stdesjardins: (Steven)
[personal profile] stdesjardins
The Saturday night session at Origins was the best session of the year. I'd finished dinner early and gotten a good position in the Indie Games on Demand line, and since I hadn't had a chance yet to play with Rich Rogers, who is always delightful either as player or GM, I planned on signing up for his Legend of the Elements game, an Apocalypse Engine game based on shows like Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender. I've never seen either show, but I have seen wuxia and martial arts movies, so I felt prepared.

Shortly after I signed up, a volunteer came over and told Rich that there was a group of four players who wanted to join his game, which had a cap of four players. Rich told him that was fine.

Darkin, Imperial Prince, Fire Nation, last surviving member of House Darshur; rightful emperor
Anyu, warrior, part of Darkin's retinue
Lianne, fire shaper, part of Darkin's retinue
Rowan, earth shaper
Tomo, peasant, sworn personally to Darkin's service

Kai (NPC), warrior, Anyu's closest friend, part of Darkin's retinue
Omak the Shade (NPC), Fire Nation, Anyu's enemy
Osamu (NPC), fire shaper, member of the Imperial Guard, Lianna's friendly rival
Tacha (NPC), Emperor of the Fire Nation, usurper
Sall (NPC), air shaper, head of the Festival

There were seven playbooks available for the five players to choose from. I took the Peasant, and the other players chose the Aristocrat, the Warrior, the Fire Shaper, and the Earth Shaper; nobody picked the Water Shaper or the Air Shaper.

As part of the character creation process, each player had to answer a couple of questions about their back story. In my case, as Tomo, I had to explain which player I owed something to, and what the oath was that I'd sworn in order to repay the debt; and what mutual oath I'd sworn with another player that had earned each of us the other's respect. I explained that my mother had thrown a bucket of dishwater out into the street, and it had spattered the hem of Prince Darshur's robe. I had immediately rushed outside, grovelled at his feet, and in exchange for sparing my mother's life I swore to serve him forever. (The exact wording was "until he released me from his service", but "forever" was understood.) The mutual oath I'd sworn with Lianne, one night when we'd gotten drunk together, was that we could tell each other anything we liked about Darkin, and we would never repeat any of it.

Darkin explained that his family had been slaughtered and the throne usurped. He remained an Imperial Prince, and his own life was secure, but his continued existence was a thorn in the side of the usurpers, and his ambition was to one day reclaim the throne.

Lianne was ambitious to become the most powerful fire shaper in the kingdom, and was hot-tempered and reckless in the use of her power. If I recall correctly, she was about 16. (At 20, Tomo was the oldest PC.) Some time earlier, she had lost control of her powers when quarrelling with Anyu, and burned all the hair off Anyu's head. She felt very guilty about that, mostly because the hair had grown back blonde.

Anyu had sworn vengeance on Omak the Shade: unknown to Lianne, Anyu knew the blonde hair was because Omak had cursed her.

Rowan had quarrelled with Lianne, because Lianne had commissioned a symbol of excellence from the Earth Nation, and Rowan had delivered the symbol intended for her to another customer who offered more money. Rowan had sworn an oath to provide Lianne with a symbol worthy of her.

Rich explained that all of had travelled to the Festival of the Elements, an annual event/competition attended by the leaders and greatest shapers of each nation. The leaders of the Earth Nation had failed to arrive, a grave insult to the emperor: Rich asked each of us for our theories for why they had failed to arrive. If I remember correctly, either Darkin or Anyu thought they were afraid to compete with the Fire Nation, Lianne thought they were drunk, and Rowan thought that the Fire Nation had conspired against the Earth Nation to disgrace them. My own theory was that the Water Nation, not the Fire Nation, was responsible: currently, the Fire Nation was clearly ascendant, but the Earth Nation equally clearly was second in power, and the Water Nation was best positioned at court to take advantage of Earth Nation's disgrace to gain status. (I don't remember the last theory.)

Somewhere toward the beginning of the session, at night, Anyu saw a shadowy figure emerge from the Earth Nation pavilion, and pursued him to the woods, where she stumbled over a tripwire and was wounded by a dart. Humiliated by the wound, Anyu said nothing about the encounter.

In the morning, Prince Darkin ate a leisurely breakfast, while Tomo scurried around making sure his teacup was filled the instant before he reached for it, inserting a bookmark when he put his book down, etc. Lianne rose around ten o'clock, wakened by the smell of cinnamon rolls (which, I explained, Tomo arranged to always have baked at that hour). Anyu trained with Kai.

And, in the Earth Nation camp, Rowan decided that something needed to be done to save the reputation of the Earth Nation, and went to convey her suspicions that Fire Nation was responsible for their non-appearance to Sall, the air shaper who was head of the Festival. She explained her suspicions, and Sall commended her on how well-spoken she was. Sall sent Rowan to speak with the Fire Nation Emperor, and appointed Rowan as liaison between the Festival and the Earth Nation.

During Anyu's training session with Kai, Kai noticed the dart wound, and asked what had happened. Anyu lied, and said it was a training accident. "Oh? Who were you training with?" Anyu then rolled to see if he could maintain a lie, and rolled well enough that he could succeed but only if he made a hard bargain: and the bargain Rich offered was that Kai would believe Anyu, but if he ever found out that Anyu had lied, he would never train with Anyu again. Faced with that choice, Anyu confessed, and recounted the story to Kai. Kai asked if he had told Prince Darkin of this, and when Anyu said he hadn't, Kai insisted on going to him at once.

Tacha, the Emperor, listened to Rowan's accusation with interest, seeing an opportunity to discredit Darkin. He promised to launch an immediate investigation, and sent a messenger to Darkin calling on him to prepare to answer the charges. He also gave Rowan a protective escort from the Imperial Guard.

Anyu and Kai arrived at Darkin's pavilion, and knelt before him (Anyu lagging Kai a bit), waiting for Darkin to acknowledge them, which took a little while. Once they had permission to speak, Kai explained that Anyu had seen someone kill the Earth Nation leaders. Darkin asked why Anyu hadn't come to him immediately, and Anyu confessed she was embarrassed to admit to Lianne how she'd been injured (which got Lianne's full attention). Exasperated by Anyu's muddled story, Darkin sent Anyu away for Tomo to bandage her wound and get the details from her. ("Ah! So you saw the dead bodies!" Well, no. "Oh! So you heard someone shout that the Earth Nation leaders were dead!" No. And so on. With Lianne's ear pressed against the door, until she shouted impatiently "But what about the dart!")

Rowan, returning to the Earth Nation's camp, ran into an old woman who told her that the leaders' pavilion had been vandalized during the night, the interior covered in vile red-painted graffiti. The woman said she had seen a figure fleeing the pavilion, not clearly enough to identify, but she saw the figure had blonde hair. Rowan immediately guessed that it must have been Anyu, and went to confront Darkin.

Darkin received the message from Tacha, and everyone gathered for a private conference. Tomo distributed a brief agenda he'd taken the liberty of preparing, which Lianne set on fire and everyone else ignored. If anything useful was said, I can't remember it. The conference ended when someone brought word that Rowan, the leader of the Earth Nation, demanded an audience, and everyone went to the audience chamber. Darkin sat on a throne, flanked by Kai and Anyu on one side, Lianne on the other. Rowan entered, stopping thirty feet in front of the throne escorted by the guard, who took up positions along the columns at the side of the room. And Tomo scuttled forward, knelt in front of Rowan, bowed his head, and extended his arms for Rowan to present her credentials as leader of the Earth Nation. "Umm ... I don't have credentials." "Oh, that is no problem, my lady! I can send a runner to fetch them!"

Meanwhile, Lianne was making threatening remarks and her body language was clearly spoiling for a fight. Osamu, a fire shaper in the Imperial Guard who was a friendly rival of Lianne, asked Lianne if she wanted to take it outside. Lianne did.

Anyu recognized Omak the Shade, who was egging Rowan on, among her escort, and chased him out of the room, ignoring orders to stop.

Discussions between Rowan and Darkin went well enough that they went to his private chambers to continue their discussion. Darkin offended her, however, by suggesting that his patronizing of the Earth Nation's goods was an act of generosity/charity, rather than a transaction between equals, and Rowan stormed off. (In the background, Tomo sadly tore up the draft treaty he had been preparing.)

Lianne joined the fight between Anyu and Omak, leading to the discovery that Omak, even though he dressed in Fire Nation colors, was actually a water shaper. A spy! Omak was defeated, but not before stabbing Anyu in the shoulder. Rowan arrived with her escort after the fight was over, and although her instinct was to have her escort arrest Anyu for breaking the peace of the Festival, she was soon persuaded that Omak was actually the guilty party and that perhaps she had condemned the Fire Nation too quickly. She dismissed her escort and returned with Anyu and Lianne to resume discussions with Darkin.

The first order of business was deciding how to interrogate Omak. I suggested having him wake up alone with a timid, easily bribed servant, a suggestion everyone rallied around (probably at least in part because Tomo hadn't had a spotlight scene yet). So when Omak woke up, Tomo was there with a stale crust of bread and a cup of dirty water. He grovelled and begged the illustrious lord's pardon for the inadequacy of the provisions, using more and more exaggerated terms of deference while Omak preened at the flattery. The two agreed that Darkin was a terrible master, harsh and cruel, and Omak offered to take Tomo into his service if Tomo would help him escape. Tomo cautiously asked if he might have this thing he had heard about, called a "holiday", a day each year to do what he wished, and Omak said he could have two holidays. Tomo recoiled in horror from this suggestion, saying that he could not possibly enter service with such a reckless spendthrift, and Omak agreed to give him just one holiday. At this point, Rich had me roll against Speak Honorably, the only die roll I made during the entire game, and I rolled well enough to have the choice of failing or of succeeding with a hard bargain. The hard bargain: Omak would believe me, but only if I swore I would no longer serve Darkin. If I accepted, I should leave the room, and return with several flasks of water, with which he could make his escape. (The cup of dirty water I had provided was a misstep, but it wasn't enough for him to use his water shaping abilities to cut through the stone bonds.)

Consulting with the others, who had been listening through a peephole, we agreed to let Omak escape, and I would leave a trail of red-dyed pebbles so the others could track us. Rowan said that if I tapped my feet in a distinctive pattern, she could use her earth shaping abilities to sense it, so I did the "Shave and a haircut—two bits!" dance. I then asked Darkin to release me from my oath to serve him, as that was the only way I could swear the oath Omak demanded, and Darkin did so. (This was definitely the most surprising RPG moment of the week, arising organically out of the characters, the situation, and the mechanics of the game.)

Returning to the room with the flasks of water, I swore to leave Darkin's service and follow Omak. Omak made a daring escape, with the others making it look good. Anyu placed herself in a position where Omak could get an effective shot against her, and he shot a water bolt at the same spot he'd already wounded: Anyu spent a Fortune Point to declare that she'd anticipated the shot, and put armor under her shirt to protect the wound. Omak escaped, but by publicly using his water shaping abilities to attack Anyu he'd gone a long way to undermining his own scheme.

Omak brought Tomo to the river, where he caused the water to recede and reveal an underwater passage. He told Tomo to hold his breath, and he would protect Tomo during the journey through the tunnel. "Oh! Oh! I am so terrified!" Tomo exclaimed, doing a little dance.

At this point, it was getting very near the end of the four-hour slot, so the underground fight to free the captured Earth Nation leaders from the water shapers was pretty rushed. Rowan used her earth shaper abilities to bring Darkin's forces into the hidden chamber, the water shapers were defeated, and Tomo got to clock Omak in the head with a teapot. In the end, Tomo rejoined Darkin's service, except this time he got a salary. (Not that I mentioned that to Darkin; Tomo had been handling Darkin's accounts for years, no need to trouble him with details.)

The next day in line, I was talking about the game, and one of the other players remarked that, listening to me recount the session, he thought "That sounds like such a great game, I wish I had been there! Wait! I was there!" Which is a pretty nice tribute.

Date: 2016-06-24 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That DOES sound like a great game! Yay.
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