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Tales from the Arco: The Mask of Hallowed Life

Friday was our first actual Fate game on the Arco! Kyle and Andy showed up at 4, and we got started after cracking open a couple of beers.

I am really proud of how the adventure went. The system-specific stuff needs work. Fate isn’t failing us, but we’re still new to the system, and it doesn’t flow naturally yet.

Our heroes for this game are:

Symon Ashworth, the youngest son (“almost 17!”) of one of the less-respected noble houses. The Ashworths control and maintain “the Ash,” the enormous furnace that keeps the Arco running. Without the Ash, the Arco would stop and, eventually, die, but that doesn’t really earn them the respect they deserve. Not that that’s any of Symon’s business– he’s the black sheep of the family, and the bearer of the White Rose of Ashworth, an artifact that, from what anyone can tell, is cursed. Powerful, but cursed. Played by Kyle.

Garosh of the Flayers, the eldest son of a dying barbarian clan. Garosh is a big, tough, brute of a man… but he’s also very cunning. He has a great deal of pride, and a driving motivation– will this help save my clan? If not, I have little use for it.

Now, let me tell you about this adventure.

It was a murder mystery, of sorts, though it escalated into an action adventure rather quickly. What I did was start with an outline of “what the villain will do if the PCs never interfere,” and it was going to be bad. Since the PCs were always a step behind the perpetrator, they could catch clues about things that were going on, if they looked for them.

The “villain” in this case was their potential employer, Fennel Mostick. Mostick is a medicine maker and drug dealer. He met the PCs at his home, where they met his wife, Elinor, and saw the domestic scene. Mostick is a very sympathetic villain– this scene sets up the tragedy that the PCs will hopefully prevent later. The PCs also have an invitation to a masquerade ball that evening, and Mostick’s wife Elinor is very excited about attending in costume.

Mostick wants to hire the PCs to add a contaminant to the winning liquor at the Vinweed Spirit Coalition’s gala in 2 weeks. He will have the stuff for them to use at his office tonight. They negotiate a price, and carry on.

The PCs now have the afternoon to find costumes for the ball tonight. Since they’re already here in the Chaparral district, why not? Symon uses his Craft skill to hack together some pieces of inferior materials to make them look good, if not award-winning.

While Symon is fiddling with some of the more intricate pieces at a sidewalk cafe, Garosh, standing nearby spots his old rival Rathnor Blackheart, across the street with some cronies. The two barbarians approach each other, share some insults, imply vile and dirty things about their family members, and then part ways, laughing hostilely.

Meanwhile, the main crime is being committed in Mostick’s office. The PCs arrive there shortly after “shadowturn” (in Chaparral, that’s about 2 hours before actual sunset, when the district’s plate is rotate back inwards). They talk to the shop assistant, then are led through an opium den, where Symon takes a hit of some kind of drug and talks to an old man who is clearly hallucinating, because he asks about “the ceramic man” and if he’s going to bring more dreams.

The office is locked, so the assistant goes back upstairs to get the key. He’s gone for several minutes.

The PCs open the door (Garosh knows burglary… and battery). They find a dead Scroom and blood everywhere. Quick examination of the Scroom shows it’s not the Scroom’s blood. The lab equipment is smashed, stolen, upturned, etc. The back room ledgers are unaffected. When Garosh goes to get the assistant, Symon locks the door and when Garosh returns, Symon claims that he saw Rathnor run out of here! He must be the culprit!

Symon’s a good liar, and the assistant completely believes him, running for the constable right away. Unfortunately, Garosh also believes him, so he dashes out the back door and down the alley, searching for “Rathnor.”

Symon finishes up by noticing there are some missing vials and jars, and that the recent ledger records purchases of ingredients commonly used in blood magic. He reports to the constables when they arrive, then also leaves to catch up with Garosh.

The ball is about to start, so they put on their costumes and head there. Perhaps they’ll find Mostick at the ball, and can ask him what’s going on.

The ball proceeds. The PCs don’t really do much investigating at this point, but that’s all right. Clues literally drop in front of them every so often, particularly when there’s a lull in the action.

At the ball, they walk the receiving line and greet the Chaparral dignitaries, make nice with Elinor, and see that both Tory Juniper and Rathnor are in attendance. There is also, thankfully, a bar. In the ballroom, an enormous papier-mache spider hangs above the attendees, with silver (steel) filament webs stretching out in all directions, reflecting gaslight in a glittering display.

Garosh finds the food and takes a barbecued pig outside, where he is delighted to find a group of young men drinking heavily, happy to share the pork, and playing betting games. They’re prepping for an erlik race, those elegant yet vicious bird mounts used both on the Arco and off of it. Rathnor arrives, challenges Garosh to an arm-wrestling contest, and loses only because Garosh cheats. He gets his revenge during the erlik race– they race blindfolded, and somehow a mysterious obstacle appears on Garosh’s course that wasn’t there before.

Meanwhile in the ballroom, Symon is drunkenly (lightweight was a consequence he took earlier) chatting up Belle Juniper, Tory’s somewhat bitter sister. [Keep in mind: everyone is in masks at this event, so recognizing Miss Juniper in later adventures might be difficult for our young, drunken, nobleman.] Belle is flirtatious back, but she seems to have an odd awkwardness to her, like she’s not used to flirting. When Symon tells her about Kay, she’s very concerned, especially since Kay was one of her employees. She confirms that Fennel Mostick and Tory Juniper hate each other.

At one point, the PCs find a drop of oil on the table they’re seated at, and it makes them wonder why anyone would put oil on the steel filament webs above them.

The costume contest arrives. Elinor should win. Everyone knows she should win. She’s in a beautiful silk butterfly costume. She’s magnificent. Tory Juniper is attending as a mulberry tree– important to the silk life-cycle, but boring. In a gross miscarriage of justice, Tory Juniper wins. Elinor is disappointed, and she’s clearly scanning the crowd for a face she does not see (Fennel’s).

Meanwhile, Garosh has spotted someone he saw earlier, a ceramic-masked figure in a red cloak. This figure stiffens angrily and charges out of the ballroom when Elinor loses.

And that’s when the action begins.

The PCs follow the ceramic-masked man into a hallway, where he seems to have disappeared. Symon uses the White Rose of Ashworth to see the extradimensional door that the man must have used for his escape. This is no ordinary door, and Symon feeds the rose his own blood to be able to open it. He and Garosh charge into the narrow crawlspace behind a wall, up a ladder, and onto the crawlspace above the ceiling. Close, dark, and fragile.

Here, Symon sees the empty jars that smell of fireoil, and they realize that there’s about to be a conflagration. They open the ceiling hatch above the spider, and Garosh drops down into the spider, confronting the man in the mask. They tussle, while Symon tries to warn people below. He throws a glass jar to the floor, hoping people will look up and then run, but the jar hits Belle Juniper, knocking her cold.

Garosh tries to get the man in the mask to give it up, but suddenly, the man in the mask straightens and says “Very well. Kill me then, barbarian.” It’s a vicious compel– Garosh must overcome the compulsion to kill someone, or any action he takes must be directly tied towards killing someone. Could be the man in front of him, could be Symon– he could even leave the spider and climb all the way down to go kill Rathnor, but he must do it– or find a way to shake free of it.

This compulsion is one of the most powerful aspects of the mask artifact, by the way. I do not use PC-charms lightly.

Garosh shakes it off, but just as he is about to pull the mask off, he smells the smoke– the spider is on fire! It’s only a matter of seconds before the whole place ignites!

He yanks the mask off, feeling the magic tear from the man beneath– who is, of course, Fennel Mostick. A broken man, now, sundered from this powerful artifact, Mostick bursts into tears and is helpless. Garosh grabs him, but can’t pull him free from the spider. He spends time to do so, during which the flames devour the spider and leap along the oily webs.

Meanwhile, Symon has climbed back down through the crawlspace and runs for Belle Juniper. He helps Tory get her to safety. Garosh finally grabs Mostick and rides a flaming spiderweb to the ground. They run out as the burning spider and webs crash to the floor, injuring several party goers, but killing none.

As the constables are questioning everyone, Mostick confesses. Elinor was injured in the incident, but will recover. The PCs are pulled aside by a dark-skinned fellow who introduces himself as Mauriss Shadowriver (Samuel L Jackson!). He’s interested in the artifact they just recovered, and arranges a fair price for it, and offers future bounties for future work recovering artifacts. When Symon tries to hide his hand behind his back, Mauriss glances over and says coolly “we cannot part the White Rose from you, Lord  Symon.” This is true– Symon can lose, discard, sell, or otherwise try to rid himself of the White Rose, but it will always return to him.

Behind the Scenes: This was challenging to run, as a GM. I needed to improvise a lot more than I’m accustomed to, but I’m glad that I kept things light and loose for our first session. I didn’t overburden myself with overplanning– in many ways, that meant that I was unprepared when I needed more NPCs, or when I had opportunities to plant future plot hooks. I skipped a plot hook because it just wasn’t interesting at the time, and I changed a lot of details that I’d planned, because I failed to review my notes before the game (bad GM!)

Afterwards, I took all the notes about NPCs and organizations and added them to my master NPC document. It’s important to me to let the PCs return to old allies and enemies until they’ve exhausted whatever conflict and story that’s available there.

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