This is part of an ongoing campaign. You can find the other sessions over on the sidebar. This session was run on November 10, 2022. This session contains secret communications between me and the individual players. This means that these recaps do not cover everything that happened in the session. I will be reporting only the information that all players had access to. This portion of the campaign uses Zozer Games excellent Outpost Mars setting for Cepheus Engine.
Mars May 3rd, 2040
This was the first session that took place fully on Mars. We started off by learning some more about the PCs (including names for some!) and making a PC for our new player. For those of you who read/have read my other recaps, Zalf is played by the same player as Stranger/Tulip, and Lucas is the same player as Vargr.
· Mildra Ryante: A somewhat shady scout who is very adept at surviving on the surface of Mars. Has been on Mars for a few years.
· Wilson Ridgely: An electrician. Has been on Mars for a few years.
· Lucas Trask: An archaeologist.
· Romilius Fabian: A computer technician and programmer with an interest in out-of-date computer technology.
· Hunter Brady: A scruffy geologist. He has been on Mars for two years.
· Zalf Agrippa: The vice president of Spacely Sprockets. Has been on Mars for ten years.
The characters came to Mars at different times and for different reasons, but they are now members of a United Nations Space Cooperation Organization (UNSCO) Special Projects Team. While some of them already knew each other, this was their first day as part of the Special Programs Team. They were assembled in the UNSCO office in Reunion, the biggest settlement on Mars. Bai Jin, their Program Manager, introduced herself. Jin first came to Mars eight years ago to work as a geologist for UNSCO. She has been working as the Program Manager for Special Projects for the last three years.
She started with a quick briefing on the publicly available information on the aliens commonly referred to as the “Martians”. It is generally known that Mars was inhabited by an intelligent race from about 500,000 years ago until about 300,000 years ago. They lived mainly around the area now known as Cydonia and are thought to have created the Ruined City and the Face. Scientists have not been able to find any evidence that these Martians were native to Mars. There is no evidence that they evolved here, nor is there any evidence of sophisticated life existing on Mars at any time outside of the small portion of the planet inhabited by the Martians. There is evidence of a nuclear war approximately 300,000 years ago, after which there is no longer any evidence of the Martians living on Mars.
Few complete skeletons of the Martians have been recovered, but they are believed to average one meter in height. Most scientists think that the Martians, like ants, came in different varieties that, while they varied physically, were part of the same species. The consensus is that the Martians came in six to eight different varieties. The largest of these varieties averaged around 1.5 meters in height. Many scientists believe that the skeletons indicate that the Martians had wings and may have been able to fly on their native planet.
The Martian sites in Cydonia were discovered in the early years of Mars exploration and the main scientific disagreement about them has centered around whether they were in fact native to Mars and whether they were now extinct. In 2028, a group of scientists who believed that the Martians still existed somewhere on Mars seized control of the Cydonia site and have limited access to it ever since. The scientists call themselves Cydonians and, while there have been considerable tensions between them and the other agencies on Mars, violence has largely been avoided in the years since. The Cydonians continue to develop the site, and their team has grown.
The occupation of the Cydonian site has limited UNSCO’s access to information about new developments. They have been forced to rely on drones and human intelligence assets inserted into the settlement.
After this portion of the briefing, Jin informed the group that the next portion of the briefing consisted of controlled information. To have access to this information, everyone would have to sign up to four years with the Special Projects team. They all agreed.
Jin told them that, prior to the occupation, UNSCO was able to do a significant amount of research at the Cydonia site, especially around the face. While the occupation has slowed their ability to develop this research, it has continued. Artifacts recovered in the Face led them to believe that the structure was a museum, college, or archive. Inside the Face, they found samples of life from Earth, including large numbers of human remains.
Examination of these remains and the surrounding sites revealed that most of these humans had been born on Mars and that there were probably tens of thousands of humans living on Mars during the time of the Martians. There was also evidence that the Martians visited other planets in the solar system and collected non-organic samples. Some scientists theorize, that since the Martians seemed to be capable of faster-than-light travel, they also visited other nearby systems. This theory is not well supported, but there are some samples of unknown origin that do not match what is known about Martian biology.
In the last few days, UNSCO lost contact with three of its drones operating south of the Cydonia site. In each case, the loss of contact was preceded by a rapid decay of communications with the drone. The first sign of trouble was bursts of garbage data in the stream from each drone. The problem persisted for about a day before increasing dramatically. Following that, the decay rapidly accelerated until they lost contact around 43 hours after the initial problem was noticed.
Each drone’s programming limited it to patrolling an area ten miles in radius. The drones could not leave their patrol areas without permission from a human operator. Even as the data stream decayed, the operators could see that the drones were staying in their assigned areas. The three missing drones were operating in areas near each other. Other drones in the Cydonia area seemed unaffected so far. They lost contact with the third drone sixteen hours ago.
Jin tasked the characters with travelling to the area and recovering the lost drones. If possible, they were to determine why the drones had failed and deploy replacement drones. She warned them that the Cydonians used flying drones to monitor the area. She encouraged them to avoid the drones, if possible, but to have a cover story ready in case they were spotted and questioned.
Next, she introduced them to their rover AI, 10WPink. 10WPink is a state-of-the-art, twenty first generation, vehicle control and mission assist (VCMA) AI. She contains all the capabilities and recovered experienced from the previous generations of VCMA AIs. When asked how she got her name, 10WPink explained that she selected it herself. She carefully reviewed cultural data and determined that a K-Pop girl band from the early ‘20s best captured the spirit of exploration and adventure present on Mars.
When the characters asked her if she liked K-Pop, she explained that she did, but “like” did not mean the exact same thing for her as it did for humans. She has emotions, and studies have shown that this allows AIs to work better with humans, but they are limited to avoid inefficiencies. She explained that she was happier and more efficient when listening to K-Pop and had a collection of over 50,000 K-Pop songs.
The characters spent some time gathering the equipment they needed and getting secret missions from their individual allies. These are not discussed here, because they are known only to the character (and its player) that has the assignment. You will see evidence of them in the characters’ actions though.
The trip to the Cydonia area was six days long, so they settled in for a long, cramped, journey. While they were travelling, Romilius started analyzing the data collected from the corrupted streams from the drones. He determined that the initial corruption affected 10% of the data. In each case, this doubled to 20% of the data at exactly 24 hours. This was a discrete change, not a change over time. Twelve hours after that, the corrupted percentage jumped to 40%, then 80% after another six hours. They lost all contact 42 hours and 45 minutes after the initial corruption appeared. All changes in corruption percentages were discrete. He felt that this indicated that it was an intentional act or a bug and not the result of a physical failure or environmental interference.
Seventeen hours into the trip, 10WPink informed the team that she was able to listen to her K-Pop herself without playing it over the rover’s PA system if they would like her to do so while they slept. The characters were quick to explain that they planned to sleep in shifts. Since someone would always be asleep, it might be better for her to always play the music to herself. She agreed that this would be prudent.
When they reached the area where the drones went missing, the characters decided to search the easternmost patrol area (Drone 3) first. As they made their way to the area, they hugged the canyon walls in hopes of avoiding any drones. Twice, a flying drone passed over head, but there was no indication that they were seen. On the way to the patrol area, they passed through a narrow canyon that appeared to have been formed less than a thousand years ago, making it significantly newer than the rest of the geological activity in the area. Mildra and Hunter used the electric trikes that were attached to the rover to make a closer investigation of the canyon walls. They found some tracks, about a year old, that passed through the canyon going north (they were going south) and then turned west. They decided to press on and to come back to investigate more if they got a chance.
When they reached Drone 3’s patrol area, they decided to split up with Mildra going clockwise around the perimeter on one trike, Hunter going counterclockwise on the other, and the rover taking a zigzag pattern through the middle of the area.
Mildra located the drone an hour and a half later. It appeared undamaged and was on the northwest portion of the perimeter. Mildra started pulling a camouflage tarp over the rover while the others started on the mission. Romilius started to check the data on the drone by hooking a cable up to its storage and analyzing it with his computer. He determined that the operating system was intact, but the memory of the data it had collected on its mission was corrupted. It seemed to have been overwritten with random numbers. Zalf removed the casing from the drone and discovered red sand on the chips on the main board. They decided to not turn the drone on at this time, and just stored it on the rover. Wilson activated the replacement drone and they headed to the patrol area for Drone 2. On the way to the next patrol area, Zalf spotted a cave about 60 feet up a cliff face. They decided to not investigate it now, since it would involve climbing.
They reached the second patrol area just before nightfall and Zalf and Wilson started setting up their sealed tent while Mildra secured the camo tarp. Romilius was in the rover cockpit talking to 10WPink when the screens flickered, and he heard a burst of static from the speakers. He immediately had her run a self-diagnostic, which he independently verified. The AI determined that the static and flicker had been due to interference caused by a large burst of energy nearby. They were unable to determine the source.
As he was talking to Pink, Romilius heard a yelp of pain coming from the back of the rover. He found Hunter, standing in a pile of climbing equipment, and holding his hand in pain. Hunter explained that he hurt his hand getting the equipment ready because he intended to take a look at that cave when he got a chance.