It’s been awhile since I updated here. Most of the reason for that is that the group had to take a long break for scheduling reasons.
One thing I knew going into this Saturday’s game was that a big Procedural scene was imminent. I also knew (because I had been keeping track) that three of the five players had only red (worst) chips left to play, one had a yellow (medium), and one had a green (best). I on the other hand, had only my green chip (toughest difficulty) left to assign. There were a few bennies floating around the table, but not too many.
I sensed a disaster of epic proportions in the offing.
The characters were attempting a spell to summon the Winter Court of the fae to protect some standing stones in Brittany, because their unit was scheduled to go to the front and there was evidence that their foes were sniffing around, trying to gain access to the stones power. Since the stones had been the focus of one entire session of play, I decided in my head that the stones were far more powerful than anyone realized.
So we started off the game, and the Procedural rolled in immediately. The players started giving vivid descriptions of how their characters were contributing to the ritual, and how the winter court began to arrive, complete with fae versions of World War I weapons (historically, tanks had only recently made their appearance on the battlefield and were widely feared – so of course the fae came in riding on faerie versions made of blowing snow). One after another the players described what was going on, and how the ceremony was not constraining or interesting the fae (no one drew a matching card) – until we got to Marie-Isis.
Then everything went to heck.
Madam Dirigny’s efreet lashed out at the fae, killing one and enraging the rest. The icy tanks began to turn in the direction of the ceremony, their guns training on the PCs. Chaplain Lake threw himself in front of the women, and the others tried desperately to control the spell, but in the end it was all for naught. The Winter Court poured through the breech and vented its fury first on the PCs and then on the surrounding lands.
Three characters got consequences from the scene – Captain Sinclair had one leg blown off by a faerie cannon, Lieutenant Nygard lost his magical powers, and Chaplain Lake (who got a good consequence) had his faith renewed by standing up to the faerie tanks and escaping unharmed.
One of the things that I find very interesting about Dramasystem is that I, as GM, only have a single scene per round just like everyone else. On the one hand, it sometimes feels very restraining not to have any more authority over the story-line than anyone else (I think that the players sometimes feel that way too, because they sometimes look to me for rulings on how things work, only to have me shrug and say “it’s your scene – you tell me!”). On the other hand it is very liberating and empowering for the plot itself to have so many creative minds working on it – like a whole creative team working to write the plot for a movie or television show. And it has some advantages in terms of storytelling as well.
I knew from the beginning that if the PCs really screwed up the spell (which was likely) I wanted it to be a game changer – this would be the point where things seriously diverged from history. It was the big one. But I couldn’t just announce the changes – it wasn’t my turn (I was actually last in the precedence order). So we made the rounds of the table and players added a bit to what was going on: Captain Sinclair had an encounter with one of his previously killed old school chums who was now a vampire, Madam de Travaigne attempted to get in touch with the winter court and received threats and portents of doom, Lt. Nygard tried to convince Marie-Isis to let him take her efreet in order to restore his lost power, Chaplain Lake tracked down the suddenly un-maimed Captain Sinclair and demanded an explanation for what was happening, which Sinclair declined to supply. . While listening to all this with one ear I started to lay the groundwork in my head for the unfolding disaster. I took my first round to give Capt. Sinclair a tough choice about betraying the cadre in order to get his leg back.
Then came my second round, and Captain Sinclair and Chaplain Lake were called into a brigade staff meeting. Brigadier Watson informed the officers present that movement to the front had been suspended, pending new orders. The headquarters of the French General Staff in Paris had collapsed, killing most of the General Staff, including Joseph Joffre, Robert Nivelle, and Phillipe Petian. Details were uncertain, but there were rumors that the Germans had undermined the building and set off explosives. In addition, the moon had gone dark, though the general assured everyone that this was simply an extended eclipse. Rumormongering about these events was announced to be a capitol offense, and all officers were ordered to severely punish those caught, and to use whatever means necessary to quash any sort of demoralizing discussions.
The players (and their characters) started realizing that things had changed.
We had another go-around. Captain Sinclair called a meeting of the cadre to discuss what to do, and turns leadership over to Lt. Nygard. Madam de Travaigne attempts to mend fences with Chaplain Lake. Chaplain Lake discovers an entirely frozen farm outside the camp, Lt. Nygard and Capt. Sinclair go for drinks and Nygard attempts to convince him to follow his own heart as opposed to the orders of his superiors (those of the military and those of the Order) while Madam de Travaigne eavesdropped. Madam Dirigny went to the remains of the standing stones and offered up her efreet to the Winter Court if they would turn their wrath only upon her, and the efreet was seemingly destroyed.
Then came my final scene, which I called between Lt. Nygard and Mr. Jones, the contact from the Order. Nygard was informed that whatever ritual they had invoked at the stones had, in the view of the Order, been a smashing success! They French were in disarray. Buckingham Palace had been destroyed and the King was presumed dead, Mexico had just allied with Germany (reducing the chance of the US entering the war) and unseelie fairies had been seen among the German troops on the Western front. It was now widely believed that the war would be over by Christmas, that France would fall, and that the horrors wrought by the fae would indeed be the final ingredient needed to evoke the great ritual what would change the mind and spirit of man, and eliminate war forever!!!!!
Oh, and could they please prepare to cancel the ritual once France had fallen?
I learned from this week’s game both the importance of a GM in Dramasystem and how you should be a good GM in the Dramasystem. I think that it is entirely workable to play Dramasystem without a GM, but having a GM will give a very different “feel” to a Dramasystem game. While it is the responsibility of the players to push the buttons of characters that they have established relations with, it is the GM’s job whenever possible to push the buttons of ALL the characters at once, or to generally throw a monkeywrench into the overall relationship map of the game to make sure it never, ever stabilizes. This is especially important in settings where the characters are supposed to be working together (such as “To End All Wars”) as opposed to settings where characters are antagonists forced to work together. Make sure that nobody ever feels that their character is in a comfortable place. Push them hard, not only singularly but as a group. Make sure they can’t get what they want. Or give them everything they want while giving them reasons to really, really not want it anymore.