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Circle of Hands Venture 5 of 6+

We were finally able to get back to our Circle of Hands campaign after a ridiculously long hiatus of 13 months. The blame for the delay can be laid solely on the varied demands of my schedule and the limted range of options open due to divergent time zones. 

This was Eloy's first time to run the game and for Ivan and myself it was the third time to play it. Of interest to me was that it is one of few opportunities for the two of us to play as characters together, and I was curious how this game would shape that dynamic. With his decision to play the character that I played in the previous session, this interet was heightened.

This venture, our 5th, took us back to Rolke, this time very far north and once again deep in the mountains. It was late fall early winter, and the knights had become part of a community of primarily herders who, they were learning, had access to understanding of the mountain passes that might prove to be valuable strategically. The community, however, was deeply divided on a course of action in regard to their neighbors, and put under extreme pressure by the loss of a storehouse of supplies for the winter. They were debating endlessly about whether they should approach their neighbors to barter their fine cheeses and useful craft items for staples to help prevent starvation or if they should take pre-emptive military actions to prevent a raid.  

With this information in mind we chose the characters of Anselm (seen in the previous Venture) and Kai Ernst (seen in Venture 3). Anselm is a freeman with martial training and very idealistic notions about how the world is and should be. Kai Ernst is a former wizard and warrior from the genrry with a strong sense of connection to and stewardship of the world which stirs him to act for change. As usual, the character selection aspect of play was a lot of fun. 

This venture saw more combat and more uses of magic (large and small) than any previous venture. This also was very satisfying on many levels, such as enjoyment of description, actual use of these parts of the game, and the insight into character which arises from stimulating and dramatic play. As usual, the Charm Rolls had tremendous impact on decisions. 

As usual, the venture prepartion was recorded and that video is available HERE.

The actual play recording of Venture 5 is available HERE.

Additionally, the usual round of Reflections videos are being done now and as they appear will be added to the Circle of Hands Actual Play list on my YouTube channel as they appear. 

Due to the 13 month delay between games, we struggled a bit with certainty about certain rules, but our collection of notes and feedback from previous sessions were very helpful in keeping things moving. It was not like starting over again, but it was not as smooth as regular play would make it. That is a shame, but sadly it was unavoidable. 

This session runs around 3hrs and brings out tension, humor, and bloody combat with gruesome magic. It also managed to have the clearest deplayment of the action order clock for the clash system for us to date. I think this session also stands out for its portrayal of the NPC characters and the very grey situation the Knights found themselves in as the session opened. 

 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

To Eloy! In the venture prep video, you really share your ups-and-downs when conceiving of tripwires. You had two: one for the "knowledge" component, which is a little-known and protected mountain pass; and another for the Rbaja presence. The question is whether you're using the principles in the text, which breaks into two different ideas: whether you use them accurately ("by the rules") and whether you use them well (practical, fun).

The second tripwire is easier, so I'll talk about it first, because you nailed it. I think you can see why, right? The relationships and tensions of the Rbaja component are super clear in your head, and I fancy I can see you "attuning" to each NPC as you make them up and think about their issues, relative to the dancer statue. So coming up with a particular way for it to go especially badly is easy.

I'm guessing a little about the first tripwire ... I think what makes it harder is that the depth of what's at stake - the mountain pass - leads a person to start down the road of plot. "If this happens, how does that affect the potential benefit to Rolke," et cetera. And that leads to story-planning about what happens in a kind of linear way, "if X, then Y, and then Y+1, Y+2," which is just madness. So if we take it back to the social/emotional level, just about these NPCs and this particular location feature, then picking anything which would result in large-scale social response works fine. So it's not really about picking the perfect tripwire so much as finding something, even if it seems arbitrary relative to any other - i.e., never mind asking why is this guy getting killed more important than this other guy. Just picking one of them is OK.

You also wondered (and asked) about adding a third NPC to both of the two components. I totally understand your point about "liking triangles," so my take is that you should go with what you like. Whether it's "too much," well, I guess it could be, but then again, what does that even mean? I can't think of any intrinsic "too much" if the triangular dynamics are comfortable for you.

 

Umbramancer's picture

Thanks, Ron! Excellent feedback!  Yeah, the second component just seemed to come together in my mind much more well formed. Now working on prep for Venture 6, so we'll see how that goes! It was a blast, in any case!  :D 

 

Ron Edwards's picture

I’ve watched the rest now. These are great reflections on your preparation and play. I’m phrasing some of this as “doing it right or not” because that’s what you asked directly; otherwise I wouldn’t approach commenting in this way. The news is good!

Regarding the initial steps, you did well/right to specify the “one thing to tell them” a little. For example, let’s say your lowest component was a humanitarian crisis, in which case, they should know whether it’s starvation or a massacre or whatever. Such information is necessarily incomplete but shouldn’t be wrong. One nuance about this is when the lowest component is a 5, 6, or 7, which means they’ll be going in with at least some idea of what “the wumpus” is, and that is OK too. What they never know – and based on this session I think you get this very well – are the personal and immediate historical dynamics of what’s happening, and that’s very much what they’re putting their big feet into when they get there.

On a related point, it is also OK to begin with hard framing, as you did, regarding the first situations in play. I do like to describe the arrival in pure visual and geographic terms, but to a lot of people, that also means we play “arriving” in a very standard fantasy RPG fashion, with lots of “what ho, my good man, is there an inn hereabouts” and similar bullshit. Starting with my travelogue-style intro and then shifting to “you’ve been here a month” and a hard scene-frame isn’t very easy for long-time role-players to process. So if you have to choose, beginning with the latter is a good idea.

Now for an issue which I think you visited and revisited in different ways. I may stray into a bit too much speculating about your internal state, but grant me a 49% wrong margin, and see if the rest is tracking correctly.

Decades of instruction and reinforcement of “how to GM” have imprinted many of us with skills of story control. One of those skills is the illusion of choice concerning distinction options: will you go left or go right? One can absolve oneself of any suspicion of control by saying “there’s no right or wrong answer,” but that’s bullshit: it’s still control. When the players were not inclined to choose, that jarred these habits ... oh no, they’re going off the grid, what can happen, I have no plan for what will happen, this is what the “Secrets of Great Game-Mastering” manual warned me about!

Now, you may really have to forgive me for saying this, but armed with your reflections I fancy that I can literally see your mind warring about this issue for a short while during the session – then actually to achieve clarity when you realize, wait, I don’t have to do any of that shit. That it’s just like you said in your reflection: as long as you stuck with your NPCs as characters you are playing rather than vehicles for imposed/expected plot, and as long as you trusted the system’s algorithms (Charm rules, tripwire rules, the demon rubric), then you and the other people nailed it. Stuff happens, and that’s your plot. That’s what happened with the tripwire (which you interpreted perfectly regarding the GM’s candidacy for action) and also with Dietmar’s vow.

Concerning the knowledge component, trying to read Anthony’s mind, seeing “where he’s going with this,” figuring out how to make it as fun as you can from there ... that’s exactly what you don’t need: the hook that you’re supposed to be hooking them with. Circle of Hands players aren’t prey. You don’t have a basket of fun that you’re supposed to be tossing them into once they get well-and-truly hooked. Again, clearly to my eyes anyway, there came a moment when you very rightly abandoned all such thought and switched to “well, whatever, I’m just gonna play my NPCs and we’ll see.”

You mentioned you were concerned that you had prepped too much, with too many things piled into each component ... but you know what? I think you lucked into a great opportunity: one component for which you were absolutely intuitively prepared to run with NPC responses and actions, and one for which you were initially inclined to treat as a canned choice for go-right or go-left. When you started playing the latter less like that canned choice and more like the former, everything jumped up hard into great play. Look at what you said about playing this, and look at what Ivan said (!!!) That’s why!

To get back to one of your points about preparation, consider that you think you didn’t provide enough weight to the secret mountain pass, in terms of its value as knowledge. I agree with you about that, but I think your reflection was aimed at the wrong target. Adding that bit of nuance or relevance isn’t valuable insofar as it forces them to the “go right or go left” position – it’s merely a nice strong grounding for whatever conversation the characters had before the events of play, when they started off on the venture. So it’s not about the information’s utility as a hook but about simply having more implied content to be kicking around in the players’ heads, to be expressed if and when they feel like it, per character.

Let me know what you think!

Ron Edwards's picture

Hi Anthony, some of your reflection connects in my mind with the Monday Lab: Whoops discussion. Maybe not obviously or directly, so perhaps you can help with the synapses.

You chose to play Kai Ernst: gentry, with high martial and wizard, and no slouch in the attributes department if I remember correctly. Can you describe the moments of failed rolls, whether in a clash or vs. 12, during the session?

I'm not looking for extensive descriptions, but rather what the rolls were "for" in a simple sense, and briefly what happened in terms of "the fiction we made" due to the outcomes.

Whoops ~

In the iniital Charm rolls with the Named characters present in the establishing scene, the results had everyone favorably disposed toward Anselm, and less favorably disposed toward Kai Ernst. As framed, these rolls were representing the general reaction to the characters since their arrival in the community. Looking back on it with more understanding of the motives of the Named Characters we could extrapolate more about their reactions, but in the moment we had to interpret the rolls based on what we knew of our own character's traits. Anselm was generally liked because he is very formal and observant of the social niceties (despite his romantic notions of the world) and Kai Ernst is was generally unliked because he oversteps boundaries. In the venture, I think this actually gets described as the discomfort people feel when their social order is disrupted and they have not yet worked out who in the new arrangement of personalities is in now in charge. 

In the fiction, (though some of the above is also the fiction from the rolls) this led to Kai Ernst presenting himself as being polite (in his own way) while putting more and more pressure on the people in the scene. This ultimately led to an opportunity to sway the assembly toward a more favorably disposition toward him through his displays of prowess and highlighting of fault in the proponents of both sides of the locals' debate.  (He has a Gift of Charming groups for 1 Brawn and used it after defeating the local champion in a wrestling match and as he was about to tear into the selfish motives of the herders.) 

These large and disruptive displays, which arose from the fun tension produced by my sense of needing to tread carefully from the failed introductory Charm Rolls, encouraged a response in Ivan to see Anselm as being able to move among the observers and followers of the people in Kai Ernst's sights to bond with them and get them talking about their own views the debate and their feelings about the Named Characters. All of that was framed inside an attitude about the effect of the failings of the Gentry (the indecisive chieftain, the young champion, the old and selfish herders, and the disruptive Kai Ernst). 

The ripples from the initial Charm Rolls were felt through the whole session. For comparison, the first time we see Kai Ernst, in Venture 3, he takes steps to enhance his Charm before meeting with the local chief and his household. Emboldened by knowing he has impressed them, he acts without the restraint he displays at the start of this venture. 

Ron Edwards's picture

That's a great and helpful reply. It also ties into the sequential-play feature of the game, which you mentioned in your reflection as well, about reincorporating ("honoring") events & depictions of the character in prior sessions.

Ron Edwards's picture

To Ivan!

I greatly appreciate your comments about enjoying the game.

Reflecting on your reflections, I think all of the following points you made (here as my paraphrases) are closely related.

  • You’re right about the knights’ social authority, in that they don’t have any. “King” specifically and only means “chief,” not the meaning that would be adopted in the (real-world) history centuries later. He’s not a supreme liege, no one calls him or anyone “lord.” So the Circle is a weird thing that these particular people are doing, not a known institution.
  • Playing the characters socially means one is interacting, not investigating, even when objectively you and they are indeed “investigating” in the familiar role-playing sense.
  • No NPC is a designated villain. There are bad decisions, yes, including terrible hassles, and even including people who have done terrible things and might do more. But ultimately villain status, if it ever happens in play, is a matter of in-character judgments that are made, not cued by the role-playing equivalent of theme music.
  • I really like the way that the notion “well we could just leave” was certainly true but in this case led straight into a hard-core magical war crisis. Right when you’re thinking, geez, does being a Circle knight even matter much, then yes, it does.
FroggyC's picture

Wow, back after 13 months! That's quite an achievement.

In my experience, if I don't end up playing a campaign for more than 6 months, it's as good as dead, and we might as well start a new one. Not just because people are not feeling it anymore, but because it's not fresh in our mind either, and it's really hard to restart. Notes can't do everything. It's a bit like restarting a book from the middle; I know some can do it, but I've never been able to, and usually have to start the book from the beginning again.

So I guess my question is: anything special you did to be able to restart? How were your notes for the first part of the campaign organized? Did you have any?

One of the major things which made it easy to return to the campaign was that the hiatus was completely involuntary. In a very real way, we were always looking for an opportunity to play it. Another major factor is that the entire thing from chargen through  preparation and play to our thoughts and interactions after each session were all recorded - with recaps in many cases. This not only let us fill in gaps in memory, the very act of committing all of these moments to video helps to seat them more solidly in memory. There are a few games we have drifted away from rather than concluding, and we will not be going back to them, but Circle of Hands was not one of those~

One of the regular things that I like to do for round-the-table play is to have a recap at the start and end of every session. This helps isolate the events from the system in the mind, but more importantly it reinforces the memory of the sessions as a matter of habit. 

Greg's picture

Hi! It happened a few times that I had to stop a game for a few months then restart it. There are a few things I do :

- As Runeslinger mentioned it, a recap is useful. I don't always use it and not always in the same form. Sometimes, I (as gm) just recap events I arbitrary summarized and that I feels are key points to the story so far. In some games, I just ask one person at the table to provide a recap. Another things I can do is to do a round-table where everybody recap the story from the perspective of its own character. This one can be interesting but is not the best for everygame: it does not specially support an author stance mood.

- In some games, I review my notes and restart the campaign with a totally new situation that happens a few months latter in the fiction as well. My memories of the last time I did that, it was a totally new situation (a siege by a new rival army). If we all have forgotten something that felt important before, well, who cares? The things we forget are kind of forgot by the characters too.  I then reincorporate previous slowly as we play again, with this new situation going on and producing opportunity for actions and consequences, and reincorporation comes from what we have noted or the new associations we make with the "old" events. I'm not sure it works with every games and group, but I had better success with this one.

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