"You made my world stand still
"And in that stillness... there was a freedom... I'd never felt before..."
--Sarah McLachlan, "Plenty"
No, I didn't quote that because I feel I'm in great suffering. I just like the final line.
I didn't do much this weekend. The most productive thing I did was finally comment on some writing a friend had sent me. The least productive was play "Insaniaquarium." Apparently, however, I have been saved from wasting any more time on the game, since I haven't been able to get it to load the last several times I've tried. Well, it's a free product, I don't expect too much.
Oh, and I ran a surprising session for Rasheeka.
I've run eleven logs for Rasheeka so far, and the first ten all went, mostly, according to my plans. Here and there, Rasheeka did something which surprised me, or which messed up this or that aspect of my plans, and I'd have to adjust accordingly. However, these adjustments were often as much a matter of style as substance -- I'd get to the same goals, even if not the way I had intended.
(This is not, incidentally, at all the way I usually GM -- or rather, the way I GM for anyone except for Rasheeka. My traditional style is to leave the plot wide open and encourage players to influence events and control the story. The theory is "the PC is the star" and should have a major impact. Rasheeka is different because Brenna, Rasheeka's player, told me "I don't want to have much control over the story. I just want to be along for the ride" at the outset of this campaign.)
Ot the outset of the eleventh session, I had some concerns. To start with, my plans had not gelled the way they usually do. Friday morning, I have a game that night, and I still don't know what I want to present next, or how to present it. Finally, about midday, I settle on something. It's not too impressive, but it'll get me through the night. I figure "Hmm, about 20-30 days should pass between the current time and this event I'm going to use for tonight's story." So, about an hour before the session starts, I am summing up the events of the last 20 days. And then I realize: Rasheeka had planned to go to "the Hearth," a sort of shamanic church in the equivalent of the slums of Meleti, on her next free day--seven days after the last story.
In the last two sessions, Rasheeka has survived two very different attempts to kill her. Going to the a slum is not high on my list of ways to ensure one's continued survival in normal circumstances, and when someone's already trying to kill you...
But, hey, it is the player's choice. So, I advance the timeline to the night before her free day, and have an NPC warn her of the risks of going to the Hearth, especially now. "Here, in the palace, I can protect you. You go out to the slum, you're on your own."
Much to my surprise, Rasheeka elect to go despite the warning. "Ok," think I, "Now I have to decide what happens." Fortunately, I'd already given some thought to what the Hearth's "service" ought to look like. I type up some descriptive matter, narrate Rasheeka's arrival at the Hearth, and insert a little information via a dialogue between NPCs.
Rasheeka, meanwhile, is crafting nervous poses where she's worried about an assassin lurking in every corner. That's logical. Someone ought to try to kill her while she's out and away from the controlled environment she's normally in. But I haven't decided how yet. I give it some thought. One of my major considerations is this: any assassination attempt has to fail, regardless of what Rasheeka does.
Incidentally, this is an unlooked-for advantage in a plot where the PC has no control--the PC doesn't get the opportunity to excel, but she also doesn't get the chance to royally mess up and die.
With that constraint, I contemplate varous avenues. I decide that Mefuno, the NPC samurai-type who warned her against coming, will have followed her to keep an eye on her. He can save her from an assassination attempt. But I still don't know what shape that attempt will take. A bow shot from a rooftop seems wrong. So does an armed ambush. These assassins are covert, sneaky.
Then it hits me. The centerpiece of the Hearth is a big bonfire (I'm sure you're shocked.) The assassin could put something explosive in the fire. Even if the explosion doesn't get Rasheeka, in the resulting panic, the assassin could chase her down and kill her. If he does it right, no one would need to know that the attack was directed specifically at her.
Or, even better--the assassin can conceal his explosive in the wood that the shamans will add to the fire. That way, he can be a safe distance away when the action starts.
Of course, this means lots of collateral damage. Lots of collateral damage. But the people at the Hearth are second-class citizens at best, slaves and the children of slaves, participants in a foreign religion. In short, these people don't matter, especially not to the assassin. Terrorizing and killing them is almost a bonus.
It feels right. I go with it. Because Rasheeka is antsy and watching the people filter in, I decide to show her the assassin planting the log. I dump it in with a bunch of other information, noting that it's a cold day, and people in Laos Enosi tend to bundle up, so virtually everyone is wearing a hooded cloak as they come in. They're carrying food and drink with them. Rasheeka can hear the specifics of a conversation between the people next to her. And she sees someone come in, put logs on the pile, and leave again.
It all looks very normal.
Brenna catches the guy with the log. I don't know why he stood out in her mind--I think because of the anonymity of him--he's wearing a hooded cloak, he puts something down, and he goes out again, without anyone ever seeing his face.
But there's nothing more to it. Nothing suspicious about the log itself. And how ordinary is it, bringing wood into a room for a bonfire? Isn't that normal? And he'd go back out again for more. Right? Isn't that normal?
Everyone settles down for the service. And I tell Rasheeka: "You notice that the one guy you saw lay wood down is the only one--no one else has brought in more." She tries to call this to the attention of someone near her, but he brushes her off, shushes her.
In the end, she did nothing. She thought: "I am just being paranoid. If I try to interrupt the whole service to warn them about a 'suspicious log', of all things, they'll just be angry at me. It's nothing." She did nothing.
And the bonfire exploded, and several score of people died. Rasheeka is shielded from the blast by the corpse of a shaman who had stood between her and the fire. The assassin tries to kill her during the ensuing panic, but Mefuno intercepts him and saves her. Denouement.
Brenna and I were both stunned in the aftermath. I hadn't been planning this moment for weeks--I'd only thought of it a few hours ago. I don't know what comes next. I don't know how events unfold from here. I know the shaman I introduced several logs ago, the friendly, likeable man who spoke Laosian badly, is dead. All the NPCs Rasheeka was talking to at the start of the gathering are dead.
I don't know what the tyr, the prince of the city, will do. He'll be angry. He will want the parties responsible caught. The real parties responsible, not just the assassin (who killed himself rather than be caught by Mefuno), not just convenient scapegoats. But how will he make sure this happens? Will he take a personal hand in it? Who will lead the investigation? How will the xenophobes of his court who were not involved be treated? Will they all be tarred with the same brush?
I need to know. I'm the GM. I need to decide What Happens Next. But my brain is still trying to wrap itself around the enormity of what already happened. And Rasheeka...how can I describe what happens in a way that still revolves around her? How will she even function? If she had listened to the warning and not gone. If she had investigated the log. If she had interupted the service to stop the shaman. If. If. If.