Feints & Gambits: The Battle of Tara

Friday night was the final session of my Feints & Gambits DFRPG campaign. The campaign ran 23 sessions, including the character creation and setting creation sessions1, over just about two years. We started with six players, and added another one part way through. That’s a pretty large group; I’d assumed that a couple of players would be unavailable each session, keeping the group to a manageable size. That assumption was mainly correct – most sessions, we had at least one player absent, but it was still a big group, and having a full house was… challenging. I had almost a full house for the last session; one player wasn’t able to make it2

As mentioned in the last post, I had the players doing some homework, preparing for the battle. They jumped on this opportunity pretty eagerly, and over the time between the sessions, I got a whole bunch of e-mail and stories about how the heroes were setting things up for the final confrontation between the Fey Courts and the prospective High King. We had Venatori Umborum strike forces hiding in the church with the arm-bone of St. Patrick, we had the power of the sun bottled in the hands of a powerful fire mage, we had a storm conjured by an international network of Wiccans, we had collected favours in the enemy camps, we had belief funneled to the King from a powerfully prophetic painting3, we had an army of mummified cats hidden in the trenches. And those were just some highlights.

To run this battle, I looked to the old Decipher Lord of the Rings game. While the game had some problems4, the game shone in two specific areas: the wonderfully appropriate feel of the magic system, and the simple, flavourful system for running large-scale battles. It’s this last bit that I lifted pretty much whole from LotR and dropped into this game. What makes the system great is that it resolves the battle turn by turn, showing the shifting fortunes of war, while allowing the PCs to have some cinematic hero moments in the midst of the chaos.

So, what I did was to stat up the two armies as opponents. I set the fey army at Good (+3), with eight stress boxes, and the King’s army at Fair (+2) and five stress boxes. There were aspects available from the location, and from the preparations each army had done5 that could be called on in battle. I also made a list of twenty events and scenes to roll out in the middle of battle for the heroes to deal with. This list had things on it like a ride of the wild hunt, challenges to single combat, favours being called in, and6 the arrival of Aengous Keogh with the Cauldron of the Dagda.

And then one of the players almost derailed the entire thing, as Mark O’Malley, acting as the King’s herald, negotiated the whole battle to be replaced by a sealed draft tournament of Magic: The Gathering. Now, it was a brilliant ploy, and I liked it, but I couldn’t let it work out the way he wanted – I had to shift the game back to the battle. Why? Not because I had planned this whole battle thing and it would be wasted. No. I’m willing to take a hit like that and improvise something new, maybe following the High King on his ordeal to prove his worthiness.

No, the real problem was that, if we went with theM:TG scenario, only Mark would be doing stuff. The rest of the characters would just be spectators at what was meant to be the climax of the campaign. And that just wasn’t right.

So, I pulled a fast one. I had the fey bring forward a changeling – a stolen child, who happened to be aM:TG tournament champion. When Mark figured out that he was in some jeopardy, he switched tactics and started trash-talking the kid, sending him running from the game in tears. The fey Warlords decreed that this meant the battle must go forward7, and so battle was joined.

At the start, I was worried that I had built the opposition up too high. The characters certainly felt threatened, and worried, and the first little bit of the battle was tight for the good guys. But then the gang started figuring out how to put things together using their preparations, spending Fate Points freely, and got things working in their favour.

I can’t do a blow-by-blow of the battle. Too much went on. Some highlights:

  • Nate reneging on the debt he owed Summer. He lost his fire magic, but used the sun power he had bottled in the preparation phase to regain it.
  • Mark whipping up a fast thaumaturgic ritual to drop a field full of landmines8 into the Nevernever.
  • Aleister taking out the Wild Huntsman with a single rifleshot.
  • Kate waking the souls of the 400 Irish rebels buried on the site to defend the High King.
  • Rogan leading her pride, and armed with a magic bell, breaking a fey advance and routing the attacking squad.
  • Safire blowing the head off a pixie who had come to tell her that her Granny was being held hostage9.
  • Aengous’s arrival, in a Guinness van, with the Cauldron of the Dagda, and his desperate, ill-fated drive across the earthworks10.
  • The Warden showed up and wanted to know how a war had sprung up on his watch, and got sent off to talk to the White Council for advice instead of interfering.

In the end, the battle turned out to be pretty one-sided, thanks to the intervention of the heroes. Near the end of things, the gang really pulled out the stops, taking out the leadership of the armies and playing on the enmity between the two courts. Despite being significantly outnumbered, the good guys actually drove the fey from the field without taking any significant losses.

And so, the surviving Tuatha De Dannan arrived, the Queens of the Courts in tow, and re-enacted the treaty whereby the Milesians claimed the surface of Ireland and the Tuatha and fey sank into the earth, and into a subservient place in the country. And thus, balance was restored and the Faerie Courts had to stop their blatant, manipulative games with the people of Ireland.

I wanted to spend a little time doing epilogues for the characters, but at that point, it was almost one in the morning, and we were all tired. We decided to call it a night, and to handle the epilogues via our forum.

And so it ended.

I want to thank my players:

  • Michael (Aleister Usher), who never let an opportunity to be a hard-ass pass him by.
  • Sandy (Kate Owens), who tried to keep a low profile, but still got sucked into things.
  • Chris (Nate O’Malley), who solved all problems with FIRE!
  • Erik (Mark O’Malley), who was the calm, rational O’Malley brother11.
  • Fera (Rogan O’Herir), who went from a lone, grieving warrior to heir to the power of her clan.
  • Vickie (Firinne O’Beara), who fought her trickster nature as hard as she could to keep her friends safe.
  • Jen (Safire Byrne), who showed up late, and lot her Granny in the battle.

You guys made the game great, and I thank you for it.

I hope you had fun.

  1. I count those because, as the rulebook rightly says, these are part of play. If you don’t believe that , you haven’t tried it. []
  2. We missed you , Vickie! []
  3. Yay! Alliteration! []
  4. Notably, the long prep time for GMs – it took me about three to four hours of prep time for each hour of play. Building NPCs and monsters was not fast, and setting up traps and obstacles took a lot of time, too. []
  5. Yeah, I let the fey armies prepare, too – mainly taking assets overlooked by the players. []
  6. Because it was necessary for the whole becoming-high-king thing to work. []
  7. Despite some grousing from the player about how leaving a game counts as a forfeit; see my note about having everyone involved in the game. []
  8. Secreted on the site by the Malleus Maleficarum, who didn’t kill which side they killed. []
  9. Downside was that they killed Granny. []
  10. Aengous needed to arrive with the Cauldron for the King to conduct his bid for Kingship. It was a single entry on my random chart, but every time I rolled something else, I crossed off that entry. If I rolled a crossed-off entry, it would be Aengous. So, the odds for his arrival increased as the battle went on, but I could never be certain when he would show up. As it happened, he showed up on the stroke of midnight, which was awesome. []
  11. Rational and calm only by comparison to Nate. []
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One Response to Feints & Gambits: The Battle of Tara

  1. FJ says:

    My hat is off to you, Rick. You displayed your skill as a GM to bring great stories each session and those Rickistic surprising twists — the Black Cat really threw me, you b#%tard 😀 — and still managed to play to Rogan’s story which allowed me to stretch her from youth to alpha. I did indeed have fun. Thank you.

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