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Author Topic: [Legends of Alyria] The quiet and unquiet dead  (Read 3191 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: November 26, 2008, 05:47:25 PM »

Hi everyone,

Perhaps you do not know about Seth Ben-Ezra's fantasy/SF setting, Alyria. Imagine any standard fantasy map like you'd see in some mass-market novel - continents, shores, seas. Now consider that what you're looking at are the relatively flat tops of absolutely immense plateaus, standing high above the true surface the planet. The spaces in between are filled with semi-solid mist, which is in fact the extremely dense atmosphere of the planet, only thinning out to "air" consistency at this level. The true surface conditions far below would kill a human instantly, and only here, on these plateaus (huge and wide enough to have mountains and other major geographical relief of their own), and only due to the long-almost-forgotten technology of terraforming, can humans live. From that level, at the human-eye viewpoint, the mists now look like seas, and in fact they can be sailed upon. They might not be exactly like water, but close enough in terms of sailing from one shore to another. The people really don't have any idea of this big picture and think of themselves as living on the surface.

The terraformed areas are normal to distorted-normal, to our eyes, but the seas are very freaky and poisonous; you need respirators to venture there unless you're one of the Restored dead, who do not need to breathe. The sea still harbors the dragons, horrific creatures who feed on human agony and suffering, and offer power to those who'll provide it for them. In the sky the recently-arrived Blood Moon is visible, and ancient legends correspond to the ancestors' flight from humanity's original home from these very Outsiders.

The main communities are the Citadel, which is a clanking city ruled by a theocracy, over which hangs the rebel Web; and the Ark, a recently-opened vault that has released a new and strange culture (the Numbered) upon the surface. The two are now at war. A number of other interesting and fascinating details are available to talk about (the Devil's Hour, dragon cultists, Outsiders, Diggers), but that's the basic beginning.

Seth, the clock dice rock! We made them ourselves with a photocopy, scissors, and a Glue Stick.They aren't too bumpy and don't make the dice into spheres. They look great! I remember how much fun the Moon Dice were, and these look just as cool and even a little scary and forbidding by contrast.

Rules questions

1. Is the role of Virtue basically a thematic marker? Does it have a mechanical role in play? Is there a consequence of going “off the chart?”

2. Losing a conflict - I'm a bit wary or confused about this. The rule is that the conflict is set at one, two, or three exchanges to win. If I'm reading correctly, you keep going with further rolls. So, if you go until you win, how do you lose? Tell me if the following is correct.

Say we're doing Tension 1. So it's either/or, that's easy.

But if we're doing Tension 2, do I have to win both rolls in a row? Or can I win with one, then lose one, and then win one, to succeed with two out of three? Which would imply that if I lose two times (0-0 or 0-1-0), the conflict's over?

All of the above applies for Tension 3, just shifting the two out of three into three out of five (if that's the way it works).

3. How is a character killed? Losing a conflict in which that was the stated intention, and the narration confirms it? (I understand that a character may die whenever the player says so; I also understand the Devil’s Hour option; however, there isn’t any statement that sets up the latter rule.)

4. The examples between Sirius and the Dragon on pp. 115-116 don’t go through the exchanges sequentially, right? They are instead all distinct examples for the first exchange?

5. If the conflict is settled by prior spending of Inspiration or Corruption, without a roll, is there still an I/C award afterwards? Does its total still match the Tension level?

6. Assuming that #5 does not happen and we go into the dice, and given that I/C may be spent to re-use Traits … doesn’t that sort of interact weirdly with awarding I/C after the conflict based on which Traits were used? I mean, say I use some “day” Traits, and say I even spend Inspiration to re-use one of them. At the end of the conflict, according to the rules, the Narrator then gives me 1 to 3 Inspiration. It seems as if one can’t help but break even or come out ahead. Is that true?

7. Two-on-one combat – let’s say the two are a team with the same goal vs. the one guy. Is that handled like two separate things, or does the one guy have to split Trait use against/between the other two?

I am also brewing up an extended post about Traits in the game which is tied to the multiple-thread conversation on the topic. I'll put that into its own thread, probably.

Orthogonal vs. oppositional

This issue received a lot of attention a year or two ago. It has to do with whether the dice are dealing with either stopping X (or counter-striking to stop it), or with seeing what combination of X and Y succeeds or fails, respectively.

[[Frostfolk, ] Carrying on (the issue starts up on the second page, I think)
Orthorgonal and oppositional conflicts (the main one)
[Sorcerer] Cascadiapunk: New Wrinkles and Old Habits (applying the concepts from the Sorcerer thread)

The question is whether and how the Alyria conflict resolution system deals with orthogonal issues. After all, it could do it orthogonally; the mechanics are amenable to it. For instance, if one succeeds and one fails, that's easy; if both fail, that's easy; and if both succeed, then each action succeeds, but the one with the higher (worse) clock face just gets a minor success that's compatible with the other's knockout success, at most.
 
However, I urge that Alyria resolution always be oppositional at its base, which is consistent both with the text as written, and as far as I can tell, the morality inherent in the way Fortune and narration are married in this game.  - that a committed thing is happening and it is either {stopped period} or {stopped + counter-attacked}.

For example: our conflict might be that I try to grab the ball, you try to throw me out the window before I can do it. In Sorcerer, all four outcomes are possible: no ball grabbed, no window-thrown-out; ball grabbed, window-thrown-out-anyway (holding the ball, nyah nyah); no ball grabbed, thrown-out-window (phooey!); ball grabbed, no window-thrown-out (double nyahh!).

But for Alyria, I suggest that the key issue is whether the ball is grabbed, yes or no, and the window-throw issue has been raised solely to be included in the narration as the narrator sees fit when we get to that point. Such an inclusion (the window throw) is a welcome thing because it gives the whole thing visual meat, keeping it in the SIS - but it should not be thought of as "the other guy's goal" or as a crucial dice-resolved issue. In fact, going out the window or not going out the window is now up in the air for the narrator regardless of how the conflict goes. The roll itself remains simply about whether I grab that ball or not. If I get a low (great) success, and you succeed but roll high (poorly), then it's not mechanically different from me succeeding and you failing. It might or might not feed into the narrator's choices about what to say.

Seth, what do you think?

Our game

We started with the general agreement for a Citadel game, specifically the Web, with the McGuffin of a missing Restored implant. Characters appeared, and as we sketched it, certain things began to gel. A couple of early, unspoken notions of mine turned out not to be compatible so I let them go. People got sort of excited about the whole Restoration issue, including the text's idea that one of them might summon the will to remove his or her own controlling-implant, and everything fell out from there.

There's a strange parallel with my earlier game (Playing Alyria), with a Citadel authority/agent venturing into the Web to deal with the mob and a problematic Blessed. All I can do is swear I had nothing to do with it and stayed as far out of the initial stages of situation and storymapping as I could. It's what the others homed in upon like pigeons. In fact, my dream Alyria character is a highly ethical, highly aware, loyal Ark person at the interface of an Ark colony and a wilderness community; a close second is a Digger Paladin. Neither is well-suited to the Citadel, so I've been hosed.

Anyway, this map started as set mainly in the Web, in the territory of a nouveau crime boss. There's also a rogue Keeper who lives in that area, with knowledge of Restoration (kind of a Frankenstein sort, just a little), and he has a dead Blessed's body in storage; he also has an acolyte. Meanwhile, so to speak, there's this newly-independent Restored character who's fled to the Web, and met up with a relative there, and a Keeper security-chief type has sent in an agent to get the implant. (Notice that we have not specified where the implant itself is, or who has it.)

The players chose characters as follows (character gender matches player gender):
- Julie: Mouse the Keeper operative, hunting the stolen implant. Virtue = Prime (interesting choice, especially with some shadowy Traits)
- Tod: Rain the rogue Keeper, living a kind of still-religious outlaw life in the Web with his cobbled-together laboratory. Virtue = None
- Maura: Hopper the local crime boss, trying to keep this emergent Web community and power-structure stable. Virtue = Vespers

I decided to add some tension from a First Family (basically a Web mafia) too, with a fairly typical heavy/hitman type, and Maura and I agreed to hook things together a tad more by making the dead Blessed character into Hopper's sister. I named everyone else: that Blessed character is (or was) White, the acolyte is Lamp (male), the security chief back down in the city proper is Iris (male), the rogue Restored is Belter (male), his daughter is Sharp (female), and the Family enforcer-type is Scythe (male). I'll provide full write-ups for player-characters and NPCs later, after we play and I can use that information to make specific points.

Note a key looseness which I think is very important: the Blessed story and the Restored story are not connected by strong links. Rain, White, and Hopper are not really necessarily concerned with Iris, Mouse, Belter, and Sharp, and vice versa. One little link does exist: Rain is after all a rogue Keeper with knowledge of Restoration and might have some history that falls under Iris' concerns. But if that comes into play, it's nothing to do with the immediate concerns of the priming event and early play. For immediate purposes, the only thing that connects these two tiny maps is being in the same place. And in this setting, particularly this location, that matters plenty.

I took some time to make up and name everyone else, which required some back-and-forth in places (especially the dead Blessed character, who is now Hopper's sister). I should emphasize that the missing implant / rogue Restored is not the priming event. That was situation (in rules terms, the concept that prompts storymap creation), the priming event is going to be something new and specific for early play.

Another interesting point is that neither the Restored nor the relative is a player-character, which gives me a tricky dial-dynamic to play. The player-characters surround Belter and Sharp, but no one has a specific personal connection to either (Mouse does not count; she and the two others aren't allies or related or known to one another personally). That is interesting. It means whatever is going on between them is up to me, as a source of scene-framing and conflict situations for the others, as opposed to being protagonist-type issues of their own. Since early discussion did fire up a little about how Sharp (then unnamed and undeveloped) would be quite shocked to find a dead relative on the doorstep, that means I'll have a little motor of my own to run.

The rules do permit a player to run two characters, such that Julie, for instance, might play both Mouse and either Belter or Rain. However, I don't think that suits us much as a group. So again, through the vagaries of which characters truly appealed to which players, what would have been a powerful protagonist opportunity is now an equally powerful conflict-pivot, and I have built both characters with that in mind.

As a final point, this group has been looking for powerful long-term, one-game play for a while now,* I also know that we do very well with high-concept, high-issues, violent, surreal fantasy - this is the Thed group for Hero Wars, and the Azk'Arn group for Sorcerer, after all. I am also the lone advocate for Legends of Alyria for long-term play, moving from scenario to scenario to build the setting (which goes back to discussions about the game from its earliest days, in concurrence with Sorcerer & Sword and Universalis-in-development). So ultimately, this story we're doing is one story, but the plan is to follow up, either close by or far away, with any number of continuing characters as seems appropriate, but also working from consequence. Maybe I'll get to see my fave character concepts emerge some day after all.

Best, Ron

* Incidentally, they also want lots of playtesting, fun, fast, check-it-out play with lots of games. I know. Welcome to my life.
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2008, 06:33:46 PM »

Hey, Ron.

Given that the holidays are coming up, it will be a couple of days before I can respond to this. But I will!

This makes me really excited, for reasons that I'm sure you can understand.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
greyorm
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« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2008, 10:21:21 PM »

Seth, the clock dice rock! We made them ourselves with a photocopy, scissors, and a Glue Stick.They aren't too bumpy and don't make the dice into spheres. They look great! I remember how much fun the Moon Dice were, and these look just as cool and even a little scary and forbidding by contrast.

As the designer of said clock-face dice, I am incredibly pleased to hear this! I've always been concerned they wouldn't have the same visceral impact of the old moon dice.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2008, 10:38:04 AM »

Hey, I figured out the Virtue rule. It affects the cost of altering Traits. OK, that works - especially in light of being forced to spend all of your Inspiration or Corruption if it (either) hits 5. What a great rule! I think it was genius to disconnect Virtue from the starting cost of Traits or Attributes, as witnessed by the assortment of player-characters in this game.

MOUSE – female, Restoration Security special operative, hunting for lost implant
Virtue = Prime
Force = Compline, Insight = Lauds, Determination = Terce
Traits: Devout = Terce, Inconspicuous = Compline, Relentless = Matins
Inspiration = 1, Corruption = 1
   
RAIN – male, heretic Keeper, escaped to the Web, expert with Restored
Virtue = None
Force = Compline, Insight = Prime, Determination = Vespers
Traits: Egoistic = Compline, Devout = Terce, Thoughtful = Lauds
Inspiration = 1, Corruption = 1

HOPPER – female, nouveau Web boss, not part of a First Family
Virtue = Vespers
Force = Prime, Insight = Vespers, Determination = Lauds
Traits: Responsible = Lauds, Cunning = None, Violent = Matins
Inspiration = 2

Interesting, huh?

Best, Ron
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2008, 08:32:56 AM »

Okay, let me knock out the rules questions quickly. Then I'll come back and discuss the other material in more depth.

Honestly, answering some of these questions makes me notice the seams in the rules. Almost like I need to give this game a good revising or something. Hmm....

Quote
1. Is the role of Virtue basically a thematic marker? Does it have a mechanical role in play? Is there a consequence of going “off the chart?”

You've already discovered the mechanical effect (i.e. affecting the cost of Traits). You cannot go "off the chart"; rather, you just get stuck at 5 Inspiration or Corruption, whichever is appropriate.

Quote
2. Losing a conflict - I'm a bit wary or confused about this. The rule is that the conflict is set at one, two, or three exchanges to win. If I'm reading correctly, you keep going with further rolls. So, if you go until you win, how do you lose? Tell me if the following is correct.

Say we're doing Tension 1. So it's either/or, that's easy.

But if we're doing Tension 2, do I have to win both rolls in a row? Or can I win with one, then lose one, and then win one, to succeed with two out of three? Which would imply that if I lose two times (0-0 or 0-1-0), the conflict's over?

All of the above applies for Tension 3, just shifting the two out of three into three out of five (if that's the way it works).

Best two out of three (or three out of five for Tension 3) is correct. Each roll should have intermediate narration associated with it. Don't forget that Sext and Devil's Hour affect the "score" for the winning side of a conflict.

By the way, don't forget that each side does have a goal, so the outcome of conflict is to determine which goal succeeds and which fails. (In other words, I agree that Alyria conflict is oppositional, not orthogonal. I'll discuss this further in my next post.)

Quote
3. How is a character killed? Losing a conflict in which that was the stated intention, and the narration confirms it? (I understand that a character may die whenever the player says so; I also understand the Devil’s Hour option; however, there isn’t any statement that sets up the latter rule.)

Either the stated intention was character death or the final narration allows for character death, even if that wasn't specifically the stated goal. So, let's say you're using the Devil's Hour option, and your goal is to "take the gem from the Keeper Inquisitor". If conflict ends with the Inquisitor's player having rolled Devil's Hour, you could then state that you took the gem from the Inquisitor by killing him and removing it from the corpse.

Quote
4. The examples between Sirius and the Dragon on pp. 115-116 don’t go through the exchanges sequentially, right? They are instead all distinct examples for the first exchange?

Correct. They are all distinct examples. (Also, for those following along at home, Ron has one of the really early rare editions of the game. We revised the layout, so these examples are found on pages 126-127.)

Quote
5. If the conflict is settled by prior spending of Inspiration or Corruption, without a roll, is there still an I/C award afterwards? Does its total still match the Tension level?

This is one of those seams that I mention above.

At this point, let's say "No". The point of this rule is that the conflict outcome is part of the "bleed-off" of Inspiration and Corruption, so it seems a little

Quote
6. Assuming that #5 does not happen and we go into the dice, and given that I/C may be spent to re-use Traits … doesn’t that sort of interact weirdly with awarding I/C after the conflict based on which Traits were used? I mean, say I use some “day” Traits, and say I even spend Inspiration to re-use one of them. At the end of the conflict, according to the rules, the Narrator then gives me 1 to 3 Inspiration. It seems as if one can’t help but break even or come out ahead. Is that true?

Well, the I/C award is a total for both characters, so that becomes an ameliorating factor. Also, it's possible to use "day" Traits and end up being awarded Corruption, based on what you actually did.

But it's possible that you are correct.

Honestly, from where I sit now, I'm not persuaded that the I/C economy is as tight as I'd like it. So, let me know what observations arise during play.

Quote
7. Two-on-one combat – let’s say the two are a team with the same goal vs. the one guy. Is that handled like two separate things, or does the one guy have to split Trait use against/between the other two?

I run two-on-one combat in one of two ways, depending on the context:

1) If one member of the team is a minor character, he is essentially treated as a "tool" of the major character, who is the one "really" conflicting with the target. This is also how I handle conflicts between a PC and a group of minor characters working for a major character. You roll against the major character, not the NPCs.

2) If you have two major characters against a major character, then I run parallel conflicts, making it essentially two one-on-one conflicts that overlap. So, the fictional effects of the one unfolding conflict will affect the other conflict, but there are no mechanical adjustments necessary.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
GreatWolf
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« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2008, 01:59:42 PM »

At last, I can get back to this thread.

First, a link to a PDF of Ron's storymap, which he kindly sent me: Ron's Storymap

Second, links to the various clock faces, so that everyone can appreciate Raven's work:

Sext
Terce/None
Prime/Vespers
Lauds/Compline
Matins
Devil’s Hour

I'm particularly fond of the Devil's Hour image, which now is the prominent feature on the cover.

Now, comments. Well, mostly I'll just be geeking out.

I love the storymap. Specifically, I like the names. They feel like names that would come from the detritus of an ancient civilization, while simultaneously feeling like they are symbolic...or that they could be. That's really slick. I think that "Iris" is my favorite name. Reminds me of watchers and eyes and surveillance.

So, evaluating the storymap, I'm seeing a small community under stress from two different sources. On the one side, there's Restoration Security trying to get after Belter, who happens to have taken refuge within Hopper's Law. Then, there's Scythe, who represents opposition to the Law itself. Am I reading the map correctly? The "community under stress" theme seems to be a common one in Alyria games, which is why I ask. I suppose that's actually inherent in the setting, which is depicted as a collection of communities. Even the wilderness is described as a "blank spot" on the map to place communities of your own.

Also, I feel your pain about the Ark. The Citadel seems like such an easy entrypoint for new players. Though, I wonder if there's a textual bias on my part, too. I tend to think of the Citadel as being as the center of Alyria, with everything else being defined in relation to it. So, maybe folks are just picking up on that. Any thoughts on this, Ron?

Actually, I'm curious: what did the group find so appealing about the Web?

Finally, I would be very interested to see some long-term Alyria play. At the time that I designed the game, I wasn't really interested in campaign play, so I never really pursued it. (We did try to set up a long-term game once, but I think that we front-loaded too much into prep, and we simply couldn't get the game off the ground.) So I'm quite interested in hearing about the saga that your group will produce.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2008, 09:53:17 PM »

Hi Seth,

Quick answers/thoughts for now.

Regarding Scythe and the Family, my thought wasn't so much stress in a direct-attack sense but rather that any small concern or turf in the Web would have to have some kind of relationship with one of the Families. Either what you do is so unique or valuable that the Family wants a cut, or you depend on their sufferance to exist in the first place and therefore must pay to play. And hey, a good relationship with them isn't a bad thing either. So I don't see the Family so much as a threat as a presence, or perhaps pressure.

Regarding the names, the players came up with their character names first, and I followed with the others over the next couple of days. I like the Alyria naming convention when it's done well, and was a little surprised to find how many good names were already taken by the many texts that use the same convention (more than one might think). I'm glad you picked up on the "Iris" connotations, which were exactly what I had in mind as opposed to the flower. I confess I have absolutely no idea where "Belter" came from, as I was thinking mainly in terms of a strap or tough, possibly violent thing, and yet there's something there from a lot of classic science fiction too, as someone who lives in our solar system's asteroid belt. Which has nothing to do with Alyria, yet somehow the connotation worked for me. Naming his relative Sharp brought the character into total focus to me; without the name, he or she was just a blur, and with it, she became very clear and the writeup took about two minutes.

Regarding the Citadel and the Web, what can I say? They are an amazing creation, just reminiscent enough of some favorite influences yet avoiding being derivative, beautifully evoked by the text, and built upon by prior discussions here at the Forge (remember Mike Holmes' smell of rotting rope and the fairy lights of the unreliable electricity in the Web as seen from below in the city streets?). It's inspiring. People encounter it and want to participate, and I think that urge is enhanced very significantly by the fact that you only provide just enough.

One of these days you and I will be in a group set either in the Ark or closely associated with it, and then I bet similar imagery will become available.

Best, Ron
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JoyWriter
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also known as Josh W


« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2008, 03:27:00 PM »

I've only just had a look at Alyria, but perhaps that makes me a fresh eye:

If iron is one of the big themes, which is obviously expressed in the citadel, how is it expressed elsewhere?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2009, 11:45:26 AM »

JoyWriter, I apologize for not replying earlier, but (among other things) I don't understand how that's a question. Iron or any of the listed thematic elements can be emphasized anywhere in the setting. Can you help me understand what you're asking?

---

We met for our first Alyria play over five weeks ago, with limited time and a certain amount of chaos in the household. We managed only some introductory material, enough to generate some questions for Seth but not enough to warrant posting about, at least in the context of other obligations. We met again three weekends ago with some better planning in mind, although we're still adjusting to a new time-approach. For over nine years, this group has met in the early afternoon and our rhythms and assumptions of play are based on a clear, unobstructed afternoon's devotion to play. Bluntly, this doesn't work when your kids are toddlers. So now we're switching to evening play and people hit some fatigue limits.

In the first brief session (due to toddler constraints), I placed the characters Hopper and Rain together with White's body, mainly because I was wondering just how the three of them were situated. I didn't know if they were supposed to have struck an agreement, which had brought the body to the other, or if that was even the case. I told Maura and Tod that we really needed to know this stuff and wouldn't unless they said what was going on. Getting this going also included a lot of imagery and issues surrounding Rain's little section of the Web. The physical aspects of the immediate location are a very big deal for games like this (Sorcerer, Hero Wars/HeroQuest, Dust Devils, The Shadow of Yesterday).

Seth, that leads to a central issue for us in play, religion. For some reason, this group tends to bring it up in problematized but non-dismissive ways, all the time. So we're taking the institutionalized Church of Pheric, our takes on possible heresies, and the basic idea of Hopper's Law pretty seriously. The basic idea is that not everyone who flees to the Web is non-religious, and even many dissenters still consider themselves believers. So the opportunity for worship in enclaves, not really secretly but not in an authoritarian-societal context either, is a big deal. Maura decided that her character's little zone of the Web was valued by enough other power-players for exactly this reason - Hopper provides space for and protects group expressions of faith. So Tod's character, Rain, is a rogue/heretic Keeper, and Tod is really enjoying coming up with various ideas to express that.

Our first scene was kind of unusual because we were willing to let a major element of the storymap be at risk. I wanted Rain, Hopper, and White's body to be present in the scene, but the two player-characters had not yet established any agreement or plan about doing something with it. They wanted to establish that from scratch, through role-playing and conflicts - in other words, the very opposite of "play before play." Hopper wanted the body cremated; Rain wanted to Restore her. So the beginning of the story saw a lot of shaping here.

Mechanically, Hopper faced off against Rain and Lamp on the other. This led me to consider two one-on-one conflicts vs. one two-on-one conflict, and I opted for the latter. The logic was simple: the two of them were ganging up on her with a common goal, after all. This definitely wasn't the last time we found ourselves using two-on-one, which is pretty rough on the one in this game. Seth, what are your experiences with that? As it turned out, the conflict was dramatic and surprisingly uplifting. They all began with either light or borderline-light Attributes; since Lamp's Compline Traits didn't help the rolls to his advantage, I didn't use them; and both Tod and Maura chose to use light Traits. Narration followed these indicators and the conflict turned out to be, well, nice in the sense that every character was speaking from his or her "best self" regarding what to do with a dead body. So it was a surprisingly uplifting interaction given how driven and potentially arrogant the characters are.

Mouse's scene wasn't very eventful, but it meant a lot to me as GM, finding my feet in the immediate setting and reconciling a well-worn, familiar location to the inhabitants with its alienness and freakiness to us. It helped that Mouse was an intruder, basically, who did not herself really know what she was getting into. There were hookers going home, business people and workers of various kinds waking up and getting where they needed to go, and lots more. I don't really have the energy to list everything, but the catwalks, suspended plazas, vertical as well as horizontal "foot" traffic (as some of it is climbing or winch-driven rope lowering), all started to become clear in the mind's eye.

In the full session, which was still comparatively brief due to fatigue constraints, I'm surprised to look back upon and find some truly compelling, forward-driving scenes. I mean, they were fun in play, but at the time it seemed like not much happened ... and then, when I look back, a lot happened, quite vividly. After the opening scenes, I decided to stay with White's body at Rain's sanctum/lab, pointing out that his assistant, Lamp, was disturbed and fascinated by working with the nude body of a beautiful woman. So this led to a conflict in which Rain emphasized that this was a religious task and she was to be respected and venerated - and scarily, Lamp won, not Rain, using "night/darkening" Traits. I narrated this as Lamp agreeing and being very decorous, but actually lying - and after Rain leaves the lab, sitting close to the pod-tank thing and gazing at her face. (He's not a pervert, but he is an idealistic and eager nineteen-year-old.) I really liked this scene! Not only was its content fun in itself, especially in contrast to the previous one with these characters, but the events went somewhere, giving everyone all kinds of material to develop and to base further actions upon.

Mouse and her tracking device, as well as the implant, present a bit of a GM conundrum. It's currently not ideal - if I make it a find-the-mcguffin gimme, then I'm basically forcing a story on everyone, which is annoying as well as fatiguing and unsatisfying to me. So I have to make it subject to conflicts or it's too significant as a framing device, to the extent that it's not framing but railroading. For this session, I had Mouse cope with an unknown opponent, which is not very easy in Alyria. (Added in late draft: I did resolve this issue but not until a later session of play.)

Finally, I introduced the priming event: Belter comes to everyone's attention via a brawl at a marketplace. All of this had to be constructed via prep, because both Belter and his daughter are NPCs. So how they got into the brawl, who with, what's going on at the time, and what each one thinks and does because of it ... it's all me. It's weird to have NPCs be such a big deal, to the extent of making dynamic decisions in play, in the absence of player-characters even knowing they exist. It's kind of going back to an older way to play I haven't done for a while. It did a good job of priming play, though, as both Mouse and Hopper swung into action because of it.

Throughout, the setting has been an active, responsive part of play. That's why I spent so much time establishing immediate physical locations' features during play in each scene, taking a lot of time in the first session. The basic idea is no different from what's needed for play in general, but especially for the high-color, fill-in-yourself, yet Premise-heavy kind. Somewhere in between the essentially Color-only setting material for a given planet in 3:16, and the extremely solid, thoroughly-prepped material for, say, Tunnels & Trolls. GMing Hero Wars/HeroQuest was totally the same way. You have to be willing to add as you go, but not devolve into pure improvisation as the main structure for setting/GM input. In this case, all I'd prepped for the session was that Belter had brawled with some Restored in a public place in the Web, but through play, they became a small group of war-veteran Restored and their living pal named Brother.

In Alyria, setting-in-play can also be literal: as you can see above, you can even make setting elements or institutions characters. Given that opportunity, adding or elaborating stuff as you go carries with it the decision of whether to work up sheets for him as a character and/or them as a group, or to let them mechanically remain a manifestation of the Web.

An interesting thing about conflicts is that everyone sees everyone else's Traits and scores, so full player knowledge is extended among player-characters and for every NPC via encounters and conflicts. Technically I suppose I could lay them all out in front of everyone to start, but my take with this group is that we prefer to let such knowledge trickle in via the SIS and conflicts-based rules-demands rather than prior disclosure. We dislike storyboarding and "playing before," and we like to play, although mindfully toward Premise, pretty much "from the character's eyes out." So our personal roles and the procedural details of revealing any character's information is more Sorcerer-like, rather than, say, Polaris-like.

Play also illustrated a great example of player-driven, emergent conflict, when Mouse was hiding beneath the floorboards of a suspended shelter, eavesdropping on Hopper talking with the disgruntled Restored and Brother. As GM, I found that the conversation had come to an end, and wasn't sure how the players wanted to finish things, so began to close the scene, slowly, saying I was seeing its end and asking people what they wanted their characters to do. Julie said something like, "I'm getting out of there before she sees me, for sure!" and Maura said something like, "If she's getting out of here before I catch her, you bet there's going to be a conflict!" - anyway, pretty fightin' words, so I said, gee, we have a conflict! I am always happy when play includes a lot of that.

I made up all the NPCs right after initial prep, prior to play, but have so far used only these two (the following is straight from my notes):

THE WEB – specifically the environs of Hopper’s Law and connections to First Family territory
Virtue = Vespers
Force = None, Insight = Terce, Determination = Matins, 6 points total (one point over, and I’m OK with that)
Traits: Shifting = Lauds, Startling = Lauds, Mercenary = Compline, Free = None
Inspiration 0, Corruption 1 (started at 0/0)
Useful for dealing with it physically or socially (like finding something to buy, or somewhere generic to stay, or learning the word on the street). Note that “free” in this sense (None) has some negative connotations, implying license as well as liberation.

LAMP – male, Rain's acolyte
Virtue = Terce
Force = Lauds, Insight = Terce, Determination = Lauds, 5 points total
Traits: Intelligent = Compline, Quiet = Compline, Eager = Compline
Inspiration 2, Corruption 1 (started at 2/1)
Titus + Steerpike. Not a leader or commanding presence. Definitely Web-savvy, which Rain isn’t. But he’s not well-built for evangelizing … still, he is at least a cultural link to the people of the Web, as an example rather than an active recruiter. (Very interesting build: good at heart, lucky in the good sense, but underhanded and dsyfunctional in his habits and methods, “almost too helpful”)


Belter and Sharp did show up briefly and a couple Traits were mentioned, but not in depth.

Addendum: this post was delayed so long that we've actually played a second full session too, but I'll post what's here in the interest of no further waiting, and follow up with the new stuff when I can.

For posterity's sake, here are the rules clarifications we received from the Dark Omen help-desk. (For those who don't know about that, various game authors out there have become resigned to me simply phoning them in the middle of play and asking rules questions.)

1. The text about ties is incorrect. When both rolls succeed, don't look at the target face, look at the dice as rolled. High die wins. If that's tied, then double-failure occurs, which is a very excellent rule.

2. One tactic is to hit a Trait-changed attribute with your own Trait regardless of its die face, because such an Attribute reverts back to its original; example. To keep this from being either repetitive or nonsensical, it's important to preserve the Before notion as well as to think in terms of consequences, i.e., narration of outcome and I/C repercussions. Or to put it procedurally, the rule is to play the Traits, play the Traits, never invoke Traits without playing them. (I'll probably follow up on this in [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!.)

3. Can you buy new Traits? Yes, the standard rules for altering Traits can be used as written to produce new ones.

4. When spending I/C to change Traits, you can't "skip" Prime/Vespers. For instance, if you have a Lauds Trait you want to "lighten," you have to buy that Trait to Prime/Vespers and thereby remove the Trait utterly, and then you have to buy the Terce or Sext version de novo. (Interestingly, if you have a very light or very dark Virtue, then gaining Traits of the same clock face is very cheap. However, if you have a Prime or Vespers Virtue, then by definition, changing any Traits is a tad more expensive as well as more limited in range. Nifty!)

Best, Ron
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GreatWolf
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designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2009, 08:11:14 AM »


For posterity's sake, here are the rules clarifications we received from the Dark Omen help-desk. (For those who don't know about that, various game authors out there have become resigned to me simply phoning them in the middle of play and asking rules questions.)

1. The text about ties is incorrect. When both rolls succeed, don't look at the target face, look at the dice as rolled. High die wins. If that's tied, then double-failure occurs, which is a very excellent rule.

Wait! This clarification is incorrect. Use target face first, and then look at the dice as rolled.

Let's see...other comments.


Toddlers: I know exactly what you're talking about. But then, you knew that. Actually, my approach to gaming and game design has been shaped a lot by toddlers. It's why I haven't returned to campaign play until very recently.


Religion: That is very cool and makes a whole lot of sense.


Unknown Opponent

Quote
For this session, I had Mouse cope with an unknown opponent, which is not very easy in Alyria. (Added in late draft: I did resolve this issue but not until a later session of play.)

How did you end up handling this? I would have used a generic setting-based character (e.g. The Web or The Citadel) until you actually found out who the unknown character was, and then I would have switched over to using the character's actual Attributes.


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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
jrs
Member

Posts: 377


« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2009, 07:20:52 AM »


For posterity's sake, here are the rules clarifications we received from the Dark Omen help-desk. (For those who don't know about that, various game authors out there have become resigned to me simply phoning them in the middle of play and asking rules questions.)

1. The text about ties is incorrect. When both rolls succeed, don't look at the target face, look at the dice as rolled. High die wins. If that's tied, then double-failure occurs, which is a very excellent rule.

Wait! This clarification is incorrect. Use target face first, and then look at the dice as rolled.

Seth,

Is this intentionally to favor the player with the more difficult challenge?

Julie
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2009, 07:42:41 AM »

Wait! This clarification is incorrect. Use target face first, and then look at the dice as rolled.

Seth,

Is this intentionally to favor the player with the more difficult challenge?


Let me write what the book says, so that we're all clear.

"If both sides succeed, then the side with the lower target face wins the die roll."

Therefore, in the case of a tie, whoever was more likely to win the die roll wins the success. So it doesn't actually favor the player with the more difficult challenge. Rather, it's the other way around. When I designed the game, I was flirting with randomless systems. This method means that, generally speaking, whoever has the higher adjusted Attribute value wins.

But, later on, someone pointed out an interesting effect of the system to me, which I rather like.

So, given that the player with the lower target face generally wins, Evil Traits are stronger in conflict than Good Traits. Why? Because Evil Traits make it easier to lower your target face. Having a Matins Trait makes you hard to stop, yeah? However, that Matins Trait is a double-edged sword, because it's also available to any of your opponents, if they can put you in a place to use it against yourself. So, good Alyria "strategy" (if I can say it that way) to take down the baddies is to put them in places narratively where their own evil works against them and destroys them.

This can also provide some encouragement for a standard story arc without actually imposing it.

Now, I wish that I could take credit for that particular setup, but I can't. I just stumbled into it. Nevertheless, that's what is going on beneath the surface of the system.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
jrs
Member

Posts: 377


« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2009, 07:46:44 AM »

Ah -- I see. That is much clearer now. Thanks!

Julie
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daMoose_Neo
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Posts: 890


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« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2009, 10:07:10 AM »

So, given that the player with the lower target face generally wins, Evil Traits are stronger in conflict than Good Traits. Why? Because Evil Traits make it easier to lower your target face. Having a Matins Trait makes you hard to stop, yeah? However, that Matins Trait is a double-edged sword, because it's also available to any of your opponents, if they can put you in a place to use it against yourself. So, good Alyria "strategy" (if I can say it that way) to take down the baddies is to put them in places narratively where their own evil works against them and destroys them.

NICE. Just been prowling a while, but I *really* like that kind of setup.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2009, 02:15:36 PM »

Hi Seth,
Quote
if they can put you in a place to use it against yourself
How is it determined if your in a place where the trait would work against you? GM determined?
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