Our World of Darkness campaign, that we began by accidentally exterminating a native American tribe from history, ended today when we accidentally reset history to a parallel world ruled by a Thousand Year Reich built on justice and honour.

In the process we went from a group of ordinary mortals struggling to understand why we were trapped in a pocket universe with a genocidal spirit, to generals of a supernatural host, leading armies of magical beasts in a war against heaven. My character, John Micksen, went from a washed-up, ageing hippy sitting alone in a bar, to Winter Knight wielding a sword out of legend (Excalibur!) and leading an army of the four courts of faerie.

We did great things while we wound our ugly and complex path to this brutal ending. In the last session alone we caused an angel to fall from heaven, destroyed an army, killed a god, had lucifer sacrifice himself to open a gate into the primal stuff of the universe, and reset the world so that an evil god never existed. As we wound our way across continents seeking the keys to the destruction of the God Machine we did great things, and saw great evil. From the first moment we opened a door in the basement of a psychiatric hospital, to find an infinite space filled with chains and cogs, we knew we were up against something relentless and evil, and our actions had to be bold, powerful and often cruel.

We started small, rescuing children from paedophiles who were smuggling them to an evil corporation; we burned the paedophiles alive and fought a fatal battle with the petty angel they served. We crossed into the land of the dead from an abandoned concentration camp to save the children’s’ souls from undead scientists who were performing hideous experiments, and while we were there we liberated lucifer himself from a thousand years of captivity. We fled destroyer angels who laid waste to whole city blocks trying to find us, hid in anarchist squats in East Berlin and vegan fascist terrorist lairs in Chicago. We dealt in pride and babies with the courts of faerie, so that we could betray a demon to a vampire, in service to a cause we didn’t yet understand. We did a deal with an ancient dragon and crept into hades to kidnap its ruler in trade for a faerie queen; that same god of death we later saved from a hideous experiment that used his essence to resurrect Jesus – and that same queen rode back into the faerie land of winter on the back of a Russian T34 tank, that our demon violinist drove. We carved a kingdom out of faerie, and bought a mansion in Ireland to connect to it using gold stolen from hell. For a while Cerberus itself (an intellectual and arrogant beast if ever there were one!) was our mansion’s guard dog, but of course we had to flee when angels came to destroy our mansion – a destruction John Micksen watched while speaking of lost love with an angel more terrible and beautiful than the sun. “The Winter Knight,” he said, after fleeing from her wrath, “Tires of this shit.”

We tired of many things, because we were constantly fleeing from great powers. We destroyed corporations digging around for the answers we sought – literally, leveled their offices and killed their officers. Anyone who helped us or even met us died – bodyguards, wives, children, allies, friends, political fellow-travelers, anyone who sheltered us, anyone who did business with us, and almost everyone who crossed us. They died in fire, the rubble of apartment blocks razed by enraged angels who sought after us, in the pits of hell or in the snowy wastes of faerie, they died chained to a steering wheel in a flaming gasoline stand or savaged by berserk werewolves on vast fields of battle. Some of them were pounded into red mist by the Winter Knight, some left to experience an eternity of frozen pain in the deepest darks of the wastes of faerie winter. Some were tortured by our enemies, or just disappeared into nowhere by ancient powers we had angered. For every one of our allies or friends who suffered, our anger grew and our list of retributions extended. We were not patient, or careful, but we did all we could to destroy those who crossed us.

We were no match for our foes. An implacable god without emotion, possessed of infinite patience, sought to change the world to suit its cold mechanical whims, and the angels that served it felt no mercy, fear or compassion. They slowly reworked the political landscape of the world to suit the mysterious machine passions of their master, turning America  into a fascist dystopian nightmare, laying waste to whole nations with plague and war, exterminating races and cultures with machine precision that no human could ever master. They sought to tip the balance in every dimension. For a short time the courts of faerie waged war against each other and a strange machine god, and all the seasons were thrown into chaos – until we intervened to restore peace and kidnap a mad faerie queen wed to a despicable machine. But for every victory our terrible foes became more ruthless and more wrathful, so that we were forced to flee, and flee again, always running and hiding.

Some of us died three times. Some of us were infected by the God Machine’s sinister viruses, rebooted, cleansed and returned to us unrecognizable. Some of us were cast down from our powers and left to rot and die, before we rose up again to take on new and greater roles. Some of us tried to strike out for freedom and failed. Some of us had to dig deep and fight hard to uncover the secrets of our past, and strike a path into the future. Some of us lost everything, rebuilt, and lost it all again. We reached our wits’ end, burned our patience, rampaged through our enemies’ lairs in rage and anger destroying everything in sight. We stole a sacred stone from Mecca, and books of gibberish from under the noses of angels that could destroy whole armies. We were epic, and constantly terrified.

All of this came down to a final battle on a dusty plane in the American mid-west, to find a gate that would change the past and the future. Our Demon Violinist opened the gate, while armies fought to end the world, and we reset everything so that all our enemies were extinguished. We triumphed! And the world was restored to an order of peace and justice that could never exist in any boring, cold reality.

Truly, this was a glorious campaign of great deeds, terrifying struggle, mysteries unraveled and paedophiles flame-grilled. It was exhilarating, terrifying, deeply absorbing, sometimes incredibly frustrating, confusing and exhausting. I don’t think it had anything in common with a normal World of Darkness campaign, and the Demon book on which it was all based only arrived for the last session. But it was amazing in its scope, its power and its content. And it ended in glory. It was role-playing at its finest!

Advertisements

In my recent post on principles for RPG systems I put dice pools near the top of the list, because I think they’re fun. Unfortunately, however, I think it’s hard to make a simple dice pool that doesn’t break several of the other principles in the list, and it’s difficult to make a dice pool mechanism that is satisfying. This is because of the way in which dice pools are related to skills and attributes.

Most dice pool systems are basically constructing a binomial probability distribution, with the probability of a single success determined by the success number on the dice in the pool, and the number of trials being the size of the pool. That is, in classic binomial distribution notation, if Y is the number of successes, n is the size of the dice pool and p is the probability of a success on one die (e.g. 5 or 6 on a d6=1/3 probability of success on one die), then

Y~Binomial(n,p)

The resulting number of successes is compared to some target number, that is either set by the GM or determined by the opponent’s attributes and skills. The problem here is that for every point of target number, you need more than one die to have a good chance of getting a success. For example in Shadowrun if the target number is 1 (the easiest non-trivial task) you have a 1/3 chance of hitting it with one die, just under 50% with two dice, and so on. Also you cannot get more successes than your pool, so if the target number is equal to n you can’t succeed.

The problem here is that typically your dice pool is constructed in a similar way to your defense target number when it comes to challenged skill checks. For example, if I construct an agility+melee dice pool and try to shoot someone, it will target a difficulty set by their agility+melee dice pool (or something similar). But because each point of target number requires more than a single die to have a chance of success, your attacking pool is not going to be enough to hit, in general. The systems I have played have several ways around this problem, none of which are satisfactory in my opinion. These are listed below.

Shadowrun

Shadowrun gets around the problem of equal target numbers by having both attacker and target roll their dice pool. Because the target pool will generate less successes than a target number based on the attribute/skill combination, this will always produce a lower target number than the attribute/skill combination itself. The problem here is that you have two players constructing then rolling and calculating a dice pool, and comparing results. This has the advantage of giving the player the chance to roll to avoid an attack (which gives them agency) but makes for a lot of rolls, which with large dice pools is trouble. It also introduces a lot of variation, especially at lower levels . You could simplify this by having everyone roll their defense alongside initiative, and then requiring them to keep it, but this would be unsatisfactory to many players, I think.

World of Darkness

World of Darkness (WoD) creates a whole range of problems for itself and then somehow gets around them in a bad way. In WoD your melee attack pool will be an attribute + skill, but your defense pool is just the lowest of two attributes, so it is usually much lower than the attacking pool. This solves the problem of overly-boosted target numbers, but it is deeply unsatisfactory. John Micksen, for example (my WoD Mage) has a defense of 2 (what can I say, he’s clumsy) but he has 3 dots in weaponry, specializing in swords, and he is carrying Excalibur. Excalibur! But his defense is 2! Excalibur is a +5 Holy Sword of Legend, FFS, but he gets no benefit. This is ridiculous: when magically boosted, wielding that sword, Micksen gets 21 dice to attack! But the same Micksen gets a defense of 2, three if he boosts his dexterity above his wits.

However, all is not lost! In WoD, your armour counts on your dice pool. John Micksen’s friend gives him Forces armour 5, so he gets 7 defense. Whew. The WoD rules get around the problem of unfair target numbers by having you subtract your defense from your opponent’s attack pool, and the opponent rolls the result. This seriously reduces the variance of the roll, but it also means that the imbalance of target numbers and attack pools is removed. However, what happens if your defense is greater than your opponent’s attacking pool? In this case, they have no dice left to roll! However, WoD has a rule for this: they roll a single d10 and hit on a 10. That’s right, they have a 10% chance of hitting you with a dice pool of zero.

So let’s imagine this scenario. John Micksen has a ritual casting on himself that gives him +4 strength and dexterity; another that gives him 8s again on his attack rolls; and his friend Andrew has given him Forces 5 armour. John decides he is sick of the paper boy making a noise at the gate of his mansion, so early one sunday morning he staggers out of his faerie-wine induced reverie and, leaving his lithe elven lover entangled in the bedclothes of the master bedroom of their faerie demesne, he wanders up the stairs and into mundane Ireland, picking up Excalibur along the way. He creeps up to the door unheard – this is not difficult, his Dexterity is 6, higher than most mortals (truly Faerie has changed him!), so the stupid paper boy won’t hear him. He hauls open the door[1] and springs forward, yelling obscenities, and takes a swing at the paper boy. “I am the Winter Fucking Knight[2], I do not get woken by paper boys!” he yells, rolling his 18 dice pool (he doesn’t bother wasting a point of willpower on a mere paper boy). The paper boy, however, is a cunning little yobbo and sneaky to boot, so he has a defense of 3,+1 for his woolen jacket, 4 defense for a mere villein! Now John rolls 14 dice, which with 8s again means he should get about 5 or 6 successes. This leaves the paper boy on 1 wound (that is a well-made Irish woolen jacket, not some crappy London fashion accessory!) So, the paper boy grabs his anti-dog club, and jabs it in John Micksen’s face. John Micksen has defense 3 and armour 5, for a total of 8, and the paper boy has a dice pool of 4. Result! The kid has 0 dice! He can’t hit. There stands the Winter Knight, resplendently bare-chested, but shimmering with the power of his friend’s enchanted armour, the snow-flake tattoo that betokens his position as Faerie Champion glittering cold blue light from beneath the silken radiance of the magical armour, armour that has been crafted for him in an arcane ritual by a wizard renowned throughout several planes of existence as a master of the elemental energies that bind the world together.

Oh but wait a minute, the paper boy has rolled a 10 on his one die. His anti-dog club slides through that armour like a hot knife through butter, and jabs John in the ribs, leaving a nasty bruise. The kid pulls a stupid face, yells “‘Ave ‘at, you fuckin’ pervo!” and scarpers up the path and away [well, scarpers as best he can for a kid who has just been stabbed in the face with an Ancient Sword Out of Legend by the Winter Fucking Knight, boosted to superhuman strength and speed].

This ridiculous scenario occurs because the lowest success probability in WoD is 10%, for people with an attacking pool less than their defender’s; followed by 30% for people with at least one die left in their pool. This scenario would have been the same even if John benefited from the +5 of his Ancient Sword that Unites Kingdoms. I think that’s a pretty crap rule. But it’s an inevitable consequence of trying to find a way to give some chance to people with zero pool.

Warhammer 3

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3 (WFRP3) gets around this problem by adapting the Shadowrun approach into a single roll, using a dice pool that is as complicated as possible. Basically, the target’s defense (which is calculated in an arcane and annoying way) is used to add challenge and misfortune dice to the attacker’s pool. These dice can roll failures, which are subtracted from the successes that are rolled by the good part of the pool. The challenge and misfortune dice have different probability distributions to the dice that the attacker puts in the pool (attribute and expertise dice). This system has the excellent property of giving the defender a highly variable target number, along with various side effects and it completely eliminates the problem of balancing defense target numbers against attack target numbers where both are derived from attributes and skills. It is also, as far as I know, the only RPG system I have played (except Rolemaster?) that actively incorporates training into defense (in a variety of overly complex ways, of course). It also only uses one roll. The downside is that constructing and evaluating the dice pool are both complex, requiring a lot of time and effort until you’re really familiar with the system.

Some possible simplifications

The Shadowrun system could be simplified to work in one roll by adding d6s of a different colour to the attacker’s dice roll, and having 5s and 6s on those rolls cancel the 5s or 6s on the attacker’s dice. This is basically the WFRP3 single roll, without the complex dice. Basically this is what WFRP3 needs: a simpler way of constructing and calculating dice pools. You could set up the game table with a large pool of white and red d6s in the middle of the table. The attacker grabs his or her number of whites; the defender grabs his or her number of reds and then passes them to the attacker; the dice pool is then rolled, and the result counted. Alternatively, dice pool construction in WFRP3 could be simplified by leaving the roll of challenge and misfortune dice for the GM; the player only sees the dice he or she rolled, and the GM then calculates the result.

Another possible simplification is to find a way to make attack rolls have more dice than defense targets. For example, if you could add your level to attack rolls, but not to defense target numbers; or if your defense target for any challenged skill check (including combat) was your attribute divided by 3 (round down) + skill, so that most attack pools are larger than target numbers; and also make sure there is a method for boosting attacks (e.g. Edge/Fate/Willpower) etc. Note that with larger dice pools these boosting methods tend to be a waste of time (see e.g. John Micksen), but if you are striving for more contained dice pools, then it probably would work. Of course, no one likes dividing numbers in play, but most character sheets have a place ot write defense; you could have a “defense” section after each attribute, which tells you the value it applies when being used for a defense target.

Another possible dice pool mechanism I thought of yesterday but haven’t done any calculations on, is one in which there is no target number, but the target’s skill+ attribute determine the minimum number required to hit. For example, if attributes start at 2 or 3 points, and skills at 1 or 2 points, then target numbers would range from 3-5. The attacker could then roll e.g. d10s, and get success on any die that rolls above this number. If the target were above 9, then success would only be possible on rolls of 10. So for example you have a dice pool of 5, and your opponent has a target of 5; you roll your five dice and need to get over 5, which basically means that your outcome will be Binomial(5,0.5), giving an “average” of 2.5 successes. Were your opponent’s difficulty 9, you would need to roll 10s, and the chance of getting 1 success would still be pretty good, but little chance of a big success.

I have also been thinking about a concept of what I call success pools, which incorporate post-attack damage values into a coherent framework for all skills and challenges, and could be used to fine tune some of these dice pool mechanisms. I will have more to say about that later.

I don’t think any of the systems I have described here, or their simplifications, are ideal, though the Shadowrun and WFRP3 mechanisms are pretty good (aside from their cumbersome aspects). Shadowrun is fine until you start calculating damage, I think; WFRP3 is fine if you make sure that the only complexity in it is the dice pool (i.e. you drop most of the rest of the game). But they show the difficulty of making a balanced dice pool mechanism, and how there always seems to be a compromise somewhere on the way when you try to introduce a decent random number generation system based on dice.

fn1: With his ritual on, John Micksen has strength 7, so he doesn’t so much haul the door open as launch it into orbit

fn2: John Micksen has some rage issues.

Sometimes my regular RPG group runs a thing called “downtime,” which I think might be a well-established concept in role-playing methods, though I’d never encountered it before. Basically this is meant to be in-between time, where you interact with the GM electronically and handle irrelevant stuff like shopping, sorting out a few personal plans etc. Unfortunately our downtimes tend to be potentially fatal, high risk adventures in their own right. They happen on facebook and I really don’t know where our GM finds the time for them – he runs downtimes for 4 or 5 players, and sometimes they come together to form a group downtime with several solo downtimes intersecting. Up until now my most memorable downtime was a sudden explosion of chaos, in which we were all attacked by assassination squads simultaneously, and the first I knew of it was a text from another player (arriving in my facebook chat while I was at work): “Been shot, bleeding out, they’re coming for all of us, get out now”. This situation is tough because you’re on your own, so when they come for you you can’t consult and you suddenly realize how much role-playing depends on consultation with your colleagues. That downtime lasted 3 hours (broken up by work – I had to rush home and come up with a plan, then spend an hour or two getting out of the assassination situation). It’s really gripping, tense stuff.

That downtime was surpassed by an epic effort this week, a downtime so stunning it took role-playing to a new level.

Our group had just killed a vampire, who we knew was a Nazi in world war 2, and we had a couple of days’ grace before the next stage in the adventure. We’d secured a funky loft apartment in Berlin, we thought we’d escaped the attention of most of our enemies, we knew roughly what we were aiming at, though a lot was still shrouded in mystery, we had money and time. Great opportunity to consolidate! So we all did our downtimes with quiet confidence. My character, John Micksen, called on some political allies to investigate the associates of the vampire he killed. He figured that a WW2 Nazi would be using modern neo-nazis as muscle, but neo-nazis being dumber than a bag of hammers, they might by their activities give away some information. He soon discovered that the neo-Nazis had been active in violent street activities, including abducting children, and had contacts with companies and politicians that were … dodgy … to say the least. He decided to use some magic to hack their communications, but he could not speak German. So he set up a ritual, bought a parrot, and imprinted the comms on the parrot so that it could repeat all the conversations for someone else in the party (Helga) who speaks German. Feeling super clever, and looking forward to stunning everyone with his cunning parrot idea, he returned to the apartment.

All this is happening in Facebook chat.

He returned to the apartment, and was just relaxing and getting ready to reveal his super clever parrot trick to the amazement of his colleagues, when everyone smelt burning and hurt strange noises from Jade’s room. He came charging out a moment later, and chaos started.

The characters are:

  • John Micksen (me)
  • Jade, I’m not sure what he is, a Brazilian dude who can’t die, but who had to give up his child to the Faerie because some arsehole stole his memories and the faerie could give them back but it was me who gave away his child
  • Helga, a violinist. No, I don’t know why we’re adventuring with a violinist either
  • Jason, a werewolf. Useful. Not yet clued up to the full enormity of the trouble we’re in
  • Andrew, a mage, who works for the company we thought was trying to kill us (but apparently isn’t)

This motley crew was all we had when this happened (all of it in Facebook chat):

 

Jade   
Jade comes into view, walking slowly into the room. He is talking nonsense to himself, in a language you don’t understand and giggling like a little girl. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes.[Like saying “ah, kids today, eh?”]. He steps into the common room, and stops. He notices you all gathered, looking at him. He cocks his head to the side with questioning eyes, then is like he realized something and he smiles broadly. He starts laughing, LOUD “HAHAHAHAHAHA HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAHAHA” pointing at you. You feel like you are the butt of some psychotic inner joke. He doubles up roaring in laugher, holding his stomach, his eyes going wide and tear coming down his cheeks. His head goes down, he bangs the side of the doorway with his fist laughing. You swear.. you swear his skin color changes a bit, but it’s too quick for your eyes. Then you notice something behind him. Ambers…. fire… the smell of smoke, coming from the hallway. Jade laughs a bit, coughs and lets out a breath. “Ha…Aah…”. Suddenly he grows very quite. He trembles a bit and raises his head in quick jerk. He looks up at you, his face the mask of absolute fear. “RUN!” he says.
Jason   
Jason comes in, with one hand holding a deep, brutal looking wound in his chest and in the other a bag full of bananas
“you GOT to be kidding me”
GM
Actually jades room is on fire primarily and part of the hallway as it is spreading
Jason      
i run outside
John Micksen
“Andrew, can you do something about that?” says John, as he steps out to the stairwell to get a fire extinguisher.
He is very calm.
“Helga, can you pick up the box on the table? We may want it.”
Andrew    
In that case, Andrew is not following Jade entirely to the room, but he indeed tries to put out the fire. Though he’ll keep an eye on what’s happening in the room.
John Micksen    
He walks back into the room with a fire extinguisher. “Andrew, are you dealing with this or are we doing it the old-fashioned way?”
Jason   
jason rushes in again, obviously really angry
John Micksen 
“Jason, grab a blanket and get it wet. We need this out before the fire brigade get here.”
Andrew   
Andrew is looking at the flames quite intensely.
John Micksen   
“Go check in the stairwell for a fire blanket”
Andrew  
“I’m working on it”
Jason  
“what paranoid asshole did this!” he shouts more to himself than you
John Micksen      
John decides this is no time for patience, and lets rip with the extinguisher as well
Jason  
and looks for someway to help you
John Micksen    
“GET A FIRE BLANKET”
John Micksen  
“IN THE STAIRWELL”
Jason    
“A BLANKET? ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I M NOT GETTING THAT CLOSE!!”
Helga  
Helga has the.box and she screams “forget the fire! GET OUT NOW!”
GM    
Okay please everyone tell me what you are doing.
Jade  
Jade looks at them, he steps towards john slapping the fire extinguisher off his hands. “They are here. RUN.” He runs for the door.
John Micksen
I am helping Andrew with the fire, and telling Helga to get the box down to the street and ordering Jason to get a fire blanket
Helga
Helga has the box and she is RUNNING.
John Micksen    
oh ffs
Helga    
SHE SCREAMS  ANGEL!
John Micksen
John joins the panic. He thinks to grab any bags of documents that are close by.
Andrew      
Andrew looks slightly frightened “John, this is supernatural shit. I can’t put them out…”
John Micksen
“FUCKING RUN OLD MAN”
Jason  
Jason takes a few deep breaths, sings a silent song,
John Micksen
ooc  why the fucking fuck do our downtimes do this?
Jason      
graps the extiguisher and some blankets
and goes near the flames
Andrew  
Slightly confused, Andrew moves away from the flames, back to the common room where the others are. On the way he tries to stop Jason.
Helga 
“JOHN FORGET THE DOCUMENTS!”
Jade    
Jade goes through the door. Bursting it to pieces, laughing.
John Micksen 
John gives Helga a brief, cold, hard look
Jason      
When they first touch he screams in pain and rushes back, obviously surprised and angry
“AAARG WHAT THE FUCK”
John Micksen  
Then he grabs the nearest laptop (his, probably) in one hand and Jason’s shoulder in the other,
GM   
Out of the doorway you see a figure coming out. It seems to be the warped shape of a girl, her hair flowing around her, blood streaming down her face while her tattered wings fold to fit through the door. Her eyes are the darkest black, and the flames emanate from her. As she sees you all she smiles, her teeth sharp like needles.
John Micksen  
ooc  Oh FFS
GM  
Her eyes are the darkest black
John Micksen      
John is now running
Jason
Jason follows
Jade   
“Look john!! Is my only pride! Hahaha” He is crying, running.
John Micksen   
Hurtle down the stairs, yelling
Jason    
jumps into his car, starting engine
John Micksen 
WHAT DID YOU DO JADE?
Helga
Helga thinks, Oh Jade…
Jason
“GET IN YOU BASTARDS” ”
Helga  
Jumps in.
John Micksen    
Jump in the car as soon as I am out the door
GM    
She is followed by another, who seems to bring a searing light into the room. It’s skin is almost translucent and it’s face holds no features except for the hollow eyes that follow you as you run. It’s fingers end in long narrow needles and it’s feet are claws that grip the ground. It’s wings of serrated blades wrap around it as it walks through the door

So you’re trying to work, and suddenly you’re being attacked by two angels. Your apartment is being burnt down and everyone is in a state of panic. We managed to get out of this situation, but we had nowhere to go. John made some phone calls, burnt some more political favours, and found a dodgy warehouse squat in a dodgy part of town. They drove there in Jason’s dodgy car, not being followed yet. The squat was dodgy – home to the black bloc, and a bunch of radical vegan activists, the people who met them were unwelcoming and rough looking, there was no running water and they were given just one night in a dodgy room. But still, it was something. A new chat opened: “At the vegans.”

At the vegans

Make yourself at home ...

Make yourself at home …

They now started talking about what to do next. During this conversation John’s patron – the Faerie Queen of Winter – came up a lot, and not all positively. John had mistakenly given away Jade’s child to the faerie and Jade wanted that child back. He had essential information about how the angels had exploded into our apartment, but he dug his heels in: he wouldn’t tell anyone anything until John could secure Jade’s child, and in order to get that child back John could make no bargains involving Jade. Any sacrifices would have to be made by John. John agreed. Furthermore, John was getting really sick of the way all the greater powers in their world would appear, insult them, give them no information, but then expect them to do something to prevent these great and mighty powers from destroying the universe.

As if by coincidence, the Faerie Queen appeared in the room. Of course she knows just when to arrive, but did she arrive when they were being attacked by two angels? No. Yet she wants our help!

John decided to rebel. And this is how it played out:

GM
The temperature in the room drops noticeably. “MY Knight is correct and has made me curious. Why is the man of sand a catalyst for such destruction?” She is standing in a corner, her clothing closely resembling that of the others around, yet she stands out from them in such an alien way, whilst fitting in almost perfectly. Her eyes stare at you all, draining the colour from your cheeks and fingertips.
John Miksen
“My Queen. Well met!”
GM
She inclines her head briefly, letting John know he has been acknowledged. “My knight, it bodes ill that you are hiding in such a place unfitting of your status.” She looks back at Jade “However the man of sand is yet to answer my question.”
John Miksen
“My Queen, I feel I’ve been reduced to a vagabond. And the man of sand has been reduced to silence”
GM
She turns her gaze to Helga “You are here? Why? You put much at risk and risk bringing the wrought of those who wish to destroy upon these people.”
John Miksen
Jade
Jade turns slowly to meet to eye to eye with Andrew. He looks at him intensely for a second. He shakes his head from side to side(only by a small fraction) a few times very slowly. Then Jade turns to face the Queen again, rising his chin and striking the same pose.
ooc: you can see like his eyes are saying SHUT . THE . HELL . UP xD
Andrew
Andrew frowns, but his eyes widen slightly as he meets Jade’s gaze. You see a minimal apologetic shrug, then he turns back to look at Helga, who currently seems to have her attention.
GM
The winter queens gaze is quite piercing. She waits patiently for Helga to show the appropriate manners and respond.
Helga
Helga is looking at the Queen wondering, but Jade hasn’t answered her question! does that mean I can ignore her too? But she says, “Azazel had asked me to assist them.”
GM
The winter queen turns her head slightly studying you. “So you follow the fallen one along with the man of sand? You are interesting…. But the man of sand is yet to answer my question.”
Her gaze is incredibly unnerving.
John Miksen
The man of sand is oathbound to silence
Andrew
You see Andrew start to speak, but he closes his mouth again.
John Miksen
He has reached that place from which mortals fix to make their last stand
Is this passion not the reason you are drawn to us?
Helga
ooc: i have sinister music playing in the background right now
Jade
Jade steps towards John and places a hand on his shoulder. He nods and looks at the queen. He starts speaking in tongues, a language noone understands.
GM
She watches him impassively waiting for his reply.
Jade
“Ich nack dook al matih. Isnastella arkik.” He goes on speaking some language you don’t understand.
GM
She nods in understanding and replys in a similar manner.
John Miksen
To secure a word from the man of sand, you will have to make an oath with me
GM
The room drops several degrees. She shifts her gaze directly to her Knight. “Explain.” Is all she says.
John Miksen
Our man of sand is at his limit
He lost his child to a deal he believes breaks the laws of contract
GM
She raises an eyebrow “Explain”
Andrew
Andrew is following this exchange with clear interest.
John Miksen
He had no memories. He was offered a bargain for his nemories.
GM
She raises an eyebrow “His memories have returned.”
John Miksen
But how can a man with no past make a contract
Twere as if you bargained with a slave for his freedom? He has nothing to give.
The man of sand believes he was robbed, not traded with
Ooc: john pauses
Sighs
Andrew
ooc: is he now saying that giving a slave freedom with nothing in return is a bad thing? I don’t understand?
GM
“The contract is made and the words were spoken. They are binding. It is binding.”
John Miksen
Says:i agree with him
Helga
ooc: bart I think it means, you asked a slave to give you his freedom, when he had none to give you
Andrew
ooc; good point! got it 🙂
GM
“That is irrelevant. The words were spoken and the contract was made.”
GM
Jason comes into the room.
John Miksen
Now the man of sand will not give any further succour to our mission while you stand on a bargain made in bad faith

[at this point the werewolf returns from outside, just walking through the window]
Jason
Jason steps in and has no idea what’s going on. He comes in dangling a pair of keys in is fingers “Got us a new ride boys, better not mess this one up as well” than notice the hot chic in the corner, looks at her, lights his cigarette, smiles at her and says “wow, and who might you be?”
John Miksen
Ooc:awesome
Helga
ooc: awesomeness
Andrew
ooc: win ^^
Jason
he notice the icy silens
Jason
“…”
Helga
“…..”
Jason
looks at you all
Jason
“What …?”
GM
The temperature drops again. “Then the life is forfeit.”
Andrew
Andrew is actually trying to stifle a laugh now.
John Miksen
John has a hint of a smile
Jason
” guys whats going on?”
GM
She turns to John “do you concur?”
Helga
ooc: are we all like hypothermic by now?
Jason
Jason starts to grasp the weight of this conversation turns to Andrew and whispers “wait, dont tell me thats …”
GM
It is visibly cold. The walls and floor have turn white with frost and ice.
Jason
whispers “oh shit!”
Andrew
“Jup”
Jade
Jade sighs. He takes a long breath like deciding something then looks at the queen again. And speaks in tongues.
Jason
“I , I am sorry. I wasn told of your coming … your highness?! . I m not used to the presence of royalty”
Jason
” I , I will shut up now!”
GM
She points to Jason and he freezes.
Jason
arkwardly by trying to make a bow he holds in a weird position
Jason  
ooc: damn
Helga
Helga’s eyes are darting around among each person in the room, but the rest of her face is unreadable.
Andrew
Andrew moves towards Jason to see whether anything can be done.
Andrew
ooc: about unfreezing him, I don’t think he’s frozen solid?
GM
He is literally frozen solid.
Jason 
ooc: never felt cooler 😉
GM
The Queen responds to Jade in a language you are not familiar with.
Jade
Jade is unconcerned with the wolf, full attention on the queen.
Andrew 
Andrew is staring daggers at the queen.
Jason
ooc: I’m tough. All focus on queen!!
Helga
ooc: so THIS is a fairy
Jade
ooc: wait for it…
ooc: shitting bricks here…
Helga
Helga watches the queen and Jade, concentrating on memorizing what they are saying. She burns the sounds onto her mind though she has no idea of the meaning.
GM
They stop talking and Jade takes a step back.
John Miksen
John Micksen ignores the frozen werewolf
Jade
Jade steps back doing a very slight nod of recognition. Then looks at john and shakes his head negatively. [at this point Jade and I had a conversation in which he advised me against further negotiation]

John Micksen
John gets off of one knee and walks over to the window of the squat
As he does so he is slowly unbuttoning his shirt
oblivious to the cold
“You know, we had quite a party here,”
he says
“Organic vegan beer, vegan punk chicks, furries …”
“It was all happening.”
He pulls his shirt off, revealing a huge tattoo on his back
it’s some kind of snowflake, constructed out of a fine filigree of pale blue that stretches across his whole back
Jade
Jade raises an eyebrow.
John Miksen
if you look closer in the half light you can see it isn’t so much a tattoo as a network of veins and capillaries, filled with some sort of icy blue fluid
Helga
Helga takes one step back, ready to bolt in any direction
John Miksen
He turns back from the window
“Unfortunately, you turned up.”
He looks at the queen
“Fashionably late, of course, but making threats and demands like you always do”
Andrew
Andrew looks at John
John Miksen
“I offer you advice, freely given.”
“You should get an MBA at one of the better institutions”
“Because your management style sucks”
He reaches behind him and touches his neck, just above the shoulders, where the network of snowflake pattenrs converges
Helga
Helga closes her eyes and sighs. Then she immediately reopens them
John Miksen
Slowly he draws his hand away and the tattoo comes with it, drawn slowly out of the skin. He hisses in pain as he does it, and you can see it takes all his effort to draw it out
After an excruciating couple of seconds the whole thing is out, hanging like a limp sack of anti-freeze from his frozen fingers.
Andrew
“That’s going to be trouble…”
John Miksen
He throws it on the floor in front of the queen, where it shatters into a million pieces of ice that start to steam
“You are lost and confused, up against a god you don’t understand.”
“we are your only hope but you lie and trick us, rob us when we are desperate, cheat us.”
“You won’t tell us anything, you abandon us to the enemy you depend on us to fight.”
“You are senile, useless, empty, and now you have no winter knight.”
“go find someone who enjoys pointless service to the demented.”
“I’m off to find a beer.”
Helga
ooc: awesome!
John Miksen
“Made with meat”
And with that he walks out of the door
Jason
ooc: BAMM
John Miksen
ooc: if you want servants, don’t employ washed up anarchists
Andrew
Andrew glances at Jason, then mutters under his breath “Not having a knight must be utterly horrible to her…”
Jade
Jade shakes his head slowly, sad look on his face. He nods to the Queen, and starts sinking in the ground.
Helga
Helga follows John out the door but once outside she goes off in a different direction from him
John Miksen
ooc: wise move!
Jason
ooc: sooo, is there gonna be a next session? Lol
Helga
ooc: it’s dark now right? believe it was night
GM
The Queen laughs as John attempts to walk away to find himself caught in the doorway. The rooms temperature has dropped below zero. She ignores Jade as he sinks into the ground but turns towards Helga as she tries to move away, trapping her where she stands. She looks upon the werewolf and simply blows upon him and watches him fade out of sight. The she lifts John by the back of the neck and casts him back into the room.
Andrew
Andrew tries to catch Jason, which obviously fails.
Jason
ooc: I’ve got the best instincts and I didn’t run lol. … Well couldn’t
John Miksen
ooc: I feel now is the time to observe that I am an ex anarchist with a composure of 4, who has watched everything he believes in dissolve into ruin, and child-fucking.
ooc: not the kind of person with much to lose, or much fear
Helga
ooc: sigh it’s hard when your allies have no survival instinct
Andrew
ooc: wait, aren’t anarchists the people who like to have no rules?
GM
Andrew fades out of view, appearing beside Jason
Jason
ooc: i m a freacking wolf and actually have a score for instinct 🙂 didn t help much 😉
Can jason move?
ooc: our scene goes on somewhere else
Andrew
ooc: the afterlife 😛
John Miksen
ooc: this is seventy seven shades of fucked up
Andrew
ooc: always was 😛
ooc: don’t try to deal with gods, they’ll always bite you in your ass
John Miksen
ooc: she’s not a god
Andrew 
ooc: possibly not, but as close to one as Andrew saw so far
John Miksen
ooc: well hang around for just a few more seconds …

[there follows a separate scene in another room, in which John is thrown around a lot and argues a lot; meanwhile Jade is outside running from angels. Wolf and mage are also transported somwhere else by the Queen, and have their own confrontation]
John reappears in the room
he is bleeding from several deep cuts, and looks haggard and drawn
He is also obviously using some kind of magic to warm the room
He yells “Where is the CHILD!?” as he does this
Helga
Helga yells, “Jason! Andrew!”
John Miksen
ooc: I should say “try and warm the room”
Helga
and in a softer tone, “…Jade!”
John Miksen
“Where is the CHILD!?”
John is looking around the room in a measured but angry way
His entire upper body is covered with goose pimples nad he is shivering
GM
The room remains empty, but it is warming up considerably.
John Miksen
but he looks ferocious and full of joy
“Jade!”
Helga
ooc: Jason and Andrew not here yet right?
John Miksen
ooc: furry stupid has come back insde [I am referring to my cat here, but at this point …]
GM
You see a giant wolf smash through the window, tumbling along the ground.
Jason
ooc: hahahahaha
John Miksen
ooc: well that’s alright then
Jason
ooc: best timing ever
John Miksen
ooc: win!
Helga
“Andrew?”
ooc: Bart… this is your cue!
Jason
a big redbrown wolf
turns around and growls in ferious rage at the entrance door
you know something terrible must be outside this doors
John Miksen
ooc: I think a lot of punks must be dead
ooc: though the remaining punks probably will rally and attack
ooc: but it’s a shame the black bloc are out of town …
Helga
“Jason. What is outside?”
John Miksen
“where is the CHILD!?”
Andrew
You see a blur in the air suddenly hurtling through the same window that was just broken by the wolf.
Andrew
As the blur comes to rest, it seems to stabilize and fade into the background. You hear Andrew from there though “Fucking Angels again!”
John Miksen
“Where is the CHILD!?”
GM
You hear a door smashing nearby followed by a sweltering heat that rushes down the corridor
Helga
“Outside?”
John Miksen
John is on his knees in the middle of the room, tears running down his face
Helga
ooc: great… it’s extreme temperature day
Andrew
ooc: any other escape routes other than the door that now is hot and the window?
John Miksen
“I WILL join the god machine!”
Helga
“JOHN!!!!’
John Miksen
“I swear I will you wear you as a WATCH if you cheat me now ice queen!”
Jade
You all receive a text message. “Angels. I have the child.”
Helga
None of you have ever heard her speak so sharply
John Miksen
John stands up
Jason
fuck this: the wolf starts to grow
GM
There are screams that turns quickly to gurgling sounds of pure agony. People run past you screaming and the room warms up more and more.
Helga
“Jason — the car?”
Andrew
” No fucking shit. Which way did you have in mind?”
John Miksen
“We have done all we can”
Jason
jason is now in shape of a huge direwolf
Andrew
“Fight through the angel with blade wings outside, or the fiery one inside?”
Helga
“The same ones? Sariel and the other one?”
Andrew
“The same”
Helga
“Is anyone here able to open a portal to another plane or something???
Andrew
Andrew moves towards the window. Still an angel standing outside?
John Miksen
John steps up to a space in the wall
It holds an ancient, grimy picture
the “belle dame sans merci” by waterhouse
or whatever
he pulls the picture back, there is a brief shimmer
and a hole opens in the wall
beyond it you see a land of ice and snow
Andrew
“The fuck?”
John Miksen
it looks cold, windy, frozen
“Go.”
“Go now.”
Helga
“um… don’t tell me that’s the winter queen’s realm”
Jason
the wolf jumps in
John Miksen
“Do you care? Just get the fuck out of here, violinist”
ooc: WE ARE MADE OF WIN!
Helga
She stares at you
Looking very reluctant
John Miksen
“I can’t hold this open forever you know”
He is visibly wilting in front of you
Andrew
Andrew jumps through the portal “We’re going to have words about this… A great many.”
John Miksen
also, he is distracted becaues he is texting Jade
Helga
“Jade would never come again to Faerie would he”
Jason
ooc: again?
John Miksen
“JUST FUCKING GO”
Helga
ooc: i really really really don’t want to but Helga mutters something under her breath and finally jumps in.
John Miksen
ooc: is that everyone?
Helga
ooc: yeah except jade
John Miksen
ooc: ’cause my precious little toosh is getting warm
GM 
OOC: Yep The angels hand reaches around the frame and it pulls itself through, its sightless sockets turning towards you. It hisses, the razors that comprise of its teeth glint in the light, its wings unfurl….
John Miksen
I’m out
I jump through and close the hedge behind me
if i can make the barbs of the hedge score that angels face I will consider myself to be a winner
GM
It gives a roar and dives at the entrance as it closes behind John. The door slams shut and you find yourselves in a deep freezing snow, the wind howls and the snow comes down heavily. John stands before you, armoured in beautifully wrought plates of pure white, his appearance having changed considerably.
Helga
“John. you’re still the Winter Knight? HER Winter Knight?”
John Miksen
John looks at you all with frozen eyes
“We are in her realm. Do not stray from the path I cut for you.” [at this point I received a separate message from the GM: “You are now in faerie, you are changed. You will abandon anyone who cannot keep up. They are nothing to you]
Helga
“Then again, she did call you “my knight” as she disappeared… even though you had pulled out the mark from your body..”
John Miksen
“Speak to no one.”
“Give nothing, take nothing.”
He turns and begins to walk away
After a few steps he turns back to look at you
“This realm saps the will of the living. Too long here and you will… dissipate”
“We must leave as soon as we can. I know a way”
Andrew
Andrew is visible again, apparently comfortable despite the cold. “I guess I should’ve taken my chances with the angels…”
John Miksen
John gives Andrew a look cold enough to freeze gin.
Jason
“grrrr”
John Miksen [At this point I got word from the GM that in the land of faerie I am cruel, hard and cold – alien]
He turns away and walks through the snow
You notice that he does not struggle with the snow
He is cutting a wake
now he is ignoring you
Jason
the huge direwolf is following him
John Miksen
the wake closes behind him quite quickly
Shadows are gathering in the trees
the shadows move
Andrew  
“Well, there’s little more to it but to follow no?”
Jason
ooc: if i change im barefeet and shirtless, so ill be a doggie as long as we re in the cold

We emerged from Winter at Berlin station, on the platform for the train to Dachau, to find Jade standing on the platform with this son. Success! We had escaped the Angels and won an argument with the faerie queen … now we just had to work out what to do next …

All in one Thursday night on Facebook …

Another failed revolution, another night on Victory Gin

Another failed revolution, another night on Victory Gin

John Micksen is a washed-up eco-activist, a hippy and an anarcho-syndicalist who spent too long submerged in the circles of alternative politics long after the world around him had slid into a far darker, nastier place than mere authoritarianism. He committed all of his twenties and half of this thirties to a series of movements, committees, campaigns and struggles, only to see the world slipping away from him and becoming ever crueler and more degraded … as if some greater power were guiding the whole thing to ruin. By his mid-thirties he was alone, poor, cynical and sick of his political world but so committed to it that he had nowhere to go and no way out. He had become an activist lifer in a world that was rapidly closing in on his colleagues, with extreme prejudice.

Operatives of Aesir found him at this low ebb, in a sleazy bar after another fruitless meeting, and offered him an unexpected way out. They were looking for operatives, and for some reason something about John had caught their attention. Yet unaware of the chaos and demons tearing at the fabric of his reality, John could not understand what they might want him for, but they were offering him more money than he could ever earn doing cash-in-hand labouring in between activism, and he saw suddenly a chance to do something about his life – a way to jump out of the hole he could see himself slowly sliding into. [John also had other reasons, based around pride and envy, for wanting to leave his old class war days behind … but these he keeps secret from everyone].

John returning from his awakening in the land of the Faerie

John returning from his awakening in the land of the Faerie

Why would Aesir seek the services of a washed-up anti-corporate activist, who had little better to offer them than an extensive collection of anarchist magazines and a rudimentary knowledge of martial arts? Sure, he could talk, but his talk had never achieved anything. He could sometimes inspire others to great efforts, but he was avowedly no leader, and had none of the skills at organization or management that would make him a useful manager … what skills could they have sought? They of course saw something in him that he was not aware of himself – his coming Awakening. After his first mission for Aesir, John was taken into the confidence of the Faerie Queen of Winter, and offered ascension into the powers of a mage if he would agree to be her Winter Knight. Having spent years with no temporal power of any kind, the offer was too good to refuse, and John’s powers were awakened.

John had spent years as an eco-activist and friend of the wilds; it was only natural that upon awakening he was drawn to the path of Thyrsus, and the order of the Free Council. His powers are primarily in manipulation of life and fate, with lesser focus on the other forces of the natural and spirit worlds. In returning from Faerie he found himself stronger, more vigorous and with an enchanted kind of grace that others now noticed – something about him was oddly changed, more feral and wild even as his physical demeanour was tamed by corporate servitude. His eyes had become an icy blue, his skin had lost the worn, leathery cast of a man who has spent years in forests and boats; now he was pale, always cold, and imperious in manner where before he had been rough, warm and careworn. He was stronger, and fought more like an expert than a dilettante – and his blows were hard, cold and lethal, as if his body were no longer mere flesh.

The Awakened activist, ready to fight

The Awakened activist, ready to fight

The awakened John had little time to put his talents to use for Aesir, however, because a team of assassins came for him in his apartment, and he had to flee. He managed to rejoin his team and, mistakenly thinking Aesir had tried to kill them, they set off to find a ay to fix their own problems. His only alliance now is to his Winter Queen, and to his friends … John has been cast even further away from humanity than before Aesir found him, but now he is desperate and Awakened. He has traded dialectical materialism and solidarity for esotericism and desperation, and he no longer cares where his road takes him, provided he can find vengeance along the way…

 

A few months ago I participated in a short World of Darkness campaign. This campaign went pear-shaped from the very beginning, when we failed to stop some kind of evil spirit from exterminating a native American tribe so completely that they were wiped from history as well as existence. We ended up in a battle with some kind of fallen angel with bronze for skin, and half of our group died or were rendered comatose by their injuries. Conveniently those players also simultaneously moved on, and the campaign was put on hold. Recently it restarted with three new players, who spent the entire first session staring agog at us and mouthing “WTF” as we tried to give them some kind of perspective. Finally one of the players drew a diagram of the main forces involved. Here it is.

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

Things are … more complicated than I realized. This might explain why my character, John Micksen, is extremely flippant with powers that can eat him for breakfast – because he is out of his depth and he knows it [this might also be explained by his Composure attribute of 4].

The basic flow of the first campaign goes something like this:

  • A dodgy company called Aesir hires a bunch of no-hoper humans for a dead end job
  • The no-hoper humans (us) end up in a pocket dimension created by a demon called the Judge
  • The Judge was planning to turn a single human, Danny into a genocide machine
  • Someone (probably the company Strauss) stole Danny, just as the pocket universe disappeared, taking an entire native American tribe (Danny’s tribe) with it
  • Our company sent us to a psychiatric hospital to get Danny, who was pumped up on magic and ready to destroy the world
  • We killed Danny, but while we were on our way to kill him we disturbed something called the “God Machine”, a vast and empty wilderness of cogs and clockwork that may or may not be a god, and is definitely out to destroy the universe
  • Somewhere in all of that I met the Faerie Queen of Winter, awakened, and became the Winter Knight
  • Oops
  • For most of the campaign I was useless (we were using the Faerie books for my character)
  • Some guy called Azazel turned up and started offering to help us. He was dodgy. Definitely a fallen angel
  • Some assassins tried to kill us all and we had to go on the run. We (erroneously, it turns out) thought they were sent by Aesir; they weren’t
  • Azazel told us about a girl who could hide us from the God Machine, but to get her we had to cut a deal with a vampire in Chicago and sell out some communists
  • No big deal, we got the girl, but then we discovered there were others, in fact a whole industry of abducting children and using them for something
  • We traced the abductions to a warehouse outside Chicago, and discovered that mundane management of the children was handled by a paedophile ring, who were paid for their services in … access rights
  • We flame-grilled the paedophiles [see Figure, top left]
  • We discovered they were working for an Angel called D’Angelo
  • We killed him too
  • Most of us died; campaign stopped

Now we are in Berlin looking for more information about the German companies, Strauss and Orpheus, that were involved in the child abductions. We also now think they were the ones who tried to kill us, and we are very vengeful, very angry and very committed. We know that the God Machine is trying to destroy the world and we have to stop it, and we know that the German companies are engaged in some sort of unholy and necromantic experiments involving half-angelic children. We have a very long list of people we are going to kill, and our preferred method is to do it slowly and horribly. We’re on the wrong side of the red line, and we aren’t concerned with crossing back any time soon. The three new members of our group look at us like we’re monsters – probably because we are – but we look at them and think “give it a week, they’ll come around.” This is World of Darkness, we survived a battle with an Angel, we’re living on borrowed time and we know it: we are going to use that borrowed time to destroy everyone who crossed us, and anyone who gets in the way is not likely to fare well.

The second section of the campaign began on this footing. I don’t think it is going to end well …

This is a summary of three sessions of World of Darkness which I recently played. Since describing three sessions of gaming in one go is a Herculean task to write and mythically impossible to read, I’m presenting it in the form of a post-mission chat-room debrief between the PCs. This WoD campaign is set in 2018 in America, all the PCs are normal and as far as we know there is nothing specially supernatural in the world. Europe is in a state of chaos due to some form of new virus/plague, and President McCain’s America is not the nicest of places. We are new employees of a mysterious corp called Aesir, on a three month probation, so this chat room conversation is intended to ensure our probation continues despite an adventure that, ultimately, ended in complete failure.

The PCs are:

  • John Mickson (me): a failed communist and ageing hippy, who never amounted to anything and was drifting through his 40s with nothing to show for his life until Aesir picked him up. If John can do anything (doubtful) it is talk and get people to talk; his main slogan appears to be “if you want anything done properly, don’t ask me.”
  • Nick Drake: ex-private Investigator; a mysterious figure, just some guy whose skills and background aren’t really clear, but he appears to be pretty handy with a tyre-iron
  • Meredith Archer: A forensic scientist and all around whiz-kid
  • Jade: Thug from the Brazilian favelas, the kind of chilled-out hard case who has seen enough of the gutter and its inhabitants, and dealt out enough violence, to be pretty unswayed by the usual run of human grime, treachery and decay

We also have a guy called “Andrew” shadowing us, who is charged with assessing our performance for Aesir, but who was mysteriously missing for part of this adventure. We were sent to a Native American reservation to negotiate a land deal between Strauss Industries and the local tribe (“The Tribe”). The previous negotiator, Mr. Matheson, had gone missing and we were to bring him back if possible.

—Secure Chat Log, 28 July 2018.

JM: Okay everyone, thanks for coming. I’ve asked us to do this chat because our debriefs start tomorrow and I want to be sure we all get the story straight. We agreed before we left the reservation that we want to tell the truth to Aesir, but we need to work out what we’re going to leave out. We obviously fucked this mission up completely, and if we are gonna keep our gig with Aesir they’re gonna have to judge us on our decisions and processes, not results. That means we gotta look good. Agreed?

J: Yeah sure. The less we talk about it the better I feel, though.

MA: Plan. Just gimme a moment to get some food.

ND: Yeah we better. We gonna do this consensus style with a talking stick like one of your dippy hippy groups, John?

JM: Fuck off, Nick.

JM: You don’t need a talking stick if you’re online. Fuck.

MA: Back. Gummy bears.

ND: You gonna blow your whole bonus on that crap, Meredith? You’ll get fat.

MA: It’s a statistical fact that snacking on small low sugar products can’t make you fat so long as you’re active, Nick. Don’t you read?!

J: I’m already 15 rums in. Been drinking a lot since I met the kids.

JM: Okay okay. So we know Aesir wanted the land deal to go through, and we think the Chief of the Tribe wanted it to go through, but only if he could keep the house at the centre of the land deal out of it. But Strauss Industries wouldn’t budge on dropping the house from the land. We think that’s because they knew what was in the house and their purpose was getting to it at any cost. So they weren’t honest. But now that history’s changed and the entire Tribe has been wiped from history, Aesir still seem to know all about the situation, so they must have known something about it before they sent us in. So we have to tell a story that shows we’re being honest, but we don’t want to let on some of the tougher decisions we had to take. We need to work out what to leave in and what to drop.

J: Meredith’s the smart-arse with the sparkling fucking memory. Meredith, why don’t you list the basic story from start to end so we can decide what to drop.

ND: Good idea. Get your fingers out of the gummy bears and start typing, Merry.

MA: Okay. So here’s the deal.

MA: We got into the reservation on the 24th July. It was all fine but the comms were weird and it was all a bit backward.

MA: So we had a meeting with Chief Dion, and then next day we were meant to meet Mr. Gregor from Strauss Industries.

ND: And we met that little punk Danny at Chief Dion’s. That’s important. We gotta work out what we’re gonna tell people about Danny.

J: That he was a psycho fuckwit who nearly blew up the planet?

MA: ANYWAY, Chief Dion was official about it but Danny also made it clear that they were NOT going to sell the house, no matter what. So we decided to go see what was going on in the house.

J: Big FUCK OFF mistake right there.

ND: Get another rum, J.

J: Already on it, little man.

MA: ANYWAY! So we went to the house and as soon as we went inside it all went weird. We went in the late afternoon through forest but it was daytime outside the windows, and corn fields as far as we could see. Then there were the screaming ghosts and the poems on the walls. We met the Judge on the third floor, freaked out and ran outside.

J: Freaked out? Speak for yourself. I was making a tactical retreat.

ND: The trail of piss you left behind you tells me a different story, amigo.

JM: Also the screaming.

MA: ANYWAY! We got outside and we all got ambushed by something and then we went unconscious.

J: Fuckers.

ND: Mother-fuckers.

JM: I concur. Meredith?

MA: Right. So then we woke up and we were somewhere else. Like it was the same place but all rusted and decayed, and nothing worked anymore, and a couple of months had passed.

J: Do we mention that we woke up back in time, like we lost a day?

JM: I reckon not. This story’s gonna be fucked up enough without complications we don’t need. You ever see a movie that was improved by adding time travel to the plot? Let’s just ignore it.

ND: Yeah. ’cause when we drop the time travel shit, our credibility’s gonna be so high that the multi-dimensional travel and vengeful ghosts is gonna be suddenly completely believable.

MA: You gotta do what you gotta do, Nick. I agree with dropping that bit.

J: It doesn’t make sense anyway, does it? Why did we lose half a day? What’s the fucking point of that?

MA: Yeah. Exactly. Anyway, it’s not important but let’s keep the story clean. So we went out looking for people and there was fog everywhere, and then we met the Wendigo.

J: Not an experience the Wendigo enjoyed.

ND: Until we discovered it was indestructible.

JM: Yeah, indestructible zombie Native warriors. We need to stress how tough that fucker was. No offence J, but we’re gonna have to make it sound like that fight was a real struggle even before it reanimated.

J: WTF? I kicked that thing to zombie juice like a fucking PRO, man, you gonna tell them I pussied out like you did?

JM: I was superivsing, J, supervising. Someone’s gotta direct the industry.

ND: Yeah, just like fucking Lenin.

JM: I keep telling you Nick, I’m not a fucking Leninist. His vision for worker’s empowerment lacked any sense of the role of democracy and self-determination in realizing the goal of the worker’s utopia, and he established the political context for dictatorship.

ND: Yadda yadda.

J: So why the fuck do I have to have my arse-kicking pulled from the story?

JM: Because we need our bosses to think our choices were limited. We don’t want them thinking we could just bounce around that pocket dimension kicking the snot out of the Wendigos until they came back from the dead, giving us lots of time to make whatever decisions we want. Remember our biggest fuck up was letting Strauss Industries steal Danny’s body, and the reason we made that decision is because we didn’t think we could protect ourselves from the Wendigos. That reasoning ain’t gonna wash if our bosses think you can just cock your leg and smash a Wendigo into next week. They freaked us out even after you kicked that one a new arsehole. We need to make sure our bosses understand that getting into a flat-out war with them was not a functioning plan. You don’t do that by making your first encounter sound like a turkey-shoot, do you?

J: Alright. But that was my only moment of glory in this sad fucking affair, so if you’re gonna pull that I want everyone to know you were hiding behind a car sniveling.

JM: I was not!

ND: Were too

JM: You weren’t there!

MA: Boys! Let’s just say that there was a tough fight, all of us did our bit, but finally Jade managed to get it down and kick it to shit. Okay? We all make it sound hard, right?

J: Okay. But you guys owe me a rum.

JM: Take it out of my tab. When I’m allowed to drink again.

J: Didn’t you see the sign at my bar? We don’t do tabs for commies.

JM: How many times do I have to tell you I’m not a communist? More of an anarcho-syndicalist with deep green sympathies.

ND: Yadda yadda. Get on with it Merry.

MA: Alright. Oh yeah, I think we shouldn’t tell them that Nick wasn’t there with us when we left the hotel. If they’re questioning our decisions, splitting the group up in such a weird situation might make them think we can’t work together or something. So when we met the kids, we let them think Nick was there. And we let them think we were with Nick when he met that guy in the cheap suit.

ND: Mister Opportunity?

MA: Yeah.

J: Who was that greasy rat-fucker?

ND: Who knows, but he gave me a handy music box.

JM: Too true. But we aren’t mentioning the music box, or it’ll be taken from us fast as we can blink.

MA: Good point. Okay, so we stuck together and we never found a music box or any teddy bears.

MA: Then we ran through the fog until we got to the chieftain’s meeting hall, and he was there.

J: With Danny, that little mother-fucker. Should have smacked his arse when he was bad-mouthing our commie.

JM: I am NOT a commie.

ND: Yadda yadda.

MA: So the chief told us what was happening. The basics. We tell the company the basics too, right?

JM: Right.

ND: Which are?

J: Which are that we fell neck deep in weird fucked-up shit and we barely made it out alive.

MA: There is a spirit in the house, that we call the Judge, and Danny was in touch with it through the voices in his head, and he gave Matheson to the spirit, and that enabled the spirit to enter the world.

MA: Then the spirit dragged the reservation into some spirit world, and brought in its Wendigos, and started killing all the members of the Tribe.

MA: And that this was all because of some ancient treachery 200 years ago. When Chief Dion’s ancestors went up to the house and killed the family that lived there.

JM: So do we mention the kids?

JM: I think we should. The kids are the key to the whole thing. It looks to me like the Judge used them to get into the world, then used his tenuous place in the world to get to Danny.

MA: Like he kind of boot-strapped his way into our world.

J: Boot-strapped?

MA: Yes, it’s a term from statistics, when you resample data from a sample with replacement, and use it to calculate non-parametric confidence intervals. It’s named after Baron Munchausen who fell in a lake and pulled himself out by his bootstraps.

ND: Sounds like bullshit to me.

J: What’s statistics?

JM: That’s maybe a good way to say it. First he used the ghosts of the kids, who were psychos, to get a foot-hold in the world, just enough to be able to communicate with people in the real world. But for some reason he can only communicate with people like Danny, who is a psycho just like the kids. So he waited for someone like Danny to enter the house, and then talked to him, and set up the deal with Danny to supply Mr. Matheson as a vessel.

MA: That’s bootstrapping, for sure.

JM: Our bosses are surely going to ask why the Judge was killing everyone.

J: So that he could put their souls into Danny and turn Danny into a big powerful magic monster.

JM: We agree we’re gonna tell them that?

MA: I thought we did. After all, we gotta warn them that Strauss Industries kidnapped Danny.

J: We should have killed Danny as soon as we had the chance.

JM: Yeah, but we didn’t. We have to justify that. Why?

ND: Because we had a deal with the Judge that gave us 12 hours of safe conduct, and we thought if we killed Danny the deal would be broken, so we wanted to keep him sedated until we had worked out how to deal with the Judge.

MA: We didn’t know Strauss Industries were after him.

JM: Which means we also don’t tell anyone that when we first woke up in the hotel, we found Gregor’s cigar in the lobby.

J: Yeah, ’cause then they’d realize we should have known that Gregor was in the pocket universe with us.

MA: And then they might think we should have been thinking more clearly.

ND: Which we should have.

JM: But if we had, we’d have ended up in a gunfight with Gregor and a very nasty trained assassin.

J: Without any guns.

JM: That’s another thing we have to talk up when we explain the situation. We had Danny sedated in the meeting halls, ’cause we knew he was being prepared by the Judge as a genocide machine. Then while we were trying to sort out a way to deal with the Judge, Gregor came into the infirmary through the window, killed a doctor and two nurses in cold blood, and stole Danny’s comatose body.

JM: We need to make sure our bosses know just how nasty that assassin was.

ND: Agreed.

MA: Do we tell them about meeting the Judge?

JM: Yeah.

MA: Alright. So we tell them that after the Chief told us about the Judge, we went back to the house and confronted him. That’s where we discovered that the ghosts of the children who used to live in the house were there with the Judge, and had probably been his point of contact with our world.

ND: And we also tell them that the Native Americans who killed the kids and their family had been captured by the Judge and turned into Wendigos.

MA: Yeah. So we met the Judge and the kids, and talked to them, and the kids were completely freaky.

ND: We should definitely stress how crazy the kids were.

JM: Yeah. Make clear that they were capricious and stubborn and they couldn’t be reasoned with at all, and they enjoyed pain and suffering. That’ll help our bosses understand that there was nothing we could do to get out with all the mission goals intact.

MA: Also we should tell them our suspicions that the kids were actually being used by the Judge, that it was manipulating their suffering and psychopathy to get its own ends.

JM: And that it was not a friend of the tribe, that it was using them as soul-fuel for Danny, and all that shit about the tribe being cursed by Chief Dion’s ancestors actions was just convenient bullshit for the Judge. Or is that too much supposition?

ND: Too much supposition. I mean, who gives a fuck? The Judge was a fucker and he fucked us.

J: Amen to that. All else is secondary.

JM: Alright. So we learnt those basic facts from the kids, we made a deal with the Judge to get us 12 hours to act, and Meredith stole his name.

J: Yeah, we definitely need to tell them that. That was a stroke of fucking genius.

MA: Thanks. I’m lucky I’ve got a good memory!

JM: Yeah, but thinking to memorize what was written on the top of his robes, and having the balls to get close enough to him to do it, that’s arse-kicking genius that is.

ND: Not that it mattered in the end, since Chief Dion was just a big lying sack of shit.

MA: Yeah, we should tell them that. So we got the Judge’s true name, went back to the meeting hall and got Chief Dion to translate it and work out a way to get rid of the Judge.

MA: Then a few hours later he arranged a magic circle and a ritual to send the Judge back, but didn’t tell us that it would destroy the entire pocket universe and us with it.

MA: But he wanted to use us as sacrifices for the ritual.

JM: Which was when Nick pulled out the music box and turned it on.

MA: But we don’t mention the music box.

J: So the Wendigos just came along luckily and ate all the tribal elders?

JM: Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people.

J: I could have done them in.

MA: Undoubtedly. But the Wendigos got that job done. And then while we were fighting with the Chief Dion and his stupid toughs, Gregor snuck in and stole Danny’s comatose body.

JM: And we had nothing else we could do. So we pushed the Chief outside the boundaries of the meeting hall, and the Judge took him.

MA: So we should tell our bosses that was the deal? That if we gave the Chief to the Judge inside 12 hours he would let us out of the pocket universe?

JM: Yes. And I think we should make it clear that we don’t know if Strauss Industries had a deal with the Judge or not, but maybe they did.

ND: Yeah.

J: And when I find Danny, I’m gonna make him glad he doesn’t have a soul.

JM: Amen to that.

J: Thought you commies weren’t religious?

JM: How many times do I have to tell, you, I’m not a communist?

ND: Yadda yadda.

MA: So we’re agreed? We tell them just those facts. We should tell them why we didn’t chase Strauss operatives back to the hotel before we gave the Chief to the Judge?

JM: Yeah. Two reasons right? One, we couldn’t leave the Chief alone but if we took him outside the boundaries of the meeting hall the Judge would eat him. And two, we were unarmed and the Strauss guy was a serious professional who would have whacked us as we approached the hotel.

ND: Done.

J: Done.

JM: So that’s the deal right? We all have the same story. We went to the house; got hauled off to a pocket universe; helped the Chief find a way to get rid of the Judge; discovered Danny was being prepared as a genocide machine by the spirit he had conjured; discovered the Chief was going to try and trick us into being sacrifices in a ritual that would have destroyed the pocket universe; fought our way out of it; but Strauss industries stole Danny; so we handed the Chief over to the Judge and the Judge let us go.

MA: Agreed.

J: Agreed.

ND: Agreed. Let’s hope they DO know something was up from the start, or we’re gonna be in a hell-crazy secure loony-bin by the end of tomorrow.

JM: Yeah. We fucked this up but I think we did the best we could. We should be proud of our efforts, and I hope we can work together again. Good luck in the debriefs team, hope to see you on the other side.

MA: Good luck everyone. See you soon!

ND: Here’s hoping. See you!

J: Fuck yeah. Good luck everyone! Out!