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[The Pickup Game] - Mazio the Feral Prince & Lucinda the Clever Dodo

Started by Nev the Deranged, March 27, 2010, 08:40:34 PM

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Nev the Deranged

My friend K swung down to take me out for pizza, so we hit the local Uno's for some savory deep dish (the leftovers of which I am devouring as I type this, yum!) I had some ideas, so I pulled out my dice-in-a-cube ( and started jotting on my napkin. I came up with The Pickup Game for just this sort of situation (because I came up with it IN just this sort of situation). The rules are based on Vincent's "Otherkind dice" notes, crossed with Fred Hicks' Pace, with some minor tweaks by me.


My protagonist: Mazio, a Feral (2) Prince (1), raised in the wild by bears. A shaggy, sinewy youth with jagged, broken fingernails, clothed only in a layer of dirt and blood that obscures that fleur-de-lis tattoo on his shoulder- the mark of the royal family.

K's protagonist: Tim Lucinda Dodo, a Clever (1) Dodo (2), who enjoys melons, poetry, and wishes to earn a degree from an Institute of Higher Learning.


Mazio, Scene 1: A peasant farmer is woken by the clucking of his hens and rushes out to find a strange beast assailing his henhouse. He shoots it and it collapses with a howl of pain and falls unconscious. Inspecting it, he is surprised to find it is a child. The farmer and his wife take the child in, trim his tangled mass of hair, and bathe him. This is when they discover the mark on his shoulder- the tattoo given at birth to members of the royal line. Unsure of what to do, they put him to bed. He wakes up and immediately begins howling and rampaging around the room, being thoroughly unused to enclosed spaces.

Conflict: The wild boy wants out! The farmer's wife tries to calm/lure him with food.

Result: The boy's sensitive nose is intrigued by the smell of cooked meat which he has only on rare occasions scented from campfires he dare not approach. He attacks the food ravenously and eats himself into a pleasant coma.


Lucinda, Scene 1: Lucinda decides to leave her nest and set out for the nearest village to inquire about Institutions of Higher Learning where she might pursue her goal. She bundles up her few belongings and sets out on the forest path. It is not long before she encounters a fox, who immediately steps out to greet her with a cheerful "Good morning, Lady Dodo! Where are you headed this fine morning?" Lucinda wisely wants nothing to do with this fellow, and endeavors to confuddle him without offering any useful information.

Conflict: Lucinda wants to leave the fox behind without any information on her plans. The fox wants to know what Lucinda's about so he can figure out how to take advantage of her.

Result: Lucinda launches into a long, involved story about her grandfather Dodo, founder of the local Dodo clan, which so bores the poor fox that despite his valiant attempt to feign rapt attention, he dozes off leaning against the bole of a tree. Lucinda smirks to herself and carries on her way.


Mazio, Scene 2: The wild boy wakes up the next morning covered in strange, itchy, unfamiliar fur. Whimpering and growling, he manages to claw the clothing off. Having eaten himself stupid, and not being properly housebroken, he relieves himself in a corner and attempts to cover it with the cast off garments. He starts banging around the room, trying to figure out how to escape this curious square cave. He and the farmer's wife startle one another as she comes through the door, and she sighs at the mess he's made of himself and the room.

I don't actually remember what the conflict was in this scene. I know the boy ends up staying with the couple. Whether "Mazio" is the name given him at birth or by the farmer and his wife (who remain unnamed) has yet to be established, as are the details of how he became feral.

K, if you can recall the details of this one, comment away!


Lucinda, Scene 2: Lucinda carries on down the path, and meets a badger trundling a cart of melons to market in the village. They exchange pleasantries, and Lucinda would really like one of those delicious melons. The badger would naturally like compensation for her wares. That's why she's taking them to the market, after all. Lucinda has nothing of value, but she offers to read some poetry from one of her books (was it Emily Post? I forget)

Conflict: Lucinda wants a tasty musk melon! Will her poem be sufficient payment?
Secondary Conflict: Will her dramatic reading delay her progress long enough for the tricksome fox to wake and catch up to her?

Meta: K opted not to use either of her descriptors for this roll, and so was only rolling one die. She rolled a six, but I explained that she could only apply it to one of the conflicts, the other one she'd automatically lose. She wanted a re-roll, and I wouldn't let her. Looking back, this was borderline assholery on my part, since I hadn't explained that part to her before her roll. It didn't occur to me at the time that this was unfair, and she didn't really seem upset, but I think if she'd pressed the issue, I'd have let her re-roll with 2 dice.

Result: Lucinda's poem, which well performed, does not impress the badger enough to part with a melon, however they do make good time toward the market, leaving the slumbering fox far behind. Lucinda even helped push the cart part of the way, and I decided that the badger gave her a melon when they got to town anyway. (Technically, she shouldn't have got one, but maybe I subconsciously realized I'd cheated her out of her second die and gave it to her). And so she enters the village with a sticky beak and fingers (feathers?).


Meta: The Pickup Game is pretty fast and loose with mechanical responsibilities, scene framing and such can be done by whomever has an idea that everyone thinks is cool. We chatted for a bit about whether to pick up from the last scene or to fast forward, and ended up deciding to skip ahead.

Mazio, Scene 3: Six months have passed, and the farm couple have basically adopted the wild prince and begun raising him to live like a human. He is wearing clothes now, helping out on the farm, and beginning to understand the rudiments of language. They mostly keep him away from other people, and take great care to hide the mark on his shoulder, which anyone would know on sight. One day, while the farmer (still no name) is away in the village, the wife falls seriously ill unexpectedly. After tugging at her prone form for a while, grunting "mama?" and getting no response, the boy decides he needs to find his surrogate father for help. Following his still-keen sense of smell, he traces the farmer's path toward the village.

Conflict: Will his nose lead him to the farmer, or lead him astray?

Result: As he nears the town, the smells become more tangled and confused, and Mazio pauses, scratching his head and grunting to himself, uncertain how to proceed.


Lucinda, Scene 3: Following the signs in the village, Lucinda makes her way to the Information Booth (I was imagining a bulletin board, but K decided it was an actual booth manned by a person) and makes her inquiries there. The man at the booth is less than helpful, mocking her Dodo heritage. "Aren't Dodos really stupid?" She is about to answer with a sharp retort when another man comes in and shoes the first one away. It turns out the first guy, Bert, was actually just the janitor, and was holding down the booth while the actual attendant went out for meat pasties. Lucinda attempts to get directions to the nearest Institute of Higher Learning from this supposedly knowledgeable person.

Conflict: Will Lucinda get the information she seeks?

Meta: This one came up "no resolution", which in The Pickup Game means that the conflict carries over into the next scene, where it becomes a secondary conflict to the main one.

Result: The booth attendant did in fact give Lucinda detailed, albeit complicated, directions. "It's about 47 leagues down this road, then turn left for about 15 leagues until you come to the border. Bribe the guards there, then continue another 23 leagues..." etc. Disheartened at the length of this journey, Lucinda asks where she might find a guide or bodyguard to accompany her on this quest. The attendant suggests the local Adventurer's Guild, or of course there's always the tavern on the corner. Lucinda decides she'll have better luck at the tavern, and heads there.


Mazio, Scene 4: The poor boy, confused by all the conflicting smells and tracks as he nears the town, accosts a passing shepherd driving his flocks to market (there was a lot of going to market in this session, even though the stories were ostensibly set in different worlds, there was joking about having the protagonists run into each other. We figured Lucinda might just get eaten by Mazio, so maybe that wasn't the best idea). The sheep were extremely wary of this person, who despite wearing clothing, moved more like an animal than an upright human. He tried, with his halting grasp of the common speech, to ask where the farmer might be.

Conflict: Does Mazio make it into town?
Secondary Conflict: Does his odd behavior start rumors among the local populace?

Result: In his state of distress, the poor boy's language was even less coherent than usual, and having reverted to his hunched, four-footed posture does nothing to help his cause. The shepherd hurriedly moves on, and Mazio decides he has no better option than to follow this man, who seems at least similar to his foster father- perhaps they are going to the same place? The shepherd eyes him warily, but allows him to follow at a discrete distance, and so far has not made up his mind whether or not this is worth telling about over a pint of ale once he gets to town.


Lucinda, Scene 4: Lucinda stands at the door to the pub, her squat avian body visible below the saloon-style doors (an amusing bit of napkin-art ensued). She enters and hops up onto one of the stools with a "plok!" (this is apparently an inside joke from some book by Jasper Fforde that K's been reading). The bartender asks what she'll have, and she invents a new beverage on the spot- the Bananas Foster Smoothie (we had just ordered bananas foster for dessert). The bartender is intrigued and goes to rummage in the back for about an hour. He emerges with the world's first exotic mixed drink and declares it fantastic. He brews up a huge batch for the whole house and a party ensues, with everyone congratulating the Clever Dodo on her invention. Of course, they're all getting completely blotto (somehow the ratio of rum to other ingredients keeps growing as each batch gets poured), so getting information or assistance from them may prove challenging.

Conflict: Can Lucinda get help with her quest?
Secondary Conflict: Does everyone get salmonella from spoiled cream used to make the drinks?

Meta: I was kind of tempted to have the secondary risk be "everyone dies from the spoiled cream", but so far Lucinda's story had been pretty sanguine, so I toned it down to "everyone gets sick". This would probably still damage Lucinda's reputation among the locals, and was a bit less gruesome.

Result: Everybody gets sh!tfaced, but nobody gets sick. Lucinda corners a burly gentleman in a booth (one of the few who seems to be holding his liquor) and engages him in conversation. "This is great stuff!" he exclaims. "I haven't had a drink this good since I found that Potion of Ebullience in that wizard's tower back in '82! Course I peed rainbows for a week... this isn't gonna make me pee rainbows, is it?" he asks, conspiratorially. "I wouldn't know, I've never had it before either." Lucinda politely replies. "Did you say a wizard's tower? That didn't happen to be part of an Institute of Higher Learning, did it?" she continues, eager for any possible lead. "What, you mean like a school?" he thinks for a moment. "I don't think so. Not like the old College of Fighting Arts back home." he thumps the insignia on his tabard. Lucinda purses her beak. She hadn't considered the possibility of such an education. As the burly fellow calls for another round and begins a bawdy song, she contemplates her next move.


And there we left off. Stupid patrons kept going out the emergency door behind our table and letting the cold evening air in, so we gathered our things and headed out.

The Pickup Game once again proves an amusing diversion for two players. The one time I tried with three was a bit messier, the rules for that still need hammering out.

K, feel free to add any details I may have forgotten, my napkin notes were not that comprehensive.

Nev the Deranged

(kaysootee said this on March 28, 2010 at 6:57 pm)

I'm glad the "Institute of Higher Learning" made it in to this – as Lucinda was quite fond of referring to it that way.

Oddly enough, I don't remember Mazio being shot.

Mysterious conflict...I think we talked about the farmer's going to town and whether or not he was going to tell anyone about the boy he'd found. And whether they were going to keep Mazio, or turn him out, and what they'd tell people when they became aware of his presence. Did that all get worked into a conflict? The farmer did go into town and put out feelers to see if he could figure out what Mazio's connections were (how does one lose a prince, and when one finds one, what does one do? guess it depends on how the current administration feels about said prince and how one feels about bounties/rewards etc. that may exist).

Lucinda was carrying a book of Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems (I may have said 'Emily'). Famous for that "How Do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways" poem. And, I'm sure, others. If I can't even remember her name, I'm unlikely to be able to recall her poems. Good thing I'm not the clever dodo – I'd be a disgrace!

I really like the possibility of a ninja dodo. Too bad you kept thwarting Lucinda's ambition. I guess maybe that was the point? To thwart? I think you should consider maybe less thwarting and more competing to make the most interesting story possible (for future pick-up games, perhaps).

(Dave said:)

I think we glossed over Mazio being shot... it was never clear what he was shot by and we never dealt with any wounds from said shooting. Maybe it was just that they coaxed him inside with food? I don't recall.

Ah, yes, I knew Emily Post wasn't right, because there were three names.

The thwarting is kind of the point- it's the Guide's job to advocate for their protagonist, and the Adversary's job to put obstacles in their way. The goal is not really to thwart them so much as it is to make things interesting and give them a chance to protag. If Lucinda just went to university and got a diploma, without encountering any problems on the way, the story would be dull.

Anyway, I thought Lucinda's story was quite amusing.

One optional rules addition I haven't tried yet is having each player choose a goal for their character/story, and then set a number of scenes for the story.

So, something like "I want Mazio to regain his claim to the throne in 10 scenes" or "I want Lucinda to enroll in an Institute of Higher Learning in 8 scenes". I'm not sure if this would be good creative constraint or just make it difficult to frame scenes. Certainly it would have an affect on the scope of individual conflicts. Also, maybe it's more fun not to have anything in particular in mind? Or maybe it is. There's no guarantee the goal will actually be *reached*, just that the Guide will strive to get their protagonist there and the Adversary will try to make their lives diffic- er, interesting.

Nev the Deranged

(kaysootee said this on March 28, 2010 at 8:47 pm)

It's not that I wanted Lucinda to just get her diploma without any hassle...I just thought the story of what kind of schooling she got and *how* she got her diploma would be more interesting than all of the obstacles in her physically getting to a university. I mean, being waylaid in the woods by strangers and misinformed in town was fine, but she could have had a truly bizarre conversation with the Dean of Students and tried to make her case to be enrolled. Being thwarted there, she might have then taken a job in the stables or the library or the cafeteria. She was left in a good predicament – assuming the adventurer took her to some kind of college. But, meh. Perhaps I will just write out what *I* want to happen with Lucinda.

Nev the Deranged

Well, I think we would have gotten there eventually. Do you think that if we'd used the "x goal in y scenes" option it would have worked better? You could have said "I want Lucinda to get her diploma in 10 scenes" and then we'd have known not to dawdle too long on the way there, maybe just one scene.

I kind of liked how it went myself, but you certainly could have spoken up if you felt like you weren't getting what you wanted out of it.

Nev the Deranged

Also, I should point out that had I not made Lucinda's life difficult, she never would have invented the Bananas Foster Smoothie (and foofy drinks in general), nor would she have ever considered an education in the Fighting Arts.

That said, (and I know I never really explained the rules fully), you are totally allowed, as the Guide, to suggest conflicts and secondary risks for your protagonist. That way you can add risks and goals that steer the story, like adding a rudder to your rowboat. Or something.

Nev the Deranged

(kaysootee said this on March 29, 2010 at 6:10 pm)

I vant what I vant. I am just a bit impatient. Maybe. I think the x goal in y scenes only provides additional incentive to thwart – in whatever way. The spokesperson for the protagonist will certainly want to achieve more and more quickly, but there isn't really any incentive to make the antagonist play along. Unless you decide ahead of time what the scenes are going to be.

We were on our way to where I wanted Lucinda to be. So, perhaps it would have played out ok (if it hadn't gotten so inconveniently cold).


(Dave replies)

The Adversary's job isn't really to prevent the protag's goals, although I suppose without advice to that effect it'd be easy enough to just cockblock away. I wasn't so much interested in thwarting Lucinda's progress entirely as making sure it was an interesting trip. Although we did kind of fall into a sort of pattern of "she wants information",  "she doesn't *quite* get it", "she wants information" She was in danger of being promoted to Number Two. But it was kind of amusing, I thought, and certainly fit a certain "children's story" sort of mold. But perhaps that was not quite what you had in mind. You are always welcome to speak up!

Nev the Deranged

(kaysootee said this on March 29, 2010 at 6:50 pm)

I was quite pleased that there was the possibility of Lucinda getting a degree sort of through the back door (the fighting arts). I guess I'm just complaining that it didn't move along a little more quickly so that we could get to that point. I am speaking up now. In case you missed it. *flick* I really didn't want the fox to show up again – I felt he'd served his purpose. When you tried to bring him back, I was happy to send him away again. I'm still not sure I understand the whole secondary risks things.

The whimsicalness of the story was fine.


(Dave replies)

It's my fault for not actually explaining how the game worked before we started. I tend to like to explain during play, because nobody likes a big info-dump and nobody can remember it all anyway.

The way secondary risks/conflicts/goals work is that after the primary conflict has been established, either player can declare secondaries that also tie in to the scene.

For instance, if there is a scene in which Dr. Bob the Mad (1) Scientist (2) is trying to perfect his formula for turning chimpanzees into calliope virtuosos, the main conflict might be "Does the formula work?", whereas secondary risks might be "Does the formula have unforeseen side effects?", "Does the chimpanzee escape?", "Does Dr. Bob accidentally ingest some of the formula?". There's no limit to how many or how few there can be, and in the proper game, (I had to tweak things slightly because we only had the three dice) you'd get to roll an additional die for each one, plus any bonus dice from Mad (+1) and Scientist (+2).

The main caveat is that the risks/goals must all be orthogonal, which is to say, they must all be able to succeed or fail independently of one another. Looking through my examples above, you'll note that any combination of them could happen or not happen, and the scene would still be resolved in a way that made sense fictionally. That's key.

For future reference, it is totally okay for you to just call for a conflict yourself, and make the scope of it bigger, like "The conflict in this scene is "Does Lucinda get to the University of Balderdash?""

Oh, right, and I almost forgot, this speaks directly to the POINT of secondary conflicts, which is that the more risks you're willing to put your protagonist through, the more dice you get to roll, which increases the chances of getting at least one +/5-6, which you can apply to your primary goal in the scene (assuming you're willing to accept the downsides of the secondary risks, which in some cases you weren't.)  I realize also that because we were using the only-3-dice tweak, this was less apparent. Er... actually, I guess, impossible. So, yeah. Thanks for helping me playtest that particular tweak! Now I know that it changes the dynamic of play considerably. =\