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Author Topic: [Trollbabe] Keep on Rockin' in the Troll World  (Read 6160 times)
Callan S.
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« Reply #15 on: March 08, 2009, 11:22:26 AM »

Hi Paul,

However, I meant exactly what I said. I had a great time, really enjoyed the game.

What I didn't like is exactly what is being discussed, here and in Judd's Dogs thread: there was a point where it seemed like success was so difficult that we all ended up softballing a little. James felt he had to pull his punches, and Dave and I (or maybe just me--I shouldn't put words in his mouth) weren't sure how to push our characters' agendas. It wasn't disastrous or unpleasant, but it felt a little like walking on thin ice. Like we were tiptoeing a bit in order to avoid a potentially seriously unfun situation.
For myself, if I had walked on thin ice and skirted a seriously unfun situation, I couldn't call it a great time or that I really enjoyed the game. That's me, obviously, but close shaves with seriously unfun situations doesn't reduce your overall rating of an activity?
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #16 on: March 08, 2009, 04:42:34 PM »

Wow.

I started this thread hoping to discuss our little threesome's experience playing Trollbabe, both to highlight certain issues with a particular set of rules, and to critique a certain design feature common across a broad swath of Indie Games.  But if the process of sharing our experiences with y'all means, when a participant says "I felt X", somebody else says or implies "No, you really felt Not-X" not once but twice, it really saps my desire to share, y'know?

I don't want to speak for Paul or Dave.  But I'm not here for therapy.  I'm here to provide field test data.  I still wanna do it, but that requires a certain baseline level of trust.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #17 on: March 08, 2009, 07:45:54 PM »

I like your literary analysis of Trollbabe, James. It gives me more strands for my own understanding - I'd sort of come to the same conclusion you do here, except the literary antecedents are somewhat different for me here in a different country and a different decade. Although I'm considerably too young for a firsthand experience of the cultural wave you describe, this stuff is very familiar to me second-hand, and not the least because what you call "daydreamer fantasy" is a much larger part of the fantasy culture landscape here in the Nordic countries than it seems to be in modern USA.

I'll obviously need to check out this Wizards, though - everybody seems to reference it in this context, and the only Bakshi film that's remotely known in these parts is Lord of the Rings. Should clearly get to know his work better.

Nothing substantial to add on the actual topic, though. Carry on.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #18 on: March 09, 2009, 05:17:37 AM »

Quote
this stuff is very familiar to me second-hand, and not the least because what you call "daydreamer fantasy" is a much larger part of the fantasy culture landscape here in the Nordic countries than it seems to be in modern USA.

Eero, that's interesting: it kind of matches my (uninformed) cultural stereotype about European fantasy stuff.  I'm curious: what's the bookstore situation look like in your country?  In the United States, we've got a "Science-Fiction" section and a "Fantasy" section.  About half the shelf-space for each, is devoted to franchised novels (Star Trek, Dragonlance, etc.).  The rest of the "Fantasy" section is largely full of Tolkien-clones.  Is that the case where you live?

Wizards is . . . well, it was very eye-opening for me, because it's a pretty pure expression of this school of Fantasy, and it re-arranged a lot of things in my mind to help me recognize where Trollbabe is coming from.  It's fun, light-weight stuff.  I especially like the voice of the Avatar character.

Anyway: back to the Trollbabe session:

Shallow Prep
I came up with the scenario 18 months ago, when my girlfriend and I were living through the End of the World.  In 2006-2007, my girlfriend and I were living through the End of the World.  You know the emotional tenor of Cormac McCarthy's The Road?  Such were our lives. 

The basic set-up was like this: you've got this troll who despises himself, and the more he despises himself, the more monstrous he becomes (due to a curse).  Figuring out how to help him is non-trivial, because the more you help him, the more indebted and miserable he feels, and therefore sinks deeper into the curse.  This is Gantwood

The Stakes are: what happens to Gantwood? and the Consequences are: Gantwood overcomes the curse and re-joins the troll community, or, Gantwood becomes a ravenous slaughter-beast who kills humans (and possibly other trolls).

The curse was inflicted by Wirresprocket, a fiendish elf-type of guy, who wants to have his way with Gantwood's puppy-love girlfriend.  So via magic, Wirresprocket burns down a human's barn and plants evidence that Gantwood was responsible.  Gantwood, chased by humans, comes to Wirresprocket for help... and Wirresprocket works a debt-curse upon him.

Gantwood's love-interest is Mollywort, who wants to help him but doesn't know how.  Wirresprocket is making the moves on her and wants to get married. 

The only guy who knows the score is Klaus, a human huntsman who chased after Gantwood and saw Wirresprocket put the curse on him.  Unfortunately, Wirresprocket captured Klaus and put a spell on him that forbids him to reveal the secret.

There were a few other details too--some cute NPC's and an idea about Wirresprocket's wedding ring--but that's the gist of it. 

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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #19 on: March 09, 2009, 08:07:16 AM »

Eero, that's interesting: it kind of matches my (uninformed) cultural stereotype about European fantasy stuff.  I'm curious: what's the bookstore situation look like in your country?  In the United States, we've got a "Science-Fiction" section and a "Fantasy" section.  About half the shelf-space for each, is devoted to franchised novels (Star Trek, Dragonlance, etc.).  The rest of the "Fantasy" section is largely full of Tolkien-clones.  Is that the case where you live?

The situation in this regard is sort of interesting here because the concept of genre literature itself is a very American phenomenon. In the bookstore this means that the "fantasy" section tends to include first and foremost translated American literature which is explicitly recognized as belonging to the genre of fantasy. (80% Tolkien-clones here and less franchises, incidentally.) And then we have the local stuff which might or might not go into the fantasy shelf, not depending on whether it's fantasy literature but on whether it is marketed as such with American fantasy iconography. Thus a Finnish sword & sorcery novel will get categorized into fantasy while a love story between a troll and human well might not, even when written by an established genre author. It's sort of like every writer here is Doris Lessing and nobody knows what to do with them.

...actually, that's probably not so different from the American situation. I imagine that writers get shunted into weird genres there as well depending on how the publisher decides to market a given book. It's just that we have such a small market area that most published authors are not genre literature, which makes the actual fantasy section very translation-dependent.

That viewpoint might also explain the perceived disappearance of "daydreamer fantasy" - could it be simply that it's a genre of fantasy that's not routinely categorized on the right shelf in the mindspace? As described above, any fantasy literature that isn't a Howard or Tolkien pastiche will play the odds in the bookstore as to where it ends up. Considering the Finnish fantasy literature, which tends to be more "high literature" than recent American stuff, it's often presented in the mainstream shelves where it tends to get lost as a "genre" in its own right.

But, this is seriously drifting. Appropriate topic of the Adept Press forum, I imagine.
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Paul T
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« Reply #20 on: March 09, 2009, 09:17:25 AM »

Let me jump in here again.

James,

Your post about Daydreamer Fantasy is incredibly insightful, and has made a lot of this make sense for me. And your interpretation of Trolls through mythology also brings the whole thing together in such a way that I had assumed it was the way Trollbabe was, and the only way it could be. I'd like to read the book, now, to see what's actually presented there. (I've been procrastinating on this, of course, because I'd rather read the new, upcoming text, and so I wait.)

Just wanted to say that was great stuff, and I really enjoyed reading what you wrote there.

The scenario outline really made some things click into place, as well--since we didn't get to see it all in play. Would it be inappropriate to ask you to spill the beans about the wedding ring, etc.?


Callan,

You are right, of course. Such hiccups do reduce the quality of play. However, they don't automatically make fun into un-fun. That's the distinction I was trying to make. I think Dave (Berg) explained it well--there was a slight feeling of disconnect between what the rules were and what we were trying to do, story-wise and game-wise. Part of it may have been the need to wrap up quickly, as well. Had we been playing in the middle of the day, with no deadline by which to end things, we might have been more relaxed about it.

The situation was more like:

"Hang on, this is strange. These odds look bad. How's this going to go? I'm getting worried this might not be any fun..."

"..." (some more play, which may or may not have involved fudging some rules)

"Oh, OK! It all turned out well. That was fun!"

I don't know if that makes any more sense to anybody. Kind of like when you have fear something might go wrong, but then are relieved that it turned out well instead.

It IS something I would worry about were I to play Trollbabe again, however. I'm not sure I would be able to relax and trust the rules to do their thing. And that's why I brought it up on this forum.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: March 10, 2009, 11:47:12 AM »

Hi guys,

Here's my take, and I hope it's believable that I'm not telling you how much fun you had, or whether that was enough fun. I can, however, make a pretty good case about how the interplaying parts of Trollbabe work, and how I see from this thread that certain parts were not utilized to their full (and fully trustworthy) extent. I'm not sure I have the time to write it in the most elaborate and pedagogical way, though. Maybe brevity will help.

The key issue is the Stakes. Paul, you wrote about them in a way which jarred me upright: that the trollbabes were supposed to get to a certain place in order to confront a problem which would then resolve the scenario.

Whoa.

In playing Trollbabe, the characters are under no obligation to do any such thing. Sooner or later their actions and inactions will resolve the Stakes, even if they come nowhere near it, find out nothing about it, care nothing about it if they do, and do nothing about it directly. In that extreme circumstance (and I stress, not necessarily to be avoided!), the GM's job is to "close the case" and have the Stakes meet his, her, or its end as dictated by the circumstances.

Long ago, Jesse wrote that he struggled with the perception that Trollbabe was about "hunt the wumpus" scenarios. We talked about that quite a bit, and I think that over time, he found that there was no need to treat the Stakes as a goal for the scenario, but as a tool for the GM to know when the adventure was over, no matter what happened, what the trollbabes did or didn't do, or whether they succeeded or failed at what they wanted.

I'm going only by what's been posted here, but the issues of failed conflicts, the issues of "not getting where we need to be," and the issues of injury and incapacitation - which resulted as you've both written, in cautious play focusing mainly on Color - all seem to me to reduce to that single point.

If, say, two trollbabes are in an adventure and both end up incapacitated, or incapacitated enough times, as to be ineffective regarding the Stakes - then no big deal. The Stakes end up going in a particular "way" (live or die, escape or remain caged, et cetera) and you have a grim and battered story as a result. I think embracing that possibility isn't such a bad thing.

Let me know what you think.

Final point: James, that was a great orientation post about fantasy and Trollbabe. However, I submit that the activity of this type of fantasy is still very much with us, although it is not currently commodified. I sometimes think that's for the better.

Best, Ron
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #22 on: March 10, 2009, 02:48:57 PM »

Ron, thanks for that post, and for the way in which you made it.  I certainly welcome any advice or diagnosis; later on this evening, I'll try to describe the events of the session in more detail so that everybody's operating from the same body of data. 

Quote
I submit that the activity of this type of fantasy is still very much with us, although it is not currently commodified. I sometimes think that's for the better.

Agree 100% on how lucky we are to have escaped its commodification.  Rock 'n Roll may be dead, but at least we still have this.  I have to say that in my experience, artworks of Daydreamer Fantasy are all-too-thin on the ground, but as sort of a widespread collective-unconsciousness type of thing, I think this is where everyone's imagination lives, at least when it's allowed to operate freely.  I think that's a big part of the appeal: it feels so intuitive and natural, like the easiest thing in the world.

Anyway-- quickie adventure summary and rules points to follow.
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David Berg
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« Reply #23 on: March 10, 2009, 03:45:13 PM »

Hi Ron,
I have no trouble at all imagining a given game of Trollbabe unfolding exactly as you describe (incapacitated PCs, dire resolution of stakes), and I agree that's a fun possibility to keep on the table.

However, I have a lot of trouble imagining how that could have unfolded in this particular game we played.  My impression was that the PCs themselves were major agents of change in this scenario, and that without us pushing things along, the situation might grind to a rather slow pace, slow enough that nothing would get resolved by the end of the evening.

Of course, with the PCs neutralized, James could simply have given us a distilled narration, even relating years of in-game time in a few minutes if that's what would cover Gantwood's arc.  But man, that would have felt weird.  Without Paul and I responding to evolving situations, James would have had to simply decide, "Uh, well, I guess at some point Gantwood would get driven out... and then, with no one to help him, the humans would probably find and kill him eventually..."  That seems distinctly less fun.

So, I'm curious to see what other options we had, options which I failed to anticipate.  James, maybe you have actual answers to some of this?  If you'd rather wait on that topic, that's cool, no hurry.

-David

P.S. Re: Daydreamer Fantasy vs modern fantasy, I wonder where ElfQuest fits in?  Timbuckle and Hobwart had me thinking Petalwing and Picknose...
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #24 on: March 10, 2009, 05:58:35 PM »

Dave, there was certainly a fail condition in the scenario: Mollywort marries Wirresprocket and together they agree to "adopt" Gantwood, driving him into madness to the point where he completely loses it and gets killed.  This is a bummer, but Daydreamer Fantasy carries with it the possibility of bummers.  (In my only time playing Trollbabe, a little girl was sacrificed to a sea-demon.  C'est la vie.)  It wasn't a foregone conclusion; I suppose there were a lot of ways to solve the problem: disrupt the wedding, remove the curse, take Gantwood away from a toxic environment. use evidence from Klaus to absolve Gantwood, etc.

Actual Play
Scene 1 - Ingrid, the trollbabe raised by humans - is in the Silent Forest, talking to the animals, when she hears a monster crashing through the underbrush.  Retreating, she sees it is a troll: Gantwood.  Ingrid tries to make friends with Gantwood, but he panics and knocks her unconscious.  (Minor Social Conflict - Ingrid fails to make friends with Gantwood.)

Scene 2 - Thora, the trollbabe raised by trolls, while passing through the Silent Forest, encounters Mollywort, who seems agitated about her friend Gantwood.  Relieved to have someone's shoulder to cry upon, she invites Thora to her house in the Dell.

Scene 3 - Ingrid is awakened by Timbuckle, a troll-child who is an apprentice scare-monger, who excitedly takes her back to the Dell.  On entering the Dell, Ingrid performs a magic ritual to see if she has any relatives here.  (Player-initiated Minor Magic conflict - Ingrid discovers that Wirresprocket is her relation.)

Scene 4 - At the Dell, we get an info-dump: Mollywort's parents Hobwort and Aniseed disapprove of Gantwood in varying degrees, and Aniseed looks forward to Mollywort's marriage to Wirresprocket.  Wirresprocket, meanwhile, is disturbed that two trollbabes have come into his little fiefdom, and tries to either drive them out, or magically compel their loyalty to him.  (Medium Social + Magic Conflict - Thora and Ingrid remain free within the Dell, and Ingrid wins Wirresprocket's trust in a we-recognize-each-other-as-schemers sort of way.)

Scene 5 - Thora gently suggests that Mollywort shouldn't marry Wirresprocket, and they go hunting to find Gantwood.  (Player initiated Medium Magic + Fighting conflict - Thora fails to find him before the humans do, and Thora is incapacitated.)  Paul narrates this as she finds Gantwood . . . but is captured by the humans hunting him.  Thora buys enough time for Gantwood and Mollywort to escape.

===At this point, we broke because it was late at night, and reconvened a week later===

Scene 6 - Ingrid (who was brought into Scene 5 as a "sudden ally") protects Mollywort and tries to track down the escaping Gantwood.  She then tries to ascertain what's wrong with Gantwood generally.  (Player-initiated Medium Magic conflict - Ingrid discovers that Gantwood is cursed, so that the more indebted/incapable he feels, the more bestial he becomes.)

Scene 7 - Thora recovers in a human camp, watched over by Asgerd (mother of Klaus-the-captive).  Thora, who's never dealt with humans before (role-played very nicely by Paul), tries to make friends.  (Player initiated Social + Magic conflict, in order to get some extra dice due to Paul's terrible Social score - Thora fails and is either Incapacitated or Super-Incapacitated (we got mixed up here) - resulting in Asgerd deploying a magical manacle to force Thora to lead the hunters directly to the Dell.) 

That's where things begin to get wobbly: Paul went from being Incapacitated, to Injured, to (at least) Incapacitated again, pretty much immediately.  It didn't help that Paul's dice are broken and cannot roll successes.  But I think he felt somewhat de-protagonized by the rules, because he couldn't really do much.

Scene 8 - Ingrid and Gantwood head out to rescue Thora.  There may be a minor social conflict with Mollywort, can't remember.

Scene 9 - Thora, still reeling under Asgerd's magic, tries to lead them astray.  (Minor Magic Conflict - Thora leads them to a "false Dell".)  There's a very funny scene where Thora tries to mimic the ferocious man-eating trolls and intimidate the huntsmen into fleeing.  (Medium Fighting + Social conflict - Throa scares off several of the hunters.)

During this conflict, I forgot that Thora was already Incapacitated, and couldn't re-think the series/re-rolls/etc. to correct it, so we just went with it.  It's the only point in the game where I overturned the rules.  I suspect this would have been Paul's third Incapacitation in three scenes, had I remembered the rules.

As Thora makes a ruckus at the "false Dell," Gantwood and Ingrid arrive.  (Player-Initiated Medium Fighting Conflict: Ingrid fails to drive the humans off without hurting them.)  Gantwood goes berserk and starts maiming / killing people.  (Player-Initiated Medium Fighting + Social Conflict: Ingrid manages to calm Gantwood down and save a few lives.)  Thora, meanwhile, persuades Asgerd to take off the manacle.  (Player initiated Minor Social conflict: Thora's a free woman.)

===At this point it was nearly midnight and I wanted to go to bed.  I thought about ending here (sucks) or postponing resolution for yet another week (sucks), but decided it'd be better to frame a quick resolution===

Scene 10 - The trollbabes take Gantwood, Asgerd, and the unconscious human surviors to the Dell.  Ingrid approaches Wirresprocket, and offers to take his rival away with her if he agrees to lift the curse.  Wirresprocket agrees, but reneges during the ritual.  He decides to poison Gantwood unto death.  (Major Magical Conflict - Ingrid cures Gantwood.)  Thora confronts Wirresprocket and beats him until he confesses in front of the Dell that he's the one who framed Gantwood (Major Fighting + Social Conflict - while dueling, Thora disgraces Wirresprocket).

Story ends with Gantwood cured, but helping to rebuild the Klaus's barn and his own sense of worth.
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Paul T
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« Reply #25 on: March 10, 2009, 06:53:14 PM »

James,

That's a great summary!

We also had a very children's film kind of ending (and I mean this in the best way), where the Trollbabes sentenced Wirresprocket and Gantwood to repair the damage done to the humans' village, and established peace between the two villages.

One minor correction which may or may not be important: I'm pretty sure that Thora getting free from Asgerd was a Fighting + Social conflict, was it not? And I seem to remember Thora initiating a conflict to keep Gantwood from hurting the humans in there, as well, and failing (she fell into the river, and Gantwood tore some human's arm off). Or am I mixing two things up? Anyway, it's probably not too important.

Also, does "Minor-Medium-Major" indicate the Pace of each conflict?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: March 10, 2009, 08:33:29 PM »

Hi guys,

I am torn again, because the new text is extremely focused on these issues - exactly how to utilize the Stakes, the events so far, and scene framing techniques. Not, I stress, to "keep the story on track," but to provide the circumstances such that whatever happens, it's a story.

Dave, I can see where the anticipation of less fun might come from if the trollbabes crash and burn, and if the Stakes get settled by the GM more or less on his own ... but no, it's not less fun. I can't say the current text literally teaches you how to do that, but the new text does. I mean, with diagrams, circles & arrows and examples. (All my new examples are based on actual play, by the way, no exceptions or massaging.)

Anyway, you guys don't have the new text, so I'm not sure how constructive I'm being in telling you this. Only, if you would, go ahead and try it next time and

Finally, deprotagonizing and failure ... well, it's hard to detach the two, but it can be done. Since you have the narration rights over the circumstances of most failure, it's worth considering that this is a crucial aspect of play. Sometimes I get the idea that we can all easily visualize our characters being our characters when they succeed, but less so when they fail. (This, despite our favorite comics and film and other genre heroes being stomped to dogshit all the time.) So it might be worth considering that if and when you play Trollbabe, her local failures in individual conflicts as well as her overall failures in larger terms are part of her as your heroic character. Preserving her hero-ness by putting her "value" into the circumstances of success is not really going into the darker, wilder territory of this kind of fantasy, I think.

It might help to think of a total bummer scenario, in terms of the impact on other people (and independent of the Stakes, possibly), as a prequel to the next adventure.

It also might help to think of the Stakes as not being defined as "trollbabe succeeds, trollbabe fails." For instance, if the Stakes are something like "the girl lives or the girl dies," then one of the two will happen - through whatever confluence of effects or events affected by the presence of the trollbabe in the situation. It does not mean that the scenario is "trollbabe saves the girl, trollbabe tries and fails to save the girl."

I hope this is useful advice and not a "you done it wrong" accusation. I'm harping on it because, well, I've corresponded with all of you about actual play for quite a long time now, to a great depth. I think this issue is important for you not merely in terms of Trollbabe, but in terms of Story Now as a general thing.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #27 on: March 11, 2009, 11:15:20 AM »

Dave, there was certainly a fail condition in the scenario: Mollywort marries Wirresprocket and together they agree to "adopt" Gantwood, driving him into madness to the point where he completely loses it and gets killed.

Oh, sweet.  That's actually quite thematically satisfying. 

Was that all you, or did the TB instructions help you craft that?

Ron,
All of your points make sense to me.  I think it's simply that, after a long enough play history of hit-and-miss fun with "let the GM handle everything for this segment of the narrative", I have a minor inclination to avoid that if possible, until the particular GM shows me that I'm in good hands. 

I suspect the disred result here is that I trust the game to handle this particular part of the narrative, and the game will help the GM reliably come up with cool shit like James did.  In a fair world, of course, the player just trusts that the game will work without requiring "prove it", much as with non-RPG games.  In the real world, though, I think some degree of explicit expectation-setting and procedural transparency might have helped me get out of my own way.

Like, if the rules instructed James to tell us, "This situation will wrap up in a way that, assuming you have any interest in the premise and theme involved, will be cool... even if both Trollbabes are killed!  This is hard-coded, and doesn't rely on me to be a genius!"  That would have informed me to play differently.

Whether this is mere procedural clarity or a step in an impossible fool's errand of hand-holding, I have no idea. 

I'm glad that the next edition will include more teaching text and diagrams.  I love that stuff.

Your post got cut off here:

Anyway, you guys don't have the new text, so I'm not sure how constructive I'm being in telling you this. Only, if you would, go ahead and try it next time and

Nice cliffhanger moment.  :)

Ps,
-David
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David Berg
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« Reply #28 on: March 11, 2009, 11:17:46 AM »

I suspect the disred result here
the DESIRED result
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David Berg
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« Reply #29 on: March 11, 2009, 11:36:39 AM »

Since you have the narration rights over the circumstances of most failure, it's worth considering that this is a crucial aspect of play.

This definitely caught my attention.  And it came up once or twice in our game.

However... I got plenty of chances to contribute to "where the story goes" via announcing character intentions and actions (which is what I'm used to when not GMing).  Plus, I had the creative outlet of throwing suggestions at James when some part of the setting called for fleshing out.  So, "the mechanics say I win narration rights" didn't strike me as being as big a deal as perhaps it was supposed to.  Accordingly, I might not have taken full advantage of the opportunity to make strong contributions to the story's direction, tone, theme, etc.

If I remember right, Paul and I used our failure narrations mostly to apply color to the failure, and not too much beyond that.

Not sure if there's a takeaway beyond the fact that I'm a noob to Story Now play.
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