29 July 2007

Splitting Heirs: Session Fourteen (part i)

This session was the best to date by some margin, and I fear that this summary will not even begin to do it justice. However, in an attempt to, I shall split the summary in two.

What was planned as a relaxed low-intensity session covering events surrounding the wedding became a tense, dramatic and highly charged affair that left me gushing about how awesome it had been to sit back and admire as the players ran away with it.

I had explicitly stated that I would bring nothing untoward into the wedding event that wasn’t already in play (like Gunter being in captivity, or Scharf wanting to find and question Jonn). I also said up front there would be no word from the various “outsourced” projects (things like Jarla searching for women with “talent”, Rolf’s trip southwards, or the Kupfers looking out for Josephine), so as to keep the focus squarely on the wedding itself.

Before we got to the big day, however, Captain Scharf had made his way to Drachenmalstein.

Captain Scharf had travelled north both to relay information to Lady FitzCarstein and, more pertinently, remind her of, and convince her to attend, Pou’s imminent wedding. It was two days before the nuptials when he headed up, leaving the evening to convince her Ladyship to accompany him back, and a day’s return travel to Himmelfeuer before the celebratory eve for man and wife alike, and then the ceremonies themselves.

In the event, the pair talked long into the evening. It started banally enough – chit chat and small talk, updating each other on the week’s activities, findings and events. Scharf spoke of news of attacks on the Kupfers to the south, whilst Lady FitzCarstein spoke of her deal with von Schicksal, her precipitous actions in tempting Duke Mörder and not having found the assassin responsible for poisoning the monks of Morr. Scharf wondered at the wisdom of Lady’s willingness to use such a double agent and such kicked off a heated confrontation about how he had dealt more directly with the Duke, and how his indiscretion had forced the Lady’s hand in following suit.

Inevitably, from this position the conversation turned once again to trust, truths, and secrets, and the Captain was motivated to ask a flat question prying into the Lady’s past. He framed it with explicit acceptance that she may not answer, but using analogies to card games, open hands, and playing well with the bad cards one may have been dealt. Inquiring whether her late husband, Hans Bodendreck, had beaten her, he was not surprised when she answered that this had been the case. The follow-up question was whether she had killed him, again framed as if not expecting an answer; it was then further qualified by Scharf taking the card analogy further, and revealing some of his hand.

He assured the Lady that no matter her answer he would not arrest her. The past was the past and it was the present that was both of their concern right now, then laid out that he knew what it was like to have killed someone, outside of war, and to have had no choice. He revealed how he had come to be Captain Reinhardt Scharf, when he had not been born with that name. He had previously admitted to her that he had been known by other names in the past, but not which names, nor how he had come to assume his current one. Here, too, he kept his former name under wraps, but told a tale of how he had been the one who had killed the abusive chandler all those years ago. He stressed that he had not, himself, been abused, but when the abuser had come for him, he had fought back, beating him to death with a set of metal tongs before convincing his fellow apprentices – the other abused souls – to help him push the man down the stairs and generate the story that he had fallen to his death. Scharf told too of how he had then fled the town and, when the caravan he was fleeing with was ambushed by bandits, he had begged for his life in such a pitifully amusing way that the brigands took him in.

He had lived the Bandit’s life for several years, rising through their ranks and earning a following. The bandits, who had preyed on everyone and anyone, also altered their practices, beginning not to, in his words “shit where they eat” – targeting their attacks southward into the troubled lands of the newly lorded and unpopular Duke Mörder, and how he himself had ended up with a sizable price on his head in Mördstat, the seat of the Duke’s power. Then, somewhere over a year ago, chance had dealt him a card to make his way home, and evade the growing scrutiny from those seeking the reward: a Captain Scharf had passed through Mördstat, where he had expired from a burst liver, caused by a lifetime of drinking too much. The inn where he passed was a commonly frequented one for the false Scharf and his comrades, and after rummaging through his things, they found papers suggesting he was to be the new military mind for the von Feuerwaffen Barony. The chance was too good to turn down, so Scharf had presented himself as expected, just somewhat younger and less accustomed to rifle tactics than his record would have suggested.

Scharf had been living his current life ever since, with none questioning his position; a few of the new faces in the ranks had followed Scharf from bandit to lawman, continuing to raid into Mörder’s lands as they did so.

With his cards on the table, Scharf waited for the Lady’s response. Yes, she had killed her husband and covered it up as an accident whilst “off adventuring” (after all, that was how they had come to be wed, when Hans had been working as a mercenary, aiding the Lady’s father in the fight against the undead back in Stirland. Helena’s hand had been promised as part of the payment). She was still wearing mainly black – even 5 years on – as a part of the official mourning period, a status that precluded suitors or re-marriage. The conversation turned then, back to the wedding, gifts, and attendance. The Lady would accompany the Captain back to Himmelfeuer to attend, and in doing so end her official mourning in order to wear something appropriate; they would leave in the morning.

There was still time for them to discuss Josephine, and how no-one knew where she was; even now the Witch Hunters’ arrival was near. Lady FitzCarstein surprised the Captain by intimating that Josephine may well actually be, for want of a better term, a witch – possessing some innate “talent” that may help her obfuscate herself – but that there was little they could do for her in the meantime. Besides, the coming of the Templars posed its own problems for each of them in any case.

The next morning they set off, arriving back in Himmelfeuer in time for the Captain to attend the celebrations at Herbert’s inn that evening in Pou’s honour, whilst Lady FitzCarstein took her residence in the castle.

The first half of the session was thus entirely given over to non-wedding affairs. The chemistry between Scharf and Lady F has been building for the entirety of the campaign and there is both a “will they/won’t they” romance angle and the examination of how trust works between them to keep it burning.

As such I found their scene compelling in every possible way, and writing it up from the skeleton notes I could take at the time (writing more would have meant missing what was said, and how) almost certainly loses the tension and drama that was pregnant in the air throughout. How much would they reveal, and how would each react to the other’s brave admissions?

The two secrets revealed (Scharf’s past, and Lady F’s killing of her abusive husband) were largely open out-of-character, and had been hinted at in character. However the way the reveal was handled by both sides was amazing; this session, just about every line uttered was perfect (more on that later). I’ve often felt that I enjoy GMing most when I have next-to-nothing to do – it means that I can sit back and enjoy watching as the fruits of everyone’s play are borne and then flourish, without fretting over what I am doing next. Almost everything in this session came from the players as the events I had introduced took a back seat to character concepts, secrets and motivations that had been present from the start.

(And if they are reading, I’d love to see written thoughts from them on the scene – particularly anything they think I have missed, distorted or glossed over too much).

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