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Author Topic: [Conspiracy of Shadows] Blood Opera (pre-Dreamation)  (Read 3621 times)

Posts: 226

Alexander Newman

« on: January 24, 2006, 01:16:26 PM »

Quote from: Luke Crane
It's Conspiracy of Shadows, not Conspiracy of Rainbows


Keith - GM. Handed out sheets, explained rules, when not looking them up in the book, framed the first scene.
Luke - Wiktor, eldest brother of Fuktupski household. Luke's played with all but Jon several times before.
Jon - Vladick, middle Fuktupski brother. I've played Polaris with Jon before, otherwise no connections. He's played a bunch of other Indie games, too.
Ryan - Zygmunt, youngest Fuktupski brother. Ryan's played lots of Dogs, some with Luke, plenty of bW, and lots of others.
Alexander (me) - Gregori, best friend of youngest, and champion of household guard. Played and run a bunch of Indie games since Thor opened my mind with his Wuxia game of TSoY at Recess VI last May.

Apart - obviously - from Keith, I think this was the first time any of us had played Conspiracy of Shadows, although I think a couple of us (myself included) had read it. Also, Fuktupski is not their real name.

Blood Opera is the con scenario Keith scratched up for Conspiracy of Shadows at GenCon last year. Keith ran it at BWHQ for a few of the nerds, in preparation for Dreamation, where it ran very differently. I played in both games: he's writing about that one, and asked me to pick up his slack. Since I got laid off the day before we played, I have time on my hands.

Rules Drift
In the con scenario, Doom is not used to automatically win a conflict, instead each time you increment your Doom, you get that many bonus dice. This is a great incentive to ramp up the Doom and pile on the dice. In both games I tried damn hard to get up to the final, fatal six, and only managed it in the epilogue of this one.

Scenario Set-up
Three brothers of a fading noble house and their champion collide after the funeral of the youngest brother's wife, Ivana.

- Gregori, the champion killed Ivana, his best friend's wife on the orders of Wiktor, the eldest brother, and is now drinking to forget his betrayal.
- Wiktor believes he was protecting Zygmunt from Ivana's treachery, based on the evidence Vladick brought him.
- Vladick framed Ivana as another step on the path to ruling the house (eliminating Wiktor being the next step).
- Zygmunt believes Ivana's death an accident, and is relying on his best friend Gregori to get him through the mourning.
- Everyone else but Ivana's grandfather and a few servants is out looking for bandits that have been raiding.

The Fun and Interesting Bits
Very early on, within the first few minutes of getting down to play after the introduction, Ryan double-checked to confirm what the scenario was about - were we going to be finding out who killed Zygmunt's wife, making it up, was there a plot, what? Keith established immediately that we already had all the information at hand, and from here on it was up to us, what we knew already, and those lovely, lovely destiny point poker chips. Within the first five minute we were able to say, definitively, that we knew all the information there was to know. All the hints and intimations on the character sheets were there to be filled in.

This set us up early on for later developments: it was absolutely explicit that what happened next was totally in our hands, not Keith's. It would be entirely possible to give Keith shit about doing absolutely nothing as a GM after this point, but irrelevant: he didn't have to do anything except suggest and/or clarify stakes, occasionally explain or look up a rule, and dodder a bit as Grandfather.

Keith framed a gloomy dinner-table wake for Ivana, and then introduced a crotchety old grandfather almost as drunk as Gregori to do a bit of shit-stirring about the improbability of such a fine rider as Ivana having a riding accident. It didn't take much needling to have Zygmunt leave to go to his room. Vladick punished grandfather for his crass implications by crushing his hand until it almost broke. Gregori drank some more. Wiktor was conciliatory and followed to placate Zygmunt. Eventually, Ryan and Alexander had a scene with Gregori drunk off his ass in Zygmunt's room. Right before we started, Ryan spent the first destiny point: Gregori had been having an affair with Ivana. Alexander immediately spent one of his: Ivana turned to Gregori because Zygmunt preferred his best friend to his wife. In that way.

I had this lumpley thread in the back of my mind as I did it. I'm gay, Ryan's straight, and I'd just made his character be in love with mine. Could have been pretty weird; the game could have screeched to a jarring halt. Instead, Ryan underwent a physical change (not his last), took the new fact and ran with it. Huge kudos to him, because it established that we were all going to be playing for keeps, and set one level of tone for the whole evening: he pushed me a little, and I pushed back hard, and it was good. Note that by physical change I absolutely don't mean he started a lisping charicature, but I think we all sat up a little straighter, and that hard glitter appeared in more than one eye.

The scene developed up to Gregori's confession of adultery, and our first conflict: Alexander wanted Zygmunt to punch Gregori's lights out, Ryan wanted Zygmunt to persuade Gregori to stop punishing himself, and fall asleep in Zygmunt's room. Alexander won, and Zygmunt smashed his fist into the unresisting drunk repeatedly. Eventually Gregori crawled out of the room and into another bottle. Jon had Vladick quietly overhear the whole thing.

I only include this because I loved the stakes, and won. I also loved that there was no conflict required to let Vladick overhear - Jon was a delightfully nasty middle brother, and although marginally less grand guignol than Luke or I, really pulled the stops out, too. I think it was about this point that Luke spent his first destiny point - he only had two (to our four or five), so this was a considerable investment in the narrative from his perspective:

Luke narrated that, as the executor of her estate, Wiktor had Ivana's effects in his room (this he got for free). He spent the point to add to them a book, bound in human skin, with Ivana's name and long illustrated satanic rituals inscribed within in human blood.

Hello! Things are instantly not what they seem. I believe this is the point at which Luke made Keith cream his pants by telling me: it's Conspiracy of Shadows, not Conspiracy of Rainbows. Words to live by. We discussed this moment later: Luke was concerned that for a while, the book barely made a ripple on the narrative; before long Jon had taken it 'out of play' by stealing it. Not so. It effectively set a minimum stop on the supernatural weirdness dial, by making Ivana a servant of dark forces. At that point, given the nature of what had gone before at a player level, it was crystal clear things were gonig to get very fucking messy. The book informed most of what came after, and set the ball rolling towards Vladick's eventual Doom. So, no, Luke, not wasted.

Wiktor bade Grandfather take good care of the book, while hiding it from Zygmunt, to protect him (conflict: Luke beat Ryan). But the weak-willed old man was easily cozened (or beaten - I forget) into handing it over to Vladick, who hid it in his room (conflict: Jon won). Gregori passed out somewhere with a bottle. Everyone went to bed. The following morning there was a fun scene between Gregori and Vladick, with the nasty middle brother needling the exceedingly hungover 'champion'. (I think Alexander won a conflict there, but don't remember what). Gregori went out to weep at Ivana's graveside, Vladick probably beat up on Grandpa again. Soon after that, someone (Jon, I think) spent a destiny point to have Ivana's grave be dug up, and the body missing. Zygmunt went out to the grave with the terrified gravedigger who discovered Ivana's absence. Zygmunt quizzed the gravedigger, and then Ryan cut the scene.

Gregori confronted Wiktor about the orders to kill Ivana - but Wiktor denied it, pointing out that Gregori was so drunk on the night, he had no idea whether he had actually  killed the woman. (conflict: Luke beat Alexander) Faced with the appalling possibility that he had buried her alive, Gregori and Vladick pressed for evidence of Ivana's malfeasance. Wiktor had entrusted the book to Grandfather, who no longer had it, and used that fact to banish the old man from the household (conflict: Luke won).  Enter Zygmunt with hair wet from the rain, his cloak covered in blood. Zygmunt offered a curt summary of the gravedigger's failings before explaining that his wife's body was missing.

Another stand-out moment. Ryan forewent describing Zygmunt's insane murder of the gravedigger, and merely implied it, to our horror and relish. Round about this point, Ryan underwent another complete change of demeanour. He later explained that at a certain point he decided that Zygmunt knew all about the book that the others were trying to keep from him. Zygmunt had already read it, and was himself determined to use it. I was struck by the fact that although we spent quite a bit of time discussing stakes, adding dice, and operating at a Technique level, Ryan was undergoing changes often associated with immersion in the Ephemeral: all five of us were totally engaged in the play.

Wiktor went batshit nuts, assuming that Grandfather had stolen the corpse to fuck his granddaughter, and was deliberately thwarting him by hiding the book. He stormed out, determined to catch up with the old man, and kill him. Vladick chased after, also arming himself, and tried to stop him. Despite Vladick's defense, Wiktor killed Grandfather on the steps of the mansion where the bereft ancient had sat, lost. Vladick, never one to miss an opportunity, killed Wiktor and made it look like Wiktor's insane rage, the mud, and rain had caused a terrible tragic accident. (conflict, Jon heavy on the Doom, Luke lost).

Again, what a great bunch to be playing with. Luke was happy to take an early bow out, I think at least partly because throughout, we had all been contributing to one anothers' stakes, conflicts and narrative, and also because it just fucking worked in the context of the game. He may also have had a destiny point left over at the point that he died, which lead me to consider granting similar resources to players whose characters die in con scenarios to keep them engaged, and even at the table. Particularly in a game like Conspiracy of Shadows, earning a bunch of post mortem narrative rights an hour before the climax could be an extremely satisfying way to play.

At some point Alexander used a destiny point to have Ivana be in Vladick's room - without specifying alive or dead - and eventually we climaxed at a scene in a secret room beneath Vladick's bedroom, where Ivana was chained for sacrifice and the surviving brothers, Vladick and Zygmunt, were competing to become a Dark Lord. Jon won the ultimate conflict, but did so by activating his Doom, and narrated his soul being chained in hell while his body was inhabited by the demon he had summoned for binding. He did so by using almost all the resources on his character sheet - most of which had appeared in conflicts earlier in the evening - making it very satisfying on several levels. Zygmunt became his willing lieutenant, and Gregori - bound by an earlier conflict to be unable to kill Zygmunt because of his own suppressed feelings for his 'best friend' - tried to destroy himself. Instead, his soul was bound in his undead body, where it served the plague of evil the brothers spread. Gregori's only hope at redemption was to surpass their instructions so horribly that eventually a crusade was raised against them and the Fuktupskis were wiped from the earth.

The end was great, the whole evening rocked. I have more to say, but I'll pause for input from everyone else before I do so. Plus, I have to go out now.

- Alexander.

Winning gives birth to hostility.
Losing, one lies down in pain.
The calmed lie down with ease,
having set winning & losing aside.

- Samyutta Nikaya III, 14
Jon Hastings

Posts: 95

« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2006, 02:47:34 PM »

This was a blast to play: thanks to everyone involved.

I had a lot of fun being nasty, and having all the pieces of my evil plan fall into place. 

I especially liked the way Keith had Doom work: it gave me all the support I needed to play a conflict-winning badass riding an express train to hell. 

I was a little hesitant about killing off Luke's character: it made sense in terms of the story and all, but I couldn't help feeling a little guilty - even though Luke agreed to the stakes.

I thought that the way the details of the backstory were filled in during play - through spending Destiny Points and winning  conflicts - worked really well.  Each time we spent Destiny Points, everything would shift in such a way that that the stuff that had already happened suddenly made a different kind of sense.

Posts: 226

Alexander Newman

« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2006, 05:53:11 AM »

Yeah, Jon. Those changes were the bloody meat and drink of the game. I think every single DP spent made a substantial change, and fucked someone, somehow. I wish I had kept track of them all (Keith, you lazy bastard, I mean I wish you had kept track).

I forgot one more scene that I wanted to talk about, and was reminded of last night:

Towards the end, Gregori was flagellating himself in the chapel, when Zygmunt came in and told him (I think) that he knew all about the book, and was going to raise himself up as Dark Lord - or something - something to make Gregori mad enough to try to strangle him with the whip. At any rate there was a conflict between the two, with Gregori half-naked, trying to strangle Zygmunt with the whip he'd just been using on himself. Ryan won the conflict, and his stakes were that Gregori could never bring himself to kill the man he didn't know he loved.

This was not the only homo/sado/wacko scene of the night. What was cool about it was that Ryan turned the tables again, and made the gay player's character closeted, repressed and sublimating his love for the youngest brother by fucking his wife and being a - rather symbolic - swordsman. I had already used his descriptor that There's a reason they call me 'The Blade' as a swordplay and bedplay reference, and this late scene just resonated with all that, and the earlier destiny point homo-ification. This was potentially very difficult player territory, and it all went off very well from my perspective - although I recall feeling desperately trapped towards the end (in a good way).

Ryan - how was it for you?

Winning gives birth to hostility.
Losing, one lies down in pain.
The calmed lie down with ease,
having set winning & losing aside.

- Samyutta Nikaya III, 14
lin swimmer

Posts: 17

« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2006, 07:08:21 PM »

First off I'd like to say that this may be the best RPG experience I've had to date. It isn't that I've had nothing but bad experiences (although there have been a fair few), but this was perhaps the first time where everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders. The events of the game were moving at basically a break-neck speed, and everyone was completely engaged in one another's scenes. I remember not wanting to step away from the table to use the bathroom at one point, because I knew they wouldn't be able to stop the momentum we'd got going.

The past few days I've been mulling over in my mind what factors may have contributed to the session being such a success in my eyes (I'd still like to hear more from Jonathan, Luke, and Keith).

I think one of the things that helped was the fact that we all went out to a rather leisurely dinner before getting down to it. I've never met Keith before, and Jonathan and I had only met less than a week before at Recess, though we were in the same games for about nine hours. The dinner really put me at ease, which I think helped me get over any anxiety that comes from really putting yourself on the line over the course that a game can take.

Alexander and I definitely shifted our characters over into unexpected territory. It's amazing how much giving someone control over "your" character, for even a moment, can shift the entire game on its axis. As far as the possibility for the real life differences between us influencing our ability to maturely handle the fictional content, I felt that it was actually of great benefit. Having one of the characters' players be gay ensured that it would be handled with a tremendous amount of thought and consideration, instead of how things could have gone. (This is just my take. I'm certainly interested to see how other people saw it.)

This was the first game I've been in where instead of waiting for stimuli and then figuring out how to react to it, I wanted to grab the reigns of characters, plots, and tone. And everyone else was doing it too! I've had a lot of problems with shared narration not meshing with my hopes and expectations. I think this may have been illuminating for me because I saw that it's my responsibility to include the elements I want to see, and to help other players explore the elements they find crucial. Take Luke. He wanted the occult. Spent a destiny point on a grimoire, and boom; we're up to our eyes in dark rituals. That easy.

On an aside, Luke, what was that music you were playing? The stuff everyone was saying sounded like Satanic whale-song. It fit very well for what I was picturing as events unfolded.

One really funny moment for me was the very first conflict. Luke and myself. Checking and double checking our traits and skills, and finally... what'd you get? 18... me too.
And we both looked at Keith, who just stared blankly back, and then began making notes for errata. (Keith, I checked the rules. I think ties always go to the defender, although who qualifies as a defender in the types of double edged conflicts we were running would be debatable. So, basically, I'm no help.)

There's probably a bunch more to say about the session. Guys?

Ryan Theodores
Keith Senkowski

Posts: 725

On A Downward Spiral...

« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2006, 08:11:11 PM »

Ryan's comments on not wanting to step away from the table to use the bathroom captures everything about this game.  I so didn't want to step away or let anything slow down cause it was popping...

But what made this game so great for everyone?  I can only answer for myself.  I think the pre-dinner helped alot.  It kinda let everyone get to know each other a little bit.  I honestly didn't know what to expect walking in to this and this softened things up making it easier for everyone to go all in I think.

I have to agree to that the whole gender bending moment was a turning point.  I think that once we hit that moment and no one flinched, everyone at the table realized that there wasn't any sort of taboo subject matter, and we shifted into 5th gear.

I think my hands off appraoch in this instance worked for the group.  Everyone was, like Ryan said, not looking for stimuli, but looking to create it for the other people at the table.  In the game I ran the following Saturday I should have taken a more active hand, but with this group the hands off approach/ scene clarification/moderation guy really worked well.  Everyone got to drive and I got to enjoy the show, my prefered mode of play.  In a regular game I take a little more open action, but for the most part I run my games in this fashion to lesser or greater degrees...

The moment about the ties was great.  I was so caught off guard.  I wrote in my grail diary, "Dumbfuck forgot ties..."


Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
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