[S/Lay w/Me] The Tome of Mechanical Wonders

Started by Gregor Hutton, September 29, 2009, 01:11:59 PM

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Gregor Hutton

Last night Joe Prince, Matt Reid and I playtested Andy Kenrick's "Six Bullets For Vengeance". We got through the first (final) scene before Matt had to go home, having exhausted his gamer credit with a weekend of wargaming. Report from Joe to follow... briefly it needed structure was my take. Still, the night was young and what were Mr Prince and I to do?

Purely by chance the bag that I had with me contained my copy of S/Lay w/Me. Otherwise it looked like we'd just have a cup of tea and an early night. Let's give it a go was our take, and so we did.

I was "I" and Joe was "You", which seemed to make most sense as I have read the book and Joe hadn't. Though, after one play through I'm very confident that Joe could run the game without me and certainly be the "I" to my "You" as the book recommends for the next adventure.

So, Joe started off: I am an escaped apprentice... and his description was one of "Oversized leather gloves and strange goggles with a mechanical contraption"... we are in the City of Rats where thieves pay taxes... and his Goal was to seize the Tome of Mechanical Wonders stolen by the Rat King.

I then created my Monster, in secret: Rembrandt, the Thieves' Champion, a Rat Assassin (I think we were both riffing, without speaking about it, on the Skaven stuff we both like from Warhammer) who wants to kill "You"... Fast, Up-Front, Civilly and Singly. I gave the Monster a 4 and kept that written down and hidden.

I created a Lover too: Tiala the Rat King's daughter, who had Innocent, Forbidden, Open-Hearted and Knowledgeable. I revealed that the Lover was worth 2, but not who it was.

I described the beginning. We were on the edge of the Frozen Sea at a spire of volcanic rock. Atop it was a massive super-murder of crows circling. For three months of the year the sea thawed enough for trade with the City of Rats that was beneath the rock. The city was a hive of activity heated by the very bowels of the earth, and its corridors were huge lave vents of black rock. Joe's hero was aboard the first ship to dock this year and it had been ice-locked at sea waiting for 6 months for this moment. I also stated that the rats and thieves seemed to have enough stolen goods that it implied they had other ways in and out of their city. I had a ceremony of rat warriors and priests to welcome the ship, who were all reverential to a white-robed figure of mystery (my Lover). The rat warriors came forth and consecrated the ship as it entered the city. A cabin boy, John, who I declared was known to Joe's hero, was stabbed viciously to death by the entourage and thrown overboard as a sacrifice to the Rat King and to ensure safe passage for everyone else. With the ship docked it was over to Joe.

Joe got himself a pendant that gave him safe passage in the City in return for the last of his gold. It had a rat's paw on it and he hung it about his neck on a chain. He set off, with a rough map in the direction of the Purple Senser -- a tavern where he might find information. Not quite had he started to seek the goal and start the match. I think Joe named himself as Heraldo on this go.

On my go I had him followed and let him know that he sensed this. He then came across a rat thief looting a dead passenger from the ship. The passenger had a pendant, so perhaps they didn't offer the immunity they were supposed to. Some jawing back and forth between Heraldo (you witnessesssesss...) and the thief (you thieving rat!) led me to have the thief attack Heraldo. I simply described plunging a dagger into Heraldo's neck, wounding him somewhat. And back to Joe's go.

He struggled with the thief but was able to use the crystal in his weapon to shatter the teeth of the rat and leave it unconscious and broken on the street. He then staggered off further into the city before collapsing in a doorway from his injuries, unable to continue.

My go. He awakes in a bed. Gudemoon, a rather rogueish rat in fine felt boots and with a pocket watch is excited to see Heraldo alive. Aha! I knew you would live but it was a close call. Gudemoon says that he was following Heraldo, on the orders of the Rat King and to make sure that he lived, enough to have an audience with the King. Tiala enters the scene and she is uncowled. There is an interest between Heraldo and Tiala, which was fun to roleplay. As they coyly and politely flirt with Gudemoon none the wiser. Gudemoon leaves so that Heraldo can dress and prepare himself to meet the King. Tiala dallies in leaving and turns to gaze at Heraldo as he steps from the bed naked. She drops a plate and scurries from the room. Still no clear move towards the lover or goal. And no monster from me. We are taking our time to enjoy the world first.

Joe has Heraldo come through to an oppulent antechamber where he discusses matters further with Gudemoon who then leaves to alert the Rat King of Heraldo's readiness. Tiala tells him that he is in the Rat King's chambers, but only that she serves him. Heraldo now asks her to help him find the Tome of Mechanical Wonders and she agrees, fetching a key. The match begins.

More to follow!

Gregor Hutton

So, the Match begins. Joe Goes first and has Tiala leading him to the Grand Library where the book is kept. He gets there and that is his forward-moving contribution. While on the way there, Tiala places her hand on Heraldo's shoulder and he lays his hand over hers. He promises that he will take her away from here and show her the wonders of the world, or stay with her. Joe gets two dice and rolls really well. (I didn't take a note of Joe's rolls but he got three Sixes throughout the Match, anyway...) They pair raech the Library and a balcony overlooking the great scene. Below Rat Librarians scurry about with books and tomes. A hive of silent scholarly activity.

My go. Tiala steps into a Gilded Cage that can be lowered into the Library from the balcony. Heraldo grasps the silk ropes and gently lowers her down. Once on the floor she heads for the Tome of Mechanical Wonders, unlocks it and carries it back towards the cage. I state that Heraldo notices a painting 500 feet high overlooking the library. In it is the Rat King -- seven headed!, Joe suggests, Yes! where seven Rats have been sorcerously merged to form a King -- and to his right the dead Rat Queen, lying in state, and to his left his daughter Tiala. Sweet! Tiala, below, enters the cage and is being lifted up by the ropes to Heraldo when he hears a polite cough from behind. "Dear chap" says Rembrandt, the polite assassin wearing eight kinds of black in his oh-so-stylish outfit, "please lower the Rat King's daughter to the ground so that I can kill you without bringing her harm". Heraldo freezes and won't do it. So, I have Rembrandt pulnge a perfectly black stilleto into Heraldo's chest and then kick him off the Balcony. Rembrandt swiftly grabs the silk cords so that Tiala does not fall. Below, Heraldo crash lands in a galss case displaying books. I roll a 1. Damn! I later see how bad a result this is for me, but that's the way the dice fall sometimes!

Joe's go. Heraldo frees himself from the wreckage and calls on Tiala to throw the Tome to him! What a charmer! Joe describes her trying to fit it through the Gilded Cage's bars without success, then she throws herself, clutching the Tome, from the cage while Rembrandt pulls the empty cage up by the ropes. Heraldo dives for the falling Lover and catches her, but they both tumble down a succession of balconies before a convenient tapestry breaks their fall. Joe now has Heraldo hanging by an arm from a balcony above a pit. In his other hand is Tiala, breathless, and in her other hand is the Tome. Joe rolls the dice and gets more good numbers. Damn!

My go. Tiala clutching at Heraldo cries when she sees the wound. Joe, playing Heraldo, says "Tis only a wound" to which I retort: "Black Lotus poison!". And above I have Rembrandt stick his dagger in a book so we can see the black Ichor on the blade and I roll my dice. A better roll for me this time (3), but I'm still way behind in the Match.

On Joe's go he has Heraldo and Tiala drop from the balcony and using the Tome of Wonder and his device he injects crystals into his chest at a resonant frequency. Concerned Tiala watches as Joe clears the posion from his body, at least temporarily the effects are stayed. Joe rolls another 6 I think. Double damn!

More to come!

(A note that this was quite easy and enjoyable for us to play. We found that we only had to refer to one or two pages of the book at a time and we passed the book back and forth to see what "moves" we could make on our "Goes". We also found the text to be direct and clear on what we could and could not define on our Goes. The text really made this very clear to us.)

Ron Edwards

Hi Gregor,

I think Joe got cheated on his first Go; getting the map is a fine start toward his hero's Goal. Still, your point about enjoying the world and simply playing characters to see where they go is perfectly valid, and I liked the bit in the bedroom with the dropped plate. That sort of play is what makes a dice-getting Go really hit, later.

Eight kinds of black - excellent! I've found civil Monsters to be a hell of a lot of fun to play.

"Injects crystals into his chest at a resonant frequency"?? I'm having Jordie LaForge flashbacks.

I'm looking forward to the conclusion, as well as any further general comments.

Best, Ron

Gregor Hutton

Now the pacing element comes in for me, or at least my thinking, on my next Go. I know that the Match will end at the conclusion of my fourth "Go". So this is my Third. I know not to "wrap" the match up, yet, but I can start to get there. I describe the Rat King with Gudemoon and Rembrandt. Gudemoon is killed by Rembrandt after the Rat King informs him that he can have Tiala as his bride if he kills Herlado. Rembrandt then heads off to confront Heraldo and Tiala. The heroic couple are trying to make their way through the Rat City when there is a polite cough. It is Rembrandt. After a warning he shoots Heraldo in the stomach, but it is not instantly fatal. He indicates to Tiala that she should hand the nearby musket/revolver/pistol to Heraldo for his "fair shot" in reply. I roll a 4! So I at least keep pace behind Joe, if not actually catching up.

Joes's Go! Tiala hands Heraldo the pistol and with all his remaining might he steadies his hand and fires. Rembrandt flinches and the shot blows through the chain holding Rembrandt's rat pendant. It falls into a gutter where a small rat grabs it and races off. Cursing Rembrandt runs after the pendant that guarantees his safety. Tiala helps Heraldo up and they struggle to get to the docks with the Tome. Joe rolls well again. Sigh.

On my go (and it's the final go) I have Heraldo and Tiala get on board a ship and sail free of the harbour. Joe's wondering where I'm going with this! When they are in deep water there is a cough behind them. They spin around and Rembrandt stabs Tiala in the chest - Black Lotus poison! He then rams the poison-free stiletto through Heraldo's hand pinning him to the boat. Then they realise the boat is sinking! Rembrandt is trying to send them both to a watery grave. What a beast! I roll a 4 and announce the end of the match.

Scores: I get 12. Joe has this on two of his dice and easily canters into the twenties when we add them all up (18 on 3 of his dice pretty much sums up his luck!).

So, he gets his goal -- he has gained mastery/ownership of the Tome of Mechanical Wonders.

We compare dice. I rolled a 1 and the effect of that is now clear. Joe has 6 "good" dice and can get three outcomes (in addition to his goal for free).

We enter the endgame, which as it turns out is a lot of fun.

More to follow! The game played quickly and richly, but my writing up is taking longer I'm afraid. I'll put my comments and observations at the end.

Gregor Hutton

Joe looked at what he wanted from the end game and he decided on the following: he'd get his goal of the Tome of Mechanical Wonders (for free), he's take the Lover with him (1), he'd kill the Monster (2) and he'd cure himself of the Monster's wounds (3). Fine. At this point Joe couldn't see what else he might want to accomplish and we got to the Goes.

Joe's first Go had him pulling his hand free of the sinking ship. I think he then plunged the stiletto dagger into Rembrandt and threw him overboard to his death. Or maybe he called to two accomplices and they shot Rembrandt for him? At some point Joe has two helpers appear, on this Go or the next. The Monster dies.

On my Go the boat continued to sink and we cut to the Rat King's balcony that overlooked the Frozen Sea. Next to him was his grand astronomer who was surveying the scene through a telescope. The Rat King marched back into his palatial throne room and using his Rat sorcery resurrected Gudemoon to be his new Champion. (Though the Monster for this story is dead, and I can't carry a Monster die over because of that.)

On Joe's Go his accomplices unfurl a canopy, which reveals an airship, with room for 4 or 5. I thought it sounded like a Da Vinci-esque gyrocopter or something -- maybe even a smaller version of the Owl from Lady Blackbird. Joe climbs up a rope and is on the airship readying for his escape with the Tome. This was him getting his Goal. Using the Tome he is able to power the airship and it sparks into life as the ship beneath lists badly into the icy sea.

On my Go, I have Caleb (I think that was his name), one of Heraldo's accomplices, leap on to the deck of the ship. He ties a rope around Tiala and so she can be pulled to safety. But, oh no!, in doing so he will be marooned on the deck and will drown in the icy sea. I don't "pull the trigger" on which choice Joe gets, though he had picked saving Tiala before we enter the end game. I leave that to Joe's Go. I slightly ponder Joe not saving the Lover and I'd be OK with that if he did it.

On Joe's go he pulls Tiala up to the airship on the rope and uses his device to cure the Poison in her. So, he saves the Lover. At this point Heraldo has ripped her robe open at the chest to expose her furred breasts. He plunges his mechanical device in both their chests, linking them. Light flickers along the crystal's length and she is cured by Heraldo of the Black Lotus poison. We ponder that Heraldo may now be immune to it. Down below the ship slips beneath the waves and Caleb dies, along with everyone else on the ship. Joe says that he'd rather have saved Caleb than kill the monster, but since the monster is already dead that's just the way it has to be. I think we both now saw why you might picks something else to be achieved from the list.

On my Go, Caleb's fellow skysailor and, as I reveal, lover cries as the ship flies free and away from the City of Rats. He is heartbroken by the loss of Caleb and tearfully throws a memento of his former lover overboard where it lands on an ice floe. Sometime later as I describe the skyship disappearing over the horizon an undead Gudemoon picks up the trinket and his eyes narrow. He is on the trail (for some future adventure).

On Joe's go he heals himself of his final wounds from the shooting earlier using the Tome and his devices. He has Tiala in his arms and far below the airship he can see the warm inviting coastline of the Golden Coast - azure sea and shimmering sands. We end.

We were both very satisfied. We then read about what changes would be brought about to Heraldo. He gains a die if he has Tiala with him on a future adventure, but in that adventure there will be two lovers but it will end with 1 or none. He gets to add prestige and capabilities for slaying the Monster. He gains Prestige and Social Power for getting the Tome. He also gets to amend his description.

Did I do enough to make Heraldo stay? This time: No. Crucially for me, though, I can see that I can work towards this goal over more adventures.

Comments to follow!

Joe J Prince

While we await Gregor's comments...

I had a lot of fun playing, especially considering I don't normally like 2-player RPGs. I was initially a bit concerned that my lack of genre familiarity would be a problem (I know Conan is king of a place called Kullifornya). As it turned out it mattered not a jot - though Heraldo's weird tech didn't quite turn out how I'd envisaged it.

It was refreshing (sadly) to play an indie game that just worked with no need for prep. I really liked the lists I got to choose from as a player, open enough to do what you want but tight enough to give you a concept and get things moving. Nice to have clarity of what you're supposed to do on a turn too, keeps the story ticking along. I wasn't sure exactly what authority I had during Gregor's goes, so was pretty quiet (though Gregor's skill at storytelling was definitely a factor here).

A few of the dice rolls felt a bit disconnected from the fiction. In our short game I got stabbed (thrice), shot, poisoned and thrown 200ft off a balcony. Yet I totally owned the dice rolls. It seemed a little odd the whupping Heraldo got when he was comfortably winning the match - I know it was all colour but still...

It seems a bit tough for the monster to win - theres a good chance of rolling a 1 on 4-6 dice, even without toppling the tower.

Oh, Caleb and Ricardo shot Rembrandt before Heraldo stabbed him in the eye and threw him overboard - all part of the same killing the monster go. Rembrandt revealed the poison by murdering Gudemon, not stabbing a book - minor point but much cooler!

Lots of good stuff, yet despite my skaven fetish I wasn't quite ready to 'embrace' the rat-girl. I felt Heraldo should take her out for some wine and cheese first at the very least.

I'm interested to see how it plays with the monster and lover one and the same.

Is S/Lay with Me an ashcan? It looks like one, but plays like a finished game so I dunno if you're looking for more feedback or not Ron.


Gregor Hutton

About Goes.

I found Goes to be easy and fun. I think we both did. I guess there will always be a bit of finding your comfort with the other player - Joe and I get on very well and I could happily listen to him all day! I guess I'm also a motormouth so our Goes tended to have more of the "Going" player than the other. But I didn't feel it was just "you speak-I speak" stuff. I do feel that over play this will also self-correct into a comfort zone, I certainly felt it going that way. The bottom line is that on your Go you have veto, but that it's enjoyable (for me anyway) to have the other player role-playing their hero and adding dialogue, colour and ideas (!) too. I liked when Joe suggested the Rat King had seven heads - yes! He now does.

It was also good that Joe didn't know who the Monster was (Gudemoon? The Rat King? No! My rat assassin, Rembrandt.) and by introducing the Lover specifically in the first scene that was a nice way of "outing" her suitably later on.

Oh, I suppose I should also mention Spione at this point. I really like Goes in Spione, but Joe found that game less accessible/comfortable for him. I think the difference that S/Lay w/Me has is that in S/Lay w/Me Joe had a character in a way that you don't get one in Spione. Also, the words in the hero's description are untouchable by the "I" player (well, I can mess about with them but I can't break or destroy them definably), whereas in Spione that stuff is _all_ up for grabs. Characters are also there to be played and emerge. Purely differences in the fiction that the games are helping produce.

For me, I like both. But for Joe I figured the playing of "your character" had a big draw and was an enjoyable part of play.

And I found Goes to be as easy as Spione. Also the advice on what you can't do in this phase of play, or on a Go, was super clear and helpful. (I noted to myself that the three phases of play were like It Was a Mutual Decision with its clearly defined beginning/middle/end with similarly clear rules about what to do in each phase). The book is short but to the point, and we only need to look at a couple of pages in any phase of play. Great!

The Match.

Looking back I am not too concerned about the chances of the "I" player rolling a 1 and so making all "You" dice of 2 and over "Good Dice". I felt that with ongoing play there will always be more things needing resolved than there are going to be Good Dice around. I could see a lowest roll of a 3, even, by the "I" player as being potentially very dangerous for a Hero.

I guess I also saw the score in the match, and the lowest die, as more of a metric of how the fortunes of the story will go rather than a justifiable win or loss by either party, or a reflection of what is happening in the fiction. I mean Conan gets thumped senseless, out-thought, conned, beaten, tricked, etc. as much as he slays incidental characters by the hatful, muddles through, endures bravely or cleverly plots and hides. The fictional stuff is this roller coaster of ups and downs, twists and turns and leading to a head.


I really liked the ending phase where we didn't get out of the story until it had all been resolved by Goes. In fact, given that we were no longer shooting for a Monster or Goal/Lover thing on each Go, it meant that we were focused on dealing with the issues at hand and for Joe to pcik his victories. So that was very enjoyable for me, and I think it was telling that characters sprang anew in the end-game that will probably live on in future adventures.


Oh, final comment was that I liked that the content wasn't just "Conan" or whatever. The phrases are open to such a wide interpretation but are definable enough starting points to kick off some sweet ideas. We had a phantasmagorical fantasy that worked for both of us. I think we'd fine tune it with more play. Joe was more the tech and goggles and I was more the furry rat-chests and ennunciating assassins. I guess when I play "You" I'll gravitate more to the REH side of things, but playing with Joe I'm going to find an enjoyable space that he wants to play in too.

Overall, great game. Loved it.

PS. Yes, Joe! Well noted on the corrections. Also in the description above I forgot to mention the Captain of the ship who was in the Rat King's presence, getting his reward for grassing you up to the Rat Thieves. And he got his ship sunk too. Maybe he'll turn up in a future on a new ship angry as all hell with Heraldo?