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Author Topic: [Dust Devils] Malt & Tease  (Read 5521 times)
Tim Alexander
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Posts: 304


« on: October 02, 2003, 08:35:30 AM »

Hey Folks,

So last night we played our opening session of Dust Devils. We sat down last week and talked about setting and made up some characters. The players decided they were looking for a game that at least had some semblance of 'town,' though the idea of moving from place to place was a forward option. We settled on Abilene, Texas, some years after the Civil War. One of the players in particular wasn't at all interested in dealing with the war directly, and he wanted to make certain that we were far enough past it to not have it be a constant issue; no problems there. After hashing out some additional rough ideas we moved on to characters and they came up with the following:

Santiago Cortez, a Mexican revolutionary hiding in the U.S. after losing his fellows to the wealthy landowners they had risen up against. His Devil is 'Loner;' unsure of his own ability to lead after the debacle in Mexico he keeps to himself mostly and has trouble when dealing with others. He's working odd jobs and trying to get enough money together to possibly return to the fight in Mexico and redeem himself.

Jebediah Moore, an ex-preacher who lost his flock to a church fire which he survived; though horribly scarred. His Devil is 'Righteous Justice;' having given up on God he sets about putting his own stamp of reason on the world, but while doing so he conforms to no other law than his own. He's become a bounty hunter, who's quarry come in dead more often than alive.

In doing my prep for this I realized that they'd both created characters who don't have anyone to care about except themselves at the moment. I think in the future I'd do well to garner a bit more in the way of attachments of some sort from them. In any event I wasn't too concerned about it and prepped from the standpoint of engaging the one guaranteed person they care about, themselves. As a small side note, two of us had done a quick run of the 'Hanged Man' story, the other was completely new to the game, but had done some demo conflicts with us the week before and read a copy of the rules. Since I'm currently toying with using R-Maps, and I'm currently binging on Hammet, I ended up going with Maltese Falcon. It's relatively straightforward, pretty tight knit, and would let us get to a boil in relative short order. The map itself can be found here. The backstory is pretty close to the original text, and reads as follows: Gutman has Quinn, his lover, hire Scott and Maria to steal the artifact (an Aztec vase, which they believe actually contains maps to those elusive Cities of Gold) from one Joaquin Jimenez, a member of the landed Spanish in Mexico. Initial attempts to purchase it outright have failed, and they're worried that Jimenez has become suspicious enough to look further into it, perhaps discovering the maps contained within. After the theft, Maria decides that perhaps she's getting short shrift, and wiles Scott into taking the vase on the lam. Note: I have yet to decide whether she actually has the vase with her in Abilene, or if it's somehow enroute as in Maltese Falcon. They end up in Texas, and Scott has become more and more concerned by the possibility of being caught by Gutman. Maria worries he's going to turn her out, and so enlists John Touhey; a bail bondsmen and sometimes bounty hunter to get Scott off her case. The night before story opening, Touhey has confronted Scott, but Scott gets the upper hand, killing Touhey in a shoot out and leaving him dead.

Last night I handed out this to the players. I had intended on having a bit more color with it, some photos I'd found etc., mainly because I became enamored with Ron's handouts from his Modern Necromancy game. Unfortunately, work got a bit overwhelming and I was left with only enough time to get the Abilene info dump onto paper for the players. I let the players know that if at any point they needed a name, or location, or whatever, to feel free and just pull it off the sheet and use it. It actually became a really useful tool, I think I'll be doing something similar for all the games I run. I placed Santiago working at Splatter Creek Ranch, doing odd jobs and tending cattle, and Jebediah was currently staying at Mrs. E.H. Polk's boarding house and between jobs but still well heeled.

The curtain opens on Jebediah, up early but still in his room at the boarding house, and a knock on the door. Sheriff J.V. Cunningham says his good mornings and asks if Jeb's had a cup of coffee and then probes him to see what he was up to the night before. Jeb, you see, had crossed paths with Touhey on a couple of occaissions; the last one ending with a split bounty and possibly some ill will. Meanwhile, Santiago is tending cattle with one of the ranch hands at Splatter Creek, and William has had to double back to pick up a cow that's been hung up in a river crossing. While seperated Santiago witnesses Grace (a gunman hired by Gutman and Quinn) chasing down and eventually shooting Scott. He heads over to investigate and our first conflict ensues, with Grace attempting to escape and Santiago attempting to scare him into staying. We had decided that difficulty would only be applied in situations where one or the other party desired it, otherwise conflicts could be handled without difficulty; however, no stakes would be given in conflicts that carried no difficulty. Since neither party wanted difficulty in this case, no stakes were on the line. I'm still mulling over this interpretation. In some ways it has it's advantages, but it definately made for a lower chip game overall, as well as slower pacing. Grace ended up winning the deal, but Santiago's player won narration. He had Grace get away, but in his hurry he dropped a satchel as he escaped. Good stuff.

As play continued the two characters sort of spiraled their way towards each other. Jeb ended up looking into Touhey's death as much for the possibility of profit as for insuring his own innocence. He ran into Maria, who lost the first big conflict that included stakes and difficulty. He was trying to intimidate her into fessing up with what was really going on, while she was trying to seduce/wheedle him into helping her without asking too many questions. She ended up coming clean with pretty much everything she knew, and we left him trying to decide how best to continue. At the same time, Santiago ends up being approached by Quinn after he starts probing into Grace (who had meanwhile been following Maria and is waiting outside the Polk for her and Jeb, which Jeb is well aware of.) Quinn believes he may have the vase, or know where it is, since Grace was run off before finding out what Scott might have had on him. They end up in another big conflict in which both men are attempting to get the low down on what the other knows. Santiago ends up taking the short end, with Quinn talking circles around him with his northern big city speak, but gets his info anyway as Quinn decides that he and Gutman could use another person looking into things on their behalf. We're poised for things to really start coming to a head next week. The story is pretty out in the open, the maps been blown pretty wide, and the players are really starting to decide on some action.

I found it interesting that our two big conflicts were both social in nature, with absolutely no gunplay really occuring during the course of the first session. I think we really could have used some kickers, since getting the players engaged initially was somewhat slow going. If I'd had a bit of a clearer picture on what directions they were hoping to go I think things could have been a bit better tailored. I'm interested in what people think of it, any comments they have on the way play went, especially in how we interpreted conflicts and difficulty. Also, I should also note that Jeb's devil was set at one for the session, and did not come directly into play, though there was a place or two where I probably should have had it do so. Santiago's was set at two, and it came into play more incidentally than directly. I definately need to start pushing them a bit harder when it comes to the devils. I think for next time I'll have them laid out in front of me so that I'm constantly reminded of them.

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2003, 06:56:03 AM »

Hi Tim,

Took me a while to get back to this.

Here's an example from our game of Dust Devils that I like to use. The player-character has, as her Devil, "mean as winter's chill," or something like that. The very first scene in the game, she killed one guy with a hatchet and chased another one away. Well, three or four sessions later, she's dealing with some kind of complicated situation with lots of NPCs in a town (Reno, actually, pre-Nevada statehood). Saddlebags full of silver ore are involved. And who should come riding into town, all beat up, but that very varmint whom she'd chased off so long ago, finally caught up to her. And he's shouting all sorts of information that could get her strung up very quickly.

The player says, "I shoot him," with the explicit goal of shutting him up before the information gets out. We draw, and (a) I as GM win with the better hand, and (b) I also get the high card, hence the right to narrate.

"H'm," I say. A-number-one, I'm constrained by the fact that her goal has failed. No doubt about it, the varmint's information reaches the wrong ears. This is kind of a yes/no thing, so the degree of success in terms of suits and so forth from my hand doesn't matter; the player-character takes no damage or anything like that. Now for the next question: what about her hand? Looking at her values, it's deadly - plenty of penalties, lots of damage. Well, then, my decision as narrator involves what happens to her bullet, and it seems clear that (a) the varmint has served any conceivable purpose I might have for him as GM, and (b) the character is Mean as Winter's Chill ... so bam! He's plugged between the eyes, and going by the cards' values, dead as a doornail.

Here's my point: Conflict is one thing; tasks are another. It's up to the narrator whether the losing hand is effective in some way, and when the goal is social, but the actions are physical, the losing hand is a gold mine for narrator's input. In this case, I saw no particular reason to make this character ineffective with her bullet, and plenty of reasons to make it a killing shot (as well as system-support going by the numbers, if I cared to use them).

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2003, 07:20:01 AM »

Hey Ron,

Excellent stuff, more examples like this on how other folks have handled these types of situations would be great. I'd love to end up with a thread of examples that I could hand to my players.

Quote
Here's my point: Conflict is one thing; tasks are another. It's up to the narrator whether the losing hand is effective in some way, and when the goal is social, but the actions are physical, the losing hand is a gold mine for narrator's input. In this case, I saw no particular reason to make this character ineffective with her bullet, and plenty of reasons to make it a killing shot (as well as system-support going by the numbers, if I cared to use them).


In practice, this has been how it's been going for the majority of the time. I think a lot of the consternation (if you could even call it that) comes from a nervousness on the part of folks in not being certain how much power they really have when narrating. They don't want to step on anyone's toes, and they don't want to be labled powergaming. The initial reaction they had were to try and put some hard and fast rules on how much power the narrator gets. I've talked them away from that to instead having a few guidelines to go by. It seems like it'll take a bit for people to become comfortable with it, but I think it'll be much more rewarding in the long run that way.

It's been eye opening as to how deeply ingrained certain habits are in folks who have been playing for a while. Concepts of how a GM/Player relationship works, ideas about how story proceeds. Luckily, it seems that at least in our case it's a measure of caution, not outright rejection. I think they see a lot of potential, but they're a bit nervous making the initial steps.

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2003, 07:27:12 AM »

Hi Tim,

One thing I have a terrible time articulating in print in Trollbabe is that narration rights does not have to mean everyone else is struck dumb. I try to explain that such rights are a matter of where the buck stops, not who gets to hold forth in everyone else's silence.

I observe that in playing Sorcerer and Hero Wars/Quest, neither of which specifies that the GM has sole talking-rights, that conflict resolutions go in one of two ways. (1) Everyone looks at the GM, and he or she says what happens. (2) Almost everyone starts talking at once, and eventually one person sifts out what they want to happen and says so. In practice, that "one person" in case #2 is either the player of the concerned character or the GM.

I think that in both Dust Devils and Trollbabe (which is explicitly derived from Dust Devils, no doubt about it), the narration rules are an attempt to encourage the #2 case above, merely specifying who gets to do the sifting. And if no one feels like proposing resolution-stuff, then the #1 case applies, but substitute "person designated as narrator" for "GM."

So stepping on one another's toes really isn't a big deal. Anyone is free to speak up and let the narrator know what is or isn't really desired, although in full knowledge that the narrator has the final say.

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
Member

Posts: 304


« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2003, 07:35:59 AM »

Hey again,

Quote
One thing I have a terrible time articulating in print in Trollbabe is that narration rights does not have to mean everyone else is struck dumb. I try to explain that such rights are a matter of where the buck stops, not who gets to hold forth in everyone else's silence.


Yep, one of things that I made sure to say when we discussed it is that everyone is welcome to give input, but that the narrator is the final arbiter. When that hasn't been the norm for people though, it's a surprisingly hard point to try and get across. We've got a lot of counterproductive habits to break down.

-Tim
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