Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Horse Of Another Timbre: Campaign Log, Session 3

  The following is the campaign log for the third session of my current Amber campaign. Most of this log was typed up by one my players (thanks, Brendan!) during the session. I've added a few notes of my own.  Click here to start with session #1 or session #2.


Campaign log: 28 September 2020, turn by turn

Setting the Scene: Much of the previous session took place at a somewhat sabotaged dinner party in Castle Amber. At the start of this session, Bleys brings the banquet to an end by bringing Droppa Ma'Pantz, the Court Jester, in to do a performance. The performance is borderline offensive. Lord Rein leads the exodus out of the hall, largely to assist in clearing the room before minor nobles can start asking questions about why the King and Queen never showed up to their own party.

Most of this session is a murder investigation, being conducted by 6 PCs and multiple NPCs, none of whom particularly trust one another.  Information was dolled out slowly and tightly, with lots of scenery chewing to help establish characters, and some detective legwork of the crime-scene procedural variety as well.

The PCs are:

  • Dalziel, son of Bleys. A scientist who has been in Amber for several months.
  • Maarit, daughter of Sand. An orphan who never met her mother.
  • Spinturnix, son of Julian. Grew up in Forest Arden.
  • Medore, child of Dierdre, just recently arrived in Amber to learn Dierdre is dead.
  • David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber.
  • Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos. 

Most of the NPCs are from the novels. Not just the big-name Amber Royals, but also plenty of minor characters, the non-Royals who only show up in a paragraph or three of a single novel. Lord Feldane, for example, is present at the final battle of the Black Road War, and witness to the deaths of Deirdre and Brand.

Scene 1: David, Bleys, Lord Feldane,  -  (Banquet hall)
David listens to Bleys talk to Lord Feldane, who is worried he offended the King. Then Bleys chats with David about Caine; Bleys is worried about Caine's motives, learns that Caine is "fascinated" with David, Bleys asks David to make contact (for the children!). Bleys reveals three potential bad things Caine did recently:

    1) Hiring the treacherous captain that attacked the Chaos delegation in on the boat.
    2) Put the insulting messages on the buffet table to call out the Chaos delegation and the King for treating with them.
    3) something far worse, but Bleys doesn't say what exactly (GM: because he doesn't actually know yet) and wants David to try to get info about it from Caine.

David notices the guards are writing down who leaves. He goes to the harbor and surveys the ships in the harbor, they are the Venom, the Revenge, and the Knife in the Dark. He commissions a dinghy to go out in the harbor. He rowed out to the ship he thought was likely Caine's ship, The Venom. He spots Caine on deck, Caine has the crew lower a rope down to the boat, David rows toward the ship.

Scene 2: Abn Haram, Dalziel, Maarit, and Corwin,  (Banquet hall in Castle Amber, then Dalziel's lab)
Haram, Dalziel, and Maarit leave the hall to go discuss science, taking food with them to Dalziel's Lab. Dalziel's Lab is snazzy and as high tech as possible without electricity. Abn Haram examines Dal's equipment. They have a discussion of how fire works in Amber. Haram explores heat and water, Maarit goes to get safety devices.

Dalziel thinks about two principles:

    The numbers/ laws of physics here are not the same as they were shadow worlds.
    As something approaches weaponization, it becomes harder to use

As they talk about these things, Abn Haram feels like someone is making a "bad call" to his Tarot card, so he moves into another room. Abn Haram focuses and connects with Sevran, a blue-fur tentacled horror who is a friend, calling from a place where there's a lot of entropic energy and a hole in reality. The friend warns that there's been a "development at the rift" which might affect the negotiations. It asks if "the various missions have been a success" and asks for Haram's mother to call it.

After the call, Haram excuses himself to head back to his mother's chambers; Dalziel calls Corwin to warn him that Haram is on his way back to the suite.

The group heads toward the ambassadorial suite. Corwin asked Dalziel to stall him, but Abn Haram continues at speed. Maarit and Dalziel keep up with him. Lord Corwin appears and tells Haram that his mother (Nike) had been attacked; she killed 14 people in defending herself. Corwin reveals she's been removed to another place and the King isn't answering calls. Haram, Dalziel, and Maarit accompany Corwin into the murder scene. Haram sees neither Brute nor Steward among the corpses. The assassins are humanoid but not human.

    Bald assassins with chunky jaws, bloodshot eyes, jaws open (in horror? or someone was checking their mouths)
    wearing functional black clothing, like ninja outfits with sport coats
    Stabbed to death (recognizably by Nike's sword skills)
    Back of one assassin's hand has a bony protrusion
    Door is damaged FROM THE INSIDE
    Haram notices: It was a surprise attack, seemingly from the wardrobe?
    Wet footprints on the floor - was Nike in the bath when the attack began?
    Likely conclusion: the assassins trumped in, or perhaps one or two were hiding inside and trumped in.
    There are a pair of men's shoeprints and women's shoeprints that Corwin doesn't mention.

Haram suggests the door was "broken in," and Corwin suggests someone smashed against the door from inside, then explains the battle scene in detail. Meanwhile, Maarit uses her pendulum to investigate. Haram steps to the side and reaches out to Nike through his Tarot card, but gets no connection at all. Corwin said that Random took Nike to a surgery in a place shielded against the tarot.

Abn Haram starts to cut open one of the assassins; Corwin starts to object but then changes his mind and says Haram could go ahead. Corwin indicates that he's seen the creatures before, reveals that forensics might be valuable. Haram passive-aggressively implies Corwin isn't working hard to solve the attack. A card call to the King fails to connect.

Scene 3: Nix and Medore in the library with Dik and eventually Corwin and Umbra
Dik arrives in the library, being gently pursued by Medore. He tries to lock the door but Medore shoves the door open. Nix and Medore meet and briefly chat about with Dik a bit about whether he would like to chat. Medore reveals he's Dierdre's son and is supposed to bring Dik to talk to Corwin. Nix indicates he also wanted to speak with Dik, so he accompanies Dik and Medore back to meet with Corwin.

When we return to the banquet hall, Nix and Medore find it mostly abandoned. Medore mentions a "spill" that Dik made / covered up. Medore directs Dik toward the royal chambers; Nix follows. At the royal chambers, they are redirected to the ambassadorial suite, where they meet Corwin. Corwin asks Medore to conduct the interview with Dik, then meets Nix. Corwin asks Nix if he or Julian had anything to do with "this," Nix says no. They turn away.

Nix asks Dik about creatures traveling between shadow worlds, they discuss a few obvious ways the creature could have traveled to the shadow world. Medore's raven arrives and Nix becomes enamored of it. Dik and Medore talk about the message on the tablecloth, then about how politics is scary, then about literature.

Scene 1b: David, Caine - Caine's Ship The Venom - Worlds mentioned: Ikseth, Karm, Hepania, Xandria

Caine waits in the Captain's Quarters of the ship, they chat and meet. David suggests that Chaos is being sown in the city, Caine agrees and says he dislikes the way things are going. Caine tries to recruit David. David tries to confirm that it was about 10 years since he was on a march with Caine.

    Caine did get in the way of a ship, he intentionally got in the way of the ship, knew that there was a mutiny.
    Then David mentions the comments on the tablecloth, and Caine acknowledges that he was behind it (or knew about it).
    He did know that an "enemy general" was being allowed into Amber.
    David tries to ask about the third thing he doesn't know about. Caine doesn't acknowledge whether he knew in advance or not.
    David mentions Llewella, and he and Caine agree that she is patriotic for Rebma more than Amber.  

David changes tack and asks what Caine has been doing "these many years." The routes have changed after the Black Road War. Lands changed and landmarks have been destabilized. David offers to work on Caine's behalf "on the shadow paths." They specifically discuss changes on the routes from Ikseth to Karm by way of Hepania, and how that route was more disturbed by the Great Storm than most - entire islands were in different positions after the war. David has been living in "Xandria." Caine seems to trust or welcome the relationship with David. Caine indicates that he will not condone violence or attacks on Amber itself, but he wants to "course correct" the King.

Scene 2b: (GM's Addendum) Dalziel, Maarit, Abn Haram, and Corwin, and later Steward and Vialle.

The scooby gang inspects the crime scene further. Maarit crawls into the wardrobe, and is certain that somehow, the attackers came out of it. There's a footprint inside suggesting that someone in it kicked the door open, but she can't line up her foot at that angle. It has two marks on it, suggesting that the door was at least twice smashed open from the inside, and hit the corner of the table where a chaos person was pouring a drink. One of the thugs has thug money, like if Al Capone was the Treasury Secretary. None have ID, and they were carrying shortswords as well as guns (though none of them drew their guns).

Abn Haram's Steward walks in from the hallway.

Dalziel tries Queen Vialle's tarot, and is able to reach her. She says Nykae's surgery is wrapping up, and they think she's going to make it. She says both sovereigns of Amber are dedicated to Nykae's safety and survival.  Abn Haram and Steward head to the stables, but might not be leaving.

Corwin reveals about when he'd seen this thugs before, 15 and 10 years ago. The first batch seemed to work for either Bleys or Fiona, and had tried to kill Corwin and Random. The second batch were Caine's attempt to frame whoever they belonged to, but Caine incorrectly thought that was Corwin. This third attempt could belong to Fi or Bleys or Caine, but the could also be Random's. What if the King created the situation that he then rescued Nykae from, as a way to manipulate her?

Corwin notes that Haram seemed less concerned about his mother's welfare than you might expect. He may have known the attack was coming. Corwin also notes that Steward did not comment on where she'd been during the fight. Then Corwin realizes Abn Haram might be half-Amberite, because of what Dara had told him long ago about none of her Chaos relatives being able to look human. Abn Haram is now suspect number one, and Corwin says if he gets to the Pattern, Haram can do worse things than walk it. Dalziel suggested magic may be different here now, because of what Julian said about the Weir.

Corwin assigns a guard each to help Dalziel and Maarit. He tells Dalziel to check that the Pattern chamber is safe, then sweep the Castle for anything else that seems out of place. He tells Maarit to babysit Abn Haram some more. Corwin is going to meet with Medore, and follow-up on something else he thinks may be connected to all this.

Quote Log - Night 3, 9/28/2020

“Fondness might  not be the right word, but maybe fascination would be more appropriate… or fixation.” David

“You wouldn’t want to disappoint the little children!” - Bleys

“Let’s do some science!” - Abn Haram

“Oh my, that would make the two of you cousins, wouldn’t it!” -Dik, realizing that Nix probably wasn't going to cover for him with Medore

“I just can’t get enough of Dick” - Gavin

“Being good at warfare and having a sense of self preservation doesn’t make you not a little shit.” - Andrew

“Since all communication will have to go through you I have to trust you. And since I have no other choice, you have my explicit trust… Thank you, though.” -Abn Haram

“David:        I saw Llewella tonight
Caine: Oh? That is unusual, usually to talk to her I have to lean over the deck.

David: Yes, meetings with Llewella are usually more… wet.
Caine: And not in the fun way.”

My favorite exchange of the night was partly out-of-character:

“The ships are the Venom, the Revenge, and I think the Knife in the Dark was out there at some point.” - Dock Guard.
(So they are all named after virtues? - asks Abn Haram's player)

GM's ruminations: 

This session was about simmering tension. The players started with basically zero knowledge of the murder-mystery, just awareness that bad things were afoot. They interviewed suspects, but didn't yet know the right questions to ask because none of them really knew what had happened until late in the session. They poked a lot dead bodies, and engaged in colorful banter, and slowly put together at least a bit of what was going on. 

Mysteries are absolutely vital to Amber, and you need a lot of them. They don't have to be police-procedurals like this session, but they do need to be layered and complex. This is especially true if your play group isn't particularly hot on the prospect of Amber PVP. Each PC in an Amber game packs a ton of power, so if 2 or 3 PCs collectively decide a particular NPC needs to go down, they usually will pretty fast. For that reason, the Amber GM needs to have multiple pots boiling at any given time, with more than one villain waiting in the wings. Luckily, the canonical NPCs are sneaky, murderous, manipulative bastards... so you can have 1 or 2  Big Bads and additional just-as-big-and-certainly-bad-but-not-necessarily-the-villian-of-the-story types. 

The bodies of the assassins that tried to kill Lady Nykae of Chaos were the spur-handed thugs that appear a few times in Corwin's novels. Most readings of the books interpret them as belonging to Bleys or Fiona, but I feel you can also make a compelling case for them working for Caine or Oberon without having to twist much, and if you assume some of the uncorroborated narrations in the novels are straight-up lies then you could argue that they might be Julian's, Random's, or even Corwin's goons.

It was clear that Caine was up to some sort of power play, but at this point no one was really sure if his motive was truly treason, or was just overzealous patriotism and was only incidentally making the King look bad.  Though David sailed out and talked to Caine, he didn't actually ask him straight up "Did you attempt to kill the Chaos delegation tonight?" As such, the answers he got were inconclusive and maybe even misleading. 

Things were about to get much worse. Tune in next time.

No comments: