Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

[Stranger Things] Blood and Shadows

Started by Darren Hill, August 27, 2005, 03:24:41 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Darren Hill

A playtest of John Harper's Stranger Things (a development of Trollbabe, set in the City of Forgotten Gods - a place where demons and men coexist, not always peacefully).

The Strangers:
Gratz, a hairless guy with an elongated skeleton and multi-jointed limbs that bend in all directions, plus a bony tail, his supernatural gift the ability to clamber across any surface like an insect. His carried human item - a music box. His demon item - his parents ears, all eight of them, on a necklace - "they hear so well". He fighting style is "rapier and tail", his demonic magic "flame and shadow," and his social style, "aloof, Icy but polite." His number is 6.
Esmai, a pale skinned, goth-dressed babe with subtle talons and a prehensile tongue (!), her supernatural gift being "firestarting". Her human carried item is a wedding ring, the demon item as living metal snake armband that shifts position when you aren't looking. Her fighting style is instinct, tooth, tongue, and claw. Her magic is demonic, playing on and inspiring emotions. Her number is 4.
Sepelchurus, a pasty white, obscenely fat figure, his necks and head billowing out of a full-length coat and capped by a the kind of hat you'd see Jack the Ripper wearing - which keeps good company with the worn leather doctor's bag (his human item, though we did speculate on what 'animal' gave its skin for it) he is always carrying. His bulging red eyeballs are the only colour on this black & white figure. He demon item is a demon razor puzzle (some kind of puzzlebox that is covered with razors and spikes, and when you manipulate it, it slices your flesh and drinks the blood), and his long, slender, surgeon's hands manipulate it effortlessly. His fighting style is Scalpels and Syringe, his Sorcery human potions, and his shadow style is "comforting."
I need to say that again. His social style is "comforting". Nope, still can't type it without giggling.
He had two demonic talents - his red eyes bulged, allowing him to see under people's skins and through light objects; plus he could produce the things he carried from under his long coat and no-one ever gets to see what's inside ("just darkness"), leading us to speculate if the coat was his character and the rest was a disguise. His number is 4.

The players chose their map tiles, I added three more, and let them arrange them. They all liked the tiles.
I asked them where they where and what sort of thing they might be doing, and took things from there:
Grazt's Tale: he's a kind of bounty hunter - he accepts money to track people down and bring them in, and doesn't ask too many questions. He named someone he was now trailing. I told him as he followed, his prey say the palanquin of Muulsh, a money lender, approaching, and started to pursue. Grazt clambered (clickety-click) up onto the roof of buildings and followed... The prey became a shadow and flittered between the palanquin's bearers, and slipped between billowing curtains... Almost immediately, the palanquin shook and the bearers dropped it, Muulsh rolled out, and from his vantage, Grazt saw he seemed to be struggling with his shadow for a moment, but then stood up, rebuked his bearers, and climbed back into his palanquin.
Grazt didn't understand what happened, and dropped down into a dark alley and tried to use his magic to recreate the scene and study it - creating a flame in one hand, forming a little shadow puppet display. But his actions drew the attention of Muulsh's guards (not to mention chamber pot throwing women in nearby houses), and Grazt learned that Muulsh had heard that an assassin was after him...
Grazt knew who Muulsh the moneylender was, and so as the palanquin retreated, he headed up over the rooftops, broke into his house (finding signs that Muulsh had hired a sorcerer to protect his home, and bypassing them easily), climbed inside the four-poster bed, and climbed up so he was spreadeagled under its canopy, looking down, waiting for Muulsh to arrive.
Muulsh dismissed his guards and servants as he entered the bedroom, then cackled to himself, and spoke aloud to the mirror - "Oh I like this body, and I can get used to this lifestyle. Must control myself this time, hold my temper." Then got into bed, and Gratz dropped down on him, attempting to grapple him - in the struggle, Gratz grabbed his shackled and attempted to restrain Muulsh, who proved surprising strong and started to wrap them around and Gratz - actually starting to tie his elongated body into knots before he slipped free and got the upper hand. Then Muulsh's shadow detached from his body, and drove Gratz to the ground, suffocating him, but giving in to Cruelty, prolonging the torment, forgetting his host body was now free- and screaming. Guards burst in, and their lanterns dispelled the shodw (or did it...)
In that last conflict, Gratz had gone all the way to Incapacitated, and then rolled once more to get control of how he became Incapacited. The conflict had been to restrain the thing possessing Muulsh, and so having it escape, but Gratz gaining the gratitude and hospitality of Muulsh was perfectly fine.

There was a fair bit of cross-pollination between Esmai's and Sepelchurus's adventures that might not be apparent here, since it's easy to write them separately.
Esmai's Tale
Esmai was on her way to a party - a Goth party girl, I knew instantly which adventure seed to use here! She found the party was a wake for the local Vampire leader who had been killed by slayers. The vampires had a few human guests to provide refreshments, and were conspiring between themselves over who should be their next leader. Nice Vampire wanted to live alongside humanity, drink no more than was necessary, care humanely for the cattle - a real humanitarian. Nasty But Sexy Vampire wanted to teach the humans their place, they should have the freedom to feed and kill if desired - they were superior beings!
Esmai was feted by Nice Vampire first, who pointed out that Nasty But Sexy was charismatic and had a lot of supporters; if Nice moved against him openly he might lose support. But if an outsider like her took him out, that would solve a lot of problems. She liked his approach, and so headed over to meet Nasty - since this was a party, Nasty then swept her off her feet on to the dance floor and she got a bit carried away and accepted when he invited her out on a hunt.
She had reservations about killing humans - he didn't understand, but told her they weren't humans, but a vampire: Nicey.
She decided that she would use the cover of this hunt to catch Nasty in a vulnerable moment, and stake him.
So they tracked Nicey, and found him in an alley locked in an embrace with a human woman (his cape wrapped around them). Esmai was instantly jealous, "the bitch!" She lost her opportunity to strike Nasty as he moved in for the kill, but as he was poised for the strike, Esmai changed position and was illuminated by the moonlight - a vision to take Nasty's breath away, and he froze for a second. When that passed, Nicey was gone - and never even knew he'd been on the verge of being slain.
Nasty, frustrated but inspired, invited Esmai back to his place - and she accepted. She pointed out that she didn't want to be fed on - "oh well, there's always the old-fashioned way."
The group had a discussion about what Stranger and Demon Blood tasted like to vampires, and we decided that for our game, it's an intense but addictive experience - not the sort of thing that respectable vampires do: those who do are like crack addicts.
We also wondered whether Strangers could become vampires, and decided that they couldn't (not that it would actually need any changes to the game mechanics if they could: it would mainly be a colour thing).
So Nasty tried to get her into bed, and she almost gave but held back, and arranged another assignation - another hunt - for the next night.

Sepelchurus: he was often called in by desperate people to attend to mysterious ailments, and was even now rushing to see "Odys." After hearing that Esmai's story involved vampires, this player suggested that Odys was a wealthy anti-vampire activist, which sounded great to me. It also turned out in later conflicts that the butler who summoned Sepelchurus was a spy for the vampires, and he wanted to prove that vampires weren't behind this attack. He didn't tell Sepel this, though.
So, Sepelchurus examined Odys, and spoke to him. Odys obviously thought vampires were feasting on him, and couldn't understand how they were getting past his garlic and other protections - he got a bit fired up with anti-vampire rhetoric, and fainted. Sepel examined him, didn't find any bite marks but with his demon vision did find some odd purple rings (prompting a joke by another player that he was being bitten by a gummy vampire).
Unfortunately, Odys's wife came in at this moment, and saw this monstrosity attacking her husband - and near-fainted called for bodyguards.  The butler had slipped Sepel in secretly, so they didn't know of his presence, and quickly drove him away from the body and out on the street - he wasn't resisting, just attempting to talk to them, and here they were going to give him a beating to find out why he had been attacking their master. Through failed and successful conflict rolls, it turned out that they knew who he was, and at least two of them had come to him secretly for treatments (one, a cure for a pox in a delicate place, and another for a potion to win the heart of fair Bethsheba) and their eagerness to beat him up was to hide these facts. But with these exposed, they sheepishly let him go.
Back at his home, he consulted text books, and discovered the petals of the Rune Tree could produce a poison which produced those purple rings. So who wanted to poison Odys and make it look like vampires did it? (And in the back of the GMs mind - was it really a slayer who had killed the vampire leader?)
So he headed out to the Black Spider tavern (so called for the many armed demon bartender), and his contact, Grimes, who knew when any drug/poison-like substances where changing hands. Unfortunately, it turned out that Grimes had been embarrassed in a previous trade by Sepel, and had lost a hand - it had taken time to grow back, during which he had to hide it: humans (especially drug-addled, possiblly half-hallucinating ones) don't deal well with demon-drug dealers and Grimes values his human-like appearance.
So, Sepel had to offer a new supply of the rare Frothing Vittals, while Grimes claimed already to have a better supply - and proved it by producing some and drinking. And started coughing. Sepel said his supply was even purer and urged him to try it, and proved it was safe by drinking first. Grimes then imbibed and promptly fell over dead, and Sepel noticed himself getting weak - his drugs had been dotcored! He collapsed, in time to see a group of vampires come in and grab him.
Note: this is possibly the shortest lived relationship. Created in one scene just before a conflict, and died in that very same conflict.
Before the session I had been eager to use the Ghost rules, but thought it unlikely to crop up. Then when this happened, I completely forgot about it. Damn.
So, Sepel woke up in a finely appointed room, with two vampires looking at him. Before they had time to chat, the windows smashed, four human slayers burst in... The player declared when the humans burst in, he wasn't going to get involved unless he was threatened, then he'd help the stronger side.
The slayers quickly and efficiently despatched the surprised vampires and turned to Sepel, "what do we do with their demonic minion?"
On that cliffhanger we had to end it because we were out of time.

We discussed the game.
All three players enjoyed it. They liked the map tiles and the setting - they said it was easy to imagine what the streets and peoples were like. The two players who had played trollbabe agreed with some other playtesters on this board that the focussed and rich setting (and the map tiles!) made the world more immediate - it was easier to add details than the more wide-open-yet-vague setting of trollbabe.
Everyone (including this GM) would like to play it again.

John Harper


Wow. What a cool bunch of characters and stories! You guys totally nailed the setting in your own very cool way. The Black Spider tavern. Grimes. Vampire politics. All great stuff.

Can you talk more about conflict rolls, specifically, who called for them, players or director? Was one pace used more than the others? Did anyone run out of re-rolls? I know one of the conflicts went to Incapacitated. Did anyone ask for a recovery scene?

It looks like you used two pre-made adventure hooks (the vampires and the money lender) and improv-ed the third based on the player's opening placement. That's how it's broken down for me, too. And I love the bit with the instant relationship that died in its first conflict! Wow. That's some serious hard-driving from the player. Always a good sign. And you get to try out the Ghost rules next session.

Thanks for playtesting, and for the entertaining play report.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Darren Hill

About conflicts: we had quite a few. Well over a dozen, I'd say. I don't think there was a situation where players said, "I want a conflict here," - I don't think i gave them time for that, to be honest. Oh, that's not true - there were instances when I was describing something happening, and a player cut in, said they were doing something else, and we all knew that meant a conflict roll without explicitly rolling for it.
For example, when Nasty vampire invited Esnmai to join him on a hunt - she opposed, lost, and went with it anyway, describing how she was swept along by his magnetic personality.
We did more Full Conflict rolls; the Exchange by Exchange weren't far behind though, and there was just one Action by Action conflict (that was the scene with Grimes).
A lot of the time I would say, "what you've said there means we're in a conflict, but you've initiated it, so you get to declare Action Type and Pace."
Taking that into account, it was a fairly even split between player and GM initiated conflicts.
We didn't have any situations of players creating conflicts purely to add things to the setting, though the situation they each found themselves in did match up to their tastes, so that's not too surprising.

Two of the players got Incapacitated: Sepel with Grimes, who was happy to let the GM describe the events; Gratz in the battle with the shadow, and he took the opportunity for a final reroll to narrate what happened (and it's entirely possible he'd have taken the opportunity to describe his character's death if this roll had failed). This battle with the shadow, by the way, was a Full Conflict: it was supposed to be a single roll, but he failed that, failed the next three rerolls, checking off all his injuries, and finally succeeded the last "describe your defeat" roll.
Esmai's player was generally happy to accept the failures she suffered - she never made a single reroll. The hunt to kill Nicey and secretly stab Nasty was an Exchange by Exchange, and she got two failures and one success - a failure of the conflict which again she was happy to accept because she was conflicted about whether to kill him or not.
Sepelchurus took a couple of hurts in his first conflict with the treatment of Odys and the guards, then recovered over the next scenes, in time to be completely wasted in his last one.
As an apparent trend (with no statistical accuracy whatsoever!), we had full conflicts at the start of the session with no rerolls, and longer conflicts later with more attempts to reroll. Which is quite a nice way for it to go - it suggests they were getting more heavily invested as time went on.

About the seeds: yes, I planned to use three of the adventure seeds, but I hadn't decided which three till I asked what the players were up to. Much of the crosslinking between Esmai's and Sepelchurus's plots was suggested by Sepelchurus's player - the one who had no experience of trollbabe. He'd described he was off to see Odys who was mysteriously ill, then heard Esmai being told about vampire politics, and immediately suggested that Odys was a anti-vampire agitator, a supporter and patron of the slayers who distributes pamplets about the city. He also later suggested that the vampires had spies in the various anti-vampire camps. By this time we knew vampires hadn't been feeding on Odys, so I chose to make the butler - the person who brought Sepelchurus into it - one of those spies. Classic Intuitive Continuity, I think. The game is a natural for that sort of thing.

About that conflict that started with Sepelchurus's examination of Odys: I did explain that the way he declared his goal would have an effect. He could say, "I want to find out what's wrong," which leaves everything up to the GM: on a success, the GM can describe what he wants freely.
If he said, "I want to find evidence of vampires feeding," well, a success there would prove that vampires have been attacking him.
He could also say, "I want to find evidence of something other than vampires."
He chose to look for signs of vampire attack, failed initially, and described the purple rings he did find - so it wasn't vampries after all!

Final note: character design was about an hour, and play was another two hours - we crammed a fair amount into that time :)

John Harper

Thanks for the detailed breakdown, Darren. (Attention designers! Ask Darren to playtest your game!)

I love this:
Quote from: Darren HillA lot of the time I would say, "what you've said there means we're in a conflict, but you've initiated it, so you get to declare Action Type and Pace."

That's absolutely, perfectly the right way to do it. Very nice.

Also, this:
Quote from: Darren Hillwe had full conflicts at the start of the session with no rerolls, and longer conflicts later with more attempts to reroll. Which is quite a nice way for it to go - it suggests they were getting more heavily invested as time went on.

That's exactly what it means. It's a big neon sign for the Director saying, "The players care about what's happening!" I really like this feature.

And damn, man! Two hours?! Very impressive. You must have been moving at a breakneck pace. Which is exactly the way I intend for the game to go.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Darren Hill

Quote from: John Harper on August 29, 2005, 01:40:27 AM
Thanks for the detailed breakdown, Darren. (Attention designers! Ask Darren to playtest your game!)

Yesss! (and by that I mean both "Yippee, I'm on cloud nine," and "yes, please do!" :))
And damn, man! Two hours?! Very impressive. You must have been moving at a breakneck pace. Which is exactly the way I intend for the game to go.

The funny thing is, it didn't seem that fast while we were playing - though certainly not sedate. That is, it didn't feel rushed. I think the game is naturally fast-paced.