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[Sweet Dreams] Convention demo (long post)

Started by Allan, June 06, 2005, 12:11:19 AM

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What a great idea!  I wish I'd been posting Actual Play threads years ago when I was running and playing in Sweet Dreams playtests twice a week.  These days, as we prepare for the final print run, the only time I actually get to play the game is at local cons.  So, here is an Actual Play session from the Cloud City Con in Vancouver last weekend.  

The Game: As I mentioned in this thread, Sweet Dreams is primarily about developing relationships, and is intended for mixed-group long-term campaign play.  I worry that stand-alone con demos don't demonstrate the game to best effect, especially with all-male groups.

Logistics: 4-hour scheduled con demo.  The con took place at a curling rink, and we got a locker room (great for high school ambience).  We were the only game in the room, which was great, better than usual con.  Most of the players played sample characters I provided.

Me (the Guide), 29

Aaron, early twenties.  Aaron is the graphic designer for the project, and knows the game very well.  Aaron is playing Beezle, a Mystic Goth who can turn into an angelic or demonic form, and has a powerful Luck ability.  Beezle is not one of my sample characters, but one of Aaron's own creations, built with Flaws and bonus points from those Flaws.  

Migo, early twenties.  He had never played before, but was signed up.  Migo played Firefly, a Rebel Faery with Chimerical fire powers.  

Hubert, late teens.  He had never played before, but was signed up.  Hubert played Moira, a Mystic Goth ice-blaster.

Liam, early teens.  Liam had played at a con 3 months before, bought the book, and came back with 2 friends.  They weren't signed up, but wanted to drop in.  Liam wanted to build a custom character, but we didn't have time.  He played Diana, a Werewolf Criminal.

Blake, early teens, Liam's friend.  Blake knew me from previous cons, but had never played Sweet Dreams.  Blake played Sigmund, a Nega-Psychic Brain, after my warning that this was the hardest sample character to play.  

Che, early teens, Liam's friend.  Che was excited by Liam's description of the animate bread-monster from my last con demo.  This was Che's first con, he was new to roleplaying, but he got right into it.   Che played Dean, a Human Prep psychic reporter.

Set up
After everyone picked characters, I assigned each of them a secret Passion.  Firefly, Moira, and Diana all Liked their new English Teacher, Mr. Banks (an NPC).  Beezle Liked Moira, Sigmund liked Diana, and Dean had a Crush (stronger than a Like, because he's Human) on Firefly.  Che was the only player who expressed discomfort at roleplaying romance with other male players.   After I quickly explained that Flirting is just another form of combat, he totally got it, and became the best at the table at roleplaying his Passion.  None of the players had any problem playing a female character, which was great.

The Game
- Day 1.  I set the scene by describing their young, handsome new English Teacher, Mr. Banks, and the big scary dog he brings to class.  The class has a book report due in a few days, and the girls who Like the teacher all want to do a good job.  Then I ask for the characters actions.
- Right away, Diana bullies Sigmund into writing her book report for her.  Sigmund makes his roll to resist bullying, but agrees to write her book report anyway, because he Likes her.  
- Beezle also wants Sigmund to write his book report.  He uses his Luck to catch Sigmund alone, and approaches him in angelic form.  Beezle, as the angel, tells Sigmund to write book reports for all the Goths in the class.  Sigmund is a Nega-Psychic, he doesn't believe in angels.  Beezle's Other Form power is real, Sigmund cannot dispel it.  He has to rationalize the apparition, or suffer Heartache.  Blake rationalizes that Sigmund thinks he has been drugged and is hallucinating.  He ignores the angel, and now cannot use the "I've been drugged" rationalization again this Story.
- Firefly decides to do some "practical research" for her book report on Fahrenheit 51.   She borrows a random book from the school library, telling the dusty old muttering librarian that she plans to burn it.   The old librarian tries to stop her, Firefly uses her Faery powers to put him in a Trance, and distracts him with a hallucinatory fire to escape.  The book turns out to be Blood Rites and Sacrifices.  Firefly becomes suspicious of the old librarian.
- Dean goes to talk to Mr. Banks.  He overhears Tiffany, an NPC Princess, coming onto Mr. Banks.   Dean's Espionage skill roll is good, but the dog hears him and barks at the door.  Dean escapes.
- Moira attempted to research a book report, but she rolled poorly.  She'll pass, but she won't impress Mr. Banks.

- After School, Sigmund goes straight home, and writes 2 book reports.  He plans to give the better one to Diana.  Unfortunately, this took Sigmund out of the action scene, and then Blake had to leave early.
- Firefly throws a book-burning party behind the school.  Beezle and Moira (the Goths) and Diana (the Criminal), get invited to the party.  Dean (the Prep) isn't invited, but he makes his Gossip roll to hear about it and shows up anyway.  Firefly Entrances the crowd, revealing her true firey form, which the crowd rationalizes as a costume or special effects.  Firefly burns the book, and I award her a bonus to Rebel Status.  Migo, who hadn't been expecting any reward, was pleased.
- Diana decides to stir things up.  She slips away from the party and changes into wolf form.  Then she Howls, and charges the party.  The PCs all take some Confidence damage from the Howl, and all the NPCs at the party run away from the wolf.  We enter combat time.

- Moira blasts the wolf with her ice power, doing some Stamina damage.  
- Firefly Entrances the wolf, so the wolf can see her fire effects.
- Beezle changes into his demon form, and everyone takes more Confidence damage from fear.
- Dean doesn't believe in the demon or ice blasts, and rationalizes that he must be high off second-hand smoke from the Rebel party.  He leaps between the wolf and Firefly (his Crush), ready to protect her.
- Diana the wolf attacks Moira, dropping her Stamina to Injured in one bite.  
- Sigmund may be off doing homework, but Blake is still involved, and laughing.
- Moira blasts the wolf again, this time at a penalty for her Injury.  Hubert is experimenting with her different ice blasts.  Diana takes more Stamina damage.
- Firefly transforms into a huge pillar of imaginary fire, bullying the Entranced wolf.  Diana takes more Confidence damage.
- Beezle, now in demon form, also bullies the wolf. Diana takes more Confidence damage.
- Dean has few useful combat abilities.  He calls his photographer buddy, who will arrive after the fight.
- Diana has taken a lot of damage, and decides to run away across the athletic field.  She's fast, but Moira's got long range ice attacks and lots of Manna.  Moira keeps blasting the wolf as it runs away.  Everyone asks what happens when a character dies, and I reassure them that they mostly just get knocked out, or they may come back as Ghosts.
- Firefly creates an imaginary ring of fire to trap the wolf.  Diana is Entranced, so the fire is real to her, but she's tough enough to take no damage.  Firefly is out of Manna for the scene.  
- Beezle uses a Spell to Blind the wolf.  Aaron describes a simple ritual, and makes a lucky die roll, blinding the wolf.  He uses his Luck ability to make the blinded wolf run into the soccer net.  
- Diana shifts to werewolf form when blinded. Che takes my hint, and has Dean instinctively check the werewolf's Aura.  Dean recognizes Diana's Aura, and convinces Moira not to kill the werewolf (even though he still thinks he's tripping).  Moira just knocks the werewolf out, and now they have a naked Diana in a soccer net.  Dean's photographer buddy arrives, and takes the blackmail photos.

Okay this is getting really long.  I'll break for now, hopefully take some comments and questions, and then finish the rest of the session later.  Don't worry, that was the last of the combat, so the rest should go quicker.  

What I'm really looking for is advice on how to run this game most effectively at convention demos, especially short-form demos.  A large part of the point of the game is that it encompasses investigation, socializing, action and combat, and spiritual exploration (more on that in the next post).  How do you show that in a quick demo at a booth?

This is my first Actual Play post anywhere, ever.  Anything I should be doing differently?
Sweet Dreams - Romance, Espionage, and Horror in High School
The Big Night - children's game with puppets

In Progress:  Fingerprints
Playing:  PTA, Shock


What did you think the neatest, most enjoyable, most Sweet Dreams moment of this playtest was?
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


Again with the great question.

The best moment had to be Che, the new player, as Dean, leaping between his Crush, and the charging wolf.  First of all, it was good roleplaying from a first-time player, and everyone laughed.  

But also, that moment touched on major themes like Romance and Belief (Dean thought he was halucinating the demon and ice blasts, but the wolf was real).  A non-combattant PC found a way to become involved in the action scene.  And the whole thing was in response to Diana's attack, which was a player-created plot, and completely derailed my new-teacher plot.  That's what Sweet Dreams is all about, and the players all got that.
Sweet Dreams - Romance, Espionage, and Horror in High School
The Big Night - children's game with puppets

In Progress:  Fingerprints
Playing:  PTA, Shock


Okay, so you'll want player incentive to create plots that create (through sweet, sweet conflict) chances for other players to shine in this manner.

That means a tightly interwoven relationship map, with strong motivations intersecting at strange angles:  Johnny wants to keep Jenny safe because he's a terminator sent from the future to protect her, but Zog the were-beast has fallen for Jenny and wants to get her alone, while Jenny wants to figure out the strange goings on around the school (from a purely prosaic mind-set).  That sort of thing.

Then, taking a page from Judd's book, you offer people the pre-gens not as "Who wants the terminator, who wants the were-beast, who wants the nega-psychic?"  Instead you offer "Who wants to be keeping important secrets, who wants to be motivated by love, who wants to constantly cause trouble?"
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

Callan S.

Can I just add a side note how the palladium has a side note for experience you get, for doing things like throwing yourself in front of a fireball to save someone elses life.

This isn't a 'it's already been done' post. What I mean is, the XP reward from above is tucked away amidst a ton of other rewards for other things. The author clearly liked this sort of thing but it's just tucked away amongst a whole lot of other stuff and when its like that, the game wont end up being about that, unless the players pick up the mysterious vibe that it should be (which they likely will pick up only if they play with the actual author).

Do you want your game to be about tactically using long range ice blasts and alike, or moments like this?
Philosopher Gamer


Yes, exactly!

Callan, I grew up on Palladium.  I always hated that they had this whole chart for ccombat xp, and then this little side-note for roleplaying xp.  

In Sweet Dreams, xp comes from Subplots that get you in trouble.  For the combat example above, Dean gets xp for his Crush Subplot, Diana gets xp for her Bully Subplot, Moira gets xp for her Catalyst (attracts monsters) Subplot.  Sigmund gets xp for his Like and Overachiever Subplots, which kept him from being involved in the scene.

Winning a conflict may get you concrete plot advantages (an unconscious rival, blackmail photos, Firefly's bonus Rebel Status), but only getting in trouble earns you xp.  So tactics and power matter, but roleplaying is emphasized.

Tony, an interesting twist on presenting the sample characters.  Currently, players at cons choose sample characters based on a picture and description, here.  Emphasizing goals over abilities may be better.

The relationship web is key.  The Guide assigns each character a secret Passion Subplot (at least one Like.  Humans often have more Passions or deeper Passions) for maximum complexity (Princesses fall for Criminals, Slayers fall for Vampires, etc.).  During play, characters can deepen these Passions or create entirely new Passions by making Flirt attacks.
Sweet Dreams - Romance, Espionage, and Horror in High School
The Big Night - children's game with puppets

In Progress:  Fingerprints
Playing:  PTA, Shock


This is Aaron, the graphic designer for sweet dreams. Just thought I'd toss in my two cents worth about XP.

While the point that was made was an excellent one, I feel i should point out that when Allan mentioned that Firefly gained Rebel Status for the book burning, that has nothing to do with XP. Status is more how other members of your caste percieve you. If one is a power gamer (and this one is not, I assure you) then status would be useless, practically.

Not trying to start anything, just trying to make something clearer.

I ran a game of Sweet Dreams at the same con; should I post my Actual Play stuff here, or start another Topic?
They didn't break the mold when they made you, mate. That mold was mass-produced! -- TISM, Diatribe 18


Okay, while it's still kind of fresh in my mind, here's the second half of the play session, dealing with the Dreaming aspect of the game.  

Liam, Blake, and Che had to leave early when Liam's mother arrived.  An unfortunate side-effect of young drop-in players.  I had been trying to think of a way to shift the focus back to Sigmund, and felt bad that Blake had been left out for so much of the game session.  The upside was, I could now concentrate on only 3 players.  

With the combat over, Beezle, Firefly and Moira brought the unconscious Diana back to Firefly's cave, and they all slept.

In the Dream, Beezle was separated from the others.  He observed two girls from their class fighting over the new teacher.  This allowed an in-game way to explain to the new players how characters can affect each other unconsciously in dreams.  

Firefly and Moira began their Dream together.  Both characters had powerful Imaginary Contacts, so the players asked their contacts for help with their book reports.  Their contacts led them them through a couple of Dream landscapes, and introduced them to some Muses who could possess them and write their book reports while they slept.  

The next morning at school, the characters compared notes.  I thought they would go investigate the teacher directly, leading to a climactic fight
with his suspicious dog.  But instead, they went back to the creepy library, looking for a Divination Spellbook to investigate the teacher with.  Even better, because this was a character-driven plot.  There was a brief conflict with the librarian, and the characters found and stole the Spellbook they needed.   We were out of time, so the session ende on that success, with the mystery of the teacher still unsolved.  

Overall, it was a good session.  The players all had fun, Migo (Firefly) bought the books, and has been actively discussing the game in the local Vancouver forum (he suggested an index for the next revision, which is in the works).  Hubert (Moira) said he would buy the book as a cheaper PDF.  

My con demos always include a scene at School, and a Dream scene, to try to show new players as much of the game world as possible.  Players take easily to the familiar High School environment and politics, and the combat and skill systems, which are also familiar (3d6 +ads).  The Dreaming is stranger, and it always takes the players longer to get it.  The Dreaming is about exploring the cosmology of the game world.  This is a fundamental aspect of the game, and I feel it should be present in any demo.

For a short booth demo, is this trying too much?  How do you fit two seperate and distinct parts of the game (2 settings with most of the same mechanics) into one demo session?   How do you explore mechanics and cosmology of a really detailed and intricate simulationist game in a short booth demo?
Sweet Dreams - Romance, Espionage, and Horror in High School
The Big Night - children's game with puppets

In Progress:  Fingerprints
Playing:  PTA, Shock