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Narzalus Files - Session Reports

I have taken over the GM’s chair for our RPG group, and am introducing my friends to Coriolis. I’ll post session recaps under “The Narzalus Files” heading. Feel free to comment or ask questions about anything you read in these recaps…

I will indicate any spoilers as I post.

“The dream begins…” (Session 1: 2019-08-25)

WARNING: SPOILERS! This session report is for the “Dark Flowers” adventure included in the Coriolis quick-start.

After a number of bad fits and personality clashes that resulted in members being dismissed or quitting, the crew of Narzalus – a Scarab-class freighter – has finally gelled.

The captain – Dr. Armita Wana – is an archaeologist recovering from a professional mistake that cost her everything. Only her family’s wealth kept her out of jail and provided the down-payment for Narzalus, and freedom.

The pilot – Nima Dol-Soufi – also has a troubled past. Once part of an elite fighter team, he lives for flying – perhaps for the visceral thrill, perhaps to escape whatever haunts him.

The gunner – Rouya Ghallab – is an ex-legionnaire. She’s seen some bad things, which makes her moody and quick to anger in the face of injustice. She’s unimpressed by the lack of discipline on Narzalus, but welcomes its ability to keep her out of the clutches of her former comrades in the legion.

The sensor operator – Samioh Amin – lives for adventure and is supremely confident in his abilities. He’s young, beautiful, witty, and uses his training as a courtesan to soothe nerves and cool tempers when the crew of Narzalus comes into conflict. He’s also quite skilled as a data djinn.

The engineer – Zebaraimas “Zebo” Hutul – considers himself the heart of the crew. He’s annoyingly positive, but also has great empathy for those around him. He’s equally handy fixing a graviton projector or laying out anyone who threatens his family on Narzalus.

The crew has been flying together for a while, doing routine transport jobs – many of which they have picked up from Sallan Al-Atrash, their fixer on Dabaran. They’re jumping into Dabaran to rendezvous with Sallan when two things happen.

First, two of the crew have vivid and disturbing dreams while in stasis for the jump. They only remember snatches upon waking: One dreams of a field of purple flowers spread across a desert, while the other dreams of a blue-hued creature emerging from darkness.

Second, when they their way from the stasis chamber to the bridge, there’s a message waiting for them. It’s garbled, but Samioh and Zebo work together to recover it. The message is from someone at The Foundation, identified only as “Zucco”. They don’t know a Zucco, but apparently Sallan has recommended Narzalus to this person. The message offers Narzalus a lucrative job. Dr. Sayab Dahiljaba – an associate professor at the Zenithian Institute of Planar Research – has disappeared and Zucco would like Narzalus to find him. The crew has been provided with a set of coordinates, which are the last-known location of Dr. Dahiljaba and his survey ship, Shamza. They’re in the outer rim but – curiously – quite a way above the ecliptic plane.

The crew decides to investigate and makes a three-week journey. When they arrive at the coordinates, a strange sight greets them: not a ship, but a space station of antiquated design, complete with a large biodome at its apex. The station is in obvious distress. For starters, it’s not orbiting a planet or moon, which is most odd. It’s also heavily damaged: in addition to its normal rotation, the station is very slowly tumbling end over end. Huge chunks of the midsection are missing. Most unnerving, there’s a cloud of green and purple matter obscuring about half of the station and stretching for many kilometers into space, rotating and tumbling in synchronicity with the station.

Samioh runs a sensor sweep and learns that the matter is biological and may still be living, even in the hard vacuum. Nima pilots Narzalus in closer and the crew discovers the bio-matter is a vine of some sort, with dark green leaves and purple flowers. It’s like nothing they’ve ever seen – and there’s nothing even close to it in the Narzalus database.

The visual inspection also suggests to Rouya that the station may have been attacked: The damage appears to have been caused by a weapon from without – not an explosion from within. The station has the phrase “IARS-18” painted in huge letters on its hull, and there’s a ship docked to one of the station’s airlocks. It’s Shamza, but it’s dark: it appears completely powered down.

Dr. Wana checks the database and finds reference to Royal Dabaran IARS-18 – a research station built 146 Coriolis Cycles ago as part of an unspecified research program created by the last Emir of Yehenna on Dabaran. The station was reported lost with all hands 101 CC ago in the final stages of the Portal Wars. Further investigation reveals that the Emir – Hassan II – died shortly after the end of the Portal Wars, lamenting that his “great project” had failed.

Having learned as much as they can from a distance, the crew decides to go into the station. The crew suits up and Nima pilots Narzalus to the only other intact docking ring. The seal is good and there’s oxygen in the station but the crew opts to remain buttoned up in their exo suits.

They find an exo suit helmet in the airlock. There’s a dark stain inside it.

They also realize that the dust in the airlock – desiccated plant matter – may clog the heat exchangers on their exo suits. Zebo suggests they set suit alarms to remind them to clear the vents on a regular basis.

The crew cycles the airlock and is greeted with darkness: not even emergency lights are on, although it appears the life support system and gravity inducers are still active. They click on their helmet mounted lights, which reveal an unnerving sight. The hallway before them is carpeted with vines. They grow halfway up the walls, and hang from the ceiling like the grape vines tumbling over the walled gardens of the Emirs. As they proceed down the hall, they find a glove from an exo suit. The skeletal remains of a hand are inside.

The hall opens into a much larger thoroughfare that curves to follow the circumference of the space station. It’s reminiscent of a street in an antiquated city: the ceiling high over head is painted to resemble the red sky of Dabaran, and the hallway is lined with doors and windows (most missing their glass) that open into what were once residences, chapels, common spaces, etc. Most of the “buildings” are two storeys, and many have balconies that overlook the hallway.

The crew decides to head towards where they believe Shamza is docked. As they’re walking clockwise around the station, one of them thinks they see a shadow moving on a balcony overhead. Rouya goes to investigate. She doesn’t find the shadow, but she does notice the dust has been recently disturbed in the building. She also finds a holo-cube: When she activates it, it plays a looping holographic movie of a half-dozen people – some in lab coats, others in coveralls – laughing and joking with each other and with whomever was holding the camera. It’s a party in the home where Rouya found it – now long in the past.

They continue around the thoroughfare. Their footsteps kick up bits of broken pottery, shards of glass, scraps of cloth. Zebo finds an intact memory stick and when he plugs it into his exo suit it plays a set of recordings by Dani Durrah – a Yehennan pop singer who was very popular before the Portal Wars.

At some point, several of the crew realize they must’ve missed the hallway to the airlock where Shamza is docked, so they decide to backtrack. Dr. Wana unpacks her proximity sensor and passes it to Zebo. As they walk back, Nima spots a threatening message, written in red on the wall: “LIAR!! MURDERER!! I DELIVER THE JUDGEMENT AND RETRIBUTION OF THE ICONS UPON YOUR UNHOLY FORM!!”

Zebo detects two voids behind a wall of bio-matter. The team attempts to pull the vines off the wall – many of them become entangled in the process and need help being rescued, but eventually they reveal a pair of sliding doors and a non-operational panel. Zebo’s exo suit suffers a tear in one arm: he uses his toolkit to patch it.

Zebo goes searching for something to use as a pry bar. He finds a piece of an old iron headboard in a bedroom – but also discovers a scrap of paper torn from a notebook. It appears to be part of a letter, never sent, describing an errant torpedo strike against the space station, and how “only Wahina and a few of us” managed to survive. It also mentions Wahina continued to work on “the seed project” even as the station continued to die…

Nima pries open the double doors with help from a couple of the others, to reveal an elevator shaft. The elevator must’ve been quite large – intended to transport groups of people or large equipment between the levels. There’s no elevator in sight and the shaft rises and descends into darkness.

They then clear away some vines from the second void area – again, becoming entangled and requiring help to get free – to reveal the start of a stairway leading up, but it is clogged with the plant material. They decide to continue searching for the airlock to Shamza.

They don’t find the airlock, but do find another – much smaller – elevator shaft. This one, they decide to explore further. Using Zebo’s hyper-rope, Rouya descends the shaft and emerges at the bottom in what’s obviously the engineering levels of the space station. There’s a three-storey fusion reactor and some control consoles. Unlike the technology they’ve encountered until now, these consoles seem to be powered. They decide to explore, to see if they can restore some power and find out what happened to IARS-18.

While Zebo and Samioh work on this, Rouya spots something incongruous: A large, colourful rug is hung on a wall. She takes a closer look and realizes that a pattern has been shaved – or plucked – into the rug. It’s writing of some sort! Dr. Wana examines it and determines it’s an antiquated form of writing from Dabaran, written in a regional dialect that hasn’t been used since before the Portal Wars.

With the aid of her library database, Dr. Wana is able to translate the message on the rug. It was written by someone calling themselves the chief scientist and describes the station as the core of a project to find “The Flower of Heaven”. Further, it describes the arrival of an explorer with a flower found in the gas mines of Salamanx – ending with the note, “We have hope – at last!”

Zebo runs diagnostics on the fusion reactor, which is an older model than what he’s used to but similar enough that he can navigate his way around. He determines several things: First, it was not shut down intentionally but by emergency safeguard measures. Second, it’s running at about two percent power and this could be increased to perhaps eight or 10 percent, but it would be dangerous to take it beyond that. This should be sufficient to activate emergency lighting and power the elevator bank. Third, it appears someone has been trying to access the reactor controls relatively recently – say, in the past several days. Zebo cannot tell whether it was intentional or through ignorance, but it appears whomever accessed the reactor came close to a critical event – one that would have destroyed the station.

With a working elevator, the group decides to check out each floor of the station. They call the elevator. It arrives with a ping, and the doors open to reveal a brightly light interior. There’s music playing, and a screen is looping an advertisement for a new season of “I Dream of Djinn”.

The elevator doors open at a large reception area, with a set of blast doors on the far side. It’s empty, except for vines.

The elevator doors open onto the thoroughfare the crew first encountered when arriving at the station.

The elevator doors open onto a laboratory area. There are thousands of jars on shelves in this space – each containing plant matter. Even from the elevator, it’s obvious that there are many different types of plants here. It’s also obvious the vine-like growth throughout the station is here too: it has broken many of the jars and covers the desks. Another incongruous carpet is spotted, lying on top of the plant matter. The team elects to not investigate – yet.

The elevator doors open onto a medical facility. There are a number of stasis beds – many broken, but some intact. There’s medical equipment – Dr. Wana realizes that this equipment predates the Portal Wars and therefore could be quite valuable to a research institute: medicine was much more advanced before the battle between the separatists and the First Horizon, which nearly wiped out all civilization. They also note a carpet hanging from the ceiling. Again, the team elects to not investigate – yet.

The elevator doors open to reveal the bio-dome at the top of the station. Even through their supposedly vacuum-tight exo suits, they can smell rotting bio-matter. Their exo-suit systems immediately register a jump in heat as the exchangers try to cope with the floating bio-matter that clogs vents. They note vines are growing everywhere – on the floor, the walls, even the dome, which is covered in purple flowers that appear to be attracted to the feeble light of the Daraban system’s distant red sun.

They also spot yet another carpet. And, more startlingly, a figure – a human female in antiquated clothing, but ghostly pale. As they see her, she steps back and disappears into the vines…

Who is this woman? Is she alone? Is she dangerous?
What is The Flower of Heaven? Who wrote the story on the carpet? Is there more to the story?
Who wrote the threatening message?
Who monkeyed with the reactor recently?
Why can’t they find Shamza? Or her crew?
Where is Professor Dahiljaba?

If the Icons are willing, the story will continue!

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“The pale woman may sleep at last…” (Session 2: 2019-09-15)

WARNING: SPOILERS! This session report is for the “Dark Flowers” adventure included in the Coriolis quick-start.

The crew of Narzalus – Dr. Wana, Rouya, Nima, Simioh and Zebo – have been exploring IARS-18, an ancient research station found adrift out of the ecliptic plane in the Dabaran system. They’re searching for a professor - Dr. Sayab Dahiljaba – at the request of the Foundation for Astronic Research, who contacted them through their fixer, Sallan Al-Atrash.

There’s more to this than a simple missing person’s case.

A previously-unclassified plant has taken over the station. Everywhere, its vines form a carpet on the floors, climb the walls, and dangle from the ceilings. The plant’s dark purple flowers seek light at windows and under the bio-dome on the top of the station. Equally mysterious, the team has spotted elaborately woven carpets in unusual locations: hanging from vines off the ceiling, mounted on walls, rolled in corners of labs or medical bays where no carpets should be. The first one they found (in the engineering section) included a fragment of a story - shaved, plucked or possibly chemically-burned into the carpet’s fibres in an out-dated Dabaran dialect.

Having explored the lower levels of the space station and powered up an elevator, they’ve been stopping at each of the upper levels to have a brief look as the doors open. Their quick elevator tour ended at the bio-dome, where they spotted a ghostly-pale human female in antiquated clothing, who stepped back and disappeared into the vines…

The team debates their choices. As they do, the elevator doors close and they start to descend. Somebody stabs the emergency stop button. An alarm sounds, and they force the doors to reveal the blank wall of the elevator shaft. The team decides to explore the medical lab so they push the button for the med level. The alarm stops, the doors close, and the elevator continues its journey.

The med lab contains several trauma and diagnostic stations, cabinets of medical gear and supplies, and eight stasis beds. Three of the beds have been destroyed, and closer investigation reveals they exploded from the inside. Another three beds are partially disassembled, or broken. Two beds remain intact. As the crew examines these, they find a man cowering in one of them. It’s the professor!

Siyab Dahiljaba is in shock. He quakes in fear, can’t focus on his would-be rescuers, and mumbles nonsense - about a mistake, and death. The crew is able to calm him enough to learn that he’d stumbled across a reference to IARS-18 in the university archives, had done some calculations and then used a radio telescope to confirm his findings, leading him to hire Shamza to bring him here. The ship arrived with himself, two assistants, and a crew of five. Their exploration of the station started out well, but when a ghostly being surprised them, one of the crew panicked and shot it.

At that point, the Icons abandoned them, and the ghostly beings onboard the station started hunting the explorers. The professor has seen both of his assistants and several members of the Shamza crew killed. He was able to make his way to the med lab, where he hid in a statis bed and prayed for rescue. He does not know if anyone else is still alive, although at least one other – Shamza’s security officer - was the last time he saw her, being chased by ghostly beings.

The crew also finds a carpet here, with another message worked into its fibres. This one tells of a battle during the Portal Wars, and a devastating torpedo strike against the research station. The author admits that as their end approached, “our salvation could only be found within the plant itself”.

The crew takes Siyab with them, and heads for the research lab level. The elevator doors open on a reception area facing a large lab behind ceramic glass walls. The walls have been shattered: glass is everywhere. The lab area itself is filled with row upon row of ceramic glass capsules. There are thousands of these, and inside each, a dead plant of some kind. The dark vines grow everywhere here, and tendrils appear to have shattered many of the capsules. There are a dozen work stations in the lab, with research computers and other gear.

Samioh is able to power up a terminal and poke around. He finds a huge database of indecipherable data and copies it to his tabula. But he also discovers a message to “Chief Scientist Wahina Adala”, berating her for the lack of progress on her holy mission. The message reminds her that the fate of the emirate depends upon her work and ends, “If you fail, history will not be kind”.

Their exploration of the lab is interrupted by a shudder through the space station. Clouds of dust and pollen shake loose from the growth and billow through the lab. This is quickly followed by a voice that projects from speakers placed throughout the room. It’s a woman’s voice – strained, tired and asthmatic – which says, “Two. Four. Stop her,” before falling silent.

Zebo decides to collect some samples of the vine in one of the unbroken ceramic glass capsules.

Samioh continues to poke around the lab computer, and finds logs for the lab’s cameras. They only go back a few hours, to around the time that the crew restored power to IARS-18. As a consequence, they show an unchanging view of the lab, in darkness. But then, a flash across the recording: a ghostly person moving through the lab! Based on camera locations, Samioh determines the figure likely came from the elevator area, and may still be in the lab somewhere!

Rouya patrols the lab and discovers a ghostly male figure near a wall of vines at the far end of the lab. He’s probably been watching the crew, secure in the darkness. When he realizes he’s been spotted, he steps back into the vines: they fold around him and he disappears. Rouya investigates where he stood but can find no evidence of him – just occasional ripples in the thick wall of greenery. She tries to speak to him, but there’s no response. He’s gone.

There is another carpet here, lying on top of the plant matter in an aisle. Again, it has been cut or shaved to tell a story. The author injected bio-matter into themself in a desperate attempt to survive. The recent arrival of a ship brought hope, but the new arrivals attacked the author and killed an assistant. The author has been defending themself since then, “disposing of these murderous heathens”.

The crew debate their next move…

Their original mission was to find out what happened to Shamza and its crew, and to try to find Dr. Dahiljaba. This, they have done: they could return to Narzalus with the professor and head for Dabaran, and their reward. But there’s more here: a greater mystery to solve. The crew realizes that although they’ve been observed by ghostly beings, they have not been threatened or attacked. They decide to approach the mysterious woman in the bio-dome to see if she will speak with them.

The crew conducts a quick medical exam of the professor, who has been on the station for several weeks. Other than presenting as someone under a lot of stress, he appears to be fine: He certainly shows no sign of infection from the bio matter that he’s been breathing without benefit of an exo-suit all this time. Based on that, and recognizing that negotiations may be more effective in the open, two of the crew – Dr. Wana and Zebo – remove their helmets. The crew rides the elevator up to the bio-dome, with Dr. Dahiljaba in tow.

Without benefit of their helmets, the stench of rotten plants and foul water is overpowering. The bio-dome is hot and the thick, damp air is hard to breathe. Plant matter grows everywhere – on the floor, the walls, even the dome, which is covered in purple flowers that appear to be attracted to the feeble light of the Daraban system’s distant red sun. As before, the pale woman in vintage garb stands by the greenery at the far side of the dome. Two rolled carpets lie together, to one side.

Dr. Dahiljaba cowers in fear as vines unfurl from the wall to point at him and the same strained, wheezy voice they heard in the lab accuses him: “You… Murdered… Three.”

The crew convinces her that they come in peace and would like to help. They argue they will not make the same mistakes as the crew of Shamza – even as they insist that Dr. Dahiljaba is under their protection. The crew asks the pale woman who she is. Saying, “My story is here”, she points at the carpets. Vines curl around the carpets and they are carried across the room to be deposited and unfurled at the crew’s feet. From these, they learn the rest of the story:

The first carpet reveals that the pale woman is Chief Scientist Wahina Adala, who was on a great and desperate experiment – potentially, a holy mission - to save the people of Yehenna on Dabaran from a catastrophic crop failure.

(As the crew of Narzalus has learned from other carpets, the research station believed it had found salvation in the Flower of Heaven, only to have the mission cut down 101 Coriolis Cyles ago when IARS-18 became collateral damage during the dying days of the Portal Wars. Only Wahina Adala and a handful of her assistants survived, by injecting bio-matter from the plant. For a century, Wahina lamented that she had failed the emir, his people, and the Icons, only to have hope restored when Shamza arrived. But that too turned out to be false hope.)

The second carpet reveals new hope in the form of another ship (obviously Narzalus). It concludes, “I pray The Icons grant these new arrivals the wisdom they did not give the crew of the Shamza. I hope this new crew will help me finish my mission – for I must take the Seed of The Icons to Yehenna on Dabaran – at all costs!”

The creature that was Wahina Adala asks the crew for help and they engage in a lively debate about whether to aid it.

Should they help Adala finish her mission, and take the seed to Dabaran? By helping her, they could help fulfill the will of The Icons.

On the other hand, they would be introducing a significant bio-hazard onto Dabaran. The vines on the research station are obviously aggressive, and can survive in incredibly hostile conditions.

Again, the research station shudders. Again, Adala speaks: “Two… Four… stop her”. The team learns that Two and Four (and One) are the remains of her assistants – and that there’s another human – a crew member from the Shamza - aboard the station and trying to destroy it by tampering with the reactor. Adala has sent Two and Four to stop this.

Meanwhile, the crew considers Adala’s request. Can they even complete the mission? The Emir who charged Adala with finding the Flower of Heaven is long dead, and Yehenna is a fabled emirate lost to time. Nobody even knows where it was, although Adala assures the crew she can find it.

But if the vines are as aggressive and hardy as they appear, they could destroy the entire planet’s ecology – representing an extinction-level threat for millions of people on Dabaran.

The debate rages on.

In a moment of inspiration, the crew decides to meditate and pray to the Icons for guidance: As a group they are, after all, Seekers of Truth.

In response, they have a shared dream – the same one Nima experienced during stasis sleep upon entering the Dabaran system, all those weeks ago: a field of purple flowers spread across a desert – bringing life to a place where none could exist.

The crew decides this means they must help Adala, and take the Flower of Heaven to Yehenna.

The crew abandon the bio-dome, heading for their ship. At the airlock, they’re greeted by three more ghostly-pale figures – Adala’s remaining avatars. The four pale beings board Narzalus and the crew manages to get the frightened Professor Dahiljaba aboard.

Nima takes off as the reactor overloads on IARS-18: Under his expert guidance, Narzalus rides the shock wave as the station explodes. The last survivor of Shamza has failed in her effort to destroy the Flower of Heaven.

The three-week journey back to Dabaran passes without incident. The professor stays in his cabin, while the pale woman and her assistants remain secluded in the cargo space. Adala emerges as Narzalus comes into orbit and directs Nima to coordinates in the northern reaches. They land and emerge from Narzalus onto a baked plain – a lifeless desert. Adala says merely, “It is finished” – and she and her three companions dissolve into dust, which drifts across the sand.

(Zebo discovers that the vines he harvested have also disintegrated.)

Professor Dahiljaba is returned to the Zenithian Institute of Planar Research, and the Narzalus is rewarded handsomely for their good work.

But for the crew of Narzalus, questions remain. Did they do the right thing? Have they fulfilled an ancient, holy mission? Or have they introduced a world-destroying bio-hazard to Dabaran?

The crewmembers spend a couple of weeks in Dabaran’s capital city - celebrating, recuperating, training in new skills… and reflecting on the will and the mystery of the Icons.

And then their comms buzz with an incoming message: Their fixer, Sallan, wants a lunch meeting – tomorrow. He’s buying…

If the Icons are willing, the story will continue!

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