The Player Diaries: A Dark Act by a Shining Warrior

Well, the third proper session of Savage RIFTS went down on Sunday morning and holy crap, did it not go down as I expected. I’m looking forward to see where my character goes from here.

In the world of Savage RIFTS, Earth is in the later stages of recovering from a magical apocalypse that devastated an ultra-tech, future golden age. One of the impediments to humanity truly recovering from the disaster is the renewed presence of ley lines, rivers of magical energy that criss-cross the planet, and the rifts to other dimensions that open where the ley lines intersect, spewing out travellers of all manner of species, powers and intents.

One of the main forces for good, peace and justice in this crazed world is the Tomorrow Legion, an army based out of a castle in the Ozarks that combines dwarven engineering with supertech enhancements. Our team of player characters –

  • Joseph Rossi, my Glitter Boy;
  • Lars McCracken, Alwin’s Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling;
  • Roderick Irongear, Pierre’s dwarven Techno-Wizard;
  • and Nic Swiss, Evan (the GM’s nephew)’s Cyber-Doc

are a special expedition team within the Legion who get called in when things go south for even the harder of the Legion’s regular units. Such was the case in our adventure, where game master Ed sent us out to track down a missing unit, Wulfgar’s Wrath.

In the first session, I’d established that Rossi was overconfident, but also the kind who never shot first.

And suddenly, things get interesting.

In the first and second sessions, we vanquished a squad of skelebots (robot soldiers of an evil empire), met a village of folks who seemed to be slowly mutating into insects and encountered a mysterious mound filled with arcane energy which disgorged a monster that actually did some damage to Joseph’s precious Glitter Boy suit before he dispatched it with a shot from his Boom Gun.

As the third session kicked off, Pierre and Evan were absent, so Ed said they’d gone back to the village to assist with relief efforts while Lars and Joseph identified what appeared to be a comm unit broadcasting white noise.

We encountered what looked to be another encampment within a ruined building. Rossi, overconfident type he is, stood out in the open, activated the Glitter Boy suit’s loud hailer and told the heat signatures they’d picked up within the building to come out and face him.

Two small objects at around human head height came out of the building and flew at Rossi. Due to some sort of magical effect, he couldn’t look at the darting objects long enough to make details out but the GM said Joseph definitely spotted metal.

Rossi demanded they identify themselves again, but the objects kept coming. I figured them for drones, and a said that in his overconfidence, Rossi would activate his suit’s stabilisation system, deploy the Boom Gun and fire.

Now, the Boom Gun, pictured over the Glitter Boy’s shoulder above, is written as even more badass than the super-armoured, laser-resistant power suit it’s mounted on. It’s a rail-gun which accelerates an ultra-tech shotgun shell filled with razor sharp metal flechettes to an approximate speed of Mach Fuck (hence the accompanying sonic boom that can deafen anyone within six metres of the Glitter Boy).

It’s a direct-fire artillery piece that needs a back-mounted jet pack and pylons in the Glitter Boy’s feet (that laser-drill into the ground) to stop the recoil from knocking the 1.2-tonne Glitter Boy suit flying backward, and anything in front of the Boom Gun less armoured than a tank when it fires is confetti.

So, naturally, the two objects no longer existed. That was when Lars, who understands elven/dragonese, heard someone within the building crying out, asking where someone else was.

Then more of the objects came out of the ruin, and this time, we could see them. It was a band of pixies, and their princess leader Gwynn paid Rossi respect for besting their champion.

In that moment, I worked it out – the person the voices had been crying out for seconds ago was one of the two objects – pixies in metal armour – Rossi had just vapourised. That was when it hit both Rossi and I – he/I’d shot first and killed not drones but two living beings.

Trust me; it might just be all make believe, but even in RPGs, actions have consequences. It’s as involving as reading, listening to or watching a story you’re enjoying, except it’s YOU, not the author or script-writer, who’s making the lead characters’ decisions. In that moment, I felt a shadow of what someone in Rossi’s position could well have been feeling. I wanted a do-over, I wanted Rossi to not be a genuine killer, it wasn’t what I’d wanted for the character – but I shut up and let the moment stand.

I had Rossi answer questions in mono-syllables for a bit while Alwin had Lars enquire about Wulfgar’s Wrath. The haughty pixie princess said yes, she and her tribe had the missing squad. They had been very rude in coming into the pixies’ territory uninvited and not addressing the princess with due deference. They had been punished accordingly; nonetheless, the tribe would bring the missing soldiers to us.

That was when they brought out the bag fashioned out of a silvery thermal blanket, the sort of thing you’d find in an outdoors emergency kit, folded over and bulging with objects. They dumped it on the ground, and we looked – a collection of armour, weapons and equipment, including a helmet whose comm channel had been left open.

And bones. Lots of bones, with little pixie-sized teeth marks.

In that moment, I knew Rossi’s failure to adhere to his own code plus the failure to bring Wulfgar and his team back AND the horror of what these creatures had done to them swung his emotional pendulum all the way to the other end. He told Lars to ask the pixies in dragonese, “Do you all stand with your princess?”

If I remember rightly, Alwin had Lars ask Rossi what he was doing. I had Rossi reply, “Just ask them that, Lars, right now. Ask them: Do you all stand with your princess?”

Lars did so, and the princess said, “Or course they do! They all know their place under me as their ruler!”

That was when I had Rossi re-activate the Boom Gun’s stabilisation system and draw a bead on the princess, with the intent of catching as many of her flesh-eating subjects in the Boom Gun’s blast as possible.

Ed called for an initiative draw (Savage Worlds uses cards instead of dice for initiative). Alwin wanted Lars to throwing himself in front of Rossi, but came at the bottom of the order. The princess was first, casting a spell of armour on herself. Rossi went next, tightening his finger on the Boom Gun’s trigger –

– and then stowing the gun back away un-fired, withdrawing the stabilisers and walking over to the bag of remains to pick it up and take it away.

I figured, no matter the provocation, he couldn’t look another being in the eye and kill without being attacked first. Not again.

We departed and after reporting in to our sergeant at the village, returned to check the mound out and wound up indulging in some genuine heroics in order to prevent a tentacled ooze monster from another dimension entering ours via one of the game’s trademark rifts (this was when Pierre joined the Session and kick some ass – if a tentacled ooze monster from another dimension has an ass).

Still, the damage is done, and I’m wondering how that’s going to affect Rossi going forward. Does he confess to breaking his code to his sergeant? If he refuses to throw the first punch or fire the first shot in the future, what might he let happen, and how will that affect him?

Worse – what if he DOES shoot first once more?

This is the kind of stuff that I want from roleplaying game sessions, the opportunity to fuck up and have it mean something. In a significant way, Rossi’s moment of overconfidence was mine; as I wrote above part of me would love a do-over and not have Rossi be responsible for those deaths.

The rest of me knows that the interesting part of RPGs is how the characters deal with the consequences of their own actions, even and especially the stupid ones.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to more Savage RIFTS, and I’m hoping I can bring my players a similar grade of drama, tension and “Oh God, what have I done?” in the games I run for them.