It works!

9 May, 2008 at 9:19 am (game mastering, persistent fantasy) (, , , , )

In which I will gush about the actual play of the game I built in the previous post; first, a few words about In a wicked age, then the actual play.

In a wicked age

The game that inspired this one; if you want sword-and-sorcery, a light but important system and episodic play, I can really recommend the game, assuming it plays at all like my hack does. For more information on the game, see the index (and linked review), this thread (or the relevant seach results), or search the Forge for relevant actual play.

Actual play

Players present, in no particular order: Ari, Thalin, ksym. Players not present: Wgaztari. Hence, no victorian game. The random generator, which I tweaked a bit before play to provide slightly more explicit NPCs, generated the following:

A conjurer who needs blood to entice his uncouth spirits.
A troupe of musicians for hire, one of whom is a burglar and cutpurse.
A seerstone, one of only five, which rumours suppose to be close to the entrance into the underworld of lost souls.
The site of a pitched battle, ground churned and stinking, and the widows mourning there.

Thalin first claimed the burglar/cutpurse/musician, Ari fixated on playing the seerstone, while ksym after some pondering chose to play a one-armed veteran of the pitched battle. The game kinda drifted towards somewhat oriental flavour, so the final characters (at chargen) were:

  • Lông (bad musician 6, ninja training 3, liar 4) played by Thalin
  • Chen Pong (merchant 4, stone 5, fat 4) played by Ari
  • Kyo (ronin 6, one armed 3, fast 3) played by ksym
  • Martoh (summoner 5, fighter 4, spirit guardian 4), an NPC

Quick and shallow characters, much as they should be. I told it doesn’t matter and is in fact positive. Mister Chen Pong requires some further explanation (if Ari plays Chen again, the traits will probably be changed to reflect this). Chen’s one eye, usually covered, is (IIRC) an emerald. Chen does not know this and to him the eye does not feel extraordinary.

On that note, I just now notice that I managed to misread one of the entries: The seerstone is “supposed to be close”, not “supposed to close”, a gate to underworld. Well, no matter. Other things were ignored or altered slightly, too. The widows were totally ignored and the uncouth spirits somewhat turned into demons of Christian mythology. Not to mention “burglar and cutpurse” evidently meaning “ninja”.

Crafting the situation

It did not take long for me to draw connections between three of the random elements: Certainly the site of pitced battle is exactly what is necessary for a summoner to open a gate to the underworld (which was implied by the seerstone). I asked if any PC had connections to the summoner; it turned out that the Chen Pong the merchant has a deal regarding a barrel of gunbowder, for which a small opal was given as a payment before the deal and more were implied to be the reward for providing the barrel in a fairly discreet manner.

Where does this leave the others? Well, in the same tavern as the merchant, of course. Of Kyo’s background it is known that he was healed in a nearby monastery (which later turns out to be a Christian one) and tended by one sister Victoria residing therein. Lông and the related troupe of four musicians get some meager food and lodging in echange of performances.

The plot threads are created

The musicians play (Lông pretends to). Kyo is drinking. A young man or woman, shaven completely shaven of all (visible) bodily hair, including eyebrows and lashes, enters the tavern He or she is wearing robes that are somewhere between grey and black in colour. People first fall silent, then nervously start talking about anything but the hairless one, who walks straight to Chen Pong, handing him a sealed letter. The letter containts instructions on where to deliver the gunpowder and when (a burned building midway between the monastery and the only local mountain, at the this midnight).

Soon the hairless goes away, merchant Pong asks the tavern’s owner about the young one. He instructs not to ask more. Kyo sits nearby, yet reacts not. The troupe stops playing, Lông sits next to Chen the merchant, orders some milk (cue random jokes), steals a few gold coins from Chen and finally pays his milk with one. This is first time the rules as used; Thalin rolls 3d due to ninja training, Ari 2d due to merchant 4. Thalin is the victor and suggests the aforemention stealing, which Ari accepts. Tavern keeper is quite impressed with the gold coin and soon offers a meal.

Some interaction between Chen Pong and Kyo, Chen and Lông, happens. End result: Chen offers to provide Kyo with some fairly rare rice beverage from a certain village, further notices that some coins of his have been stolen, one troupe member called Jin is more-or-less framed by Lông, is chased away by Kyo who doesn’t catch him (but gets on the list due to failing the roll), after which all the player characters gather outside near where the musician got away (the vile rogue!). Ari adds trait “suspicious towards artists 1” to Chen, ksym “suspicious towards vagabonds 2” in imitation.

A serving wench from the tavern addresses Lông, provides him with an iron key to his room for the night, should he wish to take it, then goes back to the tavern. Lông soon follows, enters his room, goes to rest. Chen Pong hires Kyo to work as a bodyguard and the two take Chen’s wagon and start their way towards the meeting point, though Kyo first wants to visit sister Victoria in the monastery.

Tying some threads together

Visiting sister victoria at night involves waiting and an illicit deal with a monk who greatly appreciated a soft pillow and traded it for a nice, hand-crafted prayer carpet.

Lông gets a visitor; the aforementioned tavern wench. They try to make each other drink the provided wine; end result is Lông taking 1 harm and the wench being drugged to sleep (after some hours that were promptly skipped when playing so that people may imagine whatever they will). Lông leaves through a window, immediately after which a trapdoor on the floor is opened and six robed, hairless young ones come in, pick up the drugged woman and lock the trapdoor behind them. Lông runs to catch the two other PCs, who do not expect him.

Aside: I so wanted to get Lông there. Who has ever heard of evil summoners using beautiful women as sacrifices? Well, the dice roll as they may and random serving wench is not a terribly powerful opponent, generally speaking.

The grand climax

Chen and Kyo are at the burned house. The stone walls are still standing, but roof has burned away. The doorway is covered by a curtain that serves as a temporary door. Chen’s eye feels a bit strange. There is someone playing a flute inside the ruins; Lông, now present, recognises it as Jin the alleged thief, who did not play quite that well before the occasion.

Kyo rolls the barrel next to the doorway, Chen enters first. Inside there are the following: A naked serving wench tied to an obsidian altar. A bonfire. Jin, not very attentive, playing the flute between these. A warrior, sword on his belt and a sacrificial dagger in his hand, waiting. Some initial hostile reactions avoided the trade is sealed: Six of the hairless kids carry a small chest, which containts a small fortune in opals and gold, to the merchant’s wagon; then they carry the barrel of gunpowder inside what remains of the burned house.

Every PC is ready to depart. Lông reveals his presence. First there’s some hesitation but then the PCs decide to go and rescue or kill whoever is in need of either. Chen Pong sees the doorway fluttering, as if in wind, but the others see no such effect. The action: Lông enters the building, Kyo is about the follow, Chen starts playing with fireworks aimed towards the doorway, which takes some time. As Lông brushes aside the makeshift door and steps in, the situation is as follows: The six young ones are holding vessels with gunpowder and are standing around the bonfire. The pace of the music has been ascending; the summoner is preparing to use the dagger. Oh, yeah, and the curtain-door dissolves into something of a living, axe-wielding shadow that attacks Kyo at the Summoner’s behest. (It is the summoner’s very own death spirit guardian shadow demon. Something to that effect, anyways.)

Kyo and the demon start dueling. Lông utilises the blowpipe hidden in his flute against the summoner (dice favour Thalin, whose suggestion I accept) who is hit, drops the dagger which cuts one hand of the (right now very drugged) woman free from the bounds, then staggers some steps backwards and (my small addition) draws out the spirit of poison, which starts fluttering around him.

Kyo and the shadow duel; Kyo is clearly better at it, even if his blows are not terribly effective. They do drive the spirit back to the building, where the energies involved in opening the gate fortify the spirit again (2 more dice due to summoning 5 of Martoh the BBEG). The dice favour me and my suggestion is that the shadow is, finally absorbed into the blade that Kyo uses; it is accepted. New trait: Demon sword 3. (Summoner consequently loses the relevant trait.)

Chen Pong fires one of the prepared fireworks. Dice get rolled (doorway has 2 dice; 2 seems to be a decent arbitrary number for random enviromental obstacles); the doorway wins and my suggestion that the projectile hits one of the young ones, who spills gunpowder around; particularly, upon the woman (and Jin the flute player). Such happens, the projectile then goes up and explodes pretty harmlessly there.

Kyo gets there and starts fighting the summoner, who is pretty overwhelming due to the demonic sword being the summoner’s pet. Pretty intense bit of fighting ensues, end result being that Kyo gets a small wound and two drops of his blood end up on the altar. Meanwhile Lông is busy saving random people, which involves jumping into the bonfire and slapping the flutist, and so forth.

Chen’s eye starts seeing things; there had been random ominous signs some time before, but now
there is an actual gate inside the bonfire; it is small, but grows slowly. Chen walks to the gate and the bonfire it is around gives way. The summoner approaches Chen, Kyo gets in the way, there’s dueling and finally Kyo defeats the summoner.

The gate is bound by an iron crossbar, but something big is striking at it from the inside. Chen knocks on it and a window appears. There’s negotiations with demons, which don’t seem to be going too well be fore Lông starts playing music; such bad music is something the demons can’t stand (and the three dice give some extra weight to the negotiation). The final deal: Demons get the summoner (who is in need of what they call training, having failed in opening the gate), some of the rice beverage and some fireworks, but don’t open the gate by themselves.

Everyone leaves the scene; Lông had saved all the hairless and evidently enchanted young ones and now grabs few opals from the chest before leaving. Kyo and Chen Pong leave with the drugged girl and the wagon.

Everyone lives happily ever after, or at least until the next game where they take part. Chen Pong gets trait “rich 3”, Lông gets “rich 2” and The current list with strikethrough indicating that the character is no longer on the list (at least in that position).

  • Chen Pong (Ari)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Lông (Thalin)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Martoh (Tommi)
  • Chen Pong (Ari)
  • Kyo (ksym)
  • Lông (Thalin)
  • Lông (Thalin)
  • Martoh (Tommi)

The setting

Here’s what is known about the setting: There are somewhat oriental lands, there are also mroe European-themed lands with Christianity dominating. There was a war between these two. There is a tavern with at least one room designed so that people sleeping there can be captured. There is a monastery of mixed genders (strictly separate). The monastery is very close to the war zone, but was not pillaged.

Running the game and theoretical blathering

There process of running the game is not mechanically complex; to use DNAPhil’s terms, the hard skills are not terribly complicated. The way dice work is complicated to explain in words, but very intuitive in play.

The process: First, use the oracle to generate random inspiration. Then guide players in character generation and explain how the game works. Once all the characters are somewhat done it is time to weave them together. Players are a great help here, especially those who sometimes GM. The trick is to have enough plot threads to make the situation interesting, but not too many so that it doesn’t explode all over the place. One session only to solve all of them. Either I have accidentally learned to do this or got lucky. (We did play past midnight, but that is not unheard of.)

In actual play try to win all rolls and suggest interesting stuff. The players are good enough to beat you every now and then, but there is little reason to play soft with the resolution. You can’t accidentally kill anyone off or otherwise screw their characters, because they get to shrug off unwanted consequences by taking harm. Essentially, the players have total control over their character concept, but if they are blocking everything, the character will be harmed enough to drop from play.

Note to self: Thalin is a powergamer and good at it. This particularly means that I have the responsibility to hold him in check by throwing some nasty consequences at him. There’s always harm as an alternative. So, next session will involve stress-testing the system when real pressure is applied to at least one player.

Resolving conflicts

There’s the traditional way: Player tells what he tries, rolls dice, GM tells the success or failure and describes it (or lets the player to describe it). There’s the hardcore Forgish way: What happens upon success and failure are negotiated before the dice are as much as touched. (I usually live between those two, though closer to the Forgish extreme.)

This game used a third way: First roll the dice, then negotiate. This has the good aspects of stake-setting, in that everyone must know why the dice are on table, but this is faster, as the margin of success kind of implies how significant the suggested results can be and only one outcomes needs to be negotiated. Further, the way traits are gradually brought into play creates narration during the conflict, which often implies certain consequences and hence guides the process.

It is interesting how this resolution feels extended while actually being mathematically equivalent to just rolling all the dice at once and being done with it. I guess it is the extra narration and the fact that the dice can shift who the conflict favours mid-conflict, even a few times.

Fictional content

I relied heavily on stereotypes (and so did the players). It may not be necessary with a group that has enough common history, or if the session can take a long time. One should not think too hard about such things as a cohesive setting or sensible villain actions, if there is a villain.

1 Comment

  1. A demoness, for a change « Cogito, ergo ludo. said,

    […] The game is set in the same tavern that was part of the first game in this series. […]

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