22 April 2007

Splitting Heirs: Session Four

Picking up where we left off: at the mining camp early in the morning after Pou’s son Gunter was taken into custody on suspicion of murder.

Pou and Captain Scharf had a quick conversation, with the former wanting the latter’s word that Gunter would be treated fairly. Scharf instructed his men to make a final round of inquiries – chiefly pertaining to any others in the camp who had arrived from wealthier backgrounds about 10 years or so ago – which turned up nothing more of value, so the group made ready and departed as one for Himmelfeuer itself. When they got back, Pou went first to find Herbert, wanting to ask why he’d had him followed; the latter had not yet opened the inn for the day, and when Pou knocked on the door he was shoo’ed away by his friend, who was claiming to have “company.”

There, they found that Lady FitzCarstein was preparing to leave, returning with her entourage – and Josephine, the Baron’s daughter – to her castle in light of the previous day’s events and accusations. Josephine was going to continue attempts at learning from Helena in matters of land management, whilst the departure had been hastened by the discomfort of Lady F’s priest, and teacher in the ways of Verena, Father Cantati. The father had caught word of the investigation into a child abuse scandal some years ago and was clearly shaken by continued presence in Himmelfeuer, fearing that the fact he knew the dead chandler at the centre of the old investigation might somehow implicate him. Before readying the wagon, Lady F had time to seek out the Ravenmeister to promise him the Stirland ravens she had promised him were on their way and to send word on of her return, her guest to be and other business, back to Drachenmalstein. She also had penned a false note warning of war to send as a ruse to the mercenaries controlling Brunnenhing’s lands. The bird man clearly wanted here to know that he was her friend, and informed her of raven traffic to and from the Bodendreck manor in the south – none of it to Himmelfeuer – and that one had been “intercepted” by a source of his, whom he identified as “The Rabbit”; Lady F made a request to know the contents of the intercepted letter as and when it was possible.

She also had some short minutes to discuss matters with Pou, including more wrangling on the nature, extent and purpose of his copper-ring wearing followers and revealing that Mörder’s envoy now recalled, Wolfgang Heibmann, was probably a vampire. This sent Pou into a fit, fearing that Gunter – who had appeared friendly with Heibmann when he was about – had fallen into the thrall of the creature.

Whilst Pou was talking to her Ladyship, Scharf was interrogating Gunter – very pleasantly, no thumbscrews in sight. As Pou had done, Scharf wanted to know about Gunter’s supposed meeting on the night of the killing and the deal he was trying to put together. Gunter told him what little he could – including how notes had been used to set up the meet, and a copper ring had been found inside one of them; Gunter does not know of the organisation, as Pou has deliberately kept him out of the loop. Reinhardt also asked about Manfred and how Gunter knew him, and why he reacted as he did when he’d met him at the inn the previous night. Gunter could shed little light on Manfred, other than he had not anticipated meeting him that night, and he was not – at least as far as Gunter knew – the contact he was supposed to have met the night of the murder. The prevailing suspicion was the same for both parties – Gunter and Scharf alike were convinced that Gunter was being set up as a fall guy for someone else’s ends. After letting Gunter go, and following him home to search for the posited copper ring – which was missing; Gunter cried theft, Scharf suspected he’d known about the coppers and made up the ring – Scharf left, watching the house for a few moments to see what Gunter did (get a horse and flee town to the south to lie low). Setting a man after him as a tail, Scharf went to find Herbert to inquire about Manfred and his part in all this: Herbert’s odd-job man seemed too involved, and had not still been in the mining camp that morning; people who travel alone at night are rarely ordinary and uninteresting. Herbert opened up to Scharf, saying he’d been meeting Manfred that morning when Pou had stopped by, then going on to say how Manfred had appeared in his inn some 5 years ago or so, been a good customer, and they’d got on well. After a week or more, Manfred was still around and asked after work, so Herbert gave him some; since then they have worked together, with Manfred doing the “dirty” jobs if needed – shaking people down for unpaid tabs, and the like. Herbert had not asked about Manfred’s past, but it was clear that this was a man who knew how to look after himself. He also revealed that Manfred does not always wait for instruction, but acts on instinct often enough; he had gone West after their meeting. Herbert did not say what for.

Scharf suspected a long-term infiltration plan, worried about who Manfred was really working for (or what his motives were if working for himself). It was then Pou appeared, fresh from his meeting with Lady F. When Reinhardt said he’d let Gunter go, and that he’d ridden off southwards, Pou went frenzied; this, to him, had confirmed his fear about Gunter and thralldom! He immediately went about getting a search party together, whilst a somewhat bemused Captain Scharf returned to the castle to talk to the Lady before her departure. In conversation Scharf mentioned his need to track Manfred, and Lady F mentioned how her departure might impact the carrying out of her plans to get Brunnenhing his land back. It was then it dawned on them: Brunnenhing had left earlier that day with “a few swords” to reclaim his manor; his manor lies to the West, and Manfred – who sometimes follows his instinct – had “gone West.” With some urgency plans were changed. Scharf, Lady FitzCarstein, Roderick (who knew the area better than any) and Josephine – who was keen as punch to be a part of this – would ride west, whilst the Lady sent the coach with her handmaid Jarla, Father Cantati, and the rest of her retainers back to Drachenmalstein.

Whilst Pou was off on a wild goose chase to the south, whipping up conspiracy amongst the coppers on the way, the westward bound party had no sign of Brunnenhing (whom they feared might be slain any moment), but word that he had passed through the villages they came to. They stopped in an inn overnight, where Jospehine showed just how little of a Lady she was, and where, the next morning, Lady F was awoken with news from Himmelfeuer: a child had been abducted. Deciding not to head back, when they reached his lands the next morning Lady FitzCarstein took to informing the peasants of, and recruiting them to aid, her plan [see session 3], whilst Scharf slipped away to have a closer look at the manor.

There was still no sign of Brunnenhing or Manfred, but closing with the buildings of the complex, Reinhardt did overhear mercenaries arguing in Tilean, before one rode off at some speed – a later conversation with Lady FitzCarstein suggested this might be a scout sent after receipt of her deceit, and that it would be better for them all if the scout never made it back alive. It also gave them hope that the plan to reclaim the manner may work, as the occupants seemed far from confident, happy or settled. But was the errant Lord still alive? The villagers all said he had been through, but he was somehow remaining forever “ahead” of his followers…

Pou, meanwhile, gave up his search after a day, after talking to enough people to get the impression his search was paranoid, and eating up too much time for nothing. He headed back to find Himmelfeuer in uproar over the abduction, and the guard – looking to make an example of a “suspect” to quell public worry… with Scharf out of town, Pou decided he must dig into this himself.

Theories, secrets and lies abound. Everyone has some, everyone wants some.

I feel there is more flow to the game every week, and while the changes in structure and design have changed the scale and moved the focus a little from the macro-events to the smaller happenings that make them up, things are still moving along and maintaining a decent turnover of dilemmas. Admittedly the level of charge in these dilemmas is lower than was the original intent, the stakes are that much smaller, but it still works. Everyone involved has enough personal buttons to push that the smaller scale is not an immediate death-knell for the concept and (I think) I’m managing to throw in enough personal-level choice and influence whilst progressing the “global” events. It’s a little slower than anticipated, but the sessions keep entertaining so it’s not a huge problem.

Only half of the sessions to date have involved dice, yet there has been drama, action and comedy, in and out of character. Pou is a naturally comic character, but without breaking the general, more serious, tone of the game; Lady FitzCarstein is the plotter – plans, ideas, hooks and politicking galore meaning there will always be something else happening for me to throw a spotlight on. Scharf is the driest, but that’s no complaint; he adds more grit and focus, though he has been the hardest to really engage with event hooks thus far (which is to say that I think I have provided him weaker hooks than the others, not that it is a fault with the character or player). Hopefully this will change as there is plenty of dramatic meat on his frame.

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