Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Fish Dinner in Strangerside


A Golden Barge

In tonight's second session of our new Everway campaign, Bob was able to join us, and introduce his new character, the spherewalking musician "Tom". During the questions phase, I asked: "Is he Tom like a tomcat, like Tom Bombadil, or like a tomtom?  Bob answered "I think like a tomcat, because he can find food in garbage and sleep wherever." He has the ability to summon musical instruments (but can't control which ones come) and has a 3 in Star River Magic, with the constellations Pisces, Gemini, Aquarius (I think). (Another player, Eric also modeled his more powerful Fire-inflected mage on Star River Magic, using Ares, Leo, and Capricorn. So we'll see how this new magic system works!)

Tom emerged from the Emeraldcloak Forest, after exiting the gate from Granite, close on the heels of a rather noisy party tromping southwards through the forest toward the western bridge over the Susnset River. The party was bearing a golden palanquin and escorted by soldiers. Tom hails from another Sphere, so he didn't the soldiers' livery as rustic Emerald family, but Pahoeho Sun, who is a native Everwayn (sort of did). 

Here is the unpleasant and bossy chief soldier:

Leonardo da Vinci's Profilo di capitano antico, also known as il Condottiero, 1480.

On the bridge, waiting for a river barge to Everway, are Percy, Osbert, and Pahoeho. A barge appears, but not from further upriver. This one is huge, and being rowed upriver by banks of oars. It must have come up river from Everway. The barge has a solid gold exterior, and all sorts of outlandish Outsiders and Strangers on deck - along with a few Everwayans.

Pahoeho has never seen a barge like this in Everway: not even a royal barge belonging to King Horizon Emerald. The barge has three tiers above the main deck. There is a party going on with powders, smokables, drink and food on the enormous aft deck. The forest party boards the deck and the palanquin and all the soldiers go below deck. They aren't seen again until the barge reaches the city some three hours later.

Pahoeho jumps on board and is welcomed. He joins the party. Tom goes aboard and offers to perform some music. He is escorted to the pilot station on the top tier of the barge, and summons an instrument: something percussive, like a sistrum. He performs.

Osbert boards and Percy grudgingly boards. Percy doesn't like the pretentious, social climber types he sees on this barge. 

The barge docks at the Mercy bridge and the passengers disembark on the Everyway Proper side of the river. Pahoeho hears the phase "The Year King" used a couple of times during the river journey, and learns from one of the party goers, a unlikely priest of Osiris named Bright Mask, that while Pahoeho was off in Fire's Wall, King Horizon Emerald passed beyond and been put back upon the Wheel of Karma. The other likely Emerald heirs who might contend for the throne are all off among the spheres at the moment, so the Council invoked an ancient law (?) / ritual (?) from Everway's distant past. 

Bright Mask embellishes the age of the ancient law: 

Before the Emerald ruled Everway

Before the Tower

Towered here 

Before Whiteoars clashed and contended 

May their name be cursed and forgotten forever.

The soldiers and the palanquin disembark from the barge in a procession with flowers, rice, and coins cast about as crowds gather. The gold palanquin has embossed images of the Walker's Pyramid, and of a tree from which a man hangs upside down. The procession seems to head towards the Walker's Pyramid.

The party decides to head over to Strangerside - the really interesting half of these twin cities. Pahoeho observes that Strangerside is even more packed than ever. Every possible quality of dwelling can be found here, from prosperous estates to shanties all the way down into the mud on the southern bank of the Sunset River. 

They enter a marketplace and find a place serving fresh fish and turtles. (The PCs did not engage with the far travelling Fourth Doctor, as seen on the upper left. Also, the character in blue and white with the turtle is one of my favorite Everway images!)

Marketplace by Rudy Rauben (Roger Raupp) - Vision Card #506

They sit down to eat fish, and Pahoehoe recommends consuming some of the raw ones that are potentially poisonous. Most of the party order raw. The Fortune Deck pull is favorable: the Priestess, Understanding Mysteries. Percy, hailing from a rules-bound realm as he does, orders something cooked: a fish sandwich. It's still potentially poisonous, so I drew a Fortune Card for him as well. 

His draw: the Usurper.

The fish head animates. Percy sees a ghost fish. So does Tom. Percy doesn't react; Tom uses Star River Magic to call the ghost fish to him. The ghost fish swims over and begins making utterances. It chants the names of several Year Kings from over a thousand years ago. It intimates that the blood of ancient Year Kings still soaks the platform at the top of the Walker's Pyramid. Percy banishes the ghost fish, which disappears with a *PLOP*.

There is some discussion with Pahoeho of the Walker's Pyramid. Are there people there? Lots. There is the Pyramid Cult, a mystery sect of Outsiders, Strangers and some native Everwayans (but not typically priests of the Moondance family).  Pilgrims come to the Walker's Pyramid from hundreds of spheres. There are numerous booths where hucksters and cultists alike sell votive bricks with images from the Fortune Deck, astrological symbols, or other symbols of the god or pf the Ineffable and the Mysterious. You can buy figurines of the Walker, and effigies and amulets of the Walker's Pyramid.

Dusk is approaching and Percy wants to get settled somewhere unassuming and quiet, while Tom wants to make sure they hole up in an inn that has an "open mike" stage for performances. Pahoeho recommends The Salt Mill, a place which Osbert soon notes is near Avenue the First.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

#StayAtHome: "Outlaws of the Marsh, Vol. II"


In the second volume of Outlaws of the Marsh, things really come together for the outlaws and rebels of Mt. Liang. This volume represents the stage that revolutionary Marxists might call "the accumulation of forces". The outlaws' forces multiply, drawing on rebels and bandits from other mountain strongholds, as well as from contingents of officials who have been wronged for the honorable discharge of their duties. Song Jiang the Timely Rain, the just legal clerk, gains a leadership role among the rebels, and there are major incursions against an imperial city to prevent Song Jiang from being executed, and against a town on the other side of the river where a corrupt "side-clinger" (to borrow a term from the Hwarhath Stories of Eleanor Arnason) had set Song Jiang up for arrest.

How and why did Song Jiang get arrested? While doing time in the imperial town, he went to a riverside inn with a great river view balcony and private drinking room and got really drunk. (Protip: if you are in a local jail, it pays to spread inducements broadly among the guards and the warden. Make friends, and you will be able to leave the jail whenever you want and enjoy what towns have to offer.) 

Drunk Song Jiang notices all the poetry that the inn's patrons have written on the room's walls. Much of the poetry is not-too-good, and Song Jiang knows he can write better. He is also somewhat depressed and angry to be stuck in this town. So he writes his own poem on the wall:

Since childhood I studied classics and history,

And grew up shrewd and intelligent.

Today, a tiger enduring in the wilderness,

I crouch with tooth and claw, intent.

A criminal's tattoo upon my cheek,

An unwilling exile in far Jiangzhou,

I shall have my revenge some day,

And dye red with blood the Xunyang's flow.

At this point Song Jiang drinks some more, then laughs, and writes some more:

Heart in Shandong, body in Wu,

Drifting, I breathe sighs into the air.

If I achieve my lofty aim, 

No rebel chief with me will compare.

So like any hip hip poet, Song makes a boast, and an enemy reports it. This leads to two major battles, and a massacre in the village across the river. Song Jiang's prophesy comes true. Great stuff.

This volume ends with the rebels besieging three village towns, each ruled by a single clan, and allied against the Liangshan rebels. For the first time, two women warriors make an appearance, namely Ten Feet of Steel, and Mistress Gu. Hopefully we see more of them in Volume III!

Magic also makes its appearance in this volume:  Dai Zong the Marvellous Traveller has two paper charms. He places one on each leg, and he has super speed, which makes him a very fast messenger/courier. He can also put one charm on a comrade's leg, and the two of them can travel at magical half-speed. Cool stuff!

And then there is the duel ax wielding Li Kui  the Black Whirlwind. He kills many, often unnecessarily, and to the chagrin of others in the gallant fraternity of martial artists. He is crude, always spoiling for a fight, over the top - and amusing.

I have already started Volume III, and have finally found a really useful resource for the book: a list of all the heroes of Mt. Liangshan.  

Thursday, February 18, 2021

First Session of the New Everway Campaign


Snip from "Fire Dance" Vision Card by Janine Johnston

With three characters ready for play (and one more on the way next week), we set out to play Everway. While I have run a few in-person Everway one-shots, all of my previous campaigns as a GM or player have been play-by-post games. So it is great to play my favorite game again after a number of years, this time for my regular Thursday night gaming group!

The action started with Pahoeho Sun, a fire mage, seeking to find what is on the other side of the firewall in the great ocean of Fire's Wall. Too much steam, and turbulent seas, and Pahoeho swims back to his iron dinghy, and goes back aboard the local's much larger wooden fishing boat.

From the deck, the spirit mage Perceives That Which Others Do Not (Percy for short), gazes into the sky and sees an armored figure falling from far above into the sea. The figure goes into the depths, and Percy summons a water spirit to "push" the young warrior up towards the surface. Pahoeho dog paddles back to where the warrior now bobs on the surface, while fishermen follow in the iron boat. Together they pull the warrior, who they soon learn is one Osbert Haukmune, to safety and back to their big fishing boat.

Pahoeho's question to Osbert: "What did you see on the other side of the fire wall?" His answer was unclear [ahem].

The odd thing was that it looked like Osbert fell from a flying mount, but no one saw the mount. In fact, Osbert had lost a flying mount some time ago, and was on his way to Everway to see if he could learn more about how this might happen. One of the PCs had a definite impression that something in the air had been snatched by a fire spirit, just before Osbert fell. Osbert's memory was of taking the "normal" Earth gate route between spheres, but perhaps somehow he fell through an air gate upon arrival at Fire's Wall.

From there, back ashore Pahoeho commences a debauch in the beach bars on the firewall-facing western shore of the island, Nearest the Fire. The island is kind of a tourist trap, since the nighttime view of the firewall is astonishing, and in the daytime, this is the point of departure for boats taking people for a closer look at the firewall.

Everyone is drinking rum, even Osbert has some even though he seems unaccustomed to carousing. As the night goes by, there is some boasting between members of the party, and Pahoeho uses his earth magic to create a "grave" in the beach sand. The party and a number of the locals go out to look in the resulting pit. There are a lot of mussels there. The locals collect them for a clambake!

But suddenly Osbert's sword Demonbane is out of its sheath and pointing at a man carrying a bucket of mussels to the fire. He sets the bucket down. The sword points toward the bucket. The PCs open and inspect the clams. One has a Black Pearl inside. Demonbane is all eyes for it!

The Black Pearl morphs into a dragon, which starts out the size of a large shark, but gradually grows. This dragon is aquamarine. Osbert is "all-in" with trying to kill this thing immediately with Demonbane! Percy summons a spirit of calm to try and cool Osbert's spirits, as well as the dragon's.

Percy hears draconic speech. The dragon speaks its own language, not the Tongue. How odd! He wracks his brain for dragon lore from his studious past, on his rules-bound home realm. He remembers stories that dragons once challenged the gods, made war on them to displace them as the rulers of creation, and were defeated. But are dragons inherently evil? Demonsbane seems to think so. And the priests and scholars of Percy's native realm certainly thought so. One dragon above others, deceitful Alurax, certainly was evil. But Percy's knowledge of the lore of other realms suggests that dragons are viewed with more nuance elsewhere:

  • Dragon knots are often found in the designs of clothing and textiles
  • Some view dragons as incredibly wise
  • Others know of dragons as rare beings who sleep long enough to become mountains
The dragon unfurls butterfly wings, begins to hover like a hummingbird, and begins to rise. 

The spirit of calm loses its grip on Osbert. He (or is it Demonsbane?) lunges, and chops off one of the dragon's paws. 

The dragon quickly rises and flies away to the west. It passes through the firewall, or at least seems to do so. Pahoeho is intrigued: what IS on the other side of the firewall? Could one ride a dragon through the fire? 

After the battle, Osbert is a bit pissed. Maybe embarassed. He doesn't want to be known as the Dragon Wounder... hopefully nobody starts calling him Osbert Dragonscratch! But that evening the PCs are celebrated as heroes. Osbert primly rejects amorous overtures from several locals. More drinking ensues.  

In the bleary morning our heroes arise, and seek out one of the ships of the Sea Traders. They want to go to Everway and seek answers to questions about dragons and missing mounts. 

Art by Jenny Dolfen

There is a long sea journey to a Sea Trader city. In the temple on the hill there is a gate maze, and soon they pass through a gate to the realm of Roundwander. 

[They emerge at gate #22 on the new map of Roundwander in Everway Silver Anniversary Edition Book 1: Players.]

To the north they see the huge orange-red tower mountain that is Phoenix Rock. The gate Keepers inform them that a barge will be along within a couple of hours. They can stretch their legs for a bit and wait for it.

Map by Richard Thames Rowan

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Deconstruction Flakes Whirlwind

My friend Boris and I used to joke that my Mage (etc.) campaigns of the 1990s were made of "deconstruction flakes." He never seemed to mind this, but Lord Quetzalcoatl knows, plenty of other players used to find my games confusing and disconcerting. I've even had people quit over it. 

I have seen players quit other good GMs' campaigns too, over equally cryptic approaches to setting creation and storytelling. This was especially hard when as a player I felt like I had an intuitive sense of where the GM was going, even if I didn't get all the references. 

Well, except for that one time I really misread the GM's cue: my wereraven proceeded to step outside of a magical circle, and was shortly edited out of the rebooted universe, once the circle closed. Period.

Sometimes you do play the feathered wise fool.

But bottom line: not everyone can follow the mystic thread; not all clues are obvious; and not everyone enjoys gaming-as-mystery. It's important to figure out ways to get players the information they need and get them into the action. That will be more fun for them than spending forever exploring a realm and trying to figure out where the adventure really is.

That is one good piece of advice from the new Book 2 - Gamemasters for Everway: Silver Anniversary Edition.

Nevertheless, here are a few of the "deconstruction flakes" swirling around in my head for the current campaign. Some of these will make it into the game. Others, maybe not.

-Brittle Sand
-The Crossbow Monks
-The House of Oars
-The Gleaming Pit
-The Bridgehouse