The Shadowlight Chronicles; now full-fledged d20 Modern!

Part I: Enigmatic E-mails

I've never played in a campaign where I didn't generate my own character, or even have any input into the generation of the character, but as we geared up for a "d20 Modern" game, that's what we did.

We weren't told much -- just that this would be essentially an "X-Files meets Raiders of the Lost Ark type of campaign and that we'd be using the Shadow Chasers rules with a few things taken from Star Wars and Call of Cthulhu (mostly weapons and other equipment that needs statting.) So with that, my wife and I went to play last Saturday!

We're a relatively large group -- four couples, but of course one was DMing, so it was seven players. We each got a folder including our "dossier" with a character sheet and some background material. I got to play Joshua Carter (we each got our real first names to avoid confusion) -- a Stanford grad in electrical engineering and computer science utilizing the "Smart" hero class up to level 6. Apparently I'd been something of a computer prodigy, and although I played at hacking, my real claim to fame was my successful freelance career as a network and network securities expert in the Bay area.

On June 21st of this last year, I had a strange dream -- the contents of which weren't terribly interesting, but when I woke up, my room was filled with smoke. There was no fire, but a large symbol of some kind had been burned into the carpet of my bedroom.

In early August, I got an e-mail promising answers from someone who's profile said he was from Bangkok. Although the mail delivery date was August 8th, the send date was -- you guessed it -- June 21st. It said that for answers I was to meet at an address in Chicago at 10:00 PM on August 19th. Because my schedule was relatively free, and because I was concerned about what had happened, I decided to book a ticket and took a taxi to the address, which was on the south side of Chicago near the river.

The neighborhood wasn't something I liked to see -- houses were old, extremely run-down and even the cabbie seemed anxious to drop me off and get on his way. He didn't ask if I needed to be picked up.

There were, however, a number of vehicles parked in front of the house, including a Hummer and several rather nice automobiles. I had to supress a chuckle at that -- it didn't seem like the kind of neighborhood to be parking your car.

I find I'm the last to arrive -- six others had also recieved the identical cryptic e-mail as me, and had all agreed to come to this area. Most were from the Chicago area already, but one was from NY. There was Amanda, the martial arts instructor, Julie, the geneticist here in Chicago, Jenny, the sixth-grade teacher, Trisha, the ex-jarhead -- now a consultant on more traditional security, Matt, the anthropology/archeaology professor at Northwestern, Tim, the building contractor and myself, self-proclaimed computer programmer.

A little bit of discussion revealed we were all mysteriously summoned to the house, and without anything else to do, we decided to search it for any clues. It didn't take too long; the house was small. It had no power and no water (as I discovered trying to flush the toilet) and is almost devoid of even furniture. Although there is no sign of recent habitation, there isn't as much dust as we'd expect from an abandoned house. Outside, the back yard is a riot of weeds.

"Hey, check this out!" Amanda shouts to everyone. It appears she's discovered a button under the overhang of the counter on a small "island counter" in the dingy kitchen. When pressed, a small flat square folds upward. Joshua is the only one to recognize it for what it is: a biometric handprint security panel. When he says this, Amanda puts her hand on it.

The panel lights up green for a moment, and then folds away. The entire island counter starts to move now, and fold away, revealing a small hidden staircase, apparently made from recently poured concrete. "Don't you think it odd that that scanner was coded to open to one of our handprints?" I said, but curiousity and a sense of purpose filled the others, and without too much hesitation, we all descended into the starkly flourescently-lit room at the bottom of the staircase. Room may be too generous a word for a 4x4 white-tiled area with what looks like a freight elevator door on the end.

Again, a little searching paid off -- one of the white tiles was slightly loose, and when depressed, the elevator opened. So we all piled in and pushed the down button (obviously.) Upon reaching the bottom, we were surprised to find a fairly nice office with ten workstations. Two door proved to be merely bathrooms (women's was even equipped with a little lounge!) We pulled up a panel in the elevator roof to look into the shaft -- we had descended about 50 ft. from the already underground room. Trisha and some of the others immediately start searching the desks and filing cabinets (all of which are empty of anything but standard office equipment -- but there are a number of cell phones with ear pieces, so we install them to keep in touch while we spread out and continue searching the house) while I sit down at a workstation and start searching the hard drive. It looks like a clean Windows NT install, but after exactly five minutes of searching, a network message pops up telling me that the next clue we will recieve will be at 1:17 AM on the police band.

So, we find a streaming police band channel and leave it on while we continue to search the house. I also find, looking at the Internet Explorer e-mail settings, that apparently I have Matt's computer -- he's been installed as the default user.

Meanwhile, as I'm playing around here, Trisha notices someone standing leaning against a house about two blocks away, apparently looking our direction. Trisha, Amanda, Jenny and Julie all decide to sneak through the darkness to get closer to the man and see what he's up to, while the guys all decide that sneaking up on a stranger is close to assault and want no part of it. Matt does, however, agree to use his tape recorder (he's working on a book) to record the police band message if they're not back yet (it's not about 12:30 AM.)

So, with all the boys staying nice and safe inside the house, the four girls decide to investigate our strange onlooker. Julie stays in the bushes with a pair of night vision goggles (courtesy of Trisha's Hummer's trunk) coordinating via the cell-phones/ear pieces (using a conference call number that Matt had established for work) while Amanda, Jenny and Trisha each split up to approach the guy from different angles. Surprisingly, Jenny -- the elementary school teacher -- seems to be quite a natural at this.

They approach very close -- Amanda gets to only a few feet away -- before he gives any sign of noticing them. Suddenly, the guy spins and whips out a pistol, pointing right at Amanda's spot in the bushes. "That's far enough!" he calls. Trisha rushes up behind him, putting her M-16 (she has a permit) to his head.

"Drop it!" she shouts. "NOW!!" The guy just smiles slightly and then whips around to point the gun at her, but Trisha moves first, bashing him in the face with the stock of her gun, then kicking his knee out hard. Amanda rushes forward, putting him in a jujitsu hold, although she notices a strange light coming from his hands as she runs forward. Jenny also pats the guy down, but doesn't find anything on him other than his holster.

Suddenly the guy says three strange words in a loud voice, and with a flash of light, he disappears, leaving Amanda holding all his clothes. Back in the room downstairs, where the guys are listening on speaker phone to the cell phone conversation, Joshua startles as he hears the strange words. They remind him eerily of chanting he heard in his strange dream the night his carpet was branded.

With nothing left to do and nothing to show for their trouble except a black suit and white shirt (although Julie did find a hair sample that she puts in a plastic envelope for DNA analysis), the girls all come back to the house with just a few minutes to spare before the police band clue is promised. The guys have been listening with half an ear to the police band for the better part of an hour, and it's been relatively quiet so far: a domestic disturbance here and there, someone ran a red light. Right at 1:17 the chatter dies down for a second, then a quick report from Yeager, IL -- a tiny town about an hour/hour-and-a-half south of Chicago. At the Strohbel farm, there's been a strange report of arson -- cult symbols and what not present. Joshua quickly pulls of the Strohbel's on Yahoo! People and gets an address. Another quick search of past news, and I find a few stories from local newspapers "Police Beat" about the arsonist gang "the Dragons" who have burned symbols into various locations around town.

We give the Strohbel's house a quick call, but get a voice mail greeting. "You've reached the Edward, Lynn and Scott Strohbel. We are unable to take your call at this time. Please leave a message." We hang up without leaving a message.

"OK, I think it's time we start talking about why we're here," Jenny says, just a hint of panic tinging her voice.

"I've got a better idea," says Joshua. "Let's talk about it on the way to Yeager."
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Librarian, Geologist, and Referee
Very neat! I love this kind of thing. What was it like playing with couples and a larger group? Did things slow down or did things move along fine?


This is *exactly* the story hour that I'm looking for.

Right now, I'm on a modern-day-fanatic streak, and have Modern pre-ordered on Amazon. This is just the kind of thing I'm looking for: A Modern playtest, straitforward, clear writing, suspense, good plot . . . perfect. Can't wait for the next installment.

fenzer said:
Very neat! I love this kind of thing. What was it like playing with couples and a larger group? Did things slow down or did things move along fine?
The first time we all played together, our first combat probably took two hours. But there was a lot of talking, and kids interrupting us to say their movie ended, Jessica was hitting me, blah-blah-blah.

We've actually been playing together for a few months now and have it down a little better now. This session, of course (and I've only posted half of it so far) went quickly, but we didn't really have much in the way of combat either.

Jeph said:
This is *exactly* the story hour that I'm looking for.

Right now, I'm on a modern-day-fanatic streak, and have Modern pre-ordered on Amazon. This is just the kind of thing I'm looking for: A Modern playtest, straitforward, clear writing, suspense, good plot . . . perfect. Can't wait for the next installment.
Thanks! Just to clarify though; we're not playtesting the actual d20 Modern rules, we're playing with all the preview rules that we've seen so far (especially the Shadow Chasers mini-game), and where there's holes, we're pulling elements out of either the new Star Wars book or the Call of Cthulhu book.


First Post
We should compare home-brews sometime, although with d20 Modern ticking down, it may be moot.

I'm interested in seeing how this goes. Modern games have their own advantages and disadvantages, but there are no hints and support for GM's of such games yet.

jonrog1 said:
We should compare home-brews sometime, although with d20 Modern ticking down, it may be moot.

I'm interested in seeing how this goes. Modern games have their own advantages and disadvantages, but there are no hints and support for GM's of such games yet.
Sounds like fun, although I agree, it may be moot soon. Although I don't think our plan is to convert this campaign - we'll probably keep using the Shadow Chasers rules with some CoC.
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Part II: Farmyard Frolics

OK, here's the second half of our first session. I'm already running a bit behind, I'm afraid -- we've had a second session already. Unfortunately, due mainly to some "meta-game issues" I wasn't able to take good (or any) notes on the second session, so a lot of detail may slip through the cracks. Let me make the first session part II update quickly, and I'll try to jump right on our second session while the memories are still relatively fresh. Interestingly enough, our DM told us that we still haven't gotten to the point he thought we would during our first session, so we've obviously been overanalyzing this whole game!

While on route to Yeager in Jenny's 2001 Ford Windstar, we each spilled the beans on what our "secret" was that brought us to this point in the first place. A lot of really weird stories ensued.
  • Julie, while showering, noticed a strange lump on the back of her neck. When she went in to have it x-rayed, she discovered that she had some kind of artificial implant of some sort. Then, when she went to look at it again, it was gone.
  • Trisha disappeared for three monthes. She went to bed one night, and woke up three monthes later (on June 21) without having any idea of what happened. More, she had a strange symbol scarred into her face, which she covers with make-up now.
  • Amanda saw, in June 21st, her dead mother. She tried to chase her in the crowd, but lost her.
  • Matt recieved, on June 21st a series of pictures, apparently taken in the 1880s, of some archeological digs in Central America, where a number of odd boxes were being excavated. What's even odder, and he had these authenticated by photography experts, is that he is in the photos, and what's more, after seeing Trisha, she is also in the photos. Tim also recognizes someone from the photos as well.
  • Tim (he didn't actually tell us at this time, but he told me later, so I'll just include it here) was hired by a company called Venture Resources to equip and supervise a dig in Russia. During the course of the dig, they came across a large natural cavern, and while in the cavern, Tim was attacked by some -- creature -- that looked like nothing so much as floating red eyes. He woke up several days later in the camp hospital to find that the dig had been completed, and he was free to go home. The person Tim recognized in Matt's picture was one of the guys from this Venture Resources. Somehow, he associated the word 'Croatoan' with the creature, although we didn't yet figure out how he made that association.
  • Jenny went to bed with something in her pocket that a friend gave her (she later admitted that it was a bag full of diamonds) and woke up just a few minutes later in a hotel in Bangkok. Somewhat bewildered, she managed to get the airport and take a plane back home. This also happened on June 21st.
When we arrive at the Strohbel farm, we find it to be located well out of town, and dark. It is surrounded by cornfields. The house itself looks fine, but a shed nearby is still smoldering and shows signs of having been recently sprayed with water -- it is drenched and a thick steam still hangs over it. A yellow police line surrounds the shed. Closer to the shed, we can see tire tracks in the mud, presumably from the fire trucks. Inside, there is a strange burn pattern, reminiscent of the symbol in my room, yet blotted out by extreme burn conditions. In the center of the burn pattern is a charred and blackened human skeleton. We did some quick searching -- Julie examined the body and some other folks looked in the house. In one room, presumably son Scott's, some notes were found about the Dragons and a delivery of some box.

With this strange assortment of cryptic clues, our investigation is cut short -- a police car seems to be approaching. Everyone piles in the van and tries to sneak away except me -- I hide in the cornfields. When the police car doesn't leave, I creep closer to the house to investigate. Looks like Ma and Pa Strohbel have arrived -- they appear very distraught. The deputy talks to them for about an hour, by all appearances trying to console them. Finally he leaves, and I'm able to use my cell phone to call for pickup, telling the group that I suspect that Scott Strohbel is the body in the shed.

Note -- from this point on, I wasn't able to take good notes, and our group also split up to accomplish more, so I probably lost track of a lot of clues. I'll try to write what I can as I remember it, but I may have to post updates or edits that add more stuff as I remember it.

Late that night, I decide that things are getting a little weird, and I need a back-up plan. I hack into various bank organizations, subtly creating false accounts that give me as much money as I would need if it turns out I'm in over my head. A few of us also go shopping the next morning for a cheap used car -- we buy a 1985 Honda Civic, which we figure is just about good enough to let us get around. I also decide to hack into the Strohbel's AOL account, which we saw open briefly at the house. The account is fairly cluttered with older e-mails, but I do find two e-mail addresses for Scott, one from AOL and another from the Unversity of Chicago. I hack into both of these accounts fairly easily as well. One e-mail in particular catches my eye -- a Doug Trenton, apparently a local boy who goes to school with Scott, writes to tell him that he shouldn't be messing around with that Dragon stuff anymore -- he got out of it and if Scott knew what was good for him, he would too. And he especially shouldn't try what he thought he was going to try without Marcus' supervision, as if something went wrong the results could be catastrophic. This e-mail was sent yesterday afternoon.

Jenny and Trisha go to the local sherriff's office, trying to get a story -- Jenny poses as a reporter. The deputy sees through her, but thinking quickly, Jenny says that actually she's a freelance reporter trying to get a story. This loosens the guy up a bit, and he tells her a little bit about the Dragons, that they're troublemakers who go around in brown cloaks (at least when making trouble) and they are all young guys, he also mentions several bars where they occasionally hang-out. Amanda, after talking to a local martial arts instructor, finds that attendance has dropped off lately amongst young boys, as they have been recruited by some other pasttime at the local computer games store Joshua goes the computer game store, and makes some conversation with the attendant. When I mention Doug's name, oddly enough, he's in the back room on the network PCs playing Unreal. I pay for an hour of playtime and go in as well, sitting so that the other two folks in the room have their back to me. I log into Doug's game, and rather handily hunt him down and kill him three times in a row. After this, he turns around to talk to me for a minute or two. When I mention Scott's name (saying I know him from the University) he gets suspicous. How come he doesn't know me too, when he takes at least half of the same classes as Scott, for instance? And am I mixed up with those Dragons, because he's quit all that and doesn't want any part of it.

I get some more info out of him, after calming him down a little, saying I freelanced on some projects with the University and just met Scott briefly while doing that, and what the heck are the Dragons? Turns out they have a warehouse just over the Indianna border -- they recruit kids (high school and college mainly) and get them to come do some freaky LARP stuff or something like that, but then it gets real serious, and they start messing around with some seriously scary occult stuff. Not only that, they seem to have funding from some company called Venture Resources, and guards with Uzis started showing up. Doug's frankly scared of them, and has been trying to talk Scott out of messing around with them anymore. I thank him for his warnings, and he goes away, leaving me to wonder what in the world is going on.

Next issue: -- autopsy of the body, and more info from Doug.
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Horacio said:
You're giving me reasons to buy d20 modern, did you know it?
It's all part of my insidious plot to get royalties out of WotC. Especially since my setting proposals didn't advance!

P.S. Look for an update later today that -- hopefully -- will get the story hour up-to-date with the game.

Part III: Garbled Gamboling

Well, hopefully this post will bring us entirely up to date on our game sessions so far. As mentioned previously, this one is a little bit harder for me to write, as I missed portions of it, or at least, was unable to devote my full attention to some of the stuff that was going on. In addition, our group splintered as we tried to accomplish more quicker by splitting up, so how much I got of the other players circumstances may be somewhat missing. Anyway, I'll take a first stab at this, and if I remember really significant things I later, I'll fill them in via an edit or another post.

As Jenny was talking to the deputy and Joshua was tracking down Doug Trenton, Matt and Tim decided to take a bus back to Chicago to retrieve Tim's Harley and Trisha's HumVee (which was loaded with surveillance equipment as well, something we thought might come in awfully handy.) On the bus ride, they apparently talked quite a bit, and Matt showed his picture to Tim, who recognized another one of Matt's 120-year old buddies as someone he had dealt with recently through Venture Resources. They come up with a working theory, and a bit more of a plan, but as the rest of us don't hear about it until later, I'll add it in as we learned of it.

Meanwhile, Julie, Jenny and Trisha now team up to go to the coroner's office. Since Yeager doesn't have a really well-qualified coroner, the body we found in the shed was left sitting there while someone was fetched from Chicago to deal with it. Julie, as a leading genetic researcher from NYC, feels she can pass herself off as a CDC agent, investigating the unusual death to make sure there is no threat to the area. The coroner accepts her story (and that Jenny is a collegue of hers) so the two of them are left inside while Trisha talks to the cops up front, dropping her names from the Chicago force that she's worked with closely in the past.

The coroner is glad to see her, because some elements of the body are very intriguing to her, and she doesn't want to have a very intriguing report with her name attached. She decides to write the report up as a simple suicide by fire, but before she does, she shows Julie some of the very unusual features of the body. First of all, although commonly believed to be Scott Strohbel, the dental records of this corpse do not match his, so her report will call the victim a John Doe. Second, which she will not put in her report, each of the digital phalanges (finger bones) show an unusual extension, giving the victim uncommonly long -- in fact, freakishly long -- fingers. And finally, a strange artifical "box" of shiny metal is attached firmly to the base of the spine, with filaments that dig through the vertebrae into where the spinal column would have been if it hadn't been burned to nothing.

The coroner agrees to allow Julie to perform an autopsy, and with a judicious call from Trisha that pulls her to the front desk, Julie and Jenny are left alone with the skeletal corpse. First, Julie cuts the box free from the spine and scans it with a digital camera. It appears to have smooth, yet tiny, markings all over its surface. She photographs it from all angles, including with an x-ray camera. She then examines the skeleton itself, looking at the strange fingers. She takes a tiny core sample of one of the bones and makes a few more startling discoveries -- it appears that the bone isn't just burned on the outside surface, as one would expect, but also is burned at it's core, as if the skeleton burned from the inside out! Using a high-resolution color fax, she sends the data to some collegues in NYC for further analysis, as well as keeping the core sample in the hopes that some DNA can be extracted from it.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, I has found that Doug Trenton discovered my careless hacking and sent me an e-mail. I e-mail him back (after first establishing the most anonymous and secure e-mail account I can devise) and tell him that actually I'm investigating the apparent death of Scott and want more information. Doug responds fairly quickly that some kind of box has been delivered to the warehouse of Venture Resources -- he fears that something big is going down tomorrow night. He says he will meet me at his house tonight at 10:00 PM.

Amanda does some searching on the warehouse, and finds that the building permit and zoning are all on the up and up, but she can't seem to find out who the actual owners of the building are. She calls the appropriate county offices to get the blueprints, but is surprised that she cannot (as legally, she should be able to.) Trisha also calls and tries, and with a slight tinge of panic in his voice, the county clerk that should give her the blueprints tells her to get lost, and wonders what all the interest in this warehouse is anyway. On a whim, I try to call and get blueprints for another nearby building, and am told that there's no problem, I can come pick up copies the next morning. When I hang up and give my account, the group is somewhat sobered. Trisha decides that its time the buidling got the once-over with her high-tech surveillance equipment, but as its only about 5:00 PM, we decide to go to the local bars to see if we bump into any of the Dragons.

Actually, I want to go to the local Big Boy, but when I'm told by the Day's Inn Desk Clerk that some of these bars are locally famous for the cheeseburgers and onion rings, I'm convinced to go with Amanda, Jenny, Julie and Trisha. Not surprisingly, since we're a big group huddled in a corner and are 10-15 years older than the audience we're targetting, we don't really see much. Amanda tells us all to get up and mingle.

Around this time, I get a cell phone call, and I duck into the men's room to take it. It's Tim. Apparently, he and Matt are going to Alaska! :eek: While searching for more information, they discover the Venture Resources, which has a corporate headquarters there, has burned to the ground just a week or so ago. While the trail is still hot (no pun intended) they want to quickly investigate it. I also get to hear Tim's story (related last "issue") which the girls actually still don't know, as well as the theory advanced by Matt that Venture Resources has uncovered, or maybe developed, some kind of technology that enables time travel. I advance the counter theory that maybe we are all clones of this original group, and that's why we are suddenly all being pulled together. (To that, my DM tells me I've been reading too much Dark*Matter!) In any case, I tell the girls that Tim and Matt will be in Alaska investigating Venture Resources. When I get the inevitable slew of questions, I have to beg ignorance (only partially feigned) of what they're up to and what they know.

After dinner, Trisha pop across the border to set up a stake-out on the warehouse, while Julie and Amanda drive me in the Honda Civic to Doug's house for our meeting. Jenny tells us she can get a hold of the blueprints we didn't get before. Julie and Amanda decide to stay back so as not to alarm him with a large group. The house seems dark except for one light from a room upstairs. I approach the house cautiously, though, on the look-out for anything unusual, and I hear the sound of a running automobile in the garage. Before knocking, I decide to check it out. The garage is pitch black inside, but as I open the door I'm assaulted by the stench of exhaust. I quickly open the large garage door and flick on a light -- as I fear, Doug is sitting in the car, his skin somewhat blue -- wearing nothing but a large brown cloak. Amanda rushes up to try and administer CPR, although Julie can tell immediately that he's been stone dead for several hours. I rush through the house to find clues, but not much is forthcoming. In what is presumably Doug's room, a computer is on, with a timed out logon to the Internet. I log back on, and notice that the last action he took was to send his e-mail to me. In the back of the house, we also find that the door has been forced open -- the dead bolt is still extended, although the wooden door frame has been broken where the dead-bolt was.

With this, Julie and Amanda leave, and I call 911. Since I had an appointment with Doug already, I decide I'm not a suspect. I'm questioned for an hour or two, but that's about it.

When I get back to the hotel, Jenny has arrived with the original blueprints for the warehouse. "What is it you teach those sixth-graders again?" I ask. Not for the first time. Later in the evening, Trisha arrives, with a little bit of information herself -- the warhouse is surrounded by an electrically charged chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Two armed guards patrol it regularly. She didn't see any sign of any other activity.

Although it's late at night, we have a rather heated argument about our next course of action. Julie says, "I was told to come here to get answers, and instead I find we're being led by the nose by someone who hasn't given us a thing!" (Julie is played by my wife, Julie, by the way -- isn't she wonderful?! :D) so why not just return to NYC and her successful life? I'm also not in favor of risking my neck over whatever is happening with the Dragons and Venture Resources, although I'm at least curious. There's also considerable debate over whether our anonymous summoner is in league with this group or opposed to them.

But as our debate can have no satisfactory conclusion without more info, it trails off and we finally go to sleep. And with that, I'm caught up! More fun next week, I presume.
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fenzer said:
Good Stuff Joshua. I can't wait to see what's next. I love time travel. It gets so messy.
Yeah, we also had a discussion on the classic time travel paradox. Since few of the wives were into sci-fi literature, it was all new to them! :)

Re: The Shadowlight Chronicles; a d20 Modern Preview game

Joshua Dyal said:
We weren't told much -- just that this would be essentially an "X-Files meets Raiders of the Lost Ark type of campaign and that we'd be using the Shadow Chasers rules with a few things taken from Star Wars and Call of Cthulhu (mostly weapons and other equipment that needs statting

Here ya go, Horacio. From the first post! :D
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