We finally – ugh, the slings and arrows of everyday life – managed to kick off our mini-campaign of Fearful Symmetries last night. I’d better not say too much for fear of spoilers.
The heavens shall quake, the earth shall move & shudder & the mountains With all their woods, the streams & valleys: wail in dismal fear In the second “night”, the theme of women ruling is discussed but there is an emphasis on how the ability to create constricts them. Humanity is imprisoned by creation, and experience causes great pain…
Vala, or The Four Zoas
William Blake (1797-1807)
Alienist Hauke Greiner (57) and parapsychologist Emily Cheek (34) met Prophet of Albion James William Barnes (?-?) during last night’s session; a survivor, or one might say casualty, of our Bookhounds of London mini-campaign: they were moderately discommoded by finding him addressing the heavens from a box on Speaker’s Corner.
The PCs witnessed the maw of the sky run red, cozened a book scout and dowsed north-north-west from Oxford; Emily found herself upon a throne not of her choosing. Our ignorance of the work of William Blake runs fairly deep but it’s a chance to extemporize, and Innocence brings its own rewards.
Next week: witches. Yes, witches. Loves me some witches.
The set-up for the Fearful Symmetries playtest went well. It’s a beast of a document but it turns out to be fairly easy to use: the improvisational approach with plenty of background material suits the way I tend to facilitate games anyway and the guys enjoyed creating their characters.
We’re using the Radcliffe Camera campaign frame from the book; I’ll have to avoid freewheeling with the rules-as-written and I haven’t delved too deeply into the folklore engine as yet, but I find myself easily persuaded by the marriage between William Blake and the Cthulhu Mythos. It helps that Blake’s poetry and Crowley’s system of Magick have so insinuated themselves into the popular imagination: there’s little or no need to get bogged down in prep.
One of us was away this week and another of us is travelling for work the next – but that doesn’t turn out to be too much of a problem either. There’s a touch of Ars Magica to the way Fearful Symmetries suits troupe-style play, magickal rivalries and sudden affiliations. The self-proclaimed “Prophet of Albion” arrives in our game next week… but some of the players don’t know that yet.
Funny how these things work: you think things are falling a bit flat, particularly after a six-week layoff, and then there are two good ideas in a row and woof! the set-up catches alight.
Seven Dwarves will enter the Place of Unreason in a bid to rescue the sleeping Empress Maudlyn from the Red King:
Margäz Princess of the Second Empire; aunt to the torpid Maudlyn.
Grimbald Grimson Quartermaster of the expedition to the Dying City.
Bûrin Ironhand 325-year-old diplomat of one of the largest Dwarven clans.
Anselmo Sheild-bearer to Bûrin Ironhand; good Strength rating.
Hildebrand Hasselbeard Slayer Dwarf feared for the impact of her two axes.
Morag Blackhand Gunpowder specialist; brace of pistols.
Freya Fargazer Astrologer to the Court of the Exiled Dwarves.
Osprey of the Iron Cliffs, an Elf, and Ralmir Herakson, a Cleric and follower of nature god Argan Argar will accompany the Dwarves on account of their expertise in magic. They are doomed. It’s all so delightfully old school.
We had a great time with Trail of Cthulhu: the game will probably be the focus of a future issue of Machineries of Joy.
Our Dreamhounds of Paris campaign ended with two of the player-characters living as debased and cannibalistic ghouls in the catacombs of Paris and with the other being rejected by the Lakhota heritage that had been the centre of his existence. Still, they did manage to defeat Sex Hitler.
Last night was one of those sessions where the inclusion of the Itras By chance cards worked really well: it’s all about timing and punctuation, really, and the guys aced their moments of narrative.
I pitched Night Witches hard – I really want to play that game – but I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. Same with Lovecraftesque: two of us interested; two of us less so. A Red & Pleasant Land is likely to be next, but not for at least a month or so. Real life is being demanding right now.
Gala gave a card-reading, the player-characters explored the lost library of Nicolas Flamel and women keep falling from the upper floors of Parisian tenements. René Crevel is upset. Why do Bird-men suddenly appear? What is it that the PCs really see when they look in the mirror? And: how are the creatures from Une semaine de bonté escaping the Dreamlands? The PCs have persuaded themselves that Salvador Dalí’s bid for the leadership of the Surrealist movement is behind the various threats, thefts and privations they’ve suffered and they’re determined to crash the poor man’s Friday night orgy.
“It is not safe to enter the Dreamlands by the Aragon method,” Robert Desnos is saying from an open coffin at the centre of the player-characters’ shared hotel room in the 18e arrondissement. “You must warn Cody before it is too late. He will become a creature of the Gatekeeper.”
Robert Nottingham starts from his lucid dream a little before midnight on the cusp of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to see the face of a Lizard-man staring at him from the mirror on the wall. He turns to see what is casting the reflection to find nothing: his notes on the table in front of the mirror go up in flames and he ruins his shirt extinguishing the fire.
Anton Du Marr is almost pulled into a mirror at Shakespeare and Company by two Bird-men reminiscent of those Edward Cody saw in the Wednesday volume of Une semaine de bonté. Everyone around the characters begins to suspect they’re drugged or crazy or both. Their caché among the surrealists increases.
Later in the Cimetière de Montmartre Bob meets Georges Bataille at the party given by the secret order of Là-bas – he spends one of his float points on Disguise to gain entry – and begins to realise what he has got himself into. The drunkenness and debauchery are fine with Nottingham – he attended a minor public school – but he finds a small group in cowls carrying votive candles in a dark corner of the Cemetery; they’re drinking from a small chalice and passing round choice cuts from the grave they’ve excavated. Bob gains the ability to speak Mongolian from the brain-matter he imbibes and suddenly, all at once, he begins to understand what he was eating at dinner with Nicolas Flamel the night before, and he fails his Stability test and he’s heaving into the open grave and Lt Col Percival Fawcett, his nemesis and mentor in matters of the Cthulhu Mythos from The Last Catalogue of Ramon Degas, is standing by the exit of the Cemetery: “Did you think you could escape us, Robert? This is why the Treader of the Dust twisted your spine and gave you your immortal gifts; so that you could eat the memories of others the way He will eat them from you. Soon you will be as nothing and He will know everything and there will no experience from the Abyss of Time that is beyond Quachil Uttaus.”
Simon, who has done a great job of depicting “Crooked Bob” Nottingham’s slow-but-greedy descent into matters of the Mythos, is down to a rating of five Stability by this point and bless him, but he’s going to pieces.
Back at the hotel room, Anton Du Marr and Edward Cody are engaged in the creation of a masterpiece. Du Marr has secured hair from the head of Robert Nottingham, as instructed by Nicolas Flamel, and they’ve purchased hairs from the head of a Lakȟóta woman at great expense from the proceeds of Cody’s sale of Une semaine de bonté. This is the reason Cody came to Paris, to find a Dream Medium capable of returning the memories he lost to Quachil Uttaus of the Lakȟóta language and of his deep-seated matrilineal connection to his ancestry; a source of Stability was lost and a Pillar of Sanity shattered when he shot his mother at the final Anagnorisis of The Last Catalogue of Ramon Degas. Things may never be the same.
Du Marr suggests using the mirror through which the Lizard-man attacked Bob Nottingham as the basis for their painting-cum-collage. It’s a master-stroke. They remove the glass and paint a high plains Native American scene from fifty years before European settlers arrived onto its silver back, building up layer upon layer, using real hair on the bison, real canvas for the tents of the Lakȟóta, grass and leaves and silver paint, before replacing the glass and painting onto it with the same materials a large shamanic hat of bison hair and horns designed to look as if the person looking into the painting is wearing the headgear. They agree that those viewing Reflections de Vérité will be blindfolded until they reach the white line three feet in front of the painting. Anton aces his Art-Making roll. Du Marr and Cody are jubilant: they know they’ve cracked it and that all their hard work and Instability has been worth it.
Here’s where I call for two Dreamscaping rolls of difficulty 8. This is harsh-but-necessary as the pair intends to change the entire landscape of the Dreamlands by their actions. Space Monkey (playing Anton) burns his remaining pool of Dreamscaping to make a total of 9 on a D6… but Luke (playing Cody) has burned quite a bit of Dreeamscaping already in the session, what with all the scrapes with the fantastical hominids from Une semaine de bonté. He ploughs his remaining two float points into Dreamscaping but must still make “6” on a D6. He does so.
There’s a knock at the door. It’s Georges Bataille pushing Robert Nottingham’s wheelchair and Bob’s in a bad way. The player-characters haven’t seen him like this since they faced down Quachil Uttaus at The Last Stand bookshop. Anton and Cody pull he and Bataille inside and blindfold them. Bataille is the first to see Reflections de Vérité. He’s bowled over; Bataille begins to mutter something about “mystical atheism” before lifting his left leg high, seemingly about to stave in the mirror with the bottom of his shoe. Cody reaches out to stop him, but Anton prevents Cody from interfering, and sure enough, Bataille’s Big Toe goes into painting rather than through it, and Cody holds onto him, and Anton onto both Cody and Nottingham and there the four of them are, on the field of green in the morning of the magicians before the European settlers destroyed the paradise of L’Amerique. The panorama is beautiful almost beyond all imagining.
Space Monkey draws the Itras By chance card “Cut Scene”, pushing the action forward three hours. The four wake up in a shed wearing one another’s clothes: a drunken Bataille rather enjoys Cody’s pair of six-shooters and spurs; Nottingham is pretty okay with Bataille’s half-full bottle of absinthe too. Cody is less enamoured with Anton’s unwashed smock. It emerges that the characters are in the Cimetière de Montmartre early on Thursday morning and as soon as they exit the shed they see the real-life scene of Cimetière du près et de loin, the painting they saw at Galerie de rêve on the Monday of A Week of Kindness; a picture which Anton has no recollection of having painted. Bataille lets off a few shots, dislodging one of the arms from the statue on the grave. All four are taken into custody by the gendarmerie. When the PCs finally return to the hotel, they find Reflections de Vérité gone. Cody uses Charm on the hotel receptionist to learn who gained access to the room. “It’s Gala,” he says.