$Insert_Title, Episode 20: A Worse Time

"Aired" on: 2018-09-08

Cast: Hueco, Mr. Fahrenheit, Madoka, Engie


The opening credits roll. Vince is not featured.

The show opens with Madoka waking up in Manifest's tent. They are both surrounded by equipment hard cases, and both of them have small cots they are sleeping on. Manifest is wrapped up in a sleeping bag, which looks like it would be very uncomfortable in the jungle, but Manifest seems sound asleep. Madoka gets up to go to the mess tent where there should be coffee and food, but stops as she exits Manifest's tent.

Manifest's tent is at the far edge of camp, away from the tents where the three distinct groups are assigned: the mercenaries, locals, and freelancers (which includes the players). The entrance to Manifest's tent does not open directly towards camp, instead it opens to a small corridor between Manifest's tent and a larger tent.

Madoka hears a noise and pokes her head around the back of the larger tent and sees one of the mercs dressed up in their full gear kneeling and hunched over in the mud. Madoka retrieves her meta link and starts filming, unsure of what's happening. A man's voice calls out to her from towards the camp - it is one of the other mercenaries.

Upon hearing the mans voice, the mercenary who was kneeling in the dirt stands abruptly, wiping their hands on their pants and drawing a pistol on Madoka, revealing themselves to be Makoto. Makoto and this other guard close in on Madoka, cornering her, both with guns drawn. Madoka attempts to sputter her way through an excuse but the two mercenaries intimate and bully her into handing over her commlink and destroying it. They tell Madoka that she shouldn't be wandering around camp and filming things, or the camp might get a whole lot more dangerous for her.

Madoka is let past the man, Marcus, and allowed to go back to camp without her commlink. She encounters Fahrenheit and Engie near the mess tent, and Hueco shows up having just completed patrol with Tek.

Madoka: Engie, can you get me coffee?
Engie: Uh, okay. Madoka, are you afraid of the coffee machine? I can teach you how to use it.

Madoka explains that she doesn't want to be around any of the mercenaries. Engie goes and gets her a coffee, greeting one of the mercenaries cheerily, addressing them as John. The rest of the group shuffles off to the edge of camp to discuss their experiences and concerns about everything that is going on. Engie joins with two soycafe shortly after everyone else.

Madoka: I was spying on one of the mercenaries and they were burying something in the ground...
Engie: Why were you spying on them? That's really rude. You shouldn't have done that.
Madoka: Also, Manifest is trying to poach me.
Fahrenheit: Like an egg?

Madoka explains that she believes Manifest is going to try to get everyone killed, and everything that the two spoke about the night before (y'know, all the stuff she was asked to keep quiet), except taken out of context and deeply misunderstood. Hueco mistakenly corroborates this by misrepresenting what he was told by Tek, and that Manifest hates the group and believes the group to owe her and that none of them are getting paid. Fahrenheit explains his horrific dream from the night prior.

The group, Engie aside, decides the best course of action is to steal a vehicle as soon as possible during the run and bail. After a lengthy panicked conversation everyone, Engie aside, agrees that Manifest is going to try to kill Fahrenheit during the operation and that none of them, Engie aside, wants to be fodder during this run.

The group decides their next actions should be to gather information and equipment and perhaps sabotage some things in camp so they can make a better exit during the operation.

Engie: Okay, some of the logic makes sense but I'm still stuck on one thing. Why do we think Manifest is trying to kill us, or Fahrenheit specifically?
Hueco: Well, we did almost kill her the first time we met her. That's probably made her very angry with us, combined with everything else. And it's Fahrenheit's magic that almost did her in.
Engie: That sounds like quite the jump. I'm just going to go talk to Manifest and figure this stuff out.

The group chases after Engie to stop him. As Engie is stopped he sees John watching the group all come out from behind a tent, and they wave to each other. Hueco grabs Engie's shoulder and asks him not to talk to Manifest, but Engie insists that he is going to after he finds her tent. The camera pans over slightly to Busty holding a large hard case beside the group.

Busty: Her tent is on the far side of camp, in that corner. But she's going to be out of it for like a day or so. Long haul crash. You know how it is. She's been busting her ass the past four days, so she needs to recover.
Engie: Oh, yeah. That makes sense.
Busty: You're the drone guy, right? I need to talk to you later. Drone stuff. It'll be a good time.
Engie: Sounds good. I need to talk to Madoka, then I'll come find you.

Engie tells everyone else to go on ahead, and asks Madoka back behind the tent for a conversation. Madoka agrees, albeit with some concern. Engie looks very serious, and his voice isn't as soft and floaty as it normally is, it has a distinct edge and seriousness to it.

Engie: This is a new experience for you, isn't it? The jungle and these kinds of runs.
Madoka: Well, yes... but-
Engie: Well, it's not for me. You're stressed, and I think that stress is affecting your understanding of what's going on here. Manifest is in charge around here, and to be honest she seems to have everything really under control. I think she's doing her best to make sure nobody here ends up dead.
Engie: I think that not following the plan is going to get people hurt, and if you are all planning to desert I am not going with you. I refuse to take part in this. I am going to go talk to Manifest when she is up and about and tell her everything that's going on.

Engie leaves Madoka and goes off to get more coffee with John before heading off to find Busty. Madoka stands, stunned by Engie's sudden seriousness and the revelation that Engie is an experienced runner.

Meanwhile, back at the tent, Fahrenheit and Hueco prepare to do some astral reconnaissance. Fahrenheit doesn't want his body left unguarded while he searches around in astral space, and Hueco agrees to stand guard. Fahrenheit lays down like he is taking a nap and astral projects.

Fahrenheit moves around the camp in his astral form, first going to the location that Madoka described. Through the muddy and misty astral space, he could see nothing there. It occurs to Fahrenheit though, that the earth's background mana count creates a natural mana barrier. Meaning that if something was buried in meat space several feet under ground, it would be undetectable from astral space. If Makoto had buried something, Fahrenheit would have to dig it up to see if it was magic.

After checking out that area of camp, Fahrenheit moves a little into the jungle and does a circle. He comes across a small spirit (a kodama, like from Ghibli works). It stops jumping from tree to tree and briefly regards him. When Fahrenheit attempts to speak to it, it bounces away in a wide arc around the camp. This, he decides, a spirit summoned to watch the camp for intruding mages.

He moves a little further away from camp and feels a swell of dread and pressure in the astral space. When he retreats towards camp he spots an Ofuda present in the astral space, and likely in meat space as well. Fahrenheit does some testing to figure out what it does by moving further away from the ofuda, then closer, and then towards camp and above camp. There are likely a number of these seals around the camp dampening the magical background count of the area. This has the impact of protecting the camp from much of the ambient dread caused by the background count without erecting a magical barrier that would give away the camp.

Fahrenheit returns to his body around the same time Madoka arrives, and explains his findings to Hueco and Madoka. Madoka also stumbles through an attempt to explain to the group that there is a lot about Engie that they didn't know and that he is strongly against deserting the operation. Hueco and Fahrenheit agree.

Fearless shows up shortly after to send Fahrenheit on patrol with Marcus, and tells him to be careful. Fearless explains that she can see that there is tension rising as the mercenaries are whispering and keeping eyes on everyone's movements around the camp.

Fearless: I hate working with them. They're all ex-military, I know that much about them. I can see it in the way they distrust people outside their unit and the way they look out for their own. It's tribal and dangerous.
Hueco: You think they'll have it out for us?
Fearless: Stay out of their way and you'll be fine. They respect the hell out of our girl Manifest, and they would never go against an order from her. The only reason I've been able to tell them what to do is because they know I'm passing them orders from her.
Fearless: I also told them that Madoka was off-limits and not to fuck around with you - and that is an order from Manifest. They'll be assholes and they'll try to spook you, but they won't hurt you.

Fearless asks Hueco if he can come with her, because she wants to show him something. Hueco and Fearless leave as the jungle rain begins, leaving Madoka in the tent alone.

The group's tent is flanked by the mercenaries' tent on one side and the locals' tent on the other. Fearless's tent is directly across from the party's tent. Inside Fearless's tent we see a number of hard cases as well as a backpack, duffel bag, and a cot.

Fearless opens a hardcase and inside we see a gun stock, several differntly sized gun barrels, an ammo box to hold an ammo belt, several magazines, and some other accessories. There is a decently long gun-porn sequence where Fearless shows off this new HK XM30 Modular Weapon System. She explains that it can be a full-size assault rifle, a caribine, a sniper rifle, or an LMG, and that that you can equip it with an underbarrel shotgun or an underbarrel grenade launcher. Hueco has a brief flashback to driving down the highway chasing a semi-truck, and Fearless leaning out the window and shooting a grenade at the window of the truck and watching it bounce off an back onto the highway.

Elsewhere, Fahrenheit meets Marcus in the staging tent for patrol. They share a back and forth that comes across less like absolute contempt and more annoyance. Fahrenheit attempts to make friends, which doesn't quite land but eases the tension. Marcus gives him the once over, noting that Fahrenheit is in a dark colored jumpsuit with a gas mask on, and that he has a gun no larger than a pistol on him. Marcus hands him a waxed coat, since it's raining, and an Uzi.

Fahrenheit: You know, I'm not really a gun guy.
Marcus: Heh, neither is Makoto. I'll tell you a secret. Nobody is going to notice in a gunfight. All you gotta do is stay near the back and put bullets down range safely.
Marcus: Makoto carries similar gear to the rest of us so that we're not a group of four HTR goons and Gandalf in the back with a big floppy wizard hat.

They patrol for about two hours in the rain, unable to see basically anything and eventually circle back and report in. Fahrenheit keeps the waxed jacket, but puts back the Uzi.

While Fahrenheit is on patrol, Madoka asks Busty if she can go with her to the mess tent. Madoka is feeling paranoid and scared of all the mercenaries. Busty is happy to accommodate and goes with her to get food. Once the two are at the mess tent, Madoka discovers that the only food available is MREs, and that all that's available is hot water and bad instant soycafe. Busty opens a pouch in her jacket and pulls out a snack bar and a different powdered drink of a much higher quality than here.

Madoka: I just thought there might be something else to eat. I take it you brought that stuff with you?
Queen Busty: Yeah. Here's what you do: Whenever you want something during this op, write it down. When you get home, stock up on that stuff. Before your next run, pack your go-bag with your essential equipment first and then fill up the remaining space with stuff you really want.

Tek shuffles back into the tent later that evening. Madoka sees that he is holding his ribs, and Hueco follows shortly after. By the time Hueco comes in, Tek has got his shirt off showing his fantastic, but forgettable, abs and stitching up what appears to be a deep gash.

Madoka and Hueco ask him what happened, and he explains that the mercenaries don't like him because they found his military record and judged him before they ever met him. He knows it was two of the mercenaries and that he didn't see who it was, but that he did bury his tomahawk in one of their shoulders. Hueco is deeply impressed by Tek's ability to stitch himself back up and tend to his own wounds. Tek reveals he used to be the combat medic in his unit.

Tek's delivery is someone monotonous and lacking in energy, and one could mistake this for a poor job on the actor's part. This however is intentional, and the show continues to use depth of field tricks to make him just slightly out of focus when other people are talking to each other. Subtle cinematography tricks.

Night has fallen by the time Fahrenheit returns from patrol. Everyone is exhausted and heads to sleep, Madoka heads back to rest in Manifest's tent and Manifest is still asleep. There is a slow fade transition focused on Mr. Fahrenheit.

We get a shot of a similar old stone room with carvings in the floor. It pans over a sacrificial altar and we first see some feet, then legs, and a slow pan over a giant dick because we're a HBO or Netflix show and we can show nudity and get away with it. It is revealed to be Hueco laying on the altar, unconscious. Beside the altar are the more modern Aztlan woman from Fahrenheit's last dream, and Fahrenheit in ritual garb. Fahrenheit raises his arms with an obsidian knife and he plunges it downward into Hueco's chest.

We get another dream sequence from Hueco. Hueco dreams he had a horrible night sleep and then had to go on morning patrol.

The camera fades in on Fahrenheit, who is visibly comfortable. Despite the few hours of sleep he got, he feels fully rested and in a good mood, and feels he had a good dream. He looks around the tent to find himself mostly alone, and then we watch the slow realization of "Oh, no. That was not a good dream. That's not good. Oh no, where's Hueco?"

Fahrenheit heads out to get coffee and take a look around camp as he does so. As he is walking towards the mess camp he sees a gathering of people around the antenna/post at the center of camp, with Fearless shouting at people to fuck off with a megaphone.

Mr. Fahrenheit, mumbling: Oh fuck. Plot. Coffee first, plot after.

After grabbing some heated water and pouring in the instant soycafe, which tastes as if coffee died and released the ghost of coffee and then using that ghost to filter hot dirt water, Fahrenheit goes to check out the goings-on at the tent.

Fahrenheit sees the body of the laborer/local that was Awakened. Dread sets over him, and he uses his commlink to send a message to Hueco to ask if he's okay.

Because it might not have been noted in the synopsis yet, all devices in the cyberpunk future are globally routable and also act as repeaters/routers, but because this camp is incredibly isolated there are no routes that lead to any of the global grids. They can communicate with their matrix stuff within the camp, but can only connect to local devices.

Hueco is at the staging tent, having just returned from morning patrol. He receives a message from Mr. Fahrenheit and attempts to reply, but we see his commlink's screen glitch out, and Mr. Fahrenheit recieves a response in Korean. Mr. Fahrenheit responds, saying "I thought you didn't speak Korean," which shuts down Hueco's commlink upon arrival. (Hueco has Gremlins, but because his character doesn't interact with technology at any moment where it would be plot relevant or interesting, it hasn't come up.)

Hueco approaches as Mr. Fahrenheit starts asking Fearless questions.

Mr. Fahrenheit: When was he killed?
Fearless: Sometime last night. [...] HEY, I said go take his body into the jungle and bury him. [...] Put on some fucking gloves then.
Mr. Fahrenheit: Why didn't anyone notice until now?
Fearless: It was raining. Don't know if he died here or was dragged here. [...] I SAID FUCK OFF, JOHN. DON'T YOU HAVE FUCKING WORK TO DO? MOVE SOME FUCKING BOXES AROUND OR GO ON PATROL.
Mr. Fahrenheit: We should probably try to figure out what killed him.
Fearless: Awesome! And you and Hueco can do that when you take his body into the jungle.

Hueco picks up the upper half of the body by the arms and Mr. Fahrenheit picks it up by the legs. They begin to shuffle off into the jungle when Madoka rounds the corner on her way to the mess tent.

Hueco, to Madoka: Hey kid! Wanna see a dead body? Go get some shovels so we can bury this thing.

Somewhere between some of the large trees near the edge of the camp Madoka walks up to Hueco and Fahrenheit dragging two shovels in one hand and carrying a soycafe.

We get a short comedy scene with Madoka and Mr. Fahrenheit in the foreground arguing over who should help Hueco dig the hole, framing a vaguely out of focus Hueco double-fisting shovels and throwing dirt off to the side like a snowblower. He cuts into the conversation, "I'm done."

The three roll the body into the hole, and right before they start burying it they begin to discuss how they died. Upon examination, the man's throat was slit, and there was a large hole carved in his chest.

Mr. Fahrenheit suspects that he was killed with either a knife or a small sword (like the one that he brought to camp with him). Hueco offhandedly says that someone might have karate chopped his neck, making the motion as a blade extends from the bottom of his hand, explaining why Hueco might think this (and strangely implicate himself?).

Madoka notes that two mercenaries tried to shiv Tek the night before while it was raining. Mr. Fahrenheit explains his dream from the night before, and that it was strangely comforting when he woke up. Fahrenheit also comments that Hueco had a giant dick in his dream as well, 'it was huge. this big.'

Hueco: Wow. That's really fucked up, dude. But you know, I also had a dream last night too.
Mr. Fahrenheit: Was it the same dream?
Hueco: In my dream I had an awful rest and then I had morning patrol, and then this morning I felt exhausted and then had to go on morning patrol. Do my prophetic dreams make me a wizard too?

Mr. Fahrenheit checks astral space, and finds it to be rather comforting. He does similar tests to what he did previously, and can't determine whether the magical seals have grown or not. Upon returning to meat space, he finds that he is once more not uncomfortable with all that has gone on, which then makes him very uncomfortable. He also thinks he might have seen several of the same spirits patrolling camp, but isn't sure.

The group buries the body and then returns to camp. Fahrenheit catches Makoto leaving the mess tent and asks her some questions. She is not forthcoming with information, answering with short statements, visibly annoyed or defensive. Fahrenheit reveals that he has been having weird, disturbing dreams and learns that Makoto has not. He attempts to be vague about his magic specialty, but Makoto remarks that all he's done so far is poke around in astral space while she's been doing all the work of protecting the camp and her team. Fahrenheit compliments her efforts, noting that he finds her measures very logical and effective.

Back at the tent, the group discusses their findings, summarizing a lot of what they learn until Hueco asks if the body they just buried is going to come back to life. Mr. Fahrenheit 'well, actually's Hueco in regards to zombies and the undead, revealing himself to be a giant nerd and that he definitely used to be a goth kid. The episode fades out during his explanation that it's impossible for it to become a zombie.

Post-Session Notes

This session has probably been one of my favorites. It would have ranked highly just at Engie's reveal that he's an experienced runner, that this team wasn't his first team, and he's done way more jobs like this than anyone expected. Engie also standing up to other characters in the party and telling them "No, I am not doing this," is significant because Engie has spent most of the campaign so far doing what the other characters told him to do (or whatever the head chef of the place they've infiltrated tell him to do).

In addition I got to see the players start making ties between events in interesting ways. I get to introduce small things during scenes and then spotlight similar things and the players will think back and psych themselves out.


  • Madoka's player linking the murdered man's wounds to Tek being shived recently.
  • Fahrenheit trying to ascertain whether or not the magical field has changed after the murder, suspecting it to be part of some kind of spell or ritual.
  • The party assuming that Manifest is plotting to kill them with no evidence to support that. (Called out perfectly by an experienced Engie, who pieces together a bunch of other things to come to the conclusion that Manifest is doing the exact opposite and is trying to make sure nobody dies.)

Something that didn't fit well into the summary is how much time all this is taking. All of the events here can be fit into a very small window of time, but are instead dragged out across two days. The tension is incredibly high for the player characters because there is so little going on in camp that all the events that do happen get treated as if they are much larger than they are. They are sitting around doing nothing for sometimes ten or twelve hours in a tent in rain so loud you can't hear what's going on, with no internet. The food is MREs and hot water with cheap instant soycafe.

I am not sure when the scene where Busty gives Madoka advice about keeping a list actually happened. I am kind of guessing with where it happened because there is a *lot* of downtime and it could have really happened between any of the major events. Either way, since that scene Madoka has been keeping track of things she wants, featuring items such as cup noodle and more manga.

Long periods of downtime in a confined space with people that are openly antagonistic towards you and yours is a breeding ground for conflict, and I love that the party felt the paranoia building. It's so rewarding seeing my plans pay off as I slowly introduce minor complications and seeing the players get quicker and quicker to overreact.