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Author Topic: [The Mountain Witch] Mystified by bumpy road (long)  (Read 4525 times)
Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« on: January 21, 2006, 11:47:29 AM »

I ran The Mountain Witch for the first time a few nights ago. It was a fun, but very bumpy and confusing ride. I'm looking forward to our next session, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling both frustrated and mystified.

Having recently and successfully run - and fallen in love with - The Pool, I had felt very confident about TMW and did not expect any problems.

Note: If you are one of my players and stumble across this thread, feel free to read it & join in.

1. The first conflict and coming up with a partial success

As the characters entered an abandoned village, Oliver announced that he would scout ahead.

As planned, I had a dozen gaku burst from the earth soon after. I announced that none of the PCs were caught flat-footed or immediately engaged, but that they were in danger of being surrounded.

I immediately called for the first conflict of the evening myself and made it exclusive to Oliver: "The gakus' aim is to surround you and your comrades. What do you do?" Of course, he tried to prevent it.

Oliver got a partial success and described how he spotted a route to safety. This sounded like a regular success to me, so I suggested that he found a route blocked by only two gaku. This was accepted.

*-*-*

It was a mistake and s spectacularly bad start to define the first 'conflict' myself. This was task resolution, not conflict resolution.

Also, it felt awkward to correct the very first player statement about a success. I felt that I was invading on the player's turf, so I emphasized that my suggestion was just that – one of many options – and that everybody could chime in.

I think this set a good precedent, i.e. it encouraged people to chime in (and they did!). However, our free for all discussions that night were fraught with insecurity all around. The players seemed to be in fear of invading on one another's or the GM's turf or misunderstanding the rules, and I felt I was stifling player creativity by making suggestions myself. As I felt the need to do this all the time, I got more and more unsure about myself.

2. Combat, buying narration rights, and character coolness

The four ronin rushed the two gaku. All players declared "kill the gaku" as their goal. The gaku's goal was to rip out and eat the ronins' eyes.

It was 4d6 vs 2d6 and the gaku got a mixed success. I hadn't chosen a specific target and just declared, on impulse, that they were going for Oliver's character, who was likely to lead the rush as he had detected the escape route. I declared that the gaku tore at his face, bloodying it and inflicting a chapter wound (and that his and Damien's PC cut one down in response). My narration hovered between temporarily blinding him and inflicting a penalty, but I settled for the penalty in the end.

The players were a bit shocked at what they saw as a very serious wound ("A penalty for one whole chapter?") and Oliver seemed to be unhappy about the wound description. I internally debated letting him describe the wound himself – "It's a -1 penalty and you tell me what happened." -, but decided against it, as I wanted to nail down who is entitled to narrate what and when. Probably a bad move, in retrospect.

Damien stepped in and asked whether he could retroactively spend trust and narrate the outcome. I said I was unsure, but after a brief discussion, we all agreed that it was better that way. Unfortunately, this added to the feeling that the action was ill-defined by the rules.

Damien narrated how his PC intercepted the gaku and took the wound himself. A free for all discussion resulted in Damien's PC being blinded for one chapter, rather than taking a -1 penalty. His "blind fight" ability meant that this was not much of a problem for him, which I thought was a good use of the rules (and I said as much because Damien seemed to feel a bit guilty). Damien proceeded to narrate how his PC depended on the other PCs for being guided through the forest.

In retrospect, I kicked myself for not stating that there were even more gaku, but that they got only one die per three gaku. The whole episode made the ronin, loaded up with martial arts coolness (e.g. wuxia abilities such as "distance strike"), look pretty incompetent. Those were zombies in our minds, so the ronin should have been cutting through ranks and ranks of 'em. I tried to emphasize their natural speed as I realized the problem, but the damage had been done.

3. Coming up with a partial success, take two

Next, the ronin spotted (no roll) an evil-looking goblin-like creature, which had watched the fight and was obviously trying to sneak away.

The creature broke into a run and Charles used his "bow" ability to try to shoot him in the leg to prevent him from running away.

He got a partial success – and didn't know what to do with it. He suggested "he stumbles", but that sounded like a success (you catch up to him) or a simple re-roll of the whole affair (as he gets up, you get another shot). The other players had no ideas either ("nailed to a tree" didn't cut it, as was unanimously decided), so I suggested that the creature had been wounded and was now leaving a trail of blood.

The suggestion was embraced, but once again, I felt bad for invading on what I felt was the players' turf.

4. First use of fate

The creature fled into a cave. Oliver asked if he could foreshadow his fate and proceeded to narrate how his PC revealed that he had had seen the creature in a disturbing dream.

As the characters tried to negotiate with the creature, I had it recognize Oliver's PC and get more interested and cooperative as a result.

5. What to do with a double success?

It offered a small casket with an unspecified key in return for a personal item. Damien was getting ready to cut the deal, when Dennis announced that his PC would use his "pentetrating gaze" ability to look inside the chest.

He got a double success, which meant that he had succeeded undetected and with an extra success to boot.

I suggested that he narrate what he saw. He seemed at a loss, and while I renewed my offer, I also said that I had had an idea.

Dennis prodded me to reveal what it was and I said there was a small porcelain doll of a young woman inside.

Dennis decided to use his extra success to have his PC recognize the figure – the Mountain Witch's daughter! – and had him blurt out this knowledge.

However, we felt unsure about the narration rights here. Had Dennis used fate foreshadowing or used an extra success to introduce such an important element? Dennis said he didn't know, either.

*-*-*

This was one of those key points where everybody felt unsure of what to do with an extra success. Guide the plot where you want it to go? Or do you have to use fate foreshadowing to do that?

6. Taking sides

Much later, a bunch of critters attacked the ronin and tried to capture them with nets. We immediately ran into problems of grouping PCs and monsters into sides, particularly as some PCs had goals other than "kill 'em".

This post is already long enough as it is, so I'll get into this at a later point.

7. Final words

The players seemed pleased by the in-game events, intrigued by narrativism and puzzled by the rules.

Me, I was and still am at an almost complete loss. I've struggled with this post for over four hours now (cutting the write-up of our group, events leading up to the game, my prep and the characters in the process) and am still not much closer to understanding.

Regards

Hal
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Darren Hill
Member

Posts: 861


« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2006, 07:57:23 AM »

I haven't played the Mountain Witch, but I can still compare your comments to the text. I may very well be pointing out things that you already know.

It was a mistake and s spectacularly bad start to define the first 'conflict' myself.
I think you're right. According to page 22-24 of the rules, the GM frames a scene and sets up the potential for the conflict, but the players choose what form the conflict would take. In stating exactly how the Baku acted to attempt to surround the players, you robbed them of this chance. Basically, the players were channelled into responding with combat - options like stealth or intimidation were removed from the table.

Quote
Oliver got a partial success and described how he spotted a route to safety. This sounded like a regular success to me, so I suggested that he found a route blocked by only two gaku. This was accepted.
I don't think you made any mistake here. The winner of the conflict narrates the outcome, but it's perfectly fine to take suggestions so long as they understand they have the right to ignore them - as stated on page 40 (sidebar).

Quote
2. Combat, buying narration rights, and character coolness

The four ronin rushed the two gaku. All players declared "kill the gaku" as their goal. The gaku's goal was to rip out and eat the ronins' eyes.

It was 4d6 vs 2d6 and the gaku got a mixed success. I hadn't chosen a specific target and just declared, on impulse, that they were going for Oliver's character, who was likely to lead the rush as he had detected the escape route. I declared that the gaku tore at his face, bloodying it and inflicting a chapter wound (and that his and Damien's PC cut one down in response). My narration hovered between temporarily blinding him and inflicting a penalty, but I settled for the penalty in the end.

It sounds like you did this right, from the section on page 40. The outcome fit the opening declarations.

Quote
Damien stepped in and asked whether he could retroactively spend trust and narrate the outcome. I said I was unsure, but after a brief discussion, we all agreed that it was better that way. Unfortunately, this added to the feeling that the action was ill-defined by the rules.

Page 60 explicitly states that narration is bought after the winner is determined, but before the winner has narrated.

Quote
3. Coming up with a partial success, take two

Next, the ronin spotted (no roll) an evil-looking goblin-like creature, which had watched the fight and was obviously trying to sneak away.

The creature broke into a run and Charles used his "bow" ability to try to shoot him in the leg to prevent him from running away.

I'm not sure, but I think you might have broken the sequence of conflict declaration here again. You saaid that the ronin spotted an evil goblin-like creature trying to sneak away. That sets the scene. At the point, it is the player's turn to initiate the conflict, but you might have jumped the gun by having the goblin start to run.
I might be splitting hairs, because you could just as easily have set the scene by saying, "the ronin spots a goblin-like creature running away."

Quote
He got a partial success – and didn't know what to do with it.
He suggested "he stumbles", but that sounded like a success (you catch up to him) or a simple re-roll of the whole affair (as he gets up, you get another shot).
Maybe he could narrate a wound - you can always retry such conflicts.
I'm a little confiused by partial successes, too - I can't see them working well unless they are opportunities to make a reroll, with a slightly different initial condition.

Quote
The other players had no ideas either ("nailed to a tree" didn't cut it, as was unanimously decided), so I suggested that the creature had been wounded and was now leaving a trail of blood.
That sounds good to me. Also, the player could have inflicted an injury - you can always make follow-up conflicts from those.
The player tried to stop the goblin running away. Maybe the player hit the goblin and the goblin was able to run some distance, forcing the ronin to move some distance to capture him. Yeah, partial successes are awkward.

Quote
5. What to do with a double success?

It offered a small casket with an unspecified key in return for a personal item. Damien was getting ready to cut the deal, when Dennis announced that his PC would use his "pentetrating gaze" ability to look inside the chest.

He got a double success, which meant that he had succeeded undetected and with an extra success to boot.

I suggested that he narrate what he saw. He seemed at a loss,

I see The Pool's influence at work... :)
Note that the extra success you get doesn't have to be related to the actual roll. (See page 30-31.) He could say something about the cave, or add anything that would normally need another conflict to get. For example, he could declare there was a door at the back of the cave that led to a shortcut into the keep, or there was a well of healing water, or whatever.

Quote
Dennis decided to use his extra success to have his PC recognize the figure – the Mountain Witch's daughter! – and had him blurt out this knowledge.

However, we felt unsure about the narration rights here. Had Dennis used fate foreshadowing or used an extra success to introduce such an important element? Dennis said he didn't know, either.
Was it Dennis' idea that it was the Mountain Witch's daughter? I'm not grapsing what's important about this element.
Quote
This was one of those key points where everybody felt unsure of what to do with an extra success. Guide the plot where you want it to go? Or do you have to use fate foreshadowing to do that?
Page 30 explicitly states that critical and double successes give players the kind of director stance power you're talking about here, so it looks like you did it right.

Quote
I was and still am at an almost complete loss. I've struggled with this post for over four hours now (cutting the write-up of our group, events leading up to the game, my prep and the characters in the process) and am still not much closer to understanding.

It doesn't sound like you did all that badly.
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timfire
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Posts: 756


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« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2006, 05:39:50 PM »

Hi Hal,

Like Darren, from my side of the computer monitor, it seems you ran things pretty straight. Could you elaborate on how or why you felt frustrated? Did you just get off on a bumpy start, and that colored the rest of the session?

1. The first conflict and coming up with a partial success

On declaring the first conflict, technically that did break the standard sequence of play, but in your case it doesn't sound like a big deal. I would have just said something like, "The gaki seem to be positioning themselves to surround you... What do you do?" and then let the player say what he's doing. Most likely, anything he would have said would have lead to a conflict, so the end result would probably have been the same.

The partial success you suggested seems appropriate. I dislike correcting players myself, but given that this was your first session, it was inevitable that you were going to have to explain narrating to them. First sessions with new players are always like that. I usually try to head off correcting them by giving them a couple of suggestions or guidelines before they narrate. But occassionly I have to correct players as well. It happens. Usually by the second session they've gotten a good enough sense of what's apprpriate that I can just let them do it without me having to chime.

Quote
2. Combat, buying narration rights, and character coolness

Your original narration was perfectly acceptible. If the players felt it was harsh---too bad. The players need to know you're serious. That's the reason they have Trust and you don't. If they don't want to get hurt, they need to spend the trust and help each other out. They have to power to protect themselves and overcome you. It's their choice whether or not to use it.

That said, since this was only the second Conflict in the game, I might have let them retroactively Buy narration, with the warning that this would be the only time.

Quote
3. Coming up with a partial success, take two

Actually, I REALLY like your "trail of blood" suggestion. I think I might steal it and use it as an example.

As far as stepping on someone else's turf, I don't think you need to worry quite so much. As long you're not forcing your will, it's all good. Clearly you're making the effort to say that this is only a suggestion, take it or leave. As I said above, after a few conflicts they will likely start to get the picture and then you can back off.

Quote
4. First use of fate

Oliver asked if he could foreshadow his fate and proceeded to narrate how his PC revealed that he had had seen the creature in a disturbing dream.

As the characters tried to negotiate with the creature, I had it recognize Oliver's PC and get more interested and cooperative as a result.

How did Oliver react to this? This seems like a really good example of you taking the player's foreshadow and running with it.

Quote
5. What to do with a double success?

Dennis decided to use his extra success to have his PC recognize the figure – the Mountain Witch's daughter! – and had him blurt out this knowledge.

However, we felt unsure about the narration rights here. Had Dennis used fate foreshadowing or used an extra success to introduce such an important element? Dennis said he didn't know, either.

I don't think it really matters whether this was Fate or Extra Success. Dennis could have used his Fate to declare that it was the Witch's daughter if he had wanted. But it doesn't matter. Using his extra Success is perfectly fine, too.

Quote
6. Taking sides

Much later, a bunch of critters attacked the ronin and tried to capture them with nets. We immediately ran into problems of grouping PCs and monsters into sides, particularly as some PCs had goals other than "kill 'em".

Oh, tell me more!


Overall, like I said, it sounds like you played this pretty straight. Everything you did was within the reasonable boundaries of the rules. Discuss your frustrations a little more.

Thanks!
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Callan S.
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Posts: 3588


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« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2006, 06:45:47 PM »

Hi Hal,

Are the players more used to traditional play? So when they hesitantly came out to forfil GM like duties themselves, you saw your framing of conflicts/corrections make them retreat back to the traditional GM'ing way?

A bit of a guess, but were you (rightly, IMO) trying not to sneak up on mode, but began to fear that your relatively few mistakes may have actually reinforced the old play style (players "Oh, you play these indie games just like all the other roleplay games")?

Ignore if I'm way off. :)
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2006, 11:35:50 PM »

@Darren
Thank you for pointing out all the right rules references. There isn't much I can add here, except to stress that this has been really helpful. I've read the rulebook several times, but these sort of details slip through and hunting them down can be difficult (unless one at least dimly remembers having read about some issue).

As far as partial successes are concerned, I have to say that I rather like them - they get the creative juices flowing -, but I think they take some getting used to and<
Quote
How did Oliver react to this? This seems like a really good example of you taking the player's foreshadow and running with it.

He was definitely pleased that his foreshadowing had had an immediate impact. I'm not sure whether there was anything more specific he had hoped to get out of this, but I'd say it was a good example for everyone of how this sort of thing can work.

@Callan
I told my players that it would be very different from what they are used to. However, I should have taken more time to explain conflict resolution (not necessarily at the beginning, but once the action started & there was some context). So nothing sneaky, but too few explanations & a botched start (i.e. using something more like task resolution rather than conflict resolution right away).

*-*-*

I've also further pondered our session and have come up with some clarifications of my own as well as questions.

Maybe some of the below is just a case of "Say it for yourself" and this is all in the book, but I feel the need to order my thoughts. Please correct me where I am wrong and help me out with my questions.

Narration Rights

As far as I can see, there are four different ways for the players to get narration rights. The sheer number and different parameters are probably responsible for some of the confusion.

1. Win narration rights by winning a conflict.

   a. Constraints:
          - both sides' stated goals in the conflict
          - success levels
   b. Note:
          - This is straightforward only with a regular success or a "kill 'em all" goal.

2. Buy narration rights by spending Trust.

   a. Constraints:
          - both sides' stated goals in the conflict
          - success levels
   b. Questions:
          - If this should normally not be allowed retroactively, it makes the most
            sense with non-regular successes, right? Else, there's not much room
            for influencing the game.

3. Claim narration rights by invoking Fate.

   a. Constraints:
          - must eventually be tied to the character's Fate
          - should leave some things open (i.e., not resolve everything)
   b. Question:
          - Should invoking fate allow one to override the other mechanics, e.g. taking
            damage? (Example: The monster's goal is to rip out your eyes and it wins.
            Can this still be prevented, e.g. by invoking fate and claiming it recognizes
            you and stops?)

4.   Accept narration rights by using an opening from the GM.

(E.g. "You recognize the corpse's face. Who is he?". I think this is a great idea
(and is mentioned in many AP threads), but also caused some of my confusion.)

   a. Constraints:
          - as determined by the GM (e.g. "describe your –1 chapter penalty")
   b. Note:
          - the player's contribution may be, but need not be, tied to his PC's Fate
   c. Questions:
          - Should such openings be mandatory rather than an offer?
          - Should the narrating player announce whether it's about his fate or not?

Additional constraints in all cases are basic common sense and summed up nicely by James in The Pool, though both of the following points are perhaps easier said than done:
 
1. Don't intrude on the creation of a fellow player.
2. Keep your narration in synch with the established facts and tone of the game.
   - James V. West, The Pool

Conflict Resolution

I suspect, but am not sure, that conflict resolution should be handled almost as in The Pool.

1. A player can state any one goal he hopes to achieve.

   In The Pool, this is self-regulating: The player can do and achieve anything, so his thoughts
   are automatically focussed on the one constraint: The action must fit in (see James' points above).
   For TMW (or at least my current, perhaps flawed take on it), see below.

2. Narrating success is subject to one constraint and offers one extra option:

   a. Constraint:
         - Neither the narration nor the game mechanical effects may contradict the target's strength
           (i.e., if your stated goal is to kill the target, a regular success will not be enough for an able
           or strong target).
   b. Option:
          - A success level which would be enough to take out a target can always be used to do so,
          regardless of the original goal.

3.   Interpretation rests with the player, not the GM

(The LP is in effect, of course, and free-for-all discussion and negotiation are encouraged).

4.   Interpreting Success

          - in relation to the stated goal
          - partial success: original goal not fulfilled in some crucial way & should not lead to a simple re-roll

I'll get to Group Conflict Resolution & Determining Sides in one of my next posts (I really need some help there, I think).

Best regards & A big bunch of thanks to everyone - I was getting a bit despondent over here.

Hal
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Darren Hill
Member

Posts: 861


« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2006, 12:02:44 AM »

@Darren
Thank you for pointing out all the right rules references. There isn't much I can add here, except to stress that this has been really helpful. I've read the rulebook several times, but these sort of details slip through and hunting them down can be difficult

Unless you have the PDF version and are a search-ninja!
Glad to help. Your break down of conflicts & narration rights looks useful, I will be studying that later.
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timfire
Member

Posts: 756


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« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2006, 08:47:11 AM »

2. Buy narration rights by spending Trust.
   b. Questions:
          - If this should normally not be allowed retroactively, it makes the most
            sense with non-regular successes, right? Else, there's not much room
            for influencing the game.

3. Claim narration rights by invoking Fate.
   b. Question:
          - Should invoking fate allow one to override the other mechanics, e.g. taking
            damage? (Example: The monster's goal is to rip out your eyes and it wins.
            Can this still be prevented, e.g. by invoking fate and claiming it recognizes
            you and stops?)

4.   Accept narration rights by using an opening from the GM.
   c. Questions:
          - Should such openings be mandatory rather than an offer?
          - Should the narrating player announce whether it's about his fate or not?

Buying Narration: I just posted about this on my website. Though you should read what I wrote, the long-story-short of it is that the real potential for Buying Narration Rights is for making thematic statements, rather than gaining a tactical advantage. That said, if it's a tactical advantage you want, Buying the narration rights to a non-standard success would make more sense.

Fate: I don't usually allow players to use their Fate to override the normal resolution rules. If the players are somehow concerned that the conflict is going to interfer with their Fate, they need to declare the how their Fate is going to come into the situation before it comes to dice. So for your example above, if the player wants the monster to recognize his PC, he needs to say so before the Conflict begins.

GM Opening: If a player really didn't want to narrate something, I wouldn't make him. But I don't think I've ever had a player turn me down. If I'm offering the player narration, I don't care if it's fate related or not. I certainly don't make them declare if it is or not. Sometimes players just bring in stuff that's related to their past and not directly tied to their Fate, and that's still good. It allows the player to develop their character, and such information can often be used later to tempt the character away from the party and towards the Witch.

Other than that, your break-down looks really good!
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2006, 06:11:04 AM »

Okay, here's some more about the session. I'll start out with two hopefully interesting details about character creation and then have some questions about Group Conflict Resolution & Success Levels.

Note: If you are one of my players (Channing etc.), please don't read the sections marked as containing [SPOILERS].

Dark Fates [SPOILERS]

After dealing the dark fates (I had removed "Worst Fear" as some posters on the Forge have had problems with it), everyone wanted to step outside with me to talk about his fate and, more importantly, what to do with it.

Damien was first. He had drawn "Revenge" and was surprised to learn that "one of the company owes you a blood debt" meant that his own character had it in for a fellow PC. After some talk, his face suddenly lit up and he asked me whether his character had to know who he was looking for right away. I said no, and he got very enthusiastic (probably because his backstory had occurred to him just then – see below). When we went back in, Damien joyously announced that it was possible to develop one's fate in play.

I forgot how his PC became a ronin, but his character needs the money to buy a passage to a remote island where he suspects to find the murderer of his sister. Damien was throwing out a red herring here, making the other players think that his vengeful ronin's target is 'outside' the adventure (and from the perspective of his character, that is the case, too).

Abilites

Damien was the first to come up with an ability: blind fighting. This was greeted as a nice cliché of martial arts films. Other suggestions began flying, with Oliver going for over the top wuxia stuff like "can run across water" or "can turn invisible". He seemed unsure of what he could get away with, but I just said, go ahead, this is about genre parameters, which we're all deciding on together right now.

Also, I suggested that we leave one slot open, to be filled in at any time. Here's what we ended up with:

Charles: "Bow & arrows" and "can read omens as part of a tea ceremony".
Damien: "Blind fighting" and "can vanish in a puff of smoke" (via smoke bombs).
Dennis: "Ki strike" (a ranged attack) and "Penetrating Gaze" (can look through solid matter when concentrating).
Oliver: "Monkey climb" (a wuxia-like ability to climb) and "Shadow Slide" (teleporting from shadow to shadow).

Group Conflict Resolution & Success Levels

At one point, the PCs' camp was attacked by more goblinoid monsters armed with nets. The players decided to fully cooperate … Naturally, they got a double success (4d6 vs. 6^d6) and wasted a bunch of enemies.

Question: Can they just assign damage as they see fit? Perhaps more importantly, can I do so as the GM? When it came up, I just rolled a die to decide randomly who would take a flesh wound…

In the second round, the players wanted to try different things. I'm a bit hazy on the details, but as far as I remember, one of them wanted to cut the enemies' nets, another one wanted to target the leader and two just wanted to coop again.

Question: What happens when the red ronin singles out target X (e.g. to disarm him) and the blue ronin attacks a group of monsters which includes X (to kill them all)?

Do I have…

(a) two conflicts with two sides apiece

or

(b) one conflict where the narrator – whoever ends up with narration rights – has to integrate all individual goals in his narration?

The problem with the former approach is that if, say, it's just one monster, it is part of two conflicts and could defend against both assailants.

The problem with the latter approach is that the winning side will usually achieve only one goal, regardless of how many are involved. (Or you start comparing the individual results, to see if the second PC would have attained his goals – but I don't think you'd want to go that route because it'd be a mess with more combatants.)

Finally, I have a hard time with the existence of success levels (not the interpretation of the individual levels, mind you). Their existence implies the existence of difficulty levels and, at least in regard to monsters, that is the case (i.e. you get weak, able and strong monsters and probably could or should extend that to avalanches trying to bury the PCs, libraries resisting a search etc.). But what about a character who tries to disarm a monster or run away from one? Is a regular success always enough? If so, "I knock him out/disarm him" etc. seems like a short cut to victory. If not, how do I set difficulties?

Regards,

Hal
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timfire
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Posts: 756


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« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2006, 08:37:19 AM »

Question: Can they just assign damage as they see fit? Perhaps more importantly, can I do so as the GM? When it came up, I just rolled a die to decide randomly who would take a flesh wound…

Technically, the narrating player gets to decide how damage is assigned, and yes its just as they see fit. Just as a reminder, Aiding players never narrate, regardless of rolls. Therefore, the spearhead of whole conflict---the character everyone spent Trust in to Aid---would be the one to decide.

You, as GM, decide whenever you win the conflict. And I would encourage you to actively decide who takes the damage, not just assign it randomnly. Sometimes, you want to use the opportunity to show the players you're tough and have no mercy, and go after the guy who's ALREADY down and hurting. Sometimes, you want to show players that helping others comes at price. Sometimes, you want to hurt a character to force them to rely more on others. All this depends on the situation, and what seems thematically and narratively appropriate. Sometimes you don't have a good reason to hurt anyone in particular, and will more or less randomly pick someone, but still I encourage you to actively make that decision.

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Question: What happens when the red ronin singles out target X (e.g. to disarm him) and the blue ronin attacks a group of monsters which includes X (to kill them all)?

...The problem with the former approach is that if, say, it's just one monster, it is part of two conflicts and could defend against both assailants.

Generally speaking, you could handle it either way, either breaking the fight into two seperate conflicts or grouping the two ronin together and then just letting the narrator sorts everything out. In the above situation, unless the blue ronin wanted to specifically attack opponent X, I would probably break the conflict into two. Generally speaking, if someone is specifically targeting an opponent, I break them off into their own conflict and then ask if anyone wants to join.

If it's just one monster, then you CAN'T use the "break them up" approach, for just the reason you mention. If two parties are both attacking a *single* target, they automatically get grouped together regardless of goals. You then just let the narrator work it all out.

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Finally, I have a hard time with the existence of success levels... Their existence implies the existence of difficulty levels and, at least in regard to monsters, that is the case... But what about a character who tries to disarm a monster or run away from one? Is a regular success always enough? If so, "I knock him out/disarm him" etc. seems like a short cut to victory. If not, how do I set difficulties?

I'm not really following your idea that degrees of success imply difficulty levels, but that's a side issue. On the "disarm" front, yes, a Regular success is all you need to narrate the fact "I have disarmed him". For narrating most facts, a Regular success is all you ever need. HOWEVER, narrating such a fact doesn't remove the NPC from play. The NPC could still continue fighting and inflicting damage (as is narratively appropriate, such as fighting with his hands).

The "knockout" is different, though. A "knockout" does imply that the NPC is removed from play, or otherwise can no longer act. Therefore, "knocking someone out" is the same as a Take Out, and a Degree of Success appropriate to the creature's Strength would be required. Actually, if the point of the "disarm" above was to remove the monster's ability to fight, then it would be neccessary to Take Out the creature to do so. The point here is if the goal of the player is to remove the NPCs ability to act, then they must Take them Out.

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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
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