Finally the Player Characters are on their way to resolving this storyline! No more Doing the Time Warp, no more ‘oh so there’s a serial Mage killer wandering around, whatever, let’s go hang out at the museum! ‘ They are actually going to take actions that will resolve this season’s arc story. It’s been a long time coming.
I enjoyed working out what they might see in Morgan’s personal dream-space. I had decided very early on when I was designing the campaign that Morgan had enlisted in the army as a young man to escape a bad situation at home. His father had died when he was a young child, and his mother had remarried. His step-father was not a kind man. I liked the irony of his running to the disciplinary structure of the army to escape the extreme disciplinarian his mother had married after his father had died. Additionally, his being in the army combined with his decision to cut ties with his family made him a convenient subject for experimentation – by the Consillium. The Consillium was trying to Awaken Mages and this newly developed drug, LSD, looked like it had promise. People who took the drug hallucinated, and their hallucinations were not unlike Mage Sight. Under controlled conditions perhaps they could use it to trigger true Awakening.
Their experiments were less than successful.
The results were wildly unpredictable, and those few who did seem to have had an Awakening were… odd. It was as if their souls were not quite connected to a particular Watchtower. No good came of that, and so the Consillium, in its infinite wisdom, hushed the whole thing up and did not speak of it again.
Meanwhile, the Seers have also heard of LSD and they are thinking that maybe it can be used to lull an Awakened mind back to sleep. As such, the Seers are experimenting too, and the players have uncovered some documentation from Project Lullabye. (the Players know next to nothing about the Consillium’s efforts.)
Morgan wound up caught between the two. He did experience an Awakening, of sorts, and then the Seers caught up with him and tried to lull his soul back to Sleep. They too were less than successful with this, but they did manage to create an alternate personality in him and that personality was able to reign in the more erratic personality byproducts of being tugged between two Watchtowers. That this new personality was a true believer in The Great Eye was gravy for the goose as they say.
All of this gave me some interesting elements to play with when crafting Morgan’s Onerios. This week we’ll cover some of the interesting denizens of Morgan’s subconscious.
You are probably familiar with the cartoon depiction of having a tiny angel on one shoulder telling you to be a good person, and a tiny little devil on the other shoulder telling you to eat the cookie. That is essentially what a person’s Daimons are. As for his positive daimon, that would be his biological father. After his death Morgan’s father took on mythic proportions in Morgan’s psyche. If only Daddy hadn’t died life would have been so much better! Daddy loved me and thought that everything that I did was great and wonderful and perfect. Daddy loved Mommy and made her happy. Daddy loved me and made me happy too. Daddy was the source of all the goodness in Morgan’s life, or so he saw it, and so what better figure to fill the role of his positive daimon?
Sadly for the players the Seers have trapped Morgan’s positive daimon. In reality Morgan’s father has died, so in Morgan’s Oneiros the representation of his father is locked in a morgue drawer deep in his subconscious. Summoning him from there will be no easy feat… which is how the players met his negative influence.
It would have been extremely easy to have chosen Morgan’s overbearing step-father as his negative daimon, which is precisely why I didn’t do it. Morgan’s step-father is an important character in his psyche to be sure, but I felt that his mother would make a far more interesting daimon for him. For starters, the Players would naturally assume that she was the angel on his shoulder. Figuring that she would have a positive influence on him they might try to deliberately summon her specifically. Alternately if they attempted to summon his positive daimon and didn’t entirely succeed they could summon her instead.
I went for subtlety here. Her negative influence could come across as being a positive one for a time. She would urge him (and the Players if they interacted with her) to be calm, to be cautious, to not do anything rash. This can all be very good advice… if it isn’t being used to lull one into a state of absolute compliance. Her ‘attacks’ are designed to make those around her lethargic, apathetic, and accepting of the bad things that happen to them.
As I stated earlier, Morgan’s step-father is absolutely a larger than life figure in his Oneiros. He is the man who ruined his once happy life. He wasn’t all that big on dealing with kids in general, and so having to put up with someone else’s kid wasn’t exactly his cup of tea. This poor child would clearly never amount to anything in life because he had the wrong biological father and as such was doomed from the start. Morgan’s step-father is a representation of his crushing self doubt. Step-Dad has intimidation based attacks that cause those around him to cower with fear. He can also summon hecklers to make Morgan (or the Player Characters since they are there now too) feel bad about himself, lose his confidence, and further fill him with doubt. These hecklers commonly take on the form of soldiers in his unit, though they can also be school mates, coworkers, or women he dated depending upon what part of Morgan’s psyche they are being summoned into.
Next week we’ll take a look at some of the key scenes in Morgan’s Oneiros. Remember how the Player Characters told the Seers that Morgan was becoming a loose cannon? We’ll punish them for that mistake. I promise!
One of the things I loved about the idea of running the Mage campaign had always been the size of the playing field. Mages can do anything, which can be a real painus in the anus to deal with in the physical world, but they don’t necessarily always need to have their adventures in the physical world do they now?
When I was coming up with the ideas behind the Project Lullaby (headed by a Seer using the Shadow Name Brahms) set of stories I always figured that there would be several astral journeys involved. When Damien joined the campaign and his player specifically asked if I foresaw astral sessions I was overjoyed! This was exactly the kind of thing that I had been hoping for.
And then they didn’t ever take the bait.
I had handed them the fact that both the Consillium and the Seers were experimenting on the potential uses of a little substance called lysergic acid diethylamide – more commonly called LSD. I had many great plans of walking the group through freaky drug trips. I also handed them a list of names of murder victims, and gave one of those victims a parent who had Brahms’ Lullaby playing in the background of her thoughts. The Mastigos wants to take a stroll through her brain to see what the deal is – but nobody else wants to do it. The rest of the group takes no interest at all in this lead beyond the very mundane conversation they have with her at her house regarding her daughter’s death.
I handed them a crazy Mage who kills newly Awakened folks on the orders of… someone they know not who… who is not likely to simply tell them what they want to know (he is a bit insane) but maybe they could wander through his head and figure out what’s really going on. They naturally opt to kill him outright and wash their hands of the situation.
Damien himself was stabbed by an unknown assailant and his memories of the situation are jumbled. Aenaiyah runs a post Cognition using his corpus as her focus which brings events somewhat clearer, but there is still much he does not know. Do they traipse through his brain to find out more? Of course not.
I make the involvement of Damien’s ex-wife with the enemy impossible to ignore. She is all kinds of personally involved with the kidnapping of Aenaiyah’s sister. After several sessions of punching her in the face and asking her questions they finally, FINALLY, have their arms twisted to tiptoe through the synapses – and hilarity ensues! These really are my favorite sessions of the campaign to date. (And we’ve had some good sessions!)
Earlier in the story the Mages found the hidden journal of a man who is very clearly suffering from multiple personality disorder. One of this man’s personalities is very clearly involved with kidnapping Aenaiyah’s sister, Betsy. They found out that the poor girl was in America at all and had in fact been bagged and tagged by clearing a printer jam in one of his safe houses and finding an upcoming edition of Sick, Sad World stuck in the printer that detailed the fact that the girl had been taken. The journal is being written by the part of him that wants to fight against the personality who was in charge during the kidnapping. The journal speaks about swearing someone to an oath against his wishes and not being happy about it. You’d think it would be easy to get them to consider taking a stroll down this guy’s memory lane – but no. Instead they tell the Seers that one of their operatives is having a crisis of faith and that they are willing to kill this guy for the Seers if the Seers give Betsy back. Because, you know, the head of the Seers who the Mages by now know is a Mastigos Arch Master would want one of his most successful operatives killed by them over a trifling difficulty like this. He wouldn’t simply take measures to keep the personality trying to thwart him in check. Why would he want to do that?
And then… and then… they go and tell Glamdring that they told the Seers that they know that Narsil is compromised, and when she asks why they would do that they tell her that it’s better to have everything out in the open.
I could have had Glamdring kill them all right then and there (she’s like Brock Samson if he happened to be a hot red-headed chick who is an Arch Master Thyrsus Mage) but she’s all about honor and duty (she is the head of the Adamantine Arrow in New York City after all) and with difficulty she restrains herself and simply throws them out of her office.
I’m thinking that if she kills them later maybe everyone will think the Seers did it – and if I’m thinking it, you know Glamdring is thinking it.
I’m generally not one to railroad a game, but this very quickly turned into a situation where I had to make it blatantly obvious that if the players didn’t step up and figure out a way to fix this their characters were all going to die. More than that, their deaths would be slow and torturous. And then their bodies would be disposed of in a way that made the Seers look guilty – or made the players themselves look like Seer spies (which wouldn’t be all that difficult under the circumstances). And their ghosts would be held captive by the outrageously pissed off red-head who had planned on marrying Narsil until she, an Arch Master of Life Magic, died. (which would probably not be any time soon.)
And when that didn’t work I smashed them repeatedly in the face with the Sledgehammer of Obvious Truths and eventually they realized that if the man who swore Narsil to his Guardians Oath (against Narsil’s will) had buried deep inside of him a personality that really wanted to RELEASE Narsil from that oath that MAYBE IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO GET INSIDE HIS BRAIN AND HELP THAT PERSONALITY DO THAT!!!
Which only goes to show:
You can lead your players to clues but you can’t make them think.
So the Mages manage to rescue Aenaiyah’s sister from the Fae Wild, and they return Sara to her family of Seers. Everybody wins!
Everybody except Narsil that is. He’s still under oath to the Seers, which isn’t exactly the way he wanted things.
Narsil has family members too, you see. He has a mother and a younger sister, his father having passed away some years ago. Narsil’s family was not well off. They got by, don’t get me wrong, but college isn’t cheap and his sister isn’t THAT much younger than he is. Narsil decided to sign up to be a reservist in order to supplement the scholarship awards he won by being a really smart kid in order to study linguistics with a minor in archaeology. He earned his Masters, and then September 11th happened.
Narsil was called into active duty, and wound up serving with army intelligence deciphering coded transmissions. He was very, very good at his job, and finding that he enjoyed it he earned a position with Special Forces. He was not Awakened at that time.
Glamdring is also with Special Forces. She can kick ass and chew bubblegum without needing to wait until the bubblegum runs out. She is a helicopter pilot and uses her Shadow Name as her call sign. On a trip up into the mountains of Afghanistan one of the soldiers asks what the hell kind of name Glamdring is, earning himself a look of imminent death from the no nonsense red-head in the pilot seat. At this point a certain linguistics expert being brought up the mountain on that very flight points out that it is probably not a good idea to antagonize anyone who chooses to go by the call sign “The Foe Hammer”.
Glamdring had Awakened many years earlier, and not seeing any indications that this man was Awakened (though knowing that she was masking such signs for herself) she simply went back to the controls without killing anyone that day.
The two got along well while they were stationed together, though not knowing much about him or having any way to find out more Glamdring kept a certain distance. She suspected that he was not Awakened because he spoke openly about his relatives back home, but for all she knew he was making it all up. For her part she kept mostly to herself until several months later. Narsil (though he wasn’t using that name at the time) was arguing that they needed to move because somehow or other they had been compromised. It wasn’t what was being said in the messages he intercepted, it was in what wasn’t being said. The chatter had changed in tone, and it felt like they knew that they were being listened to. The man in charge laughed right in his face until the bombs started falling on them. Maybe it was simply luck, maybe it was Fate, maybe it was Glamdring’s Thyrsus abilities to pump up her strength and agility… or some combination of these things… but Glamdring managed to shove her favorite linguistics expert into a supply cave before it was blasted shut. On the one hand, it sucked because they were sealed in and Space Magic had never been Glamdring’s strong suit. On the other hand they had plenty of supplies and she could deal with the air situation without the non-Mage being any the wiser. Hopefully someone from the Arrow would catch wind of what had happened and figure out how to get them both out of there covertly eventually.
Fortunately they didn’t have to wait for that. At some point (hours…? days…?) Narsil Awakened a Mastigos. Mastigos Awakenings tend to be unpleasant, and considering what had just happened to everyone that the group had been stationed with Narsil’s Awakening was no exception* but it did give him access to the Space Arcana. It also gave him access to Glamdring’s memories of a Space ArchMaster’s attempts to teach her to use Portal spells.
These attempts were most certainly not a triumph. There was no success.
There was, however, enough of those lessons buried in her memories for Narsil to figure out how to get them both somewhere safe though. This is how Narsil came to join the Consillium as an Adamantine Arrow. He chose his military nickname as his Shadow Name: Strider.
Strider was an apt pupil, and quickly made a name for himself in the Arrow. He was the ideal person to send along as a bodyguard for Mysterium Mages on relic hunts because he could not only handle the physical demands of the job, he could also decipher languages and knew a bit about archaeology as well. Strider, Glamdring, and a Mystagogue called Reenie made quite the name for themselves besting the Seers to relic after relic, which you might bet would make the Seers quite mad at them. You would win that bet.
A Seer Operative named Morgan who had ties to the military (and the FBI, and various other groups under a variety of names and appearances) figured out who he was. He arranged for Strider’s younger sister to be kidnapped, and then pushed the Guardian’s claim on him. After all, as a member of an intelligence agency the Guardians should have had the Right of First Refusal as per various treaties that kept the Consillium Orders working together instead of at odds. Morgan pointed out what a pity would be if some accident were to befall this poor, innocent young girl. What was Strider to do? The threat was only implied, but clear. He reluctantly joined the Guardians, and in return his sister was given a cushy job in the offices of a medical research facility. It was at this time that he took the name Narsil: the sword that was broken.
The Seers, or rather The Guardians, had been under the impression that they had broken up a swearing in ceremony. They had thought that he was not yet a fully pledged member of the Arrow. (The Arrow do love their pomp and circumstance!) That’s because they didn’t catch sight of what Glamdring was wearing. Morgan didn’t see her because he was talking to Narsil and it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding.
So how do you think Glamdring reacted when she was casually informed by one of the Mages that they told the Seers that they knew that Narsil was compromised and that the Guardians were really the Seers in stealth mode? Do you think she was pleased to find out that this secret knowledge, which they had been using to turn Narsil into a (willing but by necessity unknowing) triple agent was now formerly secret? Did she leap for joy at the thought that The Seers could now use his sister as leverage to force him to take overt action against the Consilium since the jig was up anyway?
That’s OK though. I mean, Narsil seems like a nice enough guy and all, but if we have to kill him so be it.
*If you’re all very good I’ll post Narsil’s Awakening here next week.
Eventually the Mages decided that they had done enough damage to one poor woman’s psyche, and decided it was time to attempt the arrangement of a prisoner exchange. Finally, a plan that makes sense!
What they managed to learn in the Seer’s brain:
- Damien was stabbed in the chest because life-or-death situations tend to trigger Awakenings. Sara (AKA: Hannah) stabbed him herself for two reasons: 1: As a Fate Mage she thought she could maybe help to tip the scales in his favor. 2: Damien had been kind of a douchebag to a lot of people as of late and she was afraid that if she let someone else step in and do it they might kill him… “by accident”. (Sara actually did love Damien. Love Stinks.)
- Aenaiyah’s sister is taking a nap in the Fae Wild. She hasn’t been harmed, but she has been there for a bit. She’s likely to be a bit confused when she wakes up and a week has gone by that she can’t account for, but otherwise she should be fine.
- Arrow has recently sold Werewolf fur to the head of the Seers of the Throne. (Or at least the head of this particular Pylon of Seers anyway.)
- Sara herself dumped Aenaiyah’s sister, Betsy, in the Fae Wild. She cast a bunch of protective spells to see to it that Betsy doesn’t get scooped up by True Fae or anything (like her annoying sister Aenaiyah). A special Thorn was used to prick the foot of anyone needing to be passed through a particular Hedge Gate, and without the Thorn to get through that particular Gate it would be difficult at best to navigate through the Fae Wild to where Betsy is sleeping. Sara can get Betsy back, but not while she locked up in Mage Prison.
- The Consillium has been riddled with spies since the confusion caused by the events of September 11th. These spies include:
- The group’s Guardian of the Veil contact (and extremely powerful Mastigos Arch-Master) Narsil. Sara herself sanctified his “Guardians of the Veil” Oath using an extremely powerful Ancient Silver Coin. His avatar’s yellow clothing at The Pyramid indicated that he is unaware that he has been compromised. (This is, in fact, not true. He is aware of it, they simply think he is not.)
- A. Morgan: The A has stood for many names over the years: Alex, Andrew, Allan, Anthony, etc. This is not because he has lived an incredibly long life-span; he moves in a lot of circles and uses a lot of different first names. You’ll learn much more about him in the coming posts, but for now let’s just say that he is somewhat unstable.
Armed with the knowledge that they do know how to contact the head of the Seer Pylon that is holding Aenaiyah’s sister, and that he has in fact established a rapport with Arrow, one of the Player Characters, the Mages decide to go off half-cocked and have someone else contact him. In fact, it isn’t just any Mage who contacts him, it’s Aenaiyah herself. Clearly she is the most level headed among them, and her ability to remain calm and seemingly impartial during this process makes her the best choice for the job. Not only does she decide to take it upon herself to contact this man, Dr. Blair, she decides that it would be a marvelous idea to make a bunch of demands of her own because they have his granddaughter. Her demands are as follows:
- Return Betsy unharmed
- Release Narsil from his “Guardian of the Veil” oath
- Remove all the spies from the Consillium
- Make no moves against the Consillium ever again
- Make no moves against us ever again (corollary to “Make no moves against the Consillium ever again” – above)
- Stay out of Damien’s life
- Give us The Thorn
- Give us Sara’s Ancient Silver Coin.
In return the Mages will:
- Return Sara in “very good” condition (There may be a few barely noticeable dings in the corners of her brain.)
- Deal with A. Morgan – which is to say “Kill Morgan”. It is important to note here that Morgan has been a powerful and successful Seer operative for decades. Even if he is becoming slightly unstable, as an Arch Master of Mind (which the Mages know for a fact that Dr. Blair is) it’s likely that Dr. Blair would have an easier time dealing with Morgan than they would anyway, and Dr Blair could probably deal with him without killing him, thereby retaining his services.
Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it?
Now I know what you’re saying: why in F@&% would anyone give the Seers that much information? Why, when you know that the Seers don’t know that Narsil is aware that he is compromised would you TELL THEM this? God knows it’s a question I asked myself several times as this plan was being hatched. I even asked it aloud at the table in the hopes that the rest of the Cabal would step in to stop this from happening! And to their credit, some of them did point out that this would be a spectacularly bad idea. Sadly they were not listened to.
Apparently Aenaiyah had forgotten that Seers are fanatically devoted to the Exarch they worship, and little things like holding their family members hostage aren’t going to sway them from this devotion. Keep in mind, throughout all of this the Mages have been trying to play the good guys, which has been difficult enough for them to pull off without killing a prisoner. In the eyes of The Great Eye this particular Seer has screwed up on more than one occasion. She picked the wrong Mage to marry… he wound up joining the Consillium… she was captured by the Mages… at this point is she worth giving up all of the things the Mages are asking for? Sure, Blair loves his granddaughter, but he’s also a fanatic. He has faith that if he does not sell out his Exarch, and Sara has been faithful, she will be saved by The Eye. As a result, and completely expectedly, he tells them no. He says that he would be willing to trade Betsy for Sara, since grabbing Betsy had only been a spur of the moment thing anyway. In fact, grabbing her may have been merciful considering as she was wandering around Manhattan crying to everyone she saw that she was in the city alone, with her family across the ocean, looking for her missing sister with the shocking purple hair. Aenaiyah’s Cabal has made enemies in the city, and another Seer group might not have been so kindly toward the girl. They decided to give him “time to think it over”, but it really wasn’t possible that he would have any other answer for them. Ultimately Sara was given back in order to secure Betsy’s release. Sara may have some small neuroses to deal with at this point, but that’s all part of the joy of being Awakened.
At least nobody else in the Consillium knows that the Mages told the Seers all that stuff about Narsil realizing that the “Guardians of the Veil” aren’t so much working for the Consillium anymore…
Disclaimer: “I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy, but Damien… he’s a jerk. He’s a really big jerk, but that’s Damien… the character… not me… I’m the really nice guy who plays a character who’s a total jerk.”
When a brand new player player you’ve never met before joins your game with a disclaimer much like the one above, you have a right to be a tad concerned. Sometimes it isn’t just the character who is a big jerk. Sometimes there is an even bigger jerk hiding behind that character and using that character as an excuse to be… well to be a big jerk.
Damien started the campaign with the reduced Wisdom score of 5 (down from starting Wisdom 7) so that he could buy up a few other things with the points he gained from the lower Morality score. Ordinarily this would be a huge red flag for me, but he sent me his character concept and such and I really liked it. Additionally he was well recommended by other folks who had met him, so since he was starting in the campaign late I decided to let him go for it. Let me tell you, I dodged an extended burst from a machine gun on this one because Damien’s player really is a nice guy, whereas Damien could hide a plethora of jerks behind his jerkiness.
Damien’s back story was a goldmine of GM hooks. He mentioned an ex-wife who he cheated on, a wide array of people who had “allegedly” committed all manner of crime and never been convicted due to his efforts as a sleazy lawyer, the powerful and “well connected” law firm in which he was a rising star in addition to being the senior partner’s (now former) son-in-law, the possibility that there was a significantly powerful Mage keeping an eye on him (he might want to purchase the Mentor merit at some point down the road) who he might be having random flings with in a “don’t call me Damien, I’ll let you know when I’m bored” kind of way until such time as he might purchase that Merit, and someone who tried to kill him by stabbing him in the chest with an odd looking brass knife when he had his Awakening. He wasn’t all scum-bag though. He and his wife divorced when he had his Awakening, and partly because he realized that he had been a total ass-hole to her and her father. He didn’t fight her on the things she wanted in the divorce, and mentioned that it was entirely possible that the relationship could be mended if Damien stopped being a douche-bag and actually tried.
That last bit is why I was a bit surprised by his decision to use his ex-wife as bait when she indicated that she might be in danger. He really was making efforts to have Damien become a better person for a while there, but wound up dropping another morality point along the way (I honestly can’t remember why he lost that point so if one of my players can remind me that would be appreciated) and decided to just give in and embrace his inner bastard.
Still, his player is indeed a nice guy and I thought that when he figured out that she really did love him all along, and really was trying to make him happy, and really didn’t want to see him wind up getting stabbed in the chest but she at least wanted to make sure that whoever did it didn’t wind up killing him “by accident” (did I mention that he’s a big jerk?) I thought he might show some remorse.
And then we got to The Pyramid. Damien arrived with a plan.
Damien decided that if she was going to manipulate him (pretending to be other women for him so he could “cheat on her” and not give him any grief about it, see to it that he had every opportunity to shine at her father’s prestigious law firm maybe tweaking Fate to help pieces of evidence wind up missing or tainted for him if the prosecution just had way too solid of a case, landing him in a sinfully opulent condo in Manhattan, and on and on and on… yeah she really made his life miserable) he would return the favor by planting certain manipulative images in her Oneiros. He goosed up how incredibly awesome and attractive she finds him (because the fact that she had been in love with him since childhood just wasn’t enough) and then did grisly, horrible things to completely freak her out. He controlled not only her mental image of him, but puppeteered one of the Onerios manifestations of some random person who happened to be in The Pyramid into spilling some red wine on the pristine white suit her mental image of him was wearing and then had “himself” scream unmercifully at the man and beat him to a pulp in front of her. After this he soothed her by telling her to relax, he would never have to harm her because she would never be that stupid and careless.
Needless to say she was completely freaked out and intimidated by the time he was done. Of course, this is after he abandoned her in her memory of saving her from some schoolyard bullies that represented the moment she fell in love with him in the first place… leaving Argus to rescue her now. So at this point, she’s feeling comfortable around Argus, and drawn to him in a safe and reassuring way – while still being in love with Damien even though she’s kind of afraid of him now.
If his Wisdom hadn’t already been so low he’d have been sinking like a stone after that session.
Wen they finally did work out the prisoner swap it was a very different young woman who was returned to her Seer family.
Remember kids, the player characters are the good guys!