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7th Sea: Illusionism in practice (session three)

Started by gentrification, November 21, 2002, 02:48:44 PM

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By this time I was beginning to see a pattern emerge. It struck me that "What price, vengeance?" would make a fine theme for this campaign. There was Gabriel's vengeance on Leveque, of course. There was El Malvado -- by this time, the players had decided he must be hunting down everyone involved in the massacre of San Juan and burning them alive with Castillian fire-sorcery. Gabriel also knew sorcery, making him something of a reflection to Malvado's dark mirror. And there was LaJaune, who represented redemption, salvation through forgiveness. I resolved to touch on these themes as often as possible during the next few sessions, to keep the decision sharp and fresh in Brian's mind. Whenever I had an opportunity to talk about vengeance through Ontiveros, I made sure to refer to it as "the fire".

Meanwhile, I needed to come up with something for Ramee's character to do while in prison; I knew I'd have to contend with her attempting to break out at the same time the others tried to break in. An interrogation seemed like the obvious choice, but rather than use Leveque I decided to create a new henchman, Marçon. Leveque was primarily Brian's emotional territory; Marçon could be a villain that everyone could hate equally, with the potential for a returning nemesis if things went that way. For a set-piece, I decided to have Alessandra thrown into a lavishly furnished (but very locked) room and given a fine evening gown to wear -- inspired by the scene between Marian and Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, basically.

Ramee is always pleased to reenact great movie scenes in RPGs. We indulged in some in-character banter, during which I slipped in a reference to the fact that Montaigne sorcerers always close their eyes before entering a portal -- no one knows what happens to the ones who peek, but they are invariably never seen again. This was primarily meant to be setting color, but it turned out to have interesting import at the end.

Alessandra's escape was well-orchestrated: luring the guards into the room by pretending to faint, then whanging one on the head with the chamberpot and stealing his rapier. I didn't want her to get too far, because I knew the other players would be planning to rescue her, so I called for rolls often. About halfway through the scene, an idea for a climax hit me -- I had Marçon open a portal and appear right in front of her as she was sneaking through the kitchen. Porté sorcerers can teleport to the vicinity of anything they've marked with their own blood, and Marçon (I decided just then) had blooded the evening gown in some difficult-to-spot place. It was seamless and utterly plausible. In the ensuing duel, Alessandra pushed him back onto a stove, burning his ass. (I should point out that the fencing mechanics we use give a certain amount of authorial control to the players; so it was Ramee's idea to place a stove behind Marçon right at the moment that she forced him back into it.) Then she fled into the corridors of the castle, tearing off the dress, and I switched over to Gabriel and Iain.

I set them back at Ontiveros' church, and started out by giving Brian another short lecture (through the voice of the Padre) on the ambiguous nature of revenge. Then I let them have a planning session. I suggested three possible routes into the fortress and reminded them that, since they would meet with opposition and complications in any event, the only real question was: which plan looks the coolest?

One idea, which involved making a copy of the ship blueprints and using them as a bargaining chip in exchange for Alessandra's freedom, was bandied about for a while. There may have been some confusion on the part of the players -- I had to point out that what they had stolen from Guzman's home were in fact copies, and that the Montaigne already had the originals, so there were logical flaws in the plan. If I had been on the ball, I could have simply altered the facts to fall in line with their perceptions, let the characters have the originals and allow the bargaining plan to happen as the players envisioned it. This change would have integrated into the current adventure pretty smoothly, but would have complicated certain events I wanted to introduce in later adventures . . . In the end, I broke the "always say yes" rule.

I also fudged the passage of time quite a bit here. The rescue mission was to take place at night, but Alessandra had awakened in her cell that morning. It seems likely that, given 8 hours of sitting around in a locked room, a savvy adventurer would make her escape attempt sooner rather than later. However, in the interest of making sure that no one's efforts felt superfluous, I compressed the time so that both the break-out and the break-in would occur simultaneously, and they would meet in the middle.

They ended up borrowing elements from two suggestions: they would steal some Montaigne uniforms (with the help of las Muñecas) and enter the fortress from below, crawling through sewer drain pipes that emptied over the bay. They also had Guzman fashion for them a booby-trapped document tube, in case a bargaining opportunity arose anyway; they didn't get a chance to use it this session, but it became important before the campaign was through.

I tried to add some tension by having the tide come in, slowly filling the drain pipes while Gabriel and Iain wriggled up them. To me, however, the effort fell flat. The only plausible outcome of failure for either of them was death by drowning, or falling unconscious and waking up in another dungeon cell. I already had one character captured, and I wasn't going to kill anyone at this juncture, so I had in a sense painted myself into a corner. I called for several athletics rolls, but the results didn't mean anything: they got through the drain pipe and we moved on.

The rest of the escape/rescue went in a similar vein, and suffered slightly from the same painted-corner syndrome as the sewer pipe scene. Neither death nor recapture felt like a satisfying outcome, and so I was pressed to come up with plausible ways to interpret bad dice rolls when the players made them. The solution, I think, was to not call for quite so many dice rolls in the first place; use more narration and let the players' plans carry the day. I am trying to make that a habit for next time.

In the end, the characters found each other in the fortress and fled over the wall after another swordfight. I called for one last sneak roll to disappear into the night, and someone, I don't remember who, botched it terribly; I compromised by ruling that they were forced to hide in a basement as patrols swept the streets, and we left the characters trapped there at session's end.

Interestingly, although he had mentioned it several times at the beginning of the session, Brian did not choose to go after Leveque. He later told me that in the heat of the escape scene, he simply forgot about it. This frustrated me at first. I thought that my efforts to bring Brian's character's emotional issues to the forefront of his attention weren't working, that I had failed to hook the player. As it happened, I needn't have worried -- but more on that in the final installment.

Michael Gentry