Orlando playtest group, first session

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Orlando playtest group, first session
« on: November 05, 2015, 01:40:01 PM »
I struggled as GM, and we stalled a lot for rules clarifications and analyzing the game that seemed to go on forever. On the plus side, a lot of this was from us puzzling through the rules. You know how you think you know something until you see it in action? That's what this was. We're going to keep on it for at least another 4 or 5 sessions to get through the learning curve because the stuff that was fun was really fun!

Here are as many details as I can remember, some useful but most probably useless.

Character creation started out fine. I tried to steer it by going step by step  through stats, skills, belongings and lodgings, but once we got to skills there were lots of digressions to talk about/look up how spellcasting and necromancy worked, and from there we nose-dived into more analysis of the game as a whole. There was some discussion from a stealthy character about rolling up his unexamined treasure during character creation -- like, before choosing his belongings and rolling his lodgings. Thankfully the group nixed that on the grounds that examining your treasure is a move, not part of character creation.

When they were done, I had them read aloud the PAST & PRESENT section. We digressed for a bit here exploring the experiences and talking about them.

So, now we had 3 characters with lodgings, their lodgings' appointments and who they share them with:
Balboa, with necromancy and instincts.
Holt, with swordbinding and reputation.
Hale, with grace and stealth.

I was super tempted to ask questions like crazy and chase down the concrete details here, like 'Oh, so who owns this private home you're subletting a room out of? Which benevolent deity does the temple honor?' etc. We started in on that but thankfully the first person I asked stalled for a second, thinking, and I realized I actually didn't want to fill these details in right now because the text was going to give me a starting scene. So lucky me, I have unexplored hooks!

I rolled up the random table and selected:
Under the bridge, an unruly ghost, and their enemy's accomplice about to appear. (I was so gunning for the pterosaur, Vincent, but the dice let me down!)

I started to set the scene. Now, because everything is improvisation and explicitly built from contradictions, you should read '... for some reason, apparently!' onto the end of every sentence going forward.

We settled on 'stealing a succession of human bodies' meaning, like, animating/possessing recently-deceased bodies. One of the PCs had a prisoner, and somehow this ended up being a prostitute from Madam Bolivia's unnamed brothel who didn't realize her client was a ghost inhabiting a dead body, and somehow it ended up that the ghost had been visiting M. Bolivia's for a few days in different bodies before being discovered...? The players were trying to fill in background on the scene, and justifications for the scene, almost immediately. I didn't actively discourage this at first, but I cut it off once it started getting super in-depth so I could leave room to figure out what powerful person's bad decisions had created this trouble.

So, Holt had an unruly 'prisoner'. Hale had promised someone he'd take care of this situation, and it turns out that promise was to Madam Bolivia, naturally. Balboa was wounded and bleeding. He marked that his soul was battered and torn. We stopped to talk about that for a bit, and no one knew what it meant or how it might get expressed in play (they were concerned, I really didn't care at the moment). In the end, they agreed to treat it as a 'spiritual wound' and move on. Good.

In setting the scene, I wanted to have the ghost doing something, like they've chased it down here and it doesn't have a body of course and so it's cornered and threatened, attacking them, and on a rampage or something? Anyway, we stopped for a while and argued over whether anyone could actually see the damn thing. I was going to use the Mourning Ghost from the bestiary, and my instinct was to let them be able to see it. But after talking about it forever I went back on that and said they couldn't really see it. It was like a nasty 'presence' they could feel swirling around them.

Balboa's player was still confused about calling a ghost by name, contending with it, etc. He didn't realize that since the ghost was here, he didn't need to summon it or do anything special to be able to contend with it. He wanted to find out its name. I was tired of struggling over this, so when he said he wanted to jump behind a big pillar of the bridge and REGROUP, RECOVER, PREPARE to talk to his ghostly attendant about the binding name, I said go for it. He got a strong hit, and chose to 1) no longer suffer whatever the effects of his spirit being battered were 2) come up with a plan and 3) consult with his ghostly attendant. He asked his ghostly attendant what the binding name of their enemy ghost was. I didn't know what to do, but the text says his ghost must answer truthfully and so I spilled. In retrospect, the truth is probably that his ghost doesn't know another ghost's binding name, but I really didn't want to tell his player this after making him roll, so whatever. We paused on settling what his plan was for a second; his player was expecting a +1 or something, which I'm reluctant to do because I want to play strictly by the book as much as possible. And then when we paused in deciding the plan we forgot about it totally, so it never came back up.

Holt, Hale and their prisoner were still, like, where we started. It was clear that Holt's player didn't know he couldn't actually fight with the ghost, so I asked him if he wanted to SIZE UP THE SITCH. He failed, and got to ask one. I told him to ask me about where his enemy is vulnerable/strong, and revealed to him that normal weapons and armor are useless; only a necromancer can deal with a ghost. I also had the ghost rip into him, but the table suggested that instead of outright inflicting harm I should have him make a bold save to overcome fear, which he passed, so no harm.

Hale was determined to deal with this ghost somehow, and tried to INTERRUPT or delay it for a minute by way of gracious rhetoric. I was done with this damn ghost at this point; it seemed like we had spent so much time of this session analyzing, arguing, referencing how ghosts work! So I said he could attempt it. He succeeded, the ghost was confused for a minute, I went ahead and had it take visible form to get rid of the annoyance of it being invisible.

Balboa knew its binding name, and he just basically bound it right then and there. The rules read as if knowing its name is enough, no roll required, so that's what we declared. He's got a second ghost now, and I'm finally rid of the ordeal.

Okay! Now they're looking at me, and we're all stumbling, trying to get something going with this scene. Like, I've got nothing prepped right? They've got a 'prisoner', a prostitute from M. Bolivia's that they need to return. I look down and realize I never really brought in the 'enemy's accomplice' who was supposed to appear, and at the same time I was trying to think of someone rich who might somehow be tied to this whole mess through neglect or whatever. Also, I hadn't given them any treasure.

So yeah, I had a rich man show up with body guards, all anxious. Man, I never would have prepped something this absurd in a million years, but here's the deal. I guess this ghost, being invisible and all, is actually the property of the world's biggest circus. You know, like it's what's behind their magnificent acts of illusion, magic, acrobatics and the like. And yeah, it's gotten off its leash somehow in the last few days, going on a tear at the brothel with reanimated bodies. So here's, like, this rich circus owner and his attendant body guards, threatening to sue because necromancy be damned, the court of law will hold that Balboa has now stolen his property. His prized act, in fact.

They somehow end up going back with him to the circus, which is this crazy ostentatious colosseum in the heart of the citystate. Hale is walking and talking and wheeling and dealing with the guy on the way, and wants to SIZE HIM UP. He wants to know how much money they could sell this guy's ghost back to him for, so of course I'm like: 'Well, you know, he'd win in court, but that's expensive, so anything just shy of litigation costs and he'd settle. About 3 treasure, I guess.' So Balboa releases his newly-bound unruly ghost back to the circus' custody and they each get treasure out of it. I know it probably should have been examined treasure, but we all wanted to see unexamined treasure in action so I said the circus had this storehouse of chests and trunks and whatnot from, you know, their travels and trades abroad and they just blindly handed over 3 treasure worth without examining it.

Now they spend the last half hour or so examining their treasure. Everyone has 1 treasure except Hale, who started with an additional one, so he's got two. Here are the results:

Hale laid the foundations of his estate, an old outpost in ruin on the river with dockage and access to a highway. His other treasure turned out to be something dangerous to someone powerful. I said it was like probate papers, and from looking at them it was obvious they invalidated this powerful financier's claim to his inheritance -- which was what his financial institution was built on.

Balboa  had an item of historical significance and value. I told him it was a painting. It was in watercolor, but the colors changed and moved while you look at them, so the thing was animated. It was the long lost masterwork of someone who, you know, could have become a great wizard or something but instead had pursued mastery over oils and paints. Someone at the table named him Ygrid the Younger, who was far more skilled than Ygrid the Elder, obviously. After a few minutes of talking about this, we suddenly realized that this masterwork was a token of Ygrid's life, and I'll be goddamned if Balboa didn't use that to call him forth from death and try to bind him! Balboa offered to have this masterwork displayed before the the masses in the world's greatest circus if Ygrid would serve him, and that seemed pretty damn right to me so I said yeah. So yeah, it's there in the atrium of the circus as you enter.

Holt went back and forth between investing in a pie slice towards development vs investing in an enterprise, and now I don't remember what he settled on.

Okay, treasure done, they went through experiences and marked the ones that seemed appropriate. I think they marked 1 to 3 each.

Insights and questions:
1. It's neat how examining your treasure takes you into this other mode of play. It's not the normal kind of play you think of, like where we're talking about our characters doing stuff in the fiction. It's more like a combination of the kind of play you do when you're a) creating your character and b) world-building/character prepping. It was definitely fun for everyone, maybe the highlight of the night.

2. A ghost is here and it's going crazy. Is it, like, chairs flying around, or can they see it?

3. When you consult your attendant ghost and he answers your questions truthfully, can the answer be 'I don't know?' or is that a cheap shot? Like, the player rolled to do this, and 'I don't know' kind of sucks.

4. Is all interaction with a ghost considered 'contending with it', or just actually fighting with it? Is there any way for a non-necromancer to interact with a ghost, like talking to it, trying to stall it, trying to confuse it somehow?

5. The GM's job is to create trouble. Creating jobs is your job in the Hand to Mouth module. Does that mean that giving them jobs shouldn't be the main way I hook them into adventures here?

6. How do I create trouble? I didn't know what to do once the scene was over. Luckily, they soaked up the last part of the session examining their treasure, but if they hadn't I don't know what I would have done. When they look at me to say something, I don't know what I'm supposed to say. Should I follow them around for a day, nailing down the concrete details of their lives, and use that to make trouble? What should I be prepping for the next session? They've got lodgings, appointments, people they share those with. One has an estate, and maybe the other has an enterprise. Should I focus on threatening those things?

7. I can't stress enough how lost and at sea I was when I was improvising. The rules told me the first scene, but once that was done I just didn't know. Somehow, somewhere, this rediculous circus situation came to my brain, and we followed that for a bit. The players were gracious and found ways of embracing that, and it turned out super cool. But once THAT was over, again, I was lost. I didn't know if I'm supposed to follow them around, setting up a toppling world around them, ala AW. 
« Last Edit: November 05, 2015, 03:09:37 PM by ColdLogic »

Re: Orlando playtest group, first session
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2015, 01:52:06 PM »
Oh, also!

8. I also can't stress enough how much fun it was to have that improvised absurdity of the circus get embraced by the table. Balboa's player ended up bringing it back into play when he bound his second ghost. The terms are that he'll make sure the ghost's masterwork hangs in the atrium, and we've established this circus is some obscenely big attraction. As I said before, I never would have prepped an element like that. For the players, I think going through treasure was the highlight. For me, the highlight was having that circus come back into play and legitimized!

Re: Orlando playtest group, first session
« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2015, 02:43:29 PM »
I'm Balboa's player. I think things went pretty smoothly after we agreed on how to deal with the ghost. The lodging and treasure rolls generated a lot of story hooks. Hale must do something about the squatters on his new estate, Holt is now partnered with Madam Bolivia and Balboa has so many dreams.

I'm looking forward to seeing a real exchange of harm. I'd also like to see some spell casting in play.

Re: Orlando playtest group, first session
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2015, 01:37:02 PM »
Hale's player here. I enjoyed the session. Not much to add; the treasure aspect was very fun. It helped that I rolled an estate (which I was looking forward to eventually experimenting with) and happened to get the riverway/highway location I was hoping for.

ColdLogic, re: trouble, I don't think you have much to worry about. I would say trouble tends to finds us, but really we do a good job of finding trouble. We're only one session in. There will be plenty of hooks on which to hang us. As DaveR posted, Hale has the squatters on his estate to deal with. Also, he has the treasure from rolling double 5s (5. An item significant, sentimental, or dangerous to someone great) which I will be trying to leverage for improving my estate via blackmail or selling the document to his enemies, etc. You could simultaneously have his operatives trying to recover the document from me directly, giving you a counter of sorts...

Really looking forward to next week.



  • 1293
Re: Orlando playtest group, first session
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2015, 09:03:07 AM »
This is great, thank you!

ColdLogic, I'll hit your numbered points:

1. Cool!

2. Up to you.

3. If it feels cheap, see if you can give more. Moments like that, along with sizing a person or a situation up, are really cues for you to make a decision to commit to, as GM.

4. Just fighting with it.

There's a section on ghosts hiding in the rules for when a PC's been killed. You can draw on it for inspiration. Any individual ghost that the PCs encounter might break the normal rules for ghosts, so consider it a starting place. As you can see, the whole game is in love with "here's what's typical but nothing's ever exactly typical!"

5-7. So it started out on you, and you stepped up. From now on, it's not on you any more. It's not your job to choose which experiences the players want their characters to have nor how they go about having them. It's your job to make life on Venus vivid etc., to create trouble, to always expand your view of life on Venus, and to make there be treasure. At the start of session 2, the players might stare expectantly at you; stare right back! Point to their experiences, say "remember that the object of the game for you is to mark these, that's not MY job. Look them over. What do you all do?" It sounds like you've done session 1 perfectly and they have plenty of stuff going on with their estates and blackmail schemes etc. to take the initiative.

5. If the players ask for jobs, cool! That's a fun and straightforward way to get some treasure. Quickly create a couple of jobs and ask them which they want to take.

A job is just a kind of trouble. You've got your powerful person, your poorly-considered idea, your bad consequences for the people the powerful person isn't thinking about, right? So never hesitate to create jobs and have the PCs hear about them. Just don't impose jobs on the PCs. If you want, you can always have two or three jobs available, and change them up from session to session, so the PCs always have a choice.

Oh and the pay for a job in Freebooting Venus proper, not Hand to Mouth, should be 1 unexamined treasure per.

6-7. If the players are slow to take the lead, which might happen, just keep making trouble for them. Think of a powerful person - a wizard, a priest[ess], or a prince[ss] of the city - and imagine something truly boneheaded that they decide to do, that spills down into the lives of the PCs. You can prep this for session 2, yes.

There's a subtle trick to this that I haven't figured out how to say. You don't want to focus on threatening the PCs' stuff, you want to indiscriminately threaten the PCs' stuff, but only sometimes. You don't care whether the PCs keep their stuff or lose it. You want to create trouble that you personally find funny, whose effects on the city you find funny.

Like, I personally think it's hilarious when the chief priest of an ostentatious cult decides to resurrect the soul of an ancient champion, but then the ancient champion turns out to be uncouth and belligerent, and seizes utter control of the cult for himself, and now the streets of the city are full of haughty priests and priestesses weeping, lamenting their lost state, and demanding to be fed and protected. That kind of thing cracks me up. I'm like, "everywhere you go, there's another one, tear-streaked, stepping up to you and describing the treasures they've lost and insisting that you buy them lunch." And then I start winging it. I'm like, "in fact, one attaches himself to you. He likes the looks of you and decides to follow you everywhere. He's like, 'buy me lunch and I will intercede for you with the goddess Xor, who otherwise will steal your luck from the crown of your head and keep it in her bag! Also I know a secret way into Her temple, and you can gaze upon the tokens of fortune that she has stolen from others, which is a privilege normally ungranted to the laity! First lunch! What do you say?'"

There's a danger at first that the players will think that this is the only adventure hook you've prepped, and so think that they don't have a real choice about going along with it. The best way I know to combat this is to drop such hooks into play just as fast and as thick as you can improvise them.

But don't let them put the burden back on you. For real, it's not your job to decide which experiences they want to pursue. If the players really can't figure out how to pursue experiences for themselves, conclude that they've marked all the experiences they can and end the game.

« Last Edit: November 07, 2015, 09:51:39 AM by lumpley »