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Author Topic: [The Whispering Vault] Running the game for the first time  (Read 1341 times)
legion329
Member

Posts: 9


« on: April 18, 2010, 07:51:08 PM »

Hi all,

I'm not sure if this is the right forum for this, so apologies in advance if this thread is misplaced.

I'm going to run a one-shot of The Whispering Vault for five or six friends I haven't seen in some time (they used to be my primary gaming group nearly a decade ago). I've been reading the core book and Dangerous Prey for the past few days, and I think I'm going to set the group up against the Locust (Dangerous Prey pp 9).

My idea is that the game will be set in southern Sweden around the 6th century (the Stalkers in this particular scenario will be responding to a Call from a Gothic Shaman hoping to end a famine in their lands). I'm very familiar with Scandinavian mythology and figured it would be an interesting local with plenty of opportunity for symbolism and occult touches.

My concerns (having never run the game before) are twofold:

1) Achieving an appropriate level of detail for the players and making sure everyone gets a chance to examine their characters. By this I mean glossing over some things (using pregenerated characters for a start) and maybe focusing on what makes the Vault unique (the Call, the Navigator, investigation, and subduing the Unbidden).

2) Providing the appropriate level of challenge. Should I leave the Locust as written? Should I buff the PC Stalkers, or will a Circle of 6 be able to handle the Locust (not too hard, not too easy).

Really it comes down to juggling screen time and challenge. It will be tricky with six players, but I really can't pare the group down any further (originally we were going to try Dogs in the Vineyard with EIGHT people, may the King of Life help us).

Having given all this context, my request is simple: HELP! The Whispering Vault is truly a gem of a game, but the only "active" community I could find is what I've seen posted here on the Forge (mostly by Ron Edwards, whose posts about pretty much everything I have appreciated mightily). What say ye of the Forge?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2010, 09:59:53 AM »

Hello! Prep-for-play threads are legitimate topics for this forum as long as a real game with real people is being prepared, as opposed to speculative what-ifs.

As you mentioned, I'm a big booster for The Whispering Vault, and I think it's generally misunderstood and under-appreciated. So it's cool to see people considering it ... but unfortunately, I am not encouraged by the context of play you're describing. A single session, with former gaming friends, and what's more, a lot of them ... you see, I did this back in 1992, with Champions, a game that was very influential on The Whispering Vault's later design. I wrote about it a little bit in Your worst campaign ever?. To follow up on my comments there, one of our biggest problems in that game (out of many) was that we all had different ideas about what was fun about our old game, and regardless of the differences, none of us had much commitment to the new game in and of itself. And I'm not talking about game system, just the basics of characters and setting.

So I'm concerned that you may be facing some of the same issues. I could be very wrong, and you know yourself and these people, whereas I do not. I do think it might be useful to consider what you think the Social Contract is, in terms of the purposes of play. Is learning a new game part of it, i.e., do you think they really want to learn a new game, at all? Is playing this game something that you are showcasing for them, and if so, why? Are you promising them a good time which you are expected to deliver to them, in a totally transitive fashion? For my part, I didn't consider these issues, and now I really wish we had simply played cards or something similar during that summer.

All right, with that aside, I think you've chosen a great setting and time-period for the Hunt. I will now provide a bunch of advice which is of course entirely at your option to consider.

I suggest prepping about three human NPCs, and for the first run, keeping them and their relationships simple. Use the generic human rules for their numbers, rather than being cute and complex. Avoid complicated strife among them. Avoid any human magic, and make the shaman's role social, symbolic, and psychological rather than magical. Be sure to include the Innocent. Do your best not to make the humans annoying, stupid, or antagonistic. (That can wait for later sessions, once you get a practical understanding of the rhythm and thematic openness of a Hunt.) I offer all this advice in order to focus the session specifically on the Stalkers and the Hunt, but with enough foundation in human problems to be relevant, and to offer opportunities to tie into the characters' Keys of Humanity.

Quote
1) Achieving an appropriate level of detail for the players and making sure everyone gets a chance to examine their characters. By this I mean glossing over some things (using pregenerated characters for a start) and maybe focusing on what makes the Vault unique (the Call, the Navigator, investigation, and subduing the Unbidden).

I think providing pre-generated characters may cause a lot of trouble, for this game in particular. The Whispering Vault is a character-centric, psychological game, much more about the Stalkers' individual crisis of identity than about anything else. Even for a single-Hunt story, I recommend that the players make the characters. Ideally, they should take time to do it, including a delay between preparing characters and playing them. In fact, as I recall, it was quite beneficial to leave some of the later details of character creation for the second step, for example, exactly which Servitors each one uses. Oh! And also, this is one of the few games for which I recommend that players write a brief (200 word) origin story for their characters.

Quote
2) Providing the appropriate level of challenge. Should I leave the Locust as written? Should I buff the PC Stalkers, or will a Circle of 6 be able to handle the Locust (not too hard, not too easy).
This is a very interesting concern! What are your criteria for "appropriate?" That is a much subtler question than it may seem, and my following points are intended to poke at the deeper level rather than be addressed simply and superficially. That's why they may seem contradictory or partly so.

1. Six Stalkers is damned tough. Given experienced and emotionally-committed players, even beginning Stalkers would be nigh-unstoppable in a team this size, at least in a straight-up fight. But as I'm implying already, that presupposes players who understand how to work as a team and support one another during combat. If everyone just lines up and takes shots at a foe, they are collectively vastly less effective.

2. Stalkers are at their best when they've had the shit beaten out of them. For one thing, it's dramatic - damage in this game means meat has been torn or fried off of bone. For another, in mechanics terms, play becomes less about the exact skill values and more about earning and spending Karma Points. And in line with this, characters getting killed is part of the Stalker situation. The system probably won't result in an early kill for a player-character, and later play may well bring in the valid question of not whether my character will die, but what their death might accomplish.

3. Don't concern yourself with whether they will be able to beat it. The Whispering Vault should not be played with the GM setting up a straw foe, in the classic "tough enough to last a while but it can and will be beaten" dungeon encounter. Failure should be an option, or victory which relies upon the ultimate price for one or more characters.

Best, Ron
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legion329
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2010, 08:57:25 PM »

Wow, thanks so much for the in-depth reply!

I've reconsidered running this game for the group in its present configuration. I think I'll revamp my ideas and prepare something for four players some other time. They've all expressed varying levels of interest for the game, so I do want to share it with them some time, but for now I'll figure something else out.

I've been thinking about running AGON as well (this thread may be derailing into illegitimate territory; if so feel free to close it) -- do you think AGON would be good for six players?

The Social Contract I'm thinking of is along the lines of "let's have fun and learn new things about each other". The Whispering Vault screamed out at me for this (as did Dogs in the Vineyard, but six Dogs? Yeesh), but I want a system that can handle the Contract I'm thinking with six people. It's sort of a reunion game in memory of a friend that recently died, so the number of players is rather rigid and the idea is to get together and play like we used to back in high school (sort of like that movie "The Big Chill" but with RPGs!).

So to recap, at some point I will be running the Whispering Vault scenario I mentioned, but it won't be a one-shot, there won't be pre-generated characters, and I'll ideally have only 3-4 members.

The new (open) question I have is regarding AGON. Can it handle six players? I've heard that character generation is very rapid, so pregens won't be required (I honestly hate pregens). I'm looking for 3-5 hours of game with six people I know quite well. I want to tell an interesting story and showcase a neat game (they tend to ignore anything 'indie', sadly), while at the same time learning something cool about my buddies (which is the main thing I look for in a game). What will they do to seek Glory? To what ends will they go? How will the cooperate and at the same time compete? Is it more important to be the best or more important to be helpful? What about in a culture where being the best is seen as being more important than being altruistic and helpful?

That sort of thing.
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