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Adventures in Dramatic Drama

Started by lumpley, April 06, 2004, 05:10:00 PM

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Climactic session last night.  It'll take some telling, so.

So You Know
I play Acanthus, Meg plays Damwild, Emily plays Soraya.  When I say "us" or "ours," I mean these three.  Each of us plays a rough third of everybody else, in a GM-sharing kind of way, and I'll say who by initial.  Coeris is the center of Hermetic power in this part of Europe - the home covenant of House Tremere.  Other covenants are Kivont Karddal, Silver Spring, Stella Sophia, Benelares, and Griffon's Aerie - ours!  

Everything else you'll have to figure from context, or ask!

thread 1 It's six months ago.  We establish that Lillain Right (M), a seeress, unconnected to our main characters, dreams of Emily's character Soraya.  She's standing in Coeris bathed in gore, holding in her hand the big black bastard sword we got from the dragon's hoard.  The dragon's hoard is a big deal between Soraya and her abusive father Severin (V).  The sword, we've established long since, is a) Hermetic, b) powerful, and c) beyond our meager ability to analyze.  It has magic but we don't know what and we don't know its history.  (I've staked a minor claim to it, just on the strength of having described what it looks like.  That means: if a cool idea comes to Meg or Emily about it, they have to ask me if they can have the sword before they get to put their cool idea into play.  This is Fang's old Proprietership.)

thread 2 It's ... years ago.  We establish that Declamare of Tremere (V) is stealing salamander eggs and selling them illegally to Trey of Tremere (E).  He's in turn selling them to young Murinus Mus of Criamon (V); she's dependent on them in some unestablished way.  In play, the salamander retaliates by burning Kivont Karddal down, killing Declamare's father and leaving Declamare, Zarya of Flambeau (V,E) and Pug of Tytalus (M) homeless.

thread 3 It's about the same time, way back at the beginning of this game.  We establish that the Three Old Men of Tremere share a kept doctor, Puliarus (V), who's responsible for their longevity potions.  We further establish that Puliarus unintentionally, but reliably, destroys the magical Gift of his apprentices - he's had 4 or 5, and they're all non-Gifted redcaps now.  "That's odd," he says.  "Odd and unfortunate.  I was certain that your Gift was stronger than that."  Trey of thread 2 and Puliarus live at the same covenant, Benelares, a toady-covenant to Coeris.

thread 4 You may remember Lucere (V), father of the corpse-fucker, deluded Satanist, who believes in turn that each of his sons is the Antichrist and who doesn't handle disappointment gracefully.  A few weeks ago we established that he rapes the servants at Coeris - no big surprise.  They have a heartbreaking, ineffective system to try to keep the married ones mostly out of his line of sight.  We also established that Lucere's demons are fucking with him: they're the custodians of a curse on his line, a seven-generation curse and Lucere's the sixth generation.  They're resolved that the line will not have an eigth generation, and so far they're winning.  You may further remember Lucere's youngest son, Clarus Sol (M).  The way Meg plays Clarus Sol, it turns out that he's a smart, good looking kid who sees straight through his dad's delusion and is looking for a way out.  We like him.  If he lives to raise apprentices, they'll be the eighth generation and free from the curse of their grandfathers.

thread 5 There's been a murder, and there's a growing rift in House Flambeau, and in the future maybe it'll be a big deal, but for now, all that matters is: House Guernicus (the judges) has an arm, the Hoplites, an order within House Flambeau that serves to execute rogue wizards.  The split's over the Hoplites and the perception of House Flambeau as Guernicus' dogs.  Just remember that the Hoplites execute rogue wizards, though, and we're good.

There are plenty other threads, but dang if I'm going to tell them all.

What with Kivont Karddal burning down plus Defleumer's murder (thread 5), the Three Old Men decide to hold an emergency tribunal.  The insane grandmothers at Silver Spring, our sponsors, decide to take the opportunity to sponsor us and get us our charter.

So Meg, Emily and I spend a few months preparing for the tribunal: we visit every covenant in the region, establishing in play its wizards' goals for the tribunal and positions on its agenda items.  We have the duel between corpse-fucker and Quintus (M), retroactively understood to be how the servants at Benelares tell the story.  We have the dragon vs the wizards in the unsustainable triangle.  We have the sweet backstory brainstorming that puts little Dixi (V) at the heart of a rift in House Flambeau.  We have Lillian Right's vision.  You know about that stuff already.  We also have the insane grandmothers at Silver Spring, Griffon's Aerie's sponsor.  Silver Spring is all Criamon, and that means that they use Wizard's Twilight to learn the secrets of the universe, and that means that they are, friend, fuckin' insane.  We learn there that (thread 2) young Murinus Mus (V), is in a bad way.  Since the salamander burned Kivont Karddal down, she's got no salamander eggs, and here's where we establish her dependence on them: she was using them to stay in control of a long, serious Twilight.  Without them, her Twilight is raging.  She's somewhere else and her body is occupied by fire.  I spend that session eating hot pepper flakes straight out of a bowl and afterward my fingers burn, which is fun.

So we play a session at every covenant, right, and then we launch into the tribunal itself.  Here are our goals:
- Resolve all the tribunal's agenda items: Kivont Karddal, Defleumer, Volucris, Griffin's Aerie.
- Make Lillian Right's vision (thread 1) come true.  If possible.
- Make there be sex and murder.

And ho boy didn't we just.

Murinus Mus
thread 2: Murinus Mus (V) finds Trey (E).  She's inarticulate and accusing.  The fire possessing her has burned out, leaving coals.  I have her interrupt the wizards in council, walking across to where Trey's sitting and dropping hot coals out of her hands onto the table in front of him.  She stares at him and can't talk.  Shade (M), one of the insane grandmothers and Murinus Mus's sort-of guardian, thinks it's interesting but chooses not to intervene.  Trey is freaked out.

Now I talk about our conflict resolution rules.  They're sneaky and hard to talk about.  They're like this: here are my characters, with circles around them.  There are your characters, with circles around them.  Everything inside my character's circle, I get to say, and you can press me for justification but you can't contradict me.  When our characters' circles intersect, we have to negotiate anything inside the intersection.  If we want to use dice to negotiate, we can, per case.  It'll take me a lot more analysis and examination to figure out just when we use dice and when we don't, but (stabbing) I think it has to do with this: one character's decision will decide the matter simply (we don't use dice), vs two or more characters are vying to decide the matter (we do use dice).  The intense times, negotiation-wise, are when my character's decision simply decides something that's way inside one of your circles.  We don't use dice plus I can't just impose things on you, so we have to negotiate.

Ron's said, and I believe, that unstructured Drama isn't a satisfying way to play.  Thus I'm looking for the structure to our Drama.

Murinus Mus dropping red coals out of her empty hands?  Inside my circle.  I say it and so it is; this is just like what GMs do all the time.  Trey's and Shade's reactions are similarly Emily's and Meg's.  The conflict between Murinus Mus and Trey escalates with no need for anybody to negotiate anything.

Emily has Trey dodge Murinus Mus for the rest of the day.  We might roll for that, come to consider, but instead I give.  She leaves handprints scorched in his door.  The next night Emily gives and Murinus Mus corners Trey in his parlor.  By being unconscious there when he comes back?  I forget for sure.  Anyhow she's unconscious and her heart is beating one beat every minute and she's burning up.  I announce all those things and nobody asks me to justify.  What does Trey do?

"I try to help her," Emily says.

"Okay, what do you do?" I say.  This is a time we need resolution.  I don't have a plan for this, I haven't pre-decided whether he can help her at all or what he can do.  I've been setting up her heartbeats slowing down because I think it's cool.  This is a delicate moment of authorship and I'm actually kind of worried about it, but I want to escalate.  "Do you, um, do you speed up her heart?"  Am I cheating?  I would be if I asked that kind of leading question and had a plan.

"Yes..." Emily says.  Maybe she thinks its a trap and if it is, I'm sure about to spring it.  We shoulda maybe switched to dice before this.

"She starts puking magma," I say.  "She vomits magma over your arm, your carpets -"

"Holy shit," Emily says.  "I scream for my boy to go get Puliarus."

I didn't expect that a'tall, which whew.  I'm not railroading.  But as soon as she said the good doctor's name, I knew what would come.

"He takes one look at her," I say.  I play Puliarus too.  " 'I know just what to do.  Bring her down to my rooms, my boy, don't worry.  I know just what to do.' "  I shake my head to let Em and Meg know that it's bad news, though.  Remember Puliarus and his apprentices, thread 3?  "Over the course of the night he breaks her Gift," I say.

"Fuck," Emily says.

"Oh my God..." Meg says.

"Should I have known that?" Emily says, meaning should Trey have.  "Did you plan that?" meaning did I cheat.

"I didn't plan it," I say.  "But should Trey have known it?  Would he have done something else?"

Emily thinks hard.

"Nope," she says.  "That's what he'd'a done.  That's what happened."

Maybe someday I'll tell you about the very curious statement I'm making with Diligentia's ghost, Erneztina's grandmother's ghost, and Murinus Mus.  Maybe some other someday I'll tell you about just how fully Shade capitalizes on Murinus Mus' tragic victimization and how it ramps up the conflict between Silver Spring's insane grandmothers and the Old Men of Tremere, in the middle of which is: us.

Meanwhile, Puliarus is fucking insufferable.  He's the Old Men's doctor, he's keeping them alive against their natural time, he's untouchable.  He's committed a capital crime in the Order and he expects the Old Men to hand Trey over for it.  He's a gloating bastard.  The Old Men meet in private and decide that they will NOT be held over a barrel, and they sign Puliarus' death warrant.

Let's check in on thread 1.  Does Soraya seem likely to ever appear bathed in gore with the big black bastard sword in her hand?  Well, she brought the sword with her, so that's at least that.  Otherwise - nope.  We've gotten our characters entangled pretty well in the plight of Coeris' servants (thread 4) but mostly it's my guy Acanthus.  Soraya isn't positioned to do violence to anybody.  Yet.

So now we have a plan: at the end of the tribunal, the last order of business is going to be: the Old Men look like they're about to march Trey ("march" means "declare rogue, such that his life is forfeit and whoever delivers the blow gets to claim his stuff").  Trey's convinced he's gonna be killed, he knows that the Old Men won't preserve him over Puliarus, and Puliarus is smug.  Then at the last minute, they march Puliarus instead!  Very exciting.  The Old Men are already gloating.

The Sword
A bunch of stuff happens.  We play for, oh, three or four sessions, and:  
- There's sex.  
- Declamare (V) gets declared rogue but escapes because my guy Acanthus at significant risk stalls Zarya of Flambeau (E, V) who could kill him easily while Declamare runs away on a horse he borrowed from us.  
- Puliarus - who knew both Soraya's abusive father and Damwild's highly regarded, benevolent one - insults us terribly, by suggesting that Damwild's shaming her father's memory by associating with such crap as Soraya.
- Manuela (V) says just the right thing to Erneztina (E) to save her humanity.
- Andrideo (M) and Jaslyn (E) give us a flying carpet, if you can imagine.
- We resolve in play most of the tribunal's agenda and God damn if we aren't up to our eyeballs in the problems of the poor raped servants.
- Acanthus and Soraya have a conversation about a piece of Hermetic folklore that Em and I have from another distant game - the wizard kept alive, his blood used (like the salamander's eggs) for vis.  In that other game the wizard was named Held, Held's Blood.  Acanthus thinks it's just a myth, because if it were real, surely it'd be here at Coeris, and we've seen no sign of such a thing.  We agree, however, that it'd be an evil monstrosity, even for House Tremere.
- The unsustainable triangle tells the tribunal about the dragon and fuckin' Lucere (V) on the advice of his fraudulent demons tells young Clarus Sol (M) to go to it and command it like he would a dog.  Clarus Sol comes to Soraya for help and tells her that Lucere is mad and wants him to commit suicide by dragon, but not that Lucere's a diabolist.

Still - Soraya's not likely to kill anybody nor bathe in their gore.  But I'm getting an idea: the big black bastard sword, of unknown history?  Plus the split in House Flambeau?  What if it's a Hoplite's sword?

The second-to-last order of business is to grant us, Griffon's Aerie, our charter.  This is last night.  We've been playing this game since the late nineties and we're finally a covenant.  It's a big moment, actually, very satisfying.

And then...

Libermentum (E) declares Puliarus marched.  Ardesco (M) stands behind him and Libermentum plays it up and Puliarus is caught completely blindside and Ardesco -

"Now about that sword," I say.  I wedge it in while Meg and Emily are about to have Ardesco kill the poor bastard.  "It's Hermetic, right?  It's a Hoplite's sword."

"It..." Emily says.

"It jumps out of its sheath, into Soraya's hands, is that okay?  It swings around to point at Puliarus, is that okay?  It's like screaming."

Check out those points of contact.  This is what I mean about intense negotiation.

"What does it sound like?"  Emily says.  She pantomimes holding it in front of her, ready, in two hands.

"Like metal," I say.

"Like a train's wheels on the tracks," she says.  "Braking."

"Do you say yes to it?"

Emily's eyes get big.

"Shit," she says.

"I," she says.

"No," she says.  "No way."

"You drop it then, is that okay?  It lies on the table in front of you, like quivering."  And I'm like, Lillian Right's wrong?

Ardesco takes Puliarus by the arms and is marching him over to the sacrificial stone, the meteor that Tremere himself called down from heaven.  He's in shock, white, gasping, his arms and legs move without direction.  Does he fight?  He's this fat old Verditius, he's a doctor, how would he fight?

"As you bend him back over the stone he starts babbling about the Old Men's longevity," I say.  "He's sabotaged their longevity potions, 'kill me today and I kill you tomorrow.' "

The old men draw up.  Meg makes spell gestures.  "Is he telling the truth?"

"Oh yeah," I say.  "You know it."

"I rip it from his mind," she says.  "I rip it from his fucking mind."  Her mouth's narrow and her eyes too, but it's in character, she's not pissed at me for saying it.

"Yeah," I say.  "He's tied your lives - our lives - to his.  If we kill him we lose our longevity."

"Going forward?" Meg says.

"Going back a hundred years," I say.

"Damn," Meg says.

"He's Held," Emily says.  She about laughs out loud.  "He becomes Held.  We make him Held."  That means, we keep him alive forever and use his blood for vis, poor fucker.

Oh baby, that's the coolest thing yet.  And yet...

"So this unspoken moment, yes?" I say.  "We're about to kill him, and we reconsider, and we don't say anything but it's just visible?  We draw up and make eye contact with one another?  And Acanthus and Soraya see it?"

Bam, Emily's back in Soraya's head.

"We were talking about that just last night," I say.  "Acanthus and Soraya were.  We thought it was a myth."

Soraya picks up the sword.

She's wearing the sash she had from the Weaver (back from our voyage through Faerie, I didn't tell you about that).  She's changed as she walks across the chamber - Emily describes her wreathed in silver flame.  I contribute that the sword drags sparks off the air like a train's wheels from its tracks.

"Do we stop her?" Meg says, meaning the Old Men.

"Lucere doesn't," I say.  "He's already planned out escape routes.  His demons won't let him die.  He, um, thinks.  And if you two die, so much the better for him."  (As it turns out, his demons don't have his, y'know, best interests at heart.  Surprise!)

Emily shakes her head.  "Unamo either.  We know what he did to us, we can undo it.  It may be expensive.  But yeah, if one of you dies, so much the better."

"Lachesis Mutus says things," Meg says.  "But Soraya doesn't hear them."

"I feel like I say something," Emily says.  "As I kill him.  Because of the sword?"

"Heh.  If you say something because of the sword, you recite the Oath," I say.

"Oh God," Meg says.  Soraya's abusive father never had Soraya swear the Oath, so that she was, technically speaking, a rogue wizard herself.  A year ago, in play, Acanthus and Damwild and her figured out the "oversight" and she swore it to us.  We weren't in any real danger but Soraya considers it a close call and another way her bastard father let her down.

"I don't even know the Oath," Emily says.  "That's awsome."

Rules Thinkery
No dice, huh, and how about that?  For six sessions I've been watching carefully for times that call for dice, because you know I love the dice, but nope.  Maybe once or twice they woulda smoothed over a spot but everything worked out without 'em.

Quote from: In Adventures in Improvised System, RonHere's my point: the ball itself must have some bounce and spin. This can arise from a Fortune system, resource fluctuation (e.g. Miracle Points in Nobilis), unpredictable elements of "what happens" input, and more; those are the big three. You can get bounce & spin with all sorts of combinations of Drama, Fortune, and Karma.

I blame our success on: unpredictable elements of "what happens" input.  Ask me before Meg or Em makes a decision what I think she'll do.


Ben Lehman

So I've been thinking, recently, about my own experiences in "free-form" gaming and also some about this series of "adventures" threads and I've realized something.  Sorry if this is an old hat to everyone else here, but:

There is a difference between "system" and "mechanics."  In particular, "mechanics" is a small subset of "system."

I mean, you guys have system flowing out of your ears, here.  I'm betting that you have some pretty sophisticated cataloging methods, you have a reasonably rigorous setting, and you definitely have divisions of labor within director stance...

I'm not sure where this goes, yet.  But I thought I'd post it before I forgot it.


P.S.  Fucking awesome sounding game.  I've always wanted to do a real epic, like that, but I've never been in a stable group long enough.

Christopher Weeks

Matt Wilson

Hey, uh, Vincent:

Here's an interesting couple questions to generate discussion that I totally didn't already ask you via PM:

Do you guys even bother with character sheets? If not, what do you do to track all the info? When stuff is agreed upon, do you put it in writing to make it canon?


My question for you guys is this.  In the years you've been playing this campaign, has it been just the three of you, or from time to time do you add "guest players" for a few sessions who may drift out later.

If there has been any in media res addition of a new player has that functioned smoothly?  Or are you so well attuned to each other that adjusting your communication to include an "outsider" hasn't worked well?


Ralph, nope, just the three of us.  I can't imagine what it'd even be like to try to include someone else.

That's fine for us in practice but in ways it limits the game's usefulness to me as a designer.  We don't have to communicate our rules, whatever they are, to anybody - we don't even have to articulate them to ourselves.  Consequently the only way I have to figure out what we're actually doing is self-examination, and you know that's not reliable.

These threads are a big help to me, in that regard.

Matt, and I totally haven't already told you this in PM:

We have a legal pad we write everything down on, but it's not really to establish canon - that is, you've seen how willing we are to reinterpret history.  It's just so we can remember what we've done.

We don't have any character sheets at all.  Except, that's a big lie.  We do have character sheets.  Not for our main characters, who we know by now, but for some of the wizards elsewhere, so we don't have to reinvent them every time we see them.  I'll see if I can find one and tell you what's on 'em...  Nope, that'll have to wait until tomorrow.

This is kind of interesting, though.  We don't have any numbers or any traits or anything mechanical for our characters, and that has serious implications when we roll dice.  We need to be able to either sum up each character's suitedness to the challenge in an overall, subjective judgement way, which is how our dragon and horse race dice work, or else the outcomes have to depend on our decisions not our capabilities, as when we use Otherkind dice.



Emily Care

Quote from: lumpleyWe don't have any character sheets at all.  Except, that's a big lie.  We do have character sheets.  
Actually, they exist for our primary characters, but we just don't use them.

As far as bringing someone else in, the main obstacles I see are bringing them up to speed on the characters and background plot and having them make the paradigm shift from the player/gm divide to "everybody gms".  

I got integrated into a similar setting-heavy, free-wheeling-system campaign through a long period of discussion about the background and characters et al.  From my experiences in this game, I think it would probably be easier to integrate someone else into the negotiation of events than one might think: it's actually pretty natural to script free-form.  The harder part might be working out the propietorship with someone else.  There are a lot of assumed boundaries that would have to be clarified.  

The other barrier is getting people to cross the gm/player divide with respect to generating plot. Meg & Vincent have talked about this elsewhere, but we had a somewhat unsuccessful attempt at doing this with three other friends of ours.  In a different AM campaign, Meg was the GM and Vincent and I both stepped in to create world and (some) plot, but the other folks, although happy to have their characters do things and move around in the world, didn't make the leap to doing so for the world or other characters etc.  This wasn't an overt part of the contract of play, though. We'd have to see if making it so would communicate to other folks exactly what their rights and powers would be.

Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games


How about this: we use character sheets, when we do, as an aid for character creation, not in ongoing play?

For instance, I have no idea what's on Acanthus' character sheet, or if it's true anymore, or even if it was true to begin with after all.  I just don't remember.  Let alone Soraya's or Damwild's.