Actual Play – Showdown! (4/11/2011)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Steve, Fattig, Chris and Alec
System: Dresden Files

We missed the last game because I wanted everyone at this session… and it was worth it. We had to wrap early because of time, but I still had a great time in the game and was happy we waited for it.

Goals for this game. Success!

I also had a realization about my goals out of games. Many times I’ve stumbled by trying to make certain things happen. “I want the vampire to seal the necklace and fly off like a bandit.” Or even “I want the protagonist to have to choose between two evils.” I get these ideas in my head and, if I’m not careful, that is the path to railroading a player. I’m usually pretty sly about couching the action as a result of their actions, so it seems emergent, but I know it really isn’t.

Last night my goal was really simple, and I think it allowed the players a lot of freedom without me worrying to much about what was going to happen. My goal was this: For the protagonists to see that there are supernatural dangers in the city and that there is no one but them to do anything about those dangers. This was especially important for unifying a group that was otherwise just staying together because of a single crime (the case from the first session of Raoul’s stolen watch) and for making sure that the single mortal in the group was clued in enough to start perusing supernatural threats.

And it worked great. I had this really hard question in mind (who do you give favor to, the Red Court or the Jade) and realized it didn’t need to be the forefront of the problems, so instead I presented it as one individual person’s convictions and let the heroes decide how much of a threat the Jade Court, which they know nothing about, really is. End result was the players dealing with the threat at hand and leaving another one looming in the distance… a perfect lead in to the next story.

Okay, plot continuity gushing aside, what happened?

We started off with a little round of catch up, since the last game as over a month ago and I could tell there was still some excitement about the confusing between Raoul and Monroe regarding blood magic (Raoul suspecting Monroe of being some evil priest or otherwise dangerous practitioner). So we started off in the patrol car, with Monroe in cuffs in the back and Raoul driving. It didn’t hit me till later than Raoul was driving a police car with a sprained arm…that eventually caught up with him.

As they bantered back and forth, I started messing with Monroe. The Winter Lady started communicating with him. He heard, and then eventually saw in the rear view mirror her having a conversation which started coy but quickly became dangerous. He only got her side of the conversation but someone wanted the original watch, the one Monroe had placed at the fortress of Arctis Tor, and later Maeve took as a plaything. The communication ended with her being slammed up against a wall of the fortress and the clinking sound of the watch hitting the ground.

VC was missing, the primary suspect Rose’s father was still at large and now Monroe knew that someone had taken the watch… and assaulted the winter lady to do so. With all that going on, what happened? Raoul stopped for donuts…and to sign some autographs…and to take a call from his coach, which just saw him on the evening news with a sprained arm. Cop farce hilarity ensued as Raoul told Rose and Monroe that his coach wanted to see him, a ridiculous argument ensued and then Raoul saw his coach pull up in a van. The next thing you know we have a police chase, where the coach is chasing the police back to the precinct. It was all quite ludicrous but also pretty natural. None of us were pushing for it, that was just the result of a very “who’s on first” kind of play.

Now was the time to compel that sprained arm consequence and just as the patrol car was pulling into the parking lot, which if you know parking lots in San Francisco you know they are VERY cramped, he couldn’t twist his arm fast enough to avoid plowing into another squad car that was exiting…and then getting rear ended by the coach who had been hot on his tail.

Cut to VC

With all this comedy, it was time to return to the problem. Camera pans to VC, Sinclair (another officer who caught VC trying to go at this alone and refused to let him go solo) and D’walla (the girlfriend of the dead officer Olvido, who just had a lot of attitude and wanted to put a cap in the ass of the whoever knifed her man). They pulled up to a Shaolin in the middle of nowhere Japantown. It was dimly lit from the inside but showed no signs of activity.
The outside had a small garden, with paving stones forming a path to the entrance. A door that was unlocked. However, as VC tried to enter he felt a barrier, like slamming into a glass wall. Pretty quickly, he figured out something supernatural was keeping him out of this building, a ward in fact. Not wanting to look the fool, or let the killer get away, he allowed the vampiric blood to surge through his veins, empowering him with inhuman strength and with the momentum of a charging bull, physically pounded his way through the ward. He made it through, but on the other side realized he left something at the doorway, his powers would not serve him in here. There was some confusing as Sinclair and D’walla entered without trouble, but VC told them to hush and not ask questions.

Inside the temple VC found a room where the entire floor was covered in sand and decorated with bonsai planters. There was teak wooden aqueduct as well, running a slow stream of water around the room and ending in a shallow pool, all of which suspended on wooden stilts just a foot above the ground.

Beside the pool and still recovering VC found Daiske (Rose’s father’s attaché), covered in ectoplasm that was slowly dissipating from its presence in the material world. He looked weary but purposeful. His left hand was wrapped in a gauntlet of bamboo, his right held a black lacquered staff. In the gauntlet, VC could make out the gleam of metal reflecting from the dim light. As Daiske stood, he revealed it was in fact the watch so many people have been looking for so long.

A brief discussion took place. Something along the lines of “you need to give me that watch.” “No, I need to go deliver it to a vampire.” As quickly as it started the conversation ended with shotgun blast and a sweep kick knocking sand into VCs face – Sand that began creeping into his orifices, trying to blind choke and deafen him.

The Three Musketeers

We cut back to Porthos, er Raoul, trying to prevent a mighty shirt storm from erupting as well as create a distraction for Rose and Remington so that they could get to the locker room and find out where VC is. So, you’ve got two cop cars and a coaches van all in a three car pile up plus about 10 cops all coming to see what happened plus a dead sexy LT who is walking around the corner about to see this mess AND a coach screaming bloody murder at you for the danger you’re putting your arm into. What do you do? You arrest your coach, that’s what you do. It appeases all parties. Well, all but the coach. Making omelets you know.

Meanwhile Rose and Remington made their way into the men’s locker room to get to VC’s locker. Easy to find because it was the one with a big plaque on the font with VC emblazoned upon it. The plaque looked ancient (and was, at leas from he 20s or earlier) but they just assumed it was old because VC is old.

And alas, in the men’s locker room, both of them drew some attention. Remington because he’s a criminal, Rose, because she is a woman. It was her turn to take one for the team. “Guys, the plumbing in the women’s locker is busted again. I’ve been working 24 hours straight on this case, I need a shower. Everyone stay out!” And to their credit the rest of the officers observed her wishes…and stood just outside the showers making furtive glances at each other. This offered Remington all the distraction he needed to pick the combination lock on VC locker and get inside, where he found pictures of cops, old pictures of cops, dating back to the 20s. They couldn’t be family, one was Hispanic, another Irish, and he knew VC was African American, but there they work. Also, there was VCs notebook with all his notes up until this point…including his next lead…a Shaolin temple in Japan-town. (For those paying attetnion at home, this does seem a bit contrived doesn’t it, VC is AWOL, why would he return to the precinct leaving a notebook with his next destination in it? The answer is: DON’T THINK ABOUT IT THAT MUCH).

Raoul took his coach to an interrogation room and tried to smooth things over, explaining that he really needed to find his watch (which he was wearing). This went over like a lead balloon. Coach was pissed and not going to let Raoul out of his sights! Which meant the next scene was Coach wrapping up Raoul’s sprained arm (finally dealing with that moderate consequence) and telling him wherever that arm goes, so does he! (Yes, enjoy your innuendos while you can. What are you, 12?)

Rose – Exit stage left.

I really wanted Rose out of this scene, specifically because I wanted her WITH Armand at the same time. So, I did my first ever 2 chip compel to get her away. Just as they pulled up the Shaolin Temple (with VC and Daiske inside) I had chatter come over her police radio, calling her in because her father had been found…he was taking refuge in the Japanese embassy and Rose was not only lead on the case, but the only one who could get in the front door.

Reluctantly Rose left the guys outside the temple and drove to the embassy, where she met FBI agent Alicia Hayes, her LT, and a French ambassador Armand St. Claire, who had offered his services to the SFPD in this matter. (And yep, this is the same Armand that killed Stone, Olvido and wanted the watch, and yep he’s actually a French ambassador, and yep, he is Bianca’s brother)

He told her that the embassy would open its doors to him, and to her, as long as she was willing to sign some paperwork putting her in his custody. The paperwork looked dodgy, in that it would be putting her in the case of extreme vulnerability were she to break any rules (known or unknown) while in the embassy. Trying a little slight of red-tape herself, Rose signed it with the next day’s date. This will come back to haunt her like only a Kardassian court room can. But anyway…

Magical Mayhem at the temple

At the temple itself, Raoul and Remington broke in the front door and each of them had a very different experience crossing the ward:

For Raoul it was a peaceful encouragement. This is a place of meditation and communion. He was closer to Papa Legba here.

For Remington it was a big red “NO TRESSPASSING” sign, bright as the day. And what did he do, especially when he heard the gunshot go off? Yep, he ran right in. This also will make for a fun twist in the future. Mab’s Winter Knight broke into a holy sanctum…good stuff!

Inside Daiske and VC were trading blows. Remington charged in and made it pretty clear that Daiske was not going to help Armand… then he realized he was the one who took the watch forcefully from Maeve and got REALLY mad. Ice spikes to your face mad! They had some dialog, Daiske telling them he understood their situation, but needed Armand to have the watch so he could offer it as a gift to Mab.

Raoul respected the rights of this place however, and wasn’t going to charge into a temple, swinging blind. He took a moment to cleanse himself and adorn himself in ceremonial paint, making himself appear like a person to be respected.

Infuriated that he was getting out numbered fast, Daiske summoned up all the sand from the room and filled the area with a storm of sand and wind that pelted everyone against the walls, pinning them back while he ran out with the watch.

I believe Raoul’s attack (which was quite powerful give all the aspects he created that he then invoked) was something along the lines of “Hey, give me back my watch!”, then he tossed a stone Buddha at his head!

Everyone in the Embassy

Rose was inside talking with her father with Armand and things weren’t going so well. Rose realized her father probably didn’t kill a police officer, it just didn’t happen. At the same time she also realized that isn’t why the French Ambassador was really there. What he wanted was a watch that Mr. Itsuaki supposedly had. Neither Rose nor Armand were getting what they wanted but the Vampire noble wasn’t above using extreme force to get it.

Daiske had hopped in his car and raced to the Embassy, followed quickly by VC, Remington, and Raoul. We had a drive check and I quite liked the results of it. The winner got their first (obvious) and would be able to get inside the embassy without causing a stink (sneak in, magic in, talk their way in, etc). The loser got their just behind but would enter the building with a whole pile of cops on their ass. Daiske wasn’t much of a driver (Average +1) but rolled well. VC on the other hand, stinks at drive and rolled like crap… which was made of awesome because the next scene was VC driving up a conveniently place ramp and jumping his squad car over the police barricade.

Awesome!

The final showdown was a two part fight. VC and Rose trying to take out Armand and getting both of their asses tossed around in the process. Remington and Raoul talking with Daiske, finding out that if Armand didn’t give Mad a gift, she would be open to receive offer from other factions… and the Jade court, who he would only say he could not allow to gain more power, were shipping over a boat with fifty human sacrifices right now to make such an offer. He was adamant that they not ally with Winter court.

It was a tough call, with no great options, but the heroes found a good enough one, and in the Dresdenverse good enough is usually the best you can hope for. Remington once agian palmed the original watch and presented the fake, one he had made years ago, and sucesfully duped Armand into thinking it was the real one. He snatched the watch and in elder-vampire-with-their-flesh-mask-destroyed style burst out the fifth story window and into the night. Daiske got stabbed (for good measure) and Rose kept her father alive (not to mention getting stabby on Armand. VC soaked up a lot of punishment, as he was the second most desirable thing in the room to Armand (who had only half turned him), he got A LOT of the vampire’s attention. Which is pretty damn good since he’s the only one who could have survived that kind of punishment.

At the end of the day, a cop-killing Red Court vampire was sent into the clutches of Mab (woo hoo) and the heroes were victorious… now they just need to figure out what to do with Jade court arriving.

The got to kick ass AND know there was more bad stuff coming over the horizon. Win!

Somewhat rushed to get this out (it’s almost time for the next game) so I’m being brief in the next two sections, but I’ll try to flesh out out more later… once my flesh mask grows back!

What rocked

Not only have all the PCs experienced some pretty freaky supernatural mojo, but several NPCs have as well: Mr Itsuaki, officer Sinclair, D’walla (though I doubt she’ll be back) and the Coach. None of which are the type of people to immediately start talking about it, but it could happen.

I have so many leads for next game. A ship with 50 human offerings coming into port. The Jade court quite pleased that Mad is open to new offers and perhaps wanting to bestows a boon upon the players for this. Daiske wanting blood from Remington for creating that opening. Armand licking his wounds and seething in anger over losing Mab’s favor, inevitably wanting to take it out on the PCs. Also some really mundane things: VC getting in trouble for breaking into the Japanese Embassy, Rose’s father becoming even more intrusive in her life, Raoul getting chewed out by his coach for getting in all this danger (see improved below). Sinclair opting to go into counselling sessions for the stuff he saw and encouraging VC to do the same.

What could have been improved

I need to give the coach more social teeth. He spent a good portion of the session just being kind of whiny because he didn’t have any real leverage over Raoul. When someone threatens Remington is with jail time, or dealings in the Unseelie accords. For Rose and VC they both have their jobs on the line, as well as their reputation. Raoul is kind a wildcard that way in that he’s not connected with any specific institution, or at least not one that shows up in the story much.

In the scenes VC used both his Inhuman Toughness, Strength and probably Recovery. That’s a Fantastic [+6] Disciple check he would have to make in order to not succumb to his hunger. I should have made it just so Rose and the other could have seen the tattoos of St. Giles on him

During Monroe’s flashback where he stole the original watch, we set it during a fashion show in a casino in Japan. A slip of a model wore the watch and he, with the aid of a diversion, slipped it off her wrist and replaced it with the counterfeit. That was all well, but I think we need to complete that flashback at some point, showing the watch being displayed and later sold to Raoul.

I realized I named a vampire noble Armand. Really, is my bucket of names that shallow? I mean, Interview with an uninspired GM anyone? I rectified this somewhat by giving him a name and placing him firmly (at least in my mind) inside the Dresdenverse. Welcome Armand St. Claire. Yes, Bianca’s brother. Remember we’re playing circa Small Favors, so this is still a VERY big deal.