Orthesian Herald: session 5 – The Flickering Eye

Navigator Mahd’Naz sends the translation estimates back to the Captain – 8 days in the warp to the Gangue system through calm warp currents to find the fabled treasure ship, The Rightful Remit.

The warp shutters roll down over the viewports, emergency lumens wash the bridge with a crimson glow and everybody lights their incense. As the Unbroken resolve hits the warp translation point, it fires a single defiant salvo from its macrocannons as unreality opens up and swallows the little ship whole.

First steps into the Nomads
Pleasant tidings

This was to be the first, and likely last, of the quiet warp translations. During the week, only two Warp Encounters were rolled, both getting “All’s Well!” results. A little disappointing from a GM’s perspective but hey, not every warp journey can be a harrowing trip into the hell of hells.

During the transit, Explorator Freeman and Von Gunn decide to take the two newly-appointed Battery Lords, Brassfang and Falconet, on hunting patrols through the bowels of the ship. Since the battering at the hands of the Battlegrounds raiders there were a few decks on the keel of the ship that were considered unfit for duty and sealed off. Voidships in the 41st millennium are designed with plenty of obsolescences in mind, but they do have a habit of picking up vermin and stowaways, so they need to be checked every so often to avoid an unpleasant surprise.

Freeman had divvied up the broken underdecks into sectors, and they would sweep a different sector of each underdeck each day while in the warp. Von Gunn would also use it as an opportunity to have a bit of friendly competition between the two Battery Lords and to encourage them to blow off steam this way, rather than getting antsy with the macrocannons.

It was just a minor point, but it was a neat little addition from the players to explore more of their home and stake out their claim on it.

Our journey to Gangue was over.

The system map for Gangu, detailing all the important celestial bodies
A dead race and a dying sun

The translation into the Gangue system was as painless as the journey. The crew had already acquired a system map before leaving Mercy, so all that remained to do was let the passive augurs sweep the system and report back.

Gangue is one of hundreds of systems visited, catalogued and passed over by explorers of the Nomad Stars. Since Skylar himself, it has remained mostly unexplored or unexploited, mostly due to little immediate interest: sun-blasted worlds to its frozen reaches, only a smattering of looted ruins and planets ill-suited to colonisation.

Flickering Eye: A stuttering pulsar, bathing the system in hard radiation from its death throes.

Gangue Minor: A sun-scorched world closest to the star and scoured clean of life by its fiery breath.

Gangue Prime: A dust choked graveyard littered with the alien ruins.

Gangue Secundus: An icy jungle moon covered in frozen spore-towers and cloaked in a toxic fog.

Shard Halo: A vast asteroid field billions of kilometres in length scattered across the outer reaches of the system.

The Flickering Eye of Gangue
The Flickering Eye of Gangue
the goldilocks zone

A brief discussion rippled across the crew – where to go first? The nearest planet to the outer reaches where we had translated into was the obvious choice, but would we expect to find anything there? Active augur sweeps told us Gangue Secundus was a frozen hellscape, and Gangue Minor was a scorched, radioactive hellscape.

The only hellscape that didn’t require excessive equipment was the planet in the Goldilocks Zone – not too hot, not too cold. Set a course for Gangue Prime!

After three days of intersystem travel, the Unbroken Resolve enters high orbit of the planet and runs a focused scan.

Gangue Prime is a desolate wasteland with a dirty grey surface choked by clouds and dust. From orbit, you detect vast maze-like ruins covering many parts of the surface but little else. 

You also clearly detect the presence of a great monolith standing proud from the surrounding ruins and wreathed in an invisible cloud of electromagnetic turbulence – the giant crystal structure is unmistakably something unique.

The maze-like hive spans much of the northern landmass, rising up above the great dust sea, with the black monolith at the centre like a precious jewel – Impossible to bring a craft within more than a few km of the mirror due to violent ionic and magnetic storm around it.

The monolith in the centre of the ruins, but imagine the ruins expand across the continent. (artist unknown – pinched from the internet)
into the maze

Everyone was eager to step foot on their first alien world, so the crew piled into an Arvus lighter and dropped orbit. The fly-by of the monolith revealed it would be impossible to land anywhere near, its projected aura of electromagnetic turbulence causing problems to the lighter the closer it got. The crew set down a few kilometres out in a clearing and disembarked.

Atmosphere is thin here, you can survive unprotected for at least a few hours, though the caustic air will make breathing uncomfortable

The alien hive is eerily empty – a collection of labyrinthine trenches and open pits surrounding the mirror like the carvings of a giant madman. They glisten with rainbow light as though oily, even as they crack and crumble with age.

The passageways are cramped for humans, and the hive mazes are empty, as though the xenos and their works simply vanished overnight. The only sound is the moaning of the wind as it blows through enclosed maze-spaces and across desert outcrops.

An idea of the alien ruins from the inside. (artist unknown – pinched from the internet)
Exploring the labyrinth

As the players explored the ruined maze, many of them made attempts to maintain bearings or create EM-breadcrumb trails so they could find their way back. Confoundingly, the maze seemed to reject any efforts to map it or tame it in any way.

There was no signs of life, no psychic signature or presence of warp fuckery – the construction of the maze by strange xenos minds was anathema to human pathfinding sensibilities. Players found themselves double-backing on themselves, becoming lost or somehow following the same path as they just left.

These were handled by a string of Logic, Navigate (Surface) and Scholastic Lore (Astromancy) checks, with Insanity Points being handed out for any particularly bad failures as the character’s minds began to fracture at the seemingly impossible construction of the maze. After ten hours of stumbling around, the Arch Militant smelled something familiar – the distinctive odour of burning aviation fuel and charred metal…

You come to a section of the maze that has been torn apart by some flying vehicle, plowing a smouldering furrow through the crystalline walls. Bits of smoking wreckage lie everywhere, and you can just about make out through the acrid black smoke a shortcut to the centre of the maze.

The wreckage is that of a heavy lander that must have crashed when it encountered the same ionic and magnetic storms caused by the central structure.

A Search or Awareness -20 check of the site revealed the following;

You notice a similar livery painted on the craft as displayed on the armsmen who ambushed you in Port ImpetusCharred and broken corpses are strewn everywhere, so twisted blackened you mistook them for detritus from the lander. A Willpower +20 check was required to resist another doling out of Insanity Points. It was at this point that some of the more physically-orientated characters began to understand the importance of not using Willpower as their dump stat.

The players were on edge. This was clearly a Fel Dynasty craft that was fouled by the electromagnetic storms around the monolith. What were they doing here?

As they pondered, the Explorator and Voidmaster uncovered something in the wreckage – a single drop-crate that survived the wreckage and encrypted with Fel Dynasty codes. It would take a little while to crack, so the crew decided to move on through the hole in the ruins that the lander had created. The Explorator insisted on staying behind to break it open, something he would later come to be very thankful for…

As you pick through the wreckage towards the great crystalline structure in the centre of the labyrinth you hear the sounds of gunfire and animalistic grunting. The snap of lasgun fire is unmistakeable, but there is a single noise that pierces the veil and sends a shiver down your spine. A single, howling, primal “WAAAAAAAGH!”

What’s that coming over the hill?
A run-in with the locals

The crew stood on a ridge overlooking the monolith in the centre of a vast dust bowl about 200 metres across. In the centre, a mob of a dozen or so feral Orks were bearing down on some Fel Dynasty armsmen behind a rocky outcrop.

As the crew took their bearings (and rolled for Initiative), they noticed a half dozen Orks lead by a huge brute break off from the pack and thunder across the open dust bowl towards them.

The crew had 100 metres and superior firepower on their side, but would that be enough to take them down before they got close? A few players had faced Orks in 40k RPGs before and knew they weren’t to be trifled with, and the players who didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the Green Menace’s infamous toughness knew that it would be a Bad Thing to let them close the gap.

As they were sizing up the potential killing power of the scattering of plasma pistols and flamers in the party, there was a gutteral roar from behind them of a powerful engine starting up. Screeching over the ridge behind them came Explorator Freeman on an Astartes-pattern Scout Bike and Zilla riding shotgun on the sidecar. Its twin bolters spewing hot explosive death into the ranks of the Orks, and the tide of battle became considerably more balanced.

Zilla and Freeman ride into battle on a broken Xbox battery pack

The fight was set up to introduce long range combat and to give the players a taste of fighting Orks in the lowest-threat way as possible – having them start a long way away with no ranged weapons!

The fight was set up as a 1cm:1m scale, so the Orks would be on the players in less than 10 turns. They knew that if even one got through, it would cause a world of hurt to whatever it touched. Two plasma pistols from the Captain and the Astropath (a convenient last-minute Acquisition from Mercy!) could put out reasonable damage when they hit, and the twin bolt pistol death from the Arch Militant made decent work of whatever he was aiming at. The Missionary was at a disadvantage of only having a flamer, so spent most of her time shouting profanities at the ravening xenos horde.

The twin bolters from the scout bike chewed up Orks like there was no tomorrow;

Twin-linked bolters

Front-facing, 90m range, Basic, s/2/4, 1d10+5, pen 4, Clip 48, Reload 3Full, Twin-linked, Tearing

(Twin linked: +20 to hit, uses twice as much ammunition, scores an additional hit if the attack roll gets 2+ degrees of success)

Dakka dakka dakka!

The Orks were only a few turns away from beating our heroic crew to death with their own severed arms and our players were starting to feel the heat. Arch Militant Von Gunn came up with a decisive Plan B – he had a bunch of demolition charges and an appetite for destruction. By setting all the charges around the ridge they were standing on, they had an opportunity for an explosive retreat if things went sideways.

In the final few nail-biting turns of the game, the bikers had thinned the Ork horde enough so the small-arms fire could cause some damage. They had identified the big Ork as some kind of leader and were focusing fire to try and take him down. They had worked out the rest of the Orks might break if he could be stopped.

They also discovered a nice little surprise the Green Tide had to hand – crude Stikkbombs they lobbed at the bike when it got close enough. In an utterly tragic cosmic coincidence, all the Orks carrying stikkbombs had been killed before they could get close enough to use them or even before the players had identified them as a threat. I’ll get you next time, gadget…

The Captain and the Astropath finally put down the Ork leader with repeated blasts of max-strength plasma pistol shots and the last two Orks began to waiver. Unfortunately for them, they had just (and FINALLY) strayed into flamer range of the Missionary, who had been lamenting not taking a long range weapon for the entire fight.

Tips for pros: fire kills Orks dead.

This is an amusing quirk of the system as to why fire is so effective. Orks have a naturally low Willpower because individually they’re a cowardly lot. Get a bunch of them together though and Orks get a +10 to their Willpower tests (for Fear and Pinning) for every other Ork within a close proximity. Lots of Orks don’t run from a fight.

When you are hit with a Flamer, two things happen. First you take the flamer’s damage, which at 1d10+4 isn’t going to upset an Ork who will soak most of that damage anyway. However, they then have to take an Agility test or catch fire. Orks have a terrible Agility, so they tend to catch alight quite often. Once on fire, you have to take an unmodified Willpower test or you are forced to do nothing except run around screaming. You don’t get your Mob Rule bonus for this, and Orks tend to fail unmodified Willpower checks quite a lot.

When you’re on fire, you take D10 damage per turn, ignoring armour. Again, this is unlikely to trouble an Ork who can shrug off at least 8 of that. However, fire also gives you 1 Fatigue per turn. Exceed your Toughness Bonus and you pass out from asphyxiation and burn to death. Each level of Fatigue also imposes a -10 to all your tests, making it harder and harder to put yourself out each turn.

So what you have is a bunch of flaming Orks running around screaming, unable to put themselves out until they all pass out and become sautéed mushrooms. Yay fire!

The aftermath

The final two Orks were toasted, and one of them turned to flee. The Missionary’s bodyguard Alyss leapt forwards and plunged her chainsword into the fleeing Ork, finishing him off.

The Captain surveyed the scene and emptied the plasma pistol canister into the mangled Ork boss, just in case. He’d heard about their regenerative abilities and figured he’d rather not risk it.

The team gathered their wits, reloaded their weapons and made straight for the Monolith.

+++++++

Next: Session 6 – The Beast with the Broken Back

Previous: Session 4 – Welcome to the Nomads

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