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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 141 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [The Emperor's Heart] The Princess  (Read 2717 times)

Posts: 67

« on: July 26, 2007, 05:00:19 PM »

So, this is a quick report of the second game my friend N. and I ran using the Emperor's Heart rules I'm working on.  Both games were like an hour and a half to 2 hours, so it was pretty easy to go for a second game.  (The first one can be found here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=24424.0)


This time we set up by choosing The Dowager's Ghosts outlaw faction- the servants and eunuchs who once served the Empress Dowager before she was murdered are seeking to get revenge on the cyborg Eunuchs who engineered it and raise the boy Emperor as the Dowager would have wanted.  For the scenario card, we chose The Black Desert, which revolves around the Eunuchs demanding the last princess of the Desert Tribes being sent off as a concubine (both as a hostage and symbolic sign of surrender).

N. suggested that our heroes really wanted to have the Princess as an insider in the Palace.  This seemed to overwhelm any of the other Resource choices, so I decided that would be the Resource- "The Black Desert Princess as a spy in the Palace".  (And, I noted I should probably put advice/rules for on-the-spot coming up with new Resources not on the cards).

Heroes and Villains

N. choose the Old Master, A Shameful Past, and Forbidden Knowledge...  I chose the Young Disciple (of course), A Debt of Honor, and Imperial Blood.  It's important to note that the choices aren't made seperately- N. and I were choosing and discussing as we went- I was stuck but he was describing the way his Drama Cards fit together and that made me decide to take Imperial Blood.

For Villains, we choose one of the Immortal Eunuchs and the Elite Soldiers.  One of the major parts of the game is what I'm calling "contexting" - basically, it's not enough to just choose cards, you got to build a situation around them- to explain why things are happening and how.  So what we got of it was this:

Silent Mao, the Old Master (N.'s hero)
- was a bodyguard to the late Dowager, and failed her duties
- had lived with/trained with the Black Desert tribe years ago
- knows about Falling Cloud's secret past (see below)

Falling Cloud, the Young Disciple (my hero)
- is the half sister of the Emperor, but doesn't know it
- believes she was taken in as an orphan, therefore owes a debt of honor to the late Dowager
- is kind of clumsy, which is why Silent Mao thinks she'll be an excellent assassin- no one expects a clumsy fool to be the killer.

Queen Rain, the Queen of the Black Desert Tribe
(We decided the tribe is matriarchial, she's like Artesia meets Paul Atreides)
- First to unite the tribes of the Black Desert
- actually swore allegience to the late Dowager
- Has a harem of warrior-lovers

The Princess
- hasn't yet earned a name of her own, so she's only known as the Princess
- a young, untested, but pretty damn good leader

The Immortal Eunuch
- is covered head to toe in black flowing cloth (sidenote: a fun setting concept is that you never ever see one of the Immortal Eunuchs directly- they hide their inhuman appearance)
- is there to find some secret known only to the Black Desert Tribe.  Something Important and Dangerous enough to come in person.


This time, N. was much more comfortable.  First time around, he was concerned about not knowing the setting, really, but after the first game he realized that most of it is on the cards and the rest is what we make as we go.  (for example, he came up with 75% of the awesome setup above).


As the Imperial Starship landed in the Black Desert, unloading troops and the Immortal's barge, Silent Mao and Falling Cloud watched and wondered what reason would an Immortal come out to the desert wastes at the edge of the galaxy?  As they turned to leave, they're captured by the Black Desert Tribe and taken to the Queen.

The Queen and Mao are busy talking while the Princess challenges Falling Cloud to a horse race.  In the Black Desert, in the middle of the night.  Being the Young Disciple ("Overconfident"), Falling Cloud accepts and a treacherous race along ravines and cliffside paths ensues, with a lot of back and forth before Falling Cloud leaps off of her horse, running along a cliff side and reaching the end point.

"I've won."
"Where's your horse?!?"
"Here he comes now.  Not my fault if your horses are slow out here."

So Falling Cloud wins the respect of the Princess, meanwhile Silent Mao and Queen Rain are playing chess while verbally jousting.  Mao wants the Queen to willingly give up her daughter to the Empire to serve as a spy and fight from the inside, while the Queen would rather just kill the Immortal here and now, and keep killing any of the fools who come to Desert to find their end.

"If we give up my daughter, the will of the people will be broken, who would she come back to lead?"
"If your people are killed now, who will she come back to lead?"

(At this point, we reach the first tie condition with the game mechanics.  Given the amount of dice flying about, this was statistically rare, but was perfect timing.)

Before they could come to a conclusion- the Imperial soldiers attack.

Falling Cloud and the Princess decide instead of racing back to the Queen, that they'd have a better time getting the soldiers to retreat if they directly attacked the Immortal.  It becomes a whirling dervish of metallic limbs shrouded under cloth, while they dart around it, back and forth cutting and dodging.  The Immortal begins spewing forth robotic spider drones, which the pair begin swinging about at it before damaging him enough to cause him to retreat and summon the soldiers who were attacking the Black Desert Tribe.

By the time they get back, some of the tribe has begun blaming Slient Mao and Falling Cloud for their troubles.  Mao is required to undergo trial by combat with 5 of the Queens top harem warriors.  Mao incapacitates 3 of them, and kills the 4th, who turns out to have been a spy all along.  Though she wins the trial, the tribe doesn't respect her because she took matters in her own hands, so the Queen is forced to "punish" her, by saying that she can only earn redemption if she brings back the head of the Immortal.

(There was a lot of back and forth with the dice here.  In terms of play, this was probably the only point I felt like the conflict lost some direction during the process.  Was this a fluke or a pitfall of the way the system is set up?  I guess I'll have to find out through more playtesting.)

So, Falling Cloud dresses up AS the princess and willingly gives herself up- a distraction and way to buy time while Silent Mao sabotages the ship and the Desert Tribe secrets away their civilians and children.  The Immortal catches her in a lie, before she remembers that this particular eunuch is slightly obsessive about poetry, and cons him into reciting a long piece that goes for hours on end.

(At this point, we've reached endgame, which is fine.  It means N. and I each get to make one more scene.  So we go with, "Do we kill the Eunuch?" as the first conflict.

"Why hasn't the rest of your Tribe come to rescue you?"
"Because I'm not the princess and you are a fool!"

So it becomes a running battle throughout the star ship with the Immortal Eunuch using his crazy spider legs to walk on walls and ceilings, elite soldiers running through, and Falling Cloud and Silent Mao fighting for their lives.  They manage to behead the Eunuch simultaneously (it's head never quite being revealed to the "camera") and start running for their lives as the ship is exploding.

(N. had also Gone All Out this scene as well, since nearly everyone's resources were burned out.  He also failed the roll, despite having saved Award Tokens to shift the odds in his favor.)

As they were running, part of the ceiling collapses and impales Silent Mao.  She tells Falling Cloud of her history and commands her to bring the head to the Queen, no matter what.  "Sifu!!!"... Boom.

The final scene was Falling Cloud bringing back the head to Queen Rain.

"We will help you kill the Immortals."
"No.  It must be greater than that.  I want to kill the Emperor, the brother who let my mother die, and has sat comfortably in the throne of blood built by those damned Eunuchs.  He cannot lead a people to peace and justice...   I will."

(N. decided that there was no point in having a conflict- so that was the end of that.)


I was very happy with the game overall.  N. laughed that his heroes can't seem to survive to the end, but I took it as a sign that the conflicts were well chosen if he was choosing to risk his heroes.  The dice mechanics definitely left us on the edge of our seats with the back and forth.  If anything was off, it was for that one conflict, and I think the problem was simply better framing the goals and what the conflict is about.

This second game, the story was more cohesive and fulfilling.  I'm very happy with the fact that the game seems to encourage the narrative equivalent of a movie or "chapter" of play.  Whether this holds up equally well with 3 or more players remains to be seen, but at least I feel like I'm heading in the right direction.

Sydney Freedberg

Posts: 1293

« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2007, 07:37:20 AM »

This indeed sounds awesome. Two questions:

1. How much information is on a scenario card, or a turmoil card, or a resource card for that matter? And how much of it is rules vs. color? So when you say

For the scenario card, we chose The Black Desert, which revolves around the Eunuchs demanding the last princess of the Desert Tribes being sent off as a concubine (both as a hostage and symbolic sign of surrender).

What's actually on the card, here? What was made up in play to interpret it? And are cards mechanically different, such that one Resource or Scenario actually has different numerical values than another?

2. What I'd like to understand better, most of all, is what each of the players is actually doing at any given point. So when you say

Before they could come to a conclusion- the Imperial soldiers attack.

Who decided that? Did someone have to expend some kind of resources or make a roll to have that happen, or could the GM-of-the-moment just declare it, or was it actually an artifact of the tie?


Posts: 67

« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2007, 09:01:38 AM »

Hi Sydney,

On a Scenario Card, this is what you get:
1) Name of the place
2) Turmoil:  A conflict going on seperate of what the Heroes want
3) Resources: Three possible plot device reasons to get involved
4) Community Traits: Three descriptions of the people in the area

So, the Black Desert card has:
1) The Black Desert
2) Turmoil: The Empire is demanding the last princess of the Black Desert to serve in the Palace as a concubine
3) Resources: Knowledge of the Secret Star Routes, A map to the last Empire's Treasure, The Forbidden Weapon
4) Community Traits: A respect for daring and courage, Fearless warriors, Your word is all you've got

Mechanically, all of the cards are actually the same (amongst the same type.  All Hero cards are interchangable, all Villain cards etc.)  The cards serve as an easy way to set up color, but more importantly set up situation in a way that matters to you personally, and as a group collectively.  I didn't want the game to be about people trying to figure out which combinations of cards produces what numerical effects- you pick cards solely based on the appeal to you and what you think will fit well for a good situation.

As you can see, the card really doesn't tell you -why- you're after X resource, which is a key part of giving context to play.  For example, we could have easily chosen "Knowledge of the Secret Star Routes" and perhaps came up with the reasoning being that we were going to later kidnap the Emperor and this would be our getaway plan.  The cards serve as idea springboards.

In terms of play, the basic setup is this:

1) Players take turns setting scenes- this gives them initial scene framing power, the ability to reassign non-hero characters for other players to play, the ability to flat out determine conflict results between non-hero characters, and to narrate in a conflict for the scene.  Players control their hero characters, ala vanilla "I control my PC" kind of play

2) All of this is going on, while the Golden Rule of the game is in effect- the rule of "What if?".  At any time, any player can ask "What if x?" about anything as a means to input.  This basically formalizes the usual kind of tabletalk in a lot of indie games without say, going to Universalis levels of making it mechanical.

Specifically for the the scene where the Imperial Soldiers attack- there was a tie which means the conflict actually doesn't resolve, and usually an outside force is the reason for it.  N. and I quickly negotiated and decided that the Imperial soldiers attacking woudl be the perfect interruption.

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