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Author Topic: [TSoY] Elven Sacrifice Question, and Cross-Species Key (AP)  (Read 7197 times)
Miedvied
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« on: May 16, 2008, 10:15:25 AM »

I don't know quite how much detail to go into: I could probably leave a lot out and still ask the question, but it was so damn cool I just feel like I ought to give the backstory. I'll skip names, since right now I think it'll just make it more confusing.

In our TSoY game the party includes an elf and a ratkin that have grown somewhat close; an odd pairing, but so be it. The stereotypical image I've always had in my head of an elf becoming human for love is picking up the key of love in some romantic fashion for another player or NPC, but it's become apparent as this game progresses that the elf is actually beginning to learn selflessness from the ratkin (which I think is just so awesome).

In our last session, the PCs are preparing a small town for defense from an oncoming army. There are various details and whatnot, but they're irrelevant to what's going on. Point is that they're on a time crunch - if they have time to finish preparations, they'll screw the invading army, if not, they'll be toppled over and (at best) escape to conduct guerrilla warfare down the road.

Elf, who has heretofore been a pacifist, finds himself at odds with a past life in which he was a warlord (this started in previous sessions as pure fluff, but it was cool, and suddenly had become important). Player didn't tell us what was up, but just had his elf stalk out of the encampment, swiping a sword on the way. It was odd, but everyone at the table was sort of nodding with the suspense - no one wanted to ask what he had in mind, because the tension was cool.

Oncoming army, elf is standing out there alone with this sword. He cashes in his keys (Coward,Outcast, and Power; he made a good case for them, and the bunch of us felt generous considering we knew this was a suicide run), drops a boat-load of advances he'd had saved up, and just went from pacifist to more-or-less combat-monster reveling in his past life. He BDTPs against the oncoming army: stakes were, if he wins, he kills an ass load of mobs, eventually dying of nicks and cuts, and delays them sufficiently to give the people in town time to prep (roll-over dice from successes here would count on their attempt to set up all the traps and whatnot). If he loses, he kills an ass load of mobs, gets hacked to pieces, and doesn't win his people any time at all.

He wins, which was awesome. It was one of those moments, yanno? Doesn't seem that spectacular in hindsight, at least not putting it into words, but at the time the players were stoked.

Now, here's the issue at hand:

(1) The moment he drops all advances and what-not, he wants to grab Key of the Litter. We accepted it w/o question just then, because it would have ruined the flow of the moment to say otherwise. It makes sense, for that matter: if anyone taught him love, it was the ratkin, not the humans. He didn't die for a woman or a friend; he died for his litter. On the other hand, Clint's setting is pretty carefully divided up as to which races have whcih emotional ranges: it's a core part of the game. Is there something I risk screwing up in the general feel of things if I let him pick up litter? (and set the precedent for others to grab cross-species emotions).

(2) As I start considering what the surviving NPCs reactions ought to be to his sacrifice, the question hits me: do they know he'll reincarnate? Sure, Elves know about the Grey Ones, but how widespread is this information among humans? Is it "he just died for us"? Or is it "he just sacrificed immortality for us"? Or do they know they elves keep coming back to life, and don't know that this sort of scenario results in mortality, and therefore, "meh, big deal; he was inconvenienced for us"? What *is* the general human idea (in the "default" setting) as to goblins and elves' propensity to change species?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2008, 12:19:44 PM »

I wouldn't personally allow the cross-species Key, but that's just my aesthetics and has little to do with the rules. I would either give the character a key that is similar but reflects his new humanity, or perhaps give him some Secret that specifically allows cross-species stuff to him. The human key makes sense to me the most, frankly: if the character just became human, then it would make sense that his feelings for these ratkin are human feelings, not ratking feelings - the potential difference is a source of further drama and refining of inter-species communication, not a fault. By giving him a key implying familial love towards the ratkin you allow the opportunity to rise for examining whether this is at all different from the litter-bond - perhaps it's not and litters are really just lil' bundles of love, or perhaps a human could never truly come to understand the alien mindset of the ratkin, forever apart from the human equation in Near. The character will also need to decide whether he loves the ratkin for their human nature or their animal nature, or whether he can accept both sides.

The other option, as I intimated, would be to build a Secret that allows this. I wouldn't do this one in this particular case, but if I had a human character who specifically was obsessed with ratkin and wanted to be like them, here are two choices:

Secret of Bestiality (form)
The character has adapted into a beastly form with beast-like instincts, closely resembling a beastkin such as ratkin or vulfen. He may learn and use Keys, Secrets and Abilities related to the form, but only as long as he possesses this Secret. Acting in a human-like way (such as speaking, etc.) costs the character one point of Reason per scene and one additional point per civilized Ability, Secret or Key utilized. Requirements: Secret of Addiction (beastliness)

Secret of Animal Friendship
The character has a rapport with beasts due to long exposure. He may refresh pools with friendly animals and learn animal-appropriate Keys - however, he needs to name and humanize each animal he refreshes with in some manner, projecting a humanity on the animal like they do in nature documentaries and Lassie movies. Animals that are already the target of relationship Keys do not require constant affirmation in this manner.

--

For the reincarnation question, I would judge the matter completely as a local question - there could be places in Near where there is more or less elf lore, including among elves. So if somebody on the scene was a Maldorite scholar, say, they might find the situation obvious, while if it all happened in some ground-down Zaru enclave, they might not even recognize an elf as anything but an alien and superior being. If there were player characters involved in the issue I'd even have them check suitable Abilities - not many would have suitable knowledge-type Abilities, but a scholar could probably use History or some such. If there are no other player characters involved, then I'd pick the scene I'd find most pertinent for the returning Grey Elf - and of course I'd justify it as well, so that if the locals find it obvious how elves work, then I'd be ready and willing to justify this by referring to either local culture level (high retain of rarely pertinent knowledge from the old days) or recent and extended experiences with other elves.

In other words, I don't particularly recommend handling races as splats, as they often get used in fantasy games. Speculating that all elves know about Grey Elves while "all humans" obviously would or wouldn't sounds a bit like all Jews would know about penile cancer. In my Near, you can't deduct what somebody would or wouldn't know by what race they are, except insofar as an elf would obviously have more immediate experience with his own special abilities, and just perhaps might have understanding of how the whole Grey Elf deal works - it's more dramatic if a character knows what he's doing when he becomes a Grey Elf, and when you consider how elves are born it makes sense that an elf would by definition understand how to relinquish the condition as well; being an elf is not a wholly racial thing after all, but rather an issue of grasping and consciously holding onto the state.
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Miedvied
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2008, 04:14:03 PM »

I wouldn't personally allow the cross-species Key, but that's just my aesthetics and has little to do with the rules. I would either give the character a key that is similar but reflects his new humanity, or perhaps give him some Secret that specifically allows cross-species stuff to him. The human key makes sense to me the most, frankly: if the character just became human, then it would make sense that his feelings for these ratkin are human feelings, not ratking feelings - the potential difference is a source of further drama and refining of inter-species communication, not a fault. By giving him a key implying familial love towards the ratkin you allow the opportunity to rise for examining whether this is at all different from the litter-bond - perhaps it's not and litters are really just lil' bundles of love, or perhaps a human could never truly come to understand the alien mindset of the ratkin, forever apart from the human equation in Near. The character will also need to decide whether he loves the ratkin for their human nature or their animal nature, or whether he can accept both sides.

I certainly like this take on things, and it's swaying me to have a talk with the player to persuade him to stick with the human keys. On the other hand, that does raise a valid question about the setting, and one that it seems this question hits on: are elves humans who've directed their human-love at themselves, or are they humans who've abandoned their sense of human-love (which, for argument's sake, is intrinsically extroverted) in favor of something altogether different (which is intrinsically introverted)?

I may just be rationalizing a bit much: it's just tough to say 'no' to players when they do something with style and dramatic power (I know the AP description didn't sound like a wow, but it felt that way at the table, and I heard my feelings echoed by the other players: it was that moment when the rules didn't stand in the way of cinematic drama, and didn't just enable it, but pushed us into it - it was just perfect). It feels like spoiling the moment, which I'm loathe to do unless I expect letting it stand to spoil things later in the story. To some extent it hits me sort of like a comment (I think Jesse once made) about Sorceror sorcery fluff being comparable to a ritualized use of family heirlooms: there's a moment of bated-breath awesomeness when a PC just disregards the heirloom and pounds the setting for a moment. It's just that in Sorceror the setting isn't as critical as it is in TSoY, and I'm not as experienced at running it as to spot what's likely to hit us in the face later (as opposed to something that could theoretically hit some campaign in the face, somewhere, maybe).

Quote
The other option, as I intimated, would be to build a Secret that allows this. I wouldn't do this one in this particular case, but if I had a human character who specifically was obsessed with ratkin and wanted to be like them, here are two choices:

The elf isn't obsessed with Ratkin; it just seems that's the PC that he bonded to, and learned affection and 'pack loyalty' from. It's certainly - not as I understood it, though I guess you never know 100% what a player is thinking - not an attempt to emulate Ratkin by choosing a ratkin-key, so much as trying to accurately model the character's feelings in the mechanics. To some extent, I've a suspicion (though I haven't voiced this with him yet) that if I veto the ratkin key he's going to try and buy up keys of Love for the entire party. Which, in my more traditional frame of mind, strikes me as ridiculous - but I sure as hell don't see why he couldn't. Hell, that'd probably produce a butt-load of good conflicts: perhaps I ought to suggest that.

Quote
For the reincarnation question, I would judge the matter completely as a local question - there could be places in Near where there is more or less elf lore, including among elves. ...In other words, I don't particularly recommend handling races as splats, as they often get used in fantasy games ... .

Well, that's kind of why I ask. Ratkin and humans are distributed solidly geographically, but I didn't get the same grasp on geographic distribution for elves. Being, as you say, a mindset more than an actual species, their distribution throughout the game world seems utterly haphazard. On the one hand, that leaves it totally up to me to control the NPC reactions by fiat, and up to the players according to however they feel their characters were exposed (or not); on the other hand, if the players ask for a hint of what the setting default is, I feel like any answer I give besides throwing my hands up in the air would essentially be BSing them towards the response that I want them to have. (If it's not immediately obvious, I'm somewhat new at actually GMing indie rpgs, and I'm not really sure where the comfortable line is between acceptable GM influence and deprotagonization - though I think I've done a decent job so far at avoiding dictating outcomes and just throwing tough decisions their way)
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oliof
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« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2008, 12:17:05 AM »

James,

that is way cool. I would also have my doubts about the Key of the Litter, and I would suggest the Key of the Guardian as a human-like replacement.

Regarding the question wether others know about elven reincarnation and grey eves my gut feeling is that this is highly unusual for people to know; as you said elven demography is haphazard, there probably aren't too many, and usually they keep the dirty secrets to themselves. But if there were some scholars or people acquainted with elves for some reasons, they might very well know.

In all the cases of softly or undefined setting details, my trick is to do it Jean-Luc Picard style: ask everyone of their opinion and take up the one that's most convincing to all; sometimes synthesizing various parts.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2008, 04:40:21 AM »

I appreciate the judgement you made on the field - if that seemed like the sensible angle to you at the time, then it was probably the correct answer; answering questions like whether an elf could transform into something which has litter-bond with the whole group is usually the better idea anyway, so I'm fully behind any decision arrived to by the whole group - the reasons for not allowing this are all setting-based and themeful, but if those themes and setting-details are not playing a role at the table, then they are irrelevant for your particular campaign.

A big part of this is how a given group interprets the significance of the ratkin litter-bond - the Key of the Litter is just an expression of this social structure and ratkin-specific social feeling. If the very inhumanity of an elf might allow or cause him to slip into a similar mindset, that's fine with me. I'm less hot about just using the litter key without thinking about what it means for a human or near-human to adopt such an alien mind-set, though; if the problem here is just that there is no ready-made Key for humans loving their friends, I recommend making one:

Key of Agape (group)
The character loves his friends, as only a human can. Define a group of people who are all friends with each other.
1xp: Express friendship and camaradie with the group of friends.
2xp: Support or get supported by a member of the group.
5xp: Change the composition of the friendship group.
Buyoff: Break off from the group.

My point being, you aren't limited to the Key of Love in expressing the in-setting idea that humans are loving beings.

--

For the question about the commonality of elven lore, I wouldn't say that it is GM fiat of any kind to make calls as to the situation - you would be well within the bounds of your role as a faciliator in determining smaller setting facts by yourself, but in this case you're not doing even that - you're just determining for this situation, towards which you have certain ownership and authority by the virtue of being the current Story Guide, that these particular NPCs have or don't have the kind of background that allows them to be intimately familiar with the elven process.

As for player characters, in some cases it would be appropriate for the player to decide how much his character knows, but in many other cases I'd ask for the Ability check, as I described earlier. The player may still decide how much he wants to win the check in whether he spends Pools for it, but at least it's an oracular method for determining this stuff. No need for the player to decide whether his character's upbringing in the Green World prepared him for this stuff or not - just roll the dice and make the call.

The reason that I'm not recommending this for the NPCs is that NPCs do not roll dice without player character participation. One method you might wish to consider is to simply leave this issue totally open until it becomes pertinent in play - at which point you might use the issue as fodder for whatever stance you want individual characters to take. So pro-hero NPCs might overestimate the significance of the elf's sacrifice, while contra-hero NPCs might underestimate. As you may just decide what your NPCs know, this is a swell method for building up new interesting situations.

(Interestingly enough, if the PC elf is the only elf the NPCs have ever heard of, it would be reasonable to ask the elf's player: did he ever reveal the secrets of elven immortality to these NPCs?)
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Miedvied
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« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2008, 08:24:27 AM »

A big part of this is how a given group interprets the significance of the ratkin litter-bond - the Key of the Litter is just an expression of this social structure and ratkin-specific social feeling. If the very inhumanity of an elf might allow or cause him to slip into a similar mindset, that's fine with me. I'm less hot about just using the litter key without thinking about what it means for a human or near-human to adopt such an alien mind-set, though; if the problem here is just that there is no ready-made Key for humans loving their friends, I recommend making one:

Key of Agape (group)
The character loves his friends, as only a human can. Define a group of people who are all friends with each other.
1xp: Express friendship and camaradie with the group of friends.
2xp: Support or get supported by a member of the group.
5xp: Change the composition of the friendship group.
Buyoff: Break off from the group.

My point being, you aren't limited to the Key of Love in expressing the in-setting idea that humans are loving beings.

I actually like that quite a bit, and I think that's what we'll go with. It certainly seems to fit everything, without stealing the oomph of the race distinctions in the game. Thanks.



Quote
As for player characters, in some cases it would be appropriate for the player to decide how much his character knows, but in many other cases I'd ask for the Ability check, as I described earlier. The player may still decide how much he wants to win the check in whether he spends Pools for it, but at least it's an oracular method for determining this stuff. No need for the player to decide whether his character's upbringing in the Green World prepared him for this stuff or not - just roll the dice and make the call.

Ah, you're absolutely right! You'd mentioned just having them roll earlier, but I sort of brushed it off mentally as being too randomized - it didn't click at the time that they could spend points to ensure the results come out however they feel strongly about, and I didn't want to leave things completely up to fortune. A brain fart on my part.

Quote
(Interestingly enough, if the PC elf is the only elf the NPCs have ever heard of, it would be reasonable to ask the elf's player: did he ever reveal the secrets of elven immortality to these NPCs?)

I hadn't given a lot of prior thought about the previous elven exposure the people had had, but at the moment I'm leaning towards "none" just so as to give this character's sacrifice maximum dramatic energy. I'll have to ask him whether he'd revealed it. I'm doubtful of it; his toon was a stand-offish prig (which was part of what made the sacrifice fun*).


*A tangible benefit from having lurked at the forge for a while: I know for a fact that if I'd been running this game five years ago, my reaction would have been something like, "no way. Your character can't do that. He's never picked up a sword before, and besides, that's /totally/ unlike him - he's a selfish prig." Quite possibly more important than anything else I've picked up from the forge, moreso than any Big Model, GNS, etc. stuff - Trust the players. Trust the players. Trust the players.
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Abkajud
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« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2008, 11:35:52 AM »

Hi, Miedvied!

I thought the Actual Play description you posted was pretty powerful stuff. As such, I would also support your decision to have the rules give way to player empowerment and a really awesome moment in game play. That's the whole deal with a good narrative, right? "Don't let the ____ get in the way of a good story", said someone or another, and I think you definitely nailed it.

Regarding how you say you used to GM, well ... judgments about the character's sword-proficiency and selfish nature might be important for consistency, but they're secondary to facts about the nature of PCs in TSoY, not to mention this particular character's own past life as a warlord. I figure, if we can have past lives clearly established for a character, it's not all *that* unreasonable to say that such information can actually come into play. Otherwise, such stuff would remain Color only, and who wants that when it's such a cool opportunity?

It occurs to me that this is the kind of logic people use for D+D when the rules aren't quite giving them the game they want, but this isn't about Incoherence. It's more in line with the Golden Rule from White Wolf games, I think - just pushing a little further along than the rules are letting you, and acknowledging that you (the GM) are not abusing your authority or disempowering anybody.
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Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/
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