I created a walled port city as the location. Before the bourgeoisie merchant ship captains claimed the city in coup de tat, the arch mage who built it centuries before had divided the city into 6 wards, each separated by walls and gates so he could more easily put a ward on lock-down to quell rebellion. I set up four Fronts (city watch, church, wizard cabal, thieves’ guild), gave them impulses, and peopled them with NPCs with instincts.
I started the players “in the action” with the catalyst for play in their hands. They had just stolen a relic (the national treasure of the city) from the Parthenon and found themselves barring a door in the sub-structure (“dungeon”) against the onrushing adepts, clerics, and Templars. Then posed the question, “What do you do?”
They broke into the sewers, where they figured out a way to get out by following the flow of fetid water to the port. Along the twisting turning way they navigated, they faced the gelatinous cube sewer cleaning system, which caused them to re-route, running into one of several pairs of templars sent in to the sewers to find them. During the time this was taking, the other Fronts started to realize the relic was out in the open, triggering their secondary impulses: utilize whatever resources they have at hand to possess the relic.
After re-routing due to the gelatinous sewer cleaner, and setting a trap to slay the pursuing templars, the players found a manhole cover and climbed out into an alley amidst some prostitutes selling their wares. This led to a confrontation with a pimp, where the players cleverly worked together to get the thief in position to back stab. One of the prostitutes asked if they were the ones the city watch harked about as they rushed through to lock-down the port. Now up on street level the PCs could hear the alarm bells. The were experiencing the feeling of dread realizing the city had been in the process of lock-down while they were wandering around the sewer. The prostitute offered a way out, only asking to be protected and taken with the PCs when they leave. He revealed a secret hole in the wall the thieves’ guild used to move illicit good in-and-out of the city. Avoiding the City Watch Front, the PCs snuck from alley to alley, then into a building against the wall, down into the basement to a hole between the walls in to the lower ward. Once on the dark streets of the shanty lower ward they avoided a potential mugging, then went to the building up against the outer wall. I could at this point feel the players thought they may be close to escape…in a more linear game they may have been, but in this game there were 3 Fronts other than the church, and each was acting on its own impulse.
The thief failed his disable trap role, so the guild thieves who would have been lolling about drinking or playing calls (i.e. caught off guard) were now alerted, and so waited in the dark in the basement with the hole outside the wall. When the PCs lowered themselves into the room they were backstabbed (-1 armor). The PCs threw a light necklace they got off a slain templar on the ground, the room lit up. They were surrounded by knife-wielding guild thieves. In the stand-off, one of the PCs casually murdered the prostitute “to show he meant business.” This was important for me, b/c other than the PCs setting a trap for the templars in the sewer, this was the first real departure from “kind of how I thought” these players I know very well would handle the adventure. I had planted the boy prostitute as a kidnapped Jarl’s son sold into slavery. It was a possible adventure path sending the PCs to the north…gone in a flash. I’m proud to say even though I felt a fleeting something as it passed in the side window, by the time it was in the rear-view as we sped on, I was cool with it.
The PCs were surrounded by twice as many thieves in a stand-off. I took this moment to throw in another Front; a wizard teleported into the room and used flaming hands to ring the room, burning all the thieves circling the room. As they rolled on the floor writhing in pain, the wizard “strongly suggested” the PCs to follow him into the dimension door. Hesitantly they did so. Back at the wizards tower he was pleasant and polite. He asked them about the relic. I did this to accentuate the different feel of each front, but the PCs felt he was so pleasant maybe he somehow needed them to give the relic to them…like a Lost Boys vampire needed to be invited into a house! Whatever the case, one of the PCs threw a chair through the bay window, the other fastened a rope around a knob, and they both jumped out of the tower. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was cool. When the one PC failed his defy danger to repel down the tower wall at a high rate of speed with no climbing gear, I told him his ankle felt broken, slowing him to half speed until healed.
From there the PCs snuck through the sewers until eventually making it to the port. It had been hours, so the gates and port were on lock-down. They spotted a dwarven sea-raider longship defying the dockmaster by preparing to set sail. Before slipping out the drainage tube into the harbor, the PCs wisely decided to look first. The thief PC saw a figure hiding in a shadow at the end of the pier. He immediately thought it was a sniper. I had intended it to be a City Watchman with a bell. It was an awesome scene of teamwork and great rolls. Anyway, the one PC drew the shadowy figure out by jumping with a splash into the harbor. The figure popped out pointing and ringing a bell. The other PC silenced him with a single arrow. The 2 PCs then swam for the longship to the cheers of the laughing dwaven sea raiders, who thought defying the dockmaster made for good sport. The longship easily outpaced the warship the city sent out after them.
When setting up the city, I felt the two most likely ways of escape were by land or by sea, so I build two ‘monsters,’ dwarven sea raiders and their captain. One of their moves was to re-negotiate a deal once they someone over the barrel. So they stopped rowing just at the edge of the city lights on the horizon, demanding to negotiate payment. The thief had 41sp on him, but decided to low ball at 10sp, them 20sp. The negotiation broke down in a laughable way due to cultural differences. So, based on useful information gained by a spot lore, the fighter PC dared the dwarven sea captain to a challenge of strength. On the fly I came up with a game of core-strength & balance where the two tied their strong-hands with a tether while standing opposite (front foot touching) on the narrow center board of the longship. I knew the dwarven sea raider had a move called “sure-footed” due to his low center of gravity giving him advantage on the deck of a ship in rolling seas. So I was fairly confident the PCs were going to wind up marooned on an island looted of wealth, which would be the start of the next adventure. Wow, was I wrong! As I started to speak, the fighter PC cut in and said he jams the spike at the butt of his scourge into the dwarven sea captains temple. Yeah, I was shocked, but I didn’t react based on my intentions, I stayed true to the fiction. The Dwarven sea raiders are all about respect honor and courage, so they grabbed the honorless Fighter PC and subdued him with a beat down. Being so distracted, allowed the Thief PC (who had the relic) to jump overboard into the night sea…saying he grabbed a rope trailing in the waves behind the longship. That moment I felt it was a good time to end the session on a cliff-hanger.