Actual Play – Ding Dong, the Wise-ass Wizard is Dead (10/15/2010)

GM: Shaun Hayworth
Players: Kevan, Joe, Kristin and Sean
System: Dresden Files
Setting: Atlantic City

If I wasn’t so hung up on catchy sounding titles this would actually be Ding Dong the Wise and Wise-ass Wizards are dead; but that just doesn’t have the right ring to it.

I’m going to need a belt pretty soon to keep track of all my characters that die in killer fashion.

Ahem, to the story…

We picked off from last time at a tree, a giant tree, planted from the seed of Yggdrasil, having just broken the ward around it and really pissing off the wizard inside who was trying to finish off this giant ritual to contain the world serpent, keeping it chained in the Nevernever.
We were trying to get him to stop, but negotiations being done at gunpoint never go well.

The game was a single combat so I don’t want to go through things combat round by combat round. Instead, here’s the highlights of each character.

Jameson – VERY ironically, Jameson was the hero of this debacle. He saved the girl, got her to safety and killed the Wizard. This involved running very fast, dodging spells and then coming back guns blazing. His actions were the least impaired by the other character or the wizard.

Gabe – Gabe was the punching bag who took many blows for “team good guys”. Not only was the Wizard throwing his mojo at him, but Ithilandalar, ruled by a fey mindset was adamant that the ritual must be continued, so he was also trying to stop Gabe at every step. Magical thorns, gusts of air, lighting, and several gouts of fire late, Gabe still stayed in the fight (albeit with a dislocated and then broken arm) and helped Saul keep his sanity.

Ithilandalar – The biggest contention in our little party was a changeling who was pretty sure that interrupting this spell was going to bring about Ragnarok. He started with words, worked up to vines and finished off with fire, all in attempts to keep the ritual from being interrupted. He also offered up his own soul to take the place of the little girl, but it seemed uncertain if he actually had a soul to offer up. One of the most clever things he did though was to make it really clear to Saul (read compel) that the ritual must continue, getting the thaumaturgist on his side.

Saul – I’m going to have more to say here, because Saul’s my character, so I’ve got more insight (and frankly probably interest as well) here. Saul started off with a compel to keep the ritual going (thus siding with Ithilandalar) but later was compelled to stop someone from breaking the first law (thus turning against Ithilandalar). That was some tricky business to play out. Saul’s actions, like everyone else’s, got more and more extreme as fight continued. It started with trying to reason with Mr. Spear Wizard, demanding that there had to be another way to fuel the spell, but that old bastard wasn’t having any of it. So it was up to Saul to find a way, despite knowing it was a HORRIBLE idea, Saul opened his third eye to look at the ritual being cast. Yep, he witnessed the atrocity of thousands of years of sacrifice, the immensity of the World tree with branched extending into the Nevernever and roots penetrating into the Outside. He saw the bloody handprints of the thousands of children sacrificed here, transposed onto the skin of the might tree. And he saw the immense chains wrapped around the tree, chained to the tail of the World Serpent. A Dragon; Death Incarnate. He was knee deep in the blood of innocents and immediately started losing his mind, but he “understood the sacrifice”. Initially hoping to change the ritual, find another energy source (like maybe a nuke off 3 mile island), or find another loophole, it quickly became clear that even if possible he had nowhere near enough time.

So Saul reached out across the Nevernever for his nana, the purest soul he knew, with hopes to convince here (or that Game who spoke with ghosts could convince her) to make this sacrifice for the girl. But even that wouldn’t be fast enough. Gabe took out the wizard, the spell failed and it started to fall apart. The sight still open , he saw the chain snapping and decided the old wizard was right, blood was needed, innocent human life. And Saul was the closest thing on hand, so he picked up the spear and told his nana, he’d be visiting her soon, just like a good Jewish boy.

After the spell was completed there was some pretty angry fallout between everyone. Jameson took the bodies (the wizard to Polly as promised and Saul to his mother), Gabe stalked off in anger and Ithilandalar returned to the Nevernever.

What rocked

Dude, I chained the World Serpent. I stopped the END. That was awesome. My character died doing something really meaningful and will be remembered. Loved, cursed, or berated; he’ll be remembered. He’s not really gone either, I mean not really. His bloody hands have been added to the host of thousands holding that chain in place. He’s dead, I mean really dead, but he’s not gone.

We saw some pretty serious magic mojo in there. Fate chips, maneuvers, free tags, and consequences were flying around like popcorn. It was an intense fight.

Saul opened his eye to one of those power-of-plot spells. Shaun called it an Epic intensity, though I thought that was generous… that was until he kept tagging Saul’s consequences to beat his disciple rolls, mashing his brain up like stew and keeping him from closing the sight. It was awesome to see all this going down from its metaphorical capital “t” Truth.

The compels in this game were rough, and rough in a scraping the skin on your knee and seeing gravel stuck in there that that you’re going to have to pick out with tweezers while it stings like crazy and then you pour isophrophil alcohol on to prevent it from getting infected but also to ensure that it burns you to the bone. I like em!

Shaun’s imagery was great. It’s a tough thing to tell a GM “tell me what this looks like through the Sight” when there is that much going on, but Shaun did a fantastic job. For whatever reason the image of wading knee deep in the blood of sacrifices hit home the hardest for me. Excellent.

Jameson saved the girl. Jameson! Probably the most callous of us all. I mean Ith wanted to let her die, but for a very thought out reason (like, you know, saving the world). Jameson was just in it for the money. But sometimes the greedy bastards are ALSO doing the right thing. That was pretty awesome.

Gabe made a character that was meant to be a martyr type, the kind that can and will take a bullet for another. In this case, magic was ripping through his supernatural defenses but he still kept coming. He was NOT going to let that little girl die.

What could have improved

There’s issues on a couple different levels.

At the highest, our characters acted as extreme as they did because we didn’t know the consequences of the ritual being broke. We didn’t know whether this was really apocalyptic or not. It sure seemed like it was and had all the Ragnarok associated imagery, but Shaun revealed at the end that, if released the Serpent would have possessed the little girl and become an insidious and horrible enemy. I think that is something we (as players) could have handled, and probably would have played our characters a little less to-the-hilt.

Where do I stand on this one? Part of me says a player can’t be invested in the game if they don’t feel that the GM is being forthright about the world and the goings on in it. I’m a fan of Vincent Baker’s push for GM being honest, even generous with information. Because frankly the GM is the only access the players have to the world. What the GM doesn’t say, doesn’t exit. From that perspective, I think we should have known that was on the line.

But… what would that have done to the tension in the game? Had we known the outcome was that acceptable (exciting even) would we have tried as hard? Would we have tried to continue the ritual at all? Would Ith’s claims that the ritual must continue just be hollow fey legalese?

And from the player’s perspective, I think we should have trusted more that the GM isn’t going to end the world because of a mistake (if it can even be called that) we made, especially when put in such a difficult position to start with. Should we have just had more faith in doing the right thing and save the girl, consequences be damned? Besides the fun story conflict of our characters divided over this, as players were we just being to risk averse? Why didn’t we just “dare to be stupid”?

I really don’t know.  Shaun, I think you used a secret.

On another level, the player social contract level, some trust was breached there as well. The actions the characters took were upsetting and at the end of the day both parties felt under served by their agency in the game. This caused us to re-evaluate what actions/behaviors are going to work in our group and how we can prevent breaches from this in the future. All good exercises, but lessons learned the hard way.

Finally as a player I have two regrets. First, Saul never got a chance to rip a tree (just a tree I’m talking about, not the “Tree”) out of the ground by and drop it on someone. That would have been some uber strained kinetomancy there. Second, I could have given Ith the change to take the bullet “Hey Barry. You really want to prove you’ve got a soul? Here’s your chance” and tossed him the spear. Urgency, both in the fiction and in the moment prevented that kind of outside-the-box thinking, but I’m pretty sure Joe would have been up for it. Not that I particularly wanted to save Saul, but it would have been a chance for Ith to prove his humanity AND his dedication to the fey all in one act.