The Rise of Set – GenCon 2004 Demo

For this demo we established that the story would be a fantasy set in ancient Egypt.  The Pharaoh’s son has been kidnapped.  There is a prophecy about the return of the evil god Set which will be fulfilled if the son is not returned in 10 days.  We knew from the beginning, as part of the Tenets, that the villain behind this prophecy would be the Pharaoh’s chief advisor, Sekhem.  We also knew that one of the advisor’s chief servants is having second thoughts about his participation in this plot and has left a map to the son’s whereabouts.
The first scene opens in the throne room where the Pharaoh has just given orders to the captain of the guard to find his son.  Sekhem assigns his servant to help in the search, and to sabotage it as necessary.  But the servant instead warns the guard captain of the advisor’s plot.  He saw Sekhem reading the rituals to summon Set back to Egypt from an ancient scroll.

The captain reports this to Pharaoh who doesn’t believe the ridiculous story and orders the servant thrown in chains.  The queen isn’t so sure, and orders Sekhem to be brought before her.  But Sekhem slips away down a secret passage.

Anuka, a Priestess of Isis, informs the queen of the prophecy and her suspicions of Sekhem’s role in it.  When Sekhem’s servant reveals the location of the secret passage, Pharaoh orders his guards to go down it, and Anuka secretly follows them.  The route leads down into catacombs beneath the palace and as the guards follow the servant’s map they set off a trap which collapses the passage way.  All of the guards but the captain are killed and Anuka must find another way around.

Meanwhile, Sekhem has reached the Pharaoh’s son and has taken him to a natural cavern beyond the catacombs.  An inky dark river runs through the center of the cavern.  There is something stirring beneath the surface.  The son is shackled to a post at the river’s edge.

Here it is revealed that Set is trapped in this underground river.  If one of the royal dynastic bloodline is drown in its waters before the next planetary alignment (in 10 days), the prophecy will be fulfilled and Set will be free to bring a new age of darkness upon the land.

While Sekhem is busy preparing the ritual, Anuka reaches the chamber.  She has had a vision from Isis that has led her here and knows what the return of Set means.  She cannot allow the Pharaoh’s son to be drowned in that river.  She also knows she is not powerful enough to defeat Sekhem’s sorcery.  So before the advisor can stop her she reaches the boy and with her ceremonial dagger slits his throat.  Already dead, he cannot fulfill the prophecy.

Set arises from the river in rage.  He speaks words of doom and dark magic.  The priestess desperately tries to ward off his power with her charms.

At this point, the lost guard captain enters the chamber.  The advisor is in the midst of casting a dark spell when the captain strikes him unconscious and throws him into the river.  He then tries to take the boy out of the chamber.

Here it is revealed that Sekhem, the Chief Advisor to Pharaoh, is actually of the royal bloodline himself and was seeking to usurp his cousin’s throne.  As he drowns in the river his own death fulfills the prophecy.  Set is unleashed to bring darkness upon the land.


Featured Effect, Twists and Turns:
This demo was characterized by the many twists the story took.  From the beginning we knew what the problem was (the son and the prophecy), we knew who the villain was (Sekhem the chief advisor), and we knew how to start solving the problem (the map to the son’s location).  All of this was outlined in advance and known to all of the players right from the tenet phase.

Yet it was from there that all of the interesting stuff happened.  In traditional play it is common place for the GM to try to keep secrets from the players so they won’t figure out the mystery too soon and ruin the story.  Here, however, we started already knowing most of the key secrets, and due to the authority given to the individual players to direct events still wound up with plenty of suspense and plot twists.

The Pharaoh sends the guards to find his son.  Twist: Sekhem sends his servant to sabotage the guards efforts.  Twist: the servant betrays Sekhem to the guards.  Twist: the Pharaoh doesn’t believe him.  Twist:  the queen does.  Twist: Sekhem escapes down a secret passage.  Twist: the servant knows the passage and in fact that’s what the map is of.  Twist: Sekhem moves the son’s location so now the map is useless.

The guards and the priestess set off after Sekhem.  Twist: a trap collapses the passage.  Twist: a vision allows the priestess to arrive anyway.  Twist: Sekhem’s already on the verge of fulfilling the prophecy by drowning the boy.  Twist: the Priestess kills the boy herself so the prophecy can’t be fulfilled.

Most of the guards were killed by the trap in the passage.  Twist: the Guard Captain survived and arrives in time to defeat Sekhem.  Twist: throwing Sekhem in the river fulfills the prophecy anyway.

The entire demo was an example of playing hot potato with the plot.  In appearance it resembles play where a GM has a huge multi-branching storyline and the players choose one branch or another as they move through it.  But the big difference is that the branching story line was created in play dynamically in real time.  The chosen branches were developed further and the non chosen branches where never developed at all.  The process was at once both cooperative and, with this group of players, (which included co-designer Mike Holmes) rife with one-ups-manship as each player strove to be the one to come up with the absolute coolest ending for the story.

 —Ralph Mazza

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