Structuring Tool: Script it Til They Flip It
It’s important to have an outline in case your players never take the story in their own direction.
- Following the Thieves
- Meet the Queenston Branch Order of Osiris.
- Further conflict with the Order, potential friends who dislike the order’s presence in Queenston.
- Finally, some information about the map.
- If they don’t hurry, the order catches up (because the group never looked into that mark they saw the guy cast on their ship)
Ad-Lib Technique: “That was just a plot twist – now how do I work it into the story?”
The map thieves at the end of the last session had started out as a cliffhanger I just made up. But the group was excited about running them down, and the party had personal reasons to do so: the stolen map might yield some information about their own, since they look alike, and they want to put MacDuff in their debt. So during the week, I did some thinking about a) who these map thieves are, b) why they had stolen it at this particular moment, and c) what leads the party might be able to follow to them.
I decided that a) the thieves were part of the Order of Osiris (of course), here in Queenston snooping for magical artifacts for their own purposes, b) MacDuff’s map had begun to give off an aura as the party’s map got close, and the thieves had detected it – this is because the two are part of an enchanted set. And c) since this party is more interested in action than investigation, I thought I’d take the gamble of leaving this as a chase scene and let any “mystery” stuff come up organically.
It’s nice to toss in twists like this at the ends of sessions, because you have time to think about how you'll work it in next time.
To keep it exciting, I rule that the thieves left just seconds ago. The party rushes into the back alley. Sylvienne fails to track them magically. Bo climbs to the rooftops and succeeds on his roll to spot them. He sees a disturbance in the nearby marketplace, as if someone is trying to push through the crowd. He starts off at a run and everyone follows along. They get to the marketplace (Bo leaping to earth through clotheslines of bedsheets and bras, of course), but can’t see where to go next.
Meet a Friendly NPC – because you want to reward player actions and because it felt like it was time for one.
Savio was looking down the alley with his spyglass – which was kind of pointless, but the player was just doing whatever Savio could to affect the situation. So I rewarded him by ruling that he indeed saw someone suspicious. When he caught up with the guy, it turned out to be an NPC who was also looking for the thieves. And running places, this NPC, named Gannos, explained that he’s part of a “Free Queenston” group who undermines the encroachments of trade guilds. He particularly hates the Order of Osiris.
PLOT INFO I BRING IN: Gannos says the Order of Osiris uses unholy arts, has ways of making their enemies disappear, and has taken over their sizable chunk of turf in Torgua by dark means – and they’re trying to do the same in Queenston. (See how, in terms of what the players find out, Queenston is just an extension of Tortuga?)
Player-Action Consequences: Getting In To Da Place
By asking questions, part of the party track the thieves to a little gin joint, and even know a name to ask for: “Briareus.”
Habakkuk and Sylvienne decide to go in the back door and pretend to sell the magical items they stole off the port official last session. I have the back door guy let them in, then march them downstairs at blunderbuss-point because those items are reconizable Order of Osiris gear. He shoves them in a cage down in the Order’s warehouse space so Briareus can deal with them himself.
Note this isn’t really a failure: they got inside.
Savio is a little cleverer (and luckier in his dice rolls). He, Bo, and Gannos go in on pretended business and drop the name Briareus to the back door guy. They are shown downstairs.
They walk right past Habakkuk and Sylvienne, and catch Briareus (who runs the Order’s efforts in this area) in between meetings. Savio starts acting authoritative, saying there are new orders and that Briareus better get that map ready for immediate transport to headquarters in Tortuga. This is bold enough (and in character enough), that I rule that Briareus is just a little flustered. Note that the acquisition of the map was pretty sudden too – busy morning. So Briareus is flustered enough to go check something before asking for ID, and leave the door to the more “sensitive” rooms open. Through the door, Savio and Bo see a conference table with lots of documents on it. Bingo.
Action Management: Think Phases, Not Rounds
What I tried to do was run the scene as phases. The party's goals were to cause a diversion, grab the map, grab their friends, and get out.
Bo says he looks around for something flammable. I tell him there appears to be an alchemical lab in one corner. He sends a fireball into it without hesitation, and rather to the dismay of the other players. Diversion caused - but this throws a complication into a later phase (get out).
They fight through the guys that get in their way, nab as many papers from the conference table as they can, and Habakkuk releases his trusty pet snake to steal the keys before they get burned in their cage.
One remarkable bit of roleplay: Sylvienne had helped Savio by casing a binding spell that rooted Briareus to the floor. Then as the building burned not only did they release the spell, but Savio actually went back and helped him. As a result I ruled that they could ask Briareus any one thing they wanted about the Osiris organization before he made himself scarce – his bosses wouldn’t deal kindly with a subordinate who lost a valuable acuisition and let an operational base be blown up in the same morning. I don’t remember what they asked.
GM Mistake: Should Have Resolved The Party Split Before The Action Began
Karn ended up being left behind with MacDuff, who was looking over the party’s map with great interest. To give him some action, I had the Order folks double back, having detected the same aura still there (because of the party’s map) and figuring they had missed something.
He ended up bashing his way out and hauling MacDuff with him in what was a pretty good action scene.
In one way, this was a good idea – it pointed the spotlight at a character who’d been on the sidelines. But in another way it was a mistake. Having the party split up was fine. Even having each of the groups do a couple quick encounters to find the bad guys was fine. But having two of the groups do a full-fledged action scene used up our whole evening with the characters getting very little interaction with each other (and one, the Fair Lady, who was a third split-off by herself, and didn’t end up getting to do anything). My bad!
If you know the party’s headed for combat, you have to regroup them (actually, if they’re split at all, this should probably be your very next priority beyond whatever they’re trying to do at the moment) – because the ones who aren’t there will feel like they’re missing out, and because action scenes just take so long (still working on a fix for that). Just a Hindsight List of ways I could have easily done this:
- When one split-off found the gin joint, tell them it looked too dangerous to go in without the whole group.
- Tell them it looked like an attack might be better at night (and therefore after they’ve regrouped)
- Establish this as a standing rule: when characters are all trying different approaches to a problem (like tracking the thieves) they are always within earshot of each other. So when one appraoch actually succeeds, the whole party can dash off with that PC and no-one’s left out of the loop.
Ad-Lib Technique: Modify An NPC To Make Him An Ally
I had established MacDuff (who, remember, is an NPC I’m making up on the fly) as a retired adventurer. I think I made a stray remark like “I’m past the days when I was out charting the seas firsthand.” After all the excitement, the party convinced MacDuff to come with them – not only would he be a helpful resource with regards to the map, but with the world world in general since he’s been a lot of places.
There was no reason that having MacDuff stay behind would be better than him joining them, so I changed his character concept from “retired adventurer” to “retired adventurer just waiting for the right opportunity to sail the seas again.” (Since we’re playing fate, I basically count MacDuff as an Extra with the aspect “Expert Cartographer.”)
GM Technique: End With A Cliffhanger
Always good to end with a cliffhanger, right? So when they got back to the dock, all confident of sailing off with some new supplies and new information, I told them two big, hulking galleons with red sails were moored up on either side. The Order of Osiris had followed them! Probably because of that homing spell they never bothered to look into!