Campaign 2: Session 0, Last train to Strelsau

It’s time for another playtest campaign. This one taking place in the far off Kingdom of Ruritania.

House Leo starting equipment, one squadron of Cossak Cavalry

After a lot of drifting around I’ve finally decided on a time period for Inferno. I’m opting for a version of the 1850’s where the revolutions of 1848 went rather better than they did in the real world. So the Hapsburg Empire has collapsed, replaced with a whole range of kingdoms and states, all experimenting with different forms of government – anarchists, communards, republicans, and monarchists abound. France is firmly under the control of the newly proclaimed Emperor Louis Napoleon III, the great cities of Britain are pressure cookers of working class radicals and in the north Prussia is preparing to unite Germany, if not with diplomacy then with blood and iron.*

When the Hapsburg Empire fell the citizens of Ruritania were quick to fully assert the independence of their nation and their loyalty to its hereditary rulers, the Elphenbergs. Ruritania is now an island of stability, an absolute monarchy surrounded by the wreckage of an empire.

The new situation has convinced the Inferno club that it needs to establish a Ruritanian cell, and five individuals have been recruited. For their induction it was necessary to invite them all to meetings elsewhere in Europe, and so the game begins with the characters returning to Ruritania.

Character generation

I’m pretty happy with how character generation went this time round. At some point this will have to be tested without me being present but it didn’t seem too complex for anyone. A few concepts aren’t immediately obvious if you haven’t played before, ‘what is a reputation, why would I want one?’ and ‘what is prestige?’ are questions I need to answer in the explanatory text in the character generation section.

One of the changes I’ve introduced this time round is making the criteria different houses use for awarding prestige and resources available to each house explicit from the start. These now get listed on the character sheet and give it a little bit of a PBTA playbook feel. Have you hit one of your prestige criteria? Then tick a box and you can have the prestige at the end of the session. This should save the GM quite a lot of time by shifting the work to the players.

Prestige criteria are also a useful answer to the ‘what am I supposed to be doing?’ question. As our House Aquarius player said “So I get rewards for manipulating and blackmailing people?’ – yes, if you’re in House Aquarius, you do. On the other hand, if you’re House Aries you’re supposed to be thwarting villains and protecting the innocent.

The characters

So who did we end up with? Let me introduce to you all…

Captain Gustav Emil, House Leo

A Finnish cavalry captain in the employ of the Tsar, Emil has earlier been a military advisor to the Ruritanian army, but left after a scandal involving a married woman. A capable and vigourous soldier with a talent for command. Accompanied by a squadron of 100 cossak cavalry.

A first test for House Leo. I’m interested to see how a player with a (small) private army gets on.

Elmira Rassendyl, House Aquarius

A beautiful English noblewoman from a minor family, and a distant relation of Ruritanian nobility. Elmira is an absolute social powerhouse, able to see through the deceptions of others with ease, and finely attuned to the invisible threads that make society function.

A second test for House Aquarius, and a very focused character build.

Easton Witcherell, House Pisces

This well dressed dandy is a medium, who relays the wishes of the deceased to their living relatives. As a spiritual advisor to people of quality he enjoys a degree of influence in polite society. However wagging tongues say that he is an alltogether too intimate advisor of the king.

Another first, a run out for House Pisces. They’ve got their own magic system, so a good test is essential.

Radimir ‘the human rocket’, House Cancer

Radimir is a near perfect specimen of human physique, and a noted Ruritanian tennis player. What is known to almost no-one is that some of his sporting prowess is the result of a deal with a supernatural being. His reputation is somewhat under the weather after he unexpectedly lost a match on which the king had gambled.

A chance to see how the learnings from the last campaigns House Cancer test work out. Also, a magic user whose magical powers are somewhat secondary.

Johannes Stroika, House Aries

The famed ‘Gay Blade’ of the 1844 Parisian Olympiad Johannes is a 6’4″ fencing champion and gentleman of independent means. His reputation as one of the finest swordsmen in Europe is diminished only by rumours of his father’s death, defenestrated after an affair with a young pianist.

Absolute combat monster. If ‘dashing House Aries swordsman’ is going to turn out to be a game breaking build this will tell us.

What’s with all the scandals?

I’ve introduced a new mechanic. In exchange for scandals or secrets players can take extra character points at character generation. 2 points for a scandal and 1 for a secret. Each scandal comes with a negative reputation that might be used against the player during the game. Each secret will generate a personal objective for the player, if they succeed they suppress the secret and it isn’t revealed. If they fail, it becomes a scandal and dogs them for the rest of their days.

The mechanic worked fine for character generation, the real test will be if it delivers in play. I’m hopeful it will, every player has at least one unrevealed secret, so that gives me plenty to work with.

What no scientists?

Nope. Not one steam lord, meglomaniac mad scientist or gadgeteer to be seen. So a bit less ‘steampunk’ content this time round, but maybe a chance for sinister technologies to be more terrifying, rather than something to be reverse engineered in a workshop…

Last Train to Strelsau

The game begins with our protagonists travelling to Ruritania by train. As everyone knows, the route to Ruritania runs through Dresden, which is now an anarchist free city under attack from the well drilled Prussian army. With just a few miles to go the train grinds to a halt, and the passengers start to panic. In the dining car Elmira notes one unusually calm man. Gustav’s Cossacks report that the train driver has spotted some Prussian cavalry on a bridge ahead.

So this was a group challenge to introduce the rules to everyone. If the party succeed they’ll make it to Dresden, if they fail, they’ll be captured by the Prussians.

  • Radimir escorted Elmira to the front of the train. Despite keeping an eye out for suspicious activity he failed to spot that some passengers had decided to try unhooking the rear carriages, presumably as a prelude to comandeering the train and making a dash for it.
  • Easton investigated the man in the dining car, and realised he was a saboteur, with a bomb in his suitcase
  • Johannes attempted to deal with the threat, but the Gay Blade was avoided with embarrasing ease by the saboteur, who left the famed fencer face down between the seats, and dashed toward the engine with the bomb.**
  • Gustav’s cossacks circled away from their Prussian counterparts, before dashing back whooping, shouting and firing into the air. Confused by their sudden appearance the Prussians fled.
  • Elmira unleashed the full force of her charm on the Engine Driver, who remained almost unmoved – by the barest margin she convinced him to move the train forward

Finally, Gustav made the final test, and drew a perfect success. The dashing cavalryman reboarded the moving train just in time to; detain the bomber, hand the bomb off to a Cossack to be safely disposed of, and order the passengers to leave the rear carriages where they were.

What’s next?

Next week our protagonists can attempt to negotiate the free city of Dresden and make their way to Ruritania, although I have a feeling that their pasts may be catching up with them on the way.

* this is the time period Gibson and Sterling used for the Difference Engine. I think it’s an excellent choice. By the time you get to Sherlock Holmes’ 1890’s period there’s a lot of really modern stuff like telephones creeping in.

** not the best start for the combat monster, but only his pride was hurt.

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