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The shape of the Circle

Here's a good example of what Actual Play posting here can be: reflections afterwards. I recommend it. Here the game author is involved and thus rules questions abound, but whoever and about whatever is totally OK too.

For Circle people, the rules questions included how order-of-action relates to groups, and some math concerning the components in a venture, both of which did require some clarification of the text.

We talked quite a bit about other features of the game, especially shared character ownership, pacing and control of ventures (i.e. none), and the distinction between Charm and influencing others' behavior. You'll also find some thoughts on splotches and unicorns.

Pretty, pretty unicorns.

Thanks to Giulia, Saverio, and Simone for talking with me about it!

Actual Play


I protest, at the end of the clip you underestimated the tactical perfection of my plan!

The summoned unicorn had to fly away to kill the ghouls, and THEN return to us to kill the knight (I wasn't playing the designated vict... target anyway, of course). All was part of the plan, we had to be seen by people as a target for the unicorn, not the summoners. And we had a lot of long-range spell.   And of course the plan worked perfectly, we did kill the unicorn without losing anyone! (In this way we did "save" the town - nobody saw me summoning the unicorn - and everybody was very grateful)

It was the perfect plan! Because my plans are always perfect! (insert Evil Laughter here...)

(and you should have heard the proposed plans from the other characters...  total party kill assured... I remember one of them as based on casting a series of black spell without being seen or heard (or smelled) from people less than 3 meters away...)

Love D's picture

Just wanted to chime in and say that this was a lot of fun to watch. Your celebratory exitement of your ventures/play was contagious. I broke out the Circle of Hands book again, you know, just to look up what was so bad about the unicorn (oh my..) and I lost the better part the night.

Moreno, that is absolutely awful. How many died because of that?

Nobody, as far as I can recall (the session was played last summer at Etruscon, more than 9 months ago, I don't remember every detail)

What I remember: It was a venture in a border village in the kingdom of Rolke, dominated by a total a**hole who as favorite entertainment loved to put prisoners in front of an audience to fight unarmed against a couple of ghouls he captured.

The... "problems" was that we did succeed in every charm roll. The a**hole welcomed the knights, pledged fealty to the king of Rolke,  assured us that he would have defended the border against the kingdom's enemies, and happily gave us a piece of tecnology (a particular ballista) that was the lowest component and our reason to be there. Not only that, but he was actually a good military leader that would have been very useful as an ally.

So we wanted to stop the "public dinners", but without harming an ally or endangering that alliance. And at this point the game stopped for a while, with all the players debating about the best course of action. I was the only one who had played the game before, I think, and a problem with the debate was that the other players I guess did not realize how different was this game and this setting from the usual "fantasy rpgs", and continued to propose plans that I think would have been disastrous. By the other hand they continued to shoot down my own plans, i don't know why (they were perfect, after all...)

I had played an Unicorn recently (as the GM in a venture with my usual group) and I remembered the precise killing order stated in the book (first, the undead, then whoever used Rbaja magic and got black points, then perpetrators of cruelty. So he would have attacked in order: the ghouls, the only one of us with black points, and only after that he would have attacked the a**hole.  So I proposed another plan, and this time the fact that they did not know very well the manual did work in my favor (they had never fought an Unicorn in CoH) devil

There was a miscommunication with Simone (the GM) at this point. I wanted to summon the unicorn far, very, very far from the village, to avoid being seen or heard. There was a mountain (or a cliff, i don't remember) near the village that would have allowed us (I thought) to have the unicorn in a clear line-of-sight from a long distance, before he could reach us, so all we had to do would have been to run the short distance between the summoning point (hidden from view) to the border of the cliff/mountain, and attack the unicorn from afar.

AFTER we had summoned the unicorn and he had killed the ghouls, Simone told us that we had misjudged the scale of the map, we were very near the ghouls cage, and we were engaged in combat right away without any "free rounds" of shooting. (I still think that my knight would have noticed something like that before the summoning...   angry).  From what I recall I shouted (in character) to the knight with black points something like "run away, fool!" and we did shoot down the unicorn from behind when he did pass us trying to skever the fleeing knight...

So, at the end, mission accomplished, the a**hole thanked us for having saved the village from the monster. My plan worked perfectly (of course it did! )  cool

Ron Edwards's picture

Both of the games discussed in the video and here in the comments allow me to follow up on a point I made in the video, concerning what’s probably the most important single rule in the game.

The venture will benefit the king in Rolke and strike a blow against the dualist magical war, unless all of the tripwires have been hit.

This doesn’t match any of the expectations one finds in RPGs which feature a group of relatively deadly, highly motivated, allied teammates whose exploits concern visiting new locations and meddling in their affairs.

I don’t think I need to describe those expectations in too much detail. They include “finding out what’s wrong” and “figuring out what to do,” as well as many subroutines concerning what non-player-characters are for. They are based on the assumption, or understanding, that everything that will result from this experience of play will be taken as caused from the exact things they did.

Putting aside the tripwire(s) for the moment, except to remind everyone that the players don’t know what they are and therefore can’t try to avoid them, in Circle of Hands, that’s simply the case. The venture is going to work, almost all the time. Its results will benefit the king in Rolke and the Circle as an institution. Almost all the time, and there’s not much you can do about affecting the chances.

Therefore the characters are more or less motivated to, for instance, secure the knowledge or an alliance … but the players don’t have to be. Even if the events of the venture leave the knowledge destroyed and lost, or end with the local powerful individuals swearing hatred and vengeance against Rolke, or with the knights fleeing pell-mell ahead of an angry countryside, or hell, maybe someone cast Volcano and the place is a charred smoking ruin with refugees stragglingin all directions. Or the Circle knights are all killed and the freed lich-lord laughs in delight, stretching his blacked corpse-hands to the skies. … it’s probably going to work out well for Rolke, and ultimately against the disastrous binary war between the forces of light vs. darkness.

Think about that for the characters in the situation with the successful Charm rolls. They were able to pull off the diplomacy, with the unpleasant local chief and the ghoul-gladiator pits … and do you see why players who don’t understand that principle would feel a bit at sea? “Oh no, we can’t act on our preferences and kill this bastard, that would threaten the alliance!” No, it won’t. Kill him if you want.

This also goes with our discussion of most of the game as well, because many of the concerns that were brought up, like how information gets doled out, or what Charm roles achieve, are often embedded in the understanding that’s appropriate to other games and very much not to this one. The questions and answers were important on their own, as matter of understanding rules for their own sake/value, but I suspect my answers won’t be very satisfying if that inappropriate understanding is in place.

In Circle of Hands, you’re responsible for personal dramatic portraiture, and for developing it. Not for “saving the town,” although some of the characters may be invested in that, nor for “serving the king’s vision,” although all of them are invested in that.

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