Episode 2: Winners write the history books (DramaSystem: Heroes of the City)

Episode 2 opens in Odson’s lab with the goblin supplying Elron with a bronze container of a disturbing design (which involved tentacles) containing a deadly plague that could spread quickly through the slums. Now all the Prince has to do is to have it delivered so that it can work its way through the mercenary ranks.

Outside, on the battlements, Xathra overcomes her distaste of the assassin to ask The Nightstalker to help her find the man who killed her father. He, despite knowing the answers already, tells her that he will look into it and the identity of the person who ordered the deed.

The Nightstalker visits Stefan in the watchhouse that he is using as a command post and asks for his support when he tells Xathra the truth. They discuss what really happened all those years ago, when Xathra’s father discovered his wife, Ataria, was carrying the child of another man and swore to make her and the child depart this world once he had cleansed himself with prayer and meditation and how Ataria hired an outsider to save her child and keep her secret. Stefan was shocked but kept his identity as the father (and lover) secret while agreeing to support his former protege.

Balor strode into the throne room and demanded that “Lord” Elron fulfil his duty as host and eulogize King Oriene before his funeral procession departed the city the next day. Despite the insult, he eagerly agrees so as to see the dwarfs gone. Balor then asked the Princess, whom his father had praised, to lead the procession to the city gates and she agrees.

In order to complete the contract (see the end of the previous episode), Stefan, The Nightstalker and Xathra made their way through the sewers into the heart of the territory that wasn’t firmly under the control of the Heroes. There they confronted Dirk, the Firebrand, who accused Stefan (mid-duel) of being as bad as the Archmage and the cause of the peoples’ suffering. The players were expecting a procedural scene, but this spun it on its head and it became dramatic. Stefan challenged Dirk to work with him, and he agreed.

Alec talks to Elron about his dead warrior and the Prince introduces Pira, the chief healer of the elves, to the mage. While they observe, Pira examines the dead warrior and discovers that energies from the unstable edges of the portal at the top of Alec’s spire have started to consume his flesh.  Everybody nearby will start to suffer similar effects over the course of the next few weeks. Eventually the portal energies will do the same to more durable materials — including the tower itself. They also learn that the portal is growing and anyone within five or six floors of it is in danger. Elron responds by ordering the nearby levels evacuated.

Elron asks Pira to spread the plague amongst the mercenaries claiming it is a cure for various diseases that infest the slums and saying that they do not affect the locals who developed an immunity growing up with them. She asks how he got this cure and proposes that its creator should be the one to take credit for it. He tells her that because it comes from a goblin, the people might not trust it. Pira’s ethics won’t allow her to administer a cure from a dubious source without understanding it but offers to examine the cure and then distribute it. Elron tries to force her into action by claiming that time is of the essence, but she tells him that she cannot disobey her principles and he resolves to find some other means to spread it.

The distribution ended up happening off-camera. Possibly the details will come out in a future episode.

Everyone, including Balor, takes part in the funeral procession scene but little of consequence happens. Elron gives the eulogy which praises the dwarfs highly on the assumption that he can undo the damage he does to his own glory more easily once they are gone.

Finally, The Nightstalker, Stefan and Xathra exchange truths and blades on the training grounds. The Nightstalker confesses to the assassination of Xathra’s father and tells her it was her own mother who ordered it. Stefan confesses to being the lover responsible for causing the rift. Xathra flies into a rage and attacks The Nightstalker. Over the course of the fight, his mask is ripped away and his identity as Alec’s twin is revealed. Xathra is shocked by the revelation but it doesn’t prevent her from stabbing him. Alec bursts onto the scene thundering with magic and rage accusing Xathra of betraying herself by fighting for rage instead of honour. She flees the scene leaving her sword behind, her father staring after her, and the twins clutching each other in the rain.

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Episode 1: Farewell (DramaSystem: Heroes of the City)

In the inn where the Oriene, King of the Dwarfs, has made his base of operations, Elron is visiting the king in his bedchamber. He is pleased to learn that, as soon as Oriene finishes dying from the poison he received during the final battle, his son will take the Dwarfs away from the city (removing a challenger for power from the field of political battle).

Meanwhile, in Alec’s spire, the mage explains to Stefan that his treatment is only a delaying action and that it will take a lot of work hard to find a real cure. Alec reminds him of the debt he now owes.

Orien calls Xathra — “the only truly honourable one among the heroes” — to him and asks her to look in the forests beyond the city for his son, who has gone seeking Sarissa. She agrees.

Stefan seeks out Elron in the throne room and demands payment. When this is rejected he suggests a title in lieu of of it. Elron suggests “Chief of Police”, which Stefan finds insulting and rejects. He then tries translating the title it into Elvish but (after winning a procedural) Stefan is not fooled. The mercenary demands a dukedom and the right to control taxation. Elron agrees to make arrangements.

Xathra finds Stefan as he is leaving the tower and asks for his help tracking the Dwarf Prince. He agrees but they are interrupted by a masked figure they recognise as The Nightstalker. He offers his help but is rejected, as Xathra does not trust him or his methods.

The Nightstalker follows Xathra, Stefan and their men through the woods and (after an epicly and improbably bad series of card draws) crashes through the branches and thuds to the ground.

Here we ended the first session. It was quite short as we had character generation to do first. We picked up the next day at the point where we left off.

Having heard the noise, Xathra and Stefan attempt to capture whomever was following them but he escapes before they can identify him.

Stefan and Xathra find Prince Balor trussed up in spider silk hanging from the room of a cave. Xathra sends a scout in to investigate but he emerges soon after screaming and covered in hundreds of tiny spiders, he is clearly doomed. After Xathra executes the coward, she thrusts a burning torch towards the spiders and discovers that the they are not fond of fire. She and Stefan set the webs on fire and enter the cave to save the Prince, hoping that the spiders and the fire don’t get them or him first. It is a tough challenge and it is only successful thanks to the interference of The Nightstalker, who had circled back after evading pursuit.

Stefan, Xathra and the warriors take Balor back to the city, but the Nightstalker hangs back. He had spotted Sarissa lurking in the forest and decided to challenge her. She claims that she intended to help Balor but the others rescued him before she could interfere. The Nightstalker demands her knowledge of poison to save the Dwarf King and she agrees, so long as he can get her safely into the city. There is some allusion to prior intimacy between them.

Elron (jumping the queue with a bennie) emerges from the forest (which appears to be simply full of lurking spies today) and asks The Nightstalker to assassinate Stefan, using the threat of revealing his dealings with Serissa to try to blackmail him. He promises to consider it.

Odson the Goblin brings a dead ensorceled warrior to the attention of Alec. Something caused him to drop dead while he was guarding the unstable portal that fills the upper level of the spire. The mage is displeased with the news and with the goblin.

Alec goes to Oriene and promises to find a cure for him. The dwarf, distrusting the mage, accepts only grudgingly. Xathra and Stefan announce that Balor is safe and is recovering, but still unconscious, in the next room. (Not least because the rules forbid putting the GM in a position where he has to have a conversation with himself; they allow only one speaking NPC per scene).

Xathra seeks the help of Alec to find the killer of her father, he agrees but, in order to divert attention from his brother, also brought up the subject of the person who paid for the assassination and said he would find him too.

Stefan seeks out the Nightstalker and sounds him out on his brother and Stefan’s poison. The Nightstalker tells him he believes that Alec could cure it easily (implying that Stefan is being led on).

The Nightstalker and Sarissa visit the bedchamber of Oriene while he sleeps. She waves her hands above the Dwarf and some some kind of purple mist, possibly a potion, possibly a spell, possibly a combination of the two appears above him and he sinks into deeper sleep. As she begins to examine him, they are interrupted by Elron. The elf begins to threaten them, but Sarissa casts some of the purple mist at him and he falls unconscious. She finishes her examination of the dwarf and The Nightstalker takes Elron away.

Elron wakes up in his own bed in the tower to find a very short, rose-scented goblin — Odson — watching him. Knowing what the elf desired from Alec, Odson offers to teach Elron magic in exchange for protection (I’m not sure what he fears he former master’s wrath for the most; leaving his service or stealing his supply of bath oils) and his own lab. After seeing a demonstration of the goblin’s own magical skill, the elf agrees.

Elron shows Odson his new lab and asks him to do something to weaken Stefan. The goblin, being a sneaky kind of fellow (and one controlled by a GM who is trying to encourage indirect action that is better handled with dramatic, rather than procedural, scenes), suggests spreading a plague amongst the slums to harm his men and thus his power base. Elron tells him to take care of it and he agrees to steal something useful from Alec’s supplies if the Prince could distract the mage for long enough.

Alec approaches Elron for help investigating the death of his warrior, and he agrees to send a healer to the spire.

Xathra and Elron meet on the training grounds to spar and each tries to prove themselves the greater swordsman. Xathra wins — this time — but resorts to a sneaky rabbit punch to achieve victory.

Stefan, taking advantage of the crowd that gathered to watch the fight challenges Elron to keep his agreement and either pay up or award him the title he desires. Elron uses legal trickery to delay things with Stefan demanding that the slums be cleansed before the contract could be considered to be fulfilled.

The Nightstalker tries to convince Xathra that assassins are weapons and are not guilty of making the decision to commit murder but confesses that he only accepts contracts that he feels are worthy so she rejects his argument.

Sarissa is waiting for Stefan in the watchhouse. With her lover — the Archmage — dead, she seeks a new patron and sees Stefan as a good candidate, or at least one more trustworthy than Elron. She is shocked by the curse flowing through him and cannot understand how he bears the pain. She flirts with him and offers to free him of the curse in exchange for his protection. When he agrees she tells him that she needs a cup of blood from the Archmage’s line and that he can get it from either of the von Rose twins.

By this stage in the game, it was no surprise to any player that the brothers were twins (as Nightstalker’s former mentor, Stefan was already aware (although Xathra and Elron were not) but the twins parentage was a bombshell I dropped that went down pretty well at the table. It opened up a lot of possibilities and casts a nasty tone over Sarissa’s relationship with the Archmage’s children. She isn’t a nice character.

That night, the Nightstalker sneaks Sarissa into Oriene’s chambers once more and she attempts to cure him. Her magic involves needles that are embedded in his flesh but her work is interrupted by Alec. He argues that his cure is the better one and she, reluctantly while declaring her fear that even if his technique works the side effects will be horrible, agrees to help him. He fails and the King passes to the next life as the credits roll.

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New Jericho

Session 2 of the Tuesday Knights Deadlands campaign was largely taken up with a fight between the heroes and a large group of townsfolk who may or may not be zombies, vampires or mind-controlled.

1 Star

New Jericho boasts all the necessary amenities and good prices, but is let down by the surely attitude if the townsfolk. After the sun sets, they turn downright unruly and make strangers most unwelcome.

Travellers who must stop in New Jericho are advised to stay no longer than they need to stock up from the general store and then make tracks towards their destination while they still have daylight.

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Character and Setting Creation (DramaSystem: Heroes of the City)

The characters

The main cast

  • Elron, Prince of the Elves (Tom) 
  • Alec Alejandro Victor von Rose, Apprentice of the Archmage and a powerful sorcerer in his own right (Darren) 
  • Xathra, Warrior Princess (Sarah) 
  • Stefan, Mercenary Captain (Sean) 
  • The Nightstalker, Master Assassin (Nick) 

Character creation in DramaSystem is largely about determining what drives the character (their poles pull them in opposite directions) and how they relate to the other player characters.

The Heroes of the City series pitch throws in an extra question about where in the city the character resides, which faction of the armies that banded together to take the city from the Archmage they lead, and what their followers deal with on a daily basis. This gets some more setting development done up front.

Elron

My story is that of an elf who yearns to regain his people’s rightful place in the world. My poles are Security and Risk. My base is in the tower, surrounded by my elves who keep the rabble out of the heart of the city.

Xathra is my sparring partner and I want her to admit I am the better warrior (but she thinks she is).

Alec saved me from the Archmage during the final battle and I want him to teach me magic (but he thinks the power should not be spread).

Stefan is a mercenary to whom I owe money, and who wants a title from me (that I don’t think mercenaries deserve).

The Nightstalker is an assassin I have hired in the past and I want him to kill Stefan (but he has too much respect for his former mentor).

Alec

My story is that of a man torn between nature and nurture. My poles are Redemption and Control. My base is in my spire, attached to the tower, where my ensorceled slaves (created from the worst criminals from the prison) defend us from the creatures that regularly emerge from the portal inside it that I cannot close.

Elron is the elf who’s life I saved.

Xathra is the one I love from afar (but she only wants my help).

The Nightstalker is my twin brother who I wish to punish me for my treatment of him (but he loves his brother too much to do that).

Stefan is my patient who  I wish to train me as a warrior that I might win the respect and love of Xathra (but he is her father and does not want her to be with someone like me).

Xathra

My story is that of a woman bound by honour to be the best. My poles are Honour and Love. I camp with my people in the forest around the river.

The Nightstalker is the assassin who killed my father (although I do not yet know it). I want him to help me to find the murderer (but he is the murderer).

Alec loves me but I only want him to use his magic to find my father’s killer.

Stefan is my real father, although I do not yet know it.

Elron is my sparring partner who I want to admit that I am the better warrior.

Stefan

My story is that of a low born warrior seeking to rise to the nobility. My poles are Honour and Expediency. My men and I have taken over the slums where we maintain order.

The Nightstalker is my one time student.

Alec is treating the curse that the Archmage inflicted upon me during the final battle.

Elron is in debt to me, I want him to give me a title.

Xathra is my child and I want her to acknowledge me as her true father.

The Nightstalker

My story is that of a man who would be known for his heroism not his past. My poles are Acceptance and Notoriety. I and my assassins hide in the catacombs beneath the city from where we emerge to battle the twisted creatures that dwell in the sewers.

Stefan was my mentor who I wish to understand and accept my new path in life.

Alec is my twin brother.

Xathra is the daughter of a man I killed, I want her to understand my reasons.

Elron is my sometime employer.

The character started out life as simply “Nightstalker”, but this was quickly lengthened to “The Nightstalker”, modified to “Nightstalker, the” and then frequently referenced as “Nightstalker hashtag the”.

The NPCs

NPCs are created by the players and the GM on demand, so most of these characters did not exist until part way through the game. Balthazar, for example, didn’t exist until episode 3. It is convenient to list them here though.

  • Oriene, The Dwarf King 
  • Balor, The Dwarf Prince 
  • Sarissa, Apprentice of the Archmage 
  • Odson, von Rose’s Goblin assistant 
  • Ataria, Mother to Xathra 
  • Pira, Elven healer 
  • Dirk, Firebrand 
  • Toralas, Elven Guard Captain 
  • Balthazar, Devil 
  • Raphael, Devil 

We also had an NPC called Mattera who was one of the barbarians, but she didn’t do anything of significance and her presence made some of the narrative confusing, so I cut her from it.

The final battle of the city of Drakenfel

This section contains a few facts gleaned about the city while we figured out a little detail to build the campaign around.

The city was conquered by the Archmage approximately a century and a half ago and was freed very recently by the alliance led by the elves.

Victory was brought thanks to Alec giving orders that opened up ways for the heroes to sneak into the city while the unified army outside the walls launching an attack on the walls to cause a distraction.

It ended in a climactic fight during which The Nightstalker struck the final blow against the Archmage and Alec saved the life of the Elf Prince.

Sarissa, another of the Archmage’s apprentices escaped the city and is at large while Hellfire, the dragon, changed sides and purports to be willing to work with the Heroes.

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DramaSystem: Heroes of the City

I ran a campaign of the Heroes of the City series pitch for DramaSystem this summer. Everyone involved enjoyed it (or lied to me) and it seemed like good fodder for a set of session reports, which I’m going to be posting over the next couple of weeks.

First though, I’m going to talk about how we ended up playing the campaign.

DramaSystem

A couple of years ago, Hillfolk popped up on Kickstarter and promised to have many of the things I like about Fiasco such as limited randomness, being highly driven by what the players wanted to do and having lots of interaction between players (with NPCs taking a backseat). It then threw in campaign play and I was hooked. If that hadn’t been enough for me, then having the name Robin D. Laws attached to it would have been the kicker.

Hillfolk is the default setting for the game (in which the characters are bronze age villagers) but the system (DramaSystem) is, like Fiasco, generic.

Since its release, I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in two games of it run by David Scott of the Tuesday Knights. The first used the core setting of Hillfolk, the second was his home-brew series pitch of Space: 2019 (aka “Not Space: 1999, honest gov”). Both were very successful and I’d been looking forward to playing some more.

The Kickstarter was popular enough to generate a very large collection of series pitches, which are settings for the game that run to about half a dozen pages each (this is plenty). There were so many that they had to split the game across two books to fit them all in.

The second book is Blood on the Snow and, since reading it, I’ve been wanting to play Heroes of the City. It is a series pitch which takes a typical fantasy adventuring party and asks the question “What do they do with the city once the evil overlord is dead?”. (Usually the answer is “Squabble amongst themselves while the GM cackles in glee”).

Aside from the setup looking like a lot of fun, I’ve learned from playing Fiasco that games of this nature work better when the players know the tropes of the genre (and Fantasy is a genre that most roleplayers know very well indeed).

Just to cement the issue, it is written by Gareth Hanrahan and I’ve never read or played anything of his I didn’t like. (Hey, publishers, keep paying this man to write things!)

If you want to get hold of the system, you can pick up the SRD for free from Robin D. Law’s website or pick up the full game from Pelgrane Press.

Getting the gang together

Once or twice a year, I get together with a big group of friends and we rent a holiday home for a week, catch up on news, eat, drink, play games and sometimes even go out and do touristy things. Some of us like Fiasco rather a lot and we have been known to get through half a dozen games of it at these events.

One of those friends — Tom — had also picked up a copy of Hillfolk at the last Dragonmeet and kept talking about wanting to play it. There was only one thing to do! I lost d6 SAN and asked if anyone fancied trying to squeeze a five session campaign into a single week. Then I had to start a waiting list after the game filled up and people still wanted to join in.

In the end, my players were Tom, Sarah, Darren, Sean and Nick. I’ve heard that it works well even with more players, but I wasn’t ready to try to herd that many cats on my first outing GMing it.

The trouble with going on holiday for a week with 27 other gamers (we have reached the point where we tend to rent a venue that usually caters to weddings) is that there are many games that people want to play going on at many different times so scheduling things with specific people becomes difficult. I solved this problem by forcing my players to get up and ready to game by the ungodly hour of 10am every morning so we could play before people got hooked into other long games.

The sessions we played were:

(The links here may not function until the entry is published, expect a new one every couple of days).

We also did a little planning for a sequel.

There was no Tuesday game as all 28 of us got out of the house for lunch at a nice little pub.

The next post in this series will cover character and setting creation.

Special thanks to the other players for reading over this and filling out the details that I didn’t remember after ~20 hours of gaming, and also to Tina for reading through all the session reports to make sure they made sense from the perspective of someone who wasn’t playing in them.

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