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[Mountain Witch] Cold & Hot

Started by Eric Provost, February 20, 2006, 03:15:11 PM

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Eric Provost

We had a really interesting game of the Mountain Witch last night.  After looking over my notes from the game I have a few insights I'd like to share. 

Boring prelude info
The group consisted of myself, Clinton, Lisa, Remi, Mark and Tim.  Clinton was GMing and Mark and Tim were the only two who hadn't played tMW before.  In fact, this was Tim's first Indie game experience.  We started off with about 30 or 40 minutes of prep time.  Explaining the currencies and mechanisms of the game as well as choosing zodiacs, authoring characters, and doing the trust paperwork.  We had Tim's Demo Sheet character sheets with the pre-printed zodiacs on them and we were using poker chips for Trust points.

Chapter 1:  Wolves and Poetry
Clinton fired things off with a small pack of wolves guarding the path.  The alpha wolf made it clear to the ronin that we were not going to be allowed to continue down this path.  After a bit of in-character chatter about the wolves we set about to dispatch them.  We had some pretty good narration and very few bumps, which was nice as I was expecting things to be a little less smooth with two new players. 

The fun stuff in this chapter occurred when the fight was over and Remi decided his character would cook the largest wolf.  There was a little bit of disconnect between Clinton and Remi on the size of the wolf and when Clinton asked Remi what was in the belly of the wolf (in responce to Remi asking Clinton what was in the belly of the wolf!) Remi pointed at one of the other players and replied "His mistress!!"  It became apparent real quick that Remi was the only one imagining a giant wolf, while the rest of us were picturing a large but not fantastic sized creature.  After the size of the creature was re-established Remi decided that, instead, he found a book of my character's poetry.  A book that had verse after verse of tales of betrayal and backstabbing.  My character got a little hot-headed and threw down an obnoxious challenge about authoring 190 lines of poetry before dawn and Remi's character threw down in kind about building a 30 ton statue in the same time frame. 

Tim had his character intervene and things calmed down from the imminent 1st-scene swordplay, but lines had been drawn between my character, the tall effeminate poet, and Remi's character, the Femme Samauri with power over Stone.  Oh yeah, it was on.

Chapter 2:  Blizzard, Bonfire, and Dirty Laundry
Clinton opened this chapter with threats of an impending blizzard.  Our ronin set to disagreeing about seeking shelter vs. pressing onward.  The result of which being that the three male ronin went for immediate shelter in a nearby temple and the two femme ronin decided to press onward.  It just made me smile that the female characters, one being played by Lisa, were the two with overflowing machismo! 

So, we were split and two different scenes erupted from it.  In the temple Mark turned over his Fate to reveal his Past Alleigances, spirits who were demanding a new home from him.  Awesome.  In a nifty conflict between his character and the spirits he failed to convince them that he was here to do their bidding and they buried us deep in the snow.  When Mark lost the last roll to Clinton on a Double Success, I decided I was gonna steal the Narration from Clinton because I had this vision of Mark's character being frozen in a block of ice in a really dramatic pose of showing his strength to the spirits that I wanted to share with everyone.

Meanwhile...  Lisa and Remi's characters pressed on as far as they could, eventually finding a woodcutter's cabin for shelter.  Clinton revealed later that he had these plans in mind where the ronin would be seduced by Yuki-Onna (the Witch's mistress).  Plans that were disrupted both by the fact that the ronin who discovered the cabin were both female and by Remi's character going bonkers right from the opening of the scene.  There was a successful inpersonation of the witch himself, the ronin mistaking the returning woodcutter for the witch and killing him, the witch watching them the whole time from the body of a cat, and the eventual incineration of the cabin.  Yikes!

The five ronin rejoined in the following scene when the blizzard had passed and my character and Tim's dug our way out of the snow and began chipping Mark's character from the ice.  We decided that we'd need fire to melt him free and so I went in the direction of the smoke billowing in the distance.  I tried to put in a little foreshadowing about my Fate, but it came off just underlining the idea that my character was a puff, which was ok, just not what I was going for.

Same chapter, next scene, the five of us decide that it's way too dangerous to sleep on the side of the mountain, so we'll press on 'till morning.  In the middle of the night, in the deep of the forest, we come across an abandoned camp ground.  With an apparent pile of dirty laundry.  Being that I knew the monster that Clinton was planning to spring on us, I figured it'd be most fun if I just played into his hands and had my character poking at it with his toes.  The monsterous trap-door spider sprang up and we made quick work of it only to find that the trees were full of them.  And full of the cocoons they'd made.  In the chaotic fight that ensued Remi and Tim's characters discovered a tunnel leading down and, rash as we were, decided to escape through that tunnel.  Crazyness.

Chapter 3:  Out of the hole and into the crater
Clinton narrated the five of us traveling through this cramped tunnel for hours on end before coming out into daylight and finding ourselves in the volcanic crater at the center of the mountain, behind the Witch's castle.  After a brief despute about rest vs. pressing onward, four of us began scaling the jagged volcanic cliff wall and one, Remi's character, stayed behind.  Giant bats came flying out of the crevaces on the cliff wall, threatening to topple us to the stones below.  The highlight of which was Remi's character succesfully jumping on the back of one of the beasts and riding it away.  When the tables turned on Remi, his character was taken, unconsious back to the cave of the bat where we discovered that it was actually a doppleganger who took on his character's appearance to infiltrate the ronin.  Clinton suggested that Remi play the evil-self, and Remi ate it up.

Chapter 4: Castle and Foundry
My notes are a little weak from here on out, but after a quick power play between Lisa's character (who now, for some reason, had the Witch-as-a-cat perched on her shoulders at all time) and Remi's character.  Lisa won and when Remi narrated his character offering to lead us directly to the Witch, we all agreed with her.  In secret, behind the character's back, we plotted to kill her before she sprung her trap. ('Her' meaning Remi's femme character if I confused you with the pronouns)

Remi's character's name was Rei, so we took to calling the evil doppleganger version Bat-Rei.  We followed Bat-Rei to a huge stone foundry where we discovered goblins hard at work making a tremendous amount of weapons out of molten steel.  There was some great betrayal and tables-turned as I had my character play his hand early, trying to topple Bat-Rei into a vat of steel and Mark used my Trust to betray me and stay my hand.  He won and Bat-Rei lived long enough to introduce us to his trap.  Clinton authored four bat-generals as the trap!  Woot!  Awesome.  He dithered a bit on the power level of the creatures, but I verbally arm-twisted him into making them as powerful as they could be.  On a wooden catwalk that was already weakened from my failed attempt to assissinate Bat-Rei, myself, Mark, and Tim's characters got into a fierce melee conflict with the bat-generals and Lisa's character got into a personal combat with Bat-Rei.  Eventually we succeeded in incinerating the entire foundry, starting with Mark's character throwing ninja-smoke-bombs into one of the vats, and all of the PCs, including Bat-Rei escaped, much the worse for wear, into a nearby garden.

Finale time
We were met by Yuki-Onna who played everyone's plans against everyone else.  It was pretty chaotic at that point, and I'm sure I can't remember every cool thing that everyone did to try to destroy Yuki-Onna, the Witch himself became just a pawn in this final scene.  What I can remember is that my character unveiled The Most Terrifying Poem Evar with awesome destructive capabilities, and managed to give the ol' ice queen a bit of a nose bleed from it.  In the end, with Yuki-Onna distracted by Tim's character and my character guided by Lisa's dead character who was, in turn, guided by the spirits who were the allies of Mark's dead character, I selected the perfect rock from the garden we were in and used it to cowardly smash in the mistress' skull from behind.

Whew.  That was the story of it.  I'll be back in a few to give ya' my reflections on what went right and what could have been better in a few.


Eric Provost

I'd like to reflect on the good & could-have-been-better parts of the game in this post.  For a little background, this is my fifth time playing tMW, but my first time as a ronin player.  I came into the game last night with the intention of playing it to the hilt and entertaining everyone else at the table to the best of my ability.

Despite the suggestion to take only two Abilities each for a short game, we all dug in with three each.  Clinton's overview of what Abilities should suggest was pretty much right from the book and I think it gave everyone a good idea of what to go with.  Only Tim, who was completely new to Indie games struggled much.  I'm not entirely sure about it, but I think that Mark and Tim both struggled a bit during play to discover exactly what their abilities were good for.

Being that we're lacking the verbiage necessary to succinctly explain what Abilities are good for, it's difficult for new players to both author and use their abilities.  Something like; "What makes your character extraordinary?" or " What can your ronin do that's unusual for samaurai to do?"

On the other hand, those of us already familiar with the game came up with some really interesting Abilities and were able to fire them off at each other over and over again.  And, now that I think of it, (and look over his sheet) Mark didn't do a half-bad job either.  He just kept it so subtle compared to the rest of us that his use of the abilities didn't really jump out at me.

Worst Fear
I was aware of this Fate's issues, I was prepared for them, I addressed them, and then new issues popped up in their place.  I felt genuinely lucky to be dealt this Fate in character creation.  Knowing the issues and wanting to overcome them was a challenge to me.  A challenge that I was ready to step up and kick the ass of.  I decided that my effeminate poet would have a fear of being alone/dying alone.  It was a fear that could not be resolved in one scene and it was something that was tied into the brief backstory of my character.  Seemed solid enough.  Problem was, I couldn't figure out how to use that Fate to my advantage in narration.  I coudn't seem to come up with any cool scenes or NPCs that would be of interest that were connected to it.

Maybe I was just dragging my feet.

Minion strength & paperwork
The GM really needs an NPC sheet with Minion Strengths outlined on it.  I'm gonna get to work on that sometime today I think.

The regularly crappy pacing problem of the game is probably an issue native to the 6-hour variety.  After all, it was designed with 12-14 hour sessions in mind (as I recollect) and I'm imagining that the pacing probably comes a little more naturally over a greater time frame.  However, as the 6-hour variety is the only one I'm interested in, I wanna address the issue.

The pacing that seems to come par for the course is Intro-Languish-Climax.  Meaning, we introduce everyone to the game with an intro combat, we beat our collective heads together about being traitors and the like, and eventually we get on with the exciting part of resolving something.  After lots of mental comparison between tMW and games that don't seem to have that issue, like the Roach, it occurrs to me that what we might be missing is any kind of resolution in the middle.  I mean, we've got this nifty four-act structure, right?  But we're not really doing anything with it.  The next time I GM the game I think I'll try to address this issue by coming up with four different questions to represent each of the four acts.  Questions that can't be properly answered in a single conflict, or at least, can be properly answered over the course of several conflicts.

For instance;
I could ask "Will the ronin delay their mission to help the village?", and then start off the Act with indirect things like being ambushed by the monsters that threaten the village, discovering what the monsters plan to do with the village, or meeting a villager that needs immediate help.  Then culminate the Act with a representative of the village asking for help.  I guess that would all boil down to: Ask the question to self, give players & PCs plenty of reasons why to or why not to, then ask question direct to players.

We'll see how that works out when I get a chance to impliment it.

Overall we all had a really great time.  I don't know if Tim got sold on the idea of indie games, but he definately seemed to have a good time.  There's pleny more tMW in this gamer's future.


Eero Tuovinen

Your latter post is really interesting, it gave me lots to think about. Your solution to pacing is rather surprising textually, considering how the game text itself makes a point of being rather content-free in this regard. I, in my GMing, have interpreted this as roundabout encouragement for some kind of zen gaming thing, with any GM content decidedly limited to context-free challenges and such, leaving the players plenty of vacuum for growing their own narrative structure. Decidedly anything but directed effort at premise-building.

I must admit that it was difficult for me as a GM at first to go into the game without any kind of dramatic preparation, but apparently the game runs more or less without such. The GM can just throw one brainless challenge after another (with lots of color, of course), and miraculously players find meaning in it by themselves. If you do put your thoughts on introducing GM content to practice, I'll be very interested in reading about the results. One possible negative phenomenon could be a lessening in ronin relationships and dark fates, when the players focus on GM content.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Lisa Provost

Quote from: Eric Provost on February 20, 2006, 03:15:11 PM
My notes are a little weak from here on out, but after a quick power play between Lisa's character (who now, for some reason, had the Witch-as-a-cat perched on her shoulders at all time)....

You missed the point at which during the bat combat, (and I think it's because there was so much discussion going on between you, Mark and Tim) where my character fell into a crevase in the rock wall and came upon the Witch-as-a-cat in a tunnel.  She had the cat on her shoulder the whole time after that because I had revealed her as being Desperately In Love with the Mountain Witch (who was hiding in cat form) and since she loved him so much, she wanted to have him near her.  Thus, the cat on the shoulder with it's tail wrapped around her neck.  :)


Quote from: Eric Provost on February 20, 2006, 04:26:31 PM
Worst Fear

Did you focus on why the character had the Fear? That's the advice I try giving people to help them bring in background stuff like NPCs and whatnot. Did the GM have the Witch use the fear agianst you?

Minion strength & paperwork
The GM really needs an NPC sheet with Minion Strengths outlined on it.  I'm gonna get to work on that sometime today I think.

Hmm, that's interesting. In all honesty, I just make it all up as I go. Do I want these tengus to be significant or just mooks? Able or Weak, respectively. I regularly change the enemey's Strengths from what they are in the book.


Your comments on pacing really deserve a response, but I want to be careful about what I say. Give me a little time formulate my thoughts.
--Timothy Walters Kleinert

Eric Provost

Hiya Tim, thanks for your response.  As I've had a really good chance to percolate those ideas a little more, I thought I'd keep you up to date on where my brain is.

The Worst Fear thing.  I think the real issue is just in the timing of the game.  The 6-hour session instead of longer total playtime.  While I had a really great idea on why the character was so afraid of being/dying alone, the timeframe of the game didn't allow me to really present it very well.  I think that Clinton may have used the Fear against my character if I'd been able to present it a little better at the time I revealed the card.

Could you possibly give an example or two of where Worst Fear worked out very well?  Maybe if I had some really good examples I'd be able to figure out how to make it shine in a shorter game.

The minion-strength paperwork thing is all about remembering what the three different strenths' mean mechanically, not the ol' shopping list of monsters paired with their respective strengths.  Like, a handy reference sheet that tells me what kind of damage an Able beastie takes from a Regular hit, and so on. 

The pacing thing.  I did a piss-poor job of getting my ideas into my post, so, before you formulate your response, lemmie see if I can be really clear about what I intend to try.

Mini-McGuffins.  Or, more accurately, McGuffin-Tendrils.  Like, if there's a villiage threatened by ogres, then it's obviously the will of the Witch at work.  A child being dragged back to a cave by wolves?  Will of the Witch.  I mean, it's all really just Bangs at work, but as my experience with intentional Bangs is slim to none, I suppose I really just needed a way to frame it all up in my own head.

I'm looking forward to your comments.