Barf Forth Apocalyptica

the swamp provides => AW:Dark Age => Topic started by: joshroby on September 03, 2014, 12:59:52 PM

Title: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 03, 2014, 12:59:52 PM

Players: Josh Roby, Judson Lester, Tony Delgado, Adam West

We started off with our Stronghold.  Both the harbor and the trade route + market town sounded promising to most of us, so we picked that the latter.  We each picked an enemy, ending up with Fractious and rebellious free landowners, hostile clans, and the remnants of the former crown's rule (we also ticked Raiders by Sea, but then realized that we hadn't picked the harbor, so we un-ticked the Raiders).  We chatted about the fortifications and we each picked one: Deep cellars, crypts, and bolt-holds; a hilltop position; watch- and signal towers; and a well or deep cistern; so basically we're the center of a network of towers, built on top of a hollow hill.  Later we considered if our People had built the place or somebody else, and resolved that everyone had built on and in this hill, generation after generation, and we're merely the most recent occupants.  We each picked a dot for our armory and got Spears, Hide coats and leather helmets, Bows and arrows, and upgraded the lot to "For 20."  (We're assuming the For 10 / For 20 / For 60 applies to everything else you bought.)

Our People, the Abrika, was fun to make.  We decided on a single family displaced here by the Empire—brought here to be governors, now half-stranded and half-dutybound to stay.  We suspect the father of the present liege was the last governor to actually report to the Empire; the present generation is holding on by momentum.  We are tall and olive brown—short note, I wanted some more options here beyond build and skin tone; hair color, facial features, big hands, long fingers, and such.  We are an enclave, and so number 20 souls, in 4 households, with 5 warriors.

We picked +1 Rites, 0 War, and +1 Wealth.  This was a little weird but driven by the prep so far.  As governors of a trade hub, we figured we should have some Wealth, and as a distant enclave that had retained its sense of identity as outsiders, we figured we should have some Rites.  Since only one option allows you a positive value in two slots, that's the one we went with.  Consequently, we have a 0 in War, which nobody really wanted but we settled on due to mechanical constraints.  We are known for the Might of Our Gods, Our Sorcery and Enchantments, Our Archers (going back to our Stronghold), Our Subtle Fashions, and Our Generous Hospitality.  Our language is Berber.

Then we made PCs!

Judson made Agerzam the War Captain, of the Abrika.  A man, he is typical of his people, and is "Tall, sharp eyes, straight nose, heavy brows, cheerful."  He's got Bold +2, Good 0, Strong +1, Wary +1, Weird -1, and took as his Rights the beginning-of-session right, a trained warhorse, supplications to the gods of war, and can wage war as you see fit.  He also got a ton of stuff which I am not transcribing here. When fully kitted out, he rolls in at Harm 4 and Armor 3.  He is the head of his household, which has Devotion, Professional Warriors, Hunting Lands, a Great Hall, and an Ancestral Shame.

Tony made Tinitran the Outranger, also of the Abrika.  A woman, she is typical of her people.  She's got Bold 0, Good +1, Strong -1, Wary +2, and Weird +1.  She had Bold +1 and Good 0 until we realized that nobody had positive Good, so Tony volunteered to be somewhat likable and persuasive.  Her rights are to find her way by road or trail, to keep acquaintance with the people she's met, she is of noble blood but a lesser descendant, and she can step out of her earthly life.  Tony voluntarily downgraded Tinitran's customary gear to a staff and little else; she rolls out at Harm 3 and Armor 0.  She has a place of honor in the household of her father, the liege, and that household has Fortifications, a Great Hall, Fine Furnishings, a Kitchen, Pantry, and Buttery, a Treasury, a Sacred Shrine, and Burdensome Duties (protecting the trade route and town).

Adam made Idus the War-Champion, of the Abrika.  A man, he is "a tall, imposing warrior.  He dresses in fine, elaborate clothing in contrast to most Abrika.  His brashness and lack of courtesy make him ostracized, despite his glory."  He has Bold +1, Good -1, Strong +2, Wary +1, and Weird 0.  He is known by reputation, can confront his betters for justice, owns an enchanted weapon (the holy ash boar spear), and does +1 harm in single combat.  Idus' gear puts him at Harm +4 and Armor +3.  He is the head of his own household, composed of the orphans and widows of the area; they have a kitchen, pantry, and buttery, many generations, professional warriors, a river, farmland, and too many dependents.

Josh made Tatbirt the Castellan, also of the Abrika.  A woman, she is "tall and broad, bronzed in the sun and built by long hours of honest labor."  She's got Bold 0, Good -1, Strong +1, Wary +2, and Weird +1.  She can commit or withhold the stronghold's resources, she can feel the pulse of the stronghold's walls and stones, she can muster laborers, and she can offer sacrifices for luck, harvest, or victory.  While her arms and armor are more often than not on the rack, when she dresses to defend the stronghold, she has Harm 4 and Armor 3.  She has an honored place in the household of her father the local liege, and therefore the details are the same as Tinitran's.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 03, 2014, 01:13:21 PM
Then we made Neighbors and Enemies

Tony made Clan Ixone, the first of our hostile clans.  They are defined by speaking the same language that no one around them speaks (Basque), and they are a clan, so 30 souls, 4 households, 8 warriors.  They are wiry and ruddy.  At Rites -1, War +2, and Wealth 0, they are known for their individual skill at arms, their cavalry, their loyalty, their fearlessness in the face of death, and their powerful foreign allies (uh-oh).

Josh made the Walhaz, our fractious free landowners.  They are defined as the all who live in the same place.  They are barrel-chested, short, and golden-creamy, and there are a lot of them: a vassalage numbering 300 souls, 40 households, and 40 warriors.  With Rites +2, War -1, and Wealth of 0, they are known for their veneration of priests and priestesses, their elaborate cosmology, and their celebrations; they maintain a cavalry, and they have rich lands.  They speak Welsh.

Adam made the Magdolna, the remnants of the old crown.  They are defined as the descendants of the same ancient queen, Magda the Bold.  They are hulking, barrel-chested, and hirsute (Adam's addition to the list).  Their numbers are 30 souls, 4 households, and 8 warriors.  They've got Rites +1, War +1, and Wealth 0, and are known for their fearlessness in battle, their vigilance against sorcery, their individual skill at arms, their ruthlessness, and their garish fashions.  They speak Hungarian.  Adam also made two Notables of the Magdolna.  Lajos the Bear has a 3 in single combat, aspires to honor, and his conscience allows him brutality, compliance, and vainglory.  Virág has a 2 in single combat, and aspires to loyalty and virtue; his conscience allows him brutality, lying, and murder.  So he's a nice guy we're happy to have on the other side.

Realizing that we have weapons and arms for 20 but only have 5 warriors among the Abrika, Judson made the Forest Band, which serves as the core of Agerzam's war company.  They are defined by sharing the same experience—fighting for Agerzam—and were displaced here by the Empire.  They have no unifed look, as their forebearers are all foreigners.  They are a warrior order, with 16 souls in 16 households and 16 warriors.  With Rites 0, War +2, and Wealth -1, they are known for their fearlessness in the face of death, their cavalry, their loyalty, their mercy to their defeated enemies, and their spicy cuisine.  Judson sketched out his lieutenant, Hetu, who has a 2 in single combat; she aspires to courage and virtue while her conscience allows her brutality, blasphemy, and robbery.  She's a keeper!

Judson also made a Notable for the Abrika, Irat, the Liege Lord.  He's a 2 in single combat; he aspires to hospitality and piety, and his conscience allows him brutality, compliance, and vainglory.  Ah, good old Daddy.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 03, 2014, 01:15:20 PM
Judson then made his War Company

Putting together the Abrika's 5 warriors at War 0 and the Forest Band's 16 warriors at War +2, he gets a total number of 21 warriors and a War +2.  They are equipped with hide coats, helmets, and spears from the stronghold's armory, giving them Harm +3 and Armor +2.  They have archers and cavalry.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 03, 2014, 01:36:13 PM
Then we did our opening Season Moves

I served as MC for these, and in addition to doing what was on the page for season moves, I asked for details from both the player taking the move and the rest of the table.  I was aiming to flesh things out and give us some traction to start with.  Later Judson declared I was asking provocative questions, but I'd rather the season moves had a little more meat on them in explicit fashion.

Tinitran went Traveling far away, and came upon some lands which had experienced a late freeze, creating a food shortage.  The households and clans of the area were denying each other hospitality, leading to some tensions.  Tinitran, being of noble blood and from far away, occasionally got hospitality when neighbors did not, which didn't make anybody happier.

Idus participated in our Rites and Celebration.  Since it was spring (based on Tinitran's late freeze), this was a celebration dedicated to our fertility goddess and god, incestuous twins.  They sacrificed our fattest cow, asked for (and got) a bountiful harvest.  There was also a "lesser" sacrifice to our goddess of death.  They sacrificed one of our enemies who had been living among us as a thrall for the last year.  They petitioned the goddess of death for protection of our children.

Agrezam went Soldiering.  He rolled an 8 and decided that he was discharged, owed money, and hurt.  He had answered the call to arms of our sister-city down the trade route, clearing out bandits that had been plaguing the merchants there.

Tatbirt was At the Hearth, where she gave birth to her first child.  There was no father in attendance, and neither are there any plausible candidates for who the father might have been.  Tatbirt herself is remaining quiet on the matter.

Did this give us enough to play?

Yes and no.

Yes; I and the others at my table, who are all relatively experienced GMs and experienced with PbtA games, can make this work.

However, while we've built up a ton of context most of it is rather broad and none of it is very immediate.  What we don't have is a spark to set things going.  Now, I can make said spark, but it's not going to come from the prep that we've done so far.  I'm going to have to decide that the Magdolna know of an old tunnel into the hill's catacombs, or that the bandits that Agerzam ran off are now being billeted by Clan Ixone, or that the thrall we sacrificed was from that freeze-stricken valley Tinitran visited, so when his family sends a hopeful messenger seeking our aid, they'll find worse news.  And obviously I can do all of that, but I feel like I'm flexing muscles that I trained up on games that gave me more support in this area.  I'm also unsure what kinds of conflicts are going to work well for Dark Ages.  Some guidance would be appreciated, even for an "experienced" GM like me.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: lumpley on September 03, 2014, 01:41:54 PM
Cool! Thanks, Josh.

Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: judson on September 03, 2014, 01:44:25 PM
As a "I'm not sure what the coats are for" Dogs player, I was really surprised at how much I got into pairing up modifiers with stuff. Josh, I'm not surprised you didn't want to transcribe it all.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 03, 2014, 02:20:03 PM
And from the playtesting notes page:

Rules Questions

How does one "create a War Company," as the playtest requests, outside of the Muster move?

Do a household's professional warriors add to a War Party?  How, exactly?  Do you need to make a new People for them?

A People of 20, 30, even 300, known for its cities?  Even if this wasn't plural, 300 souls doesn't populate a city.

When does a war company demobilize?

What distinguishes Denied Your Right from throwing a tantrum?

Clarifications, Possible Typos

Take Stock does NOT give you +1 forward when acting on answers (like Read a Sitch)?

The doc says "some characters' rights might include one [season move] as well."  Which characters?  Is the Castellan's muster workers right available as be a season move?

How do you get Shield Wall (listed on the War Company sheet)?

War Captain's beginning of session right says to mark 4 circles but there are only 3.

The Blacksmith has no mention of a forge or even smithing—if the playbook is a generalized artisan playbook, why isn't it just called Artisan?


Naming the Stronghold seems like a good candidate for a procedural step somewhere.

Visually, it's hard to distinguish character sheets.  Bigger playbook names would help.

Aspirations for Notables: power, wealth, ambition
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: Simon JB on September 04, 2014, 05:29:19 AM
Nice read, thanks!
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 09, 2014, 10:15:07 PM
So this is what I ended up with for prep; we're going to play in an hour or so.

The first thing I wrote down was "What does Irat (the liege lord) want?"  He aspires to hospitality and piety.  So mostly I just focused on ways to make that problematic for our PCs.

Then I went through and copied over the characters' special rights, skipping the more prosaic +1s and whatnot.

- supplicate the gods of war
- wage war as you see fit

- step out of earthly life
- keep acquaintance with the people you meet

- confront betters for justice
- the spirit-pinning ash wood spear

Given that these are the things that the players have highlighted as things they're interested in, and given that this is our "pilot episode," I wanted to lay out opportunities for everybody to do their thing.  So I looked at our stronghold, the peoples, and the notables that we'd made, and the season moves we took.

First I figured, if Idus wants to confront his betters for justice, "his betters" is certainly Lord Irat.  So how can Irat move against Idus and prompt him to demand justice?  Idus has a weird, cosmopolitain household, and Irat pursues piety.  So let's say somebody in Idus' household is an apostate or a heretic or similar in Irat's estimation.  I jot down notes to ask Idus' player Adam what's the worst thing you can do before the Abrika gods, and then I'll tell him one of his household is doing it.  We'll see where that goes.

Tinitran gets to keep acquaintance with people, which is a right others apparently don't enjoy.  So let's have somebody call on Tinitran… like those bandits that Agerzam was fighting.  They need help, since they've just been routed.  And if the Abrika don't give them food and supplies, they'll have to turn to the Abrika's enemies, Clan Ixone.  That seems like a fun problem to put in front of Tinitran.

And if Agerzam wants to speak with the gods of war, and he can wage war on his own say-so, let's give him somebody to fight.  The Magdolna, for instance.  Except let's make Agerzam's wage war right a dicey proposition and let's say that the Magdolna are already in the Crown of Towers when Agerzam gets back from campaigning, and they're here under Irat's hospitality.  There's a late freeze going on, after all, and some folks' food stocks are low.  But that's an excuse; the Magdolna are almost certainly up to no good.

And lastly I have some vague plans for the Magdolna summoning up or quelling or hiding the shade of their ancestor Magda.  Maybe that's why they're at the Crown of Towers.  Maybe that has something to do with the apostate in Idus' household.  Maybe that spirit might end up pinned on a certain spear, or encountered by somebody stepping out of earthly life.

So we'll see how this shakes out.  At some point, too, I'll be putting my PC into a scene with another PC and asking somebody else to MC for me.  Fun times!
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 10, 2014, 02:06:09 PM
We played our first roleplay session!  Yay!

But first I neglected to share the bandits that I made as prep.  These are the White Caps, so called because they are defined by the common experience of going on a spirit quest fueled by hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Due to their repeated usage of said white cap mushrooms, they're unformly tall, willowy, and bone-pale.  They're an outlaw band, so 12 souls in 1 household and 8 warriors.  They've got 0 Rites, +2 War, and -1 Wealth.  They're known for their veneration of their priestess, their insatiability in war, their loyalty, their physical prowess, and their generous hospitality.  Their priestess is Vanora, who aspires to loyalty and piety, and her conscience allows brutality, compliance, and robbery.  Basically they're a dangerous but friendly cult who've fallen on hard times.

I should mention that I copied over all our Peoples onto the People sheets with People on top, Notables on the bottom, and Warriors, Harm, and Losses along the right side.  We prefer this layout over the others.

But then we started play!

We kicked off with Agerzam coming home to find the Magdolna, our frequent rivals and enemies, milling about outside the great hall loading two wagons with food and supplies.  Judson prevaricated a little on how much Agerzam cared to engage, here.  How much of it was his business, and how much did he want to make it his business?  We played through some very brief interaction, with Agerzam learning that the Magdolna were there under Lord Irat's hospitality, and almost left it there.  A few minutes later, Judson realized that what he had been doing was Taking Stock.  Since we hadn't yet started the next scene, we had Judson roll. He got a 6 (the only failure in the session—more on that later), so he got one question.  (I forget which one he picked!)  So he came away with the distinct impression that the Magdolna were using Irat's hospitality as cover for something else.

Then I asked Adam, Idus' player, where the Champion would speak with Lord Irat when they spoke.  Was the enmity between them such that they only saw each other at court, or were their family ties strong enough to allow them private consultations in the Lord's chambers?  Adam went with open court.  We had quickly determined that everyone in Idus' household worships the Abrika gods, and that the thing that most pissed off the Abrika gods was a breach of hospitality.  So Irat informed Idus that a member of his household had denied hospitality to one of the family's elders (I quickly scribbled in Tagwizult as Agerzam's widowed mother).  The rude girl in question, Olwen, must be cast out of Idus' household.  Adam made a Size Someone Up roll and scored a 10+; he verified that Irat was speaking truthfully, that he really needed Idus and his spear to protect the stronghold, but also that the Lord was using this as a test of Idus' loyalty and his household's propriety.  If the matter wasn't resolved, Irat would use it as a wedge to shame and marginalize Idus.  Idus very carefully hedged on what he would actually do about this, promising to look into the matter.

Since Tinitran was home, I asked her player Tablesaw where she frequented when she was at the Crown of Towers, and where she might be found.  When she wasn't wandering through Agerzam's hunting grounds, she frequented the tavern in the town.  I asked Judson what the tavern looked like; he asked what the people of the town were like, we remembered that we hadn't made a people for the townsfolk, so he started in on that.  When that didn't happen quickly, we asked Judson to describe the tavern and then finish off the People.  Armed with a scene frame, I had Vanora, priestess of the White Caps', sit down and make her case.  Given that she was an acquaintance from Tinitran's travels, they established a comfortable friendship immediately (speculating that they "left earthly life" together a few times).  Vanora then asked if the White Caps could call on the Abrika's hospitality, but was worried about appearing at the Crown itself in person, since the White Caps had just been routed by Agerzam.  Tinitran resolved this by extending her hospitality and protection to Vanora while she was under the Abrika's roof.

Idus and Agerzam met outside the great hall and did some mostly incidental, character- and relationship-building roleplay.  No mechanics engaged, no real pushing of agendas on my part.

Since Tablesaw had mentioned the possibility of running into my character Tatbirt when Tinitran took Vanora into the stronghold, I framed that and then asked either Judson or Adam to MC for us.  Adam took up the role.  We indulged in some banter and cooing over the newborn, and then Tinitran asked Tatbirt for lodging for Vanora; I exercised my "commit or withold the stronghold's resources" right and found her a serviceable room.  Tinitran also asked Tatbirt to arrange a meeting between Vanora and Irat, using some choice phrasing ("Vanora has extended great hospitality to Tinitran and Tinitran has extended the hospitality of the household to her").  We had really fallen into a hospitality theme for the session!

I was somewhat surprised when Adam then swept Tatbirt along to speak with Irat, who was already speaking with Agerzam.  I got to keep playing!  Agerzam Sized Up Irat to understand the situation with the Magdolna; Adam deferred to me as to Irat's motivations there ("Irat thinks he's awesomely pious for extending hospitality to his former enemies").  I then used Size Someone Up on Agerzam to ask What do you intend to do (keep an eye on the Magdolna) and How might I get Agerzam to share what he sees with Tatbirt (express concern about the situation).  So Tatbirt had to make a very diplomatic statement about Irat's pious hospitality while also signalling to Agerzam that she was concerned, too.

Next Tablesaw and Judson wanted their characters to cross paths, so we moved to the sacred shrine where Agerzam and his men were receiving healing in the wake of their Soldiering season move.  I'm not sure if we did this right, but we used the People move Ask for Their Hospitality on our own people to give Agerzam the "sorceries and enchantments" we were known for.  As that roll succeeded, we moved on to the Enchantment page, where healing 1 harm requires 3 sacrifices.  The healing was performed [1] in a shrine sacred to our gods, [2] with an oath to our gods, and [3] passing the subject twice through fire and twice through water.  We elaborated that the shrine was a big garden with plants from our homelands and hot springs.  Judson then erased the strike through his first Harm line.

Tinitran and Agerzam then went back and forth on the topic of the White Caps, their virtue or lack thereof, and whose hospitality was being extended to whom based on whose rights.  Both Judson and Tablesaw rolled Win Someone Over and spent those marks across the conversation.  This seemed to work really well and was entertaining.

We hadn't seen Idus for a while, so we saw him return to his household.  Whereas he's almost a pariah everywhere else, at home he's a beloved benefactor and honored head of household, so that was interesting to see.  He called Olwen to where he was holding court underneath a tree and determined that she was a punk kid who shot her mouth off (more or less), and told her that she was going to throw herself on the mercy of Tagwizult in a final bid to not be cast out of the household entirely.  He sent a runner to Agerzam (a boy he wants to transfer over to Agerzam's war band) to arrange said meeting.

However, Agerzam, already being in the sacred shrine and all, decided to supplicate the gods of war regarding the Magdolna.  He described his counsel, invoking the Iron Triune, and got a 10+ for an answer and follow up questions.  He wanted to know what his enemies the Magdolna were up to; he received a vision of two Magdolnites breaking off from the other guests and sneaking into the catacombs to steal something.  His follow-up question was "Are they there RIGHT NOW?" which was answered in the affirmative.  Idus showed up with Olwen in tow; Agerzam postponed that business for the more pressing concerns down in the catacombs.

Tinitran also asked to Consult the Other World, asking after the god of the White Caps.  She received a vision of a dim, tarnished, and failing light.

…by which time it was 11 and we needed to wrap things up.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 10, 2014, 02:23:45 PM

We stalled a couple times on making a People.  The most egregious was the tavern scene, above, but we also dithered back and forth on whether Idus' household should have its own People sheet or not.  Tablesaw especially finds the Peoples unwieldy.

We really liked the assigning XP go-around.  It was a little weird under Co-MCing (I both MCed for and played across from Judson, so where does my input go in that process), but we sorted out a solution (which I… am sort of failing to remember.)

Dark Ages does not yet have the focus, both in character roles and in general premise, that Apocalypse World has. As Tablesaw said, "I don't know what this game is about and I don't know why it exists."  We cast around for the Barf Forth Apocalyptica or Spout Lore equivalents that would ground us in some context.

While there are a lot of rights there is no firm handle on the obligations that those rights come with.  The ruler has a right to rule, but no obligation to his people.  The war leader has a right to wage war but not an obligation to protect the stronghold.

Size Someone Up seems a little weird.  Unlike Win Someone Over, you don't mark and spend over the course of the conversation, which makes this into a weird pseudo-psychic mind-reading.  How do you know what they intend to do or how you can get them to do something from the very start of the conversation?  We suspect that the trigger of the move is the problem; at least by our read, you "size someone up" as they enter the room; this move seems more appropriate halfway through the conversation, when you're giving them a more considered appraisal.


A household option for healers, a hospital, or the like?

Some God moves (or God rights) in the MC moves might help make the favor of the gods more relevant.

A move for claiming a right that you don't have — something like Tempt Fate from Sagas.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: hoobuk on September 14, 2014, 11:32:52 AM
I believe the solution we settled on RE: XP & Co-MCing was
Josh selected MC's Choice for Judson, Tablesaw and Adam. Adam selected MC's choice for Josh.
The remaining two players selected Player's Choice for each player, debating between them and coming to consensus.

Though I felt we were fairly successful in our co-MCing experiment, we did wish for more guidance on how to make it work. We all tend to think and play in terms of scenes, so we had some advantage in that we were setting those scenes with specific characters and a player who didn't have a present PC could become MC.  But as Josh has mentioned, we're all fairly experienced GMs and familiar with PbtA. Especially for new and unfamiliar players, I think this co-MC concept could be very intimidating without more guidance. I assume that guidance will be in the final product, but I would urge some extensive suggestions of "how" for those who want to try it.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 16, 2014, 01:45:06 PM
We're also importing explicit scene-framing.  Apocalypse World is supposed to be all conversation and questions.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 17, 2014, 05:07:58 PM
So last night's playtest started with Tablesaw saying, "I don't know if I can play this."

We spent the next few hours talking over his problems, reviewing the playtest document, and formulating a way through.

The crux of the problem was, to paraphrase Tablesaw, "The playtest document has enough gaps that it does not produce enjoyable play without us importing a lot of techniques from other games, and then it sort of works.  But at that point, we're not really playtesting Dark Ages, we're ad-hocing our own game, and if we're going to do that, we might as well be playing something reliable."

In concrete terms, Tablesaw's Tinitran is intended as a footloose wanderer and he'd like to see her travel around.  However, our play up until now has been scene-structured opportunities for the player characters to interact, mostly in the stronghold.  The scene structure is imported, and we might enable more travel and new vistas if we switched to a more Apocalypse World style questions-and-conversation format.  However, we feel unprepared and unsupported in asking questions and having that conversation.  The setting and implications of the rights is so nebulous we have nowhere to start with the questions.  Many of the rights do not provide strong support—and sometimes provide no support—for guiding the conversation in interesting ways.

We're in this situation where we can fall back on comfortable play styles that we import or we can flail around trying to make the AW-style provocative questions and conversation work.  The text as it exists does very little to dissuade us from bringing in these foreign techniques, and the conversation-and-questions has little to entice us with.

So we started drilling down into why the conversations-and-questions format is not working for us, despite the fact that it has worked for us before in games like Apocalypse World and Sagas of the Icelanders.

First we considered the absence of the First Session.  In AW, the MC sits back and lets the players bang about a bit, generating context, and then goes home and creates fronts to put pressure on the fault lines that were demonstrated in the First Session.  While we enjoyed the pick-a-season-action goads to inspiration and were hopeful for the implication that the game would kind of leap into action, it has severely under-performed compared to the AW First Session.  We do not have strong senses of what characters are "about," what they care about, or the broader context in which they operate.  (That broader context we expected to be provided by the system of rights that describe the setting, more on that later.)

For instance, my character Tatbirt the Castellan has just given birth to a child; there is no father in evidence.  But whereas this sort of implies something like a scandal, we don't have enough footing to really figure out if it is out of the ordinary or how to push on that in an interesting way.  Is it strange for a child to be born out of wedlock?  Is it shameful?  Does it have implications for the succession of the stronghold leadership?  And so on and so forth.  Obviously we could conjure up answers to all of these by asking provocative questions, but we never found a good place and time to do this.  The starter season move was over and done with before we were able to dig into things.  Then, once we started play in our second session, these all seemed like details that should have been addressed already.

Talking about the First Session inevitably led us to talking about Fronts and their absence.  Whereas AW provides a number of different kinds of fronts with which to threaten the PCs, the enemies-of-the-stronghold Peoples all feel incredibly samey.  Hostile clans who want to dethrone you.  Remnants of the former crown's rule who want to dethrone you.  Fractious landowners… who would really rather you weren't on that throne.  Especially with our sorcerous family theme, the lack of sorcerous threats is profoundly felt.  We also established a late spring freeze with Tablesaw's season move, but we don't really know how to push that in concrete terms.  Not having fronts, threats, and countdown clocks means that we are winging it every moment of play.  Just the simple support of having a list of progressing badness on the horizon would be welcome support.  Then we'd have a sense of direction for our questions and conversation—towards the badness.  As it is, any question we pose to each other gets a diffident and insignificant answer—or an overcorrection of latching onto something and making a big deal about it just so something has some narrative weight.

Apocalypse World functions on scarcities, but Dark Ages has a (ha ha) scarcity of scarcities.  Nobody needs anything.  There is no prompt for the players of problems that need fixing.  Asking provocative questions here again produces diffident and insignificant answers.  I almost feel like we should be responding with the perverse answers encouraged by Wick's Houses of the Blooded, if only to make things harder on ourselves so we have something to push against.  We have a bunch of characters in a stronghold who are quite content to be just competent enough to keep the peace and feed their families; we've no guidance for how to shake up the present status quo to produce interesting developments.

Lastly, the rights have turned into a quagmire for us.  What does having a right mean, both for the character and for the story?  Does not having a right mean something?  What if another player has the right that you don't?  What if nobody at the table has that right, but they might later?  What about rights not listed on any sheet?  Who in the setting cares about your rights?  Do NPCs have rights that our characters might care about?  And all of this might seem like fertile ground for provocative questions, but we can't find any stable ground from which to start.

Given all that, we resolved on our way forward.

First, we're writing up Fronts, with threats and countdown clocks, if only so that we have something to push towards and big changes to threaten the players with.  Judson is writing up fronts specifically with an eye to address, if not intentionally deny, the rights on players' sheets.  I'll be turning the current events into threats.

We are also going to back down our pacing and be a bit more leisurely with our play, to allow greater space and time for provocative questions and generating context.  Hopefully this will help us come to a better understanding of what these characters are all about, the better to present them with interesting choices down the road.

Lastly, we're adopting the table rule that rights are sacrosanct.  They aren't just social conventions, they are hard-coded elements of the game premise.  Like the character on the television show who is in charge of the home base and nothing ever unseats them, or the character in the novel who is constantly meddling in others' love lives and nothing ever prevents them from continuing so.  The only thing that can confront a right is another right.  We're shifting "Denied Your Right" to "When Rights Conflict." And we're assigning rights to NPCs to better define where they fit in the setting and refine how they will come into conflict with the PCs.

We'll see how it shakes out next week!
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: lumpley on September 17, 2014, 05:14:16 PM
Thank you!

Frustrating as it's been for you, your playtest has been really useful to us.

I'll be interested to hear how it goes from here.

Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: lumpley on September 17, 2014, 08:14:34 PM
Tablesaw, by the way, I just want to say out loud that I'm your biggest fan in the world right now. Playtesting is one thing when the game's flying, quite another when it's not clicking and I'm just here watching unhelpfully to see when and how it breaks. Your thoughtful, careful, really conscientious feedback has been above and beyond.

Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 23, 2014, 10:39:51 PM
I just finally got the time to sit down and do up fronts for the playtest tonight, and this is exactly what I was missing.  The process helped me refine, sharpen, and organize the stuff that was happening into something really actionable.  The color and feel is a little off—a little more madness and desperate hunger than Dark Ages seems to imply—but process-wise, this is very helpful.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: noofy on September 24, 2014, 01:48:17 AM
So Josh, were the fronts cobbled from AW ideas? Or simply targeting PC's rights? I know you can't share until post session, but I'm curious to your methodology? Was it time consuming?

Thanks so much for all your AP so far. Just for what its worth, as an audience member I have such an awesome vision of the setting, characters and milieu of your game, just from the write-ups in this thread. It oozes theme, reminding me very much of the defunct TV series Camelot. Bravo!
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 24, 2014, 07:14:00 PM
Thanks for the kind words, noofy! :D

So we–Tablesaw, Judson, and myself–sat down to play our third session of Dark Ages.  Things progressed much better when we took our time, treated rights as sacrosanct, and used fronts.

We kicked off play with Abregaz and Idus heading down into the catacombs to chase the Magdolna intruders there.  Since Idus' player wasn't able to make it, we had Tablesaw play him for this scene part of the conversation.  Abregaz and Idus used a number of the more actiony moves and a couple assists, and these cascaded and led into each other very well.  Abregaz attempted a Take Stock and got a 6; Idus assisted that by sneaking around behind, Leaping into Action, and seizing the interlopers.  (Quick clarification question: could Idus spend one to "seize hold of" both intruders, or did he need to spend two to seize hold of both of them?  We did the latter.)  Seeing that Idus was about to get knifed in the gut, Abregaz then Leapt Forward and disarmed the restrained Magdolna.  There was evidence that the Magdolna had been tampering with the old graves, but since they were under Irat's hospitality, Abregaz refrained from searching them like criminals.  They kept tight-lipped, themselves.  So Abgregaz and Idus escorted them upstairs to the Magdolna caravan that was just leaving.

At supper, Tinitran carefully introduced Vanora the White Cap priestess (and bandit leader) to her father the Keep Liege.  This was mostly Win Someone Over, carefully and elegantly done.  Tinitran got to the point where she could press her father into agreeing to extend the White Caps hospitality, though he wouldn't like it, or not pressuring him for an immediate answer.  She chose the latter, confident that he'd convince himself to agree with her in his own time.  Throughout this, Judson and I were tag-team MCing, with me as Irat and him adding color as Vanora.  Then Gorka, a clansman from the hostile and unconquered Ixone Clan, arrived at the stronghold under a white flag.  This was Judson taking the lead on MCing, and I played Tatbirt in the following exchange.  Gorka had come demanding ransom for one of our carpenters that the Ixone had captured, but a Size Someone Up revealed that he was here to make ridiculous demands that we wouldn't agree to, thus gaining the high ground.  Tatbirt grew tired of this quickly and told him to return to the Ixone and prepare for war.

Finally Agrezam came up out of the catacombs to join the rest of the family for dinner.  He showed up white-faced, though, claiming to have been confronted by our (quite dead) grandmother.  This felt off immediately, and we paused for a moment to untangle it.  Judson was effectively trying to push an MC agenda using his PC as a pawn.  It felt flat, awkward, and like Judson was denying the other players the opportunity to actually play out the scary encounter.  We resolved not to do that anymore, and keep "MCing" and "PCing" strictly separate.

After dinner concluded, Tatbirt went down into the catacombs to talk with the stronghold.  The stronghold was upset because something had been taken from it, and by Virag the Magdolna.  This was an interesting bit here.  Tatbirt was following the lead of the catacomb's restless dead, a threat on Judson's front.  However, when I looked for a culprit, Judson picked Virag off of my front sheet.  This worked out, mostly because I think everyone at the table assumed that Virag had taken something from the catacombs, even if that hadn't been established in the fiction.

While Tatbirt went down into the catacombs, Abregaz and Tinitran went up to the family shrine.  Abregaz planned to supplicate the gods of war, as is his right, while Tinitran was going to leave her earthly life, as was hers.  We stumbled across an interesting rules wrinkle, here.  We wondered if, in the morning when Abregaz made his battle moves, he could Call on Aid from Tinitran, and we could jump back in time to her scouting via astral projection, thus providing him Aid.  This seemed awkward, but without the +1 forward mechanic, doing a thing now to benefit a roll later seemed murky.  We then pieced together that, if Tinitran went scouting now, in the morning she would have the proper fictional positioning to give Abregaz aid.  She could tell him, for instance, about a deadfall across a path he intended to march, or where the Ixone had stockpiled their weapons or somesuch.  That would fall under the Aid that doesn't require a roll, but in this case she could do that only because she'd already made the roll.  This seems like it would work very well, but teasing it out of the rules as they stand took some doing.

However, all that went flying out the door when Tinitran stepped out of earthly life (rolling 10+) and landed in the Ixone camp, then immediately flubbed her roll trying to find our carpenter.  A guard was advancing on her, and Tablesaw decided that she couldn't take anything with her that wasn't natural materials like leather, cloth, or wood–so she had no sword or spear.  So instead she grabbed a brazier, set some tents on fire, and spooked the Ixone horses out into the moonless night.  Then when she was surrounded, she poofed back to the stronghold.

Abregaz then supplicated the Iron Triune, our gods of war Find, Fix, and Flank.  Except he rolled a 6, and so instead of our gods, he ended up contacting the god of the White Caps, who was not very happy with him.  When he remained defiant, the White Flame overwhelmed him with light and struck him blind.

And that's what we did.  Questions and observations to follow.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 24, 2014, 07:35:27 PM
Okay so first, Fronts.  Making and using fronts made it very clear that there is a hole in the design.  Making fronts was incredibly helpful in focusing the fictional stuff we had generated and turning it into actionable threats with strong themes.  Right now the Peoples sheets are very static, very simmy things that describe the setting; using them as fodder to create fronts helped us tell a story.  Having countdowns gave me, as an MC, something to make happen and a fallback for when I didn't know how to press forward.

However, as much as fronts revealed that there was a hole, it was also pretty clear that it's not a fronts-shaped hole.  The mood and feel of a front, especially the Kinds and Impulses that I pulled straight out of the Apocalypse World book, are skewed off of the proper mood and feel for Dark Ages.  AW fronts are all half-mad clamoring desperation throwing themselves at the PCs.  Dark Ages seems like it should highlight schemers, bullies, supernatural monsters, cults with mystic traditions that are more respectable than Hocus gibbering, and foreign armies.  Maybe a different set of Kinds and Impulses would make Dark Ages fronts pop, or maybe the game needs a different piece altogether, here.

What fronts gave us, though, that was incredibly useful: they helped us turn a status quo into a dynamic story setting by giving incoming threats a personality and an agenda.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 24, 2014, 07:49:02 PM
Assorted questions and observations:

There don't appear to be any rights defined for inheritance or property.  Which seems a weird lacuna.

Should custom moves be a thing?  Do they have a place in the game?

Call for Aid specifically says it only works when player characters help you.  However, there are a number of rights (especially in the Wicker Wise) which talks about getting the Aid of NPCs and gods.

The "bounties" of various goods are vague to the point of uselessness.  How valuable is a bounty of coin?  Of furs?  Of food?  When we were dealing with the clansman who wanted to ransom our guy back to us, we had no good idea what we should offer him, and what any of that might actually mean.  AW has that nice few paragraphs that talks about "1-barter is worth x, y, z; 2-barter is a, b, c, and so on."  That would be useful.

We ended up using Size Someone Up on a representative of an entire People, in this case Gorka from Clan Ixone.  But when I asked "how is he vulnerable to me?" and wanted to get a diplomatic-political-economic answer, I got "you could probably seduce him."  How might we go about understanding broader sociopolitical contexts?

Co-MCing with 3 players is a little iffy, but almost certainly better than playing with 1 MC and 2 players.

One of the neatest tricks of Apocalypse World is to Announce Future Badness when a player flubs a roll against one front, and you reveal information about another front.  This kind of cross-cutting makes for a really neat, organic, lived-in sort of setting feel.  However, this is very hard to do under Co-MCing, when you may only have one "front" (or front-like thingy-thing that hasn't yet been designed) to pull from.  One solution may be to ask a third person at the table if they have any good Future Badness that they could Announce, but at that point it's a fishing expedition.

Leap Into Action and Undertake Great Labor do not seem to be firing on all cylinders.  What falls under one and not the other is a good question, and we aren't sure the options under Leap Into Action really address all the different situations in which that move might be used.

I'm particularly unhappy with Undertake Great Labor, which seems like a wasted opportunity.  10+ you succeed, 7-9 you succeed but it was really hard, 6- you fail.  Very little guidance to the conversation that you're having around the table.  7-9 is nearly consequence-free.  I'd really like to see some concrete options to make that move pivot the story in interesting ways.

Running Away… is that a Great Labor?
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: judson on September 24, 2014, 08:32:24 PM
I don't know if it's been mentioned yet, but we've been consciously playing Size Someone Up as something that happens a little bit into a conversation - which is different than our intuition of the move's written trigger, which is that it should happen when you first encounter someone. But rolling it effectively when the *player* says "wait, what's he want?" seems to work well.

It seemed like a possible reading of Call for Aid is: the text says "a player's character" which sometimes might be intended to include NPCs as the MC is a player - but that seems like a stretch.

The biggest difficulty with a small table Co-MCing was that front/threat/things that impact the Stronghold really impact your own character really easily, so not talking to yourself becomes tricky. The thing with Agerzam as the pawn to advance a front rose out of that - at least I wasn't talking to myself.

Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: noofy on September 25, 2014, 01:01:26 AM
Great insights guys - it seems to be shaping up to a wonderful story! Are you finding it easy to play to see what happens with the switching roles thing going on?
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on September 25, 2014, 12:05:35 PM
Co-MCing is a skill we are feeling our way through developing.  Sometimes it's easy and natural, other times it requires a little explicit coordination, and a few times (as above) we fall on our faces.
Title: Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
Post by: joshroby on October 09, 2014, 01:50:48 PM
We continue, even though the Bakers have moved on!

We played what turned out to be a short session on Tuesday.

First, we finally playtested the Battle Moves in our thrilling engagement between the Abrika and the dastardly Clan Ixone.  Except, since Tinitran scattered their horses and deprived them of cavalry, it wasn't so much exciting as ghastly.  Turns out the Ixone relied on their horses more than we realized; losing them knocked their Harm and Armor down considerably.  With the addition of a good roll on our side and a mediocre roll on their side, the Abrika war party dealt 6 harm to the Ixone while the Ixone failed to inflict any harm at all on us.  In other words, it was a rout.  In one exchange, one war party lost all its harm levels.  Their one pick on their Come Under Attack was to scatter the Abrika, and while the Abrika did that, the Ixone surrendered.

A few observations here:

1. Since the Ixone was Judson's front, and since Judson's PC was blinded, we had Tablesaw take on absent Adam's PC to lead the war party.  While this did mean that Tablesaw answered some questions and made a few decisions as Idus, the impact of one PC leading instead of another PC was almost negligible.  You don't roll your own stats, and there's no rights that give you a +1 to War when you're in command, or give you more options in battle, or the like.

2. Even with our crushing single exchange, we were a little confused on whether the Ixone war party could continue the battle if they wanted to.  Common sense said no, they were routed, but since they had not yet Counted Their Fallen (and it's also a question if NPC War Parties even do that), their numbers existed in a weird quasi-state of being in fighting form and also being routed.  Schrödinger's Infantry.

3. Do NPC war parties Count Their Fallen?

4. Our war party included the Abrika warriors and the Forest band which we made to round out our garrison, totaling 21 warriors; the Ixone was just the one clan with their 8 warriors.  This huge numerical advantage is one of the reasons we squashed them flat.  But was our game-building prep, where we just threw in a whole new people so that we could fill our garrison, a legit thing to do?  Or did we inadvertently overpower our defenses back in session one?  (Obviously, moving forward, the proper solution is to come at the Crown of Towers with a three-clan war party!)

After the fighting was over and their champion taken as a thrall, we put him to work building a nice curtain wall around the stronghold.  I got to roll Tatbirt's "muster workers" right, but the weak hit seemed a little consequenceless.  I filled in a bubble, and that was more or less it.  It didn't feed into the story as much as I might have liked.

Meanwhile, Agrezam went to Tinitran to ask her what she knew about the White Caps' god and how to fix his blindness.  She suggested apologizing to Vanora for warring on her people; this was not something that our proud war-leader was going to do. So Agrezam supplicated the gods of war, hoping that they could address his little blindness problem.  They responded that it was out of their purview, but they could ask the Lady of Changes.  Agrezam wasn't about to call on gods outside the Iron Triune (because then he'd have to roll his Weird instead of his Bold), so he called on Tatbirt to Consult the Other World.  She bathed in the springs, felt the interconnectedness of all things, and pledged to the Lady that she would affect an alliance between the Abrika gods and the White Caps' god.  Agrezam's sight was immediately returned, and as Tablesaw said, "And so you are in debt to the gods to make that happen, Tatbirt."

One observation here: while Open Your Brain in original Apocalypse World is a lot messier and less clear than Consult the Other World, it does ask questions of the PCs in ways that Consult doesn't, and that seems like a missed opportunity.  Later in the evening, Tablesaw regretted not using the Consult as an opportunity to get details on Tatbirt's child, but I don't think there was a great deal of opportunity that he missed.

From there we decided to hit the End of Season button.  This, combined with doing the XP from last session (since we forgot), meant we did a round of picking new rights.  Agrezam chose the right to speak wisdom in counsel.  Tinitran chose the right to whisper to ghosts, spirits, and the otherworldly.  Tatbirt chose to bump her Strong up +1, because most of the New Nobility rights she was picking from were of the "here's a right that you can have denied, and has little concrete effect otherwise" variety.

Since we'd hit the end of the season and will probably have Adam back to play Idus next week, we decided to call that the end of the session.