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[Trollbabe] Turk & Helga - and Deb

Started by Ron Edwards, June 03, 2005, 12:50:59 PM

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Ron Edwards

So, Ralph came by for a visit last weekend, and we got in some Trollbabe with me as GM, and Ralph and Maura as the 'babes. A friend of mine named Deb was also present; she's intrigued by this "game thing" I seem to do and wanted to get a look at it. Effectively, she became a co-player of both trollbabes through enthusiastic attention and color commentary.

For those of you who've played the game, I think you realize that character creation details are almost wholly Color, even what looks like the single big numerical detail, the character's Number. Maura's character Helga was at 4, and Ralph's character Turk was at 8. Same goes for what look like trade-off choices like human vs. troll magic, which are nothing of the sort, as all trollbabes can do both. What matters in terms of high-impact on the System are the relationships the characters develop during play and how they are altered or placed at risk through subsequent conflicts.

I'll let them describe their characters, but I can say that Turk especially stepped right off a Molly Hatchet album cover.

The players decided to pick different locales, so that meant I needed to prep two scenarios (or "towns" in Dogs terms). Maura picked the Silent Forest, and Ralph, clearly bent on being difficult, chose the very tippy-tip of an unnamed island chain on the map. Each player instantly filled in tons more about their characters' personalities via these choices, with Helga being kind of a meditative silence-seeker, and Turk being a  hair-trigger, stomp-off exile who's just run out of continent. This sort of insta-character development within the first two minutes is typical for the game; players typically don't notice it when they do it, but once they have, they play the characters very intensely and with highly-specific moral codes and opinions.

The Silent Forest scenario featured ghostly wolves, but was otherwise unlike the story in the comic strip. I set up a bitter, aging troll who guarded the bones of his dead tribe with wolf spirits, and a fairly friendly bunch of shamanistic humans who'd just moved into the area. The troll was too old to attack and eat people, but was a damn good mystic sort, and disaster loomed. To add a little fun, I included a power struggle among the humans between the chief guy and the younger shaman guy, with a woman caught in between them. Helga had to deal with a scary troll graveyard right away, so she was pretty psyched to get involved.

The rock-out-in-ocean scenario was interesting, because there's no way to have a community actually be there. That's OK - I put a wild-eyed human sorceress type right where Turk wanted to be (or "my rock" as she put it), and had a dragon-ship arrive full of the woman's kin. See, she has visions (and drugs warriors to be her zombie-like guards), and the visions say her child has to die, to appease The God who's mad at her clan - oh yes, and she's pregnant as all get-out. Her kin think she's bonkers and have arrived to try to drag her off home. All of this might seem to you as if the trollbabe might just watch until they're all gone, then stand on her rock, but that's not what happened at all.

I'll talk more about what happened in each scenario (or Maura and Ralph can chime in) later. Turk's story ended pretty much in the time frame I expected (under two hours), but the other one turned out to be a much more complex scenario in action than I'd thought, so we only got halfway through it before it was time for us and a ton of other people to pile into the car to catch a movie. I was pleased to see that both players and Deb were totally ready to resume play and finish Helga's story after we returned from the theater.

What really interested me the most was Deb's questions as play proceeded. I've been awfully interested in what non-gamers need to know, a need which I think is very badly met by all role-playing game texts to date. So think about the implications of questions like this one: upon my introduction of ghostly wolves, she asked, "Are they the same in all of these games?" She didn't mean Trollbabe, she meant all RPGs. In other words, she was thinking that an in-game element (like ghostly wolves) might be found as a standard across role-playing in general. The notion of locally-specific imaginative elements was novel to her. This is a big deal - it means that the gamer assumption that "our group" is its own gold standard, or represents an isolated imaginative endeavor, is not the a priori assumption.

Anyway, I think it was a real winner-night for successful play, both as an imaginative event and also as a social context extender.



Yeah, it was a nice solid session of roleplaying and I finally got to try out Troll Babe which was a plus.  I was definitely in "make things difficult" mode...not maliciously, but because Ron's a pretty damn good GM so I quite selfishly wanted to see what cool stuff he would come up with that he otherwise might not if I went too easy on him.

So...knowing full well that Troll Babe is about clashing communities and straining relationships I picked the tiniest, most isolated, unnamed speck on the map I could find.  And for my motivation I totally lone wolfed it (on purpose, just to see how Ron would manage to yank me in to something my character definitely didn't want to be a part of.

So Turk was a totally butch Troll Hating, Human Hating ass kicker who was so fed up with the stupidity of people that her one and only goal was to start walking and not stop until she came to the farthest ends of the world where there were no people.

So in my mind she had just walked south and then by boat and swimming had followed the archipelago from island to smaller island until at least she was at the very very tip of the chain.  The only spot farther she could reach was to wade out to a tiny piece of rock projecting from the surf.  Of course that was where she HAD to go and of course that was where Ron HAD to put a person.

The deliciously expected irony of having traveled all that way to get away from people, only to find at the exact spot of the end of my journey...a can imagine Turk the angry ass kicker's response.

Of course this was not ordinary person...Oh no.  This was one of Ron's patented psycho witches....I'm pregnant...blah blah blah...with a god's baby...blah blah people want to stop me...blah blah blah...but I have to kill the baby or he'll destroy my whole clan...blah blah blah...unless you will take his place in the sacrifice...blah blah blah.

"Yeah whatever...just hurry up and get on with it so I can have my rock"  I said, in full refuse-to-engage-to-make-Ron-work-for-it mode.

An interesting aside about the social context.  What I WANTED to do as a player was just kill the bitch, unborn child and all, and pitch her into the sea for the heinous crime of standing on my rock.  Ordinarily that's what I would have full expectation that there would be some huge repurcussion (like an angry god, or the ghost of a crazy sorceress) to contend with.

However, there was an observer to the game.  Not just a someone curious about Troll Babe, but about gaming in general and that somewhat put a crimp in my play.  I felt a certain responsibility to play "ambassador to the non gamers" in the sense that I didn't think it appropriate to have Deb's first experience watching roleplayers involve the wanton slaughter of pregnant women.

Ultimately I instead decided that I could just hand the woman over to her kin folk who came to get her and they'd take her away and then I could have my rock peacefully.  If her babe wound up killing them be it...not my problem (again with the refuse to engage thing).

So Ron lived up to my expectations.  He spontatneously had the witch perform an unexpected "shotgun" style adoption ceremony.  Now I was a part of her was now MY kinfolk the god was going to destroy...oh crap...good one Ron.  As the culmination of a series of escalations I had, up till then, managed to duck, it was the perfect twist.

So I decided to go out with a little flair.  Ain't no way butch Turk was going to get caught up in some soap opera involving a human baby and a lovers spat.  But what I could do was perform some Troll Babe magic so that when the god came looking for the clan to destroy he couldn't find them.  I snazzed it up by calling upon one of my carried objects (a shrunken human head from which nasty desicated dust flew as I shook it).

Thing is...Turk's number is an 8...about as non magically effective as you can get...heh heh heh.  Failure was all but ensured...

Instead of blinding the clan to the god...I managed to draw his attention.  In a scene borrowing heavily from the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc the angry god slaughtered them all...the entire clan...just like in the witch's vision...heh.

In the words of Ben "and so it came to pass"

Pretty cool.  Mechanically the rules force you to choose.  Escalation carries penalties and victory gives narration to the GM.  Yielding avoids penalties and gives narration to you.  Which is more important...winning the current conflict, or emerging unscathed and getting to narrate.  I found myself angling for failure more often than angling for success.

Debs comments were also very interesting.  She clearly had the assumption that we were operating from some universal setting (like Tolkien) and that things like Troll Babes and Ghost Wolves were part of a shared gamer mythology.  Her expectation that all gamers must be playing essentially the same game was very much like thinking everyone playing Doom on their PC is playing essentially the same game.

At one point, in Maura's story which was about the clash of human and troll culture with the Troll Babe being caught in the middle being both and yet neither she commented "Troll Babes must be pretty lonely".

Who said non gamers couldn't "get it"...?

Larry L.

Ralph, I am curious if there's a reason why you chose the name Turk. (Other than, you know, it sounded cool or whatever.) I presume you didn't mean to imply she was from Asia Minor.

Quote from: Merriam-Webster Online6 often not capitalized : a usually young dynamic person eager for change; especially : YOUNG TURK
I've never seen this word ascribed to a woman... which I suppose might be the point.

Maura Byrne

I've been thinking about our Trollbabe game.  When Ralph's scenario finished, and we had to leave for the movie, and my scenario only got so far, I thought that I was being lame.  I felt like I was hanging back, especially given how rapidly things were progressing with Ralph's story.  But when we took it up again, I was happier with the end we'd brought it to.

Helga was headed to the Silent Forest.  I remember being asked something about whether I was uncomfortable or something, because in reply I held out both my hands, palms up, with the middle finger touching the thumb, other fingers extended, and saying, "I'm all about the silence."  And with that, I'd established why I was walking there.  I hadn't really thought about it, but once I did that my 'babe was a spiritual seeker.  But with my first conflict, I felt like I was punting.  Helga was meditating in an open spot with tall grass, and she suddenly had to fight a spell that would cause her to Rest In Peace Forever here.  I  could either resist the spell, or I could sit down and Be At Peace and never move again.  Why was the spell there?  Well, another look revealed graves and bones of trolls.  The spell was apparently there to make sure to make certain that the trolls stayed dead.

So I went ahead and resisted the spell, and I had to describe what I wanted to happen to the spell if I won.  Would the spell be broken?  Would it be just as it had been?  I chose a third option, which was that it was weakened, and that the spell was as much under my control as it was under the control of whoever cast it.  At the time, I felt like this was hanging back, because part of me thought that I should have just broken the spell and let the chips fall where they may.  From my character's point of view, though, Helga's a light treader - but for a troll, "treading lightly" is kind of up for debate.  If I'd just broken the spell, then I would have changed the world around me, and the consequences would have definitely gotten my story underway immediately.

Instead, I looked for another spot and found a village.  People!  Humans... really close to a troll graveyard.  Do they even know about the graveyard?  Well, okay.  I tried to bond some with the villagers as they welcomed me to dinner, and I wound up in a social conflict when I disagreed with the woman who was married to the village leader, but also apparently really close to the shaman.  I can't remember that person's name, but Helga wound up having trouble at dinner thanks to her presence at the table.  I remember this conflict only because I lost it, and that had consequences later.  I got a social injury, I believe the first step, after using a "found object" for a re-roll and failing anyway.  (I think the found object was a field mouse that a little girl was keeping as a pet; I found it, and set it on the table in front of her plate.  Hence the social failure.)

Favorite moment of the "Helga meets the villagers" scene:

Ron:  You see a girl, about nine years old, you know, blond hair, braids -
Deb:  It's Pippi Longstocking!

After that, the girl's name was Pippi.  It was easier for me - I said "Pippi," and I knew exactly who I was talking about.  Also, I wanted to include Deb's input whenever I could.  I wasn't going to stetch to do it, but basically Deb was there and commenting on the action, so in my mind she was adding to the scenario, and what she added was as valid as anything else that got in there.  Just because she didn't have a character sheet doesn't mean she wasn't participating.

Then we were attacked by ghost wolves.  Despite my faux pas at dinner, I was able to get a social victory and get the villagers to rally together and fight the wolves.  However, my social victory didn't help my magic when it came to driving off the wolves, and I sustained another injury.  I continued on, but somewhere in the conflict I realized that the social injury I'd sustained hadn't "healed" in any way, and I'd carried that injury into this conflict.  I was a little miffed, since I hadn't realized that the previous injury hadn't gone away, so I was one step worse than I wanted to be.  I needed a re-roll, and chose "a sudden ally" for it.  Naturally, it would be the woman who'd engineered my social injury at dinner.  Helga fell unconscious, but didn't pass out before seeing this woman step forward in front of her and take her place to fight the wolves.  Helga's next scene was waking up in the house of Elgath, an old woman who was ministering to many who had been injured in the attack.  (I'd taken a relationship with her as a mentor after the dinner incident.)  It seemed normal to me, but Ron held his index finger aloft and said, "If you ever get an injury, always frame your next scene in a bed by a fire, sipping broth."  At the time, I thought it was a silly restriction, but would it have been so hard to call for a scene where I'd healed the social injury in some way?  I just didn't call for the scene.  So Helga's situation was my fault, because it was my responsibility to set things right for her and I didn't do it.

So Elgath says something reassuring, and then we all go to the movie.

Meanwhile, Ralph's scenario went as far as it could go and then a little more.  It's over!  And we're leaving.  This is why I thought I was being lame with my character.   I was learning about the human village, but I hadn't warned them yet about the graveyard.  I hadn't changed anything in my environment yet.  I felt like I was still hanging back - I hadn't made any enemies as far as I knew, and nothing in the scenario seemed to have changed in any meaningful way.  As we left the house, I thought that Helga wasn't being much of a hero.  That changed when we came back from the movie and finished the story, but at the time I thought that I'd just flopped around and didn't give much for Ron to work with.

Funniest line of the night:
After the sorceress makes Turk part of the clan
Ralph:  Can I take [the crazy sorceress] as a relationship?
Ron:  Sure.
Ralph:  Can I take a relationship as, like, someone I hate?
Ron:  [Smiling] She's family.

Hee.  It still makes me chuckle.  Did he answer Ralph's question or not?

I'd go on about the second half of the scenario, but it's late and the point has pretty much been made.

Oh, and I found my character sheet.  Her name is Grilke.


Quote from: MiskatonicRalph, I am curious if there's a reason why you chose the name Turk. (Other than, you know, it sounded cool or whatever.) I presume you didn't mean to imply she was from Asia Minor.

Quote from: Merriam-Webster Online6 often not capitalized : a usually young dynamic person eager for change; especially : YOUNG TURK
I've never seen this word ascribed to a woman... which I suppose might be the point.

Actually I did choose the name conciously, and with the same "young turk association" you hit on.  For me it was both a kind of a butch, punkish name and rather ironic.  The implication being that when she obtained that name she WAS "a young dynamic person eager for change" and now (from unknown past events) she was broken/fed up and only wanted to wander off into solitude to the end of the world.

So what turned this "young turk" into a callously violent hermit?  I've no idea.  But whatever it was it was kind of out there doing its thing, even though the only thing I wrote down was a name.

Ron Edwards


Ralph, that's an ... interesting set of comments. They don't all jibe with my experience of the game. First, you did have Turk attack the madwoman, with intent to "strike her head from her shoulders." If you'd succeeded in your first roll, then you would have done it, in front of Deb and everything.

When you failed, you got to narrate any way you wanted ... whether the madwoman was revealed to have "the strength of ten" and seized Turk's axe and tossed it in the ocean ... or maybe fell at her feet so the axe buried itself in the ground ... or whatever. But no. You narrated that Turk's own conscience got the better of her. You decided at that moment that Turk was a better person than that, and no one made you do it.

I'm totally not going to let your posts imply that I wanted you to have Turk be a good person, and that you knuckled under to what the GM wanted in order to play along at all. That's crap. You can play your trollbabe however you want as long as she doesn't walk away from the scenario (that's the rule). Every single ethical bit you put in there, and there were a bunch, was your doing. That business about adopting you into the clan? I could only have done that after you'd established that Turk's tough-bitch rhetoric was just an act - I was responding to your cues, not you to mine.

Maura, I had a fantastic time with your play of Grilke, because I think you caught a perfect blend of competence and social awkwardness for her - a lot like a Shao Lin monk who's trying to get along with the villagers in good faith. Grilke = sincerity plus alienation, village = boiling tensions plus social-cohesion. I thought every single decision you made constructed story like a freight train, and it was all I could do to keep up with you, by playing the people as directly as possible. The only tactic I used was to keep the chief, the shaman, and the woman neutral in my mind in terms of who's the "bad guy," as any of the three would see himself or herself as a protagonist.

And it worked out really well, didn't it? Let's see, the troll and the humans actually came to the beginnings of an accord, and the woman didn't commit suicide (if you think about it, she was at risk from both men, from the wolves, from the troll directly, from herself, and actually, from you as well). One of the happier trollbabe stories.


Mike Holmes

Psst, Ron, he said he was playing to the "audience" player, not to appease you. He never said it wasn't his choice.

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Ron Edwards


You've failed to see my point. I hate "what I meant" and "how you missed it" posts, so I'll move on and wait for Ralph's response.


Maura Byrne

So Ralph said:
QuoteSo what turned this "young turk" into a callously violent hermit? I've no idea.

You know, I didn't see Turk as a callously violent hermit.  Turk didn't really kill anybody, except through connivance.  (By pretending to know a spell that would protect them all from the wrath of "the god".)  Turk wasn't even all that misanthropic, standing close enough to these people to be part of that ritual that made her part of the family.  I mean, clearly the rock wasn't so far away that people couldn't get to it, which was the appeal of the rock in the first place.  

Anyway, I think it was because you initially chose to be difficult that Ron just walked out to your rock and threw one difficult moral choice after another at you, and all of them seemed to revolve around the choice that the sorceress gave Turk at the beginning: kill the child, or sacrifice herself to "the god."  And while Turk was uninterested in the well-being of anybody in the story, she didn't take the obvious step that would have gotten all of these people out of her hair.

Not that I would have done any differently, and not that it would have helped.  

And Ron said:
Maura, I had a fantastic time with your play of Grilke, because I think you caught a perfect blend of competence and social awkwardness for her - a lot like a Shao Lin monk who's trying to get along with the villagers in good faith. Grilke = sincerity plus alienation, village = boiling tensions plus social-cohesion. I thought every single decision you made constructed story like a freight train, and it was all I could do to keep up with you, by playing the people as directly as possible. The only tactic I used was to keep the chief, the shaman, and the woman neutral in my mind in terms of who's the "bad guy," as any of the three would see himself or herself as a protagonist

I had a good time playing her, but when we first broke, and I thought we were done with Trollbabe, I thought my story ended poorly.  I was glad to revisit her story and finish it up.  It did feel like you were working harder than I was, though.  That may be because I was just playing Grilke while you were playing a whole village, plus a troll, plus ghost wolves, etc.  But in the first session, I felt I wasn't providing "my half" of the story.  I figure that, as a player, it's my job to provide half of the story.  But especially in the early run, I thought that I was interacting with what I'd been given, but only in a kind-of way.  And that resulted in me basically demanding more in the setting before I began working with it, which means you had to make up a village out of whole cloth with people in it, and personalities and clashes and the whole nine yards.

When we revisited this story, I was very happy with how this story ended. I was glad to play a character that didn't in any way call on the same part of me that I used to play Henk in Tunnels and Trolls.  And the ending was harmonious, with Grilke acting as a bridge between the two cultures that she could never really belong to.  I don't know if it's the happiest ending ever, but hey - nobody died.  That's got to count for something.