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Author Topic: [Conspiracy of Shadows] Blood Opera!  (Read 3071 times)
Thor Olavsrud
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« on: August 23, 2005, 10:19:04 AM »

I played an awesome game of Conspiracy of Shadows Revised Friday night at GenCon and thought I'd share. This game knocked my socks off and I really think more people need to take a look at it.

For those that don't know, Conspiracy of Shadows is a fantasy horror game with influences that include the classic Romantic/Gothic horror literature like Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Goethe's Faust and, of course, Stoker's Dracula. But it is also a game of conspiracy horror, and so other influences must include The X-Files and Millennium[/i], among others. CoS characters live in a fantasy analogue of eastern Europe in which sinister conspiracies and monsters rule the night. CoS characters are also people who have managed to pierce the veil of secrecy that surrounds the conspiracies that rule the night, and taken up a seemingly hopeless fight against it.

The game in which we played was a total Blood Opera with overtones of Othello. Since we were doing a one shot, Keith (the designer, Bob Goat on these forums) chose not to focus on the supernatural elements of the conspiracy. Instead we had a very tight family melodrama.

My character was a magnate, and head of a noble household. The game started a few days after the death of his youngest brother's wife. Though her death appeared to be an accident, the truth was that my character had ordered her death after he had been given proof by another brother that she had been treating with the enemy (a large group of bandits that had been plaguing my lands). The murder had been kept a secret from my youngest brother, the victim's husband (played by Matt Snyder).

Jurgen played one of my retainers, the swordsman who had killed the woman (by placing thistles under her saddle, leading to her being thrown and trampled). Jurgen's character was also Matt Snyder's character's best friend.

Drozdal played the middle brother, an ambitious hothead chafing under my character's rule. Andy K played the brother-in-law and court advisor, who was scheming with Drozdal's character.

And Matt Gwinn took on the role of another retainer, the captain of the guard, who wanted to advance in my character's favor, even if he had to stomp on Jurgen to do it.

The game opened at dinner, as Matt Gwinn's character offered a toast to Ivana, Matt Snyder's character's recently deceased wife. Lots of veiled threats and verbal positioning ensued, as some of us (myself included) tried to squelch talk of Ivana while others sought to twist the knife. This continued for a little while until we came to the first conflict.

My character and Jurgen's character got into a conflict after his character's new-found drinking problem became readily apparent and my character told him he'd had enough. The first thing we had to do was determine our stakes. I declared that if my character won the conflict, Jurgen would approach me later and tell me why he was suddenly drinking so much. Jurgen declared that if he won, my character would no longer question his drinking.

CoS uses a simple system in which you determine the attribute and skill used to achieve something (in this case the Temperance attribute and the Decorum skill) and then roll 2d6. You may also include bonus dice if your attributes or skills have positive Descriptors that apply to the situation (negative Descriptors give penalty dice, which subtract from your roll). For instance, Jurgen's character had the Temperance Descriptor, Glowing Personality. So he received a bonus die in this contest. I was able to bring Descriptors for both Temperance and Decorum into play.

So Jurgen rolled three dice (2d6 plus 1d6 bonus for his Temperance Descriptor). I rolled 4d6 (2d6 plus 1d6 for my Temperance Descriptor, 1d6 for my Decorum Descriptor). You total the result of the dice and add it to the sum of your attribute and skill. For instance, I had a Temperance of 4, a Decorum of 3, and rolled a total of 19 on my dice. My final result was 22 (4+3+15). I compared this to Jurgen's final result (18). I won the roll and so Jurgen had to set up a scene later in the game in which he came and told me about his problem (an awesome scene which would drive the rest of the game).

This was a simple conflict (akin to a simple contest in Clinton R. Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday, or a simple contest in HeroQuest or an enrichment scene in With Great Power...). The game also uses an extended conflict that is similar to The Shadow of Yesterday's Bringing Down the Pain. Both systems have a nice fluid feel that allow players to put dramatic weight on scenes that are important to them. It feels very nice in play.

Doom is another mechanic that had some neat applications in play. Each player writes a Doom for his character; his character's destined, tragic end. At any time, when appropriate, you may choose to invoke your Doom and automatically win a contest. However, you cannot use Doom to eliminate named characters. Each time you invoke your Doom, it's rating increases by 1. When your rating reaches 6, your character has reached his endgame. The Doom is at hand, and your Doom rating becomes penalty dice. Penalty dice are rolled along with your 2d6 and any bonus dice, but they subtract from the total on the rest of the dice. I was using my Doom (I will be the last, great leader of my House) fairly frequently in order to push myself toward my Doom.

When Jurgen initiated his scene with me, he revealed that he had turned to drink because he felt so guilty about having killed Ivana. I assured him that he had done the right thing and the evidence provided by Drozdal's character was incontrovertible. This is when Drozdal (I think) invoked his Destiny Pool, which is an incredibly cool mechanic, and its use by everyone at the table was my favorite part of play.

The Destiny Pool is an authorship mechanic and an experience mechanic rolled into one. You earn Destiny Pool points for playing up your character's Drive (loves, hatreds, loyalties, etc.) and for Dramatic Moments. You can use your Destiny Pool to improve attributes or skills, to purchase a new skill, or to introduce a new narrative element to the game. The only limit is that you may not eliminate any characters or resolve conflicts through these facts.

In this case, Dro used a point to declare that Matt Snyder's character (the husband of the murdered woman) was walking past and overheard my character's conversation with Jurgen. He now knew that my character had ordered his wife's death! Other points were used to cast suspicion on Andy K's character in the wife's murder, to cause the bandits to attack the manor as the three brothers were about to throw down, and more!

Trust (inspired by The Mountain Witch) is another mechanic that had a really visceral effect on play. We started the game with a pool of dice in the center of the table to represent everyone's trust in the House. We could draw a die from the pool anytime we wished. However, dice only flowed into the pool when someone did something selfless for someone else. Dice were removed from the pool each time someone had the opportunity to do something selfless for another but chose not to. As you can imagine with the conflict we had going, the trust dice were used up at a pretty rapid pace as our family fell apart, and pretty soon there was no trust left at all. It was pretty telling!

I've already mentioned the scene between my character and Jurgen's character, and the inadvertent spilling of the plot to Matt Snyder's character. Other favorite scenes from the night include:
    * A titanic three-way verbal clash with Matt Snyder's character on one side accusing Andy K's character of having his wife murdered, Drozdal and Andy K on a second side goading Matt Snyder on by telling him his wife was a traitor, and Matt Gwinn on the third side, urging both groups to put their grievances aside and allow my character to resolve the dispute. Andy smashed all resistance in that one and eroded a fair bit of my character's authority.
    * The battle between the family and the bandits as the house burned around them. It was a really tense, exciting scene as my character rushed to save Andy K's character (despite having just exiled him), but failed to do so.
    * The surprise use of a Destiny Pool point at the end of that battle by someone (I don't remember who) to declare that the leader of the bandits was our illegitimate brother.
    * Drozdal attempting to stab my character in the back after the bandits had been defeated, only to have Jurgen cut off his hand.

It ended with Matt Snyder and Jurgen leaving the house (eventually to start a rival house). Matt's character was able to forgive Jurgen's character for killing his wife, but not able to forgive me for ordering it. Andy K's character was dead. Drozdal, handless, was allowed to stay at the house, but would plot against me for the rest of his days. And the bandit leader took Matt Snyder's character's place in the household. Matt Gwinn's character got his wish and became my character's right hand man.

All in all, it was a tragic, incredibly satisfied ending that was really supported by the mechanics. Definitely awesome and I hope to get a game going at home soon.

However, I do have a couple questions, and I'm sure I'll have more after I've run a session or two.

Keith, under the description of Destiny Pool, you point out that, "All players start the game with one point in the Destiny Pool and gain more points from Negative Descriptors, staying true to their character's Passion, resolving their character's Drive or through Dramatic Moments."

Resolving the Drive and Dramatic Moments are expressed fairly clearly. However, I couldn't find anything under the description of Negative Descriptors. Do you gain Destiny Pool points just for taking Negative Descriptors, or for playing them up during the game? Also, what is a character's Passion? Did it get rolled into Drive?
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Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2005, 10:39:55 AM »

However, I do have a couple questions, and I'm sure I'll have more after I've run a session or two.

Keith, under the description of Destiny Pool, you point out that, "All players start the game with one point in the Destiny Pool and gain more points from Negative Descriptors, staying true to their character's Passion, resolving their character's Drive or through Dramatic Moments."

Resolving the Drive and Dramatic Moments are expressed fairly clearly. However, I couldn't find anything under the description of Negative Descriptors. Do you gain Destiny Pool points just for taking Negative Descriptors, or for playing them up during the game? Also, what is a character's Passion? Did it get rolled into Drive?

Passion did get rolled into Drive, so that is a typo that we missed.  Also, the mention of resolving a character's Drive should read resolving their character's Trigger.  Characters when created get 1 Destiny Point plus 1 for each Negative Descriptor that take.  If they take another Negative Descriptor by say learning a new skill at a later date, they would get an additional Destiny Point to their pool.

Does that clarify it for you?

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2005, 10:52:54 AM »

Passion did get rolled into Drive, so that is a typo that we missed.  Also, the mention of resolving a character's Drive should read resolving their character's Trigger.  Characters when created get 1 Destiny Point plus 1 for each Negative Descriptor that take.  If they take another Negative Descriptor by say learning a new skill at a later date, they would get an additional Destiny Point to their pool.

Does that clarify it for you?

Keith

Much clearer! Thanks!
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Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2005, 11:31:55 AM »

Okay.  I was hoping for some feedback on the game from the other players, but so far I've heard shit.  I know that there were more fuckers at that table and I know you fuckers had a good time.  I want to hear about it.  What worked?  What didn't?  What would you improve?  Did playing change the way ya feel about the game?  What kinda monkeys do you like?

In the mean time here are my thoughts on the whole thing:

I felt it was a little shakey to start.  If the players hadn't latched on real quick, shit would have gone downhill.  If I turn this fucker into a regular con game I need to frame an initial conflict for folks who don't get the idea that they are in the driver seat, not me.

That's another thing.  I've run my game quit a bit and the one thing that I have noticed since I revised the game is how little input I have.  This is particularly true in short term games, but even in long term games, Destiny Points fly and shit gets crazy. 

In fact I would say that they make the game fucking dangerous cause they can be used to shift gears on the entire game.  A malicious fucker, like Droz, can wait and use them to put in a nasty twist into the whole plot.  So if you run this fucking game, keep that in the back of your head.  Until Droz did it, I don't think I realized how nasty it can be.

Trust dice were not as important to the game cause it was a Blood Opera, and that is an important thing to remember (for me at least).  They become much more important tools when the group dynamic is focused on a common goal.  In fact I kinda forgot about them.

My one regret is that no one at the table had played the game and they didn't take advantage of the groovy moves available to extended conflicts.  Still it was nice to see folks willing to take the penalty die to move up in initiative order.  It can be worth the penalty to strike first.

I liked how Doom was flying at the table.  I wrote them to be immediately applicable, but it took Thor's use to spark the others.  I think in the future I'll have to stress that they can be used now.  I sure would have loved to have someone reach Rank 6 with their Doom and have the shit come crashing down on them.  I think we would have needed two more scenes to have gotten that far though.

I wish I had thought of this little Blood Opera before the con so that I could run some organized games.  I don't think people get how crazy the game is until they play it.  Sure it looks pretty and sounds like it might be cool, but when Destiny is flying and people are rolling a handful of dice against each other because of Descriptors and Dooms and Trust and whatever else, there is definately an adreneline rush, at least for me.

Keith
Yes Michael We Are Rawk Stars!
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Thor Olavsrud
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Posts: 349


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« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2005, 11:57:32 AM »

Keith,

The Destiny Pool reminds me of a sort of uber version of Burning Wheel's Circles and Resources abilities, all wrapped up in a tidy package. And that's definitely going to keep you on your toes. In Burning Wheel, a Circles test can spin the direction of a game by 180 degrees ("what's that? You're trying to contact the bishop's catamite? I didn't see THAT one coming!"). Destiny can do the same thing with even more directorial control.

I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it's definitely important that the GM have some input. He's got to have fun too after all. It seems to me the answer is that the GM cannot contradict facts established by a player spending a Destiny Pool point, but he can ADD to those facts. That, in combination with aggressive scene framing and playing NPCs as hard as you possibly can should give the GM plenty to do. What do you think?

Also, I have a question about Doom. I tried hard to get mine to 6, but as you noted we were about two scenes shy of reaching that goal. However, I'm not sure we used Doom in the way described in the book. If I remember correctly, we were taking bonus dice to our actions equal to the current number of our Doom.That seemed pretty elegant, and provided a lot of incentive to escalate toward your own downfall. However, the book describes Doom almost as a Destiny Pool point. "Throughout the game, a player may call upon his character's Doom to automatically end a conflict in his favor; however, he must narrate how this particular conflict or situation ties into his Doom and it cannot be used to eliminate any named characters."

So were we drifting during our session? And which way do you feel it should be played?
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Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2005, 12:10:14 PM »

We just started using Circles and Resources in our BW game so we really haven't encountered that just yet.

Adding instead of contradicting makes the most sense, as far as Destiny Points are concerned.  That is how I play in my own games and I find it more fun to aggressivly frame scenes, play NPCs hard, and react to Player direction.  It creates a tug of war between the Players and GM.  The tension from that tug of war I have found makes for dynamic games.  But then again I designed the game to require little prep outside the intial character creation process.

I noticed the drift too and I like it a lot more.  It felt right and didn't make the outcome inevitable.  I think that in an earlier draft of the revision that was how it was written (bonus dice that is), but for some damn reason I second guessed myself.

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2005, 12:50:32 PM »

Let me just say that I bought a lot of stuff at GenCon. It's all in a massive pile of paper for me to read.

This thread has moved CoS way up in that pile. It's right under Bacchanal right now (I read Breaking the Ice at the con). Awesome game, guys!
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Jake Norwood
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« Reply #7 on: August 25, 2005, 02:34:03 PM »

Sounds great. Wish I could have been there. Is the game "indie" or is it at the store?

Jake
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"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #8 on: August 25, 2005, 07:09:30 PM »

Sounds great. Wish I could have been there. Is the game "indie" or is it at the store?

Jake

The only stores you will find it in right now are online.  Links are at my website which you can hit through the signature.  Now I feel like a dirty shill and must take a bath...

Keith
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Conspiracy of Shadows: Revised Edition
Everything about the game, from the mechanics, to the artwork, to the layout just screams creepy, creepy, creepy at me. I love it.
~ Paul Tevis, Have Games, Will Travel
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