Actual Play – The City is Saved (6/26/2010)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Kristin, Shaun, and Fattig
System: Burning Wheel
Setting: Empire of the Golden Dawn

I was a little off balance this game, but it worked out okay. A few hours before Travis called to let me know that he and Chrissy couldn’t make it. In some ways this was okay, the end of last session their characters were heading out together, so I could isolate them from the action this game. In other ways it threw me because as I received the call I was working on the NPCs beliefs that were specifically targeting Hassad and Rashidi (their characters).

Beliefs / Instincts

Atreus the Jackal, Ex-Gladiator
How cruel the world is, to let me taste freedom for so brief a time! I will get the spirit-talker to break this iron manacle.
This guardsman is a mystery to me. I will test his mettle in a duel.
My half brother’s betrayal will not go unpunished. I will find the estate where I was born.

Never cover my scars.
Always go for the face.
Always start fights in aggressive

Onuris, Hedge Wizard
“The Spirits are being forgotten in this world; I will make people remember their power. I will call to the Spirits to raise up the lost city of Ankhenoptera, once I’ve found it.”
I will learn the assassin’s connected to the Ironbound. I will discover her identity, and use that to get answers
I MUST KNOW the secret of the Ironbound’s magics!

When idle, draw Circles in the sand.
Never answer questions directly.
Never summon a Spirit to kill.

Siti, Assassin (these are old, from last session)
The assassins sent me to kill the prince, and I’ll redeem myself by finding who incited the riots.
I will collect payment never delivered from the Bastucks here on the isle and pass it off to another assassin.
I will find my parents and make them pay for sending me to this life.

Avoid fair fights whenever possible
Always have a way to escape
Never leave a witness alive.

Eight heads mounted at every crossroad!

Last we left off Siti and Riska were locked up in the barracks, soon to have their heads mounted on spears for the crime of being unclean. Oneris and Atreus had come upon a meeting of the Bastucks (a very wealthy family in the City of the Blessed Isle) and Bainwen (the Ironbound brother of the murdered prince). The Bastucks were hosting a grand dinner to welcome (and ameliorate) their new lords, the Ironbound. The scene started with Oneris asking (no one in particular, perhaps the crowd) “So… where’s the girl.”

Riska and Siti escaped, but it wasn’t easy. Siti climbed the adobe wall to a high window and was working on prying a bar loose when she saw outside Hassad hurling a torch onto the reed roof above her. Suddenly the building was on fire. One of the Arachnos saw her escape attempt and charged in but was surprised by the suddenly burning roof. Siti threw flaming debris at his face and the two of them broke from the cell into the courtyard where they found the City guard attacking the very well prepared Arachnos (due to a previously failed wise roll).

Resigning that the guards fates were already sealed, Riskia and Siti used the fighting (and an offering of blood to the spirits of sacrifice) to cover their escape… where they promptly headed out to the Bastuck estate to claim Siti’s payment for a job completed months again. Their youngest child.

At the Bastuck family estate Oneris and Atreus were greeted as guests of sorts. The lord did not want to appear before the Ironbound as though he had let unwanted persons into their dinner so he tried to cover up the scene by inviting them to eat with him. Bainwen took an immediate interest in his newest slave and offered him seat next to him. Oneris however stood and began berating lord Bastuck for his complicity with our enemies. His ugly truth however was garbled somewhat by the lord’s interruptions and pleas to appeal to the Ironbound’s mercy rather than earn more of their ire.

Though technically in the same area they split into two scenes. Oneris was seated amongst the children in an effort to keep him as far as possible from the Ironbound. A servant quickly attended to him, bringing him food and clean water (a generous gift in the desert) but his eye was caught by the ewer that she served it in. A porcelain piece with a mosaic depicting a scene of servants gathering water and bringing it back to a majestic city, one that could only be Ankhenoptera. The ewer itself, even if fake had depictions of the city, possibly lending a clue to its location.

Atreus meanwhile was being courted by his master, who at once needed him to form a small army for him (of ex-gladiators naturally) and also, in his supreme arrogance needed to prove that he was in complete control. Bainwen threw a piece of meat on the ground and told Atreus that this was what he should except. All the luxuries he could imagine, but always scraps from the Ironbound’s table.

And then Oneris smelled smoke… Knowing Hassad had planned to burn the barracks he wasn’t alarmed but feigned it and had Atreus make a big scene of scaring the children with stories of how men scream for mercy when they are being burned. The itinerant inconspicuously slipped away from the dinner, ewer in hand.

Outside he met up with Siti and Riska who were heading in. It felt a little like a spy vs. spy caper where people kept walking into doors right as someone else was walking out of the other side. Nevertheless they bumped into each other and Riska did her damnedest to turn the two player characters against each other. It sort of worked at first but eventually backfired when Riska’s claims didn’t hold water.

Siti slipped into the Bastuck manor unnoticed, slit the throat of the nanny and took the smallest bundle in the room… The Bastuck newborn daughter.

Below Atreus overheard from his master’s discussion with the Bastucks that the wealthy family was trying to find a way to appease prince Kiel (who all have been pretending is still alive) and stop the butchery of people in the streets. Bainwen lamented that his brothers injury prevented him from talking to the unclean (that is to say, anyone who was not Ironbound) but a very large gift might appease him, perhaps one of the finest Arabian steeds. The gladiator had the gall to haggle with his master over the quality of steeds and convinced him to settle with a simple palfrey from the Blessed Isle. Having fewer than two sheckles to rub together himself, Atreus implored the aid of lord Bastuck (who it turns out had a son that committed a crime, was taking into slavery as punishment, and was killed by Atreus, thus fulfilling the enmity clause on a fail circles roll) he found a suitable gift for Prince Kiel. In the negotiations however, something very disturbing came up. The reason Bainwen keeps up this farce about his brother’s death is that without him alive, Bainwen looses all his power. The Emperor himself will march south, with his legions and crush the city, which Bainwen could care less about, but he’d lose the privileged place his brother’s “injury” has given him. He also revealed that because he’s not the prince, he has no really power over the Arachnos… they will only listen to Keil. Should be fun times.

Outside Riska deceptions eventually wore through Oneris’ resolve and he agreed to try and stop Siti from killing lord Bastuck (the lie that Riska told him). He called on a mighty spirit of the street, with the peasant spirit caller’s aid. He purposefully however tried for too much and instead of the spirit’s aid, earned it ire and retribution… Of course because Riska was helping him she earned their wrath as well… A clever, clever arrogant bastard he is.

All four eventually made it out of the Bastuck family (baby in tow) and had to fight their way back to Haroun’s home, finding the blood of the Arachnos viscous as it coated their blades.

The great show down…

A report was made and it sounded as though Atreus may have saved the city, but one matter was left unsettled. Who is this Riska woman? She argued that she was the most capable of them all, weakening the Ironbound by killing their leader. Oneris claimed that she was a liar, the bringer of ruin and hiding her intentions from them still.

I am the most capable, I’ll lead your group!
You are a liar! Reveal who you are!
Duel of Wits. Yeah, baby.

I felt horrible going into this one. I thought Riska was going to destroy him… and she got pretty close, but her dismissal wasn’t quite sound enough…

The argument started civil for at least a moment (point vs. obfuscate) but almost immediately turned brutal (incite vs. incite, followed by two uncontested dismisses). They called each other horrible things, but eventually it became clear that Riska was hiding something from them all and she was forced to reveal it.

Before all of the Riska told them the truth. “Life is a petty shame perpetrated by benighted souls of the living. I am a demon and I am your only hope.” She then transformed into a tiger, her eyes still bright blue light sun glinting off the Nile.

What rocked

Oneris beat a demon in a duel of wits. That was awesome.

Siti got her payment… and will have it for a bit still. Her hand off died (failed circles roll) so she’ll have to find another way to get the baby back to the mountain.

The dinner at the Bastucks was a lot of fun. I was working really hard to prevent it from turning into a fight and I felt like Fattig and Shaun did a great job of using it as a time for personal advancement.

Discussions about the danger of being the street were great. I very much wanted it to feel dangerous to be traveling.

We banged on a lot of beliefs this game, which I was really happy about. Much persona was given out.

When Oneris upset the spirit of the streets, they struck him back hard… shattering the artifact he had just stolen… but at least leaving him with a shattered piece.

What could have improved

I really don’t know how to play a lying, conniving NPC. I either play them way too soft (i.e. just doing the smallest changes in the background) or way to obvious (Riska in this case, constantly pushing to sow discord). I felt a little like the rules were falling down in this case. I had her try to gain the confidence of the PCs by offering what seemed like reasonable advice (lets escape together, you should stop her from killing that lord, etc). succeeded in my respective rolls (soothing platitudes and falsehood) but got lukewarm responses of half agreement. I don’t want her mind controlling the PCs but I want her words to have impact. Eh, maybe I’m just getting too hung up on an NPC.

2 thoughts on “Actual Play – The City is Saved (6/26/2010)”

  1. Dirty Lying Raksha

    Sorry about the Raksha thing. I didn’t mean to lessen her impact. However, it occurs to me that she might be more effective at lying to those around us, than lying directly to us. Having her convince the guards that Siti was trying to murder Lord Bastuck rather than trying to convince Onuris, who already didn’t trust her, would have caused much more problems, I think. That’s just an example. It may be moot now that the tiger’s revealed its stripes. Although now, as a member of the group, she has a lot of room to push everyone in bad directions.

    1. Good point. It’s a toss up between wanting the intimacy of having NPCs interact directly with the PCs and the somewhat binary options available in a direct confrontation. M.A.D. never confronts inspector gadget directly because if he did and won the show would break (as gadget can’t lose). But if the faced off and gadget won there would be no Big Bad.

      In one way I think NPCs interacting through intermediaries is a great way to ensure the players can win but the antagonist can keep challenging them. But it’s all very impersonal. The wizard is a much more compelling and interesting character when he comes out from behind the curtain and talks to Dorthey directly.

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