Tarantium Campaign Session Notes

January 9, 2016

Missed many sessions of notes. The TLDR for August-October

  • the party is posing as a business syndicate, trying to find two missing Imperial agents
  • they are in the town of Aldarsh – a liberated star fort town, with an atmosphere like the American South during reconstruction after the civil war
  • to the east are mountains and the war, to the south dark forests, to the north a mist shrouded swamp, inhabited by redneck elves
  • after accumulating a lot of breadcrumbs they ended up at a local ball, where the gentry are keeping up pretenses
  • after which they had a job from a local noble family to clear some goblins out of mine, and deal to an old demon the Lord had bargained
  • the goblins were like war boys from Mad Max Fury Road
  • the demon was defeated, with two PCs down and bleeding, with the help of an Eclipse Demon, which resurrected Vitus (who had been KIA).

21 November session

 

Swimming in a pool of corrupted blood that a demon used to call home was never a good idea. So while the party found a bronze chest, swimming around in the muck led to Talia becoming very sick.

The chest was filled with Goblin lead coins, and a red crystal shaped like a mastery rune (the party never found out what it did). Crozane triggered the loot’s curse (this time it was just “all this stuff belongs to you now” rather than a “collect everything in the world”).

Party decides against exploring the sealed vault.

Secundus’ Might spell came in handy, for carrying the chest of lead coins, and Talia once she passed out.

The party was chased by a Gorp through the tunnels. After a few Endurance checks and fatigue points, Pyrias decided to knock Crozane out (a familiar pattern) and the party dumped both the lead coins and the red crystal (figuring it was drawing the Gorp to them).

Mechanics is not a strong skill in the party, but after several failures a 01% was rolled to activate the elevator mechanism (I ruled that the Gorp just missed the party and fell into the elevator shaft).

Leaving the mines, the party meets Rosander, their guide, as the sun starts to set outside. Choice to take shelter or push on. Party chose to push on. First aid checks are not much help when someone is unconscious and dying from disease. Discussion with players, everyone believes the Goblins will move out of the mine.

Encounter with an archaic knight in old style plate armour and horse in barding. Party declines the opportunity for chivalric combat, and the knight offers to help the damsel. Talia ends up being transported to a hag’s cave, where she is cured. Talia decides it’s a good idea to avoid debt, and gifts a spirit charm to the hag.

Back with the Maxlaces, party get their pledged POW back, along with the 15% income share, apartment and library access. They also get some explanation of what has happened – David used the Demon’s power to resist aging and cloud memories of people.

Kayla and the dance of the seven critical fails. Pyrias gives Kayla the Demon heart, and she uses it to restore her damaged eye. Pyrias resists a seduction attempt.

Vitus and Florenzia, interesting revelation about a strain of disease that ages people and creates a crystal substance in their body that can be harvested for MP regeneration.

  • XP was too low, everyone can have +3 XP.
  • Which breadcrumb do you want to pursue next? I would like to try and focus a bit more in getting the party to the interesting conflict/challenge, although if you want to just keep going to balls and flirting with the locals, that is fine.

5 December session

I will try and be a bit better about writing up the notes. Pester me for them if I don’t do them by the end of the weekend the session happened in.
  • Vitus explores the restorative properties of mana crystals harvested from dead bodies and discovers laudanum. And spends time getting to know Matron Florenzia intimately.
  • Talia needs blood, so plays music in the various establishments of Aldarsh, until she scores a forgettable one night stand with a barkeeper.
  • Secundus writes a good letter home to his wife Stitch.
  • Pryrias is (late to gaming) recovering from wounds inflicted by the demon.
  • Crozane runs errands, and receives von Schenk’s politely worded decline of their tender for bridge building at Foulbridge.
Leeching earth (Willpower) checks are made for loss/recovery of MP. Vitus gets a critical success and dreams of a black eclipse burning away the fogs of the swamp, revealing sunken stepped pyramids, in the depths of one is the husk of a dead fire god.  Secundus gets a 100% fumble, loses three Arete, and dreams of being a were-bear whose claws cause people to wither and die.
Extensive discussion of all the potential quests, side-quests, and other diversions. Pyrias pushes the party towards a get-rich scheme involving building a road through the Griefswald (cost estimate by Engineer Secundus 30,000 silver), hiring slave labour and then somehow getting the food to feed them while they mine salt. This of course is just a cover operation for hunting down the Black Shuck, whom Pyrias opines, was responsible for killing Mueller and Skulder. Pyrias goes to the drop, and starts setting up a front of house for the syndicate back in Tarantium.
Crozane spends close to a full day observing von Schenk’s offices. They occupy a sturdy three story building. While rooftop access is possible, the place is guarded, with a big dog. Crozane;s Stealth check of 30% beats the Guard’s Perception check of 28%. Returning home after being up all night, Crozane finds a poor freedman who has been beaten to death (I am checking every time you wander off by yourselves to see if you get mugged). Crozane does the right thing, and reports the occurrence to the authorities, without getting arrested or accused of vile things.
Vitus uses Project Vision + Witchsight to try and hunt for disease spirits in Aldarsh, without success.
Talia finds that there are only two books in the library she can read unassisted. A book on theater makeup (potential skill increase for Disguise) and a book on instructing young ladies in etiquette (potential skill increase for Teach). Some discussion at the table about wanting to open more language skills, and how that will take a lot of time. Talia “accidentally” leaves her ritual study notes lying around for Kyla Maxlace to discover.
Pyrias finally gets to the delayed lunch with Anander Rotrant. Pyrias rolls a 28 for a Deceit check against Anader’s Insight check of 29%, so he fails to fool her about being just an innocent businessman, even with his gambit of gainful employment as a factor the Sapphire Sword Syndicate. Strangely enough, when Pyrias pushes for the truth about her, she tells him straight up that the family is cursed by a demon in the swamps, but what she wants is painkillers for her mother’s illness.
My notes are a bit sparse here, but the party went to dinner at the decaying/subsiding Rotrant mansion. On the way they passed a Sobeki camp by the river. Think sentient crocodiles with banjos and very little clothing in the heat.
Painkillers were handed over for Anander’s mother. Turtle soup was served for dinner, and the party agreed to go into the swamp and hunt and kill the demon (“Old Mother”) that cursed the family.Or more specifically, had the bargain about the necessary sacrifice go out of kilter a couple of generations back (a 01% on the Influence check means the party got a lot of the family history) and Anander has pledged to go into the swamp and kill the demon or die trying, rather than have the burden fall on another generation. Anander is going, as will the party hireling Mitch Mitchson Junior (boat handler, trusty guide) and Florenzia also volunteers (so the party has a dedicated healer for once). Anander also drank everyone under the table.
On the way home, you noticed everyone at the Sobeki camp had machetes and falchions covered in blood. Given your evil hangovers, further exploration of the camp was passed on.
So the next session will have a bit of an Apocalypse Now feel to it, into the swamp/heart of darkness to hunt a demon. First stop, the Alfandi (swamp elf) village, where the fact that Secundus is a traditional Vordar enemy may be a problem.

19 December session

Shopping

Your local guide, Mitch, advised you of suitable gifts for the Alfandi river trade clan, and of the options for boats to take into the swamp.

You hired an undine powered boat from a couple of Vargr devotees (Ivan and Natashya) of the Cult of Danu the Pirate Queen, for 1200 silvers (including a 200 silver penalty for the ‘bad luck’ Vordar). The boat is called the Tsarina Suka. Two cabins and some storage below, but most of you will be sleeping on deck.

Some time was spent shopping for a few more gifts: Pyrias rolled a 01% critical success to find three Smith & Winifred pistols, ex-military surplus, built by the lowest bidding contractor. Crozane found Moon Snake Elixir, a proven remedy for all varieties of swamp fever. Secundus passed on the offer of some brightly coloured song birds. Talia started a long streak of unlucky dice rolls for this session and found nothing in the markets.

Pyrias managed a critical success on his repair attempt for a rapier.

Alfandi Village

Into the swamp, first stop the floating platforms and treetop dwellings of the River trade clan. Shrouded in mist, sticky with humidity. It is as fortified as a place built from twigs and string can be, and the locals have a feral look to them, with spears and bows ready to hand. Clothing is a mix of functional and gaudy – anyone with wealth wears it as bling. The River Queen’s dwelling is the most substantial of the lot, with a large enough ceremonial area for about 100 people, and some smaller private rooms. Underneath that is a set of wooden cages, the largest of which has a big crocodile in it.

While the party is initially greeted warmly by Prince Danton-Claude (DC) – intimately so in the case of Mitch – things take a serious turn when Secundus the Vordar is revealed. Secundus is stripped, bound, hooded, and marched off to be placed in a water filled cave. Ancient history leaves the Alfandi prejudiced about Vordar. So the negotiations are both for toleration of Secundus and guides to escort you deeper into the swamps. DC is buff, handsome, and friendly. Possibly too friendly.

Some slight eye-popping when I made the initial influence check Herculean, but the locals are very suspicious of anyone bringing one of the murderous Vordar into their village. Gifts help, as do an explanation of the party’s reason for the swamp voyage – to kill the “Demon” Darnash – and the offer of three pistols and firepowder, plus five crates of steel weapons from Anander Rotrant, clinches the deal. A twist revelation – the Alfandi state that Darnash is in fact a sleeping power, so a bit more than just a demon. At some stage you should really talk to Anander about exactly what her family’s relationship with Darnash is.

I was trying to portray the Queen as an elven version of Jabba the Hutt. Old, obese, cunning and greedy. Her bodyguard (Tijean) is a giant of an elf with a long spear who never speaks.

While most of the party was negotiating, Secundus got an interrogation from what turned out to be the Queen’s daughter Anne-Collette (AC). Unlike the other Alfandi, AC has blue eyes, not brown/black. AC is lithe, long-haired and suspicious. Secundus had mixed success on his Deceit checks, so you can be sure that AC thinks there is more to this Sapphire Sword Syndicate, than just another group of greedy adventurers.

Note – the clans deeper into the swamp will not be so flexible about the presence of a Vordar. You should anticipate extreme reactions.

Carousing

With success in the negotiations, a celebration is held. The Queen has promised an escort of guides with the skills and experience needed to get the party alive to the old mound in the centre of the swamp, where Old Mother Marnash, the immortal Dreaming Hunger, can be found, along with her mortal cult, dire crocodiles, sting wings, and the legendary Rangarou monster.

Pyrias spends the party largely in close company to the Queen, sitting on the same comfy divan as her. In private conversation, the old Queen points out that while any of her children can attempt the trials to become clan leader after her, only one of them can come home again afterwards.

Secundus spends most of the evening with the Queen’s flabby legs resting on his body.

Anander repeats her past feat with a new drinking contest with the Alfandi.

Crozane’s blonde hair goes down well with the dark haired Alfandi, and a critical success in party mode has several women competing for his attention. DC spends some time flirting with various characters, and Crozane reciprocates, spending a Luck Point on a Deceit check (leading to the question “…but did I want to fail?”).

Vitus mostly dances with Florenzia. Florenzia thinks DC is creepy. QOTD was “but can he dissect a child?”

Talia ends up in private conversation with AC over a bottle of Ildresh (the local equivalent of Purple Death), but mutual suspicion prevents any useful exchange of occult information or potential friendship. As has become usual, Talia ends up watching everyone else have a good time, sleeping on the deck of the boat alone.

Based on the sum of the conversations, the Alfandi are not especially trustworthy, are still holding onto a lot of information, and there is a power play in progress between  AC and DC for the succession to clan leadership.

For a change with dream visions on failed leeching earth checks, I got you to start with the descriptions. I will be doing more of this as you get deeper into the swamps. Pyrias dreamed of Miranda, and dark tunnels, so I added tentacles. Crozane dreamed of the deep swamp, and AC and DC standing together, so I asked which of them stabbed the other first, and he chose AC. Whether this has any real prophetic meaning is yet to be revealed.

Departure

The clan blesses some idols, using blood supplied by Secundus (-1 HP to left arm). The idols closely resemble something from a bad dream Talia had a few sessions back.

9 January Session

Greetings
1) Next session date is planned for 30 January.
2) We assume the pair of sunglasses here is Dutton’s
Into the swamp…
We start with a discussion about how to kill a sleeping power. The party seems to be short on mythic resources, having disposed of several potentially embarrassing relics in the past.
A lot of math is done, calculating Banishment. Even with augmentation and a one hour ritual cast, its probably not going to do much more than irritate a 100+ POW behemoth.
Pyrias makes a Forbidden Lore check. What the party needs is a force multiplier, or to find a vulnerability.
Some discussion about which of the two Alfandi heirs to support: conservative Anne-Collette (AC) or open-minded Danton-Cluade (DC). Some wiggle room in the phrase “only one will return”. Death, exile, imprisonment are all valid options for the loser in this little game of thrones.
Pyrias has a conversation with Anander Rotrant (AR) about what exactly has the party got itself into. AR tells Pyrias that the oath for the deal the family made is in the Viridian Book. Burn it and the oath is negated. Or take the book and take the power.
Talia tries to get information and help from AC to make protective charms and botches with a 99%. AC tells Talia the campsites are warded and that there is a side-entrance to the sunken ruins where the mound of Old Mother Darnash lies.
The campsite
Some dry ground surrounded by trees and tall totem poles. Someone makes a successful Forbidden Lore check and is pretty sure the totem poles are representative of various local sleeping powers. The serpent form of Darnash is clear, as is the demonic toad form of another power. The remaining two are unclear.
Pyrias and DC go collecting firewood. In the east is a zone of dead trees. DC says it is a forbidden place for the Alfandi, but not necessarily forbidden for outsiders. Back at Camp AC pretty much says anyone who goes that way is an idiot. After warding the camp, however, she does, paint everyone with protective runes.
So the party heads off to the east, hoping to be back before the sun has fully set.
The dark tower
 
The tower lies partially submerged, the nearby land is filled with dead foliage. The stone is black, and the crenelations are less battlements, and more spikes. Secundus can hear a voice whispering inaudibly from the tower. The party is ready to advance back to camp when AR notes that the tower is of a make similar to Vordar ruins in the woods south of Aldarsh. Secundus fails a Willpower check, and the door to the tower slides open at his approach.
The entrance vestibule has a lot of chains and manacles, a slime covered floor, and two sealed pneumatic tubes along the back wall. Talia finds a rune matrix on the back wall, figures out the controls for opening the tubes, and invests the MP to start them running.
Pyrias and Secundus go down one of the tubes. “If we’re not back in 30 minutes … wait longer.”
The basement is half-flooded, and features an empty cage, a rack of surgery/interrogation instruments made from bronze and obsidian, and a rack, on which rests a skeleton wrapped in chains, with an old fashioned long sword thrust through its rib cage.
The room is explored, with the only serious drama occuring when Secundus pickes up the long sword, and Pyrias puts a blade to his neck and asks him for “the magic word” (the players are getting used to possession attempts by spirits when the loot old relics). After some stumbling Secundus recalls it (the name of another sleeping power the party has encountered in the past). Secundus can read the ancient Vordar runes on the blade, which spell “Varlon”.
Vitus grabs some of the instruments as presents for Florenzia, who stayed back at camp. Concealed in the water, Secundus finds a set of plate mail made from black glass. People suspect, but are unable to confirm any enchantments. The helm has been made to resemble a toad … somewhat like one of the totem poles back at the camp site. The straps have rotted away, but the glass armour is otherwise intact.
The party ventures up to the roof level of the tower. Here they found a room filled with piles of bones, a roof with a lattice grid of thick bronze bars … except where the bars have ripped apart by some potent strength. Sitting on the floor in front of them is a pile of coins and objects. The situation pretty much screams “It’s a trap!”. Usually Crozane would be the person who triggers the encounter, but as that player is away this session, Pyrias steps over and picks up a glass cube, that fits on the palm of the hand, and contains liquid and a small air bubble. It has no obvious opening.
Using big 32mm dice to track Luck Points.
A red Bayakhee model from Cthulhu Wars to represent the monster.
Fight!
 
The Child of Rangarou (CoR) attacks. It is a giant, feathered crocodile, with vestigial wings. It attacks in a burst of potent speed, sweeping a maelstrom of bone fragments through the air.
<Stats were as for a zombie Wyvern, 3 Actions, 87% combat skill, D12+2d6 damage, poison, disease, 7 AP per location, 11-13 HP per location, chest/head hit required to kill. I had considered giving it a combat skill of ~120% but decided this would be too lethal if the party was divided and failed a Willpower check>
Four characters are present at this point, Crozane and AR are down below (AR had equipped a set of custom plate armour and a greatsword and waded through the swamp with the party) and will take 2-3 full rounds to get to the top level.
The players all make the necessary Willpower checks to avoid being intimidated (which would cost them a full round of combat actions).
Round One: First Actions
Pyrias makes an oratory check to give other characters a +08% augmentation on the Willpower checks.
CoR attacks Vitus, who is holding the lantern. Rolls 30% versus an Evade of 50%. Some discussion, Vitus should have the Daredevil trait, so is not prone.
Talia starts casting Backlash.
Secundus hits with Varlon’s Blade, but fails to penetrate. The Blade starts glowing (the spirit bound into the sword has cast Pierce). I ruled the Longsword was broadly similar to a rapier, so only one difficulty level to use with the rapier focused combat style.
Vitus starts casting Fire Dance.
Round One: Second Actions
Pyrias misses.
CoR hits Vitus, who fails to evade, and spends a Luck Point (LP) to avoid losing the arm from 13 points of damage. With its long jaws clamped around V’s arm, the CoR extends a proboscis from within its mouth deep into the wounded flesh. CoR rolls a 07% Critical, so V spends a LP to force a reroll it into an ordinary hit. Seven damage requires another LP to keep the arm intact (and V is now out of LP and Actions). Some Endurance checks are failed and V is now suffering from a debilitating poison (tasks involving the arm are +2 difficulty grades) and a necrotic disease (-1 STR per hour).
The lantern V was holding drops on the floor, but does not go out.
Talia casts Backlash on Pyrias and herself.
Secundus hits with a critical success (and CoR is not defending itself) and does maximum damage, bypassing armour, to the chest. That drops the CoR to 0 HP in the chest, but -13 is required to knock it out. Varlon’s Blade glows again as the spirit casts Bladesharp.
Round One: Third Actions
Pyrias attacks, misses, uses a LP to reroll … hits … fails to penetrate armour.
CoR utterly smashes the lantern, plunging the room into darkness. Secundus has nightsight, so is unimpeded, everyone else is struggling to see the beast.
Talia casts Sense Blood … but the CoR is undead and has no blood … except for V’s blood on its jaws!
Secundus hits, and is now rolling 1d12+1d4 ignoring two points of armour (this is about the most buffed anyone has ever been in the party on folk magic).
Round One: Fourth Action
Pyrias attacks, hits, and impales his rapier. But the CoR is too big (SIZ 35) for it to have any great effect.
Round Two: First Action
Everyone makes their Willpower checks.
Pyrias tries to draw his blade out, and fails.
CoR attacks Secundus, attack 55% to evade 37%, and does 17 points of damage to a leg, which reduces it to -3 HP after armour. Secundus uses a LP to mitigate it to a minor wound (House Rule) so the leg stays on 1 HP.
Talia attacks, 05% critical hit, target chest, bypass armour, and the foul beast is slain!
A healing potion is used to stabilise Vitus, but he needs some serious after hours emergency care. Luckily there is a trained nurse back at camp.
 
Inventory and Redistribution
  •   13 Jade coins, strung together with copper wire through a central hole, the coins are decorated in forbidden glyphs from before the dawn, and can be determined to be magic (Vitus with mystic hearing, the coins are screaming in fear): AC later claims these are coins which ensure passage to the other side (death) and back again.

  • 1,242 Bronze coins, green with age (value is uncertain)

  • 1 Blue Sapphire ~1,200 silvers, 1 smaller Blue Sapphire ~1,100 silvers, Alexandrite ~500 silver, Carnelian ~20 silver, Chrysophase ~40 silver, Hematite ~12 silvers (approximate values)

  • A hexagonal tile, made from gold, and enchanted as a Sentry Warding. (Vitus – it sounds like it is drawing a breath in).

  • A Bone Scroll case, containing a scroll written in an unknown tongue.

  • 81 modern silver coins of the Lunar Realms

  • A vibrating dagger (magic hum/flicker) – the party assumed Crozane was appropriating this

  • A small obsidian state of a frog with claws, dominating a writhing serpent. The base contains ancient pre-dawn runes.

  • A square cube of a glass like material, that contains a clear liquid, and a small air bubble.

  • An artists book, half filled with sketches of swamp creatures, and annotations in a Silent Legion cypher (will take several days to completely decode). Author’s name was just M.

Back at camp
 
Florenzia performs first aid, then surgery, with the help of the Moon Snake Oil Crozane purchased earlier. A 07% critical success means that Vitus is not going to be losing an arm, and the progress of the disease has been stopped (only -2 STR lost). The poison is still in the blood (for another five days).
AC tells the party they should take all that treasure and throw it back in the swamp. Both she and DC are horrified that the party has fought a CoR, because its mother hunts the swamp for Alfandi who break tribal taboos, and the child is part of pale shadow of the terror that is the mother. Note: you may wish to read the entry for the Terrifying trait in the creature section of the RQ rules.
Dreams
 
Inside the wards, with the blessing from AC, most people sleep peacefully.
Vitus, however, dreams that he is escaping a massacre. Alfandi cultists attacking a camp similar to this one, at night. I give Vitus the choice of a companion, and he chooses Pyrias to be fleeing the massacre with him.
The scene replays, back to the beginning, over and over again. I ask Vitus who the betrayer is, and he chooses Crozane.
Secundus gets a dream conversation with the haunting spirit bound into the blade. Varlon warns him against trusting the Alfandi. Standing at the dream crossroads, Secundus makes a bargain for training and opens the Vordar Longsword combat style at a level equal to his current best combat style.
This costs him one permanent POW (which reduces his LP by one, so is quite the painful sacrifice) and he acquires the Hate Alfandi passion at 86% (Varlon has been brooding for about eight centuries, honing his hatred of Alfandi). In certain circumstances he can augment with Varlon’s skills and passions for ~20% bonus. So that means his combat style can get over the 100% threshold.
“Seek the sword of Red and Gold” is the last of Varlon’s whispered advice as the sun rises.
The next day
Pyrias is a bit miffed that Secundus has been making pacts with ancient spirits without permission. Now there is a bit of discussion about whether or not Secundus should be allowed to put the old Vordar glass armour on (its clearly enchanted, a hammer blow does not shatter it). The Alfandi with the party, however, are now clearly terrified of Secundus, so Pyrias is worried they might do something dangerous and desperate if provoked further.
Pyrias has a quiet chat with Talia in the morning. He has decoded part of the message in the artbook. It started with “The Alfandi are not to be trusted” and went downhill into gibberish, conspiracy theory, tales of cannibalism, and the exaltation of Darnash. Its time to try and sound out their Alfandi allies a bit more.
Talia tries once again to have a conversation with AC, while Pyrias has a chat with DC. Talia blows the Influence check for a third time. AC drops hints that the Guardian of the side entrance will be interested in Talia.
DC is a lot more forthcoming, but also more probing of the party’s motivations, and is surprised when Pyrias appears uninterested in the location of the cult treasury with enough gold for 100 lifetimes.
At midday the boat crosses a spirit barrier, for which AC performs a ritual for everyone but Secundus, costing a MP so that the party can cross unobserved. Secundus spends a LP to make the willpower check when crossing the barrier.
Pyrias tries chatting with AC and gets a few more cryptic hints (and my notes are not as clear as they could be, I hope you guys remember what I said).
Towards the end of the day, a new campsite is reached. This time its a stone pillar rising out of the mire, with carved steps up. Surrounding it are four ancient trees, carved into the now familiar totem shapes (and Vitus recognises the scene of the massacre in his dreams). While AC can ward the platform, she refuses to allow Secundus into the sacred space. The boat crew are also reluctant to leave their boat, and one of their children has fallen sick.
Despite all the horrors encountered so far, the first time Pyrias squirms, is when someone suggests Florenzia is good with children.
…and that is where we ended, with the Sun setting in the distance.

Runequest 6 Session Notes

July 5, 2015
I have been running my Runequest campaign for a bit over a year now, and it occurs to me I could take the session notes I have been posting over at the Design Mechanism forums and repost them here.
The overarching theme I had in planning these sessions was to focus on the social side of the story, drawing in as many of the NPCs that the players had established connections with as possible.  I also wanted to spend spotlight time on various background elements for each PC, as I have been finding it easier to spark ideas for some of the PCs and not others (especially for the quieter players).  So its a week in the harvest ball season, with the party assigned to protect the Empress Alexandra, younger sister of the reigning Emperor Julian.
Session 1 Five go slumming with an Empress
Started by spending some time discussing Hill folk, Apocalypse World and Luther Arkwright.  I have been reading a lot of different sets of RPG rules recently. Possibly too much, as I started dreaming in GURPS mechanics.
The first day the party spent as bodyguards for Empress Alexandra was spent on a mix of civic religious functions, and formal receptions for VIPs wanting to hobnob with the Empress. This was an opportunity for me to introduce many members of the Imperial court in passing.
Talia’s background of a dispute with her father over an arranged marriage came into play, when he turned up with news that her brother, a POW in Covenant hands (another background point), had converted to the enemy. So her father asked for a reconciliation, as otherwise the family estate would be going to her dissolute younger brother. Talia did some hard bargaining (roll of 52 with an Influence skill of 52, versus a failed Willpower check by her father) and agreed.
The second day is one of more public functions and duties.
The morning starts badly, with an inspection of the naval shipyards leading to an stand up shouting argument with bonus insults between Empress Alexandra and the commander of the Navy (both rolled 57 on an opposed Willpower check to see who would give way first). The party spends a couple of luck points extricating the Empress form the scene, and calming her down.
The party attends the opening of some new public gardens, and a private visit to the Imperial vault without incident. After lunch the visit several orphanages and veterans homes. Its like being bodyguards for Princess Diana. Eventually they end up at an art gallery, where they met some of the Covenant embassy staff. The Empress is impressed by a painting of the climax of the battle at runescar, and rewards the artist Miranda Larson with patronage. Pyrias makes a good impression with Miranda.
The party then prepared to go out partying with the Empress. As its ball season, everyone is wearing masks. I awarded a bonus luck point to anyone who managed to guess which mask the Empress was going to choose. Everyone then changes into mufti, and Cain issues the PCs with a concealable muff pistol. Then the party heads off slumming, with everyone told to refer to the Empress as “Servalan”.
Servalan takes them to the “Witch and Axe” tavern on the underside of the city. A lot of carousing takes place, and then several of the PCs volunteer to take part in the pit fights. This was an opportunity for me to play around with the combat challenges, without it being a matter of life or death for the PCs. Everyone taking part had to choose a “pit fighter” name.
Secundus, as the “Masked Mantis” faced off against another Vordar, the “Black Needle”.  I gave the Black Needle a combat style of 89%, which was much higher than what Secundus had (low 70% range). It started badly for Secundus, with the Black Needle getting a 09% critical hit and immediately disarming Secundus. Then she tripped him on her next attack. Secundus managed to get up while the Black Needle was hamming it up with the crowd, but even with some luck point use the Black Needle proceeded to outfight Secundus and quickly inflict three light wounds on him.
A few of the PCs lost some coin in the side betting.
Crozane then fought the novelty act, two goblins connected by a length of chain. Crozane plays up the role of being a foreign sun-worshiping heel for the crowd, almost to the point where people want to throw objects at him. Early on in the fight against the goblins he impales one with a dagger, and then exploits its reduced skill using Brawn augmented with Acrobatics to tumble the goblins into the pit (which has a safety net below it rather than a mile drop to the ground, not that I told the players that before the fights started).
Session 2 Rapiers at dawn
Continuing with the third and final PC pit fight, Pyrias “the sleeping lion” faced off against the reigning champion, a Minotaur who was also an Imperial official. The opponents are connected by a length of chain manacled to their arms, the floor is greased, apart from log stumps that can be stood on.
We started with a long discussion about what can be accomplished with a Charge action, and if a skill check is needed for the crossing the greasy floor. Eventually I allowed the combination of acrobatics and a combat style trait that helped movement to more or less ignore the slippery floor.
Even after a year of play I still find the terminology of Combat Actions, Combat Rounds, Turn and Charge to be not as intuitive as I would like. For example, players keep expecting to execute a charge in a single combat action, but the rules specify one full combat round of movement.  I have been letting them execute the charge in a single action, not the 3-4 actions the RAW imply.
I am still constantly pausing to double check that we have the correct number of special effects from combat rolls, and that we are applying the effect of a Parry successfully.
Trying to find how much damage an unarmed attack was something else I failed to quickly figure out after checking several sections of the rulebook. I ruled it was 1d3 damage and we played on.
But back to the fight … Pyrias charged, the Minotaur counterattacked, hit for 8 points, reduced by luck point. Pyrias used his special effect to entangle the chain around the Minotaur’s neck (improvising on the fly, no damage, makes next attack Easy). The next few actions are a struggle between the Minotaur trying to get the chain off, and Pyrias to do some damage. In the fourth action, because Pyrias has 4 AP and the Minotuar only has 3 AP, Pyrias hits and gets a bonus special effect, hitting te Minotaur for nine damage in the right leg, and the Minotaur rolls 100% for the Endurance check and falls into the safety net (which remains intact).
The bookies had offered 7:1 odds on Pyrias, and Talia had bet 1,000 silver, so now she has 7,000 coins to go shopping with. Pyrias also gained a lot of social status, and was surrounded by adoring fans.  The party spends some more time socialising, the Black Needle turns out to be Stitch, an NPC from a previous session, who gets friendly with Secundus. This allows me to introduce an aside about the Emperor recruiting heavily from the orphanages, a factor of his paranoia. Talia flirts with Karen Ivanovich, who is in town for business, and comes to the Axe because she used to work here and still gets a staff discount. Vitus the fire mage plays with flammable cocktails.
The next scene is in a luxurious Salon hidden in the back of the Witch and Axe.  A couple of Cain’s assistants deposit an Imperial officer by the name of Titus Crow for questioning by the Empress Alexandra. Turns out Alexandra had paid Titus a lot of money to try and expedite warship construction for escorts for her Battleship, which has not happened (hence the argument in the naval yard). Plus he used to be her lover, and uses very familiar language. She has just started asking him about smuggling spirit jars into the city, when the party is warned that the Imperial Guard are raiding the establishment.
I let the PCs advise the Empress about what she should do, mostly they keep quiet. So I stick with plan A, and the angry/upset Empress throws Titus off the Salon balcony (he is tied to a chair, its a mile down) rather than get into trouble with Julian.  A runner is then sent upstairs to invite more people to the “party” in the Salon. By the time the guard finally reach the Salon its a very drunken scene that greets them.  Stitch gets into trouble with the guard, even though its her night off.  Karen offers her services as a magistrate, she scans “Servalan’s” surface thoughts, blanches, and proceeds to make a successful deceit check and the guard is successfully persuaded to go elsewhere.
Nothing else too interesting happens at the party. Later that night Talia gets to perform “holding the hair out of the vomit” duties for a tearful Empress.
The next day is filled with dull military parades. The evening’s main event is presentations of tribute tokens (and reports of the actual taxes to be paid) from the various governors within the Empire. This is to be followed by heavy drinking among the governors and their retainers.
Governor Tenny from Runescar is here, and after delivering her tribute she bumps into Crozane, a 01 success is rolled and they vanish for the rest of the night.
Karen Ivanovich presents for Governor Kev of the Lars, who is confirmed as Governor of the Island of Monsters, and the Emperor does a short speech about how the gold hoard (found by the PCs but credit now claimed by Kev) is sufficient to fund the entire Imperial budget next year, plus a military expansion programme. Emperor Julian then announces that the position of Grand Domestic (the vacant five star general slot) will be filled by Ventarch – an elderly general of good reputation, who also happened to turn up with Sabrina Gilligan on his arm (she was the sea witch from Whitemouth in an earlier session).
The evening is somewhat strained by insults from the Imperial guard (they call the PCs “wrigglers”, a distortion of the “Vigla” name of their regiment), and Pyrias gets into a duel with Kevin Larson (son of Governor Kev and husband of Miranda Larson, the artist who was quite taken with Pyrias the hero of Runescar earlier on). Of course, everyone knows this part of the argument Julian and Alexandra have been having, extended to proxies.
Pyrais does have a short conversation with Ventarch, where the General points out that his lack of magical talent means he will not be considered for further promotion at the capital, but a transfer can be arranged to a border garrison on the Enmity front, where promotion is assured (this is about the equivalent of being sent to Afghanistan in the days of the Raj).
For the duel I let Pyrais augment his combat style wit the Customs skill, fighting in the traditional old school formal approach. Both combatants had high combat skills, around 85%, so much of the combat consisted of successful parries. Pyrias had an edge with 4 AP to Kevin’s 3 AP, although it did not help in the first round (a 99 rerolled with a luck point to 97).
Over the course of the fight, Pyrias managed to stab Kevin about five times for light wounds, using special actions to avoid any potentially mortal wounds. The player kept asking for a surrender, but Kevin kept fighting until the player actually chose to use a special effect on a Compel Surrender check.
…and there we ended the session, with one Empress happy with her champion, and one Emperor unhappy with his champion.

Session 3 Summary – Bazaar and Ball

This session had three minor encounters while shopping with Empress Alexandra in the Grand Bazaar, a brief interlude, then a couple of scenes at the Ball, concluding with a showdown with some assassins, traitors and enemy agents. After all, the party would have had every right to be grumpy with me if I had them as bodyguards for three game sessions without at least one serious assassination attempt.
During this session, I tried a group skill check mechanic for party perception over long periods of time. This is where the party as a whole requires four successes to pass the check (critical success counts double, fumble is minus one success). This seemed to work well, and makes everyone’s perception skill important, rather than relying on Crozane’s high perception (>100% if mystic talents are active).
A young urchin filched Vitus’ pouch, was just spotted, and then Secundus gave chase. Again I tried this as an extended Athletics skill check, first side to four successes won. Despite having a lower Athletics skill than the Urchin, Secundus easily caught up to the nipper (who had a fumble mid-escape). The urchin threw the pouch away and Secundus retrieved it rather than give chase any further.
Later, as the Empress is trying on shoes, Crozane makes a critical success on his perception to spot that the slimy sales rep is none other than his hated enemy, Sillicus Ruval, a Covenant agent. Crozane immediately kicks Sillicus in the head (a 04% critical hit), draws his weapons, and Sillicus barely has time to stammer “diplomatic immunity” before something unfortunate occurs.  Crozane manages to not give in to his passion to kill Sillicus, and Sillicus delivers his diplomatic note to the Empress.
Later, as the Empress is going to look at hats, the party spots a woman they know, Margarette, being dragged off by two thugs. When the party goes to intervene, the thugs display the spider emblem of Valens, the retired Emperor. SO while Margarette begs for mercy, the players let Valens’ men drag her away for questioning.
As an aside, usually PCs get placed in an investigative role when it comes to plots. But the party is tied to the Empress as bodyguards, so they cannot go chasing off after clues relating to Titus and smuggling. This does show other Imperial agents are working on the case.
Shopping finished, the party mostly rests before the evening ball, with a couple of characters having disturbing dreams about ravens and assassins.
The first half of the ball is mainly talking and dancing. Emperor Julian does announce the adoption of Bernadette Gilligan (the young girl the party retrieved from Whitemouth a few adventures back) into the Taran family. There is a lot of maneuvering to see who gets to dance with whom.
I split the party up, by having Emperor Julian send Crozane and Pyrias elsewhere. The party have a mindspeech spell up to try and aid communication, but the ballroom and surrounding rooms are big enough for this to not work all the time.
Out on patrol Crozane and Pyrias hear suspicious noises and burst into a room, finding Emperor Julian in flagrante with a lady, and two of his guards.  Pyrias makes a successful Customs check, apologising and closing the door.
The players move to get in comms range of the ballroom and try and put two and two together, and suspect a double. But which one is the real Julian? Crozane had noticed that the guards had matchlock pistols, not the modern wheelocks used in the guards regiments.
Crozane and Pyrias head back to the room where they saw “Julian”. Crozane activates a silence spell (a gift from his devotion for a forbidden god) and they burst into the room. The Silence means they cannot hear the tied up young lady mouthing the word “bomb” or hear the hissing of the spluttering grenade.
One of the characters in the Ballroom makes a critical success on perception and spots Misha, an old adversary, in position in a high up balcony box. As the Empress is out on the dancefloor, Talia moves to make her safe. At which point the ballroom erupts into panic and chaos as first all light vanishes, and then several explosions happen.
The Ballroom attack is resolved with the party escaping into one of the secret passages reserved for the Imperial family. They also drag Bernadette Taran with them, as the old seer Maria Taran and the Grand Domestic Ventarch were both shot by Misha (bullets with a nasty spirit bound to the bullet, released on impact to devour the mind of the victim, in part because I’m using the Apocalypse World principle of putting people the NPCs care about in cross hairs).
Meanwhile Crozane and Pyrias have managed to spot the bomb and throw it away before it explodes, and then set off in pursuit (going the right way as they did first aid on the lady and got a clue from her). So they emerge into the side end of the ambush that is really intended to kill Empress Alexandra, with six false guardsmen with matchlock pistols, the false Julian, and a traitor from the Palace staff. Outnumbered 4:1, they immediately charge.
Crozane and Pyrias survive the first round, killing one guardsman and wounding another.  Cane appears, fires a pistol, wounding another guardsman. The remaining guards then shoot Cane (and miss the PCs). The combat then becomes more of a general melee with Rapiers.
The party is then reunited at this suitably dramatic point, with the other PCs and NPCs entering the room. Having heard the noise of the encounter, the mages have spells ready to cast, one of which is immediately neutralized by the False Julian. The palace traitor then starts wracking Cane, Pyrias and Crozane for 1d8 damage a round.
There is a long fight, and nearly every luck point the PCs and party have is burned to ensure that wounds do not knock people out or kill them. The players defeat most of the false guards, but are still having trouble with the mages when I ruled that Alexandra turned the traitor’s wrack against himself (she is of the Imperial blood, inside her family palace, and carries half a dozen or so major artifacts, so this was a handwave rather than a specific spell). At which point the false Julian flees, just as Uncle Valens’ giant spiders turn up.
Cane did not survive (several rapier strikes, and a couple of wrack strikes to the head). The False Julian escaped to live another day. Some NPC exposition takes place, revealing that some of the children of the Black Emperor’s bloodline still survive, which is how the assassins got itno the Palace so easily. The players manage not to offend Senior Emperor Valens, and because they have learned too much to keep running around in the “Wrigglers” he has a job offer for them. Meanwhile Uncle Valens tells Alexandra to go and make up with Emperor Julian, because if she runs for her Battleship, that will likely trigger Julian’s paranoia and a civil war…
Our observation on the impact of Magic in combat is that it feels very paper-scissors-nuke. Wrack is a decisive spell, if cast, and the caster is not neutralised, its pretty much impossible for the opponents to win. 1d8 penetrating damage to multiple targets every action round is hideous. The two PCs only survived upright because I rolled a large number of 1s on the d8 damage die.  On the other side of things, the six points of damage protection the False Julian had was almost enough to deflect any incoming damage from melee attacks.
At some point in the session we had a discussion about the Size and Distance Difficulty Adjustment Table for ranged weapons, and the players all agreed with me that it was a silly table and we wouldn’t be using it at our gaming table. The Ranged Combat Situational Modifiers list was more than sufficient.
We ran a bit overtime for this session, but that felt like the right call. People had a lot of fun.
End of Act I
XP will wait until next session, but I signaled that the focus of the game will change. The party can choose between an assignment in the border marches (with likely promotion), assignment to Empress Alexandra’s regiment (with many social opportunities), or assignment to Emperor Valen’s couriers (with a lot of opportunity for accessing forbidden lore).
Then I plan to scroll the game forward two years, which will allow for a fair bit of training, and lets Secundus the young cadet grow up into somewhat less of an awkward teenager.