Today’s episode opened with something I suspected might happen: A player costume change! The general level of initial excitement combined with new clothes can only mean that some real time passed between Chapter 5 and Chapter 6. You might think this a strange thing to open the post on, but cliffhangers really work the absolute best when your players have a bit of time to sit and stew on them between sessions. Typically my games run either weekly or biweekly, with NBA being the odd duck out as it’s a monthly run game. What this generally means is whenever I have a cliff hanger there is at least one week for my players to think about it – which always translates very well at the table upon their return.
Speaking of their return, let’s get back to what is actually going on in the game! Naturally after stopping the machinery in the place with all the cyborgs, the facility starts to lose “power” (magic?) and might start falling from the sky. This is certainly one way of providing some impetus to the general story! Of course the players can’t just worry about that, because they have a MacGuffin – aka Staff – to grab for their patron. The scary looking skeleton currently holding onto the staff indicates that just walking up and taking it might not be exactly easy. Interestingly the locket that Lemley has seems to be heavily linked to this staff, which gets heavier and begins to react to its presence the closer she gets.
I’ve mentioned this before in these summaries, but tying in a players backstory, goals or seemingly unrelated personal items into the overall plot is a very good idea. The most important positive is that it makes the player feel like their character is an inherent, important part of the general game world and is an effective way to give someone effective “spotlight time”. By integrating the player’s characters goals like this, you have an easy way to give each player a direction in terms of roleplaying and can fold parts of their journey into the overall story. What happened with S’lethkk finding his brother in Chapter 4, or Aankia’s relationship with Vaas are other good examples of how this works well and helps engage each player with the game/plot directly.
In any event, it would turn out that only someone with the “Blood of Heroes” can approach this particular staff. Possibly Mr. cooked skeleton cyborg man didn’t qualify for the job. A clue to the deceased cyborg fellows identify was a faded photograph next to their corpse. Once Lemley got close enough to the corpse to get a good look at the photograph, they found out this guy was a major hero in the chaos wars and was largely responsible for driving out the crazed prophet who led the forces of chaos. Investigating the photograph, corpse and staff seemed to activate some strange runes around it – one for each of the player characters.
Once again, the locket seems to be rather integral to this scene and soon it is draining each character of a bit of blood. When S’lethkk decides to drop a bit on his glowing rune, it seems to create some kind of reaction and even without exactly knowing what they are doing each player immediately jumps into the blood party. What else are you going to be doing on ancient floating fortresses with artifacts of unknown power?
I actually feel there is a lot to talk about here, because the players going along with this scene and feeling out “organically” how to proceed was interesting to watch. Frequently in times like this, players may become paralyzed with indecision and especially so when they look at a corpse and think “That could be my character”. So Wils ability to continue to prod and coerce – albeit gently – his players towards the solution to the problem, without being 100% on the nose about it and then the players happily following along was excellent to see. Remember how I’ve been talking about how Wil and the players have an excellent “cooperative” world building type approach to the game? This is one of the advantages of doing so, because it helps build a kind of mutual trust between you (as GM) and your players.
So when you need them to do something crazy like dropping blood onto ancient magical contraptions, they usually go ahead and do it! I particularly like how this leads to the nice piece of art/imagery shown at about 16ish minutes into the episode.
Soon of course it was time to get over their worry about what the staff might do and eventually Lemley (who is a bit of an instigator) grabs a hold of it. This led to a strange vision, where a pair of saurians were sneaking around a human village and then stole away a baby. Presumably this could be some hint as to Lemley’s potential origins? Either way, to the other characters nothing untoward had seemingly happened and Aankia decided to finally grab that ring she had been wanting. Upon doing so however, there was another flash of light and the players were teleported straight back to Vaas, which I imagine was Wil’s way of saying “Next scene please!”.
Personally I feel this felt unusually forced for how Wil has been running this game in general – which hasn’t generally “forced” player travel like this. Plus I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a great moment to have them dramatically escape from a newly plunging fortress. It would have reinforced the issue with what Lemley decided to do in jamming up the gears in the previous room and would have been quite satisfying for the players. On the other hand, sometimes you have to move scenes along and enforce the pace of the plot in order to make progress. In this case though, I definitely would have taken the time to have some kind of dramatic escape scene.
After their return to the Vaas and a fairly warm greeting, the players start to pass the staff around to one another to experience some strange visions – definitely of their respective pasts. Interestingly the only character who doesn’t really immediately want to take the staff initially is Aankia, who requires a little bit more coercion before they choose to do so. Given the nature of their vision that was probably a good idea not to take it in the first place though.
Either way, with MacGuffin in tow we now get some more of an idea of where the plot of the game is going at this point. Apparently the staff is actually a key, which would allow someone to access the tomb of the prophet. For those wondering, the Prophet was the one who started off the chaos war and led an army of monsters to kill everyone, so they’re a pretty big deal. Of course such evil isn’t ever truly killed and in reality the prophet was only weakened once separated from their staff. What they could seal away in the tomb they could, but it would only be a matter of time until the prophet potentially returned to the world.
In any event, there was a really interesting discussion that happened at this point where Laura Bailey was surprised the prophet was a “girl”. It’s actually really notable how most people – even women – will tend to gender antagonists or characters with a non-feminine sounding title/name as male by default. Their discussion and Laura’s initial surprise isn’t entirely baseless, because there is actually a sometimes used word for a female prophet in “Prophetess”. Generally speaking, I’ve seen it mixed up quite a lot with some scholars using prophet as a gender neutral term, or specifically gendering it as male and using prohetess for a female.
It’s important to realize here that we’re talking about a fantasy world and they may have entirely different uses of language. As the GM whenever something like this occurs or might be confusing, it’s worth stepping in and just pointing out “This is how they use the term in this world”. Prophet is debatable if it is gendered in our language, but in your games world it can be whatever you want and if a man or woman are just referred to as “prophet”, just call them that. So long as you are consistent with your use of language, even if it does differ from “IRL”, it honestly won’t matter.
Returning to the game, it seems that the tomb is more of a prison than anything else and that there is a little complication to proceedings: Nobody happens to know where it is. This is an issue because it would seem that the forces of chaos have managed to regain their strength, which numerous monsters returning to the world over time. The Hellions that the players fought earlier on in the series are such an example. This is of course where the major plot revelation was dropped, where the four heroes are actually the descendants of the original group who originally stopped the prophet during the chaos war. Essentially this binds the player’s characters into the overall plot in the most direct way possible and helps give them motivation towards the final journey in the story.
Naturally the player’s characters have a very good question at this point “Why the hell are we trying to unlock this stuff?”. This is an extremely logical question and was something I was wondering as well. Here is where Wil gets tested a bit, because in order to keep the plot moving forward he will definitely need to come up with a logical explanation. What it turns out to be is that she has awakened, even if trapped within this extra dimensional prison space, she is capable of returning some creatures of chaos to the world. Should she be able to gather her full power in some way, even more creatures may be able to come through and a second chaos war could erupt. So the time to strike is now, before she can fully regain her power and before any sufficient forces of chaos can come through the gate.
Personally I thought that was an extremely good reason and has set the platform for the “second act” (?) of the campaign very nicely. Another plausible and equally useful explanation would have been to suggest the locks were actually beginning to fail. The proof of this being the creatures of chaos returning and that the prophet may have found a way to slowly unlock them. Going in and dealing with her there, at her reduced strength would have been the ideal time to strike. This could even be justified by suggesting that the locks “Fail” as she regains power over time – so the more locks failing indicates an increasingly growing threat. If there was some easy way to communicate these locks failing to the players in some way, possibly by stronger chaos monsters being encountered, this could be a great way of delivering an air or tension and urgency to the game.
In any event, after some further plot development they got a direction to go in, some more gold and presumably a level. Essentially setting everything up for the next stage in their journey and possibly a showdown with some more powerful creatures of chaos? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out!