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Author Topic: Fun with Trollbabe  (Read 4147 times)
Sean
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« on: February 18, 2004, 12:08:36 PM »

OK, so last night my wife and I cooked a delicious roast, some potatoes, and a big salad, opened a bottle of red wine, and sat down to play Trollbabe. Her first reaction on reading the setup material was: “this game is silly.” It made her smile, though; she was willing to go along with it, especially because chargen was so quick. She made a #4 trollbabe with flaming red hair named Greta, specializing in troll magic. She had a big cluster of rune-covered pebbles from the river Thresk that she used for divination and the like: she needed a big flat stone to cast them on, and then see what they told her. That part of the game went really well: I said, OK, make up some stuff, and she did, and there it was.

The stakes were at the individual level: a boy had gone missing. The village had captured a troll (who was sort of grumpy and resigned to his fate: I made him a chessplaying troll, pretty self-absorbed) and was going to burn him that night for capturing and eating the missing boy.

Note: for some reason, I couldn’t get the setting separate from that of The Broken Sword in my mind, with the result that a dwarf and some goblins made appearances in this adventure, as well as a peryton, which last I can't even blame on Poul Anderson. I just wanted a weird-looking critter. Go figure.

Anyway, it was a first-time experience with the game, I wanted the thing to go fast and get done in a few hours, and so it did. Greta convinced the village elder to give the troll an extra day and conned the piece of troll-horn which they had found near Sigurth’s (the boy’s) house the night he had disappeared off of him. Well, it was the old troll’s horn-tip all right, but the people who had stolen the boy had picked the lock, and there were various other odd (rather easy, but I wanted a quick adventure) clues that lead to the real culprits, up in the hills. Greta overcame various obstacles (some set by me, others de facto created by her) and recovered Sigurth, so all ended well.

Anyway, here’s some preliminary thoughts:

What worked:

- My wife wants story NOW. She has no patience whatsoever for mechanics. We played a super-intense Ars Magica game together for years, which she was totally into, and even in that game, when something she really cared about was on the line, her eyes would glaze over within thirty seconds of the dice coming out for combat or whatever. She just doesn’t care about any of that. The only exceptions to this are situations involving intense mystery or political intrigue, when she will slow down a little to try to figure out the puzzle and so forth, but other than that she doesn’t really want to stop ACTIVE exploration for any reason.

Trollbabe delivered this to her in a BIG way. There was only one point the whole evening when things slowed down (see below); in general, she was able to pursue her interests, do what she wanted to do, and keep things moving along. In terms of the minute-to-minute experience of the game, we both agreed it was awesome. We liked the way the game played better than I think anything we’ve done together (which admittedly isn’t much: a long and intense Ars Magica game which was satisfying and several shorter things which basically weren't, with the partial exception of her play in my D&D homebrew campaign last summer). Reading Zak Arntson’s recent posts as a follow up to Ron’s essays really brought home to me that rules-lite vanilla narrativism was the kind of thing she probably wanted, and Trollbabe delivered on that big time. So cool.

- Asking her what happened rather than saying myself what had happened where the rules called for player narration worked seamlessly. She looked mildly surprised the first time and then went with it (the second example below is one of many good ones).

- She cast her rune-pebbles on a big flat rock the first time she used them to gain information. Later, when she was at the Dry Crag, she wanted to use them again. I started to describe what she did, and she corrected me: "no, there's a big flat rock here, that's how they work." That was great - the player takes initiative for maintaining consistency in the game's style and feels perfectly free to use director stance to accomodate it. Wonderful.


Some cute stuff:

- When Greta and Thuric (her dwarf sidekick, with three bows in his beard) were leaving town, I described the last cabin on the edge of the wilderness. Something in the way I described it made her say: “A witch’s cabin! This is perfect…” (She was thinking of getting more information.) Presto, then, a witch’s cabin it was, though that wasn’t what I had in mind when I described it. And we got a fun scene with some witches.

- The free rerolls are awesome outlets for player creativity and fun. When Thuric and Greta arrived at the Dry Crag, and Thuric was assailed by a peryton. This fight didn’t go well, and Greta got all the way to her last re-roll. She called for a loose rock hanging over the crag as a geographical feature and then picked up a big stone next to her to hurl at it and knock it loose. It fell right on top of the peryton and smashed it just as it was lunging in for the kill. Others were similarly visually entertaining; she was great with these.


A problem:

-This was more my fault than the game’s, with one slight caveat. When she whirled around to see the peryton on top of Thuric, ripping him up,  Greta naturally turned first to her hand axes. This was the first contest she failed, and of course as a #4 trollbabe she was better at magic than fighting. She tried to use the ‘remember a spell’ reroll here, but that failed as well.

Anyway, from that point on, she always wanted to resort to magic in combat. Now, this is fine in theory, but it created tension in some of the later scenes (who will declare combat first? - the player got twitchy, ready to jump in first so they could specify a Magic rather than Fighting contest) and more when she would want to switch from fighting to magic in the middle of a contest in order to default to her best ability. I didn’t think you were allowed to do this latter at all (‘magic takes time’).

It was a little bit jarring to have this issue come up in a game otherwise moving at 99 mph and loads of fun. My wife got irritated when I wanted to stop and look up the rules to clarify the issue – keep in mind that I had only read the game for the first time only a few hours earlier – so I just went with it (one of my first rules under any CA and in any system, actually). But anyway, I think explaining how you can and can’t use magic to everyone playing at the outset is actually important.  Like I said, my unclarity and inexperience was mostly the source of trouble here, but I think being able to remember a spell to get a reroll will tend to generate this moment for other players until they get used to the system – ‘but if I could do it to get out of trouble then, why can’t I do it now?’

(Interesting how even in a game as mechanically straightforward as Trollbabe magic was the one source of trouble – this seems universally to be the rule in my experience with functional fantasy systems.)


Good things about the rules/book:

-The art is very, very suggestive of what the game is about. My wife flipped through the book, noted things that looked cool to her – Retta’s axes, Tha’s staff, the trollbabe defending the peasants from the angry troll later one – let her get into the idea of the game and make a character fast. Describing herself visually, picking items of significance from troll and human culture, etc. were all really good.

- Overall, I like it a lot. It’s lightning-quick and allows focus on the things that count. Trollbabes rack up relationships really fast though; I’m not sure quite how to deal with that yet, or especially on how to combine it with the ‘wanderer’ motif.

- The ‘experience’ system (player controlled increase of scale) is, well, sheer fucking brilliance. Del and I have been working on a thing with playing the same character at multiple different stages of its life (back and forward in time – this is one thing we had figured out before we read it in Sorcery and Sword) with the gimmick that to play adventures in the later and more powerful stages you accept Charges and (at the highest levels) a Fate which then affect play in the earlier stages as well, so there’s kind of a tradeoff. Anyway, that system has some potential, but ‘you can go up as you like, but you can’t go back’ is fucking mad crazy cool for such a simple rule. Much props to Dr. E. (Or whoever developed it first if this is one of the things Ron borrowed.)


A funny comment:

-As we were falling asleep, my wife was obviously struggling to resolve her enjoyment of the experience with her general impression of the game as sort of silly. She said that it seemed like a game written for teenage girls. “I mean, you’re a ‘trollbabe’, and you can’t die unless you want to…” I worry here that she’s been poisoned a little by seeing my and Del’s super-intense, Keep Things Seeming Big And Important All The Time default style of gaming, which she and I used ourselves to great and enjoyable effect in the Ars Magica saga we created together. Not that the style itself is poisonous, but that the expectation that that’s what role-playing should be like, that you can’t just use it for lighter stuff too, is somewhat so. Memo to self though: my wife seems to like the illusion of importance in her gaming. We should talk about this more.


My conclusion:

-I got Trollbabe, looked it over, went back to work on my computer, left it on the coffee table for my wife. She looked at it a little and was unsure but could tell I wanted to play and went with it. I cobbled together an initial-scale question (will the boy live or won’t he?) and a few NPCs and stuff in accordance with the troll/human struggle theme of the game in my head while chopping vegetables for salad. She told me what she wanted her trollbabe to be like while she was finishing the roast and after dinner while we were both cleaning up. We sat on the couch together and enjoyed ourselves intensely, with play only breaking up that one time over the magic rule issue (which I fudged to keep the vibe going), for three hours. We went to sleep having had a great evening.

This was an experience I sort of thought I would never have again, and one I suspect a lot of other gamers and ex-gamers might like to have as well. I would especially recommend Trollbabe to young gamers, adult gamers with long gaming pasts and busy lives and careers, and people who are new to gaming who are likely to have Narrativist inclinations.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2004, 12:45:31 PM »

Hooray! Thanks, Sean.

Your comments about your wife's preferences, relationship to mechanics (well, a certain kind anyway), her ease of taking narration, and her use of casual Author and Director Stance all correspond to my design goals for the game.

Like you, I have also discovered that I have to be very clear to people about magic vs. fighting in terms of appropriate conflicts, very early in the process of play, even during character creation.

I have practically fully decided to remove the rule about switching conflict type in the middle of a multiple-series exchange. And yeah, this puts more extreme trollbabes (N 4 or lower, 7 or higher) into a bind - they really have to risk it when they get involved in off-type conflicts, but their on-type conflicts rock. In this game, the number really matters.

As for your wife's comments, I have some thoughts on that, but it's no big deal and probably not my business anyway. What really matters is whether she wants to play again, and especially whether Scale will increase.

I'd be very interested in your thoughts about contrasting your play experience one-on-one with your romantic partner with Jeffrey Straszheim's, as described in The tale of the unwilling trollbabe and, for Sorcerer, Love, demons, and a desperate cry for help and Actual play: Love, demons, and a desperate cry for help. (He and I concluded that conversation off the forums, by the way.)

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2004, 02:32:16 PM »

I agree about the experience, Sean.

I was thinking, recently, about TV series like Doctor Who & superhero comics. You have these long-running series with the same characters, & for the most part the characters don't get significantly better at things. If you did a similar long-term play with most RPGs, the PCs would get more & more experience, becoming more & more powerful. Sometimes that's cool. (Like in, say, HeroQuest.) Othertimes, I think it's not so cool.

Trollbabe is a fantastic alternative. The trollbabe herself doesn't get more powerful, but she gets more & more relationships. Which allows for more oomph for the PC & creates this cast of supporting characters. Which is great.

Oh, & so far I've only run Trollbabe for my girlfriend. I think Trollbabe is great for boyfriend/husband-GM & girlfriend/wife-player (or girlfriend-GM & girlfriend-player) games. And regarding your wife's comments about it being a game for teenage girls, I could see running it for my daughter when she's older, too.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Sean
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« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2004, 11:17:19 AM »

Hey, Joshua -

I agree with you about Trollbabe as a good 'partners' game, but Ron recommends caution on this. Might be a good subject for further discussion here or in the Adept Press forum, if someone has sustained thoughts on it they'd like to express.

Ron wrote: "I have practically fully decided to remove the rule about switching conflict type in the middle of a multiple-series exchange. And yeah, this puts more extreme trollbabes (N 4 or lower, 7 or higher) into a bind - they really have to risk it when they get involved in off-type conflicts, but their on-type conflicts rock. In this game, the number really matters."

I think that this is the right decision as a general rule. The one and only exception, maybe, should be the 'remember a spell' reroll - it seems to me that this ought to be magic no matter what kind of contest you use it in, therefore allowing a switch. I know that putting in these sort of exceptions will offend your aesthetic sensibility, and once you do this you do open a kind of can of worms (can you really use geographic features for magic rerolls?), but it might be worth considering a little more explicitness on the exceptions to the general policy above (which I think is a good idea).

-----------

My wife is still unsure about what she thinks of as the 'adolescent' aspects of Trollbabe ('and what's wrong with those!', I reply, but she's not me), but

(a) I think the 'teenage girl' comment points to a huge potential upside of the game, whatever it forces my wife to confront in herself. If you could get a glossy, affordable version of this with even more art into a lot of stores and present it as a kind of 'Grrl Power' RPG, that might give you a shot at winning the elusive Teen Popularity Sweepstakes, and big sales, and all that.

(b) she totally had a blast playing, as she has reaffirmed several times, and really wants to roleplay something else now in a big way, whether it turns out to be the further adventures of Greta or a different setting and character instead.

So thanks again!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2004, 11:44:42 AM »

Hi Sean,

The "remembered spell" re-roll absolutely stays in place. My proposed change isn't about not using magic in fights, but rather with preserving the immutable nature of the conflict in question and hence the side of the number being used.

Did you check out Jeffrey's threads? What do you think?

Best,
Ron
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Sean
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« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2004, 12:06:14 PM »

Hi, Ron -

Jeffrey's Trollbabe prep thread is good. My wife and I tend not to have this issue so much, because she usually gets curious about stuff, whatever it is, as long as it either presents a mystery or offends her sense of justice. I didn't see how it related to our experience particularly, but it's a good one for player authorship in general (you need to have lots of different hooks and ideas if you want to be safe, so that your player can take the story where they want to go).

I haven't had time to read the Sorcerer ones yet, which is I suspect where the meatier relationship-related stuff is, but I will do that next time I log on to the Forge with some time. That may be next week, though.

Best,

Sean
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Sean
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« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2004, 07:45:04 PM »

I just read Jeffrey's Sorcerer threads. In a general way, I can say that playing a Sorcerer game with your spouse/SO where humanity = love seems like a recipe for, well...something intense. Intensely good, strange, bad, hard to say, but definitely intense. I also got some interesting game prep ideas from these two threads. To actually (not) answer your question, though, I don't see enough there to feel like I have a basis for comparing my gaming experiences with my wife to his, either in the Trollbabe game or more generally (we haven't tried Sorcerer with the two of us yet).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2004, 09:44:28 AM »

Hello,

Cool. I was beginning to worry that Trollbabe and Sorcerer opened up too much stuff for a couple in isolation. But your account provides a good balancing bit of data, especially since you nailed my design goals in terms of the social and creative experience.

I hope you guys play some more. Let me know.

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2004, 11:03:49 AM »

I don't want to derail this thread, but since it's already being discussed...

Julie & I have talked about doing a one-on-one Sorcerer game, but it would almost certainly be a Sorcerer & Sword game that isn't inherently intense. Julie has expressed an interest in the Clicking Sands setting idea, & I'm a big fan of the John Carter of Mars stories (& Moorcock's Kane of Old Mars homage), so combining the two seems like a good compromise. I don't have time right now to run more than one thing, but when I do, we'll either go back to Trollbabe or start up a "burning sands of Mars" Sorcerer game.

We haven't experienced any problems yet when gaming together, either in a group of just the two of us.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
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