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Heading north in pursuit of the cultists/amateur tomb robbers. It might be the middle of the desert, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to encounter - including a scorpion-man in need of proper burial, a Royal Naga archeologist, and some really, really annoying birds. But we do find a river, which is nice, since it means Asrian and Zenobia can wash the dust off.

Onka: And I’m going to camp over here, since I don’t want a knife somewhere uncomfortable.

Zenobia: Any suspicious logs floating about?

This is also the first time that Zenobia has seen her girlfriend undressed in daylight - she has silver-blonde hair, and skin almost as pale as paper. Rather unusual, since we’ve met her family and they’re all ethnically Osiriani.

Nemat OoC: On the other side of the God-Rock, she’d be gorgeous.
Zenobia OoC: I imagine her mother got some cruel accusations after she was born, right up until her father got kicked in the balls.

Asrian is still extremely sensitive about her appearance, despite the fact that Zenobia isn;t at all repulsed.

Zenobia: You’ve seen the way people look at me, before they know me. I’d NEVER think you’re ugly.
Asrian: You’re fuzzy, it’s nice! I look like I’ve been dipped in flour!
Zenobia: Well, let’s see if it washes off *rolls around in the shallows with her for a bit*

Asrian eventually explains that she had a perfectly ordinary complexion when she was younger, but had an encounter with a djinn, and after she was returned from the djinn’s palace, she looked like this. Apparently she had djinn ancestry somewhere on her mother’s side of the family, and her Suli blood got awakened. Which probably explains why her mother insisted she was still beautiful. Zenobia, of course, agrees.

Zenobia: The power of your ancestry shows on the outside. The light of your soul shines inside. You are gorgeous to me.
Asrian: *hugs tight*

Asrian is at least confident enough to go without her veil when we return to the rest of the party, but she’ll have it back on before we catch up with the cultists.

Nemat: You’re actually quite attractive.
Zenobia: MINE.

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Champions : Return To Edge City - Heist!

Quadrant’s plan to take down the more ideologically-unpleasant gangs of Edge City, one affiliate at a time. At the moment, we’re focussing on the Park Front Dragons. Or rather, were, until we got distracted by an attempted tech heist at UC-EC.

GM: You do realise that the way Allana sniffed out the ganger’s blood types is going to spread around the paramedics, and the rumour is going to be you’re a VAMPIRE bat?

Those crows that Scooter chased were Hooded Crows, an exclusively Eurasian species.

Hero Shrew: Well, all we have to do is check the birdwatcher’s network - because if any hooded crows are flying around California someone will notice.

Of course, the Black Paladin was accompanied by carrion crows, not hooded crows. Hooded crows are more associated with the Morrigan and Cú Chulainn.

Allana: So, who’s pissed off any Celtic death goddesses or Irish Hercules lately?

Flux: Do we really want to spend time tracking down these crows Scooter spotted?
Hero Shrew: If they’re important, I'm sure they’ll come back to bite us on the arse later.
Allana: I assume we just checked the internet while we were waiting for campus security to show up and cart off the battery-stealing idiots.
GM: You spent time explaining to them that what they did was a horrifically bad idea that could have got them charged with multiple federal crimes. That generally makes them back down.

Allana’s right, too - the laws regarding crimes committed in powered armour are still overly broad. Of course, that’s not Allana’s only skill - she overhears one of the security people telling Brent that he’ll put the new superbatteries in secure storage until it’s time for his big presentation. And Allana can also tell that the security guy is COMPLETELY full of it. He also smells of unusual welding compounds and advanced engineering. She considers scent-tagging the batteries, but doubts she can do it inconspicuously. Or she could just carry them back to secure storage herself - she’s strong enough, and Brent went through too many years of high school to doubt the obvious jock can do it.

Hardlight: Well, if we’re down here I’m going to go hang around the chemistry labs.
GM: As Gareth Lowell?
Hardlight: Yes. If they need me as Hardlight I’ll duck into the toilets.
Hero Shrew: It not like you can find a phone booth these days.

Hardlight: What do you actually DO to scent-mark something? Lick it or something? Or do you have a spray bottle?
Hero Shrew: ‘And this is Mine, and this is Mine, and THIS is Mine…’
Allana: Actually, I can always wrap my wings around the batteries as I’m carrying the crate. Then I can do what I like.
Hero Shrew: How much do you want to bet that security guard is planning a heist? Or is he just the Park Front Dragons’ contact on campus?

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So, it looks like somebody is using Ravensholme Biotech facilities to make designer drugs, and the Knights of Hell gang to smuggle them out of Edge City via the tunnels and high-speed jet-ski. And we can’t just go in there without a warrant. Well, we could, but...

Hero Shrew OoC: We’re not an actual Shadowrun team, so we can’t go around blatantly breaking the law.

Flux points out we’re not really connected or sneaky enough to bluff our way into the facilities. So we should just focus on the Knights of Hell section of the pipeline. Or better yet, inform the Drug Squad and let them do it.

Flux: It helps that there’s a standing ordinance in Edge City that the ECPD can enter the tunnels at anytime. No need for a warrant. So the stuff we discovered down there is all legal evidence, since we have police powers.
GM: You’re being perfectly reasonable. Now give me a few minutes to figure out how the plot will go since you’re being reasonable. At the end of last session it sounded like you were going to go full Leroy Jenkins. You probably would have killed somebody.

So, if we are leaving the Knights of Hell to the human authorities, do we turn our attention to one of the other gangs? We haven’t dealt with those human supremacists that were running MercCon for a start. Maybe that gang that uses powered exo-armour? They even fight in the stuff - which admittedly is the illegal part of it.

Hardlight: It’s like fighting in forklifts.

The local police advise that the gang in question also deal drugs, but it’s a bit of a mystery as to how they avoid getting caught doing it. So it looks like another week of covert surveillance. Of course, they could be using their own drones - it’s a low volume product.

GM: Which one was Dr. No again?
Allana: The TV Special on Informed Consent.

So now we have to research how gangs actually deal drugs, including runners, back seat deal, and actual dens. At least we don’t have to look around town for every pair of sneakers over the power lines.

GM: Uber Drugs

Of course, just as we’re about to bring the hammer down on THIS gang, we hear that the Heaven’s Devils, a demented motorbike gang that have Blues Brothers-style races as an initiation, are driving along the top of the Wall around Marsten.

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Pathfinder : The Mummy's Mask - Booty Call

Exploring the wastelands, searching for a particular tomb, currently occupied by one Chesisek, head engineer for the Forgotten/Sky Pharoah - all part of a convoluted plan to track down all the plot tokens, when we are attacked by a pack of giant spiders.

Zenobia: At least lunch is sorted. Was anybody bitten?
Nemat: Yes, a few times. Why? Oh right, these are poisonous.
Zenobia: Venomous. If they bite you and you die, it’s venomous. If you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous. If you bite each other and neither of you die it’s a kinky Friday evening.

A bit later we chance upon a camp of more idiots in funerary masks, backed up by fire drakes.

Onka: It’ll be difficult to intimidate them - they’re religious fanatics and tend to be nutjobs.
Nemat: To be fair, so are we. We’re out here in the desert of our own volition looking for the pieces of a dead pharaoh that used to fly around in a pyramid.

Zenobia: But the goddess Sarenrae gives this one chance to surrender.
Asrian: *scimitars and arms suddenly shimmer with frost*
Fire Drakes: … that’s gonna hurt. A lot.

It doesn’t work on the cultists. They’re fanatical.

Zenobia: Absolute certainty in the righteousness of his cause.
Nemat: I’ve got that too. The difference is I’M RIGHT. This is a religious argument in the desert, and they only end one way.

At least the fire drakes decide this would be a good opportunity to fireball some of the cultists.

Nemat: ‘We do whatever is best for us’
Asrian: ‘And right now what is best for us is bad for you’

Nemat: ‘Pepper Breath!’

Nemat OoC: Now I have to play an orange-scaled kobold pyrokineticist in Kingmaker.

Some of the cultists apparently want to add to the pyrotechnics by rushing at Asrian, and exploding. She shrugs it off, because naturally any girlfriend of Zenobia is awesome.

Cultist Leader: I will die in glorious battle!
Asrian: No, no, you’re just going to die.

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#1400 and counting

#1400 - Eacles imperialis - Imperial Moth

Photo by a friend of mine, Bruce Griffin, in Warrensburg, Missouri. It’s not often I can ID a species from overseas, but a Saturniid this distinctive wasn’t TOO difficult. The colour and pattern is a surpisingly good match for a decomposing leaf

The diet of the caterpillars is unusually wide, including conifers like Norway Spruce, and deciduous trees and shrubs including oak, box elder, maples, sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and sassafras. The pini subspecies feeds only on conifers, and the adults don’t feed at all.

Various subspecies are found from Argentina to Canada, and unsurprisingly it’s E. imperialis pini that’s found up at the northern end.

#1401 - Myrmecia ludlowi

One of the species that I posted to BowerBird for an ID, although Colin went on to get his own account there. Hopefully he’ll get his own observations ported to iNaturalist, since he’s a much better photographer than me. 

Myrmecia chasei and Myrmecia ludlowi have the same coloration as Myrmecia elegans, but are more robust ants with hairy tibiae. The separation of the two species by is based purely on the colour of the mandibles (yellow in chasei, dark brown in ludlowi), but many specimens having intermediate light to medium brown mandibles. Both species (if indeed they are separable species) are found in the Darling Range, including the Perth area, and elsewhere in SW Western Australia. Colin took this photo way down in the SW. 

#1402 - Myrmecia urens

Another bull-ant, but one of the smaller species. This time photographed by me, in Yellingup, down in the SW corner. Found in large parts of Southern Australia. The short-lived winged males are duped into pollinating the flowers of the Hare Orchid Leporella fimbriata, and may visit and try to mate with dozens of flowers until eventually dying of exhaustion.

#1403 - Physeema sp - Western Ticker

One of the smaller cicadas we get in WA, with five species and outlying populations further north and over in coastal Victoria and South Australia. I found this one tangled in spiderweb, let him or her climb over my fingers while I got some photos, and the little fucker bit me. Which was quite surprising coming from an exclusively plant-sucking family. 

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#1390 - Psilogramma casuarinae or menephron - Privet Hawk Moth

Found by Susie Wade on a hedge in Dubbo, NSW. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell P. casuarinae and P. menephron apart by photos, especially at this stage. And even more so because they both enjoy a diet of Privet and White Jasmine, although the former is also a pest of olives and a wide variety of other domesticated plants. I’ve covered the former, way back at #527.

#1391 - Thalaina angulosa - Blotched Satin Moth

From Naomi Gillespie, in Rushworth, Victoria.

A striking Geometrid moth, found over large areas of Mainand Australia, where the caterpillars feast on Golden Wattle, White Mallee ( Eucalyptus dumosa) and Velvet Bean ( Cassia tomentella, CAESALPINIACEAE ). Probably other plants too.

#1392 - Thalaina tetraclada

Another Satin Moth, this one photographed by Zara Brown in Coondle WA. Bit blurry, but seeing the hindwings makes the species ID certain. Found in New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia, but I don’t have an info on diet. 

#1393 - Metallochlora neomela

AKA Urolitha bipunctifera (Walker, 1861), Nemoria pisina Warren, 1899 and Thalassodes albolineata Pagenstecher, 1900

Photo by Karl Granzien, in Cooroy, SE QLD. 

The Australian Butterfly House website says the caterpillar has been reared fromPlumbago auriculata, and the moth has been found in most Australian states, and in Papua. But that Plumbago is a South African species, so in the wild it probably eats Plumbago zeylanica, a native plant found in most of the warmer, wetter parts of Australia, assuming it doesn’t have a wider diet. 

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#1387-1389 - Some More

#1387 - Trichophthalma sp. - Tangle-veined Fly

Photographed by Kate Fin, 1500m up Mt Buffalo in Victoria.

Tangle-veined Flies, named after the unusual wing venation visible in the second photo, are parasitoids of grasshoppers and beetles as larvae. Although I don’t think they’re going to get much of a meal off the grasshopper in the third photo. As adults, they’re pollinators, and are suitable equipped - Moegistorhynchus longirostris, from parts of South Africa, has a proboscis 80-100mm long, the longest of any fly.

There’s only 300 or so known species, but some are important controllers of grasshopper numbers.

#1388 - Hydroclathrus clathratus

A brown algae with a highly unusual fractal net-like morphology. IDed by Carolyn Ricci at the SA Herbarium, who do an outstanding range of PDFs I’ve found invaluable for identifying Australian macroalgae. 

Found in warm and temperate seas worldwide, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen anything like it. The name means ‘latticed water-lattice’, to really hammer the point home. It’s often found growing epiphytically on another common brown algae, the blob-like Colpomenia sinuosa, which it rather resembles apart from all the holes. (Speaking of which, I hope this doesn’t trigger anybody’s tryptophobia - I made the mistake of showing this photo to a friend who was once extremely ill with a high fever, and was hallucinating patterns like this.)

Brought in to the WA Naturalist’s Club meeting by one of the members, to compliment the talk on Marine Plants I was giving. Naturally I covered all the species I’ve discussed on Tumblr previously. 

Apparently it’s edible, and makes an interesting addition to salads.

#1389 - Everardia picta

Identified for and photographed by Lesley Brooker, here in Perth, based on the resemblance to the more common Ocirrhoe genus of small green stink bugs.

As well as the major gangs in Edge City, there’s a wide selection of smaller ones, with various lines of income and gang beliefs. At least one of them is a gang of religious fundamentalists, that we promptly nickname the Piss-stains after the colour-code of the gang map, right next door to the Knights of Hell.

Hero Shrew: Can we put them both into an arena and go “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Fireflash: No. Probably.

And, of course, there’s one gang with the sworn intention of wiping out Moreaus.

Fireflash: I think we’ve found our next target.

And of course, Allana can glide silently overhead for nocturnal surveillance on whoever we target.

Fireflash: We’ve got Whispering Death right here.

Flux: Allana, do you need a cover story in case they chat social media for what you’re up to? A night on the town, or something?
GM: She’s too busy for anything like that - her superheroics at night are her relaxation time.
Hero Shrew: She patches people up during the day, and inflicts serious injuries at night.

We go after the Knights of Hell instead - their business in drug exports makes them vulnerable.

Hero Shrew: And there will be fewer social ramifications if we take them down, instead of the Piss-stains or the racists. Who’s going to complain if we target a gang of Satanist drug-dealers?
GM: They’re only called the Knights of Hell because the Hellgate Institute is on their turf, and everybody knows it.

They’re also pretty anti-Moreau, since the mass break-out on S-Day happened in their neighbourhood, and they’ve always been paranoid about other things buried under Edge City. And they’re not wrong either - there was that recent Kaiju for one thing.

Of course we’ll have to consult with the Edge City PD drug squad first. And there’s also the legal consequences of acting on info gained by Flux hacking into their security systems, or using a magical machine that goes Ping in the presence of illegal drugs. Both could lead to the case being thrown out, if we find anything that we couldn’t have learned from normal means. X-ray vision automatically counting as illegal search is just the start of it.

GM: I still remember the time Wonder Woman had a mid-air collision with another plane.
Hero Shrew: And that’s why she should have stuck to the giant space kangaroos.
Flux: Yes, those were practical.

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According to the Golarion map, Magnimar is in the same geographic location as Seattle.

GM: So our Streets of Magnimar campaign was Shadowrun all along.
Weldun: Yes, I know - that’s why I ran it there.

Anyway, The Mummy’s Mask, in which our party of wannabe law robots, half-orc spell mechanics, swordswomen cosplaying as cloves of garlic, and lovesick gnolls, head off into the wilderness to locate the tomb of a long dead architect. Let’s hope he didn’t keep the best traps for his OWN tomb.

At least we don’t need as many supplies as most such expeditions would need - Two of us can Create Water, Asrian can cast Tiny Hut for shelter, and Nemat has a Ring of Sustenance. Throw in the Cauldron of Brewing, and Marching Coffee, collapsible bathtubs, and a few Bags of Holding stuffed with rations and Wandermeals, and we should be fine.

Zenobia OoC: And how many kilos of Bolivian Marching Powder?

Automated Cartographers will be pretty useful too.n We don’t take any camels, or other beasts of burden.

Nemat: Camels get eaten. Camels get turned to stone. I’m not going out there to feed the local wildlife.

Although that does mean we don’t get to visit Crazy Hassan, or Honest Achmed’s Used Camel Emporium.

Adventurer: We need oceangoing camels.
Crazy Hassan: I have just the thing, master.
Adventurer: … That’s four camels in a boat.
Crazy Hassan: Ah, I see where I have misunderstood you sir. You meant aquatic camels. These ones merely know how to handle the rigging.
Adventurer: … How?? They don’t even have thumbs!
Crazy Hassan: *shrugs* It is a mystery.

Before we leave town, we go to see the Pharaoh's concubine Muminofrah one last time. Zenobia is a bit uncertain about this - she’s still a bit hurt about the woman’s interest in her girlfriend.

Zenobia: Why are we doing this, instead of just skipping town?
Nemat: She’s been useful. And we shouldn’t burn bridges.
GM: It doesn’t matter - her guards won’t even let you on the barge. You can see her on the deck, in the arms of a dark-skinning man, giggling as she’s fed grapes.
Asrian: Ah. She has a newbie.
Zenobia: Well, I’m relieved. Are we going to misinform the Governor about where we’re going?
Nemat: No. We’re not going to tell her anything.

As it happens we’re attacked almost as soon as we’re out of sight of town. It’s Pharaoh-cultists. And there’s a sphinx padding along behind them.

Zenobia: Two questions - will Saranae be disappointed with me because I didn’t give them a warning first?
Nemat: No. She doesn’t expect you to put yourself in undue danger.
Zenobia: That’s good. And the other question - why do these dumb-asses always try to close to close combat?

Onka adds a Disruption effect to his fireball, which nicely wrecks any attempt by the nearer cultists to cast magic, or keep any running. The fancy-pants leading them holds back, and is clearly trying to cast something, which naturally makes him a priority target. Pretty soon it’s just the cultists who are still alive, and entangled.

Zenobia: *gesturing significantly with her scimitar* Which of you would like to live?

They’d rather explode than surrender.

Asrian: Well, that was kind of pointless.

There’s a caravan at the first oasis we get to, which reacts with understandable alarm at the party’s approach, until they realise it’s not all gnolls, and lower their weapons a bit. Apparently they’ve had to fight off multiple gnoll packs as they crossed the desert. Nemat introduces us.

Caravaneer: You’re from Wati? I heard rumours of a terrible necromantic event.
Nemat: Don’t worry - we dealt with it.
Caravaneer: You must be great heroes!
Asrian: Not great. But still pretty good.

Asrian does a sword dance to entertain our hosts that evening.

Zenobia OoC: I hope nobody comments about the cushion I have to hold over my lap. Asrian’s sword skills are the sexiest thing about her.

Caravaneer: That is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Nemat: Indeed. But she’s taken. Not by me, though!
Caravaneer: I meant the dance.
Zenobia: *panting*

He warns us about the salt flats to the south - they’re teeming with Basilisks.

Zenobia: Maybe we SHOULD have bought those smoked goggles.

Caravaneer: There’s also an enormous bird - of prodigious size! - in the western wasteland. Big enough to snatch up a camel in both claws!
Nemat: There’s a reason the desert hasn’t been mapped yet.

They also have a bunch of trade goods worth looking through, although the gnoll skulls and grave goods do make Zenobia frown, and Nemat give them a warning about the Cult of Pharasma.

Caravaneer: And the rarest of rare creatures! The single-headed hydra!
Nemat: So it’s a snake.
Caravaneer: …
Nemat: Shall I tell you about my home town? The only building of note if the temple of Wadjet. To whom snakes are sacred.
Caravaneer: Half-price?
Peanut gallery: Can I interest you guys in cursed filament?
Onka’s player: You lost me at ‘cursed’

Zenobia OoC: How did the session I missed go?
Asrian: Quite well. We had to go through a chariot race for Muminofrah, but that got us permission to enter the Dark Depository, where we found the information we were searching for. Unfortunately, we've also found out that more info is available at a different and hidden section, the location of which can only be discerned by watching from the top of a particular tower at dawn at midsummer. Sadly, said tower no longer exists. However, we figure we can get the location from the city model we saw earlier. We then had to fight a Bone Golem, which was a complete comedy of errors but we got out in one piece.
Onka OoC: We miss our good luck gnoll
Zenobia OoC: Aw, shucks. So… you kept sending me off on shopping trips whenever you needed to get another ‘favour’ from Muminofrah?
Nemat: Yes.
Zenobia: *plaintive sigh*
Nemat: Oh look, there’s some bottled musk for sale in the markets.
Onka: What?
Nemat: To help Zenobia regain her girlfriend.

Onka and Asrian were assigned to the camel-chariot, since Zenobia was being kept preoccupied, and Nemat is at a penalty for anything that doesn’t involve books.

Nemat: Do you know how embarrassing it is to be a follower of Wadjet and be bad at Handling Animals? We’re a snake cult!
Zenobia: To be fair that’s a very specific animal.

Suddenly, Ninjas!

Onka: Let’s hope there are lots of them.

Nemat: Blistering Invective! ‘You suck at being Ninjas! You surprised someone, stabbed them in the back, and MISSED!’

GM: Why do I keep sending these poor goons after you?
Zenobia: Because we’re not well-known enough in this town, yet. If somebody sent assassins after us in Wati, they’d be demanding danger money.
GM: True. And they’d be sniping you from a distance.

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