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Author Topic: A Tale of Three Trollbabes [session 1]  (Read 2803 times)
rafial
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« on: May 11, 2003, 02:25:12 AM »

Have gotten a taste via a number of Clinton's Trollbabe one-shots at SGA monday gaming nights, a group of us have decided to take the plunge and try for a full blown Trollbabe campaign.  And, happily for him, Clinton gets to play, as I have agreed to serve as GM.  Since most of the other posts about Trollbabe I've seen on the Forge have cited single session play, I'm interested to see how this all turns out, and I hope others will be as well.

Our saga finds three Trollbabes loosed upon the world:

Yalla, a sexy magical trollbabe in search of her past
Kweli, an agile and carefree trollbabe, seeking to return home
Thanna, a grim and deadly trollbabe, running from her past

We had a short setup session, augmented by some emails, during which the players created and described their Trollbabes (except for Yalla, who comes with some history gained in the one-shots).  As part of this description, they picked their starting locations on the world, and I requested that name a few geographic features on the map related to their location, or where they were going.   All this fed into my GM prep.

GM prep in trollbabe definitely deserves some comment.  The most time was probably spent compiling lists of names for use during play, and that is a one time expense that will serve me for a number of sessions.  Then I wrote up a one to three sentence description of all the places on the map that the players had named plus a few I added, giving the general flavor of each one.

Finally, I wrote descriptions of the situation each Trollbabe would be walking into, naming all the important NPCs and describing their relationships.  This came out to about half a page in most cases, and was very easy to write -- once I had a suitable idea for the core stakes.  In all cases, setting the stakes was the most difficult task, sometime requiring simply letting things boil in the back of my brain for awhile until inspiration struck.

Actually, one of the best tools I found for clarifying the write ups was reminding myself of the scale.  For example I decided in one case that the situation would involve the feud between a group of trolls.  But then I realized we are were the personal scale, so the stakes had to involve individuals.  And *pow*, I had my answer, in this case, that one tribe had carried off a female from the other tribe.  Her fate represented the stakes.

In spite of this, I found myself going into the game feeling quite "naked."  My total prep felt inadequate compared to anything else I had ever run.  Yet, I knew from Clinton's experience that the best Trollbabe play comes from judiciously light preparation.  After all, if you haven't written it yet, you can't have fallen in love with it when your players think up something better.

Rather than trying to weave the stories together from the beginning, I deliberately strove for contrast.  An explicit decision I made was that one situation would involve only humans, one would involve only trolls, and one would involve conflict between trolls and humans.  The final situations were:

Yalla become involved in some political intrigue involving a young man who discovers he is heir to a lord who died fifteen years ago, and the young woman who is sent to kill him.  Unknown to either of them, they are brother and sister.

Kweli mediated/became a pawn in a feud between two tribes of trolls, over the fate of a young troll woman.

Thanna was presented with the the "troll in the menagerie" setup from the book, with the names changed to protect the innocent (actually to match up with the naming schemes I've chosen for the various lands).

Once play actually started, I found another nice contrast was set up, informed both by players original decisions about "where they wanted to be" and my choices about their environment deriving form that original decision.  Kweli's scenes tapped into sort of a "great outdoors/the forest primeval" vibe, while Thanna's story was set against a ancient and grotesque rather eastern European inspired town (very "City of Lost Children" in retrospect) and Yalla's had a vigorous and slightly swashbuckling timbre, set in a clean and open place, swept by refreshing sea breezes.  Switching moods each time we switched scene also kept the level of interest up, at least for me.

Commentary on how the system supported play:

Playing three widely separated stories was no problem at all.  I just kept the scenes circling around the table, and as soon as we hit a dramatic point, or somebody said "I have to think about that for a moment", *boom* we were on to the next.  By the time things cycled around, the player knew what to do next.  Very few lulls.  Nice.

One thing that tripped me early on, but I then came to appreciate, was how the system prevents the GM from slipping into railroading.  If you try the old dodge of setting the player up for some kind of failure, so you can use that to shove them into a situation you want, well TOO BAD, they failed, so they are narrating.  Story goes where they want.  If they succeed, you narrate, but you are constrained by the success of the stated goals.  Story goes where they want.  It only took me a few times to learn my lesson.

Shortcomings:

A Trollbabe's chances of success or failure never change, unless modifiers are brought into the mix, and modifiers are tightly controlled.  So it seems on the face of things that a trollbabe can defeat a single opponent or twenty just by how they state their goals.  Now after the game, I read the section on what to do when the trollbabe says "I kill the army."  And it made me a little nervous, because it seemed like authorizing a case where the GM's narration can deviate from the players stated goals.  Or more specifically, that the GM can perhaps say "you can't do that, at best you can do this" during free and clear.  Either way, it seemed to involve weaseling out of Trollbabe's carefully constructed scheme of who can say what when about what.

Also, we had one little rough patch during the climax.  We nicely brought all the story lines to their key moment at the same time for each player, and then set up a conflict for each one, in two cases action by action and in one case exchange by exchange, and alternated rolling and resolving series from each conflict one after the other.

Except *bam*, halfway through Kweli's scene, she's incapacitated.  And that brought things to a screeching halt for a moment as a I realized that I was now in a position where I had to present the consequences with no further input from the trollbabe.  *ouch*.  Fortunately, Kweli is played by Clinton, the smoothest tongued devil this side of the Cascades, and he talked his way into a final action and a resolution that I was happy to counter sign, but it still felt awkward.

In general, it can be tough to keep a Trollbabe's story movie once she becomes injured, because then it quickly becomes a slippery slope to incapacitation.  All the rerolls in the world no longer help because you keep getting whacked everytime you blow a roll, even inside a series.  If the action is moving fast, it can be real tough to think up justifications for recoveries...

General observation:

Again, two action types on a roll can lay a character out right quick if things go south.  Lets be safe kids and *think* before we start combining action types...

Ongoing:

Well, at this point, we are still just another one shot, but I did have each player discuss where they were going next, whether they wanted to change their number, and did they want to change the scale (they decided not to).  So next week, we'll find out what continuity brings to Trollbabe.  Stay tuned.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2003, 07:35:37 AM »

Quote from: rafial

In general, it can be tough to keep a Trollbabe's story movie once she becomes injured, because then it quickly becomes a slippery slope to incapacitation.  All the rerolls in the world no longer help because you keep getting whacked everytime you blow a roll, even inside a series.  If the action is moving fast, it can be real tough to think up justifications for recoveries...


That's been my only problem with Trollbabe, as well - once you're injured, you're pretty much screwed. One alternative idea I'd thought of is always starting a Series at the top box, but injured characters go to the third box automatically on a re-roll.

Overall, I really enjoyed the game, even with Kweli's very common failures. In her story, she really didn't broker any peace between the two troll tribes. In the end, she was able to show she was right: she'd told the tribes that if they didn't quit fighting that the humans would prey on their weakness, and she proved it, but just barely. It seems kind of like a bad thing - she barely influenced the situation. I think it worked really well, though: her idea that trolls are big, inflexible, and not the brightest was reinforced; and her inability to affect change might just hone her story to a sharper point. (Right now, it's just that she's "traveling home," and we haven't set where that is.)
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
John Harper
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« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2003, 12:57:38 AM »

In contrast to Kweli, my trollbabe Thana succeeded at almost all of her rolls. And a weird thing happened because of this: The GM painted the picture of who the character was in action. I had very definite ideas going in to the session about how Thana fought and moved... ideas I had to let go of when I succeeded again and again. The GM described my character in action instead of me. And his descriptions were very cool, but it still left me feeling a little disconnected from Thana. When she's doing her best, I have less say in exactly what she does. It's only when she fails that I get to grab the reins and narrate.

I think perhaps this gets back to the "fortune in the middle" issue. How much is said before the dice hit the table? I clearly need to go back to the trollbabe text and try to get a handle on where the rules allow the player to inject his or her "style" during a successful series.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2003, 08:28:28 AM »

Quote
I clearly need to go back to the trollbabe text and try to get a handle on where the rules allow the player to inject his or her "style" during a successful series.


John,

I think it's in three places: the stated intention, the three descriptors, and the interplay between GM and player.

Even when you win, you can suggest things to the GM, and vice versa. With so many failed rolls, I felt odd narrating everything - I didn't want to trip up Wilhelm. So, often I asked - "hey, if this is ok, Kweli does....". In the same way, the few times I succeeded, I said, "How about if...?"

Even when "who narrates" is set, interaction can be key to get whoever's narrating to say something everyone's happy with.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2003, 08:37:58 AM »

Hello,

Most injury and incapacitation are not quite as limiting as I think some people are seeing it. Check out Trollbabe Questions & Comments if you haven't seen it.

I also think that GM-compensatory "mustn't hose player-character" instincts are kicking in, when perhaps they shouldn't. Nothing's wrong with a story ending with a trollbabe defeated, humiliated, battered, or otherwise come to grief. Nothing about this game suggests that "trollbabe triumphant" is any kind of default ending or even a desirable goal.

Finally, the rules text is pretty explicit that narration is not a closed monologue. I believe the phrasing involves how "where the buck stops" is not the same thing as "carries on at length without input from others."

Best,
Ron
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rafial
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« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2003, 08:52:14 AM »

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon

I think it's in three places: the stated intention, the three descriptors, and the interplay between GM and player ... Even when you win, you can suggest things to the GM, and vice versa.


Thanks Clinton, I think this is a key point.  It's not even the player or the GM who can get in on the act of suggesting what happens, even the other players can chime in if they have good ideas.  The die roll only tells you who has the final sign off on what *really* happens.  If you have cool ideas, shout them out.

And next time we play, I'd like to get more formal about the "free and clear" phase, to make sure everybody understands what is being done before the dice hit the table.  We kept grabbing the dice too soon when conflicts came up  I still think it is hilarious that when the very first conflict was announced, I reflexively grabbed a die and started to roll it. Drop the 10-sider and step away from locomotive!

Quote
With so many failed rolls, I felt odd narrating everything - I didn't want to trip up Wilhelm.


Aha!  Just as the GM must unlearn some habits (i.e. railroading), the players must also.  If you have a strong idea about what you want to have happen, say it!  It's then my responsibility to incorporate that.

An example of where that actually happened in this session was right at the beginning when you asked for a scene in a human settlement and a social conflict to convince them to give you a ride down river.  I was bit invested in the idea of a "pure troll" adventure for you, but as a Trollbabe GM, I realized it was my responsibility to incorporate the elements you wanted in your story.  And as it turns out, I think the incorporation of the humans made the story even better.
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Alan
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« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2003, 12:16:52 PM »

Hi,

I've got a few thoughts.  

First, when the GM wants to give the player a challenge, he can always declare a conflict in the Trollbabe's lowest area.  

Second, failure is a great opportunity to turn up the music.   I'm not as concerned about success and failure as I am with intensifying conflict and tension, and giving my character motive for further action.  One or twice, I've chosen a conflict with Yalla's lowest trait just in hopes of failing.

Third - I like the way the system mediates story development by both GM and player.  Here's an example of a negotiation, which I did not realize was occuring until after the fact:

Yalla lost an exchange with a pirate (who thinks she owes a gambling debt) and I narrated him taking her jewelled belt.  I would have been happy if he escaped with the belt - because it would have given me a motive to go looking for him.   However, Wil chose to have an NPC recover the belt moments later.  

In retrospect, I understand why Wil returned the belt - he planned to use it as a hook later.  An NPC recognized it and recruited Yalla into an NPC coflict that interested me more than just hunting a thief.
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- Alan

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Alan
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« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2003, 12:22:04 PM »

A different thread:

In our last session we interpreted the multiple trait rules (eg. Fighting and Magic, Magic and Social, etc.), as saying that nothing to lose if the characer has an injury.  Whether the player rolls one or two areas, the cost of failure is still just incapacitation.

It might be interesting to start specifying the nature of a wound.  For example an Injury in a social conflict might be personal crisis, or it might be distrust of the group the Trollbabe was interacting with.  In the later case, the Injury might only apply to conflicts involving the suspicious group - and recovery might only happen when her relationship with them is soothed.

Likewise, should a physical injury always limit the starting box of any other kind of conflict?  I think the answer from Ron's rules will support a positive answer.

However, the whole idea of different catagories of wounds triggers some thoughts for my own current project.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
rafial
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« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2003, 09:01:52 AM »

Quote from: Alan
In retrospect, I understand why Wil returned the belt - he planned to use it as a hook later.  An NPC recognized it and recruited Yalla into an NPC coflict that interested me more than just hunting a thief.


Fascinating.  I think you are absolutely right in calling it a negotiation, although I didn't realize it until you explicitly mentioned it here.  At the time it never even occurred to me that the belt might leave the scene, as my intent was simply to establish Rachel as a dangerous character.  I wasn't even thinking about the belt as future plot hook at that point.

However I absolutely agree with your characterization of the situation.  You offered the possibility of the belt's loss as a gambit to allow me to move the story in one direction, I declined the gambit (for whatever reason) and moved it in another.

Closely related to that scene, and I think another example of the Trollbabe system firing on all cylinders, was when you chose to take one of the pissed off sailors as an enemy.  The pirate attack on the Nazeby was pre-planned bang, but by, as the rules say, "embracing a just invented NPC as your favorite, long standing, crux villian", it made perfect sense for Rowland to be "the man on the inside" for the brigands.
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