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Author Topic: [Contenders] Flash of the Blades  (Read 5907 times)

Posts: 84

« on: November 26, 2006, 06:27:11 PM »

I staked out a table on a cold and rainy Sunday at EndGame in Oakland and waited to see if anyone from the local gaming group would show up for a bit of post-Turkey roleplaying.

Only Trevor showed up (at first), and with two people, a GM-less game seemed like a good idea.  I had brought a large stack of indie games, and after flipping through them we decided to play Contenders.  It's a compliment to the game that I would suggest it so easily for a loose one-shot with someone I had never met and who hadn't really played an indie game before.  It really is as easy to pick up as many of the board games I like to play.

So we sat down to talk settings.  Turns out Trevor is a big history buff, and immediately suggested Ancient Rome (cool!)  As always, I wanted to brainstorm on ideas a bit more to see if there was something that excited us more.  He thought the prison idea we didn't use from my other game was pretty funny.  But we both latched onto 17th Century Parisian duellists in the era of Louis XIII.  No, not those ninnies in the King's Musketeers, but the real duellists...the professionals.  King Louis had outlawed dueling, but it still went on behind his back.  And enough nobles and wealthy patrons wanted to watch that promoters were able to attract fighters from other towns (and even other countries).  We replaced Cash with Gold (Louis D'Or) and off we went!

Trevor played a Gascon named Armand Choufleur.  His connection was a slave/maidservant from Guyana named Mireille who works for the Duchess D'alembert.  Arman Hopes to buy her freedom.  But he Fears that Mireille will be seduced or raped by the Duchess' no-good son.

I played a Dutchman named Willem Adriensze.  Interestingly my connection was a bit similar.  Her name was Lorelei Le Fleur and she was a young chambermaid at the palace who was saving money to buy the "right" dress for the Spring Ball.  My Hope was that she would impress at the Ball and gain a position with the Queen.  My Fear was that she would get used and end up pregnant and out on the streets.

Interesting that in both games the Fears have been pretty brutal.  The rules really push this and I'm glad that players don't shy from it because it provides a great incentive to do better!

For not being a narrativist guy, Trevor really took to the roleplaying and the early scenes were full of color.  He had a great connection scene where Armand sneaks into the servants quarters to his Mireille.  He wants to buy her freedom so they can merry.  He fills her head full of promises about gaining a rank in an elite regiment and how they will live together in style.  He presses a ring (worth 2 Gold) into her hand and she is of two minds since she needs the money but fears that he is simply trying to buy her body.

Willem talked Jacques the promoter into letting him fight a three-round duel against the Milano terror, Alessandro Vespertini.  Trevor suggested that it be fought on the Docks after midnight.  So there was a small crowd obscured holding lanterns and obscured by the fog. 

I used someone's (Chris P?) suggestion and for the most part we played the cards out one-by-one to heighten the tension each round.  Willem took the first two rounds but Vespertini got a knockout blow in the third and Willem staggered back with blood pouring down his face from a gash over the eye.  Ugh.

Armand fought a four-round duel against Joaquin Jimenez from Cordova.  There was much dirty tactics going on, but Joaquin just got the better of Armand and won or drew every round.

Armand had a cool Brawl scene with me and narrated walking past Willem in an alley and deliberately splashing a mud puddle on my outfit.  It was Pain vs. Pain and Willem ended ass-up in a pile of apples with the local kids jeering.

I had a really funny Connection scene late in the game where I got a piece of nice fabric from the tailor and wrapped six gold pieces in it.  I snuck into the palace and threw pebbles against Lorelei's window until she answered.  We then played out the conflict and I lost badly.  So I narrated tossing up the gold into her room but not knowing one of the grim faced spinsters was up there.  Suddenly a grotesque face peered out the window and said "she won't be needed money from the likes of you!!"  It's tough trying to get your Hope, isn't it?

Brian showed up a little later and chose not to create a duelist, but just to observe.  But again the rules really supported his (indirect) involvement by giving some color commentary during fights.  Had he chosen to play it would have been an easy five minutes of describing the rules and another five minutes to create a character.  I love that the game is so flexible in that way.

1. Giving something for the extra player(s) to do during a fight can really help keep them involved.  Give out the cards, roleplay the reactions of the audience between rounds, give a little color commentary.  It's great to get reactions from those not actually in the fight.
2. Taking the time to setup a great venue for the fight really helped set the tone for the fight and provided for ample color opportunities during the fight.  We had duels on the Docks, on a rooftop in the outskirts of Paris and in a graveyard next to a charnel house.  What fun!!   
3. After several fights, it starts to get difficult to come up with color to narrate the rounds and especially for dirty tactics.  I found that as our three-hour game (which didn't get us anywhere near 10 Rep) drew on, the roleplaying flowed less.  But then again, with only two players we were both basically in almost every scene.
4. I like how quick the fights go, but having fought maybe 5-6 times now through two game sessions, I start to wish there was a "little" more flavor to the fighting.  I do like that the high card narrates.
5. I'm really glad that the rules are loose enough to support some really different settings.  If we had wanted to play bickering Bedouin bandits, I'm sure it would have turned out great!
6. Using the Jokers to trigger a Crossover scene is so simple and yet sheer genius.

So to make some attempt at an actual point for this post, I'm starting to formulate some ideas about quick one-shot play vs. games that have "legs" to them.  I love that games like Contenders, MLWM and the Roach have little or no GM prep (or even a GM for that matter).  Players can show up, learn the basic concept of the game quickly, and the group creates the setting (or aspects of it) together along with their characters.

But with all three of those games, I have found that they can start running out of steam and the roleplaying takes a hit and players get more comfortable with the game mechanics and start trying to "win".  I'm not trying to fix any of these great games as much as just trying to provoke some thought around the subject.  Perhaps a game like this could have "Quick Play" rules that were truly short, and then have a few Optional Rules to expand play a bit when the group was ready for it.  Or at a certain point in the game, the rules shift a bit to add new life to the game. 

Any thoughts on this?  Do you think short-form games should stand on their own or do you like the thought of perhaps expanding or morphing the play during the session(s)?  The Mountain Witch I think does this as the game starts out being about the mission and slowly turns into a game of conflicting goals and loyalties.

Chris B.
Mel White

Posts: 93

« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2006, 08:48:46 AM »

In the duels in your game, were the combatants using weapons or were they unarmed?  I'm not familiar with Contenders--up to now I've been thinking of it as a purely boxing game, but your post has got me thinking...

Virtual Play: A podcast of roleplaying games

Posts: 84

« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2006, 09:14:01 AM »

Hi Mel,

The characters in this game were actually using swords instead of fists.  Part of the reason was because it seemed like an interesting setting and Trevor was up for it.  And part of it was because I wanted to stretch the game out and see if it could support something other than "just" boxing, although I have a lot of love for the boxing genre.

I have to say the game handled it smoothly.  Mostly we altered our color comments from "I pummel him with jabs to the head" to "he slips on wet grass and I give him a vicious cut over the eye".

Chris Peterson

Posts: 75

« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2006, 09:42:53 AM »

But with all three of those games, I have found that they can start running out of steam and the roleplaying takes a hit and players get more comfortable with the game mechanics and start trying to "win".

When I played Contenders and MLWM with Chris B., I saw the same tipping point where us players learned enough of the games' "math" and started to focus on min/max'ing points. The games flowed more smoothly then because we knew the rules without having to reference to the books, but the games lost some their mystery, having seen behind the curtain. I'm not sure how to avoid this, as player or game designer, or whether it is "bad"..

chris p.

Joe J Prince

Posts: 99

Putting the fun into dysfunction!

« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2006, 04:03:58 PM »

Hi Guys

Love the setting Chris. The romance of it all! Will Willem ever best the Milano Terror?

I'll have to have a think about the comments on roleplay fatigue. A gaming vs immersion clash perhaps? Although three hours with two players is pretty good in my book!



Posts: 194

« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2006, 09:11:17 AM »

Sounds like a cool game, but this bit really caught my eye:

So we sat down to talk settings.  Turns out Trevor is a big history buff, and immediately suggested Ancient Rome (cool!)

I'd never considered using Contenders in other time periods. I love ancient rome - do you think it would work well with the players as gladiators?

Andrew Kenrick
Dead of Night - a pocket sized game of b-movie and slasher horror
David Artman

Posts: 570

Designer & Producer

« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2006, 12:52:14 PM »

I'd never considered using Contenders in other time periods. I love ancient rome - do you think it would work well with the players as gladiators?
I think that would work even better than the duelist example, as gladiator combat in Rome was much like boxing in Las Vegas: promoters, managers (well, owners, actually), rivalries, etc.

Though it might be hard to do the larger melees that were popular... or maybe not, if one can abstract a "platoon" into one "contender" and go from there.

Neat stuff!

Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages

Posts: 84

« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2006, 01:14:48 PM »

I agree that the Gladiator idea would work even better than the duelists.  There was a whole intrastructure for that sport in Rome so it's a natural fit.

But David's comment about "large melees" immediately made me think about a 20th century gang version like 'The Warriors' or 'West Side Story'.  There's no reason why the fight mechanic couldn't lend itself to fights between groups of individuals.  Do you hide behind garbage dumpsters or come out swinging with the baseball bats?  Imagine the color commentary and the Connection scenes with your Mom who wants you to quick "that stupid gang".

My big questions for any given setting are "who is the audience and where does the money to promote the fights comes from?"  Either I need to answer those questions or I need to drift the rules to suit the situation.

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