¡Viva el Zorro! at Chupacabracon IV

While I really need to write a longer post about Chupacabracon IV as a whole, let me tell you about my ¡Viva el Zorro! game. It was – without a doubt – the best convention game I’ve ever run, filled with the thrill and excitement of the best home group games and the kind of emotion I’ve only ever felt in my duets with Robin. Everyone was invested, and that’s probably to the credit of Zorro, not myself.

As anyone familiar with the blog knows, I’m a huge Zorro fan. I wanted this session to be special, so I put a lot of work into the presentation. I printed up about 50 or so paper miniatures to represent the heroes and the villains (including about 30 lancers to make sure the heroes understood the odds and knew a frontal assault wouldn’t work) and cobbled together two battle maps out of Pinnacle’s fort and village sets for Weird Wars Rome and D20 Cartographer’s One Dollar Dungeon: Rogue’s Reward Prison. Character sheets contained full-color illustrations of the characters matching the miniatures and were designed with clarity in mind.

I didn’t, however, put a lot of work into plot. I improvise a lot when running games at home, and I prefer to try doing that at conventions as well. It didn’t work quite as well as it could have with this year’s Savage Rifts® x Fairy Tail and The King is Dead games, but neither of them were bad either. It was a huge success with Zorro.

Just go back a few days on this blog and you’ll see the entirety of what I wrote down for the game. The thing is, this was completely necessary. The game could not possibly have worked if there was any more structure to it than “Zorro is captured and you have to break him out.” (The only tweak I made was to lampshade that the characters who know Don Diego is Zorro knew what they were doing, but the rest were there to rescue Don Diego himself, assuming his arrest was a mistake.) This was a game that was going to live or die on the give and take between the players and GM.

Thankfully, I had awesome players. The Ross Watson (game designer, writer, professional nerd, and friend) dropped in late to live the role of Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (pitching his participation as “Don Diego cannot possibly be Zorro! Obviously, he was arrested on the way to a costume party!”) which meant hurried corrections to a duplicate Don Audre character sheet to turn him into Don Alejandro Vega (but I already had a Don Alejandro mini, just in case) and that someone had to play Tornado, Zorro’s horse. Scott Crosson stepped into that role with aplomb, playing Tornado more in the style of the Antonio Banderas movies or like Roy Rogers’ Trigger, never letting the fact that he was horse stop him from being active in any scene.

Aaron Burkett of the Minionworks Podcasting Network and the Doom Rides blog breathed fire into Jose of the Cocopahs, reveling in the rebellion at colonialism inherent in that character. Carolyn Pagan, arriving late, nevertheless gave a great showing as Don Alejandro. Sean McDaniel, with whom I had talked Zorro well into the wee hours of the previous night, stepped into Don Audre’s shoes and played him with verve and panache, embracing the caballero’s Death Wish [Minor] to prove himself Zorro’s equal.

Embarrassingly (but typically for me), I failed to quite catch the name of the brave soul who chose to play the mute Bernardo. It isn’t easy to play an RPG character who doesn’t speak, but his player executed it well. I believe that player was Darren Hennessey, and I apologize if it wasn’t.

Rounding out the cast was Kelley Foote, contributor to TSR’s original Oriental Adventures and OA1: Swords of the Daimyo, and his ten year-old daughter (whom I wouldn’t name even if I could remember her name, what with the internet being a terrible place for children’s information) who played Lolita Pulido and Anita Santiago respectively. It still surprises me that a distinguished gentleman like Foote so effectively played the wilting senorita, but the bloodthirsty relish with which that little girl played Anita Santiago (a fully-clothed spin on Lady Rawhide) was even more astonishing.

The session began with a brief serenade from me, singing the first verse of the classic Disney Zorro theme before we briefly got off track on who our favorite Zorros were.

The story proper began with Tornado returning alone to Zorro’s secret cave to summon Bernardo to aid their master. They rushed back to where Zorro had fallen only to see him dragged away by lancers from the presidio, with Captain Torello gloating above the hero’s unconscious body. I gave them a Dramatic Task to summon all of Zorro’s allies within five actions, letting them choose what attributes and skills they used for the task. Each summoned ally then was able to summon more allies, which led to some awkwardness on how to handle Gonzales ordering his soldiers to race toward various haciendas but we settled on Intimidation as the appropriate skill.

Once everyone was assembled at the Vega hacienda, a pair of lancers rode past on galloping horses, undoubtedly bearing a message to the governor. Jose’s superior riding skills and Tornado’s incredible speed made short work of one rider, as the war chief of the Cocopahs leapt from the saddle to tackle his man to the ground (with a roll so high I just ruled all damage from the fall was absorbed by the poor sap he jumped on). The other lancer was dragged from his mount by Don Audre and Anita Santiago simultaneously whipping him about the arms and jerking him off the horse. The heroes confirmed that Captain Torello’s letter requested the governor come to Zorro’s execution, but didn’t name Don Diego as the masked man.

The heroes debated their course of action for a bit. Ross spent a Benny to declare that Captain Torello had never met the governor, and I agreed. They then decided that Don Alejandro would disguise himself as the governor, while everyone else disguised themselves as his retinue. Lolita Pulido used her Connections Edge to recruit a small group of senoritas to lure away some lancers from the presidio, while Don Audre and Don Alejandro recruited caballeros to play at being an honor guard and fight on their side. Gonzales turned some of the long-term soldiers at the fort to the side of the angels.

If I remember correctly, Don Alejandro parked his carriage (and large escort) outside the presidio and sent the disguised Don Audre, Anita, Bernardo, and Lolita inside to demand the captain come to him. I paid Ross his Benny back and declared that inside the captain’s office was a hired duelist called Culebra who knew the governor’s party couldn’t possibly be here so soon. Culebra, Torello, and Audre went outside while the rest lingered behind.

Culebra declared that he didn’t recognize this supposed governor, leading to a brief Social Conflict between the duelist and Don Alejandro to convince Captain Torello. Suddenly, Jose showed up on Tornado in a homemade Zorro outfit, throwing the entire scene into confusion. Culebra drew his sword and attacked Don Alejandro while Don Audre rallied the caballeros against the soldiers, quickly finding himself in a duel with Torello.

Inside the presidio, Gonzales began running about shouting contradictory orders while Lolita barred the door to the office. Anita began slapping around soldiers loyal to the captain, while Gonzales’ men turned against their fellow lancers. Bernardo slipped past the guards to pick the locks on Zorro’s cell door.

Despite being overmatched by their opponents, Don Audre and Don Alejandro at least managed to parry and frustrate Torello and Culebra. Jose used his bow to keep up cover fire while Tornado waited for his chance.

With Zorro freed, I handed his character sheet over to Darren to play, rewarding his frustrating time as the mute Bernardo with a chance to be a real hero. Tornado came rushing to his master’s side, bearing the outlaw and Lolita Pulido off to the battle. Anita Santiago, in the meantime, finished single-handedly defeating all of the lancers inside the prison and offices while Gonzales waited things out.

It took two rounds to move Zorro into battle, so I let Darren take a second turn (it was only fair). The powerful, Legendary Rank+ title character swiftly defeated Culebra, and Darren made the incredibly awesome choice to declare that instead of killing the duelist who struck his father, he instead crippled him so badly that he could never hold a sword again.

Sean McDaniel should have played Zorro on the next round, but instead he chose to be super-cool and give his turn to poor Scott Crosson, gamely playing a horse the whole time. Scott proceeded to disarm Torello with a single attack and demanded the captain’s surrender. I gave Torello the chance to make a Smarts roll, and for once that night, I made my roll. Torello surrendered, tearing the braid from his uniform and accepting exile.

We wrapped up with a brief denouement: Dons Alejandro and Audre arranged for Torello’s passage to Spain, Bernardo and Gonzales returned to their contented lives of quiet heroism and boisterous sloth respectively, Lolita and Zorro (and Tornado) rode off into the sunset, and Anita… followed Torello to Spain to wreak her vengeance. Applause and cheers all around followed, undoubtedly disrupting Sean Patrick Fannon’s Freedom Squad game and the nearby Torg Eternity demo.

Afterward, Ross, Aaron, McDaniel, and I got into a deep conversation about Zorro as folklore, lucha libre as Aztec sacrifice, and more – a conversation that even now tempts me to write a 40-page Los Enmascarados setting book as a warm-up to finally finishing The King is Dead. We were high on shared personal mythology, overwhelmed with potential, transported by touching something outside of ourselves. I know I’ll be a better game master from here on out, because I’ve finally really felt the tremendous possibility people like John Wick write about. I may even be a better person, because at least a little bit of me was transformed.

¡Viva el Zorro!

"He was on his way to a costume party!"


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