This article was the featured article in the January 2012 issue of the downloadable magazine.
- The PCs’ sanity is at risk when they notice some odd goings-on during a local festival.
- Equipment Required
- Best on a Terra-like world with POP 6+ and LAW 7-. Easily adaptable to any world.
The PCs are in port in time for a huge local festival similar to Carnival or Mardi Gras. As advertisement and enticement to the many entertainment venues, the starport concourses are packed with entertainers and events of every stripe. Along the main concourse near the extrality gate, several gorgeous young men and women dressed in risqué yet tasteful fashion staff a booth. These youths, representatives of the local Pleasure Guild, are passing out invitations to revels at the guildhall. Locals will inform the PCs that the Guild’s revels are unforgettable events, featuring almost any activities the PCs can imagine.
The guildhall, a large structure built to match the surrounding architecture, is near the city center. The place is alive with activity, with scores of people attending the affair. A second group of handsome youths will greet the team at the door, direct them to a small room just off the guildhall entrance, perform a short ritual of purification, request a small donation, and brief them on the rules of the guild. The PCs will then be free to take part in guild activities. The players and the referee must supply the definition of “guild activities”, but all should bear in mind that the atmosphere is very freewheeling and festive; the entire city is one huge over-the-top party explosion and the Pleasure Guild is Ground Zero.
Later that night, after they have gone to bed, any crew members who attended events at the guild will have trouble sleeping, awakening several times during the night. While the PCs may not immediately realize it, their dream cycle is being interrupted,. They will be unrested and irritable the following day, and all social interactions should be at DM –1 (but see below, Mental Degradation). Over subsequent days, they will suffer from particularly vivid and frightening nightmares and then terrifyingly realistic visions during the day, as well as continuing to be unrested and irritable. The problems will seem to be worse each day. If the PCs seek medical evaluation—a step they should be reluctant to take—a neurological examination will reveal that the affected PCs’ brainwaves have been severely disrupted, an indication of traumatic neurological imbalance. If the cause is not found and dealt with, any suggested treatment will prove ineffective, and the condition will lead to insanity and permanent brain damage.
The PCs may connect their problems with their earlier visit to the festivities at the Pleasure Guild. If they pursue this possible connection, inquiries will reveal that other recent guests of the guild are having the same problems; reports of sleeplessness, nightmares and hallucinations are frequent, and the Guildmistress has been reported to at times act oddly.
While not necessary to the adventure, the referee may want to either prepare a map of the guildhall and its immediate environs, or describe it in abstract terms. “Guildhall” is perhaps a misnomer, as the Pleasure Guild headquarters more accurately resembles a spa/resort, with all sorts of recreation facilities including game rooms, meeting spaces, gyms, and so on. There are also rooms for guests making extended stays.
The center of all the problems is an Ancient device (see below), hidden in the guildhall’s basement; at its direction, the Guildmistress, Ylla Renn, had it unearthed and placed in a storeroom. Using various Ancient techniques not detectable by in-game current medical technology, it has been rewriting every mind it can come into contact with. Shutting the machine down will end its mind-warping effects, but it is tough to do so (see The Ancient Device, below).
The first night following the PCs’ visit to the guildhall, the referee should secretly throw each character’s INT or less on 2D. Failure indicates the immediate loss of a point in INT. This damage is not permanent, nor is it painful or even noticeable at first. Each night after the first, affected characters should make another throw vs. unmodified INT (i.e., not the reduced INT), losing another point each time if the roll fails. Successfully making the throw will not prevent more INT loss later; it only stops it for that one night (though the interrupted sleep and resulting irritability continue). The thing has gotten its hooks into the hapless victims and will not stop “rewriting” their brains.
INT losses will affect the characters per the table below. Such
losses will also affect the visitors’ skills and technical prowess. The
referee should keep the changes subtle for as long as possible, not
letting the players know too quickly what is going on. Note that the
characters (or players) should not be consciously aware that their
abilities are degrading; at most, they should attribute difficulties to
their recent poor sleep.
|Effects of INT Loss
|Description: Interrupted REM sleep:
Additional Effects: All social interactions at DM –1
|Description: Interrupted REM sleep:
fatigue, irritability, mental dullness.
Additional Effects: All social interactions at DM –2
|Description: As –1 INT, plus increased
physical fatigue and severe mental fatigue.
Additional Effects: –1 END
|Description: As –2 INT, plus vivid
nightmares. Referees wishing to provide extra clues can slip in
references to the guildhall basement and its contents.
Additional Effects: additional –1 END (total –2 END)
|Description: As –3 INT, plus daytime
hallucinations like the nightmares.
Additional Effects: –1 DEX, additional –1 END (total –3 END)
|5 or more
|Description: As –4 INT, plus increasing detachment from reality (madness/insanity) with increasing loss of INT. No further physical effects.
Once a PC is at –5 INT, the PC’s mental difficulties will spill over into madness. The referee should select an appropriate mental issue for the PC. Physical degradation stops, but from this point forward, the afflicted character must make throws vs. his or her unmodified INT or the damage becomes permanent.
Anyone falling to INT 0 at any stage becomes basically a zombie under the control of the device. This individual is permanently brain-damaged and can be easily controlled by the artifact.
It is possible to simply move out of the area of effect, as the machine only has Very Long range. Moving beyond that distance is sufficient to avoid the effects, but the affected person must stay at that distance to allow healing to begin. Once he or she returns to the proximity of the Guildhall, the effects begin once more.
If the PCs are successful in stopping the device, the minds it affected will begin the healing process. As long as INT losses totaled less than 4, the outraged neural functions will heal, over the course of one week per point of INT lost. Those reaching –4 INT will require professional psychiatric treatment, adding another 1D weeks to the healing process; those at –5 INT will require neurosurgery to repair physical trauma, as long as the throw vs. unmodified INT was not failed, and an additional 3D weeks of healing. (The same effects apply to any affected individuals permanently removed from within range of the device, if the device is still operating.)
Ylla was exposed to the effects longer and more intensely than anyone else. Her neural damage is far more extensive; sadly, her prognosis is poor.
The PCs should receive suitable rewards for their efforts. The acting guild leader will certainly be willing to allow the group to stay for a week or two for free for their trouble, and the artifact is worth a lot of money to the Imperial authorities, especially if it is still functional.
The Ancient Device
The cause of the mental problems is an Ancient communications and medical device. Thousands of years ago, a small research outpost was located on the site now occupied by the guildhall. The base featured a main computer whose functions included keeping the staff linked telepathically through a system of cybertelepathic interfaces. During the Final War, an explosion blew one of the interfaces into a fissure, where it lay undisturbed for millennia, damaged but able to slowly repair itself. The presence of sentient minds recently awakened the device. It attempted telepathic contact, but in its still-damaged state believed that the minds it encountered were Ancients that had been altered somehow. In response, it is using Ancient (mostly psionic) medical techniques to “rewire” the minds present to Ancient specs. Increasing madness and brain damage are the result.
One of the artifact’s first targets was the guildmother, Ylla Renn. The object has rewired her extensively after determining that she held a position of authority. She now displays such aberrant behavior as speaking in a language that seems to be similar to a dialect of Oynprith, eating food normally considered Droyne cuisine (both possible clues as to what may be going on), and acting paranoid about most access to the storage areas in the guildhall basement (she is guarding the secret of the object’s existence).
As a guard against tampering or “misuse”, the artifact used Ylla to lure several individuals it determined were particularly susceptible to psionic manipulation (and who seemed similar to its ideas of an Ancient medic’s mentality) to the basement. The dupes were subjected to a “conditioning” procedure that rendered them effectively mindless. The computer uses these individuals as guards; two are “on duty” near it at any given time, and it can rouse the others as needed. As a last resort, it can defend itself using Assault, although this drains its batteries.
The machine can be attacked physically and psionically, using the rules for telepathic duels in Book 1: Characters and Combat. It is actually easier to fight it psionically, as Ancient materials tech has no peer in known space. A massive amount of physical or energy damage must be dealt the thing before it ceases to function, and even more to destroy it. A psi may have the ability to force it into shutdown through a psychic contest. Referees who deem the party unequal to the task of wrecking it may reduce its physical abilities to make any confrontation fairer. Likewise, the referee may need to make the device more durable against a well-equipped and armed group with a solid attack plan.
The device is a spheroid about 30 cm in diameter, but a side effect
of its Neural Rewrite function causes affected humans to perceive it
differently on an individual basis. The one common aspect of the altered
perceptions is that the appearance is always that of something or
someone that can be and is “watching” the person. Referees who choose to
use complication 5 below may, of course, have it appear as the local
dominant evil being.
Size: 30 cm diameter (but see above for appearance)
Psionic Strength 15
Telepathy (Life Detection*, Shield*, Read Surface Thoughts*, Send Thoughts*, Probe, Assault)
Special (Telepathic Link*, Neural Rewrite, Multiple Targets)
*These are considered “routine” uses of its Telepathy (what it was designed to do) and therefore do not cost Psionic Strength Points. Probe, Assault, and Neural Rewrite costs are calculated normally, but regenerate at the rate of one point per combat round (15 seconds).
The artifact can summon those it has affected to –5 INT (or to INT 0) to its aid. This will occur should the device take 250 hits or more. Ylla will willingly protect it, and can sense when there are others near the machine.
Guildmistress Ylla Renn
Ylla Renn 668286 Age 42 Other (6 terms) Cr61000
Brawling-0, Gambling-1, Jack-O-T-2, Streetwise-1
Ylla is the popular and genial leader of the Pleasure guild and hostess at its most memorable festivals. A striking Human woman with long auburn hair, she is commonly encountered wearing an abbreviated (skimpy) version of whatever is currently considered haute couture on the planet, and adorned with expensive-looking but always stylish jewelry. She was the first to unknowingly encounter the alien machine and has been the most profoundly affected by it, having had her brain profoundly altered. The device is able to control her to the extent of putting up a front of lucidity, but make no mistake – she is in total thrall to the Ancient device.
Ylla’s Brawling skill can be considered to be that granted through a combination of the artifact’s influence and her madness; it is not a learned skill.
As if the PCs didn’t have enough problems with encroaching insanity, several outside factors can possibly complicate their mission:
- A crusading reporter has heard rumors of illicit activities at the guild and smells a story. She has sneaked in and is snooping around with a small camera, despite the onset of her own mental affliction. When the team discovers the alien relic, she will be on hand to record the events. The Imperial authorities have a vested interest in keeping the existence of the artifact quiet, and will do whatever it takes to get the tape.
- Several of the afflicted guests go totally insane and embark on orgies of murder and destruction. A morality group that has long has the guild in its sights sees this as its chance to get rid of it. Using the incidents as ammunition, they begin badgering the authorities to either curtail the guild’s activities or shut it down altogether.
- As 1 or 2 above, but a high-ranking member of the planetary government has been visiting the guild on the sly for months. When the reporter or the moralists begin to expose the guild’s activities, they also threaten to expose his indulgences. He will hire the team to help him, insisting they drop their own concerns in order to accommodate him.
- Somehow, the device’s power begins increasing exponentially, threatening a wider area with insanity. The team must solve the mystery quickly to keep mass insanity from engulfing the city—and the downport.
- As 2, except that the nightmares and hallucinations suffered by the victims take on aspects of a personally meaningful mythology (perhaps a central figure in the visions is the equivalent of the devil or other such ultimate evil). The artifact’s thralls become convinced that the end of the world is nigh and begin spreading the word, causing no small amount of panic as the stories take hold.
- Despite having little interest in human ideas of pleasure, any Droyne or Chirpers in the area of the Guildhall may become fascinated with it, and hang around. These Droyne and Chirpers will not lose INT or experience any of the other negative effects. In fact, they seem to be getting smarter…