Friday 10 June 2016

Whatever Happened to Hat Club?

Yeah, Hat Club, my playtest group, didn't happen for a few weeks because one of the members had some serious family troubles and other things got in the way, and you know how it is.

Anyway, we had two sessions since my last report, and I wanted to talk about a couple highlights. I think the main thing is that it's gone beyond playtest and into just play.

So the situation was a mess. A Rmoahal woman, Kekil, was rescued from a public execution by an organised band of escaped slaves in the midst of a planned riot, and they kidnapped the governor of the city for good measure. The adjutant of the city, Tyburon, began mass executions of Rmoahal slaves, hanging them on the city lampposts, until the "terrorists" were to bring him back.

The complications are these: 

1. Tyburon's daughter was murdered by Kekil, her handmaiden, unable to deal with the treatment she faced on a daily basis. Tyburon's prejudices were already problematic, now they're basically genocidal. Because...

2. Tyburon, not the most stable of men, so overwhelmed by his hatred of Rmoahals as vermin anyway, had decided that something needed to be done about the "Rmoahal problem". So he decided to remove the governor and start a slave war. The Rmoahal leader, Thes, is not in fact a Rmoahal but an Atlantean transformed by the Priestess-Eugenicists into the semblance of a Rmoahal. He's been among the Rmoahals for a couple of years. The plan was always to have the governor assassinated and murdered and to have the "Rmoahal problem" be solved in blood. Tyburon's daughter's murder – more strictly, manslaughter – was not an expected factor of this but it makes things so much worse. 

The dramatic personae primarily then are Thes, Kekil, Tyburon, Cambren the governor.

I won't go too far into the details of the last few sessions.

The pseudonymous players are Herbert (playing Artan the Priest, Lover of the World), Enid (playing Elinna the Kudrahite, Ak√Ęshic Nun, Prophet of the Lost) and Brian (playing Aumec the Tlavatli, Invincible Charioteer).

What's the hook? Why didn't these people just shrug and go somewhere else? Because people are dying. Because something terrible is happening. That's enough.

Dream Invasion
Herbert, early on, without meeting Tyburon face to face in-game, claimed the genocidal adjutant as his King of Wands, an old enemy. He decided to invade Tyburon's dreams magically, and a wonderful one on one contest ensued where he put the man through the experience of being a Rmoahal slave. Tyburon, worn down, woke exhausted and emotionally drained.

To Artan's horror, Tyburon's wavering resolve caused him to double the daily executions ("is this like when they start shooting deserters?" said Brian, which was pretty accurate. When you feel like you're losing, you do desperate, awful things).

The group, through magic (hearing the last conversation in a room, replaying the recent movements of a group of people in the midst of rain of fish) tracked the Rmoahals down twice to different safe houses. The second time, they found themselves at the door and a group of large, belligerent Rmoahal slaves around them. 

This is where it got interesting. Realising that he could, if he wanted to, dispatch them all in short notice without effort, Aumec reasoned that doing so would not help matters. This pleased me. It's exactly the sort of thing the game is designed for. 

He ignored them and kicked down the front door of the house. One of the nearby men, armed with a staff, made a play for him. Aumec tripped him, relieved him of the stick, and dealt him a sharp tap on the back of the head, knocking him out. 

Then he entered. There the group were in time to witness Kekil, "Thes" and others arguing over the fate of the governor, a gun at the man's head. 

Aumec, not knowing the whole truth, but realising by this point that the Rmoahals were being played, began, in a conciliatory and sensitive fashion, to try to convince them that this was going to get them all killed, that the Atlantean leader wanted a war. 

He used Cups + People. 

Meanwhile Artan and Elinna worked together quietly, linked clairvoyantly (can you make an adverb of clairvoyant? Well, you can now) to find out the truth. 

Aumec won completely early on with the Judgement card (one of his personal Arcana) which, although it didn't convince "Thes" and of course wouldn't, gave the other Rmoahals in the room pause. They began to ask questions and take pause to reflect, and Cambren's life for the moment was saved. 

Meanwhile, Artan and Elinna's conflict, since it was conceived in an entirely different way from Aumec's, continued. 

They discovered the truth (a memory of a conversation with Tyburon, a memory of a white hand) and proceeded to take steps to change him back. 

They did, ending the conversation abruptly. "Thes" of course protested that this was a trick, but Cambren named him as Ohrmasd, a captain of his own bodyguard. 

The session ended with Kekil's expression mounting horror and rage...

I'm liking that the players are realising how useful and costly magic is, and I'm really pleased with how a risky decision like just allowing a character always to win a fight is paying off. The Invincible Charioteer, the ultimate warrior, is the one who's always counselling moderation now, who is thinking hardest about the consequences of his actions. And that's not closing off the game, it's taking it in interesting and unusual ways.