Sunday, October 25, 2009

White Mountain, Black River Session Four

White Mountain, Black River
Wushu Campaign Session Report Four

After having dispatched the bandits sent to ambush them, the group returned just in time for the next part of the contest. Wu Long, Hong To and Zhen Ai quickly informed Li Jong and Fei Lang about what had happened and their suspicions about Minister Chow and his son, local favorite Golden Blaze. They decided to keep an eye on the Minister as best they could and, should the opportunity present itself, to follow him. However time and the necessity to place well on the contest meant that they could do little else at this time. They still had to make a good showing so as to increase the reputation of the Provincial Magistrates when they revealed themselves.

The Minister of present Affairs, Ningfu Sung returned to them and explained that the next portion of the contest would be by groups-- with members of each group participating in individual contests and scoring points for their group. The two groups with the highest total would have one selected to participate in a final event the following day. Minister Sung explained that six tests were available: Tests of Prowess & Strength; Perception & Deftness; Dexterity & Adroitness; Intelligence & Skill; Speed & Agility; and Martial Prowess. The exact nature of the contest would remain a mystery and each group was to nominate a person ahead of time to undertake one. With only five members, the party's team would be short one and they opted to leave out the test of Speed and Agility. That turned out to involved running across the tops of poles, while catching birds and avoiding arrows fired at them, with the goal of placing a live bird in a cage suspended at the end of the course. Sedate Rao undertook that contest for his team, reporting back afterward about the unpleasant fragility of said birds in the event.

Next tiny courtier Zhen Ai took up the Test of Prowess and Strength facing off against Great Bear Zin. Her opponent broke into laughter at the sight of her as did a number in the crowd. The contest involved each person catching an iron bell dropped from a scaffold twenty feet above them, then carrying the heavy bell down a course and then placing it upon the highest hook they could reach on a wooden tower at the other end. Both competitors caught their bell and set off, with Zhen Ai's strength shocking the crowd into silence. However in the race down the field, Great Bear Zin's stride broke away from that of the courtier, giving him the lead. Not to be outdone, Zhen Ai raced herself forward with all of her focus. As Great Bear Zin began his leap upwards to hang his bell, she in turn leapt upon him, using his momentum and her own to hang the bell high while the Great Bear fell under the weight.

Next came the Test of Dexterity and Adriotness with Hong To facing off against Doctor Jang-Lu of the Holy Society. Each competitor as armed with a brush. At a signal, baskets of flower petals would be thrown in the air above them. Each competitor had to write the character for “beauty” upon as many petals as they could and then simultaneously arrange for the petals to fall upon the ground in the shape of the character for wisdom. Hong To went into the contest with gusto, if perhaps a lack of exacting penmanship. At the same time, he also tried to time his movement to send move than a little breeze to disrupt the final pattern of his opponent. The judging was close, and while the Doctor had written more gracefully on more petals, Hong To had managed to create a final recognizable pattern which was visible from the stands. Drunk with victory, Hong To commented on his opponent's weakness. Doctor Jang-Lu attempted to answer gracefully, but finally Hong To's rudeness drove him to warn that To had certainly earned the enmity of the Holy Society.

The Test of Martial Prowess came next, with Wu Long moving through a couple of opponents before facing Seven Century Chaozhu of the Holy Society. They battled for several round in a hard fought contest. Finally Wu Long managed to get the upper hand and knocked his opponent out. Wounded, Wu Long noted Minister Chow watching closely and speaking to his assistant. However the rush through the events meant that the group could not follow up on that. Instead their attention was drawn by Golden Blaze who won his matches, while seemingly able to walk away from blows that might had been fatal to another. Fei Lang noted Golden Blaze's sword, etched with the markings of a classic Daoist Coin Sword. He suggested to the group that the sword and the fortune teller might be tied together-- with the fortune teller binding new fortunes to his victims-- the fate of Golden Blaze. Thus is Golden Blaze suffered a fatal injury it could be forestalled and then eventually passed to another. Zhen Ai spoke to other locals and discovered that Golden Blaze had walked away from some other fatal accidents, explaining the deaths outside the contest.

The Li Jong had to present himself for his chosen test, that of Perception and Deftness. Here the contestants found themselves blindfolded. Armed only with a staff, they had to catch thrown papers with the sayings of the Dao and fling them against a board to stick in the proper order. Again the contest was close fought, with Li Jong getting fewer of the papers actually caught with his staff, but managing to get them in the right order based on luck and instinct. After some consultation the Judges awarded Li Jong the victory, but by a close margin.

The final contest saw Fei Lang facing off against Green Saber Jiaqui of the Righteous Party-- who held a grudge against the group from their earlier somewhat humiliating defeat of them. Each contestant found themselves beneath a twenty foot pole, with a water filled basin perched upon it. Inside the basin were stones, all but one white. The contestants had to retrieve the single black stone in the basin without getting wet or spilling the water or white stones out upon the ground. They then had to place the basin and stone upon an alter a short way down the course. At the signal both shot up into the air, Fei Lang with an ice pillar conjured by magic and Jiaqui with a prodigious leap. Fei lang froze the water in his basin with sorcery and flipped the ice over to get at the black stone at the bottom. Jiaqui struck the bottom of his basin, knocking water and stones directly into the air, plucked the black stone from the sky and then caught the water and white stones again in the basin. Both rushed forward, but as Fei Lang concentrated, Jiaqui gave his opponent's basin a kick, sending the ice flying away. Fei Long desperately cast his magic forming a frozen bridge that caught the ice and dropped it back into the bowl as he ran forward. Jiaqui won the contest as the first to place his basin down, by the judges marked as a close score, having noted Fei Lang's quick thinking.

The group retreated by to their inn, a little exhausted perhaps by their efforts. They still had to deal with the evil Oracle and Golden Blaze. They also realized that Blaze's injury that day and two days previous likely meant that someone would have to die soon. They met with Sedate Rao and mentioned to him to beware of any passing fortune tellers. Rao grew pale, explaining that he'd been offered a free casting only this morning. Usually trusting in his own skills, he decided that such luck might not be a bad idea. Fei Lang concentrated his vision and saw that Rao had been touched by black magic-- with an awful death now awaiting him.

Back at the inn, the group worked feverishly to set up what protections they could around the now panicked Rao. Zhen Ai, Li Jong and Hong To scoured the nearby blocks to find what good luck charms and fortunate items they could to aid in the efforts. Fei Lang and Wu Long worked together to set up wards in their rooms. Then Fei Lang worked a careful spell of shielding, tying it as best he could to a subtle tracking. Then they waited. The night passed slowly, with an increasingly nervous Sedate Rao trying to keep himself in the circle. Then darkness stole in from the window and Fei Lang found himself engaged in a battle of wills with a powerful dark sorcerer-- and barely eked out a victory, driven the blacken fate away. Exhausted, he managed to illuminate the trail of the retreating spell and the group, including Rao, took off across the city to find the source of the magic.

The ran from rooftop to rooftop with Li Jong and Wu Long's sharp eyes managing to keep sight of the glowing spell trail. Eventually they found themselves in yet another cemetery and rushed forward into a decayed temple. Even as they advanced they realized that the sorcerer they sought was not alone. He had with him ten Hopping Vampires-- created from the corpses of the victims of his dark oracles. The group engaged in battle and found themselves quickly wounded and weakened-- while they could dispatch some, the numbers pressed against them. Zhei Ai one her last legs fought off several with all of her focus and will. Fei Lang realized that while powerful, these were not true Hopping Vampires but instead animated constructs at the sorcerer's behest. The group desperately broke away and coordinated their assault upon Ku Tung-- finally managing bring him down with all of their combined strength. Weakened and bloody, they cast what blessings and retreated back to the inn for prepare for the next day's contest.

They arrived early and fought their way through the bureaucracy to meet with Ningfu Sung, the Minister of Present Affairs. The group presented their story, only to find out that Wu Long would face Golden Blaze in the deciding event. Minister Sung, breaking protocol brought them before the City Governor Flawless Ning. The group decided to reveal their identities as Provincial Magistrates and laid out the whole tale for him. Governor Ning grew gravely pale and then ordered that the final round begin. Zhen Ai could see his shock-- both at the betrayal of one of his own ministers and also that the new Provincial Magistrates had arrived and he'd not yet informed his own master, the Governor of Yanzhou, Qui Cheng-- who would be somewhat upset by his mistake.

Wu Long and Golden Blaze took the field, the arena crowded with onlookers. Blaze seemed pale and wan, perhaps just beginning to feel the effects of the now broken spell. His once shining sword now seemed tarnished and rusted. At the signal, Wu Long simply turned his back on his opponent. Furious Golden Blaze charged forward recklessly. At the last second, Wu Long spun and struck taking Golden Blaze's head from his shoulders. Then Wu Long walked off the field, heedless of the cheers of the crowd or the crying wail of Golden Blaze's father, the corrupt minister Chow.

GM Notes:
A really good session from my reckoning. We got a lot done. A little follow up investigation, exciting one-on-one contests for each player, the tension-filled scene of trying to protect the NPC Sedate Rao, the battle with the sorcerer and his vampiric minions, and final the last scenes with Flawing Ning and the death of Golden Blaze. The system ran a little smoother-- in part because the contests had everyone go through their character sheet before we got to the mass fight. The fight was a hard one and they really managed to pull it out once they coordinated. A good deal of the inspiration of the events was taken from the Auspicious Beginnings module for Weapons of the Gods, a really great resource.

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