Judgement calls vs "railroading"


I thought I would post about the session I played today, because it seems relevant to some of what has been discussed in this thread.

Thurgon and Aramina travelled north-west along the Ulek side of the Jewel River. The GM wanted to cut through a few days, bugt I insisted on playing out the first evening - Thurgon and Aramina debated what their destination should be (Aramina - being learned in Great Masters-wise, believes that the abandoned tower of Evard the Black lay somewhere in the forest on the north side of the river, and wants to check it out). Thurgon persuaded her that they could not do such a thing unless (i) she fixed his breastplate, and (ii) they found some information in the abandoned fortresses of his order which would indicate that the tower was, at least, superficially safe to seek out (eg not an orc fortress a la Angmar/Dol Guldur).

We then narrated through a few day's travel until we came to a ruined fortress of Thurgon's order. We boldly entered (Thurgon demonstrating his devotion to the Lord of Battle). The chapel showed signs of fire damage - a failed Fire-wise test, by Aramina aided by Thurgon, suggested that the fire came from a being able to melt granite (so a great dragon, or balrog, or archmage, or similar source of magical fire) - not the news one wants to get, and if/when we encounter this being Thurgon - conscious that it could melt his armour with ease - will also have a penalty to his Steel (= morale) check (a further consequence of the failed check).

Had the check succeeded, I don't know what more benign fact we might have discovered.

In the chapel we also noticed a trapdoor under the altar, which had been moved slightly. Thurgon looked around and attempted - via a History check - to recollect what he could of this fortress, but the check failed, and as he was looking about and wondering a bit of damaged masonry fell on him. The armour check failed, and he took a hard blow that broke ribs and inflicted a penalty that will probably last a couple of months unless he can find a good healer.

Despite the cracked ribs he was able to move the altar and lift up the trapdoor. He and Aramina went down, to find that beneath the chapel was a crypt, where a knight of the order - now reduced to a skeleton, but kept "alive" by his oath - had gone mad, and was insisting that Thurgon must stay with him to protect the dead from desecration. The GM was trying to goad me into attacking this mad skeleton, but Thurgon could not turn on one of his order, even one twisted in this fashion, and so we entered a Duel of Wits - the knight seeking Thurgon's compliance, Thurgon seeking information from the knight about what had happened in the chapel. Unfortunately for Thurgon the skeleton won the duel, with only a minor compromise required (to share knowledge with Thurgon after a year and a day) - and Thurgon's own last ditch effort to win the duel by calling for a Minor Miracle failed, leaving Thurgon swooing as visions of all the dead knights in the crypt impressed themselves upon his mind.

Aramina attempted to telekineses the skeleton's axe from him to her - and if she'd got it would probably then have started a fight with it! - but the attempt failed, and the skeletal knight shut her in the crypt with Thurgon. She roused Thurgon from his swoon, and the two then looked about the crypt as the skeletal knight returned to his seat. We found some books - a standard missal-type book, and a diary kept by the skeleton. From the latter we learned that he was on one side of some sort of schism in Thurgon's order, and that he had been stuck in the crypt with no food or water - hence his skeletal form!

The GM was goading for combat again - ie escalating the social conflict into martial conflict - but Thurgon was still not prepared to do this. So instead he first performed a ritual to honour the dead and lay them to rest (using the missal to help him) and then said a prayer of Purification to drive out the insanity from the skeleton. This was a hard roll, but succeeded - and the skeleton's insanity was driven out, his flesh regrew, and then he died (only a Major Miracle can return the dead to life). But Thurgon was released from the obligation to stay in the crypt.

Aramina made notes of the information about the schism in the order, and then we lay down the body of the dead knight with his diary as a head-rest, took the missal with us and left the crypt - realising when we came out that the altar had, at some earlier time, been moved over the trapdoor to stop this poor knight coming out; and moving it back into that position to ensure that no one, now, would go down and disturb the dead knights.

This session shows how mysteries can be introduced into the game - mysteries about what caused the fire, and the details of the schism in the order - without answers being necessary at this stage. (I'm sure the GM has ideas, but that's to be expected.) I don't know what would have happened if we'd been trapped in the crypt with the knight - the successful prayer could easily have failed! - but again I'm sure the GM had something in mind. But it didn't come into play, because the relevant action declarations ended up being successful.

I'm finding that quite small things, of little consequence for the universe (actual or in-game) as a whole, can take on a high degree of importance for me as a player when they matter to my PC, and I know that my own choices are what is bringing them to the fore and shaping them (eg repairing the armour; laying the dead to rest; not fighting the mad skeleton knight of my order). I'm not going to say that it's Vermeer: the RPG, but the stakes don't have to be cosmologically high in order to be personally high - provided that they really are at stake.

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