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.