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Wrath (Circle of Hands Summary)

Foreword 

We've arrived at the second to last session for this series of ventures. Things got JUICY! However, players have further dug themselves into their fan favorites despite advising them to branch out. I get the feeling that part of this might be that the group has taken a bit longer to actually really get into the meat and potatoes of who the knights are. Early on and for the first few sessions, some players were still sticking to the gimmicks of each knight rather than deeper motivations. Specifically, Wulf who seemed to only really boil down to the Salty Sea Dog trope, in this session he had a pretty stellar moment that sprung up out of some improvisation. 

Venture Prep 

Just Rbaja Influence in Spurr for this one. I went with a narrative that people have been abandoning their villages ahead of survivors that seem to escape a horrifying force that envelops entire communities and leaves behind swarms of undead that remove all hope of ever returning unless with the help of a small army. 

Plain and simple, a Yoggoth and a squad of Draugr are the ultimate baddies if the knights can get there without mucking up their charm rolls. I had the thought that a Yoggoth is almost like a giant slug/amoeba. It's drawn to densely populated areas and as written the creature itself is a Rbaja zone, self-contained. I thought that it would be much more of an intimidating force if everything in its wake is turned into a Rbaja zone that ends up leaving vast cuts through a landscape. 

The place I direct the knights toward is a cliffside fort (inspired from ventures that Ron ran myself and some friends through). This place's promise of high stone walls and hospitality to the refugees drew in quite the crowd leading to some crowding due to overpopulation (pseudo-Humanitarian Crisis component). 

Named People  

Lotrund (Peasant), lost his parents to the threat. 
B 5 Q 2 W 8 C 4   
 
Fernot (Gentry) Leader of the town's defense. The first obstacle for players 
B 5 Q 8 W 4 C 2 A 9   
 
Ina (Freeman) Lotrund's adoptive mother. Cares for the other refugee children. 
B 8 Q 5 W 4 C 2  
 
Introduction 
 
A few players REALLY wanted to go to Spurr. Namely: Kaleb, John, and Conlan. The shared trait among them... they've all played Wulf. Coincidence? I think not! So, here's who we have. 
 
Tre (Otomar Kaspar, Gentry Wizard) 
Kaleb (Lutz, Priest) 
John (Wolf, Fisherman Wizard) 
Conlan (Karlman Oswald, Outdoorsman Wizard) 
 
Each of them REALLY stepped into their character's profession in interesting ways and Wolf's key event took center stage. Kaleb honored how John had played Lutz before (Making use of a D20, essentially a coin flip to determine what the character's inner voices were saying). I won't spoil how all this beautifully plays out, so here we go!

Smells on the Wind 
 
The knights make their way south after I inform players of the venture. The players have collectively determined that Wulf is the Circle's collector of gossip, an ear in every conversation even if he can't quite hold one himself. He almost can't help himself it seems. So Wulf gathers up any other knight that'll tag along and tolerate him. 
 
They set off and I tell them all how Wolf seems to really know the area and might even recognize a few of the villages that he had passed through to get to the citadel. However, as they continue down to the rocky flatlands of the Spurr in my head, they find that more villages are either empty or nearly empty. Wulf activates his wizard senses, faint Rbaja almost as if carried on the wide. The sharp chemical smell of rubbing alcohol and dead bodies, something harsh to the nose. Wulf casts Perfection to get an overview of land to see if he can spot anything. 
 
He spots a traveling group of what seem to be refugees along the edge of one of the distant cliffs. They decide to follow. The fort comes into view and the knights decide to armor up. The gate is partially ajar and there's a single armored man partially exposed. At the knight's approach, he calls for backup expecting a fight with the clearly battle-ready men. Otomar takes the lead but botches his charm with Fernot. The rest of the knights try to pitch in and it's an even half and half between success and failure between them all. 
 
Wulf gets a bright idea and practically drags all of his comrades away by their mail. Knowing that things are tense with the guards they decide to use Seem to disguise themselves as a Spurr family seeking refuge. Changing their clothing and facial structures to really fit the look of the local people. They wait till sundown to give things time to cool off at the gate. They establish fake identities and their relationships to each other and in character they share some laughs in the support crew's wagon as it pulls up to the gate. 
 
During their prep at a hastily erected camp of sorts, Lutz consults with the voices. However, he brings me into the mix wondering what he should be looking for within the fortress. I divide the D20 results into three just based on which character the knights could actively seek out. I give an ominous description of a child haunted by what pursues them. 
 
Fernot fails his Wits vs. 12 roll to overcome the spell and the knight's enter in without issue. They find an unoccupied dark corner amongst many hastily erected domiciles to house the crowds of people that have flocked to this place. 
 
Improvising the Past

The knights set up a lean-to within the walls as Seem wears off and they get a good night's sleep amongst the refugees. Lutz takes the lead in the morning and successfully nails a Wits roll to find where most of the refugee children are being cared for. They've removed armor at this point. 
 
They enter into a small longhouse that's one of the local's houses. Inside the place seems to have children taking up almost every available space with three women weaving through the crowded space tending to them all. One, in particular, seems to be in charge, Ina. 
 
Karlman has used Beast 1 to essentially summon a therapy dog and they all step carefully into the cramped quarters. The three women notice the strangers enter and Ina addresses the group wondering why they're there. Lutz takes the lead with Karlmann and Wulf close behind him. 
 
During their interactions with Ina Lutz makes a good first impression. However, as we've come to learn with Wulf he just can't quite keep his nose out of things. He starts trying to talk to Ina as well, asking about her home and where she's originally from (Failed Charm here). She seems wary of Wulf, but says Saskia. Not at all coincidentally that's the village that Wulf seems to have come from (they also used this as the name of the village they made up to get into the fort in the first place, also Wulf's idea).  
 
Wulf seems somewhat taken aback. I have him roll for Wits...success. He recognizes her and subsequently so does she and she definitely isn't happy to see him again. She visibly becomes more upset and draws her knife. She tells them all how her husband was one of the men killed when wizards clashed on the shores of Spurr. Back then, Wulf was a wizard of Rbaja. When another wizard came to his village preaching of light, purity, and transcendence in the blinding light confrontation was inevitable between the two. Abyssal darkness and blinding light distorted the shores and toiled the waters. Whole families were decimated. Wulf was presumed dead. 
 
Now, here they were, perhaps all that remained of that ill-fated place once called home. A brief silence falls over the table. Nobody had expected this turn, not even me really. Ina starts shrieking for Wulf to get out, the knife shaking in her hands and she takes lunging steps forward. Wulf needs no further instruction and skitters out of the dark house. Ina drops the knife and starts to sob as he disappears from view. Otomar picks up the dropped knife while Lutz comforts the grieving woman. 
 
After gleaning some information from one of the orphaned children the knights know where the looming Rbaja threat is and where it may very well be. They do their best to make a gracious exit. However, Otomar gets the final word. He jabs the knife into the threshold and holds eye contact with Ina. There's a brief unspoken understanding that if she comes looking to murder Wulf (as many have) that she might get more than she bargained for. Successful Charm roll, message understood. 
 
Battle! 
 
The knights travel southeast about a days march toward what they surmise to be a Yoggoth. Wulf muses at length about what it might be like to fight it and he makes his own preparations to fight it. They travel the rest of the way and arrive at an abandoned village shrouded in a thick fog. Wulf gets a strong whiff of Rbaja, it's close. 
 
The cloud rolls forward and combat begins! The actual fight with the Yoggoth ends quite quickly. Despite it having the advantage the knights get a few solid blows in and Wulf reveals his trump card, Quell. Once the Yoggoth's Storm starts to manifest he counters it with his own magic. He gains a mark of Amboriyon and the Charm gift. 
 
The rest of the fight is easy, but once it's dead the foul ichor spills everywhere and the hidden draugr squad in the murky depths move in. The knights are starting to flounder at this point as the Splotches also take shape on those that were inside the Yoggoth when it met its end. 
 
Wrath 

Otomar assesses the situation. Outnumbered. Struggling. Lesser forces beginning to panic. He raises his hand and with a voiceless shout everything around them turns to a photonegative of itself. Then a blinding flash of white. 
 
The knights blink away the blindness and find themselves someplace entirely different. A flat meadow with no village in sight. The air is crisp but has a bit of a chemical bite to the nose of a wizard. Gleaming white clouds float overhead and whisps of silvery mist float alongside the knights. The epicenter of an Amboriyon zone half an acre in size. Unsettled, the knights make a swift exit before any Valkyries arrive. 
 
As the knights retreat back to Rolke the Amboriyon zone slowly fills in and subsumes the trails of Rbaja left by the Yoggoth, the clouds rapidly spreading their influence. The knights know they'll need to return and the players agree that next session they're going to come back and fix the mess they've made. 
 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm very interested in the precise table-techniques and prior information that went into this sequence of play:

I have him roll for Wits...success. He recognizes her and subsequently so does she and she definitely isn't happy to see him again. She visibly becomes more upset and draws her knife. She tells them all how her husband was one of the men killed when wizards clashed on the shores of Spurr. Back then, Wulf was a wizard of Rbaja. When another wizard came to his village preaching of light, purity, and transcendence in the blinding light confrontation was inevitable between the two. Abyssal darkness and blinding light distorted the shores and toiled the waters. Whole families were decimated. Wulf was presumed dead. 
 
Now, here they were, perhaps all that remained of that ill-fated place once called home.

Was any of this taken, or developed directly, from Wulf's Key Event? If so, how is it phrased in the original Key Event?

Who actually narrated the core points - "you know each other," "this is what happened" - during play?

If I'm not mistaken, the person playing Wulf accepted and incorporated this revelation without any difficulty or hesitancy. Is that accurate?

CaramelCharcoal's picture

The whole situation came from the "Yes, and..." improv technique. Much of what developed came from John just asking certain questions about Ina during their interaction. John was completely on board with these and he seemed pleasantly surprised in general that a Key Event was brought into play. All players agreed that the interaction was one of the more powerful ones they've seen so far in their ventures. It was personal, tragic, and showed long term impacts of magic (perhaps metaphorically, trauma) on day to day living.

Here's how the information came together. For most of it, I did the narration and built the story as John would ask further questions about Wulf and Ina's possible relationship.

-Wulf was the only knight from Spurr so I gave him some leeway in making named villages he might recognize from his original trip to the Circle's citadel after his Key Event.

-When they infiltrated the fort, John decided to name Wulf's actual home village Saskia and have the rest of the knights adopt it as their "home" for their aliases under the effects of Seem. That way they could be convincing under questioning.

-John had Wulf ask Ina where she was from before taking residence in the fort, Spurr of the moment decision and I toss out Saskia as her original home. At this point, he has already failed his Charm roll so she won't like him regardless. What comes next is the more elaborate reason for why she may come to distrust and want to kill Wulf.

-John gets even more intrigued and states something along the lines of "Wait... Wulf's key event probably wasn't all that long ago. Do I recognize her?" That's where I have the Wits roll come in. Funnily enough, I based how deeply they were related based on John's reaction of "Uh oh." to realizing the characters knew each other in even a small way.

-I take a quick look over Wulf's key event and think quickly of the worst-case scenario of how these two people could be connected and figure for the sake of soap opera that her husband was killed during Wulf's key event which involved a great deal of destructive magic.

Ron Edwards's picture

I see that, but I'm really interested in what the Key Event actually said. If you have it available, even word for word.

The reason is that this is very much one kind of thing that Key Events are supposed to be available for, and I specifically did not put that into the explicit rules because I wanted it to be fully emergent from play, when and if it occurs. (It's also OK if it doesn't happen; the game includes at least a dozen emergent properties which I think of in this way, so it doesn't matter, per group, which ones occur.)

Basically, if there's anything in that Key Event which rings like a bell when you introduce content like this, then great; but if the Key Event isn't really involved, and the two of you are basically writing a new one de novo, then it's not so great. I think what you're describing sounds like the former, but I'd like to see that Key Event text.

CaramelCharcoal's picture

Gotcha, here's the word for word. Additional context, this is before they had access to the spell list so they didn't really go into the effects of a specific spell. It might as well have been Distort and Wratch colliding.

"Wolf watched as his best friend and a wizard like him cast flashes of white magic over the water. He witnessed the death of his two closest friends and fishing partners. Using Rbaja against his betrayer, the sails burned and the wood of the boats rotted away and tore apart. The boats sank beneath the waves and Wulf struggled back to shore on a piece of blackened wood."

General idea: Best friend was an amboriyon wizard and betrays the group of fishermen. Wulf's friends die. Wulf retaliates. Full destruction. He survives and eventually gets to the Circle.

Ron Edwards's picture

It took me a night's sleep to figure that out, so let's see if I have it right.

  • Wulf was the Rbaja wizard, his friend was an Amboriyon wizard.
  • The friend attacked him and some associated fisherman (we're not sure exactly what prompted the attack).
  • Wulf fought back with his own magic, and the clash of opposing forces tore the community apart.

If I have that right, then this incorporation works perfectly. First, that this area is where Wulf comes from, approximately, and that Ina comes from his village and experienced the Key Event - all of that is, if you will, "legal" GMing. In fact, it's great - especially since it's not just you imposing things, but working exactly with what the player had originally written. Obviously other people were involved; it'd be less plausible (and obviously less interesting) not to meet any of them, rather than more.

Plausibility is never quite the right variable though - it's like "clarity" in writing; you discover it that it's been implemented after the fact, not solely by applying some vague "be more clear" injunction when you're doing it. One writes more clearly through certain techniques, or rather, has to chance to do so by using them.

What are the techniques, then, which result in interesting plausibility, when role-playing? Especially when adding content that isn't mere description?

I have focused a lot of my attention, for this, on working with what's known, both from setting information and from character backgrounds. Adding stuff from them, or extrapolating from them, seems to be the right concept - as opposed to adding to them, as in, "oh by the way, this is in here too."

In your case, if you'd said that Ina was, for example, Wulf's past lover, that'd be adding, not utilizing what's there or extrapolating from it. See the difference?

For those of you familiar with my game Spione, you know it's much more loose-and-whatever in terms of "what's going on" - in fact, the rules state that you cannot determine what is and isn't actually happening until a certain mechanic kicks in. So this distinction is all the more important, because content and characterizations are being suggested and determined true-or-false all the time. It's been very clear to me over the years when it works and when it doesn't: it doesn't work when people start trying to bring in overly rich, massive content-dumps, as if they were attempting to establish a whole backstory or a whole sequence of upcoming rising action and revelation. In other words, if they start "writing." It works great when we learn more about the personalities and priorities of the people right there on the Spy and Guy sheets, and when things occur that result directly from whatever was just said and done.

CaramelCharcoal's picture

Right on the money with the breakdown of his backstory. And yeah, the illustration on how to work within rather than warp someone's backstory makes sense to me.

Plus with all my players I try and ask them questions about their characters/general opinions during off days "Hey, where do you want to take this character? What kinds of moments do you want to have?" That way I can kinda keep those in the back of my head and work them into the story without being too hamfisted.

Almost everyone that played Wulf had at one point talked about how they potentially wanted to see him move forward. I think that's part of why it really worked out well in play. Everyone was very invested in Wulf's story overall. Especially with a key event that was fairly vague, expanding on it with the group's contributions (side talk during some pauses in the dialogue) during the scene felt very natural.

Ron Edwards's picture

Double fantastic.This is what the game is supposed to make possible (not to force)!

I forgot to ask one thing, and it's the last one, I promise: is John the original creator for Wulf?

P.S. Use the reply button in my "Techniques" comment, so your answer willl maintain its position inside this stream of replies.

CaramelCharcoal's picture

Actually, Kaleb was the original creator of Wulf. At the time he was playing Lutz. He stayed in character and did his best to defuse the situation. Out of Character he had said "Yeah, it makes sense given the setting. It was unexpected, but it was really interesting to see a Key Event get brought into play like that."

After a few weeks of reflection, it occurs to me that most of the characters didn't really actively bring their character's key events up much in play. It seems they mostly stuck with their profession and traits to define how they played for the most part.

There was the instance with the Lichifying of Ingfridr as she intended to pursue the accrual of knowledge as an immortal creature. However, I think I mentioned in my write up for that session that it felt like the motivation was pieced together afterward rather than premeditated.

Ron Edwards's picture

Hooray! See, that is just fantastic.

Wulf is now "owned" or "played" by the entire group at the table. There's no way to fake this, and attempts to force it or set it up are absolutely doomed from the start, which is why the game text never, ever mentions any such thing.

Lots of different things in the fiction can come together like that - the game is built for it. Sometimes it's backstory (like this example), sometimes it's one or more relationships among the knights, sometimes it's the fate or development of a sympathetic NPC, and sometimes it's the return and transformation of an adversary, and there are all sorts of other possibilities. It doesn't matter which ones do this, but whatever they are, that's what your collective, emergent story is about. 

Ron Edwards's picture

P.S. That Wrath illustration is sublime.

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