We opened the first session with the situation we’d set forth in campaign burning: a pirate ship belonging to the fleet of the pirate queen Safiye Aydeen, the only surviving member of the lost heroes who is now calling herself the Peregrine Queen, is sighted approaching the island. Holger knows that a black-sailed longship is a sign of Niebrandar raiders, and he prepares to rally the village to repel them at the beach. The ship was approaching more slowly than a swift raiding vessel should, however, and the PCs had a few hours to prepare.
Holger started things off by Circling up the chief of the village, Elder Holt, and failed spectacularly.
There’s something I should mention at this point: Holger’s player has terrible dice luck. We use an IRC-based dice roller which seems to have a personal vendetta against him. In the last game I GMed for these folks, he handled the group’s Resources in an intensely Resource-focused game and proceeded to bomb almost every single roll despite massive expenditures of Artha on Beliefs-driven tests. We’re still waiting to see whether he’s broken the curse.
Enmity Clause dictated that Holt still can’t think of Holger as anything but an angry youth with too much of his father in him, and he’d hear none of this talk of resistance. Instead of preparing to fight, he ordered the villagers to begin bringing their valuables to the beach to present to the pirates upon their arrival, hoping to dissuade them from storming through Koln looting and burning. Holger’s subsequent failed Intimidation test burned all his bridges with the Elder, but I decided against playing that up too strongly – they won’t be on Koln long in this campaign, and I didn’t want to tie Holger into an extended series of conflicts with the Elder. Holger then Circled up the sergeant of the village guard for support, but a failed Beginner’s Luck Persuasion test got him a polite but firm refusal to disobey the Elder’s orders.
Meanwhile Siwan herds her young charges off the beach to safety as part of her first Belief. She Circled up Alexander, the unGifted true-born son of her master Kyros, also left on the island years ago, to provide a hiding place for them. Apparently Alexander has a still hidden in a secret basement (which says something about the island they’re on, come to think of it), and Siwan intended to stash the kids there. It turns out that Alexander is a bit of a scoundrel, and is looting the village while everyone is off on the beach. Caught in the act, Alex traded Siwan’s silence on his activities for a place in his hidden cellar following a failed Persuade roll. She agreed, and off they went. Given subsequent events, there wasn’t much additional challenge to this belief. Still, I was happy with it: we’ve established an interesting dynamic between the siblings – they dislike one another, but it isn’t Enmity Claused just yet, and it looks like Alexander is going to follow them off the island for reasons of his own.
Virgid also made her own unexpected – and statistically improbable – Circles test for a budding young alchemist who essentially Beginner’s Lucked himself into the skill. Archimedes (a name I’m not sold on) has an awkward crush on the beautiful summoner and is more than eager to please her by hurriedly brewing up some alchemist’s fire. A bit too hurriedly as it turns out, thanks to yet another failed social test, with disastrous consequences later on.
With a few hours left to prepare, Virgid went to Siwan to convince her to capsize the longship at sea with magic. Virgid’s player knew Siwan had a Belief about the reckless use of magic and went into the scene with the stated goal of provoking it. They wound up in a short but bloody Duel of Wits in which Siwan railed against the summoner’s meddling with the spirit world, claiming that it was endangering her and everyone around her. Virgid shot back that her skills and willingness to bargain with the Dead had saved a good many lives on Koln, that her hands were dark with the blood of birth and death and the black soil of the earth, and that she would not tolerate the mage’s scorn. Siwan countered that she had become obsessed with birth and death and had lost touch with life. Powerful stuff. Siwan won the duel, and Virgid changed her third Instinct (“When I feel threatened with violence, I summon the restless dead”) to “I always consult with Siwan before summoning the restless dead.” Virgid won a major compromise: for the remainder of the session, Siwan would play as though she had the character trait Reckless – the witch’s words had struck a chord in the overly-cautious sorceress.
Holger made himself busy in the mean time with what was probably the single most useful test made the entire session: Ditch-Digging with a FoRK from War-wise to transform the strip of landable beach into a trench-ridden D-Day-esque nightmare. He succeeded, improbably, and we gave the pirates +1 Ob to their positioning tests until they had succeeded in overrunning the PCs with a successful positioning test. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I also wasn’t counting on the Wrath of the Dicebot.
Siwan decided to act on her temporary Reckless trait and overturn the longship at sea with a huge wave. Her Destroy with Sorcerous Fire obstacle was higher than her Sorcery dice, all but dooming the effort from the start. It failed spectacularly. The failure consequence was obvious: the wave that was supposed to overturn their enemies instead sent the raiders’ longship hurtling toward shore in a matter of minutes, throwing any further preparations out the window. The villagers fled the beach and the PCs made their stand. Virgid, after consultation with Siwan, tried to conjure the Restless Dead to help them fight off the pirates and ended up with one of the Sanctified Dead which refused to taint its spirit with violence. In exchange for a coracle full of grave-goods (Resources Ob 5), the ghost went out to frighten the pirates as they made their landing. The results were less than inspiring at the time: the captain of the pirates made his Steel test with room to spare, while his crew were shaken by the apparition and set on edge as the ship pulled up on the shore.
Rather than rushing the beach, the pirate’s captain spoke to the assembled villagers as a representative of the Peregrine Queen Safiye Aydeen, She Who Sails Against the Wind – the fourth member of the lost heroes. The raiders had come to take Koln under the wing the Peregrine’s Protectorate and collect her due tribute, and they had sailed through Spider-infested waters to do it. At this point we got our first entry into the quote file: Siwan turns to her friends and cries out, voiced perfectly by her player in tones of distressed innocence, “Aunt Saffy is a pirate?!” Like all in-game moments, you had to be there, but more important than the humor was that it instantly established so much about these characters and their relationship to their lost mentors. They weren’t just friends, they were family. Brothers and sisters, parents and uncles and aunts. Writing this out also reminds me to throw Siwan’s player a fate point for it.
Negotiations went poorly. Elder Holt’s authority was immediately usurped by Holger, who impressed the Niebrandar pirate as worthy of respect – after all, if anyone was going to fight the will of the Peregrine, it’s this big man with a spear and a cold look in his eyes. The pirates wanted tribute, food and water for their return voyage, and six female captives – one of which would be chosen by the Peregrine Queen to become the lady of Koln if she served well, the rest to be returned unharmed once a year. At least, that’s what I’d planned to have him say. He’d choose some of the young women who had been Siwan’s pupils and another woman newly discovered as pregnant and thus of interest to Virgid. Instead, Archimedes came back.
In the middle of Jilde’s speech, the young man came charging down the hill toward the beach, a jar of alchemist’s fire lit in his hands, bellowing at the top of his lungs that he was coming to help Virgid as he’d promised. Poor fool. An untrained Throwing test to hit the ship leads to a row of perfect failures. One roll of the Die of Fate later and the bottle exploded in his hands, the fuse mistimed, spraying the hapless lad with alchemist’s fire. All hell broke loose and we dropped to Fight!
Virgid, horrified by what she had wrought, rushed to the side of the stricken Alexander and puts him out with her Herbalism and a great deal of sand, but not before his face and arms are hideously burned. Siwan’s instinct fired and she called up Crashing Wave, an Evoke spell against Jilde’s Forte which he failed miserably, smashing him to the ground. Holger readied himself to fend off the pirates, temporarily leaderless and spooked by both the spirit from earlier and the sudden outbreak of violence. I decided to run them like a mob instead of a cohesive fighting force, waiving the chance to bypass the +1 Ob to their positioning tests with a successful overrun and generally scripting poorly.
Now, you’d think that one man with B4 Speed, Reflexes B4 and a spear would have pretty fair odds against a bunch of pirates with a mix of B3s and B4s, Reflexes B3, knives, and +1 Ob to their positioning tests. You’d be wrong. Apparently he doesn’t have fair odds, he has an absolute guarantee of success for two full exchanges even after Jilde came to his senses, rallied his troops with Command and got them scripting properly. Holger absolutely destroyed the pirates, one after another. Not a single one ever overran their position and nixed the +1 Ob, and Siwan was left to channel the deciding blow in the fight: a trait spell, Kraken’s Cry, which granted her Aura of Fear. All the pirates but Jilde failed their Steel tests spectacularly, and the cleanup was mostly handwaved once Holger stuck him for a Midi to the chest. Other Fight! highlights include Virgid going ballistic on a Hesitating pirate, charge-tackling him and almost strangling him to death with Power B2, and Siwan doing a run-by on Jilde with a conjured axe of glittering sea-ice.
The pirates ended up captured without a single death on either side, and Jilde on the ground with Holger’s spear at his throat. They briefly interrogated him, learned that the Peregrine Queen had sent them to Koln despite the place being absent from any maps and inaccessible for many for years, and that the pirate-held island of Lamprey was the raiders’ port of call. Feeling that they had little else to learn from Jilde, Holger promptly stabbed him and finished him off. That was a tense moment: Virgid and Siwan both wanted to stop him, having BITs to that effect, but the scene had opened with Holger’s speartip literally resting on the fallen pirate. They could intervene and try to stop him, but there would be no time to conjure spirits or incant flashy magic. If they wanted to save Jilde, they’d have to stop Holger with a physical act. Both players decided that they were a bit too intimidated by him to risk it, and they settled for disarming him with an Evoke shortly thereafter. I suspect this is going to be a running thread of tension between them.
In the aftermath, Elder Holt appeared to berate Holger and Siwan for their part in the incident, Holger for, well, being himself, and Siwan for not acting with the restraint and good sense she’s known for. “You of all people should know better” was the message. The Elder saw Koln trapped in an impossible dilemma: if they release the captured pirates and send them on their way, they’ll tell the Peregrine Queen what happened and return with enough men to crush the island; if they imprison the pirates or kill them outright, more will come to learn what became of the lost ship. Either way, he felt, resistance had doomed them all. Holger’s response was both surprising and entirely reasonable coming from a man who’d just murdered a prisoner: he and a picked crew would take the Magpie to Lamprey and deal with the trouble they’d caused on the pirates’ own turf rather than let it come to Koln. They would leave with the morning tide.
Holt, surprised by the unexpected altruism, wished them well and gave them a parting gift. The sea-caves where their guardians had harbored their ship and used as their Bat Cave during their years on Koln was not as empty as the Elder had claimed all those years: their guardians had left something there which they considered important. They had sworn Holt to secrecy and entrusted him with making sure that the villagers didn’t go poking around, and he had done as they’d bid. Holger and Siwan resolved to investigate in the morning.
Meanwhile, Virgid had taken the horribly burned Archimedes to her leaky shack in the woods. Overcome with guilt at her part in his disfigurement, Virgid intended to summon a spirit to Transfer a trait like Handsome onto Archimedes to undo the damage. Naturally she bombed the test. Out of the gate steps the spirit of Jordah, the original captain of the pirate longship and brother of Jilde, who murdered the brother he’d always been jealous of and threw him overboard to buy them passage through the Sea Spiders. Strong, proud and, most importantly, exceptionally handsome, Jordah was more than happy to bestow his good looks on poor Archimedes for a price: Jilde’s first mate must burn as well, and his crew must never know happiness for allowing Jilde’s betrayal to go unpunished. Virgid’s player agonized over the decision, but eventually decided to accept the price. With Archimedes healed, she promptly poisoned the food of the remaining captives, stole Jilde’s first mate, dragged him into the forest and burned him alive. Price paid.
One of the things I wanted to do with this game was have a PC group which was on the good-ish side. Not paladins and unwavering champions of righteousness per se, but generally holding that the ends didn’t always justify the means. We’d agreed on this at the outset of campaign burning. Virgid played out the drama compellingly, and in fairness to her I set up a nasty situation based on a series of failed tests, but it still put us on edge for a bit. She said after the session that Virgid was having a serious crisis of conscience about the whole thing, so I still feel like we’re on the intended track. I’ve realized that I’m going to have to check myself and seriously think about success and failure results before putting them on the table.
In the morning Siwan and Holger delved into the sea-cave. They bypassed the cave’s defenses – terrifying illusions, trapped doors and a sleeping bound spirit – and had a melancholy little scene as they moved among the dusty debris left behind by their guardians. They claimed a few dice of Cash in abandoned treasure, some Navigation tools, and took some annotated charts suggesting possible routes their guardians might have taken. As they prepared to leave, the spirit guard of the place finally made itself manifest: one of the Fathomless, a Corporal Spirit of the deep oceans, shepherd of the dead, and essentially a huge man o’ war / vampire squid hybrid. The hideous thing was bound there by Virgid’s mistress, Minerva the Thousandfold, charged with protecting the place from “unwanted intruders” and safeguarding a certain object. It knows the PCs, having watched them in secret during their visits to the sea cave years ago, and interprets their presence as “wanted”: after all, they were the summoner’s family. They promptly summon Virgid to deal with the thing, wisely deciding to say as little as possible to it before she arrives.
The Fathomless wants out. A loophole in its pact with Minerva allows it freedom if the object it is charged with guarding is reclaimed, and there’s nothing to say it can’t offer what it guards to someone who by all rights ought to have it. The object in question is a compass needle which unerringly points toward the heart of the island of Koln, and which appears to Siwan’s Touch of Ages to have another, more powerful layer of enchantment locked within it. Virgid played hard-ball with the Fathomless, clearly gunshy of spirit bargains after the events of the nigth before, but in the end she gave the thing its freedom in exchange for the needle. The creature departed, free after long years of servitude, and left Virgid one of its Names in case she ever wished to bargain again.
We paused for the night there. Next session is the departure from Koln, the Magpie’s journey to Lamprey at the hands of a crew with no Navigation skill, and their investigations into the Peregrine Queen.