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Author Topic: [Dreamation: Mortal Coil] Old Gods Returns  (Read 6999 times)
Brennan Taylor
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Posts: 499


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« on: January 24, 2006, 09:41:48 AM »

Mortal Coil runs again, this time at Dreamation. I had an overflowing session, all six slots were full and Nathan Paoletta joined at the last minute, making this a seven-player session. Also in attendance were Alexander Newman, Keith Senkowski, Thor Olavsrud, Mayuran, and two other players with whom I was not previously acquainted, whose names were Mark and Jillian, if I recall correctly.

The scenario was Old Gods again, and again we started with the theme document. One of the first things that was established in the document was that gods had no powers unless they were in the presence of believers (or other gods). Again, initial theme facts had a big influence on the tone of the game. Jealousy toward one of the player gods who still had some worshippers drove most of the conflicts during play.

The gods this time: Alexander played Hermes as a bitter delivery man, Keith played Mithra as a completely dissolute and violent addict, Thor chose to play Munnin as a supplier of memories in the form of drugs, Nathan played Coyote, who turned out to be the butt of everyone's resentment, Mark played Xipe Totec, the flayed Aztec god, Jillian was playing Easter, and Mayuran played Sesmu, the owner of the bar.

When the time came around to assign passions, I pushed really hard, which I was thinking was my mistake in the last game. Everyone did as instructed and took loves and hates toward their fellow players. In part because of this, the game took a really dark comic turn, especially with all of the drug themes that were introduced. It played out mostly as a violent, drug-addled farce, with all of the gods attempting to tear each other down. There was a great deal of laughter around the table.

A couple of observations:

1. After running it three times, I don't think improper passion setting is the problem with this scenario. It worked with my home group, but didn't really come across at conventions. This is because there isn't a real point to this setup: no quests, missions, or any sort of outside threat. Really, the scenario needs to play off the relationships between the gods, and that means that it needs pregens. My Apocalypse Boulevard game ran quite well at Recess, but I suspect that was actually a fluke. When I am playing Mortal Coil at a con, I need to take a page from Luke and carefully construct the passions so they interlock and create a compelling situation that can't be ignored.

2. The reward mechanic does something really interesting. There is a pool of tokens in the middle of the table that can be given out at any time, and player can nominate others to receive them (unless vetoed). In the games where it starts to really hum, I noticed that the players have come to an unspoken consensus about what should be rewarded. In Apocalypse Boulevard, it was innovative uses of nursery rhymes to create spells for the children. In the Dreamation Old Gods, it was doing something shocking or unexpected that made everyone laugh.

3. This scenario ended up being very player-vs-player, and I brought in an NPC when things started to drag, just to provoke everyone into actions. The way Mortal Coil is structured, the GM has a huge pile of tokens to create adversity for the players. Since I was doing very little, the one time I drew on this really had a big effect on Alexander. Afterwards, he said he was a little shocked by the amount of force I could draw on in the one encounter where I used these. In Apocalypse Boulevard, with a strong oppositional force that I had to budget my tokens on, this was not a problem. In a game where it is almost all player-vs-player, I had an inordinate and seemingly arbitrary amount of force I could bring to bear. Alexander suggested I play a character next time, and that might be the way to go in a situation like this.


All in all, I was again not completely satisfied with how the game went. Everyone there had a really good time, and we laughed til our sides hurt. I learned some more about the game, and came out with a couple of new small tweaks, so it was fruitful from a playtest standpoint. And everyone is still talking about it, so my own misgivings are probably not shared by the players.
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Keith Senkowski
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On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2006, 09:51:02 AM »

Brennan,

Well like I told you after the game, I think there really needs to be a non-magical fact pool for the players.  This way they can continue to establish facts about the game.  Also I think those magical facts need to have a mechanical omph behind them.  We all established mechanical facts, some had direct actions attached, but others where just color, which I think is why I was having trouble with them.

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Brennan Taylor
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Posts: 499


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« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2006, 09:57:43 AM »

Well like I told you after the game, I think there really needs to be a non-magical fact pool for the players.  This way they can continue to establish facts about the game.  Also I think those magical facts need to have a mechanical omph behind them.  We all established mechanical facts, some had direct actions attached, but others where just color, which I think is why I was having trouble with them.

I agree with you on both points. I am planning to make these tweaks to the system. The mechanical oomph behind the magical facts may need some thinking on, however. I'm not entirely sure how I would implement it.
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Ben Lehman
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Posts: 2094

Blissed


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« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2006, 09:59:30 AM »

Brennan --

I may be drifting your play thread to a design thread, but as far as "factoids" having mechanical effects, you should talk to Joshua Newman about Shock:  The game handles that quite well through the minutiae mechanics.

yrs--
--Ben
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Mayuran
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2006, 11:00:54 AM »

When the time came around to assign passions, I pushed really hard, which I was thinking was my mistake in the last game. Everyone did as instructed and took loves and hates toward their fellow players. In part because of this, the game took a really dark comic turn, especially with all of the drug themes that were introduced. It played out mostly as a violent, drug-addled farce, with all of the gods attempting to tear each other down. There was a great deal of laughter around the table.

if you hadn't pushed for this, our game would have been much weaker. the focus on inter-character conflict was what gave us such an enjoyable 3 hours. in fact, saying to a few of us "that passion isn't going to come up" really demanded that we try and be invested in the matter at hand.

however... incomplete pre-gens could also have saved some of the trouble. a list of gods and a list of their potential rivals (allow the players to come up with the passions based on the facts at hand).

1. After running it three times, I don't think improper passion setting is the problem with this scenario. It worked with my home group, but didn't really come across at conventions. This is because there isn't a real point to this setup: no quests, missions, or any sort of outside threat. Really, the scenario needs to play off the relationships between the gods, and that means that it needs pregens. My Apocalypse Boulevard game ran quite well at Recess, but I suspect that was actually a fluke. When I am playing Mortal Coil at a con, I need to take a page from Luke and carefully construct the passions so they interlock and create a compelling situation that can't be ignored.

I'm not 100% convinced that you need abzu style "focused pre-gens" - maybe just more of the suggested guide structure above God + Rivals + Powers. One of the reasons this game worked (for me) was that I knew half of the players at the table - so the passions went hand in hand with "fun time with my friends." this also meant, in some way, that the players that i didn't know didn't get as much engagement... except for Nathan, who jumped right in and said "hurt me!" and was such a good sport, because his character concept of Coyote became a source of conflict for all of us.

I'm not sure how Jillian and the other Nathan felt about it. They fell to the fringes (they could have been a great team or great rivalry, given the similarity of the gods powers). Also having a passion related to the only female player/character which is all about shagging them is, to me, lame - but she had the power to veto and didn't seem to mind. It actually became the only source of conflict relating to Easter, sadly.

2. The reward mechanic does something really interesting. There is a pool of tokens in the middle of the table that can be given out at any time, and player can nominate others to receive them (unless vetoed). In the games where it starts to really hum, I noticed that the players have come to an unspoken consensus about what should be rewarded. In Apocalypse Boulevard, it was innovative uses of nursery rhymes to create spells for the children. In the Dreamation Old Gods, it was doing something shocking or unexpected that made everyone laugh.

the rewards keep players invested - but once a player drops off the radar it is harder to reward them. i think alexander, sen(k)owski and i figured out pretty quickly that we would be rewarded for being crazy funny and ended up with a nice pile. nathan was rewarded for being a good sport and generating so much conflict instead of turtling up. i handed out a token to jillian for narrating a decisive effort to defeat Coyote - but this was late enough in the game that i'm not sure it added an incentive to be engaged.

3. This scenario ended up being very player-vs-player, and I brought in an NPC when things started to drag, just to provoke everyone into actions. The way Mortal Coil is structured, the GM has a huge pile of tokens to create adversity for the players. Since I was doing very little, the one time I drew on this really had a big effect on Alexander. Afterwards, he said he was a little shocked by the amount of force I could draw on in the one encounter where I used these. In Apocalypse Boulevard, with a strong oppositional force that I had to budget my tokens on, this was not a problem. In a game where it is almost all player-vs-player, I had an inordinate and seemingly arbitrary amount of force I could bring to bear. Alexander suggested I play a character next time, and that might be the way to go in a situation like this.

introducing the NPC gave us a new source of conflict only because some of the players weren't taking it on themselves to generate it.

in terms of external conflicts, alexander suggested (long before, i believe), that humans were coming to visit the bar... and then later that the police were coming. but his ideas were color and there was no way for him to force those events in the mechanics (i know you will be addressing this in relationship to "non-magick facts").

if the GM isn't involved in the conflicts - it assures that he is a powerhouse in the few conflicts in which he engages. there is an incentive (as players) to engage with the GM in conflict.

also, as thor and i were discussing the relative lack of incentive not to do "All in Minus One" with the action tokens for any action, the real incentive to not do this is in early conflicts with the GM. i act with 5 (out of 8) chips, giving the GM the opportunity to burn a few chips and beat me.

by the end of the session, Nathan had maybe 2 or 3 action tokens left... given the amount of stomping we had inflicted on his character.

All in all, I was again not completely satisfied with how the game went. Everyone there had a really good time, and we laughed til our sides hurt. I learned some more about the game, and came out with a couple of new small tweaks, so it was fruitful from a playtest standpoint. And everyone is still talking about it, so my own misgivings are probably not shared by the players.

having played 2 sessions of Mortal Coil - I actually enjoyed this one more. This time around, the characters really interacted with each other and their passions. in Apocalypse Boulevard, while we did have inter-linking passions, they didn't really come up strongly in some of the interactions.

for example, Phredd did a really good job in Apocalypse Boulevard - his passion was related to my character, so he followed me around and helped me. I had a passion related to Chimp's character, which I used to engage in conflicts on her behalf - but there was little character interaction to affirm that passion (likewise for many of the passions in that session) - passions functioned almost solely on a mechanical level, because they were far more general than "I'm going to make Sesmu remember!"

Apocalypse Boulevard had a lot more of the players sitting around and waiting for the GM to show them what's up - while in Old Gods we grabbed narrative control by the horns and just threw stuff around. Alexander, Thor, Keith, and Nathan in particular created conflict at all opportunities (while the rest of us played more reactive roles to the magickal deviance spewing from their brains).

mayuran
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Iskander
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Posts: 226

Alexander Newman


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« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2006, 11:07:07 AM »

Brennan,

I haven't laughed so much in 3 hours of play about the play that was happening, ever. So speaking purely as a player, the game was a total success. Also, Nathan/Coyote punching Keith/Mithra in the nuts while spitting his own teeth out is a scene that I will revisit with pleasure many times. To look at your points in order:

1. [Scenario] I think you could do worse than start building a portfolio of as many as a dozen recognisable gods with interlocking passions. Then let the players at the table pick one, and you round the group out with a leftover that unites them. Leave the players to assign their points to the passions, and perhaps most of the aspects (was it aspects? The things we had points in, like Pizza delivery guy, 1, Spiteful Bugger, 3 and Bearer of Bad News, 3 - my personal favourite). Be sure to double up divine portfolios, and point out the extra power that can give. It was a shame our two fertility gods took something of a back seat - they could have been forces to be reckoned with. [System] No problems here. I think the passion modification mechanics will work well. I have a tinge of concern about the relative power of having two heavily invested passions vs. four lightly invested, but I wasn't paying all that much attention.

2. [System+Scenario] Yeah. This worked well. Although that bastard Sesmu ended up with a fat old stack, which was daunting. I think I wanted him to be able to spend those cool points for non-magical facts as well, so there was a good/rewarding choice to be made between using them to win conflicts and using them to introduce facts.

3. [Scenario/You] I was a taken aback by what felt like fiat at that point, and it was just wrong. I am probably megalomaniacally transferring my internal world to the rest of the table, but it felt awkard right at that point. I got the sense that, no matter what, you weren't going to let whatever it was happen, so we might as well not have had that conflict. At all. Old Gods works well with the gods in conflict, and you should provide any extra adversity necessary with equal weight, by being a player god. With a non-magical fact pool, you - and others - can introduce any MacGuffin you like. Throw in NPCs, whatever. Knock yourself out making life difficult for yourself and others, just don't rob us of our effectiveness. (N.B. I bear no resentment. I am honestly trying to be as clear as possible about where I thought a problem occurred, and where its cause lay!)

Other Stuff
Nathan P. was a great whipping boy. Kudos to him for some very generous and creative play. Like I said, the "Ptui. Gotcha! Ptui." teeth / balls / teeth moment was a highpoint.

Push the drawbacks hard for god powers. When I gave myself a perpetual connection to the Internet (Hey, I'm the god of messages, what else are IP packets?), and Thor made the price ...but you keep getting viruses and worms that manifest as Tourette Syndrome, I popped a boner. I am insanely proud of the price for Easter's I can heal anyone fast power, although a little embarassed at how hurt Jillian looked when I told her every time she used it she would look a little bit older. Ha! Maybe you could prime the pre-gens with a free one for example, or simply have a list, like the lists of sample More than Human, Less than Human traits that the inimitable Mr. Miller prepared for MLwM.

You need to work a little on how you present the chip mechanics. It may just be my anglophone ear, but it took me a while to grok the sacrifice/spending/something variations.

I'm of two minds about the power/price/mechanical oomph deal. On the one hand, Mithra's power needed something concrete - like establishing that once a fight started, everyone had to join in, or had to win some sort of conflict (with him/herself?) to avoid piling on. On the other hand, Sesmu's power to turn any liquid to wine that was practically vinegar was great colour, but mechanically just gave him a cool power... the price wasn't particularly relevant. The colour was great though. (Thank you, Mayuran, for the "I zip my fly and hand him his glass" line.)

Quote from: Mayuran
in terms of external conflicts, alexander suggested (long before, i believe), that humans were coming to visit the bar... and then later that the police were coming. but his ideas were color and there was no way for him to force those events in the mechanics
Actually, I bought the mortal magicians with a magic chip. Buying a magical fact at the world-creation stage like that seemed to be very expensive for no reward. You can probably skip that part for a con game, leaving everyone on an equal power-buying footing. You can fix this by being a player, so when Hermes brings Sesmu the bad news about the cops being on the way, give them a scene, then narrate what you do when the boys in blue kick the door in.


All in all, I think Mortal Coil is going to be a lot of fun. It has potential for some really interesting long-term play, and some great fun con scenarios.

- Alexander
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Winning gives birth to hostility.
Losing, one lies down in pain.
The calmed lie down with ease,
having set winning & losing aside.

- Samyutta Nikaya III, 14
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