Riverworld I: Resurrection Day

Session One
On the Banks of the River

The first session covered the Resurrection and three hours immediately following. The PCs, each of whom died as a direct or indirect effect of the bird flu epidemic of 2013, were singularly unperturbed by the experience of waking up naked and hairless amongst thousands of others in a similar state. (Both players rolled astoundingly well on their Fright Checks!) However, as the reality of the situation began to sink in over the ensuing hours and days, their compusure steadily deteriorated.

NPCs met during this session:

Plans hatched:

  • None, per se. We left off with the group sheltering among the roots of an Irontree, contemplating their new reality.
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Session Two
Run to the Hills

The PCs, with Bob’s support, decided to head up into the forested hills and look for means of defending themselves; Bob made the point that Mankind can be relied upon to assert his might in order to make things right…

The group found another Irontree in the hills with a mesa not too far away. We left off on the morning of Day Three, although some of the details of Day Two are going to be filled in with play-by-post “Midweek Tasters” over the next few days.

NPCs met:

  • Toccini, after disappearing for nearly a day, returned with a gaggle of women who had agreed to join the group: four Nicaraguans, two Hawaiians, and an African-American named Mabel Thomas.
  • When the group assembled for breakfast at their local mesa on the morning of Day Three, they were startled to see a body materialize in front of them! The man told a tale of waking up two days ago amongst a population of swarthy, short people who proceeded to beat and cook everyone else who was not like them. He truly believed he was in Hell. The man, Jeffrey Martin Carter, has been invited to join the group.

Plans hatched:

  • Tim came into his own this session after explorations found deposits of flint at the base of the valley cliffsides. He has prepared several bamboo spears, a stone hammer, and is drafting plans to create backpacks. The women Toccini brought back have proven adept at weaving baskets from the tall grass of the hill country and stripped bamboo. Tim is also drafting plans to create a bamboo platform in the lower branches of the Irontree to provide better shelter and defense.
  • Alex, after taking the lead in Session One, finally cracked from the enormity of the events occurring around him. After an orgy of mass hysteria gripped the Valley the night of Day One, the group (which had secreted themselves away sufficiently enough to go unnoticed) discovered a mutilated, partially-cannibalized body, the sight of which has driven Alex to begin drinking heavily.
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Session Three
Such Strange Goings-On

Alex ended up with some kind of stun stick courtesy of Martin Bixby, who disappeared the next day. Searches in the surrounding countryside proved fruitless, although Bob did report being set upon by three crazies when he ventured west. Bixby is the focus of suspicion between Tim and Alex, both for the stick and his lack of forehead runes.

Alex’s search of the hills did turn up a small cave in the cliffside, however. Close examination indicated the cave was a modified natural feature. Tim also found evidence of some sort of tripod structure having been stored inside. The session left off with Alex receiving a visit from a strange robed figure in the dead of night. “Seek the head of the River, the Tower of the Gods, to understand all,” it said, before disappearing into thin air.

NPCs met:

  • Aaron Burr and his camp of followers, who had coalesced around the next mesa over. Burr introduced the nomenclature of “grail” and “grailstone” in place of “copia” and “mesa”, respectively.
  • Some further knowledge was gained of other groups as well; Alex met the head of a faction of Nicaraguans grouped around a grailstone down on the plains. The man is William Walker, or “El Presidente” as his followers call him. This gray-eyed man seemed shrewd and calculating and did not seem to like Alex very much. Word also got back to camp that the other faction, grouped around a grailstone a mile to the south of Walker’s, is a remnant of about 300 Hawaiians, all of whom are following a man they call Lono. Supposedly he is building a raft to sail on the River.

Plans Hatched:

  • The PCs invited Burr to merge his group with theirs and he took up the offer.
  • Tim continues to work on his inventions with varying degrees of success. He did pick up some hot tips on flint flaking from a cavewoman named Olk who belonged to Burr’s camp.
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Session Four
The Battle of the Plains

After Alex was visited by the Mysterious Stranger, he hatched a plan to get on the River and find the “end of the River”. After due consideration, this was judged to be the mouth of the River. The ongoing boat construction on the part of the Hawaiians provided a natural outlet for this plan. With Tim playing for time to finish his armor design, Alex arranged for passage aboard the Hawaiian flotilla—which happened to be commanded by none other than Captain James Cook! Or, as his Hawaiian followers called him, Lono. The PCs felt that Burr had proved a capable leader and felt they could leave their camp in his hands.

Tim’s second try at building armor failed spectacularly yet again. This time he sustained a major leg wound, although this, too, healed remarkably quickly. Tim also helped fight off an attack on camp by a band of crazed tribesman from some unidentifiable pre-historic North African society. They wore armor made of human skin and bore torches. Tim downed two men, one after another, and is now a combat veteran.

The pair, along with Bob Howard, having aligned themselves with Cook now found themselves drawn into a conflict with William Walker and his Nicaraguans, who were afraid the boats would be seized by jealous neighbors and used against them. Walker’s self-fulfilling prophecy led to war. The PCs were present for the battle; Bob and Alex participated, while Tim, still wounded from the mishap with the armor, sheltered in a dugout canoe they had prepared for fast getaway. Inside were supplies, both for eating and for crafting—Tim intended to keep working on his armor design, then move on to designing a bow.

Cook fell in battle and Alex took a nasty blow to the head; it was time to leave. The session ended with the PCs pushing off in the canoe, staring back at the riot on the banks of the River, wondering if more anarchy and bloodshed lay ahead of them…

NPCs met:

  • Captain Cook, now deceased

Plans hatched:

  • To sail down the River until they reach its terminus!
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Session Five
New Friends, New Discoveries

Tim, Alex, and Bob made their way down-River, covering about 100 miles a day. Stopping 2-3 times a day to fill their grails, they encountered mostly friendly residents along the bank. Those who were not-so-friendly were easily bypassed.

The group was struck by the uniformity of the Valley. Although the River twisted and meandered, and its width varied between its usual average of a mile down to narrow rapids about a quarter-mile wide and up to island-dotted lakes five miles or more in width, the basic features remained the same. Always there was the strip of open plains, the forested foothills, the towering cliffs, grailstones spaced evenly every mile along the bank. And the people. There were no stretches without people. Population densities had begun to vary as people congregated in one area or another, and signs of settlement were visible in areas where there was sufficient flint to permit wide-scale lumber milling, but there was never an area devoid of at least a few hundred people.

After a couple weeks on the water, along one such sparsely-populated stretch of bank, the group encountered another ship. They had seen fishing rafts before, but none that traveled far from home. Here now was a double-hulled catamaran, like the sort Captain Cook and his Hawaiians had been building. The ship and the canoe signaled to each other and put in onshore.

The ship was called the Hadjii and it was captained by Sir Richard Francis Burton, late of Her Majesties’ embassy in Trieste. He was accompanied by a rag-tag crew that included a strange alien creature named Monat. Claiming to hail from the star known as Tau Ceti, he told a doleful tale of the extermination of human life on Earth (along with his own) in the year 2033.

Of perhaps greater interest to the group was Alex spotting marks on the side of the great cliffs—a massive, two-mile-high arrow, to be precise. The group and the crew of the Haadji journeyed up to the cliffs, where they found three smaller arrows and strange runic markings similar to the kind found on everyone’s forehead (and likewise visible only to Alex—although Burton’s bodyguard, a Neanderthal named Kazz, also seemed able to see the marks).

The area, the group learned, was sparsely populated due to a recent battle that had erupted in the area between two competing factions. Those who hadn’t died in battle had left in advance of the conflict, leaving only a few hundred people in the area. The group decided to go for broke, fashioning bamboo shovels and pick axes and drafting the locals who would to help dig under the arrows. After three days of digging, the groups’ effort paid off: three massive metal deposits (one of iron, one of copper, and one of sulphur) were uncovered!

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Session Six
The Fires of Industry

Three months passed and the group’s initial mining operation soon turned into a major manufactory. The mines brought up tons of metal ore, charcoal pits consumed the woods, and forges melted the ore and refined it into raw ingots.

No one, however, took a leadership position and much was lost to inefficiency and general lawlessness. Petty bickering, particularly among the camp’s medieval Cornishmen and Persians, often disrupted operations, sometimes shutting them down entirely. Alex, in particular, was much disturbed by the environmental cost exacted by the camp as well. In the end, the group decided to pick up stakes again and set off on their quest downriver. Burton and his crew had already done so (although not before Burton imparted a tale of his awakening in a strange chamber sometime before the Resurrection, a massive space filled with millions of floating, hairless bodies). They had continued upRiver; the PC group elected to continue down.

They took with them weapons and armor they had commissioned from their best smiths at the camp: bamboo bows and iron-tipped arrows, spears with iron heads, and a brace of iron swords for Alex for weapons; light chain and metal bucklers for armor.

They rode the River for three months straight, finding little variation from that previously encountered. Every 10,000 miles or so the vines on the irontrees seemed to switch between flowering and non-flowering; that was the most variation they observed in the landscape. However, the human population did indeed seem to be changing. Where once they had encountered, at most, loose tribal affiliations, now they were finding more and more organized nations, some of which bestrode both sides of the River and stretched for many miles. These nations were not always welcoming, particularly when the glint of the group’s iron equipment was noted.

Still, the group managed to avoid trouble until they entered a large lake area. On the west bank stood a proper town consisting of bamboo houses with thatched roofs and a large wooden stockade somewhat reminiscent of a medieval castle. Even worse was the fleet of war canoes departing the piers built at the River bank and making for the group on a course to intercept.

After a brief fight, the group was captured, disarmed, and brought into the stockade. There they met the town’s ruler, Roger de Flor—ex-Templar and would-be Emperor of Byzantium. De Flor was most interested in the group’s armor and weapons and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: serve him in his upcoming war against a neighboring country and he would release them on the condition that they tell him where they acquired the iron to make their equipment.

Each of the three party members were put in charge of a company of infantry. The attack, meant as a pre-emptive strike, was to come in two weeks and was to be an amphibious assault. The group familiarized themselves with their units as best they could, training with them in tactics and naval warfare techniques. At last the fleet set out at dawn, floating downRiver in a mass of barges, canoes, and ships. They met the enemy fleet, under the command of notorious Chinese pirate queen Cheng Shih, coming to launch its own pre-emptive strike. A naval battle thus ensued.

Long story short, the dice rolling went against the group—to say the least. Not only did de Flor consistently miss his Strategy rolls, the PCs’ Misfortune rolls kept coming up Criticals. Alex in particular took a real beating, nearly drowning twice while sustaining a host of near-fatal wounds. Tim, on the other hand, showed remarkable heroics, clearing off one ship and causing another to crash into an allied vessel (albeit causing one of Alex’s near-fatal wounds in the process as the ship ran over his canoe). The expedition ended in disaster and the group was taken prisoner and swiftly executed.

They awoke on the banks of the River, surrounded by strange creatures twice their size covered in fur and sporting outsized noses…

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Session Seven
The Dark Tower

A doozy of a session.

The PCs, disgusted by the circumstances of their deaths, resolved to lead a pacifist lifestyle among the creatures they dubbed “sasquatches”. Tim even tried to put the moves on a lady sasquatch, but was brutalized by her mate for his troubles.

Aside from this setback, Tim focused on honing his physique and became a master spear-fisherman while Alex focused on quiet contemplation and taming some of his inner demons, finally sloughing off the alcoholism that had dogged him since just after the Resurrection.

After 18 months on the Riverbank, the group had their first notable encounter, meeting and speaking with a missionary from the Church of the Second Chance. He explained that his faith had grown up organically since the Resurrection, starting with a man called La Viro who had preached that a race of Ancients had constructed the world specifically to serve as an ethical testing ground; those who “united with the Godhead” would cease the endless cycle of resurrections and “go on.” The Church advocated instruction of Esperanto as a means of facilitating universal communication and were a pacifist, anti-technology faith.

After the visit from the missionary, the next major event did not occur for another 12 months. During their time among the bigfoots, Tim and Alex grew their hair out and watched their skin bronzed under a sun that did not appear to suffer from seasonal variations. Between the area’s cooler temperatures and the lack of foot or River traffic, the group figured they were probably somewhere in the northern latitudes not far from the River’s mouth.

They were given an opportunity to find out for themselves when they spotted a boat laboriously rowing its way upRiver. It was built in the style of an Egyptian Nile barge of antiquity, and indeed was crewed by nearly two-dozen Egyptians. The boat put in to replenish its grails, and the crew mixed with the locals. In the end, having grown somewhat bored with their peaceful, uneventful lives, Tim and Alex volunteered to board the boat—along with one of the sasquatches, whom the Egyptians called “Thoth”.

The ship had apparently been on the River for three years, but it was close to its destination. After only another month of travel, the crew reached a massive cataract that made further ship-travel impossible, so everyone debarked, loaded up as many supplies as they could, and set off. The passage up into the mountains at the head of th Valley was arduous, and over half the group perished. Tim and Alex both had their moments where they nearly plummeted to their dooms, but they were saved by timely intervention of rope and Ally.

After passing through wind-whipped gorges and claustrophobic lava tubes, the group emerged to peer out over a vast calm sea some 60 miles in diameter. In the center rose a black tower, itself 10 miles across and rising above the waves nearly 5 miles. This was indeed the Dark Tower the Mysterious Stranger had referred to in Alex’s vision!

Curiously, they discovered boats of a technologically-advanced nature in a cave at the water’s edge. Piloting over to the Tower, they were set upon by drones firing stun beams. Only Alex, Tim, and Bob made it in, Thoth and the remaining Egyptians falling right at the edge of a hidden door granting access to the Tower’s interior.

Once inside, they soon found themselves trapped in an invisible force bubble and taken before a council of six men and six women, seated in floating chairs in the middle of a spherical chamber, all with strange glowing orbs above their heads. The council gently interrogated the party, showing considerable alarm at the revelations of all the help the group had received in getting to the Tower, as well as Alex’s ability to read runes and his interactions with Mysterious Strangers. Tim tried to get the Council to agree to work with the party in uprooting the other faction, but the council told him, “That is not why you are here.”

In the end, the group was returned to the Valley after the Council informed them that they would have their memories wiped. And so they did—but for some reason, Tim’s memory remained intact. After sharing these memories, the group set about making plans to return to the tower and take vengeance on the puppet-masters who controlled their lives…

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Session Eight
Parolando

When we left off last time, the PCs had been returned from an interrogation at the Dark Tower, but with Tim’s memory of said interrogation still intact. I informed the PCs that the next session would open sometime in the year 20 A.R., giving the characters nearly 20 years to grow and develop as the players saw fit. To facilitate said growth, character budgets were raised to 200 points and the players were given license to remold their characters as they wished. This is what they came up with:

Billy jimmy

Okay, so I’m only partly joking. The area they were resurrected in after their Dark Tower interrogation, I informed them, had a minority population of Tang Dynasty Chinese. So, the cagey PCs reasoned, Shaolin monks were about; they therefore contracted with a hermit monk in the hills and spent 20 years turning themselves into combat badasses skilled in unarmed combat as well as sword and spear techniques. All prior character development and ties were abandoned (including Alex’s ally, Robert E. Howard) in favor of (for the most part) maxing out combat-related skills and advantages.

The goal was a simple one: become covert assassins of both those directly serving “the Others” as well as those who would inflict violence and misery upon their neighbors. A sort of “fight fire with fire” response to the Church of the Second Chance’s avowed pacifism, the PCs were determined to never again be someone else’s patsy. They departed their home of 20 years in search of a kingdom called New Bohemia, which they suspected was actually the mining camp they had helped found and which was apparently still churning out lots of metal equipment for trade.

The PCs’ first opportunity to put their new skills to use, however, came with the arrival of a large nickel-iron meteor impact event. Surviving the resulting tidal wave that swept the Valley, the PCs traveled upRiver to find the impact site. They arrived three weeks later to find a kingdom already coalescing around the meteor, which bore literally tons of unrefined iron ore and other metals. The kingdom was led by Samuel Clemens and his Viking companion, Erik Bloodaxe. The PCs were also startled to meet their old Sasquatch traveling companion—the one the Egyptians had called Thoth but whom Clemens had re-dubbed Joe Miller. Clemens had even started teaching Joe the English tongue.

After finding out that the Clemens/Bloodaxe kingdom, named Parolando, had been founded after the duo had chased away another group of would-be settlers, Tim and Alex marked Clemens for death as yet another would-be conqueror. “We’ll observe for a while, lay low, and then we’ll take out Mark Twain,” quickly became the Quote of the Campaign and sums up everything that’s wonderful about Riverworld. Tim and Alex insinuated themselves into Clemens’ good graces (Tim having actually reserved a few points to put into interpersonal skills like Diplomacy and Detect Lies), but in getting to know him they discovered a man wracked with guilt and grief. They secretly set their sights instead on Bloodaxe, whom Clemens was fairly certain was planning a double-cross. One rainy night they raided Bloodaxe’s hall and killed the Viking, making off with his eponymous iron axe which was left with Clemens as a silent message. Tim and Alex then slipped away in a canoe, leaving Parolando behind.

During their three-month stay, however, they had seen a kingdom advancing by leaps and bounds. The meteor strike was common knowledge up and down the whole length of the Valley, and thousands of people flooded in every week, quickly turning Parolando into the most powerful kingdom on the planet. The resources provided by the meteor (or the trade it enabled) and the brain trust provided by the influx of people from across human history meant that Parolando was soon synthesizing plastics from plant cellulose, electricity from copper wiring and steam turbines, and firearms that shot a special large-caliber plastic rounds. Clemens’ ultimate goal was to build a side-wheel paddle steamer to make its way to the River’s headwaters—he too, it seemed, had been visited by a Mysterious Stranger. Whether his plans would be foiled by neighboring kingdoms like Soul City (a coalition of black nationalists and African natives) or the realm of King John Lackland, only time would tell.

As they departed, Alex bore a pair of Parolando-steel swords and Tim had two Parolando Mk.I pistols strapped to his belt. What adventures remained for them to discover remained to be seen…

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Session Nine
Gods of Riverworld

Campaign finis. But this is not the end of Our Heroes, who shall return in the next series: Gods of Riverworld! (Coming soon to an Obsidian Portal near you…)

A quick synopsis of the final session, then.

After 14 years travelling the Valley, righting wrongs and searching fruitlessly for agents of the “the Others”, the PCs encountered a massive, rigid dirigible dubbed the Parseval as it passed by overhead. Later that day, they caught it up where the blimp had put down for the evening. There they found it captained by Milton Firebrass, one of Sam Clemens’ inner circle from back in Parolando.

Reintroducing themselves to Firebrass (and meeting the blimp’s pilot, an Australian named Jill Guillberra, and the French duelist and writer Cyrano de Bergerac), they managed to secure a berth aboard the vessel. They did this because Tim had thought he’d recognized the ship’s engineer, Barry Thorne, as one of the people who interrogated him, Alex, and Bob all those years ago. The PCs were determined to find out if it was indeed the man they were looking for—and if it was, they were determined to slay him.

Firebrass revealed that Clemens had built his fabulous riverboat only to have it stolen by the treacherous King John on the day it was launched. Firebrass was chased off by the ship’s surface-to-air missiles(!) and was now racing ahead of the riverboat, attempting to reach the Polar Sea first.

As the Parseval made its way upRiver, Tim and Alex were unable to ascertain whether Thorne was simply a Canadian steam engineer, as he claimed, or one of the Others. Crippled by indecision and not wanting to kill an innocent man (they had noted that resurrections had stopped in the Valley about four years previous), they chose not to kill Thorne.

It proved a fatal decision. Having reached the Polar Sea, Thorne activated a bomb and blew the Parseval out of the sky. He did this when he, Jill, Tim, and Alex were aboard a small gyrocopter launched from the deck of the blimp’s gondola to descend to the Dark Tower. The force of the explosion not only killed everyone left aboard the blimp, but knocked the ’copter out of the sky. As they plummetted, Alex drew one of his steel swords and slashed Thorne repeatedly, striking out like a wounded scorpion. Crashing to the roof of the Tower, Tim and Alex miraculously survived the fall, but Jill was killed outright and Thorne was knocked unconscious, both by the fall and by the grievous wounds Alex had inflicted. The PCs finished the job by pushing Thorne off the edge of the Tower, five miles above the surface of the water.

The PCs were surprised to find access to the Tower both easy and uncontested. After exploring some of the vast interior and finding a long-dead corpse, mummified in the dry, recirculated air, they accessed the Tower’s computer and discovered all of Riverworld’s secrets.

Armed with this knowledge, and with the power of the Dark Tower at their fingertips, our heroes paused to contemplate the limitless future that stretched before them…

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