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Further More Adventures in Improvised System

Started by lumpley, December 09, 2003, 09:19:14 PM

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Here's one that went really well!

Our characters are young, inexperienced, politically radical outsider mages we've never played before.  We brainstorm: they're Gypsies, they've turned their back on the Order of Hermes and they're looking for their roots.  My guy is Frantiska, who can turn into a spider (a poisonous field recluse, which is only barely relevant, but keep your eye out); Emily's guy is Ash, who can turn into a horse, and Meg's guy is Bloris the Green, who's a plants guy, not a shapeshifter.  Meg, Em and I have decided to spring on them: the dragon!  It's the dragon's first onstage appearance too.  The dragon is on a collision course with Em's main character Soraya, that's why it exists at all, so from one point of view this whole session is stakes-setting for Soraya.

Anyhow the dragon's deal is that it's corruptive.  Discord and disharmony surround it.  Its aura hits our guys before they encounter it itself, so we start with an argument.  You know how when you're roleplaying and you start with an argument, it's contextless, and thus vague?  We accuse one another of, well, you know what you did, you bastard!  And I'd forgive you if you hadn't acted, you know, that way!  It's okay for just a minute and then it threatens to turn lame, right?  You can't get interested when there's nothing actually there.

It's threatening to turn lame.  "Let's roll some dice," Emily says.

"Us versus the dragon?" I say.  "So it's like, does the dragon's aura overcome us?"

"Yeah."  She gets down the big tub o' dice.  "Everybody choose a die."  She's just making this up.

"I choose this brown d6," I say.  "Can I choose these two black d6s for the dragon?"

"Yeah, that's good," she says.

"I choose this green d6, of course," Meg says.  Cause Bloris the Green.

"And I choose this yellow d20," Emily says.

"Hey, how come you get a d20?" Meg says.

"Because I chose it," Emily says.

"No, that's cool!" I say.  "It says something about our relationships, about our dynamic.  Ash is the oldest of us, right?  She's our like ringleader?"

If she wasn't before, she sure is now.

We roll.  We look at the dice.  Let's say: dragon 4+6=10, me 3, Meg 2, Em 8.

"I rolled worst so I'll go first," Meg says. "The dragon beat me, so--"

"So what do you do, where like the dragon's influence overcomes you?  You're going to narrate it, right?" I say.

"Paging Doctor I already started and you interrupted me," Meg says.

"I just-- yeah.  Sorry."

Our guys each in turn scream at one another.  There's still no meat to the argument but now there's some structure, with Em's character Ash, who rolled best, trying to mediate between mine and Meg's.

We roll again.  The dragon beats us all again.  On top of the fighting - Em's guy turns her back and storms off, mine attacks Meg's, and I get to say some cool stuff about how sticky it is to fight Frantiska and how she keeps trying to bite Bloris - we have some dragony special effects.  Birds fleeing past us, the air turning heavy, that kind of stuff.

We roll again and this time Em rolls highest!  Then the dragon, then me and Meg.

"Wait - something's wrong," Em has Ash say.  "Bloris, Frantiska - something's wrong."

"She's trying to bite me!  Bite me!" Meg has Bloris say.

"Time for the dragon to show?" I say.

It does.  It comes crashing through the trees - but it's not like the hard crashing of solid trees, the trees all rot in the instant before it touches them, so they break and fall with that wet, dead, pulpy sound instead of hard cracks, and they smell like pus.  I forget who contributed that detail but it got good audience reaction, oh yeah.  Our characters flee.

We roll again.

"Em, if you want," I say, "you can add your die to someone else's.  You beat the dragon so now you can help one of us."  I'm just making this up too.

"Oh!  Good idea," Em says.  She adds her die to Meg's and says how Ash catches Bloris as he's running and drags him under an overhang.

Meg pantomimes Bloris squeezing his fists and eyes shut.  "We're a tree we're a tree we're a tree..."

The dragon buys it - because their roll won, right?  More good sick, corrupt dragon special effects as it circles them and then gallop-slithers after my guy.  She's running blind and screaming with hate.  We roll again.

"Okay, mine plus yours beats the dragon's," Em says.  "I want to use magic to warn you, to like snap you out of it."

"How about, how about, is there a Tarot card?  You can send me a vision of?"

"Temperance, maybe... Yeah!  So as you're running, you see a tree that looks like a figure, with one root on earth and one in water..."

So Frantiska snaps out of it and hides as a spider under the roots of the Temperance tree until the dragon's gone.

That's what happened.  After they got back together they decided that they'd better find some wizards to warn, so we expect to see them again.

There was some kind of setback in the middle, where the dice turned against us again, but I forget when and what, precisely.

Once we'd gotten the whole dice mechanism in place, it was obvious that our characters couldn't lose in the long run, not with Emily's d20.  Which was just fine, which was ideal in fact: none of us wanted our characters to lose.  We wanted to see how they survived, and what it showed us about them.  Knowing that the dragon wouldn't kill them didn't hurt the suspense at all.  I think that the "uncertain survival=suspense" chestnut is bull.

But no, our characters' lives were never at stake.  We didn't say so up front but if you'd asked us, we would've.  What was at stake was the balance of power between them.

"I've been thinking about the tone of our argument," Emily says later.  (Unspoken: in light of how our characters behaved under pressure from the dragon, via the dice.)  "I think it was about sex.  Jealousy."

"Mm-hm," Meg says.  "Me too."

Turns out that they have sex in two arrangements: Ash and Bloris, and Ash, Bloris and Frantiska.  Never Frantiska and just one of the others.  How long can that be okay, we wonder?


Paul Czege

Hey Vincent,

How recently was this game session?

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans


First half of November maybe.  Why?

edit: I just looked it up and it was October 11th.  Time flies.


Emily Care

It was after your first thread about our current campaign, Vincent. I know I had it in mind to use fortune, or some technique, as soon as I felt that our narrative was faltering, instead of letting it get annoying.

One of my favorite parts about the session was the brainstorming. We knew very close to nothing about these characters prior to that night. Our discussion lead us to flesh out their background and get them plunked right in the middle of juicy plot. From an obscure, almost never thought of trio of characters, they became transformed into pivotal players.

And just a comment about the dice mechanic: I see the dice we rolled as giving us more material to work with, rather than being used to determine resolution.  As you said Vincent, we knew they weren't going to bite it. What a waste that would have been.  But it made it easier for us to come up with a believable (to us, anyway) sequence of actions since we had the dice results to interpret.  The numbers we rolled on the dice gave us a structure, or put the players in some kind of relative ranking. We had to made sense of the differences, and we did so in ways that gave us ideas for the plot/character development etc. Make sense?

QuoteThere was some kind of setback in the middle, where the dice turned against us again, but I forget when and what, precisely.
Hm. I think that before Ash figured it out, we all rolled under the dragon again, and we narrated that the dragon had breathed out a cloud of asphyxiating gas into their midst. They started getting droopy and light headed, but didn't consciously notice it until I rolled above the dragon for Ash, and I had her warn the others and take defensive magical action etc.

Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games