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Circle of Hands

In keeping with tradition, our group will be learning, playing, and sharing our experiences with Circle of Hands via a sort of round-robin cycle of a shared campaign world of multiple GMs. In this experiment we have 3 GMs who will each create and run Ventures for our pool of Circle Knights. We will be making every effort to play the game as described in the text and as a result will be stopping play whenever we run into moments of uncertainty with how things are to be done. We hope that this exploration will not only facilitate our own learning process, but that of the people who choose to view the videos. 

Our Circle of Hands experiment has now moved into the Actual Play phase with session one having been played on Saturday, March 23, 2019. 

 
Each Actual Play session will be added to the playlist linked below with player recap and reflection videos and a venture preparation video. The preparation video will be filmed before play and released after all the reflections videos have been shared. Each reflection video will be recorded after play, before watching the session and without watching the reflections of the other players. The GM is a player. 
 
Each GM will run two sessions and one cycle of play will be for all three GMs to run their two sessions in a row. After all six ventures have been run, we will see what is next for our circle~
 
The YouTube channels involved are ivanmike1969 (Ivan Podgwaite​) and umbramancer (Eloy Cintron​). 
 
This playlist will include each video in the cycle as they are created. Currently there are character creation videos, the first venture, and the first round of post-play reflections. More will be added every few weeks. 

We welcome feedback and interaction over things we have already recognized that we have done in error and things which we have not yet recognized were done in error. If the events of the session spark interest in discussion, we are open to that as well~

 
Department: 
Actual Play
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Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Thanks guys! I am really looking forward to this and want to see as much as possible.

A draugr & a yoggoth at once ... yikes ...

I'll dedicate a comment to each of the reflection videos, maybe response videos because it's a hell of a lot of content.

Anthony, there is one thing to ask about this exact venue, your post here - do you want my input on structural decisions you've made about playing? I'm seeing one profound "break" already, something which to me goes 180 against the game as written, and your post asks for feedback about things like that.

On the other hand, the game is in your collective hands, and no matter how much people may say they want feedback, my experience is that when the game author says, "Hey, it's like this, not that," the reaction is universally to be defensive and upset, and often to abandon play immediately. I've learned that it's simply not socially acceptable - in the most serious, not funny/causal meaning of that term - to tell people about it, again, even in the presence of them requesting it. We may do better to talk about what your game does do rather than what it doesn't, even if the latter seems important to me.

 

Thanks for the kind words and concern, Ron. I appreciate that you can respect how we have chosen to play, and are also willing to share your thoughts on it.

I am open to discussing whatever comes up in your viewing of the sessions as they appear. Perhaps we can separate them into errors in procedure (doing damage incorrectly for example), guidance toward the intention when you wrote it (no arrivals, for example), theory, etc...?

Ron Edwards's picture

I wasn't too concerned with this or that procedural feature as seen in the play videos. I'm not planning to comment on those except insofar as they're raised for discussion by your reflections.

But, for what I brought up in this case, well, here goes ... I really hope this isn't going to ruin what's started as a beautiful thing. (deep breath)

I don't think that trading off among GMs is a good idea, or a minor tweak. It's counter-productive to several, central, and directed goals of Circle of Hands' design. A lot of things change and develop through play, and some of them do so specifically by changing hands, and some of them do so specifically because they remain in one person's hands. And those two sets ("some of them"/"some of them") are designed to be complementary, i.e., each functions because the other is happening.

It may seem odd or unlikely that I really designed toward such specific interactions, especially as a onoing, past-initial-play, multiple-sessions phenomenon, but I did. Obviously I can't tell or ask you what to do with a game that you've purchased and decided to play, but for whatever it's worth, the non-rotating, single-GM feature isn't in there merely by habit or preference.

Ron, I hear what you are saying. We brought that up first off as a concern when discussing what to play. The strengths of CoH for compelling long term play really stand out and it would no doubt be richer under a single GM. No argument. It is a real draw for me.

A few things shape the decision to run games with multiple GMs in this group. A big one is my schedule, but almost as big is the desire to provide examples of games getting played and run by everyone in the group. That has been a part of my culture of play from the beginning.

The benefit we hope arises despite this odd way of running the game is that the discourse about play afterward evolves as each of us changes roles, and as comfort with the game grows.

I have no doubt that after this experiment some or all of us will be running it independently and at length~

Ron Edwards's picture

Hi there, I did three videos, each one in response to the three reflections videos you did. I hope you like them!

This was too silly to say in the video, but I wasn't prepared for Eloy and I to have similar speaking voices. If we ever record a conversation or session of play together, and if you find just-a-bit raspy rock-and-roll baritones your thing, then look out.

Umbramancer's picture

Hahaha! We'll sing some prog rock in unison! Rush is my flavor! :D 

Thanks for the feedback! Wonderful to see where we read your intention correctly and where we didn't. Great experience so far. Enjoying the game!

Thank you for doing these, Ron!

Ron Edwards's picture

Paladin, Give Me Your Hand (from Charge!)

Pinnacle, Assasin (from Assasin, re-issued & spellchecked as Cyborg Assassin)

The two bands' juxtaposition of "paladin" and "assassin" as a coincidence of rock history, and the two character classes' short-lived but intense co-existence in the first version of AD&D, blended strangely in my mind as I wrote the game.

The content of this video would normally have appeared as annotations on an edited version of the session, but time had been too finite a resource lately. Called, "What were you thinking?!" it offers insight into the GM's thought process during play in a few cases. It is lightly annotated throughout for additional context and content.

Failed charm rolls
The portrayal of Named Characters
The Yoggoth
Some of our in-group terminology

https://youtu.be/EHCBKEF_V-8

Ron Edwards's picture

Hey Anthony, I struggled a bit with your questions about the components in preparation, from the prep video. I’m still not even sure if they were an artifact of your tough day and limited time, rather than actual procedural issues.

I’ll do the easier one first. So, each component includes one phrase about the Circle Knights. These phrases are pretty similar across the components, either being directed toward representing Rolke’s interests or combating either side of the Amboriyon/Rbaja war. You stalled a little at this phrase in the “Knowledge” component, upon working your way through the text’s instructions, wondering how to incorporate it directly into prepared content.

The phrases aren’t in there as “do something specific,” but as a reminder of how every component is relevant to what Circle Knights already are. Kind of a Captain Obvious statement you could use if a player were to wonder why their character would go on the venture, per component.

As the video proceeded, it seems to me as if you figured that out, answered it for yourself accurately, and then moved on, so ... well, I guess all I’m saying is that you were right on target with what you processed by that point, and nothing else seems necessary to say.

The harder one, or at least for me, is from your direct question to me at YouTube:

The question that I have been considering to ask you is about the components and if they were intended to guide venture preparation only or if they are also to guide the framing of scenes during the session. I mean by that, Rbaja Interference had me choose to include the Yoggoth and the squick tone had me understand what it was and what it wanted in a particular way as a component of play. In play, however, is the GM expected to use the components as a reason to launch a scene?

That’s quite a mouthful. I have to keep guessing a little even to know if I’m answering what you want to ask, so if I go awry, steer me back.

So ... in the thick of play, and considering that “scenes” are not particularly formally designated in this game, the raw material of the moment that I draw on as a GM is from my preparation. I have my little cards, I have my little sketchy maps (or whatever I’ve ripped for them), and I have a ton of criss-crossing associations and sense of identification with NPCs going on in my brain. That’s what I use for “next scene” thinking and doing, but then again, all of that is in place, by this time, i.e., during play, because of the components back during preparation.

Going back to the beginning, and proceeding chronologically, I got the components, then I went through preparation, and now we’re playing, and in play, I open new scenes in the context of what’s happening. I can’t do the last thing without having done the prep, and I couldn’t have done the prep without having rolled the components.

In that context, I can’t imagine beginning a scene without referencing the components in at least some indirect way, even if it’s just that whatever scene I begin, it’s happening in this location, and the location is profoundly affected by the components already. But it’s not as if I look at the components in their original form, especially in the text, during play – they’re already “here” and “in action” in the form of my front-and-center tools for play.

Or do I have it backwards? Are you talking about during preparation rather than play, so that you’d be looking at the components at this early stage and planning certain scenes to be opened later? I’m pretty sure you know that doing that is not consistent with lots of other instructions in the rules, especially in that section. So even by asking this I get the idea that I’m flailing a little in understanding what you’re asking.

Finally, and at the risk of flailing yet further, maybe this is about the distinction between the initial scene of activity for the player-characters, or scenes which introduce the explicit characters or information for the components, vs. later scenes whose framing is more emergent based on what just happened. Let me know.

This part:

"In that context, I can’t imagine beginning a scene without referencing the components in at least some indirect way, even if it’s just that whatever scene I begin, it’s happening in this location, and the location is profoundly affected by the components already. But it’s not as if I look at the components in their original form, especially in the text, during play – they’re already “here” and “in action” in the form of my front-and-center tools for play."

Is the part that directly speaks to my question posed on YouTube. In the context of this venture, in the moment I played the interactions from my side in time with my vision of that person and that moment.

I could have played it in tune with that plus a harmony of the components (like squick or horror).

I trusted in the preparation and play to blend together to make its own melody, but wondered after play if Eloy and Ivan would hear all the instruments (if they wanted to). I wondered if as the GM I should consciously press for more of the Tone (for example). It doesn't seem like it, but it was a question that came up.

Part of this due to it not seeming horrific or tense to me in all the places it did for the players. The reflection videos helped to change that perception.

Ron Edwards's picture

H'mmm. I took a day or two to look over the videos and I suggest we talk about the tone feature of venture preparation, if that's OK with you. You got handed the "worst of the worst," Squick, and here's my leap or inference - that it's not really what you wanted to do.

For reference (third-party viewing), here's my go-to example for the three Tones, as applied to the prior events at a given venture location:

  • Grim: last winter, we lost our stored crops and half the village moved away; we stayed but that was probably a bad idea.
  • Harsh: as above, and my grandparents and my little sister died of exposure.
  • Squick: as above, and we had to eat her.

Even establishing the tone, for the latter two, can be difficult to apply. It takes a certain ruthlessness of narration which isn't always comfortable.

Continuing with the tone as play progresses is even harder. I have cultivated doing it, to the point which you can see in practice here at Adept Play, especially in the more violent scenes we've played in Sorcerer (especially Sorcerer Musik) and RuneQuest. Real nightmare fuel, not just the Hammer Horror fun kind; you can see the players wince and read their accounts of how it affected their thoughts later, outside of play.

A lot of the prose in Circle of Hands aims that way, as you know. My autobiographical descriptions of the pain and injury inflicted by a bullwhip, for instance, or the reminder that a "mere bruise" is caused by internal bleeding, and is not different at all from an open wound in terms of tissue trauma.

Taking narrations and the permitted range of interpretations for actions' outcomes into the realm of Squick, consistently or characteristically for a venture, is more than ruthless - it's raw real-existential horror, whether emotional, physical, or psychological. Instead of painting the walls with ketchup, or getting abstract with incomprehensible horror, I have to reach into what people do and what they feel they have to do.

Here's a trivial example in terms of actual trauma, but which was authentic enough to pay off when I invoked it in later play. I was hiking by myself in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, long ago, and had left the main trail to enjoy some isolated pools of spring-melt water. Refreshed and happy, dressed again, pack on back, turning to go back to the trail over the little ridge ... I spiked myself on the front of the right hip on a cholla cactus. The fucking thing was right there and anyone would have avoided it easily, but "anyone" isn't me, and I had managed to lurch into it full-force, so that multiple spines punched right into me from just above the hipbone in front to the upper thigh. Another inch and a half in my turn would have put them straight into my crotch.

Even more fun? My jackknife was in my right front pocket. So that means I had to wiggle it out of there among the spines that were sticking into me, blood and all, and by the way, although the oval of that particular piece of cholla had broken off the main plant, that only means that it was now attached to me. I had to get the knife out, open it, and spine by spine, pry the whole plant-piece off, i.e., out of myself, getting at least half of them done before the rest would come out together.

We all have stories like that, which provoke grimaces or sympathy or, given time, a bit of humor.

But that's merely pain and a bit of eww. It doesn't even approach the travails and death of others, even beings we love. I hesitate to bring this up, because I would never expect you to invoke it for purposes of fiction. ... what the tone rules in Circle of Hands do, however, is invite a person at least to think about doing something like that.

Thoughts? This isn't a criticism of your GMing. Unless I'm off-base from the start, in which case tell me so, it's addressing something about the game text/rules which you're still finding your place with or making your personal adjustment to.

TONE in CoH

Thanks, Ron. That helps sort out the conflicting responses I was having. In the spirit of the experiment, the reasons I was unsure of how far to push with the Tone element of preparation were, I think, primarily related to our specific group, and less with the text. 

Our Group

In our pre-game discussions leading up to, through, and beyond our Session 0 the idea of a line being drawn at gore for the sake of gore and graphic description of violence came up enough to signal that it was an important one for different participants to different degrees. Some aspects were laid out flat and bare as a line not to cross, and some were more nuanced. I had that on my mind when I rolled "Squick" for the venture. 

Building up to play, one thing I really wanted to focus on was not connecting component elements in my mind, and I could feel that bleeding into my thoughts on how to present Squick as a tone for the Venture. I didn't want to hang the tone on the Yoggoth alone, for example. I also kept juggling in my head how it made more sense to be tied to the Rbaja Interference component, but that it was more in the intent of the game for it to be tied to the Venture as a whole. In other words, not tied to anything in particular as a cause, but rather an aspect of how everything ultimately is in that place. Basically, "This Venture (this session tonight) will carry this Tone and as the GM I am to be bringing that tone forward into view (at least until someone tells me to stop)."

We had to delay play for a week due to a schedule shift, so I had an extra week to let this all simmer in my head, and during that week, I noted again that dark themes and serious play were not a major draw for the group members and when we dropped to two players from three the percentage of players who would be fielding characters in the session who had an interest in getting down into the brutality of it all dropped to zero. I felt that my own interest in seeing what would arise from recognition of what we had imagined our Crescent Land to be like would be better served by discrete doses of Squick instead of all Squick all the time. I would not have done that without that extra week to consider the session to come, and in play I felt like play was too "light", but at the same time it had this momentum of its own (like the annoying errors with the buying/selling), the words in a sense had taken on a life of their own and we were going along for the ride. This had another component which I will get to below. 

A plan of attack

As the idea of Squick 'matured' in my head, it expanded out from the ugliness of human suffering on the physical and emotional level, but grew to include but rather to represent the devastation of the community, the dehumanization of its occupants, the decay of  that region's raison d'etre, and the wholsesale inability of each pocket of people within it to see each other person as having value or even humanity of their own. I felt this might be a good way to walk the line persistently without crossing it or shying away from it. The value of that plan, however, lies in its execution. If the players get no sense of it, then it fails. If it is too much, then it fails. If it is just right, I might not be aware that it is and push harder (ruining it) or let up (ruining it). 

Acual Execution

So, in the session itself, I decided to trust in the preparation I had done and play each character and describe each location as I had envisioned it with all of its relevant qualities intact. If that was a thing which could contribute to the Squick, then I chose to trust that that could come out and be a part of play. 

What seriously interfered in that execution was the length of the session and the shortness of the fictional time spent in the community by the characters; neither of which I was prepared for. Another element was the nature of my past play experiences with Ivan (pulp heroics; All for One: Regime Diabolique) and having only played with Eloy once before (Leagues of Cthulhu). This had me in a frame of mind to assess play more than play and that always has an effect.

The length of the session and the way that we ended up running combat, turned play into table talk for large stretches and that works against atmosphere or tone due to the distance between the player and the situation for the character. Play is in essence a stone skipped across the pond of roleplay: brief moments of contact. 

The shortness of the Venture from the character perspective again did not allow for many opportunities to show what life there was like, how people were affected, and so on. We can really only see Squick in hindsight as the nature of life there so upset Falk Wolfram and Hadrick the Black that less than a day after their arrival they took decisive action. That is cool and all, but is just a mental exercise done knowing that that Tone was a part of the preparation. 

Next Time

With the next session due in a week or two, the Reflections videos and post Reflections chats have us in a better position to understand the group's lines and reactions to our take on the Crescent Land. I suppose the odds are against getting this sort of result in Venture 2 (demon + squick) but that doesn't really matter. Watching the AP video, I can see a lot of moments where I chose to portray character through dialogue or description without describing things which lead to the creation of atmosphere. One large part of why is the last section (mentioned above) of this reply. 

Imagination (Spectrum of Sharing)
One of the things we ended up talking about in the days leading up to play was the nature of that sort of session where not a lot of description of how things look or feel is being offered, but all the necessary details of the people, places, things, and interactions are. This can of course, be dull and colorless play, but it can also be just the sort of thing to lauch the player into the vaults of their own imagination, unfettered by the descriptive choices or prowess of whomever is speaking. As much of this session was to be bleak and the tone of Squick was potentially a problem for the players, I thought that the time was right to pull back to that mode of description, trying to inspire them to imagine their own horrors, rather than contribute directly to them. If we had been in the same room, I would have a better sense of how that is working, but through the monitor it is like playing with your eyes closed and facing the other direction (no sense of the other). As a result, after play ended, I had no real guage of how much of the Tone had been taken and run with by their imaginations - if any at all - and so had to ask them and you in preparation for the next session, about the GM's degree of 'responsibility' for whichever tone is to be represented. 

From what I have heard from them, and you, I am safe letting the chains slip a little~

Thanks again for taking the time to discuss your reactions and help us sort through our reactions to play. 

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm glad I was able to see it from some useful angle.

As a detail of the discussion, one thing I had trouble understanding was your implicit inclusion of tone as a component. Although it's described as one, because it's due to the three-dice roll, I usually thought of components as the options that get combined by the black and white dice. So it took me a while to understand that you were talking about whether tone applies throughout the venture.

In the hope of clarifying that exact, highly-focused point, the answer is "yes." The intention of that rule is for the tone to act as an algebraic multiplier, or perhaps a color filter, or however you want to think about it, to the venture as a whole, re-applied throughout play. How often and how much is enough but not too much is certainly a matter of real-person assessment throughout play.

As a final thought, if you've seen some of the discussion of Lines and Veils here at the site, you've probably already caught the point I try to emphasize at all times: that what people say before play cannot quite be trusted, no matter how sincerely felt or explicitly stated. The real Lines and the moments which genuinely need Veils may be encountered to one's own surprise, and also, conversely, the ones that one has stated before play may turn out to be not as traumatic or deal-breaking as believed. The actual sensitivities and communications about these things are best finalized during play, rather than beforehand.

Guys, I just wanted to log in and say I'm half way through your first session and this is EXCELLENT. Really really enjoying it. Nice work.

 

Ok, I just finished the session. Guys, this was really good. I am totally impressed by your dedication to simultaneously hew to the rules as written, and also the story as well. 

This honestly was one of the better actual plays I've ever listened to, and I listen to a lot. I gasped a few times - when you threw the old woman to the ground 'like an animal' it was a visceral piece of violence (not in a positive way! I was totally on her side), and very effective. And when you dragged her through the street and the townspeople turned away I gasped again: very powerful stuff.

I would really encourage you all to keep playing, if purely for the selfish reason that I would like to hear more.

Thank you for watching and commenting, Tor. I am glad that you enjoyed the session. The next one will be along in a week or two~

Hey thanks Tor. We had a lot of fun in the session. It was quite immersive. I particularly enjoyed watching Eloy play Hadrik the Black when Falk was “offstage.

Ron Edwards's picture

You may have missed these at the website, and I like them a lot, so am making them more visible here. The Kickstarter included extra creatures for Italian pledgers in gratitude for their support and hospitality, later made available to everyone. Here's the direct link: Three monsters for Italy (actually a demon, a monster, and an avatar).

I got these early on, but it is good to make them more visible here. They are fascinating creatures~

Short, but hopefully worth watching. There was some power under the words, for me at least.

https://youtu.be/L_XZ9PMWb6I

Ron Edwards's picture

This is like a textbook chapter on social rank and class conflict! A couple of jumped-up low-rank Circle Knights, trained to fight and wear armor only by the Circle (not social rank, not profession), riding alone into a horrible web of broken economics and cross-class blame. Good. Luck!

Ron Edwards's picture

Damage note: it's split between Brawn and Quickness, so Otto would have dropped 2 in each from the cold, not 4 in Brawn. Still hurts but not as immediately life-threatening as it seemed to you guys.

Incidentally, spring temperature fluctuates a lot in Sweden, and it so happens today was the biggest daily drop of the season so far. A couple of days ago it was almost t-shirt temp, but today there was ice on the windshield. Anyway, thanks ever so much for freezing me psychologically before I even got outside!

Thanks for the damage note, Ron. That was something that I was planning to check on myself after work. I started to wonder if I should have applied it all to Quickness, but it feels better to split it.

I am glad to hear that we emitted some chill with this session. It was an odd one from the preparation standpoint (very slippery) and I look forward to digging into that with you and other viewers. I got a rich vein to mine then ended up with only two hours for the group to mine it.

Ron Edwards's picture

Here's my playlist! At this first posting, it's Ivan's and Eloy's reflections with my reflecting-reflections for each. Edited: Anthony's and my reflections are now included.

Umbramancer's picture

Thanks again for watching and posting a video commenting about our play. I really, really appreciate you taking the time and the interest to do this.

Some notes (on your notes cheeky )

1. Thanks for the rule clarifications. In the case of the healing rules, specifically, I dropped the ball on that one, really because of the time constraint. I made a detailed "cheat sheet" document of the rules for myself, I just didn't go through that part during the session, I think due to a desire to move to the next thing as time was drawing close.

2. Re: White Wolf: I'll make a video about that soon. Probably easier than typing it out. 

3. Character Ownership and selection: Due to our idea to run this with rotating GM (which really, is so that Runeslinger can have a chance to play and not always be the GM), we kind of decided not to use Runeslinger's characters until he's had a chance to play.  To give him the same chance to approach the game as if it is the first time he's playing (which is true. First time for him playing, not GMing.) This is not RAW, of course, but he's had those characters rolled up for literally 4 years and 10 days now, and they still haven't seen play. 

4. Mayhem Interruptus!  laugh   Yup, breaking that stained glass window would have been nice. Again, I wanted that moment to build up organically when Otto confronted the lord with the peasants behind him. Still, as you say, we can imagine a nice epilogue!

5. Thank you for the great praise at the end! Glad you're enjoying the experience of watching. I agree there are APs one can vicariously enjoy. In some cases, it's almost like being at the table oneself.

These are fantastic reflections, Ron! I can tell that you not just watched but also saw what was going on in the session. I can tell that you know what an important thing that is, and I really appreciate it.

Insightful stuff that gave me some actual laughs out loud, especially, "These guys should play with time constraints more often." I am still chuckling over that~

My reflection video has now been stitched together from its gnawed parts and is shambling noisily across the wasteland of the internet at the link below:

https://youtu.be/Wqmya9Fe55M

DMT Tabletop Gaming had been inspired to run the game. Their first venture is going out live as I type:

https://youtu.be/TNCb_D4gHn4

Ron Edwards's picture

That's a beautiful presentation. The locations could be illustrations right out of the book.

Ron Edwards's picture

Anthony and I had a little Tripwire chat. You may or may not be pleased that I edited down our very long conversation to the tripwire-only material at 17 minutes. Everything from GNS to Dreams of Fire to martial arts, the latter in some detail, perhaps fueled by my desperate need to speak with a grownup after parenting alone for two weeks.

I enjoyed speaking with you as well~

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