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Swallowed by the Dark (Session Summary)

Session 2

Location: Western Tamaryon, toward the river at the edge of the map.

This portion of the region has been called Falkebrook. Rumors of a massacre make their way to the Circle Knights and the first character shuffle occurs. Only one familiar face in this one, Wulf the fisherman now with a wonderful charm score of... three.

Prep Notes

Humanitarian Crisis: a settlement was almost completely burnt to the ground after refusing compliance in what would constitute a witch/wizard hunt from a more powerful clan. Crucifixes, food shortage, broken longhouses and the survivors tending the dead.

Tripwire: Violence toward any member of the community. These people are ON. EDGE. and all that remains of their family essentially.

Rbaja Influence (Accidentally turned it into a Monster component as I review): A scholar has taken up camp at the foot of a hill where an old fort has stood for generations though long abandoned according to the Falkebrook locals. They hope to understand the architecture as well as what might have lead to its abandonment despite still standing. However, it's got some not so friendly occupants hiding in the shadows, Ghouls have set up shop and have used the allure of a sturdy structure to ambush travelers seeking to shelter the night.

Tripwire: The lair of the ghouls is disturbed. They attack, duh.

Amboriyon Influence: Amboriyon Zone w/ Two Valkyries 
Lost my full notes on this one. Basically a strong community ramping up for conflict far too close to a zone. Que the spear ladies descending from the clouds to do some good ole impaling.

Tripwire: Public use of Rbaja. It's practically open season on Rbaja practitioners out here.

The Venture Unfolds

In attendance this week we have Otomar Kaspar (Gentry Wizard), Ingfridr (Scholar Wizard), Wulf (Fisherman Wizard), and... Tabea (Low Entertainer). As you can imagine, this venture is going to be a cheerful walk through the park where nobody gets hurt, maimed, killed and many friends are made along the way.

I took a bit of a different approach on this one. Starting a bit zoomed out from all the separate components and not quite shoving the knights into a specific community right out of the gate. They get a taste of a functional region toward the eastern edge of Tamaryon. Lots of successful trade between villages and Wulf and Tab take particular interest in the Wrackers and their handlers. Tabea (thankfully) befriends a shepherd who offers them guidance westward. People here have heard the stories of the witchhunts it seems, but it hasn't come this far just yet.

The shepherd takes them further west through the plains and they sup on local booze, bread, and veg. Their final night with their guide takes place on a hilltop cluster of huts. People are definitely more wary of the scarred, wild-haired, and tattooed members of the group at this point. Welcome to Falkebrook.

Their guide offers some final guidance to the knights. "The settlement where the massacre took place is where the smoke still rises and rests right on the river itself. Keep the hilltop fort over there to your left side and you'll get there without issue." Que the knights being immediately interested in the fort and Otomar's player flatly announces, "I armor up."

My inner thoughts, "Gooooooooooood."

The "Abandoned" Fort
 

At the base of the hill is a small encampment. A wagon, tent, and a small retinue. Otomar quickly assesses them as local Martial lows guiding and guarding an out-of-towner. The knights collectively arrive in full kit with the exception of Tab who has opted to stay in plain clothes. The guards see the group of armed individuals on approach and understandably form up for a scuffle.

Otomar takes the lead, scowling down on them from horseback and through his war-mask, he growls something to the effect of "I WILL talk to the tent's occupant." (These folks were unnamed so no charm roll. He was however very much speaking from an "I am a murder machine, do not make me hit the ON switch here" so I gave him a pass. Don't worry, cause and effect has plans for the knights. Just not with these folk.) The guards assess their options here and step aside.

Once inside the tent, they meet the Scholar who is scared almost to death by the appearance of quite the fearsome squad. Otomar continues to apply his Gentry "charms" but doesn't seem to get much from this person who is still very freaked out at the knights arrival. Ingfridr and Tab step in to salvage the situation with a genuine interest in his studies and a few jokes to lighten the mood. (Behavior in line with their professions gets them 2d6 on Charm, even Otomar. All succeed... so far the calm before the storm continues). Wulf has been a bit quiet as the player is somewhat tipsy at this point and he sort of grumbles gruff fisherman things to the other knights.

They offer to come with the Scholar to the fort. More hands less work and the Scholar's current guides can watch his tent while the Knights keep an eye on the otherwise defenseless little man. They head up the hill and Tab who is lagging behind a few paces notices glimmering clouds on the western horizon. Amboriyon, but it's far off... Probably not worth worrying about and other priorities are closer at hand.

They come to the base of the fort. Worn down outer walls. Overgrowth. Some signs of recent inhabitance, but from some time ago and those that did are actually scattered about. A bit of one here. A bit of one there. Bite marks in that one too! EVERYONE armors up at this point. Tab slightly less so, reasoning that they want to stay agile so they can climb the tower. The tower sits central and is surrounded by smaller pithouses that are sunk slightly in the ground. Each contains rotten vegetables and sometimes another long-dead corpse.

Being a low entertainer I figured that they might have some climbing or acrobatic ability. Not necessarily a gymnast, but nimble and sure of their balance. Quickness vs. 12 and a success on their part and they're at the top. There's a gaping hole in the roof of the tower that seems to have rotted away from neglect over the years. Light streams in and illuminates an area of the chamber beneath. Tab hops in. Upon landing she takes a look around, surrounded by shadows and stillness. It seems empty... until it's quickly not. Jumpscare!

Back at ground level the knights the scholar are conversing amongst themselves while the Scholar nerds out on the potential history of the place. A shriek of "Help!" carries down to them and Otomar snaps into action. Kicking down what little remains of the door to the tower. There's a partially rotten staircase leading upward and an otherwise empty first floor. The rest of the knights follow.

Tab is pounced by an emaciated figure with hollow eyes and needle-like teeth. It pins her to the floor and deals a large chunk of damage in the first clash. Tab is down by about half their health. Grabbing their spear they try to jab and push the creature away. They're still in a tough spot on the floor and the spear isn't much help. They get another tough roll and are brought to zero quickness, another facial scar is added as the ghoul's teeth take out a chunk of flesh on the side of their face. Maimed, and Quickness is permanently reduced by 1.

The rest of the squad hears more pained cries and race up the stairs, weapons drawn and voices poised to shout their spells. Wits vs. 12 to avoid the precarious pitfalls in the rotted structure. Otomar nails it. Wulf bumbles. Ingfridr keeps up. They get to the third floor in time to sling a surprise spear into the creature's back. Infridgr cast's Die, pumping brawn to increase potency. The spell evaporates the creature into a pool of dry flakes and black ooze already starting to crust over. 

Another ghoul rises from the second floor at the smell of blood and the commotion. The two healthy knights and Wulf slinging spells from below make short work of it. Ingfridr gets the final blow, an important note for later. Wulf casts Cure on Tabea, bringing her back from the brink, her new scar gleaming as the wound closes over.

The Tricky Bit

This is where things started to get complicated due to player experimentation with enchantment as well as not quite finding the rules that might have given me more direction on what to do here. Here's the best breakdown I can write out. The following occurs.

-All knights except Ingfridr exit the tower.
-Those that exit the tower sit down for a meal with the scholar to catch him up and catch their breath.
-Ingfridr casts Sacrifice on the corpse of the Ghoul. She gains a 2 point shadow.
-Ingfridr pulls out her chained mace... and casts Lich as an enchantment upon it. The ritual only taking an hour since it was offset by the shadow.

- The player gains 6 more black points, plus 3 from Sacrifice for a total of 9. They're marked and gain the beast-shift gift.

- It's at this point that I'm a bit flabbergasted. Here are my following internal thoughts and also external exclamations, "Wait...what? Why? What's the motive? How does that even work? Are they a Lich right away? I'll check the book. It seems like it's right away from the enchantment section. Okay, but the player thought they could save it for later. Should I let it be retconned or have the consequences of experimentation with magic come to bear here?"

Upon review, the player seemed to have more OOC interest in trying out the enchantment stuff as well as Lich "things". It was only after the fact that they seemed to shoehorn in an explanation that the character wanted eternity to conduct their studies. There was a bit about losing their life's work, but it was something that was only really mentioned in the key event. Nowhere during the venture did a dialogue happen that seemed to suggest an urgency to be immortal for Ingfridr, nor that their study was everything to them. It landed like a bit of a backhand for me. Too cool my jets and figure out my next move I call a short break. Wulf's player had to leave at this point since they had an early start to the next day coming.

On the break, I consult the venture components, the details of Lichdom as well as Enchanted items. The mace has essentially become a small Rbaja Zone as well as a point of regeneration for Ingfridr. There is also an Amboriyon zone and Avatars in the form of Valkyries VERY nearby in the grand scheme of things. Avatars embody purity; they focus on the environment to remove it of any conceivable taint.

Cause and Effect

Ingfridr emerges from the tower, looking unremarkable but it's clear they were up to something spooky during the hour in the tower. The knights are wary. The players are rolling with things, for now, to see what happens. The knights gather to discuss their next move. Perhaps checking out the razed settlement would be a good next move. The scholar busies himself with an internal exploration of the tower.

Tab looks up... Gleaming white clouds loom above and sparkling architecture pierces the sky! Two radiant women armed with spears and mounted on flying horses burst forth from the clouds. They descend from the sky like hawks diving toward prey. They have a clear target.

Combat is coming for them fast and brutal. The Knights have a moment to prepare themselves before the Valkyries are in the range of standard fare weapons. Otomar casts Berserk on the scholar. Ingfridr activates her Berserk gift of Rbaja. Tab tries out Palsy on one of the Pegasi but it pumps it's topped off supply of Brawn to overcome the effect. 

Two sets of hooves and spears descend... Without sufficient stopping power being sent toward the Valkyries to slow them down it's a precision strike on Ingfridr. She explodes into dust and blank gunk. Her chained mace falls to the ground where she stood. She's "dead", but being a Lich she would regenerate at dusk or the next dawn.

Now it's up to the rest of the Knights. Do they fight back to save their comrade? They now know what Ingfridr did and fully understand what she had turned herself into. The next character comes to 3:00 on the combat clock. Tab already knew they were going to try and escape as soon as things turned for the worse. They weren't in a clash and had no black points, Tab sprints away without issue.

Now to Otomar, he of all the knights is likely the most well equipped for this fight. Being a capable fighter on horseback he could keep up in speed and advantage in melee. He was also a Wizard and could bring the full force of his knowledge to bear in retribution... but was this person who had so readily given themselves to Rbaja worth the trouble to him?

The Valkyries are coming around for a second dive. However, it seems the only combatant left is a poor warped soul. The scholar who froths at the mouth and claws at them at their arrival. He's impaled with a certain grace that leaves his body suspended as if suddenly weightless. The air around the three of them is practically glowing at this point. The Rbaja magic fades from the scholar's body and he returns to human form before being released from the suffering of the flesh. The entire hilltop is starting to be unmade around them.

The Valkyries raise Ingfridr's mace above their heads to the swirling clouds and it lifts up to the sky. They rise with it... The surviving knights look on briefly before turning eastward. They head home.

Post Session Feedback

-Ingfridr's player: Wanted more time to experiment with being a Lich. Understandable. I posed the reasoning I stated above, there were many ways that they could have fought that might have saved Ingfridr's... unlife. However, I got the read that they just wanted to be in their frustration for a bit. No amount of hindsight talk would help. What's done is done.
-Wulf's player: N/A
-Tab's player: Had fun.
-Otomar's player: No complaints. Had a good time. They were curious about the Lich stuff too but thought that the consequences were fitting for the setting. It seemed suitable that there would be a challenge to overcome in order to earn such a significant buff to a character at a metagame level.

 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

CaramelCharcoal's picture

Well! I just read over Sacrifice and I think I solved my own problem in a way. The ghouls wouldn't have been an eligible target for sacrifice since they're undead, not beasts or persons. I've come to learn that the list of viable targets for a spell are very specific in CoH.

Ron Edwards's picture

They are. The pre-print layout for the magic chapter did not use its fully-revised draft before, so that section has inconsistencies and rules errors, but that particular variable (targets) did get described correctly.

Ron Edwards's picture

Oh yeah - and when someone does get up to any Sacrificing again, keep in mind that the victim must be named, possibly requiring ascension. That applies to animals too - and it's remarkably difficult for players to Sacrifice an ascended animal, I've discovered.

Ron Edwards's picture

Wow. This is a full-scale battle zone for the light/dark war, with the human cost already having gone through the roof. And wizard knights all over the place! I was rooting for Tab to survive.

There was some debate during playtesting about what happened if a Knight got lich'd. I specifically left it up to the table, along with a few similar high-level Rbaja/Amboriyon questions, as that approached a mythic level of play. The most logical proposal that I recall was that you now had two separate entities, the undead lich and the wraith, likely with only the latter treated as a player-character. Again, that's not a ruling on my part, merely a reflection on the older discussion.

I am enjoying reading your write-ups quite a bit; I hope they will continue.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on how the actions of the knights have turned out for the king (so far)~

LorenzoC's picture

I'll second Runeslinger and say that there write-ups are extremely enjoyable; I was planning to write about my own experiences with the system but boy now I feel it would seem dull in comparison.

I agree that magic feels dangerous and effects move at a breakneck pace; my players in particular were shocked by how easy it is to accumulate enough points to earn a mark, but they all agreed that it's probably the point of the system. 
I really like the vivid depictions of the Rbaja/Amboryon effects. You seem to have a better grasp of how to bring that part of the fantasy to the table. I'm probably being a bit too reserved with it so far, which has led to magic being something that rarely happens (in explosive and consequential ways). My players have been completely captivated by the rules of society - the entire first venture ended up focusing on the knights working to earn hospitality and triggering all sort of drama and violence in the process. But reading these write-ups I realize I probably need to make the magical wars more central and remind players that that stuff is all there.

 

 

Lorenzo, I would appreciate reading or listening to more reports of Circle of Hands sessions from other groups. I am quite taken with the game, and so am very curious about what different groups do with it~

Ron Edwards's picture

Lorenzo, write about your play experiences too. There's a bunch of different Circles happening almost simultaneously, and each group apparently latches onto slightly different points of most-usable and most-adversarial material in the text. It's not really about who writes the most entertaining posts (and you'll note neither likes nor upvoting at this site) when we have the opportunity to check out this kind of comparison.

Ron Edwards's picture

Here's an interesting point about the effects of ventures on the young king's rule in Rolke, and by extension the Crescent Lands as a whole. I tried to make it as clearly as possible in the text, but have found one or two readers to be confused.

The confusion comes from seeking a direct cause. The person says or assumes that if X happens or didn't happen right there in play, then it should turn out "good" or "bad" specifically due to the presence or absence of X. And that we should see that either during play or as an immediate epilogue. The usual expression of this view is trying to tie the results of hitting the tripwire very directly to an immediate negative or unfortunate outcome for the king or the institution of the Circle, and also the reverse. The latter in particular is so nebulous to consider, especially during preparation, that the person becomes convinced that something must be wrong in the design or concept.

The point is that we don't have to play or even describe a direct causal link between the end of the venture and its effects of this kind. The effects of the ventures are cultural, narrative-based, diffuse, and long-term, possibly beyond the natural spans of the knights who were involved. Maybe, for example, one venture included an opportunity for Rolke which was destroyed in play, and maybe the person most sympathetic to the knights was murdered. In literal causal terms, as for a mission to get that thing and find allies, that venture would be accounted a failure. However, as long as no tripwire was hit, then the way people talk about it, the way the knights and other people were characterized, and the general sense (however fictional) of whether a "rightness" was identifiable in some way, will determine the outcome in the Circle's favor, to the benefit of the young king and his ongoing consolidation of power and culture.

I consider this to be one of the most important features of the game's overall design. You may recognize how it's related to the "no single-player protagonists" character-trading, and also to the wide-open potential for characterizing a given knight as a good or bad person.

As a final teaser, I do, in fact, have some pages of notes for a sequel game, concerning the nation, church, and cultural travails we might see in place a couple of generations later, or perhaps even a couple of centuries later. It's designed, or as far as one can use that word for a few notes, as if a group had played Circle of Hands pretty extensively, including a rubric based on their ventures' components and outcomes. The rubric would only make sense to a person who understood the cultural rather than directly causal connection between the knights' ventures and the impact on the overall society.

LorenzoC's picture

Ok, I'll write up on our experience as soon as I get a moment of respite (by then we'll probably have a third venture under our belt, as I count on organizing a new session this week).

It's funny that you mention this aspect because this was something I was planning on putting a lot of enfasis on during our "session zero" but it seems like my players didn't struggle with it one bit. We discussed it again at the end of venture one, and one of the players made an interesting comment on how that aspect of the fiction felt like (not word by word but pretty close) "we're in the early steps of some sort of Arthurian monarch's ascension. Big stuff is coming, Rolke taking over the Crescent Lands is happening, and we're just cogs in that machine". I think the precise word is used was "witnesses" but I don't remember the precise context. I guess this was also informed by how the venture went, as a combination of how we shaped the Circle and emergent situations quickly led us toward a fairly dark tone. I'll elaborate better in my write up.

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