Author Topic: [Trollbabe] What in the world? Oh!  (Read 647 times)

Ron Edwards

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[Trollbabe] What in the world? Oh!
« on: November 10, 2012, 04:31:13 PM »

I had a lot of fun promoting Trollbabe at the booth at Lucca. It's a hell of an easy game to sell, and I generally found the crowd to be friendly and inquisitive. It's been available in Italy for over a year and seen quite a bit of play there, so it was also fun to have people come up with big grins on their faces to tell me about their games.

On the last day of the con, I ran a demo for three guys I'd never met, with little or no prior exposure to the game. It was therefore a pure learning session, something Trollbabe is admirably suited for, and I also learned quickly that the Italian rulebook is a very fine reference. I would often turn to the right section, pop it under someone's nose, and soon hear an "Oh! OK!" in response.

They made up their trollbabes and chose the same location, a lake located in the center of one of the islands/continents. I borrowed a little from a scenario I'd invented a year and a half ago at InterNosCon, about a village that was trying to save itself from being eaten by a monster lake-snake by feeding it ritual sacrifices. I modified its focus a lot, shifting from troll-human conflict to good old soap opera in the lakeside village.

My little relationship map posited two siblings, Oskel and Sifal, who'd inherited the chieftainship of the village while still quite young. Oskel was also married to Lissal, the snake-priestess, and he'd recently sacrificed himself to it voluntarily. Sifal is probably next; Lissal is so internally grieved by the loss of her husband and so in denial about it that she's become a total fanatic to avoid facing it; her tough enforcer Skarr is ready to back her no matter what she says.

Or perhaps all of that is merely an excuse for Ron to describe scenes of a nekkid lady with a big snake-skull headdress sending weird calls out over the huge lake from the end of a long pier. Don't ask me, I just work here.

Stonefly and Goudlag arrived together far from the village, and Bavmorda arrived singly right at the village. The duo encountered a troll and his son fleeing the area, grieving the wife who'd been fed to the snake by the villagers. Stonefly actually resurrected the wife for him! Which I thought was pretty cool. These actions were also fun to contrast with Bavmorda's experience, as she arrived just in time to fulfill the priestess' promise that the god will provide a "gift," i.e., a sacrifice who isn't one of us. The villagers threw a Night of Joy party at this, which Bavmorda enjoyed immensely without realizing what the "gift" business was about until later.

Although Stonefly did take the troll as a Relationship, she also told him to stay and keep his family safe instead of going to the village with them, and we didn't see much Relationship stuff after that.

I deliberately set the snake's Scale at just above theirs, so that they literally couldn't kill or permanently defeat it. The point of doing this was to avoid the kill-the-wumpus story concept and to focus instead on the personal conflicts in the context of the snake.

This session was all about the learning curve. I'll identify the "my character's gear" concept as an important variable along the way. At some point in the character creation process, you give your trollbabe anything you think she might have. And later, during play, a key item on the sheet is to get a re-roll by citing some item she happens to have. To one of the players, these concepts were necessarily linked: unless you had written down "flint and tinder" on the sheet at the outset, then you wouldn't be able to find some in her pockets and use that re-roll item. So whenever he tried to use that item, he seized his sheet and began scanning the gear he'd listed in the beginning.

Conversely, another player was under the impression that if you did use an object in this way, then it was necessarily destroyed or lost in the course of the action, in order to justify checking-off the specific re-roll item. In other words, if you still had it, then obviously you should be able to check off that box again. And this player also struggled a bit with the prior-stated concept of gear as well. I double-dare you to clarify these rules in the heat of play to players with these (understandable but incorrect) interpretations, across a language barrier.

The good news is that we were somehow fully successful, mainly through me pointing to the rulebook and waiting for the noises of surprised comprehension. We saw a very, very strong second half of play, immensely amusing as well as more and more dramatic. The trollbabes' personalities contrasted enjoyably, presenting a case study for my points in the book about multiple-trollbabe play.  One was an amiable brute, another was a scheming opportunist, and the third was a good-hearted idealist who actually got herself eaten by the snake so the villagers would feel better and not sacrifice one of their own. (This player was also the first to figure out that his trollbabe would only be hurt insofar as he permitted/risked it.)

The contrast in the characters' personalities also ties into our post-play discussion about playing separately or together. One player was very skeptical that such a thing would be possible, until I pointed out that at no time had any trollbabe in the story we'd just run negotiated, agreed to anything, disagreed about anything, or came into conflict with another trollbabe. Which is to say, I could have run three separate adventures among them with precisely the same timing in terms of who talks, who gets to do things, and managing the mechanics. I think he got it, and was interested to see that his presumption of "not in her adventure" being  "not going to get as much action" wasn't necessarily true.

More generally, I tried hard to convey that ordinary story-focusing or plot-shaping GM decisions aren't found in the game. The best example was the snake: no matter what they tried to do to it, they succeeded only at their Scale and no more. Once such things are prepped, that's it. I think that was the real turning point, when all three of them realized that I was definitely not playing to a script and that outcomes of the story were going to emerge strictly from decisions and rolls. I don't think I've ever seen as much skepticism about the game at the one-quarter mark transform into as much enthusiastic embrace of it at the three-quarter mark; the one guy who was the most baffled at the beginning turned out to be an inspired narrator and by the end was clearly in love with his trollbabe.

As for the ending, I kept an eye on Sifal's situation, and events actually shifted more toward the trollbabes' concerns with the priestess and the snake - in other words, after a certain point, she was no longer at risk no matter what they did. So at that point, I was able to treat the conflicts as conclusive. Most of them concerned Lissal and her internal struggle, which as I implied above, were actually a bit of a tearjerker. I got the idea that she and Skarr had a troubled history that we never learned, too.

What happened to the trollbabes? One was washed down one river, one was eaten by the snake and pooped out to be washed down the other river a day later (winning the gold star for funniest ignominious ending), and one set herself up as the new god of the lake village.

Best, Ron
edited to fix a mis-typed name - RE
« Last Edit: November 10, 2012, 10:36:50 PM by Ron Edwards »