Cressida (cressida0201) wrote,
Cressida
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RPG Replay: "Fall of Magic," GenCon 2016 / Part 1: Ravenhall

I recently learned about the idea of the "replay," a transcript of a game session. They're circulated among RPG players in Japan and sometimes even published as paperback books. I've also been telling a lot of friends about playing a game called "Fall of Magic" at GenCon in August. Since I have a recording of the session, I thought a replay would be a great way to convey how the story went.

The "Host" was the creator of the game, who taught us how to play at Games on Demand, Friday, August 5, at 10 p.m. I've trimmed out a fair amount of his explanation of how to play the game, but hopefully enough remains so that readers can follow it. I didn't get the real names of all the other players, so I just listed everyone by character names here. I'm Harp in the transcript below. I got the feeling the other three guys knew each other and played together regularly.


* * * * *

Host: The idea is that magic is dying, and the Magus is dying with it. We travel together to the realm of Umbra, where magic is born. Why is magic dying? Who is the Magus? What is Umbra? Why are we going there? These are things that you are going to create together as you play the game.

With that in mind, you're each going to make a character. Characters in Fall of Magic are made by picking a name off this name list. Everyone choose one name.

Harp: I kind of like Harp. I'll take Harp.

Host: Harp it is.

Vago: I'll be Vago.

Caspian: I'll take Caspian.

Piccolo: I'll be Piccolo.

Host: Fantastic. Next, you are each going to choose a title for your character. So, for example, you could be an apprentice or a golem or a raven of Ravenhall, or a hero of Barleytown, or a knight of Stormguard--any combination of two things from that list. Unlike the names, it's totally fine if multiple people have the same title.

Vago: And the titles aren't restricted to the location?

Host: The titles are restricted to the location. So, those three things are from Ravenhall.

Vago: I'm a fugitive of Stormguard.

Harp: I'm going to be a scholar of Istallia.

Caspian: I'll go with apprentice of Ravenhall.

Piccolo: Do we have anyone from Barleytown yet?

Host: Not yet.

Piccolo: I'll be a swineherd from Barleytown. Barleytown represent.

Host: Then you will each choose one of these tokens to represent your character. The fifth, unchosen token will represent the Magus, who is a character that you all share.

[Everyone chooses tokens. Piccolo takes the river/ocean. Harp takes the candle. Vago takes the sword, and Caspian takes the raven, if I remember correctly. The tree is left over.]

Host: Which side would you like to be face up for the Magus we have--this tree, or [turns coin over] this tree?

Caspian: Oh, it's like, in bloom and withered.

Harp: Magic is dying; maybe we should go with the withered one.

Host: So it shall be. The Magus starts at Ravenhall, which is where our journey begins. On your turn, you're going to take your character token, and you're going to place it on one of the scenes at the Magus's current location. You're then going to describe that scene to us from the perspective of your character. Beneath each scene is a story prompt with an additional element that you must use before your scene can end. When you're done, just go ahead and pass the turn to the next player. We'll just go clockwise.

I'd like to now ask for a volunteer to take the first turn. Who'd like to go first?

Vago: I'll go first. I've got a scene idea for the bridge. Do I put my coin there?

Host: Yes, place your token on the bridge and then show us the bridge from Vago's perspective.

*** Vago / The Bridge: Your Face in the River ***

Vago: Vago's perspective of the bridge when we enter scene is actually from the underside. The water's not super-high; he's up on one of the banks, and in the distance you can hear baying hounds. He's on the run from slavers, whom he's escaped from. He's looking up at the underside of the bridge. It's moss-encrusted. Maybe not moss--lichen. He's taking a breath down here. He wipes his face with some cool water. He's hoping to have just a moment of respite because he's been on the run all night. It's just after daybreak.

Does somebody happen by in the water, or on the bridge itself, and maybe notice him? Does anybody have any ideas for that?

Host: Does anybody feel like their character might be there? Plus, it's fine to have just a little introduction or vignette.

Harp: Sorry, I don't have enough firm ideas yet.

Host: It's okay for this to be just a short vignette, and then it'll come back around.

Vago: Sure, that's fine.

Host: So would you like to end that scene there, or is there anything else you want to talk about with the baying hounds?

Vago: Maybe the sound of the hounds is getting closer as he finally succumbs to exhaustion and can't take another step. He winds up face-down in the river. I forgot I had to do that.

Caspian: Oh, "your face in the river"?

Vago: Yeah.

Piccolo: I'd like to do something with the scrying pool.

Host: Do you guys want to go counter-clockwise?

Harp: I'm fine with that. I'm third either way.

Caspian: Sure.

Piccolo: How far back can I start?

Host: It's up to you. Whatever feels right.

*** Piccolo / The Scrying Pool: Why You Serve the Magus ***

Piccolo: I was born sixteen summers ago. Most children, when they are born, are given the name of an ancestor in Barleytown. The man who raised me either didn't know--

Host: I'm just going to step in for a second. Always first start by describing the place, and then go ahead and go into your story. What's the scrying pool like? What are you doing there right now? And then you can flash back in your imagination if you like.

Piccolo: The scrying pool is an area where the forest around it is rather unkempt, but the clearing inside of it is pristine. The stone of granite is as clean as the day it was quarried, and it makes a perfect circle. The water inside is rarely troubled by storms, by wind--by anything, really--and the legend is that it will show the future, the past, and what is important to the person who looks upon it if they throw in coins.

I came to this place because sixteen summers ago, I was left at Barleytown and named Piccolo by the man who raised me. I was raised to be a swineherd, but last year, I became troubled by dreams, sleepwalking, strange daydreams. Eventually, my foster father told me to leave and not come back until I had come to some resolution. I wandered until I heard of the legend of the scrying pool, and I came there. The scrying pool, despite the legend, showed me nothing; but when I looked up from it, I saw the Magus, who told me that if I followed him, I would learn about myself.

That's all I've got.

Host: Whenever you feel like you're done, just go ahead and pass to the next player.

Piccolo: I pass.

Harp: All righty. I'll take the menagerie.

*** Harp / The Menagerie: The Last Time You Saw Real Magic ***

Harp: The menagerie as not as wondrous as it used to be. It was a gift to the city of Ravenhall from the first Magus, and once upon a time, it contained exotic and amazing animals from anywhere you could imagine. Some said that some of them even came from the world of magic itself. It used to be that every cage held a new wonder, the like of which you would never see anywhere. Now those animals--well, no one really knows what happens to them. You go there one day and something that's been there as long as you can remember just isn't in its cage anymore, and something far more ordinary has taken its place. Now, the children don't know the difference; they're just as happy to see lions and tigers and peacocks and things that exist in the ordinary world. But those who have been coming here for a while realize that something is being lost.

The centerpiece of the menagerie, the thing that everyone would come to see, was a bird that sat on a perch eight feet high. Each feather in its tail was eight feet long and touched the ground. As you watched them, there would be a play of shimmering light and shadow, and sometimes as they rustled together, there would be the sound of music in the air, and they would change colors with the light.

That was real magic. I saw it yesterday. The bird is not here today.

Host: That felt like such a scholarly description of the menagerie.

Harp: Thank you! [laughs]

*** Caspian / The Bridge: Your Face in the River ***

Caspian: Caspian's at the bridge. It's a white, pristine, alabaster bridge, and he's leaning on his elbows over the edge, looking into the river at his own reflection. His face is really dour. He thinks of the Magus and the pain he feels inside. It's not a sharp pain; it's a dull pain, kind of like when you miss somebody, but it's constantly growing. He and the Magus both feel it, and it gets worse over time.

He looks up at the horizon. It's a split of color between the white bridge and the grey stones on the horizon. The droplets of rain start to break up his reflection in the river as he hears the baying of hounds. He turns and wonders what's going on. It kind of breaks him out of his trance of thinking about the pain inside for a few minutes.

[to Vago] I'll give it back around to you.

Host: Do you perhaps see the body of Vago sliding into view? Do you want to explore that?

Caspian: Yeah, you know what? I think--

Vago: Could be. I'd be carried downriver, then.

Caspian: I think that's what it is. He spins on his heel when he hears the baying of hounds, and then he hears a splash. He was hearing the rain hitting the water, and it was almost musical, just a light patter, but then he hears a sploosh. He looks over and sees the body of a man floating completely on top of the water.

Host: What do you do when that happens?

Caspian: That's a good question. [laughs]

Staring at him, he thinks for a second to jump over the railing, but he's a kind of tall, knobby kid. He doesn't have that kind of strength in him. He was never the kind of kid to climb a tree or to play rough-and-tumble with the other kids in town. So he reaches inside, and even though it really hurts, he moves the water slowly. The ripples just slowly push the body towards the shore, and it washes up on the bank of the river.

Host: What do you do then?

Caspian: Holding his side, Caspian walks down the bridge to get help. This man is going to need, maybe, some medicine; maybe he's injured. Something is going on.

Host: [to Vago] It sounds like it's your turn.

Vago: Oh!

Host: You have an option now. If your character token is already on the map, you may opt instead to move the Magus to the next location. But don't feel like you need to rush. In this game, I would expect maybe to get to Barleytown and spend a little time there. This is a great opportunity for you to figure out who your characters are and how they relate to each other, while you're in Ravenhall. So I would advise you not to advance the Magus until you feel like it's time to go.

Vago: Okay.

Host: So it's your turn now. Go ahead and choose any of these things.

Harp: I have a question. Since Caspian's scene involved Vago, and Vago's up next, could he also elect to continue that scene?

Host: Yes, you could very well, if you like. If I was playing Vago in this situation, things that come to mind: one, a conversation could very well have happened in that last scene if you'd chosen to, but as you left it, I might think, "What am I interested in? What do I want my character to do? Do I want to show myself being helped?" Or maybe I just want to head to the interesting part, cut ahead to where I'm recovering and having a conversation with somebody.

Vago: I think I'd like to advance time a little bit and have a scene in the rose gardens.

Host: Fantastic.

*** Vago / The Rose Gardens: Beautiful/Legendary/Fierce ***

Vago: My character has had some time to recover. He'll be standing and pacing impatiently. He's got some clean clothes. [pause]

Host: Remember to begin with the physical description of the place.

Vago: Thank you. The rose gardens themselves are the Magus's rose gardens. He likes things to be beautiful; he likes things to be a reflection of the beauty that this world can be. But things, just like the Magus himself, are starting to slip there. Whole plants aren't dying out, but they're just not as full of flowers as they once could have been. The buds that would open up like two hands are now more like just a thumb and not getting much bigger than that. They'll fall off and grow again.

My character doesn't seem to notice that very much. From his perspective, this is a garden of thorns. Every bramble is potentially just another cage, keeping him locked in. He is not comfortable here, pacing. He's here because ... would somebody like to play the part of the Magus?

Harp: I will, sure.

Vago: So I think the Magus enters.

Harp: All right.

Host: Could you describe the Magus entering, please?

Harp: The Magus enters. Let's see ... the Magus has not been seen for a year in the town. It is known that he is still in the town, and everyone would know if he were dead. So people know that nothing has happened to him, but he has not shown his face. For as long as anybody can remember, he has looked about thirty-five. When he enters now, you see that his face still doesn't look older, but his hair has gone silver, so maybe you don't recognize him at first.

Host: Earlier, Caspian mentioned that both he and the Magus had a pain in their sides. Is that at all visible or noticeable?

Harp: Sure--he's limping a little bit, as if it may be affecting his legs now. He is simply dressed, and if you didn't know what he looked like, you might think he was the gardener. [laughs] In fact, I dunno, maybe you do! That's up to you.

Host: What is the Magus doing right now?

Harp: [to Vago] He doesn't notice you right away. He is looking at the bushes and measuring the buds with his fingers and shaking his head.

Vago: Vago will take notice of the Magus and approach.

"They say this is your garden."

Harp/Magus: "I should certainly hope so, because it is my garden."

Vago: "This whole place is your home?"

Harp/Magus: "Of course. I do not begrudge visitors, but I like to know when they come."

Vago: "Thank you for your hospitality."

Harp/Magus: "Very well. And to whom do I have the pleasure of giving my hospitality?"

Vago: "My name is Vago."

Harp/Magus: [thoughtfully] "Vago." He looks at you appraisingly. "That's a good name."

Vago: "Thank you."

Harp/Magus: "Why are you here?"

Vago: "I have ... business. My travels brought me here. I'm passing through."

Harp/Magus: "You're lying."

Vago: [laughs] Yes, Vago's lying.

Harp: Well, the Magus might know that!

Host: Absolutely.

Vago: "I...I'm a slave."

Harp/Magus: "Ah. And?"

Vago: "And I don't want to be a slave."

Harp/Magus: "And?"

Vago: "And I've taken enough of your time. I'm very sorry." He feels the pressure; he's obviously very uncomfortable under your eyes. The Magus must be looking at him very earnestly.

Caspian: With that unblinking stare.

Vago: Yeah, and Vago is very much averting his gaze.

Harp/Magus: "Don't go. I may have need of you. You may stay here."

Vago: "Thank you. What would you have me do?"

Harp/Magus: "Nothing, for the time being. Or if you want to make yourself useful, see what you can do with these roses."

Vago: "I thought these were thorn bushes."

Harp/Magus: "I don't blame you for thinking so. The flowers are not what they used to be."

Vago: "What can I do to help?"

Harp/Magus: "I'll be damned if I know," he says under his breath.

Vago: "I can't do much harm, then, can I?"

Harp: [to Piccolo] Let's see, you're serving the Magus, aren't you?

Piccolo: Yeah. You probably just came from there.

Harp: I'm going to--no, let's see. He probably wouldn't just call you; he would have a way of letting you know he needs you. He, um...

Vago: He snaps his fingers, and you can hear it wherever you are.

Harp: Sure. He snaps his fingers and says, "I will have my--" Let's see, what would he call you?

Piccolo: Attendant?

Harp/Magus: "I will have my attendant see to your needs."

Vago: "I have no needs, Lord--Emperor--Highness--"

Harp/Magus: "You are rather in need of a bath."

Vago: "Oh, I, uh..."

Harp: [to Piccolo] You can come in any time you want here.

Piccolo: So should I move my token?

Host: I think we're still in the same scene, because [to Vago] remember, before the scene even ends, you're going to have to describe one of the characters as beautiful, legendary, or fierce--yourself or one of these other three.

Piccolo: I enter. "Yes, Magus?"

Harp/Magus: "This fellow, Vago, will be residing here for some time. See that he gets a bath. He may want to do something with the roses; I don't know."

Piccolo: "Shall I bathe him at the river?"

Harp/Magus: "Not the river, I think."

Piccolo: "Very good."

Harp/Magus: "By the smell of him, he's already been there."

[to Vago, laughing] Oh gosh, you have this puppy-dog look!

Vago: He's feeling very ... like, this is somebody who never met the eyes of his betters, so he's very much like, "Oh, yeah, thank you."

Harp/Magus: But in any case ... "Find a place where he can have a bath and get him some food."

Piccolo: "Certainly. Vago, is it? A pleasure. My name is Piccolo. Come on."

Harp: And the Magus will wander away unless you guys need him for anything.

Vago: "Piccolo? That is a powerful name."

Piccolo: "That's the name that they gave me. I'm afraid I don't know what my parents named me."

Vago: "You say 'they'? You mean the men of the wolf?"

Piccolo: "No, a man of Barleytown that raised me. I'm a swineherd--I was. The Magus ... well, I'm his attendant now, so I will help you."

Vago: "Sorry. Among my people, Piccolo is said to be an icon come down from the mountains, a wolf-headed thing. You should be eating pigs, not herding them. You may be a wolf."

Piccolo: [Doesn't know how to react, so he changes the subject] "Huh, so this is the garden. It's beautiful."

Vago: "If you say so." [pause] "Where do I bathe?"

Piccolo: I can find an inn for him in town?

Host: Yes, that sounds good. It may be a good end for the two of you. It sounds like you...

Vago: I meant to imply that he was legendary, yes.

Host: Okay, cool. So go ahead and write down "legendary" on Piccolo's card.

Vago: You can write it if you'd rather.

Host: Actually, no, he cannot, because it's your opinion, not his.

Vago: Oh, okay.

Piccolo: Ooh, legendary!

Caspian: It's magically binding.

Host: Could you talk again, just for a second, about why you think Piccolo is legendary? Just tell us?

Vago: The name itself holds power among my people. It was said that Piccolo would be almost a monstrous, wolf-headed sort of being that would come down from the mountains to prey upon the weak, to cull.

Host: Nice. So Piccolo now has that association in your mind?

Vago: Yes.

Host: So again, the next scene does not have to be the bathing scene. It could be if you like, if that's interesting to you.

Vago: We can skip the shower scene.

Piccolo: Yeah, I can skip that.

Harp: You can even move the Magus if you want.

Caspian: You still have the option to move the Magus to Oak Hills.

Piccolo: [placing token] The rose gardens.

*** Piccolo / The Rose Gardens: Beautiful/Legendary/Fierce ***

Piccolo: An odd property of the rose garden seems to be that although it's not terribly big, two people can wander through it and never meet. Maybe it's magical, maybe that's just coincidence, but that's always been the way it has been. In better times, when the nobility would wander it, many feuds were averted by this strange property.

As Piccolo wanders through the rose gardens, he doesn't see it, as Vago does, as thorns, but as something dormant, something powerful, something ready to bloom again. [pause]

Host: Piccolo, you said you're sixteen, right?

Piccolo: Right.

Host: So you're a young man. What are you doing here right now? Why are you in the rose gardens?

Piccolo: Something drew me here. After taking Vago to bathe, something drew me back here, and I don't know what it is.

Caspian: Could I step in in this scene?

Host: Absolutely.

Caspian: So I'll say Caspian is sitting on the edge of an old fountain that's full of some loose leaves, just kind of kicking his feet. He looks up. "So how's our guest?"

Piccolo: "Doing well, thank you. Um, you're the Magus's, um ... the ... um ... you ..."

Caspian: "His apprentice?"

Piccolo: "Yes."

Caspian: "I am indeed."

Piccolo: "Not to belittle your ... I'm sure you're powerful. I just ... I'm sorry."

Caspian: "That's quite all right." [pause] "They are dormant--the vines, the leaves. They used to sprout on their own and bloom. They're smaller now. Sometimes the Magus says that the only thing that will get them to bloom now is the blood of the fae."

Piccolo: "I had dreams back in Barleytown. It feels like a dream in here."

Caspian: "It can be. Even though they don't look like much, the buds of the roses have a scent to them; it plays tricks with the mind. If the Magus had time, he would teach me how to grind them up and make them into medicines to cure sadness, make people love. It could be something like that."

Piccolo: "A noble goal. Thank you for sharing this with me. I ... I'll have to think upon it. Thank you."

I'm going to say that Caspian is beautiful--not so much without, although I'm sure he's very nice, but within. His goal of curing people with medicine.

Vago: And on some edge of the rose garden that you guys couldn't see because of its inherent properties, Vago was shoveling shit out of a wheelbarrow that he got from the latrines.

Piccolo: The inverse property is that people who are supposed to meet will meet.

Host: Oh, nice.

Harp: Let's see, where do I want to go? Or do I want to move the Magus? The problem is, I haven't hooked up with the rest of the group yet, really.

Host: We can jump ahead and establish why you're with everybody later, so if you feel like it's time to go, we'll be able to make it work. But there's no hurry.

Harp: I also kind of don't want to play the Magus twice back to back, because then I feel like I would have too much influence over his characterization. So I think I will try to do another one with Harp. I think what I'm going to go for is the scrying pool.

Host: All right, tell us about the scrying pool.

Harp: A quick question for whoever had that scene last time--

Piccolo: Me.

Harp: Did you say the scrying pool was still working? I forget.

Piccolo: It's still almost supernaturally beautiful and clean and pristine. It didn't work for me.

Vago: Not the way you expected, anyway.

*** Harp / The Scrying Pool: Why You Serve the Magus ***

Harp: So I am at the scrying pool--which, indeed, is supernaturally clean, pristine, and beautiful--and I have come surreptitiously with a little cup, because I want to see what happens if I drink some of the water. I am alarmed at the way things like the menagerie are fading and the fact that the Magus has not been seen for a year. It is obvious to everyone that something is not right in Ravenhall. As a scholar, I am distressed, and I feel the wish to do something about it. I take it almost personally that this is happening in the world at this time.

I have never been able to do magic myself. I am interested in it; I love to see evidence of it whenever I can. But I was not born with the gift of magic, and that has always distressed me. So I hope that if I drink from the scrying pool, perhaps that will put some magic into me and I will be able to do something to halt the decline that Ravenhall seems to be entering.

So I edge my way up to the pool. It's late afternoon, about the time when people are going home for supper, so I figure this is my best chance to get at it undisturbed. Carefully, I bring the little cup up behind my back, sit down on the edge of the pool, dip it in behind my back unobtrusively, look around, and quickly drink it down when I'm sure nobody else is looking. And, once I've done that ... [pause]

Host: This could be a good example of a time when you might want to ...

Harp: Hand it off to somebody else? Yeah, let's do that.

Host: You can always say no if it doesn't feel right for your character.

Harp: I'm hoping this will lead to why I serve the Magus. I'll just say that much. So if anybody wants to help me get there, I would welcome it.

Piccolo: I can help you.

Harp: Okay.

Piccolo: After drinking the waters, you fall into a slumber, and in this slumber, Harp walks in and talks to you.

Harp: You mean Piccolo?

Piccolo: No, Harp.

Harp: You mean, myself walks in and talks to me.

Piccolo: Yes.

Harp: Okay!

Host: Something's different about this Harp, though. What is it?

Piccolo: She drank the water; it's a fountain of self-reflection now.

Host: I was just thinking it might be fun if this Harp was much older, or much younger, or scarred, or something.

Vago: Maybe it's her idealized self, how she views herself. Just an offer.

Piccolo: Harp walks in, and she's wearing wizard's robes--ornate ones.

Harp: Oo, okay.

Piccolo: Sometimes she's walking with a stoop. At other times she's shorter, and the robes seem baggy and loose on her, and she's younger. Her age fluctuates. "Hello, Harp."

Harp: "Hello? What--where--hello? Have you ... come to ... tell me ... something?"

Piccolo/Dream!Harp: "You've come to tell you something. I've come to tell me something."

Harp: "You're me, then."

Piccolo/Dream!Harp: "Yes."

Harp: "Me as I might be or me as I will be?"

Piccolo/Dream!Harp: "That's tough to say. I came here to drink the waters, hoping it would give me magic. Unfortunately, as we find out, magic is not as simple as that. Sometimes symbols that we think make sense do, and sometimes they do not. We drank the water, and it became self-reflection."

Harp: "I see."

Piccolo/Dream!Harp: "But if you want to be a wizard--well, you're already a scholar. You know many things that others don't. You have this ability. But if you wanted to unlock the true magic, there's only one place to go. There's only one person to talk to."

Harp: "I think I know who you mean. Who I mean. I mean, you're me, so I know. You mean the Magus, right?"

Piccolo/Dream!Harp: "Yes."

Harp: "Well, that makes sense. I suppose I should have thought of that."

Piccolo/Dream!Harp: "We know that he hasn't been seen in quite some time, but his apprentice still walks the land. As soon as you wake up, he should be at the bridge. Give or take. I know we'll run into him, because we do run into him. But the rest is pretty uncertain, so ... well, I won't share too much; it will be a surprise. Everything turns out okay, though."

Harp: "Just tell me one more thing. Is my nose really that big?"

Piccolo/Dream!Harp: "Umm ... sorry."

Harp: [laughs] I think that's the end of the scene.

Host: Probably.

Harp: And that is why I serve the Magus.


(Continued in part 2)
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