Primetime Adventures: Ironwall, Pilot Episode, “The Hill”

((Our pitch session is here. The cast includes:

  • Cam, mechanic and tinkerer-savant
  • Joseph, one of the pillars of the settlement, hiding a terrible secret
  • Lennox, border guard, the survivor of a wiped-out settlement
  • Sienna, practitioner of black magic who has already paid high prices

The rest of the session follows below, as recounted by TWoP.

But first, a few observations on how to achieve successful, fun play in PTA, garnered in part from a recent ‘tips’ discussion on Story-Games, proven by last night’s session:

  • SUPER IMPORANT RULE ONE: Keep Stakes limited to what the character wants out of the scene. Let me emphasize this: what the character (not player) wants (not ‘what will happen’).
    • Bullshit: “If I win, a, b, and c happens, in that order, in this way, such that we needn’t even play it out.”
    • Not Bullshit: “My guy wants to find out more about X if I win.” or “My guy wants to be impressively competent if I win.”
    • This is so simple, and in the past I’ve seen it done wrong (and done it wrong) so many times.
  • IMPORTANT Rule Two: The high card narrates the conflict, but THE GM STILL INTRODUCES “PLOT” FACTS. Put another way: “This is PTA, not Inspectres.”
    • Bad – The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for… “FATHER DONNELLY!”
    • Good- The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for…” *turns to GM to fill in the blank*
  • Do not include specific consequences of failure or success when setting Stakes. Leave that up to the High Card player. Just. Say. What. You. Want.

Other good things to remember:

  • The Producer frames all scenes. The players just take turns requesting scenes, providing a focus, location and an agenda.
    • On the agenda: Don’t overcomplicate. The agenda should simply be what the characters are “up to” on the surface, not what the whole scene is going to be about.
  • Not every scene must have a conflict.

Right: enough rules chatter – on with the recounting of heroics.


We open to a boom-camera easing down from a really high shot in an urban setting: a stone building, its exterior lit by firelight. It’s the front of a train station, and you can see in the firelight that it’s Grand Central Terminal, except “Grand” and “Terminal” are gone — it’s just dirty shadows of those words on the wall, and the only part of the sign left is “Central.” There are torches lighting things up, and some BIG fire down below, which the camera is still sliding down toward. We ease past a big hairy goat head that’s on fire, jammed on top of a light post — if this is New York, it has seen better days, but we know that from the ads we’ve been seeing on HBO, don’t we?

We finally get the camera low enough to see the action on the street, and it’s pretty much an organized mob scene. People are shouting, some are struggling… okay, it looks like most of the struggling is kids of various sizes, and sometimes their parents. The people hauling them along are dressed like everyone else, except they’re all wearing metal-looking armbands. How comforting.

Armband guys are dragging the kids into a big group in front of… yeah, the big bonfire, where some soot-smeared guy is riling up the crowd with lots of angry word-things. Rhetoric. Like that. He’s shouting about The Law, and how all Changelings must be purged out before they Destroy Us. He doesn’t look like he entirely buys it, though. Also, he’s pretty, in a anvil-jaw kind of way. He’s maybe the first protag for the show. I haven’t seen him in anything else.

I also haven’t seen this Morgan Le Fey-looking red head who’s lurking around the edges of the kid-crowd, searching faces. Looks like she’s looking for someone. Another armband guy comes by with a younger girl in his arms, and she stops him to peer at her face. While she’s doing that, you hear someone off screen shout “Dammit, it BIT me!” and the soldier boy looks at the noise, his eyes widen, and he hands the girl to The Redhead, says something like “Hold this for a second” and runs off to help. The Redhead and the girl stare at each other.

The girl’s eyes get all sneaky and grown-up looking. “I know you! I know what you want! I can help you! Get me out of here!” The show used up its budget of whispered exclamation points in one line.

-=-

MEANWHILE, someone unconscionably pretty is looking on the whole scene from the side, up on some steps — maybe from across the street. It’s… okay, it’s John Rhys Meyers with something like a sexy flattop haircut. Standing next to him is a kind-faced old man, dressed like a priest.

The old guy asks what John Rhys Meyers is thinking, and calls him “son”, so yeah… priest. Meyers says “I was thinking: ‘what have we done?'” The old guy says “we are helping, if we can”. We hear more commotion indicating that the kids have gone feral bitey bitey, and Meyers looks at the old guy, who gives him a ‘go do something’ chin nod, and he sighs and runs toward the big crowd. Armband guys are separating the big crowd of kids and handing them out to nearby people.

Meyers gets one handed to him by… Bill Paxton? Paxton says something like “watch his teeth”, and Meyers holds the kid at arm length.

The kids eyes get big. “It’s you!”

Meyers looks… really scared and confused.

-=-

Now we’re with an armband-guy, standing in silhouette in a doorway of a house. In the room is a mother standing between armband guy and her kids; a couple boys about kickball-game tall. Her husband’s there too, giving good brood. Armband guy steps into the light… and it’s Viggo Mortensen. Seriously? There not going to have any budget left for effects after this casting call. Maybe it’s just for the pilot, but damn.

The mother is shaking her head and saying ‘no no no’ and Viggo McArmband looks all soft in the eyes and sympathetic. The husband steps up to him and asks if they really have to check this, and Viggo assures them it’s just to be sure, and he knows it’ll come to nothing. He goes down on a knee to get eye level to the mom, and they look at each other with one of those “million-terrabyte-data-transfer” looks, and he says “Come on, Sis, it’ll be okay.” He kind of moves her out of the way, with her whispering “okay” semi-hysterically.

But the boys are NOT okay, they try to bolt, and their dad has to haul them over to Viggo, who’s reassuring them that it’s just a touch of iron, and they can go back to bed. We see his hand, where he has some kind of heavy iron ring on every hand, or it’s a kind of brass knuckles – iron knuckles, whatever.

Viggo looks kind and reassuring, and he takes one of the kid’s arms, and just holds the rings to the arm, and we watch his face, and hear some kind of sizzling, and we see Viggo’s face go totally stone-cold as the mom goes kind of hysterical in the background. He reaches for the other kid, does the same thing, and every ounce of life drains out of his face. Viggo is scary. His hands wrap around the boys throats, his fingers tighten on their necks, and he says “Where are they?”

COMMERCIAL BREAK

[[CONFLICT: What does everyone want?

JOSEPH (the pretty boy) wants to find out what the changeling boy knows about him — who he is… something about his own history. He’s using both his “Glamours” and “Pillar of the Community” traits.

LENNOX (Viggo) wants to find out when his nephews were exchanged with changelings. He’s bringing in his “Borderer” trait and his connection with his younger sister, whom we haven’t seen yet.

SIENNA (The Redhead) want to prove that the child in her arms doesn’t know anything about her or what she wants. She pulls up her Sorcery edge, and that’s about it.

CAM (the guy by the fire) is not in this conflict.

THE GM wants to get a lot of Budget out into the middle of the table, where it becomes spendable Fan Mail, and he thinks all these things would be interesting if the protagonists fail, so he spends 5 fan mail from his pool of 19 and gets to play 6 cards.

RESULT: Sienna loses, Joseph wins, Lennox loses. GM NARRATES.

Here’s what happened:]]

AND WE’RE BACK

The Redhead (the website cast page calls her Sienna) shakes the girl a little bit and says “you don’t know anything.” We flashback to a bloodier, stained, tired Sienna coming back into a house in the past, dropping some bloody implements on the table, then glancing at an empty bed, he eyes going wide, and panic spreading over her face…

… and we’re back. The girl is VERY EMPHATICALLY saying that she DOES know what The Redhead wants, and if she would just get them both OUT OF HERE, she will…

… and one of the armband guys is suddenly in extreme foreground, taking the girl off Redhead’s hands and carrying her off to the fire.

Sienna wants to protest, but she bites it back — whatever information she wants, she doesn’t want to advertise it.

-=-

Pretty boy looks around and starts to quick-walk off with the wide-eyed boy. Some extra on the set gets in his way and gives him a look, and he addresses her by name and says he needs to ‘question this thing’, and she kind of half-nod-bows to him and lets him be. He steps into a doorway in a building, and suddenly the door is a stone wall that matches the rest of the building. Apparently, the Prettyboy is MAGIC.

Inside the now-private alcove, he turns on the kid and turns on the Interrogate. The wide-eyed kid-thing says something like “You’re one of us. The FIRST one of us. The one we all hope to emulate!”

But what does that mean?

“You’re the KERRIGAN.”

Ohhh… the Kerrigan… wait… what? I don’t —

Something that the kid says makes prettyboy forget his little fake-wall illusions, and it fades, and an armband guy walks by and says “Here, I’ll take him back, Joseph,” and he does that, and Joseph is left a lot like Redhead — wanting to ask more, but afraid to give himself away.

-=-

Viggo (who the husband… I guess his brother-in-law, calls “Len”) is still half-choking the boys and saying “tell me when you took them, tell me where they are, and I. Will. Take. You. To. The. Park.” He says this as though he is making a big compromise, and being a real stand-up guy, but it sounds a little creepy.

Some younger woman who looks a little like the crying mom comes in through the open door. She looks a little badass. She’s got a metal armband. She takes in the scene, asks what’s going on, then says “Len?” and catches the marks on the boys arms and he face goes from angry-confused to angry-sad.

“How do you know it wasn’t years ago?” says one kid. “Maybe we’ve been here for years…” says the other. They totally out-creep the “take you to the park” offer.

“I’m offering you a way out of here,” *Len* says. “You should take it.”

“Len,” says younger armband woman. “They’re coming.”

“Awwww,” says one kid. “You don’t want to see these faces get hurt. You really *love* them. That’s aDORable.” The other one leans in and says “You get to watch them burn.”

The woman-girl says “Len” again, and then there are some silhouettes at the door, asking if everything is okay. We watch Len’s face while he angsts over what to do, and can hear the girl-woman Han Soloing the guys outside the door, but he says “No,” stands up, drags the boys outside amidst hysterical older-sister-wails, and tells the other two armbands “these two have both been switched.”

Then he drags both of them. To the fire. Personally. Damn.

-=-

All the kids (not ALL the kids, but all the kids that are going to get burned) have been gathered up, and the first guy repeats the thing about All Changelings Get Burned or We All Die, and then the cage around the bonfire opens up, and all these kids are thrown in, and the door gets pushed shut, and there’s burning.

Now, the babies going on the fire turn out to chunks of wood, not living things, so that’s okay, but the bigger kids are … something else. Their faces get all long and their skin turns weird-colors and their ears and fingers are super long and they are clearly NOT kids. Some scream, but some of them dance around.

The dancing ones dance faster and faster, and get brighter and brighter, and there’s this crazybright flash and the fireballs of evil kid fly into the sky and arc off into the sky like big bottle rockets… all going kind of the same direction, and not coming down.

“Len” watches them go, his eyes big, then he yanks out a big knife, stabs the ground between his feet, and scrapes a line in the stone that follows the direction those fireball kids went. In the background we can see that the non-dancing evil kids have keeled over and died.

He looks up at the fire-trails again, checks his mark on the ground, and shouts “Bring me a compass!” over his shoulder.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

(My god, this is already 2400 words. My poor fingers.)

-=-

Sienna is in her house, and it looks like she’s tossing things in the garbage. Weird things. Fancy knives. Bits of cloth and paper and feathers and whatever else will make us think “Magic Supplies.”

There’s suddenly a asexual “man” in the room with her, tsking and saying things like “Oh, you shouldn’t throw all that away.”

Sienna disagrees — all that ‘this’ has ever done has hurt people and cost her. Better to just be rid of it.

Mr. Asexy (cast list online calls him “Blackwing”, so apparently he’s a faerie man… or someone’s old DnD character) points out that she’s also one of the best weapons “your people” have, even if they don’t know it… and might throw her on a fire of her own even if they did. In any case, she’s just feeling sorry for herself, moping about when she is perhaps the only one who can tell where those changelings went, and why. Sienna kvetches that if she did figure that out, they’d know what she was. He points that she lives about four minutes’ walk from the largest library still held by mortals, and that a little research provides any explanations she requires… and, again, she should just suck it up and quit moping. She looks a little shamed at that, and starts putting things back. He starts to nag her a bit more, and she orders him away. Wonder of wonder, he goes with a little bow. Sassy.

-=-

Lennox goes back and faces the wrath of his family, which is pretty wrath-y. The sister who is the kid’s mom is pretty much in a coma, but the younger sister with the armband is laying into him pretty good. Lennox asks the brother in law (Brom? It sounded like his name was Brom) and the angry-sis (C-something. Cecille? The mom-sister is Cordelia, so two C’s is confusing…) if either of them know who would know about changelings and what the bottle rocket imitation was all about, and where the real boys might be. They look at each other like they all know the answer.

-=-

And we’re watching the handsome rabble rouser from the bonfire, who is now walking along a dark street with seriously cracked pavement, overgrown with plants and flowers and trees. A cat slinks across his path, followed a few seconds later by a coyote or fox or something.

He stops as the street opens up and the moon falls on an open grassy space with … well, trees and vegetation… maybe farmed land… I don’t know. And it’s dark. He’s searching this open area with his eyes and kind of has a junkie expression — like he wants someone to be there, but at the same time he doesn’t.

Another fox type critter is running out of the open area. (Is my NYC geography wrong, or would that be uber-natured Central Park?) About halfway to him, it does something shifty and looks like a short little goblin guy, and keeps running toward us. The guy steps back into an alley to hide, but the gnome-looking thing pulls up at the alley and sniffs, and sniffs some more, and finally says “I know you’re there, Cam; She wants to see you.” And yes, he was saying She, not she – you could hear it.

Cam says something about how he’s surprised that the faeries in Central Park haven’t bugged out, since his friends just has a changeling barbecue down the street. The little guy (cast list says Fiezel) says they had nothing to do with it, as could be clearly told by the way some of them ‘escaped’ at the end. He mentions again that “She” wants to see Cam.

Cam looks torn, like a recovering alcoholic offered a drink after a really bad day. There’s more foot-dragging, but he follows the little guy back into the wilds of The Park.

(Hey: “The Park.” With fairies in it. This would be where Lennox was promising to take the fake-nephews if they gave up the goods. So… okay, yeah, a good offer. Also: if faeries are bad mojo, why are Our Heroes living like… 10 blocks from a bunch of them?)

Gnome-boy leads our Cam into a … well, it’s bower. I barely know what that word means, but it’s clearly a bower. We see the silhouette of some woman kissing some other figure goodbye, then the woman figure comes around into Cam’s waiting space and … it’s Michelle Pfeiffer. Seriously: did they get a 22-episode budget and blow it on a six-episode mini-series? My god.

So Cam and her circle around each other, sparring words and CLEARLY just killing time until they get to the Sex. Cam is maybe in denial about it, but oh yeah – they’re going to at it real soon, and this is HBO, so we get to watch. Cam’s moaning about some hold she has on him; she says it’s love; he asks if that’s even possible for her; she looks mock-affronted – surely the Queen of Flowers can feel love? She offers him wine; he asks if THAT’S how she keeps him coming back; she smiles that he knows exactly why he comes … back. The audience smirks.

[[CONFLICT: Cam wants proof that the reason he succumbs to the Queen is not him… but something she’s doing to him. He only draws a few cards, but beats the GM anyway. GM narrates.]]

Queen Michelle says that even if she’d drugged the wine, he’s still enjoying himself, so what’s the harm? He shakes his head, and says he gives up for now – he’s beat that bush enough. She disagrees with the best line so far. “Oh, I must disagree.” The camera pulls back, and while it looks as though they’ve been pacing around each other, we realize they’ve been steadily getting closer closer until they’re practically wearing each other clothes. Then they drink a slug of the wine, then they get rid of the clothes, and lo, there is a mighty bush-beating. Yowza.

-=-

We see Joseph, far away from the “Central” settlement, near a river, climbing the side of building that’s totally overgrown with vines and things — much have had a roof garden at some point. We get a little more visual of the city, even though it’s night time… whatever river this is, most of the bridges are gone — we can see two suspension bridges that are nothing but the pylons. Joseph isn’t looking at that, though — he’s looking up in the sky, and then we short-flash on the face of that fake-kid saying “You’re the first, one of use, the Kerrigan…” et cetera.

He turns to a tree that’s growing on the roof where he’s standing, and waves his hands over the bark, like he’s sketching in sand with a fingertip. We see a face appear in the tree, details added with each handwave, until we see an image of some kind of faerie face… probably HIS face, if he looked like a faerie, and not like a human. Maybe how he looks ‘for real?’ If so, why not just drop whatever disguise he’s got on, and show that? Curious.

Pretty Boy’s in denial.

-=-

COMMERCIAL

-=-

Morning: grey, rainy morning, and we’re in a fancy old library. Sienna is sitting at a table covered in open books, and the old priest guy is there too. She calls him “Father”, so yeah… priest. Lennox-Viggo comes in with a couple other Iron Armband guys (one of which is Bill Paxton), and the priest has them sit down.

Pretty Boy Joseph shows up and the priest greets him by name. He replies “Hi Dad,” and sits next to him. Dad? Not.. priest? Priest and Dad, both?

Or… no. Joseph is maybe one of the changeling things… so… raised by the priest for a long time? That works. The Catholic Church welcoming those of Alternate Lifestyles, though? Weird.

The priest checks to make sure that everyone’s there for the Morning Exposition, but no, we’re missing…

Cam walks in, looking like he was rode hard and put away… well… yeah.

Now we can start.

EXPOSITION: Lemme sum up.

Based on the faerie tales in All These Big Old Books, changelings can be swapped in for kids. They knew this. Usually, there’s never so many. Maybe one, ever, but it looks like they Fey swapped in damn near all the kids in “Central”.

When a changeling is dropped in a fire, they’re supposed to “jump out of the chimney and back to the child they replaced”… there was no chimney on the Big Bonfire of Fake Babies, but the same idea holds.

So… the ones whose replacement kids were out there to return to… they were the ones that blasted off. The ones that stayed in the fire and died… those kids are already dead. Still: that’s like two-thirds of the kids, still alive as of last night.

So they need to go get the kids. Based on Lennox and the compass thing, they no the direction as the crow flies, and can guess distance, and Sienna has some solid guesses on where to go to find The Hill.

The Hill? Oh yeah, the kids are totally inside a Faerie Mound.

Cam says he knows most of the faerie mounds near the island (we just bet you do, Cam), and there aren’t that direction. Priest guy says that’s true – it’s probably 4 or 5 days on foot… or they could go faster on the rails…

… if only they knew someone who could get one of the train engines running again.

Everyone looks at Cam. Ahh. That’s why they waited for him.

-=-

We see the same basic group walking across a big iron bridge (The Hellgate) and walking to a big train yard (in what would be Brooklyn). Cam looks things over, makes a serious -man-work-face, and says “Gimme a day… and bring me these supplies.”

*Cue A-team montage.*

We see the repairs going on, with everyone chipping in. Joseph looks sicker and sicker as the day goes on, which we see sort of side-ways explained when someone mentions scraping rust off of all these trains and into satchels to use “in their Hill”, because the Faeries hate iron.

Right, so if Joseph is a faerie, this whole day sucks for him. Come to think of it, he looked pretty bad just crossing the big iron bridge.

I’m sorry, the show is great, and the game was great, but if I keep this up, the summary will be about 8000 words, and I don’t have that much time, so…

Act Three

Our heroes and appropriate numbers of redshirt NPCs head over the Hellgate bridge and north up the tracks.

[[There is a conflict between Cam and Lennox in which Cam wants to prove to Lennox that he can be relied on and not micromanaged, and Lennox wants to prove to everyone that he should be leading missions like this. They BOTH lose. The argument gets heated, and in the middle of it, someone shouts, Cam looks forward, sees that the tracks are out, hits every brake he has, and throws the first could wheels off the track. And the damage to the track was just an illusion, anchored on a tiny little sapling that was growing out of the tracks. Nice.]]

Cam, Bill Paxton (“Hawk”), Lennox, Sienna, and Joseph go foraging in the surrounding ruined suburbs (seriously – nothing but chimneys and lots of rotting wood) for something they can use to get the train levered back onto the track.

  • Joseph wants to prove his worth (win)
  • Cam wants to avoid further temptation and stay on track (lose)
  • Lennox wants to lead effectively (win)
  • Sienna wants to be helpful (win)

Joseph follows his iron-sense to a metal shop in a strip mall, where they find jacks and such. Sienna also finds a couple iron washers that she “does something” to so that if you look through them, you can see through faerie glamours.

Cam… cam comes back with a tinkerbell-sized fairy sidekick who whispers advice and lewd suggestions in his ear… who no one else seems to notice.

There are many amusing camera shots and blocking in the scenes to keep Joseph from getting looked at through the washers.

They group gets back on track and finally pulls up at dusk in Greenwich (Green Witch). Scouting the area with the washers reveals which hill is actually a big faerie mound, and they decide to storm it now with their weapons and bags of rust, rather than let the fey take shots at them all night long.

ACT FOUR

Big fight/rescue scene in the Hill. The GM is throwing down six cards on the conflict. Lots of Fan Mail was played.

  • Joseph wants to find out more about “The Kerrigan.” (win)
  • Cam just wants to make it in and out of the Hill without screwing anything or getting conveniently captured. (win)
  • Lennox wants to get his nephews out. (win)
  • Sienna wants to save as many children as she can by doing GOOD, instead of the BAD she always seems to cause. (FAIL)

Joseph ends up in a verbal show down with the Duke controlling this outlying Hill in a greater realm. The duke knows him, bemoans the fact that Joseph has “gone native” and seemingly forgotten who he is but “reassures” Joseph that despite all that, Joseph has still accomplished everything they’d hoped. Joseph wants to know more, but the Duke says that while he’s served Joseph’s line for a thousand years, he’s not dying here… more explanations will be forthcoming from their agent within the settlement. Then whoosh of wind and dust, and he’s gone.

Cam maintains a semblance of control thanks to the pixie on his shoulder who bites his ear whenever he starts to lose focus.

Lennox and the angry-sister face down an elfin knight who had apparently adopted the nephews as pets. Lennox gets beat up Harrison Ford style, but prevails.

Sienna rescues lots of children, but does so in an utterly terrifying manner – a la Evil Willow, and the children flee from her in terror – she is the stuff of nightmares.

FINAL CONFLICT: ESCAPE

It was getting over-late at this point, but we had to see what happened.

We ran this as a chase scene. I dropped five cards on it (my remaining budget), people spent some fan mail, and everyone pretty much pulled out a win, though it looked close for awhile. Bill Paxton’s “Hawk” got eaten by yellowjacket faeries… Lennox got a couple glass arrows in him. Sienna picked up a bag of rust with a magic whirlwind and spread it into the pursuing horde to good effect, and Cam pulled a Fonzie on the Train and got it running full speed back home.

We get a nice shot of everyone riding home… the kids asleep on each other… Joseph riding on the roof to stay out of the iron box as much as possible… and the Ironwall getting closer and closer in the distance.

Fin


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