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Author Topic: [Actual Play] Blood Opera @ Continuum 2006  (Read 8407 times)
Dom
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Posts: 35


« on: July 31, 2006, 02:39:36 PM »

Or...my First Time Experience Running CoS.

The following is the set of notes that I put together immediately after running Blood Opera at Continuum. As it was something like 2AM in the morning it's probably not as well structured as it could be, and I guess I'll remember stuff later on that was missed initially.

Introduction

I bought CoS at Dragonmeet in London last December, and it has been like a nagging scab ever since. I keep on picking it up and re-reading it, and asking what-if? This is a good thing, as many modern RPGs I pick up and think 'Yeah, whatever' after I've read them. There have only been a few that gave me the same excitement that I had some twenty-mumble years ago when I started gaming with 2nd Ed CoC, Basic D&D and Starter Traveller.

Anyway, as you know from the posts asking questions about the game, I decided to run Blood Opera at Continuum this weekend. Continuum is one of the UK's best roleplaying focussed cons (you can find out more at http://www.continuum.uk.net/  - it's a two yearly affair and rather excellent - or http://www.newtus.co.uk/continuum/ where the blog is for the con).

I set off, armed with the new crib-sheet, relationship web and characters. I'd been persuaded to run by First Age, one of the organisers for the con who also happens to frequent one of the BBSes that I am a regular on. He'd also got a copy of the game and wanted to find out how to play it. As he was running a demo of Stormquest (my HeroQuest Stormbringer conversion), I only felt it fair to return the favour.

I'd initially got sign-ups for 6 players for Blood Opera on Sunday night, which was pretty good as it was scheduled against the 25th anniversary CoC party (with Charlie Krank etc), but one dropped out so I got Grandmother Anna. None of the players had played CoS before, although all had played HQ, and several Burning Wheel. One of the players I didn't know had certainly played Sorceror, and may have read CoS before.

The Game

We set off into the scenario after some 20 min talking through characters and mechanics, and it ran pretty slowly at first. The kick off scene was the end of the funeral (as I felt this gave some better continuity) which then moved into the wake back at the family manse's great hall. The main point that happened here was a destiny point being spent by one of the players to make Uncle Ivan suddenly comment that he missed Ivana, and had liked her since he slept with her twice! This gave a stunned silence and everyone looked shocked. No one wanted to go anywhere near this comment and it was like the family were pretending it never happened. The family slowly settled to bed. There was some low key conflicts with Wiktor and Gregori trying to spot the servant watchers that Anatoli had set on them, and then Gregori failing against the butler (3D skill goon) when he confronted him about the spies!

[During the overnight section, Zygmunt's player and I had a chat, and it suddenly clicked with him that he was driving the plot rather than just me, and that really changed everything.]

The next morning started with a family breakfast which suddenly erupted into a conflict between Zygmunt, Vladick and Anatoli. Zygmunt was trying to force Vladick to stop pushing the limits and lording it over the players, and the other two opposed. Anatoli absolutely destroyed Zygmunt through a well pushed set of actions resulting in Zygmunt on zero vitality, which became a new temporary negative descriptor that he felt the whole family was falling apart into self destruction. The conflict system worked well with multiple characters. Doom came into play for the first time. We struggled a little working out how fast Zygmunt's Vitality recovered, but just arbitarily ruled that it came back once he had the descriptor.

We struggled a bit at first with players getting used to framing scenes, and also with the question 'can you change the skills/attributes and descriptors that you are using between actions in an exchange'. We ruled 'yes' to this, and it seemed to make sense.

I then introduced a cut scene with the coffin dug up with a DP, but left it to Gregori (who had left the house for the village during the fight) to decide whether the coffin was opened or empty. He decided open with a body, so I then spent a DP to have Ivana there, healed, but not responsive, with a rose between her hands that hadn't been there. Zygmunt almost came across Gregori with his sword at his dead wife's throat (checking for breath on the polished blade), but a quick decision saved this. Long and short of this was that she was alive but in a coma, Zygmunt in denial, and the two characters heading back to the house with the body following in a cart. [Retrospectively, I shouldn't have avoided Gregori being found with his blade at Ivana's throat as it would have heightened the tension.]

Wiktor, who had confronted (successfully) Anatoli and Vladick over their treatment of Zygmunt, headed back from his hunt and arrived in the stable yard as the cart arrived. The body was taken upstairs, and Anatoli created a healing potion which revived Ivana to consciousness (with the help of a DP). She immediately screamed and accused Gregori of murder. Zygmunt ran her through (saying she wasn't his wife) but she still lived (DP spend by both me and Anatoli on this). Suddenly, Anatoli tried to force Gregori to admit the truth, and Wiktor tried to kill Anatoli before the line of questions continued. Vladick blocked the attack by buying up his attack to first (2D6 penalty!!) and managing a disarm on Wiktor. Doom was in use left, right and centre.

Gregori pointed the finger at Wiktor, and also spent a DP to modify the outcome of the contest and speculate on the motive (an affair?). Wiktor confessed, but pointed the finger at Vladick. Vladick admitted he had handed letters that proved Ivana's duplicity to Wiktor, and suddenly, Zygmunt spent a DP to make them forgeries he had created to entrap Wiktor. We drew a Veil at that point.

Spent the next hour taking the game apart - which was unusual, something like I'd do with friends after a good film - but everyone happy and enjoyed it.

Key points;

1) If players haven't dealt with conflicts and or games where they have more plot control, the start can be slow until they get the hang of things.
2) Need to work up some better beats/bangs to force action.
3) The traits and skills on the new sheet need a line between them, as players become confused.
4) This scenario would be different if I ran it again with the same people ;-)
5) Zygmunt's motivations can be hard to get a good understanding of for the player as they read as quite internally focussed.
6) Doom is great.
7) Destiny points are great.

Anyway, we all really enjoyed this. Thanks,

Dom
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Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2006, 01:51:53 PM »

Dom,

Glad it went so well for you.  The thing I love about the scenario is that it is different everytime some one plays it.  I too have noticed that it takes some getting used to for people who have never had that kinda control in their game before, but fuck if that revelation moment isn't so worth it.  I love the way people suddenly get the light bulb about who is driving things.

If you work up more beats/bangs, add them to the Wiki.  The more tools the better.  Also if you got some ideas on how to open Zygmunt up, by all means share that shit.

In your post over here you mentioned It certainly shifted my pre-conceptions about RPGs (which was quite an achievement as there are 20 odd years to shift!).  Care to go into that?
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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
Dom
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2006, 10:09:46 PM »

Hi Keith,

Sorry for the delay in repsonding, but I needed some time to think about this and get it together coherently. You asked me to expand on how it changed some of my preconceptions about RPGs. I guess that the best way to explain that is to say what I found special about the game.

1) I found using conflicts and framing the situation, 'setting the stakes' before any roll was made really powerful. By explicitly doing his in every conflict everything was much cleared, and it raised the tension in the game. It is something that I've used before, but only by chance and never deliberately. I'm currently involved in producing a Stormbringer HeroQuest conversion, and some notes on using this have gone into it because I think that it makes a real difference.

2) I also felt the game was a far more collaborative and consensual experience. A lot of the antagonism between the GM (mwahaha I have the plot) and players (hehehe we'll see what we can do to throw something leftfield in to screw the plot) was gone and everyone was trying to make the story the most satisfying and important thing by staying in characters and presenting interesting situations.

3) I loved the way that players riffed off each others descriptors, dooms, triggers and drives. They became very open about things that disadvantaged them, but grew he plot.

I've GMd off and on for quite a while (23 years! ouch, feel old) and the whole experience of the game was one of the best that I have had, and I think that the players enjoyed it in a similar way because they spent such a long time after the game chewing the cud about it with me.

Reflecting on it, could I use such a style of gaming with all the groups I play in? Possibly not. At least one of them is too traditional and scared of change. But is it worth trying? Very much so. The power of switching to a much more collobrative style can't be under-estimated. It also takes some pressure off the narrator, getting rid of the challenge by the players of 'go on, entertain me!'. The relationship becomes 'let's have fun together'.

I'm now looking at some of the things that really impressed me for use in other games, especially HeroQuest.

Conflicts - a matter of GM style and changing mindsets.

Destiny Points - actually covered in Mythic Russia, with something called a 'plot edit'. This goes in too.

Doom - I mentioned that I was looking at something like this and have drafted some notes for a similar mechanic for HeroQuest.

We all had a great time, and it's something that I'd do again.

Cheers,

Dom
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Neil the Wimp
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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2006, 12:46:55 AM »

If you work up more beats/bangs, add them to the Wiki.  The more tools the better.  Also if you got some ideas on how to open Zygmunt up, by all means share that shit.

I was Anatoli's player in that game.  The scenario was good, but I've got quite a few suggestions about how it could be improved.  Would you prefer me to post those suggestions here, or put them straight on the wiki?

(As for Zygmunt, change his goal from "I am consumed by grief and must sit in a corner and weep" to "I am consumed by grief.  Someone is to blame for my wife's death and they must pay.")

Neil.
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Neil the Wimp
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« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2006, 01:23:40 AM »

Doom - I mentioned that I was looking at something like this and have drafted some notes for a similar mechanic for HeroQuest.

You might like to have a look at the "Goals" thread in the HeroQuest forum: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20179.0 .  It's a different take on the same thing.  Putting the two ideas together might help to create something even better.

Neil.
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Iskander
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Alexander Newman


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« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2006, 11:33:21 AM »

Neil,

One of the things that Zygmunt's doom allows for is that he can be one of the few (only?) decent people in the scenario. Of course, he rarely is, but I quite like the possibility. I agree that Zygmunt can end up feeling like a reactive pin-cushion - maybe that needs to be covered in GM notes to address with the player, or something?

- 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
Dom
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2006, 11:52:39 AM »

That's how I handled it - about 45 min in the player and I had a chat which changed things somewhat...

D.
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Dom
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2006, 10:44:07 PM »

You might like to have a look at the "Goals" thread in the HeroQuest forum: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20179.0 .  It's a different take on the same thing.  Putting the two ideas together might help to create something even better.

I posted some of my thoughts on this at the Tavern - it looks like I'm somewhere close to this blended with CoS.

Cheers

Dom
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Neil the Wimp
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« Reply #8 on: August 04, 2006, 12:53:16 AM »

One of the things that Zygmunt's doom allows for is that he can be one of the few (only?) decent people in the scenario. Of course, he rarely is, but I quite like the possibility. I agree that Zygmunt can end up feeling like a reactive pin-cushion - maybe that needs to be covered in GM notes to address with the player, or something?

It's a blood opera!  You don't have nice people in a blood opera!  :-)

More seriously, if you're expecting to brief Zygmunt's player after 45 mins, why not brief him right at the start?  And if your briefing him, why not just write down the briefing on the character sheet?  Give the character a definite goal, right from the start.  If you say that Zygmunt's "timid and hesitant in action", the player will play that and not participate in the scenario. 

But anyway, that's not the major problem with the scenario as written.  The major problem is that there's nothing to kick off the action.  When we played it at Continuum, I really felt for poor Dom.  He had this great player-led scenario, but none of the players was taking the lead and there was nothing Dom could do to prod anyone out of their inactivity.  What this scenario must have is a whole bunch of bangs.  About a dozen should do.  When Dom did start introducing bangs (such as Ivana's open grave) things really took off. 

Those bangs could bring in two other setting elements that I think you'd like to show off.  One is the rivalry with another house; the other is the supernatural/horror element that seems to be a core part of the game.  I don't really know about the latter, but it's easy to bring the former into play.  I'll mention that after I say something about the characters. 

I'd throw a few more hooks into the characters.  It may be a cliche, but I'd have Ivana having an affair with someone, probably Vladick.  He could then have framed Ivana when she said she would reveal their affair to Zygmunt.  That would give Zygmunt a lot of choice when it comes to who is to blame for Ivana's death: Grigori for the act, Wicktor for ordering it, Vladick for the false evidence, Ivana for the affair, or himself for being a poor husband.  The affair is also a secret for Wicktor to uncover. 

If you've got a falsely-accussed traitor working for a rival house, you just have to have a real traitor working for that rival house.  Anatoli would be the ideal candidate for that.  You could make it in revenge for what Wicktor's father did to Anatoli.  Make that event something supernatural, and you bring in that element.  Anatoli could also be doing something necromantic in his garret: he's got the scholarship for it.  This gives another secret for Wicktor to seek out. 

Wicktor's got good motivation: he needs to keep his position and uncover all the secrets. 

Gregori needs to know why Wicktor ordered him to kill Ivana (she was a traitor), but not that the evidence was false.  I'd also change his trigger to "Killing Ivana was wrong.  I need to put it right and confess my part in the killing of Ivana, even though it will destroy me"  That should feed into his doom nicely, as well as possibly getting him to ally with Anatoli for his necromantic powers (Could Anatoli raise Ivana?  At what cost?). 

Anatoli sending the guards away didn't really come into things.  You might want to drop it, unless you can think of a bang or two that depends on the lack of guards. 

Anna didn't really come up in play, so I can't say much about her.  I would suggest that her goal is to have an heir that is completely in her thrall: she wants to be the power behind the throne.  I'd also make her the mother of Wicktor and co, not grandmother.  It makes the relationship a bit more immediate. It also allows you to say that Anna's husband was cuckolded (by Anatoli, of course) and so one of the sons is a bastard.  I don't know which one it should be, but something suggests that making it Wicktor could be fun. 

So, that's all the reasons for the characters to hate each other.  It would be nice to also have a few reasons for them to work together.  Perhaps the head of house (whoever that becomes) could have the power to pardon Gregori.  Perhaps the characters need to work together to defeat some supernatural threat.  If you have something bringing them together, it makes the backstabbing all the more poingiant. 

Another suggestion: I don't know if it's in the core rules, but could you make a few of the descriptors relationships?  For example, giving Anatoli a "Hate Wicktor" discriptor and Gregori a "Do anything for Zygmunt" descriptor could spice things up.

Anyway, looking at these characters gives us a few bangs. 

  • Someone can drop a hint about Ivana's and Vladick's affair: that should kick off Zygmunt and Wicktor.
  • A servant can blackmail Grigori with evidence about Ivana's death.
  • A servant can hint to someone that Ivana's death wasn't an accident. 
  • The forged letters implicating Ivana an turn up.  Probably without her name, and probably in Zygmunt's room. 
  • A draft of one of the evidence letters turns up in Vladick's room, written in Vladick's hand. 
  • An emissary from the rival noble house can appear, ostensibly to express condolences, but really to contact Anatoli.  He pokes around, asks questions, and generally sneers at everyone. 
  • Evidence emerges that while there is a traitor in the house, it definitely wasn't Ivana.
  • Anatoli's supernatural dealings are revealed.  Are they for the good of the house, or safe?
  • When the emissary gets tortured (and he will!) he reveals that Anatoli is the traitor.
  • Evidence emerges that one of the sons is actually Anatoli's bastard.  This could come either from documentation or from effects in a magical ritual.

and that's just for starters.  There's still the supernatural angle to bring in.  You also need to check that all the characters have a reasonably even number of bangs. 

So.  That's my take on how the scenario could be improved.  I think you should do it, because there's a really great blood opera lurking in there.  It just needs a few tweaks to get it going sooner, to bring it out more, and to give it some more pointed emphasis. 

What do you think?

Neil.
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Dom
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« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2006, 02:48:51 PM »

Some more (and playing from Neil's thoughts too);

- A flashback - Ivana is seen meeting one of the other characters (pick) in a snowy forest clearing. No dialogue can be heard, but there appears to be an argument going on.

- Ivana's coffin is found dug up. The seals may be broken, and the body may, or may not be there.

- The body has been disturbed in some way (in the game I had a red rose placed in her hands that wasn't there when the coffin was sealed).

- If the body is there, it is healthy, healed and comatose and can be woken. Whether or not Ivana retains memory is another matter, As is why she lives.

- There is a disturbance in the village - someone claims to have seen something happen to Ivana. This could range from happiness (if she was hated) to a full pitch fork and torch bearing mob bent on vigilante action.

- (Some or all of) Vladick's dogs are found brutally slain in their kennels.

- A letter is found in Ivana's handwriting.

- A fire is set in Anatoli's book collection.

- A peasant arrives with a baby claiming it is the love child of one of the brothers.

- Cut scene (or flashback) - several of the characters are seen around a fire in the darkness, with books and candles.

- Ravens (or Rooks) start circling and nesting in the house.

- Magpies (1 for sorrow, 2 for joy etc) start to appear by appropriate characters.

- 'I died unjustly' is found written on the mirror in Ivana's room.

- 'I loved them all', or other cryptic messages are found.

Just off the top of my head...
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Iskander
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Alexander Newman


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« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2006, 03:57:09 AM »

These are great ideas, bu they all sound like things that could or should have happened in your game; one of the joys of running Blood Opera, for me, is that players frequently come up with their own bangs, and if not, provide plenty of material to produce them on the fly. It's a radically different game each time. I much prefer leaving the players the choice of deciding whether, for example, Ivana is innocent of treachery or not... just because Vladick framed her, doesn't mean she isn't guilty - or, as has happened in one game - that Zygmunt isn't complicit with her.
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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
Neil the Wimp
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« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2006, 05:15:17 AM »

Dom,

These are good thoughts.  One point, though, on the nature of Bangs.  They're there to kick the players into action.  That means that a Bang needs to be something that the players can't ignore, and it has to be something that the players can react to in a variety of ways.   (Ssome people also burble on about "thematic appropriateness" or somesuch, but I find that a bit too woolly to worry about.)  That means that things like:

- Ivana's coffin is found dug up. The seals may be broken, and the body may, or may not be there.

is a good Bang, but something like

- Ravens (or Rooks) start circling and nesting in the house.

isn't a Bang, because it doesn't force the players to make a decision in reaction to it.  It is, however, a great bit of colour and can certainly help you build an atmosphere of ominous doom, should you wish. 

Note that not every Bang has to target every character; in fact, some of the best ones target only one or two PCs.  And if you can come up with Bangs that push one character into conflict with another, that's even better, because that's where you want them to be!

These are great ideas, bu they all sound like things that could or should have happened in your game; one of the joys of running Blood Opera, for me, is that players frequently come up with their own bangs, and if not, provide plenty of material to produce them on the fly. It's a radically different game each time. I much prefer leaving the players the choice of deciding whether, for example, Ivana is innocent of treachery or not... just because Vladick framed her, doesn't mean she isn't guilty - or, as has happened in one game - that Zygmunt isn't complicit with her.

I agree with everything you say.  You are entirely right. 

But, none of what you say means that preparing a few Bangs is a bad idea.  If you want to have elements in the scenario that are decided in play with Destiny points (such as Ivana's innocence), that's great.  The suggestions I made were just that: suggestions. 

As for Bangs making the game the same every time, nothing could be further from the truth.  I've run a few blood opera convention games, each with the same set of Bangs, and every time I run them I get very different outcomes.  There's a few reasons for this.  First, one key part of a Bang is that the players have their own choice about how to react to it.  Once someone's made their own individual decison in response to a Bang, the game is already going down a different track.  Second, different Bangs are selected from the available ones, depending on players' interests and the direction of the game.  Third, even if the same Bangs are used, some will be taken up and explored and other will be discounted.  All of these differences are down the players, so the game runs very differently every time. 

However, I think that the scenario, as written does have a problem.  From looking at the actual play threads, it seems that a significant portion (about 50%?) of Blood Opera games don't engage their players and fizzle.  That's a shame, because there's a really good blood opera there to be played.  My suggestions were proposals on how to ensure that the game catches the players' imaginations and they get to be proactive.  In the early stages, I think the GM needs a few ideas on how to get things started.  Once the players are in the driving seat of the game, the GM can step back to being reactive and creating a few Bangs for this particular instance of the game.

Neil.
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Dom
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« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2006, 11:55:36 AM »

I much prefer leaving the players the choice of deciding whether, for example, Ivana is innocent of treachery or not... just because Vladick framed her, doesn't mean she isn't guilty - or, as has happened in one game - that Zygmunt isn't complicit with her.

I'm not certain that any of the thoughts I did above pushed Ivana one way or another?? They were deliberate to give the players a chance to decide...

D.
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Keith Senkowski
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On A Downward Spiral...


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« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2006, 06:53:54 AM »

Hey guys,

Sorry I am so late to this party.  Work, GenCon and post GenCon all sucked the life out of me.  An idea you guys sparked is to maybe post to the wiki two lists.  One would be Sample Color and the other would be Sample Bangs as a resource for folks who are going to run it.
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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
Dom
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2006, 11:44:18 AM »

Sounds like a good idea. I'm hoping to run this again at Furnace in October ;-)

D.
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