The Ultraviolet Grasslands

Session Three
Low Town and High

[Judd could not join us this week. Writing out Vitus for the session, and will send Judd a Love Letter before our next session.]

As the party’s caravan headed west, they noticed that the state of repair of the High Road was improving. At several points, they passed below what appeared to be dwellings or small settlements on the old roadway above their heads, and for many miles the decking was uninterrupted, with many sections repaired with wood, cable bridges, or steel plating. Ahead in the distance, the party saw the signs of smoke from a town of some size, and at about the same time the grasslands to either side of Low Road were tamed to farmlands again. The caravan was about to return to civilization!

Still about a mile from the town, they passed an intersection with a much smaller crossroad. The sign pointed to “Black Gold Mine” to the north. The road was deeply rutted, as if heavy wagons regularly rolled over it. The party also started to see irrigation canals crisscross the land. Continuing westward, the caravan approached a palisade made of panels of scrounged plastisteel-reinforced concrete panels, obviously scavenged from High Road. The wall surrounded a bustling town of approximately 1000 people. The town was obviously on two levels. Although they couldn’t see very much of it from ground level, the buildings constructed on High Road above the town seemed much larger and more elaborate.

As the party approached the town gates, Tarkov expressed his disdain for town life and excused himself to scout the area around town. He found a small copse of trees alongside a creek bed, and saw signs of one of his favorite prey animals: a goatzelle. [Storn wanted Tarkov to do some hunting and tracking, and used his “Survivalist” move. He got a strong hit, so I asked him to describe finding a prey animal that would yield a Sack of provisions, plus $1d8x10 in skins/horns/ivory, etc. He came up with the idea of a “goatzelle” and I asked the table to describe it. A goatzelle is a six-legged herbivore about the size of a large deer, with curling purple horns, down-pointing ivory tusks, a prehensile tongue, and a shaggy dun-colored coat of fur. The meat is delicious. Storn only rolled a 2 on the die, so I said that the horns and tusks had been damaged in the beast’s last mating ritual, but would still probably catch 20 coin.]

While Tarkov was off hunting, the rest of the party entered the open gates. The guards welcomed them to “Low Town and High,” and asked their business. Upon hearing “trade” as the answer, they were allowed in. Almost immediately upon entering town, Vitus sensed a troubling magical aura coming from High Town above. He then excused himself to investigate. [This was me writing Vitus out of the session.]

Entering the town, Ivo noticed that the support pylons that held up the platform above were covered with scaffolding, ladders, and ropes. Dozens of people short in stature busied themselves painting, patching, and otherwise maintaining the underside of the upper platform, and it took a moment for him to realize that all of the workers seemed to be children between the ages of 8 and 15… which he thought was very weird. He also noticed that there was a rectangular hole in one section of the upper level through which sunlight streamed down. Four thin posts stood at the corners of the hole, connecting the upper level with the ground. A large bronze barge floated up, its corners tethered to the four posts. That seemed to be some sort of magical lift that brought passengers and cargo between the two levels.

Ivo and Major Slayton (along with Berengar and Lady Ashla) took the caravan to Market Square to sell some of their wares. While setting up, Slayton saw something startling across the marketplace: A man in a spacesuit! Could this be the mysterious cosmonaut Dimirti Ivanovich? Slayton went over to investigate. While doing so, he observed that nobody else seemed to be reacting oddly to a man in a yellow spacesuit. As he approached, Slayton realized that the spacesuit wasn’t exactly like one from Earth. For one, there were obvious hoses that attached from the helmet to the suit. For another… the suit was bright yellow. The spaceman appeared to be looking over goods at another merchant’s table, when Slayton approached and asked him about good deals in this market. The spaceman turned to Slayton and replied that the market this town had excellent prices on agricultural goods, and seemed to always be willing to pay top price for building materials. Slayton could not see the spaceman’s face through its gold-mirrored visor, and it spoke in a mechanical tone through a speaker mounted in the middle of the chest of the suit. Slayton introduced himself, and the spaceman introduced him(?)self as Goldfob-9 of the Yellow Guild. At Slayton’s quizzical expression, Goldfob-9 explained that the Yellow Guild were the merchant and traders of the Spectrum Satraps, and were consequently some of the most well-traveled members of his society. Slayton asked what he had to trade, and Goldfob-9 spun the following tale:

“My caravan was bringing supplies to Black Gold Mine north of this town, which we intended to trade for black gold. Alas, not half a mile from our destination, my caravan was attacked by four vicious gunnipedes. We were not unarmed, and we fought the monsters, killing two and badly damaging a third. Yet they managed to kill or drag off all of my beasts and porters and shattered my wagon. I managed to fight my way out of there and retreated here to Low Town.” He paused, looking Slayton over. “You seem like a capable fellow. I would reward you handsomely if you could retrieve something that that had been on my wagon: A large metal cylinder, tapered on one end. It stands about five feet high and a foot in diameter. It is also somewhat heavy. Of course, if you go to Black Gold Mine, you might also be interested in the bounty on the gunnipedes…”

Ivo and Tarkov caught up with Slayton at that point, and Slayton introduced them to Goldfob-9. “Bounty?” asked Ivo. The Satrap said they should inquire at the Council House, as the High Mayor of Low Town has put out a bounty on gunnipedes and is offering a reward for re-opening the route to Black Gold Mine. Needing coin, they went to meet the High Mayor of Low Town. The Mayor was a middle-aged human woman with a no-nonsense demeanor, and confirmed Goldfob-9’s offer of a reward for slaying the gunnipedes and for re-establishing contact with the mine. Tarkov then pressed for a better deal, and also convinced her to provide crossbows with ammunition, and four riding steeds. After some back-and-forth, she agreed. [Tarkov rolled a 10 on Parley!]

[We decided to end the session there. I was feeling that I had an off night creatively, but they players said that the had a good time. We did have a long discussion on whether or not the characters would even be interested in going on a monster-hunt, but eventually came to the conclusion that they would in this instance. Pete reiterated that his character is not much of a combatant, and would always prefer to talk his way out of trouble, but you can’t really negotiate with a giant metal bug with guns where its eyes should be!]

Session Two
The Low Road and the High

[The session began with the party re-doing the purchase of a caravan and a load of trade goods, under the revised buying and trading rules. Feedback was that this was better, but still a bit on-the-nose. Also didn’t like the ‘market research’ rules: Thought that it constrained the action a bit too much. Will tinker a bit more with them. Good feedback on the revised playbooks from HBW, especially the conversions of “The Earthling” and “The Con Artist” playbooks for standard Dungeon World. Will need to tweak them a bit more, but I think we’re on the right track. As a GM, I am very thankful for players willing to play-test a ruleset and let us adjust on the fly!]

With a letter of credit from Lord Schnookums, the party purchased an overland wagon and a pair of mothalos to pull it. They then bought five Sacks of provisions for the road, and a few sacks of trade goods to try to turn a profit: Cat coffee, livingstone bricks, and a barrel of indigo whiskey. After some discussion of route, the party decided to head south along the Low Road and the High toward the Porcelain Citadel, stopping halfway at Low Town and High. The journey toward the Black City begins!

[I had each member of the party make the Travel the Ultraviolet Grasslands move. Together, they got a total of 4 Trek and 3 Danger. They decided to use 2 Trek to shorten the journey by two days, and 2 more to make two Discoveries along the road.]

Passing past the gates of Violet City, the caravan rolled past farm fields of indigo beets, betafalfa, and oilseed, and then through a large plumquat orchard. The fields then ended and the vast ultraviolet steppe began. Four hours beyond the gates of Violet City, they passed a small crossroad. The sign said the “Last Chair Saloon” was in that direction, but it was early, and the party trudged on. Late in the afternoon, they started seeing the pylons holding up what remained of the High Road, fifty feet above their heads. The ancient plastisteel and concrete deck plating had fallen away in many places, and the stairs leading up alongside the pylons was crumbling. Thus, they kept to the Low Road. On the third day, a mishap occurred: One of the mothalos stepped into a gopher hole that was in the middle of the road, injuring its leg severely. This ground the caravan to a halt. Tarkov unhitched the now-lame beast, and saw that it was no longer in any condition to pull a cart. Slayton took a look, trying to put his skills as an EMT to work, but the creature’s alien anatomy was beyond his skill. Vitus spoke up: “I have an idea, Slayton Major of Mars. I can perform a ritual of bloodcalling and summon the power of the Blood God. Her sanguine humor may knit this beast’s sinews back together.” The party thought this an excellent suggestion.

[Vitus wished to perform the Ritual move, to heal the lame beast. I said, “Of course, but:” It would take a day, mark 1 use of Supplies, and might call other living beasts toward the site of the ritual. Vitus decided to use his Grimoire to shorten the ritual to half an hour. He rolled an 8 on the ritual: I decided the cost would be attracting dangerous creatures. Looking at the “Hazards” section in UVG, vome-infested prairie dogs seemed appropriate!]

Vitus drew a magic circle around the injured mothalo, poured out ritual oils onto the beast’s wound, and intoned a chant in a language none of the rest understood. The circle glowed with an ominous blood-red color, and viscous red liquid oozed up from several gopher-holes both within and near it. Some of that liquid rolled up the mothalo’s leg, and its wounds were healed by the might of the Blood God. The glow faded, and the red ooze seeped back into the earth. But nearly as soon as the liquid subsided, a small creature poked its head up from the hole: a brown, furry animal with metallic eyes. Its eyes extended like binoculars, focusing on the party, and it raised a telescoping antenna, which pulsed with a blue light at its tip. About a dozen similar creatures popped up from other holes, and they all rushed in toward the caravan! Tarkov recognized them at once: Vome-infected marmots, that the Bluelanders called “Metalchucks.”

“Be wary, friends! These beasts have metal teeth and fangs that inject poison!” The metalchucks swarmed the party, but Tarkov was very quick with his bow and took two out before they could attack. Likewise, Vitus conjured bolts of sarlet magical energy, which blasted two apart. Slayton cut one down with his sabre, but it managed to bite his ankle, injecting him with a strange venom that made him woozy. [Slayton took the Weakened debility, which really hurt his fighting ability!] Ivo mostly tried to keep the beasts calm. After a few minutes, the heroes slew the pack of vomish marmots. They quickly hitched the beasts back up and were back on the road before more metalchucks could arrive.

Slayton felt back to normal the next day. Late in the afternoon, they came across another crossroad, but this time they could see what lay down that path: A huge statue of a hand making a mystical sign, its first and second fingers extended into a “V”. From plinth to fingertip, the statue stood about 35 feet tall. The statue was seemingly carved out of rust-colored rock, and rested on a plastisteel plinth. It seemed to be less than an hour’s journey, so they turned the caravan to investigate. Arriving at the statue, the party found that it bore lots of graffiti. A plaque on the plinth had been defaced and was impossible to read.

There were also two people already there: an attractive woman lay in a seductive pose on the plinth, while an artists painted her on a canvas. Ivo hailed them. The artist introduced himself as Berengar, of the Violet City. He then introduced his very annoyed-looking model as the Lady Ashla, of Decapolis in the Orangelands. She waved. Berengar explained that he was an up-and-coming artist who was hoping to one day show at the Grand Gallery at the Porcelain Citadel, but he’d need to make a name for himself before he could hope to show at such a renowned gallery. He then showed the dozen or so paintings he had in his nearby handcart. Nearly all of them were paintings of Lady Ashla lounging before various landmarks. Slayton thought the art was pretty good.

Ivo then attempted to con Berengar out of one of his paintings, claiming to be an art agent with connections at the Porcelain Citadel. He said that he could take one of the paintings with him as an example to try to get him a show at the Grand Gallery.[Ivo attempted to use the Bamboozle move, and also tried to hit his Drive, “Convince someone to give me something I don’t deserve.” Ivo rolled a miss.] At that explanation, Berengar became extremely animated. “Really, Mr. Fontaine? You would represent me to the Porcelain Princes? Thank-you! Since you said that you were already going to the Porcelain Citadel, we would very much like to come along, and I can show all of my collected works! What do you say, Ashla? Shall we join our new agent on a trip to the Porcelain Citadel?” She shrugged. Not really able to walk back his too-successful deception, Ivo agreed to work as Berengar’s agent and to introduce him to people at the Porcelain Citadel. [And on that miss, the party has picked up two NPC hangers-on, neither of which have any particularly useful skills for the journey.]

While at the Rusted Hand, Slayton decided to climb it to take in the view. Finding it surprisingly easy to climb, he scaled the statue’s index finger. From that vantage point, he could see little more than the High Road snaking its way to the west. But he also found one other odd thing: Carved into the fingernail were runes that he recognized: Cyrillic. He snapped a photo of the runes with his strangely still-functioning smartphone, and ran the letters through Google Translate: “Dimitri Ivanovich. USSR. 1974”

Two days later, the group saw a weird red flash to the north of the road. Deciding to investigate, they steered their wagon to an overgrown side-path. About an hour off the road, they saw it: A large structure that appeared to be carved out of a single piece of yellow stone. It stood on a conical hill barren of vegetation. Its base was a cube, about 20 feet per side, and it was topped by an onion-shaped dome, itself about 15 feet wide and 20 feet tall. Set about eight feet off-center, toward the top of the cube, an oval-shaped hole bored straight through the cube. Littering the ground below the hole were scores of bones, bleached white in the sun. A ramp led up from the ground to the hole.

Vitus recognized the architecture as being in the Onion-and-Skull style of the Later Mahogany Reign. He then called into the spirit realm to attempt to learn what the ghosts might know of this place. A spirit manifested, but it either spoke in cryptic riddles or only asked about the status of the music scene in Cerulean City—a place destroyed by the Harmonic Collapse that doomed all of the Bluelands. [Vitus cast “contact spirits” but rolled a miss. The conversation was weird and unenlightening…but I got a chance to do my terrible Elvis impersonation.] Vitus then summoned a bolt of magical energy to pass through the hole: For the quarter-second the arcane missile was inside the hole, Slayton and Tarkov noticed that the color of the sky on the other side of the hole changed from lavender to blue. Slayton decided to investigate further and climbed into the hole. Inside, he saw that the length of the hole was lined with parallel metallic strips, some of which were missing, but all of which were inscribed with strange runes. He asked Vitus to throw another bolt while he stood inside. After attempting to dissuade his companion, Vitus complied. For the briefest of an instant, Slaton saw a different vista on the other side of the hole: Jagged scarlet mountains against a brilliant blue sky with wispy yellow clouds. Spires of opaque white crystal jutted up from the ground in front of the mountains, looking almost like a strange grown city. But the moment passed. Slayton realized that this was some kind of stargate, but it didn’t lead to Earth. They party decided not to investigate further, and returned to the road.

Unresolved mysteries:

What is Lady Ashla’s deal?

Who is Dimitri Ivanovich?

Who built the gates, and what was that crystal city glimpsed on the other side?

Session One
Violet City: In the Court of the Cat-Lord

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.

Welcome Judd!
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.]

Unresolved Mysteries:
* 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?

Prologue: The Journey Begins

Note: Mike assembled this adventure prologue after Session One, based on things that came up during play. Adding this outside of actual chronology for narrative purposes.

On the outskirts of the Violet Lands, in a campsite along the Right Road, four men huddled around a campfire. Each of them had started out on a lonely road west, yet fate had brought them together.

Dressed in simple skins and thick leather armor, Tarkov the Wolf looked out into the darkness, scanning for potential dangers. A hunter from the Forest of Glass, he sought his lost love, the Moon-Priestess Jaala, who had been captured by raiders from the Azure Wasteland. He clutched the crystalvid pendant he wore about his neck: The last thing Jaala gave him before her capture. He held it before him and pressed the red button at the base: A holographic image of Jaala appeared above it: her image waved, smiled, and mouthed silent words.

Bathed in the campfire light, Ivo Fontaine poked at the flames with a long stick. His fashionable Decapolitan business suit was dusty from the road, and he sat on his battered leather attaché case. Once a barrister in the Ten Cities of Orange, Ivo’s luck changed after losing a particularly important case… and all he’d received as payment were a bag of “enchanted teeth”… or so he’d been told. He held the small leather bag that held the 32 perfect teeth… perfect except they were jet black and etched with strange runes. He could feel them vibrate in his hand, and he felt the compulsion again: The teeth wanted to go west, and he could just tell that they would reward him somehow, and greatly, if he could bring them all the way to the fabled Black City at the Edge of Space and Time.

Staring up at the stars as if to try to make sense of them, Major Jake Slayton of the United States Space Force seemed very far away. He pondered whether one of those pinpoints was the sun of his home: Far-away Earth. He reflected on how he got here: One of the first humans to set foot on Mars, he’d found a strange, black obelisk covered in strange sigils in a shallow cave. He touched the thing, and suddenly it appeared to unfold in many dimensions, filled with the void of space and countless stars. He felt the pit of his stomach drop out and thought that he might be falling… and then he found himself standing beside a cracked and fallen version of the same thing. Yet, his feet stood in strange bluish-silvery grass, an orange sun shone in a lavender sky, and a strange four-winged bird flew overhead. He wasn’t on Mars anymore… and this sure wasn’t Earth, either. At that time, a strange trader came by in a cart pulled by an… emu? The man hailed him as a “Satrap” and jokingly offered a week’s supplies for the major’s helmet. When Jake took off the helmet and accepted the offer, he didn’t understand the trader’s surprise, nor the offer of even more supplies, including an old sabre. The next day, while sorting through the pack he’d acquired, he found a red nylon wallet emblazoned with what looked like the logo of the Soviet space program: Inside was a set of heavy plastic flatware stamped with the letters “CCCP.” With a gasp, the major realized that he wasn’t the first spaceman from Earth to be here… wherever here was.

Watching the other three with an inscrutable expression, the fourth man puffed on a long pipe. Clad in a flowing but tattered crimson robe, the bald, bearded Vitus the Red seemed to stare past them, perhaps looking into fractal complexities only those attuned to the magical underworks could perceive. Or maybe he was just watching a moth flutter around the campfire. It was hard to tell. Why a wizard of the Red Order had journeyed all the way from the council’s floating citadel in the heart of the Redlands, few could say: Vitus just said he had business in the Black City, and that he welcomed traveling companions.

“I think we’re only a day’s walk from Violet City,” said Ivo. The others nodded. “We’ll be able to sleep in real beds tomorrow night! Like I said, I know people there, and I should be able to get us passage on a caravan heading west. I worked very closely with agents of a Lord Schnook back in the Ten Cities, and I got them out a legal mess that turned a tidy profit. I’m sure he’ll remember me, then he’ll sign us on straight away!” Slayton smirked: He’d met lawyers like Ivo before…

Session Zero
Putting the band together

The group met to talk a bit about this new campaign and to hash out some ideas.

Mike has been very excited to try out the weird science-fantasy setting The Ultraviolet Grasslands (UVG) ever since he first heard a review of the Free Intro version on the podcast Fear of a Black Dragon. Mike was completely intrigued by the "80’s Heavy Metal magazine / Thundarr the Barbarian / Moebius-inspired feel and visuals of the setting. Also: After running multiple Pathfinder campaigns in a highly-detailed canonical campaign setting, Mike was very interested in trying out a setting sketched out using principles of anti-canon. (He also back the Kickstarter, and has access to a pre-release of the final version of the setting.)

While UVG is written for a d20/OGL/OSR ruleset, our group is generally more comfortable with more narrative-focused mechanics, and would like to use a Powered by the Apocalypse system. We will be running this in a heavily modified version of Dungeon World. The DW hack we’ll be basing our game on is Jesse Strandberg’s excellent modification he calls Homebrew World. That version was modified for use primarily for online play minicampaigns of 4-6 sessions, and some of that hack won’t work particularly well for ongoing campaign play.

Mike is also working to build back in some of the customized UVG mechanics into a hack-of-a-hack he’s calling Ultraviolet World. Those rules are still in development, and will be linked from this site’s Wiki.

Mike provided copies of the Homebrew World playbooks. However, the playbooks didn’t really mesh with the concepts JP and Pete were thinking about. I also asked them why their characters wanted to go to the Black City at the Edge of the World.

Storn quickly picked the Barbarian, and came to the table with a very cool backstory. Enter Tarkov the Wolf! Tarkov is from the Forest of Glass, and had been raised by a pack of Dimensional Wolves. The Wolves were constantly at war with Reaper Vomes: Violent Organo-Mechanical Entities that harvested the Trees of Glass and slew anything that tried to stop them. Storn said that Tarkov’s mate was a woman named Jaala: a Priestess of the Moon who was originally from the more-civilized Redlands. He said that the Reaper Vomes captured her and sold her to slavers that were headed to the Black City.

Pete wanted to play a con artist who schemed his way through life. To start, we settled on a third-party DW playbook called The Con Artist by Justin Schmid. We used the DW playbook to start, and Mike said he would craft a UVW playbook based on the DW book. Pete said that his character would be named Ivo Fontane, and that he was compelled, by an uncharacteristic promise, to venture to the Black City on a deeply personal quest.

JP was interested in playing a character from future Earth who somehow was transported to the world of the Ultraviolet Grasslands… imagining finding something like a Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey on the Martian moon Phobos and falling through. For starters, we used “The Earthling” playbook from the supplement Adventures on Dungeon Planet. That playbook was very much a “John Carter of Mars” pastiche, and Mike said that he’d do his best to create a UVW playbook inspired by it but allowing for a 21st-century astronaut to be the protagonist. JP created Major Jake Slayton of the United States Space Force (USSF). JP said that Maj. Slayton had heard rumor that the Black City had another monolith that could possibly return him home.

With baseline characters together, Mike rolled some random starting objects for the PCs, allowing the players to use it, or to come up with something equally evocative and weird on their own.

Storn chose a crystal pendant that stored a brief 3-D recording of Tarkov’s lost love.

Pete chose a set of baby teeth in a black velvet bag. This was pressed into his hand by a withered old crone who implored him to, “Take her home” to the Black City.

Mike happened to roll a “set of indestructible plastic silverware” from the table. JP thought that was great, and said that they were clearly from Earth: A sign that he wasn’t the only Earthling who’d passed through here!

The Adventure Begins
With about an hour of play left, we started our journey. As backstory, we said that the three met on the road to Violet City, and has a series of misadventures where they all helped each other out. Realizing there was safety in numbers, and that they liked each other, they decided to travel together. Ivo heard from a friend that a Violet City Cat-Lord was looking to hire caravan attendees for a journey to the West. And that his contact would be Cat-Lord Schnookums, who would be expecting to meet them at an upscale Violet City restaurant called the Gastro-Gnome.

To Be Continued… Next Week!


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