(Black Jaguar & Black Bear, the Heir & the Duke; photo Doresain & Manshoon minis by Mordicai.)
Yesterday's Oubliette game was featuring a special guest star: martak! If you'll recall, a few sessions ago the party split up, with half going onward into demon-haunted Antiphon & half staying in pacific Anise. I resolved to alternate storylines, having all the players keep their main characters but create side characters to play in the other arc. last time we played we dealt with the Antiphon story, so this story was focusing on the weird adventures of Tracey's character Blue Glory on Dark Water, bastard daughter of the Licorice Duke & his favorite concubine & on Curie Firstlight, inventor extraordinaire & investigator into the anabaric & vitabaric forces. toughlad played Coyote's Lucky Day, a karnak of the See Mob in the Marsh Mallow Duchy-- a one-eyed explorer of fortune riding a giant cassowary. Tom couldn't come on account of finals week. Mike's guest character was Vajraratni of Nilashaila from Clan Naga. I told Mike about how the people in Anise would probably translate his name to its roots, since they have descriptive names, & so he went with "Orichalc Fist of the Blue Mountain of the Snake" & said he thought his name should be Sanskrit inspired, so I just translated it (very sloppily). Vajraratni carries a bag of lumpen misshapen objects with him.
(Coyote's Lucky Day; Mads Mikkelsen as Rochefort in The Three Musketeers.)
I jammed the Players together rudely, with jump cuts-- Coyote! You meet this foreign guy-- he's a member of somebodies feudal structure. Vajraratni-- you are a member of a military aristocracy in a nation ruled by cowboy nobility; if you don't get permission to wander through their country, you'll be commiting acts of war. Coyote, you are leading him to seek audience with The Licorice Duke. Oh look you see campfire smoke. Oh look Blue Glory, someone sees your campfire smoke. Oh look, Curie, Blue Glory found some strangers. Okay! I think that worked; Player Character meet & greet can be really cool but it can also spiral out of control. I maybe should have left more wiggle room, but we took a long time ordering food & getting set up, & I was feeling pressed for time. James' character, Coyote's Lucky Day, has a particularly blase personality that makes it easy to use him as glue to hold everyone together. So, they met up, shared a bottle of sake (in & out of game) & got to travelling! Previously, in emails, Sam & Tracey had played out an interlude, in which Blue Glory & Curie visited Blue Glory's estate & her secret crystal caves-- they met Coyote & Vajraratni on the border of her estate, where it bleeds in to the Licorice Duke's private domain. Blue Glory's estate is dominated by Japanese maples & red pandas; the Licorice Duke has rainbow eucalyptus & honey-fed black bears.
(Sir Blood Penny, the Autumn Champion; "Ikiral Outrider" by Kekai Kotaki.)
Act I of the story concerned questing champions. Challenges in Anise serve a number of purposes. Most overtly is national defense. If a knight of Anise were to discover an unvouched for intruder in their country, they'd defeat them with force of arms. A well equipped knight on a destriar is a pretty decent elite unit. If you were part of Anise's hierarchy, under a the umbrella of the aristocracy, they'd offer challenge to you. Friendly tests, competitive intermingling. Win a rival's pennant, offer a duel to first blood to settle issues of primacy or primogenature-- that sort of thing. To enmesh each other in a network of social obligations, basically-- games of boons & favors. The players met, in turn, three Champions-- the Autumn Champion, Sir Blood Penny; the Spring Champion, Count The Falling Stars & the Summer Champion, Sir Black Arrow Binding.
The first challenge didn't go as I'd planned! Which is totally oh me. No one wanted to vouch for the mysterious stranger, Vajraratni, so rather than a test of strength & athleticism, which I'd planned, we got a duel. I, as the Narrator, fell into the trap of "oh, this guy, he's a Player Character, see?" Lemons to lemonade, though-- what ended up happening was a lot of fun. Blue Glory used her influence to set the conditions of the duel-- to first blood, balancing on a fallen tree; there was a nice interplay wherein she had more Status than Sir Blood Penny, but he was a member of the noble class & had Title...there were complicated power relationships & they came out really well. The duel itself was cool; samurai staredowns, scuttling forward trying to keep balance, all that. In the end, Vajraratni lost to the Autumn Champion, but lost well, lost honorably.
(Count The Falling Stars, the Spring Champion; "Archon of Justice" by Jason Chan.)
Onward to the second challenger, the Spring Champion. Count The Falling Stars just tilted his head & tensed-- if you are an excellent reader of body language, you would realize he was implicitly challenging you to a race. Blue Glory realized it, & took off after him; Curie & Coyote took a second to figure it out but were off after him-- Curie giving chase in his tinker's wagon! Vajraratni was left in the dust. The Spring Champion took them round a bend where they saw that he'd blocked off a wide swatch by banking hot coals. The racers were undeterred; Blue Glory guided her hippofelis Herakles Vagabond through the zig-zag path without coals, Coyote goaded his mount across, & Curie trusted in metal shod hooves & wagon wheels. Around the next turn...he was gone! Blue Glory wasn't fooled, & neither was Coyote, but Curie got a bit turned around-- the Count had doubled back. Blue Glory (with a whopping eleven successes over the three rolls) actually beat the Champion back-- he silently laid down a cloth with a henna pattern of a six-pointed star. She'd won the privilege of his mark!
(Sir Black Arrow Binding, the Summer Champion; "Kabira Vindicator" by Steve Belledin.)
The Summer Champion is gregarious & friendly! Why hello there, little friends! The Alpha Sir Black Arrow Binding is a giant on a pacing horned hippofelis, surrounded by fifty-some-odd men-at-arms. An uncommonly large number. The Summer Champion challenges them to a test of strict mettle: a haiku contest! Blue Glory, as the Duke's daughter, is ceded the right to choose the topic; she picks "the seasons," & we're off! I wish I'd gotten all the PC's poems; Blue Glory's was about the seasons proper; Curie's was about a raven in winter; Vajraratni's was about a dead dog rotting in summer; Coyote's was about the building of winter inukshuks. Sir Black Arrow Binding's was The Black Cedar tree / adorned with a crown of green / in dawning Twilight. His was an emotional volley regarding Blue Glory on Dark Water's parents-- the Black Cedar of the poem referred to The Licorice Duke's personal name, Black Bear on Black Cedars, & Twilight referred to his human concubine Thoreau Twilight. I had the player's choose their favorite; they came to a loose accord that Blue Glory's poem was the best, & so the Summer Champion tore a strip of his black cloak off & gave it to her as a token.
(The Black Palace & the Black Mask of the Licorice Duke; the Taj Mahal, inverted & Ra's mask from Stargate.)
Which brought our heroes to the Black Palace of the Licorice Duke, Regent of Anise. Having been vetted by the Champions, they pass in unmolested. Did I say unmolested? Black Jaguar, the heir of the Licorice Duke with his wife the Spice Drop Duchess, visits Blue Glory while she grooms herself. She keeps the door chained & puts the door jam on the ground just to be sure. Blue Glory's Virtue is Prudence! Jaguar has nothing to say, just wants to be a creep. Eventually, they are brought in to see the Licorice Duke-- Curie running a little bit behind (he hooked up with one of the groomsmen). The guards pull out glasses of absinthe from their robes (how?) & pass them out to the visitors. Black Bear on Black Cedars has the mask of station on his face, a giant face adorned with a symbolic lotus, & balances a rod across his lap. He is dressed in black & green & speaks to the party. "Careful..." Blue Glory on Dark Water says with her eyes. Vajraratni "gets" it now-- a ronin unused to courtly etiquette, he realizes that Blue Glory is the distaff offspring of the Regent.
(Black Bear on Black Cedar & Black Jaguar on White Snow-- the Duke & the Heir; Jason Isaacs in The Patriot & fashion by Katie Eary.)
The Licorice Duke has...plans. That much is certain, that much is clear. He says as much by what he leaves out as by what he says out loud. I am pretty proud of how I portrayed him; that guy was intense. "Are you a patriot?" he asks Curie, promising not to interfere with Aubade's gods or guilds...notably absent is any such promise in regards to it's government the Arcanum. Vajraratni lays down his burden, the bag he carries with him, & unfolds it: it is a sack of some two dozen mummified hands. He is on his way to see the Peacock Angel, in the lands of the Black Horizon. The Daimyo of the Snake clan has been killed; the Licorice Duke gives him leave to continue his pilgrimage but on the condition that he return, acknowledge the Duke as Shogun, & go to the Blue Mountain of the Snake Clan to set himself up as Daimyo...unless the Angel disagrees. Blue Glory says that The Saltwater Duke, the erstwhile Slumbering Heart Dwells on the Hill, has given her letters of intent that if he died, he wants Blue Glory to have his throne-- of course, as she is a Beta, & not an Alpha, that would be unheard of. Slumberheart's twist of the screw. Very well then-- desirous of the theosophic & mechanikal know-how of Curie Firstlight & the far-flung alliance (& recognition as supreme royal) with the Naga, The Licorice Duke draws a wand, scabbarded in his scepter-- an alicorn, a twist of horn. He dubs them about the shoulders & calls for Black Jaguar & the visiting guests of the Sugarplum Barons to enter the court. Black Jaguar on White Snow is wearing a chainmail shirt of gold & a golden skull mask-- because, as they say, "of course he is."
(Sugarplum Baron going to jelly & tentacles; "Hastur" by capprotti.)
(A fully cancerous-ridden tentacle swarm; "Shoggoth" by Christian Pearce.)
The Licorice Duke introduces the Sugarplum Barons as Junior Partner The Golden Mean, & Associate Door Always Open, Associate Lock Unbroken & Associate Key That Does Not Turn. The Sugarplum Barons, you'll recall, are the non-noble captains of industry in the north-east. They are the intrusion of capitalism into the feudalism of Anise. The Duke leads the party into the Hunting Lodge of the Palace-- a place dominated by the taxidermied heads of his fallen foes. When he would utterly defeat a foe, the Licorice Duke would have their destriar's head stuffed & mounted, because that is just the kind of guy he is. He is not kidding around with this tough guy stuff. He is not to be trifled with. Meddle not in the affairs of
I don't want to mess around. The Sugarplum Barons are tense, about to act-- we roll initiative! The Barons start...liquifying. One hits the Licorice Duke with an arm that seems boneless-- more like a tentacle slap? One of the Baron's goes to pull out Vajraratni's legs & he strikes her down with a drop of his sword-- a dull, flat coloured blade that Curie calls gravity steel. What rises up from the insides of her body is a tangle of guts & jelly, of slime & tentacles, of ooze & cancer. The players are reminded of the Sugarcane Slasher at Lookout Lake, the cancerous Frankenstein's monster, & Eight Moons of Delight's comment that they hadn't gotten to introducing the tumorous tissue from the sleeping Ultra into living flesh yet. Well, looks like they have now! Curie ducks under the table, landing on his backside & winding up his lightning gun; meanwhile, one of the people melts-- his clothes aren't fabric but also part of the creature, ew-- & slides under the table with him. Blue Glory picks up a candelabra, thrusting fire at the not-yet-puddled but not-quite humanoid woman next to her, & Coyote follows suit. The guards grab the Licorice Duke & shuffle him through a secret door; some of the Jellybarons follow him, sliding disgustingly under the door. They fight-- Vajraratni is beaten again & again but pops one of the creatures like a pimple, deflating it with a putrid rush of pus. Coyote throws undiluted absinthe on a burning pile of mouthing appendages, & Curie lets forth a blast. Eventually all the creatures have fled in pursuit of the Licorice Duke or are vanquished.
(The Sugarplum Barons in human & "jelly" form; photo of miniatures by Mordicai.)
I think the fight went well. It was fun, but the "two form" build that I'd created wasn't really used-- they all pretty much went to Jelly right away. I was very proud of my mini-fu; I picked the best miniatures! Wizards of the Coast has a limited paint palette, so the yellow of their Ochre Jelly, of their Yochlol, as well as of the various character & humanoid miniatures-- same with the pink. I was itching for a chance to use the gooey guys, & glad to break them out. The fight was fairly straight forward but not over-long or over-easy. I think that the fight against the Sugarcane Torso Killer was better-- but then, that was a great fight, one of the best fights I've narrated. This was good, & came at an appropriate time. I had prepared an Act III, but I knew I had over-extended my planning even as I did it. I called game with the fight's end-- Tracey wanted to go another five or ten minutes (which would have meant probably another half hour, in reality) but I figured better to stop there, with a cliff hanger, than butcher what I'd had in mind. I might do it as an email interlude, or just play it out with them next time we come back to this plotline. I'm not sure yet. Still, I was pleased with the session-- I thought that Mike gelled really well with the group (pun intended) despite having half the party as all new NPCs. He got the "weirdness" vibe right off the bat, which isn't surprising, but was enheartening.