Monday, June 2, 2014

Dakota Smith and the Valley that Time Forgot

Clara tries to steady her hands enough to take advantage of the photo opportunity with the prehistoric beast in the Valley that Time Forgot
   Sweat rolled off their bodies, and soaked their clothes. Used to temperate climates, the archeologists wondered how in the world could mountain valleys be so blasted hot? They’d followed the trail from the Lost City for three weeks, up mountain passes and down through deep, jungle-clad valleys. They kept their compass point always headed towards the looming mountain whose silhouette looked like a tea bell-shaped, Buddhist stupa. The inscriptions on the temple walls, and the frieze of carvings had been explicit. For a “Lost Valley,” it was amazingly easy to find your way towards. But this last, deep valley was bigger than all the others combined. Volcanic booms echoed off the steep mountain walls. They could smell the sulphuric gasses. Strange, brightly-colored animals shrieked away from the explorers hacking a path through the pitiless jungle. They could have filled their notebooks with sketches of new species — especially reptiles — twice over. They were not naturalists, though. They were archeologists, seeking the Forbidden Temple — legendary resting place of the Tears of the Buddha. If they could get their hands on that storied crystal vial, their name would echo forever among famous archeologists.
   Another, louder boom shook the earth around the archeologists. “Is that volcano gonna blow?” one asked.
   “I don’t think that was a volcano…” was the reply, and a hush fell over the archeologists…

The long, steamy mountain valley that the archeologists had to cross. Ready for a pleasant walk in the woods? Heh, heh...
For our fifth chapter of our Pulp games following the adventures of Dakota Smith and other Western archeologists in the Orient, I went with a different format. Instead of positioning temples or other objectives around the table for them to explore, I started all four archeological teams at table edge. Their goal was to exit off the opposite end. The team that got the most of its characters off received the major plot point, others a minor one. Simple enough? Well, as always, the secret martial arts society, The Order of the Fire Coral, was there to frustrate that goal, hidden in the jungle ahead. What's more, I created two teams of 3 velociraptors each who would also be there to slow them down. And coming in behind them, midway through the game, would be two "terrors" -- a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Ceratosaurus -- to chase them along towards the opposite side. I even cautioned the players ahead of time, saying that the games so far had been fairly competitive in nature. This one "might not" be that type...
The players...would they cooperate against the hidden dangers that lay ahead? Mike wears the fedora to signify he controls the Initiative under the Pulp Alley rules
All four teams moved cautiously forward on the first turn. I had the raptors stay hidden, marking their positions with bushes. The players commented, "Are the bushes moving?" I said, why yes, they do seem to be moving as something passes through them. Scenes from Jurassic Park II: The Lost World -- the raptor ambush -- immediately came to their mind. Although they did not see the raptors, they all could see one giant herbivore, a Triceratops-type, calmly munching the foliage, watching them with its intent yellow eyes. The French leader, Pierre Fournereau, watched the foliage in a thicker patch of jungle ahead parting in a sinister fashion. Suddenly, he heard a great ape hooting wildly and there was a thrashing in the jungle. The great ape howled in pain and was silent.
Pierre and Dr. Lambert wounded by the raking claws of a pair of velociraptors
Before Pierre could decide whether to back off, there was a horrifying reptilian screech and a man-sized lizard ran sped towards him on two hind legs. "Sacre bleu!" he shouted, "Velociraptor!" Pierre blazed away at it as the beast closed then felt a sharp pain as its claws raked his shoulder. He heard footsteps behind him and watched in amazement as Dr. Lambert charged to his aid, swinging his weighty briefcase as a bludgeon. There was another screech and a second raptor charged the aged doctor, who twisted and dodged to avoids its deadly claws. On the cliff above, Jacques Nero aimed at the beasts, but could not get a clear shot as they grappled and sliced at his countrymen.

The other archeologists heard the screams of the Frenchmen, and looked nervously at the jungle around them. Should they go help? And what was that movement off there in the dim jungle-shrouded light? Soon, all four parties of archeologists heard the nightmare screech and saw the reptilian menaces speeding towards them. Any thoughts of rivalry were forgotten as the westerners and their native guides fought for their life against the onslaught of raptors. I used the Pulp Alley "Savage Predator" for the raptors. One particularly nasty ability is "Savage" -- which allows a second melee immediately following the first, if the attacker chooses. The players were given a momentary breather when one used a "Parley" fortune card. I interpreted this as an earthquake rocking the valley, causing all to stumble about (no running, no fighting).
"Smile for the camera...och! How can yee tell if the beastie's smiling?" Harris McLeod's niece and Dolly take time out to photograph a giant herbivore
Both Clara and Dolly took this opportunity to speed ahead and go for the bonus plot point -- photographing a dinosaur. The giant herbivore watched them blandly, then shuffled back deeper into the jungle. I ruled a character needed two Finesse successes to snap sufficient photographic evidence, and both ladies took two turns to complete the plot point. As they were finishing up, Harris McLeod barked, "Hurry up, lassies, we've to go noo...!" Looking back, they saw raptors running towards them, along with Dakota Smith and Harold. Both men were casting wide-eyed glances behind them.
"Run, Harold, damn you!" Dakota Smith shouts as he blazes away at the raptor trying to cut him off. Behind the American, a Tyrannosaurs Rex pounds towards the archeologists. Soon, all Westerners were fleeing for their lives towards the edge of the board.
Packing up their cameras, the ladies noticed the pounding they heard was not the aftershocks of the earthquake, like they'd first thought. It was as if it were the heavy tread of something huge coming closer and closer. They screamed at the nightmare come to life and followed in the path of Harris and Major Speke-Eastman through the jungle. In front of the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dakota Smith blazed away at the raptors trying to cut him off. "Run, damn you!" he shouted to the others. Soon, all the British and Americans were fleeing for the edge of the jungle. On the other side of a patch of thicker patch of jungle, the Irish dispatched the last raptor attacking them and also took to their heels. Pierre and Dr. Lambert, with the help of Jacques Nero, had finally disengaged from the raptors attacking them and were also fleeing for their lives.
The other big terror, a Ceratosaurus, helps chase the teams towards the board edge as raptors continue to bedevil the players
"This way, if you want to live!" Dakota Smith shouts, as Harris follows. The Scotsman urges the ladies to stop gawking at dinosaurs, while Harold guards the rear against any raptors on their trail.
As the screams of the westerners echoed through the jungle, four sinister-garbed agents stepped from the shadows. "At last," Opay hissed. "We have the foreign devils at our mercy..." Joel had done a great job of letting the archeologists be worn down by the raptors, while avoiding the beasts themselves by staying hidden. Now, as they were strung out fleeing down jungle paths, the Order of the Fire Coral launched its ambush. Opay and Tatko leapt out and attacked Harris McLeod and Major Speke-Eastman, while Jazh Minh and Neen Wha blocked the path of the Irish fortune hunters.
"We've got you, now, foreign devils...!" Opay and Tatko leap out and attack the major and Harris.

"Now, aren't you a persistent wee hussy," Lady Shannon growls as she battles Jaz Minh

Even with the game being extended by one turn (Reward Card for photographing a dinosaur), Joel had chosen his position and time too well. His attacks ensured none of the westerners would get off the board before the end of the seventh turn. His victory conditions were one minor plot point for each teams that got none off the board, so he was the big winner of the scenario with four. Allen's (Americans) reward card had an extra experience point so he scored two, and Keith (British) one. After being the big winners in the last two games big winner, Mike (Irish) and Tom (French) ended up with none.
After chasing off the human interlopers, the prehistoric beasts resume their dominance games for control of the Valley that Time Forgot...!
The game was a blast, though Joel will probably claim that was due to the supply of Scotch Ale I laid in for the night's game. The players did a good job of cooperating, no shots were fired at each other. Even so, they ended up "losing" to the combined force of raptors and Order of Fire Coral. If I were going to replay the scenario, I would probably put a couple fewer raptors on the board and bring in the terrors in earlier. No one actually was attacked by the T-Rex or Ceratosaurus -- not that it would have been a pretty sight if they had been...! I had planned bring them in earlier, but the raptors were doing such a good job against the westerners that I delayed their entry. All in all, I think the players enjoyed it, and certainly felt their blood race as they tried to escape. Next, it is on to the Forbidden Temple...!