Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Complex: Episode 6

It's over! This week's episode wraps up Season 1 of The Complex. It's been a hell of a ride, and a great experience with a great group of players. Part of me is glad (relieved?) it's over, though, because it does take a fair amount of work to prep a session properly.

Night-time, in the Penthouse's roof garden. There's the sound of helicopters, and spotlights playing from above. Black nylon ropes unfurl, and paramilitary troops in black gear, armed with sub-machineguns, rappel down - to be met by a hail of bullets from Takeshi's pistols. He dives behind the bar as the full-length windows shatter in slow motion, and resurfaces with an assault rifle. He fires a grenade at one of the helicopters, and it crashes in a flaming heap into the roof-garden.

Meanwhile, Sheila's cave is dark and empty. Tony calls for her but she doesn't answer. He follows his heart to a spot in the middle of the floor, and digs down a little way to reveal part of an ancient skeleton. He senses the approach of a powerful entity, and prepares for spiritual warfare.

In the foyer, Aki's using her force field to prevent a squad of armed troops from entering the front doors. Suddenly, Tony runs in and yells "Stop! Your power's going to go out of control! You'll destroy the building!" Before she can react to this, Takeshi comes bounding down the stairs and shoots Tony!

Episode 6: Metamorphosis

Starring (in alphabetical order):
  • +Lloyd Gyan as Aki Enoki, graduate student of biological anthropology on a gap year.
  • +David Miessler-Kubanek as Tony Pearson, the apartment's maintenance man, and an ex-hacker from California.
  • +Steve Moore as Takeshi Sekiguchi, a retired hit-man trying to keep a low profile.
Produced and Directed by Craig Judd

Special Thanks to Sarah Kaplan for introducing Odyssey Tech into the game.


Tony takes the elevator to the Penthouse, and lets Takeshi know he survived the collapse of Odyssey Tech's outback compound (see Episode 5 - Ed). He also asks if Takeshi would be willing to sign the building over to him, or become partners, because Tony's found his calling as guardian of the sacred site.  The door opens and Sheila enters, leading Aki by the hand. Sheila tells them that they are all her Guardians. She has to go to sleep for a little while, and she needs them all to make sure she's safe.

Sheila disappears again as Aki and Tony start to argue. Since he promised to tell her things after they got back, Tony tells Aki a bit more about the powers and spirits. Aki thinks that putting people in cells locks away their power, but you don't need to keep the person locked up once the spirit's incarcerated. She's also worried that her force field powers might be because of a prisoner possessing her, and wants to test it out by having Tony put her in a cell to see what happens.

As they leave to go downstairs, Takeshi's phone rings. Blake tries to hire him to kill Tony, and threatens Brett's life to ensure his co-operation. He wants the job done by tonight. Takeshi says he'll consider it.

Down in the prison, Aki knows each cell is for a specific prisoner, and tries to find out which is "hers." Tony doesn't know of one that's free for her, so he uses his power to steal her genius and points her at a random cell. While she bumbles about, Tony asks Takeshi to help him "dispose of" somebody - he wants Takeshi's help to get rid of "Tony Pearson," because he wants to cast off his secret identity and stop running. Tony returns Aki's intelligence; she decides to study the prison and move some of her gear down here.

Tony starts work on a 3D replica of himself, or at least his skin, so they'll be able to fake his death somehow.

In the penthouse, Zoe's almost recovered from her ordeal. Takeshi tries to talk to her, but she's terrified of him. He tells her he's a reformed man, but she says she knows about the "jobs" he used to do for Martin. In all honesty, he can't tell her that he's stopped taking those kinds of jobs.

Aki lets Tony know that Zoe is recovering in Takeshi's apartment, so Tony goes up to see her. Zoe says that she's been so confused for so long. She now remembers clearly, the person she saw being sacrificed in England was herself! She was "sacrificed" to an entity in an Odyssey ritual, but Tony has broken that bond. They share a touching moment, and Tony helps her down to his apartment where she'll be more at ease.

Aki shows Aomo around the prison complex, and Aomo stumbles across the passage into Sheila's cave. Aki is amazed by the cave art on the walls and ceiling, which culminates in a radiant woman attended by dolphins. She also finds footprints and signs of someone leaving the cave, but not of anyone else entering it.

After Zoe and Tony leave, Takeshi heads into his garden to meditate and try to gain a precognitive vision that will help him locate Brett. 

Takeshi rides a motorbike into a warehouse guarded by half a dozen corporate goons; he takes them out in style, and rescues Brett who's tied to a chair in the middle of the floor. As they hurry to leave, Brett says Tony was there, and taunted him that he'd never discover Tony's true identity now! Takeshi gets a precognitive flash that something bad's about to happen on top of the apartment building, and that he should get his arsenal ready.

After dark, Takeshi defends the rooftop from rappelling assailants. As the helicopter crashes into the garden though, it and the dead bodies shimmer and melt away - an illusion! Takeshi glimpses someone near the Penthouse's front door, and pursues them. As he enters the hallway, he sees the elevator doors closing. Inside, Blake smirks at him, and his appearance changes to Tony just as the doors shut and it departs for the ground floor. Takeshi curses under his breath and takes the stairs...

In Sheila's darkened cave, Tony sets up for a battle with the approaching spirit. He unlocks the spirits of the prisoners and binds them to his will, using them as a weapon to try and corrupt and shut down the hostile entity. He also feels the other Guardians' powers activate, and links himself to them telepathically.

At the front of the building, the mercenaries shoot out the glass but can't get through Aki's force field. "Tony" runs in and tells her to stop, but Takeshi arrives via the stairs and shoots him in the head. Aki is taken aback, and is about to push Takeshi back with her force field, but Tony's voice in her head makes her stop. She looks again, and sees that the body is actually Blake.

The soldiers take this opportunity to try and get inside, but Aki pushes them back out again. The troops pull back, and there's the ominous revving of an engine. An assault vehicle tries to ram the door, but Aki uses her force construct power to disassemble it from the inside. The van disintegrates, its ram sliding to a halt harmlessly just in front of the door.

Tony senses that the entity has arrived, and Aki hears the slow step of hard-soled boots approaching in the sudden silence. Martin Houndsly steps into the light and tries to simply walk through Aki's wall of force, but she wraps it around him and holds him in place. Tony realises that the hostile entity he felt is not attached to Martin, but is in fact Martin himself! His body is host to a powerful spirit, and any trace of humanity has long since been burned away.

Since the front entrance is blocked, the troops try to get in via a back entrance. Takeshi calls the police and then tries to stop them, but gets pinned down in a small room. Tony wins the spiritual battle with Aki's help; Martin's entity is extracted by spirit-prisoners and dragged down to the cave, leaving his human body a drooling vegetable. Tony wants to crucify the entity and make an example of it for all who would do harm to the site, but Sheila reappears - not as a girl but as a young woman. She calms his vengeful impulse, and he realises he was about to become as bad as those he is fighting. She takes the spirit and tells him she'll make sure this one goes back where it belongs, before walking away through the wall.

Aki confronts the troops, holding Martin's body in a force bubble. She suggests they might want to leave before the police arrive, and with sirens wailing in the distance they call a retreat.

Tony and Takeshi dress up Blake's body in Tony's replica skin, and put the gun in Martin's hand. Tony hides while Takeshi and Brett deal with the police.

Tag Scenes

The next day, Aki passes Takeshi in the foyer. She stops and asks why he had to kill Blake instead of just disabling him. He admits that old habits die hard; in the end, he gives her his other pistol and asks him to destroy it. If he still has it, he knows he's going to be tempted to use it.

Aki continues downstairs to visit Tony, and discovers the door ajar. She knocks and enters, to find him clean-shaven and with a new hairstyle and smart clothing. He introduces himself as Carl Webber, and says he's not sure where his work as Sheila's Guardian will take him. She wishes him good luck. He praises her newfound mastery of her powers, and says she has demonstrated control and self-confidence. As a gift, he gives her a wi-fi router to use while researching the underground complex.

That evening, Carl and Takeshi meet up at Shogun Karaoke for drinks, and discuss the future.


And that's a wrap!

I think the whole "twelve hours earlier" thing worked out okay. it's not the sort of thing I would attempt in most games, but Smallville gives the GM the right of hard scene framing, and it helps to have the right group who'll collaborate where necessary to reach a certain outcome. For taking liberties with their characters like that, I also gave everyone an extra Plot Point.

That said, I think some of the connectivity was a little tenuous. I started with the desire to have Takeshi shoot Tony at the end of the flash-forward, and had to work backwards from there to create a logical reason for him to actually want to do that in the story when the time arrived.

The middle of the session was a little bit loose; I spent a lot of prep-time figuring out how to get from the start to the flash-forward, and only managed to give Takeshi a solid storyline to follow. The other two I sort of left to their own devices, and I think it showed - we didn't actually have any PC vs PC Contests in this episode at all. And although Martin put up a decent resistance, against two PCs he was unable to hold his own or inflict any consequences or Stress.

The final was really about resolving outstanding storylines and external threats. I tried really hard to come up with a way to force Tony and Takeshi into conflict, but apart from asking one to kill the other (which I didn't really expect him to do), I couldn't come up with anything. They are just too agreeable! Their Relationship statements aren't really conducive to drama, and I couldn't even come up with a good conflict based on the established fiction.

Anyway, it's all a learning experience, and I'm sure I'll be able to bring more to the table next time I'm involved in a Cortex Plus Drama game.

All up, it's been a very cool and enjoyable campaign, and I'm glad I've been able to give a few people a chance to try the Smallville RPG.

Thanks for reading!

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