DM Screen 17.5 – The Morningstar Job

When a player is unable to attend a game in a face-to-face group, it’s typically not a huge deal, but a player’s absence is harder to work around in an ongoing podcast with an audience. Shortly before we were set to record episode 18 of Extraordinary League, Liz had to take a sudden and unexpected hiatus, so I quickly got together with the other hosts to discuss what would make for a fun side adventure until Liz could rejoin us. We pitched a few ideas back and forth—some of which would end up being incorporated into future episodes—but we eventually decided that a heist involving another League cell was the way to go.

I privately came up with the basic idea behind the heist—the location, the enemy, the prize, and the various obstacles preventing the League from getting to their prize—and emailed Miles (playing Elijah Snow) the details. The “briefing” scene in the episode where Snow goes over the situation wasn’t staged—the other players really were receiving the information and coming up with a plan in real time (albeit with a few boring or repetitive bits edited out).

I also wanted to make sure that the events of this episode weren’t entirely superfluous and actually tied into the main action of the series, hence the first appearance of a Phyrexian Praetor at the end of the episode.

There are thousands of buildings which make up the dazzling, kaleidoscopic skyline of Nexus City. For any one of these buildings to be noteworthy, it must be very special indeed. If you were to ask any random citizen of Nexus City to begin to name the most significant buildings in the skyline, Morningstar Tower would probably not be the first one they named, but it would certainly be in the first five. This gigantic edifice of gray stone, dark metal, and red glass, tiered in a way which hints at art deco while still defiantly cutting its own unique silhouette, proudly declares both the power and the taste of its inhabitants. It is an open secret that Morningstar is a criminal enterprise responsible for arms dealing, sex trafficking, and drug distribution, as well as for acts of violence throughout the city, but this fact does nothing to detract from the splendor and elegance of the gala events held within the building’s walls.

One such event is being held now. The glitterati of Nexus City are in full attendance, dressed in impeccably tailored suits, designer dresses, sparkling jewelry, and the soon-to-be latest fragrances. Champagne is sipped, hors d’oeuvres are circulated, and a string quartet plays just loudly enough to be heard without interfering with the many conversations between the city’s upper crust. Despite the formality and propriety of the event, there is an undercurrent of anxious excitement, for the ultra-rich have come to Morningstar Tower for a reason: Morningstar’s leader Phillipe Loren is holding an auction.

At the top of a set of wide marble stairs arcing down to the main floor below, a tuxedo-clad man steps forward, looking down at a stack of four personal cards which have just been handed to him, and clears his throat, preparing to announce four of the newest arrivals to the party… although little does he know that these guests have traveled very far indeed to get to Morningstar Tower.

Have each of the players say how they’re being announced to the rest of the party, then describe their entrance and appearance, including their attire. Play up NPC reactions as appropriate.

As you try to look natural in your finery, the lights in the room shift slightly and the string quartet’s song shifts into something lively. The assembled guests turn and applaud lightly as the host of the party himself appears on a balcony overlooking the room. He is a tall man who has aged very gracefully into his 60s. His slicked back hair has gone perfectly silver. He’s dressed in a charcoal-colored suit with a red vest and tie. There are two particularly striking aspects of his wardrobe: one is the black eyepatch he wears over his left eye; the other is what is perhaps a long red scarf which he wears across his shoulders, the two halves falling parallel down his chest. The overall impression is less of a scarf and more of a stole, and it gives him the air of a priest or holy man. He is flanked on either side by two young, attractive women with black hair, dressed in black turtleneck sweaters and black pants. They aren’t twins, but they could be sisters.

Loren smiles graciously at the crowd’s greeting and holds up his hands ever-so-slightly, which causes the applause to die away. “Thank you all for coming here tonight,” he says. “So often my business requires me to get my hands dirty. It is always a relief and a blessing to be here with those of us who have risen above the grime of the everyday, who remember that advantages are not to be given out, but taken by those with the wit and power to seize them. Who remember that the best things in life are ungodly expensive.” This draws some laughter from the crowd. “Speaking of which! I know why you all are here—you have heard of the collection of wondrous items which my organization and I have managed to pull together, and will be auctioning off later tonight. I can assure you, even the least of these objects represents the pinnacle of rarity and prestige, and anyone who takes one of these objects home tonight can count themselves most fortunate indeed. But that is to come later… for now, enjoy yourselves, courtesy of Morningstar!”

As the string quartet strikes up again, we flash back to perhaps a few days ago, when Elijah Snow gathered together this particular group of heroes and told them about their mission.

At this point, I let Miles set the scene for the briefing. Below is the information I had emailed him.

In Nexus City, there is a criminal organization called Morningstar. They maintain a legitimate front, but it is well known that they are the leaders in sex trafficking, weapons running, and drug distribution.

Morningstar has collected a variety of rare and valuable artifacts, which they intend to auction off at a gala event in Morningstar Tower. One of these objects is supposed to be able to predict the future—it sounds as though it could even be used to predict Phyrexia’s movements. This could give the League a tremendous edge in anticipating and counteracting Phyrexian invasions. Unfortunately, the night of the gala itself is the best opportunity that you have to grab these objects. You have no chance of actually winning them in auction–word on the street is that only the insanely rich will be there–so a heist is in order.

The objects are held in a heavily-secured vault beneath the floor of the party itself. When the time comes, the objects will be raised by an elevator built into the vault, rising up into the party area, where the bidding will begin. Before that point, the vault is kept securely sealed off. The only way to get into the vault is for Morningstar’s leader, Phillipe Loren, to speak a passcode (randomly generated by a computer each day) into the voice lock while simultaneously opening the door’s physical lock with a physical key. Therefore, you will have to: get a voice sample of Phillipe Loren; determine what the randomly-generated password is for the day; synthesize a file of Loren speaking the password; and steal the key from Loren’s private office.

The following are the most obvious ways of checking those boxes. If you want to propose alternative ideas, I’m game.

Getting Phillipe Loren’s voice sample: Someone will have to step up to Loren and keep him engaged in active conversation for about a minute. This will give Sombra’s software time enough to get an accurate voice sample and cobble together him saying his passcode. You all will have hidden communicators, so in theory anyone could do this and just transmit the voice sample to Sombra.

Finding Loren’s passcode: The code changes daily and randomly—not even Loren will know what it is until moments before he opens it. Someone needs to sneak into the security station where the main computer that generates these passcodes is. The room is accessible directly only by one hallway off of the main party floor, but there’s also a ventilation system that runs just above it. It’s manned by three different guards at any one time. The best way of getting past them is to have someone on the main floor create a distraction sufficient to draw the guards’ attention away from the computer and to the video monitors. Once they are distracted, the infiltrator can hack into the computer and discover the day’s password.

Stealing the Key: Loren keeps the key in his private office, which takes up the entirety of a floor several stories up from the party. Only he and a few of his most trusted confidantes have direct access to the office, which requires a thumbprint and retina scan to access. One way of getting to the office would be to scale the exterior of the building (there are only simple locks on the exterior doors and windows of his office), either by flying, or finding some way of using his outdoor garden.

Once you have what you need, you’ll have to go down to the floor with the vault. Once there, the vault is guarded by several Morningstar agents. If they’re taken out, it will only be a few minutes before the main Morningstar security force realizes what’s happening (after this group doesn’t call in) and sends a much larger team down to investigate.

So that’s what Miles received. I was working with similar notes, but I had a few extra details that I didn’t give Miles (I’ve removed any repeated information below).

Getting Phillipe Loren’s voice sample: During this conversation, Lex Luthor will be present, introducing himself to the PC and providing a counterpoint to the talk.

Finding Loren’s passcode: Whoever hacks into the computer will also find the names and personal info on several different crime lords associated with Morningstar, including one “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, who appears to have a particularly sweet-sounding penthouse somewhere in Nexus City. If the League attempts a distraction to redirect the attention of the guards at the monitors, someone will arrive to attempt to remove or otherwise confront the distraction-maker.

Stealing the Key: Phillipe’s right-hand women, Kiki and Viola, will show up at the office at an inopportune time.

I had stats for the Morningstar agents, but decided to skip the fight and just let the heroes narrate how they took them out. They had already overcome plenty of challenges just getting to the vault, and I thought that a turn-by-turn fight with a bunch of mooks wouldn’t be particularly interesting.

The metal door into the vault is designed to be large and impressive, done in the Morningstar’s neo-art deco-style with some trademark red flourishes. Once the voice print is accepted and the key turned, it swings open noiselessly on well-oiled hinges. The area within features several individually-lit clear display cases containing the various treasures that Morningstar’s guests will be bidding on tonight.

From left to right, there is: a large syringe filled with glowing liquid; a heavy-looking, futuristic pistol; a single gold coin marked with a skull; an actual, living rabbit with brown fur; a large, triangular mirror; a heavy, complex-looking metal backpack with what looks like a hose attachment coming off of the side; and, in the back, a hulking full-body suit of power armor, still largely in shadow.

The League has some time to examine each of these items. When one comes close to the rabbit, they can hear him mutter (in a British accent), “Oh, not again. What now?”

This is the psychic rabbit known as Fiver. If they try to speak to him, Fiver is at first astonished that they speak Lapine at all, but immediately begins to beg for his release. He misses his warren, he explains, and is worried that they might succumb to some unknown calamity if he’s not there to warn them.

At some point, a voice will emerge from the other side of the room. “A commendable effort, breaking into this place,” says Lex Luthor. “I was considering bidding on the rabbit in question at auction—if someone else beat me, I would just find out where they lived and… convince them that I would be much better suited at taking care of it. Speaking of which, I suggest you hand the creature over to me—I think you’ll find that all of us will be much happier for it.”

Once the League has either attacked Luthor or made it clear that there’s no way of cooperating with him, he sighs. “I was really hoping to avoid making a mess. Ah well, that’s the way of things, I suppose.” Blue light suddenly glints from his eyes. Pure magic radiates both out from him and into him in pulsating azure lines of light. The smell of gasoline fills the air and, off in the distance, the sound of machines. Luthor is momentarily consumed by blue light, then seems to draw it into himself, until he is a very different creature.

Cold steel plates cover his chest, back, and shoulders, sharp hooks protrude out from his vertebrae, and liquid metal has spread down his arms, giving them a disturbingly skeletal appearance. His face is also covered in the form-fitting liquid metal, making it look as though his head is now a steel skull. He now stands on four evenly-spaced, insectile legs.

“Tell me, have you faced a Phyrexian Praetor before?” he asks, his voice a terrifying metallic facsimile of a human’s. “I somehow doubt it.”

Lex Luthor, Creator of Truth
F: Rm
A: Ex
S: In
E: ShZ
R: Un
I: Mn
P: Mn

Health: 590         Karma: 250

Knowledge Absorption: At the start of Luthor’s turn, all opponents must make a Psyche check. On a White result, they cannot use any of their powers. On a Green result, they must choose one power and lose access to all others. On a Yellow result, they lose access to half their powers. On a Red result, they retain their powers. Luthor gains access to any powers stolen from heroes in this way.

That’s all I really had planned—the rest of the episode, including the League’s escape, was all improvised. I did, however, want to share the stats for the PCs used in this adventure:

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, can shoot three times per round
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 immediately teleport to the beacon once
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

Talents: Acrobatics, Athletics, Attractive, Deception, Escape Artist, Investigation, Ranged Combat (guns), Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Technology

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

Health: 120         Karma: 22

Body Armor: Ty
Whip: Str+5 damage, can be used to grapple at a range, as well as grab objects, etc.
Leaping: In
Shapeshifting: Ex, can’t change color

Talents: Acrobatics, Athletics, Close Combat (unarmed, whips), Wrestling 2

F: Ty
A: Ex
S: Gd
E: Am
R: Rm
I: Am
P: Mn

Health: 86            Karma: 155

Plant Control: Am
Weather Control: Am
Animal Communication/Control: Am
Faerie Minions (Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, Mustardseed):
                F: Ty
                A: Ex
                S: Fb
                E: Pr
                R: Ty
                I: Ty
                P: Ty

                Health: 32

                Flight: Gd
                Invisibility: Ty

Talents: Attractive 2, Deception, Intimidation, Persuasion

Elijah Snow
F: Ex
A: Ex
S: Ex
E: In
R: In
I: In
P: Rm

Health: 100         Karma: 110

Cryokinesis: Am damage or freezing to a single human-sized target, can affect an area with In rank, or can affect multiple areas simultaneously with Rm rank
Cold Immunity: Cl1000

Talents: Close Combat (unarmed), Expertise (archaeology, business), Insight, Investigation 2, Leadership, Perception

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