Background for this mini-campaign is set out here. In this first session, our heroes leave the Gyre for the first time in their lives, to head to the arctic. They are given a few basic conditions and information about their mission:
- They will be accompanied by 8 marines, led by a Captain Azel, to use as ruthlessly as they wish
- They have food for 18 months, or two summers, during which they can stay in the arctic searching for Ziggurat 2
- There is no time to equip the Vladimir Putin as they like, so Ryan cannot take his sea lion Arashi with him, but will be given a special drone to use in Arashi’s place
- They are to take the contents of the Ziggurat no matter who or what they find there
- Although Mithrades is a man of his word, do not trust him: his future depends on admission to the Gyre along with his crew, and he may opt to use desperate measures to achieve this goal
- Once beyond the Gyre they will be able to contact the Gyre once per day for one hour by connecting with a certain satellite
- Once in the arctic they would only be able to access a single satellite to report back to the Gyre once a month, for one day
I have made a slight break from my usual style of adventure report: if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, scroll to the end for a summary of events.
The secret rig
Their journey out of the Gyre was uneventful, with the Vladimir Putin heading northwest as fast as possible. They soon passed through the area of rough and unruly seas that marked the ocean-current boundary of the northern edge of the Gyre, and sailed into seas becalmed by the passing of the recent world storm. For a week they sailed across a vast, empty blue plain, unperturbed by waves larger than a finger’s height and making excellent progress in a warm, still and sunlit world. After a week, however, Mithrades announced that they were making a small detour to stop at an oil rig community that he regularly traded with: his plan was to do a routine stop for two days, during which time he would trade energy from the Vladimir Putin‘s nuclear plant for food and sex. He and his community would organize a two day party during which the oil rig’s residents would come on deck and have a long orgy, to make up for lost opportunities at the Gyre. The PCs were surprised by this unannounced detour but not by the nature of the trade – it was normal, and indeed essential, for isolated communities to do this kind of orgiastic trade in order to ensure biodiversity, since many of the residents of the community were too closely related to be able to interbreed.
At least some of the party were gladdened by the thought of a two day orgy, and although they initially queried this unexpected detour, they soon acquiesced and began preparing.
The oil rig was a poor and seedy affair, a small structure that must have been floating on the ocean for 100 years and that was obviously on its last legs. Shabby and rusting, the pillars holding it above the sea were heavily patched and repaired, and the decks looked tattered and world-weary. Here on the open sea beyond the Gyre they guessed it must be floating on perhaps 6kms of water, and the action of waves and salt water had not treated it kindly. There was no sign of any large boats, and although the pontoon and supporting pillars were laced about with flotsam, junk and seaweeds sufficient to support a thriving ecosystem, there was no sign of any industry beyond fishing. As they approached in the light of the late afternoon they saw scrawny, tiny children scrambling around these artificial reefs, catching fish with their bare hands and eating them raw and living at the water’s edge. Beyond the sussurration of the ocean’s waves they could hear the raucous crying of thousands of sea birds, that roosted on the old refinery tower.
They weren’t allowed to dock, but instead a kind of rope bridge was thrown over, a power cable drawn across, and preparations made for the party. As the sun sank the sea around the rig lit up with phosphorescent lights from tiny sea creatures, and by the time the party started the sea around the rig was thick with the lights, like a constellation of stars lapping against their boat. The rig’s residents had also perfected some method for capturing these phosphorescent lights, and when the men and women of the party came on board their hair was sparkling with the same lights. The party started, and soon some of the PCs and most of Azel’s men were enjoying the lissom, shy and sparkling delights the oil rig community had prepared for them.
Not all of the party, however. Ryan was in the water on his drone, cruising around the rig looking for trouble, which he soon found: he was drawn to one pillar by the sound of someone falling into the water, in time to see the body of a guard from the decks above floating face down in the water. Nearby, someone was climbing into an ancient wooden row boat and quietly pushing off from the pillar. Ryan followed them at a distance, as they headed to the stern of the Vladimir Putin. Diving underwater, he texted his colleagues the information.
Meanwhile, up above, Quark and Dean had noticed Mithrades was not on deck at the party despite his professed eagerness to enjoy a local girl. Their suspicions aroused, they headed to the stern, and found him in an observatory overlooking the ocean at the very rear of the ship. One window was open, and he had thrown a rope out of the window. When challenged, he told them that his lover from the oil rig was making her escape, and would be attempting to sneak onto his ship. He wasn’t going to settle at the Gyre without her. They didn’t have time to challenge his recklessness, however, because at this point guards on the rig saw the rowing boat silhouetted against the phosphorescence around the rig, and opened fire on it. Battle was joined!
Up on the stern Leviathan was looking at the rowboat below when the firing started. Captain Azel came running up from the party, buttoning up his hose and demanding, “those on deck! Kill or capture?” Leviathan, with little time to think and no one to consult with, replied “Kill!” and Azel and his men set off to slaughter the young men and women they had just been loving. Leviathan dashed off to get his gun, as too did Quark and Dean from below. Meanwhile Mithrades set the ship into motion, hoping to get the engines running for a quick escape as soon as his lover was on board, safe in the knowledge that Ryan was helping her.
Ryan received a text from Quark: “rope at the stern, save the fugitive”. He realized that the person in the boat was dead if the shooting continued, so emerged from the water below the boat and pulled it over so that the woman in the boat fell into the water. He yelled, “take a breath” and then dragged her under, but unfortunately she didn’t take a breath in time. She hung below the surface in the inky black water, scrabbling at his face to resurface for air as bullets hit the water all around them, driving corkscrews of phosphorescent past his face and body. After a few seconds he was able to drag the drowning woman a little away from the boat and the shooting and allow her to surface for air; once she had calmed and taken a breath he dragged her under again and set off, aiming to run under the keel and emerge on the far side of the Vladimir Putin, safe from shooting.
As all this chaos erupted, the inevitable happened: the nearest set of battleship guns stirred to life, and began rotating to face the stern of the Vladimir Putin, its barrels lowering from their resting position aimed high. Leviathan tried in desperation to throw a grenade into one of the upward-pointing barrels as they rotated, but his grenade fell short and landed in the water, exploding in a small tower of phosphorescent water. The ship was still only barely moving, and would surely be an unmissable target for those formidable guns, unless someone could disable them. Quark attached a bomb to one of his drones and sent it off, hovering fast over the rig platform, and fortunately many of the riflemen who should have seen it were running away from the edge to repel boarders, having mistaken Ryan’s movements for a submarine raider. The drone reached the gun turret unmolested and through its camera Quark saw a sight that truly warmed the cockles of his tiny heart. As might be expected on a poor and struggling oil rig in the middle of the ocean, the entire rear half of the turret had been long since cannibalized for use in patching the pontoons and pillars of the rig, so it was open to the elements and to his bomb. A stack of three shells sat at one side of the turret, a single man loading a shell into the third barrel of the battery, and a second man operating the mechanism to turn the turret. Quark let loose his bomb, and it landed perfectly, killing the operator and setting off the shells in a chain reaction of massive explosions. Unfortunately the shell that was partially set in the barrel also exploded, killing its handler and sending the warhead out of the barrel; it soared over the Vladimir Putin and landed harmlessly a hundred metres to starboard.
Now they were free to make their getaway, too far away in the dark to be shot at by mere rifles and unmolested by the gun turret. There was no one left to operate the second turret, because that man had been at the party, and now lay dead on the blood-slicked deck of the Vladimir Putin, party lights flickering silently above him. They were safe. Ryan swam up to the stern of the ship and he and the lover climbed aboard, to be greeted by an ecstatic Mithrades. They had made it.
They sailed away into darkness, and the last thing they saw from the rig was the corner where the gun emplacement had been, sliding into the sea. They sent information on the rig’s coordinates and armaments back to the Gyre, and a week later received a video report from Dilver; it showed three combat tugs raiding the rig, its residents lined up and hurled overboard after a brutal 10 minute battle, before the tugs began to drag the rig back to the Gyre. They had, once again, worked to enlarge the Gyre.
The arctic: life in the ice
Having destroyed that tiny community and run away with the wife of its leader, our heroes turned their satisfied gaze to the far north. For the next few weeks they steamed rapidly northwest, heading for the point where the second ziggurat was believed likely to have entered the zone of sea ice. This meant crossing much of what was once the Eurasian landmass, with 6km of water beneath them, and fortunately not over the deeper, wilder and more terrifying expanse of what was once the Atlantic ocean. They reached the first icebergs sooner than they had thought, and soon found themselves moving slowly through a ghostly world of great white sculptures that stretched as far to the north as they could see. In a cooler world, unconstrained by land masses, the sea ice had extended from its traditional arctic home to encompass much of the arctic circle, and they soon could see the distant line of white that marked the only natural solid landmass they had seen in their lives. Unused to the sight of anything above the surface of the ocean that was not made by human hand, they were shocked and amazed by the beauty of the ice sculptures they passed.
They slowed the ship, and began looking for signs of life. The possibility that people might live here in these ice islands had not occurred to them, but one morning soon after they arrived, while he was practising his arctic swimming techniques, Ryan stumbled on a block of ice that held fragments of human rubbish. He took it back to the ship, and after some discussion the characters agreed to take their linguist and a single marine, and head in the direction of the current that had borne this rubbish to them, moving carefully in the submarine. They had to move carefully because the submarine was not ice-strengthened, but after an hour of careful, slow and painstaking movement they found an amazing sight: a small warship, perhaps 40m long but heavily armed, moored to an iceberg that had been turned into a homestead, its upper area carved out into a tiny apartment. People were living up here!
Initially they considered attacking, but Quark ran some careful investigations with one of his airborne drone, and soon saw that they were outgunned. Not only did the little patrol boat have a more powerful weapon than their submarine, there was a machine gun nest on top of the iceberg and the patrol boat appeared to have two torpedo tubes, though they might not work. Far better to negotiate. With this in mind they sent Ryan ahead underwater, to attach an explosive to the ship as a bargaining tool. They then gathered on the deck of the submarine and sailed it from its hiding place towards the iceberg.
As expected, the man in the machine gun nest woke up quickly, and both his machine gun and the deck gun of the ship turned to point at them. Holding their arms up in the universal gesture of non-aggression, they brought the submarine as close to the iceberg as they dared, and watched as a man emerged from the iceberg, walking down stairs carved in its sloped side and picking his way carefully across to the edge facing them. He was small, in his fifties, and gruff. The linguist told them he spoke English, and translated for them. They soon found themselves invited inside the iceberg.
And here is where the adventure ended, with our characters drinking instant coffee around a wooden table with this gruff middle-aged trader. He told them he and his fellows were just one of a large number of settlements on the ice, people who wintered deeper in the ice where it was stable, and came out in summer to fish, hunt and trade. Ryan had noticed in his swimming expeditions that the water was thick with plankton and hard to see through, and the trader confirmed that fish and mammal life up here was rich, so in summer they could easily lay in enough food for the winter. But he hinted at more, larger communities in the ice. He himself traded diesel – diesel! – for food and furs, and was about to visit a group he called Settlement 11 to trade diesel for a battery. Would the characters like to come with him to meet the representatives of this community?
Stunned, the PCs could only say yes. They had found civilization where they had been told there could be no life. What had happened to the Ziggurat, and had they come here to loot an empty building, only to confront a community as powerful as the Gyre? What were they to do…?
Summary of events:
- The characters set off in the Vladimir Putin
- Ryan received a private message from Captain Dilver after they left the Gyre, which made him very angry
- A week or so after leaving the Gyre, Mithrades announced they were making an unscheduled stop at an oil rig community on the open seas
- When they docked at the rig, they noticed it had two battleship gun turrets on its decks, but was otherwise very poor: they were swapping energy from the Vladimir Putin‘s powerplant for food and a two day long party with men and women from the rig
- As the party started they noticed Mithrades was not joining. They found out that someone was trying to sneak aboard under cover of darkness, with Mithrades’ consent
- Of course this someone was discovered, and battle ensued. They were nearly sunk by the battleship guns, and all the oil rig citizens on the deck of the Vladimir Putin were killed by Azel and his men (even though some PCs and Azel had just been having sex with these people!), but they managed to escape after Quark blew up one of the battleship guns with a drone-mounted bomb.
- The fugitive turned out to be Mithrades’ secret lover, who was escaping from the tyrannical leader of the rig
- They sent information about the rig back to the Gyre, and week later the Gyre raided it and killed everyone on board, then towed it back to the Gyre
- They reached the arctic, and soon found evidence of human habitation (floating rubbish)
- Following this evidence, they found a small warship moored against a floating iceberg, which had been carved into a home
- They approached this iceberg and actually negotiated with the residents (something of a first for our heroes), and learnt that there was a large network of communities living on the sea ice, trading with each other
- The man they met on the iceberg, Tom, agreed to introduce them to other communities – their search of the arctic had begun!
fn1: I rolled three 1s on my awareness checks for the guards to see the drone, out of eight; so four ran away and only two saw the drone, but they missed when they fired