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Author Topic: The West Wind playtest  (Read 5766 times)

Posts: 466

« on: February 02, 2003, 06:42:36 AM »


I don't know how many people have checked out my game The West Wind, but I ran a brief session of it last night with a few friends.  For those not familiar, the rules can be found here: http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~jasperm/WW_2.htm.  Basically, it's a fantasy game focusing on the travel and experiences of "adventuring," featuring shared player narration and active development of the world during play via that.  Now, the playtest....

Unfortunately, it was already well into the evening when we began, sine we had first wanted to try out Nutz n' Bolts (it was fun).  So I think everyone, including myself, was becoming tired.  At any rate, after explaining the rules a bit to those who hadn't read them, I asked for any ideas for Goals (i.e. the quest goal).  We got some involving searching for a special object, etc. but no one seemed to have anything, so I came up with the seed of one: a plague has hit the land but there's a sorceress on top of an ice mountain, and they're searching her out.  Why though?  I let them decide that, and one of them came up with some more background.  Not too bad.  Character generation was a little slow at first, but once one person decided to be an intelligent cow, it established a definite mood and everyone else got into it more easily.  We had:

A giant battle-cow of intelligence but limited speaking ability.  Her Values were: to stop men from eating cows, and to uphold the virtues of her religion.  (I say "her" mostly because we ended up doing so, but technically it kept its gender hidden thanks to its huge suit of armor).  Attributes: Big & Strong 4, Attractive for a Cow 2 (as in an androgenous kind of beauty --  I told you this player set the mood), Fighting w/ Horns 3, Faith 2, Manipulating things w/ Tail 2 (she has no hands...I didn't think this needed to be an attribute, but it depended on how she wanted to use it).  The cow was sent to follow up on this sorceress lead because she's tough, but the real important people are otherwise busy.

Orrick, a washed-up, burned-out (in both senses) lute-playing bard who once had it big: fame, women, a place in the royal court.  But since then, he's taken to drink, his voice isn't what it once was, and his presence in town sort of elicits the same response old rockers get.  His only Value was to re-acquire his famous position...he had a hard time thinking of any others.  Atributes were: limited fame 3, singing 2, travelling 2, drinking 3, charimsatic with the ladies 2, fast-moving 3.   He learned about the cow's quest and is following it, hoping the quest will turn out to be a success so that he can write about it and regain his career.

An unnamed stable-man (not stable boy).  His master was killed by the plague, and out of loyalty, and a loss of purpose, he set out to help find a cure.  He's sort of a mama's boy though, and has never been out before.  His Values are loyalty to the memory of his master, and the need to become (properly) adult.  Attributes: caring for animals 3, slovenly 2, relating to the common man 1, hard labour 4, riding 1, using a pitchfork (in any and all situations) 3, thick-headed (literally) 2.

They had a hard time getting away from more traditional skills/non-weapon proficiencies, but it wasn't a big deal.  Values were tougher...I'm not sure if a clearer or more limited definition would have helped them or what.  

Well, I won't go through the details of everything that happened, but essentially they had one actual encounter, and then it was getting pretty late so we broke up.  I set the initial scene, but without much too it.  I think they liked the abstract rolling for traveling and that sort of thing.  The major hurtle to play was that they found it hard to start narrating things beyond the immediate scope of their own characters...they were cautious about changing anything, or perhaps about moving things along too quickly.  I tried to goad them on, and they got the *idea*, but still couldn't quite get into the swing of it.  

Orrick's character ended up doignthe most, even though his player had initially feared being useless because he didn't have any combat abilities.  I was glad to prove him wrong.  He was the only one to really be able to try communicating with a strange bird-creature they encoutnered, and managed to save it from a pack of warg-riding men chasing it.  He really go into narrating his own successes, but was hesitant to narrate a real outcome: he would describe how what he'd wanted to do succeeded...but that's where his imagined realm of influence ended I think.  

Things did get better though, for while they still had a hard time concluding conflicts, they began to think up some on their own.  The stable-man's player very cleverly just threw out the tiniest seed of a hook, narrating a glint of some kind when they were in a swamp.  Was it in the sky, in the distance, in the water?  He didn't say.  So I offered the chance for someone else to pick up the narration without spending a point, and Orrick's player did, concluding that it was a man in armor laying face down in the mud.  A few moments later he spent another point to describe how he had known the man.  This was fun background stuff, but didn't really do much, so I had to introduce a few more details that would pull them along more.  

The session concluded with them all trying to fight/escape a bog monster with lots of tentacles.  The cow got stuck in the mud, Orrick successfully got away, and the stableman pierced it in the eye, but rather than narrate its defeat, sort of lamely said "So it's hurt, but uh...still alive."  It's that same hurdle.  So, they ran away, and that was it.

Mechanistic issues: I never considered what happens when a tie is rolled.  We basically narrated them as stalemates or mixed results, which worked out alright.  A more major issue was what to do when everyone wanted to act, but doing different things, at the same time, like in that last fight in the swamp.  A few times I ran it as a combined resolution, and that may ultimately be best.  I tried out doing them all separately, but meshing the end-narration was tough. I ended up letting each person narrate a part of it, in order of most successes.  

Narration points got used a few times, but and Hero Points were once.  No big deal -- worked fine.  The interchange between them, where NPs become HPs got invoked once at the very end, so I don't really know how that will ultimately turn out.  

The players had a hard time with the freedom I think.  Choosing attributes without a pre-determined list was a challenge, as I said, but mostly they didn't want to really change anything in the world, but rather focused on their character's actions and waited for me to say what really happened next.  I'm thinking that this was a result of the group -- they just aren't used to this yet -- but it could also be that the rules are indeed too loose.   This group tried InSPectres with me once before, and enjoyed it, even though they had similar problems.

Thoughts?  Has anyone been able to come up with a good way to get pplayers in the right (creative and free-wheeling) frame of mind for this?

Jasper McChesney
Primeval Games Press
Andrew Martin

Posts: 785

« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2003, 01:27:16 PM »

Quote from: Jasper
Thoughts?  Has anyone been able to come up with a good way to get players in the right (creative and free-wheeling) frame of mind for this?

So far, I've found the best way is to reward players with increased in-game power for getting their characters into "interesting" (as in the Chinese sense) situations. As an example, I and a fellow GM use my Token system, which works like this:

There's a large pool of tokens in the center of the table.

A player can suggest a complication for their (and other) character's life, like, "We get attacked by a bunch of bandits!" Those players whose characters are adversely affected by this complication, each get a token from the central pool.

A player can spend a token (place it back in the central pool) to get complete success in an action, or to avoid an opponent's success (eg criticals success on the part of an opponent).

Fang has a similar method, called "gimmies", IIRC.

Andrew Martin
Tony Irwin

Posts: 333

« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2003, 06:52:28 AM »

Quote from: Jasper
Thoughts?  Has anyone been able to come up with a good way to get players in the right (creative and free-wheeling) frame of mind for this?

Maybe you could think about what reason the game offers for the players to start narrating? The reason you and I are involved in these kind of RPGs is that we simply feel "Its fun to narrate", but that might not be enough for the people who will play your game - usually that's the reason people become GM's.

My experience of playing Donjon is that we started using our narration rights the minute our gm started threatening our PCs. When we were surrounded by nasties and there was no way out it was real easy to start coming up with cool narration to keep our characters alive.

Trollbabe is kind of the same, its when you're on the losing side in a conflict you can suddenly narrate an ally or item coming into the story and (hopefully) helping you to turn the tables. Again its easy to come up with ideas in order to stop your character getting shafted.

Another point with both Trollbabe and Donjon is that there are restrictions on the kind of material you can narrate into the story. In trollbabe its got to be an ally, or an item, or so on, in Donjon its got to connect somehow with your character's abilities. The players still get enormous power to change the story in whatever direction they want, but it just feels a lot easier when I've played these games, because the restrictions actually provide you a starting point for your imagination. Handing someone a blank slate can and saying "What do you want to happen next?" can just seem too "big". If they were comfortable with those kind of unfocused narration powers then they'd probably be GMing themselves. Maybe you could tie the Narration Points into the characters' attributes in some way? Players can still use them to impact and change the whole world outside their characters, but focusing them like that might make it more instinctive for how and when to use them.

Universalis has lots of this style of play - no GM and all the players have equal narration powers. One of the motives for getting involved in the story in Universalis is that there's simply nothing else to do - there's no GM to keep things moving if you're dry on ideas. In your game if the Narration points let the players do what the gm is already doing then they have no real motivation to spend their points unless they've got some really strong ideas about where they want the story to go. What you might consider is limiting the GM's role so that players have a reason to use their Points to fill in the gaps. Just for example you could decide that the GM will talk for NPCs, and narrate the actions for NPCs, and play out the general motivations for NPC... but the only NPCs in the game will be the ones that players spend narration points to create. Its just an example but you can see how that would suddenly force players to really get involved instead of being nervous about stepping on your toes. Before you know it they'd be creating all kinds of allies and villains for you to play - because they know the GM won't be doing it for them.

Anyway I loved your description of play - especially where the guy narrated the body in the mud and suddenly everyone started growing ideas from that. Sounds like a fun session, look forward to seeing more.

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