Worm d20: The Fourteen
The final dice roll clattered across the table and came to a stop in the middle of the map, nearly knocking over the miniature positioned there.
Colin merely lifted an eyebrow and then retreated behind his screen to scribble down some notes. The woman sitting across from him slumped against her chair's backrest and leaned over slightly.
Lily took the hint and lifted a hand to pat Sabah's shoulder consolingly. She narrowed her eyes at their classmate. "Colin, don't be such a dick."
"I don't roll the dice, I just tell you what they mean."
Sabah shrugged her shoulders, throwing off the other woman's arm and straightened in her seat. "What are my escape options?" she asked.
"Tell us where Grue is," Taylor said menacingly. "Now."
"As if I'm going to just tell you," Cherie retorted in a mocking tone. "Especially with such a straightforward demand. I thought you were clever."
"Skitter's more of a Hulk-smash type of person channeled through millions of tiny minions," Sarah pointed out. "I like to think that I'm the brains of this little operation."
The blonde ignored her outburst. "We'll start simple," she told the woman leaning against her brother. "What would you want in exchange for your help? Your release?"
"How about…" the darker haired girl twirled her pinky around her dyed lock of hair before lowering the tip towards the side of her mouth. "One bi~illion helicopters. And one dollar."
Paul shifted in his chair, unsuccessfully trying to shrug Cherie away from him. "She's already bleeding out. We could just accelerate the process."
"Won't work," Sarah sighed at the same time Cherie tossed out her own reply.
"All members of the Nine have received, ah, reinforcements from their little Tinker girl." Cherie lifted up her character sheet and flipped it so that she could scan her background section. "By… this 'Bonesaw'. Mesh sheaths for every major artery and organ, with some extra reinforcements along the bones."
"Cool," Taylor breathed.
"Suffice to say, physical threats mean little to me at this point," Cherie concluded. "So, rather than that, how about we have ourselves a little game."
Sarah quirked an eyebrow. "Go on…"
"Test your perceptive abilities against mine? Some intellectual jousting?"
"Um," Brian interrupted. "Can we move on? She's stalling. She knows time's on her side, because you guys need to rescue Grue sooner than later. The longer we wait, the worse my position is." He glanced around and his face fell as he saw the two women glaring at each other. "…please?"
"I know your schtick, Tattletale," Cherie said. "You pick at people's weaknesses, tell them stuff they don't want to know. I can do the same thing. In fact, I'm better at it than you are.""
Sarah blinked, then grinned. "You've read my backstory? All of it? Didja like it?"
"That tiny little thing? Please. It was the most boring thing I have ever read. And I've read Fifty Shades."
"She has…" Paul glumly reported, one hand hovering across his brow. "Out loud. In my room. And she wouldn't stop."
"Bring it on… In-character only," Sarah—Tattletale reminded her.
"Would not have it any other way," Cherish replied with a smile.
Taylor fidgeted in her seat. "Colin? Do we have to sit through this? Can't we just tie her up in the middle of a lake or something and just go hunting?"
Colin clasped his hands together. "Hey, roleplaying is the main purpose of this game. If it means I don't need to do anything, so much the better. I'm allowing it."
Taylor tapped a pencil against her character sheet. "How much control do I have over my bugs?"
"Depends, what did you have in mind?"
"Well, it's already been pointed out that I can sort of get audio feedback from the swarm and translate the vibrations into sounds I can hear, right?"
"Hmm… maybe, but I would say you can't consciously pull that power up just yet." Colin spread his hands in a can't-do-anything-about-that gesture. "Same would go for sight. You can still track things they're on or near, but it won't be the same as 'seeing' through your swarm."
"Fair 'nuff," Taylor conceded. "What about sounds?"
"I just said you can't—"
"No, no. The individual bugs are already controlling their wing pitch in order to manoeuvre within their places in the swarm itself. How does that translate to sound?" The brunette adjusted her glasses and leaned across the table. "Can I make the swarm speak for me?"
"What are you planning?"
"I'm gonna go ask the Protectorate capes to back us up. They can't be much happier with the Nine either."
"The Protectorate, huh? That sounds pretty interesting… and creepy. I'll allow it."
"Great, then since we're still at Coil's I requisition a microphone and a mini-camera for the parts I can't handle and I'll go pay them a visit…"
"That was a very nice speech," Colin declared. "Very heartfelt. Miss Militia and Legend really feel for you."
"Great!" Taylor pumped her fists. "When do we go?"
"Oh, they weren't Persuaded. At all." Colin shrugged.
"You were trying to negotiate through a swarm of bugs. Do you have any idea how creepy that is?"
"I rolled an eighteen!"
"Your Persuasion isn't that high to begin with and you're taking a skill penalty for the bugs. What did you think would happen?"
"Legend promises not to get in your way and even wishes you luck. But he's not budging."
"So," Sarah said. "That's the plan? Any questions?"
"I was a lot more comfortable with the risky plan when it was something I thought of," Taylor replied.
"Hey, speak for yourself. You're not the one who's had to constantly live with not being directly involved in our encounters and getting three-quarters experience. I'm underleveled."
"The perils of being Mission Control."
"You all are dropped off a few blocks away from the apartment complex," Colin announced. "Trickster disembarks and Genesis begins to form up near you." He positioned the miniatures into place then looked across the table.
"I-I guess I get out here too," Rachel said. "I start using my powers on Bastard, Sirius, and Bentley."
"I have Shatterbird land next to us," Paul said.
"Is that safe?" Brian asked. "Not that I'm questioning you, per se… but I'd rather this rescue op didn't go balls-up, y'know?"
"Safe enough," Paul replied. "As long as we're not separated too far from each other, we should be good."
Aisha stretched out her hand and rapped her knuckles against the table's wooden surface.
"I'm ready," Taylor said, "but what's now?"
"Now?" Sarah replied. "Now we wait."
"Wait for wha—"
"Skitter, I'd just like to point out that this is a fairly large and intact apartment complex," Colin said. "Especially considering the ruins Leviathan's attack left on the city, you can bet there will be plenty of civilians having made this place their refuge."
"And from what information Tattletale was able to glean from Cherish—"
Sarah smirked at Cherie, who turned up her nose and harrumphed.
"—the Nine have been here for quite some time."
Colin hesitated for a brief moment as everyone else traded glances. After several seconds he closed his eyes and rubbed one hand against his temples. "Does the phrase 'collateral damage' mean anything to you?"
Taylor tilted her head in thought for a brief moment, then narrowed her eyes. "No," she said heatedly.
Blink. "You really don't—"
"Yes, I know what it means! No, I'm not going to let you do this to me!"
"There could be as many as thirty innocent—"
"We ignore them," Taylor said. "This whole thing is tricky enough without having to split our focus on different tasks."
"Sounds like a plan," Paul agreed.
"Roll for it," Colin said.
"Son of a—"
Rachel squeaked. Or coughed. She squoughed.
"—of a mother."
"Tattletale, Regent and Genesis' Bluff checks succeeded. The Empire is now moving into the area."
Sarah smirked at Paul. "Don't get your new toy killed now."
"So many rolls," he grumbled good-naturedly.
"So now we sit back and let the neo-Nazis do all of our work for us in clearing the area," Brian summarised. "I like this plan. Now what's your plan for getting me out?"
"And me," Aisha chimed in.
"…and us out?"
"You're strong. It's only been half a day. I'm sure you're fine," Paul told him.
"Half a day? He is doomed," Cherie said smugly.
Taylor made a series of rolls and pointed at the rectangle that was their target building. "Perception checks with my skill die," she announced. "What do I find?"
"Many, many, many, many people," Colin announced.
"With my skill die," she repeated.
Colin scribbled a note and beckoned Taylor behind the divider so she could read her findings there. "The Nine are there. But so are nearly the entirety of the building's tenants. A few near the exits, but a good portion of them seem to be locked in with the group."
"They're not moving to engage the Empire's forces?" she asked as she returned to her seat.
"Not a twitch."
"Gahh… I move my bugs in to warn what civvies I can and give them escape routes."
"That increases the chances you'll be noticed, roll a Stealth check."
"I hate fixing collateral damage…"
Sarah stared down at the flood of new tokens on the map. "They can't tell who's real and who's not?"
"If Skitter hadn't already pinpointed them in the first place, you guys would be just as confused. Bonesaw's Disguise skill pretty much trumps most everyone's Perception checks. The only reason anyone is even hesitant is because there are duplicates in the crowd. Five Crawlers tends to be noticeable." Colin rolled several more dice. "The Nine are entering the fight here, here, here, here, annnd here. Everyone except Bonesaw has left the building!" He picked his head up and grinned across the table.
The rest of the group was focused on the map, everyone quiet as they took in the changed situation.
Colin's smile faded. "…Left the building… guys?"
Sarah shushed him with a raised hand and quiet hiss. "Your sense of humor has left the building. The Nine are not Elvis. Now hush and let me think."
"I-I can too be quiet!" Rachel whined.
"Rache, not liking to talk and not making a noise are two entirely different things," Sarah replied, not unkindly. "And your dogs can get really noisy when indoors."
Rachel puffed out her cheeks and opened her mouth to argue when a series of sharp barks erupted from the kitchen. The fight in her eyes died out and she slumped against her chair for a moment before pushing away from the table to see what was bothering Angelica.
"…Right," Colin said. "So Hellhound remains outside with Regent to secure your exit. The rest of you are now inside." He carefully picked up the board and moved it to an adjacent table, then unrolled a new map displaying the building's floorplan.
Paul poked at a scribble near where Colin was setting their tokens. "Is that a bear?"
"What. The fuck?" Brian said.
"Language!" Aisha crowed. She smiled beatifically as her older brother turned to her. She responded with a raspberry.
"Well, good news Brian," Taylor said. "You're uh… alive."
"What… the fuck…"
"Well you're not exactly in one piece," Paul said. "But like the lady said, you're alive."
Sarah poked her pencil at a series of interlocking lines resembling a simplified scrawl of tree branches. "So… if he's been eviscerated—"
Rachel quickly stood up and walked away from the room, looking rather pale-faced.
"—are these his intestines?"
"Those? Ah, no, those are his nerves."
"...o-Oh. Okay then…" Sarah flipped her pencil around and gently nudged her token with the eraser, shifting it back one space.
An awkward silence fell across the table as everyone pointedly averted their gaze from the DM.
"…You think if I poked them, he'd feel it?"
"Burst area of effect from… here. Sneak attack bonus. What are your guys' AC?" Colin peered over the DM screen to scan their sheets and grunted. "Tattletale, roll a save versus Paralysis."
"Argh," Sarah growled. "We triggered a trap? I was looking for traps!"
"So you were," Colin agreed. He added a new miniature to the table. "That was Bonesaw. I told you her Disguise skills beat most of your Perception checks."
The blonde glared at her results. "I'm pretty sure this is a failure."
"Yeah… you're paralysed. Skitter you're fine. Her darts lodged themselves in your armour."
Taylor clasped her hands and began to crack her knuckles. Then she paused and blinked. "Darts? Not dart?"
"Three of them. I need to rewrite some of my tables for piercing and slashing attacks. That silk armour is hax."
"Mwahaha." The brunette flicked her hand almost casually towards the new token. "Bees. Go my pretties~"
Colin shifted Bonesaw's miniature back one square, then began adding more tokens to the board.
"See all those corpses? They were being puppeted earlier, giving you a fake headcount for the people inside. Wanna know what was controlling them? These guys."
Taylor glared at the numerous pieces now surrounding her own token. "Spiders."
"I… sure let's go with that. Robot spiders, each roughly the size of an un-modified Angelica. Biology aside, she's still a—"
"Biology includes biochemistry, by the way. Hows your defense against aerosol attacks?"
"Best. Rescue. Ever," Brian deadpanned.
"Well, we found you and Imp," Sarah defended. "So I'd say we've achieved eighty-percent of our objectives. All that's left to do now is… escape."
"You're all paralysed," Aisha said. "Taylor's stacked on top of me like some sort of… human… stacky-thingy."
"I am so glad we aren't inside with them," Paul stage-whispered towards Rachel.
"Colin," Taylor said.
"My power has always been sort of a mental one, right? I've never needed to use my arms to control my swarm."
"I'm paralysed. Not unconscious."
"Why yes; yes you are."
"…Bees. Bees, wasps, spiders, everything."
"Roll a… Wisdom check for mental fortitude."
Taylor glared at him but obligingly rolled her die.
"A mere annoyance," Colin announced. "Although you can still use your powers, the gas she hit you with is also screwing with your control."
"Also, BioTinker. She's made herself immune to pretty much every poison you can field."
"I hate you so much."
Rachel had long since fled the room. Sarah could hear soft sounds coming from the kitchen, but she wasn't quite sure if it was the redhead or her dog vocalising the whimpers.
"You're trying to cut my head open!" Taylor screeched.
"Your silk is broken!" Colin testily replied. "How the heck can a light armour have such a high AC?!"
"I'm curious to know why a character named Bonesaw is resorting to using a circular saw."
Sarah grimaced and pressed the heel of her hand against her brow. "Paul. Not the time."
Colin tipped the token indicating the stuffed bear over. "For the record, Sabah was in here the other day pre-fighting this particular encounter. So you can just blame her for not succeeding in saving you guys."
"No… no, we're still totally blaming you."
"Anyhow, you guys are still paralysed, Parian is down… Jack Slash returns with Burnscar. The others are still having a bit of fun between the Empire and the remnants of the Dolltown residents."
"I'd just like to point out that this is the creepiest campaign I have ever played. And I've run Call of Cthulu."
The DM lifted his head and squinted at the speaker. "Yeah?"
Brian was flipping through a notebook. "Parahuman abilities basically came from our Trigger events, right?"
Colin threw a glance towards Sarah who was leaning back in her chair—eyes closed and happily worrying at a stick of chewing gum. "Yes?"
"Trigger events are the worst days of our lives. The points where we're at our absolute lowest and most despair-filled moments, right?"
"And from some of the descriptions of the parahumans you've introduced to us, as well as some of the lore you gave us—we're not limited to just one Trigger."
"…This could be one interpretation of the information," Colin agreed, gritting his teeth.
Sarah's smile grew as the noise of her chewing grew slightly louder.
Brian snapped the notebook shut and reached for his bag. He rummaged around for a few moments before pulling out a new character sheet and tossing it onto the table. "I've been butchered alive. I've got the setting's most notorious group of criminal masterminds in front of me. My friends and sister are being threatened with death. Right in front of me. And I'm completely conscious of the whole thing and I'm filling up an entire walk-in freezer.
"I think I'm due for a class-change."
Taylor's eyes widened behind her glasses and she slowly brought her hands up and clapped them together. "You have learned well, Young Grasshopper," she said in whispered tone of awe.
Brian grinned, though his smile didn't quite reach his eyes as he adjusted his own spectacles. "I've had some good teachers."
Rachel stared at Brian, then at Taylor, then back and forth several more times before she whipped out a paper bag and began to hyperventilate.
(a/n)—apologies for the late update. i shall do the honourable thing and blame school like all of the other cool kids.