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Glasgow Student Nationals game

Posted: 22 Feb 2019, 17:47
by hector
So I'm planning to run this for the Student Nationals in Glasgow this year (Indie category - if you think you might be playing that category at this year's nationals, spoilers lie within so please do not read any further), and I began not with how I want the session to begin, but how I want it to end. Please picture the following, if you will:
On the Throne wrote: The Emperor sits upon an ancient wooden throne. He is an incredibly old man now; five whole generations have passed since he forged this empire. He wears white linen robes, and appears to be unarmed. He appears genuinely sad that things have come to violence; like the father of wayward children who must use whatever force is necessary to prevent them from causing greater harm to themselves or others.

He will attempt to persuade the PCs to end their attack and to listen to reason. In the unlikely event that they do so, he will explain that he - and he alone - is capable of holding the forces of hell at bay. He is old, however, and his last heir was killed in the battle for the palace. He needs to train a replacement - and he is willing to offer the position to any among the PCs who will take it. First, however, they must put a stop to the rebellion that brought them here...
If they don't listen to reason, we get to see him in combat.
In Combat wrote: The Emperor moves slowly; age has weakened him greatly. Still, he is quite agile for a man of his age, and his timing is impeccable, making him a formidable fighter (Attributes of Brawn 2, Agility 4, Cunning 8, Perception 4, Will 8; Proficiencies of 11 in Longswords, 10 in Mass Weapons, and 9 in Brawling). In his prime, he must have been truly fearsome. With a loud pop of displaced air, his robes are replaced by blue-black steel plate; runes etched into every visible surface. His head is covered by a great helm with similar etchings; shaped into the true likeness of his face (this plate is magical in nature, and does not impose the usual penalties for armour).

Attached to his waist is a scabbard holding a dagger, and a loop through which hangs a war hammer; likewise blued. His Right hand grasps the hilt of a long, curved blade; its steel similar in appearance to that of his armour, and it's length etched with prayers in a long dead language.
Of course, if the party as a whole decide to kill him, he'll put up a decent fight. However, no matter his skill and cunning, he is still a man of over a hundred years in age, potentially outnumbered five to one. If they do kill him, he will be proven to be telling the truth, as the sky turns dark and the forces of hell invade the mortal world. That, however, is not the intention. The intention, of course, is that the Emperor's offer (provided they listen to what he has to say) should give each of them reasons to say yes or no, bringing the PCs into conflict with each other.

I had a bit of trouble coming up with good drives for the PCs (since this will require pregens), but here are the ones I currently have:
Party Leader wrote: Equipped with a musket, a rapier and a main gauche.
  • The Emperor is a tyrant, and I must replace him.
  • Magic is a useful tool and a powerful weapon; I will master its use.
  • The Rebellion is my army; I will protect them because they protect me.
Swordsman wrote: Equipped with a kriegsmesser, with a dagger as backup.
  • The Emperor is a tyrant, and must be made to pay for his crimes.
  • Magic does not exist, and I will prove it.
  • The rebellion is my family now, and I will do whatever it takes to protect them.
Berserker wrote: Equipped with an axe and shield.
  • I have sworn vengeance upon the Empire, and I always keep my word.
  • I have seen what the forces of hell can do, and I would do anything to prevent their return.
  • Killing sickens me. Sometimes there is no alternative, but when there is, I will take it.
Sniper wrote: Equipped with a whiskered compound bow, basket hilted broadsword and a bollock dagger.
  • Every death is a tragedy; if I must cause it, I will cause as little suffering as possible.
  • I once fought for the Emperor; he must be punished for what he made me do.
  • Hell exists; I will probably go there when I die, but better me than those I care about.
Spearman wrote: Equipped with a long spear (extended reach) and a hanger.
  • Magic is evil; I will protect us from those who practice it.
  • Imperial soldiers razed my village to the ground. I will have my revenge.
  • I haven't actually thought of a third drive for this character yet.
So, any thoughts? Am I missing anything obvious? Any suggestions as to why the Spearman might consider siding with the Emperor (since that would make a good third drive)?

Re: Glasgow Student Nationals game

Posted: 27 Feb 2019, 10:04
by hector
With some help from a few friends of mine, the third Spearman drive will be
  • The Emperor slew my great grandfather; the king of my nation. I will restore it by any means necessary.

Re: Glasgow Student Nationals game

Posted: 27 Feb 2019, 21:31
by thirtythr33
On the combat side, make sure to have a few NPC defenders for the Emperor. They might be his bodyguards, his family or magical spirits he summons or what have you. They are more needed to be just generally running interference and not necessarily posing as a threat on their own, so they are probably best having relatively small combat pools. Mostly because the combat system is very sensitive to ganging up; even a sword master will fall swiftly to a gang of novices. Ideally, you would want something like each person pairing off, and as each dispatches their foe they move to gang up on the Emperor. I would try not to gang up on the PCs, unless there is really no reasonable way around it.

On the drives side:
* It feels very one sided, with all the characters having a drive directly pointing at murdering the Emperor on the spot. You could consider having one or more of the PCs begin loyal to the Emperor, but have a conflict. For example, a Duke that is married to the Emperor's daughter but believes the Emperor taxes the people too much.
* The best conflicts come from crossing purposes with different kinds of loyalty. The most common are Occupation or Identity, Family or Love, Honor or Duty. For example, one or more of the PCs may be a blood relative of the Emperor who is forces to choose between family and loyalty or greed in taking the throne for themselves.
* I highly recommend looking at The Sword module for Burning Wheel (( for an example of a very tight demo with cross purpose drives for the characters that does the same idea of starting at the end of the adventure.
* If each character has a drive aligned with another PC and a drive contradicting another PC, then it will come down to their negotiation skills, a betrayal, or bloodshed. A great ending for a 1 shot, all in all. Having each character with a drive pointing each way also lets players choose how they play their character a bit more.

Re: Glasgow Student Nationals game

Posted: 28 Feb 2019, 21:35
by hector
Ultimately, the PCs are at the head of the rebellion - they ought to all have a reason to want him dead (or at least replaced). What I'm looking for is a reason to take the offer (assuming he doesn't take an arrow to the face the moment the party gets into the throne room). On the other hand, the party leader has a reason to keep him alive (as heir, they still get to replace the emperor, and the emperor will, given the chance, explain that he is a master magic user); the berserker hates the emperor, but could potentially still keep him alive to keep the armies of hell from invading; and the sniper knows full well that hell exists.

The scene presented here is the climax of the story, after the party have fought through and snook past guards, and have somehow dealt with the crown prince. Ideally, the PCs should already be wounded at this point. One of two things will happen here - either the party sides with the emperor, turning on their own cause for whatever reason, or the party kills the emperor and the armies of hell appear very quickly afterwards. If the emperor is given a chance to talk, there's a decent chance of pvp prior to the party deciding which of those two things happen.

Re: Glasgow Student Nationals game

Posted: 17 Apr 2019, 19:43
by hector
Well, the event has happened. The first group had 2 take the emperor's side, and 3 try to kill him. There were some injuries at this point, but the main thing that stopped the party killing the emperor was their own tactics. The guy with the kriegsmesser kept trying to hack the emperor down, in spite of him being in full plate. This went as well as you'd expect, but the emperor was himself badly wounded enough that he couldn't easily capitalise on that guy's mistakes. At one point I just said "swords aren't going to work - maybe try grappling him to the ground?". On the other hand, the two players who had sided with the emperor didn't want to kill their former allies, so they kept doing stuff that was really ineffective. The final fight was much longer than anticipated as a result. If the emperor had had bodyguards, the fight would probably have gone quicker.

The second group, funnily enough, all took the emperor's side (there were only three of them; party leader, swordsman and sniper). One of the players in this group described this final confrontation with the emperor as being like Luke Skywalker confronting Palpatine in RotJ, only better because the Emperor actually has reasons for his actions, and motivations beyond "EEEEEVIL!". I was definitely proud of that one.