Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Universalis: The Really, Really Secret Area 51

Nevada. The blistering desert. Area 51. Meet Bob. Bob is a computer programmer on the Area 51 base. It turns out Bob is actually selling secrets to the Chinese and has written a devastating computer virus that is going to destroy Area 51's entire compute network. He is being pursued by Government officials. It's just near the turn of the Millennium when the Y2K bug is the big scare. There also appears to be some Russian interest in the information in which Bob is trafficking.

Bob is tearing across the desert grounds of the base with government vehicles in his rear view mirror. He flips open his phone and makes a call to a number with an excessive amount of digits. "I'm being chased. I will meet you at the 'old farm house.'" A terrific volley of fire erupts from the SUVs chasing Bob, shredding even the foam-filled puncture resistance tires and bringing the jeep to a quick halt. Bob was heading for one of the isolated hangars of the base, indicated by those codes words "old farm house." There, two Chinese commandos sporting assault rifles and rocket launchers picked up the dust on the horizon and made ready. As the government vehicles circled the jeep, they let loose with their rocket launchers, blowing up one of the SUVs. Bob, taking advantage of the distraction, bolted toward the commandos. Sgt. McHenderickson and Captain Culp dashed off after him. A Chinese sniper on top of the hanger fired at the fuel tank of one of the trucks, causing another explosion. As it turns out, this sniper was a double-agent, working for the Americans. With two precise shots, he brought down the two commandos but was then grabbed by base guards who had climbed atop the hangar. From seemingly nowhere, Bob whips out a gun and began firing as he spun in a circle, kicking up a cloud of sand and dust. When it cleared, Bob was gone...

This was going to be interesting. Captain Culp, it turns out was really a Chines double agent. But he was also working for the Russians, actually making him a triple agent! As the dust cleared bot Culp and McHenderickson looked around. McHenderickson's keen eyesight noticed a handle in the desert floor. A doorway into the ground! He and Culp opened it and went down a set of stairs into the tunnels beneath...

McHenderickson and Culp came to a T intersection in the tunnels below the desert. A sign indicated "Lab" to the left and "Hangar" to the right. The headed left and came into a lab filled with computer terminals and five bodies of some sort in tanks filled with a green fluid. The door through which they entered suddenly slid shut. Looking at one of the computers, McHenderickson saw this flashing on a screen: "Programmed Declination Deprecation underway: -59...58...57..." At just that moment, Bob appeared in the other doorway. With an ally, Culp raised his sidearm and fired at McHenderickson. The gun merely clicked. The Sergeant had seen him in the terminal's screen and laughed as he turned and clocked Culp on the head with his flashlight. "Don't you know we found out you're a spy? We wouldn't issue you a weapon that could do any harm!" The countdown ceased and suddenly the Lab was plunged into darkness. In the darkness, a tapping could be heard on some of the glass tanks...

Red lights began flashing and an alarm began blaring. The tanks opened and humanoid creatures came out. There were five. The computer terminals flashed, "Creature Electronic Locks Disarmed." The creatures came out, shambling toward the Sergeant and Captain. Culp began shaking with fright. McHenderisckson pulled his sidearm and knife, ready for a fight. The creatures hit Culp first, tearing him limb from limb. By now, Commander Genghis (who had previously announced himself over the intercom) had the lights back on. As the creatures turned on the Sergeant, he noticed they had red eyes but with Asian features. Was this the Chinese connection? Bob, recognizing the creatures were extremely dangerous, began firing his weapon, hitting one and sending spurts of neon green blood from its body. The closest creature to the one wounded turned on its wounded comrade and began attacking it and finishing it off. Bob turned and fled, McHenderickson close on his heels...

Bob and the Sergeant exchanged gunfire as they dashed through the tunnels and toward a hallway filled with offices. They realized the creatures were also pursuing them. McHenderickson asked Bob whether he had an iPod with 'N Sync on it. He did! They dashed into one of the offices. "If we're going to survive," Bob said, "we're going to have to work together." They plugged the iPod into the intercom system and began blaring the stale pop music. The creatures slammed against the office window and door, stirred up to a shrieking frenzy by their hatred of that boy band. They began trying to smash the windows when McHenderickson and Bob began blasting away with their guns. Neon blood splattered all around as the creatures were dropped by the gunfire. With the monsters dead, Bob whirled, his gun trained on the Sergeant who also brought up his gun. At the moment of this standoff, Bob announced that he was part of some undercover Chinese experiment. Before McHenderickson

We wrapped it up there. We were looking for ways to wind the story down but couldn't think of any immediately. You will note that the story suffers from inconsistencies not so much in logic as in simple plot: what was going on? This was the second go at Unversalis for the high school kids at the Library. We started earlier in the day and our first try became a strange tale of a dreadnought with no power and no milk products heading to the collision of two planets with a fighter and fleet chasing them. After a little bit of that, the kids wanted to try something that made more sense. So Ben said, "Nevada" and we went from there (no one remembering that Roswell and Area 51 are in New Mexico!) As far as the story goes, it's a little strange but that's because the players are getting used to the idea that whatever they say pretty much happens.

The most important question to answer is whether the kids had fun. They answer was yes. The rules of Universalis give a good structure to how the narration proceeds and the kids quite easily picked up the idea of the coins being paid to interrupt and take control of components. A little more uncertain were how exactly we were to use the complications. Part of it is just a need to review the rules now that we've seen how the game works. I think, had we had more time, we might have developed the story in greater detail. The time constraint meant that the last scene became a bit strange.

The other advantage of Universalis is that the game handles players coming and going quite easily. The story can be recapped quickly and players can come in and go out without messing up the story at all. This is ideal in our setting which involves multiple kids coming and going at all different times. We enjoyed the game and I am looking forward to seeing what else we can try with it. I'm going to have to pick up more "coins..."

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