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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 185 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Steal Away Jordan] First Session, Second Playtest  (Read 8489 times)
Parthenia
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« on: March 23, 2007, 09:12:33 PM »

And the second time I've ever GM'ed a game. The jury's still out on that, but everyone seemed to have fun.
The first playtest (with unrevised rules and a slightly different title) was at JiffyCon November. That story was lost to time and small children going through my paperwork. Alas.

So this is a game set in Antebellum United States. All PC's begin as slaves. The GM chooses your name, and your "worth", represented by d6's. Worth is detemined by age, gender, occupation (skilled or not), and health. Players write 3-5 details about their character (Attributes). They name a friend and an enemy, who can be NPC's which the GM controls or other PC's. Then they write 1-3 Goals. Each Goal has a 3 Motivations, each Motivation has a Task. PC's must complete all tasks under a Goal before they make an attempt at it. They share their Goal's, Motivations, and Tasks with the other PC's, and can devise group Goals (with individual Motivations and Tasks) such as "Slave Rebellion". The GM is privy only to the Motivations.

The setting is Hernando, MS, just outside Memphis, TN, 1847. Cotton plantation. I'm sure at times we abandoned historical accuracy, but it's a game, it's a story, who cares (probably my mom, the History professor who's been helping me gather and write the historical stuff, but I won't tell if ya'll won't tell.)
I'm going to put the more detailed descriptions of the PC's here
So we have Cupit (Emily), Martial, the Rootdoctor/Conjurer (Joshua), Kato (Vincent), and Tom (Meg). Meg went to bed, but we continued later into the evening than we had planned.
The NPC's are Elizabeth Strong, age 30, recently widowed. Her husband Andrew owned the plantation.
Ephriam, age 10, her son and heir to the plantation.
William Jackson, the overseer.
Ginny, a young slave who works in the house. Both Martial and Cupit like her. Elizabeth's father just happens to be Ginny's father.
Ned, Kato's brother
Ann, Kato's friend
Dr. Richard Jones, age 50, who is Elizabeth's suitor (even though Andrew's body is barely cold in his grave)

Play: Three weeks after the sudden death of Andrew Strong
Our story begins in the heat of summer one morning. Elizabeth Strong watches the field slaves working. She asks some of the slaves their names, trying to get her mind around the idea that she is now the steward of this plantation. Elizabeth is a city girl. She's never actually stood and watched the slaves pick cotton. She's trying to decide if she should stay and manage the plantation or lease the land and the slaves and move back to Memphis. Cupit starts singing a song, and Elizabeth bursts into tears.

Elizabeth pays a visit to Martial, the plantation's blacksmith. She knows he knows herbs, and she has a matter that requires some discretion. Ginny, her maid, is pregnant, and Eliabeth suspects the father is her late husband, Andrew. She does not want the baby to come to fruition. She doesn't trust the slave midwife, and she can't stand the white doctor. This didn't come out, but she had never seen an African before, and she was a little curious if they looked like the other American born slaves. Plus, her son spends way too much time with Martial. Maybe Mr. Strong didn't care or didn't notice, but it bothers her. Martial is one uppity slave who could use a good beating, but that will be for another day.
She asks Martial to procure the herbs that would make Ginny miscarry. Martial thinks the baby might be his. We have a Minor Conflict. Will Martial give Elizabeth the correct herbs and thus potentially kill his own progeny or will he be able to trick her with some made up magic mumbo jumbo and some peppermint? I roll against Joshua, Joshua wins, and comes away with two extra dice for his next bargain/conflict. Martial tricks Elizabeth with some peppermint and an iron box. Next he tries to convince Elizabeth that Ginny should stay with him for a while so he can continue to work his magic. Elizabeth is skeptical, we roll again. Joshua wins again (and gets another bonus die). Elizabeth is dazzled by the strange magic of the strange African slave.

The next scene (I think it was to be some days later) Ginny and Martial are laying under a poplar tree. It's night. They've just had sex. Martial wants to know if the baby is his or not. Minor Conflict, Ginny wins, she remains vague about it. In the course of their conversation we learn that Ginny wants to run away, as does Martial, who wants to own slaves himself (Can't blame the man for being ambitious) With a Minor Bargain roll, Ginny agrees to gather finer clothes so they can look like free blacks and food for their escape. Martial, the only blacksmith for miles, and thus the blacksmith for other plantations, agrees to find someone who might be a conductor on the underground railroad (a driver who would have access to the roads and other plantations)

That same night, Elizabeth, suffering from insomnia, sits awake pouring over the business ledgers and records. Meanwhile Kato sneaks into the house. He runs into Ephriam, and convinces him that he's there on behalf of Martial (Ephriam is Martial's friend). Kato tells Ephriam that Martial wants some maps so he can show him where Africa is. At first Ephriam believes him, and gives him access to maps *and* conveniently a rifle, but when he spots Kato's hands (two thumbs and only 5 fingers), Ephriam realizes Kato is lying and calls for his mother. Kato cold cocks him with the rifle and knocks him out. Elizabeth runs into the room. Kato shoots the rifle. Major Conflict here. I roll 16d6 as Elizabeth (White woman=17d6, minus 1d6 for grief), Vincent rolls 10d6 for Kato (young male slave=12d6, but since he's only got a total of 5 fingers he's only worth 10d6) First Kato loses. He pushes (rolls a single d6 skull die) and gets a 3, which lets him call on an ally or relation to help. We re-roll, Vincent gets 5 extra dice (Vincent, you did roll 5 yes and not 3, yes?), as Ned, Kato's brother is outside the window and available to come to Kato's aid. I still win.

Now here's the tricky part. Kato and Ned are in deep shit. Since I won the conflict, Elizabeth could have them whipped right then and there. But who's going to do it?  She's not going to do it. Until her husband died, she had very little to do with the slaves other than her maid (her half sister Ginny), and the cook. Sure she beats Ginny when she needs to, but this different. The overseer is not there, Ephriam is only 10 and out cold anyway. Elizabeth is terrified, alone, exhausted because she hasn't slept in days, and grieving. She's not in a good place, and I figure that her only strength here is the fact that she's the mistress of the house. She takes the rifle from Kato and tells him and Ned to get out. She'll have William deal with them in the morning. Big sigh of relief for Kato.

We end there for the night.

Observations and what worked and what didn't, IMO!
Holy cow! My limited GM skills notwithstanding, and the fact that we're playing a game about slavery, that was pretty damn fun!

Race takes a backseat to the story. Rather, it doesn't figure as prominently as I had expected. I'm glad. So much more comes out. I think as 21st century Americans we think of slavery as a black/white thing. I think that simplifies it too much. There's an interesting culture clash between the African born slave and the American born slave who view their lot in quite different ways. There's a big gender issue (since all the PC's are male, and the main "owner" is a woman, a recent widow with a 10 year old son), and class issues (the illiterate white overseer who works for marginal pay for the white gentry), and next session there will be the diabolically horrible in the form of Dr. Jones.

I loved that as the GM I know people's motives, now "Motivations",  but not their tasks or goals. The "I know you're up to something" tension that it creates is great, and does well to instill a nice air of mistrust between slaves, mistress, and eventually the overseer. In the next session I'd like to see more interactions between the PC's, especially Martial (Joshua's character) and Cupit (Emily's character).

The difference between a conflict and a bargain is still a little hazy, although Vincent seems to be able to describe it better than I can. The mechanics are clear to me, but I need to articulate a clear distinction. You make a bargain with a friend. You settle a conflict between an enemy or someone whom at that moment you're in conflict with. Are you agreeing to do something or are you trying get someone to do something for you, or prevent someone from doing something to you (i.e. punish you)?

The difference between Major and Minor Conflicts is more apparent in play. If you're standing there about to shoot the Mistress of the house, that's a Major Conflict between you and the Mistress. If you miss (losing the conflict), she can punish you. If you hit her (winning the conflict) any number of joys and calamities may follow.

I really like dice games, and like to roll lots of dice. Some people do, too, some people don't. I'm not completely happy with the way Major Conflicts work as written, but I'm going to change it a bit. If a slave is to stand a chance at winning a major conflict against his master, mistress, or overseer, he should engage in minor conflicts and bargains in order to win a little luck. That was a nice little surprise how that worked out.

Slaves, espeically those who are sick, socially worth less (women, children, and the elderly) need all the luck they can get to win, so they need to gamble and interact more with other characters: build their support system and community. The stronger or more socially powerful you are, the more you can win on your own worth. That was my intention, I think, and it's interesting how it played out more successfully than I had hoped.
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Parthenia
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« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2007, 09:19:35 PM »

Forgot to sign my post.

Julia
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2007, 06:50:12 AM »

I'm very happy to see that there is strategy emerging from these rules. I was having a hard time getting my head around them at first. I'm much more comfortable now that I see what you have to do: get two (or maybe even three) Lucky Sevens, then get some Magic, then get some Luck, then charge in with your full value.

How do 2:1 conflicts work? What about ≥3-way conflicts?

The game is fun and engaging. I thought about "Martial" all the way home.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2007, 07:45:13 AM »

This is all super interesting to me and I'm so glad the playtest went well!  I've read a draft of the rules (not sure how current at this point), and my questions pretty much revolved around the difference between bargain and conflict and some of the way dice work, so it's good to hear that those concerns may have more to do with wording than functionality. 

I think the players keeping secrets from the GM is one of the coolest things about the game, and seems perfect for the situations evoked in play.  I'd love to hear how the players experienced that.

I'm also interested in player reaction to being assigned worth at the start of play - one one hand, did you agree with Julia's assessment of your character's value?  On the other hand, how did this (awesome) feature of the game make you feel? 
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Emily Care
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« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2007, 08:43:37 AM »

Hey there,

That was an excellent session, Julia. I will have to get my character more involved with things next time around. 

I had a hard time getting the difference between a bargain and a conflict at first. It felt clear by the end: in a bargain you are negotiating something with a friend that involves risky outcomes. The negotiation is over how much each is willing to risk and to give toward the desired end. The roll doesn't determine whether the person agrees or not, instead it (seemed to if I got this right) determine what the fallout would be from the negotiated bargain.  That's really interesting.  Conflicts are more traditional, people being at cross-purposes and the roll deciding who wins out.  Having bargains as well is very neat. It' fits the situation very well, and is a point at which the GM (and the players) can involve their characters in complications. Right on.

Jason wrote:
I'm also interested in player reaction to being assigned worth at the start of play - one one hand, did you agree with Julia's assessment of your character's value?  On the other hand, how did this (awesome) feature of the game make you feel?
I chose a character that was fairly high value, a healthy young man, and had no problem with the value assigned.  I was concerned for Vincent's character during the shotgun-in-the-Master's-house scene, his character had a distinct disadvantage against Elizabeth, the slave owner. Very appropriate of course, but since it was Vincent's very first conflict it did seem jarring that it was so likely to go awry, what if he died right off the bat? 

We talked about a few things that off set this:  1) being new to the mechanics we didn't realize this, but he could have given himself more dice by setting up scenes prior to this that allowed him to gain lucky sevens, or even done a quick spell right before he took the dangerous actions that he did to get some luck 2) he could get help from others, from Joshua's root doctor for example, he had his brother there to help him to though I'm not clear on how that would have worked 3) he wasn't going to die in this conflict. The players have to put their character at risk by choosing to roll the skull die. I'm in love with the skull die.
Oh, and 4) if he had died in that scene, he could quickly pick up with another character and keep playing--this is a really strong aspect of the game in my view, death of characters seems in keeping, and having away to remain engaged with the game is great.

It does seem odd that young children are worth so much--they would have a better chance in a fight against the master than a mature hand, I believe. But what that is doing is reflecting the way that people in the society are given advantages based on how they are valued, which has nothing to do with their intrinsic worth or attributes, but is all about societal advantages.  It is awesome.

Looking forward to playing more, Julia!

best,
Em
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2007, 10:13:46 AM »

Thanks Emily,

I'm not sure character ownership is going to be a huge deal, since creating a new character is a snap and death seems like an integral part of most stories the game will facilitate telling.  I'll be interested to find out if that's true.  My reaction to the value of children was the opposite - I didn't even blink, and could easily see the Mistress "going easy" on a child, who is essentially an investment that has not matured, while having an adult beat bloody for the same transgression. 

I bet the game will change a bit once you guys get a handle on tactical play.  You'll have more mojo to push your agendas!
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Parthenia
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« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2007, 01:04:14 PM »

How do 2:1 conflicts work? What about ≥3-way conflicts?

Gee I don't know. If you guys decided to stage a revolt we could find out though.
I'm thinking there would be two people who would be the main conflict people who could use all their die. One or both choose one or two other pc's or npc's and use a portion of their dice. Let me ponder that.
I hear children yelling.
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GreatWolf
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designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2007, 01:16:39 PM »

Hi, Julia.  I've been interested in Steal Away Jordan since I've heard about it.  There's something very appealing about the current burst of historical RPGs.  So anyways, I thought that I'd pitch in my two cents.  Caveat:  I've only read the playtest draft, which will limit my insight.  That being said, here I go!

I loved that as the GM I know people's motives, now "Motivations",  but not their tasks or goals. The "I know you're up to something" tension that it creates is great, and does well to instill a nice air of mistrust between slaves, mistress, and eventually the overseer. In the next session I'd like to see more interactions between the PC's, especially Martial (Joshua's character) and Cupit (Emily's character).

Question:  in the playtest draft that I read, all the slaves know each other's Tasks and Goals.  Is this still the case?  Or are they hidden from everyone?

Quote
I really like dice games, and like to roll lots of dice. Some people do, too, some people don't. I'm not completely happy with the way Major Conflicts work as written, but I'm going to change it a bit.

This seems to be a feature of the "Vincent Baker" school of game design.  Dice!  And lots of them!  Maybe it's something about Western Massachusetts.  (grin).

I do have a question about this aspect of the game.  From my reading of the playtest draft, the three rerolls in a Major Conflict didn't seem to be tied to any changes in the fiction.  Maybe it's my personal aesthetic, but I'd want to see initial narration throughout the conflict, based on who is currently winning.  So, it would look something like this:

1)  Both sides roll.

2)  Determine current loser.  Narrate as appropriate.

3)  Loser rerolls.

4)  Determine new loser.  Narrate as appropriate

5)  Return to step 3 until one player is out of rerolls.

Does this fit with your design goals at all?

Quote
If a slave is to stand a chance at winning a major conflict against his master, mistress, or overseer, he should engage in minor conflicts and bargains in order to win a little luck. That was a nice little surprise how that worked out.

Slaves, espeically those who are sick, socially worth less (women, children, and the elderly) need all the luck they can get to win, so they need to gamble and interact more with other characters: build their support system and community. The stronger or more socially powerful you are, the more you can win on your own worth. That was my intention, I think, and it's interesting how it played out more successfully than I had hoped.

This is a fascinating aspect of the game that I totally missed on my read-through.  I thought that the Lucky Dice were just a random bennie given for happening to roll certain dice combinations.  The idea of "saving up" for an important Major Conflict never occurred to me.  That's sweet!

Oh, yes, the skull dice is teh awesome.  Just so you know.

I was also hoping that you could elaborate a bit on the role of the Rootdoctor.  Maybe this is showing my ignorance of the times, but the addition of magic (even folk magic) to the game seemed odd.  The fact that this role is a central part of play (e.g the requirement that a Rootdoctor character exist) indicates to me that this is an important part of the game for you.  I somehow doubt that it's there simply to be "kewl".  So, what are you hoping to accomplish with this part of the game?

Thanks for the playtest report. I'm looking forward to seeing this game develop further.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Parthenia
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« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2007, 02:33:34 PM »

Thanks, GreatWolf, for your kind comments.
Quote
Question:  in the playtest draft that I read, all the slaves know each other's Tasks and Goals.  Is this still the case?  Or are they hidden from everyone?
The slaves know each other's Tasks and Goals. The GM doesn't. I don't know if I put this in the draft you can download, but the NPC's can have up to 2 Goals, too, which the GM knows about, but not the PC's. This includes NPC's of the non-GM players' creation. I tried making Goals for some NPC's but not all and noticed it was easier to play NPC's who had Goals.

Quote
This seems to be a feature of the "Vincent Baker" school of game design.  Dice!  And lots of them!  Maybe it's something about Western Massachusetts.  (grin).

I do have a question about this aspect of the game.  From my reading of the playtest draft, the three rerolls in a Major Conflict didn't seem to be tied to any changes in the fiction.  Maybe it's my personal aesthetic, but I'd want to see initial narration throughout the conflict, based on who is currently winning.
Must be something in the water. Or something about our neighborhood (The Bakers live across the street from me). I really think it's that I was introduced to rpg's with games (like DITV) where you use lots of dice and it was lots of fun. It's a dramatic gesture to roll 10-20 dice at once. And I love dice games. Could be all four things, though. (grin)

When rolling Major Conflicts it was really hard to narrate, roll, and add your dice at the same time. Vincent gave an excellent suggestion, which I'm going to use. I think it will make the adding part a little easier. After the first roll, find Lucky Seven pairs. Add 7 points to your score. You can't roll those pairs of dice any more, you can use them to match up the poker style hands. But for each pair you get one extra die that you can roll again. This is only on the first roll. The second and third roll you match your poker hands and re-roll what you want.
I can't find a place in the dice rolling for narration. One benefit is of not narrating through the three rolls is that it adds suspense. You have to decide whether picking up some dice will actually help you, you need to make sure you get rid of all your aces (ones). Strategizing with the dice sorta takes the place of the narration. We only did two Major Conflict rolls and they were related to the same conflict. Vincent's character chose to push after losing the first conflict. He was able to reroll with extra dice and still lost. I need to see this happen a few more times to get it totally sorted out. Maybe try it with someone who isn't of the VB School of game design, or someone who doesn't like dice games as much as I do.

Quote
I was also hoping that you could elaborate a bit on the role of the Rootdoctor.  Maybe this is showing my ignorance of the times, but the addition of magic (even folk magic) to the game seemed odd.  The fact that this role is a central part of play (e.g the requirement that a Rootdoctor character exist) indicates to me that this is an important part of the game for you.  I somehow doubt that it's there simply to be "kewl".  So, what are you hoping to accomplish with this part of the game?
Having a rootdoctor/herbsman/conjurer in your midst would be totally likely, and seeking this person's help would be appropriate regardless of who you are. Folk magic and superstitions were widespread among black and white folks alike. The rootdoctor would also prescribe medicinal herbs, might be a midwife, the wise man you go to when the white doctor isn't around, etc. Africans brought African religion and African magic with them, which evolved into Vodou, Santeria, and Conjure (aka Hoodoo). And a white person might consult a conjurer as well. I am using anachronistic elements of Conjure, though, like Lucky Sevens, which I think emerged in the 1920's or 30's (don't quote me, though). It's a living and mutable tradition, but slaves practiced it and saw no conflict with rootworking and practicing Christianity. Anyway, the rootdoctor would eventually be a respected and important member of a slave's community. It's not required that in the game that she/he be an elder, and there can be more than one. Everyone should be able to practice a little folk magic (rolling two dice at the beginning of a scene.) Finding good and bad omens in everything around you and having good and bad luck is common in any culture. It makes for rich story telling, and I thought it would make for an interesting game element. Obviously African American folk magic and stories are near and dear to my heart, so there is certainly the "I think it's cool and I want to put this in my game" element, too.

And the skull die. I like it, too, and I'm glad it seems to work. The rule of having it prominently displayed at all times, and that you can die if you roll the skull comes from a rule my husband and I added Cosmic Wimpout.
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Meguey
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Meguey


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« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2007, 04:51:41 PM »

So, the second session was great! There's obviously some confusion over who's the father of Jinny's 'baby; and Kato & Ned are headed for trouble. Here's the thing though:

My pc Tom? Killed his (white, would-be) rapist with his bare hands. Then ditched the body so that it would incriminate the slave he wants sold away. Now he's got to decide whether to run or to stay and play dumb. It rocked.

Julia checked with me a few days back about the rape, and it gave me a lot of good lead-time to think about how Tom would react to that sort of assult. I got to  go into the session knowing a part of what was coming, and play it to the best effect. It was really cool. We rolled handsfull of dice, and worked out the mechanics a bit more. (There was a great few minutes of "Maybe do it like game X? Or you could do it like game y. In game z, they do it this way, which is also good.") I'm really looking forward to the next session.
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