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Author Topic: [& Sword] The Contessa's Baby  (Read 7120 times)
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« on: December 19, 2006, 01:37:42 AM »

The game’s Sorceror, set in 18th century Africa. Here's the prep thread.

Sean’s playing Rasputin, a Russian sorcerer eager for the demonic knowledge he knows can be found in the heart of Africa.

Gino’s playing Sebastian, a racist English fop exiled to Africa by his parents.

The joint Kicker was that Sebastian sleeps with The Contessa, an old Russian girlfriend of Rasputin’s. Sebastian is angry at being drugged and manipulated into sex; Rasputin wants to know why this woman he hasn’t seen in three years is in Africa, in this city, sleeping with his best friend... because it sure as hell ain’t a coincidence.
 
Soon after Sebastian wakes up in the Contessa’s bedroom, he gets into a fight with the Contessa’s bodyguard, Azaan – a one-sided fight that ends with Sebastian being thrown out a window.

Sean suggested that Rasputin could be walking by and sees Sebastian land. This would put the two of them together more quickly than I’d expected, but I thought it was a good idea because it’d introduce the central relationships quickly. And it let me introduce Rasputin’s three-year old baby, Yvan, which was my big spike to Rasputin’s Kicker.

My highlight of the session was a sequence that started when Rasputin and Sebastian arrived back at their apartment to talk (two or three scenes into the game) until the end of the session

* I loved playing Jalali, Rasputin’s demon, who wants to eat Rasputin’s baby in exchange for pivotal information about Rasputin’s past.

* Sebastian’s romantically involved in the daughter of the city’s dictator. I had the dictator throw Sebastian in jail, so he could find out if Sebastian’s intentions were honourable.

* Throughout that scene, there was a dead body in the cell. It was the body of one of their business rivals, which I left there, unexplained, for a while. Then I threw Rasputin into the cell as well and a full-on social and physical conflict ensued, with the two of them trying to convince the dictator they were innocent, and then trying to overcome the guards in an escape attempt.

Thoughts

I really liked GMing for 2 players. It was easy to keep both of them involved and the whole game felt like a conversation rather than ringmastering.

There was also a light, funny tone to the game that I hadn't expected. This was driven by Gino’s portrayal of Sebastian's upper-class attitude, and his willingness to take pratfalls.

The relationship between the PCs felt well-established. These two characters have been travelling together for a while, and Gino and Sean have been friends for ages.

Any time there was a reference to anything that had happened before, I eagerly jotted it down and inserted it into the timeline I’d written up. As far as I’m concerned, the timeline is the setting.

Even though I'd prepped most of the bangs for Sean's character (Rasputin), I found I was giving most of the screen time to Gino. It seemed fair to me and - from later conversation – to Sean as well.

I’m not entirely sure if Gino was ENGAGED with his Kicker. But he did what it says in the rules – made sure his character had a reason to stick around, and found something to care about. In this case, that someone (probably an old enemy) was killing their business rivals and framing Rasputin and Sebastian for the murders.

On the ride back home, Sean and I had a good talk. I’ll paraphrase some of the points here:

- Quite often I was dominating the narration of conflict outcomes, rather than letting all three of us contribute to figuring out what the situation now looked like
- Sometimes the narration of conflict outcomes didn’t take account of everything that had happened inside the conflict.
- Sean seemed a little ... uncomfortable (?) about conflicts where opponents stated intentions that weren’t directly in opposition.
- Sean also commented that you can get on an upward spiral (a life-spiral?) of bonus dice, that can start to guarantee success. On the other hand, this did lead to Gino carrying around 8 bonus dice and frakking vapourising a spider demon with a single thrown dagger – which was the single coolest moment of the entire game for me.

My main concern was that I found the prep for the game was really tough. Generating the web of characters, figuring out what each NPC really wanted, coming up with bangs. For both sessions 1 and 2, it felt like a lot of work for really good results – but certainly more prep than I’ve been used with with games like Primetime Adventures and Burning Empires.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 642


« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2006, 10:58:01 AM »

Prep in Sorcerer is time-consuming.  One way to look at it is to say, "Okay, here's a situation arising from the interaction of this setting, and these particular characters.  What are the absolutely unavoidable yes/no questions coming out of that situation?" and then dramatizing it.  Like, "Does the Countess blackmail Rasputin about this kid?" or something.

I've never seen a "life spiral" in Sorcerer.  (I kind of think it's impossible to sustain for longer than 2-3 rolls, based on the limited amount of play I've seen!  But maybe I was playing the game wrong.) 
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Frank T
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« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2006, 08:19:41 AM »

Hi Steve,

Good job! It's true, you need to invest some at the beginning, but after that, prepping should get much easier as you just shift your story map around a bit to reflect what happened in play, and should easily spot new opportunities.

Regarding Gino's kicker, I think it was a little weak. I still don't really see the connection between the whole "Rasputin's baby" thing and why the Contessa wanted to have sex with Gino's character, and then have him thrown out by her bodyguard. Also, the kicker did not initially come from Gino, did it? I'm curious: Did you make up that whole "dictator's daughter" affair, or did Gino come up with that?

Regarding the outcomes of conflicts: I used to think they were pretty easily figured out once the dice come down, since intentions in Sorcerer are not wide, stake-y things, but very concrete actions. Can you give an example?

And I need to re-read that part about destiny. It sounds interesting, but it bothers me a little.

Frank
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2006, 10:52:14 AM »

Hiya,

Frank's asking all the right questions.

Best, Ron
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hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2006, 08:29:43 PM »

Hi James,

The prep has gotten easier and shorter with each session. For Sessions 1 and 2, I wanted to be absolutely certain about what each NPC wanted from the PCs. Then I came up with the situational questions and the Bangs. I think most of my prep time was consumed by:

- reading lots of stuff about African legends, sorcery, and politics
- assembling a chronology of Rasputin’s and Sebastian’s adventures up to and beyond that point
- creating a whole bunch of NPCs to populate the city
- figuring out what each NPC wanted from the PCs (which involved coming up with about 20 ‘wants’ each before settling on one that rocked hard enough)
- creating those situational ‘Yes/No’ questions, which were:

Quote
Will Rasputin accept that he’s the father of the baby?
Will Rasputin sacrifice his baby to Jalali?

Will Sebastian fight past Azaan in order to confront the Contessa?
Will Sebastian tell Makeda how he really feels about her? (Bear in mind, I don’t know how he really feels about her.)

Will either Rasputin or Sebastian get the truth out of the Contessa, about why she’s here?
Will Rasputin and Sebastian convince the authorities they didn’t kill anybody?

And then I created Bangs from there.

***

For Session 2, I didn’t need to do any of that ‘creating the background’ work, but I found that I still really wanted to know how the NPCs would respond to the PCs' actions in the previous session.

So, again, I worked real hard at figuring out what each NPC wanted now. That process of trying to figure out how each NPC saw the situation took a long time (maybe 4 or 5 hours over a 2 week period). The situational questions were:

- Will Rasputin spend the night with the Contessa?
- Will Rasputin make the Contessa confess what she’s up to?

- Will Sebastian let Makeda come on the hunt with him?
- Will Sebastian delay his hunt to deal with the barksteel slaves?


***

However, Session 3 was even easier to prep for. It’s obvious what the NPCs want now. There are only four situational questions, and I think they're WAAAY stronger than than for the previous two sessions:


- Will Rasputin sacrifice his Baby to Jalali or not?
[With the ‘not’ being a wide range of possible options.]
- Will Rasputin and Sebastian summon any demons (to either heal Sebastian or take on the Contessa)?
- Will Rasputin and Sebastian attack the Contessa?
- Will Rasputin and Sebastian attack Kigongo?


I jotted down some Bangs that came out of those, and the whole thing took about half an hour.
Logged

Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2006, 08:33:44 PM »

Hi Frank,

Yep, Gino’s kicker initially come from Sean. I think I asked Gino about 3 times whether he was excited about it (having been bitten by half-arsed Kickers from other players). By the end of Session 2, I had no doubt that he was fully committed to dealing with the situation. Gino, any thoughts?

Quote
I'm curious: Did you make up that whole "dictator's daughter" affair, or did Gino come up with that?

Gino made up the ‘romantic involvement with a native’ thing. He was keen to use it to explore his character’s racism. I made her the dictator’s daughter, because Gino hadn’t specified how she was connected to the society. I wasn’t’ interested in her being an orphan, and I figured that the strongest choice was to make her the daughter of the man who Sebastian & Rasputin were trying to deal with. That created a lot of interesting tensions in the setting.

The answer to why the Contessa wanted to have sex with Gino's character will probably come out early in the next session. Rasputin now has some leverage over the Contessa, and it’s a question he’s wanted answered for a while. So, I might leave that until after we’ve played.

***

As for conflicts, I was pretty comfortable dealing with conflicts between NPCs, PCs, and inanimate forces - all with their own not-necessarily-opposed desires. (Thanks, Ron, for going over that stuff with me). Sean, if you want to go into more detail about your observations ...?

The Destiny stuff appealed to both Sean and Gino when I read it out to them. They both wanted ‘Position’ destinies. Sean later refined Rasputin’s Destiny as being:

Quote
Rasputin finds his dark heart and comes to accept it. Freed of morality he uses his powers to take control of the Russian Empire before coming to a sticky end (luckily for the rest of humanity).
Logged

Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Frank T
Guest
« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2006, 05:17:53 AM »

Hey Steve, all of this sounds fine to me. I do think that Gino's kicker wasn't the best one he could have got, so he wasn't that engaged in it from the start, and focussed on acting out the snobby Brit instead. Picking something related to his destiny from the start probably would have been the better option. But hey, it was the first time, next time he'll no doubt make a stronger kicker. And you reacted very well by picking up that bit about the native girl, effectively turning that into more of a kicker than the bit about the Contessa (or at least that's what I read from your AP).

Overall you did a great job of preparing for the session. From what I have gathered and experienced myself, Sorcerer is a game that takes a little time to figure out, if you do not have the privilege to learn it from someone who already knows it in actual play. So, since things have been getting easier for you from session to session, I think you are right on track.

Frank
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hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2006, 11:24:09 AM »

Thanks Frank. I figure I'll post the Session 2 write-up now, which we played at the start of last week.

***

Session 2 started with the two PCs in a bar, having just obliterated a spider-demon who’d been trying to kill one of their business rivals. I decided to not throw any Bangs in to the story for a while and just give the players a chance to slip into character and rediscover the world.

It quickly became apparent that they weren’t interested in immediately following up on either the Contessa or the source of the demon attacks. Instead, both Sean and Gino wanted to know more about Nadra - an NPC who Sean had created in the prep. I had introduced her into the last scene of Session 1 as a new business rival and potential target of a demon attack. Sean described Nadra as having “no memory of Rasputin, despite having met him many times before.” That was a clear signal to me that Sean wanted me to come up with a twist on what had caused the memory loss.

Sean Boosted his Lore to see if the memory loss had a sorcerous cause. I revealed that Nadra had had premonitions of "being sacrificed by Rasputin on a mountain-top". As GM to players, I suggested that this could have resulted from having been Hinted.

I think Sean enjoyed me batting the ball back to him like that. Certainly there was a nice moment laced with irony and foreshadowing where Rasputin assured Nadra and Sebastian (and himself) that Rasputin would never hurt Nadra.

***

Here’s a big thing: influenced by Burning Empires, I wanted to show the players what one of the NPCs was up to. Kigongo is a cannibal/witch-doctor who wants Rasputin’s demon for himself. Kigongo is pissed off that his own demon was killed at the end of the last session. He decides to summon an even-more powerful demon to wreak havoc on Rasputin, Sebastian and everyone they love.

So, I made rolls to Contact and Pact in front of the players, described what was happening in creepy detail, and established a significant sense of threat ...

... which turned out to be completely tangential to what the story has turned out to be about. And by ‘story’ I mean ‘what all 3 of us are riveted by’. The story is now about the consequences of a fight that went horrifically wrong for Sebastian.

***

The fight happened because we'd reached a point at around 8.30pm where we could've ended the game, but I felt like we hadn’t quite hit the right note to end on yet, so we kept playing.

Gino has Sebastian track Kigongo to his abandoned room. It's filled with lots of gross evidence that Kigongo is going to engage in a bad-ass summoning.

Sebastian knows Rasputin’s at the Contessa’s for dinner, so he runs over there to warn him. This is hilarious and completely throws me for a loop because in an earlier scene Rasputin was drugged by the Contessa. I had no idea what Sebastian was going to find in the Contessa's rooms, so I ask for a couple of minutes to think about what he finds.

An aside: that drugging was pretty interesting because Sean only failed his roll by one. I told Sean that he had the option to resist the drug’s effect, but that he’d be carrying one Penalty. Instead Sean choose to have Rasputin drop to the floor unconscious – because (I believe) that’d be more interesting for the story.

So, we all know there’s going to be a big conflict coming up. I ask Gino how his character will approach. Gino says Sebastian’s the kind of guy who’d just burst in. So he finds Rasputin trussed up on the floor, and the Contessa and her bodyguard Azaan packing to leave the city.

NB: Azaan is a demon, but Gino thinks Azaan is human.

Sebastian attacks.

Carnage ensues.

Carnage like in the first round Azaan gets the drop on Sebastian and bites his throat with 2 successes of Special Damage: Lethal, leading to 9 Lasting Penalties and 4 Temporary one.

Cut to: Gino, swearing.

Cut to: Steve, explaining the Will roll.

The fight continues and goes completely out of control, ending with Sebastian bleeding on the floor with 16 Lasting Penalties, and Rasputin snatching his baby from the Contessa.

The demonic threat from Kigongo is now completely off-topic to what’s really of interest. Rasputin and Sebastian both want revenge on the Contessa.

- Rasputin, for being drugged and humiliated (v. similar to Sebastian’s kicker).
- Sebastian, for having his ass handed to him by a demon and nearly being killed.

The big questions now are:

- Will Rasputin sacrifice his Baby to Jalali or not? [With the ‘not’ being a wide range of possible options.]
- Will Rasputin and Sebastian summon any demons (to either heal Sebastian or take on the Contessa)?
- Will Rasputin and Sebastian attack the Contessa?
- Will Rasputin and Sebastian attack Kigongo?


***

There was also a nice meaty scene in the middle of the session where Sebastian ended up at dinner with the city’s dictator, Mr Koli. I had no idea how to play this scene until I realised Mr Koli could make subtle digs at Sebastian’s suitability as a son-in-law. I had a lot of fun speaking over the top Gino every time he tried to get a word in, and then realised this scene was the perfect opportunity for Sebastian to put forward his case for getting the barksteel tender. Which was the stated reason for the players being in the city in the first place.

So we had this great in-character conversation where Bonus dice were handed out to him and me each time either of our characters made a good point. Then there was a tense, evenly-matched roll, which we all agreed the fate of ‘who gets the tender’ was completely riding on – and Gino succeeded. It felt good to take the tender out of play at this point.

***

So, great session with a couple of Humanity Gain rolls – for Gino rescuing an NPC slave called Baraka, and Sean, when Rasputin stayed to help the near-dead Sebastian instead of running.

My main concerns now are:

- making sure that Gino’s PC (who’s got 16 penalties) isn’t cut out of the game too much. We had this big talk during prep about making interesting (author stance) choices
- talking with Sean and Gino about the Kigongo sub-plot & whether they’re interested in dealing with it in this adventure, or whether it’s actually the ‘next’ (unwritten) adventure for Rasputin and Sebastian.

Still, chaos, comedy, and an important lesson that Special Damage: Lethal means exactly what it says.
Logged

Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2006, 02:29:29 PM »

Hi Steve,

I'm not sure, but I think you're group has made a major disconnect with the rules.

You wrote in your first post:

Quote
Sean also commented that you can get on an upward spiral (a life-spiral?) of bonus dice, that can start to guarantee success. On the other hand, this did lead to Gino carrying around 8 bonus dice and frakking vapourising a spider demon with a single thrown dagger – which was the single coolest moment of the entire game for me.

And then in the last post:

Quote
making sure that Gino’s PC (who’s got 16 penalties) isn’t cut out of the game too much. We had this big talk during prep about making interesting (author stance) choices

I'm a little concerned about this talk of "carrying around" bonus dice and apparently carrying over 16 (!) penalty dice between sessions.

Let me run something by you and see how this fits with what you are doing:

Bonus and Penalty dice do not "stay" with a character. They are not carried around.

They are used, if at all, when one roll of the dice in a conflict bears directly on the next roll of the dice. That's it.


So, if my PC is trying to kill a man, and my PC use Willpower to seduce him to distract him and soften him up so he'll be off guard, any Victories the PC gets on the seduction attempt will carry over into the attack. If my PC succeeds with two victories, I can carry those dice into the Stamina attack when my PC pulls out a knife and stabs the guy.

But let's say after that, as the man lies dying and bleeding on the floor, I need to crack the safe using my International Jewel Thief Cover. Now, even if I kiled the man with four Victories, those four Victories won't apply to the safecracking because there's no direct relation between the action of taking the man's life and cracking the safe. In fact, those four dice are GONE. They are never to be seen again.

However, let's say I stabbed him, but wanted to keep him alive to torture for information. Then the four Victory dice from the stabbing would be Bonus dice to apply to the Will role for torturing the guy.

But once that was done, and I moved on to convincing my PC's mom to lend my PC twenty bucks, any Bonus Dice from that violent scene would be gone, gone, gone.

Same thing applies to Penalty dice.

I think that's where the concerns of a "life-spiral" are coming from. That doesn't happen in the game, because Bonuses and Penalties aren't carried over outside of actions that lead directly into each other.

Is that how you guys have been playing?

Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #9 on: December 23, 2006, 02:59:10 PM »

Hi Chris,
Quote
Bonus and Penalty dice do not "stay" with a character. They are not carried around.

They are used, if at all, when one roll of the dice in a conflict bears directly on the next roll of the dice. That's it.

Check. I'm pretty sure we've been playing by the rules. I've certainly been monitoring if Bonus or Penalty dice were relevant to the next roll or not.

The 8 Bonus dice that Gino was carrying around was the result of three plot-linked rolls - convince the dictator that Sebastian hadn't used a spider to kill his business rivals + fight off the guards trying to execute him for the murder + throw a dagger at the spider-demon responsible for the murder.

The 16 penalties are Lasting Penalties from combat damage (halved from 33 Lasting Penalties). I thought those Penalties stayed with the character until the character had healed. That is, they lasted between sessions. Is that right?
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #10 on: December 23, 2006, 03:40:49 PM »

Hi Steve,

Got it.

Well, the penalties certainly sound correct. (Gino of course can get Boost dice from a demon. Or get a demon to do things for him while he's healing. He's a Sorcerer. He's got options if he wants to use them...)

As for the Bonus dice... I can't tell you you're doing it "wrong" -- cause if it's working for you, it's working. But I don't think "plot-linked" rolls are in the spirit or letter of the rules.

The purpose of the carry over is to have the player make smaller, easier rolls that add more description and color to the scene's actions, building them to a nice big fat spike when the rolls count more. And in this regard, they are (at least in the rules as written) supposed to be direct influences from one action to the next.

I don't think (again, according to the rules as written, not as you choose to use them) successes from convincing anyone of anything could be used in throwing a dagger at a spider. I see a "plot-connection," as you put it. But I see no direct influence of the one action affectng the other action.

Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #11 on: December 23, 2006, 03:43:18 PM »

I just realized I overstated one point and can't edit:

The purpose is not to start with easier rolls and build. Though you can do that, that limits the thinking and options.

But the point is to carry Bonuses in direct causality from one to the next -- not issues of plot.

Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #12 on: December 23, 2006, 04:05:46 PM »

Okay, now I've got another question:

So, Gino gets some Bonus dice during the convincing with the dictator.

So then you record the number of Bonus Dice and what it's pertiant to?

Are you do this anytime a PC gets Bonus Dice?

So that whenever there's a dice roll you go back and check to see if there are any pertinant Bonus Dice?

Or do only some scenes (or scenes tied to important plot threads) count?

Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
hix
Member

Posts: 531

Steve Hickey


« Reply #13 on: December 23, 2006, 06:22:49 PM »

What I've been doing the last 2 sessions is reminding Gino and Sean that they have rolled-over Bonus dice whenever they make a successful roll. They grab those dice and put them to one side. From there, it's up to them to apply the dice to their next roll. If they forget, then the dice are discarded. If they're applied, we do a quick check to make sure those dice are relevant to this roll - and if not, they're discarded.

We don't write anything down about why the dice were awarded; it's all kept in our heads.
I try to remember to apply that process to every single roll.

***

And maybe 'plot-linked' was the wrong choice of words. It was more that I could sense Gino was portraying Sebastian so that he was becoming increasingly frustrated at being accused of murder and being put under pressure about it. So, it felt like there was also a strong emotional throughline connecting all three rolls.

As you point out, that's still not direct causality but I'm extrapolating from this thread about a contest of wills between two characters. Ron's reply (#6), about how a hypothetical 3-dice penalty can be applied much later on in the story, is the reason I thought the system could work this way.

I'll look over those rules tonight.
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Cheers,
Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2006, 06:34:49 PM »

I got it now.

What threw me was the fear of the "life-spiral" -- and then the phrasing you used. Sounds like you're right on the money.

Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
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