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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on October 28, 2006, 12:16:53 PM



Title: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 28, 2006, 12:16:53 PM
At last! Despite a whole bunch of schedule conflicts, we finally got our game going, with me, Tim A, Tim K, and Chris.

Setting up for it reminds me a lot of The Riddle of Steel. You have all these character Keys to go by, or "flags" as people have called them for a while, indicating to the GM what kind of issues need to be incorporated into the prep. However, as with TROS, I am going to point out something else - the setting matters. And as with TROS, my experiences with Hero Wars, set in Glorantha, provide the best model for prepping for this game as well. What I'm trying to say is, "the Keys are not enough" to prep. I think using the setting in a specific way is also important.

(For those of you who don't know, Clinton often speaks and writes of Near as "his Glorantha," and he is right in about a hundred ways, some of which have never seen the light on-line. It has nothing to do with being Glorantha or being inspired by it; it has everything to do with what the setting means, both to Clinton and as transmitted to the players of the game. You should carefully study the geography and cultures of Near some time. I missed a crucial aspect of it; Ben Lehman had to point it out to me. That's all I'm going to say about that here.)

OK, so what is this "specific way to use the setting" that I'm talking about? You start with the map, and pick a place. Identify the most overt, immediate conflicts that occur at that place.

In our case, and in Chris' absence, we settled on the Ammeni area, noting that the ruling people are so decadent and privileged that they hardly even care about the historical cataclysm and the new moon in the sky, and that the native underclass is simmering with powerful magic and potential revolt. Plus there are goblin slave-pets and unruly ratkin all over the place as well. So there's stuff going on that's easy to get a grasp on, plus a lot of options.

It also so happens that running decadent, Melnibonéan-like settings is second nature for me, and that we were all intrigued by the Zu-language magic rules.

All right, with all that settled, we now know that there isn't going to be any "gee, a wandering Qek merchant who happens to be there" guy, nor "roguish Maldor ratkin with a cool hat who hopped over the border to escape pursuit." Those and similar characters would be kewl, but they wouldn't tap into the setting conflicts - their Keys would just float there and force single-PC spotlight onto them, or be ignored. That is ass and we're not doing it. And on a related note, that also means that native characters who are totally wrapped up in some personal conflict or back-story that has nothing to do with the setting conflicts are also disallowed, for the same reason.

OK, so character creation is heavily restricted to people who would be right there and involved in the setting-based conflict in some way. On reflection, you'll see that isn't really all that restricted. Characters can be Ammeni, Zaru, ratkin, or goblin, and they can be positioned in the political conflict any ol' way they want to be, or positioned in the metaphysical setting (i.e. the moon and so on) any way they want to be. That's a lot of room for non-trivial variation ... and it will be relevant, player-driven variation. Say if they ended up being a radical ratkin, a turncoat/rebellious Ammeni ... or a totally submissive Zaru, a traditional Ammeni, and his goblin pet, see how either way, the GM still has to work with what they provided?

And now, in that context, the Keys become fun rather than distracting, because they will put Bang-y twists into the situation rather than drag attention away from it.

During that first brainstorming session, the two Tims made up their characters

Tim A made up Toussaint, a younger Ammeni nobleman with abilities like Sway and Deceit, including the Secret of the Sudden Knife and the Key of Power; he wanted lots of squabbling, scary siblings and a generally intrigue-heavy situation.

Tim K made up a Zaru woman with Uptenbo and some swampy-type abilities, including the Key of the Mission; he wanted her to be in the "rebellious but not militant" camp of Zaru politics. We talked about the Zaru character a bit, and he said that she had killed someone, a fellow Zaru friend who'd tried to dissuade her from rebelling against the Ammeni; the friend had got in the way during a riot so the killing was mostly accidental. Note that she does not yet have the Secret of Uz, so we went over the rules for that carefully.

During our first play-session, Chris had to make up his character quickly, and so he merely had to accept stuff we'd decided on the previous week. Although it so happens that Chris, like Clinton, loves playing "snivelling little fuckers" (that's a Clinton quote), and so instantly said "Goblin!" and was practically done.

Chris' character is a classic thieving-homunculus sort with all kinds of stealthy and filching abilities. He has the Secret of the HIdden Pocket (which if you think about it is really gross, given a naked goblin character) and the Key of the Coward.

Chris and the rest of us all agreed that this character shouldn't be addicted to thieving, as that would be boringly consistent, and Chris also didn't want standard drugs for an addiction, so we puzzled over good behavioral addictions for a few minutes. Tim K and I really wanted the goblin to be addicted to wet smoochy kisses, but Chris wouldn't go for it and we had to settle for hugs instead.

Since the goblin was an easy-add-on character (given an Ammeni, I could just say "you're his pet!" or something similar), my sketchy prep for that session was in good shape. I had already decided upon the following and worked up basic numbers for the characters.

I decided that the Ammeni House of vv was experiencing a succession conflict, with an aging and feeble father. The physical setting for the first session would be the family retreat, the summer-house out in the swamp. I liked the idea of the Ammeni enjoying their "countryside cabin" (really a multi-structure estate, with lots of walkways and sliding doors) out in what anyone else would consider a foul, diseased, toad-ridden, spider-ridden bog. I made up Toussaint's charming, poison-brewing sister and his doltish warrior brother, and decided that the goblin was present as a gift brought by the brother for the father.

Using Tim K's description of his character's background, I also decided that this House (and general area) had experienced a very serious Zaru uprising by the militants, aided by ratkin, and that the father had dealt with it in an unusual way - sparing the general Zaru community except for a token reprisal (a dozen killed at random, something like that) and heeding the advice of a conservative (i.e. submissive) Zaru who'd told him the community was generally against the uprising. I made up this Zaru as a very driven, very pacifistic NPC with the Secret of Zu knowing the syllables "run" and "fool," and of course she's at the estate too as a trusted servant. Oh, as for the ratkin involved in the rebellion, they're just animals, so the father did have them all killed. The estate in the swamp now has lots of ratkin skins as decorations.

So there's Toussaint and his siblings hanging around at this family get-together, and there's Tim K's Zaru rebel nose-deep in the swamp some hundred yards away from the estate (Tim K decided her mission was to blow it up), and there's the goblin in a birdcage. What happened?

1. The goblin hugged the sister and stole a bunch of drug-vials from her (thus disarming my most dangerous NPC! damn!) and escaped to run around causing trouble. Toussaint was extremely unlucky in trying to capture Tim K's Zaru character, and they had a big fight out there in the water. As usual with this game, all the players were swiftly in awe of the Secret of the Sudden Knife. The Zaru did end up getting captured (don't remember how; I think she was faking) and was taken off to the torture room. Yes, Ammeni noble families have torture rooms in their vacation estates, why do you ask?

2. The sneaky goblin successfully deposited the various drugs and poisons at random into the wine-goblets the family was to drink from, and of course, the sister was under the impression that only the goblet she'd drugged was indeed drugged. Oh, this got complicated. The family members are doing the whole switch-the-glasses routine in order to make sure they don't drink from the glass they were given, and yet the glasses have stuff in them that no one knows about. I did it all randomly, taking the drugs and stuff I'd assigned to the sister and putting them in randomly (i.e. that was the goblin's action), and then knowing which the sister would offer to whom, and then running the conflict to determine who really got what.

Boy was Toussaint lucky - the sister knocked herself out with the potion she'd intended for the father, and the worst-drugged goblet ended up as the one intended for the brother, who was off torturing the Zaru. So the dad and the brother were fine. That gave me the chance to provide the only really substantive dialogue in the session, when the father warns Toussaint that if he wants to rule the House, then he must turn to the Zaru - as the revolution is coming, and there is nothing at all anyone can do about it.

Meanwhile, the Zaru captive had Uptenbo'd the bejeezus out of the brother, and run off to find the Zaru NPC to talk to her for some reason (I didn't really know what Tim K had in mind, but said "OK" and moved on.)

3. Toussaint discovered that his brother was at his mercy, strapped into the restraints the way he'd thought the Zaru was. Bonus! That led to a really nasty knife-fight, lots of Pain - Toussaint eventually won, but it was gory as hell. (The sister stayed sleeping and I decided to leave that way 'til next session.) The goblin ended up abandoning the father to a heart attack (which I thought was kind of cruel, actually), and so the old guy died. We finished up with a dramatic Zu battle, as our hero resisted the "run" attack, but ended up succumbing to "fool!" - rendering her mindless, at least temporarily.

So Toussaint, despite failing at just about everything except for killing his brother, is now right on top of things - with his dad dead and his sister at his mercy, and with a last-breath piece of advice to ponder. Plus this Zaru servant and a Zaru captive. And the goblin's just runnin' around at this point.

Not bad for an action-packed fantasy romp: good choreography, good unplanned outcomes, strong change in the situation but no real conclusions yet, and a bunch of Experience Points gained. As expected, this was a lot like a first session in The Riddle of Steel and HeroQuest (formerly Hero Wars). Existing relationships shook into new forms, with plenty of room for (a) carnage, (b) color, and (c) messing with personality-mechanics to generate currency for more stuff later. In my experience with such games, the end of the first session isn't yet enough to see Premise gelling yet, but so much has happened that reflection by everyone (not necessarily verbal or even articulated) will yield Premise quite soon in later play.

Tim A pointed out that Key of Power doesn't yield much Experience relative to the Coward or the Mission, so he's strongly considering getting another "soak up EP" Key as soon as he can. Tim K is determined to get the Secret of Uz any minute, basically as soon as he can. Both of these comments led me to consider that for my part, as Story Guide, I need to beef up my setting-prep a little bit, bringing in stuff that comes straight out of the starting parameters. I have some notions about that.

You can probably see that Chris' character is just floating there a little, but I can work with the Addiction thing - if I hit him with stuff that targets his Vigor Pool, and then the question for the character becomes the easy - but relevant - one of just whom he'd prefer to rely on for hugs. Ah, goblins.
 
Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: crowyhead on October 28, 2006, 03:18:18 PM
I don't have a whole lot to say, except that that's the Best Goblin Addiction Ever.  I was never that into the goblins before, but now I'm looking at the addictions in a whole new light...

Kirsten


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Frank T on October 29, 2006, 05:49:48 AM
Setting design go! A thoughtful setting design can be a powerful tool. I would love to see much, much more of that around here at the Forge. The part with switching the goblets is just wonderful, as is the "swamp residence".

I strongly suggest Key of the Overlord for Toussaint, that should fit in just neatly. I think that the Zaru girld could have bought the Secret of Uz at the moment she heard the other Zaru woman say a word of power, if she had an advance to spend at that moment.

- Frank


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 29, 2006, 06:52:56 AM
Hi there,

I like the hugs too and want to see lots more of them. Frank, there's more setting-driven design at the Forge than might meet the eye at first - for instance, see the older game Orbit (Psychobilly Designs, in the Inactive Forums), which is a great, great thing. What fools people is that cataloguing and detailing settings isn't typically a priority here. But the games with absolutely necessary setting-strong techniques are, in fact, present.

Both Tims have recently bought the game so I expect that by our next session, they will be chock-full of rules, Keys, and setting-notions that they'll want to exploit in play.

As it happens, at the moment that the other Zaru used Zu, the player-character had only 4 experience points. But Tim K is definitely eyeing the Key of Uz as the next available purchase.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Matt Wilson on October 29, 2006, 08:16:42 AM
Quote
Those and similar characters would be kewl, but they wouldn't tap into the setting conflicts - their Keys would just float there and force single-PC spotlight onto them, or be ignored. That is ass and we're not doing it. And on a related note, that also means that native characters who are totally wrapped up in some personal conflict or back-story that has nothing to do with the setting conflicts are also disallowed, for the same reason.

Ron, I'm glad you're talking about setting and the idea that it's a sort of shared 'flag' or 'key' among the players. I think established setting affects character creation the same way the decided-upon series does in Primetime Adventures. You can't create TSOY characters in a vacuum.

There's a big chance for trouble when that one player shows up who's been wanting to play X kind of character and can't push the thought aside. I bet a lot of us have seen that happen.

Can you talk a bit about your prep? What was in the setting info that made it easy to prep? What was missing that would have been useful? Anything included in the setting info that actually made prep harder? And I mean it in terms of you, Ron, with your history and experiences and so on.



Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 29, 2006, 10:09:42 AM
Hi Matt,

That's a tall order. I'll turn to theory first:

Exploration, or the Shared Imagined Space is composed of [Color * [System * [Situation = Setting + Characters]]]

All parts must be present. Any single part can be maximized or minimized - by which I mean, requires more (or less) attention and activity. But the parts are all present, and their interaction is a stable and in-part defining thing, for this activity we call "role-playing."

I've been saying, explicitly, since 1999, that setting-heavy design and play is a strong and effective thing. I have also been saying that the approach rulebooks have traditionally taken toward setting has been entirely counter-productive. These two easy, straightforward concepts have generated gross cognitive dissonance among many readers. Based on their training (because they primarily purchase+read rather than play), they can't fathom "setting" to be anything except a huge bank of stuff to know and appreciate. This has cursed many role-players into the hell of becoming a fanboy of the printed setting, then trying desperately to convince their friends to become similar fanboys. Whereas they, quite reasonably, primarily want to have a fun time playing, and are not necessarily inclined toward that end.

The 1980s version of this was mainly found among devotees of Forgotten Realms and similar AD&D2 settings; the 1990s version was mainly found among people who bought 100 sourcebooks to memorize, whether Shadowrun or Vampire or whatever. Both of these are still alive today.

However, functional setting only means it works in the equation, i.e. functionally helps to generate Situation. Strong setting (which is to say, it has features requiring specific and more attention and activity) is an option. That option is what you're asking about, And it can be a little surprising, because the extent of presentation doesn't necessarily equate to strength.

For instance, one of the strongest settings in role-playing is found in My Life with Master. It's expressed by two words (e.g. Beast, Collector) and two scores (Reason and Fear). Wham. Setting. Yes, the Master is part of Setting in this game; playing him or her as a "character" is an expression of setting. Absolutely central, absolutely tied to the characters, and thus wham again, Situation emerges. Why? Because the player-characters have a specific relationship to the Master (Self-Loathing, e.g.) and a special relationship to the Town (Connections). Conflict is inherent to their creation, i.e., to their relationship with the setting, in this case. Go! What will happen? The Master will die. But how, and why, and by whose hand? What will result for you?

Another is Glorantha, specifically in the context of HeroQuest (formerly Hero Wars), in which there are indeed hundreds of texts, if not thousands, including a fanbase of "apocrypha" (if you will) and a guiding principle that you, the group, have license to do some picking and choosing for purposes of your play (that is what "your Glorantha may vary" means, despite its occasional use as a meaningless club in on-line bitchery). The key to understanding it is to realize that Glorantha isn't the setting ... Glorantha during the Hero Wars is the setting. That is key beyond belief. What are these wars? How are they different from the wars of the past? These are things to know and actually to study and discuss, as part of prep. It is not the detail of the answers to these questions which matters; it is the content of those answers. It requires thought, not mere fanboyish basking in color. You have to think about and understand them. Picking a spot of Glorantha as your game's setting means taking that content and saying, "The Hero Wars are right here, in action. Your characters are here because it is normal for them, this is their life where they are priests, stickpickers, whores, warriors, or whatever - and the world makes sense to them - but the Hero Wars are here now, and guess what, the world no longer makes sense. Let's find out how, and see what the characters will do, and see how the world is thereby re-shaped."

They are sketchy-ish characters, with just enough weight to be recognizable (relationships, skills, et cetera) and no more. They must become more than what they are, fast. The setting demands it.

So that's the first point, broken into three parts. (i) The relationship of setting to the other parts of the SIS is one thing, and it's easy, as it's pretty much fixed. (ii) The strength of the setting is the attention and activity it specifically demands to have its relationship to the rest. And (iii), whether it's generated through many printed pages of provocative text, or through a few sentences of provocative text, is just a dial. (Note: many pages of non-provocative descriptive and historical text isn't setting, it's a bunch of wood pulp and ink, period.)

As a contrast, note that Sorcerer does require a setting, but not much. Situation is mainly born from characters, with Setting providing its minimum initial input simply to make Situation possible. It is unfortunately necessary to mention, although it shouldn't be, that "characters" refers to NPCs as well as player-characters. Polaris, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Lacuna are similar to Sorcerer in this regard.

OK, contrast is over. Now to continue with more discussion of strong setting as a functional piece of coherent play, specifically The Shadow of Yesterday.

But I'll do that later, because I'm kind of tired of typing on the intenet and I'm curious to know whether any of the above made any sense, to anyone.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Per Fischer on October 29, 2006, 11:31:22 AM
Keep typing, man, it makes great sense to me. Superb AP thread! I've met this "strong setting=much detailed setting" misconception before, and particular in connection with TSOY, but I've never seen it formulated this clearly.

I guess my question is how you got from those characters in the setting to the situation at the start of play - was that solely authored by you, Ron, or by incorporation suggestions from the players?

Per


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Matt Wilson on October 29, 2006, 12:49:11 PM
I'm following along just fine up here in Milwaukee.

You have me eagerly expecting a follow-up on this:

Quote
but the Hero Wars are here now, and guess what, the world no longer makes sense. Let's find out how, and see what the characters will do, and see how the world is thereby re-shaped.

... in terms of TSOY, or in terms of any "picking and choosing" setting, frankly.

And damnit, it's totally sidetracking me from my original GM prep question. Now we have all these things to talk about in terms of appropriate character creation constraints, and what kinds a game needs for character-situation vs. setting-situation.

But I suppose we have to cover that if we're going to discuss the GM prep stuff, since you need the right characters before you can prep the adventury bits. I had trouble GMing a TSOY game a couple years ago, and it had a lot to do with unfit characters.


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 30, 2006, 07:45:37 AM
Hi there,

Per, you wrote,

Quote
my question is how you got from those characters in the setting to the situation at the start of play - was that solely authored by you, Ron, or by incorporation suggestions from the players?

It was mainly me. I did it similarly as with my D&D3 game earlier this year - came up with a provisional situation, but was open to any player-response or editing of that, if they felt like it before we started.

Me: "Hey Chris, so you're there as a pet in a bird-cage, which the brother is going to give to the dad as a gift. Sound OK?"

Chris: "Sure!"

As for exactly how I got there, I think the next part will clarify that, or at least I hope it will.

Matt, you wrote,

Quote
Now we have all these things to talk about in terms of appropriate character creation constraints, and what kinds a game needs for character-situation vs. setting-situation.

I think I answered regarding the principles about that already, in my first post, with this bit:

Quote
... character creation is heavily restricted to people who would be right there and involved in the setting-based conflict in some way. On reflection, you'll see that isn't really all that restricted. Characters can be Ammeni, Zaru, ratkin, or goblin, and they can be positioned in the political conflict any ol' way they want to be, or positioned in the metaphysical setting (i.e. the moon and so on) any way they want to be. That's a lot of room for non-trivial variation ... and it will be relevant, player-driven variation. Say if they ended up being a radical ratkin, a turncoat/rebellious Ammeni ... or a totally submissive Zaru, a traditional Ammeni, and his goblin pet, see how either way, the GM still has to work with what they provided?

And now, in that context, the Keys become fun rather than distracting, because they will put Bang-y twists into the situation rather than drag attention away from it.

I'll try to beef that principle up with this actual play as a specific example. Here's what I thought about after we'd settled on the locale and after the first two characters had been made up, during the week prior to starting play.

1. The Ammeni are totally narcissistic, oblivious both to the larger politics of their realm (i.e. the Zaru are gonna rise up one day) and indeed to the much larger concern of their world as a whole (it was almost hit by a fucking meteor and 90% of the world population died, for Pete's sake).

2. Goblins are also narcissistic and wholly obsessed with their singular personal needs, but they are also fully dependent on other people in some way; that's what the addiction is ultimately about.

3. The Zaru are larger-thinking than either, being focused on their local politics regarding the Ammeni. However, although they are also strongly connected to the bigger setting questions due to the language thing, they are not immediately able to address that, because (a) they're oppressed and disorganized, and (b) Zu is irrevocably shattered.

So the first thing that I settled on (remember, this is retrospective) was that I wasn't going to bring in any sort of Black Moon hard-core metaphysical stuff right away. If we'd been playing in Khale, and let's say that a character was a bard, then the Green World and Moon-metal and all that would be huge right off the bat. If we'd been playing in Qek, you can bet that the humongous mass death from a century ago would have huge consequences for an ancestor-obsessed, spiritual talk-to-the-dead culture like that one. In either case, I'd have to come up with some cool metaphysical back-story (like my tribal myth for our Hero Wars game). Same goes for all the other places described in the book. But here? No. This has to start off as a completely material conflict about local politics and selfish, immediate personal needs, and we'll see whether and how the larger setting issues are relevant to this later.

Does that work, or make sense? Given that first step about basic content or focus, I could then think in terms of a concrete and immediate back-story (the rebellion) based on the characters (specifically the Zaru one), and not make it too complicated or full of stuff to know. In fact, doing so was pretty much simultanous with coming up with the swamp vacation-estate, which arose mainly from enjoying the Ammeni material in the book and free-associating off of it.

So the Zaru character's in-play question becomes "just how militant am I now prepared to be?", and the Ammeni character's in-play question becomes "what's the point of gaining mastery over my House if the Zaru are capable of overthrowing it all any minute now?" Note - these are not Premise questions. They are logistic, situational, immediate stuff the characters' actions are willy-nilly going to answer. They are fruitful situational features which, when present, mean that any of this can be GMed/played at all. If I'd looked over everything (book, PC sheets, etc) and found that such things could not be derived, I'd either say "let's start over," or perhaps, "we can't play this after all." Both of which I've done in the past, with other games and groups.

I actually think the whole character-creation-to-scenario-creation thing is a distraction - when it's a problem, it's a late-stage symptom of a larger problem: the inability to come up with what I just described in the above paragraph. So I'm going to stick with your questions from your first post, which I think are more deep-rooted and more important.

Quote
Can you talk a bit about your prep? What was in the setting info that made it easy to prep? What was missing that would have been useful? Anything included in the setting info that actually made prep harder? And I mean it in terms of you, Ron, with your history and experiences and so on.

What setting information made it easy to prep

1. All the underground-comics stuff: drugs, sex, goblin's plastic bodies, wild and unpredictable action, and light-hearted violence. Clinton and I are on a similar wave-length about this kind of content, as you can see from Elfs, Donjon, and other stuff we've both done. GMing and playing in any sense (prep, play, reflection, development) with this sort of content is almost entirely effortless for me; my personal imagery, past history, and general "imaginative self" goes this way without a hitch.

2. The real-world geographical and political content of the setting as a whole, which I hinted at above and am not prepared to discuss here. I leave that as an exercise for the reader and also request that people not bug either me or Clinton with emails about it. That would be cheating. Near requires more of a person than a tappy-tap keyboard Cliff's Notes feed-me-I'm-a-gamer interaction.

What setting information made it harder to prep

1. Well, at first glance, all the stuff I talked about above which disconnects the Ammeni culture from the Black Moon history sort of stumped me a little bit, during the process. I looked longingly at Maldor and Qek, in which the people simply must be grappling with the fallout of the cataclysm, with all kinds of Premise-heavy consequences with any imaginable character concept. I had to say, OK, let's make anything like that wait for later, because the whole Premise-y point of Ammeni is that everyone is wrapped up in the material, local, selfish end of the spectrum. Getting over that was a bit of a hump; I have really developed the personal-is-political + the political-is-the-mystical thing, from Hero Wars in particular but also in stuff like the Azk'Arn Sorcerer games and even in my D&D3 game. I had to get more into a Best Friends mode, which is the personal-is-the-personal mode, I guess, by comparison. And it's hard to do that when all that Black Moon stuff is just begging for inclusion; I had to say, "yes yes, but later, when it fits with them rather than being inserted wholly by me."

(This is also significant: that at the first stage of prep, no one else was very familiar with the setting material; Tim K had read some of the downloaded material, but had focused mainly on resolution and Keys. What that means is that it's counter-productive to force major setting-heavy stuff onto them in the scenario, aside from immediate color and conflicts.)

2. I have done about as much explicit content in role-playing as I want to, for a little while at least. It was Tim Kleinert who said, "Ron's a good player and GM, but every once in a while I'd like to leave the lights off," and I think that has influenced me a bit. So all the vaginal poisons and opium-addled blowjobs and whatnot that the written Ammeni setting describes or hints at, well, I can do it. But I'm the guy who investigated the mystic roles of rape and incest in Hero Wars; I'm the guy who introduced the Lines/Veils concept to the community via playing Violence Future. The shock value of the Ammeni is valid and cool as hell, but it's not really what I'm inclined to portray at this point in my role-playing. So I had to focus on something else, and so although they're cruel and weird, my Ammeni NPCs are a bit tame compared to ones in the book. It took a little effort to arrive at the enough-for-me level that I wanted, without undercutting (via reduction) the basic awfulness/decadence that the setting material demands.

Thanks for your interest, guys. I'm a little surprised that stuff this basic seems to need such a going-over, but I'm enjoying the reflection on our game and I'm OK with doing it via your questions.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: pedyo on October 30, 2006, 09:25:16 AM
Hi Ron,
I´m closely following this and enjoying every sentence of it. Upon reflection, I think that I simply haven't developed good prep skills as a GM although I´ve spent a lot of time GM'ing and prepping. This is really one of the key issues for me with games like TsoY, Dogs, Sorcerer etc. - that there is a highly developed set of tools for useful, meaningful prep. But I really haven't found a whole lot about prepping and GM'ing TsoY.
So, I've put my learning-hat on...
Best
Peter


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Frank T on October 30, 2006, 12:05:35 PM
Man, I could so derail this thread with my frustration about misconceptions about Forge-style games and Forge-style gaming that have been making things so much more complicated over in the German community than they would have needed to be, which totally relate to this whole topic, and are totally the fault of the Forge-freaks and totally not the fault of the sceptics... but no.

Anyway, great thread. I'm getting more excited about my upcoming Artesia game as I read, since I am being told that the Known World is heavily inspired by Glorantha.

Oh, and one more lesson to learn out of this: When playing TSoY, try to always hold back one advance. You might need it some time.

- Frank


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: buzz on November 02, 2006, 04:22:12 PM
You should carefully study the geography and cultures of Near some time. I missed a crucial aspect of it; Ben Lehman had to point it out to me. That's all I'm going to say about that here.
Dare I ask that someone clue me in? I'm reading TSOY right now.


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Larry L. on November 09, 2006, 07:20:42 PM
Ron,

I hope this thread is not too old already. I am digging the re-iteration of how strong setting can be useful to situation. Your assessment of setting-rich fanboy hell unfortunately hits pretty close to home, so I'm eager to understand how rich settings as fun is distinguished from rich settings as suck.

So, how does "strong setting" tie in to the "myth vs. no myth" thing? Or am I trying to compare apples and oranges?


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 13, 2006, 01:30:04 PM
Hello,

I confess I have been entirely at a loss as to how to deal with the responses on this thread. I think if I described my confusion, a lot of you would be pissed off at me (in fact, I betcha a lot of you were, just because I said 'basic' in the above post), so I hardly know what to say.

I'll stick with the questions. Larry, you asked about no-myth and how that might be related.

Here's the problem with answering that: I think the term "no-myth" hasn't been helpful in the long run. I think it's been helpful in the short run, for individuals, but as far as I can tell, people use it in two contradictory ways. Both of them are helpful concepts, but they share the same name and I see people enthusiastically agreeing when they mean different things, and disagreeing over nothing because each one thinks the term means something else.

Possible meaning #1: A GM should not consider his or her own prepared material (i.e. stuff in his notebook) binding on how he actually plays those elements. But once a feature or character is played in some fashion, then it is considered binding (i.e. established) for future play.

Possible meaning #2: The group does not work with very much prepared setting material, and a great deal of setting and back-story is created and in fact improvised into the SIS during play itself; once it's established, then it's considered binding. (Who does it and when are a separate variable from this basic idea)

Historically, I think Fang Langford was probably talking about #1 rather than #2, but I think he either didn't get it across very well, or maybe the semi-hysterical enthusiasm that arose about #2 overwhelmed it. Hell, see my own Glossary entry, it's confused too. To date, I think most people think the term refers to #2, and yet, there's enough blather and criss-cross when the term gets used that I think the net use of it yields no consistent benefit.

I think people also mix up what kind of authority is involved and that derails the term's utility as well (see my discussion of authority in "Silent railroading and its relation to scenario prep & player authorship"). To be absolutely clear, I think that the #2 meaning is functional regardless of whether authority over the content is centralized into one person's input, or widely distributed, or formalized into anything in between. In other words, how the setting and back-story get improvised and established during play, and who does it, is a separate variable from the distinction I'm making between #1 and #2.

I think the #1 meaning is important for playing The Shadow of Yesterday, so for the rest of this post, I'll put aside the #2 meaning entirely and stick to the #1 meaning alone. The rules about GMing are extremely clear about it. Clinton does describe the #1 meaning quite explicitly in that section, and he wisely does not use the term "no-myth" to do it. He says, don't get hung up about a particular character and or particular event that you prepped, just because you prepped it. Be ready to shelve it for later (re-tooling its relationship to other things) or just abandon it, if that works better at the time.

Now, this point is not necessarily applicable to all games and all play-situations. I think that my Tunnels & Trolls game absolutely relied on me being constrained to my own prep (i.e. stocking the dungeon and re-doing it based on what had happened since the player-characters' last visit). I also think that Andreas' Rifts con-scenario was also enhanced and made better by his own commitment to his own prep. In games like that, GM prep is very much like placing the goalposts; you don't fuck around with that during play, both as a point of honor and a point of genuine fun. It is wise of Clinton to state this as a specific technique in his rules for this game, and I think it ought to be read as such. And if I haven't made it clear already, I'm saying now that all the rest of this post is talking about The Shadow of Yesterday and similar games like HeroQuest, not about any and all role-playing.

Here's an example of the #1 meaning that I'll make up on the spot. Artaud the Ammenite is an NPC, a real bastard of a poisoner guy who has lots of venomous pets. Liliana the Hot Khalite Chick is a player-character. I'm the GM, and all the way back, five sessions ago, I made up a three-spiked serpent that Artaud uses as a trained assassin-pet, and given the original context of the scenario (wars on the Ammeni-Khale border), I've always sort of had it in mind for Artaud eventually to sic the thing on Liliana.

But hey, today I'm prepping for the sixth session and through the twists and turns of events, without my prompting but totally consistently given my use of Artaud, the two characters are now lovers and staunch allies against some other problem.

The question is, what do I do with my three-spiked serpent? Well, keeping my #1 meaning of "no myth" in mind, there are roughly three options.

i) I made up the serpent so Artaud could try to kill Liliana with it, so no matter what, that's what I do. I'll have to engineer some excuse for him to hate her instead of love her. I'll have to prep a ton of extra stuff in order to make that work. I'll entirely have to ignore the fact that the player of Liliana really likes Artaud and is really enjoying playing the Key of Love toward him, and that the other players are also riffing off this enjoyable situation. Nope, I prepped the serpent, I know what it's for, and whatever I have to engineer to make that attack-on-Liliana happen, I'll do it.

It is clear, I trust, that this is ass from start to finish.

ii) I'll keep the serpent I prepped, but only as a pet that Artaud owns, and when the time comes if he wants to use it on someone, then he will. It exists as a part of my prep but basically as a weapon or aspect of Artaud. Because he hasn't seen a use for it yet, he hasn't used it yet and there's no reason to make him do so.

It is also clear, I trust, that this is perfectly serviceable in many cases and also provides me as the GM with a little more rounding-out of Artaud's character that will be useful in lots of ways, even if he never does use the serpent.

iii) I abandon the whole serpent concept. Didn't need it back when I prepped it, and it doesn't look important, and you know what, I decided I like Artaud better without it anyway. So poof - I don't care if I spent three hours and ten notebook pages making it up - it's gone, vanished from the (potential) SIS because it never got into it. As of this upcoming sixth session, Artaud never owned it, never trained it, and doesn't have it.

And finally, it is clear that a certain reluctance to do this is part of many GM's psychology. They put the effort into that serpent, dammit. Effort = commitment = desire for use. So in their fear or unfamiliarity with the utility of (iii), they psychologically recoil all the way into (i), with generally negative results.

What Clinton is saying, most sensibly (and Fang may have been saying this, I dunno), is that (ii) is better than (i), and that (iii) should not be forgotten as a viable option over (ii) if that's how things turn out. That latter part is one possible meaning of "no myth," stated as my #1 above. Clinton is trying to help people avoid that "recoil into (i) problem," because playing The Shadow of Yesterday benefits from a bit more freewheeling, responsive GMing rather than from the set-goalposts, I'm-ready-bring-it-on approach that works well for (say) Tunnels & Trolls.

Now, here's another point of confusion to avoid. I am quite certain that Clinton is not talking about meaning #2, in which back-story and setting features like geography are improvised into place constantly during play, and in fact no particular pre-play prep was involved at all. I think that people get so jazzed by that concept (it's fundamental to playing Universalis, for instance, and is often seen in playing Primetime Adventures and Polaris) that it both drives out consideration of the #1 meaning from their minds, and blinds them with its vast potential, effectively swamping useful conversations. To avoid any confusion about this, right here and now, I need to say that I do not think this possible meaning of "no myth" applies to playing The Shadow of Yesterday at all. (It may interest people to consider, however, that it does apply in a very formal and stepwise way to the techniques I describe in Sorcerer & Sword.)

Does that help, or make sense? Let me know.

Also, everyone, I think I'll do well with specific questions. I'd like to make my points about setting and prep as clear as possible, but questions like "Setting? How do I make it good?" are a bit overwhelming. See if you can break it down into components or examples. Even a detailed one, like the time you tried to play Shadow of Yesterday (or GURPS or Mutant Chronicles or whatever) and the setting-stuff didn't seem to click - if you can really explain just what went funny and how, during play, then I'll be able to show you what I mean by "strong setting." But I can't do it in the abstract any better than I already posted above.

Best, Ron

edited to fix a key mistype - I put the edited text in boldface


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 16, 2006, 09:32:21 AM
Hello,

While typing the original post, I didn't have my notes, so here's a review to keep everyone oriented.

Tim A's character is Toussaint the Ammeni nobleman, with his sister Sidonie still alive and the rest of his family dead after the events of the first session. He began with the Secret of the Hidden Knife and the Key of Power.

Chris' character is Pascal, the rapscallious huggy goblin. He began with the Secret of the Hidden Pocket and the Key of the Coward.

Tim K's character is Delondra, a Son-of-Hanish Zaru activist who recently killed someone, mainly opposed by another Zaru, Thuxra, who is a collaborationist/pacifist servant of this family. She (Delondra) began with the Secret of Swamp Lore and the Key of the Mission, and notably she did not start with the Secret of Uz.

A lot of the Keys have been added to or modified since, as you will see. We've played two sessions since the first.

Our second session, a week and a half ago

Looking over the events of the first session, clearly the primary conflicts I'd begun with (Zaru character trying to blow up estate, Ammeni family at odds over policy and inheritance) had either been concluded or nearly so. I needed some more prep work to be able to contribute a more sustained kind of conflict-situation, and as I'm trying to emphasize over and over in this thread, I found it in the setting. There's a lot of meat in that description of the Ammeni houses and their history relative to the Year of Shadow. So what does that mean for us? That now, delegates from other Ammeni houses are showing up, because they were invited, and so Toussaint (whose sister is imprisoned, and whose father and brother are dead) has to step up to see whether he is able to handle the title that he has seized. And as it happens, that makes Delondra's presence even more tense, because she's trying to blow the place up, right? Good enough, I thought.

All right, so I prepped four Ammeni minor nobles: Arnaud, Sebastien, Matthieu, and Margaux. I didn't build them to be combat-monsters or major foes, just as druggy sophisticates whose interactions with Toussaint and the general situation would really matter for the success of his new role as leader of the house. I gave each one an interesting but not especially hard-core Secret apiece, like Hidden Meaning and stuff like that. I also knew that I wanted to discuss some system-stuff with Chris about additions and adaptability, which I didn't think either of us understood well enough to be using well in play, with the result that he was playing fairly randomly.

During play, it turned out that attention to many SIS elements, setting among them, were needed by everyone, not just me and Chris.

In Chris' case, unsurprisingly, it was System, specifically the rules for Addiction which we discussed before play started. And then, during play, we spent some time doping out the rules for Adaptability. And then, wham, everything snapped together for him. First, he realized how much power he had to switch around his character's abilities, and began with deceiving two of the delegates to cause dissension among all the Ammeni. He took the Key of Vengeance aginst the Ammeni - "Make me a pet, will you?!" The effect was that he now became the hug-monster to keep his meager Vigor pool at a median level (a goblin needs to do this to make his Secret work), and all the hugging, which he was initially sort of lukeward about, became his motor. We all got very excited about whom he would hug next, and why, and how that would affect whatever skill he wanted to utilize. The best thing about all of this is that Pascal and Toussaint are now inextricably woven together; whatever one of them does will affect the situation of the other.

Pascal chose to focus on Arnaud, one of the delegates he'd suborned, using Deceit further to twist the guy into a relationship. Chris was responsible for the shape-shifter sex ("whaddaya want? ribbed? I gotcher ribbed right here") and I was responsible for Arnaud torturing him too, which of course helped him refresh that Vigor pool. If you've ever played with Chris Weil, you know that scenes and mechanics of this sort are his happy place. He settled in for directed mayhem and vengeance.

In Tim A's case, as it turned out, the needed component was all Situation. As I'll discuss more regarding our third session, and as you may remember from a plaintive post or two in a previous thread, Tim A is not immediately comfortable with playing powerful, impressive characters. We began with refreshing Pools, so Toussaint was the first character to get laid in our story, with a slave girl. However, it was all rather touching for an Ammeni, as he wanted to refresh Instinct too and decided that they'd have a nice social encounter as well as a physical one. I was a bit of a picky GM and demanded some ability rolls to clinch the desired features of a given Pool refreshment; I've continued to do so throughout later scenes and sessions. E.g. Toussaint would refresh his Vigor no matter what just by Tim announcing the act that fulfilled the requirements, but whether Toussaint really did succeed, so to speak, in an extended and sweaty sexy way, depended on his roll. I have found that these rolls' results, in this context of refreshment, are very important in helping me play the concerned NPCs later.

Also, I fortuitously had helped him out a bit by giving the female Ammeni delegate, Margaux, the Secret of Contacts, because in play, I used it to decree that she was his character's ex-girlfriend, or not really ex, more like a former lover without a breakup in the history. I had all the delegates sit down together with him for a drug-affected conference, and I was pretty proud of the drugs I'd invented for this purpose. I figured it was a formal Ammeni sequence of substances specifically designed for what might be called power-lunching about a specific issue.

1. +1 to Instinct, -1 to Reason
2. +1 to Vigor
3. +2 to Reason, -1 to Vigor

So whoever was affected by what, and by how much, would have a direct impact on their strength of all the negotiating (Sway, Deceit, Counsel, et cetera). I thought this sounded like fun, and as it happened, it was! Arnaud wasn't there because he was off experiencing the delights of goblin sex and goblin torture, but the other three were fun to play. Especially since Matthieu had been suborned by Pascal as well. I won't go into all the details of who utilized which drugs best and so on, but the ultimate effect was for Toussaint to kill Matthieu in a duel and to gain the support for his leadership of the house from Margaux and Sebastien. The duel was a lot of fun, because we interpreted mutual failure, which happened a couple of times during Bringing Down the Pain, as pure drug-addling on the combatants' parts that distracted them from actually fighting.

And finally, and most to the point for this thread, for Tim K, the needed components was all about Setting. Bluntly, he wasn't playing with his head on straight. He got his character out of the estate and ran her off across the swamp ... why? I don't know. I thought he had the Key of the Mission to blow the place up, so why he ran off, I couldn't see. Neither did he, as it turned out; he was merely reacting to the characters' resources being drained. Same goes for his next step, in which he decides to restore his character's Vigor pool and therefore should get her laid. This makes no sense, you see ... the character is a desperate fugitive who's just wandering around, and the only other guys in the swamp are the few Moonmen left after the failed uprising, all crazy and eatin' bugs. She failed her roll to get in with them, so they ran her off.

So at this point in play, which was about halfway through the events I described above for the other two characters, I'm GMing and looking at two players cranking up their characters to 11 and affecting one another like gangbusters, but at the third who is getting more and more helpless and frustated-looking. All the signs are there - Tim K keeps looking at his sheet and giving little grunting sighs, and looking up at me, starting to say something, and then stopping. The character is off in the boondocks, standing in trackless swamp, doing nothing. He's trying to go by his Keys, and forgetting that they are little wheels, not big ones, for this game. It's intervention time.

I stopped play and said it was time for a setting check. I pulled out the book and read from it to review the whole three-faction Zaru political scheme, where his character fit into that given the brief back-story of our particular game, and how that had changed when she'd killed someone (Tim's own contribution to back-story), and also how that related to Thuxra who had insinuated herself into the Ammeni household. I pointed out that Delondra, therefore, at this moment, was at a major crossroads and had the freedom to do anything Tim wanted about it - as long as he thought in those setting-terms.

Tim K went "Oh!" Just as Chris had a few minutes earlier, everything snapped together and he started playing like a fiend. Away with the Key of the Mission! Seize the Key of Vengeance (against this Ammeni family)! Seize as well the Key of the Masochist! And now Delondra got down to business by fading into the villages and starting her very own cadre of resistance against the Ammeni. Including causing trouble, getting herself (rightly) blamed for it, then (deceitfully) getting the crowd's sympathy for getting beaten for it, and refreshing his Vigor through the ordeal. Stuff like that. He forgot that the Masochist required taking real Harm, so the beating didn't net him XPs, but he resolved to remember that for next time.

For the GM, all of this was even more bonus! Basically, it sets up more adversity for the whole Ammeni/Zaru conflict as it relates to the house Toussaint has just established his control over. Awesome.

The capper involved Toussaint confronting Thuxra, when she tried to establish control over him using Zu ... and failing. I really liked the bit in which she tries to escape using the Zu word "run," and he successfully opposes it with his Bladework ... I narrated it as her indeed zooming off, running wuxia-style across the swamp-water ... and then looking down to see a blade in her body and collapsing. He locked her up and gagged her. There was also a very wicked GM moment for Pascal... just as Pascal had convinced his new noble boy-toy (oh yeah! He took Key of the Companion for Arnaud too) to free Sidonie, I had Arnaud rejoice that once freed, she would lead the Ammeni to victory. "Damn!" said Chris, realizing this wouldn't suit his Vengeance at all, and decided he and Arnaud needed to help the local Zaru instead.

So to review, at the end of the second session, the Keys looked like this:

Toussaint: Key of Power, Key of the Overlord ... and a bit retroactively, the Secret of Uz (!)
Pascal: Key of the Coward, Key of Vengeance
Delondra: Key of Vengeance, Key of the Masochist

Well then! It looked as though Toussaint had successfully established his rule over his roost only to miss the new opposition forming under his nose. I'll post about our third session a little bit later.

Best, Ron
edited to fix a couple of typos


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Larry L. on November 16, 2006, 03:52:06 PM
Ron,

Thanks for the excellent clarification on terminology. I hadn't even considered the difference. I was definitely assuming it meant the second, Sorcerer & Sword type, meaning.

I, um, yeah, I can see why it would be necessary to ask more pointed questions regarding strong setting. I'll have to mull it over and get back to you. I also wanna go back through TSoY, because I think you're tipping me off to things about the setting I had missed.

(This post was saved from the void by Firefox 2.)


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 16, 2006, 04:04:03 PM
Hi Larry,

To be absolutely clear, I think the #2 meaning is best associated with InSpectres, Universalis, and Polaris. All of those games feature revision and addition the existing back-story right there during play itself, which does not happen in Sorcerer of any kind. The Sorcerer & Sword version is a very formal and between-story version of it, so that title doesn't serve well as the primary reference.

It's no big deal in the overall scheme of our dialogue in this thread, but I did want to be clear about that for whoever's reading.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2006, 01:19:12 PM
Our third session, a couple of days ago

Hello,

Prep thoughts

I struggled a bit with preparing for this session, not really in a bad way, but in the sense that not too much content came to mind. I wanted to reach "up" a scale-level in thinking about the game, now that the basic and personal conflicts were either resolved or well on their way. I went back to the book and thought a little bit about the Year of Shadow and the Ammeni area.

Point 1 - The Ammeni noble houses were unified prior to that year, but in the hundred years since, they've been battling out a seven-way split.

Point 2 - The role of Ratkin in the area, as a potentially powerful ally for the Zaru, and their absolute lack of acknowledgment by the Ammeni, who consider them wholly animals. For our scenario, I'd stated that the ruling house in this immediate area had basically exterminated them after the last uprising. Was it time to consider any of the survivors, or any effects of their activity that persisted?

Point 3 - The potential of the Zu language, possibly one of the "great doors" in the Shadow of Yesterday - by "great door," I mean a confluence of system and other SIS features that will have unpredictable, extensive, and thematically powerful effects when utilized fearlessly through play.

My thoughts turned mainly to #2 and #3, and I came up with the notion of a dead white ratkin with an Ammeni spear through him, yet preserved in suspended animation of some kind by the Zu word "Life." I figured he'd be kind of floating there, suspended and glowing and "alive," full of some kind of magic. I came up with this partly because I like ratkin, partly because Tim K had mentioned them a bit back and I'd shut it down for a good reason, but now that's a way to keep the reason and not be such a shutdown, and partly because a resource is always a good element in a back-story as long as it's not a stupid quest (i.e. it's about using it, not getting it).

I kept it in mind here and there during the scenario, but ultimately no particular meaningful reason came up to use it, so I put it on hold. Now that I've posted it, will I use it? Probably not. The main reason why not is that after the session, it turns out that #1 above is probably more relevant to what's going on.

Thoughts on pool refreshment and the overall reward system

As I posted above, Tim K now had his character and her situation well-established in his mind. He proposed some pool refreshment in a much more focused, non-reactive way than he'd considered previously, and I made up a nice Zaru gentleman for her to do it with, named Enk. It became a three-way pool refreshment with poetry, sex, political conniving, and a reminder for me to develop another NPC. Enki became a rather poetic fellow, which permitted us to see another side of Delondra - her idealism.

One of the nice things about pool refreshment in Shadow of Yesterday is that it acts as a check on (or at least a contrasting moment for) the characters as purely vicious, XP-grabbing, goal-directed monomaniacs, because you have to connect in some way to another person. I take a little credit for this idea, from my old game design Fantasy for Real, and you can also find it in The Dying Earth, but Clinton has outshined both of these games by integrating it with the other reward/replacement systems in The Shadow of Yesterday.

What I mean is this - sure, you can add to the range of the stuff your character can do by hitting the Keys, taking new Keys, and hitting them, all the live-long day. That's the ... for lack of a better word, "obsessive" end of character change in this game. I like X, I do X, I get points which can be used to get better at X via more and better abilities, or if not, to switch to Y which is effectively just another obsession. But the pools are instead the fuel for the actions of the character, particularly in times of real adversity when you really need all the bonus dice you can get. So you can't just be Key-obsessed crazy-man, you have to take breaks and do stuff with other characters that's totally not about anything except indulgence and connection of some kind.

In isolation, the concept of "relax, live a little, self-indulge" as a character-recovery mechanic is a good one, but it's ultimately just a bit of Color. However, in combination with an entirely different mechanism of improvement, indeed an obsessive and me-me-oriented one, the two work together in a way that brings in far more content, and far more potential for building further scenes and having more stuff happen. (In fact, it points up one of the most important features of goblins ... because goblins represent the one way in which pool refreshment, for Vigor, becomes obsessive after all. Boy, they're messed up.)

And add to that, the fact that the details of pool-refreshment, in all cases, are left up to the player in terms of whether they are nice or vicious or anything in between. In both of the cases I've described so far, Toussaint and Delondra are pretty ruthless characters facing a lot of adversity, with a few successes but also a lot of brutal blow-back. Each player made sure to inject some positive elements to their pool refreshments; they didn't have to do this, but in doing so, in each case, the player made a significant thematic choice by doing so.

So I suggest really studying and applying those rules, for this game. Without them, the Keys are a hamster wheel; with them, the Keys are tremendous and stupendous. Put that interaction (Keys' development and replacement; pool refreshment) into a full setting-context, and that's how this game flies.

Events of the session

So the events of the session began with a connection between two general approaches to the situation taken by Pascal and Delondra. Pascal had decided to mobilize the Zaru via Arnaud; and Delondra meanwhile actually mobilized them via her activism, as well as wanting to get the Secret of Uz. Generally, both of these represent a challenge to Toussaint's newly-acquired power and thus our scenario is nicely stoked. Even better, concretely, according to both players, both of these entailed freeing Thuxra. That's a GM opportunity from hell; which is to say, when two characters independently want the same thing, make a big character-conflict stew via scene-framing, by saying that Pascal and Delondra arrive at the cells at the same time, which happened later in the session. (more on this later)

Ever have an NPC with no particular role or importance except that he's a necessary bit of opposition, and you either roll so well or so badly for him that he requires some kind of narrational presence after all? That would be what happened with the guy guarding the two women prisoners, who was first influenced by Pascal to beat Sidonie up (thinking it was ordered by Toussaint), then convinced that he should run off and guard Sidonie instead of Thuxra, and then failed miserably to prevent Sebastien from killing her (which was on Toussaint's orders, but still). He was the worst guard in the history of Ammeni guardsmen. It wasn't as if he was built to fail or succeed especially, I just rolled nothing but minuses for him all evening long. We decided he must have been completely stoned on Ammeni drugs or something. Maybe I'll make more of a character out of him for later, or maybe not.

While all that was going on, or the start of it anyway, Toussaint set up a deal with his allied Ammeni delegates, coordinating an economic cabal among silks, drugs, and prostitution. Having found his nastier side, he finally overcame his squeamishness of the previous session by dispatching Sebastien to kill Sidonie after all. I'm kind of sorry that I didn't frame a scene with Margaux; I want to develop her a little and will definitely do so for next time. I also think the slave girl Toussaint disported with in the previous session needs a name and stuff to do as well. (She did show up as part of Sebastien's art; it involved hot wax and the Secret of Inner Meaning, but enough said about that. I told you I had a talent for playing these sorts of characters.)

All right, so the first half of play concerned Pascal playing Deceit-games with Arnaud and the prisoners, Delondra refreshing her pools and sneaking back onto the estate, and Toussaint cutting deals and throwing his weight around among other Ammeni. As I said, the next move was the frame the two independent attempts to spring Thuxra from her cell into the same scene, and that took a couple of conflict rolls, with Pascal and Delondra entering into a temporary alliance. Which led to my next move being a fairly aggressive scene-frame - popping Toussaint into the scene too.

The climactic scene

Or, as Tim A said when I framed his character's presence right into the path of the goblin and the two Zaru as they crept to escape, "All right, little bitches."

Tim's not used to playing powerful, impressive characters - I saw this in our Sorcerer game when he consistently forgot to utilize his character's strongest score, and I saw the reverse in Space Rat when he was comfortable in the role of a different archetype. So this scene was really his opportunity to find his Inner Dark Lord.

For example, when Delondra tries to Uptenbo him, he uses React as a direct opposition. No problem there. But then, when he fails, he (quite reasonably) Brings Down the Pain ... and plotzes a bit about what this means. I engaged the rest of the group to help him out a little - how does Darth Vader win against a single leapy ninja who jumps at him with a bunch of fancy moves? He looms, that's all. No fight, no nothing - such things are beneath a True Dark Lord's notice. So Tim could stick with the React as his stated intent during BDTP as a winning and atmospheric move. It took him a bit to process this, but he did!

This was also related, a bit, to Chris being puzzled at a different point in the same scene. Basically, Delondra was switching her action, so Chris interpreted that "she takes an action to switch" as an opening during Pascal could escape the situation (specifically, Bring Down the Pain) by simply walking off. This was gamer logic: "he's losing an action? he's not doing anything? OK! I can do anything! I escape (or whatever)!" However, that does not apply one teeny whit to this game and these rules. The actual logic to use is as follows: you cannot escape Bring Down the Pain. You end it by winning, by losing all the way down, or by giving up partway through. That's it. Although your opponent cannot accomplish "something new" while he switches his intention, nothing whatsoever has changed about your options (roll for your intention or switch as well), and you will always face a roll.

Anyway, how did this scene work out? Basically, Toussaint dominated it, but there was one crucial sub-set of conflicts whose resolution is now a major turning-point of our overall situation (i.e. story-in-action).

Here's the list of what went on. Sebastien did kill Sidonie. The interesting thing is that Toussaint didn't know about the guard beating her, and at this point, he doesn't know whether Sebastien did it or not. I'm happy with that; unknowns are always important in a game involving Ammeni (or whatever version of the Borgias are featured for a given setting).

Thuxra met her end in a very interesting way. Toussaint had beaten Delondra by "resisting" her Uptenbo until she was Broken, and Pascal had been unable to flee when Toussaint overrode him. And somewhat comically, nobody succeeded in undoing Thuxra's gag for ages. Anyway, at this point, Pascal had successfully deceived Toussaint that he was totally innocent of all malice, and subsequently, Thuxra was kneeling before him and sincerely swaying him to accept her into his service as Pascal attempted to refute her. They tied.

... so I decreed that Delondra bought off her Key of the Pacifist (she is my only NPC with a Key, which at this point I had only established as a characterization device and until now hadn't intended to utilize as a mechanic), bought Secret of the Sudden Knife, and killed herself. (We can talk about how our group deals with ties in a later post if anyone is interested.)

To finish up, Delondra failed to escape when Toussaint asked her to say and listen to a proposition he has for the Zaru, at which point we ended the session. 

(follow-up post, coming up)


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2006, 01:19:36 PM
Responsive Situation-creation

Part 1: prepping

When prepping for a given session (starting or not), the primary task is to identify the questions that are inherent to the prevailing conditions. I will call them situational questions. They should be few, binary, and unavoidable either in the upcoming session or very soon after. Here are my examples for this game.

Session 1: Who will inherit the Ammeni house, and what will he or she do about the Zaru uprising? Will or will not the estate be blown up?

The point - these questions are what permit the GM to think up his or her "bandolier of Bangs" in Sorcerer, Devil-pumping scenes in Dust Devils, Spiritual Attribute tweakers in The Riddle of Steel, or specifically in The Shadow of Yesterday tems, Key Scenes. Or whatever equivalents apply to any game with such things. You should really process this point though, because trying to come up with such things without considering the situational questions first is a hopeless exercise.

Answers achieved through play: Toussaint inherits. The Ammeni/Zaru issue is left open. Not yet.

After any given session, identify the important details that can play pivotal roles later. In this case, it's the Ammeni signet ring which Pascal stole from the father's corpse and tossed to Delondra, who still has it. Note also that "not yet" is a perfectly good answer in many circumstances.

Session 2: Will or will not the estate be blown up? Will Toussaint establish respect for his leadership among other Ammeni houses? Does Sidonie get out of her cell? Will Thuxra establish control over Toussaint as she did with Sidonie?

Answers achieved through play: No (Delondra abandoned that Key). Yes, he did, killing the person who objected the most. No, she doesn't. No, she failed and was imprisoned as well.

Session 3: Will Thuxra be freed? Will Sidonie be killed? Will Pascal and Arnaud ally with the Zaru? Will Toussaint crack down on the Zaru?

Note how specific all these questions are. They are not, for instance, "how will Toussaint act toward the Zaru." That just leads to rambling and GM-helplessness during play. When you find yourself asking questions like that, reduce them to binary form: either he cracks down, or he doesn't, with the latter option exploding into a kaleidoscope of options that aren't your problem but rather the player's.

Answers achieved through play: Yes, but she kills herself. No, and she is killed. No, they didn't, although Arnaud's fate/actions are unknown. No, Toussaint did not and allowed the possibility that he will not.

And finally, setting up for Session 4: Does Arnaud establish alliances among the Zaru? Do Toussaint and Delondra establish a working accord of some kind? Does the slave-girl capture Toussaint's heart? Does Margaux capture Toussaint's heart? Does Pascal disrupt Toussaint's power or reinforce it?

As you can see, these questions don't tap into the larger-scale setting issues that I'd like to bring in more strongly, but a few days yet remain before we play again. You can bet I'll be thinking in those terms before the next session, and at least one more question at that level will be thrown in.

Part 2: during play

I trust you'll see where I utilized specific GM-task activity during the third session. This is, effectively, situational authority, practiced during play at a smaller scale than session prep or back-story creation. The actions are:

1. Having Arnaud run off by himself to organize the Zaru, according with Pascal's instructions to him, but doing it his way, without waiting for Pascal to return

- this is an NPC action, with me "playing the character" with one eye sharply cocked toward Pascal's Secret of the Companion

2. Combining player-characters' scenes, in that once Tim K and Chris had announced their characters' independent intentions to free Thuxra, I decreed they were doing it at the same time

- this is scene-framing, exerting situational authority over who is where at what time

3. Having Toussaint walk in when he did, i.e., after Thuxra was freed and all the other characters were about to exit the estate

- this is the same as #2 above

I'm discussing this issue in direct reference to Joshua BishopRoby's threads Explain to me how Bangs are not Illusionism (http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=1494) (original title at Story Games) and Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down confusion (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21694.0) (Forge). I am not confident that we actually reached agreement in those threads. I also want explicitly to disavow any agreement, at all, with his original posts in the Story Games thread. Here are the basic principles underlying the effective and necessary use of these techniques (very small Techniques, practically Ephemera) during play, such that the aspects that made Joshua uncomfortable or suspicious during his sessions (specifically The Shadow of Yesterday) are not actually problematic - not even a little bit - and have absolutely no relation to what people call "fiat," "railroading," or "GMing" in the sense of "story author."

i) Don't shove player-characters places, but do time their presence together if the places overlap, or place their locations together if the times overlap - note that in many cases, organizing such things can be handled through a roll - the game's existing ordering ("initiative") system will work perfectly for this purpose just as it does in its usual application.

The central concept for successful use: only apply this principle relative to players' announcements. Care about this totally eliiminates the covert railroading many people think is inherent to scene-framing.
 
ii) Establish and participate in an assembly-of-equals when it comes to announced actions and conflicts, so that people don't trap themselves in a scared corner (very common!). In other words, anything stated for the first time is available for feedback and editing through full-group dialogue. No one has pre-emptive speaking authority, although someone does have finalizing authority.

The central concept for successful use: in doing this, everyone must focus on and respect what the game (text or played) provides so far. You will find that any and all dispute about "could have," "would have," "but wasn't he there not here" and related stuff - which I have seen occupy upwards of 70% of total attention and dialogue during actual play - will disappear.

Also: this principle should definitely command and organize all decisions that pertain to (i) above. For instance, I asked Tim K and Chris if it was OK to frame their scenes into one.

(I have not yet been able to describe this principle in action for our Shadow of Yesterday game, and I think that practical knowledge seems to be very rare among on-line discussions of role-playing. In some cases, this is because they do not do it; in others, they do it but don't realize it. I've directly observed both versions many, many times among role-players.)

iii) Know and apply all the kinds of authority in a specific, organized fashion for a given game; do not deviate or 'port over other arrangements from (say) Primetime Adventures or Polaris. (See Silent railroading and the intersection of scenario prep and player authorship (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20791.0) for the four types of authority.)

The central concept for successful use is that everyone must grasp exactly where authority of any of the four sorts lies, with whom, at what points of play. In reference to content authority, do not alter the back-story to taste unless people know that you can do so. For the present game, I discussed this aspect of Shadow of Yesterday content authority in my above post in some detail.

iv) Have NPCs do stuff in the sense that you play them dynamically as characters. They have lots and lots of latitude for action; open yourself to acting upon that whenever those NPCs have, in the framework of the particular game, to opportunity to act. It's far simpler than many people seem to think, and I've done my best to describe it in The Sorcerer's Soul and Sex & Sorcery.

The central concept for successful use: remove from your mind absolutely all need or expectation to make players do, feel, or play something specific in response. I recommend Joel's epiphenal posts in Confessional: I was an illusionist wanker! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21641.0)

Note: this principle should addressed by (ii) above, but just as players have rubber-stamp authority over announced actions, the GM has rubber-stamp authority over NPCs' actions. Playing the NPCs is what the GM "really gets to do."

v) In both orthogonal and oppositional conflict, rely fully on the order of action and effect as dictated by the resolution system being employed; exert no fiat. If the game fails to provide a means of dealing with these sorts of conflicts, then you as a group must invent one.

The central concept for successful use: trust the damn game. I was a little surprised at people's praise for the points I made in [Frostfolk] Carrying on (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21546.0), when discussing options for mixed orthogonal/opposed resolution in Levi's game in design. I can only say, learn the games I discussed there, play them, and trust them to work, because they do. You may find that you habitually exert far more fiat than you like, and expend vast effort to do so (it's tiring!). I suspect this has marred far more Sorcerer play than I care to imagine.

I dunno what to say to conclude this post. Ask, talk, compare, comment, I'm up for it. Tim A and Tim K, for golly fuck's sake, could you please post in this thread?

Best, Ron

edited to add links and to remove a little undeserved rudeness in my phrasing toward Joshua


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Paul T on November 18, 2006, 02:22:31 PM
Ron,

I'll be happy to jump in with a few questions! I'm hoping to play a game of TSoY soon, so this thread may come in handy.

1) I'd love to hear how your group handles ties.

2) Are you using the standard rules for Pool refreshment, or the ones where the character has to "win" the physical or intellectual contest to refresh their Pool? I can't seem to find that version, but I know I've seen it...

3) About situational questions:

Part 1: prepping

When prepping for a given session (starting or not), the primary task is to identify the questions that are inherent to the prevailing conditions. I will call them situational questions. They should be few, binary, and unavoidable either in the upcoming session or very soon after.

Do you have a process or method you use for coming up with Bangs from those situational questions?

(They most obvious being: For each situational question, come up with a Bang that puts a player into a position of being able to choose an answer for that question. So, if the question is, "will the manor get blown up?", have someone try to sell his character the only bomb in the village.)

Or is it more of "keep those questions in mind while thinking about the next session", or a similar, more intuitive approach?

In other words, what is your thought process in going from formulating those questions to preparing for the next session?

4. About this bit:


ii) Establish and participate in an assembly-of-equals when it comes to announced actions and conflicts, so that people don't trap themselves in a scared corner (very common!). In other words, anything stated for the first time is available for feedback and editing through full-group dialogue. No one has pre-emptive speaking authority, although someone does have finalizing authority.

The central concept for successful use: in doing this, everyone must focus on and respect what the game (text or played) provides so far. You will find that any and all dispute about "could have," "would have," "but wasn't he there not here" and related stuff - which I have seen occupy upwards of 70% of total attention and dialogue during actual play - will disappear.

I'm not 100% sure I'm following you here, so I just want to see if I've got it right. Are you saying:

-Any announced action or conflict is open for discussion (by the whole group), even though whoever has authority to anounce that particular action or conflict maintains final say.

and

-Such discussion tends to put everyone on the same page, which means you won't have people bickering over issues like, "but he couldn't have gotten there in time!" afterwards.

Is that about right?

Thanks,


Paul T.


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2006, 02:50:32 PM
Hi Paul,

Ties: in cases of plain old opposition, we use the textual rule that the defender wins, i.e., you have to beat the other guy's value to succeed.

There are two situations we treat a little differently. The first is tying with mutual failure, which we use as an opportunity for humor or for some other kind of intermediary information or event. In basic conflicts, that intervention or interruptor closes the conflict, but in BDTP, that's just our narration preparatory to rolling again.

The second is a bit more complex - in which both characters succeed (i.e. achieve 1 or better) at the same level ... and in which there exists some zone of potential interpretive overlap between their stated intentions. For example, in the second session, during the drug-affected power-negotiation among the four Ammeni present, Margaux was trying to influence Toussaint to kill Arnaud and Matthieu, and Toussaint was trying to influence her to kill Sebastien and Matthieu. They both succeeded but tied.

Solution: they agree to kill Matthieu, the character who they both wanted dead, and specifically not to kill either Arnaud or Sebastien. Worked very nicely. You can find such solutions in many, many situations once you start looking for them. If you really can't find one, then just step back to the default of the conflict being stymied or disrupted in some way.

Quote
Do you have a process or method you use for coming up with Bangs from those situational questions?

(They most obvious being: For each situational question, come up with a Bang that puts a player into a position of being able to choose an answer for that question. So, if the question is, "will the manor get blown up?", have someone try to sell his character the only bomb in the village.)

Or is it more of "keep those questions in mind while thinking about the next session", or a similar, more intuitive approach?

In other words, what is your thought process in going from formulating those questions to preparing for the next session?

H'mmmm ... I cannot imagine, given a fictional situation (characters doing stuff in a setting) and a set of these questions, not coming up with Bangs or the equivalent of Bangs which are best suited for that particular game system. The latter act is certainly more localized and more immediately situational than the former one, but once I have the former, coming up with latter is simply automatic. I have a hard time understanding how anyone would (or could) not do so. (Clarifier: When I say "coming up with," I mean either before or during play, doesn't matter.)

I guess that's what you're calling the intuitive approach. Before anyone thinks this is some sort of Zen or hazy thing, I suggest actually trying it just as I describe. Paul Czege is a good person to turn to for advice about developing it as a skill.

Quote
Are you saying:

-Any announced action or conflict is open for discussion (by the whole group), even though whoever has authority to anounce that particular action or conflict maintains final say.

and

-Such discussion tends to put everyone on the same page, which means you won't have people bickering over issues like, "but he couldn't have gotten there in time!" afterwards.

Is that about right?

Yup!

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [The Shadow of Yesterday] Drugs, hugs, knives, and Zu
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 18, 2006, 03:06:30 PM
Oh yes, I forgot to summarize the current Secrets and Keys.

Toussaint: Secret of the Sudden Knife, Secret of Uz, Key of Power, Key of the Overlord
Pascal: Secret of the Hidden Pocket, Secret of Adaptability, Key of the Coward, Key of Vengeance (all Ammeni), Key of the Guardian
Delondra: Secret of Swamp Lore, Secret of Kinetic Redirection, Secret of Uz, Key of Vengeance (Toussaint's family), Key of the Masochist

If I'm forgetting any, I hope one of the players will chime in with the information. I remember Tim A was thinking of taking the Secret of Contacts and using it to make Thuxra a half-Ammeni relative, but I don't remember if that happened.

Best, Ron