Ceteri Campaign Ep 5: Salt of the Earth

What happened before

Kamali recovers from his seizure, and reports that our ancestors had prepared The Lodge for us to complete, and that our group is somehow fore-ordained to come together to fight. We do a whole lot of construction and eventually finish the building. Timothy is gravely wounded by an angry moose during a hunting trip, and the entire team manages to fight and drive off the spirit of the shaman – we do battle in an ethereal or astral projection (or the functional equivalent). We start play as Kamali wakes up, and Myriam calls on Alex’s uncle’s satellite phone.

Dramatis Personae

Kamali Blackshear (14): Kamali is a young boy in his early teens. He is healthy and is of mixed ethnicity of Caucasian South African and native South African. He is a determined youth who believes in a justice of his own, likening himself to the knight of the round whom he has read deeply into. Just as they stood against the darkness of their age so too does Kamali seek to do the same. For his sister, for his friends, and for the world.

Tag: “A knight without a sword carrying a faith nobody believes.”

Lorenzo DeModouco (15): A handsome and charismatic musician. The loss of his parents didn’t dampen his spirits and he soldiered on after their death. He’s the cheery one always trying to make others happy and sometimes spontaneously breaks into song. Perceptive of others and their feelings, Lorenzo is the one who knows what people are thinking by the looks on their face. He’s also a boy scout and is quite comfortable in the wild.

TAG: “He’s a Jukebox Hero. He’s got stars in his eyes. A Jukebox Hero – he’ll make sure you survive.”

Amos M. Humiston (15) – A comfortable existence turned upside down, he’s still shell-shocked from what happened to his parents and has switched from a small and chatty boy to a small and quiet boy. Amos tends to quietly slip along after the group leaving a trail of books read behind him. And though he doesn’t volunteer himself quite yet, he’s always happy to help the best he can without showing off his intelligence, though that doesn’t stop him from being happy to do so when it’s possible.

Gabriel MacAlister (14) – Built like the natural athlete he is, he shows signs of growing even larger and stronger. A fairly quiet and hard-working lad, always ready to lend a hand with any work, which he will do without complaint or obligating the other person to respond. Emphatically not a pushover or weak personality, but also not one to purposefully show off. Has been in many horrible places and seen many horrible things; he’s a bit of a compulsive planner as a result, as well as always feeling that most folks don’t really know how lucky they are.

Tag: “To serve others is the highest calling; to protect the meek the noblest endeavor.”

Timothy I Mitchell (16): Timothy possess an honest if forgettable face. He tends towards comfortable, though inexpensive clothing and durable running shoes, rounding off his typical attire is a deep pocketed jacket and a backpack slung over one shoulder. Timothy appears to be a poster-boy for bad kids, often finding himself in trouble with any and all forms of authority. A victim of neglect, driven to never become a victim again he often acts seemingly on impulse, taking any dare or challenge in his stride. Timothy doesn’t have friends, not in any real sense. Too few of the people who enter his orbit can deal with him in anything more than bite sized pieces, a fact which only further frustrates the young teenager.

Tag: “Darkness is within all of us, it’s how you use that darkness that matters”

Zombies, Carl! Zombies!

Myriam is on the phone. After some static, Myriam reminds us that she told us that we were in a war, and not everyone makes it back. Kamali repeats that he saw a vision of someone who looked rather very much like Myriam.

“Look, that doesn’t matter right now. There’s something going down in North Dakota, about 900 miles directly south of us. There’s something here, and it’s calling the dead.”

“It’s calling the dead?” Kamali explains.

“What? Say what? The dead?” We put Myriam on speakerphone.

After interacting with our morphine-doped Timothy for a while, Myriam cuts in. A psychic has had a vision; one of us might die. But we cannot let that dead Shaman come down here; too much power in one place. We’re in his way, but he’s not the goal. That’s why we have a shot.

Kamali notes that there are two of us that are badly injured, and we’ll likely need to be full strength to take on the shaman.

Myriam starts dictating a spell for us; there are those among us who have eidetic memory, but we want to write it down in case those with such abilities get killed. Myriam is worried about whether she’ll survive the battle in North Dakota. She’s sending someone to us from the town. She probably shouldn’t have sent us up here, etc.

Gabe cuts in: “OK, Myriam. We’ll wait for your help, and sit tight.”

She thanks us, and hangs up.

Gabe: “OK. We’re absolutely not sitting here and sitting tight while Myriam and others fight for us, and have our loved ones die . . . again . . . while we could do something. We’re going to go kick some shaman ass.

We take a look at the protection spell she told us, and Amos seems to think he can make sense of it. We’ll need some sage, tied around a stick of rowanwood. We remember a locked wooden chest; we try to open it by hitting it with a crowbar; the crowbar breaks in half.

Huh.

Gabe suggests we all join hands and sing kumbaya around the chest. More seriously, he asks the lock to open. In English. Nothing happens.

Gabe’s had enough of this. He slings his rifle, grabs his sword, and goes out to find some sage and rowanwood. Kamali and Timothy join hands, hold the magic antlers, and try to reach a benevolent spirit.

Gabe heads outside, and goes two a local rowan tree . .. and in my flashlight I see something with glowing eyes, a face of ice. Fingers tipped with icicles, arms like an orangutan. It’s jaw extends downward, and sharp black teeth are revealed from a mouth that opens far wider than it should.

Gabe draws his sword, and starts slowly trying to cut off a piece . . . the creature tries to eviscerate me. I retreat and parry; the sword skitters off of its ice claws. It seems supernaturally hard.

Gabe does a defensive thrust to the vitals; he hits, and does 6 impaling to the vitals. I can smell the putrescence coming out of the wound. It’s not bleeding; the flesh is like a side of beef. Definitely undead/zombie class.

Something claws at me from the side, but it misses. Whew. But I’m facing four of these zombie nasties. Time to go for head shots and decapitation. My teammates start to hear the ruckus, and Lorenzo smells rotting flesh: “something putrid this way comes.” The smell is overpowering, though. And Lorenzo starts to retch. Carl shouts “there’s something going on outside!” and rushes outside with his . . . Swiss Army knife.

Gabe is beset by four zombies; they attack, miss, hit (dodged), hit again for a grapple (critical success on dodge!), and it loses his balance.

Carl’s up; he grabs a piece of wood and charges. He hits off-balance guy in the leg, knocking him prone.

The team starts girding for battle, grabbing weapons, including a hunting rifle, and Kamali has his TEC-9.

Gabe takes a slice at the neck of a zombie, hitting for 14 points; the head comes off, screaming. The green fire burns forth from the sword, consuming the body.

Lorenzo takes aim and shoots, making both the aim and hit rolls, and drills one in the chest. It seems, unsurprisingly, nonplussed. Prone zombie stands up. Shot zombie charges at Lorenzo, forcing him to dodge, which he does.

A zombie attacks Gabe, who Judo Parries the zombie; this works, but he takes a point of damage and a point of chilling fatigue as the claws damage his flesh. Carl All-Out Attacks the zombie, and actually drops it.

Gabe judo-throws the zombie into his neighbor; this counts as a slam or at least an interference. This takes them both prone, with a chance of stunning them both.

This is actually the first time in all my years of playing GURPS that I have done something cool with a grappling move. So yay, me.

Lorenzo swings the rifle like a baseball bat; he connects for 6 crushing damage to the leg. Amos looses a slingshot to a random location, and hits the chest of the thing with a fine, balanced steel bearing. He puts a hole through it, right through the heart, and it goes down.

Carl rolls a natural 3, and AoA (Doubles) to the head. Crit head hit, and another. He pulps the thing. Two more have appeared, though – not out of the woods yet. Gabe steps back and readies his rifle, though, since he has some distance and friends between the new arrivals and him.

Lorenzo reloads as well, chambering a round into the rifle. Amos fast-draws more of his balls from his pocket, much to the amusement of all. Gabe is attacked, and crit fails his dodge roll; Gabe falls prone. It hits my leg as well, and I take 2 points of cutting damage to my leg, and lose another FP. I’m down 2 FP total. Just to add insult to injury, Timothy gets munched for 5 HP as well, a crippled limb. Good thing he’s already on morphine. “Yo, man, that’s going to start hurting really soon!”

Carl All-Out Attacks again, but misses this time. Uh-oh

Gabe is attacked from behind while bleeding. Despite having full ground fighting boost, he takes 2 HP more to my leg, and 1 FP more as well. My leg is starting to feel like it’s on fire.

Timothy throws the antlers at his foe, which hit, burst into flames, and utterly consume a zombie. Gabe places the barrel of his rifle against his attacker’s head and pulls the trigger, blowing the head completely off.

Kamali fires off three rounds from the TEC-9, hitting the zombie once in the leg. Lorenzo AoA(Determined) shot to the zombie, and misses. Amos hits one with a slingshot, but it doesn’t drop. He gets attacked  himself, for a net of 2 damage, and 1 FP due to cold.

Carl moves in for another AoA(Determined) to the head, his seemingly suicidal but oddly effective go-to maneuver.

Timothy reaches into the blue fire, and grabs the antlers . . . and the blue fire leaps to him, causing his wounds to heal miraculously. He’s also no longer suffering the effects of morphine. He’s basically got the Stargate treatment.

Gabe takes aim a the zombie’s head, and succeeds. Next turn he’ll get the Acc bonus. Lorenzo grabs Timothy, and the fire spreads to him too.

The zombie jumps down from the roof and attacks Gabe, whose aim is spoiled by a successful defense; Carl tries a sacrificial defense anyway, getting between Gabe and the zombie. Gabe gets to his knees while fast-drawing his Reach 1/2 sword. He swipes at the zombie’s neck, taking it’s head off, and ending the combat.

Lorenzo takes the opportunity to spread the healing fire . . . nope. It goes out. Amos, Lorenzo, and Timothy all were rejuvenated by the healing, cleansing flame. Kamali and Gabe are both still looking a bit worn around the gills.

Amos knows what these things are, after studying them a bit. They’re wechuge – people who died alone in the cold, and possessed by malevolent spirits. Part zombie, part winter fae, part cannibal.

Carl drops the log he was using to beat zombies to death, grabs Timothy, and gives him a giant hug: “I thought you were going to die, man!” Then Carl sets to treating Gabe’s wounds.

We go into the house to cast the spell. We gather the rowanwood, sage, and Amos takes the time required to cast the spell.

It’s about 9pm.

We all pass over our key bits: charms. amulets, religious icons, our magic antlers, and the white sword. Amos sits and takes an hour to cast the protection spell; he speaks the spell over and over again, and when the rowan branch starts burning, Amos goes rigid for a moment, takes 15 points of fatigue, and something funky and protective happens to the amulets. The magic there is tangible.

We decide to split the party. Gabe, Timothy, Alex, and Lorenzo will go fetch the snowmobiles; the rest (many injured, unconscious, or both) will stay in the house. On the way there, one of Lorenzo’s snowshoes breaks – and he manages to keep up with us without snowshoes (we surmise he’s a were-Legolas). We arrive on site, and smell the gasoline from the snowmobiles before we get there . . . and the oil, and machine parts. It takes us about 45 minutes to get there.

One doesn’t start; we decide to tow that one back anyway. Perhaps it can be fixed. We drive back . . . well, mostly. Lorenzo is having issues and slows the rest of us down. The engine is so loud it’s distracting to Lorenzo, who apparently has some super-sensory thing. The rest of us resist the cold well enough; Gabe’s cold tolerance helps offset the shredding of his cold-weather gear.

We’ve got the location marked, and Lorenzo navigates, with Timothy, Gabe, and Kamali drive the snowmobiles. Gabe and Amos; Timothy and Lorenzo, and Kamali and Carl. Alex stays behind with his uncle.

We move quickly to the site, looking for a giant pile of bones and a shaman corpse – but the bones are missing and have been dragged to a cave. OK. Boss fight with skeletal minions. Bring it on.

Timothy pulls out 8 chemlights from his pack, and the rest of us have directional light source as well. Let’s do this.

Spooky Cave is Go

We start by trying to toss chemlights into the cave. Kamali fails the tossing roll twice. We decide he has not won a stuffed animal for a girl at a fair, like, ever.

We’re going to toss the chemlights as we go; as the last guy in line passes a chemlight, we’ll toss the last ones farther in. We leave one chemlight (the seventh) at the cave entrance.

We proceed forward, Gabe in the lead. We do this second by second, using Roll20 to illuminate the way. Kamali crits his Tactics roll, imposing a penalty on the bad guys.

A BEAR comes running at us. A freakin’ bear. It’s also glowing blue and charging us. We fall back to the sides of the cave, mostly taking Wait maneuvers or step-and-aim. We know what we’re doing, we think, so . . .

Gabe readies his sword and will swipe at blue-bear when it comes by; Timothy has the knives; Amos with the slingshot is aiming; Kamali with the TEC-9; Carl with a rifle, and Lorenzo with another.

The bear roars, and we can hear in our heads “Welcome, warm meat things!” And yet it triggers Gabe’s wait, who stabs it in the freakin’ heart for 10 impaling.

It dies. “Thanks for the warm welcome, cold meat thingy,” says Kamali.

Will rolls; except for Lorenzo, none of us can move. Something is holding us in place. The shaman, we think, appears.

Gabe calls on God through the sword; Timothy groans and says “I think the morphine’s kicking in again.”

We resist her impulse to not move, by and large. Gabe runs closer and takes a sword swing; a telekinetic parry stops it. It’s semi-corporeal, and takes a punch at me, a TK invisible punch, which hits for 12 points of double knockback. I fly back one hex into a wall, taking 4 HP of crushing damage.

Will rolls again; many can move. Not all. Timothy jumps over the bear; we roll to see who has the salt . . . Timothy does. He casts a handful of salt into the shaman’s face. A DX roll is made by 4; it is screaming in pain. We actually see its form start to smoke.

Gabe steps forward to thrust, and addled from the impact with the wall, his grip on his sword slips (rolled natural 18). Carl picks up a stick from the ground, and actually hits for 8 crushing damage to the leg (!!). This looks like it hurts.

Timothy remembers the plan, and starts to pour a salt circle around the bad guy; Gabe takes another bag of salt and helps. We both do All-Out Attacks and try to meet in the middle. Timothy crits; Gabe succeeds, and next round we’ll have closed the circle. Lorenzo grabs the fallen sword; it bursts into green flame in his hand, but doesn’t engulf the hand. The creature tries to cast power at us; it rebounds off the power circle.

Gabe recovers his sword, and stands guard on the spirit body. The rest of the team goes forward, and finds a ritual circle of bones. That pattern is known as a medicine wheel; it’s bad medicine. Someone else was probably helping him. We can still hear the shaman screaming behind us; we test our occultism through Amos and Carl is bringing in the firewood and we set up a pyre and salt.

Post-combat shakes: we spill the salt, and it takes us a bit to recover it. The salt mixes with bear poop. Gross. Amos settles himself, and executes the ritual. Sow the earth with salt, and the ritual burning. And the prayer:

Creator, Great Mystery
Source of all-knowing and comfort,
Cleanse this space of all negativity.
Open our pathways to peace and understanding.
Love and light fills each of us and our sacred space.
Our work here shall be beautiful and meaningful.
Banish all energies that would mean us harm.
Our eternal gratitude.

Gabe watches as the spirit in the salt evaporates in a fiery cascade. Not only do we banish the spirit; we purify and exorcise it. The cave fills with blue sparkles, and we can visibly feel the malice leave this place. We gather up the rest of the bones and lay them to rest as well; we do a ritual.

Severance and the Autumn Road

As we clean up, we realize that Gabe’s leg stinks – it’s infected or rotting already from the zombie bite. We need to get back and get some help. Gabe asks Timothy to pray with him over the antlers that was a gift from Gabe to Timothy. He asks the Lord for healing and help for his leg, so that he may continue to serve him. Amos joins in, and more come in to join. Timothy is more and more visibly uncomfortable as more join in for our mini mass. Kamali calls in “Mr. Black,” who he occasionally sees.

We head back down to the cabin, and we hit Gabe with first aid. The wound is black, green, and spreading . . . cold to the touch. I pass the sword to Lorenzo, upon his request – still doesn’t work. Timothy tries calling Myriam; busy signal. We pour salt on the wound, which also doesn’t nothing. We need some special medicine – and we don’t find it here. We can lop off the leg, or continue to make (penalized) HT rolls to fight the infection.

We bind the leg in a tourniquet, and Kamali takes Gabe’s sword. An all-out telegraphic attack . . . of course it hits. It burns brighter than anyone has ever seen – the fire burns all the way to his arms, and the wound is cauterised clean as it cuts. Gabe passes out cold, to no one’s surprise. The leg itself – what’s left of it – is consumed in green fire, ending the threat.

The guys call a local – we were attacked by, um, a bear. Alex’s uncle is out, we had to amputate a leg, and various other injuries. “Jesus. Is he still alive?” “Yeah, he’s tough.”

They send a snowcat out, with the town doctor. They take the uncle and Gabe. Gabe can get some proper medical help. But the wound is obviously not caused by a bear, too.

The wounded head out; the team packs up everything, Books, weapons, etc. Nothing is left behind. Well, except for the snowmobile that doesn’t work. They pack up and chase after the snowmobile, and meet the injured at the clinic. Gabe is still unconscious.

“What did you use to cut off his leg?”

“A sword.”

“A sword? A sword?”

“It’s what we had.”

“Well, good work. One of you has steady hands. Maybe you’ll be a surgeon one day.”

About six hours into Gabe’s unconsciousness period. Someone all in black, looking like Robert Carlyle with an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth. It’s Myriam’s son, Darius Murphy.

“If you’re here, what happened to Myriam?”

“She’s been detained; don’t worry, she’s still alive. Many other hunters can’t say the same.”

“But we stopped the shaman; we thought that would make everything OK.”

“No, that just made it not impossible.”

“Well, let’s go. We need to get the hell out of Canada and back to Boston before something else tries to eat you. We have to walk the Autumn Road.”

He takes us out to a pool in the middle of the night, and taps on the shimmering surface. “Dump him in,” he says. “What?” “Push the wounded into the pool.”

We feel disoriented for a bit, and then are on a path lined with dirty white bricks. This is “underhill,” so don’t leave the path, don’t accept any gifts, and don’t make any deals. Unless you want to stay here.

Kamali is going to draw zero attention to himself. It takes us three hours of steady walking, and the scenery changes suddenly and without warning several times. We keep walking (well, those of us who are not unconscious), and after four or five hours total, we find ourselves back in Boston, wheeling a gurney down the street. We emerge in a park. We walk towards a van, we pile in – the van looks very lived in.

“What the hell was all that?” says Timothy.

We get driven right to Myriam’s house, but won’t enter. There’s a key under a false rock.

“What are we supposed to do with Gabe?”

“Wheel him in. Hope he gets better. Do not, under any circumstances, leave the house. Oh, and who’s the kid?”

Oh. Right. We just brought Carl back from Alaska too. “Well, he’s our new brother.”

Darius leaves. Carl sleeps over.

“Tim, we cool staying in tonight?” says Kamali.

“It’s Timothy, and yes. We’re good.”

Once we’re all in the house the van turns in a circle and disappears down the road.

We’re all too wired to sleep. Even Gabe, when he wakes up, is too excited and wired to sleep.

There are two letters we find:

“If I’m alive,” we open first.

Whatever you do, don’t leave the house. There are things we need to talk about. Once I’ve dealt with the Uktena, I will return. Kamali, your sister is with the archdiocese down the road.”

Naturally Timothy opens the other letter: “If I’m dead.”

“Timothy, you’re a naughty boy. I’m not dead. Go clean the chimneys.”

Aftermath, Notes, and Impressions (Doug)

This game was, quite simply, on an entirely different level than the prior game. Last time there were issues with seriousness and insulation from decision-making.

This game, the meta-game aspects were ruthlessly quashed. Fewer cards, fewer gaming of the cards, the character sheet, and other currencies that meant we were playing the rules, not the game.

The two combats played fast, scary, and we were in constant jeopardy. The over-performance of Carl the  NPC was hysterical and awesome, and emerged naturally from play. Personally, I got to exploit a judo throw on a zombie, which marked the first time I’ve ever done that – that’s a quirk of my bad luck, not the GURPS rules, but it was gratifying.

Looking forward to the next game, and the next time skip.

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