Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Yeti Sanction, part III (spoilers)

Art by Dave Billman

At the conclusion our previous installment, the player characters had just received unexpected assistance from allies of which they were unaware.  As such, the characters were free to pursue Kahai the Yuga and Anton Markov “to a large room with circular walls about 100 feet in diameter” and “which is filled with strange alien machinery.”  Although the characters do not realize it, they have followed Kahai and Markov onto “the bridge of the Yugan space ship.”  (“Most of the Yuga ship is underground in a huge silo.”)

How formidable are the characters' two opponents?  Kahai has the powers of Mind Block, ESP, Electrosensing, Electrosleep, Hypnosis, and Persuasion.  In addition, he has an energy shield and is armed with a proton beamer (”A rifle-like weapon that shoots a beam of charged proton particles” inflicting 5d6 damage) and a varilance (“A 6 foot long tube that projects a beam of controlled energy that can vary in length from 3 feet to 9 feet” and causes 1d6 + 1d10 damage).  Markov also has a proton beamer along with an energy vest.  Incidentally, Markov possesses the powers of sensual chaos, invisibility, and fear.  You might wonder how an insane, former KGB spymaster gained such powers.  Don't you think it's a little late in the game to start asking questions like that?

Anyway, Kahai “initiates the liftoff sequence that will take the ship off the planet Earth.”  Once “the battle ends, the characters will be pressed to the floor by the high acceleration of the take off.”  The ship's hyperdrive automatically engages after about five minutes whereupon the characters “experience brief disorientation and mild hallucinations for a few seconds.”  Due to damage caused during the battle, the hyperdrive control catches fire when activated and becomes nothing but slag by the time the characters put the fire out.  The characters are now “lost in hyperspace.”  Do Kahai and Markov survive?  Perhaps; they are not referenced at any further point in the adventure (even though Beeveesome, “the ruler of all Yeti,” promised the player characters he would reward them if they bring the villains to him).

After aimlessly travelling through hyperspace for several – evidently uneventful – days, a tractor beam seizes the ship and pulls it toward an asteroid which is “part natural and part artificial.”  A message transmitted from the asteroid is announced via the ship's radio.  I suppose the ship's computer conveniently translates the message into English or maybe all languages are universal in hyperspace.
By the Archon's order . . . no course deviation will be permitted . . . this ship is confiscated . . . all life forms aboard will prepare for termination . . . resistance is futile . . . prepare for docking inside Arcanus 16.
Does preparation for docking take precedence over preparation for termination?  Is docking preparation intended only for entities that aren't life forms?  Answers to these pertinent queries are not provided.  Via the ship's viewing screens, the characters can see the docking bay which is apparently their destination.  At “irregular intervals” the tractor beam partially malfunctions and the ship “nearly breaks free of the beam.”  Somehow the characters realize that they may be able to take advantage of the beam's partial malfunction “to deviate slightly from the present course, so that the ship crashes down upon the the death squad sent by the Archon” even though they have no knowledge of said death squad.  Incidentally, the death squad consists of ten Giant Mantises; this number is reduced to five if the “crash landing” stunt succeeds.  “Since this encounter is potentially deadly to all the characters, it is suggested that the GM use discretion.”

Assuming the player characters prevail, television cameras inform them that twenty more Giant Mantises are approaching the docking bay via the left tunnel.  “There is little choice but to run from the Archon's death squad,” so the player characters presumably flee down the right hand tunnel which “opens into a passageway leading downwards toward the asteroid's interior.”  Eventually, the player characters encounter three air elementals guarding “the entrance to the Cave of the Winds.”  The characters can either defeat the elementals or enter into a magical contract with them allowing “unhindered passage across the Cave of Winds in return for aid in an attempt by a Baroness of Air to take to control from a Duchess of Air.”

If the characters opt for the contract, they and Cerulea (the Baroness) fight Pneuma (the Duchess).  If Cerulea wins, she tells the characters how to escape from the asteroid.  If Pneuma wins, “The only chance for the characters to to accept a magical contract with her.”  Pneuma then gives the characters the same information about escaping from the asteroid since – given the contract – it is “in her best interest to see that the characters survive.”

Beyond the Cave of the Winds, there is “a huge plateau about 20 miles wide” in the center of which “is a giant pyramid of obsidian.”  The pyramid is huge – “several thousand feet high.”  A black sun illuminates the plateau with “dark and hazy” light having “a purplish-blue tint.”  (“One particular aspect of the 'sunlight' is that nothing on the plateau casts a shadow.”)  The characters are informed that “their best hope of escape lies in the gate atop the Obsidian Pyramid, and that they will need the control box owned by the creature that lives in the Black Sun, plus the crystal prism and master tape cartridge owned by various creatures inside the pyramid.”

Art by Dave Billman

The creature of the Black Sun is an Urlar.  What's an Urlar?  According to The Book of Foes, “Urlar are space for faring [sic] amoebas about 30 feet in diameter...[that] can change shape at will (it takes 10 turns to form a new shape).”  Aside from having all powers from the Cyborg, Projector, Telepath, and Invoker sets, the Black Sun Urlar has a gamma raygun* implanted in it.

Attached to one side of the pyramid is “a castle built from rainbow-like quartz.”  Apparently, the only way into the pyramid is through the rainbow castle.  Inhabiting the castle is the Bestiary Grand Council, an organization of animal rulers.  According to The Book of Foes
Every type of animal has both a ruler and guardians who personify and protect that type of animal.  It is possible for the characters to make pacts with animal rulers and guardians so that the ruler or guardian may be summoned by the characters.  All rulers and guardians have the ability to Travel Between Dimensions to answer a summons.  The pact upon which the summons is based must be mutually rewarding.  Usually, the characters must either bargain for a service after meeting the ruler or guardian face-to-face, or was rewarded the pact for some action that was extremely beneficial for the type of animal associated with the ruler or guardian.
(While humanoid in aspect, animal rulers should not be confused with humanoid races having animal characteristics or the leaders of those races.  For example, sharkmen are a humanoid race with shark-like properties.  Bloodhook is the lord of the sharkmen.  The animal ruler for all sharks is named Skulo.)

The council will permit the characters “to pass through the rainbow castle into the interior of the pyramid only if the characters can prove themselves worthy.”  To accomplish this, each player character must engage in single combat with an animal guardian.  “The characters will be judged worthy to enter the obsidian pyramid if at least half of the characters are victorious in their individual combats.”  A character who loses to an animal guardian will be under magical contract to that guardian.  On the other hand, if the animal guardian loses, the guardian will be under magical contract to the character.

Should the player characters be permitted to access the pyramid, the council will provide them with a magical compass that will lead them through the pyramid's “maze of tunnels.”  (If the characters managed to avoid Cerulea and Pneuma, the council will tell them about the three devices they need to escape the asteroid.)  In the pyramid, the characters confront trolls, Fomorians, and a  Wendigo to obtain the needed devices and reach the top of the pyramid.  Actually, the pyramid is truncated.  “The top of the pyramid is a square plateau about 1000 feet to a side.”  Seventy-seven statues ring a pond of mercury at regular intervals.  “Fifty-six of the statues depict giant humanoids sitting on thrones,” the remaining statues are empty thrones.  In the middle of the pond “is an obsidian platform about 20 feet square.”  On the platform is an obelisk “covered with dials, meters and switches.”  The characters can use the devices to operate the obelisk, “which locates and locks on to an interdimensional gate.”  However, when the gate opens, one of the statue humanoids becomes animated.  Said humanoids are actually Archons.

What's an Archon?  According to The Book of Foes, “Archons...look like large muscular humans, though they can Shape Shift at will three times a day.”  Unfortunately, The Book of Foes doesn't explain what Archons are; we must garner clues from The Yeti Sanction.  We learn that, “The race that built the asteroid and created the Archons has long since ceased to control the asteroid.”  Also, “the Archon remains true to its original purpose:  to kill all unauthorized intruders.”  Since the creator race no longer controls the asteroid, no authorization is possible.  So, Archons are synthetic and would not seem to be capable of independent thought that would overcome their programming.

Of course, the Archon attacks the player characters.  Chiron appears from the gate.  “He will join the characters, telling them: 'Prometheus thought you can use some help.'”  In The Horn of Roland, Prometheus provided assistance to player characters (and vice versa).  The Yeti Sanction claims that any character who participated in Roland “will know that Chiron speaks the truth, since the friends of Prometheus can always recognize each other telepathically, even went they have never met before.”  Somehow the characters know this.  Of course, it's possible that the Yeti player characters did not partake in Roland.  How and why Chiron would assist the characters in this instance is not explained.

Presumably, the player characters and their new centaur friend defeat the Archon, allowing the characters to access the interdimensional gate.  “The GM can use the escape through the gate as a prelude to the character's [sic] next adventure.”  Specifically, “The escape was designed to be used as a background to the adventure module: Omegakron.”  However, “The GM does not have to let the gate lead to Omegakron.”  In any event, Chiron does not accompany the player characters; he returns from whence he came (presumably under the auspices of Prometheus).

Art by Dave Billman
* “A submachinegun-like weapon that fires a ray of gamma radiation.  There is no known natural defense against a gamma raygun, and it is illegal to own one.”  It inflicts 6d6 points of damage.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Yeti Sanction, part II (spoilers)

When we last left our intrepid player characters in The Yeti Sanction adventure module, they had just uncovered a Russian mole in the CIA.  This is because a middle-management bad guy had a dossier – written in English – that identifies the mole and explains his mission.  The player characters only become aware of this dossier when the bad guy tries to burn it in their presence.  Uncovering the mole isn't even necessary for the continuity of the adventure; that's how sad this is.  If it was a set up for a dramatic confrontation with the mole, it wouldn't be so bad.  If the mole turned out to be a Yeti-hybrid, I could even cut it some slack.

Anyway, the player characters start out on their journey to Kathmandu.  The plane set to take them on the first leg of the trip is hijacked by nine terrorists.  I would write 'skyjacked', but the terrorists don't wait until the plane is airborne.  “If the characters are able to defeat the hijackers,” the adventure reads, “they will be given the grateful thanks of the airline officials and flown (free of charge) to London.”  Even in the pre-911 era, I think a terrorist attack would have caused the flight to be canceled.  “If the characters are not able to defeat the hijackers, then the plane will be taken to Cuba” where the characters spend two days before they can leave.

Various random encounters are possible as the player characters travel from Kathmandu to the village of Dingpouche.  The listings on the random encounter charts include False Yeti and different types of True Yeti.  The 'New Foes' section of the adventure describes four True Yeti types:
  • Ragshi Bonpo (Tehelma) – “They look like intelligent monkeys” and they “have the powers of Animal Control, Clairvoyance, Invisibility, and Sound Control.”
  • Dremo (Migyu) – These Yeti “are covered with blueish fur with blond or brown highlights.”  They are “extremely aggressive” and “have the powers of True Sight, Fascination, and Sensual Chaos.”
  • Nyalmo (Szu-Teh) – These Yeti stand “8 to 10 feet tall” and “have brown or black fur with blond, red, or gray highlights.”  They “have the power of Fear, and the ability to control the direction of the wind.”  The Yeti described in The Book of Foes is identical to the Nyalmo, except – instead of having the power of Fear – the Foes Yeti can “cause a 10 feet × 10 feet area to Freeze doing 4-24 points of damage (range = 150 feet) once per day.”
  • Rimi (Mih-Teh) – “They have powerful muscular bodies with reddish-blond fur highlighted with white” and they are “12 to 20 feet tall.”  Rimi are “extremely intelligent” and “have the powers of Physical Control and Dermal Armor.”  Additionally, they have the Freeze ability ascribed to the Foes Yeti and the power of “Elemental Shaping (ice or snow only).”
Also listed among the 'New Foes' is Beeveesome, “the ruler of all Yeti.”  He “is an immortal spirit that roams the Himalayas” and “looks like a giant Rimi (32 feet tall).”  Two types of creatures from the elemental plane of air can also be encountered – Welkins (“giant eagles of air that can pick up, then drop victims”) and Ethereans (“seven foot tall, cloud-white humans”).

The non-player character guides state that YETI headquarters “is rumored to be in the small village of Lhotsepurna just below Mt. Everest.”  In the area, YETI is known as a cult and the cultists raid and take over villages.  The guides have planned three possible paths from Dingpouche to Lhotsepurna.  The paths are shown on the map from the back cover of the adventure book (displayed above).  No scale is indicated for this map, but this is not problematic.  Each path takes the same amount time to traverse – “about three days worth of climbing.”  For practical purposes, the only differences among the paths are the terrain types they cross.
The brown areas are morraine [sic].  Morraine consists of loose rock and dirt.  There is a fair chance of a landslide.  The gray areas are skree.  Skree is loosely-packed snow were [sic] avalanches can occur.  The white areas are ice walls.  Ice Walls sometimes cover deep crevasses with a thin layer of ice.  Individuals could fall into the crevasses.  The black areas are bare rock and are reasonably safe.
The different terrain perils have different game effects and different ways they can be mitigated.  Unfortunately, for moraine and ice walls, there is no indication as to how often their respective perils should be checked.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to explain what's really going on.  “YETI actually stands for the Yama Elite Triumphant Immortals,” although the players do not necessarily learn this during the course of the adventure.  The cultists serve what they think is “the Hindu god of death.”  A ship of aliens called the Yuga landed in the Himalayas “because the mountains resembled their home planet.”  Local inhabitants assumed they were messengers of Yama given “their spectacular arrival from space, and the fact that their fur and eyes are Yama's colors (pale green fur and copper colored eyes).”  Anton Markov, “former head of the Asian section of the KGB,” escaped from a psychiatric institute and sought “refuge in the Himalayan mountains where he was joined by some of his special agents.”  Naturally, “a race of megalomaniacs who firmly believe that anyone not dominated by them are their foes” will get along swimmingly with an insane KGB spymaster.  Given “his knowledge of human psychology, [Markov] reinforced the belief of the Yama worshippers that they had encountered the true messengers of the god Yama.”

Where does Markov's plan to foment a nuclear war fit in with all of this?
He managed to convince the Yuga that other humans would kill the aliens if their presence became known.  The only chance for the aliens would be a nuclear war (which would devastate the lowlands, but leave the mountains reasonably untouched).  After the radiation levels lowered, the aliens and Dr. Markov's men would inherit the earth.
As such, YETI might as well stand for Yuga Extra-Terrestrial Integration.  I understand that Markov is insane, the Yuga aren't concerned about a nuclear war, and the cultists can be manipulated into doing anything.  It seems odd, however, that none of Markov's agents resist his plans for nuclear annihilation.  Some Yuga, including Kahai, the leader, have the powers of Hypnosis and Persuasion which they could possibly use against the agents.  Regardless, those powers cannot affect victims for very long.

The aliens have an Anabolic Metamorphosis Machine.  Via this machine, the Yuga transform and mentally program humans into False Yeti.  The Yuga also used the machine to create a twenty foot tall false Yama.  This “false Yama really believes he is the Hindu god of the dead...that he is immortal and that the Yuga are his servants.”

At the climax of the fourth scenario, the player characters are confronted by Markov, Kahai, and ten false Yeti.  We read that...
...the situation looks grim.  Fortunately, help arrives before the battle takes place.  Several metal plates from the right-hand wall come crashing inward.  Through the gap pour 8 Rimi (true Yeti) led by Beeveesome...  When they see the true Yeti, Anton Markov and Kahai the Yuga flee through the far door.  The characters hear (telepathically) a message from Beeveesome, the leader of their allies:  “Leave these abominations to us.  They will not last long against true Yeti.  Bring me the masters of these wretched creatures, and I will reward you greatly.”
Nothing in the adventure prior to this occasion informed the player characters that Beeveesome is an ally or even that such an entity exists.  At this point, less than seven pages of the adventure remain in the thirty-two page book.  Yet the final two scenarios are where the adventure delivers the Lords of Creation goods.

Art by Dave Billman

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Yeti Sanction, part I (spoilers)

Art by Dave Billman

Enjoyment of fiction sometimes requires suspension of disbelief.  Such suspension is also needed when participating in a role-playing game.  However, different genres can tolerate suspension to a greater or lesser extent.  The genres of mystery and espionage, dependent upon logic and plausibility, are not well suited for suspension of disbelief.  The first Lords of Creation adventure, The Horn of Roland, includes a mystery scenario.  Although I questioned the appropriateness of the scenario as an introductory adventure, the mystery was competently crafted.  The second Lords of Creation adventure, The Yeti Sanction, begins with an espionage scenario.  Unfortunately, this scenario is so implausible, it makes any given Saturday morning cartoon plot look sophisticated in comparison.  Lords of Creation can accommodate mystery and espionage, but the potential of the game is so vast it seems a shame to present an unsatisfactory espionage scenario instead of any of numerous possible opportunities.

The Yeti Sanction “was designed for characters who have just finished” The Horn of Roland, but the completion of Roland is not a prerequisite for Yeti.  In fact, the continuity between the two adventures is practically non-existent.  Yeti, however, requires characters of a higher power profile than RolandThe Yeti Sanction (1984) was designed by Ian Guistino and Tom Moldvay.  Since Moldvay is listed second, it would seem that Guistino did more of the work.  Other than some magazine contributions in the 21st century, Yeti is Guistino's only published RPG effort.

Like Roland, Yeti encompasses six scenarios.  The first scenario begins with the player characters being contacted by an Air Force colonel; however, when “he is sure that no one else can hear, he will reveal to the characters that he is actually a member of the CIA...”  The colonel “has been sent to escort the characters to Washington.”  I think we can all appreciate how annoying it is when someone from the CIA wants to escort us to Washington.  The colonel establishes his bona fides by presenting an ID card.  Also, “Any characters with the Espionage skill will know that CIA agents have a recognition code which is changed each week.”  It is also somehow known that, “This week the code is wearing a piece of silver jewelry shaped like a lion, with imitation ruby eyes.”  The colonel “is wearing such a tie pin.”  This is important later when...oh, wait, it isn't important.  If the characters call the CIA to confirm the colonel's credentials, the GM should “give them a 10 XP bonus for intelligent play.”  Ten experience points is more XP than a character can earn by beating up a grizzly bear or an orc leader.

It is assumed that the player characters will accompany the colonel to Washington.  Instead of taking them to Langley, the colonel brings them to a facility underneath the Pentagon.  A CIA official named Commander Williams addresses the player characters via television screen.   Williams explains that the Secretary of State has been kidnapped and, as a result, the commander is “empowered” to recruit the player characters “to help during the crisis.”  Williams claims, “Every one of you has been recommended to me.”  The adventure background claims the characters are asked “on the basis of the job they did in New Bristol” (assuming they completed The Horn of Roland adventure).  Williams gives the characters the opportunity to back out; however, “The GM should encourage the the characters [sic] to accept since there is no adventure otherwise).”  Assuming the characters accept the offer, they become “Force J” and are briefed by Williams:
     ...Up until three years ago, Dr. Markov was Chief of the Asian Division for the Russian KGB.  Then one day he suddenly disappeared.  Unconfirmed rumors placed him somewhere in Siberia at a secret base.  We believe that he received special training in terrorist tactics while at the base.  About a year go Markov surfaced in Tibet.  He is currently leader of an international terrorist organi-zation named YETI.  As far as we can determine, YETI stands for Young Everest Terrorist International.  They have an isolated base somewhere in the Himalayan Mountains.
     In the past year, YETI has established an international reputation for kidnappings and assassinations on a grand scale.  While not as well known yet as some other international terrorist groups, their actions over the last year make YETI one possible suspect in the kidnapping of Secretary Jackson.  Other agents are checking out different leads.  Your mission is to find out whether or not YETI was involved in the secretary of state.  If so, rescue Secretary Jackson and capture or kill Anton Markov.
Additionally, Williams explains that the characters' “contact in the field is Sally Anderson at the United Travel Agency.”  Anderson “has already done some preliminary work on the case and...will handle all preparations for your trip to the Himalayas.”  Williams directs his secretary, Helen Robbins, to take the characters to the “Armaments section” so that they may be issued their equipment.  Williams concludes the briefing by alerting the characters, “There may be a leak in the agency” and only five people know about Force J:  the colonel, Williams, Anderson, Robbins, and George Fox, “the head of the Armaments section.”

I would have handled the recruitment of the player characters in a different manner.  Rather than have the Secretary of State kidnapped from his home, I would have him kidnapped from a conference held at a hotel.  They player characters would also be at the hotel and they would fall victim to the incapacitating gas used by YETI.  The characters recover from the gas with the aid of the CIA.  After checking the characters' backgrounds, the agency offers the 'Force J' opportunity.  In this way, the player characters would have a sense of obligation to the CIA and a motive for going after YETI.

Just over six pages near the beginning have listings for spy equipment, rules for car chases, and forty-eight car descriptions.  The only foreign vehicle that isn't a luxury model is a Volkswagen Rabbit.  Anyway, “The Game Master has two methods of giving the characters their special equipment.”  The GM can either provide the characters with the suggested equipment or let them outfit themselves with a budget (“$50,000 for two cars, and $15,000 for other equipment”).  If you bog down the adventure by letting the players go on a shopping spree, you're doing it wrong.  Just give them the suggested equipment and entertain any reasonable requests.  Honestly, time is too precious – both in real life and in the game.

Once the characters get their equipment, they go to United Travel Agency to see Sally Anderson.  There are two indicators that something isn't right:  'Sally' doesn't respond with the proper recognition phrase and there is “a muffled yell from behind the back door.”  The real Sally Anderson is being kidnapped.  Specifically, she is being forced into a station wagon in the back alley.  The station wagon has the name 'Yak Exports Unlimited' displayed on the sides.  A car chase ensues...probably.

Included in The Yeti Sanction box are some player aids:  equipment lists, car descriptions, charts pertaining to the car chase rules, and a map of Washington, DC.  The Lords of Creation car chase rules are not as abstract as those for other games.  The chase follows a specific route through Washington and there is a table that indicates what happens on each game turn (including what 'driving check' rolls are required).  The adventure acknowledges that – instead of pursuing the station wagon – the characters can just find the address of Yak Exports Unlimited by looking in the phone book.

At the Yak Exports Unlimited warehouse, the player characters find out about the YETI plan:  “Dr. Anton Markov hopes to start a nuclear war by setting off [atomic] bombs in Washington and Moscow after first kidnapping important officials from each country.”  A disassembled atomic bomb is present at the warehouse and “Included with the bomb is a copy of Markov's orders.”  If your plan is to start a nuclear war, destroying Moscow and Washington ought to do the trick; kidnapping officials would seem to be an unnecessary effort (unless that's the easiest way for a GM to involve the player characters).  The player characters have captured the Washington bomb, but the Moscow bomb plays no part in the adventure.

Also at the warehouse, the player characters come across a bad guy burning some papers.  An unburned fragment relates information about a Russian mole in the CIA, including the mole's date of birth.  The reasons why this document would even exist, why it would it be written in English, and why the bad guy would have this document on his person are not elaborated upon.  (Spymaster pro tip:  If you really must write down your mole infiltration plans, don't mention the mole's identity.)  Additionally, “On a pad next to the telephone is a message which reads:  'Tell Katrina about Force J; also call Marie at house'.”

The characters are awarded 50 XP if they can determine who the mole is.  Only five people know about Force J.  Of the five, only two did not know Sally Anderson's recognition phrase – George Fox and the colonel.  Fox is too old given the mole's date of birth; hence, the colonel is the traitor.  Of course, this logic assumes that the mole would have supplied YETI with the recognition phrase if he or she knew it.  Absent is the possibility that the actual mole would implicate someone else in order to avoid detection.  “Of course,” the adventure states, “deducing who the mole is, and proving it, are two different things.”  Also, “The GM should remind the characters [sic] that they do not have any actual proof.”  Via the phone company, the player characters can determine “that a number of calls have been made from Yak Exports Unlimited to a number which originates from an apartment on 20th Street...”  At said apartment, the player characters find “the complete dossier on the mole...[including] pictures, fingerprints and a list of...subversive activities.”  So, there's the proof.  Fortunately, Markov kept a bunch of identifying information about his infiltration agent so that his enemies could acquire it when needed.  Actually, the mole subplot doesn't affect the rest of the adventure, it didn't even need to be included.