Fearful Symmetries: The Stag Moat

Friday night was the latest installment of the Fearful Symmetries game.

Emeric and Izabela decided to continue to focus on the person who stuck the knife in Izabela’s door. The only name they really had was Giaccomo Malvora, a White Court nobleman from Naples who was reputed to hunt Jeleni Prikop – the Stag Moat – for the remnants of Rudolf’s menageries that were said to run loose there.

So, they went snooping after Giaccomo Malvora.

Amadan warned them that what was going on looked like the power games that are played by followers of the Hunter, an aspect of the Erlking, and that the encounter the pair had had with the Erlking had marked them as rivals and targets. He also said that, if it was Giaccomo Malvora behind this, that his sister, Lukrezia, the head of the household, would not take kindly to it. Though coming to her attention was probably not a good idea – the Hussites who had thrown the Imperial emissaries out of the window a few months back had been spending some time in Lukrezia’s company, and look what that got everyone.

The plan the heroes came up with was to go into the Stag Moat and try and turn the tables on Giaccomo, or whoever it was hunting them.

This decision came after some substantial time debating, investigating, and preparing, and I’m always glad to see the players caring enough about the game that they do agonize a little over the options and mysteries. The upshot of things, though, is that they didn’t have enough solid information to unravel all the questions, and eventually opted to take action regardless. I’m even gladder when this happens, because nothing drags a game’s energy down like endless dithering and navel-gazing.

It’s a fine line to walk – as a GM, I’ve got to make sure that the mystery is intriguing enough that they puzzle at it, and that the stakes are high enough that they take it seriously. At the same time, I have to make sure that there’s enough time pressure that they are prompted to act, or that the stakes aren’t so high that they refuse to budge before exhausting every conceivable option. The ideal kind of feeling I want when the characters finally put a plan into motion is the essence of the scene in season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just as the gang heads out to face down Glory and rescue Dawn. They’ve done all they can reasonably do, and they just pray it’s enough*.

So, into the Stag Moat, with all their preparations.

Now, at this point, I wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to go. I knew what was going on, and who was behind it, and so forth, but the characters hadn’t uncovered the full picture. When they headed into the Stag Moat, I needed to come up with a satisfying way to wrap up this immediate storyline, though I wanted to make sure there were enough dangling threads that they could eventually come back and find out the deeper secrets*. I decided to make it a gauntlet that they had to run, to prove themselves against the one who had challenged them. And, as all literary challenges must, it had three phases.

The first was a huge bowman in camouflage who almost got Izabela with a javelin-sized arrow. They managed to capture him alive, but he could give them little information, because his tongue had been cut out. They took his weapons and told him to leave the park, which he was only too happy to do.

The second was a larger pack of the nasty, warped hounds they had fought earlier. They wrapped these up fairly quickly, despite the fact that I had the hounds team up and attack in a coordinated manner, using maneuvers to try and bring down the characters. Izabela’s amazing roll on her whirlwind evocation kept them bouncing around in the air with no hope of escape while Emeric roasted them one by one.

Oh. There was also a deadfall trap that destroyed Izabela’s conjured horse, which slowed them down and bottled them up enough for the hounds to make their initial attack.

The last opponent was Giaccomo Malvora, who stalked the characters through the woods, using his Incite Emotion power to make them more and more nervous*. When they finally spotted him, they made very short work, with Izabela binding him up in the spirits of the animals he had killed, and Emeric unleashing the sword Beortning and using it to skewer the White Court Vampire, pinning him to the earth.

As they were questioning the poor, shrieking, burning fellow, another man showed up. He told the characters to let the vampire live, and things pretty much went downhill from there. Emeric got pissy when the fellow didn’t feel that he was in Emeric’s debt for letting the vampire live (the guy explained that it was for the sake of Emeric and Izabela that he made the suggestion), and Izabela got pissy when the man didn’t seem to want to help defend Prague.

The stranger told them that the hunt was over, and gave them each an old stone arrowhead on a leather thong as a trophy. He also told them that he was not the one who challenged them. Izabela asked for the name of the one who had, and was told it was Konstantin Arkady. When Emeric pushed the point of how he had let Giaccomo live as a favour to the man, he tore out the vampire’s heart and ate it, saying again that the favour was his advice to Emeric, not Emeric sparing the vampire.

At this point, Emeric threw the arrowhead on the ground, saying that if the man wasn’t going to honour his debts, then he wanted nothing from him. The stranger said, “That’s the third time you’ve insulted me. You’ve got one chance to take it back.” Emeric declined, and the fellow said, “You’ve got one month to kill me. If you don’t do it in that time, I will come and kill you.”

As a GM, I knew that things would come to a bad end. In fact, I had planned it. See, Emeric is very much the alpha-male, in the best Norse traditions. He never backs down or admits to losing an argument. If you want to put him in his place, you need to put him in his place. Physically. So, I know that whenever I throw another alpha-male into the mix, if that character isn’t instantly and obviously waaaay out of Emeric’s league (Odin) or outside of his circle (Zuckerbastl, Amiel), there will be a fight.

So this guy not showing any obvious power and interfering in Emeric’s life was guaranteed to get a fight going. I wasn’t sure if the fight was going to happen there or not – I was hoping not, but ready if it was going to happen – but I knew that this would generate an enmity that would need to be resolved.

And that enmity is one more tie into the game world for our characters’ emotions.

That’s pretty much where we left it. I gave the characters a significant milestone, and I look forward to seeing what they plan to do next. I know Izabela has had some interesting ideas about the curse on Gold Lane, and they now have the name Konstantin Arkady to look into. There’s still the dangling Petrunas Cult storyline hanging around*, too, and some other things I’ve got on the back burners.

Another fun game.


*Giles: We few, we happy few…
Spike: We band of buggered. Back

*Which I’m not going to talk about here. Back

*I basically cribbed the stats for Lara Raith, and made a couple minor changes on the fly to reflect that Giaccomo’s a hunter in 1620 Prague. And a dude. Back

*Well, not really hanging around, because things have been happening, but the characters don’t know about them, yet. Back

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