about to kick off

Setting: Your city, village, or hamlet. The air is still and electric. White knuckles wring whatever weapon is at hand. Eyes dart to eyes; a pin-drop can be heard. Shit’s about to kick off. Roll d10.

1: In the dusty latesummer of famine the serfs have fallen inward on the boyar’s storehouses to claim meager rations of millet. As sweat drips and time passes waiting in line at the barred doors, the boyar’s son’s favored mistress strides past the line and the doors open to her. The sullen crowd erupts.

2: Wide, shaded lanes lead to the storied pilgrimage site of the cult of bounteous days. Those lanes are lined with little greystone idols sporting phalluses. The tent-cities and encampments of pilgrims awake one morning to find that someone has hammered off the idols’ phalluses, an ill portent and blasphemous desecration. Footsore and angry pilgrims mill about in their tense and discrete sects, casting aspersions and inventing persons to blame.

3: In the bramblebuilt refugee settlement of Serruk, dwarves displaced by the war below scratch out a scant living amid the red dust and thorns. The weight of a sullen noonday presses down, the refugees rest in their hovels. In the twisting lanes without, stooped and lanky brushrunner elves stalk, clutching machetes and resentment.

4: A crisp spring morning ends when something blots out the sun, stilling the city and casting the world in an otherworldly light. Most gawk, dumbstruck; other whisper frantically, but no elder can recall such an event. Then is heard the shattering of glass and the first plumes of smoke rise, not from hearths.

5: A traveling evangelist is holding a revival in a tumbledown rainspattered tent at the edge of the village. As he preaches a man presents himself, interrupting the fiery sermon with ugly accusations of blasphemy against the revivalist’s own church, as well as disgusting allegations of merely mundane lawbreaking. The crowd is turning, with half shouting for ropes and the other half calling down their lord’s blessings.

6: A sympathetic highwayman has taken to poaching the burggraf’s game and holding raucous feasts out in the timberlands, his come-who-may followers waylaying the wardens sent to stop them and distributing the looted arms to levy-weary rurals. But one betrayed the self-styled King of the Wood, and he is set to be hanged at dusk. He was—unwisely—given the scaffold to proclaim last words, and did so in rousing style. An already partial crowd is chanting for his pardon; the burggraf’s retainers clutch their halberds with bloodless fingers. A hearthhex in the crowd bewitches the hangman’s rope to spidersilk, and the trapdoor opens.

7: The metropolis is enjoying its lazy latter days, hearts fallen from their gods and bellies fat on imported wheat. But the illusion of continued piety—mouthed prayers and the correct garb—is splintering under schism. Most of the sprawling city has reignited their faith in the face of the heresy, while the disenfranchised see hope in the new tenets. But the charismatic preaching reform has been captured and hanged in view of the walls, and the newly pious emerge from their decadence to root out the schismatics in their warrens and slums.

8: A gang of goblins has swum through—with some difficulty, being manacled together—the town’s ancient aqueducts. Now they’ve emerged from the fountains and watercourses, wicked stubby knives clenched in teeth, shouting and amok in the temple gardens. Quieter, however, are the hobgoblin skirmishers who sent their smaller kin, intent on distracting the citizens while they pad softly toward the guildsmens’ vaults and workshops.

9: A filcher and a housebreaker, local no-hopers prone to grandiose schemes, have concocted an idea to conduct their larceny in concert, expecting the hue and cry to be raised, and then fleeing toward each other so as to muddle the crowds required by statute to respond to the alert. The filch has filched from the market; the housebreaker was discovered climbing out a window. The hues and cries have been raised, and each has fled, shouting out the description of the other. But now the mobs, each a rabble of butchers and tinkers and mendicants, race toward each other. Nothing good can come of this.

10: After taking the wrong end of a dressing-down from the bigman of the village, the local miscreant has made quite a show of standing at the edge of the common well and pissing down it. He has taken to heels only a few strides ahead of his pursuers.

. . . and what will be the aftermath?


the villa

I once sat in on a game of D&D 3rd edition where the party gathered in a city. We met each other, found an artificial way to know each other, and spent the rest of the evening dithering. One PC wanted to head into the hills to deal with rumors of gnolls, another wanted to go down into the sewers, and another wanted to RP communing with her god in the temple. None of the players wanted to be so rude as to force the others into playing a game they didn’t want to, so no one got to play a game they wanted to. We could have used a ticket onto the railroad.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Shadowrun is that it is very good at dispensing with player confusion about what should be done during a game session. You have a Johnson, you get a mission, you do it.

And so we have the Villa. The man who owns it needs to be killed, and the PCs have to go in and do it.1

Not all monsters lurk in the wilderness. Sometimes they hide in the city, in plain sight.

Villa Players Copy
The Villa. Players’ copy.

The Villa was built in the latter days of empire, when merchants were kings and no one barred their windows. Those days have passed.

But the Villa remains. It still looks like it used to, but traps line the sills of those windows and the old workshop houses the cots of a squad of mercenaries.

Villa GM Copy
GM copy. 5′ squares.

(GM copy gridded and keyed with numbers. Haven’t decided if I want to write up the full location keyset.)

So who owns the Villa now? A local viscount? Upjumped guildman? Warlock? And why does he need to be dead?

1 For bonus fun, maybe he doesn’t need to be killed, only retrieved. How happy is he going to be about that?