I went to be incredibly early last night and had damned strange dreams. There were spiders that I could hear walking around because they were so damned big and lost time that I couldn’t account for and travels in a Middle Eastern country that I couldn’t name with beautiful beaches but I had trouble explaining what gluten-free meant to my waitress.
With Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother coming out, lots of blog folks are talking about how cool YA fiction is and how many amazing science fiction and fantasy novels are over in the YA section of the book store. Seems to me that Rob Donoghue said those very things to me about two or three years ago when I started working on 1st Quest.
Yesterday, everything that was physically challenging that I tried to do just felt difficult. I managed to do it and get through it all but it felt like there were weights on my lungs. Nutrition-wise, I had a stout breakfast and a decent lunch and hydrated properly. Just one of those days, I guess.
In other news, my gaming schedule is chilling out a bit, with the Friday night game going every other week and I have to downshift the orc-via-skype game to monthly for a bit in order to get on school, some other writing and 1st Quest.
I had no idea what we would do for our Houses of the Blooded game tonight. It has been weeks to almost a month since we played last and this arc hasn’t been as laser focused as the last.
Storn had some ideas about trying to figure out if his Count should be High King and we kicked the idea around for a few minutes before just diving in, having the characters meet and discuss the issue. Turns out, running the Hub Baronies is complicated business and the initial reason for gathering everyone together got shelved.
They swore a standard fealty oath to the Hub Barony and their newfound Count with some sorcerer blood-magic hoodoo behind it. They talked about the High King stuff a bit but got side-tracked when Anthony wanted to tell the Count how his Barony was doing.
Did he make a roll to see what he knew or did he just decide that something was ravaging his country-side? I’m not sure.
Turned out, something was ravaging Anthony’s Barony and whenever he sent scouts, they never returned.
Off they went.
I peaked at the orc rules and decided that this thing was going to be a monster. I looked at Storn’s newly drawn purty maps of the Hub Barony and saw that Bayul, Anthony’s character, had a Barony near the lake at the center of Shanri. At that moment I decided this thing was a Lovecraftian Cthonic menace, something brutal, something Bayul’s father had kept in check but now that the old sorcerer was dead it was loose again.
It was the hound the Sorcerer Kings used to send after ven slaves who tried to escape.
I picked powers.
Terror can be between 1 and 10. I chose 10.
Orcs can be rated between 1 and 10, I chose 9.
Fuck them. This is a monster they might have to lose to and come back to fight another day.
They found one of the scouts. He was naked, covered in mud, shooting arrows at them and raving. Storn’s Count killed him while Bayul tried to talk reason to his vassal.
They had dreams about the dead vassal in which he insulted them and talked about how they were all slaves playing in their master’s clothes and how all of ven society was a sham to convince them all that they were no longer the Sorcerer King’s servants. I had a damn lot of fun with that NPC’s ghost.
Bayul suggested that they go get help and not knowing the numbers I had chosen for this monster, Storn and Mario’s characters gave valiant speeches about how ven do not cower.
And they met this thing, this tentacled hound with breath that puts ven to sleep so it can take them to its under-water lair and store them for the Sorcerer King’s punishment.
They round up their Courage rolls to beat the damned 10 Terror and they each, one by one made it. None were going to run.
We ran the combat like a Mass Murder and none of us were sure if it should have been Mass Murder or a Duel. It felt like Mass Murder, as it was them, their personal guards versus this godzilla beast.
Their guards were slaughtered, 40 ven killed but they finally beat it due to one of Storn’s special gifts from the suaven, the ven ancestor-saints.
It was a funny thing because before that, the game was kind of limping along with some petty bickering and no real cohesion. Killing that monster brought them all together. They were hooting and hollering and smiling. It was damned fun, killing a lovecraftian beast with swords and guile.
Mario has epic plans for the creature’s skull.
The dreams were funny things, I asked them to set the scene as to where the dream would happen. I liked that. The dreams were really fun.
They had dreams again, in which the vassal’s ghost was put to rest. Mario’s character me the suaven she most intensely worships, a grizzled swordsman whose nickname is Old One Eye. Anthony got to put his vassal to rest in style. Storn had this odd dream set in the senate but with the High King’s throne in it and when the vassal’s ghost was gone, Jamyne Steele, the suaven who was the last and only High King, entered the senate and tried to talk to Storn’s young Count, try to council him on grasping or not grasping for the crown but there were spider-webs gagging his mouth.
Check out Storn’s art for Houses of the Blooded. I think they’re my favorite of his pieces, particular that first one, chronicling a bit of our campaign. I can’t wait to see the other 11. Shit, I can’t wait to hold this damned book in my hands.
So, there are sub-systems in the game, all rooted to the same root mechanics.
Basic 7 Virtues Stuff:
The main mechanics are rooted to the 7 virtues the ven hold most dear and instead of skills, you figure out how the player is solving a problem and base it in a virtue. They can roll just to see how much they succeed or fail or they can roll vs. another creature or another ven’s opposing virtue.
When two ven get together and decide to try to harm one another, usually with pieces of sharp metal in their hands like civilized people.
When more than one on one combat occurs. This is a brutal, brutal system that can deal with 3 vs. 3 street fights or epic battles with banners fluttering in the wind.
Either way, mofo’s are going to get hurt.
Loooove, exciting and new. Yes, there is a sub-system for romance and its nifty with the romancers going back and forth and the romance inevitably ending. Love helps those in it, their passions making them achieve more than they thought possible.
Duels with words. The loser takes an insult as an aspect that can be tagged by others. Two players get into it last night and one of the players got tagged with flacid dagger or something, a rumor that he can’t get it up. It lasts for 3 seasons. The player was relieved the insult will be gone in time for his wedding.
That’d be embarassing.
We haven’t been touching on that one so much and I really dig it. It will now see serious use.
From spying on your neighbors to creating art to taking another’s lands, its in season actions with little tweaks to the already existing rules.
The players in our game have been creating art to give as gifts and it has an in-game value too, which is neat. Creating opera is supposed to be really neat. One of our players is writing an opera about the death of another PC that occurred earlier in the game.
Orc in HotB = Anything that isn’t ven. Not to be confused with the hate-filled, Tolkien-inspired orc of the Burning Wheel game via skype. Orc is just another name for monster, more or less.
Last night we played Blooded with a few new characters in the mix. Storn led an army into the former County Seat and destroy the cloven-hoofed orc invaders, led by The Horned One. While the battle raged, Anthony’s young Baron and Jeff’s old former spymaster (with the former Count’s spymaster in tow) stealthed into the castle and freed the hostages the orcs had taken to insure the infrastructure of the domain would keep running through fear and threat.
The army was broken, the orc killed and all who were aiding the orc will be brought before the Senate. I forsee some taking of the black for them.
Fighting orc and the private armies they blackmailed into working for them wasn’t too difficult. Storn and company had them a touch outnumbered and smart use of Style Points and special powers gave him a solid edge. Mass Murder get’s really messy when there are a few different armies and you can’t be sure where they will stand from moment to moment in the battle and there are other ven with powers of their own.
The ven capital city’s has a few translations. One way to translate it is the Hub of All Revenge (Wick, 2008).
The death and revenge of Sagay Steele is different in the two opera, three pillow books and one commoner shadow play in which it is depicted. All we know for sure is that he declared High Revenge and his claim for revenge was ratified by his liege and the senate and that Szazs was found dead in his wardrobe and Sagay was found dead under a bridge only day into donning the Red officially, setting aside his sword for only daggers and dedicating his life to destroying his enemy. The bridge was among cherry blossoms and named after an ancient Sorcerer Queen, said to be the beautiful site of many illicit romances.
In one opera that concentrates on the Sagay’s rivalry with Count Szazs, he stabbed the former count in the heart with a dagger coated with his dead brother’s blood, just as the possessed Szazs stabbed him in the throat. Sagay staggered through the city, singing of his revenge and his success before his brother’s ghost ushered him to the river to die.
In another opera, Szazs was only a cat’s-paw for the evil spirit in his guts and it is the spirit that killed Sagay, though his brother’s ghost saved him from damnation at the hands of the evil.
Maybe the unblooded had it closest to the truth. The shadow play depicts Sagay killing the count, having used the spirit in the deposed count’s gut’s own magic against her and her vessel, dying rather than becoming her plaything. In this version of the tale, Sagay used his friend’s magic ring in order to sneak into Szazs’ wardrobe and murdering him viciously. The stage is often sprayed with pig’s blood during this scene and the most beautiful girl in the village is allowed to play the cunning Sorcerer Queen, tempting Sagay to be her willing slave. His brother’s ghost saved him in these productions and the stage is burned as Sagay denied her and that bonfire is used to roast the pig.
Either way, the twins, Lonor and Sagay show up in many other pillow books and opera, counseling those who seek revenge. The Hub of All Revenge is a haunted city.
In the last hour of the game, Mario dramatically described his character putting on the red, an act that in ven culture means that you put aside your sword, only use a dagger and get ready to murder some son of a bitch who deserves it. A letter is written in your own blood, describing your intentions and you’re off.
The other players, Jeff and Storn, also gave the red its due and had their characters acting shocked and wide-eyed at the act. That is a huge, huge thing. If either of them had been flippant, it would have killed the effect.
Hot stuff. Blooded is back on the table in a big way. We hit a solid triple. It felt good.
I was pleased with the way I handled getting everyone back into the groove and the convening of the Senate. I put in laws for the senate that made for good play and gave people the opportunity to do shit and I fleshed out the six earls for each of the major houses.
I took a moment to describe the capital city a bit and that felt right.
Storn seemed to get his feet under him as the young baron turned young self-proclaimed count.
And Jeff did this thing he does. He is really good at taking a touch of player input and making it turn the game on its ear. I watched him do it time and time again with Destiny Points in our Conspiracy of Shadows campaign. If you traced back the meaningful conflicts in that game, nine times out of ten it linked back to Jeff’s addition to play through a Destiny Point.
Tonight he did the same thing. He took part in a conflict and whereas Mario didn’t quite get what he wanted, Jeff slipped on through and his actions turned the game on its ear. Jeff is like a great mid-fielder on a soccer team. He will step up and score but more often, he puts the ball where it needs to be for the great assists. Jeff puts other people in a position to be great.
Some day I will stop it with the bad gaming/sports analogies.
After a month of fun doing Houses of the Blooded, we hit a kind of wall.
First thing wrong was that we were trying to do a kind of round-robin GM, Ars Magica Troupe style kinda thing. This thing can work and have glorious results bit it just wasn’t working for us. It led me to be less aggressive than I might have been. And just in writing that, I realize that there’s a pattern in me not being as aggressive as I’d like. Or I should say, as aggressive as when I GM a game and things go well.
I’m looking at my other bits and its all inter-personal, getting to know a new group stuff. I’ve gamed with Mario before but not for years and he’s getting to know everyone else at the table. Jeff and Storn have gamed with me but not with Mario or Anthony. Mario and Anthony play Warhammer and other GW games all of the time but not with any of the rest of us.
We’re all still figuring out our rhythm.
The main point of contention last week was Anthony’s character. I got a gitchy feeling when he made him and asked him some questions and others assured me that I was being too picky, so I let it go. Anthony made the right character for the wrong game. It became obvious to me because whenever he would talk about his character it was always to say what Sarac would not do, rather than what he would do.
There’s some trouble because Jeff’s character isn’t geared towards creating in-game facts and controlling the narration of the setting and that is a part of play that Jeff really enjoys.
It was just a night of talking about gaming, rather than gaming but I’d rather stop when things stop being fun and talk it out, rather than bull through a bad time.
So, there they are. Nothing dramatic but they just stood out, not only because I haven’t had tepid games like that in years but because two hit in the same damned week.
The game was going alright. We were reaching a bit. It was kind of puttering a tad.
Cool shit was happening but it felt a little Tokyo Drifty.
Anthony’s character eaves-dropped on a brutal conversation between Jeff’s scheming bastard and his aging duelist father and now Anthony’s vindictive old wizard knows why his son was wounded at the opera.
Me and Mario got to show our twin brother’s relationship in a really odd exchange with Jeff in the middle.
My character caught one of Jeff’s spies on my land and got to regulate. I channeled just a touch of Marlo Stansfield…just a touch.
Storn won his duel and THEN started a romance with the woman he scarred in the duel. He loves doomed romance, it is a trait on Storn’s character sheet, not his characters mind you, but Storn’s own character sheet.
Then Mario wanted to meet with the Count who over-sees us, just so he could roll some dice and put some facts into play on him. He ruffled Storn’s feathers and suddenly Storn wanted in on the conflict and before we knew it, we were all rolling, establishing facts about Count Szazs of House Falcon.
You can have a ruin in your domain in Houses of the Blooded. Anthony was looking over the rules, knowing that a prominent ruin was written into the fabric of his character, who leads a secret society dedicated to sussing out the secrets of the ruin but just didn’t see the advantages right away.
Essentially, a ruin is a dungeon, something left behind by the Sorcerer-Kings, a dangerous remnant of a past age. Each time the players brave its depths, it goes up until it is solved, not going above three. Once the ruin is done, it can either be turned into a natural resource or can be turned into a Puzzle House.
What is a Puzzle House, you ask?
A Puzzle House is, essentially, a great place to have a party.
So yes, you adventure in a dungeon and then gather the nobles, once you’ve gotten to the heart of the place and put it to rest you gather your friends and you party your asses off there. And naturally, the party will be a place for duels and romances and drama and politicking.
Adventure breeds adventure breeding more adventure.
The adventure started with me saying three facts about the Ruins in Anthony’s domain and then they rolled to see what they knew, these things being new facts layered in. And the Sorcerer-Queen of Night’s ruin was born.
They failed their rolls so spectacularly along the bridge into the ruined city of the Sorcerer Kings they were brought to the Queen on their knees and fell bargains were made.
Anthony’s character promised her heads.
Mario’s character is to write her an opera and I think, according to the rules he technically started a romance with her. I think. Eek. That means when he sees her next he can ask something of her. Neat.
And once the Queen of the Night’s plotline is all wrapped up, once it is done the PC’s will gather their friends and their rivals and their family and will have a party, walking people around, showing them where they met the spectres of long dead ork and such.
“Ah, this is where the ork spectres surrounded us. Remember that, Baron.”
“I’m still trying to forget, old friend.”
If they live that long.
“This is where my father first faced the Queen of Night before her minions killed him.”
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