Feints & Gambits: Holy Saturday

Friday night was the latest installment of the Feints & Gambits Dresden Files RPG campaign I’m running, set in Dublin. We picked up right where we had left off the previous session, the early evening of Holy Saturday, with the gang hauling the half-bog-mummified young necromancer they had saved from his rooms in Trinity College back to The Hole in the Wall ((The alternative bookshop/tattoo parlour owned by, and sometimes even operated by, Mark and Nate O’Malley)), which is the gang’s default base of operations.

The cast for the adventure changed slightly, with two of the folks who were at the previous game unable to make it, and the player who had missed the last game attending this time. This necessitated a little fast narrative footwork, and we decided that Aleister had gone off to tap his contacts about what might be going on, and Mark needing to have a little lie-down after his valiant exertions keeping the death spell from killing the boy they had rescued. And we brought Nate in with a cast on his arm on which a rude word had been written ((This was an interesting development that I was pleased to see the game could handle in an interesting and entertaining fashion. Nate’s player pulled me aside when we were going to reintroduce him to the group. I had asked him what he had been doing that kept him out of the action last game, and he wanted to clear some stuff he was working on offstage and writing up as fiction on the forum. He explained the background of what he was doing to me, and asked if he could start with a cast on his arm. I gave him the option of having a cast on the arm that was just jazz, with no game impact, or actually taking the Broken Arm moderate consequence, for which I would give him two Fate Points. He opted for the latter, and it came back to cause him some problems in game, which was nice. I also said he had to decide what his brother would have written on the cast, because Mark would certainly have written something. He thought for a second, and told me the rude word that was written on the cast, and added that Mark, a pretty good Thaumaturgist, would also have turned the cast bright pink and made sure that nothing else could be written on it to cover up his handiwork.)).

Faced with a young man half-way to being a bog-mummy, Nate decided to see if he could try to cleanse him of the evil magical influences, using his evocation of the spiritual nature of water to wash away the watery necromancy used on the boy. I decided this was an interesting idea, and asked him how he’d do it. He put the boy ((I keep using the word “boy” to describe the victim. The guy’s about twenty – a college student – but that makes him a boy to the majority of the players in this game. With one notable exception, we’re all old.)) in the bathtub, and used his evocation to wrench the bad water out of him, replacing it with good water. The first two attempts went poorly, because he didn’t use enough power. The third attempt ((Third time is, after all, the charm.)) resulted in an explosion of peaty bog water in the bathroom ((“Well, I want to be gentle about it.” “If you wanted to be gentle, you wouldn’t be using evocation.” “Oh. Damn.”)), which left the boy’s body floating in a tub of clean, pure water.

The boy’s unbreathing body.

Some quick CPR followed, which got his heart going again, and cleared his lungs of water, and got him sorta-stabilized. The brown stain was gone from his skin and, while still pretty much emaciated, he no longer looked shriveled. They brought him into a hospital emergency room and ditched him there once the doctors got to him, thus avoiding unpleasant conversations with the authorities – both mundane and magical. It was nice to see how the idea of a First Law violation, even by accident, got the group moving to set things right. The Warden, while he gets bad-mouthed a lot by the group, has obviously made a strong point about his power.

Then it was back to Trinity to try and find the nine other wannabe necromancers, and possibly the big bad guy behind them. It being Holy Saturday, a night traditionally associated with the absence of divinity in magical symbolism, they figured that whatever necromantic ritual was being tried would happen tonight, and probably in one of the chapels. Kate remembered that the main chapel had some historically significant people interred in it ((I’ve got zero idea whether or not this is true, but it was a good way to give them a clue about where on campus things might be happening.)), so they went there.

Outside the chapel ((I’ve got to pause here to recommend the iPad and Google image search as invaluable tools for setting the mood and location in modern games. Sixty seconds of searching, and I was able to show the players a picture of the front of the chapel at night. If I’d known that’s where things would have been happening before the game, I could even have eliminated that little lag time.)), Firinne glamoured Rogan to invisibility, and Rogan shifted to her smilodon form to creep in and do recon ((They checked for a threshold first, and found that the normal barrier posed by consecrated ground was gone – all part of the Holy Saturday thing.)). The others followed along behind her. They found seven of the young cultists chanting around the altar, waving knives and wearing black robes.

There ensued a nice little brawl, with Rogan disrupting the ritual, Nate disarming the cultists with a little magnetic evocation, Firinne shooting down the two guarding cultists crouched down in the pews ((She didn’t want to kill them, so I let her incapacitate them without killing. Part of me thinks that this might reduce the threat factor of guns in the game – I want guns to be scary – but the rules do say that, when someone is taken out, the victor gets to decide what exactly that means. Also, she bought the Guns skill up to Great, so it feels kinda prickish to not let her use it.)), and Kate summoning a spiritual aspect of the Great Mother to protect the altar. This last little bit of magic revealed a mystical whirlpool in the air, leading up and away to somewhere else, but the spirit broke the connection, which caused all the cultists who were still up and around to collapse like puppets with their strings cut.

The gang grabbed one of the cultists and scarpered before the police arrived to investigate the gunshots, and took him back to Kate’s flat near the College. Her home has the strongest wards they know of – at least, of the places they have access to – and they were worried that the black cloud they had encountered twice before might try to follow the cultist to tie up that loose end. Just before they reached her place, midnight arrived, and Holy Saturday turned into Easter Sunday. At that moment, Kate felt a massive snapping of mystical tension, as if a huge magical rubber band had been stretched tight and then cut. She didn’t know what it meant, but it added one more layer of worry ((This is, to me, an important part of the game world. I throw out a number of threads for the characters to follow and, wherever they go, they find adventure. But the other threads and plotlines don’t go away, and they don’t wait for PC involvement. If you ignore something, it still progresses. What she sensed was another plotline happening elsewhere.)).

Back at Kate’s place, Nate used The Sight to try and assess what was up with their new prisoner. He saw him as a deep, dark emptiness in the shape of a man, with a tiny figure, far away in the depths, desperately waving its arms as it drifted deeper into the void. He also took a peek at the other characters there, and I gave him a quick image of each of them: Firinne as an elfin figure, Rogan as a human straining to hold back a snarling sabertooth ((Very reminiscent of the Strength card of the Major Arcana, now I think of it. Note to self: look at Tarot decks for visions using The Sight.)), Kate as being surrounded by the spirits of her female ancestors. There was some discussion about him looking out the window at the city, but after I cautioned him about the dangers of looking at a city with over a thousand years of history, violence, death, and fey games, he decided that he’d prefer it if his brain remained inside his head.

It was around midnight in the real world by then, and we’d reached a reasonable stopping point, so we called the game. All in all, it went pretty well, especially considering I had no idea what direction the players were going to go, so I had done no extra prep after the last session.

We’ll see what happens next game.


Feints & Gambits: Easter Weekend

Friday night was the latest session of my Feints & Gambits campaign. It’s been some time since the last one, so it was good to get back to the game. We had almost a full house, too; only one of the players couldn’t make it.

It being Good Friday, and the game being set in Dublin, there seemed only one storyline that I could use for the centrepiece of this adventure – the refighting of the Easter Uprising by the fey courts, using ghosts and faeries as soldiers, with the ghost of Padraig Pearse acting as judge. The fey courts use this as part of the game they play for control of Ireland, and the group has run into the edge of this thing previously, and, well, it was Easter weekend.

So, rather than use my master list of Aspects to generate the structure of the scenario, I pulled out the Aspects related to the main story and mapped out their relationship. Then I rolled a few more random Aspects to give the characters a way in to the situation.

At the start of the session, I decided I wanted to have a quick scene with each character to give them a hook into the scenario. I had worked out a few of them before play, but swapped a couple of them around and came up with new ones on the fly to fit things a little better, and to make sure that each character got the spotlight for a few minutes ((The random rolls I had done pre-game to select character Aspects to use to hook the characters had pulled up Aspects for the same characters for the last few games, and I wanted to spread things around a little more.)). The scenes I came up with were:

  • A fey messenger warning Aleister that Baglock wanted him to keep out of it, without telling him what “it” was.
  • Kate returning to her flat to find an unsigned note warning her to be careful with her ectomancy, because she was close to violating a Law of Magic.
  • Macha warning Mark that, because the group had involved themselves in the Game previously, they might get tangled in it during Easter Week.
  • Rogan got a prophecy from Mad Mary, saying that someone was trying to change the rules of the game, and it might be the end for an unspecified “him.”
  • Firinne got a call from one of her business contacts, who had someone wanting to buy thirteen black iron athames.

The main thing I was wanting to accomplish with these scenes was to hint that something big was going down, and let the fact that it was Easter point them towards stuff to investigate. After all, they had built stuff during setting creation that tied into the whole thing.

But I misjudged. Thirteen black iron ritual knives was just too sinister for them to just let them go. Firinne was very concerned that they could be used to nasty effect ((In some ways, she’s one of the more responsible and cautious characters in the group, which is odd for a trickster changeling. Obviously, I need to compel her trickster nature a little harder.)), and roped in Kate and Mark to help with that. They were able to give some general answers as to what such things would be used for, but weren’t able to get specific. However, all the general things tended to sound rather… unpleasant, so everyone agreed that they needed to figure out what was going on.

Firinne used her glamours to disguise thirteen empty beer bottles as the knives, and Mark put a tracking spell on the box that held them. Rogan decided to accompany Firinne as backup to deliver them to her contact, who worked out of a dance club called Jesus Murphy ((It got named this way: Firinne asked what the club was called, and I turned it back on her, saying she had invented the contact and where he was located, so she’d have to come up with the name. She responded something along the lines of, “Jesus Murphy, now I have to come up with the name of the club, too?” And thus it was named.)). The knives were delivered and payment accepted, but Rogan got a whiff of something odd with her supernatural sense of smell. She followed the odour, which was that of death, to a trio of young women dancing on the floor of the club.

Suspecting they were undead, she wanted to interrogate them, but not in the middle of a dance club. So, she started a fist fight ((The group seems to love them some bar brawls.)) in order to get the bouncers to toss all five – Rogan, Firinne, and the three suspected zombies – out, where they could settle things in private. This worked marvelously, but the follow-up didn’t go the way they had planned.

See, Firinne isn’t much of a fighter. She carries a gun for when she absolutely needs it, but prefers not to pull it. Rogan is a combat monster, but only in her smilodon form. And these three scrappy young women proceeded to mop the pavement with our heroines. They got to experience first-hand the hard lesson Aleister learned in the first game: numbers are a big advantage, especially when they use teamwork.

Rogan finally shifted her form, which freaked their targets out, and then everything went black and cold. A deep voice spoke out of the blackness, threatening and taunting Rogan and Firinne, and filling Firinne’s lungs with peaty bog water. Our heroines took the better part of valour, and scampered back to the waiting car.

This is the point where I had the others show up – Firinne had called them between getting booted from the club and the fight starting outside. With the numbers so bolstered, they went back to see what was going on, and found three bog-mummies – very much inanimate – that had been living humans shortly before. Rogan had had some inkling during the fight that the women weren’t undead ((You can get quite a good sniff of someone if they’ve got you in a hair-pulling headlock.)), but that the smell had been the taint of death, rather than actual death – more a metaphyiscal thing.

This, coupled with Kate’s use of The Sight on the scene and her sense of necromantic energies at Trinity College some months previous, led the group to decide that there was, indeed, some big necromantic badness in the offing. Some investigation and lurking back at the club ((Also some magic and some breaking and entering, but don’t tell anyone.)) revealed that the fake knives were still there, and they concluded that the women they had fought had, in fact, been there to pick up the knives. Come dawn, Firinne refreshed her glamour, and Mark his tracking spell, and they went to get a little sleep.

So, on Saturday, a day associated with the triumph of death and the absence of god in Christianity, the daggers moved. The gang followed them to Trinity College, where they saw ten obvious students divvying them up and heading off. One of the students kept the box and the extra three knives, and that’s the one they followed back to his dorm room. When they tried to bully him into talking to them, they found a very powerful ward set up in his doorway and, when they pressed the case, the darkness and cold came back, and their target started gurgling and gasping.

Kate used a magic dissolving potion to pull the ward down, and they snatched the boy out of his room. He was already turning brown and withering, with brown, peaty water pouring from his mouth. Mark almost blew a brain gasket, but managed to interfere enough with the incoming spell to break it and save the boy’s life. The group bundled him up and took him off somewhere safe to recover before the bad juju came back.

And that’s where we left it. The investigation is going in a different direction than I had anticipated, and leading up to a very different climax, but it should still be a good one. Next session should finish it off.

Night Fears

So, this happened.

Long ago, in the before time ((Which is to say, back in the heady days of Unknown Armies and D&D 3.x.)), I wrote some RPG stuff for pay. I’m not sure if Fred Hicks recalled that ((Though possibly Chad Underkoffler remembers some of our shared credits on UA stuff.)) – I had used it as a selling point to get in on the Dresden Files bleeding alpha playtest, but that was a long time ago – or if he was asking me primarily as a courtesy because of all the stuff I’ve written about DFRPG on this blog, but he asked me if I’d consider writing one of their free one-shots.

I had to think about it for a while. There are reasons I stopped writing for the industry, but the main two were that it ate up a lot of time and creativity that I could be funneling into my home games (or even work), and that the people I respected and trusted as editors and publishers weren’t looking to buy the kinds of stuff I wanted to write ((Though the ever-charming Dr. Michelle Nephew encouraged me to write a card game for Atlas when they stopped doing the d20 stuff. I really wish I could have figured out how to do that.)) and I didn’t want to work with the people who were buying it.

This was going to be a short scenario, though, and I already knew the folks at Evil Hat were good, professional folks, so I said yes, and pitched them some ideas. Night Fears was one of them ((It was originally called Dare, but I changed that when it was suggested that I follow the Dresden Files naming pattern.)), though not the top option on the list. It was, in fact, number two.

The one Fred and I liked best was a court trial, where the bulk of the action would take place in flashbacks, allowing the characters to build the backstory dynamically as the trial proceeded. I thought it was a cool idea, and could make for some great storytelling, but it was kind of daunting, so I decided to test the concept in my Fearful Symmetries game. After playing, I was reluctantly forced to admit that it would take way too much work to hash it into a pick-up-and-play form that anyone could run at a convention or evening of play.

So, we fell back on the Night Fears idea. I liked this one because it let me work a standard haunted house horror scenario into a DFRPG world, and to focus on being scared, rather than on being hurt ((Don’t get me wrong; the characters can get hurt bad in the scenario, but that’s not the primary focus.)). It also let me cobble together an interesting group of young teens to tackle the problem – I’m really happy with the characters as they turned out, and I think they’re good enough to lift out of the scenario for other teen-centric one-shots.

The other thing I think is important about these characters is that they’re set at Feet in the Water level, the lowest power level in the game. I’ve got a bit of thing about games with sliding power scales – I like to see if they work as well at the lower end as at the higher end. And by “work as well as,” I generally mean they can tell stories that are just as interesting, just as threatening, and just as heroic. I took the low power scale here as a challenge to myself, to put together something that would be as fun to play as dueling Submerged wizards ((The other thing about the low power level is that the characters are very simple to play, so it’s a good scenario to spring on newbies, even if it doesn’t show off the magic system.)).

Hopefully, I succeeded. You’ll have to let me know.


The whole experience of working with Evil Hat has been awesome. Matthew Gandy has taken his place in my list of top editors ((The other three names on that list are John Tynes, Greg Stolze, and Michelle Nephew.)) to work with – he asked the right questions, called me on my flaws, and just generally dragged the stuff I’d written up to a higher level. Thanks, Matthew.

Fred Hicks is just magic. I mean, you’ve seen his layout stuff – he does an amazing job of making his books look both classy and fun, which is a bit of a balancing act, in my mind. Beyond that, he is great to work with, very communicative, supportive, and (maybe most importantly for freelancers) quick to pay. He went above and beyond keeping me in the loop on where things stood with the book, sending me art previews and layout previews. It’s great to feel so involved in a project.

And Kathy Schad is an amazing artist. I don’t know enough about art to discuss her stuff intelligently, so I will just say that she made the stuff in my head look better than I imagined it could. Check out her site.

One of the coolest things about this project happened today, when I got to follow Ruben Smith-Zempel’s tweets as he pulled the map in the book together in an amazingly short time. It’s a great map, and I can’t believe how quick he was with it.

That’s about enough of me prattling on about the scenario. I’ll shut up now. But I encourage you to go check it out – it’s free, after all – and let me know if you run it. I’d love to hear your war stories.

Feints & Gambits: Uptown, Downtown

Slowly catching up. Hopefully be up-to-date by the end of this coming weekend. Thanks for hanging in there.

The last Feints & Gambits game was a small one – we were in the grip of a minor blizzard, as well as illness and (I think) a choir performance, so I counted myself lucky to get quorum to run this game. And I really wanted to run it, just to finish off the storyline that I had intended to take one session, but which dragged out to three.

I had encouraged the players to discuss their plans for this session on the game forum, which they did ((And I only had to bribe and threaten them a little bit.)), so that I had an idea of what they were planning and so that we didn’t spend the first two hours of the game with the players rehashing everything to come up with a plan. Then, of course, with only half the players showing for the game, some of the plans fell by the wayside.

Still, they had two main objectives: first, to see if they could snatch Doyle, the head of Doyle Developments, the company behind the attempts to purchase the neighbourhood; and second, to see if they could calm down the hot-headed residents of the neighbourhood to prevent an escalation of violence. They stuck pretty close together this time out, maybe because they felt they had less of a safety net with the other characters offstage.

So, first up was an attempt to kidnap Doyle. Now, this plan struck me as a terrible idea – a group of street-level toughs trying to snatch one of the wealthiest men in Dublin – but I didn’t just want to tell them they couldn’t do it. Nor did I want to spank them with either his bodyguards or with the consequences of a successful kidnapping ((Or a failed one. That would be bad, too.)).

This is something I want to talk about a little bit here. I was concerned about the players’ expectations and assumptions about the world, and their place in it. I was getting a little bit of a D&D-esque “We can do anything because we’re the PCs” vibe from some of the discussions, and that caused me to do some thinking about how I’m presenting things in the game. I think that I’m not communicating things all that clearly. See, I want to stick by the decisions that the characters made regarding power level; I was pretty clear at that point, that they were going to be only a little bit up the ladder from normal mortals. What I failed to explain was the source material conceit that the supernatural factors view getting mundane authorities investigating things to be the equivalent of trotting out the nuclear weapons.

What am I saying? I’m saying that there seemed to be a difference in understanding about consequences between myself and my players. That’s a dangerous thing to have in a game. It can quickly lead to a perception that the GM is being unfair and needlessly punitive. Or that the GM is being needlessly lax and straining credulity by the kinds of things he lets the players get away with.

I didn’t want Doyle to be safe to mess with just because he was mundane. In fact, I wanted just the opposite.

I decided to handle this by flagging the difficulty of grabbing him during their recon stage, trying to highlight the fact that taking him would be difficult, and would have real repercussions in the game. To that end, when they went looking for where Doyle lived, they found that he had a big house in the country, but also a penthouse in a city hotel. They called the house and found that he was in the city, so they staked out the hotel for a while. When they had had no sight of him for several hours, they realized that he was probably coming and going in a secure car through the underground car park, and that they’d have to flush him out if they wanted  to get a look at him and his security ((Beyond the fact that he was obviously security-savvy enough to keep observers from seeing him come and go, of course.)).

Nate decided to hex the hotel’s security, and pumped enough power in it to take out the entire electrical system. That let the gang see Doyle and his escort leave the hotel and go to another. When Aleister tried to get in close to Doyle and see which room he was taking, he was backed off by several large, professional-looking bodyguards. They decided to head back to the first hotel and break into his penthouse to see if there was anything incriminating there.

Kate managed summon up the fading echo of a burglar to help them break in, and they searched the place, spending a fair bit of time going through the contents of the suite. They found nothing indicating Doyle’s involvement with the attempted land-grab, nor that he had supernatural connections, or indeed anything incriminating. They did find copies of deeds, papers of incorporation, and passport in his safe (along with some watches and cash), which they helped themselves to.

That’s when I told them the lights came back on, and they hung around a little longer. Then I had the elevator start up, and they decided to high-tail it out of there. Nate used a little earth evocation to drop the elevator a few feet ((Thank god for elevator brakes – he pumped the spell up pretty high.)), and they scrambled down the fire stairs to the alley and escaped.

Back at The Hole in the Wall, Kate tried a divinatory ritual to help her piece together a full picture of Doyle’s company and its holdings. This took some time, but ended with a detailed chart of who did what all through the hierarchy of the various corporate entities, which they turned over to the reporter they’d been dealing with ((I’m gonna have to stat her up, I think. At least give her a name. She’s turning into a regular contact.)). Facing Doyle’s inaccessibility, the group then decided to move on to their second objective.

This went a little more smoothly: they got the name of Shaina Sadiki from the reporter as someone respected in the Pakistani community in Dublin who might be able to help them calm things down. After talking their way into meeting her, they had to convince her that they were sincere in their desire for a non-violent solution, whereupon she invited them for family dinner to talk to her grandson, one of the main agitators among the young men in the neighbourhood.

They managed to convince him that violence was a bad idea, and told him that things should be resolved in a couple of weeks when the article the reporter was writing was published. The article came out sooner than expected, and wasn’t what they thought it would be. Instead of an attack on Doyle, it turned out to be the story of how, when he found out that there was violence being committed by employees – remote employees, to be sure, but employees nonetheless – he turned over all the information he had on things to the police and co-operated with the investigation. Instead of him being an evil land developer, he came across as an ethical, concerned businessman. Who also made some restitution to the area, and paid the hospital bills of the injured.

The group isn’t sure whether that’s just cover for getting caught, or if he was genuinely unaware and, frankly, neither am I right now. It’ll depend on what I need Doyle for in later games.

And that’s how we wrapped the storyline. I think everyone was glad to see it end. The dragging was my fault; in a group as large as this one, with a system that many of them are learning, I didn’t provide a clear enough forward direction, which left the group floundering around to try and latch on to anything that would move the story forward. I will keep that in mind for putting together the scenarios in future.

But there were no deaths, no tantrums, no meltdowns, so I’ll take is as a lesson learned and move on.

Now I have to schedule some more sessions.

Feints & Gambits: Drinkin’ and Fightin’

Last night was the latest session of Feints & Gambits. We had almost a full house; only one of the players couldn’t make it.

Mindful of the scattered nature of the previous session, I tried to keep things more focused this session, without drawing in too many extraneous threads to confuse the main story. This worked better, and the characters pushed on through the game, running down the leads they had, and discovering more information. We didn’t finish the story up last night, mainly because the one thing the characters haven’t decided on is what counts as a win for them.

I’ve come to realize that this is an insanely important decision for the party to make. In a lot of games, the victory condition is kind of a default for the game: save the princess, slay the dragon, rip off the megacorp, arrest the supervillain, find the treasure, whatever. It’s built in to the scenario assumptions from the start, and the characters are hooked into wanting to pursue that objective ((This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I hasten to point out. Sharply defined goals offer great motivation and a strong sense of accomplishment when the characters achieve them. It’s just not the only way to do things.)).

What I’ve been doing a lot in both the Dresden Files RPG and the Armitage Files campaign is letting the characters set their own agendas, and establish their own goals and victory conditions. With Fearful Symmetries and Armitage Files, the player groups are fairly small: two and three players, respectively. With double the number of players in Feints & Gambits, the decision process tends to involve a lot more discussion and debate before consensus is reached ((This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. It creates the greatest amount of player buy-in, gives them the strong sense of being in control of their characters’ fates, and in general keeps up the collaborative story building that the game set-up encourages. But it does eat time at game sessions.)), and heightens the planning paralysis potential of the game, which is to be avoided.

When we got to about 11:40 last night, the group was deep in a discussion about the best way to proceed, and had started circling back on their own arguments, losing both focus and momentum, so I suggested we call it a night and move the discussion to the forum for the three weeks until the next game, and they agreed.

So, what happened at the game itself? Well, first of all, Nate wasn’t there, as he had to go return the van he had acquired for that thing with the Guinness. Also, he had to explain the damage to it. Firinne and Aleister were still in pretty rough shape after having been bashed about by the thugs the night before, but Kate was looking after them. Mark had the papers he and Nate had stolen from the lawyer’s office, which they needed to examine. And Rogan showed up to say that she had spent the previous day trying to Aengous drunk to find out more about the Game the fey were playing ((She quickly discovered that Aengous either didn’t get drunk, or that drunk was his default state, and he didn’t get drunker. She, even despite her shapeshifting ways, was not quite so lucky.)). Everyone regrouped at the Hole in the Wall to plan their next moves.

They pored over the maps of the neighbourhood that was being bought out, but were unable to discover any mystical significance to the sites that were being purchased. Kate spent a few hours sorting through the records from the lawyer’s office and discovered that New World Developments was owned, through a network of shell companies and holding companies and false fronts, by Doyle Developments, one of the biggest land development firms in Dublin.

With this information, Aleister called Robin, the friend who had inadvertently drawn him into this by asking Aleister to get him some pistols for self-defense. When Robin didn’t answer his phone, Aleister, Rogan, and Firinne went to find out what was up. At his place, they found a number of angry young Asian men who told them that Robin was in the hospital, having been beaten almost to death. They asked if Aleister had got them their guns yet ((I did this to make it apparent that, while the characters were free to choose how they dealt with things, events are transpiring elsewhere, whether they’re aware of them or not, and that the situation is not under their control. Tensions are mounting in the community, and will eventually come to a head.)).

Deciding that something needed to be done about the thugs, Mark whipped up a tracking spell to find them. Kate made Aleister a healing potion to help with his broken ribs ((Based on the Reiki Healing spell in Your Story.)), and they all headed out on the trail of the men who had beaten Robin.

They found them in a pub in northern Dublin, and Aleister confronted them. This, somewhat predictably, turned into a bar brawl, and we got to see what Aleister can do when he’s got some room to maneuver and someone to watch his back. Also, that Mark’s head is very hard. With the three thugs unconscious – one of them out on the street under a broken window – and beer raining down from a broken tap, Rogan and Firinne each lifted a wallet from one of the fallen toughs as everyone made good their escape through the escalating brawl ((Well, Aleister didn’t escape so much as he called the guys he had just beaten up pedophiles who had molested his brother, and then stared down the rest of the crowd until they cleared a path to let him walk out.)).

Aleister followed this up the next day with a phone call to the chief thug and made a rather chilling threat about what would happen if Aleister caught him south of the Liffey ever again ((When he made the call, I had a child answer the phone and call for his da. I was interested to see where Aleister would draw the line – would he, even implicitly, threaten the child to get the father to understand the seriousness of things? The answer was no. Aleister has scruples.)).

Meanwhile, the group decided to take the papers they had found linking New World with Doyle to a reporter friend of Aleister’s, hoping that the papers could apply some pressure without the gang having to tell the police where they got the records. I took the opportunity to give them a quick course in political leverage through the mouthpiece of the reporter: she asked if they had kept copies, and they sheepishly had to admit that they hadn’t, and then asked for a couple of hours to do that. She then explained that she’d have to verify the information on the papers independently before she could publish anything, and that would take a couple of weeks. They reluctantly agreed to that.

And Rogan went to one of her family lawyers to see what he could tell her about Doyle Development. The lawyer told her that the head was Sir Clifton St. John Doyle, a flash man-about-town, and a wealthy and clever developer. When she mentioned the papers, he pointed out that none of the information they had actually implicated Doyle in the violence, or any unethical behaviour. He also offered some ideas about why Doyle would be using such a convoluted front to buy up the property he wanted, including not wanting competitors to find out what he was doing and drive up the price. He couldn’t offer any other information about what might be going on, but he did offer to set up a meeting with Doyle in a day or two, and she took him up on that.

That’s about when things got tangled in a discussion about what the next steps should be and, after a bit, I called the evening to a close. I find it interesting that it’s taken them two sessions to come to grips with the idea that this problem might have no supernatural component to it at all, but that’s where they’ve arrived, and that’s good. I don’t want every story to be about the fey or other mystical nastiness, though obviously a certain number of them need to be.

And now they’ve got three weeks to figure out what to do next. I wonder what they’ll decide.

Fearful Symmetries: RIP

My Fearful Symmetries campaign has come to an end.

Izabela’s player has decided that she doesn’t want to continue with the game. Seeing as it’s a two-player game, and the two players are husband and wife, that means the game stops.

What happened? Well, I mentioned last post that Izabela was probably going to be retiring, because her player and the magic system didn’t really click. Upon spending some time thinking about what other sort of character would be a good fit for the game, but less mechanically complex to play, Penny came up with a concept she really liked. Then she started thinking about building the characters and said, basically, “Ugh. That means that I’ll have to come up with Aspects.”

She took that as a good indicator that her dissatisfaction with the system went beyond the complexity of the magic system. And, given that she wasn’t enjoying the game, and didn’t like the way the system worked, she very rightly decided that she should bow out of the game.

Now, I happen to love the system, but I can see why she doesn’t. There’s a certain level of meta-thinking that goes on when using the Aspects and whatnot in the game: places where you have to stick your head above the character-immersion waterline and look over your Aspects and your Fate Point totals and create something new on the fly that will apply to a given situation. I think that, for some people, it quickly becomes transparent, and builds a very cinematic style to play. But if you don’t click with the system, you don’t click with it, and you never get to that point.

This is an important point that I have had to learn over and over through my gaming life: not every system is a good fit for every player, or for every game. Some players like more, or less, or different structures to the games they play, and if the rule system doesn’t fit for them, then every time they have to use it, it breaks them out of their happy gaming place, and frustrates them. When it gets too bad, they stop playing.

So, yeah. That’s that.

I want to thank Clint and Penny for playing. We had a good run: 15 sessions, nearly a year of play, and some good, memorable moments.

It’s been fun.

Fearful Symmetries: Unmasking

Friday night was the latest installment of my Fearful Symmetries campaign. It was a return to a more traditional style of session, after the experiment I tried last time. I didn’t have a lot of information about what the characters had planned for this session, so I could do very little prep, but things went pretty well, anyway ((And again, I credit the collaborative city creation for this. It gives me the framework I need to come up with plots and reactions on the fly.)).

We started the game in the manner I usually do in these situations: I asked what the characters were up to, and improvised responses. The initial actions were pretty tame, but then they remembered that, very recently, lightning had come down out of the clear sky and almost killed Emeric, and that they still didn’t know why that had happened.

This led them up Petrin’s Hill, waiting for a storm, trying to figure out how they had angered the storm god Petrunas. Izabela was a little nervous about this, because she had taken a look at the hill with her Sight, and seen the giant slumbering in the earth, whom she assumed was Petrunas ((It isn’t.)), and she didn’t want to disturb him.

Of course, in response to dramatic necessity, they were attacked that night by a dozen cultists and a storm spirit similar to the one that had set fire to Emeric’s rooms previously. He knew how to deal with it, now, and dispatched it handily, while Izabela used her whirlwinds to keep the cultists from ganging up on them. A little interrogation yielded nothing but demands that Emeric surrender his sword, Beortning, which the cultists said had been forged from a stolen piece of Petrunas’s soul. Needless to say, Emeric declined to give up the blade.

Well, it was actually a little more dramatic than that. Emeric said something about how, if Petrunas wanted the sword, he should come and take it, then thrust it hilt-deep into the ground, which shook under his feet. And then he couldn’t pull the sword out again.

In the meantime, the veiled Izabela followed the fleeing cultists back to the rock where the characters thought at least one sacrifice had taken place, and heard them converse with the empty air. Her arcane senses showed her a faint shimmering above the rock, which could have been either a veil or the concealed end of a scrying, so she didn’t want to risk attacking, especially with Emeric still back at the camp, struggling to pull his sword free of the earth.

When Izabela returned, she used the Sight ((She’s gotten pretty good at avoiding the Mental Stress from using the Sight, which is in keeping with her character.)) to check the situation out. She saw that the blade had pierced the thigh of the sleeping giant, who had twitched in his sleep, but that the reason the blade wouldn’t come free was that it was encased in a ghostly spindle of ice, marked with a rune.

With that knowledge, Emeric blasted fire through the sword while he pulled on it. A failed control roll saw the trees around them also catch fire ((This was a night of terrible, terrible dice luck for the players. I almost felt bad for them.)), but he managed to rip the blade free, and then sucked the fire back into himself, quenching it, and leaving a circle of charred ash where there used to be forest.

They were fed up with always being on the defensive, and Izabela summoned a spirit to find out who was behind the attacks. She was given a name: Nicola Thunderpriest.

This is an interesting artifact of the game. During city creation, the players decided that the priest at the church atop Petrin Hill was also secretly the leader of the Petrunas cult. However, in play, they kept that knowledge out of their characters’ awareness and, I think, began to wonder if it was still true – I was playing Nicola as a devout, if slightly worldly, priest who did his best to try and save Emeric’s soul when he discovered that Emeric was some sort of demon. I had built his character around the idea of a secret cult leader, so he had several True Faith powers, as well as sponsored magic, and a stunt or two that helped him with his masquerade.

With him unveiled, Emeric was enraged by the betrayal ((Interestingly, he had traded in his Aspect related to anger for one related to building a network of information, favours, and influence just this last advancement.)), and went off to the church to exact his revenge.

I liked the way things were going. Emeric was angry at the betrayal, and deeply hurt, and just (I think) a little bit tempted to give up the sword if Nicola could convince him that the priest would be a better guardian for one of the Dooms. He terrorized the priest and the altar boys at the church until he found the parsonage out back, where he figured Nicola must be holing up.

So, Emeric and Izabela burst into the parsonage ((Over the threshold, which severely impacted their supernatural abilities.)) and opened the trapdoor that led to Nicola’s work room. What followed was the first fight where I think the characters really felt threatened. I had built Nicola as a -16 Refresh character, and given him a few Fate Points on top of that, so he was no slouch. Add to that the home-field advantage – both his ability to tap the Aspects of his home that he knew about, and the effect of his strengthened threshold – and he had a good chance of really doing some damage.

The characters fought cleverly, using maneuvers to remove a couple important tools and enchanted items, though Izabela took a pretty devastating blast of lightning. Then, they managed to subdue him as he tried to tear open the veil into the Mittlemarch and escape. They bound him, and went to find city guards to take him into custody ((As luck would have it, there was a squad right handy, called by the the terrorized clergy.)) for trial before an ecclesiastical court.

That taken care of, they Izabela turned her attention to the Gold Lane problem. With the knowledge that an angel had been bound into the curse, she decided to see if she could find any writings of John Dee or Edward Kelley that talked about their communing with angels. A little investigation revealed that Kelley had once lived in a house reputed to have been owned by Faust, so she and Emeric went their to see if she could find anything of value.

Their search of the premises yielded nothing of note, so Izabela tried to raise Faust’s ghost to see what he had to say. She was successful, and had an interesting conversation with the dead man, who revealed that he knew of nothing hidden in the house, but that there was a place he was unable to look: up the chimney. Glancing up there revealed that the flue was ringed with Enochian sigils, anchoring a veil. They unraveled that, and found a substantial quantity of gold, as well as some preserved human parts ((Emeric thinks that they were being prepared to be sold as saintly relics to the unsuspecting.)).

The piece of information that Faust’s ghost gave them that was most useful was that he didn’t think that Kelley or Dee were able to bind angels, having little power themselves. The power was all resident in the shew stone that allowed their communion – Kelley had been working to twist that into a binding device, but Faust didn’t believe he had succeeded. That was enough to convince Izabela that she needed to find the shew stone and see what it could teach her.

That’s about where we left it, but there was one other game-affecting development. Izabela may be retiring to NPC status. Her player confided to me last night that she’s not having fun playing Izabela, and might like to try a different character. This wasn’t a huge surprise to me; I’ve been watching the player struggle with the character, and get frustrated with the spellcasting system ((There is no doubt in my mind that it’s the magic system that is the main culprit in the player’s dissatisfaction with this character. It’s not that the magic system is bad, but it is complex, and doesn’t have the kinds of support structures in it that let her use it with confidence. She likes immersive play, and finds that whenever she wants to use magic, she has to pull back from the character to fiddle around with the mechanics to build a spell, and she finds that jarring. Which is fair. Not every system is going to mesh well with every player.)), from day one. So, we may be having a new character take the stage while Izabela devotes herself to research.

But that’s something for another day.

Feints & Gambits: Developments

Last Friday night was the latest installment of Feints & Gambits. Five of the players were able to make it, which gave us almost a full house.

While we had fun with the game, this session was a little more muddled and directionless than previous ones. The problem was that I had incorporated a technique I’ve been using to great effect in other, smaller games ((Like Fearful Symmetries and Armitage Files, for example.)), and it split the focus waaaay too much in this larger group. So much so that what I had intended to be another single-session adventure is going to stretch to two sessions ((I say this like it’s a problem, but it isn’t really. It’s just not what I had planned, and I had to choose my stopping point carefully so as to allow for the attendance or non-attendance of the various players next session. What I mean is that I had to stop somewhere that it was easy for characters to enter or exit play if the number of people who can make it next session changes.)).

What I’ve been doing in the smaller games that I tried in this one is throwing out leads to multiple storylines, and seeing which ones appeal to the players. These threads often deal with consequences of their past actions, fallout from previous adventures, friends and enemies made, and that sort of thing. When I threw in a bit of a teaser about the Winter Squire letting one of the characters know that Winter was aware of the characters’ meddling, the players immediately started seeing if they could find out where the Squire hung his hat and apply a little pressure of their own. They also started trying to find out what the rules of the game between Summer and Winter were.

This play started to drag a bit, turning into the players making rolls and trying to unlock the exposition dump they needed to ask the next question ((This is an approach much used in video games, and it works well there. In a table-top roleplaying game, I want to encourage a more dynamic, interesting approach, where the characters actually do stuff to find things out, and I need to figure out how to advance that idea more in play. For example, instead of “I ask around to see what I can find out. Is that a Contacts roll?” I’d prefer to see something like, “Okay, well, Seamus down at the Cobblestone used to be in The Sunshine Boys. I’ll try and track him down so I can ask him about the Snow Birds.”)), so I decided to pull in one of the other threads for the game, having an old squad-mate of Aleister’s show up an ask him to get some handguns. A little investigation on this led to the discovery that there had been an escalation in violence against Asians in a neighbourhood in the South Dublin suburbs, with the locals of the opinion that it’s part of a plan to get the owners to sell off their homes and businesses to a developer.

In the midst of it all, Kate had had a chat with Mad Mary, and got a cryptic little prophecy that they’ve been trying to decipher, seeing where it applies ((And I’m not telling. Not yet, anyway.)).

The violence in South Dublin seemed to be the more pressing concern – everyone figured that the Winter Court wasn’t going anywhere  – so they headed off on a two-pronged approach. One team would walk through the area disguised as young Pakistani men, while the other would try and break into the offices of the lawyers handling the offers to purchase to try and find out who was behind them.

I jumped back and forth between these two scenes, intercutting to try and keep everyone involved and interested. The bait team got jumped and quickly took out their attackers, but the police showed up, so they were unable to interrogate their prisoners. The burglary team got in and got the files, but left some pretty obvious evidence of their presence because of the necessity of using evocation to get through a couple of barriers.

That’s where we wrapped things up. We hadn’t got all that much done, but again that was a result of the way I had split the focus. If I want to keep a more episodic style of game, I need to present a more obvious path forward for the characters, rather than a myriad of possible options, none of which look better than the others ((There’s a fine line between this and railroading. I want the characters to have freedom to choose what they want to do, and which approach they want to take, but I know the group likes some direction – they want there to be a story there for them to find, not just wander around hoping something interesting happens. And they don’t want to spend hours debating between options that look equally good or bad to them. So, providing a clear path forward, or maybe a couple that have very obvious pros and cons, gives them the support to make decisions and drive the story.)). I was very happy that they split the party the way they did; that’s usually a big mistake in roleplaying games, but works fine in DFRPG, due to the emphasis on narrative systems and the empowerment of players in determining when they’re in real danger.

Next time, though, I’m gonna run it a bit tighter.

Fearful Symmetries: Trial (In More Ways Than One)

This post has been delayed, because I’ve needed to do some thinking and formalizing the stuff I’m going to say here. The reason is that I tried something kind of new to me in the last session, inspired by reading games like Leverage RPG and Apocalypse World. It was an experiment in a different narrative structure to the adventure, breaking away from the start-middle-end assumption and defined events to something more free-form and collaborative.

What does that all mean? Well, basically, it means I ran this session as a flashback episode.

At the end of the previous session, we left things with our heroes about to descend on the house where, they were told, a cell of Catholic spies were based. They wanted to bring these spies in and thereby clear Emeric’s name of charges of espionage. In the time between that session and this past one, I had been thinking about the kind of game this has become, and how I wanted to provide a few more options for the characters, and how I didn’t really want this round-up of a spy network to be a kick-in-the-door-kill-the-bad-guys scenario ((There’s nothing wrong with those, but there’s been quite a few of those in this campaign, and I wanted to offer some possibilities of different kinds of solutions.)). On the other hand, the characters are good at that kind of thing, so I didn’t want to take that option totally off the table.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a couple of off-hand comments that my players had made about not getting a lot of use out of their social skills, and about some of their goals – specifically, about wanting to become more involved in keeping Prague safe in the face of the impending arrival of the Catholic League. Both those things implied wanting to be more involved in the upper levels of society in the city, so I wanted to give them the opportunity to make that happen, too.

Apocalypse World offers some interesting perspective on creating scenarios: don’t do it. Play to find out what happens. And Leverage RPG allows the use of flashbacks to establish facts in the past for effect in the current game. And we’ve all seen and loved movies and TV shows that start in media res and then fill in the backstory as we go along ((Things like The Usual Suspects or Sunset Boulevard or the Nevada Day episodes of Studio 60 for example.)). I got this idea stuck in my head that it would be fun to do a game like that, giving a lot of the creative control over to the players to decide how they managed to get to their current situation, and then letting them use that stuff to get them out of it.

It was a big enough departure from the usual way we do things that I spent a lot of time agonizing about whether I should try this or not. Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place: I talked to my players about it ((To be fair, I talked to one of my players about it, and she talked to the other player about it. This works because they are husband and wife.)). They agreed that they’d be interested in trying it, but that they didn’t want to waste the evening if it turned out the approach crashed and burned. I thought about that, and said that I could build in some trap doors to abandon this approach in favour of our more traditional one if we felt it wasn’t working.

Based on that feedback, I went ahead and figured out what sort of structure this experiment was going to use, and how I wanted to incorporate the mechanics of the game into the story we were telling. My primary goals were:

  • Provide a way for the characters to begin interacting with the nobles of Prague.
  • Give them some use for their social abilities, ideally through some Social Conflict.
  • Let them write as much of the backstory as they wanted to.
  • Make sure we all had fun ((Of course, this is the most important point of consideration. The only reason it’s listed last is because it should pretty much go without saying.)).

I went for a pretty sparse set-up: the characters were standing before a council of nobles in the throne room of Prague Castle, being asked to account for themselves and prove that they were not spies. There were about two dozen nobles present, but I figured that there were really six key figures that they would have to sway to their side in order to gain their freedom, and that swaying was going to be accomplished using the Social Conflict rules.

To this mix, I added some minor rules for flashbacks. Specifically, I had a short list of key questions that the council wanted answered, and each time one was asked, it would trigger a flashback to provide the answer. In addition, players could call for a flashback if they wished to introduce an event or fact that would affect play. Each completed flashback would allow the players to put an Aspect on the scene, which they could tap in their attempts to influence the nobles.

We got off to a rocky start, mainly because I hadn’t explained my assumptions and expectations clearly enough to the players. The fact that I didn’t have any real expectations of what had happened between them learning about the spy ring and them having to account for it took a while to sink in – they kept wondering what I wanted them to do, and I kept waiting for them to take the freedom and run with it. We hashed that out in the first flashback episode, and after that we were rolling ((More or less, anyway.)).

In the flashbacks, we found ((Though not in the order I’m laying it out here.)) that the characters had staked out the house in question, and that Izabela had gone off to follow one of the many men coming and going from it, seeing him meet with many servants of the noble houses and exchanging messages with them. Emeric, meanwhile, was spotted watching the house and pulled inside to answer questions, where he managed to convince the spies that he was working for a sympathetic party and had come to warn them to move house. As the last one was about to leave, he cold-cocked him to keep for interrogation.

The interrogation led to finding that at least one of the noble families was collaborating with the spies, and that there was evidence of this collaboration hidden in a cemetery near the now-burned-out Malvora manor. Izabela made a deal with another captured spy to let him leave the city in hopes that they might still be able to broker a deal with the Catholic League that would prevent the bloodshed she knows is coming ((I’ve decided that, though we’re going with most of the historical facts of the Thirty Years’ War as of 1620, the actions of the characters have a chance of changing how things happen, and she’s trying to do just that.)), which kind-of upset Emeric.

In helping the spy escape the city, she faked an explosion, which stirred up the guards. As Emeric is already being sought as a spy, they tried to disguise themselves as a housemaid bringing her drunk master home in a wheelbarrow to get across the Charles Bridge and retrieve the evidence. It kind of went south, and they wound up under arrest, but their friend Captain Amiel was in charge, and so they wound up in front of the nobles’ council with a chance to tell their story.

During their trial – the framing event for the flashbacks – they outed one of the collaborating nobles, swayed a couple of others, and intimidated another into shutting the hell up. In the end, they took the whole gang over to the cemetery, got the evidence, and proved their innocence, as well as making some powerful and valuable friends among the nobility.

So, how did things work overall? I’d call it a qualified success. Here are some things I learned, that you may want to consider if you decide to try this approach with your own group.

  • Be clear in your explanations about how this is going to work, and what the players’ options are. We almost had a complete train wreck forty minutes into play because I hadn’t been clear enough. Especially be clear about how much or how little you want to be defined during play. Which brings up the next point.
  • You’re asking your players to essentially set scenes for themselves, and then play through them. Give them some guidelines as to how much you are going to let them establish in the scene-setting portion, versus what questions will need to be answered through play. For example, “In this scene, we interrogate the captive and find out that he’s in league with a noble house and where the evidence is,” defines a lot of things that might be more fun to come out during play. If you’re not cool with that, let them know so that they can give you something like, “In this scene, we interrogate the captive to try and find the extent of the spy ring.” Everything else comes out of the questions they ask the captive and the answers he can be convinced to give ((This is an application of the old writing principle of “Show, don’t tell.”)). If you make this clear to the players, you can avoid doing what I did, which was often saying, “That’s too much stuff. Let’s get back to the basics of the scene, and see what you can do in play.” Which is just another way of saying no to players, and that’s something I like to avoid.
  • Have some things in your back pocket to toss in if the players are coming up blank thanks to the choice paralysis. In my case, the questions from the nobles provided some guidance, but picking out two or three main flashback scenes that you’d like to see in the game and prepping them gives you some options if they get stuck.
  • Keep the flashbacks short. If they just play the adventure straight through in a so-called flashback, it’s not different than just playing the game normally. You can also throw them in out of chronological order, which is fun, but it requires that both you and the players keep more careful track of the other flashbacks, so you don’t wind up with a paradox.
  • Recognize that this approach is not going to work for some players, especially those that prefer an immersive play experience. Players have to pull back from their characters to set scenes, to call for flashbacks, and to decide what Aspects they get out of the flashbacks, as well as to keep track of the chronological weave you’re making – all the meta-thinking about playing the game instead of living through it as a character. A flashback structure demands more meta-thinking from players than the more traditional style of play.
  • I don’t think this approach is sustainable as a default game style. Maybe every now and then, as a change of pace, but too frequently and it would just get annoying and bland.

So, that was my big narrative structure experiment with the game. In the end it, it worked, but I’m certainly not planning on trying it again anytime soon. The bite-sized flashbacks of the Leverage RPG are easier to handle, less disruptive, and more in keeping with the genre, and I think I may allow similar things to take place in this game, but the longer, more elaborate, more gimmicky style that this was? No. It needs more work, and more polish, and more testing before I could say it’s a truly usable tool in my GM toolkit.

That said, many thanks to Clint and Penny for agreeing to try it with me. It was a fun experiment. And now we’ll return to our regularly-structured games.

At least until I get my next crazy idea.

Feints & Gambits: Drinks Run

Friday was the second session of our new Feints & Gambits campaign, using The Dresden Files RPG. We had a full house, which meant a total of seven of us ((Me and six players.)) crammed into the living room of my condo. We all fit, everyone had a seat, and it was cozy. Six players is, however, a pretty large group for DFRPG – at least, for me. There’s a lot to keep track of with all the characters. That said, we pulled it off and, if the focus wasn’t quite as equally spread as I might have hoped, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I was a little stuck for an idea for this session’s adventure. See, while we have this great, full setting document, with tons of ideas and options, we don’t have enough play time invested in it yet for the adventures to occur spontaneously and organically. It’s going to come, as it has in the
Fearful Symmetries game, but it takes a little time to play in the setting and let the characters simmer in the stewpot of the city.

So, I decided to essentially try a random adventure creation thing. I’ve got a big list of all the Aspects in the game ((GMs: This can be an invaluable tool. I strongly encourage you to make one for your game. I keep finding new things I can use it for.)), including all the theme, threat, location, face, and character Aspects. It’s in a simple numbered list, so I just rolled some dice to get a selection of Aspects to string into an adventure.

I wound up rolling about eight Aspects, and got the ones for our Lyric vs. Prosaic theme and its face, the blind bard O’Carolan, as well as Padraig Pearse’s ghost, the Guinness Brewery, the White Council Warden, South Dublin Suburbs, and an Aspect for each of two of the player characters ((Full Aspect list: The Songs We Sing, Blind Bard, Ghost Judge of the Battle, Guinness For Strength!, Big Warden in a Little Pond, Ciad Mille Failte, Spoiling for a Fight (Nate O’Malley), It Was Like That When I Got Here! (Firinne O’Beara).)). Reading over the setting entries for these things, I cam up with the idea that, every midwinter, a bottle of the True Guinness has to be delivered to the ghost of Padraig Pearse at the General Post Office at midnight. I figured that, this year, O’Carolan was delivering it, but something would go wrong, and the PCs would need to step in. I couldn’t really work in the South Dublin Suburbs without making the adventure a little over-elaborate for a single evening, so I discarded it from my planning.

I looked at the two Aspects I had rolled for the PCs, and decided to use them to link the characters into the scenario in a little different way. See, in a lot of good stories, the hero gets drawn into the conflict against his will, by having something bad happen to him that he needs to respond to. Now, having something bad happen out-of-the-blue to a PC just to jumpstart a game is a little bit heavy-handed, in my opinion, and I don’t really like taking that element of control away from the player, even if the player’s cool with it ((And there’s no guarantee that the player will be cool with it.)). But Aspects offer a wonderful way to set the hook in a way that the player accepts, and rewards him 0r her for letting you screw with the character: compels.

When the game started, I tossed a Fate Point to Nate’s player, and had the Warden come pay a visit and be rather cryptic and threatening. Nate was Spoiling For A Fight, so this was a good way to get him – and incidentally, his brother Mark – up and looking into things. One of the things the Warden said was that the brothers should help out around the place a little more, and I thought this might be enough to rope them into the plot. It really wasn’t, though, as the brothers focused on who this poncy bastard was and why he was coming into their shop and bugging them ((Also, using very impressive evocation control to burn a message on the wall of the back room from way on the other side of the store with no one noticing.)). It did, however, get them moving and active, and over to the Silver Arm, where I was able to put the second PC Aspect into play.

I handed Firinne’s player a Fate Point ((She actually cringed when I did that! It was great!)) and gave her a little scene where she bumped into someone in the crowded pub, who bumped someone else, who spilled a drink, which caused someone to slip, which knocked over a table, which fell on O’Carolan’s bag with a shattering sound and the smell of rich, heady Guinness. She stood there paralyzed for a second or two, long enough for Macha – the mistress of the house – and O’Carolan to haul her into the back room and tell her that she had to fix the situation.

They outlined the situation in broad terms, hinting that the breakage was no accident but was, in fact, a mystical attack launched through Firinne by those who opposed the delivery. Firinne immediately flashed back to the memory of the taunting note she left in the Snow Bird gang house when she recovered the Silver Arm, and figured that they must have used that as a sympathetic link to her ((I hadn’t actually thought of that, but it sounded good, so it has become canon.)). She was told that she had to go see Aengus at the Guinness Brewery, pick something up from him, and deliver it to the General Post Office at midnight before midwinter. That gave her three days.

Leaving the pub, she ran into the O’Malley brothers coming to see what they could find out about their visitor, and recruited their help with the promise of beer. Before they headed off, though, they went into the pub and, talking to Macha, figured out that the fellow who had come to their shop had indeed been the White Council Warden for Ireland. They proceeded to drink more, long enough for Firinne to get impatient and call Kate ((Who had been at the Long Library at Trinity College, where she sensed some necromantic magic. THAT’s not gonna be important later on, is it?)), Aleister, and Rogan to come help her, as well.

Eventually, they all got over to the Guinness Brewery, and found that they couldn’t get in, so they took the tour through the storehouse next door ((They also found that the Guinness buildings had a threshold, which disconcerted a couple of them.)). There, they managed to send a message to Aengus, who came and met them at a fish and chips stand across the street. They were watched by some members of the Snow Birds so, once they got the package – a clay bottle of beer – from Aengus and pledged to deliver it, they engineered an escape by blending in with a tourist crowd ((Summoned by the expenditure of a Fate Point.)) and using some of Firinne’s glamours.

What followed next was a chase through the streets of Dublin to the General Post Office. Our heroes stole bikes from a public rack to keep ahead of their pursuers, but Nate blew an Athletics check and wiped out. Mark fell back to help him ((Thanks to his Me Fookin’ Brother Aspect.)), and the two of them drove off the pursuing fey gang members, letting the rest of the group make it to a church near the GPO, where they went to ground.

So, we had the O’Malleys on the outside, kept away from the church by a mob of Snow Birds ((I had originally had a more complicated plot, involving some twists and misdirection and a different main bad guy, but I let it go when I saw how this plotline was working, and how everyone was involved and interested. I can reuse the other idea in a later adventure, and even tie it back to this one.)), and the rest of the group inside the church, besieged by the fey gangsters. Plotting then took place.

At 11:54, Aleister rang the churchbells to disorient the Snow Birds, the O’Malleys showed up in a “borrowed” van to scatter the mob, Rogan shifter to her feline form and carried Firinne out into the back doors of the van, and everyone else piled in afterward for a high-speed jaunt, complete with bootlegger turn, over to the GPO. As most of the folks bailed out to escort Firinne inside to make the delivery, Nate threw up a very powerful wall of flame to keep the fey back, and Kate stayed with him as back-up.

Inside, the ghost of Padraig Pearse showed up, spoke briefly with them ((He seeded in a few hints about other things and situations in Dublin, but though the gang caught one or two of them, they don’t really know what they mean.)), and drank the Guinness, which he said was part of the rules of the binding that held him here. After he had his yearly drink, he turned and walked away, and the group left to find the ranks of Snow Birds outside lined up and saluting them.

And that was the evening.

I’m pretty happy with the way things went. We got through the scenario in one evening, and everyone had fun. Firinne and the O’Malleys were definitely the spotlight characters this adventure, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll just have to make sure that the spotlight shines on a couple of the others next session.

I liked the compel mechanic to hook in the characters at the start of the evening, and had some good comments from the players about it, too, so that’s something I’m probably going to keep using.

One of my players asked me to post a recap of the game sessions on the Feints & Gambits forum, but I decided against it. Why? Because I would rather leave that open for the players to post their own recaps, stories about the fallout of the adventure, and stuff like that in order to earn the Bribe(TM) that I’ve offered.

Anyway, all in all, a good game, and a promising session for the first one with all the players present. Looking forward to the next one.