Nobilis: Session 4

Yesterday evening was the fourth session of Nobilis, which was the last of this story arc. While it signified the end of the first arc, it nevertheless set up quite a few things for the following sessions. Two of the players could not be present for this session, which drastically changed the feel of the game, as the different group composition led to different focal points. Another thing that made the session a little more awkward to me is that we switched to Dutch for this one, as before it was in English for the benefit of one of the players. Though I’m born and raised in the Netherlands, I’ve never played RPGs in Dutch nor do I consume Dutch-language media. So, outside of professional situations, I don’t have a particularly large vocabulary in Dutch, which hampered my ability to be as allusive and metaphorical as I attempted my character to be in English.

Brief Summary

We started off in the reception party to present the newly-decanted Noble of Coal, which was an promising scene of social conflict. Our group was clearly the odd one out, and it slowly became clear that we were invited as a courtesy—the previous Noble of Coal was murdered on our Chancel territory, so inviting us to the ceremony was probably a matter of good manners. Anxiety isolated himself from all the potential stress in the corner of the room, inadvertently ending up next to Mo-An, another courtesy-invite who later on turned out to be a crucial person for us to talk to. Marcella started to go around the room to make some new connections (meeting Olivia Neiros, the Lady of Nightmares) and finally ended up flirting with Janna, The Lady of Mercury, while chatting with Azar, the new Noble of Coal. This allowed Ariana to individually speak with Mira Zophis, the Imperator of Coal, about the murder case. Mira Zophis tried to dig a little into the specifics of the murder case, but Ariana kept him at a distance for the talk.

Later at the Chancel, our trio discussed Ariana’s theory on the murder. She suspected that the former Noble of Coal had an affair with the Lady of Candy, which would be a major transgression. They decide to do a ritual where Fantasy and Enlightenment together weave a representation of the dreams and desires of the former Noble of Coal to see if he indeed dreamed of the Lady of Candy. The ritual shows that the former Noble of Coal fantasized purely about power. Looking back on my notes, we knew this already, of course: in the second session we had done a ritual on his corpse directly, where we found that power was what he desired.

Our after discussion was interrupted by Pari, a subject of master Fenas, a disturbing lady in a robe and veil, covered with wounds that weeped rubies. She bluntly informed us that her master invited us to be educated, and promptly left.

We finished up doing a little information gathering, as we traded a favor with Olivia Neiros, the Lady of Nightmares, to find out a bit more information about our murder suspect. We left the group poised to take action.

The Session Itself

Like with other diceless games I’ve played, I still don’t mesh much with Nobilis. I do miss a sense of it being a game rather than sitting around and telling each other a story. I’ve been trying to work out more what I mean by this, and two things I think I miss is that sense of stochastic outcomes—that mechanical restriction that breeds creativity which tells you “no, this thing fails” leaving you to decide the how and why, and a feedback loop from mechanics that pushes you in certain directions.

Having said that, the GM has been doing a great job at keeping the responsibility on us to drive the plot forward, while trying to offer each player vignettes of what we’re looking for. When Edward, Lord of Anxiety, separated himself at the party, the GM understood that the player was looking for awkward silences and uncomfortable interaction, and that’s exactly what he gave out; Marcela was given fun little vignettes of party interactions and some flirting that started in the last session already; while Ariana was provided an opportunity to dig into the mystery at hand.

As far as world-building goes, I think we’ve got a good view of the situation now, but as players we keep circling around the same point a little without advancing. The GM has been explaining the situation that there are two factions within the Dark, a more authoritarian-style faction that sees strict hierarchy as necessary to winning the war with the Excrucians, and a more libertarian (for lack of a better word) faction that’s more about individual sovereignty for the Nobles in the Dark. Our incident is the result of a conflict between those two factions. To my mind, that’s not so much a murder mystery as it is an invitation to make a choice: we can choose to let things be, or we can choose to tip the balance in one side’s favor. That’s an interesting ethical choice, because, practically speaking, we could very easily drop this without any problem. In fact, it seems that multiple people are gently asking us to drop it. So, the question becomes: should we even intervene?

Final Thoughts

At the end of the session, the GM announced that this was the end of the first arc of the story (Act 1 certainly seems completed), and reminded us that we all decided to give the game a first arc and then decide what we wanted to do. I felt uncomfortable making any choice about this with only three of the five players present, and on top of that I was as tired as I always get at ten-ish, so I was glad that we relegated that discussion to Discord for the coming days.

It’s a tricky choice. I enjoy the unusual setting and the unheimlich feeling that the GM is trying to create, and he’s doing a great job at GMing the game. However, as I’ve said, I’m not really connecting with the game system itself. On top of that, I still feel as though my style of gameplay is quite different from some of the other players, which has made things feel disjointed for me. From my side, though, given how tired I get in the evenings (I’m high energy in the mornings starting at around 5am up to early afternoons), I’ve made scheduling quite difficult for everybody else. I tend to set my availability to weekends, as it’s hard for me to play after workdays, but that leaves my schedule the most restricted of the players, which severely limits our options.

I’m not too sure yet of what I want to do with this, and will give it some quiet thought before I get into the discussion on Discord.

Burning France: Session 2

Yesterday was the second session of my “Burning France” Burning Wheel game. The write-up on the previous session can be found here. It gave me a good chance to try out a new thing or two in Foundry VTT, such as using some ambient music for a scene and practising help and extended tests in the Burning Wheel game system for Foundry. I felt a little more comfortable running this time, and the awkward start to the session was a little shorter this time than last.

The Story

Our band of characters, Benoit the Farmer, Bertrand the Bastard, and Geoffrey the Barkeep, started off discussing what their next moves would be. Last session, they heard that the previously deposed nobles of Avignon-sur-Chantre had been exiled to the woods to the north of the village, which made them a looming threat to the post-revolution village. They gathered around a rough map of the village to plan out their next move.

A map of Avignon-sur-Chantre made in Wonderdraft using assets from 2-Minute Tabletop

Reviewing the map, the team wondered who was guarding the palisades and the gates, realizing that there was a group of guards of unknown affiliation—who were these people even loyal to? Benoit used his connections among the villagers to do a B2 Rumor-wise against Ob 2 (+2 FoRK, +1 help, passed with 3 successes) learning that the guard leadership had been brought in from outside, and since the revolution has been distant from the villagers. Despite no longer being paid, they nevertheless had enough money to spend in the tavern every night.

“We must find the deposed nobles and their sympathizers and make sure they don’t stage a counter-revolution

Benoit, Belief #3

Meanwhile, Bertrand desired to find a woodsman capable of scouting out the woods to the north to find trace of the hiding nobles. A quick B2 Circles against Ob 2 (+1 Affiliation Insurrectionists, +1 “Golden Boy” Reputation, passed with 2 successes) brought him to Léonce the Woodsman, a local trapper who was an appreciative follower of the revolution. He quickly agreed to take a day to scout out the forest.

“Benoit is a sincere follower and obviously looks to me for guidance; I will show him how a true revolutionary deals with these filthy nobles near Avignon.”

Bertrand, Belief #2

Meanwhile, Geoffrey spoke to Elise, the house servant of the previous lord of the manor of Avignon-sur-Chantre. The group had decided that Avignon needed new administration, and Elise was the most capable person around. Elise quickly agreed, and sent out for people in the village to turn her de-facto position into a fixture of the village.

Finally, the trio decided to confront Matthieu, the captain of the guard, and see whether he could be swayed to their side or whether he needed to be taken out. After some quick carousing with him, Benoit and Bertrand decided that the man could never be convinced and needed to be taken out then and there. Geoffrey made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Drinking vs test Ob 4 (+1 help, +2 FoRK, 3 successes) which even after a fate re-roll resulted in both Geoffrey and Matthieu being absolutely sloshed.

“Those who resent you are dangerous and should be scared into obedience or destroyed.”

Geoffrey, Belief #3

The group used this to their advantage, as Benoit made a Exp 3 Beginner's Luck Conspicuous against Ob 2 (+1 FoRK, +1 Advantage, 2 successes) which meant that Benoit and the drunken Geoffrey were the loud and obvious distraction to Bertrand and Matthieu slipping out quietly. Geoffrey was dumped in a small nearby alleyway, as Bertrand and Matthieu made their way to the docks to the north of the village.

The final step of their plan was to knock Matthieu on the back of the head with Bertrand’s mace, and dump the body into the river. Hopefully, everybody would assume he fell in it while drunk, hit his head, and that’d be the end of that. With Benoit rolling B3 Mace vs B3 Perception (+1 Help), it came out at 1 Success for Benoit versus 2 Successes for Matthieu, meaning the captain caught sight of what was happening just too late, crying out loudly as he now messily fell onto rocks below before being swept away in the river.

The session ended with clamoring and alarums raised in the nearby guard post. How will our team get out of this one?

The Session

The session went more smoothly than last time, to my feeling. The players had a more clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, and I was able to prepare a little more beforehand as well, so that I would have some knowledge of rules prepared. This time, the beliefs came out a little better as well, and I’m getting the sense that they’re starting to click more for the players as well, as newer beliefs have been more focused on practical.

There were two big errors that we made, though (which probably enraged those familiar with the rules in my description above). Firstly, FoRKs aren’t supposed to be used for Beginner’s Luck tests. We weren’t exactly sure in play, so we just went with it and figured to look it up later. Now, I’ve seen that BWG p.36 explicitly states that FoRKs apply only to skill tests, and BWG p.37 notes that Beginner’s Luck tests are stat tests. Luke Crane, the author of the game, also explains as much in a reddit reply.

By the way, the “You are a monster” comment jokingly refers to the original poster, who asked “If I allow players to FORK into beginners luck tests, am I a monster?”

The second big error that we made is that during the large extended test that was getting the captain drunk and disposing of him, we forgot to track the advantage/obstable modifiers. So, technically, the failed Drinking test should have increased the obstacle of the following Conspicuous test, which means it should have failed. Similarly, the mistakenly succeeded Conspicuous test should have added a +1D advantage to the Mace test. Well, either way, we’ll move forward with what we have, as this is pretty interesting too.

We had a minor struggle at the start, incidentally, as initially the group was exploring the manor to potentially find ledgers and figure out how the guards were being paid. One player wanted to point out that it seemed like the game was heading towards a middle-management simulator genre, which he wasn’t particularly interested in. Fortunately, nobody else at the table was interested in that either, so we abandoned that thread quickly. I can see where the player initiating that scene was going, though: he was attempting to get a test to determine that the guards were receiving outside money, and thereby have new information to act on. The difficulty was that none of the characters had the relevant skills to do this, so that ended up with a bit of fumbling.

Funnily enough, I was hoping to drive the players towards a Duel of Wits with the guard captain in the tavern, as each character had a Belief that involved him as a sympathizer of the nobles. To me, that made him a big enough character to deserve a spotlight in one of the more involved conflict mechanics. So, naturally, in the roleplaying at the tavern, I made him oppose the position of the players. However, the impression of one of the players was that this made him impossible to convince, hence opting for the murderous alternative. My assumption was that if I made him more amenable to dealing with them, such as dropping a line like “Well, for the right amount of money, anything is possible” then that would remove the need for a Duel of Wits in the first place. I’m not sure yet how I should set that up so that I more clearly communicate the distinction between the in-fiction opposition yet the narrative-level opportunities available.

Overall Impression

Overall, though, the story started flowing, and I got the impression that the characters started getting more aligned in their actions and intentions. While we struggled a bit with the mechanics of the extended test in both a game-mechanical sense (how are you supposed to factor learning new skills again?) and a technical sense (how to work out learning new skills in Foundry VTT), we had a clear and concise session that didn’t go for too long. Elements were set in motion, and the fiction was detailed a little more.

I think with more experience working with Beliefs and a little more comfort with the mechanics, we’ll have the story flowing more smoothly and start advancing. I was relatively happy with the pacing of the second half of the game, as we moved to important scenes right away, and we focused more directly on actionable Beliefs, which meant that we rolled more tests as well. I realized at times that I still needed to emphasize the consequences of test failure, so that’s a thing I have to keep in mind to do in a timely fashion.

Oh, and lastly, I’ve just been having a lot of fun using the sessions as inspiration for building some maps, so I updated the world map as well:

The map of Occitania, made in Wonderdraft. The trees are an asset called Tree Clumps

Burning France: Session 1

Yesterday, I ran the first session of my Burning Wheel game, “Burning France” (traditionally, all Burning Wheel campaigns are named “Burning [noun]”). I was quite happy to get started after some unfortunate but unavoidable delays, though I have to admit I was also fairly nervous for the game. I haven’t GMed anything in years, and I hold my players in high regard for their RPG knowledge and experience. Fortunately, I think the session went reasonably well and helped set a tone and direction for the next session in two weeks.

The Story

Our setting is Occitania, a medieval France-like country, and the date is May 6th 1312—one day after the success of the glorious revolution of the people against the nobles. Each of our players (initial description in this post) had played a crucial role in one of the activist groups that have made this possible. Now, however, the time has come to settle into the new life, and we discover that while there’s been much talk of how to revolution should go, there’s not been as much talk of what the world looks like after and what the new power structures would be.

Figure 1: the initial map for the campaign, made in Wonderdraft. It’s empty by design, as my intention is for it to be filled out during play. It’s based on a Roman map of the provinces of Gallia.

The characters, Bernard, Benoit, and Geoffrey, started off being called to oversee an unruly mob in a square of Sompteux, the capital city of Occitania. The activist group is concerned that if the revolution turns too bloody, they will lose the support of the people, leaving them weak to a counter-revolution or returning power to the ancien régime. The players approach to see a well-coiffed, powdered, and made-up dwarf, the compte d’chantilly, carried on the back of a mob to a makeshift gallows set up nearby. Scanning the mob, they see they’re heavily ambivalent about the affair: there are a minority of bloodthirsty insurrectionists at the head, surrounded by a significant group of people going along with the flow, along with a reasonable amount of people on the margins disgusted by the entire affair. The players are in prime position to swing this mob one way or another.

Our characters decide to interpose themselves in the affair, helped by Bertrand The Bastard’s reputation as the insurrection’s Golden Boy and Benoit’s imposing stature. Seeing the moment as a tool, Bertrand addresses the crowd to convince them of the justness of the revolution and to not murder the man in cold blood like animals but to execute him as a result of careful and cold calculation—the undertone clearly aimed at those hesitant in the back: work with us or meet a grisly fate. He manages to bring parts of the crowd to his side, and a gruesome scene folds out.

A few days after, the trio meets Gerard, the first-among-equals of the insurrectionist group. Gerard tells them of Avignon-sur-Chantre, a nearby farming village that supplies much of the food to Sompteux, that is causing some trouble. There too, the proletariat has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but now they have chosen to keep all their produce rather than ship some off to Sompteux. While the group agrees to this plan, they also eye Gerard with suspicion as he moves off from table-to-table, apparently giving out orders with the same type of power-moves he pulled on the group. A first character has gotten a target painted on their back.

The trio travel to Avignon-sur-Chantre, where they immediately march up to the manor house to find a local nobody, Eustice, living their, having proclaimed himself the new lord of the manner. After a brief and forceful discussion (“You’re a lord, huh? Do you know what we do to lords?”), they take over the place and decide that the solution to the problem of these uppity villagers is to make them understand what the new world is like. Geoffrey, the former conman and barkeep, sends out his husband and wife to carouse among the villagers, spreading the gospel of how good city life is and how it’s a precious ideal to be protected. Meanwhile, Benoit and Bernard extract a list of big players and local gossip from Eutstice. The next day, the trio visits the most troublesome villagers, and runs their protection racket: there’ll be rewards for those who ship food to Sompteux again and if they’re not interested, well, they know who’s had an affair with whom, and it’d just be a shame if that got out somehow, right?

At the end of the day, the trio settles in to the manor house (after all, it belongs to the people, and they’re people, right?) and broadly consider that it might be nice to settle down in this village for a while. While exploring whom they could thrust into a position of power here, they learn from Eustice that the villagers just banished all the bourgeoisie into the outlying forests, leaving mostly the workers in the village. A group of intelligent nobles, socially savvy, out near a place where mercenaries are known to rob trade-lines—what’s the worst that can happen?

The Session

I was quite nervous, as this was the first tabletop RPG I have GMed in what is probably years. Fortunately, the friends I’m running it for are quite understanding and kindly helped me along during the session as well. As is the general recommendation in Burning Wheel, I wanted to start with a conflict right off the bat. I was quite rusty in starting off sessions (I’ve only recently started playing again, and as a player you can at least hang back and be passive), but fortunately with some player questions I got my feet back under me. One of the players also is quite familiar with Burning Wheel, so he also fell quite naturally into the role that the game asks of players, which helped me along.

The player beliefs are starting to get a little more focused, now that we’re also narrowing down on an actual Situation. I’m also happy how quickly and naturally through play we’re creating a bunch of loose ends already that are now giving me much more to work with for the next session. It’s certainly a lesson for me that I should have been far more explicit about an actionable Situation in Session 0, so that we could hit the ground running. I’m sure as we move on we’ll start working on specifying and fine-tuning our beliefs as well.

I was happy that we managed to do a few different skill checks during the session. We started off with a simple Oratory, and worked on ForKs and helping dice, and seeing how that works in fiction. I made sure to get Intent and Task clear by asking onwards for each test, which really helped in making sure that failure was never a block but always a case of failing forward. Near the end of the session, in the large protection racket being run in the farming village, we tested out using an extended test, with two separate rolls and a lot of helping dice. I am very pleased with how Foundry VTT automates most of the work. That helped me focus on the narrative, and reduce the rules-referencing at the table.

We did run into some small rules questions, which I adjudicated on the spot with the intention of reading up more later. One was the question of whether a character with grift-wise could use that skill to actively grift. One player argued that while in Torchbearer you indeed cannot use wises actively, in Burning Wheel you can. I figured to just run with it at the time, though in looking it up afterwards I couldn’t find a clear statement either way in the book. The description of Wises in BWG p. 309 states that wises are “a skill through which a character can call upon the knowldge of various details of the game world”, which to me suggests it’s purely passive. This post on the blog Take On Rules references Mouse Guard RPG (a Burning Wheel-style game), which more strictly defines wises as a means to either supplement another skill or to call up knowledge. So, next time, I think I’ll have to disallow the active use of Wises and rather suggest that a grift is run through Haggling, Persuasion, or Falsehood.

The other question I was left with was what to do with player-created items for future skill tests. Specifically, Bertrand started writing down the first draft of his pamphlet manifesto. His intention is to mass produce these and hand them out. I would imagine that would add helping dice to future Persuasion or Oratory roles but I’ll have to research a bit to find out what would be reasonable. My current feeling is that it should probably be a 1D advantage to roles.

Overall Impression

While I’ve run better sessions for sure, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I could get back into GM mode. I want to work a little more on my mood-setting descriptions, and particularly I want to remember to call on multiple senses to evoke the imagery. I still want to make sure to hold back and let players keep the reigns in their hands, but I want to be able to help their imaginations and initiative by providing them with enough information for them to imagine where they want the story to go. One player mentioned how he did enjoy the open nature of world exploration, as I figured he would, so hopefully I can encourage all of them to take ownership of more of this creation.

Lastly, it was also just good to hang out with friends again and play something like this together. Two of my players had run the first RPGs I’ve played in since a few years back, and I’m happy I got to run a first session for something for them (so they don’t have to be the Forever GM, either!). Oh, and it’s amazing that I now feel so inspired to create/write a load of things for the game again! Two weeks from now is the next session, and I’m already looking forward to it!

Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft

Yesterday, I went ahead and bought both Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft as well. I’ve mostly played around with Wonderdraft right now, because it will be more immediately useful to my Burning Wheel campaign. I can tell you, it is tremendous fun to be playing around with it! My first experiences are really positive, as just in the first ten minutes of figuring out what options and settings are, I already managed to make a map that looks fairly decent. And that’s just with ten minutes of messing around!

While I’m not running any battlemat-focused games right now, I was thinking of using Dungeondraft to make some set pieces to spark people’s imagination. After all, a general inn or a house image, or depiction of a wilderness scene can help spark as many roleplaying ideas as a solid description could. On top of that, the visual storytelling as well can serve to be evocative for players as well.

Installing the two made me fix some things I’d been sleeping on for a while too regarding my laptop; for a while now, my Bumblebee service was bugging out (pun intended), which means that my discrete videocard (an NVIDIA card) wasn’t being used and my laptop ran purely on the Intel integrated videocard. That meant that both Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft would not run well at all, so that gave me an impetus to finally fix that as well. Now, I have some flexibility on where I can start mapping!

Purchased Foundry VTT

The other day I went and purchased Foundry VTT, the virtual tabletop software I wrote about in my last post. I can tell you that already it’s as cool as I figured it would be. For one, its most frequently promoted advantage over Roll20.net is no exaggeration: I’m finding its interface much more accessible to use. That may just be an availability bias—after all, I haven’t GMed in Roll20.net much and I’m approaching Foundry VTT with the assumption that I need to learn how to use it—yet the entire interface is also just more modern, which makes it more comparable to other contemporary tools.

I’m finding quite a few features which are, understandably, focused on minis and battlemats, such as grids, tokens, stat trackers, and so on. But already for Burning Wheel the automation features in the Foundry VTT module are well worth it to me. The automatic tracking of rolls for advancement, the automatic filling of weaponry in character sheets after the item has been added, and features like that are wonderful. The big downside I’ve found is that the person who made the module has made the explicit choice not to include any of the skills, traits, and so on. They argue this is problematic because it’s an unofficial module, as well as being free. Well, fair enough—they made the effort to make the module, and I’m already grateful enough for that. So, I’ve spent quite some time this weekend entering in all the common skills, and I’m on to adding the other elements of Burning Wheel to the compendium (as those Foundry VTT databases are called).

The more I’ve been playing around with the features of Foundry VTT, the more I’m thinking about how to use even the more battlemat-focused ones for Burning Wheel experiences to help set the mood. I’m looking forward to experimenting with it!

Clever Enemies in RPGs

I’m happy to have discovered the blog The Monsters Know What They’re Doing today. The author, Keith Ammann, voices something which I’d been trying to do when running games, which is using common sense in encounters. I’m currently playing the cRPG version of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, and one thing which is very noticable in PC RPGs is that hardly any NPCs—if any at all—will operate based on common sense rules. Most of the enemies will just move directly towards the players and use whatever features or abilities they have until these bags of hitpoints are depleted. When I just started running tabletop RPGs, I did the same thing with my enemies, because that’s what I’d read. There’s a much better way of handling this, though.

I like the way Ammann phrased it, which is that every creature tries to stay alive as a basic principle. Any creature will try to use its main advantages in conflict situations to get the best possible outcome. Wolves, when in a pack, will try to coordinate and surround prey. While a single bee would sting, if there’s multiple bees, they’ll swarm. Human beings, well, we’re intelligent, so we’ll use tools and tactics to try and get the best of things. I’ve roughly used a similar type of principle as Ammann argues in his blog while running games. Basic animal enemies will use elementary tactics: I’d have a wild boar rush at a player, then disengage to set up another rush. By comparison, while I’d have a common thug try to beat up whoever looked like a threat, I’d have a bandit leader call out commands to take out the wizard first, or to have archers focus on the fighter from afar.

For one, playing like that would give me something to spice up fight scenes a little bit. Instead of the old “it rolls a 5, that’s a miss. Your turn. Okay, you do 7 damage on that hit. Okay, it rolls a 17. It does 4 damage”, now, intelligent enemies shouted out quick commands to each other. Goblins would look around in shock, or kobolds would dive behind rocks before unleashing arrows. On top of that, it turned fights from the standard slog-fest between two bags of hitpoints into something a little more dramatic. Most interestingly, though, it started making combats more threatening. The wizard who always cast fly on himself and bombarded everybody with fireballs suddenly found that if people expected the party to drop by, that they’d prepare their own wizard with dispel magic scrolls. The fighter who’d loaded up on armor and always just wanted to stand in front to tank would suddenly find himself running to and fro as enemies used guerilla tactics to take out the cleric rather than the fighter.

Funnily enough, this didn’t start out of a desire to up the challenge for my players, but rather to make the combats more interesting to play to begin with. Simply by assuming that every enemy has its own world and life behind the bag of hit points would naturally lead to a more dynamic conflict experience. Funnily enough, I never figured to phrase it so eloquently as Amman has done: “The monsters know what they’re doing”. When I’m done with the current books I’m reading, I think I’ll be putting that one on the pile as well.

Nobilis: Session 3

Yesterday evening, we had the third session of Nobilis; and, as usual, I took a night’s sleep to let things settle and gather my thoughts before writing something up.

Setting and Style

The game is getting a little more settled for me now; there’s more grounding as we’re establishing more of the world. The characters themselves are also getting more settled, which is helping me find some handholds to engage with the game. My character, the noble of Fantasy, has taken on an otherworldly, only half-there half the time kind of attitude towards the fiction, which I’m enjoying to play. I’m glad to see that the GM is taken a bit of a Gaiman-esque approach to it as well, and the world he’s establishing is reminding me somewhat of American Gods. We went into the realm of another Noble by virtue of some manner of diner in the regular world, where somehow a 2.5m-tall figure could stride in without a problem. I’m enjoying this unheimlich aspect of the world, where everything is just a bit off somehow. I also appreciate that the GM leaned into what my character has been bringing into the fiction as well, but having the Lady of Mercury also hint at being a little odd. It’s always good when the GM understands where you’re trying to go with a character.

Comparatively, I’ve had some trouble communicating the same to the other players. I’ve been trying in-character to convey setting and narrative in a bit of that odd, fantastical manner, but I’ll need to work how on how to do that, as it hasn’t seem to have given the other players enough to latch on to yet. For example, there was a point where my character had knowledge of an NPC being connected to our murder suspect. While my character had mentioned it to one other character in-game, he didn’t act on that further; the other characters came in later, so they were as of yet unaware in-fiction. Sadly, dropping a hint to another character didn’t work to prompt that onwards. Later, whispering about a familiarity in the NPC to our suspect to a third character was sadly misinterpreted as assuming a familial connection rather than a metaphysical one, so again it fell flat. I just had to resort to outright mentioning it, after the scene had already exploded. I’m not sure yet how to rework my character’s interactions with the others to retain the otherwordly feeling while also offering more clarity for them.

Aside from being otherworldly and odd, I’ve been trying to have my character be nice, caring, and playful. In a sense, at its best, childlike, as some fantasy may be. At its worst, they’ve been playfully mean, teasing the Lord of Anxiety with fears of the unknown, as fantasy can equally show you things you don’t want to have happen. I’m trying to have the character just be very accepting. After all, fantasy comes in many shapes and forms, and the most important thing is to be welcoming of whatever may be presented. I’ve tried to put in small gestures like this here and there, such as sending out a random act of kindness in the second session, or letting an NPC go when they want to in the third.

Game experience

The pace of this session was, sadly, a little frustrating to me, to be honest. We ended the last session at such an interesting point: the characters had just received a formal invitation (with potentially a veiled threat? The GM did point out how in the phrase “cordially invited”, the word “cordially” was emphasized in italics) to a ceremony where the new noble of Coal would be instated, after the last one was murdered on our grounds. I remember the GM previously saying that, since everybody was a near-godlike being, most of the conflict in the game was diplomatic rather than physical. So, great! This emphasis-on-the-cordial invite must be the start of some interesting plot developments, and I was ready to get going. Personally, I would have wanted the session to pretty much start off with “so, you walk through the grand doors to the reception hall of the Chancel of Asphalt, Mercury, and Coal”.

The first forty minutes of the game, though, we’re spent in a long discussion on possible risks and threats. Do we need to wear formal clothing to this event? Can we get out safely if we go in? Would we be aware of the etiquette that we should observe? Should we scout out the place before we head in? To me, these seem like very gamist or adversarial GM concerns—ways to ensure that we don’t get penalized because we didn’t remember to bring a ten-foot pole, as it were. My reasoning, rather, was as follows: what happens if, in going to the ceremony of the new noble of Coal, we leave the murder weapon of the old Lord of Coal behind and it gets stolen? Well, the story clearly has moved in an interesting direction. What happens if, in taking the murder weapon to the ceremony, somebody spots it and makes a scene? Well, more interesting things happen.

Sadly, a similar thing happened soon after. The GM threw in what, to me, seemed like a small and interesting new lead to our mystery. A new character associated with our possible murderer dropped by our domain to give us a gift to smoothe some wrinkles. I initially tried to have my character push her towards the group as a whole, but the NPC desperately needed to get out and refused. My character had already been rude enough, so I saw no problem letting the NPC go. The way I figured it, either the gift that was given would provide us some clues; we also had the character’s name to follow up on; and, if there was more to find out, we could always schmooze at the reception later to try and find some more information. It really seemed like the GM just wanted to introduce a small new lead to help us along. Plus, if we solved the mystery from this one NPC already, that’d be no fun either, right? The rest of the party, though, was intent to latch on to the event and to interrogate this new character. The end result after half an hour was no more information bar the name of the associate, and one highly offended NPC out the door.

Mechanics

I’ve learned that I’ll need to engage with the mechanics more explicitly. As another player mentioned yesterday during the after talk, it’s fine to sit around chatting together but we’re also here to play a game, so that means interacting with the rule system as well. I’ve been unsure of exactly how to engage with it, due to my ignorance and unfamiliarity with the system. So, I’ve been low-key acting on the theme of imagination, fantasy, and the fantastical with my character, but I don’t think that’s led me to where I need to be. In one instance, I was trying to get my character to somewhat daze another character into a dreamlike state, so as to move them towards the rest of the party, but that didn’t work out much.

Another player, later, ran into that same character (quite literally), and showed me an example of what I could have done, as he explicitly stated “I want to create a sense of anxiety in her”. The characters in Nobilis have powers to do miracles, and I see I may need to use some of these more triggering verbs in what I’m doing: “I evoke”, “I create”, “I preserve” and so on. I think that will also help my GM latch on to what I’m doing and guide me around the mechanics of how whatever I’m trying is supposed to work. Later on, I had another moment of dissonance, as we needed to overcome a small challenge (walking a tightrope), which I assumed would be no problem for a near godlike being. However, the GM kindly reminded me that my character’s Aspect statistics was 0, which meant that they would not be able to properly walk that rope—a good lesson on what that stat actually does.

Overall, I’m enjoying that the mechanics are coming into play a little more. I understand that the GM has a difficult task here: one of the players is not a fan of systems at all, feeling that rules only need to be implemented when there’s some conflict, whereas I enjoy seeing systems at work and enjoy how restrictions encourages my creativity. That’s a hard set of extremes to balance! I think the GM did really well in this session, though, to gently introduce some mechanics in there while also keeping it light. A particular point that I appreciated in the system is that there was something of a gamble involved when one player wanted to impose their powers over another NPC: every character has something of a resistance to influence, and the player just had to guess what that NPC’s resistance would be. He’d either guess right and win out, or guess wrong and likely be exposed for what he was doing.

Overall

It’s still been a lot of setup so far, so it’s still too early to come to any conclusions about the game as of yet. I’m eager to get into Act II of this story to see about getting into some conflict points, which is where I’m assuming the system will start showing off its strengths. It does seem like the rest of the group is looking for a different experience than what I’m looking for, though, which is somewhat disheartening.

The characters also seem like five separate characters related purely by chance but little else, so there seems to be something of a lack of cohesion. I wonder if a more explicitly defined hierarchy in character creation could have helped; for instance, we could have had two players play more senior Nobles in the Chancel, with three other characters being newly appointed Nobles subordinate to the two. Alternatively, a more pressing unifying concept might have worked as well. For example, if the murder weapon was discovered, and all five of us were now being investigated as a band of suspects, we would all have a clear motivation to work together to overcome this challenge.

Having said that, as I mentioned before, while the pacing may be slower than I enjoy, the world-building is setting up an interesting cast right now. In particular I’m looking forward to what can happen in the next session, as we start off at the formal reception. Our characters have literally just discovered that they were invited to the ceremony privately, which is already mysterious enough—why them? Why now? Moreover, there’ll now be a whole cadre of Nobles around to interact with. So far, our supposedly noble characters have aggressively harangued everybody who’s dropped by, which seems at odds with surviving in a society hinged on mutual toleration. We may encounter a slew of new enemies or allies at this reception, or build some bridges here or there.

The next session is on the 30th, so we’ll see what the GM has come up with by that time.

Burning Wheel Coming

On the 28th, we’ll finally play out first session of Burning Wheel. We’ve had to move it so many times that I was worried it’d die before we get started. Granted, this last session was moved on my accord, given that I wanted to attend an event on that night (which I didn’t end up attending after all, because I was sick). Either way, I’m pretty excited to get started. I’ve been reading various RPG related blogs, articles, and so on to get back into the mindset of DMing, and the more I’m doing that the more ideas I’ve been getting again.

Nobilis: Session 2

Yesterday, I played in the second session of Nobilis. I had to miss the first session because we had no internet at the new house yet, but fortunately I managed now for this session. That did make it tough, because I had to jump in on a running train but that’s just the way these things go. It was also a pretty rough session for me, because I was pretty exhausted from the past weeks. To be honest, I could have probably just curled up in bed with a book by the time we started and after we stopped I fell asleep almost right away. Sadly, though the GM asked for some feedback at the end, I was too tired to provide some directly.

At the same time, it also feels pretty early game to provide some proper feedback, as we’re still settling in. For one, I really needed to settle in to the game itself; I feel fairly unmoored right now, because I don’t know the system nor do I have a feel for the story or world right now, and we also haven’t established ourselves as a group yet. I feel like my character is meshing with two of the players’ characters, but that’s also because I’ve played with them before and we roughly know what to expect of each other. The other two I’m still getting to know; one seemed fairly quiet all game and the other was relatively dominant throughout but that also moved things forward as well. Overall, the group as a whole still needs to find its core, I’m thinking.

As for the game itself as well, I haven’t particularly seen enough yet either to have an informed opinion. Since I’ve only experienced one session in this game, I haven’t really experienced much of the mechanics, having seen only two or three uses of them so far, which so far have limited themselves to “if what you’re doing has a lower rating than your skill, it succeeds”. That works effectively but I’m also missing a feedback-loop so far. However, I’m sure there’s something like that must be built in on a story-level of the mechanics.

The story we have is some kind of murder mystery right now, where somebody was murdered in an internal struggle of an opposing force but on our turf. While we have found out a motive (the character wanted power and prestige but the others in the group cut him down) and we have found the murder weapon (a severed hand that is more real than anything else), we don’t know the why of it yet. It’s a little tricky for me to relate it to our group, as I don’t really know why we’d care or why we’re working together. At the end of a session, a strongman from the murderous faction came by on a polite call which, to me, seemed like he was pressuring us to drop it or otherwise check to see if we were a risk. Without really know the relationships in the factions, it would make sense to just drop the body and leave it be. For the sake of the game, though, we’re presented with a murder mystery, so it makes sense to investigate that.

The next session is in two weeks, so I’ll post on the progress after that.

RPGaDay 2021 #31: Thanks

Today’s RPGaDay 2021 prompt is “Thanks”. I tried to complete RPGaDay 2020 last year, and didn’t manage. I’m pretty pleased that I managed to actually post every single day this year.

I guess the person I’d thank is Fub, as he introduced me to RPGaDay back in 2020, and I’ve had a lot of fun participating this year. So, thanks!