Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family

I grew up in central South Dakota and, as a gamer from an early age (I convinced my folks to buy me the DnD redbox from a Sears catalog when I was nine), had to deal with a lot of flak, thanks largely to SUPER-informative publications like the Chick Tract “Dark Dungeons“, an upbeat little piece that I would find in my locker at school or see in my Sunday School mailbox with fair regularity.

I sometimes voice a fair amount of disdain for living in South Dakota, and you should understand: a lot of my bitterness comes from being the subject of a sort of passive-aggressive, community-wide intervention for about eight years. It got old.

With that said, my parents tended to take a pretty understanding view of the whole thing. I was involved in what I think is commonly known in academic circles as a “shit ton” of extracurricular activities, and my grades were good… in short, hauling around two gigantic, overstuffed gym bags full of DnD hardbacks wasn’t having any detrimental affects on anything other than my overburdened spine, so they general left it alone. (They took a similar approach to my voracious consumption of fantasy and science fiction, to the exclusion of almost all other literature, figuring “it doesn’t really matter what he’s reading, so long as he’s reading.”)

Still, it’s always been a bit of a sticking point with me; a sour note, if you will. It’s one thing (and a good thing) for your parents and extended family to “leave you be” to pursue your own interests, but it’s another thing entirely for them to join you from time to time in this thing that you really enjoy. I certainly knew what that kind of thing felt like, thanks to my time in band, and sports, and theatre productions, but I’d never got my family to sit down with me and help me slay a dragon.

Apparently, that’s always bothered me at least a little bit, because I keep trying to find “my kind” of games that my family might also enjoy; I mean, I know they like games, because we play a lot of them, and always have — my parents’ collection of board games, decks of cards, and domino sets is quite impressive.

Generally, this effort falls far short of success (I don’t even pull the game out, let alone try to play it), but there have been a few bright spots here and there: my dad took to Shadows Over Camelot like a pro, for example: fire gleaming in his eyes as he undertook the destruction of catapults that dared threaten the castle.

There was always the tantalizing opportunity for  success, is what I’m saying.

That opportunity has gotten a lot better as my sister’s kids get older, because they are brilliant and funny and happen to think their uncle is somewhat cool. I’ve played very short games of Shadows and Otherkind with them before, but as I packed for one of my far-too-infrequent visits back home, there was really only one game I considered worth sticking in my backpack.

That game was the shiny new hardback copy of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple that I’d just gotten in the mail days before, written by Daniel Solis and inspired in part by animated series like Avatar: the Last Airbender (a big hit with the preteen crowd in my family).

“I brought a game along for us to play,” I told my twelve-year old nephew.

“What kind of game?” he asked.

“Kind of a story-telling game,” I said.

(Now, I’ve gotten a little tired of the “storygame” label that gets slapped on any indie-published game these days, but I want to be clear about this point — Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is very definitely a story-telling game in the purest, non-jargony sense — in fact, I would call it a story-telling game far more readily than I would call it a roleplaying game, and I don’t think that would upset the author very much; certainly, I intend it as a compliment.)

“But we need a couple people to play,” I said.

‘How many?” he asked.

“A few,” I repled. “We need to get your mom and Grandma to play.”

“Coooooool,” he said.

Getting my nephew on board was the easy part, however, because our limited schedule and (literally) dozens of relatives coming by to visit, hold the new baby, and get caught up meant that we didn’t really have a large window of opportunity.

In fact, it wasn’t until Saturday evening, with our departure looming the next afternoon, that I decided that if the game was going to happen at all, it had to happen Now.

I won’t lie: I pretty much used guilt to get people to participate. In short, my nephew wanted to play, my nephew is awesome and kind of adorable, and anyone who said no would not be disappointing me, but him… which is basically like kicking a puppy.

No one wants to kick a puppy.

So, thanks to that bit of leverage, we got the smaller kids to bed (I’d intended for them to play, but it had just gotten too late) and sat down with my nephew, my wife (a gamer), and my sister and mom, both of whom took their seats protesting that (a) they didn’t get these kinds of games (b) they were absolutely crap at coming up with stories and (c) they were way too tired to think.

I would not be deterred. Passports (character sheets) were handed out, and the super-simple process of character creation began. I explained the process of coming with a pilgrim name, gratefully read example names from the beautiful book, used my own character (whom I’d played while the game was still being playtested) as an example, and in a few minutes we had our pilgrims assembled and ready to deal with the requests for aid being sent to the Flying Temple.

D, my nephew, presented us with Pilgrim Punching Fox, who gets into trouble by trying to solve problems with his lightning fast kung-fu, and who helps people by being clever, fast, nimble, and generally fox-like.

B, his mom and my sister, came up with Pilgrim Stinking Sherpa, who get into trouble because of the overwhelming stench that surrounds her, and helps people by leading them to the best course of action.

J, my mom, eventually worked out Pilgrim Curious Dog, who gets into trouble by poking around in things she shouldn’t, and helps people by being loyal.

K, my wife, introduced Pilgrim Warm House, who gets into trouble by believing unswervingly in True Love, and who helps people by providing shelter.

I brought back Pilgrim Broken Bear (formerly Broken Stone), who gets into trouble by breaking things accidentally, and who helps people by being protective.

The exciting thing: we hadn’t even gotten through character generation before my nephew and sister were kicking in ideas, brainstorming different ways the pilgrims’ Banners (bad points) and Avatars (good points) would work in play, and even making suggestions to J for her character’s name — she’s a literal person, and the metaphors that lie behind most Pilgrim names were a bit too much for her at 10pm, but once we focused on what she wanted (loyalty, for example), and then found a word to go with that, it was easy.

Here’s how play went.

Continue reading “Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family”

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple — “Swallowed Whole”

Despite crazy schedules and a newborn to deal with, Chris and Tim and I managed to get together last night to for a little gaming. We were looking for something one-shot-like, and *I* was looking for something requiring minimal prep (and possibly minimal brain function; I’m a little short on sleep). After looking at a few options (Annalise, Dead of Night) we settled on Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, written by Daniel Solis with some heartfelt bows in the direction of animated series like Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Local friends will know Daniel’s work through Happy Birthday Robot — a game that I introduced at a local food and fun day at the Consortium back when it was a charmingly illustrated webpage, and have since given as Christmas gifts. Do is a game somewhat in that vein, though a bit less strict in terms of how much everyone’s allows to contribute on each move; on your turn, constrained somewhat by which color (and how many) stones you draw from a bag, you write a sentence about your character’s actions, and everyone else then counters your heroics with some appropriate troubles and problems.

I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with the ”storygame” label for the indie-published games that I’ve mostly been playing for the past <mumble> years, but I want to be clear about this point — Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is very definitely a story-telling game in the purest, non-jargony sense — in fact, I would call it a story-telling game far more readily than I would call it a roleplaying game, and I don’t think that would upset the author very much; certainly, I intend it as a compliment.

On to the Game!

Tim and Chris showed up promptly at six pm, and after a quick game of Yikerz and a discussion of its potential uses as a resolution mechanic in an RPG, we got started with Do by creating pilgrims. The game has no GM (or rather, that role is both shared and rotating), so I made up one as well!

Chris presented us with Pilgrim Yawning Porcupine. Yawning Porcupine gets into trouble by being lazy, and helps people by browbeating them into doing the right thing.

Tim came up with Pilgrim Loquacious Heart (earning him the first acronym designation in my journal). PLH gets into trouble by talking too much, and helps people by showing them how to love. (Awww…)

I made up Broken Stone. Pilgrim Broken Stone gets into trouble by shattering things accidentally, and helps people by being steadfast.

Here’s how play went.

Continue reading “Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple — “Swallowed Whole””

Sacrifice, Interesting Failure, and Diaspora Hacks

I’ve been thinking (and talking) about sacrifice in games, and how that ends up playing out at the table.
Originally, I was going to amass some kind of who’s who list of games that have mechanics that let you ‘push’ to achieve victory, but in the end I came to the conclusion that that kind of misses the point unless I use it as an illustration of the larger issue.
Which begs the question: what’s the larger issue?
Well, it’s a little bit about suffering and sacrifice, and a little bit about game currency, and as always it’s colored by the games I’m playing right now, so let’s start there.
As I mentioned before, Shadows Over Camelot is a game that requires some tactically tough choices from the players, and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to me as a player; I like it — it makes me make that Tim the Toolman simian grunt and nod appreciatively. I like mechanics that let you pay for a little more awesome with your own blood (symbolically speaking).
There aren’t a *lot* of RPGs that have mechanics that do that, but there are a few, and they each do things a little differently, so let me talk about them.
  • “The hard choice: be awesome now, or get better in the long run?” The best examples of these that I can think of off the top of my head are Nobilis and Heroquest (the RPG, not the boardgame, and the old edition, not the new one, which I’m not familiar with).  In both these games, your character earns one type of currency (can’t remember what it’s called in Nobilis, but it’s Hero Points in HQ) that gets used for two different things: (1) one-shot boosts to your current conflict, (2) improving your character by improving or buying new abilities.  In this kind of situation it’s the players who are put in kind of a crunch — do I really want to win this current conflict, or do I want to finally buy a new mastery level in Butterknives (or whatever).  There are systems and methods that people tend to adopt for coping with this decision, but it does make things interesting, in that people might not automatically buy their way to victory every single time. (More about that tendency later.)
  • “You can keep trying, but it’ll cost you.” There are other examples of this, but the one that I remember right now is Trollbabe. Very interesting game. The conflict mechnic is a very simple yes-no roll. However, if you fail the roll, you can either take your lumps (you don’t get what you want and you suffer virtually no other fall out), or you can try again. If you try again, the potential fallout gets more dangerous. Did you fail again? Okay, you can bow out NOW and take some more serious lumps or… yeah, you can try again. If you try again… You can see where that’s going. I believe you can keep pushing, looking for a victory, about three times before the only thing left to roll for is “do I get to decide what happens to me, or does the GM?” I’ve only had a chance to run the game once, but it yielded what is to me (even today) a really compelling scene where the player – perhaps conditioned by a “we cannot accept failure if the opportunity to win presents itself” mindset – kept rolling until they were left unconscious in the middle of a dirt track, and their boyfriend was dead. How important is winning to you?
  • “Success comes through sacrifice.” This is sort of my Mouse Guard mantra. In that game, success any any given test is guaranteed; the only question — the real reason you’re rolling — is find out what it will cost you… how long did it take? who interrupted you in the middle of the task? how lost did you get as you traveled from A to B, and what found you as you traveled? Et cetera. In Mouse Guard, success clearly isn’t the interesting thing: it’s the failures that we want to know about.
Ahh, here we are again. Failure should make things more interesting. That wonderful trick where you lay out a conflict in such a way that the players are actually okay with failing, because what might happen then sounds pretty damn cool. Mouse Guard does a wonderful thing here — the whole (fifteen minute) adventure prep process amounts to working out the conflicts that arise from failue — the fact is, if the Guard succeed at the Main Tasks for a mission, the mission will be (a) kind of boring and (b) kind of short. (Same’s true of Trollbabe, actually. Anyway.)
((Note to self: Construct the next Dragon Age session using the mission creation method from Mouse Guard and see what happens.)
So let’s talk about Diaspora and Fate. A first glance, FATE seems to have a similar mechanic to Nobilis or Heroquest: points that you can use to push yourself to victory — but they’re different in a couple key ways.
  1. The points aren’t used for anything except giving yourself a boost (and much more rarely compelling someone to act or not-act a certain way). There’s no point where you have to decide between using the points for the bonus or using them to improve your character. (SotC and Diaspora don’t have traditional ‘level ups’, though Dresden Files, another FATE game, kinda does, which excites me.)
  2. The points don’t run out. As written, the rule for Fate points is that they refresh back up to max at the start of every session. This works fine in the naturally episodic Spirit of the Century, but not so well in the grittier, more narratively-structured Diaspora.
In play, what actually happens is that Fate points don’t have a lot of value — mechanically they do, yes, but they’re not valuable to the players — they aren’t precious. They have lots of them, they know they’re going to get lots more next session, so they spend them like water, following the purest instinct of a game-player: win the conflict if the means exists to do so. Buy your way to victory, should you possess the currency to do so. It’s automatic, instinctual, and completely understandable.
Since they can DO that, we don’t see very many interesting failures in our Diaspora game, simply because the currency is thick enough on the ground to keep failures (interesting or otherwise) from happening.
This leads me back to a small fix for a specific problem in a specific game, rather than thinking about the Big Discussion I keep circling around, but whatever: theory is nice, but in the end I just want my games to be fun, yeah?
So here’s a few thoughts:
  1. Present interesting failures. I do this automatically in Mouse Guard, because the game makes me do so. I’ve been lax in Diaspora about constructing situations in which the players say “Yeah, I could win this, but I’m just as happy losing.”  This is one of the Gaming Kung-fu Basics that I have to keep reminding myself to go back and practice, practice, practice.
  2. Too many Fate Points. My initial thought about this is to work it like Primetime Adventures Fan Mail: basically, that no one has Fate Points to start out with, and it’s only through compelling a player’s Aspects that we get Fate Points into their hot little hands. This would make Fate Points INCREDIBLY precious and, while that’s intriguing, it might be a little too much.

    2a) Kate suggested that a good middle ground would be “Start everyone at the normal Fate Point total at the start of the game, but get rid of all the refreshes — that way, it’s only through Compels that we replenish the pool.” I like this idea quite a lot, and I’m curious what the other crew members of the Tempest think.

  3. We have way too many Aspects floating around — to steal from Dresden Files, if each player had ONE aspect from each phase of character generation (rather than two) then a couple more to reflect a characters goal and beliefs… that would be better than what we have in Diaspora right now — so many Aspects never get used. Dunno if that’s worth hacking at right now, but next time I’ll know better.

Anyway, just wanted to get this out of my head and onto the screen; all the rattling about in there is distracting.

Meta-gaming, Actor-Stance, Author-stance, and Narration

Twitter. The final frontier new hotness. These are the transcripts of gaming nerds, trying to discuss involved game sessions using nerd jargon, in 140 characters or less.

After Wednesday night’s PTA game (where we are now 4/6 on our season of Ironwall), Tim (cyface) tweeted:

cyface A good game of #sg-pta last night. Had to tie @doycet to the stone table to make him RP instead of Metagame, but we got there. 🙂

Now, I know Tim meant no harm in his comment, and I know specifically (I think) which scene he was (mostly) referring to, but I couldn’t resist a reply.

doycet @cyface I attribute my flighty non-rpness to being really unsure if we’d get the bloody episode done on time without fast-forwarding.

Which unsurety stemmed from the fact that one guy’s spotlight episode (Tim’s, actually) coincided with a ‘screen presence: 2’ for every other character: two of them ramping up to their spotlight eps, and one coming down off his spotlight and ‘wrapping up’. There was a lot going on!

Then, of course, I started second guessing myself:

doycet @cyface Unless I’m that bad all the time — in which case… yeah, I don’t know.

Tim replied:

cyface @doycet Some of both, but generally, live for the moment, as long as the moment is good!

Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):

mtfierce @cyface Funny, I thought @doycet only metagamed in pity for the kids at the back of the indie class.

Which is a kind thing to say, and perhaps more consideration than I warrant — I know one of the things I’ve failed at with PTA in the past has been meta-level discussion of the events in the game in lieu of… you know… PLAYING.  It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid (pretty successfully, I believe) in the current season of play.

So went back and really thought about the game session (and previous sessions) in an analytical (and somewhat unkind) fashion.  That analysis prompted my next couple statements:

doycet @cyface Trying to analyze my play — is it meta-game, or doing author-stance narration? If it’s the later, then… yeah, I am. For me, authoring > acting.

doycet @cyface By “>”, I mean “more personal enjoyment/comfortable for me”. I do enjoy both kinds of play in others, and even acting for myself… in smaller doses.

This led us off into a (more profitable, IMO) discussion.

cyface @doycet It’s an interesting question. Assuming author is being well cared for, I’d prolly choose actor. But if author bad, actor = painful

cyface @doycet …and thus I’d choose author since I think it’s affects more people at once. If I can stabilize author, back to actor.

Hmm. Okay, I understand, here, what Tim’s saying, I think: “Assuming the story isn’t careening off the rails, I’d rather ‘play my guy’ and not step back into an author-level role unless necessary.”  Which is fine, but not exactly what I was talking about. To whit:

doycet @cyface Not 100% we mean the same wrt ‘author stance’. I just mean ‘playing my guy’ in 3rd person (author), rather than 1st person (actor).

doycet @cyface So, put another way, I-the-player am more comfortable playing in 3rd person than 1st, and wonder if my 3rd-person play reads, to you, as meta-play.

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I think there may be >2 modes: 1st prsn RP, 3rd prsn authorial description, omniscient scene narration, & meta-level “pre-summary”.

Here, I’m basically co-opting Forge-speak terms for stuff.

  • Actor-stance. The way I’m using it, I mean interacting with the game from your character’s 1st person point-of-view.  Obviously, you’re only using info the character knows, and your play is mostly roleplay, in the traditional, non-game sense.
  • Author-stance. You’re still just playing your guy, but the POV is more of a personalized 3rd-person, rather than 1st-person. Your character is still only acting ‘as they would act’, but rather than sort of improv’d roleplay acting, you may be describing their actions and what they say, rather than playing them out.
  • Director Stance. The player actually determines aspects of the story relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character’s knowledge or ability to influence events. So, the player not only determines their character’s actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. (I do this all the time – it still isn’t meta-play.)
  • Meta-level “play” is, for me, something to be avoided, where you’d doing stuff like “Okay, if I succeed here, this is exactly what happens, and if you succeed, this is exactly what happens…” and then we roll dice (or whatever) and… there’s nothing left to PLAY, cuz we already described every possible outcome, so we just tic a box on the form we already filled out and go on to the next scene.  Some folks (me included) think of this as ‘playing before you actually play’.

So… yeah, if I read Tim’s first tweet as being backed with all this terminology (I rather doubt it was, and good for him), then I’d have thought he was saying I was doing that last thing.  Hopefully, what he was saying was that I was doing more Director Stance wankery (which, to be fair, I enjoy) rather than Actor (which, to be fair, Tim seems to (inexplicably) enjoy seeing me do).

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I’d say only meta-“pre-summary” is sucky “playing-without-play”, but either rules/results analysis -or- bad scene narration can BECOME that thing, by accident.

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily think Author or Director stances are bad – I’m a writer, so of course I enjoy looking at the scene from the CAMERA’S point of view, rather than the actors.  I’d go so far as to say I actually prefer them over Actor stance (full on, first person roleplay) for myself, but I’m at ease enough in my own neuroses to admit that at least one (lesser) reason I find them more comfortable (read: safe) is because when I get into first-person roleplaying in a scene, I get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene.

Well, duh.  Of course I do.  Let me rephrase.

“I’ll actually (sometimes) get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene than I’m comfortable with, and I’m concerned I might  make my fellow players uncomfortable with the level of my emotional involvement (when I play angry, I’ll get angry, et cetera), so I instinctively avoid it… That’s actually happened in the past, and I make me feel a little oogey.”

Said oogeyness is entirely a trust issue, and I really should cowboy-up and let go of my trust issues when I’m playing with the Wednesday group. Feh.

But still… that issue aside, I just plain like author/director modes.

What about you guys?


In a weird bit of synchronicity, Paul Czege made this comment on a thread over on Story Games just last week:

I think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting.

Because for a story to be affecting, it must be made from some of the author’s bare personality and honest identity. When a player’s character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is “awesome” but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.

So there’s that. I don’t think Paul is wrong.

Primetime Adventures Pitch Session: Apocalypse Fairies!

So last night we got got together to work through the Pitch Session for a new Primetime Adventures game.

((For those who don’t know, Primetime Adventures is a game meant to emulate action/melodrama television shows. The purpose of play is to create a short-run television series (5 or 9 episodes) driven by the Issues of the show’s stars. Players in PTA are both the Actors of their protagonists as well as Authors of the TV series. The GM (called the Producer in this game) has two jobs: make sure scenes move toward Conflict and work the overall story arc for the Season into play.))

Pitch sessions for PTA are always strange beasts, because people come in to the session with random ideas for shows, almost none of which ever make it through the whole process, and by the end, you have something pretty cool that everyone’s excited about… and no one’s entirely sure how it happened.

I was going to cheat a bit on this post and find a previous post about a PTA pitch session and kind of map what happened then to what happened last night, but it turns out I’ve never written about a pitch session before. No easy-out for me.

Right, so here’s what happened.

First, I was running a little late from a class I was teaching, so we got going around six-thirty or so. I had a notebook in my pocket with a few pitch ideas, and not much else.

So we chatted a little bit and then I asked everyone what kind of television show they didn’t want to see / do. Tim said that he really wasn’t much into the idea of a ‘straight’ one-hour dramedy like Gilmore Girls or Felicity or something like that. No one looked too disappointed by that – I think we’re the sort of folks who expect a little genre weirdness in our TV. Cool.

Meera spoke up and requested we avoid setting things in any war between the Amercian Civil War and today, simply because her history-fu for that time frame was weak. Again, that sounded good to everyone (for myself, I was merely homesick for the “Strange Allies” PTA game we never finished.)

That was pretty much all the “I’d rather not”s for everyone, so we talked a bit about what kind of pitches we had.

Randy piped up (a bit tongue in cheek) with the idea I dubbed “Left Behind… Because You’re An Asshole”, where something akin to the Biblical Rapture occurs, but only people who are, objectively, good people actually transcend.

We talked a little bit around this topic, until I admitted that, while I liked the idea of a kind of “oh crap, all these people are gone, how will we survive?” event, the idea of an event with biblical elements left me pretty cold.

Tim jumped in and said he was also into the idea of a kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story, though not just “straight zombies” in the vein of The Walking Dead, which is an idea I’d mentioned earlier in the week.

((I’d like to pat us all on the back at this point for not mentioning the Swine Flu once the whole night.))

Right around that same point, Tim also mentioned that he enjoyed “resource drama” – where you’re scrounging for supplies and making do with whatever you can find. The A-Team was mentioned, which is a little too camp for me, but also elements of Mad Max and things of that nature.

We threw around a lot of Survival Drama at this point, and talked about the kinds of story arcs you could do in there: a hellbent run from Point A to Point Z, basic survival, defend the base, find a weakness of and destroy the Big Bad… things like that.

I thought it might be interesting to start well AFTER the initial “inciting event,” and Tim agreed, mentioning that flashbacks would certainly explore that event more.

So we tossed around ideas of what the apocalypse might have been. Zombies… vampires… dragons… robots… robots created to fight zombies (yes, seriously), then turning on their owners…

Somewhere in there, Tim commented that some kind of Faerie Attack had never been done as an Apocalypse Event, and I said something like “Well, then we should do that.”

(I believe Meera would like me to state, for the record, that the faeries were not her idea… she just (gleefully) went along with it.)

That seemed to provide quite a lightning rod for ideas after that point, and coalesced into a show concept that The Producer is tentatively calling Ironwall (until we think of something yet more awesome).

SOMETHING had caused the Fae to reemerge in our world, and those fae (a collective term that we decided encompassed everything from fairies and pixies to trolls and dragons to bakemono and oni — all presented in the style of Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth’s art team) were Very Angry. The result of this re-emergence was hundreds of millions if not billions dead (either from fae attacks or from jumping off bridges when they realize that the bogeyman is real).

We tossed around several ideas about WHY they had come back, including:

  • The bio-organism of Earth was calling on its last, most vicious defenders, having failed through the ‘fever’ of Global Warming to control the human disease. “Giant T-cells shaped like Unicorns,” Meera quipped.
  • There was a regime shift in Faerie and the new King really hated us (a la The Golden Army).
  • The thousand-year treaty (involving a drunk Irishman, the King of the Fae, and a lost poker bet) finally ran out.
  • Old iron railway tracks had been torn up, reconnecting long-severed ley lines.
  • Nanites run amok. (which we didn’t exactly love)
  • Starbuck is an angel. (Okay, not really.)

… and in the end we decided it didn’t matter, or that it would come out during the show itself. The basic idea was that humanity was on the ropes, hiding out in the ruins of big cities, where the Iron content was high enough to weaken the fae magic. Something had recently happened to put the status quo in danger, and Our Heroes would be doing something about it.

Tim asked what would be happening that would bring the characters together, and Randy came up with a pretty awesome idea (and the First Scene of the Pilot): somehow the Fae had made it into the City (tentatively, Manhattan – Detroit would work better, but we know nothing about Detroit) where the Settlement was and had swapped in EVERYONE’S children for Changelings. The “First Scene” idea for the Pilot is all these adults dragging their crying, screaming children into the middle of the settlement and throwing them into a bonfire, where the audience finally sees that the people in the hoods and robes are not the bad guys, and that the things in the fire are monsters.

That opening scene lets us do a lot of stuff during the pilot:

  • Explain what the Fae can do with glamours and illusion and the like.
  • Visit a fae stronghold and see how the bad guys roll.
  • Show off the characters in an action-type situation.
  • Get everyone asking questions like “How could they do this? Why didn’t they do it before? WHAT HAS CHANGED AND HOW SCREWED ARE WE?!”

… which is basically everything a Pilot is supposed to do.

There was a bit more background stuff, during which it became clear that SEX was going to be a big element of the story, because the Fey need humanity to refresh their bloodlines (and humans… well, are human, and the Fae are hot and sexy). Plus, Tim made “Sex with Fairies” his character’s main Issue. I wrote all that background stuff down in the Series Bible on the Wiki page, so check it out.

Then we came up with characters:

  • Tim is playing a kind of mechanic-savant with natural animal sex appeal whose Issue is temptation: specifically, sex with faeries: *gasp* SLEEPING WITH THE (hawt) ENEMY.
  • Meera is playing a girl whose black magic led her to cut some pretty unspeakable bargains when the fae first arrived. Her issue is Atonement.
  • Randy is playing a border guard for the settlement – someone who survived another settlement in a smaller town being wiped out. He has issues with control, born of concern for protecting the settlement.
  • And Chris is playing a young man who was taken in by the settlement’s priest when he was a young boy and who has grown up as a pillar of the community. His issue is Self-Worth, because HE IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FAE, A LYING LITTLE CHANGELING THAT HIS “PARENTS” DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS TO KILL.


So… right. That’s where we are now. Pretty much nothing at all like any of the pitch ideas we’d been thinking of, pretty cool… and no one really knows how we got there.

I’m rather excited to play.

Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)

Wednesday night rolled around, and we were set to play In a Wicked Age. This was going to be my fourth or so time running the game, the second time for both Tim and Chris to play (revisiting the same characters) and the first time for both Meera and Randy.

Participant background

It’s not unimportant to note that I have a lot of play time with various story-games (not as much as I’d like) and that Tim and Chris have been playing quite a few different games with me in the last year or so, including Galactic, Dogs in the Vineyard, Inspectres, IAWA, and a couple others (I think). Meera’s played a couple of these types of games as well, most notably (in my head) Primetime Adventures. Randy’s played a little PTA, some Dogs, some Sorcerer, and I think that’s about it.

Significant (to me, at least) is that both Meera and Randy have a lot of play time with Amber DRPG (or some variation thereon) – enough that I think it’s fair to say that their experience with that game strongly informs and establishes their modes of play. I don’t say that to malign – I love em both, but the habits that Amber establishes are there, demonstrable, detectable even if you don’t know that’s what you’re seeing, and hard to break.

I bring that up because it mattered in play.

Now, first off, I think the game went well. We had a fun oracle to start out with, and there was a lot of stuff going on.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT OUR HEROES (read: last session)
* Farid Dafir, the marketplace snake charmer, had just reclaimed his rightful place at the head of the animal cult, ousting the woman Eil Bet.
* “Regano” al Aiqtanq, his cousin, had at least temporarily snared the heart of Kianna, the sneak-thief who’d gotten the whole mess with the released genii and the evil spirit started in the first place.

Chris was left at the top of the We Owe list. He picked NEST OF VIPERS as the Oracle and selected the first one. Tim crossed himself off the We Owe list to “just be” in the story.

The Oracles elements (from which one selects a character) are:
* A band of slavers, bold and incorrigible
* A moon gazer, possessed by 10 rival spirits
* Burglary of the storehouse of a powerful robber merchant
* The warden-ghost of the place, generous to the good-willed

Possible Characters, implied or implicit
* Any one of the slavers, including their leader, 2nd in command, or whoever
* Any one of the slaves, ditto
* The moon gazer, possessed
* Any one of the people burgling the storehouse
* The robber merchant, or one of his people
* The warden-ghost

From that, we came up with:

* Chris, playing his cult-leader/animal-charmer Fariq, who is also the moon-gazer with the 10 angry spirits within.
* Tim, playing Regano.
* Meera, playing Jessemyn, one of the slavers, who are all working for…
* Randy, playing Kadashman, the robber merchant and sorcerer.

The NPCs were:
* Natan, Kadashman’s eunuch major-domo, conniving to replace his master.
* Kianna, the thief from the first session, reincorporated as the burglar of the robber merchants ‘storehouse’.
* Saahi, the head of the slavers, in love with Kadashman.
* “Precious Dove”, Kadashman’s prime concubine, his conduit to the spirits he controls through sorcery, the one person who can put Fariq’s spirits at peace, the person Kianna was sent in to “borrow” (kidnap) by Fariq.

Much wackiness ensued. In the end, Fariq had his spirits sorted out, the concubines had all fled, Regaro had kept Kianna safe from the eunuch (who was rolled up in a large rug), and Saahi and Jessemyn were riding out into the desert with an unconscious Kadashman draped over the saddle. It was a pretty good session.

But there were still a few disconnects and weirdness. I, for one, automatically went into post-conflict narration once something wrapped up, and (a) that’s not always my job and (b) the results of the conflict hadn’t been negotiated yet, so I was totally going cart before the horse.

That wasn’t all of it, though. There were a few points in the game when what was going on at the table was sort of churning the water without doing anything, and a few points where the action ground to a halt when I’d turn to a player, ask what they were doing, and get a kind of deer in the headlights look. Analysis Paralysis, Tim calls it, and mmmmmmaybe that’s right. I’m not sure, though.

I am sure (pretty sure) what was causing it though.

Over on his blog, Vincent has been talking about different resolution systems. Specifically, talking about the ways in which the different games’ fictional stuff affects their system stuff, and vice versa.

The cloud means the game’s fictional stuff; the cubes mean its real-world stuff. If you can point to it on the table, pick it up and hand it to someone, erase it from a character sheet, it goes in the cubes. If you can’t, if it exists only in your imagination and conversation, it goes in the cloud.

Bear with me, guys, I’m going somewhere with this.

Continue reading “Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)”

Amber Diceless doesn’t make the “Bucket List”?

Related to my previous post, a spin-off discussion about why Amber Diceless doesn’t make some people’s top-12 list.
I contribute to the discussion, but the money-quote is from Tony LB, who just explained to me why I haven’t enjoyed any Amber game I’ve played, but immensely enjoyed the ones I’ve run; relative focus on the character relationships in the game.

Posted By: TonyLB
Here’s a recipe for making yourself really miserable in ADRPG: Go in with a character that you enjoy because of his physical and mental abilities.
Here’s a recipe for making yourself really happy in ADRPG: Go in with a character that you enjoy because of the way they view their family members.

This is also explains why I always thought it was important for folks to have read a couple of the books first.

Nobilis, renewed.

(Via Story Games:) Rebecca Borgstrom has released “Unlikely Flowerings”, the first part of the long-awaited Society of Flowers supplement for Nobilis as a 115 page pdf at Drivethrurpg for $5. It’s also available for free at (the publisher) Eos’ website, but “purchasing it from DTRPG will show your support for the author, her efforts and improve the chances of seeing the rest of the book.”
Nobilis is also getting a reprint by Eos Press. The reprint will be revised and twice as thick as the 2nd edition, due to resizing the book to 8.5″ x 11″; will contain new art, a new visual style, and content from The Game of Powers Live-action RP rules. (Which is ironic, since I always thought the rules in Game of Powers worked better for TTRPGs than the main rulebook’s more LARPish rules.)


I think, assuming that Birdwell Island is a Chancel (which is clearly is, otherwise all the mortals would have gone insane by now), Emily Elizabeth must be the Imperator.
I’ve tried to work it with her as a Noble and Clifford as her anchor, but it just doesn’t work, since he’s got like… three anchors himself.
So she’s the Imperator. Obviously aligned with the Light — no one else could be that positive.

Mortal Coil

This weekend, Kate’s in town and I wanted to have a social kind of gaming thing — while both she and I game, we really haven’t done much gaming together at all — basically two games I’ve run had a few too many players and were both kind of chaotic (either as a result of the group size, or intentionally, or both).
So anyway, due to the super-creative nature of the player’s we’d be doing this with, and the fact that the my regular group’s history involves a fair amount of diceless stuff, I decided on running Mortal Coil, which I’ve been excited to run, and seeing what happened.
The problem: I haven’t actually run MC before.
The solution: test run with two of my ‘regular’ players (Dave and Margie) to go through the whole ‘pitch session’, character creation, and a sample conflict to see where the hitches and questions arose.
The result: [AP] From the Casebook of Donne & Donne, Detectives — lots of fun and, as you can see from my post to the Forge, lots of rules questions.
The whole thing DID prompt me to go back to the Mortal Coil section of RandomWiki though, and reread MortalCoil – Conflict Examples. These were all written by the game’s author; I thought they were cool and useful before I’d run the game — having now run it, I think they’re damned near invaluable.