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Author Topic: [Trollbabe] Save the Young Man! and wrestling with Scale  (Read 2099 times)
Bret Gillan
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« on: November 26, 2008, 10:52:52 AM »

Related Thread: [trollbabe] Making the Trollbabes

First Trollbabe session! My living room was absolutely freezing and I had a migraine. Not the best way to start but after two cancellations I was going to play even if my head exploded. As a result, I was not really on top of things and I think maybe the NPC characterization suffered but no big.

So, the cast is Ellen, my girlfriend, and Chris, my bud from college who recently moved here. The game is feeling sparse on players but nobody else was interested and I really wanted to get a Sunday game going so here we are.

At character creation, Chris had decided that his Trollbabe, Hrundegarde (I think that's how you spell her name) would be hiking to Otun's Belch. She came upon two trolls arguing over whether to eat a human they had captured now or to eat him later. A third troll argued against eating the human altogether. Hrundegarde walked up to the trolls and made herself comfortable by the fire. The trolls were incredulous. She then tried to talk them into turning over the human - maybe trading them for some animals she'd killed hunting. Boom, Social-type conflict. I used a rules change that Ron suggested and made Social the worse of the two other stats, and Hrundegarde got beat pretty badly in the conflict. She had to roll an 8-10 and failed every time until she hit incapacitated. She ended up aggravating the trolls and we ended up saying that a brawl broke out and she was beaten up and we cut away.

Ellen's trollbabe, Olga, was hiking through the Green Goo Swamp. I had her hear the cries of a young man in the Goo. He was being sucked under. She waded out and saved him and used her slingshot to fire a rope over some branches to pull them out. I didn't call for a conflict here because this wasn't quite what the conflict was about. The human was a young man who was out to kill a man-eating troll. Really, the adventure was about this kid who was in over his head. Would he be killed by the troll or not? Ellen basically talked to the kid, decided he was an idiot and left him to his fate.

So I'm left going, "Uh..." That was kind of what I had prepped for her and had this realization like I'd been balancing on the end of a pole and it had just snapped. So I tried to roll with it and I figured I'd just keep going and throw out hooks until she grabbed one.

Olga finds herself in a town, and there's a crying mother who's son has gone off into the swamp to fight a monster and is going to be killed. Now, I really wasn't trying to rail her back into the plot here. I just wanted there to be a little more to it and then I'd leave it alone. If Olga really didn't care then I'd try to figure out something else in the town that would be appropriate, but then when I described the crying mother I could tell Ellen felt really guilty and, by extension, Olga felt really guilty, so she went back into the swamp to try to track the boy.

Okay, cut back to Chris and Hrundegarde. She's tied upside down in a cave next to the young man who was captured. She managed to swing herself over to a cow carcass hanging nearby, grab a jawbone, and cut the vine that was used to bond her. I don't do any rolling here but maybe I should have and it would have been more interesting to see what she'd do if I put her up against the trolls bound and hanging/ She drops down, frees the boy, and then is confronted by the three trolls. The one who was anti-boy-eating before shakes his head and leaves and a fight happens. Hrundegarde smashes the trolls up, killing them, and leaves with the boy.

At this point I remind them about relationships in case Chris wanted to take a relationship with the boy or with the troll. Chris is uncertain and later decides to take a relationship with the remaining troll named Grak.

In Olga's story, she tracks the boy to the cave of the man-eater, again with no rolling, and there's piles of skulls everywhere and the boy's pack. She confronts the man-eating troll who is not exactly a "good guy" but presents his side of the story that humans are always hunting him and trying to kill him, so he eats them. It's sort of self-defense. She says she'll convince the town to stop hunting him if he hands over the boy. A social conflict is one, the troll agrees.

This combined with what's about to happen in Chris's story makes things sticky.

Hrundegarde hears in conversation that the local thane is offering bounties for trolls so he decides to set off to confront the thane and try to convince him to stop hunting trolls.

Now, the stories don't end here, but this is the point where we seem to be bumping against the edges of the Scale we've set for personal stories. As the guy GMing, I think I erred. In my attempt to stretch out the personal stories to fill more time I ended up adding context and kind of inadvertently expanding the Scale of the game. All of a sudden there were these larger conflicts involving humans and trolls and the trollbabes want to stop them.

We stopped and wrestled with it. How could Olga convince the town to stop hunting the man-eater? How could Hrundegarde convince the Thane to stop hunting trolls? We decided to just run with it and stick with the limitations that a conflict can pretty much only affect one person. And in that way, and maybe this is by design, there was really nothing that Olga and Hrundegarde could do unless the players chose to increase the Scale. The players were a little frustrated I think and I'll probably revisit this the next session and say that these conflicts are things that can be revisited on a larger level when the Scale is increased if the trollbabes decide to come back.

Okay, so back to the game, Hrundegarde manages to get the thane to agree to meet with Grak to possibly negotiate an end to hostilities on a wager that she can beat one of his best warriors in a fight. She does, and convinces Grak to meet with the thane. In the end, the thane was not true to his word and attacks Grak. Hrundegarde tries to defeat him, but Chris fails the combat rolls and is incapacitated. Hrundegarde is knocked unconscious by a blow from the thane's axe and when she wakes up, she's in blood-spattered snow next to the hornless body of Grak. I think we all felt pretty bad about it.

And in Ellen's story, Olga brought the boy home, tried to convince one of the townspeople that maybe the man-eating troll wasn't that bad. It didn't really work, and I tried talking with Ellen about ways she Olga could stay true to her word to the troll, but I think she kind of gave up and just decided that Olga was going to lie to the troll and that all she was worried about was the boy. She did say at one point, "But the troll will hate me!" but then a little bit later decided that maybe it wasn't worth it.

Oh and at one point she said she wanted to hunt down the people that were hunting the man-eating troll and for a minute I wrestled in my head on whether I could just make a group of troll hunters that were instigating this, but really the troll hunters were just humans who wanted to be heroes and got in over their head like the boy. Still not sure if I went the right way there.

When I asked where they wanted to be next session, Chris said Hrundegarde wanted to go after the thane for revenge which I think is within the Scale of a personal story, and Ellen said Olga wanted to go deeper into the swamp.

I'm wondering if I went wrong here and wandered astray of the Scale. The original adventures were basically, "Does this young boy get eaten or not?" They were parallel stories with different trappings, one set around Otun's Belch where a blight is starving everyone and everything, and in the Green Goo Swamp where young men set off to try to become heroes against a might man-eating troll. Then when those got resolved I tried to pad things out. Was that a mistake? And did we understand Scale right - that basically the trollbabes can affect individuals but these larger conflicts are, at this point, beyond their power to stop? I mean, I can see that being the case and that being really smart. When we talked about it after game and I suggested increasing the Scale so they could deal with this conflicts, they decided to stay personal for now. Even if they can't stop them, we're building up a context for larger issues once they do decide to increase the Scale.
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2008, 12:25:56 AM »

Bret,

Ron's going to come along shortly and say way cooler stuff than me. However, until that happens, can I ask what the stakes of the adventures were?

It kinda sounds like it was, in both cases, "does this boy get eaten or not." And if that is, in fact, the case then the thing you may have done that caused the problems was you kept playing the same story even once the stakes were done.

This is a problem I sometimes have with both Trollbabe and IAWA. I like moderately long games (say 4 to 5 hours), and sometimes have a pretty brisk pace. So lots of stuff happens in one session. And because I'm used to thinking of one session as one story, or chapter, I tend to just keep rolling as long as ideas are coming.

But with IAWA and Trollbabe that can be a problem. Both have specific mechanics that tie to doing something with a story/chapter and then finishing that story/chapter. So when, in Trollbabe, you finish the stakes and get to the consequences that story is over.

Of course, that doesn't mean you have to stop playing. However, it is often a good time to look at things like shifting Scale, changing Number, and all the other stuff that happens between stories. Including making a new set of stakes for the next story. (In IAWA you do the oracles and such, get the next chapter going, and then keep playing. Trust me, it will kill the game if you just keep playing when the chapter should have ended and don't do so.)

See, to me it really feels like at the point at which you're going after the Thane and trying to change the town and such, that you've finished the personal scale story of "will boy be eaten or not" and are now on a new story of "will this town end up killing all the trolls in the area" with a scale of village. And I'm willing to bet that if you'd stopped and said "Oh, so that was the stakes. Do you want to go on with the thane thing, and shift the scale and start a new chapter with new stakes" things would have worked much smoother.

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- Brand Robins
Bret Gillan
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« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2008, 05:42:08 AM »

Brand, I think you're totally right. On Ellen's side of the story, though, she walked away from my hook which was fine but that meant going "Um, okay, that's the end of that chapter." And it seems like that makes for really short adventures. I think we all wanted to play around a little bit more in the setting. I've done In a Wicked Age and I totally get what you're saying knowing when the story is over. I guess in this case it felt like even though the Stakes were settled the story wasn't over, and that could be because I need to get used to the pace and scope of a Trollbabe adventure.

Even though it was kind of frustrating at the time, it does seem kind of like a feature that the Trollbabes might run into problems that are beyond their ability to correct because of the Scale, but they can always revisit them later once they've increased it.
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2008, 06:56:54 AM »

So, how open is Ellen to out of game talk about things?

I ask because I've had players in Trollbabe walk right out of the stakes before, especially if I didn't give them reason to care before I ran them into a critical encounter. (Like in one there was a troll being kept in a circus, and the mistake I made was having the trollbabe meet that troll like first scene off, she didn't like him, left him to his fate and wandered off. If I'd given her some reason to care, one way or the other, before that moment then maybe it would have turned out differently.) And when this has happened I've sometimes paused and said to the player, "So, okay, the stakes are does this guy live or die. What do we need to do to make that interesting for you?" Most of the time when I've done this, the player has come up with some cool stuff, and we've been able to keep the story going within the stakes quite well. (In the above example, some trolls came to rescue their brother, and the character had an affair with the hot circus owner, and ended up fighting to keep the troll in slavery. It was brutal.)

So, it sounds like you did something like this with the crying mother bit, but that you also felt a bit pushy about it. Do you think it'd have helped if you'd talked to Ellen about it OOCly?
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- Brand Robins
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2008, 07:21:45 AM »

Hey,

Hold on here a minute. I am in a tricky position because there's the original rules you guys know, which are almost silent on this issue, and there's the rules I've been writing in a white heat for four months. Even so, there are a couple of assumptions at work in this thread which need to be isolated and perhaps slaughtered.

1. The trollbabe, and hence the trollbabe player, is under no obligation to solve the stakes actively. The thread title itself illustrates the wrong way to look at this. Adventures stakes are not missions. The adventures are not Dogs towns. The trollbabe is not a wandering Everway party. Stakes are a GM tool, not a player issue - if you think that your job is somehow to convince a player to care about the Stakes, then you're already off in a space where the rules (and I) cannot help you. Bret, you don't have a hook. There is no hook. There is no fish.

I suspect that this thread is going to have to delve very deeply into this issue and take your whole prep from the first minute onwards, and then move into the moments of play. I apologize for my brevity and terseness here, which is due to real-life hassle and time constraint - basically, the problem is not anything Ellen did.

2. I'm a little confused about the Stakes in each adventure. Do I understand correctly that, although each concerned the fate of a person regarding a trollish threat, they were separate events about separate people? If so, then that's not a problem. Or, is the boy the same person in each case? If so, then you have created a lot of hassle including one of the reasons you ran into trouble. Different locations = different adventures = different and separate Stakes for each. Let me know.

3. Regarding the Scale effects, I think you've stated the problems pretty well. However, and here's where the new-rules issue crops up and makes it hard to discuss, the trollbabe may attempt anything at any Scale. Since the GM narrates successes, you would then narrate the extent of successful achievements at her appropriate Scale.

In other words, go ahead and convince the Thane. Fine, you've done so. But what the town as a whole does is still wholly up to the GM. (And brings up the important issue that I did not say, "Therefore the town ignores you and keeps killing trolls.")

As far as convincing the town is concerned, let'er go ahead and try. If she succeeds, then one person says, "Hey! That's pretty reasonable," and the rest remain untouched.

Again, I don't expect you to have applied that concept in your game, because it exists only in a thread in the Adept forum and in the draft of the new text. However, I think there's enough confusion with #1 and #2 to keep us occupied here, and that's what led up to the #3 hassles anyway.

Best, Ron
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Bret Gillan
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« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2008, 09:45:25 AM »

Brand, I'm gonna put a pause on our conversation for a bit because I get what you're saying, but I think Ron is talking about a different approach. Let's untangle this a bit first.

Ron, it sounds like I went about things the right way, but got a little too caught up in some confusions about Scale. I don't think the problem is anything that Ellen did either. I had a situation set up, she wasn't interest, that's totally cool. I was just suddenly in a spot of having to cook up some other things for her to interact with as I'd only prepped that one situation.

The two young men in the two different adventures were different young men. The adventures were different locations, different surrounding events, different people. I wasn't trying to overlap them. So we're good there.

It may well be that there is no problem at all apart from the confusion about how to apply Scale to conflicts when the Trollbabe's goal is out of the scope of the current scale. You make it sound rather easy, attempt anything you want but the GM will apply the current Scale of the campaign to the narration. If so, that's simple and it's like the pieces fell into place for me.
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ieatwithgusto
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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2008, 11:18:35 AM »

Hello!  I'm Ellen.

Ron, your reply was definitely helpful.  Being very new to gaming, I approached the game feeling like there was something Bret had in mind for me that I had to do.  And then when I didn't do that things were crappy and I ruined everything.  But that's not true. 
I'm keeping in mind that my Trollbabe doesn't have to do things for the greater good.  If I want to leave a boy to die, I can.

Our biggest issue was definitely with the Scale.  Once I ran into a situation where I wanted a whole town to stop hunting Trolls, I couldn't think of what else I could possibly do to make that happen.  But it makes a lot of sense to be able to attempt things on a larger Scale but have it only make any effect on whatever we're actually using.  I'm glad we decided to stay on a personal scale for the next session so we can try it again if the situation arises.

So I feel like I have a better grasp of the game now.  I'm a little slow to catch on sometimes but I think this next session is going to be a lot smoother.

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Markus
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« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2008, 09:21:05 AM »

Hi Bret,

I think I can give you a bit of practical advice on this, since I struggled with this very issues in my first Trollbabe games, IIRC. Well, if I read your post correctly you had two problems: (1) adventures seemed too short and sketchy, and (2) the scale of stakes seemed a bit too constraining in practice. Both are quite simple to solve IMHO. What's more, both of them can be solved with your main tool as a Trollbabe GM - scene framing.

The answer to the first problem is in my opinion rethinking the 'strategy' of your scene framing. You basically framed the very first scenes of both adventures in a way that everything was there to directly and utterly decide the stakes. According to this, it's not surprising that you didn't get much mileage from the stakes themselves. I cannot say that doing this is an 'error', in each and every situation, BUT if you want a more relaxed pace, with enough time for you and players to properly settle into the situation and so on, then yes, it's probably a bad idea.

The second problem (the scale-struggling stuff) will probably not be a problem anymore, in light of what Ron said in his #3 above. But I reached a slightly different solution to this in my games, and I'll describe it briefly just because I think it can be complementary to Ron's clarification.

As Ron stated above, the current rules don't help much in this area, *explicitly* at least. But if you check that paragraph about using relationship rerolls at different scales, and you'll find that most of it directly apply to most conflicts, even prior to rerolls and/or getting help from relationships. (For the sake of clarity, it's the paragraph in which Ron explains how a relationship with a single person can help you if you're fighting an army, if I remember correctly). For some reason, that piece of advice did overlap with 'standard' resolution rules in my head during play, and this helped overcome my initial problems.

During prep, I try to figure which NPCs will be relevant to the situation at hand. Here's the trick: if you think about it, NPCs also have a scale, just as stakes. So you could have a 'small group NPC', a 'village NPC', maybe even a 'kingdom NPC'. Now, all I do is to make sure that the NPCs most relevant to the stakes are of the same size of the stakes. That's it. I don't have to know where/how/IF they will come up, but I'm kind of prepared to offer to my players right-sized 'handles' to, errrm, handle the situation. I don't know if this makes sense to anybody else.

I can give you an example of a session I GMed some time ago that seems to be relevant here - one adventure had the life of a single troll at stake. The troll was the son of the boss of a nearby trollish community, and was kept prisoner in a human village (etc. etc... further details skipped). The point is that the trollbabe that got enmeshed in this situation could not engage the whole human village or the whole trollish community in a conflict; but I had prepared some key human and trollish NPCs that could decide for their communities, and they could be certainly be individually convinced about the issue at hand either by talking, magic, or maybe a particularly large axe.

bye

M
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2008, 11:05:22 AM »

Hi Bret,

Markus has it exactly right, for which I am very grateful because I was struggling a lot with my intended reply.

Here's some text from the new draft, in the section about endings.

Quote
THE SCREWDOWN AND THE PIVOT POINTS

You have a guide in play, the Stakes. Sooner or later, the person or group who represents the Stakes will eventually come to a final point: killed, escaped, whatever, however you phrased it originally. The issue at hand is how the events of play develop into these dire circumstances, prior to conflicts which resolve them. Most especially, how this happens without a sequence of nothing-much scenes followed by an instant ending.

Bad example: Your trollbabe, Retta, wanders through various scenes in the Stumpy Mountains without consequences, and conflicts that seem to appear, resolve, and then disappear. After a while, the GM drops a conflict on you – Retta happens upon Gallg engaged in a complex troll magic ritual upon Ree-Sha, and she is growing hair and horns. You name some Goal or other, the conflict goes one way or another … and there you go, one of the Stakes-conditions is fulfilled, and the adventure is over.

The Stakes’ situation isn’t like a light switch that gets flicked one way or another in a single motion. Instead, it increases steadily, both directly and indirectly. Characters feel more and more as if they have less and less room for compromise. That doesn't mean less and less range of possible commitment, but rather less and less option to stay sitting on the fence about various problems, or to wait and see what others do next. I call this process the Screwdown. During real play, you express it by having your characters cross paths with one another and with trollbabes during scenes, by having them reconsider their current situations, by having them make decisions and act upon them, and by having them make claims about and take risks to get the Stakes.

In effect, they act more and more directly toward a permanent resolution of the Stakes.

Here’s how it works for an entire adventure. ...

And then I use a bunch of diagrams to show what I mean by "pivot points" and other stuff.

The big point for purposes of this thread is that your characters, the NPCs, shouldn't begin the adventure at the very last moment of their most desperate commitment regarding the Stakes. That moment is still a ways off.

At first, the Stakes should be relevant to many of your NPCs; then later, the characters should be excited as the Stakes move into jeopardy in some way based on the events of play; and then finally, the Stakes' situation is desperate because the NPCs no longer feel as if they have any choice.
 
What do you think of that idea?

Best, Ron
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Markus
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« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2008, 05:59:45 AM »

And then I use a bunch of diagrams to show what I mean by "pivot points" and other stuff.

The big point for purposes of this thread is that your characters, the NPCs, shouldn't begin the adventure at the very last moment of their most desperate commitment regarding the Stakes. That moment is still a ways off.

At first, the Stakes should be relevant to many of your NPCs; then later, the characters should be excited as the Stakes move into jeopardy in some way based on the events of play; and then finally, the Stakes' situation is desperate because the NPCs no longer feel as if they have any choice.
 
What do you think of that idea?

Ron, thanks for posting this small preview of the new book... I didn't imagine that the rewrite would include this sort of stuff, and now I can't wait until the book comes out.

The "relevant/dangerous/desperate" ladder seems like a neat way of giving structure to something that usually doesn't, and as such, it seems very interesting. I know that with time and experience, things can become much more nuanced and fulid, but I think that this type of schematization can help immensely a novice GM to enter in the right mindset. I also hope that similar "training wheel concepts" can in the near future be devised for other things that are often difficult to grasp if you didn't see it in action at least once - traits, scene framing, etc etc... This is exactly the type of stuff I'd most like to see in innovative RPGs right now.

bye

M
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Bret Gillan
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« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2008, 11:56:20 AM »

Guys, that does make a lot of sense. So, if I can take all the information you threw at me and try to apply it to my game, I should have, for example, started play with the young man who wanted to hunt the man-eating troll at the village and throw in lots of opinions from different villagers, and gradually amped it up towards him running away to fight the troll and maybe being near being eaten.

Though that's assuming a lot about how the trollbabe(s) react in play. But basically the stakes is a down-the-road thing after an increase in exposition and tension rather than a "holy crap, here's the situation and you need to make a decision RIGHT NOW" sort of thing.
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Bret Gillan
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« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2008, 12:01:35 PM »

Oh, and also that I just need to make sure there are NPCs invested in the outcome of the Stakes that are at the Scale of the Adventure. I'll see if I have better luck this week. Thanks for taking the time.
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