DM Screen 34 – Diamonds in the Rough

Up until the Phyrexia arc, every other chapter of League would end after about eight or nine sessions with the heroes finally getting their hands on the gemstone they were after. I wanted this arc to be different in a lot of ways, and one way in which I wanted to mix it up was in giving them the gemstone well ahead of when they normally would… and then dangle something in front of them that would tempt them to push their luck in Phyrexia just a little bit more. In this case, it was the promise of potentially rehabilitating a Praetor.

This chapter also introduces Michonne into the story. I really liked the idea of Michonne as the ultimate survivor, the character who’s smart and tough enough to make a life for herself in even the most hostile environment. In her home setting, she is known for wielding a sword, so I wanted to give her a legendary sword from another work of fiction here. I spent some time brainstorming some options before I remembered that there was already a magic sword floating around in Phyrexia thanks to an earlier League episode… and that could provide for some very interesting scenes in the future.

Our scene opens as your group, along with Morgana, moves quickly and quietly down a street leading to the towering wall separating the junkyard from the rest of the urban sprawl. The street has been closed off for repair, meaning that you are currently the only living beings on it… but you don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re safe. You’re never truly safe in this world, and you find yourself checking the nearby buildings for windows or glancing at the sky to make sure that you haven’t been noticed yet.

The gray, oil-covered walls surrounding the junkyard loom closer and closer. Those of you that went to Westeros guess that it’s maybe a third as tall as the great ice wall on that world, but that still makes it at least a couple hundred feet tall, and from what you saw from a distance, it looks quite thick as well. You’re not seeing anything resembling a door or other entrance through it—from the looks of things, the Phyrexians intended that new deposits to the junkyard should be made exclusively from above via the flying barges you’ve seen flying back and forth. What do you do?

If the PCs take too much time working out a way inside, a pack of caustic hounds will start to wander in their direction. The PCs should have a chance to detect their approach before the hounds notice them, unless the PCs are being especially loud.

Caustic Hound (what looks like the skeleton of a large dog made of black metal. Its head is long, narrow, and pointed, almost blade-like, and cradled in its ribcage is a glowing green organic sack which trails acrid vapors in a trail behind the creature)
F: Ex
A: Ex
S: Ex
E: Ex
R: Fb
I: Ty
P: Fb

Health: 80

Acid Burst: When the caustic hound is reduced to 0 Health, it deals 40 acid damage to all creatures in its area

Once the heroes are past the wall, they see the junkyard before them. The junkyard stretches out for many miles in every direction; a small city could easily fit within its walls. What you saw as hills of refuse from afar look more like mountains to you closer up. You are standing among what remains of countless worlds after Phyrexia seized what it deemed necessary and cast away the rest.

The heroes can begin making their way through the junkyard, perhaps using the amulet to point them in the right direction. As they go, Morgana will say to Mordin, “You were saying back in the sewer base that you’d been developing a cure for the Phyrexian plague, right? Do you have any of it with you?” (The purpose of this conversation is to remind the players and audience of Mordin’s cure and the fact that it affects only the body of the subject, not necessarily the mind. I knew that using the cure on a Praetor would be brought up later, so I wanted to make sure that everyone remembered the specifics of the cure when that time came.)

You continue to move through the junkyard, occasionally checking with the amulet to correct your course as you draw ever closer to the gem you’re after. The only real noises you can hear, aside from the distant sounds of machinery that seem omnipresent in this world, are the occasional clattering, crashing noise as a new flying barge deposits more refuse to these pre-existing piles. Everyone roll Intuition with a bonus for Insight as you move around. (Normally when trying to spot something you would roll Intuition plus Perception, not Insight, but this check was a bit different: the party was automatically going to see the Phyrexians up ahead, but only the insightful would pick up on the fact that they weren’t moving and that they had been deliberately placed.)

Anyone who gets a White or better on the Intuition check notices a group of Phyrexians up ahead. They’re standing on the near slope of one of the smaller refuse piles, giving them a relatively clear perspective on the area—there doesn’t appear to be any way to get past them without coming into their field of vision.

Anyone who got a Green or better on this Intuition check notices that the Phyrexians don’t appear to be moving at all, not even fidgeting.

Anyone who got a Yellow or better realizes that this area appears to have been deliberately shaped so that anyone walking through here would have to approach the Phyrexians.

If anyone approaches closer to the Phyrexians, they can make an Intuition + Perception check. They need a Yellow to succeed, or a Green if they got a Yellow or better on the previous Intuition + Insight check. A success on this check means that they’ve spotted a series of tripwires up ahead; a failure means they trigger them instead.

The tripwires are connected to several traps that have been set up nearby, and a given character has a roughly equal chance of triggering any one of these traps. They include the following:

-A makeshift catapult mounted on top of a nearby garbage mound springs up, flinging several long sharpened metal spikes at the person who triggered the trap—Agility + Improved Dodge to get out of the way, -2 CS penalty to this roll if the trap was triggered unexpectedly. Rm damage on a hit.

-A large net connected to an overhead crane suddenly emerges from the ground and seizes up the character who triggered the trap and everyone in their area—Agility + Improved Dodge to leap out of the net before it closes. The net is made of Ex material.

-Two shipping containers nearby are suddenly launched at each other, with the character who triggered the trap directly between them. Agility + Improved Dodge to get out of the way, Am damage on a hit.

-A crane overhead suddenly rotates, swinging an SUV at the end of a long metal cable like a wrecking ball. All in the triggering character’s area are targeted—Agility + Improved Dodge to get out of the way, In damage otherwise.

It should be noted that any character that manages to dodge out of the way of one trap may accidentally spring another trap if they haven’t noticed the many, many tripwires in this area.

Additionally, anyone who manages to make it up to the Phyrexians on the mound will realize that they are merely Phyrexian corpses, propped up in various positions to make it look like they’re still alive.

Michonne is nearby, watching, ready to remotely trigger any traps that the PCs manage to avoid if she feels like the situation warrants it. One or more characters might be able to spot her—she’s in a concealed, detached cabin of a construction vehicle (essentially a glass-walled box with a complex series of levers in front of her). She’s a middle-aged black human woman, with long dreadlocks pulled up and out of her face, wearing cobbled-together armor. She has a pair of pistols hanging from her waist and has what looks like a katana slung across her back.

Michonne is, understandably, very wary about the newcomers. She’s been in Phyrexia for almost a year now after escaping from one of their facilities on her own, and the PCs are easily the most human-looking characters she’s seen—but she also knows about the Praetors, so she doesn’t assume that a human appearance immediately indicates harmlessness. She knows this junkyard very well and has a number of escape routes and traps set up, so if she has good reason to believe that the PCs could be hostile, she’ll do her best to stay one step ahead of them, luring them into traps, and they’ll have to track her down to defeat her or question her, or otherwise manage to convince her that continuing to torment them isn’t worth it.

Of course, the much better option would be to convince Michonne that they aren’t with the Phyrexians, they aren’t a threat, and that they might actually be able to get her off this world. If they mention the gem, she may or may not tell them that she’s found it, but even if she doesn’t, a character speaking to her will notice a flash of recognition on her face.

I really wasn’t sure how this initial encounter with Michonne would turn out—I figured she wouldn’t be quick to trust and the PCs (particularly Dante and Nico) can be somewhat aggressive, but I also knew that characters like Mordin and Luna would probably be trying to negotiate. I definitely did not expect the heroes to use Neil Diamond to win her over, but hey, whatever works.

Michonne makes her home in an out-of-the-way corner of the junkyard, in a shack she’s disguised beneath one of the ubiquitous mounds of garbage. She lifts aside what looked at first to be a large pane of sheet rock, but is in fact a large, expertly-painted curtain set at just the right angle. The inside is surprisingly roomy, the walls are an eclectic mix of discarded wood and plastic, and she’s managed to cobble together tables, chairs, chests, a cot, and various other pieces of furniture from the refuse around her. You see several maps of different areas of the junkyard, as well as the surrounding districts, pinned to the walls and spread across some of the tables. There’s a pile near the corner of Phyrexian armor plates, obviously torn or cut off of their original hosts. (Michonne at one point had attempted to keep two maimed Phyrexians as deterrence and “pets”—she seems to have some experience with this, but it didn’t work out.)

Before she is willing to trust them, Michonne will want to know more about them and will question what they’re doing in Phyrexia, where they came from, what their plan is, etc. She’ll also be interested in any superhuman abilities that they displayed—magic, super-strength, etc. She’s not especially curious about the obviously nonhuman characters in the party (Stitch, Mordin, Morgana, Lace), other than wanting to know what they can do. Her questions are very pointed and bent toward practicality: what everyone can do and how they can help fight against the Phyrexians.

Michonne has picked up a number of useful objects in her time in Phyrexia (she touches the handle of her katana absently as she says this), one of which was a large white diamond, perfectly round and smooth. She didn’t have any immediate use for it, but she had never seen anything quite like it and decided that it might come in handy later. She keeps it in one of her chests, a cobbled-together affair of corroded aluminum siding.

Just as the conversation appears to be winding down, Stitch’s ears pick up the sounds of whining engines approaching with great speed. Just as Stitch registers this, there is a series of cascading, earth-shaking impacts and Michonne’s home crashes down painfully around everyone.

Once everyone pulls themselves out of the collapsed pile of trash, they find that they have company. Spread out evenly around them are four skeletal robots. Parts of them have the usual sharp, organic look that so much Phyrexian technology does, but these were clearly based on a different design. Most striking are their circular red glowing eyes. Stitch, Dante, and Mordin immediately recognize them as Phyrexian alterations to the Terminator model.

The (Ex)terminators attack. Morgana was knocked out in the initial collapse, and Mordin’s stock of Phyrexian cures was almost completely crushed—only a single dose remains. Both of these facts will only become obvious if either Morgana or the Phyrexian cure are asked about.

Part of giving the players tough choices like whether to try to save the Terminator or abandon him back in episode 2 is showing the consequences of those choices, whether immediately or, say, 32 episodes later.

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

Health: 90            Karma: 100

Cobbled Armor: Pr protection
Pistols (2): 12 damage each
Soul Edge: Deals Mn draining damage upon a hit; deals 30 damage to Michonne every round when drawn
Soul Wave: Deals Rm damage to every opponent in Michonne’s area and Michonne regains that much Health

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

Health: 175         Karma: 46

Body Armor: Gd, Cl1000 vs radiation/toxins
Shoulder-Mounted Gatling Gun: In damage
Energy Blade: Am damage
Flight: Rm
Speed: Pr

Once the tide of battle is clearly going in one direction or another, the heroes’ eyes are drawn upward as a blazing blue fireball streaks through the sky, obviously heading toward them. They don’t have long before Azula joins them.

F: Am
A: In
S: Ex
E: Ex
R: In
I: Ex
P: In

Health: 130         Karma: 100

Firebending: Am, can be used for a variety of effects including blasts, weapons, fast movement/flight, and shields—effects can be spread out, reducing to In rank if affecting one area, and -1 rank for every subsequent area
Lightning: Mn damage, can make a Fighting check to ignore electrical damage (or redirect an incoming electrical attack on a Yellow or better result)

Azula the Unforgiving (Phyrexian form)
F: Un
A: Mn
S: In
E: ShZ
R: In
I: Ex
P: Mn

Health: 710         Karma: 100

Lightning Speed: Azula can make two actions every round. When combat begins, Azula the Unforgiving automatically gets a round during which only she and her allies can act.
Firebending: Un, can be used for a variety of effects including blasts, weapons, fast movement/flight, and shields—effects can be spread out, reducing to Mn rank if affecting one area, and -1 rank for every subsequent area
Lightning: ShX damage, can make a Fighting check to ignore electrical damage (or redirect an incoming electrical attack on a Yellow or better result)

There are a few options available to them at this point. Michonne does have a vehicle she’s managed to get working: a truck with a very long and wide open bed in the back. It will fail to start if under pressure, of course. The heroes might be able to lose the Exterminators with this vehicle (or, as happened during the actual session, they might enchant a Toyota Corolla to fly), but Azula will pursue them aggressively. Their best bet is to revive Morgana and escape through the Metaverse. If they do so, they should at some point see Azula’s shadow-self. She looks very similar to her real-world counterpart, but with yellow eyes. The most noticeable difference, however, is that her shadow-self has something that looks like a combination between a snake, a leech, and a spider wrapping around her neck and cradling her head in its long, spindly legs. The creature has the usual eyeless Phyrexian appearance.

Once the heroes are out of immediate trouble, Morgana will bring up a possible opportunity: the big problem with Mordin’s Phyrexian cure was that he didn’t know how to cure a subject’s mind of the Phyrexian reprogramming. But with access to the Metaverse, they could: they could find someone’s shadow-self and separate them from this weird Phyrexian parasite. This, combined with an application of the cure in the real world, could potentially cure even a Praetor.

If the heroes decide they want to take this path, they would have to decide which Praetor to target (Mordin only has one dose of cure left, after all). Alternatively, they could attempt to track down the source of the Exterminators and attempt to shut it down—the Terminator might even be held there as a prototype of sorts.

That’s where my notes ended, but when we actually recorded the session, we ended a bit earlier than where my notes did and Morgana didn’t get a chance to lay out his plan to the heroes. This ended up proving difficult to plan around for the next session as I didn’t have a clear idea as to whether or not the heroes were going to try to cure a Praetor, or even which Praetor they would target if they did. But you’ll find out all about that in the next installment!

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