Playtest report: Scandari (Finnish mercenary warband on islands)

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Playtest report: Scandari (Finnish mercenary warband on islands)
« on: September 28, 2014, 08:13:04 PM »
Scandari playtest
Looking through, I saw the amount of paper involved and looked to make some rationalisations:
-   I put the Basic Moves and Other Moves back to back
-   I put a Household sheet on the back of every Character Playbook
-   I shrunk the Battle Moves and War Company and put them on the same sheet
-   On the back of that, I put A5 versions of the Peoples Setup and the People Playbook
-   I also put the Stronghold and the Map back to back

I gave everyone the Basic Rules sheet and gave one person the Stronghold sheet. They marked a box and then handed it around, everyone marking a box in turn. We did the same with the initial People Playbook as well. This felt lengthy; however, it ensured everyone’s contribution. I’m wondering if there was a quicker way.

Once they had filled in the Stronghold and People (using the Peoples set up, not the People Playbook), they then introduced and agreed an overall vision for themselves. They would be a crew of Finnish mercenaries (the Scandari) who had been hired by a local tribe (the Caspians) to defend them.

I then put all the Character Playbooks in the middle and had them pick up one that interested them and swap it with another if they wished. I then let them go through character creation, including the household. They chose War-Captain, War-Champion, Dragon-Herald and Court Wizard. The Court Wizard wanted to be from a different People (the local tribe who had hired them), so he went about creating that. The Court Wizard had been in someone else’s playtest. The War Captain and Champion were familiar and had played many PbtA games. The Dragon Herald had read AW, but not played it.

I then copied the options they selected from the People Set Up over onto a People Playbook. This may have been unnecessary, but I heeded advice on this forum that just writing down the selected options takes the players time.

As they had selected a Peoples option that meant that there was only one household, they asked whether they should coordinate what the household had in it. I said that they could individually mark what they liked and only worry about coordinating their position in the household. I said that anyone who finished before the rest could start drawing the Stronghold and the Map.

Meanwhile, I looked at their enemies per the Stronghold and filled out two Peoples for them. Considering their character choice, I chose a War-centered People to be the sea raiders and a Ritual People to be the local hostile clans, never conquered.

The War Champion asked about the Enchanted weapon; I referred them to the Enchantments moves and asked them to pick something appropriate. They selected Blood Thirst.

As they finished, I handed around the Basic Moves and Other Moves and asked them to think of what Season Move they would start off with. I looked through their characters and made a note of the significant Rights they had chosen, thinking of what kind of adventure their choices suggested.

When they were all finished, they introduced their characters and I jotted down a question for each of their characters based on their Rights and their character description.
My questions were:
-   To the War-Captain: You’ve heard reports of the sea-raiders nearby, what have you been doing to improve the military standing of the local tribe?
-   To the War-Champion: What injustice has occurred that is troubling you?
-   To the Dragon-Herald: You've sensed something unnatural in the nearby hostile clan, what is it?
-   To the Court Wizard: What celebration are you planning to help spread your faith to the local people and the mercenaries?
I took a short break and I asked them to discuss how the characters related to each other and also think about the answer to my questions.

When I came back, they replied:
-   The War-Captain: I've improved the military standing of the local tribe (the Caspians) by having their fisherman watch for the sea-raiders (the Tridents)
-   To the War-Champion: In our battle with the local hostile tribe (the Nandals), after we defeated them we took their champion as prisoner. We intend to sacrifice him. I consider this unjust and have become friends with the Nandal champion.
-   To the Dragon-Herald: Our Caspian fishermen have seen evidence of dark magic around the turbulent waters to the south of the Isle of Nand, drawing ships into it.
-   To the Court Wizard: I am planning the celebration of the pre-anniversary of the death of my god (the Hostess). It is known as the Hostess's Wake. I have sent out invitations to all the tribes across the sea.

I then asked for their season moves. The Herald spent the season celebrating the holy rites by inaugurating a new rite of swimming from the island to a rock he calls the Dragon's Foot. The Captain had been improving the Scandari's ship by making it faster. The Champion had been out hunting with the prisoner. The Wizard spent the season travelling with the invites and came back with news that the Tridents were mutineers from the Latin navy and that there was a bounty on their heads.

I started the game with the Hostess's Wake and asking which character was there (only the Herald wasn't, deciding he was on the beach). The Nandal headwoman tried to entreat with the Captain for the prisoner (her son), but the Captain was resolute. A Nandal warrior challenged the Champion for the life of the prisoner and they fought in single combat (this was done in a single roll). The Champion emerged unscathed (being better armed and armoured) and the Nandal was dragged off and tied to the blood-tree.

Meanwhile, the Herald saw a rowing boat pull up on the beach and recognised two Tridents step out, saying that they've been invited to the Wake. The Herald leads them to the party in time to witness the single combat. They see the fight and, subsequently, the Nandal headwoman take the life of her dying, captured warrior tied to the tree. The Herald leads the Scandari in a rite around the sacrifice of this warrior while the Nandals and Tridents slipped away.

The PCs argued between themselves as to whether the defeated challenger was a worthy sacrifice for the blood-tree and also what would be done with the prisoner. (This would be an ongoing point of contention between the three Scandari PCs.) The Herald consults the other world and has a vision that sacrificing the (less worthy) defeated challenger in place of the (more worthy) prisoner will cause the tree to die.

That night, the Wizard steps out of her earthly life to investigate the Island of Nand, but discovers little apart from that a Latin ship is pulled up there. She's not clear whether it is a Trident ship or a Latin ship looking for the mutineers.

The Captain, Champion and Herald agree that they will go hunting for the Trident ship and they will take the prisoner with them as a bondsman warrior.

The Champion awakes in the middle of the night to see a 'shade' detach from the blood-tree and start floating towards the Scandari's treasury. The Champion raises the alarm and, after some failed attempts, the Wizard is able to make it depart and send it fleeing back to the tree where the Captain hits it with a fallen branch. The spirit disperses.

The next morning, the Champion talks to the prisoner and the prisoner agrees to join them to fight the Tridents (but not his own kind).

The leader of the Tridents visits the Herald on Dragons Foot and asks what is so special about the prisoner. He attempts to bribe the Herald with Nandal amber jewellery (given in trade, not taken in raiding) and reveals that he's been paid to kill the prisoner.

The Captain musters his warriors successfully.

The Wizard leaves their body and talks with the Nandal headwoman who is back on the Isle of Nand. The headwoman reveals that the Nandals have hired the Tridents in the same manner that the Caspians hired the Scandari to protect them.

The Wizard tries to do the same with the Caspian fishermen, but only a few agree. They set sail for the Isle of Nand. The Captain seeks to arrive at dusk, sight the Trident ship, and then attack in darkness.

The two warbands clash, with neither having an advantage. The Tridents focus all their harm upon attacking the bondsman prisoner, however, so - while both sides take equal harm - the Scandari are unscratched, the Tridents are butchered and flee, and the bondsman prisoner is dead. (This combat takes two rounds, at the end of the second round, even though they've been cut off, throw the Scandari into disorder (by torching their ship), allowing the Tridents to flee while the Scandari reorganise.

The Captain looks around for a surviving Trident to interrogate, but could find none. He goes through the Nandal village but they've all cleared out and gone into the hills. He finds a few too old to go with them, but when he tries to interrogate one the old man takes his own life rather than betray his family. The Champion chases after the fleeing Tridents, but encounters the headwoman. The headwoman reveals that she has the ability to raise the dead and warns the Champion that the Tridents - for fulfilling their end of the bargain - are now under the protection of the Nandals and their dead. The shade of the bondsman prisoner appears and tells the Champion to depart.

Victorious, yet thwarted, the Scandari reluctantly leave and return to their home on Caspia.

There was general agreement amongst the players that they'd enjoyed the game. I asked them to phrase their feedback in terms of stuff they felt the absence of rather than suggesting solutions:
- One said that he felt it was better at set up than resolution
- One said he liked the language
- Everyone agreed that they wanted to have individual characters to have greater involvement in battle and influence over the end result. This was particularly felt by the Champion who, despite being their fiercest warrior, their player had nothing to do in the battle as the Captain was rolling all the dice.
- One said that he felt it didn't feel smooth moving between individual acts and group acts
- Several said that they felt the absence of a 'threaten'/'awe'/'impose your will' kind of move. They were playing fierce and violent warriors, and so - when threatening an enemy - they didn't feel that 'Win someone over' fit the bill.

My thoughts
From my perspective as MC, not being familiar with AW (though I am with a couple of hacks), I was cautious before getting into this game - even running my own mini-game by myself to try out the battle moves. Once I did this, though, I felt I understood how it fit together. There is a lot of paper and stuff to fill in as part of set-up. I know that this isn't unusual for AW where you typically have a full session to create the world, but for a one-shot you don't have that luxury.

The set-up took about an hour, which is about the same as a Monsterhearts game when explaining it to folk who haven't played it before. The time that you lose with all the household stuff and map drawing, you probably make up with the lack of strings and backstories.

All the basic moves got used at least once bar Undertake Great Labor (which one person felt a little undefined, but I felt was fine as a catch-all for physical non-violent tests) and Call on Another's Aid.

There is obviously the question left of what to do with bounties.

The Captain had obviously put some thought into the tactics of their approach to the Tridents and - had I agreed that his approach was a good idea - I felt the absence of any way to mechanically reward him. Is there any option for pre-battle maneouvre before on side leads an attach here?

I also wondered what would have happened had I not focused the Tridents on the prisoner, this would have resulted in both sides being butchered in two rounds. With the PCs having no source of new recruits (within this particular session's setting), I wonder what that would have done to their enthusiasm to playing on.

In terms of prep, I didn't do any content prep. I felt fine reading the rights they'd chosen to get an idea for a question, then using their answers (and the enemies they selected) as a basis to improvise the whole adventure.

I will be offering it again in a couple of weeks time at a player's request, however I'm not sure where this game will fit in my future. My gaming is almost exclusively made up of one-shots, whereas AWDA feels like a game that should take a few sessions to get to the good stuff. Additionally, I'm not sure that I find anything particularly compelling in the AWDA setting. I enjoy the more unusual aspects like the rights and the battle, season and people moves, but I'm not clear on how this is pushing me to tell a different sort of story. I'll read some of the other playtests to see what kind of stories others have come up with.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2014, 08:52:35 PM by Epistolary Richard »