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Hack For More

WEEK 34: 12/28/04

by Edward McEneely
Jan 04,2005


Hack For More

WEEK 34: 12/28/04

We started intentionally late for the final session of 2004, so as to get slightly fancier than normal dinner food. Honestly, I wouldn't say the food itself was worth the wait, but the session itself seemed promising, even in retrospect.

Laura had created Mrs. Sylvia Jubal-Davies, an opera singer of some note as well as an informal operative for HM government; in a nice touch, her character was a short and fat glutton, with no hint of sex appeal anywhere. Seth had created Dr. "Neil Knighton" (AKA Niall MacNeachdainn, AKA "The Scottish Fu Manchu"), an opium-addicted English-hating Scots physics expert, which needed a LOT of revising. For starters, no way was there going to be an opium addict in MY game, no sir. A little cussing-out helped immensely, and Seth very kindly reworked Dr. "Knighton" (the anglicized version of his actual Sassenach name). Erich's character was a Pinkerton named Samuel "Sam" Dawson, with only six months to live. Erich had originally intended for it to be only a month, but then realized his character was liable to die in transit, steampunk being what it is.

All in all, I was fairly pleased with everyone (even, post-revision, with Seth); their characters all worked, or could be made to work, in the campaign I had in mind. Both Laura and Erich were investigating mysterious events in Brazil on behalf of their respective governments, and Seth was coming along as Laura's scientific advisor, a convenient Britishism that I borrowed from Doctor Who.

The group was investigating some mysterious disappearances in Rio De Janeiro, capital of the Empire of Brazil, under Pedro II. (This is all historical! I swear! Look it up!) Unbeknownst to all but me, a group of former Confederates under (again, real person) Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest had developed a formula for reanimating the dead and were hard at work building an army of zombies out of their plantation slaves. (Slavery being still legal in Brazil, and in fact, the subject of a civil war of their own in 1889. Knowledge is power.) They were aided in this by a shadowy faction within the French government, represented by General du Brigade Boulanger, another historical figure, but one who has precious little English-language documentation available on him. (The historical Bedford Forrest, on the other hand, has almost too much: after founding the Ku Klux Klan, he died in 1877 from exhaustive diarrhea, proving the existence of a just and merciful God, or at least powerful corroborative evidence to that effect. He wasn't a very nice man, and I've spared him his original fate so as to give the PCs a crack at him instead.) So far, so good.

The PCs arrived in Rio with a minimum of discomfort, although Mr. Dawson expressed his intense dislike of nautical travel and Dr. Knighton engaged him in a little free-spirited debate about colonialism. Mrs. Jubal-Davies registered the group at the best hotel in the city and set out to do a little research while Mr. Dawson and Dr. Knighton examined autopsy photographs of what local authorities believed to be the bodies of two other Pinkerton agents that had washed up on shore. The bodies seemed almost to have been chewed and gnawed on by apes or (bum ba ba bummm)...humans. Mrs. Jubal-Davies, meanwhile, had learned that a group of American dummy corporations had bought up almost all of the slaves and shipped them up the Amazon for unknown reasons, temporarily cornering the market.

Back together, the group chartered a steam launch and outfitted themselves for an expedition upriver. They set out the next morning, the gentlemen armed with revolvers and holdout pistols, and Mrs. Jubal-Davies with a small Colt Cloverleaf four-shot derringer concealed in her (copious) decolletage. Additionally, they brought with them the tools of their trade: a punch-card duplicator, a small concealable hand-cranked wireless-telegraph, lockpicks, and other less-than-gentlemanly items for unfortunate eventualities.

The steam launch soon reached a vast plantation, seemingly hewn out of the rainforest, and the players disembarked---fortuitously for them, because the launch then struck a 1,000-lb Civil-War-era nautical mine and exploded in a sheet of flame. None of the crew survived.

As the players stared at the sinking wreckage in shock and horror, they were interrupted by a vast, clanking iron behemoth: a Franco-Prussian war-surplus PanzerArtillerie II walking-ironclad, flying a Confederate pennant.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, the gentlemen threw away their pistols (although Sam Dawson retained his derringer, as did Mrs. Jubal-Davies), and were escorted to The General, Nathan Bedford Forrest himself.

After a cursory interview on the porch of his plantation, the embittered old General cryptically ordered a few of his men to take the party to the "Preparation Area", where they were to undergo the process. This sounded ominous, but our heroes manfully refrained from acting rashly while the odds were so manifestly against them.

They were taken on a small, hand-operated railway train to a large building, too big to accurately judge the size of. Inside, they discovered a horrific scene out of Dante's Inferno.

Twenty-eight enormous vats studded with cables and piping stood in two long rows extending down the length of the building's interior, but the real horror was their contents, for in the process of being loaded into Vat #1 was a vast flat plate with helpless and emaciated slaves strapped to it. Worse yet, the shambling once-human results of Bedford Forrest's process stumbled about within the building, attached to runners along the ceiling by long thick chains.

Immediately, the players sprung into action, and Mrs. Jubal-Davies produced her revolver, aiming it squarely at one of her captors.

"Ma'am," he informed her, "that has to be the smallest gun I have ever seen."

"What about this one?" asked Mr. Dawson, as he produced his own derringer and fired at point-blank range, only to have the anemic .41 rimfire bullet skid along the surface of the man's skull rather than penetrate to the brain as Dawson had intended. As one, the former Confederates reached for their weapons, but Mrs. Jubal-Davies cooly dispatched one with a bullet through the eye, felling him instantly. Deftly, Mr. Knighton recovered the dead man's revolver as Sam succeeded with his second bullet where he had failed with his first, shooting one of the Confederates in the kneecap and confiscating his double-action Colt Army revolver, a reliable type which he had much experience with. The last of their jailers turned to flee, but Dr. Knighton felled him with a lucky shot to the heart at thirty paces before he could sound any warning.

The situation thus under control, the party turned to interrogating their surviving jailer, but found him most unhelpful until threatened with being left out for his zombified victims, whereupon he became as tractable as the circumstances would allow and directed them to a large Bertillion Computational Machine of the most modern type which seemed to supervise the process. Some careless fiddling resulted in the sounding of both an alarm and the sudden release of the zombies, who shambled about and attacked two French technicians who were rushing to the machine to find out what the matter was. Before the party could intervene, one of the Frenchman was dead, mauled horribly beyond recognition, but the other had extricated himself and became a prisoner, much to his surprise. Under questioning, he revealed all he knew, explaining that the French government was not aware of the particulars of the situation, but that certain elements within the government were, and that prominent a mong them was General Boulanger, who he promised to take the players to.

In the meantime, Dr. Knighton amused himself by rearranging punch cards, removing essential cogs from the machine, draining all of the vats into their central chemical reservoir, and freeing the poor innocents about to receive a ghoulish baptism. Dawson then knocked the Frenchman out.

The group then prepared to make their way to the location of General Boulanger, to learn more about the fiendish plots they had uncovered.

Memorable Statements Made By Gentlemen And Ladies In Time Of Stress:

Dr. Knighton (to Mrs. Jubal-Davies): No doubt the Portuguese are quite into opera.

Sr. Marrom, a Coroner: Science tells us this. Look in the Bible.

Mr. Dawson (to Dr. Knighton): Look, can you distract her with cake for a moment or two? I need to think.
Mrs. Jubal-Davies: Oh, please, don't! My arms are too short to reach.

Dr. Knighton (gazing at the burning steam launch): Aught we do something for the crew?
Mr Dawson: Like a proper burial?

Mrs. Jubal-Davies: So you're a South American?
Dr. Knighton: Dear lady, I believe he's a southern American, from their south, north of here.
"Sergeant" Hunter, a Confederate: In many ways we are the true South Americans, but--this discussion is over!

Dr. Knighton (reading off a control panel): "Master Control Interrupt"...well, that sounds promising.

Mrs. Jubal-Davies (on the intricacies of the punch-card duplicator): Do you know how to operate one of these, and do you know that it's been in my crinoline for three days?
Dr. Knighton: I'm sure I don't know what you just said.

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What do you think?

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