Welcome to another installment on my GURPS X-COM: Noises in the Dark campaign report! Today I’ll continue to tell you about Operation BRUTAL ADVENT, our group’s inaugural mission. The following PCs participated in it:
- 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.
- Niu Yulan (AKA Julia Yulan): A former hostage negotiatior from China. Julia is pretty handy with a rifle but her medical training and innate kindness are equally important parts of her arsenal.
- 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.
The following NPCs also had important roles:
- Valenkov and Gutierrez: A pair of shooters from Russia and Argentina, respectively, both members of the squad who lost their players just before the start of the mission.
- Yevgeny Korsakov: The pilot of the squad’s Skyranger transport.
- Jan Wiest: A cop stuck in the anomaly zone. Together with his unit, he’s been fighting the aliens for months.
- Gisela Vahlen and company: Seven civilians inhabiting a building inside the anomaly zone. Three of them are relatives of Dr. Vahlen, one of X-COM’s top scientists.
After arriving on the scene and investigating the anomaly’s effects the squad managed to pinpoint its source in the St. Marien Hospital. They decided they will eventually have to get in there to stop all of this, but rescuing the civilians should come first. Choi is a little disappointed that they can’t just call in an airstrike and level the place.
Kendall manages to reach Korsakov, who tells them the Skyranger will be fully refueled in an hour, but that he can leave ealier if they don’t need to fly a long distance. Getting them heavier weapons would require flying all the way to HQ and back, though, which would take a whole day. The local military doesn’t want to share. The squad asks him to fly in ASAP in order to get the civilians out.
Korsakov says he’ll be there in 30 minutes, and calls again after that exact amount of time to request specific landing coordinates. He suggests the roof of a building just behind the one everyone is in, in the middle of the block. It’s lower than the surrounding structures, which should provide cover from snipers.
The PCs accept his suggestion, and having prepared to move out with the civilians in the last half-hour, begin to do so immediately. Just before they leave the apartment building, however, they get a worrying radio message from the pilot: “I see a weird light nearby. I will investigate.”
This is worrying because Korsakov is never supposed to leave the cockpit during an extraction, and he knows it. Before the party and the civilians have crossed half the courtyard, they see him exit through the ground floor door of the center building and head east at a brisk pace, flight helmet still on. In the direction he’s walking there’s an eerie blue light shining through an open second-floor window.
Choi and Kendall rush to the pilot’s side, and notice he’s obviously out of it, as if hypnotized. He doesn’t stop to talk to them, but doesn’t resist when physically stopped from walking. The others remain with the refugees, herding them towards the Skyranger, but Vasily shouts out a warning when he notices that the blue light is rapidly intensifying. In a second, a ball of fire shoots towards Choi! He dodges it, and it leaves a small frost-rimmed crater in the ground.
Minette pours suppressing fire into the window the shot came from, as Choi and Kendall drop smoke grenades for cover. Julia and the NPCs stay by the civilians as they run into the building. As the smoke grenades go off, a huge alien thing jumps out from the window to the left of the one Minette was shooting at, and disappears into the cloud. They only catch a brief glimpse, but it looks like a giant seven-fingered hand.
Kendall takes Korsakov’s hand and books it back to the Skyranger. The pilot, now recovered, is only too happy to run the rest of the way towards the safety of his cockpit as Julia and the NPC soldiers finish loading the civilians into the craft. Minette stands ready to shoot the alien if it gets close, but it’s hard to see into the smoke from this distance.
Choi stays near the smoke, intent on fighting the alien. He fires blindly into the cloud and hits it, but then the creature charges at him and pokes him in the chest hard enough to break some ribs despite his body armor. He won’t survive another hit like that!
Kendall runs back to the fray, followed by Valenkov and Gutierrez. The NPCs fire burst at it and score a few hits, which do a lot less damage than expected. The creature swipes at them with its fingers, but thankfully misses. It hits Kendall with another energy blast, but the hacker’s ridiculous armor loadout pays off, and he gets away with only a slight frost burn.
Valenkov manages to attract the alien’s attention for long enough to allow Kendall to stick a greande wrapped in duct-tape on its skin. They get clear, and the grenade finishes it off. This was their first official close encounter, and it was only one alien. How many more are there?
They would soon find out. With the civilians clear of the danger zone, it was time to plan the attack on the alien position at the hospital.
Spoilers and Fight Analysis
With the campaign already over, it’s safe to spoil you on the alien’s true nature. It was a Bakegumo (“goblin-spider”), a creature that’s an integral part of the ecosystem of the Dreams. They do indeed look like giant hands, though the seven-fingered part was a personal addition: it both made them weirder and referenced the “mystical” number seven, which I decided would be a recurring motif in the alien forces. After this encounter, the PCs named it “Rosie” - I never revealed any of the creature names in the Dreams of Ruin book, an encouraged players to come up with their own.
The original stats for Bakegumo gave then five hit dice, so my version of them is large and has exceptional ST and HP. It’s also Unliving, which explains why bullets didn’t do much against it. It retains all of the original’s supernatural abilities, so it’s a good thing no one was grappled by it. This one was a scout, and approached the building in the half-hour between the call going out and Korsakov arriving.
The party did an excellent job coming up with a plan to quickly evacuate the civilians: the longer they waited, the more aliens would converge on their position. Waiting the whole day for more ordinance would bring an overwhelming attack force a few hours in. Using the grenade at the end was also inspired, and worth the two uses of Gizmo it cost Kendall. Without that the fight would have been a lot longer and more costly for the PCs.
They made some mistakes as well: smoke grenades were a total newbie trap in this game, as the creatures of the Dreams see through a special psychic sense that completely ignores things that impair normal sight. There was no way to know this in the first mission, of course, but they would learn the aliens don’t rely on normal sight if they had autopsied any of them in the strategic interludes. Alas, this ended up not happening before the game ended.