Another two games of Clans And Codex under our belts, and I'm happy to report all three of us are still having a fantastic time. The two sessions dovetail together nicely, so I've combined the summaries into a single blog post.
The first game was more of a move-the-plot-along sort of thing. Neither player was feeling "trapped" by the events unfolding, but I wanted to get them both making progress just in case. Two games in a row of them desperately trying to convince their betters that a goblin conspiracy was threatening all dwarves had made for amazingly fun roleplaying and situations, but I didn't want to risk a third game of them basically being nearly unsuccessful.
So the scenes quickly alternated. Half the time the players took the roles of a couple of the goblins, taking orders and sneaking barrels into the dwarven town. The other half was the players moving their characters along, desperately trying to catch up with these goblins and discover exactly how they planned to strike at the clans. It was a careful balancing act, as the goblin scenes had to give teases as to what was being schemed without revealing it to the players fully, and the PC scenes had to move them in the same general direction without meta gaming and still providing a true sense that the players were closing ground.
It worked well, with the goblin scenes hinting at critical clues but were stopped before anything was revealed, and the dwarf scenes catching up and finding the hinted-at clues through some skill rolls. It came together in a great cat-and-mouse game, an overall feeling of a chase movie.
I ended the game by having the characters discover that the great feast attended by the clan lords and various other important NPCs had been poisioned and that many were dead. The look of shock on their faces followed by frustration at having to wait two weeks to discover more details was priceless.
At the start of the next game, I wrote down eighteen NPC names on two index cards and cut them up in little squares. The only names not on those squares were their own clan's leader, as I didn't want to completely undercut their story. But other than that, nearly everyone of any note was on those squares, as well as a couple "fillers" like unmentioned children and spouses. I put all the squares facedown on the table and told them that two-thirds of the characters named on them were dead... and that they would have to pick them at random.
This turned out to be an even better experience than I was expecting. The two players took turns flipping over a card and finding out who were among the fallen. It mirrored perfectly their characters walking into the room, turning over bodies to recognize faces. And because of the improvisational flexibility of the plot, I was right there beside them discovering who was dead and who had managed to survive.
After all twelve unfortunate names had been flipped over, we discovered that the sole cleric in the NPCs had managed to survive, so I immediately decided to add another twist: I told them that the cleric, before succumbing to the poison and falling into a coma may have managed to save a couple with his divine healing. However, it was only going to be two characters (one choice for each player), they'd have to roll a D6 to succeed (so there was still a chance of failure), and they had to choose one of the survivors to sacrifice. Effectively, if they were willing to sacrifice one of the few survivors they could get a chance to save one of the others. It was like a little meta-scene, the two players making the hard choices for the cleric as to who to save in the little time he had before succumbing himself. It gave the players some slim control over the tragedy, just enough to smooth out the entire experience nicely.
The rest of that game involved them dealing with the aftermath of that assassination and, due to raised tempers and knee-jerk blaming, the players being imprisoned in a rival clan's fortress. But they couldn't stay there, as time was short and the goblin plot was nearing a terrible fruitition. So there was an enounter where the two PCs had to sneak out of the fortress, past guards and blacksmiths and millers and excitable horses. It was very Great Escape-esque, and culminated in a swim through a culvert and some desperate bending of bars that nearly got our heroes drowned.
We wrapped up that second game with the player's dwarves reaching the dam to discover the goblins were already inside somewhere... and they had brought acidic oozes. Though they had not actually seen the goblins nor the oozes, all three of us had a brief colour-building moment discussing the goblins neferious plans to use the monsters to eat away at the stonework and flood the valley. The only thing better than a cliffhanger is a cliffhanger that generates enough conversation to set the scene for next time.