Notes on Formatting: Because PbtA gaming involves a lot of out-of-game negotiation between the GM and the players, I’ll be putting the meta-game discussion about the fiction in italics and the in-game fiction in standard type.
This week, we formally welcome Judd to the table. Judd will be playing the wizard Vitus the Red, an esoteric and downright weird wizard that I found completely fascinating! Judd brings a ton of high-quality role-playing to the table, and it’s a joy to have him in our group! For ease of integration, we just said that the group met Vitus on the road as well, and that he has been with the group for a while now.
Violet City is the westernmost city of the Rainbowlands, the last outpost of civilization on the edge of the vast Ultraviolet Grasslands. Ruled by the enigmatic-yet-adorable Cat Lords, Violet City is a place of extremes: Safety, magic, oldtech, trade, and poverty. Thousand-foot gleaming towers of plasteel and purple dewstone exist alongside ghettos of lotus addicts/glitched bio-hackers/Bluelander refugees.
After four days at a fashionably seedy inn, Ivo was able to make contact with an agent of Lord Schnookums, a wealthy cat-lord. They arranged a meeting: Breakfast at the Last Gastrognôme, a very posh restaurant at the top of SkysunTower. They were to meet Throop, Lord Schnookums’ majordomo, and, if that went well, the cat-lord himself.
The base of the tower was an enclosed upscale marketplace, selling all sorts of goods. Most were too expensive for our heroes. Ivo attempted to nick a flower for his lapel, but the merchant noticed, and made him fork over 10 coin for it. [I had Ivo roll Pickpocket, and he got a 5.] A pair of well-dressed gnomes stood by the lift doors and checked the party’s names against the reservation book, and seemed utterly surprised that they were there. Despite looking down their noses at the party (technically up, as gnomes only stand about three feet tall), they were shown aboard the lift. While Ivo, Vitus, and Slayton had all be on some sort of lift before, this was a new experience for Tarkov, who found the experience unnerving. [I described Skysun Tower as looking like the Seattle Space Needle. In my head, I was thinking more of the San Antonio Tower of the Americas, with the shopping plaza in the building at its base.]
After a two-minute ride, the gang were standing in a very posh foyer, lit by skylights. Another gnome, dressed to the nines, asked if they had a reservation in an extremely condescending tone. Surprised at the answer, and confirming it in the large registry on a lectern, the gnome went off to fetch Throop. An attractive human woman with bronze skin, oversized spectacles, and a shaved head (except for a luxurious topknot) met them. She wore a low-cut blouse, pantaloons, sandals, and lots of silver bangles. She also wore a holovid crystal similar to the one Tarkov wore. After pointing it out, Throop said that she had been from Vidrian Glade, a town in the Greenlands that bordered the Azure Wastes, which is where his missing love Jaala is also from! [Note: I decided to use a “Paint the Scene” technique, and asked Tarkov, “What is Throop wearing that reminds you of your homeland.”]
After exchanging pleasantries, Throop led the party into a large booth. She explained that Lord Schnookums was looking for guards and a quartermaster for a caravan heading out for an eight-week round-trip journey to the Last Serai and back. Ivo noted that they were planning to head farther west, and asked if it would be okay to exit the caravan then. Throop did not seem to be expecting this and she suggested meeting with the Cat-Lord himself.
Throop then led the PCs to the main dining room, to a large table set for two; behind one of the places stood a stool, at the height of the tabletop. In a padded basket on the stool lounged a large, plump, semi-longhaired black housecat with a white belly. The cat sat up, staring at Throop as the party approached. It mewed a short chirp. “Lord Schnookums, these are the possible new guards and quartermaster for our caravan to the Last Serai. Ivo, Tarkov, Vitus, and Major Slayton. Please, have a seat.” The cat stared at each of the adventurers in turn. Throop sat in the chair next to the cat and began petting him. The cat purred. Throop continued, “Lord Schnookums would like to hear your proposal.” Ivo re-stated the party’s desire to continue westward after the Last Serai, where they would try to find new recruits to take their place for the return journey. Schnookums and Throop exchanged looks, and Throop responded, “He agrees to your proposal. As is typical for such ventures, payment was going to be a share of the profits of the venture. However, since your service will end before the final tally, perhaps we can set a flat rate. How does 25 coin per person, per week of the journey, plus expenses sound?”
The group discussed the possibility, and then asked what the caravan was carrying. Throop evaded the question for a while, but finally, Slayton managed to get the answer: “Fine. If you must know. Joyworms. The Porcelain Princes want a shipment of joyworms to… enhance the work ethic of their current crop of servants. There’s rebellion in the air down there, and it would help the Princes greatly if they could guarantee the loyalty of their servants.”
Vitus sneered with a look of disgust at the answer, and Ivo also looked uncomfortable. Neither Tarkov nor Slayton knew what joyworms were, and asked. “Joyworms are an esoteric neural symbiote that feeds on positive emotions and higher thought. They normally crawl up the host’s nose and live in the sinus, where they connect to the host’s central nervous system. Joyworms reward the host’s pleasure center when the host physically exerts themselves. Basically, they make the most menial and mundane of physical tasks extremely pleasurable to the hosts: The harder they work, the more pleasure they feel.” Vitus then added, “They turn people into willing slaves. I will take no part in such business.” The rest of the party shared Vitus’ concerns.
After exchanging a long gaze with the cat-lord, Throop invited the party to step outside to discuss other possibilities. On the observation deck that surrounded the disc, Throop led the party around the circumference of the disc, casually interrupting herself to point out landmarks, like the Purple Obelisk, the Circle Sea to the east, and the vast steppe of the Ultraviolet Grasslands to the west. Purple haze still shrouded the grasslands several miles out. “But back to business. I completely understand your distaste about joyworms. I think they’re horrid, and I tried to talk Schnookums out of dealing in them… but the potential for profit is just too great. You say you intend to keep traveling westward. What are you seeking out there?” After explaining their intent to go all the way to the Black City, Throop whistled ominously. “That’s a very long journey, and it’s very dangerous. I can say that those who go to the Black City and return nearly always do so with vast riches. It’s a journey you only need to make once. But a large majority of those who seek the Black City never return.” After a pause, she brightened. “That said, you probably want to lead a caravan of your own, buying and selling things along the way to finance your expedition. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I get the feeling you don’t have the resources on your own. Lord Schnookums is always looking to finance potentially profitable ventures. We can front you the money to set up your own caravan. Lord Schnookums has agents in every settlement between here and the Last Serai, and you could pay those agents a portion of your profits. We would expect at a 50% return on investment, but you don’t have to pay it all at once. Of course, if you take our money and run, as I said, we have agents in nearly every settlement between here and the Last Serai. Would you be interested in financing?” The party accepted the offer, and over the next several hours, contracts and letters of credit were drafted and signed.
The party then set out to purchase a wagon, beasts of burden, and trade goods to sell on the road. Additionally, they wanted to seek out alchemical remedies to un-do joyworm control. The next morning, as they set out upon their journey, Vitus went into a trance. When he came out, he announced he’d had a vision: The party would all make it to the Black City… or at least so would their ghosts.
[This led into the caravan and commerce minigame, which I more-or-less lifted directly from the UVG rules. I did translate the d20 table into standard PbtA mechanics. To be honest, the players didn’t find that aspect of play all that interesting. Particularly, Judd found my “Buying and Selling” and “Market Research” moves to be far too on-the-nose for his taste. His recommendation was that PbtA works best when the rules hint at outcomes rather than explicitly stating them. I agreed that they weren’t working as well as I’d liked, and that we’d revisit for next time.]
* What is Throop’s connection to Jaala and the Priestesses of the Moon?
* What are the intrigues between the Porcelain Princes?
* What are the “whispers of rebellion” in the Porcelain Princes’ domain?