A Plague of Spiders: Introduction

For the next 5 weeks, I’ll be presenting a convention game I ran for DunDraCon 2014. Entitled Retrieval Team Zeta: A Plague of Spiders and using the new World of Darkness 2nd edition rules, it features a cell of Cheiron Group hunters as they engage in one of their first missions as a team.  As might be expected casualties may be high. A full listing of available articles on this adventure can be found here.

Today I’m presenting the game background and introductory scene where the team is assembled and sent on their mission. Plenty of spoilers here.

Azlu3

History of the Spider Plague

After the economic meltdown of 2008, an overly ambitious mall in Cincinnati, Ohio found itself in dire straits. The anchor stores left one by one until the mall became abandoned. Now run by a holding company in Texas, the only employees are a small security team and an on-site manager. In May 2011, a new tenant moved in. A monstrous spider-thing called an Azlu.

But this Azlu was different. This one was the spawn of an unholy hybrid of Abyssal mind spiders and the demonic Azlu.

Azlu, or Spider Hosts, are the spirit shards of an ancient primordial monster slain by Father Wolf, progenitor of the werewolves. This giant spiders can control corpses, strengthen the Gauntlet, and even fuse with human beings to form spider-human hybrids.

Abyssal mind spiders are a product of the Abyss, created when a human mind is exposed to too much supernatural tampering. Naturally psychic these cerebral parasites interfere with the senses of other supernatural creatures and propel their hosts to infect others through the exchange of bodily fluids.

Once called Innocence, this hybrid monster survived the destruction of the original experiment that created her and others like her. She built a new brood. In Seattle she managed to get a scientist to recreate the disease. The epidemic was stamped out again but she took samples.

She relocated to Ohio and began carefully infecting people. Learning from her mistakes she took pains to ensure the disease didn’t spread and thus remained hidden from the authorities. She built a nest in the mall, overpowered and co-opted the security team, and began kidnapping street people to be infected.

Four months later, summer is ending. Dozens of people have gone missing. Mostly the homeless and travelers, they have yet to be connected to the mall. Many spider horrors have been born and no one is the wiser.

Then Michael Soares escaped. He had been a local homeless man who worked as security for a bit until the Azlu determined he was more useful as fodder. He managed to break his bindings with a hidden knife.

But he was already infected.

He died on the side of the highway about a mile away. The police found him and ordered an autopsy. Unfortunately it turned up that his brain was missing as well as trace remains of a parasite in his system. This triggered certain protocols. The hospital was owned by Weild Holdings so rather than go to the CDC or some other more shadowy organization, the results were forwarded to the Cheiron Group. Now they want a sample.

Themes: Neglect allows bad things to grow. Only because no one was looking has Innocence managed to get so far. Because the holding company has chosen to let the mall decline in the hopes of better profits an opening became available. Because no one cares about them, the homeless have been victimized by a monster.

Mood: Creepy crawlies. something is moving around in the periphery, stalking them, haunting the mall, waiting until they are weakest.

Scene 1: The Briefing

Location: The regional office for Verdant Technologies in Chicago, Illinois. A subsidiary of the Cheiron Group, it works with emerging biotech products. The regional office was just recently relocated and the facilities are fairly bare and empty.

NPCs:

Mr. Samson: their supervisor, a cheerless man dressed in gray. He looks like he hasn’t slept well recently and lashes out bitterly to any interruptions.

Action: Samson briefs them on their mission. Start with the mission background and goals. Then answer any questions from the remaining available intel.

Mission Background:

  • 3 days ago, a Caucasian man in his mid 40s was found by the side of Interstate 75 near Cincinnati by the state patrol. A vagrant named Michael Soares, his death was ruled suspicious by the authorities.
  • During the autopsy at Sky Health Hospital, the technician in charge, Dr. Carol Gregory, uncovered traces of an unusual parasite in the subject’s blood. A large amount of the subject’s brain was also missing without any signs of external trauma.
  • Dr.. Gregory is an employee of Weild Health Care, a subsidiary of Weild Holdings. This report was intercepted and forwarded to the head branch. Cross referenced with similar cases on file, head branch determined there was a 87% chance this could be a nascent outbreak of Cerebraraneae Greenberga, or CA-B.
  • Local reports have been falsified to buy time but the team needs to move on this immediately.
  • Checking local crime reports for deaths and missing persons reports, head branch has determined that the infection is localized to the northern edge of Cincinnati. There appear to be number of possible disappearances among the vagrants in the area, with roughly a dozen probable cases.

Mission Goals:

  • You are to go to travel to Cincinnati and see what else Dr. Gregory has uncovered.
  • You then are to locate where the subject was infected and obtain a live sample of the parasite.
  • If you encounter examples of stage 2 infection, you are secure them at once. Bonuses will be provided.
  • Once you have secured the infected, radio HQ. The samples and the team will be recovered by private helicopter.

Historical Background [provided on request]:

  • The parasite, designated of the genus Cerebraraneae, is essentially a microscopic type of spider which lays its eggs in the brains of mammals.
  • The commonest variety, designated CA-A, is relatively harmless. Common symptoms include headaches, itching sensations, nosebleeds, and irritability. Most cases end once the life cycle of the parasite is complete, a process which takes several days or weeks. At the end of the life cycle the host is induced to bite or otherwise exchange bodily fluids with another potential host. In a small percentage of cases, this leads to cerebral hemorrhaging, causing brain damage or death.
  • A treatment has been developed which cures the disease in better than 98% of cases. If need be the team will supplied with this after their mission is complete.
  • Strain CA-B has only recently been identified. There have been two known outbreaks before this one: Norfolk, VA in 2007 and Seattle,WA in 2010. Both cases were contained.
  • Strain CA-B causes a mutation in the life cycle of the parasite. In the majority of cases, this merely leads to the death of the host. In a minority of cases the parasites in the brain begin to feed off each other and the infected subject’s brain, causing the death of the host. The surviving parasite grows into a single large spider. We have yet to obtain a live specimen so the full properties of this creature are unknown. One recorded case suggests the spider can animate the body after death, serving as a surrogate brain. Recovery of a live specimen will result in the usual bonuses.
  • From research obtained from the CDC, the treatment seems to be effective against strain B as well though at a lower level of success.
  • There is a strain C, though only one person has ever been confirmed infected by it. It seems more intense than Strain B but its full properties are unknown. Genetic studies on the remaining samples suggest it may be that strain B is simply a hybrid of Strain A and C. If you find any subject showing signs of unusual infection secure them at once.