Last night was the latest installment of the Fearful Symmetries game. When we had left our heroes, they were planning a little expedition to look at a farm that had been ravaged by… something. Something that the locals claimed were monsters. They got directions from the villagers at Mstetice, which told them to head through the forest to the standing stone, and bear right.
The mention of the standing stone caught the attention of both the characters – one of the things they were doing while outside the walls of Prague was scouting for places of power with an eye to denying them to the invading armies. A standing stone in the middle of a forest certainly sounded like it was worth checking out, at least in passing.
I had, of course, decided that the stone was a place of power. Trying to decide what kind of power, I thought about the place and the scene I wanted to set, and about the kinds of characters in the campaign, and the themes and such, and came up with the thought that it was tied to a power of the hunt. This naturally led me to the Erlking. The problem with using the Erlking is that the Queens had closed the gates of Faerie, so it struck me as a little problematic, considering the events already established in the setting, to involve the Erlking. Even though he’s technically wyldfae, beholden to neither court, I figure he’s still part of the fey structure, and bound at least somewhat by the strictures of the Queens and the Mothers.
But I also wanted to start laying in one of the ideas about magic that I think make a setting interesting – the concepts of wild magic, in this case. Now, I’m not talking here about D&D-style wild magic; I’m talking about magic that is older than mankind and completely unable to be tamed by anyone, the magic that represents the concepts of free will and lack of constraint that allow mortals to choose, rather than being bound to their natures and fates. It’s a concept that’s expressed beautifully in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry*, through the use of the Wild Hunt as a thread in the tapestry of the world that even the Weaver cannot control.
So, I decided that, as a representative or facet of that power, the Erlking is chafing at the way the closing of the gates of Faerie have curtailed his activities. This stone, which is set in a place of wild magic, is one of his sacred places – The Erlking’s Throne. Given that basis, I tracked down a good image of a standing stone in a forest on the internet, came up with a few Aspects, and wrote up a short description of what sort of sponsored magic the site would provide. I also figured it was a good bet that Izabela would use the Sight to examine the stone*, so I wrote up a description of the Throne as seen through the Sight.
Sure enough, I got her to look at the Throne through the Sight, and it took her a couple of turns to close her third eye, so her brain got beat up a little bit. No consequences, but a couple of unpleasant Stress hits. What she saw made her nervous enough about the nature of the power here that she decided to leave it be, and she and Emeric would continue on their own to find whatever had been raiding the farms in the area.
To that end, she decided to see if there were any ghosts in the area that could tell her anything. She very carefully walked out of the area of lifelessness around the Throne, and did a little ritual to call up the ghosts.
That’s when I offered her a compel to use some of the power from the Throne, and she took it.
I had decided that the only ghosts in the area were animal ghosts, and that without using the power of the Throne, she wouldn’t be able to communicate with them. But she used the power, and so she could, and found out that the things killing folks and destroying farms were indeed monsters, and one smelled like Emeric. She also found out that using the power here had opened the door for the Hunter.
And so the Erlking showed up. Also a mass of goblins and hounds. He offered a pact to our heroes, essentially offering sponsored magic if they desired it. Neither of them took him up on it, so he made sure they knew that, even without a pact, they could come to this site and use the power here freely. And every time they did, his Hunt would be loosed in the world for a night. Starting with tonight. Out of consideration for the service done to him by opening the door, he gave them until sunset to leave the wood. After that, he said, everything in the wood was either part of the Hunt, or it was prey.
Somewhat shaken by the encounter, the characters made good time out of the forest to the farms, finding a scene of terrible slaughter, but nothing in the way of corpses. Also hundreds of crows. Izabela tried call up ghosts to question about the attack, but found that there were no ghosts here, which gave her pause. Emeric decided to question the crows*, and they told him that one of his kin – a fire giant* – was with a group of monsters, and they had done this. The crows agreed to tell the pair where the monsters were in exchange for killing them and leaving the bodies for the crows.
Izabela and Emeric spent some time preparing for the confrontation, dropping some Aspects on themselves, like Limbered Up and Giant-Killer, and Izabela veiled them, and off they went. They came unseen upon the camp, but didn’t spot the two sentinels watching the approach. Which was fine; the sentinels didn’t spot them, either. They found a group of half a dozen rough-looking men sitting around a fire eating, a few small tents set up, and one very large pavilion.
And so they rushed to attack.
The fight was fairly long, but lots of cool things happened. After the first round, most of the men – actually ghouls – were on fire and trapped in a whirlwind, and the fire giant was in play with his massive hammer. He wiped out the veil with his fire magic, but that left him with a severe mental consequence from trying to control that much power. Everyone was working hard to layer on Aspects, and moving around doing interesting things, with ghouls trying to hamstring the heroes and leaping down on them from on top of the pavilion, but the heroes prevailed. They weren’t unscathed, though; Izabela had to retreat and veil at one point because her stress tracks were pretty much filled up, and she had used up her minor and moderate consequences.
But the ghouls were dead, and the fire giant was dead, and the crows were paid. A good night’s sleep, and they were able to head back to Mstetice and then to Prague. They brought along the fire giant’s hammer, because they could tell it was an item of evil power, and they’re looking for a way to destroy it, or at least get it out of circulation permanently. I decided that was a good place to leave things for the night.
As we shut down, my players started asking about enchanted items, so we had a talk about what they could do, and how to get them, and so on. I had decided when play started that I wasn’t going to push the idea of enchanted items until the players asked about them – there’s enough stuff to learn without adding that complexity at the start of things. We are all gaining familiarity with and mastery of the system, which pleases me. I had given the players a significant milestone, so they have the opportunity now to shuffle their enchanted item/focus item slots around, and they may do so.
All in all, a good game.
*If you haven’t read this series, you should. Back
*And if she decided not to, she’s got a couple of Aspects I could compel to persuade her. Back
*Invoking his Raised in Legend Aspect, saying that speaking to birds is well-represented in Norse mythology, and Emeric had learned the trick in his youth. I liked that idea. Back
*Not in the book, so I started with an Ogre, and tweaked it until it looked fire-giantish. Back