Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

[Gen Con] The Mountain Witch

Started by GestaltBennie, August 16, 2006, 10:34:11 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


The Mountain Witch
Gen Con
August 10, 12 pm - 6 pm
GM: Unknown
Other players: Unknown (four others)

One of the things I wanted to do at this year's Gen Con was to play in as many indie games as I could, as my home playing groups tend to be on the conservative side. My first con event was The Mountain Witch, and it was one I'd been eagerly anticipating.

The GM used customized character sheets for each Chinese zodiac sign in the game, with room for Name, Abilities, Damage, Wounds, Trust, and Background on the left hand side, and Conflict resolution on the right hand side. Poker chips were used to track Trust. Despite several players being unfamiliar with the system, the game ran very smoothly with minimal rules hitches.

I played Shiro, a Dog. My three special abilities were:
- singing a song to make someone fall in love with someone of my choosing.
- being able to build any structure from a minimum number of available materials.
- reading a person's true purpose by looking into someone's eyes.

Despite the ability of the first and third abilities to potentially ruin a game, I tried to confine their use only to suitably dramatic moments.

My daimyo was trapped in jade by a magic spell, and I was released from his service by his master's order, so I became a ronin. I agreed to kill the Mountain Witch to pay for the wedding of my indolent brother to a wealthy family, which would secure his future.

My Fate was Desperately In Love. I was described as a young, incredibly beautiful samurai, with long blavk hair tied in a pony tail, a short beard and moustache, muscular and strong. (My mental image of the character was Samurai Jack's dad from "Birth of Evil")

My comrades were (my apologies if I've misspelled them, my handwriting's atrocitious):
Kuru, a Monkey.
Yohiro, a Dragon
Nori, a Rat with a thirsting demon hand.
Aichi, a Tiger, a samurai whose skill with the blade was legendary.

And thus our tale begins.
We began at the graveyard at the foot of Mount Fuji, where a pack of ghastly gaki were desecrating graves at the bottom of the Holy Mountain. After a short debate, Kuru and I were determined to prevent them from dishonoring the dead (as we ourselves would not wish to be dishonored), so we attacked. I used grave-songs and flowers to peacefully return them to their rest, as I made them fall so much in love with death that they longed to return to the ground. Nuri destroyed them with his demon hand, which greedily thirsted over the dead. This made us quite nervous, but I had other things on my mind, for I found a grave with a familiar name on it...

This is when I displayed my Fate.

...and I revealed that this was the grave of my lost love, Ayuke, the son of my daimyo, who had quarreled with my father over his greed. His concerns were well-founded, as his greed later led him to be trapped in jade. I had not known that my beloved was dead, and I wept bitterly. I appeared to age five years in a single minute.

My first reaction was that Ayuke was my fraternal love, not my homosexual lover. However, the GM immediately reacted with unexpected delight at the twist, so I didn't correct him (especially given some of the historic sexual practices of samurai). It worked out extremely well from a dramatic perspective.

Nori and Aichi quarreled over Nori's unreliability and the ancient hatred of Rat and Tiger, and Nori's demon hand grabbed Aichi's blade and twisted it into a misshaped mess. Decrying the violence, the rest of us kept them from a killing stroke. Then we proceeded up the mountain. Guided by the spirits of his grandfather, Kuru was a skilled mountaineer, and found a path that was little used. It led to an ancient temple of the Dragon clan that even predated O-Yanma. We were greeted by six monks, one of whom spoke to us, five of which were always silent. Nori the Rat immediately demanded saki. They said they were out of saki, but might have one bottle left in storage. I was suspicious, and I read the head monk's true purpose in his eyes; they would let four of us leave unharmed, but one of us –the one who chose the wine–would be captured by the monks and have his blood used for wine.

Immediately, I kicked the saki out of Nori's lap and told him not to drink it. My hosts chided me for my lack of hospitality. I pushed him away and said we should leave. The others refused to follow my lead. The sensible Kuru asked how they escaped O-Yanma's notice. They said that the temple protected them. I asked what shielded them from his O-Yanma when they left the temple to hunt for food, kicking the food bowls for emphasis. Again they chided me, and I stormed out of the hall and hastily built a shelter within sight of the temple. Yohiro, not sure whether I could be trusted (as Dragons and Dogs had been enemies for as long as can be remembered), yet bothered by my words, stayed within sight of my shelter. A dream warned Karu of danger, and he awoke to find the monks had grabbed the drunken, sleeping Nori and taken him to a tub where his blood would be drained to make the monk's saki. Battle was joined immediately and the vile monks were destroyed.

Again, Kuru led us by a little trodden path up the mountain, where we found a little girl in a magnificently decorated cabin – which included severed heads. Then we spotted two ogres coming down toward the cabin, We dispatched the ogres, but the little girl drained blood from Nori the Rat, used it on her doll to make him her puppet, and then escaped. We gave chase to an ice labyrinth, which was guarded by spider demons. Using the spider's powers against them, we slew the spiders and brought down the sides of the maze, Meanwhile, Nori found the girl at the center of the labyrinth.

Here Nori's player flipped his Fate card: Worst Fear.

The little girl was Iu, Nori's daughter. Iu had abandoned Nori's mother, and she had been taken as a consort by the Mountain Witch himself. Her mother had built her a cabin, away from the witch, where she could grow without being under his direct influence. Seeing Nori's fear, and Iu's despair, I, believing in the power of true love, sang a song that forced Nori to fall in love with Iu's mother.

Yes, I knew this was a bad idea at the time. I was worried the player would object, but he was quite happy with what I'd done.

Nori promised to kill the Mountain Witch and marry his mother. "You can't kill him," Iu said.

Kuru found us another path, which led us toward the towers of the Mountain Witch's castle. During the journey, Kuru argued with the spirit of his grandfather, which sought to deal us harm. Yohiro revealed that his grandfather had betrayed the Dragon clan and was worthless. Kuru rebuked his grandfather, and his loyalty seemed assured. The nearest tower was surrounded by yasha, giant demon bats. We tried to skirt around them, but they came on top of us and dealt us wounds, including ripping out one of Nori's eyes as he tried to keep Iu from their grasp while hanging onto the ledge of an icy cliff with his demon hand. Then the great bats snatched Iu in their hideous claws and flew  back to the tower.

With Iu now as their prisoner, we had to find a way to get to that tower. Kuru led us to a gate, where a gatekeeper held the key and told us that we were not allowed to enter. I challenged him to a duel for the key, and he chose the combat –the ancient game of go. After many hours, we fought to a stalemate. Then he challenged me to a game of mahjong. He finally bested me, but not before Nori stole the key from his belt. The gatekeeper, forgetting to declare his victory, shouted at us and called us thieves. Nori opened the gate and we fled into the castle.

We came upon a family of cat-people, the servants of O-Yanma. The father refused to open his door to us, saying that the Mountain King would kill us if he knew we had spoken a single word to us, However, a little kitling followed us. He told us that we would die in the morning, and that if we wanted to live past nightfall, we should lock ourselves away and ignore the ghostly party-goers who wandered the castle grounds at night. We did as he suggested, In the morning, we made our way to a window that faced the tower where Iu had been taken, the foundry tower. I built a catapult line to throw us over to the tower. Iu was suspended from the ceiling, guarded by the fire demon. Working together, we sent it hurtling into the snowdrifts at the foot of the tower, which swallowed the demon whole.

I believe there was a die roll to determine that Iu was unharmed. If not, the GM was being extraordinarily generous.

Taking Iu by the hand, Nori promised to protect her. Returning to the tower before nightfall, we were waylaid by a troupe of actors, who invited us to watch their play. I thought this might give us some insight into O-Yanma, so we agreed. Unfortunately it was a magical play, a very long magical play... and before we knew it, we'd aged five years. Iu was now a girl of 16. Our beards, moustaches, and fingernails were quite long. The actors were offended that we wouldn't stay for the full 107 years of the drama, but we gave them our critique, and slew them. Then we smashed their props, except for one, a samurai encased in jade. It was my daimyo; the Mountain Witch's wife, Iu's mother, had trapped him. Remembering his quarrels with my beloved, his son, I declared myself a true ronin and walked away, though I intended to restore him when O-Yanma was dead.

We strode toward the Mountain Witch's great tower, when suddenly Iu threw Yohiro to the ground. With inhuman strength. While a prisoner of the yasha, Iu had been possessed by a fire demon. Seeing the burning in his eyes. I sang a song that forced her to fall in love with an icy pool of water below. She dove into the water and the demon was quenched; unharmed (except for a demon trapped inside her for five years) we pulled her from the pool. Passing by holes in the side of the mountain, holes filled with the bodies of those who'd tried and failed to slay O-Yanma, we entered the tower of the Mountain Witch.

We entered a room full of scrolls, each scroll contained the life story of one who failed to kill the Mountain Witch. He asked for our life stories. Suddenly we were attacked by a cat-man; he had been the kitling who'd helped us years ago, and his family had been killed by the Witch because he'd talked to us. We slew the kitling and left the body on the floor. The scribe began to write the story of the last of the cat clan.

Nori heard a cry for help from a tower room, and he and Iu entered it to discover Iu's mother, trapped in a block of ice by the Mountain Witch; she was long dead. Suddenly Iu was also encapsulated in ice. Nori managed to stagger out of the room, and realized the only way to save his daughter was to kill O-Yanma.

But I was already distracted by other, even more important matters, for I heard the sound of my beloved, calling me to a high tower. Yohiro accompanied me into the heart of the witch's lair. The great sorcerer, whose appearance was as young as spring (and yet whose eyes were as old as winter) showed me my lover's spirit in a great mirror. He offered to bring my lover back to life and reunite me with him forever, if I swore to be his servant, and betrayed my fellow ronin.

Tears running down my face, I touched the mirror with my hand, and he did as well. He had come to slay the Mountain Witch, and like so many others, he had lost. "You came to this mountain to fulfill a purpose," I said. "I will not fail you, my brother."

Then I attacked O-Yanma. And Yohiro blocked the blow.

Yohito revealed his Dark Fate. True Motives. He had come to restore the Dragon clan to their lost temple, as the allies of O-Yanma!

We battled. Laughing, the Mountain Witch magically summoned a great chair so he could comfortably enjoy the show. The others arrived on the scene. Before they could intervene to save me, Aichi suddenly turned on Nori and attacked.

This is when Aichi revealed his Dark Fate, Unholy Pact. That's when I figured we were screwed. I'd expected one betrayal, not two. Live and learn.

Aichi promptly cut off Nori's demon hand, and then sliced off his other hand for good measure! Nori sank to the floor as the blood drained from his body. The Witch organized us into duels. I dueled against the unbeatable Aichi, while Kuru battled Yohiro. I could not best Aichi. He dropped me to the ground and turned around to bask in his victory. I was not yet dead, and with my last strength, I crawled toward O-Yanma. Seeing this, Aichi thrust his twisted blade into my back and finished me.

Even the power of true love was no match for bad dice rolls; in the immortal words of George of the Jungle, the greatest power in the universe is dumb luck. Oh well.

With my death, Kuru was soon overthrown. The demon that had been trapped in Nori's hand tried to consume him, but Nori managed to take control and used the subjugated power of the demon to regrow new, powerful demon arms. However, even a demon could not withstand the combined power of Aichi and Yohiro. He fell beneath their swords.

More sucky die rolls. The lords of tragedy smiled on us today.

The Mountain Witch smiled at his victorious servants, and ordered our bodies to be thrown in the holes of the dead that were bored into the slope of Mount Fuji. The end.

This game was great, tragic fun. Kudos to the GM and the other players for producing such an epic game in six hours. The GM took notes, and hopefully he (or the others) can chime in with corrections and/or their own versions, as mine is very centered on Shiro.

Scott Bennie

Ron Edwards


It's reasonably easy to infer from the writeup, but I'd like confirmation - how did the people at the table react to one another, as people, throughout play? Was there any moment when you felt like you had just become a better friend, or potentially so, with someone there? Did you experience a charge of enjoyment when people hinted at their Dark Fates, before revealing them?

Here's what I like best from your post:

QuoteI played Shiro, a Dog. My three special abilities were:
- singing a song to make someone fall in love with someone of my choosing.
- being able to build any structure from a minimum number of available materials.
- reading a person's true purpose by looking into someone's eyes.

Despite the ability of the first and third abilities to potentially ruin a game, I tried to confine their use only to suitably dramatic moments.

To make my point, I'll suggest that such abilities "ruin games" when those games are already being used as part of a broken or overly-fragile experience. Your game shows me that the group, The Mountain Witch, and the context of play were all so robust as to support the use of any such abilities.

Best, Ron

Eric Provost

Hiya Scott!  Thanks for coming in and giving a great actual play post.  This was my first time GMing on the official GenCon rosters, and I had a blast. 

I only remember one or two storyline items differently than you do.  The first one is your fantastic duels with the old blind man on the balcony behind the castle.  After the first tie in the go match, I had the old man pipe up and challenge you to chess, and while I was polling the other players to see if anyone could recall what the name of the Japanese version of chess with the wooden tiles was, it occurred to me that one strategy-game duel after the other was just a tad lame.  So, he challenged your character to watercolor painting instead. 

The other is when Iu was in the foundry tower.  I did make a roll to see if she was injured, and she lost.  The injury she took was to become possessed by the fire demon. 

I'd be surprised if everyone didn't have a couple differing bits of storyline.  That room got really loud a couple times.  Often when the player in the spotlight was trying to throw a little emotion on the scene and just got their voice drowned right out.  But that's cool.  Everyone left the table with big smiles on their faces, so I know they really had a good time.

This was easily the best game of The Mountain Witch I've ever been part of.  It was really a great time.  And, from my point of view, important because I keep learning new and powerful techniques that I can apply to other games. 


Eric J. Boyd

Hi guys,

This was my first time playing the Mountain Witch, though I had read it previously. I played Kuru in Scott's report, who talked to his dead ancestors frequently and had them reveal short cuts and egg him toward seeking revenge on another samurai (eventually revealed to be Yoshiro). Eric rolled with my additions like a pro and put a great game together. I second that abilities really cannot break this game, only enrich it. My only storyline addition would be that my character actually wounded the Witch right before having his body severed at the waist by Yoshiro, a damn cool end for my vengeful samurai.

As to your question, Ron, when Nori revealed his worst fear and his relationship with his daughter came into play, I found myself aiding him like crazy and pushing him toward a happy ending of family reunion. I was ready to sacrifice my character to do so. Plus, his demon arm's antics and the drama surrounding it made Nori the star of the show. Of course, a happy ending was not to be for anyone ... except the Witch.

The mechanism of revealing dark fates eluded me a bit. Scott and Nori's player revealed them early on, so we could all get on board and support their play. I tried to telegraph mine pretty effectively but did not reveal it until I actually attacked Yoshiro. I think my vague hints at bloody revenge worked well atmospherically (and caused ripples in the trust pool). The other two guys (traitors that they were) waited until the very end to reveal and didn't really hint all that much. Is this typical play? Should we have revealed earlier, but left the actual outcome of the dark fate in doubt?

This was definitely one of the highlights of the con for me, so I'm glad you wrote it up Scott.




Okay guys, thanks for stepping up and identifying yourselves. And yes, my memory's pretty bad and Eric's right about the painting being the second competition being painting.

And I felt the pull of sympathetic pathos toward Nori too. I didn't know any of the gamers prior to the event and Nori's player came across as a real Joe Gamer type - the "kewl hand" could have been one of those overbearing gamer stereotypes - however the way the story developed (particularly Nori's relationship with Iu) just won us over (at least until the others played their betrayals). I found that Shiro was drawn to help him a lot over the game; had it been a longer campaign, I could easily have seen him trying to adopt a big brother role. Although many of the things Shiro did to him were pretty awful: forcing him to fall in love with a sorceress, persuading him to watch a play that aged him five years, and commanding a demon to fall in love with a pool of water when his daughter was trapped inside, Nori never got.angry at him or made him a scapegoat (in part because of the very strong rivalry between he and Aichi.

I wish I remembered half of the stuff that had happened with the hand, which made for a marvelous prop. And for what it's worth, Shiro came to respect Kuru a lot too, he showed a lot of coolness under fire and leadership ability. The others did play things close to the vest. My fatal mistake was interpreting the fact that demon-Iu ttacked Yoshiro first as a sign that the Witch wanted him killed first (and therefore, could be trusted)..

Anyway, I had a great time.
Scott Bennie


Awesome! This sounds like it was a great game. I actually think this might be the first game where the Witch won! What I also like about it is that even though you had a couple unlucky rolls, the real reason the Witch won was because two of the players wanted the Witch to win, and teamed up to make it happen.

Hey Eric, you mentioned that this was a longer game by your standards. What are your thoughts on the matter? Did the longer time frame effect play?

--Timothy Walters Kleinert

Eric Provost

Well, I wouldn't say that the longer timeframe affected play.  I'd say that the way I played it affected the timeframe.  I did a lot more with trying to build on what the players would author and I'd do it earlier in the game.  In previous games I'd GMed, or even played in, the GM threw monsters and it was entirely up to the players to build the story between each other.

If I were to try to nail down just what the differences were in my play style, it'd be that I gave up on preparing bangs.  Instead, my prep consisted of authoring interesting characters of unknown origins (the little girl living alone and the cat people glass makers), interesting locations, and at least a half-dozen situations where I do that thing where I ask the players questions like "Whose grave are those gaki digging at?"

Then, instead of playing Monster/Bang/Monster/Bang, I went with Question/Build/Build/Resolve/Repeat.  Using the monsters and bangs to fuel the questions, building, and resolution.  Which just naturally provides for a longer and more interesting game.  I figure that the more I refine the style, the longer my games of tMW will go.  Or at least, be able to go.  Which is cool.