Welcome to another installment on my GURPS X-COM: Noises in the Dark campaign report! This is the final installment of 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.
Recovery and Planning
The party had just survived their first encounter with a Bakegumo, and was still reeling a bit from the experience. Choi, in particular, had been hit quite hard by the hand-like alien, whom they decided to call “Rosie”. At least Korsakov was recovered from whatever mind control he was under, and quickly loaded the civilians up into the Skyranger, taking off to safety once that was done.
Julia stepped up to apply first aid to Choi’s wound, which probably included at least one broken rib. She opened up her crash kit and noticed with much consternation that any drug it contained that was more advanced than rubbing alcohol had turned into some sort of foul black sludge. Pills, liquids, even the stuff applied to hemostatic bandages, all gone bad. The kit had been effectively reduced to TL 6 in terms of effectiveness! She was still able to restore some of Choi’s lost HP, but it took longer than it otherwise would.
After this is done, they get to planning. From everything they know so far, the “distortion field” is preventing German authorities from noticing what’s going on in the affected zone. The squad decides taking this field out is their best bet. Judging from the shape of the effect, they figure the source is in a building just south of the hospital’s parking lot. There’s no telling on which floor it is, though.
Jan Wiest, the cop, tells them his buddies have been working on a reckless plan to assault the hospital. They’ve managed to get an old Toyota Hilux truck working, and have loaded it up with anything even remotely incendiary or explosive they could get their hands on. The plan is to send the vehicle careening towards the northwest corner of the hospital as the opening move of an all-in assault. They’ve clearly given this some thought, and this is the first real opportunity to put the plan into action - the flashy assault should provide the PCs with the distraction they need to go in through the opposite corner.
Infiltration and Engagement
The PCs agree with the plan, with Valenkov and Gutierrez choosing to lend their firepower to the distraction assault. Everyone gets into position, and as the squad hears the distant explosions begin, they move in on the building from the southwest corner. That section of the hospital is walled off, but the wall happens to have a convenient, sturdy fuse box that can serve as a stepping stone, and provides easy access to a second-floor window.
The hospital looks even more dilapidated than the other buildings in the neighborhood, as it has been shot at more often. All the windows above the ground floor are broken. Every bit of the outer walls that hasn’t yet been covered in bullet holes is instead covered in runic-looking graffiti. As they enter through the window, the party notices the interior of the hospital doesn’t look much better. Paint has peeled or been torn off from the walls in places, and the same graffiti is everywhere. All the lights are out, most of them broken. The air feels dusty, and smells faintly of rot.
Choi rolls an unprimed grenade down the hallway, but nothing unusual happens. Kendall has a harder time getting accurate readings from his sensors in here - his chemsniffers, for example, report the air as being composed of 100% hydrochloric acid. Still, he manages to pinpoint the source of the anomaly. It’s somewhere below them in the hospital’s Geriatrics ward, which they can reach by proceeding down this hallway. They cautiously move on.
In a minute they reach the stairwell and elevator. The sounds of fighting outside are beginning to die down. Since the source is below them, they figure the best place to put it would be all the way down in the hospital’s extensive basement.
Minette looks at the elevator and at the stairs, and has an idea: set up a bomb inside the elevator and send it down to the basement, and then assault the place through the stairs once the explosive goes off. This would turn any possible ambush the aliens are preparing against them. The elevator comes from a higher floor when called. Its light panels have been torn off and its walls covered in graffiti. Minette sets up a proximity mine built from one of Choi’s grenades and an optical sensor Kendall got from a nearby automatic door.
They send the elevator down… and it blow up too early, with a much stronger force than they anticipated. The blast climbs up the shaft with enough force to buckle the doors on their floor. Looks like the aliens had prepared a little surprise of their own at the basement! The squad quickly recovers from the surprise and proceeds with their original plan, running down the stairs.
As soon as they emerge in a dark basement room, they begin trading shots with the aliens down there. There are four of them, firing from rooms adjacent to the box-filled space the party emerged into, wearing black military uniforms and eyeless gas masks. Despite the lack of eyeholes, they can apparently see pretty well in the eerie blue-green light suffusing the basement.
The fight is short but intense. Minette shoots two of the enemies early, while Choi tries to flush another out of cover with more frag grenades. Instead of running away, the alien draws a sword and rushes Choi! He and Kendall spend a few tense seconds in melee combat before while Minette deals with the remaining shooter, and are finally able to back away and shoot the last enemy.
With the fight over, they can assess their surroundings in more detail. They’re in a storage area filled with boxes containing medication and assorted medical equipment. Every box that was hit by a stray bullet or sword blow is leaking the same black sludge found in Julia’s medkit. The green-blue light comes from some sort of fluorescent mold that clings to the walls. The air feels musty and heavy, and everything is covered in a thin layer of red dust.
As for the aliens, once unmasked, they look like faceless wooden puppets. Their “skin” feels like some kind of dark wood, though the blood from their wounds hints at fleshier interiors. Their weapons are single-shot rifles with a strange, curvy design and no ejection ports. They did sound like they fired solid ammo, though. The party decides to move on rather than speculating about the alien bodies. Leave that to the scientists.
The eastern door out of the room opens into a wide corridor extending from south to north. Kendall’s sensors indicate the anomaly’s epicenter is north, so they go that way. The way is littered with scattered furniture and with larger and larger alien fungal growths, some of which quiver when the soldiers pass near them. The dust thickens as well.
They almost miss the minefield, but Minette notices it at the last instant. The devices seem to be made of a white material similar to fiberglass, but their form factor simply screams mine. There were six, all placed in such a way that the hallway’s clutter would block line of sight to them. Now that they know where the mines are, the squad can carefully walk past them. Running through this area would still pose a hazard, though. After some deliberation, they decide to push some of the hallway’s furniture into the adjoining empty rooms before proceeding, to make a future retreat through this area easier.
When they finish, they can hear shuffling and crashing sounds coming from a door at the northern end of the corridor. Sounds like someone is getting ready to flee in a hurry. They quickly move up, checking the adjoining rooms for hostiles, and finally arrive at the source of the noise - and of the anomaly.
This is a large room where all of the hospital’s remaining lab equipment and computers were moved and set up atop a ring of heavy metal desks in the room’s center. Most of it is wrecked when the PCs arrive. Two of the soldier aliens and a Bakegumo seem to be busy destroying everything, supervised by something that looks like a pillar of black smoke with embers for eyes. Something lashes out of the smoke, causing the PCs to feel as if the ve/
/r was cut. It steps into the resulting rent in space, and it closes behind it, returning the world to normal. Time for another firefight!
The Bakegumo turns to Minette, and begins doing a strange “dance”. She begins to hear the distant sounds of drums and brass cymbals, and the edges of her vision begins to crawl. Minette gets off a long burst, but the alien seems to ignore it as she begins to feel her own sins crawling on her back. A bullet from one of the puppets hits her vest, and the pain snaps her out of it, allowing her to finish the “Rosie” off.
Meanwhile, Kendall triggers another feedback look, trying to flood the alien communications channel with an amplified version of the eerie chatter he recorded earlier. It’s enough to confuse them for a second, hurting their accuracy enough that Choi and Julia are able to deal with the pair. With that, there are no more hostiles in the room.
Julia takes the time to apply first aid to Minette, and just as she finishes everyone notices the trees. A clump of five or so, all together at the center of the ring of desks. Black trunks, black leaves, black branches heavy with fat white fruit the squad recognizes as the mines from earlier in the hallway. They reach to the ceiling. This is the first time they are noticed, but upon looking at them the squad knows they’ve been there the whole time.
Spooked, the PCs decide to blow the trees up using the hallway mines and their last grenade, thrown from outside the room. The resulting blast is devastating, and as soon as the trees are gone the whole distortion field clears. A pressure they didn’t know they were under lifts from their minds. With the interference gone, Wiest is able to reach them by radio and inform that the assault force managed to take out all the remaining alien soldiers, but they lost a few men and Valenkov and Gutierrez were gravely wounded.
Later on, the squad manages to reach HQ and discover that a second Skyranger is on the way, called in by Korsakov, with a full cleanup crew. Over the next few days, they direct the local authorities and collect everything from the area that even looks alien. The civilians still living there are relocated by the German government, with the exception of Gisela’s family who, at Dr. Vahlen’s insistence, was moved to Mother Base. Hans, Gisela’s father, joins X-COM as an engineer.
Despite casualties, the mission was a success, reassuring the Council of X-COM’s effectiveness.
Spoilers and Fight Analysis
The new enemy they fought here were the Puppets of Ruin, depicted above. Named “Pinocchios” by the group, these are the main front line troops of the Dreams. They combine excellent military training (both modern and archaic) with a total lack of compassion and a willingness to serve anyone who displays the right mix of cruelty and strength. The ones you see above are in their “natural” state - for this campaign, I decided that anyone who enlisted puppet units would give them their own uniforms, hence the black fatigues with eyeless gas masks.
The originals are meant to terrorize medieval fantasy worlds, and carry the equivalent of TL 7 military gear. Mine carry TL 9 equipment, which I will detail in a future post.
The “pillar of smoke” alien was an addition of my own. It was meant to replace the Night Hags from the Dreams of Ruin sourcebook, though at the time I didn’t know what was going to be behind the smokescreen.
While the puppets are good shooters and would be unholy terrors when pitted against 150-point soldiers, the more powerful X-COM squad was rather better at dealing with them. The hardest part for them was dealing with the puppets’ melee proficiency, as none of the PCs put many points in close combat and none of them had a weapon that could really stand up to the alien swords. No one suffered damage from them, but it was more due to luck than skill or sound tactics.
The same can’t be said of the elevator trap or the minefield, though - success there was entirely due to character skill and player ingenuity. Had the party blithely taken the elevator down, it would have resulted in a TPK, as the bottom of the shaft was lined with mines.