Here are the first couple of scenes of this PBEM scenario, run in the Beasts & Barbarians city of Jalizar, but using Labyrinth Lord, Red Tide and Mythic instead of Savage Worlds. Compare and contrast with the adventure Gratitude of Princes, occurring simultaneously in Jalizar, but using Savage Worlds and Larger Than Life. Because I can.
I wanted to show how I set these two zero-prep PBEM games up, and how the first couple of scenes went, as examples of what can be done with my toolkit; having done that, I’ll let them fade into the background, and focus on face to face and solo play. I’ll give you summary updates as and when there is a lull in the fighting in the other games; we have a rash of weddings and wedding anniversaries coming up over the next few months, so it should only be a few weeks until that happens.
Our hero is Stan, 1st level human thief. Stan’s first goal is to get some money, his second objective is to engage a stout retainer to act as a meat shield, as he is concerned about only having 3 hit points.
The first is easy, or relatively so; Grandfather Yusheng does not let hands stay idle long, for the hands must gather money to feed the mouths, yes? He summons Stan to his office, which smells of incense vainly trying to cover the odour of fish.
“Stanislas,” says the Grandfather after the usual pleasantries, “It is time for you to begin earning money for the Society. One hand washes the other, yes?” Stan nods.
“Well then, I want you to recover something for me. A common thief, not someone associated with our Society, has stolen a precious item from a lady under our protection. This is not to be tolerated. You will recover the object, and ensure that Stern Master Jing is able to teach this ruffian respect for us.”
Grandfather Yusheng goes on to explain that the object is a cup of mottled peach and lavender jade; that its rightful owner is the lady Aspasia, a wealthy matron, of a certain age yet still lovely; and that she is most insistent it should be recovered immediately.
This is the Chalice of Tishab, from Pacts of the Wise, of which more shortly.
“Your test of initiation into the Society begins,” the Grandfather continues. “Now: What else do you need, or need to know? This answer, too, is part of the test.”
Stan politely enquires of Grandfather Yusheng if it is known where the miscreant can be found. Also, do we know if the item has left his possession yet? Is he associated with another organisation? (i.e., is Stan in trouble if he stiffs him?) How does Stan identify him?
At this point, I pull out Mythic and turn to the Fate Chart, which I use to answer Stan’s questions. Note a key principle of zero-prep play here; the player is doing the work of generating the scenario. This also ensures that play develops in a flow that seems (a) logical and (b) congruent with the player’s expectations.
Does Yusheng know where the thief is (I have no preconceived ideas, so I set the Odds row to 50/50, and cross-reference it with the default Chaos Factor of 5)? I make a percentile die roll, 23, and looking up the intersection of the column and row I’ve selected on the Fate Chart, I see that 23% is a “yes”.
Does the thief still have the item (A Near Sure Thing)? 48% – yes.
Is the thief associated with another organisation (No Way)? 47% – no.
How does Stan identify the thief? Hmm. Logically, to know where he is, Yusheng must know who he is. I don’t, and don’t need to, yet.
Does Yusheng know who he is because in his ignorance he has approached a fence associated with the Fish Heads (50/50)? 04% – exceptional yes. Using the NPC tables in Red Tide I determine that this person is called Liu and is always snuffling. OK then, Frozen Liu, known for the unsafe brazier which always glows at his feet, and his continuous feeling of being cold.
None of these percentile rolls came up doubles, so there is no random event. This is the only rule of Mythic that I keep forgetting, so I mention it here mostly to remind myself. I think it should be mentioned in a footnote of the Fate Chart, for vague folks like myself. But I digress.
“Good,” says Grandfather Yusheng. “I do not know where the thief is now, but at dusk he will be at Frozen Liu’s pawnshop; in his ignorance, this fellow approached a pawnbroker associated with our Society to sell the cup. Truly, the gods favoured us this day. So, you can tell that the thief is not himself associated with any of the organisations we know about, or he would have gone elsewhere; and also that he still has the cup, or he would not need to sell it. Frozen Liu can point him out to you when he enters.”
I wondered whether pawnshops would be anachronistic, so paused for a quick Google, and discovered that pawnbroking as a business goes back at least 3,000 years, and most British law relating to them is based on Roman jurisprudence. Who knew?
“Will that be all?” Yusheng’s poker face, and the clouds of foul-smelling smoke from his incense burner, mean Stan cannot tell whether he expects more questions or not.
I update the Chaos Factor, which stays at 5 as Stan is no more or less in control of events than before; the Character List, which now has the four basic NPCs from before, Lady Aspasia, Frozen Liu and the as-yet-unnamed thief; and the Plot Thread list, which now has “Recover the Chalice of Tishab” on it.
Stan makes his way to Frozen Liu’s pawnbroker emporium, where he finds Liu snuffling (as always) and huddled around a burning brazier, muttering to himself about how cold he is, and how expensive fuel is. Stan introduces himself, and explains the player’s plan.
“If this person leaves with the cup, we might not get it back, and if I don’t trap him in the shop he can flee – and I run the risk of losing him. So, honourable Liu, I would ask you to buy the item.”
“Whaaaaaat?” asks Liu, aghast at the thought of paying for the chalice and then having Grandfather Yusheng relieve him of it.
“Calm yourself, Father,” Stan continues, before the expected explosion can occur. “Once you have the cup, I will meet this fellow inside the doorway and pick his pocket. We shall get the cup back for its owner, and get your money back for you.” Or, he thinks to himself, I die gloriously trying to stop the thief when it all goes horribly wrong. Either way, he is determined not to let Grandfather Yusheng down.
I begin by rolling 1d10 vs the Chaos Factor. I get a 6; since this is more than the Chaos Factor, the scene plays out as expected, rather than becoming an Altered or Interrupted scene.
Does the thief arrive at the pawnshop as expected (Very Likely)? 97% – Exceptional No. I make a mental note to increase the Chaos Factor at the end of the scene, as Stan is now losing control.
Does someone else come instead (50/50)? 17% – Yes. Oho, a new NPC.
Is it a friend of the thief (50/50)? 04%, Extreme Yes. Hmm. Why send someone else?
Is the thief expecting trouble (Very Likely)? 31% – Yes.
Did he send a tougher friend to make the exchange? A thug maybe? (Likely) 96% – Extreme No.
A wizard, then? (Unlikely; how would he know one?) 46% – No. Here you see one possible down side of Mythic; you can flounder around for some time before you get to the next answer.
How about one of Aspasia’s maids (50/50)? 71%. I’m getting bored now, so I use GM Fiat to overrule this. Yes, it’s a maid. She is attractive, because this is pulp, and in pulp any new female character is either (a) good looking or (b) hideous; I think this must be the thief’s girlfriend, so therefore cute, and they plan to use the proceeds of the sale to escape together. The thief knows that by now he is a hunted man, but hopes the girl may not yet be a known accomplice.
Dusk comes and goes, and Stan waits in vain for Frozen Liu to tip him the wink about his target entering. Stan amuses himself by memorising, as far as he can, who enters, what they drop off, and how much Liu offers in exchange. You never know when that will come in handy.
It comes as a surprise to both Liu and Stan when an olive-skinned young woman enters in a cloak, looking over her shoulder in a way that catches Stan’s eye – partly the normal reaction of a young man to a pretty girl, and partly the reaction of a trained thief to someone who thinks they might be being followed. He catches a glimpse of a silver slave collar, a plain dress under a dark green cloak, a smooth, symmetrical face with full lips and flashing brown eyes, and shoulder-length, curly black hair.
The shop is deserted, apart from the three of them. The girl approaches the counter, and pulls an object from inside her cloak; it is the chalice.
“Our mutual friend is indisposed, but he told me you’d be interested in this cup,” she says. Liu appraises it closely.
“It is unlike any I have seen before,” he muses. “Well-made. No maker’s marks. Heavy jade. Hmm. How much do you want for it?”
I look up the equipment list on p.16 of Labyrinth Lord and decide it is equivalent to a vial, worth about one gold piece, if you don’t know what it does.
Do the thief and his girl know the chalice is more than it seems (A Sure Thing)? Yes.
The girl takes a breath and squares her shoulders, obviously screwing up her courage. “A hundred gold,” she says, firmly.
“Girl,” Liu laughs out loud, “I grant you it’s well made, but it’s just a cup. I’ll give you a silver for it.” Stan mentally pegs this as about 10% of what a new one would cost, and decides that Liu is expecting to haggle, and would eventually pay perhaps three silver. The girl’s face falls.
Does she run out in tears (50/50)? 66%, no, and because I rolled doubles, a random event. Oh goody. Now I pull out the event tables, and roll 47 for the Action, and 74 for the Subject; Travel and Liberty. This fits nicely with what I think she needs the money for, but I’ve already decided that, so I think instead she’ll drop a clue for Stan.
“But… but we… I need that money. We have to get away. And I know it’s worth more, a lot more, Lady Aspasia keeps it locked up all the time.” Liu snorts.
“What you need it for is not my concern. What the Lady does with it doesn’t matter. Two silver; no more.” The girl haggles in a spirited manner, but Liu won’t budge.
At length, she storms out, calling over her shoulder: “May the worms eat your eyes, you miserable miser!”
End of scene 2. I update the Chaos Factor to 6, add the girl to the NPC list, and leave the plot thread list alone because I don’t think a new thread has emerged. All of this took longer to write up than it took to play.
Stan is still lurking by the doorway, affecting interest in a moth-eaten quiver. What next, I wonder?