Second Letter From Kausao City

For those of you who aren’t caught up, I recently received a letter from Kausao City’s governor’s office describing how the Kausao City Post Office is being used to contact rebel sympathizers outside of the hegemony. After more than a week of searching for information regarding the seized letters mentioned in that correspondence, I received another letter.

Here it is:

 


Jianghu Sympathizer,

I’ll refrain from using names for mutual protection. In fact, it may be too dangerous to contact you at all. I hope our desperation has not compromised you.

Jonica…A contact in the Four Winds Trading Company has alerted us to a plot to kill the Kaiyumi crown princess during her first visit to Kausao City, and frame a prominent Jianghu society in the process. We already have a tough time convincing recruits that we’re a legitimate rebellion – we’re losing the propaganda war. If the princess, a known critic of the Council of Nine, were to fall, seemingly by our hand, the Jianghu may be too discredited to carry on.

One of our number – again, no names – has informed us that you have contacts within the Empire. It is our hope that you can impress upon them how dangerous it is to allow the FWTC to remain sovereign outside of the Empire. The treaty that created the Kausao City hegemony dictates the corporation can only be regulated by the Aerish government.

We have already sent word to the princess, and are praying to Ehal that it arrives before her retinue departs. If you can lean on your government and keep the FWTC too busy to become embroiled in such distant plots, you could save a lot of lives.

With gratitude,

The Swift Songbird Society


 

I’m not sure who they think I know, or how one voice could make a difference, but I’ll do my best. Though picket signs outside the Capitol might be too much.

Then again, I do know someone who applied for a government job last year, an assistant to some middle manager somewhere. I wonder if he got the job. I’ll check.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to post here and keep a record of my findings. And, again, here’s the original letter – for your files.

The Jianghu rebellion is the centerpiece of the Jadepunk roleplaying game.

Letters From Kausao City

I just received a strange letter from The Governor’s Office in Kausao City. Did you get it yet? It’s sort of…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself.

I’ve attached the letter at the bottom of this post but transcribed it below for those of you who can’t read Túyangan:

 


From: Office of the Governor of Kausao City
To: The Peoples of the Great Nations

It has come to our attention that some employees of Kausao City’s mailing service have been colluding with terrorist cells that collectively call themselves The Jianghu. City Watch agents have found three letters that describe treasonous activities against The Council of Nine. Rest assured; those responsible will be brought to justice.

The Governor has launched a full investigation, but until all suspects are found, we ask that you show all letters delivered to you by the official mailing service to your local Kausao City ambassador’s office.

Failure to comply with the above mandate will result in your immediate arrest and extradition to Kausao City for crimes of collusion with known terrorist cells.

Thank you for your cooperation,
Catriona Naser
Assistant to The Governor of Kausao City


 

I’m going to try and get my hands on some of these “treasonous” letters and find out more (can they really extradite us for keeping them?). If I manage to find any, I’ll let you know – you might want to subscribe to the blog (at the bottom of this page) to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Here’s the letter, so you can see for yourself.

UPDATE: Another letter has arrived.

Kausao City is a fictional location in the world of Jadepunk.

 

Intrepid Stories: Too Close to the Sun

Intrepid City 0:2

TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN
By Ryan M. Danks

The XS–9 rocketed out of Earth’s atmosphere. Propelled by prototype plasma engines, the experimental air/space hybrid plane was the pride of Valiant Industries’ R&D department, which they claim is light years ahead of their competitors.

Colonel Cole Stewart leaned into the cockpit and watched the pilot, Captain Martin, fly.

“You should be strapped in,” Captain ‘Marty,’ as Stewart’s team took to calling him when they boarded, said.

“‘Should,’” Stewart said. “Sounds like a suggestion.”

Marty shook his head, but couldn’t help smiling. “Damned PJs.”

Behind Stewart, in the staging area of the plane, he could hear members of his team telling their new rookie the story of their last operation in Eastern Europe.

“This one guy just wouldn’t go down,” Staff Sergeant Briggs said. “No matter how many rounds I pumped into him, he just kept coming.” Most people would have used their hands to mimic the actions of shooting something, but Briggs pointed his loaded .50 caliber machine gun at the rookie.

The young man’s discomfort was blood in the water for the rest of the team.

“Face was weird, too,” First Lieutenant Lane said. “Pale, with red eyes and big fangs. It was like a friggin horror movie.” She formed her hands in claws and made a menacing face at the rookie, which had a more horrifying effect with Brigg’s machine gun in his face.

The rookie tried to laugh it off. He seemed sure they were joking with him. But everyone else was straight faced. “Serious?” He said.

Stewart’s attention was drawn back to the cockpit by a blinking light on Captain Marty’s touchscreen. “Did something pick us up?”

“Naw,” Marty said. “Nothing can pick us up this high up. That there’s Ground Control reaching out.”

Marty touched the answer button, but it didn’t activate the comms system. He tapped it several times. Nothing. “Stupid geniuses. They make a plane that can drop Paratroopers into an LZ from high orbit, but they can’t get the console to answer phone calls.”

“That’s why I don’t listen to their suggestions to buckle up,” Stewart said, slapping Marty on the shoulder. He stepped back into the staging area, where his Paratroopers were gearing up for the mission ahead.

After breathing on his helmet’s tinted faceplate and wiping off the fog, the rookie leaned back and looked at Briggs. “So, how did you end up stopping him?”

Briggs was too busy connecting his machine gun to his armor’s mechanically-assisted control arm to notice the rookie was talking to him. Lane got his attention for the rookie by smacking Briggs in the chest. “What?” The big man said.

“The ‘vampire,’” the rookie said. “How’d you stop him?”

“Vampire?” Briggs smiled and looked around at the amused faces of in the staging area. “Well, the Colonel killed him,” Briggs said, nodding toward Stewart, who was chambering a round into his sidearm and holstering it in the automatic ejection mechanism in the thigh plating of his armor.

Stewart made the ejector open and close a few times by waving his hand passed it; he still didn’t trust the high-tech gear his superiors forced on his team. Stewart preferred the old parachute and flak jacket rig that never failed him before.

The rookie looked up at Stewart as if to ask how he did it.

Stewart shot Briggs a look of displeasure for getting him involved. “I carved his heart out,” Stewart said. He drew his large carbon fiber knife a few inches out of its sheath, installed in the chest plating of his containment armor, to make his point.

The rookie whistled. “Damn, sir. You’re hardcore.”

Everyone in the room tried to contain their laughter but failed miserably. Everyone but the rookie.

Lane grabbed his shoulder. “Thanks for this,” she said between laughing fits. “Truly. Thank you.”

“Aw, what?! You mean you didn’t–” The rookie got up and moved to the back of the staging area. “You guys suck,” he said as he passed hysterical team members.

The team member the rookie sat down next to offered him a cigarette. He took it, lighting a match on the ‘No Smoking’ sign.

Lane wiped a tear of joy from her face and tossed Stewart an extra magazine for his rifle. “So, Colonel, you finally get hitched, and leave your bride at the altar to go on an OP?”

“I didn’t leave her at the altar,” Stewart said, slapping the magazine and racking his weapon. “The limo just dropped us off at different airports.”

“You afraid married life will suck the adventure of you?” Briggs said, elbowing Stewart in the arm.

Stewart pressed a touchscreen on his forearm to fiddle with his containment armor’s settings –– an excuse to look away. “If I didn’t come, one of you would get eaten by a werewolf or something. Eh, Rook?”

Everyone laughed at the rookie’s expense. He turned a faced the wall.

“I can go on a honeymoon anytime,” Stewart said, placing his weapon in the mechanical holster on his back.

Lane smirked. “I’m sure she felt the same way.”

Stewart was about to respond when Captain Marty called out from the cockpit: “Finally got in touch with Control. They’re calling off the mission.”

“They give a reason?” Stewart asked.

“NASA is reporting some kind of ‘cosmic storm’ headed our way. They’re not sure what it is, but they don’t want to take any chances.”

Briggs looked disappointed. “We came all this way for nothing?”

“Has situation on the ground changed?” Stewart asked.

“Negative,” Marty said. “This seems like a safety procedure for our benefit.”

“Sounds to me like more suggestions,” Stewart said. “We all know what we signed up for; mission first.”

“Hooah!” The team yelled in unison.

Marty shook his head. “I’ll let Control know we aren’t diverting course, then.”

“PJs,” Stewart shouted. “Mount up!”

They all locked their helmets into place, rechecked their gear, and climbed into the jump pods – one for each team member.

Stewart waited until they were in their pods, then locked his helmet into place. He listened to the internal atmosphere regulators pressurize his suit, then checked his oxygen levels; which wouldn’t be a concern while inside the pod – the emergency oxygen was for orbital emergencies.

“Good luck,” Marty called over his shoulder as Stewart climbed into his pod. The Colonel gave him a thumbs up.

“Mic check,” Stewart said, as he tapped buttons in his pod’s touchscreen to set the landing coordinates.

Each team member reported in and called a positive sync to his coordinates.

“We’re good to go, Marty,” Stewart said through the comms. “Open the launch bay doors.”

“Copy that,” Marty’s voice came back through the comms, clear as day.

The bay doors opened, giving the team a good look at Eastern Europe through the windshields on their pods.

“Beautiful,” someone said. Stewart thought it was the rookie. Whether it was or not, the rookie was the one Briggs made fun of for being “sentimental.”

“Want to take a picture to show your mom, Rook?” Lane called out through the comms.

Stewart grinned as he looked to the West. He couldn’t see the United States from where he was, and Intrepid City was quite a bit inland, but he knew his new bride was down there somewhere. They had known each other for a few years, though Stewart never let his team know about her. There was a certain distance he liked to keep with them regarding his personal life. But Angela had insisted on some of his team being part of the bridal party. And he had to admit that he liked it when she took naturally to them as part of his extended family.

“What the hell is that?” Briggs shouted through the comms, breaking Stewart’s reverie. No one could see Briggs pointing, but they didn’t have to. It was obvious what he was pointing at: far above the Earth’s north pole was a blue and purple cloud, half as big as the planet, descending like a hungry monster looking for something to eat.

Stewart was at a loss for words. “I have no idea. Marty?”

The Captain must have been paying attention to his instruments, trying to line up the small launch window over the LZ. From this height, if the team dropped outside of the window, they would end up in a different country altogether. He didn’t respond to Stewart’s question. Instead, Captain Marty shouted “Clear to launch!” over the comms.

“Copy that,” Stewart said. “Leave the space dust phenomena to the scientists. We’ve got a job to do.” He counted down from five, knowing that after he took off, each of his teammates, in order, would launch one second after the previous team member.

“Two. One.” He pressed the ‘Launch’ button and readied himself to take a few Gs as he rocketed down through the atmosphere. But while the ejection rockets screamed to life, his pod’s safety latches malfunctioned. One side released as expected, but the other stayed locked in place, causing his pod to violently turn, slamming into the drop pod next to him. His windshield cracked from the pressure, and red lights reported a systems malfunction.

The team stepped on each other as shouts of panic and concern came through the comms all at once. Stewart was too busy trying to deactivate the pod’s rockets to join the chaotic conversation.

Like the rest of his team, Stewart was trained in emergency procedures during a drop, but when his pod was pointing at the rest of his team, like a missile taking aim, there was a new level of stress added to an already technical situation. 

Stewart’s pod bounced back and forth between the bay door and the pod next to him. By the time he got the rockets shut off, he his pod had wedged between the neighboring pod and the bulkhead of the ship.

“You all right down there?” Captain Marty said.

Stewart craned his neck to get a look into the other pod’s windshield. The pods were at an odd angle, but he could see the rookie’s eyes, wide with fright.

“Oh, sh–?” The rookie said, starting to hyperventilate. Everyone could hear it, now that they had regained their comm discipline.

“Lock it up, Rook!” Stewart yelled through the comms, trying to get the Paratrooper under control before he did something stupid, like eject while they were wedged up against each other.

The rookie, eyes about to bug out of his head, nodded. “Y-yessir.”

Stewart took stock of his situation. The way he was wedged up under the bay door, the rookie still had a clear shot to drop. Maybe if he did it would dislodge both of their pods.

“Alright, Rook. Here’s the plan. You’re going to launch your pod, and–”

“I would caution against that, sir,” Marty said. “I’ve got you pulled up on my sensors, and if he launches, it’ll more than likely tear both your pods apart. And being right under the engines, if you rip into that bay door, you could cause a catastrophic event.”

“Damn,” Stewart said.

“Maybe we should do what Control said and abort mission,” Marty said. “I can have us on the ground in–”

“Negative,” Stewart said. “We’re carrying on with the mission.”

“Want to tell me how that’s possible?”

Stewart looked out over the other pods. His team wasn’t hampered as he and the rookie were. 

“Lane.”

“Yessir,” she called back, a sense of urgency and concern in her voice.

“Restart the launch sequence. Get down there and kick some ass. The rookie will stay here until we get this sorted.”

“You got it, sir,” Lane said.

“You copy that, Rook?” Stewart said, making eye contact with the rookie.

The rookie nodded an affirmative.

“This sounds like a call to abandon you, sir,” Briggs said. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.”

“I’m not dying, Briggs. I’m just stuck. Get your ass down there and complete your mission. That’s an order!”

“On your mark, First Lieutenant,” Briggs said after a brief moment of silence.

Lane restarted the countdown. Stewart and the rookie watched the rest of the team launch, one by one –– a perfect execution.

“They just showed us how it’s done,” Stewart said, trying to keep the rookie talking, so he didn’t think about being stuck. “And how we’re about to do it.”

“If you say so, sir.”

“Colonel,” Marty said. “I’m getting some strong electromagnetic signals from that storm. I think it’s time for us to bug out of here.”

“Hang on a sec,” Stewart said, clicking through his pod’s touchscreen.

“Sir, I need to insist that we follow procedure and head back to base. I can’t close the bay doors, but you could–”

“What did I tell you about procedures, Marty.” Stewart found a ‘Help’ file that showed a digital overlay of how to manually eject a pod from the launch bay. It indicated a lever above the pods. He looked out his windshield and saw that his rockets had melted the switch above his pod, welded it right into the bulkhead, but the rookie’s lever was still intact.

“Sir, I–” Marty began but cut himself off. “Sir, your pod is registering an open hatch. I think you’ve got a breach.”

“It’s not a breach,” Stewart said, as he crawled out of his hatch and into open space, protected by his containment suit, which had oxygen for ten minutes of floating, or five minutes of strenuous work. “I let myself out.”

“What? Why–”

“Here’s the plan,” Stewart interrupted him again, not wanting the Captain to scare the rookie. “I’m going to pull the manual override on the Rook’s pod. The rockets won’t launch, so both pods should come loose nice and easy. Nothing breaks on your pretty ship.”

“And, then you come in the emergency hatch and ride home with me?” Marty said.

“No. I’ll jump in the Rook’s pod. We can share a seat all the way down to the LZ. It’ll be fun. Right, Rook?”

“Um,” the rookie’s uneven voice came back. “I guess?”

“That’s the spirit,” Stewart said, climbing to the end of his pod and transitioning to the other, careful not to lose his grip. He had some zero-G training, but not much.

Marty disengaged the plasma engines. “I’m going to slow our orbit so the pods don’t fly off out of control, but you’d better hurry. I’m getting electromagnetic interference with my comm signal with Control. That storm is going to hit any second.”

Stewart looked out the bay and saw the storm, closer than it was before he tried to launch. “Once we’re loose, you take off immediately. Understood?”

“Copy that.”

Stewart climbed over the rookie’s pod, noticing the young man’s nervousness through the windshield. “No worries, Rook. This is what we trained for.”

“Actually, sir, this is my first Orbital Drop. I trained with parachutes, like most PJs.”

Stewart climbed past the windshield. “An ‘OD’ is like a roller coaster with a really long drop. You’re going to love it.” He got to the manual override and pulled on the handle, which felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. He cursed the designers at Valiant Industries for the umpteenth time.

“Isn’t it a bad omen that they refer to this as ‘ODing?’”

“Probably.” Stewart gave up on pulling the handle. He got it halfway to the ‘Disengage’ label on the bulkhead, but his arms were exhausted.

“What’s going on out there, Colonel?” Marty said, urgency evident in his voice.

Stewart braced himself on the bulkhead and stomped on the override switch. “When I get back to base, I’m kicking someone’s ass for designing this hunk of junk!” A final kick sent the lever home.

The rookie’s pod unlatched and floated away, slightly toward the rear of the ship –– their momentum was slowed, but not stopped. It clumsily brought Stewart’s damaged pod along for the ride.

“Colonel,” Marty said. “We’ve only tested opening pods in space during situations of emergency extraction. Who knows what could happen if you try to shut it again outside of an atmosphere? It may not seal properly. Maybe you should let the Rook bug out, and you can ride back with me.”

“Negative,” Stewart said. “I’m finishing my mission.”

“Dammit, Cole. You’re putting your crew’s life in danger.”

Stewart ignored him, kicking off the ship and floating for a heart-wrenching distance before he was in range to grab onto the rookie’s pod. “You’re clear, Marty. Take off.”

The comms scratched back an incoherent response.

“Marty? Did you copy? I said take off.”

Stewart switched his position on the pod and looked back at the ship. The cosmic storm wasn’t far off, and electricity was arcing off the ship’s hull.

“Marty, do you copy?”

“The fzzzzssh storm fzzzzzsh,” Marty said.

“Colonel?” The rookie said, craning his neck to see the ship through his windshield. “Shouldn’t we–”

He cut himself off as the XS-9 silently exploded, sending debris flying in their direction.

“Oh, crap. Oh, crap.” The rookie was hyperventilating again. That got the Colonel worried, hanging outside of the pod as he was. He switched positions and looked down into the windshield.

“Get it together, Rook. We’re almost through this.”

“I can’t do it, Colonel. I can’t.” He was punching every button he could find. “I’m sorry, but I–” In his panic, the rookie hit the ejection button. The pod’s side panels flew off the pod, sending Stewart tumbling away from the core structure of the pod.

Stewart pushed the panel he was holding onto away from him, which slowed his uncontrolled movement a bit. He was able to see the rookie, helplessly floating in his seat. The distance between them expanded quickly, as Stewart’s momentum sent him in a descending orbit toward the Earth.

“Dammit, Rook!” Stewart regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. He knew they were the last words the rookie would ever hear.

The storm descended on the rookie’s pod. Electricity arced through the pod’s structure, where the rookie was sitting. Stewart watched his teammate fry.

“Rook!” He yelled, before realizing that no one was left to hear him.

Anxiety started to take over. Stewart’s armor wouldn’t survive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. And even if it did, he wouldn’t survive the impact that came a few minutes later.

Thoughts of his bride came to his mind. Regrets. He pushed them out, trying to get a grip, determined to find a way to back to her.

Debris from the XS-9 fell past Stewart. His orbit had taken him back toward the ship.

“Marty?” Stewart hoped against hope. He had no control of his movement, but he could turn his neck. And he tried as hard as he could to see behind him, where he thought his pilot might be.

What he saw sent a chill up his battle-hardened spine. One of the XS-9’s engines spun toward him as it descended, out of control, into Earth’s atmosphere.

Stewart was spared the quick death of being smashed by the engine, as it flew past a mere three feet from him. But he couldn’t avoid being engulfed by the cloud of superheated plasma the engine was spewing in every direction as it spun.

He panicked and tried to scrape the coating of plasma off his armor, but he knew that the only way to save himself from burning to death was to take the suit off and expose himself to the vacuum of space.

There were no good choices for Stewart, and as he tumbled toward Earth, he considered which death he preferred. But before he could choose, the cosmic storm surrounded him on its way to the planet.

Electricity arced through Stewart’s suit, shattering his weakened armor. He screamed through the pain until he couldn’t hear his cries anymore.

Stewart’s last thoughts before he blacked out were of his wife, and how sorry he was to have missed their honeymoon.

The Never-Ending Adventure

So many roleplaying games hook with the idea of being able to tell stories like our favorite TV shows but then stick to tried and true methods of telling open-and-close story arcs from novels or movies.

Now, to be clear, that’s not a flaw, per se, but I don’t believe it hits on the idea of how to tell a story like a TV show.

The Old TV Storytelling Method
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In older TV shows you have a villain/monster of the week. The protagonists defeat said villain, only to have another one to look forward to next week. The season finale often features a super-thin plot that supposedly ties all the villains of the season together, doing an okay job at making the season feel cohesive.

However, it’s often not the storytelling that endears us to these shows (except in the case of the really good ones). Most cult fans of the old method are usually in it for the unique characters, situations, or ideologies.

The New TV Storytelling Method
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Like most forms, the serialized form of television has grown over the years. In recent decades, the “villain/monster of the week” format has not necessarily been replaced, but has been enhanced with “villain/monster/situation of the season.”

Today’s TV shows often introduce the audience to a particular villain in the season premiere, who escapes capture or death only to become more dangerous as the season goes one–often meeting their end in the season finale. These stories feel more cohesive than the old “villain/monster of the week” stories because we can see the driving force behind the weekly situations (and often they’re just that); we may even begin cheering the villain on if they’re written particularly well.

In fact, today’s audiences have a name for the “villain/monster of the week” storylines: Filler Episodes. If a story doesn’t move the season story arc forward then we often consider it a fun romp through the setting, but otherwise unnecessary. (If the show were a novel, that chapter would have been cut.)

How Roleplaying Games Do Itdungeons-and-dragons-movie

Since modern RPGs got their start through the dramatization of miniature wargaming, which is by its very essence a “villain of the week” kind of thing, it is no surprise that RPG campaigns are strung together “monster of the week stories. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. MotW games are so popular that games have been creating with that very title. And they’re popular for good reason: they fit the session format (particularly one-shots).

But so many games fit this format that there are very few that have adopted recent methods of TV storytelling (which is the most relevant form of storytelling for our genre). Fate Core is one such game, with its campaign threat aspects and emphasis on the major milestone for large-scale character advancement. But most Fate games I’ve played in still use the MotW format (again, not bad, but I’m suggesting something different here).

The Never-Ending Adventure

Not that Neverending Story

Not that Neverending Story

Building sweeping stories like the TV shows of today is relatively easy to do. I don’t think it’s for every group, nor every game (it’s a terrible format for one-shots, for instance). But for a long-standing game that lasts years (how rare those are, at least in my experience) a web of intricate plots and sweeping story arcs that end after another story arc has already begun can add suspense to motivate players for future games. (And I’m not talking about the “plot hook for next week” method.)

Creating a campaign of complex, interlocking stories is a simple as creating a big goal or villainous plot (one of each is better) and outline different milestones for them. Once play has begun, and a milestone on a goal or plot has been reached, then create another one. You can continue this for years on end. No breaks in the narrative, no “stopping points” in the campaign, but you can still zoom in on the immediate situations.

And if your campaign does end, your players are likely to act as though their favorite TV show had just been canceled. (They might even start an online petition to have Netflix pick it up.)

Some pointers:

  • Vary the number of milestones you have for different story arcs. And reserve the best rewards, and worst consequences, for the longer story arcs, thus adding a sense of importance to them. (Only one long story arc at a time; the main arc of the campaign at that point, no other arc should be more than half the number of milestones as the main arc.)
  • Start with a big villain who has a part in an extra long story arc. And before that villain meets its demise, introduce another one as a seemingly minor villain that steps up to “big bad guy” level in the same session that the former villain is finally defeated.
  • Focus each milestone on a situation, and use those situations for your games. So your players are facing the situation after situation, but with the main villain or situation linking them. This is where it starts to feel like a TV show.
  • Alternate between long and short story arcs. Use convincing reasons why the main story arc is “busy” at the moment (the short story arc being time sensitive and carrying a hefty consequence for ignoring it is usually a good reason). This is your “filler” episode.

What are some ways that you string your campaigns together to keep them interesting for years on end?