Wednesday, January 28, 2015

If I Could Play Monster Of The Week, I might play as...

The new edition of Monster of the Week, one of my favourite Powered by the Apocalypse games, is now available to buy from Evil Hat as of yesterday. So, of course, I've went ahead and bought the softcover plus PDF already.

In celebration of the revised edition release, I figure it's as good a time as any to start up one of the blog series I've been contemplating of late.

See, I really dig Apocalypse World and several of its hacks but I'm in the unfortunate position of being the only one (that I know of) in my local RP circle that does. Which means, I'm unlikely to get to actually play it except as MC/Keeper/etc. But I thought it'd be fun to share my ideas of what playbooks I'd play if given the opportunity, what interests me about them and how I'd approach them.

The Chosen: I'd be tempted by this one, but I'm not sure what I'd go with in terms of a concept. I don't want to make an actual Buffy expy. I'd be more interested in playing something more like Rand al Thor, whose prophesied fate marks him as both a saviour and destroyer. I like the idea of a chosen whose destiny doesn't look entirely heroic, with potential for darkness.

The Crooked: I used to be much more into playing shady characters than I have been of late, so I like the idea of playing a criminal turned monster hunter. I've done assassins in the past, so I'd probably try a different approach here. Maybe a burglar or pickpocket who was unwittingly working for a supernatural, either long-term or a one-time job that got ugly. Maybe even kept the artefact they were supposed to steal on that last job (I'd take the Artifact move to reflect that). One or two decent plot hooks in there already, not to mention past jobs coming back to haunt him/her.

The Divine: Because who doesn't love Castiel? Except I wouldn't play him like that. If I played as a proper Angel, I'd probably have mine be a bit more rebellious (tempted to name him Tabris, Angel of Self Determination). But I might go a different route and have my Divine character's origin be from some other faith. Maybe from Norse mythology; I could play as an exiled Loki, that'd be fun!

The Exile: 'Fish out of water' stories are always fun. I think I'd either play a highland warrior (thinking of Jamie McCrimmon or Duncan McLeod), or a Japanese samurai (inspired by Samanosuke from the Onimusha games, particularly Onimusha 3). Either one would be fun to play with in a modern setting.

The Mundane: I may have mentioned before, but I love underdogs, so the mortals among mainly supernatural teams tend to be my favourite characters. Xander from Buffy. Kenzi from Lost Girl. Murphy from Dresden Files (although she'd probably be more like a Professional). No ideas for an actual concept yet, might depend on what the rest of the group are doing with their characters.

The Spell Slinger: I've been watching NBC's Constantine and reading Hellblazer lately, so this is a given. The playbook is more geared towards a Harry Dresden type of wizard though, so the custom playbook The Hex might work better for a Constantine-style mage. Don't have a whole concept in mind, except maybe a grown-up and world weary version of Hermoine Granger.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Monsterhearts, Lost Girl and other stuff...

Didn't really buy anything new this week, but my print copy of Monsterhearts arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon.

Achievement Progress: #51in15  

7. Monsterhearts: Managed to get in on a one shot of Avery McDaldno's AW hack over G+ Hangouts last night. It was okay, but I wasn't as involved as I could have been. Part of this was down to me being distracted by trying to sort out my takeout delivery in the first half (it took AGES).

The other issue was that I tried playing the Chosen as a 'safe' option for my first game which was a mistake for several reasons, chief of which is that it's better suited to campaign play. Plus, MH is a game primarily about messy teen relationships and I was still approaching it as more of a mystery.

Still, I'm up for giving it another go, especially since I've actually bought the book. I've heard plenty of awesome APs of Monsterhearts, so it's not that its a bad game, it's just a different style of game than what I'm used to playing.

Achievements Unlocked
Tuesday's session of Firefly was running a bit longer than I'd anticipated, so it's being continued as a two-parter. This session was a lot of research and setup work for what has become a full-blown heist, but started as a simple 'pay ransom, retrieve hostage' mission. Just goes to show, some of the best sessions are sometimes the ones the GM barely did any prep for.

Finished off Lost Girl season two and, of course, it ended on a cliffhanger. Sort of. At least with Lost Girl the end of season cliffhangers don't seem to be the usual 'cut in the middle of the climax' type. Rather, they're more about hinting at the consequences of the choices our heroes made to save the day, to be dealt with next season. I don't want to spoil for anyone yet to watch, but my favourite moment this season involves Kenzie wielding a chainsaw and being pretty damn badass.

I also read another couple of issues from Hellblazer Volume 1, one involving demon yuppies and the other involving a devil-worshipping child murderer. The first was a darkly humourous criticism of Thatcher's Britain. The second was (of course) much more creepy and tensely paced. It also introduced Constantine's family and Zed, as well as the Resurrection Crusaders. The comics don't pull many punches in maintaining their dark, grim tone, so they might not be everyone's cup of tea.

I finished listening to the Monsterhearts: Xion Crossings AP from Richard Rogers' Youtube channel so now I'm replaying the Intercontinental Urban Shadows APs and wishing Urban Shadows was out already. Oh well, all going according to schedule, it should be out around the end of March.

Not much else to report this week, hopefully I'll be a bit more active next week!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Agent Carter, Lost Girl and other stuff...

Another PWYW Worlds of Adventure release for FATE Core this week. This time it's Psychedemia, in which players are students at an academy for psionics who discover a mental plane of existence populated by peaceful beings of pure thought. But when the Academy learns of this realm and its inhabitants, they seek to take control by force. Sounds like an interesting concept for a one-shot or short-term campaign, plus the supplement includes new rules for psionics and adventures in other dimensions.

Achievements Unlocked: #51in15 Edition
This is a little thing that's been going on over Google+ and I've gotten involved because I'm silly that way. The idea is to play 51 different tabletop games over the course of 2015, posting an updated list with the #51in15 hashtag. Roleplaying games seem to count as well as board/card games, since I've seen other folks posting those as part of their lists. I'm counting running games as playing; the GM is a player, after all, albiet one with more stuff to keep track of.

Ones added this week, in order of play:

1. Cards Against Humanity: Played this on Tuesday with Heather and a bunch of other folks at the first GUGS of the new year, before we started the Firefly session. I only got three black cards this time around. I must be slipping.

2. Firefly the Roleplaying Game: Since Heather was back for one night only, I collaborated with her to come up with a scenario that would allow her character to make a brief return. Since parting ways with the crew, Tammy had fallen in with the New Resistance and needed the crew's help to smuggle some stolen medical supplies to settlements out in the border worlds that had been hit hard by disease. Despite some interference from Badger and a brief intervention by Tammy's family retainer, trying to get her to come home, the crew managed to get the supplies aboard the Shuìlián and shipped them off to Paquin where they bid Tammy goodbye once again. A bit light on conflict, but it was a nice light session to ease folks back into the campaign after the break.

I'll be tracking my progress with the 51 in '15 challenge on a separate page here on the blog, which includes a list of games I hope to run/play this year, and I'll continue to mention further additions in detail as part of future Weekly Geeky Reports.

Other Achievements Unlocked
We had our second session of Tears of a Machine season 2 last Sunday, and I'll hopefully be getting the write-up for the first session out tomorrow. In the meantime, let me just say that things have got off to a pretty intense start. The pilots had their first lunar mission, the Mayzor have started using biological warfare against humanity, and my character (Rick) had a bombshell revelation delivered to him on his birthday. I'm looking forward to playing out how all this affects Rick emotionally in future sessions.

After I got home from Tuesday GUGS, I watched the second episode of Agent Carter over Skype with Heather. It was every bit as enjoyable as the first episode, but I can't help but suspect that this is going to be one of those shows that has a little bit of a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. That's going to get annoying pretty quickly.

Speaking of cliffhangers at the end of each episode, I'm nearing the end of Lost Girl's second season and it's doing pretty much the same kind of thing as it nears the finale. The last couple of episodes not only delivered a number of emotional gut-punches to Bo, Kenzie and Lauren, but also some pretty crushing blows against our heroes in their fight against the Big Bad.

I resumed my Mass Effect playthrough on Wednesday night and finished the first batch of Citadel sub-quests in the first game before moving on with the main plot. I'll probably replay the game once I'm finished because I want to max out my Paragon and Renegade meters as much as possible before moving on to Mass Effect 2.

To get me through my shifts at work (chat is not forbidden, but it is discouraged), and to get my vicarious roleplaying kicks, I've been listening to the AP recordings of the Monsterhearts: Xion Crossings campaign from Richard Rogers' Youtube channel. I recently bought Monsterhearts so I wanted to get a feel for how the game runs before potentially MCing it myself, plus I've enjoyed the Apocalypse World: Crossroads and Intercontinental Urban Shadows APs from that channel previously. Still not sure I'd be the best person to MC a Monsterhearts game, but from listening to these APs I really hope I can get a chance to play it as a PC, at least.

Finally, I've read through the first couple issues from Hellblazer Volume 1. The story is the one they used for the fourth episode of the NBC series, and it's interesting to see how the original comic and TV versions differ. The comic is definitely darker and grimmer than the show (which is fine by me), introduces Papa Midnite much earlier and Constantine's backstory is different too. Don't know much yet, but he mentions the Invunche (which appeared in the mid-season climax of the TV show).

Works In Progress
Listening to the Monsterhearts APs and watching Brick again recently got me thinking about an idea I had for a story mixing the teen noir and urban fantasy genres. No actual writing done yet, but I've started putting together a virtual 'murder board' for plotting the story. It's something to work on while I'm still trying to develop the 'dream detective' story, at least.

I'm gonna do some planning for Tuesday's Firefly session and work on my AP post for Tears of a Machine after get home from work this afternoon. For the rest of the week ahead, I'll get on with editing for the first part of my Doctor Who/Eva fanfic, outlining the first season, and also do a bit more plotting on the supernatural teen noir mystery idea. I'll also need to work on the rest of my AP posts, as well as a few other blog posts to keep things active on here.

For now though, see you later!

Friday, January 9, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Presents, Movies and other stuff...

Over New Years, I received a few extra belated birthday and Christmas presents, the first of which was the 2nd edition of Robin D. Laws' Esoterrorists, courtesy of my friend James. I had sold off my copy of the first edition in a jumble sale last year, knowing that there was a second edition and deciding I'd upgrade to it eventually. Now that I've been saved the trouble of getting it myself, I've been going through it cover to cover and I'm very pleased with the addition of extra background on the setting and the campaign frame included with it. I'll do a full review in a couple of weeks, but all I can say is that I'm very grateful to James for getting me it.

The other two belated presents came from Heather, the first of which was the Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania double boxset. Mannequin Mania collects the two Third Doctor serials featuring the Autons, one of which is Pertwee's debut episode Spearhead From Space. The second, Terror Of The Autons, is the debut of the Doctor's arch-nemesis: the Master. Looking forward to watching both of those!

The other thing Heather got me is a tabletop game called Sultans Of De Karaya. I'd never heard of the game before, but at first glance it seems similar to Coup. Unlike Coup, though, it needs a minimum of five players (much like The Resistance) so I'll need to wait until I can get a decent sized player group together to try it out.

Angela got me a gift voucher for Amazon over Christmas and, to brush up on my post-apocalptic fiction in preparation for running Apocalypse World sometime in the not-too-distant future and in anticipation of the new movie coming out this summer, I decided to spend it on the Mad Max Trilogy DVD set. Other than Beyond Thunderdome, I've never seen any of the Mad Max movies all the way through, so I figured I'd get all three of them together and do a marathon of them sometime.

I also decided to spend the portion of my birthday and Christmas gift money I didn't put into savings on some stuff, starting with Dungeon World. I already had the digital bundle of DW, but before I can really bring myself to run a game I need to have the dead tree edition. So I ordered the Dungeon World softcover from Leisure Games just before New Years' and it arrived this Wednesday. I figure Dungeon World is probably the closest I'll ever come to actually running D&D, and I've never really tried running traditional fantasy before, so it'll be a nice change of genre for me as a GM.

While on my way to Heather's for some movie/TV marathoning, I picked up the trade paperback of Hellblazer, Vol 1: Original Sins. It was inevitable that I was going to start collecting Hellblazer one of these days, given my predilection for dark urban fantasy and anti-heroes. Watching NBC's Constantine recently just gave me the final nudge that I needed to pick it up and I'm glad I did, only about halfway through the first issue in the book and already loving it.

Finally, after much deliberation, I went ahead and ordered Monsterhearts direct from the Buried Without Ceremony website. Of all the Powered by the Apocalypse games available, Monsterhearts is the one I was most conflicted about buying. On the one hand, I loved Buffy and I enjoy both the urban fantasy genre and young adult fiction, so it seemed like it might be worth a look. On the other, I was a bit wary about the focus on sexual content. Yeah, I know, romance and sexuality is a part of teen lit and it's a big part of urban fantasy as well. I'm just not used to dealing with that stuff in my roleplaying yet. It is a boundary I've been trying to explore lately though, and I've been thinking about maybe doing a seperate blog post on the subject. Anyway, I finally set aside my discomfort and ordered the game. But before I try my hand at running it, I'd really like to try playing it. More on that in a future post.

Achievements Unlocked
I'm getting towards the end of Lost Girl's second season and the show is really weaving a tangled thread of debts, tensions and secrets between the characters. The Morrigan (dark fae leader) now has a string on Kenzie (ha, I'm already using Monsterhearts terminology), Dyson has gone lone wolf on everyone and his partnership with Hale is broken, Bo has been flirting with the dark side of faedom even as the Ash (light fae leader) wants her to be her champion against the return of the fae's mortal enemy. Plus, Bo just can't seem to catch a break in her love life. Dyson can't love anyone anymore, Lauren's got her old girlfriend back (though there seems to be trouble brewing there) and Ryan was fun for a while until some unknown effect of Bo's blood turned him into a creepy stalker who almost took advantage of an amnesiac Bo's confusion to make her his bride. At least Kenzie seems to have a stable relationship, though I'm sure her deal with the Morrigan will throw a wedge between them somehow, even if her secrecy about the Fae world doesn't.

On Wednesday, I went to visit Heather for some film/TV marathoning. The first thing we watched was Ghostbusters which, technically, Heather hadn't seen before since she fell asleep during her first viewing of it. While Ghostbusters is a childhood favourite of mine, nowadays I can't help feeling a bit uncomfortable about how women are portrayed in it. There are only two prominent female characters in the film, Dana (Sigourney Weaver) and Janine (Annie Potts). Dana's primary role in the film is to be the damsel in distress that our 'hero', Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is supposed to rescue and inevitably win over, even though there's really no way she should fall for a creepy 'scientist' who treats her very real problem like a game he has to win, with her as the prize. In fairness, you could say Venkman's womanising ways are played for laughs (at his expense), but it still doesn't sit quite right that he 'gets the girl' at the end. Then there's Janine, who's little more than a stereotypical sour female secretary who fawns over Egon (the late Harold Ramis). Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the film as much as I always have (and I think Heather did too), but it was a less comfortable enjoyment than it used to be. It's not even an issue specific to Ghostbusters, it's more a thing about movies from that time.

After that we watched Mad Max, since I had brought my shiny new trilogy boxset with me. To be honest, I think I'm going to have to rewatch it, because I wasn't quite clear on what was going on in parts of the first act. Oddly, the DVD has two English language audio tracks: one with the original Australian voices and another in which they're dubbed over with American voices, which seems unnecessary to me. I mean, they're speaking English anyway, right? Anyway, I'll rewatch it and do a Mad Max marathon of all three films in the near future.

Next, we watched Hunger Games: Catching Fire, having previously watched the first film last year. I think the second installment was a much stronger film than the first, and I was happy to see elements make it into the film which are actually from the first book, but weren't included in the previous film. One such example is mention of the disgusting habit Capitol citizens have of taking a drink which allows them to vomit up the food they've eaten so they can stuff themselves even further, which really shows the excesses of PanAm's upper crust. That said, I also like the addition of scenes showing how President Snow and Plutarch Heavensby deal with things behind the scenes. Whether you've read the books or not, these scenes add an extra dimension to the events portrayed.

Our last film of the evening was Brick, which I hadn't watched in years but it was every bit as entertaining as I remembered. For those who haven't seen it, Brick is a teen noir film about a young outsider (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who delves into the criminal underbelly of his local high school to solve the murder of his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin). The film is a loving homage to hardboiled detective fiction such as the works of Dashielle Hammett and Raymond Chandler, with all the characters filling traditional noir archetypes. The script is tight, the dialogue sharp (though the juxtaposition of modern teens using 30s to 40s crime fiction slang might be jarring for some tastes) and the performances brilliant. Despite its use of traditional hardboiled trappings, it never feels like a parody and is just mesmerising from start to finish. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you check it out.

Once the films were done, we moved on to watching some TV, starting with the mid-season finale of Constantine. John is called out to a convent in Mexico by an old flame who was part of the ill-fated Newcastle crew and has since become a nun. There's a demon stalking the convent and abducting newborn children from there. Meanwhile, Zed's new boyfriend Eddie isn't all he appears to be and brings her mysterious past knocking. The episode finally sheds light on the 'rising darkness' that's been vaguely alluded to throughout the season, who's behind it and what their plans are. Meanwhile, another(?) faction steps out from the shadows in the form of the 'Crusade' which Zed has been running from. As one might expect, the episode ends on a chilling cliffhanger which leaves both John and Zed in dire predicaments.

We also watched an episode of Supernatural season nine, this one being based on the Slender Man internet phenomenon and featuring the return of the Ghostfacers. Harry and Ed are back to working alone and, while the elements of comedy are still there, things are a bit more serious with the Ghostfacers this time around. All is not well and, holding up a mirror to the Winchesters' own broken relationship, a secret is being kept which may spell the end for the duo's partnership. There were a lot of feels in this episode and it offered, perhaps, a glimmer of hope for reconcilliation between the Winchester brothers. It is, however, only a tiny glimmer.

On Thursday, just before I went home, we watched the series premiere of Agent Carter and it was pretty spectacular. It does seem that the Marvel One Shot is not considered canon as far as the show is concerned, but it takes the elements that gave the short film such unrealised potential and expands on them brilliantly. The sexism that Peggy struggles against is a bit more subtle than in the short, and it is played as both a hinderance to her progress as an agent within the Strategic Scientific Reserve and an oversight on the part of her male co-workers and enemies that can be exploited to her advantage. Fortunately, not all men are portrayed in a bad light. Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is a crippled war veteran and fellow SSR agent who also suffers prejudice due to his disability and is able to relate to Carter as a result of that. Then there's Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark's charmingly quirky butler, who seems at first to be there mainly as comic relief but may have further depths that are yet to be revealed in full. The premiere sets up the status quo for the series nicely and gives us some hints about what the future holds. Could 'Leviathan' be a hidden remnant of HYDRA operating in the MCU's post-war era? Hopefully this won't be a mystery that gets dragged out as long as Centipede and the Clairvoyant were in Agents of SHIELD.

Works In Progress
With my first Firefly session of the new year coming up on Tuesday, and our long-awaited finale of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign 'Exiles of Time' hopefully happening on Wednesday night, I've not had a lot of time to focus on writing. Instead, I've been looking back over my notes for both campaigns and figuring out what comes next.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 1.13: The Battle of Jericho, Part 2

This is part two of the actual play from our season one finale for the Tears of a Machine campaign, Tales of the Arx Jericho. The bulk of the text by +Misha Polonsky, with character bios added by me.

In order of appearance: Name, Age (Character Type)

Rick Hunter, 15 (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Sarah Werner, 15 (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Jason Reyes, 14 (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

RC (Relationship Character), SC (Supporting Character), E (Extra)

Dr. Donald 'Scary Face' Johnson, 54 (SC)
Rafe Hunter / The General, ?? (SC)
Serena Hunter, 15 (RC)
Opsie Wessel, 15 (RC)
Captain Anastasia 'AK-47' Kasherov, 47 (RC)
Alex 'Strudel' Struder, 12 (RC)
Billy Henderson, 17 (RC)
Allen Werner, 18 (E)
Joanne Kleinn, 14 (RC)
Commander Toshi Yamasuka, 52 (E)
Commander McGarry, 65 (E)
Miguel Rodriguez, 11 (E)
Leo 'Raspberry' Hayes, 12 (RC)
Laurie Bach, 14 (SC)
Kazuhiro Masaki, 16 (E)
Ryoko, 12 (E)
Bala & Lieke (aka the Twins), 13 (E)
Stephanie Yuzuki, 13 (SC)
Dr. Elizabeth Harris, 37 (SC)

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho...
The CRC facility has only eight minutes left until self-destruction. Meanwhile, the Arx Jericho is still under lockdown, and the Mayzor have landed an assault on the Arx itself.

Dr. Johnson takes Rick, Serena, and Opsie to suit up in their Prophets, while Jason takes point on overwriting the self-destruct sequence. With his teammates supporting him, he's successful, and AK-47 leads them outside toward HQ, where Jason, Sarah, Strudel, Billy, and Joanne suit up to board their SAInts and defend the Arx against the enemy. 

While Rick, Serena, and Opsie free Kazuhiro, Laurie, and their other classmates from the cafeteria, Sarah leads the others to free Miguel and Raspberry from the dorms, Bala and Lieke from the simulation building, and Stephanie from the classrooms. 

All the while, the Prophet and SAInt pilots fight off a hoard of Locusts: including the usual Soldiers, Brawlers, and Archers, and two, new classes of aerial-based Locusts (Choppers which resemble dragonflies and Bombers which look like giant moths hovering in the sky).

After Rick, Serena, and Opsie secure the cafeteria, they proceed to Dr. Harris's office and take flight to take out one of the Bombers.

Suddenly, the MetaTron exhibits the same static the pilots experienced in New Alamo. Their fears that the Mayzor have hacked in are confirmed, when Commander Yamasuka's voice starts ordering SAInts to target Robbies and military vehicles. What happens next shocks the pilots even more, as Sarah witnesses Strudel draw his shotgun on Joanne, while she prepares to fire off her rocket launcher back at point blank range. 

"We can't control this! Help!" Joanne tries to communicate through the MetaTron, amidst the static.

It seems neither of the pilots can control their frenzying SAInts. 

"Joanne!" Rick calls out telepathically.

Sarah and Billy rush in to restrain her, while Strudel runs off toward HQ.

Meanwhile, Commander Yamasuka's real voice comes through the network, and she's telling the frenzying SAInts to ignore her previous orders and stand down.

They don't respond.

Finally, Dr. Johnson hails Rick on a private channel.

And now...

Tuesday, September 2nd 2031

"Rick, can you hear me?" Dr. Johnson asks over the MetaTron, despite the static.

"Yeah, I can hear you," Rick replies.

Dr. Johnson asks Rick for a status report on the MetaTron hacking, the frenzying SAInts, and Commander Yamasuka's false orders. He also says the CRC facility is surrounded by Locusts and needs an extraction to get to Operations.

Rick answers his questions truthfully and sends Serena and Opsie to go get him. Serena is hesitant, but Opsie quickly takes advantage of the situation to make herself look good and says, "Come on Serena, I've got a plan!"

Plethora of Problems

The Bombers hovering high above the Arx weapons turrets begin firing their high-powered, particle beams straight down. 

Commander Yamasuka coordinates with Commander McGarry of the military who agrees that they need to raise the Arx defensive shields to maximum power, even if that means taking the weapons, Operation's computers, and the MetaTron offline.

While Sarah and Billy continue to restrain Joanne, Rick asks AK-47 for a solution to deal with the hacked SAInts. AK-47 relays the Commanders' plan but is hesitant to shut the MetaTron offline, so Jason, Sarah, Billy, and Serena all chime in to convince her otherwise.

Meanwhile, a group of Choppers fly toward the engines to take them out, and warning sounds blare across the Arx.

Rick flies off after them and calls out to Joanne one last time before the MetaTron goes offline: "Joanne, if you can hear me, hang in there!"

Joanne replies with a sinister laugh, followed by, "Come join me for a Kendo match, Rick!"

All communication throughout the MetaTron halts abruptly, and the frenzied SAInts return to normal, but the Robbies and military continue to fire at them. 

Rick grows angry at Joanne's response, as he passes by. Sarah calls out to him directly through her SAInt's speakers and asks him to tell the military to stand down and focus on Locusts.

Sarah and Billy relinquish their hold on Joanne, and Sarah asks her if she's alright.

"Yeah, Sarah, let's kick the Mayzor's ass right now! I'm ready to fight! Let's get em!" Joanne replies over the speakers, and as she asks Sarah what the plan is, a great lightning bolt flashes down from the sky and lands atop a helipad at the center of the Arx.

Terrified faces look up to bear witness to one of the oldest and most powerful Magnas the world has ever known.

Asmodeus: This Magnas is the most feared and despised that has been faced by Preservation Forces. Asmodeus is the largest and most misshapen of its rank. It was one of the original robots launched in the first Mayzor assaults and has been on numerous deployments since then. Asmodeus stands over 280 feet tall and individual limbs have branched and braided together into two huge arms sprouting from the shoulders of a tapering trunk-like body. Clusters of wings lash like thorn tendrils over its bult. Its head is a pyramid of howling beastly faces crowned with a huge broken mask with a contented smile on its lips. The most horrifying feature of Asmodeus are the "corpses" of three SAInts impaled on its body, crucified victims of the Magnas. 
- Excerpt from Tears of a Machine, pp. 181
Aerials in the Sky

Jason starts moving toward the bow of the Arx and targets a Bomber above the fore, weapon turret at High Ballistics (HB) range with his EZK-L Particle Beam sniper. It explodes, as groups of Chopper reinforcements come buzzing out of the Wormwood in the central garden. Three of them head for the engines, three head toward Asmodeus, and the last two target the turret closest to Sarah and Jason.

Rick reaches the engines and faces a total of six Choppers at Firearms (FA) range. He fires his Levic Pistol at one of them, and it explodes on the side of the Arx. The remaining five continue to fire at the engines. 

With the Choppers at the front in FA range of the SAInt pilots, Jason fires off his Levic Pistol, while Sarah uses her RDav Combat Rifle, or "Giant Killer." The Chopper that Jason hits spirals off course and crashes into the side of the cafeteria building, while Sarah's mark explodes into pieces just before reaching the turret. 

On the other side of the Arx, a mixed group of aerial Locusts successfully destroy another weapon turret.

Rick continues to go after the Choppers attacking the engines, but he's inhibited by a flood of ghastly, wailing, young voices begging to be saved. It turns out Asmodeus has found a way to penetrate the SAInt, telepathic network by keeping the pilots of the crucified SAInts alive in torment. Fortunately, most of the SAInt pilots are unaffected due to the disabled MetaTron, but the Prophets' psychic, communication channels are still disrupted. Rick fails to hit the Choppers this time, and they take out the backup generators.

Sarah, Jason, Joanne, and Billy rush back toward the dorms. Before annihilating the rest of the Bombers and Choppers, they want to prevent any more reinforcements from surprising them by eliminating the Wormwood in the garden. Sarah targets it with her Tiamat Multiple Missile System, but the projectiles wipe out the entire garden along with the Wormwood in a great display of fireworks, just as a lightning bolt comes down to beam up whatever scorched remains are left of the spherical capsule.

Most of the SAInt pilots are in awe. Allen is too, as he drops the Twins off at HQ. Inside the hangar, Kazuhiro and Laurie are gearing up for deployment, and back at the dorms, Jason reloads his rifle while running toward the remaining, aerial Locusts to take them down.

By now, Opsie and Serena have brought Dr. Johnson to HQ, and they regroup with Rick. He changes distance to get into Close Quarters (CQ) range of the Choppers and takes out two simultaneously with his dual 'Arc Swords.

Jason snipes down one of the last, two, remaining Bombers with Joanne's help, while Sarah and Billy take out the other one.

After the Bombers are destroyed, the SAInts near HQ inform Operations, and within minutes, the defensive shields go back down and the surviving, weapon turrets are online and operational.

Finally, with Serena and Opsie's help, Rick activates his Prophet's supreme, Vanquish protocol which taps into the Mayzor, telepathic network to seize control of the self-repair, nano-machine systems of the remaining Choppers in order to dismantle them via telepathic command. The last, three Choppers suddenly unravel, and millions of pieces plummet toward the earth.

Now that the engines are safe, the Prophets return to HQ to meet up with the SAInts so that they can take out the remaining Locusts and focus their efforts on Asmodeus.

Last of the Locusts

While the pilots of Alpha and Bravo Company get into their positions, and Jason mans the turret he's been dying to get his SAInt's hands onto, they all take cover from Asmodeus's deadly lasers, while Blue Company wipes out the last, remaining Locusts threatening HQ.

Serena helps Rick engage the two, closest Brawlers at CQ range, and he swoops down to impale them both with his swords.

Next, Laurie helps Rick engage two Soldiers at CQ, and he slices their tails off before destroying them.

Finally, Rick targets the last, remaining Archer with his pistol, but the cries emanating from Asmodeus's crucified SAInts startles him again, but he's able to defeat the Archer with Opsie's help. She, of course, takes credit for the kill and proceeds to showboat, but at least HQ is saved.

As the Robbies and military attack the last Locusts outside the CRC facility, the Prophets and SAInts face off against one, last, enormous threat.

All Hope Seems Lost

"Make a hole!" Rick cries out, as he engages Asmodeus at CQ range with Jason, Sarah, and Billy helping him out. Unfortunately, the Magnas is much too powerful, and even though Rick ends up where he wants, Asmodeus's lasers tear through his SAInt, and he loses Resolve on top of that. Sarah, Jason, and Billy are all injured as well, though Sarah's SAM-L Shield prevents some of her damage.

Jason fires at Asmodeus from his turret but misses. Sarah, Strudel, Joanne, and Billy miss as well, and they all take another round of damage, as lasers shoot through their porcelain bodies and expose their inner structure.

Rick attempts to attack Asmodeus with his double, 'Arc Swords, but even with help from Serena, Opsie, and Laurie, he's unable to land a decent hit. Asmodeus retaliates, and Rick is practically crushed to the ground, as he loses more Resolve.

The pilots scramble to catch their bearings and figure out how they'll take Asmodeus down. 

Will they fail? Will they die? If they do, will they take the Magnas down with them?

All hope seems lost for the people of the Arx Jericho, but the pilots can't give up. 

They won't give up.

Altogether Now

"Alright guys, follow this in!" Sarah yells through her speakers, as she takes point and fires off her last set of Tiamat missiles in an all-out, coordinated attack against Asmodeus which finally connects.

Jason blasts it with his big ass, turret gun.

Rick flies around it, slashing its limbs and clipping its wings off with his swords. 

Joanne screams, "DIE!" as she fires her rocket launcher.

All the other SAInts and Prophets join in the fight and go all out with their respective weapons. 

The three SAInts crucified to the Magnas explode. Its wings crumble to dust. Its trunk-like legs and huge, braided arms collapse and tear apart. Its head flies into the air with a contented smile still plastered over its lips, and its body crushes the scorched remains of the garden, as the head and self-destructing core explode simultaneously, and the citizens of the Arx Jericho witness the greatest blast they have ever seen.

The air grows silent in the aftermath of the explosion, and the sight of the damaged Arx is quite surreal.

After the pilots return to HQ, the Operation's computers and MetaTron network go online again and a debriefing ensues. The pilots responsible in taking down Asmodeus are awarded special medals, and the pilots of Blue Company and Alpha Company go on to receive higher accolades and become worldwide celebrities in the following months. 

The Arx Jericho instantly begins repairing itself, and the Preservation Forces are already discussing future plans with the CRC. The SAInts have preserved humanity once again, but an important lesson has been learned. The people of Earth can not wait around any longer in shelter or hiding, while the Mayzor continue to attack indefinitely. 

It's high time for Earth to fight back and go after the Mayzor mother ship, Tartarus.

It's time to unleash Operation: Blue Moon.


will return on

Sunday 4th January 2015 

Friday, January 2, 2015

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 1.12: The Battle of Jericho, Part 1

This is part one of the actual play from our season one finale for the Tears of a Machine campaign, Tales of the Arx Jericho. The bulk of the text by +Misha Polonsky, with character bios added by me.

In order of appearance: Name, Age (Character Type)

Rick Hunter, 15 (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Sarah Werner, 15 (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Jason Reyes, 14 (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

RC (Relationship Character), SC (Supporting Character), E (Extra)

Dr. Donald 'Scary Face' Johnson, 54 (SC)
Rafe Hunter / The General, ?? (SC)
Serena Hunter, 15 (RC)
Opsie Wessel, 15 (RC)
Captain Anastasia 'AK-47' Kasherov, 47 (RC)
Alex 'Strudel' Struder, 12 (RC)
Billy Henderson, 17 (RC)
Allen Werner, 18 (E)
Joanne Kleinn, 14 (RC)
Commander Toshi Yamasuka, 52 (E)
Commander McGarry, 65 (E)
Miguel Rodriguez, 11 (E)
Leo 'Raspberry' Hayes, 12 (RC)
Laurie Bach, 14 (SC)
Kazuhiro Masaki, 16 (E)
Ryoko, 12 (E)
Bala & Lieke (aka the Twins), 13 (E)
Stephanie Yuzuki, 13 (SC)
Dr. Elizabeth Harris, 37 (SC)

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho...
The new school term began, but Rick, Serena, and Opsie missed the first day of classes due to their Prophet training.
Sarah went to meet her brother, Allen, who was arriving, but got ambushed by CRC scientists who took her to the underground, Cloistered Research Council facility to receive an injection of AmBrO51A serum from Rick's father, Rafe Hunter.
Jason found a strange, unmarked envelope in his dorms that said, "Find the real source. Trace it back. Not all is what it seems." After hacking the surveillance cameras, he discovered it was Dr. Johnson who delivered the envelope.
Jason and Strudel embarked to find Sarah and found Allen as well as the Linc Sarah dropped. The three of them snuck into the CRC facility.

After Sarah refused the serum, Dr. Hunter let her go only to sound the alarms, as the military initiated a lockdown of the Arx Jericho.

Rick went through a guided, meditation trial with Serena and Opsie, while being berated by Dr. Johnson, until the alarms sounded. Opsie ran away. Billy appeared and drew a gun on Dr. Johnson, suspecting him of foul play. Dr. Johnson disarmed Billy and told Rick and Serena to stay put, as he left. Rick, Serena, and Billy looked for a way out. Sarah saw Jason, Strudel, and Allen up in the vents and turned in surprise to meet AK-47, who had disguised herself as a scientist. Opsie soon found them too.

She led everyone back to Rick, Serena, and Billy, but the power went out. The pilots worked together to free Rick, and AK-47 led them back through the facility, where they ran into Dr. Johnson. All seven of the pilots followed AK and Dr. J to Rafe's laboratory and a secret door that led down to an even deeper, underground hangar.

Excerpt from the end of Episode 11:
They come to a high security door, which Jason sets to work on unlocking, fashioning a device to open it despite the lack of power. On the other side of the door is a huge hangar - like a deep pit with walkways spiralling downwards - containing some deconstructed aquatic Mayzor locusts, chemistry sets of AmBro51A and other serums, giant tanks containing test subjects from the captured Wormwood, previously unseen prototype locusts and a crashed satellite. On the walls are paintings and tapestries depicting a human woman wearing armour of glowing white porcelain, pale skin and silver hair. At the bottom of the hangar they see a figure. At first it looks like a CRC scientist, but its form shifts to that of Rafe Hunter - dark hair, similar features to Rick, tall, syringe in hand. He's just standing in the middle of the hangar, unmoving, and as they reach the bottom his form changes again. He still looks like Rafe, but he's wearing white porcelain armor, his skin is much paler and his hair is silver. He gives them a wicked smile and laughs lightly. 
"Who the hell are you?" Rick breathes, shocked at his 'father's' appearance.'Rafe' cracks his neck, "Don't you recognise me, son? Daughter? It's me. I'm your father."He has the Wormwood flash drive in his hand, and his laugh continues to echo in the chamber as Rick whispers, "But you''re a..."He uses the old word for the Mayzor, before they fled attacks by radical religious groups on Earth, "...Legulus." 
Holographic screens project the words 'Operation Blue Moon', designs of the Prophet-class SAInts, references to something called 'the General', and AK 47 and Dr Johnson are looking very worried as the figure gloats, "You're too late." 
Sarah says, "A gun sure would be handy right about now." 
And Dr Johnson remembers the gun at his back, drawing it on 'Rafe', who just laughs at him, "Bullets can't stop the General."Dr Johnson looks at AK 47, who nods, and he sighs, firing the gun. The bullet goes straight through 'Rafe' and he shimmers, revealing him to be a hologram. 
Suddenly the power comes back on, and they hear the words 'SELF DESTRUCT SEQUENCE INITIATED' over the intercom just seconds before a Mayzor raid alarm sounds...

And now...

Tuesday, September 2nd 2031

8 Minutes and Counting
"EIGHT MINUTES UNTIL SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE IS EXECUTED," the droning, female voice of the computer blares.  It's alluring taunt makes the prospect of becoming engulfed in a sea of flames and going down with the ship seem endearing. 
Never before have Rick, Sarah, and Jason felt so scared, despite everything they've went through the past year. Nothing has ever come close to the sudden, tangible danger they currently face: not the Chicago Catastrophe or facing Belial; not the shared nightmares and prophetic dreams of the interface tests; not New Alamo or battling Thammuz and Beelzebub; not the disturbing news surrounding Dr. Johnson and the Mayzor; not even the naval assault on the Bahamas last month or Enki storming in across the ocean like a bastardized amalgam of Triton and his father. All those times, the pilots were away from home, secured inside their sensory deprivation buckets1, or both. Now, the pilots feel like naked rats trapped in a cage. They don't have their SAInts to hide inside, and time is against them. If they don't do something in the next eight minutes, everything they've worked so hard to protect will be eradicated. All their efforts will have been for nought. 

Is this what it has all come down to? Have the Mayzor really won? Are they using Dr. Johnson, or has Rafe Hunter, the General, or whoever he is, been calling the shots the whole time? How long has the CRC been under infiltration? Has their agenda always been to serve the Mayzor? Why destroy the facility now? Are the Mayzor not interested in Operation Blue Moon anymore? Do they have everything they need? Are they willing to sacrifice the Prophets? Why does the military have the Arx Jericho on lockdown, and what is happening outside? Are alarms going off because of an attack happening elsewhere, or is the base being targeted much like the Arx Galilee was prior to New Alamo? All these questions and more fill everyone's mind like locusts, but there's no time to dwell. Mayzor alarms are going off. The military still has the place on lockdown. Something bad is happening outside, and the pilots and officers of the Preservation Forces must act faster than ever before. 

"Rick, Serena, Opsie!" Dr. Johnson yells, "Follow me! We must get you into the Prophets." Rick agrees. He may not fully be ready to pilot the Super SAInt, but that doesn't matter. They have less than eight minutes left, and everything's at stake. Rick, Serena, and Opsie follow Dr. Johnson without hesitation, while AK-47 and the rest of the pilots turn to Jason.

"Right then," Jason says. It's no coincidence that he's singled out by Dr. Scary Face after being called out for infliltrating his files. With Rick the main, Prophet pilot and Sarah the new team leader of Alpha Company, Jason remains invaluable as the reigning, technological genius of both Alpha Company and, perhaps, the entire US Preservation Forces.  If anyone can stop the perilous, self-destruct sequence, it's fourteen-year-old Jason Reyes or the, "Hack King," according to Strudel. With Sarah and Strudel by his side, Jason successfully hacks the CRC's network and terminates the countdown. Unfortunately, a failsafe program triggers a security countermeasure and reawakens a group of dormant, Mayzor Swarm hidden deep within the General's hangar. 

Sarah, Jason, Strudel, Billy, Allen, and AK-47 hear the echoing, metal tang of robotic arthropods scurrying in the shadows. They move up the grated catwalk quietly, but hastily, before the Swarm can ensnare them with their razor sharp appendages and piercing maxillae.

A Dangerous Escape
Rick, Serena, Opsie, and Dr. Johnson are almost to the Prophet hangar, when they notice oncoming CRC scientists fleeing to escape the facility. Dr. Johnson may have clout with them, but who knows what side they're really on? Having Rick and the girls present would certainly raise suspicions, and they don't want to take any chances. It's better to play it safe, so they sidestep into a perpendicular hallway to hide.

Meanwhile, Sarah, Jason, and the others feel the same way. They carefully meander back to the main corridors and debate on where to go next. AK-47 thinks they should simply take the main exit, but Sarah and Jason are highly suspicious of the masked scientists and convince her to circumvent them by taking one of the ventilation shafts. Jason asks Billy how he got into the facility, but he gives him a useless, lackluster response. Jason is forced to lead the others back to the hall, where he first ran into Sarah and AK after sneaking into the facility.

They peer around the corner and see three CRC scientists standing below the open shaft with their backs turned. A crazy idea sparks in Jason's mind to bum-rush the scientists and use them to jump up into the vent, but a more sensible plan emerges to subvert them by having AK-47 don her mask and order them away using Jason as a prop. The plan works, and the scientists flee now that the escaped prisoner is in custody. Sarah, Jason, AK, and the rest of the pilots climb into the vents and escape.

Having reached the Prophet hangar undetected, Rick and Dr. Johnson help Serena and Opsie suit up into their Super SAInts and exit out of the side of the Arx, leaving Rick to be suited last. 

Merged Companies and Sequestered Teammates
Sarah and Jason's group discreetly avoid the military, as they double time to the Operations Headquarters. Deafening sounds of explosions resonate, and machine gunfire and energy beams blanket the sky in blinding bursts. Robbies and tanks target hostile Mayzor, while foot soldiers escort civilians to safety and maintain the lockdown. A colony of ant-like Swarm almost grab hold of Billy with jagged mandibles, but the adrenaline kicks in, and the pilots flee to their escape.

They're met by Joanne, who's already suited up and climbing into the bucket to be hoisted into her SAInt. As the suspension gel fills the sensory deprivation tank, Sarah, Jason, Strudel, and Billy change into their Launch Suits to undergo the same process. AK-47 tasks Allen with piloting one of the Robbies, while she joins the Preservation Forces commander in the Operations Control Room. 

By the time the SAInts are ready for deployment, Rick, Serena, and Opsie are already outside the CRC facility and skating up the side of the Arx by way of their Prophets' anti-gravity thrusters.

With Commander Yamasuka arguing with USM Commander McGarry2 over the military's lockdown and blatant disregard for protocol, Captain Kasherov briefs the pilots on their primary objectives over the MetaTron. Intel reveals thirty-five Locusts, possibly more, aiding hordes of Swarm all across the Arx. The others pilots are secluded and trapped in various locations, and ensuring their freedom is pivotal so that they can return to their SAInts and help fight off the invasion. 

Half of Alpha and Bravo Company group up. Sarah, Jason, and Strudel reunite with Billy and embark with Joanne for the first time in their piloting careers. The set out to the male dormitory, east of the Wormwood that crashed in the central garden, while Rick leads Serena and Opsie toward the cafeteria on the opposite side.

Miguel and Raspberry have hidden themselves inside the dorm, and the front entrance is sealed shut. Military personnel are combatting the Swarm, while two, metallic beetles, the size of tanks, are prying the double doors open with their steel claws and keen pincers. Team Sarah and Jason take the high ground and position themselves atop the female dorm, across the way, at High Ballistics (HB) range. Jason aims his EZK-L Particle Beam at one of the Brawlers and fires. Sarah launches a barrage of Tiamat missiles at the other Brawler and the surrounding Swarm. All three targets are eliminated in succeeding explosions, and AK-47 gives the order to extract Miguel and Raspberry which Billy takes care of.

Meanwhile, Rick, Serena, and Opsie engage one of the two Archers firing at the cafeteria's front entrance. These Locusts resemble oversized, armor-plated earwigs with large cerci that fire dual, high-powered energy beams at HB. Armed with a pair of 'Arc Swords at Close Quarters (CQ) range, Rick cuts off the Archer's rear forceps, Serena impales its body with her LaNSe Detonating Spear, and Opsie decapitates it. The explosive lodged inside its abdomen explodes and incinerates the rest of it. 

Over the MetaTron, Rick calmly says, "Enemy unit down."

The trio proceeds to engage the forty-foot long, twenty-foot high scorpions, known as Soldiers, armed with energy weapons in their tails. Two of them stay in Threat Range of the cafeteria doors and fire energy lasers at FA range. Laurie, Kazuhiro, and Ryoko are stuck inside with a majority of their classmates, and the Locusts have almost blasted a hole big enough for the Swarm to slip through. Rick sheaths one of his swords and uses the other to jab through the scorpion's abdomen while grabbing its tail with his now-free hand. He swings the Soldier around and collides it with the other before releasing his grasp. Serena and Opsie don't even have a chance to make their attack, as both Locusts explode on impact. 

"Two more enemies down," Rick says in a cold tone.

Back at the dorms, Sarah and Jason hear the buzzing of wings and look up to see a strange, new, aerial Locust they'd never seen before. Recognizing it as a Chopper unit from the blueprints in the General's hangar, it's shaped like a giant, chrome dragonfly with extendable, razor sharp jaws and a long, curved tail that repeatedly fires lasers down at the breached entrance to the male dorm. 

"I got this," Sarah tells Jason over the MetaTron, "You reload."

Jason takes cover and reloads his EZK-L, while Sarah opens fire at FA with her RDav Combat Rifle, or "Giant Killer." Her armor piercing shells shred through the Chopper's compound eyes and wings. It's upper half explodes in mid-air, and it's tail crashes into the ground, taking out whatever Swarm are still left after the Tiamat attack. 

Miguel and Raspberry finally get their chance to escape, but US military troops start surrounding them. Sarah tries to reason with them over a loudspeaker. She plays to their sensible nature, telling them there's more pressing danger than two, measly, teenage pilots. Jason reloads his rifle and gives the military a look. Seeing the SAInts looming over them, they quickly back off, and Miguel and Raspberry rush over to HQ to suit up and board their SAInts.

The Swarm surrounding the cafeteria start slithering through the main entrance, while the remaining Archer blasts a larger hole for the rest to scuttle in. Rick takes cover and reaches inside to squash the chrome centipedes while holding his other hand out to block the Archer's lasers with his concentrated, electromagnetic, defense screen. A rippling corona absorbs the blasts, and Opsie's Sam-L Shield adds extra protection. Meanwhile, Serena hits several more, metallic vermin out of the park like golf balls.

Team Sarah and Jason rush to the simulation building, under AK-47's advice, to help free the Twins, Bala and Lieke. A pair of Locusts attack the building from opposite sides. A Soldier on the left side fires a series of plasma rays at FA, while the Brawler on the right rips chunks of building away with its massive pincers. The pilots waste no time. Sarah engages the Brawler at FA range, while Jason hangs back and shoots another, explosive, particle beam at the Soldier from HB. It's biomechanical brain bursts apart on impact, and its body gets engulfed in the explosion.  Several Swarm are also taken out. Strudel cheers. Sarah lays into the Brawler with her Giant Killer and destroys it, while Jason, Strudel, and Billy move up to crush the rest of the Swarm. 

Joanne hangs back the whole time and looks across the way at Rick, Serena, and Opsie, feeling useless. "I'm going to go help Rick and the others out," she says over the MetaTron.

"Are you kidding me?" Jason responds, as Joanne starts taking off. 

"Yeah, don't split up," Sarah says bluntly, trying to convince Joanne to listen.

"Pretty sure the Super SAInts can take care of themselves," Jason adds, "They can fly."

Joanne stops momentarily but doesn't seem entirely convinced, until Strudel says, "Joanne, don't go all Billy on us!" That seems to do the trick. Joanne clearly isn't happy with the three of them, but she sticks around.

Sarah spots her brother inside one of the Robbies closest to them and orders him to fetch Bala and Lieke now that the simulation building is clear. Under Jason's advice, Sarah also sends a telepathic message to AK-47, asking her to direct Allen back to HQ so that the Twins can board the Mendicant.

Back at the cafeteria, Rick changes distance to get into FA range of the Archer, dodging its lasers. He aims several, precise shots at its power core and hits. The Locust self-detonates, and the students begin pouring out of the building, including Kazuhiro, Laurie, and Ryoko. Rick, Serena, and Opsie move across to Dr. Harris's office, leaving the military to escort the teenagers. 

Sarah, Strudel, Billy, and Joanne move across to the classrooms, where Stephanie is held up at and surrounded by two Soldiers, a horde of Swarm, and the military. "Target, fire," Jason says, as he stays by the simulation building and snipes one of the Soldiers. His particle beam shoots through the giant scorpion's tail and out the back of its head. As it explodes, Sarah engages the other Soldier at FA and immediately starts firing off her Giant Killer. The bullets hit, and she destroys the Locust before it can tear a big enough hole through the building for the Swarm to get in. They disperse. Some head to Dr. Harris's office, while others grab hold of military personnel and retreat to the Wormwood.

Suddenly, a Chopper shows up out of nowhere and begins firing lasers at the roof. Jason moves forward to take cover and reload his rifle, while Sarah says, "Shoo fly, don't bother me," and aims up while pulling the trigger. The Chopper explodes in mid-air, and chunks of metal debris crash onto the roof like hail. Strudel rushes forward to pry it off and free Stephanie, but Sarah appeals to his better judgement and warns him that he'll scare her more. Strudel agrees and opens the classroom building's front doors with his giant fingers and calls out to her. She runs out, and Strudel scoops her up into a hidden compartment within his SAInt, not trusting the military.

Prophets Take Flight Amidst Static Infiltration
Dr. Harris is stuck inside her office building which is under attack by two Brawlers at CQ, an Archer at HB, and two Bombers circling above at HB. The Bombers, like the Choppers, are aerial Locusts that are completely new and alien to the pilots. Shaped like giant, metal moths the size of stealth planes, they spiral in circles while firing deadly, concentrated beams of plasma energy down on their targets.  The ones over Dr. Harris's office aren't firing theirs just yet; they're suspiciously looming above.

Rick, Serena, and Opsie engage the Archer and fly up behind it. Rick menacingly draws his 'Arc Sword, stabs it through the back, and slices upward to split it in half. He then switches to his Levic Pistol and fires at both Brawlers with his team's assistance. The Locusts puncture a small hole through the building before they're destroyed.

Near the classrooms, Sarah and Jason's team turns back to target the Wormwood at the behest of AK-47, however a multitude of telepathic voices begins to overwhelm them, and the pilots grow fearful for a moment. It's a clear sign of MetaTron static4, the likes of which they experienced in New Alamo.

Rick is especially worried and tests his communication channels with Serena and Opsie. They're aware of the static, but the Prophets' telepathic link operates on a whole different level, and their conversations are crystal clear. 

"It's happening again, Rick," Serena says, "What do we do?"

"Don't worry about it," Rick responds, "We got through it last time, and we'll get through it this time too."

"Alright, I trust you," Serena replies nervously. Opsie is less worried and does her best to help calm Serena down.

Strudel and Joanne exhibit strange behavior, as they reply to private commands over the network, "Wait, what was that, Commander? The Robbies are turning? They're what? Frenzying? Wait, but-"

"Strudel, who are you talking to?" Jason asks.

"Commander Yamasuka is ordering us to come back to HQ and eliminate the frenzying Robbies," Strudel responds.

"I thought Robbies were just robots," Jason asks quizzically, "How can they be frenzying?"

"We don't know," Joanne and Strudel reply simultaneously, "The Commander says they're attacking civilians and military!"

Sarah and Jason look over across the Arx but don't see anything happening. They do see Raspberry and Miguel in their SAInts, leaving the hangar. They're both online.

"I think we should be watchful for them, but we shouldn't start shooting at every one," Sarah warns, "Especially since my brother's in one of them."

"But, but, these orders are coming straight from the Commander," Strudel protests.

"We can't trust the MetaTron right now," Sarah replies, "I believe the chain of command is the bayonet at the end of my gun. Seriously, though, I'm not hearing the orders and neither is Jason." Jason agrees.

While Strudel hesitates, wondering what to do, Joanne remains suspiciously silent. All of a sudden, she raises her L-XIV Ultima Rocket Launcher at Strudel and aims for the hidden compartment where Stephanie is located. 

Jason quickly raises his gun at her, but Sarah takes a more decisive action and rushes forward to restrain Joanne's SAInt.

"All pilots, be on high alert. We have frenzying SAInts," Commander Yamasuka's voice cuts through the static interference. She sounds far too calm given the situation, as though it isn't really her over the MetaTron.

Fragments of Joanne's voice breaks through the static, yelling, "It's not me! Can't control it!" Sarah curses under her breath.

"Joanne! What happened?" Rick yells through the MetaTron.

Sarah struggles to restrain Joanne, and Billy begrudgingly runs forward to help. Jason lowers his gun and follows suit. At the same time, Strudel points his Levic Flechette shotgun3, or "Stone Thrower," at Joanne, his arms shaking to resist. There's too much static on the MetaTron for the pilots to hear what's going on, but Sarah, Jason, and Billy successfully wrestle Joanne's arms up, and an explosive rocket shoots into the sky. Strudel lowers his gun and starts running to HQ. Joanne's SAInt, losing control, tries to break away.

"One of these days," Sarah says over the MetaTron, as the static dies down momentarily.

"Right to the moon," Jason replies.

"Yeah, right to the moon, so we can take them out," Sarah says.

To the west, the Bombers rain down their destructive, energy beams, blasting holes through the roof of Dr. Harris's office building. Rick and the others take cover to destroy the rest of the Swarm first. He tells Opsie to rescue Dr. Harris, while he and Serena and take on the two Bombers.

"I have your back, Rick," Serena says, and the siblings soar up to the sky, each one maneuvering to opposite sides of the Bombers to flank them. With both of Rick's 'Arc Swords drawn and Serena's LaNSe, the pilots zoom past one another and slice through both Bombers simultaneously. Their wings are rendered useless, and their energy weapons are cut off in the ensuing explosion which blazes like fireworks for all the other pilots to see.

Rick immediately turns and flies fast toward Joanne and the others.

Mayzor Hack In
AK-47's voice attempts to cut through the static as she says, "Struder, Hayes, Rodriguez, what are you all doing? Stop it! That's an order!" 

Rick hears what's happening and tries to communicate with the rogue SAInts himself, "Strudel, Raspberry, Miguel, what the hell are you doing?"

The MetaTron static grows louder and then dies down again. The Commander's calm voice comes through, paired with strange, maniacal giggling, "Hehehe, nah-uh, they're not going to listen to you! Not anymore, not anymore! Hehehe." She continues to give the rogue SAInts orders to attack the Robbies and military. She also commands them to target the Arx Jericho's weapon turrets which she claims have been hacked into and are targeting the rest of the ship.

The pilots of the frenzying SAInts attempt to send telepathic messages through the static, which is growing again, "We can't control this! Help!" Joanne is trying to communicate as well. 

"Joanne!" Rick calls out to her.

Meanwhile, AK-47's voice seems worried, and a voice that belongs to the real Commander calls out, "No! I didn't say that! Don't listen-" but the static is overwhelming. 

As Rick nears Sarah and Jason, he hears Dr. Johnson hailing him on a private channel.