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Author Topic: The Mountain Witch, from a First Poster  (Read 4153 times)
Matthew
Member

Posts: 4


« on: August 03, 2006, 07:04:01 AM »

First off, some background: I've been gaming for about 20 years, GMing for much of that, but I'm new to the Forge and this is my first post here. I apologize if this is verbose.

Last night, I ran my first session of The Mountain Witch with a group of folks I've never really gamed with before. Of those, one is my wife; two are old traditional gamers (mostly WoD); and the other two are new to tabletop RPGs, having played MMORPGs and console games. I'd settled on The Mountain Witch after a somewhat lackluster Primetime Adventures setup; TMW seemed simple enough, straightfoward, and appropriate to the tastes of those involved.

Before the game, I had finished reading the book the night before and skimmed back through certain sections as I came up with questions I didn't know off the top of my head. I made very general notes about the path up the mountain, such as "Cave: Giant (Strong)" or Cliff: Kumo (Giant Spiders) (Weak)," with the notion that the characters would have a choice of three potential paths to the top. I made a few other notes, but this was between getting home from work and players arriving, so (as usual) I didn't have as much time as I would have liked. I have a few notions about this, below.

Once we got settled, I explained the premise a bit more thoroughly. (I had sold it to my players as "a cross between Seven Samurai and Reservoir Dogs.") The players chose to use the pregen characters from the Timfire site rather than create characters from scratch. It took a good bit longer than I expected for us to note trust and for me to explain the rules. (This is not unusual; I tend to underestimate timing.) The first major confusion was "Your Trust in Them" vs. "Their Trust in You." It took a while to get the trust points settled. No, I wasn't using chips, as I didn't have five different colors of poker chip to use; I may look into remedying this in some fashion soon. I muddled things, confusing where trust was spent from, but even once *I* had it settled (you spend others' trust in you, not the reverse), this confused the others. It took further discussion and explanation to understand that trust was fuel for aid and betrayal - players had to give trust in order to get aid, with the double-edge that it might cost them betrayal down the line. Also, we discussed how it was necessary to build trust in order to betray, especially against someone starting with an enemy Zodiac (i.e. zero trust). I think this would be smoothed out a bit with poker chips to move back and forth, but it's still possibly the most confusing element of the game.

With all of the issues of trust settled, we ran through the rules side of the character sheet, with me explaining conflict resolution, degrees of success, and the uses of trust. This was a little easier, although several players figured they'd only get it in play. (I find this is a reasonably common stance for players of many games, not just RPGs - "I'll pick it up as I go along.")

I started them outside a forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji and had them describe the general appearance of their characters. This went well, although I note that some of them still had very traditional assumptions about descriptions (armor, weapons, hair and eye color). Once in the forest, they quickly encountered wolves, and this is where I ran into trouble. I haven't run or played in a game in about a year, and I really felt rusty and uncommitted. At the end of the work day in the middle of the week and recovering from the flu, I wasn't as invested in the game as I'd hoped, and I always need a little while to ramp up into play. That said, the first conflict wasn't negotiated spectacularly, and I made several oversights.

First, I didn't set stakes very clearly. I think it was something along the lines of "the wolves want to get you" vs. "we want to get past the wolves." I kept focusing on "What is your intent?" (generally a good principle) and not enough on defining the stakes adequately. This was exacerbated by their failure on the conflict roll. Since it resulted in a regular success for the wolves and a partial success for the company, it wasn't a total loss. One of the players suggested that the company had to retreat and find a different path but hadn't suffered severely. I was OK with this, insofar as I didn't want the new players' first game to end with "You are eaten by a grue," so to speak.

Second, I forgot the relative strength of the wolves. I don't have the rules in front of me right now, but as Weak adversaries, it might have been possible for the company to be driven back by the wolves, losing time or getting lost in the forest but still defeating them utterly with their Partial Success. As it was, the company regrouped and sent one of the ronin ahead to scout a better path through the forest. They won their second conflict (possibly due to Aid), but it was still only Mixed. The company escaped from the woods, but the wolves were on their trail. A third conflict allowed the company to lose the wolves by crossing a nearby stream (and gain some food, either from dead wolves or from fishing from the stream), after which they set camp for the night.

I had them set watch for the night, and, being lazy, rather than tell them what happened during the night, let them describe what (if anything) happened on their watch. The second watchman, who could see the dead, described an encounter with someone who had been killed by the wolves. If the company would honor his remains, they might have whatever was left of his gear. I agreed to this, although I did not participate in dialogue (another weakness of mine, in a low-energy state). On the third watch, one of the newbies started to incorporate their dark Fate (Worst Fear), waking from nameless nightmares and being twitchy on watch. To complement this, she was visited by an owl that she accidentally shot at and missed, due to nerves. When she went to wake the next watch, the owl and the arrow stuck in the tree upon which the owl had been sitting disappeared. The last watch was uneventful.

The next morning, the company went to find the dead man seen the night before. After a brief discussion about Shintoism and Buddhism and what to do about the body, they built a cairn and resolved to return an important possession of his to his family. One of the newbies declared that he knew of the dead man and wished to do this for him. I described a map that the man had with him, which outlined three different paths to the summit: through a cave beneath the mountain, straight up the path to the front gate, and a mountain ridge above the tree line. I also intimated each path's initial dangers: a graveyard with zombies in front of the cave, human agents upon the road, and giant spiders before the ridgeline. There was a lively discussion about the various paths, and this is where I feel the system failed me a bit: I wanted more than two sides to a conflict. In hindsight, what I think I should have done is established the three sides, allowed for aiding any side, then had the players roll, highest winning and determining their path. Ultimately, some agreed that if a storm came up, they would take the cave. I knew I wanted at least one snowstorm in the story, so I told them one was definitely approaching. I wanted something to happen, possibly interparty conflict, possibly more dithering so the storm would come down on them before they decided, so that there would be conflict and possibly a split party, but they all immediately agreed on the cave.

It was running late enough to break, so I called the first chapter there. They reassessed trust and we broke for the evening.

All told, I don't think it was a *bad* session, and I don't think it turned anyone off from continuing the game next week or from gaming in general, but it could have been better. *I* could have been better. I think for next time, I need to do three things beforehand:

1) I need to have a cheatsheet, possibly a notecard, for each step of conflict resolution. I need to focus on getting each step ingrained in my head and reflexive, and this is probably the best method. Then I can concentrating on getting the most out of conflicts.
2) I need to have a bit more detail about the obstacles that lie between the company and the Witch. I have a few things jotted down already, as described above, but I think I need to add to these notes.
3) I need to have one encounter or one NPC planned that will really pop for them. Someone interested and engaging, for the characters to dialogue with. I think my problem with dialogue aversion is down not having a ready and convenient avenue for it and the need to switch between dialogue and narration, something that's not a strong suit.

Any comments or advice are welcome. I should point out that I'm always my own worst critic, and that I don't think things went terribly awry last night, all things considered, but I know I'm capable of much better. As such, comments along the lines of "don't worry, you're OK" are fine, but I'd prefer advice or, better still, discussion of specific points. When critiquing and analyzing, I work best through dialogue (believe it or not).

Thanks,
Matthew
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2006, 01:54:22 PM »

The Mountain Witch is one of my favourite games, and uniquely suited for both newbies and experienced roleplayers. Actually, if it didn't require five or more players, it'd be about the most versatile thing in my repertoire.

First off, some background: I've been gaming for about 20 years, GMing for much of that, but I'm new to the Forge and this is my first post here. I apologize if this is verbose.

Welcome to the Forge. This is a very good first post!

Quote
Before the game, I had finished reading the book the night before and skimmed back through certain sections as I came up with questions I didn't know off the top of my head. I made very general notes about the path up the mountain, such as "Cave: Giant (Strong)" or Cliff: Kumo (Giant Spiders) (Weak)," with the notion that the characters would have a choice of three potential paths to the top. I made a few other notes, but this was between getting home from work and players arriving, so (as usual) I didn't have as much time as I would have liked. I have a few notions about this, below.

This is usually all the GM needs, provided that he has some idea of what to look for during the game itself. Some idea of colorful challenges up the mountain, and off we go.

Quote
Once we got settled, I explained the premise a bit more thoroughly. (I had sold it to my players as "a cross between Seven Samurai and Reservoir Dogs.") The players chose to use the pregen characters from the Timfire site rather than create characters from scratch. It took a good bit longer than I expected for us to note trust and for me to explain the rules. (This is not unusual; I tend to underestimate timing.) The first major confusion was "Your Trust in Them" vs. "Their Trust in You." It took a while to get the trust points settled. No, I wasn't using chips, as I didn't have five different colors of poker chip to use; I may look into remedying this in some fashion soon. I muddled things, confusing where trust was spent from, but even once *I* had it settled (you spend others' trust in you, not the reverse), this confused the others. It took further discussion and explanation to understand that trust was fuel for aid and betrayal - players had to give trust in order to get aid, with the double-edge that it might cost them betrayal down the line. Also, we discussed how it was necessary to build trust in order to betray, especially against someone starting with an enemy Zodiac (i.e. zero trust). I think this would be smoothed out a bit with poker chips to move back and forth, but it's still possibly the most confusing element of the game.

One method to alleviate this is to simply have the players not write down the received trust on their character sheet. Instead, have them use a scratch pad of some kind. Having the received trust on a separate strip of paper clipped on the character sheet should be just the right amount of visual support to help differentiate between "this is a spendable resource I reseived from other players" and "this is how much I've given out". You could even have the players write these strips for each other, so it's absolutely clear that the strip has the trust you've got from others, while your own sheet has your own trust towards them.

But I have to say, the chips are easily superior. Just give everybody a bunch, tell them that the color of the chips is the color of their samurai, and whenever another player has one of those chips, it's because the samurai trusts him.

Quote
With all of the issues of trust settled, we ran through the rules side of the character sheet, with me explaining conflict resolution, degrees of success, and the uses of trust. This was a little easier, although several players figured they'd only get it in play. (I find this is a reasonably common stance for players of many games, not just RPGs - "I'll pick it up as I go along.")

You might want to try setting up some practice conflicts and such in the future, I've found that that works with TMW, as well as many other games. Actually, I tend to start TMW these days with a short introductory chapter with the sole purpose of teaching the rules. Like a computer game.

Quote
First, I didn't set stakes very clearly. I think it was something along the lines of "the wolves want to get you" vs. "we want to get past the wolves." I kept focusing on "What is your intent?" (generally a good principle) and not enough on defining the stakes adequately. This was exacerbated by their failure on the conflict roll. Since it resulted in a regular success for the wolves and a partial success for the company, it wasn't a total loss. One of the players suggested that the company had to retreat and find a different path but hadn't suffered severely. I was OK with this, insofar as I didn't want the new players' first game to end with "You are eaten by a grue," so to speak.

How many wolves? How did you negotiate the conflict groupings (that is, who rolls against whom). This is a big deal in TMW. I myself use dice on the table, with each player having his own. Having to take your own die and position it against the wolf dice is a powerful visual technique for really making the players consider whether they want to be in the conflict at all.

Note that you can't die from losing a conflict, even if the opposing intent was lethal. Setting a lethal intent in TMW simply means that you're saying that "I'm going to narrate a wound for you." The wolves would need a double success to kill one ronin, so the group was in no danger here. They'd have only suffered... a chapter wound to one of the ronin. Which is an awesome way to start the game. Even better, I'd have converted that success into a fact: one of the ronin got bitten in the leg, and can't run. Then the others would have an opportunity to ditch him, or prove their loyalty right off the bat! (Yes, you were tired.)

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Second, I forgot the relative strength of the wolves. I don't have the rules in front of me right now, but as Weak adversaries, it might have been possible for the company to be driven back by the wolves, losing time or getting lost in the forest but still defeating them utterly with their Partial Success. As it was, the company regrouped and sent one of the ronin ahead to scout a better path through the forest. They won their second conflict (possibly due to Aid), but it was still only Mixed. The company escaped from the woods, but the wolves were on their trail. A third conflict allowed the company to lose the wolves by crossing a nearby stream (and gain some food, either from dead wolves or from fishing from the stream), after which they set camp for the night.

No, you're messing up the rules. Each single wolf is a weak creature, so a partial success would have caused a chapter wound for one wolf only. You should also be rolling one die for each wolf, as they're separate creatures.

I suggest not shying away from the damage rules. They increase the necessity of Aiding, and make the situation more desperate in general. Which are both good things.

Quote
I had them set watch for the night, and, being lazy, rather than tell them what happened during the night, let them describe what (if anything) happened on their watch. The second watchman, who could see the dead, described an encounter with someone who had been killed by the wolves. If the company would honor his remains, they might have whatever was left of his gear. I agreed to this, although I did not participate in dialogue (another weakness of mine, in a low-energy state). On the third watch, one of the newbies started to incorporate their dark Fate (Worst Fear), waking from nameless nightmares and being twitchy on watch. To complement this, she was visited by an owl that she accidentally shot at and missed, due to nerves. When she went to wake the next watch, the owl and the arrow stuck in the tree upon which the owl had been sitting disappeared. The last watch was uneventful.

The players were clearly on the ball, that's some interesting content there. Did the newbie reveal his Fate, or did you know them from the beginning?

You as the GM should, however, enforce the idea that the players can only use director powers by drawing on their Dark Fate. This is another mechanic that encourages introducing the fate into the game. For example, I probably wouldn't have allowed that ghost without a connection to his fate (although it is a very cool idea in that context).

Also, when you ask the players to use directorial powers, it's doubly important that you incorporate their contributions into your own play centrally. I suggest that the disappearing owl should have got some immediate use, just to encourage the player in what she's doing. Not following it up is the equivalent of snubbing her, I think.

Quote
There was a lively discussion about the various paths, and this is where I feel the system failed me a bit: I wanted more than two sides to a conflict. In hindsight, what I think I should have done is established the three sides, allowed for aiding any side, then had the players roll, highest winning and determining their path. Ultimately, some agreed that if a storm came up, they would take the cave. I knew I wanted at least one snowstorm in the story, so I told them one was definitely approaching. I wanted something to happen, possibly interparty conflict, possibly more dithering so the storm would come down on them before they decided, so that there would be conflict and possibly a split party, but they all immediately agreed on the cave.

So you rolled about the argument? Or just wanted to roll? The way to do it, according to the rules, is to determine each participant's goals, and then group the participants based on who they oppose. This grouping (which should be done as an overt negotiation) then determines one or more conflicts that are resolved simultaneously. If, after one round of that, there's still somebody in the conflict who disagrees with somebody else, just continue until you only have one man (or opinion, in this case) standing.

So what would happen in practice is that you'd find out where each player wants to go, and then ask each who they want to oppose most right this second (as opposed to a complete list of who they might want to oppose as the argument goes on). Put the ones who want to oppose the same guy into the same grouping, regardless of whether they actually agree about where to go. With three different choices this will probably mean that you'll have the supporters of options A and B against the supporters of option C, but ultimately it all depends not only on what each player wants, but also what each of them wants to avoid most. For example, a player who supports option B might well be on the same side with the C guys if he didn't trust one of the A guys, or if he was afraid of option A in general. Or you could have two separate conflicts, if it came to that. Anyway, in the simple case: either A+B wins over C, or the other way around. If C won, then they're going for C. If A+B won, you need another round of conflict to determine which one it'll be. Because C was already rolled over, nobody can argue for C anymore. But the supporters of C are certainly free to continue in the conflict, joining either A or B. If you happened to end up with several conflicts at the same time, you'd just have to remember that anybody who lost a stake can't declare the same stake again. So you could potentially have several rounds over option C, if the supporters of option C were in separate conflicts and some of them won and some of them lost the first round.

That's how the system handles more than two goals. In the book there's an example about a ronin, a tengu and a wall that wants to crumble under the ronin. It's the same principle. Quite simple as long as you remember that you need to group the players according to whose goals they resist, instead of what their own goals are. And you also have to realize that hidden behind the one-roll mechanic there is a full-blown "long conflict system" that's used whenever there are too many goals or participants to resolve with just one roll. Remember: TMW conflict roll can only resolve 0,5-2 facts about the game, so whenever you have more than that by the virtue of a complex situation or several participants, it's more than likely that you'll need several rounds of conflict to cover everything. (This is a virtue, by the way: the more complex and invested the situation is, the more detail the system wrench out of it via several rounds of narration and player decisions.)

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1) I need to have a cheatsheet, possibly a notecard, for each step of conflict resolution. I need to focus on getting each step ingrained in my head and reflexive, and this is probably the best method. Then I can concentrating on getting the most out of conflicts.

Run practice conflicts with spurious stakes until you get it. Preferably, do it with the players. Ideally your players are as committed to mastering the system as you are, so they understand and accept your need to practice. Also, practice conflicts at the start of the game are a great way to build character for the characters, so to speak. You can also gauge each other as narrators, and see how much work each of you has to do to find narrative harmony with the others. Many times such practice conflicts over trivial things can even develop into real relationships between the characters.

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2) I need to have a bit more detail about the obstacles that lie between the company and the Witch. I have a few things jotted down already, as described above, but I think I need to add to these notes.

Just so you don't overwork it. Most of the content in the late game will come from mirroring and spicing up player contributions.

Quote
3) I need to have one encounter or one NPC planned that will really pop for them. Someone interested and engaging, for the characters to dialogue with. I think my problem with dialogue aversion is down not having a ready and convenient avenue for it and the need to switch between dialogue and narration, something that's not a strong suit.

Dialogue is revered in rpg circles for no reason at all. Rather than having this juxtaposition between dialogue and narration, how about thinking of dialogue as one subtype of narration, a type which is used when it suits the narrator? That's how a writer thinks of it, you know.

Anyway, that's that. Sorry to be so curt, but I have to lay out the Finnish edition of the game before Ropecon next week, and I'm thus a bit busy...
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timfire
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« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2006, 02:55:14 PM »

Eero beat me to respond! How's it going Matthew (did we talk over email)?

Quote from: Matthew
I made very general notes about the path up the mountain, such as "Cave: Giant (Strong)" or Cliff: Kumo (Giant Spiders) (Weak)," with the notion that the characters would have a choice of three potential paths to the top...

2) I need to have a bit more detail about the obstacles that lie between the company and the Witch. I have a few things jotted down already, as described above, but I think I need to add to these notes.

Have you look at my Clarifications or Actual Play pages? Those should give you some ideas if you don't mind a little reading. Also note, some people (like Eero) just throw generic obstacles and opponents at the characters and let the players create their own drama. This does work, though how well might depend on your players. I usually try to create bangs that push the tension between characters. Just trying to say that there are different ways to GM the game.

Quote from: Matthew
The first major confusion was "Your Trust in Them" vs. "Their Trust in You."... but it's still possibly the most confusing element of the game.

I'll admit that it is. I need to figure out a better way to explain it.

Quote from: Eero
You might want to try setting up some practice conflicts and such in the future, I've found that that works with TMW, as well as many other games. Actually, I tend to start TMW these days with a short introductory chapter with the sole purpose of teaching the rules.

This was the purpose of the "Introduction" Act. Just throw some random stuff at the players so they can get use to the system and establish their characters. Don't worry if the beginning chapter didn't go so hot. TMW tends to build in drama and intensity over time. Even my opening chapters tend to be a little dry.

Quote
First, I didn't set stakes very clearly. I think it was something along the lines of "the wolves want to get you" vs. "we want to get past the wolves."

Don't sweat it, but you should have stuck with your stated intent, that the wolves wanted to harm the company. Live and learn is all. Like Eero said, you shouldn't shy away from inflicting damage. In fact, you need to be brutal sometimes. The players need to know that you're willing to hurt them. That'll make them realize they need to Aid--and subsequencely give Trust to one another.

Quote from: Eero
You as the GM should, however, enforce the idea that the players can only use director powers by drawing on their Dark Fate. This is another mechanic that encourages introducing the fate into the game. For example, I probably wouldn't have allowed that ghost without a connection to his fate (although it is a very cool idea in that context).

Also, when you ask the players to use directorial powers, it's doubly important that you incorporate their contributions into your own play centrally. I suggest that the disappearing owl should have got some immediate use, just to encourage the player in what she's doing. Not following it up is the equivalent of snubbing her, I think.

Very good comments by Eero here (as they always are). As the game progresses, try and pay special attention to the stuff the players contribute. Always try and build on that stuff, taking them as your own. It may or may not be possible to bring this stuff up again later, somehow tying it with the player's Fates. The owl seems like it would be very easy to bring back later, like maybe she sees it watching her from the rooftop of the Witch's mansion. Maybe the owl could appear in human form to the character, maybe in a dream or maybe in real life. Do something like that and see how she reacts. Then follow the mood and make the Owl either a good or evil spirit (or maybe even the Witch himself... that might be cool). Of course, if the player doesn't seem interested, don't be afraid to just drop it.

Maybe the ghost might reappear, maybe some other ghost could appear and say "You helped my friend, could you help me?" but then make some sort of outrageous request---or maybe the request isn't difficult, maybe something bad happens while in route. Make the other players feel it was the fault of the first character that this happened. Maybe the ghost was a friend of the Witch, and now the Witch is willing to "do a favor in return". The Witch or one of his minions could also play the whole "that was so honorable... you are so honorable, unlike those other dirty ronin"-card.

Re: 3-way inter-party conflicts: It's a little late, but know what would have been cool? Do what Eero suggested, but said, "Player A wants X. Player B wants Y. Player C wants Z... Player C, for purposes of this conflict, you have to choose who you want oppose and who you want to support... Make your choice NOW." Basically, put someone on the spot. Pry a wedge between people... I love inter-party conflicts.
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2006, 03:35:32 PM »

Have you look at my Clarifications or Actual Play pages? Those should give you some ideas if you don't mind a little reading. Also note, some people (like Eero) just throw generic obstacles and opponents at the characters and let the players create their own drama. This does work, though how well might depend on your players. I usually try to create bangs that push the tension between characters. Just trying to say that there are different ways to GM the game.

This is such an important point that I'm requoting it. I like the occasional bang, too, it's just that I couldn't figure out how to make them in TMW before reading Tim's Gencon demo scenario ;) I still think that you can't really start banging before the middle-game when the players give up their fates, but that doesn't mean you can't give the players some food for thought before that, especially concerning the Witch. O-Yanma is like a seventh fate, after all, so he's quite bangable even from the very beginning.
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Matthew
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« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2006, 08:56:25 AM »

Thanks to both of you for the feedback. A couple of further notes and comments:

1) I'll be running this for another group of players tomorrow. This is an old troupe I used to run that broke up largely due to personality conflicts. It's been two years or so, and I want to give them another go, but only with a low-committment game (in terms of sessions). So we'll see. The next session for the first group should be on Monday.

2) I think I'll pull out some note cards to put bangs/encounters on; I think that should be slightly more useful than my current list. It's also just enough space to put some personality and detail into each.

3) Wow, I'm kind of floored by exactly how wrong I was running the wolves. Yes, I was rolling 5 dice, one for each wolf, but I was resolving them as a group. I think I haven't fully integrated the system methodology yet, hence the desire for a step-by-step checklist. I will try to have folks at the table tomorrow, because that "die vs. die" technique sounds fantastic. (I also hope to acquire a poker set with five different colors of chips.) So, from the outcome of the first conflict, the wolves could have used their regular success to inflict a Chapter Wound on *one* of the company, and I as the narrator could have given the company either Damage for *a* wolf (at Weak, would that Take Out a wolf? Another thing that might be handy on the rules side of the character sheet) or some other narrative concession, probably negotiated? And then we would be back to establishing new stakes for another conflict, based on the narrative outcome of the first conflict?

4) I really like your take on the argument. I tend to have a logical turn of mind, but it often doesn't operate that well in the heat of play. Now that I think about it, could I have set up the conflict in yet another way? For example, have one side be all the ronin and the other be me. My stakes would be "if I win, you waste a long while debating which way to go, until a storm blows up" and then if they won, whoever had the high roll could dictate their decision/path. Would my stakes be too large there, or too vague? Is it too much control to let the winning player decide the path? Not that I don't think your version has merit; I'm purely wondering if it could have been handled *well* with only one roll.

5) Tim, your website is invaluable. (And no, we haven't communicated via email, to my knowledge.) I hit it before the first session and picked up several goodies. I noticed the articles but didn't have time to read them prior to the game. I'm hoping to read them before tomorrow's session. I like your take on the Mountain Witch, in particular. I think I'll be playing him a little like V from V for Vendetta: calm, modulated voice, with a hint of amusement, as though everything is beneath him somehow.

6) The owl was entirely my contribution and is a bit of foreshadowing for later. The player described waking after bad dreams and being jittery on watch. I added the owl, to accentuate that and set up for later use. I'm usually pretty good at introducing interesting and mysterious elements early in a game. Later, they can develop into something more significant or be red herrings, so I've got an out either way. That was my plan here. I've deliberately *not* decided what the owl means. As for Fates, I passed the cards around, let the players write down their top choices, collected them, circled the one they got, and handed them back. So I've seen what everyone has (and I collected their character sheets, for storage, after the game), but I don't remember what everyone has and I emphasized repeatedly that it was up to the players to bring out their dark Fates. The player who encountered the owl has Worst Fear (hence the nightmare), but I think I'll wait for her to settle on a specific fear. At that point, the owl may be the Witch (or the Witch's eyes and ears), finding out the fear, in order to use it against her.

7) Evidently I need to re-emphasize directorial authority again. The player who saw the ghost was using their Speaks with the Dead ability, which I had made clear had no mechanical effect and was "only for narration." I think the "only for narration" may have caused confusion with the player in question - I had asked him to narrate what happened during his character's watch. I don't *think* it relates to his dark Fate, but I'd have to check. I'm used to a slower build in my games and some of these are new players, so I was less likely to deny them things this early on. I come from the "give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves" school of thought. I suspect, however, that they're viewing things as more of an D&D-with-samurai adventure than the gritty ronin-noir it should be, so I need to break them of that delusion. The pendant that they acquired from the corpse, which they wanted to be able to ward off undead and I allowed would help detect the *presence* of undead, can always turn out to be cursed or marked by the Witch, so he will always know where the company is. (How do you think the wolves got to the previous owner, after all?) I have no problems with narrative judo. :)

8) As far as the dialogue problem goes, I just don't want the narration to get too dry. I especially don't want the new players getting a view that roleplaying is just narrating what your character does and what happens to them and doesn't involve any level of immersion. For example, one of the new players said, "My character says he knew the dead guy," etc. without any actual character dialogue. I don't want to force them to speak in character all the time, but I also don't want them to *never* do so. Personally, I just find that I need a way into a certain level of dialogue, at least as a GM.

9) To start the folks tomorrow, I'm thinking about starting them a little bit more "in medias res." Put them in the forest with the wolves on their trail and let each player introduce their character as they are on the move, as though there were a static camera watching each character move through the frame, giving an indication of their appearance and their personality (under some stress). If I want to do some practice conflict, which will depend on how long it takes to get started and how much the players are chomping at the bit to get into the thick of things, I'll use part of Tim's demo, "Of Wolves and Tengu," which I've already printed out.

10) Regarding building on player contributions, that's pretty much *all* I intended on doing. Part of my purpose in playing this game was to work on my own reactions. I often run content-heavy games - not railroading, but plenty of GM-created "meat" for the players to sink their teeth into. I liked the idea here of only vaguely knowing were I was going and leaving it to the players to decide what they thought was important and cool.

A few critiques:
"Damage" is a bit of a misnomer. I realize that it's probably there because most roleplayers understand the concept of "damage," some possibly even the concept of "social damage" or the like, but I think a word like "complication" or "setback" might be better.

Questions:
The first two levels of Damage on the character sheets note Failures; the last two levels note Successes. Why the linguistic switch?
How do you reframe/restake a conflict involving a combat that *wasn't* fully resolved (with one side or the other Taken Out) in the first resolution? If the wolves had wounded one of the ronin and the ronin had wounded one of the wolves, wouldn't both sides still want the same stakes? Or am I totally misunderstanding stakes? (Don't worry, I'll be reviewing that section of the rules tonight.)

Thanks again!
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2006, 10:21:03 AM »

It seems to me you'll do quite well in the next session. I see nothing to worry about here.

1) I'll be running this for another group of players tomorrow. This is an old troupe I used to run that broke up largely due to personality conflicts. It's been two years or so, and I want to give them another go, but only with a low-committment game (in terms of sessions). So we'll see. The next session for the first group should be on Monday.

Let us know how it goes!

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3) Wow, I'm kind of floored by exactly how wrong I was running the wolves. Yes, I was rolling 5 dice, one for each wolf, but I was resolving them as a group. I think I haven't fully integrated the system methodology yet, hence the desire for a step-by-step checklist. I will try to have folks at the table tomorrow, because that "die vs. die" technique sounds fantastic. (I also hope to acquire a poker set with five different colors of chips.) So, from the outcome of the first conflict, the wolves could have used their regular success to inflict a Chapter Wound on *one* of the company, and I as the narrator could have given the company either Damage for *a* wolf (at Weak, would that Take Out a wolf? Another thing that might be handy on the rules side of the character sheet) or some other narrative concession, probably negotiated? And then we would be back to establishing new stakes for another conflict, based on the narrative outcome of the first conflict?

Some basic issues, just to make sure we're on the same page here:
- Setting stakes: Each participant in the conflict (even each individual wolf, should they need to) sets his stakes on his own. This means that the GM does not decide what the dice are rolled for, he can only call what the wolves want.
- Narration: The player who rolls highest will narrate the conflict. This includes deciding whether one or both sides cause damage instead of reaching their stakes (death is a special case: you can't reach death, you have to cause damage instead, and perhaps cause death that way). This is emphatically not a negotiated issue, although the narrator can take suggestions from the other players.
- Long conflicts: Whenever there's more than two sides to a conflict, or damage is caused in narration, it's more than likely that there are still unresolved stakes up in the air. Do not be confused by the "one-roll" mechanics of TMW, it really scales to match the intensity of the situation. Tim writes in the book about these "conflict rounds", and that's what you need when you have mortal combat: you set stakes, resolve, set stakes and resolve until the conflict situation ends, either by one party being taken out or escaping, or by reconsiliation between the parties in some kind of compromise.

And the main point: when you have group conflicts, it's important to negotiate the exact conflict groupings with the players. Like, a player could say that he's going to circle around the wolves and attack them from the back, to split the opposition. Then you'd have one ronin against half of the wolves and the rest against the other half. Or perhaps the players decide to throw one of their own to the wolves, so the others get away. Then it'd be one ronin against the pack. See how "5 ronin and 5 wolves" does not at all mean that you're going to roll two 5-die pools against each other? It's all very much dependent on the fiction and the player goals. Like, if one of the ronin decides that his goal is to "run away" while the rest stay and fight, and the wolves want to eat them all, what happens? Because most of the ronin oppose the wolves, you group the wolves against the ronin, and the one coward gets away without a conflict! But if the wolves were smart, they might decide to split up so that a part of them follows the coward. Maneuvers are the salt of TMW group conflict.

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4) I really like your take on the argument. I tend to have a logical turn of mind, but it often doesn't operate that well in the heat of play. Now that I think about it, could I have set up the conflict in yet another way? For example, have one side be all the ronin and the other be me. My stakes would be "if I win, you waste a long while debating which way to go, until a storm blows up" and then if they won, whoever had the high roll could dictate their decision/path. Would my stakes be too large there, or too vague? Is it too much control to let the winning player decide the path? Not that I don't think your version has merit; I'm purely wondering if it could have been handled *well* with only one roll.

That's good, except you can't dictate the conflict. This is especially important in this case, because whether it's too much to let the high roller decide the path the characters take depends solely on the individual stakes of the players: if a player wants it as his stakes that "we reach cover before the storm comes" and he wins, then the exact route is up for narration. But if the stakes were "we reach the cave at the end of route A before the storm comes", then it's not really up to the narration, is it?

(Now, I should point out that this is all somewhat black belt stuff as concerns TMW; you really shouldn't drive yourself into multi-stakes inter-party long conflicts before you have a good handle on regular party vs. monsters battles.)

My point here is that you as the GM do not decide whether the situation is resolved with one die roll, or with many. The only things you do are to set up the situation, identify opposition, declare your own stakes, and roll against the stakes the players set. Then you figure out if any stakes are left unresolved. If not, then you've managed to resolve the situation with one roll. But there are all kinds of possibilities as to why the situation would continue without complete resolution, beginning with the winner only getting a partial success.

So here's how it plays out:
GM: OK, the storm is blowing up fast, and you have to decide where you're going. I'm going to play the storm, it's stakes are that it catches you in the open.
Player 1: Well, I really really want route A, so my stakes is to get in that cave before the storm hits.
Player 2: Route A? No way! I want route B.
Player 3: Are you guys insane, we have to get somewhere safe before the storm comes! That's my stakes, by the way.
GM: OK, we have stakes. It seems to me that player 3 wants to oppose the storm, while players 1 and 2 oppose each other, right?
Player 3: It's insane, but if that's how they want it...
GM: That's how it'll be, then. Two simultaneous conflict rounds. If player 3 wins over the storm, you get wherever you're going before the storm hits. If the storm wins, you might be stranded (although 1 and 2 can still contest it). Whichever of players 1 and 2 wins gets to decide where you're going.
<dice are rolled>
GM: Ah, seems that I'm winning over player 3. And player 1 won against 2, right?
Player 1: Yeah! My ronin pushes his and calls him a coward. Everybody is so impressed that they follow me without another word.
GM: A finer narration never heard. For my part, it seems that the wind has caught on and the day is darkening, as the clouds gather. Player 3 failed in getting you moving soon enough, and now it's more than likely that the storm will get you all.
Player 1: But I and player 2 can continue the conflict against the storm, right?
GM: Right. You've not lost your stakes, and the storm hasn't lost it's stakes, so the conflict is still on. You're both against me now, right?
Player 3: Can I participate?
GM: Nope. This is conflict resolution, so you can't reroll on anything that's already been resolved. And as you lost against the storm already, we've determined that whether you all avoid the storm or not, it's not thanks to your efforts.
...
And so on. Hopefully that helps clarify what long conflicts are supposed to look like. You roll and narrate, roll and narrate until everybody has resolved all the stakes they want to get resolved in the situation.

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7) Evidently I need to re-emphasize directorial authority again. The player who saw the ghost was using their Speaks with the Dead ability, which I had made clear had no mechanical effect and was "only for narration." I think the "only for narration" may have caused confusion with the player in question - I had asked him to narrate what happened during his character's watch. I don't *think* it relates to his dark Fate, but I'd have to check. I'm used to a slower build in my games and some of these are new players, so I was less likely to deny them things this early on. I come from the "give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves" school of thought. I suspect, however, that they're viewing things as more of an D&D-with-samurai adventure than the gritty ronin-noir it should be, so I need to break them of that delusion. The pendant that they acquired from the corpse, which they wanted to be able to ward off undead and I allowed would help detect the *presence* of undead, can always turn out to be cursed or marked by the Witch, so he will always know where the company is. (How do you think the wolves got to the previous owner, after all?) I have no problems with narrative judo. :)

Abilities are difficult to get if you're used to numerical abilities. I'd like to point out that they're not "only for narration", because abilities can have dramatic effect on the set-up of conflicts, just like any other facts of the narration. Like, if you have "Speaks with the Dead", then by golly you're about the only guy in the game who can have stakes like "find out what happened here from the ghosts of the slain" or the like. Or in combat, if you have a bow and the other guy doesn't, which one of you is going to cause damage, and which one is stuck with lame goals like "get close enough to hit him"? I think that's rather more than "just narration".

An useful excercise: prepare one scene for each character ability in the game, where the ability will be useful and unique. It's a good practice to adopt, to make sure the abilities of the player characters are useful in the adventure.

By the by, I suggest that while twists and turns like what you're planning for the pendant there can be fun, it's not good to get into the habit of thinking about narration as an adversial proposition between the players and the GM, where your job is to pre-empt what the players are doing. Rather, if they want to have this cool pendant, how about giving them opportunity to use it? Wouldn't that be much more fun than screwing them with it? I think positive thinking is an useful tool if you want to help your players lose the habit of hoarding magic items and slaying everything they meet. If you reward their acquisition of the pendant with cursing the pendant, how much motivation will they have later on to narrate anything? This is especially true as the system of TMW doesn't care what tools the characters have, they still have to roll the dice.

Heroic vs. gritty is an illusion, by the way, and has nothing to do with the D&D habits you're trying to root. You don't get players to address the issues of trust and betrayal rised by TMW just by driving home "hoooow grittae, with ghouls and stuff" the adventure is. Rather, you should give the players valid thematic reasons to suspect and betray each other. If they're at all into thematic play of that kind, they'll pick it up when you give them obvious opportunities. If you just bash on them to make sure they don't start acting like heroes, that just gives them reason to start thinking like a commando hit squad.

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8) As far as the dialogue problem goes, I just don't want the narration to get too dry. I especially don't want the new players getting a view that roleplaying is just narrating what your character does and what happens to them and doesn't involve any level of immersion. For example, one of the new players said, "My character says he knew the dead guy," etc. without any actual character dialogue. I don't want to force them to speak in character all the time, but I also don't want them to *never* do so. Personally, I just find that I need a way into a certain level of dialogue, at least as a GM.

(I'm sounding very critical, don't mind it. Trying to be terse to get back into the layout.)

Perhaps players can get immersed (that is, can care about the fiction) without dialogue? I don't know. I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you. I find that setting artificial standards for this kind of thing doesn't work very well, because then you're effectively saying that fun has to be had your way, and that likely won't improve the experience. If dialogue is fun, certainly it will emerge. If it's not, then probably not.

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How do you reframe/restake a conflict involving a combat that *wasn't* fully resolved (with one side or the other Taken Out) in the first resolution? If the wolves had wounded one of the ronin and the ronin had wounded one of the wolves, wouldn't both sides still want the same stakes? Or am I totally misunderstanding stakes? (Don't worry, I'll be reviewing that section of the rules tonight.)

I addressed this above, but let me repeat: while the rules are very clear that you can't retry a conflict that was resolved, causing damage does not resolve a conflict. Or rather, it only resolves the conflict if the opposition decides to flee or dies on the spot. What this means is that if a conflict is rolled, but for whatever reason (usually because they wanted to) damage was narrated, then the conflict can be repeated.

In practice you just let the last narrator do his bit, and then take stock: who's still standing, what everybody wants to do, is there still conflicts on the table? Then you start the conflict procedure again, and repeat as many times as necessary to get all the conflicts off the table.

(I'm discussing "resolving conflicts" here, which might be confusing if you don't realize that "wolves and men fighting to the death" is a valid conflict, although one that cannot be resolved according to the rules. So what happens instead is rounds and rounds of damage, until one side or the other changes his stakes or dies.)

Also note that the last narrator can quite easily change the situation in such a way as to make continuing the conflict very easy or very hard, regardless of what the other parties want. For example, an avalanche could separate the fighters from each other as part of narration. Then, obviously, the conflict would be finished for now.
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