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Author Topic: Actual Play: The Cat who could End the World  (Read 6852 times)
hix
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Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« on: August 28, 2004, 06:50:42 PM »

This continues an Actual Play write-up from about ten months ago A Russian Fairytale. That thread has the first two chapters. In this one, I’ll post the last three.

Our group was road-testing Universalis for the first time in this game. So there’ll be a lengthy write-up (in green) and then some of the lessons I learned.

The fairytale so far: As many strangers and talking animals enter their house, two children (petulant PETRA and simple SERGEI) realise that a cat called SOLSTICE – who made a fortune via wise investments in the city - carries a supernatural force inside him. [/color]

Chapter Three – The Cat Who Could End the World

In a tiny tunnel beneath the house, Solstice demands his old life back. Furious, the SHADOW re-surrounds Solstice and tears its way out of the house… leaving a terrified Grimalkin in its wake.

In the living room, Petra throws a tantrum – she wants to follow the pretty cat. Grimalkin re-enters and reports that it has left the building (as they should be able to tell from the apocalyptic rumbling fading into the distance). “But,” he continues, “the Entity is seeking the vessel of its imprisonment.  If it can retrieve the telescope hell on earth will follow.  We need to find THE LAST HOLDER OF THE TELESCOPE.”

After a short argument, they decide to seek the wife of the Raven that Grimalkin ate – although Vanya the Wolf feels this might be in … poor taste.

CUT TO:

The Beggars’ Palace, St Petersburg. A hunched eyeless beggar, the SEER, feels at a wall-covering Tapestry of shoelaces, entrails and strings. Part of the tapestry distends into a cartoonish cat and the shadow of an Angel. “This is first of the fallen,” says the Seer, “but it has lost much of itself.  We may still have a chance.” He instructs another beggar, a teenage girl called EPININE, to summon LORD RAKE - the oldest most dangerous beggar in the world.

In the Forgotten Cemetery, the RAVEN'S WIFE confesses to a GHOST that she is worried about being eaten, but she has a secret that some people need to know.  

Meanwhile, back in St Petersburg, Epinine skirts along the walkways of the sewer. Lord Rake grabs her from the shadows and discovers the demon is coming, seeking the telescope.  Lord Rake agrees to see his brother, the Seer … and as he goes to this meeting, we see under his dirty robes … an ancient telescope.


Notes on Session 3

This session really opened the game out. Adding Lord Rake and the Beggars gave us a great new sub-plot to cut away to. It flowed fast, it was exciting; in fact Gino (the player who was gone from last session) was going to hold off contributing and see what was up, but he got ideas and added to the story straight away. We devised a gimmick – since called the Bob McNamee gimmick  – that all dialogue was free which relaxed us.

Favourite moment: finding out one of the Shadow’s traits – he’s “One of the Losers.”

But by the end of the session there was a massive disparity in the number of coins (with me having the least). My aim for next time became: get more coins.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2004, 06:11:42 PM »

Chapter 4: The End Is Near

As the children, their animal companions and various ghosts and nobles trudge through the snow, the Raven’s Wife reveals the Telescope is in St. Petersberg.

The fastest way there is on the UNDERTAKERS’ TRAIN but Petra refuses to travel with dead bodies. She’s so loud and annoying, they steal the School Teacher’s slower Carriage instead - potentially dooming the world.

Lord Rake becomes afraid when he learns the Shadow’s name is URIEL. He arranges an AMBUSH on the Bridge of Foolishness.

Uriel and the whining Solstice travel by the Train to St. Petersberg. Upon arrival, Uriel ignores Solstice’s pleas that there’s a great bar round the corner and absorbs 50 alleys cats into his body. Now twice as large and seeing with a hundred glowing green eyes, Uriel floats towards the telescope.

The childrens’ carriage enters St Petersberg, passing an ambitious DOGCATCHER … who’s eyes fix on Vanya the Wolf.

The ambush: Epinine loads a rune-covered cannon with silver and holy water, while a troop of beggars lurks. Uriel attacks, spilling blood on the Bridge of Foolishness, activating its magic. Everyone on the Bridge begins laughing uncontrollably.

In the chaos, the cannon blows off a large part of Uriel’s shoulder and a hole in the bridge … which the childrens’ carriage careens towards.


Notes on Session 4

Although I successfully focused on coin accumulation, I felt unsatisfied.  There were several points where I pulled back from contributing to the game right at that moment in order to make some hypothetical contribution down the track. Afterwards, I decided that wasn't the way I wanted to play Universalis.

At one point the player with the most coins dumped 20 of them into a Complication. That sucked the air and the fun out of me: 1) because it took away the role of creativity, and 2) because it would inevitably lead to him winning and gaining a billion new coins as a reward. Later we realised that he had to justify each coin put into a Complication with a Fact – which probably would have made him be more frugal.

I guess all this got synthesised in my head ‘cos the final session was as fun as the first, but I was 100% satisfied with it because I focused entirely on contributing to the actual story being played out in front of me on a moment by moment basis.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2004, 06:05:08 AM »

Had you been playing that players could put Coins into complications without justification, prior to this? If so, I'm surprised that it didn't become a problem before this. The rewards from complications are for making the complication entertaining. If people are throwing in Coins with little or no justification Challenge, Challenge, Challenge.

Accumulation is tricky. You can't play long term strategies, really. That is, sometimes you have to back off, because you're low - this is the game telling you that you've had your say. But when you get a few back, don't be afraid to use them right off if you really have something to contribute. Yeah, you might have to back off again, but that's only temporary.

And if you're feeling a significant drain, start thinking in terms of conflict. Make every addition to the game via a complication. Want to establish that there's a certain secret society? Do so by having them attack somebody to advance their cause. The Coins spent on their introduction will come right back to you.

Glad you're having fun despite the difficulties.

Mike
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Tobias
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« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2004, 10:01:39 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
And if you're feeling a significant drain, start thinking in terms of conflict. Make every addition to the game via a complication. Want to establish that there's a certain secret society? Do so by having them attack somebody to advance their cause. The Coins spent on their introduction will come right back to you.


Unless you lose, and the winner cancels your coin.

It's still a good tactic, but beware that you can lose coin this way too. :)

Yesterday, I spent 5 coin during complication to add to a component so that I would have 7 dice against my opponent's 4 - and I won. With a 1,2,4. Net gain in coins: 2, AND getting to add 5 facts of fun.

It's interesting to me to see that in the second game I played (4 players, 20 coin each), the first complication arrived when about 40 coin had already been spent - mostly on events, too. Maybe I should learn the trick of telling through complication as well. :)
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Tobias op den Brouw

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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2004, 11:07:53 AM »

Quote
Unless you lose, and the winner cancels your coin.

It's still a good tactic, but beware that you can lose coin this way too. :)


I'm not a big fan of the winner canceling the losers Coins.  I can't remember ever actually doing it myself, at least not recently.

But its a good rule because it provides an excellent control for abusive Complications.  "Abusive" being defined as initiating frequent Complications for the primary purpose of generating Coins, more frequently than the rest of the group finds acceptable.

If a player were to start doing what I consider cheap and annoying Complications with little story value primarily to get some free Coin out of it, it's pretty easy and relatively cost effective to buy enough dice to beat them, cancel out their Coins and have enough left over to more or less get your own expenditures back (barring a horrible roll).  

So its a good balancing rule that thankfully doesn't seem to be needed very often.
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hix
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Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2004, 12:23:37 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Had you been playing that players could put Coins into complications without justification, prior to this? If so, I'm surprised that it didn't become a problem before this.


Dredging ... up ... memories from ... 10 months ago. I think it went like this:

1) I may have mentioned the ability to buy dice when I introduced complications.
2) Nobody really took up this option during the first 2 or 3 sessions.
3) Our Coin Pools grew larger.
4) I may have spent Coins to buy a couple of dice.
5) We had a complication which happened in a wider context of the stakes being raised for the characters in the game, leading to ....
6) It became important to win - either for story or ego reasons, I can't remember.

Unfortunately, I can't figure out how the situation resolved. I don't think it was through the Challenge mechanic. I suspect that because the Coin Dump was the last thing that happened in the session, everyone just looked around going "WTF? Is that how the game really works?" Then I did some research and brought the solution back to the table for the next session and play proceeded much more calmly.

Quote from: Valamir
"Abusive" being defined as initiating frequent Complications for the primary purpose of generating Coins, more frequently than the rest of the group finds acceptable.


I was totally guilty of this in our third session! Deciding to stop and focus on complications that were meaningful to me was part of the reason I enjoyed our final session so much more.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2004, 05:36:46 PM »

Chapter 5: Most Good Things come to an End.

The collision is averted, but Vanya is nearly captured by the Dog Catcher. One prat-fall later: the Dog Catcher is in the river – and our group of heroes are ready for action.

Epinine aims the re-loaded cannon at Uriel, but the demon scuttles for safety … into the Astronomer’s Tower... and into the TRAP Lord Rake has prepared for him.

Uriel finds himself surrounded by holy symbols. He collapses - in crippling pain - and speaks cat-demon for “Oh crap.” Then Lord Rake tips a cauldron of holy water onto Uriel. The alley cats run away squealing; Uriel’s shadow erodes and Solstice reappears – wet and sheepish.

Thierry and his father’s skull activate a mechanism that sinks the Tower into the ground. The heroes step in. Petra claims the pretty cat (Solstice) – and seeing the telescope she demands that pretty thing too. Rake prepares to club Petra. “Not that way!” she squeals.

Sergei knocks Rake unconscious. Petra gets everything she ever wanted.

Thierry activates another mechanism ... and the Tower comes to life, ejecting Lord Rake and Sergei - then grabbing Solstice from Petra’s grip. The Tower sinks below the ground trapping everyone inside, except …

Vanya, who moans to some CROCKERY that he’s schlepped around the countryside on a whole adventure and then these people go down a hole and left him behind. “Try being a cup and saucer some time,” is the reply.

Behind them, the ghost of Peter Petervich possesses Lord Rake, who stumbles away into the night.

The heroes inside the Tower deduce the only way to permanently drive Uriel from the cat’s body is to sing happy songs. Five verses later, Uriel bolts. His essence is dragged into the next world by Rafiella (who farewells the Astronomer and his cute son).

As the Tower re-emerges, Thierry subtly tries to seduce the lovely Epinine, who brushes him off and suggests that Solstice - once again the wealthiest cat in all St. Petersberg - buy them all dinner.


The End.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2004, 07:31:35 PM »

Notes for Session 5

Let’s put it out there: this session of Universalis is in my top 3 gaming experiences (in terms of being totally engaged and 100% satisfied).

Why?

Well, first, I actively solicited suggestions from the other players and tried to figure out loose ends and tie them up. There was a real, intense sense of collaboration at the table.  Second, I wanted to really get into role-playing each of the characters, who by this time had so many traits that they had become very defined. And I swapped between each role with ease. Third, I entered some sort of Zen Uni mind-set where I couldn’t lose coins no matter what I did or how many contributions I made.
 
I think my satisfaction came from a combo of 1) feeling like I was contributing to the story through significant Facts and Complications; and 2) the buzz of balancing the competing motivations of 12 lead characters in my head.
 
Some observations about playing this 5-part game of Uni:

* Looking back I’m impressed at how much mythology we generated.
* There were way more characters than any RPG one-shot or campaign I’ve ever played with – but because we could take over any of them at any time (or, alternatively, complicate the scene they were in), it didn’t feel like any player was having their time in the spotlight taken away.
* In the Tenet phase we locked onto a genre (Fairytale) and really enforced it. It made it easy to resist the temptation to kitchen sink - throwing in zombie-robot-western elements, for instance.
* Players who returned after missing sessions were re-introducted to what they’d missed during play. Not only was it seamless, it was immediate.

My aim for this game of Uni was to bring a multi-part story to a definite conclusion. That was a success, but in the last few sessions the game seemed to drag on. Towards the end of Session 5, I realised another interesting feature of Universalis: players determine when it’s time to end. When someone proposed that we finished the game within the next 2 scenes, that’s what happened. And I think we were all pleased with the results.

Overall:

This is the game I’ve learned the most from to date. I discovered a lot of depth to the ways you can play it – and I keep finding new kinks and tips in everyone else’s AP reports.

It’s an RPG with real strategy. It reminds me of German board games where there are a lot of different techniques and things to focus on. In Universalis, it’s like each player determines for themselves what constitutes satisfaction: it could be contributing to the story, or initiating big complications, or keeping control of a powerful component, or having the biggest pool of Coins, or …

Anyway, for me I found I enjoyed play most when I was inclusive, focused on the story and let go of my sense of where the story had to go. Thanks Ralph and Mike, cool game.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2004, 10:50:38 AM »

Thanks for the kind words.

Oh, and I think this is an instant Uni-Samurai promotion, especially the zen part, and for the genre enforcement. All of it really. At least Samurai. I'm tempted to promote you right to Sensei. :-)

Mike
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hix
Member

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Steve Hickey


« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2004, 12:49:41 AM »

Promotion to Samurai humbly accepted. Now to spread the game to more people.

I should point out our enforcement of genre was always by consensus - happened almost invisibly, really.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
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