Rising Waters, Season 2 Finale (and DFA playtest)
My apologies for the long delay in posting; I have a few things I want to wrap up on the last day of 2015. First of all, I want to post the end of Season 2 of the Rising Waters game, and then I want to comment a bit on the Dresden Files Accelerated playtest.
When last we left our intrepid crew, they had gone to the librarian to get some word on their gifts. Jeffrey, said librarian, was impressed and rather horrified at the same time. He pointed out that these were some of the weirdest things he'd ever seen because of their combination of fae and demonic magics. These are not two great tastes that taste great together, and while it explained how fae magic could take on ghosts, for example, it did not in the least reassure him about what's going on.
The group was equally chastened, realizing this just got a lot stranger than they'd bargained for. They had to get back to the tea shop, though, since Hui had made Dylan promise to have Eldi back before dark. Nobody wants to be an oathbreaker, so they kept their word.
Once there, they began talking about what could be going on. Uno was dithering as to his choice, just like the Uncertain Ass-Kicker he is, when they hear noises outside. They go out and find Peter (Adelphia's boy toy) and Sidonie (one of her guards) there. Peter demands to come in and speak to Uno, which they finally do, only for Peter to reveal that Adelphia's been taken. Sidonie, injured but stable, tells of how it suddenly grew dark and they were ambushed, unable to see what struck them or how. When the dark passed, Sidonie was left alive, just barely, and Adelphia was gone. The rest of the guards had been killed and left lying where they had stood.
Eldi at this point flies up, her eyes wide and wings quivering. Uno springs up as well, ready to go. Dylan counsels patience, getting a weird look from Adia, but they agree they need a plan, and Zeke, meanwhile, goes out to take over watch of the house from outside, just in case someone followed Peter and company. Uno and Peter argue, as Peter accuses Uno of disregarding his duties, while Uno accuses Peter of selling Adelphia out, but neither gets anywhere. Discussion rages as Eldi faces returning to the Nevernever for the first time since her exile, and she reveals that the same creatures killed the lady she used to follow in the same way -- making her not really Wildfae, but exiled Summer fae! Uno realizes that's why Eldi seemed familiar to him, and together they decided this shouldn't happen to anyone else. Hui doesn't want her to return and face such danger, but they all promise Hui she'd come back safe and sound, and in the end she gives in, because she can't really deny Eldi anything. Meanwhile, in the dark outside, it suddenly gets much darker. Zeke turns to see what's there, but before he can get a word out, something hits him over the head, and then all he knows is darkness. [FYI, Zeke's player was gone for a week and we cleared this ahead of time. Also, Eldi's player drops out unexpectedly for the rest of the game.]
When the next session opens, the friends have discovered Uno's disappearance. They decide to marshall their forces, get all the artifacts together, and then cross over into the NeverNever and track down Zeke and Adelphia. Uno is like a man possessed; he pulls out his sword and charges forward, all his indecision forgotten. Dylan and Victor work together to open the portal to the NeverNever, and everyone goes through: Adia has Josh in the sugar skull so he can withstand the trip into Fae, Victor is carrying his potions and the letter opener, Dylan has his pendulum, Uno has the knight chess piece, and they all drink some tea before they go. Once across, they start walking through the Wildlands, looking for Summer and signs of who might have taken Zeke.
Intent is important in Faerie -- the land responds to it. They haven't gone terribly far, then, when they come across a valley that swirls with dark fog at the bottom of it. Believing that these are the fae who took Zeke, the party runs headlong at them, finding ways to get down the mountainside safely, with Peter and Sidonie bringing up the rear. Dylan dispels the cloud of darkness within their zone so they know what they're getting into, and what they find is a band of myrks dragging Zeke's bound body. Victor gathers all his Earth and Force power together and brings it to bear at the myrks stealing his friend away, while Uno draws his sword and takes on another of them. They keep the first half of the party engaged while the rest come up, trying to spread the darkness back out. Dylan keeps cancelling out their efforts, though, forcing them to fight in the light. Adia finds rocks to throw up in the air for Dylan to sling at the fae, which he does quite effectively. Victor likewise lashes out using magic, while Uno slices and dices. It isn't long until most of the myrks are gone, and the two left standing run for it. Victor is all for chasing them down, but Dylan stops him, pointing out that they're out in the open with a wounded friend to care for. Reluctantly, Victor lets the stragglers go.
At the beginning of the next session, Zeke comes around, and Sauriel uses his healing powers on Zeke's body. Only afterwards do they realize that there are now scorch marks in the earth radiating out from Zeke; apparently Faerie really doesn't like religious magic, go figure. Victor gathers up blood and fur from the dead myrks and anoints each of the party members, doing a tracking spell as there's surely more working for their boss, and that boss almost certainly has Adelphia. The track doesn't lead to Summer, though, as they thought it might. It doesn't even lead off into the Wildfae somewhere. It leads, like an arrow, straight across the NeverNever into the heart of Winter, the place where no Summer aligned fae ever wants to go.
Taking a deep breath, the group starts following the path. They largely don't stray from it, until they start getting close to Winter as the woods thin a bit, and fallen leaves blanket the ground, and a ridge of frost hardens the edges of puddles on the forest floor. There they feel the first occasional rumbling of the ground. Dylan uses physics to make his eyesight keen, just like binoculars, and see two ogres headed this way. Adia can hear voices whispering and starts to leave the path to follow them, but Victor yanks her back. There's nowhere to hide unless they leave the path, but that seems like a very-not-good idea. Still, Dylan gets an idea, and creates a light-bending field around them all, so that the ogres never see them, accidentally tapping into the aspect of Shortsighted that they had. The ogres are talking to each other about looking for the group and that they must find them soon, cause there's only one path. Victor and Uno want to engage, but the rest of the group persuades them not to, and the danger passes, evaded with style.
As they get closer to winter, coming to the edge of the forest, where everything is covered with a light layer of powdered-sugar-snow and the trees are mostly bare, the group again spots two giants coming down the road out of winter -- two big blue trolls. The group remembers the battle they had with a bridge troll before freeing the Winter Knight, and how they're made up of thousands of mini-trolls, and doesn't really want to fight but is afraid they must. Adia wants to run off the path but can't bring herself to do more. Victor starts reaching into the ground to channel power from the earth, forgetting briefly that Earth is Faerie here.... and it accepts his offer. He gets lost in it, like with the Sight, and has to struggle to keep control. Adia freaks out and has a vision (thanks Cassandra's Tears) that the land itself is trying to drive them apart, but she takes it a bit too literally and starts looking for earthquakes to split them up, and no one believes her (like you do).
Dylan is ready to stand his ground and fight, and Zeke has his cross in hand, but then, like a boss, Uno steps up and addresses them, engaging them in dialogue and social combat. Dylan does his best to help Uno with the intimidation and has summer heat and warmth follow in Uno's wake, melting the snow and creating heat behind him, which almost wrecks the whole thing by pissing off the trolls, but then he drops it as soon as he sees the problem. Victor wants to blast them with cold, but then he realizes that probably won't help and reluctantly lets go of the earth magic -- or so he thinks. The trolls take some social damage and then agree that they're supposed to bring Uno and his friends to see the lady, which is what Uno says they want to do... so they decide to escort all of them back, which everyone agrees to, because why fight before you have to?
It isn't long before everyone realizes that the cold is a thing here, and so they fight it in various ways. Zeke calls upon Sauriel, which works, but he again starts scorching the earth when he walks. Dylan creates little warm air pockets around himself and Adia. Uno carries the warmth of summer with him, particularly given his chess piece, and doesn't feel the cold. And Victor... well, the cold doesn't seem so cold anymore. They walk and walk, and a fortress in the mountains grows closer and closer. Uno recognizes it as Arctis Tor, and they're all really worried they're out of their league for a minute. Then they come to a valley where the road dips down and splits, and they take the left fork, off the main road. They come to a cavern in the mountain side, and the trolls gesture for them to walk in. Again they walk and walk, and their eyes eventually adjust, until they're standing in a dark room with a depthless pool, frozen solid. There's movement and the room brightens, and there standing before them is Uno's mother, looking radiant with her golden hair and shimmering ice-blue dress. She goes to Uno and holds him, scolding him gently for coming into Faerie just now, and telling him how pleased she is to see him regardless. Behind her is the Winter Knight, Ymir, scowling at everyone else.
Uno asks his mother what's going on, and when the group tries to get in on the conversation, she shuts them down. She explains that this is all for his good, and if he'll just mind her like a good son, he'll have all the power he ever dreamed. All he has to do is make one simple choice and he'll never have to do anything else but lie in the sun and do whatever he wants. It's all for him, you see, if he'll just do as she asks and not question her. [She tries to do social damage to him, and gets a success.] Dylan, watching Uno cave under his mother's attacks, manages to get past Ymir and blow up at him, telling him that he needs to get off his ass and make a choice! Stand up for himself! Be the Summer Knight! [Dylan also did social damage, and Uno took a point.] Uno, shocked out of the spell his mother's charisma could weave, realizes that he'll never be anything more than a tool for her, so he stops her the best way he knows how -- he makes the Choice and decides to be Mortal.
She screams and starts attacking Dylan, while Ymir goes after Uno and Zeke. Minions close in, and Adia again bemoans her lack of combat skill... until she realizes that Josh doesn't have to stay in the sugar skull. She checks with him and lets him in to possess her, and then suddenly she starts taking on Ymir too, using the moves of a Marine with multiple tours of duty. Victor, with Winter in his veins, hears a voice on the wind and realizes what it means... he looks at Uno's mother, calls her name, and dubs her Oathbreaker -- and the winds swirl and she screams as the title sticks.
Dylan falls back, trying to figure out where Adelphia is, and Victor struggles forward until his hand wraps around her throat. Uno stabs through Ymir, taking out the Winter Knight (who has revealed in the meantime that he means to move up in the world by helping Uno's mother overthrow Titania and take the summer throne for Winter).
Dylan has a moment of clarity and grabs the chess piece from Uno's pocket. He takes it and tosses it into the pool, where the water starts to thaw and he finds Adelphia, frozen beneath the surface. He lifts the block of ice with her in it from the water, but discovers he can't hold it alone. Adia/Josh backs his brother's play, grabbing the Summer Lady and dragging her off to the side, where Zeke finishes thawing her and begins working on healing. Uno's mother tries to talk to Victor and win the upper hand (having Scale on the party), but his new Fae power and her status as Oathbreaker keeps him immune. Dylan sees the piece get cold and sink to the bottom and yells a warning to Victor, who rather than kill her, just offers her a long time to think about her crimes and drops her in the pond, which flash freezes as soon as she is below the water, trapping her in the heart of winter until someone (not likely Mab) decides to set her free.
Rather than walk all the way back, the group decides to open a gate right there, which gets them to London, strangely enough. After taking a bit to warm up and heal up, they all decide to take a short vacation before they head back home (and maybe see if the White Council would be kind enough to intercede with papers so they don't have to explain to customs how they got here). Adelphia offers to relieve Uno of his burden as the Summer Knight, but he decides to keep the sword and take his duties more seriously. Adia/Josh realize their relationship just got a lot more complicated, and have some things to work out. Dylan still wants to know who gave him the book, and hasn't yet forgotten the thing he found in the bay. Victor is wondering why he feels so much more comfortable in the cold and dark, and trying not to think about it too much, and in the meantime is going to look up Victoria, his contact in London, and maybe try to make a connection. Zeke has to catch up with his girlfriend and figure out what to do about this, not to mention Adia's flirting at him has him kind of uncomfortable even if he refuses to recognize it for what it is. And at the end of it all, as a stinger, Jeffrey the librarian leaves a message on Dylan's service, noting that it's the demonic side of all this he's worried about... and has Dylan heard anything? He'll talk to them soon.
DFA SystemI really can't say enough good stuff about this system. At least part of why things suddenly took a turn for action is because the system suddenly got out of the way of my most system-averse player. The approaches almost made things too rules light at times, and my players were worried because they didn't have the number of bennies they'd had before, but then the average difficulty dropped a lot too, so they didn't need them as much. They remembered and used more of their stunts and powers, and aspects that would have been much more difficult previously (Adia's sudden possession, for example) was easy to handle. My players were thrilled with ritual magic and everyone worked with it, even people who hadn't normally been magic using. It freed things up in a way that mirrors a lot of the magic use in the books. I even got to experiment with something called Scale, which is a way the game experimented with having entities of hugely different power levels in the same scene. If it weren't for the Oathbreaker condition, it would have been really hard for the group to take on Uno's mother. Zeke threw his best scores and bonuses into a shot at her, and it only barely touched her. No one but Victor (the one who called the condition) could take advantage of it, and if he hadn't, it would have been a hell of a slog. I'm still not sure what it would have taken to take her down in a straight-up fight, but the pond idea was so brilliant I had to roll with it. Coming up with NPCs and monsters was much easier, and much more effective. I just really liked it from every perspective.
In short, whenever I come back to this game (which I will eventually), I'm definitely going to be running it in DFA. Thanks to Evil Hat for letting my group participate in the playtest. :)