This is the second in a series of posts attempting to turn my GM Notes from the last handful of sessions of my current Maximum Recursion Depth campaign into something like a functional module (see Doctor Lovesmenot's Halloween Party, as well as a recent batch of play reports). As I say in the last post, this is not meant to reflect either the content or overall quality of what will be published in the Kickstarter-backed MRD Book, this is more so for general reference/practice.
Unfortunately, these play report/module posts have been some of my least popular posts in a long time. Granted, this is all just a passion project and I'm going to post whatever I want, but it's still a shame, so probably I'll bank these kinds of posts for down the line, and in the coming weeks, I'll try to mix things up.
I posted this note in the last module as well, but to reiterate: I sometimes put these generic Karmic Attachment Opportunities, Save or Conflict events, or other "canned" stuff in my notes. That being said, if I'm being honest, I often see these as more like "backup". They're there for inspiration, or for if I can't think of anything better in the moment, or I need something to push things along. That being said, I usually try to defer to player action and elaborate on the spot with more interesting developments. I've retro-actively included some of those in this writeup, to varying degrees, but I'm not sure how well it really captures how things actually played out at the table. This is something I intend to pay particularly close attention to for the module that will be published in the Kickstarter-backed Book.
This module includes two leads, which involve NPCs who effectively join the team as companions. As I discuss in this post, I'm a believer in using NPCs to join the party not as GNPCs, but as Specialist assistants. If the players are confused or struggling to decide what to do, these companion NPCs can provide some information or suggestions. They also have special abilities or skills of their own, which the players can leverage. For instance, in Conflict, they could suggest a companion do something in particular, in lieu of taking an action for their character. I rarely have these NPCs acting autonomously in Conflict, usually it's assumed they're assisting in some capacity, but it only affects rolls or options if players invoke them specifically.
- The Client: Barry* O’Brien. A big trucker-looking cab driver, severely handicapped, carries himself meekly. Has a tin nose, giving his gruff voice a tinny-nasally quality, whistling like a mouse.
- Make a Karmic Attachment with O'Brien to accept this job and help him clear his debt, his gambling addiction, and/or his guilt over his son's death.
- The investigation: Has a gambling addiction, always falling for get-rich-quick schemes. Made a bad bet, lost a lot of money, and was going to have to give up his taxi and taxi medallion (and livelihood). Took his son with him on a ride, hopped up on meth and "cheddar" (the "study drug" dharmafinil), and got into a major accident, killing his son and totaling his car. His son was sentenced to be reincarnated as a pack mule, and he sees this as an unfair sentencing that should be placed on him when he dies instead.
- Barry O’Brien-Gonzalez (the son; not technically “Junior”) was sent to The Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse.
- This was a mistake on the part of the Judge Devil- not the least because this Court was actually decommissioned over a decade ago- unbeknownst to its archdevil.
- Junior is not there anyway, as he was intercepted by Pepper Pan and the Recess Rascals just as he arrived at the Court.
Getting to the Court / Complications
- The entrance to the Court is Karmically Attached to O'Brien by way of the underground casino ring he used to play at. The underground casino changes locations regularly but O'Brien has a couple possible leads on the next location.
- O'Brien is on the run from the casino, and therefore no longer knows the exact location, but has contacts who he trusts in these locations who may know more (they all use codenames); Shining Ostrich, and Rock Dove & Wild Turkey.
On the Way to Following the leads
- The party is mugged (randomly roll for party member and item).
- The mugger is a Poltergeist child, one of the Recess Rascals. A pale child in a pirate outfit. Carries a stuffed giraffe that can elongate its neck into a thrashing, toothy whip.
- Will try to flee; can be intercepted either by a good plan, a NAT Save, or NAT chase conflict.
- 10 HP, Nd6 in running stamina (outpace the team), Wd6 for the giraffe to whip up the environment and blindside strike somebody (obfuscate the team's line of sight).
- If defeated, will mumble something about the Recess Rascals, turn ethereal, and fly away, leaving behind the item, as well as a single-use Sachet of Nixie Dust. If not defeated, will laugh at the party and boast something about the Recess Rascals, and Karma Roll for the party member to see if the Recess Rascal accidentally drops the item.
- Nixie Dust: +1 NAT Saves and flight for 1d4 hours. Flight requires NAT Saves to maintain.
SIDBAR on The Leads: The leads play out very similarly and the party should only follow up on one or the other. If you end up running both, there is one climactic conflict for each lead, and only one of those should be followed up on, or you'll need to change up some stuff, but it should be modular after that point, meaning no need to radically change The Court if somehow the team does investigate both leads. That being said, you can always bank the other lead and plug it into a different Investigation.
Lead One: Shining Ostrich
- Shining Ostrich: Located in Parkchester Bronx in an apartment facing The Oval. An Eritrean immigrant who was once a famous Cat Burglar / Femme Fatale, until her throat cancer. She now speaks with an electrolarynx. Her grandson manages an Ethiopian hedge fund with Chinese connections, which has some kind of connection to the underground casino. Will accompany the party in her old sexy cat burglar costume, and she still wears it.
- Karmic Attachment Opportunity: Her grandson wants her to leave the neighborhood and move in with him in Westchester. She needs to prove to her grandson that she can live on her own (or be convinced to move).
- There have been some muggings around the Oval, she wants to take down the gangsters.
- There are four of them, 5 HP each, three with knives (Nd6), one with a gun (Nd12, 8 WIS).
- Gun: A gun. They're really cheap and easy to get. Nd12 for violent conflict, but must roll WIS Save to use, and on fail, the wielder accidentally shoots themselves or an ally instead.
- Gun information will be in the Items list in the book.
- See SIDEBAR about guns in MRD in this post.
- The one with the gun is witty and clearly the leader (Pd6, the others Pd4), goes by Fox-Hare.
- The gangsters are just kids.
- Fox-Hare is on the honor roll and desperate for a scholarship for college, wants to study computer science.
- Karmic Attachment Opportunity to help the kid get out of crime and get into college.
- Fox-Hare has a DS (Digital Spirit) Friend*, Black-Sheep Shepherd, which appears in graphical form as a fox wearing the stretched skin of a Hare. He has had this DS Friend since his first electronic device as a child.
- Black-Sheep Shepherd is the one who stoked his interest in computer science but also encourages some of his more impulsive decisions.
- Black-Sheep Shepherd will attempt to hack the party’s QuaosNet** social network accounts (or other accounts- everyone's got something), stealing their information (Wd6) or undermining their social media presence (Pd6).
- Requires WIS Save to notice; or else they'll be slowly drained and not know how.
- If caught, will give up within 1d4 turns regardless of whether it is winning or losing and undo any long-term social or privacy damage (but not literal Damage dealt), as well as give the party a single-use Mantra of Adblock***.
- *More details on DS Friends will be in the book, but nothing you absolutely need to know.
- **QuaosNet is a social network in MRD, made my QuinceSoft, a tech company in the setting. It comes up in some things in the book, but nothing especially important.
- ***Mantra of Adblock: Wd10 in conflict against those who would try to sell you things, and immunity to PRO Damage from them. (This will be in the book)
Lead One Climactic Conflict
- Shining Ostrich's apartment complexes comes to life, sprouting little mechanical feet and mechanical appendages, attacks the party.
- 100 HP from outside, instant defeat if the team break into the complex and shut the fuse box.
- The team will be accosted by human-sized mini-apartment people wearing fedoras and trenchcoats.
- 5 HP each, Nd6 silenced micro-guns, Wd6 manipulating the environment against the party.
- Upper hallway windows are vulnerable if the team can reach them.
- Front windows are vulnerable if the party can get past the horde.
- Fire alarm / Sprinkler System in the building.
- Other tenants may help...
Afterward a portal opens up in The Oval leading to the Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse. The apartment complex was sent after the party because Junior is missing and the archdevil of the Court believes the party is responsible.
Lead Two: Rock Dove and Wild Turkey
- Rock Dove and Wild Turkey: A vigilante duo and romantic partners who primarily fight to protect foreign sex workers in Flushing Queens, but also do other work to protect immigrants.
- Rock Dove is Taiwanese-American and immigrated to Flushing at a young age.
- Wild Turkey is Hong Kongese and immigrated to America a few years ago. He now lives in Little Fuzhou.
- The duo have a reluctant partnership with the underground casino, which they occasionally turn to for information on illegal underground activities.
- Karmic Attachment Opportunity: A Russian oligarch is staying in Little Fuzhou to meet with a Chinese business partner, and later an infamous New York real estate Crimelord. The duo intends to go after him and needs help breaking into his hotel room.
- The oligarch is protected by four Orange Goblins, private security of the infamous NY Crimelord.
- They are known for their suicide tactics and willingness to cause collateral damage, particularly if it would violate the morals of the would-be attackers.
- 5 HP each, Nd6 claws, 2Nd6 suicide bomb.
- Trained to weaponize reason and morality against opposition (Wd8 psycho-ethical assault, -2 related WIS Saves against them, immune to WIS Damage), but vulnerable to those who exhibit alpha behavior (+2 related PRO or NAT Saves against them).
- The oligarch is not currently in his room. He intentionally relocated, asking his secretary Yana Yasak, to wait for him.
- He intends to frame her for an illegal real estate deal with the NYC Crimelord that the IRS is about to uncover, and she needs to be in that room during a certain time window for the frame job to hold up in court.
- Karmic Attachment Opportunity: She realizes something strange was going on from some discrepancies in the paperwork and needs help to escape the hotel and be witnessed by the hotel staff before the critical time period, so she has an alibi.
- Yana is blind and Karmically Attached to a Seeing Eye Devil-Dog.
- It looks like the New York City sewer mutant offspring of a Chinese Lion Dog.
- It protects her from critical harm but is only minimally under her control, and he often snaps at her or forces her into work she doesn’t want to accept.
- The Devil-Dog will not let the party interfere.
- 10 HP, Nd6 Bite, Pd6 howl of dominance.
- Can be convinced (WIS) to recognize the party as friendly to Yana's long term interests. If convinced, will spit out a Devil in the Sheets Credit.
- Devil in the Sheets Credit: One credit to hire a succubus/incubus for their services for 1d4+1 hours.
- This is currently in the book, but I'm considering taking it out. This item just seems like it will cause needless discomfort for some people, even if principally I'm not opposed to these kinds of things and am pro-sex work. If I kept it, I think I'd want to elaborate on what it entails and try to avoid making it anything obnoxious. For the sake of disclosure, I had originally intended for Yana to be a sex worker but decided against it because it just felt too exploitative and uncomfortable in the way I had originally designed it, and ultimately I think the revised version of this module is more interesting.
Lead Two Climactic Conflict
NOTE that as written this is nearly identical to the Lead One Climax. If the party investigate both leads, choose one, or find a way to combine them.
- The buildings along the street will come alive, sprouting mechanical appendages from both sides to trap the party within.
- 100 HP from outside, instant defeat if the team can break into one of the buildings and shut the fuse box.
- Will be accosted by human-sized mini-city people wearing fedoras and trenchcoats.
- 5 HP each, Nd6 silenced micro-guns, Wd6 manipulating the environment against the party.
- Highrise windows are vulnerable if the team can reach them.
- First-floor windows are vulnerable if the party can get past the horde.
- Fire alarm / Sprinkler System in the buildings.
- Hotel staff, other customers, or people from other businesses along the street may help...
Afterward a portal opens up within a Chinese-style archway leading to the Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse. The apartment complex was sent after the party because Junior is missing and the archdevil of the Court believes the party is responsible.
The Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse
Looks like a massive version of the chain sports bar Wrongside Racetrax, the kind of place where people go to eat too much cheap food, drink too much domestic beer or sugary cocktails, watch sports, and place illegal bets. The bar is overstaffed with bored and anxious devils, and mostly empty of customers. The scattered, remaining poltergeists continue to make bets and continue to lose, but seem largely unaffected by their unsurmountable growing debts.
- Hooters: The attractive, big-eyed, avian-humanoid waitress and hostess devils. Overly excited to seat and serve the party. Will start bringing over food and drink they didn’t order, most of it covered in dust and mold. Will give canned lines about the sports teams and urge the party to place bets. They’ll grow increasingly forceful if the party tries to leave, and will not provide any useful information unless the party starts making bets.
- The bets are a Karmic Attachment Opportunities, and there is only a 1 in 6 chance of winning (WIS Save to learn the odds).
- Each bet attaches the player to a Karmamare.
- Winning the bet grants a Gift Shop token and auto-resolves the Attachment. Failure leaves an open attachment to the Karmamare.
- Hooter Stats: 5 HP, Wd8 ability to entice the party and force their guard down (karmic-related, otherwise could arguably also be NAT for willpower).
- Another table of schlubby Poltergeists are being egged on by Hooters and will taunt the party into betting (PRO Save/Conflict, 3 HP each).
- If things get too hot with the Hooters, Barsabbas the arch-devil will call them off.
You can make up your own names, but here are some suggestions on a d10:
- Maverick Queen
- Drunk Driver
- Traffic Jammer
- Late Bloomer
- Colt Magnum Suicide
- Bronco Rogers
- Buck Danger
I used the SS&SS Monster Generator as a point of reference, but you can make your own. I intentionally leave the abilities rules-light and no stats, but you could make this more involved if you want, particularly for the Karmamare Race.
- Hummingbird-like, superspeed, OCD.
- Comprised of simple shapes, hallucinogenic, vulnerable to points.
- Comprised of nanotube fibers, dampens WIS, very stupid.
- Algae swamp monster. Absorbs NAT, gambling addict.
- Chimeric (Shark, Moose, Wolf, Oyster). Existentially terrifying, but also afraid of itself.
- Corpulent, rolls rather than runs, unstoppable as long as it wears its bib.
- Undead / taxidermied with human parts. Can use its human hands to hold things. Gets distracted by True Beauty.
- Has a crab-like shell. Is nigh-invulnerable, but is pregnant and ready to burst at any moment...
- Made of hard-light and able to levitate. One of the other Karmamare's hates its guts...
- Floating ouroboros horse that can consume and reproduce itself if injured. Vulnerable if head separated from back-end.
Barsabbas: The bartender and also archdevil of the Court, who looks like the love child of Chow Yun Fat and Ted Dansen in a white/gold-black/blue suit.
- True form is like Jersey Devil / Blue Mustang / Horse Face Devil.
- He will try to play it cool, but it is clear that he is underpowered. He is not aware that his Court has been decommissioned, and thinks outside forces must be plotting against him, explaining why he has so few poltergeists left.
- No stats necessary; He's weakened, but he's still an arch-devil...
- He believes the party is working for Pepper Pan and the Recess Rascals, who intercepted Junior.
- Karmic Attachment Opportunity: If Barsabbas can be convinced that the party isn’t working with Pepper Pan, they can make an attachment to defeat her.
- He wants Junior returned to him- not given a better sentence.
- If the party learns beforehand and tells him that he’s been decommissioned, that also changes the equation...
- Barsabbas will not allow the team to escape unless they make a Karmamare Race bet (they'll ride Karmamares, the Jockey Devil will race on Barsabbas' behalf).
- Even if they've come to friendly terms, it is his Devil-nature.
- Not all players have to race, they can investigate the Court such as to find clues as to what's going on, or to look for an alternative exit.
- Barsabbas will give each PC a Gift Shop Token beforehand if they agree to the race.
- If a PC had not already made an open Karmic Attachment with a Karmamare, they will do so as a condition of the race.
The number in parentheses is the cost in gift shop tokens.
- Quince-Tini 2 Go: (1) A Quince-tini in a bottle. For 1d4 hours, -2 WIS, +2 PRO.
- Wrongside Racetrax T-Shirt: (1) Makes you Basic.
- Wrongside Racetrax Novelty Poker Chip: (2) Automatically win one bet. Automatically lose the next bet.
- Quince-enero Hotsauce: (2) 3d6 drops. Each drop grants one conical (AoE) blast of Promethean Fire (Wd10, but Wd4 to self).
- Wrongside Racetrax Gift Card: (1) Can be used to open a portal to The Court of Those Who Bet on the Wrong Horse 1d4+2 times.
Jockey Devil: At first appears as a cyber-tech centaur (cyborg armor over jockey attached to Karmamare), but its true form is half humanoid, half karmamare, half RACETRACK.
- The Jockey Devil will not reveal its true form until right before the race starts.
- The racetrack ring bends, twists, stretches, compresses, contorts to its movements.
- The karmamares are attached to meridians along the track and cannot escape unless they win in a race against the Jockey Devil.
- Up to 3 laps for the race.
- 50 HP: Whittle down before the end of three rounds to reflect either disabling the Jockey Devil, or finishing all three laps before the end of the de facto time limit.
- Each turn gain a Mario Kart style item, lasts one turn (1d6):
- Switch (1): Spank yourself to swap places with another Karmamare.
- Fixed Bet (2): One Karmamare will take a fall / do something to your benefit.
- Dark Horse (3): Like being covered with a sheen of galaxies. Can perform one extraordinary feat (or gain bonus to Save).
- Devil Dog (4): Devil Dogs usually used to keep the Karmamares on track, but can be used to trip one up on the track instead.
- Supershoes (5): Stepping into the shoes gives your Karmamare an Iron Man-like power armor (Rocket leap, laser attacks).
- Blinkers (6): Gives the Karmamare cosmic awareness (provides some unique insight or WIS Save bonus).
SIDEBAR: On the whole, I think this went well, although in retrospect I wish I had designed it more concretely. On the one hand, I like leaving these things mechanically flexible because in the moment things often play out differently than you expect, but still, sometimes really cool ideas come out when you over-design, even if you don't stick to it too rigidly. If I were to include this in a published module, I would expand on it, probably with a caveat about encouraging GMs to alter it to their needs or preferences.