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Author Topic: [Ganakagok] The Wedding Festival  (Read 1245 times)
Bill_White
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« on: October 04, 2006, 08:52:58 PM »

The main campus of Penn State has "open gaming" at its student center -- "the Hub" -- every weekend.  The kids play board games, Magic, what-have-you; I've even seen people playing chess.  Mendel Schmiedekamp, an alumnus of the gaming club there, has taken it upon himself to start running indie RPG demos at open gaming; I've taken it upon myself to help.

So two weeks ago I ran a game of Ganakagok for two players, Mendel and a young guy named Ethan who'd seen the message I posted to the Penn State gamers' listserv and thought it looked interesting..  I wanted to try out a tighter pacing mechanic for the coming of the Dawn and a few other rules tweaks.  In Ganakagok, the characters are members of a primitive tribe who live in a dark icy world that is about to face the rising Sun for the first time in ages.

Character Creation

Mendel invented Torniyok the patient builder, whose truth-vision involved an oath broken without consequences (we decided this meant:  the father of his betrothed reneged on his promise to wed Torniyok to his daughter).  His change-hope was that he'd have a chance for justice; his change-fear, that he'd be unable to overcome his need for vengeance.  Under a new rule, Torniyok began the game with 16 Bad Medicine and 9 Good Medicine (equal to the values of his change-fear and change-hope cards respectively) instead of zero in each.

Ethan created Asiee, rebellious shaman's apprentice, who was told by the spirits to bring change and who hoped that he could “break some traditions” as a result, but was afraid that someone was coming to bring the end of the world.  He started with 12 Bad Medicine and 6 Good Medicine.

And here is where I fudged a little bit:  I didn't have character sheets, which would have let the players make sense of the different variaties of Gifts and Burdens as I tried to explain them.  So in the interest of getting the game started I let them hang on to their Good Medicine rather than requiring them to designate it as Goods, Mana, Lore, or Love (i.e., material possessions, mystical power, knowledge, or relationships) at the start and keep Bad Medicine to be taken as Burdens later. 

This had the advantage of expedience, but I think it also had the effect of de-emphasizing character, since you maintained the greatest flexibility of resources by keeping all your Good Medicine in your Good Medicine pool and “converting” it into Gifts as needed.  But it is exactly the distribution of a character's Gifts (Goods, Love, Lore, and Mana) that help to position him or her as rich, popular, wise, and so forth.

We created a few other characters:  Asiee was apprenticed to Hanuqserak, a hidebound shaman, and Torniyok had been jilted by Noarisuq, a beautiful maiden and daughter of Atarkap the rich hunter; he wanted her to wed instead Samiga, an impetuous warrior who was also Asiee's friend.

Initial Situation

The cards suggested that Ganakagok was not in trouble but that the People were; particularly, that their revels were keeping them from taking some necessary action.  To determine the situation at the start of the game, the GM throws two cards for Ganakagok and two for the People.  In each case, one of the cards counts as Good Medicine and one as Bad Medicine.  The cards are read in combination to shape the “initial situation” of the game.

In this case, the people drew the Ancient of Stars (Whale; to celebrate; to feel joy and express it without reservation; value 16) for Bad Medicine and the Four of Flames (Frozen in Ice; to fail to act when action is necessary; value 4).

We decided that the cards meant that play would begin amid the marriage ceremonies and feasting, which might take place over the course of several days, and that meanwhile trouble would be a-brewing.

Pacing Mechanism

The main thing I wanted to try out was a mechanism for governing the inexorable approach of the dawn that connected it to player action and to “Spirit Medicine,” the amount of magical power associated with each of four types of supernatural force available in the game (Stars, Sun, Ancestors, and Ancient Ones).  In brief:  each type of spirit gets a card whose value determines the amount of magical power it has available for use by its devotees, who must possess the Gift of its Mana and an appropriate sacrifice.  As a consequence of character actions, players can allocate some of their Good Medicine to a particular spirit.  Once sufficient Medicine is allocated, the player who pushes it over the top gets to “read” that card as the answer to a question about what that spirit wants, is up to, or otherwise is all about; that player also gets a payoff of Good Medicine to distribute as he or she sees fit.  The stage of the game then advances (from Night to Twilight to Dawn to Morning), and the end of the game is that much closer.

This worked quite well, although Mendel felt that the Good Medicine payoff was too generous.  I am inclined to agree, but that's easy to fix.  I liked how player decisions drove the pacing, though, so that the arrival of the Dawn takes place because players made it happen.

Play of the Game

It made sense to begin the game mid-wedding; that is, between the wedding of Tornriyok's intended to the impetuous hunter her father preferred.   I don't have a record of what card was thrown as Ethan's first situation, but it had his character serving as a ritual guard outside the igloo where the hidebound shaman was conducting one of the Nitu wedding rituals.  I tried to make the conflict about a temptation to shirk in his duties, but Ethan wasn't buying, since Asiee would be loyal to his friend, he thought.  So I threw another card and read it as an encounter with a malicious spirit, trying to break in and mess up the ceremony.  Asiee chased it away by summoning up some leaping salmon-spirits.

The device of beginning play just after or in the midst of something related to a character's truth-vision is an important one (in this case, Tornriyok's); this game would have been stronger if I'd paid attention to Ethan's “the spirits told me” motif too and tried to work it in to to his first turn.  I focused instead on his change-hope, the notion of breaking tradition.  If instead of a malicious spirit I'd thrown him a vision of a spirit demanding that he do something dramatic in line with his truth-vision (“Tell the people to cease these revels!  Change is coming!  You are our voice!”) then the conflict would have emerged much more smoothly and I'd have been truer to what the played had flagged as his vision of the character.

The first two game-turns were devoted to events during the wedding:  Tornriyok was insulted by Atarkap while he was building the couple's house, to be blessed during the ceremony.  Tornriyok got mad and struck Atarkap, who stood up and mockingly derided him for his lack of honor.  The old shaman got sick and couldn't continue the ceremony, so Asiee more-or-less successfully conducted a new ritual of his own invention for blessing the new-built house.  And in a final village-wide gift-giving procession, Tornriyok told the couple that the house, which custom required he build, was his gift to them because of the care and skill which had gone into its building.

In the new turn, the new bride Noarisuq goes to Asiee and tells him that she thinks she's made a mistake marrying Samiga; the beautiful speech that Tornriyok gave at the gift-ceremony swept her off her feet, and now she can't bear to live with her husband in the house that the man who loves her built for her.  Asiee goes to Tornriyok, who decides that so much has gone wrong with the village that the only answer is a vision-quest to the glinting spires of ice that lie some days of travel away.  They bring Samiga along with them.

The three make their way to a circle of ice-spires and within them find a cave whose mouth is lined with fang-like icicles.  Samiga is wounded holding the cave-maw open so that they can pass through and Tornriyok leads the way through an ice-labyrinth.  At its center, Asiee faces the spirit of the Whale-Mother, who tells him that she wants him to go back.  He passes this challenge by simply refusing her, and so the three learn that Ganakagok is a game between the Sun and the Stars played upon a field created by the Ancient Ones; the Stars have cheated and so the Ancient Ones are bringing the game to a close and “resetting” the field.

The heroes return, although Samiga dies along the way.  Successful in their quest, the men prepare the village for the Dawn.  Both men find love, Asiee with Nuqla his loving disciple and Tornriyok with Paieea, the starry-eyed weaver.  But Noarisuq, her love impossible and her husband dead, commits suicide (I think by setting herself adrift on an ice floe). With the rising of the Sun, the ice melts away and a new land beneath it is revealed.  The village splits in two, with Asiee becoming the leader of one new village and Tornriyok the other.  As the scene fades to black, we look out over the ocean and see white sails on the horizon.

Lessons Learned

As a GM, I need more practice in framing the situation signaled by the card at the beginning of the turn so that the player is engaged.  I think thinking of my job as providing a “bang” will help.  I've done that in the past, but not as systematically as I'd like to, and I think that will be useful, especially when dealing with players who are either inexperienced or don't want to be proactive.

I also want a cheat sheet of cool motifs for when the characters are out on the ice (ice spires!  labyrinths built of snow-bricks! a glacial maze whose icy walls distort images like a hall of mirrors!  a cave lined with fang-like icicles!  giant polar bears!  wolf-whales that walk the ice!  And cannibal-ghouls!) and back in the village (initiation rituals!  village gossip!  weddings!  an elder dies, or wants to!  a child dies!  a child is born!  someone is pregnant!  someone wants to marry someone else, but one or both families disapprove!  a child is ungrateful!  a wife is ambitious!)  Color, mostly, but with an evocative quality.

I'm still mulling over what else I learned.  It was an interesting game.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2006, 07:50:38 AM »

Hi there,

I had a wild thought ... despite various limitations inherent to Everway's resolution system, I always got 100% mileage out of using the Vision cards, both for inspiring character creation as described in the rules (pick any five cards, point out your character, explain all the stuff in the cards), and for use while GMing a session (a grab-bag of imagery you want to include for various reasons). I've always wanted to play a fantasy game using the black cards from the Fallen Empires series of Magic cards in this way; in fact, I kept a ton of them for just this purpose.

My copy of Ganakagok is not here yet, but I'm seeing a lot of what I enjoyed in Everway jumpin' out from your post. Perhaps the cards' most casual use in Everway, in which someone pretty much just grabs one and says "like this," could be employed. So your cheat-sheet of cool motifs would actually be a Ganakagok "vision deck" of cards.

Best, Ron
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2006, 08:06:32 AM »

What was the reaction (if you noted any) of the people outside of the game?  Doing this sort of thing in open gaming is always fun that way ... you get glimpses of people getting glimpses of what you're doing, and realize "Oh wow, I just said 'And then I shove the quivering fish-blade into his steaming bowels!'  I wonder what they make of that?"
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Bill_White
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« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2006, 12:56:38 PM »

Ron -- That's a neat idea.  I picked up Everway a while ago, and I was struck as well by how its rules anticipate the "oracular" resolution mechanics I've tried to build into Ganakagok.  The way that players create their characters in Ganakagok (essentially, by reading their fortune from three Ganakagok Tarot cards) is similar to how Everway uses vision cards for character creation, though the Ganakagok Tarot images are more verbal than visual.  Also, in Ganakagok the GM is allowed to pull another card off the top of the deck to "clarify" the situation in cases of ambiguity, uncertainty, or lack of inspiration--again very similar.  So a set of images that could be selected from in play to illustrate a scene in the village (people busy, indolent, anxious, celebrating, etc.) or on the ice (an aurora in the sky, a stormy sea, a driving blizzard, a crystalline palace of ice) would go a long way toward enabling the GM to set scenes in a powerful and evocative way.  So far I've been using public-domain art to illustrate Ganakagok (much of it provided by Jason Morningstar), and my friend Dave Petroski has designed a Ganakagok Tarot also making use of public-domain images, so the only real obstacle is the card-publishing one, but that's surmountable.  And of course, as a bank of images, they don't even have to be cards.  Maybe that is what I want.

Tony -- I did have a few observers stop and watch for a few minutes each; two, maybe three people all told.  The one guy I remember said something like, "It's interesting, but it's not for me.  Good luck, though!" as he headed off to whatever thing he was going to play.  So I got to feel like Brave Gaming Pioneer for a few minutes, anyway.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2006, 01:05:30 PM »

Whoa - you don't have a set of Ganakagok-specific imagery, a la M:tG, yet? That's a blinky moment for me. We totally have to find a way for this to happen without costing a jillion dollars.

Gotta be a way. I'll think about it.

Best, Ron
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2006, 02:40:23 PM »

I have nothing substantial to add to the discussion. I just wanted to chime in and say what an awesomely awesome game Ganakagok is. I love reading actual play reports of it.
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