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Thread: [BW] A Thousand Shores

  1. #1
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    Default [BW] A Thousand Shores

    On Sunday my Skype group sat down to do setting and situation burning on our new campaign. This group has had a string of shorter games which 1. Ran into impossible scheduling issues, 2. Reached dramatically appropriate end-points early on, 3. Simply felt off to the GM and was abandoned.

    I'm back in the GMing saddle this time after a two-campaign break, batteries freshly charged from 10/10/10, and hoping for a good long game: 12-18 sessions at minimum. What follows is the first draft of the campaign document with my commentary scattered throughout the entries in quote format. It's wordier than usual for this forum since I'm taking it verbatim from the document, but I hope you'll bear with it. I want to get this game off on the right foot, and any feedback would be appreciated.

    Characters will follow as their players put the finishing touches on them; we managed to get them mostly burned up, but there's still a bit of Belief work left.

    What's the Big Picture?
    Years ago, the heroes of a vast archipelago sailed into the west to deliver their people from evil – and never returned. Now the natural order of the world has been overturned: the dead have begun to return unbidden as shades, the seas turn strange and wild, and a dragon has been seen for the first time in living memory.

    The PCs are the successors of vanished heroes: their children, wards, apprentices, squires. When the peace bought with their predecessors' sacrifice is undone, they choose to leave their old lives behind and retrace the steps of their forebears to learn where they went wrong, and do what they could not.

    The above is the original pitch I made to the group along with one other, and they latched on to it pretty quickly. Over the course of burning we deviated slightly from it, which I suspect is working as intended.
    Influences and Tone
    ATS is inspired by LeGuin's Earthsea stories and The Odyssey with a dash of the Baldur's Gate Trilogy thrown in as well.

    The tone we're aiming for is gently upbeat, quietly epic, ultimately hopeful, despite starting in a very dark place. If you've read the Earthsea stories, at least in the first trilogy, you know the feel. Play May it Be for best effect.

    We also have two other out-of-game considerations at work which bear mentioning.

    First, I came to the table wanting a game where the protagonists are the good guys. Almost every Burning Wheel game I've run or played in has had PCs who either became or started out as ruthless amoral bastards, albeit well-RPed ones with interesting motivations. For this game I wanted characters for whom the ends won't necessarily justify the means.

    Second, we wanted a more adventurous, even sandboxy feel to the campaign. Our last few games have been very location-centric, tying the PCs to a town, a court, a military encampment and the outlying areas. For this game the PCs should be traveling a good deal, visiting strange new places, uncovering mysteries and solving problems, then coming full circle to places they've been in the past and seeing what's become of them over the months and years.
    One-Sentence Setting
    A vast, balkanized archipelago at the end of long years of quiet prosperity, where the natural order of the world is being slowly overturned.

    What's the conflict? What are the characters involved in? What are the sides? What problems do they face?
    The characters are searching for their parents and mentors, the famed heroes of the archipelago who disappeared years ago on a mysterious voyage to confront a terrible threat to the islands: the changing of the World's Tide, which will end the age of Men. They left no hint of their route or destination, but - as heroes tend to do - they left their mark on every island they visited on the way, like a trail of breadcrumbs. The PCs want to learn the fate of their predecessors and complete the task they were clearly unable to accomplish.

    Sidenote: We're all in agreement that the important part about the above is the search for their loved ones.
    The World's Tide and its effects on the archipelago are the backdrop for adventure and drama, but the driving force of the game is less to save the world than to resolve their issues re: their parents and mentors, who essentially abandoned them in their formative years. From a narrative standpoint, there's no stopping the change of the Tide until their hearts are whole.
    Against them is a Pirate Queen, one of the heroes who turned away from their quest and sailed back to the archipelago, a powerful cult of the changing tide which promises immortality, and a general upswing in the strangeness of the world: the drowned dead walking, shades returning for vengeance, sea-lanes which no longer lead where they should, perpetual storms, and a host of monsters from the old world returning after ages of slumber, including a rampaging dragon.

    Who opposes the goals of the characters? Who are these antagonists? What is the relationship between the antagonists and the characters?
    First, the Pirate Queen (who I really need a name for). One of the original heroes, she refused to see the journey through. In the years that followed she's taken control of the disparate pirate factions and turned them into a crude but effective navy, and is setting herself up as a conquering warlord. Despite being irreconcilably opposed to the PCs, who are on the same journey she turned away from, she had a hand in raising the PCs or protecting them in their youth and cannot bring herself to kill them - yet.

    Second, the Sodality of the Tide (also known as the Changers), a cult of the old, sleeping gods who ruled over the world in the elder days and were thrown down by Men. They promise protection from the unquiet dead, and seem to have power over them. Moreover, the cult promises the gift of immortality not just to their followers but to the entire race of Men should the World's Tide change. As the seas grow strange and the outlying islands seek refuge in the interior of the archipelago, the Sodality grows by leaps and bounds. The cult's tendrils are everywhere, and even lay Sodalites will go to considerable lengths to stop the PCs and assure their immortality.

    What are the antagonists' goals? Why are the characters in their way?
    The Pirate Queen wants to unite the archipelago under her hand. The conquest is ostensibly part of a more altrustic plan set in motion shortly after leaving her old companions, but years of violence and "necessary cruelty" have drowned her once-good nature in blood. She is the very definition of the ends justifying the means, and is my shameless commentary on characters of that type. She wants the PCs to fail for the same reason she turned aside herself: after some revelation made on their journey, she could no longer conscience what was being done - or would have to be done - to succeed in stopping the Tide.

    Why did the Queen turn away from her quest? What is her grand design? At the time of this writing I have no idea, and neither do the players. They expressly don't want to know, and I haven't had time to consider it since yesterday. I'm tempted not to think about it until after the first session or two and see what themes and struggles develop.
    The Sodality wants to bring about the change of the World's Tide. The changing of the World's Tide is an attempt by the old gods to bring the world back to their original creation. The usurpation of the gods brought Death into the world, either as a curse from the gods or an act of rebellion from Men; the Sodality has received visions of the Change, which has promised - truly - that when the Tides wash away the current age, Men will be immortal and ageless again. The Changers genuinely want to bring this great gift to the world, and their logic is quite simple and reasonable: if consciousness demonstrably ends upon death, with no afterlife except a reincarnation which is not actually you, isn't any alternative preferable, even slavery under strange gods? They're quite reasonable for a doomsday cult, really.

    Definite shades of Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore here, which is quite intentional. LeGuin readers will see the narrative judo going on here: Earthsea's world is one in which immortality is such a terrible violation of the natural order that the world starts falling apart when someone achieves it, however hollow. In our setting, immortality is the natural state of the world, and the cycle of reincarnation is either a curse or an attempt to undermine the creators.

    I want to deal with death and mortality in this game. At least two people in this group would unhesitatingly throw in their lot with the Sodality. Personally, I empathized strongly with Cob at the end of The Farthest Shore, and I'm well aware that I would probably have done the same as he given similar circumstances.
    Imagine a scene in which all of the characters are standing in a room with the antagonists or their minions. What do the antagonists want from that meeting? What do the characters want? Parley, redress, slaughter?
    The longships of the Pirate Queen have arrived on the once-peaceful island on which the PCs were raised after their guardians sailed away. The island falls within the Queen's new protectorate, and they've come for tribute in treasure and slaves for the oars of her fleet. They bring the severed heads of sea-spiders as proof that the Queen has their bests interests at heart, they'd like quiet cooperation in return for the protection she's given them. Barring that, they'll torch the village.

    The characters want to save their home from the flames and keep the villagers from paying the danegeld and becoming subservient to the so-called Protectorate. They intend to drive off the pirates.

    We've decided that this will be the opening scene for the game and that however it ends, it will serve as the provocation for them to depart on their journey. The strange tides have reached all the way to this remote island: something must be done.
    Lastly, what's the raison d'etre: why are the characters together as an inseparable group? What is the glue that binds them? Are they family, neighbors, friends or fellow employees?
    The characters are as close to siblings as they can be without the bonds of blood. They were raised together, went on fantastic journeys together in their youth, and were socially isolated from the island natives because of their status as outsiders.

  2. #2
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    What's the big picture? What's going on in this setting that makes it ripe for adventure? What's changing, evolving, declining?

    As the World's Tide changes, the seas are becoming as they were in the elder days: stranger, more fantastic, more deadly.

    The dead no longer rest quietly. The unsanctified dead, particularly those lost at sea, claw at the hulls of passing ships or clamber onto darkened shores. Even some of the sanctified dead return as shades to watch over their loved ones or haunt those who have done them wrong; the shades can barely affect the world of the living, but their presence is enough to cause the fabric of society to begin to unravel. The Sodality of the Tide claims power over these unquiet spirits, and have been known to unmake them for use in their rituals.

    Piracy is on the rise. The Queen's Protectorate ravages sea-lanes between islands which haven't bent the knee, and unaligned captains are taking advantage of the general breakdown in order throughout the archipelago to step up their raiding.

    Sea-spiders have begun making excursions from their hunting grounds to raid undefended shores or snare unwary ships. The spiders are territorial hunters who rarely trouble Men, and sailors can think of few worse omens at sea than the spiders willingly abandoning their hunting grounds.

    Monsters of old - strange and singular beasts - have appeared on the outskirts of the archipelago. Even a dragon, unseen since that elder race flew into the sunset generations ago, has been seen ravaging islands and scattering fleets, searching ceaselessly for... Something.

    Whether as a result of all the world's strangeness or another symptom of it, the long peace of the islands has begun to break down. Neighboring islands rattle sabers over issues long since put to rest, and old rivals are building ships of war for the first time in living memory.

    What's the culture? What are the cultural analogs?
    The archipelago is highly balkanized and culturally diverse: every little cluster of islands differs from the rest. We're drawing inspiration from every major seafaring culture: Norse, Greek, a variety of Southeast Asian cultures.

    As per the sandboxy nature of the campaign, we're keeping the precise cultural allocations vague with the intention of fleshing them out in play. I don't want to know much more than the players do about this, at least to start. We do know that there's a Viking-esque raiding culture (very Kargad-like, proposed by someone who's never so much as cracked the spine of an Earthsea book), and that the jeweled city at the heart of the archipelago is going to be heavily influenced by Istanbul. The island on which the game begins and where the PCs were raised has shades of the Chalk and rural England and Scotland.

    What's the environment or atmosphere like?
    Most cool temperate, comparable to the British Isles. The archipelago runs generally from north to south, with the majority of them further north, but the southern reaches are decidedly Mediterranean.

    What's the most important place in the setting? Not the capital, per se, but the place where all the action goes down.

    With the campaign's focus on travel and diversity of experience, this one was tough to nail down. We settled for simply naming the island where it all begins: Koln.
    What's the name of a faraway place? A place that folks talk about, dream about, or mutter about under their breath.
    The Maw of Eternity, a Carybdis-like whirlpool miles wide which is said to be the source of the world's waters. When a Man dies, his spirit goes into the sea and follows the inexorable pull of the dark currents until the Maw drinks it down, emerging as a new spirit ready for reincarnation on the other side.

    What type(s) of magic exist in this setting?
    Art Magic
    Faith in Dead Gods

    Which character stocks are in play in this setting? Which are restricted and why?
    Men and Great Spiders.

    Great Spiders are restricted from play. They're the orcs or zombies of our setting: a source of tension and urgency which creates drama.

    Who are the monsters of this setting? Are they outcasts, or are they part of everyday life?
    The unquiet dead, the sea-spiders, and the strange awakened beasts are all relatively new threats lurking on the edges of archipelago society. In the past, Men have had no connection with any of them except to placate them, avoid them, or kill them respectively.

    What's the currency, if any? Who collects the taxes? What do people do for work? What's the major economy?
    Strings of pearls and tokens of carved ivory are standard currency throughout the isles. In agrarian communities like Koln, the village "tax collector" redistributes wealth as the elders see fit, while larger islands have more traditional tax and tribute structures. Shepherding and fishing are the primary occupations on Koln, and their economy is almost entirely cut off from the rest of the islands: they are too small to be worth the trip for trade.

  3. #3
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    We played our first session on Sunday to satisfying results. But first, characters!

    By the way, since I know at least two of my players read this forum now, I'd like to welcome them to this thread if they're of a mind to post here. I'll make an Ahimsa-esque GM commentary thread later if need be.

    Holger - Black sheep exile turned freebooter
    Lifepaths: Village Born, Village Guard, Tax Collector, Lead to Outcast, Freebooter
    Age : 23
    Stats: Wi: B4, Pe: B4, Po: B6, Fo: B4, Ag: B4, Sp: B4, Speed Mult.: x3.5
    Attributes: Ref: B4, Ste: B3, Hes: 6, Hea: B6, MW: B11, Circles: B2, Resources: B1
    PTGS: Su: B3 Li: B5 Mi: B7 Se: B9 Tr: B10 Mo: B11
    1) No one, least of all pirates, should know of the island's existence. They can't be allowed to live to spread the tale, and I'll make sure of that myself.
    2) Siwan may be older than me, but she is far less wise. I'll make sure she doesn't strike peace with these pirates out of her ignorance.
    3) My father was a horrible man who compromised at the slightest hint of danger to himself. I'll never allow myself to become like him.
    1) Lean into your opponent when you detect weakness.
    2) Always throw sand when being pushed back.
    3) Always be wary of hospitality.

    Traits: [Char] Thug, [Dt] Hard Hearted, [Dt] Cold Blooded, [Dt] Manhunter, [Char] Suspicious, [Char] Shows No Fear
    Skills: Brawling B2, Countryside-Wise B2, Ditch Digging B3, Extortion-Wise B3, Graft-Wise B2, Guard-Wise B2, Intimidation B5, Knives B2, Pilot B3, Spear B4, Village-Wise B2, War-Wise B2
    Affiliations: 1D Freebooters of the Bromwich Sea
    Reputations: 1D Freebooter of the Bromwich Sea
    Gear: Spear & Dagger, Light Mail Armor, Travelling Gear
    Property: The Magpie - 20' clinker ship with space for up to four people.
    Bare Fisted I:B3 M:B6 S:B9 Add 2 VA 0 Fast Shortest
    Spear I:B4 M:B8 S:B12 Add 2 VA 1 Fast Longest Two Handed May Great Strike
    Dagger I:B4 M:B7 S:B10 Add 1 VA 0 Fast Shortest
    There's a few rough edges on this character mechanically - instinct and reputation wording - but we've clarified it out-of-game. It's mostly a matter of bookkeeping at this point.

    Edit: The Reputation has since been updated to "The People's Smuggler of Bromwich, 1D"

    From the perspective of the story, however, I love this guy. His father is one of the lost heroes - Lukas Ashenwake, who burned the fleets of Old Parlayan - and a complete bastard, hated by his son. Like the rest of the PCs, Holger gets dropped off on a beautiful, remote island paradise for safe-keeping, but he's too restless and headstrong - too much like his father - to live peacefully there and is essentially exiled. He falls in with bad company, does some pretty awful things for a number of years, then finally turns his life around and goes Robin Hooding on the high seas for a few years more before returning to Koln older and, perhaps, wiser, just in the nick of time.

    I'm looking forward to Holger's character arc quite a lot. He's defining himself in opposition to his father, and in the process he may become him.

    Siwan - Sorcereress, wise-woman, instructor of children
    Lifepaths: Village Born, Peddler, Lead to Villager, Wizard's Apprentice, Lead to Peasant, Augur
    Age : 29
    Stats: Wi: B6, Pe: B4, Po: B3, Fo: B4, Ag: B4, Sp: B4, Speed Mult.: x3.5
    Attributes: Ref: B4, Ste: B4, Hes: 4, Hea: B6, MW: B9, Circles: B3, Resources: B2
    PTGS: Su: B3 Li: B5 Mi: B6 Se: B7 Tr: B8 Mo: B9
    I must protect the children from the pirates at all costs. I'll find a place to hide them until this is all over.
    Like a child, Vigdis meddles with forces she barely understands! So like with a child must I teach her the stories of our forebears, to show her the folly of hubris
    My master was the dearest man I've ever known, and I miss his lessons greatly. I owe it to him to come to him a true mage.
    Always check the stars for portents.
    When entering combat, cast Crashing Wave
    Always accept a surrender.

    Traits: [Dt] Blank Stare, [Char] Always in the Way, [Char] Disturbed, [Dt] Eidetic Memory, [Dt] Touch of Ages, [Dt] Gifted, [C-O] Glib, [Dt] Lost
    Skills: Astrology B3, Bone Headed-wise B2, Circination B2, Enchanting B2 Falsehood B3, Folklore B2, Inconspicuous B3, Instruction B3, Mending B2, Omen-Wise B3, Persuasion B3, Read B2, Sing, B3, Sorcery B5, Symbology B2
    Affiliations: Art Magic School - Mera Maria 2D
    Reputations: Youngin' learner 1D
    Gear: Leather Vest (chest only)
    Bare Fisted I:B2 M:B3 S:B4 Add 2 VA 0 Fast Shortest
    Siwan is the closest thing we have to a pure good guy - or girl, as the case may be - and is probably the best reflection of the original seed of the campaign. The other two are rather darker around the edges than I'd anticipated for starting characters (which is working out reasonably well so far), but Siwan is The Stuff of Heroes through and through.

    Siwan was the apprentice of Kyros - called the Reconciliator by the Men of the Southern Reaches, whose wisdom was deep as the waters - the master of a school of Art Magic devoted to the control of water and emotional manipulation. Kyros departed with the others before he could complete her training, leaving Siwan to come into the fullness of her power alone. She's continued her studies, but in the mean time she's also become the closest thing tiny Koln has to a teacher, being one of the few people on the island (and the only PC) who can read. The villagers consider her an outsider like the rest of the PCs and they are nervous of her powers, but her pupils are too young to have the same prejudices.

    Sidenote: Having a school teacher who can rap your knuckles from across the room and may literally have eyes in the back of her head would make for a very interesting classroom.

    Virgid - Witch of the Outskirts
    Lifepaths: Village Born, Serving Wench, Lead to Peasant, Midwife, Lead to Outcast, Crazy Witch
    Age : 31
    Stats: Wi: B4, Pe: B6, Po: B2, Fo: B4, Ag: B4, Sp: B4, Speed Mult.: x3.5
    Attributes: Ref: B4, Ste: B5, Hes: 6, Hea: B5, MW: B9, Circles: B2, Resources: B0
    PTGS: Su: B3 Li: B5 Mi: B6 Se: B7 Tr: B8 Mo: B9
    The pirates must be taken alive. The last thing I need is a few dozen spectral corsairs flying about.
    Holger has no respect for death. Perhaps if he meets it he will learn to stay his blade.
    The last time I saw her, it was difficult to tell where Minerva ended and the...Other began. I will never give to the spirits what I might never earn back.
    I always have an antidote.
    I never take a life.
    When I feel threatened with violence, I summon the restless dead
    Traits: [Char] Bed Side Manner, [Char] A Little Crazy, [Dt] Gifted, [Char] Buxom, [Char] Drop-Dead Gorgeous, [C-O] Charming, [Dt] Landlubber, [Char] Hoarding, [Char] Low Cunning, [Char] Proud
    Skills: Animal Husbandry B2, Circination B3, Customer-Wise B3, Herbalism B5, Midwifery B3, Poisons B4, Seduction B2, Soothing Platitudes B4, Summoning B5
    Affiliations: The Restless Dead 1D
    Reputations: Soother of Miseries - Restless Dead (1D)
    Gear: Clothes, Shoes, Leaky Shack, Herbalism Kit, Poison Kit, Travelling Gear
    I've played alongside Virgid's player in the two other - fairly short-lived - BW games she's played in, and she's really come into her own with this character. Look at those instincts! That third belief! Oh yes, I'm looking forward to this one.

    Note the extra character traits: Proud, Low Cunning, Hoarding. While Holger and Siwan come from the main archipelago culture, Virgid was taken from her life among the Niebrandar raiders by the summoner Minerva - the Thousandfold, Lady of Hosts, whose name was not her own - and picked up the free cultural traits from them. Those traits and the general strangeness imparted by trafficking with the dead have relegated Virgid to the fringes of Koln's society, but there's no one else to call when a birth goes poorly or a spirit refuses to rest. Like Siwan, her training is incomplete. Unlike Siwan, it is dangerously incomplete and their font was a woman who was more spirit than human by the end.

    Her player has this character nailed, maybe even too well. I'll get to that in the session writeup, but suffice it to say that she's strayed the farthest from the seed of "Kestral wants all the PCs to be Good People (tm)" in the name of admittedly excellent character portrayal.
    Last edited by Kestral; 11-16-2010 at 04:56 PM.

  4. #4
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    Hey guys, I'm the dude who plays Holger. I don't really have the character as locked down as I'd like when compared to Siwan and Virgid, but I do what I can! I went a little darker than was perceived for us with the world burning, because admittedly it was harder for me to make a character who was just generally a nice dude who didn't have any personal problems. I can't recall the last time I ever made a character who wasn't neurotic or who had personal problems.

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    I normally don't do Actual Play posts, but I'm trying to make an exception for this game. I have no idea whether people actually read walls of text like this, but on the off chance that they do, here it is. In the future I'll cut these posts back to the highlight reel, but I feel like the first session of a game deserves a full writeup if it's good enough to be written up at all. This was a good session.

    Session One

    We opened the first session with the situation we'd set forth in campaign burning: a pirate ship belonging to the fleet of the pirate queen Safiye Aydeen, the only surviving member of the lost heroes who is now calling herself the Peregrine Queen, is sighted approaching the island. Holger knows that a black-sailed longship is a sign of Niebrandar raiders, and he prepares to rally the village to repel them at the beach. The ship was approaching more slowly than a swift raiding vessel should, however, and the PCs had a few hours to prepare.

    Holger started things off by Circling up the chief of the village, Elder Holt, and failed spectacularly.

    There's something I should mention at this point: Holger's player has terrible dice luck. We use an IRC-based dice roller which seems to have a personal vendetta against him. In the last game I GMed for these folks, he handled the group's Resources in an intensely Resource-focused game and proceeded to bomb almost every single roll despite massive expenditures of Artha on Beliefs-driven tests. We're still waiting to see whether he's broken the curse.

    Enmity Clause dictated that Holt still can't think of Holger as anything but an angry youth with too much of his father in him, and he'd hear none of this talk of resistance. Instead of preparing to fight, he ordered the villagers to begin bringing their valuables to the beach to present to the pirates upon their arrival, hoping to dissuade them from storming through Koln looting and burning. Holger's subsequent failed Intimidation test burned all his bridges with the Elder, but I decided against playing that up too strongly - they won't be on Koln long in this campaign, and I didn't want to tie Holger into an extended series of conflicts with the Elder. Holger then Circled up the sergeant of the village guard for support, but a failed Beginner's Luck Persuasion test got him a polite but firm refusal to disobey the Elder's orders.

    Meanwhile Siwan herds her young charges off the beach to safety as part of her first Belief. She Circled up Alexander, the unGifted true-born son of her master Kyros, also left on the island years ago, to provide a hiding place for them. Apparently Alexander has a still hidden in a secret basement (which says something about the island they're on, come to think of it), and Siwan intended to stash the kids there. It turns out that Alexander is a bit of a scoundrel, and is looting the village while everyone is off on the beach. Caught in the act, Alex traded Siwan's silence on his activities for a place in his hidden cellar following a failed Persuade roll. She agreed, and off they went. Given subsequent events, there wasn't much additional challenge to this belief. Still, I was happy with it: we've established an interesting dynamic between the siblings - they dislike one another, but it isn't Enmity Claused just yet, and it looks like Alexander is going to follow them off the island for reasons of his own.

    Virgid also made her own unexpected - and statistically improbable - Circles test for a budding young alchemist who essentially Beginner's Lucked himself into the skill. Archimedes (a name I'm not sold on) has an awkward crush on the beautiful summoner and is more than eager to please her by hurriedly brewing up some alchemist's fire. A bit too hurriedly as it turns out, thanks to yet another failed social test, with disastrous consequences later on.

    With a few hours left to prepare, Virgid went to Siwan to convince her to capsize the longship at sea with magic. Virgid's player knew Siwan had a Belief about the reckless use of magic and went into the scene with the stated goal of provoking it. They wound up in a short but bloody Duel of Wits in which Siwan railed against the summoner's meddling with the spirit world, claiming that it was endangering her and everyone around her. Virgid shot back that her skills and willingness to bargain with the Dead had saved a good many lives on Koln, that her hands were dark with the blood of birth and death and the black soil of the earth, and that she would not tolerate the mage's scorn. Siwan countered that she had become obsessed with birth and death and had lost touch with life. Powerful stuff. Siwan won the duel, and Virgid changed her third Instinct ("When I feel threatened with violence, I summon the restless dead") to "I always consult with Siwan before summoning the restless dead." Virgid won a major compromise: for the remainder of the session, Siwan would play as though she had the character trait Reckless - the witch's words had struck a chord in the overly-cautious sorceress.

    Holger made himself busy in the mean time with what was probably the single most useful test made the entire session: Ditch-Digging with a FoRK from War-wise to transform the strip of landable beach into a trench-ridden D-Day-esque nightmare. He succeeded, improbably, and we gave the pirates +1 Ob to their positioning tests until they had succeeded in overrunning the PCs with a successful positioning test. I didn't think much of it at the time, but I also wasn't counting on the Wrath of the Dicebot.

    Siwan decided to act on her temporary Reckless trait and overturn the longship at sea with a huge wave. Her Destroy with Sorcerous Fire obstacle was higher than her Sorcery dice, all but dooming the effort from the start. It failed spectacularly. The failure consequence was obvious: the wave that was supposed to overturn their enemies instead sent the raiders' longship hurtling toward shore in a matter of minutes, throwing any further preparations out the window. The villagers fled the beach and the PCs made their stand. Virgid, after consultation with Siwan, tried to conjure the Restless Dead to help them fight off the pirates and ended up with one of the Sanctified Dead which refused to taint its spirit with violence. In exchange for a coracle full of grave-goods (Resources Ob 5), the ghost went out to frighten the pirates as they made their landing. The results were less than inspiring at the time: the captain of the pirates made his Steel test with room to spare, while his crew were shaken by the apparation and set on edge as the ship pulled up on the shore.

    Rather than rushing the beach, the pirate's captain spoke to the assembled villagers as a representative of the Peregrine Queen Safiye Aydeen, She Who Sails Against the Wind - the fourth member of the lost heroes. The raiders had come to take Koln under the wing the Peregrine's Protectorate and collect her due tribute, and they had sailed through Spider-infested waters to do it. At this point we got our first entry into the quote file: Siwan turns to her friends and cries out, voiced perfectly by her player in tones of distressed innocence, "Aunt Saffy is a pirate?!" Like all in-game moments, you had to be there, but more important than the humor was that it instantly established so much about these characters and their relationship to their lost mentors. They weren't just friends, they were family. Brothers and sisters, parents and uncles and aunts. Writing this out also reminds me to throw Siwan's player a fate point for it.

    Negotiations went poorly. Elder Holt's authority was immediately usurped by Holger, who impressed the Niebrandar pirate as worthy of respect - after all, if anyone was going to fight the will of the Peregrine, it's this big man with a spear and a cold look in his eyes. The pirates wanted tribute, food and water for their return voyage, and six female captives - one of which would be chosen by the Peregrine Queen to become the lady of Koln if she served well, the rest to be returned unharmed once a year. At least, that's what I'd planned to have him say. He'd choose some of the young women who had been Siwan's pupils and another woman newly discovered as pregnant and thus of interest to Virgid. Instead, Archimedes came back.

    In the middle of Jilde's speech, the young man came charging down the hill toward the beach, a jar of alchemist's fire lit in his hands, bellowing at the top of his lungs that he was coming to help Virgid as he'd promised. Poor fool. An untrained Throwing test to hit the ship leads to a row of perfect failures. One roll of the Die of Fate later and the bottle exploded in his hands, the fuse mistimed, spraying the hapless lad with alchemist's fire. All hell broke loose and we dropped to Fight!

    Virgid, horrified by what she had wrought, rushed to the side of the stricken Alexander and puts him out with her Herbalism and a great deal of sand, but not before his face and arms are hideously burned. Siwan's instinct fired and she called up Crashing Wave, an Evoke spell against Jilde's Forte which he failed miserably, smashing him to the ground. Holger readied himself to fend off the pirates, temporarily leaderless and spooked by both the spirit from earlier and the sudden outbreak of violence. I decided to run them like a mob instead of a cohesive fighting force, waiving the chance to bypass the +1 Ob to their positioning tests with a successful overrun and generally scripting poorly.

    Now, you'd think that one man with B4 Speed, Reflexes B4 and a spear would have pretty fair odds against a bunch of pirates with a mix of B3s and B4s, Reflexes B3, knives, and +1 Ob to their positioning tests. You'd be wrong. Apparently he doesn't have fair odds, he has an absolute guarantee of success for two full exchanges even after Jilde came to his senses, rallied his troops with Command and got them scripting properly. Holger absolutely destroyed the pirates, one after another. Not a single one ever overran their position and nixed the +1 Ob, and Siwan was left to channel the deciding blow in the fight: a trait spell, Kraken's Cry, which granted her Aura of Fear. All the pirates but Jilde failed their Steel tests spectacularly, and the cleanup was mostly handwaved once Holger stuck him for a Midi to the chest. Other Fight! highlights include Virgid going ballistic on a Hesitating pirate, charge-tackling him and almost strangling him to death with Power B2, and Siwan doing a run-by on Jilde with a conjured axe of glittering sea-ice.

  6. #6
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    Dec 2007
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    The pirates ended up captured without a single death on either side, and Jilde on the ground with Holger's spear at his throat. They briefly interrogated him, learned that the Peregrine Queen had sent them to Koln despite the place being absent from any maps and inaccessible for many for years, and that the pirate-held island of Lamprey was the raiders' port of call. Feeling that they had little else to learn from Jilde, Holger promptly stabbed him and finished him off. That was a tense moment: Virgid and Siwan both wanted to stop him, having BITs to that effect, but the scene had opened with Holger's speartip literally resting on the fallen pirate. They could intervene and try to stop him, but there would be no time to conjure spirits or incant flashy magic. If they wanted to save Jilde, they'd have to stop Holger with a physical act. Both players decided that they were a bit too intimidated by him to risk it, and they settled for disarming him with an Evoke shortly thereafter. I suspect this is going to be a running thread of tension between them.

    In the aftermath, Elder Holt appeared to berate Holger and Siwan for their part in the incident, Holger for, well, being himself, and Siwan for not acting with the restraint and good sense she's known for. "You of all people should know better" was the message. The Elder saw Koln trapped in an impossible dilemma: if they release the captured pirates and send them on their way, they'll tell the Peregrine Queen what happened and return with enough men to crush the island; if they imprison the pirates or kill them outright, more will come to learn what became of the lost ship. Either way, he felt, resistance had doomed them all. Holger's response was both surprising and entirely reasonable coming from a man who'd just murdered a prisoner: he and a picked crew would take the Magpie to Lamprey and deal with the trouble they'd caused on the pirates' own turf rather than let it come to Koln. They would leave with the morning tide.

    Holt, surprised by the unexpected altruism, wished them well and gave them a parting gift. The sea-caves where their guardians had harbored their ship and used as their Bat Cave during their years on Koln was not as empty as the Elder had claimed all those years: their guardians had left something there which they considered important. They had sworn Holt to secrecy and entrusted him with making sure that the villagers didn't go poking around, and he had done as they'd bid. Holger and Siwan resolved to investigate in the morning.

    Meanwhile, Virgid had taken the horribly burned Archimedes to her leaky shack in the woods. Overcome with guilt at her part in his disfigurement, Virgid intended to summon a spirit to Transfer a trait like Handsome onto Archimedes to undo the damage. Naturally she bombed the test. Out of the gate steps the spirit of Jordah, the original captain of the pirate longship and brother of Jilde, who murdered the brother he'd always been jealous of and threw him overboard to buy them passage through the Sea Spiders. Strong, proud and, most importantly, exceptionally handsome, Jordah was more than happy to bestow his good looks on poor Archimedes for a price: Jilde's first mate must burn as well, and his crew must never know happiness for allowing Jilde's betrayal to go unpunished. Virgid's player agonized over the decision, but eventually decided to accept the price. With Archimedes healed, she promptly poisoned the food of the remaining captives, stole Jilde's first mate, dragged him into the forest and burned him alive. Price paid.


    One of the things I wanted to do with this game was have a PC group which was on the good-ish side. Not paladins and unwavering champions of righteousness per se, but generally holding that the ends didn't always justify the means. We'd agreed on this at the outset of campaign burning. Virgid played out the drama compellingly, and in fairness to her I set up a nasty situation based on a series of failed tests, but it still put us on edge for a bit. She said after the session that Virgid was having a serious crisis of conscience about the whole thing, so I still feel like we're on the intended track. I've realized that I'm going to have to check myself and seriously think about success and failure results before putting them on the table.

    In the morning Siwan and Holger delved into the sea-cave. They bypassed the cave's defenses - terrifying illusions, trapped doors and a sleeping bound spirit - and had a melancholy little scene as they moved among the dusty debris left behind by their guardians. They claimed a few dice of Cash in abandoned treasure, some Navigation tools, and took some annotated charts suggesting possible routes their guardians might have taken. As they prepared to leave, the spirit guard of the place finally made itself manifest: one of the Fathomless, a Corporal Spirit of the deep oceans, shepherd of the dead, and essentially a huge man o' war / vampire squid hybrid. The hideous thing was bound there by Virgid's mistress, Minerva the Thousandfold, charged with protecting the place from "unwanted intruders" and safeguarding a certain object. It knows the PCs, having watched them in secret during their visits to the sea cave years ago, and interprets their presence as "wanted": after all, they were the summoner's family. They promptly summon Virgid to deal with the thing, wisely deciding to say as little as possible to it before she arrives.

    The Fathomless wants out. A loophole in its pact with Minerva allows it freedom if the object it is charged with guarding is reclaimed, and there's nothing to say it can't offer what it guards to someone who by all rights ought to have it. The object in question is a compass needle which unerringly points toward the heart of the island of Koln, and which appears to Siwan's Touch of Ages to have another, more powerful layer of enchantment locked within it. Virgid played hard-ball with the Fathomless, clearly gunshy of spirit bargains after the events of the nigth before, but in the end she gave the thing its freedom in exchange for the needle. The creature departed, free after long years of servitude, and left Virgid one of its Names in case she ever wished to bargain again.

    We paused for the night there. Next session is the departure from Koln, the Magpie's journey to Lamprey at the hands of a crew with no Navigation skill, and their investigations into the Peregrine Queen.

  7. #7
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    Nov 2010
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    Dear Diary,

    Oh that I could write to you, but alas I don't actually know how to write. Woe.

    We've been at sea for about a week now! It's dreadfully exciting: water, et cetera. I've taken up fishing, and Virgid has taken up being sick over the side! I'd say this works out jolly well for both of us, since it means I don't really need any bait! Our inspiring leader Holger has been taking care of the actual... what you might call sailing, and I for one am glad of it! I don't know the aft from the mainsail. Or just sail. There's only one sail. He does need my help with the maps though, the poor dear, he never learned to read and staring glumly at them wasn't much helping him to decipher their meaning. At his suggestion we have started a little educational program, already I'm regretting not bringing my copy of Spot the Extremely Handsome Dog with me, his vocabulary is going to end up distinctly nautical, which I'm not sure is healthy or moral. Such regrets are part and parcel of the adventuring life however, and I must toss them to the winds like so much of Virgid's lunch.

    But on to the more exciting matters. I recently made the discovery that the rather handsome gentleman that was being kept in the hold and that Virgid refused to talk about was Archimedes! I had thought it might be some sort of foul, dashing apparition she'd summoned with her witchery. Myself and Holger had Words with her about his presence, the poor boy seemed completely out of sorts and confused, not to mention intimidated by the talk of peril and adventure! I promised him in private that we'd send him home after we were done at Lamprey. Not but a few hours after I told him that though, Holger set him to the tiller and he was assaulted by the ghost of that pirate Jilde and his crew! Which was particularly puzzling for me because I was not aware that his crew was dead. Everyone but me was swept into the ocean, I'm not quite sure what transpired but they seemed to sort their share of the spirits out quite readily despite being tossed about by the waves! As for myself, well, I am learning to enjoy the more... direct applications of magic. Great Maw forbid that I would use such a spell on a living person, but it hardly seemed objectionable to blow up a ghost. He shattered. I wasn't expecting that.

    Anyway, I can hear Holger calling me from above deck, so I should probably leave this for now. Farewell diary, and I hope that I actually learn to write you soon!

  8. #8
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    Dec 2007
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    Thanksgiving-related complications made it impossible to run a full session on the last couple of Sundays, so we settled for a minisession to tie up a few lingering issues from last time: the fate of Archimedes, the wrath of the restless dead created when Virgid murdered the pirates, the Magpie's journey to Lamprey, and a few other minor points.

    We started with Virgid and Arch, who'd been smuggled aboard the Magpie while unconscious. Virgid had written a harsh Belief chastising herself for what had happened to him, but when he woke he was overjoyed at being transformed from a doughy, awkward misfit into a Strikingly Handsome young man. He even blamed himself for the accident, which is mostly true: Virgid made him mix the alchemists' fire, but he was the one who screwed it up.

    I ran the Arch situation this way for two reasons. First, to tweak that harsh Belief Virgid and see if flagellating herself over her actions would still be important to her if the good person who'd suffered because of them forgave her - and in fact had never blamed her in the first place. Second, to start a tonal shift for the game. This plot line with Virgid, Arch and the pirates is by far the darkest part of the story so far and I wanted to pull it toward what I felt was more thematically appropriate. We'll see how it turns out.

    Virgid wants Arch to stay around, but Arch isn't so sure: he's never been off the island and isn't certain he wants to leave for a Life of Adventure (tm). I've let her Virgid's player know that it's a Persuasion test to get him to stay. Otherwise, he'll head back home after they reach Lamprey. She hasn't decided whether to take that test or not yet, but Siwan is intent on sending him home.

    The truth about the murder of the pirates still hasn't come out, but Siwan and Holger have a pretty good idea that something went wrong on Koln and that Virgid is responsible. Holger got a nice Intimidation test out of trying to get Virgid to come clean. He even FoRKed in Extortion-wise, telling her that he'd turn the ship around and leave her to the villagers - not meaning it, naturally. Virgid saw through his bluster and shut him down, but we haven't seen the end of this.

    Siwan started teaching Holger to read so he can actually use the charts and instruments they have. I predict a training montage in our future.

    Siwan's player leaped on a piece of color description I'd given for a scene and used it as preparation for the Navigation test they know is coming. I'd described a pod of dolphins playing in their wake, and Siwan promptly gave herself Low Speech: Dolphin to speak with them and learn about the waters ahead. Turns out the dolphins are hunting Sea Spiders who've begun a mass migration out of their traditional hunting grounds and are now plaguing these waters. We've also determined that the Niebrandar call dolphins, orcas and the like "fin-wolves." Thanks, Virgid!

    The main conflict of the night was the restless spirit crew of Jilde and his murdered pirates. They set upon the Magpie a few nights out from Koln, rising up out of the deep and trying to overturn the small ship. Jilde's ghost manifested at the tiller, batting Holger aside in an opposed Will v. Power test and wresting control of the ship. With the rest of the ghosts working together, they began to keel the Magpie over, forcing Speed tests to grab on to something or plunge into the water.

    Virgid and Holger went into the drink and began fending off the waiting ghosts. Holger battered them aside through main force, but couldn't force them to lose any Will dice. Still, it bought them just enough time for Virigd to speak the name of the Fathomless they'd freed in the first session, calling it to her side. With no chance to Bargain, she was forced to pay the price of Possession for the Shepherd of the Dark Current turning on the spirits, which it devoured in short order.

    Meanwhile, Siwan was still aboard ship after managing to grab hold of a spar as the ship keeled over. Jilde raged at her from the tiller, promising that they would never be rid of his ghostly crew until they had paid the price for the murders. Siwan's respose: gun for the Reckless trait and fry him. One improbably good Destroy with Sorcerous Fire test later and Jilde's was consumed by an orb of boiling water, once again demonstrating the dangers of villainous speechmaking.

    We paused the session there, leaving the linked test for their journey to Lamprey for next time.

    Next time on A Thousand Shores: untrained Navigation tests, treacherous seas, hungry Spiders, a summoner possessed by a spirit of the Old Gods, and a wretched hive of scum and villainy still bearing the scars of their guardians' passing.


    Sidenote - It's taken me a while to write this, and I've only just figured out why: I have to be in the same mental gear writing these as I do for GMing the game. I either need to write them immediately after the game is done or on the same day that I do prep for the next session, otherwise it doesn't "click." Do any of you experience this? What are your best practices for Actual Play writing?

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