Sunday, August 26, 2012

The House of Dust and Ash, pt. 2: Voyage Over a Poisoned Sea

The House of Dust and Ash, it turned out, was a vast mausoleum/crematorium situated on an island out in the middle of the planet's highly acidic sea.


The Balemire Sea over which the Cygnan Martyr flies is a heaving, angry mass of polluted water, intermittently pierced by the jutting spires of sunken cities and the wreckage of past industrial exploitation. Highly corrosive and utterly toxic, an unprotected human immersed in its waters would last agonised seconds at best. The sea appears utterly dead except for the occasional shadows of strange and vast shapes moving through the depths.

The only way to get there is via airship, in this case the Cygnan Martyr. There's a decided steampunk vibe to the mode of transport, and the array of NPCs aboard for a trip to the auction give it a Murder on the Orient Express sort of feel. There are a LOT of NPCs, and each of them represents completely different interests. They include:

  • The captain and steward
  • Lanus Cisten, the "absentminded adept," and his assistant
  • Vymer and Quill Malfian, Bloodsworn boutyhunters, there to kill someone, but who?
  • Octavia Nile, a lovely young noblewoman who is a secret member of the Logician cult
  • Abbot Tamas of Shale, "a daemonworshipping cult magus bound to the entity known as Tsyiak, the Crow Father."

So, they're stuck on this airship, which takes off and head toward the island that is their destination. The auction was to be held there for a couple of reasons. First, it was inaccessible, making it more secure. The other is that it has something to do with the Haarlock family, and was a seat of their power at one time.

The trip takes a couple of days, as the island is quite distant. During that time, a recurring theme began to emerge. Ferrus D'Angelus, the adept acolyte, fancies himself a ladies man. Unfortunately, his attempts at seduction (in this case, if Octavia Nile) are rudely rebuffed. Seriously, this guy never managed, thoughout his life, to get lucky when he made a seduction attempt. Later, it would simply be something the rest of the players would laugh about, because it was always the same: awkward ploys, bad rolls, hilarious outcomes. Fun!

Hand of the Inquisition, acting true to his barbaric nature, tries (unsuccessfully) to intimidate Vymer and Quill, who seem more amused by him than threatened. Once again, Stephen's mode of play with Hand is simply to jump in where the fire seems hottest, and to precipitate violence. A bit of a loose cannon is Hand.

They also are hit by an epic storm, which, though it never really threatens the ship, makes some of the passengers... sky-sick? This would begin yet another familiar theme with these characters. Hand of the Inquisition, though a fell and deadly force with his sword, is sort of a sickly 'fraidy-cat. He takes to his cabin to heave his guts out. Later, as we shall see, he will demonstrate how to run away from scary things when he fails his Willpower check against Fear.

Well, even with the intrigue that is going on with the passengers, the ship itself is never really threatened by the storm or by violence among the PCs and NPCs. The real threat comes from... wait for it... Sky Pirates (called Wreckers)!

The wrecker’s [sic] craft is a salvaged skyship, somewhat larger than the Cygnan Martyr but in far worse condition. It is a fire-blackened shell that has much of its hull skin ripped away from its structure, and its overtaxed suspensors are imbalanced, producing an eerie discordant moan as it flies. Nevertheless it is fast, its scavenged impellor units belching fire and smoke as it gains rapidly on the Martyr, “flying like madmen,” as one crewman will observe.

Yes, what we have here is a thinly reskinned version of the Reavers from Firefly. Fun, but not exactly unfamiliar to my players, who are big fans of the show. Well, they attack, the PCs and some of the NPCs shoot them all to fuck, with Mark (playing Red the Guardsman), cuts loose with his autogun and clears the rails of enemy boarders. The ship shears off, but would return later on. The Cygnus Martyr, though, would outrun it, as the pirate's craft is much more poorly maintained.

Also, we have another example of the truly awful copy editing of these books. For gods' sake, why can't Fantasy Flight Games hire somebody who knows how to use a fucking apostrophe? Hint: They aren't for making nouns plural.

In any case, the airship would arrive without further incident. The players have ascertained that they like the adept, are uncertain of Vymer and Quill who seem to be serious hard cases, and distrust Octavia Nile, who seems to be hiding something.

Next stop: Deadtown, and the hilarious romantic fumblings of Ferrus D'Angelus.