I ran this game on Fireworks Night, and appropriately so, since the players decided to create a very, very big explosion INDEED.
COLD FRONTIER, EPISODE/DAY 6
Played characters- Private Ramirez, Deputy Hayes, Leon Dodd
Guest Player Character- Gerda Rundstrom (played by a guest to the table, whose own table weren’t present)
Friendly Player Characters- Sergeant Grayjoy, Snow Plough
Prominent squad Friendlies- Yeti, Fenris the Dog, Dr Mya Ross
There is a shot of a dark tunnel and a pile of rubble. A large, gnarled, scarred human hand bursts out of the rubble, quickly followed by another. The pair of hands grind into the tunnel floor, as some of the rubble is shook loose, as Yeti tears himself free. He pulls himself up from his knees, as the rubble shakes behind him. Snapping mandibles can be seen. Yeti pounds his fists on the rocky boulder covering the tunnel mouth.
“Sarge! Ramirez! Snow Plough! ANYBODY OUT THERE?” There is no response.
Events then cut ahead, to the final moments of the last episode, as Yeti lies motionless in the snow, as it cascades down; the squad, Gerda and Dodd stand around him.
Events then cut back, as Yeti looks back, seeing a Worker eating its way through the rubble. He takes his two-handed bone axe and swings it at the worker’s neck. The axe strikes further into its back as the beast lunges forward, as the axe becomes stuck. The creature bites Yeti, pulling him onto his knees, as the Warriors, freed from the rubble, come at the warrior from all angles, biting into him. He attempts to pull out his machete, but drops it on the floor, as a creature bites his arm.
He screams as he is dragged on his back through the tunnel and into darkness.
We cut ahead again, as the squad stand around the fallen Yeti.
Greyjoy clears his throat. “Ramirez; you knew the man better than I. Any final words?”
Ramirez speaks a farewell to his comrade.
“I ain’t… dead… yet.”
The squad look down in shock, as Yeti looks at them, eyes very open indeed., coughing wearily.
The episode proper opens the following day from the last, as usual. Ramirez, Dodd, Hayes, Gerda, Fenris, Greyjoy, Yeti and Jeeves are making their way across the glacier flowing in between the mountainous peaks of the Moss Mountains valley. Greyjoy is at the rear of the group, dragging Yeti along, who slips in out of consciousness, being dragged on an improvised sled made of much of Gerda’s furs, pulled by ropes taken from the emergency kit they acquired from Chang three days ago. Ramirez moves ahead of the squad, moving in jolts of speed, not greatly slowed by the ice. After him comes Dodd, who is using her cybernetic eyes to scan for cracks in the ice, crevasses, shifts in height and similar, using hand signals to signal to the others, warning them of imminent danger. Gerda and Fenris move side by side as always, as Gerda moves both relatively silently and in bursts of speed. Hayes is not far ahead of the Sergeant, occasionally glancing back to him when he is focussed on his great weight, giving looks of scorn. Hayes is uncharacteristically quiet and brooding, trying to think of the journey ahead, and not of his ever-growing hatred of the Sergeant.
Jeeves hovers above Yeti.
Ramirez looks up; the sun is out, and the mountain peak upon which the helicopter rests is eclipsed by the sun, its shadow cast across the glacier. The mountainous slopes rise up on both sides of the squad, black, jagged rocks stretched at strange angles, some covered by large snowdrifts from yesterday’s snowfall. There are Bug Holes spread across the slopes on both sides, a commonplace sight. Occasionally, screeches, scrapes and scratches can be heard, but nothing emerges.
There is a discussion about whether they should get back to the helicopter to Plough and Ross, but the general consensus, difficult as it is to make, is that they are both safe in the helicopter and Yeti is in great need of medical attention, and they would be unable to get him up the slopes, regardless.
Ramirez decides to radio Plough to make sure that he and Ross are okay… the answer being to the negative.
“They are outside. I can hear them…” the sounds of skittering and scraping across the stones through Plough’s comms are clear. “They keep coming back. They’re dragging off their dead. And I don’t know where Crusher is. He lost his cam-feed… I think they got Crusher. Which means we have nothing to defend us. But at least Ross isn’t touching me now… but she still keeps getting close. I need you to get me out of here!”
Ramirez does his best to keep Snow Plough calm with his usually commanding but reassuring manner, but Plough carries on with his panicked nattering. There is then the sound of tearing metal.
“Oh my god, it’s coming inside!”
Hayes then interjects on the comms, with a much less sympathetic attempt at getting the drone operator to be quiet. He points out that he makes no noise, he won’t get eaten.
Ross, being very much calmer, folds her arms around Snow Plough (to his usual awkward objections to human proximity) and wraps the remaining furs in the helicopter around the both of them, whilst a Worker bites its way through the metal wall and into the passenger compartment of the helicopter. Snow Plough tries to tell the others it has come in, but Ross clamps a hand over his mouth. He then reaches down to his communicator and starts typing text to Jeeves, talking to the squad through Jeeve’s vocal processors, as Jeeves describes exactly what is going on, as the Razor Ant slowly stalks into the helicopter, snapping its mandibles, scouring the helicopter, though not seeming to react to the pile of fur.
The squad are aware there is no way of reaching Snow Plough and Ross anywhere nearly quick enough to directly help them, and they start discussing ways they could help them from their distant position. Hayes racks his memories of his previous encounters with the Razor Ants, to try and think of the best way to deal with one, and recalls that the creatures have definitely reacted to sound before, and continues to encourage Snow Plough through his comms to be utterly quiet, including through the drone, which is making loud noises near the squad. Ross takes Plough’s hand away from the communicator, and tries to keep him as still as possible, as the Ant scuttles its way around the helicopter, the noise very prominent through the squad comms.
Hayes points out that the creatures can be distracted with sound, and so they all agree that they should try and make a loud sound near the helicopter, but as they discuss the matter, they realise that if they make such a noise, then the flying Screamers will come out of their holes, and quickly notice the squad. It is agreed that they will need some cover for themselves before they create any kind of distraction.
Ramirez paces ahead of the squad again, but finds more of the same terrain, with the evident problem of being surrounded by holes where any of the bugs could possibly come through, which combined with the possibility of fliers, makes the idea of using the rocks for cover very much redundant. Dodd thinks of perhaps firing a shot towards the mountains off to the right (where they haven’t been), and realises that their may be more Razor Ants within those tunnels too. She decides to get a better idea of where the enemy may come from, and focusses her Empathic powers through her vision, scanning all around her, seeing coloured auras, indicating the emotions of the people around her, as well as emotions emanating from deep within the mountain.
Ramirez seems to radiate a self-assurance, though there are some strains of doubt within. The Sergeant is radiating a fair degree of determination, but a greater quantity of doubt and fear runs through him. Yeti is fading in and out of consciousness constantly, and no real read can be taken. Gerda and her dog are definitely very afraid, but also have great confidence in each other. From the helicopter, Snow Plough’s fear shines like a beacon. From within the mountain, she feels both anger and hunger in equal measure… from the mountains all around.
And from underneath, an excited hunger. Underneath the ice of the glacier. Dodd’s expression pales with the realisation. She privately radios. Suddenly Plough is not their only worry. He paces his way back to the rest of the squad. One by one, they reveal the news to each other. Dodd focusses, realising that whatever is under the ice is trailing just behind Yeti, as the Sergeant drags him.
Ramirez asks Jeeves if the support drone can lift Yeti. It loudly replies in the affirmative, as the squad cringe. Dodd texts the drone to respond non-vocally until ordered otherwise, which it agrees to do. It then unfurls its lifting arms from underneath it and grabs hold of the fur around Yeti’s shoulder, hauling the giant Aug into the air. The Sarge takes Yeti’s legs around his shoulders, to brace him as the drone lifts, but the sudden weight is too much for the Sarge, who falls onto his knees. Everybody winces again as his knees strike the ice. It is quickly agreed that they need to get off the ice. The Sarge gets back to his feet and wraps an arm around Yeti, and Jeeves lifts the other, as the two haul the giant to his feet. The squad get up onto the slope to their left.
They agree that they still need to aid Snow Plough, whilst protecting themselves, so they find a massive snow drift to use as cover. Ramirez and Dodd dig out a hole into the drift, whilst Gerda lines it with fur, as the three use their commando and survival skills to pack themselves into the snow with a hole to look through, and the means to keep warm. Hayes draws his machine pistol, with silencer still attached, ready to fire…
The Ant in the copter snaps its mandibles near the two humans… and then turns, snaps up the Ant head still sat on the floor from several Episodes ago, and disappears with it, just as Hayes fires at the mountains behind them, at the slopes. The shot is muffled, so no attention is drawn to them, as Hayes causes a small avalanche some distance away.
And as the sound thunders through the valley, a cacophony of screams sounds. A dozen white-shelled Screamers rise into the air. Dozens… no wait, hundreds. And then the glacier cracks, as a twin pair of mandibles tear through the top ice. But these mandibles are not white. They are blue like the glacier itself. A pair of thick chitinous legs stomp out of the rift, followed by the others, as a blue Worker scuttles out on the ice. It is a Razor Ant, but with some anatomical differences that are clearly notable. The mandibles are vertical, with a significantly large out pair, serrated and pointing like kind of saws, the inner mandibles more curved. Out of the tear in the ice come ten Warriors, again, recognisably, but slightly different, also a shining blue, their mandibles also vertical, their small eyes on the sides of their flattened, pointed heads, their bodies and legs stockier than their white counterparts. And the Screamers come hurtling downwards. At their blue counterparts. They flap above them, screeching wildly, and then swoop in, taking single Warriors and flying off with them.
The squad feel vibrations thundering through the rock now, all around them. There are more coming. They sit and wait, powerless, but unnoticed, as the two species of Razor Ant fight each other.
More cracks open up in the ice. Another Worker, more Warriors…. and something larger. If the Warriors have a height roughly equivalent to a horse, this creature has a mass more like that of a grizzly bear, with a significantly bulkier body, its belly swinging down and scraping the ice as it climbs out of it with its stocky legs. At the bottom of the legs are flattened points, with spiked edges which grip into the ice as it climbs out onto it. Its mandibles are horizontal, two sets like a Worker, its eyes far along the sides of its head, however, like its blue counterparts. It has a pair of pulsating green organs rising out in between the plates at the back of its head, which pulse and then reduce in size, as the mandibles snap wide open to the sides, as a large trunk of some kind extends from the mouth, pointing up at the Screamers. The trunk inflates, and there is a snap of sound as a rush of flames burst from it. A small ball of fire streaks through the hair, striking the underside of a Screamer as it falls to the ice, and is pounced upon and dragged beneath the ice. More cracks appear. More Spitters, as more Screamers fall from the sky. And then Warrior after Warrior, white in colour, comes streaming out of the holes on either side of the squad. But they remain unnoticed.
The squad communicate with each through their helmets, texting, to maintain absolute quiet.
Fenris growls, about to bark… but Gerda manages to keep her dog calm.
Time passes, and the war between the two colonies in front of them continues as the sun lowers in the sky. Ramirez gets an idea; to shoot the explosive chemical organs of a Spitter. He asks Dodd how good a shot she is, and gets ‘the best’, in response. She suggests shooting it with one of her explosive rounds for a bigger explosion. Hayes suggests making use of his silencer. The Sergeant confirms that if she fires from the rifle with silencer, the sound won’t reveal their location, whilst the loud noise of the explosion will continue to direct the attention of all of the Ants.
“Good idea” says Ramirez
“… for once” says Hayes.
Sergeant glares at him. “Yeti’s still alive isn’t he? And so are you.”
Hayes doesn’t respond further, continuing to try and keep himself calm and stop his hatred from boiling over.
Dodd takes the silencer and attaches it to her sniper rifle. As the battle between the Ants continues on, she zooms in on one of the spitters, taking deep, steadying breaths. She waits just as the chemical organ inflates. The chemical starts to drain as its mandibles snap outward. She fires. Chunks of Razor Ant fly towards the camera and scatter across the mountain slope as the explosive round sparks the chemical inside the creature and obliterates it, and also takes out several Warriors around it. And then the ice gives away as a massive rent open up in the glacier, sending dozens of blue Ants tumbling into the ice, as it then comes smashing down. Blue, legs, heads and mandibles can be seen protruding from the ice, quivering, as the most of the blues are trapped. And then the white Workers and Screamers charge in. They begin an easy and long feast, tearing blues out of the ice one by one and ripping them to pieces.
Hours have passed and night has long fallen by the time the last Ants leave, as the marines are finally able to climb from their literal hidey hole. Events cut as they exit the valley (minus Snow Plough and Ross, of course, still in the helicopter) and pass the ice miners. Time cuts ahead again, as they cross the glacier to Frost.
“Halt, who goes there?” comes over the radio. The synthesised deep voice that Ryan emits through the helmet that he never seems to remove.
Hayes tries to respond sarcastically, but doesn’t receive an accommodating response. “Identify yourself!” Ryan is on a roof, putting his rifle towards the Ice Breakers.
Hayes says “Its us!” and alters the colour of his visor repeatedly, flashing it in the darkness. “Go and get the Doctor! We have someone in need of immediate medical attention!”
Ryan leaps off the roof and heads to the Forager HQ to forewarn Dr Stapes.
Ramirez and Greyjoy haul Yeti in through the airlock, followed by Hayes, Dodd and Gerda.
Stapes is there, throwing off a dressing gown and throwing a medical gown over the top. His eyes are sunken; he appears to have been rudely awoken. Ryan heads back outside past the squad.
He radios Hayes; “I better get back out there. Expecting anything behind you?”
“Ohhhh, if there are, you’ll definitely know about. Pray there’s nothing.”
Stapes marches over. “What the hell is it with you people? What happened to this man?”
“He is still alive; keep it that way” says Ramirez without explanation.
“But him onto a… no, he is far too big for a bed…” Stapes tears some plastic sheeting curtains onto the floor. “Lay him down!” They do so.
“I’ve had enough of this” says Dodd “I’m going to bed.”
“Me too” says Gerda, and they head off to their bunks.
Stapes shakes his head. “My goodness. What do you expect me to do? I don’t have nearly enough cybernetics to help this man…”
“I don’t need your skills. Doctor” says Greyjoy, putting on some gloves. “I need your facilities.”
Stapes is taken aback by that, and doesn’t have a scathing response for once.
Ramirez then grabs hold of him. “Where are the Alkarbi!!?”
“I.. they’re, uh staying at Chang’s. In the spare accommodation he has, I think.”
Without further word or explanation, Ramirez storms off for the airlock.
“Ah better go and let the Sheriff know we’re back” says Hayes, and sets off for the airlock too.
Hayes and Ramirez exit the building. Ramirez runs to the buildings opposite, heading straight for Chang’s, whilst Hayes runs through the snow to the north of the settlement.
Ramirez heads in through the customer airlock. It is pitch black inside the foyer, except for the temporary light emitted from the airlock. He vaults the customer service counter and goes to the door of Chang’s office. He kicks the door and it shakes. He kicks it again, and his cybernetic leg causes it to fly off of its hinges.
Hayes enters the Sheriff’s. “Hello, ah’m back.” It is all black. There is no response. “Hello?” Still silence. He opens a door. “Sheriffs, its…”
The light turns on. The Sheriff in in her bed, her particularly massive frame (in a pink blouse) is particularly obvious in bed next to her skinny, short husband, as she reaches under the bed for her shotgun magged to the frame…
“Its me, boss its me!”
Ramirez starts tearing his way through the drawers, looking for something.
“Who goes there? Who is it?” Chang’s voice. Both angry and afraid.
Ramirez storms out of the office. The door leading into the warehouse is open, but Chang can’t be seen.
“Chang! WHERE ARE THE ALKARBI?”
“They’re… they’re this way.”
“Hayes…” Bull takes her hand away from the gun. She practically leaps out of bed and embraces him in a bear hug. “Hayes! We thought you were dead!”
“I ain’t dead yet, ma’am.”
Ramirez heads through the door. It slams behind him. He notices a large shadow in his peripheral.
Chang has a gun held against the side of his head. Behind him, is Carlos “Redeye” Mendoza. The mask of the ‘Master Trader’ hangs down from round his neck.
To be continued!
So, when Yeti was declared dead last week, I suddenly had a moment of realisation that I was sure one of the Sarge’s stats would save him, just as the players had left. I checked his sheet, which did indeed have Lifesaver. This aspect allows you to restore a Neutralised status at a lower Target number than normal, which deemed that Yeti’s life was indeed saved. So being a ‘magnificent bastard’ I decided to keep the suspense and the surety that he was dead for a week… this means that no named character, whether player character or Friendly, has yet died, six games in. To quote Steve (player of Ramirez): “Yeah, that’s what worries me.”
Because the Ants weren’t expecting the marines, the Spitter that got shot had a TN of 1 to hit, hence the massive boom, from lots of extra Success Levels. She also used Brains with the Level the Playing Field to create a Hazard to collapse the ice.
The players, really, really thought they were all going to die. So I feel I did my job. (I am fine with the constant fear of such things, but even in a horror game, I am not trying to kill them. This a campaign, allllll about building the fear.) And fear is justified. So far, the only damage they have done to the Razor Ants has been due to a minigun drone they may have lost, and due to a shot made when unnoticed… which might not be the case the next time they encounter a horde.
The ‘Alkarbi’ have always been members of the Mendoza Cartel since before I started running the game. I planned for them to turn up in Episode 3, not knowing what the circumstances were going to be when that happened. Since they were told of dangers in the mountains, they decided to see if the Razor Ants would do the job they had come to do… kill Ramirez. The Cartel entirely come from Ramirez’s background, hence their introduction in flashbacks to give them more impact when their true identity was revealed.
Originally I was going to have space pirates turn up to cause complications. I changed them for the Mendoza Cartel, once given Ramirez’s background, which made things just a little more personal for the players.
It wasn’t rigged. Getting Ramirez alone with his arch-nemesis… it just so happened that the player wanted to know why the Alkarbi abandoned them… now he knows… couldn’t have been scripted better…