[The SCUP] Unspeakable India & Power – Sessions 5th to 10th.


This is a follow up to my previous session report about first four sessions in The Sword, The Crown and The Unspeakable India. We play in our fantasy Ancient India, or at least our European Slavic understanding of it. I'd like to invite you to use my previous Adept Play submission as a reference to this article. 

It's near impossible to me to recreate six sessions from a memory, so instead of describing each of it, I've decided to make some points and impressions. 

How Player Characters changed?

What happened during 5th-10th session, from the perspective (agenda) of each player character:

Yaghadis (The Beloved, he/him):

  • He got almost killed once again, and once again by Horus. This second time, he had been abducted and politely compelled to accept a proposition of a deal from The Curtain. With a help of The Curtain, The Watchers will rid off the Ghostspeakers from the city Maratha. In exchange, The Watchers will accept the submission of 10 adepts chosen by one of The Curtain leaders (Indrani, Mistress* of the Discretion) to The Watcher. It was about infiltration of The Watchers and making an unprecedented move in caste system (only those in the 1st Caste were allowed to join The Watchers).
  • Yaghadis was the guarantee of the above. During the play, he had to accept covering of The Curtain's adept/spies (-1 Barter per session!), due to concers of his faction. 
  • After several issues and an another intrigue, he finally dismissed his patronage over Svatka [9th session]. It was the player's decision after considering the fiction and actual dynamics between Yaghadis and Svatka. While Svatka recovered from "2 disobedience" from her Patron, it only delayed the inevitable (I think).
  • After whole Ezra's Soul/Mystery of Wanton Death Scroll thread (lead by Horus), he managed to get The Scroll from Horus. This happened after a meeting between two leaders of The Curtain  plus Horus, Yaghadis and Swatka. Soon, he discovered that The Scroll describes the process of sending out the threat of Wanton Death for eternity: to siphon out and make a fall of magic in this world!
  • He, his militant followers (equipped thanks to Maratha's Citadel armory) and Horus, ventured into a Niramaya Snana sacred healing pool, now turned into wetlands. So far [10th session], they managed to get there, fighting off the ambush of Talking Tigers in a meanwhile.
  • He (rightly) suspects his best apprentice – Arya – as his personal threat, as he learnt about her making allies with Talking Tigers of Bangaluru!
  • He earned just 5 advancement so far [the lowest count], including boosting his Wily and Arcane stats to +3.

* – I hate, then female equivalent of "Master" in English invokes unnecesary sexual connotation, as "female lover". 

Svatka (The Voice, she/her):

  • She gets a new Patron, brahmi Kalidas, the Archivist Warden of University of Maratha. That NPC is the same one, who sacrificed his own subordinate (Ezra) for trading her soul with Talking Tigers in exchange for The Scroll. As turns out, the latter failed [read Horus' story]. Back to Svatka: for two sessions, she managed to have two Patrons at the same time (including +2 Barter per session from them!). There was a price for that: she accepted her dismissal from Oracle of Love & Family position, to get alternative job as priestess of Temple of Artha.
  • She tried to intercept archivists' contraband "Ezra's Soul for The Scroll" in some elephant farm, but Horus was quicker and more effective. She used Yaghadis' followers [it happened before first and second Yaghadis' attempt for his life], BTW.
  • She had "affair" with one of The Curtain's agent, Seth (assasin and spy, Horus' buddy). It got it's own ups and downs. Firstly, she managed to secure some crucial informations about Horus and The Curtain. Secondly, she tried to make Seth her lover and double agent, but it failed and she narrowly escaped with life. Thirdly, she "saved" Seth from the consequences of execution "for Horus' crimes" (being buried alive), by getting him out of freshly buried hole. I mean, she destroyed The Curtains' plan to save Seth, as the place of the execution had been deliberately influenced, and Seth wanted to escape from some hidden tunnel into a pond. 
  • This above is important, because at least she managed to please her boss, Archconfessor Madhuri. Svatka finally delivered her some The Curtain agent (Seth), after several sessions.
  • Her new Patron (brahmi Kalidas) gave her a subtle quest about "finding someone, who smells like Ezra's soul: as lotus and incense". She managed to learn about two targets so far (both from Yagadhis' faction!)
  • Brahmi Kalidas also asked Svatka for finding out "how close Yagadhis is to Dharmic Wheel" (to die). Her investigation lead to a trauma of "seeing waterwheels propelled by Kali's fork in every moving body of water", because she whispered to Unspeakable Power. BTW, that Temple of Artha has waterwheel too!
  • Whispering to Unspeakable Power failed her once again, when she tried to find the true meaning of Temple of Artha. It turned out that Temple of Artha was a vanity project ("atheistic gnosticism") of some raj, 700 years ago, then abandoned. It's hollow, void of any Deva nor cosmic force, and the wheel of history turns again, when Kalidas wanted to find the meaning of the world once again in That Place.
  • Due to her new Move (from The Hex playbook), she cursed the Hours in revenge. He curse had been activated once so far, when Horus tried to endure his wounds (the Move about taking harm) after recent fight with Talking Tigers. 
  • She gets End of the Season move, "Let the Right One In". Description below:

Every time you perform some more than trivial act using The Unspeakable Power, especially something epic and/or bloody, make a notch. When you hit three notches, you and the MC together will choose one of the following:
† The doors of reality crack and something horrible comes into your world, devouring you in the process. If the game continues, the MC will make a new Threat based on what slipped through, and you may create a new character with one free advancement.
† Something enters you and burns your soul away. You’re gone, but there is a new tenant in the building. Your character is now an NPC that looks like you but decidedly is not you. If the game continues, the MC will make a new Threat based on whatever is now wearing your face and flesh, and you may create a new character with one free advancement.
† Something esoteric and beautiful entices you into a world far away. Describe it, in all its indescribable grandeur. Retire your character to safety. If the game continues, create a new character with one free advancement.

Horus (The Black Hood turned to The Gauntlet, he/him):

He transformed into a new playbook after 9th session, as a conclusion of his deeds, possible changings in The Curtain faction (to vigilantism, essentially).

  • He messed with the contraband between two archivists and the Rakshasa, securing both the (empy) Soul Catcher vessel and The Scroll, in exchange for the morbid deal with Rakshasa. The condition were: Horus has to deliver sacred man (preferably Yaghadis) to Rakshasa, each week of delay means +1 Harm. 
  • He accepted the contract possession with some female ghost, Hema, for a exchange for compassion (like, they had consensual sex), companionship and mutual protection. At this point, majority of The Curtain was infiltrated by Phantom Runners. BTW, thanks to her, he learnt that his Patron, Adil, also has his own "ghost protector": his grandfather from 2nd, warrior ghost.
  • That's why he kidnapped Yaghadis. However, his boss and Patron (Adil, NPC) stepped in and demanded to give him both Yaghadis and the Soul Cathcer. Genuinely, I tested out (as MC) when Horus will say "NO", but it didn't happened then. Horus needed another sacred folk for Rakshasa.
  • Horus almost finished the morbid deal by delivering an alternative: Arya, the priestess. Almost, because failed "Persuade with Leverage" move revealed unexpected (for players) turn: Arya's place of birth is the distant Kashmir to the north ("where folks in the Sky Mountains preach Sky Father") and "Kashmir human's meat" makes Rakshasa severe gastric problems. I mean, that's why Rakshasa refused the deliverance and in anger, attacked Horus! That scene happened in Niramaya Snana.
  • He barely managed to kill Rakshasa, getting 3 Harm and "Clouded" debility in the process, plus getting cursed by everlasting cover of pitch black rakshasa blood! Only miracle (or miracleman) can get him rid of it! As you may guess, that's why Horus is still interested in Niramaya Snana sacred pool and it's re-consecration! 
  • He impressed The Curtain and Yagadhis as the Killer of the Rakshasa. It was during the same scene, when he had been pushed to choose, to who he gives The Scroll (Svatka or Yaghadis). He chose Yagadhis.
  • During the venture to Niramaya Snana, he singehandedly fought back the Talking Tigers' ambush, with a price of overall 4 Harm (then lessened to 3 Harm, after eating some crocodile's skin). It happened, because he upgraded one of the Basic Move (Engage In Combat), rolled 12+, so he chose to end the combat quickly (killing couple of tigers, forcing remainder of 50 to retreat).
  • At 5th Session, Adil gave him a quest to find & train a replacement for Samira, tragicaly lost due to Ezra's assassination. Horus only managed to find promising candidate, but he failed to abduct or convince that person, because she outsmarted her. The event happened in Black District. I mention it, because…
  • It seems that his quest of finding out replacement for Samira lost any of priority because more important things happened in Maratha (including week long quarantine of the city, due to Phantom Runners danger and The Watcher intervention). But it's not the end of the "quest". Adil gave him the quest about negotiating with Black District (Coalmaker district, with organized smuggling of forbidden cow meat), as The Curtain wants to protect them instead of rivalring them. So far, Adil gave Horus 3 days of leave "for personal deals".

MC Experience

During the play, one Threat has been destroyed (Phantom Runners), while they were at 3/5 progress of a countdown to complete their infiltration to The Curtain and the 2nd Warrior Caste. 

I created an another Threat, as "Wanton Death's Second Coming". It has been revealed that deva Kali is responsible for the first one in the past. So far, only Horus is 100% sure that Wanton Death = Kali. It didn't has much progress in countdown, yet.

Another Threat (anti-Svatka coalition) fulfilled his main goal, but there's secondary one: avenging Ezra's death. I would like to remember about it in the next sessions. However, I'm aware that more urgent and more interesting things are happening right now. For Arya's Threat, she's really close to conclude her own countdown!

We play sessions, which lasts for 160-180 minutes, which is short. I think that impacts the structure of the campaign, because of rituals as beginning of the session moves (Patrons, Yaghadis' benefits from the followers, and so on). It has the heaviest impact on Entangelement criteria (+1 xp, chosen by MC for each Playbook), due to the fact that often we can't find enough time to even try to get into a scene, when player can try to fulfill criteria.

He have first Tier Two advancements, including first End of the Season. According to the book, when those starts to show up, the group should start to plan, when to wrapping out the campaign (season). I don't want to abruptly end this campaign, but I need to consider that it should lead to some conclusion. Some endings made, some endings left. After all, reaching End of the Season criteria leads to inevitable abandoning of the player character. Sooner or later, the players will play different characters.

I feel like we all (four) experienced satisfying character development arcs. The Horus' one is the most visible, but also Svatka turned into some kind of bitter schemer, who failed so far. Yaghadis also took control of being tokenized by both player characters, into a leading (fiction-wise) character once again. 

5 responses to “[The SCUP] Unspeakable India & Power – Sessions 5th to 10th.”

  1. Addendum

    I forgot to add a custom move associated with "Talking Tigers of Bangaluru" Threat. It got triggered once so far:

    When you look into the eyes of Talking Tiger of Bangaluru, roll +Steady. At 7+, describe how your soul tastes and you may continue the conversation with the Tiger. At 10+ you may also choose 1 of below:
     – You have a vision about a person, who's soul tastes almost like you.
     – You may break a contact with the Tiger. Nobody can learn a taste of your soul, until someone literally possesses it!
     – You learn taste of this Tiger's soul.
    On a miss, MC describes taste of your soul instead and for one of The Tigers, it becomes an obsession!

  2. Great post!

    Your focus on character changes is very, very helpful. Tracking the ins and outs, I can see what you mean about unplanned outcomes and – for lack of a better word – achieving plot without writing it. This is a feature that I know Vincent sought to bring forward for Apocalypse World, but which I at least have rarely seen in playing that game or in PbtA applications.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of the player-characters’ problems and actions have been either antagonistic or at least interfering with one another, which is fine and needs no explanation or justification. If I’m understanding that correctly, then at this point, ten sessions in and with an End of Season approaching, I’d like to know more about the player-characters’ attitudes toward one another and whether their goals are similarly confrontational. It seems to me as if that’s changed a little bit. Without explaining every detail, can you summarize how each player-character “stands” relative to the others at this point?

    • We played 11th session in

      We played 11th session in last Tuesday, so I'm under more up to date impressions, but in general, those impressions lead into one thing: players feel like their character lead outward to their own ends of the story arcs. Especially Horus – recently, the player told us that he's looking for a conclusion of a Horus, after all deeds done. I suggested then to choose one of End of the Season advancement options, to find out the conclusion seed. He chose "Sown Discord, Harvest Blood" EotS:

      Every time you hurt someone, physically, socially, or emotionally, make a notch. When you reach 3 notches, you face the reckoning. Those you love will suffer and die, undeservedly. Those you trust will betray you, laughing at your misery. As you have sowed discord, now you shall harvest blood. After it all goes down, if you live and the game continues, you may choose to retire your character to ceaseless misery and create a new character with one free advancement. Or you may press on, erase the notches, and start over. Will
      you ever reconsider your ways?

      Other characters are in deep revision of their relationships. Svatka tends to seek new allies (mostly NPCs) and for a new opening (or positioning) to delve once again toward Yagadhis. Yagadhis, in another hand, attempted to make a bond with Horus, possibly to bring him closer as a "militant servant". What binds Yagadhis and Horus is shared agenda against Arya (NPC, Threat) and awareness about Talking Tigers' threat. 

  3. Thanks for the post, Mansfeld.

    Thanks for the post, Mansfeld.

    I'm curious about your opinion regarding the design of some of the moves in this game. In general, I'm not a huge fan of Apocalypse World/PbtA games, given that some of the move results, especially on the 7-9 range, ocasionally conflict with my GM perception of the NPCs motivations, what they are doing in the background, etc. This "create bumps along the road out of thin air" that some of the moves ocasionally prrescribe is not something to my taste. I have no "philosophical" issues with it, it's just that my prefered way of GMing doesn't always go along well with the prescriptive nature of some moves. With that said, SCUP makes it somewhat worse for me, at least as writen (I haven't played it, but I have the game). For example, the move STUDY A SITUATION reads:

    When try to work out what is happening around you, you make a Study a Situation roll. When you Study a Situation, you are indicating to the MC that the situation is charged or tense. By asking a question below, you are putting that into the fiction. For example, if you ask “who or where is my enemy, really?” you have indicated to the MC that you have an enemy here. The MC will not answer “you don’t have an enemy.” If you asked, you do. This means that this is a great move to use to inject some extra drama and intrigue into the fiction.

    This means that, unlike in AW where a legit answer could be "you have no enemy here" or "you're not missing anything" even if the situation is considered "charged", this won't happen in SCUP. Just by asking about the circumstances you're automatically creating such a situation. If you tend to GM the way I do, you can probably see that this can conflict with NPC motivations, drives, general situation, etc. that you know about but the players don't.

    Did you feel that this was an issue for you, or do you GM in general more along the lines of "if something wasn't established openly at the table yet, then it's fair game to do whatever"? Did this move come up in play?

    • I think that explicit wording

      I think that explicit wording of invoking an enemy of the character was intended for The SCUP. This corresponds to the game about intrigues, drama and such, the game about neverending source of them. At least it's how I understand it. 

      I don't have a problem with that. I "paint NPCs with a thick stroke", as I have mostly a sketch with some guidelines about their agenda. I'm ready for changing or revising some agenda or current plans of an NPC. After all, you can also introduce a new danger (enemy) due to this question: the character can learn about an another NPC ("who (…) is my enemy, really?"). Plus the options "where" instead: this suggests that the question don't need to relate to the NPCs present in the scene…

      Another thing. If a player chooses this question, they announce that they actually want to invoke some enemy from the fog of unknown. That they want to "bring" some enemy to their character. After all, if a player doesn't want an enemy to their character, they don't have to pick that question, I think… It's a player's choice. 

      But yes, I'm aware, that such wording of a "Study A Situation" Move heavily relies of not making significant prep on anything, especially on NPCs It enforces the need for an improvisation. I wonder if SCUP's MC "shouldn't" even know what NPC can be an enemy of particular someone, for a particular reason…

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