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Author Topic: [Middle Earth - home brew] - last week.  (Read 2410 times)
Silmenume
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Posts: 467


« on: February 25, 2005, 01:10:21 AM »

Hey Everyone,

This is only my second foray into the Actual Play forum.  Once again I am faced with the issue of how to proceed.  I have read the sticky many times and have looked over a number of other posts for guidance.  The problem is that in Sim finding and writing about “important” or “defining” moments of play is extremely difficult if not oxymoronic.  As the whole process of Sim play, bricolage, is inevitably an open ended foray into Situation, I am faced with the prospect of making editorial decisions without any guidelines regarding demarcation points.  IOW there are many threads that lead into this one evening’s worth of play, meet, interact and wend outward without hard beginnings, middle or ends.

To borrow from Chris Bankuei

Premise[list=1][*]What are you playing?  How long have you been playing/how long do you intend to play this game?  Is this your first time?[*]Who's playing, how many people, any notable things about them(demographics, relationships, blood kin, etc.)?[*]Group history- how long have you all played together, if at all?[*]Logistics- Face to face, LARP, online chat, email, forum post game?  How long are the sessions?[/list:o]1.  We are playing a home brew system set in Middle Earth approximately 30 years before the war of the rings.  I have previously posted system information in this thread here.  The campaign has been in existence for over 20+ years and I have been involved for about the last 8.  I intend to play this game until I am incapable of playing at all.

2.  There are about 8 core players with about another 8-10 peripheral players.  Lately we have been playing even somewhat more contracted groups.  This particular session there were 6 core players and one shiny brand spankin’ new player.  The group is all male, but that is not by design.  Our median age is the mid thirties, with the range being from 27 to 46.

3.  The GM (Cary) and his friend and writing partner (Chuck) have played together for over 20+ years.  The game started in New Jersey and came out west about 10-11 years ago.  The only two to make the migration were Cary and Chuck.  Dave has been in the game for 11 years used to own a SFX company and now is co-owner of an assisted living facility.  Chris has been in the game for about 10 years – used to sing opera and now works in a financial planning company.  Montana has been in the game for 10 years as well and owns his own business.  I have been in the game for 8 years and work in film and TV.  Jeff is a stunt coordinator and has been playing for 7 years.  And we had a new player, Jesse, who came to us via a posting in a game store.  He was, for us, a young player at 23 and there was some concern at the table regarding this.

4.  This is a face to face game.  This particular session ran about 12 hours, which is a little longer than we have been running lately (8-10 hours) though certainly in keeping with past numbers.

The Game

Chuck – played Basil, a Corsair pirate in need of money to purchase a ship – existing character.
Dave – played Mair Dume.  This is a new character.  I’m not sure of much about him other than he is tall has disturbingly blue eyes and has some sort of “battle prescience.”  He seems a cross between a barbarian and civilized man.  At the end of the night he also played Duraizon, a Númenórean Lich.  This Lich has significance to Chris listed below.
Montana – played Azran, a novitiate of “The Hand.”  This is a new character who’s potential, while untapped, appears vast.
Jeff – played a ‘Jin’.  This is an existing character, though he never gave his name.  He is similar to a ninja.  I am not that familiar with his story other than he does not look like all the others with whom he was raised.  At the end of the night, after a great battle, he looked at his tattoos on his for arms and swore that one day he would be free – so I can reasonably infer some motivation.
Chris – played Nicodemus/Nicholas, a “necromancer” and the driving force this particular game.  This character, as well as Dave’s Lich, came about from an idea that Montana has been pushing for some time.  Montana has a vampire, Eglambar (Forsaken by Fate), who was originally a Dunedain.  Because of his lust for power he allowed himself to be lured away from wisdom and was taken.  He was bitten and then given the choice of death or vampirehood; he chose to be a vampire.  (This was played out in vignettes over many sessions.)  The Master Vampire continually humiliated him as Montana gave up freedom for slavery.  Tiring of this Montana took off on his own and made ovations to Sauron.  Seeing that Sauron was worse even than the Master Vampire, he broke of contact there as well.  However Sauron was not willing to let him “go,” proclaimed that he “coveted that one,” and is sending Nazgul to find him and bring Montana back in chains.  Realizing that he has no allies, Montana tried to rally the players around an idea of his – that of an evil dungeoneering group.  The idea was to create a group that would not freak out because he was a vampire while seeking magical weapons he could use to protect himself against the Nazgul.  Both Duraizon and Nicodemus are the fruits of that labor.  However, as Chris was worried that Eglambar was so powerful (and evil) that should Eglambar decide to break troth and steal or kill Nicodemus over what was found while dungeoneering, the player made his concerns known to the GM.  This play session is part of that “leavening” process.
Jesse - played Halkar, a young mercenary from Gondor who was with three other mercs.  Jesse was awol from his unit that broke during a recent war between Harad and Gondor (This was part of the July 4th weekend of 2004).  This is a new character.  As Jesse was new to the game the DM played out/described the battle and given the circumstances sure enough Jesse made the decision to break as did the rest of his unit under the overwhelming odds.  With main battle track (3) playing from Gladiator the GM described volleys of arrows, men falling screaming, officers barking orders to advance, mumakils 30 feet tall with archers on their backs swaying as they rise advancing over the hill, other Haradrim units flanking, men beginning to panic and flee, etc.
Me - started off playing Leuca, a Ranger of Ithilien on the run, and later Alarus a Knight Palantar who belongs to a secret order of knights who are collecting the relics of Númenór for the hoped for return of the king.

From here on out this post will probably get tedious.  What is in black is the basic relating of the events.  That which is in red are my thoughts and reactions to the events as they were unfolding.  My apologies for the length.  In the future, and probably as a result of any feedback here, I will learn to cull out what is important.  I should note that this record was actually written by another player at the table.  Onward…

[PR 27, February, session II]

In Harandor, Leuca’s period of rest in continues. He is viewed favorably by an ‘elder’ who seems to have much sway with the locals. . . a man by the name of ‘Old Nell’. He dances with his beloved (Elya) at a local ‘town gathering’. . . their equivalent of a square dance.

Elya (Leuca’s woman) resists her brother Creedy’s attempts to push Leuca away from this place. He promises that Leuca will not stay in their house. . . but Elya promises he will. . . and lets Creedy know she’s going to bear his Leuca’s son. Creedy and Elya argue – he slaps her to the ground – and Leuca beats the hell out of him.

Leuca lets Creedy know he’ll never hit Elya again – next time he’d better hit him              (Leuca).  Elya pushes Leuca off of Creedy.  Leuca smiles at the fire his woman possess, which earns Leuca a slap from Elya. . .  Elya says to Creedy again ‘I’m having his baby’. To which Creedy replies ‘That was your choice – not mine, whore.’ Creedy tells Leuca this isn’t over before leaving and turns to walk away. . . Leuca lets Elya enter the house before saying ‘Coward’. Creedy huffs and debates coming back. . . but proceeds to the barn, where he saddles his horse and gallops away. . .

Meanwhile hundreds – if not thousands – of miles away, Nicodemus emerges from his undertower. . . and journeys through Harad, observing from a distance cities in disorder and revolt. After many days, he comes within sight and smell of the sea. . . and along the shore the ancient city of An-zulzibar. Some of the structures have high or outward-sloping walls, which seem to defy gravity. . . probably the vestiges of ancient Numenorean architecture. Inside the city, Nicodemus establishes himself in a low-rent tavern called ‘The Blind Crow’. . . calling himself ‘Nicholas’, and sends out word for soldiers-of-fortune and adventurers to seek him out. He is planning a journey. . . and most of those who come before him are disappointing. Although a mercenary named Teller who seems better than the rest signs on. He seems somewhat more honorable than the others. For his part, Nicodemus is posing as a weak/decaying old man. . . which disguise the mercenary types don’t see past. . . whether through use of arcane/illusionary arts or because of their own pride or both.  This playing as weak/decaying old man, the term he used for himself is “scholar” and “healer”, is important given his aims and ambitions.  On the night Nicodemus came into play, a “dark messenger” a wraith-like form bound in chains was sent to him with an offer.  In exchange for knowledge given Nicodemus would work towards freeing Melkor from the void.  To quote, “My lieutenant tarries too much…”  Nicodemus is given 6 questions/requests that he can make.  He made his first request that night and that was the language of “power.”  Thus was seared into his flesh the runes of the high black tongue of Melkor – evil to its very essence.  Now the problem is that he radiates evil or power so now he must work to counter that feeling.  Humans not being too sensitive to such things are fairly easily distracted, but the effort must be made or those around him are uncomfortable.  Mind you, Melkor has enlisted Nicodemus to release himself while displacing Sauron who has “not worked fast or hard enough” towards the same end.

This is also interesting to me, because this is the first player character to play evil in a way that is not “petty.”  This is deep dark stuff – and there is much baggage associated with it.  The player of the character has expressed concerns because certain situations might call for him to “go places” that might be very uncomfortable.  I know that I can’t play evil for that very same reason – there are “places” that I just don’t wish to go to.  Also there are general concerns around the table because the balance is already so far in the side of evil that bringing in more via player characters will only make matters that much hopeless.  (We love the world kinda stuff)  There will also come a time when we are going to be directly opposed to him and that is not looked forward to with any great enthusiasm.  Ah… the lust for power!


Nicodemus gets approached by someone from ‘The Hand’. . . a guild (of thieves) who require 10 gold pieces for the right to do business in their town. Nicodemus pays. . . and gets some advice. He asks for help in recruiting, and is told ‘The Hand and its fingers reach out to many places. . . it will be done.’ Unknown (or at least unseen) by the outside world, as novitiates in the order of the Hand progress, tattoos of ‘hands’ gripping their spine are tattooed in a series from their necks down their backs. . . until they eventually from an unbroken chain.

Per Cary (the GM), there are ‘two cants’ that are spoken by the order. A basic ‘undercant’ which is a collection of near-nonsense words, which can be spoken in public but seem to make no sense to anyone who might casually overhear (similar to Cockney slang. e.g. “Let’s go to filet and speak to the garbage-friend.) And a secret language – which is spoken only in private to members of the Order, under penalty of death. There are also – at times – thieves’ wars between rival factions.

Azran (Montana) is one of the novitiates of the Hand. Besides his short-sword and various forms of daggers and throwing knives, he also possesses a sack of potentially lethal ‘Dust of Unconsciousness’. . . a garrote. . . and a sack of ‘Black Rim’ – an addictive-but-pleasurable drug which the Order sells to others. Among other things, they’re in the drug trade. He has already taken his ‘Oath to the Hand’; a blood oath made under the moon at midnight. Along his spine, he had two ‘hand’ tattoos ‘gripping’ him. He also has three ‘flash-balls’ – which when thrown down, make a flash-bang that allow one to make a quick exit.

This character, Azran, is particularly interesting because his incarnation represent the first urban “thief’s guild” in the game ever.  Lots of possibilities there!  A veritable open book just waiting for the “creation” of a whole new societies, clans, rivalries, characters, codes of behavior, new personas, new styles of play, etc.!  What was ironic about this was that not 3 days prior Chris and I were talking about how interesting it would be cool to play some sort of thief-ish underclass in a big city.  I want one!  Maybe in a rival or, even better, an upstart gang…

Azran observes a transaction in an alley. . . and laughs ill-advisedly. The ‘spokesman’ tells him ‘I contemplate punishment for you’. . . after which he is told (re: Nicholas) ‘We have reached agreement. He is under out protection. Guide him. . . I will let the others know of your assignment. Do well in this.’ Azran is informed the level of protection given Nicodemus is ‘the ribbon’. . . which is the first level of protection. It basically means ‘protect him, don’t die for him.’

Basil is standing with another penniless Corsair-in-need named Tar-Farom (NPC).  Basil overhears Nicodemus, whose words sound fair: Equal shares for those who survive. Basil manages to offend a large barbarian named Mair Dume (Dave) in his effort to suck-up to Nicodemus. Don’t know much about Mair Dume other than his eyes are an unsettling intense blue and that he has much “presence”.  Interesting to see what he becomes.  Tar-Farom interrupts. . . apologizing to the barbarian. . . but Basil continues on as best he can, with the idea it’s best to be in-tight with the ‘boss’. They agree to go. . . and meet Nicodemus two nights hence at a tavern named ‘The Blind Crow’, with the journey to commence the following morning.

Mair Dume and Nicodemus hire on Ku-ir, a spearman with a slender fighting-spear that resembles a harpoon, and a whip. Evidently, he fights using the pair of them simultaneously. They also acquire a man who evidently is hiding/on the run. . . and in need of a sword. . . who calls himself Lote (LO-tay). Nicodemus attempts but ultimately gives up trying to hire a toothless bowman – who nods and grins like a simpleton – and doesn’t give his name. And Alarus (Jay), traveling under the name of Alex, who carries the sword of a Knight Palantar (although none of the other gear generally associated with them.)  When what character I am playing that night is eventually revealed to me I immediately think, “Oh shit.  If I find anything that is of Númenórean make, I am going to have to make a grab for it.”  See, unfortunately the very same stuff that Nicodemus is searching for is very probably Númenórean make and he would have the power of the party behind him.  This has the potential for conflict written all over it.  I am oath sworn to return all Númenórean artifacts and the character firmly believes that such items should not even touch the hands of those who are not of the line of the kings.  Gulp…

The rules as per Nicholas: Equal shares; equal trust. We are not to strike the first blow, but we can strike the second blow. . . (with respect to those we are traveling with)

Azran shows up on the morning we are to leave. Nicodemus lets him know there will be twelve, all told, including him (Azran). Until the Hand assigns another. . . and we are ‘leavened’ by a Jin -- ______ (Jeff) of the House of the Dragon. He is here because the Hand sees something in Nicodemus. . . a relationship that they do not seek to lose, through the youth or inexperience of Azran.

In the darkness of the night before we leave, Nicodemus stares into the void between the stars and is ‘visited’ by a small, evil creature that sits upon his chest and calls him ‘Visitor. . . ‘ a term which carries a distinct undertone of contempt. Nicodemus says ‘I am not a visitor’. . . to which the creature replies ‘You are no dweller. . .’, a term which carries more weight, such as one might speak of a Nazgul (e.g. one capable of ‘dwelling’ in full strength on the ethereal plane). Nicodemus attempts to gain information. . . the creature refuses saying ‘You are no pain-master; we fear you not.’ Till Nicodemus binds the creature – causing him pain. . . and forcing the creature to tell what it knows of where we journey to. This amounts to little, save that there are enemies there. . . and great gifts. He releases the creature, who before departing hisses: ‘We are many. . . and we know who you are.’

On the group’s journey southward, the first days were uneventful. . . until one night around the campfire Kel and Lote go at it – and Lote gives Kel a punch-to-the-throat – killing him in a singe blow. The group quickly fractures. . . with the mercs (Teller and Eos) demanding Lote’s death. . . Halkar (the Gondorian man) waffling. . . Basil siding with Lote and Tar Farom loosely supporting Basil – and certainly not supporting Kel’s friends.

After much edgy discussion, Lote gets Teller and Eos to agree to come with him into the nearby forest. . . where they’ll settle things on their own (that is to say, without Nicholas passing judgment – which Lote suspects will go badly for him). Teller and Eos agree. Halkar considers going in too. . . till Basil tells him that since Lote already has two of ‘his’ friends to keep him (Lote) company, Basil and Tar Farom will follow to keep him (Halkar) company. Halkar decides that discretion is the better part of valor. . . and stays put.  This is the first test/difficult situation that this new player to our table faces.  It is interesting to see how he will respond as there appears to be no good way out.  The player is obviously stressed as he stammers and finds it difficult to make any decision at all.  The GM is pulling at him from many different directions, and I know that I have been in his shoes many times before.  The decision itself, while potentially interesting isn’t so important as “what it means”.  I’m thinking during this process, is he going to make Gondor look good or bad?  Is this whole situation going to go to pot?  If he is weak this whole group could disintegrate.  If he is weak then I know as a character that I can’t trust him when things get tough.  I’m also wondering, is the player, Jesse, going to approach this like D&D (which was his primary game) or is he going to reach somewhere else?  Is he going to play on loyalty or survivability?  How serious do he see the situation?

Dissension between Teller and Eos on the one hand – and Halkar on the other – delays Teller and Eos’ entry into the woods for a half a minute or more. . . which gives Lote time to get set. After which he predictably dispatches both men. . . the boy first, who dies noisily and over the space of several minutes. . . then the woods go silent. Halkar is going to enter the woods. . . to retrieve the bodies of his friends. . . but gets urged to wait until dawn. He does so. . . and when he gets to Teller’s body, he gets his hand sliced open by a ‘fuck you’ boobytrap. . . which would have been fatal had it been poisoned, but it was not, given Lote’s lack of time/materials to do so.

Halkar is being joined in the forest by Mair Dume and Alex. . . just as a group of wild men – berserker/tribesmen types wearing ‘witch doctor’ masks. . . come racing towards them. Basil and the others still outside the forest ready their horses and mount up quickly . . . Maire Dume and Alex ride to help. . .Halkar buries his spear in the first warrior. . . but succeeding ones overwhelm him and the horsemen pull off. He gets pinned to the ground – his legs spread eagle --  and a warrior WHACK-WHACKS his feet off with a sword-knife. Then his still-living body gets lifted to shoulder height. . . and carried off by the ‘Gaithe’. . . toward their village to be devoured.I personally felt very bad.  I hate players losing characters and it is especially bitter when I was in a position to do something, but could not effect a rescue given the circumstances.  I also felt bad for the new player, though he seemed to take it all in stride.  Good for him!  We all “patted him on the back” and told him not to worry too much.  It was a difficult situation and we have all been there before and we have all lost characters as well.  He was exhilarated and was raring to continue.

The rest of the group rides away. . . and morale is low as they approach the ‘ruins’ which they intend to enter. Nearly there -- just a thousand yards away – when they set camp. In the night, they hear a noise. . . and at the urging of Maire Dume, Basil and Tar Farom scout out the campsite of a young Corsair, Karzan (Jessie) who has just slain his ‘friend’ in a dispute over the wild pig they were roasting. Tar pretends to be a ‘Pirate Lord Captain’. . . and the youth is impressed. Basil gets the boy to offer him the slain Corsair’s scimitar. . . and they throw the dead body off a nearby cliff.

Shortly thereafter, a Gaithe village discovers their presence. . . there is much beating of drums and the village is on-alert, with a large fire. Nicodemus and the Jin sneak into the village. . . leaving behind word that when the Jin returns to fetch us, we are to slip into the village and slaughter the people in their sleep – for as long as their sleep lasts – then to continue the job on ‘normal’ terms thereafter.This was interesting for Nicodemus was about to “bare” himself as he truly was – a worker of black crafts.  He turned to Jeff, the Jin, and requested the purchase of his silence of this one night for all eternity.  Jeff kept replying that his silence was already bought when he was hired.  There was an interesting dynamic unfolding that I’m not sure that Jeff was fully aware of.  Jeff, as a Jin, is sworn to secrecy as a matter of his order’s honor code, but that code of silence does not extend to the master of the order.  By “buying” his silence Nicodemus is “corrupting” the code between Jeff and his order, thus creating a future hook which he can exploit in the future.  Jeff refuses three times saying that he cannot take the wealth but if he did it would go to his order and not himself, but on the fourth attempt Nicodemus placed a ruby into Jeff’s hand and gently closed his hand over it.  The gentle closing over of Jeff’s hand is very symbolic of the gentle pressure of evil if one is not vigilant.  At least that was my take and after the game upon discussion with Chris (Nicodemus) we found that we were on the same wavelength.

Nicodemus raises his upturned palms. . . and his ‘children’ – the snakes of the forest – are summoned to search out and destroy the village dogs – this to keep them from raising any alarm. Anything with four legs they are commanded to slay. . . and snakes disappear into the village.  I should note that at this time of play no firm mechanics system had been worked out regarding the ability to command/summon the snakes nor the magic system itself.  Some vague “skills” were established and that he could cast “about” X number of spells, but all in all this was handled on the fly without questions of “Can I do this?” or “Can I do that?”  The player just stated and acted out his intentions with an occasional die roll thrown in and the GM narrated the results.  While unnerving, I also find this fly by the seat of the pants kind of play during critical times to be especially exciting and involving as we (the GM and the player) must be so in tune with one another via the SIS.

Nicodemus enters the village – where all the dogs are dead. He casts five spells – plunging the Gaithe into a deep, deep sleep. Only the Gaithe champion – who stands naked, being sexually tended by half a dozen females – sees him with the Jin – and comes charging/screaming forward. The Jin charges directly at him – closing to within two strides before cutting right – kicking out left into the champion’s temple. The champion goes staggering back – stunned. Then comes forward again – but launches a series of punch-combinations – culminating in an uppercut to the groin that drives the champion to the ground – through a doorway and into one of the huts.

The Jin follows up with a ground fight – ‘following’ in a duckwalk and punch-punching the champion just as. . . a berserker female (one of the ones who’d been ‘tending’ the champion) grabs his neck from behind. The Jin spins her over him – bodyslamming her down onto the champion – breaking her neck. Then reaches underneath her to get at the champion’s neck and breaks it too – killing an 11th level Gaithe champion.

Over the course of this battle, Nicodemus repeatedly cast ‘silence’ over the area to minimize the chances of the sounds of the battle being overheard.

Meanwhile, Aran and the others begin making their way through the forest, at a ‘mental’ signal from Nicodemus. However, while the entire village has been ‘slept’, there are more zerkas coming in from a nearby vale. . . and the party sees eighteen Gaithe coming toward them. Basil asks Tar Farom ‘Do you want to leave?. . . ‘ and before Tar can answer, adds ‘Because I’m leaving’.  

Basil runs back toward the horses. . . where a wary Alarus (aka Alex) allows him to take his horse plus two more for the other Corsairs. . . on Basil’s word that he hasn’t raised his sword against any of him comrades. Basil says ‘I haven’t raised my sword against anything’. . . which strangely enough happens to be true.  (Basil is a world class liar – not that Alex knew that!)

Basil rides, leading a pair of extra horses back to where Tar and Karzan are emerging from the forest – after Karzan killing a Gaithe – and they ride off at full speed into the night, fleeing the scene of this battle. Meanwhile. . .

A zerka boy follows Tar and Karzan to the edge of the forest. . . and spots Alarus. . . and on his heels comes a 9th level Gaithe warrior – who Alarus dispatches in textbook ‘Knight Palantar’ fashion (What’s interesting here is that up to this point there has never been any discussion as to how the Knights Palantar use their swords.  It was just that my usage of the sword matched up to preconceived but as of yet undiscussed notions of the person who wrote this record.  This matches Chris’ idea that we as players feel like we are confirming what feels like a pre-existing reality even as we are making it up on the spot.  Chris Lehrich – “Now because we have accepted this in advance (which you notice is not typical of Nar or Gam aesthetics), any construction is undesirable. When we do what appears by other criteria to be construction, we read it differently: we read it as discovering what was already true.”) – impaling him with a hand-and-a-half sword and following up with a running battle that ends up with the fleeing/dying Gaithe getting ‘pinned’ to a tree with the sword run through his back and buried to the hilt in the oak – like a butterfly stuck on a pin. Just then. . . another Gaithe comes in behind him. . . and Alarus battles him in a knife fight that ends with him pummeling the Gaithe to death with his mailed fists.  This was significant to my night for several reasons.  First berserkers are always a handful because they are so ferocious they don’t stop fighting until their bodies refuse to literally function.  IOW their morale is almost impossible to shake so they almost always fight to the death.  Second they are tough physical specimens.  They fight with their weapons, teeth which are filed into fangs, and their shrieking voices which rattle one’s nerves.  Finally you don’t want to lose to a berserker because you will either be killed outright or eaten.  In this combat I did not have armor and had left me sword in the tree as the result of a “1” on a 20 sided.  To have been able to take out a berserker with “fists”, even gauntleted ones is amazing considering that they tend to shake off blunt damage.  IOW stunning blows don’t work – you either have to kill them outright or remove limbs – neither of which is easy.

Mair wades into battle against the Gaithe. . . cutting them down with his ‘big steel’. However the one thought that occurs to him – as some get by him – is he needs a smaller/backup weapon for fighting in close-quarters or woods too dense for him to wield his steel properly.  At this point something happened to one of the players, Montana, that the chronicler didn’t record, but I found extremely interesting.  Montana, playing, Azran was accidentally bit by Nicodemus’ snakes and ran to him for aid.  What was really cool was how Chris (Nicodemus) handled this.  As the player walked over to Chris (Nicodemus) holding his forearm as if it was bit, Chris who was intently focused on the battle, angrily turned his attention to the player of the injured character, brusquely grabbed Montana’s forearm, pulled his hand down the arm as if wiping off something in belittling disgust, threw the player down behind him returned his attention back to the battle and said “Now go and kill all the rest.”  I thought this was so cool because as the character was in midst of his true being, bringing death and pain, he let his mask of the kindly and helpless old man slip and showed instead a glimpse of his true evil being.  To me it was one of the highlights of the evening.

The Jin is ‘locked in place’ as a swarm of Gaither come closer. . . and Nicodemus stays rooted like a statue, casting spells of chaos, confusion, etc. The Jin throws down ‘flash bombs’ that throw off smoke. . . then reverts to his training of how-to-fight-in-smoke. . . with the memory of how an advancing enemy can’t help but ‘telegraph’ his arrival by ‘movement of the smoke’ immediately before he becomes visible. This was done in flashback by the GM. Reacting in the space between heartbeats to any disturbance of the vapor, the Jin reacts with near-prescient speed and accuracy – launching blows into where the enemies are to appear a split-second before they step into view and before they can react.

Meanwhile. Nicodemus’ spellpoints are dwindling rapidly in the ongoing battle. He is weakening and goes to one knee. . . rolling a ‘1’ on a critical roll. When he looks up again, he sees several of the ‘foul creatures’ from earlier staring him in the face. One says ‘Visitor. . .’ and lets him know it senses his weakness. Nicodemus speaks to it in the High Black Tongue of whips and chains. . . trying to intimidate it. But the creature reaches out. . . using its fingernail to rip a small gash in Nicodemus’ cheek: tangible proof that he’s extremely vulnerable and nearly helpless.

It lets Nicodemus know that he will soon be ripped and devoured. . . before he goes to hell. . . whereupon he will be ripped and devoured forever.  Nicodemus can see and feel other ‘dark creatures’ racing toward him. . . looking to join in the feast. His only option: submission to Sauron. They start tear at him and one starts to push his hand down his throat, but Nicodemus refuses to yield and continues his speech of chains and binding.  Just before the creature is about to go down his throat Nicodemus rolls a “20” and the creature retracts its hand in pain in terror.  Nicodemus ultimately falls unconscious back in this world.

Meanwhile Tar Farom rides a distance from the site. . . then decides to go back. Basil ‘touches blades’ with him. . . but will not return. Tar Farom wishes to prove his honor. .  whereas Basil has no intention of risking his life to prove anything to anyone. The boy, Karzan (This is Jesse the new player’s, 2nd Character), rides back with Tar Farom. Basil rides some distance further. . . and decides to wait awhile to see if they will return.

Tar returns to the battle. . . and wades into it. Hit by three warriors, racing past the lead one, gets to the rear and ‘cuts’ his way forward – while Karzan takes on the lead warrior straight up. Unfortunately, a stroke or two before Tar downs the lead warrior from behind, Karzan’s throat gets sliced open. . . and he dies in Tar’s arms.  During this battle the GM slowed way down, actually stopping to cue the player that his input was needed, because this was new player.  However, he still had trouble deciding what to do and in the end it did eventually catch up to him.  Again I felt bad for Jesse, but he was totally psyched.  While he didn’t like dying per say, he was totally into the “buzz” of the event.  The speed at which events were unfolding, the music and the intensity of play from the other players was totally amping him up.  Even though he lost two characters on his first night of play, he was very excited.

Tar cuts down the last warrior facing Maire Dume. . . who is angry with himself for not having done better in this battle. Nonetheless, he is in good shape and appears uninjured.

The Jin single-handedly defeats most of the village – in a display of prowess of which the details are not here recorded, save the fact that it left those around the table slack-jawed. Standing and fighting over Nicodemus’ prone form. . . until the last remaining Gaithe charged him – and was dispatched by the Jin countercharging – upthrusting open palms to knock-back both wrists of the zerka on the downstroke of their sword-knives – countertimed with a perfect rising-snapkick to the zerka’s chin that shattered his jaw and killed him in a blow. What was cool about this was the player is a martial artist and demonstrated the catching of the arms and a the front snap kick that went over his head.  It was so convincing the GM wasn’t going to call for a roll, but then decided that a roll would make it more exciting.  The player rolled a “20” and everyone was cheering him at the table.  Actually his whole fight was “acted” out, making for some spectacular viewing.  Wow!

Nicodemus, still unconscious, sees the image of a Lich – Duraizon (Dave’s second character of the night) sitting on a throne, wearing a crown fashioned from the bones of an earlier adventure party.

Per Cary (the GM), the Lich is the ancient spirit of a fallen Numenorean, imprisoned here in the age when Sauron dwelt in bodily form among the Numenoreans. On a ‘hunting trip’ with Sauron, Duraizon was betrayed – cursed and imprisoned underground – presumably forever.

The Lich says ‘Awaken. . . I have need of you.’ And Nicodemus awakens. . . with the Jin standing guard above him. Nicodemus is suddenly aware – although not fully so – of how well-spent the money to hire the Jin’s services was. Meanwhile. . .

Alarus is still guarding the horses when he gets a ‘sign’ (a dove that flies in, lands on a branch, looks me in the eye and flies off in the opposite direction of the battle) that this place and these people are not for him. . . and leaves his post. . . making for the white strands along the seacoast and his next adventure.

This latter occurred because the original intention was for the party to be driven underground by Nicodemus. . . and offered as a ‘gift’ for consumption by the Lich – a ‘friendship’ offering in order to investigate forming the basis for an ‘alliance’ between Nicodemus and the Lich – both of them wholly and unequivocally evil, but united in their hatred-of and-opposition-to Sauron.  (The Knights Palantar are a quasi holy order.  They are not Paladins, but they are faithful and their order was founded by a “cleric.”  I was not to perish to such evil on this day.)

Nicodemus’ snakes beg him in whispers ‘to be fed’. . . and he grants them the rights to consume ‘Every child below the age of five’ of the Gaithe tribe. After which the serpents slither off to feed without further comment. . .

Nicodemus intends to ‘raise’ the sleeping villagers who survive. . . and march them ‘en masse’ down into the cave mouth. . . where they will comprise a ‘gift’.  In the distance, Basil waits for Tar Farom’s return. . . Tar having quit the battle once he’d cut down enough warriors to comment ‘I am no Gondorian’ (which, after Halkar’s performance of earlier in the night translates in his mind as ‘I am not coward’). And Duraizon waits beneath the surface for Nicodemus to come below with what remains of the party. . . probably leavened by additional PC’s and NPC’s. But that is a story for another time. . .

The following day one of the topics of greatest interest was the discussion of the NPC Lote.  There was much debate among us that he may have been a Black Commando who had survived the sack and destruction of Aria.  I found it fascinating that even though he was an NPC that played only a minor role in this night’s play he should receive a disproportionate amount of attention in after action debrief!

So there you have it.  I hope that I have provided more than just a “recounting” of events, but have provided some insight to the interactions going on around the table.  Again, my apologies for the length of this post.  For those who took the time to stay with me until the end, thank you.
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Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2005, 08:42:54 AM »

Very interesting post, Silmenume. I think there's a number of interesting points in there, and I'm still teasing them apart in my head.

The first thing that strikes me is the indication of critical success or failure via  die rolls at important moments. I know all of us remember the "big" dice rolls that went amazingly well or poorly, and I always wonder whether the moments are big because of the rolls, or vice versa. (I don't remember any critical successes during boring situations in my games, for example.)

I know I'm relying on my personal interpretation, but it seems to me that the new player, not yet being as invested into the SIS as the other players, was bound more into a strict rule-based simulation as a method of interacting than the other players. For instance, his characters' deaths in combat seemed to be a direct result of his interactions with the rules as written. I contrast that with the vampire PC's use of magic and the Jin PC's martial-arts combat, both of which were played out in a more impromptu fashion, where the results of the dice were more like a "casting of the bones" to determine how things would ultimately result.

I don't consider that "unfair", but it puts in my mind the idea that character effectiveness is linked to player effectiveness, specifically in how well a player can engage the group by proposing interesting events in the SIS.  On the other hand, it's entirely possible that as characters advance, their abilities become more broadly defined and more up to an interpretive resolution method rather than a "by the book" one.

I suppose my question is that I'm curious which of these you think was more relevant:

(a) Established characters are more effective by the rules, to the extent that they can be assumed to succeed at simple tasks, and thus they are open to attempting broader activities, or

(b) Established characters, being played by long-term players who have a large stake in the SIS, can attempt activities which involve larger changes in the SIS because the player is informally trusted not to abuse that ability.

One thought experiment that might illuminate the question would be to consider how the new player's characters might have been handled were they being played by a long-term player.

I'm afraid my question is ill-formed, so I'm happy to try to explain it better if needed.
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Silmenume
Member

Posts: 467


« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2005, 06:07:26 PM »

Hey Andrew,

Thanks for taking the time to slog through the entire post and then taking the time to reply.

Quote from: Andrew Norris
The first thing that strikes me is the indication of critical success or failure via  die rolls at important moments. I know all of us remember the "big" dice rolls that went amazingly well or poorly, and I always wonder whether the moments are big because of the rolls, or vice versa. (I don't remember any critical successes during boring situations in my games, for example.)


I think important moments and “critical” die rolls feed off of/support one another.  The way we play, as much as I understand it, die rolls are called for based upon discretion and that discretion is usually based on the idea of just how important, exciting, intense is this action and does handing off the decision making authority to a “third ‘disinterested’ party” heighten the tension of said actions/events.  The actual moments chosen for a die roll is actually called for are just as import as the results of the roll.  IOW that the GM is calling for a roll at this moment may communicate something that is beyond what the current circumstances seemingly would indicate.

Quote from: Andrew Norris
I know I'm relying on my personal interpretation, but it seems to me that the new player, not yet being as invested into the SIS as the other players, was bound more into a strict rule-based simulation as a method of interacting than the other players. For instance, his characters' deaths in combat seemed to be a direct result of his interactions with the rules as written. I contrast that with the vampire PC's [I am going to assume you meant the “necromancer” aka Nicodemus – let me know if I am wrong – JW] use of magic and the Jin PC's martial-arts combat, both of which were played out in a more impromptu fashion, where the results of the dice were more like a "casting of the bones" to determine how things would ultimately result.


I should note that while there are “rules” for combat, there are no texts by which one reads and attempts to apply to the game process.  There are combat mechanics and they are usually taught in about 10-15 minutes.  However in application rarely are the mechanics called upon in a very strict sense.  The mechanics lend structure to the combat process and they help quickly quantify what might be difficult or hazy concepts to speed things along, but in and of themselves they are subservient to the ebb and flow of the events transpiring in the SIS.  IOW we don’t really use them to model the combat “accurately” rather to speed up the “discourse” between the interested parties when necessary or when the employment of them makes the combat more tense/interesting.

Regarding the new player, I would agree that he probably did function in a more “traditional” manner during the combat, but I think that was due to his inexperience with the manner in which we use “mechanics”.  By the way, I am not faulting the player for this, it is something all of us players have gone through.  It is part of the learning process and it added a level of mystery or unlearned wisdom that for me created a hunger to learn more about.  That they are somewhat “vague” is, I guess, is purposeful.  Ultimately it was the players inability to make sound/effective decisions under the circumstances that was his undoing.  Again this is not meant to read as me saying that he was “incapable” or “incompetent” as a roleplayer, but rather an indication of his unfamiliarity with our process.  On a certain level part of the combats are structured in such a way as to purposefully create stress on the players so as to heighten the “affects” that are inherent in combat generally.  This intentional “stress” is moderated to capability to each player at the table, so in this case the new player was given, as we more experienced players would regarded it, a very large allotment of time by which to make his decisions.  The awareness of the amount of time allotted for reacting is extremely subjective and that is part of the point of the manner in which we run combats.

Regarding the “impromptu” fashion of the more “experienced” players, I would say that part of the game play itself is in the “fun” of “designing” such systems via concrete actions within the SIS.  It is not so important that such systems of combat or mechanics be spelled out before hand, but rather that via our actions within the SIS we are “demonstrating” our character’s capabilities in a fashion that plausibly consistent with the tenets or constructions within the world.  IOW it’s more fun to create and demonstrate than to use and employ that which already is.  Yes, we like having a structural framework so we can have some notions of the potential likely results of our actions so that we can make decisions that are “consistent” with the nature of the fictional world, but the “mechanics” need not be spelled out in the their entirety.  One time a player was playing an elf who was out of arrows and was in dire need.  He turned to a tree, “sang” a song, reached into and pulled an arrow from the heart of the tree.  Prior to this event there was no real precedent for this particular action.  We knew that elves sang much and that they had a very close relationship with nature and they were an “inherently magical” people, so the player put this all together and “sang an arrow from a tree.”  This was very, very cool!  A die was rolled to see if he succeeded, but there was no pre-existing mechanic to cover this and say X needs to be rolled to determine Y success.  

Which brings me to your phrase that the dice are like the “casting of bones” to determine how things turn out.  That is more or less accurate, as I understand your phrasing.  However, I should note, that there are no tables that one matches the die roll against to get the outcome.  The die rolls are a general indicator of the success or failure of an action based upon the relevant mitigating factors – skill, weather, personal conditions, etc.

To get back to your comment on the new player I would not say that he died as a result of a more strict application of the mechanics system, but rather he just froze up and was unable to make effective decisions at that moment in general.

Quote from: Andrew Norris
I don't consider that "unfair", but it puts in my mind the idea that character effectiveness is linked to player effectiveness, specifically in how well a player can engage the group by proposing interesting events in the SIS.  On the other hand, it's entirely possible that as characters advance, their abilities become more broadly defined and more up to an interpretive resolution method rather than a "by the book" one.


There certainly is a relationship between character effectiveness and player effectiveness.  The relationship, however, is not without limits.  For example, just because the a very experienced player of a “1st level” character comes up with a brilliant combat maneuver to get himself out of a very difficult jam, does not mean that he will succeed or even be likely to succeed.  IOW the GM does take into account the “skill level” of the character when interpreting the dice rolls.  In some cases if the player is blatantly “over playing” his skills or not taking into account certain circumstances about his character, say he picks up a weapon he has never used before but employs it in a very sophisticated manner, then GM may actually assign additional penalties beyond what might be “expected” under the circumstances.

Quote from: Andrew Norris
I suppose my question is that I'm curious which of these you think was more relevant:

(a) Established characters are more effective by the rules, to the extent that they can be assumed to succeed at simple tasks, and thus they are open to attempting broader activities, or

(b) Established characters, being played by long-term players who have a large stake in the SIS, can attempt activities which involve larger changes in the SIS because the player is informally trusted not to abuse that ability.


If forced to make a choice I would say that “a” is probably more relevant, but not by much.  The game is a mix between levels and skills, though mostly skills based.  That being said the higher a skill level a person has the greater their facility with that skill.  Trust, I believe, greases the skids but in and of itself is not sufficient to allow success in actions alone.  If the player tried to do something that was “beyond” their skill level/capability even if they were “trusted” then the action could be rejected outright, given enough minuses that it is virtually guaranteed to fail, the act could be attempted but conclude with catastrophic results, etc.  The thing that throws me in this particular question is that there are no hard and fast mechanics regarding skills.  There are numbers but what they represent is nebulous at best – which makes them open to interpretation.  Which is one of the points of play in the first place.

Quote from: Andrew Norris
One thought experiment that might illuminate the question would be to consider how the new player's characters might have been handled were they being played by a long-term player.


The problem wasn’t in the handling of his decisions; it was that there were either no responses, or they were ineffective or “poor” responses given the circumstances.  On several occasions the player let the “clock run out” so in effect did nothing in response to the actions of his foe.  Other times he attempted actions that were ineffective.  An example of this might was the time a berserker was holding the player character up by his hair from behind.  Obviously a bad thing was going to happen in a few moments and the GM asked the player what he wanted to do.  For a few seconds he didn’t say anything then the new player stated that he “hit the berserker in the face with his fist.”  The problem was that the character was not in position to do this at all – just punching behind himself was going to be extremely ineffective.  You may ask what he could have done.  Other possibilities included thrashing about, kicking backwards, attempting to jerk ones head out of the berserker’s grasp, lunging one’s body backwards in an attempt to knock the berserker off balance, etc.

I hope that I have provided some acceptable/interesting answers.
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Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2005, 08:34:57 AM »

Thanks! I think I understand the situation better. I appreciate the dialog.
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