...The celebration of a day sacred to the city's chief cult...
...The murder by strangling of an officer of the city...
...A ghoulish eater of dead flesh, driven by unusual lusts...
...A vicious gang of cutthroats and alley thieves...(though they didn't come into play much)
Brian as Javid, vessel of the god Awita, captive and healer whose magic is powered by eating human flesh
(Particular strength: healing and strengthening others)
James as Nardeen, master of ceremonies for the Awitan cult, scheming a takeover
(Particular strength: bringing out others nobility and honor)
Adrienne as Jesper Zain, captain of the city guard and member of rival Cult of Iron, lover of...
(Particular strength: manipulating cultists)
Jila, chosen sacrifice for Awita, herself in love with Nardeen
Humusi, high priest of Awita, seeking to replace the current, troublesome vessel and achieve a position of political power...
(That was the first time I've seen positive particular strengths. Very cool, and they worked in play surprisingly well.)
In this wicked age, where the mountains meet the desert, in the city of Zah Eil, in the temple of Awita, Humusi asked his brightest follower, Nardeen, to "take care of" Jesper Zain, the captain of the guard, and Nardeen agreed handily, because Jesper is Jila's ex.
Outside, Jesper encounters Jila and is shocked to see she's converted to Awita. The Awitans are all about healing, you see, and his less popular cult is all about how suffering builds character. After a heated argument she flees indoors.
And in the tower above the temple, Javid rises from her divan and looks out upon the city - and there is, Mirza, the brother she has not seen since she was taken and became the Vessel. Mirza is cutting purses - she holds her tongue until he is out of sight and then calls out to him fruitlessly.
Messages are sent: Nardeen sends an acolyte claiming to bear a message from Jila to meet in the candle room of the temple. Javid sends one of her servants to tell Mirza to come to the healing ceremony today.
Jesper gets the message and asks the acolyte to return a message to Jila, a plea to the acolyte's nobility and honor, which goes against Nardeen's manipulation. (And Jesper loses but gets on the owe list.) Visiting the candle room he finds - not Jila, but Nardeen - they have words, and Nardeen escorts him out a back way, to a deserted alley, where he garrotes Jesper and, thinking him dead, has him carted out of the city and dumped in a garbage heap.
Mirza comes to the healing ceremony, gets in line to be "healed", and whispers an exchange with Javid. She exhorts him to come to her later - to climb the tower and visit her. Humusi notices the whispering and separates them.
Jesper wakes in the garbage at the edge of town, and filled with rage makes a beeline straight back to the temple. The ceremony is over and Nardeen is officiating over the clean-up; Jesper draws his sword and clearly intends to kill Nardeen, when Jila intervenes between them. "Don't kill him! I love him!"
Jesper stays his hand, but shows Jila the scar around his neck. (I think this is where Adrienne took herself off the owe list.) He convinces Jila that Nardeen is a bad guy, and, confused and horrified, she flees the temple.
Humusi witnesses this - "Do not allow the Chosen to escape!"
"What do you mean...Chosen?" Jesper asks, but Humusi does not answer.
Gangs of acolytes, Nardeen, and Jesper take to the streets trying to find Jila.
Meanwhile, Mirza scales the tower and meets Javid. Javid begs him to rescue her, but he doesn't see how he can; she begs him to tell the city guard about the horrible goings on at the temple, but refuses to tell them exactly what they are, because she doesn't want him to know about her diet. She writes a letter to give to the guard, but Humusi comes in before he leaves. He manages to conceal the letter on himself (as the result of a conflict negotiation) but Humusi drags him down into the temple.
Jesper is the first to find Jila, crying in an alley. He appeals to her virtue and she apologizes and wants to know how she can make it up to him. "By telling me what's going on in that cult!" She pulls back her robe and reveals her missing arm - being Chosen means she is the one the Vessel feeds upon, one body part at a time. (Props to Adrienne for that particularly sick idea.) "But it's worth it," she insists, "for all the healing and good that the cult does!"
Jesper escorts Jila to "The Wheel and Tackle", a tavern of ill repute that smells of opium and spilled wine; the owner agrees to keep Jila safe. Nardeen spies them and follows, and has his acolytes attempt to capture Javid while he sneaks to the back and find Jila. Jesper handily kills one of the acolytes (crazy die rolling that game - people were doubling each other all over the place - we never went a full 3 rounds of conflict) and the rest run screaming.
Nardeen is stopped by the tavern owner and told to leave. Without his acolytes, Nardeen feels powerless and retreats.
Jesper goes to seek audience with the Shah, so Jila can bear witness to what she has seen. And then he goes to take care of the foul creature that has fed upon her...
Said creature is being escorted by Humusi deep within the temple, to a room she has not visited since she became the Vessel. There, she sees the cultists preparing her brother Mirza to become a new Vessel. He's clearly been drugged. "Your brother shares your blood," Humusi explains. "He will make an excellent new Vessel for Awita!"
She rushes up to her brother, using her healing power to try and overcome the drug. In the scuffle, Humusi is injured, accidentally stabbed by one of the guards, but her brother stays under the influence, and the guards restrain her. (Negotiation - "Take the damage")
That's when Jesper bursts in, in time to hear Humusi say, "Cut out her heart and feed it to the new Vessel," and has second thoughts about killing the Vessel. Together they kill Humusi and she invites Jesper to kill her, too. "I can see you are honorable," Jesper decides, "I will spare you...for now." And they leave the temple.
The acolytes and eunuchs steal away and find Nardeen.
"Humusi has been killed!" They cry. "What should we do now? Lead us!"
And...that was the end of that chapter. Will Javid's hunger for human flesh be her undoing? Will Jesper decide to end her? What will become of the cult, under Nardeen's rule, with no Vessel? We'll probably never know, because who knows when we'll get to play together again.
I should have asked you guys for feedback after we played. How'd I do as GM? I still don't have the rules down...and I didn't give James enough screen time - in hindsight, should have provided opportunities to maneuver within the cult politics. And I didn't do a good job of giving anybody hard choices, except for when Jila stayed Jesper's killing hand. In hindsight, Mirza should have joined the cult of his own free will, giving Javid the choice between staying in the cult with Mirza or not. Also, I should have told you guys the "describe your character" rule - everyone's supposed to when they come on scene, and take their time doing it. Still, a cracking good yarn you guys came up with!
Great write-up! I think we sound pretty cinematic.
I had a great time with the game. In fact I think that's been my smoothest playing experience so far, and whether that's because I'm getting more used to story-gaming, the game itself, or your skill as a GM I have no idea. I definitely think you did a great job running the show. I was happy to have to you guide us through the encounters - I think not going over challenges before the game definitely sped things up. Sometimes I found the bartering mechanic kind of hard to grasp, but I think another play-through and a look at the rules would clear that up for me.
I agree with you - it would have been totally cool if Mirza had joined the cult voluntarily; but I think it was a great story the way it turned out as well. Thanks for doing such an awesome job!
Wow, thanks! I've never gotten such positive feedback on my GMing before.