Feints & Gambits: Circle and Sword

We’re rapidly closing in on the finale of the Feints & Gambits game. This was the antepenultimate1 session of the game, so only two more sessions left now that this one is complete. Things are coming to a head, and the pressure is on.

I had the smallest group for this session in I-don’t-know-how-long. Only three players were able to make it, and that’s the bare minimum we’ve set for quorum2. It was a bit of a surprise, because the previous several sessions have been full houses, or pretty close, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to play with a smaller group. Better able to give spotlight time to everyone.

So, who showed up? Well, we had Nate and Mark O’Malley, affectionately known as the Terror Twins3, and Rogan O’Herir, the heir to leadership of the ancient pride of were-smilodons who serve as mystical guardians of Ireland4. That gave us the bulk of the heavy-hitting power in the group, but little in the way of… shall we say, the social graces.

The game started with a recap, and then the gang started talking about what they wanted to do. Given that the overall goal was to prepare Liam Dalton for his ascent to the High Kingship, they knew what was needed: the Sword of Nuada, the Spear of Lugh, the Cauldron of the Dagda, the Stone of Kings, and as many allies as they could scrape together. In the previous session, they had determined that the stone at the top of the Hill of Tara was, in fact, the true Stone of Kings, so that was done. They also knew that Aengous Keogh had the Cauldron of the Dagda, but he had left for parts unknown after the fight at the Guinness Brewery. Macha, at the Silver Arm, however, told them that Aengous was prone to show up when and where he was needed.

That left the Sword, the Spear, and allies. In a wonderful display of confounding expectations5, they decided to try and enlist the Ciorcal Fuinseog6 onto the King’s side.

Now, I mentioned that none of the three were exactly diplomats. In fact, it might be fair to say that the majority of them7 are the reason diplomats exist. They were overmatched and outgunned in this department, and more likely than not to shoot themselves in their collective foot.

 

Okay, let’s look at a quick rundown of the players here:

  • Nate O’Malley, incredibly powerful evoker, specializing in fire. He’s got the typical temper of a fire evoker, and a big chip on his shoulder. But he’s trying to do the responsible thing, and that counts for something.
  • Mark O’Malley, not as powerful as Nate, but able to work both evocation and thaumaturgy. More polished and sneakier, but has a chip on his shoulder at least as big as Nate’s. He’s been turned down for membership in the White Council unless he undergoes a seven-year apprenticeship, so he’s trying to prove he doesn’t need them.
  • Rogan O’Herir, who turns into a smilodon. She tends to solve problems with her teeth and claws, in a very permanent manner. Last session, though, she promised to return to her pride at the end of this battle and prove herself worthy of leadership, so she’s tryng to turn herself into the kind of leader she’d want to follow.
  • The Ciorcal Fuinseog, a loose collection of minor mystical types – similar to the Paranet – who are dedicated to preserving Ireland. Well, sort of. It’s kind of a lie to say that the entire Ciorcal is dedicated to anything. They are fractious, bickering loners who co-operate only because it’s safer.

That’s three people who are not optimal for enlisting a strong ally, and an ally who’s not as strong and unified8 as anyone thinks. The thing I found interesting about the choice is that it wasn’t about who the characters are. It’s about who the characters want to be.9

But10 they had the secret weapon of the FATE system on their side – time to prepare.

They used their circle of customers from the bookstore to make contact with someone from the Ciorcal and laid the plan out to her. She agreed to get some representative fraction of the group to a meeting to hear the whole thing and make a determination. They also researched the Ciorcal to find out a little bit of information about them – this gave them the idea to offer them bread and salt to make them guests, seeing as how the Ciorcal tended to like the old ways.

Nate even apologized to Macha and got readmitted to the Silver Arm11, where he wanted to buy a bottle of mead to drink to seal any agreement that they reached. When he explained to her what he was trying to do, she brought him a special bottle of mead12 that she had made herself long ago. Rogan baked some bread13 and brought in some other food, as well, to lay a good table.

At this point, the group looked at me and said, “Well, I still don’t think we have a chance. What else can we do.” I blinked at them for a second or two, and then told them to write down a list of three or four aspects that they had accumulated through their preparations, which I had been treating like maneuvers14. They said that they hadn’t rolled for them, but I said that roleplaying for them trumped rolling for them any day of the week. Thus, armed with their preparation aspects, and the aspects of the Hole In The Wall bookshop, they brought in their guests and proceeded to make their case.

I ran this as a Social conflict, with a couple of little tweaks. First, I treated the entire dozen of Ciorcal representatives as a single opponent, giving them six or seven stress boxes, a single skill I called Resistance, set at Good (+3), and a few aspects. The idea was that, if the group was taken out, they’d join the fight. I would use Consequences to represent how close they were to being swayed. I didn’t want them to counter-attack, though, but I still needed a way for the characters to fail persuading them, so I set up three Strike boxes. Whenever the characters failed a roll against the Ciorcal’s Resistance, or when they did something that violated the sensibilities of the Ciorcal15, I would mark in a Strike. Three Strikes, and the Ciorcal walks – maybe right over to the other side, depending how things went.

Well, the conflict went about as well as I could have hoped. Everyone pitched in, incorporating the aspects in the fiction, not just for dice rolls, and fought as hard to accomplish this as they ever had to bring down a physical16 foe. Fate points flew hot and heavy and, in the end, they managed to convince the Ciorcal to join with them with two Strike boxes filled in. I was impressed by the play from all the players, and was very happy that the system could handle this sort of debate in a way that made it dynamic and interesting, providing mechanical structure for it without making it devolve into mechanical dice-rolling17.

It was about 11:30 at that point, and we try to wrap things up around midnight. The gang wanted to push on and try and get Nuada’s Sword from Newgrange18, and I thought about things. There were two ways I could go with the claim-the-Sword adventure – quick and dirty, which I could probably do in about an hour, or longer and more involved, which I would need to leave for the next session. I decided to go for the quick and dirty solution, because the players were riding high on their success.

I invoked a little GM-fiat coincidence, and had one of the Ciorcal members be an archaeologist working in the Boyne Valley, who got them up and to Newgrange in the dead of night. I was able to use my own visit to Newgrange to describe the site, and the claustrophobic tunnel inside, and the incredible arched central chamber, so that was good.

Inside, it was Nate’s turn to use The Sight19, and he saw a neolithic shaman sitting in the bowl where the midwinter light would fall in the central chamber. This shaman asked Nate some riddles20 and, when Nate answered correctly, opened a doorway into the Nevernever that only Nate could see.

He stepped through, found himself facing a band of Winter Court warriors, and promptly burned them to a crisp21. Then he opened the grave vault, had a bit of a chat with Nuada, claimed the Sword, and scampered home. Everyone cheered and they went to bed22.

That leaves the Spear – and possibly more recruiting of allies – for next session. And the big finale for23 the final session.

Game is soon done.

  1. For my discussion of ultimate terminology, you’ll have to look at this post. I’m not repeating it here. []
  2. See, I’ve run the campaign in a very episodic manner, because it’s tough scheduling with a large group. We play as long as three players can make it. Thus, three is quorum. []
  3. They’re not twins. Just brothers. And are considered to be weapons of mass destruction in our magical Dublin. []
  4. God bless collaborative character and setting creation. I’d never have come up with something like that. []
  5. Both mine and their own expectations of their characters’ strengths. []
  6. That’s my barbarous Gaelic rendering of Ash Circle. []
  7. At least. []
  8. Well, not as unified, anyway. Band together the resources of the group and focus it on one goal, and you’ve got a pretty potent weapon. Keeping them from arguing about what the goal should be or what his Joan said about our mum last Solstice, though, that’s a bit of a challenge. []
  9. This is one of the things that I love about DFRPG, and FATE in general. It promotes character growth and story arcs where the nature of the characters change. Characters can strive to become better people, not just faster or stronger or more powerful. Nicer. Happier. More heroic. And the system has a way to model that sort of aspiration, and to both quantify and reward it. []
  10. And this is a glorious but that exists because of the way the game works. []
  11. He’d pissed her off last session, and she threw him bodily out of the pub. []
  12. Metheglin, actually. []
  13. Not her first choice of job. []
  14. I just hadn’t thought to tell them that. Figured I’d get to it. []
  15. As represented by the Ciorcal’s aspects. []
  16. Or metaphysical. []
  17. I’m looking at you, D&D 4E. []
  18. Macha told them it was there last session. []
  19. Those with the ability tend to take turns, spreading the potential hurt around. []
  20. Three, of course. The player used his Lore skill to answer two of them, but got the third one on his own. Considering I was creating the riddles on the fly, and drawing on more reading of Celtic legend than the player has done, one out of three ain’t bad. []
  21. I think they managed to land one shot, and it wasn’t a good one. I think I mentioned that Nate is a weapon of mass destruction, right? []
  22. Except Nate, who took the Sword by the Silver Arm to give Macha the message from her husband, Nuada. []
  23. Fittingly. []
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6 Responses to Feints & Gambits: Circle and Sword

  1. Rick Neal says:

    Wow. That might be a record for the footnotes. Sorry, folks. I’ll try and rein it in.

    Rick

  2. Michael says:

    Wow, sounds like a great game. I’m sorry I missed it (and the previous one). However, based on your write up I think having the small group for this session made it work so much better than it would have with a larger group. I also live that the more combat-orientated characters (although I don’t normally think of Mark as combat, I think of him as a people person) were able to pull off a nice diplomatic scene. Yea FATE! Yea Players!

  3. Rick Neal says:

    I agree that Mark is not necessarily combat-oriented, but I hesitate to call him a people-person. He’s a problem-solver, with a pretty extensive toolbox, but he tends to be abrasive (not to mention abusive) if he gets his back up. Which he does. And when Nate’s with him, their dysfunctional brother dynamic can quickly undermine any forward progress they make. On anything.

  4. Chris says:

    Nate dodged the first (and only) sword strike by the skin of his teeth (a +3 roll). And then burned his remaining three fate points to wrangle a 13 power flame attack and stumble out with just a Splitting Headache minor consequence. A fair trade, considering just how piss poor Nate is at dodging things. 🙂

    It was fun to stretch out the characters in a social conflict and I agree; it really shows off what the system can do!

  5. FJ says:

    I agree: the social combat was as stressful as fisticuff combat (actually more so because the imagination and intellect had to be called into play, not just the dice). Thoroughly enjoyable, and yes, probably worked more smoothly with less people stirring the pot, so to speak. I thought we would botch it, but all three of us “unsocialized” characters did rise to the challenge, stretch and triumph (thanks to deft argument, fistfuls of Fate points, and aspects to tag) — though it was a close call. Great job and thanks for that, Rick.

  6. Pingback: What's He On About Now? » Feints & Gambits: The Spear of Lugh

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