Actual Play – Vond Strikes Back (1/31/2017)

ghost_titleGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Eric Fattig, and Adrienne Mueller
System: Blades in the Dark, Rules v.8

The final draft, version 8 is out! In a small bit of shilling, if somehow you’re reading this and haven’t already heard about Blades being available for pre-order, you should really go get it. Like right now. Right here. Go, already!

Upgrading to V8

We had already been playing with some of the final rules (when rolling for Engagements, Entanglements, and crafting) but now that it was out we went about moving all the characters and crew over to the new sheets. A few moves changed here and there but it was a smooth transition.

Keeper of the Flame

Adrienne and I had lunch earlier in the day and got a chance to talk about the Keeper of the Flame, and what Hix knows about it through her psychic connection. Some things we decided.

The Keeper has long been a bulwark of humanity to fend of the darkness. It was observed by keeping fires lit and in return for honoring it’s name, warded humanity from demons that preyed on them. After the Cataclysm though, all was turned upside down. No flame could burn bright enough to fend of the encroaching darkness, and once the Immortal Emperor (All Hail!) gifted humanity with electroplasm the Keeper of the Flame was nearly forgotten.

However there are still creatures which haunt the night, still demons at the doorstep, and so there are still people that revere the Keeper. Only now things have changed. Humanities hubris has convinced them that through spectrology they can fight the darkness, and so the Keeper has had to adapt. It no longer manifests in simple flames, but in the roiling bellies of electroplasmic generators. Like the Lampblacks who moved to other pursuits when gas lights were replaced, so has the Keeper adapted.

It’s methods have changed as well, now, rather than offering it’s protection openly the Keeper’s power is secret, and woven in deception. Only those who consecrate the lightning towers know of the people killed and the ghosts bound to fuel their potency. The Keeper hides it’s true power from the uninitiated and instructs it’s acolytes to herd them into it’s service, unwittingly offering up a concentration in blood.

I think there is something more there too. A more selfish hunger for worship and obeisance, but we’ll explore that in play.

Urgent summons from Quellen

In the Cat and Candle the Society discussed what crime they could do to pay their bills and how they would pass their midterm exams. They debated offers from both Stiener and Bazso Baz and decided they would go to the study room (read: their lair) to decide. Elke asked Arquo if she could carry her books, in an attempt to make him feel more like part of the crew (he’s still probationary since he isn’t officially enrolled at Charterhall) but it just made him feel all the more like a manservant sent on a banal task.

On their way however, they were met with by a messenger who had a note from Quellen. “Help. I’m in Danger”. It appeared to be scrawled very quickly and the young man who delivered said he was shopping in Quellen’s hut when she suddenly shoved the note in his hand and urgently begged him to run to the Cat and Candle with it as fast as he could.

Charhallow

The noisy, cramped tenement housing of Charhallow, where Quellen lives and operates, thrummed with the same pulse or marginal life as it always did. Lookouts high up in the districts signature petrified trees whistled and made other bird calls to signal activity to each other while the common folk churned away with what little the had.

As they got closer to Quellen’s however, Harland in particular noticed shutters close, streets empty, and in general the sounds of the city fade away. Outside her shop was a elderly man sweeping the street with a twig broom but they were otherwise along. When Elke watched him [thanks to Ghost Mind] she could sense a second spirit stirring within the shell of the old man, deliberately pacing his slow movements to lure them closer.

The Fight is On

Elke, divining the spirit within, donned her spirit mask and called it forth [Compel special ability]. From the nostrils and mouth of the man a vapor poured out which eventually formed into the misshapen form of a ravenous ghost. As though it’s very being would collapse without support, a spectral chain was wrapped around the ghost and it used the end of it to lash out at the interlopers.

Elke was prepared, no specter had hold over her [Both the compel ability and Iron Will made her immune to its fear]. Harland and Arquo however were terrified of this apparition. Harland steeled himself [Resolve resistance roll] but Arquo was frozen in place.

Harland charged forward and with his own halbard ablaze [thanks Ghost Fighter] he slashed into, and ignited, the vaporous form of Grail, Vond’s lieutenant. Elke aide by slowing the ghost with her lightning hook. They would have traded vicious blows with the specter if not for Arquo who overcame his fear [Resistance roll] and then using his electroplasmic ammunition shot the length of chain and severed it before it made contact [Protect action, I ruled that due to his Sharpshooter ability and electroplasmic ammo, it negated the damage instead of reducing it].

Vond Appears

Elke and Harland stood over the weakened form of Grail, his spectral mass fraying at the edges as they threatened to spill forth from under this chains. Harland was about tho destroy the creature utterly when two figures appeared in the doorway ahead. Quellen, with a knife to her thoat held by the form of Cricket, though clearly there was nothing left of the the young woman Cricket had formerly been.

Vond, now secured inside the body the Path of Echoes had prepared for her, called out to Harland to surrender to him else Quellen would join her in death. However she hardly got the threat out when Elke compelled her to “Stop!”. [This was a rare moment when I said, okay, this is desperate with zero effect. She can cut Quellen’s throat and because of her hold on the body and higher tier she was beating Elke on both Potency and Quality. Elke pushed herself to get limited effect and then decided to turn her effort into a setup action for Arquo to take a shot]. Though she could not truly command Vond, fortified as she was in the alchemically prepared body, she did get the specter’s attention long enough for Arquo to fire a shot.

Having overcome his initial fear and feeling even more emboldened by seeing Quellen at risk Arquo tried for an impossible shot. He was still far away from the door and had only Vond/Cricket’s face as a target. Even a near miss and he could hit Quellen, or works Vond could slit her throat. [Again, we were at Desperate, Zero effect due to quality, potency, and not that Arquo understood this yet Magnitude. However, he leveled the potency field with his electroplasmic ammunition, increased his effect by pushing himself, and increased it again with Elke’s setup action getting up to standard effect. Partial success]. The incendiary round flew true and sunk right into Cricket’s face where it burned feverishly and spread to the curtains hanging by the door and quickly caught Quellen’s shop on fire.

Vond dropped Quellen and staggered back. Elke – always one to dress in many layers – grabbed her cloak and started batting down the flames to prevent them from spreading through the whole shop [Protect action to reduce the serious consequence of “shop burnt down” to “shop damaged by fire”.]

Harland, brought his halbard down low to finish of Grail, incinerating his ghostly vapors with his burning blade.

From the smoking door Vond burst forth, pushing past Elke, and charged at Harland, the focus of her destruction. She slashed him across the brow, causing blood to seep into his eyes [Harm 1]. From the open hole in her face, instead of blood pouring out they saw orange embalming fluid and underneath the skin a writhing sea of ghostly forms. Vond had brought company inside Cricket’s body!

Arquo tried to fire another shot at Vond but this time she was prepared and from the hole in her face a ghost flew to tangle with Arquo. He fired off several electroplasmic rounds to keep it at bay but eventually used up the last of his ammunition and was at the mercy of the ghost. [Attempt at a setup action. Desperate roll. Bad Outcome. Serious complication of possession reduced to complication of grappling with a ghost. Devil’s bargain used on the resistance roll to use up the last of the electroplasmic ammunition]. He fell to the ground as he struggled to fend off the old soul from  possessing him.

In front of all to see Harland drank his special alchemical concoction and brought his halberd down with a mightily cleave just as Vond ran her blade through his chest [Desperate Skirmish, reduced effect because of Vond’s tier, increased effect because of Ghost Fighter, and even scale. Harland was Not to Be trifled with but Vond had a small gang of ghosts withing Cricket’s husk, so they leveled out there. Increased effect again because Harland was pushing himself, so it was up to great effect! However, Eric rolled and got: Bad Outcome].  Two terrible things happened at once! Vond ran Harland through with her saber [Level 4 harm] and she let free the half dozen ghosts she had caged inside Cricket to terrorize what was left of the Society and the citizens of Charhallow [Serious consequence as well as loss of opportunity because she fled].

Harland’s breastplate [Armor] and his heightened reflexes [Resist with resolve] turned the blow to a mere gut wound [Harm 2] by he was still staggered by the blow. Elke turned away from the fire to call the ghost to gain their attention [Resisting the consequence] and together [Group action, led by Harland] they banished the ghosts (including the one that eventually possessed Arquo) from their sights [Risky Command. Full success]. The ghosts would still feed, but they wouldn’t do it here!

The ghost’s hold on Arquo was broken and it fled, but before doing so it left him with the memory of it’s own death, a wall of black flesh rising up over the bow of a ship and crashing down cleaving the great ship in two, while crushing the sailors beneath it’s great mass.

Ashlyn Returns

All of the ghosts scattered except one. Elke with her spirit mask on could clearly make out the form of Aslyn who had become more defined and more focused then when she had seen her last, but also more feral and hungry. The skin on Ashlyn’s arm was tight, her fingernails grown into claws, and her eyes burned with intensity. Elke told her that she was to stay with them and that she would make her better. Ashlyn for the first time ever was defiant and said that she would find out what was happening to her. She said as a threat. Not to Elke, but to any that would try and deter her. [New descriptors: Knowledgeable, Violent]

What Rocked

Elke assisted Harland a few times snaring first Grail then Vond in her lightning hook slowing them down. I love the image of it being like a shepherd’s crook only sparking with electricity and jagged at the end!

I loved that mid-fight we realized Arquo hadn’t done the ritual and wasn’t immune to possession. We had a great time with that revelation, both as to what it meant for the current fight and what it implied about how much he was really part of the Society.

I was worried that loosing the benefit of potency against supernatural targets with the Anointed ability would feel like it weakened it too much, but the scoundrels were very happy to take a bonus on resistance rolls against ALL the consequences that came their way.

It did take our whole session, but all of this was the result of an ongoing feud between Harland and Vond and rolling “Unquiet Dead” as my entanglement. It’s really awesome when there is so much going on in the world that when entanglements come up, its so easy to see it come right out of the fiction established.

This fight was rough. By far the toughest they’ve had, but the crew pulled it together. Vond was (and is) a menace and the Society may try to find another to destroy her. Elke made mention of telling Scurlock about her and asking him to intervene. That would be awesome!

What could be improved

Now that ghost mind allows someone to sense the supernatural, the effect of Elke’s long term project studying possession doesn’t really pay dividends. We’ll have to work out a benefit she gains from her understanding of possession. One idea is that she could heal the trauma caused by it, which normally can’t be done. We’ll discuss!

I forgot what Sharpshooter did after the revisions (which is a bit silly since I working on those revisions) and so I granted Arquo some of it’s earlier narrative effects (the ability to fire a trick shot) on accident. In the case of protecting Harland, I’m pretty happy with that choice and would do it again, but the decision to say that because he had Sharpshooter Quellen couldn’t be harmed as a result of shot on Vond I regretted almost immediately as I thought catching her shop on fire had much less impact. So a word to the wise. If you want to say that the most obvious threat has been ameliorated, make sure you have another threat in mind…otherwise that action might not be so Desperate/Risky after all.