Feints & Gambits: The Battle of Tara

Friday night was the final session of my Feints & Gambits DFRPG campaign. The campaign ran 23 sessions, including the character creation and setting creation sessions1, over just about two years. We started with six players, and added another one part way through. That’s a pretty large group; I’d assumed that a couple of players would be unavailable each session, keeping the group to a manageable size. That assumption was mainly correct – most sessions, we had at least one player absent, but it was still a big group, and having a full house was… challenging. I had almost a full house for the last session; one player wasn’t able to make it2

As mentioned in the last post, I had the players doing some homework, preparing for the battle. They jumped on this opportunity pretty eagerly, and over the time between the sessions, I got a whole bunch of e-mail and stories about how the heroes were setting things up for the final confrontation between the Fey Courts and the prospective High King. We had Venatori Umborum strike forces hiding in the church with the arm-bone of St. Patrick, we had the power of the sun bottled in the hands of a powerful fire mage, we had a storm conjured by an international network of Wiccans, we had collected favours in the enemy camps, we had belief funneled to the King from a powerfully prophetic painting3, we had an army of mummified cats hidden in the trenches. And those were just some highlights.

To run this battle, I looked to the old Decipher Lord of the Rings game. While the game had some problems4, the game shone in two specific areas: the wonderfully appropriate feel of the magic system, and the simple, flavourful system for running large-scale battles. It’s this last bit that I lifted pretty much whole from LotR and dropped into this game. What makes the system great is that it resolves the battle turn by turn, showing the shifting fortunes of war, while allowing the PCs to have some cinematic hero moments in the midst of the chaos.

So, what I did was to stat up the two armies as opponents. I set the fey army at Good (+3), with eight stress boxes, and the King’s army at Fair (+2) and five stress boxes. There were aspects available from the location, and from the preparations each army had done5 that could be called on in battle. I also made a list of twenty events and scenes to roll out in the middle of battle for the heroes to deal with. This list had things on it like a ride of the wild hunt, challenges to single combat, favours being called in, and6 the arrival of Aengous Keogh with the Cauldron of the Dagda.

And then one of the players almost derailed the entire thing, as Mark O’Malley, acting as the King’s herald, negotiated the whole battle to be replaced by a sealed draft tournament of Magic: The Gathering. Now, it was a brilliant ploy, and I liked it, but I couldn’t let it work out the way he wanted – I had to shift the game back to the battle. Why? Not because I had planned this whole battle thing and it would be wasted. No. I’m willing to take a hit like that and improvise something new, maybe following the High King on his ordeal to prove his worthiness.

No, the real problem was that, if we went with theM:TG scenario, only Mark would be doing stuff. The rest of the characters would just be spectators at what was meant to be the climax of the campaign. And that just wasn’t right.

So, I pulled a fast one. I had the fey bring forward a changeling – a stolen child, who happened to be aM:TG tournament champion. When Mark figured out that he was in some jeopardy, he switched tactics and started trash-talking the kid, sending him running from the game in tears. The fey Warlords decreed that this meant the battle must go forward7, and so battle was joined.

At the start, I was worried that I had built the opposition up too high. The characters certainly felt threatened, and worried, and the first little bit of the battle was tight for the good guys. But then the gang started figuring out how to put things together using their preparations, spending Fate Points freely, and got things working in their favour.

I can’t do a blow-by-blow of the battle. Too much went on. Some highlights:

  • Nate reneging on the debt he owed Summer. He lost his fire magic, but used the sun power he had bottled in the preparation phase to regain it.
  • Mark whipping up a fast thaumaturgic ritual to drop a field full of landmines8 into the Nevernever.
  • Aleister taking out the Wild Huntsman with a single rifleshot.
  • Kate waking the souls of the 400 Irish rebels buried on the site to defend the High King.
  • Rogan leading her pride, and armed with a magic bell, breaking a fey advance and routing the attacking squad.
  • Safire blowing the head off a pixie who had come to tell her that her Granny was being held hostage9.
  • Aengous’s arrival, in a Guinness van, with the Cauldron of the Dagda, and his desperate, ill-fated drive across the earthworks10.
  • The Warden showed up and wanted to know how a war had sprung up on his watch, and got sent off to talk to the White Council for advice instead of interfering.

In the end, the battle turned out to be pretty one-sided, thanks to the intervention of the heroes. Near the end of things, the gang really pulled out the stops, taking out the leadership of the armies and playing on the enmity between the two courts. Despite being significantly outnumbered, the good guys actually drove the fey from the field without taking any significant losses.

And so, the surviving Tuatha De Dannan arrived, the Queens of the Courts in tow, and re-enacted the treaty whereby the Milesians claimed the surface of Ireland and the Tuatha and fey sank into the earth, and into a subservient place in the country. And thus, balance was restored and the Faerie Courts had to stop their blatant, manipulative games with the people of Ireland.

I wanted to spend a little time doing epilogues for the characters, but at that point, it was almost one in the morning, and we were all tired. We decided to call it a night, and to handle the epilogues via our forum.

And so it ended.

I want to thank my players:

  • Michael (Aleister Usher), who never let an opportunity to be a hard-ass pass him by.
  • Sandy (Kate Owens), who tried to keep a low profile, but still got sucked into things.
  • Chris (Nate O’Malley), who solved all problems with FIRE!
  • Erik (Mark O’Malley), who was the calm, rational O’Malley brother11.
  • Fera (Rogan O’Herir), who went from a lone, grieving warrior to heir to the power of her clan.
  • Vickie (Firinne O’Beara), who fought her trickster nature as hard as she could to keep her friends safe.
  • Jen (Safire Byrne), who showed up late, and lot her Granny in the battle.

You guys made the game great, and I thank you for it.

I hope you had fun.

  1. I count those because, as the rulebook rightly says, these are part of play. If you don’t believe that , you haven’t tried it. []
  2. We missed you , Vickie! []
  3. Yay! Alliteration! []
  4. Notably, the long prep time for GMs – it took me about three to four hours of prep time for each hour of play. Building NPCs and monsters was not fast, and setting up traps and obstacles took a lot of time, too. []
  5. Yeah, I let the fey armies prepare, too – mainly taking assets overlooked by the players. []
  6. Because it was necessary for the whole becoming-high-king thing to work. []
  7. Despite some grousing from the player about how leaving a game counts as a forfeit; see my note about having everyone involved in the game. []
  8. Secreted on the site by the Malleus Maleficarum, who didn’t kill which side they killed. []
  9. Downside was that they killed Granny. []
  10. Aengous needed to arrive with the Cauldron for the King to conduct his bid for Kingship. It was a single entry on my random chart, but every time I rolled something else, I crossed off that entry. If I rolled a crossed-off entry, it would be Aengous. So, the odds for his arrival increased as the battle went on, but I could never be certain when he would show up. As it happened, he showed up on the stroke of midnight, which was awesome. []
  11. Rational and calm only by comparison to Nate. []

Feints & Gambits: The Spear of Lugh

Last Saturday was the penultimate session of Feints & Gambits. I had pretty much a full house, missing only two players, so that was five players to wrangle1. On the other hand, given what I had decided they were up against, a larger group was not a bad thing.

Only two of the players had been at the previous session, where the gang secured the support of the Ciorcal Fuinseog and retrieved the Sword of Nuada. And one player hadn’t even been present at the session before, when the whole idea of the Ard Ri was laid out for folks. Seeing as this one was a member of the Venatori Umborum, he wasn’t disposed to trust someone who had, until recently, been dead.

I was a little worried about this last, to tell the truth, because the player, who had been kept up to speed on the games by other players, was saying things like, “I don’t think I’m on the same side as everyone else with this idea.” Now, I had some ideas about how to run the endgame no matter which side the group chose, but I hadn’t thought too hard about what I’d do if some of the group chose to support the King and some chose to oppose him. I had vague ideas, but quite frankly, it would have been a big pain in the ass. However, I should have just trusted the player, because he met me half-way very easily and naturally once things got rolling, and no problem arose2.

Anyway, I started the session with a more detailed recap than usual, because of the fact that only two of the players had been at the previous session. That’s the point I was trying to make.

So, after the recap, I let the characters who had met the King and agreed to help him explain things to Aleister. After Aleister seemed amenable3 to the idea, I brought in Liam Dalton, the prospective King, to meet Aleister and explain himself4.

Once that was out of the way, and the group was starting to plan what they were going to do for this session, I called a bit of a time out to explain how the final session was going to work. I followed that up with an e-mail message, spelling it out in more precise detail, so I’m just gonna paste that below so you can all see it.

Next session is going to be the battle at Tara, with Liam Dalton trying to become High King of Ireland. The Fey are going to oppose him – with force. The battle scene is going to be the main focus of the session, with you folks deeply involved, though not necessarily all together. You will be making individual actions, but you will also be making actions for the battle – trying to hold a flank, or press an attack, or fend off the air support of the Fey, whatever.

In addition to the normal stuff on your character sheet, you will also have some aspects that represent resources you have brought to the battle. These can be used in the battle rolls, along with your normal aspects. You already have a few of these: The Sword of Nuada, The Spear of Lugh, Rogan’s Pride, Power of the Ciorcal Fuinseog, stuff like that. I’ve got a list, but I’m saving it for when the session starts. The Fey also have a list of resources they can use – things like Nate O’Malley Owes a Favour, for example. I’m not going to tell you what they all are.

You can add to the resources your side has. How? Simple. Think up something that your side could use to aid them – special knowledge, another ally, preparation of the battlefield, a helpful artifact, whatever. Then write me a story about how you bring it over to your side. It doesn’t have to be long; a paragraph or two is fine. Post the story on the forum and then – pay attention, because this is an important bit – let me know that you have done so BEFORE JULY 27. Midnight July 26 is the cut-off point. Why? Because I need time to read the story and add the resource to my list.

If, instead of posting a story, you want to work out the details with me in e-mail, that’s fine too, but the deadline applies.

There it is. Have at it. And let me know if you have any questions.

I wanted to spell it out during this session, in case they had any ideas they wanted to implement during the session to add to their battle preparations. They spent some time looking at maps of the Hill of Tara and thinking of ideas, but decided to save things for the forum or e-mail, which is fine with me5. And they decided to head off to the Giant’s Causeway6 to get the Spear of Lugh.

The spellslingers in the group did a fair bit of preparation for the spell they were going to use to locate the spear once they got to the Causeway7. By their choice, they went to scout the Causeway in daylight, so the big problem they ran into was the hoard of tourists. Not very convenient for spellcasting, but Firinne, the changeling trickster, got the guides to give them some space to work with a story about spreading the ashes of her little brother here, with a ritual by his friends from a recreationist society, and they got away with it.

Their preparations pumped a lot of power8 into the divination, so I gave them a big result: a vision of the Organ at the Giant’s Causeway, transformed into an iron gate, behind which they saw flickering, hellish light. That, they knew, was where the spear was.

So, they came back after dark, using all their various stealth abilities, potions, and glamours to make sure they got across to the Organ undetected. Once there, Kate used the Sight to take a look at the place, and saw that it was a Way into a great hall full of formorians. Mark opened the Way, and they sauntered into Baelor’s Hall.

The place was huge, with open pools of molten iron, large trestle table, benches, hanging iron chains, and a massive throne upon which sat Baelor of the Evil Eye, with the Spear of Lugh mounted on the wall behind him. Also, about a dozen formorians sitting at table, feasting.

There was a little conversation, as our heroes tried to persuade Baelor to turn over the spear, but he just laughed at them – formorians are firmly on the Fey side of things in my world, so arguments that the spear would be used to end the reign were pretty much useless9. And then he ordered his warriors to attack.

Things went badly for the gang at this point. I had based the formorian stats on ogres, with a few little enhancements, like weapons. Baelor was toughened up from that, with a special eye blast attack. They hit like a ton of bricks, and were very resilient. Rogan scared one off with her roar10, and Mark stopped Baelor’s attendants from opening his evil eye by slicing their lifting sticks to bits with a blast of force. But by the end of the first exchange, pretty much every one of the characters had taken at least a minor consequence, and they feared for their lives.

Now, I had built the formorians to be horribly tough opponents on the physical battlefield, but weak in the other ones. I had filled the hall with interesting things that could be tapped as scene aspects. When they realized that they were outclassed in a fight, the characters decided to focus on their primary objective – the spear – and then see about escaping11.

Rogan shifted back to human form and dashed through the formorians to snatch the spear from the wall with a truly stunning Athletics roll. Everyone was preparing to give her cover to make her escape when Aleister dumped all his Fate Points on a single roll and shot Baelor through the eye, doing just enough damage to penetrate his armour and roll up off the end of his stress track.Now, I could have let Baelor take a consequence and continue the fight, but a couple of things argued against doing that.

First, Baelor wasn’t designed to be an ongoing foe; he was built to be an obstacle. With his warriors, he was a very tough obstacle, but I didn’t want to elevate him to the level of some other faces in the campaign, because I had introduced him for a single purpose. So, I had no vested interest in keeping him around.

Second, as I mentioned, Aleister had spent every single Fate Point he had on the shot. He’d rolled in the neighbourhood of 16 shifts of damage, and that kind of roll – and Fate Point expenditure – deserves a memorable success. Having Baelor shrug the shot off, though possible with his stats, felt like a dick move12.

Thus, Aleister shot Baelor right through his evil eye, causing his head to explode. His warriors, stunned and panicked by this development, fled. And our heroes took the spear and got out while the getting was good.

It was pretty late by that point, so we called it a night. Next session, everything ends, one way or another.

  1. When I launch my New Style Gaming in September, one of the things I’m focusing on, aside from running shorter campaigns, is running with smaller groups. Easier to schedule, and everyone gets more spotlight time each session. []
  2. Thanks, Michael! []
  3. All alliterative! []
  4. I found, listening to the characters’ explanation, that I hadn’t made clear exactly what the whole idea with becoming High King was all about, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to spell things out. []
  5. Of course, if they forget, well, that’s just too bad, now, isn’t it? []
  6. “Mark, do you have access to a va-” “NO!” []
  7. They came up with such good stuff, like making a little replica spear out of the remains of a bronze-age spear, and reading passages about the spear from the Lebor Gebala Erenn. It made me very happy. []
  8. More alliteration! Yay! []
  9. Or worse. []
  10. Mental and Social stress tracks were where they were vulnerable. []
  11. The Way had, of course, slammed shut when the formorians attacked. []
  12. This is an important thing I’ve learned over the years: rules go by the wayside when the player commits to an epic, cinematic moment. Let the heroes win, especially when they show you how important it is to them. []

Feints & Gambits: Circle and Sword

We’re rapidly closing in on the finale of the Feints & Gambits game. This was the antepenultimate1 session of the game, so only two more sessions left now that this one is complete. Things are coming to a head, and the pressure is on.

I had the smallest group for this session in I-don’t-know-how-long. Only three players were able to make it, and that’s the bare minimum we’ve set for quorum2. It was a bit of a surprise, because the previous several sessions have been full houses, or pretty close, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to play with a smaller group. Better able to give spotlight time to everyone.

So, who showed up? Well, we had Nate and Mark O’Malley, affectionately known as the Terror Twins3, and Rogan O’Herir, the heir to leadership of the ancient pride of were-smilodons who serve as mystical guardians of Ireland4. That gave us the bulk of the heavy-hitting power in the group, but little in the way of… shall we say, the social graces.

The game started with a recap, and then the gang started talking about what they wanted to do. Given that the overall goal was to prepare Liam Dalton for his ascent to the High Kingship, they knew what was needed: the Sword of Nuada, the Spear of Lugh, the Cauldron of the Dagda, the Stone of Kings, and as many allies as they could scrape together. In the previous session, they had determined that the stone at the top of the Hill of Tara was, in fact, the true Stone of Kings, so that was done. They also knew that Aengous Keogh had the Cauldron of the Dagda, but he had left for parts unknown after the fight at the Guinness Brewery. Macha, at the Silver Arm, however, told them that Aengous was prone to show up when and where he was needed.

That left the Sword, the Spear, and allies. In a wonderful display of confounding expectations5, they decided to try and enlist the Ciorcal Fuinseog6 onto the King’s side.

Now, I mentioned that none of the three were exactly diplomats. In fact, it might be fair to say that the majority of them7 are the reason diplomats exist. They were overmatched and outgunned in this department, and more likely than not to shoot themselves in their collective foot.

 

Okay, let’s look at a quick rundown of the players here:

  • Nate O’Malley, incredibly powerful evoker, specializing in fire. He’s got the typical temper of a fire evoker, and a big chip on his shoulder. But he’s trying to do the responsible thing, and that counts for something.
  • Mark O’Malley, not as powerful as Nate, but able to work both evocation and thaumaturgy. More polished and sneakier, but has a chip on his shoulder at least as big as Nate’s. He’s been turned down for membership in the White Council unless he undergoes a seven-year apprenticeship, so he’s trying to prove he doesn’t need them.
  • Rogan O’Herir, who turns into a smilodon. She tends to solve problems with her teeth and claws, in a very permanent manner. Last session, though, she promised to return to her pride at the end of this battle and prove herself worthy of leadership, so she’s tryng to turn herself into the kind of leader she’d want to follow.
  • The Ciorcal Fuinseog, a loose collection of minor mystical types – similar to the Paranet – who are dedicated to preserving Ireland. Well, sort of. It’s kind of a lie to say that the entire Ciorcal is dedicated to anything. They are fractious, bickering loners who co-operate only because it’s safer.

That’s three people who are not optimal for enlisting a strong ally, and an ally who’s not as strong and unified8 as anyone thinks. The thing I found interesting about the choice is that it wasn’t about who the characters are. It’s about who the characters want to be.9

But10 they had the secret weapon of the FATE system on their side – time to prepare.

They used their circle of customers from the bookstore to make contact with someone from the Ciorcal and laid the plan out to her. She agreed to get some representative fraction of the group to a meeting to hear the whole thing and make a determination. They also researched the Ciorcal to find out a little bit of information about them – this gave them the idea to offer them bread and salt to make them guests, seeing as how the Ciorcal tended to like the old ways.

Nate even apologized to Macha and got readmitted to the Silver Arm11, where he wanted to buy a bottle of mead to drink to seal any agreement that they reached. When he explained to her what he was trying to do, she brought him a special bottle of mead12 that she had made herself long ago. Rogan baked some bread13 and brought in some other food, as well, to lay a good table.

At this point, the group looked at me and said, “Well, I still don’t think we have a chance. What else can we do.” I blinked at them for a second or two, and then told them to write down a list of three or four aspects that they had accumulated through their preparations, which I had been treating like maneuvers14. They said that they hadn’t rolled for them, but I said that roleplaying for them trumped rolling for them any day of the week. Thus, armed with their preparation aspects, and the aspects of the Hole In The Wall bookshop, they brought in their guests and proceeded to make their case.

I ran this as a Social conflict, with a couple of little tweaks. First, I treated the entire dozen of Ciorcal representatives as a single opponent, giving them six or seven stress boxes, a single skill I called Resistance, set at Good (+3), and a few aspects. The idea was that, if the group was taken out, they’d join the fight. I would use Consequences to represent how close they were to being swayed. I didn’t want them to counter-attack, though, but I still needed a way for the characters to fail persuading them, so I set up three Strike boxes. Whenever the characters failed a roll against the Ciorcal’s Resistance, or when they did something that violated the sensibilities of the Ciorcal15, I would mark in a Strike. Three Strikes, and the Ciorcal walks – maybe right over to the other side, depending how things went.

Well, the conflict went about as well as I could have hoped. Everyone pitched in, incorporating the aspects in the fiction, not just for dice rolls, and fought as hard to accomplish this as they ever had to bring down a physical16 foe. Fate points flew hot and heavy and, in the end, they managed to convince the Ciorcal to join with them with two Strike boxes filled in. I was impressed by the play from all the players, and was very happy that the system could handle this sort of debate in a way that made it dynamic and interesting, providing mechanical structure for it without making it devolve into mechanical dice-rolling17.

It was about 11:30 at that point, and we try to wrap things up around midnight. The gang wanted to push on and try and get Nuada’s Sword from Newgrange18, and I thought about things. There were two ways I could go with the claim-the-Sword adventure – quick and dirty, which I could probably do in about an hour, or longer and more involved, which I would need to leave for the next session. I decided to go for the quick and dirty solution, because the players were riding high on their success.

I invoked a little GM-fiat coincidence, and had one of the Ciorcal members be an archaeologist working in the Boyne Valley, who got them up and to Newgrange in the dead of night. I was able to use my own visit to Newgrange to describe the site, and the claustrophobic tunnel inside, and the incredible arched central chamber, so that was good.

Inside, it was Nate’s turn to use The Sight19, and he saw a neolithic shaman sitting in the bowl where the midwinter light would fall in the central chamber. This shaman asked Nate some riddles20 and, when Nate answered correctly, opened a doorway into the Nevernever that only Nate could see.

He stepped through, found himself facing a band of Winter Court warriors, and promptly burned them to a crisp21. Then he opened the grave vault, had a bit of a chat with Nuada, claimed the Sword, and scampered home. Everyone cheered and they went to bed22.

That leaves the Spear – and possibly more recruiting of allies – for next session. And the big finale for23 the final session.

Game is soon done.

  1. For my discussion of ultimate terminology, you’ll have to look at this post. I’m not repeating it here. []
  2. See, I’ve run the campaign in a very episodic manner, because it’s tough scheduling with a large group. We play as long as three players can make it. Thus, three is quorum. []
  3. They’re not twins. Just brothers. And are considered to be weapons of mass destruction in our magical Dublin. []
  4. God bless collaborative character and setting creation. I’d never have come up with something like that. []
  5. Both mine and their own expectations of their characters’ strengths. []
  6. That’s my barbarous Gaelic rendering of Ash Circle. []
  7. At least. []
  8. Well, not as unified, anyway. Band together the resources of the group and focus it on one goal, and you’ve got a pretty potent weapon. Keeping them from arguing about what the goal should be or what his Joan said about our mum last Solstice, though, that’s a bit of a challenge. []
  9. This is one of the things that I love about DFRPG, and FATE in general. It promotes character growth and story arcs where the nature of the characters change. Characters can strive to become better people, not just faster or stronger or more powerful. Nicer. Happier. More heroic. And the system has a way to model that sort of aspiration, and to both quantify and reward it. []
  10. And this is a glorious but that exists because of the way the game works. []
  11. He’d pissed her off last session, and she threw him bodily out of the pub. []
  12. Metheglin, actually. []
  13. Not her first choice of job. []
  14. I just hadn’t thought to tell them that. Figured I’d get to it. []
  15. As represented by the Ciorcal’s aspects. []
  16. Or metaphysical. []
  17. I’m looking at you, D&D 4E. []
  18. Macha told them it was there last session. []
  19. Those with the ability tend to take turns, spreading the potential hurt around. []
  20. Three, of course. The player used his Lore skill to answer two of them, but got the third one on his own. Considering I was creating the riddles on the fly, and drawing on more reading of Celtic legend than the player has done, one out of three ain’t bad. []
  21. I think they managed to land one shot, and it wasn’t a good one. I think I mentioned that Nate is a weapon of mass destruction, right? []
  22. Except Nate, who took the Sword by the Silver Arm to give Macha the message from her husband, Nuada. []
  23. Fittingly. []

Feints & Gambits: Tá an rí-ard ag teacht!

Last night was the latest session of Feints & Gambits. We were short two players, so the house was only moderately crowded.

The game picked up in a pub1, with Liam Dalton explaining his plan to put the faeries back in their place in Ireland. It was pretty simple, on the surface: he would become High King of Ireland, which gave him authority over the doings of the fey in Ireland by the rules of the Unseelie Accords. It wouldn’t give him any temporal, political power, but it would make him the mystical ruler of the island. With his lineage, he said he had a blood-claim on the title, and bet that, generationally speaking, he was senior to any other claimant, having died in 1263.

Mark questioned how he could assume the title; if he had been revived by the True Guinness, he probably only had a year of life before the effects wore off, based on how often the beer needed to be delivered to Padraig Pearse’s ghost. Liam said he had taken care of that, and tapped his chest a couple of times, and the gang realized that he had implanted himself with Saint Lawrence’s heart, and that it was keeping him alive now.

To allay his last misgivings, Mark soulgazed the man, and saw his noble, regal spirit. He fell down on one knee, tears streaming down his face, and swore his service to Liam. That meant that Nate agreed to help, as well.

The other three were more problematic. Rogan’s family of were-smilodons stretched back as far as Liam’s, but had always been separate from the human kingship. He told her he understood this, and did not ask for fealty, but only for aid. Rogan agreed to this. Kate’s from Canada, and this isn’t her fight, strictly speaking, but she told Liam should would stand by her friends, and he thanked her for that. Firinne, being half-fey, had, in Liam’s mind, divided loyalties, but she assured him that she would happily do anything that inconvenienced the Courts, and jumped readily aboard.

She also mentioned that Elga, the Warlord of the Winter Court, owed her a favour2. And this reminded Nate that he owed a favour to someone on the Summer Court3, which he confessed to Liam4. Liam told the whole group that they were free to leave him at any time, but asked that, if they intended to change sides, they tell him and accept his safe passage away from his forces, because he had no stomach for treachery.

And then there was drinking to celebrate.

The plan to become High King required five things:

  1. An army. This wasn’t strictly necessary to become High King, but Liam felt that things would come to battle before this was over, and he would need a force – a more-than-mundane force – to hold off the combined might of the Summer and Winter Courts while taking the kingship.
  2. The Stone of Kings, one of the four treasures of Ireland.
  3. The Sword of Nuada, one of the four treasures of Ireland.
  4. The Spear of Lugh, one of the four treasures of Ireland.
  5. The Cauldron of the Dagda, the last of the four treasures of Ireland.

After some discussion with the group, it was decided that it would be imprudent for our heroes to act as envoys to Baba Yaga’s people that they had met in Hell, as that hadn’t ended well. Rogan agreed to broach the matter of an alliance with her mother; bringing the Pride on board would be a real advantage for Liam. Other groups discussed were the Ash Circle and the Malleus Maleficarum, both of which the group thought it might be problematic to approach5, so Liam said that his companions, the Thief, the Lady, and the Nun, would deal with that side of things if the others would retrieve the four treasures and assemble them at the Hill of Tara before Midsummer.

Then it got a little drunk out.

Next morning, they decided to start with an easy treasure: according to tradition, the Stone of Kings sits on top of the Hill of Tara6, right there in front of God and everyone. All they had to do was go see if it was the real thing.

So, they drove out to Tara, and climbed the hill. Kate felt uneasy on the ground near the Mound of Hostages, a passage tomb on the hill, and moreso as she approached the summit, which had, in addition to the Stone, a memorial for the mass grave of men who died in the 1798 rebellion. This is due to her new aspect, Defiler of Graves, that she got for, well, defiling some graves under St. Michan’s church. The dead are a bit uneasy around her, now.

Anyway, she got to the top of the mound and opened her third eye to look at the Stone of Kings. She wound up having a fairly cultured conversation with a dapper older man who claimed to be the Voice of the Stone, and he convinced her that this was the true Stone they were looking for, and that he would proclaim the High King if the prospect was worthy. He then shifted and changed into a mountainous stone man holding her in the palm of his hand and demanded that she not fail to bring him a High King so he could fulfill his purpose. Kate collapsed in a seizure, and had to be carried down off the hill7. When she recovered, she told everyone what she had seen.

After that, they headed out to Rogan’s mother’s house, and Rogan tried to convince her to bring the Pride to stand with the High King in the battle. There was some pretty good emotional twisting in the scene, and some great roleplaying from Fera, but a misunderstanding meant we had to backtrack and redo part of the scene with clarified views of what was going on. In the end, Rogan’s mother has agreed to lend the Pride’s strength to Liam’s claim, but in return, Rogan must return to the pride and give up her outside allegiances when the battle is done.

Somewhere amidst the conversations, the players remembered that the Dagda’s Cauldron had been in Aengous’s care at the Guinness brewery, and that it had been the source of the True Guinness. And now it was missing, along with Aengous. So, they decided to go see if Macha could be convinced to tell them anything about Aengous’s whereabouts.

All Mark could get out of her on that score was that Aengous generally turned up when he was needed. Nate jumped in to help the discussion, and wound up fulfilling one of his long-term goals: getting Macha to toss him bodily out of the Silver Arm.

Not getting anymore about Aengous, Mark decided to take a chance and see if Macha knew anything about the Sword or the Spear. She just stared at him and said, “Ye been coming into my pub, called The Silver Arm, and it only now occurs to ye to ask about the Sword of Nuada of the Silver Arm? Well, I buried it with him, didn’t I?”

There was some stunned silence at that point, and then the players started kicking themselves8. She explained that she had buried the Sword with her husband at Newgrange.

That’s about when we called it quits for the evening. Next time, we’ll see if they go chasing the Sword at Newgrange, or head up to the Giant’s Causeway, where rumours say the Spear was lost in a battle against the Formorians.

  1. Pretty much the default location for this group. []
  2. For finding and destroying the Ghoststone. []
  3. For letting him use the fire of the sun to blast the Chain Hound of Pussy’s Leap. []
  4. Strange that he didn’t mention the three favours he owes the Fates, isn’t it? []
  5. Kate: We’re not really diplomats. Nate: That’s fer damned sure. []
  6. One of the nice things about this section of the game is that I have pictures of a lot of the locations from my trip to Ireland last year. More about that here, if you’re interested. []
  7. She failed the roll to close her third eye a couple of times, took some hits to the brain, and conceded to avoid being taken out. []
  8. I thought I had been pretty blatant with the hints – after all, the first adventure was them recovering the actual silver arm hanging outside the bar, and I had just told them the story of Nuada Airgetlam. And there are other clues, but they’re far more obscure. But it’s easy to see the connections when you’re the GM and you know what they mean, and it can be damnably hard when you have the limited view of the story that the players have. []

Feints & Gambits: Fate

The most recent session of Feints & Gambits picked up almost immediately after the previous session. Our heroes had retreated, bloodied1 but unbowed2, from their… conversation, let’s call it… with Nightingale the Robber and his army of monsters beneath the catacombs of Christchurch Cathedral. They had some ideas about who stole the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, and an idea about which direction it had been taken.

After some discussion about the relative merits of finding another gate into Hell3 – like, say, the bricked-up entry by the Cook Street Gate – and trying to beat some more information out of the Russian contingent, they decided to just focus on finding the heart. They wanted to start with some divination, but one of the problems with that is the fact that Dublin has the Liffey running right through the heart of it, and that means that they often need to cast the spell twice – once on each side of the river.

But they really just wanted to find where the thieves4 went when they came out of the underground portion of the Poddle. So, they went to the point where the Poddle enters the Liffey, and Mark whipped up a divination ritual.

Well, I say “whipped up,” but it was a pretty impressive undertaking. In a matter of fifteen minutes or so, he managed to gather enough extra elements for the spell5 to pull off a complexity 15 ritual6. He decided to cast it slowly, drawing two shifts of power each turn, which meant he’d have to roll -4 on his dice to lose control any turn.

Now, I didn’t want to make things too easy7, so once he made it up to 10 shifts of power, I had a couple of cops come along to ask what was going on. Aleister intercepted them and spun some story about street theatre, which let Mark finish his spell and unleash it.

The idea behind the spell was to look back through time to the moment the thieves left the Poddle and entered the Liffey, with Mark knowing that he’d probably lose them once they moved out on to the water. But I figured that, for 15 shifts of power sucked in for character reasons, I should go one better. So, I gave Mark a vision of the little boat coming out into the Liffey, then across the Liffey and downstream to one of the quayside docks, where the passengers disembarked and headed north-east into the city. He also overheard a few snippets – “She can use this” and “Raise the clans” foremost among them.

The gang immediately tried to figure out where their targets were heading, asking me what was in that direction. I blinked at them and said, “Well, the docks, sort of, and besides that, about HALF THE CITY.” The pushed a bit for historically or mythologically significant sites in that direction, and I got a bit short, finally telling them “You’re barking up the wrong tree. You won’t find them just by guessing where they went. You need more information.”8

So, off they went, looking for more information9. They didn’t have enough of a symbolic link to either the thieves or the heart to use divination to find them, and Rogan wasn’t able to follow their scent trail. Eventually, they went back to The Hole in the Wall10 to rest and regroup. It was there that someone mentioned going to the statue of the Fates in St. Stephen’s Green to see if they could get any information from them.

They waited for nightfall, and then headed off through Temple Bar to get to the Green and the statue. Along the way, they spotted someone keeping pace with them on the rooftops, and so ducked through an open square to lose them. At the park, Nathan tossed a coin in the fountain, and opened his third eye.

He managed to get three questions from the Fates, in return for three favours to be specified in the future, swearing on his name11 and power to pay the debt. In return, he found out that the heart was soon going to be beating in someone’s chest, and the True Name of that person, and the True Name of the person giving the heart to him12.

He also spent some Fate Points to be able to close his third eye after looking at the Fates with the Sight.

And then they made their way back. They were deliberately keeping an eye out for people on the rooftops, and when they got to the square they had crossed earlier, they spotted figures on the on one side. Things kinda went to hell, here, as Nate opened up with a flashbang spell on the figure, and was immediately shot by high-powered rifles from a couple of different sides. He went down – hard – conceding to stay alive and earn some Fate points.

There followed some manic scrambling that resulted in a big panic in the middle of Temple Bar. In the end, two of their opponents were down, including one dead and one dying. Our heroes beat a hasty retreat to The Hole in the Wall and barricaded themselves in for the night, after getting a doctor in for Nate.

In the morning, just after dawn, a small, pretty woman approached the shop, very carefully keeping her hands visible. In the tense, distrustful parley that followed, she explained that she represented the Malleus Maleficarum, and that it had been the Malleus on the rooftops, hoping that the gang would lead them to the stolen heart. Being trained to react instantly to magical attack, Nate’s spell caused them all to open fire on the obvious wizard13, and thus the event deteriorated into FUBAR territory.

Recognizing that the group and the Malleus had irreconcilable agendas, the visitor14 proposed a hands-off approach, whereby each side would do its best to avoid interfering in the actions of the other. After some discussion, the group agreed to this, and Sister Mary Simon went on her way without having to resort to threats or force.

Once everyone was more-or-less recovered from the previous evening’s exertions, they cast a divination spell to lead them to the person who was supposed to be receiving the heart. With the True Name, it was pretty easy, and they wound up at a residential hotel. They saw some graffiti on the wall that read “Tá an rí-ard ag teacht!” which15 means “The High King is coming!”

Up in the hotel, they met Liam Dalton and Moira Trevelyan, and Liam invited them to join his crusade to break the hold the faeries have on Ireland.

Fade to black for the end of the session.

So, now we’ve got to the beginning of the endgame. Next session, the gang will find out what joining Liam means, and will get to decide if they want to do that. Either way, I’ve got the big events of the last part of the game sketched out in my notes, and they’ll work no matter which side the PCs take.

It should be fun.

 

 

  1. Mostly metaphorically. []
  2. Both metaphorically and literally. []
  3. As the underground tunnels of Dublin are known. []
  4. Whom they presumed to be the mummies missing from St. Michan’s Church crypts. []
  5. Including an elaborate magical circle on the pavement and the hunting instincts of Rogan, the Were-Smilodon. []
  6. He’d been planning on doing complexity 10, but Nate goaded him on, thanks to the player-on-player compels we’re using. []
  7. Also, I didn’t want to let casting a big spell right out in public be something that the players could do without consequence; if it was that easy, why weren’t they doing it all the time, after all? []
  8. I was, I admit, a bit flustered and snappish for a couple of reasons. First, I hadn’t decided precisely where they were headed at that point. Second, I couldn’t list a whole bunch of appropriate sites in the area off the top of my head. And third – most tellingly, I think – I was dealing with some significant joint pain. There were a couple of occasions during the session when I was harsher than I should have been because of that last point. I apologized to everyone afterward, but it bears repeating. Sorry, guys. []
  9. And yes, I understand that their questions that I shut down were an attempt to get more information. I already said I was sorry. []
  10. The bookstore/tattoo parlour owned by the O’Malley brothers. []
  11. And saying that name out loud, so now the Fates have his True Name. If they didn’t already, that is. []
  12. Liam Dalton and Moira Trevelyan. Yeah, the names probably aren’t correct for the period and place, but I hadn’t thought ahead far enough to come up with names, so these were the best I could do on short notice. []
  13. After all, in a conflict between mundanes and wizards, these guys know that mundanes have to act fast and with overwhelming force to have a hope of surviving. []
  14. Who happened to be the hot nun mentioned by Aleister’s friend last game. []
  15. According to Google Translate, anyway. It’s not like I can actually speak Irish Gaelic. If anyone out there reading this spots an error, I’d appreciate hearing about it. []

Feints & Gambits: Heart and Hell

In the last Feints & Gambits session, I was gifted with a wonderful news story to incorporate into the ongoing saga of Dredenified Dublin – the theft of the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin, from Christchurch Cathedral. Now, this story came out of left field, but it’s such a brilliantly gameable idea that I had to use it. It required a bit of backfilling behind the scenes to tie it into the things that were going on in the campaign, but that all happened out of the players’ line of sight, so as far as they’re concerned1, nothing has changed.

What I needed to do to fit this into the storyline that had developed was to decide who had stolen the heart, and why. I started by trying to figure out what made the most sense, but then decided to abandon that tack. See, I wanted this to be a bit of a mystery for the players, and by choosing the person and motive that made the most sense, I would make it too easy for the players to figure out. Instead, I started looking at the faces already in play, and trying to decide what would make the most interesting story2.

Once I had picked the who, I figured out the why, and then the how3. I was pleased with how it fit nicely into the campaign as it stood, and what it suggested for the endgame of the story. I think it will develop in interesting and satisfying ways. It’s given me some interesting ideas about the final stages of the game, and reshaped some of the behind-the-scenes stuff in cool ways.

The actual session got off to a bit of a rocky start, which is entirely my fault. I had printed out a copy of the article about the theft from the Internet, and handed it to the players as we were about to start. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it clear that this article was something that they had found in-game; they just assumed I was showing them a cool article I had found. So, they passed it around, went, “Cool!” and proceeded to ignore it. When it finally occurred to me to tell them this was something their characters had found in-game4, they glommed onto it pretty quickly, and the game got rolling.

Things started with Kate trying to find the missing mummies, thinking that the fact that they had gone missing might be tied to the missing heart, but the only real link she had to them was the remains of a bottle that had held the True Guinness that Padraig Pearse had given to the mummies5. The bottle and cork had a stronger link to the brewery than to the mummies, though, so that didn’t work out very well.

While Kate was doing that, Aleister and a couple of others met with a contact of Aleister’s from Christchurch. He wasn’t able to offer much more information than was in the papers, except that a nun had come asking many questions about the occurrence. The only description they got of this nun was that she was attractive6. Aleister figured that this was just the Malleus Maleficarum showing an interest in the missing holy relic, and he didn’t want to go talk to them about it – the last meeting he had with their representative did not encourage him to renew the acquaintance.

Next, the gang decided to go to the Moore Street market – what the gang calls the Goblin Market – to see if anyone there knew anything. They found members of the both the Snowbirds and the Sunshine Boys there7, and almost got them to come to blows by getting each group to accuse the other of the theft. Only the presence of Constable Fergus8 kept things from escalating.

In the midst of all this, Nate spotted a figure in colourful clothing in one of the third-floor windows overlooking the street. He remembered seeing a similar figure in a tree at St. Michan’s church during their first abortive attempt to get into the crypts, and decided he wanted to have a chat with the fellow.

Now, Nate’s an evoker. He’s got tonnes of power, enough control to keep his head from exploding9, and that’s it for him. So, to pursue the figure, he decided to use his earth evocation to launch himself up at the window the man was watching from. I explained to him that this was not a safe thing to do, and would result in him being launched like a cannonball in the general direction he wished to go, but that he’d need to make an Athletics roll to go where he wanted to, and even then, he’d probably wind up bruised and bloodied.

Five shifts of power later, he misses his Athletics check by one point, and I tell him he’s going to slam into the wall beside the window and then fall. He tosses in a Fate Point, invoking his Tricks Up My Sleeve aspect, and asks to go through the window, instead. I told him he’d still take some stress from the glass, and he said he was fine with that. And thus Nate went barreling through the closed window and sprawled on the floor in front of his target10.

Nate got up, brushed himself off, and was about to make his introductions to the fellow11 when the man in question whistled and Nate blacked out12. When the rest of the gang made it up to the room through more conventional means, the colourful guy was gone.

A little bit of research turned up that someone dressed in colourful clothes with a magic ability to whistle might, in fact, be Nightingale the Robber, which hinted that the non-Irish monsters and spirits living below the city13 might be responsible for the theft. Rather than rush off to confront them right away14, they decided to check out Christchurch Cathderal.

Some initial investigation of the scene led the magicky types in the group to determine that the heart had been a key component in some kind of mystic construct in the church. Rogan’s keen nose led them down into the catacombs from the main floor. The catacombs of Christchurch Cathedral are all nicely finished for tourists to see. Our heroes poked around for a bit and discovered a magically concealed door.

Behind the door, a passageway led down into the tunnels below the city, which were historically called Hell15, and ran from a gate – now bricked up – near the city gate at Cook Street to the catacombs of Christchurch. As they followed the tunnel, they were attacked by a Ruselka hiding in a stream flowing along the ceiling of the tunnel, but Rogan’s nasty roar managed to frighten it off before it had a chance to do much more that soak a couple of the stragglers.

When they reached the underground River Poddle, they found that Nightingale was on the far side, along with thirty or forty other Slavic, Asian, African, and South American fey creatures. Nate opened up with a flashbang spell before anyone had a chance to say anything, but the flowing water of the Poddle grounded the spell, preventing it from doing anything more than fizzle.

There followed an intense confrontation across the width of the river, our heroes demanding information and access to the tunnels on the far side, and Nightingale refusing to allow them into what he said was his home. After the spell, tempers were running high, and the foreign creatures were not in the mood to trust these demanding, presumptuous folks who came down to their territory and treated them like invaders.

Eventually, the characters retreated back up to Christchurch16, and whipped up a divination spell that showed two other figures coming to the door, one going in to steal the heart, and then the two figures retreating back down the tunnel to a boat on the Poddle which they took downstream towards the Liffey. Some evidence17 made the group conclude that these two were two of the mummies they had been seeking.

That’s about where we left things for that session. Next time, we find out what our heroes intend to do about all this.

  1. Or at least, as far as they were concerned up until I spilled the beans just now. []
  2. This is something I’m trying to learn to do more regularly, more automatically, and more creatively. I have a tendency to fall back on basic logic for building my storylines, planning forward from what already exists, when more satisfying stories can be built by deciding the most interesting thing that can happen, and constructing the logic backwards to fit into the current state of the campaign. This allows for more surprising twists that still make sense. []
  3. No, I’m not going to give it all away in the blog, you whiny players. []
  4. After a few WTF moments of complete bewilderment on my part. []
  5. Or so the group thinks. I’m not saying one way or the other, except that it fits the evidence they have. []
  6. This led to a strange conversation about where one could go to pick up hot nuns in Dublin. []
  7. These are the young changeling and fey gangs allied with the Winter and Summer Courts respectively. []
  8. An ancient, powerful troll tasked with keeping the peace in the market. []
  9. Mostly. []
  10. This led to the following conversation between myself and Nate’s player – Me: And that’s why wizards don’t use evocation to fly. Chris: *I* understand that, but as far as Nate’s concerned, that worked PERFECTLY. []
  11. I believe said introductions would have been along the lines of, “Right, ye fecker. Ye got some questions to answer.” []
  12. I fudged the effect of this a little bit. It was a mental maneuver, inflicting the aspect Sound Asleep on the target, which might be a bit over-the-top for a maneuver. Probably better as a consequence from a mental attack. But I didn’t want to draw this bit out, and I thought it would be more interesting if the guy got away. So. Yeah. I cheated a bit here. []
  13. And led by Baba Yaga. []
  14. And what’s up with that? []
  15. Or so I am informed by the Ghost Tour I took in Dublin. []
  16. With some discussion of whether they should collapse the tunnel. They decided against it. []
  17. I forget exactly what. Maybe the fact they were speaking old Church Latin. []

Feints & Gambits: The Mystery of St. Michan’s

So, I’m a bit late to the party with this post. I was planning to finish it last night and get it posted, but stuff came up1. Anyway, I’ve got to get it posted this morning, because this evening is the next Feints & Gambits session.

Last session was a small group2 and I’d been having a rough couple of weeks with work deadlines. I managed almost ten whole minutes worth of prep for the game, and warned the players about that. In fact, I gave them the option of playing Marvel Heroic Roleplaying instead3. They decided to push ahead with F&G, though, so that’s what we did.

I filled in a little more background on what things were like now that Aengous was gone and the True Guinness was no longer being made and added to the regular Guinness. They did some poking around about that, but he’s gone, and I tried to make that very clear. After all, he warned them there would be a price.

Their main goal this session was trying to figure out who the guy in the track suit, ski mask, and sunglasses was that tried to cut their heads off in the Guinness Brewery. They had his sword, which turned out to be a reproduction. Kate cast a tracking spell and, once they crossed the Liffey, they were able to trace the sword to a pawn shop. The shop had it’s windows boarded up, obviously covering broken glass. Rogan decided to go in and ask the pawnbroker about any missing swords, but her lack of a cover story, her upper-class attitude, and her direct questions made him suspicious, and he didn’t want to tell her anything4. Kate came in and rescued her, with a line about medication, and off they went, but not before Rogan managed to spot a whole shelf of replica weapons, including some swords very similar to the one the group had.

The gang regrouped at the Silver Arm, and seemed pretty blocked. Nate broke down and went to Macha and tried to get information out of her by buying her drinks. She wasn’t all that forthcoming, but did ask why the gang weren’t doing anything about what had gone on at St. Michan’s5. The group grabbed hold of that and scampered off.

I gave them a bit of a run-down on St. Michan’s and the mummies6, and then told them that the crypt tours were not currently running. They investigated to find out why, and were told that they were closed for renovation – some masonry had dropped on a visitor, and they wanted to get the vaults properly shored up before resuming the tours.

Sort of kitty-corner to the church is Bridewell Garda Station and Jail. Kate wanted to look for ghosts and, the churchyard being consecrated, I decided that there were ghosts of hanged prisoners around Bridewell7. She found a chatty one that spoke of the ghost of Padraig Pearse going into the church with bottles of beer, and coming out with four solid figures.

At that point, it became obvious that the gang was going to burgle the church crypts to find out if the mummies were still there. When they did, I shot some arrows at them from outside the churchyard, and we had a bit of a fight with fey archers. They also spotted some sort of colourful figure up in a tree near the church, but couldn’t get a good look at it. With the gardai from Bridewell now heading over to see what the noise was8, our heroes embraced the better part of valour and scarpered. Next night, they went back and broke into the crypts and determined that the mummies were, indeed, missing9.

And that’s about where we left things. Tonight, an adventure pulled from the headlines and twisted into shape to fit the ongoing story of Feints & Gambits.

  1. The Reapers invaded and took Earth. Maybe you heard about that? []
  2. Four people. In most games, that’s the size I like. In this game, that’s just over half the players. []
  3. I hadn’t had any more time to prep that, but I was familiar with the Launch Party adventure from playing it. And, as a one-shot, less pressure on me to do something worthy of previous adventures. []
  4. I should have paid her a plot point for that, in retrospect, compelling her Bloodline of Power aspect. Oh, well. []
  5. This was a bit heavy-handed of me, but there had been a couple of clues earlier that hadn’t been obvious enough, and I didn’t want the whole night mired down in flailing about for a lead. []
  6. With some fictional bits thrown in to fit what I’m doing in the game. []
  7. I seem to remember being told on my Dublin tour that they hanged people in Bridewell. I don’t know for sure if it’s true, but it’s true as far as the game goes. []
  8. Nate has a flashbang rote that is very effective. Also, loud. []
  9. Kate also opened all the other crypts and rooms. I asked her several times if she wanted to do this, and she said “Yes.” Then she looked a little hurt when I told her to add the aspect Violated the Graves to her character sheet. We’ll see what she does with it, being an ectomancer and all. []

Feints & Gambits: Ye Who Have Bullied and Bribed

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, half of them1 were in jail after breaking into the GPO and setting a fire. There was some discussion in the time between sessions about what to do about that, and the gang came up with two possible plans.

The first plan to surface was to stage a magical jailbreak, with Mark O’Malley trekking through the Nevernever to the three jails and snatching out their friends. The idea was to find a place on the Nevernever side of things that resonated with “jailness”2, so that the three openings would be close together on that side. I pointed out that this would not be in a nice neighbourhood of the Nevernever, and the gang was okay with that.

What they were less sanguine about was that this would turn three of them into hunted fugitives – no matter how trumped up the charges they were originally held on, breaking out of jail pisses the police off, and they will chase you and make your life hell. Because of that, Safire proposed that she instead go see Rogan’s mother, who is a wealthy and powerful woman, and see if this could be resolved without breaking any (more) laws. The group decided that this was the plan to try first, followed by the original plan if things didn’t go well.

So, that’s where things stood at the start of the session. It was another full house, so I had seven characters to track in play, which made things fairly busy.

I started by framing a scene for each of the incarcerated characters. Rogan had decided3 that she – as a were-smilodon – was in heat. I think she had some idea of whiling away a pleasant day or two with the all-female population4, but that doesn’t make for exciting play5. Instead, her advances touched off a riot in the holding cell, she wound up almost killing another prisoner, and was stuck in restraints.

Meanwhile, Firinne passed me a note saying that she wanted to send a cake to Kate, who was in jail. This cake would contain a rubber file. As none of the players knew what the note said, this led to an interesting and surreal scene, where Kate was hauled into the DI’s office, presented with her “birthday cake,” and told to cut it, revealing the file. The gardai didn’t know what to make of it, and Kate had no idea what was going on, so she was just dropped back in the holding cell to wonder about the incident.

Aleister drew the short straw, having been hauled in by Gene Hunt himself. That meant that Aleister’s scene was an interrogation. There was some banter, some questions, some threats against Aleister, and some threats against Aleister, and some threats against Liam, Aleister’s bar-keeping friend. In retrospect, it might have been better to run this as social conflict than just as a conversation. On the one hand, it would have made the kind of pressure being brought to bear more obvious, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t have shown off Aleister’s cold reserve as well. I guess when the choice is between showing off how bad-ass a PC is versus how bad-ass an NPC is, going with the PC bad-ass is the better choice. Still, I felt this scene didn’t have much interest or life in it. Something to ponder for next time.

We jumped over to Safire then, for her conversation with Rogan’s mother. It went fairly well, and Safire got her to agree to help. Now, I had to decide how effective that help would be. I was torn, here, for a couple of reasons: first, the escape plan was pretty cool and, second, it felt like cheating to just let some NPC swoop in and fix the problem.

Then I remembered that one of the themes in the game is corruption in the system. And the idea of people owing Rogan’s family a favour – and potentially getting drawn in to whatever games they’re playing behind the scenes – was attractive. And then there was how much Gene Hunt would hate that his suspects were snatched away from him by someone with money and the right political connections6. Given all that, and the fact that the group actually had an idea for what they wanted to do next, it became apparent that the right choice was to let the prisoners out.

And so I let them out.

The next stage of their plan was to get back at the ghost of Padraig Pearse for having set them up in the first place. Mark came up with the idea that he could latch onto the power given Pearse by the True Guinness he had stolen, summon him, check to see if he was a real ghost7, and then lay a royal beat-down on his spectral butt.

The idea was to use the Guinness Brewery for the site of the ritual, so Mark went and asked Aengous Keogh, the big man who oversaw the brewery8 if they could do that. Aengous said that, if Mark asked him, he would allow it, but that it would come at a cost. Mark asked, and Aengous agreed.

Nate, on the other hand, went to the Warden to make sure that they wouldn’t get in trouble for this9. He was told that, as long as none of the Laws of Magic were broken, he would turn a blind eye. The truth of the matter is that Pearse’s ghost was getting to be a big enough threat to the mortals that the Warden knew that someone had to do something, and better to let these (expendable, non-wizard, pain-in-the-ass) guys have first crack at it.

So, the group as a whole worked to whip up the necessary things to offset the Lore deficit in the summoning spell, and Kate and Mark cast it together. They got Pearse to the brewery, and Mark soulgazed him – or tried to. There was no contact, making Mark certain that Pearse was just a ghost, and could therefor be kicked with impunity.

Which they proceeded to do.

It wasn’t as easy as they thought it was going to be. Pearse was able to use the eye contact with Mark to mentally shut down his optic nerves, and the ghost stood up to a full-bore blast of fire from Nate. On top of that, a strange figure crashed the party – a tall man in a track suit, ski mask, and sunglasses, swinging around a replica sword. He didn’t stay long, taking off after Pearse was put down for good, but when Rogan tried to follow him, she was shot by an arrow that slowed her down enough for him to get away.

Now the ghost of Padraig Pearse is no more. And Aengous seems to have left the brewery, which is no longer producing True Guinness. And there’s someone else out there who may have been allied with Pearse and has bad fashion sense.

We’re moving into end-game territory, now. Not deep into it, but enough that the threads that will lead to the end are all in my head10, and I’ve got an idea of where we’re going.

It should be a fun ride.

 

  1. Okay, just under half. Three out of seven. []
  2. I used the word “durance,” but then, I’m a word-whore. []
  3. All on her own. Not my idea at all. []
  4. Many Caged Heat references were made. []
  5. Well, I guess for certain values of exciting… []
  6. When we created Gene Hunt, the idea was for him to be a potential ally. In all their dealings with him, the group has very nicely shifted him to a suspicious neutral character, and this should be enough to move him into determined enemy territory. []
  7. Given Pearse’s history – his spirit trapped by the Fey to judge the Easter Battle every year, strengthened by decades of True Guinness, freed by a necromancer’s death curse, purified by the Martyr Ghost in Kilmainham Gaol – he’s showing more depth, personality, and autonomy than ghosts generally do. This has got the gang a little bit worried that he’s actually the soul of the man himself. []
  8. And is probably not the Dagda at all. []
  9. It pleases me that they are so wary of the Warden. []
  10. This is a filthy lie, of course. I see the big threads, but things change when the players get involved. []

Feints & Gambits: Nicked

Well. I have to say that this last session of Feints & Gambits did not go in the direction I had envisioned.

A large part of the reason for that was my fault – I hadn’t prepared well enough for the game to have a really solid idea of where the session was headed, looking to follow the players’ lead and fill in detail on the fly. That approach had a couple of problems: first, it was a large group, and that led to a lot of debate and discussion of strategy, which slowed down play and made for some very passive choices. Second, I tried to link in a couple of different threads, one1 of which I should have dropped, which led to muddying the water and confusing the objectives.

For games like The Dresden Files RPG, I don’t design adventures, as such. What I do is create situations, where I know the movers and shakers, what their goals are, and what actions they will take if confronted with opposition. I put together a page or two of stats for the opposition2, and draw a little map of the situation, showing the relationship between the various people, places, and agendas.

While building the situation, I look for ways for the characters to become aware of at least an edge of what’s going on – a hook to draw them in. The game usually starts with me running the hook scene3, and then I sit back and take my lead from the what the characters do.

That’s my normal process, and it works pretty well – usually. This last session, though, I hadn’t done enough preparation. I had all the elements of the situation, and knew the overarching goals of the main NPCs involved, but I hadn’t given enough thought to how they were connected. I was trusting to the interplay between the characters and myself to flesh that out, the way it happens in the Armitage Files game. But that game is more focused, with a stated overall goal, and only three players. Feints & Gambits does not have, and has not manifested, an overarching plotline to focus things, and the larger number of players diffuses the focus.

Anyway, I went into the game knowing that the focus was going to be Padraig Pearse’s ghost. Two of the hook scenes pointed to him4, suggesting that he was up to something, and that it was taking place at the GPO. The group saddled up and decided to break into the GPO after hours to scope the place out.

This is where the wheels came off.

See, my plan was that Pearse, who had almost been destroyed in his last encounter with the party, wanted them safely busy ghosthunting at the GPO while he raided the Guinness Brewery for more of the True Guinness, seeing as he wasn’t going to be given a bottle this year as tribute for acting as the judge of the Easter battle for the fey5. So, I planted a couple of clues at the GPO to show them that they were on a wild goose chase: no sign of any ghosts around, a carton of milk that psychometry told them had been deliberately soured by a ghost, and a couple of things the group didn’t uncover.

Well, I misjudged the clues. They weren’t enough to make the characters suspicious of the whole set-up, and they were spending a lot of time dithering around in the employees’ kitchen of the GPO, so I upped the stakes, and had the police show up, thinking this would drive them into the upper floors and out through the roof access, giving me a chance to seed a few clues along the way. I even threw Gene Hunt into the mix, to give them a little extra motivation to scarper.

Didn’t work.

I put Hunt and a squad of Gardai between the characters and their exit on the main floor, so they hid, trusting to their veil to keep them hidden from the search. It worked, but the cops were still between them and the way they came in. Aleister made a break for it past the police, leaving the veil in an attempt to draw the police off. This was a noble try, but we’re talking about one of the most historically important buildings in Dublin having been broken into. The cops are gonna be on the scene for a while.

To make things a little more interesting, I put a few squad cars out front with armed officers waiting6, but Aleister had no real problem getting past them. Because I was feeling surly, and because of the tip about the terrorists, I had the armed officers make a Discipline check to keep from shooting at Aleister as he ran into the crowd, and they failed miserably7. So, some gunfire into the bystanders who had gathered to see what was going on, and a couple of spectators hit.

Meanwhile, inside, Kate pulled the fire alarm and lit a garbage can on fire. The rest of the group headed upstairs, but stopped when they noticed a scattering of iron nails across the floor by the stairs. Nate cleared those out of the way with a little evoked magnetism8, and they headed on up with Firinne’s faerie veil intact, though Kate was still back in the kitchen and outside of the veil.

Hunt found her, and arrested her. Rogan decided to come down and try to talk to Hunt – whom she thinks is the Black Cat, a mortal who works to keep the mystical elements in Dublin from running rough-shod over the mundanes9. She also wound up cuffed and stuck in the back of a patrol car.

Outside, Aleister, agonizing over the bystanders shot in his escape10, ditched his jacket and cap and came back to administer first aid. Hunt came out and spotted him, and asked if he’d be willing to answer some questions at the station – he is under the impression that Aleister works for Rogan. Aleister declined, but put his hand on Hunt’s shoulder, and thereby gave him an excuse to arrest Aleister for assault.

So, Hunt, being used to dealing with a corrupt system and wealthy families getting away with whatever they want, is being cagey. He’s got each of the three folks he’s arrested at a different police jail, with the paperwork lost, and no sign of a solicitor.

The other three folks made it up and out of the GPO with very little trouble, and scampered away into the night.

To wrap things up, I decided an exposition dump was needed to drive home the fact that the thing had been a trap. While Nate, early the next morning, was watching the GPO11, Aengus showed up, looking like he’d lost a bar brawl12. He filled Nate in on the fact that Pearse had shown up at the Brewery and taken not just one bottle of the True Guinness, but five of them.

So. As I say, not the way I expected things to go. Next game, I’ve got a much more solid idea of how things fit together, so it should be more focused, as we head into the beginning of the through-line of plot that will lead to the culmination of the game. Actual culmination won’t be for at least six months, yet, but it’s coming.

  1. At least one. []
  2. Sometimes. Lots of time, in games like DFRPG and Trail of Cthulhu, it’s really easy to improvise the stats I need. But for the big names and the “boss fights,” I like to have put some thought in before hand. []
  3. Or scenes. I find that, with my group, if I want to make sure the gang saddles up and involves themselves with the situation, it’s a good idea to plant seeds with a couple of the characters. []
  4. The third hook scene I probably should have dropped. It was tied to the Malleus Maleficarum trying to recruit Aleister, and I didn’t have a good connection between that and the plot for the session. I mean, the scene was good for developing Aleister’s character, and it introduced the Malleus into play, but it didn’t contribute to the current storyline, and may have distracted from it. Oh, well. []
  5. This is because all the ghosts in Dublin were freed by the death curse of a necromancer a few sessions ago. []
  6. I had decided, when I sent the police in, that they had been tipped off that there were dangerous CIRA terrorists breaking into the GPO. That justified the extra firepower. []
  7. -4 is -4, dudes. []
  8. Which pinned Firinne to the wall for a few seconds, too; she was carrying all of Aleister’s guns, because he didn’t want to get caught with them. []
  9. It was established in the setting creation that Hunt is clued in, but they have no real evidence that he’s the Black Cat. All they’ve got is rumour. []
  10. Compelled both his I Am Thy Shield and his It Should Have Been Me aspects. Yeah, I can be a bastard. []
  11. I think he was hoping Pearse would show so he could blast him to oblivion. []
  12. Yes, it is possible, because he’s probably not the Dagda at all! []

Feints & Gambits: Too Long a Sacrifice

We had a full house for the first time since adding the new player, which meant we had eight people crowded into my living room. It was a little tight, but turned out to be workable. And it was nice to see how the dynamic with the full group worked.

When we had left the last session, the characters had just followed rumours of Padraig Pearse’s ghost right up to the gates of Kilmainham Gaol. I backtracked a day or so to bring the two characters who hadn’t been at the last game up to speed and involved. This was pretty easy to do, as I had originally planned to have one of the characters hooked into the plot from the start, but had to change that last session when he couldn’t make it.

Now, the O’Malley boys are good Irish lads with a reputation for being involved in some strange things. This led an acquaintance of theirs to approach them with a job offer – well, the offer of an offer, really. He told them that he was helping out another man – a patriot1 – who wanted people with a certain kind of knowledge to help him help the Republic. Nothing violent. Honest.

When it came out that the meet was supposed to be at Kilmainham Gaol after dark, the boys got a little nervous. They had heard some unsettling things about the Gaol, and the suffering and death that had occurred there over the years left Mark with little doubt that the place was steeped in some rich negative juju. Still, they figured they better go see what was going on so that they could put a stop to it if needed. And, as they showed up at the Gaol, they noticed the rest of the characters skulking in Rogan’s car in an alleyway2.

The two groups spent a few minutes bringing each other up to speed, then came up with a simple plan. The O’Malley boys would go in first, as they had an invitation, and they would create a distraction3, allowing the rest of the gang to follow them in.

Inside the Gaol, Mark and Nate met with Sean Miller, a few of his companions, and around a hundred or so ghosts, including Padraig Pearse. Miller wanted some protection from the fey4 so he could use his ghostly army to free Ireland from the English5. Mark startled Miller by putting him in a magic circle briefly, at which point Nate was tired of playing things carefully, so he started insulting the Pearse6.

At that point, I decided the distraction was occurring, so I cut to the outside group, and reported the gunshots, explosions, and flashes of fire coming from inside7. They all came running in.

Now, this was a big group – seven players – for running a large combat. I had been wondering how I would do it, and decided to go to a very loose, cinematic structure. Everyone got a turn, and we went round in an arbitrary order, letting people do stuff and deal with the consequences on their turn. This was easier than tracking initiative for the characters and the bad guys and going strictly by that and by the standard measure of a round. Instead, I let each character do about as much as would be shown in a single cut from an action movie fight scene of similar magnitude. Basically, they could each do one meaningful (cool) thing on their turn, and whatever other stuff got them to the place where they could do that cool thing.

I also let the initial part of the combat – the bit where Nate and Mark were alone amidst a horde of ghosts and several mortals with submachine guns – happen off-screen8. I had them back-to-back in the middle of the mess when the rest came through the doors, Mark holding off the ghosts with a shield while Nate blasted them with fire. To reflect that they had been holding off massive odds for several seconds, I had them each take a 2-shift and a 3-shift Mental Stress hit.

The fight was a lot of fun. I think pretty much everyone got a good chance to have some spotlight time doing neat stuff. Some notable moments:

  • Aleister running into the press of ghosts and immediately shooting Sean Miller between the eyes9.
  • Kate’s Ghost-Freeze potion that took all the (non-Pearse) ghosts out of the fight right at the start.
  • Safire using her aspect Relatives Everywhere to know one of the prison guard ghosts that Pearse called in as reinforcements, and talking him into keeping the guards out of the fight.
  • Mark using the Ghost Dust he had prepared as a fist-load to punch right through Padraig Pearse’s head.
  • Nate’s mad, desperate wrestling match with one of the living opponents in the midst of slippery fire-extinguisher foam.
  • Firinne taking a video of said desperate wrestling match and uploading it because it was funny.
  • Rogan, broken leg and all10, leaping into the fray and tearing the head off her opponent.

In the midst of this row11, Miller dragged himself off. Aleister12, Safire, Rogan, and Mark tracked him to the courtyard where the 1916 executions had taken place. He made a feeble attempt to fight them off, but really had no hope. Safire grabbed the ghost stone, and Mark took a look at Miller with the Sight to see if he was being controlled in any way.

He saw that Miller was covered in blood, with blood running off his hands, but under his torn flesh, he shone like burnished gold that was hard as steel. And he felt a huge, intimidating presence behind him. One player-on-player compel later, Mark turned around to see a huge humanoid figure that seemed to be made of fire wrapped in chains. And it spoke Mark’s true name perfectly13.

That’s when the sirens sounded, forcing the characters to run off before fully dealing with Miller. After all, he had conceded, so he got to get away.

In the aftermath, Mark told the rest of the group about his vision, saying that he thought he had seen the Martyr Ghost, the living embodiment of Kilmainham Gaol’s crucible-like property of burning away everything but the idea that drives a person. Rogan thought that this might be something useful for her to try, until it was pointed out to her that what Mark had seen of Miller suggested that he had undergone this purification.

And as for the ghost stone, the group destroyed it and delivered the fragments to Elga, who told Firinne that Winter was in her debt.

Because nothing bad can come of that, right?

The last thing we did that evening was I asked all the players to take some time over the next several weeks and to send me an e-mail outlining what her character would like to accomplish in the game. This will allow me to work a few more personalized hooks into the campaign, and start pulling a storyline14 for the overall campaign together.

And that’s where we left it.

  1. Full disclosure. I’m a little uneasy about writing about how I use the Troubles in the game. I mean, they are a big part of the history of Ireland and Dublin, but I’m just a Canadian prairie boy who has no real insight into them, no matter how much research I’ve done. And using them for entertainment might offend some people, which I don’t want to do. Suffice to say that I intend no offense, and am using the Troubles as a fodder for collaborative fiction. All people, situations, and events are used in a fictitious manner. []
  2. Yay! All the characters together, and less than half an hour into play! []
  3. Nate is especially good at providing distractions. Fiery, catastrophic distractions. []
  4. The Winter Warlord, Elga, was looking to get the ghost stone he was using back from him. []
  5. Step three: Profit! []
  6. Who was already predisposed to not like Nate, after Nate had used cleansing fire to clean the ghosts out of the GPO. []
  7. These are the standard signals that Nate has started a distraction. []
  8. With the players’ consent. That’s important to note. []
  9. So he thought. Miller actually took an Extreme Consequence (Eye Shot Out) and then conceded. []
  10. Which I completely forgot to compel during the fight. Stupid! []
  11. Miss Kerrigan fainted, her cheeks at the same time as red as a rose. []
  12. Who was the recipient of our first player-on-player compel bidding war. Two other players each offered him a compel on a different aspect – one to stay and help Nate, Kate, and Firinne, and one to go after Miller. This was an excellent way to dramatize the kind of internal struggle that we see so often in fiction but so seldom in roleplaying. It was pretty much the high point of the game for me, and I think for Aleister’s player, too. []
  13. Cue Epic (+7) mental assault as Mark tried to close his third eye. It took him a Fate Point, but he pulled it off. []
  14. As in an emergent campaign storyline, for those following along at home. []