posted by Feinne Original SA post

Dark Matter: The Killing Jar

The Killing Jar is the one and only full module released for Dark*Matter. I also have actually GM’d this adventure. We’re going to start with the introduction for now, because while there's not much I can talk about without spoiling some of the crazy places this module goes I generally really like what's included in this part and want to have some good things to say about the whole thing.

We start with the standard guideline on appropriate parties. They suggest 3-6 characters of any level, though they also suggest you might want to add some extra enemies at times if the average party level is above 5. It then moves on to some super boring basic ‘hey here’s how you use a module’ which is kind of a nice inclusion honestly given the target audience of such things. The introduction then summarizes the plot, which I’m going to pointedly skip to preserve some fun surprises, so let’s move on to Getting the Heroes Involved.

So the hook suggested is that one of the PC’s car is stolen with something important in it, then turns up again in West Virginia. The idea is to generate a situation where the PCs feel the need to actually go pick it up in person. They do note that this option does really require them to be in the general vicinity, and suggests some options for this. It does also have an alternative if you’d prefer not to be so railroad-y, where the PCs receive an anonymous tip about an abandoned car that starts the adventure instead.

After giving the GM some text to use as part of the hook, it then moves on to the chain of events that leads to the PC’s car being stolen by, it turns out, someone connected with the adventure. I’m going to skip past this for now because again it spoils the plot.

The majority of the rest of the introduction is the Lexicon, which is actually super handy because it lays out mechanically how the PCs could research concepts and people that come up during the adventure and what information is available from such research. Honestly it’s actually kind of good of them to give the GM some information on ‘hey what happens if after they learn this person’s name they try to search online for something about them’.

There’s a sidebar on what to do if the PCs intentionally or accidentally get the authorities involved in the proceedings, and the introduction ends on a simply charming list of references. So I’ll mention this again but this module did in the way-back actually have web sites that were put up in support of it so that the players could actually do things like check a nefarious company’s web site or email a mysterious person’s address and get a reply. They’re not still up but it was kinda cool.

Next time we’ll start digging into the meat of this in Act One.

Act One, Scene One

posted by Feinne Original SA post

Dark Matter: The Killing Jar

Act One, Scene One

Act one starts with the heroes heading to Hurricane, West Virginia after the stolen/abandoned car. They have to pick it up at a tow lot and if the alternative hook was used it’ll cost a bit more as they need to bribe the guy at the lot instead of just paying the impound fee. They can get some basic information on where the car was found abandoned if they care to from the guy. They can also try and sneak onto the lot, though it’s actually pretty well secured so this is likely to end up in tears.

So let’s get on to the car. The next clue in the chain of the adventure comes in the stuff the car thief left behind, which is a small empty plastic container and their purse. The purse doesn’t actually have much information beyond the initials of the owner (though this is indeed the clue) and an unlabeled keycard that turns out to be useful much later, but what it DOES have is a tracking device that lets one of the major antagonists of the adventure track them if they keep the purse on hand (it’s possible to notice but only if the PCs give the purse a proper search). The plastic container has some dried slime on it that, if you can send it to someone in the know, turns out to contain TPA (i.e. Stranger genetic material). As it happens the passenger of that container is still in the car, hiding in the stuffing of a seat, and it either attacks after the PCs have been driving a bit in the stolen car or immediately if they intend to abandon it for the moment. Say hello to the Tertiary Cnidocyte:

So this little fucker is a gross land jellyfish thing and it’s not really that much of a threat, in theory. It’s bad at hitting and even worse at doing damage, but the nasty thing is that little section on what happens if you take combat damage from it. If you take damage from a Cnidocyte and fail the check after combat you get infected with Clostridium cnidarae, which causes you to slowly transform into a Cnidocyte yourself. As it turns out (though the PCs don’t know this) the person who stole their car was in fact involved in research into these things and was trying to expose their employer’s attempt to weaponize them, but was infected while attempting to escape with evidence.

After this little surprise the scene wraps up with the PCs hearing or seeing in the news that a body has been found with monogrammed handkerchiefs that match ones in the purse dead from supposedly pneumonia. The CDC is name-dropped for extra conspiracy shit of course. So if any PCs got infected by the Tertiary Cnidocyte, shit starts to get icky over time for them, and dealing with any infections does provide a reason to push forward in the adventure since it’s not curable by human science.

So speaking of the CDC, the adventure does note that if any PCs got infected and realize they’ve got creepy micro-jellyfish eating their flesh they might be inclined to contact them. It suggests a couple of ways to deal with that, since the CDC being on the level and getting involved would make the rest of the adventure pretty much not happen.

If the PCs keep the bugged purse, the first issue this causes starts to come up now. Every few days the shady fuck secret agent from the evil corporation will send some thugs to try and deal with the PCs. They’re not a massive threat and they don’t know anything of value (they’re a bunch of random skinheads and Klan types who’ve been fed a story about why the party needs to get got).

Scene One does give you a lot of ways to get to the car, but does get a bit railroad-y as far as getting you from the car to the rest of the adventure. In retrospect it probably works better if the detective in the next scene connected the car to the body and the PCs and brings them in on hopes that they can identify the body, but we’ll talk about that more next time, in Scene Two.

Act One, Scene Two

posted by Feinne Original SA post

Dark Matter: The Killing Jar

Act One, Scene Two:

Last time the PCs recovered a stolen car and got jumped by a creepy land jellyfish thing. Now they’ll follow the kind of flimsy clues provided to learn the fate of the car thief.

The body’s in Charleston, and some quick research there lets them determine the detective on the case and that there’s been no information released. The next step then is to try and get information from him, which is reasonably easy if the PCs can come up with a plausible excuse for why they want it or have some kind of credentials.

The body was bloated and leaking weird jelly, so he called the CDC. While a good cop, the detective isn’t so bright because he totally bought that a guy calling himself “Jon Smithy” was in fact a legit CDC agent (it’s actually the secret agent mentioned in the previous update, Andrew Balance). Anyway the fake CDC agent bullshitted him that it was just severe pneumonia, and now the body is in the local forensics lab. Still, this guy is actually on the level and if they can convince him something weird is up he’ll team up with them for the duration of their stay in the city (which is pretty important given they need access to the lab).

The guy who runs the lab, Dr. Kline, is not nearly so honest and has been paid off by Balance to lose the corpse, any record of its presence, and anyone who comes snooping around for it. This is their second ‘in’ if they didn’t manage to get the detective on their side, the doctor is willing to let them come in after hours to earn the bonus he’ll get for disposing of them. With or without the detective you’re going to get told he’s just too busy to see you until then, which is pretty much what you’d expect from some power-tripping asshole running a lab so I’ll give it a pass for railroading that at least makes sense.

I’ll lay out the doctor’s planned ambush now. He tries to lure them into the dimly lit adjoining hallway in the pretense of showing them something (though he gets a bit antsy if there’s more than three people there). At this point the janitor comes in with a garbage cart, and asks for the elevator to be held. When he gets close he pulls out some gardening shears and attacks, while the doctor tries to inject the nearest player with anesthetic. They get a free surprise round unless the players have actively stated that they’re on-guard, which given the situation is super sketchy and it would be reasonable for players to do just that I’ll let go. There’s a third element to this that isn’t part of the planned ambush, Agent Balance also sent along one of his subordinates to make sure Kline stayed in line and he’ll jump in as well if things turn south.

Doctor Kline is pretty much useless past that initial chance of knocking someone out of the fight so this ambush isn’t really so bad, especially so if you teamed up with the detective. Kline will fuck off and hide if it looks like things are going poorly, which I’d generally note as whenever the bullets start flying. The doctor will give up some information if they can get ahold of him, and searching his shit lets them figure out he’s not yet deleted the records on the body. He’s got a business card with an email address on it, which I’m pretty sure you could actually email and get some auto-replies back in the day.

The Specimen X file is basically his Ross Ulbricht mycrimes.txt where he lays out how he totally took money to dispose of this body and also sells black market body parts because I guess that’s a thing you do when you’re a corrupt medical examiner. Ironically he still actually did his job with respect to examining the body rather than just incinerating it, and discovered the active C. cnidirae in it. There’s a bit of information on what he discovered about the infection, where the body’s personal effects are stored, and ominous mentions of a ‘sample’ that’ll matter later.

The car thief’s effects mostly exist to lead them to the next area, motherfucking Point Pleasant, West Virginia (if you noticed a brief mention of mothmen in one of the images last time this might not have been a big surprise). It also provides the name of the person she was trying to contact there. There’s a calculator in her lab coat with another bug if they evaded the first one, more good fun. If they look in the basement for the sample in Kline’s notes, they’ll find another Tertiary Cnidocyte in a barrel down there (formerly the lady’s head). Unlike the first one, this Cnidocyte actually leaves a body which could have awkward results if the PCs decide to take it with them given it’ll reanimate in about ten days if not burned.

The scene ends on giving the GM some suggestions to keep them interested if the players decide this is officially not their problem. Oh, and the tow truck guy from the first scene is murdered (which they hear about if they keep up with the news).

Next time we’ll hit up scene three and encounter the motherfucking mothman.

Act One, Scene Three

posted by Feinne Original SA post

Dark Matter: The Killing Jar

Act One, Scene Three:

Last time an old man and a janitor tried to murder the PCs and they got sent to Point Pleasant. Now it’s time for the motherfucking mothman.

So it happens that there’s a regatta going on in Point Pleasant to coincide with the heroes being there, as some local flavor. The adventure suggests using it to provide some relief when things get fucked up, there’s even a schedule provided.

Anyway the clues from last time sent you to find a Dr. Shabbir in Point Pleasant, who turns out to be an expert of sorts on the local natives. Shabbir gets all antsy if they bring up anything related to the missing woman or the mothman, and they’ll need to convince him that they’re not up to no good before he’ll let them in on what he knows. So here’s what he knows:

The car thief contacted him, though he didn’t know why. It turns out she was interested in his theory that the mothman sightings from ’67 were tied to a local shaman (Chief Cornstalk) who called it up with some kind of talisman with his dying breath after being murdered by soldiers, and to this day it protects his burial mound. He claims he’s seen mothmen, plural, himself. The burial mound is by the TNT area (which checks out with respect to the prior mothman sightings) and only Shabbir knows where it is and how to get in. He doesn’t know anything about C. cnidirae or the cnidocytes and of course never met the deceased woman in person. He does know she’d said the chief’s talisman was her ‘one hope’. If they express interest in going to the mound, he offers to guide them.

There’s a hilarious encounter table for the TNT area where you can run into some dumb teenagers, college kids necking, birds, and rent-a-cops. More threatening is the fact that, if the PCs are bugged, Andrew Balance is literally pursuing them in a whisper quiet black helicopter straight out of the best 90s paranoid fantasies. Two of his goons will be waiting at the mound to ambush them when they leave in this case, they’re pretty much the same as the guy who aided the ambush in the lab. There’s a bunch of general information on the old plant at the TNT area to give some nice detail as the party travels through.

So once at the mound, Shabbir produces his clue as to how to enter, which he received in a dream: a shaded circle, surrounded by seven concentric circles, with stars above. Can you figure out how to enter from this?

The solution is that someone has to circle the mount seven times at night.

Doing this right causes an opening to CGI itself out of the side of the mound, because remember straight up magic is totally a thing in the setting. It’ll close if you reverse the procedure above or wait until dawn, and naturally that means you don’t want to still be in there when the sun comes up unless you love being buried alive. The entry chamber has some sweet native art and a strong hint to investigate a large stone, which will provoke a guardian spirit in the form of a venomous snake.

It’s fortunately super fragile, though getting bit could be quite unpleasant. The hollow beneath the rock has some native artifacts in it, which may or may not be interesting to the players. The next room has some skeletons in cavities in the wall, then provides a bit of a jump scare because the party starts to fall under the area of an effect that disrupts electronic equipment, plunging them into darkness. After improvising some more functional light, the room turns out to be a record of the murder of Chief Cornstalk. The four bodies are those of the soldiers who slew him, as their clothing and equipment suggests and more art confirms.

The next room is the important one, the chief’s burial chamber. He and his son are in a pit, with a fucking sweet mask in one of their hands. There’s also a big pile of straw with some ominous relics of the Point Pleasant mothman’s previous known sightings, because this is where the motherfucking mothman lives. It’s the source of the electronic disturbances (it has a mutation that causes it). The mothman will attack if they cause any significant disturbance (such as trying to retrieve the fucking sweet mask that screams phat loot) and the curse binding it here makes negotiating with it sadly impossible.

That said, the PCs actually do have a couple of ways to get out of this without killing the mothman. For one, it’ll flee if one of them puts on the sweet mask. It’s also possible though difficult to dispel the binding if you know the right FX. One interesting wrinkle is that the mothman will always focus its attacks on any PCs infected with C. cnidirae if available, and equally will attack living cnidocytes if they are somehow present instead of the PCs. After the mothman is dealt with, they find the next breadcrumbs in the chain.

The car thief turns out to have been one Jane Scarborough, late of the American Home Devices corporation. She actually made it as far as the mound, but in her deteriorating mental state she lost track of her plan when the mothman attacked. Why not just read her notes yourself?

At this point the PCs need to get the hint that the mask is important, because it’s going to be necessary when they need to communicate with mothmen later in the adventure. Above and beyond that simply possessing it makes the mothmen later on more inclined to believe the PCs are legit. This is about where the players get jumped if they’re bugged, again two agents similar to the one from scene two. It’s not a real threat most likely, since unlike the mothman there’s no reason for them to feel the need to go easy on these assholes and they even have a convenient magical burial mound to dump their corpses in. Agent Balance doesn’t stick around to fight regardless, and if things go south he abandons these losers. This concludes the West Virginia segment of the adventure, next time the party sets out to try and figure out what the shit is going on.

Act Two, Scenes One and Two

posted by Feinne Original SA post

Dark Matter: The Killing Jar

Act Two, Scenes One and Two:

Last time the Point Pleasant Mothman was in this adventure, and the players finally learn of the evil corporation connected to the creepy shit that’s been going down. Now for the most grueling scene by FAR, because we’re going to investigate AHD Pharmaceuticals.

The first scene is just more research, discovering that the AHD in question is the “American Home Devices Corporation” with a pharmaceutical division in Shelbyville, KY that some research can confirm Jane Scarborough worked at. There’s not much to this scene and frankly the players best serve themselves by not extending it given how little useful information actually exists and how likely they are to end up attracting the wrong kind of attention if they get too zealous on this.

Scene two takes them to Shelybville, where there’s actually a wide variety of ways the scene can go. Shortly before they get to town another AHD employee, JD Wiker, will have shot up a grocery store (he was also infected with C. cnidirae and went nuts as a result). There’s some investigating they can do on that, though he wasn’t apprehended and has gone missing since so it can only go so far. Locals do in fact know Jane Scarborough, though by their understanding she’s on sabbatical (and obviously there’s no way to prove she’s dead what with her coming down with an acute case of the jellyfishes). The local library lets them discover where her search began, though this is again not terribly important.

Attempting to team up with the local police proves a tragic mistake, unlike Charleston. The whole lot are in AHD’s pay, and will in fact show up to assist them should an alarm go off in the facility (we’ll hit that in a sec). If the PCs make themselves suspicious, the cops will try to lure them into the drunk tank and get them captured by AHD’s thugs. If THAT doesn’t work, they’re in for a fight in the middle of the police station which doesn’t really have any good outcomes in the short term. Hopefully for their sake the players will consider the local PD of some bumfuck company town in the middle of Kentucky to be of questionable reliability and bypass them, though getting captured is a legitimate way of advancing the adventure.

The facility itself is apparently closed for the moment, ostensibly because of JD Wiker’s actions. If you are thinking there’s a secret lab that’s totally still open, well of course there is. The upper level is currently staffed only by four of the same agents that have been showing up throughout the adventure and setting off an alarm or fucking around too much in view of security cameras is a great way of getting into a pretty rough fight with them. It also alerts Agent Balance (who takes a pretty fair amount of time to arrive fortunately) and the local PD (though that might not turn out so well for them, hold on a bit). The agents will try and capture the PCs (they have some pretty slick subdual weapons) and again that’s one way of ending up in the actual facility. If they’ve still got Jane Scaroborough’s magnetic card this part gets a LOT easier, because while it no longer has access to the secret lab it still opens all the doors on the upper level without setting off any alarms.

Getting into the hidden lab either requires you to kill the Sheriff (he’s got a master key) or steal a key hidden in the CEO’s office, which is an obvious enough place for it that you probably don’t need a clue to figure it out.

The basement is where things get interesting, because regardless of how the PCs get in there everything’s gone to fucking hell shortly before (the security cameras in the lower level are unreliable, so the agents up above don’t consider it strange that they don’t know what’s going on down there at the moment). The main difference between being captured and sneaking in is that captured PCs need to find their equipment in the nearby lockers and whoops are all now infected with C. cnidirae.

So the encounters down here are mostly wandering. Let’s start with the weirdest, the ROBOT SECURITY DOG.

This little fucker is interesting because it’ll actually ignore heroes if they present a magnetic keycard (there’s even a suggestion if the GM thinks the players will need the help that it’ll assist them as long as nobody outranking them shows up). It’s not super powerful if they have to kill it, for one thing it has a shit action check score so they’ll likely get a lot of chance to tear through its health before it even gets to go. And yes it’s got fake foam on its muzzle from biting cnidocytes.

There’s also 24 tertiary cnidocytes total roaming the downstairs, and much more worrying six secondary cnidocytes.

These fuckers are a great solution to ‘what happens if they attract attention down in the lab and the handlers and police show up’ because they’re fucking rough and ‘three of them showed up and killed the entire Shelbyville PD’ is not at all an implausible outcome. For one thing they’re actually intelligent, this breakout wasn’t just some random occurrence but the creepy fucker things noticing the power goes out every so often and waiting for their chance. The researchers they encounter down here are all in late infection stages and that’s just going to make the problem so much worse in the near future. There’s a technician who’s managed to evade detection so far that they can rescue, he’s not super helpful though. He is one potential way for the PCs to escape if they’re captured and can’t come up with any other way out of their cells, and I’d imagine that’s the main reason he’s in the plot at all.

There’s a quite rude encounter where you find where they were storing the cnidocytes, and if you are unlucky one of the secondary cnidocytes that hadn’t previously escaped breaks free and joins the fun then. The PCs can get a bunch of their questions answered in the computer room, which also is one source of the information they’ll need to finish the adventure (that this all originated in the Mammoth Caves). They’ll also learn that there are more mothmen present in the facility. One thing the PCs might discover is that the whole fucker place is rigged to blow if need be (and indeed this will happen one way or the other once AHD realizes the place is compromised).

The mothmen are sadly mostly dead by the time the PCs arrived, having been defenseless when the cnidocytes escaped. They’re the reason they could escape at all ironically, as they also have the electromagnetic disruption mutation the Point Pleasant mothman had. With the mask from Point Pleasant they can get some information from the last surviving one, namely that the mothmen and the cnidocytes are enemies and the mothmen possess the means of curing any infected PCs, and would do so if they’ve got the mask (though it’s not 100% mandatory as they’ll be having to do a bit more work than that that makes up for not having it).

It’s possible though difficult to save the mothman and potentially reunite him with his tribe, which would also be a good ‘in’ for PCs seeking the favor of these cool cats.

I summarized this fast and loose but I cannot emphasize how fucking grueling this section is. The facility is quite large and the way the encounters are structured causes there to be a lot of small and easy fights that mostly serve to wear down resources and keep the players on edge. In retrospect how I’d probably run this now is to make it nearly foregone that the players slip into the secret facility but then equally nearly foregone that they trigger an alarm once inside, which will cause the agents above and dirty cops to show up and try and ‘assist’ the secret lab. They’ll again be easily defeated by the cnidocytes but give a good excuse for cutting down the total number to ‘whatever lets you feel like the players have gotten the point’.

The next part is way cooler, stay tuned next time for the climax of the adventure and some exciting new crazy shit.

Act Two, Scene Three

posted by Feinne Original SA post

Dark Matter: The Killing Jar

Act Two, Scene Three:

Now it’s time for the final scene of The Killing Jar, where we go to the Mammoth Caves and see where this all started.

The Mammoth Cave section starts with the potential for the PCs to ask the park ranger on duty for some information. He can tell them where AHD’s lease is on the site, though he warns them not to trespass. It’s possible to convince him to come along, and not entirely unhelpful but equally unimportant.

AHD’s plot is staffed by two botanists who are doing legit research and aren’t aware of any of the creepy shit and the two thugs who capture mothmen for them. It’s definitely possible to snow the botanists into showing the PCs the new cave entrance AHD found and has been using, because they don’t know of any reason to care too much about security. The park ranger is especially helpful in this regard though again not necessary. A peaceful resolution being easy here is kind of nice given these people haven’t really done anything to deserve violence.

There’s a bunch of rules to support spelunking next, which is really nice. There’s all sorts of descriptions of cave formations and conditions, and the rest of the section continues on with laying out how hard the rooms are to traverse.

When the PCs get down into the cave entrance, the two researchers there actually assume they’re with AHD (because how else would they be there) and it’s totally possible to bluff them into giving you quite a bit of information before they figure things out. They’re not really combatants even if they do get alerted and shouldn’t even really impact party resources.

Early on the rooms are pretty normal. The PCs eventually get roadblocked by the same thing AHD has been stopped by, a literal magic wall. A nasty little spell strikes the first player to touch the wall unless the mask from Act One is produced, which is also a way to dispel the wall (the drum from the burial mound will also do). From this point on they’ll start running into ‘mummies’ petrified in argonite (naturally eventually in one room they’re animate) and a cnidocyte. There’s not much to the area though, because the adventure recognizes the PCs really need to have as many resources as possible for the bullshit it’s about to pull.

The end of area and climax of the adventure is coming upon a gathering of mothmen shamans, who have in fact gathered after foreseeing the coming of the players. They’ll lay out the basic story behind all this, namely:

There was a big shapeless horror monster from the fucking HOLLOW EARTH they call the Beast. While they banished it, a small portion of it was left behind, which they call the Residuum. In order to banish it they agreed to a Pact that prevents them from trying to actively kill the Residuum, and with AHD’s attacks against their tribe they’ve lost the ability to contain it. So they want the PCs to kill the Residuum for them (they can assist in an extremely important way but not actively fight it). They’ve got the cure to C. cnidirae and that’s the only way they’ll agree to give it to them. One of the shamans will give the party a sweet item that will negate d6 physical hits on one person (if they pass a Will check) if they agree, and they’ll remove the nasty spell from the wall, then they’ll summon the fucker.

So Residuum is a goddamn hand made out of jellyfish shit the size of a bulldozer.

So what the shamans are doing is channeling a ritual that prevents the Residuum from using its savage Dissolve/Mind Blast combo to just frag them like toads on a stove. It’ll try to do just that on its first action before realizing something’s wrong and trying to get to the shamans. The PCs need to kill it before it can manage to end the ritual, pretty much. Their biggest advantage over it is that it’s kinda shit at hitting things due to its awkward size. It’s not written this way but I’d probably allow fire to ignore its armor and maybe even temporarily weaken its defenses given fire is notably its weakness. Still it’s actually not as hard to kill this thing as you’d think if you’ve got some solid guns (which there’s no reason not to have rolled out by this point).

Once you’ve killed and burned the ugly fuck thing the mothmen will give you the cure and take you to see the FUCKING HOLLOW EARTH real quick before escorting you back to the surface. Assuming he’s still alive Agent Balance tries to jump them once they reach the surface, when I ran this the outcome was amusingly satisfying given a lucky Amazing success killed him in one hit. If the party resources don’t look so hot after Residuum I’d probably have the mothmen show up here to get revenge on AHD (but have Balance manage to slip off to potentially bother the party in a later adventure). If you ever do manage to kill him during the adventure Balance does have a fucking sweet gun he managed to acquire through some shady dealings, a really sweet pistol that’ll be hard as fuck to get ammo for.

I kind of like the adventure overall honestly because developing the plot thread of ‘shady corporation exploiting Stranger shit and everything usually goes wrong’ is not exactly hard. Also giving whoever you work for the cure and very possibly having given them samples of C. cnidirae is always a nice thing to remember if you ever want them to turn out to have been evil all along.

In the next couple of days or so I'll probably start going over the Xenoforms book, which is full of some charming takes on cryptozoological shit.