Feints & Gambits: Too Long a Sacrifice

We had a full house for the first time since adding the new player, which meant we had eight people crowded into my living room. It was a little tight, but turned out to be workable. And it was nice to see how the dynamic with the full group worked.

When we had left the last session, the characters had just followed rumours of Padraig Pearse’s ghost right up to the gates of Kilmainham Gaol. I backtracked a day or so to bring the two characters who hadn’t been at the last game up to speed and involved. This was pretty easy to do, as I had originally planned to have one of the characters hooked into the plot from the start, but had to change that last session when he couldn’t make it.

Now, the O’Malley boys are good Irish lads with a reputation for being involved in some strange things. This led an acquaintance of theirs to approach them with a job offer – well, the offer of an offer, really. He told them that he was helping out another man – a patriot1 – who wanted people with a certain kind of knowledge to help him help the Republic. Nothing violent. Honest.

When it came out that the meet was supposed to be at Kilmainham Gaol after dark, the boys got a little nervous. They had heard some unsettling things about the Gaol, and the suffering and death that had occurred there over the years left Mark with little doubt that the place was steeped in some rich negative juju. Still, they figured they better go see what was going on so that they could put a stop to it if needed. And, as they showed up at the Gaol, they noticed the rest of the characters skulking in Rogan’s car in an alleyway2.

The two groups spent a few minutes bringing each other up to speed, then came up with a simple plan. The O’Malley boys would go in first, as they had an invitation, and they would create a distraction3, allowing the rest of the gang to follow them in.

Inside the Gaol, Mark and Nate met with Sean Miller, a few of his companions, and around a hundred or so ghosts, including Padraig Pearse. Miller wanted some protection from the fey4 so he could use his ghostly army to free Ireland from the English5. Mark startled Miller by putting him in a magic circle briefly, at which point Nate was tired of playing things carefully, so he started insulting the Pearse6.

At that point, I decided the distraction was occurring, so I cut to the outside group, and reported the gunshots, explosions, and flashes of fire coming from inside7. They all came running in.

Now, this was a big group – seven players – for running a large combat. I had been wondering how I would do it, and decided to go to a very loose, cinematic structure. Everyone got a turn, and we went round in an arbitrary order, letting people do stuff and deal with the consequences on their turn. This was easier than tracking initiative for the characters and the bad guys and going strictly by that and by the standard measure of a round. Instead, I let each character do about as much as would be shown in a single cut from an action movie fight scene of similar magnitude. Basically, they could each do one meaningful (cool) thing on their turn, and whatever other stuff got them to the place where they could do that cool thing.

I also let the initial part of the combat – the bit where Nate and Mark were alone amidst a horde of ghosts and several mortals with submachine guns – happen off-screen8. I had them back-to-back in the middle of the mess when the rest came through the doors, Mark holding off the ghosts with a shield while Nate blasted them with fire. To reflect that they had been holding off massive odds for several seconds, I had them each take a 2-shift and a 3-shift Mental Stress hit.

The fight was a lot of fun. I think pretty much everyone got a good chance to have some spotlight time doing neat stuff. Some notable moments:

  • Aleister running into the press of ghosts and immediately shooting Sean Miller between the eyes9.
  • Kate’s Ghost-Freeze potion that took all the (non-Pearse) ghosts out of the fight right at the start.
  • Safire using her aspect Relatives Everywhere to know one of the prison guard ghosts that Pearse called in as reinforcements, and talking him into keeping the guards out of the fight.
  • Mark using the Ghost Dust he had prepared as a fist-load to punch right through Padraig Pearse’s head.
  • Nate’s mad, desperate wrestling match with one of the living opponents in the midst of slippery fire-extinguisher foam.
  • Firinne taking a video of said desperate wrestling match and uploading it because it was funny.
  • Rogan, broken leg and all10, leaping into the fray and tearing the head off her opponent.

In the midst of this row11, Miller dragged himself off. Aleister12, Safire, Rogan, and Mark tracked him to the courtyard where the 1916 executions had taken place. He made a feeble attempt to fight them off, but really had no hope. Safire grabbed the ghost stone, and Mark took a look at Miller with the Sight to see if he was being controlled in any way.

He saw that Miller was covered in blood, with blood running off his hands, but under his torn flesh, he shone like burnished gold that was hard as steel. And he felt a huge, intimidating presence behind him. One player-on-player compel later, Mark turned around to see a huge humanoid figure that seemed to be made of fire wrapped in chains. And it spoke Mark’s true name perfectly13.

That’s when the sirens sounded, forcing the characters to run off before fully dealing with Miller. After all, he had conceded, so he got to get away.

In the aftermath, Mark told the rest of the group about his vision, saying that he thought he had seen the Martyr Ghost, the living embodiment of Kilmainham Gaol’s crucible-like property of burning away everything but the idea that drives a person. Rogan thought that this might be something useful for her to try, until it was pointed out to her that what Mark had seen of Miller suggested that he had undergone this purification.

And as for the ghost stone, the group destroyed it and delivered the fragments to Elga, who told Firinne that Winter was in her debt.

Because nothing bad can come of that, right?

The last thing we did that evening was I asked all the players to take some time over the next several weeks and to send me an e-mail outlining what her character would like to accomplish in the game. This will allow me to work a few more personalized hooks into the campaign, and start pulling a storyline14 for the overall campaign together.

And that’s where we left it.

  1. Full disclosure. I’m a little uneasy about writing about how I use the Troubles in the game. I mean, they are a big part of the history of Ireland and Dublin, but I’m just a Canadian prairie boy who has no real insight into them, no matter how much research I’ve done. And using them for entertainment might offend some people, which I don’t want to do. Suffice to say that I intend no offense, and am using the Troubles as a fodder for collaborative fiction. All people, situations, and events are used in a fictitious manner. []
  2. Yay! All the characters together, and less than half an hour into play! []
  3. Nate is especially good at providing distractions. Fiery, catastrophic distractions. []
  4. The Winter Warlord, Elga, was looking to get the ghost stone he was using back from him. []
  5. Step three: Profit! []
  6. Who was already predisposed to not like Nate, after Nate had used cleansing fire to clean the ghosts out of the GPO. []
  7. These are the standard signals that Nate has started a distraction. []
  8. With the players’ consent. That’s important to note. []
  9. So he thought. Miller actually took an Extreme Consequence (Eye Shot Out) and then conceded. []
  10. Which I completely forgot to compel during the fight. Stupid! []
  11. Miss Kerrigan fainted, her cheeks at the same time as red as a rose. []
  12. Who was the recipient of our first player-on-player compel bidding war. Two other players each offered him a compel on a different aspect – one to stay and help Nate, Kate, and Firinne, and one to go after Miller. This was an excellent way to dramatize the kind of internal struggle that we see so often in fiction but so seldom in roleplaying. It was pretty much the high point of the game for me, and I think for Aleister’s player, too. []
  13. Cue Epic (+7) mental assault as Mark tried to close his third eye. It took him a Fate Point, but he pulled it off. []
  14. As in an emergent campaign storyline, for those following along at home. []
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