Actual Play – A Steward for the Ways (11/27/2011)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Chris Vincenti, Eric Fattig, and Steven Dunn
System: Dresden Files

Last we left off the WK was still breezing through the Never Never. Layers upon layers of Realms (first the Cage of Cerberus and then the Marsh of the Sea King) separated him from the real world. More on that soon.

As Chris wasn’t in the last game we spent some time finding out how spring training was going for Raoul. They went down to the Dominican Republic where they found a promising rookie Boboy, who Raoul wanted to take under his wing. There he spent some time with family as well, especially Etiene (his grandfather) that noticed the Loa were now speaking to Raoul frequently. He warned Raoul of trafficking with the dark Loa like Kalfu and of getting entangled with the White Council, but Raoul brushed his concerns aside “Times have changed papa, I can take care of myself. Don’t you worry about me.” Sure…of course not.

We started the session in earnest with Remington and the hag arriving at the Marsh of the Sea King, another realm of the Never Never. A marsh taken right out of the swamp of souls from Tolkien. Only these weren’t ghosts so much as souls that were trapped in the Never Never after death, wanting very badly to pass on.

I handled his passage through the marsh like a conflict, which I think was the right way to handle it mechanically but I wasn’t very clear about the Marsh’s objective. If Remington was taken out, what did that mean? I had fun torturing him with the images of people starving to death in their cells (how they attacked him, with their memories) but really wasn’t sure what they would gain if they won (Note: I’m rarely a fan of dying as the losing condition). I think this was a case of jumping into the mechanics too quickly and not driving to the dice form the fiction.

As that conflict went on I flashed over to Rose and Raoul who had been expecting Remington to show up for the last two weeks. Rose had pressure from all sides (Alisha who thought she was aiding and possibly now harboring a fugitive), Daiske who wanted to be around to make sure Monroe couldn’t deliver the hag and Tagushi himself who was waiting anxiously for her arrival. Mostly though, Rose didn’t want to be arrested by Alisha. And as it became very clear that is exactly what was going to happen (by way of eight FBI agents that showed up to arrest her) so Rose made haste and did something she hated…she asked Raoul for help, and what is worse, she asked him for supernatural help.

And I was really happy with what happened next. Chris, who has been pretty hands off when it comes to mechanics sat down and went through the full process of casting a ritual, including all the prep to bring Raoul’s lore up high enough as well as the casting itself. Of course the entire thing was peppered with the FBI showing up and being shooed away by Rose impersonating a Korean housekeeper, and Raoul leaping around skyclad as he was casting.

And Chris is a champ because even though all went well with the spell (casting wise) he was more than willing to accept a fate chip and have Kalfu show up (compelling everyone wants a piece of me) to take him on a magic carpet ride. Kalfu knocked on the door and when rose answered in Korean he replied in kind, asking her kindly to let him in. He was of course a daper idle aged hatian man in a white suit and white fedora. The scene with Kalfu was great, Raoul being all kinds of respectful, Rose being disdainful and Kalfu being lecherous. Raoul told Rose Kalfu could give her great power if he went inside her and, well, let your dirty mind wander from there.

Soon after Rose was hammered drunk and driving a 1920’s wood paneled Ford Model-T, taking turns at Kalfu’s direction and arriving in a marsh, right in front of the Winter Knight…

…who had just freed a soul (invoking his “I am death” consequence to send the soul on to its afterlife). Of course, that was like throwing bread crumbs before flock of pigeons…only these were insane tormented wraith pigeons, who suddenly ALL knew of his presence.

Remington had nearly made it through the marsh already (the marsh had of its stress boxes filled and took a mild consequence already), but with the aid of Raoul’s command over the dead, and Rose’s “I’ll have none of this nonsense, let’s just get out of here” gumption, the heroes easy found their way through the Sea King’s Marsh and to relative safety, at the subway beneath San Francisco, aka the entrance to the undercity.

They, waiting for them was Greymalkin, who applauded the Winter Knight’s resourcefulness in finding his way here. She also presented him with a task. As he no doubt noticed there was no guardian into the undercity. Since the first story, the Red Court had lost their status as stewards of the ways in San Francisco (as they were not able to pay their tithe, specifically because the players stole it from them) and since then the ways had been unprotected. Mab had some affairs to take care of and it was in her interest that nobody be privy to them…surely the Winter Knight, a consulate thief and liar could understand wanting some discretion in one’s work…but now as Winter would start to wane (in game time it is late March), and Mab’s work was done, she once again sought a guardian to watch over the ways while her precedence cedes to Summer.
And guess what Winter Knight… you get to find the person (or rather faction) to do it! Yay.
The game ended with them leaving Never Never into the 16th street BART station. Everything seemed well…until they asked, hey, isn’t someone going to notice that Catarina looks like a monster? And the game ended with a woman who had just asked them for spare change, suddenly going pale and then screaming in terror.

Thoughts on the game.

Lenny Balsera helped me quite a bit with Mab’s “Favor”. I really didn’t want a “go kill, retrieve, or rescue X thing or person” kind of task. The task, should by virtue of being granted to a mortal servant include some choice, some very significant choice that could surprise even Mab. Also, the element of choice, by its nature includes the possibility of error or poor judgment, and passes the culpability for a poor choice from Mab to her knight. In the end, even if Remington screws up, it will server Mab well, as she will have lots of room for recourse against both the chosen steward and her knight (because that is always fun times) and, and… I get to let the PCs agonize over what to do next, which I just love.

Yay for fully engaging the spellcasting mechanics. I hand wave them often and I was glad that we played through this time, it made for a some fun complications (like the FBI showing up in the middle).

As mentioned above I jumped to quickly into “let’s have a conflict” when I should have instead started with a narrative “The swamp is filled with souls. They want to trap you amongst them, keep you their prisoner so that they can experience life through you, as the souls in hell did to Dante in Inferno”. I think making it clear that a force wanted to imprison him…and in fact even compelling his “one step away from Iron Bars” to justify why he came to THIS particular realm in the Never Never, would have been good.

There was a moment when the PCs were having a big pow wow right next to Greymalkin and Catarina. I thought for a bit about those two listening in, but decided I much preferred them being old friends that were getting caught up (as Catarina had been in prison for the last 300 years). It also introduced the possibility that Catarina can call in some old favors from Winter.

We did have one sticky point. The players turned to the Hag, who they know has no regard for human life and wanted her very much to promise that she would stay with them to complete the bargain with Tagushi. And I thought for a bit…why would she do that. She wasn’t bound by any kind of oath. She hated the guy, why would she ever agree to stick around and feign going into his captivity? So, she made them a deal. The Wizard Thomas Caine had really put a number on her. His spell gave her and extreme consequence that prevents her from taking human guise (and because it is a physical consequence also triggers her catch, it’s a double whammy). She doesn’t know how he did it but she wants Caine to fix it! So, she agrees to go peacefully with them, and they need to “heal” her.

Due to the sensational reaction he got to cheating in a duel with a troll, at the end of the session Remington took the aspect “You expect the Winter Knight not to cheat?” I’m really pleased with this because a) it shows that Remington can be a dynamic character, he has changed and two, it’s a great one to compel, because now everyone that has dealt with him (or heard of him) will expect him to cheat on their deals. Certainly Catarina (who witnessed it first hand) is making provisions for what to do if he tries to cheat her out of a cure and Tagushi, who has heard about the PCs duplicitous dealings with Red Court is going to be waiting for him to try and pull a fast one. Having everyone thing you’re a cheater will make for some fun Trouble ™.