Across a Sea of Stars: Neptune’s Pride Game Diary #3

Neptune's Pride featured image

At the end of Part 2, things were starting to look a little sticky. The Galactic Peace Organisation still seemed to be holding things together, just about. Non-GPO signatories Leo2k5 (purple) and RoboCaptain (bright red) had almost annihilated Grand Space Lord Al (bright green) in the north-eastern region of the galaxy. Captain Wells (light blue) and myself (CitiesInDust, dark blue) had begun peacekeeping operations against Leo2k5, nibbling at his borders to encourage him to hold off from annihilating Grand Space Lord Al. Captain Wells and LiberalEurope (yellow) were also doing the same further northwards against RoboCaptain.

In the western quadrant, Blueshif2k5 (dark green) was champing at the bit, with large fleets gathering on his borders with myself and Sirron (dark red). And I’m not sure of this, but I believe Sirron and LiberalEurope were experiencing border skirmishes with the last non-GPO signatory, Sargent Hatred (orange).

Meanwhile, beyond the galactic rim a shadow was spreading across the fabric of the warp. Astrogators and psykers plummeted into madness when they attempted to penetrate this black shroud. Yes, from far beyond known space, the Tyranid Hive Fleet Leviathan came to feed and repurpose…

Sorry, I don’t know what came over me there.

Before I go any further, a confession. At this point in the series my notes are a lot more sparse (they are essentially a bulleted list of key events) and cover almost as much of the game as the preceding two posts. Irritatingly, thanks to some urgent maintenance requirements for Arcadian Rhythms itself plus getting walloped with a brain-fuzzing headcold, I’d not written this piece as far in advance as I’d hoped to – and the game, Spearbeams and Tears (oh man, do Iron Helmet get space operatic melodrama or do they get space operatic melodrama? EDIT: actually that name was the work of game host Todd who was in turn inspired by Harbour Master) has now been wiped from Iron Helmet’s records. This means that I can no longer log in and read old messages.

Which means in turn that we are, unfortunately, almost wholly reliant on my memory, which makes the fallibility of ordinary human memory look like a delicately-engineered crystalline lattice by comparison. Fortunately, GPO founder LiberalEurope (yellow) is also writing up his experiences of the game – check out parts one and two – and if I get anything enormously wrong it’ll likely be corrected in his next piece, if not in the comments here by another player.

In any case, this is Neptune’s Pride. Of course we remember things differently. Many of us may have been allies but we were still rivals. Even the noble space turtles of galactic south had enough poetry in their hard-shelled souls that they occasionally wanted to yell “cowabunga!” and launch a deathfleet straight towards space war central.

 

Neptune's Pride Day 12

The Brief Respite

Here’s where we begin. Captain Wells and I have taken a few worlds from Leo2k5. I’m deliberately deploying a few fairly small fleets because no matter how committed I am to the GPO, I don’t fully trust my neighbours… well, not Blueshift2k5 or Sirron, at any rate. Neither has given me any actual cause to distrust them, but unlike Captain Wells they’ve not given me any reason to trust them, either.

As mentioned in the last piece, Leo2k5 starts to play ball around this time. Or at least, he starts to act like he’s playing ball. He’s evidently nervous because, despite being a powerful player with large fleets at this point, most of his ships are probably deployed towards what is left of Grand Space Lord Al’s territory, and now he has Captain Wells and myself nipping at his flanks. Captain Wells shares a border with him and is an equivalent power to boot. A fight must have seemed like a bad idea because he starts talking diplomacy – although he never actually signs the GPO pact. This is crucial. Perhaps we should have insisted upon him doing so rather than a cessation of hostilities toward Al – locking him in to a larger commitment so he had more to lose. As it was he successfully wasted our time for three or four days. Here’s a screenshot from a bit later.

Neptune's Pride Day 15

As you can see, Captain Wells has taken only one more world from him, and I have returned one (as a gesture of goodwill). Leo2k5 has also taken two worlds from RoboCaptain, though I’m not sure to what extent they were actually warring with each other. It’s possible they were opportunistic strikes, or maybe Leo2k5 was getting into the mythos of Doctor Terror and the Sleeping God.

Vying for Ascendancy (or, we will kick you in the Terriere)

Yep, the role-playing aspect of the game was still flying thick and fast. Personally, because there was so little going on in terms of fleet movement, I was spending most of my time bulking up my economy and industry (taking great care to perpetually maintain a stronger industry than Blueshift2k5, so that I had more ships than him and thus carried a large “Don’t Fuck With Me” stick) and sending diplomatic messages.

Alas, I have no more samples of these, but if you’ve read the previous articles. Then you can guess. At the form which they took. And at the content. Which plead for peace. In the face of a warring galaxy.

I was also drawing nice little constellations with fleet waypoints as I gathered up ships and concentrated them in fleets which I named Birthworlds Defence North, Birthworlds Defence West, Birthworlds Defence South, and Birthworlds Defence Central. There was no Birthworlds Defence East. It didn’t seem necessary.

Neptune's Pride Day 13

Going back to the two comparative screenshots above, you can see that not everyone was finding things as quiet as I was. Sirron has grabbed a dark red star from RoboCaptain: I think that may have been a trash world offered to him by LiberalEurope or Captain Wells so that he could join peacekeeping operations, or they at least suggested the target to him as the world looks to be well outside of scanning range.

You can also see that Sargent Hatred has struck at LiberalEurope and taken/retaken five stars – LiberalEurope was presumably busy hurling his entire armada toward Sham-Tau and Jabbar, the hell-worlds which Doctor Terror was rumoured to be interested in. Beneath the surface of one or another the Sleeping God H’lugh’hr lay, and the mind-slaved robot empire of RoboCaptain was burning through the Old God’s nine billion names with the fervor of the processed.

On which note, you can see the sizable chunks taken out of RoboCaptain in the second screenshot. He was obviously having a whale of a time playing the moustache-twirling galactic bad guy, and didn’t mind so much that this meant everyone was gunning for him.

Perhaps, once you introduce a spot of role-play, the dull mechanistic game of competitive numbers loses some of its allure – at least to some types of gamer.

The End of Doctor Terror… Or Is It?

At this point I find it more difficult to remember exactly what happened when, and for a while my own direct involvement diminished (except diplomatically, of course – I was still a talkative if stoical sort).

Ultimately, Leo2k5’s stalling is for naught. Captain Wells begins to make serious inroads and, like a vicious remora, I strike at the weaker worlds he bypasses. My two Expeditionary fleets are now supported by a third – called Antares’ Regret. This will prove to be somewhat poetic later in the game – remember when I mentioned Antares in part one? – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Eventually Leo2k5 announces that he is retreating his people to one final world, and that the rest of his worlds will be ‘abandoned’. This is effectively a declaration that he’s out of the game and doesn’t mind what happens so long as his last world is left alone. He is slightly annoyed that I have captured the world he intended to retreat to. I had no idea at the time – to me it was just a world with history. It was the one I had earlier captured and returned to him as an olive branch. Ah well.

RoboCaptain was similarly decisively smashed, and at some point he sent everyone else a message claiming that his people had broken free of Doctor Terror’s programming. Oh, so you want to play with the rest of us now, eh RoboCaptain! Well, since we were all now so invested in the story, we went along with this. What the hell was Terror up to next?

Spreading bloody dischord, that’s what. Blueshift2k5 was his next target. Or should I say… his next tool?

Keeping the Peace Back Home

For the next little while the game was all about Blueshift2k5. It seems that his estrangement from all of the action eventually became too much and he launched an all-out assault against Sirron, claiming that Sirron’s fleets had struck at him first. He was attempting to use the GPO’s web of alliance to his own advantage and get everyone else to accept his right to attack, or at least encourage us to not intervene. Within a day – at this point everyone’s research levels were high and fleets moved pretty quickly – he had made significant inroads against Sirron. Presumably the dark-red empire had over-committed to peacekeeping operations and left their borders relatively undefended. I felt faintly vindicated by this turn of events (although not for long – but be patient about that).

Once it became clear that Blueshift2k5 was going for all-out conquest, I decided to unilaterally strike against him. I launched every fleet I had available towards his nearest stars, including several captured from Sirron and several near Blueshift2k5’s homeworld. At the same time I announced this course of action to the entire GPO and swore that I would advance no further provided hostilities against Sirron halted immediately.

Neptune's Pride Day 20

I took every star I launched at then halted. Blueshift2k5 had left his own borders weakened thanks to his own assault. Presumably he assumed that, as a bit of a pacifist, I would dither as I had with Leo2k5. Nope. Not in the face of assaults on a GPO member, a technology trading ally, an active peacekeeper and with the aggressor a neighbour of mine.

Blueshift2k5 really didn’t like any of this. He complained to the GPO that my strikes were unwarranted, asking if they were going to let me get away with this.

Sirron’s reply was priceless: “Yep.”

The Gift

A day later it seemed that Blueshift2k5 had had enough. Fortunately, he chose to exit the game in the most superbly stylish way possible. He gave all of his friends gifts!

I really wish that I still had a copy of his message. Hopefully someone else does. The gist as I recall it is that he granted Captain Wells dominion over all of his stars north of Lesath (his homeworld). He granted Sirron all of his wealth. He granted someone else his technologies.

He granted the hard-shelled people of CitiesInDust his proud and powerful warships. They were ours to enjoy.

Neptune's Pride - The Gift

Yep, every single warfleet Blueshift2k5 possessed was heading straight for me. He had set waypoints on the stars I’d taken from him and my homeworlds – which were relatively undefended as I’d recently scooped up starships and concentrated them into larger fleets. Perhaps 500 ships were hurtling towards me from all directions.

Once I’d stopped laughing at the chutzpah of this fantastic fuck-you blitzkrieg, I rallied my fleets to my defence. I lost a few worlds but fortunately it was clear that Blueshift2k5 was more or less done with the game, and I outmanouevred his ships and mopped them up before retaking my stars. He kept launching more fleets as the game went on, but they were small and easy to manage.

Once the threat was dealt with I began to take his worlds. Captain Wells was already closing in to claim his gift. We diplomatically carved up Blueshift2k5’s empire and avoided as much accidental conflict as possible.

Neptune's Pride - mopping up
Blueshift2k5 continued to launch fleets at me all the way up until his banishment to the fringe world of Samakah. Yet even after all of this, the galaxy had another major event still to come.

The Betrayal

The day after smashing Blueshift and taking much of his empire, I woke up and logged on to the game to find my inbox full, a number of my worlds captured and the GPO in turmoil. LiberalEurope’s substantial holdings were being devoured. The aggressors? My closest ally through the game and the player who I had recently acted to save: Captain Wells and Sirron.

At this point Captain Wells was clearly the galaxy’s major player, so I chose to check my inbox before acting. And this I did take screenshots of.

The Betrayal #1

The Betrayal #2

The Betrayal #3

And that was it, for me. War were declared. I chose not to react aggressively but to accept, trusting the promise that no further worlds would be taken from me. I expressed a deep regret to the other players, but noted that pragmatically speaking, there was nothing I could do for my people but accept the olive branch offered me. Privately, I expressed sadness to Captain Wells that Antares had been taken, and he agreed to return it to me once the game’s outcome was impossible to alter.

He held true to that. Barely a day later he evacuated Antares and the hard-shelled fleets of CitiesInDust returned to the shocked world. Mere hours later, Wells captured his last few stars. The game was over. The globe-headed light blue aliens in the centre of the galaxy had won.

[This is part three of an ongoing series about a match of Neptune’s Pride played by fans of Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Electron Dance. The game is now concluded. The follow-ups to this post will appear on Mondays throughout February 2012. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 can be found here.]