Fearful Symmetries: Homecoming

Last session of the Fearful Symmetries campaign was a little unfocused. I don’t think it was too much of a problem, overall, because they’d just completed a big storyline, ending the White Court influence in Prague. Thus, they spent this session looking around for their next short-term goal ((Interesting to note that they’ve got some solid ideas about long-term goals. They’ve both decided that their characters – for their own reasons – want to keep Prague safe.)).

They had a couple of pet projects on the go: Izabela wanted to keep trying to dismantle the curse on Gold Lane, and Emeric had decided to see if he could step into the power vacuum left by the departing Malvora clan. And I had some dangling plot threads to throw at them.

Now, one of the themes that I wanted to introduce was that the Emperor’s spies are everywhere. To layer that in, I wanted to establish some uncertainty in the players about some of the assumptions they were making about how things fit together. I started with the Malvoras.

During their raid on the Malvora manor, Emeric and Izabela had found a room full of documentation on the various noble families of Prague, including the Valdstejns ((Which is Izabela’s family, for those of you following along at home.)). They nabbed some of these files, though most of them were destroyed in the fire that was rapidly consuming the manor house.

As part of stepping into the power vacuum, Emeric and Izabela decided to return the documents to the various families in order to assure them that the blackmail they assumed the Malvoras were perpetrating was at an end. And that’s when they found out that there was no blackmail going on.

Time after time, when they brought the documents to those they concerned, they were faced by incomprehension and disbelief. Lukrezia Malvora had always been a charming, friendly, generous lady, with absolutely no political influence on others. There was no hint that blackmail had been part of her operation, and indeed, there was some regret that she was gone.

Emeric was dealing with some other stuff, at the same time. He had been somewhat shaken by the events in Mstetice the previous session, and was beginning to question his approach to staving off Ragnarok ((His goal is to try and prevent the worst atrocities of humanity, and to help humans maintain hope. The actions of the soldiers and citizens in Mstetice, and the number of times he’s had to unsheathe Beortning is giving him a bit of a crisis of faith.)). Add to that the fact that he got struck with lightning out of a clear sky ((A 12-stress hit. The only reason he survived was because the spellcaster who whipped up the ritual didn’t know how tough Emeric really was. Emeric sucked up the blast, though it hurt him.)), and he was starting to feel a bit persecuted and depressed.

He went to Reverend Nicola at the Church of St. Lawrence up on Petrin’s Hill, whom he suspected of being a priest of Petrunas, looking for some spiritual guidance. He waited through evensong, then asked the Reverend for help. Nicola proved to be much as he always was: a compassionate Lutheran minister with an interest in local history and legend. When Emeric prodded him to admit that he worshipped the old gods, Nicola was honestly confused ((According to the setting document we created, Nicola does indeed worship Petrunas. However, because of the way I’ve been running things, they’re not sure whether I’ve changed that up, or if he’s just really good at hiding his secret identity.)), and when Emeric revealed himself in his true form, his main concern was to offer to save Emeric’s soul.

Still poking around to find out how the Malvora clan was manipulating things, Emeric went to see the Mayor, whom he knew was behind the attempt to arrest him with Kirchoff’s help. He disguised himself as a White Court vampire, and passed himself off as one of Lukrezia’s kin. When he met the mayor, he came on pretty strong, trying to assert the hold he believed Lukrezia had over the Mayor – which caused the Mayor to get a little testy, as he didn’t work for the Malvora. Following a bit of backpedalling, Emeric managed to find out that his arrest had been ordered because Lukrezia had convinced the Mayor that Emeric was a Papist spy.

Izabela and Emeric were starting to realize that the Malvora manipulation must have been more subtle and indirect than they had previously surmised. They also realized that, just because Malvora was gone, it didn’t mean they were safe from White Court machinations ((Oh, and somewhere in there they remembered that they still had a White Court vampire strapped to a table in Amadan’s cellar, and went to kick him out of the city.)).

We wrapped up with our heroes meeting with Captain Amiel, who told them that Emeric might be able to redeem himself if he were able to prove that he had only been pretending to be a spy in order to capture a Papist cell that Amiel’s men had located in Old Town. So, they’re suiting up to go raid the spies’ nest and clear Emeric’s name.

Feints & Gambits: Armless

This past Saturday was the inaugural game session of my new Feints & Gambits DFRPG campaign. We’re running this game quorum-style, so that we play as long as three of the six players show up. For the first game, we had four players ((The holiday season always makes scheduling somewhat more challenging, what with everyone’s family commitments.)).

I spent the first half-hour or so making sure everyone was up to speed on the game system, and answering any lingering questions about characters and mechanics. I’ve gotten pretty good at giving a condensed overview of the FATE system in about fifteen minutes; I expanded things here, because we’re looking at a long-term campaign, and I wanted to make sure that everyone had a decent grounding, so they understood their options.

First games of new campaigns are tricky things, I find. You need to take things easy as people get up to speed on the system and what their characters can do, but you also want some interesting stuff to happen so that the players get hooked and want to keep coming back. So, that means finding exciting action that is still fairly simple, mechanically speaking.

The collaborative city-building can really help get things rolling, because the players are already anxious and interested in playing in the setting they’ve built, and finding all the cool stuff they put there. And in finding all the neat little connections and secrets that have grown from the basic groundwork. There are already things they care about, and they already have some enemies and allies, thanks to the story phases of character creation, so really it’s just a matter of picking and choosing.

My objectives for this session was to give each of the four players a chance to do something interesting and special with their characters, and to wrap up the adventure in a single session ((Though the repercussions are probably going to stretch out longer than that.)). When I build adventures like this, all I generally do is come up with the situation – who, what, where, and why – and then I expose one bit of the resulting situation to the characters ((Of course, the bit I expose to them has to be something that impels them to take action.)). After that, if I have a fairly solid idea of the situation, it’s pretty easy to properly adjudicate character actions and let them choose their own path to resolving the situation ((This approach works far better in games where it’s simple to come up with stats and challenges on the fly – like DFRPG or Trail of Cthulhu – than ones where it’s more difficult or time-consuming, like D&D.)).

The result, I find, is a fairly organic structure that responds properly to character actions, and leads to character-directed action, rather than set-piece encounters ((Though, to be fair, I usually put together a page or two of stats and notes that I can turn into interesting set-piece encounters on the fly, because those are fun and exciting sometimes.)).

That’s what I did this time.

Things started out with the characters showing up at The Silver Arm, the local supernatural pub, to find no music, and everyone being very quiet. Turns out that the pub’s sign ((A silver armoured arm and hand that hung outside above the door.)) had been stolen, and the owner, Macha MacRuad, was furious. She wouldn’t let anyone even talk about it in the pub.

That got everyone motivated to go find the sign. They managed to trace it to a house in a pretty run-down neighbourhood that was being used as a clubhouse by the Snowbirds, the Winter Court gang that hung around the Millennium Spire. Stealing the sign was apparently a new move in the ongoing games of one-upmanship between the fey courts. The Summer Court gang, the Sunshine Boys, were rumoured to be getting ready to snatch the arm themselves.

A little bit of scouting found them a way in, and Kate had a couple of good veiling potions for her and Rogan. Firinne was able to use her glamours to veil herself. That left Aleister, who wasn’t all that sneaky. He set himself up in a sniper’s nest across the street with a paintball gun, and acted as a distraction.

Things went pretty well at first, with Aleister drawing out most of the gang members and the other three sneaking in through an upstairs window, thanks to a convenient shed ((Placed by using a Burglary declaration while casing the building.)). Things turned a little south when the gang used some pixies to find Aleister and he had to leg it out of there, and the folks inside the house found that there was still an ogre left on guard.

We got to some action here, though, interestingly, not a one of the characters tried to attack anyone. Aleister’s goal was not to beat anyone up, but to lure them away from the clubhouse to give the other three time to find the arm. The three inside knew they were completely outclassed by the ogre, so they just wanted to grab the arm ((Which had been nailed to a block of wood and turned into a lamp.)) and run like bunnies.

They all managed it, though Aleister was completely overwhelmed by the gang members ((Ganging up on someone and spending an exchange or two to use maneuvers to layer on the Aspects is a devastating tactic.)), and wound up conceding the fight – he had the gang members kick the crap out of him and dump him in the Liffey. Inside the house, the veiling the characters used kept the ogre from effectively targeting them, and then Kate threw a handful of iron filings into his face to keep him distracted. Rogan tripped him up with a chair, and Firinne swapped the lamp for a manikin’s arm that she had glamoured up to last for a few minutes ((She also left a taunting note, being a trickster-style changeling herself. THAT’s not gonna come back to bite her, at all. Good use of a compel, I thought.)).

So, they got the sign back, got Aleister to the hospital, and called it a night.

Over all, I think the game went quite well, and everyone seemed to have a good time. It was fairly light, and everyone took to heart the dangers of violence ((Especially at their power level.)), but they’ve also made some interesting choices about the sides their on, and there’s going to be an ogre Snowbird looking for a certain witch with payback in mind.

Yeah, I call it a win.

Fearful Symmetries: Kirchoff’s Fall

We picked up the Fearful Symmetries story this session with Emeric and Izabela interrogating the captive White Court vampire that Amadan had acquired for them. The prisoner knew that he’d been left to twist in the wind by Lukrezia Malvora and the rest of the family, and that his only hope of escaping with his life was to give his captors what they wanted. He bargained as well as he could, though his position was hardly one of strength, and secured the promise that, if the information he gave to Emeric and Izabela helped them catch up with Lukrezia, they would set him free, as long as he promised to leave the city and not come back.

He didn’t know where Lukrezia was, but he offered his best guesses, saying that the best bet was that she had gone to Mstetice, the little village where Marta ((Marta was the maid who had raised Izabela, and really the only member of her family in Prague that she cared about.)) lived.

Now, I had decided going in that, given the White Court predilection for complex plotting and working through intermediaries, that the end-game for the Malvora storyline was going to be all about hard choices and mitigating damage, rather than out-right success or failure. And to simulate that Lukrezia is more intelligent than I am, with a vast experience in messing with people, I cheated a little, planning-wise ((This is a basic technique that is advocated in Amber Diceless Roleplaying, to help you play the elder Amberites, who are smarter, sneakier, craftier, and better prepared than you will ever be. I call it cheating, because it’s a tactic designed to outflank the characters, no matter what they decide to do, removing their ability to cleverly counter or prevent the plot. As such, I use it very, very sparingly, because it’s not fair to rob the players of cool. I only really use it when I have a different sort of cool in mind for this particular game session. And I try not to be heavy-handed, even when I do use it.)). Basically, I worked out a few different plots that she could have in place, with the understanding that I would use whichever one seemed best when the characters caught up with things – and by best, I mean whichever one put the characters in the toughest position.

The basics of the thing were going to be the same: the White Court was going to do its level best to destroy Mstetice and everyone in it.

The simplest version of the plot was that the characters were going to be too late getting to Mstetice, and find that it had torn itself apart with rioting and murder. The players bypassed that by deciding to travel through the Mittelmarch ((Which is what the inhabitants of Bohemia in 1620 call the Nevernever.)) in order to get to Mstetice in an hour or so, rather than in two days.

It was a little sloppy of me, but I hadn’t actually thought of them doing that ((Yeah, in retrospect, it’s a pretty obvious tactic, but sometimes you just miss stuff.)). I asked the players to give me five minutes, and came up with a simple sketch chart for the trip through the Mittelmarch – just a few nodes with single-word descriptions like Fork, Valley, River, Ridge, and the like, with some connecting lines and decision points.

As I said, it only took about five minutes to rough it out, and then I asked the characters how they were doing things. They found a place in Prague with similar enough resonance to Mstetice ((In New Town, which is actually fairly peaceful and prosperous under the mayor’s leadership, despite the shadow of war cast over Prague. Quite similar to the feeling in Mstetice. Though Amadan warned them to avoid the New Town Square, with the haunted clock.)), and Izabela opened a way to the Mittelmarch.

I improvised the actual encounters along the trail to Mstetice, which wound up being an interesting challenge for me. See, I based things on ideas from myths, legends, and fairy tales, but I needed to avoid using the actual fey, because the borders of Faerie have been closed by the Queens. So, I put some strange things in, and figured I’d worry about what they meant if the characters actually investigated and paid attention. In keeping with the mythic theme, I decided they needed to pass through three challenges ((They actually faced four challenges, but didn’t pass through the ferryman challenge, so that doesn’t count.)) to reach their destination. The path they chose took them to:

  • A stone table heaped with dried fruit and clay bottles. They didn’t eat anything there, but instead left offerings of their own. I told them to put the Aspect Sacrificed at the Stone Table on their sheets ((This is an idea that I’m playing with, based on reading a bunch of other games, including Leverage, Apocalypse World, and similar things. I didn’t know what the Aspect meant, but I wanted to leave a hook for myself to use later, once I figured out what it meant.)).
  • An old ferryman who offered to take them across a river in return for their names. Emeric gave his name, but Izabela refused, and asked if she could give him something else. He asked for the secret that Odin had told her, and she refused that, as well, so they backtracked to a trail they had seen that led to a bridge over the entire canyon they were traveling in.
  • Spirits fighting a battle for possession of the bridge for their respective kings. The battle always ends with them all dead, then starts again if a living soul tries to cross the bridge, and the spirits try to persuade the newcomers to join their side and tip the balance. Emeric and Izabela tried reasoning with them, but had no luck ((They were very simple spirits.)), so Izabela used her magic to distract and confuse them while the pair escaped.
  • A giant shrike and another horrific monster ((That I made up on the spot as the big, honking THREAT after the shrike proved unequal to the task.)) that attacked while Izabela was trying to open a way back to Mstetice. Emeric took care of the shrike in very short order – one strike – and so I had a big, undefined monster start moving through the trees toward them. They managed to get through to the mortal world in time, and then Emeric held the beast off while Izabela sealed the rift.

They returned on the hill overlooking the village, and saw a large military force camped a few miles beyond it. Fearing the worst, they rode down to the bridge, and spoke with the folk there, to find that it was a Catholic force, and that the town had agreed to surrender at dawn. Izabela and Emeric agreed that was probably the best course, and took some time to cast a locating spell to try and find Lukrezia again. The spell pointed them to the Erlking’s Throne, so they set out.

At the menhir, they had a moderately unsatisfying meeting with Lukrezia, where she promised to leave Prague, to harm none on her way back to Italy, and to never return. Izabela and Emeric then promised not to pursue her ((Emeric threw in a promise of vengeance if she broke her vow, free of charge. He’s generous that way.)). The power of the place was such that the oaths were bound very tightly around everyone involved.

And that’s when Lukrezia told them that Kirchoff had left her service when he was told that they were leaving Prague, preferring to stay and exact his own vengeance on Izabela for the loss of his arm. He was back in Mstetice.

By the time they got back to town, things had gone to hell. In an incident inspired in my mind by the Boston Massacre, the fear in the villagers and the soldiers had spilled over into violence, two dozen soldiers were dead, and the rest were slaughtering the villagers and razing the village.

We ran into some difficulty at that point, because I hadn’t described the scene clearly enough, and we had to go back and change some things as the characters tried to do things that they though should be possible, but that I thought were suicidal. It was frustrating for both sides, because they couldn’t tell what their options were and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see the available options ((Miscommunication is the underlying problem of most difficulties I’ve ever encountered in gaming. After all, rpgs are entirely exercises in structured communication.)). We solved part of the problem with a quick sketch map, showing why charging the bridge was a bad idea, but that there were other avenues of approach.

They got inside the village, and found the captain of the occupying force unwilling to listen to these two civilians who’d shown up out of nowhere after the villagers had – so he thought – engineered a trap for his men ((Weird, huh? There’s no trust anymore.)). Things escalated, and again got a little frustrating, and again it was my fault.

See, Izabela and Emeric are very powerful. But an army unit of three- to four-hundred men was too much for even them. The only question was how many the pair would take with them. I kept trying to impress this on them, to show them that, even though they were tough and powerful, fighting the whole army here was suicide. And Clint finally said, “So, what, we’re just supposed to run away and let the rest of the village get slaughtered?”

Wow. Of course not. No, these are heroes. Heroes with a personal stake here. I stood there with my mouth open for a second, then handed them each a couple of Fate Points, and said, “No. You’re right. Sorry. But fighting the entire army is suicide. What are you going to do?” And then I stopped trying to tell them how they were going to fail, and helped them find a way to succeed ((This is, I think, a very important lesson that I learned. If you want to run a heroic game, never penalize the characters for being heroic. Instead, look for ways to reward it.)).

Kirchoff was, of course, hiding in the church steeple, and with a couple of muskets and a few grenadoes. They ran him down and killed him, cleansed the captain and the inquisitors of his influence, and negotiated a withdrawal from Mstetice for the Catholic forces ((I decided that, this early in the Thirty Years War, this kind of atrocity hadn’t become commonplace yet, and the captain was wracked with guilt for what he had allowed to happen. It both allowed me to get the army out of there and showed that there were reasonable, honourable men on both sides of the war.)).

The heroes had saved about half the population of Mstetice, including Marta and her family, but the miller who was the de-facto mayor was dead, and so were a lot of other people. Very much a mixed victory for the pair. Still, it wrapped up the White Court storyline ((For now, at least.)), and took Kirchoff out of the picture, so I figured it was worth a Major Milestone.

Now I’m interested in what they plan to do next.

The Real Story of the Spell: Cooperative Thaumaturgical Preparation in DFRPG

So, as you know if you’ve been following my blog, I’m starting a new Dresden Files RPG campaign. In fact, the first session is this coming Saturday. The past week or so, I’ve been helping my players get their characters finished up, and thinking about how I’m going to run this game.

One of the challenges I’m facing is that I’ve got two Thaumaturgists in the game. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but Thaumaturgy, when it happens and you pay attention to it, can take over the focus for a significant amount of game-time, and with two Thaumaturgists, I’ve had some concerns about whether that will force the other characters into the background ((I don’t really think it will, but it’s something to be aware of, so I can make sure it doesn’t happen.)).

Why? Well, because when someone decides on using Thaumaturgy, they snag the GM’s attention while they work out complexity, make up the Lore deficit, and then do the actual casting, possibly dealing with the fallout or backlash ((Details on all this stuff can be found in these two blog posts.)). That can eat up a good chunk of time for every spell they cast.

And it occurred to me. One of the biggest time sinks in using Thaumaturgy is the preparation phase -  the time when the Wizard was trying to make up the Lore deficit with maneuvers. The player spends some time looking over his or her skill list, trying to see what skill will work to put a maneuver on the spell for that all-important two-shift bump to Lore, while everyone else looks on, maybe making suggestions, maybe having side conversations, maybe wandering away for a bit.

But nowhere in the book does it say that the Wizard is the one who has to put the Aspect on the spell ((I fully expect that many of you were there ahead of me. Sometimes, little observations like this can take a while to make it to my brain.)). In some ways, it’s strongly implied – the examples all talk about Wizards making up the Lore deficit on their own spells. But some of the things you can do to add that Aspect are not necessarily things that need a Wizard.

The main thing with spellcasting in the game is that, mechanically, it is complex enough to require attention, but all the interesting bits happen narratively. That’s why there’s a sidebar stressing the importance of telling the story of the spell – making the preparation and casting of the spell interesting and involving. So, it makes sense that, in a game where you have several characters, that a person casting a spell would rope in some of his or her buddies to help with getting things ready.

So, send your cop buddy out to check the crime scene for blood – the sympathetic link you need to the creature that killed the schoolboy. Get your rich friend to buy you the amethyst you need to powder for the ritual. Send four other folks out to specific points on the map to act as the other points of your pentagram. Get that scholar in your group to look up the proper form of address for Sumerian royalty so that the ghost of the king will talk to you. They’re probably better at these things than you, anyway.

Does that sound like cheating? I mean, you’ve got Mediocre Athletics, so you get your pal with Superb Athletics to climb the cliff face to get water from the spring in the sacred cave. How is that fair? You’ve just co-opted someone else’s abilities, right?

Fair doesn’t enter into it, in my opinion. What you’ve done is taken a character who would otherwise have been sitting around waiting for his or her turn, and you’ve given him or her an opportunity to show off what that character is good at. And the GM can throw in a bit of interesting business with the whole thing, like maybe having to dodge a rock slide or leap over a crevasse, to throw a little bit of the spotlight on that character ((Remember that thing I said back here about helping each other find the cool? Well, here ya go. Concrete example.)).

In fact, if the spell is important enough ((This bit is vital. You don’t want to waste this schtick on every little spell that should be cast without any roll. Save it for when it’s something big and cool and important.)), you can have entire sessions that revolve around the preparation for a spell. Maybe the group needs to sneak into a secure place to work the ritual. The entire process of sneaking in can be a session, adding either a single Aspect that’s needed to the spell, or even adding a whole sequence of Aspects as people deal with things during the stealth mission to make sure that things go off without a hitch.

Like what? Well, how about Security Monitors Spoofed, Guards Rerouted, Doors Barricaded, Approaches Under Surveillance, and The Perfect Spot all working to give the spellcaster enough time to work the ritual without interruption?

It’s all about dramatizing the preparation ((This is something I’ve been doing sort of half-consciously, but not explicitly enough, in the Fearful Symmetries game, with Izabella’s investigation of the curse on Gold Lane. So far, she’s racked up four Aspects of the spell: Bound Angel, Anchor Points, Christian Magic, and Curse of Unsleeping. She’ll be able to use these Aspects to help her craft the ritual to unravel the curse when she makes up the Lore deficit.)) and involving the entire group. It’ll bring the story of the spell front and centre, and give everyone a hand in crafting it. And that just makes the game better.

It gives everyone a taste of the magical cool that is the Dresdenverse.

Feints & Gambits: This Is Who We Are

This past Saturday was the character creation session for the Feints & Gambits campaign that I’m starting up. After a little bit of schedule juggling, I managed to get all six players in the same room for the session, which is vital for the DFRPG character creation to really shine ((The game sessions themselves are going to be quorum-style, with a minimum of three players. That should make scheduling easier.)). Start time was delayed slightly by the Santa Claus Parade ((Tied up traffic in the downtown area, and several of the folks were coming across town.)), but we got underway around 8:00, so we were able to wrap things up by midnight.

I had a little surprise for the players, as well: I had burned a little of the midnight oil, and managed to get the setting bible for the game completed and printed for them. So, as they walked in, I handed them each a copy for their very own ((Those of you who might be interested in seeing the finished document, it’s up on our forum in .pdf format here.)), which they seemed to like ((And then, of course, Sandy found a typo within two minutes.)).

Everyone in the game knew the basics of character creation, either from the playtest or from Spirit of the Century, so there wasn’t a lot of set-up that I had to do. We jumped right in, following the phases in the book, and sorting the characters out. Along the way, we had some discussions about different parts of the game: Aspects, Powers, Stunts, Skills, and the like, as players had questions.

Once again, the group character creation really shone. The group brainstorming about Aspects, discussion of character motivation, clarification of background, all of it really fed the whole process. I know that at least a couple of character concepts changed and clarified for the players, and I think everyone came away with a character that was made better by the input of the group. And it was really great to see the players getting more interested in, and more excited by, their characters.

Now, if you read over the setting bible, you’ll see that the fey are a really big factor in supernatural Dublin ((Of course they are! It’s Ireland, for crying out loud!)), and they came up a lot in the character creation, as well. Pretty much every character has at least one encounter with the fey in their background. And these encounters are never good. Why am I commenting on this? Well, because it’s really showing me what the players want in the game. They don’t like faeries, so it makes sense that the fey courts are going to be frequent opposition, or at least complications, in the game.

This is such a useful tool for the GM. After all, we’ve got four different overarching threats in the setting bible, but the players all zeroed in on the fey courts. Not Baba Yaga and her crew. Not the political situation. Not the Church-sponsored strike force. The fey courts. It’s showing me what they find most interesting, what they think is the main theme of the game, and how they look at that theme. Rich, rich fodder for building scenarios.

Not that I’m going to focus everything on the fey courts. I mean, the city creation session comes up with so much stuff that I’d be an idiot to ignore everything but one aspect of it. But it does mean that the fey influence is going to be prevalent and pervasive. And most likely annoying for the characters.

I took a little extra time swapping around the novels for the guest-star phases to make sure that the net of connections spread wide enough. I wanted to make sure that everyone got two different guest stars, and guest-starred in the stories of two different characters, giving them connections to four of the six characters in play. It just makes it easier to draw everyone together if the network has more connections.

So, who are the characters?

  • Aleister Usher, Venatori Guardian
  • Kate Owens, Wiccan Seeker
  • Rogan O’Herir, Were-Cat Stalker
  • Firrin O’Beara, Changeling Social Engineer
  • Nathaniel O’Malley, Angry Irish Spellslinger
  • Mark O’Malley, Irish Mystic Hacker ((Not hacker in the computer sense, you understand. Hacker in that he tinkers with the ideas and rules of magic, mainly looking to circumvent them.))

Once the character creation phases were done, we talked a little about what the next steps were. The consensus was that everyone wanted to stop for the evening, and to assess the more mechanical bits of character creation – Powers, Skills, Stunts, etc. – on their own, with me answering questions and providing advice via e-mail. So that’s what we did.

So far, I’ve seen at least preliminary builds from three of the six players, and they all look good. I’m getting excited to run the game. In fact, I’ve scheduled the first one for two weeks from the character building. That should, I hope, get them moving on finishing up the characters. I think I’m going to be doing some playing with the Glass Bead Game, as suggested by Rob Donoghue on his blog, to put together the first session.

It’ll be fun.

Fearful Symmetries: Fireworks

Last Friday was Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. One of my players pointed it out to me ((As if I needed to be told. I’ve read V for Vendetta!)), and I told her that I knew about it, and had planned some explosions for the Fearful Symmetries game we had planned that night.

Because I had.

We picked up the game with our heroes having moved to a bolt-hole provided to them by Zuckerbastl to keep them out of Malvora sight. Emeric had recently learned how to change the appearance of his human guise ((By way of a stunt we cooked up and the expenditure of a point of Refresh. I knew he wouldn’t hang on to a Refresh Rate of 2 for long!)), and Izabela used her biomancy to change her appearance to that of a young man. Thus disguised, they decided to carefully try and pursue their path forward.

Emeric made the rounds of his network of contacts in disguise, bringing them word that he was going to be unavailable and out of sight for a time, and that it might be safer for everyone to distance themselves from him and thus avoid the worst of the Malvora attention. He also went to see Reverend Nicola at the chapel on Petrin’s Hill, to thank him for the blessing he had received ((Which had proved very helpful against the Arkady.)). The good Reverend offered to bless him again, which Emeric accepted.

Izabela, meantime, went back to Gold Lane to continue her investigation of the curse surrounding it, which seems to have become a bit of an obsession for her. She found that there were mystic anchor points to the spell around its perimeter, sunk deep in the ground, so she used her Sight to get a better idea of what sort of thing she was dealing with. I described a web of chains of various metals, inscribed with arcane symbols, rising from the anchor points into the air above the centre of Gold Lane, with smaller, finer chains leading to barbed hooks sunk into the flesh of the inhabitants. In the midst of the chains, hovering over middle of Gold Lane, was a giant humanoid, wrapped in the chains so as to be almost obscured. It had vast, shining wings stretching out from its shoulders, and a huge sword of fire ((I was going for a kinda Final Fantasy look to the whole thing, but not too obviously so.)) – apparently, another angel tied into service.

Now, this hit her pretty hard with the mental stress, and she got to keep her Third Eye open an extra round to look at it some more. When she finally got her Third Eye closed, that’s when I had Kirchoff ((Who I had elevated to Named NPC after he got away from her last session, albeit minus an arm.)) pop out of the shadows and hit her with his Incite Emotion power. This caught her pretty much blindsided, and she took another hefty hit in the brain, sufficient to inflict a consequence, before she even spotted him. At that point, though, she pulled the gloves off and blasted him with force. He took the hit, but it didn’t put him down, and he scarpered again.

She headed over to the Goblin’s Brewery for a bit of a rest and refreshment, which is where Emeric currently was, talking with Amadan, who seemed to be in good spirits, even buying food and drink for his guests, and hinting that he had the line on a wager that he was expecting to pay off. Emeric asked him to put the word out that he and Izabela had left town, but Amadan proposed that, instead, he would put the word out that the pair were hiding in the cellar of the house where Amadan had rooms, so that they could set up a trap.

This worked, sort of. Izabela wrapped the room in a ward that would prevent the fear abilities of the White Court from being effective, and they settled in to wait. Some time after midnight, the attack came, but it was indirect – the vampires set fire to the building. Emeric extinguished the fire with his pyromancy, and the pair of them went cautiously upstairs to see what they could see. When they got to the second floor, a grenado came flying in through the window.

Izabela swatted it back out and high over the city, where it exploded ((See? Fireworks!)), and they both went to the window to try and see where it had come from, and thus both were fired upon by the snipers set up across the street. These snipers, not wanting to face these folks head on, took off across the rooftops, escaping pretty quickly.

They’d had enough, now. They headed back across the river to the Malvora manor, where the guards were arrayed in the yard in front of the house. Not bothering with subtlety, Emeric set the house on fire, and Izabela threw a whirlwind into the guards to clear their way to the house.

I didn’t want to turn the hunt through the burning house for Lukrezia Malvora into a dungeon crawl, so I switched to a very narrative approach for this stage. They made their way through the place, shooing out the mortals, killing the vampires (about a dozen of them), and eventually finding Lukrezia’s bedroom. Lukrezia wasn’t there, but they found her hidden closet full of blackmail information, including a file on the Valdstejn family.

They were pretty much at loose ends at that point, so they went back to the basement to retrieve Kirchoff’s arm – which was, of course, missing. But Amadan had a surprise for them: he had caught them a White Court vampire, and had it strapped to a table.

And that’s where we left it.

Feints & Gambits: Our Dublin

After much fussing about with schedules, we managed to get everyone in the same room for several hours last Friday night and do the city-building for our new DFRPG game.

I’ve talked before about how much help doing the collaborative city-building is, and how it gives the players and characters a real emotional connection with the setting, but I don’t know if I’ve stressed enough what a great job it does just getting people excited to play. The way the possibilities start stacking up, the ideas flowing, the hints at stories, the outright conflicts – by the end of the evening, everyone is absolutely pumped to play in the city you’ve built.

At least, that’s been my experience whenever I’ve run the city-building.

So, on Friday, we trekked ((Through the first snowfall of the season, no less.)) out to the wilds of semi-rural ((I come from a much less populous section of the province, so the ruralness doesn’t quite reach the standards I am used to.)) Manitoba. We got into the actual process of city-building around 8:00, and finished up shortly after midnight, so we had a solid four hours of brainstorming and idea bashing.

In that time, we came up with ((There are a larger number of the various things we came up with than are probably necessary – or recommended. But it is a larger group, with six players, and everyone was very excited to be doing this, so I ran with it. We’ll see what things hold interest and generate story once play begins, and what things fall by the wayside, or become background colour.)):

  • Four Themes
  • Four Threats
  • Sixteen main power blocs
  • Eighteen Locations
  • Twenty-eight Faces
  • Fifty-five Aspects

We also wound up with a very cool version of Dublin, one where the Summer and Winter Courts are using the city ((And all of Ireland, really.)) as a gameboard in their eternal struggle for dominance, where the initial financial boom is starting to fade, where greedy human land developers have control of the politicians, while organized crime has infiltrated the police. Normal folks are still normal folks, trying to get by, but the echoes of the Trouble still rear their heads from time to time, and a new wave of invaders – Eastern Bloc gangs and supernatural creatures, led by Baba Yaga ((They came up with this one. They can’t blame me for how much I hurt them with it.)) – is pushing its way in.

I made sure that everyone had a chance for input, and that everyone got something they wanted in the city. I also made sure that everything that went in had approval from the whole group. As a GM running the city-building, I find that I slip more and more into the role of facilitator, guiding the process and helping to keep the group focused. Also, making sure we have consensus on the big decisions. It’s kind of a weird situation, where I feel myself almost outside of the main process, so much so that I’m apologetic when I make a suggestion or float one of my own ideas ((Which is silly; I’m as much a part of the group as anyone, and my ideas are as valid, even if I am the GM.)).

Now, I’m working on compiling the notes from the session into a setting bible, much as I did with the Fearful Symmetries campaign. One nice thing about setting the game in a modern city is that there are loads of pictures of the various locations up on the Internet that I can use to illustrate the bible ((And a nice thing about the group having picked Dublin is that I was doing research on the city anyway, preparatory to a trip there next fall. Gave me an excuse to buy a couple more travel books.)). So far, we’re looking at 23 pages with just the headings and the location pictures; figure 40-50 pages once the actual text copy goes in. That’s my project for this weekend, hoping to have it out to my group early next week.

I will also probably post it up on the campaign forum when finished.

Oh. The last thing we did that night as far as setting creation goes is pick a name for the campaign. The group decided on Feints & Gambits.

Now, we are working to schedule the character creation session. That’s the last session that I require full attendance for; after that, we move to a quorum style of play: I schedule the games, and we run as long as at least three players show for it.

Things are starting to come together for the game, and I am very pleased.

Dresden Files RPG Demo: Return to Magical Winnipeg

Last Thursday night, I ran a demo session of DFRPG for a group of players who are planning to start up a new campaign. Karla and Trachalio, whose names you will have seen in the comments of this blog from time to time, are two of the DMs running D&D Encounters with me on Wednesday nights, and Karla is planning to GM DFRPG, with Trachalio and some others from the Encounters group. After a bit of a misfire running Spirit of the Century, Karla wanted to get a little more of a handle on the FATE mechanics before starting the game, so I said I’d run a one-shot for them to give them a taste.

Now, I knew from reading some of the reports from the game launch at Origins that, when the Evil Hat folks run demos, they built in a bit of the character creation, so I sent an email to Fred Hicks asking how they did that ((And thanks to Fred for the answer!)). He said that they usually build the pregens up to the point of the guest star phases, and have the people at the table finish them up. It gives them a taste of the cool character creation, and really cements the characters into a group. So, I whipped up ((When I say “whipped up,” I mean “spent several days trying different things and fiddling with them to get a decent mix with a wide range of possibilities but limited complexity.” Character creation in the game is very fun, but not all that quick. I also found that building the characters on my own, without the group brainstorming and kibitzing, was kinda boring.))a stack of pregens to the required level of done-ness.

To help keep things simple, I decided that I would build the characters at Feet in the Water level, but it soon became clear that, if I wanted to give the group some experience with the whole range of mechanics and possibilities in the game, I needed someone with access to both Thaumaturgy and Evocation ((Or, as I finally settled on, Channeling and Ritual.)), so I upped the power level to Up to the Waist. Here’s the list of the six characters I used:

  • Apprentice Wizard
  • Coyote Shifter
  • Herald of Night
  • New Age Wiccan
  • Rookie Cop
  • Wendigo’s Child

I sweated some time on coming up with a solid scenario that would involve them all and show off the various types of mechanical things that go on in a game. In the end, I went with a very loose framework to allow me room to improvise as required, and just put together a fairly simple situation for them to get involved in. In play, this turned out to be a good choice, because it let me very easily weave in the relationships that had been built at the table between the characters doing the guest-star phases ((It also made it very easy to expand or collapse the chain of investigation, allowing me to pace the game to fit the time available to us. It being a weeknight, we pretty much wanted to make sure we were done by 11 or so.)).

So, we gathered together that evening, and I gave a quick rundown of the FATE mechanics. Then we handed out the player folders ((Each one contained not only the character sheet, but a cheat sheet for that character, with all the math done for combat and spellcasting, along with a write-up of all the powers and stunts the character had. This ranged from a single page for the Rookie Cop – a Pure Mortal – to five pages for the Apprentice Wizard, who needed rote spells and some examples of rituals.)) and ran through the last bit of the character creation. This intro section took about an hour, and had the added benefit of letting me talk more about Aspects. It got everyone pretty fired to create their own characters for their campaign, too, so I figure that’s a big win.

We got underway with the Rookie Cop finding the body of a dead person, eviscerated and savaged, hidden behind a dumpster in the Exchange District, outside the studio apartment ((Well, the large empty space where the Shifter keeps a bed and some clothes, and the wizard comes to practice magic his mentor would not approve of.)) where the Coyote Shifter and the Apprentice Wizard were hanging out. That got people focused pretty quick, and the characters very quickly either called in other characters with whom they had an existing relationship or came up with a reason for their characters to show up without an invite.

Poking around yielded a few clues, with the group coming to the conclusion that this was a ghoul kill. The Apprentice Wizard used the Sight to examine the body, and the New Age Wiccan invoked one of her Aspects to be able to see what he saw, so I went to town on the image ((The alleyway got darker and filthier, with the shadows moving in weird ways, and in the midst of it all, on a pristine white table cloth, illuminated as if by a spotlight, was the naked body of a young woman. Her torso had been slit open and peeled back, revealing her to be full of all manner of food, cornucopia-fashion. Then her head tipped to the side and they saw that her eyes were bottomless, empty pools of darkness.)), and got to hit them both in the brain for some good Mental Stress.

A little investigation revealed that the victim in question was probably a runaway, and with a little New Age Psychometry, they got the image of a chalice of wine, a loaf of bread, and a smiling face at the bus depot ((Which, I’ve been told, has already moved out to the airport, so I retroactively set the adventure a couple of years ago. What can I say? I knew the depot was moving, but I didn’t think it had yet. And I haven’t seen the new one (obviously), so I didn’t have any sort of mental picture to use for the game.)), so they hid the body again, using a warding ritual to make sure no one else would find it, and trundled off downtown to see what they could find out.

At the bus depot, they found someone putting up posters for the Church of the Holy Communion ((Acutally, it was supposed to be the Church of the True Communion, but I misspoke when I first said the name, so I had to stick with it)), a religious community that worked with runaways and homeless young people. Using a little coyote deception, they found out where it was located, and got the name of the fellow who was hanging the posters as a recommendation (and invitation).

They headed out to Osborne Village and the house on Gertrude that the Church used as a hostel. Three of them talked their way inside, while the other three scouted around back. Through a basement window, they saw a room full of canned goods and preserves, as well as some odd-shaped hams hanging from the ceiling. A little sniffing, and the shifter could tell them that the hams were not from pigs. The outside contingent slipped in through the basement window.

Meanwhile, inside, the Wendigo’s Child had managed to arouse some suspicion among the residents, and was herded into the dining area, where the Apprentice Wizard and the New Age Wiccan were already enjoying the soup ((Insert obligatory jokes about the hand in the soup in the Conan movie.)). The church members then pulled out knives and axe handles, and started closing in on next week’s groceries. The Wendigo’s Child used her Incite Emotion power to fill their attackers with despair, while the Apprentice Wizard used the Sight to see that they were in fact tied in some way to actual ghouls – and might be transforming into ghouls themselves. The New Age Wiccan took this knowledge and tried to unravel the bad vibes, weakening the connection between the cultists and their masters.

It worked to a degree, but then our heroes were mobbed by the crazy cultists and had to actually fight back to keep from getting shredded and eaten. The half-wendigo was a pretty rocking melee combatant, and the wizard used air magic to knock the bad guys down. Once there were a fair number down, the wiccan dumped scalding soup on them ((Insert obligatory joke about the head in the soup rolling down the stairs in the Conan movie.)).

When the ruckus upstairs started, the folks in the basement burst out of the store room to find a couple of actual ghouls – as opposed to the human cultists upstairs – heading up the stairs to get in on the fun. A quick tasing by the Rookie Cop, along with a face full of coyote fur, set the first ghoul up for getting clobbered by the Herald of Night, who then invoked his power and Night’s emissary and representative to the Covenant of Two Waters to cow the ghouls and take them into custody.

By that time, we were coming up on quarter to twelve, and I wrapped things up quickly.

All in all, I had a lot of fun with it, and it seemed that the players did, too. I tried to keep the Fate Points flowing freely, and was gratified to see the envious eyes all turning to the Pure Mortal Rookie Cop’s pile of chips and his free-wheeled spending. It reinforces my opinion that Pure Mortals have a coolness all their own in the game.

So, thanks to Karla for inviting me to run the game, and to Ally, Josh, Mike Ryan, and Shawn for playing.

I’m looking forward to hearing about your campaign when it starts running.

Fearful Symmetries: Unpopular

Friday night was the latest session of my Fearful Symmetries campaign. We’ve reached a stage in the game where I had to do very little prep – just print out a sheet or two of stats that I might need. The city has solidified in our minds enough that I can pretty much improvise whatever unexpected scene the players may stick me with, and the foundation of the city creation method that we used means that I know what the different power blocs are up to, what schemes are being schemed, and what consequences are coming to bite the characters in their butts. It’s a nice place to be, GM-wise, because the game feels that much more alive and natural, running on instinct, with a real energy that comes from familiarity on the sides of both the players and the GM.

In short, the game is really starting to sing for me. And I think for the players, too ((At least, I hope so.)).

I broke from my normal practice of asking the players what they intended to do this session. I found that I had two or three levels of stuff ready for them down all of the avenues that they had previously expressed interest in, and two or three things waiting in the wings to jump them if they were too passive, or too easily found, or just looked bored ((Because sometimes, you need to send in the ninjas.)).

Things started off low-key, with Izabella doing some research on who Rudolf could have used to create the curse on Gold Lane, which gave me the opportunity to riff on some of the great, crazy folks that used to hang around Prague when Rudolf II was on the throne ((John Dee, Edward Kelley, Rabbi Loew, and Tycho Brahe, for example. 17th-century Prague rocks for gaming!)). Unfortunately, none of them seemed like they were the kinds of power houses that could have woven the enduring, subtle, devastating curse. She decided that she was going to need to do some more research, trying to get access to some of Rudolf’s papers and things, so I mentioned that nobility of that time often kept their weird stuff in wunderkammers, museums of the strange and wondrous ((As discussed in this little adventure, by some guy I heard of once.)).

Meanwhile, Emeric was worried that something nasty was going to move into the Stag Moat, now that the Arkady was gone. He scouted it out a little, but he’s not really an outdoorsman, so he didn’t trust the fact that he didn’t find anything really amiss there. Given the fact that he is still recovering from the damage he did to himself containing the fire there, I can’t really blame him. He talked Izabella into putting a warning ward on the area, set to signal her if something supernatural moved in ((Complexity for this was up around 16 or so, given the size of the area and the lack of a threshold, and that only lasts a week or two and doesn’t prevent things from entering – just sounds the alarm.)).

Emeric also had a conversation with the dapper little fellow who had given him and Izabella rings after they had wiped out the Red Court rebel Dregana. He said that his master offered Emeric his protection, in return for a pledge of fealty. Emeric passed on this, but did manage to get the name of this master: Valentinus. According to legend, Valentinus was an ancient Black Court vampire ((One rumour Emeric had heard was that, one night, Valentinus was so pissed off at the Pharaoh, he personally killed the first-born sons of every family in the city.)), possibly the first of the Black Court. But not wanting to get tangled any more tightly in vampire politics, Emeric graciously declined the offer.

Izabella decided to try and scry on the (now empty) royal apartments in Prague Castle, to try and find any clue as to the location of Rudolf”s wunderkammer. After some snooping around, she detected some sort of magical emanation from within a section of wall. When she tried to walk through it, she was blasted across the room, and almost had her mind and soul shredded ((She worked the scrying out as a kind of astral projection, giving it a pretty high complexity. That power ran up against a more powerful ward, and Izabelle ended up spending all her Fate Points in one desperate bid to keep from getting erased.)). The unusually powerful ward was explained when the creature who had created it showed up: as far as Izabella could tell, it was an actual angel, named Asariel.

Asariel renewed the ward, and told Izabella that this doorway was forbidden her. He wasn’t very forthcoming about what his role was, or whether he was free or bound ((Though the name Asariel means “He Who is Bound by God.”)), or even what was behind the door. The two things that he told her that she found even vaguely useful were that this doorway was forbidden her, and that the curse on Gold Lane was not of his doing.

I felt that I was neglecting Emeric at this point, so I threw in one of the background plots and had him wake in his rooms to find a living storm cloud trying to steal his sword, Beortning, one of the Dooms. He reacted badly to that, and more so when he found that he didn’t seem able to physically harm the thing. It turned into a good fight, with Emeric using a lot of things in the environment to deal with the storm cloud before getting his hands on the cast iron curtain rod and grounding the electrical storm through it.

By this time, his rooms were pretty much all in flames – not a big deal to him, being a fire giant, but his landlord wasn’t going to be pleased. He put out the fires and went and got Izabella to investigate the area to see if she could determine who had sent the storm spirit, but all she could tell him was that it had been summoned into the room, implying that the summoner had some sort of link to Emeric.

About this time, the city guard showed up, led by Rostov, a… well, friend isn’t the right word. A man with whom Emeric has a profitable financial and informational relationship. Rostov wasn’t his usual genially corrupt self, though, and gave Emeric a bit of a hard time, even levying a fine for disturbing the peace and having a careless fire – a pretty big deal in a city like Prague. The whole time, Rostov kept shooting looks at one of the other guardsmen, and Emeric noticed this fellow had very fancy boots, and was able to write him out a receipt for his fine in a fine, elegant hand, with no misspellings or blots.

Izabella was hanging around, veiled at the time, and she extended the veil around Emeric as they followed the guards back to their guardhouse. There, they split up as Emeric went to have a private word with Rostov, and Izabella decided to follow Kirchoff, the “guardsman” with the nice boots and good penmanship. Rostov told Emeric that word had come down to lean on Emeric from the mayor himself, though there was no indication why that might be.

Izabella uncovered a probable reason as she followed Kirchoff. He somehow penetrated her veil, and hit her with a wave of fear. When that didn’t work on her, he closed on her with blinding speed, and tried to choke her. Unfortunately, a couple of very powerful blasts of pure force tore his arm off and crushed his chest. He conceded at that point, slipping away into a storm sewer, but Izabella had seen enough to figure him for a White Court vampire, and therefor to decide that Malvora was behind this harassment.

She and Emeric gathered up the severed arm, and went to pay a call on Lukrezia Malvora at her estates in Hradcany. They were met at the gate by some rather unhelpful guards ((It was four in the morning, after all. Decent people don’t come calling at that time.)), who eventually escorted them to the house, but said that the lady would not receive them if they were armed. The guard captain explained that, first of all, one just didn’t come armed into a lady’s home and presence and, secondly, that after the angry threats and accusations the pair had been making, there was no way he was going to let armed enemies anywhere near his charge, no matter what sorts of oaths they swore.

This was an interesting interaction, because the guards were, as far as the characters could tell, just ordinary guys doing their jobs. And they were courteous and professional about it, despite Emeric’s bluster and insults – they just refused to budge, and took all reasonable precautions in talking with these apparently deranged and well-armed lunatics. I wasn’t sure if Emeric was going to lay into them with his sword ((I thought of offering a compel at this point, but I don’t like compelling people to do villainous things. Problematic, sure, but not villainous. It’s a dick move.)), but he kept his cool, and they retired for the time being.

A quick conversation with Zuckerbastl, and they had a good safe-house to shelter them while they plot the downfall of House Malvora. What could possibly go wrong?

Three things came out of play that I want to mention:

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important section of the spellcasting chapter in the rules is the sidebar on p270 of Your Story called When Not to Bother. The advice it gives is to not worry too much about the mechanics of casting a spell if it doesn’t add anything to the story or if there’s no real pressure. So, when Izabella casts a spell, we do a quick and dirty assessment of the complexity, come up with a couple of cool things to do to offset any Lore deficit, and declare the spell cast. Now, when things get tight, or when a spell becomes a serious part of the main narrative ((Like her idea of raising Rudolf’s ghost to ask him what the hell he did to Gold Lane, for example.)), we’re still jumping through all the hoops, but mostly we just take it as read that she can cast most spells she can think up if she just takes the time.
  • When I told the players that Kirchoff conceded and slipped into the sewer, they stared at me. I explained again about how concessions work, and they said something like, “That’s what you mean when you say that we get to set the terms of being taken out if we concede? I thought it just meant we were taken prisoner or something!” Concessions are one of the most counter-intuitive things in the game, from the point of view of other RPGs. Now that they see how they work, and that Kirchoff’s got a couple of Fate Points now ((He was just a standard White Court Vampire, no big deal, but now he’s The One That Got Away. Can you say Recurring Villain, boys and girls? I knew you could.)), I could see the wheels start turning, and a new understanding emerging.
  • We whipped up a new stunt for Emeric to take in the game, one that lets him change the appearance of his Human Guise ability. It cost him a point of Refresh, but it lets him take on different appearances. I told him that if he tries to use it to impersonate someone or do something else strange, there’s probably going to be a roll involved, and possibly a Fate Point, depending on circumstances, and he was good with that. Looks like a functional – and not overpowered – stunt on a Supernatural Power.

So, that’s where things stand. Everyone had fun, and we’re looking forward to the next session.

Fearful Symmetries: Hunt’s End

Last Friday night was the latest installment of Fearful Symmetries. We wrapped up one of the man storylines, moved a couple others forward, and the characters brought about a fairly major change in the city. All in all, I felt they had really earned the Major Milestone I awarded at the end of the session.

Over the past few sessions, the characters had got themselves wrapped up in a few different storylines that could easily have led to a good climactic session – the whole Hunter thing, the Petrunas cult, the Gold Lane curse. They did some follow-up on everything, but the deadline on tracking down the fellow who had promised to kill Emeric after one month sort of took priority. So, that’s what they mainly focused on.

They had the name Konstantin Akrady to follow up on, and learned that the man who had threatened Emeric was most likely the Arkady, head of the clan. Konstantin was known to bring game to a butcher named Rostislav, in Hradcany, who had a very strong, but mute, assistant. That was enough to start with.

Izabella had heard of the Arkady clan, old horror stories coming out of northern Russia of shapeshifting bogeymen that had spread east, apparently devotees of the darkest aspects of the Wild Hunt and the Erlking, willing to hunt, kill, and eat anything that offered a challenge. That knowledge cheered them up immensely.

Emeric went to Rostislav’s butcher shop to try and get a line on Konstantin Arkady. Besides getting an oblique hint that he should come by the next day around dawn, he also found out that Evzen, the Petrunas cultist who had approached the characters for their help, had died in a fall. Further investigation revealed that Evzen was drunk and walking along the top of the Hunger Wall, when he fell and broke his back on a rock. Emeric recognized this as a traditional form of sacrifice to Thor, and he and Izabella decided that there must be some sort of infighting within the Petrunas cult that led to Evzen (and his progressive ideals) getting sent home to Thor.

The followed up on that a little bit, checking out the Chapel of St. Lawrence on Petrin Hill, and meeting Pastor Nicola, the priest. Emeric sensed that the pastor had a faith powerful enough to work miracles, but couldn’t decide if the man was what he appeared to be – a fairly tolerant Lutheran who turned a blind eye to the lingering papist tendencies of some of his congregation – or if he was secretly running a pagan cult ((This is sort of an interesting phenomenon. I mean, they know that Nicola is the head of the Petrunas cult, because they decided that in the city creation. But they keep the information from the characters very well. I think they also suspect me of changing some of the minor aspects of the setting to keep the mystery and excitement alive. And they’re right to do so.)).

Well, they wound up meeting Konstantin outside of Rostislav’s butcher shop in the early hours of the morning, as he was dropping off a small cart of dressed deer, boar, and one human ((“For the pies,” he said.)). In the ensuing discussion, he offered to help the characters find and defeat the Arkady, as Konstantin planned to take his place. He promised that, if the pair helped him, the Arkady clan would stay out of the characters’ way, if they stayed out of clan business. The information he gave about the Arkady’s preferred tactics – that he would start whittling away at Emeric’s friends long before the month was up, that the Arkady had no problem running away to fight again later, that the optimum attack was always an ambush or trap – and about the Arkady’s weakness – blessed weapons – were enough to get the characters to agree.

This made me very happy, as they each swore to honour the bargain on their names and powers. The idea of the pair swearing an oath to a monster in order to defeat a bigger monster was something I had been hoping for. Not only does it help reinforce the themes of the game ((Especially the theme Supernatural and Religious Gang Warfare.)), it gives me wonderful hooks to complicate the characters’ lives down the line.

So, preparations. Izabella whipped up a veil that would also mask her scent, both characters got their weapons blessed – Izabella at St. Vitus, Emeric at St. Lawrence ((And how could that come back to bite them?)) – and Amadan gave them a vial of water gathered on the Hill of Sacrifice in the Fey lands under the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, which he said was for direst emergency only ((They didn’t use this, and so still don’t really know what it does.)). Then they used the blood Konstantin had given them to make their way through the Stag Moat, and across into the Mittelmarch and the hold of the Arkady.

Now, my whole plan with the Arkady was that he was a plot-device-level character. Even Konstantin, one of his minions, was statted out at -19 Refresh. Defeating him relied on being able to assemble enough information, leverage, and assistance to defeat his various protections and abilities. The way things worked out, Konstantin had asked the characters to strike at the Arkady, wounding him and causing him to retreat, whereupon Konstantin would use his shapeshifting to follow and finish him. That would replace the Arkady with Konstantin (the new Arkady), free Emeric from his deadline, and basically keep things more or less status quo in Prague.

Things didn’t quite work out that way.

The characters had prepared very well, and accepted a number of compels through the evening, so they had a fair number of Fate Points to burn on the final encounter. The Arkady, overconfident, gave them the first shot for free. Huge mistake. Trusting in his toughness and recovery, not knowing that Emeric had had Beortning blessed, he sucked up a 13-shift hit. Big brouhaha followed, as the Arkady tried to flee, shifting shape madly, but was kept from doing so by Konstantin ((As promised by Konstantin, the other Arkady clansfolk stayed out of things. Emeric had been declared the Arkady’s prey, and so no one would interfere.)).

At this point, I thought that the characters would back off and let Konstantin settle things, but I should really have known better. They followed after the pair, keeping them from getting too far away, and doing more damage to the Arkady. I decided to change things up, seeing as the characters were more involved than I expected, and had the Arkady suddenly pull in all his power from the Mittelmarch demesne around them, as well as from the entire Arkady clan. Everything, including Emeric, but excluding the well-veiled Izabella, burst into flame and began to die as Arkday took on a powerful, monstrous form and prepared to unleash his fury on Emeric for forcing him to destroy his family.

But Izabella had roused the spirits of all the animals the Arkady had killed to harass him ((And paid to keep them under control by buying off a compel that they slip free to attack everyone.)), and Emeric pinned him to the ground with Beortning. As he shriveled and died, the forest kept burning around them.

Once he was ash, Emeric and Izabella started to try and make their way back to the Stag Moat. Faced with the terrible fire, and fearful that it might spread into Prague, Emeric exerted his pyromancy to maximum effect, spending the last of his Fate Points and taking much stress and consequences to suck all the fire into himself, quenching it instantly. They made their way back to the Stag Moat, and that’s where we called the game.

So, Clan Arkady is gone. That’s easily worth a Major Milestone. I also have some city advancement to do – this is going to change the nature and Aspect of Jeleni Prikop. I haven’t decided how, yet, but I’ve got some interesting ideas percolating.

And there’s still a number of things hanging over the characters’ heads, and only about five months left before the Battle of White Mountain and the occupation of Prague by Catholic forces. Plenty of good stories ahead.