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.
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.
- “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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Got a chance to go back and play some Mouse Guard this weekend with Dave and Margie and Kate and Ka(y/therine).
This session was a continuation of action that took place in “Not much Use as a Postmouse” and “A New Route to Ivydale”. Margie’s character Lucia was still Angry from the last session, so she took the “Summary of previous events” intro to the session, which lets her get rid of a condition on her sheet.
As the patrol was getting ready to set out to their next delivery point (Elmoss), they were met by a traveler/messenger from Elmoss who was looking… well, not for them, exactly, but for a Patrol that was supposed to have arrived in Elmoss several days ago, escorting a much-needed grain shipment from Ivydale. The messenger hadn’t spotted them on his trip here, so he asked Our Heroes to see if they could find them as they traveled what SHOULD have been the same route.
Asking around Ivydale, the patrol learned that the other group of Guardmice was led by Warwick, a patrol leader with a good reputation and Rosamund’s (Kate) mentor back in her tenderpaw days. Also, the last Aelwyn (Dave) heard, a female guardmouse of his acquaintance (“Brynn.” sigh) was a member of that patrol.
The group set out their goals for this mission;
- Rosamund: Locate my old mentor, Warwick.
- Aelwyn: Rescue Brynn’s patrol!
- Lucia: Make sure the grain shipment makes it to Elmoss.
- Graystripe (we haven’t met her yet): Impress her mentor enough to be made a full Guardmouse.
Scouting rolls were made as the patrol tracked the grain cart across quite rocky terrain, well away from the usual path (necessary, since from the tracks they could tell that the wagon was overburdened and very bad off in muddy areas). This led to a ‘twist’ in which the patrol caught up to the wagon not far from Elmoss. Warwick’s patrol had tried to ford a stream that had surged with Spring runoff at exactly the wrong moment… leaving the grain wagon almost tipped over next to the ford, and Warwick’s patrol clinging to a hummock of grass and detritus downstream a ways.
Dice were rolled, and the situation became further complicated: Lucia struggled to lever the grain wagon’s wheel out of the mud, Aelwyn struggled with tying off a rope from the shore while Roz swam out to the other mice, midstream. (Where she was pulled up by Graystripe.)
This complicated situation took us into a full-on Conflict with the river. The river’s “Goal” was “wash the wagon, the grain, and both patrols down river”; the player’s goal was “save the mice, save the grain.”
This was a very challenging conflict to do, initially, and as I had quickly scripted my actions for the river, I should have stayed with the players and helped them ‘translate’ their actions into scripting… because it’s hard to see what an ‘attack’ looks like versus a river, or what skill to use… or what a maneuver looked like. It just took awhile to get going.
Anyway, after two full exchanges (involving a lot of rope slinging and hauling mice up to the branches of a tree overhanging the river), the patrol managed to get almost everyone to relative safety, but they’d been pretty badly beat up in the process. (They only had two Disposition left from a starting 8). Everyone was Tired. In addition – Lucia (who was still basically in the River when it threw its final big surge) had to made a health check to see if she got sick from being, basically, half-drowned as she clung to the grain wagon (which got its wheels snapped off and was basically grounded out at the ford). She failed that check, so in addition to being Tired, she was also Sick.
Once the water level had died down again, the patrol made its way up to Elmoss to get the town to send people out to help unload and transport the grain (and get medical treatment for the injured). They ran into the useless, hampering, feudal-style bureaucracy of Elmoss, and got in a show-down with a nasal-voiced administrator who didn’t want to open the gate after dark, OR send anyone out after the food the town ACTUALLY NEEDED.
Aelwyn headed this showdown up with a stirring call to action, but everyone helped out, from Roz and Lucia’s persuasion, to Gray’s deceptive story about dangerous, hungry, grain-stealing weasels in the area. The administrator was unmoved (we got a tie), and Aelwyn tried to outstubborned him (Will vs. Will tiebreaker), mentioning that the ruling family who had paid for this shipment to be delivered would surely be curious who had prevented it from arriving. When Lucia added “good point… what was your name again?” the adminstrator folded.
Their duty done, the patrol limped into town. Aelwyn acquired lodging for everyone (Resources check, also taking care of the “Tired” condition for everyone), and Roz tried to tend Warwick’s injuries, but the older mouse was pretty badly hurt, and all the water and his cracked ribs means he’ll probably always have a cough (missed Healer check lowered Warwick’s health by 1). Lucia was also feeling a little drowned, and continues to have a nagging cough (failed Will check means she’s still sick, but with no lasting stat-damage — she’s hoping to get some medicinal help in her home town of Sprucetuck).
Gray tried to convince Warwick to make her a full Guardmouse – an argument Roz supported – but War was having none of that. Instead, he put Roz in charge of her training, since he’d be sick in bed for several weeks at least, and “the girl needs to get back out on the road”. Roz accepted the job, and the next morning put Graystripe through the first of likely many hard swordmouseship workouts. (An instructor check for Roz, which in turn gave Graystripe a “failed” check on her Fighter skill.) There’s a new sheriff in town.
Meanwhile, Aelwyn went window shopping for Brynn and ended up spending way way way too much on a gift for her (a nice gift, but the failed Resource check resulted in Ael’s Resource score dropping by one – which in turn clears all his accumulated checks to advance that stat).
So: a bit bruised, a little waterlogged, but victorious, the Patrol prepares for the next leg of their journey – across the spring-snow-covered open meadows to Sprucetuck.
A few observations:
- We hadn’t played in several months, and it took us a long time to remember all the nuances of the game we’d learned the last time. I forgot to encourage the players to earn ‘checks’ by using their Traits in ‘negative’ ways for one, and that hampered folks during the Player’s Turn in Elmoss.
- The Conflict with the River was cool, in that it really showed what the system can do with weird conflicts, but that conflict totally took the system off the map in terms of “what skills do we roll” and “what does this kind of action look like in this context?” Cool, but it slowed us down and caused a little frustration (see the title of the post).
- The players still struggle with the idea that failure doesn’t mean “I don’t get X”, but instead means “I get X, but at a higher than anticipated cost… or with a twist.” (And I struggle with remembering to POINT THIS OUT. :P) This led to folks pushing harder than they needed to in order to win conflicts, when “losing ” would have still gotten them what they want, but with interesting consequences.
- Related to that, the Conflict with the River was temporarily frustrating, because it felt like “We won, but it didn’t FEEL like we won, cuz we’re still sick, tired, and the Grain is still stuck in the River.”
- Once I pointed out that “you won, but I won a lot of rolls too”, and used a kind of “hit points – you lost a lot of em” analogy, then getting beat up and hurt while “winning” stopped being a problem for folks.
- We worry a lot about getting the rules right. This leads us to saying things like “Okay, on my Check, I want to use Healer on Warwick’s Injury…” instead of “I want to go see Warwick and have a scene with him.” I think that’s just a matter of familiarity. Right now, we’re Playing the System a bit more than just playing a game… I think that’ll come.
- Lucky for us, while we’re perhaps “playing the system” overmuch right now, it’s a pretty GOOD system.
Mouse Guard is definitely a game where you get beat up and really struggle to pull out a victory. It’s both heroic and not-heroic. In once sense, it’s not-heroic cuz EVERYTHING is bigger and badder than you. On the other, it’s very heroic, because in that face of all that, you soldier on ANYWAY, to protect the Territories. That last point is a big one — it just may not be a game for everyone — but I hope we get a few more sessions to find out.
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:
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.
Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
Went looking for the the Nobilis “Lexicon” projects today.
They seem to have vanished.
Let’s say you get into a book club. It’s a pretty interesting set up, where you get a tremendous number of new books (40 or so), for about forty bucks.
The only catch is you have to indicate *at the signup stage* which books you’re going to want to read during the course of the run. It doesn’t have to be books that are published at the time (you’ll be getting books regularly and about bi-weekly for… let’s say a year and a half), but of course the list is all going to be based on your preferences and interests that you have at that moment in time.
About halfway in, maybe less, you realize your preferences have changed. The first half-dozen books were great and exactly what you were hoping for, and you’ve found some wonderful and interesting bits here and there since then, but there’s also some things you’re getting that really don’t work for you at all, plus you’ve been reading some other stuff on the side and found out about a newer style of book club where you pay a bit more but get smaller batches of books, which lets you switch your preferences much more easily.
Basically, at this point, despite some great experiences, you’re ready for the last of the books to show up so you can read it and move on. You just want to get it over with, and that’s no way to read a book.
That’s pretty much where I am with the Nobilis game. I love the players, love the characters, and even like the storyline (such as it is), but I’ve taken the whole thing someplace that I don’t really find that engaging and basically I simply want to wrap things up as well as I can and move on; this one ran too long and tried to do too much: in retrospect I should have stopped after session six — that’s really where it stopped being a story and started being meeting minutes, a bunch of things I’m just not that proud of. Regardless, I’ve come to believe that shorter campaign lengths result in a much leaner and cleaner story arc overall and help keep the excitement level up at a higher level.
So… I love the game, and I think I need to finish it up cleanly and more importantly quickly, because it deserves the kind of concise attack that it came in with. Time to move on.
The CryHavoc ADRPG archives, formerly at http://average-bear.com/cryhavoc are now located on the GM’s domain: http://nineblackdoves.com/cryhavoc/.
In the history of Nobilis, the first 20th century was different.
So were the 400 wondrous years after that, but that is all gone now.
One day, it was the year 2400 and space-ships plied the Aetheric Currents between earth and the colony worlds. Then (about one hundred years ago) a rogue imperator conspired, an immortal Queen/Empress died, and human history/memory was reset back en masse.
The next day it was 1900 again, and the world, the history books and mortal memory had been changed so that it seemed normal for it to be 1900.
The crew at OceanWiki is putting together a Lexicon to tell us about everything we lost from those amazing five-hundred years.
It’s a shorter project than the former Lexicon, but it’s tighter, faster, and dare-I-say already better than the first effort… and we’re only on the A-C entries.
Amazing, terrific stuff: all the ‘lost futures’ of all your favorite sci-fi, brought into one place — Jules Verne and Space 1889 and Castle Falkenstein and Robert Heinlein and Buckaroo Banzai and Doc Savage and John Carter.
From “Ben Faulk, the First One to do Something Else” to the Pan African Teleostean Hegemony… this is really good stuff.
A few weeks ago, Dave commented that we’ve been at this Nobilis thing for ‘about a year’.
I believe my immediate reaction to this was something like “you’re completely crackers”, but it turns out he’s right: the first Nobilis session was… well, I posted about it around the last week of April of 2003, so I suppose that’s pretty close to the first little half-session we did.
Looking back, I’m both pleased and annoyed, but generally far more of the former than the latter.
So for the last couple weeks I’ve been contributing the insanity of the Lexicon Of The Second Age, in which people are sequentially writing up entries on the Second Age of Creation for the Nobilis setting, following certain guidelines.
Once a few standard practices and guildelines worked themselves into place, things have gone swimmingly, and I honestly find myself looking forward to the next entry from the others and the next entry to write — there’s tons of stuff that’s come out of the project that I’m already planning to use in my own campaign.
Today’s “O” contribution was a little tongue-in-cheek (after several entries worth of Serious Topics) — a time-jaunting band of heroes who spent the Second Age saving the world, doing good, and rocking out (a Noble tribute to the Hong Kong Cavaliers).
A long email exchange on magic in rpgs — not a lot that resonated with me, but I did want to refer back to this passage, which touches on a possible problem I’m having in Nobilis (and possibly other stories).
… [I am] against taking magic for granted, relying on the system, instead of trying to elicit that which the system is designed to facilitate. Relying on the system has the paradoxical effect of making the magic both more and less real: on the one hand, it removes everything from the realm of concrete action and physical description, distancing everyone from what?s really going on; on the other hand, by invoking rules, one lends an air of authority if not verisimilitude to the proceedings. ?I?m using Waters of Vision to try and see what?s going on? implies that the magic is real*; ?I?m peering into the water in the bowl on my dresser to see what I can see in the ripples? leaves crucial room for doubt and ambiguity**.
(The paradoxical epistemology of rpgs: precisely because they are so subjective?based almost wholly on the subjective cause-and-effect dialogue between players and referee?they end up being much more objective than the real world.)
* — “Real”, read “measurable and solid”, which is so antithetical to the idea of what magic is in most settings that it makes Magic into Not-Magic (Technology). Magic in DnD (and in virtually every other RPG out there), for instance, is actually Technology — very reliable technology, come to that.
** — But lends a solidity to the act itself. Compare “I do a Divination of his location.” to the actual concrete actions described in the example above: which one immerses you in the world of the character more? Which allows (or forces) a certain emotional separation from the scene?
This all goes back to a problem I choose to perceive in the Nobilis games I’m running, in that most of the sessions fail to have anything resembling a mythic tone to them. I know that most of this lies with me — to have a mythic feel, a lot has to come from me, and frankly I think most people of my generation are going to have problem with mythic thinking — it’s not what we were raised on, after all — sesame street is a far cry from being raised on oral tradition stories and fairy tales at bedtime. My myths are those of Tolkien — a magical world with very very VERY little that is overtly magic in it: a world with histories but not myths… myth doesn?t enter into it, and the closest thing to fairy tales are Bilbo’s encounter with the Trolls and the regrettable Tom Bombadil (who really should have been in a short book of his own… preferably in a different world entirely).
And to top it off, I taught myself systems at a young age whereby everything that happens in Tolkien can be quantified (RPGs) — just to milk that last bit of
wonder myth out of it.
(Note to self: buy many books of fairy tales — read them to children as they grow up.)
So, back on track, I don’t necessarily know the imagery of myths, and thus my Nobilis games tend to feel more like (best case) an Unknown Armies game where everyone’s playing an Avatar or (worst case) a Supers game.
Supers… the myths of our time, and more’s the pity; though you can have mythic supers tales (cf. Hitherby Dragons), that’s the exception, not the rule.
So, Question the First: how to think mythically? How to encourage the players to think/act mythically?
The other thing that is leeching the magical out of the Nobilis game is that I’m very focused on the rules right now, because I’m trying to teach them to my players — so that even when they simply describe “this is my concrete and emotionally immersive action”, I break it down from the subjective-but-immersive to the objective-but-non-immersive — I’m very much into showing everyone what gears are turning behind the curtain right now, because I want them to see how the machine works.
My motives are good: I want people to know the rules well enough to be able to ignore them, but I’m beginning to think that that’s not going to happen, at least not quickly.
So I think “We’ll, we’ll let everyone be subjective-concrete-immersive and I’ll be the only one making sure the game system is being observed and everyone can just trust me that it’s fair.”
Which is fine, if everyone trusts me, and maybe they do. I’m nervous about that because I-the-player got really burned on that about a year or two ago and I’m still compensating for that in most of my games, trying to make sure that everyone knows I’m working with a fair and balanced rules set even if they never asked.
So, Question the Second: How to move from my current mode of “objective-non-immersive” to “subjective-immersive” to let people be engaged in the action, not the rules. Ideally, the goal should be that the players are always utterly confident that they did what they say they did, but unsure as to whether the ‘magic’ will behave as expected. This is easier, provided trust-in-the-GM by both the players and the GM.
What frustrates me about this is that I was DOING this (creating more mythic imagery and veiling the hard rules) at the beginning of the game before I really learned the rules, and I’m doing it less now because I’m thinking of them too much.
Interesting thoughts on why to decide your Estate last when creating a character in Nobilis, stored here for my convenience:
The crux of Tony’s process is that the Estate is the LAST thing you choose when designing your character.
What it does (I feel) is discourage people from playing Estates and Affiliations instead of characters.
In my attempts to play Nobilis I have seen characters who seem designed to govern a pre-selected Estate. That’s okay, but I maintain that it’s only okay with careful consideration and balance. Without a critical eye, choosing the Estate first (from my experience) can lead to a more shallow and two-dimensional character. Why? Because the tendency is to create a character whose background is retrofitted to rationalize and justify why they were ennobled as that particular Power. (ie. the computer hacker who is the Power of Computers, the painfully shy girl who loves to read to the exclusion of anything else is the power of Libraries)
Or the abused child who grows up to be Affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark.. It begs the question of who wants to play an abused child and why? Is it just to rationalize why you’re affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark- or because it’s truly part of the character?
The London cabbie who is the Power of Coincidence is more interesting in my opinion, because he was somebody before he became a demi-god.
Now someone will fairly argue that Imperators might select some one to steward an Estate based upon their interests and predilictions. I’ll grant you that. I do maintain that it leans towards to a more contrived character, but no – not a guarantee; this is a generality, not a hard and fast rule.
The only note I will add to this is that, in my limited Nobilis experience thus far, I’ve had the most ‘problems of two-dimensionality’ with the characters whose backgrounds were designed around their (eventual) Estate. I love everyone’s characters, but them’s the facts.
The old Amber-ism of ‘make up the character you’ve always wanted to play’ works pretty well here. (Hell, in any game, come to that.)
The creator of Nobilis, reinventing the ecosystem of the world’s oceans on Hitherby Dragons.
The ocean should be made of custard. On a purely practical level, it would be tastier and more nutritious than sea water. On a more idealistic level, it’s one of the few things that could entice me to take up a career as a sailor: a custard sea, with little gummi fish! (The fish would have to be gummi fish. Otherwise they’d drown. Normal fish can’t breathe custard! That’s a silly idea.)
Gummi fish wouldn’t be the only wonders of a custard sea. There’d be white chocolate reefs and a Bermuda’s Triangle made of deadly meringue. Would the sailors consume it or would it consume them? You’d never know. Not without going there!
Most of all, there’d be little candied fruits suspended in the custard. And you know what that would mean?
An end to scurvy IN OUR TIME.
After some thoughts provoked by the posts here and here, I opted to eschew the turn timer for the Nobilis game tonight.
Result? Mixed. The scenes were much more complete and felt a lot more ‘whole’ to me, but at the same time there’s something good to be said for an impetus to wrap up a scene instead of letting it simply fade and fade and fade and faaaade to black.
I’ve got some catching up to do… Monday Mashup #13: Silence of the Lambs
I’m combining this with Nobilis.
Lecter is a captured excrucian, gone from cannibal to destroyer-of-bits-of-creation. Because he has been captured by the PC’s and they have no proof that he’s actually done any harm, they’re stuck with either keeping him under lock and key or releasing him, and they aren’t going to release him.
He therefore becomes a source of information — insight into the other monsters out there in the world whose motivations are beyond the understanding of normal folks but which are completely understandable to him.
In the stories, Lecter’s motivations were alienation and aesthetics; he only killed the most stupid, annoying, and distasteful. Playing around with this, you get a pretty archetypal Excrucian — they are truly alien by nature (coming from beyond Creation), and aestetically motivated, as they try to ‘collect’ all the portions of creation within themselves… perhaps not strictly cannibalistic, but close enough. Our little captured excrucian never expects anyone to understand him… who in Creation could.
Until he begins to sense that he might have an ally (or at least willing dupe) in the form of one of the PCs: someone particularly bright, particularly ruthless, notably pragmatic…
Hmm. This is an idea I might have to use.
So, we’ve had a few players cross-over from one Nobilis game group to the other now, and someone asked one of the ‘crossers’ which one of the groups stayed on track better.
His answer, to say the least, surprised me a bit, so I set about the Saturday session with the goal of getting the thing in focus a bit better. The result (as summarized elsewhere):
Nobilis seemed to be focused and on track and yet somehow ?off?.
That’s just how it seemed to me, at any rate. Wasn’t really sure if anyone else saw it that way.
Dave chimed in:
Re Nobilis, I thought the session went well, too, but I agree that it was “off.” May be because folks are scattered here and there, and not necessarily pulling toward a common goal. Or maybe not.
There’s a magic formula there, somewhere, with the Nobilis stuff. People are all addressing the story but…
Hmm… I’m not feeling like everyone’s gears are engaged? Everyone’s addressing the problems at hand but not always involved at the same time.
Case in point: as much as I liked the scene with the Wyrd sisters from from last game, the scene where everything really felt ‘right’ was Sian visiting Meon.
Could this be because it was a personal project… er… rather, a personally-devised solution to a problem? I think maybe so — it felt much more player-determined, which is a point at which a game like Nobilis or Amber really seems to start to hum, I think… when the players have their own projects to work on, or are coming up with their own solutions and actions.
The scenes that have, thus far, worked really well, since the split of the group into two (in no particular order):
– Lust and Crime disposing of the Excrucian weapons.
– Sian and Justice in general.
– Sian and Meon in general.
– Death traveling back in time (by Gating along the ‘path’ of his own lifeline) to collect his former ‘tribe’ as warriors.
– Donner and Cities making a private arrangement of mutual benefit.
Things that haven’t really clicked:
– Most anything where someone said ‘I need you to do this’, especially when the ‘how to do it’ part is defined at all… giving them leeway to solve the problem in whatever way they feel like always seems to work better (though that still comes in second place to the scenes that are completely self-determined.
So I’m not sure that ‘common goals’ are really what’s missing… just need to get to that point where everyone’s engaged in their private idaho’s, I guess. This isn’t new ground or discovery for me (or anyone else reading this, I suspect) — it’s just something I need to remind myself of from time to time.
Sunday, we had our first ‘guest star’ in the ongoing Nobilis game.
Hmm, before I get into that, though, let’s lay a little background out.
Ran the ‘Chrysalis A’ group last night (the first time with the full group), and got things rolling with the patented “throw sixteen problems at them at once and let them sort that out… by the time they do, the group dynamic will have gelled.”
One notable quote from the game last night that I want to make sure to mention related to a task set them by the Boss. During the events a few sessions ago, a big cave complex under the town collapsed, killing quite a number of town inhabitants in sinkholes and the like — they are supposed to replenish the population by bringing in 30,000 new people from… well, wherever, so long as they aren’t simply ‘made’.
The comment, following about ten minutes of theorizing about ‘How’ (involving everything from kidnapping to disaster recovery to time-travel), was this: “Let’s back up and decide who we want to get. We know we can get whoever we want once we decide who that is, so let’s not worry about that part.”
That’s one of the great Nobilis secrets: it’s not the how that matters, it’s the why and the who. I’m really pleased that this fact was spontaneously voiced by the players. Yay.
There is a great deal of good to be said for scheduling a regular game on a weeknight. It encourages people to focus (in theory – in practice, I seem to be immune), it feels a bit more intimate, and (for me, anyway) it refreshes you and seems to shorten up the week somehow (since you get a chance for a little playtime in the middle of work, basically).
The downsides are mostly having to figure out where everything you need the next morning ended up during the game session the night before.
Saturday: First half of the second session of the second story-arc in Nobilis (which of course would be designated Session 8C… don’t ask). Four players who have never gamed with each other as a gestalt (or, in some cases, at all), so I’m really still working on getting the group to gel and build some momentum. Folks are still finding their sea-legs, I think. I hope.
To aid this, I’ve hit on the simple solution of taking two fairly complicated plots (1. political wrangling over key ‘geographic spiritual resources’ and 2. a plot to frame the familia for treason) and starting them up simultaneously while the familia is still making introductions. Not satisfied with stopping there, I’ve also introduced a few key NPCs that should loom large in the story for some time and made notes about the far-reaching consequences of some player actions.
Things are coming along well, mostly: I’m a little unhappy with my own ability to keep gametime even (it *felt* about right to me, but I’m not sure if it did to everyone else), but I’m pleased with the group and the dynamics that are being introduced. I’m looking forward to these initial plots (esp. the frame-job) concluding and where some of the loose threads might lead — also, I have some characters who are really designed to tell a strongly internal, personal story and I’m looking forward to exploring that some more.
Favorite bit: Jurai of the Cammora’s introduction and explaining his desire to meet everyone ‘just say Hellooooo.’
Also… tumescence in it’s creepiest form EVER. Bwuuahh ha haaa.
Note to self: preparing a list of likely (and point-balanced) qualities for a well-known Chancel and Imperator does not appreciably make the Chancel- and Imperator-creation process go any faster than doing nothing of the kind beforehand.
In my Palm, July 6th, 2003:
1st TiHE Game Session (not counting bidding war – 1997)
Six years ago… wow.
Something I’ve mentioned before: someone who took Nobilis and the League of Extradinary Gentlemen comic and came up with Convention game.
Nobilis: The League of Extraordinary Americans