Vortex is a special adventure for me for two reasons. It was not the first Numenera adventure I ran since picking up the Corebook, but it was the start of my first full campaign. More importantly this was the adventure that brought my wife (Jen) back to the RPG table since her first and previously last adventure in 1998. Jen’s one condition was that she play a Doctor Who inspired character, and so Oswin, the Intelligent Nano who Fuses Flesh with Steel, was born. Jen’s friend Sarah also decided to join in the fray alongside her fiancé Tom. Both Tom and Sarah were new to role-playing games but were able to create a pair of characters from scratch without difficulty: Torrent, a Clever Jack who Rides the Lightning and Silus, a Stealthy Jack who Exists Partially out of Phase. Nate, a friend of Sarah and Tom’s whom I met at one of our local game club functions, wanted a character that was the embodiment of a certain famous green-capped Nintendo hero, and so Lynq, the Rugged Glaive who Explores Dark Places was born. Finally, to round out our crew my old gaming buddy Frank decided to give Numenera a shot with Trevor, a Strong-Willed Nano who Commands Mental Powers.
The characters in this story were traversing the edge of the Dark Hills, passing through Draolis and into Southern Navarene following a successful numenera hunting excursion. While trekking through this part of the country they came across a strange structure sticking out of the ground through a stream. Upon closer investigation the structure seemed to have recently erupted from the ground, however there was no clear way to enter. Footprints surrounding the structure and a possible “keyhole” proved that there were others interested in this discovery. Not long after finding this out a small troupe of monks arrived demanding that the party remove themselves from the scene. The monks, clad in purple robes, claimed that the site was sacred to them and offered a few shins to get the characters to leave. Oswin was only interested in their hoverboard cypher, so eventually they pestered the monks enough to get them to hand it over in return for leaving the area. Silus, however, merged with a tree and observed the departure of the structure, which burrowed deep within the ground.
At first it seemed like the structure was gone and no traces were left of the weird monks, but Silus saw a sack floating away from the scene down the quick moving stream. Lynq took off after the sack, which must’ve been left by one of the monks. Not wanting possible clues to disappear, Lynq jumped into the stream and tore open the bag, finding a big load of vegetables, dried meat, preserves, and a notebook. The notebook had several maps of the surrounding area, and also seemed to show that the precise area where the structure appeared was predicted, and that it would appear 10 days later about 80 miles north. Needing more information, and interested in where the monks acquired the floating disk and the supplies, the characters set off for Jutte, 6 miles away.
The quiet village of Jutte was unknown to the party, not famous for anything, not even their Entolodons (pig-sized hippos bred for their milk and eggs). It seemed like two folks in the village were interested in the hoverboard… a varjellen merchant and Jackoby, owner of Jacoby’s Jink. The varjellen, a traveling trader named Maleen, was fairly chatty for a visitant, and sought information regarding the monks from the characters, just as they asked questions of the same. He seemed interested because he had seen similar monks a century earlier. While talking with the varjellen, however, a bunch of street toughs showed up, threatening the party for talking to “dirty visitants.” The gangers sure were lucky that Oswin stepped in before Lynq did, as the nano used her sleep inducing ring to put the first one out, causing him to knock into the second and drop him from consciousness as well. For their help, Maleen offered to meet the party later at the local tavern to discuss the monks.
The party questioned Jacoby a bit as well, but all he could tell the party was that the monks had purchased the hoverboard cypher from him and he had a few other oddities for sale. Unfortunately the party didn’t have a use for a crystal that shattered and reformed every few seconds, three six-fingered gloves, or a belt buckle made of tin that weighed as much as lead.
At the tavern later Maleen told the party that he had seen similar monks a century before when in Nilhiesh to the south. At that time there were at least thirty members of the well-formed Cult of the Vortex, a name he could pull from the symbols on the traveling structure that Oswin could remember. Knowing that the structure would be back in about 10 days time, Maleen offered to fund an expedition into the structure’s depths in search of cyphers, artifacts, and oddities. He had a small herd of aneen that could take the party to the site, deep within Navarene, set up tents and rest stations, and help with taking extra cyphers through the Steadfast. The party agreed to pay 25% of their take to Maleen and his associate Kel, and they decided to set out the next morning.
With a plan in mind the intrepid band of Numenera Hunters set out with the two Varjellen merchants and their pack animals to the expected location that the weird structure was expected to appear again. Although they didn’t notice at first, once they started making camp on the first night they saw that their caravan was being followed by six bandits… the visitant hating street toughs that caused them difficulty the day before. The six were riding a slow, but steady moving caterpillar shaped creature called a gretzk. The thugs called for the party to hand over the visitants, a demand that the adventurers just weren’t going to accept. With a low growl Lynq stepped forward, followed by the rest of the party, and they prepared to throw down. The thugs weren’t much of a match for the party and they quickly fell, leaving the crew one caterpillar richer.
Eight days later and the party was still waiting for the structure to appear at the predetermined site. Oswin spent a considerable amount of time scanning the field for the exact location, and eventually she sensed that the structure was slowly rising at the bottom of a hill. Oswin grabbed Torrent, and the two waited for the structure to cut through the surface while Silus was nearby, out of phase. About 500 feet out Lynq and Trevor waited out of sight. When the structure was fully surfaced, before the party could react, a young blond girl opened the door and bolted out and started running across the field. Lynq took off after her, and eventually got close enough to call out. His imposing figure was rather intimidating, and when she started to question him, he preferred to defer until Trevor appeared. Once everyone was together she explained that her name was Evanna, and she was an unwilling member of the Cult of the Vortex. She and her brother Shome joined recently, against their will. A terrible “beast of a man” named Abrassal ran the cult, which had been over the years becoming smaller and smaller. Only a dozen or so members remained, and her brother was still down there. She asked that the party would enter the structure, retrieve her brother, and bring him safely to the surface.
With the key to the structure in hand, the party entered and took an elevator down into the bowels of a great chamber. Once exiting the elevator they found themselves in a chamber that was 1,000 feet across with a central platform and 9 raised walkways stretching above an unfathomable drop into utter darkness. Only one path was illuminated, as Evanna had explained, with candles and glow globes. Oswin explored another possible path, but a trio of dead bodies and an unearthly nearly invisible sphere blocking the walkway made it a bit dangerous in appearance.
Taking the chosen path towards the living area for the rest of the cultists Silus moved a bit ahead of the party, and once they were at a large circular chamber, the stealthy jack moved forward and investigated. In the chamber was the large burly man that they had first encountered 10 days earlier, as well as several other cultists. Since the large man, Gregor as Evanna had called him, was the primary threat, a plan was hatched where he would be quickly and fatally dispatched while Silus would speak to the rest of the cultists and force them to see the error of their ways. Well the plan sort of worked. Gregor was critically injured but not killed outright. Silus’s speech kept some of the cultists out of combat, but two of the stronger folks started to join in the conflict. Fast and brutal, Lynq leaped into action against the most deadly of the cultists, joined by the rest of the crew. Gregor was killed, as was Fean, one of the cultist-in-arms who was wielding a powerful artifact. Relle, the most deadly “ninja” in the cult put her weapons down once it appeared like she couldn’t win.
Relle agreed to help the party against Abrassal, whom she explained was hated by most of the cultists, so long as she was left alone to stay in the chambers so that she could be near the Vortex. Between Relle, and then Savra, a matronly woman who also agreed to help the party, they were told that Abrassal lived in a chamber below them, accessible by elevator, and near the Vortex. The Vortex, a portal of light and fire, was worshiped by most of the cult, Savra included. They were also warned that Abrassal had a barrier around himself that kept metal objects from coming within a close distance of him.
It was confirmed that Abrassal had Shome trapped below in his chambers. A plan to dispatch him quickly was put together. With Savra’s help he was poisoned by Oswin with a drug to make him depressed. The Numenera Hunters took the elevator below and broke into his room. When Silus saw Abrassal, the silver tongue of the cult leader caused her to pause before she could do anything. Well Lynq didn’t care about any sexy voice, so he charged forward and clubbed him like a baby seal with a table leg, followed up by Oswin spraying him with a canister of aerosol lubricant. Once on his back Torrent charged in and touched the cult leader with an electrified hand, shocking him greatly. It didn’t take long to put him out of his misery at that point, and Trevor crushed his brain.
It was then that Trevor heard the voice: “The wall is gone. The invitation is open. If you come to where I am, any wish can be granted. But you must dress for the party.”
“If you ‘ride the lightning’ shouldn’t you sound like the guy from Metallica?” Jen had some preconceived notions of the descriptors and foci.
“There is no ‘bright-side’…” Frank was really getting in character for his depressing Nano.
“Climb on my back, I’ll hover over the water!” Jen was pretty sure that Oswin had abilities that she didn’t have.
“My Intellect is like a 3rd grade dropout.” Nate didn’t have much faith in Lynq’s smarts and was just waiting to smack something.
“Do you want to come have a beer and talk about hover board’s later?” Jen used this pick up line on the gamemaster about 16 years earlier.
“The last thing they’ll remember is the smell of lemon.” Frank knew there was a use for Oswin’s intimidating citrus bell.
“You are their dark place!” Tom reflecting on Lynq’s ferocious combat abilities
“I don’t have any social skills, you’ll have to wait for my friend to come back.” Lynq, after chasing down the escaping cultist
“He died… he died sad covered in lube…” Lynq’s words of wisdom.
“Now this is when it turns into Castlevania, and you find out he was the decoy…” Frank predicted the second act!