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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Spacecowboy on October 09, 2005, 11:53:23 AM

Title: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Spacecowboy on October 09, 2005, 11:53:23 AM
Howdy all, I'm Woody
            This is my first time posting on the forge, but from what I have seen, this is a cool and helpful forum.

      The Question:  A little while ago I played one of the most fun games I've played with my group ever. Since then every single game we have played has been lack-luster at best. I am looking for feedback on how the players could help replicate the experience.

        The system: we used was Cross Roads of Eternity. It is small in popularity and the only reason I have heard of it is because I play with the creators. The PC's in our group were: Me, a vampire Gun merchant, Gabe a generic troll/orc fighter, April a knife throwing goblin, Jake a gun slinging/mechanic elf, and Nick a human air ship captain.

      A brief history:. We were a police unit on a lawless continent. In tracking down an evil guy, everyone excluding nick became passengers on a boat.In addition to the four PC's a little boy and his grandpa was with us, as well as the Sargent of our unit. That is all you need to know.
                                                     The Game       
                 After a long and boring voyage we arrived to a nondescript town. Our first order of business was to get rooms at the local inn. Upon entrance we were shocked to see our old squad mate Nick the pirate captain. I and him exchanged harsh words, followed by with a swift punch to the mouth, and then a hand shake. He dragged me away from the group and told me he had a message for me. He gave me a ring that was from my vampire lord (As a vampire I was bound to do the bidding of the one that made me such). The ring contained instructions to kidnap the young boy that had traveled with on the boat.
         After devising a simple smash and grab plan, we were going to grab the kid and take an air ship to the rendezvous point (the ring failed to mention where that was, but Nick knew). The moment we drew our guns an eaves dropping troll/orc stopped us. Gabe told the rest us the group our plans. Nick being a pirate was able to talk himself out of trouble. I got away too, but had to divulge my motives ie. my vampire lord told me to do it.
        We were then taken to the magistrates office and a meeting was held about what was to be done with me and the kid. After much debate I was let free and the kid was under the protection of the magistrate. I went back to the inn to have a drink and think of a new plan to capture the kid.
      (Now would be a good time to tell you about My coat. As a gun merchant, my merchandise was heavy, expensive, and dangerous. I had a custom Item that allowed me to travel back and forth from my store which was miles away. It was a coat, I could reach into my breast pocket and pull out a long rifle. Now keep in mind that I as well as anyone else could go through the coat and as a merchant I had more money than the rest of the party combined.)
        After I had thought up another plan to get the kid, I went to go get Nick. However when I told Nick my plan he said that he had no interest in capturing the kid. That didn't bother me but I did need to know where I was to take the kid. So I asked him where I was supposed to go. He told me that he had no qualms with the kid and he would not tell me where the meeting place was. Enraged I told the barkeep to hold on to my coat, and I climbed through it to my gun shop.
         I soon realized that Nick had a letter of instruction from my vampire lord. If I had that then I could figure out where to take the damn kid. My coat was positioned so I could see Nick and I was waste level to the keep. I wrote a note to the barkeep telling him to poison Nick. I slipped the note and a dose of cyanide in to the Keeps pocket. Peering from my coat I watched the keep read a note and then offer to get Nick some food. Nick accepted the food and asked about the note the keep had read. He told Nick it was just his Inn's Invoice. When Nicks food arrived he inspected it then stealthy through it into the air. As luck would have it it landed on a patrons plate. The man quickly ate the food, and passed out.
      Furious that my plan was botched. I leaped from my coat and yelled at the barkeep for messing up my plans, and poisoning the wrong guy. The keep looked shocked and said he had no idea what I was talking about. I told him the note he read had instructions and poison, and that I saw him read it. He pulled out the note he read earlier and showed us that it was indeed an invoice. Then he checked his pockets and found my unopened note. The man that passed out from eating Nicks food only passed out because he over ate, like he does every night.
        I drew my gun and told nick to give me the letter. The barkeep drew a gun as well but no one paid him any attention. nick said no so I shot him. The barkeep shot me but I didn't care. Nick ran outside and I followed him. As I ran through the door he blind sided me with a punch.
Him and I exchanged blows for bullets. I gained the upper hand, but local guards told us to stop. So when I fired a shot after their warnings they brought me down in a hail of gun fire.
       Nick told the guards that I went crazy and attacked him. He also said that I was a vampire and would arise from death. Nick then told them that my coat was very dangerous, and with some smooth words and allot of money I ended up in jail, and Nick ended up with the coat.
        April, the knife throwing goblin, was forced into our group to pay of her debt as a criminal. So in towns she often searched for old friends in jail. So when searching this jail she found me. I was just waking from death but I was able to speak to her. I told her my story including how Nick has my coat.   
         April felt no need to break me out of jail, but she did want to have a word with Nick. She sneaked into Nicks room. While searching for my coat Nick caught her. They exchanged words, and at the end Nick agreed to split my money with her, so long as she didn't tell the Sargent about the plot. There plan was simple, They were going to use my coat at night to go to my shop and steal all of my money, and pawn all of my merchandise.
           In jail I wrote a note to Jake to visit me in jail. When he came I told him my side of the story and that Nick had my jacket. Jake put 2 and 2 together and knew that Nick was planning to rob me. Normally Jake would have said tough luck, but he owned a small portion of my business that he ran as a bar. Jake then enlisted the help of Gabe and went to the Inn where Nick was staying.
           (Like me Jake had an Item that was special. It was an engine that he strapped to his back. When he activated it, it either: Made him invisible, Made him intangible, or made him both. It was aptly named the "Ghost Engine")
          When Jake and Gabe got to the inn, Gabe guarded the second floor and made sure nick didn't escape. Jake activated his Ghost engine, he became intangible. Luckily it was starting to become late in the night so most patrons were asleep. Jake planted himself in a wall connecting to Nicks room. Jake saw and heard Nick and Aprils plan.
       He also saw that their door was locked, so  he hatched a brilliant plan. He went into Nick's neighbor's room and deactivated the ghost engine. He punched the sleeping man in the face and then ran to Nicks door. Jake was able to then hide in the shadows as he watched the sleeping man bang on nicks door and accuse nick of punching him in the face.
      The sleeping man went to the bar keep and said Nick punched him in the face. The barkeep remembered Nick's fight with me and marched to Nick's room with gun in hand. He Unlocked the door and started waving his gun around. At that moment Jake and Gabe ran into the room and grabbed Nick and April. They tied them up and sent for the Sargent to come.
        When the Sargent arrived there was a long winded conversation about what was to be done with the coat, and now Nick and April. Nick was interrogated about the coat's location but he wouldn't tell them. They eventually gave him a truth serum which he held off as long as he could.
         I was stuck in jail but as a vampire in CROE if I don't drink blood I go into a frenzy. They become insanely strong but lose most eloquent thinking abilities. So I sat in jail I tried to force myself into a blood lust.
          The truth serum was starting to win over nick. The second he said that he would tell where the coat was, an explosion went off. Shortly there after a bloodied guard ran into the room and said that I had escaped.

      Conclusion:    That is where we ended the game. after that we had a break for about a month and ever since no one has gotten into the game.
           I would also like to hear opinions on ending games with Cliff hangers. In my experience I have found them to leave players feeling a sense of disappointment and by the time you start playing the game again, all excitement has left you and it is a huge let down.
          Thanks for reading this and hopefully thanks for the feed back, I apologize for all errors and typos.   

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Travis Brown on October 10, 2005, 10:28:11 AM
Cliff hangers? hmmm I have given that one some thought as well, cliff hangers is typically something Jake had done and I picked up on because I enjoyed them. How many RPG's have you played in the past? because generally speaking all the players I have played games with (GM'd by others) enjoy a good high point cut off sometimes. Specific game sessions almost cry out for it, especially if you want to keep the momentum going. If we had ended on a point of completion say right after April and Nick were captured, that would seem like a let down, at least with Burwick going mad and busting loose, there is an obvious objective for next game, and gives people and chance to think out possible actions.... I dunno maybe ask the others in our group what they think about cliff hangers because I quite enjoy them. Sure it leaves a feeling if disappointment, but only because I want more. They do need to be offset with some sessions which have clear "mission complete" markers to sort of reward players as you go, but cliff hangers are a nice device
I think part of the problem was the month long break and the following weeks of on again off again sessions, and the fact that my laptop crashed and I lost my Calimdar notes for games after that. The game session however that you reported on was entirely improvised, it happened between two plotted out events and YOU guys made it how it was through character relationships and game play experiences with one another, you plotted and planned, and dealt with the other PC's and it ended up creating a very interesting and dynamic game, this can't be recreated with new characters thrown into the mix since they have no history with the other player characters yet. It took Jake and Gabe about six sessions before they made any kind of unspoken bond to assist one another, and it took a long time for Judo to trust Burwick, let alone partner with him, Nick and April's relationship, all be it a crazy and somewhat disturbing one, took form over many sessions. We've now had about 7 seasons since that session and in that time (different times) Valoo killed himself because he couldn't figure out how to role play his way out of it, you asked to have Burwick written out and you got your new character killed doing things he probably wouldn't have done given his knowledge level and the fact I told you going into the ethereal hole was a bad idea. None of these actions are conducive to good character development and that is what is missing which made such a great game.

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 10, 2005, 06:31:16 PM
The story of what you all played out is interesting, of course, but may I ask where the rules were in all this -- what you rolled dice for, what you didn't, where the rules were helpful and where they were in the way? And who actually narrated all these neat things -- the GM alone, with each player saying only what his or her character did, or each of you in turn, or all of you at once brainstorming together? These may seem like boring procedural issues compared to the story they produced, but the way the input of real people around the table is heard and structured, or ignored and confused, has a great deal to do with how much fun they have.

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Travis Brown on October 11, 2005, 12:48:58 PM
Well I GM'd the session and I must say that before and after this session I had been forced to do most of the talking because they weren't motivated by any particular event of any kind, and this situation gave them more to work with. In this session the players took almost total charge, only requiring me to chime in with NPC interactions and resulting outcomes of some of their action choices. Everything they did and said came from them and since it was PvP in in many regards, most of the dice rolls were contested rolls between players, restraint vs strength/escape artist rolls, hiding and stealth and observation to listen in and eavesdrop vs the oppositions observation or perception roll. There were a few deception and lying rolls made against the Inn Keeper and one of the guests (who Jake punched in the face and blamed Nick for it).

I was pleasantly surprised by everyone's involvement and the initiative everyone took in actually running the game. They all said what they were doing, where they were going, and then did it, role played in character with one another as a group (two would role play to my left and three more would role play on the right, and I simply observed to keep tabs on the progression of the events occurring. NPC's would come in as devices for hindrance or progression of some actions, and would thicken up the plot, giving the players more to concern themselves with. In the end it all worked very well.

I think that the catalyst that Woody is looking for which makes the engaging game that we all enjoyed so much is three part: 1) I already mentioned which is the character development 2) is GM driven. The GM needs to provide enough plot and storyline in a manner that engages and entices the players to do more without making it feel like a railroad plot and 3) is a juggling act. All players need to be kept in the loop so that they feel they are part of the events unfolding, and that their actions will have some bearing on events that play out, which often is hard when you don't have 1 and 2 nailed down well. I often have the trouble (especially in groups of more than 3 or 4) of giving equal time to each player especially if a player or two seems to not be involved, I often find myself sticking on players who are engaged, rather than spending time trying to get other players equally engaged. This game session Woody was reporting on is a good example of players keeping each other engaged, which makes the GM's job easier and a whole lot more fun.

I'll have Woody check this thread again and respond as well (I don't know if he'll check it)

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 11, 2005, 05:22:28 PM
In this session the players took almost total charge, only requiring me to chime in with NPC interactions and resulting outcomes...They all said what they were doing, where they were going, and then did it, role played in character with one another as a group....and I simply observed to keep tabs on the progression of the events occurring. NPC's would come in as devices for hindrance or progression of some actions, and would thicken up the plot, giving the players more to concern themselves with. In the end it all worked very well.

Very neat. What you've described, by the way, is one of the ideals sought by many on the Forge, and a whole array of games from Ron Edwards's Sorcerer onward are designed precisely to produce it. Certain traditions of roleplaying have inculcated a strict idea of "the GM is responsible for making everything happen and for making things interesting; the players sit tight and follow the GM's cues carefully lest they disrupt 'The Plot.'" Once you give up on that and trust the player's ability to do cool stuff, and the GM's ability to react and improvise without having a predetermined railroad to guide things, it's a lot less work for the GM and a lot more fun for everybody.

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 11, 2005, 05:44:45 PM
P.S.: Did that sound preachy? Err, I think I did sound preachy; sorry. But this is just neat stuff, and it's great you all did it, and I want you to know that there are lots of mechanics and structures in existing games (relationship maps, Kickers, Bangs, etc.) that can help you do it every time.

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Spacecowboy on October 12, 2005, 08:23:57 AM
      Thank you Sydney for the feed back. As for your question about the the rules and dice, like Trav said most of the roles were contested rolls between characters, and lying to some NPC's. I found that the system we used was fairly acomadating for what we did. CROE (crossroads of eternity) Is mainly a skill based game foucusing more on PC's skills, than there stats. The combat system worked very well with the battle between me and Nick, it made the PvP fairly intense , with each roll there was a posobility of death. The rules dind't get in our way of playing, and more so they did not dictate how we played. Granted the GM was the lead creater of CROE, so that may have helped. 
       I do want to know if there is anyway to recreate the expirence we had. We have played other games where the charecters were developed and everyone was wanting to play, however things just didn't click. Do you have anything to add to traves three steps to game sucsess. Lastly what is your opinion on Cliffhangers.

P.S. no you didn't sound preachy. And The computer I typed this on has no spell check Ahhrghh!

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 12, 2005, 12:23:37 PM
1) Spellcheck programs are crap anyway. No substitute for re-reading everything before you send it.

2) Cliffhangers? Dunno. If they help keep momentum going between sessions, great; if they kill momentum, not great. Totally varies from group to group, I think.

3) Do I have anything to add to Travis's three elements of success (1. Character Development; 2. GM-provided plot elements; 3. Getting everyone to participate)? Wow. Where do I start? Not because I'm so smart, mind you, but because really smart game designers associated with the Forge have worked on this for years.

So let me throw some of these techniques out there -- all of them should be briefly mentioned in the Glossary but you can find tons of discussion in various threads:

a) Relationship Maps
The GM's job isn't to provide "the story." That's what the players do: They're going to make the decisions for the heroes, right? If the GM even has an idea like "okay, once they find all four clues, they'll find the artifact and confront the bad guy, and then there'll be the big fight," what do you do if the player-characters don't find the clues, or decide to sell the artifact on e-Bay, or join up with the bad guy? So really, the GM's job is to provide backstory -- all the stuff that happened before play started that make an explosive, unstable situation the heroes have to deal with.
Okay, how? One technique (best articulated in Ron Edwards's Sorcerer's Soul is to draw a "relationship map" (aka r-map) of all the important characters involved, with the links between them. Wait, wait, there's more. The first links you should draw? That's who's related to whom and who's having sex with whom. Boom. Everything else -- who works for whom, who murdered whose father, whatever -- is secondary and frankly optional. Family first; personal first; emotional first; factions second or third if ever. (And if you think family connections don't get people more excited than political ones, think about, oh, Star Wars).
The people on the relationship map shouldn't just be connected to each other: Those connections should be emotionally charged, so that they care about each other (hate, love, both at once, whatever; this is why the family stuff is primary). Anything the player-characters do for or against Person A should provoke a strong reaction from the people (let's call them B, C, and D) directly linked to A -- which in turn requires the player-characters to react for or against B, C, and D, which in turn provokes reactions from the people linked to B, C, D, and so on until the whole cast of characters is in motion. Everyone in the relationship map has to want something; in particular, they have to want something from the player-characters, be it "save me!" or "kill my brother!" or "go away!"; and finally, they all have to want different things so whatever the player-characters do, they'll make somebody angry.
With this technique, it doesn't matter what the PCs do, just that they do something, because everyone will react to anything they do. Conversely, how everyone reacts will depend on the specifics of what the PCs do -- you don't have to map out their possible reactions in advance, just know what they want and go with it. Run the same r-map with different players and you may find that the first group of players ends up in a big fight with Character A and rescuing Character B, while the second group captures Character B and hands B over to A for cash, while a third group ignores A and B altogether to focus on Character C; that's fine; in fact, that's great.
Variations on r-maps: The obvious way to use these is to create a self-contained set of conflicts that the player-characters then get involved in as outsiders -- like the circuit-riding investigator-exorcists going from town to town in Vincent Baker's excellent Dogs in the Vineyard. But you can also draw a relationship map around the player-characters themselves, based on the friends, enemies, and family that the players themselves make up -- Edwards's Sorcerer game advocates this. You can even draw a relationship map before any characters are created and then have the players decide which characters they want to run -- Seth Ben-Ezra's Legends of Alyria.

b) Bangs
Another Ron Edwards invention, from Sorcerer.
A "Bang" is something that the GM throws at a player-character which (a) the player can't ignore but (b) which the player can react to in different ways -- i.e. it's not an offer you can't refuse, but it's a choice you have to make. "The bad guys attack you in the shower" isn't a Bang, because the PC has no choice but fight or run; "the bad guys attack a defenseless village nearby " isn't an Bang either, because the player may not care; but "the bad guys threaten to kill your sister unless you help them attack a village nearby" is, potentially, a Bang: Maybe you say "no" and let your sister die, or say "no" and try to rescue your sister, or say "yes" and appear to go along but secretly try to make the attack on the village fail, or say "yes" and kill all the villagers -- it's all good.
In practice, a lot of things the GM thinks are Bangs end up being duds, because the players don't really care. Fine; no problem; forget that one and try another.
Key point: The players have to care -- the real people playing the game, not the imaginary characters they made up. There's no use saying "but she's your sister!" and insisting the player has to care about someone imaginary (heck, the player may not care about his real-life sister; maybe they aren't close).

c) Kickers
More Ron Edwards's Sorcerer.
A kicker is basically a Bang (an urgent situation requiring a choice) that the player invents for his/her own character: "My sister got kidnapped, but I don't know by whom!" or "I picked up what I thought was my suitcase at the airport and it was full of bloodstained dollar bills!" The big advantage of a Kicker is that the player came up with it, so you can be pretty confident they'll care (although not 100% confident: Maybe they'll change their minds); in this case, just run with it, changing whatever you prep'd to accomodate it (Edwards actually says don't even start your serious prep until you get everyone's Kickers).
The big disadvantage of a Kicker is that the player may do something kind of weak -- "The bad guy said a mean thing to me!" -- or too linear and locked-in -- "I'm gonna kill the bad guy tomorrow at high noon!"; in these cases, Edwards advises "spiking" the kicker, that is taking it as writen but adding a twist that makes it urgent, like, "and the mean thing was that he kidnapped your sister!" or "okay, you kill him, everyone things you're super-bad, but now there's a big power struggle over who replaces him, and all the factions want your help!"
A Kicker is a form of "character development," but it's a very specific one: It's character development where the player creates something specific but then leaves a big empty space for the GM to react in (just as in a Bang, the GM creates something specific but leaves a big empty space for the player to react in). If the player comes in with 20 typed pages of character backstory and specifies his character's love interest, enemy, sidekick, and exactly how they're all going to come together in a big Mexican stand-off at noon tomorrow, there's no room for the GM or the other players to add anything: The player just railroaded himself.

d) "No myth"
This is the extreme idea that nothing in a game is "real" until someone says it at the gaming table and everyone else agrees it really happens (if only by not saying "no"), so anything that's not said aloud is subject to change at any time. Maybe you thought the murderer was Mr. X, but you didn't say so yet; if a player says that Mr. X is really Santa Claus and the murderer was Mr. Y, well, that's the truth instead. Maybe you thought the world was round; if a player says "oh no, we're about to fall off the edge of the world!" then, well, you thought wrong.
This is, as I said, an extreme technique -- Jared Sorensen's Inspectres, a kind of Ghostbusters-inspired comedy game where the players make up the "mystery" as they go along, is the best example. But, face reality: In any game, even a traditional one where the GM is the final arbiter of what is "real," things are going to happen that you don't expect and that you haven't prepared for, so you're going to have to improvise and make something up on the spot.
People get terrified of having to improvise: They try to make up D&D module-style "box text" describing everything in every room of a 100,000-person city, or, worse yet, they try to railroad the players into only going into the 12 rooms in a 100,000-person city that they do have box text for. Forget being terrified and trust your own creativity.

e) Conflict Resolution
This is the trickiest one to explain, and other people explain it better than me, but I'll try again. In a traditional RPG, a character tries something, you roll for it, and then the GM decides what it really means. The classic example is

Player: I want to find the secret papers; I'll try to crack the safe!
GM: Roll for it.
[alternative reality #1]
Player: I suceed!
GM (not wanting the player to find stuff out yet): The safe is empty.
[alternative reality #2]
Player: I fail!
GM (really wanting the player to find out): But as you turn away from the safe, you see the secret papers right on top of the guy's desk!

Whereas in Conflict Resolution, you roll for "what it means," and then you work to fill in the details of how it happened:
Player: I want to find the secret papers.
GM: Roll for it.
[alternative reality #1]
Player: I succeed! But, hmm, my character's supposed to be kind of a klutz; he'd never crack the safe.
GM: Well, what if the papers were right there on top of the desk?
Player: Yeah, that's the kind of Forrest Gump sheer-dumb-luck my guy would have.
[alternative reality #2]
Player: I fail! That bites; my character's a super-spy type.
GM: So you cracked the safe, hacked into the computer, even found a secret compartment in the floor -- but, darn it, the papers aren't anywhere. Maybe the villain has them in his pocket?
Player: Yeah, that's it. I really wanna nail him now.

Note that there's some improvization vs. railroading going on in these examples. But the more important thing is that the player clearly states what s/he wants and the roll says whether s/he gets it or not -- the roll determines effect, not process. Why does this matter? Because it allows everyone to say, out in the open, how they want the story to go and then have the dice say whose vision prevails, instead of people trying to affect how the story goes but the GM ultimately having veto power no matter what.

Title: Re: (CROE) PvP fun and conspiracy in a nondescript town
Post by: Jake Richmond on October 13, 2005, 02:42:47 AM
Well said Sydney.

My answer to Spacecowboys questions:

Cliffhangers, well... you've played in games I've run, so you know I like cliff hangers. But I dont always think they are for the best, and I often regret using them. Because games I run dont have much structure I often just end them whenever I feel tired enough that I want to go home. A lot of the time I just cut off the action with a cliffhanger and leave it at that. I'm lazy. But I think sometime it can be a real good way to keep excitement going till the next session. I think it can also be an effective story telling technique, allowing you to cut away from the action and then come back in a different time or place. It can also be sloppy and lazy. I'm guilty of both.

As far as recreating that experince ( I was there)... I think we had a good thing going, and I think that was because we each had a stake in the conflict, something that was important to us that was at risk. And because these stakes brought us into conflict with each other, and because each of these things was important to us, none of us were willing to give ground or back down. I think its important to have a stake in the action. I think the events of the game have to matter to the players. As Sydney said, if the player dosent care, then whats the point? The GM has to give the player a reason to care, and the player has to have something, a possession, a relationship, a belief that can be used to provoke this interest. The point that our game suceeded at was the point when we were all invested in our characters and we (with the help of our GM) were drawn into conflict when stakes were presented that effected our characters in ways that mattered to us. It really dosent matter to me if this conflict comes from the player or the GM. Ideally it will come from both.

Anyway, thats what I think at 4am.