Illustration by AntiMingebag on DeviantArt

Welcome to another mission report for GURPS X-COM: Noises in the Dark! Our characters for this mission are:

  • Kendall Fairbarn: A paranoid hacker from the UK. Was completely convinced human society had been heavily infiltrated by shape-changing aliens… and it turned out he wasn’t entirely wrong.
  • Minette Duvall: A bomb-disposal expert from Southern France, Minette is also quite handy with a rifle. She’s devoutly Catholic and swears a lot when faced with danger, which is all the time. Currently wounded and minding the Skyranger as an NPC.
  • Niu Yulan (AKA Julia Yulan): A former hostage negotiator from China, built without a template but approaching a shootier Face. Her innate kindness and empathy came in handy in several of the missions! Currently controlled by Minette’s player.
  • Jack Choi: A former police detective from Hong Kong, and a staunch adherent of the “kick down the door” school of policing despite his light frame.
  • Sam McCall: A brave and burly former US Army Ranger, run by a new player.

Puppet Theater

In the previous post, we saw how Strike One had a rough landing in the blighted iron mine that comprises their Area of Operations. That firefight left Minette wounded, so she decided to stay behind to help guard the Skyranger. The rest of the squad pushed forward, going through the abandoned security checkpoint to the west of their landing zone and then south following the road.

The 2.5km along the road to the crash site wouldn’t be a significant obstacle to this squad, but it would be a long enough stretch of time and space that I decided a random encounter roll was appropriate. Yes, a random encounter! The Dreams of Ruin are from a book written for old-school D&D, and I couldn’t let all those wonderful tables to go waste! The level of Dream activity around here meant I had to use the “Edge of the Forest” tables, and as for the result…

About halfway through the trek, they spot a particularly large Black Tree growing on the middle of the road. Around it was a large group of puppets, prostrating and contorting themselves as if in worship. That it was Christmas Eve in the real world when this happened was entirely a coincidence! This was an instance of “Puppet Theater”, which is just what it sounds like: the Puppets of Ruin put on spooky displays in places where an unwary traveler might watch them. Why? Only they know.

Like all the other trees, this one had human bones scattered around its roots, and this particular bunch of puppets had left their weapons in a pile nearby. After some discussion, the squad decides to sneak through the woods at the edge of the road, get as close as they can and open up with Sam’s grenade launcher followed by rifle fire. The plan goes off without a hitch and they manage to take all the puppets out before they can react. I messed up a bit here, since the explosion did damage the trees and this should have caused another wave of battle-ready puppets to drop, but by this point I just wanted to move forward and get to the main set piece.

I did make sure to point out the pile of shiny, intact alien weapons just lying there, which made the PCs a bit paranoid. They checked around it, poked them a bit, and came to the conclusion that there was no booby trap or anything - the weapons were indeed just lying there. In truth, the Forest in that region kinda wanted them to take the weapons. It was an attempt to win them over, sort of, and of course carrying these things elsewhere would also spread spores.

The squad proceeds to take one of each weapon, but instead of trying them out they stash the lot in the nearby woods and blow the rest up with a grenade, treating them more as samples to take home than new equipment. On the one hand, good on them for resisting this temptation! On the other, they’re sure going to miss that RPG launcher in the next scene…

Visage of Ruin

The squad proceeds along the road, and passes by one of the huge reservoirs that were used to store mine tailings for processing. It’s basically a huge pit dug into the earth and shored up by dams where needed. This one is 1km from north to south and 500m from east to west, and though it’s not the one whose dams burst it still presents a horrifying sight.

The floor of the pit is grayish brown and scarred by the toxic sludge that was regularly dumped in it. A little of that sludge still pools at its southern end, making a shore of sorts. The scale of the thing makes it hard for the PCs to not stop and stare, and that of course is when they notice the trees. The anomaly in there was so strong that even Strike One, inured as it was to the effect, took a while to pierce it. The whole pit is teeming with Trees of Woe, and they look right at home rising out of the toxic ground. It’s a disquieting sight, but there’s nothing they can do about it now.

Continuing on, the squad spots a building at the end of the road. From about a hundred meters away, it looks like it was originally a fairly practical structure, single-story, brick walls and metal roof. It’s been defaced in a manner similar but more deliberate to that of the buildings in Cologne. All the windows are broken, alien graffiti covers the walls, and there’s this ropy white stuff hanging everywhere. That’s Bakegumo webbing, but the PCs didn’t know it at the time.

They’re close to the crash site not, but don’t have eyes on it yet, as it’s still a small distance to the southeast and currently obscured by vegetation. They do hear gunfire and explosions coming from that direction, and after some quick discussion on what to do decide to sneak east through the woods to take a closer look at the situation.

Traversing the dense subtropical vegetation is difficult, but thankfully it’s all Earth-native. They get through and to see a large open landscaped area, ringed with fancier looking (but also defaced) buildings and criss-crossed by roads. The crashed alien craft is right in the middle of a small roundabout in the center of the area, and it looks like… a house. It’s built in a style that’s a cross between a Chinese junk and a miniature Taj Mahal, but it’s clearly a house, and it’s still somewhat intact despite crashing. Since the craft is about eighty meters away from the squad they can’t see much more detail, but there are definitely people in it, human-looking, wearing white-sleeved clothes, having a firefight with the occupants of a building 70m to the east of the squad. Those people wear gray.

Now that’s an interesting situation! Who are these two sides? Can the squad trust any of them? What the heck is going on here? Find out on the next installment!