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Subject: Free Terran Confederation S2 P2: Under Ice rss

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Danny Stevens
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Role playing since the beginning.
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| Session Part 1 | Danny's big session index |

Players and Character Names
Zhao Li (played by Paul)
Scout pilot, owner of TFCSS53 a type S scout ship

Casper Percival Herab (played by Rhys)
Scientist administrator, major shareholder in the lab ship X389TY, housing the “super cop” experiment.

Ja Ja Shao (played by Zoe)
Veteran marine weapons and security expert

Potato (played by Steven)
Digital information synthesis expert for the Xian Zhu system bureau of law enforcement and investigation (The XzBlei)

Cordia L. (played by Pam)
A chief star navy engineer

Zitzsu (played by Phaedra)
Captain in the Yuan regional army

11 March, 2332ce
Planet Pang Xie in the Spectos star system, 2 parsecs from Tratos

DM Note This whole second part of the session is a first contact encounter. The aliens were particularly hard to design as they needed to come across as very non-human. They also embody a mystery about their origins for which I have a number of staged reveals.
Casper, Ja Ja Shao, Potato and Zitzsu enter the tunnel. Inside the air pressure is higher and the temperature is about half a degree warmer. The tunnel walls are fairly smooth with a flat and somewhat slippery floor. The ice itself has a deep green colour. They note about 60m in to the tunnel some smaller crab holes intersecting it.

After a while they notice a growing swooshing noise from ahead and start to see some blue lights bobbing up and down and approaching from deep into the tunnel. Casper tries to “run” away but just keeps sliding about. Zitsu remains calm and uses her laser carbine to melt a human size dent in the wall for herself and then burns one for each of the others. It adds to the steam floating around at this end of the tunnel.

From inside their wall holes they see a large, caterpillar like life form glide past, carrying a grasshopper like creature on its back. The caterpillar seems to be adorned with saddle bags and the grasshopper has belts and equipment pouches festooned on it. The blue lights are a set of four bright lights on stalks at the front of the caterpillar, itself about 15m long and 6m wide. The grasshopper is roughly human size.

The players emerge from their holes after the life forms have passed. They hear buzzing/sawing noises from the tunnel entrance. Up on the ship Zhao Li can see steam rising in plumes around the entrance and tells the landing party the entrance seems to be being sealed. Everyone notes how clear their communications are through the ice. The landing party heads further into the tunnel, walking down a 10 degree slope where the tunnel walls and floor are carefully ridged to give traction.

At the base of the slope they are now about 30m deep. On the floor of the tunnel are regularly spaced metal squares. Ja Ja thinks they are some transport track. They come to a branch and go left and discover a 20m long flat bed train hovering just above the floor. The train is segmented every 5m and Zhao Li, observing via suit cameras, remarks that it looks like a large sushi train.

There is some chat between the characters about the significance of meeting aliens, the possible financial gain and can Potato shoot one since he has a gun. After this they get up the nerve to climb the 1m height to board the train and check out its controls. There are basically four buttons and a lever. The buttons are red, orange, yellow and green. Casper discovers the lever cannot be moved unless the red button is pressed and everyone urges him to start the train moving backwards down the tunnel. He pulls the lever back and sure enough it does, at a bit slower than walking pace. The yellow button turns on flood lights all along the train and pushing it again turns them off. Then Casper hits the orange button and the train accelerates to about running speed.

Deeper into the tunnel in the direction of travel some more lights can be seen and chirping noises heard. The players can see several of the grasshopper creatures with head lamps on, coming up the tunnel. When they see the train sprinting towards them they let out some confused chirps and then run/hop away.

Casper thinks they should probably stop so he pushes the red button again. This flings the lever back to middle position and hits the breaks hard. The players all make dex saves but Ja Ja Shao falls hard and rips her vacc suit near the shoulder. Everyone crowds around trying to help her up and fix the breach. She gets a bit light headed from the pressure drop before they apply some tear'n'swear to seal the leak. They notice that the aliens have climbed aboard the other end of the train and are chirping at them.

Potato gets out his hand gun and points it at them yelling “stand back!”. Ja Ja sardonically notes they had probably better turn on their suit speakers so the aliens can at least here them. Zitzsu has her laser carbine at the ready and the team agree that Casper should attempt formal introductions.

DM Note Casper has a “translator" device with some hefty AI. However decoding alien language is likely to be a very hard task taking considerable time even with the help of a language AI. On the other other hand this is an RPG and fiddling around endlessly with trying to learn an alien language isn't much fun. I decided I would create some obstacles to be dealt with and have player descriptions of how they were trying to communicate lead the way to how well this would work. I had decided the creatures didn't use absolute true or false terminology but were wired to thing in proportional levels of true or false and this pervades their language.

Casper steps forward and tries speaking calmly with catch phrases like “we come in peace”. The grasshoppers push forward a member who chirps at Casper. With the urging of his team Casper tries naming things, “This is ice” for example. The grasshopper chirps back and starts approximating the cadence of Casper's voice. Then Casper tries body language including a handshake. The grasshopper inspects his hand curiously, and when it doesn't bite him everyone relaxes.

While Casper's translator device works over time Ja Ja Shao uses body language to show that they wish to continue down the tunnel. The Grasshoppers hop ahead. The team notice they have four legs and a single rear hopper leg, as well as two arms on their upright torsos. They name these particular grasshoppers Tweet, Crackle, Whistle and Plop.

Cordia L. and Zhao Li are getting all this by visual feed and decide the signal from the landing party must be being retransmitted by technology embedded in the ice. They watch as the team follows the grasshoppers deeper down to a balcony with a rickety elevator overlooking a small town in a huge ice cavern. Caterpillars and a couple of trains flow in and out through various tunnels. On the far side of the town is a small space ship, leaning a bit to one side and surrounded by a fence.

The group ride the dangerous, low fence, elevator platform to the city floor where a large crowd has gathered. They are led to the town centre where they try to communicate about the space ship and indicate a solar system. Some grasshoppers in red robes then get very excited as they examine a laptop they are carrying and show everybody what is on the screen. There is an image of the inside of a glass box which itself is inside a metal box.

DM Note This reveal went over pretty well. All the players laughed as they recognised Crabby's box. The mood at the gaming table was pretty high. Suddenly lots of speculation was flying back and forth about the grasshoppers and their technology. Steven wanted to know if Potato should shoot one of them to see what happens next.

There is a short session of reality TV with the ship crew looking into Crabby's box and waving. Cordia L. wants to take Crabby down to the aliens, so Zhao Li scans the surface and finds a spot hard enough to land the scout on. As they land they see a plume of ice fly up near by and discover the grasshoppers appear to have constructed an tunnel with an elevator and an airlock in the time it would take them to land ( a few minutes).

DM Note Appearances can be deceiving/

Everyone goes into the largest building in the town centre which turns out to be a mix of church and forum. There is the equivalent of a stained glass window that depicts a photographic image of the ship that lies outside. There there is some dispute between a grasshopper in black robes and those in red. Casper is trying to get the translator to make sense of it when Zhao Li says “it hasn't even worked out true or false yet.” Cordia L. suggests that may be the problem, that true or false don't apply in their language. Casper has an “ah hah!” moment and feeds some changes to the translator. Suddenly it begins to have traction as it discovers the grasshoppers speak using fuzzy logic. For most things they have five primary adjectives – mostly, partly, half-half, less so and mostly not.

The exchange with the grasshoppers begins to turn into a dialogue at this point. The crew try asking how long the grasshoppers have lived on the planet but the communication doesn't get past attempts to learn how each side measures time. The crew do learn that the grasshoppers fled here from some mostly harmful risk several average life spans ago. They learn that the caterpillars and crabs are both what the grasshoppers call 'extensions' and that the great risk was a type of extension that had become mostly harmful. They also learn there are eight other colonies like this one under the ice cap, connected by tunnels.

After two hours of such exchange Zhao Li asks if the crew can inspect the grasshopper's ship. The black robed grasshopper, in charge of the upkeep of the dignity of the ship, chucks a bit of a fit. Zhao Li suggests they may be able to restore some of its function and repair other parts of the broken technology that the grasshoppers posses such as some of the trains that have become derelict. Black Robe stops and pronounces the suggestion reasonable.

A small swarm of crabs reorganise the fence to allow the crew access. The grasshoppers hold back. Cordia L. has to tinker with the hatch to get it to open but once they are inside they see there is a lot of decay. However there is still some power in the power plant and Cordia L. is able to route power to the hatch and make it operate in powered mode again. Then they go to the bridge and find they are able to reboot one of the ship computer consoles, which comes up with a vast collection of grasshopper glyphs that mean nothing to the crew at all.

There is a short discussion about how to handle this and Casper suggest they either bring in the Keeper to view it or they bring in Crabby to relay the screen to everyone.

DM Note At this point we had been playing for 5 hours and several players had to scoot off for various appointments, so we hit the pause button. Everyone ended the session with a sense of excitement, even Steven who didn't get to shoot anything (yet).

To Be Continued...

Session 3 is some GM prep for elsewhere in the sub sector.
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