Friday, March 27, 2015

Adventures in Urutsk

Over the past few weeks, I've been playing an online game that takes place primarily in The Grand Tapestry's world of Urutsk.

Urutsk is a couple of things.  First, it appears to be one of only a handful of examples that I'm aware of, of a person having a particularly well-developed fantasy world as a child that they never abandon, and that they continue growing and expanding and creating for into adulthood.  Other examples of such worlds, and their creators, are the Brontë sisters' shared worlds of Gondal and Angria, Henry Darger's worlds of Glandeco and Angelinia and his Realms of the Unreal, and MAR Barker's world of Tékumel.  Like Barker's Tékumel and JRR Tolkein's Middle Earth, Urutsk also seems to include one or more constructed languages that seem to be more or less linguistically complete.

Second, Urutsk is a post-apocalyptic science fictional game setting.  Information I've learned in-game suggests that the time period my sessions have been taking place in are approximately a millennium after some kind of interstellar cataclysm.  In this way, too, its similar to MAR Barker's Tékumel and to his Empire of the Petal Throne game, to Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Number game, and I'm sure to any number of other stories that take place on an alien planet amidst the post-cataclysmic civilization of human(-ish?) people whose ancestors once built societies on dozens or hundreds of planets across the galaxy.  Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus, Larry Niven's Integral Trees and Smoke Ring, and Jack Vance's "Miracle Workers" are also all set under similar conditions, and so by a process of convergent evolution or multiple discovery, have noticeable parallels to the world of Urutsk.

I'm creating a bit of a record now, because when I started this online game, I expected it to be a one-off, or to last only two or three sessions.  That's been the general fate of the online games I've played in, where either scheduling problems or the difficulty of arranging and running online sessions has led to something more like tournament-style play than to ongoing campaigns.  We've played ten sessions together so far though, and we seem likely to be able to continue for awhile.  As a result, my memories of the earliest sessions are now a bit sketchy.  I'll probably keep the more recent session reports brief as well, but since this is going so well, I wanted to preserve a small portion of it.


The first session begins with Merope the troglodyte-speaking woodcutter, Fantine the sickly guild beggar, Magdalene the grave digger, and Florence the poison-resistant healer awaking inside a large red box along with a dozen or so other 0th-level commoners.  The box is something like 20' to a side, and its occupants awake lightly dressed and entirely un-equipped.

In this session, Fantine was initially my favorite character, so she led most of my team's actions.  Knocking on the walls of the red box quickly revealed that doors would appear when searched for, and the first door opened into what looked like an alleyway, facing a brick wall.  Fantine was the first of several brave souls to venture outside, revealing a world of great brick buildings, smoke stacks, and plumes of black industrial smoke.  Fantine felt comfortable in this familiar-looking world, but the many of bewildered commoners wondered if the other walls would open into the same world, or even if this door would reliably lead back to the seemingly-Victorian realm, so they all returned into the box and shut the door.

When the door was re-opened, it was not into a Victorian alley, but instead into a strange open roadway.  Several wheeled metal carriages sped past at unbelievable speed, and I believe that at least one peasant was lost when he stepped outside and was struck by one of the horseless carriages.  Other carriages veered out of the way, trying to avoid the box that had suddenly appeared in the middle of their path, and a spectacular collision and explosion resulted.  The peasants noticed that they were surrounded by some kind of coliseum filled with a great audience, and that they were being approached by shouting men in some kind of black uniforms.  If my memory serves, another peasant was lost to a gunshot wound delivered by one of the uniformed men, although he may have been saved by first aid after the door was closed.

The next door that was opened led into a bright and vividly colored jungle, but the first two commoners who stepped out of the cubed were burned by the heat and acidic humidity of the air, and one of two possibly died after being touched by a poisonous leaf that wafted down from one of the many trees.  Once their companions were back inside, the group quickly closed the door on those inhospitable environs.  Florence the healer may have attempted to save one of the injured explorers.

The following door opened only a crack into a world of waist-deep snow.  The peasants feared they were too lightly dressed to survive the frigid cold of that world, as their initial glimpse showed lights only in the far distance.  Unfortunately, the weight of the collapsing snow kept the door from closing properly, and the cube itself began to grow uncomfortably chill.  Another door was opened, revealing some kind of cave.  Fantine and her companions joined an expedition into the cave, while another eight or so peasants stayed behind in the cube to try to re-close the door leading into winter.

The cavern Fantine and her friends entered was poorly lit, but a tunnel that possibly led to the surface was visible across a great crevasse.  The peasants decided to attempt to descend into the canyon, in the hopes of ascending the other side, and then taking the tunnel to the surface.  They located a wooden scaffolding that might have been left over from some kind of mining operation, and began climbing down.  As they did, they were assailed by a dozen or so blue creatures that had bodies like monkeys, but with beaked turtle-like faces.  Merope the wood-cutter acquitted herself admirably in combat, but Fantine the beggar, having only 1 hit point, was felled by one of the weird beasts.  First aid, possibly delivered by Merope or Florence, resuscitated her from her injuries.  Fearing that this cave was too dangerous, the commoners returned to the red cube to check on their friends.

They arrived to find that their fellows who had stayed behind had managed to close the door on the icy realm.  The snow turned out to be only frozen water, fortunately, and not frozen methane or helium, and so the commoners had been able to brave it for a few moments to hand-shovel the snow back out of the doorway and shut the door firmly.

Another door was tried, this one leading into the interior of a building.  When Fantine and some other peasants found a window, they soon realized they were hundreds of feet above the ground inside a tower so tall it scraped the sky itself.  They also soon met a balding man with injured feet who called himself "John McClane" and who appeared to believe that he was hallucinating the peasants.  The peasants followed McClane as he explored the hall and adjoining rooms, but after more gunfire from McClane's enemies, they decided to return once more to the cube.

The final door the peasants tried opened into a fairly featureless white hallway, but quick exploration turned up a locker room.  Each peasant pressed their palm to a door to open a locker, and each found supplies related to their profession, including some white coveralls, a computer tablet, and a gun.

At this point, the session ended and we all leveled up.  Merope became a fighter, Fantine and Magdelane became thieves, and Florence became a cleric.


In this session, and for the rest of the sessions that take place in Urutsk, I was one of only two players.  We each chose one character to advance.  I chose Merope, whose 0th level characteristics reminded me of JK Rowling's depiction of Voldemort's mother, and my fellow player chose Slunk, a wood-elf charlatan and snake-oil salesman.  Merope graduated from being a 0th level Dungeon Crawl Classics woodcutter to being a 1st level 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons fighter.  She also rolled for a random characteristic on the Arduin Grimoire's "Special Abilities" Chart.  She got +1 with all axes and -3 against all dragon's breath, which seemed appropriate for some kind of reptile-loving forest-dwelling recluse.  Slunk became a warlock and swore a pact of allegiance to Lord Worm, a demonic entity aligned with elemental silt.  (I later learned that all magic users and magical creatures in Urutsk are associated with one of a few dozen elemental bloodlines.)  Slunk also acquired a familiar in the form of a holographic projection of a woman from his tablet computer, quickly dubbed "Clippy."

Shortly after deciding his intention to make a pact with a magical entity, Slunk received a vision of Lord Worm, a silt-blooded demon king.  Slunk discovered that he too had an elemental silt bloodline, and soon swore a pact to Lord Worm, gaining various magical abilities in the bargain.

Merope and Slunk exited the locker room and began exploring.  In one room they found some emergency rations and ration cards as well as some med kits.  They also found evidence that the crew might be abusing stimulants, and a quick peek inside a ration revealed twice the safe daily limit of stimulants available alongside one day's worth of food.  In another room they found some humans in similar white coveralls who revealed that they were on a ship, and had been for their entire lives.  Merope and Slunk decided that they were dealing with the degenerate inhabitants of the original crew of a generation ship and decided to look for some form of shuttle craft or escape pod.  Consulting both Merope's tablet and Clippy soon revealed that the crew only controlled a relatively small area of the ship.  They also discovered that Merope's handprint would open any door with palm-reader, while Slunk's elven hand was denied access for some reason. 

A bit more exploring revealed a kind of interstitial space, a kind of scaffolding of walkways the appeared to run behind the walls and between the levels of the ship.  Slunk and Merope tried climbing down a couple of levels, outside of the crew-controlled area, in search of valuables.  I think our reasoning was that anything salvaged from an abandoned portion of the ship would be valuable to the occupants who no longer had access to that particular supply.  Once in the uncontrolled portion of the ship however, they were quickly set upon by a towering centipede-like robot.  Slunk was injured, while Merope was quickly felled and had a near death experience.  She used what she thought was her dying breath to tell Slunk to run.  Slunk decided to stand his ground however, and fired an overloaded blast from his stun pistol, seemingly knocking the robot out of commission.  Slunk's CPR, and a bit of good fortune, brought Merope back from the brink of death. 

Slunk helped Merope into the first room they could find on this lower hallway, where they found a number of crates labeled "Cedar."  With Merope still at death's door, Slunk opened a crate and found a foil packet filled with some kind of glowing liquid, which he poured into Merope's mouth and encouraged her to drink. Merope did, and recovered a bit of her health, she also mutated becoming mildly radioactive.  Her physical stamina permanently increased, and she became mildly resistant to injury.  She also gained a kind of Ren-and-Stimpy-style detail vision that allowed her to inflict more damage with her attacks by striking her enemies' weakest points.  The mutagenic liquid frightened both Slunk and Merope, so they decided to look for treasure in another room.

As they re-entered the hall, they saw that the giant robot was reviving itself.  Merope put her newfound detail vision to work and fired her security gun at the robot.  The super-heated round splashed liquid metal after striking the creature, revealing the source of the strange damage to some of the walls Merope and Slunk had seen earlier.  Slunk called upon his patron and shot malevolent blasts of elemental silt at the centipede.  Between these two attacks, the robot deactivated again, although this time the pair was unwilling to believe that it was permanently disabled.  They continued attacking its prone form for another 20 minutes before rolling it off the walkway and into the bowels of the ship below.  Merope managed to break off a few of the creatures legs to use as a short sword, a long sword, and a pry bar.  Slunk was able to pocket a few of the shinier bits of the machine to try to trade later.

Concerned that the noise of this encounter might bring additional combatants, the pair abandoned their plan to look for valuables and re-ascended to a higher, and safer floor.  They located a security office and used Merope's clearance to enter it.  Inside they found a variety of colored jackets that seemed to reveal one's crew rank, along with a couple of gas masks and tear gas canisters, and a safe place to rest for the night.  Merope settled on a purple command jacket, although a panel of the jacket, located where a name-badge might be placed, turned orange to identify her as security personnel. Slunk discovered when he wore a blue jacket this panel turned green, and in a green jacket it turned blue, so he left the green jacket on.  The pair felt a bit better disguised and protected in their new jackets, and decided to take a long rest to recover from their injuries.