Author Topic: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big  (Read 3054 times)

Ron Edwards

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 1422
  • The cold never bothered me anyway
    • Adept Press
[Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« on: June 16, 2014, 08:44:11 PM »
I got to play this game a bit at at Forge Midwest. The group included people I knew like Ralph Mazza, Keith Senkowski, Mark Delsing, Dave Michalak, and it was also nice to meet long-time KS backer and Adept customer Dain Lybarger.

I am disappointed that Ralph had not specially printed a copy, rubbed it on his body, and inscribed it with gold-particle ink and signed that with his own blood, for me - you see - so after the con I went and ordered a copy from IPR. Time and agony have intervened, but I have now read enough of it to grasp things better.

The con game was full of fun things to talk about but the fact is that most of us at the table really had no idea what we were doing relative to the whole game's structure.

This thing is fucking huge
"Need a bigger boat" huge, "That's no moon" huge. I had to draw a diagram to sort it all out.

There are five players. At the outset, they designate the first hero player, the first Record Keeper, and . which of the five Witch Kings is going to be the ultra-badguy.

They play four Ordeals, each one featuring a different player's hero. The other players all bust on one another and the hero player, big-time, significantly referencing the Witch-King being featured in the background. Each of these is worth a whole session at least. Four Ordeals ends the Cycle, and so one of the players never got to make a hero, which is one of the things you're competing about out of the gate.

(Inside a single Ordeal there are lots of interesting dice resources, component building, and competition over the role of the Chronicler.)

Whew, four sessions! Four whole adventures for different, over-the-top, bronzed, doom-haunted heroes up against crazy factions and Soul-Fused Sorcery and artifact magic items fucking everywhere. That's a lot, right? Ha! This is Blood Red Sands and it is bigger than that.

That set of Ordeals was called a Cycle. Now, the group does another Cycle, this time with the four heroes and three Ordeals, and therefore this time eliminating a hero. You can see where this is going; after that there's a third Cycle which has three heroes and two Ordeals, so the group ends up with two heroes.

(There are lots of between-Ordeal variables inside a Cycle, especially Victory Points which determine which hero is eliminated, and cool stuff like Scars and Doom and Edges.)

The remaining two heroes compare accumulated "Legends" to see who goes on to the final Ordeal, the rules at this point go all Freudian, and I shall hurry on.

Anyway, the most legendary hero faces the designated Witch King at the end, with special Ordeal rules, and thus ends the Saga. It included ten Ordeals, or less if any heroes died along the way.

Pretty big? Ha ha! This is Blood Red Sands and it is bigger than that. You were thinking of the big space-destroyer Empire vessel thing at the beginning of Star Wars, but we are talking about the scene referencing that scene in Spaceballs. The group does the whole entire Saga structure over again for another Witch-King, and there are five Witch-Kings, so ultimately there will be five Sagas, each one composed of four Cycles summing to ten Ordeals. Which is 5*10 = 50 Ordeals. (Again, these numbers might be shaved a bit due to heroes' deaths.) And you call that an Epic, because it is.

There's a huge strategy matrix going on throughout all of this, because a given player is still in major competition mode even when not playing his or her hero. As a Faction Player, which is what a given player will be doing most of the time, he or she can still accumulate Victory Points and compete to play the Witch-King at the end. One of the more important tactics is to choose Factions to play with an eye toward the ultimate Witch-King's power, and similar stuff.

I can't really imagine boiling it down to con play, especially since such play fosters a strong, limited emphasis on protagonists. Ralph did his best, fixing a variety of stuff that would have been determined through group mechanics, and running a single Clash with an Ordeal. Within that very limited framework, it effectively worked like a cross between Universalis and Polaris, but I at least was entirely clueless about a number of variables I could have been prioritizing, as they were relevant to Clash-to-Clash within Ordeals, or to between-Ordeals, or between-Cycles.

The table launched itself into high-Color fun. Mark made up a female warrior-hero with bronzed limbs and silken ferocity (with a little narrating help from others), and the rest of us made up complicated creatures or bands who were aligned for or against the current Witch-King. Mine was called the Night Hunters and I got to build its various components using my dice resources.

(Part of the larger strategy is figuring out which side the Factions are on and throwing your weight for or against the Witch-King based on your choices of which Factions to play and how to use and build them further. Or so I now understand.)

So I had a handful of dice to organize into something heavy-metal fantasy fucked-up. I built the Hunter's leader as Ghall the Lover, a gaunt suffering-looking guy with awful wrist-bracer weapons and a cloak over his bare chest - later revealed to be embedded with the faces and actual souls of his former lovers, each of which he cherished with heart-rending sentimentality and utilized for truly appalling sorcery. I squicked Ralph with that one! Ghall also had a mummy-wrapped ninja woman lieutenant strongly implied to be next in line for absorption and a horde of shadow-hound-things.

Dave probably won the acid-trip heavy-prog prize though, with his huge sandworm/Satan/anime creature which had a still-conscious victim stuck in its soft palate.

To make a long story short, we had crazy-wild imagery all over the place as my Night Hunters were mainly one of several people or creatures deeply invested in the situation. The whole point of a Clash is that we line up on one or the other side of a conflict centered on the hero, so once that got established, we rolled dice and basically abused one another harshly. You only get one roll, and I rolled quite badly, so mostly got punked, but Ghall did manage to survive on the winning side and I got a nice handful of Victory Points out of it.

I liked our mini-story. Its effect was clearly The Tower of the Elephant (I was thinking it even as Dain said it out loud), as a protagonist walks into and unleashes mighty cosmic forces, and spends a fair amount of the story staying out of the way with one hand protecting his head and the other protecting his ass. I suppose it can also go much in the "hero strides in, kicks major ass" too, depending on the resources of the moment and the outcome of the rolls.

But if I'd known more about the larger game, and if that's what we'd been doing, I would have recognized that since I rolled for shit, my tactic would have been to get Ghall "devastated" as much as possible, which would have set me up for first choice for Faction in the next Ordeal. I also would have realized that one doesn't need to get invested personally in a given Faction, and that Ghall et cetera (if they lived) would have moved on to someone else's hands anyway, and therefore wouldn't have been as annoyed at sitting there with a crap roll. As it stood, Keith was the only one at the table besides Ralph who knew anything about the larger game, and got irritated at my bitching about that.

Anyway. I'm impressed by what seems to be the biggest RPG I've ever seen which also holds out some hope for playing it out in full. I like D&D 4E quite a bit in these terms, but I really can't see playing ten-plus sessions per level for thirty-plus levels, not without larger-arc mechanics to be involved in. Blood Red Sands offers a way to think about all the levels of play - whole game, linked lesser games, tournament-style elimination, and tactics that matter whether you're playing your hero or not.

Best, Ron

Dave

  • Member
  • Posts: 4
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2014, 09:25:12 PM »
That game was hella fun. I really dug everybody's character/faction concepts, Keith's multi-faceted (or multi-faceded?) sorceress of the crystal tower and Dain's swashbuckly over the seas prince were both awesome as well. I like games with room for plenty of imagination as well as games with esoteric mechanics, and BRS has both in spades.

Sadly, I can't see myself ever playing 50 sessions of anything, so I will never experience its full majesty, but knowing that somebody out there will warms the cockles of Galydos, Son of Sand's giant ruby heart.

valamir

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2014, 10:27:55 PM »
Its really a 10 session game.  The idea of playing against all 5 Witch Kings was a bit of whimsy that I suspect will never be achieved...alas.  Plus 50 sessions, assumes you actually defeat the Witch King each time.  If not, you get to modify the Final Ordeal and go back.

But its actually even bigger than that.  If I've tweaked things appropriately, unless the hero has been balls out awesome their whole chronicle then defeating the Witch King is going to be a challenging proposition at best...one that likely will require making some Vows to achieve.  And if the hero makes the third Vow...to serve the Mad God...then if they win, they effectively ascend to Witch King status themselves.  They don't so much defeat them, as replace them.  And then you get to make a whole new Final Ordeal featuring your hero as the new Witch King...which then requires a whole other 10 sessions.

I'm not sure even *I'M* metal enough to handle it all...


But you're spot on with the challenge I ran into trying to figure out how to make it a con game.  Its never worked well.  I was actually kind of reluctant to even try it, but Dave practically begged and I can't disappoint the man.  So it was pretty great that you all brought the serious color.  Even if mechanically the moving parts made too big of a machine to see it all, the other thing its good at is getting the crazy sword and sorcery imagery.


Ron Edwards

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 1422
  • The cold never bothered me anyway
    • Adept Press
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2014, 10:36:23 PM »
Hi Ralph! Great to see you here, and Dave, great to see you back.

Dave

  • Member
  • Posts: 4
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2014, 11:03:14 PM »
Mad God, huh? Do you mean Oryx?

http://www.realmofthemadgod.com/

Ron Edwards

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 1422
  • The cold never bothered me anyway
    • Adept Press
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2014, 09:56:19 AM »
Maybe. But to talk about game mechanics for a minute, Vows are one of the things you can do during Clashes which refresh your dice. It also strikes me that I could have had Ghall vow to make Mark's hero into one of his lovers (ew!), which would have popped me into a very different position during the session. Anyway, during the final Ordeal, the most legendary hero against the Witch-King, one of (and the worst of) three special vows is to swear allegiance to the Mad God, which is pretty much what the Witch-Kings did to become what they are. So you get crazy effective at killing this particular Witch-King, at the price of becoming one yourself and basically betraying every scrap of hope your hero represented for the whole setting.

valamir

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2014, 10:30:28 AM »
Couple reasons why that wouldn't work.  Vows can only be made by heroes and there are only 3 that matter.  1) a function will succeed, 2) a faction will fail, 3) a main character will die.

Ron Edwards

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • *
  • Posts: 1422
  • The cold never bothered me anyway
    • Adept Press
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2014, 11:05:12 AM »
There I go again, over-rating a Faction into hero-esque status. OK, so if I had been playing the hero, then given a crap roll, a (legitimately-phrased) Vow is an option - that was the point of interest.

Ralph, can you describe a particularly awesome hero or even the course of his or her Saga, that you've enjoyed seeing in play?

DainXB

  • Member
  • Posts: 1
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2014, 11:22:39 AM »
Finally getting to play Blood Red Sands was one of the highlights of the convention for me, and it was fantastic (and a bit intimidating) to be locked in mortal combat with imaginations of such caliber! And for the record, Ghall the Lover squicked more than just Ralph... :shudder:

My deposed and scheming foreign prince was angling to marry the extremely creepy crystal priestess, thus gaining control of both her power and her precious supply of water. Which meant that he was trying to set up the heroine of the Ordeal to take out (and in turn be taken out by) both the Night Hunters and the giant phasing sandworm god-thing that was obviously the real ruler of the desert. Lacking experience with the game, I wasn't always sure how to instigate such things, but I gave it my best shot.

It's apparent that the game plays very differently in it's true long-form than it does in the convention time-slot mode of a single Ordeal. We could all ignore most of the meta-strategy, and just play toward short-term goals. 

If we'd been playing the long game, I'm certain that Ghall would have become a recurring figure. We couldn't have left someone that creepy alone! That's one of the things that fascinates me about the game; the competitive world-building nature of it. Heroes explore the world via Ordeals, Factions rise and fall, elements and characters get re-introduced, and even Witch Kings can be replaced as the ages pass. It's a game that can't help but produce an epic campaign. I can't wait to play it in full at some point.

valamir

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2014, 09:03:09 PM »
Awesome hero...Well Karn was pretty cool.  All of the examples in the text with him and Malethax came from actual play.  One scene that didn't make it into an example was when I (Karn) shattered Malethax's leg and he proceeded to stab me in the face with his splintered bone.

Keith Sears has a talent for amping the squick factor.  His hero, Andrue, looked like a cross between Fabio and an 80s glam rocker but was pretty twisted.  In his origin story he walked in on his love in bed with another man, so he killed them both.  The man he tortured and forged his soul into a sword.  His love he slaughtered and turned her skin into a scabbard and baldric.

One of the challenges throughout early playtesting was discovering just how important it was for the Hero Player to be aggressively proactive.  If the Hero player doesn't act, they don't earn enough VPs and the session can drag. So there's a bit of a danger in making up these really awesome faction characters and then getting caught up in watching the Faction Characters interact.  We had some great memorable moments with that, but let that go too much and the hero gets a weak legend.

Mark Delsing

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2014, 01:26:40 PM »
I don't have too much to contrite other than noting I'd only read a couple of chatters of the rulebook prior to playing, I remember mentioning this to Ralph after the fact, and him remarking that he might have facilitated the game a little differently having known that. C'est la vie!

It took a little prompting for me to get into the groove of the game, e.g., Ron totally schooling me on my initial description of my heroine. There's a competitive, narrative bad-assery aspect tot he game that I wasn't clued in on at all at first.

I do remember some discussion at the table w/r/t to the layout of the character/data sheets that was negatively impacting play; Keith seemed eager to take a whack at a new layout. As a newb, I think it could be helpful to have sheets that were maybe more procedurally lain out, sort of like worksheets that step player through the setup and teach the rules as they play through the first Ordeal.

Regardless, I had fun despite being somewhat overwhelmed. I would like to someday experience this in a longer form, even a Longcon setting.

valamir

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2014, 02:00:10 PM »
All of my original play sheets had explanatory text on them.  At one point it was possible to play the game strictly from the sheets as all the rules were found on one of them.

In final layout all that was discarded.

Mark Delsing

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #12 on: June 21, 2014, 02:02:33 PM »
All of my original play sheets had explanatory text on them.  At one point it was possible to play the game strictly from the sheets as all the rules were found on one of them.
Would it be possible to post those originals?

valamir

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2014, 11:47:56 AM »
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24672299/ElementGenerator%20Beta%203%203.xlsx

That should work.  It may not be 100% up-to-date because I stopped updating it once we went to the new format, but this is the file that I provided that they turned into the current version.

Ugly, but I think more functional than what got published.

Mark Delsing

  • Member
  • Posts: 5
Re: [Blood Red Sands] It's really big
« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2014, 12:26:44 PM »
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24672299/ElementGenerator%20Beta%203%203.xlsx

That should work.  It may not be 100% up-to-date because I stopped updating it once we went to the new format, but this is the file that I provided that they turned into the current version.

Ugly, but I think more functional than what got published.
Thanks!