Last night was the latest installment of the Fearful Symmetries campaign. My players caught me completely off-guard with what they decided to do, but I think it all worked out okay in the end.
We got a bit of a late start to the game because of some real-world obligations*, and then spent a little bit of time eating*, before settling down to play. During the meal, we talked a bit about how enchanted items work – it’s another layer of complexity on the spellcasting system that the characters are starting to feel ready to explore, though none of them went for it just yet.
I had checked what the plans for the players were via e-mail earlier in the week, and they had said that they wanted to take care of some mundane, personal stuff – moving into new rooms in Prague, getting to know people in the neighbourhood, resting up after the injuries taken last session, stuff like that – but also to see what could be done with the hammer they had taken from the fire giant.
Their initial examination of the hammer showed them that it was an item of power, and had dark energies woven into and around it. That precluded just leaving it lying around, but they also didn’t want to hang on to it for too long, lest something bigger and badder than the fire giant come looking for it. And they didn’t want to try destroying it until they knew it was safe to do so, and the right method to dispose of it.
I liked the attention they were paying to the hammer, so I decided to make it something more than just a powerful magic weapon. Emeric is carrying a sword called Beortning (Brightening), which is supposed to be the flaming sword his father, Surtr, carries with him to start Ragnarok. I decided to make the hammer something similar, giving it the name Faurbauti (Cruel Smiter), and making it one of the four Dooms (also called The Pitiless) – the weapons the giants will wield against the gods during the final battle*. I also decided that, since Faurbauti is fated to be at Ragnarok, destroying it is futile, if not impossible. In keeping with the fatalism of the Norse myth cycle, it will be at Ragnarok, no matter what is done to it.
Anyway, with these things in mind, I fleshed out an adventure structure where different things happen depending on how the characters try to deal with the hammer. Asking different people about it gives them different information, looking in different places causes different things to happen, etc. I’m not going to talk at length about what those things are because, as mentioned above, the characters bypassed pretty much all of that stuff and caught me completely off-guard. That means I’ve got a bunch of raw adventure material that I can reuse in a different situation.
I also decided to take some advice from this post by Rob Donoghue, and add another plotline – one that sprang from the players’ actions, but was not actively pursued by the players. Basically, at 12 Refresh, these characters can handle most moderately nasty things I care to throw at them, so rather than just ramping up the power and undercutting their competence, I decided to ramp up the complexity of the situation by throwing another agenda and adversary into the mix.
Anyway. Catching me off-guard. Right. That was my point.
After we did a little straight roleplaying stuff, with Izabela setting up her new rooms and Emeric getting to know some of the neighbourhood folks, the characters started asking a few questions of various folks about Petrin Hill – Petrunas, the god who used to be worshiped there, is a cognate of Thor, and Emeric reasoned that, if there was one god who would want to keep a powerful weapon out of the hands of giants, it was Thor. The Contacts rolls and Lore rolls and other rolls to conduct the investigation came up craps, so they wound up getting very little information; just enough, in fact, that they became unsure if the Petrunas worship here was indeed a branch of Thor worship.
I did, however, show them some good pictures of Petrin Hill and the Hunger Wall to set the scene in their minds.
Not making any progress that way, Izabela decided to perform a ritual to see what she could discover about the hammer. This worked, and I gave her a vision of the forging of the weapon on the rune-etched anvils of the dwarves deep below the earth, a look at each of the four Dooms (Beortning, Faurbauti, and a spear and axe I haven’t named yet), and a vision of the four weapons coming together in Ragnarok.
Faced with that image, they decided there was only one thing to do with the hammer: take it to Asgard and give it to Odin.
Did I mention they caught me off-guard?
So, they worked up a ritual to catch a rainbow in a prism, sacrifice their magical horses and, dressed in floppy hats and blue traveler cloaks, walk over Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, and try and talk their way in to see the All-Father.
Now, I wasn’t ready for this solution, but it was a cool idea, and the players were very excited about it, so I decided to go with it, despite the intimidation factor. See, Clint, who plays Emeric, knows (as far as I can tell) everything about Norse mythology. Penny, his wife, who plays Izabela, knows slightly less, only because she’s not as interested in it. I, on the other hand, know a little bit about it, but it’s not my main area of expertise and interest. And here I was, having to present a trip to Asgard to these two, with no prep time.
Thankfully, neither of my players are purists about how this stuff gets used in game. They allow the GM to twist things for the purpose of game, and just go with it to have fun. Still, a little intimidating.
Over the Rainbow Bridge they went, talking their way past Heimdall, giving their binding oaths to do no harm, and up to Odin’s seat in Valhalla. Given that Emeric is the son of Surtr, and wields the sword that Surtr will use to start Ragnarok, his welcome was not entirely warm, but the two mortals were made guest-friends of Valhalla by Heimdall, and Odin upholds the pledge. After a little discussion, Odin accepts Faurbauti from Emeric, and asks what he can give them to show the generosity of his hall.
I set this up as a bit of a sneaky trap. Odin is a good guy, but he’s tricky, and untrusting. So, I decided that he was going to be judging the characters based on what they asked from him; anything material he gave them was going to be unlucky, or draw unwelcome attention. However, Emeric asked only for Odin’s trust – an honourable thing in the culture – and Izabela asked for the gift of tongues. Given Odin’s questing for knowledge and secrets and power, he had to respect this request, too. He decided that the two were worthy of some respect. Emeric was given a ring off Odin’s own hand (a sign of trust and favour), and Odin promised to tell Izabela where she could obtain the power she sought, though she would have to win it for herself.
Their audience over, they were given the hospitality of the hall for the night. Emeric had a bit of a pissing contest with one of the Einharjar to win a more respected place at the tables than what they were assigned, and Izabela got a private meeting with Odin, where he told her that, if she wanted the gift of tongues, she would need to seek out the Rimewell.
I conflated a few sources to come up with the idea of the Rimewell – John Myers Myers featured the Hippocrene in his book Silverlock, and Norse mythology tells of Odin drinking from Mimir’s Well to gain wisdom (after having sacrificed his eye as the price of the drink), and how he hung himself on Yggdrasil for nine nights to gain wisdom and the charms he sought. I decided that, as with the Silverlock Hippocrene, the Rimewell would grant a different gift with each of three sips: the first would give the gift of poetry, the second the gift of tongues, and the third would give the gift of prophecy. Odin warned her not to take a fourth drink.
He also told her that the Rimewell was guarded by the Rimewitch, and that she would have to persuade her to allow Izabela to drink.
After a night of partying, the pair depart Valhalla in the morning, down the Rainbow Bridge Heimdall summons for them. There, as he unleashes his power, they get their first glimpse of what it means to be a god: his presence in that brief moment almost overwhelms them with its majesty and potency. I made a point of indicating that the power they sensed here dwarfed that of the Erlking, and that Heimdall is one of the lesser Aesir.
Back to Midgard they went, deciding to seek the Rimewell in Utgard another time from a different direction. And, when they arrived back in the earthly realm, I hit them with the additional plotline, just to keep them guessing: they were attacked by a pack of magically enhanced dogs. They dispatched them pretty easily, and found that each was marked with a curved knife brand, which Izabela recognized as a symbol she had seen branded in the flesh of a slain wizard in Buda-Pest, and was rumoured to be the mark of a secret clan of assassins.
During the fight, Emeric spotted movement in the trees away from the dogs, but when he charged to investigate, a hawk flew away, dodging his blast of fire in the process.
And that’s where we left things last night. All in all, I’m pleased with the way things went, and with the different threads of story coming together in the campaign. I think everyone had fun, too, and the whole improvised visit to Valhalla came off about as well as I could have hoped.
Next game is in three weeks. Now to finish my prep for the Armitage Files game tomorrow afternoon.
*Happy birthday, Kieran! Back
*If you know Norse mythology, you know I’m just making crap up at this point. But it gives an interesting context for some stuff, and lays some pipe for future scenario ideas. Back