X-COM (updated M-W-F)
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  1. #1
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    X-COM (updated M-W-F)

    Trying something new this time.

    Readers of my previous stories (all of which are linked in my sig) know that I have thus far posted fictional serials based on a variety of published D&D settings and modules. This story is different. It is based on a Neverwinter Nights (NWN) campaign that I ran during a big chunk of 2008. I have been running campaigns at the matchmaking site NeverwinterConnections.com since NWN was released in 2002, and currently I am running three games there that meet weekly.

    NWN has a dynamic custom content community, which includes the D20 Modern Project, a group that has created a total conversion of the game for the modern setting. The X-COM campaign uses this system and builds on it. The module and this story are based on the classic 1993 game by Microprose Software. The module was originally created by a NeverwinterConnections player named Mulu, which I took and expanded for this campaign. For those who are interested, the module is posted at the Neverwinter Vault. I am currently running the same group through a sequel that I created, roughly based on the 1995 game, X-COM 2: Terror from the Deep.

    This game was played by my Monday night campaign group, over the course of roughly 30 weekly two-hour sessions. I recorded all in-game player conversation logs during the campaign, and got permission from my players to incorporate their characters and dialogues into this story. Because the flow of comments in an online game are often disjoined, I’m revising them as I go and adding descriptions to create a more unified narrative. However, a majority of the dialogue in the story comes directly from my players. They are an awesome group of roleplayers and the story is dedicated to them.

    Here are the characters and their players. The characters started at third level at the start of the campaign. A few of the players didn’t join until later in the campaign; we’ll get to them a bit later. I also trimmed out a few player characters who only attended for a few sessions before dropping out.

    Vasily Kasprjak, Tough Hero/Daredevil, played by Smart Alec

    Catalina De Farrago, Fast Hero/Infiltrator, played by vanya mia

    Jane Swift, Fast Hero/Gunslinger/Sniper, played by Jenniza

    Buzz Olloff, Fast/Smart Hero, played by TheBaldMan

    Dr. James Allen, Dedicated Hero/Field Medic, played by chiz


    If you want to follow the original game thread and its over 1000 posts, visit Neverwinter Connections. In addition to forum roleplaying posts between sessions (encouraged with bonus XP), I ran a “base building” game on the forum to simulate the strategic element of X-COM. Players chose which research and manufacturing priorities they wanted the organization to pursue, which affected the gear they had in the game. I’ve included a guide to this part of the game in the download at the Vault linked above.
    Last edited by Lazybones; Thursday, 3rd September, 2009 at 01:41 AM.

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    Session 1 (April 14, 2008)
    Chapter 1



    Vasily Kasprjak dozed in the cavernous interior of the C-130 transport aircraft. The monstrous plane rattled and shook, its engines filling the interior compartment with a constant roar, but Vasily was not especially troubled by the din; he’d flown in old Tupolev bombers that had felt like they were trying to shake themselves apart.

    Nor was he troubled by the men in khaki who sat across from him, who’d watched his every move since they’d embarked in St. Petersburg sixteen hours ago. They hadn’t exchanged more than a dozen words with him, and their hands never seemed to stray far from their sidearms, but the Americans just couldn’t seem to manage the level of cool malevolence that he was used to from agents of the FSB. That and he knew that if the Americans were willing to go through the trouble of flying this huge plane to Russia to pick him up—and the cost of two aerial refuelings to boot—then it was unlikely that they intended him harm. In truth, he’d probably become much safer when he’d stepped onto the American plane.

    They had told him it was a glorious opportunity to serve the Motherland, a chance for new challenges, new responsibilities. Grim jargon, all of it. It meant, We're going to throw away the key.

    He knew it had been coming, in the days following what was officially being labeled “The Kalinovskaya Incident.” People had died, some of them true patriots. Attention had been drawn to an operation that was supposed to go unnoticed. Objective Achieved, he'd made sure of it, but at a cost some in the organization had felt was too high. He had wondered what was to become of him. A desk job? Forced retirement? A teaching post at one of the Training Academies?

    No. It was far, far worse than that. They were sending him to America.

    The enforced solitude of the trip had given him a chance to make peace with the reality of his exile. He still had no idea just what this new international organization that he’d been assigned to was all about, but secrets were nothing new to him. You didn’t get far as a soldier in the Federalnaya sluzhba bezopasnosti of the Russian Federation without knowing how to accept orders without knowing their purpose. Of course, you also tended to go farther in the Federal Security Service when you didn’t report superiors for accepting bribes. Had it been an accident that his backup had been four minutes late arriving at Kalinovskaya?

    A slight shift in pitch in the engines warned him before the aircraft started its descent. Wherever he was going, he’d find out what he was getting into soon enough. He kept his face as impassive and as dignified as he could. You may be the lowest of the low, they told every recruit, but it doesn't matter how high you climb - in the eyes of the World, You are Russia!

    So now, as always, that's what he'd be.

    * * * * *

    “De Farrago, we have an assignment for you.”

    The information had surprised her. She had struggled to hold down that and the elation, and display in the emotionless manner they were expected to maintain. She had responded with thanks, careful to use an even tone, while taking the rather slim dossier that now resided in her case. A liaison role would have been normal to begin with, and to put her in the field so soon was against policy. Now sitting and swaying easily with any bumps as the APC rolled along, warm and rather uncomfortable in the formal suit, Catalina ran her eyes over the people she travelled with. Her eyes wandered from the big soldier, to the rather hard-eyed woman, to the balding and bearded fellow, speculating idly on who they might be. So far there had been little conversation, and beyond accents she had no real information to go on.

    “I cannot deny, this is soon for you to be in the field so actively, but your talents fit the desired profile sufficiently well to satisfy the official request, and frankly…” here the normally impassive face of the commander had wavered, “the information we have been supplied is a little… unusual. Were it not for the trusted relationship with our cousins across the pond…” He’d tailed off and coughed lightly. “For this reason, a full briefing is being withheld, you need to go into this with an open mind.” She’d listened, now concealing puzzlement, through the rest of the briefing concerning travel, contacts, reporting structures, plus the standard information on personnel arrangements and matters of protocol. It didn’t tell her a great deal, and nothing Catalina had learned so far had improved the situation. The flight across the Atlantic on a RAF BAe 125 had given her time to review the briefing folder, but that had only led to more questions. The plane had deposited her at Creech Air Force Base—she remembered that the Yanks controlled their drone aircraft from there, part of the ongoing War on Terror—and she’d found herself in an armored carrier without even a pause to adjust her makeup. The briefing documents were somewhat vague on her final destination, and the vehicle lacked windows to yield clues. From the way that the vehicle kept jostling her, it was somewhere that lacked proper roads.

    “This is not an assignment for which we are going to pull a key agent out of the field. I’ll be frank, De Farrago, there’s a chance someone is trying to make a laughing stock out of the service, and that won’t do. So...” The commander had leaned forward with a severe expression at that point. “…we’re officially removing the limitations of the normal inter-agency exchange arrangement. You have license to learn what you can, however you can, and report back if you can.” He’d leaned back and tented his hands. “Don’t put yourself, or the service, in an unsafe position, but we want to know what’s going on, De Farrago.”

    As the mystery surrounding this assignment deepened, Catalina found herself agreeing soundly with that sentiment.

    * * * * *

    Buzz was always the least-threatening looking "kid" among "grown-ups." Even now, pushing thirty, despite his receding hairline and the red goatee he’d finally managed to grow, much of the effects of puberty seemed to have decided to simply pass him by. The harmless look he had about him had gotten him out of trouble in the past.

    He hadn’t been born with many advantages, but he’d developed skills that could have led to success. If it were not for his incorrigible propensity for finding his way around what others thought of as “secure areas,” he would have had a nice normal life; a life outside the rat-filled rooms of his childhood. Now he felt like one of those rats stuck in a glue trap.

    In hindsight, he shouldn’t have been surprised when they’d finally come for him. He had told them he had meant no harm, trying to play on those childless features once again, but these guys hadn’t fallen for it. Even when they’d found his stash of removable hard drives he thought he’d get clear, but these guys had been good, good enough to break through even the encryption and other stuff he’d put on there almost as a reflex, security that even government spooks shouldn’t have been able to crack. In hindsight, maybe he’d been a little overconfident, a little careless. Into the back of a white van, why was it always a white van, he’d thought, and he was off out of the slums. And he knew no one would miss him.

    He was tested, prodded and probed. His captures learned quickly to keep him away from anything electronic. He’d overheard one guard mutter in frustration, "That damn kid could jack into our network with a paper clip!" Buzz puzzled in silence about the possibilities of that while he fell asleep.

    It was in the middle of the night that he was often awoken to "learn some real hacking" he was told. This meant bruises and bumps and blisters for the most part. Buzz was not use to such physical endurance his captors seemed to take masochistic joy in pushing him to his limits. It was weird, instead of just beating him down, after the first few sessions, the exercises actually started to seem like some sort of regimen. The ring around his gut started to fade, and the unhealthy white pallor of his skin faded to merely pale. The days and nights blended together with one burning question, "Who were these people?"

    It was in the middle of pondering this question on night, as he lay pretending to be asleep and waiting for them to rouse him off to more training, that he would finally get close to an answer. His captors—he never did find out who they were—roused him, and had thrust him still blinking back sleep into an elevator that had deposited him into a garage. Buzz had smiled weakly when he’d seen what awaited him there: another white van.

    * * * * *

    Jane didn’t know why she was here. She wasn’t with the CIA any more, though she still worked for them, after a fashion, doing contract work as security for foreign dignitaries. That was all she was going to get, she thought, after what had happened. She hadn’t seen her file since then, but she knew there had to be a big red mark in it, and no doubt an extensive dossier from the psych evals that they’d put her through.

    If only some one else on her team had seen what she had. If only there had been radar evidence, or a sat pic, or something else to confirm what she’d experienced. Or maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.

    People didn’t want to hear that you’d seen an alien.

    Since coming off active duty, she’d been doing some fund-raising work. She’d gravitated to FOAA—no doubt another red mark in her file. A year ago she’d have laughed at the group, but after what she’d seen, Families of Alien Abductees no longer seemed as “fringe” as it had. Sure, there were lots of cranks that were drawn to orgs like FOAA, but to her surprise, there were others there, serious people like herself, others who’d experienced things like she had.

    She wasn’t crazy, she told herself.

    The orders recalling her to active duty had come as a surprise. The uniformed men in the black helicopter had taken her to a site somewhere in the Nevada desert, where she was transferred with very little explanations other than that the orders were confirmed by the right people in charge. From a nearly-empty base in the middle of the night she was transferred by a black van to another van and eventually to the armored vehicle that even now carried her across the desert to what she hoped was her final destination.

    She looked around at the other passengers. There were five in all, including her. She discounted the man in black armor and dark camo in the front of the compartment, a carbine that Jane recognized as a late-model M4A1 with a SOPMOD kit attached slung under his arm. She knew better than to ask him questions, though she saw that he had a com unit with its telltale wire tucked into his left ear.

    The other three passengers, however, seemed just as puzzled as she was by all the secrecy. There was a woman and two men, an odd mix. They’d barely spoken other than some curt greetings on being filed into the APC, but she’d heard enough to identify the woman in the suit as British, the big fellow as a Russian, and the other guy as an American, probably an inner-city kid of lower-class origin. Asking the obvious question of where they were going was as pointless as asking why they were all here. Still, wherever they were going it seemed pretty clear that they were going together, so it might be a good idea to get to know them.

    Jane spoke up, "Name's Jane Swift. I guess I'm as clueless as the next as to why we're here. I suppose they wanted us to meet and get to know each other. I used to work for the CIA. Certed as a sniper, though I guess you could say I did a little bit of everything." She paused, and for some reason, found herself adding, “on the side I raised money for Families of Alien Abductees, a non-profit charity.”

    The British woman, raised an eyebrow, just slightly, but she extended a hand. Of the four of them, she was the only one who somehow had managed not to appear a bit disheveled from the journey thus far. “Catalina De Farrago. Attaché to the British consulate.” After the slightest pause, she added, “Pleased to meet you.”

    Jane shook the woman’s hand—she had a firm grip. She glanced at the red-haired American, and saw a flash of something in his eyes at her comment about FOAA—why had she said that? But when he saw her looking at him, he looked away.

    The big man shifted slightly in his seat. “Kasprjak. FSB.”

    Jane saw that Catalina recognized the reference, but the red-haired man apparently did not, or at least he betrayed no recognition. Russian Security Services, Jane thought. Interesting.

    Now that they were talking, Catalina leaned back in her chair, grimacing slightly as the seat jolted under her. “Does anyone actually know where we are going?”

    Vasily inclined his head at the man with the rifle. “Him?”

    The soldier seemed to be ignoring their conversation, although Jane would not have put money on that being the case. He touched the earpiece. “Roger that,” he said, responding to whoever was speaking via the com unit. He didn’t quite look at the others, but after a moment he said, “We’ll be arriving shortly.” The pitch of the APC’s motor changed, and they felt themselves descending, the rough jolts of before smoothing out as they moved down some sort of ramp.

    “Guess this is where it gets interesting,” Jane said, looking around at her new companions.

    The APC came to a halt.

    The soldier rose as they all heard the latches on the back door cycling open. “Okay, we’re here,” he said. “Last stop, everybody out.”

    The Russian was the first to rise, straightening his weathered fatigues. The door opened onto a lighted area, and the others followed him out, ducking under the low overhang of the vehicle’s exit.

    They were in a large garage area that was full of activity. The place, likely underground from the steep descent they’d taken in the APC, had metal walls, floor, and ceiling, old metal by the look of it, with bits of rust drifting down from the pipework that was suspended from the ceiling fifteen feet above. In addition to the APC they’d arrived on, there were two large trucks in the bay, which men in the same black uniform as their loquacious escort were busy loading with crates that other men were bringing in via a steady procession of flatbed handcarts. It was evident that the place was in the midst of being emptied, and for a moment the four newcomers just stood there, not sure where they were supposed to go or what they were supposed to do.

    After just a few seconds, one of the men in black came over to them. “He’s waiting for you inside,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder to a recessed doorway on the far side of the garage.

    “Inside,” Vasily said. Frowning, he headed in that direction, the others following behind. A soldier standing at the door watched their approach, talking quietly into a com unit. He opened the door, which had a round wheel set into it, resembling a compartment door on a warship.

    The room beyond had been stripped of most of its contents, and they could see marks on the walls where panels and fixtures had existed before. A folding table with a large computer system atop it stood lonely on the far side of the room. A man in a black suit, white suit, and gray tie was working at the computer, but he quickly stood as the four entered the room.

    “Good afternoon,” he said. “I am Garret. Michael Garret. United Nations liaison to this … operation.” He shook each of their hands, addressing them by name. “Sorry for the mess and the bustle. This was just our temporary home as we got organized. We’re about to move to a new facility not far from here that’s been specially adapted for our needs.”

    He returned to the table with the computer, gesturing for them to follow, although there were no chairs anywhere in the room save for the one behind the table. Garret did not sit, however. “I understand that you have only just met, but each of you possesses certain skills that are going to be vital to the success of this operation. You have all been released by your parent national organizations to us, to help in getting this new agency off the ground.”

    “Ah, sir, if I may ask, what is the name of this agency?” Jane asked.

    Garret smiled slightly. “The official name is the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit,” he said, spreading his arms as if to encompass the entirety of the base. “But we’ve shortened it a bit for everyday use.”

    “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to X-COM.”

  3. #3
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    Sweet! Looking forward to it.

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    X-COM???!!!!
    Sweet!

    Looking forward to this!

    /me waxes all nostalgic about the first x-com game...

  5. #5
    Lazybones, I am sorry to say after following your writing for years, I could not get into the 4e story... I think it was a mechanics thing. This however; this I look forward to reading. This gave me flash backs to playing Top Secret back in the 80's.

  6. #6
    Julie and I miss her COPPER SUBSCRIBER
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    Good afternoon Lazybones.

    I am looking forward to reading this story. It is different from your previous work and I think I'll be enjoying it. I had been a stouch follower of your previous stories. However, for some reason the Doomed Bastards did keep my attention and I have neglected to keep up with the stories that followed.

    A bit of Sci-Fi, that'll be good and different. Looking forward for more.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the posts, guys.

    I'm updating the original post with more information about the game.

  8. #8
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    Here are the player characters at the start of the campaign. For some reason I didn't have an original version of Jane Swift; the one here is her at the end of the campaign.
    Attached Files Attached Files      

  9. #9
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    For the heck of it, here's another post as well.

    I captured all player chat in a file during play sessions. Ninety-five percent of the dialogue in these posts will be in the players' own words (I did delete a portion of the chats for space, but otherwise I only made edits to improve the flow of the narrative, or to correct errors in a few places).


    * * * * *

    Session 1 (April 14, 2008)
    Chapter 2



    The four recruits stared, blinked in surprise. For a moment, Garret’s statement was greeted only with a shocked silence. Garret lifted a hand in reassurance. “I know, I know. Really, it’s more of a research agency, at the moment. Although it may end up being much more.”

    He pressed a few buttons on the computer keyboard, then looked up at them. “You’re going to learn some unusual things in the coming weeks, and will be out of contact with your sponsoring organizations for a little while. I ask only that you keep an open mind.”

    He started toward the far wall, where another door—this one just an unremarkable slab of sheet steel—stood within a slightly recessed alcove. “We’ll be departing for the main base shortly, but I wanted you to get a chance to know each other first. And in all honesty, we’d like to see what the four of you can do.”

    That sounded somewhat ominous. The four of them exchanged a series of weighing looks, then turned back to Garret, who was waiting beside the door.

    “There is a gentleman in the next room,” he told them. “His name is Smith. Sergeant Smith. He will be able to direct you from here on. I will speak with you again once we get settled at the new facility. If you’ll excuse me…”

    He turned and left, the door to the garage opening again at his approach. The four watched him leave, then turned back as the steel door ahead of them slid aside, rolling on some unseen mechanism that was recessed into the wall. For a moment they just stared, then Vasily, with a grunt, led them into the next room.

    The new chamber was similar to the first, with empty sockets and connectors gaping along the walls, and marks on the floor that suggested that this place had once been crowded with heavy machinery. Now there were just two tables laden with several large white lockers, and a tall black man whose iron frame seemed to have been borrowed from an Olympic wrestler. He looked up as they came in.

    “Good. I wondered if you were ever going to get here.”

    “Yes,” Vasily said, while Catalina added, “As did we, sergeant.”

    “Name’s Smith.” He jerked a thumb toward the lockers. “Go ahead. Lockers right there, they’re for you. Take whatever you need.”

    “Yes, sergeant Smith, Jane said, walking around the bulk of Vasily toward the tables and the lockers. The Russian watched as she opened the nearest, a wary look in his eyes.

    If Smith was discomfited by his hard stare, he didn’t show it. “This here’s a little… well, let’s call it an ‘entrance examination’.”

    Jane whistled as she looked into the first locker. Reaching inside, she drew out a big rifle. “M110 semi-auto, chambered for the 7.62x51mm NATO round,” she said. “These are new, U.S. Army’s only had them for about two years, and only in very limited numbers.” She looked at Smith, who only nodded.

    The others started looking through the crates. Vasily took out a Heckler & Koch G-36 assault rifle and several magazines, and efficiently loaded the weapon, tucking the extra clips into the pockets of his coat.

    “Live ammunition?” Catalina asked, examining a Glock handgun with a practiced eye.

    “As live as it gets,” Smith replied.

    “What kind of… test… are we talking about?” Buzz asked. He looked inside the locker that Vasily was exploring as though it were full of vipers.

    “Don’t worry. I’ll be watching you on the monitors. And the systems are non-lethal. Well, mostly.” He chuckled, as if he’d make a joke, although none of the others were laughing. He turned as another door opened, and another man came in. He was also African-American, but while he was in good shape, he lacked the general sense of danger that seemed to hang around Smith. “Ah,” the sergeant said. “This here’s Doctor White. He’ll be supervising the exercise.”

    “A pleasure to meet you all.” He walked over to Vasily, holding a small white object. The Russian drew back slightly, his rifle shifting just incrementally, the barrel pointing toward the floor just between them. Smith growled something, but White let out an exasperated breath. “It’s only a wireless bio-sensor, it won’t hurt you.” He held it up, fastened and unfastened its velcro band. “See? We really are pressed for time here, our gear is supposed to be on the next trip to the new base, and I want to make sure the guys there don’t break anything unloading it.”

    Vasily’s expression didn’t change, but he allowed White to fasten the white band around his left wrist. He had others for Buzz and the two women; Buzz was already poking at his by the time that White drew back beside Smith.

    “There’s an elevator through those doors behind you,” Smith said. “It’ll take you down to the training area. You’ll hear my voice on the com system. Try not to get blood on anything.”

    “He is joking, right?” Buzz hissed at Jane, who was strapping a holstered Glock to her right hip.

    “We’re hardly dressed for an assault course,” Catalina said, indicating her own suit, which would not have looked out of place on the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation.

    “I not worried,” Vasily said. Indeed, he seemed much more at ease now that he was armed.

    “You’ll be getting new duds, where you’re going,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t worry about mussing up that nice outfit.”

    “Part of the exercise is to see how you respond to stressful situations,” White said. “I’m sure you will all do fine. We really have done this before.”

    “Here,” Jane said, handing a pistol to Buzz, who was having some difficulty sorting through the available selections. “It’s loaded and chambered, just point and shoot.”

    Vasily led them to the elevator doors, which opened to greet them. The Russian waited until the others had joined him. “You all … civilian?”

    “In a way,” Catalina said.

    “I know my way around firearms,” Jane said.

    The Russian grunted. “Keep head down,” he said, pushing past Buzz, who’d been examining the elevator control panel. There was only one button, which he stabbed with a finger.

    The elevator groaned and lurched into motion. It descended for only about ten seconds, finally stopping and opening to reveal what looked like a decrepit subbasement. Rusted pipes were visible along the walls and ceiling, and a tinge of rust and decay permeated the place.

    “Lovely,” Catalina said dryly.

    “Straight on ahead, ladies,” Smith’s voice boomed, coming from a speaker attached to the wall of the room ahead. “Watch your step, the cleaning crew doesn’t get down here very often.”

    “After you,” Buzz said, smiling weakly.

    “This is joke? It feel like… joke,” Vasily said.

    “This is the U.S., do they do jokes?” Catalina replied.

    “Jokes don’t usually involve live ammunition,” Jane said.

    Vasily moved through the open elevator doors into the room beyond. His eyes scanned the surroundings, settling on a plain-looking metal crate situated near a steam pipe near the right wall.

    “All right, select a direction, someone,” Catalina said. The lighting here was dim, but it was enough to reveal two exits, a corridor that branched out to the left, and a staircase that descended a quick flight to a door on the far side of the room up ahead. “If they want to play games, let’s play games.”

    Jane had followed Vasily’s eyes to the crate. “Something wrong?” she asked.

    “Crate. No rust.”

    Catalina turned to look at it. “Hmm. He’s right.”

    Buzz walked over to it. “No lock,” he said, reaching for the lid.

    “No!” Catalina and Jane yelled together, but not before Buzz lifted the lid, and the crate exploded.

  10. #10
    I seem to recall X-Com being rather high body-count among my troops--at least until I got the psi-amp and started dominating aliens to do my fighting for me. I look forward to seeing how that develops.

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