Travelling For the Magpie Prince
|"Membership has its privileges."|| The run takes place in the Tenth Year of the Dog since the Third Treaty of Houses.|
The run takes place in the northern Arcade.
Yanyu, Xian, and Shuyan explain to everyone else what happened last run. Oh, and by the way, Yanyu is a werewolf now. Whatever that means. And someone has to be her protector, and take any damage/death that would otherwise come her way, as decreed by the Moon.
- "We don't have any agreements about war crimes. We should take advantage of that against the North." -Merit
- "No, we're the good guys. I know it's hard to remember sometimes." -Xian
- "Are we?" -Kasumi
Shuyan says she is one of the more robust people here today, so she will be Yanyu’s protector. Shen-Ji is, as expected, jealous of the Obsidian Warlord's new title of "Commander of the Fallen".
- "Everyone gets to be a necromancer, even Xian." -Shen-Ji
- "What?" -Xian
- "Well, Wei Han thought the hoop was necromantic." -Shen-Ji
- "Wei Han is twitchy. Everyone knows that." -Merit
Merit tells the Tahiti house staff to treat Yanyu as an honored guest, rather than a full House member, since she has the potential to be controlled by beastmasters without realizing it now.
The butler enters with two writs of summons (there appears to have been one delivered for both Merit and Cai Wen) - the Lord of the House of Exuberant Interference is requested and required to attend the Lord of Benevolent Oversight at the Port of Propitious Voyage, as soon as possible.
The group heads to the Port, and are shown to the waiting room outside the private royal audience chamber. Inside, there sounds like an argument, just on the edge of audibility. Kasumi, hoping to overhear something more interesting, wanders off and listens to people packing a crate - one of them thinks that it's not right, if he's getting this much authority, he should be here. The other one thinks that he isn't right. Hmm. Kasumi wanders back, just as the audience concludes, and three people dressed in the colors of the House of Gainful Protection leave, looking cross. One of them (the head of house) scowls at Merit, and another (the heir) scowls at Yanyu. The third, a woman, isn't familiar to the party.
Then, the House of Exuberant Interference is announced to the Lord of Benevolent Oversight. He looks tired. Merit leads the party in appropriate bows.
- "As you know, this is a dangerous time for the Arcade. I am hoping that in the spirit of "pulling together to save the nation", we can cut through the usual protestations of innocence and BS and get down to it."
- "How may we be of service?" -Yanyu
- "I'm glad you asked. The answer is in several ways.""
The King continues - he knows that their forays into "couriers" and "matchmaking" that they throw up in front of the other houses are not their true interest. The House of Exuberant Interference is the House of Political Black Ops, and it is time to use those talents to get things done, because if things do not start going well, none of our Houses will be around to worry about it afterwards.
All the information that they have, from various sources, is being sent to the King's son, Prince Jiyiin, who will be putting together a list of prioritized objectives that the King would like the party to see to. They will be provided with a warrant that will likely be ignored in half the places they try to use it but these are the times we live in. The one thing he asks them not to do is to interfere with is the House of Gainful Protection - the King is dealing with them personally.
- "We have reached an understanding, and they will toe the line, because either they toe the line, or the line breaks and we all drown."
The King thinks that the situation for the Arcade will come to a head within the next three country turns - the exact timing is up to the enemy as much as the Arcade forces. Those three turns need to be victories, in part to be determined by a large number of smaller tasks that the House of Exuberant Interference needs to do. Possibly two exceptionally good turns would be sufficient, but that seems unlikely.
Returning the favor, the party briefs the king on their recent doings, particularly mentioning the ability of Northern beastmasters to control "werewolves".
They then ask if the King has anyone in direct contact with Magpie, and hint that Magpie has a Plan. The King says if negotiating directly with Magpie becomes necessary, to talk to his children.
Merit asks if they should investigate whether the House of Gainful Protection is actually toeing the line? The King thinks he has them sufficiently in hand, but if they aren't, then finding out early will hardly matter. Merit kind of wants to investigate their inevitable betrayal, but the King thinks that Exuberant Interference has a history of pissing Gainful Protection off, so if he sends them to investigate and Gainful Protection realizes it, then that will go a long way towards causing them to not toe the line, so don't do it.
- "If he talks like this to everyone, we're doomed." -Merit
Merit helps Xian give the King a pep talk along the lines of "All is not lost, but we have to fight as hard as we can." Xian does get through, without crushing his mind, and thinks that one of the reasons he looks tired is that he blew a lot of his once-per-run shticks immediately before they came in. Merit steals Seize the moment from Cai Wen, and spends karma to give the king a useful refresh of one of his shticks.
Once they leave, Kasumi explains about the conversation she overheard. Maybe they were talking about Prince Jiyiin when they said “he isn’t right”? That he doesn't deserve being in charge of intelligence? Or something else?
Anyhow, the prince is at a secure Benevolent Oversight location southwest of the city - the party is given the location, and they head off.
The guards at the Prince's location seem pretty competent, but the warrant gets the group in. They tell Prince Jiyiin that they're here for the list - he's surprised to see that they are the ones who will be carrying it out. For their first task, most importantly, they... and then one of his eyes goes ice blue, the other goes sapphire blue. 2d6 are rolled, and in a different voice, he says "Go to Far Point. Defend the Empire."
Yanyu checks - what aspect is he just at the moment? Crane/Magpie/Dog? Hmm.
Then, the prince winces and continues in a more normal voice.
- "So, you see that we should get right on that." -Prince Jiyiin
- "Get on what?" -Xian
Yanyu reports that when his eyes aren’t being crazy, his aspect is just Magpie.
Merit asks if he can see the notes that the Prince used to prioritize his list. Prince Jiyiin is willing to show him, but warns that there are a lot of notes. Xian needles the prince - so what was the thing that they should get right on? His eyes go weird blue-and-blue again, and there is a dice roll and he says "Investigate the status of the Gate of Shen" before wincing much harder, and looking normal again.
Magical analysis indicates that he is suffering from spiritual overload, and taking physical damage for it. Xian can see what appears to be a battle between Crane and Magpie in his chi, with Dog standing between to try to maintain order.
In the process, Xian Yoshis herself, getting some new psych lims.
Li Merit applies first aid to Prince Jiyiin, and then asks him again about the priorities. (Merit is hoping to get the full list, since there seem to be multiple items available.)
- "Recover the Dragon Army's secure vault left behind in Daizhou"
However, Prince Jiyiin takes even more damage this time, and only the first aid kept him from collapsing entirely this time.
The rest of the group drag Merit and Xian away to keep them from poking the Prince any further, and Merit looks through the intelligence archive. There is quite a bit of stuff, too much to speed read in a few minutes, but he does take a quick look to see what he can find.
- All three of the missions are all well behind enemy lines.
- At Daizhou, opposition includes both the North and the Dragon Army
- (Spending some money to get a bit more info...). At the Gate of Shen, Merit can probably get in more safely than anyone else can. They can get in if they do it right; he can probably get in if he does it wrong.
- At Farpoint: Disrupting rituals is easier than building them.
The mechanic is oddly visible under the surface - he did get specific clues for the specific missions, and while there is information on the other problems, they haven't been activated yet.
Cai Wen ponders the minigame implications of activating all three missions in parallel.
- The deadline for the entire list is "before the country falls".
- The dice rolls will determine when that is.
- Nothing they rolled advanced the clock, but it could.
- The only real effect of activating three at the same time is that the opposition for all three also just activated.
Xian hates to do this, but maybe a boat would be the best way to get behind the Northern lines. Farpoint is the spot where the Wall meets the ocean - the party has been there once before, after it was shipwrecked in the North.
Yanyu invites Yin-Xiang to come along - he wants to know who is officially in charge of protecting Yanyu.
- "Just call me Wei Han Junior." -Shuyan
Xian reminds everyone - the beastmaster was able to summon werewolves to him, but he didn't know who was coming until they showed up. So that's something to worry about with respect to Yanyu.
Merit has an old friend who is a smuggler. He is not thrilled to go into territory controlled by the North, but Shuyan bats her eyes at him.
- "I'll be ever so grateful." -Shuyan
- "I'm not listening...." -Merit
In the moonlight, the hidden wolf-ness in Yanyu resonates a little as Shen-Ji looks. It looks like a Northern beastmastery effect, but it is super-clean, almost like "Imperial Beastmastery". There's no corruption damage at all.
The boat trip goes remarkably uneventfully, though Xian looks nervous the whole time, and the boat finally comes to shore in a small smuggling cove just south of Farpoint. Since they'll be travelling over land to Daizhou and then the Gate of Shen, they tell the smuggler he doesn't have to return for them.
Kasumi takes point sneaking to see if Farpoint is occupied; Shen-Ji is point for the rest of the group, following the signs Kasumi has left (taking point appears to be a new traveling-behind-the-lines mechanic).
Kasumi sees a small palisade, newly built around the wall's end in the water. There are several Northerners doing something in the palisade, and several other Northerners standing watch from the palisade. There's also a Dragon Army fort, which seems to be in Northern control as well. She doesn't think it looks that difficult to deal with, but then, she hasn't made a very good perception roll. Using her "what the heck" magic ring, she determines that there are about 40 enemy combatants and about 5 prisoners, so she heads back to report.
Xian and Yanyu are in favor of Shen-Ji's plan to firebomb the map, and let the prisoners die in defense of the Empire, and Merit is beginning to be persuaded.
- "They're soldiers, they signed up for this. Acceptable losses." -Xian
Kasumi, a little taken aback to be the moral compass of the party, suggests that they stage a distraction and attack the main group of Northern soldiers at the fort, while sneaking someone in to fireproof the prisoners first. People think this might be too dangerous or time-consuming, so Kasumi offers to sneak in and superleap-dodge away with all of them for seven karma.
Cai Wen checks the scoreboard. There's no "alarm", but three choices seem to be "active".
|5||Encounter at Farpoint|
|8||Gate of Shen|
It takes two firebombs (the second Phoenix-aspected strike requires that the party use fireproofing potions, as they aren't immune), but the Northerners are wiped out and the prisoners saved.
The freed soldiers explain that they were being killed, one at a time, and their blood smeared on the wall. Most of the details of the ritual have been turned to ash, so it's hard to tell exactly what was happening, but Shen-Ji thinks maybe they were trying to make the wall more permeable to Northern magic, or targetting Wei Han. Mystically, the end of the wall is more vulnerable, since it's not protected from both sides. Now, the score is
|5||Encounter at Farpoint||5/5 Empire||4/1 Wolf/Magpie|
|8||Gate of Shen||active|
Xian says that the Wolf points came from scouring away the northern-ness with fire; 5/5 is a full victory.
Can the soldiers reliably get themselves home? They aren't sure they can make it all the way out, even after Shuyan heals them. Xian crossly says that babysitting guards isn't part of the mission.
- "They weren't heroic. I like guys who didn't get captured." -Xian
- "They're consumable resources." -Shen-Ji
However, there's less of a pressing need to let the soldiers get killed, so they agree to bring them on the rest of the missions.
Xian notes that the mission from the Prince said to recover the vault and not just the contents. So the group should do that if possible. It's not clear whether this is a mystic requirement, or just a demonstration that the contents couldn't have been seen / copied.
Sneaking towards Daizhou, Kasumi takes point, but not far enough ahead to count as a separate party. She holds up her hand.
- "Shh! Quiet!" -Kasumi
- "Why? What do you see?" -Xian, rolling only 3 stealth successes
A Northern patrol charges; one of the Dragon Army soldiers tackles Xian (who is clearly not combat-competent), and the other four charge the Northerners. The battle is quick (and is on a weird mapless neither hex nor square map), and the Northerners demonstrate a necromancer-in-a-bottle type ability - a vial which can be thrown on a downed combatant, which stands them up again as undead.
Once the Dragon Army outnumbers the Northerners, though, the forces of the Empire win.
The scouting mechanic is clarified:
- Someone has to be point
- The point person makes Stealth and Observation rolls
- Their Observation roll determines the difficulty of everyone’s stealth rolls.
- The point person needs to make a full stealth roll; everyone else makes half.
Hmm. So Kasumi might not be the best point person - she's very stealthy, but not very observant, so the party isn't able to evade trouble. Cai Wen or Merit might be a better point person, but there's only one scouting encounter between Farpoint and Daizhou.
From outside, Daizhou seems to be occupied, but there are civilians moving around although not in large groups. Cai Wen takes the Dragon Army guys on a scouting mission while everyone else discusses the plan to recover the vault. Should they steal the vault? Just the contents? Make the land Imperial and hope that counts? What about the Dragon Army that will be providing opposition? Are they beastmastered, or not? It's mostly questions with no answers yet, so they'll have to go in and reconnoitre.
Merit disguises everyone as a peasant, though Kasumi is a peasant with two katana.
Cai Wen, Kasumi, and Xian head up to the Daizhou gates. The guards at the gate are Northerners, and everyone gets faced with two questions. First, "Have you given your soul to anyone?", to which most people are just confused (which seems to be acceptable). Next, they have a choice to throw their weapons on the pile, or attack a Dragon Army soldier who is standing nearby.
Cai Wen gives his dagger to Squeaky who slips away with it, and then the three head up. All three give puzzled answers to the question about souls, and are cleared. Cai Wen has no weapons. Kasumi says that she can't give up her grandfather's sword; the guard shrugs. In that case, she can attack the Dragon Army guy. She does so, though she sandbags as she's not interested in killing him. He seems perfectly willing to kill her, though.
- "Why are they fighting?" -Xian
- "Everyone has the right to die." -Guard
Kasumi was kind of hoping that being able to land a blow, or take one, would be sufficient to bring the fight to an end, but that doesn't seem to be the case. She takes an epic pratfall, stunning the onlookers for several rounds, and takes the opportunity of the distraction to toss her swords away past the checkpoint, and then she is allowed to pass.
The guard asks the soldier if he is fit to continue - he says yes.
Xian confirms that her bow counts as a weapon, and leaves it in the pile.
Inside Daizhou, there are a number of signs posted - any instructions from Northerners must be obeyed, and there are to be no gathering of groups larger than three.
The three scouts take a room at an inn (paying refugee rates with several people to every room), and report back to the others via communicating paper. Then, Xian loiters near the Dragon Army HQ while Kasumi sneaks in and Cai Wen gathers information.
Cai Wen hears that no commanders switched sides, but a lot of lieutenants did. Living in Daizhou isn't too bad, except that sometimes people get picked up off the streets and vanish, and sometimes there are monsters. They had a battlemaster come through and detect all the weapons, which got taken, and now the gate has an apprentice battlemaster stationed at it.
Kasumi returns from her scouting - she has a good idea what the layout is, but doesn't know where the safe is. There are several places where it could be (colored boxes) but she isn't sure which one is right.
That night, everyone else sneaks over the Daizhou wall and into the inn.
Shuyan sends out the Snake of Secrets, which returns to let them know that the vault is the orange box on the map, which is providentially against a wall of the building.
Xian speculates that to get 5/5 Imperial, they have to get the contents out without seeing any of them, while Wolf v. Magpie is about how surgical the strike is and how much they defeat the rest of the Northern plans.
People think about what kind of allies they can get in Daizhou. Merit might have some Dragon Army buddies, but most of them seem to be beastmastered. He had an earth sorcerer buddy in the city, but the guy appears to be gone. Merit breaks in and finds other people living there, but grabs a vial of anti-fire and a shovel of double strength. Thugs can be hired, but might be a little less competent than most places; if thuggery is punished by being turned into a zombie, then the local thugs will probably be people who are more desperate with fewer options. Strike teams can be summoned, but may burn more resources getting here since we are behind enemy lines.
Other things at the group's tactical disposal - Xian can play the guzheng to keep people from fighting, and Shuyan can distract a lot of people for a while with a snake dance. Cai Wen can start a poker game (but this will be more fragile since it could become a group of larger-than-three), and Kasumi can do "look at me!". Shen-Ji can get through the wall, if Xian can use "change environment" to provide cover.
Merit's strike team makes it, but will be out of action for another five runs after this. Cai Wen looks around, and spots someone else casing the joint. Merit stashes a coin of angry-mob-noises near the far corner of the building. Then, it's time to go.
Xian starts playing the Ocarina of Time instead of her guzheng, preventing combat anywhere near her. This will hopefully give Shen Ji enough Time to get into the safe. Sounds of angry mobs are heard from a near corner, and the corner where Merit stashed his coin, which confuses him, because he didn't trigger it. Wait, these aren't the party's distractions. People decide that these are probably the Dragon Army's distractions. Go go go!
Shen-Ji starts destroying the wall behind the safe, and finds a flat metal surface. Yanyu puts the aspect of the Monkey on the whole thing. Shen-Ji starts trying to melt metal and tunnel it away from the inside of the safe, but the safe has a shtick in being a vault and doesn't melt easily.
A little voice says in Xian's ear: "Excuse me, miss, um, if this is a jailbreak, I could use some help in here." Xian is baffled, as there doesn't seem to be anyone here who is the source of the voice.
Two angry mobs charge onto the scene - they appear to be locals, armed with sticks and brooms. Merit spots some of his strike team, trying to prevent one of the mobs from coming in. Shuyan, on a roof on the far side of the building, distracts a lot of the guards as well as some of the incoming mob.
Kasumi checks in with Xian, and Xian tells her that there might be a prisoner to rescue somewhere, but Xian doesn't know where. Kasumi says she'll look, and sneaks inside. Merit disguises himself as a Northerner, and then lends one of his strike team the leadership shtick to try to get the mob turned around.
Shen-Ji has Pao help him burn through the vault, and gets a hole. He spots a conch inside, before he tries to stop looking.
Yanyu, on Shuyan's side of the building, tries to spot the relationship between the people in the mob. They seem to all be members of the nascent Daizhou Liberation Front.
- "The other one is the Liberation Front of Daizhou" -Adina
- "Hey! Don't read ahead!" -Mike
A beastmaster inside the building summons werewolves, including Yanyu, so she starts heading for the door. Yin-Xiang chases her. He manages to grab her and carry her away from the army HQ again, but heading away from the building, he spots Shuyan and stops to watch her dance.
On the north side of the building, the Dragon Army strike team shows up with a cart, flinging Xian’s distracting dumpster out of the way. However, there is no fighting due to Xian and her ocarina, so while there are a lot of weapons drawn, nobody actually chops anyone.
Cai Wen and Merit run over to the corner of the building where the safe is, just as the Dragon Army fire sorcerer takes out one of the walls, a bit less subtly than Shen-Ji. Merit starts trying to sabotage the horses, but the army captain notices and...well, he can't stop Merit since no one will initiate combat, but they end up in something of a horse-tying competition.
- "I really like your jailbreak styling, but could you send someone to get me? I'm in one of the back rooms on the east side." -Mysterious voice to Xian
Merit heads into the building through the new hole in the wall, while the big Dragon Army guy picks up the safe and puts it into the cart - just after Shen-Ji and Cai Wen have finished dropping the contents into Shen-Ji's bag of holding. Merit finds that there are two Dragon Army guys, not quite dead, in a room - it looks like they were being tortured or vivisected. He thinks that a Northern Necromancer was trying to find the physical symptoms of being a werewolf, and burns the notes to set the research back.
Kasumi finds a room full of loot, with a soldier and a battle mage. She chops at them, but the battlemage explodes her katana.
Now that the objective is secure and all that remains is to get out of town again, Shen-Ji runs into the building, followed by Xian and Cai Wen.
Kasumi finds a door covered with painted sigils in Torghut: DEATH DEATH DO NOT ENTER INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS THIS MEANS YOU. On the other side is a room with a curtained-off alcove, with more warning signs. She decides to not mess with whatever it is.
The Dragon Army strike team declares it all a disaster, and takes off with their now-empty safe, though they have spotted the hole. One asks the other if they "marked the girl."
Xian's ocarina is preventing combat near her, so the northerners resort to shouting at the party.
With healing potions, the two prisoners are transportable. Merit keeps exploring, into a room which is empty except for a strange pipe - he thinks that this room is more Northern than any of the others, and that the pipe is some sort of entrance for Northern spirits.
The battlemage moves the whole map four hexes/squares to the north, putting Shuyan outside of the map. People who had been mesmerized snap out of it. The little voice asks Kasumi to come and rescue her, but still isn't being very clear.
Cai Wen and Shen-Ji flee with the two prisoners, and Merit sounds "Time to go!" in hornish, but a lot of people don't understand it. Kasumi finds some really nice human skeletons inlaid with ivory, but still no prisoner. She finally goes back into the room with the curtain and checks behind it - it's just a fish in a bowl, that says it wants to be rescued.
- "Do they not have fish in the North?" -Kasumi
For the first time, Xian comes in line of sight of a warmaster, who declares "LET THERE BE BATTLE!" and the spell of the ocarina is finally broken.
Another battlemaster uses "detect enemies" and notes that Merit (still disguised as a Northerner) is an enemy. Things seem to be turning for the worse, but once everyone starts retreating, they are able to get out before the Northerners get enough actions to take them. Kasumi does have to throw the fishbowl at the battlemaster - the fish vows terrible revenge.
The final scoreboard:
|5||Encounter at Farpoint||5 of 5 Empire||4/1 Wolf/Magpie|
|6||Daizhou||3 of 5 Empire||2/2/2 Wolf/Magpie/Monkey|
|8||Gate of Shen||difficult|