The previous week’s game had been very much ‘let’s have an adventure’. This week was about letting the players run around in their Ruritanian sandbox and do what they felt like.
Which is how two of them came to be fleeing through the woods with the Queen, pursued by a giant metal machine, that strode through the forest on five telescopic legs. Sometimes things just escalate.
We had a good mix of downtime actions, with the group successfully rigging the auction of mining rights in favour of Mathen Mining and Minerals. This meant ignoring the growing clamour for war though, and Ruritania is now on the brink of throwing its lot in with the Prussians in their campaign to crush the free city of Dresden.
Another action saw social climber Elmira successfully snag herself a wealthy, influential husband. He might be 73 years old, twice widowed and the father of eight adult children but that doesn’t make ‘Whiskers’ any less perfect in her eyes. This made the GM particularly happy, since it meant I could unleash a plot based on her past as a ‘lady of negotiable virtue’ – could she supress her secrets and save her engagement? At least Captain Emil Gustav and Radimir were on hand to help out.
Spiritualist dandy Easton’s downtime saw him fail to repair his relationship with the king. So when the game started a miserable Easton decided to abandon the capital, and headed off to Zenda, where the young Prince Michael was being treated for some kind of nervous exhaustion. Concerned about Easton’s drinking Johannes went with him to keep an eye on things.
Processing the downtime actions doesn’t take too long. The players have been pretty good at keeping their instructions to a couple of sentences, and it’s generally clear what skills / talents / reputations to apply. The most time consuming part has been drawing the cards, determining the result and keeping track in a spreadsheet. But now I’ve made a google sheet that lets me generate the results of card draws, so next time will be *much quicker*.
That set things up nicely for the sandbox session. Elmira needed to save her marriage, and Easton was looking into the Prince’s illness. The card of fate system gives you a nice structure for this kind of thing – each objective has a number of challenges and when the Protagonists have resolved a majority of them either positively or negatively the objective has succeeded or failed.
I ended up handling this as follows. When the Protagonists encountered the first challenge we’d play it through and resolve it. Then I’d explain what the associated mission was going to be. As an example – Elmira went to visit her fiance but was forbidden to enter the house. The first challenge was to get in and find out what was going on. Once that was resolved the objective was revealed to be ‘Preserve Elmira’s reputation by putting a stop to the blackmailer’s activities’.
Over at the castle Easton spoke with the young Prince and confirmed his suspicions that his malady was supernatural in nature. The biggest problem was the entirely rational alienist who had been hired to treat him. Meanwhile Johannes noticed that one of the towers in the castle was unusually well guarded – for no obvious reason.
A note here on stake setting. The stakes for Johannes’ observation test were not about whether or not he would notice the unusual presence of the guards, but whether he would tip off those responsible that he had done so. As it turned out he succeeded, and so when he crept across the castle roofs to break in he found the Queen, apparently held prisoner*. Had he failed the observation test he’d have arrived to find the room empty – someone was being held prisoner, but who?
A dramatic escape
Having found the Queen Johannes decided to rescue her. The only question was how. In the end we decided that a swordfight (see above) was the right way to go about it. We made a single melee test, Johannes aced it, and we narrated things through to the point where he, Easton, the Queen and a few cossacks they’d borrowed from Gustav were fleeing through the woods.
Which is when the giant machine turned up.
* Which raises the question of just who has been masquerading as the Queen for all this time, and why?