[Principia] Steam Tank versus Marble Army #gpnw

edited June 2009 in Actual Play
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.


  • edited June 2009
    As the night grew later, I was ushered into Ludovico's tent and took his confession. The penance I laid upon him was to take my blessing and conquer Florence with God on his side! I had to use two plot twists here, extracting a promise from him to support me in burning all that decadent art and fashion, in exchange for which I would command the marble soldiers to turn on each other.

    But Ludovico foolishly took Caterina's invitation (they were cousins, after all) to meet in the tunnels beneath the city at midnight. As Lucrezia watched from the shadows, Machiavelli and Caterina both made bids for his alliance--Caterina promising him a place among the Illuminati, while Machiavelli carefully positioned himself to seem like only a power-hungry toady eager to betray his city. Ludovico took the bait and chose Machiavelli's side. Caterina signalled Lucrezia, who stabbed Machiavelli in the back! In response, Machiavelli leapt on Caterina and bit her, while Lucrezia killed Ludovico and ended the war after all. (See Julian's detailing below.)

    At this point we started resolving questions, with one player taking each side of any given card and rolling as many dice as there were names in the column. Some of the ones we answered:

    Does Florence deserve to survive? Yes!
    Is it worth creating art in the face of destruction? Yes!
    Is war necessary? No! Yes!
    Is religion still relevant? Yes!
    Will the Church begin a new Inquisition? Yes!
    Is there a place for the undead in Florence? Yes!

    (I could have some of those wrong--please correct me if you know better, or remember the other cards in play.)

    The marble army did turn on itself, and Savonarola got to lead the new Inquisition against the decadence of art (interestingly, given that I think I lost every one of my conflicts!). Michelangelo retreated into seclusion with the last few moving sculptures, in Faustina's image, of course. Machiavelli was finally free to move in daylight and begin taking control of the civil authority, while Caterina--the new vampire of Florence--continued to move in shadow, building the influence of the Illuminati.

    I had a fine time with this game, and I'd be really interested to see how things play out in a campaign with recurring characters. Tony asked for suggestions, and the six of us sort of piled on, but I hope he realized that we were just so excited by the creative power of the game that we were throwing every idea we had at him.

    I know I've got some of this stuff wrong and am missing big chunks of the game, so guys, I'd love to see your errata and additional perspectives.
  • Thanks for the AP Brendan! That game was a thrill to run. I've never had that many for Principia before. I'm only sorry that it limited screen time for each player. Your narration of the tongues of flame appearing on Savonarola's and Ludovico's foreheads as he pledged to burn Florence in God's name was a beautiful touch.
  • This game sounds cool. Sadly, I've never heard of it, and the internets are not helping me out.

    Brendan or Tony, help me out. Is the game published, or is it still being playtested?
  • Thanks a lot, Brendan!

    Machiavelli = Julian Michels
    Lucrezia = Jonathan (Jono) Lemer

    The only thing that was significantly wrong that I caught was that:

    "Ludovico took the bait and chose Machiavelli's side. Caterina signalled Lucrezia, who stabbed Machiavelli in the back! In response, Machiavelli leapt on Caterina and bit her, while Lucrezia killed Ludovico and ended the war after all."

    isn't quite what happened. Instead, Machiavelli wrapped his influence tighter and tighter around Ludovico, blocking out Caterina. Caterina was enraged and used the only weapon she had left: her privileged knowledge of Machiavelli's vampirism. Advancing on him with a holy cross, she denounced him for his affliction. He leapt upon her, digging his teeth into her neck, while she burned the cross into his face. She got the better of him, and he fled into the night, leaving the aghast Ludovico with his new advisor.

    However, unbeknown to them, Lucrezia crept from the shadows to end Ludovico's life once and for all. The scene ended with Lucrezia's dagger held high over her head, preparing to strike down Caterina and then to hunt down the besieging duke Ludovico.

    I understand that in the epilogue, we discovered that Lucrezia left both for dead, and that receiving the cure, Machiavelli grew to become the chief civil power in an increasingly efficient and tyrannical city. However, years later, rumors began to reach his spies that a new vampire was active in Italy, with the support of the Illuminati and with a massive army under its influence. Machiavelli could not help but remember the disposed corpse of Caterina, left for dead with the marks of vampiric teeth still embedded in her flesh... The battle for Florence was not over, yet.
  • Aha, I thought you were in that game, Julian, but I couldn't remember who you played. Thanks for clearing that up!
  • Posted By: BWAThis game sounds cool. Sadly, I've never heard of it, and the internets are not helping me out.

    Brendan or Tony, help me out. Is the game published, or is it still being playtested?
    Not quite published yet, although I hope it will be soon! Here's the Principia page.
  • "Is war necessary" was answered with a Yes, Brendan (did we say Yes to all of them?). Leonardo and Machiavelli created a Council and seized real power in Florence, using the Duke as a figurehead. Sage's mercenary captain was tasked with taking Leo's steam tanks and flame throwers and conquering all of Italy. Savonarola was tasked with destroying non-functional art. The reclusive Michelangelo became a symbol for those who would resist the state and create art in the name of beauty. We decided there would always be one vampire in Florence, and that Caterina lurked in the shadows. I can't remember what Lucrezia's fate was, though.

    Two things stand out about my guy (da Vinci):

    I wasn't planning on a big rivalry with Michelangelo, but Matthew threw down every chance he had, and I felt totally epic.

    I used his beliefs or whatever they are called) to effectively rack up rewards, then cashed them all in for even more stuff and turned Leo from a peace-loving employee into a power-hungry war-monger!
  • There's not much Principia on the Internets, but it is in development for release within the next few months, hopefuly at Gen Con. There's a Web page for it here:
    http://planet-thirteen.com/Principia.aspx. That's an old page, but it's still generally valid. I'm so focused on production now that the Web page has been left un-updated.

    Also, I'm happy to provide playtest versions. I really need a bit of external play to validate the writing.

    The players were (apologies for spelling):
    Jonathan Lemer (Lucrezia Borgia)
    Eric Boyd (Caterina S'Forza)
    Sage LaTorra (Federico da Montefeltro)
    Julian Michels (Machiavelli)
    Johnstone Metzger (Leonardo da Vinci)
    Brendan Adkins (Savonarola)
    Matthew SB (Michelangelo)
  • It was indeed a great game, and I'm glad someone remembered my character's name, because I don't. :)
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