The Real Story of the Spell: Cooperative Thaumaturgical Preparation in DFRPG

So, as you know if you’ve been following my blog, I’m starting a new Dresden Files RPG campaign. In fact, the first session is this coming Saturday. The past week or so, I’ve been helping my players get their characters finished up, and thinking about how I’m going to run this game.

One of the challenges I’m facing is that I’ve got two Thaumaturgists in the game. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but Thaumaturgy, when it happens and you pay attention to it, can take over the focus for a significant amount of game-time, and with two Thaumaturgists, I’ve had some concerns about whether that will force the other characters into the background ((I don’t really think it will, but it’s something to be aware of, so I can make sure it doesn’t happen.)).

Why? Well, because when someone decides on using Thaumaturgy, they snag the GM’s attention while they work out complexity, make up the Lore deficit, and then do the actual casting, possibly dealing with the fallout or backlash ((Details on all this stuff can be found in these two blog posts.)). That can eat up a good chunk of time for every spell they cast.

And it occurred to me. One of the biggest time sinks in using Thaumaturgy is the preparation phase -  the time when the Wizard was trying to make up the Lore deficit with maneuvers. The player spends some time looking over his or her skill list, trying to see what skill will work to put a maneuver on the spell for that all-important two-shift bump to Lore, while everyone else looks on, maybe making suggestions, maybe having side conversations, maybe wandering away for a bit.

But nowhere in the book does it say that the Wizard is the one who has to put the Aspect on the spell ((I fully expect that many of you were there ahead of me. Sometimes, little observations like this can take a while to make it to my brain.)). In some ways, it’s strongly implied – the examples all talk about Wizards making up the Lore deficit on their own spells. But some of the things you can do to add that Aspect are not necessarily things that need a Wizard.

The main thing with spellcasting in the game is that, mechanically, it is complex enough to require attention, but all the interesting bits happen narratively. That’s why there’s a sidebar stressing the importance of telling the story of the spell – making the preparation and casting of the spell interesting and involving. So, it makes sense that, in a game where you have several characters, that a person casting a spell would rope in some of his or her buddies to help with getting things ready.

So, send your cop buddy out to check the crime scene for blood – the sympathetic link you need to the creature that killed the schoolboy. Get your rich friend to buy you the amethyst you need to powder for the ritual. Send four other folks out to specific points on the map to act as the other points of your pentagram. Get that scholar in your group to look up the proper form of address for Sumerian royalty so that the ghost of the king will talk to you. They’re probably better at these things than you, anyway.

Does that sound like cheating? I mean, you’ve got Mediocre Athletics, so you get your pal with Superb Athletics to climb the cliff face to get water from the spring in the sacred cave. How is that fair? You’ve just co-opted someone else’s abilities, right?

Fair doesn’t enter into it, in my opinion. What you’ve done is taken a character who would otherwise have been sitting around waiting for his or her turn, and you’ve given him or her an opportunity to show off what that character is good at. And the GM can throw in a bit of interesting business with the whole thing, like maybe having to dodge a rock slide or leap over a crevasse, to throw a little bit of the spotlight on that character ((Remember that thing I said back here about helping each other find the cool? Well, here ya go. Concrete example.)).

In fact, if the spell is important enough ((This bit is vital. You don’t want to waste this schtick on every little spell that should be cast without any roll. Save it for when it’s something big and cool and important.)), you can have entire sessions that revolve around the preparation for a spell. Maybe the group needs to sneak into a secure place to work the ritual. The entire process of sneaking in can be a session, adding either a single Aspect that’s needed to the spell, or even adding a whole sequence of Aspects as people deal with things during the stealth mission to make sure that things go off without a hitch.

Like what? Well, how about Security Monitors Spoofed, Guards Rerouted, Doors Barricaded, Approaches Under Surveillance, and The Perfect Spot all working to give the spellcaster enough time to work the ritual without interruption?

It’s all about dramatizing the preparation ((This is something I’ve been doing sort of half-consciously, but not explicitly enough, in the Fearful Symmetries game, with Izabella’s investigation of the curse on Gold Lane. So far, she’s racked up four Aspects of the spell: Bound Angel, Anchor Points, Christian Magic, and Curse of Unsleeping. She’ll be able to use these Aspects to help her craft the ritual to unravel the curse when she makes up the Lore deficit.)) and involving the entire group. It’ll bring the story of the spell front and centre, and give everyone a hand in crafting it. And that just makes the game better.

It gives everyone a taste of the magical cool that is the Dresdenverse.

Feints & Gambits: This Is Who We Are

This past Saturday was the character creation session for the Feints & Gambits campaign that I’m starting up. After a little bit of schedule juggling, I managed to get all six players in the same room for the session, which is vital for the DFRPG character creation to really shine ((The game sessions themselves are going to be quorum-style, with a minimum of three players. That should make scheduling easier.)). Start time was delayed slightly by the Santa Claus Parade ((Tied up traffic in the downtown area, and several of the folks were coming across town.)), but we got underway around 8:00, so we were able to wrap things up by midnight.

I had a little surprise for the players, as well: I had burned a little of the midnight oil, and managed to get the setting bible for the game completed and printed for them. So, as they walked in, I handed them each a copy for their very own ((Those of you who might be interested in seeing the finished document, it’s up on our forum in .pdf format here.)), which they seemed to like ((And then, of course, Sandy found a typo within two minutes.)).

Everyone in the game knew the basics of character creation, either from the playtest or from Spirit of the Century, so there wasn’t a lot of set-up that I had to do. We jumped right in, following the phases in the book, and sorting the characters out. Along the way, we had some discussions about different parts of the game: Aspects, Powers, Stunts, Skills, and the like, as players had questions.

Once again, the group character creation really shone. The group brainstorming about Aspects, discussion of character motivation, clarification of background, all of it really fed the whole process. I know that at least a couple of character concepts changed and clarified for the players, and I think everyone came away with a character that was made better by the input of the group. And it was really great to see the players getting more interested in, and more excited by, their characters.

Now, if you read over the setting bible, you’ll see that the fey are a really big factor in supernatural Dublin ((Of course they are! It’s Ireland, for crying out loud!)), and they came up a lot in the character creation, as well. Pretty much every character has at least one encounter with the fey in their background. And these encounters are never good. Why am I commenting on this? Well, because it’s really showing me what the players want in the game. They don’t like faeries, so it makes sense that the fey courts are going to be frequent opposition, or at least complications, in the game.

This is such a useful tool for the GM. After all, we’ve got four different overarching threats in the setting bible, but the players all zeroed in on the fey courts. Not Baba Yaga and her crew. Not the political situation. Not the Church-sponsored strike force. The fey courts. It’s showing me what they find most interesting, what they think is the main theme of the game, and how they look at that theme. Rich, rich fodder for building scenarios.

Not that I’m going to focus everything on the fey courts. I mean, the city creation session comes up with so much stuff that I’d be an idiot to ignore everything but one aspect of it. But it does mean that the fey influence is going to be prevalent and pervasive. And most likely annoying for the characters.

I took a little extra time swapping around the novels for the guest-star phases to make sure that the net of connections spread wide enough. I wanted to make sure that everyone got two different guest stars, and guest-starred in the stories of two different characters, giving them connections to four of the six characters in play. It just makes it easier to draw everyone together if the network has more connections.

So, who are the characters?

  • Aleister Usher, Venatori Guardian
  • Kate Owens, Wiccan Seeker
  • Rogan O’Herir, Were-Cat Stalker
  • Firrin O’Beara, Changeling Social Engineer
  • Nathaniel O’Malley, Angry Irish Spellslinger
  • Mark O’Malley, Irish Mystic Hacker ((Not hacker in the computer sense, you understand. Hacker in that he tinkers with the ideas and rules of magic, mainly looking to circumvent them.))

Once the character creation phases were done, we talked a little about what the next steps were. The consensus was that everyone wanted to stop for the evening, and to assess the more mechanical bits of character creation – Powers, Skills, Stunts, etc. – on their own, with me answering questions and providing advice via e-mail. So that’s what we did.

So far, I’ve seen at least preliminary builds from three of the six players, and they all look good. I’m getting excited to run the game. In fact, I’ve scheduled the first one for two weeks from the character building. That should, I hope, get them moving on finishing up the characters. I think I’m going to be doing some playing with the Glass Bead Game, as suggested by Rob Donoghue on his blog, to put together the first session.

It’ll be fun.

Fearful Symmetries: Fireworks

Last Friday was Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. One of my players pointed it out to me ((As if I needed to be told. I’ve read V for Vendetta!)), and I told her that I knew about it, and had planned some explosions for the Fearful Symmetries game we had planned that night.

Because I had.

We picked up the game with our heroes having moved to a bolt-hole provided to them by Zuckerbastl to keep them out of Malvora sight. Emeric had recently learned how to change the appearance of his human guise ((By way of a stunt we cooked up and the expenditure of a point of Refresh. I knew he wouldn’t hang on to a Refresh Rate of 2 for long!)), and Izabela used her biomancy to change her appearance to that of a young man. Thus disguised, they decided to carefully try and pursue their path forward.

Emeric made the rounds of his network of contacts in disguise, bringing them word that he was going to be unavailable and out of sight for a time, and that it might be safer for everyone to distance themselves from him and thus avoid the worst of the Malvora attention. He also went to see Reverend Nicola at the chapel on Petrin’s Hill, to thank him for the blessing he had received ((Which had proved very helpful against the Arkady.)). The good Reverend offered to bless him again, which Emeric accepted.

Izabela, meantime, went back to Gold Lane to continue her investigation of the curse surrounding it, which seems to have become a bit of an obsession for her. She found that there were mystic anchor points to the spell around its perimeter, sunk deep in the ground, so she used her Sight to get a better idea of what sort of thing she was dealing with. I described a web of chains of various metals, inscribed with arcane symbols, rising from the anchor points into the air above the centre of Gold Lane, with smaller, finer chains leading to barbed hooks sunk into the flesh of the inhabitants. In the midst of the chains, hovering over middle of Gold Lane, was a giant humanoid, wrapped in the chains so as to be almost obscured. It had vast, shining wings stretching out from its shoulders, and a huge sword of fire ((I was going for a kinda Final Fantasy look to the whole thing, but not too obviously so.)) – apparently, another angel tied into service.

Now, this hit her pretty hard with the mental stress, and she got to keep her Third Eye open an extra round to look at it some more. When she finally got her Third Eye closed, that’s when I had Kirchoff ((Who I had elevated to Named NPC after he got away from her last session, albeit minus an arm.)) pop out of the shadows and hit her with his Incite Emotion power. This caught her pretty much blindsided, and she took another hefty hit in the brain, sufficient to inflict a consequence, before she even spotted him. At that point, though, she pulled the gloves off and blasted him with force. He took the hit, but it didn’t put him down, and he scarpered again.

She headed over to the Goblin’s Brewery for a bit of a rest and refreshment, which is where Emeric currently was, talking with Amadan, who seemed to be in good spirits, even buying food and drink for his guests, and hinting that he had the line on a wager that he was expecting to pay off. Emeric asked him to put the word out that he and Izabela had left town, but Amadan proposed that, instead, he would put the word out that the pair were hiding in the cellar of the house where Amadan had rooms, so that they could set up a trap.

This worked, sort of. Izabela wrapped the room in a ward that would prevent the fear abilities of the White Court from being effective, and they settled in to wait. Some time after midnight, the attack came, but it was indirect – the vampires set fire to the building. Emeric extinguished the fire with his pyromancy, and the pair of them went cautiously upstairs to see what they could see. When they got to the second floor, a grenado came flying in through the window.

Izabela swatted it back out and high over the city, where it exploded ((See? Fireworks!)), and they both went to the window to try and see where it had come from, and thus both were fired upon by the snipers set up across the street. These snipers, not wanting to face these folks head on, took off across the rooftops, escaping pretty quickly.

They’d had enough, now. They headed back across the river to the Malvora manor, where the guards were arrayed in the yard in front of the house. Not bothering with subtlety, Emeric set the house on fire, and Izabela threw a whirlwind into the guards to clear their way to the house.

I didn’t want to turn the hunt through the burning house for Lukrezia Malvora into a dungeon crawl, so I switched to a very narrative approach for this stage. They made their way through the place, shooing out the mortals, killing the vampires (about a dozen of them), and eventually finding Lukrezia’s bedroom. Lukrezia wasn’t there, but they found her hidden closet full of blackmail information, including a file on the Valdstejn family.

They were pretty much at loose ends at that point, so they went back to the basement to retrieve Kirchoff’s arm – which was, of course, missing. But Amadan had a surprise for them: he had caught them a White Court vampire, and had it strapped to a table.

And that’s where we left it.

Feints & Gambits: Our Dublin

After much fussing about with schedules, we managed to get everyone in the same room for several hours last Friday night and do the city-building for our new DFRPG game.

I’ve talked before about how much help doing the collaborative city-building is, and how it gives the players and characters a real emotional connection with the setting, but I don’t know if I’ve stressed enough what a great job it does just getting people excited to play. The way the possibilities start stacking up, the ideas flowing, the hints at stories, the outright conflicts – by the end of the evening, everyone is absolutely pumped to play in the city you’ve built.

At least, that’s been my experience whenever I’ve run the city-building.

So, on Friday, we trekked ((Through the first snowfall of the season, no less.)) out to the wilds of semi-rural ((I come from a much less populous section of the province, so the ruralness doesn’t quite reach the standards I am used to.)) Manitoba. We got into the actual process of city-building around 8:00, and finished up shortly after midnight, so we had a solid four hours of brainstorming and idea bashing.

In that time, we came up with ((There are a larger number of the various things we came up with than are probably necessary – or recommended. But it is a larger group, with six players, and everyone was very excited to be doing this, so I ran with it. We’ll see what things hold interest and generate story once play begins, and what things fall by the wayside, or become background colour.)):

  • Four Themes
  • Four Threats
  • Sixteen main power blocs
  • Eighteen Locations
  • Twenty-eight Faces
  • Fifty-five Aspects

We also wound up with a very cool version of Dublin, one where the Summer and Winter Courts are using the city ((And all of Ireland, really.)) as a gameboard in their eternal struggle for dominance, where the initial financial boom is starting to fade, where greedy human land developers have control of the politicians, while organized crime has infiltrated the police. Normal folks are still normal folks, trying to get by, but the echoes of the Trouble still rear their heads from time to time, and a new wave of invaders – Eastern Bloc gangs and supernatural creatures, led by Baba Yaga ((They came up with this one. They can’t blame me for how much I hurt them with it.)) – is pushing its way in.

I made sure that everyone had a chance for input, and that everyone got something they wanted in the city. I also made sure that everything that went in had approval from the whole group. As a GM running the city-building, I find that I slip more and more into the role of facilitator, guiding the process and helping to keep the group focused. Also, making sure we have consensus on the big decisions. It’s kind of a weird situation, where I feel myself almost outside of the main process, so much so that I’m apologetic when I make a suggestion or float one of my own ideas ((Which is silly; I’m as much a part of the group as anyone, and my ideas are as valid, even if I am the GM.)).

Now, I’m working on compiling the notes from the session into a setting bible, much as I did with the Fearful Symmetries campaign. One nice thing about setting the game in a modern city is that there are loads of pictures of the various locations up on the Internet that I can use to illustrate the bible ((And a nice thing about the group having picked Dublin is that I was doing research on the city anyway, preparatory to a trip there next fall. Gave me an excuse to buy a couple more travel books.)). So far, we’re looking at 23 pages with just the headings and the location pictures; figure 40-50 pages once the actual text copy goes in. That’s my project for this weekend, hoping to have it out to my group early next week.

I will also probably post it up on the campaign forum when finished.

Oh. The last thing we did that night as far as setting creation goes is pick a name for the campaign. The group decided on Feints & Gambits.

Now, we are working to schedule the character creation session. That’s the last session that I require full attendance for; after that, we move to a quorum style of play: I schedule the games, and we run as long as at least three players show for it.

Things are starting to come together for the game, and I am very pleased.

Dresden Files RPG Demo: Return to Magical Winnipeg

Last Thursday night, I ran a demo session of DFRPG for a group of players who are planning to start up a new campaign. Karla and Trachalio, whose names you will have seen in the comments of this blog from time to time, are two of the DMs running D&D Encounters with me on Wednesday nights, and Karla is planning to GM DFRPG, with Trachalio and some others from the Encounters group. After a bit of a misfire running Spirit of the Century, Karla wanted to get a little more of a handle on the FATE mechanics before starting the game, so I said I’d run a one-shot for them to give them a taste.

Now, I knew from reading some of the reports from the game launch at Origins that, when the Evil Hat folks run demos, they built in a bit of the character creation, so I sent an email to Fred Hicks asking how they did that ((And thanks to Fred for the answer!)). He said that they usually build the pregens up to the point of the guest star phases, and have the people at the table finish them up. It gives them a taste of the cool character creation, and really cements the characters into a group. So, I whipped up ((When I say “whipped up,” I mean “spent several days trying different things and fiddling with them to get a decent mix with a wide range of possibilities but limited complexity.” Character creation in the game is very fun, but not all that quick. I also found that building the characters on my own, without the group brainstorming and kibitzing, was kinda boring.))a stack of pregens to the required level of done-ness.

To help keep things simple, I decided that I would build the characters at Feet in the Water level, but it soon became clear that, if I wanted to give the group some experience with the whole range of mechanics and possibilities in the game, I needed someone with access to both Thaumaturgy and Evocation ((Or, as I finally settled on, Channeling and Ritual.)), so I upped the power level to Up to the Waist. Here’s the list of the six characters I used:

  • Apprentice Wizard
  • Coyote Shifter
  • Herald of Night
  • New Age Wiccan
  • Rookie Cop
  • Wendigo’s Child

I sweated some time on coming up with a solid scenario that would involve them all and show off the various types of mechanical things that go on in a game. In the end, I went with a very loose framework to allow me room to improvise as required, and just put together a fairly simple situation for them to get involved in. In play, this turned out to be a good choice, because it let me very easily weave in the relationships that had been built at the table between the characters doing the guest-star phases ((It also made it very easy to expand or collapse the chain of investigation, allowing me to pace the game to fit the time available to us. It being a weeknight, we pretty much wanted to make sure we were done by 11 or so.)).

So, we gathered together that evening, and I gave a quick rundown of the FATE mechanics. Then we handed out the player folders ((Each one contained not only the character sheet, but a cheat sheet for that character, with all the math done for combat and spellcasting, along with a write-up of all the powers and stunts the character had. This ranged from a single page for the Rookie Cop – a Pure Mortal – to five pages for the Apprentice Wizard, who needed rote spells and some examples of rituals.)) and ran through the last bit of the character creation. This intro section took about an hour, and had the added benefit of letting me talk more about Aspects. It got everyone pretty fired to create their own characters for their campaign, too, so I figure that’s a big win.

We got underway with the Rookie Cop finding the body of a dead person, eviscerated and savaged, hidden behind a dumpster in the Exchange District, outside the studio apartment ((Well, the large empty space where the Shifter keeps a bed and some clothes, and the wizard comes to practice magic his mentor would not approve of.)) where the Coyote Shifter and the Apprentice Wizard were hanging out. That got people focused pretty quick, and the characters very quickly either called in other characters with whom they had an existing relationship or came up with a reason for their characters to show up without an invite.

Poking around yielded a few clues, with the group coming to the conclusion that this was a ghoul kill. The Apprentice Wizard used the Sight to examine the body, and the New Age Wiccan invoked one of her Aspects to be able to see what he saw, so I went to town on the image ((The alleyway got darker and filthier, with the shadows moving in weird ways, and in the midst of it all, on a pristine white table cloth, illuminated as if by a spotlight, was the naked body of a young woman. Her torso had been slit open and peeled back, revealing her to be full of all manner of food, cornucopia-fashion. Then her head tipped to the side and they saw that her eyes were bottomless, empty pools of darkness.)), and got to hit them both in the brain for some good Mental Stress.

A little investigation revealed that the victim in question was probably a runaway, and with a little New Age Psychometry, they got the image of a chalice of wine, a loaf of bread, and a smiling face at the bus depot ((Which, I’ve been told, has already moved out to the airport, so I retroactively set the adventure a couple of years ago. What can I say? I knew the depot was moving, but I didn’t think it had yet. And I haven’t seen the new one (obviously), so I didn’t have any sort of mental picture to use for the game.)), so they hid the body again, using a warding ritual to make sure no one else would find it, and trundled off downtown to see what they could find out.

At the bus depot, they found someone putting up posters for the Church of the Holy Communion ((Acutally, it was supposed to be the Church of the True Communion, but I misspoke when I first said the name, so I had to stick with it)), a religious community that worked with runaways and homeless young people. Using a little coyote deception, they found out where it was located, and got the name of the fellow who was hanging the posters as a recommendation (and invitation).

They headed out to Osborne Village and the house on Gertrude that the Church used as a hostel. Three of them talked their way inside, while the other three scouted around back. Through a basement window, they saw a room full of canned goods and preserves, as well as some odd-shaped hams hanging from the ceiling. A little sniffing, and the shifter could tell them that the hams were not from pigs. The outside contingent slipped in through the basement window.

Meanwhile, inside, the Wendigo’s Child had managed to arouse some suspicion among the residents, and was herded into the dining area, where the Apprentice Wizard and the New Age Wiccan were already enjoying the soup ((Insert obligatory jokes about the hand in the soup in the Conan movie.)). The church members then pulled out knives and axe handles, and started closing in on next week’s groceries. The Wendigo’s Child used her Incite Emotion power to fill their attackers with despair, while the Apprentice Wizard used the Sight to see that they were in fact tied in some way to actual ghouls – and might be transforming into ghouls themselves. The New Age Wiccan took this knowledge and tried to unravel the bad vibes, weakening the connection between the cultists and their masters.

It worked to a degree, but then our heroes were mobbed by the crazy cultists and had to actually fight back to keep from getting shredded and eaten. The half-wendigo was a pretty rocking melee combatant, and the wizard used air magic to knock the bad guys down. Once there were a fair number down, the wiccan dumped scalding soup on them ((Insert obligatory joke about the head in the soup rolling down the stairs in the Conan movie.)).

When the ruckus upstairs started, the folks in the basement burst out of the store room to find a couple of actual ghouls – as opposed to the human cultists upstairs – heading up the stairs to get in on the fun. A quick tasing by the Rookie Cop, along with a face full of coyote fur, set the first ghoul up for getting clobbered by the Herald of Night, who then invoked his power and Night’s emissary and representative to the Covenant of Two Waters to cow the ghouls and take them into custody.

By that time, we were coming up on quarter to twelve, and I wrapped things up quickly.

All in all, I had a lot of fun with it, and it seemed that the players did, too. I tried to keep the Fate Points flowing freely, and was gratified to see the envious eyes all turning to the Pure Mortal Rookie Cop’s pile of chips and his free-wheeled spending. It reinforces my opinion that Pure Mortals have a coolness all their own in the game.

So, thanks to Karla for inviting me to run the game, and to Ally, Josh, Mike Ryan, and Shawn for playing.

I’m looking forward to hearing about your campaign when it starts running.

Fearful Symmetries: Unpopular

Friday night was the latest session of my Fearful Symmetries campaign. We’ve reached a stage in the game where I had to do very little prep – just print out a sheet or two of stats that I might need. The city has solidified in our minds enough that I can pretty much improvise whatever unexpected scene the players may stick me with, and the foundation of the city creation method that we used means that I know what the different power blocs are up to, what schemes are being schemed, and what consequences are coming to bite the characters in their butts. It’s a nice place to be, GM-wise, because the game feels that much more alive and natural, running on instinct, with a real energy that comes from familiarity on the sides of both the players and the GM.

In short, the game is really starting to sing for me. And I think for the players, too ((At least, I hope so.)).

I broke from my normal practice of asking the players what they intended to do this session. I found that I had two or three levels of stuff ready for them down all of the avenues that they had previously expressed interest in, and two or three things waiting in the wings to jump them if they were too passive, or too easily found, or just looked bored ((Because sometimes, you need to send in the ninjas.)).

Things started off low-key, with Izabella doing some research on who Rudolf could have used to create the curse on Gold Lane, which gave me the opportunity to riff on some of the great, crazy folks that used to hang around Prague when Rudolf II was on the throne ((John Dee, Edward Kelley, Rabbi Loew, and Tycho Brahe, for example. 17th-century Prague rocks for gaming!)). Unfortunately, none of them seemed like they were the kinds of power houses that could have woven the enduring, subtle, devastating curse. She decided that she was going to need to do some more research, trying to get access to some of Rudolf’s papers and things, so I mentioned that nobility of that time often kept their weird stuff in wunderkammers, museums of the strange and wondrous ((As discussed in this little adventure, by some guy I heard of once.)).

Meanwhile, Emeric was worried that something nasty was going to move into the Stag Moat, now that the Arkady was gone. He scouted it out a little, but he’s not really an outdoorsman, so he didn’t trust the fact that he didn’t find anything really amiss there. Given the fact that he is still recovering from the damage he did to himself containing the fire there, I can’t really blame him. He talked Izabella into putting a warning ward on the area, set to signal her if something supernatural moved in ((Complexity for this was up around 16 or so, given the size of the area and the lack of a threshold, and that only lasts a week or two and doesn’t prevent things from entering – just sounds the alarm.)).

Emeric also had a conversation with the dapper little fellow who had given him and Izabella rings after they had wiped out the Red Court rebel Dregana. He said that his master offered Emeric his protection, in return for a pledge of fealty. Emeric passed on this, but did manage to get the name of this master: Valentinus. According to legend, Valentinus was an ancient Black Court vampire ((One rumour Emeric had heard was that, one night, Valentinus was so pissed off at the Pharaoh, he personally killed the first-born sons of every family in the city.)), possibly the first of the Black Court. But not wanting to get tangled any more tightly in vampire politics, Emeric graciously declined the offer.

Izabella decided to try and scry on the (now empty) royal apartments in Prague Castle, to try and find any clue as to the location of Rudolf”s wunderkammer. After some snooping around, she detected some sort of magical emanation from within a section of wall. When she tried to walk through it, she was blasted across the room, and almost had her mind and soul shredded ((She worked the scrying out as a kind of astral projection, giving it a pretty high complexity. That power ran up against a more powerful ward, and Izabelle ended up spending all her Fate Points in one desperate bid to keep from getting erased.)). The unusually powerful ward was explained when the creature who had created it showed up: as far as Izabella could tell, it was an actual angel, named Asariel.

Asariel renewed the ward, and told Izabella that this doorway was forbidden her. He wasn’t very forthcoming about what his role was, or whether he was free or bound ((Though the name Asariel means “He Who is Bound by God.”)), or even what was behind the door. The two things that he told her that she found even vaguely useful were that this doorway was forbidden her, and that the curse on Gold Lane was not of his doing.

I felt that I was neglecting Emeric at this point, so I threw in one of the background plots and had him wake in his rooms to find a living storm cloud trying to steal his sword, Beortning, one of the Dooms. He reacted badly to that, and more so when he found that he didn’t seem able to physically harm the thing. It turned into a good fight, with Emeric using a lot of things in the environment to deal with the storm cloud before getting his hands on the cast iron curtain rod and grounding the electrical storm through it.

By this time, his rooms were pretty much all in flames – not a big deal to him, being a fire giant, but his landlord wasn’t going to be pleased. He put out the fires and went and got Izabella to investigate the area to see if she could determine who had sent the storm spirit, but all she could tell him was that it had been summoned into the room, implying that the summoner had some sort of link to Emeric.

About this time, the city guard showed up, led by Rostov, a… well, friend isn’t the right word. A man with whom Emeric has a profitable financial and informational relationship. Rostov wasn’t his usual genially corrupt self, though, and gave Emeric a bit of a hard time, even levying a fine for disturbing the peace and having a careless fire – a pretty big deal in a city like Prague. The whole time, Rostov kept shooting looks at one of the other guardsmen, and Emeric noticed this fellow had very fancy boots, and was able to write him out a receipt for his fine in a fine, elegant hand, with no misspellings or blots.

Izabella was hanging around, veiled at the time, and she extended the veil around Emeric as they followed the guards back to their guardhouse. There, they split up as Emeric went to have a private word with Rostov, and Izabella decided to follow Kirchoff, the “guardsman” with the nice boots and good penmanship. Rostov told Emeric that word had come down to lean on Emeric from the mayor himself, though there was no indication why that might be.

Izabella uncovered a probable reason as she followed Kirchoff. He somehow penetrated her veil, and hit her with a wave of fear. When that didn’t work on her, he closed on her with blinding speed, and tried to choke her. Unfortunately, a couple of very powerful blasts of pure force tore his arm off and crushed his chest. He conceded at that point, slipping away into a storm sewer, but Izabella had seen enough to figure him for a White Court vampire, and therefor to decide that Malvora was behind this harassment.

She and Emeric gathered up the severed arm, and went to pay a call on Lukrezia Malvora at her estates in Hradcany. They were met at the gate by some rather unhelpful guards ((It was four in the morning, after all. Decent people don’t come calling at that time.)), who eventually escorted them to the house, but said that the lady would not receive them if they were armed. The guard captain explained that, first of all, one just didn’t come armed into a lady’s home and presence and, secondly, that after the angry threats and accusations the pair had been making, there was no way he was going to let armed enemies anywhere near his charge, no matter what sorts of oaths they swore.

This was an interesting interaction, because the guards were, as far as the characters could tell, just ordinary guys doing their jobs. And they were courteous and professional about it, despite Emeric’s bluster and insults – they just refused to budge, and took all reasonable precautions in talking with these apparently deranged and well-armed lunatics. I wasn’t sure if Emeric was going to lay into them with his sword ((I thought of offering a compel at this point, but I don’t like compelling people to do villainous things. Problematic, sure, but not villainous. It’s a dick move.)), but he kept his cool, and they retired for the time being.

A quick conversation with Zuckerbastl, and they had a good safe-house to shelter them while they plot the downfall of House Malvora. What could possibly go wrong?

Three things came out of play that I want to mention:

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important section of the spellcasting chapter in the rules is the sidebar on p270 of Your Story called When Not to Bother. The advice it gives is to not worry too much about the mechanics of casting a spell if it doesn’t add anything to the story or if there’s no real pressure. So, when Izabella casts a spell, we do a quick and dirty assessment of the complexity, come up with a couple of cool things to do to offset any Lore deficit, and declare the spell cast. Now, when things get tight, or when a spell becomes a serious part of the main narrative ((Like her idea of raising Rudolf’s ghost to ask him what the hell he did to Gold Lane, for example.)), we’re still jumping through all the hoops, but mostly we just take it as read that she can cast most spells she can think up if she just takes the time.
  • When I told the players that Kirchoff conceded and slipped into the sewer, they stared at me. I explained again about how concessions work, and they said something like, “That’s what you mean when you say that we get to set the terms of being taken out if we concede? I thought it just meant we were taken prisoner or something!” Concessions are one of the most counter-intuitive things in the game, from the point of view of other RPGs. Now that they see how they work, and that Kirchoff’s got a couple of Fate Points now ((He was just a standard White Court Vampire, no big deal, but now he’s The One That Got Away. Can you say Recurring Villain, boys and girls? I knew you could.)), I could see the wheels start turning, and a new understanding emerging.
  • We whipped up a new stunt for Emeric to take in the game, one that lets him change the appearance of his Human Guise ability. It cost him a point of Refresh, but it lets him take on different appearances. I told him that if he tries to use it to impersonate someone or do something else strange, there’s probably going to be a roll involved, and possibly a Fate Point, depending on circumstances, and he was good with that. Looks like a functional – and not overpowered – stunt on a Supernatural Power.

So, that’s where things stand. Everyone had fun, and we’re looking forward to the next session.

Fearful Symmetries: Hunt’s End

Last Friday night was the latest installment of Fearful Symmetries. We wrapped up one of the man storylines, moved a couple others forward, and the characters brought about a fairly major change in the city. All in all, I felt they had really earned the Major Milestone I awarded at the end of the session.

Over the past few sessions, the characters had got themselves wrapped up in a few different storylines that could easily have led to a good climactic session – the whole Hunter thing, the Petrunas cult, the Gold Lane curse. They did some follow-up on everything, but the deadline on tracking down the fellow who had promised to kill Emeric after one month sort of took priority. So, that’s what they mainly focused on.

They had the name Konstantin Akrady to follow up on, and learned that the man who had threatened Emeric was most likely the Arkady, head of the clan. Konstantin was known to bring game to a butcher named Rostislav, in Hradcany, who had a very strong, but mute, assistant. That was enough to start with.

Izabella had heard of the Arkady clan, old horror stories coming out of northern Russia of shapeshifting bogeymen that had spread east, apparently devotees of the darkest aspects of the Wild Hunt and the Erlking, willing to hunt, kill, and eat anything that offered a challenge. That knowledge cheered them up immensely.

Emeric went to Rostislav’s butcher shop to try and get a line on Konstantin Arkady. Besides getting an oblique hint that he should come by the next day around dawn, he also found out that Evzen, the Petrunas cultist who had approached the characters for their help, had died in a fall. Further investigation revealed that Evzen was drunk and walking along the top of the Hunger Wall, when he fell and broke his back on a rock. Emeric recognized this as a traditional form of sacrifice to Thor, and he and Izabella decided that there must be some sort of infighting within the Petrunas cult that led to Evzen (and his progressive ideals) getting sent home to Thor.

The followed up on that a little bit, checking out the Chapel of St. Lawrence on Petrin Hill, and meeting Pastor Nicola, the priest. Emeric sensed that the pastor had a faith powerful enough to work miracles, but couldn’t decide if the man was what he appeared to be – a fairly tolerant Lutheran who turned a blind eye to the lingering papist tendencies of some of his congregation – or if he was secretly running a pagan cult ((This is sort of an interesting phenomenon. I mean, they know that Nicola is the head of the Petrunas cult, because they decided that in the city creation. But they keep the information from the characters very well. I think they also suspect me of changing some of the minor aspects of the setting to keep the mystery and excitement alive. And they’re right to do so.)).

Well, they wound up meeting Konstantin outside of Rostislav’s butcher shop in the early hours of the morning, as he was dropping off a small cart of dressed deer, boar, and one human ((“For the pies,” he said.)). In the ensuing discussion, he offered to help the characters find and defeat the Arkady, as Konstantin planned to take his place. He promised that, if the pair helped him, the Arkady clan would stay out of the characters’ way, if they stayed out of clan business. The information he gave about the Arkady’s preferred tactics – that he would start whittling away at Emeric’s friends long before the month was up, that the Arkady had no problem running away to fight again later, that the optimum attack was always an ambush or trap – and about the Arkady’s weakness – blessed weapons – were enough to get the characters to agree.

This made me very happy, as they each swore to honour the bargain on their names and powers. The idea of the pair swearing an oath to a monster in order to defeat a bigger monster was something I had been hoping for. Not only does it help reinforce the themes of the game ((Especially the theme Supernatural and Religious Gang Warfare.)), it gives me wonderful hooks to complicate the characters’ lives down the line.

So, preparations. Izabella whipped up a veil that would also mask her scent, both characters got their weapons blessed – Izabella at St. Vitus, Emeric at St. Lawrence ((And how could that come back to bite them?)) – and Amadan gave them a vial of water gathered on the Hill of Sacrifice in the Fey lands under the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, which he said was for direst emergency only ((They didn’t use this, and so still don’t really know what it does.)). Then they used the blood Konstantin had given them to make their way through the Stag Moat, and across into the Mittelmarch and the hold of the Arkady.

Now, my whole plan with the Arkady was that he was a plot-device-level character. Even Konstantin, one of his minions, was statted out at -19 Refresh. Defeating him relied on being able to assemble enough information, leverage, and assistance to defeat his various protections and abilities. The way things worked out, Konstantin had asked the characters to strike at the Arkady, wounding him and causing him to retreat, whereupon Konstantin would use his shapeshifting to follow and finish him. That would replace the Arkady with Konstantin (the new Arkady), free Emeric from his deadline, and basically keep things more or less status quo in Prague.

Things didn’t quite work out that way.

The characters had prepared very well, and accepted a number of compels through the evening, so they had a fair number of Fate Points to burn on the final encounter. The Arkady, overconfident, gave them the first shot for free. Huge mistake. Trusting in his toughness and recovery, not knowing that Emeric had had Beortning blessed, he sucked up a 13-shift hit. Big brouhaha followed, as the Arkady tried to flee, shifting shape madly, but was kept from doing so by Konstantin ((As promised by Konstantin, the other Arkady clansfolk stayed out of things. Emeric had been declared the Arkady’s prey, and so no one would interfere.)).

At this point, I thought that the characters would back off and let Konstantin settle things, but I should really have known better. They followed after the pair, keeping them from getting too far away, and doing more damage to the Arkady. I decided to change things up, seeing as the characters were more involved than I expected, and had the Arkady suddenly pull in all his power from the Mittelmarch demesne around them, as well as from the entire Arkady clan. Everything, including Emeric, but excluding the well-veiled Izabella, burst into flame and began to die as Arkday took on a powerful, monstrous form and prepared to unleash his fury on Emeric for forcing him to destroy his family.

But Izabella had roused the spirits of all the animals the Arkady had killed to harass him ((And paid to keep them under control by buying off a compel that they slip free to attack everyone.)), and Emeric pinned him to the ground with Beortning. As he shriveled and died, the forest kept burning around them.

Once he was ash, Emeric and Izabella started to try and make their way back to the Stag Moat. Faced with the terrible fire, and fearful that it might spread into Prague, Emeric exerted his pyromancy to maximum effect, spending the last of his Fate Points and taking much stress and consequences to suck all the fire into himself, quenching it instantly. They made their way back to the Stag Moat, and that’s where we called the game.

So, Clan Arkady is gone. That’s easily worth a Major Milestone. I also have some city advancement to do – this is going to change the nature and Aspect of Jeleni Prikop. I haven’t decided how, yet, but I’ve got some interesting ideas percolating.

And there’s still a number of things hanging over the characters’ heads, and only about five months left before the Battle of White Mountain and the occupation of Prague by Catholic forces. Plenty of good stories ahead.

He’s Doing It Again!

If you’ve been following my Tweets, you know that last week I sent out invites to my game group for a new Dresden Files RPG campaign. I sent invitations to 11 folks, telling them all that the limit for the game was 6 people. I had all the slots filled within 36 hours.

Now, one of the reasons I sent the invite out to so many people is that I wanted to fill the slots fast; I’m terribly excited about starting a new DFRPG campaign. And I wanted to make sure that all the players who helped with the playtest – plus a couple of others – got invited.

It’s a weird experience for me, inviting players into a campaign at this stage. Usually, I have a pretty solid idea of the world and the big themes before I send an invitation to people, and I usually have an information packet ranging from 2 to 10 pages outlining things. I still sent an information package, but it was more about what I expected in the way of pregame, setting-building participation. It said this:

Okay, folks, you knew this was coming. This is your official invitation to join my Dresden Files RPG campaign. Now, before you get all excited, I’m setting some ground rules and expectations, so read this whole document first before you jump in with a commitment.

The Basics

  • I want to run this game quorum-style, so that we play as long as a minimum number of players can make it.
  • I don’t want players to have to double-up on characters, so if you can’t make it to a session, your character will not participate.
  • To help facilitate this, I’m going to be doing my best to keep things to bite-sized chunks, so that we don’t end a session in a circumstance where your character needs to be there for the next game, nor one where it is unlikely that a character could join the next session.
  • That said, I don’t want to have things quite as episodic as the Hunter game. I would like more of an opportunity to build in longer storylines that span multiple sessions.


These are the things I want to do to establish the game. I would like every player to participate. This will pretty much happen in the order listed.

  • Establish Power Level. There are four different power levels, and I want the group as a whole to choose which one we’re going to use. They are:
    • Feet in the Water: 6 refresh, 20 skill points, skill cap at Great. Enhanced mortal level. You can do stuff even the best of humanity cannot, but only barely.
    • Up to Your Waist: 7 refresh, 25 skill points, skill cap at Great. Low-level supernatural level. You may be a magical being, but you’re not big fish. This is where you can start playing a Sorcerer.
    • Chest Deep: 8 refresh, 30 skill points, skill cap at Superb. Minor-league powers, but at least you’re in the league. This is where you can start playing a Wizard.
    • Submerged: 10 refresh, 35 skill points, skill cap at Superb. Welcome to the show. This is the level we playtested, and is about the level of Harry Dresden at the beginning of Storm Front.
  • Pick a Setting. Where do we want to set the game? Winnipeg? Chicago? Baltimore? Another city? A rural setting? Road game? The Nevernever? I want the group to decide this. Everything is on the table: modern, historical, futuristic, sci-fi, whatever.
  • Build the Setting. I want to go through the city-building method in the book to develop the setting to a playable level. Even if we choose to play in Magical Winnipeg, I still want to go through the new method, even if we use a lot of the same material. For that, I need all the players to do a little prep work.
    • First, read the City Creation chapter in Your Story.
    • Second, do a little thinking about the setting we’ve picked. Make some notes, if you like.
    • Third, come to the city creation session, and we’ll put together the setting following the guidelines in the rules.
  • Build Characters. Character creation will take place in a group session, complete with all phases and the novels being done.
    • Make sure you have a solid character concept in mind, and have looked at the kinds of stunts and powers you will need to make it work. Of course, I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions before and during the session.
    • I am also going to be building two characters as NPCs, so that they have some tie to the PCs.
    • I would like to encourage anyone who is interested to build a second character during this session as an NPC. These characters will belong to me, and become canon in the game world.
  • Finish Up. Once the character creation session is done, we’ll likely need one more group session to finish off the setting creation and allow for any last-minute character adjustments.

Why all this blather?

I want to make sure that you realize, before committing to the game, that I want a fair bit of up-front work from the players to help establish the game. I’m looking at a minimum of an e-mail discussion to set the power level and the basic setting, one group session to build the setting, one group session for character creation, and one follow-up group session to finalize everything.

This is more group involvement than I usually ask for at the start of a campaign, but the way DFRPG is set up, this kind of thing will pay off in a much richer, more tailored campaign, with plenty of things tying the PCs to the world and the NPCs. It will also, I hope, create a greater emotional investment for the players, which will make the game more involving for all of you.

This prep work is taking the place of The Bribeâ„¢ for this campaign.

What’s next?

Read what I’ve written here and, if you want in and are willing to make the commitment I’m asking for, let me know. First six positive responses get in, but I’ll run with as few as three. Deadline for responses is October 1 – if I haven’t heard from you by then, I will consider that a no.

The last page of the invitation was a list of links to articles on this blog and on the DFRPG site about the game that I thought would be useful information.

We’re starting with a discussion about the power level and setting for the game, and brainstorming some character ideas. To facilitate this, I’ve set up a forum. Now, if you’re curious to watch the sausage of the game getting made, you’re welcome to visit the forum as a guest and read the posts; however, I’m only going to be activating accounts for the players and maybe one or two special outsiders, just to keep the conversations uncluttered. Don’t be offended if you try to register for the board and I turn you down.

Still interested in seeing what we’re doing? Okay. Here’s the link.

I’m really looking forward to the game. I can’t wait to see where it’s set and what it’s about.

Fearful Symmetries: The Stag Moat

Friday night was the latest installment of the Fearful Symmetries game.

Emeric and Izabela decided to continue to focus on the person who stuck the knife in Izabela’s door. The only name they really had was Giaccomo Malvora, a White Court nobleman from Naples who was reputed to hunt Jeleni Prikop – the Stag Moat – for the remnants of Rudolf’s menageries that were said to run loose there.

So, they went snooping after Giaccomo Malvora.

Amadan warned them that what was going on looked like the power games that are played by followers of the Hunter, an aspect of the Erlking, and that the encounter the pair had had with the Erlking had marked them as rivals and targets. He also said that, if it was Giaccomo Malvora behind this, that his sister, Lukrezia, the head of the household, would not take kindly to it. Though coming to her attention was probably not a good idea – the Hussites who had thrown the Imperial emissaries out of the window a few months back had been spending some time in Lukrezia’s company, and look what that got everyone.

The plan the heroes came up with was to go into the Stag Moat and try and turn the tables on Giaccomo, or whoever it was hunting them.

This decision came after some substantial time debating, investigating, and preparing, and I’m always glad to see the players caring enough about the game that they do agonize a little over the options and mysteries. The upshot of things, though, is that they didn’t have enough solid information to unravel all the questions, and eventually opted to take action regardless. I’m even gladder when this happens, because nothing drags a game’s energy down like endless dithering and navel-gazing.

It’s a fine line to walk – as a GM, I’ve got to make sure that the mystery is intriguing enough that they puzzle at it, and that the stakes are high enough that they take it seriously. At the same time, I have to make sure that there’s enough time pressure that they are prompted to act, or that the stakes aren’t so high that they refuse to budge before exhausting every conceivable option. The ideal kind of feeling I want when the characters finally put a plan into motion is the essence of the scene in season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just as the gang heads out to face down Glory and rescue Dawn. They’ve done all they can reasonably do, and they just pray it’s enough*.

So, into the Stag Moat, with all their preparations.

Now, at this point, I wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to go. I knew what was going on, and who was behind it, and so forth, but the characters hadn’t uncovered the full picture. When they headed into the Stag Moat, I needed to come up with a satisfying way to wrap up this immediate storyline, though I wanted to make sure there were enough dangling threads that they could eventually come back and find out the deeper secrets*. I decided to make it a gauntlet that they had to run, to prove themselves against the one who had challenged them. And, as all literary challenges must, it had three phases.

The first was a huge bowman in camouflage who almost got Izabela with a javelin-sized arrow. They managed to capture him alive, but he could give them little information, because his tongue had been cut out. They took his weapons and told him to leave the park, which he was only too happy to do.

The second was a larger pack of the nasty, warped hounds they had fought earlier. They wrapped these up fairly quickly, despite the fact that I had the hounds team up and attack in a coordinated manner, using maneuvers to try and bring down the characters. Izabela’s amazing roll on her whirlwind evocation kept them bouncing around in the air with no hope of escape while Emeric roasted them one by one.

Oh. There was also a deadfall trap that destroyed Izabela’s conjured horse, which slowed them down and bottled them up enough for the hounds to make their initial attack.

The last opponent was Giaccomo Malvora, who stalked the characters through the woods, using his Incite Emotion power to make them more and more nervous*. When they finally spotted him, they made very short work, with Izabela binding him up in the spirits of the animals he had killed, and Emeric unleashing the sword Beortning and using it to skewer the White Court Vampire, pinning him to the earth.

As they were questioning the poor, shrieking, burning fellow, another man showed up. He told the characters to let the vampire live, and things pretty much went downhill from there. Emeric got pissy when the fellow didn’t feel that he was in Emeric’s debt for letting the vampire live (the guy explained that it was for the sake of Emeric and Izabela that he made the suggestion), and Izabela got pissy when the man didn’t seem to want to help defend Prague.

The stranger told them that the hunt was over, and gave them each an old stone arrowhead on a leather thong as a trophy. He also told them that he was not the one who challenged them. Izabela asked for the name of the one who had, and was told it was Konstantin Arkady. When Emeric pushed the point of how he had let Giaccomo live as a favour to the man, he tore out the vampire’s heart and ate it, saying again that the favour was his advice to Emeric, not Emeric sparing the vampire.

At this point, Emeric threw the arrowhead on the ground, saying that if the man wasn’t going to honour his debts, then he wanted nothing from him. The stranger said, “That’s the third time you’ve insulted me. You’ve got one chance to take it back.” Emeric declined, and the fellow said, “You’ve got one month to kill me. If you don’t do it in that time, I will come and kill you.”

As a GM, I knew that things would come to a bad end. In fact, I had planned it. See, Emeric is very much the alpha-male, in the best Norse traditions. He never backs down or admits to losing an argument. If you want to put him in his place, you need to put him in his place. Physically. So, I know that whenever I throw another alpha-male into the mix, if that character isn’t instantly and obviously waaaay out of Emeric’s league (Odin) or outside of his circle (Zuckerbastl, Amiel), there will be a fight.

So this guy not showing any obvious power and interfering in Emeric’s life was guaranteed to get a fight going. I wasn’t sure if the fight was going to happen there or not – I was hoping not, but ready if it was going to happen – but I knew that this would generate an enmity that would need to be resolved.

And that enmity is one more tie into the game world for our characters’ emotions.

That’s pretty much where we left it. I gave the characters a significant milestone, and I look forward to seeing what they plan to do next. I know Izabela has had some interesting ideas about the curse on Gold Lane, and they now have the name Konstantin Arkady to look into. There’s still the dangling Petrunas Cult storyline hanging around*, too, and some other things I’ve got on the back burners.

Another fun game.


*Giles: We few, we happy few…
Spike: We band of buggered. Back

*Which I’m not going to talk about here. Back

*I basically cribbed the stats for Lara Raith, and made a couple minor changes on the fly to reflect that Giaccomo’s a hunter in 1620 Prague. And a dude. Back

*Well, not really hanging around, because things have been happening, but the characters don’t know about them, yet. Back

Fearful Symmetries: Complications

Last Friday was the latest episode of the Fearful Symmetries campaign. I did things a little differently than I often do in the game, trying to achieve a specific kind of effect. I don’t know how successful it was; we all had fun, but I felt that maybe I hadn’t provided enough focus and direction.

What was this big change? Well, we’ve been playing for several sessions, now, and the characters are having more of an impact on the setting. In the past couple of scenarios specifically, they managed to get themselves marked by doing a couple of impressive things: bringing the Wild Hunt back to the world for a night, and traveling to Asgard to talk to Odin. I figured that these things would leave a sort of mystical mark on them, making them a little more obvious and visible to others in Prague who could perceive such things.

So, what I did was look at the write-up we had done for Prague, and see who might be interested in such things. I found two specific groups and, rather than picking one, I decided to have both groups come sniffing around for different reasons, and with very different styles. And because some of the things unfolded over time, I wanted to give the players plenty of opportunity to pursue their characters’ agendas in the meantime.

Anway. We picked up pretty much immediately after the attack by the warped dogs on White Mountain, with the characters heading back down into Prague, keeping a sharp eye out for other attacks. Once Izabela was safely behind her wards, Emeric went to the Goblin’s Brewery, and had an interesting discussion with Amadan, where he learned that Amadan could tell that Emeric had been to the Mittelmarch and had a brush with the Erlking. I was glad of this opportunity to dump a little information on the characters about their current visible status, and so was grateful that Emeric had chosen to go talk to someone who would know about it. With this information, Izabela whipped up a specialized veil to mask their magical signatures, and they went about their business.

Emeric has been working on building up a network of contacts and information in the city, so he went on with that, spending some time with Captain Amiel and his men, keeping those ties tight. Izabela finally found another mortal practitioner in Prague: a down-on-his-luck alchemist named Aurelius. She also found the powerful curse on Gold Lane, and had a chat with Rabbi Cohen about it.

During this, Emeric spotted a falcon watching him from time to time. His Lore check told him it was a natural bird with some sort of enchantment on it, so he devised a cunning plan to capture it – which failed, unfortunately; it’s hard to catch a falcon in a city using your hands and a cloak.

The characters also got an invitation to meet with a young nobleman named Evzen, who revealed himself to be a member of the secret Petrunas cult that meets on Petrin’s Hill. He wanted the assistance of the pair to help lend credibility to the cult, setting it up as a viable and attractive alternative to Christianity in the current troubled times. Specifically, he wanted to know what they could tell him of the Dooms, and to open the Rainbow Bridge for him. Emeric was somewhat sympathetic to the man’s desires – Petrunas is a local cognate of Thor – but Izabela was very concerned that Evzen seemed to know so much about them, and wouldn’t agree to anything unless Evzen agreed to reveal the source of his information. In private conversation, she told Emeric that she was certainly willing to help the cult, despite her fairly devout Catholicism, but that she could not let the fact that someone knew who she was and that they had been to Asgard go uninvestigated.

Evzen was, however, bound by his oaths to the cult, and said he could not reveal the source of his information. He said that he would speak to his fellows, and see if a meeting could be arranged to satisfy Izabela’s concerns. He said he would contact them in a day or two.

The next day, Izabela went back to Gold Lane to study the curse there, and Emeric made the rounds of his contacts, looking for information on the dogs which had attacked them. He turned up some rumours of dangerous creatures in the local parks, especially Jeleni Prikop, and found someone who told him that there had been a number of disappearances around there, and that Giaccomo Malvora, a rather brash young Italian nobleman, was known to go hunting in the dangerous parks. Izabela told him later that the Malvoras were White Court Vampires who fed on fear.

Emeric also found himself watched by dogs that day. Not large, warped ones, but not the scruffy mongrels that frequented the streets of Prague, either. These were well-cared-for hunting beasts. He managed to snag a few hairs from one of them, and brought them to Izabela to try and find out who was sending the beasts to spy on them.

Izabela managed to reach back through the mystic link from the dog to a powerful, feral force that seemed as much beast as man. I hit the player with a compel at that point, suggesting that she use her Sight to get a real good look at whatever it was. She did so, and saw a powerful man wrapped in many animal skins, holding the leashes of a vast hunting pack, with a pile of animal carcasses behind him. Over them all was the shadow of the Erlking.

As she came out of her Sight-induced trance, there was a loud thud at the door of her rooms. When they opened up, they found a huge hunting knife driven deep into the wood of the door, and no one around. They took a few seconds for Izabela to weave a compass ritual around the knife, so it would lead them to the one who had wielded it, and then took to the streets. They were told on the street, when they asked, that a hawk had flown out of the building shortly before the characters came out, and they followed the pull of the knife down to the Vltava, where the trail was lost. They tried to cross the Charles Bridge and pick up the trail on the other side, but as they passed beneath the Old Town Tower, the mystical defenses that the Templars had placed there to ward the bridge against Saracen magic unwove the finding spell and turned the knife red-hot.

They went back down to the river’s edge and Izabela tried to speak to the ghosts there to find out what had happened – they assumed that the hawk was a shapeshifter who had flown into the river to rinse away any connection to the knife, but they wanted confirmation. The ghosts who appeared to Izabela were all fighting men armed with spears and shields, arrayed along the riverbank, and they would not answer her questions, saying that the Queen was the only one who could. Izabela asked to speak with the Queen, and face formed out of the waves and told Izabela that yes, a hawk had flown down into the water, and then flown away again.

Now, the characters are very concerned about this fellow looking for them, and also are starting to get concerned that they haven’t heard back from Evzen yet. I figured that was a good place to leave things, with them trying to think of a way to track down this shapeshifter with ties to the Erlking.

As I said, the session was a little muddled and unfocused, but I hope I haven’t confused things too much. We’ll find out next session.