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Author Topic: [Donjon] Session Two: A Snake In The Grass  (Read 2143 times)
hurtmypony
Member

Posts: 10


« on: May 29, 2006, 05:47:57 PM »

Starring:

Jack created a new character:  “Frak”.  A pygmy warrior with a blowgun and what I can only identify as a “Swiss Army Mouth”.  He can bite and latch on to an opponent to hinder his physical actions, use it as a climbing aid, bite off locks, etc.  All in all, an eccentric, fun character that was very empowering.  Jack used his “Lockjaw” skill very creatively to solve a variety of tricky situations.

Sue the Ogre (Raul), Draco the Dragon Mage (Drew), and Mansquito the rogue (Ulises) were all also able to play. 

The Chunky Dungeons modular system proved successful.  The children loved the ability to create the rooms and so did the adults, who also seemed a little honored that I would go through so much trouble to craft up all the pieces and such.

This time around, all of the players seemed to test the waters a little more by using their sensory skills to craft up various rooms and obstacles for themselves.  Every time someone announced they were “listening against the door” or something, it would serve as a reminder to the others of their own skills and next thing I knew I would have an ambush (Detect Ambush), a treasure trove (Smell Treasure), and a monster (Hear Monster) to narrate into the story simultaneously.  This made things a bit chaotic, but I let it all occur with little resistance as I felt it was a small price to pay for the “player empowerment” they learned from it. 

I managed even to “trick” some narration out of them.  For instance, when I told them the ceiling above them in a great hall was cloaked in darkness and cacooned in webs, Drew got nervous and said to the group like “I bet there is a bunch of small spiders up there and one huge one that spits acid or something – just like in the movies…” Boy, was he surprised to discover he was exactly correct!

Game-play proceeded with them going from scene to scene wiping out several groups of bad guys when I started to get a feeling that the scenes were just that – different scenes that seemed to have no relationship other than the fact that they were the “next room” in the same dungeon.  Offering coherency is my solely my job right now as the players are still infants to this cooperative narration.  For next session I made a note to tie the scenes together with situations or flavor that reminds the players of their ultimate objective – stamp out the slavers responsible for so much suffering in the local area.  When the kids whip up a room full of kobolds, I have to remember to make them more than generic opponents and maybe have them oiling manacles, sorting cat o’ nine tails and such.  I am sure there is plenty of menial duties and upkeep necessary to maintain a slave pit and I need to give the players more immersion into that.

Game-play took a bit of a dark turn at one point, and though I botched it during the game, I think I fixed it later.  Let me explain the scene:

The party opened a door to discover a long hall with the floor collapsed, exposing a busted sewer line gushing the length of the corridor and into a rusted grate below the player’s feet.  The pygmy detected a monster sloshing around in there, which I secretly decided was a giant snake that was trapped in the current.  The rogue produced some kind of black powder grapple gun from his provisions and managed to secure a rope across the length of the corridor.  When the rogue was halfway across, the snake erupted from the water.  Surprised, the rogue fell into the water below and was getting washed away. 

Drew felt his dragon character, being a bit of a reptile himself (he’s a demon mage with dragon blood, apparently), would not only have a sense of kinship with the snake, but also might be able to speak with it.  He approached the ledge to attempt involved negotiations with the snake.  The pygmy, however, had a more immediate solution.  He would jump on the snake’s back, latch on with his mighty jaws and repeatedly stab the snake while riding it like a bronco. 

The negotiations were cut short when the snake had to suddenly deal with a pygmy latched on his neck and stabbing his head.  This enraged Draco (the character – not the player - I think), who had made his intention to negotiate clear to the others.  He switched to another tactic – knock the pygmy into the water and save the snake. 

This decision brought the wrath of the other players down on Drew.  Jack (the player, not the character) was mad because he felt his teammate was betraying him, Ulises was upset because Draco was using his flight to attack a teammate instead of saving him from drowning.  Drew’s dad told him he wasn’t being a team player and was wasting his time trying to tame a snake that would probably kill him anyway (which was true – but only because of the pygmy’s aggression). 

But, in an act of beautiful, righteous stubbornness, Drew kept up the attacks on the pygmy. 

Unfortunately, I also told Drew that it was too late for negotiations and the snake was probably going to kill him if it got the chance.  “You want to try and talk to this snake that is being stabbed by a member of your party?  Do you think that is going to be successful?”  I didn’t mean to suggest his idea was stupid from the start (it wasn’t – and would have been rewarded) but that’s how I presented it, and I was too overwhelmed with the game play to recognize it.  I should have never offered my opinion, I should have just offered a tough conflict resolution roll and let him decide if it was worth pursuing. 

After the scene was resolved by killing the snake, there was still a bit of fallout among the team, with Jack telling Drew he would kill whatever he wanted to, Drew telling Jack he would kill him if he harmed another reptile, and Raul telling Drew that the game “didn’t work that way”. 

I immediately felt bad about the whole thing, so today, while over at Raul and Drew’s home, I told his mother, in front of the other players, how well Drew had role-played his character’s passions by acting upon them despite opposition in both the imagined space and around the table. 

He smiled when I said this. 

I hope that inspired him to do the same next time he has an opportunity, and I hope I can get the other players to understand and even display such behavior themselves.  That will avoid the meta-game groans of disapproval and oaths of revenge, and get us deeper down the RPG rabbit hole.

 
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Tim Creevay
greyorm
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Posts: 2233

My name is Raven.


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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2006, 08:12:33 PM »

I think you handled the situation excellently, Tim. Yes, probably could have been handled better at the table, and you recognized that, but your follow-up later was spot-on.

I await more of these play reports, they are as interesting and fun to read as playing, and quite educational (if not inspirational). I am especially eager to hear how your attempts to tie things together more smoothly goes. I am curious to see if the players will join you in trying to cohere the situation together narratively, or if they'll buck it and resist.

Do you plan to tell them you are going to attempt to tie the scenes together better before you play, or just do it without trying to get explicit cooperation and see what they feel like doing when it is presented in the context of play?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Callan S.
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Posts: 3588


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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2006, 10:59:33 PM »

Hello again Tim,

Don't kick yourself for not knowing what to do in play...hell, that's why we have rules/write them in advance, so when it comes to the heat of the moment we can just play rather than agonise.

That said, I think you should watch out for game world causality in future...rather than 'no, you could never tame it with your team mate doing that, that just doesn't make sense' some sort of opposed role between the players would have fit.

Or you could ignore what seems causal at all. You've had some pretty wild stuff going on. Imagine Draco taming the snake, even as it's life leaves its body. It's reptile eyes looking up in trust...

Regardless, I'm thinking this is some pretty negative feedback for Drew (regardless of your latter praise). Do you think it might narrow the scope of his actions? As in a disinterest in going for negotiations/talk in future?
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Larry L.
Member

Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2006, 03:54:10 AM »

I was curious enough about the Chunky Dungeons to look it up, and post a link here for the lazy:
http://www.worldworksgames.com/chunkydungeons.html

Nifty, but wow assembly looks time-consuming.
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hurtmypony
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2006, 08:27:24 AM »

Regardless, I'm thinking this is some pretty negative feedback for Drew (regardless of your latter praise). Do you think it might narrow the scope of his actions? As in a disinterest in going for negotiations/talk in future?

Exactly.  Steering the party away from the routine of Enter Room / Kill Occupants / Gather The Treasure is a high, personal GM priority for me.  I get the perfect in-game opportunity to hold the flashing blades and snapping jaws at bay for a few seconds and reward a player for "Thinking Outside The Box", and I totally miss it!  Even more distressing:  When I scribbled down the framework for the scene earlier in the week, my intent was to give them a monster-free obstacle to overcome so they could use their skills that aren't related to stabbing other living things with bits of metal.  The snake was thrown in by a player, and I got distracted from my goal for the scene.

“The snake, even as its life leaves its body. Its reptile eyes looking up in trust...” is excellent advice.  I will have to learn to use that kind of narration technique in-game to aesthetically reward someone’s role-playing even if it isn’t going to help out mechanically in a particular game situation. 

AS FOR TYING TOGETHER SCENES (sorry, I don't know how to quote from multiple posts):

I was going to tie the scenes together with just some Color at first [I hope I use these terms correctly], by just giving them some consistent but mechanically irrelevant details:

“Various empty cells line the room, and you can hear moans and the crack of a whip coming from some place far ahead a lot clearer, now…”

Once my GM confidence builds, I’ll turn that color into a Bang:

”If you risk attacking the Taskmaster now while he is briefing the guards of his soon-to-depart slave train, you will likely save many slaves from a terrible fate.  Or, you can wait until the guards leave the temple with this batch of slaves and confront him while he is alone…”, or something like that.

AS FOR THE CHUNKY DUNGEONS:

Assembly:  It takes about 10 minutes to do a single piece (cut, fold, assemble, and paste to base).  Considering you need, at very least, a dozen plain wall sections, plus doorways, corners and furniture, it is a bit of a time-sink.  It can be fun, though, and you can have a conversation, listen to music, or watch TV once your hands are familiar enough to be set to “autopilot”.

Cost:  This is where I thought I was going to save money over the Dwarven Forge pre-painted modular pieces, but it turned out to be not much savings:

Having no color copier up for the task, I made 100 color copies at Office Max at $0.49 a sheet.
Two foam boards (one for the playing surface and one to cut into bases for each piece) - $10.00
The cutting mat - $40.00
T-Square, metal ruler, Exacto-Blades, pens and glue – about $35.00
Velcro with adhesive, cut into 1-inch squares – OBSENELY PRICED at $5 per 4 feet.  I needed 16 feet of it - $20

Total price for me - $170.00 (including the $15.00 for the Chunky Dungeons actual purchase).  Now, of course you might have the tools and stuff laying around, and might have a printer at home that can handle the job, so price may be dramatically cheaper for someone else.  (I think I read on the Chunky Dungeon forums that it works out to about $0.12 a copy if you consider the price of your ink cartridges.  Most of the sheets have 2 pieces printed on them, so that’s $0.06 a wall.

BENEFITS OF Chunky Dungeons:  When I get a good color copier, I can make whatever additional piece I might need and have it ready for play in 10 minutes time.  I work in marketing, so I may even be able to get a professional print-job done for free at work, if I can bring myself to explain to my coworkers why I am printing little pictures of walls with skulls and blood on them.

BACK ON TRACK:

Thank you guys so much for the feedback.  The dialogue really helps me get a grasp on how to handle a lot of things, and the advice / critiques also nudge me in the right direction toward being a capable, fun GM.  The necessary improvisation to GMing really intimidates me, and without you guys and this forum, I would probably slink back into a mechanical interpretation rife with only dice rolls and devoid of any flavor.
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Tim Creevay
Callan S.
Member

Posts: 3588


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« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2006, 06:40:58 PM »

Regardless, I'm thinking this is some pretty negative feedback for Drew (regardless of your latter praise). Do you think it might narrow the scope of his actions? As in a disinterest in going for negotiations/talk in future?

Exactly.  Steering the party away from the routine of Enter Room / Kill Occupants / Gather The Treasure is a high, personal GM priority for me.  I get the perfect in-game opportunity to hold the flashing blades and snapping jaws at bay for a few seconds and reward a player for "Thinking Outside The Box", and I totally miss it!  Even more distressing:  When I scribbled down the framework for the scene earlier in the week, my intent was to give them a monster-free obstacle to overcome so they could use their skills that aren't related to stabbing other living things with bits of metal.  The snake was thrown in by a player, and I got distracted from my goal for the scene.
I think you might want to be check what you mean by 'steering' players away from something, as you can't help but be steering them toward something in particular when you do that. If the game doesn't focus on what your interested in, it may simply be the wrong game for you.

Quote
“The snake, even as its life leaves its body. Its reptile eyes looking up in trust...” is excellent advice.  I will have to learn to use that kind of narration technique in-game to aesthetically reward someone’s role-playing even if it isn’t going to help out mechanically in a particular game situation. 
Actually, I'm begining to think my advice was kind of bogus, as in I was falling in love with the dying snake idea...but it was the two players who had put the conflict on the table. Since they had the guts to do that, they should be in charge of working something out (you helping them work it out between them). Even if they come up with something lame, they were the ones who had the guts to do this stuff, which is like they were the ones who paid the currency to control this.
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
hurtmypony
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2006, 07:49:35 PM »

Yeah, maybe "steering" was a bad word to use. 

I have read enough Forge stuff to be familiar with Railroading and Force, so I try consciously to avoid that, at least in my preparation (where it is most controllable for me).  Additionally, my subtle attempts at manipulation are routinely exposed by my spouse, so I am learning to avoid it in life, too (snicker snicker!). 

I just meant I should have spotlighted the non-violent solution that was offered by a player, instead of associating myself with those that opposed it.  I have been reading the Paranoia XP ruleset, and they have the tongue-in-cheek motto:  "If you, as the GM, reward the players for behavior you like, they will do more of that.  If you punish them for the behavior you don't like, they'll do less of that."  They then refer you to any puppy-training manual if you seek further GMing advice. 

Now, I know on a literal level, "them's probably fightin' words!" for most Forge contributors, but for Donjon and Paranoia, I see nothing wrong with implementing negative / positive reinforcers to actually empower these new players.  Right now, we are settling on a lot of brute force solutions, and I think it would benefit our entire gaming group if we see more Authority and a variety of [character] skill application. 

If my scene framing suggests success might require more than a good sword arm once in a while, the players may just decide to narrate a little more aggressively to help themselves out of a jam now and then.  Say, I have them encounter a dragon they decide they can't possibly kill or sneak around.  It will be a glorious day when one character produces a book of SleepyDragon Bedtime Hymns while another discovers a secret door detouring around the liar while still another character recognizes that it is actually not a dragon, just a giant, shaved poodle eating a powdered donut (hence the puffs of "smoke" arising from its mouth). 

I know the potential is in them.  It is just that two players, being kids, are a little self-conscious about their ideas around the adults, and the two adult players are too tainted by years of playing the contradiction one of the Forge's essays pointed out to me:  walking through someone else's pre-written story as the protagonists, while simultaneously being told they are creating the story. 

But I'll get us to that point of full narrative contribution, I just think I need to pull a few strings on the way to somehow inspire them. 

Or does all this just sound like a control freak justifying his heinous crimes?  I can see how "I will railroad them a little now, so I don't have to railroad them at all later" is contradictory, but I swear it makes a little sense to my disturbed mind...
 

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Tim Creevay
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2006, 04:48:34 AM »

Hey Tim,

There comes a point where processing is counter-productive. I think you didn't do anything worth ten lashes and a night in the stocks, and maybe the thing to do is breathe in and out one good time, and move on to the next prep.

Here's one idea you might use as a guiding principle, though ... in Donjon, the GM has a wonderful opportunity simply to go to town on the characters and even on the players. Hose them. Do bad things to them. Offer beautiful treasures and babes and honors, then oppose their attempts to get them with no holds barred.

You see, that's when the narration dice actually do their job. Only when the adversity is both interesting and ruthless can the Donjon narration rules actually work. In this case, the players don't merely have a lot of Color to add, they have authority to deal with the actual stuff that matters.

I may be wrong, but my current impression is that you may be falling into the habit of taking care of the players, much as a DM has to for first-level D&D play (otherwise their characters just die, period). Since Donjon rules don't take up all your time as GM in prepping and carrying out tactics, you can instead devote your attention before play to the "interesting," and during play to the "ruthless."

Oh, and that way you won't ever have to worry about whether a warning ("Hey, this might kill you") is going to be pereived as instructions ("Don't do that"). The players will already know that you'll act upon whatever risk-factors they bring upon themselves ... and they'll relish it, because they look forward to seeing whether their use of of their successes can handle it.

Best, Ron
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