Numenera Session 2: The Great Slab

Drawing of yours truly by our youngest player

Previously…our heroes were on their way to the Great Slab (Numenera, p. 187), the most impressive landmark in the land of Dessanedi, in the Beyond. The party aquired a trio of adolescent scutimorphs to serve as mounts.

We added two players to our Numenera game this time. They are regulars in the gaming group, they just weren’t available for the first session.

  • Christi played Casper, a stealthy nano who exists partially out of phase.
  • Jerrod played Dr. Deth, a tough glaive who works miracles.

The existing party (Catastrophe, Boomshakalaka, and Sparkles!!!) met Dr. Deth on their way to the Great Slab. Deth was a military doctor who’d been left behind by his unit when he insisted on taking care of a wounded soldier who couldn’t keep up with the rest of the army. The soldier had ended up succumbing to his wounds, leaving Dr. Deth alone. After meeting the party and helping Sparkles recover from the reality spike wound in his foot, Deth joined their expedition to the Great Slab.

Around the time the party got their first glimpse of the Slab in the distance, they spotted a woman being menaced by a pack of broken hounds. The woman, Casper, had taken cover in a tree, and the party rushed to her aid. (All but Sparkles, who was mourning the loss of one of his wine bottles during the journey.)

Catastrophe drew first blood with her crossbow, killing her target, and then made the rest of the party uneasy when she started skinning the creature in the middle of combat. After overcoming their nausea, the other party members made quick work of the remaining hounds, displaying great skill and still refusing to use Effort. The only dicey moment was when Casper botched a buzzer shot and fell out of the tree.

After the fight, Catastrophe made a few shins by selling crafted items to her colleagues. Dr. Deth now sports a new sheath made of broken hound leather, and Boom is the proud owner of a fancy feathered hat. Deth and Casper each climbed onto one of the party’s scutimorph mounts behind an existing rider, and the party resumed their journey.

The Great Slab! The party members had heard the legends, but none had seen it in person. The slab is a giant rectangle laid flat on the ground, measuring over 900 meters tall, 2 miles wide, and more than 4 miles long. (Based on the name, at least one party member expected it to be standing upright, like a monolith.) Approaching the western side of the Slab—one of the short sides—the party discovered a small shanty town made up of various sizes of tents perched within a quarter mile of the Slab walls. Sparkles suggested they avoid it for now, and his curiosity for the mysteries of the Slab itself was infectious.

Before they could reach the Slab, though, a man called out from behind the party. He had come from the shanty town and caught up with the group by using his hover boots.

Catastrophe immediately wanted the hover boots.

The man introduced himself as McLin Terbone, the owner of the Great Slab, and earnestly welcomed the party. He even wore a sash, embroidered with the word “Owner”, to back up his story. Our heroes swallowed their surprise and politely asked the man how he had come to own such an enormous landmark. “That’s a long story,” he said, but he did go on to share what information he did have about the Slab–which wasn’t much. He told them that it had been around for longer than anyone remembered, and that he didn’t know of anyone succeeding in their attempts to climb it or fly over it. He also didn’t know the makeup of the reddish-black oil that constantly flows down the sides of the Slab, but mentioned that a scientist in one of the nearby tents was studying the substance. Indeed, the Owner said, she is offering to pay anyone who will drink some of the stuff so she can study its effects, if any.

Boomshakalaka immediately ran to find the scientist’s tent. (His comrades believe his dedication is to shins rather than science.) Casper followed along.

Sparkles and Deth headed over to the Slab to examine it up close, and Catastrophe worked to get more information out of the Owner. He had said that the way he became the owner was a long story, and she convinced him to take the time to tell it to her. We’ll see what he told her later. Be patient.

(I didn’t have anything in mind to reveal about the Slab’s origins, so when Catastrophe’s player asked if she could make it up, I was happy to oblige her. She worked on the story while the rest of the party continued adventuring.)

Over at the shanty town, Boom and Casper searched for someone looking like a scientist. They passed numerous small tents, a grand one where some sort of merchandise was being sold, a pen with two aneen, a tent with smoke pouring out of it, and then the largest tent of all, before Boom decided to stop. People in hooded robes were coming and going from this grand tent, and Boom asked one if this was the scientist’s tent. No, one said, that’s the smoking tent next door.

Boom and Casper ducked inside the smoking tent. A white-haired woman wearing thick glasses was working with a variety of vials and other containers on two large tables. Most of the vials held the oily liquid from the Slab—let’s call it Slab oil. Boom got right to the point, telling the woman that he’d heard she was offering 20 shins to anyone who would sample the liquid. Caught by surprise (and lacking any other takers), the scientist agreed. (She’d been offering 10.)

The scientist led Boom to a chair with straps at the arms and legs. “For your own safety during the experiment,” the scientist explained. Boom initally balked, until the woman paid him in advance. Then he helped her strap him in. He gulped down the oil. Said it wasn’t too bad. The scientist asked him lots of detailed questions about how he was feeling. Fortunately, Boom suffered no ill effects.

So far.

Meanwhile, back at the Slab…Sparkles and Deth determined that the Slab felt smooth and solid behind the flowing liquid. Sparkles used his Scan ability to learn a few details:

  • The wall is one meter thick.
  • There’s breathable air on the other side of the wall.
  • There is evidence of power conduits on the other side of the wall.
  • An energy field covers the outer wall.

While the two men studied the Slab, Catastrophe presented them with the Owner’s tale of the Slab’s origin.

The story must be true. She wrote it in a reporter’s notebook.

The Origin of the Slab, as told by its Owner, and recounted by Catastrophe:

“Long, long ago, the people who lived here worshipped the Slab. At that time, the Slab was made of bacon. Someone banished or killed all the worshippers and ate all the bacon. Then other people made a new slab out of pork. The pork slab was eaten too. The people of the region then went for years without food; over 10 million people died. Then 3 people got together (including me) and we built a new Slab out of metal and synth. It took 2,368 years. The end.”

Apparently the Owner is older than he looks.

Sparkles and Dr. Deth were unconvinced about the accuracy of this tale. Sparkles moved on to using a detonation cypher to try and blow a hole in the wall.

Boom and Casper left the scientist’s tent after hearing the noise and headed back to the Slab—along with a large group of villagers. The 9 hooded villagers took the lead, looking angry as they marched toward Catastrophe, Sparkles, and Deth. (Catastrophe tried to defuse the situation by putting on a hedge magic show, but it only generated interest from the non-robed folk. Still, she ended up earning some shins.)

Boom and Casper got separated in the crowd, but both had the same idea: get back to the Slab before the villagers do, in case their allies are in danger. Casper swung by the aneen pen and “borrowed” one. She took off for the Slab on aneenback.

Boom spotted a creature, too: a balloon bird (level 3, flies as level 4). He had heard of these, but had never seen one. Though they are actually lizards rather than birds, they do have the ability to inflate their bodies an enormous amount with lighter-than-air gases. Boom figured such a creature would be a great aid in getting back to the Slab quickly, so he jumped on its back. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as successful in winning over the balloon bird as he had been with the scutimorph, and it bucked him off. When he got back up, he was confronted by two angry-looking women.

“Why were you bothering Cloud?” one of the women asked. Boom tried to talk her into letting him borrow the balloon bird for a while, but she didn’t buy it. In fact, the woman was so offended she took a swing at Boom. In an astounding change of fortune (meaning Boom’s player rolled a 20), Boom ducked under the punch, leapt onto the back of the balloon bird, and took off into the air.

Back at the Slab, Casper arrived in time to make a stand with Sparkles and Dr. Deth when the robed villagers strode forward angrily to confront them. “How dare you blapheme this holy place!” The robed ones turned out to be a group of Slab worshippers. Dr. Deth stepped forward and smoothed things over with the worshippers, convincing them that nobody was trying to hurt the Slab, and asking them to tell him more about themselves. The lead worshipper introduced himself as Tharu Abanazad, and said that he and his fellows had all had different visions of the Slab; in his own, he saw the Slab opening up and releasing wonders into the world. Tharu believes this vision will come to pass soon.

The Priest of the Slab also mentioned his belief that attempts to enter or climb the Slab are folly. For one thing, he said, some force seems to be protecting the Slab from these activities. Numerous accounts of such attempts have failed, many of them attributable only to “bad luck.” If the makers of the Slab wanted it climbed or entered, Tharu reasoned, they would have provided stairs or doors.

During this discussion, Sparkles performed some experiments on the Slab using his sheen of ice ability. He found that he could freeze the oil to the side of the Slab for brief periods, so he used this technique to start climbing up the wall.

Most of the Slab worshippers and other villagers present watched Sparkles’s ascent with awe–except for those who had been won over by Catastrophe’s magic show. Her show became so popular among her fans, in fact, that they brought forth a supply of wood and built a stage for her.

While Sparkles and Catastrophe were putting on their respective shows, Casper attempted to phase through the Slab wall. It worked! Well, eventually. It took her a long time to squeeze her molecules all the way through the dense wall.

As Casper moved deeper, Sparkles moved higher. Thanks to his skill with ice, his knowledge of ice manipulation lore, and a lot of luck, Sparkles neared the top of the Slab wall. Then he activated a cypher which allowed him to funnel his freezing Slab oil upward at great speed—and he shot up onto the top of the Slab!

Casper had moved almost halfway into the Slab wall when Boom returned, riding his stolen balloon bird. Seeing Sparkles reaching the top of the Slab, Boom aimed to land nearby. When he got close to the wall, Boom and his ballon bird were buffeted by strong winds–winds that weren’t at all in evidence moments before. Realizing his chances for reaching the top of the Slab–and perhaps even landing anywhere safely–were plummeting, Boom activated his danger translocation cypher. This gadget would supposedly teleport the user to safety immediately after the user was hurt in any way. Boom tested it out by leaping off his mount and aiming for the Slab wall. He struck the wall, and vanished!

Around that time, Casper finished phasing through the wall and became the first party member to reach the Slab interior. She found herself in a dark, cool space. Activating a glow globe showed her that she was in a long, tall corridor made of smooth metal, the walls of which ran parallel to the Slab wall. Casper picked a direction and started exploring.

The first thing she found was the skeletal remains of a human. Casper looted a cypher and a book from the body. The book was so brittle it was mostly unreadable, but Casper managed to make out two noteworthy entries. The first was text: “1 17 32 805 67 83?” The other entry was a drawing of a vaguely human outline, sketched in red ink (or was it blood?). Casper continued her search, and in another hallway located a panel that activated overhead lights.

Elsewhere…Boom reappeared inside a high-tech-looking room. The air was cool and the room was lit by overhead lights and an array of waist-high instrument panels. Boom couldn’t resist touching one before leaving the room to explore. (It beeped, and turned off a humming sound Boom hadn’t noticed until it was gone.) Boom called for his friends, but the reply was only silence.

Up on the top of the Slab, Sparkles looked around carefully to make sure he wasn’t in any immediate danger. All was quiet on the Slab’s surface. He took in the magnificent view of the surrounding region, then set out toward the center of the Slab, where he could see an enormous valley bisecting the Slab from one long wall to the other.

Reaching the valley, Sparkles encountered a few strange hybrid animals, such as a half-lizard/half-bird, and a half-feline/half-animate-plant (all level 2). The animals seemed to be created by design, since their features weren’t blended in an evolutionary way but looked more like they had been grafted together–the left half of one beast connected to the right half of the other. Sparkles was cautious and did not prompt an attack by the hybrids, even when he captured a lizard/bird for later study. Indeed, a cat/plant became fascinated by Sparkles and followed him around.

Sparkles peered into the chasm bisecting the Slab, and estimated that he could climb down into it safely. Well, relatively safely. But first, he headed back to the edge to send a message to his allies.

Back in the Slab, Casper found a square room that featured floor tiles that illuminated in an indecipherable pattern. Before she could reach the other side of the room, a figure entered from the opposite door. It was translucent, and vaguely human shaped, and red.

To be continued!

Next time: Will the red figure be friendly? Is Boom in the Slab with Casper, and if so, is he close enough to her position that they’ll see each other in their lifetimes? Will Sparkles find a way to communicate with his friends (or more importantly, his cat/plant)? How long will Dr. Deth wait for the others to return before he gets bored and wanders off? And will Catastrophe end up bilking every single villager out of all their shins? Tune in next time to find out!

Player Quotes:

“Pardon him, he’s taken too many blows to the head.” – Dr. Deth (Jerrod) to the Owner, after Sparkles mentioned he thought the Slab would be made of bacon. 

“Super-fast working montage!” – Kaitlyn, describing Catastrophe’s crafting. 

“I run toward the town!” – Juan, revealing Boom’s avarice upon learning the scientist was paying people to drink Slab oil.

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