The last time we had gathered, my players brought to my attention some concerns they had about the game. Primarily they were concerned about how much I expected of them in relation to figuring out the cards that were drawn and how they worked to predict the future. But they were also had concerns about what kind of game I was expecting to run. I don't remember a lot of the conversation now, and is part of the reason I'm kicking myself for not writing it up when I should have, but we came to a few conclusions as to how we would handle these concerns.
As far as the type of game we would be playing, I admitted that regardless of how things started, the longer the game went one the more I expected things to become political with all the various factions having moved toward or against each other as the cards were drawn. I figured that as the players became aware of the cards drawn they would be able to start making decisions as to whether or not they wanted to interfere or how they would interfere so as to benefit themselves. My idea was that as they learned the cards, that would give the cards and me time to set up many of the factional ties that would be needed for such a game. But I also thought that would give the players time to build up experience/power/influence.
Admittedly however, even as optimistic as I was, things were moving kinda slow and our talk made it clear that my expectations and my players expectations were not aligned. Having revealed that I did expect this game to become political my players expressed that they felt helpless to be able to do anything about what was going on. The decision was made then that we would up the power level of the PC's so as to allow them the political clout to be able to affect the world. As such for this game we started out by granting the players a rather generous amount of freebie points so as to up their power level. I granted them 4 points in their primary sphere and allowed them a total of 10 points, including any points they already had, to use in the rest of their sphere's with the limit of 3 points in any other sphere. To make sure guidelines were followed we also upped their Arete to 4. I then granted them an equal additional amount of points to be spent on everything else, no more than a quarter of which could be used on backgrounds, willpower, and Arete. With the inclusion of Travis, and the increase in power, Paul returned to his martial arts movie star concept and has redone his character. I gave everyone the chance to start anew if they wanted but Paul was the only one to take advantage of that.
I will admit my hesitation in doing this; as already mentioned I wanted the players to grow into their power as they learned the cards and I figured that in working together they could work a great deal of magical effect. With this increase in power the players are basically now able to do individually what I had hoped they would be doing as a group. I understand that for politics they kinda need to be able to throw some influence around, and in the mage world influence comes with raw power. I understand the desire and need for this, so for now I am allowing this under the qualifier that I am learning and I will keep this all in mind as I try to find the proper balance for future games.
On the other hand, my players were feeling helpless, and I can understand how that makes it hard to be excited about the game. These are all those little things that go into trying to strike the right balance, and as much as I'd like to see them work together to overcome, if the players aren't excited about the game it doesn't matter how good an idea I think it is.
So having readjusted the power level, the next thing to do was to look back at the cards and how I was using them to predict the future of the game. I think this is the real problem overall, and were the players feeling better about their approach to these cards I think the power level wouldn't have been as big an issue. I'm not going to press it however, as already mentioned the point is to have fun and if I have to allow them the confidence of power so that they feel more willing to put up with the uncertainty of how to figure out the cards, then that's what I have to do to be able to move forward. As I learn how to present the mechanic of the cards as applies to the game, maybe in future games I can have the players more confident at lower levels allowing them the time to build up to where my players are now.
In the end this is all part of the learning process for me. The players are happy, and we're able to keep playing which allows me to continue to test the mechanic around which my game is built, so I too am happy.
In addressing the cards, Paul suggested that one thing Raine could do, would be to pass the current days paper back in time so that each day she would pick up the current paper, read it to know how far back in time she would need to pass it then do so. She would also receive a paper sent back from the future about which tells her the future offering the very stories that I would craft anyway to report what the public would know concerning the events predicted by the cards. So the power offered my players actually works out, and I actually really like this idea.
We tried it out at yesterday's session with a new draw of the cards. I had been talking to Tyson, and knowing that this would be a political campaign, Tyson suggested I offer something that would break the calm. So I pulled out the cards that would predict action by the Marauders, and then left it up to the players to draw cards as to whom the Marauders would act against and how it would take effect. This would normally predict the events for two sessions down the road, but with the restart I decided we'd use this to do today's game, and we'd fill the next two sessions with the events predicted by the cards drawn previously.
The other advantage to doing it this way would allow me to demonstrate to them how I expected the cards to work.
So the cards as revealed (two placed by me and two drawn by the players) (and I just realized I didn't write these down, so I'm going by memory. If I got them wrong I hope my players will remind me so I can correct them)
Third: The Knight of Pentacles
Fourth: The 9 of Swords
The news article that Raine received from herself indicated that there was some sort of attack at The Cradle, that a suspected hallucinogen was used, and that two people died and many more were injured from gunshots.
Raine gathered the others together for the purposes of trying to stop this from happening. At this point we introduced Travis's character, RumRuff. For now we left it that the four characters gathered regularly at Wiccan Grounds on a regular, social basis. The assumption is that they had all been gathering there regularly anyway for whatever reason, so it's just a matter that over time they gravitated toward one another and just now do it as a group rather than individually. In any case, Raine revealed to the others that something was going to happen at The Cradle and that in the interest of potentially saving lives they might want to do something about it.
Given the date of the "attack" the four planned to arrive at the club early that night. The theme for that nights event was generically Alice in Wonderland, not specifically so but there were plenty of people who used it for reference in their attire or costume. As the night wore on I gave the players the chance to make a difficult awareness check, of which not everyone succeeded. Those that did noticed that costumes and costume elements seemed to be coming alive and moving separately from that of the person who's costume it was. The one example I gave was that someone had come dressed up like a croquette player complete with an umbrella made up to look like a stork. One of the things the players noticed was that the stork bent its neck so as to take a look around before falling back into inanimate unlife.
Those that had become aware of this took the opportunity to use their sphere's to detect what was having an effect on the pattern. It was determined that those elements that were coming to life were being granted a temporary living pattern, but it hadn't yet happened enough for which to locate a central origination.
Thus armed with knowledge RumRuff sought out Janis, the proprietor. The weave Janis had used to create her sanctum allowed her to warp time such that no matter how busy the place was, no matter when people arrived, the party was always going and people could move where they wanted to completely free of anyone in their way, a steady flow of arrivals and departures, and a line outside just long enough. Being a sanctum allowed her to protect the area from paradox, but helping to achieve that effect was a great deal of creative lighting.
What this allowed for was that just as each person came to realize that they needed to get together, they all happened to arrive at the same place at the same time, including Janis. The players confirmed with Janis that something unexpected was happening, and that even she was unaware of the origin. Given the news reports it was determined that the players should probably start stepping in.
Paul's character (whose name I regrettably don't remember) used some mind effects to convince the people outside the club that they wanted to go elsewhere, and to convince those in the club that they didn't want to leave. This would help contain whatever was happening.
RumRuff used his abilities with life to create a virus that would be released by his pharamones to be picked up by others. The virus would cause the others to release the same pharamones, thus helping it to spread, but would also raise the levels of a chemical that would cause people to go to sleep. Given time for the virus to spread and take effect, whatever was happening was also getting worse. When it became apparent that RumRuff's virus had taken a rather significant effect, it also became apparent that the temporary patterns granted to the costumes were also having a rather significant effect. The costumes were now taking enough life of their own to continue moving even as the individual wearing the costume slept. Furthermore the environment itself seemed to be changing, rather than simply looking like they were in a dark forest, it appeared they actually were in a dark forest. An appropriate groan issued from my players as they realized this was a Marauder.
Paul's character used his martial arts techniques and needles to paralyze the sleeping people thus paralyzing their costumes. Raine used her time abilities to look into the future, for which I allowed things to continue with a marker that we could come back to that point at her choice. For all the people falling asleep and their costumes taking over, one person stood out on the dance floor who seemed unaffected by the virus. This person was dressed up as the queen of hearts, and on closer inspection she seemed to be fully integrated with her costume.
RumRuff used his training as an assassin to step in and place the blade of a knife between the base of the Queen's skull and her vertebrae. Meanwhile Tyson's character used Entropy to try and disrupt the effects of the Marauder's magic. Between the loss of the relatively controlling influence of the Marauder, and the introduction of Entropy in which to further disrupt the control of its magic, I determined that the paradox backlash would be a very bad thing and the magic of the bar would implode, collapse in upon itself. Some might survive, but since Raine had created basically a reset button I allowed things to return to that point. Raine had access to mind and as such was able to tell everyone what would happen at the speed of thought.
In response, Tyson's character created a portal to the deep umbra, and Paul's character stepped up with the intent to push her through. I had Paul make a wits and awareness check for which he succeeded thereby allowing him to realize that at this proximity he was getting caught up in the Marauders madness. Instead of pushing her through the portal he found himself taking her into a dancing embrace. This realization allowed him to use that dance step to basically throw her through the portal. He then followed up with a Prime effect and used Ti Chi? to gather up the Marauders magic and send it through the portal with her. With each sweep of his gathering arms the patterns that had modified the costumes dissipated and unconscious sleepers crumpled to the floor without harm.
The remainder of the bar looked like it had been through a lot. The containing web of the sanctum also looked like it had been thrashed pretty badly. Unfortunately the players didn't have time with which to gather themselves as they could hear sirens growing in the distance now that the music of the nightclub had died. Thinking quickly RumRuff invited everyone to his own bar in San Francisco, then opened a portal allowing them all to step through.
We ended the game that night much as we normally do. Only instead of just the PC's talking about it over coffee at Wiccan Grounds, they and Janis talked about it over drinks at RumRuff's nightclub in San Francisco.
I reminded the players of the cards that had been drawn from prior games. We'll use those for events in upcoming games while continuing the card draws for two games in advance as I had originally intended. I also mentioned that having drawn cards this session which set up for events this session, it might do them good to write down which cards corresponded to which events. Particularly as I have already told them that first card is who, 2nd is 'does what', 3rd card is 'to whom,' while the 4th card is more for me to use as flavor and inspiration.
All in all, things went well. It seemed that the others had fun, and I enjoyed actually giving them a struggle for once. I am now going to be much more open with what the cards mean, and we'll see how that goes, as the players become more aware of the deck and what it tells me I'll start asking them for feedback.