On the RPG table we settled into a game of Fate. Fate is a generic narrative system designed to tell stories about dramatic and competent characters, being highly adaptable we used a modified version of Fate Core with ideas from the Fate System Toolkit (no stress) and the Fate Codex Anthology (Discover action, 2 hour Fate), while conscious of inclusive gaming (Fate Accessibility Toolkit, Consent in Gaming, the X-Card).
A key focus of Fate is for the players, not just the GM, to drive the story and develop the setting. Aspects, which define a character, place (pretty much anything of narrative weight) also define things that are true or exist in the setting. So an initial idea was proposed: Two kingdoms in a low magic fantasy land are struggling to maintain a new peace after a bitter war, a plan was made to bring unity and co-operation by building a grand road linking the capitals. The two sides have built their roads almost up to the border, the players will represent the two kingdoms and agree where the roads shall meet at the border. The pitch was ‘magical fantasy bureaucratic adventure’ titled ‘By-pass: The NIMBY RPG’, with a view of not fighting or physical combat (the custom skill list did not include a fighting skill per se). The theme of the story would take some inspiration from the ‘Last Spike’ negotiations of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States).
Act Zero (Opening Credits)
As you can see the setting is vague and open for the players to details that are important to them using their characters. It was quickly decided the three players would be split between the two kingdoms. “The Kingdom of the Dead” would be presented by Princess Lil and, sometime later in the session the other kingdom was named, “The Kingdom of Home” represented by Artemis the corrupt merchant and Spooks a leading member of the workers union. Setting up the game, involved the players defining aspects that revealed the setting - Spooks was half-dead, not wholly accepted within either kingdom, Lil was not necessarily the most reliable representative of the Queen of the Dead with her “PARTY! PARTY! PARTY!” Trouble Aspect. Artemis and Spooks were charged with linking the roads by the next full moon.
Act One (Into the Woods)
Both sides travelling from the end of their respective roads into an uncharted wood, a race to be first to the border - that would be a big advantage over the other kingdom. Artemis was given a very helpful map, and asked to fill it in as he went. At this point we used Fate’s Bronze Rule: Everything can be a character (aka the Fate Fractal), so the Wood gained a skill ‘Frightening’ and attack the players as they tried to sleep. Amusingly, Spooks was the only one affected by the eerie woods and took a consequence of being visibly shaken for the rest of the adventure. On the morning of the third day Artemis and Spooks were much closer, despite Princess Lil travelling all night since the Dead do not need to sleep. Suddenly they come across a village, a village that should not be there.
Act Two (The Village that Isn’t There)
Suddenly surrounded by guards, both groups were captured and taken inside the village’s palisade. The representatives from the two kingdoms meet for the first time, they exchange hellos and both express their confusion on finding this community in the woods. Spooks, not quite thinking (compelled an aspect that he doesn’t understand cultural norms) planted the Kingdom of Home’s marker flag in the ground. The village council, three robed elders, were not impressed to find the Kingdom of Home laying claim to the land. Artemis smoothed things over, while Princess Lil made a gesture that the Kingdom of the Dead may formally recognise this group ‘The People of The Forest’ and their land ‘The Forest Between the Two Mountains’ as an independent state - but the forest straddled the border and Artemis wasn’t empowered to make such promises on behalf of his king. The People of The Forest were refugees from conflicts from many lands, but all of them shed their old lives when they were drawn to the forest. After some discussion between the representatives, they explored the village and learned some curious things, this place was strong with old magic - stronger than any of them had ever experienced, and the people of this community seemed to become one with the forest (The Trees are People!). They finally met the three village councillors to discuss the Grand Road and what it means for the peace between the kingdoms. One of the councillors led them into the woods to talk to the forest. Although it started well, the forest screamed!
Act Three (The Mountain Awakes)
The councillor stumbles and demands to know what Artemis has done? The mountain to the north, not just a mountain, a large plume of lava erupts from the peak and lights up the night sky - which an almost full moon. Artemis realises his side has started to build the road into the forest - the Forest Between The Two Mountains is not happy about this, and since the forest is alive with magic this could go very badly. The characters had discovered that, if you ask the forest for a path through and your intentions are pure, a magical path will appear. Despite Artemis’ dubious personal interests, Spooks’ desire to save the workers, and Lil’s desire to prevent another war the forest rapidly transported them to the edge of the wood. They find the forward work party cutting down trees. Spooks has his moment, he forcefully claims there’s been a ‘309 health code violation’, the workers pause for a moment then one of them turns to the others and shouts “Tools down!” and they all walk away. The only remaining issue is the Emissary, the King’s representative who commanded this mission in the first place. He is unmoving to the explanations and Princess Lil finds his unwillingness to believe in the powerful magic of the forest frustrating. Finally, Artemis convinces the Emissary to go into the wood, a weak path appears but the Emissary’s mind is unchanged and the forest strikes him down. Returning to the camp, Artemis wields the Emissary’s seal and places the marker flag at the edge of the wood. Lil proposes that the two sides build a way-station at each side of the wood and ask the forest for a path through, village will be left undisturbed, it will be by-passed.
War was averted through talking and co-operation. The table had a lot of fun, the players growing into their characters and the world as the session moved on. The Closing Credits is a montage of traders and travellers walking along Grand Road and passing on to a Forest Path, peoples from both kingdoms travelling together. A small group of figures stand at the edge of the tree line and silently watch, then disappear into the forest.