Session 1: Group Creation & Party/Seance

Just before game started, still during character creation:

Jim gives impassioned speech about middle ages and phiilology, the word and thing not separate. "We must drink from the depths of medieval poesy undefiled. We must learn to think, feel, act as pure Englishman ...."

Kingsley argues against this, that we are not medieval people - the modern magical power is the power of stories and myths, the vampire, the werewolf. The seeming superstitions of the lower classes are believed quite passionately and thus become real.

Game starts:

It's February 1887. Mrs. Kingsley - patron of the arts and sciences - throwing a party. Helen K. invites her school friends, Arabella and Lydia (who was already invited, being part of the family). The artist Thomas Keller (GMC) invites Henry Severn with a sly insinuation about the beautiful Miss (Helen) Kingsley. Major was invited by Mrs. Kingsley; she might be interested in commissioning a work. Humboldt invited Coneybeare and Westerbrook.

Coneybeare plans to ask Mrs. K. for support for his book on Anglo Saxon philology, conversing with Westerbrook. "Keep in mind when you speak with Mrs. Kingsley that not everyone shares your obsession with Anglo-Saxons...". Coneybeare: "Perhaps it would be well if some at cambridge DID."

Humboldt and Major discuss painting - Mrs. K. wants Humboldt to dress up as his dead brother and pose for a portrait. Humboldt thinks it's creepy, but he's willing to do it.

Keller the artist introduces Severn to Lydia, Helen Kingsley, and Arabella Major. Arabella has interest in painting because she follows her brother's work and she talks with Keller and Severn.

Severn begins to tell a horrid joke about the sailor and the monkey - Lydia: "I know it, but it is not appropriate for this company". Lydia walks apart with Severn and chastises him further about being inappropriate, but then takes a big slug from Severn's flask and lectures him about the English Workingwomen's Literacy Campaign. Severn rolls his eyes and accuses her of being a hypocritical soul-saving missionary. Lydia comes back with socialist stuff. Severn mouths off about the working people. Lydia realizes Severn is the son of Severn the evil industrialist. They bristle at each other nastily.

Thomas Keller and John Maddux Major discuss commission for painting from Mrs. Kingsley. Lydia overhears (Bill plays a card to overhear, but we decide later he probably should have Asserted Reality instead) and faints. Dr. Westerbrook revives her. Lydia and Humboldt go off and talk. H: "Mother is certainly headstrong but we all love her very much, a woman of great character, she wants a portrait of Stephenson for the Hall and I'd do anything for her, even something so odd and somewhat repugnant, as this." Lydia calms down.

Severn and Coneybeare bond over their Cambridge experiences and the ale of some particular place in town.

Lydia notices some obviously middle class people at entryway looking uncomfortable. She is Brilliant at Noticing. Bill plays a card to recognize them. (difficulty 13) and fails.

There is confusion over Action, Scene, Action Scene, etc. do you get a card back after the action is resolved? or after the scene you get it back? We shuffle around in the rules. We don't quite figure it out.

Lydia recognizes the woman as Eleanor Fletcher, spiritualist and medium. She goes up and says soemthing nasty about "Oh, I see you aren't gypsy garb." Eleanor says cattily, "Mrs. Lydia, no one here seems to be suffering, so, why are you here?" (meow!!!!! ) The guy steps in and says that the dead speak to all classes, there is much wisdom.... Lydia snaps about her dear Stephenson. Eleanor: "I am merely a vessel..."

Severn talks with Coneybeare about astrology. Then goes off excitedly to ask Lydia for an introduction to Eleanor the medium. Lydia: "That charlatan! The dead are the dead - there is no penetration of that veil." Severn presses. Lydia goes off on the charatan tack vehemently. Eleanor overhears "Excuse me but Mrs. Brookmyre-Kingsley isn't representing me accurately..." "Oh, preying on the hopes and fears of the bereaved?" Eleanor reiterates she is merely a vessel. Adam Blackham introduces himself to Severn. Severn asks for a private consultation.

Kingsley asks Major to paint the portrait if his mother asks, because he doesn't want Keller to do it.

Major confusion suddenly about how many cards the GM should have - 3? 6? unlimited, can use all deck? Again, we shuffle about in rules.

Humbolt tries to conceal that he invited Mrs. Fletcher the medium. [I have to beat an 18 as someone ups the ante, I think not quite according to protocol] We have some discussion again as Gordon points out it should have been Asserting Reality. But I say no, I am Terrible in Deceit so it was an unusual challenge for me that I should probably fail anyway. Lydia sees through poor transparent Humbolt and gets pissed at how everyone is desecrating the memory of "my Stephenson". Humboldt is Affable all over her. He says he would not offend her for the world but he's not just "her Stephenson" he's also Humboldt's brother. Stephenson believed in the occult. His death was never proved. Humboldt would be comforted to speak with him and know what happened and if there might be a chance to do this, they should try. What would Stephenson want her to do?" etc. Lydia agrees to come to the seance in order to catch any obvious charlatanism.

Mrs. Kingsley asks Major to paint the portrait and says she admires his "capturing the essence" of the spirit of the person. She invites Major to the seance, "So you can talk to him yourself and get to know him." Major acts skeptical, but is nice about it and says of course he will come.


A bunch of people have left. At dinner:

Coneybeare asks Westerbrook if he believes medically that each country's inhabitants should eat the food native to that country. Westerbrook is not convinced and talks about breaking food down into its components.

Arabella [GMC] chimes in, "Isn't this exactly what Paracelsus says about Aristotle? Despite all the wisdom he had, he was never in these other can't know what the proper herbal remedies are" Westerbrook goes on about the scientific method. Arabella blathers about about herbs in the wilds of Guatemala and that they might be as efficacious for treating disease as drugs that are manufactured in some modern way {?}. Humboldt says it's ideas like Arabella's that would revolutionize medicine if women were allowed in med school. Arabella: "hear hear!" Westerbrook hems and haws.

Severn with insufferable smugness says: "Just ask yourself, if you needed an operation would you want FEMALE hands wielding the knife? I think that is the only question one need ask." [General laughter and admiration from the players as Tor pulled this off with extreme style!]

Westerbrook says it's a shame when modesty prevents male doctors from making accurate diagnosis. Humboldt says it is modesty that should compel women to demand ladies of good family as their doctors, educated in the best universities.

Coneybeare asks Major (Guin) if women can be good artists . Major thinks yes and adds that he would have been relieved if his sister could have studied medicine to carry on the family tradition - it would have taken the pressure off him. There is a conversation btwn Westerbrook, coneybear etc. about whether women can paint from the nude... life drawing etc.... an Englishman can avoid being corrupted by this experience... yet we prefer not to expose our ladies to such things.... Are there really women clamoring to be tutored in the high arts? [I was doing some toddler duty here and missed a lot of this.]

Mrs. K. jumps in to say no one would argue that sexes are different but it's best left to those who know the most about the subjects (i.e., men).

Major (Guin) brings up Elizabeth Blackwell, the American physician. Westerbrook - "Our cousins in America do many things... differently. Still, no Englishwoman would clamor to join the medical profession..." Arabella: "A clamor consists of a number of voices. You may add one to your list, Dr. Westerbrook."

More people leave. [As players, we realize suddenly we don't really know what this "party" was like, how many people were there, why they would have left, etc, but we just fudge it because it would be very odd to have all the hosts leave for a seance during a larger party. ]

We have the seance in darkened room with candles. Fletcher makes us concentrate on Stephenson, and hums oddly as if it were 2 tones at once.... her body stiffens...

[People been madly reading the little white "Waite" book and shuffling their cards restlessly. ]

Bill plays The Hermit - roguery and corruption. Mrs. Fletcher has more information than she is revealing... bill is unclear about how this actually comes across in the scene. I think John made him take back this card because he didn't have any clear idea about it.

Suddenly Tezcatlipoca speaks to us. "I am not Stephenson...." etc. [I dont' have good notes on this speech because I was googling Tezcatlipoca, since my char should know who this is.] Humboldt addresses him "O god of jaguars... O god of light... what sacrifice will you accept to let us talk with Stephenson?" Tezcat answers a bunch of stuff about "the image".

[I play the star: hope, clarity of vision, etc, intending that Humboldt will understand Tezcatlipoc is talking about the comissioned painting and that the message will become clear once the painting is done] "It must be ready by the next full moon'.

Lights go off and there is an extremely loud "CRACK!" General exclamation and confusion.

Tor: "I find matches and strike a light..." John tells us the table is cracked straight across.

[Tor plays The Devil ] Tor, narrating: "The lights go up, the table cracked from end to end pointing at Mrs. Fletcher who has been thrown backwardsl, her arms flung out and her throat is slit from ear to ear! [Once again Tor earns general applause for his sense of drama]

[Bill plays The Magician] "... but it missed the carotid artery and Westerbrook is able to save her!"

[Liz plays Justice] "...and Arabella helps so astutely that Westerbrook's bigotry against women in medicine is at least shaken a bit."

Westerbrook and Arabella desperately work on stitching up Mrs. Fletcher while everyone else is yelling at each other.

Humboldt and Mrs. Kingsley are against any involvement of the authorities; they argue if Mrs. Fletcher recovers, everything can be smoothed over. Humboldt says the authorities will just be confused by the occult nature of the crime.

[Gordon plays The Emperor] Gordon makes Jim's character Coneybeare say that no one leaves the room, police are called, etc.

Severn accuses Lydia of slitting Mrs. Fletcher's throat! They were arguing bitterly earlier. Fletcher's companion Adam Blackham chimes in to agree.

Coneybeare points out that Blackham was standing behind Fletcher during the seance. Severn grabs Lydia' arm and demands she submit to a search! Humboldt tells him to quit it, do not lay hands on my sister in law. if he wants to search anyone he can search Humboldt. Severn should also submit to a search. Severn agrees.

[Gordon Asserts Reality] "But no normal weapon caused this wound - it was made by a cat's claw!"

Arabella wonders if there could be a weapon like this... A tiger claw on a stick? She scoffs a bit.

Major: "But that god... Teca-thingummy... you called it a jaguar god - would it have the power to do this?"

Humboldt- "yes!" [I could not give a better speech as my kid suddenly came in and I had to pay attention to him]

Then we ended on glaring at each other suspiciously and waiting for the police to arrive.


Tor commented that the goal of play, or the genre maybe, was not clear.... but it was still all fun.

Gordon commented that play seems designed to be about issues. We ended up exploring our understanding of Victorian mindsets - our understanding of history - not clear what level of action we'll be doing --

Liz: Rats with glowing eyes in the sewers? reform of the slums? dinner parties?

We talk about how we knew we weren't using the system correctly, but at least we did the background and characters reasonably well, at least by our own judgement. We werent' very clear during play when a Scene began and ended, though it was fairly clear in retrospect. But then an Action Scene was different and less clear.

We discuss how we ended up using the Major Arcana in much the same way as we use John's whimsy cards in the Vinland game: me (Liz), Bill, and Jim are all in this game. In other words, we played them either to create a crisis or in moments of crisis, and they tend to be played in a flurry, several in a row. Though it did not seem to be what the game system intended, it had good results. It was clear to us that it would take practice and playing together for a few sessions before we would use the card system fluently - both the number system of the cards and the use of the Major Arcana.

I speculate that the cards get played in a Major Arcana frenzy because once the door opens to modifying the game in a somewhat unconventional way - taking more control of narration - then everyone else feels more free to do it. The floodgates open.

We schedule another game. Everyone had fun!

John astonished me with his great improvising. He had been reading background material, but had to make up events, scenes, characters very quickly, and they were all cool and interesting and convincing.

Liz Henry <>
Last modified: Thu Jul 24 18:21:40 2003