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Author Topic: [Trollbabe] Dungeonbabe & Dragons (Actual Play)  (Read 4430 times)
John Paul
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Posts: 28


« on: December 06, 2009, 11:10:43 PM »

My wife and daughter bought me a D&D 4th Edition "starter kit" for my birthday, and we had more fun playing the intro adventure with its pre-fabricated characters than I ever remember having with Dungeons & Dragons when I was a kid. The rules seem simpler and more consistent than before, and the powers listed on each character's sheet provide an easy menu of cinematic actions.

Anyway, my daughter, almost nine, picked the "Eladrin Wizard", whom she gave the Tolkien-style moniker "Silwen", and my wife picked the "Dwarf Fighter", whom she named "Skah", a name I read from the Trollbabe names list. After playing the first encounter and realizing how much a balanced party was needed, we added in the "Halfling Rogue" and "Dragonborn Paladin" as supporting characters. When their team faced the Big Bad, I decided to throw in a minor moral choice for them-- the boss offered them a bag of loot to leave dungeon and the town and enjoy the rest of their lives. He also said that if they chose to stay he would utterly destroy them.

They chose to stay and fight, but it was the most vicious battle of the game, and their two supporting characters were brutally killed by the boss's big wolf. The town held a funeral for them, and gave them the Palladin's family crest, so that they could return it to his people.

After that, I asked them if they'd be willing to continue the adventure with different rules, and I suggested Trollbabe. My daughter played Trollbabe with me before a few years ago, but my wife always avoided roleplaying until now. She had fun playing D&D, apart from the frustration of being on the brink of death so many times, and she said she was willing to give Trollbabe a try.

Converting their existing characters was no trouble: Skah was definitely a "fighty" type, and Silwen a magical type. They chose 8 and 3, respectively, for their numbers. To ease the transition, I decided to let them pick one power or concept from their D&D character sheet as a reroll item, replacing one of the five standard-issue rerolls.

Here's my report on their first adventure, which took place over two sessions.

Cosmology: One of cosmological assumptions of D&D is that the PCs are a party of adventurers that travel from town to town, delving into dungeons in order to fight monsters and help the yokels. This assumption is missing from Trollbabe: Trollbabes are lightning-rods for conflict because of what they are, not because they follow some adventure hook to explore the local Caves of Doom. Since Skah & Silwen are both Fey, I figured that might contribute a similar tension-- I decided that in this world, there's an ancient intractable cold war between Elves and Dwarves, and both peoples regard humans as vermin. I suggested that the PCs be some kind of changeling, broadly defined. I also decided that Elves in this setting live largely solitary lives in moonlit cloud-cities; while the Dwarves live in sprawling labyrinthine tombs, ruling over the damned. This led me to think of relating Elf magic to dreaming, glamour, illusion, and transformation; with Dwarf magic deriving from necromancy, crafts, architecture, and wealth. I think there's an unstable truce giving way to mounting tension and rumor of war. These issues were indirectly connected to the stakes of the first adventure, but they aren't yet resolved into anything like a canonical history.

Background: I started out with the destination they chose on the map that came with our D&D starter kit: Fallcrest, a dot surrounded by hills near a major crossroads. The Stakes conflict had to do with a Dwarf princess held captive by a human sorcerer in the ruins overlooking the village. The townspeople look at him as their protector, and the Dwarves are planning some kind of war council to discuss options for freeing their princess. I wanted to blur the lines between different magical peoples in the setting, showing their presence and magic to be similar, with the distinction being culturally enforced-- so I knew I would present "orcish" and "trollish" characters mixed in among the others.

I started with three lists of names:

Names for Fey characters: Grilig, Vaadish, Rung, Rugor, Vulo, Guushnak, Gagar, Kriol, Kaarag, Eruugdush.

Names for Human males: Adrian, Anghel, Bogdan, Claudiu, Damian, Demetri, Cristofor, Dorinel, Henric.

Names for Human females: Adelina, Brigita, Corina, Doina, Dorota, Estera, Lorea, Marica, Natasa

Using these, I decided the sorcerer was Lord Dorinell (which I inexplicably added an L to in my notes), and the captive princess was Adelina. The sorcerer was away on a journey. The consequences would be either that Adelina remains captive or she is freed.

In the first session, we had five scenes:

Scene 1: Skah and Silwen are traveling on the road toward Fallcrest when they realize that there is someone behind them on the road. Skah creeps through the woods to see the person from behind, and possibly gain a combat advantage by surrounding him. Silwen hides behind a tree. It's a misshapen little man on his way to the war council. Silwen jumps out and says "Who are you?" Creeping up on people this way causes a conflict, and she states her goal is to find out whether he is a good guy or bad guy. She fails her initial roll and narrates that a squirrel has thrown a nut at her from the tree while she was talking, blipping her in the head. The little man starts cackling, and she doesn't reroll. Skah comes up from behind and tries to question the dude further, but he doesn't give any information. No one presses for another social conflict, or anything else. So I narrate that the man lopes away. My feeling is that the players aren't really sure what to do; in D&D, the what to do was obvious: kill the monsters. This is a lot more open-ended. I end the scene.

Scene 2: Skah and Silwen see chimney-smoke from Fallcrest several miles off around sunset. They also see the ruins, which I tell them appears to be standing stones on a hilltop. It begins to rain, and they see the windows of the castle light up-- it isn't ruins after all. The path forks: one path goes up to the castle, one down to the village. They choose to go to the castle and ask for lodging for the night.

When they arrive, a small, beautiful woman opens the door and welcomes them in. She dines them in a lavish hall with a warm hearth, and they notice an iron chain on the floor near the fireplace where the woman sits. She leads them to their lavish rooms, and whadaya know, they'd like to share a room, and they see that the chain is attached to their hostess by the ankle. Dang. They sleep in shifts, and when the sun comes up, the lavish castle is gone-- they are in a ruin again.

Scene 3: They go back to the dining hall, which still has a roof over it, and they find the woman still chained to the fireplace, only now she has grey skin and matted hair. She tells them that she is being held by a cruel sorcerer, and beg them to free her.

Silwen touches the chain and the iron burns her hand. Skah hits it with her axe, and feels an electric shock, so Silwen uses her magic to summon up a fire elf to break the chain. Fire elf appears in the hearth and says he needs some whiskey to break the chain, so the player characters decide to visit the town.

Scene 4: Silwen and Skah arrive and survey Fallcrest, a small village with more livestock than people in the center of town. They go in the tavern, and Skah immediately asks "What is the deal with the old woman in the castle on the hill?" Her specialty in Social is "blunt". The people are very suspicious of an Elf & Dwarf traveling together, and trespassing on their protector's property to boot. They find out that the town knows the sorcerer as Lord Dorinell, a holy man, and D is currently on a journey, but they don't know anything about Adelina. Silwen tries to buy some whiskey, and the price is two eggs. But Silwen isn't carrying any poultry products, so we have a social conflict. She fails the initial roll but uses "a carried object" for a successful reroll and pays in gold. Just when they are about to leave, Skah thinks out loud what she thinks of these rednecks, and a brawl almost ensues, but she succeeds in her social conflict roll and they get out of there without fighting. Two characters in this scene got names from the list: Henric, the bartender and de facto leader of the guys in the bar, and his boy Claudiu, a pimply teenager with a cracking voice, who called out "That's what I *thought*!" as the player characters exited.

Scene 5: How would you feel if you've been chained up by a sorcerer for a couple decades? Silwen summons up fire elf again and he blasts one of the links, breaking the chain. Adelina rises up to twice her previous height, stretches out tree-like hands, and says: "Thank you sisters. Now I will tear that town apart!"

At this point, we broke, and I knew I hadn't thought through the stakes well enough, especially making it clear what everyone wanted and how they were connected to the stakes. So before we played again, I made a relationship map and made a few further notes.

Background, Round 2: Dorinell derives a lot of magical power from holding Adelina captive, and he probably has other such wives elsewhere, which accounts for his journeys. Years ago, Adelina bore him a son, but Dorinell took the child to the village where he was raised by Henric and his wife Natasa, who named the child Claudiu. They know nothing of the child's true origin, but have loved him as a son. The ruins come from an earlier, more chivalric age, but the earlier castle was destroyed by Adelina's clan, whom the town fears. Since Lord Dorinell came, taking the Dwarf princess captive, there have been no attacks on the village. Now Rugor, Adelina's consort, and their son Vaadish, have gathered forces-- not knowing that two strangers would free her before they could act. But Adelina will not leave town before she finds her estranged son.

The second session had four scenes:

Scene 1: Picking up right after they set Adelina free, the players immediately say that they want to go warn the town. But as they turn to leave, a raven perches on the ruins, Vaadish in disguise, and speaks to them. Since the townspeople had been so unsympathetic, I decided to give Vaadish a friendly voice: "I deem that you are not enemies. I come with a message to the Princess Adelina. Where is she? [...] That is very good news! Etc." After a very brief conversation, Vaadish cuts them off-- "You have company!" -- and flies away. Silwen and Skah hear voices approaching, and hide behind a boulder adjacent to the castle ruins.

Scene 2: Angry men from the tavern arrive, holding wood-axes, pitch-forks, and other farm tools, grumbling. They think the strangers may be in league with the Rugor clan and they don't like Silwen and Skah poking around the ruins unwelcome. When the men fan out around the ruins, Skah comes out of hiding rather than be found, and when Henric tells her to get out of town, she agrees to leave; Silwen then comes out of hiding too. But Damian, another dude from the bar, is ticked off-- he wanted a chance to pick a fight and blow off steam and he got the others all riled up-- against Henric's pleas, he rushes Skah. I was weak on the "fair and clear" here, and I let them announce their goals and roll simultaneously to see who goes first, using the "lowest roll" rule to determine initiative.

Silwen rolls 7, and Skah rolls 9-- both their goals were to subdue opponents, and they fail. For Silwen's failure, my daughter narrates that Silwen was trying to lasso Damian, and her lasso gets caught in the tree. The branch brakes off, and failing her reroll on "geographic feature", she narrates that it lands on Silwen's leg, fracturing it. For a second reroll, she uses "Fey Step", an ability she got from the D&D character sheet. Third roll failed too, and she disappears, reappearing at the top of the tree, where the same squirrel blips her with another nut, and she falls out of the tree, and knocked out. Looks like my daughter has no problem making failure narration dramatic, but she tends toward failures that are embarrassing & funny rather than cinematic or heroic. She chooses not to use a third reroll.

Skah wasn't so unlucky-- my wife narrates that the initial failure was that she was distracted by the lasso mishap. Upon a reroll, she hits Damian with the butt of her axe, knocking him six feet through the air, to the ground unconscious. Then two other villagers seized her arms from behind--

Wife: "You don't have to roll for that?", she says.
Me: "No, I'm narrating. If you don't like it, you can set a goal and *you* roll."
W: "Okay, my goal is to scare them away. I want to intimidate them into backing down."
M: "Alright, roll Social."
W: "But I'm using my axe to intimidate them--"
M: "What matters is your goal, and compelling them to change their behavior is Social."
W: "Screw that-- I suck at Social. I'm cutting someone's foot off!"
Daughter: "No, you can NOT roll to cut someone's foot off! This is all your fault for getting them all riled up in the bar! You should make peace!" Then to me: "She doesn't cut anyone's foot off!"
W: (Whispering) "I cut his foot off."
M: "Okay, so your goal is to *incapacitate* them so they are no longer a threat?"
W: "Yes."

After these two are down, I have a guy charge her with a pitchfork, whom she dispatches in one series, and then I announce that two other guys run up to her in blind fury as the sun sets. This is where I realize my mistake in omitting "fair and clear", because my wife says: "You need to tell us how many people there are in the beginning. You can't just keep making more and more people appear!"

Just then, there is a cry from the village-- a squeaky teenager's voice, and Henric shouts "Claudiu!" They see a large black hawk rising from the village carrying something that might be a person, and Henric dashes down the path toward the village. The remaining villagers look at Skah to see what she is going to do, and she heaves Silwen onto her shoulders and follows Henric.

Scene 3: Skah arrives in the village just after Henric. Henric is talking to a tall woman with dark hair-- his wife Natasa. Natasa says she was drawing water from the well, when a strange little woman approached her and asked if she had seen her child. Then the woman saw Claudiu and transformed into the hawk and carried him away. Henric runs off into the woods with full panic on his face. Skah wants to follow, but not with Silwen like this, so she asks Natasa for a wheelbarrow! I narrate that Silwen wakes up when placed in the wheelbarrow, but by this time Henric is gone and there is no path.

Natasa has talked to the men who are just limping back from their battle on the hill and she is visibly livid at their antics. She offers Skah and Silwen her hospitality, but Silwen tells her that they all have to leave town because Adelina threatened to tear the village apart. Natasa is more afraid about what may happen to Claudiu than the village, but she remains calm under duress. She is obviously the town's true leader.

Henric reappears, shaking his head. There wasn't a path or any sign of where the hawk had gone. Henric and Natasa tell about the Rugor clan's terror on Fallcrest before Lord Dorinell arrived, and they also admit that Claudiu isn't their true son, but was brought to them by Dorinell. Silwen figures out that the boy is only half-human. Henric and Natasa describe the Rugor clan as "Grave Trolls", a concept I hadn't thought of before. Silwen pressed for details about them, but they didn't know much and I knew less. Natasa gives Silwen a poultice for her leg.

My daughter asks for a scene to form a relationship with one of the villagers in the scuffle, whom I had described as having red hair and a scar on his lip.

Scene 4: Skah and Silwen sleep in the loft of Natasa's barn, and Natasa wakes Silwen in the morning saying she has a visitor. Bela, the red-haired boy whose pitchfork was shattered by Skah's axe the night before, leaving a flesh-wound in his chest, has come to apologize, and he brought flowers. My daughter was embarrassed: "He has a crush on me!" She puts Bela down on her card, and writes "human" next to his name.

Natasa invites Skah and Silwen in for breakfast. Henric apologizes on behalf of all the village men, and pleads with them to find his son Claudiu. He says the Grave Trolls live in some ancient tombs deep in the woods. Skah accepts his apology and they agree to go rescue Claudiu.

End of session. I tell them that the stakes have been resolved, and the next session will be a new adventure. I'll put my reflections and questions in another post.
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John Paul
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Posts: 28


« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2009, 06:48:56 AM »

The main challenge I face now is developing meaningful stakes for the next adventure that arise directly from the consequences of this one. The players have chosen a destination, albeit not one on the map, and they seem to think they know who the good guys and bad guys are at this point in the story. I'm thinking that Adelina's return, and especially bringing this pimply human teenager and asserting that he's her son, may create a new stakes conflict among her people-- but I'm not exactly sure what. I don't think we'll see Dorinell in this adventure, since I don't picture him visiting the so-called "Grave Trolls" out of kindness, and the player characters would get there before he found out about Adelina's escape-- but I could be wrong. It would make sense for him to feel the chain break...

I have some rules-based questions too; in no particular order:

After playing D&D, my wife and daughter found the lack of snap-shot magic outside of rerolls disconcerting. My wife argued that Silwen should be able to use unprepared magic in combat since magic is what she's good at. On page 22 of the PDF, there is a rule that suggests that different characters may use Magic and Fighting in the same conflict-- the dice hit the table at the same time, and the one who rolled lowest has her actions resolved first, which "dictates that successful magic is slower than successful fighting". I'm wondering what circumstances might allow this? Is it only when one character has the luxury or watching the conflict without being under the same immediate threats as the fighting character?

I see Trollbabe as providing scope for much more cinematic magic than the standard D&D-style snap-shot spells, but that hasn't been easy to demonstrate to my girls. Since they don't have a menu of abilities like those listed on the D&D sheet, they're not sure what to do. I think this is aggravated by my failure to provide concrete thematic examples in the setting-- which gives me ideas for some magical conflicts in the next adventure. Since my daughter and I just read Funke's Inkspell together, I framed it in terms of that story:

Quote
Magic is *very* powerful in this setting, but it takes time to prepare. Remember when Fenoglio created the book that made the Adderhead immortal? It took him time to find "the right words", and it took further time for Mo to gather the materials and bind the book. Remember the scene in the mill where Dustfinger was cornered and Farid used his magic? [Dustfinger and Farid both have the power to speak to fire and command it.] Since Dustfinger was already cornered by the bad guys, he couldn't use his magic, but Farid, who was looking in unseen, had time to kindle the magical fire.

How do you usually set the tone for Trollbabe magic for new players, particularly those who don't have any background in role-playing? I admit that my background of reading the magic rules in dozens of role-playing systems might be detrimental to GMing a Trollbabe-style game. I'm used to the magic rules providing a lot of technical structure to "spellcasting", and so I'm tempted to create more arbitrary guidelines, like "any magical act comes from making a covenant with unseen forces, either fairie spirits or the dead" or "magic requires creating some kind of symbolic object or setting that represents the spell".

Since we're Quakers, my daughter doesn't have any experience with ritual in worship, and she's more likely to think of magic as "something Silwen can just do" rather than any kind of ritual trappings or color. We have read Lord of the Rings, the Golden Compass series, and a lot of other fantasy novels, so she can connect to those experiences. I guess I'm looking for guidance on how to set the stage for colorful in-game action during magical conflicts, rather than just announcing "I use magic" and "my magic fails". Maybe I shouldn't worry about this at all, but I'd love to hear your experience or suggestions.

--
One thing we found very helpful: after the first session, I copied the possible goals by action type lists (pp12-13 of PDF) onto an index card for quick reference. I found that guide inadequate compared to some of the in-text examples though. For instance, the skulking thugs example on page 12: what action type would it be to watch out for enemies, with the goal of making sure nothing is there? What if the goal was "to avoid anyone who's trying to bushwhack me?"

After the first session, I told them that there were two ways they can influence the direction of the story as authors: setting goals, and narrating during failure. I explained how if they set a goal to find hidden doors (to steal an example from Donjon), success means that they find one, regardless of what I had in mind previously. My daughter was particularly excited about this: "If you say your goal is to find a bridge across the chasm," she told my wife, "he *has* to make one if you succeed!" I also explained that failure was their chance to introduce facts into the story, and this got my daughter excited too: "If you say that you fail your roll because you recognize that the enemy is your brother, he *has* to make the enemy your brother!" But in play, no one took much advantage of either of these opportunities for authorship. Yet.

The goal-setting part may be due to our perception of ambiguity around the appropriate action type for these conflicts-- is watching out for enemies a magical conflict since the goal is to get information-- even though the declared action isn't magical?

These questions are a pleasant reminder that Trollbabe is not GURPS, where every possible action is covered by a specific skill. Thanks for your guidance and wisdom! I hope that I can afford the new Trollbabe book sometime after Christmas!

warmest regards.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2009, 11:58:43 AM »

Hi John,

There is a whole ton of possible discussions to come out of playing Trollbabe in this fashion. I'd like to follow up in any way you'd like, so don't let this single reply define the possible range of the thread as a whole. Bring up whatever you'd like.

Anyway, for this post, I do have one suggestion aimed toward your second post's questions. It is: take some time to share sources which aren't gaming, and probably a little older, which led to Trollbabe. Comics and fantasy novels with a strong mythic/fairy vein, as well as Celtic, Norse, and Baltic myths. A lot of that has strong female voices and characters too. I think it'd help for them to get out of "Let's play D&D as even-better D&D using this Trollbabe thing" mode.

Best, Ron
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John Paul
Member

Posts: 28


« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2009, 12:51:35 PM »

Quote
Anyway, for this post, I do have one suggestion aimed toward your second post's questions. It is: take some time to share sources which aren't gaming, and probably a little older, which led to Trollbabe. Comics and fantasy novels with a strong mythic/fairy vein, as well as Celtic, Norse, and Baltic myths. A lot of that has strong female voices and characters too. I think it'd help for them to get out of "Let's play D&D as even-better D&D using this Trollbabe thing" mode.

Thank you for the spoon-full of gold. I will pull out our Bone comics, including the prequel Rose which deals with the warrior-woman who was central to the story and remained central as the innocuous grandmother two generations later; I'll also and dig up some mythology and folklore that we can digest together.

Quote
Bring up whatever you'd like.

Maybe I could break it up a little. For the skulking thugs example on page 12 of the PDF, what action type would it be to watch out for enemies, with the goal of making sure nothing is there? What if the goal was "to avoid anyone who's trying to bushwhack me?" In the forum discussions, I see that action type is usually determined by goal, regardless of methods used-- i.e. a fight with the goal to protect the companion would be a Social conflict, whereas if the goal was to decapitate the king would be Fighting.

But in the cases of "making sure nothing is there" or "avoiding anyone trying to bushwhack me", I'm guessing the action type would be derived from announced actions, rather than hinging on the stated goal. So if I use magical sight, it's a Magic conflict, but if I survey the area using my military training it's a Fighting conflict. Is that right?

Meanwhile, I think I've got the beginning of a Stakes for the next adventure, the relationship-map part:

Quote
Adelina has returned to Trowehaven, the Dwarven tomb city, but things are not all well. Her husband Rugor is the thrall of Dorinell's rival, Faurumahd, who gave him a nose-ring that gives him the power to touch and weild iron weapons, but enslaves his mind to the wizard's command. Faurumahd's objective in freeing Adelina was to weaken Dorinell's power base. Suspecting something was amiss when approaching the gate to Trowehaven, she created a magical ward over Claudiu by transforming him into a stone pendant with his name engraved as a stylized rune.

There are about six pairs of Dwarves in the city (about half of whom are couples), and an small army of damned souls (50ish) who normally toil in the mines, but Rugor has outfitted them for war in service to Faurumahd. Vaadish is there too, and he'll probably be disposed in a friendly way toward the player characters, but openly defiant about his mothers imprisonment.

I was having trouble picturing the Dwarf society, until I got the idea of barrow-wights living in a hive, with great treasure hoards, and grim hospitality. The actual stakes will depend on whether they choose to escalate the Scale to "small group".
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John Paul
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Posts: 28


« Reply #4 on: December 08, 2009, 07:35:03 AM »

b]feud between Mooram-Ah's people and the Rugor clan. The night Elves see evidence that the Dwarves are forging iron weapons (for their chief and their undead army), and they see this as a blatant violation of the treaty and a dangerous threat. Faurumahd's lust for power that I hinted at earlier is now grounded more vitally in concrete stakes related to real things that character's want, as outlined in the rules. Power itself, I realize, doesn't make for compelling stakes in Trollbabe.

What is the etiquette regarding actual play reports? What information is useful and what information is overkill? It's lucidly clear to me how the rules have given rise to the direction and content of the story, but I don't want to be oblique about that if there more mechanical detail is neededfeud[/b] between Mooram-Ah's people and the Rugor clan. The night Elves see evidence that the Dwarves are forging iron weapons (for their chief and their undead army), and they see this as a blatant violation of the treaty and a dangerous threat. Faurumahd's lust for power that I hinted at earlier is now grounded more vitally in concrete stakes related to real things that character's want, as outlined in the rules. Power itself, I realize, doesn't make for compelling stakes in Trollbabe.

What is the etiquette regarding actual play reports? What information is useful and what information is overkill? It's lucidly clear to me how the rules have given rise to the direction and content of the story, but I don't want to be oblique about that if there more mechanical detail is needed.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2009, 08:14:10 AM »

Hi John,

Quite a few things you're struggling with, or at least bumping up against, are altered and clarified in the book version. Please email me your mailing address, and I'll send you a copy as a Christmas gift for the family.

Contrary to my usual habits, I have to break the next series of quesions into individual units in order to be as clear as possible. However, together, they do present a unified issue, and you did ask them in a very coherent unified way, so I recommend reading my answers as a group rather than in isolation.

Quote
For the skulking thugs example on page 12 of the PDF, what action type would it be to watch out for enemies, with the goal of making sure nothing is there?

It could be any of the three action types.

Quote
What if the goal was "to avoid anyone who's trying to bushwhack me?" In the forum discussions, I see that action type is usually determined by goal, regardless of methods used-- i.e. a fight with the goal to protect the companion would be a Social conflict, whereas if the goal was to decapitate the king would be Fighting.

I think you've answered your own question here, which is to say, if bushwhacking is mentioned in the Goal, then bushwhacking is now effectively (potentially) part of what might happen. Or more simply, "Yes."

Quote
But in the cases of "making sure nothing is there" or "avoiding anyone trying to bushwhack me", I'm guessing the action type would be derived from announced actions, rather than hinging on the stated goal. So if I use magical sight, it's a Magic conflict, but if I survey the area using my military training it's a Fighting conflict. Is that right?

Yes, that's correct, but I think that your point applies to "make sure nothing is there" - not to "avoiding anyone trying to bushwhack me," which (if I were to call that conflict) I would instantly peg as Fighting.

Again, I think I made all of this much clearer in the new rules, honing the issue of the unknown into more usable form.

Now for a little rules-and-play detail.

Quote
Skah had been dragged away by a big spider, but it was quick work getting herself untangled and dispatching the beast; on the final roll, I narrated that an arrow came out of the darkness and hit the spider's abdomen at the same time that she dashed it's brains out. Thus, Skah met Vaadish again, now in his true form, and they set off together. I allowed Skah to take Vaadish as a relationship, which gives her a stake in the Stakes and a chance to learn more about the conflict from his perspective.

This is, if not abominable, at least a little bit suspicious-sounding. First, let me make sure I understand correctly: Vaadish's arrow was not brought in as a "sudden ally" re-roll item, right? If it were, then that's fine. But if not, then I think you might be relying on some play-tactics that aren't necessary in Trollbabe.

I'm basing that judgment on my old tactics when GMing Champions and similar games. I often relied on within-action opportunities, specifically moments when I narrated the outcomes of rolls, to introduce characters, information, and "open doors" for characters to walk through. In other words, there was no mechanism in these games for simply introducing such things on their own. If you did, i.e., had a guy walk through a door and get introduced, everyone would turtle up and go passive. So in order to bring someone into play with the tacit message that he or she wasn't a trap or a Trojan Horse, I had to do it during the action, showing the players that this new person was "really a friend" through narrations exactly like your arrow.

But before I go on, do you think I'm on the right track so far?

Quote
What is the etiquette regarding actual play reports? What information is useful and what information is overkill? It's lucidly clear to me how the rules have given rise to the direction and content of the story, but I don't want to be oblique about that if there more mechanical detail is needed.

There's no fixed etiquette, because everyone has his or her own needs and reasons for posting, and I'd rather let that be an individual feature of each thread than dictate some specific format or type of information. All that's needed is whatever you need to raise the questions or issues to discuss, and if anyone reading needs more, or thinks they can help you come up with what's needed, they'll ask. So far, your posts have been models of clarity and content, as far as I'm concerned.

Best, Ron
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John Paul
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Posts: 28


« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2009, 10:14:09 AM »

Quite a few things you're struggling with, or at least bumping up against, are altered and clarified in the book version. Please email me your mailing address, and I'll send you a copy as a Christmas gift for the family.

Holy moly, Ron-- thanks!

I think you've answered your own question here, which is to say, if bushwhacking is mentioned in the Goal, then bushwhacking is now effectively (potentially) part of what might happen. Or more simply, "Yes."

Quote
But in the cases of "making sure nothing is there" or "avoiding anyone trying to bushwhack me", I'm guessing the action type would be derived from announced actions, rather than hinging on the stated goal. So if I use magical sight, it's a Magic conflict, but if I survey the area using my military training it's a Fighting conflict. Is that right?

Yes, that's correct, but I think that your point applies to "make sure nothing is there" - not to "avoiding anyone trying to bushwhack me," which (if I were to call that conflict) I would instantly peg as Fighting.

Thank you-- that makes sense.

Vaadish's arrow:

This is, if not abominable, at least a little bit suspicious-sounding. First, let me make sure I understand correctly: Vaadish's arrow was not brought in as a "sudden ally" re-roll item, right? If it were, then that's fine. But if not, then I think you might be relying on some play-tactics that aren't necessary in Trollbabe.

Vaadish wasn't brought in as a "sudden ally". I'm not exactly sure whether we counted killing the spider as part of escaping from the web-- in which case the pace was Exchange by Exchange, and she used a reroll in the first series to drop a knife out of her sleeve (a carried item) --or if it we considered killing the spider a separate (pace 1) conflict; but her Fighting roll at that point in the story was successful on the first try. So it sounds like I've done something abominable or suspicious. Is this a kind of rail-roading?

I guess I took the rule of GM narrating success to mean that I could introduce any elements or complications that bring the stakes into greater focus. In the conversation that followed the conflict, Skah found out that Vaadish was the raven from the earlier session, and he also mentioned that Adelina is his mother.

I'm basing that judgment on my old tactics when GMing Champions and similar games. I often relied on within-action opportunities, specifically moments when I narrated the outcomes of rolls, to introduce characters, information, and "open doors" for characters to walk through. In other words, there was no mechanism in these games for simply introducing such things on their own. If you did, i.e., had a guy walk through a door and get introduced, everyone would turtle up and go passive. So in order to bring someone into play with the tacit message that he or she wasn't a trap or a Trojan Horse, I had to do it during the action, showing the players that this new person was "really a friend" through narrations exactly like your arrow.

But before I go on, do you think I'm on the right track so far?

Well, I'm not sure, but probably. I think what you're saying is that narrating outside circumstances to embellish the outcome of a successful roll is de-protagonizing, unless the player asks for it through reroll mechanics. Is that right?

I didn't have a conscious goal to show Vaadish as an ally, but I did have goals of adding drama to the scene, and to bring more focus on the stakes, as I understood them.

I realized, even as I was originally framing the scene, that setting the scene would be the correct time to introduce adversity related to the stakes. So if something abominable or suspicious happened at the end of the scene, it probably has it's roots there: I failed to come up with adversity more clearly related to the stakes. Instead, I used the situation to introduce a character who is pretty close to the main conflict.

I'm glad to get schooled if I'm doing something taboo, especially if it will make the story and the game richer. I don't know anything about Champions, so my response may be anaemic.

Thanks again.
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stingray20166
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2009, 11:49:42 AM »

ooh, ohhh, I wanna try!

First of all, to John: COOL Setting.  I want to play in your game.  And how cool that you are getting your wife and daughter to play -- in some other thread maybe we could talk about how those relationships affect play (I also play with my wife and my daughter is old enough now to start playing).

To Ron:
Quote
Again, I think I made all of this much clearer in the new rules, honing the issue of the unknown into more usable form
Yes, yes you did.  Having just read my copy, I was able to answer each question in turn and indeed, find specific examples that address the question (the "seeeing if someone is ambushing me" is right out of the rewrite, I believe).

so "I see if someone is waiting in ambush" results in:
Success: Someone is  and you surprised him!
Failure: Someone is and he gets the drop on you.

Regarding Vaadish's arrow - IIRC, the new rules are much more explicit about not introducing new elements in this way.  It violates the "clear" part of free-and-clear --- you're springing a new element on your players with no possible way for them to react to it.  There already exists a way to bring new elements in through the re-rolls.

But to get him there would have been pretty easy -- during the free-and-clear stage just mention Vaadish is taking part.  Or simply frame the next scene as Vaadish showing up.  To me, reading the AP it feels like you kind of had two scenes here that kind of got smudged together instead of being explicitly framed -- is that accurate?

You could have had a conflict with him during the battle (During free-and-clear they see Vaadish standing at the edge of the clearing, nocking an arrow at the beast) or after the battle (Skah convinces Vaadish to accompany her or decides she wants no witnesses to the spider's death and kills him or whatever).   To me it feels like the players didn't really have a chance to affect his influence on the story. 

I'm not sure I'm being clear -- I just have this feeling not that you did something abominable but that you let something wonderful slip away. :-)  Let me try this -- here's how the Actual Play reads to me:
1. Oh noes a giant spider let's kill it
2. Oh noes Vaadish shows up

and instead it could have been:
1. Oh noes a giant spider let's OMFG Vaadish is here too WTF do we do about that?

You just turn the screws tighter on the Trollbabes -- and they REALLY start to shine.  :-)

(Hmmmm -- remember that separate family question I had?  Are you perhaps unconsciously trying to lead them through the story to make sure they have a good time?   I did that the first time I played with my wife -- holding back a bit.  The problem is that TBs always want to be at the center of the storm.)


The new rulebook is an absolute joy. (Kudos, Ron).  Given that you've played with the PDF and been successful at it, I'd say things are going to get a lot easier on the technical side once your holiday gift arrives. :-)

Please keep posting, John -- I want to see what happens next and you are asking GREAT questions.

Sincerely,
Nick
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John Paul
Member

Posts: 28


« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2009, 01:17:37 PM »

Thanks, stingray! There's a whole lot I'd like to respond to in your message, but I won't have time to write until later. I wanted to at least mention this bit:

Regarding Vaadish's arrow - IIRC, the new rules are much more explicit about not introducing new elements in this way.  It violates the "clear" part of free-and-clear --- you're springing a new element on your players with no possible way for them to react to it.

That is exactly what I missed, and I see that you're right. I mentioned before that I'm weak declaring official "fair & clear", I guess because I'm steeped in the culture of players-declare-actions/GM-narrates-results-and-events that Trollbabe blows to smithereens. I told my people that it's an official phase that needs to be explicitly settled before dice are rolled, and I even wrote it one a quick-reference index card for them, but sometimes I still forget. Having you spell it out is pretty helpful.

There already exists a way to bring new elements in through the re-rolls.

Speaking of re-roll items, I want to ask this since I thought about it when Ron asked me if Vaadish was brought in as a "sudden ally". Who narrates surprises brought in as reroll items? The way we've been playing, the player gets to narrate the stimulus side before the die roll, and the person who narrates the results of the surprising action or thing is based on Success or Failure of the associated reroll. This seems to be borne out in the PDF rules:

Quote from: Trollbabe
The player states that she seizes a (heretofore unmentioned) dagger from her belt and uses it to stab a crucial part of the (heretofore unmentioned) map on the table, to emphasize her point.

If I'm interpreting this right, only the players can spring new elements or surprises on the conflict through rerolls. Right? I guess the GM could narrate (heretofore unmentioned) complications if a reroll is successful, but unless the success is the result of a reroll, no new elements may come into play. Is that right? I feel like Tevye, when told that that the previous two statements can't both be right: "You are also right."

stingray, I hope to get back to you on your other comments later. Thanks again!
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John Paul
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Posts: 28


« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2009, 01:19:03 PM »

Oops, Nick-- I missed your name. Sorry about that.
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John Paul
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Posts: 28


« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2009, 09:47:47 PM »

First of all, to John: COOL Setting.  I want to play in your game.

Thanks, Nick-- that's very encouraging!

[Introducing Vaadish's like that] violates the "clear" part of free-and-clear...

But to get him there would have been pretty easy -- during the free-and-clear stage just mention Vaadish is taking part.  Or simply frame the next scene as Vaadish showing up. To me, reading the AP it feels like you kind of had two scenes here that kind of got smudged together instead of being explicitly framed -- is that accurate?

...To me it feels like the players didn't really have a chance to affect his influence on the story.

I think you're evaluation is spot-on, and your examples are useful. We had fun with this scene, but your points make it clear how much more tension could have been involved. Thanks!

1. Oh noes a giant spider let's OMFG Vaadish is here too WTF do we do about that?

You just turn the screws tighter on the Trollbabes -- and they REALLY start to shine.  :-)

Here's a question-- can Free & Clear cover things that the Trollbabes don't know but will find out in the conflict? Like that "There is someone in the shadows with an arrow knocked (and by the way it's Vaadish, but we can have introductions later)." Or do those details even matter? I would guess that they do, since players can introduce facts on a failure: "The person with an arrow knocked steps forward-- it's my old rival McGenghis McMandrill the Third! I hate that guy!" Ha, better make sure any facts that may be important are established  in the Free & Clear-- although now I'm kind of interested in this McMandrill character (note to self)...

And how cool that you are getting your wife and daughter to play... maybe we could talk about how those relationships affect play (I also play with my wife and my daughter is old enough now to start playing).

[...]

(Hmmmm -- remember that separate family question I had?  Are you perhaps unconsciously trying to lead them through the story to make sure they have a good time?   I did that the first time I played with my wife -- holding back a bit.  The problem is that TBs always want to be at the center of the storm.)

I hadn't thought of that, but you might be on to something about the unconscious urge to make sure the story is good and they have a good time. Not so much for my daughter, with whom I've been role-playing at least since she was four-- she gets it. But for my wife, role-playing is somewhat transgressive of her upbringing. When she asked me if I wanted a game for my birthday, I told her only a game that she'd be willing to play, since we seldom have time for games that require more than two people. I was a little shocked when she brought up D&D, and I was pleasantly surprised when she enjoyed it too. So far the Trollbabe game has been great fun, but I definitely feel a bit of pressure to make it a fun and meaningful experience.
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John Paul
Member

Posts: 28


« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2009, 08:04:42 PM »

We haven't gotten a chance to return to this story yet since my last post, but I shall post again next time we play. The book arrived Thursday, which was coincidentally my daughter's ninth birthday. Thank you again! Digesting the new rules has indeed addressed all of my questions pretty thoroughly, including several I hadn't asked. The "Getting Started" section is very helpful! The only thing I can't find is the Example map referred to on page 18.

Anyway, for this post, I do have one suggestion aimed toward your second post's questions. It is: take some time to share sources which aren't gaming, and probably a little older, which led to Trollbabe. Comics and fantasy novels with a strong mythic/fairy vein, as well as Celtic, Norse, and Baltic myths. A lot of that has strong female voices and characters too.

I'm pretty familiar with Norse mythology, but not Celtic or Baltic. Do you have specific stories, or characters you'd recommend as a starting point? What novels and comics do you recommend mining for the mythic/fairy vein? My daughter and I read a lot of fantasy literature together already, but we always enjoy discovering new stuff. Right now we are reading Watership Down, and our next book in the queue is Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke.

Happy Christmas to all!
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John Paul
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Posts: 28


« Reply #12 on: December 24, 2009, 06:53:43 AM »

Here's my preparation notes for the next time we play, following the process in the book. I've changed a few of my ideas about the background, and there are bound to be divergences in play. I'd love to hear any feedback or ideas!

Adventure 2: Trowehaven

Geography (Where?)

Trowehaven is an ancient burial ground south of Fallcrest riven by a smoking chasm. There is an uneasy scent in the air that faerie characters will notice, amid the din of hammers, bellows and churning fire deep below. The entrance to Trowehaven is a crypt below a ruined foundation. Trowehaven is surrounded by a rotten marshland of sunken graves silted in by the south-flowing river that marks its border with the wild Moon Hills.

Example map

People (Who?)

The Trowe are a wealthy clan of Dwarven barrow wights, living amid tombs filled with magnificent treasure. They have a small army of the damned toiling in the mines, whom they have begun to outfit for war. A warlock-king Vordaan has given their chief Rugor a nose-ring that grants him the ability to touch and wield iron weapons whenever he slakes its thirst for human blood.

The Trowe have an ancient feud with the Night Elves of the Moon Hills, but both peoples are bound by a treaty of armistice. The Elf council suspects that the Trowe may move to violate the treaty, and have sent their envoy Mooram-Ah to meet with the Trowe, to remind them of the treaty, and to reconnoitre. The council is neither ready to strike nor authorized to make military commitments for the amphictyony of aloof Elven houses that it serves.

Stakes (What?)

The stakes are represented by Claudiu, a young half-wight human from Fallcrest brought to Trowehaven by his mother, the Princess Adelina. The Trowe have a ritual that can cause Claudiu to pupate, petrifying him as he transforms into his faerie body under a hide of stone; or he could enter this stage by his own will just by inhaling the atmosphere of Trowehaven, and smearing his body with mineral-rich sediment from its marshes.

The fate of Claudiu is infused with larger consequences related to the fate of Fallcrest, Trowehaven, and the scattered Night Elves.

Driven people (Who specifically?)

  • Adelina wants to restore Claudiu to his Trowe heritage and inheritance-- she sees his upbringing by the humans of Fallcrest as savage.
  • Rugor is wary that Claudiu may bring dishonor upon the clan through his human frailty, and will let nothing stand in the way of his plans to raze Fallcrest.
  • Vaadish (provisionally, since he is a Relationship of Skah) wants to bring his family honor, and win favor from his father and mother.
  • Natasa and Henric raised Claudiu as their own son and want him returned home safely.
  • Amoniel, a Night Elf spy, may be looking in on Mooram-Ah (who is a Relationship of Silwen) on behalf of the council; if so, she might develop her own interest in Claudiu.
  • Claudiu has lived his life as a dutiful son to Henric and Natasa. He is a group thinker and hero worshipper, particularly enchanted by the town's nominal protector Lord Dorinell, whom he doesn't know is his father. Seeing the potentials of either the Trowe or Dorinell in himself could catalyze a radical change in his self-image. Pupating would give him a body immune to disease and the ravages of time.

Trowe names (female)
  • Puukah
  • Gaurgah
  • Tog-asha

Trowe names (male)
  • Kurt
  • Rourk
  • Padush

Fallcrest names (female)
  • Estera
  • Lorea
  • Marica

Fallcrest names (male)
  • Hadrian
  • Anghel
  • Bogdan

Night Elf names (female)
  • Mordollwen
  • Ithilwen
  • Erdolliel

Night Elf names (male)
  • Gudrun
  • Sigrid
  • Vidar
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: December 27, 2009, 06:49:07 PM »

Hello!

I have discovered that three kids under 2.5 years old makes for a very, very busy holiday season. I'll run down some of the specific answers and some of my more immediate responses here, and again, apologize for not giving your detailed posts the full attention they deserve.

1. There are a few first-printing errors in the book. I plan to post a PDF with all of them listed and corrected as soon as I can. The missing example map is probably the most obvious. It's intended to show that something quite sketchy is probably the best and most functional.

2. For Batlic mythology/legendry, I recommend the Finnish Kalevala and the Estonian Kalevide (Kalevipoeg). For Irish stuff, I'm not sure where to begin - the Wikipedia Irish myths page, I guess. For literature, you can't beat the Icelandic sagas, which for colorful wackiness, I guess Egil's Saga would be good, but for raw drama and knockout characters, Njal's Saga cannot be beaten. Do yourself a favor and do not read any kind of summary or commentary about the latter, just read it cold.

3. That is a very, very detailed preparation, perhaps to the edge of what is useful. My first advice is not to add a scintilla more, and to be ready to jettison at least some of it during play if necessary. My other advice is to revisit the Stakes statement. I do not see a binary set of conditions stated there. Stakes are more specific than "what happens to Claudiu." Does he live or die? Does he transmogrify via pupation or not? Does he get laid or not? Anything like that.

Best, Ron
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John Paul
Member

Posts: 28


« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2010, 11:28:52 AM »

I no longer have kids under 2.5 years old, but our holiday season was pretty busy too. Anyway, your feedback was pretty helpful-- thanks!

Thanks to your comment on the Stakes, I tightened up my notes a little: "Does Claudiu A) stay with the Trowe, or B) not?" A whole lot of other things may happen, but that's the issue that most of the NPCs seem to be bothered about.

I'm also thankful for your source recommendations. Last week I picked up another book of short stories from Norse mythology, and a book of Irish folklore and fairy stories compiled by W.B. Yeats. We've been reading stories about Odin the Wanderer and other adventures in the car during our travels; my daughter has enjoyed them a lot, and it's given us some inspiration for the setting of the story.

We just got back home last night, and I'm hoping we have a chance to play again today or tomorrow. I'll write back when I have something more.

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