The woods are lovely, dark and deep

We’ve proceeded into a new chapter, or perhaps novella, in our Spelens Hus RuneQuest game. You’ll see a couple of changes. First, that William isn’t with us, as he’s moved out of town, and in this case it jibes with in-play events that make most sense for Jovahn to vanish from the situation. Second, that the filming looks a little different, because the studio at Spelens Hus is being renovated, so we can stage things better; at this point, it’s more of a transition, but you can see the improvement coming. Third, that we’ve bumped the characters’ location well away from the preceding events, and to some extent, they are reeling, not yet in a proactive mode concerning where they are and what they want to do.

If you watched my previous RuneQuest game (with the spooky-dark coming-of-age setting), then you will probably recognize that I am yet again looting the “back door” map from The Haunted Ruins – what can I say, it’s probably the perfect “confused tangles of secret sacred chambers and ambush routes” in role-playing. I also loot the dark troll hunters’ mechanics for convenience.

I’ve had to expand my thinking about the setting a little, mainly as a response to Helma’s investment in her character, as the Woods Woman is now the main god in question. It’s a work in progress at the point of these sessions, but I hope to see it grow into as significant a role as the Buried Dead did for the previous events.


14 responses to “The woods are lovely, dark and deep”

  1. Off to a good start.

    "You now have two elbows, each with its own fully functional forearm".

    "…. we need to find a priest".

    As I said, off to a good start.
    Glad to see this uploaded, it's going to keep me company in the ghastly environment of my quarantined office. 

    One curiosity, as I'm still not terribly familiar with the ruleset. Is this sort of mutation/chaos feature particularly structured or you have to make up things as you go? The only similar system I've experience with is the various implementations of similar features in the various editions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – where such events tend to have completely negligible or absolutely live-altering consequences, often with several layers of fail-safes undoing the consequences altogether. Nothing as smooth or organic as I'm seeing here.

    • Good question! I’m not sure

      Good question! I'm not sure if I can separate the text from how I've used it, considering that this era of role-playing texts has no shared culture of "how you do it" as implied or as "just known."

      In the core book I'm using, chaos creatures have chaos features, either specified by number or more often with a dice roll for whether they have one, or for how many they have. There is a d100 table in the back to roll on to see which specific features are involved. All of them are dangerous, i.e., advantageous, although not necessarily exactly as the character might appreciate (e.g., for some of them to activate, you have to die).

      Historically, players would find themselves exposed to chaos, which according to certain spot rules can give you chaos features, and it's not too surprising that some would even like to play chaos creatures (broo player-characters are legion, and always have been; mighty drama can be found in defying one's own culture/nature in choosing not to be a rapist). The system soon included a "no good this sucks" chaos features table, pretty much the reverse of the first one, that you might have to roll on instead, obviously to keep players from dipping into a bucket o'awesome super powers and presumably to play up the notion that chaos is supposed to be tragic and awful.

      By the standards of the late 80s, specifically Warhammer standards, these rules were incredibly unconstructed. They had rules for infectious disease but not really any codification of why or how you "get" chaos, it was just this or that way per creature, at most. My notion that Zort would get his chaos-ity boosted and therefore gain more features isn't in some canonical table anywhere, but it is identical or nearly identical to situations and effects you'll find scattered through the published adventures of the time.

      My usage differs in one way, though, which is that for our setting, Chaos is an ordinary Form Rune, i.e., part of nature, not a creepy-crawly universe-destructor. Well, it's kind of a destructor, i.e., it's mutation and entropy, and admittedly it's creepy-crawly in terms of direct experience, but it's not the be-all-end-all threat to existence as in Glorantha. The enemy principle in our setting is the opposite, pure abstract order, as I'm sure you know by now. I want to stress, though, that despite this significant thematic reversal, I'm using the chaos features and other chaos rules in the book as written and as well as they can be used, i.e., you read them, then say, well, I'll apply them in this interesting way for this situation.

      P.S. Although we are experiencing our own contact & concerns with the pandemic here in Sweden, my friends, family, and I are not forgetting Italy and our friends there. Please continue to keep us informed via email and social media.

    • I realized I’d forgotten an

      I realized I'd forgotten an important detail in my reply: that the two-forearm anatomy was not part of the rules description in the Chaos Features table. None of the entries includes a specific physical change or description. They are almost entirely rules-only items. So that anatomical change was my way of coloring-up the rules item that Zort had acquired. Another item he acquired was the effect of potentially confusing (other) opponents when he lands a successful attack, and for that one, I decided no physical change was involved.

      My choices of whether to include a specific physical change and, when I did, what it was, were completely a matter of personal aesthetics, along the lines of "well, if it changes you this much, it may as well be visible in the fiction; it's 'chaos' after all, it ought to be nifty-looking." The rules do not even tell you to do it.

      In retrospect, the only reason I didn't provide a physical change for the confusion effect was that I couldn't think of anything at the time. I do recall trying to think of something and coming up blank. As I write this, it seems obvious that I should have said one of his eyes changed to be all screwy and googly, or something like that, but that or anything like it simply didn't occur to me.

    • Thanks for the detailed reply

      Thanks for the detailed reply!

      I understand the whole process a bit better now; this reinforces my completely ineducated impression that RuneQuest as a whole seems to be the type of "oldschool" text that strongly rewards not only knowledge but ownership of the setting material. As I said, I've no direct experience with it, but watching it in play reminds me (and I'm making a juxtaposition between something I'm witnessing today and something I've experienced 25 years ago) my first forays in Dark Sun and Planescape as D&D setting – in terms of going from "This is going to be my fanfiction about the most generic notion of fantasy" to "This is bizzarre and unfamilair and philosophical, and at times it won't do anything to ease me in, so I need to forget expectations and buy-in the fiction to make it work". If that makes any sense.

      Another small question on the rules. Aside from critical hits, is there any mechanical implication in a good (low) roll? I've been noticing that very often such rolls are met with enthusiasm/elation, but I can't parse if there's actually a mechanical consequence to that event. I always found that an interesting perk of % systems (there seems to be a much more tactile reaction to "rolling low" on a d100 than "rolling high" on a d20, so to say), so I was wondering if there's something going on behind the scenes or if you're doing anything to give some weight to that kind of effect.

    • For any actions except

      For any actions except hitting someone with an attack, the rules assign no meaning to a given roll's outcome beyond straightforward success or failure. I keep interjecting critical success and failure out of habit and only remembering later that it's not part of this system. It's also apparently impossible to avoid thinking of rolled outcomes very near to the target value as "just missed" or "just barely hit," regardless of whether the system assigns any mechanical meaning to it.

  2. Session 9!

    Here's the direct link (within the overall playlist). This session brings us a new player, Mikael – he sits in as a guest for the first part of the session, then takes over Jalla for the rest. Since then, he's made up a new character who will join or at least meet the others in the next session.

    Mikael has played with me before, in the Zombie Cinema game. You can see him picking up on our group's particular style. I left in some reflective table-talk to let you observe this process, and especially, how the current players have internalized and reincorporated the events of play so far.

    That is a very big deal. It means that our game is not about "me" giving it to "them." You will see that ownership of who we are, how we play, and what has happened are definitely not GM-centric, but instead they are an experiential identity which only exists among us as a plurality.

    This session bears special discussion. It is literally a wandering-monster fight. Then why is it so exciting for everyone involved?

    Here's the map we're using for the community they get to near the end of the session. I have to look up its proper referencing.

    • This session, full of fun

      This session, full of fun failed rolls, seems like a good point to ask about the swinginess of the system. My recollection is that the original pre-gens for this game were beefed up compared to starting runequest characters but even so play has delivered plenty of failed rolls as I understand one expects from "limbquest". And dice being dice even for example Starva, who I imagine is pretty good at out-doorsy stuff, is going to fail at navigating across mountains some of the time.

      I'm wondering to what extent this is comparable with our Legendary Lives experience, where again the system threw out a wide spread of success and failure. When we looked back over that game Rod compared it to a rollercoaster, that you rode through the ups and downs but and I got the impression that the feeling of not having much control may have been rather disempowering or, at least, to have discouraged more active pursuit of goals as the unreliability of outcomes discouraged investing too much in any particular course of action.

      I'm wondering if you feel your seeing anything similar in this Runequest game and, assuming not, what the difference is?


    • That is a really good point

      That is a really good point and comparison. I am not sure!

      Is the specificity of results for every Legendary Lives roll a feature or a bug? Would it be better to reserve that specificity for combat or combat-like effects? I really don't know, because we can definitely see instances from our game when the specificity was a positive.

      I am also learning a lot from Helma's balanced response to failed rolls – her disappointment is often real but she manages somehow to perceive the overall pattern of success and failure as her tool for Skava's characterization.

    • My provisional thought is

      My provisional thought is that some of the difference might be due to the Runequest game being more fighty – and so having more situations where the overall outcome is determined by an aggregate of rolls. Therefore individual rolls and failures, although they often have consequences – your arm's now hanging off – don't decide the higher level outcome alone and there's more time and space for different skill levels to have an impact.

      Whereas Legendary Lives, and as far as I know this version of Runequest, doesn't have anything equivalent to later D&D skill challenges which do something similar for non-combat actions. And in LL by the rules players can't try a failed agction again until they succeed unless the context changes significantly, but there is little in the way of guidance on how deep / long / permanent the consequences of a failure are or what might need to change to allow another try – this probably contributed to the fatalistic response too. 

    • I just wanted to say that

      I just wanted to say that watching Helma play constantly restores my faith in the goodness and potential of the medium. 

  3. a players thoughts

    I’ve only started to check on the Legendary Lives gameplay Ross and Ron mention and may be wrong, but so far I assume the way we interpret “succeeded” and “failed” rolls is different from it because we are able chose ourselves in contrast to “the rules tell us the interpretation”. The rules do still tell us the hard facts while in combat but out of that it’s Ron or ourselves. We did chose our characters from a number of simplified character sheets with a limited number of skills and magic that Ron prepared. If we stick to Skava as an example I recall that in the beginning we didn’t even know that she would be a ranger. I think we were five sessions into it before I even started to think of a background. A lot of what I do/say during play is instinctive in a way. What guides me in sessions are the actions/reactions of the other players, the narrative and maps that Ron provides us with and the dice rolls. The rolls may be disappointing in the moment and more or less easy to interpret for how they influence Skava, but that is not necessarily the same as “success” or “failure” in that skill-roll at that moment. Between sessions I usually try to figure out how the outcome of the last session will influence Skava as a person. That can be anything from how her relation to PC’s and NPC’s changes during time to how her psyche is influenced by the constant nightmares about the sun lord she has (which is my interpretation of a role you probably could call a failure). Sleep deprivation influences your ability to observe and orientate yourself and what says that a Ranger is equally good in all types of terrain, both Nate/Zort and Ron can attest to Skava having a bad time in mountainous regions so “good” roles during this session would actually have been much more difficult to weave into her storyline. There is another thing too, although I’m not sure I’m right with this one. We seem to roll the dice pretty scarcely at times. Often we have longer stretches where we narrate the story with or without dialog, sometimes even omitting the game-master completely. This is another factor, at least for me, that makes the whole experience so rewarding. When we are finished playing I would love to discuss our experiences in the group and to see how mine differ from those of the people who have a longer history of roleplaying and a more solid background in the field than I have.

    • Hi Helma! It’s great to see

      Hi Helma! It's great to see you commenting here.

      Here's my observation on our stretches of play without dice: that they often include interpreting and developing things that happened using dice. There is a "dance" of spoken and numerical interactions which I think is remarkably productive in our game. I am used to seeing it with some of my own designs (especially Sorcerer, Trollbabe, Circle of Hands, and Champions Now), but  it is especially great to see when using these rules.

      I'm looking forward to presenting Skava's recent "Charisma duel" with Hinn as well, because the dice, the decisions, and spoken descriptions are extremely integrated as a process.

  4. Interpretations of rolls

    It's really interesting to see how Helma is interpretating the failed rolls. It strikes me that nothing in the rules (and I think we could say the same of most of rpg rulebooks) says how you have to interpret a failure or a success. In my own groups, this is spontanously used as "success in doing it" as a personal action, or "incompetence" (the famous critical failure that leads to a ridiculous situation). I remember that interpreting a failure not as a ridicoulus action from the character but as a bad conjoncture of events (so we are not breaking the idea of skilled character with a benny hill scene) was an important thing that solved my issues with most systems. Ron, you did a very good job to contextualize abstract numbers too in the Lamentation game, the AC of the wolves were presented in relative to the characters professions "You are trained to fight humans, not animals, so that explains their AC".

    But here, I can see plainly how a player character can take this role too. The moment Helma says "something is wrong here" is really great. I mean, Helma, you know that you just missed the roll, but you translate it into a bad feeling, and it seems it brings a mood at the table, it's building something. I think years of practice with the same people made me forgot that as a player, I have plenty of possibility of interpretation of the rolls. It's a great moment.

    I can see Ron  . I think it's the best illustration of Ron's definition of "vividness" in the first phenomenology video, because I can see Helma's deception, translating it in a character experience "Something's wrong", and Ron seems to .. microreacts to that, aknowledging it almost in his head, like something to emphase in the next moments, descriptions, reactions, etc. This little bit made me thinking a lot about what it is to personify a character!



    • The technical terms are:

      The technical terms are:

      • Effect (the final step of IIEE)
      • Outcome authority (constrained/constructed with instruments)
      • Narration authority (distributed: multiple-person))
      • Situational authority (regarding the next circumstances)

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