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July 2006

First Time Experience running Conspiracy of Shadows


I bought Conspiracy of Shadows (CoS) at Dragonmeet in London last December, and it has been like a nagging scab ever since. I keep on picking it up and re-reading it, and asking what-if? This is a good thing, as many modern RPGs I pick up and think 'Yeah, whatever' after I've read them. There have only been a few that gave me the same excitement that I had some twenty-mumble years ago when I started gaming with 2nd Ed CoC, Basic D&D and Starter Traveller.

Anyway, as you know from the posts asking questions about the game, I decided to run Blood Opera at Continuum this weekend. Continuum is one of the UK's best roleplaying focussed cons (you can find out more at http://www.continuum.uk.net/ - it's a two yearly affair and rather excellent). I set off, armed with the new crib-sheet, relationship web and characters. I'd been persuaded to run by First Age, one of the organisers for the con who also happens to frequent one of the BBSes that I am a regular on. He'd also got a copy of the game and wanted to find out how to play it. As he was running a demo of Stormquest (my HeroQuest Stormbringer conversion), I only felt it fair to return the favour.

I'd initially got sign-ups for 6 players for Blood Opera on Sunday night, which was pretty good as it was scheduled against the 25th anniversary CoC party, but one dropped out so I got Grandmother Anna. None of the players had played CoS before, although all had played HQ, and several Burning Wheel. One of the players I didn't know had certainly played Sorceror, and may have read CoS before.

We set off, and it ran pretty slowly at first. The kick off was the end of the funeral which then moved into the wake back at the family manse's great hall. The main point that happened her was a destiny point being spent by one of the players to make Uncle Ivan suddenly comment that he missed Ivana, and had liked her since he slept with her twice! This gave a stunned silence and everyone looked shocked. The group slowly settled to bed. There was some low key conflicts with Wiktor and Gregori trying to spot the servant watchers that Anatoli had set on them, and then Gregori failing against the butler (3D skill goon) when he confronted him about the spies!

The next morning started with breakfast which suddenly erupted into a conflict between Zygmunt, Vladick and Anatoli. Zygmunt was trying to force Vladick to stop pushing the limits and lording it over the players, and the other two opposed. Anatoli absolutely destroyed Zygmunt through a well pushed set of actions resulting in Zygmunt on 0 vitality, which became a new temporary negative descriptor that he felt the whole family was falling apart into self destruction. The conflict system worked well with multiple characters. Doom came into play for the first time.

We struggled a bit at first with players getting used to framing scenes, and also with the question 'can you change the skills/attributes and descriptors that you are using between actions'. We ruled 'yes' to this, and it seemed to make sense.

I then introduced a cut scene with the coffin dug up with a DP, but left it to Gregori (who had left the house for the village during the fight) to decide whether the coffin was opened or empty. He decided open with a body, so I then spent a DP to have Ivana there, healed, but not responsive, with a rose between her hands that hadn't been there. Zygmunt almost came across Gregori with his sword at his dead wife's throat (checking for breath on the polished blade), but a quick decision saved this. Long and short of this was that she was alive but in a coma, Zygmunt in denial, and the two characters heading back to the house with the body following in a cart.

Wiktor, who had confronted (successfully) Anatoli and Vladick over their treatment of Zygmunt, headed back from his hunt and arrived in the stable yard as the cart arrived. The body was taken upstairs, and Anatoli created a healing potion which revived Ivana to consciousness (with the help of a DP). She immediately screamed and accused Gregori of murder. Zygmunt ran her through (saying she wasn't his wife) but she still lived (DP spend by both me and Anatoli on this). Suddenly, Anatoli tried to force Gregori to admit the truth, and Wiktor tried to kill Anatoli before the line of questions continued. Vladick blocked the attack by buying up his attack to first (2D6 penalty!!) and managing a disarm on Wiktor. Doom was in use left, right and centre.

Gregori pointed the finger at Wiktor, and also spent a DP to modify the outcome of the contest and speculate on the motive (an affair?). Wiktor confessed, but pointed the finger at Vladick. Vladick admitted he had handed letters that proved Ivana's duplicity to Wiktor, and suddenly, Zygmunt spent a DP to make them forgeries he had created to entrap Wiktor. We drew a Veil at that point.

Spent the next hour taking the game apart - which was unusual - but still really admitting that we had enjoyed it.

Key points;
1) If players haven't dealt with conflicts and or games where they have more plot control, the start can be slow.
2) Need to work up some better beats/bangs to force action.
3) The traits and skills on the new sheet need a line between them, as players become confused.
4) This scenario would be different if I ran it again with the same people Winking
5) Zygmunt's motivations can be hard to get a good understanding of.

Anyway, we all really enjoyed this.