Actual Play – Troll Grapples Car. Legendary++ (9/25/2011)

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

Last session the players had freed a Hecatean Hag. That was great news. I mean, what isn’t there to love about a natural disaster caused by the PCs. So she did what hags do best, they find their sisters. And in this case finding, or rather freeing, her sisters meant using some major mojo to the count of seven human sacrifices. Yay… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, Catarina the hag had to get rid of people who might get in her way, namely her prior captors (Rose’s father and a tool named Alex Tagushi), and the Warden who had made it pretty clear that he was going to try one his head separating from body sword tricks on her if he could.

READ: I got to throw baddies at the player characters and their loved ones and see how they dealt with it. Yay.

The game was mostly two fights. Catarina had cashed in some favors from back in the DAY, to get some fey for hire to kill her enemies. An ogre named Ronnie and a troll named Fred. Really, Ronnie and Fred? Yep, those are their names and I’m sticking to it.

Ronnie ploy was simple, using a glamour to conceal his ogre-ness he made his way into SF General where Mr. Itsuaki (roses dad) was receiving care and planned to smother him to death with a pillow.

Fred’s plan was simpler. Wait for the Crown Victoria owned by Detective Thomas Caine, license plate 4HRG775 to cross the Bay Bridge. (Fred knows things, and one of those things is every person or car that
pays toll crossing his bridge. Fred was the bay’s FasTrak). After it passes treasure island, leap down and throw it off the bridge!

The fights were fun for me, mostly. They allowed me to do several things at once. Give the characters some good physical challenges where they could unload their big guns. Create sympathies and tensions between PC-NPC-PC triangles (like Rose, Mr. Itsuaki and Remington), and drive home the point that Catarina was a calculating menace. Oh… and I got to grapple a car!

Some things that weren’t so hot. I really dislike playing NPCs that are on the side of the PCs. It’s way too much math and attention for me. Figuring out what three wardens in a car were going to do was tough. Luckily I had some plans for that. First off, it was meant as a chance for Caine to shine in front of his people, so I intentionally gave them environmental hazards to deal with (namely being trapped in
a crushed car that was being grappled) while he got his zorch on. Still, making their athletics rolls and such took time and distracted me.

These fights had some awesome action in them. After ramming a cold iron shaft into Fred’s knee and nearly having his arm chopped off by the same troll’s axe, Caine took a flying leap off the bridge to save his fellow wardens as the car with them in it tumbled off the edge. He earned two characters changing their aspects to reflect his actions. Ramirez now has “Caine doesn’t cry wolf” and Amalia has “Caine saved my life”.

In the aftermath it turns out that Fred is a huge (get it “huge”) Giant’s fan (get it “giant’s fan”) and not only did he happily take Railroad’s autographed car but after the man pulled a shaft of cold iron out of his leg for him (very Androcles and the Lion), Fred vowed that he owed a favor to Raoul. Can’t want to see how that one turns out.

In the hospital, the Winter Knight and Rose Isuaki did their best to protect her father from Ronnie, which for a while meant being the ogre’s punching bag instead of letting him murder Mr. Itsuaki. As it became clear that he was going to toss Mr. Itsuaki’s bed, patient included, out the windows of a 5th story hospital room, Rose got desperate and leapt on the bed so it went out the window with both of them. Camera pans to Ronnie, satisfied with his work and storming out (the Winter Knight had put some pretty big holes in him), then to the outside of the hotel with Rose hanging from the windowsill with one hand and holding the injured Mr. Itsuaki in the other. Yeah!

Thoughts on this game.

I’m not sure how to handle conflict where there are multiple people with potentially different agendas. There doesn’t seem to be a “win” condition, there is just a “lose” condition and once everyone else has lost (elimination style) you are the de facto winner. The problem with that is that who takes out who dictates the terms under which they leave the conflict. So, with Ronnie, his goal was to kill Mr. Itsuaki. He walked out the door, thinking he completed his work but really he lost the conflict (he was tricked) without actually taking any stress to that effect. I ruled that he conceded, believing he thought the job was done.

Joe brought up some points about how I handled the troll fight. One of them was the fear that I was trying to kill his backup as soon as it appeared. My intent there was to give Caine a chance to prove himself before the other Wardens, both that calling them to his aid was necessary and that he was one hell of a Warden. It’s a fine line for me there. Should I tell someone outright “even though I’m putting your friends in danger, it’s not like I plan on killing them” or leave them in the dark regarding my intentions? I think this falls into the “secrets” category. I hate secrets.

One of the other issues he brought up about the fight was how I negated one of his actions on a whim; effectively allowing the troll to toss the car of the bridge even after Caine had broken Fred’s grapple. We agreed that for story purposes, flying off the edge of the bridge was awesome, but I should have really taken an “action” to prompt it.

I’m still gauging what I can toss at the players and whether or not to give my badies any fate chips, generated through compels or lost conflicts I can imagine them having before they ever saw the PCs. Sometimes I do it, but I’d like something more consistent.  I really like that games like Agon and Smallville give the GM as pool of resources to pummel the players with. but I notice that in both of those games the focus is more on the cast completing with (or having drama with) each other than it is on the external threats. Hmm.