Thursday, 26 November 2015

Session twenty-eight - running into an ambush

Hemlock wakes to discover that an intruder has been in his room.  Locks have been picked, drawers and cupboards opened but it doesn't appear that anything has been stolen.  He checks on Sir Mal and Lady Chastity; both are well and it appears that the intruder only targeted himself. Sir Mal offers to help and he goes outside to look for signs of the intruder's entry or exit.  On the way he discovers that the night watchmen are both asleep at their station. Hemlock goes to speak with Master Alfredo who seems horrified at events and is both furious with the guards and concerned that, considering Hemlock's history with the attack on the home during his childhood, he will be distraught and rightly upset. Mal discovers that it appears that the intruder escaped out of Hemlock's bedroom window (it's what Mal would have done...) but there's no telling where they went after that. It appears that the guards may have been poisoned by something in their tea and Hemlock leaves their questioning in the hands of Master Alfredo (with instructions to go easy on them) while he, Mal & Chastity prepare for their scheduled run before breakfast.

Meanwhile in The Midden Barony Sir Hasimir Fenrig Torenson makes preparation to take Sir Tarquin to visit his cousin, Sir Hemlock. He speaks with the Baron to get his formal approval and confirms his progress with the ongoing wedding preparations. Hasimir, Virssu and Sir Tarquin then ride out but divert on route to pay and arranged visit to Father Helsing.

They discuss plans to over throw the Baron and institute Justinian rule once more.  It seems to finally dawn on Sir Tarquin (and the priest) that this may well mean the Baron's death, possibly by the hand of another party (in order to divorce them from direct involvement and blame). Tarquin seems concerned by this but seems to accept it as a necessity. Helsing agrees to contact the other "conspiritors"; Potter and Clodius and get them to advise Hasimir of their plans. Hasimir also mentions Virssus' observations about the staffing changes at the mansion.  The priest says that it's an odd coincidence that he hasn't seen any of the old staff in the evening or morning prayers either.

Hasimir & Tarquin bid farewell to Father Helsing and ride out to Sector 42 noticing as they pass through the Barony that one of Christopher's knights is drilling a large group of fully armed and armoured Hawkwood troops.
An ambush awaits...
In Sector 42 Hemlock and company's morning run quickly turns sour as Mal notices what appears to be a sniper waiting in ambush ahead of them.  He alerts his companions and they realise that there are two well equipped attackers. Hemlock immediately charges at one (the crowded nature of the city scape of the running route meaning that they were already quite close in order to draw a line of fire on the runners) and incapacitates him with Keat's knife. Sir Mal interposes himself between the attackers and Lady Chastity (figuring that is what Hemlock would want him to do).  The second attack opens up with a three round burst from his advanced SMG at Hemlock but his shield (the gift from Lady Chastity) flares to life and protects him. The lady herself moves gracefully and extremely swiftly past Mal Hawkwood and, following Hemlock's lead, assaults the man who attacked him, a slender Viper sword blade extending from her forearm. She attacks with unbridled ferocity, finishing the attacker by decapitating him.

Hemlock manages to bring the other attacker around but he is obviously dying. Mal manages to question him in his last moments and he tells them that "The Guild" has ordered that Hemlock and he be killed to stop their meddling. Meanwhile Lady Chasity has broken down in tears as she apparently never wanted Hemlock to see her like this. He comforts her as best he can while Mal takes weapons and gear from the fallen attackers.

They head slowly back home to find Master Alfredo waiting for them, obviously concerned that they had been gone longer than expected. He is devastated to hear that they were attacked and immediately summons staff to assist.  Lady Chastity retires to her room but sends word that she is alright while Hemlock and Mal take breakfast and discuss events.  While Mal is stashing the gear in his room the wrist squawker he took from one of the assailants blurts into life.  He doesn't answer but he hears the man at the other end say that they have killed theirs, has he finished his? Mal tells Hemlock and they ponder whom it could refer to. Hemlock also thanks Mal for trying to protect Chastity; he was both surprised and quite flattered that Mal would put himself at risk (unarmoured as he was) for them. Hemlock also has a realisation that after seeing him discussing a mixed up order with master Alfredo earlier that day the boy he saw in the stables yesterday was the lad who delivers bread to the estate.  He asks Alfredo request that the boy comes to speak with him.

Hemlock has also received a response from Baron Samuel about his request to visit his library in "Quentin's Retreat":
Mr dear young fellow,
How felicitous to be in receipt of your delightful epistle. For too long the void of untamed expanse between our fiefs has been both figurative as well as literal. Am I to assume that your father has finally bequeathed his lands and territories to you, allowing them to be properly managed and maintained whilst he conducts his, obviously essential, business elsewhere?
I would, of course, be most enamoured to allow you admission to my meagre collection of tomes and scrolls.  I have recently had course to host our mutual cousin, the charming and astute Lady Althea, who made most expeditious use of my academic resources. When I mentioned your correspondence she spoke highly of your good character and admirable nature and quite reversed my previous reluctance to engage with you.
I trust that you will prove her reference to be both appropriate and accurate when you arrive.
Deo volente
Baron Samuel Justinian,
Lord of Quentin's Retreat and its environs and borders
Hero of Cadragathia,
Holder of the medal of Aspatria,
Doctor of Archeo-sociological Humanities, University of Celdor
Hasimir and Tarquin arrive around lunch time and are welcomed into the drawing room to see Hemlock and Mal.  They update each other on recent events and speculate on who the assailants might have been.  Mal is sure it was the Scravers and believes that the other target may have been Mitnick. Discussions move to the Midden Barony and Hasimir's plan to help Sir Tarquin overthrow the Baron.  They ask if they can count on Hemlock and Mal's aid, which they consent to give.  Tarquin is concerned that, as a Hawkwood, Mal is a risk but Mal reassures him that no love is lost between him and his family (especially the Baron) and Sir Hasimir advises that he'd never trust Mal but he does know him and can rely on him in this matter. Tarquin also seems to distrust Lady Chastity.  The Decados are the "old enemy" of the Justinians as many believe that they were responsible for closing the jumpgate to the House's home world of Paradise. Hemlock tries to reassure him but Tarquin casts aspersions on Hemlock's opinions when it comes to women, citing similarities with his sister, Dame Arcadia.  The bell goes for lunch and Tarquin asks if he may visit Lady Chastity before they dine (as a representative of his House and barony he feels it would be proper etiquette, as she is the ranking member of her own House locally and it may help put his mind at rest).  Hasimir suggests it would be correct protocol and Hemlock checks with the staff that she is happy to receive him.  He is escorted upstairs while Hemlock, Hasimir and Mal continue to discuss what to do about recent events.
In the drawing room again.
Their conversation is interrupted by screams from above and they rush up the stairs, passing Tarquin coming back down.  The screams are from the maid, Sasha, who attends Chasity.  She has re-entered the room to find the lady unconscious on the floor with wounds to her abdomen and throat.  Hemlock calls for aid and he and Mal try to stabilize the wounded noble. Hasimir comes and reads her surface thoughts as Master Alfredo rushes in and starts to organise staff to help. Hasimir "sees" in her mind the same moments playing over and over; Tarquin enters, greets her politely, draws his short sword (engaging its shock charge) and stabs her by surprise.  The electric shock scrambles her cyber ware, leaving her convulsing on the floor as he leans over her and slashes her throat "Our Houses will always be enemies."  

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Session twenty-seven - Wedding plans and amateur athletics (I think it's fair to say I never thought the game would go this way)

Yet another talky-heavy session, I hope I've managed to capture the salient points...

Turning the clock back a little to when Mal first returned to the Sector 42 mansion after his run in with the Scravers, Hemlock questions the Hawkwood knight some more about what had happened, if he was OK and what he had learnt. He expressed that he was indebted to Mal, and embarrassed that he, as his guest, had come to harm in his father’s barony.  Afterwards Hemlock began his planned patrols of the mansion and it's grounds to try to discover whomever was sending the messages but his initial search proved fruitless.

The following morning sees Hemlock back out on the prowl again and once again he doesn't find his culprit. As he comes to the end of his stalking around he finds Chastity going to the stables. She comments how she likes to be with the animals as it reminds her of home.  Hemlock says he doesn't ride and asks if she will teach him. She shyly agrees. He goes to breakfast joins Mal. They are then joined by Lady Chastity. She advises Hemlock that, as per their discussion the previous day (a little retcon on our part) she had decided to dismiss her Muster guards (both to save money and for fear that they might betray her after Lawrence and Hasimir's experiences)and they have left on good terms but she seems emotional as this is a severing of one of the last connections she had with her home. In conversation, at the mention of how she would occupy her day and the younger sister she has left behind, she becomes upset, excuses herself and leaves. Mal is terribly sensitive as one might expect.....or not.

Meanwhile in the Midden Barony Virssu answers his master's door to an invitation for Hasimir to dine in private with Victor & Hugo Hawkwood.  He accepts and they attend in the twins' quarters. They appear to suspect that the Torenson is up to *something* and want to know what it is and what bearing it has on the "Club". Hasimir reassures them it isn't club business. merely politics and that they don't need to concern themselves. They seem unsure but let the matter rest but advise him that they will be departing later that day on a diplomatic mission but when then return they don't expect to come back to find that he has deceived them.

After breakfast Virssu shares with Hasimir that he has noticed that the peasant staff are all new faces. They discuss what this might mean but agree it could be a normal change of staff or could indicate that someone is purposefully changing people out for those more loyal, but to whom remains a mystery for now.

Sir Hasimir then pays a visit to Sir Tarquin, but as he reaches the door to his chambers one of the twins emerges (Virssu notes he looks a little pale and tired, unlike at breakfast).  They exchange pleasantries and he leaves. Hasimir and Virssu find Tarquin well and it appears that (as protocol would dictate) Victor/Hugo came to thank him for his home's hospitality and advise that they would be leaving for now.  Hasimir turns discussion to the peasant support for the young lord and what they need to do next.  He plans to meet with Father Konrad but to also take Tarquin to visit Hemlock.  He fears that Tarquin will be watched closer than ever and his movements monitored more closely.  Hasimir suggests that for now he write to his cousin, Hemlock, and reassure him that he is well and that he plans to visit soon.

The Torenson knight then pays a visit to Baron Christopher Hawkwood, who is engaged with the business of the fief (recent days having occupied him away from the general day to day management of things).  He doesn't seem to want to spend time listening to Hasimir but charges him with conducting the wedding arrangements (a task eminently suited to a Torenson and one less "mundane" thing for Christopher to have to deal with).  He suggests that Hasimir arrange it for about two months time. The knight accepts the task and goes to see the bride-to-be.

Lady Stephanie is very excited at the prospect of her wedding and seems to consider the Baron to be the man of her dreams. She wants a big cathedral wedding in Celdor and would like her father, General Sir Anthony Masseri Justinian to be able to give her away.  She is scornful of her mother, the Baroness, though and doesn't want her anywhere near "her day".

Throughout all this time Mal and Hemlock have been working to decode the rest of the messages Mitnick managed to get, with some success. At one point Master Alfredo comes in and seems concerned when Hemlock tells him that they are looking through estate records (to cover up the existence of the messages).  The Householder offers to help but they turn him away.  Hemlock then shares with Mal the notebook that Hubbard, the elderly peasant woman gave him, thinking it may in someway be related.  While Mal carries on working Hemlock stops for an evening meal and he is joined by Lady Chastity (seemingly the first time she has could out of her room since breakfast). She apologises for her rash emotion and expresses fears and doubts that in sending her guards away she is implying that she expects Hemlock to protect her and she does not wish to be a burden upon him.  Hemlock reassures her that he is glad to have her and Sir Mal’s company, that without them the estates might be terribly lonely, and that he enjoys being with her. They talk openly and once again we seem to see their friendship beginning to blossom. Chastity mentions that back at home she enjoyed athletics, initially as part of her "recovery" but that she got a taste for it. Hemlock suggests that they go running the following day and she eagerly agrees. That evening, rather than patrolling Hemlock maps possible running routes and manages to convince Sir Mal to accompany them.  Mal in the meantime has made great progress with the remaining portions of the messages.

The following morning Sir Hemlock renews his patrols and this time seems to have some success.  He finds the servant boy he recognises from the mansion in the stables using some sort of tech device to tap out what seems to be a message.  Hemlock watches him but does not interfere.

Sir Hasimir plans to visit Father Konrad and take Tarquin to see Hemlock the next day so spends his day working on wedding preparations. While that morning Mal, Hemlock & Chasity go for their run.  Chastity seems invigorated by the exercise and recalls most of what Hemlock had previously told her about the area and the childhood tales he told her about himself and Arcadia there. In fact she seems to be the most capable distance runner of the three and is barely tired when they return to the mansion.

Later Hemlock manages to speak with Master Alfredo to ask him about the "Agreement" which is alluded too in Mitnick's messages and whether his father has some sort of arrangement with the Scravers.  The Householder is apologetic and evasive and suggests that he really ought to speak to his father about such things.

Mitnick's translations

As it might be useful here's the two partial translations Sir Mal received from Mitnick the Scraver...

Master, Pancreator's blessings upon you.

I trust my lord's work proceeds well and bears fruits for your labours. Things proceed as ever within your domain. As you know I would not seek to trouble you over trivialities but I received your word that the young master would be arriving to shepherd matters here for the time being.

I would not dare to question my lord's plans but does this not risk the Agreement? Would he accept what has been arranged?

Upon his previous return you, yourself were keen to keep him from the mansion lest it bring back memories of what transpired. I hesitate to query your commands, as you know, but is this truly the best option, and the safest for the boy?

Your eternal servant.


Chief, sorry to use this line but things may be about to go fubar. His nibs is sending the prodigal back and he's not averse to drama or salacious adventures (you'll remember how much effort I had keeping his involvement with the Arcadia cock up out of the Town Cryer's proclamations). He's the sort of inquisitive fledgling that'll stick his nose right in where it has no business to be. Your advice is welcomed and if sanctions are to be applied I've no qualms in doing it again.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Session twenty-six - Mawwiage...

Earlier in the day Hemlock approached Lady Chastity and suggested that he take her to visit one of his neighbours, specifically his cousin, Sir Tarquin.  Chastity notes that that is the domain where Baron Christopher rules as Regent and Hemlock agrees, mentioning that it would be good form for her to meet socially with the local nobility. He also quietly mentions that the more public she is the more protection she may have.  She asks Hemlock who he thinks would want to attack her and they discuss her guards.  She reveals that they are not House Decados men but are hired Muster. Hemlock warns her that he has had mixed experiences with the Muster. He then approached Sir Mal to accompany them, he agrees before Hemlock has even finished speaking, knowing full well how much his presence will annoy Baron Christopher.

Hemlock's party travel to the Midden Barony and pass some border guards who send word to the Baron that they will be coming. As they approach the mansion they note that colourful bunting has been put out.  It looks like they will recieve a warm welcome.

When they enter the mansion they realise that there are other guests (whom the flags were intended for).  Baron Christopher is recieving two of his cousins; the identical twins Sir Victor & Sir Hugo Windsor Hawkwood.  Sir Mal appears to recognise them and uses his Turning to scan them. He can tell that they are both psychics and that one is skilled in Psyche, Sympathy and Sixth Sense. The twins have brought news for Baron Christopher in the form of a letter, news which seems to please him immensely. He announces that General Sir Anthony Masseri Justinian has given his consent for the Baron to marry his daughter, the fourteen year old Stephanie. His mood is dampened somewhat when he sees Mal though and he speaks strongly to Hemlock about bringing "that" into his home. Hemlock defends Mal as his own guest and before Christopher can take the discussion further the doors to the entrance hall burst open and in strides young Sir Tarquin Midden Justinian (followed a short way behind by Sir Hasimir and Virssu).  The youthful knight launches into an immediate and impassioned tirade demanding stating that he has seen the state of the peasantry and the Baron has been neglectful and abusive of "his" (Tarquin's) people. 

Sir Tarquin Midden Justinian confronts Baron Christopher Windsor Hawkwood
The Baron approaches the boy menacingly and suggests that as he is here by the decree of the Planetary Duke he is a representative of the Duke's authority, therefore any issue the boy has with his rule is by default an issue with the Duke, and that sounds strangely like the sort of behaviour that got his elder sister into trouble. Is he walking the same seditious path? Hemlock moves to put himself between Christopher and his cousin as it looks like matters will escalate rapidly. Sir Hasimir manages to calm things somewhat (even after Tarquin saying it was he who helped him to meet with Father Helsing and see the state of affairs) and convinces Christopher to speak with him in private.  Hemlock and company are taken to a lounge with the twins to await the outcome.

As the door to his study closes Christopher immediately begins to lay into Sir Hasimir; what is he doing assisting the boy, filling his head with these ideas?  Why would he dare to stay the baron's hand? Hasimir is by no means cowed or daunted and calmly argues that he was trying to ensure that there was sufficient evidence to prove undeniably that Sir Tarquin is fomenting rebellion and that if they give him a little space he will not only hand himself to them but will also lead them to all the rebellious elements amongst the people. His words manage to convince the Baron who then asks what Hasimir suggests he does. The Torenson knight outlines a plan to keep an eye on Tarquin but to allow him the freedom to implicate himself possibly even permitting him to visit Sir Hemlock to regain his confidence. Reluctantly, as it means backing down, Christopher agrees.

They return to the lobby and the Baron says that his emotional state from hearing the wonderful news of his impending nuptials caused him to act rashly and spoke out of turn. He suggests that Sir Tarquin be accompanied to his room by some of the guard, where he can have a chance to chat with his cousin in private.  He will ensure that they are called down when lunch is served.

Hemlock and Tarquin (accompanied by Chastity and Mal) take the chance to talk. Tarquin asks about Hemlock's memories of his eldest sister, Arcadia and Hemlock seeks to comfort and support him.  Lady Chastity actually puts an arm around him and comforts him too.

Lunch is a reasonably quiet affair, with the staff and host completely ignoring Mal, the Baron raising a toast to his future bride and Chastity asking Hemlock if they can please leave as soon as the meal is over. On their way out Mal tries to speak with the twins, Victor & Hugo, quietly but they make a huge fuss about why would they want to speak to "his sort"?  They refuse to engage with him at all.
Hasimir manages to catch Tarquin privately and tells him that he is on his side.  He tells the young knight that he is playing the Baron and that his actions will buy them time to prosper a true revolution.  If Tarquin will allow he will help guide him into what to do and help him to plan his next moves.  He will also chaperone him on visits to his cousin Hemlock. The boy appears convinced and encouraged by Sir Hasimirs intent.

When Hemlock and his party return to his mansion it is late afternoon and a note has arrived for Sir Mal.  It is a message from Mitnick, the Scraver, suggesting he has made progress and he want's Mal to come and see him.  Mal goes to meditate for a while before setting out.

Meanwhile Hemlock asks Chastity for a moment to have a talk in private.  She agrees and he tries to return the shield generator she gave him.  She refuses saying that it was a gift to thank him for his kindness.  He persists, saying it's too much but she explains that while she cannot say how he feels about her she considers him to be possibly her only true friend.  He has taken care of her and taken her in when he didn't need to and when she was honest with him he could have cast her out but has remained true to her.  In any case he should consider it in her best interests; if he is going to continue to protect and look out for her this guarantees that he will survive long enough to do so! He finally relents and accepts the gift graciously.

Mal heads to see Mitnick, bumping into Hemlock on his way out and mentioning where he is going. The Scraver tells Mal that he has been able to partially translate the first two messages as he discovered "It was an old Scraver code, but it checks out." he gives Mal a pair of printouts but then says that it has left him with a problem.  As its a Scraver code, and he's a Scraver he's had to let people in the Guild which point two thugs appear, armed with clubs and looking to teach Mal not to stick his nose into things that shouldn't concern him.  Mal draws his sword and they begin to fight (while Mitnick returns to his work).

Beware of Scravers bearing clubs...
The two ruffians manage to land a few ineffectual blows (thanks to Mal's studded armour) while Mal wounds one thug and the other is accidentally wounded by his friend! To end this stalemate Mal asks what these two boys are getting paid and offers them triple to forget all about it.  He is a charismatic chap and the two thugs graciously take the money, wish him well and leave. Mal, slightly bruised and beaten heads to tell Hemlock what he has found.

Upon Mal's return to the Mansion house Hemlock sees him and that Mal has been in a fight.  He questions the Hawkwood knight as to what happened and Mal shows him the message print outs.  They possibly relate to Hemlock.

That night Hasimir has a strange and frightening dream, he is at a soiree where every person turns into the ghost of Arcadia and they all approach and surround him screeching "I'm back, I'm back....I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!" He wakes, screaming in a cold sweat. Virssu bursts in, gun drawn, sees he's unharmed and just walks back to bed.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Interlude - A carriage conversation

A carriage rocked from side to side as the four horse pack drove forwards on what constituted for a road in rural Ravenna. Dust and grit spat from under the hard rimmed wheels as the coach roared on.
The only two passengers within could be mistaken for a single man staring into a mirror. They were, in every practical physical way, identical even down to the brocade on their impeccable jackets and the broaches on their chests.
The man facing the rear of the carriage was idly watching through the side windows while his twin sat facing forwards paging through the latest sensationalist publications of the Town Criers.

"We'll be in the moutains soon." The window starer mentioned in a bored tone.
"Not too long now then."
"Anything interesting in the press?"
"Obviously not, the usual agricola nonsense. At least they've taken less of it harping on about that Justinian girl" The paper reader cast his diversion aside onto the cushions beside him.
The window starer didn't even look back into the carriage, remaining transfixed by the rolling hills passing by. His companion could clearly read that he was extremely bored, possibly more so than himself.
He broke from his window gazing to look at his companion; "Why on Earth has our honourable cousin stuck himself all the way out here?"
"It was a "reward", you know that."
"He could have turned it down."
"Asked for a cash alternative?"
"Don't be foolish."
"That's right, that's your job isn't it?"
"You always get insulting when you are bored."
There was no immediate reply.  He could be petty when he felt like it, they both could, but there was no other company so he soon relented.
"Why are we doing this again?"
"You know why."
"We're just glorified messenger boys."
"He asked us to aid him and, as you well know, it suits the plan."
"You are being foolish again. Both our plans. We scratch backs and have ours scratched in return."
"I don't like it."
"Neither do I but at least he got the answer he wanted."
"You've read the letter?"
"I didn't need to."
"I don't understand the urgency nor the necessity for this to be done in person."
"You fret too much, it's all for the greater good"
"I hope so."
"We'll make it so."
"Yes, I suppose we will." With that he lent forward and picked up the discarded Town Cryer pages while his companion took his turn to stare out of the window.
The coach driver shifted nervously on his bench seat. His Mate, sat beside him, budged up against him jabbing him in the ribs with his elbow.  "Stoppit willya.  you can't keep still this run."
"Course an' I can't. I don' like it." He screwed up his face as he said the words, as if tasting sour milk.
"Wos not ta loike?  We be gettin' our shillin' fer tha' work."
"Ay, but is unnatural work" The driver instinctively drew in the reins a little as he made the sign of the Jumpgate cross.
"Wot you mean.  They jus' be nobles."
"Yeah, but how come they ain't said a word the whole journey?"

Friday, 6 November 2015

Achievement awarded...


Volume one...
While it might not seem much like it we've reached the end of an era in "The Trails and Tribulations of Arcadia Justinian".  My customized Fading Suns notebook, constant companion, campaign confident and keeper of secrets is now full...after twenty-five sessions of play.  It seems like a milestone (and one I'm quite proud of, to be honest) so I thought a few reflective thoughts might be in order.
In my head this means we've finished "Volume One" of the campaign. That's probably been about 63 hours of play (give or take). When I started I figured I had about a year's worth (50 sessions, or thereabouts) of plot in my head and I think that may well have been an underestimate...this stuff just keeps coming and there's no end in sight.  Yes, certain story lines may reach an eventual conclusion but I can see us following these characters, and their impact on the Known Worlds, for some time to come. In large part I have a great group of players to thank for that, they have really invested their characters with personalities beyond the numbers on the page and are constantly coming at things in ways I didn't expect or suggesting ideas which dovetail with and compliment what I already have planned.  It truly has been a collective effort to get this far and to make it so much fun in the process.
I also think that the hiatus that we had earlier this year really benefitted the game.  I was writing myself in circles trying to manage all the pieces I had in play and the way the group had physically separated. I tried using extra secondary player characters (to essentially create a second cadre) but I don't think any of us really related to or enjoyed those characters.  We needed to follow the "heroes" of the tale not a supporting cast. Fast forwarding some plot (the events on SOE/8807 and the loss of the Galliot) allowed me to re-synchronise where we were with everyone and slightly alter the direction of the campaign. It seemed risky at the time and there was disappointment about not playing through some of that material but I think hindsight has shown it was the right decision.
I'm sometimes asked if things have happened as I intended and simply speaking no, they haven't, but part of that is I had little expectations or firm plans as to what would happen. There's the old adage when letting off a firework: "Light blue touch paper and stand well back" and in a way that's what I set out to do.  I presented a situation to the players (the initial "murder mystery at the tournament") and waited to see where they went with it.  They could have immediately gone on the run, hoping to prove Arcadia's innocence while ducking from pursuers, they could have dumped her like a sack of rubbish and got on with their was almost a test to see what we had here and where the players wanted to take things.  At the time I had no real idea that that meant assassination attempts, betrayals, ancient AIs, Second Republic Golems, Husks, recovery of broken star ships, trips into space, duels, psychic peasants, church inquisitors and political intrigue... But I fully expect there's that and more yet to come.
The title of campaign remains "The Trails and Tribulations of Arcadia Justinian" even though she's been dead since session 18 (and publically believed dead since session 13) and that remains an intentional choice on my part. The reasons are numerous but the main one is that Arcadia's impact will still be felt for some time to come. She was the trigger that brought these individuals together and her life, and death, has had direct impacts, some of which have yet to be revealed.
Going back to the notebook itself it now carries the moniker of "Volume I" and I have a now already in use "Volume II" (suitably customized). But there are NPC stats, unused ideas and plot lines that are in motion but yet to be revealed all still within "Volume I".  It's not about to be retired yet. However it now stands, a bit like this blog, as a testimony to what has already happened and a foundation for what is yet to come. Volume II (and III, IV, etc) look to be an exciting prospect but we wouldn't have got here without the tales documented in this simple little notebook.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Session twenty-five - Duels and duality

We begin at dawn on the surface of Deep Core 104 as the drizzle rains down and, in the background De Havilland lifts off in the Explorer to head to Suryada.
The duelling ground as the fighters face off from one another.
Baron Christopher has gone all out and invited a host of luminaries and socialites from the Midden Barony to watch the spectacle of the duel.  His men have erected a pavilion for him, covered stands for his guests and are busy serving breakfast.

Hemlock, on the other hand is stood in the rain accompanied by two retainers, Sir Mal and Lady Chastity (with her guards).

Ralph, the Baron's aide, advises Hemlock they are ready to begin when he is and so Hemlock announces his charge against the Baron, that he showed disrespect and ungraciousness when a guest in Hemlock's home. The Baron responds that he refutes the charge and accepts the challenge. He questions who Hemlock's Second is and is disgusted, as are most of the assembled throng, to hear that it is the outcast Sir Mal Hawkwood. The Baron, as is formality confirms his second is Sir Hasimir.

The two Seconds review the weapons to be used and check for any malefaction, deceit or treachery.  While this is going on Lady Chastity approaches Sir Hemlock and asks if, as he has been so kind to her, he would agree to wear a token from her for luck, during the duel.  He agrees and she pins a small but fine looking brooch on his cape.

The Field of Honour is cleared and the two combatants draw their blades, salute and begin...with remarkable speed Hemlock gets the drop on the defensive Baron, rushes to him, steps within his guard and slips his rapier slowly through the Hawkwood’s shield, cutting his tunic and grazing his side.  Blood is drawn and honour satisfied. There is a moment of stillness as the crowd awaits the Baron's response.  He stops, pulls back and salutes Hemlock. The duel is over in moments. There is polite applause from the spectators and Hemlock and company pack up to leave.

Sir Hasimir is enjoying the breakfast feast when he overhears the Baron's raised voice coming from his pavilion tent. He goes to see what is up and finds the Baron ranting, not that he lost, but that Hemlock didn't put on a proper show of it.  He expected, and wanted, a decent fight. As far as he is concerned going in to win straight away was disrespectful and frankly rude.  He knows Hemlock's reputation as a competitive fencer and he was expecting a real bout, to be toyed with and to spar properly, getting the measure of each other and having a too and fro.  Essentially he thinks Hemlock spoiled what could have been an exciting spectacle with a worthy adversary. He was "playing to win" rather than for the sport. He says that this is typical of upstart, corrupt Justinians and he punctuates his dialogue with thrown objects and smashing the contents of the tent. Hasimir tries to calm him and has some success, the knight's words seem to divert the baron from rage but he then turns on Hasimir and demands to know how his investigations are proceeding. He responds by outlining what he and De Havilland discussed and that he is certain that the Marquis had no part in Tonbei's actions.  He also says that his investigation into Sir Tarquin continues, but slowly. He then delivers the message from Father Helsing to ask that the Baron considers being more lenient with the peasantry.  Christopher seems unconcerned and practically mocks the priest's concerns. He asks Hasimir what he would do in his situation and he duly outlines two possible routes; continue as he is (and risk rebellion) or spare the rod to appear a more caring ruler. This seems to ignite inspiration for a plan in the Baron who suggests that there is a third way.  He tells a servant to notify a "Sir Terrance" that he wants to speak with him when they return to the barony.  

Meanwhile Hemlock and his party are travelling back to Sector 42. They chat pleasantly and Lady Chastity seems to be far more relaxed since her confession to Hemlock the day before.  Mal speaks to Hemlock about who he should consult if he wants to discuss communications in the fief and Hemlock suggests contacting any local guilders.  Chastity asks if they will have their postponed tour of the lands today and Hemlock agrees to show her the city (or at least his family's part of it).
It was Sir Hasimir, in the library with the cunning scheme...
When they reach the Midden Mansion Hasimir and Virssu locate Sir Tarquin studying in his library.  Hasimir passes on to the young noble that he has spoken to Father Helsing and the priest's concern for the people.  Tarquin is obviously moved and wants to meet with Helsing but his movement outside the mansion is watched and heavily controlled.  Hasimir convinces him to write a letter to the priest, expressing his intentions to meet and leave the details to him.  The letter is dispatched and they await a response.

Before leaving for the city Hemlock takes the time to show Sir Mal and Lady Chastity a photo of Hemlock, his twin sister Tiger Lily and Arcadia as children. The photo obviously means a lot to him and he notices that Chastity seems to linger over the image of Arcadia. Hemlock also offers her favour back to Chastity but she declines, saying that he should take it as a gift of thanks for taking her in and treating her so well.

Once in the city, Mal makes enquiries as to the best person to speak to about communications traffic in Sector 42 and he is directed to Mitnick, the Scraver he spoke to the previous day. The Scraver deals in information and as such he monitors telecomms, telegraph and squawker traffic using a host of Think Machines to catalogue and collate the data. Mal deals with the Scraver using a combination of his Streetwise smarts, natural presence and hefty bribes to find out that there has been some irregular scrambled or encrypted traffic that Mitnick has tracked but been unable to decode.  It started about nine days ago, just before Mal and Hemlock returned to the fief and the last message was yesterday (after Tonbei's death).  The messages seem to originate from the mansion and mostly occur in the early morning or late evening. Mal pays the Scraver to try to decode the messages (he had given up doing so as there was no potential profit in it).

While Mal is busy Sir Hemlock shows Lady Chastity (and her guards) around the fief.  She seems politely interested in everything he shows her, particularly his anecdotes about his childhood.  She walks with her arm in his and seems genuinely to consider him a friend and seems to neither be flattering nor attempting to ingratiate herself with him, nor be attempting to portray a persona or mask.

When they return to Hemlock's family mansion Mal waits until he can get Hemlock alone and reports back to him about what he has found.  Hemlock suggests that he may need to make some investigations at the times the messages are being sent to see if he can find the culprit. He also takes the time to examine the favour Chastity had presented him and discovers that it is a high quality duelling shield! Mal is intrigued, immediately thinking of it's possible resale value...

Back in the Midden Barony Tarquin accosts Hasimir after dinner to advise him that he has heard back from Father Helsing and he can visit him the following day.  Hasimir and Virssu plan to sneak the knight out of a window and manage to do so the following morning. They manage to sneak away and meet with the priest who is over joyed to see Sir Tarquin safe and sound.  They speak at length with the young knight who is obviously moved by the plight of his people. They are then joined by Potter, Dame Helena's old major domo (now on the run from Hawkwood forces) and Clodius, the peasant leader that Hasimir previously encountered with Dame Arcadia. They are keen to impress on Tarquin that there are people who stand ready to fight for him, if he will lead them.  Encouraged by this Tarquin seems energized and roused to action and says that he needs to speak with Baron Christopher. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Interlude - She said what?

“She said what…?” the words came as though they had literally fallen from his lips.  De Havilland stared at a rather thoughtful Hemlock and an unsettling silence suddenly fell upon the room.

“That is what she claims, at least” followed Hemlock, “Although I am not really certain whether she is telling me the truth of the matter.”  De Havilland stood awestruck, the weight of the words gently pressing out from his mind as he began to search out all the possible implications of this latest revelation.

“I really didn’t expect that” he finally managed to answer.  “I know I asked her if she had any thoughts on the matter, but that was because I wanted to judge whether she knew a little more about the subject than she was letting on.  I mean, certainly when she left the room I thought that perhaps…”, De Havilland trailed off. 

“But do you actually believe her?” queries Hemlock, obviously keen to hear another person’s opinion on the matter.  De Havilland shifts uneasily and then starts to walk slowly around the room, his hand to his chin and his forefinger playing wistfully with his moustache.

“Certainly, I think I might” follows Hemlock as he watches De Havilland walking in wide circles.  “Obviously I know she’s a Decados and I have heard that they are not always to be trusted.  But to me, she just seems, well,…”  Hemlock frowns a little and tilts his head to one side, trying to find the right word.  De Havilland looks over sharply, searching out Hemlock; trying to determine his friend’s true feelings about this woman.

“Crooked?” comes a voice from the edge of the room, followed by a large clink and a rolling noise as Sir Mal takes his shot on the billiard table.  He raises himself from the table and carries on with his commentary, keen that his audience is entertained a little further.  “I mean, you can’t tell me you actually trust her?  I know I certainly don’t” he states, “She’s a Decados after all!”

Hemlock raises one eyebrow, “From what I have seen of her so far Sir Mal she seems very much the Lady and perfectly respectable.  Not everyone in my father’s estate has managed to fare quite so well so far…”  De Havilland grins at that and gives his cousin a knowing nod to suggest it was a ‘good hit, well landed’.  Mal harrumphs and continues, “Well if anyone is ever going to listen to me about anything then let me just say that I certainly know a rogue when I see one, and that woman is definitely trouble.”

“I think we can agree on that particular word”, continues Hemlock, “…for there is little doubt she brings trouble with her.  But what are we going to do about what she has said about her father?”

Finally De Havilland finds the words he has been looking for and moves over and leans onto the edge of the billiard table.  “Personally I’m not sure what to think.  My own judgement has been shown to be somewhat lacking of late and I’m not sure I trust my own thinking any more.  But I will share my thoughts with you both before I head off as not to do so would possibly be a little self-indulgent of me and possibly not very fair.”

De Havilland takes a moment to compose himself.  To the searching eyes of Hemlock he can see that his comrade is very much hurting with the betrayal of the Imperial Cohort, Tonbei.  Hemlock’s own mind immediately flashes back to memories of the loss of Dame Arcadia, and his own tortured feelings concerning her bitter end.

De Havilland looks down at the billiard table deep in thought.  “I have no clear mind whether she is telling the truth or not.  On the one side, she could indeed be telling the truth.  She could have wanted to find somewhere to run away and seek refuge from the torments of a father who had broken her in some way…”

Hemlock nods knowingly, thinking through the situation in his own mind.

“But…”, continues De Havilland, “…do you believe for one moment that of all the places she could have run to hide, to seek refuge from a man who is the preeminent leader of his family on this world that she would choose to pick your father’s barony?”  He looks up, the light from the billiard table now casting half of his face in shadow.

“Think on it Hemlock.  Why here.  Why you?” finished De Havilland.

“Me?” follows Hemlock, “You just said it yourself, she’s here as it is my Father’s barony, not for me.”

De Havilland shakes his head slightly as though trying to think through a fog.  “I just don’t see it Hemlock.  I could be wrong, and as I’ve said already tonight I tend to be making a good habit of it.  I think she wants to be near to you, or us all perhaps, but certainly here in Deepcore 104.”

The room went quiet as everyone started to turn their thoughts onto the dark paths of Decados politicking.  It was a dangerous game to try to twist your mind into a Decados plot; and generally often completely fruitless as well.

“What if she hasn’t left her father at all?  What if she’s here under his orders, working on one of his schemes?” De Havilland followed on.

Hemlock puffs out thoughtfully, “But why would she incriminate him like that?  That doesn’t make any sense at all?”

“I have absolutely no idea”, answered De Havilland, “But just imagine for one moment, that after sitting with us today she leaves, and rather than returning to her room to meditate and recuperate, she instead picks up some clever communications device she has hidden in her room and speaks with him, tells him everything she has just heard from us and he comes back with these very instructions.  For her to claim that he had paid this  Slayers Guild to execute Selwyn and a number of others on that list.”

“Well, if I’m honest that isn’t the question I really need answering though” jumps in Mal.  “I’d just really like to know what on Urth Hemlock thinks he’s wearing?”  Suddenly the room shifts focus, to look over at the Justinian at the head of the billiard table.  He looks down at himself, at the charcoal and scarlet jacket he has on.  The straps and buckles make him look slightly like a deranged spider.

“Ah…yes…I had quite forgotten about that” Hemlock responds, pulling a rather disgusted face and stretching his arms outward, sideways.  He clears his throat as though about to make an important announcement.  “Apparently this is my family’s ancestral duelling jacket.” 

Mal smirks unashamedly.  De Havilland chews his mouth, nervously.  The jacket wasn’t entirely a disgrace, it was just that Hemlock was somewhat smaller than its original occupant, and had insisted on putting it on by himself.  After finally asking for help, he found even the staff had forgotten how to secure it all, likely due to its age.  It was probably quite a sophisticated item in its day but in its current state it was likely to prove more of a hindrance than anything else.

“Its…its…” pondered De Havilland;  “An utter shambles” exasperated Hemlock.  “I am only wearing it now to prove how ridiculous it is.  How by The Pancreator would I ever be able to move around in it?”

Suddenly Mal shoots a gaze over at the doorway to the billiard room and in a matter of moments a figure emerges.  The member of household staff clears his throat.

“I know, I know, the time!” responds Hemlock.  He looks back over at De Havilland and the two share a gaze that suggests they both realise the peril they both face in the coming hours, days and perhaps weeks, if they manage to live that long.  Nothing more is said. 

Hemlock looks at them both and then leaves.

Once a quiet has settled on the room again De Havilland walks over to a corner and picks up a large travel bag and swings it over his left shoulder.  He gathers up a long coat and walks over to Mal.  De Havilland punches Mal on the arm playfully.  His cousin surprised him by punching him back forcefully in the gut.  Anton stares down at his stomach in shock but as he raises his eyes to meet Mal’s his mouth has spread to a broad grin.  He leans in to his cousin's ear and whispers to him.

“…I want you to keep one eye out for Hemlock, Mal.  A really good eye on him.  I don’t want you seen doing it though, so keep as much distance as you can as I fear there may be agents working in this place.”

“Right…”, pauses Sir Mal pulling away deliberately, “…and what would I be getting out of doing that then?”

De Havilland looked around the room quickly and then whispered in his cousin's ear again.  “You get three square meals a day Mal, and the chance to try your skills against a very worthy adversary.  Plus you might actually earn the respect of some very worthy people.”

Mal didn’t look all that impressed so far.  He had only spent a little time with his cousin over the last few weeks and noted that those around him all seemed to be in some form of danger at the moment; either that or actually dead.  The omens were not looking all that good for him, presently.

“Yeah, I’m still not seeing why I should.” he responded.  De Havilland rolled his eyes, obviously keen to be getting going on his way to the transporter awaiting him, and he was bitterly missing having someone around that he could issue a direct order to.  But then look how that one had ended.  “Mal, just make sure you see he’s safe until I return.  That’s not too much to ask of you is it?  I mean you do think you might actually be capable of managing that?”

Mal thought it over.  He now felt as though he didn’t want his cousin to think of him as completely useless.  Too many people were judging him as such at the moment.  Perhaps this moment was an opportunity to show some talent.  He gave a heavy and laboured sigh “Alright Anton, I’ll do it.  What about Hasimir though, you want me to do the same with him?”

De Havilland shook his head slightly, “No, you are to keep out of his way unless he makes an attempt to contact either you or Sir Hemlock. Hasimir is in a dangerous place right now.  I trust him to manage that as best as anyone can.  You being about is going to cause him more trouble than he needs right now.  No, keep out of his way but make yourself available if he asks for help.  Do you think you can manage that?”

Mal nodded.  He felt sure that was well within his powers, and actually slightly less interesting than he now felt he would have liked.  Actually, as he thought about it, he could really do with something a bit more interesting to do whilst De Havilland swanned off to Suryada to do whatever it was he was up to.  He blurted out, “So no real secret missions for me then?  I actually do feel slightly left out at the moment to be honest, especially if you are leaving me here alone.”

De Havilland smiled and started to walk towards the door of the room.  He stopped abruptly, turns and is about to speak when he suddenly appears to reconsider things, shakes his head, says “nah….” and walks out.  Mal is left standing there pondering what might have been.  Half of him says not to worry about it and to find himself another drink somewhere and another part of him sends prickles down his back at the prospect of another coup being pulled off.

Half an hour later The Marquis makes his way to a safe area just outside of the take-off pad of the Explorer craft.  The engines are running on the transport in preparation and he can see Sir Mal making his way over through the haze of the engine jetwash.  He pretends not to notice and hands his bag over to the pilot, but waits patiently for Mal to arrive.  His cousin walks up to him and looks at him indignantly.  He has to shout over the noise of the engine but the message is clear, “Okay Anton, spit it out.  What do you really want?”

They lean over to one side of the pad but have to shout into each other's ears to be heard.

“Mal, I want you to find someone here who is an expert on local communications who understands the normal chatter.  Maybe it’s that Scraver guy we met yesterday, or maybe it’s someone else.  I want you to find out if there have been any unusual new transmissions taking place recently.  Take as much time as you need to determine if that is happening and then I want you to see if you can work out where these communications are coming from and who they are going to.  If you find something interesting and you have time you may just be lucky enough to crack one…”

Mal looked at his cousin carefully, weighing up this request.  On the face of it, it sounded simple enough.  However the scale of the task was unknown, and the outcome completely unpredictable.  It could even potentially be quite dangerous, nosing around like that was never a good idea. If he ever got found out he could be in trouble;  Even more trouble than usual.