DM Screen 8 – The Show Must Go On

Ah, “The Show Must Go On.” Still one of my favorite episodes of League, but not for anything that *I* did. The end of the previous episode had the party deciding to try to get into the Red Keep not through brute force or quiet subterfuge, but through a musical theater performance! Claire spent a lot of time coming up with both the plot and the songs for the show, and I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out.

I actually brought a lot less to the table for this one than I usually do—most of what I did in the middle segment of this episode was just improvising and playing off of what I was getting from the players. As a result, my notes on this are a bit less robust than usual, but I’ve included a little extra in the middle for you to enjoy.

You’ve spent some time now working to establish a sufficiently impressive reputation and a sufficiently credible performance in order to get the attention and favor of the crown. Let’s go around a couple of times and have everyone narrate one part of a montage showing your preparations and efforts.

I’ve really gotten into montage segments recently. It takes the burden off of me narratively while giving the players the ability to express themselves. Plus, I often end up with some interesting hooks I can use later on.

Much to Geralt’s surprise, a royal messenger arrives at the heroes’ door one day with an invitation to perform at the King’s nameday celebration. They receive both a physical invitation and a verbal message—by now, the League has gathered that many people in this world aren’t particularly literate. The messenger lays out what’s expected of the heroes, when they are to attend—everything they’ll need to know. He emphasizes that only the highest quality of performers are invited to this particular event, and that if their performance is below the king’s standards, it may go very poorly for them indeed.

The day of the celebration rolls around. The heroes wake up to find that the main streets of King’s Landing are decked in red and gold streamers, and vendors have set up wherever space permits, hocking food and cheap souvenirs. The heroes push their way through the crowds—perhaps with a cart behind them—and make their long way up to the Red Keep.

The crowd around the Red Keep is thick with commoners hoping to get their way into some of the cheap seats within the walls to see the show, but the general crush of people is moving very slowly; the gold-cloaked guards at the gate are being particularly painstaking in their efforts to screen out potential troublemakers.

Now that the heroes are closer to the walls of the Keep, they can see that, in between some of the parapets running along the top of the castle are prominent iron spikes proudly displaying heads of, presumably, individuals that the crown wanted to make a point of not being overly fond of. Directly above the gate itself are a dozen larger spikes pointing outward—each features a skewered, headless body. Each of these bodies has had a black banner wrapped around it in mockery—the banners snap in the wind, revealing a red three-headed dragon emblazoned on each. The reactions from the peasants to these bodies varies—some of them glare or spit at the bodies, some look at them in a mixture of awe and horror, and some make a visible effort not to look at them—but everyone seems to have an opinion about them.

Geralt doesn’t know much about the bodies, but questioning anyone potentially in the know (including some of the peasants around them) reveals that they are the bodies of loyalists to the Targaryens. They recently attempted and failed an assassination on King Joffrey—those who survived their fight with the Kingsguard were later executed. However, talking to a particularly knowledgeable source (or getting a particularly good roll on a check to gather information) reveals that, in their last hours, the rebels revealed that Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons herself, has returned and is even now somewhere in Westeros.

The heroes will be greeted by one of the goldcloaks as they approach, who will request their documentation and check it against a list. As he does so, a broad-bodied knight in white armor and cape takes long, slow strides over to them, brow furrowed in concentration, as if trying to remember something.

This, of course, is Boros Blount, who ran into the party several days ago and was led to believe that they were being led to a sanitarium. He steps up to whoever is directly interacting with the goldcloak and says, “Here now, I’ve seen you before, eh? Weren’t you on the way to being locked away?” How the party gets out of this is up to them.

It turns out, not particularly elegantly. Dante has never really nailed down the whole “laying low” aspect of going undercover. It turned out well enough, though. If they had done particularly poorly on this, they would have been turned away from the gates, but it wouldn’t have been too difficult for them to find a way to sneak inside anyway—Mordin does have a portal gun, after all.

The location of the celebration itself is in one of the park-like areas within the walls of the keep. Fields of soft green grass, dotted with trees and crisscrossed by flowerbeds and cobbled walkways overlook a view of the wide river beyond beneath the brilliant blue sky. A large wooden stage has been set up with an 18-foot tall back wall designed to hang backdrops and to conceal the backstage area from the audience—already there are dozens of colorfully-dressed performers moving costumes, props, and animals into position. A series of stands with wooden benches rise up in a slight curve facing the stage. Colorful flags displaying the heraldry of various noble houses snap in the breeze above the stands, marking the areas where those particular noble houses are sat. By far the most common of these flags is the red flag with a golden lion upon it, marking one whole section of the stands. Between the stands and the stage is a stretch of grass which the common folk have crowded into, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a mass of people constantly vying for a better look at the stage. In contrast, the nobility are casually making their way to their section of the stands, angling their entrance to catch the most eyes possible.

The PCs duck backstage, joining the other performers setting up. Ask them to touch briefly on how they interact with some of the other performers or possibly with their preparations for the show—perhaps foreshadowing some element of the performance, such as a costume, prop, or set piece.

Near the heroes is another group of performers—four muscular dark-haired men (Dozo, Qhallo, Pallo, and Ildatto) wearing painted leather vests over bare torsos, horsehair leggings with belts made of bronze medallions, and sandals with lace up their calves. Currently they are tending to their four horses. These four call themselves the Sand Riders—though their performance is intentionally evocative and imitative of Dothraki, they are in fact from Dorne. From them, the heroes can learn that King Joffrey is apparently not at all happy about the entertainment for this celebration—he was hoping for a tourney or an archery contest, but his grandfather the King’s Hand believed that, in the wake of the recent attempt on the king’s life, a violent contest would prove too easy a means for a potential assassin to get inside the castle walls.

Eventually, a great fanfare is struck up and the noise from the crowd turns from the din of hundreds of simultaneous conversations to voices raised in cheer. A contingent rides down from the castle to the stands: a golden-haired woman, a dwarf with a startlingly mutilated face, an older man with golden hair going to silver, and the young King Joffrey himself, accompanied by a lovely young brunette woman wearing green. The party is surrounded by a group of knights dressed in white.

The Lannisters take their places at the most lavish and elevated seats in the stands before King Joffrey addresses the crowd. “I thank you all for granting me the pleasure of your company on this, my final nameday as an unmarried man. May the Seven bless and guide you all, and bring glory to our nation and ruin upon those who would stand against us.” (PCs making an Intuition (Perception) check can notice Cersei’s mouth moving slightly along with the words.) The audience applauds and cheers as Joffrey sits, taking Margaery’s hand in his, and unenthusiastically calls for the shows to begin.

There are a few acts ahead of the PCs: a group of minstrels playing a selection of folk music from each of the Seven Kingdoms, ending with “The Rains of Castamere;” a short play entitled “The Pride of Casterly Rock,” which presents the life of Joffrey in such absurdly saccharine and heroic tones that it’s genuinely difficult to tell if it’s supposed to be praise or satire (Tyrion can be heard snorting audibly at several points throughout before simply standing and walking back to the castle in search of something to drink); the Sand Riders put on a display of horsemanship and combat, eliciting gasps from the audience; and a comedy duo walks around the stage on stilts whilst juggling and engaging in slapstick and bawdy jokes.

Eventually, well after the sun has set, it’s time for the PCs to do their thing in torchlight.

Again, I had no idea what the PCs’ performance was going to look like, so I just left a big segment in my notes where that could take place. Because Claire had taken the lead in planning this part out, I asked her for whatever notes she had made and distributed to the other players. Here’s what she provided me:

Hey folks, Claire here. So going into this session, we had established that we were going to put on a performance of some kind to give us an excuse to enter the castle, and then also to provide a distraction which would give us an opportunity to visit the castle’s library and discover the location of the Stone of Grace. Now it came time for us to write the damn thing, and so I started thinking about what kind of play we were going to do. I decided to start off by just listing off everything that I thought would be absolutely essential to include. Here was the rough list I came up with.

1.) The true purpose of the play is to be a distraction.

2.) Mordin is writing it, so it’s probably a musical.

3.) Dante is pretending to be a blind swordsman.

4.) Stitch is pretending to be a dog that plays the Lute.

5.) The entire cast is Stitch, Mordin, Nico, and Dante.

Thinking about it a bit more, I figured that something that is vaguely Shakespearean, or maybe reminiscent of “A Song of Ice and Fire” itself might be cool, something related to courtly intrigue and the idea of ‘the rightful heir to the throne.’ And since we players were playing characters who were disguised as other people who were about to put on a play in which we would adopt yet another level of false identity, I thought we could push that even further by making the play that we perform include the classic Shakespearean elements of additional multiple levels of disguise and gender bending and plays within plays. It ended up being a mix of Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet, with some awkwardly wedged in pandering narration to the Lannisters at the end to counteract the fact that the main villain was basically them.

Claire didn’t write a full script, just an outline that the players improvised off of. The songs, however, were fully written out:

Scene 1 – Sybil’s Throne Room

Queen Sybil sits on the throne.

Prince Andre enters, announcing that Queen Sybil asked to see him.

Queen Sybil tells Andre that since they are going to be married soon, they should start behaving like a married couple. Prince Andre should accompany her to dinner this evening, rather than having his dinner in his bedchambers.

Prince Andre refuses, saying that they’re not married yet, and for now, he can still do what he wants.

Queen Sybil tells him that their marriage is going to happen one way or another, he can either embrace this or pout.

Prince Andre opts for pouting.

Queen Sybil tells Andre that he has no other options, she knows that he continues to think of Princess Cecily, but she has been dead a long time, killed during the rebellion which allowed Queen Sybil to gain power.

Prince Andre asks if this is the same rebellion in which he was tragically blinded.

Queen Sybil tells Andre (and the audience) that yes, it was the same rebellion.

Andre says that Cecily got off lucky. If he had his way, he would have died as well.

Prince Andre exits.

Queen Sybil’s Song – His Precious Cecily

I did my part

The battle’s done

And in the end

I guess we won

I raised the army

I seized the crown

But there was one body

I never found

My rule’s secure
The kingdom thrives

That bitch is dead

And I’m aliiiiiiiive!

But he will never be here

Cause she is always out there

His precious Cecily

Scene 2 – Princess Cecily’s Shack

Woodrow the dog sits on the ground, practicing his guitar.

Princess Cecily enters and tells Woodrow that she heard news in the town square that Queen Sybil plans to marry Prince Andre. She thought that he died during the rebellion, but it turns out he was just blinded.

Woodrow asks what they are going to do about this.

Princess Cecily tells Woodrow that, as he knows, before Queen Sybil’s rebellion, Cecily herself was to take the throne when she came of age. There was even talk that she and Andre would be married. But now, there is talk that all portraits and sculptures of the old royal family have been destroyed, and so no one knows what Princess Cecily even looks like.

Woodrow asks what they are going to do about this.

However, they have one hope, her family’s signet ring. It was sized to fit Princess Cecily’s unusually thin fingers, and if she can recover the ring from a hidden drawer in the treasury, it will be all the proof she needs of her royal heritage.

Woodrow asks how they are going to do this.

Cecily’s Song – The Perfect Plan

I’ll cut my hair and bind my breasts, we’ll masquerade as honored guests,

How can they keep their doors shut when a charming bard and faithful mutt,

Come knocking, ask for one night’s stay, A favor for which we’ll repay

Their kindness with the gift of song, and once we’re in, it won’t be long…

It’s the perfect plan, we’ll distract them with a song

It’s the perfect plan, I’ll be back where we belong!

And then once you begin to play, I’ll take my leave, and start to stray

Right through the castle, in disguise, I’ll find that ring, I’ll seize my prize

That prissy foolish fool they crowned will be entranced by you, my hound

And then we’ll take our leave before they’ve time to check the hidden drawer

It’s the perfect plan, we’ll distract them with a song

It’s the perfect plan, what could possibly go wrong?

Scene 3 – Queen Sybil’s Throne Room

Queen Sybil and Prince Andre sit on thrones, the bard and his dog enter the room.

Queen Sybil announces to the bard that he is the bard who has asked to spend the night, and offers as payment a song, is that right?

The bard tells Queen that she is correct, and even more beautiful in person than he thought possible.

The Queen tells the bard that he is too kind, and fairly handsome himself.

Prince Andre asks if he knows that voice from somewhere. It seems so familiar.

The bard tells Andre that he must be mistaken.

Andre says that the voice is beautiful… enchanting. And what’s that smell? It smells like flowers?
Bard – Ah, you must be smelling… my dog! Woodrow!

Andre – he smells… wonderful.

Andre’s Song – Torn in Three

What is this thing that I am feeling.

Have I finally found my center?

Can it be that my pain is healing

Or is this stranger my new tormentor

I mean yeah, the queen’s great and all,

She doesn’t care if my room is messy,

She gives me clothes and she gives me pizza,

But I cannot turn my back on Cecy

What is happening in my heart?

I’m being torn in three!

Between the queen, the bard, and my long-lost Cecily

Then this there’s this bard guy who smells like flowers

Do I want to be with him or maybe be him?

I’ve never been with a dude before,

But is it still gay if you cannot see them?

What is happening in my heart?

I’m being torn in three!

Between the queen, the bard, and the ghost of Cecily

Queen Sybil snaps Prince Andre back to reality, telling him that he’s been staring off into space for the past five minutes.

Andre tells Sybil that she’s not his real mom.

So that’s what they were working off of, much to my surprise. I didn’t know what their performance would be, but I did anticipate that they were going to be trying to sneak into the Red Keep library during the performance, so I sketched out what that area would look like:

When the heroes decide to sneak away, have them make Agility (Stealth) rolls to avoid being spotted. (One of them ended up failing this check, and I decided that Tyrion had spotted them and was following them curiously.) They creep away from the crowds and into the inner stone hallways of the Red Keep. The library is, apparently, within the Tower of the Hand. It is currently closed and locked up, and well within sight of the entrance to Maegor’s Holdfast, where one of the white-armored knights of the Kingsguard is currently standing guard (Balon Swann, a young and muscular knight).

Once they sneak into the Tower, they can find their way to the library. While not especially large in terms of square footage, the library has many more shelves than its size would normally indicate, as the tall shelves are designed to roll along tracks in the ceiling, and can thus be stacked several deep and moved around for access. In addition, at least a dozen books like strewn about the single reading table. It will take some time to locate the book they need, although a suitably impressive Reason check or clever use of powers could cut down this time.

During the actual game, Nico cast the “Librarian” spell. Seeing as I already decided that Tyrion had spotted them entering the library, I decided that the spell would make him friendly to their cause and willing to help them out. As a result, we roleplayed a scene where Mordin and Nico got the info from him before knocking him out.

I also decided at this point to briefly switch the camera back to the stage so Dante and Stitch could scramble to cover for Nico and Mordin’s absence before continuing in the library.

The info about the Stone of Grace can be found in an obscure entry in one of the library’s history books. No one seems to be able to agree on where the Stone of Grace came from originally, but it somehow came into possession of King Aegon the Conqueror. He later gave it as part of a peace offering to Torrhen Stark, the last Stark King of the North, once Torrhen surrendered to him. It sounds like the Stone is still in Winterfell.

Once the performance has finished and whatever appropriate rolls have been made to gauge quality of show and audience response, Joffrey rises to address the crowd as all of the performers take the stage to bow to him. “I thank you once more for sharing this very special day with me. I now declare that…” He pauses, glances down at his mother and grandfather, and, after a brief flash of defiance in his features, says, “the Sand Riders and [name of the League’s troupe] will fight to the death here and now!”

The crowd of performers suddenly part around the two troupes, surprise and panic in their eyes. The Riders, for their part, look bewildered and uncertain. Joffrey bellows, “NOW!”, pointedly looking at one particularly intimidating armored figure standing nearby, who rests his hand meaningfully on the hilt of the giant sword he carries. The Riders draw their weapons and reluctantly begin to make their way toward the League.

Sand Riders
F: Ex
A: Ex
S: Gd
E: Gd
R: Ty
I: Ty
P: Ty

Health: 60

Horsemanship: +2 CS to attack and -2 CS to be attacked in melee when mounted
Arakh (Dozo and Ildatto): Str + 8 damage, two attacks per turn
Whip (Qhallo): Gd damage and can make an opposed Fighting check to disarm or a Str vs Agi check to trip
Bow (Pallo): 25 damage

Well, those were the stats I gave to the Sand Riders in case the League decided to fight them. Turns out, they decided to try to escape along with the Sand Riders, so I came up with some guard stats on the fly (thank you, Marvel system) and improvised a chase scene until they were able to escape the castle grounds. The rest of the episode as it appears was improvised.

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