Playtest report : the Golden Woods

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Playtest report : the Golden Woods
« on: September 25, 2014, 11:31:55 AM »
1 MC, 3 then 4 PC.

So, we started with the stronghold. It was somewhat difficult to agree on the different options in each category, so I proposed that each player on turn cross out one option to make it easier. We ended with defending a wealthy province (the golden woods), being well protected by its natural position and enhancements. Its ennemies are hostile clans, the remnants of a former rule and a rival crown. It was a little difficult to choose the armory inclusions as we didn't know at this time how many warriors there will be to equip.

We continued with the dominant people, the Goldwoodish (my players have gigantic imagination). As we were talking about the people of a province, we took vassalage for numbers, wondered if this was the only option, and reduced the numbers as it was decided that it was a little vassalage. The Goldwoodish are a celtic people, hospitable and pious, but not that much into war (I pass on the details).

Then characters.
Lorn Kentigern, the Wicker-Wise, Goldwoodish. Described as the druid of his people. He had some struggle with his rights, first chosing mostly "technical" rights (as the other players), then after play start asking if he could change some of his rights to take more "narrative" ones because he needed them for the role he described. He peforms different rituals, speaks wisdom, receives offerings.

Digression : This, so-far, has become a regular complication in our table (and in my head as a MC), for those who took their character as an important person of their people : when they want to make something that they find natural for their role, or get some benefit from their position, sometimes it goes okay, sometimes we find out that there is a right they do not own for that. It is a little confusing that some actions of the fiction are mecanically right-protected, and some other are not. What happens if you feel that a player should get something, but he doesn't have the right to ? End digression.

Judicael Radlach, the Troll Hunter, Goldwoodish. Lone hunter and protector. He is a skilled hunter, has the right to kill to protect and is skilled at that.

Astrid Dortmund, the Castellan, Dortmund. Sister of the liege and his counsellor. When she chose to take a stat substitution on muster warriors, we discussed about who is really owning the right of mustering warriors of a people, as everything seems to be a question of rights in this game, but this one being a basic move. She also is literate, sit in counsel with the liege, and can offer sacrifice of goods.
We created her people, the Dortmund, norse clan who rules over the golden woods. Into war and rites, but not that wealthy. We found it interesting that the ruling class and the people be from different culture.

When I wanted to put the information we had on a war company sheet (stronghold defense), I was a little lost :
- for numbers, I had a half vassalage : 20 warriors, and a clan : 8 warriors. I didn't know if this made a total of 20 (the vassalage including the ruling class) of 28, and I was a uncomfortable with the idea that there was more warriors in the submitted Goldwoodish people than in the ruling class, which should be the warrior class. I ended by arbitrary chosing that the Dortmund have 20 warriors with them, and that the Goldwoodish may help with 20 hunters which are not actual warriors.
- for equipment, I had : the armory inclusions in the stronghold sheet, and the warrior outfit of the arms & armor section in house & belongings, depending of the wealthness, which is not the same between Goldwoodish and the Dortmund clan. Made me think that armory in the stronghold sheet is superfluous, as there is already rules to chose people equipment. Or this may be unclear for me.

Later, a fourth player joined :
Ulf Turgis, War Captain. He, well... has the right to do war and is good at that. He is the war captain for the liege.
His people, the Turgis clan, is an allied clan of the Dortmund. They are especially good warriors.

We made the neighbours and enemies together :
- The Woodgreenish are a celting clan who were previously ruling on the golden woods, but were chasen by the Dortmund with the help of some Goldwoodish who disliked their reign. They are now very poor and weak at war, but their rites remain strong.
- The Meinrad are a germanic clan who crossed the sea to raid this wealthy province.
- Neighbours include the rest of the Dortmund family and other norse clans...

Do we had enough to play ?

Yes and no.

- Yes because we have the place where the players live, and their enemies. So we are sure that the enemies will do something bad for the players, and this will create some play.

- No because at this point, we have a beautiful place where some happy people just want to live their life, protect their kind, and nothing more. And I didn't want to end with a story only about bad people threatening the peaceful lives of good people, and those PC just reacting and defending themselves to those threats, because all they want is just peace. (Digression : this is already how sounded our Apocalypse World campaign, and if this had been fun, it ended a little tiring with me as a MC feeling like an evil mastermind sending waves of threats to a group of PC just seeking to avoid them and nothing more) I wanted a game where both the MC and the PC push the story.

To reach this, I pushed them to this question : what do you want ? At first they gave banalities like "I want to marry", "I want to protect my people". So I insisted on : what do you want, which implies that you impose your will on the world to change the way things are ? And then interesting things arised : the Wicker-Wise wants to free his people ; the Castellan wants the power for herself ; the Troll-Killer wants to involve himself everywhere on diplomacy over conflict. Interesting things to come ! (The War-Captain didn't find anything really exciting to add, as the only thing he wants is war, but it becomes interesting with what the Troll Killer wants.)

- Also no because, as a MC I felt lightly equipped. A place, a bunch of peoples, some said "enemies"... I'm able to improvise with those elements, but it seems a little weak, especially when you compare to Apocalypse World and the instruction on how to run first session, and then build structured fronts and threats with their agenda and moves, who tells you exactly what they are going to do and how.

Next : the first sessions.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2014, 04:47:28 PM by jimmeu »



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Re: Playtest report : the Golden Woods
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2014, 03:43:26 PM »
Yeah Jim, I agree.
It takes some skill as an MC to draw those 'pushes' out of the evolving setting. There almost needs to be a mechanical / sheet driven means to generating situation (other than moves / rights). Something like Bonds or Hx? Or at least a section on how to use Rights as an MC to generate the 'shifting state of unstable alliances'.

Awesome AP! I like the characters very much! I look forward to seeing how they interact.

Re: Playtest report : the Golden Woods
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2014, 01:29:30 PM »
Yeah, that push to create a situation in motion instead of a static one is really key, in many games.  Thanks, and I'm looking forward to hearing more!

Re: Playtest report : the Golden Woods
« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2014, 12:13:26 PM »
Yeah, that push to create a situation in motion instead of a static one is really key, in many games.  Thanks, and I'm looking forward to hearing more!

Why would not there be a mechanical part about the player motivations in the setup / player creation ? That would be great.

So, the game.

To begin with, I told them that the summer has just ended, and asked them what they did during it, and choose a season move.

The Wicker-Wise and the Troll-Killer did their job : Rites & Celebration and Hunting respectively, no problem here.

The Castellan told me she was supervising the land working, which is not the exact description of the Working the Land move, but it seemed suitable, with the exception that the food bounty is property of the landowner, no the Castellan herself.

The War-Captain told me that he was leading raids and looting with his warriors. As there was no move for this, we adapted the Soldiering move, primarily by replacing the possible bounty of coin by what he would have looted. With a hit on the war roll, he told me that he was unhurt and stole a bunch of slaves, but was still engaged.

Afterthoughts : I hoped that the season moves would give me some stuff on how to start the story, but except with the War-Captain it didn't really.
I also found that the Soldiering move is pretty harsh comparing to the other "here, take experience and bounty" season moves : the only benefit is an option on the list, and even with a hit you get one problem. Maybe you should a least mark experience toward War rights ?

It is the beginning of Fall, and the characters are doing their business when they learn that a farmer nearby has been violently attacked by foreign warriors. They all react promptly : the Castellan gathers warriors to set patrols, the Troll Killer tracks down the trail of the attackers, the Wicker-Wise lead the funerals of the dead farmers... not without ritually summoning their ghost to learn about their killers : a Germanic clan, but strangely helped by Celtic people.

Remark : at one point one of the characters consulted his gods, while the Wicker-Wise asked to be overcome by an oracular vision, and except the absence of roll, both seemed very close, and the Wicker-Wise player felt a little wronged.

The Dortmund clan who rules the Golden Woods has a strict revenge policy, and the liege asks for reprisal over those attackers... but he just received an invitation, for him and his sister, to their cousin wedding in a neighbouring province. And his allied warriors, the Turgis clan, are still oversea...

Meanwhile, the War Captain, head of the Turgis clan, sails back from the raiding season with the slaves they captured. However, he is pursued by some Danish clan eager to steal their loot.

This led to our first, "test" battle, which was a little tricky because we had to apprehend all the options, but quite fun. However we wondered if the Fighting in Company counts for the company leader, and as it seems that the answer is no, if the leader takes damage with his company or not.

The fight ended with a single combat between the leaders of both sides. It enlightened some possible flaw on the single combat rules, which has yet been confirmed by every single combat we made : there is no reason for a PC to spend on the "strike hard" option, as someone on a combat just wants to win without being harmed, inflicting harm being a way but not a goal itself (the MC, however, would probably like to spend on this option to make combat dangereous).

Having won the battle, the War Captain, wanting to be in good terms with this norse neighbour clan, invites them to rest and celebrate in the Golden Woods. When he comes back, the Dortmund liege announces him that he is leaving with his sister for his cousin wedding, and asks him to protect the Woods and take revenge on the attackers.

So the Castellan goes to her cousin wedding, an opportunity to learn more about her abundant family, her insular father and her world open cousin, the first reproving the union of the latter with a woman from the latin continental culture. The Castellan being herself both a latin literate and a tradition conservative, she becomes the mediator of the conflict, and made many promise to calm down her father, including that she soon will find a husband for herself. Remark : during the numerous conversation scenes, it was a little difficult to choose between Win Someone Over and Size Someone Up or both, are they seem almost identical moves.

During this time, the War Captain organize defense and reprisal in the Golden Woods. He promises a bounty of goods to the Danish clan in exchange of the protection of the lands while he takes his warriors and the Goldwoodish hunters to destroy the Germanic raiders. However, the Wicker-Wise wants to perform a ritual to protect the Goldwoodish hunters, and sends the Troll Hunter to catch some dire beast to sacrifice.

The hunt included some Undertake Great Labor, Strike a quarry trail, Leap into action, all working very well, despite I'm not really convinced with the 7-9 result of the first one (saying "you succeded but it was difficult" doesn't seem to add much to the story). At one point we wondered if Joining in Single Combat was fitted or not for the combat with the beast, and in retrospect I think we should not have used it. After that, the Troll Hunter comes back terribly wounded and the Wicker-Wise cancels the ritual, preferring to heal the hunter.

As their preparation ritual was cancelled, the Goldwoodish hunters refuse to go to battle until the next season. So the War-Captain decides to delay his attack... and I had the season pass.

New season moves : the Troll Killer recovered, and the Wicker-Wise performed ritual to heal him. As the Castellan was away from the Golden Woods at the end of the season, she chose that travelling was the most adapted choice, and this made me add some interesting news connecting the different factions that were introduced. The War-Captain told me that he was preparing for war, training and scouting... and we didn't really know what move to choose.

Overall thoughts :

Overall it was fun, interesting, and we are all impatient to play the next sessions.

As a MC, I had a lot to improvise. That's not a problem on itself, but I miss the strong MC rules and prep of Apocalypse World. One thing I would really like is a list of moves for peoples or NPCs, like the threat moves in AW. Not that the generic MC moves are too restricting, but as they are very broad so not very inspiring. I have the feeling that the "Have an NPC act on their aspirations / do what their conscience will allow" moves somewhat try to fill this absence of threat moves, but I'm not yet very comfortable with this aspirations/conscience mechanic.

For the PCs, it was easy for the Castellan and the Wicker-Wise to find their place in the story, but it is not the same for the two others. Concerning the Troll Killer, it seems clear that I should introduce one or several trolls at one point... but I really lack some binder between the realistic setup material and trolls. Concerning the War Captain, we probably just have to start a big war and he will feel like a fish in water... but he maybe is a little too much specialized playbook, at least for my taste.

A last word concerning the sheets : I have very quickly been drowned on sheets of peoples and notables (but I must admit I'm not a very well organized person). My favorite is the 1 people + 3 notables, but actually I stopped using those and rewrote a summary of all peoples and notables on a blank sheet so I could have everything on a single sight.

Re: Playtest report : the Golden Woods
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2014, 12:44:14 PM »
We continued playing about one game session every 1 or 2 weeks. My feedback on the routine rules :

Basic Moves
- Leap into action : pretty cool and very useful. The only default I can find is that many times, the 7-9 result didn't sound like a partial success, as it gave enough to the PC to do what he wanted.
- Muster warriors : works well.
- Win someone over : I like the idea of not having a "on a success, the character does what you want" roll. However, my players had some problems to understand that a success was not an automatic persuasion, and as a MC, I sometimes miss a way to decide if a NPC accepts or not what is proposed to him.
- Join in a single combat : super cool. Not really a default but more an observation, PCs almost never put anything on "strike hard", because inflicting damage in a combat is rarely an end on itself but more a way to get victory, so they spend everything on defense an position... but NPCs surely spend on strike hard.
- Undertake great labor : don't really like it. It seems to be the "default" move, its description being adapted to every difficult action when there is no other move dedicated, so we roll a lot of this move. But the 7-9 result doesn't add much to the story, because in both case the PC reach his goal and so doesn't really care if it was difficult or not. I would have prefered a "Act under fire"-like mechanism.
- Size someone up : almost never used, because in most cases Win Someone Over do the job.
- Take stock : works well.
- Consult the other world : okay.
- Call on another's aid : it seems my PCs always forget about this move.
- Denied your right : already a lot has been said about it and the whole right mechanism...

Battle and companies
- Battle moves : overall very fun. I sometimes had the feeling that despite all the options, the only thing that really counts is damage / armor, but sometimes it wasn't.
- We had some problems handling with "break and flee" manoeuver, with the remaining force wanting to continue the fight and not knowing what options he had.
- When dealing with companies, I had my players roll many times the company War for some Leap into action / Undertake great labor / Take stock moves, depending on their order. However the rules never tell this to be a normal move use, and I even discovered that the Take stock was a war right so it wasn't totally legit... (that is a really frequent problem we had : the situation needing some rule that is covered by a right the PCs don't own)

Other moves
- Season moves : work well. Strangely balanced (Soldiering is very harsh comparing to the others). Sometimes we had to create a specific season move because nothing was really fitting to what the player asked.
- Ask for their blessing : almost never used, because most of the priests and wise ones are the PC, and they don't ask blessing to themselves...
- Ask for their judgement : useful.
- Billet Your Company : okay.
- Hospitality : not used a lot, but when we did the result was strange, because what the people was known for was not always something you can give, and not a all what the PC asked. Also, sometimes occupying the same space as Billet your Company.
- Prepare for what's coming : sounds cool, but actually the only time we used it the roll was failed, so the player was a little like "okay I wasted a season move and instead of earning XP or bounty, I got problems...".

Other rules
- Enchantments : had a lot of fun with it.
- Harm and healing : very very harsh, with the permanent harm coming easily. When you endure several battles, you become very weak, avoiding the "hardened veteran" stereotype to exist, despite I think it fits in this kind of fiction.
- Experience : we all really like the XP domain mechanism and how the other participants choose them.
- When chosing a new right, there has been a LOT of cases of : "oh, so THIS behaviour is a right, be we were all playing like I had already owned it..."
- One of the players harassed me with "what is a mantle ? I want to assume a mantle !"

MC Rules
- The lightness of the MC rules made me mastering way more freely than I do with AW and its strong MC rules.
- I would really like some MC people move, or something of this kind.
- Monsters and other magic things rules : almost never used them, because nothing in the setup really helps in introducing trolls or magic places...