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Author Topic: [& Sword] The Heart of Africa - Prep for Session 1  (Read 2922 times)
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« on: November 20, 2006, 03:33:36 AM »

I need your help with Bangs and prep!

I had the brainstorming / character generation session for a long-awaited game of Sorceror and Sword yesterday. I'm GMing. The players are Sean and Gino (who, if you're reading this, there are big-arse spoilers ahead). Sean's a screenwriter who's been super-keen to try Sorceror since his experience with The Mountain Witch. Gino's in my regular Tuesday night indie-gaming group. We've all been friends for 15+ years.

I pitched 3 settings at them. Here's what they went for:

Africa.
The cities are decadent and super-sophisticated, filled with scheming viziers and dusky maidens.
Out in the savannas there are demons made of smoke, the walking dead, and savages.
The protagonists are white men from faraway empires.
There's two fisted adventure, sex, and racism.


From that, Sean immediately seized on the idea of playing RASPUTIN. He's travelled here to find the heart of Africa, feeling that if he can understand this country then he'll understand himself.

Why? Because Rasputin is an orphan, who survived on the Russian streets by thieving and using women. But a nasty sexual relationship with the manipulative CONTESSA, a Sorceror, led him to understand that he was not entirely human ... and that answers about the source of his inhumanity lie in Africa.

Rasputin is agressively acquiring sorcerous power. He's bound an arrogant spider totem that Boosts his Lore and gives him a Cover/Past of Witch Doctor. Rasputin also has the Destiny that he'll become the Rasputin of history, an evil manipulator of men. Sean loves the idea that as he penetrates deeper into the mystery of Africa, Rasputin will delve into the heart of himself, and what he learns there is unpleasant and disturbing. Think Lex in Smallville - and the tension of wondering exactly when he'll turn bad.

Gino decided to play a more light-hearted, initially side-kick character - SEBASTIAN Wilfred Ellery - dissolute son of an English lord, sent to Africa to make his fortune. What's cool about his character is that he's starts off racist and superior, but Gino gave him the Destiny of "African Crusader", an Allan Quartermain/Great White Hunter figure who goes native and completely surrenders to the African way of life.

Sebastian has Lore 1. The sorcery he's picked up is from watching Rasputin and getting into scrapes out in the wilderness. However, Gino *loved* the idea of having Brush with the Unknown as a descriptor for his Stamina. He described a duel with a Sorceror where a demon scraped his cheek, leaving a glowing red scar ... and since then, Sebastian has been ever so slightly faster and stronger than before.

So, racism and discovering the darkness in oneself. They're a classic partnership: Rasputin, serious; Sebastian, more carefree. And we know that at some point in their career, they're going to fall out massively once Rasputin's true nature emerges.

Gino suggested that he wanted to play something from Season 3 or 4 of a TV series (like Buffy). This TV idea became a guide for our thoughts on the 'unit of play' for the game. Episodic, two- or three-part stories, Adults Only content, but occasionally revisiting locations and characters.

Gino again suggested a starting point - a city high in the trees of a forest, the only source of a buoyant wood that is as hard as steel. Rasputin and Sebastian are traders and explorers, and they're here to get the rights to the wood. In my prep, I've decided that MALLAM Koli is the man who has the monopoly over the wood, and since Gino mentioned Sebastian was interested in an African woman, I made her the daughter, MAKEDA Koli.

For Kickers, Sean actually suggested one for Gino, that he wakes up in bed with the Contessa. Gino says that she manipulated him into it somehow & he's primarily interested in why she did it. But he also wants Makeda to know it happened, and for that to throw their whatever-it-is (attraction? UST?) into ... not uncertainty, not jeopardy. I guess it's a point where they need to define what it is.

For Sean, his Kicker is finding out that the Contessa is here. Why? It must have something to do with him. And why did she sleep with his friend?

I think the Contessa has brought Rasputin's baby with her.

The idea of what Rasputin's children would be like got brought up as a throw-away idea during character creation. So far, it's stuck with me, but I'm prepared to have my mind changed on that point.

So, from Ron's 'Zu' thread, I think the situational questions are:

1. Will Sebastian confront the Contessa?
2. Will Rasputin be angry with Sebastian for sleeping with the Contessa?
3. Will Rasputin confront the Contessa or not?
4. Will Sebastian be able to talk to Makeda without her family finding out? (I think they are racist against white people, and would disapprove of anything between them).
5. Will Sebastian convince Makeda that he was manipulated into having sex?
6. Will the Contessa tell Rasputin what she's up to?

And now, if there's any ideas you can give me, this is where I need them.

Are those situational questions well formulated?
What would be some good Bangs?
What's the Contessa up to, and why would it involve sleeping with Sebastian?
Logged

Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2006, 05:59:21 AM »

Hiya,

Your situational questions aren't strong enough. "Will X confront Y?" is a very simple thing - you're the GM, scene-framer, and if you decide they will, then they will. The situational questions need to reside on the decisions of the players - they are questions that you cannot answer in any possible way, but must wait to see what happens during the action.

Similarly, "will he be angry?" ... well, so what if he is? There's nothing there, he can get angry or not get angry, and all we'll see is an actor-style opportunity to depict emotion.

You need to think past these set-up and reactive context for discovering the situational questions. You need to think more about binary, irrevocable, turning-point questions, but also keep them very logistic.

From my Shadow of Yesterday thread, look at the questions for session #3. "Will Thuxra escape?" I as GM can't say she does, or if I decide to have her try, I'll have to roll during a scene like everyone else. Is it concrete? It sure is. Does it matter? It sure does; Thuxra is a highly-motivated NPC with significant magic powers. Are the player-characters invested in her and what she does? They sure are.

I'm not seeing the crucial features of the questions in your post. You are thinking too much about "GM notes," in the sense of what you will say and how the players might respond, within a single scene. Get out of prep-moments-of-play mode entirely. Look at the whole situation. Here's a method I don't use much, but can be helpful - take a blank piece of paper and write the player-character names anywhere on it, at random. Write their demons' names next to theirs. Write down associated NPCs with them too. Now put in the NPCs you have been musing about. This is basically a 'storymap' as defined in Legends of Alyria, a very different animal from the relationship map method. And for now, let's stick with the baby issue, because you've rightly tagged it as a thing which makes play more interesting and given some weight to the Kickers.

That means you have to get a lot more interested in the Contessa, yourself. I don't get the impression that you have any idea how to play her at all. Let me suggest that she did not manipulate whatsisname into sex, from her point of view. And that she does have that baby with her, and you know what, let's say it doesn't have Cosmic Powerz and will not, in fact, Unravel Space & Time by its very existence. It's just a baby, OK?

Given that, your job is to remember that the story hinges on the player-characters' actions. What stuff can they do which is binary, concrete, and irrevocable?

If you can't answer that, then you don't have enough higher-level prep yet. That's because you missed a step (see the first chapter!!) Go back to the setting, now that it's been rounded out by character creation, and make up a damn locale for these Kickers in the most hard-core, pulp, no-holds-barred, multiple-NPC way that you can. Get crazy.

Once you do that, then you can go back to this little triangle of demonic weirdness and sex, and find the questions.

Best, Ron

Logged
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2006, 02:52:35 AM »

Good advice, Ron. During the last 3 days of working my way through & Sword, I’ve:

-   written a Chronology
-   developed ideas for the Forest City of N’Koli. I used Aria Worlds for inspiration
-   went crazy adding NPCs to the story-map, then figured out there are 4 main characters who want to affect the PCs
-   figured out what those 4 want (in general, and from the PCs)
-   Statted up the NPCs
-   Statted up the Demons and played through the bindings. This step helped me visualise and understand the 2 NPC Sorcerors

The Chronology is awesome! It includes everything the players have told me their PCs have done. It’s in an approximate order & gets added to every time an NPC binds a demon or I discover a new fact about them. All of this helps flesh out the world. The best thing is that there are ‘clumps’ in the Chronology where we know quite a bit about what’s happened. These suggest contexts for further adventures to play through.

The setting is a ‘dictatorship with a pleasant veneer’. Mr Koli has risen to power due to his monopoly over the process of creating barksteel. In the process, he’s created the treetop city, established a professional army that’s loyal to him, turned the royal family of the region into ceremonial figures (and imprisoned them in a well-guarded ‘residency’), and enslaved the villages below the city.


The 4 Main NPCs

The Contessa is an dominatrix fantasy figure out of an erotic nightmare. She bound The Stara, an African parasite, to herself in a horrific sexual ritual. She was then surprised to get pregnant with Rasputin’s child. The Contessa wants Rasputin to stay with her and be a father to their baby. Then, for Rasputin to marry her. Then, for them all to return to Russia.

She will ruin Rasputin (and, incidentally, Sebastian) so he has no other options.

***

Kigongo is the Sorceror who Rasputin and Sebastian stole the Spider Totem from. Kigongo is a cannibal and witch doctor. He wants ‘his’ Spider Totem back and he wants revenge on Rasputin and Sebastian.

He is killing off Rasputin and Sebastian’s business rivals and framing them for the deaths.

***

Mr Koli is the dictator. He’s juggling his family, the barksteel industry, trade negotiations, ruling the city, subjugating the slaves, and planning a coup against the royal family. Mr Koli is extremely stressed.

He wants Sebastian to stay away from his daughter, Makeda. He wants to give the rights to export barksteel to anyone but Rasputin and Sebastian, because they are umlungo (whites).

***

Makeda Koli wants Sebastian to stop breaking her heart and make his feelings for her clear. If that goes well, she has plans for possible directions their life together could take.

Makeda is the NPC I’m the least certain I’ve got locked down. But this could be because what she wants is gentler and more reasonable than any of the other 3 NPCs.

(Next up, situational questions.)
Logged

Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2006, 12:01:31 PM »

There is a fifth NPC who’s worth mentioning – the demon that Rasputin bound. JALALI the Spider Totem's Need is to be fed small living things. He considers himself to be Rasputin’s superior, refers to himself as King Spider, and wants Rasputin to address him as “Your majesty.” Jalali also knows a vital clue to Rasputin’s heritage; Sean has told me that finding out about that heritage is an important part of what he’s interested in with this character.

So, Jalali wants to eat Rasputin's baby. In exchange, the demon will tell Rasputin about his ancestry.


The Situational Questions this suggests to me

1. Will Rasputin accept he’s the father of the baby?
2. Will Rasputin sacrifice his baby to Jalali?

3. Will Sebastian confront the Contessa?
4. Will Sebastian tell Makeda how he really feels about her? (Bear in mind, I don’t know how he really feels about her.)

5. Will Rasputin and/or Sebastian get the Contessa to tell the truth about why she’s here?
6. Will Rasputin and Sebastian convince the authorities they didn’t kill anybody?
Logged

Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2006, 12:07:50 PM »

"Will Sebastian confront the Contessa?"

Ron, of course you've already identified this as weak. Like you said, this is scene-framing.

What I mean is that the Contessa won't want to see Sebastian after their night together, and she has a powerful warrior demon who's under orders to stop Sebastian getting close to her. So, maybe the question is:

"How far is Sebastian willing to go in order to confront the Contessa?"
Logged

Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
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