Yesterday’s session of the Sundered Seven fantasy campaign took place entirely within one room (with a short side trip to a wine cellar), lacked combat, treasure or magic and was still one of the most intense sessions of any roleplaying game I’ve played.
Our heroes Lord Adriel and his faithful servant Inye had arrived in Hrafburg, capital city of Malmor, to seek an audience with the ruler of the city. He had reacted in his usual arrogant way (the man has royal pretensions) and told them he would send for them when ready and so Adriel was forced to kill time in the city until then.
We opened at the lavish party being held by Lord Hazreth a newly arrived nobleman who enjoyed offering hospitality. All the haute monde were there and there was an atmosphere of casual decadence. Adriel was enjoying the company of two of the eligible ladies of the court (one of whom turned out to be the ruler’s mistress… so that wasn’t a source of tension… really)
But things really cranked up when I introduced the young lord Teltandin, a contemporary of Adriel. He hadn’t featured in the campaign before but I had him earmarked as a rival for Adriel so I threw the details over to the players with a couple of questions:
What did Teltandin do to humiliate Adriel when they were children?
What did Adriel do to Teltandin when they were young men?
We learned that Teltandin had been sparring with Adriel when they were about eight years old… and though it was a “friendly” bout organised by their parents – rulers of rival houses – Teltandin took it very seriously and used some dirty tricks to win. Adriel’s father shook his head and walked away in disappointment (a nice trigger of Adriel’s current need to win his father’s approval).
In return a few years later Adriel deliberately spooked Teltandin’s horse causing it to bolt and humiliate the young man in front of his friends and family.
That set the next scene up nicely as the two rival lords and the two ladies decided to play a harmless game of Hopestones for pennies. For pennies, sure. No high stakes.
Things escalated of course and it ended up as a duel of gambling between the two men with a lot riding on it. Social skills were unleased to gain advantages for upcoming rolls, psychological games were being played by everyone at the table. Faithful Inye saw Teltandin palm a high value tile for future use and managed to tip his employer off. That was dealt with by Adriel tipping some tiles accidentally onto the floor between rounds and saying “we’d better count them to make sure none are lost”… forcing Teltandin to sneak back the palmed tile.
The final round played out as an extended contest and Adriel won resoundingly winning the approval of the onlookers and earning more hatred from Teltandin. It was an intense scene with never a blade drawn.
Meanwhile Inye had been using his servant’s inconsequentiality and observation skills to move among the partygoers trying to learn what he could. I’d set a value for the scene as a whole to have a “Discretion 1” rating – people were drunk and their guards were down so Inye could overhear conversations. I had him make a Notice roll which he succeeded at very well and so I took inspiration from Dungeon World and said for every point he succeeded by he could ask me one question about the city and its rulers that I would answer honestly. As a mechanic that worked really well and allowed me to convey the information that was important to the players without some contrived info-dump. As a result Inye learned of the two rival factions at court (the Count’s wife favouring a diplomatic conquest of nearby lands, and his son leading a more military faction), what the Count’s priorities are (he really really wants to be King) and some of the major players.
We all enjoyed the experience a great deal – and Fate lends itself well to making up mechanics on the fly. The gambling “rules” were freeform allowing an intense round by round duel of wits and influence that simply comparing rolls would not have allowed, and the way we resolved Inye’s information gathering was elegant and will certainly be used again.