Nazi Goth-Punks Fuck Off?

I think Vampire: the Masquerade was the first RPG I really cared about. I kidded myself that I really cared about Ars Magica, but I was only in love with my perception of the game, not the game itself. 
To be honest, I probably didn’t love V:tM, but I played it and ran it for long enough that it wore a big comfortable dent in my heart. 

I started University properly in ’96, and V:tM Revised came out in ’98. This means that I spent my first year and a half at Uni’ playing 2nd Ed and growing more and more frustrated with the groups Storyteller. He continually got the rules wrong, played favourites, and had story arcs that made no sense. 
I also spent some time watching another, more ‘mature’ group play. They focused on the story, didn’t use character sheets, and handwaved the rules. I wasn’t allowed to play, only watch, because I was “too immature and childish” (in truth I totally was, but being told that at the time was hard pill to swallow).
So when Revised came out, presenting a perfect onboarding opportunity, I bought it, and a shit ton of the supplements, read them thoroughly, and ran it and ran it and ran it. 

I was a shit storyteller to begin with. At first I thought a story would magically write itself. I thought that as long as we all knew the rules and had characters, then the magic would happen we’d all have Gothic-Punk fun. 
It took maybe three attempts at running a campaign before I started thinking about maybe prepping some set pieces and defining a world and I dunno having things that happen for a reason other than to move to the next encounter. 
For someone studying Creative Writing at degree level, I was surprisingly bad at narrative design. 

Now that I look back, I see that one of the things about Vampire: the Masquerade that captured my imagination was the dichotomy inherent in the setting: Gothic-Punk. Sadness and Anger. Ephemeral Beauty and Aggressive Utility. Romanticism and Ideology. Convention and Anarchy. 
You could do a lot with that. The main social conflict is already set up – controlling tradition, and its associated support and power, vs rebellious freedom, and the marvellous options it provides.
As a player, I enjoyed playing the monster; revelling in the bacchanal of vampiric life, flicking two fingers up at authority. 
As a Storyteller, I enjoyed telling stories in which new vampires struggled to hold onto themselves and their Humanity, whilst forging a new path, separate from the psychotic anarchists and the sociopathic status quo. 

I had a mix of players, and that was great. No one leant to any great extremes on the scale, and some enjoyed shifting their position on it as play progressed. 
Some wanted to play Vampire to be dark heroes in a darker world. Some to be tragic victims of their uncontrollable desires. Others to be monstrous weapons pointed at the heart of evil. Some wanted their characters to find that elusive balance and just be. Some wanted to supplant the cold inhuman predators at the top of the food chain. 

And then there’s the metaplot. 
The classic World of Darkness often assumed that the supernatural had a hand in most world events. It became an inevitability that every organisation would be run by a Camarilla, Technocracy, Glass Walker or similar conspiracy. Humans were never at the top. They were pawns or cattle. 
This was kind of fine. Nothing was kind of immediate. Sure, there were Sabbat vampires fighting with the Germans in WWII, but they were bad people. Nazis were the bad guys, and the Sabbat were the bad guys. They were both the bad guys. 

Then 9/11 happened, just as White Wolf were preparing to publish New York by night. 
They immediately delayed production and took a long hard look at what was happening in the world, what they were planning to publish, and how they interacted. 
In the end they published NYbN as originally planned, with references to the irl tragedy in the foreword. The book steered clear of the controversies of real world outrage, and the gameline did not suffer as a result. 

The publishers and gameline developers recognised the bad thing, considered it, and made an informed decision to avoid it. They were respectful, and no one was offended.

Cover art for New York by Night

All of this is to say: I have a few opinions and observations about the current controversy at White Wolf/Paradox and the new V5 edition
It’s worth noting that the last Vampire product I bought was the V20 edition. I’ve read Requiem properly, and skim read the V5 playtest rules. So I’m not basing any of this on a detailed read of the books in question. 
Yes, here’s my detailed opinion about something I’ve not read. I’m that guy…

  1. What the fuck, guys!? I mean, c’mon. Really?
  2. How can you fuck up an IP like this? 
  3. I really understand that, as a publisher trying to revive a previously insanely popular and relevant brand such as Vampire: the Masquerade, you want to keep as many people happy as possible, and to appeal to as broad a fanbase as you can. I understand that any bad press will negatively impact sales. Therefore WW will be doing everything they can to get in front of the problem, mitigate any damage, and repair any bridges. 
  4. I don’t think they’re neo-nazis. They might be edge-lords, but again I don’t think that even edge-lords as stupid enough to believe that they can revive the brand by targeting the cash rich, empathy low edge-lord demographic. They know that they need to shift a fuck ton of units, and are probably mortified that all this bad press is derailing the fairly expensive IP train before it pulls into money station.
  5. Reading the comments of Facebook and Twitter, responding to WW’s statement today and their earlier initial statement, I can see that a significant proportion of respondents are the absolute worst dregs of humanity, more concerned with getting their sweaty hands on the books they’ve paid for rather than how an actual living breathing human being may be feeling. 
  6. I find that I do not want to put myself in a place where I want to be associated with, or potentially interact with, these bottom feeding CHUDs, and therefore have no interest in V5 or the other WW owned properties like Mage, whereas previously I was cautiously excited.
  7. I am saddened by this, as some of the ideas I’ve seen in V5 look nifty. And I kind of wanted a set of the dice.
  8. A lot of the vitriol seems to be directed at named individuals. I find myself wondering how people know which individuals to attack. Has the author of the 1488 sidebar been identified? What about the author who wrote the section implying that suicide victims are weak willed? Do we know who they are? Who wrote the section on the atrocities being inflicted on Chechnya’s LGBTQ communities? I mean, the core book contributors are listed as: Developed, designed, and written by Kenneth Hite, Mark Rein-Hagen, Matthew Dawkins, Juhanna Peterson, Martin Ericsson, Karim Muammar, Karl Bergström, Jennifer Smith, Jason Andrew, and Jason Carl. I don’t see Kenneth Hite getting any shit, and he was the Lead Designer. 
  9. The original games attracted a wide range of players, including those that wanted an outlet to express their sexuality and/or play alternative orientations. If that’s an established section of your fanbase, why would you possibly want to alienate them with a half-cocked flirtation with extreme right wing ideology?

So, in summary: I don’t give a fuck if you have to wait an extra three weeks for your book. If this is the worst thing you can imagine happening to you, then maybe take a moment to reflect on how good a life you lead, and how you’re not being tortured in a death camp whilst some prick on the other side of the planet asserts that reference to your suffering and violation of your human rights makes a role-playing game better.
Also, if you want to check out a vampire game by Kenneth Hite that is really good but doesn’t have any moral or ethical questions hanging over it, then maybe pick up a copy of Night’s Black Agents from Pelgrane Press. 

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Mage: The Awakening sessions 10 – 14 End of Season summary

I am well and truly behind on my ‘actual play’ blogging of Mage. Five sessions, including the finale, and two months behind. I ran ‘I Like Birds’ on the 14th May, and I’m writing this on the 24th July.
That’s pretty poor going. Not as far behind as I am with my D&D game, but I’m not looking to set records here…

What I’m going to do here is abandon the Start/Events/End format of previous posts (which was just a crutch to help me get back into writing again anyway) and talk about intentions, plans, and how the players pissed over it all.

I go into games with a set of intentions: a very rough plot outline, some key characters and interactions, some set pieces, and very little else. Sometimes I’ll plot out a detailed session – I did that in my most recent D&D session (and the fact that it’s a detailed, typed document means that I can re-use most of it as a blog post – win!), but find that open world games like World/Chronicles of Darkness find ways to confound that. Detailed session plans work well for Gumshoe games (because procedural clue gathering) and for settings where the GM informs the game world, as opposed to modern settings where players can pull up wikipedia articles, google street views, and draw on personal experience to inform the game world. In D&D, players are reliant on the DM to tell them what the local tavern is called and if it’s rough or not. In a game set in the real world, chances are that they can tell you.
Anyway, I digress. I sometimes produce detailed session plans. I have not been doing so for Mage.

For Mage: the Awakening I have tried to adopt a sandbox approach. I’ve tried to present options to explore, which the players can accept or reject. Kind of like mission selection in Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. They could opt to follow a main plot line, do a number of side quests, or just dick around stealing shit.

In the first session, I tried presenting them with three different stories to investigate:

  1. Jon-Anthony bought a magical storm lamp from a carboot sale. The item is mildly haunted (they’ve still not bothered figuring out what to do about the ghost or what the haunted lamp does), and sold to them by witch hunters, who, fully aware of the magical nature of the lamp, were using it as bait to lure in wizards.
  2. A possible case of magical coercion involving an apprentice Mage and a local teenaged girl. This is the one they followed, and formed the backbone of the first 14 sessions.
  3. A local Mage tries to recruit them to reclaim a series of magical grimoires. They walked right passed the guy, and didn’t look at this job until a lull a few sessions later.

What I have come to understand is that my players like direction. They do well when they have a sense of purpose, a goal. The Donnal plot, and the Consilium politics plotline it opened up, gave them something to go at. Maybe not anything that is necessarily in their wheelhouse, but they gave it a good try…

So, as stated in the last entry, I expected the Cabal to regroup and follow the huge signs saying ‘plot resolution and end battle this way’.
Instead they went and checked on Tall Les. Tall Les is adjacent to the plot. He is in no way pivotal or essential. He is not a key player.
So, yeah, let’s check on him.

Tall Les
So, Tall Les was skipping town, or at least getting out of his house, when a bunch of Witch Hunters attacked him. They got the initial upper hand, but that quickly shifted as Tall Les transformed himself into grotesque battle form, tore them up, and made one guy’s heart explode. He then exited into the Shadow to avoid further pursuit.
The Cabal found the exploded heart guy in the bathtub. Jon-Anthony then stepped up: He summoned the dead hunter’s ghost and interrogated it, dissolved the corpse so there was no evidence, and banished the ghost afterwards.
Then, more hunters attacked – they’d been waiting outside for Tall Les to reappear or more Mages to turn up.
The Hunters flashbanged the bathroom, and took up tactical positions at the foot of the stairs. Donar lightning bolted one, which gave them pause for thought.
Then Jon-Anthony turned himself into a ghost, and walked around, immaterial and ethereal, and used Death to turn the Hunters into temporary corpses.
Which to everyone else, looked as though these mortals were just dropping dead for no reason.
This freaked the Hunters out somewhat.
Hopper used the opportunity to run down the stairs, do a fancy jump kick thing, and floor one of the remaining Hunters. Donar decided to forgo the lightning bolts and just shoulder barge one guy – this resulted in a Hunter falling backwards through a glass table, and a bookshelf falling on him.
In the ensuing chaos, Hopper grabbed a shotgun, the Cabal ran out the door, into their car, and were away.

Granny’s House
At this point, the Cabal did decide to take stock of the situation, regroup at home, then head of over to Granny’s farm.
Finally!
When they got there, they found Granny and her allies (Basically a farmhand called ‘Alice’ and many many spirits) tooling up for action. Granny seemed charged – her hair was floating, her fingers and feet talons – I tried to describe her like angry Yubaba from Spirited Away without saying ‘angry Yubaba from Spirited Away’.Yubaba

Granny gave the Cabal a choice: Side with the Consilium (and by association, the Golden Trinity), or side with her.
The Cabal all went ‘oh, no, we’re good’ and took the third option, which was to have a pint down the Winchester and wait for all this to blow over…

Winchester

The Cabal’s plan, in its entirety

So they ran out the house, piled into the Bentley, and drove off.
As they did, the house grew chicken legs, bees swarmed around, Alice transformed into a Werewolf, the river swelled and took humanoid form, animals and birds gathered on the edge of the farm, the clouds parted and the moon descended as a luminescent woman with a sword.
Winston floored it…

As they neared the end of the dirt road leading back to the village, two transit vans drove past. Winston pulled over to let them through, and collectively the Cabal scanned the passengers and contents…

Inside they identified:

  • Two misc thugs
  • Two members of the members of the Golden Trinity – Miranda and Jill
  • Tall Les
  • A Fire Elemental
  • An Ice Elemental (in separate vans)

They caught a fleeting glimpse of Tall Les as the van passed them – his face was streaming with tears.
It turns out that the presence of Tall Les was enough to spur them into action. Despite him never having done a thing for them, and generally being a wet blanket who always looked to other people to solve his problems, they regarded him as a friend, and someone they actually wanted to help.
Who’da thunk it. *(see footnote)

John Kelly identified and closed off a sympathetic link to Tall Les from another location, in an attempt to prevent any further (presumed) external control of Les. Dave, his player, rolled well, and slammed an iron door down on the connection.
Seconds later, the second transit van stopped, and a large ice golem got out.
FROZEN-ICE-MONSTER-570

There was a fight. To be honest, it didn’t last long against five Mages, two of which are Obrimos. The Bentley was wrecked, though.

With the car on its side with a broken axle, the Cabal reviewed their policy of non-intervention.
Basically, it was shot. They were in it now, they’d chosen a side, so they started walking back up towards the farm.
The farm itself was silent. They could see it in the distance, but could see no signs of battle, or of a farmhouse walking along with chicken legs.
Looking at it again with their Mage Sight, they realised that a giant magical dome sat over the farm, preventing sound and sight from escaping and alerting the mundane population.
As they crossed the boundary, they saw things as they were: the farm lay in ruins, some hundred feet or so away from where it should be. A Fire Elemental wrestled a River Spirit in a roiling cloud of scalding steam. Alice (presumably), in Werewolf battle form, fought the two handy lads – one armed with a Roman sword and shield, the other with a Celtic axe.
The Cabal kind of passively observed for a second, before deciding to assist Alice and the River Spirit. They tipped the scales in favour of their allies, without stepping into the combat zone. The Fire Elemental was extinguished, and the River Spirit returned to the river; the two thugs were killed, and Alice dragged one body off like a cat with a bird.

Moving on, they found Miranda’s body, swollen from bee stings and anaphylactic shock. Bees still swarmed around her.
The Cabal moved on.

Investigating the large tractor and storage barn to the side of the house, they found Donnal and Tall Les, locked in battle. Donnal had reshaped his body to something like a Bear and an Oak Tree – huge muscles, fur and bark, claws like branches; Les was giant like, with spindly limbs that he swung like clubs. With every blow he rained on Donnal, he sobbed and said how sorry he was.
The Cabal looked on in horror as Donnal pushed his master back, crushed him with a tractor, and then impaled him with slender wooden claws that shot from his hands.
This was not the Donnal they knew and had grown to be infuriated by.
As his life ebbed away, Les praised Donnal, told him how proud he was, and thanked him.
The Cabal left Donnal with Les, and went looking for Angela, Jill, and Granny, the pieces as yet unaccounted for.
Somehow, I can’t remember how, the Cabal ended up with Tall Les’s Soul Stone – a hip flask with sizeable dent in it. Maybe it was on Miranda’s corpse. Nevermind, the important thing is that the Cabal got hold of it.

John Kelly traced the influence on Tall Les, via his Soul Stone, back to an enclosed, small room, and the Cabal decided that the best thing to do would be to teleport directly to it. That’s fair enough. Cut to the chase – drop in on Angela or Jill, kick their ass(es) and save the day.
But they weren’t there – they dropped into a shed at the end of Granny’s garden, yards away from the destroyed chicken house and next to the pond that Donar and Hopper first emerged from.
A quick investigation roll augmented by Mage Sight suggested that Angela had vacated the position moments earlier, and couldn’t be far away (presuming she travelled by mundane means).

Surveying the wreckage around them, they heard sounds of battle from nearby, and found a hidden entrance beneath Granny’s house.
When the house was in its original position, this entrance would have been a hidden room. Now that the house has shifted a few metres to the left, it’s a hole in the ground, loosely covered by rubble.

The entrance becomes a brick lined passage, which becomes a rough hewn tunnel, before opening up into a large natural cavern.
It is immediately obvious that it’s here that Granny has established her Sanctum, and possibly a Demesne. In the centre of the cavern a tall stalagmite rises some 10 feet off the floor. Atop it sits a verdant green plant, like an ivy in bloom with a rose. A green glow emanates from it and illuminates the cavern. Patches of the cavern wall are embedded with large crystals that reflect and refract the green light. Humanoid images move inside them like holograms.

feature196a_cavernOfSouls

A bit like this, but more verdant, and with spooky crystals on the walls

On the other side of the cavern, Granny, Angela and Jill are locked in battle. Angela is clearly bolstering Jill with enchantments, Jill is using a knife to attack Granny, and Granny is defending herself with magic and a staff.
As is now par for the course with the Cabal, they take a few moments to take stock of the scene, and to discuss tactics, motives, consequences, and their own personal inclination.
They decide that Granny is splitting her attention between defence and casting an active spell. She is not fighting back against Angela and Jill, instead she is concentrating he attention on a swelling mound of earth at her feet.

Amazingly, the Cabal take action. They decide that if computer RPGs have ever taught them anything, it’s ‘take out the caster first’, so Donar lightening blasts Angela, Winston Blue confuses her, John Kelly curses Angela, Hopper punches Jill, and Jon-Anthony turns into a ghost.
Hopper pushes Jill into a pool of water and then freezes the water solid. She then decks Jill, who falls unconscious. Angela casts a ranged Curing spell on Jill, who wakes up and starts trying to free herself. Jon-Anthony then casts a horrific decomposition spell on Jill, causing her flesh to rot and slough off her bones. She falls unconscious again.
Winston, Donar and John Kelly harry Angela.
Meanwhile, Granny uses the cessation of hostilities against her to complete her spell – she opens a gateway to the Shadow and draws forth a powerful fertility spirit, which erupts from the earth mound, leaving a gaping portal behind it.

Eath mother

The Fertility Spirit summoned by Granny. It turns out that all fertility spirits are thirsty

Granny seems quite pleased with herself, and directs the manifest Earth Mother to attack Angela. Angela responds with a direct focused attack against Granny, which staggers her. In that moment of anger and confusion, she loses control of the spirit. Granny becomes hysterical, and falls into uncontrolled laughter. Everyone else braces themselves for Bad Things.

Except Winston Blue, who steps in front of the Earth Mother, and smiles.
Winston is very attractive already, and he’s bolstered his Presence with Mind magic. He’s magnetic, beautiful and sexy. I rule that fertility spirits are, by default, interested in sexy times.

I did not plan for Steve.

Stupid, sexy Steve.

sexy flanders

With the Earth Mother suitably distracted, Granny was able to regain control and banish the now extraneous spirit back to the Shadow.
Bit of an anti-climax.
But that’s ok. Jon-Anthony is creating drama on the other side of the cavern.

On the other side of the cavern, Jill is semi frozen in ice, and pretty beat up. Everytime she tries to heal herself, Jon-Anthony fucks her up some more, each time a little more than the last. She’s fading fast.
Matt, Jon-Anthony’s player, announces that he intends to harvest Jill’s soul as she finally dies. He’s not quite sure what he’ll do with it, but that’s a problem for another time. The first step is to extract the soul as Jill dies.
The other players are not particularly happy with this, but can’t do anything about it, bar administering basic first aid to Jill to stabilise her wounds (which are pretty horrific – she’s been struck by lightning, punch, frozen, and had her flesh magically rotted so that it sloughs off her bones. It’s an actual miracle that she isn’t actually dead yet).
To prevent this, Jon-Anthony opens a portal to Twilight – an ephemeral state half-way between the material world and the other non-material worlds – and draws Jill and Hopper into it. He uses the pool of water that they’re stood in as the boundaries of the gateway, and anyone inside it passes through to Twilight automatically. Jon-Anthony is in a Twilight state already.
Donar see’s Hopper and Jill fade into invisibility, and can see the magic of the gate with his Mage Sight, so dives in as well.

So no Jon-Anthony, Hopper and Donar, as well as the unconscious Jill, are in Twilight. There’s an awkward beat as Hopper and Donar take stock of their current condition. The fact that they can suddenly see and hear Jon-Anthony provides them with enough information to deduce that this is all his fault.
Hopper considers punching him.
Donar considers blasting him with lightning.
Neither of them are skilled enough in Spirit or Death to push themselves back into the material world, though, so are forced to talk to Jon-Anthony instead.

At this point I am rubbing my hands together, as it’s becoming clear that Jon-Anthony will be the ‘big bad’ at some point in the campaign, and I’m cool with that.

Hopper and Donar ask Jon-Anthony to make them solid again. Jon-Anthony suggests that being ghosts is so much safer, and everyone can exit this dangerous magical cavern without resistance, and then pass through another gate later to become solid again.
Hopper and Donar point out that the battle is now over – Angela has surrendered, Jill is unconscious, and Granny has put the Earth Mother back in her box. The door out is wide open. We’re cool. Let’s stop dicking about and start being solid again please.
Jon-Anthony reluctantly acquiesces to the request, and reopens the gateway, allowing all four to become material again.

As everyone starts to exit the cavern, Granny walks up to Angela and casually kills her with a Life spell – massive cancerous growths erupt out of and consume Angela and she dies quickly and painfully. Granny continues walking out of the cavern as nothing had happened.
The Cabal take a moment, then walk out after her.

At this point we start wrapping up the session. We’re playing Monster of the Week the following week, so I have to handwave a few things.

Granny has now withdrawn from the Consilium, and is no longer Hierarch. Two leading Councilors are dead, and a third is disgraced. There is now a very real power vacuum in local Mage society. The Cabal consider this for a moment, and choose to ignore it.
Winston Blue decides that an insane old witch is exactly the type of Mage he wants to learn from, and takes Granny as a Mentor. We’ll see how that pans out.

The new Hierarch of the Consilium is a very boring man called Mr Balding. He is round, and grey and wears brown suits. He has three rules that he immediately laid down to the Consilium:

  1. Don’t bother me
  2. Don’t cause any trouble
  3. Absolutely no Vampires

We’ve taken a break to play Monster of the Week now (which is brilliant, you should all play it immediately), and will be starting a new Mage story arc on 6th August. I’ll be moving the ruleset onto Mage: the Awakening Second Edition as we start. I may do a post about the character conversion process and the differences. Shortly, it’s both simpler and more complex, and 90% of the changes are for the better. I resisted moving to 2e for the longest time because I’d invested so heavily in the original (new) World of Darkness books, but I see now that I was wrong.


Collected Eels References

10 – I Like Birds
11 – End Times
12 – Bombs Away
13 – Your Lucky Day In Hell
14 – The Other Shoe


footnote

apparently i should have seen it. my players, since reading this, have been vociferous in their defence of and attachment to ‘Tall Les’.

they have asserted that the sentence “Despite him never having done a thing for them, … they regarded him as a friend” says more about me than it does about Tall Les or them.
Andy, who plays Donar, reminded me:

Well I can’t speak for the others but for my part I was recalling how you’d introduced him as “a friend” and subsequently was victimised and endangered by sinister political machinations
And volunteered a part of his very soul as collateral
I mean even if that hadn’t flagged him as “basically decent” he certainly was somebody who needed our help
Phil, who plays Hopper, backed him up with:
You told us we already knew him and he was a friend. I proceeded on the basis you weren’t a big fat liar
Steve, who plays Winton Blue, then chipped in with:
Re: Tall Les. I seem to remember you introducing him as; “a bit shit, but a mate”, with an implied addition of; “that person you wish you didn’t, a bit shit at parties, but you know him and he’s just a but rubbish rather than a bellend”. Plus we gave him his nickname.
which basically is me told.
good news, everybody. the players are paying more attention to the plot than i am…
good news

Mage Session 9: Prizefighter

Starting Point: Donnal, a teenaged apprentice Mage, has been challenged to a Duel Arcane by Miranda Peacock, an experienced and influential Mage, member of the Consilium Council and the powerful Cabal The Golden Trinity. If Donnal wins, all charges against him are dropped. If he loses, he loses his master, and will be reassigned to someone else if the Council’s choosing. It probably won’t be someone he likes…

Events

Donar immediately volunteered to be Donnal’s champion, mistakenly believing that a Duel Arcane might involve actual combat.

He quickly learnt that, no, it’s a match of magical power. Participating Mage’s choose two Arcana, one for attack, one for defense, and attempt to overwhelm the other, reducing their Willpower.

John Kelly stepped up, as the most magically proficient in the Cabal (Gnosis 3, Space 3, Fate 2).

As Hopper squared the circle (prepared the magical dueling area), John Kelly prepared himself… Cheating – using abilities, items and outside influences to improve your dueling capabilities – is strictly forbidden. However, it’s very hard to prove some interventions. John cast a good luck charm on himself using Fate 2, giving him the ‘9 Again’ benefit on a certain number of rolls. Normally in Mage, a single die showing ’10’ is counted as a success and rerolled: 10 Again. 9 Again allows a reroll on a 9 and a 10, increasing your chances of additional successes.

Bolstering in this manner is hard to detect and hard to prove.

John was also stocked to the gills on Mana, a magical resource that can be spent to add dice to magical dice pools, or to enhance magical effects.

What we’re saying here is that John went into the fight with lead shot in his gloves.

The first stage of any Duel Arcane is shit talking. Both combatants reel of magical lineages and accomplishments, and mock their opponents. The most cutting remarks win a bonus during the battle itself.

John won the shit talk stage, and then rolled badly, hardly denting Miranda, his opponent. In return, Miranda hit back with a solid blow.

It did not look good for John.

Then he decided to spend a point of Willpower (risky, because that’s the resource that your opponent depletes. The first to 0 Willpower loses), and rolls well.

Stupidly well.

With his Willpower expenditure and 9 Again enhancement, John scores 7 successes against Miranda, which instantly floors her. John wins. No one expects this.

I did not expect this.

As Storyteller, I’d tried to set this up as a close fight, but ultimately one they’d lose.

I let John’s player, Dave, load up on effects because I wanted him to have a chance, for the battle to last long enough, and for defeat to be close fought.

But no. Two rounds and he trounced her.

Oh well.

Still, this left me with a challenge.

The fight was supposed to demonstrate the inherent injustice in Mage society, and how the Golden Trinity cabal had corrupted the justice system to serve their own ends.

And their current goal was to usurp Granny and remove her from her, albeit unused, position of authority in the Consilium.

What I’d planned was a close battle, and defeat of the players, then the Golden Trinity pressing the letter of the law to strip Granny of all authority and magical assets. The players had already enforced a similar edict, so should be aware of how little of a shit the Consilium gave for ‘fairness’ in such matters.

But, my goals are The Golden Trinity’s goals are my goals. The Trinity want to antagonise Granny and goad her into an illegal act of aggression. It’s still possible, just a little harder.

Tall Les is still at large, so Angela, the defacto leader of the Trinity, issues a warrant for Tall Les’s arrest. Dead or alive, it’s all the same to me.

End Position: Granny rises to the bait, and squares off with Angela. Tall Les was her student, and she’ll throw everything else away before she sees him convicted of a crime be didn’t commit. Probably.

As the session ends, Granny has withdrawn from the Consilium and revoked her position within it. She exits the gathering warning all and sundry that any attempt to enforce Consilium law on her land or her people will be met with force.

Wait – That’s not how it ended… We had about 30 minutes of playtime left. I expected the Cabal to return home, regroup, discuss tactics and then attend to Granny.
Noooo.
They went straight to Tall Les’s instead. They were worried about him.

Arriving at Tall Les’s house in Tadcaster, they discovered signs of a struggle – They piece together that Les was packing in a hurry, and then was set upon. Some of the damage to the kitchen and hallway is horrific.
Then, in the bath, they find a dead body.
Outside the bathroom, they find a raven.

Winston Blue uses Mind to converse with the Raven, and they learn that Les used to feed it, and occasionally ride it. It tells them some details of the fight, and how Les fled to the other side.

Eels song: Prizefighter

Mage: the Awakening session 7 report – Things the Grandchildren Should Know

Starting position: the Cabal have beaten up Ch’ord Upperhill, and forced their way into his shop. They are looking for a 5 volume arcane book (books? Whatever, it’s a set), and are happy to break shit until they get it.

Main events: the players did break shit. They broke my plot.

They had two options

  1. Take the books from Ch’ord, give them to Barnaby Woodhouse, because he’s the legal owner of the books, and set Plot Ball A rolling
  2. Let Ch’ord keep the books, because he’s the moral owner, and set Plot Ball B rolling

So, the thing about Mage, is that you can choose to magically create a second trolley, and achieve both results.

Yes, the results in this case is ‘through the players conscious choice, they have caused 6 innocent people to die, rather than 1 or 5’. This was not lost on the players. They delighted in it.

After whaling on Ch’ord, they started talking to him, and out of the blue decided to use magic to create a second, identical set. They even provided raw materials, 5 pawns of Tass to make them permanent, and the Arcanum that Ch’ord lacked, Mind, so that he could perform a ritual to create identical copies.

Ch’ord took them to his secret sanctum; a locked storage unit in a converted industrial estate. Behind the standard yellow corrugated iron door, Ch’ord keeps what looks like a small pocket dimension. It has a TARDIS effect, and was much larger inside than it appeared to be on the outside. At this point all the nerds in my game shouted “yes, we know what a TARDIS is, thank you…”

Ch’ord also keeps a pet zombie, called Lennie. Lennie was supposed to be a combat encounter, as he guards the sanctum, but the Cabal had effectively negged Ch’ord by this point and he called Lennie off.

Lennie is an enhanced, permanent zombie, and as such probably worth quite a bit. Ch’ord claims to have stolen him from a morgue.

The sanctum also featured an angry portrait of a stern looking woman (I know what I said) that the Cabal were advised not to touch.

So Barnaby Woodhouse got the originals, and is very happy. Plot Ball A is rolling.

Ch’ord Upperhill also got the copies, and is happy. He gets to continue his Master’s work, as well as having 5 large handwritten books (in Sumerian, you should have heard Lionel read Sumerian poetry) to remember his departed father figure. Plot Ball B is rolling.

So both balls are going to try to roll down the same track, bounce off each other, and probably kill more than 6 innocent bystanders.

End point: Ch’ord is now their BFF. He owes them 5 Tass and a solid. They are Facebook friends (of a sort)…

Barnaby is acting like a doting uncle. He’s promised to pull some strings on behalf of Donnal, although he’s incredulous that he’d need help if Granny is his Master’s Master. He’s also made promises of future employment.

Session Title: Things the Grandchildren Should Know – Eels

Mage: the Awakening e6 Report: Estate Sale

Starting Position:

The Mages have been hired by Barnaby Woodhouse to reclaim items stolen from the estate of Lionel Davidson by Davidson’s apprentice, Ch’ord Upperhill.

Woodhouse is named as beneficiary in Davidson’s Last Will and Testament, however it is over ten years old, and written prior to Woodhouse and Davidson splitting up and never speaking again.

Upperhill has taken certain magical items and arcane texts, claiming that Davidson wanted him to have them. Sleeper law and the local Mage Consilium support Woodhouse’s claim.

Our Cabal of Mages are empowered to recover the items of Davidson’s estate from Upperhill.

Notable/Key Events:

The Cabal opted to take the direct approach, and confront Upperhill at his Sanctum: a Taxidermist in Wetherby (Upperhill Restorations). They found him vaping in the alley at the side of his shop.

Upperhill is in his late 20s, wears a black shirt, drainpipe black jeans, winklepicker boots, and a trenchcoat. He is doing vape tricks when they find him. His vape smells of strawberry shortcake.

The Mages cut straight to the chase: “we’re here for the items you took from Davidson’s estate.”

Upperhill firmly states his position: Davidson wanted him to have his works, Woodhouse has no claim, the Cabal can get bent. Whilst he’s talking, John Kelly notices that Upperhill is using the thick white vape cloud to hide the fact that he’s been manifesting Ectoplasm and weaving it into a functional shield and weapon.

Kelly acts first, and opens a portal behind Upperhill, with the intention of seizing the shield or weapon from his hands.

We fall into combat time, and Upperhill rolls really, really badly on initiative. Upperhill has been statted as a real combat threat, but that’s basically all negated if literally all the players get to act before he does.

The combat is short. Upperhill is cursed with Fate magic by Kelly, confused with Mind magic by Winston, whacked with a telekinetic blast and then electromagnetically disrupted by Hopper, intimidated by Donar and persued by Jon-Anthony and Sebastian the shadow pony familiar.

Upperhill flees into his taxidermy shop, with the cabal giving chase. Kelly opens a portal through the locked door, and Hopper and Donar rush in. They are confronted by a bizarre menagerie of posed animals.

An antique stuffed chimpanzee with cymbals and a fez animated and started laughing and clapping whilst following their movements with intelligent eyes, so Donar blasted it with a lightening bolt from his wand, leaving the chimp ablaze and partially melted. Hopper found Upperhill crouched in the middle of the floor, and booted him as hard as she could, knocking any remaining fight out of him.

End Position:

The cabal have a defeated Upperhill in the foetal position on the floor, and full access to his shop. They still do not have the volumes of work they’ve been employed to retrieve, or know their location.

Session title: Eels – Estate Sale

Mage: the Awakening session five report; Last Stop: This Town

Starting Point

The Mages are in their still undefined and undescribed sanctum.

Jon-Anthony is still unconscious from the previous session.

The characters are still concerned by the Donnal case they’ve been asked to investigate, and by the unprovoked attack they suffered last session.

Key Events

The last session ended with an opportunity to spend XP, so there’s a brief activity montage as the characters pump iron, read books, shave etc.

Jon-Anthony begins to regain consciousness, and is offered a cup of tea. He slips back into unconsciousness briefly, so Donar, Hopper and Winston discuss tea consent.

“He’s unconscious, so we can’t make him drink the tea…”

“But we don’t want to waste the tea, and he indicated that he would like some tea before falling unconscious again…”

“No. Just no.”

After Jon-Anthony is reliably conscious again, and has drunk his tea of his own free will, everyone else berates him for randomly summoning a ghost. This leads to discussion of the haunted storm lantern that Jon-Anthony bought in the first session, and how they suspect that it could have been a lure used by witch hunters. After some debate, the Mages decide that they have no immediate plans to blow the lantern up, and instead put it to one side.

Winston receives a call from Barnaby Woodhouse, a retired professor of History and Ancient Languages at York University. Barnaby introduces himself as an ‘old friend’ of Millicent Bulstrode, the Consilium Provost overseeing Donnal’s investigation. He asks if he can meet the Mages in two days, at a local pub, and they agree.

At this stage I expected the players to montage their XP expenditure. Instead they opted to revisit the scene of the crime and see if they can detect any more tell tale magical resonance.

They travel back to the now empty racecourse and attempt to sense the magical resonance of the area. Through recapping their existing knowledge, reading the fading magical resonance of the site, and through calling Tall Les, they confirm the following:

  • They think that Lucy was possessed or urged by a Goetic Evocation – a spirit created and commanded by a Hubristic Mage. The spirit is shaped by the Mage’s driving Vice, and appears as a platonic ideal of that Vice and the Mage that summoned it
  • They agree that a Mastigos Mage is the most likely to summon a Goetic Demon, given the Arcanum involved. A Thyrsus is least likely, as they would struggle to master the Mind magics required. However, it is possible it could be any sufficiently skilled Mage
  • They recall that Amanda Peacock, a member of the Golden Trinity cabal, and Consilium Counsellor, is a Mastigos
  • Tall Les can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to frame him or Donnal. “I mean, ok, there was that one time I compelled a flock of earth element birds to crap on her car…” “Was the car expensive?” “I think it was in a Bond film once…”
  • There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing towards different actors, but no actual evidence
  • They agree that they have a solid argument that Donnal did not commit the crime, but one only presentable within magical circles. As far as Sleeper society and law is concerned, Donnal is guilty as sin.

After further discussion, they agree to head to the arranged meeting with Barnaby Woodhouse.

They meet Woodhouse on The Swan and Talbot, a pub in the middle of Wetherby. Woodhouse is a round faced man in his late 60s, wearing a Tweed suit and sporting a hearing aid and an ornate, antique walking stick. The stick instantly pings as magical on their Unseen Sense.

Woodhouse lays out his problem: his partner of 20 years, Lionel Davidson, recently passed. Lionel was a genius, a research historian like Woodhouse, but he was into something. Something big, fundamental… revolutionary. He recorded all of his work in five volumes The Truth of Reality; Stripping Away the Great Lie, and it’s these volumes that Woodhouse is interested in.

However, Lionel’s apprentice has taken these volumes, plus a number of other magical items and books, and is refusing to return them. Woodhouse shares the Last Will and Testament and probate documents showing that he is the beneficiary of Lionel’s estate, as well as letters from the Consilium stating that they support his claim.

The Mages, in conversation with Barnaby, uncover a couple of incongruities in his story. Barnaby and Lionel were together for 20 years, but Barnaby has never met Lionel’s apprentice. The restaurants that Barnaby suggested as a meeting place all closed years ago. The Will he presented was dated over 10 years ago…

They challenge him, and Barnaby’s mood visibly changes. He appears smaller, and saddened. He expresses his love for Lionel, and his regret at words that were said and will now never be taken back. He leaves what details he has regarding Lionel’s apprentice, and again requests their assistance.

“He’s called ‘Chord Upperhill’.”

“Chord?”

“It’s a common word in the English language…”

“No, wait. It’s pronounced ‘Ch’ord’. Here, I’ll write it down.”

Barnaby offers to ‘grease the wheels of the political machine in your favour’ in return for assistance. He also states that he is only interested in the volumes, anything else they find, they can keep. He may be able to help them out in return, in the future.

End Position

The Mages have agreed to help Barnaby Woodhouse regain some assets from the estate of Lionel Davidson, in addition to their other concerns. They have yet to make contact with Ch’ord Upperhill.

Session title: Eels – Last Stop: This Town

Mage: The Awakening session four report – Friendly Ghost

Starting position

Travelling back home from Harrogate Infirmary, the four Mages – Donar, Hopper, Jon-Anthony and Winston Blue – are intercepted by a four armed men.

The fight very quickly falls on the favour of the Mages. Jon-Anthony uses Death magic to destroy a machete, Donar shields himself with Forces and doubles his defence, Hopper uses Forces to lower the temperature of a crowbar by 50 degrees Celsius, almost taking the wielders fingers off, and Winston uses Mind magic to confuse the assailants.

The tide is slowly turning towards the Mages – Donar and Hopper are the only active participants – and Jon-Anthony decides to summon a ghost.

Key events

A blast of chill air and pure terror washes over the combatants. The assailants are overcome with fear, and run. Jon-Anthony, who’s player couldn’t make it the session, presumably fails the Willpower test, and falls unconscious.

Donar chases one of the assailants down and starts punching him in the face… And doesn’t stop. He keeps going until he hears a ‘pop’ when he hits him and the guy falls limp. He drags the unconscious body back to the cars.

Hopper and Winston have another assailant trapped in a car. Winston uses Mind magic to convince the man he is on fire, and he dives out the car and drops and rolls on the road.

The Mages interrogate him, mostly using intimidation (aided by the blood dripping from Donar’s hands), and learn that the four armed men were hired to ‘test’ them. He has no idea what this means, but he can describe the people that hired them; a middle aged couple that sound suspiciously like the couple that Jon-Anthony recently bought a magical storm lantern from.

Hopper examines the area to determine what caused the wave of cold terror, and finds a strong Death resonance lingering around the boot of their car and Jon-Anthony’s new storm lantern.

The Mages release the man, magnanimously allowing him to drive his unconscious friend to a hospital, and return to their shared Sanctum.

There they examine Jon-Anthony’s storm lantern; it’s not magical, as they first thought. Instead, it’s haunted. They put it on a shelf until they decide what to do with it, and turn their attention to the four men who just attacked them, and why they were paid to do so.

They decide that it’s probably not related to their recent run in with another cabal of Mages and the local Provost, instead it’s most likely related to the storm lantern.

Jon-Anthony bought it because he could sense that it was somehow magical. They all could – it pinged on their Unseen Sense like a buzzing mosquito or a change in air pressure. The people he bought it from were clearly Sleepers, and the lantern was mixed in with a range of other mundane car boot sale junk.

They decide that the lantern was most likely a trap – it would only be of interest to Mages, so anyone buying it could then be observed and ‘tested’. They were put into danger, and used magic to get themselves out of it.

End position

“Shit, we really walked into that one, didn’t we…”

Session title: Eels – Friendly Ghost