the Global Infrastructure and it was unpleasant to do so (bad enough to make Jeff suicidal) then it became a real, terrible problem--a secret you had to hide to not be thought dysfunctional.

She had met a doctor with an elite clientele who treated people who suffered from the Uncanny Affect. He agreed to meet with us.

The three of us came in force. We didn't trust him either--and we made arrangements in case something went wrong. His assistant was a human-wall--a body guard. When we came to his home office, we met Osborne and Vernon together in his office.

After some preliminaries (everyone was tense) it became clear that he was interested in studying us (rather than, really, helping us—our experience with the GUIDE chips was rare and could, maybe, help his clients) and we wanted answers he wouldn't readily or freely give.

I asked him if he could connect to the Global Infrastructure and I asked if he experienced the Uncanny Affect. He said yes to both and I asked if I could test that. He was dubious and allowed me in a somewhat condescending fashion.

I scanned him with the sensor: FIVE.

He was stunned and disturbed.

Dr. Osbourne: "What is that!?"
Me: "That was you underestimating us."

I explained what it was and he was very concerned. He explained some things to us.

Dr. Osbourne: "What's called the Uncanny Affect is really two things--two distinct sensations. The first is what your 'friend' Jeff experienced--the sense of being Judged--of the watchers being people who really don't like you. The second--and far rarer--is what you experienced: a sense of being watched and vulnerability--but not the sense of judgment. We now think that
most people go through a second or two of that and then acclimatize to it and forget about it. You, perhaps because of the GUIDE chips, offer us a chance to explore that and find out what differs between your unpleasant sensation and the Type 1 horrific experience."

We agreed that that made ... sense ... and that he could continue. He went on.

"That unit you have is unsettling (he clearly was unsettled). There actually is considerable evidence that people who have the Type 1 experience have their own personal secrets they are afraid will come out in addition to their problematic use of the GI. A sensor like that--that's the sort of thing someone who was looking for people with secrets would build. Its existence confirms their worst fears."

His worst fears too, we thought. He's a FIVE.

Me: "So where do we go from here?"
Dr. Osbourne: "We can work with this. But before we do, there's something I want you to see."

He wrote an address and time on a sheet of paper. It was one of the bridges. The time was 3:00 AM.

Thunder: "Is it dangerous?"
Osbourne: (seriously) "Soul destroying."

We took the paper and left.

We held a round table with our team. Michael had, indeed, been doing some low-level spying on Jeff. When we'd left him, we'd told him we would need more sensors if we were to find a FIVE or SIX grade chip (we'd just met a FIVE and Osbourne clearly wasn't the type of guy who'd sell to us). Michael said that Jeff was a smooth operator, always talking up the girls at the movie theater where he worked--he also hung out with a techno-geek buddy who'd probably built the thing.

There wasn't much there--so we decided to go to the 3:00 AM meeting--and go armed. The three PC's, driven by Mike in the cab showed up an hour early and walked the bridge, looking for anything unusual. Around 30 minutes before 3, the unusual started to arrive.

They were goths ... maybe punks ... definitely some sort of counter-culture we weren't familiar with. We saw a guy with the words HELP ME done in carpentry staples on the back of his denim jacket. People carried flashlights with their hands over them, creating orange-pink glows. They were congregating under the bridge on the water--and out, in the water, was an ancient, dilapidated barge. It had a movie projector on the top.

We went down (there was some guys sort of running interference/security--we were clearly harder than any of them, and the Lt. was slickly dressed and they let us in). A movie started to play on the underside of the bridge embankment, projected from the boat.

We mingled. Most of the crowd was young, strangely dressed, and drinking (a guy was selling three-dollar beer cans out of a Styrofoam cooler, some people had light sticks). But a few people--three or four--were older business men dressed expensively (and looking nervous and out of place) with younger attendants, or guides.

The movie was coming up on the cement (a few people were out there, moving around on the massive image). Japanese characters scrolling up the screen. Something in English: '[something] Circle.'

We could feel the energy of the crowd growing--everyone wanted to see this--people liked it. The credits paused to show a scene of Japanese school girls--around fifteen, on a train platform--a whole class worth.

More characters. I could see people stopping conversations to watch.

They were moving into a line--pleated skirts, polished shoes—innocent faces. They linked hands.

More credits scrolling by. Now everyone was rapt.

They all held hands and 'a-one, and a-two, and a-' ... and they jumped together into the path of a bullet train, exploding like living ketchup packets as it slewed through them, dismembering them as the passengers inside the train howled in sudden, terrified horror.

It turned out the Lt. had a phobia about dead children. In blind panic, he turned and ran through the crowd.

Me: "Zach--stay with the Lt--fucking make sure he's okay."
Zach: "Where are you going?"
Me: "To find the motherfucker responsible for this."

I went down into the crowd. A girl in the crowd, seeing the Lt. run, chased after him, trying to comfort him--to convince him to come back. I was looking for someone who seemed to know what this was and why it was going on.

After looking around through the crowd, I found her. There was a girl holding audience (she was youngish, petite, and somehow beautiful beyond her near perfect skin and figure). Around her were heavy more professional (or at least more serious) security.

Some of the older men were waiting for an audience with her. Her security was letting some people through, while making others wait or turning them away.

I was stopped by a guard--but I was huge and clearly tough and serious and before things could get violent, she waved me through. I scanned her. She rated FIVE.

Her: "Who sent you?"
Me: "Doctor Osbourne."
She didn't know him.
Her: "Why are you here?"
Me: "I ... we ... were told there was something we should see. I can't
fucking imagine what that was--it sure wasn't your movie."
Her: "What does he treat you for?"
Me: (touches temple) "Access problems." She examined me, understanding
in her eyes.
Her: "Perhaps he meant you to come on the boat?"
Me: "Could be."
Her: smiling syly "here's a ticket. Give it to the boatman."
Me: "Give me two."

She did.

Back at the cab, the Lt, unable to compose himself was in a state of panicked shock. Zach had caught up and a random girl and her friend was trying to get through to him: "If it disturbs you like that," she said "it's something you should look at ... you're here for a reason."

Zach: "Do they always show that?"
Her: "They don't always show Suicide Circle. That's one of the better ones though."

I'd been afraid it was a 'snuff flick,' it turned out, she told us, it was just a Japanese movie (psychic kids at the end ... doesn't make much sense)--but there was a reason they showed that clip. She didn't say what it was.

When I called Zach, he left the still shaken Lt. with Mike in the cab and came down to me. We were going to the boat.

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Notes: The Osbourne lead paid off 'well' in that we were now involved with several people and several (skin crawling) things--it got much worse--but we were involved. At this point I fully expect to go back and nail Osbourne to a wall if he didn't have a good explanation as to why he'd put us through that--but I was somewhat mollified to discover that despite the graphic picture the film wasn't real.

In 'reality' I know it wouldn't be--I'd have heard about something like that--but in the fictional game world, I thought ... maybe it could be. Even with the credits. It turns out (searching the Internet) it *is* a real movie.

Although no real action happened here, it was very intense role-playing. Each character was fully engaged (our interaction with the guards, with the fans, and each other was good character-exposition--but the context of going to see something meaningful and "soul destroying."

About the LT's collapse: the system we were playing in it's current for (J2) which the GM was very careful to use (this counted as a play-test) contained no hard rules for how phobias would be handled by the mechanics. It has some advice about the player being encouraged to play them. It has some notes that say that the GM is the final arbiter of what is sufficient--but that all the participants should discuss the ramifications of the effects. It has some notes about not
taking away a player's ability to resolve important conflicts with WIL rolls.

In this case the player was left at his discretion and he decided that, traumatized, he'd sit the next part out (he didn't say that, he described his character nearly catatonic in the car, talking about the dead children he'd seen too much of in Africa.

He could've been sickened and stayed with us. He could've chosen to come back after learning they weren't real (and, really, we should've known--I doubt snuff films have credits--but the alien atmosphere and Osbourne's warning--and the way the GM described the images was enough to really spook us.

Zach and I got on the boat with a ferryman and another suit and a young girl with him. She was comforting him "We're doing it together--it'll be okay." When they got to the barge and started climbing up, she reminded the well dressed older man to 'tip him' (the ferry guy). The man asked 'how much' and she gave him a smile 'All of it, silly.'

The suit gave the man over two hundred dollars.

I figured that covered us. We went up the exterior ladder--and into the lower deck. There was a galley set for a formal dinner with bottle
---------------------------------------------
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Marco

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Notes: The dialog here is more of a paraphrase. Both players and characters were horrified by this and Zach's player decided he would have a strong reaction to the cowardice of the situation of "quitting" or "chickening out."

But there was another element that crept in too--Nikki was fiercely trying to validate herself to us--and this suicide club--and talking about 'Them.' When asked who 'They' were, she was ambiguous. But as the room was cleared, and the boat kept on moving, something came out:

Me: "So this is why you show up as FOUR, huh?" (I showed her the device). "That's what's on your conscience?'
Nikki: "What--what is that?"
Me: "It's a chip usage detector. I guess the Infrastructure doesn't like you much, huh?" (she went pale). "No wonder."
Nikki: "Is that what you came to tell me?" (Quiet now--scared)
Me: "No. I came to get some answers as to why I have my own problems connecting--but, lady, they're different than yours."

She was timid now--the confidence was corroding and she was more than just scared--she looked kinda sick to her stomach. The boat came to a halt.

Nikki: "Travis, go help them with offloading. The truck will be waiting." She was talking about the bodies, obviously. She looked at me. "I--I have to talk to you alone." She looked and sounded like she wanted nothing less.

Zach: "There's a truck?" She nodded. "Should I go ... check it out?" I nodded. Running into cops would be a bad thing for us here.

He exited with the two men. The one named Travis was obviously close to her and was worried for her--but she ran him off.

Down Below
Nikki: "Look, who sent you?" (scared, yearning to know)
Me: "This doctor guy--to watch. I dunno--he--"
Nikki: "No one sent you to hurt me?"
Me: "No. No one even told me there'd be a 'you' here. We didn't know what to expect. Who's trying to hurt you ... except the cops."
Nikki: "I don't know--I've been followed--someone's been ... getting closer. I've heard some people have gone missing--I thought you were them."
Me: "No. But why--"
Nikki (VERY uncomfortably): "To do this work--this important work--I've--I've had ... I've had to make certain sacrifices. I've had to do certain things to ... to get funding and ..."

Whatever she was saying, or trying to say, it was clear that what she'd done wrong wasn't handing out poison pills. She also asked me not to tell Travis (her friend as well as her bodyguard) about whatever it was she'd done that was worse than facilitating suicide.

On the Docks. The Truck
Zach was out there with three of the young men. They had pallets with forms covered with blankets. Down the street on the otherwise empty dock was the truck: a Brinks Armored Car. It was backed in, front facing away with the tail lights on.

Travis told them that Zach was okay (Nikki vouced for him) and they were getting ready to offload their now-still cargo.

Guy1: "Why aren't they coming closer?"
Guy2: "I don't know. I saw them moving around a second ago ..."
Zach: "This ain't ... normal?" (looks around) "I mean less normal than usual?"

The truck came then, rolling back towards the dock. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief--until the back door opened and the men inside came out.

The men inside were wearing thick multiple sweaters and thick gloves and ski masks (in August!)--their arms were burning and we could smell the scent of kerosene on them as they raced towards the men on the dock--and Zach.

A few steps out of the van, Zach learned what the kerosene and heavy clothing was for – the men ignited, bursting into flame.

Both doors opened on the truck and from each side stepped men in security uniforms holding guns. There was something wrong about them--they moved mechanically--not like they actually were machines--but with a quizzical coldness to them.

One spoke in a complete monotone "Get The Girl. Below Decks."

They, as the burning men charged, opened fire on the men from the boats.

The fight was brutal and short. The burning men's arms were lined with fishhooks and when they reached the men on the dock, they clenched them in a fatal embrace, igniting all the way, and both target and attacker going down in horrible flames.

Zach--and then myself, shot it out with the men on the dock, slaying them. The helpers were killed--Nikki was devastated for Travis and in shock and abject horror at the attack--and I grabbed her arm and we ran (Zach had called for the cabbie, Mike, and the Lt--they were like 90 seconds ahead of the police).

In the back of the truck were two dead drivers and a small straightjacket and hood. They hand clearly planned to kill almost everyone, but to take a single prisoner.

We sped off and returned to the Lt's house along Central Park (he was, yes, that rich). Inside with the rest of the crew, we asked Niki all the questions she hadn't wanted to answer. We wanted to know who was threatening her--and who was taking the bodies (and why transport them in an armored car!?)

This is what she told us:

There was a dressmakers shop called Landmark somewhere in the city. Above ground it was legitimate. Below ground it was set up like a morgue and autopsy room--but that wasn't exactly what they did there.

The people who ran Landmark had a special preservative process involving chemical baths and a certain use and clientele that necessitated dead, undamaged, bodies. It was, we wrung out of her, a clientele to which Nikki, herself, belonged.

We were horrified. I had Nikki call Landmark. The phone picked up. It wasn't her contact, she didn't recognize the voice.

Voice: "We'll get you. You can't hide and we'll find you and judge you you little piece of filth. We'll cleanse you from this earth. Your friends are already perfect."

She was beyond terrified, into shock. I closed the phone.

This, we decided, smelt like Africa.

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Notes: I have been somewhat circumspect here and the GM was too—but he made it clear that what was going on was repulsive--and we were horrified and disgusted. this led to a  distinctive choice:

1. No one was "okay" with Nikki--but all of us--to a one--were even less okay with 'the Judges'--the people with the ornate, sadistic execution fetish. Turn her over to the authorities, okay--but over to them?

2. Although the GM did not soft-pedal her as an NPC, she was not presented without sympathy. She was scared, weak, vulnerable, and despite her unsavory practices, was not, for instance, a danger to anyone. She facilitated suicide (and claimed it was a statement)--and she was certainly hypocritical on that front--but her victims had all known exactly what they were doing.

Secondly, we felt that whatever 'disease' we'd run into in Africa--whatever nightmare meme we'd seen at work down in the mine had come here to our city. And we were not happy with that.

We decided we needed to check out Landmark--and that we needed guns. The reason we wanted Landmark was because, we theorized, when the deal at the docks went bad, the Judges, whoever they were, would have to split fast: for all they knew, Nikki might be with the cops spilling everything. They might leave something behind.

But we weren't going to go unarmed.

Load Out
Roland was basically as rich as they get--and while he didn't have streetwise connections, Michael, the CID cab-driver and former OIC in Africa did. It would require a donation, he said--a large one--to religious men with lots of weapons.

When it came to the load-out, the GM told us: "They have everything take as much as you want. Whatever you want." I went to the internet and returned with three pages of notes--each weapon (rocket launchers, grenades, SMG's, Assault Rifles, shotguns, satchel charges, etc.) had a picture and stats. It took about 25 minutes for me to do it but the energy was very, very high.

We were getting ready to perhaps meet these Judges with whom we had unfinished business.

I want to note: for each of the four games I've posted here, guns have never been a major factor--In some we went and got heavier fire-power--but they were never central. Perhaps because of the military nature of the characters or perhaps because an enemy we'd wanted for quite some time now seemed within reach, this was a case where having a system that not only represented the differences in weapons but allowed a substantial spread added to play.

I wouldn't necessarily call it Gamist--we expected to be overwhelming--but it was, in this case, a great benefit to have a system that supported us.

Also: The Lt. was a patriot (his argument against the Judges--they're Un-American--and the player, too, felt that neither we nor these vigilantes had the right to execute anyone for anything (although since we felt threatened we were going to hit back ... maybe hypocritical)--but when buying guns from a domestic terrorist (the weapons were theoretically going overseas but I'd picked all stuff from overseas and the GM was okay with that--didn't wash).

In this reality there had been no 9/11--and no war with Iraq (I asked how President Gore was doing and was told it was Lieberman).

The ideas of patriotism, holy war, and right and wrong were on everyone's mind--but the decision was made that in this case, a massive cash donation was reasonable to give us the weapons we needed to destroy whatever it was that had traveled with us across the ocean.

If it could be destroyed by weapons.
[/quote]

We loaded up--and moved out. It was dawn. We drove by Landmark and it was closed up. We resolved to come back that night. Nikki was kept with us. Ace kept her sedated (she needed it) and we tried to decide what to do.

We called Osbourne.
Us: "Doctor, what the hell did you send us there for?"
Osbourne:"Are you--were you--responsible for what happend ... on the docks?"
Us: "Yes."
Osbourne: "Do you have Nikki?"
Us: "She didn't know you--how come you know her?"
Osbourne: "Some of ... my clients ... know her."

Osbourne sounded scared and there were people in the room with him. We told him we'd meet him after dusk at the Four Seasons Hotel--told him to get two adjoining rooms and wait for us.

He said some of his 'circle' wanted to talk to Nikki.

Us: "She doesn't know anything--we don't think."
Him: "They want ... to use her services. She is an expert in painless death."

Whoever the Judges were, it seemed, they were on a roll and other people had gone missing. But not entirely missing.

Us: "People are dead?"
Him: "We have received several phone calls from the Judged. We believe they are dead--or worse."

Then we went in.

What we found in Landmark was what we expected and it was gruesome and I won't detail it here. There was a coroner's tape machine in the mouth of one of the victims where he prepared himself (terrified, under duress) for his own execution by his method--done to his still living body for as long as that lasted.

The other members of the sick little cabal were laid out in coffins. All of them had gold plates (of a more advanced model) in the backs of their heads.

We found no clues as to where they were and got out.

We met with Osbourne. One team (NPC's) was downstairs. We met him upstairs--alone. There was a massive storm over the city that was beginning to thunder.

He was, clearly, terrified. He said that whatever it was that people felt judging them in the back of their head was loose and people were being horrifically killed and then ... then there were the phone calls.

Almost worse (more shameful, less scary) was the fact that when the Judges got you they knew everything--that was what the callers had said.

He said we had been mentioned too--that the Judges didn't really want us but that we were getting in their way. While that was nice to hear, we decided that while we were breathing, we were the enemies of their abominations.

Osbourne had a request for us: he wanted us to let him on our GUIDE network. He had a chip. It could be automatically installed (he had the installer, which, we discovered a short time later, could double as a remover). He said he thought that somehow our "darknet"--the military network--would protect him ... from them.

It was an unequivocal 'No,' We told him whatever he'd done (and we didn't want to know ... although later we did) he was not going see through our eyes or share our sensations. It wasn't that intimate, we said--but it was damn too intimate.

We were arguing upstairs (Osbourne: "It might save my life." Thunder: "You're asking us to basically have sex with you--forget it!") when we heard the explosion (Me: "That's not thunder."). The LT's phone rang.

Paul from the car downstairs: "You have incoming. Three vehicles. One just prematurely detonated on the steps of the four seasons. One team is moving in. One team is coming for us. Probably Nikki."

Me: "Damn, they can track you by those damn chips. I knew it!"

The things (men) that got out of the car on the steps were wearing white ghost sheets and carrying Halloween black-and-orange jack-o-lanterns in each outstretched arm--the plastic contained something smoking--some kind of napalm bomb.

The other surviving vehicle disgorged people that looked like tattooed gang members, moved like machines, and carried meat hooks.

The LT (his player) made a great tactical call and we fired from the 12th story window of the hotel, combining fire with the car to kill the men on the street. We ran for it, down the stairs, and blew one of the ghosts to pieces in the lobby (when it collapsed there was a massive fireball--those things just had to get close). When we reached the car, we used the doctor's chip-implant thing to rip the unit out of his head--and Nikki's (they were on the temple, above the bone).

We raced out of there, avoiding the police response.

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Notes: I got the impression that the GM allowed us to go either way with Taylor's request--but it was important. Although it may not be clear from this write-up, we knew that the GUIDE chips made our relation to the net special--and maybe, being Type II Uncanny Affect, protected us from the judgment of the judges (whoever they were).

Also: the car exploding on the steps of the Four Seasons was a 'dramatic entrance'--it alerted us to the presence of the attackers in a dramatic fashion (the GM described several rumbles of thunder, bringing the tone of the conversation more and more apocalyptic and then punctuated it with an explosion and combat). There was no roll made to see if the first of three cars would explode (or to check for accidents with the other vehicle).

This was very satisfying--it was a great sense of pacing and timing and again, while later, I reflected on the technique, at the time, not knowing what was coming, it worked very well.

I do not believe this was done to "give us a fighting chance" or to otherwise stack the outcome (i.e. we'd be far more effective warned). We had a car downstairs doing surveillance. We were very alert and aware and had excellent perception due to the GUIDE chips. An ambush would've been hard to make plausible--but even moreover, I don't think (and I've asked and had this confirmed) that any intentional manipulation other than raising the energy was intended.

Again: this did not interfere with any actions I had--and it did not seem a mutation of the world to "keep things from going wrong."

But it very much illustrates the difference between Virtuality and Whatever Else.

I called Jeff Burges and started telling him that I wanted to get his electronics buddy to take a look at two FIVE chips we had--and he stopped me.

Jeff: "The Judges--they want to talk to you, you know. You've been upgraded from meddling kids to maybe an actual threat. You don't want that--you can play on their team, you know. If they give you that option, you'd better take it."

Me: "What about you, Jeff? You're a freak--what do you think they'll do to you?"

Jeff: "They had my number--but I've made ... certain ... agreements with them."

Me: "Where are you, you little fuck?"

Jeff: "Somewhere hidden. Listen, Mr. T. wants a word with you. He's another man who's seen the light--an important man. He'll meet with you--and hopefully convince you to either pick the right side ... or get out of the way and turn your two new friends over to justice."

Us: "Fuck off."

We went to his friend's place and busted the door down. He wasn't there--but his buddy knew where he was--his mother's house ("Figures."). Thirty minutes later we had him with guns on him. He'd changed his tune--and given with some answers.

He'd been working for the Judges all along (he believed they were supernatural--he'd spoken to them electronically, on the phone, never in person--they knew everything about him). He had been supposed to get the sensor to us--and then, later, assist them in making contact. He didn't know why (we did figure it out).

Mr. T., it turned out was Samuel Taylor--a super-rich city-icon like the Lt. He was bankrolling the Judges, Jeff said. He'd made the right choice.

Roland called him, and invited him over for drinks.

Knowing exactly who we were and what we had to talk about, he came ("Do you have the little Necrophile?" Thunder: "Right now I'm standing between you and Judas.")

When we met, we talked--and we learned.

He had suffered the Uncanny Affect (Type 1, Judgment) and after some time of "passing" and using the Infrastructure as little as possible he had been contacted. The Judges had come to him (ordinary people--common people--of terrifying intent, purpose, and knowledge). They knew what he'd done and they offered him absolution--if he became their tool--funding their project. He had.

He said he'd gone through therapy. That he'd prayed, he'd repented, he'd drank--nothing had worked--but when the Judges came to him and he began the process with them, he'd felt clean. He'd created their foundation. He'd advanced their techniques. He'd spent many, many millions realizing their vision.

It was chilling.

What he had done was to assist his wife with her suicide, pretending to offer support and be a loving, caring husband when, really he was just tired of her constant depression. After she was dead, he had abused her body (he never actually said this--but became appallingly clear).

In order for complete absolution, however, he needed to see the judgment of Nikki (her being tortured to death at the hands of the judges). We had her, Dr. Osbourne, and Jeff held in the estate (Nikki and Osbourne were 'guests'--under watch. Jeff was bound with electrical tape).

He painted a broader picture: The world was full of these dark perverse appetites and the Judges were standing against them. They were the feelings the bad-people got in the backs of their heads. When a person was in tune with them enough, the feelings--the essences that were alive on the Global Infrastructure could enter that "open back door" and become the mind of the person whom they wanted.

The golden plates were used to (as we suspected) record personalities and memories of the people judged and executed. These were stored, distributed, on the Global Infrastructure. They were records of the judged's personalities after/during judgment. They were damaged--the personalities were downloaded into volunteers (white supremacists, religious fanatics, etc. who became the wolves--the deranged foot soldiers of the judges).

The Judges were, in fact, concerned that we would let their targets on our "dark-net"--but if that happened, they would destroy us as well. We theorized about why that might be the case and came up with something that was, it turned out, fairly close to the truth--although we didn't know it then.

What followed was a philosophical debate that raged about who was empowered to do what--when we pointed out that "absolved or not" Taylor was exactly like Nikki (she did more but how did that really matter?) he conceded. When we said he was selfishly trying to take absolution that he was denying her a chance at, he capitulated: he would lead us to the judges.

They wanted to talk to us anyway--but they wanted us unarmed.

The organization was in a junk yard in New Jersey. The Judges had been changed now--they were the products of hundreds of operations, advanced techniques in body modification, and had a terrifying grasp of technology that came to them. He said we'd need the firepower we had.

There was a discussion of the supernatural (when describing the different kinds of evil he drew an upside down wedding cake to list the various levels of corruption. When he decided to side with us, he told us "betrayers were at the bottom and the Judges would never forget him. They never forgave anyone, really, anyway).

When we were out at the junkyard he discussed Virgil in taking Dante through the dark wood in Inferno. He said he was looking for a guide.

I told him we were GUIDE's.

We went in. The junkyard was a horror show. The team that flanked ran into a "minefield" of human faces buried in the sand outside the wall, facing up. When they saw the characters approach, they started screaming. The Judges were 12-foot tall things (wearing long robes and hoods, armored with metal and Kevlar). Each had six arms (four prosthetics) and welded shut mouths, speaking through speakers. They were hard to kill. There was a massive cadre of wolves.

We killed them all.

Inside the office was a auto-body shop / surgery theater with "doctors" (mutilated humans) suspended from the ceiling by wires and hooks in their skin. Their fingers elongated with metal tools melded with the flesh. Their lips were sewn shut, their eyes sewn open, and they worked on two additional Judges to bring them closer to their final apocalyptic vision.

We killed everyone in the shop and searched the smoldering remains.

There were documents. Plans, printed insane files full of ratings and ravings. Taylor was to become a Judge. The theory was that he would find his opposite (Nikki--a person of the same sins) and Judge her--preside over the execution. This would almost completely cleanse him of his sin (the documents noted that to-date no one ever really got cleansed ... the process had to be perfected, the deaths more horrific and traumatic ...)

Jeff, their documents said, had a talent for deception. He would have his limbs amputated and be sealed inside a box with a telephone attached permanently to his head (bolted into the skull). With whatever sanity was left to him, he would serve the judges as a convincing voice on the phone to manipulate victims--a damned telemarketer for insane justice for the rest of his life.

There was one more document we saw references to--a book so secret they had to hide it off site. It was, the notes said, in a locker in Penn Station.

We got the hell out of there.

The last word from the Judges (as Zach hunted the survivor in the maze of crushed cars with his .50-cal sniper rifle) was "Destroy us, and you leave the world to Them". We thought we knew what that meant, at the time. It turned out we didn't.

Quote
Notes: The philosophical showdown was as intense as the battle--which was to say incredibly intense. Taylor had a few solid arguments going for him:

1. The fact that he felt shriven leant credence to the idea that Judgment was somehow absolving--that the Judges could grant what counseling could not (although he did confess, finally, that he had not shared the darker aspects of his secret with his therapist).

2. Nikki's suicide clubs were still out there--even without her (although she was the platinum super-star of suicide--so she was important). They were organized in a swarming fashion (cell phones were used, chains of trust, encrypted messages, etc.). They were, he said, 'unstoppable.' We weren't convinced--but he had a point: how do you kill an idea? Well, the Judges could.

3. It was clear that the people being judged were very, very bad. Also: they were people who were in some senses "untouchable." The Judges were dark justice--but the didn't want 'ordinary sinners'--just the worst.

We countered that it wasn't 'American' (the Lt.) that innocent people were killed in the crossfire--wasn't that a sin which the Judges had no authority to commit? (Zach), and that the sadistic nature of the Judgment made them just as bad as those they hunted (me).

I think that to differing degrees the character's arguments matched the opinions of the players (although I'm not sure). I would guess the Lt's player had a more nuanced view of the situation than "It's not American."--but it was certainly in character. I know that my view matched that of my character (it was presented in my character's voice). Had that not been the case, it would've been very uncomfortable for me--but would've been interesting nonetheless (my personal reaction would still be relevant and important as I made the statement my character would make).

The GM did a great job of running all the NPC's--Taylor, both guilty and righteous, the NPC's, horrified, disgusted, and in some cases looking for simple answers to complex questions. The captives—scared that we'd turn them over.

The battle was high-energy and it felt like the end of the game when we killed them. Going to Penn station to get the final document felt like wrap-up.

Penn Station
We left a car outside (with the NPC's) to watch the main entrance (the best we could do) and we went down. We found the locker ... and a guy waiting for us. He was a thin man with a beard and traveling clothes. He had a backpack and a Mickey Mouse yo-yo and he talked to us, lightly haunting us. He'd known we'd come. He had a message for us.

The message was "Thank You" and "You killed one person to few. Taylor could still become a Judge."

He said he was from the 'other side'--the--the Passions--the enemies of the Judges and, until now, their targets. Appearently in the interconnected neural soup of the Global Infrastructure there wasn't just judgment--there was also passion.

He said that with the Judges out of the way (for now--their incarnations, destroyed), the passions were coming to play and Nikki would be the mistress of ceremonies. He thanked us for saving her.

We were appalled. Appearently the Passions (with full Thomas Aquinas latin taxonomy) were preparing for a dark celebration. They, too, were a semi-sentinet force gathering and linking all those pre-disposed to dark, illicit appetites. Amongst the chilling list he gave us were Serial Killers.

We told him the Passions were no friends of ours either. He laughed. I scanned him. He rated SIX.

We parted tensely: he had a creepy army of homeless guys who had been summoned, as though by telepathy to watch us. We returned with Taylor to Roland's house (just across from Central Park) and decided what to do. Taylor told us what was coming:

Quote
You've killed the Judges. The watchers in the back of everyone's mind are gone--they're coming here--soon--maybe tomorrow. They will turn New York into a bleeding, burning Soddom and Gammorrah. They will slaughter a bull on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Finanical District will run with virgin's blood. You've done this now that you've taken the Judges away. This is the fall of reason.

Over the next eight hours, it began to appear that he was right. The book we'd gotten contained the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and cabalistc drawings of triangles within trianges with the axises named (Man, Reason, Death, Life-in-Death, Fear, Passion). We were able to glean from it that the Judges had believed that Reason stood between Man and Life (the absolution the Judges brought)--and that Fear (Judgment) stood between Man and Death (Passions).

By killing the Judges we had removed Fear and now the Passions were unleashed. Nikki, put back on the net, was able to confirm things: trains full of dark revelers were converging. Multiple groups using the 'swarm' organizational techniques were springing into action.

Taylor said the city was helpless against the tidal wave that was coming: it wouldn't make sense to them--and the forces of civilization would fall. This was the Death of Reason. We needed a Return to Fear.

He told us, in righteous anger (and fear) to make him a judge--by letting him preside over a hideous death of his moral twin: Nikki. We said no.

With two of the richest guys in the city in one room, we called the Mayor. He was in the command center. There was a crisis underway. They knew (something) about the trains. We were relieved: Reason wasn't down for the count after all--but there were problems.

We told them they needed the National Guard--they said they had things under control (the GM had stats: the NYC police force alone rates with some national armies). We told them they didn't understand everything that was coming but we couldn't explain how we knew.

We had hopes, however, that things would hold up--it was going to be a hell of a hit, yes--but Reason, we reasoned, was strong.

With Nikki linked back in, we were able to talk to The Passions (they didn't manifest like the Judges did, completely taking a host--but they told us that Nikki needed to be returned to the fold--to lead her people--the debauchers and libertines and sybarites. We said "No. If she's going anywhere, she's going to jail."

We set up our own access center, watching news reports and forcing Nikki to scan the web, to give us the bigger picture.

A crowd formed across the street--homeless people--deranged looking people--jesters. There were people with cylume light sticks and street musicians and their crowd was growing at an alarming rate. Zach and I went out. They told us they'd come for Nikki--to usher in their new dawn. The guy from Penn Station was in the crowd. When we went to forcibly search him, he opened fire on Zach. Zach killed him with his hands.

Out of his backpack fell tops and comic books and candy and action figures--a bag of tricks for a paedophile child killer.

Despite the shooting and the violence, the city was eeirly quiet and devoid of police. Upstairs, on the computer screens, things were starting to get bad. Things were starting to come together. There *was* a pattern--but it was huge and the Mayor's Command center would never see it. Even if they did, they wouldn't believe it was connected.

There was a cabal of paedophiles on the police force and Internal Affairs that was just starting it's internal sabotage of the police response. We saw reports about a circus that had come to town and was setting up without permit in Central Park. The police were trying to stop them--but they were stretched thin for this non-violent action (we saw pictures of giraffs and elephants and monkeys in cages moving across the bridge). Nikki painted a picture for us (when she was not possessed by the passion) of a hundred tiny things going wrong at once to create a critical situation that would destroy the city's response capability. It was going to burn.

We were watching a denial of service attack in real life. In offices phones were ringing, unanswered, the operators suddenly finding pornography sites on the Infrastructure that really spoke to them--allegations that the mayor himself belonged to a secret fraternal society that enacted ancient, bloody, Roman rituals--and that he had ordered a fiddle and an expensive bottle of wine for this evening. Slowly the situation became clearer: Reason alone ... was not going to work.

Taylor told us what we had to do. We had to 'Make him.' To create an incarnation of the Judges--a new active node whose very existence would splinter and repell the coming cataclysm. We decided to do something else. We got our weapons out. We realized that if the city burned there would not be much a single fire-team could do--but at least we could hold out here for a while--and we were denying them Nikki.

And that made us think. Why did they need her?

Between our research and our conclusions, they hit us. The Circus had gone up--we could see the arc of the great iron ferris wheel over the trees and we could hear the carnival music and see people moving in the trees. Something Osborne had said, something the child-killer had said, and something we had questioned one of the Passions about added up.

We knew that our Shadow Net provided a kind of intamacy that went just a little beyond sharing sensations. We knew that what the judges absolutely lacked--but had provided a false pretense of to Taylor--and what Nikki, herself, believed she was beyond was: forgiveness.

A sensation--a sense--of self-forgiveness or acceptance was what they'd all sought--and what, we thought, stood between man and Judgment instead of Reason. The information we had is hard to list in this write-up: it was subtle and the result of a good deal of conversation. We knew that Taylor was Nikki's equal--not opposite as he said--and we knew that while we couldn't *really* forgive anyone, we could, in the end, accept them (although that didn't mean we were going to let them go free)--and when we got the GUIDE-chip networks to let them both onto our nets the assault came. We knew that both the Judges (explicitly) and the Passions (we inferred) were afraid of our GUIDE network.

It came in three waves of people and was finished with a trio of massive elephants ridden by dwarfs who controled their beasts with piano-like consoles that ran wires into the animal's heads. Paul died. the house was breached, we fired rockes and .50-cal bullets and poured fire into the woods and the front lawn as they came--and as Ace worked to set up two chips--to link both of them together.

The experience when Nikki came online was that of standing in a massive, planetary sized mauseloeum, all alone--with no other human--and safe for that absolute stillness that absolute lack of judgment--that lack of requirement for empathy. The red horizon of her mind-scape was filled with titanic meat rendering plants. That was where the passion came from in her internal world--that and the giant, soulless, stone angles.

When we linked (in various states of emotional decay) to Taylor, we saw flashes of his jagged self-hatred and his false absolution: putting all his guilt into her--but we'd linked them both--to us--and Thunder (back from the windows where we were fighting--where the building was breached and on-fire) decided he'd do it. Sickened by the experience, he steeled himself, forced himself--to project the acceptance that he could muster for this, they connected--and winked out. Mutual Annihilation.

But we were also connected to the Global Infrastructure--as were they--and our shadow-net had learned about them--and that sense of conscience without either merciless judgment or acceptance of abomination became, through us, an new active node on the network.

And it eradicated the patterns that were the Passions and rendered obsolete the patterns that were the Judges and we could feel the guiding force that was creating the assault on New York collapse across the city--and then with the spreading, vanish across the world.

THE END.

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Notes: Hmm ... let's see. Everyone loved the game--the darker elements of it (including the pathologies of the other NPC's that I haven't gone into here) were instrumental in creating a serious delima for the players. We were presented with weak victims who needed protection from an unspeakable fate--but they, themselves, were reprehensible.

In the end, our gut reaction (a humanistic one: we accepted their self-annihilation--but we still accepted them as not deserving a 'fate worse than death') was borne out.

I asked the GM what would've happened if we'd decided to hand Nikki over (or not taken her with us after the battle on the docks).

He said that the Judges needed to have Taylor Judge her--and ultimately Judge himself--and he was queasy about that (this came up during play). He had second thoughts about going through with that himself--and he needed a guide.

The GM told us that would've brought us into contact with him. Some of the basic nature of the game would be explored in his contact of us under those circumstances. The GM felt that Reason (which is what the Judges represented) without Forgivness (essential humanity) was barren. But if we had allowed it to down, go down it would've.

The GM pointed out that Virtual Global Infrastructure Link = VirGIL (the whole Dante thread).

The GM also pointed out (as we knew from the game) that the Judges didn't want us destroyed (actually, they wanted us for Judges--our Shadow Net, converted to their purposes, would make them very stable and able to easily reform should their bodies be destroyed).

The showdowns (combat with the judges, with the passion's assault) were glorious--satisfying and explosive.

A Note on Theme: The GM provided some thematic input--from Taylor (and Sam Taylor was echoed in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner S.T. Colerdidge), from the GUIDE/Virgil stuff, and from the sense of Judgment and Passion.

However, we were aware of it in a meta-game sense but didn't play to it in an in-game sense ("Oh, we're supposed to be like Virgil and lead this guy through the woods). In fact, we (mostly) identifed with 'Reason' rather than 'forgivness or acceptance' in terms of our in-game and meta-game dialog. However, the play itself did bear out the thematic quality that became literal in the final conflict.

It is true that I appreciate the GM because of his attention to situation in this respect--however, I would certainly not want either a mandated choice or a mechanic that forced me to deal with the GM's themes thrust upon me.

If we had come into the game with the stats of Mercy vs. Judgment (and mechanics that made our actions and success relevant to them, for instance), while it would've put the issue clear and up-front, it also would've been saying "this is a game about mercy vs. judgment" and I wouldn't have been as excited about that without the context that came with the situation itself.

If the GM had described the set-up to the game itself (essentially "starting at the end when the conflict was clear") I don't think I would've been as invested in making that call.

A Note On Pacing: As I've noted, the GM included several aspects of dramatic timing in the game. More importantly, he set up the NPC's with motivations that he felt would lead to an interesting climax (the Judges wanted us for their own, Taylor had (minor) second thoughts and wanted to talk with us, the background in Africa was held as a sort of 'open secret' in the begining in order to build power and intersperse some ramp-up play with some more intense situation).

The pacing of this was essential and, IMO, Dramatic. The GM couldn't say for sure when Sam Taylor would call us up--but it didn't matter, he'd call us when he needed to (within reasonable parameters). The cuts between Africa and Modern Day were arranged to keep the energy high. The various assaults were used to punctuate scenes rather than just "randomly" occurring at the end.

Clearly, if I were a pure Virtualist, I'd object to this. I did notice it about half way in. Why didn't I complain? I didn't, I think, for a few reasons:

1. The events fell within my threshold for plausibility (which is, I think, *pretty high* but not absolute--I didn't consider the bad-guys showing up after a quick conversation had pretty much resolved our issues unacceptable.

2. The pacing (which was, IMO, similar to Framing, even when used in a scene) was done in an empowering manner. We weren't (really) cut short. The timing wasn't done to manipulate us. If anything, just the opposite--the GM let the scene run and then BANG, hit us. So there's a player empowerment issue there.

But if the GM had paid careful attention to clocks and asked us to delineate actions on some sort of internal timeline I wouldn't have object either, even if it had cut us short or pushed us around.

There is a hierarchy of expectation: versimilitude, empowerment, drama (if I get drama at the cost of empowerment, I'm not happy--if I get versimilitued at the cost of empowerment, I'll accept it).

3. It didn't interfere with my immersion. If the GM had said "and here's a key choice for you Marco, I'm really interested to see which way you'll go" that woulda sort of broken me out of the game--especially if the dramatic license the GM took was designed to (even plausibly) push me into those situations.

In other words, I saw no pattern to the GM use of dramtic pacing. The patterns I saw were built into the situational foundation of the game itself, not the technique of GM-Power-Over-Timing.

Playtest Notes: The GM was very good about using the present cut of the game rules to look up notes rather than having me explain them. This was valuable to me--I got to see examination of the notes in action and got to see how the game held up. The GM, playing as a stickler for by-the-rules revealed a small amount of highly useful information (largely on the grappling section).
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JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland

JamesSterrett

Thanks for posting that - quite a ride just to read along with it.  :)

My moment of cluelessness:  What is "JAGS"?

Marco

JAGS is a free universal ("generalist") RPG. It is available here: http://jagsgame.dyndns.org

The game was actually run in JAGS-2, a to-be-released-before-the-end-of-the-year version of JAGS that is compatible, updated (i.e. things that were learned in JAGS's 2-year stint in the wild were encapsulated) and made much easier to get into.

I am the author of JAGS and the head of the JAGS team.

We just won an indie-award for JAGS Have-Not, our post-apocalypse world book. We're very proud of it.

-Marco
---------------------------------------------
JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland

Tobias

Quote- The civilian version is called a 'virtual global information link',
and each person who has one becomes a 'node' in the world wide network
- Question: What do you call a girl who's just got her link, but has
never logged on?

Virgin?

(VIRtual Global Information Newbie?)
Tobias op den Brouw

- DitV misses dead gods in Augurann
- My GroupDesign .pdf.

Ron Edwards

Hi Marco,

I really like your notes on pacing. They make a lot of sense to me.

I've had a frustrating time over the years talking about in-game time and its relationship to Creative Agenda. It's one of those issues in which so much else must be known about the game, that what looks like a definitive answer given to person X, that a person Y observing the conversation can perceive the opposite meaning.

That breakdown will help a lot.

Best,
Ron

Marco

Quote from: Tobias
Quote- The civilian version is called a 'virtual global information link',
and each person who has one becomes a 'node' in the world wide network
- Question: What do you call a girl who's just got her link, but has
never logged on?

Virgin?

(VIRtual Global Information Newbie?)

Yep. That was the answer (I don't know if the last letter was Newbie--but Virgin was correct) :)
-Marco
---------------------------------------------
JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland

AlHazred

I really like this. I like to think I'd be able to run it like that. The only things I'd think about changing much are the links between the characters' experiences in South Africa and the Judges back home in America. Then again, I'm a hard science guy.