Last Friday was the latest episode of Fearful Symmetries. We had ended last session with a cliff-hanger of sorts, our heroes down in the tunnels under Old Town, surrounded by a swarm of Red Court Vampires led by a Black Court Vampire. I wasn’t sure at the time which way things would go – if I wanted to lay the whole vampire plotline out so soon, or if I should try and keep it at arm’s length for a little longer.
During the time between sessions, I did some thinking about it, and decided that I didn’t want to expose everything vampire-related just yet; that, I believe, would have made the vampire plotline central for some time in the game, and I didn’t want to dictate the focus for the foreseeable future to the players, preferring to let them find what they care about most in the game.
So, when I opened up the session, I did it with talking. The characters got to have a rather tense conversation with the Black Court woman, during which they gave the name of the Red Court Vampire who was stepping over the line. There were veiled threats, implied promises, and some less-veiled threats, but in the end, Emric, Izabela, and Marco made it back to the surface safely.
At which point I was a little stuck. The story had reached a point where it could conceivably end, though not in a very satisfying manner. The main focus of the characters as they talked about what to do next seemed to be to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, and kill any Red Court Vampires they found above ground. I didn’t want to degenerate into just having the characters wait around for stuff to happen, so I decided to make stuff happen right away. I killed Marko.
Time for me to spill a dirty little secret about my GMing. I hate sending an NPC along with the PCs into a dangerous situation. For one thing, it’s too easy to use the NPC has the mouth-of-plot, which can undermine the choices of the players. For another, players can come to rely on the NPC too much, which makes it very easy for the GM to use the character as his own PC. And the third (and most telling) thing is that I’ve already got enough stuff to keep track of without having to worry about the NPC spear carrier.
Balanced with this is my desire to establish NPCs in the setting that the characters have a real connection with, for good or ill. That means fleshed-out NPCs with characters that are consistent and sensible, and that continue through the campaign, so that the relationships can build and change.
Emric had already made a good, solid connection with Marko, and I think he liked him a fair bit – certainly, he respected the man for being brave enough to go with him into the lair of a vampire. I weighed things in my head, and decided that killing Marko would be a good impetus to get Emric pushing to get rid of the rogue Red Court Vampires. To make the threat come home to both the characters, I had Marko killed and left outside the rooms Emric was renting for him to find.
It got the players moving, alright. Izabela whipped up a divinatory ritual, and saw how Marko was killed by two women who looked very much like a couple of prostitutes that used to work for Zuckerbastl. She also went back to the brothel (burned to the ground the night after they had visited), and conjured up the ghosts of the people who had died there to get some information about Dregana, the woman who had been running it. After that, she started trying to figure out how to find where Dregana was hiding (and also to take care of the children of one of the women who had died in the fire).
In the meantime, Emric took Marko’s body to Zuckerbastl, letting him know what had happened. Zuckerbastl was grateful, and he and Emric bonded a little, before Emric went off to try and find someone who could help him find Dregana’s hiding spot. He rousted Amadan from his rooms, and convinced him to use his resources to locate her. After a stroll through the parks in Hradcany, they retired to the Goblin’s Brewery, where Amadan revealed the address of Dregana’s house.
Off went our heroes, a good hour or two before sunset.
The fight here didn’t go as easily for the characters as the previous invasion. The bad guys were waiting for them, but no mortals were really a match for either of them. In fact, in the confusing muddle of the fight, Izabela blew the head of what seemed to be an ordinary (non-infected, non-ensorceled, non-enthralled) human mercenary, and is now quite upset over what might be a First Law violation. The warped dogs were much easier to deal with.
It was the nest of four Red Court Vampires, newly turned to help Dregana now that her support from the tunnels had been cut off, that really caused a problem for the characters. The vampires used maneuvers and group tactics to gang up on the characters, and proved to be a significant threat. Still, in the end, through co-operation and a good use of Aspects, they managed to eliminate the four vampires and finally confront Dregana. The fight with her was relatively brief, leaving her lying on the ground with all three consequences used up, pleading for her life. And Emric ran her through.
Leaving the house, they were met by a small man with coppery-red skin of indeterminate age, who thanked them, and said that his master was pleased that they were able to do this favour for each other. He gave them each a ring as a token of his master’s esteem, bowed, and went away. The characters think he probably represented the vampire king in the tunnels that they have heard about, but never met.
And so our heroes retired to lick their wounds, and plan for a new day. I gave them a significant milestone at the end of this session, and asked them to start thinking about what their goals are in Prague, so that I can tailor the later scenarios to them. All in all, we were all happy with the way the session went, and the way the campaign seems to be going.
Meta-game-wise, we’re all getting more familiar with the system, and things are flowing more smoothly when it comes to mechanics. I made up a cheat-sheet for Izabela that helps us handle her spellcasting abilities in a more timely fashion during play, and it worked pretty well – well enough that I’m making one for Emric, as well.
Now I wait to see what sorts of goals my players send me, and then I make a new scenario.