Feints & Gambits: Beer Bash

Friday night was the latest Feints & Gambits session. I had four players for this one, and by Thursday, I had no idea what the scenario was going to be, but I wanted it to be quick enough to run in a single session, but still fun. I mentioned this on Twitter, and got this reply from @HarriedWizard:

@Neal_Rick Look up my “Last Call” case file. Pretty good stuff there.

I’d been avoiding drawing too heavily on the source material for scenarios, because most of the players have read the entire series. Also, as the game is set in Dublin, it takes some tweaking to make the (very American) stories fit the city we had created for play.

But this story was about beer, and if I can’t work a story about beer into a game set in Dublin, I’ve got no business running games at all.So, I yanked the basic premise of the story ((Beer that makes people go nuts.)) and the complication ((The beer is going to be distributed at a football game.)), and twisted them around a little.

First off, I decided to go for a very Irish ((At least, as “very Irish” as a Canadian boy who’s never been to Ireland can get.)) replacement for the football game, and made it a hurling match, held at Croke Park. Then I had to decide on the beer. The first instinct was to make it Guinness, but Guinness has a very special place in this game, and I didn’t want to mess with that. I decided it was a microbrew, called Forth Ale. And I had to change the villain behind the plot – well, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to make things a little different from the story as to involved parties and motivation, and I had a great candidate in the offing.

Amadán na Briona, the Fool of the Forth. This is a nasty legend of a powerful, cruel, trickster faerie, who is known for driving mortals mad on a whim. He’s also the ancestor of Firinne, our changeling player character ((Firinne wasn’t at the game, and I’m interested to hear what her reaction to this is.)). This is a departure from what the characters seem most preoccupied with, right now, which is the whole ghosts-are-free thing they caused, but I did that very deliberately for a few reasons:

  • First, during city creation and character creation, fey politics and game-playing was, far and away, the most prevalent element that came up, and I don’t want it to fall by the wayside.
  • Second, I want to make the point that the freed ghosts are causing problems on top of all the regular problems the characters deal with.
  • Third, I didn’t want to get in a rut with a whole bunch of ghost stories. They tend to lose their impact if grouped too close together.

Now, Amadán is someone I want to be scary, mysterious, and too powerful for the characters to go after head-on, so that meant I needed to give him some catspaws, and that easily fell to the Snowbirds, the Winter Court street gang. I was working that stuff out, when it occurred to me that, if I kept using Winter as the antagonists, Summer would come across as too much the good guys. Besides, making the Sunshine Boys (the Summer Court gang) the bad guys here would keep the group guessing a little longer.

I also wanted a different climax from the story ((Go read the story if you want to know what that is.)). I thought it would be fun to have the characters actually helping the Snowbirds destroy the beer, fighting against the Sunshine Boys.

So, with this fleshed out, we started Friday evening with a bar brawl ((We pretty much had to, because Nate wasn’t there. It’s become traditional to have a bar brawl when his bar-brawl-loving character isn’t with the group.)) at Cohen’s which is the pub that Aleister lives above. I decided I wanted to give him a chance to use some of the combat skills he’s invested in, so I had him hear the beginning of the brawl, rather than just see the aftermath. He waded into the fray, and managed to save the life of the barman, though he got beat up a bit in the process.

He also managed to call the other characters for help in the middle of the fight, which I thought was pretty groovy. They showed up in the aftermath, of course, when the bar was surrounded by police. Kate wrapped herself in a veil and went in to check on Aleister, while Mark and Rogan went chasing off after some young fellows who were watching the bar wearing Sunshine Boys colours. The fey gentlemen in question weren’t very forthcoming with information until Rogan shifted to smilodon form, knocked them into a dark alley, and sat on them. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much in the way of information to give, but Mark managed to exact the promise of a service from them in exchange for letting them go.

One thing they did mention was that whatever was going on must have been big, because the Black Cat was involved. Rogan had heard of the Black Cat, a sort of boogeyman the fey used to scare each other. He was supposedly a nasty that showed up when mortals were being messed with and slapped down anyone taking advantage of the poor, magicless folk.

Inside the bar, Aleister answered some questions from the police, and met Inspector Gene Hunt ((Yeah, he’s patterned after the character from the UK TV series Life on Mars. It’s just such a good character, we decided to use him.)), who had taken charge of this case. Mark recognized him when he left, and filled in the rest of the gang on his reputation as quite possibly the hardest and most cunning copper in Dublin, and someone to steer well-clear of. Rogan began suspecting that he might be the Black Cat.

Once the police had cleared out, the group cheerfully violated the crime scene and began snooping around. They quickly discovered the enchantment, and tracked it to the beer, and then found a single unbroken bottle of Forth Ale that had rolled under the bar. Mark looked at it with the Sight, and got a good look at the nightmares that had been poured into the bottle. He also saw that the label said, instead of Forth Ale, A. na Briona, and worked out what that meant.

Snooping in the pub’s office turned up a flyer, advertising Forth Ale, and showing that the brewer (whose name, address, contact information, etc., was nowhere t be found) had provided ten cases as free samples to Cohen’s, and was planning on distributing thousands of free samples at Croke Park the next day at the hurling match. With the kind of thing that had happened at Cohen’s, and what Mark had seen in the bottle, they decided that would be a very bad idea.

They split into two teams, then. Aleister and Rogan went to tell Inspector Hunt about the threat, while Mark and Kate went out to Croke Park to see if they could forestall things before the game the next day. Rogan and Aleister tried to play on Rogan’s family name and her position in society, which did not sit well with the good Inspector, so he made things difficult for them – right up to the moment Rogan decided he couldn’t push her around, and shut him down. He backed off at that point ((But this is Gene Hunt. He’s keeping score.)), and said he’d look into things. At that point, Rogan and Aleister headed out to Croke Park to meet up with the others.

The others had found the loading doors at the park, which was apparently being watched by mysterious figures in the shadows. As they were trying to decide what to do about that, there came a tapping at the car window, and a pixie in Snowbird colours asked if they were there to get the beer, too. Mark arranged with the pixie that the rest of the Snowbirds hiding off in the darkness would charge the building when Mark approached it to draw out the defenders. At this point, Rogan and Aleister showed up ((Thanks to a Fate Point spend from Rogan, invoking her Right Place, Right Time aspect.)), and everybody decided to head for the doors at once.

Well, a swarm of pixies came in out of the dark, while the loading doors started rolling up and an army of leprechauns came storming out. Other fey from both sides came crashing together, a total of 150 to 200 faeries, and the characters decided that maybe they were a little outmatched to fight their way through. Mark and Kate collaborated on a fast thaumaturgical veil ((They’re getting pretty good at working together.)) and group slipped through the melee to get inside, where four semi trailers were parked, each marked with Forth Ale signs.

Cowering down behind the trailers, Mark worked a ritual with the bottle he still had from Cohen’s, and shattered all the bottles in the trailers. Unfortunately, that pretty much gave away the fact that the characters were there, and everyone turned on them. Aleister and Rogan held off the angry Summer fey while Kate used a potion to dissolve the locked door into the stadium itself. As people started escaping, Aleister shot one faerie dressed in silver armour through the eye, prompting another to challenge him to single combat. Before Aleister could reply, Mark filled the air with shrieking, grasping spirits ((Basically the Whirlwind spell, modified to use Spirit instead of Air.)), letting everyone make a clean getaway.

That’s where we left it. I’m pretty happy with the session; it’s left some interesting questions to be answered, and I managed to do a little better than usual at keeping the Fate Points flowing. All in all, fun stuff.

So, thanks again to @HarriedWizard for pointing me in this direction. I owe you one.

Feints & Gambits: The Chain Hound of Pussy’s Leap

Last Friday was the latest session of my Feints & Gambits campaign. I had four players, and had planned to make this session much more focused, with a clear objective and a problem that could be solved in one evening, as a contrast to the longer, more sandboxy style of the last couple of scenarios. At the same time, I didn’t want to make things too straightforward; that always smacks of railroading.

This can be a fine balance to strike in a game like The Dresden Files RPG. To be faithful to the source material, you need an element of mystery and investigation, but this creates the hazard that the group will flail around looking for the plot coupon that lets them progress. If the coupon is too obvious, then they feel led around by the nose, which can make them obstreperous. Telling the group, “You need more information. How do you get it?” can result in them trying the same things, but doing them harder ((Whatever that means. “You don’t find anything under the bed.” “I look harder.” “Sigh.”)). And, when they run out of easy ideas, they can fall back on the old standby of divinatory magic ((Want a good tip to keep divination magic from overwhelming investigation? Make the the spellcaster be very specific about what the ritual is looking for, and how it’s going about it. It forces the group to view divination as just one more investigatory tool, rather than the magic solve-it button. “I use divination to find out who killed the ogre.” “Cool. How?” “Ummm… How about if I take blood from one of the wounds and use it’s connection to the murder weapon to lead me to that?” “Awesome! How complex are you making this?” Like that. Now, the spell can get them some valuable information, but doesn’t short-circuit the mystery. And other investigatory skills are still valuable.)). This can make mysteries and investigations both frustrating and boring for the players.

Now, when I run a game with a wide-open mystery, I try and make every path a path forward, but the value of forward changes with the path. So, with the whole Easter plot, any avenue of investigation would lead them in to the main plot, but from different angles. Thus, they followed the thirteen black iron daggers, and found the necromancer cult, instead of following the threats from the fey and finding the ghostly battle, but in either case they wound up dealing with the ghosts of the Easter Uprising, and the plot to take control of them. That said, it gets hard to tell in a game like that if you’re actually making progress towards anything really important, because you don’t know what the end-goal is.

So, this session, I wanted something that had a very definite goal, and a short trip from finding out about it to resolving it. I came up with several options, most of them reflecting some part of the changed nature of Dublin now that all the ghosts had been loosed. One in particular really got me thinking and planning, but I quickly realized that it would work best as a longer arc, so I’m saving that for later. In the end, I went with a quick note that one of the players had sent to me immediately after the setting creation session back last October. Here’s what she sent me:

Chained Hound

Location: Dublin – Pussy’s Leap, Templeogue area: The large black canine which walked his area created the sound of jangling chains with each step it took.

Now, I have to say, one of the things that attracted me to this hook was that there was a black dog at a place called Pussy’s Leap, but that’s just me. A bigger factor was that I wanted to throw in a good, old-fashioned monster hunt, where the folk didn’t need to be terribly worried about bystanders and could just cut loose. But I also wanted to tie this in to the new Aspect on Dublin, All the Ghosts are Free. To that end, I tweaked things a bit from the standard black dog stories, building a new backstory ((Which I’m not going to mention here, because the group failed to uncover it, and some parts of it may have consequences.)) and a hook into the story for the characters.

There was another thing I wanted to try out this session. I haven’t been happy with the lack of flow in the Fate Point economy – mainly, I haven’t been happy with how rarely I compel the characters, and thus hand out Fate Points. This has led to the characters valuing Fate Points very highly, and hoarding them when they can. They are reluctant to spend them. As Fate Points are a currency of cool in the game, this means that the characters haven’t been as cool as they could be, all tying back to my infrequent compels ((It also means that I’m not giving the players the kinds of character problems they took Aspects to get, which means, for example, Rogan doesn’t have any problems keeping her beast nature in check, and Firinne is remarkably restrained for a trickster changeling.)). I’ve told the players to let me know when they are compelling themselves, but my group seems to think it’s a bit gauche to have to ask for Fate Points just because they’re roleplaying, so that doesn’t happen a lot.

Then Ryan Macklin posted about player-on-player compels on his blog, and I thought, “Wow. That’s a great idea. Clean, simple, and engaging. I wonder if it’ll actually work with my group.” And the best way to find out if it would work was to try it. I put a big glass goblet full of the poker chips I use for Fate Points in the middle of the coffee table in front of the players, and outlined some simple rules:

  1. Any player can take a Fate Point from the goblet to compel an Aspect on any other player at any time.
  2. Players facing a compel from another player may decline it if they choose without buying it off ((I added this mainly to make the player-on-player compels less threatening, and so encourage them to take place.)).
  3. Any player may call foul ((We call this the “Dick Move!” rule.)) on any compel, which then must be retracted.
  4. GM compels must still be bought off with a Fate Point.

To get the game rolling, I ran a short scene for each of the characters. This was to deal with a couple of things that had come up after the last session, during advancement, and to start slow in order to give people a chance to try the new compel structure. So, we had:

  • The Warden of Ireland visiting Mark O’Malley, who now has almost everything he needs to be a full-on Wizard ((Lacking only Wizard’s Constitution.)), to offer him apprenticeship with one of the White Council. Mark, who really wanted to be a full Wizard, turned it down when it was explained that he would be leaving Dublin and be under the supervision and tutelage of his master for six or seven years.
  • Nate being accosted by a Snowbird ((That’s the gang of minor Winter fey led by Baglock.)) in the market on Moore Street, and blasting him when he wouldn’t back down. Then running away, because Constable Fergus was coming.
  • Firinne being evicted from her apartment, and conning the garda enforcing the eviction into taking her to a shelter and getting her permission to stay there for a couple of weeks.
  • Rogan’s mother coming to visit, to express how much the family misses her, and couldn’t she have been more careful with that necromancer, and her second cousin, who only had a little of the blood, had noticed a lot of ghosts gathering in St. Stephen’s Green, and could Rogan perhaps do her job and look into, please?

There were several compels handed back and forth during these scenes, and it made me pretty happy about the whole thing. And then, having the plot in hand, they gathered together to go look into the ghosts gathering in St. Stephen’s Green.

The ghosts were, of course, gathering around the Fountain of the Fates, and Mark whipped up a ritual to allow the group to see them. It was a disparate group, with clothes from the past 150 years or so, though many of them were wearing high boots and carrying rods and creels. Rogan drew upon her Bloodline of Power Aspect to force them to recognize her and speak with her. She got the story that they were fleeing to the Fates for sanctuary after being chased away from Pussy’s Leap by a big black spectral dog covered in clanking chains.

The gang then trucked off to Pussy’s Landing in Templeogue to track down and stop this ghost dog. Nate asked what he knew about ghosts, and I gave him the basic run-down about how they were not the actual spirits of people, but more like echoes or stains left behind after death, and that one needed to make them acknowledge you to be able to affect them ((Strangely, he did not ask how to make ghosts acknowledge you at this time…)), or else confront them in the Nevernever. They came up with the idea to use Firinne as bait, glamoured to look like a fisherman, while Rogan, Nate, and Mark followed her unseen along the paths near Pussy’s Leap.

And so we wound up with Firinne getting jumped by chain hound, Mark opening a portal into the Nevernever swamp adjacent to Pussy’s Leap to get everyone in and focusing on the hound ((This is the moment that Nate asked, “So, about getting ghosts to acknowledge us…” It’s all in the timing.)), and they started piling on.

I described the thing as looking like a giant of a man that had been twisted into a doglike shape by the chains wrapping around him, which trailed off into the darkness, and also reached out to tangle our heroes up. Viewing the thing with The Sight showed something strange: it was a ghost, but there were tattered remnants of a real, human soul, now long-destroyed, clinging to it. They tried to bring it’s human mind to the forefront, damping down its savage nature, and got it to scream out the name, “Caitlyn!” but couldn’t get anything more coherent from it.

The struggle was interesting to me, because I had made the thing up with a -15 Refresh cost, to pit against four characters who are effectively at Up To The Waist power level. I figured it would be a tough fight, though not all that threatening, but the group used the two secret weapons in the DFRPG: surprise and teamwork. They layered something in the order of five or six different maneuvers on the thing, and then Nate, once he was assured that the creature didn’t count as a human for the purposes of the Laws of Magic, dropped a mystic nuke on it, with about ten or twelves shifts of power.

I liked this, and stole a couple of his shifts for some pure-flavour fallout, blasting the Nevernever environment, and giving everyone some instant sunburn, while eradicating the hound.

Our heroes then ran like bunnies, because they heard other things moving through the Nevernever swamp towards them, and they didn’t sound happy.

That’s where we left it. Over all, I’m happy with the session, though I was interested to see that the player-on-player compels pretty much dried up once the group started in on the plot. Hopefully, that will change as people get more familiar with the mechanic, and see it as a way to stock up on Fate Points when they’re running low.

Looking at the actual events, it doesn’t look as if much happened this session, but it still ran later than usual. This was due in part to the introduction of the new compels, the amount of socializing we did, and the initial scattered nature of the beginning of the game as I did the individual scenes. Much as I enjoy these individual scenes, I think I need to cut back on them.

Still, I’ve got a few loose threads from this session, and some other ideas, forming a rich base for the next scenario.



Feints & Gambits: Easter Morning

Friday night, we wrapped up the necromancer storyline in the Feints & Gambits game. This is, in part, what prompted my last post about being taken out; I wanted to lay the groundwork to be able to explain – both to my players and to other readers of this blog – some of the decisions I made during play ((When I was studying Education at University, this was referred to as a “teachable moment.”)). Which is not to say I feel the need to defend these decisions; quite the contrary, my players seemed to really like the way the game went. But the decisions made, and the reasons behind them, can help to reinforce tone and style of play, and I want to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to that.

We had a full roster of players, and hence characters, this session, and I have to thank the folks who were missing last time for the easy way they brought themselves back into play. I appreciate the co-operation.

The gang was still at Kate’s place, with the necromancer cultist that they had taken from the ceremony at Trinity College Chapel. He seemed to be essentially catatonic, and Nate’s use of The Sight had shown that he was severely damaged in the soul, with his self shrinking away to nothing.  Mark and Kate decided that they were going to try and create a ritual to bring him back.  I warned them that the difficulty was going to be very high for this, citing as an example the fact that the base Complexity of a death spell is up over 20, and they were essentially trying to heal someone from one of those. They were not dissuaded, which pleased me ((Heroes are people who risk everything when it’s important enough.)), and pretty much everyone in the group got into preparing the spell ((I outline my thinking on this way back here.)), which they decided to set at Complexity 25. Which is big. Very big.

While the group was working together to come up with all the various Aspects to make up the Lore deficit, I was doing some scrambling. See, Mark and Kate wanted to cast the spell together, figuring that should give them some sort of advantage. I agreed, and then spent a frantic few minutes leafing through the rulebook to find out how co-operative casting works in the system.

I didn’t find any rules for it ((Wait for it…)).

So, rather than slow the game down, or say no to what I thought was a reasonable request, I ruled that they could each gather power to cast the spell, and it would all go into the pot to power it. But if either of them failed their control roll, all the power gathered by both of them would become uncontrolled. They thought this was reasonable, and went ahead with casting the spell.

Of course, after the game, I checked the rules when I had a little more leisure, and found the rules for co-operative thaumaturgy on page 272 of Your Story. ((Told you to wait for it.)) The upshot is that they’re pretty much what I came up with at the moment, which is good for two reasons: first, it means I don’t have to change the way I did it this time if the characters try it again, and second, it means I’ve internalized the mindset behind the rules well enough to be able to trust my instincts with them.

So, anyway, they managed the spell ((And I resisted the urge to try and compel a failure once the gathered power topped 20 shifts. It was tough to resist, but it would have been such a dick move.)), and pulled the poor little necromancer cultist’s soul back up into the light. It was at this point that I did the actual math for how many shifts they would have needed, and saw that 26 would have been a complete success. I decided that they offset all the damage done to his soul, except for the extreme Mental consequence he had taken. I thought this was a good way to reflect the impact on his mind and soul of the trauma he had gone through in this little ordeal.

The characters were able to talk to him, but he was extremely distrustful – hell, he’d just woken up in a room full of strangers, wearing nothing but a cheap rayon robe, and the people he was with looked suspiciously like the folks who he remembered shooting at his friends. Add to this the extreme Mental consequence I had decided on, which was that he had basically become a sociopath due to the damage done to his soul, and he played up the victim angle, begged to be let free, and said he didn’t remember anything. He also swore he had no involvement with paganism, satanism, new age, or magic of any sort. Eventually, they dropped him off in downtown Dublin, with Aleister urging him to go to a church and pray for his soul ((He didn’t. He went out the back way. Sorry, Aleister.)).

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew was back at Trinity, breaking into the guy’s dorm room. They cracked the ward on the door, and the door itself was child’s play. Inside, they found that their poor little cultist might not have been totally honest with them: the walls were black, and had a poster of Aleister Crowley on one, and a day-glo qabbalistic tree of life painted on another. There was even a little shrine with black candles and a fake skull on it. A search turned up a small stash of ecstasy and a journal written in Enochian script, which none of the characters could read.

When they tried the redial on his room phone, they heard the ringing in a nearby room, and went to investigate, finding another warded door. Instead of disabling this ward, Mark decided to see if the ward was designed to warn the caster when it was broken. It was, so he worked up a little ritual to let his toy compass point him back to the caster. This worked, though I mentioned that small drops of peaty water were starting to form under the plastic of the compass. Off they hurried to track down the necromancer and see what should be done.

At this point, there was some lively discussion about what they were going to do with the necromancer when they finally caught up to him. Or her ((But it turned out to be him.)). After seeing what he had done to his cultists when they were in danger of being caught, the gang were rightfully wary of him. They knew he needed to be eliminated, but also knew that, if he saw them coming, they didn’t stand a chance. They settled on the idea of finding him for reconnaissance, then setting up an ambush where they would be able to put him down with minimal risk ((To that end, Aleister picked stopped by his place to pick up a sniper rifle.)).

Here’s where I got to drag the plot back around to the Easter Uprising ghost battle storyline I had originally envisioned for this scenario. The compass led them to the street in front of the GPO ((Quite near the scarred paving where Nate had made his wall of fire back around Christmas time.)), where a crowd had gathered around a taped-off crime scene. Under cover of Firinne’s glamour, Aleister and Mark made their way into the crowd, trying to home in on the necromancer.

They found him. The description I gave started with, “Y’know, the guy might as well have a sign around his neck that says ‘I’m an evil necromancer.'” From there, I went on to describe his slicked-back dark hair, his pointy beard, his silver jewelry, his walking stick, and all the other trappings ((This was because I had forgotten the description I had come up with for the man in the setting document, which was very non-necromancery. But that’s okay; nobody called me on it, so I win.)) that screamed bad guy.

They retreated back to the group by the car, and Kate decided that she wanted to look at the scene with The Sight. I pulled the player aside and gave her a rundown on seeing the necromancer in all his dark power, drawing up some sort of energy from the screaming ghostly form lying within the bloodstain inside the crime scene tape. I also told her about the intricate silver and bronze chain that lay broken around the GPO, and the massed ranks of angry ghosts within, led by Padraig Pearse. Then I kicked her in the brain with a Superb attack, because I figured that was a pretty intense scene to have viewed with her third eye. She, of course, beat that difficulty handily ((So I don’t want to hear any more about your crappy dice luck, you hear me?)).

And then Kate was off, charging into the crowd to stop the necromancer from doing whatever it was he was doing. The rest of the gang, who were still planning on doing this quietly and out of sight, tried to stop her. Nate flattened her with some gravity evocation, but she yelled at Aleister that they had to stop the necromancer right now! Aleister and Rogan took her at her word, and charged into the crowd, while Firinne distracted the cops and Mark and Nate and Kate all tried spinning magic against the necromancer.

The fight ended with Rogan savaging the necromancer in her smilodon form, but that didn’t quite kill him. He had taken a lot of consequences – offset by his magical preparations, to a degree, but not completely – and had done some damage of his own, but it was time for him to concede ((And this is where it ties into that last post on being taken out.)).

Looking at the logic of the situation, the only way I could have had him escape would have been to let him magic himself away, but I didn’t think that would work very well – breaching the Nevernever is thaumaturgy, which takes some time, and Mark specializes in transport magic, so it wouldn’t be a guarantee that he could get away. Besides, the group had worked hard to track this guy down, and were responding heroically – albeit out of desperation – so I didn’t want to take away a victory so cheaply.

That left the death curse.

The necromancer, choking on his own blood, laughed up into Rogan’s tiger face, and said, “I free them all!” Then he died. The ghosts in the GPO began solidifying, and some hasty Lore checks showed that the pulse of power from the dying necromancer had broken any and all bindings on ghosts within Dublin. With the coming of the Easter Week fey game of pitting the ghosts of the Easter Uprising against each other for their sport, the ghosts within the GPO were already pretty solid, and angry, and started setting up defensive positions. Nate didn’t like the look of that, so he used spiritual fire to burn them all out of the building ((An evocation up around 9 shifts of power, as I recall.)). Only Padraig Pearse, fortified by his midwinter bottle of True Guinness, survived, and he did not look pleased.

So, that’s where we left things. The necromancer cult at Trinity is no more. All the ghosts in Dublin are free to do as they will. And the Easter Week fey games are spoiled. I imagine that there will be some repercussions from each of these things. And I also figured the efforts were worth a Major Milestone.

Next, I think, I will throw something easier and more direct at them. I’ve got a lot of ghosts suddenly loose to haunt things and cause trouble, after all.

Oh, and for those who are interested in what was actually going on with the necromancer and his plots, check the spoiler tag below. My players are free to do so, as well, but keep in mind that your characters will not know the stuff you read there. But the plot is done, and the plotter is dead, so it’s not going to have a lot of effect on the rest of the game. I’ll leave that to the consequences of your actions.


Dr. Aidan Blackwood was the head necromancer. He had a cult of followers, drawn mainly from the students at the university, devoted to unlocking the ancient dark magics neglected by the modern new age practitioners. He wanted, specifically, to chain the angry ghosts of Dublin to his will, granting him enough power and influence in the mystical world to expand his influence over the rest of the island, and maybe even beyond. Ghosts bound to your will, aside from being power sources, are just useful.

To join his little cult, each member had to undergo a lengthy initiation ritual, which was also a thaumaturgic ritual that tagged them with a death spell that could be triggered quickly. This was how Blackwood managed to transform his cultists from living students into bog mummies so quickly – the preliminary work had been done, and he needed only to trigger it.

Anyway, he didn’t want to risk himself being front-and-centre in this little plot, because if things went badly, the ghosts would tear him apart. So he got the senior member of his cult, grad student Grania Maguire, to take the lead in the whole thing. She would be at the GPO, enacting the main ritual, while the little coven of thirteen (down to ten, after the interference of the PCs) did a supporting ritual in the Trinity College Chapel to gather energy and funnel it to her.

Oh. And part of the ritual was having a prime number of cultists in the power-generation, so once they lost three members, three more had to sit out, leaving seven to conduct the ritual, and three to stand guard. That’s why there were seven at the altar in robes and three hiding in the pews with guns.

And, of course, when our heroes disrupted the (very powerful) ritual at the chapel, the main ritual at the GPO collapsed, but not before Grania had managed to shatter the fey chains binding the GPO ghosts. The power slapped her down, and the ghosts tore her apart. Hence, the crime scene. Blackwood was doing his best to suck up the death-residue of the ritual – along with what was left of Grania’s power – when he met with a toothy end.

And that’s the background story. Not a lot of it came out explicitly during play, but I thought some folks might be interested in how things fit together.

Feints & Gambits: Holy Saturday

Friday night was the latest installment of the Feints & Gambits Dresden Files RPG campaign I’m running, set in Dublin. We picked up right where we had left off the previous session, the early evening of Holy Saturday, with the gang hauling the half-bog-mummified young necromancer they had saved from his rooms in Trinity College back to The Hole in the Wall ((The alternative bookshop/tattoo parlour owned by, and sometimes even operated by, Mark and Nate O’Malley)), which is the gang’s default base of operations.

The cast for the adventure changed slightly, with two of the folks who were at the previous game unable to make it, and the player who had missed the last game attending this time. This necessitated a little fast narrative footwork, and we decided that Aleister had gone off to tap his contacts about what might be going on, and Mark needing to have a little lie-down after his valiant exertions keeping the death spell from killing the boy they had rescued. And we brought Nate in with a cast on his arm on which a rude word had been written ((This was an interesting development that I was pleased to see the game could handle in an interesting and entertaining fashion. Nate’s player pulled me aside when we were going to reintroduce him to the group. I had asked him what he had been doing that kept him out of the action last game, and he wanted to clear some stuff he was working on offstage and writing up as fiction on the forum. He explained the background of what he was doing to me, and asked if he could start with a cast on his arm. I gave him the option of having a cast on the arm that was just jazz, with no game impact, or actually taking the Broken Arm moderate consequence, for which I would give him two Fate Points. He opted for the latter, and it came back to cause him some problems in game, which was nice. I also said he had to decide what his brother would have written on the cast, because Mark would certainly have written something. He thought for a second, and told me the rude word that was written on the cast, and added that Mark, a pretty good Thaumaturgist, would also have turned the cast bright pink and made sure that nothing else could be written on it to cover up his handiwork.)).

Faced with a young man half-way to being a bog-mummy, Nate decided to see if he could try to cleanse him of the evil magical influences, using his evocation of the spiritual nature of water to wash away the watery necromancy used on the boy. I decided this was an interesting idea, and asked him how he’d do it. He put the boy ((I keep using the word “boy” to describe the victim. The guy’s about twenty – a college student – but that makes him a boy to the majority of the players in this game. With one notable exception, we’re all old.)) in the bathtub, and used his evocation to wrench the bad water out of him, replacing it with good water. The first two attempts went poorly, because he didn’t use enough power. The third attempt ((Third time is, after all, the charm.)) resulted in an explosion of peaty bog water in the bathroom ((“Well, I want to be gentle about it.” “If you wanted to be gentle, you wouldn’t be using evocation.” “Oh. Damn.”)), which left the boy’s body floating in a tub of clean, pure water.

The boy’s unbreathing body.

Some quick CPR followed, which got his heart going again, and cleared his lungs of water, and got him sorta-stabilized. The brown stain was gone from his skin and, while still pretty much emaciated, he no longer looked shriveled. They brought him into a hospital emergency room and ditched him there once the doctors got to him, thus avoiding unpleasant conversations with the authorities – both mundane and magical. It was nice to see how the idea of a First Law violation, even by accident, got the group moving to set things right. The Warden, while he gets bad-mouthed a lot by the group, has obviously made a strong point about his power.

Then it was back to Trinity to try and find the nine other wannabe necromancers, and possibly the big bad guy behind them. It being Holy Saturday, a night traditionally associated with the absence of divinity in magical symbolism, they figured that whatever necromantic ritual was being tried would happen tonight, and probably in one of the chapels. Kate remembered that the main chapel had some historically significant people interred in it ((I’ve got zero idea whether or not this is true, but it was a good way to give them a clue about where on campus things might be happening.)), so they went there.

Outside the chapel ((I’ve got to pause here to recommend the iPad and Google image search as invaluable tools for setting the mood and location in modern games. Sixty seconds of searching, and I was able to show the players a picture of the front of the chapel at night. If I’d known that’s where things would have been happening before the game, I could even have eliminated that little lag time.)), Firinne glamoured Rogan to invisibility, and Rogan shifted to her smilodon form to creep in and do recon ((They checked for a threshold first, and found that the normal barrier posed by consecrated ground was gone – all part of the Holy Saturday thing.)). The others followed along behind her. They found seven of the young cultists chanting around the altar, waving knives and wearing black robes.

There ensued a nice little brawl, with Rogan disrupting the ritual, Nate disarming the cultists with a little magnetic evocation, Firinne shooting down the two guarding cultists crouched down in the pews ((She didn’t want to kill them, so I let her incapacitate them without killing. Part of me thinks that this might reduce the threat factor of guns in the game – I want guns to be scary – but the rules do say that, when someone is taken out, the victor gets to decide what exactly that means. Also, she bought the Guns skill up to Great, so it feels kinda prickish to not let her use it.)), and Kate summoning a spiritual aspect of the Great Mother to protect the altar. This last little bit of magic revealed a mystical whirlpool in the air, leading up and away to somewhere else, but the spirit broke the connection, which caused all the cultists who were still up and around to collapse like puppets with their strings cut.

The gang grabbed one of the cultists and scarpered before the police arrived to investigate the gunshots, and took him back to Kate’s flat near the College. Her home has the strongest wards they know of – at least, of the places they have access to – and they were worried that the black cloud they had encountered twice before might try to follow the cultist to tie up that loose end. Just before they reached her place, midnight arrived, and Holy Saturday turned into Easter Sunday. At that moment, Kate felt a massive snapping of mystical tension, as if a huge magical rubber band had been stretched tight and then cut. She didn’t know what it meant, but it added one more layer of worry ((This is, to me, an important part of the game world. I throw out a number of threads for the characters to follow and, wherever they go, they find adventure. But the other threads and plotlines don’t go away, and they don’t wait for PC involvement. If you ignore something, it still progresses. What she sensed was another plotline happening elsewhere.)).

Back at Kate’s place, Nate used The Sight to try and assess what was up with their new prisoner. He saw him as a deep, dark emptiness in the shape of a man, with a tiny figure, far away in the depths, desperately waving its arms as it drifted deeper into the void. He also took a peek at the other characters there, and I gave him a quick image of each of them: Firinne as an elfin figure, Rogan as a human straining to hold back a snarling sabertooth ((Very reminiscent of the Strength card of the Major Arcana, now I think of it. Note to self: look at Tarot decks for visions using The Sight.)), Kate as being surrounded by the spirits of her female ancestors. There was some discussion about him looking out the window at the city, but after I cautioned him about the dangers of looking at a city with over a thousand years of history, violence, death, and fey games, he decided that he’d prefer it if his brain remained inside his head.

It was around midnight in the real world by then, and we’d reached a reasonable stopping point, so we called the game. All in all, it went pretty well, especially considering I had no idea what direction the players were going to go, so I had done no extra prep after the last session.

We’ll see what happens next game.


Feints & Gambits: Easter Weekend

Friday night was the latest session of my Feints & Gambits campaign. It’s been some time since the last one, so it was good to get back to the game. We had almost a full house, too; only one of the players couldn’t make it.

It being Good Friday, and the game being set in Dublin, there seemed only one storyline that I could use for the centrepiece of this adventure – the refighting of the Easter Uprising by the fey courts, using ghosts and faeries as soldiers, with the ghost of Padraig Pearse acting as judge. The fey courts use this as part of the game they play for control of Ireland, and the group has run into the edge of this thing previously, and, well, it was Easter weekend.

So, rather than use my master list of Aspects to generate the structure of the scenario, I pulled out the Aspects related to the main story and mapped out their relationship. Then I rolled a few more random Aspects to give the characters a way in to the situation.

At the start of the session, I decided I wanted to have a quick scene with each character to give them a hook into the scenario. I had worked out a few of them before play, but swapped a couple of them around and came up with new ones on the fly to fit things a little better, and to make sure that each character got the spotlight for a few minutes ((The random rolls I had done pre-game to select character Aspects to use to hook the characters had pulled up Aspects for the same characters for the last few games, and I wanted to spread things around a little more.)). The scenes I came up with were:

  • A fey messenger warning Aleister that Baglock wanted him to keep out of it, without telling him what “it” was.
  • Kate returning to her flat to find an unsigned note warning her to be careful with her ectomancy, because she was close to violating a Law of Magic.
  • Macha warning Mark that, because the group had involved themselves in the Game previously, they might get tangled in it during Easter Week.
  • Rogan got a prophecy from Mad Mary, saying that someone was trying to change the rules of the game, and it might be the end for an unspecified “him.”
  • Firinne got a call from one of her business contacts, who had someone wanting to buy thirteen black iron athames.

The main thing I was wanting to accomplish with these scenes was to hint that something big was going down, and let the fact that it was Easter point them towards stuff to investigate. After all, they had built stuff during setting creation that tied into the whole thing.

But I misjudged. Thirteen black iron ritual knives was just too sinister for them to just let them go. Firinne was very concerned that they could be used to nasty effect ((In some ways, she’s one of the more responsible and cautious characters in the group, which is odd for a trickster changeling. Obviously, I need to compel her trickster nature a little harder.)), and roped in Kate and Mark to help with that. They were able to give some general answers as to what such things would be used for, but weren’t able to get specific. However, all the general things tended to sound rather… unpleasant, so everyone agreed that they needed to figure out what was going on.

Firinne used her glamours to disguise thirteen empty beer bottles as the knives, and Mark put a tracking spell on the box that held them. Rogan decided to accompany Firinne as backup to deliver them to her contact, who worked out of a dance club called Jesus Murphy ((It got named this way: Firinne asked what the club was called, and I turned it back on her, saying she had invented the contact and where he was located, so she’d have to come up with the name. She responded something along the lines of, “Jesus Murphy, now I have to come up with the name of the club, too?” And thus it was named.)). The knives were delivered and payment accepted, but Rogan got a whiff of something odd with her supernatural sense of smell. She followed the odour, which was that of death, to a trio of young women dancing on the floor of the club.

Suspecting they were undead, she wanted to interrogate them, but not in the middle of a dance club. So, she started a fist fight ((The group seems to love them some bar brawls.)) in order to get the bouncers to toss all five – Rogan, Firinne, and the three suspected zombies – out, where they could settle things in private. This worked marvelously, but the follow-up didn’t go the way they had planned.

See, Firinne isn’t much of a fighter. She carries a gun for when she absolutely needs it, but prefers not to pull it. Rogan is a combat monster, but only in her smilodon form. And these three scrappy young women proceeded to mop the pavement with our heroines. They got to experience first-hand the hard lesson Aleister learned in the first game: numbers are a big advantage, especially when they use teamwork.

Rogan finally shifted her form, which freaked their targets out, and then everything went black and cold. A deep voice spoke out of the blackness, threatening and taunting Rogan and Firinne, and filling Firinne’s lungs with peaty bog water. Our heroines took the better part of valour, and scampered back to the waiting car.

This is the point where I had the others show up – Firinne had called them between getting booted from the club and the fight starting outside. With the numbers so bolstered, they went back to see what was going on, and found three bog-mummies – very much inanimate – that had been living humans shortly before. Rogan had had some inkling during the fight that the women weren’t undead ((You can get quite a good sniff of someone if they’ve got you in a hair-pulling headlock.)), but that the smell had been the taint of death, rather than actual death – more a metaphyiscal thing.

This, coupled with Kate’s use of The Sight on the scene and her sense of necromantic energies at Trinity College some months previous, led the group to decide that there was, indeed, some big necromantic badness in the offing. Some investigation and lurking back at the club ((Also some magic and some breaking and entering, but don’t tell anyone.)) revealed that the fake knives were still there, and they concluded that the women they had fought had, in fact, been there to pick up the knives. Come dawn, Firinne refreshed her glamour, and Mark his tracking spell, and they went to get a little sleep.

So, on Saturday, a day associated with the triumph of death and the absence of god in Christianity, the daggers moved. The gang followed them to Trinity College, where they saw ten obvious students divvying them up and heading off. One of the students kept the box and the extra three knives, and that’s the one they followed back to his dorm room. When they tried to bully him into talking to them, they found a very powerful ward set up in his doorway and, when they pressed the case, the darkness and cold came back, and their target started gurgling and gasping.

Kate used a magic dissolving potion to pull the ward down, and they snatched the boy out of his room. He was already turning brown and withering, with brown, peaty water pouring from his mouth. Mark almost blew a brain gasket, but managed to interfere enough with the incoming spell to break it and save the boy’s life. The group bundled him up and took him off somewhere safe to recover before the bad juju came back.

And that’s where we left it. The investigation is going in a different direction than I had anticipated, and leading up to a very different climax, but it should still be a good one. Next session should finish it off.

Feints & Gambits: Uptown, Downtown

Slowly catching up. Hopefully be up-to-date by the end of this coming weekend. Thanks for hanging in there.

The last Feints & Gambits game was a small one – we were in the grip of a minor blizzard, as well as illness and (I think) a choir performance, so I counted myself lucky to get quorum to run this game. And I really wanted to run it, just to finish off the storyline that I had intended to take one session, but which dragged out to three.

I had encouraged the players to discuss their plans for this session on the game forum, which they did ((And I only had to bribe and threaten them a little bit.)), so that I had an idea of what they were planning and so that we didn’t spend the first two hours of the game with the players rehashing everything to come up with a plan. Then, of course, with only half the players showing for the game, some of the plans fell by the wayside.

Still, they had two main objectives: first, to see if they could snatch Doyle, the head of Doyle Developments, the company behind the attempts to purchase the neighbourhood; and second, to see if they could calm down the hot-headed residents of the neighbourhood to prevent an escalation of violence. They stuck pretty close together this time out, maybe because they felt they had less of a safety net with the other characters offstage.

So, first up was an attempt to kidnap Doyle. Now, this plan struck me as a terrible idea – a group of street-level toughs trying to snatch one of the wealthiest men in Dublin – but I didn’t just want to tell them they couldn’t do it. Nor did I want to spank them with either his bodyguards or with the consequences of a successful kidnapping ((Or a failed one. That would be bad, too.)).

This is something I want to talk about a little bit here. I was concerned about the players’ expectations and assumptions about the world, and their place in it. I was getting a little bit of a D&D-esque “We can do anything because we’re the PCs” vibe from some of the discussions, and that caused me to do some thinking about how I’m presenting things in the game. I think that I’m not communicating things all that clearly. See, I want to stick by the decisions that the characters made regarding power level; I was pretty clear at that point, that they were going to be only a little bit up the ladder from normal mortals. What I failed to explain was the source material conceit that the supernatural factors view getting mundane authorities investigating things to be the equivalent of trotting out the nuclear weapons.

What am I saying? I’m saying that there seemed to be a difference in understanding about consequences between myself and my players. That’s a dangerous thing to have in a game. It can quickly lead to a perception that the GM is being unfair and needlessly punitive. Or that the GM is being needlessly lax and straining credulity by the kinds of things he lets the players get away with.

I didn’t want Doyle to be safe to mess with just because he was mundane. In fact, I wanted just the opposite.

I decided to handle this by flagging the difficulty of grabbing him during their recon stage, trying to highlight the fact that taking him would be difficult, and would have real repercussions in the game. To that end, when they went looking for where Doyle lived, they found that he had a big house in the country, but also a penthouse in a city hotel. They called the house and found that he was in the city, so they staked out the hotel for a while. When they had had no sight of him for several hours, they realized that he was probably coming and going in a secure car through the underground car park, and that they’d have to flush him out if they wanted  to get a look at him and his security ((Beyond the fact that he was obviously security-savvy enough to keep observers from seeing him come and go, of course.)).

Nate decided to hex the hotel’s security, and pumped enough power in it to take out the entire electrical system. That let the gang see Doyle and his escort leave the hotel and go to another. When Aleister tried to get in close to Doyle and see which room he was taking, he was backed off by several large, professional-looking bodyguards. They decided to head back to the first hotel and break into his penthouse to see if there was anything incriminating there.

Kate managed summon up the fading echo of a burglar to help them break in, and they searched the place, spending a fair bit of time going through the contents of the suite. They found nothing indicating Doyle’s involvement with the attempted land-grab, nor that he had supernatural connections, or indeed anything incriminating. They did find copies of deeds, papers of incorporation, and passport in his safe (along with some watches and cash), which they helped themselves to.

That’s when I told them the lights came back on, and they hung around a little longer. Then I had the elevator start up, and they decided to high-tail it out of there. Nate used a little earth evocation to drop the elevator a few feet ((Thank god for elevator brakes – he pumped the spell up pretty high.)), and they scrambled down the fire stairs to the alley and escaped.

Back at The Hole in the Wall, Kate tried a divinatory ritual to help her piece together a full picture of Doyle’s company and its holdings. This took some time, but ended with a detailed chart of who did what all through the hierarchy of the various corporate entities, which they turned over to the reporter they’d been dealing with ((I’m gonna have to stat her up, I think. At least give her a name. She’s turning into a regular contact.)). Facing Doyle’s inaccessibility, the group then decided to move on to their second objective.

This went a little more smoothly: they got the name of Shaina Sadiki from the reporter as someone respected in the Pakistani community in Dublin who might be able to help them calm things down. After talking their way into meeting her, they had to convince her that they were sincere in their desire for a non-violent solution, whereupon she invited them for family dinner to talk to her grandson, one of the main agitators among the young men in the neighbourhood.

They managed to convince him that violence was a bad idea, and told him that things should be resolved in a couple of weeks when the article the reporter was writing was published. The article came out sooner than expected, and wasn’t what they thought it would be. Instead of an attack on Doyle, it turned out to be the story of how, when he found out that there was violence being committed by employees – remote employees, to be sure, but employees nonetheless – he turned over all the information he had on things to the police and co-operated with the investigation. Instead of him being an evil land developer, he came across as an ethical, concerned businessman. Who also made some restitution to the area, and paid the hospital bills of the injured.

The group isn’t sure whether that’s just cover for getting caught, or if he was genuinely unaware and, frankly, neither am I right now. It’ll depend on what I need Doyle for in later games.

And that’s how we wrapped the storyline. I think everyone was glad to see it end. The dragging was my fault; in a group as large as this one, with a system that many of them are learning, I didn’t provide a clear enough forward direction, which left the group floundering around to try and latch on to anything that would move the story forward. I will keep that in mind for putting together the scenarios in future.

But there were no deaths, no tantrums, no meltdowns, so I’ll take is as a lesson learned and move on.

Now I have to schedule some more sessions.

Feints & Gambits: Drinkin’ and Fightin’

Last night was the latest session of Feints & Gambits. We had almost a full house; only one of the players couldn’t make it.

Mindful of the scattered nature of the previous session, I tried to keep things more focused this session, without drawing in too many extraneous threads to confuse the main story. This worked better, and the characters pushed on through the game, running down the leads they had, and discovering more information. We didn’t finish the story up last night, mainly because the one thing the characters haven’t decided on is what counts as a win for them.

I’ve come to realize that this is an insanely important decision for the party to make. In a lot of games, the victory condition is kind of a default for the game: save the princess, slay the dragon, rip off the megacorp, arrest the supervillain, find the treasure, whatever. It’s built in to the scenario assumptions from the start, and the characters are hooked into wanting to pursue that objective ((This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I hasten to point out. Sharply defined goals offer great motivation and a strong sense of accomplishment when the characters achieve them. It’s just not the only way to do things.)).

What I’ve been doing a lot in both the Dresden Files RPG and the Armitage Files campaign is letting the characters set their own agendas, and establish their own goals and victory conditions. With Fearful Symmetries and Armitage Files, the player groups are fairly small: two and three players, respectively. With double the number of players in Feints & Gambits, the decision process tends to involve a lot more discussion and debate before consensus is reached ((This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. It creates the greatest amount of player buy-in, gives them the strong sense of being in control of their characters’ fates, and in general keeps up the collaborative story building that the game set-up encourages. But it does eat time at game sessions.)), and heightens the planning paralysis potential of the game, which is to be avoided.

When we got to about 11:40 last night, the group was deep in a discussion about the best way to proceed, and had started circling back on their own arguments, losing both focus and momentum, so I suggested we call it a night and move the discussion to the forum for the three weeks until the next game, and they agreed.

So, what happened at the game itself? Well, first of all, Nate wasn’t there, as he had to go return the van he had acquired for that thing with the Guinness. Also, he had to explain the damage to it. Firinne and Aleister were still in pretty rough shape after having been bashed about by the thugs the night before, but Kate was looking after them. Mark had the papers he and Nate had stolen from the lawyer’s office, which they needed to examine. And Rogan showed up to say that she had spent the previous day trying to Aengous drunk to find out more about the Game the fey were playing ((She quickly discovered that Aengous either didn’t get drunk, or that drunk was his default state, and he didn’t get drunker. She, even despite her shapeshifting ways, was not quite so lucky.)). Everyone regrouped at the Hole in the Wall to plan their next moves.

They pored over the maps of the neighbourhood that was being bought out, but were unable to discover any mystical significance to the sites that were being purchased. Kate spent a few hours sorting through the records from the lawyer’s office and discovered that New World Developments was owned, through a network of shell companies and holding companies and false fronts, by Doyle Developments, one of the biggest land development firms in Dublin.

With this information, Aleister called Robin, the friend who had inadvertently drawn him into this by asking Aleister to get him some pistols for self-defense. When Robin didn’t answer his phone, Aleister, Rogan, and Firinne went to find out what was up. At his place, they found a number of angry young Asian men who told them that Robin was in the hospital, having been beaten almost to death. They asked if Aleister had got them their guns yet ((I did this to make it apparent that, while the characters were free to choose how they dealt with things, events are transpiring elsewhere, whether they’re aware of them or not, and that the situation is not under their control. Tensions are mounting in the community, and will eventually come to a head.)).

Deciding that something needed to be done about the thugs, Mark whipped up a tracking spell to find them. Kate made Aleister a healing potion to help with his broken ribs ((Based on the Reiki Healing spell in Your Story.)), and they all headed out on the trail of the men who had beaten Robin.

They found them in a pub in northern Dublin, and Aleister confronted them. This, somewhat predictably, turned into a bar brawl, and we got to see what Aleister can do when he’s got some room to maneuver and someone to watch his back. Also, that Mark’s head is very hard. With the three thugs unconscious – one of them out on the street under a broken window – and beer raining down from a broken tap, Rogan and Firinne each lifted a wallet from one of the fallen toughs as everyone made good their escape through the escalating brawl ((Well, Aleister didn’t escape so much as he called the guys he had just beaten up pedophiles who had molested his brother, and then stared down the rest of the crowd until they cleared a path to let him walk out.)).

Aleister followed this up the next day with a phone call to the chief thug and made a rather chilling threat about what would happen if Aleister caught him south of the Liffey ever again ((When he made the call, I had a child answer the phone and call for his da. I was interested to see where Aleister would draw the line – would he, even implicitly, threaten the child to get the father to understand the seriousness of things? The answer was no. Aleister has scruples.)).

Meanwhile, the group decided to take the papers they had found linking New World with Doyle to a reporter friend of Aleister’s, hoping that the papers could apply some pressure without the gang having to tell the police where they got the records. I took the opportunity to give them a quick course in political leverage through the mouthpiece of the reporter: she asked if they had kept copies, and they sheepishly had to admit that they hadn’t, and then asked for a couple of hours to do that. She then explained that she’d have to verify the information on the papers independently before she could publish anything, and that would take a couple of weeks. They reluctantly agreed to that.

And Rogan went to one of her family lawyers to see what he could tell her about Doyle Development. The lawyer told her that the head was Sir Clifton St. John Doyle, a flash man-about-town, and a wealthy and clever developer. When she mentioned the papers, he pointed out that none of the information they had actually implicated Doyle in the violence, or any unethical behaviour. He also offered some ideas about why Doyle would be using such a convoluted front to buy up the property he wanted, including not wanting competitors to find out what he was doing and drive up the price. He couldn’t offer any other information about what might be going on, but he did offer to set up a meeting with Doyle in a day or two, and she took him up on that.

That’s about when things got tangled in a discussion about what the next steps should be and, after a bit, I called the evening to a close. I find it interesting that it’s taken them two sessions to come to grips with the idea that this problem might have no supernatural component to it at all, but that’s where they’ve arrived, and that’s good. I don’t want every story to be about the fey or other mystical nastiness, though obviously a certain number of them need to be.

And now they’ve got three weeks to figure out what to do next. I wonder what they’ll decide.

Feints & Gambits: Developments

Last Friday night was the latest installment of Feints & Gambits. Five of the players were able to make it, which gave us almost a full house.

While we had fun with the game, this session was a little more muddled and directionless than previous ones. The problem was that I had incorporated a technique I’ve been using to great effect in other, smaller games ((Like Fearful Symmetries and Armitage Files, for example.)), and it split the focus waaaay too much in this larger group. So much so that what I had intended to be another single-session adventure is going to stretch to two sessions ((I say this like it’s a problem, but it isn’t really. It’s just not what I had planned, and I had to choose my stopping point carefully so as to allow for the attendance or non-attendance of the various players next session. What I mean is that I had to stop somewhere that it was easy for characters to enter or exit play if the number of people who can make it next session changes.)).

What I’ve been doing in the smaller games that I tried in this one is throwing out leads to multiple storylines, and seeing which ones appeal to the players. These threads often deal with consequences of their past actions, fallout from previous adventures, friends and enemies made, and that sort of thing. When I threw in a bit of a teaser about the Winter Squire letting one of the characters know that Winter was aware of the characters’ meddling, the players immediately started seeing if they could find out where the Squire hung his hat and apply a little pressure of their own. They also started trying to find out what the rules of the game between Summer and Winter were.

This play started to drag a bit, turning into the players making rolls and trying to unlock the exposition dump they needed to ask the next question ((This is an approach much used in video games, and it works well there. In a table-top roleplaying game, I want to encourage a more dynamic, interesting approach, where the characters actually do stuff to find things out, and I need to figure out how to advance that idea more in play. For example, instead of “I ask around to see what I can find out. Is that a Contacts roll?” I’d prefer to see something like, “Okay, well, Seamus down at the Cobblestone used to be in The Sunshine Boys. I’ll try and track him down so I can ask him about the Snow Birds.”)), so I decided to pull in one of the other threads for the game, having an old squad-mate of Aleister’s show up an ask him to get some handguns. A little investigation on this led to the discovery that there had been an escalation in violence against Asians in a neighbourhood in the South Dublin suburbs, with the locals of the opinion that it’s part of a plan to get the owners to sell off their homes and businesses to a developer.

In the midst of it all, Kate had had a chat with Mad Mary, and got a cryptic little prophecy that they’ve been trying to decipher, seeing where it applies ((And I’m not telling. Not yet, anyway.)).

The violence in South Dublin seemed to be the more pressing concern – everyone figured that the Winter Court wasn’t going anywhere  – so they headed off on a two-pronged approach. One team would walk through the area disguised as young Pakistani men, while the other would try and break into the offices of the lawyers handling the offers to purchase to try and find out who was behind them.

I jumped back and forth between these two scenes, intercutting to try and keep everyone involved and interested. The bait team got jumped and quickly took out their attackers, but the police showed up, so they were unable to interrogate their prisoners. The burglary team got in and got the files, but left some pretty obvious evidence of their presence because of the necessity of using evocation to get through a couple of barriers.

That’s where we wrapped things up. We hadn’t got all that much done, but again that was a result of the way I had split the focus. If I want to keep a more episodic style of game, I need to present a more obvious path forward for the characters, rather than a myriad of possible options, none of which look better than the others ((There’s a fine line between this and railroading. I want the characters to have freedom to choose what they want to do, and which approach they want to take, but I know the group likes some direction – they want there to be a story there for them to find, not just wander around hoping something interesting happens. And they don’t want to spend hours debating between options that look equally good or bad to them. So, providing a clear path forward, or maybe a couple that have very obvious pros and cons, gives them the support to make decisions and drive the story.)). I was very happy that they split the party the way they did; that’s usually a big mistake in roleplaying games, but works fine in DFRPG, due to the emphasis on narrative systems and the empowerment of players in determining when they’re in real danger.

Next time, though, I’m gonna run it a bit tighter.

Feints & Gambits: Drinks Run

Friday was the second session of our new Feints & Gambits campaign, using The Dresden Files RPG. We had a full house, which meant a total of seven of us ((Me and six players.)) crammed into the living room of my condo. We all fit, everyone had a seat, and it was cozy. Six players is, however, a pretty large group for DFRPG – at least, for me. There’s a lot to keep track of with all the characters. That said, we pulled it off and, if the focus wasn’t quite as equally spread as I might have hoped, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I was a little stuck for an idea for this session’s adventure. See, while we have this great, full setting document, with tons of ideas and options, we don’t have enough play time invested in it yet for the adventures to occur spontaneously and organically. It’s going to come, as it has in the
Fearful Symmetries game, but it takes a little time to play in the setting and let the characters simmer in the stewpot of the city.

So, I decided to essentially try a random adventure creation thing. I’ve got a big list of all the Aspects in the game ((GMs: This can be an invaluable tool. I strongly encourage you to make one for your game. I keep finding new things I can use it for.)), including all the theme, threat, location, face, and character Aspects. It’s in a simple numbered list, so I just rolled some dice to get a selection of Aspects to string into an adventure.

I wound up rolling about eight Aspects, and got the ones for our Lyric vs. Prosaic theme and its face, the blind bard O’Carolan, as well as Padraig Pearse’s ghost, the Guinness Brewery, the White Council Warden, South Dublin Suburbs, and an Aspect for each of two of the player characters ((Full Aspect list: The Songs We Sing, Blind Bard, Ghost Judge of the Battle, Guinness For Strength!, Big Warden in a Little Pond, Ciad Mille Failte, Spoiling for a Fight (Nate O’Malley), It Was Like That When I Got Here! (Firinne O’Beara).)). Reading over the setting entries for these things, I cam up with the idea that, every midwinter, a bottle of the True Guinness has to be delivered to the ghost of Padraig Pearse at the General Post Office at midnight. I figured that, this year, O’Carolan was delivering it, but something would go wrong, and the PCs would need to step in. I couldn’t really work in the South Dublin Suburbs without making the adventure a little over-elaborate for a single evening, so I discarded it from my planning.

I looked at the two Aspects I had rolled for the PCs, and decided to use them to link the characters into the scenario in a little different way. See, in a lot of good stories, the hero gets drawn into the conflict against his will, by having something bad happen to him that he needs to respond to. Now, having something bad happen out-of-the-blue to a PC just to jumpstart a game is a little bit heavy-handed, in my opinion, and I don’t really like taking that element of control away from the player, even if the player’s cool with it ((And there’s no guarantee that the player will be cool with it.)). But Aspects offer a wonderful way to set the hook in a way that the player accepts, and rewards him 0r her for letting you screw with the character: compels.

When the game started, I tossed a Fate Point to Nate’s player, and had the Warden come pay a visit and be rather cryptic and threatening. Nate was Spoiling For A Fight, so this was a good way to get him – and incidentally, his brother Mark – up and looking into things. One of the things the Warden said was that the brothers should help out around the place a little more, and I thought this might be enough to rope them into the plot. It really wasn’t, though, as the brothers focused on who this poncy bastard was and why he was coming into their shop and bugging them ((Also, using very impressive evocation control to burn a message on the wall of the back room from way on the other side of the store with no one noticing.)). It did, however, get them moving and active, and over to the Silver Arm, where I was able to put the second PC Aspect into play.

I handed Firinne’s player a Fate Point ((She actually cringed when I did that! It was great!)) and gave her a little scene where she bumped into someone in the crowded pub, who bumped someone else, who spilled a drink, which caused someone to slip, which knocked over a table, which fell on O’Carolan’s bag with a shattering sound and the smell of rich, heady Guinness. She stood there paralyzed for a second or two, long enough for Macha – the mistress of the house – and O’Carolan to haul her into the back room and tell her that she had to fix the situation.

They outlined the situation in broad terms, hinting that the breakage was no accident but was, in fact, a mystical attack launched through Firinne by those who opposed the delivery. Firinne immediately flashed back to the memory of the taunting note she left in the Snow Bird gang house when she recovered the Silver Arm, and figured that they must have used that as a sympathetic link to her ((I hadn’t actually thought of that, but it sounded good, so it has become canon.)). She was told that she had to go see Aengus at the Guinness Brewery, pick something up from him, and deliver it to the General Post Office at midnight before midwinter. That gave her three days.

Leaving the pub, she ran into the O’Malley brothers coming to see what they could find out about their visitor, and recruited their help with the promise of beer. Before they headed off, though, they went into the pub and, talking to Macha, figured out that the fellow who had come to their shop had indeed been the White Council Warden for Ireland. They proceeded to drink more, long enough for Firinne to get impatient and call Kate ((Who had been at the Long Library at Trinity College, where she sensed some necromantic magic. THAT’s not gonna be important later on, is it?)), Aleister, and Rogan to come help her, as well.

Eventually, they all got over to the Guinness Brewery, and found that they couldn’t get in, so they took the tour through the storehouse next door ((They also found that the Guinness buildings had a threshold, which disconcerted a couple of them.)). There, they managed to send a message to Aengus, who came and met them at a fish and chips stand across the street. They were watched by some members of the Snow Birds so, once they got the package – a clay bottle of beer – from Aengus and pledged to deliver it, they engineered an escape by blending in with a tourist crowd ((Summoned by the expenditure of a Fate Point.)) and using some of Firinne’s glamours.

What followed next was a chase through the streets of Dublin to the General Post Office. Our heroes stole bikes from a public rack to keep ahead of their pursuers, but Nate blew an Athletics check and wiped out. Mark fell back to help him ((Thanks to his Me Fookin’ Brother Aspect.)), and the two of them drove off the pursuing fey gang members, letting the rest of the group make it to a church near the GPO, where they went to ground.

So, we had the O’Malleys on the outside, kept away from the church by a mob of Snow Birds ((I had originally had a more complicated plot, involving some twists and misdirection and a different main bad guy, but I let it go when I saw how this plotline was working, and how everyone was involved and interested. I can reuse the other idea in a later adventure, and even tie it back to this one.)), and the rest of the group inside the church, besieged by the fey gangsters. Plotting then took place.

At 11:54, Aleister rang the churchbells to disorient the Snow Birds, the O’Malleys showed up in a “borrowed” van to scatter the mob, Rogan shifter to her feline form and carried Firinne out into the back doors of the van, and everyone else piled in afterward for a high-speed jaunt, complete with bootlegger turn, over to the GPO. As most of the folks bailed out to escort Firinne inside to make the delivery, Nate threw up a very powerful wall of flame to keep the fey back, and Kate stayed with him as back-up.

Inside, the ghost of Padraig Pearse showed up, spoke briefly with them ((He seeded in a few hints about other things and situations in Dublin, but though the gang caught one or two of them, they don’t really know what they mean.)), and drank the Guinness, which he said was part of the rules of the binding that held him here. After he had his yearly drink, he turned and walked away, and the group left to find the ranks of Snow Birds outside lined up and saluting them.

And that was the evening.

I’m pretty happy with the way things went. We got through the scenario in one evening, and everyone had fun. Firinne and the O’Malleys were definitely the spotlight characters this adventure, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll just have to make sure that the spotlight shines on a couple of the others next session.

I liked the compel mechanic to hook in the characters at the start of the evening, and had some good comments from the players about it, too, so that’s something I’m probably going to keep using.

One of my players asked me to post a recap of the game sessions on the Feints & Gambits forum, but I decided against it. Why? Because I would rather leave that open for the players to post their own recaps, stories about the fallout of the adventure, and stuff like that in order to earn the Bribe(TM) that I’ve offered.

Anyway, all in all, a good game, and a promising session for the first one with all the players present. Looking forward to the next one.

Feints & Gambits: Armless

This past Saturday was the inaugural game session of my new Feints & Gambits DFRPG campaign. We’re running this game quorum-style, so that we play as long as three of the six players show up. For the first game, we had four players ((The holiday season always makes scheduling somewhat more challenging, what with everyone’s family commitments.)).

I spent the first half-hour or so making sure everyone was up to speed on the game system, and answering any lingering questions about characters and mechanics. I’ve gotten pretty good at giving a condensed overview of the FATE system in about fifteen minutes; I expanded things here, because we’re looking at a long-term campaign, and I wanted to make sure that everyone had a decent grounding, so they understood their options.

First games of new campaigns are tricky things, I find. You need to take things easy as people get up to speed on the system and what their characters can do, but you also want some interesting stuff to happen so that the players get hooked and want to keep coming back. So, that means finding exciting action that is still fairly simple, mechanically speaking.

The collaborative city-building can really help get things rolling, because the players are already anxious and interested in playing in the setting they’ve built, and finding all the cool stuff they put there. And in finding all the neat little connections and secrets that have grown from the basic groundwork. There are already things they care about, and they already have some enemies and allies, thanks to the story phases of character creation, so really it’s just a matter of picking and choosing.

My objectives for this session was to give each of the four players a chance to do something interesting and special with their characters, and to wrap up the adventure in a single session ((Though the repercussions are probably going to stretch out longer than that.)). When I build adventures like this, all I generally do is come up with the situation – who, what, where, and why – and then I expose one bit of the resulting situation to the characters ((Of course, the bit I expose to them has to be something that impels them to take action.)). After that, if I have a fairly solid idea of the situation, it’s pretty easy to properly adjudicate character actions and let them choose their own path to resolving the situation ((This approach works far better in games where it’s simple to come up with stats and challenges on the fly – like DFRPG or Trail of Cthulhu – than ones where it’s more difficult or time-consuming, like D&D.)).

The result, I find, is a fairly organic structure that responds properly to character actions, and leads to character-directed action, rather than set-piece encounters ((Though, to be fair, I usually put together a page or two of stats and notes that I can turn into interesting set-piece encounters on the fly, because those are fun and exciting sometimes.)).

That’s what I did this time.

Things started out with the characters showing up at The Silver Arm, the local supernatural pub, to find no music, and everyone being very quiet. Turns out that the pub’s sign ((A silver armoured arm and hand that hung outside above the door.)) had been stolen, and the owner, Macha MacRuad, was furious. She wouldn’t let anyone even talk about it in the pub.

That got everyone motivated to go find the sign. They managed to trace it to a house in a pretty run-down neighbourhood that was being used as a clubhouse by the Snowbirds, the Winter Court gang that hung around the Millennium Spire. Stealing the sign was apparently a new move in the ongoing games of one-upmanship between the fey courts. The Summer Court gang, the Sunshine Boys, were rumoured to be getting ready to snatch the arm themselves.

A little bit of scouting found them a way in, and Kate had a couple of good veiling potions for her and Rogan. Firinne was able to use her glamours to veil herself. That left Aleister, who wasn’t all that sneaky. He set himself up in a sniper’s nest across the street with a paintball gun, and acted as a distraction.

Things went pretty well at first, with Aleister drawing out most of the gang members and the other three sneaking in through an upstairs window, thanks to a convenient shed ((Placed by using a Burglary declaration while casing the building.)). Things turned a little south when the gang used some pixies to find Aleister and he had to leg it out of there, and the folks inside the house found that there was still an ogre left on guard.

We got to some action here, though, interestingly, not a one of the characters tried to attack anyone. Aleister’s goal was not to beat anyone up, but to lure them away from the clubhouse to give the other three time to find the arm. The three inside knew they were completely outclassed by the ogre, so they just wanted to grab the arm ((Which had been nailed to a block of wood and turned into a lamp.)) and run like bunnies.

They all managed it, though Aleister was completely overwhelmed by the gang members ((Ganging up on someone and spending an exchange or two to use maneuvers to layer on the Aspects is a devastating tactic.)), and wound up conceding the fight – he had the gang members kick the crap out of him and dump him in the Liffey. Inside the house, the veiling the characters used kept the ogre from effectively targeting them, and then Kate threw a handful of iron filings into his face to keep him distracted. Rogan tripped him up with a chair, and Firinne swapped the lamp for a manikin’s arm that she had glamoured up to last for a few minutes ((She also left a taunting note, being a trickster-style changeling herself. THAT’s not gonna come back to bite her, at all. Good use of a compel, I thought.)).

So, they got the sign back, got Aleister to the hospital, and called it a night.

Over all, I think the game went quite well, and everyone seemed to have a good time. It was fairly light, and everyone took to heart the dangers of violence ((Especially at their power level.)), but they’ve also made some interesting choices about the sides their on, and there’s going to be an ogre Snowbird looking for a certain witch with payback in mind.

Yeah, I call it a win.