I've been waiting to get in on a game of Tony Dowler's Principia ever since I missed it at the previous GPNW, so I was very glad to find him calling for players in one of my open slots. I'm sure I'm going to leave out, since it's been a few days now, and I didn't get a chance to note down a lot of my fellow players' names--I hope some of you will step in and add your own experiences.
Our game was set in the Florence of Duke Lorenzo de Medici, under siege by Ludovico of Mantua. The walls of the city were crumbling, and the likelihood was that he'd be inside them by tomorrow morning unless the city's elite could stop him. That's why the Duke had summoned the players to an emergency meeting: could we save Florence where he had failed?
Going around the table, we had Michelangelo, the deformed and underrated genius sculptor; Lucrezia Borgia, noblewoman by day and invisible assassin by night; Caterina Sforza, representative of the Illuminati; Sage's character whose name I can't remember, general of the Florentine army with an alchemical eye; Niccolo Machiavelli, forced to move in darkness due to the affliction of vampirism; Leonardo da Vinci, celebrated polymath genius; and myself as Savonarola, iconoclastic Dominican zealot who could summon supernatural flames.
Tony asked if we wanted to run any brief scenes before getting to the morning meeting, and we ran with it. I had a scene with Lucrezia, offering her my holy favor if she would help persuade the Duke to join my cause--Jonathan agreed quite readily, which I should have realized would get the rug pulled out from under me soon! I believe this is also where Sage's general approached Johnstone's Leonardo with his request for a three-bladed, fire-belching, arrow-shooting sword; it was either at the same time or shortly after that Leonardo tried to persuade the Cardinal of Florence to pay more attention to Michelangelo's sculptures, which would mean he (Leonardo) could stop painting things and get back to work on his precious steam tank.
Conflicts in Principia are handled with one roll each, with each player starting at three Fudge dice. You can get free pluses (no roll required) by tagging up to two of your permanent advantages, and a third from a temporary advantage, if you have one.
Here's the really interesting part of the system, to me: in the center of the table are index cards with yes-or-no questions on them, to be resolved at the end of the session. Tony started us off with "Does Florence deserve to survive?" As part of the conflict build-up, you can tap one of these questions and get an extra die for it; if there aren't any that apply, you can create a new one and toss it in. There's a column on each card for "yes" and "no" votes, but you don't vote yet when tapping.
Each player involved rolls their dice and sums the three best results. You can spend tokens you've accumulated to roll in more dice after the fact, or escalate the conflict to reroll all your dice or force your opponent to reroll theirs. Which decision you make affects whether the winner takes an advantage or the loser takes a disadvantage at the end, I think. There's also a sort of inertia to who's in the lead that I had trouble tracking.
Once it's resolved, the winner narrates the result. The loser gets to pick one of the questions out of all those that were tapped (there may be several if the two sides had helpers pitching in), put their name in a vote column, and untap it. The loser goes next, followed by helpers. You can vote several times on the same question, so you can really load up on one side or hedge your bets on both.
Just before the morning meeting, Lucrezia got a breviary from Lorenzo containing the names of two as-yet-unknown traitors whom he wanted her to "eliminate." When the meeting finally got started, I made a big bid for power, trying to get Lorenzo to abdicate and let the Church take control of Florence. I almost had it all in my hand... until Machiavelli stepped in to oppose me, calling on Lorenzo's memory of their childhood friendship to let the state remain in control. Savonarola lost the roll big time, losing control of his power and accidentally setting Machiavelli's robe on fire! Lorenzo rushed off to extinguish him, and I retreated in dismay.
As part of the meeting, Lorenzo had ordered Leonardo and Michelangelo to work together on creating something marvelous to repel the armies of Mantua. This set things up for their rivalry story to really take center stage; the two of them clashed over just who was in charge of the workshop, whether it was more important to work on Leonardo's steam tank or Michelangelo's marble soldiers, and who would have the affections of Faustina the courtesan, Michelangelo's model/muse and Leonardo's ex-lover.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo and Machiavelli argued over whether Lorenzo could give Machiavelli the cure for his vampirism, the general continued to argue for his marvelous sword in order to challenge Ludovico to single combat, and I went off to flagellate myself for failing. I used one of Savonarola's built-in plot twists to actually change one name in the breviary--we still didn't know who they were, but it was a good thing I did, since Tony had apparently intended for one of them to be me! Instead I targeted my hated superior, the Cardinal, whose rich adornments represented the excesses in fashion and art that I despised.
The fallout from that twist was that Tony got to introduce the Cardinal and have him send me off with a pass through the enemy lines: he wanted me to take Ludovico's confession before the battle. This was an awesome idea of Tony's, and it gave me a great place to take Savonarola's zealotry.
The general got his sword, Machiavelli got the promise of a cure, the marble soldiers and the steam tank were prepared, and although Michelangelo's brutal aspect frightened Faustina, it also impressed her enough to finally earn what he considered her love. Machiavelli, Caterina and Lucrezia set up a meeting with Ludovico in the tunnels beneath the city, with all kinds of nefarious intent.