[In a Wicked Age] For the Love of a Terrible Horse

Started by Troels, March 26, 2008, 07:48:00 PM

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Last week, I attended the danish convention Fastaval in Aarhus. Lots and lots of IaWA was played, much (but not all) of it by me. I ran three independent chapters, with three different groups, and I took extensive notes on the first one. When I ran the two later ones near the end of it, I was running a bit ragged, and didn't have the attention to spare, but I could draw some general lessons. Anyway, here goes the proper AP:

For Love of a Horrible Horse

...a great tyrant fell. The players were Tobias, Jonas (incidentally the two RP scenarioorganizers of the con) and Kasper. The oracle chosen was God-Kings of War, and the cards were D10, H7, S2 and S9. That makes:

...The country fort, of bricks and timber, of a local warlord...

...A demon of rage and avarice, secret power behind a great tyrant's rule...

...A captured warhorse with a taste for human meat...

...and a genius of flame, imprisoned within a brass mirror...

We went with names from or inspired by the persian and babylonian lists, and the players picked out characters. Kasper went straight for the horse, naming her Gemegishkirihallat, known as "the steed" (Vincent! What were you thinking?!?) after the rest of us had choked on the name a couple of times. Jonas picked the demon, known as Balashi, and Tobias took the tyrant, Ashur Ban. I picked the local warlord (Zarim) as a significant NPC, saving the genius of flame, Halrimaa, as a Particular strength for the warlord. The tyrant's lovely young daughter (Sherad) was made an extension of her dad, mechanically speaking.

Picking the all-important Best interests was sort of easy with a trio of characters, one against each other PC. They were:

Kasper's Steed:       -Eat the tyrant or his daughter
         -Eat the demon
It turns out that the steed is a magical mare capable of absorbing the strongest qualities of other creatures by eating them.

Jonas' demon Balashi:   -Dominate the tyrant
         -Dominate the steed

Tobias' tyrant Ashur Ban:   -Win his freedom by destroying the meddlesome demon
         -Ride the steed to a glorious victory

Everyone picked forms ( I can't be bothered to write them all) and a particualr strength each. I know they're supposedly optional, but in the name of the competititve game I have everyone pick a claim to fame. The steed could burst into flame, the demon could possess people (covertly) and the tyrant could rule by fear. BTW the PS sheet seems to be missing a space for the base form?

Talking a bit, we concluded that this was a very tight triangular drama and a war between the PCs didn't seem to be in the cards, so we decided to use the tyrant's expedition against the warlord Zarim as the backdrop, with the scenes of war mostly clourful backdrop until the very last scene. The tyrant had captured the steed and brought it along, held by fifty slaves with bronze chains. The demon hovered as an evil shadow, trying to manipulate and tempt all. This may all seem like a lot of stuff, but it didn't take all that long. The actual conflict rules were demonstrated in action. We used the optional rules suggested by Troels K. Pedersen, "what you use is what you risk", and "expensive victories in the third round".

Now for the meat...

Scene 1:

The tyrant, in the camp of his army, inspects the steed that he intends to ride into legend.The horrible creature attempts to break free, but only manages to incinerate half a dozen oil-soaked slaves. A two-way-conflict.

Scene 2:

The demon Balashi tries to possess the princess Sherad in order to manipulate the tyrant, Ashur Ban. Mechanically, this is treated as a conflict directly between the tyrant and the demon. Ashur Ban recognizes the demon in his daughter. The demon is banished, and accepts reduced damage in return for being banned from the houses of the tyrant.

Scene 3:

Balash tries to entice the steed with promises of freedom, revenge and manflesh. The steed pretends to be under the demon's sway, but secretly lusts as much for the spirit-flesh of the demon as for the man-flesh of the tyrant and his daughter. The backdrop is a burning village on a hill.

Scene 4:

The luckless demon tries to manipulate the tyrant on his way to confront the warlord Zarim, by appearing as a prophet foretelling doom. On the road to Zarim's fort, the tyrant contemptuously chops the head off the old "prophet", who wearily picks up his head and walks away after Ashur Ban and his bodyguards have ridden on.

Scene 5: Here we started with multiplayer conflicts, and the story seriously took off. In a conquered village, the tyrant is amusing himself with two pretty daughters of the village headman, in the headman's house. The warlord Zarim sends the flame spirit Halrimaa (technically, his PS) to cause chaos in the army. The demon, trying to worm his way back into Ashur Ban's good graces, warns the tyrant and sidesteps the "restraining order" by throwing his severed head into the house to deliver the warning, to the screams of horrified women.

Round one: The tyrant storms out in his bare loincloth and is almost trampled by his own soldiers stampeding in fear of the terrible genius Halrimaa, seen as a woman of flame, with eyes like embers (first challenge, Zarim vs. Ashur Ban). The steed is set loose as Halrimaa scares off her fifty guards, and the steed tries to break into the house where Sherad is kept, the fifty chains trailing a wake of destruction, so she can eat her pretty face. However, a couple of faithful soldiers keep the steed at bay (second challenge, Gemegishkirihallat vs. Ashur Ban). As a spirit, Balashi flies to Zarim's fort and down the 700 stairs each fortified with the fingerbone of an innocent child, to the cave in which lord Zarim keeps Halrimaa's prison, the seal of the genius' pact with his family. The demon tries to possess the warlord while the spirit is out, but he attempts to catch the spirit in the mirror with words of power (Third challenge, Balashi vs. Zarim).

Round two: The warlord dominates the demon, who escapes imprisonment by promising a boon (first challenge, Zarim vs. Balashi, who cuts a deal). The tyrant sees his steed rampaging, jumps on her back and whips her with a spear. He subdues it temporarily (second challenge, tyrant vs. steed. The steed cuts a deal to escape damage in return for promising to carry the tyrant into his battle with lord Zarim).

Round three: I have Zarim challenge the tyrant with much of his army deserting into the desert, demoralised by the rampaging of the flaming horrors. Actually, Tobias thinks this sounds great! So we just establish the narrative consequences, and work out that the troops were also chagrined that Ashur Ban tempted fate by cutting down the old prophet seen saying doom earlier...

Scene 6: Seeing the army of the tyrant weakened by desertion, and with the services of the demon Balashi at his disposal, lord Zarim takes the field.

Round one: Everyone crosses themselves off the "We Owe" list for advantage, seriously cramping the NPC Zarim's style. The demon Balashi tricks the warlord into letting the demon possess his sword, but in reality himself (Balashi wipes Zarim right out). On the steed, armoured to protect its rider Ashur Ban rides to meet "Zarim", who is wreaking terrible havoc with superhuman strength who offers him victory in return for sevice. The tyrant proudly refuses and tries to take victory by force, but is unhorsed (Ashur Ban challenges Balashi, Balashi seizes the advantage). The steed, seing both her desired meals locked in combat on the ground, lunges forward to suck the mighty spirit from Zarim's flesh...

...and Kasper asks, "Can I do that?", I say, "Its a wicked age! You can if you want it and say it!"...

...but Halrimaa clings to the saddle, holding back the steed (Steed seizes advantage against demon).

Round two: Whipped on by the demon, Zarim's body is impaled on Ashur Ban's sword even as the tyrant is skewered and waters the barren rock with his heart's blood (Balashi takes out Ashur Ban). As the demonic spirit rises above the battlefield, feeding on all the rage, the genius lets go the steed, and the flaming steed surges forth and devours Balashi's spirit (wiping him out).

...And so it happened that Gemegishkirihallat, whose name was lengthened with each significant prey devoured (the explanation we came up with), devoured both the mighty spirit Balashi, and the line of Ban when young Sherad was the first virgin sacrifice to the new demon god who would rule over three kingdoms. Taking The fiery genius Halrimaa as a mate, the terrible horse of DOOM was worshipped by all as the true victrix of the war.

..."Err, Kasper, Halrimaa is a girl too?!" "So? It's a wicked age, and a demon goddess can have whoever she wants, right?" "You got it!"


Afterwards, I had an interesting conversation with Tobias regarding style. He had played a game of IaWA the day before with, I think, Uffe, and noted that it was amazing how the same rules could be used so differently. Uffe played it close to scandinavian freform style, letting people act and narrate pretty freely until conflict made use of the dice unavoidable, and then the dice-rolling was disposed of as quickly as possible. I, on the other hand, set the scenes hard and sharp, drove them quickly to the conflicts, and then let as much of the narrative as possible unfold inside the mechanical framework of the conflicts. Both seemed valid, though he much preferred Uffe's "soft" style. I can also see how my style was "hardened" by the first game I played with the new version of the rules, because I had no less than six players and that made sharpness quite necessary. In the next two games I ran, I tried to soften my style a little bit.

On the six-person game, see: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25056.0

I played two other games of IaWA. One was a rather nifty Arabian Nights-y tale with a wicked vizier and a tiny little demon that hid in people's ears and gave them bad advice, drawn from "The Unquiet Past". If you don't hold on tight to the general S&S bronze age context, it can become all sorts of stuff. But I have also seen a 17. century english tale of a haunted inn grow out of the oracles, and a scottish tale of vengeance, with terrible men in kilts running across the moors, and witches with very MacBeth-ian bubbling cauldrons. The last game, from "A Nest of Vipers", could compete with the scottish chapter for the title of most painfully wicked chapter yet. Rose the enchantress was imprisoned, stripped of her glamour, raped, tortured, mutilated, forced to sell her wondrous tower to the awful noble Storm, and finally poisoned by her own choice of apprentice, skewered by a candlestick and impaled on a flagpole. her player, Thomas, was so massively out of luck, and so many of the motivatingly horrible challenges came true, that it was frankly a relief when he could finally narrate her gory death. Fun, but NOT for kids! Storm won that chapter hands down, and only knowing that his daughter and heir Emerald is a conniving, murderous witch who will surely cause his doom made it bearable.

OK, general stuff: I made up a little narrative rule. All challenges or statements must contain at least one concrete sensory detail (sound, smell, colour) and one aesthetic or moral judgment (great, awful, pretty, etc.). It may seem a little formalistic, but if you run it as I do, putting as much narrative as possible into the conflicts, this small expansion and formalization of the "Playing with details" guideline will keep the narrative from getting cramped even when the nitty-gritty of conflict dice-rolling drags on the players' attention. The new multi-party conflict rules work very well, encouraging both tactical cooperation and opportunistic backstabbing.

And in case you missed it: I love this game!

Yours, Troels