As it happens I only coughed up one lung last week, which is fortunate because I only have one spare!
So we’re wandering around in Damien’s ex-wife’s dreamstate… and of course our Thyrsus Mage Arrow is naked. Nothing at all awkward about that!
Among the questions that Damien wants answers to is precisely who is working for the Seers of the Throne. Now his ex, true name Sara, isn’t all that high ranking as of yet. Her grandfather is pretty much at the top of the food chain in NY, but she’s still fairly young and hasn’t earned her rank just yet. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a pretty powerful Acanthus with some sneaky tricks up her sleeves, but these things take time. As such, she doesn’t always know who everyone is, or what all of the Seers plans are at any given time. She has seen a bunch of people however, and her brain is collecting its impressions of those people in a setting rife with symbolism.
Because honestly, where else would the Seers of Panopticon hang out? Am I right?
As a side note, when I was writing this campaign I came up with a bunch of NPCs named after weapons from the Lord of the Rings. (Narsil, Glamdring, Guthwine, Orcrist, etc, etc). I did not yet have the Seers of the Throne book, and as such had not chosen the Seers of Panopticon as the main adversaries of the Consilium in NY. It was completely random chance that the Seers in my campaign are represented by an all seeing eye… much like some other main adversary we all know and love…
Apparently I just can’t be not awesome.
In any event… the Mages are wandering through Sara’s Oneiros looking for clues as to who in the Consilium might be a Seer spy, or simply be being used by the Seers unbeknownst to them. They have as their guide (in one of the smartest moves my players have ever made <~ Truth) the part of Sara’s psyche that likes to tell secrets. This was a move I hadn’t specifically planned on, and so I had to come up with how this part of Sara would manifest itself to them. I decided it would manifest itself as a child, because we all know that when kids have secrets they LOVE to tell them to everyone. There will be more on this in my next post (NO SPOILERS ARROW!), but for now simply understand that the Mages are wandering around Sara’s dreamspace with a part of her that really, really, really wants to tell them everything they want to know if she can – and especially if she shouldn’t tell them about it!
And at her side they walk up to this enormous Pyramid with an eyeball floating above it. Sara tells them that if they want to find out who the Seers are they have to go inside. She doesn’t know all of their names, but if she’s seen a face and they are somehow working for the Seers they will be here.
It’s a crowded pyramid.
So for their next trick the players have to figure out who is working for the Seers without realizing it (Sleepers in their employ would have no idea what is going on); who may be being coerced into doing things for the Seers without knowing for certain that it’s the Seers pulling the strings (for example, if someone’s sister has been kidnapped and made the subject of the Bad Stuff that will result from a broken Geas); or who may be very happily bowing and scraping before the Exarch. There are a lot of people in this pyramid, and trying to talk to all of them would take a great deal of time. This is where the next Smartest Thing The Players Have Done Ever comes in!
Aenaiyah turns to young Sara and asks her if she knows who is working for the Seers because they want to, who is working for the Seers because they have to, and who doesn’t know that they are working for the Seers at all. Sara says she can’t be sure, but she can make some guesses. Aenaiyah says that would be swell, and then asks Sara to color code the clothing of everyone in The Pyramid as follows:
- RED = Willing Seer Supplicant Mage
- ORANGE = Unwilling Seer Pawn who is Aware of being manipulated by Seers
- YELLOW = Unwilling Seer Pawn who is Unaware of being manipulated by Seers
- BLUE = Not Working For The Seers At All
And suddenly the clothing of everyone in The Pyramid, including the Player Characters, becomes color coded to indicate their status as far as Sara is herself aware of it!
Aenaiyah makes careful note of her own Cabal Mates who are standing where she can see them. Herself, Neils, Rex, Riff-Raff, and (much to Sara’s dismay) Damien are all wearing BLUE.
At about this point Argus walks over and asks “does anyone know why my clothes just turned Yellow?” Aenaiyah explains the color scheme, and tells him that his YELLOW clothing means that he is an unwitting pawn of the Seers. He replies “Well, then shouldn’t my clothes be ORANGE now?” Sara exclaims “GOOD POINT!” and Argus’s clothing turns a lovely shade of ORANGE.
Various of the characters wander around looking for people in The Pyramid to interact with. Riff-Raff has a very interesting conversation with Sara’s mental image of her grandfather, who explains to him why it would be a very bad thing indeed for all of humankind to Awaken. “Can you imagine what would really happen should that come to pass? Why, should that much raw power be handed to every individual on Earth the world would surely be ripped apart by the resultant clashing of wills. Humanity is ill prepared to handle the magnitude of even a small fragment of what we can do. It would be chaos, and ultimately annihilation. The Lie is all that stands between us and the Abyss. Surely you must see that?”
He actually makes an extremely convincing argument.
And then we get to Arrow, who has indeed dressed for his trip to The Pyramid, and his clothes turned a lovely shade of…
…To Be Continued…
Our intrepid band of mages have a corpse on their hands. They haven’t been able to determine what the motive for his death is, but they do feel sure that he was killed by a Mage. The also know that he was himself recently Awakened. This could have been the work of a Banisher, or a case of inter-Order politics gone way too far. They have some work to do if they are going to figure it out.
Matt’s ghost informs them that he had recently received a book from an artist friend of his who goes by the name Skree. Skree handed it over freely enough at a Comic Con where they were showing off their works, and told him that there was no pressure to give it back, but that he’d love to hear Matt’s thoughts on it at some point after Matt had read it. The book is one of those New Age types of things about channeling the power within you… or so Matt thought right up until the puppets started walking around on their own. The mantra was only supposed to help the practitioner align himself with the tools of his trade. It was supposed to make his life easier. The spell did indeed make animating puppets easier, but he had never figured it would do anything at all, much less make them independently mobile.
Damien only had to glance at the book’s spine to see the truth of it: Freak Ounce Press. Skree must have been working on bringing him into the Free Council.
It took some doing to find Skree, and sadly with little reward. Skree was saddened to hear what had happened, but Matt had only recently Awakened and Skree had only had time to suspect that he had before he was gone. That’s why Skree gave him the book. He was trying to determine whether or not Matt actually had become a Mage.
Unsure what to do next, Aenaiyah turned to Fate for advice. Fate seemed to think it would be a good idea for Aenaiyah to go to work.
When a dead body turned up in a parking lot near her job at a bar called ‘The Hole in the Wall’ Aenaiyah decided that maybe she shouldn’t have asked Fate for advice after all. Fate never seemed to lead her to places she wanted to be.
The defeat of the Scelesti, and the departure of Molly and Marissa, was a time of change for the campaign. As mentioned previously I had plenty of material to keep this story line going for a bit, but since Marissa’s background was so heavily tied into things it seemed a clean place to end the chapter. Onward and upward!
I’d already had some ideas for other places that the campaign could go, so that was no problem. I decided that it was time to bring in a more subtle antagonist. Scelesti are the accursed, and while it’s certainly plausible that they might be luring in demons in the hopes of killing those demons (or attempting to gain weapons against even worse demons), by and large the Scelesti are bad folks. I was looking for more shades of gray in the campaign. I was looking for Seers of the Throne. The Seers can absolutely be played as mustache twirlers, and that can be a valid interpretation of them. It isn’t the interpretation I was craving though. I felt that it was time to bring in a group that might make the players question their loyalties a bit. I was hoping to make them wonder if maybe this group that is in opposition to their Consilium actually does make a few good points. I was looking for a chance to twist their little minds!
In addition to the introduction of a new set of “Big Bads” I had the introduction of new player characters at this point in time as well. I may have lost a Mastigos and an Acanthus, but I gained a Mastigos and a Moros. I will happily trade an Acanthus for a Moros any day of the week! I had gamed with the Moros previously, but I had never gamed with the Mastigos before. Mastigos have the ability to read people’s minds, and to change people’s minds, and I had my concerns about a brand new player at the table tossing those abilities around. I have seen egregious abuse of mind control powers in the past, and the player was someone I’d never met. Sure Aenaiyah had gamed with him previously and was willing to vouch for him, but that wasn’t exactly inspiring confidence in the GM. (Don’t know why? See: The Principles of Time Travel a users guide to time by guest blogger Aenaiyah)
Then I received Damien the Mastigos’s back story, and suddenly I knew it was going to be alright.
Tune in Next Week for “Love At First Sight”!
Before the face of the child in the ritual circle could even reach the Mage’s retina her throat was torn out by a Werewolf. I blame several factors for this:
- The Werewolves had never met Marissa, and had no idea that the Mage’s knew this child.
- The Werewolves were all hopped up on acceleration spells and there was Great Danger to the city here: the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few (or the one) and all that.
- Marissa did cast several spells asking Fate for something interesting to happen during the last session she attended. Challenge accepted!
Now I know what you’re thinking here. You’re thinking “Wait a minute, did you just imply that the child in the ritual circle was a player character?” Why yes, yes I did. In fact, I am flat out stating that the child was a player character. I fully understood the danger inherent here, but had contingencies for enough potential outcomes that I felt OK with it.
You see, in my original plan this scenario was going to play out over the course of two game sessions: one in which the group’s legal drinkers wreak havoc on Liberty island and ultimately get sucked through a portal while the “meddling kids” have “something interesting” happen, and one in which they deal with the terror that is about to take place on New Year’s Eve. The first part of this plan worked like a charm ending with an awesome monologue… EXCEPT… the people playing the underage characters were not able to make it to the session. This caused a slight kink, but only a slight one. After all, there was no reason for the players to not meet up on the roof tops, and there was no reason in my mind for Marissa to already be in the ritual circle when the others arrived. She and Molly could just as easily have been talking with the people on the roof.
Incidentally, the people on the roof were Marissa’s Mother, Father, and Brother. The intention here was to reveal chunks of the backstory that I had come up with for Marissa, and hit her player with some interesting decisions to make. Was Marissa going to continue to be an eternal child, or would she start to age? Would she take conscious action to remain young, or would it be something she was doing unknowingly? What would the repercussions be?
Sadly, once again the players did not attend.
At this point a sane and rational GM might have changed their plans. After dealing with this troupe month after month I could no longer lay claim to those adjectives. Still, I tend to think it’s pretty bad form to kill someone’s character when they aren’t at a session. I could just as easily have made this some other child, and had the group of Scelesti Mages on the rooftop have been some other group of Scelesti Mages who had nothing to do with Marissa whatsoever. Instead I figured that since the ritual was not intended to kill the child (her parents had been keeping her alive, unharmed, and unchanged for 40 years or so by this point) so chances were that she would live through the fight. After all, when you see a child in a ritual circle in a movie you try to save the child, don’t you?
Enter the Werewolf.
With the kind of Intitiative roll that only a 4th Dot Time Mage can grant one of the Werewolves tears ass across the rooftop they are on, leaps the narrow alley, shoulder-rolls his landing back onto his feet, and springs up through the air hitting the child’s throat with his teeth and ripping her esophagus out. No one on the rooftop that night saw that one coming.
I however was not on the rooftop.
I know my players, and if there is one thing I know it is that they will make the worst decision possible. That kid was going down, and I knew it. I had absolutely planned for the demon that was to be summoned with the addition of the child’s blood to the circle to decide that her body looked like a nice cozy home now that she wasn’t using it. The moment the thing’s round came up and it turned her head (still in the jaws of a Werewolf) and asked that Werewolf “Are you my Father?” was priceless.
Clearly that player has seen Ghostbusters, because he knows that when someone asks you if you’re a god (or their Father) YOU SAY YES! This is why, throughout the fight, when the demon was stealing hit points from the other PCs and giving them to the Scelesti Mages, it was giving them to the Werewolf too. Even as he fought against it the demon was giving him his friend’s hit points. The demon wasn’t about to let its father stay hurt!
At the end of the day the players beat the hell out of the Scelesti. It was a tough fight though! The players had the Scelesti badly outnumbered, but Marissa’s Mother, the head of their cabal, was a ridiculously powerful Thyrsus Mage who was able to do some real damage, even to the Werewolves while also healing herself and her cabal. What she couldn’t do was teleport or portal herself out of there because that accursed Guardian of the Veil (ARGUS!) killed her Space Mage outright in the surprise round in one lucky shot. If that hadn’t happened, if he had randomly picked anyone but the Space Mage, they would have been able to leave the fight and live to summon demons another day. It simply wasn’t meant to be.
As for Marissa… as I’ve said, it’s poor form to kill off someone’s character when they aren’t at the session. This is why I would have been quite happy with the idea of Marissa being at the next session (or some later session) and showing up to knock on the Sanctum door because she had lost her key. The player wouldn’t have known why everyone at the sanctum would be surprised to see her, hich would be consistent with the character having not one single clue about what had just happened. They could have dealt with explaining it to her (or not) in character. It could have been an interesting way to explore her backstory. What really happened on that roof? Was that a random child altered by Life Magic to appear to be Marissa for some reason? Did Marissa have an identical twin? Was it a clone? Was that some “future Marissa” Brought back in time to serve her purpose here and now, still alive and unchanged at some point in the distant future? Was the Time Line messed with in some other way? (The child IS an Acanthus Mage after all.)
I really did have multiple possibilities for Marissa’s return planned out, but due to schedule problems the players who played the underage characters weren’t able to continue with the campaign. As such, Marissa died that night on the rooftop, and Molly disappeared into the night as was her way. It was a pity, but it certainly was an interesting way to end her story.
The Moral of the Story: Be careful what you wish for, especially if your GM is the MageMistress.
Have you ever had one of those sessions where there is something so completely obvious that the players should do and they just completely refuse to do it?
One of the earlier incidents of players behaving oddly (I have many from which to choose) has since come to be known as “Operation: Blow-up Doll”
It was simple. The Mages (Aenaiyah, Argus, Marissa, Molly, Neils, Nokoni, and Rex at that time) had just captured a group of Mages running a dojo who were causing people to be tainted by the Abyss. The thing of it is, they really didn’t intend for that to happen! Had anyone thought to actually talk to these people they might have found out that they really did believe that they were helping people find their paths to a Supernal Watchtower. The problem is that they had been duped by an Abyssal Entity. It was an honest mistake!
I had planned for these characters to be recurring. I had the Mage cabal find various things in the dojo that they took home with them including Busy Bea’s watercolor paintings (she was actually quite talented with solid scores in Crafts and Dexterity!), and Master Wu’s diary. I found some nice watercolor images online that I downloaded as examples of her paintings, and I even wrote out part of the diary! In Japanese! (OK, it was English printed in the Japanese font… but it looked neat dammit.) Hidden in the diary were hints that this man may have information regarding Marissa (the mysterious Acanthus child) and her family. I went so far as to determine levels of success in translating the diary as its writer was a reasonably powerful Mastigos Mage who had protected his diary against Supernal decryption. I wrote the passage in English, converted to the Japanese font, and then printed multiple copies of it with larger sections translated (printed in Calibri instead of Japanese) each time. I ranked each section by how many successes they would need to roll to unlock that stage of the translation. I thought it was cool enough to be worth the work. Hell, I even wrote a Haiku! And I gave the Haiku the same treatment!
I made it clear that this particular Mastigos had performed at least one (and quite possibly more…) Goetic Summoning. He had pulled a Vice out of his head, and then found himself unable to bring himself to destroy the demon. As a result he found it a home instead. That home was a lovely Japanese Stroll Garden in upstate New York, based on the very real Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden.
So the Mages knew that there was a Goetic Demon living in a garden, they knew that it was based upon Master Wu’s jealous rage, and they didn’t know which garden. I figured they would ask him. After all, they do have him conveniently locked up in Consilium Prison. If, by some chance, they figured out which garden on their own (as it happened they guessed correctly), I was smart enough to choose a large garden in the hopes that they might think it a good idea to ask whereabouts in this garden the Goetic Demon might be. (Note: when I ran this scenario there was a map of the garden at the website that does not appear to be there now. I used the actual garden map for the scenario.)
Clearly good ideas and my Mage troop have never been formally introduced.
The problem with this is that I had figured an interrogation would take some time during the session. I was hoping for a little Mastigos-a-Mastigos action! A battle of Wits in the truest sense!
Instead they said “it’s a Goetic Demon. How hard could it be to track it down?” and tried to scrounge up enough money for bus fair. (Except for the Thyrsus, Nokoni, who opted instead to turn into an eagle and fly there.) As it happened I did pick a precise location for the demon, and as they wandered to every area on the map EXCEPT THAT ONE… well nothing happened. They wandered, and wandered, and eventually they stumbled across the demon. Mind you, it took some doing before they figured out she was there, and she got several great mind attacks off on them before they did. Suddenly Neils was jealous about Argus being the de facto group leader, Rex was jealous about the other folks being so much younger than him, Argus was jealous of everyone else’s freedom from responsibility on account of they let him make all the decisions, Molly was jealous of Aenaiyah’s slut-tastic wardrobe (Molly was a 16 year old Mage) and they went at each other’s throats like they were actually related!
Ultimately however the characters did realize that this was the doing of a certain Goetic Demon. The players figured it out but their characters apparently aren’t all that bright. (I imagine you’re as shocked about this as I am.) One player eventually did something I expected and walked up to the demon (it had manifested by this point) and asked “Are you my Mother?” What she didn’t realize was that this time (this had been her running gag of the campaign) it was! This particular demon was a manifestation of Master Wu’s desire for the woman he loved, and that woman went on to become Marissa’s mother! Marissa’s player had let me make up the character’s backstory any way I wanted on the grounds that the character had been trapped in a chronic hysteresis for a couple of decades and had no idea why or how. This should have been a revelation of some kind. This was a clue to the mysterious character’s past. This man might know who she is… and why she had been trapped… and…
THE PLAYERS NEVER BOTHERED TO QUESTION HIM ABOUT THIS!
My other Acanthus, despite the fact that she couldn’t actually see the demon herself at the time, decided to go off an a rant (shocking!) and inform the demon that when it really came down to it she was really nothing more than a fancy blow-up doll for Master Wu to get his kicks with when he felt like it. I will admit that I had never figured on that particular phrasing, but I did make the demon’s bans include:
- The fact that Marissa was the daughter of the human she was based on
- The fact that she wasn’t actually the woman Master Wu loved, but was merely a copy
These things played upon the demon’s own jealousy and drained it of essence. Aenaiyah, noticing the demon’s reaction to her insult, ranted through the whole fight! Even after the demon manifested in her face! It was in the middle of this ranting about sex toys that the child Acanthus Marissa asked the thing if it was her mother! And when it raged and started shrieking in pain Aenaiyah realized that she had been calling Marissa’s mother a blow-up doll for the past half hour! PRICELESS!
Eventually, using Spirit Magic and the Demon’s bans they did manage to defeat it. Then they had to find a way home after the buses stopped running for the evening. With only one dot of Resources between them at the time Nokoni once again turned into an eagle and flew away. (Clearly he was the wisest among them, not that he had much competition.) The others rented a moving van because the dice were on my side for once so I deemed it all they could afford that would fit all of them.
Let’s just say that for those in the back of the van it was a long… dark… long… way home….with an excitable purple haired Acanthus…good times.