The "Lucky Strike" Casino Lounge and Airship Piratin' Society

Fighting Smart
In Which our Hearty Band of PCs manage to Impress their Gamemaster.

The villagers of Stiller’s Notch had every reason to be cautious; it seems that their erstwhile trading partner, the Turtle Tribe, had decided to get out of the windup toy business and into the slave trade. They were still keeping Stiller’s Notch as a source of trade goods, however…

After some tense negotiations, the sentries agreed to take the party to the hidden enclave and introduce them to their Mayor, Madame Crinkle. She and her husband Klaus had Hyperborea’s most recent bearings, and would be willing to share them if they weren’t so busy dealing with an ally turned enemy.

Well, needless to say, the party was all over that. They began helping out with the fortifications, they brought down some of the cannons from the Fortune Hunter, and then they did something I wasn’t expecting at all: they stopped thinking anywhere inside the box.

First, Randolph Ash, master of disguise and a NeoBedouin through and through, went out scouting and found the Turtles. He infiltrated their encampment under the guise of a traveling peddler, and soon learned what had happened to change their character so much.

It seems that, shortly after the death of the Turtle Tribe’s wise and aged shaman, their robust and powerful Chief had been thrown from his horse and hit his head on a rock. Against all tradition, his son Dov had jumped in and claimed the position, even though it was not hereditary in that tribe. Backed by his sister Dove, a highly skilled Beast Dancer (martial artist) and supported by some young turk warriors who had chafed under the old system, he’d seized control of the tribe and made the change to their ways.

Armed with this intelligence, the crew of the Fortune Hunter decided on a new tactic. Tiberious Thunder rigged up a shamanistic-looking staff into a lightning gun, though it drew on a huge bank of concealed batteries and was not portable. Armed with this, Dr. Blackpaw stood on a cliff overlooking the approach the Tribe would use and gave the performance of a lifetime, using the intel Randolph had brought back and pretending that the “spirits” had told him the story.

Punctuating his performance with a few well-placed zaps from his “storm staff,” Blackpaw accused Dov of murdering his father, shaking Dove’s confidence for the first time and leading her to demand the truth from her brother. He denied it, of course, but she always did know when he was lying…

So Dov wound up gutted like a roast goose, courtesy of Dove’s Beast Claw weapons, and she swore to the hermit that her people would now follow a leader chosen by the tribal elders, in keeping with the ancient ways, and the big pitched battle that I was expecting, using the crew rules and involving a lot of blood and terror, simply evaporated. I loved every second of it.

After that, the Mayor of Stiller’s Notch was more than willing to tell them how to find Hyperborea, but warned that they tended to stay very high, where the air was thin and deadly cold. They stayed the night, bought some provisions at a tremendous discount, and lifted keel the next day, headed for the mysterious and legendary Sky City of Hyperborea.

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I Wonder Where Ruth Is?
In which our intrepid band face true evil, and find it distasteful.

So battle was joined against Lord “Sintallon” and his grim-faced band of soulless killers. Switching from urbane banter to brutal savagery in a single instant, Sintallon got right in Tiberius Thunder’s face and kept pummelling him with his fists, staying too close for the inventor to get in a good shot with his lightning gun.

Randolph Ash backed up onto the gangplank, so the thugs who came after him would have to do it one at a time; this added black dice to the thugs’ attacks against him.

Meanwhile, Captain Swan led a small crew of ten from the Fortune Hunter as they swung across the several-hundred-foot drop between the ships on ropes, joining the fray and earning an Awesome! bonus, while James Blackpaw pulled out his needlerifle and started sniping at thugs and red-clad murderers.

The battle went back and forth for several rounds before Thunder got in a good shot with his lightning gun; then, stunned and staggered, “Sintallon” fell back into the arms of his automaton butler, gasped out a threat, and whistled for thirty more thugs to come out of the woodwork.

This…could have been bad.

But, before you could say “GM Fiat,” another figure swung across the gap to stand on the railing at the side of the circus ship. Still in her white “Snow Elf” dress, Ivy Jolie stood there and yelled “Leave them alone! I’m the one you want! But you’ll never get me!” And then she stepped back off the rail and dropped out of sight.

Several of the thugs ran to the rail and looked down, so only they and James (who had stayed behind on the Fortune Hunter) saw that she’d landed on one of the Bridgeport’s furled undersails. She was scrabbling for something wrapped up in the canvas. As everyone looked on, she pulled out a huge blunderbuss that was almost as big as she was and let fly with it.

A gun that size, fired by a tiny person? On solid ground, she’d be hard-pressed not to get knocked on her keaster by the recoil. Balanced on furled canvas? Not a chance. A bang, a huge flash of light, and a thin, high-pitched scream…and everyone saw, through the spots in their eyes, a figure in a white dress plummeting towards the mountainside, hundreds of feet below…

But only Dr. Blackpaw, with his acute eyesight, noticed that the figure was neither flailing her arms and legs in panic, nor limp with unconsciousness, but completely stiff, like some kind of mannequin. And then he caught a glimpse of white hair and a huddled form under a fold of canvas on that undersail.

Clever girl. Clever, clever girl. This was the escape plan she’d been setting up, but hadn’t been able to use yet.

Lord Sintallon was clearly furious, but he kept himself calm. There was no point in spending any time on the small fry, he reasoned. They had to get after the other girl. He and his men withdrew and faded into the woodwork.

With just barely enough time to conceal their involvement in what had happened, the PCs turned their attention to the other docking station, where the String of Pearls…had already set sail, hours before.

Well, Captain Swan and Engineer Thunder set about refueling and reprovisioning, while Randolph Ash went looking for word of where the Pearls had gone. After chasing few rumors, he found someone who’d happened to overhear that they were going to make for Helium City to restock on lifting gas.

So off Our Heroes went, seeking the String of Pearls…which they found sooner than expected.

East of the Sierra Nevada, in the midst of the desert formed by the mountains’ rain shadow, they found the still-burning wreckage of the Pearls strewn across the sand. Sprawled bodies dotted the sand, and the only sign of life was the pack of scimitar cats that had followed the smell of human blood.

A volley from the Fortune Hunter’s cannons dispersed the ‘cats, at least for the time being, allowing them to search the wreckage. Even the cannon-fodder crew were dumbstruck with horror at the sheer brutality what they found. Those who’d died in the attack were the lucky ones; the rest were killed and half-eaten by desert beasts.

Holly Jolie’s body was not among the dead; the only survivor was Valentina Soixante-Neuf, a fine-quality doll now damaged to unconsciousness, but not quite beyond repair.

With a heavy heart, Captain Swan ordered the wreck stripped of anything usable — cannons, coal, powder, food, etc. — and a funeral pyre prepared. Afterward, Tiberius managed to tinker Valentina into consciousness; she told them of an attack by a black airship, a boarding party of masked men in black armor led by Sintallon, and of the new albino girl being dragged off alive and everyone else killed.

Ivy was extremely upset about this, but not just because of the likely fate of her sister. After some hesitation, she decided to tell the PCs about her origins, even though this was forbidden in her home city.

Ivy and her sister hailed from Hyperborea, an isolated community that avoids most contact with the outside world. They were in contact with a hidden ground-based community; a mining village named Stiller’s Notch. The latter trades raw materials to Hyperborea in exchange for finished goods — mostly windup toys that they trade with others (notably the NeoBedouin Turtle tribe).

One night, they noticed one of the Turtles — at least they thought that’s what he was — sneaking off into the woods with a hooded lantern to signal someone. When he caught them, he quickly rendered them unconscious; they awoke in a locked wagon, being taken by some Turtles to sell at a slave market. From there, they were acquired by the PT Bridgeport, and that’s more or less where the PCs came in.

The mysterious NeoBedouin was, of course, Lord Sintallon, though his disguise was so good that the sisters didn’t suspect he was anything other than what he seemed. If he had returned to reclaim the Jolie girls, it could only mean that he’d learned their origins and was seeking Hyperborea, and judging by his behavior so far, he wasn’t looking to borrow a cup of sugar.

Having broken her people’s laws by telling outsiders about them, Ivy now begged them to take her to Stiller’s Notch so she could try to warn her people. Fortunately for her, the PCs and their expendable crew were all fired up for some revenge on the mysterious Bad Guy. Off they went, threading their way through the Rocky Mountains and seeking a hidden mooring.

Not long after, they were leaving their ship in a high mountain valley and making their way through the wooded foothills surrounding Stiller’s Notch. Ivy knew all the call signs and recognition codes, but when she used them, she got no reply — until nets flew out of the shrubbery, and archers in the trees drew back on their bows, ready to fire.

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"I Hate Him Already!"
In Which we are Introduced to our Protagonists, and they in Turn are Introduced to Trouble.

We began with a bit of die-rolling practice, as our gallant crew of bloodthirsty cutthroats aboard the Fortune Hunter spotted a cargo ship among the clouds. It was the Santa Maria, flying under the flag of the Duchy of Irontree-Dragonrock. Even before they ran up the Black Flag, the cargo ship turned tail and fled. So naturally, they gave chase.

With James Blackpaw at the helm, they caught up in only an hour or two, and he even managed to jink the entire ship just enough to dodge a desperate long-range shot from the Maria’s stern cannons.

Then it was time to fire the forward-mounted lightning cannon. Tiberius Thunder had been tinkering with it to extend its range, so they didn’t need to close in any further once they reached small cannon range. He was certain of that; mind you, he hadn’t actually tested it or anything…but hey, who’s the expert on electrical engineering, anyway? And of course it worked. Didn’t do a whole lot of damage, but it slowed them enough to cut across their prow and let them have a broadside to the face. At that, the Santa Maria struck their colors and surrendered.

The NPC captain was classy enough to show them the cargo manifest as soon as they got on board…though it neglected to mention the hidden compartment full of strange artifacts — statuary, tapestries, hanging scrolls and a lacquered cabinet — from a far-off and near-legendary land called China. Apparently, the captain and crew were required to leave the ship while these were loaded; they didn’t even know what they were carrying.

Although unable to decide how to dispose of The Chinese Artifacts, the rest of their haul was worth enough that they could now afford to dock at Isla Aether and register for the Cultural Arts Festival. They found a berth between a circus ship, the PT Bridgeport, and a somewhat earthier ship called the String of Pearls.

The festival was a fun time; there were highbrow theater ships performing Shakespeare, band ships…even the Ophelia, where they were selling cylinders of their latest songs. The PT Bridgeport’s main tent was set up in a nearby market plaza, but the sideshow was aboard the ship.

It wasn’t much of a sideshow — the Mammoth Man was a misbegotten, seven feet tall and stocky and covered with real fur, but the elephant ears were leather and the tusks were carved from wood; Chondu the Mystic, Master of Snakes had only one snake, and it had been heavily dosed with laudanum; and the Snow Fairies were just a pair of albino twin teenage girls (though quite small for their age), who were clearly not there by choice and quite miserable.

After the show, Tiberius went to the circus tent to speak to the Captain and Ringmaster about buying the two girls. In the middle of the conversation, the Bridgeport’s bosun arrived and pulled the Ringmaster aside; after they conferred, the latter gave Thunder a look, then came back and agreed to discuss the matter on the Fortune Hunter the next morning, say…10:00?

That evening, the Fortune Hunter opened its onboard casino, the Lucky Strike Lounge, providing a congenial atmosphere for gambling and drinking, while Randolph Ash played mood music on the small stage. Later that night, Tiberius was on watch when he heard a faint thump and some scrabbling on the hull. Looking down, he saw the cloaked figure of one of the twins, Ivy Jolie, trying to climb to the deck. After he helped her up, she begged for asylum, and for help to rescue her sister Holly, who was about to be sold to the String of Pearls. She said she’d been setting up an escape plan, but so far it was only good for herself, and she couldn’t use it until she’d added in provision for Holly.

After determining that Ivy was in good health (and expressing some consternation at her lack of coloring — he’d never seen an albino before), Blackpaw gave her a place to sleep. The next morning, he awoke Captain Swan with some freshly-brewed coffee, which the Captain knew always meant there was a problem.

So everyone was up and ready to meet the delegation from the PT Bridgeport…but nobody showed up. Scanning the circus ship with a telescope, they noted that there was nobody on deck, nor in the rigging. The ship looked deserted. After conferring together, the PCs decided that Tiberius and Randolph would go over to have a look, while Dr. James and the Captain would hang back and observe.

On the Bridgeport, there were subtle but unmistakeable signs of violence. Someone had boarded, captured or killed the crew, and cleaned up the scene — while the ship was in port too; no small achievement.

While pondering their next action, they heard footsteps coming up the gangway, and several people emerged on deck. Their leader, “Lord Sintallon,” was casually wiping blood from a dagger and lamenting his having had the albino twins in his grasp, only to pass them on before realizing their value. His automaton butler, Catherwood, was offering supportive comments, but broke off when he caught sight of Thunder and Blackpaw.

After heaving an exasperated sigh and muttering “witnesses,” Lord Sintallon greeted the PCs jovially and engaged them in conversation. He mentioned “the girl who escaped this ship last night,” and once he was certain they knew who he meant, he and his men attacked. The transition from genteel banter to brutal violence was immediate and total. Perhaps more frightening than this was that Sintallon drew no weapon; he attacked with fists alone, clearly keen to take prisoners.

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