DM Screen 15 – Into the Arena

Because this League campaign’s story arcs are centered around different worlds, I try to be conscious of swinging the pendulum in different directions for each world. The first Phyrexia arc was dark and apocalyptic, the Jurassic Park arc emphasized exploration and action, and the Westeros arc was all about medieval fantasy and warfare. For this plot arc, I wanted to give the players a chance to experience over-the-top performative combat in the style of pro wrestling, as well as allowing them to become celebrities. I also knew that I wanted to set this in an urban environment to contrast with the previous worlds. Read on!

Since your return from Westeros, you’ve been able to spend a couple of weeks resting and recovering on Eternia. The League’s spellcasters have taken the green gemstone, and they’ve been attempting to use it and the tome you found in Jurassic Park to determine how it works, what it does, and how it can be used against Phyrexia. What have each of the rest of you been up to in the weeks since you escaped Westeros?

Archer: Roland has been able to convince some of the tech experts in the League to use some spare parts to put together some practice drones. At some point in Archer’s scene, Roland will tell him that he thinks Archer has learned enough of the gunslinger’s skills to rejoin his group and test out his skills against more than just robotic targets. He will also trade his own pistols to Archer, to let Archer “learn the feel of a true gunslinger’s weapon.”

I touched on this briefly in my notes for episode 7, but Miles was feeling that Archer’s abilities weren’t quite as versatile as he would like, so I came up with a couple of gunslinger abilities to add to his character sheet in between story arcs—these are the various “ka” powers that he uses throughout the Nexus City arc.

Mordin: As one of the doctors in charge of Stitch’s recovery, Mordin knows that, even after all the medical and magical healing the League could muster, Stitch suffered intense spinal trauma and may have trouble walking ever again.

At some point, he’s approached by Ranma in female form. “Hey doc,” she says. “We came across another piece of weirdness in our latest excursion. Some kind of alien creature. We have it locked up in your lab, in case you wanted to examine it.”

When Mordin gets to his lab, he finds a large, secure-looking metal crate sitting at one of the tables. There is a small observation window that can be opened to see inside, but the crate is empty. Mordin can find a trace of strange, black residue on the edge of the table, and can follow it down the hall… toward the infirmary.

Stitch: Of course, at this point Stitch, in his infirmary bed, sees a black wave come bubbling and surging over the edge of his bed and envelop him. By the time Mordin (or anyone else arrives), they find Stitch scampering excitedly on the walls and ceiling, covered completely in a skintight black costume, the black only broken by two white eye spots and a mouth which is somehow larger and more frightening than Stitch’s normal mouth, with a long tongue snaking out.

Stitch being reduced to paraplegic was something I kept my eye on—it was a symbol of the lasting, meaningful consequences of Dante choosing to take Frostmourne, but I didn’t want it to stop Stitch from being able to participate in the action of the series. Fortunately, Kit decided that she wanted to buy the Venom symbiote for Stitch in between story arcs, which made for a good, in-story way for how Stitch was able to be up and moving again.

Eventually, the five characters are called to meet up with Doc Brown and Buffy to discuss their next mission. They arrive in the meeting room with the large oval table and the high-backed stone chairs, although Doc Brown has set up a small hologram projector in the center of the table. Buffy nods at all when they walk in.

“Thanks for coming. How are you all feeling? I know that the last mission was a long one, and particularly trying.” She’s especially interested to hear from Dante and Stitch, and may try to get a feel for their state of mind.

Eventually, she’ll move onto the business at hand. “We think we have a new lead for you to follow. Have you had a chance to meet up with Luna Lovegood yet?” If they say no, she will explain that Luna Lovegood was recently rescued from a Phyrexian facility, similar to what they themselves escaped from not long ago. “Nico’s going to be staying back at the Castle for the time being, so Luna will be going with you to provide some magical support. You did quite well retrieving the green gem, and we think we’ve found another one.” She nods at Doc Brown.

He leans forward to activate the hologram projector. Instantly, the air above the table fills with a vast array of hundreds and hundreds of glowing blue spheres, each about the size of a large marble, spaced a couple of inches apart from each other in a three-dimensional lattice. “This is a rough representational map of the multiverse as we know it. You’ll have to forgive the crudeness of this model—I didn’t have time to scale it properly, but it should illustrate the point at hand.

“Now normally, the individual worlds, represented here by blue orbs, are separate, as you can see. However, the plane of Phyrexia actively moves through the multiverse as it seeks out other worlds to assimilate.” As he speaks, a glowing red orb comes into view and begins to move through the projection. As you watch, it meets a blue-colored orb and lingers for a moment, absorbing it into itself before moving on toward another orb. “Much as a physical body moving through space will gravitationally disrupt other objects in the same space, so too does the movement of Phyrexia disrupt the positions of other worlds relative to each other.” You can see in the projection what he’s talking about: where the red orb passes near to other worlds, they begin to drift out of their normal positions, causing the projection to be filled with a silent chaos of small blue comets.

“This means that there are worlds drifting in eleven-dimensional space, so of course, there’s bound to be a collision at some point. Fortunately, universes colliding don’t behave the same way that conventional matter does—the universes don’t break, they just end up occupying the same space. Sometimes, if the universes just ‘brush past’ each other, it can result in people and objects from one universe ending up in the other. We’ve seen this a bit in our travels, and these crossovers are only going to become more common as Phyrexia continues its path and more worlds come unmoored from their position in the multiverse. Sometimes, however, the collision between two worlds can be a bit more direct and permanent.”

At this point, he manipulates the controls on the hologram projector. The blue image above quickly shifts as the orbs swell from marble-sized to basketball-sized before disappearing as the hologram “zooms in” on one area of the multiverse. It comes to a stop displaying two of the blue universe orbs so close that they’re touching. In fact, they’re not only touching—they’ve partially overlapped together at their point of contact, so instead of a single blue orb, it looks like a three-dimensional figure 8.

“This is one example. Here, these two universes have overlapped at this point, meaning you could begin walking in one universe, find an area where parts from the two universes coexist, and end up exiting into the second universe. These ‘gestalt worlds’ aren’t necessarily common, but they’re certainly cropping up more and more.

“Which brings us to the world you’ll be heading to next.” Again, he manipulates the projector. The merged double-world disappears as the display speeds to another part of the multiverse. What is displayed doesn’t even make sense initially—it looks like a bunch of blue grapes hanging in the air. Then it clicks: you’re looking at dozens of worlds which have all come together into one patchwork mass.

“This gestalt world is unlike any other I’ve encountered so far, and it’s almost miraculously stable considering how many worlds comprise it.”

At this point, Buffy takes up the briefing. “We’ve had one of our agents posted in this world for some time now to monitor the situation, and she recently reported back that she’s positively identified one of the five gems here. She’ll be waiting for you by the extraction point, so hopefully she can brief you upon your arrival.”

Up until this point, I had kept the crossovers relatively tame—in the entire eight episode Westeros arc, the only crossovers were with Dracula, Flemeth, and Frostmourne—but I knew that I wanted this “fighting game” storyline to include tons of characters from a bunch of different worlds, so I needed a setting that would naturally lend itself to tons of characters from different worlds hanging out side-by-side without it being a big deal. I ended up liking Nexus City a lot and I think it provided a cool, interesting backdrop for the story while also providing some necessary structural framework.

As always, any questions are welcome, but when the heroes are ready, they can go to the arrivals room and DDC their way out.

***

A world seems to explode into being around you as you arrive. You are clearly in a city—a modern city, unlike the medieval city of King’s Landing you arrived in the last time you left Castle Grayskull. You’re standing in an alleyway between two concrete buildings, lit by the flickering red light of a neon sign advertising some sort of drink brand. Looking out, you can see sleek cars speeding by on black city streets, eclectically-dressed pedestrians hurrying on sidewalks, and buildings of stone, metal, and glass reaching up into the air, all lit by yellow streetlights, rainbow neon, and the glow of ads on large flat televisions scattered on the sides and tops of buildings.

As you continue to look up, you feel a sudden and intense sense of vertigo. What looks like a few miles away, protruding perpendicular to the ground you’re standing on, is another cityscape, buildings reaching out at an almost perfect 90 degree angle toward you. The buildings are different, too—you’re standing in a city that looks to most of you like a 21st century major American city like New York or Chicago, but the architecture of the “other” city in the sky, while still modern-looking, features a much more distinctively Japanese-looking aesthetic. Looking more closely, you can see roads crisscrossing between the bases of these buildings, with the yellow and red lights of traffic crawling along like luminescent ants.

Taking a step out of the alleyway affords you a better, wider angle, and looking around, you can see multiple cities scattered through the landscape and sky above, each with a different aesthetic, each sitting at different angles—one even looks to be almost entirely upside-down, and yet apparently it obeys its own relative gravity, as the cars and pedestrians on its streets would attest. Moreover, you can see numerous small flying vehicles traveling from one city to another—as you watch, they reorient themselves as they approach the new city, as though they have to adjust to a completely new direction of gravity. Standing here in this place is like standing in the middle of a kaleidoscope, or a collage of different cities put together at bizarre angles.

Give the players some room to react, then continue.

You hear a voice come from the alleyway you appeared in—an alleyway you were positive was empty a moment ago. “You like what you see?”

The woman who stands before you, leaning casually against the wall of the alley, is on the short side and clearly of Mexican descent. She wears striking indigo-colored lipstick and eye shadow. Her dark hair has been grown long in places, shaved close on the sides, and dyed electric purple at the ends. Her wardrobe consists of a stylish black jacket worn over a neon blue and pink bodysuit.

She grins at your obvious gobsmackedness at the strange city around you. “Welcome to Nexus City,” she says. “You’ll get used to it. At least, you better, because if that gem is as important as the bosses seem to think it is, you gotta get your asses in gear.”

Sombra
F: Ex
A: Rm
S: Ty
E: Gd
R: In
I: Ex
P: Ex

Health: 66            Karma: 80

Body Armor: Gd
Machine Pistol: 15 damage
Hack: Target opponent must make Endurance or Psyche check or lose access to their powers for 1d10 rounds
Stealth: In invisibility and speed; turns off when you attack or take damage
Translocator: Spend an action to plant a translocator beacon; at any point after, you can spend an action to immediately teleport to the beacon
EMP (requires five rounds to charge): Destroys all enemy force fields of Mn strength or lower within Sombra’s area and all adjacent areas; all enemies must make Endurance or Psyche checks or lose access to their powers for 1d10 rounds

This, of course, is Sombra. She begins to walk the heroes through Nexus City. Strangely, and in sharp contrast to Westeros, no one seems to give the heroes more than a brief glance. As they go, Sombra can explain that she’s one of the League’s forward scouts and was inserted into this world some time ago to study and monitor the situation here—she and Doc Brown both suspect that the nature of this world, made up as it is of multiple combined universes, may be particularly appealing to Phyrexia.

(Around this point, Sombra walks them down a set of stairs in the sidewalk leading to a crowded subway platform lit by harsh white light. Thankfully, a sleek but well-used-looking train pulls into the station a moment later. The heroes can push their way to the inside of the subway train, though they’ll have to stand with their hands grabbing metal poles as they make their way swaying beneath the city.)

A few weeks ago, Sombra noticed that the whole city seemed to be gearing up for some sort of big event happening: the Nexus Tournament, a massive team-based combat competition drawing contestants from across all the worlds in this gestalt universe. It’s proven to be a huge draw for people—apparently people really like seeing characters from different universes beat the crap out of each other.

(At this point, the train comes to a halt and Sombra leads the heroes out into another subway station. As they make their way up, she continues.)

“I wasn’t too interested in participating in the tournament, but I was a little intrigued by it nonetheless. So I started reading up on it, watching the commercials, that sort of thing, and that’s when I saw the grand prize being offered for this thing.”

By this point, the heroes have reached the top of the subway steps and have come out into a smaller, somewhat less busy city street. Sombra gestures toward the side of a nearby building. Stuck to the side of the building is a bright yellow and red poster advertising the Nexus Tournament. Silhouettes of two groups of fighters are frozen in mid-leap at each other over an explosive background. Below them, rendered in painstaking detail, is the prize Sombra mentioned: a huge golden trophy cup, decorated gaudily with numerous precious jewels along the sides and edges. In the dead center of the trophy, impossible to miss, is a single, perfectly round ruby. If it were green, it would be unmistakably identical to the Stone of Grace you tracked down in Westeros.

“What do you think? Looks like one of those rocks you’re after, no?”

Sombra leads you a short ways down the sidewalk and into an elegant-looking building, stepping beneath an awning that extends out into the sidewalk. A sharply-dressed doorman opens the door for her, touching the brim of his hat as she passes by. “Miss Marcone,” he says in greeting. He nods politely at all of you as you pass. “Is there anything I can have sent up for you?”

“No thanks, Brendan, but you’re a dear for offering,” Sombra replies. She walks across an elegant marble lobby toward an elevator on the far end. She produces a small card key from one of her pouches and places it against a glowing red panel next to the elevator door. The panel turns green and the elevator doors open noiselessly.

As you all enter the elevator with Sombra and the doors close, you notice that there are no buttons to push to indicate which floor you want to go to. Nevertheless, you immediately feel the elevator move upward, and a few seconds later, the doors open noiselessly again.

You all step out of the elevator and into jaw-droppingly luxurious penthouse apartment. The two-story interior is very well-appointed: just stepping out of the elevator, you can see an entertainment space with a billiards table, multiple couches, and several huge flat screen TVs; a huge, spotless kitchen with granite countertops and modern-looking appliances; a library whose walls are lined with fully-stocked, two-story-tall bookshelves; a full bar; a long fireplace beneath a stone mantel; two separate dining tables, one long enough to seat about two dozen people; and what looks like no fewer than six bedrooms. Almost every room features floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the glittering, bizarre geometry of Nexus City.

Invite the characters to freely add various luxuries and additions to the apartment as they see fit.

“Not bad, huh?” says Sombra as she walks in, clearly at home. “I’ve been squatting in a little studio apartment, but once I reported the gem back to HQ, I figured that we’d need room enough for all of you, and hey, if you’re going to town, might as well go in style. The guy who owns it actually has a bunch just like this, and he barely even comes to this side of the Nexus. Also, he really needs to upgrade his cybersecurity. Maybe I’ll do that for him before I leave. Till then, as far as the guards downstairs know, he’s very generously allowing his ‘daughter’ and her five closest friends to crash here while the Tournament’s going on.

“Speaking of cybersecurity…” Sombra raises up her right, gloved hand. She starts twitching her fingertips as though she were typing at an invisible keyboard and multiple blue holographic displays pop up before her. Long pink, holographic tendrils extend from her fingertips and begin to interface with the displays. “If you’re planning on trying to win this Tournament, you’ll need to enter in first, and that means going through a qualifying match. Normally it takes a couple of months of paperwork and interviews to even get approved for a qualifying match, but alternatively, you can just go into their system and rip the qualifications and credentials off of one group and onto another. I prefer that second option, personally.”

She shuffles through multiple screens showing pictures and profiles of several different groups of fighters. Ultimately, Sombra puts one hand over her eyes and uses another hand to point randomly at one of the groups, then looks to see what she pointed at. “So long, Team Shadaloo. So, you guys have a team name you want to go with?”

Once the heroes have been entered into the system, Sombra checks the schedule. “Alright, you guys only have about an hour till your qualifying match. Better get moving.”

Whether or not Sombra accompanies them, one quick subway trip later, the group emerges back onto the sidewalk. Down the street is a building that appears to be some sort of event space, the type that would be used for medium-sized concerts, shows, and conventions. A large crowd has formed in front of the building as what may have once been an orderly line has quickly ballooned out of control as peoples’ excitement ramps up. From within the building, the heroes can hear the muffled sound of an amplified announcer, as well as the sounds of a crowd cheering, booing, and otherwise reacting to the sound of a fight.

There are two obvious entrances: one in the front (the main entrance, which the crowd is trying to get through) and one on the side (guarded by a pair of well-dressed and burly men who look as though they haven’t even heard of a sense of humor). The guards will check their electronic list when the heroes identify themselves; initially their names don’t come up, but a moment later the screens flicker, the guards double-check, apologize for the mix-up, and let the League in.

You move through the narrow concrete hallway in the back of the stadium. The other fighters populating this space are an eclectic and eye-turning bunch indeed—walking through this area reminds you of walking through the halls of Castle Grayskull. Though most of the fighters here are preoccupied with stretching, doing some light exercise, or watching the current qualifying match on one of many TVs scattered around, you receive some uncertain and dubious looks from a number of muscled figures (a large percentage of which are wearing headbands for some reason) when a woman carrying a clipboard and wearing a headset and a frantic expression comes pushing her way through the crowd.

She calls out the heroes’ chosen team name several times.

When they answer, she looks equally relieved and frustrated. “Where have you been? You’re due at the ring next, and this match is just about over! Go!”

The heroes arrive at the curtain which leads out of the backstage area and to the ring. Peering through the curtain, they can see that the whole interior of the arena has been set up like a pro wrestling match, with a large square ring in the center, surrounded by tiers of cheering audience members. Right now, the ring is littered with the motionless bodies of several fighters, and as the heroes watch, a towering muscled figure with a bald head, naked from the waist up except for some gauntlets, black pauldrons, and a cowl, and with a grotesque round red mass in his chest, lifts up another fighter wearing a white gi and headband and hurls him forcefully into the crowd. The crowd eats it up, with part of the audience cheering and part booing, as the voice of the announcer booms down: “THIS MATCH HAS BEEN DECIDED. THE WINNER: TEAM SOUL EDGE!”

The fighters who remain standing in the ring raise their fists in victory, smug grins on their faces. Aside from the giant, the heroes see a pale, bearded man dressed like a pirate; a reptilian humanoid dotted with shocks of yellow feathers; a young, thin blonde man dressed like a Renaissance-era nobleman; a young-looking woman wearing tattered green clothing with teal-colored hair; and a male figure dressed in what can only be described as bondage gear.

The winning team leaves the ring and begins to walk back toward the curtain into the backstage area, where the heroes are currently standing. Ask them if they are going to move aside for Team Soul Edge. If they don’t, they will have brief words with one or more of them before the announcer calls them to the stage.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE WELCOME YOUR NEXT CONTESTANTS TO THE RING FOR A QUALIFYING MATCH. FIRST, HAILING FROM PARTS UNKNOWN, WE HAVE TEAM [chosen name]!”

The heroes have a chance to do their own fancy and individual entrances.

“AND THEIR OPPONENTS FOR THE EVENING, FROM TOKYO, WE HAVE TEAM ZOANTHROPE!”

Walking to the ring are five opponents, all of whom look Asian. There is a young woman wearing a white and blue jacket and miniskirt; a young man wearing a sleeveless dark blue shirt, dark blue pants, and a flowing red scarf; a man wearing glasses and a green robe; a young woman wearing blue and white shorts and a blue and white jacket so large that the ends of the sleeves hang loosely off of her arms; and a young-looking man wearing black shorts and a white T-shirt over a black long-sleeved shirt with a flame design on the arms.

Team Zoanthrope waves to the crowd before climbing into the ring. As they do so, there’s a slight shimmering in the area around the ring and the air itself feels momentarily thicker around the heroes.

“KINETIC DAMPENERS ENGAGED. YOU ARE GO FOR COMBAT. FIGHT!”

I was initially thinking that this episode would end with their first fight against Team Zoanthrope (from the video game Bloody Roar), but we ended up going long on the recording so I had to cut it short here.

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