‘Better Angels’ Example of Play: Felix, Kazoth, Shining Diamond, and the Axe-Hole

This excerpt of Better Angels is written by Greg Stolze, © 2013, and used by permission, with commentary by Shane Ivey.

Remember Tobey, Frank and Katie, our intrepid players? Their villains are Luther Christian, Dr. Felix Barbarossa, and Wanda. They haven’t yet decided on proper supervillain names. Tobey is playing Luther Christian and also Terbat the Splendid, Wanda’s demon. Frank is playing Dr. Felix Barbarossa and Murkebaäl, Luther’s demon. Katie is playing Wanda and Kazoth the Guttering Flame, Felix’s demon.

PLAYER CHARACTER DEMON
Tobey Luther Christian Terbat (for Wanda)
Katie Wanda Kazoth (for Felix)
Frank Dr. Felix Barbarossa Murkebaäl (for Luther)

It’s time for their first session. Their GM, Sarah, has imposed a narrative contrivance on them. To wit, their demons are all pals from back during the War On Heaven and, while it’s excessive to suggest that they trust or like one another, they hate and fear each other less than they might other people.

Both Wanda (the blues musician with, so far, no last name) and Luther Christian have Virtuous Strategies that are lower than their Screwtapes’ primary Strategies, so their demons (run by Tobey and Frank, respectively) can constantly spy on their mortals but not say anything. This means that both those demons have seen images of a display of ancient Incan statuary coming to the local museum, and they’re aware that a fourth member of their little band has that statue as his amulet. But until called, they can’t do anything.

Sarah mentioned the statue to all three disparate hellbound, but only Felix Barbarossa has taken the bait. Therefore, he’s on hand to see the museum director (with a somewhat dazed expression) making his way through the moderate crowd, two guards at his side, setting up velvet ropes to keep people ten feet back from the idol. Then the director gestures to a petite woman who has a strange effect on Dr. Barbarossa.


SARAH: As soon as you look at her, you rationally know that she’s okay-looking, but nothing spectacular. Yet at the same time your emotions go crazy, spewing yearning-to-protect and affection verging on adoration all over your mental landscape.

FRANK (FELIX): …huh. Okay, something weird’s going on here, but I’m just going to play it cool for a bit.

SARAH: You’re not the only one affected. An awed hush falls over the crowd as she nears the case, and then people start babbling things at her—“I love you!” “Please help me!” “Tell me what you want!” and so forth—just as the museum director unlocks the case.

FRANK (FELIX): “Hey, what’s going on?”

SARAH: No one’s paying attention. The museum director is grunting as he tries to pull out the statue.

FRANK (FELIX): I’m going to regret this but… “Kazoth? You there?”

KATIE (KAZOTH): Oh, that’s me, right? Ahem. “Tremble, puny mortal, as dread Kazoth attends thy sniveling invocation!”

FRANK (FELIX): …yeah. So any idea what’s going on there?

SARAH: Now that you’re active, Kazoth, you can tell that the woman reaching for your demonic friend’s amulet is hosting a no-kidding angel. If you talk with her, you might be able to identify which one.

KATIE (KAZOTH): How tough are angels?

SARAH: They beat down your sorry asses in the war. What’s that tell you?

FRANK (FELIX): Do angels automatically recognize demons?

SARAH: Nope. You can get the drop on her, maybe.

Better-Angels-Felix-accusingFRANK (FELIX): Nah, I’m going to shout out at her, “Hey, that’s stealing! You’re stealing that! Thou shalt not steal!”

SARAH: Okay, what are you trying to do here?

FRANK (FELIX): A Devious Nurture attack, attempting to wear down her… um, let’s go straight after her Nurture.

KATIE (KAZOTH): Ooh, can I give him a Master Die to help with that?

SARAH: It’ll cost you a point of Corruption.

See the Cheat Sheet under “What a Screwtape Can Do.”  The demon can transform one of the host’s dice to a Master Die, which guarantees success, but it slides a Sinister Tactic to its Virtuous opposite. To slide, the Sinister Tactic must be greater than zero.

KATIE (KAZOTH): …which is zero. Okay, I guess I’m restricted to cheerleading. “Your temerity pleases Kazoth, mortal! Perhaps you shall prove a worthy host of my…”

FRANK (FELIX): Yeah, yeah, did she hear me?

SARAH: She’s trying to defend herself with Insightful Nurture.

FRANK (FELIX): So what bonuses do I get?

SARAH: None.

FRANK (FELIX): What? I’m taking her by surprise and I’m telling the truth about her stealing! That’s gotta be worth some Advantage!

SARAH: Normally, yes. But it doesn’t work against her. Making an angel doubt itself is an uphill task at the best of times, and she’s got a trick protecting her.

FRANK (FELIX): …oh. I’m rolling 6d and I get… ooh, a pair of nines!

SARAH: Holy snap, Frank! Even with a Master Die she can’t avoid the guilt trip from your pair of sixes.

FRANK (FELIX): They’re nines.

SARAH: They’re sixes now. She falters for a second, then says, “I realize this is irregular, but this statue is very dangerous. I have to dispose of it safely.” The museum director is looking a little puzzled, too.

FRANK (FELIX): I’m going to look at him and yell, “Are you just going to let her steal and destroy it? Who is she anyway?”

SARAH (AS THE MUSEUM DIRECTOR): “Um, that’s a good point… er, Miss, I don’t think I caught your name… could you, maybe, go into a little more detail about what you’re planning to do?”

FRANK (FELIX): Okay, I’m going to try and slip into the crowd so I’m blended.

SARAH: You’re in the crowd already.

FRANK (FELIX): Yeah, but I don’t want her, or anyone else, to realize that the same guy says the next thing.

SARAH: Roll Sly Cowardice to sneak around and skulk. Any set will do it. You were towards the front so getting to the back is easy. Everyone’s trying to get closer to the adorable woman.

FRANK (FELIX): Kazoth, you want to help me skulk?

KATIE (KAZOTH): …no.

FRANK (FELIX): …and I roll a pair of tens.

SARAH: You’ve skulked. What now?

FRANK (FELIX): “He’s trying to stop her! He must be evil! He’s protecting the evil statue! Get him before he hurts her!”

SARAH: What are you trying to accomplish with this?

FRANK (FELIX): I want the crowd to get riled up and mob the guards and director, or at least get mad at them so she has to deal with it.

SARAH: Okay, roll Devious Deceit to create a misunderstanding.

KATIE (KAZOTH): Have a Master Die. I can add one to this and oh, do I ever want to!

Kazoth can add a Master Die to Felix’s Deceit because it’s at 1 and so she can slide a point off it to Honesty.

FRANK (FELIX): Let’s make that a pair of tens, shall we?

SARAH: The crowd starts shoving and shouting, and now the guards are bellying up to the velvet ropes and scowling, and suddenly instead of being a little woman with a beaded handbag and recycled flip-flops, she’s a ten foot tall blazing statue made of diamonds with wings and a halo. People are openly falling down in worship. Kazoth, you do realize that if you don’t do anything, your good friend’s amulet is likely to get destroyed, confining her to the fiery furnace for the foreseeable future?

Better-Angels-shining-diamond-rampant

KATIE (KAZOTH): All we need to do is get close enough and we can start teleporting the thing away from her. She’s dealing with the crowd, right?

SARAH: Felix would have to make an Open Cowardice roll to get through the people, who are now really clumping up around her. Difficulty 3. Frank, you going to try it?

FRANK (FELIX): She hasn’t really identified me, right?

SARAH: There’s a lot going on. How would you tell?

FRANK (FELIX): All right, I’ll push to the front of the crowd again. Six dice… and look at that pair of tens and pair of eights! Haw!

SARAH: You’re right by the demon statue, but there’s a guard in front of you.

FRANK (FELIX): The crowd’s surging around, right? Can I make a Banish attack when I brush against him, without him noticing?

SARAH: Um… you can try, but that’s a multiple action between Devious Deceit and whatever you use to activate Banish.

FRANK (FELIX): Ooh. That would be four dice, trying to get two sets. Okay, I’m just going to knock down one of the rope stanchions, flop forward and land on the doodad.

SARAH: That would be either Open or Sly Cowardice.

FRANK (FELIX): I’m stronger, that’s six dice… pair of sixes.

SARAH: She’s looking at you.

FRANK (FELIX): Is anyone else from the crowd rushing forward to touch and adore her?

SARAH: No, she’s got them pretty well settled.

FRANK (FELIX): Can I grab it, use Ghost Form, and phase through the floor with it?

SARAH: If Kazoth opted to activate that Aspect, the statue would still be too heavy to take with you. But you can see a stairwell in the distance, going down. You could Banish it there.

FRANK (FELIX): All right, I’m shoving my face down to hide it and sending the thing.

SARAH: She’s trying to grab you and yank you off it before you can do anything.

FRANK (FELIX): I get… no sets.

SARAH: And she gets a pair of tens to haul you off it. You’re now dangling from her hand and she’s staring at you balefully.

FRANK (FELIX): “Kazoth, can we please phase out of this?”

KATIE (KAZOTH): “And now the mortal pleads for his mistress’ favor. Very well, squealing one. But thou owest me greatly!”

SARAH: Next round, you’re trying to use Ghost Form and she’s trying to stop you from using Ghost Form. Both happen simultaneously, so… call the roll odds or evens?

FRANK (FELIX): Odds!

KATIE (KAZOTH): Evens!

SARAH: Okay, Katie calls it… and it’s odd. Slide your point of Devious to activate the Ghost Form aspect. You start to go through her fingers when she cries “Demon!” and suddenly you’re solid again. But hey, you might as well bring out the Wings, too, since your gig is already up.

KATIE (KAZOTH): She can just switch my powers off?!?

SARAH: That one, apparently.

FRANK (FELIX): Right, I’ma Banish her hand.

SARAH: Hm… normally you’d get a fat surprise bonus, but she’s immune to bonuses…

FRANK (FELIX): What, like, all of them?

SARAH: She’s going to punch you real hard. How’s your Courage? She’s trying to take you straight out of the fight.

FRANK (FELIX): Courage two. Maybe I’ll just try to eel out of her grip before she hits me.

KATIE (KAZOTH): I’ll give up a point of Cowardice for that!

In other words, she’s adding a Master Die to it.

SARAH: Hm. You trying to avoid the blow or get away or make a multiple action for both?

FRANK (FELIX): Gah! I guess I have to avoid the punch…

SARAH: Katie, are his wings out?

“Wings” is an aspect that Felix has, which means it triggers a physical transformation of some kind. Since it’s an aspect and not a power, Kazoth has to be the one to activate it.

KATIE (KAZOTH): Not yet. Hell, if he’s going to get beat to death, he might as well die looking human.

SARAH: Roll ‘em.

FRANK (FELIX): Triple sevens, with that Master Die!

SARAH: Enough to beat her triple fives. You squirm out of the way and hear someone behind her shout, “Hey, face your real nemesis, you slutty slutface!”

KATIE: ‘Slutty slutface?’

SARAH: That’s what he says. Over her shoulder you see a guy dressed all in black, except for a narrow red triangle on his forehead and a thin red diamond in the center of his chest. Black cape, black boots, one black glove and one red, black mask.

FRANK (FELIX): Gimp or domino?

Better-Angels-axe-holeSARAH: Gimp. The mouth’s unzipped. He makes a gesture, and suddenly there’s a burning axe in his red right hand. “Prepare to face… THE AXE-HOLE!” He’s taking a swing at the diamond woman. She’s going to fly up in the air with you to avoid him.

FRANK (FELIX): I’m going to try to get away from her.

SARAH: Roll your Sly Cowardice.

FRANK (FELIX): What about Open Cowardice? It’s higher.

SARAH: Fine. She swoops up just as he swings, and…?

FRANK (FELIX): Pair of sixes.

SARAH: You slide out of her grip and sprawl on the floor. The crowd’s fleeing, except for the guards, who are pulling out their nightsticks.

FRANK (FELIX): Grab the statue and send it to the stairwell.

SARAH: You sure? You’re actually the most Cunning person here, so you can wait and see what the Shining Diamond and Axe-Hole do first.

FRANK (FELIX): Oh. I’ll do that, then.

SARAH: Axe-Hole points at a guard and says, “You know what I like to do in a museum? Deface things.” Shining Diamond swoops down at him.

FRANK (FELIX): …yeah, still thinking I’ll send the statue to the steps. Two sevens, two fours! On four dice! Thank you very much!

KATIE: Your dice are hot today.

SARAH: A red scrap of flesh appears in Axe-Hole’s hand while a guard screams and clutches his now-bleeding head. Then the Diamond crashes into him and he gets flung back a good ten feet. You teleport the statue away just like you wanted while the crowd stampedes, the museum director flees, and one guard tries to help the other. Next round, Axe is going to start swinging wildly at the crowd, Diamond shouts “I forbid you to harm these people!” and Katie? You get the feeling that Ghost Form might just work now.

KATIE (KAZOTH): Really? Oh, let’s do that!

FRANK (FELIX): Can I get through the floor?

SARAH: Yep. Although… are you willing to let the crowd get mangled by that dude with the fire-axe?

FRANK (FELIX): When the elephants struggle, it’s the grass that gets trampled.

SARAH: Wow. Classy. If you just want to sneak away, you can easily do that with wings and… what, two more Ghost Form switches? If you just bugger off, that closes the scene. If you go after the statue, things continue.

FRANK (FELIX): Either one of those guys could pulverize me with a single hit, right?

SARAH: It’ll take at least two. Or one from each, I suppose.

FRANK (FELIX): Buggering off, ma’am.

KATIE (KAZOTH): “What? Dost abandon my comrade in craven fear? Truly, thou art as weak in thy loyalty to me as thou art to thine Physician’s Oath.”

FRANK (FELIX): “Put a sock in it, Kazoth.”

At this point everybody agrees the scene’s over. That means the Screwtape for each villain who was involved can argue to increase one of the villain’s Sinister Tactics to reflect deepening wickedness, and the villain’s player can argue to decrease a Sinister Tactic to reflect repentence and wisdom.

SARAH: All right, is there a Tactic you can raise, Katie?

KATIE (KAZOTH): Oh yeah! Let’s see what Felix did… Cowardice? Humiliate someone. Humiliating yourself presumably doesn’t count. So using Cowardice for what it says on the tin doesn’t improve it? Greed… steal something useless, would the statue count? No? Crud… For Cruelty I need to kill someone. Didn’t do that. Espionage? Need a victory gloat, which implies victory. Drat. Well, Corruption needs minions in service and I sure as hell don’t have the open betrayal and mockery I need for Deceit.

SARAH: Sounds like a whole lotta nothing. Frank? Got anything to turn Sinister Tactics Virtuous?

FRANK (FELIX): I can’t turn virtue back into sin?

SARAH: Nope. This is repentance we’re talking about.

And as you can see from the Cheat Sheet, it’s a lot of nothing for Felix, too. He comes closest with “Learning something new and important,” which would slide Espionage to Knowledge, but his Espionage is already at zero so it can’t slide anywhere.

Coming up tomorrow: How to prep an instant Better Angels game!

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