Dust - Session One

By The Literate Programmer, Tue 27 September 2016, in category Gurps

Dust, Fun, Gaming, GURPS, Session Recap

Session One - He's old, like almost 40!

Information about the world

Our GM wrote up this brief description of the world from which we took our background knowledge of the world.

In short, some time ago, there was some apocalyptic event and the world went from a magic-filled human civilization to little villages under the protection of magical shields. Most of the outside world is safe by now, apart from certain areas that are still actively harmful. These are called Hells.

Dramatis Personae

It all begins

After the weekly State of the Village speech by the Mayor of Lati, the villagers go to relax and enjoy themselves with their mood only improving when a merchant caravan arrives. Unfortunately, the mood quickly turns to unease, as the merchant1 calls a meeting with the mayor and the village elders, which is very unusual.

Alexander takes the opportunity and goes to talk to the guide of the caravan, to see if he can gain any information. He's met the guide2 before, and so he finds out... nothing. Something happened, the merchant wants to tell the elders, as it could threaten the regular travelling routes but Greg can't tell Alexander anything more.

The next day, Alexander is approached by the mayor and asked to assist the merchant train traveling onwards to Narok and to perhaps recruit some more people to accompany them. The reason for all of that is that the wild dogs have been getting more aggressive and that there have been more sighting of the rite cats3.

One of the elders suggests taking Dane Bouras along, he's been getting restless and perhaps going on an adventure will make him calm down and become a more reliable farmhand again. The mayor agrees and adds that perhaps improving their maps of the road between Lati and Narok would be a good idea. Siri Slyfoxen has the skills for that and curious as she is, it ought to be easy to convince her to go along.

Alexander agrees and goes to fetch both of the youngsters, who are both excited to be able to go on such a trip.

The road to Narok

The first day on the road passes uneventfully and in the evening they set up camp. Alexander sets up a watch schedule, leaving the merchant to sleep all night.

Dane has the second watch and spots a bush which is moving suspiciously. He keeps an eye on it, but as nothing else seems to happen, he takes no further action.

Siri takes the last watch, after Greg, and she, too, spots the bush moving. Inexperienced as she is, she wakes Greg up to tell him about the bush and what to do, which makes him very grumpy and he tells her to go to sleep, he'll stand watch. Can't have the rookies do it.

In the morning it turns out that there was in fact an animal in that bush: A deer is startled as the merchant's apprentice walks past it to gather some water.

Greg is still grumpy and tries to tell off Siri, but Alexander steps in and defends her. Throughout the day, Alexander keeps close to Greg, to make sure that he's not too offended. After all, the guides gotta stick together and can't have bad blood between themselves.

The trip continues uneventfully until early in the evening, as they approach Narok through the forest surrounding it. It is starting to get dark, so they light torches and want to continue onwards but find that their path is blocked by a dog.

The first obstacle

For Alexander, this is not the first encounter with the stray dogs that roam the countryside and he calmly organises the response to the dog. After establishing that it is only a single dog, he tries scaring it off, by waving his torch at it and posturing. Strangely enough, the dog seems completely unfazed and doesn't back down.

While Dane suggests throwing out some meat to get the dog to back off, Alexander will have none of it and orders Siri to shoot the dog. She moves a little bit closer, takes aim and loosens an arrow at the dog. Unfortunately, the arrow seems to glance off of one of the dog's clearly visible ribs, leaving it almost unharmed.

So provoked, the dog attacks them and a fight develops. Dane is reluctant to attack the dog with his sword as he feels that the dog didn't do them any harm yet. Alexander, still surprised that the dog doesn't retreat, almost drops his staff and gets bitten by the dog.

After a brief struggle, they do manage to overwhelm the dog, and Alexander yells at Dane to stop playing around and use that sword of his next time! Then he bundles up the dog's body and the caravan continues.

Just outside of Narok they walk into Ibram Garro, who had been checking up on the traps around the village. Having never met Dane, Ibram strikes up conversation with him first, but Alexander quickly butts in. He wants Ibram to skin and butcher the dog in exchange for his usual share, to which Ibram agrees.

Narok or how to derail the GM's plot5

Once the caravan arrives in Narok, Ibram introduces himself to the other new member of the caravan, Siri. They immediately strike up a lively conversation based on their mutual love of maps and agree to take breakfast together to talk more about mapping the area. Then, Ibram excuses himself to go deal with the dog.

Tim does not want to provide the members of the caravan with dinner, but Alexander manages to convince him to at least pay for a basic dinner, which he begrudgingly does. Before dinner, Alexander dresses his wound, showing Siri and Dane proper first aid techniques.

Dane, light sleeper that he is, wakes up in the middle of the night, hearing steps around the tent. He wakes up Alexander and they leave the tent to check it out. Turns out, it was merely the town drunk staggering around. Alexander curses a bit, then they go back to bed.

In the morning, Ibram walks up to the tents of the travelers and realizes that he has no idea which one belongs to Siri. Using his tracking skills, he manages to figure it out, and they go to have breakfast. They talk more about mapping the area and talk soon turns to the most interesting local feature:
A Hell.
Of course Siri wants to go see it and so they plan a trip there.

Meanwhile Alexander gets paid and Dane asks the innkeeper about the drunkard. There are rumours about the drunkards history and where he has his wealth from but he has never been trouble in Narok, so the innkeeper serves him like everyone else. Incidentally, would Dane be interested in the new herbal tea? It's totally safe, tested on the innkeeper's cat!
Dane wouldn't and instead joins the others at their table, where it is quickly agreed to make a joint trip to the Hell and map it out more clearly.

Alexander goes to talk to the mayor about getting official support for their mapping expedition but the mayor refuses, after all, there is already someone in town, making perfectly good maps.

Highway6 to Hell

Just before they can set out from Narok, Mayor Hayworth pulls Ibram aside. He asks him to improve their mapping of the Hell and to look out for any possible sources of aggressive animals. For some reason, lately there has been more trouble with wild animals. Even the rite cats have been spotted more often.

For them to be able to investigate the Hell, he even gives Ibram one of their rarest treasures:
A mobile protection stone, which can project a shield much like those that protects the villages. It can last for approximately 48 hours and fits 3 people well, with a diameter of 5 meters. He does ask Ibram to keep this secret and not to let it out of his hands, as he doesn't trust Alexander.

With that, the group sets out towards the Hell.
The trip is uneventful, and in the late afternoon they arrive near the border of the Hell. Alexander and Dane set up camp, while Siri and Ibram take a first look at the border of the Hell. Ibram demonstrates the danger of entering a Hell unprotected by snapping off a nearby branch and throwing it across the border where it wilts almost immediately.

The night passes quietly, although Ibram spots an enormous boar-like creature in the distance. It doesn't move towards them, so he takes no further action other than to tell Alexander to keep an eye out for it. The weirdest thing about it, however, is that he spots it inside the Hell.

Rite cats and stranger things

In the morning, the party continues onward along the border of the Hell. They don't spot anything interesting until the early afternoon, when the rain gets heavier. They decide that finding shelter is more important and manage to find some overhanging boulders where they use their tents to build a lean-to.

That night, during Siri's watch, everything goes quiet. Then, inside the Hell, just barely visible from their shelter, she spots two glowing golden orbs. Then more and more, until they form a neat semi-circle. Disturbed by the sight of the rite cats, she wakes Alexander, who tells her about the rite cats. Suddenly, one of the cats' eyes turn red and just as suddenly, the semi-circle becomes a full circle.
The cats are watching them!

Alexander tells Siri to wake everyone and Dane and Ibram come outside just in time to see the red eyes spread around the circle. Everyone keeps quiet and silently watches the rite cats. As suddenly as they turned around, they vanish. Alexander begins to speak, but is quickly silenced by Ibram. Gesturing, Ibram tells everyone to remain quiet and to watch out, as he suspects the cats might still be around.

If they are, they aren't attacking the party who then relaxes and goes back to a regular watch schedule. In the morning, Alexander, who has the most experience with the rite cats, tells the others what he knows. It isn't much but he's certainly never heard of their eyes turning red or showing up somewhere not surrounding a circle of light.

Alexander and Ibram go to the border of the Hell, to see if they can spot anything near where the rite cats were. Indeed, there seems to be a boulder or something. They can't spot any details though, and Ibram proposes going into the Hell to see what they can find. Alexander calls him mad, a Hell is deadly after all, unless one has a protection stone. Would that be what the Mayor gave Ibram?

Ibram tries to talk his way out of it but in the end, he admits that yes, he has a protection stone. He doesn't know why the mayor wanted him to keep it secret and how he should've done so anyway. They gather everyone and tell them of their intention to investigate where the rite cats were. To ensure that there isn't some dangerous animal hiding there, Ibram fires a bolt from his crossbow at the area7, provoking absolutely no reaction.

Thus reassured, they leave their packs at the edge of the Hell and enter. As they approach, it turns out that the big thing is not a boulder but an animal carcass. It seems to be some sort of bear and boar hybrid, half again as big as a bear! There is no smell of decay but the skin seems to be dissolving and sloughing off. There are no visible wounds on it, either... After some discussion, Ibram hands the protection stone to Alexander and removes a tusk from the carcass. The idea is to have proof of the size and existence of the thing to bring back home. Perhaps one of the learned elders can even tell more from the tusk. The tusk is much heavier than Ibram expected, however.

That done, the party exits the hell again, trying to minimise their exposure and to preserve as much power of the protection stone as possible. Once they are back outside, they look back at the carcass which already looks visibly smaller. They clean the tusk and examine it, revealing that it is so heavy because there is metal at the core! They mark the spot where they entered the Hell, so that they can look out for the carcass again on the way back and proceed to move further north.

The edge of the map

On the way, Ibram and Alexander agree to look out for a hill where they could overlook further ahead. After a short hike, they manage to find such a good look-out spot and lead the party there. Towards the north, the party is now coming close to the mountains, where it seems as if the Hell might end. What they do not spot anywhere, is a plausible lair from which the aggressive animals might be coming.

Ibram, however, spots something perhaps more interesting: A little way up the mountain, on one of the cliff faces there seems to be an artificial structure. As the group makes camp, Ibram and Siri strike up a lively discussion about exploring that artificial structure now or going back first and getting more resources, like pack animals before making such a larger trip8.

In the end, everyone agrees to go back to Narok to relay what has been discovered so far and gather resources for a proper expedition to the mountains. With that, the party goes to sleep. During Alex's watch, the rite cats show up again, this time surrounding the camp, as they usually do. For a moment, Alexander feels that there is a "higher presence" but then the feeling fades and the rite cats leave again.

In the morning, before striking out towards Narok, Ibram realizes that the pack with the tusk is strangely deformed. As he looks inside, he only finds a little bit of dust and the metal core of the tusk, looking just like a smaller, thinner version of the tusk...

Thoughts and Review

So, first off, I had fun. Both with my new character and the setting and with the whole group. So the important stuff worked out.

My skill selection was okay, although I realized that even a skill of 12 is not really high. Thanks to some overlap with Alexander Woodward, I think I'll be doing fine, however. The world is really intriguing, particularly whatever the hell is up with those cats. In-character, our group is going to work out well, with Alexander and Ibram naturally sharing the responsibility of guiding the party and making sure we don't act too stupidly. Siri, through her curiosity, is a great impulse-giver, keeping the party going and exploring new areas. Dane's player had to leave us halfway through the session9 so I don't have much of a feel for his character yet, other than being another potential impulse-giver.

The real-life group worked out just fine as expected, as most of us have been playing together for 410 years now. We were joined by a new player, who'd never played pen and paper RPGs before and I think we integrated her well. I expect she'll be more proactive as she gets more comfortable.

The GM did a fine job so far, I think, dealing with us going off in an unexpected direction very well as well as providing an amazing creepy atmosphere during the encounters with the rite cats.

I can't wait to see where this goes in the future.

  1. Called Tim Hangon. Turns out, our GM forgot to prep a name for him. 

  2. Greg Longthorne, from the nearby village of Nivel. 

  3. So-called, because they show up at night, form a circle around the light, as if they were performing some magic rite.4 

  4. Oh, and their eyes glow

  5. Not that the GM wanted to railroad us. He just expected things to go differently. Whoops. 

  6. More like forest path but let's not be picky, okay? 

  7. Some 200 meters away, but thanks to the wonders of time and bracing, a net +1. I still failed. Not that it mattered much. 

  8. Writing this, I realized that it might be good to also bring along more cold-weather equipment! 

  9. Planning mixup on his part. Oh well, it happens.