Gore spattered blossoms

This post is a bit complicated: Daniele and Giulia brought Emanuele Galletto’s Blood Red Blossoms to me to look at, and I roped them into playing a little. The next day, I asked Emanuele to talk with me about it. So it’s not really a consult but more like Actual Play in one video with me in a semi-consult role in the next (the main one at the end).

The game sounds nice and familiar: wandering pilgrims visit villages and fight monsters to protect the people. But it turns out to be horrific brutal existential action grimdark! (and very good at it)

The game includes a formal scenario creation method, but also a few quick-picks for pick-up play, and I chose these from that section:

  • The mountain village of Inubashi
  • Someone has killed the local priest/priestess
  • Natural spirits are behaving strangely
  • Demons or spirits [in this case, the spirits] wish to lend Player Characters their help, despite them being Red Hats

You can see how that went at least for a half-hour’s play here. I restricted the video to the play itself because at that point, I was using the Indie Palace room which was full of fulsome play, discussion, and purchase, and so the background noise was nuts – I relocated to the adjoining room later, where most of the Lucca material was shot.

Anyway, I’m including it here because it shows important  system stuff, but you have put up with a lot of noise pollution and also to know what you’re looking at.

There are two sorts of rolls, Action (for players) and Fortune (for the GM), but they work the same way: one single d6. Roll 1-3 and it’s total failure, roll 4-5 and it’s marginal/minimal victory, and only with a 6 do you really succeed like a hero should. It’s brutal – helping one another helps a little, and that’s all.

Here’s the point: the specific results, especially 1-3, are tuned to the immediate circumstances and to the acting character’s traits. Therefore if you are very well-suited to the moment’s problem, then failure isn’t so bad, and might even still be OK given the context, but if you’re not, then look out – even a 6 might not do more than merely preserve your miserable life in the generally bad context. These outcomes are stated beforehand; you’re always warned.

This turns out to be super easy and fun. Then again, I may simply be a sadist to enjoy the fact that all of the rolls went against the players.

  • The Fortune roll just after they arrived
  • The Action rolls, first against the attacking villagers, and at the end, to capture the playful spirit

And the point of such awfulness? All of the elective mechanics focus on failure and disaster. You can choose to fail forward and get a Fate Point (the younger character started with 3 and the older character with 1). You spend Fate Points to influence situations, obviate rolls ahead, or re-roll, but not to alter the matrix of results.

  • Giulia spent hers (the only one) to influence the situation – you can see that I honored this expenditure so that her character got to the shrine before the spirit did, and that I threatened it a little during the fighting scene.
  • Daniele spent one of his to re-roll during the fight, unsuccessfully as it turned out.

Basically, the game relies on potentially horrible outcomes, either for what you’re trying to succeed or for what you’ll pay for succeeding, or both. And given a horrible outcome for yourself, you can gain a Scar, another mechanic. So if the GM hurls raw badness into the situation, thus hammering the rolls’ options into almost nothing good, the players will enter into the Fate point cycle and Scar system pretty fast in order to have any success at all. And to get more Fate, they have to fail forwards, so properly played, this game yields very dark, face-the-void outcomes at the scenario level.

We talked a bit about these issues afterwards, here.

The game’s available for $1 at Drivethru.



7 responses to “Gore spattered blossoms”

  1. AP

    I enjoyed it very much.
    Sometimes you need a nice horror, gritty, gore adventure into the ancient Japan.
    Or maybe… only some drama and action. wink

    Nice game!
    • I think the main reason I

      I think the main reason I talked so much later about the failures, maiming, soul-ripping, and general awfulness that fuel that game, is that I was deprived of seeing all those things happen to your characters, right when I was getting ready to bring it on.

  2. Sold!

    I really enjoyed learning about this game, and soon, I hope to enjoy playing it. If I may stumble into the conversation about inspirational material with another recommendation: anyone who's interested, check out the 1960s manga "Dororo" by Osamu Tezuka if you can get a hold of it. Three volumes were published in English; you can also find English-subtitled episodes of the cartoon adaptation on Youtube if that's your bag.

    • Investigating. Immediate

      Investigating. Immediate results include "Cool," "Ewww!" "Wow," "Wait, 1967?", "So that's where [fill in the blank] got it from," and a host of other responses that are typical when encountering manga I didn't know about.

  3. The mechanics family

    "Fail forward" is the right phrase, I think – you punt the current conflict in order to bank a success for later. I suspect it goes back pretty far in the hobby if you look at tables rather than texts, but its history in the past couple of decades is explicit.

    The transition from Fred Hicks' Pace (15 years ago) to FATE is instructive. The former almost requires failure in order to get anywhere later . It didn't stop people from strategizing toward inconsequential failures into front-loaded important successes, but the idea could well have been tuned into a design. You can see my playtest account in [Pace] Some actual play, where I identify the necessary design space as requiring unequivocal, unavoidable, significant consequences for failing.

    In that case the core fictional content is best described as "[s]he who suffers most eventually triumphs," certainly a reliable story concept, well-known to composers of theme music worldwide.

    The latter game barely preserves the concept, making it a subroutine of adjusting the results of rolls. I talked about this a little bit in my The Plot Thickens workshop over in Seminar, but I think the audience was so gobsmacked that I'd say "something bad" about FATE that the actual point was lost.

    Briefly, the Fudge dice mechanic in FATE is tuned to stabilizing outcomes, almost an anti-Fortune mechanic, and adjusting its rare outlier results via the Fate Points is a mildly quantitative version of verbally adjusting the outcome further in the well-known "best for the story" fashion. Its relevance in this case is that the failures you accept to get Fate Points aren't failures at all – you're accepting Compels, which is nothing more than playing the character you wrote in the first place. Or more passively, you're not spending the ones you have much because most rolls aren't gut-punching you, and therefore aren't ever staring at an emptying Fate Point pool.

    So FATE essentially veers the opposite direction from the thoughts I posted about Pace. I've been alert over the years to whether anyone would pick it up, or if integrating it with dice was ever really necessary. (Revisions of Nobilis, for example, could have learned something from Pace.) Blood Red Blossoms' utterly raw dice technique and emphasis on real failure seem like a good context to see the fail-points show their best potential at last.

    • There is an interesting

      There is an interesting french narrative game about that. It actually exists in two versions. The first is Inflorenza, which I like you to try with us one day or another, a GMless game with a very strong design to play "bastards, heroes or martyrs", the best GMless game I've ever played in my own experience.

      There is another version of Inflorenza, called Inflorenza Minima which is diceless (Inflorenza is not, but I'll reserve an actual play and an explanation of the system for the main game). The game is built on the articulation of concepts. The settings is very open and you can't play a predetermined story in this game (as in Inflorenza). The default settings is very lose and undefined but it's some kind of shub-niggurath apocalypse with most of the world invaded by a deep forest. Every character has a quest (defined by the players), and every characters (PC and NPC) are so sensitive to the environnment that they can feel and understand everything that's happening in the world. This phenomena is called the egregor.  So if a character is been "tricked" or believes a lie, it's only because he wants to for some reasons. This mechanic lets the players contributes the story without worrying about meta-gaming. 

      The main mechanic is the following. The characters are confronted with situations that they can resolves by paying a price. The only way to succeed at something si to pay a price or to renonce to succed. This is called the law of fate ("loi du destin") The GM proposes a price to pay and the PC can propose another price if he wants to. The PC can aggravate the situation by charging his heart (only one charge). When he does so, he can uncharge to succed at something without paying the price.

      There's some specifications in the rules for conflicts and other interesting gming techniques (for instance, the player can ask to "know" what will happen if he succeeds or if he fails, as a flash-forward.. well, two flash-forward.. even more, then makes his choice). Inflorenza Minima is very different from the main Inflorenza in the mechanics but very similar in the spirit, which makes it a very interesting design.

      With this mechanics, the main idea is to play some kind of gritty fayritales of sacrifices (a bit like Polaris), the more you want to succeed at your quest, the more you have to sacrifice. Your quest can change during the story (in this case, you choose another quest). There are also other concepts, such as the "forgetfulness" which states every character in the world forgets memories and there are memories thiefs or memories markets, or the Hold which transforms people into what they believe they are (for instance, a paranoid character will have eyes that appears on the back of its head, etc). I don't develop them here, just wanted to stress another interesting "fail-forward" mechanic.

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