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Author Topic: [Stranger Things] Playtest  (Read 4705 times)
Darren Hill
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Posts: 861


« on: April 13, 2006, 02:34:55 PM »

Me and two other players (Jim & Helen, husband & wife team) got together to play Stranger Things a few weeks ago, and the other thread on this game provoked me into getting off my ass and writing up the report.

Stranger Things is a game that started out as Trollbabe spin-off, but has very much developed into its own thing.
You play Strangers, beings who are part human, part demon, who live in a city overflowing with strangeness - demons, vampires, anime monsters, if you can imagine it, it can fit there.
When designing your Stranger, you pick up a number as in Trollbabe, but you have a load of attributes on the character sheet (Charm, Grace, Swift, Powerful, Arcane, and so on). During the design phase, the group decides which half of these traits are Demon traits, and which are Human traits. To succeed a Demon trait, you must roll under your number; to succeed a Human trait, roll over.
So, in this phase you decide what demons and humans are actually like in the setting (you could have put Grace and Powerful as demon traits, and Charm and Arcane as human traits - or vice versa). You also get to pick a couple of supernatural abilities for your character - useful for rerolls.
Helen chose a Goth cat-girrrrl, Sarina Lazarr, and her rerolls came from prehensile tail, amulet, and catnip!
My Stranger was Mylo Tana, someone who looked like an undertaker covered with living tattoos. His rerolls came from inhuman grace, a sabre, and his tattoo magic.
Jim's character, Karoth Hali,  was a 7' horny devil (goat legs, leather skin, hairless). His rerolls came from being Bullish, having a Reputation (good or bad, depending), and a Soul Stone which contained the soul of a former victim. He also carried a half-broken manacle as a reminder.

Stranger Things can be run as a standard single GM, multiple players, or a more-Polaris-style rotating GM. We chose the second option, where the player to your right was your GM (or Director). I was Helen's GM, she was Jim's GM, and Jim was my GM.

Strangers in this game have prophetic dreams, and these dreams are part of the setup phase of the game.
So each Stranger has a Dream Sheet - the player fills out part of the sheet (the appearance of 3 NPCs, 3 Dream Words, and 3 Dream Moments - snippets of those prophetic dreams), and the Director fills out the rest (names the 3 NPCs and adds some special traits/reroll items for them, and an obstacle and a Desire for each NPC).
It took is maybe two hours to do character design and the Dream Sheets, due to our inexperience with the system, and also due to a bit of kibitzing while Jim and Helen had their dinners. I reckon the Dream Sheets could be done in 10-15 minutes once you're familiar with it.

We all enjoyed filling out those sheets - they gave a strong sense of direction for the session. Helen has never GM'd before except for a game of Polaris she didn't enjoy, and she said that they made her first GMing experience very easy - it gave her the support and guidance she needed.
The Dream Moments in particular are a great opportunity for players to tell the GM - "I want to see this in today's session."

Then we started to play, and probably each got three scenes - a total of nine scenes in the remaining 2 hours (that's slow play by my Trollbabe standards). Of the three plots each character had, we each only resolved one.

Mylo Tana: Jim was my Director, and the keywords I'd put down were Owl, Eye, and Cruelty. He had to work them in as either Obstacles or Desires, and the plot I got involved with was a gypsy woman who was seeking help from the local undertakers/necromancers, as the clan chief (the Owl) had died and his successor needed to contact his spirit so that the clan lore/traditions could be passed on. When Mylo helped the gypsy out of a jam and headed back to her camp, he found the successor involved in a necromantic ritual - without knowing the details, Mylo cut in and tried to stop him raising the man from the dead. I used Arcane, a demon trait - which was bad for me, and failed - so I narrated a Frankenstein-like incident, as the poor Owl's body rose and went on a rampage through the camp. It was subdued, and then Mylo got in an argument with the gypsies-  maybe this was a sign it was time to move with the times, and adopt new ways. So we had a conflict where I was attempting to convince them to abandon their traditions. Jasmin, the gypsy woman, opposed me, and we ended up splitting the clan (some opting for progress, others for tradition) - they almost turned on each other and wiped each other out. Yes - a victory for progress!

Helen, Sakira: with me as GM: as her significant NPCs, she had a Victorian-style Mage, Khalid, a superstrong street urchin, and a Fawn - which I called Mephistopheles, and she wanted to be called Mr Tumness. It occurred to me after the session we could have had a conflict about that!
Anyway, Mr Tumness had been summoned to the city by the Mage, to trade for a specific book with a taxidermist mage who wanted the Fawn's skin. The Fawn, a magically wild being had escaped the mage, and was being hunted by both - Khalid was the mind-controlled slave of the taxidermist and soon turned up. (Khalid's goal: Betrayal - he wanted to betray his 'owner'). Sarika fought off some henchmen, but in the process Khalid got away with Mephy, and so she tracked him to the taxidermist/puppeteer's home, and in a couple of conflicts, killed him and freed his other pets. That resolved the Khalid goal, but Mephy's goal of "Hidden Way" and obstacle "Spell" were still to be resolved.
I did have an obstacle for Khalid as "Rain" - and I narrated rain in every scene he was on, and in the scenes where Sakira was tracking him, but it felt a bit flat as an obstacle to me.

Jim, Karoth Hali, with Helen as GM: His most significant NPC was Afaza, an insubstantial shadowy demonic shape. It's Obstacle: Clock, which was interpreted as being a time limit, with Desire: Bone - he wanted a body.
Another one of Karoth's plots was a flamboyant noble whose obstacle was Forgotten God, and desire Sarika - Helen's Stranger. We weren't actually sure if this was legal - looking at the Dream Sheet now it looks like it might not be, but we went with it to see what would happen.
Helen started the first scene with one of Jim's dream moments: taking a ladies hand and helping her out of a carriage in the rain and lightning. They headed into an opera; Karoth was called away briefly, and Afaza struck, trying to possess the lady. Karoth heard her shriek, and failed to get back in in time - he drove the shadow off, but it took the lady's soul with it.
Jim & Helen agreed that he took the lady's catatonic body back to his home, and tracked the demon to a forgotten temple - all that happened in the background. The next scene started with Karoth framed by rain & lightning, standing outside the temple. He went in, and found Afaza serving some kind of octopus god (which, incidentally, was an enemy of Mylo's that we didn't get to bring in as part of his plot in this session), putting souls into orbs on pillars - he now only needed one more to be granted a body.
Karoth tried to trade the soul he had in his stone for the lady, and Afaza tried to take them both. Karoth lost this conflict, but the soul in his stone was released - Afaza didn't get it. Karoth was defeated, and woke up in an alley later.
Now, he sought out the magistrate who ruled this area of the city, that flamboyant noble mentioned earlier, and asked for his help in storming the temple. The noble had a desire: Sarika. Karoth claimed to be expert at finding people, and convinced him that if the noble helped him, he would bring Sarika to him. (This handily fit the Obstacle/Desire progression for the noble, with a little interpretation).
So, Karoth led the magistrate to the temple, and he and his guards stormed the temple. To cut a long story short, they lost. Afaza got his body and escaped, the octopus demon slaughtered a lot of men, and the noble helped Karoth out of there. So that plot was resolved...
In this session, incidentally, Jim failed every conflict he rolled - at least four of them. He failed them all. On a few occasions were he actually almost succeeded, the NPC rerolls ensured he failed.

Observations on the session.
It was a lot of fun.
It's hard work getting all three NPCs and their plots into the session - I'd suggest that it only be needed to resolve two of them, as one of them might not be grabby enough. The suggesting in the other thread of reducing the number of plots as the number of players increases sounds like a good one. Maybe some plot tracks are shared between Strangers.
One thing we made a mistake on (I think): the rerolls Strangers have are allocated to Flame, Shadow, or Blood, but we were treating them as being usable in any type of conflict. (This didn't help Jim at all!)
I don't think NPCs need all those rerolls - unless they are divided between Blood, Flame, and Shadow as well. Also a suggestion: when a plot is resolved, that could be a refreshment of Stranger's rerolls?

Observations on the players:
On scenes just involving Jim and Helen, they often had trouble calling a conflict. they were in a scene, doing things that were opposing each other, but kept narrating their arguments, and waffling around the topic until I encouraged them to roll the dice. This seems common for these kind of games, to start off with.
The also haven't yet got the knack of using trollbabe-style failure well - they still tend to narrate failure as a character failure, rather than an opportunity for some interesting stuff to happen.
So, hopefully the final rulebook will have text to help players deal with those issues.

A great game - can't wait for the print version.
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John Harper
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« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2006, 04:08:48 PM »

Darren,

Sounds like a fun session to me.

You were absolutely right to include a Stranger as a Desire for an NPC. By the rules, a Stranger can be an Obstacle or Desire for one or several NPCs. I'm glad to hear that the Dream Sheet helped the novice GM -- that's one of my goals with this game design. I think Ron called the sheet "training wheels" which is spot on.

Re-rolls can be refreshed by having a recovery scene, the same way you heal Injured status. I may have neglected to put that in your playtest info. You refresh re-rolls by doing something associated with the re-roll type, much like refreshing a pool in The Shadow of Yesterday. So, to refresh your Flame re-rolls, you might engage in a wrestling match or have some vigorous sex. You can also combine activities during a recovery scene to refresh more than one re-roll type.

It wasn't my intention for a Dream to be played out in full in a single session. There's way too much material on the Dream sheet for that. For each Stranger, hitting one NPC's obstacle -> desire path during a session is plenty. It sounds like that's what you covered, so I think that pace is about right. Once one NPC's path is resolved, the Director has the option of concluding the Dream or continuing with the other paths. Sometimes only one or two paths are really grabby.

Questions:
Were any Strangers injured, and if so, did they have a recovery scene?
Did anyone run out of re-rolls?
Did you use the phrase, "Just like it was in your dream," to signal a dream-element in a scene, or use some other method of highlighting those things? Or did you handle it in a more subtle way? Was there any confusion among the players about how the Dream sheet elements related to events in the game?

Thanks a lot for playtesting, and for the detailed report.
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Darren Hill
Member

Posts: 861


« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2006, 04:43:26 PM »

Re-rolls can be refreshed by having a recovery scene, the same way you heal Injured status. I may have neglected to put that in your playtest info. You refresh re-rolls by doing something associated with the re-roll type, much like refreshing a pool in The Shadow of Yesterday. So, to refresh your Flame re-rolls, you might engage in a wrestling match or have some vigorous sex. You can also combine activities during a recovery scene to refresh more than one re-roll type.

I do remember mentioning that fact before we started, but once in play we forgot.

Questions:
Quote
Were any Strangers injured, and if so, did they have a recovery scene?
Did anyone run out of re-rolls?
Did you use the phrase, "Just like it was in your dream," to signal a dream-element in a scene, or use some other method of highlighting those things? Or did you handle it in a more subtle way? Was there any confusion among the players about how the Dream sheet elements related to events in the game?

Jim's character was injured in two separate scenes, and incapacitated in a third. I remembered from one draft that strangers healed an injury at the start of each scene - is that not the case any more?
He's also the one that ran out of rerolls, and wasn't using his rerolls just for the blood/flae/shadow they were assigned to. I was rolling well - couldn't fail except when I wanted to. I think also, though, that Jim wasn't willing to accept failure in a lot of situations where, if he'd been more familiar with trollbabe/ST-style failure, he could have accepted those failures and turned them to something he liked.

We didn't really do anything special for Jim's character's recovery from incapacitation. I'm familiar with refreshment scenes from Dying Earth and TSOY, but I'm not really shure how to play them beyond someone saying, "okay, I pick someone up and have a good time." Is a conflict involved?

We did use the phrase "Just like it was in your dream" - I can't remember the specific instance. I think it was during one of Helen's scenes. When my character met the gypsy woman, I worked something in there, too.
There wasn't any confusion about how the terms actually worked. There was some good-natured irritation from Jim about how to work in one of the dream words ("Owl?!? What am I supposed to do with that?") which worked itself out fine, but using the dream sheet and figuring out how it worked in play wasn't a problem. You might remember pre-playtest, I had some questions about what it means to 'resolve' a dream track, but the other players seem to grok it straight away.

About the timing: since we only played about 1-2 hours, if we'd been more experienced in the game, I think we could have resolved at least two of the dream tracks each in one session - and we were beginning to see how to cause them to overlap which would help. So having a "resolve one or two each in one session and drop the others" seems like it's perfectly possible - at our group size anyway.
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John Harper
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« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2006, 05:12:21 PM »

Recovery scenes are a chance to have a pure character moment, outside the normal conflict-heavy action of the game. Your Stranger can do something enjoyable or relaxing. By choosing what your Stranger does to recover, you show a certain side of the character that may not be seen during normal play. Take some time with it and narrate something interesting. No conflict roll is required.

Strangers no longer heal at the start of a scene. A recovery scene is the only way to heal Injured status. You can combine activities in a recovery scene to heal Injury and refresh re-rolls, if you want to. The Director makes the final call about a recovery scene, though. Recovery may not always be possible, unless circumstances allow for the Stranger's downtime.

Three players is the ideal group size, and a three hour session is what I consider normal. If that's enough time for 1-2 dream paths per Stranger, that's perfect.
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Darren Hill
Member

Posts: 861


« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2006, 05:16:13 PM »

Does the Stranger's player have narrative authority during a refreshment scene (obviously being willing to take suggestions if so)?

Regarding healing: what happens when you're Incapacitated?
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John Harper
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« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2006, 09:32:05 AM »

Yes, the Stranger's player gets to narrate the recovery, assuming the Director agrees to start the scene.

When Incapacitated, what happens depends on who gets to narrate. Just like Trollbabe, you can spend another re-roll after Incapacitation to earn the right to set your next scene. If you win, you can jump right into a recovery scene if you want. If you lose, you are the GM's "chew toy" (and you have the option to narrate the death of the Stranger, if you prefer).
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