Crown of Towers Playtest

  • 24 Replies
Crown of Towers Playtest
« 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.

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #1 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.

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #2 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.

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #3 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.



  • 1293
Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2014, 01:41:54 PM »
Cool! Thanks, Josh.


Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #5 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.

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #6 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
« Last Edit: September 03, 2014, 02:41:33 PM by joshroby »

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2014, 05:29:19 AM »
Nice read, thanks!

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #8 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!

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #9 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.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2014, 02:35:05 PM by joshroby »

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #10 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.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2014, 02:35:31 PM by joshroby »

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #11 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.

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #12 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.

Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #13 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!



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Re: Crown of Towers Playtest
« Reply #14 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.