BLACK MOON RISING - A DIVINITY SOLO ACTUAL PLAY - EP. 1
In the first episode of this (probably short) solo campaign, a zealous machine and its pilot find themselves stranded on a strange moon.
Going off of my post about using episodes as a narrative structure for roleplay, I decided I'd start my next solo game (maybe a campaign? we'll see) by using this method to keep myself from getting demotivated.
I actually started this with the 24XX SRD for this in a session that ended up becoming the background for this first episode. I wasn't satisfied with how it was gong, though, and ditched the game for a much simpler system I created: Divinity. Divinity is not a published RPG or anything like that. In fact, the actual rules of this game are fairly simple. It is meant to be played solo. It is meant to largely focus on feelings, but also keeping the story moving. I don't have any special mechanics that keep the story moving, but I'm routinely using a deck of tarot cards as an oracle for what people are feeling and saying. I am also using a simple d6 yes/no/and/but oracle for those questions where I'm unsure about something, but most of this game is fiction-first.
Arianne Roxbury is a Divinity pilot. The Divinities are engaged in a holy war with the Empire, which spans a significant number of star systems. They are giant metal frames, inhabited by something alien and telepathic, and are semi-autonomous. That's about all I knew going into this, everything else has come up organically. Before arriving on this moon, Arianne's ship went down over a moon called Deep Funeral, where an active interstellar Gate happened to be. Arianne and Ambition, her Divinity, had a standoff with Imperial forces led by Major Cliff Cordam Blommas of the Mobile Defense Corps. Ambition barely survived, and the shelling on the Gate's position destroyed it shortly after Arianne and her Divinity passed through it.
After escaping the Imperial forces on Deep Funeral through a Gate, Arianne and what's left of Ambition, the Divinity, are alone in a desert of black sand and glass. The sun, coming up on the horizon, is a distant eye in the sky, casting its pale blue judgement on the world below.
What's here? Long darting serpents glide quickly over the sand, all pointing in the same direction. Out there, spires stand out, birds circling them.
How's Ambition doing? I know that the Gate really messed him up.
Poor shape. I keep hearing the word "sick" in my mind. The creature in the metal, deep down in there, is exposed where the metal and wires were torn. A shimmering red ribbon, pulsating, vibrating. In my mind, the image of a tuning fork being struck over and over and over again.
Ambition is in no shape to move on his own. He is sick. There is a lot of work that would need to be done to restore him to an operational state. Ambition, you'll need to stay here for now. There's no telling what's out here, but there's certainly no way to move the giant hulking mass, and the sand might exacerbate the situation.
Every few seconds, it vibrates. The red, ribbon material. It stretches between the left arm and the shoulder. Looking hard, looking deep, it's hard to tell what that really is. All I know is that it unsettles me. I don't know what it really is. But there in the distance, where the spires are, maybe there's someone there that can help, and importantly, tell us where we even are. It doesn't seem like Imperial space, though. I've never heard of a moon with black sands.
The sun's rising, though. It's hot, and the sand and glass is only getting hotter. I'm sorry, Ambition, I don't want you to have to go through this. But if I don't stay in your shade, I might bake too. I lay in the shade of his metal body, the ribbons pulsing faster in the light. Deep whooshing sounds, like breathing. My suit feeds my fluids back to me as I listen to the labored breathing, or maybe heartbeat, of the thing inside the machine. Hours pass, I fall asleep, but I can hear the Divinity struggling even in my dreams of home.
What do I dream about?
I dream of water. Lots of water. I don't want it, but a hand keeps passing me a glass. "Drink," the voice says. I try to push it away. I thought I was under a tree, but I'm in the black desert, alone. "Drink," it insists. More water. I try, but I can't keep it down. It spills onto the sand, where it evaporates before my eyes. Another glass. I try, but it runs down my chin and my neck. "Drink," it says, passing me another cup. But I push it away, and dip my cup into the sand. What if I drank the whole desert? The cup of black sand is a cup of black oil, or something else viscous. I drink it and it burns my throat.
I wake up, parched. The sun is setting, and Ambition is louder than earlier. I wish I knew what that thing inside of it was, because then I feel like I would somehow be able to help. I don't know that it would change anything, though. The spires in the distance are lit up, and the sun is receding into the distance. It's time to get moving.
… ... ...
In the dark of night, I walk to the spires, glowing blue and yellow lights against the deep blue sky. They look like jagged teeth, and I feel shifting in the sands. Something very large is here, and it knows I'm here too. But I don't know what it is. I feel naked, almost, without Ambition with me. Rising up from the sand, a black mass emerges, moving away, traveling. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't notice me.
The cold winds howl as I near the spires. Towering monuments of civilization, each with a base like they meant to build a ziggurat, but forgot what they were doing. The buildings stretch upward, narrowing and bulging out in odd places, with many windows where lanterns are hung. Many people are out right now, I could hear their shouting from a distance. Crowded around a small rectangular building, a crowd is yelling and they have spears and scythes drawn. It seems like it would be a bad idea to approach them, so I stay close to the tall buildings, moving through the alleyways formed by houses and shops. The stone bricks beneath my feet are still warm from the day – I can feel the warmth radiating off of them.
I approach a canal, where several long, narrow boats are moored. I need to find someone, some kind of mechanic or machine whisperer, who can help me repair Ambition. What if I don't? It would be like losing a part of myself if Ambition died. Can it die?
Where can I find someone like that here? And what's with that crowd back there? Maybe I could find someone to ask about these things. As I walk around, I peer into different buildings. Some are homes, others are places of business, and everyone is occupied with something. The vibe here is strange, uneasy. However, I find a man standing outside, smoking near the canal. He has a stern face and a long beard. I ask him if he knows a machine whisperer. He says he does, but wants to know what kind of person is seeking one out right now.
Should I be honest? Thinking back on my past, everyone I've met has known exactly what the Divinities are for: violence. Some regarded them as a symbol of the end times, and I can't blame them. They're huge, powerful, and the machines the Imperial forces use are hardly much different on the outside. It might be safest to lie. Once the machine whisperer is out there, they'll know either way.
I tell him my ship went down out in the desert, but it's an experimental craft that can't be taken to a normal shipwright at a local spaceport. How does he react? He nods sagely and accepts what I've told him, saying that his friend would have much to gain from speaking to something different from what they usually get around here.
What's with the commotion in the heart of the city?
Recently, economic instability caused by local warlords has made it difficult for people to feed their families. Many people are upset by the local government's unwillingness to try and negotiate better prices, and there's far too many people who could die if the skyrocketing food prices continue. The man I'm speaking to is likewise very upset about it, and thinks that the government could be hoarding food. If he got his hands on the mayor, he explains, he would force the man to distribute the food stock by himself. In this moment, I'm pretty grateful that I only ate about half a day ago.
Denez, the older man, agrees to take me to his friend Koru, the machine whisperer. I'm really hoping they won't react poorly when they find out what Ambition really is. But maybe if we can get Ambition moving again, we could help these people before moving on.
… … …
Early morning and Koru, Denez, and I are walking out into the sands alongside a hoversled full of equipment. The two old men are more used to this terrain than I am, striding confidently, while I struggle with some of the shifting. I ask them about the thing I saw in the sands last night. They refer to it as the Great Beggar, a creature of dependence. It takes whatever it can get its jaws around – lost items, riding animals, people, and even machinery like tractors and sleds.
… … …
"How much to buy your 'ship?'" Denez asks. I say that he's not for sale. Koru asks what it is. I think for a while about the question, and tell him that Ambition is my friend... or something like it. I explain what the Divinities are, great machines pulled from the depths of a distant moon, prophets from an ancient past who share the Hasmayuk, the vision of a near future where the structure of Imperial space will shift radically. I elect to leave out the part about the Imperial mission to try to prevent the coming future.
We near the towering form sitting in the sands. How is Ambition doing at this point? I wasn't there when they pulled the Divinities out of the enormous fissure on their moon, First Mourning. That was long before my time. But I see it, in my mind, lights shining down into cold, black darkness. Another metal form, whose name rings out in my ears: Benevolence. It feels nostalgic, like simpler times. Ambition and I certainly have the same thing on our minds – it's quite the situation we've gotten ourselves into.
The sun gleams off the crimson and yellow metal of Ambition's frame. I ask Koru if he thinks he can fix the damage. He says it will be difficult. For one, he has never worked on something like this. And furthermore, it will be difficult to get the resources, with the way that the warlords have been lately.
[I don't care to be stalled on progress continually, as I think it hampers the story and gameplay, so my question here will not be of whether we can get the resources, but rather how long it will take and whether the warlords will know before we deal with them. I have a holy war to participate in, after all.]
I agree to do what I can to help. I happen to be a decent electronics specialist and pretty fit. We devise a plan: the parts we need would be kept in a storage facility operated by a nearby warlord. We will need to go there, steal the parts, and get back to Ambition and repair him, without being noticed. Denez agrees to join us, as he believes there's a good chance this will keep his family safe if everything goes right.
Night comes, and under cover of darkness, we approach a walled compound. An empty hoversled is waiting. The lighting inside casts strange shadows, and it's unclear whether there's anyone inside. There's noise like equipment moving, but it's at regular intervals, and we are stricken with doubt. Maybe this isn't a good idea. What if Denez is killed? I look at him, and I'm reassured by how calm he looks. I have to remember, these people have been under the thumb of violent powers all their lives. I wouldn't begrudge him if he were afraid or wanted to turn back, but neither of these things are true of this man. He holds his blade tightly and is keeping a close eye on the door.
As though we were meant for this, Denez and I enter slowly and determine it's clear inside. Skillfully, we dismount the parts and electronics we need from various pallets, belts, and workstations. If anyone is there, they're hiding well and not making themselves known. We get the equipment out to the sled. We aren't noticed, but a band of the warlord's soldiers are returning in a crawler, all of them rowdy. I have an idea – I bolt back inside before they see us and grab some vests off a rack, and the three of us throw one on.
The soldiers stop to question us, asking us if we are keeping things secure. They are apparently serious about the question. One of the others starts to speak, and I interject with details about how we are strapping things down to make sure nothing falls off the sled, and there was nobody of note out here. They respond to this pretty politely, thanking us before they start driving off again, passing around a bottle of alcohol and beginning to yell excitedly about something.
Denez is dropped off just outside the city, and he says he'll see us soon. We return to Ambition promptly. He communicates to me a feeling of respect, but it's hard to suss out more than that, and he doesn't care to provide anything beyond it. Koru and I begin to get to work. We have to be resourceful with the materials we've gathered, but the pulsating ribbons within Ambition's frame are covered up, at least. The whole time, I hear nothing from him, however. His eyes are dark, and I can hear the faint hum of his frame's electrical systems, but he says nothing.
When we finish, Ambition is in an operational state, but he's not quite back to normal. He does not have his full range of motion, and he does not feel confident about his current state. However, there is something we must do. Koru steps back as Ambition's frame begins to move. Casting long, dark shadows by the desert sun, Ambition lifts me up as he stands, and I slide into the pilot's booth, underneath and offset to the left of his head. It's been baking in here.
...There's something different about fighting on the ground, against people. Against humans, in the flesh. I've fought the Empire's war machines, shot down fighters in surface defense posts, and sunk a watership full of Imperial sailors besieging a port. I've never had to be quite so close to them. The warlord's forces are dug in at their compound, taking their position. We take long pieces of metal pipes from a construction area nearby as they pelt us with bullets and low-phase plasma weapons. We hurled a pipe like a javelin into their position. I guess, I didn't know people could be shaped like that. Ambition and the soldiers both took damage, but it's much worse for them. I don't know why this should be any different. Maybe because they were born and raised here, while the Imperials are bright-eyed colonial psychopaths from several star systems away.
Later, I look at the city, where people are lining up to collect food that was being stockpiled by the warlord. They cheered when we entered town, but they should have been screaming. I know I helped them, and I needed a way to get Ambition back, but I didn't think I'd be feeling this way. They're taking pictures of us, him kneeling and I atop his shoulder, hanging on to a handhold above the pilot's booth. I can feel what he's feeling, and I know he's not even broadcasting it, just radiating it: he's happy, being praised like this, being adored by these people. I struggle to smile for the cameras and the people shouting kind words to us.
Something else enters my mind, however. We can't be raising too high of a profile. From what I heard, the warlords are no joke, but I've seen what Imperial occupation looks like. Streets full of soldiers, people pulled from their homes and interrogated by psy-police, and the convenient excuse to bring another planet under their subjugation under the pretense of "special police action." I couldn't bear to bring that to them with our presence. So the next step is clear: we need to get offworld as soon as possible.
We're needed elsewhere, anyway. The Emperor's holy war against the Divinities and the coming Hasmayuk presents an existential threat for both of us. Ambition seems to pick up on what I'm feeling, and takes me to Denez. He is happy to see me, and we hug one another, but I tell him I need to leave, as it wouldn't be safe for either of us. He still doesn't know about what the Empire wants from us, and is confused as to why we would need to leave so soon, but he doesn't stop me. He tells me where the nearest spaceport is, and together with Koru, we prepare a sled to conceal Ambition's shape.
The spaceport is as busy as any other, and I learn where we came out from that Gate: Doubtful Gallery, a non-aligned moon a number of systems away from Deep Funeral, where our ship went down. Koru has a contact here who can organize our passage to Brass Temple, in Divinity-controlled space. We part ways, and he asks that I get Ambition repaired soon, as his frame is in no condition to continue our mission, whatever we're really up to. I tell him I will, and I wish him good luck.