When last we met our heroes they were in Research 003, trying to decide how to handle negotiations with this strangely cooperative and peaceful arctic society. At first the PCs were unwilling to share too much detail with Connor about the purpose of their mission, but after a few days in the comfort of Research 003 they could find little reason to hold out on him. Their limited exploration of the research base suggested that if they really needed to they could probably take it – most of the resents were clearly incapable of serious combat, and for much of the day mostly outside, and they could relatively easily take on the people who did show any semblance of military skill. However, their hosts seemed remarkably unconcerned by security, which worried our heroes inordinately, and they also realised that, knowing nothing of the harsh environment here, there would be little chance of survival here if they had to flee – or even cross the ice back to the Vladimir Putin – without help from locals. Furthermore, they soon realised that the ice was huge, with many communities scattered across it, and they would never find the Ziggurat if they had to search it all themselves – and why should they when they had such amenable hosts to help them?
So they asked. On the third day they told Connor the situation, and asked if he or his allies knew anything about the Ziggurat. They described it in detail, carefully eliding some of the more salient information about the riches it held, and asked Connor if he knew anything of such a community? He did not, and nor did anyone else in his community. For a few hours he contacted other communities by radio to ask, but none of them knew of such a place. However, the westernmost of the known communities, a frozen-in ship called the Oiler, had experienced occasional raids over the past 30 years by barbarians who came from the west, primarily hunting for people to abduct. They only came in summer, and they must be coming from far away on some kind of reliable conveyance, because it was beyond the Oiler’s resources to track them back to their origins. Most raids were not successful, but on occasion the barbarians had carried off a small number of prisoners, to no one knew what fate. The Oiler lacked the combat experience to take them on effectively, or the resources to adequately pursue them. Perhaps these were the residents of the lost Ziggurat? It seemed likely: the Oiler had itself been trapped in ice some 50 years ago after drifting up from the old Atlantic, and since then the ice pack had expanded, and could have captured the ziggurat further to the west.

The Oiler was west of Research 003, perhaps a week’s travel, and perhaps another couple of hundred kilometres from the western edge of the ice. No group was planning to travel there from Research 003 for at least another week, and from the Oiler it would be impossible to head west over the ice, as the Oiler would not be able to spare equipment and guides for such a task. However, there was another way to find the Ziggurat. If raiders were coming from the west they must be near to the sea at that edge, and so it seemed the simplest way to find them was to travel around the pack ice to its edge directly west of the Oiler, and search for the Ziggurat there. Either the Ziggurat, or some fishing base attached to it, must be there, for there was no possibility a large community could sustain itself in the ice without access to the sea.

The characters decided to head back to the Vladimir Putin and take this course west. Before they left they made a trade agreement with Connor: they would return next summer with a squad of workers from the Gyre, along with supplies for them, and they would work here during the summer, returning to the Gyre when the freeze began. In exchange Research 003 would share some of its bounty with them: soil, glass and batteries from its stores for starters, and seal oil and skins. They took some samples with them when they left, including a polar bear skin to present to Dilver as a rug, and with the rise of the sun the next morning began the return journey to the Vladimir Putin, accompanied by two guides from the research base.

The Outpost

After they returned to the Vladimir Putin they set off west, skirting the worst of the ice pack and heading as fast as they could to the place they thought they might expect to find the Ziggurat or one of its outposts. It took them over a week to reach the area, and another week of careful scouting with airborne drones, but eventually Quark was able to identify what they were looking for: columns of smoke rising above the ice near its edge. They took the Vladimir Putin to a location near but out of sight of the shore, and let slip their submarine. Taking all their marines with them, crammed into the hold, they set off for the ice pack’s edge. When they were close to it they rose to within a safe distance of the surface and Ryan slipped out, rising up to the edge of the ice to investigate the outpost.

It was a typical fishing and seal-hunting base, similar to the outpost Research 003 was maintaining. Two small fishing boats, perhaps converted from the lifeboats of a larger vessel, were resting against the pack ice. Nearby a couple of large drums were being used to render seal fat, and it was the smoke from their fires that Quark had seen from his drone, rising high into the still air of this cold, clear day. A couple of rough igloos had been built further back on the ice, and amongst them sat some rundown snow-mobiles, including a very large one that looked like it was used for transporting goods.

The camp itself seemed to be occupied by three distinct groups of people. There were some people getting into one fishing boat who looked cowed, beaten and exhausted; they were sitting at placements for oars, and as Ryan watched someone standing behind them on the boat started hitting them with a stick. Two more men got in the front of the boat and a few more of the poor, tired-looking folks pushed it away from the shore, obviously heading off on another fishing expedition. On the shore, some men tending to the fires appeared to be in this middle class of weary but unbeaten workers; one broke off from the fires to approach the men who had pushed the boat out and begin beating them with a stick. The whole thing was overlooked by a group of armed men, carrying whalebone crossbows and savage-looking clubs, who might be some sort of guards or soldiers. Everyone looked tired and angry, and everyone was working very hard. Their clothing was rough and savage compared to that of the folk from Research 003, and it appeared to be made of different materials, with more fur and less sealskin. These men were all smaller than the people of Research 003, who had been large muscly – these people, bar one or two soldiers, were short and looked like they must be lean. They also did not look as comfortable either in the cold or with each other, and it certainly appeared as if some of them were slaves of the rest.

Ryan had seen enough. He slipped below the waves and descended to the submarine. This time he had timed it poorly, and by the time he was back inside he was shaking and in shock from the cold. As he recovered, they planned their attack. First they would take the boat, surfacing the submarine beneath it to overturn it and capturing the crew. Once they had the crew and knew what they were facing, they would make a plan as to how to attack the camp.

They found the boat and tipped it. The submarine rose perfectly out of the frozen waters, emerging beneath the converted lifeboat’s keel and tipping it into the water. Ryan was riding the deck of the submarine and was able to slip into the water as the boat tipped, watching as people fell out. One man – the one who had been beating the slaves – sank like a stone, probably wearing iron armour, a trail of bubbles drifting up behind him as he screamed his last, panicked curses to the darkness. The other two were able to swim for the surface, though slowly, but the slaves, Ryan realized, were chained to the seats of the boat and would drown unless freed. He saw that the boat had trapped a pocket of air that the slaves were not aware of, so he rushed up beneath the boat and pushed them, one by one, up into the air pocket. As he did this one of the free-swimming men emerged from the water near the submarine, and Crimson offered him the end of his spear, telling him he could live. The man grabbed the spear and dragged Crimson for the water, so now Crimson was forced to let it go. Leviathan, at the conning tower, fired at this man and killed him. The other man emerged, a marine shot but missed him, and realising he was in trouble he dived and tried to swim under the submarine. Crimson, the marine and Leviathan were shooting the other man in the water like a floundering whale, so Ryan finished saving the slaves and then set off after the remaining man under the submarine. Using his drone he soon caught the man, stabbing him in the leg with a spear and then using the embedded spear to drag the man, struggling, back to the ship. By the time they got him on the deck of the submarine he was nearly dead but they soon revived him and asked him about his fellows.

They turned the boat back over to rescue the slaves, and everyone returned to the Vladimir Putin to make plans. The non-slave they had captured declared that he was “a Freeman” and would not be bullied, but the slaves soon explained everything. Yes, they came from the Ziggurat, yes they were slaves. Their society consists of slaves, freemen, warriors, experts and the leaders, and they were here as slaves to help the freemen with fishing. There were 12 warriors at the fishing base, about 20 freemen and 15 slaves, and the warriors were led by a man called Everard. There were no communication devices, all messages would be taken back to the Ziggurat with the next fish transport, due in a day or two. Attacking the base would be easy – they simply needed to wade in.

They left the slaves with the freeman at the Vladimir Putin, and prepared a two-pronged attack. Quark and Leviathan took a squad of marines in the submarine to land a little distance from the base on the icepack and crossed overland to attack from the rear, while Ryan and Crimson took the fishing boat and four marines directly to the front, assuming that their use of the fishing boat would confuse anyone who saw them.

Their assumption was correct, and the raid passed off without any serious problems. Everard and six warriors were sleeping when they attacked, and although they managed to join battle they were too late and ineffectual, and the fight was soon over with the loss of just one marine to concerted crossbow fire. During the fight Ryan distinguished himself by killing a freeman who was beating the slaves, and by handing Everard over to them for execution – by flensing – when the battle was done. This gift of their greatest oppressor ennobled Ryan in their eyes, and they each presented him with a handful of Everard’s still-warm fat, prostrating themselves before the rider, and declaring him to be the Stormwarden. From this the PCs saw their way into the Ziggurat opened, and they began to make plans …

Taking the Ziggurat

Speaking with the slaves, they soon learnt the layout and structure of the Ziggurat. In summer most of its workers and warriors would be outside, the freemen and slaves labouring over farms dug into the snow and the warriors beating them. A few of the leaders and their guards would remain inside the Ziggurat, but not so many. The slaves would go inside and begin unloading their transport of fish, but if they arrived at night they would be essentially unsupervised. The PCs could leave the transport at the base of the ziggurat and explore the outside, then slip inside at night and come to the slave quarters. From there they would be able to learn the layout of the ziggurat, and take it. By the slaves’ estimate there were about 36 slaves, 120 freemen, 45 warriors, 25 experts (who ran the reactor and other specialist functions) and then the leadership: Old Prime the leader, his warrior chief Gunnard, three warrior captains called Fist, Stone and Salt, and the slave master Rack. These men would all be gathered in the leaders’ area, except Rack who slept near the slave quarters. During daylight 30 or so of the warriors would be outside, but it would be harder to approach.

They also discovered that the entire ziggurat society was held together by a strange religion of the storm, led by a priest called Pyro, which held that the ziggurat was the only bulwark against a worldwide storm, and anything except complete obeisance to the gods of the storm would lead to the destruction of the ziggurat and all of humanity, of which they were the last sane remnant. Anyone who didn’t believe in the storm gods and the ultimate power of pyro over them was doomed to die, and become a slave. It was through these religious teachings that the strict hierarchy was enforced. Unfortunately for the leaders of the ziggurat, Ryan had been pronounced storm warden …

The PCs decided to go in at night and explore before the raid. They left in the snowmobile, the slaves dragging it across the ice as they always did. The journey took two days, and when it was done the slaves were exhausted but jubilant. They rested out of sight of the ziggurat and headed in after the sun sank below the horizon. The slaves dragged the snowmobile through fields of snow and ice that had been cut into big farms. Pits had been dug into the ground in great arc around the ziggurat, and covered in glass. Cables snaked between the pits, carrying warm water from the reactor, and between each set of farms a small igloo had been built to house the freemen who would till the farms in the morning. The slaves who would do most of the hard work had been returned to their quarters, but the freemen would sleep in the igloos until dawn, when they would rouse early and return their digging and tending. The slopes of the ziggurat itself were not covered in snow, like the landscape around it, but steamed with warmth, and seemed to be encrusted with lichen. Scraggly goats hopped over the steps, grazing on the lichen, and bright lamps stood on poles above the slopes, lighting them up with a surprising brilliance. The Ziggurat glowed in the dark plains of ice like a wedge of hospital-lamp sodium brilliance.

You know you want to cast someone down here

You know you want to cast someone down here

 

The snowmobile slide between the farms and up to the ziggurat itself, stopping at the base of a huge ice ramp that had been built on the north face. This ice ramp led up to the ramparts far above, where two guards stood lazily watching over their sleeping landscape. Here the PCs jumped down from the transport crate and slipped into the shadows beneath the ziggurat, to scout the outside. The slaves resumed hauling, dragging their load of fish and seal fat up the ice slope to the waiting guards.

The PCs explored around the base of the ziggurat. They saw old, rusting cranes standing on the north side, and on the south side another ice ramp. In the shadows of the ice ramp were three large boats that had been converted into snowmobiles. They were resting on the snow on huge wooden skis, and had masts that obviously were used to propel them across the ice. Ryan crawled up into one, followed by Leviathan, and found inside three small snowmobiles, a machine gun on the bow and a locked room at the rear. Quark broke the lock and they slipped inside, finding a cabinet filled with ammunition. They couldn’t pick the lock of the cabinet but Crimson was able to force the door, and they pulled out grenades, a grenade launcher, carbines and ammunition for the machine gun. They took the machine gun, slipped back out, and headed off to the slave quarters.

It was easy to slip inside. Guards had only been placed on the ice ramps, because their main purpose was controlling the slaves, not seeking strangers. Anyone approaching the Ziggurat would be seen from kilometres away during the day by guards and pickets, and no one expected anyone to approach with the help of the slaves, so no guards were set on the east or west slopes, away from the ice ramps. The characters climbed the slopes of the ziggurat and slipped into the nearest door once they passed the parapet, taking the direction they knew would take them to the slave quarters. Even the slave quarters were unlocked – where could the slaves go, and what could they hope to achieve? – so the PCs simply slipped inside. Here they made their plans.

The slaves told them that there was a soldiers’ barracks on each corner of the ziggurat, and the experts slept above them, near the top of the ziggurat, unarmed and protected only by a few guards. The leaders were far away, on the opposite side of the ziggurat, but likely one of either Fist, Stone or Salt were awake and on duty. Rack was just down the hall, in his quarters, which were always locked. There were cameras on some hallways but “the spirits of the cameras have left, and the experts cannot bring them back.” This place, clearly, had lost any ability to renew itself.
They decided to pay a visit on the slave master, Rack. They took the slaves with them and gave them simple instructions: once they had dealt with Rack the slaves were to take any weapon they could find, run up the stairs to the experts’ quarters and kill them all. Without his experts, Old Prime would be lost and unable to control the place, and even if they lost in battle the PCs might be able to negotiate on that basis. They dispatched Captain Azel with one team of marines to the furthest corner of the ziggurat to deal with the soldiers there, and another team of four to the other corner. Azel took the machine gun with him, while Quark carried the grenade launcher.

They knocked on Rack’s door, expecting him to answer, but nothing happened. After a moment of waiting, from far away, they heard the sound of a siren, a powerful electronic buzzer, springing to life: obviously Rack had realised what was going on and did not want to open his door. The PCs told the slaves to go to the experts, fast, and cleared away from the door. Quark fired a grenade right at it, blowing the door in, and they charged into the room. Rack was there, but he was unarmoured and couldn’t put up much struggle – he went down almost immediately. In the corner of his room they saw a screen with a cctv camera pointed at his own door. Obviously he still could speak with the spirits of the camera …

The PCs now knew that trouble would be coming to them. They charged down the hall towards the nearest barracks, and before they arrived they could see that the soldiers had gathered outside, and were listening to someone talking. As they ran, Quark fired a grenade from his launcher straight into the assembled ranks, and Leviathan threw another. Crimson and Ryan charged in, and they found Stone there, injured but rallying his troops. Combat was short but brutal, with a few crossbows fired and one bolt hitting Crimson but no serious damage done. During the battle Ryan and Quark both invoked “Storm” when they killed someone, although Ryan isn’t very good at languages and got it wrong, yelling “Slut” instead. They took down Stone, but as they finished him off they heard more soldiers coming. Leviathan and Quark hurled and threw grenades down the hall, killing the first two ranks of men – Quark’s grenade hit one man full in the chest and redecorated a portion of the corridor – and then battle was joined as the remainder hit the room. They prevailed in this battle, but as they were fighting Quark heard the sounds of people coming down stairs from above. Guessing it might be Fist and Salt, he alerted the others and took a position near the stairs. While they fought behind him, he fired a grenade into the stairwell, doing serious damage to both of the warriors as they came down. Ryan slid stealthily up to the stairwell and Crimson charged in, and Leviathan finished off the soldiers behind them. Somewhere far away they could hear the roar of the machine gun in the ziggurat’s corridors. Fist and Salt surged out of the stairway to take on the group, but as they came Ryan stuck a spear in one, and Crimson smashed down the other. They died, and in truth no one amongst the group knew which was which. Nor did they care.

It seemed the battle had been done. After a short while Azel and his marines came running up, to report that all soldiers were dead and no marines lost. The second marine squad had gone up above and pinned down the remains of the leadership – Gunnard was dead and Old Prime was holed up with his priest, Pyro, on the ramparts.

At the ramparts they found Pyro and Old Prime hidden behind some steel cabinets in a room facing off with the four marines. The 36 slaves were gathered behind the marines, holding various precious items belonging to the experts and jeering the leader and his priest. The area around the ziggurat was in uproar, with freemen running around on the ground unable to understand what was going on, and no one coming down to tell them. Old Prime was broadcasting something over the public address system but they didn’t have time to check with their linguist, who had managed to stay out of the way during all the fighting and had conducted herself with all the aplomb they had been warned to expect of her when they had been given her by Dilver. They marched forward, Quark pointing his (empty) grenade launcher at the cabinets, and Pyro the high priest emerged slowly, looking terrified. As he came forward Ryan stepped out amongst the slaves and told him “Bow down before the stormwarden,” translated in a booming voice by their linguist. Pyro looked back briefly at Old Prime, who was shaking his head furiously, but then he looked at that (empty) grenade launcher, and bowed down before Ryan.

As the marines stormed Old Prime’s position, Ryan dragged Pyro to the ramparts of the ziggurat, the slaves following and crowding around him just below the ramparts, in full view of the freemen below. Ryan held Pyro up by his priestly robes and in his biggest voice, he yelled

“I am the stormwarden! See what happens when false prophets go against the will of the storm!”

and threw Pyro to the slaves, while the linguist translated. The slaves tore Pyro apart with their bare hands, throwing pieces of him down the steps of the ziggurat. The marines dragged Old Prime away to a secure spot, and the freemen cowered.

The ziggurat was theirs.

Aftermath

They enlisted the freemen to help them loot the ziggurat, and carried all that they could across the pack ice to the Vladimir Putin. It took time, and they were there for most of the summer, but during this time Ryan cemented his role as the stormwarden, dispensing judgment and wrath amongst the freemen. By the end of summer, when they left, the society of the ziggurat had changed irrevocably: they had formed trade relations with the communities of the ice pack, had given up on their slaving ways, and were terrified of the future. When the PCs left Ryan told them: I will come back in the spring, and if you have survived this winter of wrath I will rule you.

They returned to the Gyre by winter, and Dilver met them at Pier 18, Arashi by his side. He was pleased with all their reports, though disappointed in them for not freeing the ziggurat from the 10m thick ice in which it was held fast. He agreed to the trade mission with the other communities of the ice pack, and also agreed to Ryan’s unusual request to be allowed to return to the ziggurat the following spring as stormwarden. “Has the Gyre not been good to you?” he asked, as he watched Ryan hugging Arashi desperately. “Why would you want this time away?” But he granted the request. “Of course you can take Arashi with you,” he said, “we will arrange a way to carry him there in the Vladimir Putin – why, I even have a big metal tub I don’t need, that you can use!”

For a couple of seasons Ryan spent spring and summer in the arctic, returning with the Vladimir Putin in autumn, but the appeal soon wore off. Not only were the responsibilities of storm warden exhausting, but he could only ride with Arashi in the arctic sea occasionally, and when he did the rides were short due to the cold. He also had to keep a constant eye out for Orcas, which love sea lion fat, and after one particularly vicious encounter he decided the tropics might be better. He abandoned his converts, and returned to the sun. Here he was given his promised home in the Arc, and put in charge of a squad of riders who would play a key role in the raising of the arc that he and his fellows had made possible in their first adventure. Unfortunately Quark, Leviathan and Crimson’s mistakes during a mission to the Himalayan Kingdoms made the raising of the arc a much more complex job than it should have been, and they all had to show exceptional bravery during that breathtakingly chaotic mission. But that is a tale for another day …

Summary of events

For the faint-hearted:

  • The PCs found out about a community of raiders west of Research 003
  • They went there, found a fishing base set up by this community, Ryan spied on them, and they ambushed a boat
  • From the boat they caught some slaves, who told them about a community of slaves, freemen, warriors, experts and leaders
  • They attacked the fishing base and freed more slaves, learnt that this fishing base was the outpost of a community that was definitely their ziggurat
  • The slaves believed that Ryan was some kind of religious redeemer, the stormwarden; the ziggurat community is held together by a religion of storms
  • Using the information from the slaves they infiltrated the ziggurat
  • They ambushed the slave master (kind of) and killed him, then all the ziggurat’s soldiers
  • Ryan used his position as stormwarden to overthrow the ziggurat’s priest and take control
  • They returned to the Gyre in triumph
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At the end of the last Flood adventure the PCs had met a small squad of traders at the edge of the sea ice, and were stunned to discover that the people they were dealing with were vastly more civilized and trusting than the typical piratical thugs they experienced in the tropics. The next session would be the tale of their attempts to find the Ziggurat and discharge their mission, while also understanding what was happening up here. Unfortunately Ryan’s player is leaving Japan soon to live overseas, so I wanted to finish this adventure before that player left – given the threat hanging over Ryan’s head it would be disappointing to finish the adventure without Ryan’s rather essential input – so to move things along ready for the adventure I ran a short downtime (on Facebook chat, as we always do). The downtime wasn’t really a downtime as such, more of a brief description of the major information they need to know to understand the world before the session. This post describes the salient points of that downtime, and is essentially how I imagine the arctic might play a crucial role in the world of the Flood.
Having met Richard, the captain of a coast guard vessel that seems to be trading diesel – diesel! – to other communities in the arctic, the characters have established that there is a larger community called Research 003, built in an old semi-submersible arctic research base, that might be the best place for them. A squad from Research 003 will be meeting Richard at the edge of the pack ice, a few days’ journey seaward from the base, in about a week, and he invites the PCs to travel there and meet them. He gives them coordinates and suggests they go by submarine – so trusting! The downtime was primarily occupied with their journey to this base. The coast guard vessel needs to wind its way through the sea ice, but the PCs can go by submarine below the ice, faster and safer, so they decide to head there first and investigate the  It starts below.
——
You head off to the icepack. You travel underwater but things are a lot scarier than you expected – you are worried about some large iceberg hitting your submarine, which is not ice-strengthened at all, and although your sonar seems to be good enough you aren’t convinced. Quark has managed to jury-rig a camera, connected to the battery of one of your underwater drones, but it’s operating on a remote connection and you have battery fears, so its pictures are patchy and you can’t have it on all the time, so when your sonar worries you you turn it on and the bow lights, and peer through the murk of plankton to try and see what looming shadow in the dark might tear you apart and send you down to the lightless, frozen depths. Those of you not responsible for driving the ship and running the camera – ie everyone except Quark and Leviathan – crouch near the conning tower or the forward sea lion bay, hoping you might be able to get to the surface and cling to whatever ‘berg wrecked you before the cold takes you down. It’s a vain hope you know, but fortunately you don’t need to depend on it- you make it to the Vladimir Putin successfully.
Of course, surfacing is its own exercise in undersea delights. You have no camera to look up and your sonar is confused by Vladimir’s overawing bulk, so you can’t tell if you’re going to bang into an iceberg as you rise into the sunlit zone. To solve this problem, Ryan is sent out with a hammer, and sits on the deck of the sub close to where he knows Leviathan will be, holding a light in one hand and tapping on the hull – very gently – with the hammer to signal all clear, left or right. He watches as his bubbles drift gently up into the distant sunlight, slowly getting colder and colder through his dry suit, wondering if perhaps planning has not been done sufficiently …
You make it to the surface. Recharge at the Vladimir Putin, whose rusting expanse you have never been happier to see. Then you repeat the whole nail-biting experience for another few hours, as you sail the submarine close to the icepack.
This time you don’t surface, but go up to 20 m below the surface and send out Ryan on his undersea Arashi-substitute. He rises easily to the surface and breaks through a thin film of ice close to the coordinates. It is snowing on the surface and it must be near midnight (you have long since lost track of time) since the sun is near the horizon and the light is grim and grey. A thin film of ice – maybe 1cm thick – has formed on the surface and near the ice pack it has been pushed by wind and waves into slushy lumps, amongst which it is easy for Ryan to hide. He realizes maybe it’s a good thing that he didn’t bring Arashi, since he surfaced near three seals and they would probably attack Arashi if they saw him – but they ignore Ryan’s black wet-suited head. He can hear voices and smell a strange smell which, thanks to his efforts on Mount Arashi, he is now able to recognize as … diesel
Drifting around the edge of the ice, he sees a remarkable sight: a small fishing village. There are maybe 10 or 20 people with a couple of igloos set up some distance from the edge of the ice. They also have a small boat, from which they are unloading large fish. Near the shore, two of them are skinning and flensing a couple of seals. A way back from the shore between the igloos are a couple of snowmobiles (Ryan guesses this; you guys obviously know what such a thing is). The diesel smell comes from a small fire that is being used to render down seal fat. The men are talking cheerfully. In amongst them are two men with large rifles who stand looking out over the ice, but they seem to be taking turns at this task and not looking towards the sea. The ship is small – maybe 20m long – and has a harpoon on the front and a large gun, but it looks like a single shot grenade launcher or something similar, probably wouldn’t seriously harm the sub except on the surface at close range. None of them look warlike or dangerous. You have been sent to meet a fishing and trading delegation, which has enough rifles to cause you trouble but not enough to justify mounting an attack on you.
Ryan watches this as long as he can in the frozen water, then sinks back down to the sub. He manages to get back inside without incident and sits on the floor shaking with cold.

Since you don’t see any reason to hide, and you have an armed submarine, you surface it after a few hours. The men and women working at the beach are interested in your arrival but were obviously expecting you. One of them comes out to meet you in a small inflatable motor boat, that strange smell of diesel hanging around the engine as it guns up to you. He introduces himself as Connor, head of trade. You notice that like the other people you’ve seen so far, he’s physically larger than you, and sleek – you guess it helps to be fat around here. He’s wearing a kind of life jacket / heavy weather coat combination, carrying a vicious-looking knife at his waist and he has a rifle in the boat. He steps easily onto your submarine deck, shakes hands, and speaks with your linguist briefly. She’s getting the hang of their weird mix of “English” and “French” and “Russian,” and is able to understand most of what he says. He points out that leaving the submarine here for a week would be quite dangerous, as the ice near the pack moves around a lot and can freeze in a ship or crush it if left unattended. It might be better, he suggests, to return the sub to your mother ship and come back in something you can drag up onto the ice. When you reveal that you don’t have something of that kind, he suggests you come with him to the ice now and send the sub back to the Vladimir Putin – you don’t want it frozen in. That’s how many of their remote habitations are formed, he tells you – old ships that got frozen in.

You don’t have any other ideas so you follow his advice. At the shore he and a few people look askance at your trade samples, but he doesn’t ask any questions. You are shown inside a cozy igloo and left to your own devices for a while. The igloo looks pretty temporary but you are struck that it has real glass windows. Looking out of them you can see those snowmobiles, which have real tracks and skids and powerful-looking diesel engines. There are some larger ones with trailers that were out of sight before. No sign of heavy weapons.

Richard and his team arrive after another 18 hours, and spend the next 6 hours pumping what you guess is diesel from the hold of their ship into some waiting tanks that are connected to the larger snowmobiles. Men and women – all large, heavyset people – pile your samples onto some sleds, then everyone takes a rest for a few hours while the sun dips below the horizon. When it rises again – perhaps at 5am? – you are roused and offered seats in the cabs of the larger snowmobiles. Again, everyone is polite and friendly but it’s a worry to be separated from each other in the company of armed strangers, but again there is no choice – each snowmobile only has room for 2 or 3 people in the cab. Connor joins you, and you set off slowly over the ice, the snow falling gently around you as you slide off to the north.

You travel for about 8 hours non-stop, then the snowmobiles pull into a circle and everyone decamps, sets up tents and crashes. You sleep until you are woken by the sound of rifle shots. Surging out of your tent in a panic, you almost die of shock when you find a grizzled, blood-covered animal head facing you in the snow, its eyes staring blankly at you. It’s a white bear the size of a large shark, dead on the snow. Someone you don’t know apologises for waking you, says they weren’t expecting such a beast so far inland. The others are already setting about the grim task of butchering it. In the drifting snow and dim half light, lit by a couple of lamps, it’s a horrific scene, but they don’t seem to want to waste any of it. You go back to bed, unsettled, and when you wake in the morning even the blood from the butchery has been covered by fresh snow. The remains of the bear are packed in ice on one of the snowmobiles. You have never seen any mammal on land that is larger than a cat, and it’s shocking to think you are sharing this icy world with such a monstrosity. Are they going to eat it?

You travel for another 8 hours. The sun is again setting for its brief rest below the horizon when you arrive at a strange place. It is a field of shacks, just their roofs protruding from the ice, many of the roofs made of glass, laid out in a ring like fields in the ice. Between each of the shacks are fields of solar panels on little stilts, with pathways between them that you drive through. There aren’t a lot of shacks but there are a lot of solar panels. They’re arranged in a ring around a central fortress-like structure of grey steel and glass that rises out of the ice, perhaps 20m above the surrounding empty plain. A couple of red and green lights flicker on its roof, and welcoming orange glow is cast from its windows. A cold, constant wind is blowing loose snow across this strangely welcoming scene, and beyond the fortress and its furthest fields of solar panels there is a cluster of wind towers, surrounded by growths of ice like hills, turning majestically in that constant wind. They are barely visible in the gloom, but as the sun sinks behind the ice their huge, silent blades glow with its weak red light.

You are led inside the fortress-like place, which just as they said looks like it might once have been a research building. You sleep in a narrow room carved out of the ice and connected to an ice-fast outer door of the research building – it’s cold and damp but safe, and in the morning you have a small breakfast of fish, potato slices and more of that “coffee.” Then Connor comes to meet you, takes you on a quick tour, and finally introduces you to one of their “treasures.” You take tunnels carved in the ice through several turns, that lead you perhaps 30m away from the entrance to the fortress, and end in a heavy door. He opens the heavy door and you enter a warm, dimly lit room that is perhaps 40m long, 4m deep and 10m wide. The roof must protrude above the ice because it is made of steel and shaped ice like an igloo, but the base must be beneath the ice surface. The room contains five racks, each 2m high and 1m wide, and into each rack are slotted four identical square shapes. The four shapes neatly fit the width and height of the rack, and they are each about 10cm wide. There are thousands of these objects slotted carefully into the racks, stretching all the way to the back of the room and all connected to a single cable running along the floor in the middle. On the nearest of them you can see “TESLA” written in a fading, ageing script.

“Batteries,” Connor says, “four of them store enough to power a pre-flood home for a week. There are hundreds of thousands in the arctic. Maybe millions, we don’t know. They feed us in winter.”

And then he takes you back for more “coffee” and tells you a sad story of ingenuity, desperation and conflict that ended with a couple of thousand people eking out a precarious existence in scattered settlements across the polar ice.

Before the flood started consuming the world, global warming was the greatest threat facing the planet, and civilisation was forced to rapidly shift away from carbon-based fuels. They switched to solar, and to store it they developed batteries that could be installed in homes to store the daytime sun for evening. Most developed nations and a lot of poor nations had huge programs of rooftop solar power and batteries in place when the world started to flood. When the lowlands of europe and America began to flood, the governments of France, Denmark and the USA made a secret plan. They tore up homes that were threatened by the flood and moved the most valuable resources up and away from the waters, storing them on higher ground at first just to try not to lose so much material to the flood. But when they realised the flood wasn’t stopping they conceived of a grand plan to save the world’s resources. The growing oceans were absorbing much more carbon dioxide, and the collapse of arctic ice had been reversed, but now it was growing rapidly as the lands that used to impede its spread were submerged. The governments of these countries realised that in the future this might be the only solid land on earth, and was certainly the only stable land they could conceive of in the immediate future. So they moved all those batteries, solar panels, glass and copper wires to the arctic and stored them in caverns in the newly-thickening ice. As the situation in Europe and America became more desperate, people fleeing the floods were told the only way to get into refugee settlements on higher ground was to strip their homes and bring the key materials with them: batteries, solar panels, wiring, steel pans, garden soil, glass. This was all gathered together and shipped to the arctic, to be stored there until the water level stabilized.

When the governments realised that the waters were not going to stop until all the earth was consumed, they changed their plans: they began constructing settlements in the ice, which they would use as a base of operations and storage for post-flood communities. They kept the plans secret to prevent raiding and conflict, but unfortunately they kept their plans too secret – governments collapsed long before the end, and took knowledge of the plans with them. But the coast guard, and some arctic researchers, remembered, and as the world turned to cannibalism and piracy these people took their ships and families and friends and headed north. After a period of desperation and conflict they settled into roughly the pattern that they are in now. The batteries were linked together and the solar panels set up to be rolled out in summer and rolled away in winter. The batteries would charge up, and were laid out around settlements in their thousands and thousands. In summer they charged, and in winter they ran lights, heating and most of all hydroponic gardens – hundreds of square metres of gardens dug into the ice, growing potatoes, strawberries, cabbages and sometimes even oats and beans. In winter the communities settled in for the long night, living off fish and seal meat harvested in summer, and potatoes and strawberries grown in the hydroponic gardens. Then as soon as the sun rose, they ventured out, rolled out their solar panels, and began recharging. They also opened up gardens in the ice, heating them inside with a combination of greenhouse glass and solar power, and growing more food to prepare for the following winter. Every winter was a close call, because they always ran out of food near the end, and every summer was a season of furious work, but over 70 years no community had failed. In summer they traded with each other and worked together; in winter they settled into their dens and waited out the frozen dark.

“We have riches up here,” Connor told them. “There is glass, soil, copper, and so many batteries. But we are living hand to mouth for a simple reason. We don’t have enough people to expand our farms and panels in the summer, and so we can’t allow our population to grow because we can’t feed the new mouths. We’re working flat out to prepare for the next winter and maintain things as they are, we don’t have time to build new things. If we could just get a group of people up here for a summer, working for us and helping to build new farms, new battery stores, new solar setups; but if they then left before the winter came. A few seasons of that and maybe we could get the space we need to grow. But as it is we’re fighting entropy up here, with nowhere to go.”

He looks at you all. “We don’t need a lot of the stuff that’s been dumped up here, maybe you do. But maybe we can trade? You are here for trade … right?”

And that is where we will start the adventure tomorrow.

After the Vladimir Putin left the borders of the Gyre and was past the point of turning back, Ryan received a private message from Captain Dilver, which he took a little bit away from the other characters, where he could view it without disturbance. Yesterday we played out the final session of this mini-campaign, but before I write the report of that adventure, here is the content of the message Ryan received, as Ryan’s player was given it.

Message sender: Captain Dilver.
Status: Emergency
Contents: single view video message will delete after viewing.

[NOTE TO PLAYER: If Ryan decides to stop viewing the video halfway through, please screw up the paper and throw it away AT THE POINT where he decides to stop viewing. Be dramatic if this is your choice!]

There is a brief flicker and the video starts. It has sound, and a time stamp on the bottom left. It shows a sea lion floating in water, looking calm. For a moment you think it might be Arashi but then you see it doesn’t have the patch of darkened skin over one brow, it has a scar behind one ear, and it doesn’t have his eyes and flares its nostrils slightly differently.

The camera pans back to reveal that the sea lion is floating in a kind of huge metal tub, perhaps 10 times its size, filled with water up to about 2/3 of the way, with a cage around the top. Strange black metallic rings loop around the metal casing.

The sea lion is floating happily in the water. From out of camera someone throws it a fish, which it catches and eats comfortably. It floats about, showing that casual and uncaring abandon that sea lions have when they’re comfortable. Occasionally it looks at a particular point off camera, suggesting it recognises someone there.

Someone who sounds like Captain Dilver says “Okay” and after a moment the strange iron loops around the capsule begin to glow red. You hear a gasp off camera. The sea lion floats on, rolling onto its back, oblivious.

[1:10]: Apparently it’s a time lapse video. It flicks forward to 1:10. The sea lion is looking a little worried, because in the background someone is making a keening sound and yelling and begging: “This was my fault, don’t do this!” “He had nothing to do with it, let him go!” “You’re a monster Dilver, punish me not him!” followed by Dilver calmly saying “Oh don’t worry, I’ll punish you.”

[3:30]: Soft gasps in the background. The sea lion is floating still, looking worried at the sounds from the gallery.

[7:10]: The iron rings are still glowing bright red. The sea lion is starting to look a little agitated, moving around and sniffing the air and regularly diving to inspect the base of its bathtub. When it comes up it looks quizzically over at the gallery. At one point you hear scuffling, and a grunt of someone being hurt.

[10:10] The sea lion is starting to get really upset now. It is moving around in circles, gasping and splashing, trying to hold its fins above the water, barking occasionally. It has stopped paying attention to the gallery and is focused on its surroundings

[15:00] The sea lion is thrashing now. It tries to crawl out of the water but the sides of the bathtub are too steep. Every time it flops back in it whines and thrashes desperately, trying to look for a different way to escape. After about 10 seconds of video, it shits itself in the water.

[17:00] The sea lion is barking in distress. You can barely hear it though because someone in the gallery is yelling again, close to the camera. The water is starting to bubble, like water in a giant pot.

[18:00] The water is bubbling and heaving now, obviously near boiling. The sea lion is rolling around listlessly, barking and screaming in a way you’ve never heard such an animal scream. In the gallery someone is keening softly, and repeatedly begging Dilver to stop.

The video cuts away. It is replaced by a video of Captain Dilver, looking calmly at the camera. He speaks.

“Hello …” [looks down at a piece of paper] “… Ryan.”

After a moment the background flickers on to reveal a video of three men dragging the supine body of the boiled sea lion out of its tub. They proceed to cut it apart on the decking next to the tub, obviously not wanting to waste anything.

“Thanks for opening this message. Don’t worry, the video’s not Arashi, though I guess you knew that. It belongs – belonged – to another rider called …” [looks down at a piece of paper] “… Virago. He betrayed us. Badly. Rest assured he deserved what he had coming to him.”

“No doubt you think his sea lion was innocent.”

Behind him the sea lion in the video starts twitching. Evidently they didn’t boil it long enough. The guys call out, though you can’t hear them because this video has no sound. They scuffle, then run off. One comes back with a boat hook. After a few brutal seconds they manage to finally kill the poor beast, and resume slaughtering. Dilver keeps talking.

“Now, I have no reason to distrust you or your friends, Ryan, but I thought the same about this …” [looks at piece of paper] “… Virago … but still. You can see what happened. I am a careful man, Ryan.”

“I don’t know what you’re going to find up north, but there’s a very small chance you’ll find a functioning community. If that happens, it’s possible that you or some of your fellows may decide that mutiny is a good idea. Maybe you’ll see a chance at your own little kingdom, and decide to renounce the Gyre and stay up there.”

“I just want to make clear to you what will happen to Arashi if you do that.”

“And more importantly, I want to make it clear to you what will happen if you allow anyone else to betray the Gyre. Don’t let that happen, Ryan, for your sakes and Arashi’s. You’re on your own up there Ryan, but you can still be loyal to the Gyre even if everyone around you is planning something bad. In fact, Arashi expects you to.”
“But even though you’re alone, we’ve still got a bit of help for you. In cargo hold 7B, behind the water reclamation unit under a bunch of old tires, there’s a locked box containing a satellite relay unit. The key to that box has been hidden in your luggage. The relay unit contacts a satellite that passes over the arctic every two days, you can bounce a message to us from there. If you value your sea lion’s life, I would recommend you use that relay box if you think anything unusual is happening. We can send the Gunfather to help you. But don’t rely on the relay box. If people are starting to plan mutiny, I suggest you get to them first and … change their minds.”

“If this mission goes wrong, Ryan, because you let your colleagues let you down, then you won’t just be disappointing me, you will be disappointing Arashi too. And I think you have seen just how disappointed a sea lion can get. So don’t let me down, Ryan, and Arashi will be just fine.”

“Thanks for your time, and bon voyage.”

The video flickers out.

 

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.

Vladimir Putin runs into trouble

Vladimir Putin runs into trouble

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[1]. 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.

Who hides in here?

Who hides in here?

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

One of the PCs in my Flood campaign, Quark, has gained a level (even though they don’t exist in Cyberpunk rules), so he has access to a new set of abilities – the ability to make and deploy poison. He has two types of poison: poison darts and gas canisters, which he can deploy from his drone or throw. This post describes some Cyberpunk house rules for poisons.

Quark takes the shot

Quark takes the shot

Poison darts Quark can deliver two types of debilitating poison through poison darts. He needs to make an attack roll using athletics against a target number of 15 or the armour value of his target, whichever   is higher (for targets with multiple armour values use the torso value unless Quark declares a called shot). If he hits this target number he does no damage but the poison is delivered, with either of the following effects. Debilitating pain: The target suffers from debilitating pain and weakness, which makes existing injuries worse. As soon as the target is injured in any way, he or she suffers the full effects of the next highest level of injury. This means that the affected person needs to make death checks at the critically wounded level rather than at Mortal 1, and will start suffering additional penalties as soon as they suffer any wound of any kind. The effects last for the remainder of the battle, and for several hours afterwards. Paralysis: The target does not suffer any pain or distress, but is at risk of paralysis. Every time the target acts he or she needs to make a successful BODY check (with current penalties) in order to act; otherwise he or she is forced to remain still. The effect lasts 1d6 rounds. The target is able to perform basic movements and other similar actions (e.g. drinking an antidote) but nothing more severe, so only walking movement and no combat actions, controlling vehicles, etc. Targets still think clearly and are allowed to drag themselves into cover. They can attempt to evade attacks but this counts as an action, requiring a BODY check. LUCK can be used to reroll BODY checks forced due to this poison. Poison gas Poison gas is delivered by a canister that Quark can throw or drop from his drone. The canister affects an area of 5m radius, but people can attempt to get out of the area before inhaling the gas if  Quark’s timing is off, or if he throws/drops the canister wide and it needs to bounce and spray. To reflect this, delivering the canister requires Quark to roll an athletics attack against the Dodge/Evade skill of everyone in the area of effect. Anyone who fails this check takes the full effect of the gas for 1 round per point of failure. Note that getting out of the area of effect uses up one of the target’s next actions. Note also that they need to make a Combat Sense check against Quark’s same athletics roll in order to be able to choose the direction of escape. If they fail this check, they are required to leave by the quickest, most direct method forward from where they are (or sideways if forward is blocked by someone else faster than them). This means that they may emerge from the gas into an area with no cover, and will need to use the second action in their round to take cover. This may also mean that people who can act before them (but after Quark) will have an opportunity to change actions and take shots at these people. The effects of the gas are described below. CS Gas: The target must immediately make a BODY check and suffer 1 point of (stun) damage per point of failure. Regardless of the result of this check, they suffer a -2 penalty on all actions for one round per point of failure of the original attack roll.

Quark rolls a 1 (again)

Quark rolls a 1 (again)

Crafting poisons Quark can also use his Tech attribute and Chemistry skills to craft these poisons. For the poison darts he needs access to certain reagents, and a laboratory. Making a single dose takes 3-6 hours and requires a target number of 15. A fumble means he poisons himself. For the poison gas he needs access to certain reagents, a laboratory and certain mechanical materials to make the canister. A single canister takes about 12 hours to make and requires a target number of 20. Again, a fumble means he poisons himself. If he rolls below 20 and above 15 he can choose to make a successful canister with a bad action, which has effectively an accuracy penalty = (20-roll). Any failed check means that the reagents are destroyed. The canister materials are only destroyed on a fumble. The necessary reagents are listed below. Debilitating pain: A certain type of deep water shark, which is caught in most areas of the Gyre and preserved for food. By draining the blood, fermenting it and mixing it with certain chemical reagents  the poison can be stabilized. Paralysis: Any stinging jellyfish, which needs to be carefully milked for its poison, which is then mixed with certain chemical reagents and formed into a kind of unguent using whale oil. CS Gas: A large quantity of chilli powder or, alternatively, a lot of fresh chillies. Some chemical ingredients, a flask and a certain type of stopper which requires precision crafting that Quark cannot do.

Alone in an icebound world...

Alone in an icebound world…

GM Note: I may be running a short mini-campaign in the world of the Flood, probably only three sessions long, which I have tentatively named Vladimir Putin’s Last Voyage. It’s a direct follow-on from the last adventure (described here, here and here in order). This post is background material I am sharing with my players, to make it easier to set the scene for the mini-campaign.

After Captain Dilver found and captured the Ziggurat he named Mount Arashi there was a frenzy of investigation in the labs and computers of the Ziggurat. The sole surviving member of the pirate crew, the scientist who had discovered the trick of drinking human blood to develop immunity to jellyfish, was questioned extensively before his eventual painful demise. These investigations revealed a startling fact: Mount Arashi was one of a pair of Ziggurats, the larger of which might still exist …

The two ziggurats, which Dilver called Mount Arashi and Ziggurat 2, were conceived in the last years of the Flood, when the industry of whole nations had been committed to building floating structures that could survive the Flood. A whole host were launched by many nations, and these two ziggurats were just two of many. They were conceived as a pair, with Mount Arashi established as the living quarters and Ziggurat 2, the larger of the two, used for storage, farming and factories. Small boats ferried people between them, an ill-conceived idea with no respect for the vagaries of ocean life. But this was the first and last time anyone had to build such things, so who can blame them for their mistakes? The two ziggurats were what they were, and once they had been floated on the growing ocean no one could do anything about it.

At first they drifted together on a slow eastward current, heading towards the oceans south of what would one day become the Gyre, but they were soon to be separated by fate. After some years of slow drifting, moving at a crawl across the oceans, they ran into one of the first world storms. With no means of propulsion and no experience of the new world, these two ziggurats floated helplessly, unprepared for what was coming. Fortunately for both of them, however, they were large enough and well-enough built that they survived the storm. Most of the other structures thrown out on the ocean with them at that time – floating oil rigs, packed rafts of ocean liners, smaller islands of wood – were consumed whole, but Mount Arashi and Ziggurat 2 made it through with their population alive, though not unscathed.

Unfortunately, they were cast apart by the storm. Mount Arashi spun through the storm vortex and fell into the current that would eventually drag it into the Gyre, but Ziggurat 2, being larger and heavier, was not thrown out of the storm, instead drifting with it until it dissipated. When the storm raged itself out, the two ziggurats were separated by several hundred kilometres of ocean, and Ziggurat 2 was trapped in a northerly current.

This is where Mount Arashi’s tale of cannibalism and piracy began. For many years the ziggurat drifted untroubled, though the loss of its supply-and-factory-oriented sister ship necessitated a change in way of life, and the community had to learn to adapt fully to the post-flood world. At first they managed, though they had their challenges; but then, after a few generations, they ran into the miasma. Stranded in a vast soup of jellyfish, they soon began to run low on food. A small gang of the most vicious members launched a mutiny, and with their thuggish fellowers they imprisoned the community and began slowly eating them, in a desperate bid to preserve their food. One of their number, the scientist, studied ways to control the jellyfish and eventually found a way to kill them or control them with electrical power. Some of the mutineers then suggested freeing the remaining prisoners, killing the jellyfish and returning to past life, and there was another mutiny in which the scientist’s gang prevailed. They chose to keep the jellyfish close, and use them for piracy and locomotion. The remaining captives were handed over to the scientist for experimentation, and over the next 10 years they prowled the seas near the Gyre, threatening small communities and extorting food and women. Then they drifted into the Gyre, and their evil actions became a matter of history.

Things went very differently for Ziggurat 2. They drifted slowly north, too far away from their sister ziggurat to continue trading and swapping resources because the only ships that remained functioning after the world storm were those that were small enough to be dragged inside the ziggurats for protection. As they drifted they remained in contact with Mount Arashi by satellite and carrier pigeon, but this contact too slowly dwindled. Nonetheless, it was apparent that Ziggurat 2 was also doing well, partly because Ziggurat 2 had been the one initially stocked with all the communities’ supplies and partly because they had drifted into rich fishing grounds and temperate weather. But they continued drifting north, and soon things became harsher. As they entered the far north, the few communiques reaching Mount Arashi spoke of hard times, food rationing, and strict and authoritarian rulership. Then communication ceased, but everyone assumed the same thing: that Ziggurat 2 had drifted helplessly into the arctic, become trapped fast in sea ice, and was lost to the world. Perhaps its residents had lived on their stores of food, but eventually – within a few years probably – these must have run out in such a harsh environment, and then they would have fallen to eating each other. By now the ziggurat would be an empty shell, drifting at the whim of the seasonal ice, undefended.

Captain Dilver, of course, settled on that word: undefended. He had uncovered the cargo manifest of Ziggurat 2 when it was launched:

  • 100,000 tons of steel
  • 10,000 tons of copper, nickel, tin and other valuable metals
  • 30,000 tons of soil
  • 10,000 tons of wood
  • 1,000 tons of fissile uranium
  • 10,000 tons of rubber
  • One nuclear plant, whose waste could be used as fuel by the Ark’s reactor
  • Three water purification systems
  • A small factory and workyard
  • A seedbank with 1000 species of plant
  • A small flock of goats, and preserved semen and ovaries for maintenance of the flock
  • A large plastic extrusion plant

All he needed was a freighter capable of carrying a couple of hundred thousands tons of cargo, and a small crew of enterprising adventurers to accompany him. How fortunate, then, that our little group of PCs should return to his attention just as Captain Mithrades came into port on the nuclear-powered ice freighter the Vladimir Putin, telling a story of desperation and willing to offer almost anything in exchange for the right to settle in the Gyre …

A lesser figure than Captain Dilver might have offered Mithrades, captain of a ship with a storied history of adventure, shelter out of mere magnanimity, but Dilver was no lesser man. He paid attention to sailors’ stories filtering back from the bars where Mithrades crew were on shore leave, and he soon learnt the truth: a tragic accident in the nuclear engineering section of the Vladimir Putin had exposed Mithrades’ long-term engineer and both of his apprentices to lethal doses of radiation. The engineer was dead of cancer one year now, and for his apprentices it was just a matter of time. Very few communities of the Flood had nuclear engineers, and none were willing to release such valuable people to the high seas, so Mithrades was now looking for somewhere to settle. He had tried the Himalayan Archipelago but their conditions were harsh; instead he approached the Gyre, believing them more compassionate. Unfortunately he docked at the Hulks and met Dilver before he could stumble on a person of compassion. And so the deal was soon struck: a trip north, and then he could settle.

Ziggurat 2 was abandoned and held fast in ice, but the summer was approaching, when the ice would melt. Dilver’s eyes turned north to that vast treasure floating in the arctic ocean, and then to the heroes who had captured Mount Arashi. They had captured one temple … now they would loot another, or die trying.

 

Fascinating to anyone who is not near it.

Fascinating to anyone who is not near it.

After the Flood the oceans’ depth doubled. Where before humanity had understood some tiny proportion of that zone at the top they called pelagic, but now it had grown so vast, encompassing the world in a shroud of sun-dappled blue mystery that no one could ever hope to understand, let alone conquer. As the scientists of the old world watched this fickle, fluid world rise up to conquer their own they supposed that its surface would be an angry maelstrom, believing that only the land had tamed the sea where it stood in the path of currents and broke up the ocean’s mercurial tempers. But this was not to be. With the land finally vanquished and submerged the ocean became a tranquil and placid conqueror, its great depths too solid and stable to sustain the tempests of old. Where once the land had broken up currents, and continents had impinged on the ocean’s majesty, there was nowhere for heat and cold to go. Large gradients of temperature formed between the shallows and the deeps, unmolested by circumnavigating currents. From these gradients grew winds and storms, as if the ocean flung its anger at the irritations of land and people. But now, with the ocean free to move where it willed, heat dissipated from the tropics in every direction, unconcerned by the petty barriers of continents and undersea mountain ranges. Its reign uncontested by the earth, the sea grew complacent. With this change in fluid dynamics the nature of the earth’s storms changed. Storms still rose up, and winds could travel for thousands of kms across the ocean unstopped, driving waves before them; but these winds were not usually very strong, and for much of the earth’s turn the sea was still and quiet. Cyclones still formed in the tropics, and when they did they could travel long distances across huge stretches of warm ocean; but the well-mixed waters of the world ocean ensure that heat cannot gather on the surface, sinking instead to the frozen darkness of the abyss. As a result these cyclones, though long-lasting, tended to be weak, and they never crossed the current barrier of the gyre, where the waters mixed too much to allow heat to gather. But sometimes … Sometimes, in summer, the ocean would still. Perhaps a circumnavigating current would deviate from its usual path, or break for a time. Perhaps the deep churn of water would change under some gravitational, tectonic or tidal influence, and for a short time the surface would be becalmed. Not becalmed so as human communities could notice, but becalmed in such a way that the heat gathered under the tropical sun, over a continent-sized expanse of water. Such confluences of currents are rare, and this becalming might only occur once in a generation. But when the pulse beneath the sea stops like this, a pulse stirs on the surface. The storms gather on this great sheet of hot water, and a storm forms whose power was unheralded before the Flood: a world storm. World storms grow beyond anything humans have ever experienced, covering areas much larger than even the strongest cyclone and moving slowly over the ocean. Whichever direction they head, the vast size of the heated ocean will sustain their power, and they can last for weeks before they finally exhaust their generating power. As they travel, smaller cyclones – mere category 3-5 babies – break off from their flanks, spinning away in random directions to cause havoc of their own, or reforming into secondary monster cyclones in the wake of the main one. The world storm has a power well beyond the traditional system of categorizing cyclones, and usually it invokes its own unique fluid dynamic properties that make a taxonomy of such storms impossible. While such storms rage the weather across much of the hemisphere will change, as they distort the whole atmosphere. In their wake will come an unusual calm, as the ocean temperature equalizes across the range of the storm: winds stop, the sea calms, and the world heaves a sigh of relief. Nothing human can stand in the way of a world storm. Raft communities will be shattered and their inhabitants lost to the tempest. Larger structures too large to capsize will be simply broken apart, smashed by waves no human has ever seen or simply consumed whole if they are close enough to the centre of the whirlwind. Around the edges of the world storm, sometimes thousands of kms from its middle, powerful waterspouts and smaller storms will form, or lightning storms that will destroy anything floating. Communities in the path of the storm, even hundreds of kms away, cannot escape, because the winds being draw towards the world storm will prevent any sailing vessel from escaping. Only the largest, most seaworthy vessels with their own power can hope to leave the storm, and indeed this is the only way a community can survive: pack as many people as possible onto a large, powered vessel while the storm is still spinning up, and flee before it can open its maw and suck in everything living on the surface of the ocean. When a world storm forms, communities in its path will face horrible choices, because they are unlikely to possess enough vessels to liberate everyone. The privileged or the most violent few will rise up and grab what they can, fleeing with the colony’s most precious effects (and maybe their loved ones) to take their chances on the open ocean, knowing that everyone they leave behind them is doomed. Such are the dilemmas of an ocean-going life… World storms have never touched the gyre, though one or two have passed near it. They usually veer northward before they reach it, but if they do come too close they will usually lose their strength as they approach the broken and mixed zone of water around the gyre. History records that one particularly strong world storm managed to partially cross the gyre and spawned a minor cyclone inside, but fortunately the Hulks was at the opposite side of the Gyre at that time, and the Arc weathered the cyclone’s passing without loss of life. Outside the gyre, however, there are few people alive who can say they have weathered such a storm. Rumours abound of structures large enough to weather even this monstrosity, but no one has ever found evidence of such a community… until Captain Dilver of the Gyre discovered and captured the Ziggurat he named Mount Arashi. — Picture credit: I took this picture from the homepage of a fluid dynamics researcher called Gary Davies. He has a blog on fluid dynamics – cool! Check it out! A note on the science of the Flood: I’d originally assumed, like Stephen Baxter’s books, that the world after the Flood would be warmer and more tropical, with all that extra moisture floating around (water vapour is a powerful greenhouse gas). But the extra vast amounts of water should act as a huge heat sink, and I think that this means that the world would actually be meterologically very stable. In the book Baxter talks of a permanent storm like the Eye of Jupiter, but I think that wouldn’t happen because the uninterrupted undersea currents plus huge heat sink effect would prevent the storm conditions required, except in occasional instances when the currents deviate.