The Forge Archives

General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Rob Alexander on June 26, 2007, 01:06:31 AM

Title: [TSOY] the Hungry Ones are coming
Post by: Rob Alexander on June 26, 2007, 01:06:31 AM
(Sorry if this post is a monster. Might I recommend a hardcopy and a comfortable armchair?)

I've been running TSOY as a fill-in game while our main (Castles and Crusades) game has been on hold due to scheduling difficulties. AP for the first session here:

We've now run three sessions, and I think that the quality has generally improved session to session. The 2nd and 3rd session involved two of the players from the first one (M and R).

In the first session, we follow Frank T's "Snakes in the Shadows" scenario, and the second session involved two of the characters (Dancian and Amoux) arriving in the Maldorite city of Ryodan with a fair weight of the mooonsilver in tow. They found the city under the control of one General Francisco, who'd just taken the city in a coup, but after upsetting Francisco (by badly bungling an attempt to sell the moonsilver) they ended up siding with the desposed ruler (Duchess Josefina) and killing Francisco.

The Third Session
In the third session, I worked on the assumption that the PCs would try to make trading arrangements for the moonsilver. I also wanted to make sure that there were interesting things to do and respond to. I'd told the players beforehand that the action would be confined to Ryodan and it's immediate environs. This allowed me to prep with the knowledge that any NPCs I developed would remain within reach of the action. In future, I'd want to negotiate this before starting prep - the players could then choose to be somewhere else (although they'd then be committed to it)- but the game was at short notice so there wasn't really time. I did ask the players for what their plans were for the session, but that wasn't until the day before so I wasn't really able to take account of it. Again, in future I'd want to get this ahead of time.

Opening Scenes
So, I agreed with the players that we'd pick up a few weeks after the last session - I was trying to emphasise the idea that we're skipping to the important stuff. I proposed an opening scene at Josefina's court, and R was keen for Dancian to talk to Onfroi, a fellow Ammenite who had many trading concerns in the city. Onfroi agreed to introduce him to Lord Gideon, a local noble with mercentile pretensions, and expressed his concern that he (Onfroi)  get a cut of the profits. R surprised me by offering to put Onfroi in charge of the Ryodan side of things while he travelled elsewhere (e.g. back to Ammeni). I had Onfroi accept this without protest.

After that, I had Josefina take Amoux aside to introduce him to her court wizard, a wizened old elf called Wagner. Wagner quickly revealed to Amoux his plans to create an all-Elven enclave in Ryodan. His plan was to reveal this by turning goblin slaves into a horde of the Hungry Ones - goblins transformed to be ravenous slaves to their addictions. I was quite clear that there was no point hiding anything here, trying to string out Wagner's motives for a slow reveal. I also introduced Wagner's assistant, a goblin called Pip, but I backed off having her actually in a cage or being experimented on. I'm not sure why... it would at least have given Amoux a chance to hit his Key of Power by refusing to help her.

Wagner wanted Amoux to to help in his experiments by using his Zu. Amoux went along with this, and they agreed to meet at midnight at the old water cisterns out among the ruins of the city.

Interestingly, the Hungry Ones get a passing mention in Clinton's text but no further development at all. And that's great - here, as often, a name is enough to give me an idea for play, and I'm not then encumbered by a weight of complex text.

I'm concerned that neither of these two sub-scenes went to dice at any point. The players just went along with what unfolded (in DitV terms, they "said yes"). Would it have been better if I'd pushed harder, and managed to come up with e.g. unreasonable demands for Onfroi to make? E.g. had him demand full control of the operation with Dancian as merely a paid consultant? They hit the PCs keys a bit - Dancian got a point for Key of the House, Dancian a point for Key of Power (since Wagner was in a position of influence).

I'm also concerned that it was very easy to slip into freeform acting of Onfroi's and Wagners parts. This could easily lead to long roleplayed conversations that don't go anywhere. And I'm quite aware that this kind of thing is often a lot more fun for the GM than for the players - I've spent enough of gaming life listening to GMs who liked the sound of their own in-character voice. So, anyway, when I became aware of this I brought the scenes quickly to a close.

R's handling of the Onfroi scene also affected my plans in a second way. There was the possbility of a third player at the session, but he never showed. I'd grabbed the Snakes character Edmund (Dancian's bodyguard and poisoner), and given him the Key of the Mission of getting Dancian back to Ammeni, by force (drugging) if necessary. I'd planned to use Edmund as an NPC if the player didn't show, but with Dancian planning to head back anyway this was irrelevant to the story, so I dropped the whole idea. This is a clear example of why lightweight prep is desirable - it lets you plan interesting things while making it easy to discard them in response to evolving events.

Middle Section
The PCs visited Lord Gideon, and arranged for him to provide transport for the Moonsilver trade and (potentially) for other goods from Ammeni. This was, like talking to Onfroi, a bit easy - everyone just agreed, so it didn't go to dice at all. I'm concerned that scenes without conflict are likely to be drab scenes. There's also the concern that with no in-game representation of wealth at all, there's little sense of the importance or value of money. I think there's another thread around here somewhere, raising the same problem in relation to the Snakes scenario and Moonsilver.

The Garden Party
Josefina invited the PCs to a garden party that afternoon, and they went along. My first intention was for Lord Christophe, a reknowned champion in the city arena, to challenge Dancian to a duel. In the second session, Dancian had made an excellent impression on Josefina with Savoir-Faire and I introducted Christophe as the major rival.

Dancian's player, however, started a scene at the party where he impressed the notables present with the tale of his adventures in the Khalean jungle. This involved painting Amoux as his loyal sidekick, which Amoux's player wanted to oppose. I struggled with this a bit, rules-wise - neither PC had orate or storytell, so I think that we ended up going from Unskilled. The value to use for resistance wasn't clear, and most significantly I wasn't sure what the effect would be. In most traditional games, I'd just make a note that the nobles had been influenced, but I feel that for good TSOY play I owe the players a more substantial, tangible results.

I then had Christophe challenge Dancian to a duel the following day, which he accepted.

Meeting Wagner
Amoux met Wagner that night, and went along with Wagner's plan to make Pip into a permanent hungry one. Amoux had the Zu word "stone/beat/hard", and I suggested he could use the 'hard' modifier to make the transformation permanent. The transformation went through, and I described Pip twisting and changing into a kiss-hungry monster with massive betenctacled lips (kisses were her original addiction). Then, tho, she started to break free of her bonds, and Wagner shouted "quick! get her into the old water cistern with the others!". He failed his initial Scrapping roll badly, leaving Amoux against an enraged Hungry One with bonus dice in hand (or tentacle). Amoux reached for his Athletics skill, leaving the Wagner to his fate and letting the monster escape.

This scene was great, really funny, and I think it was the high point for the players. My only concern is that there wasn't much of a decision for Amoux's player to make - the "get her into the cistern" bit turned it into a physical struggle rather than a tough decision. On the plus side, he got to hit the Key of Power a couple of times.

The Duel
The duel itself was a bit one-sided. Dancian made some attempt to talk to Christophe beforehand, but I never really quizzed him on his intention so that never went anywhere. It wound up with Dancian (Duelling: Adept, +1 moonsilver rapier, secret of disarm) against Christophe (Infantry: Master, Secret of Mighty Blow). Christophe's intention was to put Dancian "out of action" for a while, with a particularly attention to capping his success at Saviour-Faire. Not surprisingly, this went to BDTP, and Dancian didn't have much chance. As the rules note, BDTP favours the higher skill, and if Dancian wanted to try anything clever (such as appealing to the crowd) he had to take a parallel action, which would leave himself open. In the end, Christophe took Dancian down with a might 7-harm hit that broke his pelvis.

Amoux didn't get involved much. The player tried to get him to talk to Josefina, using a secret to extract information from her, but I think I fumbled the ball there and didn't give away enough to let Amoux's player do anything interesting. There's a widespread habit of GM cageyness that's often remarked on in Forge postings, and I think I exhibit that from time to time. But it's completely inappropriate in TSOY.

I'm still not sure about BDTP. It seems, in some ways, to be too restrictive in terms of what characters can do. One of the great things about TSOY and similar rules is that there's a huge number of options at any given point. BDTP closes those down a lot.

The player said afterwards that he enjoyed having Dancian lose for a change. I can relate to that, especially when losing doesn't mean the character going out of play for a long time.

Final Scene
In order to provide some kind of conclusion to the events of the session, I had Wagner attack Josefina's court (by leading the Hungry Ones there). Dancian was pretty much powerless to do anything, but Amoux went all bamboo warrior and drove Pip away. Wagner was captured by Josefina's guards. I'm still a little unsure on this - I might have been better keeping Wagner in hand for a possible later session. (Of course, he's not dead... Josefina might even want him around for his abilities...)

General Throughts
I'm particularly pleased that I've needed very little prep for these games - maybe 1.5 hours for the 2nd session and 1 hour for the third. As a core, I'm using the technique presented by Clinton in the TSOY rules:

I take out a sheet of paper and write down the character's names on it, each in a separate corner. I write down all their Keys around them, and the Secrets they use the most and their best abilities. ...

So I have this sheet of major characters (and items and locations) and their likely interactions (not sure if this is technically an r-map), and it's focussed on the PCs. I supplement this with a few scribbled states and notes about the NPCs, and a list of places in the city (e.g. "The Old Water Cisterns"). This seems like quite a good basis for action. Because it's lightweight, it's easy to draw anew for each session, while still allowing you to loot bits prepped for previous session that were never used (e.g. in my case the names of the Lords and the existence of the arena).

My main concern at the moment is that I'm using the TSOY rules in a kind of "world simulation" way that they're not optimal for. I.e. instead of thinking about the emerging story as the focus of action (in the guise of "what would be cool to have happen now") I'm thinking more along the lines of "what *would* happen", and that's not necessarily optimal for sparking creativity. This is particularly true when trying to influence NPCs - I'm concerned that I'm a bit too rigid in sticking to their aims.

Another issue, that's come up in terms of TSOY before, is the tendency to become rigid and committed once you've got an idea for "the next interesting thing". For example, once I'd got Christophe challenging Dancian, I don't think I was sufficiently open - I might have missed an opportunity for it to go to dice. This is particularly important with inexperienced players who aren't sure what their boundaries are, although ultimately the players have to be the ones that object to NPC's actions ("say yes" etc).

I'm also concerned that there's a tension between my flexibility as a Rule Zero empowered GM and the approach . For example, there's no in-system method by which Three Corner Magic could turn goblins into creatures with significantly higher combat abilities, and I was really pushing the rules with that use of the 'Hard' Zu modifier. In most other systems I would just make up a creature or magical ritual with the stats or effects I we needed (under the 'Rule Zero' rubric). But to do this in TSOY seems suspect as it disempowers the players.

Overall, though, I think these are concerns that will work themselves out in time. The 2nd and 3rd sessions are have been very good, and are promising for this style in the future. What I would like to do is try this style of play with a more traditional task-resolution system, to see if I can maintain the same fluidity while bringing in more detailed, 'crunchy' combat etc.

The first two sessions viewed together had a great 'episodic' feel, and the third was pretty good although I wonder if the ending was a bit inconclusive. This is ideal for a fill-in/pickup game, and compared to my youthful attitude of "it has to be in continuous time" it's very liberating - it means that we can jump straight to the next interesting thing that comes to mind. It's a bit like aggressive scene framing, but on a session-to-session, and I'm interested to see what I can do with it in the future.

It's strange, really, that all the books and magazines I read in my teams pushed continuous-time indefinite-campaign play as "the way" (and I pretty much bought it), when I actually find episodic adventures much more rewarding. I remember being frustrated, in my youth, by the way that the interesting stuff was always in the future (of games that would peter out before very long), and consequently I'm very keen now to do the cool stuff *right now*.

Any comments or advice, given the concerns I've raised above, would be greatly appreciated.

Title: Re: [TSOY] the Hungry Ones are coming
Post by: oliof on June 26, 2007, 07:13:26 AM
Hey Rob,

it seems as if you and your group ease into the system quite well. Just because the system is in place doesn't mean you need to use it. That said, tough choices and hard places are the natural habitat for BDtP. Nobody should BDtP over a random picking of a pocket, but if it's about the keys to the dungeon where your loved one suffers, all bets are off.

BDtP as a 'last resort' also takes away some of it's edge as a system that limits your choices regarding to in-game events. But if you stay lenient with your interpretations of how the character's actions fit into the frame work, all will be well. Regarding the duel: Was Dancian's player aware that giving was a real option, which would have helped with the mechanical side of losing BDtP big time?
Here is a sample spell based on three corner magic that will change someone into a hairy beast twice their normal size:

Hairy Beast:
Transforms the target into a hulking, hairy beast with thick, leathery skin. +1 Armor, switch best skill with scrapping, double size. Cost: 3 Instinct.

It's fairly easy to expand on this, changing the addiction key's focus from whatever to still warm, human flesh  and adding an area effect (which would put the spell into the 5-6 instinct cost range, but who's to say Wagner doesn't have obscenely high pools? Also, NPCs in need of refreshing their instinct pool make for *interesting* situations, if you play it right).

Title: Re: [TSOY] the Hungry Ones are coming
Post by: Rob Alexander on June 26, 2007, 12:50:32 PM
BDtP as a 'last resort' also takes away some of it's edge as a system that limits your choices regarding to in-game events. But if you stay lenient with your interpretations of how the character's actions fit into the frame work, all will be well.

I think we were happy to let Dancian appeal to the crowd (inflicting Instinct harm against Christophe) as part of his 'bring Christophe to his knees' intention, but this would have been much more risky than doing the same outside BDtP. It would have been a parallel action - Dancian would have taken Christophe's full success level as harm.

Regarding the duel: Was Dancian's player aware that giving was a real option, which would have helped with the mechanical side of losing BDtP big time?

I'll have to ask him... but since Christophe's intention was to inflict serious physical damage, how would giving have helped?

Here is a sample spell based on three corner magic that will change someone into a hairy beast twice their normal size:

Ok, got you. I actually saw the werewolf spell in the book while I was doing the prep. Of course, the spell can only flip abilities, not increase their value (although looking at my notes now I see that Pip had Adept sneak in her normal form, so it would have worked for her), and increased size has no effect within the TSOY rules.

Part of the issue was that I wanted Wagner to be inflicting permanent changes, which made his behaviour much more unpleasant and frightening, and that was completely outside the three-corner rules. Of course, if there hadn't been this restriction then I wouldn't have had the handy way to get Amoux involved.

And, of course, the three-corner rules are much more suited to adlibbing effects than most other magic systems. To do something like this in, say, the stock 3E rules you'd have to make something up out of whole cloth with no system support.

The more important problem here is that it's hard to remember and apply such complex mechanics on the fly while GMing, and if you're not working with the rule zero assumption it's not appropriate to just make stuff up. Of course, rule zero and the attitudes that go with it conflict strongly with the idea of player empowerment. I see a tension here which I'm unsure how to resolve. A lot of complaints of illusionism stem from this kind of behaviour (e.g. making Wagner a special case so that he can do the cool thing you just thought up) and I'm keen to avoid it if possible.

Put another way... if I assume that as GM my word is law, and that the rules are just advice to me, then it's easy to just make up stuff to support any ideas that I have. If we move any of that authority away from me, which of course is a vital step in empowering players, then it's that much harder for me to be creative.

I wonder, too, if I'm applying a kind of "the mechanics should be a simulation" attitude, e.g. regarding the idea that my Hungry Ones should have Adept-level scrapping. I think Clinton's said explicitly that TSOY isn't meant to simulate anything - rather, the values on the sheet represent pure story power. If the Hungry One has only competent scrapping, then it might still be just as big but it's clumsy or it's badly shaped for fighting or when it comes to the crunch it's just unlucky. There's no need to insist that it "is" weaker, in the fiction, than the equivalent with Adept.

Some of this is just the nature of things... as we're discussing in the "I quit DMing" thread, there's always going to be rough edges in play, at least if you want any degree of flexibility for the players. There's a learning curve, too - having run only three TSOY sessions, I'm not going to be an expert. That's something that I find easy to forget.

Title: Re: [TSOY] the Hungry Ones are coming
Post by: oliof on June 27, 2007, 01:10:40 PM
Caveat: Most of this post is only conjecture. It is an idea of how things might have been handled, without the intention to belittle your efforts (again, you seem to do quite well!).

A hypothetical regarding the Duel: Christophe could have changed intentions while Dancian was appealing to the crowd, limiting him to a defensive action. Now, instead of just taking him out, he might have opted to follow Dancian's lead to manipulate the masses. You see, apart from a mechanical advantage, the actions in BDtP also have in-game relevance. If Christophe cut open Dancian while Dancian was talking to the people, he might succeed in taking out Dancian, but what do the people think of Christophe? Maybe Christophe could have realized it's more effective to stop Dancian by getting folks not to regard him as a trust-worthy person…

On giving: Giving early would mean Dancian still loses the BDtP, but on more favorite terms (he could have avoided that shattered pelvis); which means a comeback/follow-up conflict might be feasible more quickly. (Quick strategy to get into a BDtP on better terms: heal back lower-rung harm with pool points, give, have harm collapse to the lower levels, seek to confront your opponent in a way where his superior skill does not apply – i.e. at a feast with the king). Oh, and you deny your opponent the chance to change intentions and killing you with a spoon after having poked a sharp knife into your face a few times just to humiliate you.

Further pondering on the Hungry Ones: I think your idea that one needs to combine different magical traditions (especially Three Corner Magic and Zu!) to get something as gross as the Hungry Ones is far better than a detailed but prohibitively expensive stand-alone spell. This sense of cooperation being mandatory for success is an essential sentiment of TSoY, IMHO (even if it is for evil purposes this time). Regarding size and fighting ability: You're right that a size change has no mechanical effect, but in the game world, the beast doubles it's height from diminutive four to impressive eight feet nonetheless. If you want it to have some mechanical clout, have this result in bonus or penalty dice for the first conflict such a beast is involved in.

Title: Re: [TSOY] the Hungry Ones are coming
Post by: Rob Alexander on June 30, 2007, 03:05:55 AM
On giving: Giving early would mean Dancian still loses the BDtP, but on more favorite terms (he could have avoided that shattered pelvis);

But if Dancian gives, doesn't Christophe's intention ("inflict a serious injury") take effect? Giving can save you from harm, but it can't save you from damage that's outside of the normal harm rules.


Title: Re: [TSOY] the Hungry Ones are coming
Post by: oliof on July 01, 2007, 12:34:55 AM

Christophe's intention was to put Dancian "out of action" for a while,

I worked from this description of intent, which doesn't necessarily end in a world of pain, only in a world of delays and wrong turns… as SG, it's best to give SGCs strong, but mutable intentions.

Title: Re: [TSOY] the Hungry Ones are coming
Post by: Rob Alexander on July 02, 2007, 11:50:34 PM
I worked from this description of intent, which doesn't necessarily end in a world of pain, only in a world of delays and wrong turns… as SG, it's best to give SGCs strong, but mutable intentions.

Okay, so:

1) Christophe was probably a bit too powerful relative to Dancian


2) I should, in any case, have given a more abstract intention that made it easier for Dancian to give. For example, if we'd clearly agreed that the stakes were over who continues to receive the Duchess's intentions then Dancian could have cried craven, and offered to stay out of Christophe's way for a while. Or he could have stuck it out to the end and been injured as before.

Thanks for your help guys.