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Author Topic: [Wine Dark Sea]: first playtest , Odysseus vs. the fly demon  (Read 2173 times)

Posts: 85

« on: December 27, 2006, 12:21:10 PM »

First playtest of wine dark sea

Jim, Judson, and I (mark) played a short test run of Wine Dark Sea, my game of the final voyage of Odysseus. We played a single island, enough to come up with some ideas that could significantly shift how play is structured. Before we started Jim asked what the point of the game was/ what do players do (besides voyage and adventure). I said I thought it revolved around determining mortality and wanderlust (when, where, how will Odysseus end his final journey).

Character creation: every player gives Odysseus two epithets that are either short (1-3 syllables), medium (4-6) or long (7+).  Judson’s were:
•   of blinding gambits (med, which gives two advantages and one disadvantage): + crafty, + spearmanship, - gets men eaten
•   who Sirens serenaded (long): + strong willed, + adventurous, + foresighted, - foolhardy
Jim’s: * nautical commander (med): + flawless navigator, + commander of men, - stubborn
•   the stout (short): + hardy, - underestimated
Mark’s: * stringer of the mighty bow (long): + skilled archer, + strong, + good eyesight, -flies into bloody rage when shooting
•   Tale-spinning (short): + entrances audience, - narcissistic

We then each created two mariners to accompany Odysseus. Each mariner gets one epithet.
Judson: Corus, rescued from Circe (med): + unfazed by sorcery, + loyal to Odysseus, - misogynistic
Tybalt, Mariner (short): + competent seaman, - superstitious

Jim: Darius, the second (short): + heir, - obsessed with tradition
Palos, wrecker (short): massively strong, - unattentive

Mark: Alexander, the peasant (short): + cook, - ignorant
Myna, priestess of Apollo (med): + pious, + radiant, - afraid of dark

Every character has a mortality score measuring distance from death and a wanderlust score measuring distance to settling down, which are graphed to show a time axis & distance axis. We set Odysseus’s scores at 4,4 and all mariners start at 2,2.

The game proceeds from Island to island, with one player GM for each island, the others taking turns controlling Odysseus. Each island revolves around a main challenge. I set up the first island by having the ship’s mast damaged in a storm; Tybalt the mariner knew of a nearby island famed for its timber. Odysseus and his crew landed there to discover smoke dotting the island. They observed a priest and some men dressed as mourners set fire to a nearby stand of trees. Conversing, they were told that the King’s family had died. A demon in the shape of a huge fly had been attracted to the bodies and the king feared to release their spirits while the demon was present, so in his sorrow/madness he was having his subjects set fires to the island’s forests in hopes that the smoke would drive the demon away.

As Odysseus left the beach to visit the king, the players had to choose 2 mariners each to accompany him (leaving two on the ship). Jim & Judson each chose one of my mariners and one of their own, so as to safeguard their own mariners.

I framed this challenge (get rid of the demon so the king stops setting fires and Odysseus can get timber for his ship) pretty bluntly. We skipped to the king’s palace. Jim asked if ‘it would be good for the playtest if Odysseus tried to kill the king.”  It was a cool idea, but since I had prepped the fly as the challenge I told him I would rather test out Odysseus vs, the fly demon. [Points out the need for flexibility or agreement to follow the GM straight to pre-set challenges.]

We proceeded to the first and only conflict of the playtest: Odysseus + four mariners + a couple of torch-holding guards against the fly demon the was hovering around the royal tomb. I had created three epithets for the demon, which is a Eurynomos (a demon of rotting corpses described in Pausanias’ 2nd century Guide to Greece):
•   corpse stripper (short): + sharp teeth/claws, - stinks of death
•   lord of the flies (med): + can summon vultures & flies, + strong stomach, - unaccustomed to living company
•   daimon glittering black as death (long) + hard to see, + strikes fear in hearts of men, + can hover like fly, - repelled by light & purity

In the challenge, Judson controlled Odysseus’ first offensive action. Wine dark sea is ‘powered by hexameter’ so you get bonus dice if you narrate actions so that the name of a character + length of a epithet (1, 2, or 3) + major parts of speech of action = 6. Judson drew upon the Tale-spinning epithet (you can always use epithets devised by other players) and said something like: Tale-spinning (1) Odysseus (1) spoke (1) until the rising sun (1) dispelled (1) the demon (1). Hitting the target of 6 gave an automatic bonus die plus the chance to draw upon any relevant advantages associated with the epithet. ‘Entrances audience’ was directly on point so Judson got a total of two bonus dice. I controlled the fly and narrated its defensive effort. I also went for a hexameter bonus: Eurynomos (1), lord of the flies (2), distracts (1) Odysseus (1) with vultures (1). So the demon also gets +2 dice.

Both the demon and Odysseus are ranked as heroic figures. Attacking heroes get a base of 4 dice, defending heroes get 3. So Judson rolled 6 dice, I rolled 5. We concealed the result and assigned dice to 3 slots: success/failure, level of success, and narrating rights, then compared results. Judson’s 6,6 beat my 5,5 so the attack succeeded. His 3,3,3 beat my 2 so the action succeeded fully, but my 6 beat his 1 so I got to narrate his success, and also got to include a dying curse or complication which would lower Odysseus’ wanderlust or mortality score. I described the demon crawling down into a crevice in the earth to flee the sun, then a whispering voice telling Odysseus that the two would meet again soon in hades. (So I knocked down an axis of Odysseus’ mortality).

We starting discussing the game before we got to the ‘leaving the island’ phase, when players would usually spend Wanderlust & mortality earned in play to push Odysseus or his mariners up in down in W/M or recruit new mariners.


Jim & Judson had lots of suggestions from the set up and conflict. I was sold on some of the changes immediately; some I’ll have to reflect on and see how the pieces fit.

* Combine Mortality & Wanderlust so that the distance axis is wanderlust and the time is mortality (rather than M & W being graphed separately each with 2 axis.) Yes- this simplifies graphing and makes a lot of sense.
* Change the use of Mortality/Wanderlust as currency so that Odysseus' scores can only go down, and Mariners’ scores can only be bought upwards. (If so, Odysseus’ scores should start a bit higher than current draft recommends). Maybe players can lower M to raise W (if W is really low, and vice versa, but no net gain).
* Have one player control Odysseus each island, and the rest of the players jointly by GMs and control the island & its challenges (rather than one Gm with shared control of Odysseus.)  This is an intriguing idea. There’s a question whether each GM would come up with their own challenge (or their own island in an related ‘island chain’ or if they would improv and riff off each other to develop a challenge). A practical advantage cold be that one gm would describe stuff and the other(s) could write up epithets for the challenge that was invented.
* Get rid of advantages and disadvantages, just write epithets for characters and challenges. Under this change, short epithets would always grant + 1 dice, medium = +2, and long = +3. GMs would judge if the narrated action relates to the epithet, if so, player gets bonus. I’m torn on this idea. On the one hand, it would cut down on handling time (even with 3 players we had like 20 epithets between Odysseus and his crew). But the advantages/ disadvantages were very flavorful and guided the ways that players can use an epithet. I think I need to try this modification to see how it works.
* If an Island ‘beats’ Odysseus then Odysseus loses wanderlust grows wearier) and the GM(s) responsible for the challenge get to raise the mortality score of one of their mariners.
* Give challenges more dice so Odysseus doesn’t win too easily.
* maybe pairs and sets beat a 6 in conflict (in current rules, multiples just break ties)
* write down each hexameter narration plus the final narration of the conflict so that the game ‘writes’ an epic adventure.
* when game ends, the player whose mariner has the highest Waderlust/mortality score goes back to Ithica and describes Odysseus’ final fate.
* think of better name for Mortality (although the W/M parallel is neat). Maybe aim for some W/E/N/S names like the compass points.
* Consider some kind of map or board of islands & Odysseus’ wanderlust/mortality.

Some of these changes would make the game more competitive, or more determined length, and elevate the role of the mariners. While it would be cool to have a game focused on Odysseus’ voyages from the perspective of his humble crew, that’s not what I was shooting for. I think I want to keep the spotlight on Odysseus’s fate, and have his diminishing mortality & wanderlust as pressure on the islands and challenges and stories.

ps- my original design goals for this game are at: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17850.0
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