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[In a Wicked Age] There is no circus in Istak...

Started by Christoph Boeckle, January 02, 2007, 09:25:46 PM

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Christoph Boeckle

This evening we played In a Wicked Age... I have too few words to describe my enthusiasm, so I'll just do an AP.

We played with the playtest rules to be found on the wiki and a few tweaks garnered from other threads and blog discussions.
Especially, we played with the "technical" win rule, that is, three advantage dice in a row spells a win as if the opponent was "doubled". (I didn't increase the strength of the "natural" double win though.)

So, on to the session:


Florian, my younger brother by three years. He has played Shab al-Hiri Roach and My Life with Master before. He enjoys "story oriented" gaming a lot, but has other priorities in general as far as his hobbies are concerned (in particular, he flies gliders when the weather is nice).

Romain. We became friends when we served for a year in the Swiss army in 2002-03 (we have a militia, so more than half of the Swiss men serve at one point or another in their life). We would play the X-box and drink beer together in our free time, and thanks to some obscure X-box RPG game we found out that we might like to play "real" RPGs together. I mastered a D&D adventure for him and another friend, but only Romain enjoyed it enough. We only played twice together after that (a d20 game and a weird playtest of a supers game).
He hosted the game in his snazzy new apartment.

Jérôme, a long-time friend who has been roleplaying since the beginning with me. He tried most of the "forgy games" I have. He enjoys playing with a GM in charge of specific things (scene framing and content from what I gather, we haven't gotten to the bottom of that yet). He never GMed.

We decided to play just a few hours in advance, I had told them about this vicious med-fan game and off we were. I was to be the GM as I was the only one who knew the rules.


We got the following four elements, that I translated to french on the fly and now am translating back:

  • 1. The burglary of powerful merchant-thief's storehouse
  • 2. A silk robe which no weapon can pass.
  • 3. A huge oak in a wild field.
  • 4. A wonderful yellow gem, cursed with a terrible doom.

(If you're under a UNIX environment that runs bash scripts, you can use this one (giving an integer as an argument) to generate the elements in a terminal using the Clinton Oracle, you must just change the line of the script that references the Oracle's path)

From there, we took the following list of characters:

  • merchant-thief
  • burglars
  • the robe's possessor
  • a druid protecting the oak
  • the sorcerer who cursed the gem

Romain was keen on playing Barak the druid, Jérôme followed up with Zangdar the sorcerer and Florian was interested in playing the robe's possessor, Fonkin.
Their respective interests were "to guard the oak who grants me my magic", "craft a magic wand with the wood of an ancient oak" and "find the yellow gem my grandfather gifted me with and which I lost on the same day".
I wrote up Forro the merchant thief, intent on getting back the yellow gem and the silken robe (which Fonkin had stolen).
Grindal was one of the two burglar's who snatched the yellow gem, but was betrayed and for now just wants to get away from Forro.
Belton was the elegant burglar who tricked the other and ran off with the gem, planning to sell it for some major cash in Istak, the city by the sea.

The Mastery I created was the yellow gem (unique, "I submit you to my will", "I excite your greed", "I drain your magic", but "the curse strikes you!"), plays into "Influencing others". Belton had it, but it came into play only near the end of the chapter when a hired expert truthseer miserably lost his roll against Belton's hiding and lost two points of Enduring Duress (Art) ("It's magic is too strong and evil, keep your gold and begone!")

The setup lasted a half an hour, perhaps three quarters of an hour.

Actual play

There was no big advice from the text as to how to frame scenes, so I just decided to do the good old round-robin thing by asking the players what their characters where up to and then messing around with the NPCs, eventually even planning to sett the PCs up against one another via the NPCs. I think that worked pretty well throughout the game.

Florian's Fonkin was our night's looser: he tried to spy on Forro who was talking about the yellow gem with an informer. He nearly got himself killed (doubled right off the bat), but we negotiated that he would actually do Forro's bidding till the gem was found (and I made it clear to Florian that Forro would probably backstab Fonkin after that, especially since he knew that Forro had recognized the robe he was wearing).

Barak was brewing a potion when Grindal, who was fleeing someplace, stumbled upon his sacred field with the oak and asked him for some food. No conflict, but I described Grindal as being suspicious and traitorous looking all along. Barak gave him a half chicken anyway and told him to leave.

That's where Fonkin and Forro found him in the forest surrounding the field. Grindal didn't actually know who Forro was and wasn't too suspicious. But the merchant-thief ordered Fonkin to question him as to the gem's whereabouts. Florian botched it after a long but unfruitful negotiation (Fonkin landed on the we owe list and went right back off it for an advantage die). Grindal was slightly injured but managed to flee and loose his trackers in the dense forest.

Zangdar was travelling to the find the oak when Grindal came flying down the descending forest floor. Zangdar wanted to ask him about the oak, but Grindal wanted payment for this information, so the powerful sorcerer just told him to get lost.
He found the field in the forest anyway and wanted to place a magical device to observe the oak. This started a magical contest between Barak and Zangdar. Romain doubled Jérôme, the forest floor just swallowed the device and they negotiated Jérôme loosing one die size of Enduring Duress (Guts) and betraying his presence.

Barak followed up with a spell that would cause unwelcome travelers in the forest never to happen on the field, always walking by it "accidentally". Zangdar countered by burning a huge corridor across the forest and thus leaving one unique access to the oak. Jérôme and Romain agreed that this lost Barak one die size of Enduring Duress (Art) and betrayed the druid's intimate link to the oak.

Forro was about to throw a knife to Fonkin's face (he knew about the robe) for his incompetence, Fonkin tried to diminish his anger by saying that the burglar couldn't be very far off and pointed out that they had horses (again, he landed on the we owe list). I continued Forro's conflict with another endeavor to reflect the "escalation" of conflict (but not of intent), is that okay?
Forro agreed that indeed, Grindal could be caught up, so he trotted off, pulling Fonkin's horse along by the rein. Florian crossed off his character's name (he later said he wasn't too intent on playing him again later, preferring to maximize his efficiency on the spot) and declared that the riderless horse stumbled, leaving him just enough time to jump on it's back. He fought Forro on horseback while riding through the forest, finally managed to skewer him with his fencing sword and left Forro for dead.
Fonkin just barely managed to escape Zangdar's fire blast, but Forro was burned (I decided this was just color, no dice where diminished).

Jérôme didn't want to try too direct an approach after what he had seen, so he decided he'd have Zangdar magically track Grindal. The sorcerer went back to where the two men had met, found some blood on the dead leaves that had dripped from the wound, and immediately teleported to where Grindal was hiding. I figured it was okay to have that, but I did wonder if such things where best left to characters who had masteries related to magic. Actually, I don't think it's really necessary, as long as the sorcerer was an oracle element.
Anyway, Grindal was spying for Forro and Fonkin in a tree. That's where Zangdar appeared, surprising the burglar quite a bit and obtaining his respect. Zangdar offered him protection from Forro and Fonkin as long as he would help him in defeating the druid (Grindal had made peaceful contact with Barak after all, so there was a chance to betray him).

In the meantime, Romain decided he'd have Barak summon various defenders of nature (forest golems for the burned passage and crystal elementals for the oak, although we nearly convinced him to choose owlbears instead), to stop Zangdar's advance. Romain had an endeavor named "Druidic magic". I later understood that this should have been a mastery, but it came out alright during the game (he could have done everything with standard endeavors and just color them in with druid magic).

Fonkin was riding hard after Grindal, and was surprised to find him walking back towards the forest with a robed man. Fonkin assured the burglar he didn't want to harm him at all and just wanted to find his gem. Zangdar wanted to know a bit more, but Fonkin eluded the question (without the players going for the dice). Grindal believed that Belton probably returned to Istak to sell the fucking gem and could he please be left alone now.

When Grindal was attacked by the golems when he entered the zone they protected, an apocalyptic magical fight ensued in the corridor burned through the forest as Zangdar and Grindal first fought off the creatures (Romain gave before risking a loss of dice). The conflict was followed up by another, where Barak summoned an ice storm. Zangdar had to fight this one off alone with a heat wave (that's where I'm wondering about the masteries vs colored endeavors), and preferred to give and teleport to Istak rather than continue this face on assault.

Fonkin tried to find Belton in Istak, but failed. We played this out as a conflict between Belton's careful preparations and Fonkin's Inquiring (Art) endeavor (I decided he didn't want to sell it to Fonkin, since otherwise there wouldn't have been much conflict left with Forro stabbed and burned in the forest, justifying it if need be with some obscure relationships between Belton and Fonkin's grandpa). Fonkin landed his third touch and go on the we owe list, but after a long conflict Belton's challenge passed and Fonkin was never to find neither Belton nor the guy he would sell it to.

Barak managed to have the forest regrow to it's original state (contest against the permanency of Zangdar's magic). He stumbled on Forro, still vaguely alive. He first dragged him out of the forest, preferring to leave him to die outside of the forest. He changed his mind when he heard the wounded man cry out for help. Forro was off to the city... eager for vengeance.

Zangdar and Grindal found Belton. Zangdar had put a spell on Grindal so that Belton would not recognize him, so we played out a conflict to see if that would work. The conflict was really long, and I played Belton as negotiating with Zangdar but being constantly put off by Grindal's appearance that reminded him of "someone". Even though Grindal was rolling with Zangdar to trick him, Belton was immensely powerful with his d12 d10 stat, and sent Zangdar on the we owe list.
When Jérôme didn't know what to say anymore, I suggested that Grindal would say that he was the city's circus freak (because Jérôme had described the spell as exaggerating the size of the nose and the ears). Jérôme went with that, but lost to Belton again and preferred to give and leave without the gem. "By the way gentlemen, there is no circus in Istak..." Since this conflict put Zangdar on top of the we owe list, I reckon this could foreshadow some future conflict between the two.

Fonkin tried another approach, the one I mentioned earlier with the truthseer. No success again. Poor Florian! He did roll really bad (the scryer's d12 d10 d6 against Belton's d12 d10 and he was doubled in the first round!).

Zangdar tried another approach, by spreading a rumor about a huge magical treasure in Barak's forest, hoping that the greed of adventurer's would allow him to enter the forest while Barak was busy fending off the masses of intruders.

Barak eventually got wind of the rumor and prepared to leave for the Druid Council and ask for help.

That's where we ended the chapter and the session. We played a bit less than three hours total.

Thoughts and questions

  • Jérôme enjoyed the fact that even powerful magic could be countered by a trickster's clever thinking or by a smugglers careful planning.
  • Sometimes the conflicts went on a long time, and we would run out of ideas for challenges so we just quickly rolled the dice again assuming similar challenges.
  • The "technical win" never happened, but it did encourage Romain and Jérôme to give rather than loose against it on one occasion each at least.
  • How do we establish who goes on the "we owe" list when two PCs are together in a conflict against another opponent (solitary or group)? The "more than two" sides conflict is judged on the precise oppositions taking place, but what happens if on the second round a new opposition is formed after one side was eliminated? Does this count as the "first" round of this specific opposition?
  • What should we do when the roll that decides the challenger is a complete tie? We ruled a total fresh roll without anything happening in the SIS, but it is a loss of time.
  • Some challenges were so powerful that the answerer couldn't win, even on a reroll. Could he have decided to add an advantage die at that time? We played it as being decided at the beginning of the round and being valid for the roll and the reroll if one turned out to be the answerer.
  • Can somebody give upon seeing the challenger's standing roll and hearing his challenge? We ruled not, judging it to be too cheesy.

Next chapters

We plan to play on saturday afternoon again. I was wondering if the option for a recurring character to assign dice freshly also included a new definition of non-core endeavors. The text seems to imply this.

As for recurring characters, I'm wondering how harsh I should be. Must a character be designated "explicitly" be an element to be back in if he isn't on the top of the we owe list?
I'm thinking of the implicit characters such as this session burglars. Anybody could claim that his PC is a burglar in such a case. I don't have a problem with that, just wanted to check if there was some reasoning I was missing.

Also, I'm still a bit at a loss as to when I should decide a chapter ends. I was aiming for the resolution of at least a few PCs' Interests, but that didn't happen at all. We ruled the end of the chapter because we had to leave. It's probably a good thing anyway, since it'll throw in some fresh elements.

I had a huge blast, Florian was delighted, Romain was eager to play again and Jérôme is already seeing what the game can offer now that he is getting used to it (especially the freedom granted by not having to roll when not opposed by a character).

Vincent, you can count on me for some more play, I already got another friend hooked which will probably involve another group of players. This game rocks!



I find it fascinating how the element generator works on the imagination.  Despite the limited number of elements, the true variety comes from how individual people will combine them.

For instance, my mental imagining while I read your elements instantly put the robe and the burglar together (which you didn't) and never thought tying a druid to the oak which I envisioned as the "hanging tree" where the burglar was to be brought to justice.  Which would have created an entirely different situation than the one you came up with.

Then the choosing of the characters mixes things up even further.  Even if I'd started with your identical situation, the story would have been much different if the merchant thief and the burglars were being played as characters.

So from a seemingly limited number of options, a tremdous variety is possible.


This is excellent!

I'll answer your questions when I have a bit more time. The answer to several of them will be "yeah... I've changed the rules for that..."


Christoph Boeckle

All right Vincent, I'm looking forward to seeing your answers! Any chance a new playtest document will be available by friday evening (your time)? This could also be your chance to get a rapid answer to a specific question.

For the record, we used the "Specializations" field of the old character sheets to write-up non-core endeavours. The name made sense.

Ralph, I clearly agree with what you say. I'm also musing over the way to play characters when I'm the GM. If I play them as protagonists (who have to make decisions), there are probably more options for the story. If I play them as "pivotal characters" (who are already strongly decided about what they want), they probably won't be telling much of a story by themselves, but might spur the PCs more than if they were protagonists (Forro and Belton perhaps?).
Barak acted quite pivotally for Zangdar, but he could be led to difficult decisions depending on how "nice" I'll play the druid council.
Grindal didn't really look much like either, he was more a catalyst between the three PCs. (On a theoretic level, he could have been replaced by an object/event or two.)
I'll be watching out for this next time when creating characters and playing them.
Does anyone already have ideas as to how to manage the differences and how to divide them between GM and players?

Amusingly, I find that the difference between antagonist and protagonist doesn't hold for this game at all, since we don't really know who the story will be about and how the characters relate amongst each other (actually this could be why some people don't consider play as a story, as it lacks a clear viewpoint). This is a rare sight in a game with a GM.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to how the second chapter will unfold!

Emily Care

QuoteRalph, I clearly agree with what you say. I'm also musing over the way to play characters when I'm the GM. If I play them as protagonists (who have to make decisions), there are probably more options for the story. If I play them as "pivotal characters" (who are already strongly decided about what they want), they probably won't be telling much of a story by themselves, but might spur the PCs more than if they were protagonists (Forro and Belton perhaps?).

Excellent distinction. I tend to look at gm characters as needing to be pivotal characters in order to spur on the players' characters. The interests set everyone in motion.The gm characters are there to close holes (ie connect with characters whose interests are unopposed or unmirrored) and to make sure everyone is in motion towards one another.

Though, as you pointed out, there is no telling who will be the central character at the outset. I wonder if characters who end up as nodes of conflicting interests are that much more likely to be protaganist fodder.

Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games


This discussion reminds me alot of tMW play, as tMW is also a game where PCs tend to act as antagonists towards one another. From my tMW play, I would think you should always have a couple "pivotal" characters floating around.

I'm trying to think of examples of times when players went after each other without any sort of outside interference from NPCs... I can't think of any off the top of my head, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. But certainly most of the time, players are pushed by NPCs. Like Emily said, when I run tMW I usually set up NPCs to push PCs towards one another and fill in holes in the conflicts.

But of course I haven't played Wicked Age, so I'm not sure how comparable the two games are. For this particular question and the issue of emerging protagonists, Ron might have some thoughts from his experience with Spione.
--Timothy Walters Kleinert


> Any chance a new playtest document will be available by friday evening (your time)?

I wish!


Christoph Boeckle

Well Vincent, too bad I didn't get an update on the rules, because we played anyway!

Zangdar was back and Jérôme chose the first element of the following list:

  • 1. An enemy champion, fearless and bellowing.
  • 2. A rich and powerful temple, full of silver and fine merchandise.
  • 3. A camp physician. with pockets full of salves and medicine.
  • 4. A flock of hunter birds, sharp-beaked, clever, and dreadful.

From there we derived the enemy champion (whom the druid council had engaged to defeat Zangdar), the grey-robed priestesses of Atuk, Forro (because of the fine merchandise), Blanka the camp physician to the champion's party and the falconer who was the hunter birds' master.

Romain chose Hulk the champion, Florian Astor the falconer and the rest were NPCs. Jérôme created the mastery of "The flamboyant fire" (fire-magic, potent, vulnerable to ice). I completely forgot to create any masteries... duh!

Hulk's interest was in defeating Zangdar, Astor was suspicious of Hulk's loyalty and decided to protect the forest in the druid's absence. Zangdar still was after the great oak, but most especially in this chapter he coveted Astor's hunter birds.
Ronda, the chief priestess wanted to have Zangdar undo the curse of the yellow gem, because too many people had succumbed to it's power in the past years. Blanka wanted to seduce Hulk and convince him in capturing the village of Douval (near the forest) instead of killing the sorcerer.

The rumours spread by Zangdar in the last chapter had already worked quite a bit and the forest was teeming with adventurers. Astor commanded his birds to rise into the nightsky and shriek their dreadful cries about the moonlit forest, while he would shoot arrows from his cover to frighten off the rest.
He managed to scare off Belton (who was still trying to sell the gem) and Ronda (who had just been told to f*** off by Zangdar after she tried to peacefully convince him to undo the gem's curse) and they alarmed all the other adventurers who ran off to Douval or farther still. By the time the word reached the village where Hulk was resting with his men, the word was out that an owlbear was eating people in the forest.

Hulk went out to grab Zangdar, but he got his ass handed to him, still smoking from the fire magic. (Doubled, lost two dice in Enduring duress) He went back brooding to the village, and the medic took profit in her lover's painful distress to convince him in taking over the village (he didn't care much for it in the beginning, but promised to do something about it anyway (no conflict)).

Then later in the night, Astor continued his mission to rid the forest of all trespassers, and summoned a group of boars and an owlbear (so yes, there was one of those in the forest after all) to run Zangdar over. But the mighty sorcerer rose a flaming wall and the beasts turned in terror and stampeded Astor instead (Jérôme is pretty lucky all the time, and Florian can't roll higher than 2. So that's another doubled victory, which resulted in the loss of one die and two falcons from the flock)

Zangdar used the two falcons to scout the forest from above, but Barak's magical protection fooled the birds (I told Romain to roll his old characters dice again, but now I'm wondering if that's "legal"). Zangdar was despairing that he'd ever find the oak (this time he got doubled, lost two dice in Defending myself, same stat he uses for spellcasting. Which by the way is still not quite clear to me. What's the best way to handle magic for a PC? Surely an endeavor called "spellcasting" is way too broad, right?)

Astor tried to convince two adventurers whom Zangdar had convinced to stay in the forest despite of the scary stuff happening that there really was nothing in the forest. But they convinced him instead (another doubled victory, we proposed to change Astors interest to "becoming the druid in the druid's stead" instead of reducing any dice, is that legit?)

Hulk acquired the gem from Belton, then proceeded to the mayor's house, executed him and proclaimed himself master of the village. A few menaces and beatings later, he was leading a score of peasants to capture and burn the evil sorcerer.

Zangdar decided that he perhaps should negotiate with Ronda after all, but when he met her, she was already speaking with Forro, They had a contest of of Influencing others, and Forro managed to convince Ronda that Zangdar was not trustworthy. Ronda kindly reminded Zangdar that she had put a bounty on his head and so the mighty sorcerer fled back to his tower, ever more depressed (he lost another two dice, refusing my proposals of either entering Ronda's service for seven moons or bursting into tears and asking for forgiveness. Pity. Everybody was getting doubled in the first round today!)

Astor went mad trying to pierce the oak's magical concealing. (Doubled AGAIN! Romain told him to cross off his interest in becoming the new druid and had him loose one die.)

Having searched the forest for a whole day and having found nobody but an owlbear, the farmers were getting grumpy. Hulk convinced them after a LONG (using the gem) talk and a quick beating to continue to march onto Zangdar's tower.

They were welcomed by huge globes of flame, but somehow nobody was hurt seriously. They tore down the portal, killed the servants at the door and entered the tower. (Romain gained help from the peasants in the form of 1d4 1d6. Jérôme chose to give the defence of his tower and switch to a new contest to flee.)
Zangdar gave his last servant his own likeness, killed him and fled through the sewers, collapsing the tower in his wake. Hulk, his men and the peasants scrambled after him. Jérôme offered them to survive the collapsing tower unscathed and find the body of his servants so they could claim to have accomplished the mission (he was winning the conflict, and Romain preferred to accept this challenge than risk a doubling).

End of the chapter. Zangdar somehow managed to land on the "We owe" list again, although I forgot how (probably against Ronda).

Poor Florian was yet again not very effective this time around. I wondered if it was because there weren't any NPCs with direct interests against him, but he was finding lots of stuff to do anyway (I hardly played the NPCs at all today, for any character), he was just very unlucky.

The conflicts were a bit feeble in the beginning today. I probably should have framed more aggressively, but then again, everybody was doubling one another, resulting in very short conflicts with default outcomes (longer conflicts seem to inspire alternative outcomes more easily). The last conflict in the sorcerer's tower was nice, and it looked to me as if Jérôme and Romain were really getting the hang of negotiating outcomes and managing their conflicts.

I'm not sure how to handle NPC help. Most of the time, I considered it to be pure color, but sometimes I fiated that a few helper dice should be given out (it didn't change a thing today though, except perhaps in convincing Jérôme to give the first conflict at the tower.)

We plan to play again, in one or two week's time. Perhaps I'll get to play another session with another group before that, I'm not sure yet. So Vincent... there are lots of questions that could help us and an opportunity to get some more playtest done... *hint*

Christoph Boeckle

Oh, and if I may suggest a practical printing solution for the final product:

A5 bound on the short edge with the lines of text parallel to said edge. And holes already punched for a binder. I've been finding it very useful to print the character sheets, NPC sheets on A4 paper, then cutting them in 2 and carrying all the stuff around in a binder, together with the we owe list and other notes, that is now just screaming for the rules to achieve transcendent completeness. Yes. I hear it in my sleep.