Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Seven Stars in the Rearview (Part Two)

With Dr. Song in place as the nominal villain of the piece, until it became clear that others were even more “Sinister”, the globetrotting adventure was ready to begin. Much of my early work was very uncertain, because although I knew that the campaign would begin in Shanghai (a setting so vivid that I could have run the whole game there) I wasn’t sure where the players would go from there. With Rob’s character Su Li motivated to thwart the plans of her evil father, all I needed to do was dangle his latest plot in front of her to drive the action. And Dr. Song, of course, was after the titular Seven Stars of Atlantis: fabulous gemstones rumoured to have magical powers and a connection to the lost continent itself.
I knew from the start that several Stars would already be in play: Song’s pearl, a gem held by the Vatican, a gem held by the vanished millionaire inventor Lawrence Kerwood, and a gem held by the very-much-alive Anastasia Romanov. The other three, I decided, were in Egypt (because you can’t have a pulp adventure without pyramids and mummies), Central America (because jungle adventure!), and the last would be in America (so I’d have an excuse to bring the characters to New York City). After a few episodes, I decided that the Star in America was held by Edgar Cayce, the “Sleeping Prophet”, because he seemed like a fun contemporary character to include – in my story, he gains some of his prophetic powers from a Star called The Eye which grants clairvoyant abilities and the ability to see glimpses of the past and the future. Although it was never made explicit in the game, I had the idea that the Atlanteans would be extra-dimensional creatures who could perceive time differently, and The Eye was meant to tie into that.
But let’s come back to The Vatican for a moment, for the surprise villain who made my life very complicated. I borrowed the idea of a secret society inside the Vatican who were connected to the Inquisition and had hunted the artifacts and servants of Atlantis (“Custodians” of an ancient bloodline like Theodore) from a supplement for the excellent pulp game HOLLOW EARTH EXPEDITION. The Vatican’s Ordo Umbra and the secret society dedicated to protecting the Custodians would make a good distraction from the real villains, I thought, adding a layer of complexity and giving me some opportunities to tell some of the backstory. Since one of the players had chosen a character – Theodore – with a mysterious past, I planned to have the Vatican kidnap him early on to bring some of that information out. My Ordo Umbra agents were in fact laying in wait for the player characters on the second leg of their journey, as they took a ship from Hong Kong to Egypt, in the guise of a young woman and her missionary father fleeing the conflict in China. The woman was to approach Theodore as an adoring fan from his home country, asking for an autograph as a means of getting him alone and separate from the rest of the group. Then WHAMMO!
This was the character the players would come to know as “Doris from Ontario”, after her earnest compliment to Theodore “You’re very big in Ontario!” I’m sure that qualifies as damning with faint praise.
"Oh my! You're very big in Ontario!"
I had only intended Doris to be a very minor character, one that was to show up, kidnap Teddy, then disappear. Apparently my characterization of this minor character was charming enough that the players really latched on to her. Jealous Su Li (who was trying to win Teddy’s affections) decided that Doris from Ontario was a rival, and attempted – and failed – to inflict a bout of food poisoning on her during the voyage, which resulted in the rest of the passengers being poisoned instead. When they arrived at customs in Egypt, illicit goods were planted on Doris from Ontario to complicate her earnest young life. I kept having difficulty getting a moment when Teddy could be separated from the herd and konked over the noggin, and so Doris continued to grow in the players’ minds as a comic foil. When she finally fulfilled her destiny in London, it was after Su Li had given her a message – as someone who clearly was unconnected to the current intrigues and could be trusted to deliver it to her friends. I think I successfully shocked a few of my players when Doris from Ontario turned out to be a sinister character, but that was mainly as a result of her having overstayed her welcome and become another piece of recurring “business” in the story.
She had become so important that it was demanded she be a part of the finale, although that was far more than I had intended for this minor character. Doris from Ontario ended up being included in the battle for the Atlantean temple that the penultimate episode focused on. Her ending, pleading for Theodore to shoot her and end the pain of a gunshot wound in the stomach (inflicted by his father), was probably more pathos than I could get away with reasonably. But I feel it’s always good to subvert expectations, and a gunfight with Doris wouldn’t really have been satisfying anyway. 
To be continued...

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