Beware of what you wish for

We four R’s continue our trek into the twisted fates of Cristabelle, Shining Star, and Grrrl. They’ve bathed, which is a relief, and I am beginning to take seriously the idea that Shining Star is going to clean up considerably session by session, maybe even get that damn curse lifted if I can recover the Silver Bough. But meanwhile, we’re wrapped up in the highly disturbing and fraught reunion of Grrrl with her mother, whom she barely remembers, idolizes, and due to a stunning array of perfectly-result-timed rolls, completely misunderstands to the point of a schizophrenic break.

This system is as remarkable as I’d hoped for long-term play. It has a great array of ways to resolve any of the following:

  • Things the GM says “you must roll and which will affect what you do”
  • Things the GM says “you must roll and then you decide what to do about the outcome”
  • Things the player says “I shall now roll, and you the GM will cough up the required results and like it”
  • Things the player says “I shall now roll, and you the GM decide what to do about the outcome”

With these firing all ’round, the outcome of a given situation is incredibly logical and incredibly unpredictable. Given that each character is loaded with soap opera and religious content, as well as having explicit “what I value” and similar statements to go by, the events of play cannot help but explode into misunderstandings, coincidences, sudden confirmations, and emergent dangers. And that’s not even to mention the crazy-open magic system.

So why does the prose of the book and especially any adventure-type material published for the game shy away from any such effect so badly? I mean, aversively so? Truly a mystery. This is a system everyone should know, for this feature specifically, and yet somehow its own authors … didn’t.

Some reflections on this session include that Shining Star got way too much spotlight, especially considering her time-stealing encounter with the Beyonie in the first session. Believe it or not, I wasn’t pushing for it and had even decided to dial back to zero, right before Ross said Sun Fox showed up. Next session, she will be total backup-singer, I swear it.

Another is how much of the system concerns acquiring information: there are many, many ways for players to get some questions answered truthfully by the GM, to the point that it’s actually more fun for the default to be that he or she is holding out on them. Meaning, they should have to use those abilities (as with Cristabelle’s Interrogate) or capitalize on what a creature/encounter may be able to do (as with me and the Beyonie) in order not to be screwed over by incomplete understanding or deceptive NPCs.

OK, about the videos: the embed below goes straight to the playlist for this session only, but the videos also belong to the larger playlist with prep and the first session among other things.


5 responses to “Beware of what you wish for”

  1. Session 3 is up!

    It's been included into the overall playlist, and into its own playlist as well for direct viewing. There are eight videos, of which the first six are the session, and the last two include the improvement mechanics and some reflections among us about the game.

    I must also share these amazing portraits of our gals by Rod:

  2. Mass combat and agency

    Since session 3 is up I'm going to talk a bit about playing Legendary Lives rules as written. This was the first session where as the Referee I feel that I broke the rules, rather than just bending them a little. Here's the rule from the book for when Foes fight other Foes (A Foe is anyone who isn't a player character):

    Sometimes, foes fight between themselves. If the players are not involved, the referee controls the fight completely. She decides how badly the combatants are wounded, who wins, how long it takes, and so on, according to logic and the dramatic necessities of the adventure.
    It also says in the Mass Combat rules:
    A war can be an exciting adventure, but it is also quite possible for the players to become lost in the swirl of action. If the players are merely pawns in the battle, the referee should let them fight as much as they wish, giving them plenty of adversaries to fight, as well as opportunities to retreat. Unless the characters do something significant to change the balance of the fight (like assassinating the commander of an army), the outcome of the battle is totally up to the referee, according to the dramatic needs of the story.

    As I was totally not happy to make decisions based on the "dramatic necessities" of "the story" – especially as I don't think I have either of those things – I repurposed the Mass Combat rules. As I didn't see a way to stay with the fictional events and to have Grrrl actually lead the Outlaws into battle, which would have let us use the rules as written, I used a Fate roll in place of the normal Mass Combat Preach or Bully roll. I think this probably produced a more interesting result than if I had just made a decison, although I probably took a bit of a liberty in choosing who lived vs. died. (In my defence the captured characters seem like the most likely to surrender in the face of terrifying wolf attack). I also randomised who fled which gave me an interesting "Oh, so he's that sort of character" moment.

    So my feeling is this rule break worked within the spirit of how we're playing, but I should I suppose acknowledge that I dug this hole for myself. I can't pretend that the Referee advice doesn't say quite sensibly, in regards having Companions (friendly Foes) get involved in fights: "For the most part, players should rely upon their own resources After all, no one wants to be upstaged by an extra."

    • As far as I can tell, your

      As far as I can tell, your decisions about who lived, died, or fled seem consistent with the rules, given a rolled outcome to work with.

      I’m confused about one point: did you use Grrl’s Fate score for the Mass Combat roll, or did you come up with a Fate rating for Modthryth and use that? Your final sentence or two might imply the latter, but I’m not sure.

      If – and I mean “if” because I am definitely not sure – you used Grrl’s crap Fate score (even given recent improvement), then the rolls must have gone pretty well.

      But that’s not my point, the point is that I agree with you that there’s a hole in the rules concerning being stuck in a battle as opposed to leading a side in one. Or rather, there’s a hole if you perceive the rest of the mechanics as being well-prepared for “anything happens to you” and “you do this so this is how we handle it,” so would prefer to maintain that for this situation too. In which case, it seems reasonable to me that the player-character’s own Fate could be used as you describe. The idea being that this is about “stuff happening to and about me that I either don’t know or can’t control,” which is what Fate is for.

      It would, however, pretty much relegate the leaders of the battle into being puppets of the player-characters’ Fate instead of having agency/effectiveness of their own. This topic seems tied to your question to me about NPCs’ effectiveness in The Pool, another player-only dice system (that term “semi-diceless” is just ass).

      The Legendary Lives mechanics seem at least OK for coping with that potential problem, though, because the GM still sets the odds. One could say, well, Modthryth is pretty good at this and her gang is ruthless in full assault, and set pretty good odds for the Fate score.

    • So I just realised I never

      So I just realised I never responded to this. Ooops.

      Based on my old notes, and watching the video back (including myself talking uugh or should I say urm as my every second word appears to be), what I did exactly was:

      Ruleed that I would get Robbie to roll Grrrl's Fate to decide the outcome of the attack, since she is interested in the outcome, all-be-it not leading the fight herself. 

      I then set a Roll Required based on the relative strenghts of the opposing sides, as the rules describe using the Combat Odds table. In this case it was nearly 2 to 1 in the Outlaws' favour, 12 of them against 7 people in the workshop, some of them not really fighters unlike Modthryth's bloodthirsty gang, so the RR was only Poor. As you suggest Ron, this is where the leaders of the battle get to exert their influence on the outcome.

      Robbie's Fate roll for Grrrl was Great, telling us that the Outlaws win and that they have (Poor vs Great) x 20% survivors – so 80% leaving 2 or 3 of them dead. As per the rules "Usually, 70% of the losing side will be killed, 20% will be routed, and 10% will be captured". I ruled that the four Elf guards were killed, including the one that Grrrl fought, while a d6 roll of mine determined that Pure Fire and Elias the Dwarf Inventor were captured and Ernest the Firbolg Spy escaped, later followed across the City by Grrrl in wolf form. If Grrrl had been more aggressive, taking on and killing more tha one opponent then that would have increased the number killed – dooming one of the three survivors. I don't think I remembered to offer that option to Robbie though. 

      Finally just to revisit the option of using Modthryth's Fate score instead – my understanding of the rules is that Foe's (NPC's) have all the same skills as Player Characters, by default at Passable or whatever seems right to the Referee, but these are only ever used to roll against by the Players. I do think though that it would be withn the spirit of the rules to use the Fate or other relevant Skill of significant Foe's involved in a Mass Combat to either modify the Roll Required up or down from that suggested by the Combat Odds, or to justify column shifts to Player's roll.  

    • This brings back some fond

      This brings back some fond memories. I really hope to get back to Legendary Lives in the near future.

      Reflecting on this encounter, I'd say that Ross's handling of matters worked brilliantly, both in terms of the rules and in terms of the dramatic situation. The "decide upon dramatic necessities" option seems like a bad option, especially in this type of situation which seems to be insisting on a roll to guide the resolution. One thing I like about Legendary Lives is how it constantly encourages dice rolls to help direct the narrative. Grrrl was clearly not the one calling the shots on the raid: She was too busy sorting through her thoughts about the recent reunion with her mother Modthryth, and Grrrl clearly was not about to take the leadership roll in this encounter (which would have been pulling rank on Modrthyth.) Grrrl was interested in doing something heroic as a member of the outlaws: Let mom call the shots and let the daughter show how well she can execute in the fray itself. The idea of rolling with one of Modthryth's abilities seems too much like a GM roll, which runs counter to Legendary Lives. Yes, there is that point about Companions in the rulebook, but the term "Companion" doesn't seem to capture the relationship between Grrrl and Modthryth at the time of this encounter.

      So the reliance on Fate for the role was both an elegant and appropriate solution. Grrrl was definitely feeling the draw of Fate at this stage of our game, so the idea of substituting that for the Leadership Skill in the Mass Combat roll seems so on-the-money in terms of determining how the fight would break. As I recall, this melee feel on the heels of some wickedly sanity-shattering rolls for Grrrl, and this made the nod to Fate thematically on the money. 

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