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[& Sword] The Doom of Hanno Mad-Dog

Started by James_Nostack, January 29, 2006, 09:42:16 AM

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After nine freaking months everything lined up properly to give Sorcerer & Sword a go.  It was a good time, slowed slightly due to the limitations of IRC as a gaming medium.

Players - Me and Jim Clunie.  Jim was involved in my sci-fi game that ended in July.
Mode - Using Internet Relay Chat.  We have a lot of practice with that.
Setting - Pre-historic Europe with Atlantis etc
Sorcerer & Demon - Discussed here

Summary of Events - So, we've got Hanno Mad-Dog, a raging, alcoholic mercenary in the service to Ogoun, the God of War.  An ex-pirate, Hanno has been tromping through northern France and England, involved in various blood feuds and vendettas.  Somewhere along the way he murdered Ogdabert, the High Druid among the Bretons, and stole the druid's necromantic cloak, which is stitched together with dead men's faces.

The story opens with Hanno's return to the land of the Picts.  A year ago he had murdered a lord of the Pictish court, and had been sent on a quest for wergild to pay off his blood-guilt.  This quest took him to a blasted, blighted Atlantean fortress across the Sea of Storms.  There he struggled against some Awful Unnamed Thing, and obtained a golden circlet.  He has now returned... and the ghostly voice of the High Druid tells him that if Hanno surrenders the circlet, the Doom of the Atlanteans will overtake him by the next full moon.

Hanno tries to get more information out of the High Druid's ghost, but no luck.

At court, there's a big soap opera going on.  The Picts have been at war with the Bretons for generations, but things have been kind of quiet for the last few years, for the Picts took several members of the Breton royal house back to Britain as court hostages (honored, but unfree).  One of these Bretons killed the Pictish king, and now the Picts are ruled by a nine-year-old girl, Rhiannon, protected by her untrustworthy uncle Caedhwal.  There are several lords, including the captive Breton princes, who have ambitions of their own.

Caedhwal, acting through Rhiannon, requests the golden circlet to wash the stain of murder from Hanno's account.  Hanno demurs with surprising politeness, but ultimately crowns the girl himself (rather than give the circlet to Caedhwal).  Then Caedhwal says that he cannot give Hanno the reward of 100 oxen as promised--there are rebels in the western marches, and a new mercenary wants those oxen as payment...

The new mercenary is Voivode, Wolf of the Sea, a rival from Hanno's piracy days.  He and Hanno have this pretty intense verbal duel about who's the Big Boss here.  The court knows that Caedhwal is dishonorably short-changing Hanno--but if Hanno doesn't handle this properly, he deserves to be mistreated.

After some argument, Hanno pulls out a dagger and begins to ritually scar himself to call down Ogoun the King of Swords.  And there's a combat scene between a Power 10 possessor demon with Fast and Armor abilities, vs. a tough but non-sorcerous pirate.  It's not much of a contest--though there was some fun imagery, like when Voivode impales Hanno on his sword, and the King of Swords laughs it off and then beheads him.  (I allowed Jim to play the King of Swords, simply because it's not much fun to sit back and do nothing at times like this.  If the game goes on, we'll try to work out the right balance.)

It turns out that having a God of War possess your body isn't always a good thing.  The King of Swords then demanded the golden circlet and the oxen--threatening to kill everyone at court.  Rhiannon humbly surrendered the circlet (ensuring Hanno would live), but Rhiannon's mother Selene observed that the circlet was meant as Caedhwal's 'engagement ring' to his niece.  Thus, since Hanno give the girl the circlet, and has the power to revoke it, Hanno and Rhiannon must be wed, and Hanno shall become king of the Picts.

At which point Hanno refused, told them to solve their own problems, and left with the circlet.  Of course, if we play again it will turn out that nothing's that easy...

Analysis - This took maybe 2 hours of play, and it was only one scene, though with several conflicts and a lot of intensity.  As a GM, I felt like I was typing a LOT more than Jim, but that's partially because I type like a fiend, and also because I was deliberately pounding him with some fraught situations.  (Having been a player (in anything) for the first time only a month or two ago, I gotta admit that it's uncomfortable when the GM nails you with a bang.)  I wasn't sure if I my narration was unduly constraining his action.  I don't think so, but we'd have to double-check to make sure.

All of the relationship map, bangs, etc. was done within 12 hours, but I think it will hold up pretty well.  There's a ton of stuff we didn't get to, including some stuff in Brittany.

The "Big X" on the back of the character sheet is total freaking genius.  Once we filled that out, I knew what I had to do.  The High Druid is at the center of everything. 

Overall we had fun.  We've got a nifty setting and a fun character.  Probably we need to rope in another player, just to take care of possible downtime during typing lulls.  Due to conflicts in schedules and time zones, I'm not entirely sure when (or if) we'll get a chance to play again, but I hope so. 



Play log.  There's an OOC thread running simultaneously for rolling dice and discussing one or two points, where we tried to nail down one or two details.


For reference: we had Humanity checks at the following points--

1.  When speaking in a noble manner at court, in spite of provocation (gain check: failed to gain)
2.  When avenging one's honor in the face of brazen insults (gain check: failed to gain)

...and there would probably be a third check, for the Pact, but I forgot about it during the Pact itself and we ended the session before I remembered.  This would have probably lost a point of Humanity, since the King's Power score is so high.

Having never played before, it was a little strange to see the reward/punishment mechanic operate on a random basis.  But now that I think about it, that's kind of cool--it means that sometimes you can be an asshole and get away with it morally, and sometimes you're a good person and nothing much happens.  That might be the most spiritually transgressive aspect of the game, come to think of it.

Ron Edwards

Give that man a thematic gold star.




Real Life
Due to craziness in our schedules, six weeks went by without continuing the story.  Life sucks sometimes.  On the other hand, we both seemed to get back into the swing of things fairly quickly.

Play Synopsis
In the last episode, Hanno had summoned Ogoun, the King of Swords, to slaughter a rival, and then Ogoun demanded the golden circlet from the Pictish court.

Play opens with the child-queen Rhiannon humbly begging Ogoun (a god of war and fire) to protect the Picts from their enemies--both abroad in the land of Marsilia, and at home since several villages along the coast are protesting Caedhwal's regency and the death of Prince Diarmid. 

QuoteRhiannon: "Mighty Ogoun!  My people are threatened on all sides.  You have proven your might.  I beg you: protect us in our hour of need.  I shall give you any boon you desire; I shall offer you great worship."  She holds out the golden Atlantean circlet, which Hanno had placed on her head moments before.
Ogoun: The King reachs out and siezes the circlet.  "YOUR PRAYERS WILL BE GRANTED IF YOU DO AS I COMMAND: "
Jim_C, Out of Character: Ah dammit.  He's getting his own ideas now.

Ogoun proposes a monstrous ritual in his worship, which will culminate in the destruction of the Atlantean circlet.  Since Hanno needs the circlet to survive, he and his Power 10 demon are now working at cross purposes while sharing the same body.

Hanno tries to bluff his way into keeping the circlet until the time of the ritual, but he's no god and the court isn't fooling around.  The big tough mercenary Hanno loses a Will contest against a 10 year old queen, who takes the circlet for safe-keeping.  Meanwhile the other members of the court scheme and plot. 

The next scene finds Hanno in the chambers of the Queen Mother Selene.  She's desperately worried about her daughter--Hanno must wed or kidnap her to save her life.  Regent Caedhwal mustn't be allowed to marry her, and Prince Tam will stop at nothing to extinguish the line of succession.  Hanno tries to get more information out of her, and considers kidnapping the child; he tries to persuade Selene to come too.  But when Selene sees the necromantic cloak Hanno wears, she has a hysterical fit, and accuses him of stealing her father's face.  (I.e., the druid who made the cloak must have used Selene's father in a necromantic ritual.)  Worried of the commotion if he is caught, Hanno jumps out the window, and narrowly avoids an awkward encounter with the palace guards.  The word quickly spreads that the Queen Mother has gone mad.

While Hanno tries to figure out how to steal back the circlet, protect Rhiannon, and get away from this madhouse, a zombie baby with no face lands on his back and tries to gnaw him to death.  Hanno smashes its head against the castle walls, and then Contains it within the gibbering, twitching cloak.  As he ties the corners shut, the hideous monstrosity is cooing and stroking the moaning faces like a baby clutching its blanket.

Not much going on here, Humanity-wise.  This was mostly a rising action/the plot thickens session, as the various supporting cast members try to enlist Hanno in their schemes or dump exposition on them.  The player did not seem to pick up that Rhiannon is the child of Selene's dalliance with Caedhwal, and thus Caedhwal's marriage plans involve father/daughter incest.  This might be because dialogue in Sword & Sorcery stories tends to be a little overwrought, and I figured Selene wouldn't blurt it out until absolutely necessary, so the delicate allusion might have gotten lost.  So, there's some communication stuff I should work on.  It would have come out IRL I bet.

My grasp of the combat rules is better than it was last time.  The Contain ritual was kind of improvised, but is close enough to the rules to satisfy me.  Jim was a little confused about the rituals, but he's operating without the full rules, so that's understandable.

The only real hitch: Jim was a little indecisive at points.  This isn't a bad thing, but internet chat is a weird medium because you never know if you've totally demoralized the other person, or they're just deep in thought.  The demon-child was my way of saying, "I've given you enough time.  Let's get moving."  I think part of this might be Jim's play style, which tends to be thoughtful, insightful, and driven toward smoothing out tension in R-Maps by diplomacy.  It worked very well in an earlier campaign, but in this genre the characters tend to be more hot-blooded and direct.  So, it becomes a lot harder to discover the optimal approach since the entire situation is Bad News.  (And of course, discovering the optimal approach isn't strictly necessary: a sorcerer commands enough power to improvise pretty well, so sudden impulses can be as effective as deep thought.)  Any suggestions?  Am I worrying too much?

I'll eventually post a transcript to the web page, for those who are interested.

Bob the Fighter

I didn't even finish your first post before I paused and said, "This is really good!"

So a big pat on the back for a really compelling campaign. Excellent retelling, too! But more importantly, this is a pretty amazing setup you've got here. I agree with Ron: you are definitely capturing the essence of sword 'n sorcery fiction.

Keep up the good work!
Be here now.


Thanks Bob!  I can only take partial credit, because the material in Sorcerer and its supplements do a lot of the heavy lifting.  I'm just happy that we managed to "get it right" the first time out of the gate.  Though Lord knows I pestered Ron about all the rules enough times.

It sucks that this player and I can only play once every four weeks or so.  We're on different continents, which means gaming has fierce competition with other weekend activities.  On the other hand, I'm getting together a real-life group to play different stories in the same setting, and hopefully that will work out. 



Third session, "The Circlet of Blood-Stained Gold," is up.

The transcript really shines!  But the actual experience was kind of a drag for me, mainly because IRC play is really slow at the best of times, and Jim (the player) admitted he was distracted with a lot of other stuff.  I found myself wondering about my taxes, etc.  It's funny, because this player always comes up with good stuff, but when we played before as part of a larger on-line group I was too busy as a GM to notice that it took him a while to do it.  Which is cool, but next time I'll remember to multitask.

Some things to report--
* I scene-framed right to the Pictish treasury, as Hanno's about to steal the magical circlet--two unconscious guards at his feet.  In order to keep his demon quiet, Hanno slaughtered the helpless guards.  I was strongly tempted to do a Humanity check, but the player was kind of ambivalent about it, and in retrospect plenty of heroes in the Iliad and The Odyssey kill helpless dudes almost by reflex.  So, I let it pass for now, but we agreed that killing women and children would prompt Humanity checks, even if there were mitigating circumstances.

* The demon wasn't satisfied with dead guards, and will demand wayyyy more carnage next time it's called upon.

* So!  One of the things I wanted to bring up was that the little girl, Rhiannon, is Regent Caedhwal's daughter, not his niece as everyone believed, and thus their impending marriage is no-way, no-how awful incest.  But I never got to establish that in the earlier sessions.  When Hanno lost an argument with Caedhwal, the girl blurted it out herself.  Came as quite a surprise to me: "Rhiannon knew? And she was cool with the marriage all this time?! Yipes!" but hey, the dice indicated that Hanno lost pretty badly, and that's definitely a strong closing argument.  So here's a case where the dice mechanic doesn't just determine conflicts, but completely changed how I saw one of "my" NPC's.

Two sessions of Sorcerer in under a week!  And we had trouble with the Humanity defintion ("Honor") in the other one too.  This is clearly a sign that the Humanity definition I propsed sucks majorly and needs strong revision, which is pending (and probably should be discussed in the other thread.)