Sunday, March 10, 2013

GM Commentary: Last Rest Episode 7: Swords and Secrets

Same disclaimer as always, go read the Summary of Reign Season One, Last Rest Episode Seven: Swords and Secrets...  You should also read the Teaser for Episode Eight:  “Down the Perimeter / Ringing the Bell…” as I'll talk about that briefly as well.

ALSO, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE MY 2-PART SURVEY ABOUT THE GAME: PART ONE and PART TWO.  It's for both players and non-players and it will help me make the game as enjoyable as I can going forward.

I'm not sure if I like waiting so long to write my episode commentary, I'm sure I forget some details, but on the other hand it does give me time to mull over the session.  In any case, this commentary was written later than I planned, so it is what it is.  Onward!

  • The start of this episode, with the fight against John Barker, was originally meant to be the climax of Episode 6, but instead of running late that night, I decided to use it to start this episode.
  • Barker was stolen from Corrie's background and I decided to use him on the fly as someone that Kaden could go to as he tried to escape his situation as a pawn of the Everburning Cinder and the Frumentarii.
  • Once again the party just flat out murderized their enemies in combat.  This has me brainstorming some ways to make sure I get a couple interesting, difficult combats in before the Season ends, but its clear that when the party is all together and faced with mostly Unworthy Combatants they are more than capable of dominating combat.
  • After they killed everyone but one mook who surrendered, Kaden, who Trent had given a nearly deadly chest wound to, and Barker who was mortally wounded and bleeding out, they attempted to interrogate Barker.  This post-combat scene was incredibly enlightening for me, as it showed the many fault-lines of the party.  The PCs each wanted to question Barker about their own backgrounds and plotlines and they seemed to have a harder time coming up with questions about the group.  They were all surprisingly quick to resort to amateur torture or to allow their compatriots to resort to torture.  They also seemed incredibly trusting of the answers Barker gave.  As I noted down the answers he gave after he succeeded his Endurance checks as lies and only had him tell truth the times he failed the players seemed to take all of his answers at face value, a fact he used to his great advantage.
  • After their "questioning" of Barker, the group turned on Stephen, a poor guard who had surrendered.  They interrogated him as well, and after seeing rough use of Barker, he told everything he knew, which wasn't much, but alas for him, the party did not believe that he could know so little.  After he gave up the information that there was a cache of money and equipment that Oswald Locklight intended to give Varius, the leader of the Zwaardgeesten the party demanded that Stephen join them or die.  He prevaricated for a while, promising that if they freed him, he'd just ran away and never trouble them again, and then under great pressure agreed to join them.  And that's when the game took a dark turn as the PCs decided shortly afterward that even though he had joined they could not trust him and so killed him anyway.
  • Between the attempted torture of John Barker and the killing of Stephen I realized that this had to have consequences for the company, so I will be "gifting" them an extra company asset for "free", Sinister Operatives, which the rules book describes thusly: "Agents of this stripe never show up on battlefields, never engage in fair fights and almost never reveal their origin (if they even know it)."  The company's Sinister Operatives will give them a bonus to "Unconventional Warfare" which the book describes thusly: "Instead of meeting the enemy face to face on the battlefield, the unconventional warrior poisons wells, burns crops, sabotages ships and assassinates prominent military leaders... Every decent nation condemns these methods.  If the participants live to stand trial, they're termed war criminals and humiliate the nation of group that sent them.  If, of course, that group is ever identified."  Basically I'm giving the company a reputation as ruthless killers who use torture, intimidation and indiscriminate killing to fight the Ashen Kingdom and some liked minded members of the Everburning Cinder are going to defect over to them.
  • This also got me thinking about how important it is as a player of an RPG to consider their character's morals.  Since Reign doesn't use the Good/Unaligned/Evil of 4E or the 9 point alignment of earlier D&D I don't know that my players have thought too much about it, but as their GM it would take a great deal of convincing for them to convince me that any of them could be following the "Good" alignment anymore.  It seems a bit like they've fallen into the trap of the Protagonist, where clearly the story is about them, so they are the "heroes" which excuses their often bloody and inconsistent behavior.  I have some ideas for at least presenting them a much more morally structured path, but it will be interesting to see if they decide to take it.
  • After the Fight/Interrogation/Off Hand Killing, the company fled the scene, taking Kaden, who they tried to interrogate a little and then who they discussed whether they should kill him as well, since he had been a mole for the Frumentarii or if they should just hand him off to the Everburning Cinder for them to possibly kill.  Ultimately they decided to hand him over to the Everburning Cinder, partly because Hinrik was obligated by his deal with Bearach to try and prevent his death.  Honestly, the only reason that Kaden survived the fight at all was because Hinrik made his devil deal with the suspect Elf.
  • The session wrapped with some Company actions, not sure that the players enjoyed having to decide which Company actions they wanted to take, but it did fulfill a long-term goal of mine to bring those back to the game.
  • I went with "We No Who U R" by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds from Push the Sky Away as the end credits music for Episode 7, but I almost went with: "Blood on Yr Hands" by Swans from Swans Are Dead

  • The company is going to arrive at Manc to find the Zwaardgeesten have taken over the town and that the Ashen Kingdom's XXIIIrd Legion now has it under siege.  I'm honestly a little worried that the players will just decide that the siege is an impenetrable roadblock and decide to change their goal instead of trying to figure out a way into the city or a way to break the siege.  
  • I'm also keeping in mind some ways I can help the players and PCs develop a little bit of a moral compass, not that I need/want them to play "Good Heroes", but their chaotic interpretation of their goals, where their secrecy is protected at all cost and they seem willing to do anything to further their very, very vague goals makes it hard for me as their GM to predict their next move.  I need them to draw some lines they won't cross and/or to clarify their goals so I know what they will be directing their bloody rampage towards.
  • I want this next session to be a challenge, I want the players/PCs to have to strive to overcome the obstacles I've placed in their path.  I'm hoping it will be memorable because afterwards they'll be able to say, "Holy shit, I never thought we'd pull that off".  It's time to ramp things up, as we near the last third of the season.  I have four more episodes planned out after this one, so depending on how things play out we're only looking at 5-7 more sessions before this first season wraps.
  • Though I chose to go with the apocalyptic groove of "Bellringer Blues" by Grinderman off Grinderman 2 as the Opening Credits music, I almost went with "I Am War Again" by the Damage Manual off Limited Edition and that song will definitely feature in the episode soundtrack.


  1. You do realize that with the stakes so high, that's mostly what is guiding our behavior, right?

    It is virtually impossible to get healed and doing so means either we fail our missions (a month away) or we do horrible things that led to the death of Norah's mom (wound transfer).

    OF COURSE we are only going to enter fights we know we can win easily.

    As for killing the thug, how could we let him go when we are in the Ashen Kingdom and doing so means we are all dead when our enemies figure it out?

  2. I always think its interesting when the 'Heroes' become self-aware and begin to justify their decisions. Our 1st D&D group is full of that. I always think of a character like Uwain saying to another more forgiving paladin, "I may not be the Hero this world wants, but I AM the Hero it has."
    As a DM it is good to see that his problem isn't just in my games, but in other's as well. I think one way around it is to just have the PC's come across a truly 'Good' group of Adventurers to realize just how far they've 'fallen'. Now granted both the D&D campaign Uwain is in and your REIGN game are darker takes on fantasy; REIGN being a war time affair and the 1st D&D group being 'Dark Fantasy. I think it brings into question just what a 'Hero' is and is it something any of us jaded adults are truly good at playing? In fact do we even want to?
    I interested in seeing how this will play out in the 2nd D&D group starting this Sat. I'll go do these surveys as they sound fun, as does the REIGN group. Good stuff man!


Post-Apocalyptic Names

As I'm prepping to run a Godless mini-campaign, I wanted to have a good post-apocalyptic name table to draw from. The Apocalypse World...