Last night was the latest session of Feints & Gambits. We had almost a full house; only one of the players couldn’t make it.
Mindful of the scattered nature of the previous session, I tried to keep things more focused this session, without drawing in too many extraneous threads to confuse the main story. This worked better, and the characters pushed on through the game, running down the leads they had, and discovering more information. We didn’t finish the story up last night, mainly because the one thing the characters haven’t decided on is what counts as a win for them.
I’ve come to realize that this is an insanely important decision for the party to make. In a lot of games, the victory condition is kind of a default for the game: save the princess, slay the dragon, rip off the megacorp, arrest the supervillain, find the treasure, whatever. It’s built in to the scenario assumptions from the start, and the characters are hooked into wanting to pursue that objective ((This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I hasten to point out. Sharply defined goals offer great motivation and a strong sense of accomplishment when the characters achieve them. It’s just not the only way to do things.)).
What I’ve been doing a lot in both the Dresden Files RPG and the Armitage Files campaign is letting the characters set their own agendas, and establish their own goals and victory conditions. With Fearful Symmetries and Armitage Files, the player groups are fairly small: two and three players, respectively. With double the number of players in Feints & Gambits, the decision process tends to involve a lot more discussion and debate before consensus is reached ((This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. It creates the greatest amount of player buy-in, gives them the strong sense of being in control of their characters’ fates, and in general keeps up the collaborative story building that the game set-up encourages. But it does eat time at game sessions.)), and heightens the planning paralysis potential of the game, which is to be avoided.
When we got to about 11:40 last night, the group was deep in a discussion about the best way to proceed, and had started circling back on their own arguments, losing both focus and momentum, so I suggested we call it a night and move the discussion to the forum for the three weeks until the next game, and they agreed.
So, what happened at the game itself? Well, first of all, Nate wasn’t there, as he had to go return the van he had acquired for that thing with the Guinness. Also, he had to explain the damage to it. Firinne and Aleister were still in pretty rough shape after having been bashed about by the thugs the night before, but Kate was looking after them. Mark had the papers he and Nate had stolen from the lawyer’s office, which they needed to examine. And Rogan showed up to say that she had spent the previous day trying to Aengous drunk to find out more about the Game the fey were playing ((She quickly discovered that Aengous either didn’t get drunk, or that drunk was his default state, and he didn’t get drunker. She, even despite her shapeshifting ways, was not quite so lucky.)). Everyone regrouped at the Hole in the Wall to plan their next moves.
They pored over the maps of the neighbourhood that was being bought out, but were unable to discover any mystical significance to the sites that were being purchased. Kate spent a few hours sorting through the records from the lawyer’s office and discovered that New World Developments was owned, through a network of shell companies and holding companies and false fronts, by Doyle Developments, one of the biggest land development firms in Dublin.
With this information, Aleister called Robin, the friend who had inadvertently drawn him into this by asking Aleister to get him some pistols for self-defense. When Robin didn’t answer his phone, Aleister, Rogan, and Firinne went to find out what was up. At his place, they found a number of angry young Asian men who told them that Robin was in the hospital, having been beaten almost to death. They asked if Aleister had got them their guns yet ((I did this to make it apparent that, while the characters were free to choose how they dealt with things, events are transpiring elsewhere, whether they’re aware of them or not, and that the situation is not under their control. Tensions are mounting in the community, and will eventually come to a head.)).
Deciding that something needed to be done about the thugs, Mark whipped up a tracking spell to find them. Kate made Aleister a healing potion to help with his broken ribs ((Based on the Reiki Healing spell in Your Story.)), and they all headed out on the trail of the men who had beaten Robin.
They found them in a pub in northern Dublin, and Aleister confronted them. This, somewhat predictably, turned into a bar brawl, and we got to see what Aleister can do when he’s got some room to maneuver and someone to watch his back. Also, that Mark’s head is very hard. With the three thugs unconscious – one of them out on the street under a broken window – and beer raining down from a broken tap, Rogan and Firinne each lifted a wallet from one of the fallen toughs as everyone made good their escape through the escalating brawl ((Well, Aleister didn’t escape so much as he called the guys he had just beaten up pedophiles who had molested his brother, and then stared down the rest of the crowd until they cleared a path to let him walk out.)).
Aleister followed this up the next day with a phone call to the chief thug and made a rather chilling threat about what would happen if Aleister caught him south of the Liffey ever again ((When he made the call, I had a child answer the phone and call for his da. I was interested to see where Aleister would draw the line – would he, even implicitly, threaten the child to get the father to understand the seriousness of things? The answer was no. Aleister has scruples.)).
Meanwhile, the group decided to take the papers they had found linking New World with Doyle to a reporter friend of Aleister’s, hoping that the papers could apply some pressure without the gang having to tell the police where they got the records. I took the opportunity to give them a quick course in political leverage through the mouthpiece of the reporter: she asked if they had kept copies, and they sheepishly had to admit that they hadn’t, and then asked for a couple of hours to do that. She then explained that she’d have to verify the information on the papers independently before she could publish anything, and that would take a couple of weeks. They reluctantly agreed to that.
And Rogan went to one of her family lawyers to see what he could tell her about Doyle Development. The lawyer told her that the head was Sir Clifton St. John Doyle, a flash man-about-town, and a wealthy and clever developer. When she mentioned the papers, he pointed out that none of the information they had actually implicated Doyle in the violence, or any unethical behaviour. He also offered some ideas about why Doyle would be using such a convoluted front to buy up the property he wanted, including not wanting competitors to find out what he was doing and drive up the price. He couldn’t offer any other information about what might be going on, but he did offer to set up a meeting with Doyle in a day or two, and she took him up on that.
That’s about when things got tangled in a discussion about what the next steps should be and, after a bit, I called the evening to a close. I find it interesting that it’s taken them two sessions to come to grips with the idea that this problem might have no supernatural component to it at all, but that’s where they’ve arrived, and that’s good. I don’t want every story to be about the fey or other mystical nastiness, though obviously a certain number of them need to be.
And now they’ve got three weeks to figure out what to do next. I wonder what they’ll decide.