Friday night was the latest installment of my Fearful Symmetries campaign. It was a return to a more traditional style of session, after the experiment I tried last time. I didn’t have a lot of information about what the characters had planned for this session, so I could do very little prep, but things went pretty well, anyway ((And again, I credit the collaborative city creation for this. It gives me the framework I need to come up with plots and reactions on the fly.)).
We started the game in the manner I usually do in these situations: I asked what the characters were up to, and improvised responses. The initial actions were pretty tame, but then they remembered that, very recently, lightning had come down out of the clear sky and almost killed Emeric, and that they still didn’t know why that had happened.
This led them up Petrin’s Hill, waiting for a storm, trying to figure out how they had angered the storm god Petrunas. Izabela was a little nervous about this, because she had taken a look at the hill with her Sight, and seen the giant slumbering in the earth, whom she assumed was Petrunas ((It isn’t.)), and she didn’t want to disturb him.
Of course, in response to dramatic necessity, they were attacked that night by a dozen cultists and a storm spirit similar to the one that had set fire to Emeric’s rooms previously. He knew how to deal with it, now, and dispatched it handily, while Izabela used her whirlwinds to keep the cultists from ganging up on them. A little interrogation yielded nothing but demands that Emeric surrender his sword, Beortning, which the cultists said had been forged from a stolen piece of Petrunas’s soul. Needless to say, Emeric declined to give up the blade.
Well, it was actually a little more dramatic than that. Emeric said something about how, if Petrunas wanted the sword, he should come and take it, then thrust it hilt-deep into the ground, which shook under his feet. And then he couldn’t pull the sword out again.
In the meantime, the veiled Izabela followed the fleeing cultists back to the rock where the characters thought at least one sacrifice had taken place, and heard them converse with the empty air. Her arcane senses showed her a faint shimmering above the rock, which could have been either a veil or the concealed end of a scrying, so she didn’t want to risk attacking, especially with Emeric still back at the camp, struggling to pull his sword free of the earth.
When Izabela returned, she used the Sight ((She’s gotten pretty good at avoiding the Mental Stress from using the Sight, which is in keeping with her character.)) to check the situation out. She saw that the blade had pierced the thigh of the sleeping giant, who had twitched in his sleep, but that the reason the blade wouldn’t come free was that it was encased in a ghostly spindle of ice, marked with a rune.
With that knowledge, Emeric blasted fire through the sword while he pulled on it. A failed control roll saw the trees around them also catch fire ((This was a night of terrible, terrible dice luck for the players. I almost felt bad for them.)), but he managed to rip the blade free, and then sucked the fire back into himself, quenching it, and leaving a circle of charred ash where there used to be forest.
They were fed up with always being on the defensive, and Izabela summoned a spirit to find out who was behind the attacks. She was given a name: Nicola Thunderpriest.
This is an interesting artifact of the game. During city creation, the players decided that the priest at the church atop Petrin Hill was also secretly the leader of the Petrunas cult. However, in play, they kept that knowledge out of their characters’ awareness and, I think, began to wonder if it was still true – I was playing Nicola as a devout, if slightly worldly, priest who did his best to try and save Emeric’s soul when he discovered that Emeric was some sort of demon. I had built his character around the idea of a secret cult leader, so he had several True Faith powers, as well as sponsored magic, and a stunt or two that helped him with his masquerade.
With him unveiled, Emeric was enraged by the betrayal ((Interestingly, he had traded in his Aspect related to anger for one related to building a network of information, favours, and influence just this last advancement.)), and went off to the church to exact his revenge.
I liked the way things were going. Emeric was angry at the betrayal, and deeply hurt, and just (I think) a little bit tempted to give up the sword if Nicola could convince him that the priest would be a better guardian for one of the Dooms. He terrorized the priest and the altar boys at the church until he found the parsonage out back, where he figured Nicola must be holing up.
So, Emeric and Izabela burst into the parsonage ((Over the threshold, which severely impacted their supernatural abilities.)) and opened the trapdoor that led to Nicola’s work room. What followed was the first fight where I think the characters really felt threatened. I had built Nicola as a -16 Refresh character, and given him a few Fate Points on top of that, so he was no slouch. Add to that the home-field advantage – both his ability to tap the Aspects of his home that he knew about, and the effect of his strengthened threshold – and he had a good chance of really doing some damage.
The characters fought cleverly, using maneuvers to remove a couple important tools and enchanted items, though Izabela took a pretty devastating blast of lightning. Then, they managed to subdue him as he tried to tear open the veil into the Mittlemarch and escape. They bound him, and went to find city guards to take him into custody ((As luck would have it, there was a squad right handy, called by the the terrorized clergy.)) for trial before an ecclesiastical court.
That taken care of, they Izabela turned her attention to the Gold Lane problem. With the knowledge that an angel had been bound into the curse, she decided to see if she could find any writings of John Dee or Edward Kelley that talked about their communing with angels. A little investigation revealed that Kelley had once lived in a house reputed to have been owned by Faust, so she and Emeric went their to see if she could find anything of value.
Their search of the premises yielded nothing of note, so Izabela tried to raise Faust’s ghost to see what he had to say. She was successful, and had an interesting conversation with the dead man, who revealed that he knew of nothing hidden in the house, but that there was a place he was unable to look: up the chimney. Glancing up there revealed that the flue was ringed with Enochian sigils, anchoring a veil. They unraveled that, and found a substantial quantity of gold, as well as some preserved human parts ((Emeric thinks that they were being prepared to be sold as saintly relics to the unsuspecting.)).
The piece of information that Faust’s ghost gave them that was most useful was that he didn’t think that Kelley or Dee were able to bind angels, having little power themselves. The power was all resident in the shew stone that allowed their communion – Kelley had been working to twist that into a binding device, but Faust didn’t believe he had succeeded. That was enough to convince Izabela that she needed to find the shew stone and see what it could teach her.
That’s about where we left it, but there was one other game-affecting development. Izabela may be retiring to NPC status. Her player confided to me last night that she’s not having fun playing Izabela, and might like to try a different character. This wasn’t a huge surprise to me; I’ve been watching the player struggle with the character, and get frustrated with the spellcasting system ((There is no doubt in my mind that it’s the magic system that is the main culprit in the player’s dissatisfaction with this character. It’s not that the magic system is bad, but it is complex, and doesn’t have the kinds of support structures in it that let her use it with confidence. She likes immersive play, and finds that whenever she wants to use magic, she has to pull back from the character to fiddle around with the mechanics to build a spell, and she finds that jarring. Which is fair. Not every system is going to mesh well with every player.)), from day one. So, we may be having a new character take the stage while Izabela devotes herself to research.
But that’s something for another day.