[S/Lay w/Me] Three times at Forge Midwest

Started by Ron Edwards, June 10, 2010, 08:42:38 PM

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Ron Edwards

I had the chance to play S/Lay w/Me several times at Forge Midwest. Willow and Tim had been a little uncertain with their previous game (see Slay With Me: 1st Game), and each wanted to play with me in order to get some grounding.

I'm pleased to report as well that Willow is too the target audience, with all the themes and pulp-surreal and romantic content one might ask for when playing this game. She made up Crimson, using the child of a demon description (found in the second printing; the additions for the second printing may be found here), red-skinned, beautiful, horned, with an axe. Yowza rock and roll album! She sought her demon father "where the Clockwork War rages still."

I've been given that phrase as a setting before, so I thought a little bit about how to make it different this time. Given the character as described, I also found myself thinking more in terms of making her a real fish out of water. So I hit upon a generally traditional fantasy setting in terms of content, but with organizational features that were more like a modern suburb, Stepford Wives style except a little more densely-populated. Basically, the men were all robots and the women were their terrorized prisoners, forced to act and function exactly and only as perfect wives and daughters.

In game terms, the monster was fast, up-front, civil, in a group; the lover, a girl named Vanthi was innocent, forbidden, open-hearted, knowledgeable. I went for a female Lover for a female hero based on some of Willow's phrasing about how "no man" could resist her, or face her, or something like that. The "forbidden" status of the Lover wasn't based on the girl-on-girl issue, but rather on the fact that any romance with one of the women in the location of this adventure would be fiercely resisted by most of the other characters.

Crimson was a great hero, kicking ass left and right, spending a night with Vanthi, seeming much like a one-dimensional character at first, but then turning that around as play proceeded, ultimately saving her demonic father from imprisonment in a tank rather than killing him. Also if I recall correctly, the poor Lover ended up slain by a robot, which was definitely a bummer. I liked Vanthi, who looked like a sad little doormat at first but turned into a dedicated insurgent.

He made up Mino, using the scholar who can kill if he must, seeking sort of a Rosetta Stone thing in "the Crystal Court, whose queen remains unknown." Again working from contrast with earlier play that had utilized that setting-phrase, I dreamed up an idyllic philosopher-community on a mountain made of gently rolling hills, with fountains and marble columns and clean white robes. I was pretty psyched by my Monster, a secretive giant slug-thing with an ancient woman's body from the waist up sprouting from its head, and what it was doing - sucking all the original thought and passion from the scholars, leaving them to chatter in banal emptiness and the vain delusion that they had reached intellectual paradise. Not that this would have anything to do with my day job.

Coincidentally, all my specifications were exactly the opposites of what I'd done for Willow's story. The Queen slug-monster was slow, with deceit, savage, singly; and the Lover, Qarae was wanton, approved, manipulative, helpless. Actually the latter was a lot more positive than the terms alone make her seem, as she desperately wanted to regain her mind that had been drained and shattered. If I remember correctly, Mino took her with him after defeating the Queen and shattering the Court (which does seem to happen a lot with this particular location description).

Anyway, the key issue was procedural: what to say in a Go. I think the rules text is pretty good about this, but it's also true that keeping two issues separate is important: (i) how much of the other player's "stuff" you can make do things on your Go, and (ii) how much you move the story forward on your Go. The second is actually more important, so that when someone chops your guy's head, saying "I parry," isn't enough for a good Go. In fact, "I chop his/your head," isn't enough in the first place. A Go has to move the fight along as an event, meaning that each player has to describe the effects and outcomes, or better, the consequences of the action. Once that gets going, the first issue tends to take care of itself.

I'm not sure that I managed to articulate it this well for Tim during play, unfortunately, because we got a little hung up on the first, lesser issue without clarifying the second, more important one enough.

In this case, we did play two sessions, first with her adventurer, and second with mine. Her adventurer was the young warrior(-ess) with grey hair, "where the Clockwork War rages still," seeking a chalice of power from the king of the Clockwork army.
For this game, I went back to my original general sense of that setting, similar to what Tim Koppang and I did in [S/Lay w/Me] The back-story and earliest playtesting. A stormy, medieval place, half King Arthur and half the Thirty Years' War. This time, though, I had a different idea about the Lover, especially since Jen had specified a king in her goal, and also since I was still thinking about the game with Tim set in the Crystal Court.
The Monster was obviously the robotic knights = fast, up-front, civil, in a group, just like the Stepford Husband robots in the game with Willow, unsurprisingly. The Lover was a lot of fun: a young man who was basically shanghaied into "leading" one of the sides of the robotic war; apparently they keep finding another person to do this as the old one gets "worn out." He was wanton, approved (in the sense that the knights didn't care whether he was romantic with anyone or not), open-hearted, helpless.

This was one of the most brutal, fun, action-packed, romantic stories I'd played yet. The final fight scene was especially good, in which the adventurer managed to duck between two attacking knights so they skewered/chopped one another, and the romance was very satisfying and yet also doomed.

In the second session, I played the adventure, using the new "I slew men to win my freeom but never again" description to make up a shaven-headed brawny man with straps across his chest, unarmed. I chose a location that I hadn't yet seen in play, "the world contained in the Mad Lord's final spell," seeking a child's stolen soul.

Jen combined the Monster and Lover into the same character: slow, with deceit, civil, singly; not sure about innocent or wanton, not sure about approved/forbidden, but definitely manipulative and knowledgeable. Her approach to the story reminded me very greatly of the psychological, surreal fantasy subgenre, for instance Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore by Sheri S. Tepper. The Monster-Lover was doubly deceptive in being very easy to mistake for the child's stolen soul, in that trying to rescue that character was actually a deadly trap.

I found that my concept for this hero was pretty hard-boiled, and early on, totally dismissed the Lover option and thought of the other main character as only a Monster. Which was kind of brutal because she did, in fact, want my character to stay with her in "paradise," but it would have been at the cost of the real child's soul. My character ended up with a withered and blasted arm, but emerged victorious by completing the mad lord's final spell, trapping the Monster alone in paradise, forever cut off from reality. I really liked this guy and want to play him again some day.

Best, Ron